Excerpt: Patricia Cornwell's 'Port Mortuary'


"I said we had questions. I blamed it on the Glock. The serial number's been ground off. Guess I didn't tell you that," he adds as he looks around, looking at everything but me.

"Firearms can try acid on it, see if we can restore the serial number that way. If all else fails, we'll try the large-chamber SEM," I decide. "If there's anything left, we'll find it. And I'll ask Jack to go to Norton's Woods and do a retrospective."

"Right. I'm sure he'll get right on it," Marino says sarcastically.

"He can take photographs before the snow starts," I add. "Or someone can. Whoever's on call—"

"Waste of time," Marino says, cutting me off. "None of us was there yesterday. We don't know the exact damn spot—only that it was near a tree and a green bench. Well, that's a lot of help when you're talking about six acres of trees and green benches."

"What about photographs?" I ask as Lucy continues going through my small pharmacy of ointments, analgesics, antacids, vitamins, eyedrops, and hand sanitizers spread over the bed. "The police must have taken pictures of the body in situ."

"I'm still waiting for the detective to get those to me. The guy who responded to the scene, he brought in the pistol this morning. Lester Law, goes by Les Law, but on the street he's known as Lawless, just like his father and grandfather before him. Cambridge cops going back to the fucking Mayflower. I've never met him."

"I think that about does it." Lucy gets up from the bed. "You might want to make sure I didn't miss anything," she says to me. Wastebaskets are overflowing, and my bags are packed and lined up by a wall, the closet door open wide, nothing inside but empty hangers. Computer equipment, printed files, journal articles, and books are gone from my desk, and there is nothing in the dirty-clothes hamper or bathroom or in the dresser drawers I check. I open the small refrigerator, and it is empty and has been wiped clean. While she and Marino begin carrying my belongings out, I enter Briggs's number into my iPhone. I look out at the three-story stucco building on the other side of the parking lot, at the large plate-glass window in the middle of the third floor. Last night I was in that suite with him and other colleagues, watching the game, and life was good. We cheered for the New Orleans Saints and ourselves, and we toasted the Pentagon and its Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, which had made CT-assisted virtual autopsies possible at Dover and now at the CFC. We celebrated mission accomplished, a job well done— and now this, as if last night wasn't real, as if I dreamed it.

I take a deep breath and press send on my iPhone, going hollow inside. Briggs can't be happy with me. Images flash on the wall-mounted flat-screen TV in his living room, and then he walks past the glass, dressed in the combat uniform of the army, green and sandy brown with a mandarin collar, what he typically wears when he's not in the morgue or at a scene. I watch him answer his phone and return to his big window, where he stands, looking directly at me. From a distance we are face-to-face, an expanse of tarmac and parked cars between the armed forces chief medical examiner and me, as if we're about to have a standoff.

"Colonel." His voice greets me somberly.

"I just heard. And I assure you I'm taking care of this, will be on the helicopter within the hour."

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