Excerpt: Patricia Cornwell's 'Port Mortuary'

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"You know what I always say," his deep, authoritative voice sounds in my earpiece, and I try to detect the degree of his bad mood and what he's going to do. "There's an answer to everything. The problem is finding it and figuring out the best way to do that. The proper and appropriate way to do that." He's cool. He's cautious. He's very serious. "We'll do this another time," he adds.

He means the final briefing we were scheduled to have. I'm sure he also means CNN, and I wonder what Marino told him. What exactly did he say?

"I agree, John. Everything should be canceled."

"It has been."

"Which is smart." I'm matter-of-fact. I won't let him sense my insecurities, and I know he sniffs for them. I know damn well he does. "My first priority is to determine if the information reported to me is correct. Because I don't see how it can be."

"Not a good time for you to go on the air. I don't need Rockman to tell us that."

Rockman is the press secretary. Briggs doesn't need to talk to him because he already has. I'm sure of it.

"I understand," I reply.

"Remarkable timing. If I was paranoid, I might just think someone has orchestrated some sort of bizarre sabotage."

"Based on what I've been told, I don't see how that would be possible."

"I said if I was paranoid," Briggs replies, and from where I stand, I can make out his formidable sturdy shape but can't see the expression on his face. I don't need to see it. He's not smiling. His gray eyes are galvanized steel.

"The timing is either a coincidence or it's not," I say. "The basic tenet in criminal investigations, John. It's always one or the other."

"Let's not trivialize this."

"I'm doing anything but."

"If a living person was put in your damn cooler, I can't think of much worse," he says flatly.

"We don't know—"

"It's just a damn shame after all this." As if everything we've built over the past few years is on the precipice of ruin.

"We don't know that what's been reported is accurate—" I start to say.

"I think it would be best if we bring the body here," he interrupts again. "AFDIL can work on the identification. Rockman will make sure the situation is well contained. We've got everything we need right here."

I'm stunned. Briggs wants to send a plane to Hanscom Field, the air force base affiliated with the CFC. He wants the Armed Forces DNA Identification Lab and probably other military labs and someone other than me to handle whatever has happened, because he doesn't think I'm competent. He doesn't trust me.

"We don't know if we're talking about federal jurisdiction," I remind him. "Unless you know something I don't."

"Look. I'm trying to do what's best for all involved." Briggs has his hands behind his back, his legs slightly spread, staring across the parking lot at me. "I'm suggesting we can dispatch a C-Seventeen to Hanscom. We can have the body here by midnight. The CFC is a port mortuary, too, and that's what port mortuaries do."

"That's not what port mortuaries do. The point isn't for bodies to be received, then transferred elsewhere for autopsies and lab analysis. The CFC was never intended to be a first screening for Dover, a preliminary check before the experts step in. That was never my mandate, and it wasn't the agreement when thirty million dollars was spent on the facility in Cambridge."

"You should just stay at Dover, Kay, and we'll bring the body here."

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