Excerpt: Patricia Cornwell's 'Port Mortuary'

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The steam in my shower stall shifts, disturbed by a draft, and I think I hear someone. Instantly, I'm annoyed. It could be anyone, any military personnel, doctor or otherwise, whoever is authorized to be inside this highly classified facility and in need of a toilet or a disinfecting or a change of clothes. I think about colleagues I was just with in the main autopsy room and have a feeling it's Captain Avallone again. She was an unavoidable presence much of the morning during the CT scan, as if I don't know how to do one after all this, and she drifted like ground fog around my work station the rest of the day. It's probably she who's just come in. Then I'm sure, because it's always her, and I feel a clenching of resentment. Go away.

"Dr. Scarpetta?" her familiar voice calls out, a voice that is bland and lacking in passion and seems to follow me everywhere. "You have a phone call."

"I just got in," I shout over the loud spatter of water.

It's my way of telling her to leave me be. A little privacy, please. I don't want to see Captain Avallone or anyone right now, and it has nothing to do with being naked.

"Sorry, ma'am. But Pete Marino needs to talk to you." Her unemphatic voice moves closer.

"He'll have to wait," I yell.

"He says it's important."

"Can you ask him what he wants?"

"He just says it's important, ma'am."

I promise to get back to him shortly, and I probably sound rude, but despite my best intentions I can't always be charming. Pete Marino is an investigator I've worked with half my life. I hope nothing terrible has happened back home. No, he would make sure I knew if there was a real emergency, if something was wrong with my husband, Benton; with Lucy; or if there was a major problem at the Cambridge Forensic Center, which I've been appointed to head. Marino would do more than simply ask someone to let me know he's on the phone and it's important. This is nothing more than his usual poor impulse control, I decide. When he thinks a thought, he feels he must share it with me instantly.

I open my mouth wide, rinsing out the taste of decomposing charred human flesh that is trapped in the back of my throat. The stench of what I worked on today rises on swells of steam deep into my sinuses, the molecules of putrid biology in the shower with me. I scrub under my nails with antibacterial soap I squirt from a bottle, the same stuff I use on dishes or to decon my boots at a scene, and brush my teeth, gums, and tongue with Listerine. I wash inside my nostrils as far up as I can reach, scouring every inch of my flesh, then I wash my hair, not once but twice, and the stench is still there. I can't seem to get clean.

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