In the world of thrillers, there are few bigger names than Patricia Cornwell and her fictional star Kay Scarpetta.
"Port Mortuary" is the 18th book penned by Cornwell and starring Scarpetta, and in it, readers get a look into Scarpetta's early career and a terrifying mystery there-in.
As Cornwell criss-crosses the country on a book tour for "Port Mortuary," she'll also be supporting the troops through the "America for Vets" organization by taking in donations of daily supplies for veterans.
Read an excerpt from the book below, and head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
Inside the changing room for female staff, I toss soiled scrubs into a biohazard hamper and strip off the rest of my clothes and medical clogs. I wonder if Col. Scarpetta stenciled in black on my locker will be removed the minute I return to New England in the morning. The thought hadn't entered my mind before now, and it bothers me. A part of me doesn't want to leave this place.
Life at Dover Air Force Base has its comforts, despite six months of hard training and the bleakness of handling death daily on behalf of the U.S. government. My stay here has been surprisingly uncomplicated. I can even say it's been pleasant. I'm going to miss getting up before dawn in my modest room, dressing in cargo pants, a polo shirt, and boots, and walking in the cold dark across the parking lot to the golf course clubhouse for coffee and something to eat before driving to Port Mortuary where I'm not in charge. When I'm on duty for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, the AFME, I'm no longer a chief. In fact, I'm outranked by quite a number of people, and critical decisions aren't mine to make, assuming I'm even asked. Not so when I return to Massachusetts, where I'm depended on by everyone.
It's Monday, February 8. The wall clock above the shiny white sinks reads 16:33 hours, lit up red like a warning. In less than ninety minutes I'm supposed to appear on CNN and explain what a forensic radiologic pathologist, or RadPath, is and why I've become one, and what Dover and the Department of Defense and the White House have to do with it. In other words, I'm not just a medical examiner anymore, I suppose I'll say, and not just a habeas reservist with the AFME, either. Since 9/11, since the United States invaded Iraq, and now the surge of troops in Afghanistan —I rehearse points I should make—the line between the military and civilian worlds has forever faded. An example I might give: This past November during a forty-eight-hour period, thirteen fallen warriors were flown here from the Middle East, and just as many casualties arrived from Fort Hood, Texas. Mass casualty isn't restricted to the battlefield, although I'm no longer sure what constitutes a battlefield. Maybe every place is one, I will say on TV. Our homes, our schools, our churches, commercial aircraft, and where we work, shop, and go on vacation.
I sort through toiletries as I sort through comments I need to make about 3-D imaging radiology, the use of computerized tomography, or CT, scans in the morgue, and I remind myself to emphasize that although my new headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the first civilian facility in the United States to do virtual autopsies, Baltimore will be next, and eventually the trend will spread. The traditional postmortem examination of dissect as you go and take photographs after the fact and hope you don't miss something or introduce an artifact can be dramatically improved by technology and made more precise, and it should be.
I'm sorry I'm not doing World News tonight, because now that I think of it, I'd rather have this dialogue with Diane Sawyer. The problem with my being a regular on CNN is that familiarity often breeds contempt, and I should have thought about this before now. The interview could get personal, it occurs to me, and I should have mentioned the possibility to General Briggs. I should have told him what happened this morning when the irate mother of a dead soldier ripped into me over the phone, accusing me of hate crimes and threatening to take her complaints to the media.
Metal bangs like a gunshot as I shut my locker door. I pad over tan tile that always feels cool and smooth beneath my bare feet, carrying my plastic basket of olive oil shampoo and conditioner, an exfoliant scrub made of fossilized marine algae, a safety razor, a can of shaving gel for sensitive skin, liquid detergent, a washcloth, mouthwash, a toothbrush, a nail brush, and fragrant Neutrogena oil I'll use when I'm done. Inside an open stall, I neatly arrange my personal effects on the tile ledge and turn on the water as hot as I can stand it, hard spray blasting as I move around to get all of me, then lifting my face up, then looking down at the floor, at my own pale feet. I let water pound the back of my neck and head in hopes that stiff muscles will relax a little as I mentally enter the closet inside my base lodging and explore what to wear.
General Briggs—John, as I refer to him when we're alone— wants me in an airman battle uniform, or better yet, air force blues, and I disagree. I should wear civilian clothes, what people see me in most of the time when I do television interviews, probably a simple dark suit and ivory blouse with a collar, and the understated Breguet watch on a leather strap that my niece, Lucy, gave me. Not the Blancpain with its oversized black face and ceramic bezel, which also is from her, because she's obsessed with timepieces, with anything technically complicated and expensive. Not pants but a skirt and heels, so I come across as nonthreatening and accessible, a trick I learned long ago in court. For some reason, jurors like to see my legs while I describe in graphic anatomical detail fatal wounds and the agonal last moments of a victim's life. Briggs will be displeased with my choice in attire, but I reminded him during the Super Bowl last night when we were having drinks that a man shouldn't tell a woman what to wear unless he's Ralph Lauren.
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.
The name of the dead soldier I just took care of is Peter Gabriel, like the legendary rock star, only this Peter Gabriel was a private first class in the army and had been in the Badghis Province of Afghanistan not even a month when a roadside bomb improvised from plastic sewer pipe packed with PE-4 and capped with a copper plate punched through the armor of his Humvee, creating a molten firestorm inside it. PFC Gabriel took up most of my last day here at this huge high-tech place where the armed forces pathologists and scientists routinely get involved in cases most members of the public don't associate with us: the assassination of JFK; the recent DNA identifications of the Romanov family and the crew members of the H.L. Hunley submarine that sank during the Civil War. We're a noble but little-known organization with roots reaching back to 1862, to the Army Medical Museum, whose surgeons attended to the mortally wounded Abraham Lincoln and performed his autopsy, and I should say all this on CNN. Focus on the positive. Forget what Mrs. Gabriel said. I'm not a monster or a bigot. You can't blame the poor woman for being upset, I tell myself. She just lost her only child. The Gabriels are black. How would you feel, for God's sake? Of course you're not a racist.
I sense a presence again. Someone has entered the changing room, which I've managed to fog up like a steam shower. My heart is beating hard because of the heat.
"Dr. Scarpetta?" Captain Avallone sounds less tentative, as if she has news.
I turn off the water and step out of my stall, grabbing a towel to wrap up in. Captain Avallone is an indistinct presence hovering in haze near the sinks and motion-sensitive hand dryers. All I can make out is her dark hair and her khaki cargo pants and black polo shirt with its embroidered AFME gold-and-blue shield.
"Pete Marino . . ." she starts to say.
"I'll call him in a minute." I snatch another towel off a shelf.
"He's here, ma'am."
"What do you mean 'here'?" I almost expect him to materialize in the changing room like some prehistoric creature emerging from the mist.
"He's waiting for you out back by the bays, ma'am," she informs me. "He'll take you to the Eagle's Rest so you can get your things." She says it as if I'm being picked up by the FBI, as if I've been arrested or fired. "My instructions are to take you to him and assist in any way needed."
Captain Avallone's first name is Sophia. She's army, just out of her radiology residency, and is always so damn military-correct and obsequiously polite as she lingers and loiters. Right now is not the time. I carry my toiletry basket, padding over tile, and she's right behind me.
"I'm not supposed to leave until tomorrow, and going anywhere with Marino wasn't part of my travel plans," I tell her.
"I can take care of your vehicle, ma'am. I understand you're not driving. . . ."
"Did you ask him what the hell this is about?" I grab my hairbrush and my deodorant out of my locker.
"I tried, ma'am," she says. "But he wasn't helpful."
A C-5 Galaxy roars overhead, on final for 19. The wind as usual is out of the south.
One of many aeronautical principles I've learned from Lucy, who is a helicopter pilot among other things, is that runway numbers correspond to directions on a compass. Nineteen, for example, is 190 degrees, meaning the opposite end will be 01, oriented that way because of the Bernoulli effect and Newton's laws of motion. It's all about the speed air needs to flow over a wing, about taking off and landing into the wind, which in this part of Delaware blows in from the sea, from high pressure to low, from south to north. Day in and day out, transport planes bring the dead and take them away along a blacktop strip that runs like the River Styx behind Port Mortuary.
The shark-gray Galaxy is the length of a football field, so huge and heavy it seems scarcely to move in a pale sky of feathery clouds that pilots call mare's tails. I would know what type of airlifter it is without looking, can recognize the high pitch of its scream and whistle. By now I know the sound of turbine engines producing a hundred and sixty thousand pounds of thrust, can identify a C-5 or a C-17 when it's miles out, and I know helicopters and tilt rotors, too, can tell a Chinook from a Black Hawk or an Osprey. During nice weather when I have a few moments to spare, I sit on a bench outside my lodgings and watch the flying machines of Dover as if they're exotic creatures, such as manatees or elephants or prehistoric birds. I never tire of their lumbering drama and thundering noise, and the shadows they cast as they pass over.
Wheels touch down in puffs of smoke so close by I feel the rumble in my hollow organs as I walk across the receiving area with its four enormous bays, high privacy wall, and backup generators. I approach a blue van I've never seen before, and Pete Marino makes no move to greet me or open my door, and this bodes nothing one way or another. He doesn't waste his energy on manners, not that being gracious or particularly nice has ever been a priority of his for as long as I can remember. It's been more than twenty years since the time when we first met in Richmond, Virginia, at the morgue. Or maybe it was a homicide scene where I first was confronted with him. I really can't recall.
I climb in and shut the door, stuffing a duffel bag between my boots, my hair still damp from the shower. He thinks I look like hell and is silently judging. I can always tell by his sidelong glances that survey me from head to toe, lingering in certain places that are none of his business. He doesn't like it when I wear my AFME investigative garb, my khaki cargo pants, black polo shirt, and tactical jacket, and the few times he's seen me in uniform I think I scared him.
"Where'd you steal the van?" I ask as he backs up.
"A loaner from Civil Air." His answer at least tells me nothing has happened to Lucy.
The private terminal on the north end of the runway is used by nonmilitary personnel who are authorized to land on the air force base. My niece has flown Marino here, and it crosses my mind they've come as a surprise. They showed up unannounced to spare me from flying commercial in the morning, to escort me home at last. Wishful thinking. That can't be it, and I look for answers in Marino's rough-featured face, taking in his overall appearance rather much the way I do a patient at first glance. Running shoes, jeans, a fleece-lined Harley-Davidson leather coat he's had forever, a Yankees baseball cap he wears at his own peril, considering he now lives in the Republic of the Red Sox, and his unfashionable wire-rim glasses.
I can't tell if his head is shaved smooth of what little gray hair he has left, but he is clean and relatively neat, and he doesn't have a whisky flush or a bloated beer gut. His eyes aren't bloodshot. His hands are steady. I don't smell cigarettes. He's still on the wagon, more than one. Marino has many wagons he is wise to stay on, a train of them working their way through the unsettled territories of his aboriginal inclinations. Sex, booze, drugs, tobacco, food, profanity, bigotry, slothfulness. I probably should add mendacity. When it suits him, he's evasive or outright lies.
"I assume Lucy's with the helicopter . . . ?" I start to say.
"You know how it is around this joint when you're doing a case, worse than the damn CIA," he talks over me as we turn onto Purple Heart Drive. "Your house could be on fire and nobody says shit, and I must have called five times. So I made an executive decision, and Lucy and me headed out."
"It would be helpful if you'd tell me why you're here."
"Nobody would interrupt you while you were doing the soldier from Worcester," he says to my amazement.
PFC Gabriel was from Worcester, Massachusetts, and I can't fathom why Marino would know what case I had here at Dover. No one should have told him. Everything we do at Port Mortuary is extremely discreet, if not strictly classified. I wonder if the slain soldier's mother did what she threatened and called the media. I wonder if she told the press that her son's white female military medical examiner is a racist.
Before I can ask, Marino adds, "Apparently, he's the first war casualty from Worcester, and the local media's all over it. We've gotten some calls, I guess people getting confused and thinking any dead body with a Massachusetts connection ends up with us." "Reporters assumed we'd done the autopsy in Cambridge?"
"Well, the CFC's a port mortuary, too. Maybe that's why."
"One would think the media certainly knows by now that all casualties in theater come straight here to Dover," I reply. "You're certain about the reason for the media's interest?"
"Why?" He looks at me.
"You know some other reason I don't?"
"I'm just asking."
"All I know is there were a few calls and we referred them to Dover. So you were in the middle of taking care of the kid from Worcester and nobody would get you on the phone, and finally I called General Briggs when we were about twenty minutes out, refueling in Wilmington. He made Captain Do-Bee go find you in the shower. She single, or does she sing in Lucy's choir? Because she's not bad-looking."
"How would you know what she looks like?" I reply, baffled. "You weren't around when she stopped by the CFC on her way to visit her mother in Maine."
I try to remember if I was ever told this, and at the same time I'm reminded I have no idea what has gone on in the office I'm supposed to run.
"Fielding gave her the royal tour, the host with the most." Marino doesn't like my deputy chief, Jack Fielding. "Point being, I did try to get hold of you. I didn't mean to just show up like this."
Marino is being evasive, and what he's described is a ploy. It's made up. For some reason he felt it necessary to simply appear here without warning. Probably because he wanted to make sure I would go with him without delay. I sense real trouble.
"The Gabriel case can't be why you just showed up, as you put it," I say.
"We've got a situation." He stares straight ahead. "And I told Fielding and everybody else that no way in hell the body was being examined until you get there."
Jack Fielding is an experienced forensic pathologist who doesn't take orders from Marino. If my deputy chief opted to be hands-off and defer to me, it likely means we've got a case that could have political implications or get us sued. It bothers me considerably that Fielding hasn't tried to call or e-mail me. I check my iPhone again. Nothing from him.
"About three-thirty yesterday afternoon in Cambridge," Marino is saying, and we're on Atlantic Street now, driving slowly through the middle of the base in the near dark. "Norton's Woods on Irving, not even a block from your house. Too damn bad you weren't home. You could have gone to the scene, could have walked there, and maybe things would have turned out different."
"A light-skinned male, possibly in his twenties. Appears he was out walking his dog and dropped dead from a heart attack, right? Wrong," he continues as we pass rows of concrete and metal maintenance facilities, hangars, and other buildings that have numbers instead of names. "It's broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon, plenty of people around because there was an event at whatever that building is, the one with the big green metal roof."
Norton's Woods is the home of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a wooded estate with a stunning building of timber and glass that is rented out for special functions. It is several houses down from the one Benton and I moved into last spring so I could be near the CFC and he could enjoy the close proximity of Harvard, where he is on the faculty of the medical school's Department of Psychiatry.
"In other words, eyes and ears," Marino goes on. "A hell of a time and a place to whack somebody."
"I thought you said he was a heart attack. Except if he's that young, you probably mean a cardiac arrhythmia."
"Yeah, that was the assumption. A couple of witnesses saw him suddenly grab his chest and collapse. He was DOA at the scene—supposedly. Was transported directly to our office and spent the night in the cooler."
"What do you mean 'supposedly'?"
"Early this morning Fielding went into the fridge and noticed blood drips on the floor and a lot of blood in the tray, so he goes and gets Anne and Ollie. The dead guy's got blood coming out of his nose and mouth that wasn't there the afternoon before, when he was pronounced. No blood at the scene, not one drop, and now he's bleeding, and it's not purge fluid, obviously, because he sure as hell isn't decomposing. The sheet he's covered with is bloody, and there's about a liter of blood in the body pouch, and that's fucked up. I've never seen a dead person start bleeding like that. So I said we got a fucking problem and everybody keep your mouth shut."
"What did Jack say? What did he do?"
"You're kidding, right? Some deputy you got. Don't get me started."
"Do we have an identification, and why Norton's Woods? Does he live nearby? Is he a student at Harvard, maybe at the Divinity School?" It's right around the corner from Norton's Woods. "I doubt he was attending whatever this event was. Not if he had his dog with him." I sound much calmer than I feel as we have this conversation in the parking lot of the Eagle's Rest inn.
"We don't have many details yet, but it appears it was a wedding," Marino says.
"On Super Bowl Sunday? Who plans a wedding on the same day as the Super Bowl?"
"Maybe if you don't want anybody to show up. Maybe if you're not American or are un-American. Hell if I know, but I don't think the dead guy was a wedding guest, and not just because of the dog. He had a Glock nine-mil under his jacket. No ID and was listening to a portable satellite radio, so you probably can guess where I'm going with this."
"I probably can't."
"Lucy will tell you more about the satellite-radio part of it, but it appears he was doing surveillance, spying, and maybe whoever he was fucking with decided to return the favor. Bottom line, I'm thinking somebody did something to him, causing an injury that was somehow missed by the EMTs, and the removal service didn't notice anything, either. So he's zipped up in the pouch and starts bleeding during transport. Well, that wouldn't happen unless he had a blood pressure, meaning he was still alive when he was delivered to the morgue and shut inside our damn cooler. Forty-something degrees in there and he would have died from exposure by this morning. Assuming he didn't bleed to death first."
"If he has an injury that would cause him to bleed externally," I reply, "why didn't he bleed at the scene?"
"You tell me."
"How long did they work on him?"
"Fifteen, twenty minutes."
"Possible during resuscitation efforts a blood vessel was somehow punctured?" I ask. "Antemortem and postmortem injuries, if severe enough, can cause significant bleeding. For example, maybe during CPR a rib was fractured and caused a puncture wound or severed an artery? Any reason a chest tube might have been placed presumptively and that caused an injury and the bleeding you've described?"
But I know the answers even as I ask the questions. Marino is a veteran homicide detective and death investigator. He wouldn't have commandeered my niece and her helicopter and come to Dover unannounced if there was a logical explanation or even a plausible one, and certainly Jack Fielding would know a legitimate injury from an accidental artifact. Why haven't I heard from him?
"The Cambridge Fire Department's HQ is maybe a mile from Norton's Woods, and the squad got to him within minutes," Marino says.
We are sitting in the van with the engine off. It is almost completely dark, the horizon and the sky melting into each other with only the faintest hint of light to the west. When has Fielding ever handled a disaster without me? Never. He absents himself. Leaves his messes for others to clean up. That's why he's not tried to get hold of me. Maybe he's walked off the job again. How many times does he need to do that before I stop hiring him back?
"According to them, he died instantly," Marino adds.
"Unless an IED blows someone into hundreds of pieces, there's really no such thing as dying instantly," I reply, and I hate it when Marino makes glib statements. Dying instantly. Dropping dead. Dead before he hit the ground. Twenty years of these generalities, no matter how many times I've told him that cardiac and respiratory arrests aren't causes of death but symptoms of dying, and clinical death takes minutes at least. It isn't instant. It isn't a simple process. I remind him again of this medical fact because I can't think of anything else to say.
"Well, I'm just reporting what I've been told, and according to them, he couldn't be resuscitated," Marino answers, as if the EMTs know more about death than I do. "Was unresponsive. That's what's on their run sheet."
"You interviewed them?"
"One of them. On the phone this morning. No pulse, no nothing. The guy was dead. Or that's what the paramedic said. But what do you think he's going to say—that they weren't sure but sent him to the morgue anyway?"
"Then you told him why you were asking."
"Hell, no, I'm not retarded. You don't need this on the front page of the Globe. This hits the news, I may as well go back to NYPD or maybe get a job with Wackenhut, except no one's hiring."
"What procedure did you follow?"
"I didn't follow shit. It was Fielding. Of course, he says he did everything by the book, says Cambridge PD told him there was nothing suspicious about the scene, an apparent natural death that was witnessed. Fielding gave permission for the body to be transferred to the CFC as long as the cops took custody of the gun and got it to the labs right away so we could find out who it's registered to. A routine case, and not our fault if the EMTs fucked up, or so Fielding says, and you know what I say? It won't matter. We'll get blamed. The media will go after us like nothing you've ever seen and will say everything should move back to Boston. Imagine that?"
Before the CFC began doing its first cases this past summer, the state medical examiner's office was located in Boston and was besieged by political and economic problems and scandals that were constantly in the news. Bodies were lost or sent to the wrong funeral homes or cremated without a thorough examination, and in at least one suspected child-abuse death the wrong eyeballs were tested. New chiefs came and went, and district offices had to be shut down due to a lack of funding. But nothing negative ever said about that office could compare to what Marino is suggesting about us.
"I'd rather not imagine anything." I open my door. "I'd rather focus on the facts."
"That's a problem, since we don't seem to have any that make much sense."
"And you told Briggs what you just told me?"
"I told him what he needed to know," Marino says.
"The same thing you just told me?" I repeat my question.
"You shouldn't have. It was for me to tell. It was for me to decide what he needs to know." I'm sitting with the passenger's door open wide and the wind blowing in. I'm damp from the shower and chilled. "You don't raise things up the chain just because I'm busy."
"Well, you were busy as hell, and I told him."
I climb out of the van and reassure myself that what Marino has just described can't be accurate. Cambridge EMTs would never make such a disastrous mistake, and I try to conjure up an explanation for why a fatal wound didn't bleed at the scene and then bled profusely, and I contemplate computing time of death or even the cause of it for someone who died inside a morgue refrigerator. I'm confounded. I haven't a clue, and most of all I worry about him, this young man delivered to my door, presumed dead. I envision him wrapped in a sheet and zipped inside a pouch, and it's the stuff of old horrors. Someone coming to inside a casket. Someone buried alive. I've never had such a ghastly thing happen, not even close, not once in my career. I've never known anyone who has.
"At least there's no sign he tried to get out of the body bag." Marino tries to make both of us feel better. "Nothing to indicate he might have been awake at some point and started panicking. You know, like clawing at the zipper or kicking or something. I guess if he struggled he would have been in a weird position on the tray when we found him this morning, or maybe rolled off it. Except I wonder if you would suffocate in one of those bags, now that I think of it. I guess so, since they're supposed to be watertight. Even though they leak. You show me a body bag that doesn't leak. And that's the other thing. Blood drips on the floor leading from the bay to the fridge."
"Why don't we continue this later." It's check-in time. There are plenty of people in the parking lot as we walk toward the inn's modern but plain stucco entrance, and Marino has a big voice that projects as if he's perpetually talking inside an amphitheater.
"I doubt Fielding has bothered to watch the recording," Marino adds anyway. "I doubt he's done a damn thing. I haven't seen or heard from the son of a bitch since first thing this morning. MIA once again, just like he's done before." He opens the glass front door. "I sure as hell hope he doesn't shut us down. Wouldn't that be something? You do him a fucking favor and give him a job after he walked off the last one, and he destroys the CFC before it's even off the ground."
Inside the lobby with its showcases of awards and air force memorabilia, its comfortable chairs and big-screen TV, a sign welcomes guests to the home of the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globe-master III. At the front desk I silently wait behind a man in the muted pixilated tiger stripes of the army combat uniform, or ACU, as he buys shaving cream, water, and several mini bottles of Johnnie Walker Scotch. I tell the clerk that I'm checking out earlier than planned, and yes, I'll remember to turn in my keys, and of course I understand I'll be charged the usual government rate of thirty-eight dollars for the day even though I'm not staying the night.
"What is it they say?" Marino goes on. "No good deed goes unpunished."
"Let's try not to be quite so negative."
"You and me both gave up good positions in New York, and we shut down the office in Watertown, and this is what we're left with."
I don't say anything.
"I hope like hell we didn't ruin our careers," he says.
I don't answer him because I've heard enough. Past the business center and vending machines, we take the stairs to the second floor, and it is now that he informs me that Lucy isn't waiting with the helicopter at the Civil Air Terminal. She's in my room. She's packing my belongings, touching them, making decisions about them, emptying my closet, my drawers, disconnecting my laptop, printer, and wireless router. He's waited to tell me because he knows damn well that under ordinary circumstances, this would annoy me beyond measure—doesn't matter if it's my computer-genius, former-federal-law-enforcement niece, whom I've raised like a daughter.
Circumstances are anything but ordinary, and I'm relieved that Marino is here and Lucy is in my room, that they have come for me. I need to get home and fix everything. We follow the long hallway carpeted in deep red, past the balcony arranged with colonial reproductions and an electronic massage chair thoughtfully placed there for weary pilots. I insert my magnetic key card into the lock of my room, and I wonder who let Lucy in, and then I think of Briggs again and I think of CNN. I can't imagine appearing on TV. What if the media has gotten word of what's happened in Cambridge? I would know that by now. Marino would know it. My administrator, Bryce, would know it, and he would tell me right away. Everything is going to be fine.
Lucy is sitting on my neatly made bed, zipping up my cosmetic case, and I detect the clean citrus scent of her shampoo as I hug her and feel how much I've missed her. A black flight suit accentuates her bold green eyes and short rose-gold hair, her sharp features and leanness, and I'm reminded of how stunning she is in an unusual way, boyish but feminine, athletically chiseled but with breasts, and so intense she looks fierce. Doesn't matter if she's being playful or polite, my niece tends to intimidate and has few friends, maybe none except Marino, and her lovers never last. Not even Jaime, although I haven't voiced my suspicions. I haven't asked. But I don't buy Lucy's story that she moved from New York to Boston for financial reasons. Even if her forensic computer investigative company was in a decline, and I don't believe that, either, she was making more in Manhattan than she's now paid by the CFC, which is nothing. My niece works for me pro bono. She doesn't need money.
"What's this about the satellite radio?" I watch her carefully, trying to interpret her signals, which are always subtle and perplexing. Caplets rattle as she checks how many Advil are in a bottle, deciding not enough to bother with, and she clunks it in the trash. "We've got weather, so I'd like to get out of here." She takes the cap off a bottle of Zantac, tossing that next. "We'll talk as we fly, and I'll need your help copiloting, because it's going to be tricky dodging snow showers and freezing rain en route. We're supposed to get up to a foot at home, starting around ten."
My first thought is Norton's Woods. I need to pay a retrospective visit, but by the time I get there, it will be covered in snow. "That's unfortunate," I comment. "We may have a crime scene that was never worked as one."
"I told Cambridge PD to go back over there this morning." Marino's eyes probe and wander as if it is my quarters that need to be searched. "They didn't find anything."
"Did they ask you why you wanted them to look?" That concern again.
"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."
"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."
"I'm requesting you refrain from intervening, John. Right now this case is the jurisdiction of the chief medical examiner of Massachusetts. Please don't challenge me or my authority."
A long pause, then he states rather than asks, "You really want that responsibility."
"It's mine whether I want it or not."
"I'm trying to protect you. I've been trying."
"Don't." That's not what he's trying. He doesn't have confidence in me.
"I can deploy Captain Avallone to help. It's not a bad idea."
I can't believe he would suggest that, either. "That won't be necessary," I reply firmly. "The CFC is perfectly capable of han-dling this."
"I'm on the record as having offered."
On the record with whom? It occurs to me uncannily that some one else is on the line or within earshot. Briggs is still standing in front of his window. I can't tell if anyone else might be in the suite with him.
"Whatever you decide," he then says. "I'm not going to step on you. Call me as soon as you know something. Wake me up if you have to."
He doesn't say good-bye or good luck or it was nice having me here for half a year.