Excerpt: Patricia Cornwell's 'Port Mortuary'


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.

"Afraid not."

"What's happened?"

"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."

"What things?"

"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'?"

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