EXCERPT: 'The Scarpetta Factor'

"He would say that, as if she slings hash or flips burgers. She works in the lounge at High Roller Lanes, a very nice place, very high-class, not your typical bowling alley. She wants to have her own restaurant in some big hotel someday in Las Vegas or Paris or Monte Carlo."

"Was she working last night?"

"Not usually on Wednesdays. Mondays through Wednesdays she's usually off, and then she works very long hours Thursdays through Sundays."

"Do her brothers know what's happened?" Scarpetta asked. "I wouldn't want them hearing about it on the news."

"Larry's probably told them. I would have waited. It might not be true."

"We'll want to be mindful of anybody who perhaps shouldn't find out from the news." Scarpetta was as gentle as she could be. "What about a boyfriend? A significant other?"

"Well, I've wondered. I visited Toni at her apartment in September and there were all these stuffed animals on her bed, and a lot of perfumes and such, and she was evasive about where they'd come from. And at Thanksgiving she was text-messaging all the time, happy one minute, in a bad mood the next. You know how people act when they're infatuated. I do know she meets a lot of people at work, a lot of very attractive and exciting men."

"Possible she might have confided in your former husband? Told him about a boyfriend, for example?"

"They weren't close. What you don't understand is why he's doing this, what Larry is really up to. It's all to get back at me and make everybody think he's the dutiful father instead of a drunk, a compulsive gambler who abandoned his family. Toni would never want to be cremated, and if the worst has happened, I'll use the funeral home that took care of my mother, Levine and Sons."

"I'm afraid until you and Mr. Darien settle your dispute about the disposition of Toni's remains, the OCME can't release her," Scarpetta said.

"You can't listen to him. He left Toni when she was a baby. Why should anybody listen to him?"

"The law requires that disputes such as yours must be resolved, if need be by the courts, before we can release the body," Scarpetta said. "I'm sorry. I know the last thing you need right now is frustration and more upset."

"What right does he have suddenly showing up after twenty-something years, making demands, wanting her personal things. Fighting with me about that in the lobby and telling that girl he wanted Toni's belongings, whatever she had on when she came in, and it might not even be her. Saying such horrid, heartless things! He was drunk and looked at a picture. And you trust that? Oh, God. What am I going to see? Just tell me so I know what to expect."

"Your daughter's cause of death is blunt- force trauma that fractured her skull and injured her brain," Scarpetta said.

"Someone hit her on the head." Her voice shook and she broke down and cried.

"She suffered a severe blow to the head. Yes."

"How many? Just one?"

"Mrs. Darien, I need to caution you from the start that anything I tell you is in confidence and it's my duty to exercise caution and good judgment in what you and I discuss right now," Scarpetta said. "It's critical nothing is released that might actually aid your daughter's assailant in getting away with this very terrible crime. I hope you understand. Once the police investigation is complete, you can make an appointment with me and we'll have as detailed a discussion as you'd like."

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