EXCERPT: 'The Scarpetta Factor'

"What about when you saw Toni at Thanksgiving," Scarpetta said. "Might she have been wearing a watch like the one I just described?"

"No." Mrs. Darien shook her head. "That's what I mean. It might not be her. I've never seen her wearing anything like that."

Scarpetta asked her if she would like to see the body now, and they got up from the table and walked into an adjoining room, small and bare, just a few photographs of New York City skylines on pale-green walls. The viewing window was approximately waist- high, about the height of a casket on a bier, and on the other side was a steel screen—actually, the doors of the lift that had carried Toni's body up from the morgue.

"Before I open the screen, I want to explain what you're going to see," Scarpetta said. "Would you like to sit on the sofa?"

"No. No, thank you. I'll stand. I'm ready." Her eyes were wide and panicked, and she was breathing fast. "I'm going to push a button." Scarpetta indicated a panel of three buttons on the wall, two black, one red, old elevator buttons. "And when the screen opens, the body will be right here."

"Yes. I understand. I'm ready." She could barely talk, she was so frightened, shaking as if freezing cold, breathing hard as if she'd just exerted herself.

"The body is on a gurney inside the elevator, on the other side of the window. Her head will be here, to the left. The rest of her is covered."

Scarpetta pushed the top black button, and the steel doors parted with a loud clank. Through scratched Plexiglas Toni Darien was shrouded in blue, her face wan, her eyes shut, her lips colorless and dry, her long, dark hair still damp from rinsing. Her mother pressed her hands against the window. Bracing herself, she began to scream.

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