EXCERPT: 'The Scarpetta Factor'

"Mother's in the lobby and won't leave until she sees her. Don't worry. I'll take care of it." The tech's name was Rene, mid-thirties with curly black hair and ebony eyes, and unusually gifted at handling families. If she was having a problem with one, it wasn't trivial. Rene could defuse just about anything.

"I thought the father had made the ID," Scarpetta said.

"He filled out the paperwork, and then I showed him the picture you uploaded to me—this was right before you left for the cafeteria. A few minutes later, the mother walks in and the two of them start arguing in the lobby, and I mean going at it, and finally he storms out."

"They're divorced?"

"And obviously hate each other. She's insisting on seeing the body, won't take no for an answer." Rene's purple nitrile-gloved hands moved a strand of damp hair off the dead woman's brow, rearranging several more strands behind the ears, making sure no sutures from the autopsy showed. "I know you've got a staff meeting in a few minutes. I'll take care of this." She looked at the cardboard box Scarpetta was holding. "You didn't even eat yet. What have you had today? Probably nothing, as usual. How much weight have you lost? You're going to end up in the anthro lab, mistaken for a skeleton."

"What were they arguing about in the lobby?" Scarpetta asked.

"Funeral homes. Mother wants one on Long Island. Father wants one in New Jersey. Mother wants a burial, but the father wants cremation. Both of them fighting over her." Touching the dead body again, as if it were part of the conversation. "Then they started blaming each other for everything you can think of. At one point Dr. Edison came out, they were causing such a ruckus."

He was the chief medical examiner and Scarpetta's boss when she worked in the city. It was still a little hard getting used to being supervised, having been either a chief herself or the owner of a private practice for most of her career. But she wouldn't want to be in charge of the New York OCME, not that she'd been asked or likely ever would be. Running an office of this magnitude was like being the mayor of a major metropolis.

"Well, you know how it works," Scarpetta said. "A dispute, and the body doesn't go anywhere. We'll put a hold on her release until Legal instructs us otherwise. You showed the mother the picture, and then what?"

"I tried, but she wouldn't look at it. She says she wants to see her daughter and isn't leaving until she does." "She's in the family room?"

"That's where I left her. I put the folder on your desk, copies of the paperwork."

"Thanks. I'll look at it when I go upstairs. You get her on the lift, and I'll take care of things on the other end," Scarpetta said.

"Maybe you can let Dr. Edison know I'm going to miss the three-o'clock. In fact, it's already started. Hopefully I'll catch up with him before he heads home. He and I need to talk about this case."

"I'll tell him." Rene placed her hands on the steel gurney's push handle. "Good luck on TV tonight."

"Tell him the scene photos have been uploaded to him, but I won't be able to dictate the autopsy protocol or get those photos to him until tomorrow."

"I saw the commercials for the show. They're cool." Rene was still talking about TV. "Except I can't stand Carley Crispin and what's the name of that profiler who's on there all the time? Dr. Agee. I'm sick and tired of them talking about Hannah Starr. I'm betting Carley's going to ask you about it."

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