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For Jessica the most baffling aspect of the crimes is that no victims show signs of resistance, or even fear. Only she has the insight to rad between the Poet's lines, to decipher the meaning of his deranged work-in-progress, and to stop ...
For Jessica the most baffling aspect of the crimes is that no victims show signs of resistance, or even fear. Only she has the insight to rad between the Poet's lines, to decipher the meaning of his deranged work-in-progress, and to stop him before his final stroke of insane genius.
Technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough. We have to rely on our intuition, our true being.
Twilight had painted the common grounds about the FBI buildings at Quantico in lavender and purple shadow beneath the lamps lining the walkways. The springtime hills around the Virginia compound appeared cluttered. Blooming dogwood splashed color up and down the forests. From a distance, it looked like swaths of lingering snow, the flowers snuggling and wiggling and boring in—alive amid greening blades of wild grass, all at odds with the carefully kept, manicured lawns of Quantico. The training grounds were empty, classrooms locked up for the night, most lights turned off, most buildings vacated or nearly so, but the bright fluorescent lights of the forensics lab glared out at the night like so many defiant eyes.
Using two pairs of surgical tweezers, FBI medical examiner Dr. Jessica Coran lifted the mask of skin over the chin with a surgical dexterity that Dr. John Thorpe had learned to expect. Jessica's long auburn hair had been wrapped in a bun, held tightly by a single hairpin, the way her mother wore her hair in treasured family photos. Jessica hadn't known her mother for very long before she had passed away, but from the warm feelings that welled up inside whenever her father had talked about her, she knew she had been a loving and gentle person. Jessica resembled her in many respects, the high cheekbones, the classic upturned nose, the deep emerald eyes, but her height Jessicainherited from her father, who had also been a medical examiner. When she had graduated from medical school and still had four grueling years ahead in order to specialize, her father had beamed with pride both at her accomplishment and at her decision to continue in forensic medicine.
She knew what he would think today, if he were alive, to see her a full-blown FBI agent as well as a medical examiner. With his military background and the years he spent as a medical examiner in the U.S. Army, she knew he'd be proud beyond anything she could imagine.
Dr. John Thorpe, known to his closest friends simply as JT, now watched as Jessica gently tugged the freed mask of the face up, over, and past the protruding nasal cartilage. She next inched it ever so carefully about the eyes, revealing the red mass of flesh and crisscrossed arteries below the forehead's outer husk, to at last find the victim's cranial bone. JT had seen this operation go horribly wrong before, and had even bungled it himself. Tearing the outer flesh of the victim left unmistakable signs of botched work, causing lacerations no one wanted to see at an open-coffin funeral.
Jessica Coran accepted the rotary diamond-stylus deluxe Windsor bone saw that Thorpe reluctantly extended to her. JT held on to it long enough to plead, "Let me do this part, Jess."
She glanced at her lab partner, released a pent-up breath, nodded, and relinquished the saw. "She's all yours, JT."
Jessica watched JT, his potbelly at odds with his otherwise slim frame. She knew he was closing in on yet another middle-age crisis, but since he had divorced his wife, Rhoda, he had no one to share his crises with. Also since his divorce, the man lived on McDonald's burgers, fries, and fish fillets, when he wasn't defrosting the ultimate in junk cuisine—the oxymoronic gourmet dinner. The curl of his lips gave JT a perpetual half grin, and his dusky brown eyes shone like those of a schoolboy whenever he became excited over a case. Jessica trusted him as a forensic expert, trusted his skills and knowledge, but even more important, she genuinely liked him as a person. He made her laugh, a thing few other men were capable of doing, and their friendship had weathered many storms.
"Tell me again, Jess, why're we exposing the brain?"
"Only way to be certain what caused the woman's coma—the drugs or the beating she took."
"Yes, of course, but—"
"If there're signs of significant—"
"Swelling, I know. But coma is coma, and dead is dead. What difference will it make to her or her family to know if the coma were drug-induced or caused by trauma?"
"You need a vacation, JT."
"What kind of crack is that?"
She had stepped away from the corpse, away from the wet steel slab, where a constant flow of water kept debris moving for the drain in the center of the blindingly white tiled floor. The drain gurgled and burped like an impatient animal awaiting its evening feeding. Overhead, an equally constant jet of air protected her and JT from contamination, a constant fear.
Jessica took a step toward JT, where he stood holding on to the saw. "You know very well what difference it makes."
"All right ... all right ... I do, yes."
"Then repeat after me," she shouted over the scream of the saw against bone as JT proceeded. "The truth is in there." She ended by pointing at the brain, then snatching her finger out of harm's way just as the cranial cap gave way and into JT's outstretched left hand. He fumbled like a water boy on a football field startled to find himself in possession of the football, but when he dropped it, it fell into the widemouthed basket beneath the head, placed there to prevent anything from making contact with the ceramic tiles at their feet.
Jessica wondered at the magnitude of the horror that had been inflicted on the victim, a young black woman named Adinatella LaMartine, hardly in her twenties. The young woman had been a stellar student at Washington's Howard University, where she had aced all her political science classes. On seeing their daughter's body at the morgue, her parents spoke of her having been chosen as a White House intern for the fall, and now this: abducted from a parking lot during or just after a frat party, raped, savagely beaten, and overdosed on what was looking more and more like some deadly concoction of arborescens: azaleas and/or rhododendrons ground up in some sort of honey cake, a poor man's Spanish fly. They had the same poisonous effect as mountain laurel. Toxicity level proved high at six, and in too great a quantity, the drug became as poisonous as arsenic. A fast-acting narcotic, it initially caused drooling, vomiting, and increased tear formation, followed by paralysis, a slowed pulse rate, and lowered blood pressure, leading to coma, depending on the dose. Still, it remained a remote possibility that the beating she had taken had sent her spiraling into a coma long before the drug took effect. Which came first in this case meant a great deal in prosecuting a suspect. If the defendant had taken a comatose young woman into the nearest hospital, he might be spared some jail time, having shown some mercy and some sense. However, if he beat to death a comatose victim, that would add jail time, showing depraved indifference for life. If he beat to death a dead body, that would be regrettable but it would not be murder. In all scenarios, Jessica felt the young man had shown depravity, but only proof of the exact sequence of events would put the killer behind bars. The "Twinkie defense" and the "Oops! defense" were created for such cases as this.
Date rape to date murder. Whether planned or accidental, the evil results were the same. So Jessica proposed to learn the exact sequence of acts before the end of the business day, and this necessitated a cranial examination. Toxicology alone could not tell them the entire story. Meanwhile, toxicology experts continued to work to determine the exact nature of the poison. Even so, something told Jessica that the killer had not meant to kill in this case. Probably he had slipped the girl something to render her unconscious and helpless, so as to have his way with her, and then, realizing too late that she was not going to come out of it, the fiend began to savagely beat her. His assault was his stupid way of attempting to bring her back to the land of the living.
When JT had asked Jessica how she could possibly know the sequence of events, she merely replied, "The mess her abductor made of her, the mess he left behind. It just looks like bushels of panic." Complete and utter panic, she now thought. "He drove the comatose woman not to the nearest hospital but to her room on campus, depositing her there, leaving all manner of evidence, from bloodstains and bodily fluids to witnesses who saw him going in and out, some of whom thought the girl drunk. Since the killer had her keys, he let himself in and dropped her, unconscious, onto her bed, where she lay until her roommate came in late in the day and began attempting to rouse her."
"Yeah, messy," JT conceded. "Messy and stupid."
"Fits right in with the nature of the crime and the criminal. He hadn't planned her death; he planned on a good time, to get off, drive her home, and never see or hear from her again. He perfectly fits the definition of a disorganized killer."
"Yeah, guess he does."
"Nothing at all like your last major case, JT. The tattooed corpse. Where the victim's daughters and sons used rabid dogs as murder weapons."
"What a weird odyssey that turned out to be," he agreed.
"Strangest case of your career, Doctor. You really must write it up for the Forensic Journal of Medical Inquiry. They'd eat it up."
"You think so?" She could practically see the wheels turning in his head.
"I know so," she assured him, thinking of the case that had led JT across America in pursuit of, first, a tattoo artist who could identify the mangled body of the victim, and then in pursuit of the killers—the victim's own children, who so despised and feared the father that they had planned his murder for over a year.
As JT put aside the ear-shattering saw, he shouted, "So, what do you hear from Inspector Sharpe of Scotland Yard these days?"
It had been nine months since Jessica returned from a bizarre case that had taken her to London. In that time, she and Richard Sharpe had seen each other on several occasions, but, except for phone calls and e-mails, they had not had contact now for two of those nine months, and she missed him terribly. Still, his retirement from Scotland Yard was imminent, which meant they could be together at last. However, Richard's superiors had asked him to postpone his retirement for a case. Richard had telephoned her about the matter, and while he had, she suspected, already agreed to work the case, he wanted her to tell him it was all right.
Jessica and Richard had worked the Crucifier case together, and somewhere along the way, they had fallen into each other's arms. Jessica's relationship with James Parry by then had become strained, the distance between them finally taking its toll, what with Parry a bureau chief in Hawaii and her in Quantico, Virginia. JT had caustically joked, "So you traded one ocean for another as an obstacle between yourself and a man who shows some interest in you. Quite interesting."
She had perhaps too readily told Richard Sharpe that he was perfectly correct in continuing his investigation of the case, and so she allowed him to take himself off the proverbial hook, but she wondered if she should not have ranted and railed at him. He'd promised her that they would be together by Christmas. Instead, she had tried to sound as adamant as possible over the phone, shouting, "Solve it and get your sexy self across the Pond. I need you in my life, Richard, and that means close by!"
Still, she wondered why she had not shown more anger over his decision, why she had not pouted and shouted. Why she hadn't let him know he had hurt her in postponing their plans for reunion, plans that had them living together here in Quantico. She second-guessed her reasoning, her motives, her resolve.
"Perhaps people are right about me; maybe I don't want a real relationship, anything smacking of true commitment," she told JT as she placed a magnifying glass on a swivel arm over the victim's exposed brain.
When JT did not answer, she knew why. She could read him like a book. "Perhaps having so much space between Richard and me creates a kind of comfort zone. That's what Dr. Lemonte always said about what James Parry and I had."
"Did you tell her she was full of shit?" asked JT.
"Yeah, not in quite those words, but yeah, I did."
"How do you feel, Jess, deep inside? I mean, about having all that distance between you and Richard."
"I've had separation anxiety since I left England, and I felt the same thing all those years I was separated from James Parry. I did love him. I don't for a moment believe I sabotaged the relationship—either consciously or subconsciously."
"But if you're feeling separation anxiety over Richard, why aren't you astronomically pissed off at him for taking on another case when he could have come to you?"
"Shoe's on the other foot, I guess," she replied. "How often did I do exactly that to Parry? Frankly, I don't know why I didn't throw a fit when Richard told me he was staying on at the Yard."
"Conditioning, I imagine," replied JT, continuing with the cleanup.
"Daddy's little girl, military brat learns to take it on the chin."
"Hmm ... always with a controlled and professional response? Maybe it's true what they say about our ghosts becoming our teachers," she finally conceded. She'd been raised by a man who demanded that she do the right thing in any given situation, so she did as her father would have expected; did as her wonderful professor and mentor, Dr. Asa Holcraft, expected; did as Otto Boutine, her first FBI mentor, a man who had died saving her, would have expected. All the ghosts were coming back to haunt her.
In London, she had dodged her ghosts, thrown caution to the wind, falling in love with Richard Sharpe while they worked the case of her career, a case the Forensic Journal of Medical Inquiry had pleaded for her to write up and forward to them.
While in England, Jessica—ostensibly there to help Scotland Yard uncover the identity of the Crucifier—had fallen into the arms of Richard Sharpe. While a fiend who killed his victims in the manner of Christ on the Cross roamed London's underground, Jessica Coran had experienced wild abandon with a man for whom she felt a great passion—while withholding her love, the ultimate gift. "Love is not conditional, Jessica!" her psychiatrist friend Donna Lemonte had often scolded.
While a perverted religious lunatic terrorized all of London, Jessica had found a man for whom she dared think pure love a possibility. In fact, she wondered if her soul had been given voice through Richard, telling her that life before him had not truly been a life, and that now a life without Richard would prove to be a living death.
She thought now of the manuscript she had begun writing while lying in Wessex Hospital in London. Jessica had begun tape recording her feelings for a book on the nature of evil, and how evil—like currents through an ocean—worked through mankind, often in a subtle, even banal manner. Certainly since London, Jessica believed she'd never again see the scale of horror she had confronted in Richard's homeland. Then came the worst school massacre in American history in Littleton, Colorado, where evil so disguised itself that no one, not even the shooters' closest friends and relatives, saw it coming, and now this poor young black girl on her autopsy table. Evil lumbered on and lurked in every crevice in the everyday lives of people.
Evil-thinking, evil-plotting, evil-acting malignancy. It pervaded, surrounded, and permeated all corners of life, she now reasoned. Certainly it lay thick and all but palpable inside the human psyche and here in her autopsy room. Here evil grinned back at her like a maniacal foe and a familiar one, perched gargoyle fashion over her autopsy table.
Likely after reading about poisons on the Internet, Lawrence Hampton, the man behind bars, decided to give his date flowers. He now intended to run an insanity defense, and he was giving police nothing. Jessica's line of forensic inquiry might prove him monstrously evil in having beaten a comatose woman to death, or it might prove the accidental overdose killed her. The sequence of events meant everything in this case. Young Hampton had botched his entire ugly plan by ensuring the girl's death from the beginning, because he didn't know what amounted to an unsafe formula or dosage.
Cleaning up, John Thorpe tossed the saw onto a metal table, shattering Jessica's reverie. "You were right, as usual. God, look at the swelling to the brain. Lot of internal injury to the melon. You don't get that kind of reaction from a dead person."
"She took a hell of a beating."
"I agree, she went into coma before she died. Given this evidence, he killed her with his hands. Must've gone into a rage after the drug refused to wear off."
"So we nail his ass in court for the more tortuous death. It'll add fifty years to his sentence by itself. Good work," she agreed. "Now get some photos of this, log it, and we'll try to put Adinatella back together again."
Jessica thought about Adinatella's family, her father and mother, who had brought her into this world, how they must have felt when they left the hospital with their infant daughter wrapped in a blanket; how they must have nurtured her and sent her off to college. All the love and attention showered on Adinatella, and in one moment some stranger snuffs out their child's life, and for what? To fulfill an animal lust.
"Shameful waste of a beautiful young woman," said JT, as if reading Jessica's thoughts.
"It's an awful sorry business we're in, JT."
After another hour of autopsy work, John Thorpe and Jessica Coran walked from the dissecting room, leaving interns to handle the final cleanup and the disposition of the body. Jessica dug her left thumb into her right palm to remove her right surgical glove, and then followed up with the left. The pair of medical examiners stripped their surgical garb as they walked, dumping their green hair nets and aprons into a hamper. Going to their respective locker rooms, Jessica called out, "Question for you, JT."
"Do you really think I may have ... might be ... may've gotten involved with Richard Sharpe because he's ... you know, at a distance?"
"Good God, Jess, you're not paying any attention to all that bullswallop going around about you, now, are you?"
"Bullswallop? Going around about me?"
"Usual crap out of the usual mouths, about how you like to keep your friends and lovers at safe arm's length. I mean, it's nobody's damn business but your own."
"I hadn't heard anything to that effect," she confessed.
"Oh, sorry. I wouldn't've repeated it had I known you hadn't ... I mean, I don't do that silly gossip thing. I mean ... sorry."
"You think there's any truth to it?"
"Not the least."
"Come on. You do, don't you?"
He hemmed and said, "You just happen to fall for the wrong guys, and they're always out of reach, one way or another." He saw the flame of hurt flash and die along her face. "I mean ... first Otto Boutine, both married and your superior. I know ... I know all about his wife's debilitating disease, that he was a romantic figure as a result of the wife's inability to ... Well, all the same, the man was out of reach, or should've been."
"Otto was different from all the rest. You can't compare—"
"Then that guy Alan Rhychman in New York who stands you up in Hawaii just so he can run for police commissioner. What a hoot."
"Alan saw a chance to make a difference in New York, and he has, from what I've heard."
"Still, out of reach. And then came Jim Parry, not only Mr. FBI but Mr. Hawaii as well."
"James and I had a fulfilling, long-lasting relationship that beat the odds for a long time. You've got to admit that."
"Still, out of reach, Jess."
"It isn't like I've had a lot of choice, given my commitments and lifestyle."
Rubbing stiffness from his neck, JT continued: "Love makes fools of fools."
"All of us, I know."
"Nay, nay! Not an ounce of troth to it, my dear friend" he facetiously added. "And so now we are moving on, a healthy thing. Now it's Inspector Richard Sharpe, Scotland Yard. Nay! Pay no heed. Love must remain blind and stumbling. If Cupid should see too clearly, can it be called love at all? If love is measured and controlled, Jessica, it's no fun. So relax, enjoy, and stop worrying about controlling your every step and your every relationship. Remember the centipede who was asked, `How in God's name do you walk with all those feet at once?' The moment he considered the question, he stumbled over himself. So, does that answer your question, just a bit?"
"Donna Lemonte always says that I put up barriers around me."
"Just because you've switched from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic? At least Scotland Yard's closer to Virginia than Hawaii—"
"New Scotland Yard," she corrected him. "And it's not the Atlantic to us; to us, it's the Pond."
"Whatever you call it, your shrink friend is going to see it as a big barrier. You must always consider the source."
"Thanks for being your usual candid but sensitive self, JT. It's what I love most about you."
"A friend should be candid and sensitive, however much the truth hurts."
"So, when are you going to hang out your shingle and start charging for all this psychoanalysis, Dr. Thorpe?"
"Honestly, I'm only an amateur at love, psychology, and relationships myself, a novice. So any advice I may have for the lovelorn you may want to drop in the hamper along with the dirty linen."
"I'll take that advice, John," she replied dully, dropping her shoulders and turning to the door marked LADIES' LOCKER ROOM.
"G'night," he said, and suddenly feeling the weight of the day and the long autopsy, JT trundled off through the door marked GENTLEMEN'S LOCKER ROOM.
As the door was closing on JT's tired form, she shouted, "I ought to arrange to have your brain dissected, JT. No one would believe it! It'd make The New England Journal of Medicine!"
"I can see the screaming title: `Thorpe's Brain Found Befuddled over Relationship Issues!'" He had turned and now held the door open with his right foot.
"Likely a defect in the DNA strand, the relationship gene," she added.
"Not every problem has a genetic excuse, Dr. Coran, or are you now grasping at self-justifying straws?" He allowed the door to close on his half grin.
"Touché," she said to the door, turned, and went to her locker. She desperately wanted to shower and change out of the uniform of the death investigator.
Copyright © 1965 Frank Herbert. All rights reserved.
Posted March 4, 2003
BITTER INSTINCT rules Poetically and Philly Rocks!! Robert Walker hits his stride in BITTER INSTINCT, a hauntingly quiet tale of murder, mayhem, poison pen, and poisoned poetic minds, as he taps into the latest bizarre fad among the young -- body art with poetry and open mic night. The killer, too, taps into the craze and goes on a calm, quiet rampage to rid the world of those he deems angels -- boys and girls too pure, too innocent, too beautiful to spend another moment in this wrold of filth, vermin, and chaos. With an angelic touch, he or she, sends them over to the other side, racking up bodies as he goes and "points" with his Maker until it is his/her time to go. Dr. Jessica Coran is back but facing a strange case indeed. After dealing with Curifixition killings in London, brutal sword slicing deaths and dismemberments in Hawaii, Miami, Chicago, New York and elsewhere, this extremely "clean" series of kills is foreign to her, and the killer leaves more clues to his character and behavior than he does of a forensic nature. Jessica must enlist the help of her psychic colleague on this most baffling case as it plays out on the streets of Philadelphia. The book is fast-paced, break-neck in fact and you won't be able to put it down. The emotions, the highs and lows, are as varied as any roller-coaster as Jessica not only has to deal with a strange new type of killer unheard of before, but an old flame, James Perry, from her Hawaii stint, who does all he can to entice her away from her present lover, Inspector Richard Sharpe of Scotland Yard, met in BLIND INSTINCT. Walker is at the top of his form in BITTER INSTINCT, and a real plus is the fascinating poetry penned by the killer (and in real life by Walker's gifted son, Stephen R. Walker). Only when Jessica connects the poems on each victim's backs, seeing the pattern created by them, does she begin to close in on the perpetrator of these crimes, the one who "loves" his victims to death. This would make an incredible film. We can only hope that some film producer out there somewhere -- perhaps a native of Philadlephia and Second Street reads BITTER INSTINCT and sees the mighty potential within its pages. There is something happening on every page. Walker never lets us down. BITTER is a cool story, something fresh in a sea of banality in horror and mystery genres. It works us on a subliminal psychological level as nothing else, to the point of believing oneself INSIDE the world of the novel and INSIDE the mind of a killer.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
He calls himself the Poet. His targets trust him so much so they cooperate as he engraves a piece of his epic verse on their backs. His victims are unaware that the ink is poison and soon leads to a swift, painless death. The Poet believes that his victims are angels who must return home so that when every one of them are finally gone, he will be transferred into an angel too. <P>After the third similar death, the Philadelphia police realize they have made no progress in catching this serial killer that leaves a calling card. The FBI sends two agents, medical examiner Dr. Jessica Coran and psychic expert Kim Desinow, to join the local task force. They quickly learn that the young have taken to having poetry written on their backs as a form of twisted homage. This makes tracing clues that much more difficult as this counterculture phenomena hides the culprit¿s trail behind wrong suspects. As the murder count rises, the City of Brotherly Love Task Force finds little to feel friendly about as they fail to gain any ground on identifying the murderer. <P> BITTER INSTINCT is a very frightening police thriller that shows the difficulty in catching a destructive individual when society adopts him as a hero. Robert W. Walker combines the best of Cornwell with Koontz in this psychological terror investigative novel. The heroine is quite good as a person struggling to profile a ¿popular¿ killer whose camouflage is inadvertently developed by the teens of the city. Mr. Walker has another captivating novel that readers will fully appreciate. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.