Bestseller Cornwell's 15th novel to feature Dr. Kay Scarpetta (after 2005's Predator) delivers her trademark grisly crime scenes, but lacks the coherence and emotional resonance of earlier books. Soon after relocating to Charleston, S.C., to launch a private forensics lab, Scarpetta is asked to consult on the murder of U.S. tennis star Drew Martin, whose mutilated body was found in Rome. Contradictory evidence leaves Scarpetta, the Italian carabinieri and Scarpetta's lover, forensic psychologist Benton Wesley, stumped. But when she discovers unsettling connections between Martin's murder, the body of an unidentified South Carolina boy and her old nemesis, the maniacal psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Self, Scarpetta encounters a killer as deadly as any she's ever faced. With her recent switch from first- to third-person narration, Cornwell loses what once made her series so compelling: a window into the mind of a strong, intelligent woman holding her own in a profession dominated by men. Here, the abrupt shifts in point of view slow the momentum, and the reader flounders in excessive forensic minutiae. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
From America's #1 bestselling crime writer comes the extraordinary new Dr. Kay Scarpetta novel.
This 15th book in the Kay Scarpetta series focuses more on the relationships of the familiar characters than the mystery. Nemesis Dr. Marilyn Self is back to plague Kay as her new private forensic pathology practice tries to find the links among murders in Italy and Charleston, SC. There are many other hurdles and some surprises along with some inevitabilities. The new locale and a cliffhanger ending show the series is still worth following. Narrator Kate Reading is as familiar to Scarpetta fans as the characters are. Recommended. [Cornwell's Postmortem is the only novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity awards in a single year; Book of the Dead is also available as downloadable audio from
Read an Excerpt
Four Scarpetta Novels
Book of the Dead
The Last Precinct
Book of the Dead
Also by Patricia Cornwell
The Last Precinct
Point of Origin
Cause of Death
From Potter’s Field
The Body Farm
Cruel and Unusual
All That Remains
Body of Evidence
Portrait of a Killer:
Jack the Ripper—Case Closed
ANDY BRAZIL SERIES
Isle of Dogs
Ruth, A Portrait:
The Story of Ruth Bell Graham
Food to Die For:
Secrets from Kay Scarpetta’s Kitchen
Life’s Little Fable
Scarpetta’s Winter Table
Book of the Dead
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
I am especially grateful to Dr. Staci Gruber, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and Associate Director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory, McLean Hospital.
Water splashing. A gray mosaic tile tub sunk deep into a terracotta floor.
Water pours slowly from an old brass spout, and darkness pours through a window. On the other side of old, wavy glass is the piazza, and the fountain, and the night.
She sits quietly in water, and the water is very cold, with melting ice cubes in it, and there is little in her eyes—nothing much there anymore. At first, her eyes were like hands reaching out to him, begging him to save her. Now her eyes are the bruised blue of dusk. Whatever was in them has almost left. Soon she will sleep.
“Here,” he says, handing her a tumbler that was handblown in Murano and now is filled with vodka.
He is fascinated by parts of her that have never seen the sun. They are pale like limestone, and he turns the spigot almost off, and the water is a trickle now, and he watches her rapid breathing and hears the chattering of her teeth. Her white breasts float beneath the surface of the water, delicate like white flowers. Her nipples, hard from the cold, are tight pink buds. Then he thinks of pencils. Of chewing off nubby pink erasers when he was in school, and telling his father and sometimes his mother that he didn’t need erasers because he didn’t make mistakes. When in truth, he liked to chew. He couldn’t help it, and that also was the truth.
“You’ll remember my name,” he says to her.
“I won’t,” she says. “I can forget it.” Chattering.
He knows why she says it: If she forgets his name, her destiny will be rethought like a bad battle plan.
“What is it?” he asks. “Tell me my name.”
“I don’t remember.” Crying, shaking.
“Say it,” he says, looking at her tan arms, pebbly with goose bumps, the blond hair on them erect, her young breasts and the darkness between her legs underwater.
“And the rest of it?”
“And you think that’s amusing,” he says, naked, sitting on the lid of the toilet.
She shakes her head vigorously.
Lying. She made fun of him when he told her his name. She laughed and said Rambo is make-believe, a movie name. He said it’s Swedish. She said he isn’t Swedish. He said the name is Swedish. Where did she think it came from? It’s a real name. “Right,” she said. “Like Rocky,” she said, laughing. “Look it up on the Internet,” he said. “It’s a real name,” he said, and he didn’t like that he had to explain his name. This was two days ago, and he didn’t hold it against her, but he was aware of it. He forgave her because despite what the world says, she suffers unbearably.
“Knowing my name will be an echo,” he says. “It makes no difference, not in the least. Just a sound already said.”
“I would never say it.” Panic.
Her lips and nails are blue, and she shivers uncontrollably. She stares. He tells her to drink more, and she doesn’t dare refuse him. The slightest act of insubordination, and she knows what happens. Even one small scream, and she knows what happens. He sits calmly on the lid of the toilet, his legs splayed so she can see his excitement, and fear it. She doesn’t beg anymore or tell him to have his way with her, if that’s the reason she’s his hostage. She doesn’t say this anymore because she knows what happens when she insults him and implies that if he had a way it would be with her. Meaning she wouldn’t give it willingly and want it.
“You realize I asked you nicely,” he says.
“I don’t know.” Teeth chattering.
“You do know. I asked you to thank me. That’s all I asked, and I was nice to you. I asked you nicely, then you had to do this,” he says. “You had to make me do this. You see”—he gets up and watches his nakedness in the mirror over the smooth marble sink—“your suffering makes me do this,” his nakedness in the mirror says. “And I don’t want to do this. So you’ve hurt me. Do you understand you’ve critically hurt me by making me do this?” his nakedness in the mirror says.
She says she understands, and her eyes scatter like flying shards of glass as he opens the toolbox, and her scattered gaze fixes on the box cutters and knives and fine-tooth saws. He lifts out a small bag of sand and sets it on the edge of the sink. He pulls out ampules of lavender glue and sets them down, too.
“I’ll do anything you want. Give you anything you want.” She has said this repeatedly.
He has ordered her not to say it again. But she just did.
His hands dip into the water, and the coldness of the water bites him, and he grabs her ankles and lifts her up. He holds her up by her cold, tan legs with their cold, white feet and feels her terror in her panicking muscles as he holds her cold ankles tight. He holds her a little longer than last time, and she struggles and flails and thrashes violently, cold water splashing loudly. He lets go. She gasps and coughs and makes strangling cries. She doesn’t complain. She’s learned not to complain—it took a while, but she’s learned it. She’s learned all of this is for her own good and is grateful for a sacrifice that will change his life—not hers, but his—in a way that isn’t good. Wasn’t good. Can never be good. She should be grateful for his gift.
He picks up the trash bag he filled with ice from the ice maker in the bar and pours the last of it in the tub and she looks at him, tears running down her face. Grief. The dark edges of it showing.
“We used to hang them from the ceiling over there,” he says. “Kick them in the sides of their knees, over and over. Over there. All of us coming into the small room and kicking the sides of their knees. It’s excruciatingly painful and, of course, crippling, and, of course, some of them died. That’s nothing compared to other things I saw over there. I didn’t work in that prison, you see. But I didn’t need to, because there was plenty of that type of behavior to go around. What people don’t understand is it wasn’t stupid to film any of it. To photograph it. It was inevitable. You have to. If you don’t, it’s as if it never happened. So people take pictures. They show them to others. It only takes one. One person to see it. Then the whole world does.”
She glances at the camera on the marble-top table against the stucco wall.
“They deserved it anyway, didn’t they?” he says. “They forced us to be something we weren’t, so whose fault was it? Not ours.”
She nods. She shivers, and her teeth chatter.
“I didn’t always participate,” he says. “I did watch. At first it was difficult, perhaps traumatic. I was against it, but the things they did to us. And because of what they did, we were forced to do things back, so it was their fault that they forced us, and I know you see that.”
She nods and cries and shakes.
“The roadside bombs. Kidnapping. Much more than you hear about,” he says. “You get used to it. Just like you’re getting used to the cold water, aren’t you?”
She isn’t used to it, only numb and on her way to hypothermia. By now her head pounds and her heart feels as if it will explode. He hands her the vodka, and she drinks.
“I’m going to open the window,” he says. “So you can hear Bernini’s fountain. I’ve heard it much of my life. The night’s perfect. You should see the stars.” He opens the window and looks at the night, the stars, the fountain of four rivers, and the piazza. Empty at this hour. “You won’t scream,” he says.
She shakes her head and her chest heaves and she shivers uncontrollably.
“You’re thinking about your friends. I know that. Certainly they’re thinking about you. That’s too bad. And they aren’t here. They aren’t anywhere to be seen.” He looks at the deserted piazza again and shrugs. “Why would they be here now? They’ve left. Long ago.”
Her nose runs and tears spill and she shakes. The energy in her eyes—it’s not what it was when he met her, and he resents her for ruining who she was to him. Earlier, much earlier, he spoke Italian to her because it changed him into the stranger he needed to be. Now he speaks English because it no longer makes a difference. She glances at his excitement. Her glances at his excitement bounce against it like a moth against a lamp. He feels her there. She fears what’s there. But not as much as she fears everything else—the water, the tools, the sand, the glue. She doesn’t comprehend the thick black belt coiled on the very old tile floor, and she should fear it most of all.
He picks it up and tells her it’s a primitive urge to beat people who can’t defend themselves. Why? She doesn’t answer. Why? She stares at him in terror, and the light in her eyes is dull but crazed, like a mirror shattering right in front of him. He tells her to stand, and she does, shakily, her knees almost collapsing. She stands in the frigid water and he turns off the spout. Her body reminds him of a bow with a taut string because she’s flexible and powerful. Water trickles down her skin as she stands before him.
“Turn away from me,” he says. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to beat you with the belt. I don’t do that.”
Water quietly laps in the tub as she turns away from him, facing old, cracked stucco and a closed shutter.
“Now I need you to kneel in the water,” he says. “And look at the wall. Don’t look at me.”
She kneels, facing the wall, and he picks up the belt and slides the end of it through the buckle.
Ten days later. April 27, 2007. A Friday afternoon.
Inside the virtual-reality theater are twelve of Italy’s most powerful law enforcers and politicians, whose names, in the main, forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta can’t keep straight. The only non-Italians are herself and forensic psychologist Benton Wesley, both consultants for International Investigative Response (IIR), a special branch of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). The Italian government is in a very delicate position.
Nine days ago, American tennis star Drew Martin was murdered while on vacation, her nude, mutilated body found near Piazza Navona, in the heart of Rome’s historic district. The case is an international sensation, details about the sixteen-year-old’s life and death replayed nonstop on television, the crawls at the bottom of the screen doing just that—crawling by slowly and tenaciously, repeating the same details the anchors and experts are saying.
“So, Dr. Scarpetta, let’s clarify, because there seems to be much confusion. According to you, she was dead by two or three o’clock that afternoon,” says Captain Ottorino Poma, a medico legale in the Arma dei Carabinieri, the military police heading the investigation.
“That’s not according to me,” she says, her patience beginning to fray. “That’s according to you.”
He frowns in the low lighting. “I was so sure it was you, just minutes ago, talking about her stomach contents and alcohol level. And the fact they indicate she was dead within hours of when she was seen last by her friends.”
“I didn’t say she was dead by two or three o’clock. I believe it is you who continues to say that, Captain Poma.”
At a young age he already has a widespread reputation, and not an entirely good one. When Scarpetta first met him two years ago in the Hague at the ENFSI’s annual meeting, he was derisively dubbed the Designer Doctor and described as extraordinarily conceited and argumentative. He is handsome—magnificent, really—with a taste for beautiful women and dazzling clothes, and today he is wearing a uniform of midnight blue with broad red stripes and bright silver embellishments, and polished black leather boots. When he swept into the theater this morning, he was wearing a red-lined cape.
He sits directly in front of Scarpetta, front row center, and rarely takes his eyes off her. On his right is Benton Wesley, who is silent most of the time. Everyone is masked by stereoscopic glasses that are synchronized with the Crime Scene Analysis System, a brilliant innovation that has made the Polizia Scientifica Italiana’s Unità per l’Analisi del Crimine Violento the envy of law enforcement agencies worldwide.
“I suppose we need to go through this again so you completely understand my position,” Scarpetta says to Captain Poma, who now rests his chin on his hand as if he is having an intimate conversation with her over a glass of wine. “Had she been killed at two or three o’clock that afternoon, then when her body was found at approximately eight-thirty the following morning, she would have been dead at least seventeen hours. Her livor mortis, rigor mortis, and algor mortis are inconsistent with that.”
She uses a laser pointer to direct attention to the three-dimensional muddy construction site projected on the wall-size screen. It’s as if they are standing in the middle of the scene, staring at Drew Martin’s mauled, dead body and the litter and earthmoving equipment around it. The red dot of the laser moves along the left shoulder, the left buttock, the left leg and its bare foot. The right buttock is gone, as is a portion of her right thigh, as if she had been attacked by a shark.
“Her lividity…” Scarpetta starts to say.
“Once again I apologize. My English isn’t so good as yours. I’m not sure of this word,” Captain Poma says.
“I’ve used it before.”
“I wasn’t sure of it then.”
Laughter. Other than the translator, Scarpetta is the only woman present. She and the translator don’t find the captain amusing, but the men do. Except Benton, who hasn’t smiled once this day.
“Do you know the Italian for this word?” Captain Poma asks Scarpetta.
“How about the language of ancient Rome?” Scarpetta says. “Latin. Since most medical terminology is rooted in Latin.” She doesn’t say it rudely, but is no-nonsense because she’s well aware that his English becomes awkward only when it suits him.
His 3-D glasses stare at her, reminding her of Zorro. “Italian, please,” he says to her. “I never was so good in Latin.”
“I’ll give you both. In Italian, ‘livid’ is livido, which means bruised. ‘Mortis’ is morte, or death. Livor mortis suggests an appearance of bruising that occurs after death.”
“It’s helpful when you speak Italian,” he says. “And you do it so well.”
She doesn’t intend to do it here, although she speaks enough Italian to get by. She prefers English during these professional discussions because nuances are tricky, and the translator intercepts every word anyway. This difficulty with language, along with political pressure, stress, and Captain Poma’s relentless and enigmatic antics, add to what already is rather much a disaster that has nothing to do with any of these things. But rather, the killer in this case defies precedents and the usual profiles. He confounds them. Even the science has become a maddening source of debate—it seems to defy them, lie to them, forcing Scarpetta to remind herself and everyone else that science never tells untruths. It doesn’t make mistakes. It doesn’t deliberately lead them astray or taunt them.
This is lost on Captain Poma. Or perhaps he pretends. Perhaps he isn’t serious when he refers to Drew’s dead body as uncooperative and argumentative, as if he has a relationship with it and they are squabbling. He asserts that her postmortem changes may say one thing, and her blood alcohol and stomach contents say another, but contrary to what Scarpetta believes, food and drink should always be trusted. He is serious, at least about that.
“What Drew ate and drank is revealing of truth.” He repeats what he said in his impassioned opening statement earlier today.
“Revealing of a truth, yes. But not your truth,” Scarpetta replies, in a tone more polite than what she says. “Your truth is a misinterpretation.”
“I think we’ve been over this,” Benton says from the shadows of the front row. “I think Dr. Scarpetta has made herself perfectly clear.”
Captain Poma’s 3-D glasses—and rows of other 3-D glasses—remain fixed on her. “I regret if I bore you with my reexamination, Dr. Wesley, but we need to find sense in this. So please indulge me. April seventeenth, Drew ate very bad lasagna and drank four glasses of very bad Chianti between eleven-thirty and twelve-thirty at a tourist trattoria near the Spanish Steps. She paid the bill and left, then at the Piazza di Spagna parted company with her two friends, who she promised to rejoin at Piazza Navona within the hour. She never appeared. That much we know to be true. What remains a mystery is everything else.” His thick-framed glasses look at Scarpetta, then he turns in his seat and speaks to the rows behind him. “Partly because our esteemed colleague from the United States now says she’s convinced Drew didn’t die shortly after lunch or even that same day.”
“I’ve been saying this all along. Once again, I’ll explain why. Since it seems you are confused,” Scarpetta says.
“We need to move on,” Benton says.
But they can’t move on. Captain Poma is so respected by the Italians, is such a celebrity, he can do whatever he wants. In the press he is called the Sherlock Holmes of Rome, even though he is a physician, not a detective. Everyone, including the Comandante Generale of the Carabinieri, who sits in a back corner and listens more than he speaks, seems to have forgotten that.
“Under normal circumstances,” Scarpetta says, “Drew’s food would have been fully digested several hours after she ate lunch, and her alcohol level certainly wouldn’t have been as high as the point-two determined by toxicological testing. So, yes, Captain Poma, her stomach contents and toxicology suggest she died shortly after lunch. But her livor mortis and rigor mortis suggest—rather emphatically, let me add—that she died possibly twelve to fifteen hours after she ate lunch at the trattoria, and these postmortem artifacts are the ones we should pay the most attention to.”
“So here we are. Back to lividity.” He sighs. “This word I have so much trouble with. Please explain it again, since I seem to have so much trouble with what you call postmortem artifacts. As if we are archaeologists digging up ruins.” Captain Poma’s chin rests on his hand again.
“Lividity, livor mortis, postmortem hypostasis, all the same thing. When you die, your circulation quits and the blood begins to accumulate in the small vessels due to gravity, rather much like sediment settling in a sunken ship.” She feels Benton’s 3-D glasses looking at her. She dares not look at him. He isn’t himself.
“Continue, please.” Captain Poma underlines something several times on his legal pad.
“If the body remains in a certain position long enough after death, the blood will settle accordingly—a postmortem artifact we call livor mortis,” Scarpetta explains. “Eventually, livor mortis becomes fixed, or set, turning that area of the body purplish-red, with patterns of blanching from surfaces pressing against it or constricting it, such as tight clothing. Can we see the autopsy photograph, please?” She checks a list on the podium. “Number twenty-one.”
The wall fills with Drew’s body on a steel table in the morgue at Tor Vergata University. She is facedown. Scarpetta moves the laser’s red dot over the back, over the purplish-red areas and blanching caused by lividity. The shocking wounds that look like dark red craters she has yet to address.
“Now, if you’ll put the scene up, please. The one that shows her being placed into the body bag,” she says.
The three-dimensional photograph of the construction site fills the wall again, but this time there are investigators in white Tyvek suits, gloves, and shoe covers lifting Drew’s limp, naked body into a sheet-lined black pouch on top of a stretcher. Around them, other investigators hold up additional sheets to block the view from the curious and the paparazzi at the perimeter of the scene.
“Compare this to the photograph you just saw. By the time she was autopsied some eight hours after she was found, her lividity was almost completely set,” Scarpetta says. “But here at the scene, it’s apparent that lividity was in its early stages.” The red dot moves over pinkish areas on Drew’s back. “Rigor was in its early stages as well.”
“You rule out the early onset of rigor mortis due to a cadervic spasm? For example, if she strenuously exerted herself right before death? Maybe she struggled with him? Since you’ve not mentioned this phenomenon so far?” Captain Poma underlines something on his legal pad.
“There’s no reason to talk about a cadervic spasm,” Scarpetta says. Why don’t you throw in the kitchen sink? she’s tempted to ask. “Whether she strenuously exerted herself or not,” she says, “she wasn’t fully rigorous when she was found, so she didn’t have a cadervic spasm….”
“Unless rigor came and went.”
“Impossible, since it became fully fixed in the morgue. Rigor doesn’t come and go and then come again.”
The translator suppresses a smile as she relays this in Italian, and several people laugh.
“You can see from this”—Scarpetta points the laser at Drew’s body being lifted onto the stretcher—“her muscles certainly aren’t stiff. They’re quite flexible. I estimate she’d been dead less than six hours when she was found, possibly considerably less.”
“You’re a world expert. How can you be so vague?”
“Because we don’t know where she’d been, what temperatures or conditions she was exposed to before she was left in the construction site. Body temperature, rigor mortis, livor mortis can vary greatly from case to case and individual to individual.”
“Based on the condition of the body, are you saying it’s impossible she was murdered soon after she had lunch with her friends? Perhaps while she was walking alone to Piazza Navona to join them?”
“I don’t believe that’s what happened.”
“Then once again, please. How do you explain her undigested food and point-two alcohol level? They imply she died soon after she ate lunch with her friends—not some fifteen, sixteen hours later.”
“It’s possible not long after she left her friends, she resumed drinking alcohol and was so terrified and stressed, her digestion quit.”
“What? Now you’re suggesting she spent time with her killer, possibly as much as ten, twelve, fifteen hours with him—that she was drinking with him?”
“He might have forced her to drink, to keep her impaired and easier to control. As in drugging somebody.”
“So he forced her to drink alcohol, perhaps all afternoon, all night, and into the early morning, and she was so frightened her food didn’t digest? That’s what you’re offering us as a plausible explanation?”
“I’ve seen it before,” Scarpetta says.
The animated construction site after dark.
Surrounding shops, pizzerias, and ristorantes are lit up and crowded. Cars and motor scooters are parked on the sides of the streets, on the sidewalks. The rumble of traffic and the sounds of footsteps and voices fill the theater.
Suddenly, the lighted windows go dark. Then silence.
The sound of a car, and the shape of it. A four-door black Lancia parks at the corner of Via di Pasquino and Via dell’Anima. The driver’s door opens and an animated man gets out. He is dressed in gray. His face has no features and, like his hands, is gray, from which everyone in the theater is to infer that the killer hasn’t been assigned an age, race, or any physical characteristics. For the sake of simplicity, the killer is referred to as male. The gray man opens the trunk and lifts out a body wrapped in a blue fabric with a pattern that includes the colors red, gold, and green.
“The sheet wrapped around her is based on silk fibers collected from the body and in the mud under it,” Captain Poma says.
Benton Wesley says, “Fibers found all over the body. Including in the hair, on the hands, the feet. Certainly an abundance of them were adhering to her wounds. From this we can conclude she was completely wrapped from head to toe. So, yes, obviously we have to consider a large piece of colorful silk fabric. Perhaps a sheet, perhaps a curtain…”
“What’s your point?”
“I have two of them: We shouldn’t assume it was a sheet, because we shouldn’t assume anything. Also, it’s possible he wrapped her in something that was indigenous to where he lives or works, or where he held her hostage.”
“Yes, yes.” Captain Poma’s glasses remain fixed on the scene filling the wall. “And we know there are carpet fibers which are also consistent with carpet fibers in the trunk of a 2005 Lancia, which is consistent also with what was described driving away from that area at approximately six a.m. The witness I mentioned. A woman in a nearby apartment got up to see about her cat because it was—what is the word…?”
“Yowling? Meowing?” the translator says.
“She got up because of her cat yowling and happened to look out her widow to see a dark luxury sedan driving away from the construction site as if in no hurry. She said it turned right on dell’Anima, a one-way street. Continue, please.”
The animation resumes. The gray man lifts the colorfully wrapped body out of the car trunk and carries it to a nearby aluminum catwalk that is barricaded only by a rope, which he steps over. He carries the body down a wooden plank that leads into the site. He places the body to one side of the plank, in the mud, and squats in the dark and quickly unwraps a figure that turns into the dead body of Drew Martin. This is no animation, but a three-dimensional photograph. One can see her clearly—her famous face, the savage wounds on her slender, athletic, naked body. The gray man balls up the colorful wrapping and returns to his car. He drives off at a normal rate of speed.
“We believe he did carry the body instead of dragging it,” Captain Poma says. “Because these fibers were only on the body and on the soil beneath it. There were no others, and although this isn’t proof, it certainly does indicate he didn’t drag her. Let me remind you, this scene has been mapped with the laser mapping system, and the perspective you’re seeing and the position of objects and the body are completely precise. Obviously, only people or objects that weren’t videotaped or photographed—such as the killer and his car—are animated.”
“How heavy was she?” the minister of the interior asks from the back row.
Scarpetta replies that Drew Martin weighed one hundred and thirty pounds, then converts that to kilograms. “He had to be reasonably strong,” she adds.
Animation resumes. Silence and the construction site in early-morning light. The sound of rain. Windows in the area remain dark, the businesses closed. No traffic. Then the whine of a motorcycle. Getting louder. A red Ducati appears on Via di Pasquino, the rider an animated figure in a rain slicker and a full-face helmet. He turns right on dell’Anima and suddenly stops, and the bike drops to the pavement with a loud thud, and the engine quits. The startled rider steps over his bike and hesitantly steps onto the aluminum catwalk, his boots loud on metal. The dead body below him in the mud looks more shocking, more gruesome, because it’s a three-dimensional photograph juxtaposed to the motorcyclist’s rather stilted animation.
“It’s now almost half past eight, the weather, as you can see, overcast and raining,” Captain Poma says. “Please move ahead to Professor Fiorani at the scene. That would be image fourteen. And now Dr. Scarpetta, you can, if you will, examine the body at the scene with the good professor, who isn’t here this afternoon, I’m sorry to say, because, can you guess? He’s at the Vatican. A cardinal died.”
Benton stares at the screen behind Scarpetta, and it knots her stomach that he is so unhappy and won’t look at her.
New images—video recordings in 3-D—fill the screen. Blue lights strobing. Police cars and a midnight-blue Carabinieri crime scene van. More Carabinieri with machine guns guarding the perimeter of the construction site. Plainclothes investigators inside the cordoned-off area, collecting evidence, taking photographs. The sounds of camera shutters and low voices and crowds on the streets. A police helicopter thud-thuds overhead. The professor—the most esteemed forensic pathologist in Rome—is covered in white Tyvek that is muddy. Close on, his point of view: Drew’s body. It’s so real in the stereoscopic glasses, it’s bizarre. Scarpetta feels as if she can touch Drew’s flesh and her gaping dark red wounds that are smeared with mud and glistening wet from the rain. Her long blond hair is wet and clings to her face. Her eyes are tightly shut and bulging beneath the lids.
“Dr. Scarpetta,” Captain Poma says. “You may examine her, please. Tell us what you see. You have, of course, studied Professor Fiorani’s report, but as you look at the body itself in three-dimension and are placed at the scene with it, please give us your own opinion. We won’t criticize you if you disagree with Professor Fiorani’s findings.”
Who’s considered as infallible as the Pope he embalmed several years earlier.
The laser’s red dot moves where Scarpetta points, and she says, “The position of the body. On the left side, hands folded under the chin, legs slightly bent. A position I believe is deliberate. Dr. Wesley?” She looks at Benton’s thick glasses looking past her, at the screen. “This is a good time for you to comment.”
“Deliberate. The body was positioned by the killer.”
“As if she’s praying, perhaps?” says the chief of the state police.
“What was her religion?” asks the deputy director of the Criminal Police National Directorate.
A peppering of questions and conjectures from the barely lit theater.
“She didn’t practice it, I understand.”
“Perhaps some religious connection?”
“Yes, I wonder that, too. The construction site is so close to Sant’Agnese in Agone.”
Captain Poma explains, “For those unfamiliar”—he looks at Benton—“Saint Agnes was a martyr tortured and murdered at the age of twelve because she wouldn’t marry a pagan like me.”
Peals of laughter. A discussion about the murder having a religious significance. But Benton says no.
“There’s sexual degradation,” he says. “She’s displayed, and she’s nude and dumped in plain view in the very area where she was supposed to meet her friends. The killer wanted her found, he wanted to shock people. Religion isn’t the overriding motive. Sexual excitement is.”
“Yet we found no evidence of rape.” This said by the head of the Carabinieri forensic labs.
He goes on to say through the translator that it appears the killer left no seminal fluid, no blood, no saliva, unless it was washed away by rain. But DNA from two different sources was collected from under her fingernails. The profiles have proved useless so far because, unfortunately, he explains, the Italian government doesn’t allow DNA samples to be taken from criminals, as it’s considered a violation of their human rights. The only profiles that can be entered into an Italian database at this time, he says, are those obtained from evidence, not from individuals.
“So there’s no database to search in Italy,” Captain Poma adds. “And the most we can say right now is the DNA collected from under Drew’s fingernails doesn’t match the DNA of any individual in any database outside Italy, including the United States.”
“I believe you’ve ascertained that the sources of DNA collected from under her nails are males of European descent—in other words, Caucasian,” Benton says.
“Yes,” the lab director says.
“Dr. Scarpetta?” Captain Poma says. “Please continue.”
“May I have autopsy photo number twenty-six, please?” she says. “A posterior view during the external examination. Close-up of the wounds.”
They fill the screen. Two dark red craters with jagged edges. She points the laser, and the red dot moves over the massive wound where the right buttock used to be, then to a second area of flesh that has been excised from the back of the right thigh.
“Inflicted by a sharp cutting instrument, possibly with a serrated blade, that sawed through muscle and superficially cut the bone,” she says. “Inflicted postmortem, based on the absence of tissue response to the injuries. In other words, the wounds are yellowish.”
“Postmortem mutilation rules out torture, at least torture by cutting,” Benton adds.
“Then what explanation? If not torture?” Captain Poma asks him, both men staring at each other like two animals that are natural enemies. “Why else would a person inflict such sadistic, and, I would suggest, disfiguring, wounds on another human being? Tell us, Dr. Wesley, in all your experiences have you seen anything like this before, perhaps in other cases? Especially when you were such a famous profiler with the FBI?”
“No,” Benton says curtly, and any reference to his former career with the FBI is a calculated insult. “I’ve seen mutilation. But I’ve never seen anything quite like this. Especially what he did to her eyes.”
He removed them and filled the sockets with sand. Afterward, he glued her eyelids shut.
Scarpetta points the laser and describes this, and Benton is chilled again. Everything about this case chills him, unnerves and fascinates him. What is the symbolism? It’s not that he’s unfamiliar with the gouging out of eyes. But what Captain Poma suggests is far-fetched.
“The ancient Greek combat sport pankration? Perhaps you’ve heard of it,” Captain Poma says to the theater. “In pankration, one uses any means possible to defeat his enemy. It was common to gouge out the eyes and kill the person by stabbing or strangulation. Drew’s eyes were gouged out, and she was strangled.”
The general of the Carabinieri asks Benton, through the translator, “Then maybe there’s a connection to pankration? That the killer had this in his mind when he removed her eyes and strangled her?”
“I don’t think so,” Benton says.
“Then what explanation?” the general asks, and like Captain Poma, he wears a splendid uniform but with more silver and ornamentation around the cuffs and high collar.
“A more interior one. A more personal one,” Benton says.
“From the news, perhaps,” the general says. “Torture. The Death Squads in Iraq that pull out teeth and gouge out eyes.”
“I can only suppose that what this killer did is a manifestation of his own psyche. In other words, I don’t believe what he did to her is an allusion to anything even remotely obvious. Through her wounds, we get a glimpse into his inner world,” Benton says.
“This is speculation,” Captain Poma says.
“It’s a psychological insight based on many years of working violent crimes,” Benton replies.
“But it’s your intuition.”
“We ignore intuition at our peril,” Benton says.
“May we have the autopsy picture that shows her anteriorly during the external examination?” Scarpetta says. “A close-up of her neck.” She checks the list on the podium. “Number twenty.”
A three-dimensional image fills the screen: Drew’s body on a stainless-steel autopsy table, her skin and hair wet from washing.
“If you look here”—Scarpetta points the laser at the neck—“you notice a horizontal ligature mark.” The dot moves along the front of the neck. Before she can continue, she’s interrupted by Rome’s head of tourism.
“Afterwards, he removed her eyes. After death,” he says. “Versus while she was alive. This is important.”
“Yes,” Scarpetta replies. “Reports I’ve reviewed indicate the only pre-mortem injuries are contusions on the ankles and contusions caused by strangulation. The photograph of her dissected neck, please? Number thirty-eight.”
She waits, and images fill the screen. On a cutting board, the larynx and soft tissue with areas of hemorrhage. The tongue.
Scarpetta points out, “Contusions to the soft tissue, the underlying muscles, and fractured hyoid due to strangulation clearly indicate damage inflicted while she was still alive.”
“Petechiae of her eyes?”
“We don’t know if there were conjunctival petechiae,” Scarpetta says. “Her eyes are absent. But reports do indicate some petechiae of eyelids and face.”
“What he did to her eyes? You’re familiar with this from anything else in your experiences?”
“I’ve seen victims whose eyes were gouged out. But I’ve never seen or heard of a killer filling eye sockets with sand and then sealing the eyelids shut with—in this instance—an adhesive that according to your report is a cyanoacrylate.”
“Superglue,” Captain Poma says.
“I’m keenly interested in the sand,” she says. “It doesn’t appear to be indigenous to the area. More important, scanning electron microscopy with EDX found traces of what appears to be gunshot residue. Lead, antimony, and barium.”
“Certainly it isn’t from the local beaches,” Captain Poma says. “Unless many people shoot each other and we don’t know it.”
“Sand from Ostia would have basalt in it,” Scarpetta says. “Other components from volcanic activity. I believe all of you have a copy of the spectral fingerprint of the sand recovered from the body and a spectral fingerprint of sand from a beach area in Ostia.”
The sounds of paper rustling in the theater. Small flashlights click on.
“Both analyzed with Raman spectroscopy, using an eight-point-milliwatt red laser. As you can see, sand from the local beaches of Ostia and sand found in Drew Martin’s eye sockets have very different spectral fingerprints. With the scanning electron microscope, we can see the sand’s morphology, and backscattered electron imaging shows us the GSR particles we’re talking about.”
“The beaches of Ostia are very popular with tourists,” Captain Poma says. “But not so much this time of year. People from here and the tourists usually wait until it’s warmer. Late May, even June. Then many people from Rome especially crowd them, since the drive is maybe thirty, maybe forty minutes. It’s not for me,” as if anybody asked his personal feelings about the beaches of Ostia. “I find the black sand of the beaches ugly, and I would never go in the water.”
“I think what’s important here is where is the sand from, which seems to be a mystery,” Benton says, and it’s late afternoon now and everyone is getting restless. “And why sand at all? The choice of sand—this specific sand—means something to the killer, and it may tell us where Drew was murdered, or perhaps where her killer is from or spends time.”
“Yes, yes,” Captain Poma says with a hint of impatience. “And the eyes and very terrible wounds mean something to the killer. And thankfully, these details aren’t known to the public. We’ve managed to keep them away from journalists. So if there is another similar murder, we will know it isn’t a copy.”
The three of them sit in a candlelit corner of Tullio, a popular trattoria with a travertine facade, near the theaters, and an easy walk from the Spanish Steps.
Candlelit tables are covered in pale gold cloths, and the dark-paneled wall behind them is filled with bottles of wine. Other walls are hung with watercolors of rustic Italian scenes. It’s quiet here except for a table of drunk Americans. They’re oblivious and preoccupied, as is the waiter in his beige jacket and black tie. No one has any idea what Benton, Scarpetta, and Captain Poma are discussing. If anyone comes close enough to hear, they change their conversation to harmless topics and tuck photographs and reports back into folders.
Scarpetta sips a 1996 Biondi Santi Brunello that is very expensive but not what she would have picked had she been asked, and usually she is asked. She returns her glass to the table without removing her eyes from the photograph beside her simple Parma ham and melon, which she will follow with grilled sea bass, then beans in olive oil. Maybe raspberries for dessert, unless Benton’s deteriorating demeanor takes away her appetite. And it might.
“At the risk of sounding simple,” she is quietly saying, “I keep thinking there’s something important we’re missing.” Her index finger taps a scene photograph of Drew Martin.
“So now you don’t complain about going over something again and again,” Captain Poma says, openly flirtatious now. “See? Good food and wine. They make us smarter.” He taps his head, mimicking Scarpetta tapping the photograph.
She is pensive, the way she gets when she leaves the room without going anywhere.
“Something so obvious we’re completely blind to it, everyone’s been blind to it,” she continues. “Often we don’t see something because—as they say—it’s in plain view. What is it? What is she saying to us?”
“Fine. Let’s look for what’s in plain view,” says Benton, and rarely has she seen him so openly hostile and withdrawn. He doesn’t hide his disdain of Captain Poma, now dressed in perfect pinstripes. His gold cuff links engraved with the crest of the Carabinieri flash when they catch the light of the candle.
“Yes, in plain view. Every inch of her exposed flesh—before anybody touched it. We should study it in that condition. Untouched. Exactly as he left it,” Captain Poma says, his eyes on Scarpetta. “How he left it is a story, is it not? But before I forget, to our last time together in Rome. At least for now. We should drink a toast to that.”
It doesn’t seem right to raise their glasses with the dead young woman watching, her naked, savaged body right there on the table, in a sense.
“And a toast to the FBI,” says Captain Poma. “To their determination to turn this into an act of terrorism. The ultimate soft target—an American tennis star.”
“It’s a waste of time to even allude to such a thing,” Benton says, and he picks up his glass, not to toast but to drink.
“Then tell your government to stop suggesting it,” Captain Poma says. “There, I will say this bluntly since we’re alone. Your government is spreading this propaganda from behind the scenes, and the reason we didn’t discuss this earlier is because the Italians don’t believe anything so ridiculous. No terrorist is responsible. The FBI to say such a thing? It’s stupid.”
“The FBI isn’t sitting here. We are. And we aren’t the FBI, and I’m weary of your references to the FBI,” Benton replies.
“But you were FBI most of your career. Until you quit and disappeared from sight as if you were dead. For some reason.”
“If this were an act of terrorism, someone would have claimed responsibility by now,” Benton says. “I’d rather you don’t mention the FBI or my personal history again.”
“An insatiable appetite for publicity and your country’s current need to scare the hell out of everybody and rule the world.” Captain Poma refills their wineglasses. “Your Bureau of Investigation interviewing witnesses here in Rome, stepping all over Interpol, and they’re supposed to work with Interpol, have their own representatives there. And they fly in these idiots from Washington who don’t know us, much less how to work a complex homicide—”
Benton interrupts him. “You should know by now, Captain Poma, that politics and jurisdictional infighting are the nature of the beast.”
“I wish you would call me Otto. As my friends do.” He moves his chair closer to Scarpetta, and with him comes the scent of his cologne, then he moves the candle. He glances in disgust at the table of obtuse, hard-drinking Americans and says, “You know, we try to like you.”
“Don’t try,” Benton says. “No one else does.”
“I’ve never understood why you Americans are so loud.”
“Because we don’t listen,” Scarpetta says. “That’s why we have George Bush.”
Captain Poma picks up the photograph near her plate, studies it as if he’s never seen it before. “I’m looking at what’s in plain view,” he says. “And all I see is the obvious.”
Benton stares at the two of them sitting so close, his handsome face like granite.
“It’s better to assume there’s no such thing as obvious. It’s a word,” Scarpetta says, sliding more photographs out of an envelope. “A reference to one’s personal perceptions. And mine may be different from yours.”
“I believe you demonstrated that quite exhaustively at state police headquarters,” the captain says, while Benton stares.
She looks at Benton, a lingering look that communicates her awareness of his behavior and how unnecessary it is. He has no reason to be jealous. She has done nothing to encourage Captain Poma’s flirtations.
“In plain view. Well, then. Why don’t we start with her toes,” Benton says, barely touching his buffalo mozzarella and already on his third glass of wine.
“That’s actually a good idea.” Scarpetta studies photographs of Drew. She studies a close-up of Drew’s bare toes. “Neatly manicured. Nails painted recently, consistent with her getting a pedicure before she left New York.” She repeats what they know.
“Does that matter?” Captain Poma studies a photograph, leaning so close to Scarpetta that his arm is touching hers, and she feels his heat and smells his scent. “I don’t think so. I think it matters more what she was wearing. Black jeans, a white silk shirt, a black silk–lined black leather jacket. Also, black panties and a black bra.” He pauses. “It’s curious her body didn’t have any fibers from these, just the fibers from the sheet.”
“We don’t know for a fact it was a sheet,” Benton reminds him sharply.
“Also, her clothing, her watch, necklace, leather bracelets, and earrings haven’t been found. So the killer took these things,” the captain says to Scarpetta. “For what reason? Perhaps souvenirs. But we will talk about her pedicure, since you think it important. Drew went to a spa on Central Park South right after she got to New York. We have details of this appointment, charged to Drew’s credit card—her father’s credit card, actually. From what I’m told, he was most indulgent with her.”
“I think it’s been well established she was spoiled,” Benton says.
“I think we should be careful using words like that,” Scarpetta says. “She earned what she had, is the one who practiced six hours a day, trained so hard—had just won the Family Circle Cup and was expected to win other…”
“That’s where you live,” Captain Poma says to her. “Charleston, South Carolina. Where the Family Circle Cup is played. Odd, isn’t it. That very night she flew to New York. And from there to here. To this.” He indicates the photographs.
“What I’m saying is money can’t buy championship titles, and spoiled people usually don’t work as passionately as she did,” Scarpetta says.
Benton says, “Her father spoiled her but couldn’t be bothered with parenting. Same with her mother.”
“Yes, yes,” Captain Poma agrees. “What parents permit a sixteen-year-old to travel abroad with two eighteen-year-old friends? Especially if she’d been acting moody. Up and down.”
“When your child becomes more difficult, it gets easier to give in. Not resist,” Scarpetta says, thinking about her niece, Lucy. When Lucy was a child, God, their battles. “What about her coach? Do we know anything about that relationship?”
“Gianni Lupano. I spoke to him, and he said he was aware she was coming here and wasn’t happy about it because of major tournaments in the next few months, such as Wimbledon. He wasn’t helpful and seemed angry with her.”
“And the Italian Open here in Rome next month,” Scarpetta points out, finding it unusual the captain didn’t mention it.
“Of course. She should train, not run off with friends. I don’t watch tennis.”
“Where was he when she was murdered?” Scarpetta asks.
“New York. We’ve checked with the hotel where he said he stayed, and he was registered at that time. He also commented she had been moody. Down one day, up the next. Very stubborn and difficult and unpredictable. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could work with her. Said he had better things to do than put up with her behavior.”
“I’d like to know if mood disorders run in her family,” Benton says. “I don’t suppose you bothered to ask.”
“I didn’t. I’m sorry I wasn’t astute enough to think of it.”
“It would be extremely useful to know if she had a psychiatric history her family’s been secretive about.”
“It’s well known she’d struggled with an eating disorder,” Scarpetta says. “She’s talked openly about it.”
“No mention of a mood disorder? Nothing from her parents?” Benton continues his cool interrogation of the captain.
“Nothing more than her ups and downs. Typical teenager.”
“Do you have children?” Benton reaches for his wine.
“Not that I know of.”
“A trigger,” Scarpetta says. “Something was going on with Drew that no one’s telling us. Perhaps what’s in plain view? Her behavior’s in plain view. Her drinking’s in plain view. Why? Did something happen?”
“The tournament in Charleston,” Captain Poma says to Scarpetta. “Where you have your private practice. What is it they call it? The Lowcountry? What is Lowcountry, exactly?” He slowly swirls his wine, his eyes on her.
“Almost sea level, literally low country.”
“And your local police have no interest in this case? Since she played a tournament there just maybe two days before she was murdered?”
“Curious, I’m sure—” Scarpetta starts to say.
“Her murder has nothing to do with the Charleston police,” Benton interrupts. “They have no jurisdiction.”
Scarpetta gives him a look, and the captain watches both of them. He’s been watching their tense interaction all day.
“No jurisdiction hasn’t stopped anybody from showing up and flashing their badges,” Captain Poma says.
“If you’re alluding to the FBI again, you’ve made your point,” says Benton. “If you’re alluding to my being former FBI again, you’ve definitely made your point. If you’re alluding to Dr. Scarpetta and me—we were invited by you. We didn’t just show up, Otto. Since you’ve asked us to call you that.”
“Is it me or is this not perfect?” The captain holds up his glass of wine as if it is a flawed diamond.
Benton picked the wine. Scarpetta knows more about Italian wines than he does, but tonight he finds it necessary to assert his dominance, as if he has just plummeted fifty rungs on the evolutionary ladder. She feels Captain Poma’s interest in her as she looks at another photograph, grateful the waiter doesn’t seem inclined to come their way. He’s busy with the table of loud Americans.
“Close-up of her legs,” she says. “Bruising around her ankles.”
“Fresh bruises,” Captain Poma says. “He grabbed her, maybe.”
“Possibly. They aren’t from ligatures.”
She wishes Captain Poma wouldn’t sit so close to her, but there’s no where else for her to move unless she pushes her chair into the wall. She wishes he wouldn’t brush against her when he reaches for photographs.
“Her legs are recently shaven,” she goes on. “I would say shaven within twenty-four hours of her death. Barely any stubble. She cared about how she looked even when she was traveling with friends. That might be important. Was she hoping to meet someone?”
“Of course. Three young women looking for young men,” Captain Poma says.
Scarpetta watches Benton motion for the waiter to bring another bottle of wine.
She says, “Drew was a celebrity. From what I’ve been told, she was careful about strangers, didn’t like to be bothered.”
“Her drinking doesn’t make much sense,” Benton says.
“Chronic drinking doesn’t,” Scarpetta says. “You can look at these photographs and see she was extremely fit, lean, superb muscle development. If she’d become a heavy drinker, it would appear it hadn’t been going on long, and her recent success would indicate that as well. Again, we have to wonder if something recently had happened. Some emotional upheaval?”
“Depressed. Unstable. Abusing alcohol,” Benton says. “All making the person more vulnerable to a predator.”
“And that’s what I think happened,” Captain Poma says. “Randomness. An easy target. Alone at the Piazza di Spagna, where she encountered the gold-painted mime.”
The gold-painted mime performed as mimes do, and Drew dropped another coin into his cup, and he performed once more to her delight.
She refused to leave with her friends. The last thing she ever said to them was, “Beneath all that gold paint is a very handsome Italian.” The last thing her friends ever said to her was, “Don’t assume he’s Italian.” It was a valid comment, since mimes don’t speak.
She told her friends to go on, perhaps visit the shops of Via dei Condotti, and she promised to meet them at the Piazza Navona, at the fountain of rivers, where they waited and waited. They told Captain Poma they tasted free samples of crispy waffles made of eggs and farina and sugar, and giggled as Italian boys shot them with bubble guns, begging them to buy one. Instead, Drew’s friends got fake tattoos and encouraged street musicians to play American tunes on reed pipes. They admitted they had gotten somewhat drunk at lunch and were silly.
They described Drew as “a little drunk,” and said she was pretty but didn’t think she was. She assumed people stared because they recognized her, when often it was because of her good looks. “People who don’t watch tennis didn’t necessarily recognize her at all,” one of the friends told Captain Poma. “She just didn’t get how beautiful she was.”
Captain Poma talks on through their main course, and Benton, for the most part, drinks, and Scarpetta knows what he thinks—she should avoid the captain’s seductions, should somehow move out of range, which in truth would require nothing less than her leaving the table, if not the trattoria. Benton thinks the captain is full of shit, because it defies common sense that a medico legale would interview witnesses as if he is the lead detective in the case, and the captain never mentions the name of anyone else involved in the case. Benton forgets that Captain Poma is the Sherlock Holmes of Rome, or, more likely, Benton can’t stomach the thought, he is so jealous.
Scarpetta makes notes as the captain recounts in detail his long interview with the gold-painted mime, who has what appears to be an infallible alibi: He was still performing in his same spot at the base of the Spanish Steps until late afternoon—long after Drew’s friends returned to look for her. He claimed to vaguely remember the girl, but he had no idea who she was, thought she was drunk, and then she wandered off. In summary, he paid little attention to her, he said. He is a mime, he said. He acted like a mime at all times, he said. When he’s not a mime, he works at night as a doorman at the Hotel Hassler, where Benton and Scarpetta are staying. At the top of the Spanish Steps, the Hassler is one of the finest hotels in Rome, and Benton insisted on staying there in its penthouse for reasons he has yet to explain.
Scarpetta has barely touched her fish. She continues to look at the photographs as if for the first time. She doesn’t contribute to Benton and Captain Poma’s argument about why some killers grotesquely display their victims. She adds nothing to Benton’s talk of the excitement these sexual predators derive from the headline news or, even better, from lurking nearby or in the crowd, watching the drama of the discovery and the panic that follows. She studies Drew’s mauled naked body, on its side, legs together, knees and elbows bent, hands tucked under the chin.
Almost as if she’s sleeping.
“I’m not sure it’s contempt,” she says.
Benton and Captain Poma stop talking.
“If you look at this”—she slides a photograph closer to Benton—“without the usual assumption in mind that this is a sexually degrading display, you might wonder if there’s something different. Not about religion, either. Not praying to Saint Agnes. But the way she’s positioned.” She continues to say things as they come to her. “Something almost tender about it.”
“Tender? You’re joking,” Captain Poma says.
“As in sleeping,” Scarpetta says. “It doesn’t strike me that she’s displayed in a sexually degrading way—victim on her back, her arms, her legs spread, et cetera. The more I look, I don’t think so.”
“Maybe,” Benton says, picking up the photograph.
“But nude for everyone to see,” Captain Poma disagrees.
“Take a good look at her position. I could be wrong, of course, just trying to open my mind to other interpretations, putting aside my prejudices, my angry assumptions that this killer is filled with hate. It’s just a feeling I’m getting. The suggestion of a different possibility, that maybe he wanted her found but his intention wasn’t to sexually degrade,” she says.
“You don’t see contempt? Rage?” Captain Poma is surprised, seems genuinely incredulous.
“I think what he did made him feel powerful. He had a need to overpower her. He has other needs that at this moment we can’t possibly know,” she says. “And I’m certainly not suggesting there’s no sexual component. I’m not saying there isn’t rage. I just don’t think these are what drive him.”
“Charleston must feel very lucky to have you,” he says.
“I’m not sure Charleston feels anything of the sort,” she says. “At least, the local coroner most likely doesn’t.”
The drunk Americans are getting louder. Benton seems distracted by what they’re saying.
“An expert like yourself right there. Very lucky is how I would consider it if I were the coroner. And he doesn’t avail himself of your talents?” Captain Poma says, brushing against her as he reaches for a photograph he doesn’t need to look at again.
“He sends his cases to the Medical University of South Carolina, has never had to contend with a private pathology practice before. Not in Charleston or anywhere. My contracts are with some of the coroners from outlying jurisdictions where there’s no access to medical examiner facilities and labs,” she explains, distracted by Benton.
He indicates for her to pay attention to what the drunk Americans are saying.
“…I just think when it’s undisclosed this and undisclosed that, it’s fishy,” one of them pontificates.
“Why would she want anybody to know? I don’t blame her. It’s like Oprah or Anna Nicole Smith. People find out where they are, they show up in droves.”
“How sickening. Imagine being in the hospital…”
“Or in Anna Nicole Smith’s case, in the morgue. Or in the damn ground…”
“…And mobs of people out there on the sidewalk, yelling out your name.”
“Can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, is what I say. Price you pay for being rich and famous.”
“What’s going on?” Scarpetta asks Benton.
“It would seem our old friend Dr. Self had some sort of emergency earlier today and is going to be off the air for a while,” he replies.
Captain Poma turns around and looks at the table of noisy Americans. “Do you know her?” he asks.
Benton says, “We’ve had our run-ins with her. Mainly, Kay has.”
“I believe I read something about that when I was researching you. A sensational, very brutal homicide case in Florida that involved all of you.”
“I’m glad to know you researched us,” Benton says. “That was very thorough.”
“Only to make myself familiar before you came here.” Captain Poma meets Scarpetta’s eyes. “A very beautiful woman I know watches Dr. Self regularly,” he says, “and she tells me she saw her on the show last fall. It had something to do with her winning that very big tournament in New York. I admit I don’t pay much attention to tennis.”
“The U.S. Open,” Scarpetta says.
“I’m not aware Drew was on her show,” Benton says, frowning as if he doesn’t believe him.
“She was. I’ve checked. This is very interesting. Suddenly, Dr. Self has a family emergency. I’ve been trying to get in touch with her, and she has yet to respond to my inquiries. Perhaps you could intercede?” he says to Scarpetta.
“I seriously doubt that would be helpful,” she says. “Dr. Self hates me.”
They walk back, following Via Due Macelli in the dark.
She imagines Drew Martin walking these streets. She wonders who she encountered. What does he look like? How old is he? What did he do to inspire her trust? Had they met before? It was daylight, plenty of people out, but so far no witnesses have come forward with convincing information that they saw anybody who fit her description at any time after she left the mime. How can that be possible? She was one of the most famous athletes in the world, and not one person recognized her on the streets of Rome?
“Was what happened random? Like a lightning strike? That’s the question we seem no closer to answering,” Scarpetta says as she and Benton walk through the balmy night, their shadows moving over old stone. “She’s by herself and intoxicated, perhaps lost on some deserted side street, and he sees her? And what? Offers to show her the way and leads her where he can gain complete control of her? Perhaps where he lives? Or to his car? If so, he must speak at least a little English. How could no one have seen her? Not one person.”
Benton says nothing, their shoes scuffing on the sidewalk, the street noisy with people emerging from restaurants and bars, very loud, with motor scooters and cars that come close to running them over.
“Drew didn’t speak Italian, scarcely a word of it, so we’re told,” Scarpetta adds.
The stars are out, the moon soft on Casina Rossa, the stucco house where Keats died of tuberculosis at age twenty-five.
“Or he stalked her,” she goes on. “Or perhaps he was acquainted with her. We don’t know and probably never will unless he does it again and is caught. Are you going to talk to me, Benton? Or shall I continue my rather fragmented, redundant monologue?”
“I don’t know what the hell’s going on between the two of you, unless this is your way of punishing me,” he says.
“That goddamn captain. Who the hell else?”
“The answer to the first part is nothing’s going on, and you’re being ridiculous to think otherwise, but we’ll get back to that. I’m more interested in the punishment part of your statement. Since I have no history of punishing you or anyone.”
They begin climbing the Spanish Steps, an exertion made harder by hurt feelings and too much wine. Lovers are entwined, and rowdy youths are laughing and boisterous and pay them no mind. Far away, what seems a mile high, the Hotel Hassler is lit up and huge, rising over the city like a palace.
“One thing not in my character,” she resumes. “Punishing people. Protect myself and others, but not punish. Never people I care about. Most of all”—out of breath—“I would never punish you.”
“If you intend to see other people, if you’re interested in other men, I can’t say I blame you. But tell me. That’s all I ask. Don’t put on displays like you did all day. And tonight. Don’t play fucking high school games with me.”
“He was all over you,” Benton says.
“And I was all over everywhere else trying to move away from him.”
“He’s been all over you for all day long. Can’t get close enough to you. Stares at you, touches you right in front of me.”
“And I know he’s this good-looking, well, maybe you’re attracted to him. But I won’t tolerate it. Right in front of me. Goddamn it.”
“Same with God knows who. Down there in the Deep South. What do I know?”
“You’re talking crazy. Since when, in the history of the universe, have you ever worried about my cheating on you? Knowingly.”
No sound but their footsteps on stone, their labored breathing.
“Knowingly,” she repeats, “because the one time I was with someone else was when I thought you were…”
“Dead,” he says. “Right. So you’re told I’m dead. Then a minute later you’re fucking some guy young enough to be your son.”
“Don’t.” Anger begins to gather. “Don’t you dare.”
He is quiet. Even after the bottle of wine he drank all by himself, he knows better than to push the subject of his feigned death when he was forced into a protected witness program. What Benton put her though. He knows better than to attack her as if she’s the one who was emotionally cruel.
“Sorry,” he says.
“What’s really the matter?” she says. “God, these steps.”
“I guess we can’t seem to change it. As you say about livor and rigor. Set. Fixed. Let’s face it.”
“I won’t face whatever it is. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no it. And livor and rigor are about people who are dead. We’re not dead. You just said you never were.”
Both of them are breathless. Her heart is pounding.
“I’m sorry. Really,” he says, referring to what happened in the past, his faked death and her ruined life.
She says, “He’s been too attentive. Forward. So what?”
Benton is used to the attention other men pay to her, has always been rather unperturbed by it, even amused, because he knows who she is, knows who he is, knows his enormous power and that she has to deal with the same thing—women who stare at him, brush against him, want him shamelessly.
“You’ve made a new life for yourself in Charleston,” he says. “I can’t see your undoing it. Can’t believe you did it.”
“Can’t believe…?” And the steps go up and up forever.
“Knowing I’m in Boston and can’t move south. Where does that leave us.”
“It leaves you jealous. Saying ‘fuck,’ and you never say ‘fuck.’ God! I hate steps!” Unable to catch her breath. “You have no reason to be threatened. It’s not like you to feel threatened by anyone. What’s wrong with you?”
“I was expecting too much.”
“Expecting what, Benton?”
“It certainly does.”
They climb the endless flight of steps and stop talking, because their relationship is too much to talk about when they can’t breathe. She knows Benton is angry because he’s scared. He feels powerless in Rome. He feels powerless in their relationship because he’s in Massachusetts, where he moved with her blessing, the chance to work as a forensic psychologist at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital too good to ignore.
“What were we thinking?” she says, no more steps, and she reaches for his hand. “Idealistic as ever, I suppose. And you could return a little energy with that hand of yours, as if you want to hold mine, too. For seventeen years we’ve never lived in the same city, much less the same house.”
“And you don’t think it can change.” He laces his fingers through hers, taking a deep breath.
“I suppose I’ve entertained this secret fantasy you’d move. With Harvard, MIT, Tufts. I guess I thought you might teach. Perhaps at a medical school or be content to be a part-time consultant at McLean. Or maybe Boston, the ME’s office. Maybe end up chief.”
“I could never go back to a life like that,” Scarpetta says, and they are walking into the hotel’s lobby that she calls Belle Époque because it is from a beautiful era. But they are oblivious to the marble, the antique Murano glass and silk and sculptures, to everything and everyone, including Romeo—that really is his name—who during the day is a gold-painted mime, most nights a doorman, and of late, a somewhat attractive and sullen young Italian who doesn’t want any further interrogations about Drew Martin’s murder.
Romeo is polite but avoids their eyes and, like a mime, is completely silent.
“I want what’s best for you,” Benton says. “Which is why, obviously, I didn’t get in your way when you decided to start your own practice in Charleston, but I was upset about it.”
“You never told me.”
“I shouldn’t tell you now. What you’ve done is right and I know it. For years you’ve felt you really don’t belong anywhere. In a sense, homeless, and in some ways unhappy ever since you left Richmond—worse, sorry to remind you, were fired. That goddamn piss-ant governor. At this stage in your life, you’re doing exactly what you should.” As they board the elevator. “But I’m not sure I can stand it anymore.”
She tries not to feel a fear that is indescribably awful. “What do I hear you saying, Benton? That we should give up? Is that what you’re really saying?”
“Maybe I’m saying the opposite.”
“Maybe I don’t know what that means, and I wasn’t flirting.” As they get out on their floor. “I never flirt. Except with you.”
“I don’t know what you do when I’m not around.”
“You know what I don’t do.”
He unlocks the door to their penthouse suite. It is splendid with antiques and white marble and a stone patio big enough to entertain a small village. Beyond, the ancient city is silhouetted against the night.
“Benton,” she says. “Please, let’s don’t fight. You’re flying back to Boston in the morning. I’m flying back to Charleston. Let’s don’t push each other away so it somehow makes it easier to be away from each other.”
He takes off his coat.
“What? You’re angry that I’ve finally found a place to settle down, started again in a place that works for me?” she says.
He tosses his coat over a chair.
“In all fairness,” she says, “I’m the one who has to start all over again, create something out of nothing, answer my own phone, and clean up the damn morgue myself. I don’t have Harvard. I don’t have a multimillion-dollar apartment in Beacon Hill. I have Rose, Marino, and sometimes Lucy. That’s it, so I end up answering the phone myself half the time. The local media. Solicitors. Some group that wants me as a luncheon speaker. The exterminator. The other day, it was the damn Chamber of Commerce—how many of their damn phone directories do I want to order. As if I want to be listed in the Chamber of Commerce directory as if I’m a dry cleaner or something.”
“Why?” Benton says. “Rose has always screened your calls.”
“She’s getting old. She can do but so much.”
“Why can’t Marino answer the phone?”
“Why anything? Nothing’s the same. Your making everyone think you were dead fractured and scattered everyone. There, I’ll say it. Everybody’s changed because of it, including you.”
“I had no choice.”
“That’s the funny thing about choices. When you don’t have one, nobody else does, either.”
“That’s why you’ve put down roots in Charleston. You don’t want to choose me. I might die again.”
“I feel as if I’m standing all alone in the middle of a fucking explosion, everything flying all around me. And I’m just standing here. You ruined me. You fucking ruined me, Benton.”
“Now who’s saying ‘fuck’?”
She wipes her eyes. “Now you’ve made me cry.”
He moves closer to her, touches her. They sit on the couch and gaze out at the twin bell towers of Trinità dei Monti, at the Villa Medici on the edge of the Pincian Hill, and far beyond, Vatican City. She turns to him and is struck again by the clean lines of his face, his silver hair, and his long, lean elegance that is so incongruous with what he does.
“How is it now?” she asks him. “The way you feel, compared to back then? In the beginning.”
“Different sounds ominous.”
“Different because we’ve been through so much for so long. By now it’s hard for me to remember not knowing you. It’s hard for me to remember I was married before I met you. That was someone else, some FBI guy who played by the rules, had no passion, no life, until that morning I walked into your conference room, the important so-called profiler, called in to help out with homicides terrorizing your modest city. And there you were in your lab coat, setting down a huge stack of case files, shaking my hand. I thought you were the most remarkable woman I’d ever met, couldn’t take my eyes off of you. Still can’t.”
“Different.” She reminds him of what he said.
“What goes on between two people is different every day.”
“That’s okay as long as they feel the same way.”
“Do you?” he says. “Do you still feel the same way? Because if…”
“Because if what?”
“Would I what? Want to do something about it?”
“Yes. For good.” He gets up and finds his jacket, reaches into a pocket, and comes back to the couch.
“For good, as opposed to for bad,” she says, distracted by what’s in his hand.
“I’m not being funny. I mean it.”
“So you don’t lose me to some foolish flirt?” She pulls him against her and holds him tight. She pushes her fingers through his hair.
“Maybe,” he says. “Take this, please.”
He opens his hand, and in his palm is a folded piece of paper.
“We’re passing notes in school,” she says, and she’s afraid to open it.
“Go on, go on. Don’t be a chicken.”
She opens it, and inside is a note that says, Will you? and then a ring. It’s an antique, a thin platinum band of diamonds.
“My great-grandmother’s,” he says, and he slides it over her finger, and it fits.
“If it’s because you’re jealous, that’s a terrible reason,” she says.
“I just happened to have it with me after it’s been in a safe for fifty years? I’m really asking you,” he says. “Please say you will.”
“And how do we manage? After all your talk about our separate lives?”
“For Christ’s sake, for once don’t be rational.”
“It’s very beautiful,” she says of the ring. “You better mean it, because I’m not giving it back.”
Nine days later, Sunday. A ship’s horn is mournful out at sea.
Church steeples pierce the overcast dawn in Charleston, and a solitary bell begins to ring. Then a cluster of them joins in, clanging in a secret language that sounds the same around the world. With the bells comes the first light of dawn, and Scarpetta begins to stir about in her master suite, as she wryly refers to her living area on the second floor of her early-nineteenth-century carriage house. Compared to the somewhat sumptuous homes of her past, what she has is a very odd departure.
Her bedroom and study are combined, the space so crowded she can barely move without bumping into the antique chest of drawers or bookcases, or the long table draped with a black cloth that bears a microscope and slides, latex gloves, dust masks, camera equipment, and various crime scene necessities—all eccentric in their context. There are no closets, just side-by-side wardrobes lined with cedar, and from one of them she selects a charcoal skirt suit, a gray-and-white-striped silk blouse, and low-heeled black pumps.
Dressed for what promises to be a difficult day, she sits at her desk and looks out at the garden, watching it change in the varying shadows and light of morning. She logs into e-mail, checking to see if her investigator, Pete Marino, has sent her anything that might confound her plans for the day. No messages. To double-check, she calls him.
“Yeah.” He sounds groggy. In the background, an unfamiliar woman’s voice complains, “Shit. Now what?”
“You’re definitely coming in?” Scarpetta makes sure. “I got word late last night we have a body on the way from Beaufort, and I’m assuming you’ll be there to take care of it. Plus, we have that meeting this afternoon. I left you a message. You never called me back.”
The woman in the background says in the same complaining voice, “What’s she want this time?”
“I’m talking within the hour,” Scarpetta firmly tells Marino. “You need to be on your way now or there will be no one to let him in. Meddicks’ Funeral Home. I’m not familiar with it.”
“I’ll be in around eleven to finish up what I can with the little boy.”
As if the Drew Martin case isn’t bad enough. Scarpetta’s first day back to work after she returned from Rome brought in another horrible case, the murder of a little boy whose name she still doesn’t know. He has moved into her mind because he has nowhere else to go, and when she least expects it, she sees his delicate face, emaciated body, and curly brown hair. And then the rest of it. What he looked like when she was done. After all these years, after thousands of cases, a part of her hates the necessity of what she must do to the dead because of what someone did to them first.
“Yeah.” That’s all Marino has to say.
“Petulant, rude…” she mutters as she makes her way downstairs. “I’m so goddamn tired of this.” Blowing out in exasperation.
In the kitchen, her heels are sharp on the terra-cotta tile floor that she spent days on her hands and knees laying in a herringbone pattern when she moved into the carriage house. She repainted the walls plain white to capture light from the garden, and restored the cypress ceiling beams that are original to the house. The kitchen—the most important room—is precisely arranged with the stainless-steel appliances, copper pots and pans (always polished as bright as new pennies), cutting boards, and handcrafted German cutlery of a serious chef. Her niece, Lucy, should be here any minute, and it pleases Scarpetta very much, but she’s curious. Lucy rarely calls and invites herself for breakfast.
Scarpetta picks out what she needs for egg-white omelets stuffed with ricotta cheese and white cap mushrooms sautéed in sherry and unfiltered olive oil. No bread, not even her flat griddle bread grilled on the terra-cotta slab—or testo—she hand-carried from Bologna back in the days when airport security didn’t consider cookware a weapon. Lucy is on an unforgiving diet—in training, as she puts it. For what, Scarpetta always asks. For life, Lucy always says. Preoccupied by whipping egg whites with a whisk and ruminating about what she must deal with today, she’s startled by an ominous thud against an upstairs window.
“Please, no,” she exclaims in dismay, setting down the whisk and running to the door.
She disarms the alarm and hurries out to the garden patio where a yellow finch flutters helplessly on old brick. She gently picks it up, and its head lolls from side to side, eyes half shut. She talks soothingly to it, strokes its silky feathers as it tries to right itself and fly, and its head lolls from side to side. It’s just stunned, will suddenly recover, and it falls over and flutters and its head lolls from side to side. Maybe it won’t die. Foolish wishful thinking for someone who knows better, and she carries the bird inside. In the locked bottom drawer of the kitchen desk is a locked metal box, and inside that, the bottle of chloroform.
She sits on the back brick steps and doesn’t get up as she listens to the distinctive roar of Lucy’s Ferrari.
It turns off King Street and parks on the shared driveway in front of the house, and then Lucy appears on the patio, an envelope in hand.
“Breakfast isn’t ready, not even coffee,” she says. “You’re sitting out here and your eyes are red.”
“Allergies,” Scarpetta says.
“The last time you blamed allergies—which you don’t have, by the way—was when a bird flew into a window. And you had a dirty trowel on the table just like that.” Lucy points to an old marble table in the garden, a trowel on top of it. Nearby, beneath a pittosporum, is freshly dug earth covered by broken pieces of pottery.
“A finch,” Scarpetta says.
Lucy sits next to her and says, “So it appears Benton’s not coming for the weekend. When he is, you always have a long grocery list on the counter.”
“Can’t get away from the hospital.” The small, shallow pond in the middle of the garden has Chinese jasmine and camellia petals floating in it like confetti.
Lucy picks up a loquat leaf knocked down from a recent rain, twirls it by the stem. “I hope that’s the only reason. You come back from Rome with your big news and what’s different? Nothing that I can tell. He’s there, you’re here. No plans to change that, right?”
“Suddenly you’re the relationship expert?”
“An expert on ones that go wrong.”
“You’re making me sorry I told anyone,” Scarpetta says.
“I’ve been there. It’s what happened with Janet. We started talking about commitment, about getting married when it finally became legal for perverts to have more rights than a dog. Suddenly, she couldn’t deal with being gay. And it was over before it began. And not in a nice way.”
“Not nice? How about unforgivable?”
“I should be the unforgiving one, not you,” Lucy says. “You weren’t there. You don’t know what it’s like to be there. I don’t want to talk about it.”
A small statue of an angel that watches over the pond. What it protects, Scarpetta has yet to discover. Certainly not birds. Maybe not anything. She gets up and brushes off the back of her skirt.
“Is this why you wanted to talk to me,” she says, “or did it just happen to pop into your mind while I was sitting here feeling awful because I had to euthanize another bird?”
“It’s not why I called you last night and said I need to see you,” Lucy says, still playing with the leaf.
Her hair, cherrywood-red with highlights of rose-gold, is clean and shiny and tucked behind her ears. She wears a black T-shirt that shows off a beautiful body earned by punishing workouts and good genetics. She’s going somewhere, Scarpetta has a suspicion, but she’s not going to ask. She sits down again.
“Dr. Self.” Lucy stares at the garden, the way people stare when they aren’t looking at anything except what’s bothering them.
It’s not what Scarpetta expected her to say. “What about her?”
“I told you to keep her close, always keep your enemies close,” Lucy says. “You didn’t pay attention. Haven’t cared that she disparages you every chance she gets because of that court case. Says you’re a liar and a professional sham. Just Google yourself on the Internet. I track her, forwarded her bullshit to you, and you barely look at it.”
“How could you possibly know whether I barely look at something?”
“I’m your system administrator. Your faithful IT. I know damn well how long you keep a file open. You could defend yourself,” Lucy says.
“Accusations that you manipulated the jury.”
“What court’s about. Manipulating the jury.”
“That you talking? Or am I sitting with a stranger?”
“If you’re hog-tied, tortured, and can hear the screams of your loved ones being brutalized and killed in another room, and you take your own life to escape their fate? That’s not a goddamn suicide, Lucy. That’s murder.”
“What about legally?”
“I really don’t care.”
“You sort of used to.”
“I sort of didn’t. You don’t know what’s been in my mind when I’ve worked cases all these years and often found myself the only advocate for the victims. Dr. Self wrongly hid behind her shield of confidentiality and didn’t divulge information that could have prevented profound suffering and death. She deserves worse than she got. Why are we talking about this? Why are you getting me upset?”
Lucy meets her eyes. “What do they say? Revenge is best served cold? She’s in contact with Marino again.”
“Oh, God. As if this past week hasn’t been hell enough. Has he completely lost his mind?”
“When you came back from Rome and spread the word, did you think he was going to be happy about it? Do you live in outer space?”
“Clearly, I must.”
“How can you not see it? Suddenly he goes out and gets drunk every night, gets a new trashy girlfriend. He’s really picked one this time. Or don’t you know? Shandy Snook, as in Snook’s Flamin’ Chips?”
“Flamin’ what? Who?”
“Greasy, oversalted potato chips flavored with jalapeño and red pepper sauce. Made her father a fortune. She moved here about a year ago. Met Marino at the Kick ’N Horse this past Monday night, and it was love at first sight.”
“He tell you all this?”
“Jess told me.”
Scarpetta shakes her head, has no idea who Jess is.
“Owns the Kick ’N Horse. Marino’s biker hangout, and I know you’ve heard him talk about it. She called me because she’s worried about him and his latest trailer-park paramour, worried about how out of control he’s getting. Jess says she’s never seen him like this.”
“How would Dr. Self know Marino’s e-mail address unless he contacted her first?” Scarpetta asks.
“Her personal e-mail address hasn’t changed since he was her patient in Florida. His has. So I think we can figure out who wrote who first. I can find out for sure. Not that I have the password for the personal e-mail account on his home computer, although minor inconveniences like that have never stopped me. I’d have to…”
“I know what you’d have to do.”
“Have physical access.”
“I know what you’d have to do, and I don’t want you to. Let’s don’t make this any worse than it is.”
“At least some of the e-mails he’s gotten from her are now on his office desktop for all the world to see,” Lucy says.
“That makes no sense.”
“Of course it does. To make you angry and jealous. Payback.”
“And you noticed them on his desktop because?”
“Because of the little emergency last night. When he called me and said he’d been notified that an alarm was going off, indicating the fridge was malfunctioning, and he wasn’t anywhere near the office and could I check. He said if I need to call the alarm company, the number’s on the list taped to his wall.”
“An alarm?” she says, baffled. “No one notified me.”
“Because it didn’t happen. I get there and everything’s status quo. The fridge is fine. I go into his office to get the number of the alarm company so I can check to be sure everything really is okay, and guess what’s on his desktop.”
“This is ridiculous. He’s acting like a child.”
“He’s no child, Aunt Kay. And you’re going to have to fire him one of these days.”
“And manage how? I can barely manage now. I’m already short-staffed, without a single eligible person on the horizon to hire.”
“This is just the beginning. He’s going to get worse,” Lucy says. “He’s not the person you once knew.”
“I don’t believe that, and I could never fire him.”
“You’re right,” Lucy says. “You couldn’t. It would be a divorce. He’s your husband. God knows you’ve spent a hell of a lot more time with him than you have with Benton.”
“He most assuredly isn’t my husband. Don’t goad me, please.”
Lucy picks up the envelope from the steps and hands it to her. “Six of them, all from her. Coincidentally, starting on this past Monday, your first day back at work from Rome. The same day we saw your ring and, great sleuths that we are, figured out it wasn’t from Cracker Jacks.”
“Any e-mails from Marino to Dr. Self?”
“He must not want you to see whatever he wrote. I recommend you bite on a stick.” Indicating the envelope and what’s inside it. “How is he? She misses him. Thinks about him. You’re a tyrant, a has-been, and he must be miserable working for you, and what can she do to help him?”
“Will he never learn?” Mostly, it’s depressing.
“You should have kept the news from him. How could you not know what it would do to him?”
Scarpetta notices the purple Mexican petunias climbing the north garden wall. She notices the lavender lantana. They look a bit parched.
“Well, aren’t you going to read the damn things?” Lucy indicates the envelope again.
“I’m not going to give them that power right now,” Scarpetta says. “I have more important things to deal with. That’s why I’m dressed in a damn suit and going into the damn office on a damn Sunday when I could be working in my garden or even going for a damn walk.”
“I ran a background check on the guy you’re meeting with this afternoon. Recently, he was the victim of an assault. No suspect. And related to this, he was charged with a misdemeanor for possession of marijuana. The charge was dropped. Beyond that, not even a speeding ticket. But I don’t think you should be alone with him.”
“What about the brutalized little boy all alone in my morgue? Since you haven’t said anything, I assume your computer searches are still coming up empty-handed.”
“It’s like he didn’t exist.”
“Well, he did. And what was done to him is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s time we go out on a limb.”
“And do what?”
“I’ve been thinking about statistical genetics.”
“I still can’t believe no one’s doing it,” Lucy says. “The technology’s there. It’s been there. It’s all so stupid. Alleles are shared among relatives, and, as is true of any other database, it’s all a function of probability.”
“A father, mother, sibling would have a higher score. And we’d see it and focus on it. I think we should try it.”
“If we do, what happens if it turns out this little kid was killed by a relative? We use statistical genetics in a criminal case, and what happens in court?” Lucy says.
“If we figure out who he is, then we’ll worry about court.”
Belmont, Massachusetts. Dr. Marilyn Self sits before a window in her room with a view.
Sloping lawns, forests and fruit trees, and old brick buildings harken back to a genteel era when the wealthy and famous could disappear from their lives, briefly or for as long as needed, or in some hopeless cases, forever, and be treated with the respect and pampering they deserved. At McLean Hospital, it’s perfectly normal to spot famous actors, musicians, athletes, and politicians strolling the cottage-style campus, designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose other famous projects include New York’s Central Park, the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, the Biltmore Estate, and Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair.
It isn’t perfectly normal to spot Dr. Marilyn Self. But she doesn’t intend to be here much longer, and when the public eventually finds out the truth, her reasons will be clear. To be safe and sequestered, and then, as has always been the story of her life, a destiny. What she calls a meant-to-be. She’d forgotten Benton Wesley works here.
Shocking Secret Experiments: Frankenstein.
Let’s see. She continues to script her first show when she returns to the air. While in seclusion to guard my life, I unwittingly and unwillingly became an eyewitness—worse, a guinea pig—to clandestine experiments and abuse. In the name of science. It is as Kurtz said in Heart of Darkness—“The horror! The horror!” I was subjected to a modern form of what was done in asylums during the darkest days of the darkest times when people who didn’t have the proper tools were considered subhuman and treated like…Treated like…? The right analogy will come to her later.
Dr. Self smiles as she imagines Marino’s ecstasy when he discovered she had written back to him. He probably believes that she (the most famous psychiatrist in the world) was happy to hear from him. He still believes she cares! She’s never cared. Even when he was her patient in her less prominent Florida days, she didn’t care. He was little more than a therapeutic amusement, and yes (she admits it), a dash of spice, because his adoration of her was almost as pathetic as his besotted sexual obsession with Scarpetta.
Poor, pathetic Scarpetta. Amazing what a few well-placed calls can do.
Her mind races. Her thoughts are nonstop inside her room at the Pavilion, where meals are catered and a concierge is available, should one wish to go to the theater or a Red Sox game or a health spa. The privileged patient at the Pavilion gets rather much whatever he or she wants, which in Dr. Self’s case is her own e-mail account and a room that happened to be occupied by another patient named Karen when Dr. Self was admitted nine days ago.
The unacceptable room assignment was, of course, remedied easily enough without administrative intervention or delay on Dr. Self’s first day when she entered Karen’s room before dawn and awakened her by gently blowing on her eyes.
“Oh!” Karen exclaimed in relief when she realized it was Dr. Self, not a rapist, hovering over her. “I was having a strange dream.”
“Here. I brought you coffee. You were sleeping like the dead. Perhaps you stared too long at the crystal light fixture last night?” Dr. Self looked up at the shadowy shape of the Victorian crystal light fixture above the bed.
“What!” Karen exclaimed in alarm, setting down her coffee on the antique bedside table.
“One must be most careful about staring at anything crystal. It can have a hypnotic effect and put you into a trancelike state. What was your dream?”
“Dr. Self, it was so real! I felt someone’s breath in my face and I was scared.”
“Do you have any idea who? Perhaps someone in your family? A family friend?”
“My father used to rub his whiskers against my face when I was little. I could feel his breath. How funny! I’m just now remembering that! Or maybe I’m imagining it. Sometimes I have a problem knowing what’s real.” Disappointed.
“Repressed memories, my dear,” Dr. Self said. “Don’t doubt your inner Self [said slowly]. It’s what I tell all my followers. Don’t doubt your what, Karen?”
“That’s right. Your inner Self [said very slowly] knows the truth. Your inner Self knows what’s real.”
“A truth about my father? Something real I don’t remember?”
“An unbearable truth, an unthinkable reality you couldn’t face back then. You see, my dear, everything really is about sex. I can help you.”
“Please help me!”
Patiently, Dr. Self led her back in time, back to when she was seven, and with some insightful guidance navigated her back to the scene of her original psychic crime. Karen finally, for the first time in her pointless, used-up life, recounted her father crawling into bed with her and rubbing his exposed erect penis against her buttocks, his boozy breath in her face, and then a warm, wet stickiness all over her pajama bottoms. Dr. Self went on to direct poor Karen to the traumatic realization that what happened wasn’t an isolated incident, because sexual abuse, with rare exception, is repeated, and her mother must have been aware, based on the condition of little Karen’s pajamas and the bedcovers, meaning her mother turned a blind eye to what her husband was doing to their younger daughter.
“I remember my father bringing me hot chocolate in bed once and I spilled it,” Karen finally said. “I remember the warm stickiness on my pajama bottoms. Maybe that’s what I’m remembering and not…”
“Because it was safe to think it was hot chocolate. And then what followed?” No answer. “If you spilled it? Whose fault was it?”
“I spilled it. It was my fault,” Karen says, tearfully.
“Perhaps why you’ve abused alcohol and drugs ever since? Because you feel what happened is your fault?”
“Not ever since. I didn’t start drinking or smoking pot until I was fourteen. Oh, I don’t know! I don’t want to go into another trance, Dr. Self! I can’t bear the memories! Or if it wasn’t real, now I think it is!”
“It’s just as Pitres wrote in his Leçons cliniques sur l’hystérie et l’hypnotisme in 1891,” Dr. Self said as the woods and lawn beautifully materialized in the dawn—a view that soon would be hers. She explained delirium and hysteria, and intermittently looked up at the crystal light fixture over Karen’s bed.
“I can’t stay in this room!” Karen cried. “Won’t you please trade rooms with me?” she begged.
Lucious Meddick snaps a rubber band on his right wrist as he parks his shiny black hearse in the alley behind Dr. Scarpetta’s house.
Intended for horses, not huge vehicles, what kind of nonsense is this? His heart is still pounding. He’s a nervous wreck. Damn lucky he didn’t scrape against trees or the high brick wall that separates the alley and old houses along it from a public garden. What kind of ordeal is this to put him through, and already his brand-new hearse is feeling out of alignment, was pulling to one side as it bumped over pavers, kicking up dust and dead leaves. He climbs out, leaving the engine rumbling, noticing some old lady staring out her upstairs window at him. Lucious smiles at her, can’t help but think it won’t be long before the old bag needs his services.
He presses the intercom button on a formidable iron gate and announces, “Meddicks’.”
After a long pause, which requires him to make the announcement again, a woman’s strong voice sounds through the speaker: “Who is this?”
“Meddicks’ Funeral Home. I have a delivery….”
“You brought a delivery here?”
“Stay inside your vehicle. I’ll be right there.”
The southern charm of General Patton, Lucious thinks, somewhat humiliated and irked as he climbs back into his hearse. He rolls up his window and thinks of the stories he’s heard. At one time Dr. Scarpetta was as famous as Quincy, but something happened when she was the chief medical examiner…. He can’t remember where. She got fired or couldn’t take the pressure. A breakdown. A scandal. Maybe more than one of each. Then that highly publicized case in Florida a couple years back, some naked lady strung up from a rafter, tortured and tormented until she couldn’t take it anymore and hung herself with her own rope.
A patient of that TV talk-show shrink. He tries to remember. Maybe it was more than one person tortured and killed. He’s quite sure Dr. Scarpetta testified and was key in convincing the jury to find Dr. Self guilty of something. And in a number of articles he’s read since, she has referred to Dr. Scarpetta as “incompetent and biased,” a “closet lesbian,” and a “has-been.” Probably true. Most powerful women are like men or at least wish they were men, and when she started out, there weren’t many women in her profession. Now there must be thousands of them. Supply and demand, nothing special about her anymore, no-sirree-bob, women all over the place—young ones—getting ideas from TV and doing the same thing she does. That and all the other stuff said about her sure as heck would explain why she moved to the Lowcountry and works out of a tiny carriage house—a former stable, let’s be honest—which certainly isn’t what Lucious works out of, not hardly.
He lives in the upstairs of the funeral home the Meddick family has owned in Beaufort County for more than a hundred years. The three-story mansion on a former plantation still has the original slave cabins, sure isn’t some itty-bitty carriage house on an old narrow alleyway. Shocking, downright shocking. It’s one thing to embalm bodies and prepare them for burial in a professionally outfitted room in a mansion, quite another to do autopsies in a carriage house, especially if you’re dealing with floaters—greenies, he calls them—and others who are hard as hell to make presentable to families, no matter how much D-12 deodorant powder you use so they don’t stink up the chapel.
A woman appears behind her two sets of gates, and he begins to indulge in his favorite preoccupation, voyeurism, scrutinizing her through the dark-tinted side window. Metal clanks as she opens and shuts the first black gate, then the outer one—tall with flat, twisted bars centered by two J-curves that look like a heart. As if she has a heart, and by now he’s sure she doesn’t. She’s dressed in a power suit, has blond hair, and he calculates she’s five-foot-five, wears a size-eight skirt, a size-ten blouse. Lucious is darn near infallible when it comes to his deductions about what people would look like naked on an embalming table, jokes around about having what he calls “x-ray eyes.”
Since she so rudely ordered him not to get out of his vehicle, he doesn’t. She knocks on his dark window, and he starts to get flustered. His fingers twitch in his lap, try to rise to his mouth as if they have a will of their own, and he tells them no. He snaps himself hard with the rubber band around his wrist and tells his hands to stop it. He snaps the rubber band again and grips the wood-grain steering wheel to keep his hands out of trouble.
She knocks again.
He sucks on a wint-o-green Life Saver and rolls down his window. “You sure got a strange location to be hanging out your shingle,” he says with a big practiced smile.
“You’re in the wrong place,” she tells him, not so much as a good morning or nice to meet you. “What in the world are you doing here?”
“Wrong place, wrong time. That’s what keeps people like you and me in business,” Lucious replies with his toothy smile.
“How did you get this address?” she says in the same unfriendly tone. She seems like she’s in a real big hurry. “This isn’t my office. This certainly isn’t the morgue. I’m sorry for your inconvenience, but you need to leave right now.”
“I’m Lucious Meddick from Meddicks’ Funeral Home in Beaufort, right outside of Hilton Head.” He doesn’t shake her hand, doesn’t shake anybody’s hand if he can avoid it. “I guess you could call us the resort of funeral homes. Family-run, three brothers, including me. The joke is when you call for a Meddick, it doesn’t mean the person’s still alive. Get it?” He jerks his thumb toward the back of the hearse, says, “Died at home, probably a heart attack. Oriental lady, old as dirt. I reckon you’ve got all the information on her already. Your neighbor up there some kind of spy or something?” He looks up at the window.
“I talked to the coroner about this case last night,” Scarpetta says in the same tone. “How did you get this address?”
“He gave you this address? He knows where my office is….”
“Now, hold on. First off, I’m new when it comes to deliveries. Was bored to death sitting at a desk and dealing with bereft families, decided it was time to hit the road again.”
“We can’t have this conversation here.”
Oh, yes, they will, and he says, “So I bought me this 1998 V-twelve Cadillac, dual carburetors, dual exhaust, cast aluminum wheels, flagstaffs, violet beacon, and canyon black bier. Couldn’t be more fully loaded unless the fat lady in the circus was in it.”
“Mr. Meddick, Investigator Marino’s on his way to the morgue. I just called him.”
“Second of all, I’ve never delivered a body to you. So I had no idea where your office is until I looked it up.”
“I thought you said the coroner told you.”
“That’s not what he told me.”
“You really need to leave. I can’t have a hearse behind my house.”
“See, this Oriental lady’s family wants us to handle the funeral, so I told the coroner it may as well be me for transport. Anyway, I looked up your address.”
“Looked it up? Looked it up where? And why didn’t you call my death investigator?”
“I did, and he never bothered to call me back so I had to look up your location, like I said.” Lucious snaps the rubber band. “On the Internet. Listed with the Chamber of Commerce.” He cracks the sliver of Life Saver between his back teeth.
“This is an unlisted address and has never been on the Internet, nor has it ever been confused with my office—the morgue—and I’ve been here two years. You’re the first person to do this.”
“Now, don’t get huffy with me. I can’t help what’s on the Internet.” He snaps the rubber band. “But then if I’d been called earlier in the week when that little boy was found, I would have delivered his body and now we wouldn’t have this problem. You walked right past me at the scene and ignored me, and had you and me worked that one together, sure as shooting you would have given me the right address.” He snaps the rubber band, pissed off she’s not more respectful.
“Why were you at that scene if the coroner didn’t ask you to transport the body?” She’s getting very demanding, staring at him now like he’s a troublemaker.
“My motto is ‘Just Show Up.’ You know, like Nike’s ‘Just Do It.’ Well, mine’s ‘Just Show Up.’ Get it? Sometimes when you’re the first one to show up, that’s all it takes.”
He snaps the rubber band, and she stares pointedly at him doing it, then looks at the police scanner inside his hearse. He runs his tongue over the transparent plastic retainer he wears on his teeth to stop him from biting his nails. Snaps the rubber band around his wrist. Snaps it hard, like a whip, and it hurts like hell.
“Head to the morgue now, please.” She looks up at the neighbor looking down at them. “I’ll make sure Investigator Marino meets you.” She steps away from the hearse, suddenly noticing something at the back of it. She stoops to take a closer look. “The day just gets better,” she says, shaking her head.
He climbs out and can’t believe it. “Shit!” he exclaims. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
Coastal Forensic Pathology Associates, on the fringes of the College of Charleston.
The two-story brick building antedates the Civil War, and it slants a little, having shifted on its foundation during the earthquake of 1886. Or this is what the Realtor told Scarpetta when she bought the place for reasons Pete Marino still doesn’t understand.
There were nicer buildings, brand-new ones she could have afforded. But for some reason, she, Lucy, and Rose decided on a place that demanded more work than Marino had in mind when he took the job here. For months, they stripped away layers of paint and varnish, knocked out walls, replaced windows and slate tiles on the roof. They scavenged for salvage, most of it from funeral homes, hospitals, and restaurants, eventually ending up with a more-than-adequate morgue that includes a special ventilation system, chemical hoods, a backup generator, a walk-in cooler and a walk-in freezer, a decomposition room, surgical carts, gurneys. The walls and floor are sealed with epoxy paint that can be hosed down, and Lucy installed a wireless security and computer system as mysterious to Marino as the da Vinci Code.
“I mean, who the hell would want to break into this joint?” he says to Shandy Snook as he punches in a code that deactivates the alarm for the door leading from the bay into the morgue.
“I bet a lot of people would,” she says. “Let’s roam around.”
“Nope. Not down here.” He steers her to another alarmed door.
“I want to see a dead body or two.”
“What you afraid of? Amazing how scared you are of her,” Shandy says, one creaking step at a time. “It’s like you’re her slave.”
Shandy says that constantly, and each time it angers Marino more. “If I was afraid of her, I wouldn’t let you in here, now would I, no matter how much you’ve been driving me crazy about it. There’s cameras all the hell over the place, so why the hell would I do this if I’m scared of her?”
She looks up at a camera, smiles, and waves.
“Quit it,” he says.
“Like, who’s gonna see it? No one here but us chickens, and no reason for the Big Chief to look at the tapes, right? Otherwise, we wouldn’t be in here, right? You’re afraid of her as shit. It makes me sick, a big man like you. Only reason you let me in is because that numbnut funeral-home guy had a flat tire. And the Big Chief won’t be in for a while, and nobody’s ever going to look at the tapes.” She waves at a camera again. “You wouldn’t have the guts to give me a tour if anybody might find out and tell the Big Chief.” She smiles and waves at another camera. “I look good on camera. You ever been on TV? My daddy used to be on TV all the time, made his own commercials. I’ve been in some of them, could probably make a career of being on TV, but who wants people staring at them all the time?”
“Besides you?” He swats her ass.
The offices are on the first floor, Marino’s the classiest he’s ever had, with heart-of-pine floors, chair rails, and fancy molding. “See, back in the eighteen hundreds,” he tells Shandy as they walk in, “my office was probably the dining room.”
“Our dining room in Charlotte was ten times this big,” she says, looking around and chewing gum.
She’s never been in his office, never inside the building. Marino wouldn’t dare ask permission, and Scarpetta wouldn’t give it. But after a late decadent night with Shandy, she ripped into him again about being Scarpetta’s slave and his mood turned spiteful. Then Scarpetta called to tell him Lucious Meddick had a flat tire and would be late, and then Shandy had to rag on him about that, too, go on and on about Marino’s rushing around for nothing and he may as well give her a tour like she’s been asking him to do all week. After all, she’s his girlfriend and should at least see where he works. So he told her to follow him on her motorcycle north on Meeting Street.
“These are genuine antiques,” he brags. “From junk shops. The Doc refinished them herself. Something, huh? The first time in my life I ever sat at a desk older than me.”
Shandy settles in the leather chair behind his desk, starts opening the dovetailed drawers.
“Me and Rose have spent a lot of time wandering around, trying to figure out what’s what, and pretty much decided her office was once the master bedroom. And the biggest space, the Doc’s office, was what they called the sitting room.”
“Kinda stupid.” Shandy stares inside a desk drawer. “How can you find anything in here? Looks like you just cram shit in your drawers because you can’t be bothered filing.”
“I know exactly where everything is. Got my own filing system, stuff sorted according to drawers. Sort of like the Dewey decibel system.”
“Well, where’s your card catalogue then, big fella?”
“Up here.” He taps his shiny shaved head.
“Don’t you have any good murder cases in here? Maybe some pictures?”
She gets up, readjusts her leather pants. “So the Big Chief’s got the sitting room. I want to see it.”
“I got a right to see where she works, since she seems to own you.”
“She don’t own me, and we’re not going in there. Nothing for you to see in there anyway, except books and a microscope.”
“Bet she’s got some good murder cases in that sitting room of hers.”
“Nope. We keep sensitive cases locked up. In another words, ones you’d think was good.”
“Every room’s for sitting, isn’t it? So why was it called a sitting room?” She won’t shut up about it. “That’s stupid.”
“Back in the old days, it was called a sitting room to differentiate it from the parlor,” Marino explains, proudly looking a round his office, at his certificates on the paneled walls, at the big dictionary he never uses, at all the other untouched reference books Scarpetta has passed down to him when she gets the newest revised editions. And, of course, his bowling trophies—all neatly arranged and brassy-bright on built-in shelves. “The parlor was this real formal room right inside the front door, where you stuck people you didn’t want staying around very long, whereas the opposite is true of the sitting room, which is the same thing as a living room.”
“Sounds to me like you’re glad she got this place. No matter how much you complain about it.”
“Not half bad for an old joint. I’d rather have something new.”
“Your old joint’s not half bad, either.” She grabs him until he aches. “Fact, feels new to me. Show me her office. Show me where the Big Chief works.” She grabs him again. “You having a hard time because of her or me?”
“Shut up,” he says, moving her hand away, annoyed by her puns.
“Show me where she works.”
“I told you no.”
“Then show me the morgue.”
“No can do.”
“Why? Because you’re so fucking scared of her? What’s she gonna do? Call the morgue police? Show it to me,” she demands.
He glances up at a tiny camera in a corner of the hallway. No one will see the tapes. Shandy’s right. Who would bother? No reason. He gets that feeling again—a cocktail of spitefulness, aggression, and vengefulness that makes him want to do something awful.
Dr. Self’s fingers click-click on her laptop, new e-mails constantly landing (agents, lawyers, business managers, network executives, and special patients and very select fans).
But nothing new from him. The Sandman. She can scarcely stand it. He wants her to think he’s done the unthinkable, to torment her with anxiety, with terror, by making her think the unthinkable. When she opened his last e-mail on that fated Friday during her midmorning break at the studio, what he’d sent to her, the last thing he sent, was life-altering. At least temporarily.
Don’t let it be true.
How foolish and gullible she was to answer him when he sent the first e-mail to her personal address last fall, but she was intrigued. How was it possible he got her personal and very, very private e-mail address? She had to know. She wrote him back and asked. He wouldn’t tell her. They began a correspondence. He is unusual, special. Home from Iraq, where he had been profoundly traumatized. Bearing in mind that he would make a fabulous guest on one of her shows, she developed a therapeutic relationship with him online, having no idea he might be capable of the unthinkable.
Please don’t let it be true.
If only she could undo it. If only she’d never answered him. If only she hadn’t tried to help him. He’s insane, a word she rarely uses. Her claim to fame is that everyone is capable of change. Not him. Not if he did the unthinkable.
Please don’t let it be true.
If he did the unthinkable, he’s a hideous human being beyond repair. The Sandman. What does that mean, and why didn’t she demand he tell her, threaten that if he refused she’d have no further contact with him?
Because she’s a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists don’t threaten their patients.
Please don’t let the unthinkable be true.
Whoever he really is, he can’t be helped by her or anyone else on earth, and now he may have done what she never expected. He may have done the unthinkable! If he has, there’s only one way for Dr. Self to save her-SELF. She decided this at her studio on a day she’ll never forget when she saw the photograph he sent her and realized she could be in serious danger for a multitude of reasons, and this necessitated her telling her producers she had a family emergency she couldn’t divulge. She would be off the air, hopefully no longer than several weeks. They would have to fill in with her usual replacement (a mildly entertaining psychologist who is no competition but deludes himself into thinking he is). Which is why she can’t afford to be away longer than several weeks. Everyone wants to take her place. Dr. Self called Paulo Maroni (said it was another referral and was put straight through) and (in disguise) climbed into a limousine (couldn’t possibly use one of her own drivers) and (still disguised) boarded a private jet, and secretly checked herself into McLean, where she is safe, is hidden, and, she hopes, will find out soon enough that the unthinkable hasn’t happened.
It’s all a sick ruse. He didn’t do it. Crazy people make false confessions all the time.
(What if it’s not?)
She has to consider the worst-case scenario: People will blame her. They’ll say it’s because of her that the madman fixated on Drew Martin after she won the U.S. Open last fall and appeared on Dr. Self’s shows. Incredible shows and exclusive interviews. What remarkable hours she and Drew shared on the air, talking about positive thinking, about empowering oneself with the proper tools, about actually making a decision to win or lose and how this enabled Drew, at barely sixteen, to pull off one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Dr. Self’s award-winning series When to Win was a phenomenal success.
Her pulse picks up as she returns to the other side of horror. She opens the Sandman’s e-mail again, as if looking at it again, as if looking at it enough, will somehow change it. There’s no text message, only an attachment, a horrifying high-resolution image of Drew naked and sitting in a gray mosaic tile tub sunk deep into a terra-cotta floor. The water level is up to her waist, and when Dr. Self enlarges the image, as she has so many times, she can make out the goose bumps on Drew’s arms, and her blue lips and fingernails, suggesting the water running out of an old brass spout is cold. Her hair is wet, the expression on her pretty face hard to describe. Stunned? Pitiful? In shock? She looks drugged.
The Sandman told Dr. Self in earlier e-mails that it was routine to dunk naked prisoners in Iraq. Beat them, humiliate them, force them to urinate on each other. You do what you got to do, he wrote. After a while it’s normal, and he didn’t mind taking pictures. He didn’t mind much until that one thing he did, and he has never told her what that one thing is, and she’s convinced it began his transformation into a monster. Assuming he’s done the unthinkable, if what he sent her isn’t a ruse.
(Even if it’s a ruse, he’s a monster for doing this to her!)
She studies the image for any sign of fakery, enlarging and reducing it, reorienting it, staring. No, no, no, she continues reassuring herself. Of course it’s not real.
(What if it is?)
Her mind chews on itself. If she’s held accountable, her career will be shot out of the air. At least temporarily. Her millions of followers will say it’s her fault because she should have seen it coming, should never have discussed Drew in e-mails with this anonymous patient who calls himself the Sandman and who claimed to watch Drew on TV and read about her and thought she seemed like a sweet girl but unbearably isolated, and was sure he would meet her and she would love him and have no more pain.
If the public finds out, it will be Florida all over again, only worse. Blamed. Unfairly. At least temporarily.
“I saw Drew on your show and could feel her unbearable suffering,” the Sandman wrote. “She will thank me.”
Dr. Self stares at the image on her screen. She’ll be castigated for not calling the police immediately when she got the e-mail exactly nine days ago, and no one will accept her reasoning, which is perfectly logical: If what the Sandman sent is real, it’s too late for her to do anything about it; if it’s all a sick ruse (something put together with one of those photo-enhancement software packages), what’s the point in divulging it and perhaps putting the idea in some other deranged person’s head?
Darkly, her thoughts turn to Marino. To Benton.
And Scarpetta walks into her mind.
Black suit with wide pale blue pinstripes and a matching blue blouse that makes her eyes even bluer. Her blond hair short; she wears very little makeup. Striking and strong, sitting straight but at ease in the witness stand, facing the jurors. They were mesmerized by her as she answered questions and explained. She never looked at her notes.
“But isn’t it true almost all hangings are suicidal, therefore suggesting it’s possible she actually took her own life?” One of Dr. Self’s attorneys paced the Florida courtroom.
She’d finished testifying, had been released as a witness, and was unable to resist watching the proceedings. Watching her. Scarpetta. Waiting for her to misspeak or make a mistake.
“Statistically, in modern times, it’s true that most hangings—as far as we know—are suicides,” Scarpetta replies to the jurors, refusing to look at Dr. Self’s attorney, answering him as if he’s talking over an intercom from some other room.
“‘As far as we know’? Are you saying, Mrs. Scarpetta, that…”
“Dr. Scarpetta.” Smiling at the jurors.
They smile back, riveted, so obviously enamored. Smitten with her while she hammers away at Dr. Self’s credibility and decency without anybody realizing it’s all manipulation and untruths. Oh, yes, lies. A murder, not a suicide. Dr. Self indirectly is to blame for murder! It isn’t her fault. She couldn’t have known those people would be murdered. Just because they disappeared from their home didn’t mean anything bad had happened to them.
And when Scarpetta called her with questions after finding a prescription bottle with Dr. Self’s name on it as the prescribing physician, she was completely right to refuse to discuss any patient or former patient. How could she have known that anyone would end up dead? Dead in an unspeakable way. It wasn’t her fault. Had it been, there would have been a criminal case, not just a lawsuit filed by greedy relatives. It wasn’t her fault, and Scarpetta deliberately made the jury believe otherwise.
(The courtroom scene fills her head.)
“You mean, you can’t determine whether a hanging was a suicide or a homicide?” Dr. Self’s attorney gets louder.
Scarpetta says, “Not without witnesses or circumstances that make it clear what happened….”
“That a person couldn’t possibly have done this to himself.”
“Such as being found hanging from a tall light post in a parking lot, no ladder. Hands tightly bound behind the back,” she says.
“A real case, or are you just making this up as you go along?” Snidely.
“Nineteen sixty-two. A lynching in Birmingham, Alabama,” she says to the jurors, seven of whom are black.
Dr. Self returns from the other side of horror and closes the image on her screen. She reaches for the phone and calls Benton Wesley’s office, and her instincts immediately tell her that the unfamiliar woman who answers is young, overestimates her importance, has an entitlement attitude, and therefore is probably from a wealthy family and was hired by the hospital as a favor and is a thorn in Benton’s side.
“And your first name, Dr. Self?” the woman asks, as if she doesn’t know who Dr. Self is, when everyone at the hospital knows.
“I’m hoping Dr. Wesley has finally gotten in,” Dr. Self says. “He’s expecting my call.”
“He won’t be in until about eleven.” As if Dr. Self is no one special. “May I ask what you’re calling about?”
“That’s quite all right. And you are? I don’t believe we’ve met. Last time I called, it was someone else.”
“No longer here.”
“Jackie Minor. His new research assistant.” Her tone turns grand. She probably hasn’t finished her Ph.D. yet, assuming she ever will.
Dr. Self charmingly says, “Well, thank you very much, Jackie. And I assume you took the job so you could assist in his research study, what is it they call it? Dorsolateral Activation in Maternal Nagging?”
“DAMN?” Jackie says in surprise. “Who calls it that?”
“Why, I believe you just did,” Dr. Self says. “The acronym hadn’t occurred to me. You’re the one who just said it. You’re quite witty. Who was the great poet…Let me see if I can quote it: ‘Wit is the genius to perceive and the metaphor to express.’ Or something like that. Alexander Pope, I believe. We’ll meet soon enough. Very soon, Jackie. As you probably know, I’m part of the study. The one you call DAMN.”
“I knew it was someone important. Which is why Dr. Wesley ended up staying here this weekend and asked me to come in. All they put is VIP on the schedule.”
“It must be quite demanding working for him.”
“With his worldwide reputation.”
“That’s why I wanted to be his RA. I’m interning to be a forensic psychologist.”
“Brava! Very good. Perhaps I’ll have you on my show someday.”
“I hadn’t thought about it.”
“Well, you should, Jackie. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about expanding my horizons into The Other Side of Horror. The other side of crime that people don’t see—the criminal mind.”
“That’s all anybody’s interested in anymore,” Jackie agrees. “Just turn on the TV. Every single show is about crime.”
“So, I’m just at the brink of thinking about production consultants.”
“I’d be happy to accommodate a conversation with you about that anytime.”
“Have you interviewed a violent offender yet? Or perhaps sat in on one of Dr. Wesley’s interviews?”
“Not yet. But I absolutely will.”
“We’ll meet again, Dr. Minor. It is Dr. Minor?”
“As soon as I take my quals and find time to really focus on my dissertation. We’re already planning my hooding ceremony.”
“Of course you are. One of the finest moments in our lives.”
In centuries past, the stucco computer lab behind the old brick morgue was a quarters for horses and grooms.
Fortunately, before there was an architectural review board that could put a stop to it, the building was converted into a garage/storage facility that is now, as Lucy calls it, her make-do computer lab. It’s brick. It’s small. It’s minimal. Construction is well in the works on a massive facility on the other side of the Cooper River, where land is plentiful and zoning laws are toothless, as Lucy puts it. Her new forensic labs, when completed, will have every instrument and scientific capability imaginable. So far they manage fairly well with fingerprint analysis, toxicology, firearms, some trace evidence, and DNA. The Feds haven’t seen anything yet. She will put them to shame.
Inside her lab of old brick walls and fir-wood flooring is her computer domain, which is secured from the outside world by bullet-and hurricane-proof windows, the shades always drawn. Lucy sits before a work station that is connected to a sixty-four-gigabyte server with a chassis built of six U mountable racks. The kernel—or operating system interfacing the software with the hardware—is of her own design, built with the lowest assembly language so she could talk to the motherboard herself when she was creating her cyberworld—or what she calls the Infinity of Inner Space (IIS), pronounced IS, the prototype of which she sold for a staggering sum that’s indecent to mention. Lucy doesn’t talk about money.
Along the top of the walls are flat video screens constantly displaying every angle and sound captured by a wireless system of cameras and embedded microphones, and what she’s witnessing is unbelievable.
“You stupid son of a bitch,” she says loudly to the flat screen in front of her.
Marino is giving Shandy Snook a tour of the morgue, different angles of them on the screens, their voices as clear as if Lucy is with them.
Boston, the fifth floor of a mid-nineteenth-century brownstone on Beacon Street. Benton Wesley sits at his desk gazing out his window at a hot-air balloon drifting above the common, above Scotch elms as old as America. The white balloon slowly rises like a huge moon against the downtown skyline.
His cell phone rings. He puts on his wireless earpiece, says, “Wesley,” and hopes like hell it’s not some emergency that has to do with Dr. Self, the current hospital scourge, perhaps the most dangerous one ever.
“It’s me,” Lucy says in his ear. “Log on now. I’m conferencing you.”
Benton doesn’t ask why. He logs on to Lucy’s wireless network, which transfers video, audio, and data in real time. Her face fills the video screen of the laptop on his desk. She looks fresh and dynamically pretty, as usual, but her eyes are sparking with fury.
“Trying something different,” she says. “Connecting you to security access so you can see what I’m seeing right now. Okay? Your screen should split into four quadrants to pick up four angles or locations. Depending on what I choose. That should be enough for you to see what our so-called friend Marino is doing.”
“Got it,” Benton says as his screen splits, allowing him to view, simultaneously, four areas of Scarpetta’s building scanned by cameras.
The buzzer in the morgue bay.
In the upper-left corner of the screen, Marino and some young, sexy but cheap-looking woman in motorcycle leather are in the upstairs hallway of Scarpetta’s office, and he’s saying to her, “You stay right here until she gets signed in.”
“Why can’t I go with you? I’m not afraid.” Her voice—husky, a heavy southern accent—is transmitted clearly through the speakers on Benton’s desk.
“What the hell?” Benton says to Lucy over the phone.
“Just watch,” she comes back. “His latest girl wonder.”
“Oh, let’s see. I think they started sleeping together this past Monday night. The same night they met and got drunk together.”
Marino and Shandy board the elevator, and another camera picks them up as he says to her, “Okay. But if he tells the Doc, I’m cooked.”
“Hickory-dick-or-y-Doc, she’s got you by the cock,” she says in a mocking singsong.
“We’ll get a gown to hide all your leather, but keep your mouth shut and don’t do nothing. Don’t freak out or do nothing, and I mean it.”
“It’s not like I’ve never seen a dead body before,” she says.
The elevator doors open and they step out.
“My father choked on a piece of steak right in front of me and my family,” Shandy says.
“The locker room’s back there. The one on the left.” Marino points.
“Left? Like when I’m facing which way?”
“The first one when you go around the corner. Grab a gown and do it quick!”
Shandy runs. In one section of the screen, Benton can see her inside the locker room—Scarpetta’s locker room—grabbing a blue gown out of a locker—Scarpetta’s gown and locker—and hastily putting the gown on—backward. Marino waits down the hall. She runs back to him, the gown untied and flapping.
Another door. This leading into the bay where Marino’s and Shandy’s motorcycles are parked in a corner, barricaded by traffic cones. A hearse is inside, the engine’s rumbling echoing off old brick walls. A funeral home attendant climbs out, lanky and gawky in a suit and tie as black and shiny as his hearse. He unfolds his skinny self like a stretcher, as if he’s turning into what he does for a living. Benton notices something weird about his hands, the way they’re clenched like claws.
“I’m Lucious Meddick.” He opens the tailgate. “We met the other day when they fished that dead little boy out of the marsh.” He pulls on a pair of latex gloves, and Lucy zooms in on him. Benton notices a plastic orthodontic retainer on his teeth, and a rubber band around his right wrist.
“Closer on his hands,” Benton tells Lucy.
She zooms in more as Marino says, as if he can’t stand the man, “Yeah, I remember.”
Benton notices Lucious Meddick’s raw fingertips, says to Lucy, “Severe nail biting. A form of self-mutilation.”
“Anything new on that one?” Lucious is asking about the murdered little boy who Benton knows is still unidentified in the morgue.
“None of your business,” Marino says. “If it was for public semination, it would be in the news.”
“Jesus,” Lucy says in Benton’s ear. “He sounds like Tony Soprano.”
“Looks like you lost a hubcap.” Marino points to the back left tire of the hearse.
“It’s a spare.” Lucious is snippy about it.
“Kinda ruins the effect, don’t it,” Marino says. “Tricked out with all that shine, then a wheel with ugly lug nuts.”
Lucious huffily opens the tailgate and slides the stretcher over rollers in back of the hearse. Collapsible aluminum legs clack open and lock in place. Marino doesn’t offer assistance as Lucious rolls the stretcher and its black-pouched body up the ramp, bangs it against the door frame, cusses.
Marino winks at Shandy, who looks bizarre in her open surgical gown and black leather motorcycle boots. Lucious impatiently abandons the pouched body in the middle of the hall, snaps the rubber band on his wrist, and says in an irritable raised voice, “Got to take care of her paperwork.”
“Keep it down,” Marino says. “You might wake somebody up.”
“I don’t got time for your comedy club.” Lucious starts to walk off.
“You ain’t going nowhere until you help me transfer her from your stretcher to one of our state-of-the-art gurneys.”
“Showing off.” Lucy’s voice sounds in Benton’s earpiece. “Trying to impress his potato-chip tramp.”
Marino rolls a gurney out of the cooler, scratched up and rather bandy-legged, one of the wheels slightly cockeyed like a bedraggled grocery store buggy. He and an angry Lucious lift the pouched body from the stretcher, place it on the gurney.
“That lady boss of yours is a piece of work,” Lucious says. “The b-word comes to mind.”
“Nobody asked your opinion. You hear anybody ask his opinion?” To Shandy.
She stares at the pouch, as if she didn’t hear him.
“It’s not my fault she’s got her addresses mixed up on the Internet. She acted like it was my problem showing up, trying to do my job. Not that I can’t get along with anybody. You got a particular funeral home you recommend to your clients?”
“Get a fucking ad in the Yellow Pages.”
Lucious heads to the small morgue office, walking fast, hardly bending his knees, reminding Benton of a pair of scissors.
One quadrant of the screen shows Lucious inside the morgue office, fussing with paperwork, opening drawers, rummaging, finding a pen.
Another quadrant of the screen shows Marino saying to Shandy, “Didn’t anyone know the Hinelick maneuver?”
“I’ll learn anything, baby,” she says. “Any maneuver you want to show me.”
“Seriously. When your father was choking on—” Marino starts to explain.
“We thought he was having a heart attack or a stroke or a seizure,” she interrupts him. “It was so awful, grabbing himself, falling to the floor and cracking his head, his face turning blue. No one knew what to do, had no idea he was choking. Even if we had, we couldn’t have done anything except what we did, call nine-one-one.” She suddenly looks as if she might start crying.
“Sorry to tell you, but you could have done something,” Marino says. “I’m gonna show you. Here, turn around.”
Done with his paperwork, Lucious hurries out of the morgue office, walks right past Marino and Shandy. They pay him no mind as he enters the autopsy suite unattended. Marino wraps his huge arms around her waist, makes a fist, his thumb against her upper abdomen, just above her navel. He grasps his fist with his other hand and gives a gentle upward thrust, just enough to show her. He slides his hands up and fondles her.
“Good God,” Lucy says in Benton’s ear. “He’s got a hard-on in the fucking morgue.”
In the autopsy suite, the camera picks up Lucious walking to the large black log on a countertop, the Book of the Dead, as Rose politely calls it. He starts signing in the body with the pen he took from the morgue office desk.
“He’s not supposed to do that.” Lucy’s voice in Benton’s ear. “Only Aunt Kay is supposed to touch that log. It’s a legal document.”
Shandy says to Marino, “See, it’s not hard being in here. Well, maybe it is.” Reaching back, grabbing him. “You sure know how to cheer a girl up. And I do mean up. Whoa!”
Benton says to Lucy, “This is unbelievable.”
Shandy turns around in Marino’s arms and kisses him—kissing him on the mouth right there in the morgue—and for an instant, Benton thinks they might have sex in the hallway.
Then, “Here, you try it on me,” Marino says.
In another quadrant of his screen, Benton watches Lucious thumbing through the morgue log.
When Marino turns around, his arousal is apparent. Shandy can barely get her arms all the way around him, starts to laugh. He puts his huge hands over hers, helps her push, says, “No kidding. You ever see me choking, you push just like this. Hard!” He shows her. “Point is to force the air out so whatever’s caught in there flies out, too.” She slides her hands down and grabs him again, and he pushes her away and turns his back to Lucious as he emerges from the autopsy suite.
“She figured out anything about that dead little boy?” Lucious snaps the rubber band around his wrist. “Well, I guess not, since he’s entered in the Dead Log as ‘undetermined.’”
“He was undetermined when he was brought in. What you been doing, snooping through the book?” Marino looks ridiculous, his back to Lucious.
“Obviously, she can’t handle such a complicated case. Too bad I didn’t bring him in here. I could have been of assistance. I know more about the human body than any doctor.” Lucious moves to one side and stares down in the direction of Marino’s crotch. “Well, hello,” he says.
“You don’t know shit and can shut up about that dead boy,” Marino says nastily. “And you can shut up about the Doc. And you can get the hell out of here.”
“You mean that little boy from the other day?” Shandy says.
Lucious rattles off with his stretcher, leaving the body he just delivered on the gurney in the middle of the hall, in front of the stainless-steel cooler door. Marino opens it and pushes the uncooperative gurney inside, his arousal still obvious.
“Christ,” Benton says to Lucy.
“He on Viagra or something?” Her voice in his ear.
“Why the hell don’t you get a new cart or whatever you call that thing?” Shandy says.
“The Doc don’t waste money.”
“So she’s cheap, too. Bet she doesn’t pay you shit.”
“If we need something, she gets it, but she don’t waste money. Not like Lucy, who could buy China.”
“You always stick up for the Big Chief, don’t you? But not like you stick up for me, baby.” Shandy fondles him.
“I think I’m going to throw up.” Lucy’s voice.
And Shandy walks inside the cooler to get a good look at what’s inside. The cold air blowing is audible through Benton’s speakers.
And a camera in the bay picks up Lucious sliding behind the wheel of his hearse.
“She a murder?” Shandy asks about the latest delivery, then looks at another pouched body in a corner. “I want to know about the kid.”
Lucious rumbles away in his hearse, the bay door loudly clanking shut behind him, sounding like a car wreck.
“Natural causes,” Marino says. “Old Oriental woman. Eighty-five or something.”
“How come she got sent here if she died of natural causes?”
“Because the coroner wanted to send her in. Why? Hell if I know. The Doc just said for me to be here. Hell if I know. Sounds like a cut-and-dried heart attack to me. I’m getting a whiff of something.” He makes a face.
“Let’s look,” Shandy says. “Come on. Just a quick peek.”
Benton watches them on-screen, watches Marino unzip the pouch and Shandy recoil in disgust, jump back, cover her nose and mouth.
“What you deserve.” Lucy’s voice as she zooms in on the body: decomposing, bloated by gases, the abdomen turning green. Benton knows that odor all too well, a putrid stench unlike any other that clings to the air and the roof of your mouth.
“Shit,” Marino complains, zipping up the pouch. “She’s probably been lying around for days and the damn Beaufort County coroner didn’t want to fool with her. Got a noseful, did you?” He laughs at Shandy. “And you thought my job was a piece of cake.”
Shandy moves closer to the small black pouched body parked in a corner all by itself. She stands very still, staring down at it.
“Don’t do it.” Lucy sounds in Benton’s ear, but she’s talking to Marino’s image on the screen.
“Bet I knows what’s in this little bag,” Shandy says, and it’s hard to hear her.
Marino steps outside the cooler. “Out, Shandy. Now.”
“Whatcha gonna do? Lock me in here? Come on, Pete. Open up this little bag. I know it’s that dead boy you and that funeral creep were just talking about. I heard all about that boy on the news. So he’s still here. How come? Poor little thing all alone and cold in a refrigerator.”
“He’s lost it,” Benton says. “Completely lost it.”
“You don’t want to see that,” Marino says to her, walking back inside the cooler.
“Why not? That little boy found at Hilton Head. The one all over the news,” she repeats herself. “I knew it. Why’s he still here? They know who did it?” She holds her position by the little black pouch on its gurney.
“We don’t know a damn thing. That’s why he’s still here. Come on.” He motions to her, and it’s difficult to hear both of them.
“Let me see him.”
“Don’t do it.” Lucy’s voice, talking to Marino’s image on the screen. “Don’t fuck yourself, Marino.”
“You don’t want to,” he says to Shandy.
“I can handle it. I got a right to see him, because you’re not supposed to have secrets. That’s our rule. So prove right now you don’t keep secrets from me.” She can’t take her eyes off the pouch.
“Nope. With stuff like this, the secret rule don’t count.”
“Oh, yes it does. Better hurry, I’m turning as cold as a dead body in here.”
“Because if the Doc ever found out…”
“There you go again. Scared of her like she fucking owns you. What’s so bad you don’t think I can handle it?” Shandy says furiously, almost screaming as she holds herself because of the cold. “I bet he doesn’t stink as bad as that old lady.”
“He’s been skinned and his eyeballs are gone,” Marino tells her.
“Oh, no,” Benton says, rubbing his face.
Shandy exclaims, “Don’t mess with me! Don’t you dare joke with me! You let me see him right now! I’m sick and tired of you always turning into a damn wimp when she tells you something!”
“Nothing funny about it, you got that right. What goes on in this place ain’t no joke. I keep trying to tell you that. You got no idea what I deal with.”
“Well, isn’t that something. To think your Big Chief would do something like that. Skinning a little kid and cutting out his eyes. You always said she treats the dead real nice.” Hatefully. “Sounds like a Nazi to me. They used to skin people and make lampshades.”
“Sometimes the only way you can tell if darkish or reddish areas are really bruises is to look at the underside of the skin so you can make sure what you’re looking at is broken blood vessels—in other words, bruises or what we call contusions—instead of it being from livor mortis,” Marino pontificates.
“This is unreal.” Lucy sounds in Benton’s ear. “So now he’s the chief medical examiner.”
“Not unreal,” Benton says. “Massively insecure. Threatened. Resentful. Overcompensating and decompensating. I don’t know what’s going on with him.”
“You and Aunt Kay are what’s going on with him.”
“From what?” Shandy stares at the little black pouch.
“From when your circulation stops, and the blood settles and can make your skin look red in places. Can look a whole lot like fresh bruises. And there can be other reasons for things that look like injuries, what we call postmortem artifacts. It’s complicated,” Marino says with self-importance. “So to make sure, you peel back the skin, you know, with a scalpel”—he makes swift cutting motions in the air—“to see the underside of it, and in this case, they were bruises, all right. The little guy’s covered with them from head to toe.”
“But why would you take out his eyeballs?”
“Further study, looking for more hemorrhages like you find in shaking baby syndrome, things like that. Same with his brain. It’s fixed in formalin in a bucket, not here but at a medical school where they do special studies.”
“Oh my God. His brain’s in a bucket?”
“It’s just what we do. Fixing it in this chemical so it don’t decompose and can be looked at better. Sort of like embalming.”
“You sure know a lot. You should be the doctor around here, not her. Let me look.”
All this inside the cooler, the door wide open.
“I’ve been doing this practically longer than you’re old,” Marino says. “Sure, I could’ve been a doctor, but who the hell wants to go to school that long? Who’d want to be her, either? She’s got no life. Nobody but dead people.”
“I want to see him,” Shandy demands.
“Damn, don’t know what it is,” Marino says. “Can’t be inside a damn cooler without dying for a cigarette.”
She digs in a pocket of the leather vest under her gown, pulls out a pack, a lighter. “I can’t believe someone would do that to a little kid. I have to see him. I’m here, so show me.” She lights up two cigarettes and they smoke.
“Manipulative, borderline,” Benton says. “He’s picked real trouble this time.”
Marino rolls out the tray, rolls it out of the cooler.
Unzipping the pouch. Plastic rustling. Lucy zooms in tight on Shandy blowing out smoke, staring wide-eyed at the dead little boy.
An emaciated little body sliced in neat straight lines from chin to genitals, from shoulders to hands, from hips to toes, his chest open like a hollowed-out watermelon. His organs are gone. His skin is reflected back from his body and spread out in flaps that reveal scores of dark purple hemorrhages of varying ages and severity, and tears and fractures to cartilage and bone. His eyes are empty holes, and through them is the inside of his skull.
Shandy screams, “I hate that woman! I hate her! How could she do this to him! Gutted and skinned like a shot deer! How can you work for that psycho bitch!”
“Calm down. Quit yelling.” Marino zips up the pouch and rolls it back inside the cooler. He shuts the door. “I warned you. There’s some things people don’t need to see. They can get a post-trauma stress condition from stuff like this.”
“Now I’ll see him forever in my head, looking just like that. Sicko bitch. Damn Nazi.”
“You keep your mouth shut about this, you hear me?” Marino says.
“How can you work for someone like that?”
“Shut up. I mean it,” Marino says. “I helped with the autopsy, and I’m sure as hell no Nazi. That’s what happens. People get fucked over twice when they get murdered.” He takes Shandy’s surgical gown, hastily folds it. “That little kid was probably murdered the day he was born. No one giving a rat’s ass about him, and this is the result.”
“What do you know about life? You people think you know everything about everyone when all you see is what’s left when you cut them up like a butcher.”
“You’re the one who wanted to come in here.” Marino is getting angry. “So shut up about it, and don’t call me a butcher.”
He leaves Shandy in the hallway, returns the gown to Scarpetta’s locker. He sets the alarm. The camera in the bay captures them, the huge bay door screeching and clanking up.
Lucy’s voice. Benton will have to be the one to inform Scarpetta about Marino’s tour, about a betrayal that could destroy her if the media ever found out. Lucy’s headed to the airport, won’t be back until late tomorrow. Benton doesn’t ask. He’s pretty sure she already knows, even if she hasn’t told him. Then she tells him about Dr. Self, about her e-mails to Marino.
Benton doesn’t comment. He can’t. On his video screen, Marino and Shandy Snook ride off on their motorcycles.
The clatter of metal wheels on tile.
The walk-in freezer door opens with a reluctant suck. Scarpetta is impervious to the frigid air, the stench of frozen death as she rolls in the steel cart bearing the small black body bag. Attached to the zipper pull is a toe tag, and written on it in black ink: Unknown, with the date, 4/30/07, and the signature of the funeral home attendant who transported the body. In the morgue log Scarpetta entered Unknown as a male, five to ten years old, a homicide from Hilton Head Island, a two-hour drive from Charleston. His race is mixed: thirty-four percent sub-Saharan African and sixty-six percent European.
Entries into the log are always made by her, and she is outraged by what she discovered when she arrived hours earlier and found this morning’s case had already been entered, presumably by Lucious Meddick. Unbelievably, he took it upon himself to decide the elderly woman he transported is a natural death caused by cardiac and respiratory arrest. The presumptuous moron. Everybody dies of cardiac or respiratory arrest. Whether shot or hit by a car or a baseball bat, death occurs when the heart and lungs quit. He had no right or reason to conclude the death is natural. She hasn’t done the autopsy yet, and it isn’t his responsibility or legal jurisdiction to determine a goddamn thing. He’s not a forensic pathologist. He should never have touched the morgue log. She can’t fathom why Marino would have allowed him to enter the autopsy suite and then left him unattended.
Her breath fogs out as she removes a clipboard from a cart and fills in Unknown’s information and the time and date. Her frustration is as palpable as the cold. Despite her obsessive efforts, she doesn’t know where the little boy died, although she suspects it isn’t far from where he was found. She doesn’t know his exact age. She doesn’t know how his killer transported the body but hypothesizes it was by boat. No witnesses have come forward, and the only trace evidence she recovered is white cotton fibers assumed to be from the sheet the Beaufort County coroner wrapped him in before zipping him inside a pouch.
The sand and salt and bits of shells and plant debris in the boy’s orifices and on his skin are indigenous to the marshland where his nude decomposing body was facedown in pluff mud and saw grass. After days of using every procedure she can conjure up to make his body talk to her, he has offered but a few painful revelations. His tubular stomach and emaciation say he was starved for weeks, possibly months. Mildly deformed nails indicate new growth of different ages and suggest repeated blunt-force trauma or some other type of torture to his tiny fingers and toes. Subtle reddish patterns all over his body tattle to her that he was brutally beaten, most recently with a wide belt that had a large square buckle. Incisions, a reflecting back of skin, and microscopic analysis revealed hemorrhaging into soft tissue from the crown of his head to the soles of his little feet. He died of internal exsanguination—bled to death without externally shedding a drop—a metaphor, it seems, for his invisible and miserable life.
She has preserved sections of his organs and injuries in jars of formalin and sent off his brain and eyes for special examination. She’s taken hundreds of photographs, and notified Interpol in the event he’s been reported missing in another country. His fingerprints and footprints have been entered into the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and his DNA profile into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)—all of his information entered into the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database. Of course, now Lucy is searching the Deep Web. So far, there are no leads, no matches, suggesting he wasn’t abducted, wasn’t lost, didn’t run away and end up in the hands of a sadistic stranger. Most likely he was beaten to death by a parent or some other relative, guardian, or so-called caregiver who left his body in a remote area to hide his or her crime. It happens all the time.
Scarpetta can do nothing more for him medically or scientifically, but she won’t give him up. There will be no defleshing and packing his bones in a box—no pauper’s grave. Until he’s identified, he will stay with her, transferred from the cooler to a time capsule of sorts, a polyurethane insulated freezer chilled to minus-sixty-five degrees centigrade. If need be, he can stay with her for years. She shuts the freezer’s heavy steel door and walks out into the bright deodorized hallway, untying her blue surgical gown and pulling off her gloves. Her disposable shoe covers make a quick, quiet whish on the spotless tile floor.
From her room with a view, Dr. Self talks to Jackie Minor again, since Benton has yet to bother returning her call and it is now almost two p.m.
“He’s well aware we need to take care of this. Why do you think he’s here this weekend and asked you to come in? Do you get overtime, by the way?” Dr. Self doesn’t show her ire.
“I knew there was a VIP all of a sudden. That’s all any of us are usually told when it’s somebody famous. We get a lot of famous people here. How did you find out about the study?” Jackie inquires. “I’m supposed to ask because I’m supposed to keep track so we can figure out what’s the most effective form of advertising. You know, newspaper and radio ads, posting notices, word of mouth.”
“The recruitment notice in the admissions building. I saw it first thing when I checked in what now seems a very long time ago. And it occurred to me, why not? I’ve decided to leave soon, very soon. It’s a pity your weekend is ruined,” Dr. Self says.
“Truth be told, it’s a good thing. It’s hard finding volunteers who meet the criteria, especially the normals. Such a waste. At least two out of three turn out not to be normal. But think about it. If you were normal, why would you want to come here and…”
“Be part of a science project.” Dr. Self finishes Jackie’s lamebrain thought. “I don’t believe you can sign up as a normal.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean to say you’re not…”
“I’m always open to learning something new, and I have an unusual reason for being here,” Dr. Self says. “You’re aware of how confidential this is.”
“I heard you’re sort of hiding here for security reasons.”
“Did Dr. Wesley tell you that?”
“A rumor. And confidentiality is a given, according to HIPAA, which we have to abide by. It must be safe for you to leave, if you are.”
“One can only hope.”
“Are you aware of the details of the study?”
“What I vaguely recall from the recruitment notice,” Dr. Self says.
“Dr. Wesley hasn’t gone over it with you?”
“He was just notified Friday when I informed Dr. Maroni, who’s in Italy, that I wanted to volunteer for the study, but it would have to be taken care of immediately because I’ve decided to check out. I’m sure Dr. Wesley intends to brief me thoroughly. I don’t know why he hasn’t called. Perhaps he hasn’t gotten your message yet.”
“I told him, but he’s a very busy, important person. I know he has to tape the VIP’s mother today, meaning your mother. So I’m assuming he plans to do that first. Then I’m sure he’ll talk to you.”
“It must be so hard on his personal life. These studies and whatnot that keep him here on weekends. I suppose he must have a lover. A handsome, accomplished man like him certainly wouldn’t be alone.”
“He has someone down south. In fact, her niece was here about a month ago.”
“How interesting,” Dr. Self says.
“She came here for a scan. Lucy. Some secret agent type, or tries to look like one anyway. I know she’s a computer entrepreneur, is friends with Josh.”
“Involved in law enforcement,” Dr. Self ponders. “Some type of secret operative, highly technically trained. And independently wealthy, I presume. Fascinating.”
“She didn’t even speak to me other than to introduce herself as Lucy and shake my hand and say hi and chat. She hung out with Josh, then was in Dr. Wesley’s office for quite a while. With the door shut.”
“What did you think of her?”
“She’s really stuck on herself. Of course, I didn’t spend time with her. She was hanging out with Dr. Wesley. With the door shut.” She makes that point again.
Jealous. How perfect. “How nice,” Dr. Self says. “They must be very close. She sounds very unusual. Is she pretty?”
“I thought she was rather masculine, if you get my drift. Dressed all in black and kind of muscular. A firm handshake like a guy. And she looked right into my eyes with this intense gaze. Like her eyes were these green laser beams. It made me very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be alone with her, now that I think about it. Women like that…”
“I hear you saying she was attracted to you and wanted sex with you before she flew back on, what? A private jet, let me guess,” Dr. Self says. “Where did you say she lives?”
“Charleston. Like her aunt. I think she did want sex with me. My God. How could I not have realized that at the time, when she shook my hand and looked into my eyes. And oh, yes. She asked me if I had long hours, as if maybe she wanted to know what time I got off work. She asked me where I’m from. She got personal. I just didn’t see it at the time.”
“Perhaps because you were afraid to see it, Jackie. She does sound very appealing and charismatic, the sort who almost hypnotically lures a straight woman into bed, and after an extremely erotic experience…?” A pause. “You do understand why two women having sex, even if one of them is straight or both are, isn’t at all uncommon.”
“Do you read Freud?”
“I’ve never felt an attraction to another woman. Not even my roommate in college. And we lived together. If there was that latent predisposition, a lot more would have happened.”
“Everything is about sex, Jackie. Sexual desire goes all the way back to infancy. What is it that both male and female infants get, that later is denied the female?”
“I don’t know.”
“The nurturing at mother’s breast.”
“I don’t want that kind of nurturing and don’t remember anything about it and only care about boobs because men like them. They’re important for that reason, and I only notice them for that reason. I think I was bottle-fed, anyway.”
“I do agree with you, though,” Dr. Self says. “Rather odd she came all the way up here for a scan. I certainly hope there’s nothing wrong with her.”
“I just know she comes in a couple times a year.”
“A couple times a year?”
“That’s what one of the techs said.”
“How tragic if there’s something wrong with her. You and I both know it isn’t routine for someone to have brain scans several times a year. If at all. What else do I need to know about my scan?”
“Has anyone bothered to ask if you have a problem going into the magnet?” Jackie asks with the seriousness of an expert.
“You know. If it might cause you a problem.”
“Not unless after it’s over I can no longer tell north from south. Another very astute point you’re making, though. I do have to wonder what it does to people. I’m not sure that’s really been determined. MRI hasn’t been commonly used all that long, now has it.”
“The study uses fMRI. Functional MRI, so we can watch your brain working while you listen to the tape.”
“Yes, the tape. My mother will so enjoy making that tape. Now, what else do I have to look forward to?”
“The protocol is to start with the SCID. Let me explain, the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-Three-R.”
“I’m quite familiar. Especially with DSM-Four. The latest revision.”
“Sometimes Dr. Wesley lets me do the SCID. We can’t scan you until we get that out of the way, and it can be a lengthy process going through all those questions.”
“I’ll discuss that when I see him today. And if it’s appropriate, inquire about Lucy. No, I suppose I shouldn’t. But I do hope nothing’s wrong with her. Especially since it seems she’s very special to him.”
“He’s booked up with other patients, but I could probably find time to SCID you.”
“Thank you, Jackie. I’ll talk to him about it the minute he calls me. And have there been averse reactions to his fascinating study? And who funded the grant? I believe you said your father?”
“We’ve had a few people who were claustrophobic. So we couldn’t scan them after all that work. Imagine,” Jackie says, “I go to all the trouble to SCID them and tape their mothers…”
“Tape them over the phone, I presume. You’ve done quite a lot in one short week.”
“Much cheaper and more efficient. No need to see these people in person. It’s just a standard format, what you need them to talk about on tape. I’m not allowed to discuss grant funding, but my father’s into philanthropy.”
“The new show I’m developing. Did I mention I’m just on the brink of thinking about production consultants? You indicated Lucy is somehow involved with law enforcement? Or a special agent? She might be another one to consider. Unless there’s something wrong with her. And she’s had her brain scanned here how many times?”
“I’m sorry to say I’ve not watched your show much. Because of my schedule, I can only watch TV at night.”
“My shows are aired repeatedly. Morning, noon, and night.”
“Scientifically exploring the criminal mind and its behavior versus interviewing people who wear guns and just go around arresting them is really the right idea. Your audience would love it,” Jackie says. “Love it a lot more than most of what’s on these talk shows. I think getting an expert to interview one of these sexually violent psychopathic killers on your show would make your ratings go up.”
“From which I am to infer that a psychopath who rapes or sexually abuses and kills might not necessarily be violent. That is an extraordinarily original concept, Jackie, which next makes me wonder if, for example, only sociopathic sexual murderers are also violent. And following that hypothesis, we next have to ask what?”
“Well, we have to ask where compulsive sexual homicide fits. Or is it all about vernacular? I say potato, you say spud.”
“How much Freud have you read, and do you pay attention to your dreams? You should write them down, keep a journal by your bed.”
“Of course, in classes, well, not the journal and dreams. I didn’t do that in classes,” Jackie says. “In real life, nobody’s into Freud anymore.”
Eight-thirty p.m., Rome time. Seagulls swoop and cry in the night. They look like large white bats.
In other cities near the coast, the gulls are a nuisance during the day but vanish after dark. Certainly this is true in America, where Captain Poma has spent considerable time. As a young boy, he frequented foreign lands with his family. He was to become a man of the world who spoke other languages fluently and had impeccable manners and an excellent education. He was to amount to something, his parents said. He watches two fat, snowy gulls on a windowsill near his table, eyeing him. Maybe it’s the beluga caviar they want.
“I ask you where she is,” he says in Italian. “And your answer is to inform me of a man I should know about? But you won’t give me details? Now I’m extremely frustrated.”
“What I said was the following,” replies Dr. Paulo Maroni, who has known the captain for years. “Dr. Self had Drew Martin on her show, as you know. Weeks later, Dr. Self began getting e-mails from someone very disturbed. I know this, because she referred him to me.”
“Paulo, please. I need details about this disturbed person.”
“I was hoping you had them.”
“I’m not the one who introduced the subject.”
“You’re the one working the case,” Dr. Maroni says. “It appears I have more information than you do. That’s depressing. So there’s nothing.”
“I wouldn’t want to admit it publicly. We’re no further along. That’s why it’s vital you tell me about this disturbed person. And I feel you are toying with me in a very strange way.”
“For more details, you must talk to her. He isn’t her patient, and she can talk about him freely. Assuming she’s cooperative.” He reaches for the silver plate of blini. “And that’s a big assumption.”
“Then help me find her,” Captain Poma says. “Because I have a feeling you know where she is. That’s why you suddenly called me and invited yourself to a very expensive dinner.”
Dr. Maroni laughs. He could afford a roomful of the very best Russian caviar. That’s not why he’s having dinner with the captain. He knows something and has complex reasons, a scheme. This is typical of him. He’s gifted in his understanding of human proclivities and motivations, possibly the most brilliant man the captain knows. But he’s an enigma, and his definition of truth is his own.
“I can’t tell you where she is,” Dr. Maroni says.
“Which doesn’t mean you don’t know. You’re playing your word games with me, Paulo. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s not that I haven’t tried very hard to find her. Ever since I learned she was acquainted with Drew, I’ve talked to people who work for her and am always told the same story that’s been on the news. She had a mysterious family emergency. No one knows where she is.”
“Logic would tell you it’s impossible no one knows where she is.”
“Yes, logic does tell me that,” the captain says, spreading caviar on a blini and handing it to him. “I have a feeling you’ll help me find her. Because as I say, you know, which is why you called me and now we’re playing word games.”
“Her staff has forwarded your e-mails requesting a meeting or at least a telephone conversation?” Dr. Maroni asks.
“So they say.” The gulls fly away, interested in another table. “I won’t reach her through the normal channels. She has no intention of acknowledging me, because the last thing she would want is to become a factor in the investigation. People might assign responsibility to her.”
“As they probably should. She’s irresponsible,” Dr. Maroni says.
The wine steward appears to refill their glasses. The Hotel Hassler’s rooftop restaurant is one of Captain Poma’s favorites. The view is beautiful and he never tires of it, and he thinks about Kay Scarpetta and wonders if she and Benton Wesley ever ate here. Probably not. They were too busy. They strike him as too busy for what matters in life.
“You see? The more she’s avoided me, the more I think she has a reason,” the captain adds. “Maybe it’s this disturbed man she referred to you. Please tell me where to find her, because I think you know.”
Dr. Maroni says, “Did I mention we have regulations and standards in the United States, and lawsuits are the national sport?”
“Her staff’s not going to tell me if she’s a patient at your hospital.”
“I would never tell you, either.”
“Of course not.” The captain smiles. Now he knows. He has no doubt.
“I’m so glad not to be there at the moment,” Dr. Maroni then says. “We have a very difficult VIP at the Pavilion. I hope Benton Wesley can adequately handle her.”
“I must talk to her. How can I make her think I found out from a source other than you?”
“You didn’t find out anything from me.”
“I found out from somebody. She’ll demand I tell her.”
“You found out nothing from me. In fact, you’re the one who said it. And I haven’t verified it.”
“May we discuss it hypothetically?”
Dr. Maroni drinks his wine. “I prefer the Barbaresco we had last time.”
“You would. It was three hundred euros.”
“Full-bodied but very fresh.”
“The wine? Or the woman you were with last night?”
For a man his age who eats and drinks whatever he pleases, Dr. Maroni looks good and is never without a woman. They offer themselves to him as if he is the god Priapus, and he’s faithful to no one. Usually, he leaves his wife in Massachusetts when he comes to Rome. She doesn’t seem to mind. She’s well taken care of, and he isn’t demanding about his sexual desires because she no longer meets them and he no longer is in love with her. This is a destiny the captain refuses to accept. He’s romantic, and he wonders about Scarpetta again. She doesn’t need to be taken care of and wouldn’t permit it. Her presence in his thoughts is like the light of the candles on the tables and the lights of the city beyond the window. He is moved by her.
“I can contact her at the hospital. But she’ll demand to know how I found out about her being there,” the captain says.
“The VIP, you mean.” Dr. Maroni dips a mother-of-pearl spoon into the caviar, scoops out enough for two blini. He spreads the caviar over one and eats it. “You mustn’t contact anyone at the hospital.”
“What if Benton Wesley’s my source? He was just here and is involved in the investigation. And now she’s his patient. It irritates me we talked about Dr. Self the other night and he didn’t divulge she’s his patient.”
“You mean the VIP. Benton isn’t a psychiatrist, and the VIP technically isn’t his patient. Technically, the VIP is my patient.”
The captain pauses as the waiter appears with the primi piatti. Risotto with mushrooms and Parmesan. Basil-flavored minestrone with quad-rucci pasta.
“Anyway, Benton would never divulge a confidence like that. You may as well ask a stone,” Dr. Maroni says when the waiter is gone. “My guess is the VIP will be gone soon. Where she goes will be the important question for you. Where she’s been is important only because of motive.”
“Dr. Self’s show is filmed in New York.”
“VIPs can go where they please. If you find out where she is and why, you might discover where she would go next. A more likely source would be Lucy Farinelli.”
“Lucy Farinelli?” The captain is baffled.
“Dr. Scarpetta’s niece. As it happens, I’m doing her a favor, and she comes to the hospital fairly often. So she could hear rumors from the staff.”
“And what? She told Kay, who next told me?”
“Kay?” Dr. Maroni eats. “Then you are on friendly terms with her?”
“I hope so. Not so friendly with him. I don’t think he likes me.”
“Most men don’t like you, Otto. Only homosexuals. But you see my point. Hypothetically. If the information comes from an outsider—Lucy, who tells Dr. Scarpetta, who tells you”—Dr. Maroni eats the risotto with enthusiasm—“then there are no ethical or legal concerns. You can begin to follow the trail.”
“And the VIP knows Kay’s working with me on the case, since she was just here in Rome and it’s been in the news. So this VIP will believe Kay indirectly is the source, and then there’s no trouble. That’s very good. Perfect.”
“The risotto ai funghi is almost perfect. What about the minestrone? I’ve had it before,” Dr. Maroni says.
“Excellent. This VIP. Without compromising confidentiality, can you tell me why she’s a patient at McLean?”
“Her reason or mine? Personal safety is her reason. Mine is so she could take advantage of me. She has both axis one and axis two pathology. Rapid-cycling bipolar and refuses to acknowledge it, much less take a mood stabilizer. Which personality disorder would you like me to discuss? She has so many. I regret to say that people with personality disorders rarely change.”
“So something caused a breakdown. Is this the VIP’s first hospitalization for psychiatric reasons? I’ve been doing research. She’s against medication and thinks all of the problems in the world can be managed by following her advice. What she calls tools.”
“The VIP has no known history of hospitalization prior to this. Now you’re asking the important questions. Not where she is. But why. I can’t tell you where she is. I can tell you where the VIP is.”
“Something was traumatic to your VIP?”
“This VIP received an e-mail from a madman. Coincidentally, the same madman Dr. Self told me about last fall.”
“I must talk to her.”
“Talk to who?”
“All right. May we discuss Dr. Self?”
“We’ll change our conversation from the VIP to Dr. Self.”
“Tell me more about this madman.”
“As I said, someone I saw several times at my office here.”
“I won’t ask the name of this patient.”
“Good, because I don’t know it. He paid cash. And he lied.”
“You have no idea about his real name?”
“Unlike you, I don’t get to do a background check on a patient or demand proof of his true identity,” Dr. Maroni says.
“Then what was his false name?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why did Dr. Self contact you about this man? And when?”
“Early October. She said he was sending e-mails to her and she thought it best to refer him elsewhere. As I’ve said.”
“Then she’s at least somewhat responsible, if she acknowledged a situation was beyond her capabilities,” Captain Poma says.
“This is where, perhaps, you don’t understand her. She would never begin to think anything is beyond her capabilities. She couldn’t be bothered with him, and it appealed to her maniacal ego to refer him to a Nobel Prize–winning psychiatrist who is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. It was gratifying to inconvenience me, as she’s done many times before. She has her reasons. If nothing else, she probably knew I would fail. He isn’t treatable.” Dr. Maroni studies his wine as if there is an answer in it.
“Tell me this,” Captain Poma says. “If he’s untreatable, then don’t you agree this also justifies what I’m thinking? He’s a very abnormal man who may be doing very abnormal things. He’s sent her e-mails. He may have sent her the e-mail she mentioned to you when she was admitted at McLean.”
“You mean the VIP. I never said Dr. Self is at McLean. But if she were, you certainly should find out exactly why. It seems that’s what matters. I’m repeating myself like a broken record.”
“He might have sent the VIP the e-mail that disturbed her enough to make her hide at your hospital. We must locate him and at least be sure he isn’t a murderer.”
“I have no idea how to do that. As I said, I couldn’t begin to tell you who he is. Only that he’s an American and served in Iraq.”
“What did he say was his purpose in coming to see you here in Rome? That’s a long way for an appointment.”
“He was suffering from PTSD. He seems to have connections in Italy. He told a very unsettling story about a young woman he spent a day with last summer. A body discovered near Bari. You remember the case.”
“The Canadian tourist?” the captain says, surprised. “Shit.”
“That’s the one. Only she was unidentified at first.”
“She was nude, badly mutilated.”
“Not like Drew Martin, from what you’ve told me. The same thing wasn’t done to the eyes.”
“She was also missing large areas of flesh.”
“Yes. At first it was assumed she was a prostitute who’d been thrown from a moving car or was hit by one, thus explaining these wounds,” Dr. Maroni says. “The autopsy showed otherwise, was done very competently, even if it was performed in very primitive conditions. You know how these things go in remote areas that have no money.”
“Especially if it’s a prostitute. She was autopsied in a cemetery. Had the Canadian tourist not been reported missing about this same time, she may have been buried in the cemetery, unidentified,” Captain Poma recalls.
“It was determined the flesh had been removed by some type of knife or saw.”
“And you aren’t going to tell me everything you know about this patient who paid cash and lied about his name?” the captain protests. “You must have notes you could share with me?”
“Impossible. What he told me is no proof.”
“What if he’s this killer, Paulo?”
“If I had more evidence, I’d tell you. I have only his twisted tales and the uneasy feeling I got when I was contacted about the murdered prostitute who turned out to be the missing Canadian.”
“You were contacted? What? For your opinion? That’s news to me.”
“It was worked by the state police. Not the Carabinieri. I give my free advice to many people. In summary, this patient never came to see me again, and I couldn’t tell you where he is,” Dr. Maroni says.
“Couldn’t or won’t.”
“Don’t you see how it’s possible he’s Drew Martin’s killer? He was referred to you by Dr. Self, and suddenly she hides at your hospital because of an e-mail from a madman.”
“Now you’re perseverating and back to the VIP. I’ve never said Dr. Self is a patient at the hospital. But motivation for hiding is more important than the hiding place itself.”
“If only I could dig with a shovel inside your head, Paulo. No telling what I’d find.”
“Risotto and wine.”
“If you know details that could help this investigation, I don’t agree with your secrecy,” the captain says, and then he says nothing because the waiter is heading toward them.
Dr. Maroni asks to see the menu again, even though he has tried everything on it by now because he dines here often. The captain, who doesn’t want a menu, recommends the grilled Mediterranean spiny lobster, followed by salad and Italian cheeses. The male seagull returns alone. He stares through the window, ruffling his bright white feathers. Beyond are the lights of the city. The gold dome of Saint Peter’s looks like a crown.
“Otto, if I violate confidentiality with so little evidence and am mistaken, my career is finished,” Dr. Maroni finally says. “I don’t have a legitimate reason to expose further details about him to the police. It would be most unwise of me.”
“So you introduce the subject of who may be the killer and then close the door?” Captain Poma leans into the table and says in despair.
“I didn’t open that door,” Dr. Maroni says. “All I did was point it out to you.”
Lost in her work, Scarpetta is startled when the alarm on her wristwatch goes off at quarter of three.
She finishes suturing the Y incision of the decomposing elderly woman whose autopsy was unnecessary. Atherosclerotic plaque. Cause of death, as expected, arteriosclerotic coronary vascular disease. She pulls off her gloves and drops them in a bright red biohazard trash can, then calls Rose.
“I’ll be up in a minute,” Scarpetta tells her. “If you could contact Meddicks’, let them know she’s ready for pickup.”
“I was just coming down to find you,” Rose says. “Worried you might have accidentally locked yourself in the fridge.” An old joke. “Benton’s trying to reach you. Says for you to check your e-mail when, and I quote, you are alone and composed.”
“You sound worse than you did yesterday. More congested.”
“I might have a bit of a cold.”
“I heard Marino’s motorcycle a little while ago. And someone’s been smoking down here. In the fridge. Even my surgical gown reeks of it.”
“Where is he? Be nice if he could have found time to help me out down here.”
“In the kitchen,” Rose says.
Fresh gloves, and Scarpetta pulls the elderly woman’s body from the autopsy table into a sheet-lined sturdy vinyl bag on top of a gurney, which she rolls into the cooler. She hoses off her work station, places tubes of vitreous fluid, urine, bile, and blood, and a carton of sectioned organs into a refrigerator for later toxicological testing and histology. Bloodstained cards go under a hood to dry—samples for DNA testing that are included in each case file. After mopping the floor and cleaning surgical instruments and sinks and gathering paperwork for later dictation, she’s ready to attend to her own hygiene.
At the back of the autopsy suite are drying cabinets with HEPA and carbon filters for bloody, soiled clothing before it is packaged as evidence and sent to the labs. Next is a storage area, then a laundry room, and finally the locker room, divided by a glass-block wall. One side for men, the other for women. At this early stage of her practice in Charleston, it’s just Marino assisting her in the morgue. He has his side of the locker room and she has the other, and it always feels awkward to her when both of them are showering at the same time and she can hear him and see changes in light through the thick green translucent glass as he moves about.
She enters her side of the locker room, shuts and locks the door. She removes her disposable shoe covers, apron, cap, and face mask, and drops them in a biohazard trash can, then tosses her surgical gown in a hamper. She showers, scrubbing herself with antibacterial soap, then blow-dries her hair and changes back into her suit and pumps. Returning to the corridor, she walks the length of it to a door. On the other side is the steep flight of worn oak stairs that lead directly up to the kitchen where Marino is popping open a can of Diet Pepsi.
He looks her up and down. “Aren’t we dressed fancy,” he says. “You forget it’s Sunday and think you got court? So much for my ride to Myrtle Beach.” A long night of carousing shows on his flushed, stubbly face.
“Count it as a gift. Another day of being alive.” She hates motorcycles. “Besides, the weather is bad and supposed to get worse.”
“Eventually I’m gonna get you on the back of my Indian Chief Roadmaster and you’ll be hooked, be begging for more.”
The idea of straddling his big motorcycle, her arms around him, her body pressed against him, is a complete turnoff, and he knows it. She’s his boss, and in many ways always has been for the better part of twenty years, and that no longer seems all right with him. Certainly both of them have changed. Certainly they’ve had their good times and bad. But over recent years and especially of late, his regard for her and his job has become increasingly unrecognizable, and now this. She thinks of Dr. Self’s e-mails, wonders if he assumes she’s seen them. She thinks of whatever game Dr. Self is engaging him in—a game he won’t understand and is destined to lose.
“I could hear you come in. Obviously, you parked your motorcycle in the bay again,” she says. “If it gets hit by a hearse or a van,” she reminds him, “the liability’s yours and I won’t feel sorry for you.”
“It gets hit, there’ll be an extra dead body wheeled in, whatever dumb-shit funeral home creepy-crawler didn’t look where he was going.”
Marino’s motorcycle, with its sound barrier–breaking pipes, has become yet one more point of contention. He rides it to crime scenes, to court, to emergency rooms, to law offices, to witnesses’ homes. At the office, he refuses to leave it in the parking lot and tucks it in the bay, which is for body deliveries, not personal vehicles.
“Has Mr. Grant gotten here yet?” Scarpetta says.
“Drove up in a piece-of-shit pickup truck with his piece-of-shit fishing boat, shrimp nets, buckets, other crap in back. One big son of a bitch, pitch-black. I’ve never seen black people as black as they are around here. Not a drop of cream in the coffee. Not like our ole stomping grounds in Virginia where Thomas Jefferson slept with the help.”
She’s in no mood to engage in his provocations. “Is he in my office, because I don’t want to make him wait.”
“I don’t get why you dressed up for him like you’re meeting with a lawyer or a judge or going to church,” Marino says, and she wonders if what he really hopes is that she dressed up for him, perhaps because she read Dr. Self’s e-mails and is jealous.
“Meeting with him is as important as meeting with anyone else,” she says. “We always show respect, remember?”
Marino smells like cigarettes and booze, and when “his chemistry’s off,” as Scarpetta understates it all too often these days, his deep-seated insecurities shift his bad behavior into high gear, a problem made quite threatening by his physical formidability. In his mid-fifties, he shaves off what is left of his hair, typically wears black motorcycle clothing and big boots, and, as of the past few days, a gaudy necklace with a silver dollar dangling from it. He is fanatical about lifting weights, his chest so broad he’s known to brag that it takes two x-rays to capture his lungs on film. In a much earlier phase of his life, based on old photographs she’s seen, he was handsome in a virile, tough way, and might still be attractive were it not for his crassness, slovenliness, and hard living that at this point in his life can’t be blamed on his difficult upbringing in a rough part of New Jersey.
“I don’t know why you still entertain the fantasy that you’ll fool me,” Scarpetta says, shifting the conversation away from the ridiculous subject of how she is dressed and why. “Last night. And clearly in the morgue.”
“Fool you about what?” Another gulp from the can.
“When you splash on that much cologne to disguise cigarette smoke, all you do is give me a headache.”
“Huh?” He quietly belches.
“Let me guess, you spent the night at the Kick ’N Horse.”
“The joint’s full of cigarette smoke.” He shrugs his massive shoulders.
“And I’m sure you didn’t add to it. You were smoking in the morgue. In the fridge. Even the surgical gown I put on smelled like cigarette smoke. Were you smoking in my locker room?”
“Probably drifted in from my side. The smoke, I mean. I might have carried my cigarette in there, in my side. I can’t remember.”
“I know you don’t want lung cancer.”
He averts his eyes the way he does when a certain topic of conversation is uncomfortable, and he chooses to abort it. “Find anything new? And I don’t mean the old lady, who shouldn’t have been sent here just because the coroner didn’t want to deal with a stinky decomp. But the kid.”
“I’ve put him in the freezer. There’s nothing more we can do right now.”
“I can’t stand it when it’s kids. I figure out who did that little kid down there, I’ll kill him, tear him to pieces with my bare hands.”
“Let’s don’t threaten to kill people, please.” Rose is in the doorway, an odd expression on her face. Scarpetta isn’t sure how long she’s been standing there.
“It ain’t no threat,” Marino says.
“That’s exactly why I mentioned it.” Rose steps into the kitchen, dressed as neat as a pin—her old-fashioned expression—in a blue suit, her white hair tucked back in a French twist. She looks exhausted, and her pupils are contracted.
“You lecturing me again?” Marino says to her with a wink.
“You need a good lecture or two. Or three or four,” she says, pouring herself a cup of strong black coffee, a “bad” habit she quit about a year ago and now, apparently, has resumed. “And in case you’ve forgotten”—she eyes him above the rim of her coffee mug—“you have killed people before. So you shouldn’t make threats.” She leans against the countertop and takes a deep breath.
“I told you. It ain’t no threat.”
“You sure you’re all right?” Scarpetta asks Rose. “Maybe you’re getting more than a little cold. You shouldn’t have come in.”
“I had a little chat with Lucy,” Rose says. To Marino, “I don’t want Dr. Scarpetta alone with Mr. Grant. Not even for a second.”
“Did she mention he passed his background check?” Scarpetta says.
“You hear me, Marino? Not for one second do you leave Dr. Scarpetta alone with that man. I don’t give a hoot about his background check. He’s bigger than you are,” says the ever-protective Rose, probably upon the ever-protective Lucy’s instructions.
Rose has been Scarpetta’s secretary for almost twenty years, following her from pillar to post, in Rose’s words, and through thick and thin. At seventy-three, she’s an attractive, imposing figure, erect and keen, daily drifting in and out of the morgue armed with phone messages, reports that must be signed right this minute, any matter of business she decides can’t wait, or simply a reminder—no, an order—that Scarpetta hasn’t eaten all day and take-out food—healthy, of course—awaits her upstairs and she will go eat it now and she won’t have another cup of coffee because she drinks too much coffee.
“He’s been in what appears to be a knife fight.” Rose continues to worry.
“It’s in his background check. He was the victim,” Scarpetta says.
“He looks very violent and dangerous, and is the size of a freighter. It concerns me greatly that he wanted to come here on a Sunday afternoon, perhaps hoping he’d find you alone,” she says to Scarpetta. “How do you know he isn’t the one who killed that child?”
“Let’s just hear what he has to say.”
“In the old days, we wouldn’t do it like this. There would be a police presence,” Rose insists.
“This isn’t the old days,” Scarpetta replies, trying not to lecture. “This is a private practice, and we have more flexibility in some ways and less in others. But in fact, part of our job has always been to meet with anyone who might have useful information, police presence or not.”
“Just be careful,” Rose says to Marino. “Whoever did this to that poor little boy knows darn well his body’s here and Dr. Scarpetta’s working on it, and usually when she works on something, she figures it out. He could be stalking her, for all we know.”
Usually Rose doesn’t get this overwrought.
“You’ve been smoking,” Rose then says to Marino.
He takes another big gulp of Diet Pepsi. “Should’ve seen me last night. Had ten cigarettes in my mouth and two in my ass while I was playing the harmonica and getting it on with my new woman.”
“Another edifying evening at that biker bar with some woman whose IQ is the same as my refrigerator. Sub-Zero. Please don’t smoke. I don’t want you to die.” Rose looks troubled as she walks over to the coffeemaker and starts filling the pot with water to make a fresh pot. “Mr. Grant would like coffee,” she says. “And no, Dr. Scarpetta, you can’t have any.”
Bulrush Ulysses S. Grant has always been called Bull. Without any prompting, he begins the conversation by explaining the origin of his name.
“I ’spect you’re wondering about the S part of my name. That’s it. Just an S and a period,” he says from a chair near Scarpetta’s shut office door. “My mama knows the S in General Grant’s name is for Simpson. But she was afraid if she stuck Simpson in there, it would be a lot for me to write out. So she left it at S. Explaining it takes longer than writing it out, you ask me.”
He’s neat and clean in freshly pressed gray work clothes, and his sneakers look as if they just came out of the washing machine. A frayed yellow baseball cap with a fish on it is in his lap, his big hands politely folded on top of it. The rest of his appearance is frightening, his face, neck, and scalp savagely slashed with a crisscross of long, pink gashes. If he ever saw a plastic surgeon, it wasn’t a good one. He will be badly disfigured for life, a patchwork of keloid scars that make Scarpetta think of Queequeg in Moby-Dick.
“I know you just moved here not all that long ago,” Bull says, to her surprise. “In that old carriage house that backs up to the alley between Meeting and King.”
“How the hell do you know where she supposedly lives, and what business is it of yours?” Marino aggressively interrupts him.
“I used to work for one of your neighbors.” Bull directs this to Scarpetta. “She passed on a long time back. I guess it would be more accurate to say I worked for her maybe fifteen years, then ’bout four years ago her husband passed. After that, she got rid of most of her help, I think had money anxiousness, and I had to find me something else. Then she passed, too. What I’m telling you is I know the area where you live like the back of my hand.”
She looks at the pink scars on the backs of his hands.
“I know your house….” he adds.
“Like I said…” Marino starts in again.
“Let him finish,” Scarpetta says.
“I know your garden real good ’cause I dug the pond and poured the cement, and took care of the angel statue looking over it, kept her nice and clean. I built the white fence with finials on one side. But not the brick columns and wrought iron on the other. That was before my time and probably so overgrowed with wax myrtle and bamboo when you bought the place, you didn’t know it was there. I planted roses, Europa, California poppies, and Chinese jasmine, and I fixed things around the house.”
Scarpetta is stunned.
“Anyhow,” Bull says, “I been doing things for half the people up and down your alleyway and on King Street, Meeting Street, Church Street, all over. Since I was a boy. You wouldn’t know it because I keep to my own business. That’s a good thing if you don’t want folks around here to take offense to you.”
She says, “Like they do to me?”
Marino shoots her a disdainful look. She’s being too friendly.
“Yes, ma’am. They sure can be like that around here,” Bull says. “Then you put all them spiderweb decals on all the windows, and that don’t help, ’specially because of what you do for a living. One of your neighbors, if I’m honest, calls you Dr. Halloween.”
“Let me guess. That would be Mrs. Grimball.”
“I wouldn’t take no seriousness to it,” Bull says. “She calls me Olé. ’Cause of me being called Bull.”
“The decals are so birds don’t fly into the glass.”
“Uh-huh. Never have figured out how we know exactly what birds see. Like do they see what’s s’posed to be a spiderweb and head the other way even though I never have seen a bird caught up in a spiderweb like it’s a bug or something. It’s like saying dogs is color-blind or got no sense of time. How do we know?”
“What business is it of yours to be anywhere near her house?” Marino says.
“Looking for work. When I was a boy, I helped out Mrs. Whaley, too,” Bull says to Scarpetta. “Now, I’m sure you’ve heard of Mrs. Whaley’s garden, the most famous one here in Charleston, down there on Church Street.” He smiles proudly, pointing in the general direction, wounds on his hand flashing pink.
He has them on his palms, too. Defensive injuries, Scarpetta thinks.
“That was a real privilege working for Mrs. Whaley. She was real good to me. She wrote a book, you know. They keep copies of it right there in the window of that bookstore at the Charleston Hotel. She signed a copy for me once. I still got it.”
“What the shit’s going on here?” Marino says. “You come to the morgue to talk to us about that dead little boy, or is this a damn job interview and stroll through memory lane?”
“Sometimes things fit together in mysterious ways,” Bull says. “My mama always says that. Maybe something good come out of the bad. Maybe something good could come out of what happened. And what happened is bad, all right. Like a movie in my head playing all the time, seeing that little boy dead in the mud. Crabs and flies crawling on him.” Bull touches a scarred index finger to his scarred, furrowed brow. “Up there, I see it when I shut my eyes. The police in Beaufort County says you’re still getting established down here.” He scans Scarpetta’s office, slowly taking in all her books and framed degrees. “You look pretty established to me, but I probably could’ve done you better.” His attention drifts to recently installed cabinets, where she locks up sensitive cases and ones that haven’t gone to court yet. “Like that black walnut door ain’t flush with the one beside it. Not hung straight. I could fix it easy enough. You see any doors hung crooked in your carriage house? No, ma’am, you don’t. Not ones I hung back then when I helped out over there. Can do ’bout anything, and if I don’t know, I’m sure willing to learn. So I said to myself, maybe I should just ask. No harm in asking.”
“So maybe I should just ask,” Marino says. “You kill that little boy? Kind of a coincidence you found him, right?”
“No, sir.” Bull looks at him, looks him straight in the eye, his jaw muscles flexing. “I go all over these parts cutting sweetgrass, fishing, shrimping, digging clams, and picking oysters. Let me ask you”—he holds Marino’s stare—“if I killed that boy, why would I be the one to find him and call for the police?”
“You tell me. Why would you?”
“I sure wouldn’t.”
“That reminds me. How’d you call anyone?” Marino says, leaning farther forward in his chair, hands the size of bear paws on his knees. “You got yourself a cell phone?” As if a poor black man wouldn’t have a cell phone.
“I called nine-one-one. And like I said, why would I if I was the one who killed that boy?”
He wouldn’t. Furthermore, although Scarpetta isn’t going to say it to him, the victim is a child-abuse homicide with old healed fractures, scarring, and obvious food deprivation. So unless Bulrush Ulysses S. Grant was the boy’s caretaker or foster parent, or kidnapped him and kept him alive for months or years, he certainly isn’t the one who killed him.
Marino says to Bull, “You called here saying you want to tell us what happened this past Monday morning, almost a week ago to the day. But first. Where do you live? Because as I understand it, you don’t live in Hilton Head.”
“Oh, no, sir, I sure don’t.” Bull laughs. “Believe that’s a little beyond my means. Me and my family got us a little place northwest of here off five twenty-six. I do a lot of fishing and other things in these parts. Haul my boat in the back of my truck, drive it places, and put it in the water. Like I say, shrimping, fishing, oysters, depending on the season. I got me one of these flat-bottom boats don’t weigh more than a feather and can make it up the creeks, long as I know the tides and don’t get stuck high and dry out there with all them skeeters and no-see-ums. Cottonmouths and rattlers. Gators, too, but that’s mostly in the canals and creeks where there’s woods and the water’s brackish.”
“The boat you’re talking about is the one in the back of that truck you parked in the lot?” Marino asks.
“Aluminum with what? Five-horsepower engine?”
“I’d like to take a look at it before you drive off. You got any objections to my looking inside your boat and truck? I’m assuming the police already did.”
“No, sir, they didn’t. When they got there and I told them what I knew, they said I could go. So I headed back to the put-in where my truck was. By then all kinds of people was there. But you go on and help yourself. I got nothing to hide.”
“Thank you, but it’s not necessary.” Scarpetta gives Marino a look. He knows damn well they don’t have jurisdiction to search Mr. Grant’s truck or boat or anything else. That’s for the police to do, and they didn’t think it necessary.
“Where did you put your boat in the water six days ago?” Marino says to Bull.
“Old House Creek. There’s a boat landing and little store where if I’ve had me a good day, I sell some of what I catch. Especially if I get lucky with shrimps and oysters.”
“You see anybody suspicious in the area when you parked your truck this past Monday morning?”
“Can’t say I did, but don’t know why I would. By then the little boy was already where I found him and had been for days.”
“Who said days?” Scarpetta asks.
“The funeral home man in the parking lot.”
“The one who drove the body here?”
“No, ma’am. The other one. He was there with his big hearse. Don’t know what he was doing there. Except talking.”
“Lucious Meddick?” Scarpetta asks.
“Meddicks’ Funeral Home. Yes, ma’am. According to his thinking, that little boy was dead for two, three days by the time I found him.”
That damn Lucious Meddick. Presumptuous as hell, and wrong. April 29 and 30, the temperatures ranged between seventy-five and eighty degrees. Had the body been in the marsh for even one full day, it would have begun to decompose and suffer substantial damage from predatory animals and fish. Flies are quiet at night but would have laid eggs in daylight, and he would have been infested with maggots. As it was, by the time the body arrived at the morgue, rigor mortis was well developed but not complete, although that particular postmortem change would have been somewhat lessened and slowed due to malnourishment and subsequent poor muscle development. Livor mortis was indistinct, not yet fixed. There was no discoloration due to putrefaction. Crabs, shrimp, and the like were just getting started on the ears, nose, and lips. In her estimation, the boy had been dead less than twenty-four hours. Maybe much less than that.
“Go on,” Marino says. “Tell us exactly how you found the body.”
“I anchored my boat and got out in my boots and gloves, carrying my basket and a hammer…”
“For breaking up coons.”
“Coons?” Marino says with a smirk.
“Coon oysters are stuck together in clusters, so you break them apart and knock loose any dead shells. Coons is mostly what you get, hard to find select ones.” He pauses, says, “Don’t seem you folks know much about oystering. So let me explain. A select oyster is a single one like you get on the half-shell in a restaurant. That’s the kind you want but are hard to find. Anyhow, I started picking about noon. The tide was fairly low. And that’s when I caught me a glance of something in the grass that looked like muddy hair, got closer, and there he was.”
“Did you touch him or move him?” Scarpetta asks.
“No, ma’am.” Shaking his head. “Once I saw what it was, I got right back in my boat and called nine-one-one.”
“Low tide started around one in the morning,” she says.
“That’s so. And by seven it was high again—as high as it was going to get. And by the time I was out there, it was pretty low again.”
“If it was you,” Marino says, “and you wanted to get rid of a body using your boat, would you do it at low tide or high tide?”
“Whoever done it probably put him there when the tide was fairly low, put him in the mud and grass on the side of that little creek. Otherwise, the body would have been carried on out by the current if the tide was real high. But you put him in a place like the one I found him in, he’s most likely gonna stay right there unless it’s a spring tide at a full moon when the water can get up to ten feet. In that case, he might have been carried out, could have ended up anywhere.”
Scarpetta has looked it up. The night before the body was found, the moon was no more than a third full, the skies partly cloudy.
“A smart place to dump a body. In a week, he wouldn’t have been much more than scattered bones,” Marino says. “It’s a miracle he was found, don’t you think?”
“It wouldn’t take long out there to be nothing but bones, and it was a good chance no one would ever find him, that’s true,” Bull says.
“Thing is, when I mentioned high versus low tide, I didn’t ask you to speculate about what someone else would have done. I asked what you would have done,” Marino says.
“Low tide in a small boat that doesn’t have much draw, so you could get into places no more’an a foot deep. That’s what I would’ve done. But I didn’t.” He stares Marino in the eye again. “I didn’t do nothing to that little boy except find him.”
Scarpetta gives Marino another pointed glance, has had enough of his interrogating and intimidating. She says to Bull, “Is there anything else you can remember? Anybody you saw in the area? Anybody you may have seen in the area who got your attention?”
“I keep thinking about that, and the only thing that comes to mind is about a week ago I was at this same landing, Old House Creek, in the market there selling shrimps, and when I was leaving I noticed this person tying up a boat. A bass boat. What got my attention is he didn’t have nothing in it you might use for shrimping, oystering, fishing, so I just figured he liked being out in his boat. Didn’t care about fishing or nothing, just liked being on the water, you know. I admit I didn’t like the way he stared at me. Gave me a funny feeling. Like he’d seen me somewhere.”
“You get a description?” Marino asks. “See what he was driving? A truck, I assume, for hauling his boat?”
“He had a hat pulled low, sunglasses. Don’t seem he was real big, but I couldn’t tell you. And I had no reason to look hard and didn’t want him thinking I was looking at him. That’s how things get started, you know. My recollection is he had on boots. Long pants and a long-sleeve T-shirt, for sure, and I remember wondering about that because it was a warm, sunny day. I never did see what he was driving because I left before he did and there was a number of trucks and cars in the lot. A busy time. Folks coming in, buying and selling fresh-caught seafood.”
“In your opinion, would someone have to know that area to dispose of a body there?” Scarpetta asks.
“After dark? Lord. I don’t know anybody who goes in creeks like that after dark. I wouldn’t. But that don’t mean it didn’t happen. Whoever did it isn’t like regular people anyhow. Couldn’t be, to do something like that to a little child.”
“Did you notice any disturbance in the grass, the mud, the oyster bed when you found him?” Scarpetta asks.
“No, ma’am. But if somebody put the body there the night before during low tide, then during high tide the water would have smoothed out the mud just like when a wave goes over the sand. He would have been underwater for a while, but stayed put because of all that tall grass he was in. And the oyster bed, you wouldn’t want to step on that anyhow. Would step over it or go around it as best you can. Nothing much hurts worse than a cut from an oyster shell. You step in the middle of them and lose your balance, you can get mighty cut up.”
“Maybe that’s what cut you up,” Marino says. “You fell in the oyster bed.”
Scarpetta knows cutting injuries made by a blade when she sees them, and says, “Mr. Grant, there are houses set back from the marshland, and long piers, one not far from where you found him. Possible he could have been transported by car, then carried over a pier, let’s say, and ended up where he was found?”
“I can’t imagine anybody climbing down the ladder of one of them old piers, especially after dark, while carrying a body and a flashlight. And you sure would have to have a powerful flashlight. A man can sink up to his hips in that mud, suck the shoes right off your feet. Would think there would have been muddy footprints on the pier, assuming he climbed back up and left that way after he done it.”
“How do you know there weren’t any muddy footprints on the pier?” Marino asks him.
“The man from the funeral home told me so. I was waiting in the parking lot until they brought in the body, and he was there talking to the police.”
“This would be Lucious Meddick again,” Scarpetta says.
Bull nods. “He spent a lot of time talking to me, too, wanting to know what I had to say. I didn’t tell him much.”
A knock on the door and Rose walks in, sets a mug of coffee on the table next to Bull, her hands shaking. “Cream and sugar,” she says. “Sorry it took so long. The first pot overflowed, grounds everywhere.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Anybody else need anything?” Rose looks around, takes a deep breath, looks more exhausted and paler than she did earlier.
Scarpetta says. “Why don’t you go home? Get some rest.”
“I’ll be in my office.”
The door shuts and Bull says, “I’d like to explain my situation, if you don’t mind.”
“Go ahead,” Scarpetta says.
“I had me a real job until three weeks ago.” He stares down at his thumbs, slowly twiddles them in his lap. “I’m not gonna lie to you. I got in trouble. You can look at me and tell that much. And I didn’t fall in no oyster bed.” He meets Marino’s eyes again.
“In trouble for what?” Scarpetta asks.
“Smoking weed and fighting. I never really smoked the weed, but I was going to.”
“Now, ain’t that nice,” Marino says. “It just so happens one of the requirements we got in this joint is anybody wants to work here has to smoke weed and be violent and find at least one dead body of somebody murdered. Same requirements for gardeners and handymen at our personal residences.”
Bull says to him, “I know how it sounds. But it’s not like that. I was working at the port.”
“Doing what?” Marino asks.
“Called a heavy-lift mechanic helper. That was my job title. Mainly, I did whatever my supervisor told me. Helped take care of equipment, lifting and carrying. Had to be able to talk on the radio and fix things, do whatever. Well, when I was signed off the clock one night, I decided to slip off near some of these old containers you find in the shipyard. The ones I’m talking about aren’t used anymore, sort of banged up and off to the side. You drive by on Concord Street and you can see what I mean, right there on the other side of the chain-link fence. It’d been a long day, and to tell you the truth, me and my wife had words that morning so I was in a mood, so I decided to smoke me some weed. It wasn’t something I made a habit of, can’t even remember the last time I did it. I hadn’t lit up yet when all a sudden this man come out of nowhere from near the railroad tracks. He cut me up bad, real bad.”
He pushes up his sleeves, holds out his muscular arms and hands, turning them, displaying more long slashes, pale pink against his dark black skin.
“Did they catch who did it?” Scarpetta asks.
“Don’t think they tried real hard. The police accused me of fighting, said I’d probably got into it with the man who sold me the weed. I never said who that was, and I know it wasn’t him who cut me. He don’t even work at the port. After I got out of the emergency room, I spent a few nights in jail until I went before the judge, and the case got dismissed because there was no suspect and no weed was found, either.”
“Really. So why did they accuse you of possessing marijuana if none was found?” Marino says.
“Because I told the police I was getting ready to smoke weed when it happened. I had rolled me one and was about to light it when the man came after me. Maybe the police just never found it. I don’t think they was all that interested, truth is. Or maybe the man who cut me took it, I don’t know. I don’t go near weed no more. Don’t touch a drop of liquor, either. Promised my wife I wouldn’t.”
“The port fired you,” Scarpetta assumes.
“What is it you think you could help us with around here, exactly?” she asks.
“Whatever you need. Nothing I’m above doing. The morgue don’t scare me. I got no trouble with dead people.”
“Maybe you can leave me your cell phone number or whatever is the best way to get hold of you,” she says.
He pulls a folded piece of paper out of a back pocket, gets up and politely places it on her desk. “Got it all right here, ma’am. Call me anytime.”
“Investigator Marino will show you out. Thank you so much for your help, Mr. Grant.” Scarpetta gets up from her desk and carefully shakes his hand, mindful of his injuries.
Seventy miles southwest on the resort island of Hilton Head, it is overcast, and a warm wind gusts in from the sea.
Will Rambo walks the dark, empty beach, headed to a destination. He carries a green tackle box and shines a Surefire tactical light wherever he likes, not really needing it to find his way. The light is powerful enough to blind someone, at least for seconds, and that’s enough, assuming a situation requires it. Blasts of sand sting his face and click against his tinted glasses. Sand swirls like gauzy dancing girls.
And the sandstorm roared into Al Asad like a tsunami and swallowed the Humvee and him, swallowed the sky, the sun, swallowed everything. Blood spilled through Roger’s fingers, and his fingers looked as if they had been painted bright red, and the sand blasted and stuck to his bloody fingers as he tried to tuck his intestines back in. His face was panicky and shocked like nothing Will had ever seen, and he could do nothing about it except to promise his friend he would be all right and help him tuck his intestines back in.
Will hears Roger’s shrieks in the gulls wheeling over the beach. Screams of panic and pain.
“Will! Will! Will!”
The screams, piercing screams, and the roar of sand.
“Will! Will! Please help me, Will!”
It was some time after that, after Germany. Will returned stateside to the Air Force base in Charleston, and then to Italy, different parts of Italy where he grew up. He wandered in and out of blackouts. He went to Rome to face his father because it was time to face his father, and it seemed like a dream to sit amid the stenciled palmette design and trompe l’oeil moldings of the dining room of Will’s boyhood summer home at the Piazza Navona. He drank red wine with his father, wine as red as blood, and was irritated by the noise of tourists below the open windows, silly tourists no smarter than pigeons, throwing coins into Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi and taking photographs, water constantly splashing.
“Making wishes that never come true. Or if they do, too bad for you,” he commented to his father, who didn’t understand but kept looking at him as if he were a mutant.
At the table beneath the chandelier, Will could see his face in the Venetian mirror on the far wall. It wasn’t true. He looked like Will, not like a mutant, and he watched his mouth move in the mirror as he recounted to his father that Roger wished to be a hero when he returned from Iraq. His wish came true, Will’s mouth said. Roger returned home a hero in a cheap coffin in the belly of a C5 cargo plane.
“We didn’t have goggles or protective gear or body armor or anything,” Will told his father in Rome, hoping he would understand but knowing he wouldn’t.
“Why did you go if all you do is complain?”
“I had to write you to send batteries for our flashlights. I had to write you for tools because every screwdriver broke. The cheap shit they gave us,” Will’s mouth said in the mirror. “We had nothing unless it was cheap shit because of goddamn lies, the goddamn lies politicians tell.”
“Then why did you go?”
“I was fucking told to, you foolish man.”
“Don’t you dare talk like that! Not in this house, where you will treat me with respect. I didn’t choose that fascist war, you did. All you do is complain like a baby. Did you pray over there?”
When the wall of sand slammed into them and Will couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, he prayed. When the explosion from the roadside bomb flipped the Humvee on its side and he couldn’t see and the wind screamed as if he were inside the engine of a C17, he prayed. When he held Roger, he prayed, and when he could no longer endure Roger’s pain, he prayed, and that was the last time he prayed.
“When we pray we are really asking ourselves—not God—for help. We’re asking for our own divine intervention,” Will’s mouth in the mirror told his father in Rome. “So I don’t need to pray to some god on a throne. I’m God’s Will because I’m my own Will. I don’t need you or God because I’m God’s Will.”
“When you lost your toes, did you also lose your mind?” his father said to him in Rome, and it was an ironic thing to say in the dining room where on a gilded console below the mirror was a stone foot of antiquity with all of its toes. But then, Will had seen dismembered feet over there after suicide bombers drove into crowded places, so he supposed to be missing a few toes was better than to be a whole foot missing everything else.
“That’s healed now. But what do you know?” he said to his father in Rome. “You never came to see me all those months in Germany or Charleston or the years before. You’ve never been to Charleston. I’ve been here in Rome countless times, but never for you, even if you thought otherwise. Except this time, because of what I have to do, a mission, you see. I was allowed to live so I can relieve others of their suffering. Something you would never understand because you’re selfish and useless and don’t care about anyone except yourself. Look at you. Rich and uncaring and cold.”
Will’s body got up from the table, and he watched himself walk to the mirror, to the gilded console beneath it. He picked up the stone foot of antiquity as the fountain below the window splashed and the tourists were noisy.
He carries the tackle box, a camera slung over his shoulder as he walks the beach in Hilton Head to carry out his mission. He sits and opens the tackle box, and takes out a freezer bag full of special sand, then small vials of pale violet glue. With the flashlight, he illuminates what he’s doing as he squeezes the glue over the palmar surfaces of his hands. He plunges them one at a time into his bag of sand. He holds up his hands in the wind and the glue dries quickly and he has sandpaper hands. More vials, and he does the same thing with the bottoms of his bare feet, careful to completely cover the pads of his seven toes. He drops the empty vials and what’s left of the sand back into his tackle box.
His tinted glasses look around and he turns off the flashlight.
His destination is the No Trespassing sign planted in the beach at the end of the long wooden boardwalk that leads to the fenced-in backyard of the villa.
The parking lot behind Scarpetta’s office.
It was the cause of much contention when she started her practice, and neighbors filed formal objections to almost every request she made. She got her way with the security fence by obscuring it with evergreens and Cherokee roses, but she lost out on the lighting. At night the parking lot is much too dark.
“So far I see no reason not to give him a try. We really could use somebody,” Scarpetta says.
Palmettos flutter and the plants bordering her fence stir as she and Rose walk to their cars.
“I have no one to help me in my garden, for that matter. I can’t distrust everybody on the planet,” she adds.
“Don’t let Marino push you into something you might regret,” Rose says.
“I do distrust him.”
“You need to sit down with him. I don’t mean at the office. Have him over. Cook for him. He doesn’t mean to hurt you.”
They have reached Rose’s Volvo.
“Your cough is worse,” Scarpetta says. “Why don’t you stay home tomorrow.”
“I wish you’d never told him. I’m surprised you told any of us.”
“I believe it was my ring that said something.”
“You shouldn’t have explained it,” Rose says.
“It’s time Marino faces what he’s avoided for as long as I’ve known him.”
Rose leans against her car as if she is too tired to stand on her own, or maybe her knees are hurting. “Then you should have told him a long time ago. But you didn’t, and he held out hope. The fantasy festered. You don’t confront people about their feelings, and all it does is make things…” She coughs so hard she can’t finish her sentence.
“I think you’re getting the flu.” Scarpetta presses the back of her hand against Rose’s cheek. “You feel warm.”
Rose pulls a tissue out of her bag, dabs her eyes, and sighs. “That man. I can’t believe you’d even consider him.” She’s back to Bull.
“The practice is growing. I must get a morgue assistant, and I’ve given up hoping for somebody already trained.”
“I don’t think you’ve tried very hard or have an open mind.” The Volvo is so old, Rose has to unlock the door with the key. The interior light goes on, and her face looks drawn and tired as she slides into the seat and primly arranges her skirt to cover her thighs.
“The most qualified morgue assistants come from funeral homes or hospital morgues,” Scarpetta replies, her hand on top of the window frame. “Since the biggest funeral home business in the area happens to be owned by Henry Hollings, who also happens to use the Medical University of South Carolina for autopsies that are his jurisdiction or sub-contracted to him, what luck do you think I might have if I called him for a recommendation? The last damn thing our local coroner wants is to help me succeed.”
“You’ve been saying that for two years. And it’s based on nothing.”
“He shuns me.”
“Exactly what I was saying about communicating your feelings. Maybe you should talk to him,” Rose says.
“How do I know he’s not the one responsible for my office and home addresses suddenly getting mixed up on the Internet?”
“Why would he wait until now to do that? Assuming he did.”
“Timing. My office has been in the news because of this child abuse case. And Beaufort County asked me to take care of it instead of calling Hollings. I’m involved in the Drew Martin investigation and just came back from Rome. Interesting timing for someone to deliberately call the Chamber of Commerce and register my practice, listing my home address as the office address. Even pay the membership fee.”
“Obviously, you had them remove the listing. And there should be a record of who paid the fee.”
“A cashier’s check,” Scarpetta says. “All anyone could tell me is the caller was a woman. They removed the listing, thank God, before it ended up all over the Internet.”
“The coroner isn’t a woman.”
“That doesn’t mean a damn thing. He wouldn’t do his dirty work himself.”
“Call him. Ask him point-blank if he’s trying to run you out of town. Run all of us out of town, I should say. It seems you have a number of people to talk to. Starting with Marino.” She coughs, and as if on command, the Volvo’s interior light goes out.
“He shouldn’t have moved here.” Scarpetta stares at the back of her old brick building, small, with one floor and a basement she converted into a morgue. “He loved Florida,” she says, and that reminds her of Dr. Self again.
Rose adjusts the air-conditioning, turns the vents to blow cold air on her face, and takes another deep breath.
“Are you sure you’re all right? Let me follow you home,” Scarpetta says.
“How about we spend some time together tomorrow? I’ll cook dinner. Prosciutto and figs and your favorite drunk pork roast. A nice Tuscan wine. I know how much you like my ricotta and coffee crème.”
“Thank you, but I have plans,” Rose says, her voice touched by sadness.
The dark shape of a water tower on the southern tip of the island, or the toe, as it is called.
Hilton Head is shaped like a shoe, like the shoes Will saw in public places in Iraq. The white stucco villa that belongs to the No Trespassing sign is worth at least fifteen million dollars. The electronic blinds are down, and she is probably on the couch in the great room watching another movie on the retractable screen that covers an expanse of glass facing the sea. From Will’s perspective, outside looking in, the movie plays backward. He scans the beach, scans the nearby empty houses. The dark, overcast sky hangs low and thick as the wind gusts in fierce fits and starts.
He steps up on the boardwalk and follows it toward the gate that separates the outside world from the backyard as images on the big movie screen flash backward. A man and woman fucking. His pulse quickens as he walks, his sandy footsteps quiet on the weathered boards, actors flashing backward on the movie screen. Fucking inside an elevator. The volume is low. He can barely hear the thudding and moans, those sounds that sound so violent as characters fuck in Hollywood, and then there is the wooden gate, and it is locked. He climbs over it and goes to his usual place at the side of the house.
Through a space between the window and the shade he has watched her on and off for months, watched her pace and cry and pull out her hair. She never sleeps at night, is afraid of the night, afraid of storms. She watches movies all night and into the morning. She watches movies when it rains, and if there’s thunder, she turns the volume up very loud, and when the sun is bright, she hides from it. Usually she sleeps on the black leather wraparound couch where she’s now stretched out, propped up by leather pillows, a blanket over her. She points the remote control and backs up the DVD, returning to the scene where Glenn Close and Michael Douglas are fucking in the elevator.
The houses on either side are obscured by tall borders of bamboo and trees, nobody home. Empty because the rich owners don’t rent them out and aren’t here and haven’t been here. Families often don’t start using their expensive beach homes until after their children are out of school for the year. She wouldn’t want other people here, and no neighbors have been here all winter. She wants to be alone and is terrified of being alone. She dreads thunder and rain, dreads clear skies and sunlight, doesn’t want to be anywhere anymore under any conditions whatsoever.
That’s why I have come.
She backs up the DVD again. He’s familiar with her rituals, lying there in the same soiled pink sweatsuit, backing up movies, replaying certain scenes, usually people fucking. Now and then she goes out by the pool for a smoke and to let her pitiful dog out of his crate. She never picks up after him, the grass full of dried shit, and the Mexican yardman who comes every other week doesn’t pick up the shit, either. She smokes and stares at the pool while the dog wanders about the yard, sometimes baying his deep, throaty howl, and she calls out to him.
“Good dog,” or more often “Bad dog,” and “Come. Come here right now!” Clapping her hands.
She doesn’t pet him, can scarcely bear to look at him. Were it not for the dog, her life would be unbearable. The dog understands none of it. It’s unlikely he remembers what happened or understood it at the time. What he knows is the crate in the laundry room where he sleeps and sits up and bays. She thinks nothing of it when he bays as she drinks vodka and takes pills and pulls out her hair, the routine the same day after day after day.
Soon I’ll hold you in my arms and carry you back through the inner darkness to the higher realm, and you’ll be separated from the physical dimension that’s now your hell. You will thank me.
Will keeps up his scan, making sure no one sees him. He watches her get up from the couch and walk drunkenly to the slider to go out for a smoke and, as usual, she forgets the alarm is set. She jumps and swears when it wails and hammers, and she stumbles to the panel to shut it off. The phone rings, and she rakes her fingers through her thinning dark hair, saying something, then she yells and slams down the receiver. Will gets low to the ground behind shrubbery, doesn’t move. In minutes the police come, two officers in a Beaufort County sheriff’s cruiser. Will watches invisibly as the officers stand on the porch, not bothering to go inside because they know her. She forgot her password again, and the alarm company dispatched the police again.
“Ma’am, it’s not a good idea to use your dog’s name, anyway.” One of the officers tells her the same thing she’s been told before. “You should use something else for your password. A pet’s name is one of the first things an intruder tries.”
She slurs. “If I can’t remember the damn dog’s name, how can I remember something else? All I know is the password’s the dog’s name. Oh, hell. Buttermilk. There, now I remember it.”
“Yes, ma’am. But I still think you should change it. Like I said, it’s not good to use a pet’s name, and you never remember it anyway. There must be something you’ll remember. We have a fair number of burglaries around here, especially this time of year, when so many of the houses are empty.”
“I can’t remember a new one.” She can barely talk. “When it goes off, I can’t think.”
“You sure you’re all right being alone? Is there anyone we can call?”
“I have no one anymore.”
Eventually, the cops drive off. Will emerges from his safe place and, through a window, watches her reset the alarm. One, two, three, four. The same code, the only one she can remember. He watches her sit back down on the couch, crying again. She pours herself another vodka. The moment is no longer right. He follows the boardwalk back to the beach.
The next morning, eight o’clock, Pacific Daylight Time. Lucy eases to a stop in front of the Stanford Cancer Center.
Whenever she flies her Citation X jet to San Francisco and rents a Ferrari for the hour’s drive to see her neuroendocrinologist, she feels powerful, the way she feels at home. Her tight jeans and tight T-shirt show off her athletic body and make her feel vital, the way she feels at home. Her black crocodile boots and titanium Breitling Emergency watch with its bright orange dial make her feel she’s still Lucy, fearless and accomplished, the way she feels when she’s not thinking about what’s wrong with her.
She rolls down the window of the red F430 Spider. “Can you park this thing?” she asks the valet in gray who tentatively approaches her at the entrance of the modern brick-and-glass complex. She doesn’t recognize him. He must be new. “It’s Formula One shift, these paddles on the steering wheel. Right for shifting up, left for down, both at the same time for neutral, this button for reverse.” She notes the anxiety in his eyes. “Well, okay, I admit it’s kind of complicated,” she says, because she doesn’t want to belittle him.
He’s an older man, probably retired and bored, so he’s parking cars at the hospital. Or maybe someone in his family has cancer or did. But it’s obvious he’s never driven a Ferrari and may never have seen one up close. He eyes it as if it just landed from outer space. He wants no part of it, and that’s a good thing when one doesn’t know how to drive a car that costs more than some houses.
“I don’t think so,” the valet says, transfixed by the saddle leather interior and red “start” button on the carbon-fiber steering wheel. He steps around the back of the car and looks at the engine under glass and shakes his head. “Now, that’s something. A convertible, I guess. Must blow you around a lot when you got the top down, as fast as it must go, I guess,” he says. “I got to admit that’s something. Why don’t you just pull it right over there.” He shows her. “Best spot in the house. That really is something.” Shaking his head.
Lucy parks, grabs her briefcase and two large envelopes containing magnetic resonance films that reveal the most devastating secret of her life. She pockets the Ferrari key, slips the valet a hundred-dollar bill, says very seriously but winks at him, “Guard it with your life.”
The cancer center is the most beautiful medical complex, with expansive windows and miles of polished wooden floors, everything open and full of light. The people who work here, many of them volunteers, are unfailingly polite. Last time she had an appointment, a harpist was perched in the corridor gracefully plucking and strumming “Time After Time.” This afternoon the same lady is playing “What a Wonderful World.” What a joke, and as Lucy walks fast, looking at no one, a baseball cap pulled low over her eyes, she realizes there’s no music anyone could play that wouldn’t make her feel cynical or depressed right now.
The clinics are open areas, perfectly appointed in earth tones, no art on the walls, just flat-screen TVs that show soothing nature scenes: meadows and mountains, leaves in the fall, snowy woods, giant redwood trees, the red rocks of Sedona, accompanied by the gentle sounds of flowing streams and pattering rain and birds and breezes. Live potted orchids are on tables, the lighting soft, the waiting areas never crowded. The only patient in Clinic D when Lucy reaches the check-in desk is a woman wearing a wig and reading Glamour magazine.
Lucy quietly tells the man behind the counter she’s here to see Dr. Nathan Day, or Nate, as she calls him.
“Your name?” With a smile.
Lucy quietly tells him the alias she uses. He types something on his computer, smiles again and reaches for the phone. In less than a minute, Nate opens the door and motions for Lucy to come inside. He hugs her, always does. “It’s great to see you. Looking fantastic.” He talks as they walk to his office.
It’s small, not at all what one might expect of a Harvard-trained neuroendocrinologist considered one of the most outstanding in his field. He has a cluttered desk, a computer with a large video screen, an overflowing bookcase, multiple light boxes mounted on walls where in most offices there might be windows. There’s a couch and one chair. Lucy hands over the records she brought with her.
“Lab work,” she says. “And the scan you looked at last time, and the most recent one.”
He settles behind his desk, and she sits on the couch. “When?” As he opens the envelopes, then reads her chart, not a word of it stored electronically, the paper file kept in his personal safe, identified by code, her name not listed anywhere.
“Blood work was two weeks ago. Most recent scan a month ago. My aunt’s looked, says I look good, but then considering what she looks at most of the time,” Lucy says.
“She’s saying you don’t look dead. That’s a relief. And how’s Kay?”
“She likes Charleston, but I’m not sure it likes her. I like it okay…. Well, I’m always motivated by places that are a bad fit.”
“Which is most places.”
“I know. Lucy the freako. I trust we’re still undercover. Seems like it, since I gave my alias to that same what’s-his-name at the desk and he didn’t question it. Democratic majority notwithstanding, privacy’s a joke.”
“Don’t get me started.” He peruses her lab report. “You know how many patients I have who would self-pay if they could afford it just to keep their information out of databases?”
“Good thing. If I wanted to hack into your database, I could probably do it in five minutes. The Feds might take an hour, but they’ve probably already been in your database. And I haven’t. Because I don’t believe in violating a person’s civil rights unless it’s for a good cause.”
“That’s what they say.”
“They lie and are stupid. Especially the FBI.”
“Still topping your Most Wanted List, I see.”
“They fired me for no good cause.”
“And to think you could be abusing the Patriot Act and getting paid for it. Well, not much. What computer stuff are you selling for multimillions these days?”
“Data modeling. Neural networks that take input data and basically perform intelligent tasks the way our brains do. And I’m fooling around with a DNA project that could prove interesting.”
“TSH excellent,” he says. “Free T-four fine, so your metabolism’s working. I can tell that without a lab report. You’ve lost a little weight since I saw you last.”
“Maybe five pounds.”
“Looks like you’ve gained muscle mass. So you’ve probably lost a good ten pounds of fat and water weight from bloating.”
“How much are you working out?”
“I’ll note that as obligatory, although it’s probably obsessive. Liver panel’s fine. And your prolactin level’s great, down to two-point-four. What about your periods?”
“No white, clear, or milky discharge from your nipples? Not that I expect lactation with a prolactin level this low.”
“Nope. And don’t get your hopes up. I’m not letting you check.”
He smiles, makes more notes in her record.
“Sad part is, my breasts aren’t as big.”
“There are women who’d pay a lot of money for what you’ve got. And do,” he says matter-of-factly.
“They’re not for sale. In fact, I can’t even give them away these days.”
“That I know isn’t true.”
Lucy is no longer embarrassed, can talk about anything with him. In the beginning, it was a different story, a horror and humiliation that a benign pituitary macroadenoma—a brain tumor—was causing an overproduction of the hormone prolactin that fooled her body into thinking she was pregnant. Her periods stopped. She gained weight. She didn’t have galactorrhea, or begin to produce milk, but had she not discovered what was wrong when she did, that would have been next.
“Sounds like you’re not seeing anyone.” He slides her MR films out of their envelopes, reaches up, and attaches them to light boxes.
“How’s your libido?” He dims the lights in the office and flips on the light boxes, illuminating films of Lucy’s brain. “Dostinex is sometimes called the sex drug, you know. Well, if you can get it.”
She moves close to him and looks at her films. “I’m not having surgery, Nate.”
She stares dismally at the somewhat rectangular-shaped region of hypointensity at the base of the hypothalamus. Every time she looks at one of her scans, she feels there must be a mistake. That can’t be her brain. A young brain, as Nate calls it. Anatomically, a great brain, he says, except for one little glitch, a tumor about half the size of a penny.
“I don’t care what the journal articles say. No one’s cutting on me. How do I look? Please tell me okay,” she says.
Nate compares the earlier film to the new one, studies them side by side. “Not dramatically different. Still seven to eight millimeters. Nothing in the suprasellar cistern. A little shift left to right from the infundibulum of the pituitary stalk.” He points with a pen. “Optic chiasm is clear.” Points again. “Which is great.” He puts down the pen and holds up two fingers, starts with them together, then moves them apart to check her peripheral vision. “Great,” he says again. “So almost identical. The lesion isn’t growing.”
“It isn’t shrinking.”
“Have a seat.”
She sits on the edge of the couch. “Bottom line,” she says, “it’s not gone. It hasn’t burned out from the drug and become necrotic, and it never will, right?”
“But it’s not growing,” he repeats himself. “The medication did shrink it some and is containing it. All right. Options. But what do you want to do? Let me say that just because Dostinex and its generic have been linked to heart valve damage, I’m not sure you need to worry. The studies are dealing with people who take it for Parkinson’s. At your low dose? You’ll probably be fine. The bigger problem? I can write you a dozen prescriptions, but I don’t think you’ll find a single pill in this country.”
“It’s manufactured in Italy. I can get it over there. Dr. Maroni said he will.”
“Fine. But I want you to get an echocardiogram every six months.”
The phone rings. Nate punches in a button, listens briefly, and says to whoever it is, “Thanks. Call security if it seems to get out of hand. Make sure nobody touches it.” He hangs up and says to Lucy, “Apparently, someone drove up in a red Ferrari that’s attracting quite a lot of attention.”
“Kind of ironic.” She gets up from the couch. “It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it.”
“I’ll drive it if you don’t want it.”
“It’s not that I don’t want it. It’s just nothing feels the same anymore. And that’s not entirely bad. Just different.”
“That’s the thing about what you’ve got. It’s something you don’t want. But it’s something more than what you had, because maybe it’s changed the way you look at things.” He walks her out. “I see it every day around here.”
“You’re doing well.” He stops by the door that leads out to the waiting area and there’s no one to hear them, just the man behind the desk, who smiles a lot and is on the phone again. “I’d put you in the top ten percent of my patients in terms of how well you’re doing.”
“Top ten percent. I believe that’s a B-plus. I think I started out with an A.”
“No, you didn’t. You’ve probably had this thing forever and just didn’t know it until it became symptomatic. Are you talking to Rose?”
“She won’t face it. I’m trying not to resent her for it, but it’s hard. Really, really hard. It’s not fair. Especially to my aunt.”
“Don’t let Rose run you off, because that’s probably what she’s trying to do for the very reason you just said. She can’t face it.” He slips his hands into his lab coat pockets. “She needs you. She’s certainly not going to talk about it with anyone else.”
Outside the Cancer Center, a thin woman with a scarf wrapped around her bald head and two little boys are walking around the Ferrari. The valet rushes over to Lucy.
“They haven’t got too close. I’ve been watching. Nobody has,” he says in a low, urgent voice.
She looks at the two little boys and their sick mother, and walks over to the car, remotely unlocking it. The boys and their mother step back, and fear shows on their faces. The mother looks old but probably isn’t more than thirty-five.
“I’m sorry,” she says to Lucy. “But they’re smitten. They haven’t touched it.”
“How fast can it go?” the older boy asks, a redhead, maybe twelve.
“Let’s see, four-ninety horsepower, six speed, a four-point-three-liter V-eight, eighty-five hundred rpm and carbon-fiber rear diffuser panel.
Zero to sixty in less than four seconds. Around two hundred miles an hour.”
“You ever driven one of these things?” Lucy says to the older boy.
“I’ve never seen one in person.”
“What about you?” Lucy asks his redheaded brother, who is maybe eight or nine.
“No, ma’am.” Shyly.
Lucy opens the driver’s door and the two redheads crane to get a peek and suck in their breath at the same time.
“What’s your name?” she asks the older boy.
“Sit in the driver’s seat, Fred, and I’m going to show you how to start this thing.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Mom says to her, and she looks as if she’s about to cry. “Honey, don’t you hurt anything.”
“I’m Johnny,” the other boy says.
“You’re next,” Lucy says. “Get over here next to me and pay attention.”
Lucy turns on the battery, makes sure the Ferrari’s in neutral. She takes Fred’s finger and places it on the steering wheel’s red start button. She lets go of his hand. “Hold it in for a few seconds and fire her up.” The Ferrari roars awake.
Lucy gives each boy a ride around the parking lot while their mother stands all alone in the middle of it and smiles and waves and wipes her eyes.
Benton records Gladys Self from his office phone inside McLean’s Neuroimaging Lab. As is true of her famous daughter, the name Self suits her.
“If you’re wondering why that rich daughter of mine doesn’t put me in some nice mansion in Boca,” Mrs. Self says, “well, sir, I don’t want to be in Boca or Palm Beach or anywhere but right here in Hollywood, Florida. In my run-down little oceanfront apartment on the boardwalk.”
“Why might that be?”
“To pay her back. Think how that will look when they find me dead in a dump like this someday. Let’s see what that does to her popularity.” She chortles.
“Sounds like you might have a hard time saying anything nice about her,” Benton says. “And I do need several minutes of your praising her, Mrs. Self. Just as I’m going to need a few minutes of your being neutral and then critical.”
“Why’s she doing this, anyway?”
“I explained it at the beginning of our conversation. She volunteered for a scientific research project I’m conducting.”
“That daughter of mine doesn’t volunteer for shineola unless there’s something she wants out of it. Never known her to do anything for the pure reason of helping others. Hogwash. Ha! A family emergency. She’s lucky I didn’t get on CNN and tell the world she’s lying. Let’s see. Wonder what the truth might be. Let me follow the clues. You’re one of these police psychologists at what’s the name of your hospital? McLean? Oh, that’s right. Where all the rich and famous go. Just the sort of place she’d go to if she had to go somewhere, and I know a good reason why. Would knock you out if you knew. Bingo! She’s a patient, that’s what this is all about!”
“As I’ve said, she’s part of a project I’m conducting.” Dammit. He warned Dr. Self about this. If he called her mother to make the recording, she might suspect that Dr. Self is a patient. “I’m not allowed to discuss anything about her situation—where she is or what she’s doing or why. I can’t divulge information about any subjects in our studies.”
“I sure could divulge a thing or two to you. I knew it! She’s worth studying, all right. What normal person would get on TV and do what she does, twisting people’s minds, their lives, like that tennis player who just got murdered. Bet you dollars to donuts Marilyn’s somehow to blame for that, had her on her TV show, getting into all this personal information from her for all the world to see. It was embarrassing, can’t believe that little girl’s family allowed it.”
Benton’s seen a copy of it. Mrs. Self is right. It was too much exposure and made Drew vulnerable and accessible. Those are the ingredients for being stalked, if she was. It isn’t the purpose of his call, but he can’t resist probing. “I’m wondering how your daughter happened to get Drew Martin on her show. Did they know each other?”
“Marilyn can get anybody she wants. When she calls me on special occasions, mostly she brags about this celebrity and that. Only the way she says it, they’re all lucky to meet her, not the other way around.”
“I have a feeling you don’t see her very often.”
“Do you really think she’d go to the trouble to see her own mother?”
“Now, she’s not completely devoid of feelings, is she?”
“As a little girl she could be sweet, I know that’s hard to believe. But something went haywire when she turned sixteen. She ran off with some playboy and had her heart broken, came back home and we had quite a time of it. Did she tell you about that?”
“No, she didn’t.”
“That figures. She’ll go on and on about her father killing himself and how horrible I am and all the rest. But her own failures don’t exist. That includes people. You’d be surprised if you knew the people she’s managed to excommunicate from her life for no good reason except they’re inconvenient. Or maybe someone shows a side of her the world’s not supposed to see. That’s a killable offense.”
“I assume you don’t mean that literally.”
“Depends on your definition.”
“Let’s start with what’s positive about her.”
“She tell you she makes everybody sign a confidentiality agreement?”
“Do you want to know the real reason I live like this? Because I can’t afford her so-called generosity. I live off Social Security and what retirement I got from working all my life. Marilyn never did a damn thing for me and then had the nerve to tell me I had to sign one of these confidentiality agreements, you see. She said if I didn’t, I was on my own no matter how old and sick I got. I didn’t sign it. And I don’t talk about her anyway. But I could. I sure could.”
“You’re talking to me.”
“Well, now, she told me to, didn’t she? She gave you my phone number because it suits whatever little selfish purpose she has this time. And I’m her weakness. She can’t resist. Just itching to hear what I’ll say. Validates her beliefs about herself.”
“What I need you to try,” Benton says, “is to imagine you’re telling her what you like about her. There must be something. For example, ‘I’ve always admired how bright you are’ or ‘I’m so proud of your success,’ et cetera.”
“Even if I don’t mean it?”
“If you can’t say something positive, I’m afraid we can’t do this.” Which would be fine with him.
“Don’t worry. I can lie as well as she can.”
“Then the negative. Such as, I wish you were more generous or less arrogant, or whatever comes to mind.”
“Easy as pie.”
“Finally, neutral comments. The weather, shopping, what you’ve been doing, things like that.”
“Don’t trust her. She’ll fake it and ruin your study.”
“The brain can’t fake it,” Benton says. “Not even hers.”
An hour later. Dr. Self, in a shimmering red silk pants suit and no shoes, is propped up with pillows on her bed.
“I understand your feeling this is unnecessary,” Benton says, turning pages in the pale blue Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Axis 1 Disorders patient edition.
“Do you need a script, Benton?”
“To keep things consistent in this study, we SCID with the book. Each time for each subject. I’m not going to ask you things that are obvious and irrelevant, such as your professional status.”
“Let me help you out,” she says. “I’ve never been a patient in a psychiatric hospital. I don’t take any medications. I don’t drink too much. I usually sleep five hours a night. How many hours does Kay sleep?”
“Have you lost or gained much weight recently?”
“I maintain my weight perfectly. What does Kay weigh these days? Does she eat a lot when she’s lonely or depressed? All that fried food down there.”
Benton flips pages. “What about strange sensations in your body or on your skin?”
“Depends on who I’m with.”
“Do you ever smell or taste things other people can’t smell or taste?”
“I do a lot of things other people can’t.”
Benton looks up at her. “I don’t think the study is a good idea, Dr. Self. This isn’t constructive.”
“That’s not for you to judge.”
“Do you think this is constructive?”
“You haven’t gotten to the mood chronology. Aren’t you going to ask me about panic attacks?”
“Have you ever had them?”
“Sweating, trembling, dizzy, racing heart. Fear I might die?” She gazes thoughtfully at him, as if he’s the patient. “What did my mother say on the tape?”
“What about when you first got here?” he says. “You seemed rather much in a panic over an e-mail. The one you mentioned to Dr. Maroni when you first got here and haven’t mentioned since.”
“Imagine your little assistant thinking she was going to SCID me.” She smiles. “I’m a psychiatrist. It would be like a beginner playing Drew Martin in tennis.”
“How are you feeling about what happened to her?” he asks. “It’s been on the news that you had her on your show. Some people have suggested the killer may have fixed on her because of…”
“As if my show was the only time she was on TV. I have so many people on my show.”
“I was going to say because of her visibility. Not her appearance on your show, specifically.”
“I’ll probably win another Emmy because of that series. Unless what happened…”
“Unless what happened?”
“That would be grossly unfair,” Dr. Self says. “If the Academy were prejudiced because of what happened to her. As if that has anything to do with the quality of my work. What did my mother say?”
“It’s important you don’t hear what she says until you’re in the scanner.”
“I’d like to talk about my father. He died when I was very young.”
“All right,” says Benton, who sits as far away from her as he possibly can, his back to the desk and the laptop computer on top of it. On a table between them, the recorder runs. “Let’s talk about your father.”
“I was two when he died. Not quite two.”
“And you remember him well enough to feel rejected by him?”
“As you know from studies I presume you’ve read, infants who aren’t breast-fed are more likely to have increased stress and distress in life. Women in prison who can’t breast-feed suffer significant compromises in their capacity to nurture and protect.”
“I don’t understand the connection. Are you implying your mother was in prison at some point?”
“She never held me to her breast, never suckled me, never soothed me with her heartbeat, never had eye contact with me when she fed me with a bottle, with a spoon, a shovel, a backhoe. Did she admit all this when you taped her? Did you ask her about our history?”
“When we tape a subject’s mother, we don’t need to know the history of their relationship.”
“Her refusal to bond with me compounded my feelings of rejection, my resentment, made me more prone to blame her for my father’s leaving me.”
“You mean his dying.”
“Interesting, don’t you think? Kay and I both lost our fathers at an early age, and both of us became doctors. But I heal the minds of the living while she cuts up the bodies of the dead. I’ve always wondered what she’s like in bed. Considering her occupation.”
“You blame your mother for your father’s death.”
“I was jealous. Several times I walked in on them while they were having sex. I saw it. From the doorway. My mother giving her body to him. Why him and not me? Why her and not me? I wanted what they gave to each other, not realizing what that meant, because certainly I didn’t want oral or genital sex with my parents and didn’t understand that part of it, what they did as things progressed. I probably thought they were in pain.”
“At not quite two, you walked in on them more than once and remember it?” He has placed the diagnostic manual under his chair, is taking notes now.
She readjusts her position on the bed, makes herself more comfortable and provocative, making sure Benton is aware of her body’s every contour. “I saw my parents alive, so vital, and then in the blink of an eye he was gone. Kay, on the other hand, witnessed her father’s long, lingering death from cancer. I lived with loss and she lived with dying and there’s a difference. So you see, Benton, as a psychiatrist, my purpose is to understand my patient’s life, while Kay’s is to understand her patient’s death. That must have some effect on you.”
“We’re not here to talk about me.”
“Isn’t it wonderful that the Pavilion doesn’t adhere to rigid institutional rules? Here we are. Despite what happened when I was admitted. Has Dr. Maroni told you about coming into my room, not this one, the first one? Shutting the door, loosening my gown? Touching me? Was he a gynecologist in a former career? You seem uncomfortable, Benton.”
“Are you feeling hypersexual?”
“So now I’m having a manic episode.” She smiles. “Let’s see how many diagnoses we can conjure up this afternoon. That’s not why I’m here. We know why I’m here.”
“You said it was because of the e-mail you discovered while you were taking a break at the studio. Friday before last.”
“I told Dr. Maroni about the e-mail.”
“From what I understand, all you told him is you’d gotten one,” Benton says.
“If it were possible, I might suspect all of you hypnotically lured me here because of that e-mail. But that would be something out of a movie or a psychosis, wouldn’t it?”
“You told Dr. Maroni you were terribly upset and feared for your life.”
“And then I was given drugs against my will. Then he fled to Italy.”
“He has a practice there. Is always in and out, especially this time of year.”
“The Dipartimento di Scienze Psichiatriche at the University of Rome. He has a villa in Rome. He has an apartment in Venice. He’s from a very wealthy Italian family. He’s also the clinical director of the Pavilion, and everyone does as he says, including you. Before he left the country, we should have sorted through what happened after I checked in.”
“‘Checked in’? You seem to refer to McLean as if it’s a hotel.”
“Now it’s too late.”
“Do you really believe that Dr. Maroni touched you inappropriately?”
“I believe I’ve made that patently clear.”
“So you do believe it.”
“Everybody here would deny it.”
“We absolutely wouldn’t. If it were true.”
“Everybody would deny it.”
“When the limousine brought you to admissions, you were quite lucid but agitated. Do you remember that? Do you remember talking to Dr. Maroni in the admissions building and telling him you needed a safe refuge because of an e-mail and would explain later?” Benton asks. “Do you remember becoming provocative with him both verbally and physically?”
“You have quite the bedside manner. Perhaps you should go back to the FBI and use rubber hoses and whatnot. Perhaps break into my e-mail and my homes and my bank accounts.”
“It’s important you remember what you were like when you first got here. I’m trying to help you do that,” he says.
“I remember him coming into my room here at the Pavilion.”
“That was later on—in the evening—when you suddenly became hysterical and incoherent.”
“Brought on by drugs. I’m very sensitive to drugs of any sort. I never take them or believe in them.”
“When Dr. Maroni came into your room, a female neuropsychologist and a female nurse were already there with you. You continued to say that something wasn’t your fault.”
“Were you there?”
“I see. Because you act as if you were.”
“I’ve read your chart.”
“My chart. I suppose you fantasize about selling it to the highest bidder.”
“Dr. Maroni asked you questions while the nurse checked your vitals, and it became necessary to sedate you by intramuscular injection.”
“Five milligrams Haldol, two milligrams Ativan, one milligram Cogentin. The infamous five-two-one chemical restraint used on violent inmates in forensic units. Imagine. My being treated like a violent prisoner. I remember nothing after that.”
“Can you tell me what wasn’t your fault, Dr. Self? Did it have to do with the e-mail?”
“What Dr. Maroni did wasn’t my fault.”
“So your distress had nothing to do with the e-mail that you said was your reason for coming to McLean?”
“This is a conspiracy. All of you are in on it. That’s why your comrade Pete Marino contacted me, isn’t it? Or maybe he wants out. He wants me to rescue him. Just like I did in Florida. What are you people doing to him?”
“There’s no conspiracy.”
“Do I see the investigator peeking out?”
“You’ve been here for ten days. And told no one the nature of this e-mail.”
“Because it’s really about the person who has sent me a number of e-mails. To say ‘an e-mail’ is misleading. It’s about a person.”
“A person Dr. Maroni could have helped. A very disturbed individual. No matter what he’s done or hasn’t done, he needs help. And if something happens to me, or to someone else, it’s Dr. Maroni’s fault. Not mine.”
“What might be your fault?”
“I just said nothing would be.”
“And there’s no e-mail you can show me that might help us understand who this person is and perhaps protect you from him?” he says.
“It’s interesting, but I’d forgotten you work here. I was reminded when I saw the ad for your research study posted in admissions. Then, of course, Marino said something when he e-mailed me. And that’s not the e-mail. So don’t get excited. He’s so bored and sexually frustrated working for Kay.”
“I’d like to talk to you about any e-mails you’ve received. Or sent.”
“Envy. That’s how it starts.” She looks at him. “Kay envies me because her own existence is so small. So desperately envious she had to lie about me in court.”
“And you’re referring to…?”
“Mainly her.” Hatred coils. “I’m perfectly objective about what happened in that gross example of litigious exploitation and never took it personally that you and Kay—mainly Kay—were witnesses, making the two of you—mainly her—champions of that gross example of litigious exploitation.” Hatred coils coldly. “I wonder how she’d feel if she knew you’re in my room with the door shut.”
“When you said you needed to talk to me alone in the privacy of your room, we made an agreement. I would record our sessions in addition to taking notes.”
“Record me. Take your notes. You’ll find them useful someday. There’s much you can learn from me. Let’s discuss your experiment.”
“Research study. The one you volunteered for, got special permission for, and I advise against. We don’t use the word experiment.”
“I’m curious why would you wish to exclude me from your experiment unless you have something to hide.”
“Frankly, Dr. Self, I’m not convinced you meet the criteria.”
“Frankly, Benton, it’s the last thing you want, now, isn’t it? But you have no choice because your hospital is far too shrewd to discriminate against me.”
“Have you ever been diagnosed as bipolar?”
“I’ve never been diagnosed as anything but gifted.”
“Has anybody in your family ever been diagnosed as bipolar?”
“What all this will prove in the end, well, that’s your business. That during various mood states the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of the brain is going to light up, given appropriate external stimuli. So what. PET and fMRI have clearly demonstrated there is an abnormal blood flow in the prefrontal regions and decreased activity in the DLPFC in people who are depressed. So now you throw violence into the mix, and what will you prove, and why does it matter? I know your little experiment wasn’t approved by the Harvard University Committee on Use of Human Subjects.”
“We don’t conduct studies that aren’t approved.”
“These healthy control subjects. Are they still healthy when you’re done? What happens to the not-so-healthy subject? The poor wretch with a history of depression, schizophrenia, bipolar or other disorder, who also has a history of hurting themselves or others or trying to, or obsessively fantasizing about it.”
“I take it Jackie briefed you,” he says.
“Not quite. She wouldn’t know the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex from a small cod. Studies of how the brain responds to maternal criticism and praise have been done before. So now you throw violence into the mix, and what will you prove, and why does it matter? You show what’s different about the brains of violent versus nonviolent individuals and what does it prove, and what does it matter? Would it have stopped the Sandman?”
“If you looked at his brain, you’d see Iraq. And then what? Would you magically extract Iraq and he’d be fine?”
“Is the e-mail from him?”
“I don’t know who he is.”
“Might he be the disturbed person you referred to Dr. Maroni?”
“I don’t understand what you see in Kay,” she says. “Does she smell like the morgue when she comes home? But then, you’re not there when she comes home.”
“Based on what you’ve said, you got the e-mail several days after Drew’s body was found. A coincidence? If you have information about her murder, you need to tell me,” Benton says. “I’m asking you to tell me. This is very serious.”
She stretches her legs and with her bare foot touches the table between them. “If I kicked this recorder off the table and it broke, what then?”
“Whoever killed Drew will kill again,” he says.
“If I kicked this recorder”—she touches it with her bare toe and moves it a little—“what might we say and what might we do?”
Benton gets up from his chair. “Do you want someone else murdered, Dr. Self?” He picks up the recorder but doesn’t turn it off. “Haven’t you been through this before?”
“And there it is,” she says from the bed. “That’s the conspiracy. Kay will lie about me again. Just like before.”
Benton opens the door. “No,” he says. “It will be much worse this time.”
Eight p.m. in Venice. Maroni refills his wineglass and smells the unpleasant canal smell below his open window as daylight wanes. Clouds are piled halfway up the sky in a thick, frothy layer, and along the horizon is the first touch of gold.
“Manic as hell.” Benton Wesley’s voice is clear, as if he is here instead of in Massachusetts. “I can’t be clinical or appropriate. I can’t sit there and listen to her manipulations and lies. Get someone else. I’m done with her. I’m handling it badly, Paulo. Like a cop, not a clinician.”
Dr. Maroni sits before his apartment window, drinking a very nice Barolo that is being spoiled by this conversation. He can’t get away from Marilyn Self. She has invaded his hospital. She has invaded Rome. Now she has followed him to Venice.
“What I’m asking is if I can remove her from the research study. I don’t want to scan her,” Benton says.
“Certainly I won’t tell you what to do,” Dr. Maroni replies. “It’s your study. But if you want my recommendation? Don’t piss her off. Go ahead and scan her. Make it a pleasant experience and just assume the data is no good. Then she’s gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone’?”
“I see you haven’t been informed. She’s been discharged and is leaving after the scan,” Dr. Maroni says, and through his open shutters, the canal is the color of green olives and as smooth as glass. “Have you talked with Otto?”
“Otto?” Benton says.
“I know who he is. Why would I talk to him about this?”
“I had dinner with him last night in Rome. I’m surprised he hasn’t contacted you. He’s on his way to the U.S. In the air as we speak.”
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