Join best-selling novelist Patricia Cornwell on her eloquent journey to The Last Precinct, the core of our being, the essence of who we are and who we are not. Driven by her familiarity with the morgue and its inhabitants, victims of violence, and tragic deaths, Cornwell has developed a personal code of ethics by working through all the layers of fear, whether dying or living, that we all have to conquer to be fully alive and true to ourselves.
About the Author
Patricia Cornwell is considered one of the world's bestselling crime writers. Her intrepid medical examiner Kay Scarpetta first appeared on the scene in 1990 with Postmortem—the only novel to win the Edgar, Creasey, Anthony, and Macavity awards and the French Prix du Roman d'Aventure in a single year—and Cruel and Unusual, which won Britain's prestigious Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 1993. Dr. Kay Scarpetta herself won the 1999 Sherlock Award for the best detective created by an American author. Ms. Cornwell's work is translated into 36 languages across more than 120 countries.
Hometown:Boston, MA and New York, NY
Date of Birth:June 9, 1956
Place of Birth:Miami, Florida
Education:B.A. in English, Davidson College, 1979; King College
Read an Excerpt
I Know From Lucy's Voice That She Is Scared. Rarely is my brilliant, forceful, helicopter-piloting, fitness-obsessed, federal-law-enforcement-agent niece scared.
"I feel really bad," she continues to repeat herself over the phone as Marino maintains his position on my bed and I pace.
"You shouldn't," I tell her. "The police don't want anybody here, and believe me, you don't want to be here. I guess you're staying with Jo and that's good." I say this to her as if it makes no difference to me, as if it doesn't bother me that she is not here and I haven't seen her all day. It does make a difference. It does bother me. But it is my old habit to give people an out. I don't like to be rejected, especially by Lucy Farinelli, whom I have raised like a daughter.
She hesitates before answering. "Actually, I'm downtown at the Jefferson."
I try to make sense of this. The Jefferson is the grandest hotel in the city, and I don't know why she would go to a hotel at all, much less an elegant, expensive one. Tears sting my eyes and I force them back, clearing my throat, shoving down hurt. "Oh," is all I say. "Well, that's good. I guess Jo's with you at the hotel, then."
"No, with her family. Look, I just checked in. I've got a room for you. Why don't I come get you?"
"A hotel's probably not a good idea right now." She thought of me and wants me with her. I feel a little better. "Anna's asked me to stay with her. In light of everything, I think it's best for me to go on to her house. She's invited you, too. But I guess you're settled."
"How did Anna know?" Lucy inquires. "She hear about it on the news?"
Since the attempt on my life happened at a very late hour, it won't be in the newspapers until tomorrow morning. But I expect there has been a storm of news breaks over the radio and on television. I don't know how Anna knew, now that I think about it. Lucy says she needs to stay put but will try to drop by later tonight. We hang up.
"The media finds out you're in a hotel, that's all you need. They'll be behind every bush," Marino says with a hard frown, looking like hell. "Where's Lucy staying?"
I repeat what she told me and almost wish I hadn't talked to her. All it did was make me feel worse. Trapped, I feel trapped, as if I am inside a diving bell a thousand feet under the sea, detached, light-headed, the world beyond me suddenly unrecognizable and surreal. I am numb yet every nerve is on fire.
"The Jefferson?" Marino is saying. "You gotta be kidding! She win the lottery or something? She not worried about the media finding her, too? What the shit's gotten into her?"
I resume packing. I can't answer his questions. I am so tired of questions.
"And she ain't at Jo's house. Huh," he goes on, "that's interesting. Huh. Never thought that would last." He yawns loudly and rubs his thick-featured, stubbly face as he watches me drape suits over a chair, continuing to pick out clothes for the office. To give Marino credit, he has tried to be even-tempered, even considerate, since I got home from the hospital. Decent behavior is difficult for him given the best of circumstances, which certainly are not the ones he finds himself in at present. He is strung out, sleep-deprived and fueled by caffeine and junk food, and I won't allow him to smoke inside my house. It was simply a matter of time before his self-control began to erode and he stepped back into his rude, big-mouthed character. I witness the metamorphosis and am strangely relieved by it. I am desperate for things familiar, no matter how unpleasant. Marino starts talking about what Lucy did last night when she pulled up in front of the house and discovered Jean-Baptiste Chandonne and me in my snowy front yard.
"Hey, it's not that I blame her for wanting to blow the squirrel's brains out," Marino gives me his commentary. "But that's where your training's got to come in. Don't matter if it's your aunt or your kid involved, you got to do what you're trained to do, and she didn't. She sure as hell didn't. What she did was go ape-shit."
"I've seen you go ape-shit a few times in your life," I remind him.
"Well, it's my personal opinion they never should have thrown her into that undercover work down there in Miami." Lucy is assigned to the Miami field office and is here for the holidays, among other reasons. "Sometimes people get too close to the bad guys and start identifying with them. Lucy's in a kill mode. She's gotten trigger-happy, Doc."
"That's not fair." I realize I have packed too many pairs of shoes. "Tell me what you would have done if you'd gotten to my house first instead of her." I stop what I am doing and look at him.
"At least take a nanosecond to assess the situation before I went in there and put a gun to the asshole's head. Shit. The guy was so fucked up he couldn't even see what he was doing. He's screaming bloody murder because he's got this chemical shit you threw in his eyes. He wasn't armed by this point. He wasn't going to be hurting nobody. That was obvious right away. And it was obvious you was hurt, too. So if it had been me, I'd called for an ambulance, and Lucy didn't think to even do that. She's a wild card, Doc. And no, I didn't want her in the house with all this going on. That's why we interviewed her down at the station, got her statements in a neutral place to get her calmed down."
"I don't consider an interrogation room a neutral place," I reply.
"Well, being inside the house where your Aunt Kay almost got whacked ain't exactly neutral, either."
I don't disagree with him, but sarcasm is poisoning his tone. I begin to resent it.
"All the same, I got to tell you I've got a really bad feeling about her being alone in a hotel right now," he adds, rubbing his face again, and no matter what he says to the contrary, he thinks the world of my niece and would do anything for her. He has known her since she was ten, and he introduced her to trucks and big engines and guns and all sorts of so-called manly interests that he now criticizes her for having in her life. "I might just check on the little shit after I drop you off at Anna's. Not that anybody seems to care about my bad feelings," he jumps back several thoughts. "Like Jay Talley. Of course, it ain't my business. The self-centered bastard."
"He waited with me the entire time at the hospital," I defend Jay yet one more time, deflecting Marino's naked jealousy. Jay is ATF's Interpol liaison. I don't know him very well but slept with him in Paris four days ago. "And I was there thirteen or fourteen hours," I go on as Marino practically rolls his eyes. "I don't call that self-centered."
"Jesus!" Marino exclaims. "Where'd you hear that fairy tale?" His eyes burn with resentment. He despises Jay and did the first time he ever laid eyes on him in France. "I can't believe it. He lets you think he was at the hospital all that time? He didn't wait for you! That's total bullshit. He took you there on his fucking white horse and came right back here. Then he called to see when you was going to be ready to check out and slithered back to the hospital and picked you up."
"Which makes good sense." I don't show my dismay. "No point in sitting and doing nothing. And he never said he was there the entire time. I just assumed it."
"Yeah, why? Because he let you assume it. He lets you think something that isn't true, and you ain't bothered by that? In my book, that's known as a character flaw. It's called lying. . . . What?" He abruptly changes his tone. Someone is in my doorway.
A uniformed officer whose nameplate reads M. I. Calloway steps inside my bedroom. "I'm sorry," she addresses Marino right off. "Captain, I didn't know you were back here."
"Well, now you know." He gives her a black look.
"Dr. Scarpetta?" Her wide eyes are like Ping-Pong balls, bouncing back and forth between Marino and me. "I need to ask you about the jar. Where the jar of the chemical, the formulin . . ."
"Formalin," I quietly correct her.
"Right," she says. "Exactly, I mean, where exactly was the jar when you picked it up?"
Marino remains on the bed, as if he makes himself at home on the foot of my bed every day of his life. He starts feeling for his cigarettes.
"The coffee table in the great room," I answer Calloway. "I've already told everybody that."
"Yes, ma'am, but where on the coffee table? It's a pretty big coffee table. I'm really sorry to bother you with all this. It's just we're trying to reconstruct how it all happened, because later it's only going to get harder to remember."
Marino slowly shakes a Lucky Strike loose from the pack. "Calloway?" He doesn't even look at her. "Since when are you a detective? Don't seem I remember you being in A Squad." He is the head of the Richmond Police Department's violent crime unit known as A Squad.
"We just aren't sure where the jar was, Captain." Her cheeks burn.
The cops probably assumed a woman coming back here to question me would be less intrusive than a male. Perhaps her comrades sent her back here for that reason, or maybe it was simply that she got the assignment because no one else wanted to tangle with me.
"When you walk into the great room and face the coffee table, it's the right corner of the table closest to you," I say to her. I have been through this many times. Nothing is clear. What happened is a blur, an unreal torquing of reality.
"And that's approximately where you were standing when you threw the chemical on him?" Calloway asks me.
"No. I was on the other side of the couch. Near the sliding glass door. He was chasing me and that's where I ended up," I explain.
"And after that you ran directly out of the house . . . ?" Calloway scratches through something she is writing on her small memo pad.
"Through the dining room," I interrupt her. "Where my gun was, where I happened to have set it on the dining room table earlier in the evening. Not a good place to leave it, I admit." My mind meanders. I feel as if I have severe jet lag. "I hit the panic alarm and went out the front door. With the gun, the Glock. But I slipped on ice and fractured my elbow. I couldn't pull the slide back, not with just one hand."
She writes this down, too. My story is tired and the same. If I have to tell it one more time, I might become irrational, and no cop on this planet has ever seen me irrational.
"You never fired it?" She glances up at me and wets her lips.
"I couldn't cock it."
"You never tried to fire it?"
"I don't know what you mean by try. I couldn't cock it."
"But you tried to?"
"You need a translator or something?" Marino erupts. The ominous way he stares at M. I. Calloway reminds me of the red dot a laser sight marks on a person before a bullet follows. "The gun wasn't cocked and she didn't fire it, you got that?" he repeats slowly and rudely. "How many cartridges you have in the magazine?" He directs this to me. "Eighteen? It's a Glock Seventeen, takes eighteen in the mag, one in the chamber, right?"
"I don't know," I tell him. "Probably not eighteen, definitely not. It's hard to get that many rounds in it because the spring's stiff, the spring in the magazine."
"Right, right. You remember the last time you shot that gun?" he then asks me.
"Whenever I was at the range last. Months at least."
"You always clean your guns after you go to the range, don't you, Doc." This is a statement, not an inquiry. Marino knows my habits and routines.
"Yes." I am standing in the middle of my bedroom, blinking. I have a headache and the lights hurt my eyes.
"You looked at the gun, Calloway? I mean, you've examined it, right?" He fixes her in his laser sight again. "So what's the deal?" He flaps a hand at her as if she is a stupid nuisance. "Tell me what you found."
She hesitates. I sense she doesn't want to give out information in front of me. Marino's question hangs heavy like moisture about to precipitate. I decide on two skirts, one navy blue, one gray, and drape them over the chair.
"There are fourteen rounds in the magazine," Calloway tells him in a robotic military tone. "There wasn't one in the chamber. It wasn't cocked. And it looks clean."
"Well, well. Then it wasn't cocked and she didn't shoot it. And it was a dark and stormy night and three Indians sat around a campfire. We want to go round and round, or can we fucking move along?" He is sweating and his body odor rises with his heat.
"Look, there's nothing new to add," I say, suddenly on the verge of tears, cold and trembling and smelling Chandonne's awful stench again.
"And why was it you had the jar in your home? And what exactly was in it? That stuff you use in the morgue, right?" Calloway positions herself to take Marino out of her sight line.
"Formalin. A ten percent dilution of formaldehyde known as formalin," I say. "It's used in the morgue to fix tissue, yes. Sections of organs. Skin, in this case."
I dashed a caustic chemical into the eyes of another human being. I maimed him. Maybe I permanently blinded him. I imagine him strapped to a bed on the ninth-floor prison ward of the Medical College of Virginia. I saved my own life and feel no satisfaction in that fact. All I feel is ruined.
"So you had human tissue in your house. The skin. A tattoo. From that unidentified body at the port? The one in the cargo container?" The sound of Calloway's voice, of her pen, of pages flipping, reminds me of reporters. "I don't mean to be dense, but why would you have something like that at your house?"
I go on to explain that we have had a very difficult time identifying the body from the port. We had nothing beyond a tattoo, really, and last week I drove to Petersburg and had an experienced tattoo artist look at the tattoo from my case. I came directly home afterward, which is why the tattoo in its jar of formalin happened to be in my house last night. "Ordinarily, I wouldn't have something like that in my house," I add.
"You kept it at your house for a week?" she asks with a dubious expression.
"A lot was happening. Kim Luong was murdered. My niece was almost killed in a shoot-out in Miami. I was called out of the country, to Lyon, France. Interpol wanted to see me, wanted to talk about seven women he"-I mean Chandonne-"probably murdered in Paris and the suspicion that the dead man in the cargo container might be Thomas Chandonne, the brother, the killer's brother, both of them sons of this Chandonne criminal cartel that half of law enforcement in the universe has been trying to bring down forever. Then Deputy Police Chief Diane Bray was murdered. Should I have returned the tattoo to the morgue?" My head pounds. "Yes, I certainly should have. But I was distracted. I just forgot." I almost snap at her.
"You just forgot," Officer Calloway repeats while Marino listens with gathering fury, trying to let her do her job and despising her at the same time. "Dr. Scarpetta, do you have other body parts in your house?" Calloway then asks.
A stabbing pain penetrates my right eye. I am getting a migraine.
"What kind of fucking question is that?" Marino raises his voice another decibel.
"I just didn't want us walking in on anything else like body fluids or other chemicals or . . ."
"No, no." I shake my head and turn my attention to a stack of neatly folded slacks and polo shirts. "Just slides."
"For histology," I vaguely explain.
"Calloway, you're done." Marino's words crack like a gavel as he rises from the bed.
"I just want to make sure we don't need to worry about any other hazards," she says to him, and her hot cheeks and the flash in her eyes belie her subordination. She hates Marino. A lot of people do.
"The only hazard you gotta worry about is the one you're looking at," Marino snaps at her. "How 'bout giving the Doc a little privacy, a little reprieve from dumb-ass questions?"
Calloway is an unattractive chinless woman with thick hips and narrow shoulders, her body tense with anger and embarrassment. She spins around and walks out of my bedroom, her footsteps absorbed by the Persian runner in the hallway.
"What's she think? You collect trophies or something?" Marino says to me. "You bring home souvenirs like fucking Jeffrey Dahmer? Jesus Christ."
"I can't take any more of this." I tuck perfectly folded polo shirts into the tote bag.
"You're gonna have to take it, Doc. But you don't have to take any more of it today." He wearily sits back down on the foot of my bed.
"Keep your detectives off me," I warn him. "I don't want to see another cop in my face. I'm not the one who did something wrong."
"If they got anything else, they'll run it through me. This is my investigation, even if people like Calloway ain't figured that out yet. But I also ain't the one you got to worry about. It's like take a number in the deli line, there's so many people who insist they got to talk to you."
I stack slacks on top of the polo shirts, and then reverse the order, placing the shirts on top so they don't wrinkle.
"Course, nowhere near as many people as the ones who want to talk to him." He means Chandonne. "All these profilers and forensic psychiatrists and the media and shit," Marino goes through the Who's Who list.
I stop packing. I have no intention of picking through lingerie while Marino watches. I refuse to sort through toiletries with him witness to it all. "I need a few minutes alone," I tell him.
He stares at me, his eyes red, his face flushed the deep color of wine. Even his balding head is red, and he is disheveled in his jeans and a sweatshirt, his belly nine months pregnant, his Red Wing boots huge and dirty. I can see his mind working. He doesn't want to leave me alone and seems to be weighing concerns that he will not share with me. A paranoid thought rises like dark smoke in my mind. He doesn't trust me. Maybe he thinks I am suicidal.
"Marino, please. Can you just stand outside and keep people away while I finish up in here? Go to my car and get my crime scene case out of the trunk. If I get called out on something . . . well, I need to have it. The key's in the kitchen desk drawer, the top right-where I keep all my keys. Please. And I need my car, by the way. I guess I'll just take my car and you can leave the scene case in it." Confusion eddies.
He hesitates. "You can't take your car."
"Damn it!" I blurt out. "Don't tell me they've got to go through my car, too. This is insane."
"Look. The first time your alarm went off last night, it was because someone tried to break into your garage."
"What do you mean, someone?" I retort as migraine pain sears my temples and blurs my vision. "We know exactly who. He forced my garage door open because he wanted the alarm to go off. He wanted the police to show up. So it wouldn't seem odd if the police came back a little later because a neighbor reported a prowler on my property, supposedly."
It was Jean-Baptiste Chandonne who came back. He impersonated the police. I still can't believe I fell for it.
"We ain't got all the answers yet," Marino replies.
"Why is it I keep getting this feeling you don't believe me?"
"You need to get to Anna's and sleep."
"He didn't touch my car," I assert. "He never got inside my garage. I don't want anyone touching my car. I want to take it tonight. Just leave the scene case inside the trunk."
Marino walks out and shuts the door behind him. I am desperate for a drink to override the electrical spikes in my central nervous system, but what do I do? Walk out to the bar and tell the cops to get the hell out of my way while I find the Scotch? Knowing that liquor probably won't help my headache doesn't have an impact. I am so miserable in my own skin, I don't care what is good or not good for me right now. In the bathroom I dig through more drawers and spill several lipsticks on the floor. They roll between the toilet and the tub. I am unsteady as I bend over to retrieve them, groping awkwardly with my right arm, all of this made more difficult because I am left-handed. I stop to ponder the perfumes neatly arranged on the vanity and gently pick up the small gold metal bottle of Hermès 24 Faubourg. It is cool in my hand. I lift the spray nozzle to my nose and the spicy, erotic scent that Benton Wesley loved fills my eyes with tears and my heart feels as if it will fatally fly out of rhythm. I have not used the perfume in more than a year, not once since Benton was murdered. Now I have been murdered, I tell him in my throbbing mind. And I am still here, Benton, I am still here. You were a psychological profiler for the FBI, an expert in dissecting the psyches of monsters and interpreting and predicting their behavior. You would have seen this coming, wouldn't you? You would have predicted it, prevented it. Why weren't you here, Benton? I would be all right if you had been here.
I realize someone is knocking on my bedroom door. "Just a minute," I call out, clearing my throat and wiping my eyes. I splash cold water on my face and tuck the Hermès perfume into the tote bag. I go to the door, expecting Marino. Instead, Jay Talley walks in wearing ATF battle dress and a day's growth of beard that turns his dark beauty sinister. He is one of the handsomest men I have ever known, his body exquisitely sculpted, sensuality exuding from his pores like musk.
"Just checking on you before you head out." His eyes burn into mine. They seem to feel and explore me the way his hands and mouth did four days ago in France.
"What can I tell you?" I let him into my bedroom and am suddenly self-conscious about the way I look. I don't want him to see me like this. "I have to leave my own house. It's almost Christmas. My arm hurts. My head hurts. Other than that, I'm fine."
"I'll drive you to Dr. Zenner's. I would like to, Kay."
It vaguely penetrates that he knows where I am staying tonight. Marino promised my whereabouts would be secret. Jay shuts the door and takes my hand, and all I can think about is that he didn't wait at the hospital for me and now he wants to drive me someplace else.
"Let me help you through this. I care about you," he says to me.
"No one seemed to care very much last night," I reply as I recall that when he drove me home from the hospital and I thanked him for waiting, for being there for me, he never once even intimated that he hadn't been there. "You and all your IRTs out there and the bastard just walks right up to my front door," I go on. "You fly all the way here from Paris to lead a goddamn International Response Team in your big-game hunt for this guy, and what a joke. What a bad movie-all these big cops with all their gear and assault rifles and the monster just strolls right up to my house."
Jay's eyes have begun wandering over areas of my anatomy as if they are rest stops he is entitled to revisit. It shocks and repulses me that he can think about my body at a time like this. In Paris I thought I was falling in love with him. As I stand here with him in my bedroom and he is openly interested in what is under my old lab coat, I realize I don't love him in the least.
"You're just upset. God, why wouldn't you be? I'm concerned about you. I'm here for you." He tries to touch me and I move away.
"We had an afternoon." I have told him this before, but now I mean it. "A few hours. An encounter, Jay."
"A mistake?" Hurt sharpens his voice. Dark anger flashes in his eyes.
"Don't try to turn an afternoon into a life, into something of permanent meaning. It isn't there. I'm sorry. For God's sake." My indignation rises. "Don't want anything from me right now." I walk away from him, gesturing with my one good arm. "What are you doing? What the hell are you doing?"
He raises a hand and hangs his head, warding off my blows, acknowledging his mistake. I am not sure if he is sincere. "I don't know what I'm doing. Being stupid, that's what," he says. "I don't mean to want anything. Stupid, I'm stupid because of how I feel about you. Don't hold it against me. Please." He casts me an intense look and opens the door. "I'm here for you, Kay. Je t'aime." I realize Jay has a way of saying good-bye that makes me feel I might never see him again. An atavistic panic thrills my deepest psyche and I resist the temptation to call after him, to apologize, to promise we will have dinner or drinks soon. I shut my eyes and rub my temples, briefly leaning against the bedpost. I tell myself I don't know what I am doing right now and should not do anything.
Marino is in the hallway, an unlit cigarette clamped in the corner of his mouth, and I can feel him trying to read me and what might have just happened while Jay was inside my bedroom with the door shut. My gaze lingers on the empty hallway, halfway hoping Jay will reappear and dreading it at the same time. Marino grabs my bags and cops fall silent as I approach. They avoid looking in my direction as they move about my great room, duty belts creaking, equipment they manipulate clicking and clacking. An investigator takes photographs of the coffee table, the flash gun popping bright white. Someone else is videotaping while a crime scene technician sets up an alternative light source called a Luma-Lite that can detect fingerprints, drugs and body fluids not visible to the unaided eye. My downtown office has a Luma-Lite I routinely use on bodies at scenes and in the morgue. To see a Luma-Lite inside my house gives me a feeling that is indescribable.
Dark dusting powder smudges furniture and walls, and the colorful Persian rug is pulled back, exposing antique French oak underneath. An endtable lamp is unplugged and on the floor. The sectional sofa has craters where cushions used to be, the air oily and acrid with the residual odor of formalin. Off the great room and near the front door is the dining room and through the open doorway I am greeted with the sight of a brown paper bag sealed with yellow evidence tape, dated, initialed and labeled clothing Scarpetta. Inside it are the slacks, sweater, socks, shoes, bra and panties I was wearing last night, clothes taken from me in the hospital. That bag and other evidence and flashlights and equipment are on top of my favorite red Jarrah Wood dining room table, as if it is a workbench. Cops have draped coats over chairs, and wet, dirty footprints are everywhere. My mouth is dry, my joints weak with shame and rage.
"Yo Marino!" a cop barks. "Righter's looking for you."
Buford Righter is the city commonwealth's attorney. I look around for Jay. He is nowhere to be seen.
"Tell him to take a number and wait in line." Marino sticks to his deli-line allusion.
He lights the cigarette as I open the front door, and cold air bites my face and makes my eyes water. "Did you get my crime scene case?" I ask him.
"It's in the truck." He says this like a condescending husband who has been asked to fetch his wife's pocketbook.
"Why's Righter calling?" I want to know.
"Bunch of fucking voyeurs," he mutters.
Marino's truck is on the street out front and two massive tires have chewed tracks into my snowy churned-up lawn. Buford Righter and I have worked many cases together over the years and it stings that he did not ask me directly if he could come to my house. He has not, for that matter, contacted me to see how I am and let me know he is glad I am alive.
"You ask me, people just want to see your joint," Marino says. "So they give these excuses about needing to check this and that."
Slush seeps into my shoes as I carefully make my way along the driveway.
"You got no idea how many people ask me what your house is like. You'd think you was Lady Di or something. Plus, Righter's got his nose in everything, can't stand to be left out of the loop. Biggest fucking case since Jack the Ripper. Righter's bugging the hell out of us."
Flash guns suddenly explode in bright white stutters and I almost slip. I swear out loud. Photographers have gotten past the neighborhood guard gate. Three of them hurry toward me in a blaze of flashes as I struggle with one arm to climb into the truck's high front seat.
"Hey!" Marino yells at the nearest offender, a woman. "Goddamn bitch!" He lunges, trying to block her camera, and her feet go out from under her. She sits down hard on the slick street, camera equipment thudding and scattering.
"Fuckhead!" she screams at him. "Fuckhead!"
"Get in the truck! Get in the truck!" Marino yells at me.
My heart drills my ribs.
"I'm going to sue you, motherfucker!"
More flashes and I shut my coat in the door and have to open it again and shut it again while Marino shoves my bags in back and jumps into the driver's seat, the engine turning over and rumbling like a yacht. The photographer is trying to get up, and it occurs to me I ought to make sure she isn't injured. "We should see if she's hurt," I say, staring out the side window.
"Hell no. Fuck no." The truck lurches onto the street, fishtails and accelerates.
"Who are they?" Adrenaline pumps. Blue dots float before my eyes.
"Assholes. That's who." He snatches up the hand mike. "Unit nine," he announces over the air.
"Unit nine," the dispatcher comes back.
"I don't need pictures of me, my house . . ." I raise my voice. Every cell in my body lights up to protest the unfairness of it all.
"Ten-five unit three-twenty, ask him to call me on my portable." Marino holds the mike against his mouth. Unit three-twenty gets back to him right away, the portable phone vibrating like a huge insect. Marino flips it open and talks. "Somehow the media's gotten in the neighborhood. Photographers. I'm thinking they parked somewhere in Windsor Farms, came in on foot over the fence, through that open grassy area behind the guard booth. Send units to look for any cars parked where they shouldn't be and tow 'em. They step foot on the Doc's property, arrest 'em." He ends the call, flipping the phone shut as if he is Captain Kirk and has just ordered the Enterprise to attack.
We slow down at the guard booth and Joe steps out. He is an old man who has always been proud to wear his brown Pinkerton's uniform, and he is very nice, polite and protective, but I would not want to depend on him or his colleagues for more than nuisance control. It shouldn't surprise me a bit that Chandonne got inside my neighborhood or that now the media has. Joe's slack, wrinkled face turns uneasy when he notices me sitting inside the truck.
"Hey, man," Marino gruffly says through the open window, "how'd the photographers get in here?"
"What?" Joe instantly goes into protect mode, eyes narrowing as he stares down the slick, empty street, sodium vapor lights casting yellow auras high up on poles.
"In front of the Doc's house. At least three of 'em."
"They didn't come through here," Joe declares. He ducks back inside the booth and grabs the phone.
We drive off. "We can do but so much, Doc," Marino says to me. "You may as well duck your head in the sand because there's gonna be pictures and shit all over the place."
I stare out the window at lovely Georgian homes glowing with holiday festivity.
"Bad news is, your security risk just went up another mile." He is preaching to me, telling me what I already know and have no interest in dwelling on right now. "Because now half the world's gonna see your big fancy house and know exactly where you live. Problem is, and what worries the hell out of me, is stuff like this brings out other squirrels. Gives 'em ideas. They start imagining you as a victim and get off on it, like those assholes who go to the courthouse, cruising for rape cases to sit in on."
He eases to a stop at the intersection of Canterbury Road and West Cary Street, and headlights sweep over us as a compact dark-colored sedan turns in and slows. I recognize the narrow, insipid face of Buford Righter looking over at Marino's truck. Righter and Marino roll down their windows.
"You leaving . . . ?" Righter starts to say when his eyes shoot past Marino and land on me in surprise. I have the unnerving sense that I am the last person he wants to see. "Sorry for your trouble," Righter weirdly says to me, as if what is happening in my life is nothing more than trouble, an inconvenience, an unpleasantness.
"Yeah, heading out." Marino sucks on the cigarette, not the least bit helpful. He has already expressed his opinion about Righter's showing up at my house. It is unnecessary, and even if he truly thinks it is so important to eyeball the crime scene himself, why didn't he do it earlier when I was at the hospital?
Righter pulls his overcoat more tightly around his neck, light from street lamps glinting off his glasses. He nods and says to me, "Take care. Glad you're okay," deciding to acknowledge my so-called trouble. "This is real hard on all of us." A thought catches before it is out in words. Whatever he was going to say next is gone, retracted, struck from the record. "I'll be talking to you," he promises Marino.
Windows go up. We drive off.
"Give me a cigarette," I tell Marino. "I'm assuming he didn't come to my house earlier today," I then say.
"Yeah, actually he did. About ten o'clock this morning." He offers me the pack of unfiltered Lucky Strikes and flame spits out of a lighter he holds my way.
Anger coils through my entrails, and the back of my neck is hot, the pressure in my head almost unbearable. Fear stirs inside me like a waking beast. I turn mean, punching in the lighter on the dash, ungraciously leaving Marino's arm extended with the Bic lighter flaming. "Thanks for telling me," I sharply reply. "You mind my asking who the hell else has been in my house? And how many times? And how long they stayed and what they touched?"
"Hey, don't take it out on me," he warns.
I know the tone. He is about to lose his patience with me and my mess. We are like weather systems about to collide, and I don't want that. The last thing I need right now is a war with Marino. I touch the tip of the cigarette to bright orange coils and inhale deeply, the punch of pure tobacco spinning me. We drive several minutes in flinty silence, and when I finally speak, I sound numb, my feverish brain glazing over like the streets, depression a heavy pain spreading along my ribs. "I know you're just doing what has to be done. I appreciate it," I force the words. "Even if I'm not showing it."
"You don't got to explain nothing." He sucks on the cigarette, both of us shooting streams of smoke toward our partially open windows. "I know exactly what you feel," he adds.
"You couldn't possibly." Resentment seeps up my throat like bile. "I don't even know."
"I understand a lot more than you give me credit for," he says. "Someday you'll see that, Doc. No way you can see shit right now, and I'm telling you it ain't gonna get no better in days and weeks to come. That's the way it works. The real damage hasn't even hit. I can't tell you how many times I've seen it, seen what happens to people when they're victimized."
I absolutely do not want to hear a single word of this.
"Damn good thing you're going where you are," he says. "Exactly what the doctor ordered, in more ways than one."
"I'm not staying with Anna because it's what the doctor ordered," I reply testily. "I'm staying with her because she's my friend."
"Look, you're a victim and you got to deal with it, and you need help dealing with it. Don't matter you're a doctor-lawyer-Indian chief." Marino will not shut up, in part because he is looking for a fight. He wants a focus for his anger. I can see what is coming, and anger crawls up my neck and heats up the roots of my hair. "Being a victim's the great equalizer," Marino, the world's authority, goes on.
I draw out the words slowly. "I am not a victim." My voice wavers around its edges like fire. "There's a difference between being victimized and being a victim. I'm not a sideshow for character disorders." My tone sears. "I haven't become what he wanted to turn me into"-of course, I mean Chandonne-"even if he'd had his way, I wouldn't be what he tried to project onto me. I would just be dead. Not changed. Not something less than I am. Just dead."
I feel Marino recoil in his dark, loud space on the other side of his huge, manly truck. He doesn't understand what I mean or feel and probably never will. He reacts as if I slapped him across the face or kneed him in the groin.
"I'm talking reality." He strikes back. "One of us has to."
"Reality is, I'm alive."
"Yeah. A fuckin' goddamn miracle."
"I should have known you would do this." I get quiet and cold. "So predictable. People blame the prey not the predator, criticize the injured not the asshole who did it." I tremble in the dark. "Goddamn you. Goddamn you, Marino."
"I still can't believe you opened your door!" he shouts. What happened to me makes him feel powerless.
"And where were you guys?" I again remind him of an unpleasant fact. "It might have been nice if at least one or two of you could have kept an eye on my property. Since you were so concerned that he might come after me."
"I talked to you on the phone, remember?" He attacks from another angle. "You said you was fine. I told you to sit tight, that we'd found where the son of a bitch was hiding, that we knew he was out somewhere, probably looking for another woman to beat and bite the shit out of. And what do you do, Doctor Law Enforcement? You open your fucking door when someone knocks! At fucking midnight!"
I thought the person was the police. He said he was the police.
"Why?" Marino is yelling now, pounding the steering wheel like an out-of-control child. "Huh? Why? Goddamn it, tell me!"
We knew for days who the killer is, that he is the spiritual and physical freak Chandonne. We knew he is French and where his organized crime family lives in Paris. The person outside my door did not have even a hint of a French accent.
I didn't call the police, I said through the shut door.
Ma'am, we've gotten a call about a suspicious person on your property. Are you all right?
He had no accent. I never expected him to speak without an accent. It never occurred to me, not once. Were I to relive last night, it still would not occur to me. The police had just been at my house when the alarm went off. It didn't seem the least bit suspicious that they would be back. I incorrectly assumed they were keeping a close eye on my property. It was so quick. I opened the door and the porch light was off and I smelled that dirty, wet animal smell in the deep, frigid night.
"Yo! Anybody home?" Marino yells, poking my shoulder hard.
"Don't touch me!" I come to with a start, and gasp and jerk away from him and the truck swerves. The ensuing silence turns the air heavy like water a hundred feet deep, and awful images swim back into my blackest thoughts. A forgotten ash is so long I can't steer it to the ashtray in time. I brush off my lap. "You can turn at Stonypoint Shopping Center, if you want," I say to Marino. "It's quicker."
Reprinted The Last Precinct By Patricia Cornwell By Permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, A Member Of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (C) 2000 Patricia Cornwell. All Rights Reserved. This Excerpt, Or Any Parts Thereof, May Not Be Reproduced in Any Form Without Permission.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
“Ignites on the first page…Cornwell twists escalating violence, unrelenting tension and growing paranoia into a thick rope of horror and unfolding conspiracy. No one depicts the human capability for evil better than she…Cornwell has created a character so real, so compelling, so driven that this reader has to remind herself regularly that Scarpetta is just a product of an author’s imagination.”—USA Today
“Plots within plots, fraught atmosphere and unrelenting suspense keep readers on tenterhooks while one trap after another springs under unwary feet. Cunningly designed, ingeniously laid out, composed with Cornwellian skill, this far-from-the-Last Precinct is a model of the art.”—Los Angeles Times
“The most unexpected of the Kay Scarpetta novels so far…The Last Precinct unfolds deliberately, keeping you in the dark along with Scarpetta so that when the revelations dawn, you’re almost reeling, too. The overwhelming feeling, though, is that Cornwell has the series on the verge of spinning off in a thrilling new direction. The Last Precinct may just be a terrific first step toward something even more exhilarating.”—The Miami Herald
“One of Ms. Cornwell’s better novels…There are surprises and unexpected plot twists…A page-turner that will engage, surprise, and engross readers to the final page.”—The Richmond Times Dispatch
Patricia Cornwell's The Last Precinct
Kay Scarpetta, America's most popular medical examiner, is up to her elbows in trouble this fall when she investigates the violent, 400-year-old death of one of Jamestown's first settlers. Even though Kay doesn't need to fear the long-expired killer silencing her or the investigation, she and her friends still have plenty on their minds: First they become the target of vicious hate crimes, then betrayal rears its ugly head.
Read our review, and be sure to join us for a live chat with Patricia Cornwell!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was the first "Scarpetta" book I read; sent to me mistakenly by a book club I belonged to. It hooked me on the series. Going back now after so many years and so many of Cornwall's books, I remember why I was so entranced. The reread, knowing the characters like I now do, is even better.
When is Marino going to get lucky? Everyone seems to :)
A continuation of Kay's life after Benton's death, her attempted murder by Chandonne and the same attention to detail in the autopsies she performs. I love the way Patricia weaves her stories.
Kept me coming back to see what would happen next. Can't wait to read next book in the series!
I've become a true fan of Patricia Cornwell's writings over the years, and this Kay Scarpetta book reminded me once more why I read some of these titles more than once and why I patiently wait for the next Scarpetta book to come to print. Lots going on in this book, and I couldn't wait to see it all play out. From the beginning when Kay moves out of her home, following the attack on her in the book just prior, Black Notice, to the end when she sits facing the jury, I was hooked. Even though you can pick up one of the Scarpetta books and get right into it, I would begin with the very first -- Postmortem.
After I read Black Notice I couldn't go another day without reading TLP. This book was amazing. It goes deeper into detail about what happened it past books. This book changes Scarpetta's life forever!
This book was so good I went through a box of tissue. I still wish Benton or Mark was still alive. Hopefully soon Mariano gets his happiness and it last. Please don't kill off anymore main characters, I don't think I can take it.
THE LAST PRECINCT I enjoyed reading this book; it is a bit longer than some of Ms Cornwell's earlier books. There is a lot of angst and anger displayed by the main characters, and this occurs because of the fascinating way the author brings in details from earlier books. It is not necessary that one has read the earlier books in the series, but it does help follow the development of the characters. There is repetition and explanation of previous story lines. I really think this is one of the best of the Scarpetta books. Besides the main plot, there are several sub-plots with many characters. I find it mind-boggling how Ms. Cornwell brings out so many details and links them together. I found it difficult to put down this one! LFB
I'm on book 17
Another great Scarpetta book
Couldn't put it down! One of my favorite Kay Scarpetta books by far.