/ Language: English / Genre:sf, / Series: Kay Scarpetta

Black Notice

Patricia Cornwell


Patricia Cornwell

Black Notice

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business. establishments, events, pr locates is entirely coincidental.

And the third angel poured out bis vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.

(REVELATION 16:4)

BW

December 6, 1996

Epworth Heights

Luddington, Michigan

My Dearest Kay,

1 am sitting on the porch, staring out at Lake Michigan as a sharp wind reminds me I need to cut my hair. 1 am remembering when we were here last, both of us abandoning who and what we are for one precious moment in the history of our time. Kay, I need you to listen to me.

You are reading this because I am dead When I decided to write it, 1 asked Senator Lord to deliver it to you in person in the early part of December, a year after my death. I know how hard Christmas has always been for you, and now it must be unbearable. Loving you was when my life began. Now that it has ended, your gift to me is to go on.

Of course you haven't dealt with a damn thing, Kay. You have sped like hell to crime scenes and done more autopsies than ever. You have been consumed by court and running the institute, with lecturing, worrying about Lucy, getting irritated with Marino, eluding your neighbors and fearing the night. You haven't taken a vacation or a sick day, no matter how much you've needed it.

It's time to stop dodging your pain and let me comfort you. Hold my hand in your mind and remember the many times we talked about death, never accepting that any disease or accident or act of violence has the power of absolute annihilation because our bodies are just the suits we wear. And we are so much more than that.that everything's going to be all right. l ask you to do one for me to celebrate a Kay I want you to believe I am somehow aware of you as you read this, somehow looking after you, and life we've had that I know will never end. Call Marino and Lucy. Invite them over for dinner tonight. Cook one of your famous meals for them and save a place for me.

I love you forever, Kay,

Benton

1

The late morning blazed with blue skies and the colors of fall, but none of it was for me. Sunlight and beauty were for other people now, my life stark and without song. I stared out the window at a neighbor raking leaves and felt helpless, broken and gone.

Benton's words resurrected every awful image I had repressed. I saw beams of light picking out heat-shattered bones in soggy trash and water. Shock rocked me again when confusing shapes turned into a scorched head with no features and clumps of sooty silver hair.

I was sitting at my kitchen table sipping hot tea that Senator Frank Lord had brewed for me. I was exhausted and light-headed from storms of nausea that had sent me fleeing to the bathioam twice. I was humiliated, because beyond all things I feared losing control, and I just had.

"I need to rake the leaves again," I inanely said to my old friend. "December sixth and it's like October. Look out there, Frank. The acorns are big. Have you noticed? Supposedly that means a hard winter, but it doesn't even look like we're going to have winter. I can't remember if you have acorns in Washington."

"We, do," he said. "If you can find a tree or two."

"Are they big? The acorns, I mean."

"I'll be sure to look, Kay."

I covered my face with my hands and sobbed. He got up from the table and came around to my chair. Senator Lord and I had grown up in Miami and had gone to school in the same archdiocese, although I had attended St. Brendan's High School only one year and long after he was there. Yet that somewhat removed crossing of paths was a sign of what would come.

When he was the district attorney, I was working for the Dade County Medical Examiner's Office and often testified in his cases. When he was elected a United States senator and then appointed the chairman of the judiciary committee, I was the chief medical examiner of Virginia and he began calling on me to lend my voice in his fight against crime.

I was stunned when he called me yesterday to say he was coming to see me and had something important to deliver. I barely slept all night. I was devastated when he walked into my kitchen and slipped the simple white envelope out of a pocket of his suit..

As I sat with him now, it made perfect sense that Benton would have trusted him this much. He knew Senator Lord cared deeply for me and would never let me down. How typical of Benton to have a plan that would be executed perfectly, even though he wasn't around to see it through. How typical of him tу predict my behavior after his death and for every word of it to be true.

"Kay," Senator Lord said, standing over me as I wept in my chair, "I know how hard this must be and wish I could make it all go away. I think one of the hardest things I've ever done was promise Benton I would do this. I never wanted to believe this day would come, but it has and I'm here for you."

He fell silent, then added, "No one's ever asked me to do anything like this before, and I've been asked a lot of things."

"He wasn't like other people," I quietly replied as I willed myself to calm down. "You know that, Frank. Thank God you do."

Senator Lord was a striking man who bore himself with the dignity of his office. He had thick gray hair and intense blue eyes, was tall and lean and dressed, as was typical, in a conservative dark suit accented by a bold, bright tie, cuff links, pocket watch and stickpin., I got up from my chair and took a deep, shaky breath. I snatched several tissues from a box and wiped my face and nose.

"You were very kind to come here," I said to him.

"What else can I do for you?" he replied with a sad smile.

"You've done it all by being here. I can't imagine the trouble you've gone to. Your schedule and all."

"I must admit I flew in from Florida, and by the way, I checked on Lucy and she's doing great things down there," he said.

Lucy, my niece, was an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF. Recently, she had been reassigned to the Miami field office, and I hadn't seen her for months.

"Does she know about the letter?" I asked Senator Lord.

"No," he answered, looking out the window at a perfect day. "I think that's your call to make. And she's feeling rather neglected by you, I might add."

"By me?" I said, surprised. "She's the one who can't be reached. At least I'm not undercover chasing gun traffickers and other persons of such fine character. She can't even talk to me unless she's at headquarters or on a pay phone."

"You're not easy to find, either. You've been elsewhere in your spirit since Benton died. Missing in action, and I don't even think you realize it," he said. "I know. I've tried to reach out to you, too, haven't I?"

Tears flooded my eyes again.

"And if I get hold of you, what do you tell me? Every-thing's fine. Just busy Not to mention, you haven't come to see me once. Now and then in the old days, you even brought me some of your special soups. You haven't been taking care of those who love you. You haven't been taking care of yourself."

He had covertly glanced up at the clock several times now. I got up from my chair.

"Are you- heading back to Florida?" I asked in an unsteady voice.

"Afraid not. Washington," he said. "I'm on Face the Nation again. More of the same. I'm so disgusted by it all, Kay."

"I wish I could do something to help you," I said to him.

"It's dirty out there, Kay. If certain people knew I was here alone in your house with you, they'd start some vicious rumor about me. I'm sure of it:' "I wish you hadn't came here, then.."

"Nothing would have stopped me. And I shouldn't be railing on about Washington. You have enough to deal with."

"I'll vouch for your sterling character anytime," I said.

"It wouldn't do any good, if it came to that."

I walked him through the impeccable house I had designed, past fine furniture and art and the antique medical instruments I collected, and over bright rugs and hardwood floors. Everything was precisely to my taste but not at all the same as it had been when Benton was here. I paid no more attention to my home than I did to myself these days. I had become a heartless custodian of my life, and it was evident everywhere I looked.

Senator Lord noticed my briefcase open on the great room couch, and case files, mail and memos spilled over the glass coffee table, and legal pads on the floor. Cushions were askew, an ashtray dirty because I'd started smoking again. He didn't lecture me.

"Kay, do you understand I've got to have limited contact with you after this?" Senator Lord said. "Because of what I just alluded to."

"God, look at this place," I blurted out in disgust. "I just can't seem to keep up anymore."

"There've been rumors;" he cautiously went on. "I won't go into them. There have been veiled threats." Anger heated his voice. "Just because we're friends."

"I used to be so neat." I gave a heartbroken laugh. "Benton and I were always squabbling about my house, my shit. My perfectly appointed, perfectly arranged shit." My voice rose as grief and fury flared up higher than before. "If he rearranged or put something irt the wrong drawer… That's what happens when you hit middle age and have lived alone and had everything your own goddamn way."

"Kay, are you listening to me? I don't want you to feel I don't care if I don't call you very much, if I don't invite you up for lunch or to get your advice about some bill I'm trying to pass."

"Right now I can't even remember when Tony and I got divorced," I bitterly said. "What? Nineteen eighty-three? He left. So what? I didn't need him or anyone else who followed. I could make my world the way I wanted it, and I did. My career, my possessions, my investments. And look."

I stood still. in the foyer and swept my hand over my beautiful stone house and all that was in it.

"So what? So fucking what?" I looked Senator Lord in the eye. "Benton could dump garbage in the middle of this fucking housel He could tear the goddamn place down! I just wish none of it had ever mattered, Frank:' I wiped away furious tears. "I wish I could do it over and never criticize him once about anything. I just want him here. Oh, God, I want him here. Every morning I wake up not remembering, and then it hits again and I can barely get out of bed."

Tears ran down my face. It seemed every nerve in my body had gone haywire.

"You made Benton very happy," Senator Lord said gently and with feeling. "You meant everything to him. He told me how good you were to him, how much you understood the hardships of his life, the awful things he had to see when he was working those atrocious,-cases; for the FBI. Deep down, I know you know that."

I took a deep breath and leaned against the door.

"And I know he would want you to be happy now, to have a better life. If you don't, then the end result of loving Benton Wesley will prove damaging and wrong, something that ruined your life. Ultimately, a mistake. Does that make sense?"

"Yes," I said. "Of course. I know exactly what he would -want right now. I know what I want. I don't want it like this. This is almost more than I can bear. At times I've thought I would snap, just fall apart and end up on a ward somewhere. Or maybe in my own damn morgue."

"Well, you won't." He took my hand in both of his. "If there's anything I know about you, it's that you will prevail against all odds. You always have, and this stretch of your journey happens to be the hardest, but there's a better road ahead. I promise, Kay"

I hugged him hard.

"Thank you," I whispered. "Thank you for doing this, for not leaving it in some file somewhere, not remembering, not bothering."

"Now, you'll call me if you need me?" he pretty much ordered, as I opened the front door. "But you'll keep in mind what I said and promise you won't feel ignored."

"I understand."

"I'm always there if you need me. Don't forget that. My office always knows where I am."

I watched the black Lincoln drive off, then went into my great room and built a fire, although it wasn't cold enough to need one. I was desperate for something warm and alive to fill the emptiness left by Senator Lord's leaving. I read Benton's letter again -and again and heard his voice in my mind.

I envisioned him with sleeves rolled up, veins prominent in strong forearms, his firm, elegant hands holding the silver Mont Blanc fountain pen I had given him for no special reason other than that it was precise and pure like him. Tears would not stop, and I held up the page with his engraved initials so his writing would not smear.

His penmanship and the way he expressed himself had always been deliberate and spare, and I found his words a comfort and a torment as I obsessively studied them, dissecting, excavating for one more hint of meaning or tone. At intervals, I almost believed he was cryptically telling me his death wasn't real, was part of an intrigue, a plan, something orchestrated by the FBI, the CIA, God only knew. Then the truth.returned, bringing its hollow chill to my heart. Benton had been tortured and murdered. DNA, dental charts, personal effects had verified that the unrecognizable remains were his.

I tried to imagine how I would honor his request tonight and didn't see how I could. It was ludicrous to think of Lucy's flying to Richmond, Virginia, for dinner. I picked up the phone and tried to reach her anyway, because that was what Benton had asked me to do. She called me back on her.portable phone about fifteen minutes later.

"The office said you're looking for me. What's going on?" she said cheerfully.

"It's hard to explain," I began. "I wish I didn't always have to go through your field office to get to you."

"Me, too."

"And I know I can't say much…" I started to get upset again.

"What's wrong?" she cut in.

"Benton wrote a letter…"

"We'll talk another time." She interrupted again, and I understood, or at least I assumed I did. Cell phones were not secure.

"Turn in right there," Lucy said to someone. "I'm sorry," she got back to me. "We're making a pit stop at Los Bobos to get a shot of colada."

"A what?"

"High-test caffeine and sugar in a shot glass."

"Well, it's something he wanted me to read now, on this day. He wanted you… Never mind. It all seems so silly." I fought to sound as if I were held together just fine.

"Gotta go;" Lucy said to me.

"Maybe you can call later?"

"Will do;" she said in her same irritating tone.

"Who are you with?" I prolonged the conversation because I needed her voice, and I didn't want to hang up with the echo of her sudden coolness in my ear.

"My psycho partner," she said.

"Tell her hi."

"She says hi," Lucy said to her partner, Jo, who was Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA.

They. worked together on a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, or HIDTA, squad that had been relentlessly working a series of very vicious home invasions. Jo and Lucy's relationship was a partnership in another way, too, but they were very discreet. I wasn't sure ATF or DEA even knew.

"Later;" Lucy said to me, and the line went dead.

2

Richmond police captain Pete Marino and I had known each other for so long it sometimes seemed we were inside each other's heads. So it really came as no great surprise when he called me before I had a chance to track him down.

"You sound really stopped up," he said tome. "You got a cold?"

"No;" I said. "I'm glad you called because I was getting ready to call you."

"Oh, yeah?"

I could tell he was smoking in either his truck or police car. Both had two-way radios and scanners that. this moment were making a lot of noise.

"Where are you?" I asked him.

"Crъising around, listening to the scanner," he said, as if he had the top down and was having a wonderful day. "Counting the hours till retirement. Ain't life grand? Nothing missin' but the bluebird of happiness."

His sarcasm could have shred paper.

"What in the world's wrong with you?" I said.

"I'm assuming you know about the ripe one they just found,at the Port of Richmond," he replied. "People puking all over the place, is what I hear. Just glad it ain't my fucking problem."

My mind wouldn't work. I didn't know what he was talking about. Call-waiting was clicking. I switched the cordless phone to the other ear as I walked into my study and pulled out a chair at the desk.

"What ripe one?" I asked him. "Marino, hold on," I said as call-waiting tried again. "Let me see who this is. Don't go away." I tapped the hang-up button.

"Scarpetta" I said.

"It's Jack," my deputy chief, Jack Fielding, said. "They've found a body inside a cargу container at the Port of Richmond. Badly decomposed:' "That's what Marino was just telling me," I said.

"You sound like you've got the flu. I think I'm getting it, too. And Chuck's coming in late because he's not feeling so great. Or so he says."

"Did this container-just come off a ship?" I interrupted him.

"The Sirius, as in the star. Definitely a weird situation. How do you want me to handle it?"

I began scribbling notes on a call sheet, my handwriting more illegible than usual, my central nervous system as crashed as a bad hard drive.

"I'll go; '.1 said without pause even as Benton's words pulsed in my mind.

I was off and running again. Maybe even faster this time.

"You don't need to do that, Dr. Scarpetta," Fielding said as if he were suddenly in charge. "I'll go down there. You're supposed to be taking the day off."

"Who do I contact when I get there?" I asked. I didn't want him tу start in again.

Fielding had been begging me for months to take a break, to go somewhere for a week or two or even consider a sabbatical. I was tired of people watching me with worried eyes.

I was angered by the intimation that Benton's death was affecting my performance at work, that I had begun isolating myself from my staff and others and looked exhausted and distracted.

"Detective Anderson notified us. She's at the scene," Fielding was saying.

Who.

"Must be new. Really, Dr. Scarpetta, I'll handle it. Why don't you take a break? Stay home:"

I realized I still had Marino on hold. I switched back to tell him I'd call as soon as I got off the line with my office. He'd already hung up.

"Tell me how to get there," I said to my deputy chief.

"I guess you're not going to accept my pro bono advice."

"If I'm coming from my house, Downtown Expressway, and then what?" I said.

He gave me directions. I got off the phone and hurried to my bedroom, Benton's letter in hand. I couldn't think of a place to keep it. I couldn't just leave it in a drawer or file cabinet. God forbid I should lose it or the housekeeper should discover it, and I didn't want it in a place where I might run across it unawares and be undone again. Thoughts spun wildly, my heart racing, adrenaline screaming through my blood as I stared at the stiff, creamy envelope, at "Kay" written in Benton's modest, careful hand.

I finally focused on the small fireproof safe bolted to the floor in my closet. I frantically tried to remember where I had' written down the combination.

"I'm losing my goddamn mind," I exclaimed out loud.

The combination was where I always kept it, between pages 670 and 671 of the seventh edition of Hunter's Tropical Medicine. I locked the letter in the safe and walked into the bathroom and repeatedly splashed cold water on my face. I called Rose, my secretary, and instructed her to arrange for a removal service to meet me at the Port of Richmond in about an hour and a half.

"Let them know the body's in very sorry shape," I emphasized.

"How are you going to get there?" Rose asked. "I'd tell you to stop here first and get the Suburban, but Chuck's taken it in for an oil change."

"I thought he was sick."

"He showed up fifteen minutes ago and left with the Suburban."

"Okay, I'll have to use my own car. Rose, I'm going to need the Ltuna-Lite and a hundrйd-foot extension cord. Have someone meet me in the parking lot with them. I'll call when I'm close."

"You need to know that Jean's in a bit of an uproar."

"What's the problem?" I asked, surprised.

Jean Adams was the office administrator and she rarely showed emotion, much less got upset.

"Apparently all the coffee money disappeared. You know this isn't the first time…"

"Damn!" I said. "Where was it kept?"

"Locked up in Jean's desk drawer, like always. Doesn't look like the lock was pried open or anything, but she went into the drawer this morning, no money. A hundred and eleven dollars and thirty-five cents."

"This has got to stop," I said.

"I don't know if you're aware of the latest;" Rose went on. "Lunches have started disappearing from the break room. Last week Cleta accidentally left her portable phone on her desk overnight and the next morning it was gone. Same thing happened to Dr. Riley. He left a nice pen in the pocket of his lab coat. Next morning, no pen"

"The crew that cleans up after hours?"

"Maybe;" Rose said. "But I will tell you, Dr. Scarpettaand I'm not trying to accuse anyone-I'm afraid it might be an inside job:' "You're right. We shouldn't accuse anyone. Is there any good news today?"

"Not so far," Rose matter-of-factly replied.

Rose had worked for me since I had been appointed chief medical examiner, which meant she had been running my life for most of my career. She had the remarkable ability to know virtually everything going on around her without getting caught up in it herself. My secretary remained untainted, and although the staff was somewhat afraid of her, she was the first one they ran to when there was a problem..

"Now you take care of yourself, Dr. Scarpetta," she went on. "You sound awful. Why don't you let Jack go to the scene and you stay in for once?"

"I'll just take my car," I said as a wave of grief rolled over me and sounded in my voice.

Rose caught it and rode it out in silence. I could hear her shuffling through papers on her desk. I knew she wanted to somehow comfort me, but I had never allowed that.

"Well, make sure you change before you get back in it," she finally said.

"Change what?"

"Your clothes. Before you get back into your car," she said as if rd never dealt with a decomposed body before.

"Thank you, Rose," I said.

3

I set the burglar alarm and locked the house, turning on the light in the garage, where I opened a spacious locker built of cedar, with vents along the top and bottom. Inside were hiking boots, waders, heavy leather gloves and a Barbour coat with its special waterproofing that reminded me of wax.

Out here I kept socks, long underwear, jumpsuits and other gear that would never see the inside of my house. Their end of tour landed them in the industrial-size stainless steel sink and washer and dryer not meant for my normal clothes.

I tossed a jumpsuit, a pair of black leather Reeboks and an Office of Chief Medical Examiner, or OCME, baseball cap inside the trunk. I checked my large Halliburton aluminum scene case to make sure I had plenty of latex gloves, heavy-duty trash bags, disposable sheets, camera and film. I set out with a heavy heart ss Benton's words drifted through my mind again. I tried to block out his voice, his eyes and smile and the feel of his skin. I wanted to forget him and more than anything, I didn't.

I turned on the radio as I followed the Downtown Expressway to 1-95, the Richmond skyline sparkling in the sun. I was slowing at the Lombardy Toll Plaza when my car phone rang. It was Marino.

Thought I'd let you know I'm going to drop by," he said.

A horn blared when I changed lanes and almost clipped a silver Toyota in my blind spot. The driver swooped around me, yelling obscenities I couldn't hear.

"Go to hell," I angrily said in his wake.

"What?" Marino said loudly in my ear.

"Some goddamn idiot driver."

"Oh, good. You ever heard of road rage, Doc?"

"Yes, and I've come down with it"

I took the Ninth Street exit, heading to my office, and let Rose know I was two minutes away. When I pulled into the parking lot, Fielding was waiting with the hard case and extension cord.

"I don't guess the Suburban's back yet," I said.

"Nope," he replied, loading the equipment in my trunk. "Gonna be something when you show up in this thing. I can just see all those dockworkers staring at this goodlooking blond woman in a black Mercedes. Maybe you should borrow my car."

My bodybuilding deputy chief had just finalized a divorce and celebrated by trading in his Mustang for a red Corvette.

"Actually, that's a good idea;" I dryly said. "If you don't mind. As long as it's a V-eight"

Yeah, yeah. I hear ya. Call me if you need me. You know the way, right?"

"I do."

His directions led me south, and I was almost to Petersburg when I turned off and drove past the back of the Philip Morris manufacturing plant and over railroad tracks. The narrow road led me through a vacant land of weeds and woods that ended abruptly at a security checkpoint. I felt as if I were crossing the border into an unfriendly country.Beyond was a train yard and hundreds of boxcar-size orange containers stacked three and four high. A guard who took his job very seriously stepped outside his booth. I rolled down my window.

"May I help you, ma'am?" he asked in a flat military tone.

"I'm Dr. Kay Scarpetta," I replied.

"And who are you here to see?"

"I'm here because there's been a death," I explained. "I'm the medical examiner."

I showed him my credentials. He took them from me and studied them carefully. I had a feeling he didn't know what a medical examiner was and wasn't about to ask.

"So you're the chief," he said, handing the worn black wallet back to me. "The chief of what?"

"I'm the chief medical examiner of Virginia," I replied. "The police are waiting for me."

He stepped back inside his booth and got on the phone as my impatience grew. It seemed every time I needed to enter a secured area, I went through this. I used to assume my being a woman was the reason, and in earlier days this was probably true-at least some of the time. Now I believed the threats of terrorism, crime and lawsuits were the explanation. The guard wrote down a description of my car arid the plate number. He handed me a clipboard so I could sign in and gave me a visitor's pass, which I didn't clip on.

"See that pine tree down there?" he said, pointing.

"I see quite a few pine trees."

"The little bent one. Take a left at it and just head on towards the water, ma'am;" he said. "Have a nice day."

I moved on, passing huge tires parked here and there and several red brick buildings with signs out front to identify the U.S. Customs Service and Federal Marine Terminal. The port itself was rows of huge warehouses with orange containers lined up at loading docks like animals feeding from troughs.

Moored off the wharf in the James River were two container ships, the Euroclip and the Sirius, each almost twice as long as a football field. Cranes hundreds of feet high were poised above open hatches the size of swimming pools.

Yellow crime-scene tape anchtired by traffic cones circled a container that was mounted on a chassis. No one was nearby. In fact, I saw no sign of police except for an unmarked blue Caprice at the edge of the dock apron, the driver, apparently, behind the wheel talking through the window to a man in a white shirt and a tie. Work had stopped. Stevedores in hard hats and reflective vests looked bored as they drank sodas or bottled water or smoked.

I dialed my office and got Fielding on the phone.

"When were we notified about this body?" I asked him.

"Hold on. Let me check the sheet:" Paper rustled. "At exactly ten fifty-three."

"And when was it found?"

"Uh, Anderson didn't seem to know that."

"How the hell could she not know something like that?"

"Like I.said, I think she's new."

"Fielding, there's not a cop in sight except for her, or at least I guess that's her. What exactly did she say to you when she called in the case?"

"DOA, decomposed, asked for you to come to the scene."

"She specifically requested me?" I asked.

"Well, hell. You're always everybody's first choice. That's noticing new. But she said Marino told her to get you to the scene."

"Marino?" I asked, surprised. "He told her to tell me to respond?"

"Yeah, I thought it was a little ballsy of him."

I remembered Marino's telling me he would drop by the scene, and I got angrier. He gets some rookie to basically give me an order, and then if Marino can fit, it in, he might swing by and see how we're doing?"Fielding, when's the last time you talked to him?" I asked.

"Weeks. Pissy mood, too."

"Not half as pissy as mine's going to be if and when he finally decides to show up," I promised.

Dockworkers watched me climb out of my car and pop open the trunk. I retrieved my scene case, jumpsuit and shoes, and felt eyes crawl all over me as I walked toward the unmarked car and got more annoyed with each labored step, the heavy case bumping against my leg.

The man in the shirt and tie looked hot and unhappy as he shielded his eyes to gaze up at two television news helicopters slowly circling the port at about four hundred feet.

"Darn reporters," he muttered, turning his eyes to me.

"I'm looking for whoever's- in charge of this crime scene," I said.

"That would be me," came a female voice from inside the Caprice.

I bent over and peered through the window at the young woman sitting behind the wheel. She was darkly tanned, her brown hair cut short and slicked back, her nose and jaw strong. Her eyes were hard, and she was dressed in relaxed-leg faded jeans, lace-up black - leather boots and white T-shirt. She wore her gun on leer hip, her badge on a ball chain tucked into her collar. Air-conditioning was blasting, light rock on the radio surfing over the cop talk on the scanner.

"Detective Anderson, I presume," I said.

"Rene Anderson. The one and only. And you must be the doc I've heard so much about," she said with the arrogance I associated with most people who didn't know what the hell they were doing.

"I'm Joe Shaw, the port director," the man introduced himself to me. "You must be who the security guys just called me about"

He wasj about my age, with blond hair, bright blue eyes and skin lined from years of too much sun. I could tell by the look on his face that he detested Anderson and everything about this day.

"Might you have anything helpful to pass along to me before I get started?" I said to Anderson over loud blowing air and rotating helicopter blades. "For example, why there are no police securing the scene?"

"Don't need 'em;' Anderson said, pushing open her door with her knee. "It's not like just anybody can drive right on back here, as you found out when you tried."

I set the aluminum case on the ground. Anderson came around to my side of the car. I was surprised by how small she was.

"Not much I can tell you," she said to me. "What you see is what we got. A container with a real stinker inside."

"No, there's a lot more you can tell me, Detective Anderson," I said. "How was the body discovered and at what time? Have you seen it? Has anybody gotten near it? Has the scene been contaminated in any way? And the answer to the last one had better be no, or I'm holding you responsible."

She laughed. I began pulling the jumpsuit over my clothes.

"Nobody's even gotten close;" she told me. "No volunteers for that one."

"You don't have to go inside the thing to know what's there," Shaw added.

I changed into the black Reeboks and put on the baseball cap. Anderson was staring at-my Mercedes.,

"Maybe I should go work for the state," she said.

I looked her up and down.

"I suggest you cover up if you're going in there," I said to her.

"I gotta make a couple calls," she said, walking off.

"I don't mean to tell people how to do their jobs," Shaw said to me. "But what the hell's going on here? We got a dead body right over there and the cops send in a little shit like that?"

His jaw muscles were clenching, his face bright red and dripping sweat.

"You know, you don't make a dime in this business unless things are moving," he went on. "And not a darn thing's moved for more than two and a half hours:"

He was working so hard not to swear around me.

"Not that I'm not sorry about someone being dead," he went on. "But I sure would like you folks to do your business and leave." He scowled up at the sky again. "And that includes the media."

"Mr. Shaw, what was being shipped inside the container?" I asked him.

"German camera equipment. You should know the seal on the container's latch wasn't broken. So it appears the cargo wasn't tampered with:' "Did the foreign shipper affix the seal?"

"That's right."

"Meaning the body, alive or dead, most likely was inside the container before it was sealed”' I said.

"That's what it looks like. The number matches the one on the entry filed by the Customs broker, nothing the least out of the ordinary. In fact, this cargo's already been released by Customs. Was five days ago," Shaw told me. "Which is why it was loaded straight on a chassis. Then we got a whiff and no way that container was going anywhere."

I looked around, taking in the entire scene at once. A light breeze clinked heavy chains against cranes that had been offloading steel beams from the Eurocl#p, three hatches at a time, when all activity stopped. Forklifts and flatbed trucks had been abandoned. Dockworkers and crew had nothing to do and kept their eyes on us from the tarmac.

Some looked on from the bows of their ships and through the windows of deckhouses. Heat rose from oilstained asphalt scattered with wooden frames, spacers and skids, and a CSX train clanked and scraped through a crossing beyond the warehouses. The smell of creosote was strong but could not mask the stench of rotting human flesh that drifted like smoke on the air.

. "Where did the ship set sail from?" I asked Shaw as I noticed a marked car parking next to my Mercedes.

"Antwerp, Belgium, two weeks ago;" he replied as he looked at the Sirius and the Euroclip. "Foreign flag vessels like all the rest we get. The only American flags we see anymore are if someone raises one as a courtesy," he added with a trace of disappointment.

A man on the Euroclip was standing by the starboard side, looking back at us with binoculars. I thought it strange he was dressed in long sleeves and long pants, as warm as it was.

Shaw squinted. "Darn, this sun is bright."

"What about stowaways?" I asked. "Although I can't imagine anyone choosing to hide inside a locked container for two weeks on high seas."

"Never had one that I know of. Besides, we're not the first port of call. Chester, Pennsylvania, is. Most of our ships go from Antwerp to Chester to here, and then straight back to Antwerp. A stowaway's most likely going to bail out in Chester instead of waiting till he gets to Richmond.

"We're a niche port, Dr. Scarpetta," Shaw went on.

I watched in disbelief as Pete Marino climbed out of the cruiser that had just parked next to my car.

"Last year, maybe a hundred and twenty oceangoing ships and barges called in the port," Shaw was saying.

Marino has been a detective as long as I've known him. He didn't work in uniform. - "If it were me and I was trying to jump ship or was an illegal alien, I think I'd want to end up in some really big port like Miami or L.A. where I could get lost in the shuffle."

Anderson walked up to us, chewing gum.

"Point is, we don't break the seal and open them up unless we suspect something illegal, drugs, undeclared cargo," Shaw continued. "Every now and then we preselect a ship for a full shakedown search to keep people honest."

"Glad I don't have to dress like that anymore;'. Anderson remarked as Marino headed toward us, his demeanor cocky and pugilistic, the way he always acted when he was insecure and in an especially foul mood.

"Why's he in uniform?" I asked her.

"He got reassigned."

"Clearly."

"There's been a lot of changes in the department since Deputy Chief Bray got here," Anderson said as if she were proud of the fact.

I couldn't imagine why anyone would throw someone so valuable back into uniform. I wondered how long ago this had happened. I was hurt Marino hadn't let me know, and I was ashamed I hadn't found out anyway. It had been weeks, maybe a month, since I had called just to check on him. I couldn't remember the last time I'd invited him to drop by my office for coffee or to come to my house for-dinner.

"What's going on?" he gruffly said as a greeting.

He didn't give Anderson a glance.

"I'm Joe Shaw. How you doing?"

"Like shit," Marino sourly replied. "Anderson, you decide to work this one all by yourself? Or is it just the other cops don't want nothing to do with yotl?"

She glared at him. She took the gum out of her mouth and tossed it as if he had ruined the flavor.

"You forget to invite anyone to this little party of yours?" he went on. "Jesus!" He was furious. "Never in my motherfucking life!"

Marino was strangled by a short-sleeved white shirt buttoned up to the collar and a clip-on tie. His big belly was in a shoving match with dark blue uniform pants and a stiff leather duty belt fully loaded with his- Sig-Sauer ninemillimeter pistol, handcuffs, extra clips, pepper spray and all the rest. His face was flushed. He was dripping sweat, a pair of Oakley sunglasses blacking out his eyes.

"You and I have to talk;" I said to hire.

I tried to pull him off to the side, but he wouldn't budge. He tapped a Marlboro out of the pack he always had on him somewhere.

"You like my new outfit?" he sardonically said to me. "Deputy Chief Bray thought I needed new clothes:"

"Marino, you're not needed here;" Anderson said to him. "In fact, I don't think you want anyone to know you even thought about coming here."

"It's captain to you." He blew out his words on gusts of cigarette smoke. "You might want to watch your smart-ass mouth because I outrank you, babe."

Shaw watched the rude exchange without a word.

"I don't believe we call female officers babe anymore," Anderson said.

"I've got a body to look at," I said.

"We've got to go through the warehouse to get there," Shaw told me.

"Let's go;" I said.

He walked Marino and me to a warehouse door that faced the river. Inside was a huge, dimly lit, airless space that was sweet with the smell of tobacco. Thousands of bales of it were wrapped in burlap and stacked on wooden pallets, and there were tons of magfilled sand and orifet that I believed were used in processing steel, and machine parts bound for Trinidad, according to what was stamped on crates.

Several bays down, the container had been backed up to a loading dock. The closer we got to it, the stronger the odor. We stopped at the crime-scene tape draped across the container's open door. The stench was thick and hot, as if every molecule of oxygen had been replaced by it, and I willed my senses to have no opinion. Flies had begun to gather, their ominous noise reminding me of the highpitched buzzing of a remote-control toy plane.

"Were there flies when the container was first opened?" I asked Shaw.

"Not like this," he said.

"How close did you get?" I asked as Marino and Anderson caught up with us.

"Close enough," Shaw said.

"No one went inside it?" I wanted to make sure.

"I can guarantee you that, ma'am." The stench was getting to him.

Marino seemed unfazed. He shook out another cigarette and mumbled around it as he fired the lighter.

"So, Anderson," he said. "I don't guess it could be livestock, you know, since you didn't look. Hell, maybe a big dog that accidentally got locked up in there. Sure would be a shame to drag the doc here and get the media all in a lather and then find out it's just some poor of wharf dog rotted in there."

He and I both knew there was no dog or pig or horse or any other animal in there. I opened my scene case while Marino and Anderson went on carping at each other. I dropped my car key inside and pulled on several layers of gloves and a surgical mask. I fitted my thirty-fivemillimeter Nikon with a flash and a twenty-eightmillimeter lens. I loaded four-hundred-speed film so the photographs wouldn't be too grainy, and slipped sterile booties over my shoes.

"It's just like when we get bad smells coming from a closed-up house in the middle of July. We look through the window. Break in if we have to. Make sure what's in there's human before we call the M.E.," Marino continued to instruct his new protйgd.

I ducked under the tape and stepped inside the dark container, relieved to find it was only half full of neatly stacked white cartons, leaving plenty of room to move around. I followed the beam of my flashlight deeper, sweeping it from side to side.

Near the back, it illuminated a bottom row of cartons soaked with the reddish purge fluid that leaks from the nose and mouth of a decomposing body. My light followed shoes and lower legs,.and a bloated, bearded face jumped out of the dark. Bulging milky eyes stared, the tongue so swollen it protruded from the mouth as if the dead man were mocking me. My covered shoes made sticky sounds wherever I stepped.

The body was fully clothed and propped up in the corner, the container's metal walls bracing it, from two sides. Legs were straight out, hands in the lap beneath a carton that apparently had fallen. I moved it out of the way and checked for defense injuries, or for abrasions and broken nails that might suggest he had tried to claw his way out. I saw no blood on his clothes, no sign of obvious injuries or that a struggle had taken place. I looked for food or water, for any provisions or holes made through the container's sides for ventilation, and found nothing.

I made my way between every row of boxes, squatting to shine oblique light on the metal floor, looking for shoe prints. Of course, they were everywhere. I moved an inch at a time, my knees about to give out. I found an empty plastic wastepaper basket. Then I found two silvery coins. I bent close to them. One was a deutsche mark. I didn't recognize the other one and touched nothing.

Marino seemed a mile away, standing in the container's opening.

"My car key's in my case," I called out to him through 'the surgical mask.

"Yeah?" he said, peering inside.

"Could you go get the Luma-Lite? I need the fiber-optic attachment and the extension cord. Maybe Mr. Shaw can help you find somewhere to plug it in. Has to be a grounded receptacle, one-fifteen VAC."

"I love it when you talk dirty," he said.

4

The Luma-Lite is an alternate light source with a high intensity arc tube that emits fifteen watts of light energy at 450 uanometers with a twenty-nanometer bandwidth. It can detect body fluids such as blood or semen as well as expose drugs, fingerprints, trace evidйnce and unexpected surprises not evident to the naked eye.

Shaw found a receptacle inside the warehouse, and I slipped disposable plastic covers on the Luma-Lite's aluminumfeet to make sure nothing from a previous scene would be transferred to this one. The alternate light source looked very much like a home projector, and I set it inside the- container on top of a carton and ran the fan for,a minute before turning on the power switch.

While I waited for the lamp to reach its maximum output, Marino appeared with the amber-tinted glasses needed to protect our eyes from the strong energy light. Flies were getting thicker. They drunkenly knocked against us and droned loudly in our ears.

"Goddamn, I hate those things!" Marino complained, swatting wildly.

I noticed he didn't have on a jumpsuit, only shoe covers and gloves.

"You going to drive home in a closed car like that?" I asked.

"I got another uniform in the trunk. In case something gets spilled on me or whatever."

"In case you spill something on you or whatever," I said, looking at my watch. "We got one more minute."

"Notice how Anderson's conveniently disappeared? 'I knew she would the minute I heard about this one. I just didn't figure on nobody else being here. Shit, something really weird's going on."

"How in the world did she become a homicide detective?"

"She kisses Bray's ass. I hear she even runs errands for her, takes her brand-new fбncy-schmansy black Crown Vic to the car wash, probably sharpens her pencils and shines her shoes:' "We're ready," I said.

I began scanning with a 450-nanometer filter that was capable of detecting a large variety of residues and stains. Through our tinted glasses, the inside of the container became an impenetrably black outer space scattered with shapes that fluoresced white and yellow in different shades and intensities whenever I pointed the lens. The projected blue light exposed hairs on the floor and fibers everywhere, just as I would expect in a high-traffic area used to store cargo handled by many people. White cardboard cartons glowed a soft white, like the moon.

I moved the Luma-Lite deeper inside the container. Purge fluid didn't fluoresce, and the body was a dejected dark shape sitting in the corner.

"If he died naturally," Marino said, "then why's he sitting up like that with his hands in his lap like he's in church or something?"

"If he died of suffocation, dehydration, exposure, he could have died sitting up:' "It sure looks wacko to me."

"I'm just saying it's possible. It's getting tight in here. Can you hand me the fiber optics, please?"

He bumped into cartons as he made his way in my direction.

"You might want to take off your glasses until you get here," I suggested, because one couldn't see anything through them except the high-energy light, which wasn't in Marino's line of sight at the moment.

"No friggin' way," he said. "I hear all it takes is one quick look. And zap. Cataracts, cancer, the whole nine yards."

"Not to mention turning to stone."

"Hub?"

"Marino! Careful!"

He bumped into me and 'I wasn't sure what happened after that, but suddenly cartons were caving in and he almost knocked me over as he fell.

"Marino?" I was disoriented and frightened. "Marino!"

I cut the power on the Luma-Lite And took-off my glasses so I could see:

"Goddamn fucking son of a bitch!" he yelled as if he'd been bitten by a snake.

He was flat on his back on the floor, shoving and kicking boxes out of the way. The plastic bucket sailed through the air. I got down next to him.

"Stay still," I firmly told him. "Don't go thrashing around until we're sure you're all right."

"Oh God! Oh shit! I got this shit all over me!" he yelled in a panic.

"Are you hurting anywhere-?"

"Oh, Jesus, I'm gonna puke. Oh Jesus, oh4esus."

He rushed to his feet and knocked boxes out of the way as he stumbled toward the container's opening. I heard him vomit. He groaned and vomited again.

"That should make you feel better," I said.

He ripped open his white shirt, gagging and heaving as he struggled out of its sleeves. He stripped down to his undershirt, balled up what was left of his uniform shirt and hurled it out the door.

"What if he's got AIDS?" Marino's voice sounded like a bell at midnight.

"You're not going to get AIDS from this guy," I said.

"Oh, fuck!" He gagged some more.

"I can finish up in here, Marino," I said.

"Just give me a minute."

"Why don't you go on and find a shower."

"You can't tell anyone about this," he said, and I knew he was thinking about Anderson. "You know, I bet you could get a really good deal on some uh this camera shit."

"I bet you could."

"Wonder what they're gonna do with it."

"Has the removal service come yet?" I asked him.

He raised his portable radio to his lips.

"Christ!" He spat and gagged some more.

He vigorously wiped the radio on the front of his pants and coughed and conjured up spittle from the bottom of his throat and let it fly.

"Unit nine," he said on the air, holding the'radio a good twelve inches from his face.

"Unit nine."

The dispatcher was a woman. I detected warmth in her voice and was surprised. Dispatchers and 911 operators almost always remained calm and showed no emotion, no matter the emergency.

"Ten-five Rene Anderson," Marino was saying. "Don't know her unit number. Tell -her if she doesn't mind, we sure would like removal service guys to show up down here.”,

"Unit nine. You know the name of the service?"

"Hey, Doc," Marino stopped transmitting and raised his voice to me. "What's the name of the service?"

"Capital Transport:'

He passed that along, adding, "Radio, if she's a ten-two, ten-ten, or ten-seven or if we should ten-twenty-two, get back to me.°"

A storm of cops keyed their mikes, their way of laughing and cheering him on.

"Ten-four, unit nine;" the dispatcher said.

"What did you just say that got you such an ovation? I know, ten-seven is out of service, but I didn't get the rest of it."

"Told her to let me know if Anderson was a weak signal or negative, or had time to get around to it. Or if we should fucking disregard her."

"No wonder she likes you so much."

"She's a piece of shit."

"By chance do you know what happened to the fiberoptic cable?" I asked him.

"I had it in my hand;" he replied.

I found it where he had fallen and knocked over cartons.

"What if he's got AIDS?" He started in on that again.

"If you're determined to worry about something, try gram-negative bacterias. Or gram-positive bacterias. Clostridia. Strep. If you have an open wound, which you don't as best I know."

I attached one end of the cable to the wand, the other to the assembly, tightening thumbscrews. He wasn't listening.

"No way anybody's saying that about me! That I'm a goddamn fairy! I'll eat my gun, don't think I won't."

"You're not going to get AIDS, Marino;" I repeated myself.

I turned on the source lamp again. It would have to run at least four minutes before I could turn on the power.

"I picked a hangnail yesterday and it bled! That's an open wound!"

"You have on gloves, don't you?"

"If I get some bad disease, I'm going to kill that fucking little lazy snitch."

I assumed he meant Anderson.

"Bray's gonna get hers, too. I'll find a way!"

"Marino, be quiet," I said.

"How would you like it if it was you?"

"I can't tell you how many times it's been me. What do you think I do every day?"

"You sure as hell don't slop around in dead juice!"

"Dead juice?" - "We don't know a thing about this guy. What if they got some weird diseases in Belgium that we can't treat here' "Marino, be quiet," I said again.

"No!"

"Marino.. "

"I got a right to be upset!"

"All right then, leave." My patience had walked off. "You're interfering with my concentration. You're interfering with everything. Go take a shower and throw back a few shots of bourbon."

The Luma-Lite was ready and I put on the protective glasses. Marino was quiet.

"I'm not leaving," he finally said.

I gripped the fiber-optics wand like a soldering iron. The intense pulsing blue light was as thin as pencil lead, and I began scanning very small areas.

"Anything?" he asked.

"Not so far."

His sticky booties moved closer as I worked slowly, inch by inch, into places that could not be reached by the broad scan. I leaned the body forward to probe behind the back and head, then between the legs. I checked the palms of his hands. The Luma-Lite could detect body fluids such as urine, semen, sweat and saliva, and of course, blood. But again, nothing fluoresced. My back and neck ached.

"I'm voting for him being dead before he ended up in here," Marino said.

"We'll know a lot more when we get him downtown."

I straightened up and the rapid-fire light caught the corner of a carton Marino had displaced when he'd fallen. The tail of what looked like the letter Y blazed neon green in the dark.

"Marino," I said. "Look at this."

Letter by letter I illuminated words that were French and written by hand. They were about four inches high and an odd boxy shape, as if a mechanical arm had formed them in square strokes. It took me a moment to make out what they said.

"Bon voyage, le laup-garou," I read.

Marino was leaning over me, his breath in my hair. "What the hell's a loup-garou?"

"I don't know."

I examined the carton carefully. The top of it was soggy, the bottom of it dry.

"Fingerprints? You see any on the box?" Marino asked.

"I'm sure there're prints all over the place in here," I replied. "But no, none are popping out."

"You think whoever wrote this wanted someone to find it.

"Possibly. In some kind of permanent ink that fluoresces. We'll let fingerprints do their thing. The box goes to the lab, and we need to sweep up some of the hair:on the floor for DNA, if it's ever needed. Then do photographs and we're out of here:' "May as well get the coins while I'm at it," he said.

"May, as well," I said, staring toward the container's opening.

Someone was looking in. He was backlit by bright sunlight and a blue sky and I could not make out who it was.

"Where are the crime-scene techs?" I asked Marino.

"Got no idea.” !”Goddamn it!" I said.

"Tell me about it," Marino said.

"We had two homicides last week and things weren't like this."

"You didn't go to the scenes, either, so you don't know what they were like," he said, and he was right.

"Someone from my office did. I would know if there was a problem..:' "Not if the problem wasn't obvious, you wouldn't," he told me. "And the problem sure as hell wasn't obvious because this is Anderson's first case. Now it's obvious."

"What?"

"Brand spanking new detective. Hell, maybe she stashed this body in here herself so she'd have something to do."

"She says you told her to call me."

"Right. Like I can't bother, so I dis you, and then you get pissed off at me. She's a fucking liar," he said.

An hour later we were done. We walked out of the foulsmelling dark, returning to the warehouse. Anderson stood in the open bay next to ours, talking to a man I recognized as Deputy Chief A1 Carson, head of investigations. I realized it was he whom I had seen at the mouth of the container earlier. I moved past her without a word and greeted him as I looked out to see if the removal service had shown up yet. I was relieved to see two men in jumpsuits standing by their dark blue van. They were talking to Shaw.

"How are you, Al?" I said to Deputy Chief Carson.

He'd been around as long as I had. He was a gentle, quiet man who had grown up on a farm.

"Hangin' in, Doc" he said. "Looks like we got a mess on our hands."

"Looks like it," I agreed.

"I was out and thought I'd drop by to make sure everything's all right."

Carson didn't just "drop by" scenes. He was uptight and looked depressed. Most important, he paid no more attention to Anderson than the rest of us did.

"We've got it covered," Anderson outrageously broke rank and answered Deputy Chief Carson. "I've been talking to the port director…"

Her voice trailed off when she saw Marino. Or maybe she smelled him first.

"Hey, Pete," Carson said, cheering up. "What you know, old boy? They got some new dress code in the uniform division I don't know about?"

"Detective Anderson," I said to her as she got as far away from Marino as she could. "I need to know who's working this case. And where are the crime-scene techs? And why did the removal service take so long to get here?"

"Yeah, This is how we do undercover work, boss. We take our uniforms off," Marino was saying loudly.

Carson guffawed.

"And why, Detective Anderson, weren't you in there collecting evidence and helping in any way possible?" I continued grilling her.

"I don't answer to you," she said with a shrug.

"Let me tell you something;" I said in a tone that got her attention. "I'm exactly who you answer to when there's a dead body.".

"… bet Bray had to go undercover a lot, too. Before rising to the top. Types like her, they gotta be on top," Marino said with a wink.

The light blinked out in Carson's eyes. He looked depressed again. He looked tired, as if life had pushed him as far as he could go.

"Al?" Marino got serious. "What the fuck's going on? How come nobody showed up at this little party?"

A gleaming black Crown Victoria was driving toward the parking lot.

"Well, I've got to head on," Carson abruptly said, his face etched with his mind elsewhere. "Let's hook up at the F.O.P It's your turn to buy the beer. Remember when Louisville beat Charlotte and you lost the bet, old boy?”Then Carson was gone without acknowledging Anderson in any way, because it was clear he had no power over her.

"Hey, Anderson?" Marino said, pounding her back.

She gasped, clamping her hand over her nose and mouth.

"How you like working for Carson? Pretty nice guy, huh?" he said.

She backed away and he stayed with her. Even I was rather appalled by Marino and his stinking uniform pants, filthy gloves and booties. His undershirt would never be white again, and there were big holes where seams had succumbed to his big belly. He got so close to Anderson, I thought he might kiss her.

"You stink!" She tried to get away from him.

"Funny how that happens in a job like this."

"Get away from me!"

But he wouldn't. She darted this way and that, and with each step he blocked her like a mountain until she was pressed against supersacks of injectable carbon bound for the West Indies.

"Just what the fuck do you think you're doing?" His words grabbed her by the collar. "We get some rotting body in a cargo container in a fucking international shipping port where half the people don't speak fucking English and you decide you're gonna handle things all by yourself?"

Gravel popped outside in the parking lot, the black Crown Victoria driving fast.

"Miss Junior Detective gets her first case. And may as well have the chief medical examiner show up, along with a few helicopter news crews?"

"I'm turning you in to internal affairs," Anderson yelled at him. "I'm taking out a warrant on you!"

"For what? Stinking?"

"You're dead!"

"No. What's dead is that guy in there." Marino pointed at the container. "What's dead is your ass if you ever have to testify about this case in court."

"Marino, come - on*" I said as the Crown Victoria brazenly drove onto the restricted dock.

"Hey!" Shaw was running after it, waving his arms. "You can't park there!"

"You're nothing but a used-up, washed-up, redneck loser;" Anderson said to Marino as she trotted off.

Marino yanked off gloves inside out and freed himself of his blue plasticized paper booties by stepping down on the heel of each with the opposite toe. He picked up his soiled white uniform shirt by the clip-on tie, which didn't stay attached, so he stomped them as if they were a fire to put out. I quietly collected them and dropped them and mine into a red biological hazard bag.

"Are you quite finished?" I asked him.

"Ain't even begun," Marino said, staring out as the driver's door of the Crown Victoria opened and a uniformed male officer climbed out.

Anderson rounded the side of the warehouse and walked quickly toward the car. Shaw was hurrying, too, dockworkers looking on as a striking woman in uniform and sparkling brass climbed out-of the back of the car. She looked around as the world looked back. Someone whistled. Someone else did. Then the dock sounded like referees protesting every foul imaginable.

"Let me guess;" I said to Marino. "Bray:"

5

The air was filled with the static of greedy flies, their volume turned up high by warm weather and time. The removal service attendants had carried the stretcher into the warehouse and were waiting for me.

"Whooo," one of the attendants said, shaking his head, a bad expression on his face. "Lordy, lordy."

"I know, I know," I said as I pulled on clean gloves and booties. "I'll go in first. This won't take long. I promise."

"Fine by me, you want to go first."

I went back inside the container and they came after me, choosing their steps carefully, stretcher held tight at their waists like a sedan chair. Their breathing was labored behind their surgical masks. Both were old and overweight and should not have been lifting heavy bodies anymore.

"Get it by the lower legs and feet," I directed. "Real careful, because the skin's going to slip and come off. Let's get him by his clothing as best we can."

They set down the stretcher and bent over the dead man's feet.

"Lordy," one of them muttered again.

I hooked my arms under the armpits. They took hold of the ankles.

"Okay. Let's lift together on the count of three," I said. "One, two, three."

The men struggled to maintain their balance. They huffed and backed up. The body was limp because rigor mortis.had come and left, and we centered it onto the stretcher and wrapped it in the sheet. I zipped up the body bag and the attendants carried their client away. They would drive him to the morgue, and there I would do all I could to make him talk to me.

"Damn!" I heard one of them say. "They don't pay me enough for this."

"Tell me."

I followed them out of the warehouse into sunlight that was dazzling and air that was clean. Marino was still in his filthy undershirt, talking to Anderson and Bray on the dock. I gathered from the way he was gesturing that the presence of Bray had restrained him somewhat. Her eyes landed on me as I got close. She did not introduce herself, so I went first without offering my hand.

"I'm Dr. Scarpetta," I said to her.

She returned my greeting with vague regard, as if she had not a clue as to who I was or why I was there.

"I think it would be a good idea for the two of us to talk;" I added.

"Who did you say you are?" Bray asked.

"Oh, for Chrissake!" Marino erupted. "She knows damn well who you are."

"Captain." Bray's tone had the effect of a riding whip cracking.

Marino got quiet. Anderson, did, too.

"I'm the chief medical examiner." I told Bray what she already knew. "Kay Scarpetta."

Marino rolled his eyes. Anderson's expression puckered with resentment and jealousy when Bray motioned for me to step away from them. We moved to the edge of the dock, where the Sirius towered above us and barely stirred in the ruffled muddy-blue current.

"I'm so sorry I didn't recognize your name at first," she began.

I didn't say a word.

"That's very ungracious of me," she went on.

I remained silent.

"I should have gotten around to meeting you before now. I've been so busy. So here we are. And it's a good thing, really. Perfect timing, you might say"-she smiled-"that we should meet like this."

Diane Bray was a haughty beauty with black hair and perfect features. Her -figure was stunning. Dockworkers could not take their eyes off her.

"You see," she went on in her same cool tone, "I have this little problem. I supervise Captain Marino, yet he seems to think he works for you."

"Nonsense." I finally spoke.

She sighed.

"You have just robbed the city of the most experienced, decent homicide detective it's ever known, Chief Bray," I told her. "And I should know."

"I'm sure you should."

"Just what is it you're trying to accomplish?" I asked.

"It's time for young blood, for detectives who don't mind turning on a computer, using e-mail. Are you aware that Marino doesn't even know how to use word processing? Still hammers on a typewriter with two fingers?"

I couldn't believe she was saying this to me.

"Not to mention the very small problem that he's unteachable and insubordinate, his behavior a disgrace to the department," she went on.

Anderson had walked off, leaving Marino alone by the car, leaning against it, smoking. His arms and shoulders were thick and hairy, and his trousers, belted under his gut, were about to fall off. I knew he was humiliated because he refused to look our way.

"Why are there no crime-scene techs here?" I asked Bray.

One dockworker elbowed another and cupped his hands under his chest, fondling air as if it were Bray's big breasts.

"Why are you here?" I then asked her.

"Because I was alerted that Marino was," she replied. "He's been warned. I wanted to find out for myself if he was so blatantly disregarding my orders."

"He's here because someone had to be."

"He's here because he chose to be." She fixed her eyes on me. "And because you chose to be. That's really why, now isn't it, Dr. Scarpetta? Marino's your own personal detective. Has been for years.".

Her eyes bored into places even I couldn't see, and she seemed to wind her way through sacred parts of me and sense the meaning of my many walls. She took in my face and my body and I wasn't sure if she was comparing what I had to hers, or if she was assessing something she might decide she wanted.

"Leave him alone," I told her. "You're trying to kill his spirit. That's what this is all about. Because you can't control him."

"No one has ever been able to control him;' she replied. "That's why he was given to me."

"Given to you?"

"Detective Anderson is new blood. God knows, this department needs new blood."

"Detective Anderson is unskilled, unschooled and a coward," I replied.

"Certainly with your continents of experience, you can tolerate someone new and do a little mentoring, Kay?"

"There's no cure for someone who doesn't care."

"I suspect you've been listening to Marino. According to him, no one is skilled, schooled or cares enough to do what he does."

I'd had it with her. I adjusted my position to take full advantage of the shift in the wind. I stepped closer to her because I was going to rub her nose in a little dose of reality.

"Don't you ever do this to me again, Chief Bray," I said. "Don't you ever call me or anyone in my office to a scene and then saddle us with some fuckup who can't be bothered collecting evidence. And don't call me Kay."

She stepped away from my stinking presence, but not before I caught her flinch.

"We'll do lunch sometime," she said, dismissing me as she summoned her driver.

"Simmons? What time is my next appointment?" she asked, staring up at the ship and clearly enjoying all the attention.

She had a seductive way of massaging her lower lumbar spine or wedging her hands in the back pockets of her uniform pants, shoulders thrown back, or absently smoothing her tie over the steep slope of her chest.

Simmons was handsome and had a fine body, and when he slipped out a folded sheet of paper, it shook as he looked at it. She moved closer to him, and he cleared his throat.

"Two-fifteen, Chief," he said.

"Let me see." She leaned closer, brushing against his arm, taking her time as she looked at her itinerary and complained, "Oh, God! Not that school board idiot again!"

Officer Simmons shifted his position, and a bead of sweat rolled down his temple. He looked terrified.

"Call him and cancel," Bray said.

"Yes, Chief."

"Well, I don't know. Maybe I should just reschedule."

She took the itinerary from him, brushing against him again like a languid cat, and I was startled by the rage that flashed across Anderson's face. Marino caught up with me on my way to my car.

"You see the way she flaunts herself around?" he asked. "It wasn't lost on me."

"Don't think that ain't a topic of conversation. I'm telling you, that bitch's poison."

"What's her story?"

Marino shrugged. "Never been married, no one's good enough. Screws around with powerful, married types, supposedly. She's all abopt power, Doc. The rumor is that she wants to be the next Secretary of Public Safety so every cop in the Commonwealth will have to kiss her pretty ass:' "It will never happen."

"Don't be so sure. I hear she's got friends in high places, Virginia connections, which is one of the reasons we got stuck with her. She's got a plan, no doubt about that. Snakes like her always got a plan."

I opened the,trunk, exhausted and depressed as the earlier trauma of the day returned to me so hard it seemed to slam me against the car.

"You aren't gonna do him tonight, are you?" Marino asked.

"No way," I muttered. "It wouldn't be fair to him."

Marino gave me a questioning look. I felt him watching me as I stripped off my jumpsuit and shoes and doublebagged them.

"Marino, give me one of your cigarettes, please."

"I can't believe you're doing that again."

"There're about fifty million tons of tobacco in that warehouse. The smell put me in the mood:' "That ain't what I was smelling."

"Tell me what's going on;' I said as he held out his lighter.

"You just saw what's going on. I'm sure she explained it."

"Yes, she did. And I don't understand it. She's in charge of the uniformed division, not investigations. She says no one can control you, so she's elected to take care of the problem herself. Why? When she got here, you weren't even in her division. Why should you matter to her?"

"Maybe she thinks I'm cute."

"That must be it," I said.

He exhaled smoke as if he were putting out birthday candles, and looked down at his T-shirt as if he had forgotten it was there. His big, thick hands were still dusted with talc from the surgical gloves, and he at first looked lonely and defeated, then turned cynical and indifferent again.

"You know;" he said, "I could retire if I wanted to and draw about forty grand a year pension."

"Come over for dinner, Marino."

"Add that to what I could get doing some security consulting or whatever, and I could live pretty good. Wouldn't have to shovel this shit no more day after day with all these little maggots crawling out from everywhere thinking they know it all."

"I've been asked to invite you."

"By who?" he asked suspiciously.

"You'll find out when you get there."

"What the hell does that mean?" he asked, scowling.

"For God's sake, go take a shower and put on something that won't clear out the city. Then come over. Around six-thirty."

"Well, in case you haven't noticed, Doc, I'm working. Three-to-eleven shift this week. Eleven-to-seven shift week after next. I'm the new hot-shit watch commander for the entire friggin' city, and the only hours they need a friggin' watch commander is when all the other commanders ain't on duty, which is evening shift and midnight shift and weekends, meaning the only dinner I'm gonna get the rest of my life is in my car."

"You've got a radio," I told him. "I live in the city, so it's not out of your jurisdiction. Come over, and if you get called out, you get called out."

I got inside my car and started the engine.

"I don't know," he said.

"I was asked to…" I started to say as tears threatened again. "I was about to call you when you called me."

"Huh? This isn't making any sense. Who asked you? What? Is Lucy in town?"

He seemed pleased she would think of him, if that's what my hospitality was all about.

"I wish she were. See you at six-thirty?"

He hesitated some more, swatting flies and smelling awful.

"Marino, I really need you to come over," I told him, clearing my throat. "It's very important to me. It's personal and very important."

It was so hard to say that to him. I didn't think I'd ever told him I needed him in a personal way.. I couldn't remember the last time I'd said words like this to anyone but Benton.

"I mean it," I added.

Marino crushed the cigarette beneath his foot until it was a tobacco smear and pulverized paper. He lit up again, eyes wandering around.

"You know, Doc, I really got to quit these things. And Wild Turkey. I've been going through that stuff like buttered popcorn. Depends on what you're cooking;' he said.

6

Marino headed off to find a shower somewhere and I felt lighter of spirit, as if a terrible spasm had gone into remission for a while. When I pulled into my driveway, I collected the bag of scene clothes out of the trunk and began the same disinfectant ritual I had gone through most of my working life.

Inside the garage, I tore open the garbage bags and, dropped them and the shoes into a sink of scalding water, detergent and bleach. I tossed the jumpsuit into the washing machine, stirred the shoes and bags around with a long wooden spoon and rinsed them. I enclosed the disinfected bags in two clean bags that went into a Supercan, and I parked my soaked shoes on a shelf to dry.

Everything I had on from jeans to lingerie went into the washing machine, too. More detergent and bleach, and I hurried naked through my house and into the shower, where I scrubbed hard with Phisoderm, not an inch spared, not the inside of my ears and nose, or under my nails, fingers and toes, and I brushed my teeth in there.

I sat on a ledge and let water pound the back of my neck and head and remembered Benton's fingers kneading my tendons and muscles. Untangling them was what he always said. Missing him was a phantom pain. I could feel what I remembered as if I were feeling it now, and I wondered what it would take for me to live where I was instead of back then. Grief held on. It would not let go of loss, because to do that was to accept it. I told that to grieving families and friends all the time.

I dressed in khakis, loafers and a blue-striped shirt, and played Mozart on the CD player. I watered plants and pinched off dead leaves. I polished or rearranged whatever needed it, and tucked reminders of work out of sight. I called my mother in Miami because I knew Monday was bingo night and she wouldn't be home and I could just leave a message. I did not turn on the news because I didn't want to be reminded of what I had just worked so hard to wash away.

I poured a double Scotch, walked into my study and turned on a light. i scanned shelves crowded with medical and science books, and astronomy texts, and Britannica encyclopedias, and all sorts of aids to gardening, flora and fauna, insects, rocks and minerals, and even tools. I found a French dictionary and carried it over to my desk. A loup was a wolf, but I had no luck with garou. I tried to think my way out of this problem and seized upon a simple plan.

La Petite France was one of tire city's finest restaurants, and although it was closed Monday nights, I knew the chef and his wife very well. I called them at home. He answered the phone and was as warm as always.

"You don't come see us anymore," he said. "We say this too often."

"I haven't been out much," I replied.

"You work too much, Miss Kay"

"I need a translation," I said. "And I also need you to keep-this between us. Not a word to anyone:' "But of course."

"What is a loup-garou?"

"Miss Kay, you must be dreaming bad things!" he exclaimed, amused. "I'm so glad it's not a full moon! Le loup-garou is a werewolf!"

The doorbell rang.

"In France, hundreds of years ago, if you were believed to be a loup-gamu you were hanged. There were many reports of them, you see."

I looked at the clock. It was six-fifteen. Marino was early and I was unprepared.

"Thank you," I told my friend the chef. "I'11 come see you soon, I promise."

The doorbell sounded again.

"Coming," I said to Marino through the intercom.

I turned off the alarm and let him in. His uniform was clean, his hair was neatly combed and he had splashed on too much aftershave.

"You look a little better than when I saw you last," I commented as we headed toward the kitchen. - "Looks like you cleaned up this joint," he said as we passed through the great room.

"It's about time," I said.

We walked into the kitchen and he sat in his usual spot at the table by the window. He watched me with curious eyes as I got garlic and fast-acting yeast out of the refrigerator.

"So what are we having? Can I smoke in here?" No.

"You do."

"It's my house."

"How 'bout if I open the window and blow it out."

"Depends on which way the wind is blowing."

"We could get the ceiling fan going and see if that helps. I smell garlic "I thought we'd have pizza on the grill."

I pushed aside cans and jars in the pantry, looking for crushed tomatoes and high-gluten flour.

"The coins we found are English and German;" he told me. `I'wo pounds and one deutsche mark. But this is where it starts getting real interesting. I hung around the port a little longer than you did, showering and whatever. And by the way, they sure as hell didn't waste any time hauling cartons out of that container and cleaning up. You watch, they'll sell that camera shit like nothing happened to it."

I mixed half a package of yeast, warm water and honey in a bowl and stirred, then I reached for the flour.

"I'm hungry as hell."

His portable radio was upright on the table, blurting ten codes and unit numbers. He yanked off his tie and unbuckled his duty belt with all its gear. I began kneading dough.

"My lower back's killing me, Doc," he complained. "You got any idea what it's like wearing twenty pounds of shit around your waist?"

His mood seemed considerably improved as he watched me work, sprinkling flour and shaping dough on the butcher's-block.

"A loup-garou is a werewolf," I told him.

"Huh?"

"As in a wolf man."

"Shit, I fucking hate those things."

"I wasn't aware you'd ever met one."

"You remember seeing 1.on Chaney with all that fur growing on his face when the moon came out? Scared the hell out of me. Rocky used to watch Shock Theater, remember that?"

Rocky was Marino's only child, a son I'd never met. I placed the dough in a bowl and covered it with a warm, wet cloth.

"Do you ever hear from him?" I cautiously ' asked. "What about at Christmas? Will you see him then?"

Marino nervously tapped an ash.

"Do you even know where he lives?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Oh, hell, yeah."

"You act as if you don't like him at all," I said.

"Maybe I don't."

I scanned the wine rack for a nice bottle of red. Marino sucked smoke and exhaled loudly. He had nothing more to say about Rocky than he ever had.

"One of these days you're going to talk to me about him," I said as I poured crushed tomatoes in a pot.

"You know as much about him as you need to," he said.

"You love him, Marino."

"I'm telling you, I don't love him. I wish he'd never been born. I wish I'd never met him."

He stared out the window at my backyard fading into night. This moment I didn't seem to know Marino at all. He was a stranger in my kitchen, this man in uniform;who had a son I'd never met and knew nothing about. Marino wouldn't look me in the eye or thank me when I set a cup of coffee on his place mat.

"How about,peanuts or something?" I asked.

"Naw," he said. "I been thinking about going on a diet."

"Thinking about it won't help much. It's been proven in studies."

"You gonna wear garlic around your neck or something when you post our dead werewolf? You know, you get bit by one, you turn into one. Sort of: like AIDS."

"It's nothing like AIDS, and I wish you'd get off this AIDS thing."

"You think he wrote that on the box himself?"

"We can't assume that box and what was written on it are connected with him, Marino."

"Have a nice trip, werewolf. Yeah, you find that written on camera boxes all the time. Especially when they're near dead bodies."

"Let's get back to Bray and your new fashion statement," I said. "Start from the beginning. What did you do to make her such a fan?"

"It started about two weeks after she got here. Remember that autoerotic hanging?" “Yes”.

"She shows up and just walks right into the middle of everything and starts telling people what to do, like she's the detective. She starts looking through the porno magazines the guy was having fun with when he strung himself up in his leather mask. She starts asking his wife questions."

"Whoa," I said.

"So I tell her to leave, that she's in the way and screwing up everything, and the next day she calls me into her office. I figure she's going to be tear-ass about what happened, but she doesn't say a word. Instead, she asks what I think of the detective division."

He took a gulp of coffee and stirred in two more teaspoons of sugar.

"Thing is, I could tell that really wasn't what she was interested in;" he went on. "I knew she wanted something. She wasn't in charge of investigations, so why the hell was she asking me about the detective division?"

I poured myself a glass of wine.

"Then what did she want?" I asked.

"She wanted to talk about you. She started asking me a thousand questions about you, said she knew we had been `partners in crime,' as she put it, for a long time."

I checked the dough, then the sauce.

"She was asking me background stuff. What the cops thought of you."

"And what did you say?"

"I told her you was a doctor-lawyer-Indian chief with an IQ bigger than my paycheck, that the cops was all in love with you, including the women. And let's see, what else?"

"That was probably quite enough."

"She asked about Benton and what happened to him and how much it had affected your work."

Anger heated me up.

"She starting quizzing me about Lucy. About why she left the FBI and if the way she swings is the reason."

"This woman's fast sealing her fate with me," I warned.

"I told her Lucy left the Bureau because NASA asked her to become an astronaut;" Marino kept going. "But when she got into the space program, she decided she liked flying helicopters better and signed on as a pilot for ATE Bray wanted me to tell her next time Lucy was in town, to arrange for- the two of them to meet because Bray might want to recruit her. I said that was sort of like asking Billie Jean King to be a ball girl. End of story? I didn't tell Bray shit except I ain't your social secretary. One week later, my ass was back in uniform."

I reached for my pack and felt like a junkie. We shared an ashtray, smoking in my house, silent and frustrated. I was trying not to feel hateful.

"I think she's jealous as hell of you, plain and simple, Doe," Marino finally said. "She's the big shot moving here from D.C., and all she hears about is the great Dr. Scarpetta. And I think she got a cheap thrill out of busting up the two of us. Gave the bitch a little power rush."

He smashed the cigarette butt in the ashtray and ground it out.

"This is the first time you and me haven't worked together since you moved here;' he said as the doorbell rang for a second time this night.

"Who the hell's that?" he said. "You invite someone else and not tell me?"

I got up and looked into the video screen of the Aiphone on the kitchen wall. I stared, incredulous, at-the images picked up by the front-door camera.

"I'm dreaming," I said.

7

Lucy and Jo seemed apparitions, physical presences that could not be flesh and blood. Both of them had been riding the streets of Miami barely eight hours ago. Now they were in my arms.

"I don't know what to say," I said at least five times as they dropped duffel bags on the floor.

"What the hell's going on?" Marino boomed, intercepting us in the great room. "What do you think you're doing here?" he demanded of Lucy, as if she had done something wrong.

He had never been able to show affection in a normal way. The gruffer and more sarcastic he got, the happier he was to see my niece.

"'They fire your ass down there already?" he asked.

"What's this, trick or treat?" Lucy said just as loudly, tugging a sleeve of his uniform shirt. "You trying to make us finally believe you're a real cop?"

"Marino," I said as we went into the kitchen, "I don't think you've met Jo Sanders."

"Nope," he said.

"You've heard me talk about her."

He gave Jo a blank look. She was an. athletically built strawberry blonde with dark blue eyes, and I could tell he thought she was pretty.

"He knows exactly who you are," I said to Jo. "He's not being rude. He's just being him."

"You work?" Marino asked her, fishing his smoldering cigarette out of the ashtray and drawing one last puff.

"Only when I have no choice," Jo- answered.

"Doing what?"

"A little rappelling out of Black Hawks. Drug busts. Nothing special."

"Don't tell me you and Lucy are in the same field division down there in South America."

"She's DEA," Lucy told him.

"No shit?" Marino said to Jo. "You seem kind of puny for DEA: "

"They're into quotas," Jo said.

He opened the refrigerator and shoved things around until he found a Red Stripe beer. He twisted off the cap and started chugging.

"Drinks are on the house," he called out.

"Marino," I said. "What are you doing? You're on duty."

"Not anymore. Here, let me show you."

He set the bottle down hard on the table and dialed a number.

"Mann, what'cha know," he said into the phone. "Yeah, yeah. Listen, I ain't joking. I'm feeling like shit. You think you could cover for me tonight? I'll owe ya:'

Marino winked at us. He hung up, hit the speaker button on the phone and dialed again. His call was answered on the first ring.

"Bray;" the deputy chief of administration, Diane Bray, announced in my kitchen for all to hear.

"Deputy Chief Bray, it's Marino," he said in the voice of someone dying of a terrible scourge. "Really sorry to bug you at home."

He was answered with silence, having instantly and deliberately irritated his direct supervisor by addressing her as "Deputy Chief." According to protocol; deputy chiefs were always addressed as "Chief," while the chief himself was called "Colonel." Calling her at home didn't win him any points, either.

"What is it?" Bray tersely asked.

"I feel like hell," Marino rasped. "Throwing up, fever, the whole nine yards. I gotta mark off sick and go to bed."

"You certainly weren't sick when I saw you a few hours ago.,,

"It happened real sudden. I sure hope I didn't catch some bacteria thing…"

I quickly dashed out Strep and Clostridia on a notepad.

"… you know, like strep or Clos-ter-ida out there at the scene. One doctor I called warned me about that, because of getting in such close proximity to that dead body and all…

"When does your shift end?" she interrupted him.

"Eleven."

Lucy, Jo and I were red-faced, strangled by laughter we were fighting to hold in.

"It's not likely I can find someone to be watch commander this late in the shift," Bray coldly replied.

"I already got hold of Lieutenant Mann in third precinct. He's nice enough to work the rest of tour for me," Marino let her know as his health failed precipitously.

"You should have notified me earlier!" Bray snapped.

"I kept hoping I could hang in there, Deputy Chief Bray."

"Go home. I want to see you in my office tomorrow."

"If I'm well enough, I'll drop by, I sure will, Deputy Chief Bray. You take care, now. Sure hope you don't get whatever I got."

She hung up.

"What a sweetheart," Marino said as laughter leapt out.

"God, no wonder," Jo said when she could finally talk again. "I hear she's pretty much hated."

"How'd you hear that?" Marino frowned. "They talk about her in Miami?"

"I'm from here. On Old Mill, right off Three Chopt, not too far from the University of Richmond."

"Your dad teach there?" Marino asked.

"He's a Baptist minister."

"Oh. That must be fun."

"Yeah," Lucy chimed in, "kind of bizarre to think she grew up around here and we never met until Miami. So, what are you going to do about Bray?"

"Nothing," he said, draining the bottle of beer and going into the refrigerator for another one.

"Well, I sure as hell would do something," she said with hu;e confidence.

'You know, you think shit like that when you're young;' he remarked. "Truth, justice and the American way. Wait till you're my age."

"I'll never be your age."

"Lucy told me you're a detective," Jo started talking to Marino. "So why are you dressed like that?" `-Story time," Marino said. "You want to sit on my knee?"

"Let me guess. You pissed somebody off. Probably her."

"DEA teach you to make deductions like that, or are you just unusually smart for someone almost grown up?"

I sliced mushrooms, green peppers and onions, and pinched off pieces of whole-milk mozzarella while Lucy watched. Finally, she made me look her in the eye. `'Right after you called this morning, Senator Lord did," she quietly told me. "It about shocked the entire field office, I might add"

"I bet it did."

".`He told me to get on a plane immediately and come here…"

"If only you minded me so well." I was getting shaky inside again.

"That you needed me."

"I can't tell you how glad I am..:' My voice caught as I tumbled back down into that frigid, dark space.

"Why didn't you tell me you needed me?"

"I didn't want to interfere. You're so involved down there. You didn't seem to want to talk."

"All you had to say was, l need you."

"You were on a cell phone."

"I want to see the letter," she said.

8

I laid the knife on the cutting board and wiped my hands on a towel. I gave Lucy my eyes and she saw the pain and fear in them.

"I want to read it alone with you," she said.

I nodded and we went back to my bedroom and I got the letter out of the safe. We sat on the edge of my bed and I noticed the Sig-Sauer 232 pistol tucked in an Uncle Mike's Sidekick ankle holster peeking out of the cuff of her right pants leg. I couldn't-help but smile as I thought about what Benton would say. Of course he would shake his head. Of course he would go into some phony-baloney psychologizing that would leave us weak with laughter.

But his humor was not without its point. I was aware of the more somber, foreboding side of what I was seeing right now. Lucy had always been an ardent worshiper of self-defense. But since Benton's murder, she had become an extremist.

"We're in the house," I said to her. "Why don't you give your, ankle a rest?"

"Only way to get used to wearing one of these things is to wear it a lot," she replied. "Especially stainless steel. It's so much heavier." 'Then why wear stainless steel?"

"I like it better. And down there with all that humidity and saltwater."

"Lucy, how, much longer are you going to be doing this undercover thing?" I blurted out.

"Aunt Kay." She met my eyes and put her hand on my arm. "Let's don't start that again."

"It's just…"

"I know. It's just that you don't want one of these letters from me someday."

Her hands were steady as she held the creamy sheet of paper.

"Don't say that:' l said with dread.

"And I don't ever want one from you," she added.

Benton's words were just as powerful and alive as they had been this morning when Senator Lord had brought them to me, and I heard Benton's voice again. I saw his face and the love in his eyes. Lucy read very slowly. When she was done, she could not speak for a moment.

Then she said, "Don't you ever send me one of these. I don't ever want one of these."

Her voice shook with pain and anger.

"What's the point? So you can just upset someone all over agdin?" she said, getting up from the bed.

"Lucy, you know his point." I wiped away tears and hugged her. "Deep down, you know."

I carried the letter into the kitchen and Marino and Jo read it, too. His reaction was to stare out the window at the night, his big hands listless in his lap. Hers was to get up and hover in the room, not sure where to go.

"I really think I should go." She repeated herself and we overruled her. "He wanted the three of you here. I don't think I should be."

"He would have wanted you here had he known you," I said.

"Nobody leaves." Marino said it like a cop drawing down on a room full of suspects. "We're all in this together. Goddamn."

He got up from the table and rubbed his face in his hands.

"I sort of wish he hadn't done that." He looked at me. "Would you do that to me, Doc? 'Cause if you got any ideas, I'm telling you right now to forget it. -I don't want no words from the crypt after you're gone."

"Let's put this pizza on," I said.

We went out on the patio and I worked the dough off a cookie sheet and placed it on the grill. I spread sauce and sprinkled the meats, vegetables and cheese on top of it. Marino, Lucy and Jo sat in iron rocking chairs because I would not let them help me. They tried to keep a conversation going but no one had the heart for it. I drizzled olive oil over the pizza, careful not to make the coals flare up.

"I don't think he brought you together just so you could be depressed," Jo finally said.

"I'm not depressed," Marino said.

"Yes, you are," Lucy countered.

"About what, wiseass?"

"Everything."

"At least I'm not afraid to say I miss him."

Lucy stared at him in disbelief. Their sparring*had just drawn blood.

"I can't believe you just said that;" she told him.

"Believe it. He's the only goddamn father you ever had, and I've never heard you say you miss him. Why? 'Cause you still think it's your fault, right?"

"What's wrong with you?"

"Well, guess what, Agent Lucy Farinelli:' Marino wouldn't stop. "It ain't your fault. It's fucking Carne Grethen's fault, and no matter how many times you blow the bitch out of the sky, she'll never be dead enough for you; That's the way it works when you hate someone that bad."

"And you don't hate her?" Lucy pushed back.

"Hell." Marino swilled what was left of his beer. "I hate her worse than you do."

"I don't think it was Benton's plan for us to sit around here talking about how much we hate her or anybody;" I said.

"Then how do you handle it, Dr. Scarpetta?" Jo asked me.

"I wish you would call me Kay." I had told her this many times. "I cant' on. That's all I can do."

The words sounded banal, even to me. Jo leaned into the light of the grill and looked at me as if I held the answers to every question she had ever asked in life.

"How do you go on?" she asked. "How do people go on? All these bad things we deal with every day, yet we're on the other side of it. It's not happening to us. After we shut the door, we don't have to keep looking at that stain on the floor where someone's wife was raped and stabbed to death, someone's husband's brains blown out. We lull ourselves into believing that we work cases and won't ever become cases. But you know better."

She paused, still leaning into the light of the grill, and shadows from the fire played on a face that looked far too young and pure to belong to someone so full of such questions.

"How do you go on?" she asked again.

"The human spirit is very resilient." I didn't know what else to say.

"Well, I'm afraid," Jo said. "I think all the time about what I would do if something happened to Lucy."

"Nothing's going to happen to me," Lucy said.

She got up and kissed Jo on the top of the head. She put her arms around her, and if this clear signal about the nature of their relationship was news to Marino, he didn't show it or seem to care. He had known Lucy since she was ten, and in some measure, his influence on her had a lot to do with her going into law enforcement. He had taught her to shoot. He had let her drive the streets with him and even put her behind the wheel of one of his sacred trucks.

When he first realized she didn't fall in love with men, he had been the consummate bigot, probably because he feared his influence had fallen short of what, by his standard, mattered most. He may even have wondered if he were somehow to blame. That was many years ago. I couldn't remember the last time he'd made a narrowminded comment about her sexual orientation.

"But you work around death every day," Jo gently persisted. "Aren't you reminded… of what happened, when you see it happen to someone else? I don't mean to, well, I just don't want to be so afraid of death."

"I don't have a magic formula," I said, getting up. "Except you learn not to think too much."

The pizza was bubbling and I worked a big spatula under it.

"That smells good," Marino said with a worried 'look. "You think it's gonna be enough?"

I made a second, then a third one, and I built a fire and we sat before it with the lights out in the great groom. Marino stuck with beer. Lucy, Jo and I sipped a white burgundy that was crisp and clean.

"Maybe you should. find somebody," Lucy said, the light and shadow of flames dancing on her face.

"Shit!" Marino erupted. "What is this all of a sudden? The Dating Game? Maybe if she wants to tell you personal stuff like that, she will. You shouldn't be asking. It ain't nice."

"Life isn't nice," Lucy said. "And why should;you care if she plays The Dating Game?"

Jo silently stared into the fire. I was getting fed up. I was beginning to wonder if I might have been better off staying alone tonight. Even Benton hadn't always been right.

"Remember when Doris left you?" Lucy went on.

"What if people hadn't asked you about it? What if no one had cared what you did next or if you were holding yourself together? You sure wouldn't have volunteered anything. Same goes for the idiots you've gone out with since. Every time one of them didn't work out, your friends had to jump in again and pry things out of you."

Marino set the empty beer bottle on the hearth so hard I thought he might break the slate.

"Maybe you ought to think about growing up one of these days," he said. "You gonna wait until you're thirty before you stop being such a goddamn, stuck-up brat? I'm getting another beer."

He stalked out of the room.

"And let me tell you another thing," Marino threw back at her, "just because you fly helicopters and program computers and bodybuild and do all the other friggin' shit you do doesn't mean you're better than me!"

"I've never said I was better than you!" Lucy yelled after him.

"The hell you haven't!" His voice carried from the` kitchen.

"The difference between you and me is I do what I want in life," she called out. "I don't accept limitations."

"You're so full of shit, Agent Asshole."

"Ah, now we're getting to the root of the matter," Lucy said as he reappeared, gulping beer. "I'm a federal agent fighting big bad crime on big bad streets of the world. And you're in uniform riding around baby-sitting cops at all hours of the night."

"And you like guns because you wish you had a dick!"

"So I can be what? A tripod?"

"That's it," I exclaimed. "Enough! The two of you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Doing this… of all times…"

My voice splintered and tears stung my eyes. I was determined I wouldn't lose control again, and I was horrified that I no longer seemed able to help it. I looked away from them. Silence was heavy, the fire popping. Marino got up and opened the screen. He stirred embers with the poker and tossed on another log.

"I hate Christmas," Lucy said.

9

he next morning, Lucy and Jo had an early flight and I could not bear the emptiness that would return with the shutting door. So I went out with them, briefcase in hand. I knew this day was going to be awful.

"I wish you didn't have to go," I said. "But I guess Miami might not survive another day if you stayed here with me."

"Miami's probably not going to survive anyway," Lucy said. "But that's what we get paid to do-fight wars already lost. Sort of like Richmond, when you think about it. God, I feel like shit."

Both of them were in scruffy jeans and wrinkled shirts and had done nothing more than push gel through their hair. All of us were exhausted and hung over as we stood in my driveway. Carriage lanterns and streetlights had gone out as the sky turned dusky blue. We could not see each other well, just our shapes and shining eyes and foggy breath. It was cold. Frost on our cars looked like lace.

"Except the One-Sixty-Fivers aren't going to survive;" Lucy talked big. "And I'm looking forward to that."

"The who?" I asked.

"The gun-trafficking assholes we're after. Remember, I told you we call them that because their ammo of choice is one-sixty-five-grain Speer Gold Dot. Real high end, hot stuff. That and all sorts of goodies-AR-fifteens, twotwenty-three-caliber rifles, fully automatic Russian and Chinese shit-coming in from maggot-promise land. Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Puerto Rico.

"Point is, some of this is being smuggled piecemeal by container ships that have no idea," she went on. "Take the port in L.A. It unloads one cargo container every one and a half minutes. No way anybody can search all that."

"Oh, that's right." My head was throbbing.

"We're real flattered to get the assignment," Jo added dryly. "A couple of months ago, the body of some guy from Panama eventually linked to this cartel turned up in a South Florida canal. When they did the autopsy, they found his tongue in his stomach because his compatriots cut it off and made him eat it."

"I'm not sure I want to hear all this," I said as the poison sped into my mind again.

"I'm Terry," Lucy let me know. "She's Brandy." She smiled at Jo. "U of M girls who didn't quite graduate, but hey, who needs to because during our hardworking semesters of being dopers and getting laid, we learned some pretty good addresses for home invasions. We've developed a nice social relationship with a couple One-SixtyFivers who do home invasions for guns, cash, drugs. We're setting up a guy.on Fisher Island right now who's got enough guns to open his own damn gun store and enough coke to make it look like it's fucking snowing:"

I couldn't stand to hear her talk this way.

"Of course, the victim's undercover, too," Lucy went on as big, dark crows began making rude noises and lights went on across the street.

I noticed candles in windows and wreaths on doors. I had given virtually no thought to Christmas and it would be here in less than three weeks. Lucy dug her wallet out of her back pocket and showed me her driver's license. The photograph was her, but nothing else was.

"Terry Jennifer Davis," she read to me. "White female, twenty-four years old, five-six, one hundred and twenty-one pounds. It's really strange to be someone else. You ought to see my setup down there, Aunt Kay. I got this cool little house in South Beach and drive a Benz V -twelve sports car confiscated in a drug raid in Sбo Paulo. Sort of silver, smoky.

And you ought to see my Glock. A collector's model: Forty caliber, stainless steel slide, small. Talk about sweet."

The poison was beginning to suffocate me. It cast a purple hue behind my eyes and made my hands and feet go numb.

"Lucy, how 'bout we cut the show and tell," Jo said, sensing how all this was affecting me. "It's like your watching her do an autopsy. Maybe more than you want to know, right?"

"She's let me watch," Lucy bragged on. "I've seen maybe half a dozen."

Jo was getting annoyed now.

"Police academy demos." My niece shrugged. "No axe murders."

I was rocked by her insensitivity. It was as if she were talking about restaurants.

"Usually people who died of natural causes or suicide. Families donate the bodies to the anatomical division."

Her words drifted around me like noxious gas.

"So it doesn't bother them if Uncle Tim or Cousin Beth is autopsied in front of a bunch of cops. Most of the families can't afford a burial anyway, and might in fact get paid something for body donations, isn't that right, Aunt Kay?"

"No, they don't, and bodies donated by families to science are not used for demo autopsies," I said, appalled. "What in God's name is wrong with you?" I lashed out at her.

Bare trees were spidery against the overcast dawn, and two Cadillacs drove past. I felt people staring at us.

"I hope you don't plan on making this tough act a habit." I dashed my cold words in her face. "Because it sounds stupid enough when ignorant, lobotomized people do it. And for the record, Lucy, I have let you watch three autopsies, and although police academy demos may not have been axe murders, the cases were human beings. Someone loved those three dead people you saw. Those three dead people had feelings. In love, happy, sad. They ate dinner, drove to work, went on vacations."

"I didn't dean..~." Lucy started to say.

"You can be sure when those three poor people were alive they never thought they'd end up in a morgue with twenty rookies and some kid. like you staring at their naked, opened-up bodies," I went on. "Would you want them to hear what you just said?"

Lucy's eyes brightened with tears. She swallowed hard and looked away.

"I'm sorry, Aunt Kay," she quietly replied.

"Because it's always been my belief you ought to imagine the dead listening when you speak. Maybe they hear those sophomoric jokes and asides. For sure, we hear them. What does it do to you when you hear yourself say them or hear someone else say them?"

"Aunt Kay..: "

"I'll tell you what it does to you," I said with simmering fury. "You end up just like this."

I threw my hand out as if introducing the world to her, as she looked on, stunned.

"You end up doing just what I'm doing right now," I said. "Standing on a driveway as the sun comes up. Imagining someone you love in a fucking morgue. Imagine people making fun of him, joking, making comments about the size of his penis or how much he stinks. Maybe they banged him around a little too hard on the table. Maybe halfway into the goddamn job they threw a towel over his empty chest cavity and went to lunch. And maybe cop wandering in and out on other cases made comments about crispy critters or being burned by a snitch or FBI flambй."

Lucy and Jo were staring at me in astonishment.

"Don't think I haven't heard it all;" I said, unlocking my car door and yanking it open. "A life passing through indifferent hands and cold air and water. Everything so cold, cold, cold. Even if he had died in bed, it's all so cold in the end. So don't you talk to me about autopsies."

I slid behind the wheel.

"Don't you ever wave an attitude around me, Lucy." I couldn't seem to stop.

My voice seemed to be coming from another room. It even occurred to me that I was losing my mind. Wasn't this what happened when people went insane? They stood outside themselves and watched themselves do things that really weren't them, like killing someone or walking off a window ledge.

"Mese things ring in your head like a bell forever," I said. "Slamming their ugly clapper against the sides of your skull. It isn't true that words will never hurt you. Because yours just hurt the hell out of me," I said to my niece. "Go back to Miami."

Lucy was paralyzed as I jammed my car into drive and sped off, a back tire bumping over the granite border. I caught her and Jo in my rearview mirror. They were saying something to each other, and then getting inside their rental car. My hands shook so badly I couldn't light a cigarette until I was stopped in traffic.

I didn't let Lucy and Jo catch up with me. I turned off on the Ninth Street exit and imagined them flying by toward I-64, heading to the airport, back to their lives of undercover crime.

"Goddamn you;" I muttered to my niece.

My heart slammed against me, as if trying to break free.

"Goddamn you, Lucy." I wept.

10

The new building where I worked was the eye of a fierce storm of development I never could have imagined when I moved into it in the seventies. I remembered feeling rather betrayed when I charged in from Miami just as Richmond's businesses decided to charge out to neighboring counties and malls. People stopped shopping and dining downtown, especially at night.

The city's historic character turned victim to neglect and crime until the mid-nineties, when Virginia Commonwealth University began to reclaim and revitalize what had been relegated to ruin. It seemed that handsome buildings began springing up almost overnight, all of similar brick and glass design. My office and morgue shared space with the labs and the recently established Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, which was the first training academy of its type in the country, if not the world.

I even had a choice parking space near the lobby door, where I sat in my car this moment gathering my belongings and my spinning thoughts. I had childishly turned off my car phone so Lucy couldn't get hold of me after I'd sped off. I turned it on now, hoping it would ring. I stared at it. The last time I had acted like this was after Benton and I had had our worst fight and I ordered him to leave my house and never come back. I unplugged my phones, only to plug them back in an hour later and panic when he didn't call.

I looked at my watch. Lucy would be boarding her flight in less than an hour. I considered calling USAir and having her paged. I was shocked and humiliated by the way I had behaved. I felt powerless because I couldn't apologize to someone named Terry Davis who didn't have an aunt Kay or an accessible phone number and lived somewhere in South Beach.

I looked pretty rough when I walked into the glass-block and terrazzo lobby. Jake, who worked the security desk, noticed right away.

"Good morning, Dr. Scarpetta," he said with his usual nervous eyes and hands. "You don't look like you're feeling so hot."

"Good morning, Jake," I replied. "How are you?"

"Same-o, same-o. Except the weather's supposed to start turning real fast and get nasty, and I could do without that."

He was clicking a pen open and shut.

"Can't seem to get rid of this pain in my back, Dr. Scarpetta. It's right between my shoulder blades."

He rolled his shoulders and neck.

"Sort of pinches like something's caught back there. Happened after I was lifting weights the other day. What do you think I should do? Or do I need to write you?"

I thought he was trying to be funny, but he wasn't smiling.

"Moist heat. Lay off the weights for a while;" I said.

"Hey, thanks. How much you charge?"

"You can't afford me, Jake."

He grinned. I swiped my computer card over the electronic lock on the door outside my office door and the lock clicked free. I could hear my clerks, Cleta and Polly, talking and 'typing. The phones were already ringing and it wasn't even seven-thirty yet.

"… It's really, really bad."

"You think people from other countries smell different when they decompose?"

"Come on, Polly. How stupid is that?"

They were tucked inside their gray cubicles, sifting through autopsy photographs and entering data into computers, cursors jumping field to field.

"Better get some coffee while you can," Cleta greeted me with a judgmental look on her face.

"If that ain't the truth." Polly smacked the return key.

"I heard," I said:

"Well, I'm keeping my mouth shut:'.said Polly, who couldn't if she tried.

Cleta made a zipping motion across her lips without missing a keystroke.

"Where is everyone?"

"In the morgue," Cleta told me. "We've got eight cases today."

"You've lost a lot of weight, Cleta," I said, collecting death certificates from my inner-office mailbox.

"Twelve and a half pounds;" she exclaimed as she dealt gory photographs like playing cards, arranging them by case numbers. "Thank you for noticing. I'm glad somebody 'round here does."

"Damn," I said, glancing at the death certificate on top of my stack. "You think we might ever convince Dr. Carmichael that `cardiac arrest' is not a cause of death? Everyone's heart stops when he dies. The question is why did it stop. Well, that one gets amended."

I flipped through more certificates as I followed the long teal- and plum-carpeted hallway to my corner office. Rose worked in an open space with plenty of windows, and it wasn't possible to reach my door without entering her airspace. She was standing before an open filing cabinet drawer, fingers impatiently fluttering through labeled tabs.

"How are you?" she asked around a pen clamped in her mouth. "Marino's looking for you:' "Rose, we need to get Dr. Carmichael on the line."

"AgainT»

"'Fraid so."

"He rinds to retire."

My secretary had been saying this for years. She pushed the drawer shut and pulled open another one.

"Why is Marino looking for me? Did he call me from home?"

She took the pen out of her mouth.

"He's here. Or was. Dr: Scarpetta, do you remember that letter you got last month from that hateful woman?"

"Which hateful woman?" I asked, looking up and down the hallway for Marino and seeing no sign of him. - `"The one in prison for murdering her husband right after she took out a million-dollar fife insurance policy on him."

"Oh, that one," I said.

I slipped off my suit jacket as I walked into my office _ and set my briefcase on the floor.

"Why is Marino looking for me?" I asked again.

Rose didn't answer. I had noticed she was getting hard of hearing, and every reminder of her encroaching frailties frightened me. Lput the death certificates on top of a stack of about a hundred others I hadn't gotten around to reviewing yet and draped my suit jacket over my chair.

"Point is," Rose loudly said, "she's since sent you another letter. This time accusing you of racketeering."

I retrieved my lab coat from the back of the door.

"She claims you conspired with the insurance company and changed her husband's manner of death from accident to homicide so they wouldn't have to pay out the money. And for this you got quite a large kickback, which is-according to her-how you can afford your Mercedes and expensive suits."

I threw my lab coat over my shoulders and pushed my arms through the sleeves.

"You know, I can't keep up with the crazies anymore, Dr. Scarpetta. Some of them really frighten me, and I think the Internet is making all of it worse."

Rose peeked around the doorway.

"You aren't listening to a word I'm saying," she said.

"I get suits on sale," I replied. "And you blame everything on the Internet."

I probably wouldn't bother shopping for clothes at all if Rose didn't force me out the door every now and then when stores were clearing out last season's styles. I hated shopping, unless it was for good wine or food. I hated crowds. I hated malls. Rose hated the Internet and believed the world would end one day because of it. I'd had to force her to use e-mail.

"If Lucy calls, will you make sure I get it no matter where I am?" I said as Marino walked into Rose's office. "And try her field office, too. You can patch her through."

The thought of Lucy knotted my stomach. I'd lost my temper and hurled words at her I didn't mean. Rose glanced at me. Somehow she knew.

"Captain," she said to Marino, "you look mighty spiffy this morning."

Marino grunted. Glass rattled as he opened a jar of lemon drops on her desk and helped himself.

"What do you want me to do with this crazy lady's letter?" Rose peered through the open doorway at me, reading glasses perched on her nose as she dug through another drawer.

"I think it's time we forward the lady's file-if you ever find it to the A.G.'s office," I said. "In case she sues. Which will probably lie next. Good morning, Marino."

"You still talking about that nutcake I locked up?" he asked, sucking candy.

"That's right," I remembered. "That nutcake was one of your cases."

"So I guess I'll get sued, too."

"Probably," I muttered as I stood at my desk, shuffling through yesterday's telephone messages. "Why does everybody call when I'm not here?"

"I'm kinda getting into being sued," Marino said. "Makes me feel special."

"I just can't get used to you in uniform, Captain Marino," Rose said. "Should I salute?"

"Don't turn me on, Rose:' "I thought your shift didn't start until three," I said.

"Nice thing about me being sued is the city's gotta pay. Ha. Ha. Screw 'em."

"We'll see how Ha Ha it is when you end up paying one of these days and lose your truck and aboveground swimming pool. Or all those Christmas decorations and extra fuse boxes, God forbid," Rose told him as I opened and shut my desk drawers.

"Has anybody seen my pens?" I asked. "I don't have a single goddamn pen. Rose? Those Pilot rolling ball pens. I had at least a box of them on Friday. I know I did because I bought them myself last time I was at Ukrops. And I don't believe it. My Waterman's missing, too!"

"Don't say I didn't warn you about leaving anything valuable around here," Rose told me.

"I gotta smoke," Marino said to me. "I've had it with these damn smoke-free buildings. All these dead people in your joint and the state's worried about smoking. What about all those formalin fumes? A few good whiffs of that will drop a horse."

"Damn!" I shoved one drawer shut and yanked open another. "And guess what else? No Advil, no BC powders -and no Sudafed. Now I'm really getting angry."

"Coffee money, Cleta's portable phone, lunches, and now your pens and aspirin. I've gotten to where I take my pocketbook everywhere I go. The office's started calling whoever it is `The Body Snatcher,' " Rose angrily said. "Which I don't think is funny in the least."

Marino walked over and put his arm around her.

"Sweetheart, you can't blame a guy for wanting to snatch your body," he sweetly said in her ear. "I've been wanting to ever since I first laid eyes on you way back when I had to teach the doc everything she knows."

Rose demurely pecked his cheek and leaned her head against his shoulder. She looked defeated and suddenly very old.

"I'm tired, Captain," Rose muttered.

"Me too, sweetheart. Me, too."

I looked at my watch.

"Rose, please tell everyone staff conference's going to be a few minutes late. Marino, let's talk."

The smoking room was a corner in the bay where there were two chairs, a Coke machine and a dirty, dented ashcan that Marino and I put between us. Both of us lit up, and I felt the same old bite of shame.

"Why are you here?" I asked. "Didn't you cause enough problems for yourself yesterday?"

"I was thinking about what Lucy said last night," Marino said. "About my current situation, you know. How it's like I'm hitting the bricks, out of service, finished, Doc. I can't take it, if you want to know the truth. I'm a detective. I've been one almost all my life. I can't do this uniform shit. I can't work for assholes like Diane `Donkey' Bray."

"That's why you took the field investigation exam last year," I reminded him. "You don't have to stay with the police department, Marino. Not with any police department. You've got more than enough years in to retire. You can make your own rules."

"No offense, Doc, but I don't want to work for you, either," he said. "Not part-time or on a case basis or whatever."

The state had given me two slots for field investigators, and I had not filled either one of them yet.

"The point is, you have options," I replied, touched by hurt I would not show.

He was silent. Benton walked into my mind and I saw his feelings in his eyes, and then he was gone. I felt the cooling shadow of Rose and feared the loss of Lucy. I thought of getting old and people vanishing from my life.

"Don't quit on me, Marino," I told him.

He didn't answer me right away, and when he did, his eyes blazed.

"Fuck 'em all, Doc," he said. "No one's telling me what to do. If I want to work a case, I'll goddamn work it."

He tapped an ash and seemed very pleased with himself.

"I don't want you fired or demoted," I said.

"They can't demote me no lower than I am," he said with another lightning bolt of anger. "They can't make me less than a captain, and there's no assignment worse than I got. And let 'em fire me. But guess what? They won't. And you want to know why? Because I could go to Henrico, Chesterfield, Hanover, you name it. You don't know how many times I've been asked to take over investigations in other departments."

I remembered the unlit cigarette in my hand.

"A few of 'em have even wanted me to be chief." He hobbled further along his Pollyanna path.

"Don't fool yourself," I said as menthol made its hit. "Oh, God, I can't believe I'm doing this again"

"I'm not trying to fool anyone," he said, and I could feel his depression moving in like a low-pressure front. "It's like I'm on the wrong planet. I don't know the Brays and Andersons of the world. Who are these women?"

"Power gluttons."

"You're powerful. You're a hell of a lot more powerful than them or anybody I ever met, including most men, and you aren't like that."

"I don't feel very powerful these days. I couldn't even control my temper this morning on my own driveway in front of my niece and her girlfriend and probably a few neighbors:" I blew out smoke. "And I feel sick about it:"

Marino leaned forward in his chair. "You and me are the only two people who give a flying fuck about that rotting body in there."

He jerked his thumb toward the door leading into the morgue.

"I bet Anderson don't even show up this morning," he went on. "One thing's for damn sure, she ain't gonna hang around watching you post him."

The look on his face sent my heart out of rhythm. Marino was desperate. What he had done all his life was really all he had left, except for an ex-wife and an estranged son named Rocky. Marino was trapped in an abused body that most assuredly was going to pay him back one of these days. He had no money and awful taste in women. He was politically incorrect, slovenly and foul-mouthed.

"Well, you're right about one thing," I said. "You shouldn't be in uniform. In fact, you're rather much a disgrace to the department. What's that on your shirt anyway? Mustard again? Your tie's too short. Let me see your socks."

I bent over and peeked under the cuffs of his uniform pants.

"They don't match. Уne black, one navy," I said.

"Don't let me get you into trouble, Doc:' "I'm already in trouble, Marino," I said.

11

0ne of the more heartless aspects of my work was that unknown remains became "I'he Torso" or "The Trunk Lady" or "The Superman Man:' They were appellations that robbed the person of his identity and all he'd been or done on earth as surely as his death had.

I considered it a painful personal defeat when I could not bring about the identification of someone who came under my care. I packed bones in bankers' boxes and stored them in the skeleton closet, in hopes they might tell me who they were someday. I kept intact bodies or their parts in freezers for months and years, and would not give them up to a pauper's grave until there was no more hope or space. We didn't have room enough to keep anyone forever.

This morning's case had been christened "The Container Man." He was in very grim shape, and I hoped I would not have to hold him long. When decomposition was this advanced, even refrigeration couldn't stop it.

"Sometimes I don't know how you stand it," Marino grumbled.

We were in the changing room next to the morgue, and no locked door or concrete wall could completely block the smell.

"You don't have to be here," I reminded him.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world."

We suited up in double gowns, gloves, sleeve. protectors, shoe covers, surgical caps and masks with shields. We didn't hhve air packs because I didn't believe in them, and I'd better never catch one of my doctors sneaking Vicks up his nose, although cops did it all the time. If a medical examiner can't handle the unpleasantriйs of the job, he should do something else.

More to the point, odors are important. They have their own story to tell. A sweet smell might point at ethchlorvynol, while chloral hydrate smells like pears. Both might make me wonder about an overdose of hypnotics, while a hint of garlic might point at arsenic. Phenols and nitrobenzene bring to mind ether and shoe polish respectively, and ethylene glycol smells exactly like antifreeze because that's exactly what it is. Isolating potentially significant smells from the awful stench of dirty bodies and rotting flesh is rather much like archaeology. You focus on what you are there to find and not on the miserable conditions around it.

The decomposed room, as we called it, was a miniature version of the autopsy suite. It had its own cooler and ventilation system and a single table I could roll up and attach to a big sink. Everything, including cabinets and doors, was stainless steel. Walls and the floors were coated with a non-absorbent acrylic that could withstand the most brutal washes with disinfectants and bleach. Automatic doors were opened by steel buttons that were big enough to push with elbows instead of hands.

When the doors slid shut behind Marino and me, I was startled to find Anderson leaning against a countertop, the gurney bearing the pouched body parked in the middle of the floor. The body is evidence. I never left an investigator alone with an unexamined body, certainly not since the badly botched O. J. Simpson trial, when it became the vogue for everyone except the defendant to be impeached in court.

"What are you doing here and where's Chuck?" I asked Anderson.

Chuck Ruffin was my morgue supervisor and should have been here some time ago inspecting surgical instruments, labeling test tubes and making sure I had all of the necessary paperwork.

"He let me in and went off somewhere."

"He let you in here and just left you? How long ago was that?"

"Maybe twenty minutes ago," Anderson replied.

Her eyes were warily on Marino.

"Do I detect a little Vicks up the nose?" Marino sweetly inquired.

The petroleum jelly shone on Anderson's upper lip.

"See that industrial-size deodorizer up there?" Marino nodded his head to the special ventilation system- in the ceiling. "Guess what, Anderson? Нt ain't gonna do a goddamn bit of good when this bag's unzipped."

"I'm not planning on staying;" she replied.

That was obvious. She hadn't even put on a pair of surgical gloves.

"You shouldn't be in here at all without protective wear," I said to her.

"I just wanted to let you know I'll be out talking to witnesses and want you to page me when you have information on what happened to him," she said.

"What witnesses? Bray sending you over to Belgium?" Marino asked, his breath fogging up his shield.

I didn't believe for a minute that she had come into this unpleasant place to tell me anything. Anderson had shown up with some agenda other than this case. I looked at the dark red body pouch to see if it might have been disturbed in any way, as cool fingers of paranoia touched my brain. I glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was almost nine.

"Call me," Anderson said to me as if it were an order.

The doors sucked shut in her wake. I picked up the intercom phone and buzzed Rose.

"Where the hell's Chuck?" I asked.

"God only knows," Rose said, making no attempt to hide the disdain she felt for the young man.

"Please find him and tell him to get here now," I said. "He's making me crazy. And make a note of this phone call, as usual. Document everything."

"I always do:"

"I'm going to fire him one of these days," I said to Marino when I hung up. "As soon as I get enough on him. He's lazy and completely irresponsible, and he didn't used to be."

"He's more lazy and irresponsible than he used to be," Marino replied. "That guy ain't connecting the dots right, Doc. He's up to something, and just so you know, he's been trying to get on with the police department."

"Good," I said. "You guys can have him:"

"One of these wannabes who jacks off over uniforms, guns and flashing lights," he said as I began to unzip the pouch.

Marino's voice was losing its bluster. He was doing his best to be stoical.

"You all right?" I asked.

"Oh, yeah. 11 The stench slammed into us like a storm front.

"Shit!" he complained as I opened the sheets shrouding the body. "Goddamn-fucking-son-of-a-bitch!"

There were times when a body was in such horrific shape it became a surreal miasma of unnatural colors and textures and odors that could distort and disorient and drop someone to the floor. Marino fled to the counter, getting as far away from the gurney as he could, and it was all I could do not to laugh.

He looked perfectly ridiculous in surgical garb. When he wore shoe covers he tended to skate across the floor, and because the cap couldn't get much of a purchase on his balding head, it tended to pucker up like a cupcake paper. I gave him another fifteen minutes before he snatched it off as he always did.

"He can't help the condition he's in;" I reminded Marino.

He was busy stuffing a Vicks inhaler up each nostril.

"Now that's a little hypocritical," I commented as the doors slid open again and Chuck Ruffin walked in with X rays.

"It's not a good idea to escort someone in here and just disappear," I let Ruffin know with far more reserve than I felt. "Especially a rookie detective."

"I didn't know she was a rookie;' Ruffin replied.

"Whad'd you think she was?" Marino said. "She's never been down here before and looks about thirteen."

"Damn sure is flat-chested. Not the way I like 'em, let me tell you." Ruffin's words swaggered. "Lesbo alert! RWIRR-RWIRR-RWIRR!" He imitated a siren, flashing his hands like emergency lights.

"We don't leave unauthorized people alone with unexamined bodies. That includes cops. Experienced or not." I wanted to fire him on the spot.

"I know." He tried to be cute. "O. J. and the planted leather glove again."

Ruffin was a tall, slender young man with sleepy brown eyes and undisciplined blond hair that seemed to grow in many different directions, giving him a tousled, just-outof-bed look that women seemed to find irresistible. He could not charm me and no longer tried.

"What time did Detective Anderson show up this morning?" I asked him.

His answer was to go around flipping on light boxes. They glowed blankly along the upper walls.

"Sorry I'm late. I was on the phone. My wife's sick," he went on.

He had used his wife as an excuse so many times by now that she was chronically ill or a hypochondriac, had Munchausen syndrome, or was almost dead.

"I guess Rene decided not to stay…" he said, referring to Anderson.

"Rene?" Marino interrupted him. "Didn't know the two of you was close."

Ruffin began slipping films out of their big manila envelopes.

"Chuck, what time did Anderson get here?" I tried again.

"To be exact?" He thought for a moment. "I guess she got here about quarter after."

"After eight," I said.

..Yup;,

"And you let her in the morgue when you knew everybody would be in staff meeting?" I said as he slapped films on the light boxes. "When you knew the morgue would be deserted. Paperwork, personal effects and bodies all over the place."

"She'd never seen all of it, so I gave her the quick tour..: ' He talked on. "Plus, I was here. Trying to catch up on-counting pills."

He referred to the endless supply of prescription drugs that came in with most of our cases. Ruffin had the tedious chore of counting pills and disposing of them down the sink.

"Wow, look at that," he said.

X rays of different angles of the skull showed metal sutures in the left side of the jaw. They were as vivid as the stitches in a baseball.

"The Container Man's got a busted jaw," Ruffin said. "That right there's enough to I.D. him, isn't it, Dr. Scar"If we can ever get hold of his old films," I replied.

"That's always the big if," Ruffin said, and he was doing all he could to distract me because he knew he was in trouble.

I scanned the radio-opaque shadows and shapes of sinus and bone and saw no other fractures, no deformities or oddities. However, when I cleaned off the teeth, there was an accessory cusp of the Carabelli. All molars have four cusps, or protrusions. This one had had five.

"What's a Carabelli?" Marino wanted to know.

"Some person. I don't know who." I pointed out the tooth in question. "Upper maxilla. Lingual and mesial or towards the tongue and forward."

"I guess that's good," Marino said. "Not that I have a friggin' clue what you just said."

"An unusual feature," I said. "Not to mention his sinus configuration, fractured jaw. We got enough to I.D. him about half a dozen times if we find something premortem for comparison."

"We say that all the time, Doc," Marino reminded me. "Hell, you've had people in here with glass eyes, artificial legs, plates in their heads, signet rings, braces on their teeth, you name it, and we still never figure out who the hell they are because they're never reported missing. Or maybe they were and the case got lost in space. Or else eve couldn't find a single damn X ray or medical record."

"Dental restorations here and here," I said, pointing to several metal fillings that showed up brilliant white on the opaque shapes of two molars. "Looks like he had pretty good dental care. Fingernails neatly trimmed. Let's get him on the table. We need to move along. He's only getting worse."

12

Eyes bulged froglike, and the scalp and beard were sloughing off with the outer layer of darkening skin. His head lolled and he leaked what little fluid was left in him as I grabbed him around the knees and Ruffin got him under the arms. We struggled to lift him onto the portable table as Marino steadied the gurney.

"The whole point of these new tables," I gasped, "is so we don't have to do this!"

Not all removal services and funeral homes had caught on yet. They still clattered in with their stretchers and transferred the body to whatever old gurney they found instead of one of the new autopsy tables that we could roll right up to the sink. So far, my efforts to save our backs hadn't amounted to much.

"Yo, Chuckie-boy;" Marino said. "I hear you want to sign on with us."

"Who says?" Ruffin was clearly startled and instantly on the defensive.

The body thudded on stainless steel.

"That's the word on the street," Marino said.

Ruffin didn't reply as he hosed off the gurney. He mopped it dry with a towel, then covered it and a countertop with clean sheets while I took photographs.

"Well, let me just tell you," Marino said, "it ain't all it's cut out to be."

"Chuck," I said. "We need some more Polaroid film."

"Coming up."

"Reality's always a little different," Marino went on in his condescending tone. "It's driving around all night with nothing going on, bored out of your friggin' mind. It's being spat at, cussed, unappreciated, driving piece-of-shit cars while little assholes play politics and kiss ass and get nice offices and play golf with the brass."

Air blew, water drummed and flowed. I sketched the metal sutures and accessory cusp and wished the heaviness inside me would lift. Despite all I knew about how the body worked, I didn't understand-not really-how grief could begin in the brain and spread through the body like a systemic infection, eroding and throbbing, inflaming and numbing, and ultimately destroying careers and families, or in some sad cases, a person's physical life.

"Nice threads," Ruffin was saying. "Ar-man-i. Never seen it up close before."

"His crocodile shoes and belt alone probably cost a thousand dollars," I said.

"No shit?" Marino commented. "That's probably what killed him. His wife buys it for his birthday, he finds out what it cost and has a heart attack. You care if I light up in here, Doc?"

"Yes, I do. What about the temperature in Antwerp when the ship left? Did you ask Shaw about that?"

"Low of forty-nine, high of sixty-eight," Marino answered. "Same weird warm weather everybody else's been having. May as well spend Christmas with Lucy in Miami if the weather stays like- this. Either that or put up a palm tree in my living room."

The mention of Lucy's name squeezed my heart with a hard, cold hand. She had always been difficult and complicated. Very few people knew her, even if they thought they did. Crouched behind her bunker of intelligence, overachievement and risk-taking was a furious, wounded child who went after dragons the rest of us feared. She was terrified of abandonment, imagined or not. Lucy always did the rejecting first.

"You ever notice how most people don't seem to be dressed very nice when they die," Chuck said. "Wonder why that is."

"Look, I'll put on clean gloves and stand in the corner," Marino said. "I need a cigarette bad."

"Except last spring when those kids got killed on their way home from the prom," Chuck went on. "The guy's in this blue tux and comes in with the flower in his lapel."

The waistband of the jeans was wrinkled inside the belt.

"Pants are too big in the waist," I said, sketching it on a form. "Maybe by a size or two. He may have been heavier at some point."

"Hard to tell what the hell size he was," Marino said. "Right now he's got a gut bigger than mine."

"He's full of gas," I said.

"Too bad that's not your excuse."' Ruffin was getting bolder.

"Sixty-eight inches and weighs one hundred pounds, meaning, when you consider fluid loss, he was probably one-forty, one-fifty in life;' I calculated. "An average-sized man who, as I just said, may have been heavier at some earlier point, based on his clothing. He's got weird hair on his clothes. Six, seven inches long, very pale yellow.".

I turned the jeans' left pocket inside out and found more hair and a sterling silver cigar clipper and lighter. I set them on a clean sheet of white paper, careful not to ruin potential fingerprints. In the right pocket were two fivefranc coins, an English pound and a lot уf folded foreign cash that I was not familiar with.

"No wallet, no passport, no jewelry," I said.

"Definitely looks like robbery," Marino said. "Except for the stuff in his pockets. That doesn't make much sense. You'd think if he was robbed, the person would've taken that, too:' "Chuck, have you called Dr. Boatwright yet?" I asked.

He was one of the odontologists, or forensic dentists, we routinely borrowed from the Medical College of Virginia.

"Just gonna do that:'

He peeled off his gloves and went to the phone. I heard him opening drawers and cabinets.

"You seen the phone sheet?" he asked.

"You're the one who's supposed to keep up with things like that," I said testily.

"I'll be right back." Ruffin couldn't wait to disappear somewhere yet one more time.

He trotted off, and Marino followed him with his eyes.

"Dumb as a bag of hammers;" he said.

"I don't know what to do about him," I commented. "Because he really isn't dumb, Marino. That's part of the problem."

"You tried asking him what the shit's going on? Like is he having memory lapses, attention disorder or something? Maybe he hit his head on something or's been playing with himself too much."

"I haven't asked him those things specifically."

"Don't forget last month when he lost a bullet down the sink, Doc. Then he acted like it was your fault, which was the bullshit of all time. I mean, I was standing right there."

I was struggling with the dead man's wet, slimy jeans, trying to work them down his hips and thighs.

"You want to give me a hand?" I asked.

We carefully pulled the jeans over the knees and feet. We pulled tiff black briefs, socks and the T-shirt, and I placed them on the sheet-covered gurney. I examined them carefully for tears or holes or any obvious trace evidence. I noted that the back of the trousers, especially the seat of them, was much dirtier than the front. The backs of the shoes were scuffed.

"Jeans, black briefs and T-shirt are Armani and Versace. The briefs are inside out," I continued taking inventory. "Shoes, belt, socks are Armani. See the dirt and scuffing?" I pointed them out. "Could be consistent with him being dragged from behind, if someone had him under the arms."

"That's what I'm thinking," Marino said.

Some fifteen minutes later, the doors slid open and Ruffin walked in, a phone sheet in hand. He taped it up on a cabinet door.

"I miss anything?" he cheerfully asked.

"We'll take a look at the clothes with the Luma-Light, then let them dry and trace can do their thing with them," I instructed Ruffin in an unfriendly tone. "Let his other personal effects air-dry, then bag them."

He yanked on gloves.

"Ten-four," he said with an edge.

"Looks like you're already studying to get into the academy." Marino picked on him some more. "Good for you, kid."

13

I lost myself in what I was doing, my mind pulled into a body that was completely autolyzed and putrefied and hardly recognizable as human.

Death had rendered this man defenseless, and bacteria had escaped from the gastrointestinal tract, invading as it pleased, fomenting, fermenting, and filling every space with gas. Bacteria broke down cell walls and turned the blood in veins and arteries a greenish-black, making the entire circulatory system visible through the discolored skin like rivers and tributaries on a map.

Areas of the body that had been covered by clothing were in much better shape than the head and hands.

"God, how would you like to run into him when you're skinny-dipping at night?" Ruffin said, looking at the dead man.

"He can't help it," I said.

"And guess what, Chuckie-boy?" Marino said. "After you die someday, you're gonna look ugly as hell, too."

"Dу we know exactly where the container was in the ship's-hold?" I asked Marino.

"A couple rows down."

"What about weather conditions during the two weeks it was out at sea?"

"Mostly mild, averaging around sixty with a high of seventy. Merry El Niсo. People are doing Christmas shopping in their friggin' shorts."

"So you're thinking maybe this guy died on board and someone stuck him inside the container?" Ruffin asked.

"No, that ain't what I'm thinking, Chuckie-boy."

"The name's Chuck.".

"Depends on who's talking to you. So here's the daily double, Chuckie-boy. If you got tons of containers stacked like sardines in a hold, tell me how you sneak a dead body into one," Marino said. "No way you could even open the door. Plus the seal was intact."

I pulled a surgical lamp close and collected fibers and debris, using forceps and a lens, or, in some instances, swabs.

"Chuck, we need to check on how much formalin we've got," I said. "It was low the other day. Or have you already taken care of that?"

"Not yet."

"Don't inhale too many fumes," Marino said. "You can see what it does to all those brains you haul over to MCV"

Formalin was a diluted formaldehyde, a highly reactive chemical used to preserve or "fix" surgical sections or organs, or in anatomical donations, entire bodies. It killed tissue. It was extremely corrosive to respiratory passages, skin and eyes.

"I'll go check out the formalin;" Ruffin said.

"Not now you won't;" I said. "Not until we're done here.

He pulled off the cap of a permanent marker.

"How about buzzing Cleta to see if Anderson left," I said. "I don't want her wandering around somewhere."

"I'll do it;" Marino said.

"I gotta admit, it still blows my mind a little to see chicks chasing after killers." Ruffin directed this at Marino. "Back when you got started, they probably did nothing but check parking meters."

Marino went to the phone.

"Take off your gloves;" I called after him, because be always forgot, no matter how many Clean Hands signs I posted.

I moved the lens slowly and stopped. The knees looked abraded and dirty, as if he had been kneeling on a rough, dirty surface without his pants on. I checked his elbows. They looked dirty and abraded, too, but it was hard to tell with certainty because his skin was in such bad shape. I dipped a cotton swab in sterile water as Marino hung up the phone. I heard him tear open another pair of gloves.

"Anderson ain't here," he said. "Cleta said she left about a half hour ago."

"So what do you think about women lifting weights?" Ruffin asked Marino. "You see the muscles in Anderson's arms?"

I used a six-inch ruler as a scale. and started taking photographs with a thirty-five-millimeter camera and a macro lens. I found more dirty areas on the underside of the arms, and I swabbed them.

"I'm wondering if it was a full moon when the ship left Antwerp," Marino said to me.

"I guess if you want to live in a man's world you gotta be as strong as one;" Ruffin went on.

Running water was relentless and steel clanged against steel and overhead lights allowed no shadows.

"Well, it will be a new moon tonight;" I said. "Belgium's in the eastern hemisphere, but the lunar cycle would be the same there."

"So it could have been a full moon," Marino said.

I knew where he was going with this and my silence told him to stay away from the subject of werewolves.

"So what happened, Marino? The two of you arm-wrestle over your job?" Ruffin asked, cutting the twine around a bale of towels.

Marino's eyes were double barrels pointed at him.

"And I guess we know who won since she's the detective now and you're back in uniform," Ruffin said, smirking:

"You talking to me?"

"You heard me." Ruffin slid open a glass cabinet door.

"You know; it must be I'm getting old:" Marino snatched off his surgical cap and slammed it into the trash. "My hearing ain't what it used to be. But if I'm not mistaken, I believe you just pissed me off."

"What do you think of those iron women on TV? What about women wrestlers?" Ruffin kept going.

"Shut the fuck up," Marino told him.

"You're single, Marino. Would you go out with a woman like that?"

Ruffin had always resented. Marino, and now he had a chance to do something about it, or so he thought, because Ruffin's egocentric world turned on a very weak axis. In his dim way of seeing things, Marino was down and wounded. It was a good time to kick him around.

"Question is, would a woman like that go out with you?" Ruffin didn't have sense enough to run out of the room. "Or would any woman go out with you?"

Marino walked up to him. He got so close to Ruffin, they were face shield to face shield.

"I got a few little words of advice for you, asshole," Marino said, fogging up the plastic protecting his dangerous face. "Zip those sissy lips of yours before they kiss my fist. And put that tiny dick back in its holster before you hurt yourself with it."

Chuck's face turned scarlet, all this going on while the doors slid open and Neils Vander walked in carrying ink, a roller and ten print cards.

"Straighten up, and I mean now," I ordered Marino and Ruffin. "Or I'm throwing both of you out of here."

"Good morning," Vander said, as if it were.

"His skin's slipping badly," I told him.

"Just makes it easier."

Vander was the section chief of the fingerprints and impression lab, and wasn't bothered by much. It wasn't uncommon for him to shoo maggots away while he fingerprinted decomposed bodies, and he didn't flinch in burn cases when it was necessary to cut off the victim's fingers and carry them upstairs in ajar.

I had known him since the beginning of my time here, and he never seemed to get any older or change at all. He was still bald, tall and gangly and always lost in oversized lab coats that swirled and flapped around him as he hurried up and down halls.

Vander put on a pair of latex gloves and lightly held the dead man's hands, studying them, turning them this way and that.

"Easiest thing's gonna be to slide off the skin," he decided.

When a body was as decomposed as this one, the hand's top layer of skin slips off like a glove and, in fact, is called a glove. Vander worked fast, sliding off the gloves intact from each hand and working his own latex-sheathed hands inside them: Wearing the dead man's hands, in a sense, he inked each finger and rolled it onto a ten-print card. He removed the skin gloves and left them neatly on a surgical tray, then popped off his latex ones, before heading back upstairs.

"Chuck, put those in formalin," I said. "We'll want to save them."

He was sullen, screwing the lid off a plastic quart jar.

"Let's turn him," I said.

Marino helped us flip the body facedown. I found more dirt, mostly on the buttocks, and got swabs of that, too. I saw no injuries, only an area over the right upper back that seemed darker than the skin around it. I looked at it through a lens, staring, blanking out my thought process as I always did when looking for pattern injuries, bite marks or other elusive evidence. It was like scuba diving in water with almost no visibility. All I could make out were shades and shapes and wait until I bumped into something.

"Do you see this, Marino? Or is it just my imagination?" I asked.

He sniffed more Vicks vapors up his nose and leaned against the table. He looked and looked.

"Maybe," he said. "I don't know."

I wiped off the skin with a wet towel, and the outer layer, or epidermis, slipped right off. The flesh beneath, or dermis, looked like soggy brown corrugated paper stained with dark ink.

"A tattoo." I was pretty sure. "The ink penetrated to the dermis, but I can't make out anything. Just a big splotch."

"Like one of those purple birthmarks some people have," Marino offered.

I leaned closer with the lens and adjusted a surgical lamp to its best advantage. Ruffin was obsessively polishing a stainless steel countertop and pouting.

"Let's try UV," I decided.

The multiband ultraviolet lamp was very simple to use and looked rather much like the handheld scanners in airports. We dimmed the lights and I tried longwave UV first, holding the lamp close to the area I was interested in. Nothing fluoresced, but a hint of purple seemed to feather out in a pattern, and I wondered if this might mean we were picking up white ink. Under UV light, anything white, such as the sheet on the nearby gurney, will radiate like snow in moonlight and possibly pick up a blush of violet from the lamp. I slid the selector down and tried shortwave next. I could see no difference between the two.

"Lights;" I said.

Ruffin turned them up.

"I would think tattoo ink would light up like neon," Marino said.

"Fluorescent inks do," I replied. "But since high concentrations of iodine and mercury aren't so great for your health, they're not used anymore."

It was past noon when I finally began the autopsy, making the Y incision and removing the breastplate of ribs. I found pretty much what I expected. The organs were soft and friable. They virtually fell apart at the touch and I had to be very careful when weighing and sectioning them. I couldn't tell much about the coronary arteries except that they were not occluded. There was no blood left, only the putrefied fluid called oily effusate that I collected from the pleural cavity. The brain was liquefied.

"Samples of the brain and the effusate go to tox for a STAT alcohol," I said to Ruffin as I worked.

Urine and bile had seeped through the cells of their hollow organs and were gone, and there.was nothing left of the stomach. But when I reflected back flesh from the skull, I thought I had my answer. He had staining of the petrous ridge of the temporal bones and mastoid air cells, bilaterally.

Although I couldn't diagnose anything with certainty until all toxicology results were back, I was fairly certain this man had drowned.

"What?" Marino was staring at me.

"See the staining here?" I pointed it out. "Tremendous hemorrhaging, probably while he struggled as he was drowning:"

The phone rang and Ruffin trotted over to answer it.

"When's the last time you dealt with Interpol?" I asked Marino.

"Five, maybe six years ago, when that fugitive from Greece ended up over here and got in a fight in a bar off Hull Street."

"There certainly are international connections in this one. And if he's missing in France, England, Belgium or God knows where, if he's some sort of international fugitive, we're never going to know it here in Richmond unless Interpol can link him with someone in their computer system."

"You ever talked to them?" he asked me.

"No. That's for you guys to do."

"You ought to hear all these cops hoping they get a case that involves Interpol, but if you ask 'em what Interpol is, they ain't got a clue,' Marino said. "You want to know the truth, I got no interest in dealing with Interpol. They scare me like the CIA. I don't even want people like that knowing I exist."

"That's ridiculous. You know what Interpol means, Marino?"

"Yeah. Secret Squirrels."

"It's a contraction of international police. The point is to get police in member countries to work together, talk to each other. Sort of what you wish people in your department would do."

"Then they must not have a Bray working for them."

I was watching Ruffin on the phone. Whomever he was talking to, he was trying to keep it private.

"Telecommunication, a restricted worldwide law enforcement web… You know, I don't know how much more I can stand this. He not only counters me, he flaunts it," I muttered, staring at. Ruffin as he hung up.

Marino glared at him.

"Interpol circulates color-coded notices for wanted and missing people, warnings, inquiries," I went on in a distracted way as Ruffin stuffed a towel in the back pocket of his scrubs and got a pill counter out of a cabinet.

He sat on a stool in front of a steel sink, his back to me. He opened a brown paper bag marked with a case number and pulled out three bottles of Advil and two bottles of prescription drugs.

"An unidentified body is a black notice," I said. "Usually suspected fugitives with international ties. Chuck, why are you doing that in here?"

"Like I told you, I'm behind on it. Never seen so many damn pills come in with bodies, Dr. Scaipetta. I can't keep up anymore. And I get up tу sixty or seventy or something, and the phone rings and I lose count and have to start all over again."

"Yeah, Chuckie-boy," Marino said. "I can see why you'd lose count real easy."

Ruffin started whistling.

"What are you so happy about all of a sudden?" Marino irritably asked, as Ruffin used tweezers to fill rows with pills on the little blue plastic tray.

"We're going to need to get fingerprints, dental charts, anything we can," I said to Marino as I removed a section of deep muscle from the thigh for DNA. "Anything we can get needs to be sent to them," I added.

"Them?" Marino asked.

I was getting exasperated.

"Interpol," I said tersely.

The phone rang again.

"Hey, Marino, can you get that? I'm counting."

"Tough shit," he said to Ruffin.

"Are you listening to me?" I looked up at Marino.

"Yeah," he said. "The state liaison's at State Police Criminal Investigation, used to be some guy who was a first sergeant and I remember asking him if he wanted to have a beer sometime at the F.O.P, or go grab a bite at Chetti's with some of the guys. You know, just being friendly, and he never even changed his tуne of voice. I'm pretty sure I was being taped."

I worked on a section of vertebral bone that I would clean with sulfuric acid and have trace check it for microscopic organisms called diatoms that were found in water all over the world.

"Wish I could remember his name," Marino was saying. "So he took all the info, contacted D.C., and D.C. contacted Lyon, where all the secret squirrels are. I hear they got this real spooky-looking building on a hidden road, sort of like Batman and his cave. Electrified fences, razor wire and gates and guards carrying machine guns, the whole nine yards:' "You've watched too much James Bond," I said.

"Not since Sean Connery quit. Movies suck these days, and nothing's good on TV anymore. I don't even know why I bother."

"Maybe you ought to consider reading a book now and then.,.

"Dr. Scarpetta?" Chuck said, hanging up. "That was Dr. Cooper. The STAT alcohol's oh-point-oh-eight in the effusate, and zip-o in the brain."

The 0.08 didn't mean much, since the brain didn't show an alcohol level, too. Perhaps the man was drinking before he died, or maybe what we had was postmortemgenerated.alcohol caused by bacteria. There were no other fluids for comparison, no urine or blood or fluid of the eye known as vitreous, which was too bad. If 0.08 was a true level, it might, at the very least, show that this man would have been somewhat impaired and therefore more vulnerable.

"How are you going to sign him out?" Marino asked.

"Acute seasickness." Ruffin popped a towel at a fly.

"You know, you're really beginning to get on my nerves;" Marino warned him.

"Cause of death undetermined," I said. "Manner, homicide. This isn't some poor dockworker who accidentally got locked inside a container. Chuck, I need a surgical pan. Leave it right here on the counter, and before the day is out, you and I need to talk:'

His eyes darted away from me like minnows. I pulled off my gloves and called Rose.

"Would you mind going into archives and finding one of my old cork cutting boards?" I asked her.

OSHA had decided that all cutting boards had to be Teflon-coated because porous ones were susceptible to contamination. That was appropriate if one worked around live patients or was making bread. I complied, but it didn't mean I threw anything away.

"I also need wig pins," I went on. "There should be a little plastic box of them in the right top drawer of my desk. Unless someone stole those, too."

"Not a problem," Rose said.

"I think the boards are on a bottom shelf in the back of storage, next to the boxes of old medical examiner handbooks:' "Anything else?"

"I don't guess Lucy's called," I said.

"Not yet. If she does, I'll find you."

I thought for a minute. It was past one o'clock. She was off the plane by now and could have called. Depression and fear rolled over me again.

"Send flowers to her office," I said. "With a note that says, `Thanks for the visit, love, Aunt Kay.' "

Silence.

"Are you still there?" I asked my secretary.

"You sure that's what you want to say?" she asked.

I hesitated.

"Tell her I love her and I'm sorry," I said.

14

0rdinarily, I would have used a permanent marker to outline the area of skin I needed to excise from a dead body, but in this case, no marker was going to show up on skin in such bad condition.

I did the best I could with a six-inch plastic ruler, measuring from the right base of the neck to the shoulder, and down to the bottom of the shoulder blade and back up.

"Eight and a half by seven by two by four," I dictated to Ruffin.

Skin is elastic. Once it is excised, it will contract, and it was important when I pinned it to the corkboard that I stretched it back to its original dimensions or any images that might be tattooed on the skin would be distorted.

Marino had left, and my staff was busy in their offices or the autopsy suite. Every now and then the closed-circuit TV showed a car pulling into the bay to bring a body or take one away. Ruffin and I were alone behind the closed steel doors of the decomposed room. I was going to hold him to a conversation.

"If you'd like to go with the police department," I said, "fine."

Glass clacked as he placed clean blood tubes in a rack.

"But if you're going to stay here, Chuck, you're going to have to be present, accountable and respectful:"

I retrieved a scalpel and a pair of forceps from the surgical table, and glanced at him. He seemed to be expecting what I said and had already thought about how he was going to reply.

"I may not be perfect, but I'm accountable," he said.

"Not these days. I need more clamps."

"There's a lot going on," he said as he retrieved them from a tray and set them within my reach. "In my personal life, I mean. The wife, the house we bought. You wouldn't believe all the problems with it."

"I'm sorry for your difficulties, but I have an entire state system to run. I frankly don't have time for excuses. If you don't carry your load, we have big problems. Don't make me walk into the morgue and find you haven't set up first. Don't make me look for you one more time."

"We already have big problems," he said as if this were the shot he'd been waiting to fire.

I began the incision.

"You just don't know it," he added.

"Then why don't you tell me what these big problems are, Chuck?" I said. I reflected back the dead man's skin, down to the subcutaneous layer. Ruffin watched me clamp cut edges together to keep the skin taut. I stopped what I was doing and looked across the table at him.

"Go on," I said. "Tell me:' "I don't think it's my place to tell you;' Ruffin said, and I saw something in his eyes that unnerved me. "Look, Dr. Scarpetta. I know I haven't been Johnny-on-the-spot. I know I've slipped off to go to job interviews and maybe just haven't been accountable like I should be. And I don't get along with Marino. I admit all of it. But I'll tell you what everyone else won't if you promise not to punish me for it."

"I don't punish people for being honest," I said, angry that he would even suggest such a thing.

He shrugged, and I caught a glint of self-satisfaction because he had rattled me and he knew it.

"I don't punish, period," I said. "I simply expect people to do what's right, and if they don't, they punish themselves. If you don't last in this job, it's your fault."

"Maybe I used the wrong word;" he replied, moving back to the counter and leaning against it, arms crossed. "I don't express myself as good as you do, that's for sure. I just don't want you to get upset with me for shooting straight with you. Okay?"

I didn't answer him.

"Well, everybody's sorry about what happened last year," he began his opening argument. "No one can imagine how you've dealt with it. Really. I mean, if someone did that to my wife, I don't know what I would do, especially if it was something like what happened to Special Agent Wesley."

Ruffin had always referred to Benton as "special agent;" which I'd always thought was rather silly. If anyone had been unpretentious, if not embarrassed by the title, it was Benton. But as I pondered Marino's derisive remarks about Ruffin's infatuation with law enforcement, I gained more understanding. My wispy, weak morgue supervisor had probably been in awe of a veteran FBI agent, especially one who was a psychological profiler, and it occurred to me that Ruffin's good behavior in those earlier days might have had more to do with Benton than me.

"It affected all of us, too," Ruffin was saying. "He used to come down here, you know, and order deli trays, pizza, joke around with us and shoot the breeze. A big, important guy like him not having any kind of attitude.. It blew my mind."

The pieces of Ruffin's past slipped into place, too. His father had died in an automobile accident when Ruffin was a child. He had been raised by his mother, a formidable, intelligent woman who taught school. His wife was very strong, too, and now he worked for me. I always found it fascinating that so many people returned to the scenes of their childhood crimes, repeatedly seeking out the same villain, which in this case was a female authority figure like me.

"Everybody's been treating you like we're walking on eggshells," Ruffin kept on making his case. "So no one's said anything when you don't pay attention, and all kinds of things are going on that you don't have a clue about."

"Like what?" I asked as I carefully turned a corner with the scalpel.

"Well, for one thing, we got a damn thief in the building," he retorted. "And I'm betting it's someone on our staff. It's been going on for weeks and you haven't done a thing about it."

"I didn't know about it until recently."

"Proving my point."

"That's ridiculous. Rose doesn't withhold information from me, " I said.

"People treat her with kid gloves, too. Face it, Dr. Scarpetta. To the office, she's your snitch. People don't confide in her."

I willed myself to concentrate as his words stung my feelings and my pride. I continued reflecting back tissue, careful not to buttonhole it or cut through it. Ruffin waited for my reaction. I met his eyes.

"I don't have a snitch," I said. "I don't need one. Every member of my staff has always known he can come into my office and discuss anything with me."

His silence seemed a gloating indictment. He continued his defiant, smug pose, enjoying this immensely. I rested my wrists on the steel table.

"I don't think it's going to be necessary to plead my case to anyone, Chuck," I said. "I think you're the only one on my staff who has a problem with me. Of course, I can understand why you might feel at odds with a woman boss when it appears that all of the power figures in your life have been women."

The gleam in his eyes blinked out at the touch of his switch. Then anger hardened his face. I resumed reflecting back slippery, fragile tissue.

"But I appreciate your expressing your thoughts," I said in a cool, calm way.

"It's not just my thoughts," he replied, rudely. "Fact is, everyone thinks you're on your way out."

"I'm glad you seem to know what everybody thinks," I replied without showing the fury I felt.

"It's not hard. I'm not the only one who's noticed how you don't do things the way you used to. And you know you don't. You've got to admit that."

"Tell me what I should admit."

He seemed to have a list all ready.

"Out-of-character things. Like working yourself into the ground and going to scenes you don't need to, so you're tired all the time and don't notice what's going on in the office. And then upset people call and you don't take time to talk to them like you used to."

"What upset people?" My self-control was about to snap. "I always talk to families, to anyone who asks, as long as the individual has a right to the information."

"Maybe you should check with Dr. Fielding and ask him how many of your calls he's taken, how many families of your cases he's dealt with, how much he's covered up for you. And then your thing on the Internet. That's what's really gone too far. It's sort of the last straw."

I-was baffled.

"What thing on the Internet?" I demanded.

"Your chats or whatever it is you do. To be honest, since I don't have a home computer and don't use AOL or anything, I haven't seen it for myself."

Bizarre, angry thoughts flew through my mind like a thousand starlings and overshadowed every perception I'd ever had about my life. A myriad of ugly, dark thoughts clung to my reason and dug in with their claws.

"I didn't mean to make you feel bad," Chuck said. "And I hope you know I understand how everything could get like this. After what you've been through."

I didn't want to hear another goddamn word about what I'd been through.

"Thank you for your understanding, Chuck," I said, my eyes piercing his until he looked away.

"We've got that case coming in from Powhatбn, and it should have been here by now, if you want me to check on it," he said, anxious to leave the room.

"Do that, and then get this body back in the fridge."

"Sure thing," he said.

The doors shut behind him, returning silence to the room. I reflected back the last of the tissue and placed it on the cutting board as frigid paranoia and self-doubt seeped under the heavy door of my self-confidence. I began anchoring the tissue with hatpins, stretching it and measuring and stretching. I set the corkboard inside the surgical pan and covered it with a green cloth and placed it inside the refrigerator.

I showered and changed in the locker room, and cleared my thoughts of phobias and indignation. I took a long enough break to drink a cup of coffee; it was so old, the bottom of the pot was black. I started a new coffee fund by giving my office administrator twenty dollars.

"Jean, have you been reading these chat sessions that I'm supposedly having on the Internet?" I asked her.

She shook her head but looked uncomfortable. I tried Cleta and Polly next and asked the same question.

Blood rose to Cleta's cheeks, and with eyes cast down she said, "Sometimes."

"Pony?" I asked.

She stopped typing and also blushed.

"Not all the time;" she replied.

I nodded.

"It's not me," I told them. "Someone is impersonating me. I wish I'd known about it before now."

Both of my clerks looked confused. I wasn't sure they believed me.

"I can certainly understand why you didn't want to say anything to me when you became aware of these so-called chat sessions," i went on. "I probably wouldn't have either if the roles were reversed. But I need your help. ь you have any ideas about who might be doing this, will you tell me?"

They looked relieved. `That's awful;' Cleta said with feeling. "Whoever's doing that ought to.go to jail."

"I'm sorry I didn't say anything," Polly contritely added. "I don't have any idea about who would do something like that:"

"I mean it sort of sounds like you when you read it. That's the problem," Cleta added.

"Sort of sounds like me?" I said, frowning.

"You know, it gives advice about accident prevention, security, how to deal with grief and all sorts of medical things."

"You're saying it sounds like a doctor is writing it, or someone trained in health care?" I asked as my incredulity grew.

"Well, whoever it is seems to know what he's talking about," Cleta replied. "But it's more conversational. Not like reading an autopsy report or anything like that."

"I don't think it sounds much like her," Polly said. "Now that I think about it."

I noticed a case file on her desk that was open to color computer-generated autopsy photographs of a man whose shotgun-blasted head looked like a gory eggcup. I recognized him as the murder victim whose wife had been writing me from prison, accusing me of everything from incompetence to racketeering.

"What's this?" I asked her.

"Apparently, the Times-Dispatch and the A.G.'s office have heard from that crazy woman, and Ira Herbert called here a little while ago, asking about it," she told me.

Herbert was the police reporter for the local newspaper. If he was calling, that probably meant I was being sued.

"And then Harriet Cummins called Rose to get a copy of his records," Cleta explained. "It appears his psycho wife's latest story is he put the shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger with his toe."

"The poor man was wearing army boots," I replied. "He couldn't possibly have pulled the trigger with his toe, and he was shot at close range in the back of the head."

"I don't know what it is with people anymore," Polly said with a sigh. "All they do is lie and cheat, and if they get locked up, they just sit around and stir up trouble and file lawsuits. It makes me sick."

"Me, too," Cleta agreed.

"Do you know where Dr. Fielding is?" I asked both of them.

"I saw him wandering around a little while ago," Polly said.

I found him in the medical library thumbing through Nutrition in Exercise and Sport. He smiled when he saw me, but looked tired and a little out of sorts.

"Not eating enough carbos," he said, tapping a page with his index finger. "I keep telling myself if I don't get fiftyfive to seventy percent of my diet in carbos, I get glycogen depletion. I haven't had much energy lately…"

"Jack." My tone cut him off. "I need you to be as honest as you've ever been with me."

I shut the library door. I told him what Ruffin had said, and a glint of painful recognition showed in my deputy chief's face. He pulled out a chair and sat down at a table. He closed his book. I sat next to him and we turned our chairs facing each other.

"Something's been going around about Secretary Wagner getting rid of you," he said. "I think it's bullshit and I'm sorry you even heard about it. Chuck's an idiot."

Sinclair Wagner was the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and only he or the governor could appoint or fire the chief medical examiner.

"When did you start hearing these rumors?" I asked.

"Recently. Weeks ago."

"Fired for what reason?" I quizzed him.

"Supposedly, you two aren't getting along."

"That's ridiculous!"

"Or he's not happy with you or something, and consequently, the governor isn't, either."

"Jack, please be more specific."

He hesitated and shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He looked guilty, as if my problems were somehow his fault.

"Okay, to lay it all out, Dr. Scarpetta," he said, "the word is that you've embarrassed Wagner with this chat stuff you're doing on the Internet:'

I leaned closer to him and put my hand on his arm.

"It's not me doing it," I promised him. "It's someone impersonating me."

He gave me a puzzled look.

"You're kidding;' he said.

"Oh, no. There's nothing funny about any of this:' "Jesus Christ," he said with disgust. "Sometimes I think the Internet's the worst thing that's ever happened to us."

"Jack, why didn't you just ask me about it? If you thought I was doing something as inappropriate… well, have I somehow managed to estrange everybody in this office so nobody feels he can tell me anything anymore?"

"It's not that," he said. "It's not a reflection of people not caring or feeling estranged. If anything, we care so much I guess we got overprotective."

"Protecting me from what?" I wanted to know.

"Everyone should be allowed to grieve and even sit it out on the bench for a while," he quietly replied. "No one's expected you to function on all cylinders. I sure as hell wouldn't be. Christ, I barely made it through my divorce."

"I'm not sitting it out on the bench, Jack. And I'm functioning on all cylinders. My private, personal grief is just that."

He looked at me for a long moment, holding my gaze and not buying what I'd just said.

"I wish it were that easy," he said.

"I never said it was easy. Getting up some mornings is the hardest thing I've ever done. But I can't let my own problems interfere with what I'm doing here, and I don't."

"Frankly, I haven't known what to do, and I feel really bad about it;" he confessed. "I haven't known how to handle his death, either. I know how much you loved him. Over and over it's gone through my mind to take you out to dinner or ask if there's anything I can fix or do around your house. But I've had my own problems, too, as you know. And I guess I didn't feel there was anything I could offer you except carrying as much of the load here as I can."

"Have you been covering calls for me? When families have needed to get me on the phone?" I was out with it.

"It's not been a problem," he said. "It's the least I can do."

"Good God," I said, bending my head and running my fingers through my hair. "I don't believe this."

"I was just doing…"

"Jack," I interrupted him, "I've been here every day except when I'm in court. Why would any of my calls be defiected to you? This is something I know nothing about."

Now it was Fielding's turn to look confused.

"Don't you realize how despicable it would be for me to refuse to talk to bewildered, grieving people?" I went on. "For me not to answer their questions or even seem to care?"

"I just thought…"

"This is crazy!" I exclaimed, and my stomach was a tight fist. "If I were like that, I wouldn't deserve to do this work. If I ever become like that, I should quit! Of all people, how could I not care about another person's loss? How could I not feel and understand and do everything I could to answer the questions, lessen the pain and fight to send the bastard who did it to the fucking electric chair."

I was near tears. My voice shook."Or lethal injection. Shit, I think we should go back to hanging assholes in the public square," I declared.

Fielding glanced toward the shut door as if he were afraid someone might hear me. I took a deep breath and steadied myself.

"How many times has this happened?" I asked him. "How many times have you taken my calls?"

"A lot lately," he reluctantly told me.

"How many is a lot?"

"Probably almost every other case you've done in the last couple months:' "That can't be right," I retorted.

He was silent, and as I thought about it, doubts crowded my mind again. Families hadn't seemed to be calling me as much as they used to, but I hadn't paid much attention because there was never a pattern, never a way to predict. Some relatives wanted every detail. Others called to vent their rage. Some people went into denial and wanted to know nothing.

"Then I can assume there have been complaints about me," I said. "Grieving, upset people thinking I'm arrogant and cold-blooded. And I don't blame them."

"Some have complained."

I could tell by his face that there had been more than just a few complaints. I had no doubt that letters had been written to the governor, too.

"Who's been rolling these calls over to you?" I asked matter-of-factly and quietly because I was afraid I might roar like a tornado down the hall and swear at everyone once I left this room.

"Dr. Scarpetta, it didn't seem unusual that you wouldn't want to talk about some things to traumatized people right now," he tried to make me understand. "Some painful things that might remind you… it made sense to me. Most of these people just want a voice, a doctor, and if I've not been around, either Jill or Bennett has," he said, referring to two of my resident doctors. "I guess the only big problem is when none of us has been available and somehow Dan or Amy have ended up with the calls."

Dan Chong and Amy Forbes were rotating medical students here to learn and observe. Never in a million years should they have been put in a position to talk to families.

"Oh, no," I said, closing my eyes at the nightmarish thought.

"Mainly after hours. That damn answering service," he said.

"Who's been rolling the telephone calls over to you?" I asked him again, this time more firmly.

He sighed. Fielding looked as grim and as worried as he'd ever been.

"Tell me;' I insisted.

"Rose," he said.

15

Rose was buttoning her coat and wrapping a long silk scarf around her neck when I walked into her office a few minutes before six o'clock. She had been working late as usual. Sometimes I had to make her go home at the end of the day, and although that had impressed and touched me in the past, now it made me uneasy.

"I'll walk you to your car;" I offered.

"Oh," she said. "Well, you certainly don't have to do that."

Her face got tight, her fingers suddenly fumbling with kid leather gloves. She knew I had something on my mind she didn't want to hear, and I suspected she knew exactly what it was. We said little to each other as we followed the hallway to the front office, our feet quiet on the carpet, the awkwardness between us palpable.

My heart was heavy. I wasn't sure if I was angry or crushed, and I began to wonder all sorts of things. What else had Rose kept from me and how long had it been going on? Was her fierce loyalty a possessiveness I hadn't recognized? Did she feel I belonged to her?

"I don't guess Lucy ever called," I said as we emerged into the empty marble lobby.

"No," Rose replied. "I tried her office several times, too.

"She got the flowers?"

"Oh, yes."

The night guard waved at us.

"It's cold out there! Where's your coat?" he said to me.

"I'll be all right," I answered him with a smile, and then to Rose I said, "We know that Lucy actually saw them?"

She looked confused.

"The flowers," I said. "Do we know if Lucy saw them?"

"Oh, yes," my secretary said again. "Her supervisor said she came in and saw them, read the card and everybody was teasing her, asking who'd sent them."

"I don't guess you know if she took them home with her."

Rose glanced over at me as we went out of the building into the dark, empty parking lot. She looked old and sad, and I didn't know if her eyes were tearing up because of me or the cold, sharp air.

"I don't know," she answered me.

"My scattered troops," I muttered.

She turned her collar up to her ears and tucked in her chin.

"It has come to this," I said. "When Carrie Gretten murdered Benton, she took out all the rest of us, too. Didn't she, Rose?"

"Of course it's had its horrendous effect. I've not known what I can do for you, but I've tried."

She glanced over at me as we walked, hunched against the cold.

"I've tried as hard as I can and still do," she went on.

"Everybody scattered," I muttered. "Lucy's angry with me, and when she gets that way, she always does the same thing. She shuts me out. Marino's not a detective anymore. And now I find out that you've been rolling my telephone calls over to Jack without asking me, Rose. Distraught families haven't been allowed to get through to me. Why would you do such a thing?"

We had reached her blue Honda Accord. Keys jingled as she dug for them in her big pocketbook.

"Isn't that funny," she said. "I was afraid you were going to ask me about your schedule. You're teaching at the Institute more than ever, and as I worked on next month's calendar, I realized you are terribly overcommitted. I should have picked upon it earlier and prevented it."

"That's the least of my worries at the moment," I replied, and I tried not to sound upset. "Why did you do this to me?" I said, and I wasn't talking about my commitments. "You shielded me from phone calls? You hurt me as a person and a professional."

Rose unlocked the door and started the engine, turning on the heat to warm up the car for her lonely ride home.

"I'm doing what you instructed me to do, Dr. Scarpetta," she finally answered me, her breath smoking out.

"I never instructed you to do such a thing, nor would I ever" I said, not believing what I was hearing. "And you know that. You know how I feel about being accessible to families:'

Of course she knew. I had gotten rid of two forensic pathologists in the -last five years because they had been so unavailable and indifferent to the grieving left behind.

"It wasn't with my blessing," Rose said, sounding like her mothering self again.

"When did I supposedly say this to you?"

"You didn't say it. You e-mailed it. This was back in late August."

"I never e-mailed such a thing to you," I told her. "Did you save it?"

"No," she said with regret. "I generally don't save e-mail. I have no reason to. I'm sorry I have to use it at all."

"What did this e-mail message allegedly from me say?"

"1 need you to redirect as many calls from families as you can. It's too hard for me right now. I know you understand Or words to that effect."

"And you didn't question this?" I said in disbelief.

She turned the heat down.

"Of course I did," she replied. "I e-mailed you right back and asked you about it. I voiced my concerns, and you replied that I was just to do it and not discuss it anymore:' "I never got an e-mail like that from you;" I told her.

"I don't know what to say," she replied, fastening her shoulder harness. "Except is it possible you just don't remember? I forget e-mails all the time. I'll say I didn't say something and then find out I did."

"No. It isn't possible."

"Then it would seem to me someone is pretending to be you.

"Is? Have there been more?"

"Not many," she replied. "Just one here and there, warm ones thanking me for being so supportive. And let's see…?"

She searched her memory. Lights in the parking lot made her car look dark green instead of blue. Her face was in shadows and I could not read her eyes. She tapped her gloved fingers on the steering wheel while I stood looking down at her. I was freezing.

"I know what it was," she suddenly said. "Secretary Wagner wanted you to meet with him and you told me to let him know you couldn't at that time."

"What?" I exclaimed.

"This was early last week;' she added.

"E-mail again?"

"Sometimes it's the only way to get hold of people these days. His assistant e-mailed me and I e-mailed you-you were in court somewhere. Then you e-mailed me back that evening, I guess from home."

"This is crazy;' I said, my mind running after possibilities and catching nothing.

Everyone in my office had my e-mail address. But no one except me should have my password, and obviously, no one could sign on as me without it. Rose was thinking the same thing.

"I don't know how this could happen," she said, then exclaimed, "Wait a minute. Ruth sets up AOL on each person's computer."

Ruth Wilson was my computer analyst.

"Of course. And she had to have my password in'order to do that," I carried out the thought. "But Rose, she would never do anything like this."

"Never in a million years;" Rose agreed. "But she must have the passwords written down somewhere. She couldn't possibly remember all of them."

"One would think so."

"Why don't you get inside the car before you die of exposure;" she said.

"You go on home and get some rest," I replied. "I'm going to do the same thing."

"Of course you won't;" she chided me. "You'll go right back into your office and try to figure everything out."

She was right. I walked back to the building as she drove off, and I wondered how I could be so foolish as to have gone out the door without a coat. I was stiff and numb. The night guard shook his head.

"Dr. Scarpetta, you need to dress warmer than that!"

"You're absolutely right," I said.

I passed the magnetic key over the lock and the first set of glass doors clicked free, then I unlocked the one to my wing of the building. It was absolutely silent inside, and when I turned into Ruth's office, I stood for a moment, just looking around at upright microcomputers and printers, and a map on a screen that showed if the connections to our other offices were trouble-free.

The floor behind her desk was a thick hank of cables, and printouts of software programming that made no sense to me were stacked all over the place. I scanned crammed bookshelves. I walked over to filing cabinets and tried to open a drawer. Every one of them was locked.

Good for you, Ruth, I thought.

I returned to my office and tried her home number.

"Hello?" she answered.

She sounded harried. There was a baby screaming in the background, and her husband was saying something about a frying pan.

"I'm sorry to bother you at home," I said.

"Dr. Scarpetta," she was very surprised. "You're not bothering me. Frank, can you take her in the other room?"

"I've got just one quick question," I said. "Is there a place you keep all our AOL passwords?"

"Is there a problem?" she quickly replied.

"It appears someone knows my password and is signing on to AOL as me." I didn't mince words. "I want to know how someone could possibly have gotten hold of my password. Is there any way?"

"Oh, no," she said, dismayed. "Are you sure?"

"Yes:' "Obviously, you haven't told anybody what it is," she suggested.

I thought hard for a moment. Not even Lucy knew my password. Nor would she care.

"Other than you," I said to Ruth, "I can't imagine who."

"You know I wouldn't give it to anyone!"

"I believe that," I replied, and I did.

For one thing, Ruth would never jeopardize her job that way.

"I keep everyone's addresses and passwords in a computer file that no one can access," she said.

"What about a hard copy?"

"In a file in a filing cabinet, which I keep locked."

"At all times?"

She hesitated, then said, "Well, not all the time. Certainly after hours, but they're unlocked much of the day, unless I'm in and out a lot. But I'm in my office most of the time. Really, it's only when I get coffee and eat lunch in the break room."

"What's the file's name?" I asked as paranoia towered like storm clouds.

"E-mail," she replied, knowing how I was going to feel about that. "Dr. Scarpetta, I've got thousands of files filled with programming codes and updates, patches, bugs, new things coming out, you name it. If I don't label them fairly precisely, I can never find anything."

"I understand," I said. "I have the same problem:' "I can change your password first thing in the morning."

"That's a good idea. And Ruth, let's not put it anywhere that anyone can find it this time. Not in that file, okay?"

"I hope I'm not in trouble," she uneasily said as her baby continued to scream.

"You aren't, but someone is," I told her. "And maybe you can help me figure out who that is."

It didn't take much intuition on my part to immediately think of Ruffin. He was clever. It was obvious he didn't like me. Ruth routinely kept her door shut so she could concentrate. I didn't suppose it would have been hard for Ruffin to slip inside her office and shut the door while she was in the break room.

"This conversation is absolutely confidential," I said to Ruth. "You can't even tell friends or family."

"You have my word on that."

"What's Chuck's password?"

"R-O-O-S-T R. I remember because it irritated me when he wanted it assigned to him. As if he's the rooster in the henhouse," she said. "His address, as you probably know, is C-H-U-K-O-C-M-E, as in Chuck, Office of the-Chief Medical Examiner."

"And what if I were signed on and someone else tried at the same time?" I then asked.

"The person trying would be kicked off and told someone was already signed on. There would be an error message and an alert. Now the reverse isn't true. If, let's say, the bad guy's already signed on and you try, although you get the error message, he isn't alerted at all."

"So someone could try to do it while I'm already logged on, and I'm not going to know it."

"Exactly.".

"Does Chuck have a home computer?"

"He asked me one time what to get that was affordable, and I told him to try a consignment shop. I gave him the name of one."

"The name?"

"Disk Thrift. It's owned by a friend of mine."

"Any way you could call this person at home and find out if Chuck bought anything from them?"

"I can try."

"I'll be at the office for a while;" I said.

I brought up the menu on my computer and looked at the icon for AOL. I logged on without a problem, meaning no one else had done so first. I was tempted to sign on as Ruffin to see who he might be corresponding with and if it,might tell me more about what he was up to, but I was afraid. I was chilled by the thought of breaking into someone's mailbox.

I paged Marino, and when I got him on the phone, I explained the situation to him and asked his opinion about what I should do.

"Hell," he said without pause. "I'd do it. I always told you I didn't trust that little shit. And you know what else, Doc? How do you know he hadn't gone into your mail and deleted things, or even sent things to people other than Rose?"

"You're right," I said, infuriated by the idea. "I'll let you know what I find."

Ruth called back minutes later and sounded excited.

"He bought a computer and printer last month," she reported. "For about six hundred dollars. And the computer came with a modem."

"And we have AOL software here."

"Tons of it. If he didn't buy his own, he certainly could have gotten his hands on it:"

"We may have a very serious situation on our hands. It's vital you don't say a word," I reminded her again.

"I've never liked Chuck."

"And you can't say that to people either," I said.

I hung up and put my coat on and felt bad about Rose. I was certain she was upset. It wouldn't have surprised me if she had cried all the way home. She was stoical and rarely conveyed how she felt, and I knew if she thought she had hurt me, she would be undone. I went out to my car. I wanted to make her feel better and I needed her help. Chuck's e-mail would have to wait.,„ Rose had gotten weary of running a house and had moved into an apartment in the near West End, off Grove Avenue, several blocks from a cafй called Du Jour, where I now and then ate Sunday brunch. Rose lived ir~ an old three-story dark red brick building shaded by big oaks. It was a relatively safe area of town, but I always scanned my surroundings before I got out of my car. As I parked next to Rose's Honda, I noticed what looked like a dark-colored Taurus several cars away.

Someone was sitting inside it, engine and lights off. I knew that most unmarked Richmond police cars were Tauiuses these days, and I wondered if there was a reason a cop might be waiting out here in the dark, cold air. It was also possible the person was waiting for someone to come down to go somewhere, but again, one generally didn't do that with headlights and engine off.

I felt I was being watched and got my seven-shot Smith amp; Wesson revolver out of my satchel and slipped it into my coat pocket. I followed the sidewalk and caught the car's tag number on the front bumper. I committed it to memory. I felt eyes on my back.

The only way to get to Rose's third-floor apartment was to take stairs illuminated wanly by a single light overhead at each landing. I was anxious. I paused every few steps to see if anyone might be coming up behind me. No one was. Rose had hung a fresh Christmas wreath on her door, and its fragrance stirred powerful feelings inside me. I could hear Handel's music playing inside. I dug into my satchel, pulled out a pen and writing pad and jotted the tag number on it. Then I rang the bell.

"Goodness!" Rose exclaimed. "What brings you here? Do come in. What a nice surprise."

"Did you look through the peephole before you opened the door?" I quizzed her. "At least you could ask who it is."

She laughed. She was always teasing me about my security worries, which were extreme in the minds of most people because they did not live my life.

"Did you come here to test me?" she teased me once more.

"Maybe I should start doing that."

Rose's furniture was warm and perfectly polished, and although I would not call her taste formal, it was very proper and exactly arranged. Floors were the beautiful hardwood one didn't find anymore, and small Oriental rugs were spots of color on them. A gas fire was burning, and electric candles glowed in windows overlooking a grassy area where people used their Hibachis and charcoal grills in warmer weather.

Rose sat in a wing chair and I settled on the couch. I had been to her apartment only twice before, and it seemed so sad and strange to see no sign of her beloved animals. The last two of her adopted greyhounds had gone to her daughter, and her cat had died. All she had left was an aquarium with a modest number of guppies, goldflsh and mollies constantly moving around, because pets were not allowed in the building.

"I know you miss your dogs," I said, not mentioning the cat, because cats and I didn't get along. "One of these days I'm going to get a greyhound. My problem is I would want to save all of them."

I remembered hers. The poor dogs would not let you stroke their ears because they had been yanked by trainers, one of the many cruelties they suffered at dog tracks. Rose's eyes got bright with tears, and she turned her face from me and rubbed her knees.

"This cold is hard on my joints," she commented, clearing her throat. "They were getting so old. It's just as well Laurel has them now. I couldn't bear another thing dying on me. I wish you would get one. If every nice person would just get one."

The dogs were put to death by the hundreds every year when they could no longer perform up to speed. I shifted on the couch. There was so much in life that angered me.

"Can I get you hot ginseng tea that dear Simon gets for me?" She mentioned the hairstylist she adored. "Maybe something a little stronger? I've been meaning to stop and pick up shortbread cookies."

"I can't stay long," I said. "But I just wanted to drop by and make certain you're all right."

"Why, of course," she replied as if there were no reason in the world she wouldn't be.

I paused, and Rose looked at me, waiting for me to explain why I really had dropped by.

"I talked to Ruth," I began. "We're following a couple of leads and have our suspicions…"

"Which I'm sure lead right to Chuck," she announced, nodding her head. "I've always thought he's. a bad apple. And he avoids me like the plague because he knows I see right through him. It will be a cold day in hell before the likes of him will charm me."

"No one could charm you," I said. Handel's Messiah began, and intense sadness tucked itself into my heart.

Her eyes searched my face. She knew how hard last Christmas had been for me. I had spent it in Miami, where I could avoid it as much as I could. But it wasn't possible for me to get away from music and lights, not even if I fled to Cuba.

"What are you going to do this year?" she asked.

"Maybe go out west," I replied. "If it would snow here, that would be easier, but I can't stand gray skies. Rain and ice storms, Richmond weather. You know, when I first moved here, we always got at least one or two good snows every winter."

I envisioned snow piled on tree branches and blowing against my windshield, the world whited out as I drove to work even though all state offices were closed. Snow and tropical sunshine were antidepressants for me.

"It was very nice of you to check on me," my secretary said, getting up from the deep blue wing chair. "You've always worried too much about me, though."

She went into the kitchen and I heard her digging around in the freezer. When she returned to the living room, she handed me a Tupperware container with something frozen inside it.

"My vegetable soup," she said. "Just what you need tonight:' "You can't know how much," I told her with heartfelt appreciation. "I'll go home and warm it up now."

"Now, what will you do about Chuck?" she asked with a very serious expression on her face.

I hesitated. I didn't want to ask her this.

"Rose, he says you're my office snitch:' "Well, I am."

"I need you to be;" I went on. "I'd like you to do whatever it takes to find out what he's up to."

"What the little son of a bitch is up to is sabotage," said Rose, who almost never swore.

"We've got to get the evidence," I said. "You know how the state is. It's harder to fire somebody than walk on water. But he's not going to win."

She didn't respond right away. Then she said, "To start with, we mustn't underestimate him. He's not as smart as he thinks he is, but he's clever. And he has too much time to think and move about unnoticed. What's unfortunate is he knows your patterns better than anyone, better even than me, because I don't help you in the morgue-for which I'm grateful. And that's your center stage. That's where he could really ruin you."

She was right, although I couldn't bear to admit the power he had. He could swap labels or toe tags or contaminate something. He could leak lies to reporters who would forever protect his identity. I could scarcely imagine the breadth of what he could do.

"By the way," I said, getting up from the couch, "I'm fairly sure he has a computer at home, so he lied about that."

She walked me to the door, and I remembered the car parked near mine.

"Do you know anybody in the building who drives a dark Taurus?" I asked.

She frowned, perplexed. "Well, they're rather much all over the place. But no, I can't think of anyone around me who drives one."

"Possibly there's a police officer who lives in your building and might drive such a car home now and then?"

"I know nothing about it if there is. Don't get too carried away by all those little goblins that will rise up in your head if you let them. I have a firm belief about not giving a life to things, you know. The old bit about a self-fulfilled prophecy:"

"Well, it's probably nothing, but I just had an odd feel-ing when I saw this person sitting inside a dark car, engine off, lights off," I said. "I got the tag number."

"Good for you." Rose patted my back. "Why am I not surprised?"

16

My shoes seemed loud on the stairs as I left Rose's apartment, and I was conscious of my handgun when I went out the door into the cold night. The car was gone. I looked around for it as I approached mine.

The parking lot was not well lit. Bare trees made slight sounds that turned ominous in my mind, and shadows seemed to hide fearful things. I quickly locked my doors, looking around some more, and called Marino's pager as I drove off. He called back right away because, of course, he was in uniform on the street without a damn thing to do.

"Can you run a tag?" I said right off when he answered.

"Lay it on me."

I recited it to him.

"I'm just leaving Rose's apartment," I said, "and I have a weird feeling about this car parked out there."

Marino almost always took my weird feelings seriously. I was not one to have them often without justification. I was a lawyer and a physician. If anything, I was more inclined to stay inside my clinical, fact-only lawyer's mind and was not given to overreactions and emotional projections.

"There are other things," I went on.

"You want me to drop by?"

"I sure would."

He was waiting in my driveway when I got there, and he awkwardly climbed out of his car because his duty belt got in his way and the shoulder harness he never wore tended to snag him somewhere.

"Goddamn it!" he said, yanking his belt free. "I don't know how much more I can stand this." He kicked the door shut. "Piece-of-shit car."

"How'd you get here first if it's such a piece-of-shit car?" I asked.

"I was closer than you. My back's killing me."

He continued to complain as we went up the steps and I unlocked the front door. I was startled by silence. The alarm light was green.

"Now that ain't good," Marino said.

"I know I set it this morning," I said.

"The housekeeper come?" he asked, looking, listening.

"She always sets it," I said. "I've never known her to forget, not once in the two years she's worked for me."

"You stay here," he said.

"I most certainly will not," I replied, because the last thing I wanted was to wait here alone, and it was never a good idea for two armed people to be nervous and on guard in different areas of the same space.

I reset the alarm and followed him from room to room, watching him open every closet and look behind every shower curtain, drapery and door. We searched both floors and nothing was the least bit amiss until we went back downstairs, where I noticed the runner in the hallway. Half of it was vacuumed, while the other wasn't, and in the guest bath right off it, Marie, my housekeeper, had neglected to replace soiled hand towels with fresh ones.

"She's not absentminded like that," I said. "She and her husband are supporting young children on very little and she works harder than anyone I know."

"I hope nobody calls me out," Marino complбined. "You got any coffee in this joint?"

I made a strong pot with the Pilon espresso that Lucy sent me from Miami, and the bright red and yellow bag made me feel hurt again. Marino and I carried our cups into my office. I logged onto AOL using Ruffin's address and password and was extremely relieved when I didn't get bumped off.

"Coast is clear," I announced.

Marino pulled up a chair and looked over my shoulder. Ruffin had mail.

There were eight messages, and I didn't recognize who any of them were from.

"What happens if you open them?" Marino wanted to know.

"They'll still be in the box as long as you save them as new," I replied.

"I mean, can he tell you opened them?"

"No. But the sender can. The sender can check the status of the mail he sent and see what time it was opened."

"Huh," Marino said with a shrug in his voice. "So what? How many people are gonna check what friggin' time their mail was opened?"

I didn't answer him as I began to go into Chuck's mail. Maybe I should have felt frightened by what I was doing, but I was too angry. Four of the e-mails were from his wife, who had many instructions for him about domestic matters that made Marino laugh.

"She's got his balls in a box on top of the fireplace," he gleefully said.

The address of the fifth message was MAYFLR, who simply said, "Need to talk."

"That's interesting," I commented to Marino. "Let's check out mail he might have sent to whoever this Mayflower is."

I went into the mail-sent menu and discovered Chuck had been sending e-mail to this person almost daily for the past two weeks. I quickly scanned through the notes, Marino looking on, and it became obvious in no time that my morgue supervisor was having rendezvous with this person, possibly an affair.

"I wonder who the hell she is?" Marino said. "That'd be a nice little bit of leverage to hold over the son of a bitch." "Not going to be easy to find out;" I said.

I quickly signed off, feeling as if I were escaping from a house I'd just burglarized.

"Let's try Chatplanet" I said.

The only reason I was familiar with chat rooms was that on occasion colleagues of mine from around the world used them to meet and ask for help in particularly difficult cases or share information that we might find useful. 1 signed on and downloaded the program and selected a box that made it possible for me to be in the chat room withou~ anybody's seeing me.

I scanned the list of chat rooms and clicked on one called Dear Chief Kay Dr. Kay herself was in the midst o1 moderating a chat session with sixty-three people.

"Oh, shit. Give me a cigarette, Marino," I tensely said:

He shook one out уf the pack and pulled up a chair, sitting next to me while we eavesdropped.

«Pipeman» Dear Chief Kay, is it true Elvis died on the toilet and that many people die on the toilet? I'm a plumber, so you can see why I'm wondering. Thanks, Interested in Illinois «Dear Chief Keys» Dear Interested in Illinois, yes, I'm sorry to say that Elvis did die on the toilet and that this isn't uncommon because people strain and strain and their heart can't take it. Elvis's many years of bad eating and pills, I'm sorry to say, finally caught up with him, and he died of cardiac arrest in his luxurious bathroom in Graceland. And this should be a lesson to all of us.

«Medstu» Dear Chief Kay, why did you decide you'd rather work with dead patients instead of living ones? Morbid in Montana «Dear Chief Kays» Dear Morbid in Montana, I don't have much of a bedside manner and don't have M worry how my patient is feeling. I found out during my medical school days that living patients are a pain in the ass.

"Holy motherfucking shit," Marino said.

I was incensed and there was nothing I could do about it. "You know," Marino said with indignation, "I wish people would leave Elvis alone. I'm tired of hearing about him dying on tire toilet."

"Be quiet, Marino," I said. "Please. I'm trying to think." The session went on and on, all of it awful. I was tempted to butt into the conversations to tell everyone Dear Chief Kay wasn't me.

"Any way to find out who Dear Chief Kay really is?" Marino asked.

"If this person is the moderator of the chat room, the answer's no. He or she can know who everybody else is but not the other way around."

«Julie W» Dear Chief Kay, since you know everything there is about anatomy, does that make you more aware of pleasure points, if you know what I mean? My boyfriend seems bored in bed and sometimes he even falls asleep in the middle of itl Wanna Be Sexy «Dear Chief Kay» Dear Wanna Be Sexy, is he on any kind of medications that might make him sleepy? If not, sexy lingerie's not a bad idea. Women don't do enough anymore to make their men feel important and in charge.

`That's it!" I announced. "I'm going to kill him… or her… whoever the hell this Chief Kay is!"

I jumped out of my chair, so frustrated I didn't know what to do.

"You don't fuck with my credibility!"

Fists clenched, I practically racewalked to the great room, where I suddenly stopped and looked around as if I were in some place that I'd never been before.

"Two can play this game," I said as I returned to my study.

"But how can two play when you don't even know who Chief Kay number two is?" Marino asked.

"Maybe I can't do anything about that goddamn chat room, but there's always e-mail."

"What kind of e-mail?" Marino warily asked.

"Itwo can play this game. Just wait and see. Now. How about we check on our suspicious car."

Marino slipped his portable radio off his belt and switched to the service channel.

"What'd you say it was again?" he asked.

"RGG-7112," I recited it from memory.

"Virginia tags?"

"Sorry," I replied. "I didn't get that good of a look."

"Well, we'll start there."

He relayed the tag number to the Virginia Criminal Information Network, or VCIN, and asked for a 10-29. By now it was after ten o'clock.

"Any way you could make me a sandwich or something before I leave?" Marino asked. "I'm about to die of hunger. VCIN's been a little slow tonight. I hate that."

He requested bacon, lettuce and tomato with Russian dressing and thick slices of onion, and I cooked the bacon well in the microwave instead of frying it.

"Ali gee, Doc, why'd you have to do that?" he said, holding up a crispy, non-greasy strip of bacon. "It ain't good unless it's chewy and got some flavor left that wasn't soaked up in all those paper towels."

"It will have plenty of flavor," I said. "And the rest is up to you. I'm not going to be blamed for clogging up your arteries any worse than they probably already are."

Marino toasted rye bread and slathered it with butter and Russian dressing he conjured up from Miracle Whip, ketchup and chopped butter pickles. He topped this with lettuce, tomato liberally dashed with salt and thick slices of raw sweet onion.

He made two of these healthy creations and wrapped them in aluminum foil as the radio got back to him. The car was not a Ford Taurus, but a 1998 Ford Contour. It was dark blue and registered to Avis Leasing Corporation.

"That's kinda interesting;" Marino said "Usually in Richmond all rental cars begin with an R, and you have to request a plate that doesn't. They started doing that so it wasn't so obvious to carjackers that someone was from out of town."

There were no outstanding warrants and the car wasn't listed as stolen.

17

At eight o'clock the next morning, Wednesday, I squeezed into a metered space. Across the street, the eighteenth-century capitol of the Commonwealth was pristine behind wrought iron and fountains in the fog.

Dr. Wagner, other cabinet members and the attorney general worked in the Ninth Street Executive Office Building, and security had gotten so extreme that I'd begun to feel like a criminal when I came here. Just inside the door was a table, where a capitol police officer checked my satchel.

"If you find anything in there," I said, "let me know, because I can't"

The smiling officer looked very familiar, a short, fleshy man I guessed to be in his mid-thirties. He had thinning brown hair and the face of one who had been boyishly cute before advancing years and added weight had begun to have their way with him.

I held out my credentials and he barely gave them a glance.

"Don't need those," he cheerfully said. "You remember me? I had to respond to your building a couple times when you used to be over there."

He pointed in the direction of my old building on Fourteenth Street, which was only five short blocks east.

"Rick Hodges," he said. "That time they had the uranium scare. 'Member that?"

"How could I not?" I said. "Not one of our finer moments."

"And me and Wingo used to hang out sometimes. During lunch I'd come down when nothing much was going on."

A shadow crossed his face. Wingo was the best, most sensitive morgue supervisor I'd ever had. Several years ago he died of smallpox. I squeezed Hodges's shoulder.

"I still miss him," I said. "You have no idea how much."

He looked around and leaned closer to me.

"You keep up with his family any?" he asked in a low voice.

"From time to time."

He knew from the way I said it that his family didn't want to talk about their gay son, nor did they want me calling. Certainly, they didn't want Hodges or any of Wingo's friends calling, either. Hodges nodded, pain dimming his eyes. He tried to smile it away.

"That boy sure was crazy about you, Doc," he said to me. "I've been wanting to tell you that for a long time."

"That means a lot," I said to him with feeling. "Thank you, Rick."

I passed through the scanner without incident, and he handed me my satchel.

"Don't stay away so long," he said.

"I. won't;" I said, meeting his young, blue eyes. "It makes me feel safer having you around."

"You know where you're going?"

"Think so;' I said.

"Well, just remember the elevator has a mind of its own."

I took worn, granite steps to the sixth floor, where Sinclair Wagner's office overlooked Capitol Square. On this dark, rainy morning, I could barely see the statue of George Washington astride his horse. The temperature had plummeted twenty degrees during the night, and rain was small and hard like shotgun pellets.

The waiting area of the Secretary of Health and Human Services was handsomely arranged with graceful colonial furniture and flags that were not Dr. Wagner's style. His office was cramped and cluttered. It bespoke a man who worked extremely hard and understated his power.

Dr. Wagner was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, where his first name, Sinclair, was pronounced Sinkler He was a psychiatrist with a law degree, and oversaw person-service agencies such as mental health, substance abuse, social services and Medicare. He had been on the faculty of the Medical College of Virginia, or MCV, before his appointment to a cabinet-level position, and I'd always respected him enormously and knew he respected me, too.

"Kay." He rolled back his chair and got up from his desk. "How are you?"

He motioned for me to sit on the couch, and he closed the door and returned to the barrier of his desk, which was not a good sign.

"I'm pleased with how everything's going at the Institute, aren't you?" he asked.

"Very much so," I replied. "Daunting, but better than I ever hoped."

He picked up his pipe and pouch of tobacco from an ashtray.

"I've been wondering what's been going on with you," he said. "You seem to have vanished off the face of the earth `ЎI don't know why you'd say that," I answered him. "I'm doing as many cases as always, if not more."

"Oh, yes. Of course, I keep up with you through the news."

He began tamping tobacco into the pipe. There was no smoking of any sort in the building and Wagner tended to suck on a cold pipe when he was ill at ease. He knew I hadn't come here to talk about the Institute or tell him how busy I'd been.

"I certainly know how busy you are," he went on, "since you don't even have time to see me."

"I just found out today, Sinclair, that you tried to see me last week," I replied.

He held my gaze, sucking on the pipe. Dr. Wagner was in his sixties but looked older than that, as if bearing the painful secrets of patients for so many years had finally begun to erode him. He had kind eyes, and it was greatly to his advantage that people tended to forget he also had the shrewdness of a lawyer.

"If you didn't get my message that I wanted to see you, Kay," he said, "then it would seem to me you have a staffing problem."

His slow, low tone nudged words along, always taking the long way around a thought.

"I do, but not of the sort you might imagine."

"I'm listening."

"Someone's been getting into my e-mail," I flatly replied. "Apparently this person got into the file where our passwords are kept and got hold of mine."

"So much for security…"

I held up my hand to stop him.

"Sinclair, security's not the problem. I'm being hurt from within my own ranks. It's clear to me that someoneor perhaps more than one person-is trying to cause me trouble. Perhaps even get me fired. Your secretary e-mailed mine to let her know you wanted to see me. My secretary passed this along to me, and I allegedly replied that I was too busy to see you at that time."

I could tell Dr. Wagner found this confusing, if not ridiculous.

"There are other things," I went on, getting increasingly uncomfortable with the sound of my own voice spinning what seemed such a fantastic web. "E-mails asking calls to be rolled over to my deputy chief, and worst of all, this socalled chat room I'm doing on the Internet."

"I know about that;" he grimly said. "And you're telling me that whoever is doing this Dear Dr. Kay stuff is the same person using your password?"

"It's definitely someone using my password and posing as me."

He was silent, sucking his pipe.

"I'm very suspicious that my morgue supervisor is connected with all this," I added.

“Why?„ "Erratic behavior, hostility, disappearing acts. He's disgruntled and up to something. I could go on.".

Silence.

"When I can prove his involvement," I said, "I'll take care of the problem."

Dr. Wagner returned the pipe to the ashtray. He got up from his desk and came around to where I was sitting. He settled into a side chair. He leaned forward and looked intensely at me.

"I've known you for a long time, Kay," he said in a kind but no-nonsense voice. "I'm well aware of your reputation. You're a tribute to the Commonwealth. You've also been through a horrendous tragedy, and it wasn't that long ago."

"Are you trying to play the role of psychiatrist with me, Sinclair?" I wasn't joking.

"You aren't a machine."

"Nor am I given to wild thinking. What I'm telling you is real. Every brick of the case I'm building. There are just a lot of insidious activities going on, and while it may be true I've been more distracted than usual, what I'm telling you has nothing to do with that."

"How can you be so sure, Kay, if you've been distracted, as you put it? Most people wouldn't even have returned to work for a while-if ever-after what you've suffered. When did you go back to work?"

"Sinclair, we all have our ways of coping."

"Let me answer my own question for you;" he went on. "Ten days. And not a very happy environment to return to, I might add. Tragedy, death."

I didn't say anything as I fought for composure. I had been in a dark cave and scarcely remembered scattering Benton's ashes out to sea in Hilton Head, the place he loved most. I scarcely remembered clearing out his condo there, then attacking his drawers and closets at my house. At a maniacal speed, I removed everything right then that would have had to go eventually.

Had it not been for Dr. Anna Zenner, I couldn't have survived. She was an older woman, a psychiatrist who had been my friend for years. I had no idea what she did with Benton's fine suits and ties and polished leather shoes and colognes. I didn't want to know what happened to his BMW Most of all, I couldn't bear to know what had been done with the linens that had been in our bathroom and on our bed.

Anna had been wise enough to keep all belongings that mattered. She didn't touch his books or jewelry. She left his certificates and commendations hanging on the walls of his study, where nobody would see them, because he was so modest. She wouldn't let me remove the photographs arranged everywhere because she said it was important for me to live with them.

"You must live with the memory," she told me repeatedly in her heavy German accent. "It is still present, Kay. You cannot run away from it. Don't try."

"On a scale of ten, how depressed are you, Kay?" Dr. Wagner's voice sounded somewhere in the background.

I was still hurt and unable to accept that Lucy had never shown up once during all of this. Benton left me his condo in his will, and Lucy was furious with me for selling it, although she knew as well as I did that neither of us could ever pass through its rooms again. When I tried to give her his much-loved, scarred, scuffed bomber jacket he had worn in college, she said she didn't want it, that she would give it to someone else. I knew she never did. I knew she hid it somewhere.

"There's no shame in admitting it. I think it's hard for you to admit you're human," Dr. Wagner's voice surfaced.

My eyes cleared.

"Have you thought of going on an antidepressant?" Dr. Wagner asked me. "Something mild like Wellbutrin."

I paused before I said anything.

"In the first place, Sinclair," I said, "situational depression is normal. I don't need a pill to magically take away -my grief. I may be stoical. I may find it difficult to show my emotions around others, to show my deepest feelings, and yes, it's easier.for me to fight and get angry and overachieve than to feel pain. But I'm not wrapped tight in denial. I've got sense enough to know that grief has to run its course. And this isn't easy when those you trust begin to chip away at what little you have left in your life."

"You just switched from first person to second person," he pointed out. "I'm just wondering if you're aware..:' "Don't dissect me, Sinclair."

"Kay, let me paint for you the portrait of tragedy, of violence, that those untouched by it never see," he said. "It has a life of its own. It continues its rampage, although with more stealth and with less visible wounds as time moves on."

"I see the portrait of tragedy every day," I said.

"What about when you look in the mirror?" he asked.

"Sinclair, it's terrible enough to suffer loss, but to compound that with everyone looking askance at you and doubting your abilities to function anymore is to be kicked and degraded while you're supposedly down."

He held my gaze. I had just switched to second person again, to that safer place, and I saw it in his eyes.

"Cruelty thrives on what it perceives as weakness," I went on.

I knew what evil was. I could smell it and recognize its features when it was in my midst.

"Someone seized what happened to me as the longawaited-for opportunity to destroy me," I concluded.

"And you don't think this is perhaps a little paranoid?" he finally spoke.

"No:' "Why would someone do that, besides being petty and jealous?" he inquired.

"Power. To steal my fire."

"An interesting analogy," he said. "Tell me what you mean by that."

"I use my power for good," I explained. "And whoever is trying to hurt me wants to appropriate my power for his own selfish use, and you don't want power in the hands of people like that."

"I agree;" he thoughtfully said.

His phone buzzed. He got up and answered it.

"Not now," he said over the line. "I know. He's just going to have to wait"

He returned to his chair and blew out a long breath, took his glasses off and set them on the coffee table.

"I think the best thing to do is send out a press release informing people that someone is impersonating you on the Internet, to do what we can to clear this up as much as possible," he said. "We'll put an end to it, even if it requires a court order."

"That would make me very happy," I said.

He got up and I did, too.

' "Thank you, Sinclair. Thank God I have a shield like you:' "We'll just hope the new secretary will be the same," he remarked as if I knew what he was talking about.

"What new secretary?" I asked as anxiety hummed again, this time more loudly.

A strange expression passed over his face. Then he looked angry.

"I've sent you several memos marked private and confidential. Goddamn it! Now this is going too far."

"I've gotten nothing from you," I said.

He pressed his lips together, his cheeks turning red. It was one thing to tamper with e-mail; it was another to intercept the secretary's scaled, classified memorandums. Not even Rose opened anything like that.

"Apparently the Governor's Crime Commission's gotten stuck on the notion that we should transfer your office out of Health and into Public Safety," he told me.

"For God's sake, Sinclair," I exclaimed.

"I know, I know." He raised his hand to quiet me.

This same ignorant proposal had come up shortly after I'd been hired. The police and forensic labs were under Public Safety, meaning, among other things, that if my office fell under Public Safety, too, there would be no checks and balances anymore. The police department, in essence, would have a say-so in how I worked my cases.

"I've written position papers on this before," I told Dr. Wagner. "Years ago, I fought it off by preaching to prosecutors and police chiefs. I even went to the defense attorneys' bar. We can't let this happen."

Dr. Wagner said nothing.

"Why now?" I persisted. "Why has this just come up now? The issue's been dormant for more than ten years."

"I think Representative Connors is pushing it because some of the higher-ups in law enforcement are pushing him," he said. "Who the hell knows."

I did, and as I drove toward my office, I got energized. I thrived on unanswered questions, on excavating for what wasn't plain to see, on getting to the truth. What detractors like Chuck Ruffin and Diane Bray had not factored into their machinations was that they'd served to wake me up.

A scenario was materializing in my mind. It was very simple. Someone wanted me shot out of the air so my office would be vulnerable to a takeover by Public Safety. I had heard rumblings that the current secretary, whom I liked very much, was reti 'fit. Wouldn't it be a coincidence if Bray just happened to take his place.

When I reached my office, I smiled at Rose and bid her a cheery good morning.

"Aren't we in a good mood today!" she said, enormously pleased.

"It's your vegetable soup," I commented. "I have it to look forward to. Where's Chuck?" lust his name gave Rose a sour look.

"Off delivering several brains to MCV," she replied.

Now and then when cases were neurologically suspicious and complicated, I would fix the brain in formalin and have it delivered to the neuropathology lab for special studies.

"Let me know when he comes back;" I told her. "We need to set up the Luma-Lite in the decomposed room."

She placed her elbow on her desk, chin in her hand and shook her head, eyes on me.

"I hate to be the one who tells you this;" she said.

"Oh God, now what? Just when I thought it might be a good day."

"The Institute's doing a mock crime scene and it appears their Luma-Lite is in for repairs."

"Don't tell me."

"Well, all I know is someone called here and Chuck took our Luma-Lite to them before he left for MCV"

"Then I'll just go get it back."

"It's at an outdoor mock scene some ten miles away."

"Who gave Chuck the authority to lend it to anyone?" I asked.

"Just be glad it isn't stolen like half of everything else around here," she said.

"I guess I'll just have to go upstairs and do the examination in Vander's lab," I said.

I walked into my office and sat down at my desk. I took my glasses off and massaged the bridge of my nose. I decided the time had come to set up a rendezvous between Bray and Chuck. I signed on to Ruffin's address and e-mailed a note to Bray.

Chief Bray

Have some information you must know. Please meet me at Beverly Hills Shopping Center at 5:30. Park on back row near Buckhead's. We can talk in your car so nobody sees us. If you can't meet me, page me. Otherwise I'll see you then.

Chuck

Then I sent him a text message page, purportedly from Bray, inviting him to the meeting.

"Done," I said, yielding to self-congratulation just as the phone rang.

"Yo," Marino said. "Your personal investigator here. What'cha doing after work?"

"More work. Remember I said two can play this game? You're taking me to Buckhead's. We wouldn't want to miss a little rendezvous between two people near and dear to our hearts, would we? So I thought it might be nice if you took me out to dinner and we just happened to run into them," I said.

18

Marino met me in the parking lot as planned and we got in his monster Dodge Ram Quad Cab pickup truck because I didn't want to take the chance that Bray might recognize my Mercedes. It was dark and frigid out but the rain had stopped. I was riding so high I could almost look transfer truckers in the eye.

We followed Patterson Avenue toward Parham Road, a major thoroughfare in the city where people ate out and shopped and swarmed inside Regency Mall.

"I gotta warn you there ain't always a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," he said, throwing a cigarette butt out the window. "One or both of them might decide not to show. Hell, they may be on to us for all I know. But, gotta give it a shot, right?"

The Beverly Hills Shopping Center was a small strip of salons and a Ben Franklin Crafts amp; Frames store. The location was not at all where one might expect to find the city's finest chophouse.

"Don't see no sign of them," Marino said as we scanned. "But we're a few minutes early."

He parked some distance away from the restaurant, between two cars in front of Ben Franklin, and cut the engine. I opened my door.

"Just where do you think you're going?" he protested.

"Inside the restaurant."

"What if they roll up any minute and see you?"

"I have every right to be here."

"What if she's in there at the bar?" he worried. "What are you going to say to her?"

"I'11 offer to buy her a drink and then come out and get you."

"Christ, Doc." Marino was getting increasingly adamant. "I thought the whole point of this is to burn her."

"Relax and let me do the talking."

"Relax? I want to break the bitch's neck," he said.

"We have to be smart. We walk out from behind a bunker and start firing, we might just get hit first."

"You telling me you ain't going to tell her to her face you know what she's done? The e-mail to Chuck and everything?"

He was incredulous and furious and kept repeating himself.

"Then what the hell are we doing here?" he went on.

"Marino," I tried to calm him down. "You know better than this. You're an experienced detective, and that's what you have to be with her. She's formidable. I'm going to tell you right now you'll never muscle this woman into a corner."

He was silent.

"Keep a lookout from your truck while I check the inside of the restaurant.. If you spot her before I do, send me a tenfour on my pager and call the restaurant asking for me, just in case I don't get the page for some reason," I said.

He angrily lit a cigarette as I opened my door.

"It ain't fucking fair," he said. "We know fucking well what she's doing. I still say we confront her and show her she ain't as smart as she thinks."

"You, of all people, know about building cases;" I reiterated. I was getting worried that he wouldn't be able to control himself.

"We saw what she sent Chuck."

"Lower your voice," I said. "We can't prove she sent that e-mail anymore than I can prove I didn't send e-mail that's being attributed to me. I can't even prove I didn't write that dreadful column, for that matter."

"Maybe I should just become a soldier of fortune."

He blasted smoke into the rearview mirror, scanning.

"Page or call me?" I asked as I climbed out.

"What if you don't get the message in time?"

"Then run her over with your truck," I impatiently replied, pushing the door shut.

I looked around as I walked toward the restaurant and saw no sign of Bray. I had no idea what her personal car was but suspected she wouldn't show up in it, anyway. I pulled open the heavy wooden door of Buckhead's and was greeted by carefree voices and ice clinking in glasses as the bartender made drinks with a flourish. A mounted buck's head explained the restaurant's name. Lights were low, the paneling dark, and crates and racks of wine were stacked almost to the ceiling.

"Well, good evening." The hostess at the podium smiled in a surprised way. "We've missed you, but I certainly know from the news that you've been a little busy. What can I help you with?"

"A reservation in the name of Bray?" I inquired. "I'm not sure of the time:"

She scanned the big reservation book, running a pencil down names and times. Then she tried again. She looked embarrassed. After all, it was impossible to stroll into a good restaurant unannounced even on a weeknight.

"I'm afraid not;" she quietly told me.

"Hmmm. Maybe it's in my name?" I tried again.

She tried again, too.

"Gosh, I'm so sorry, Dr. Scarpetta. And we're full tonight because we have a group taking up the entire front room."

It was twenty of six now. Tables were covered with redchecked cloths, small lamps burning on them, and the room was completely empty because civilized people rarely dined before seven.

"I was going to have a drink with a friend." I continued my act. "I suppose we could eat early if you could fit us? Maybe around six?"

"That's no problem at all," she said, brightening up.

"Then put me down," I replied as my worries intensified.

What if Bray realized Chuck's car wasn't in the lot and became suspicious?

"Then six it is…”

I was acutely aware of the pager on my belt and listening for a phone to ring.

"Perfect," I said to the hostess.

This scenario curdled my sensibilities. It was my nature, my training and my professional practice to always tell the truth, in no way to slip into the behavior of the wily, lowlife trial lawyer I could have been had I given myself up to manipulation, evasion and the gray areas of the law.

The hostess penciled my name in the book as my pager vibrated like a big insect. I read the 10-4 on the display and hurried back through the bar. I had no choice but to open the front door because the windows were opaque and I could not see through them. I spotted the dark Crown Victoria.

Marino didn't do anything right away. My anxiety grew as Bray parked and turned her headlights off. I felt sure she wouldn't wait for Chuck very long and could already imagine her annoyance. Little nobodies like him didn't dare to keep Deputy Chief Diane Bray waiting.

"Is there something I can do for you?" the bartender asked me as he dried off a glass.

I continued to peer through the barely open door, wondering what Marino was going to do next.

"I'm expecting someone who isn't sure exactly where you're located;' I said.

"Just tell 'em we're next to Michelle's Face Works," he said as-Marino got out of his truck.

I met him in the parking lot and we walked with purpose toward Bray's car. She didn't notice us because she was talking on her portable phone and writing something down. When Marino tapped on her window, she turned to us, startled. Then her face turned hard. She said something else on her portable and ended her call. The window hummed down.

"Deputy Chief Bray? Thought that was you,". Marino said as if they were old friends.

He bent down and peered inside her car. Bray was clearly off balance and one could almost see her calculating thoughts regrouping in her lead as she pretended there was nothing unusual about our running into her here.

"Good evening," I politely said. "What a pleasant coincidence."

"Kay, what a surprise," she said in a flat voice. "How are you? So you've discovered Richmond's little secret"

"By now, I know most of Richmond's little secrets;" I said with irony. "There are many of them if you know where to look."

"I stay away from red meat as much as possible." Bray switched conversational lanes. "But their fish is very good."

"That's like going to a whorehouse and playing solitaire," Marino remarked.

Bray ignored him and tried to stare me down with no success. I'd learned from many years of warring with bad employees, dishonest defense attorneys and ruthless politicians that if I stated between a person's eyes, he didn't know I wasn't, in fact, staring into his eyes, and I could keep up the intimidation all day.

"I'm eating dinner here;" she said as if she were distracted and in a hurry.

"We'll wait until your guest shows up;" Marino said. "Sure don't want you sitting alone out here in the dark or being bothered inside. Truth is, Deputy Chief Bray, you shouldn't be roaming around without security, as recognizable as you've gotten to be since you moved here. You've kind of gotten to be a celebrity, you know."

"I'm not meeting anyone," she said, irritation honing her tone.

"We've never had a woman so high up in the department, especially one so attractive and so loved by the media." Marino wouldn't shut up.

She collected her pocketbook and mail off the seat, her cold anger palpable.

"Now if you'll please excuse me?" She said it as an order.

"It's not going to be easy to get a table tonight,' l let her know as she opened her door. "Unless you have a reservation," I added, implying I knew damn well she didn't.

Bray's poise and self-confidence slipped just enough to unmask the evil coiling within. Her eyes struck at me, then revealed nothing as she climbed out of the car and Marino blocked her way. She couldn't get past him without ducking around him and brushing against him, and her enormous ego would never allow that.

She was almost pinned against the door of her shiny new car. It didn't escape my notice that she was dressed in corduroys, running shoes, and a Richmond Police Department jacket. Vain woman that she was, she would never show up in a fine restaurant dressed like that.

"Excuse me," she said loudly to Marino.

"Oh gee, I'm sorry," he gushed, stepping to one side.

I chose my next words carefully. I "could not directly accuse her, but I intended to make sure she knew she'd gotten away with nothing and if she persisted in her ambushes, she would lose and she would pay.

"You're an investigator," I thoughtfully said to her. "Maybe you can tell me your opinion on how someone might have gotten hold of my password and e-mailed messages, impersonating me. And then someone-most likely the same person-started an asinine, lobotomized chat room on the Internet called Dear Dr. Kay."

"How awful. I'm sorry, I can't help you. Computers are not my specialty;" she said with a smile.

Her eyes were dark holes, her teeth flashing like steel blades in the glow of sodium lights.

"All I can suggest is you look at the people closest to you, perhaps someone disgruntled, a friend you've fallen out with," she continued her act. "I really have no idea, but I would expect it's someone with a link to you. I've heard your niece is an expert in computers. Maybe she could help you."

Her mention of Lucy infuriated me.

"I've been wanting to talk to her," Bray said as a by-theway. "You know, we're implementing COMPSTAT and need a computer expert."

COMPSTAT, or computer-driven statistics, was a new model of enlightened, technologically advanced policing devised by the New York Police Department. Computer experts would be needed for it, but to suggest a project like that for someone with Lucy's skills and experience was an insult.

"You might pass this along to her when you talk next," Bray- added.

Marino's rage was boiling like water in a pot.

"We really should sit down sometime, Kay, and let me tell you about some of my experiences in Washington," she said as if I had never worked anywhere but in a small town. "You can't even begin to know the things people will try to bring you down. Especially women against the women, sabotage in the workplace. I've seen the best topple."

"I'm sure you have," I said.

She locked her car door and said, "Just so you know, you don't need a reservation to sit at the bar. That's where I usually eat anyway. They're famous for their steak fromage, but I recommend you try the lobster, Kay. And you, Captain Marino, would love their onion rings. I hear they're to die for."

We watched her walk off.

"Fucking bitch," Marino said.

"Let's get out of here,".I said.

"Yeah, last thing I want to do is eat anywhere near poison like that. I ain't even hungry."

"That won't last."

We climbed into his truck and I sank beneath a heavy depression that held me down like tar. I wanted to find some victory, some ray of optimism in what had just transpired, but I couldn't. I felt defeated. Worse, I felt foolish.

"Want a cigarette?" Marino asked inside the dark cab as he punched in the lighter.

"Why not," I muttered. "I'm going to stop again pretty soon."

He handed one to me and lit his. He gave me the lighter. He kept glancing over at me, knowing how I felt.

"I still think it was a good thing we done," he said. "I bet she's in that restaurant belting down whiskeys because we got her good:"

"We didn't get her good," I replied, squinting at the lights of cars passing by. "With her, I'm afraid the only silver bullet is prevention. We have to guard against further damage by not only anticipating but also following up on everything we do."

I opened the window several inches, cold air touching my hair. I blew out smoke.

"No-show Chuck:' I commented.

"Oh, he showed up. You just didn't see him because he saw us first and hightailed it out of there."

"You sure?"

"I saw his piece-of-shit Miata turning into the road leading to the shopping center, and then about halfway to the parking lot it suddenly did a U-turn and got the hell out of Dodge. And this was at the exact time Bray said something else on her portable after she saw us outside her car."

"Chuck's a direct conduit from me to her;" I said. "She may as well have a key to my office."

"Hell, maybe she does," he said. "But, Doc, you just leave Chuckie-boy to me."

"Now, that scares me," I said. "Please don't go doing something reckless, Marino. He does work for me, after all. I dont need any other problems."

"My point exactly. You don't need any more problems."

He dropped me off at the office and waited until I got into my car. I followed him out of the parking lot, and he went his way and I went mine.

19

The tiny moon-eyes from the dead man's skin glowed in my mind. They looked out from that deep, off-limits place where I stored my fears, which were many and of a kind not felt by anyone else I knew. Wind shook bare trees and clouds streamed like banners across the sky as a cold front rushed in.

I had heard on the news the temperature might dip into the twenties that night, which seemed impossible after weeks that felt like fall. It seemed everything was out of balance and abnormal in my life. Lucy wasn't Lucy so I couldn't call her and she wasn't speaking to me. Marino was working a homicide even though he wasn't a detective anymore, and Benton was gone, and everywhere I looked for him I found an empty frame. I still waited for his car to drive up, for the phone to ring, for the sound of his voice, because it was too soon for my heart to accept what my brain knew.

I turned off the Downtown Expressway onto Cary Street, and as I drove past a shopping center and the Venice Restaurant, I became aware of a car behind me. It was driving very slowly and too far away for me to tell anything about the person behind the wheel. Instinct told me to slow down, and when I did, so did the car. I turned right on Cary Street, and the car stayed with me. When I took a left into Windsor Farms, there it was, maintaining the same safe distance.

I didn't want to get any deeper into this neighborhood because the roads were winding and narrow and dark. There were many cul-de-sacs. I took a right on Dover and dialed Marino's number as the car turned right, too, and my fear grew.

"Marino," I said out loud to nobody there. "Be home, Marino."

I ended the call and tried again.

"Marino! Goddamn it, be home!" I said to the handsfree phone in the dashboard as Marino's clunky cordless phone inside his house rang and rang.

He probably had it parked by the TV, as usual. Half the time he couldn't find it because he didn't return it to its base. Maybe he wasn't home yet.

"What?" his loud voice surprised me.

"It's me. "

"Goddamn-mother-fucking-son-of-a-bitch. If I hit my knee on that goddamn table one more time…!"

"Marino, listen to me!"

"Once more and it's out in the yard and I'm gonna smash the shit out of it with a hammer! Right in the fucking kneecap! I can't see the fucking thing 'cause it's glass and guess who said it would look so nice there?"

"Calm down," I exclaimed, watching the car in my mirror.

"I've had three beers and I'm hungry and tired as hell. What?" he asked.

"There's someone following me."

I turned right on Windsor Way, heading back to Cary Street. I drove at a normal speed. I did nothing out of the ordinary except not head for my house.

"What do you mean, someone's following you?" Marino asked.

"What the hell do you think I mean?" I said as my anxiety heated up more.

"Then head this way right now," he said. "Get out of that dark neighborhood of yours." “I am.” "Can you see a plate number or anything?"

"No. He's too far behind me. It seems he's deliberately staying far enough behind me so I can't read the tag or see his face."

I got back on the expressway, heading to the Powhite Parkway, and the person tailin$ me apparently gave up and turned off somewhere. Lights of moving cars and trucks and the iridescent paint on signs were confusing, and my heart was beating hard. The half-moon slipped in and out of clouds like a button, and gusts of wind rushed the side of the car like linebackers.

I dialed my answering service at home. I had three hangups and a fourth message that was a slap in the face.

"Chief Bray here," it began. "So nice to run into you at Buckhead's. I have a few policy and procedural issues to discuss with you. Managing crime scenes and evidence, and so on. I've been meaning to discuss them with you, Kay„ The sound of my first name coming out of her mouth infuriated me.

"Maybe we can have lunch in the next few days," her recorded voice went on. "A nice private lunch at the Commonwealth Club?"

My home phone number was unlisted and I was very careful who I gave it to, but it was no riddle how she'd gotten it. My staff, including Ruffin, had to be able to reach me at home.

"In case you haven't heard," Bray's message went on, "Al Carson resigned today. You remember him, I'm sure? Deputy chief of investigations. A real shame. Major Inman will be acting deputy chief."

I slowed at a toll booth and tossed a token into the bin. I moved on and a beat-up Toyota full of teenaged boys stared boldly at me as they passed. One of them mouthed motherfiucker for no apparent reason.

I concentrated on the road as I thought about what Wagner had said. Someone was pressuring Representative Connors to push legislation that would transfer my office out of Health and Human Services and into Public Safety, where the police department would have more control over me.

Women could not join the prestigious Commonwealth Club, where half of the major business deals and politics affecting Virginia were made by male power brokers with old family names. Rumor had it that these men, many of whom I knew, congregated around the indoor swimming pool, most of them naked. They bartered and pontificated in the locker room, a forum where women weren't allowed.

Since Bray couldn't walk through the door of that ivydraped eighteenth-century club unless she was the guest of a member, my suspicions about her ultimate ambition we s virtually confirmed. Bray was lobbying members of the General Assembly and powerful businessmen. She wanted to be the Secretary of Public Safety and have my office transferred to that secretariat. Then she could fire me herself.

I reached Midlothian Turnpike and could see Marino's house long before I got near it. His gaudy, outrageous Christmas decorations, including some three hundred thousand lights, glowed above the horizon like an amusement park. All one had to do was follow the steady traffic heading that way, because Marino's house had risen to number one on Richmond's annual Christmas Tacky Tour. People couldn't resist coming to see what was truly an amazing sight.

Lights of every color were sprinkled in trees like,neon candy. Santas, snowmen, trains and toy soldiers glowed in the yard, and gingerbread cookies held hands. Candy canes brightly stood sentry along his sidewalk, and lights spelled out Season's Greetings and Think Snow on the roof. In a part of the yard where scarcely a flower grew and grass was patchy brown all year long, Marino had planted happy electric gardens. There was the North Pole, where Mr. and Mrs. Claus seemed to be discussing plans, and nearby choirboys sang while flamingos perched on the chimney and ice skaters twirled around a spruce.

A white limousine crept past, followed by a church van, as I hurried up his front steps, feeling irradiated and trapped in a spotlight.

"Every time I see this, it confirms you've lost your mind," I said when Marino came to the door and I quickly ducked away from curious eyes. "Last year was bad enough."

"I'm up to three fuse boxes," he proudly announced.

He was in jeans and socks and a red- flannel shirt with the tail hanging out.

"Least I can come home and something makes me happy," he said. "Pizza's on the way. I got bourbon if you want some."

"What pizza?"

"One I ordered. Everything on it. My treat. Papa John's, don't even need my address anymore. They just follow the lights."

"What about hot decaffeinated tea," I said, quite certain he would have no such thing.

"You got to be kidding," he replied.

I looked around as we walked through the living room into his small kitchen. Of course, he had decorated the inside of his house, too. The tree was up and flickering by the fireplace. Presents, almost all of them fake, were piled high, and every window was framed by strands of red chili pepper lights.

"Bray called me," I said, filling the teakettle with water. "Someone gave her my home number."

"Guess who." He yanked open the refrigerator door, his good mood retreating fast.

"And I think I might know why that happened."

I set the kettle on the stove and turned on the burner. Lights flickered.

"Deputy Chief Carson resigned today. Or supposedly resigned," I said.

Marino popped open a beer. If he was aware of this news, he didn't show it.

"Did you know he quit?" I asked.

"I don't know nothing anymore."

"Apparently Major Inman is the acting deputy chief…"

"Oh, of course, of course," Marino loudly said. "And you know why? Because there're two majors, one in uniform, the other in investigations, so of course Bray sends her boy from uniform in there to take over investigations."

He'd finished the beer in what seemed three gulps. He violently crushed the can and threw it into the trash. He missed, and the can clattered across the floor.

"You got any. idea what that means?" he said. "Well, let me tell you. It means Bray now's running uniform and investigations, meaning she's running the entire fucking department and probably controlling the entire budget, too. And the chief's her biggest fan because she makes him look good. Tell me how this woman comes in and not even three months later can do all that?"

"Clearly she's got connections. Probably did before she took this job. And I don't mean just to the chief."

"Well, to who then?"

"Marino, it could be anyone. It doesn't matter at this point. It's too late for it to matter. Now we have to contend with her, not the chief. Her, not the person who might have pulled strings."

He popped open another beer, angrily pacing the kitchen.

"Now I know why Carson showed up at the scene," he said. "He knew this was coming. He knows how bad this shit stinks and maybe he was trying to warn us in his own way, or just signing off. His career's over. The end. Last crime scene. Last everything."

"He's such a good man," I said. "Goddamn it, Marino. There's got to be something we can do."

His phone rang, startling me. The sound of cars on the street out front was a steady rumble of engines. Marino's continuous tinny Christmas music was playing "Jingle Bells" again.

"Bray wants to talk to me about so-called changes she's instigating," I told him.

"Oh, I'm sure she does," he said, his stocking feet padding across linoleum. "And I guess you're just supposed to drop everything when she suddenly wants to have you for lunch, which is what she's gonna do, have you between rye with lots уf mustard."

He grabbed the phone.

"What?" he yelled at the poor person on the other end.

"Uh huh, uh huh. Yeah;" Marino said, listening.

I rummaged in cabinets and found one smashed box of Lipton tea bags.

"I'm here. Why the hell don't you talk to me?" Marino indignantly said into the phone.

He listened, pacing about.

"Now that's a good one," he said. "Hold on a minute. Let me just ask her."

He put his hand over the receiver and asked in a hushed voice, "Are you sure you're Dr. Scarpetta?"

He got back to the person on the phone. "She says she was last time she checked," and he irritably shoved the receiver my way.

"Yes?" I asked.

"Dr. Scarpetta?" an unfamiliar voice said. Here.

"I'm Ted Francisco, ATF field office in Miami"

I froze as if someone were pointing a. gun at me.

"Lucy told me Captain Marino might know where you are if we couldn't reach you at home. Can you speak to her?"

"Of course," I said, alarmed.

"Aunt Kay?" Her voice came over the line.

"Lucy! What is it?" I said. "Are you all right?"

"I don't know if you heard what happened down here…"

"I haven't heard anything;" I quickly said as Marino stopped what he was doing and stared at me.

"Our takedown. It didn't go right, too much to go into, but it went really, really bad. I had to kill two of them. Jo got shot."

"Oh, dear God," I said. "Please tell me she's all right."

"I don't know," she said with a steadiness that was completely abnormal. "They have her in Jackson Memorial under some other name and I can't call her. They've got me in isolation because they're afraid the others will try to find us. Retribution. The cartel. All I know is she was bleeding from her head and leg, unconscious when the ambulance got her."

Lucy registered no emotion at all. She sounded like one of the robots or artificial intelligence computers she had programmed at earlier times in her career.

"I'll get…" I started to say when Agent.Francisco suddenly was back on the line.

"I know you're going to hear about this on the news, Dr. Scarpetta, and I wanted to make sure you knew. Especially that Lucy's not hurt."

"Maybe not physically;" I said.

"I want to tell you exactly what will happen next."

"What will happen next," I interrupted him, "is I'm flying down there immediately. I'll get a private, plane if I have to."

"I'd like to ask you not to do that," he said. "Let me explain. This is a very, very vicious group, and Lucy and Jo know far too much about them, about who some of them are and how they do business. Within hours of the shooting, we sent a Miami-Dade bomb squad to Lucy and Jo's respective undercover residences and our bomb dog detected pipe bombs wired under each of their cars."

I pulled a chair out from Marino's kitchen table and sat down. I felt weak all over. My vision was blurred.

"Are you there?" he said.

"Yes, yes."

"What's happening right now, Dr. Scacpetta, is MiamiDade is working the cases, just as you might expect, and normally, we'd have a shooting review team on its way in addition to peer support guys-agents who have been involved in critical incidents and are trained to work with other agents going through things like this. But because of the threat level, we're sending Lucy north, to D.C., to wherever she's safe."

"Thank you for taking such good care of her. God bless you," I said in a voice that didn't sound like me.

"Look, I know how you feel," Agent Francisco said. "I promise you I do. I was at Waco."

"Thank you," I said again. "What will DEA do with Jo?"

"Transfer her to another hospital a million miles away from here as soon as we can:" ."What about MCV?" I asked.

"I'm not familiar…"

"Her family lives in Richmond, as you may know, but more to the point, MCV is excellent and I'm on the faculty," I said. "If you get her here, I'll personally make sure she's well taken care of."

He hesitated, then said, "Thank you. I will take that under advisement and discuss it with her supervisor."

When he hung up, I stood staring at the phone.

"What?" Marino asked.

"The takedown went haywire. Lucy shot two people to death..;'.

"Was it a good shooting?" he cut me off.

"No shooting is good!"

"Goddamn it, Doc, you know what I mean. Was it justified? Don't tell me she fucking shot two agents by accident!"

"No, of course not. Jo was shot. I'm not sure of her condition."

"Fuck!" he exclaimed, pounding his fist so hard on the kitchen counter dishes rattled in the drain board. "Lucy just had to go slug it out with somebody, didn't she? They shouldn't have even had her in a takedown like this! I coulda told them that! She's just been waiting to shoot the shit out of someone, to go in like a damn cowboy with pistols blazing to pay back everyone she hates in life…!"

"Marino, stop it."

"You saw what she was like at your house the other night," he railed on. "She's been a damn psycho ever since Benson got killed. There's no payback that's enough, not even shooting that damn helicopter out of the air and chumming the water with Carrie Grethen's and Newton Joyce's pieces and parts." 'That's enough;' I said, exhausted. "Please, Marino. This isn't helping anything. Lucy's a professional, and you know that. ATF would never have given her an assignment like this if she weren't. They know her story very well and evaluated and counseled. her extensively after what happened to Benton and all the rest of it. In fact, low she handled that entire nightmare only gave them more respect for her as both an agent and a human being:"

He was silent as he opened a bottle of Jack Daniel's.

Then he said, "Well, you and I know she ain't handling it so well."

"Lucy has always been able to compartmentalize."

"Yeah, and how healthy is that?"

"I guess we should ask each other that."

"But I'm telling you right now, this time she ain't gonna handle it well, Doc," he said, splashing bourbon into a glass and dropping in several ice cubes. "She killed two people in the line of duty barely a year ago, and now she's just done. it again. Most guys go their entire careers and don't even take a shot at somebody. That's why I'm trying to make you understand it's gonna be viewed differently this time. The big guys in Washington are gonna consider that maybe they got a gunslinger on their hands, someone who's a problem."

He handed the drink to me.

"I've known cops, agents like that," he said.. "They always have justifiable reasons for judicial homicide, but if you look hard at it, you begin to get the drift that they subconsciously set things up to go bad. They thrive on it."

"Lucy's not like that."

"Yeah, she's only been pissed off since the day she was born. And by the way, you ain't going anywhere tonight. You're staying here with me and Father Christmas."

He poured himself a bourbon, too, and we went into his shabby, crowded living room with:its crooked lampshades, its dusty, bent Venetian blinds and the sharp-cornered glass coffee table he blamed on me. He dropped into his recliner chair, which was so old he had repaired splits in the brown Naugahyde with duct tape, I remembered the first time I walked into his house. After recovering from the dismay, I realized he was proud of how thoroughly he wore everything out, except for his truck, aboveground pool, and now his Christmas decorations.

He caught me staring dismally at his chair as -I curled up in a corner of the green corduroy couch I tended to choose. It might have been missing its wale wherever bodies came in touch with it, but it was cozy.

"One day I'll get a new one of these," he said, pushing down the lever on the side of the chair and sliding the footrest out.

He wiggled his stocking feet as if his toes were cramped, and flicked on the TV I was surprised when he changed the channel to twenty-one; the Arts amp; Entertainment network.

"I didn't know you watched Biography," I said.

"Oh yeah. And the real-life cops shows they usually got on. This may sound like I been sniffing glue, but does it strike you how everything in the world's gone to hell ever since Bray came to town?"

"I'm sure it would strike you that way, after what she's been doing to you."

"Huh. And she's not been doing the same thing to you?" he challenged, sipping his drink. "I'm not the only person in this room she's trying to ruin."

"I don't think she has the power to cause everything else going on in fife," I replied.

"Let me just run through the list for you, Doc, and make sure to remember we're talking about a three-month period, okay? She arrives in Richmond. I get thrown back in uniform. You suddenly have a thief in your office. You have a snitch who breaks into your e-mail and turns you into Dear Abby.

"Then this dead guy shows up in a container and Interpol's suddenly in the picture, and now Lucy kills two people, which is convenient for Bray, by the way. Don't forget, she's been all hot and bothered about getting Lucy to sign on with Richmond, and if ATF throws Lucy back like a fish, she's gonna need a job. And oh yeah, now someone's following you."

I watched a young, gorgeous Liberace playing the piano and singing while a voice-over of a friend talked about what a kind, generous man the musician had been.

"You're not listening to me;" Marino raised his voice again.

"I'm listening."

He heaved himself ъp again with an exasperated huff and padded into the kitchen.

"Have we heard anything from Interpol?" I called out as he made a lot of noise tearing open paper and rummaging through the silverware drawer.

"Nothing worth passing on."

The microwave hummed.

"It would be nice if you'd pass it on anyway," I said, annoyed.

Stage lights caught Liberace blowing kisses to his audience and his sequins flashed like an intense red and gold fireworks display. Marino walked back into the living room with a bowl of ruffled potato chips and a container of some sort of dip.

"The guy at State Police got a computer message back from them within an hour. They just requested more info, that's all:" 'That tells us a lot," I said, disappointed. "That probably means they didn't get a hit on anything significant. The old fracture of the jaw, the unusual accessory cusp of the Carabelli, not to mention fingerprints. None of it matched up with anybody wanted or missing."

"Yeah. It's a pisser," he said, his mouth full as he held out the bowl to me.

"No, thanks:' "It's really good. What you do is soften the cream cheese in the microwave first and put in jalapeiнos. It's a lot better for you than onion dip."

"I'm sure."

"You know, I always liked him:' He pointed a greasy finger at the TV "I don't care if he was queer. You gotta admit he had style. If people are gonna pay all that money for records and concert tickets, by God they ought to get people who don't look and act like some schmoe on the street.

"Let me tell you," Marino said with his mouth full, "shootings are a bitch. You get investigated as if you made an attempt on the damn president, and then there's all the counseling and everybody worrying about your mental health so much it makes you crazy."

He threw back bourbon and crunched more chips.

"She's gonna get some time on the bricks," he went on, using cop jargon for involuntary time off. "And Miami detectives are gonna work it like they always work homicides. Got to. And everything will have the hell reviewed out of it"

He looked over at me, wiping his hands.on his jeans.

"I know this won't make you feel good, but maybe you're the. last person she wants to see right now," he said.

20

There was a rule in our building that any evidence, even something as innocuous as a ten-print card, had to be transported on the service elevator. This was located at the end of a hallway where two cleaning ladies were this minute pushing their carts as I headed to Neils Vander's lab.

"Good morning, Merle. And Beatrice, how are you?" I smiled at them.

Their eyes landed on the towel-covered surgical pan and the paper sheets covering the gurney I was pushing. They had been around long enough to know that whenever I carried something bagged or pushed something covered, it was nothing they wanted to know about.

"Uh-oh," Merle said.

"Uh-oh is right," Beatrice chimed in.

I pushed the elйvator button.

"You going anyplace special for Christmas, Dr. Scarpelts.

They could tell by the look on my face that Christmas was a topic I didn't particularly care to talk about.

"You're probably too busy for Christmas," Merle quickly said.

Both women got uncomfortable for the same reason everybody else did when they were reminded of what had happened to Benton.

"I know this time of year gets real busy," Merle awkwardly changed the subject. "All those people drinking on the road. More suicides and people getting mad at each other."

Christmas would be here in about two weeks. Fielding was on call that day. I couldn't count how many Christmases I had worn a pager.

"People burning up in fires, too."

"When bad things happen this time of year," I said to them as the elevator doors opened, "we feel them more. That's a lot of it."

"Maybe that's it."

"I don't know 'bout that, remember that electrical fire…?'

The doors shut and I headed ъp to the second floor, which had been designed to accommodate tours for citizens and politicians and anyone else interested in our work. All labs were behind big expanses of plate glass, and at first this had seemed odd and uncomfortable to scientists used to working in secret behind cinder block walls. By now, nobody cared. Examiners tested trigger pulls and worked with bloodstains, fingerprints and fibers without paying much attention to who was on the other side of the glass, which at this moment included me pushing my gurney past.

Neils Vander's world was a large space of countertops, with all sorts of unusual technical instruments and juryrigged contraptions scattered all over the place. Against one wall were wooden cabinets with glass doors, and these Vander had turned into glue chambers, using clothesline and clothespins to hold up objects exposed to the Super Glue fumes generated by a hot plate.

In the past; scientists and police had had very little success in lifting prints frуm nonporous objects such as plastic bags, electrical tape and leather. Then, quite by accident, it was discovered that the fumes from Super Glue adhere to ridge detail, much as traditional dusting powder does, and out pops a white latent print. In a corner was another glue chamber called a Cyvac II that could accommodate larger objects such as a shotgun or rifle or car bumper, or theoretically even an entire body.

Humidity chambers raised prints off porous items, such as paper or wood, that had been treated with ninhydrin, although Vander sometimes resorted to the quick method of using a household steam iron, arid once or twice had scorched the evidence, or so I'd heard. Scattered about were Nederman lights equipped with vacuums to suck up fumes and residues from drug Baggies.

Other rooms in Vander's domain housed the Automatic Fingerprints Identification System known as AFIS, and darkrooms for digital audio and video enhancement. He oversaw the photo lab, where more than a hundred and fifty rolls of processed film carne off the speedmaster every day. It took me a while to locate Vander, but I finally caught him in the impression lab, where pizza boxes ingenious cops used to transport plaster casts of tire tracks and footwear prints were neatly stacked in corners, and a door someone had tried to kick in was leaning against a wall.

Vander* was seated before a computer, comparing footwear impressions on a split screen. I left the gurney outside the door.

"You're nice to do this," I said.

His pale blue eyes always seemed to be elsewhere, and as usual, his lab coat was stained purple from ninhydrin and a felt-tip pen had bled through one of his pockets.

"This is a real good one," he said, tapping the video screen as he got out of his chair. "Guy buys new shoes and you know how slippery they are if the bottoms are leather? So he gets a knife and slashes them, you know, roughs them up because he's getting married and doesn't want to slip coming down the aisle."

I followed him out of the lab, not really in the mood for anecdotes.

"Well, he gets burglarized. Shoes, bunch of other clothes and stuff, gone. Two days later a woman in his neighborhood is raped. Police find these weird shoeprints at the scene. In fact, there'd been quite a lot of burglaries in that area."

We entered the alternate light source lab.

"Turns out it was this kid. Thirteen." Vander was shaking his head as he flipped on the lights. "I just don't know about kids anymore. When I was thirteen, the worst thing I ever did was shoot a bird with a BB gun."

He mounted the Luma-Lite on a tripod.

"That's pretty bad in my book," I told him.

While I laid out the clothes on white paper under the chemical hood, he plugged in the Luma-Lite and its fans began to whir. A minute later he started the source lamp, rotating the intensity knob to full power. He set a pair of protective glasses near me and placed a blue 450 nanometer optical filter over the output lens. We put on our glasses and turned out the lights. The Luma-Lite cast a blue glow across the floor. Vander's shadow moved as he did, and nearby jars of dye lit up Brilliant Yellow and Blitz Green and Redwop. Their dust was a constellation of neon stars scattered throughout the room.

"You know, we've got these idiots at police departments these days who are getting their own Luma-Lites and processing their own scenes," Vander's voice sounded in the dark. "So they dust with Redwop and put the print on a black background, so I have to photograph it with the Luma-Lite on and reverse the damn print to white."

He started with the plastic wastepaper basket found inside the container and was instantly rewarded with the faint ridges of fingerprint smudges, which he dusted with Redwop, its electric red dust drifting through the dark.

"Good way to start," I said. "Keep it up, Neils."

Vander moved the tripod closer to the dead man's black jeans and the inside-out right pocket began to glow a dull rouge. I poked the material with my gloved finger and found smears of iridescent orange.

"Don't believe I've ever gotten a red like that before," Vander mused.

We spent an hour going over all of the clothing, including shoes and belt, and nothing else fluoresced.

"Definitely two different things there," Vander said as I turned on the lights. "Two different things fluorescing naturally. No dye stains involved except the one I used on the bucket."

I picked up the phone and called the morgue. Fielding answered.

"I need everything that was in the pockets of our unidentified man. It should be air-drying on a tray."

"That would be some foreign money, a cigar clipper and a lighter."

"Yes,"

Lights off again and we finished scanning the exterior of all the clothing, finding more of the odd pale hair.

"Is that coming off his head?" Vander asked as my forceps entered the cool, blue light, gently grabbing hairs and placing them inside an envelope.

"His head hair is dark and coarse," I replied. "So no, this hair can't be his."

"Looks like cat hair. One of these long-haired types that I don't allow in the house anymore. Angora? Himalayan?"

"Rare. Not too many people have either one," I said.

"My wife loves cats;" Vander went on. "She had this one named Creamsicle. Damn thing would look for my clothes and lie on them, and when I'd find them to get, dressed, damn if they didn't look just like this."

"I guess it could be cat hair," I supposed.

"Too fine for dog hair, don't you think?"

"Not if it's something like a Skye terrier. Long, straight silky hair."

"Pale yellow?"

"They can be tawny," I said. "Maybe the undercoat? I don't know."

"Maybe the guy's a breeder or works with one," Vander suggested. "Aren't there long-hair rabbits, too?"

"Knock, knock;" Fielding's voice sounded as he opened the door.

He walked in, tray in hand, and we turned on the lights.

"There are angora rabbits," I said. "The ones the sweaters are made from."

"You look like you've been working out again," Vander said to Fielding.

"You mean I haven't looked that way before?" Fielding asked.

Vander looked puzzled as if he'd never noticed that Fielding was a body-sculpting fanatic.

"We've picked up on some sort of residue in one of the pockets," I told Fielding. "It's the same pocket the money was in."

Fielding removed the towel that covered the tray.

"I recognize the pounds and deutsche marks," he said. "But not those two coppery things."

"I think they're Belgian francs," I said.

"And I got no clue what this cash is."

It had been lined up bill by bill to dry.

"It looks like it's got some sort of temple on it and what? What's a dirham? Arabic?"

"I'll get Rose to check."

"Why would somebody have four different kinds of money on him?" Fielding asked.

"If he was in and out of a lot of countries in a short period of time;" I ventured a guess. "That's 4111 can think of. Let's get the residues analyzed ASAP"

We put on our protective glasses and Vander turned out the lights. The same dull rouge and brilliant orange fluoresced on several of the bills. We scanned all of them on both sides, finding flecks and smudges here and there, and then the ridge detail of a latent fingerprint. It was barely visible on the upper left corner of a hundred-dirham bill.

"We must be living right," Fielding said.

"Hot dog," Vander chortled. "Wo for two! I'm going to hop on this right away. Get one of my buddies at Secret Service to run ' em through MORPHO, PRINTRAK, NECAFIS,WIN, whatever-every database out there, all fortyfifty million prints."

Nothing excited Vander more than finding a loop or whorl he could hurl through cyberspace to hog-tie a criminal.

"Is the FBI's national database up and running yet?" Fielding asked.

"Secret Service already has every damn print the FBI does, but as usual, the Bureau has to re-create the wheel. Spending all this money to create their own database, and using different vendors so everything is incompatible with everybody else. I've got a dinner to go to tonight"

He focused the Luma-Lite on the foul, dark flesh pinned to the cutting board, and instantly two specks fluoresced bright yellow. They were not much bigger than a nailhead, and were parallel and symmetrical and could not be rubbed off.

"I'm pretty sure it's a tattoo," I said.

"Yeah," Vander agreed. "Don't know what else it could be. Nothing else is doing anything."

The flesh from the dead man's back was murky and muddy in the cool, blue light.

"But see how dark this is in here?" Vander's gloved finger outlined an area about the size of my hand.

"I wonder what the hell that is," Fielding said.

"I just don't know why it's so dark," Vander mused.

"Maybe the tattoo's black or brown," I suggested.

"Well, we'll give Phil a whirl at it," Vander said. "What time's it getting to be? You know, I wish Edith.hadn't said we'd do this dinner tonight. I gotta go. Dr. Scarpetta, you're on your own. Damn, damn. I hate it when Edith wants to celebrate something."

"Ah, come on, big guy," Fielding said. "You know what a party animal you are."

"I don't drink much anymore. I feel it."

"You're supposed to feel it, Neils," I said.

Phil Lapointe was not in a good mood when I walked into the image enhancement lab, which looked more like a production studio than a place where scientists worked with pixels and contrasts in all shades of light and dark to put a face on evil. Lapointe was one of our first Institute graduates, and he was skilled and determined but had not yet learned to move on when a case absolutely wouldn't.

"Damn," he said, raking his fingers through thick red hair and squinting as he leaned into a twenty-four-inch screen.

"I hate to do this to you," I said.

He impatiently tapped keys, rolling another shade of gray down a freeze-frame from a convenience store videotape. The figure in dark glasses and hairnet cap was not made much clearer, but the store clerk was certainly vivid as blood sprayed in a fine mist from his head.

"I tweak it and it's almost there, and then it's not," Lapointe wearily complained with a sigh. "I see this damn thing in my sleep."

"Unbelievable," I said, staring. "Look how relaxed he is.

It's like all of it is an afterthought, no big deal. 'A what-the hell, may-as-well."

"Yeah, that much I've got." Lapointe stretched his back. "Just wasted the guy for no reason. That's what I don't get.

"I give you a few more years and you'll get it," I said.

"I don't want to become cynical, if that's what you're saying."

"It's not getting cynical. It's about finally figuring out there don't have to be reasons," I told him.

He stared at the computer screen, lost in the last picture that had ever captured Pyle Gant alive. I had performed his autopsy.

"Let's see what we've got here," Lapointe said, removing the towel from the surgical pan.

Gant was twenty-three with a two-month-old baby and working overtime to pay for his wife's birthday necklace on layaway.

"This must be from The Container Man. You're thinking a tattoo?"

Gant lost control of his bladder before he was shot.

"Dr. Scarpetta?"

I knew this because the back of his jeans and the seat of the chair behind the counter were soaked with urine. When I looked out the window, two cops were restraining his hysterical wife in the parking lot.

"Dr. Scarpetta?"

She was screaming and slapping. She still had braces on her teeth.

"Thirty-one dollars and twelve cents;" I muttered.

Lapointe saved the file and closed it.

"What was?" he asked me.

"That's what was in the cash register," I replied.

Lapointe rolled his chair around, opening drawers and getting out different-colored filters and rummaging for gloves. The phone rang and he answered it.

"Hold on." He held the receiver out to me. "It's for you."

It was Rose.

"I got hold of someone in the foreign currency department of Crestar;" she said. "The money you asked me about is Moroccan. To date, there are nine-pуint-three dirham to the dollar. So two thousand dirham would be about two hundred and fifteen dollars."

"Thank you, Rose..: ' "And there's one other thing you might find interesting," she went on. "It's forbidden for Moroccan money to be brought in or taken out of the country."

"I have a feeling this guy was into a lot of things that are forbidden," I said. "Can you try Agent Francisco again?"

"Certainly."

My understanding of ATF protocols was fast turning into the fear that Lucy had rejected me. I desperately wanted to see -her: I wanted to do whatever I had to do to make that happen. I hung up and lifted the cork cutting board out of the pan, and Lapointe looked at it under a strong light.

"I'm not feeling real optimistic about this," he let me know.

"Well, don't start seeing this one in your sleep, too;" I told him. "I'm not hopeful, either. All we can do is try."

What was left of the epidermis was as greenish-black as a quarry or a swamp, and the flesh underneath was getting darker and dryer like curing meat. We centered the corkboard under a high-resolution camera that was connected to the video screen.

"Nope;" Lapointe said. "Too much reflection."

He tried oblique light and then switched to black and white. He fitted various filters over the camera lens. Blue was no good, nor was yellow, but when he tried red, the iridescent specks peeked out at us again. Lapointe enlarged them. They were perfectly round. I thought of full moons, of a werewolf with evil yellow eyes.

"I'm not going to be able to get this any better live. I'll just grab it," Lapointe said, disappointed.

He captured the image onto his hard drive and began to process it, the software making it possible for us to see some two hundred shades of gray that we couldn't detect with the unaided eye:

Lapointe worked the keyboard and mouse, going in and out of windows, and using contrast, brightness, and enlarging, shrinking and adjusting. He eliminated background noise, or trash, as he called it, and we began to see hair pores, and then the stippling made by a tattoo needle. Out of the murk emerged black wavy lines that became fur or feathers. A black line sprouting daisy petals became a claw.

"What do you think?" I asked Lapointe.

"I think this is the best we're going to get," he impatiently said.

"We know anybody who's an expert in tattoos?"

"Why don't you start with your histologist," he said.

21

I found George Gara in his lab, retrieving his bagged lunch from a refrigerator posted with a sign that read No Food Inside were stains such as silver nitrate and mucicarmine, in addition to Schiff reagents, none of which was compatible with anything edible.

"That's not such a great idea," I said.

"I'm sorry," he stuttered, setting the bag on the counter and shutting the refrigerator door.

"We have a fridge in the break room. George," I said. "You're more than welcome to use it:'

He didn't respond, and I realized that he was so painfully shy he probably didn't go into the break room for a -reason. My heart ached for him. I couldn't imagine the shame he must have felt when he was growing up and couldn't talk without stuttering. Maybe that explained the tattoos slowly taking over his body like kudzu. Maybe they made him feel special and manly. I pulled out a chair and sat down.

"George, can I ask you about your tattoos?" I asked.

He blushed.

"I'm fascinated by them and need -some help with a problem:' "Sure," he said with uncertainty.

"Do you have someone you go to? A real expert? Someone very experienced in tattooing?"

"Yes, ma'am," hereplied. "I wouldn't go to just anyone."

"You get your tattoos locally? Because I need to find a place where I can ask some questions and not run into bad characters, if you know what I mean."

"Pit," he immediately said. "As in pit bull, but Pit's his real name. John Pit. He's a really good guy. You want me to call him for you?" he asked, stuttering badly.

"I would be grateful if you would," I said.

Gara pulled a small address book out of his back pocket and looked up a number. When he got Pit on the line, he explained who I was, and apparently Pit was very agreeabIй.

"Here." Gara handed me the phone. "I'll let you explain the rest of it."

That took several efforts. Pit was home and just waking up.

"So you think you might have some luck?" I asked.

"I've seen pretty much all the flash out there," he replied.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what that is."

"Flash's the stencils, I guess you could call them. You know, the design people pick out. Every inch of wall space I got is covered with flash. That's why I'm thinking you might want to come here instead of me coming to your office. We might see something that gives us a clue. But I will tell you I'm not open Wednesdays or Thursdays. And payday weekend just about killed me. I'm still recovering. But I'll open up for you, since this must be important. You bringing in whoever's got this tattoo?"

He still didn't quite get it.

"No, I'm bringing the tattoo," I said. "But not the person who goes with it."

"Wait a minute," he said. "Okay, okay, now I'm hearing you. So you cut it off the dead guy."

"Can you handle that?"

"Oh, hell, yeah. I can handle anything."

"What time?"

"How 'bout as soon as you can get here?'

I hung up and was startled to see Ruffin in the doorway watching me. I had a feeling he'd been there for a while, listening to my conversation, since my back was to him as I'd taken notes. His face was tired, his eyes red, as if he'd been up half the night drinking.

"You don't look well, Chuck;" I said without much sympathy.

"I was wondering if I could go home," he said. "I think I'm coming down with something."

"I'm so sorry to hear that. There's a new, very contagious strain going around, thought to be carried by the Internet. It's called the six-thirty bug," I said. "People dash home from work and log onto their home computers. If they have a home computer."

Ruffin's face turned white.

"That's pretty funny," Gara said. "But I don't get the sixthirty part of it."

"The time half the world signs onto AOL:' I replied. "Of course, Chuck, you can go home. Get some rest. I'll walkyou out. We need to stop in the decomposed room first and get the tattoo."

I had removed it from the corkboard and placed it inside ajar of formalin.

"They say it is going to be a really weird winter," Ruffin began to prattle. "I was listening to the radio this morning while I was driving in to work, and it's like it's going to get real cold closer to Christmas and then be like spring again in February."

I opened the automatic doors to the. decomposed room and walked in as trace evidence examiner Larry Posner and an Institute student worked on the dead man's clothes.

"I'm always happy to see you guys," I greeted them.

"Well, I've got to admit, you've given us another one of your challenges," said Posner as he used a scalpel to scrape dirt off a shoe onto a sheet of white paper. "You know Carlisle?"

"Is he teaching you anything?" I asked the young man.

"Sometimes," he replied.

"How ya doing, Chuck?" Posner said. "You don't look so good."

"Hanging in there." Chuck kept up his sick routine.

"Sorry about the Richmond PD.;" he said with a sympathetic smile.

Ruffin was visibly shaken.

"Excuse me?" he said..

Posner looked uncomfortable as he replied, "I heard the academy didn't work out. You know, I just wanted to tell you not to be discouraged."

Ruffin's eyes cut to the phone.

"Most people don't know this," Posner went on as he started work on another shoe. "I flunked the first two tests in chemistry one-oh-one at VCU."

"No kidding," Ruffin muttered.

"Now you tell me." Carlisle feigned horror and disgust. "And here I was told I'd get the best instructors id the world if I came here. I want my money back."

"Got something to show you, Dr. Scarpetta," Posner said, pushing back his face shield.

He set down the scalpel and folded the sheet of paper with a jeweler's fold and moved over to the pair of black jeans Carlisle was working on. They were carefully laid out on the sheet-covered gurney. The waistband had been turned inside out to the hips, and Carlisle was gently collecting hairs with needle-nosed forceps.

"This is the damnedest thing," Posner said, pointing a gloved finger without touching while his trainee carefully folded the jeans down another inch, revealing more hairs.

"We've already collected dozens," Posner was telling me. "You know, we began folding down the jeans and found the expected pubic hair in the crotch, but then there's this blond stuff. And each inch we go, there's more of it. It doesn't make sense."

"It doesn't seem to," I agreed.

"Maybe some sort of animal like a Persian cat?" Carlisle suggested.

Ruffin opened a.cupboard and took out the plastic bottle of formaiin that contained the tattoo.

"If it was sleeping on top of the jeans while they were inside out, for example?" Carlisle went on. "You know, a lot of times when my jeans are a pain to get off, they end up inside out and tossed on a chair. And my dog loves to sleep on top of my clothes."

"I don't guess hanging things up or putting them in drawers ever occurs to you," Posner remarked.

"Is that part of my homework?"

"I'll go find a bag to put this in," Ruffin said, holding up the jar. "In case it leaks or something."

"Good idea:' l said. Then I asked Posner, "How quickly can you take a look at all this?"

"For you, I'll ask the lethal question," he said. -"How quickly do you need it?"

I sighed.

"Okay, okay."

"We've got Interpol trying to track down who this guy is. I feel under as much pressure as.everybody else, Larry" I said.

"You don't need to explain. I know when you say jump, there's always a good reason. I guess I put my foot in my mouth," he added. "What's with that kid? He acted like he didn't know he wasn't accepted at the police academy. Hell, it's all over the building:' "First of all, I didn't know he didn't get in," I said. "And second, I don't know why it's ail over the building."

Even as I said it, Marino came to mind. He said he was going to fix Ruffin, and maybe he just did by somehow finding out the news and gleefully spreading it.

"Supposedly Bray's the, one who gave him the boot," Posner went on.

Moments later, Ruffin returned with a plastic bag in hand. We left the decomposed room and washed up in our respective locker rooms. I took my time. I made him wait in the hall, knowing his anxiety was heating up with every second that went by. When I finally emerged, we walked together in silence, and he stopped twice to take a nervous drink of water.

"I hope I'm not getting a fever;" he said.

I stopped and looked at him, and-he involuntarily jerked away when I placed the back- of my hand on his cheek.

"I think you're fine," I said.

I accompanied him through the lobby and into the parking lot, and by now he was clearly frightened.

"Is something wrong?" he finally asked, clearing his throat and putting on sunglasses.

"Why would you ask me that?" I innocently said.

"You walking me out here and everything."

"I'm heading to my car."

"I'm sorry I said to you what I did about problems here and the Internet stuff and everything," he said. "I knew it was better to keep it to myself, that you would get mad at me."

"Why would you think I'm mad at you?" I asked as I unlocked my car.

He seemed at a loss for words. I opened the trunk and set the plastic bag inside it.

"You got a nick on the paint there. Probably. from a kicked-up rock, but it's starting to rust…"

"Chuck, I want you to hear what I'm saying;" I calmly told him. "I know"

"What? I don't understand what you mean." He tripped over words.

"You understand completely."

I got into the front seat and turned on the engine.

"Get in, Chuck," I said. "You don't need to stand out in the cold. Especially since you're not feeling well."

He hesitated and exuded fear like an odor as he walked around to the passenger's side.

"Sorry you weren't able to make it to Buckhead's. We had an interesting conversation with Deputy Chief Bray," I said as he shut his door.

His mouth fell open.

"It's a relief to me to have so many questions answered at last," I went on. "E-mail, the Internet, rumors about my career, leaks."

I waited to see what he would say to this and was startled when he blurted out, "That's why I suddenly didn't make it into the academy, isn't it? You see her last night and this morning I get the news. You bad-mouthed me, told her not to hire me, then spread it everywhere to embarrass me."

"Your name never came up once. And I most certainly haven't spread anything about you anywhere."

"Bullshit:' His angry voice trembled as if he might cry. "I've wanted to be a cop all my life, and now you ruined it!"

"No, Chuck, you ruined it."

"Call the chief and say something. You can, you can," he begged like a distraught child. "Please."

"Why were you meeting Bray last night?"

"Because she told me to. I don't know what she wanted. She just sent me a page and told me to be in the parking lot at Buckhead's at five-thirty."

"And of course, in her mind you never showed up. I expect that may have something to do with why you got bad news this morning. What do you think?"

"I guess," he mumbled.

"How are you feeling? Still sick? If not, I've got to head out to Petersburg, and I think you should ride with me so we can finish this conversation."

"Well, I..:'

"Well what, Chuck?"

"I want to finish the conversation, too," he said.

"Start with how you know Deputy Chief Bray. I find it rather extraordinary that you should have what seems to be a personal relationship with the most powerful person in the police department."

"Imagine how I felt when it all started;" he innocently said. "See, Detective Anderson called me a couple months ago, said she was new and wanted to ask me questions about the M.E: s office, about our procedures, and could I meet her at the River City Diner for lunch. That was when I got on the road to hell, and I know I should've said something to you about her call. I should've told you what I was doing. But you were teaching classes most of the day and I didn't want to bother you, and Dr. Fielding was in court. So I told Anderson I'd be glad to help her out."

"Well, it's pretty obvious she didn't learn anything."

"She was setting me up," he said, "and when I walked into the River City Diner, I couldn't believe it. She was sitting in a booth with Deputy Chief Bray, and she told me she wanted to know all about the way our office runs,too. “ "Who did?"

"Bray did."

"I see. Big surprise," I said.

"I guess I was really flattered but nervous, too, because I didn't understand what was going on. I mean, next thing, she's telling me to walk back to police headquarters with her and Anderson."

"Why didn't you tell me all this at the time?" I said as we drove toward Fifth Street to pick up I-95 South.

"I don't know…" His voice trailed off.

"I think you do."

"I was scared."

"Might it have anything to do with your ambition of becoming a police officer?"

"Well, let's face it," he said. "What better connection could I have? And somehow she knew I was interested and when we got to her office, she closed the door and sat me across from her desk."

"`Was Anderson there?"

"Just Bray and me. She said that with my experience I might think about becoming a crime-scene technician. I felt like I'd won the lottery."

I was working hard at keeping my distance from cement barriers and aggressive drivers while Ruffin continued his choirboy act.

"I have to admit I was in a dream after that and lost interest in my job, and I'm sorry for that," he said. "But it wasn't until two weeks later that Bray e-mailed me..:' "Where did she get your e-mail address?"

"Uh, she asked for it. So she e-mailed me and said she wanted me to drop by her house at five-thirty, that she had something very confidential to discuss with me.

"And I'm telling you, Dr. Scarpetta, I didn't want to go. I knew something bad was going to come out of it."

"Such as?"

"I halfway wondered if maybe she was going to hit on me or something."

"Did she? What happened when you got to her house?" I asked.

"Gosh, this is-really hard to say."

"Say it."

"She got me a beer and moved her chair real close to the couch where I was sitting. She asked me all kinds of questions about myself like she was really interested in me as a person. And..:"

A loaded-down logging truck pulled in front of me and I sped around it.

"I hate those things," I said.

"Me, too," Chuck said, and his shoe-licking tone was making me sick.

"And what? You were telling me?" I said.

He took a deep breath. He got very interested in the trucks bearing down on us and the men working with mounds of asphalt on the roadside. It seemed as if this stretch of I-95 near Petersburg had been under construction since the Civil War.

"She wasn't in a uniform, if you get what I mean," he resumed with overblown sincerity. "She, well, she had on a business suit, but I don't think she was wearing a bra, or at least the blouse… you could sort of see through it."

"Did she ever try to seduce you, make any overture at all beyond how she was dressed?" I asked.

"No, ma'am, but it was like maybe she was hoping I would. And now I know why. She wouldn't go for it, but she'd hold it over me. Just one more way to control me. So when she got me my second beer, she got down to what she wanted. She said it was important I know the truth about you:' "Which is?"

"She said you're unstable. Everybody knew you'd lost your grip, those were her exact words, that you were almost bankrupt because you're a compulsive shopper..:' "Compulsive shopper?"

"She said something about your house and car."

"Why would she know anything about my house?" I asked, realizing that Rufn knew about both, among many other things.

"I don't know," he said. "I guess the worst thing, though, was what she said about your work. That you'd been screwing up cases and the detectives were beginning to complain except for Marino. He was covering up for you, which was why she was going to have to do something about him eventually."

"And she certainly did," I said without a trace of emotion.

"Gee, do I have to go on?" he said. "I don't want to say all these things to you!"

"Chuck, would you like a chance to start over and undo some of the damage you've done?" I set him up.

"God, if only I could;" he said, as if he really meant it.

"Then tell me the truth. Tell me everything. Let's get you back on the right track so you can have a happy life," I encouraged him.

I knew the little bastard would turn on anyone if it was in his best interest.

"She said one of the reasons she'd been hired was the chief, the mayor and city council wanted to get rid of you but didn't know how;" Ruffin went on as if the words caused him pain. "That they couldn't because you don't work for the city, the governor basically had to do it. She explained to me it's like when a new city manager is hired because people want to get rid of a bad police chief. It was amazing. She was so convincing, I was sucked in. Then, and I'll never forget it, she got up from her chair and sat next to me. She looked into my eyes.

"She said, `Chuck, your boss is going to ruin your life, do you understand? She's going to take down everyone around her, especially you: I asked her why me? And she said, `Because you're a nothing to her. People like her may act nice, but deep down they think they're God and have contempt for minions: She asked me if I knew what a minion was, and I said I didn't. She told me it was a servant. Well, that got me mad."

"I guess so," I said. "I've never treated you or anyone like a servant, Chuck."

"I know. I know!"

I believed some of his account was true. Most of it was self-serving and slanted, I was sure.

"So I started doing things for her. Little things at first," he went on. "And every time I did one bad thing, it got easier to do the next. It's like I got harder and harder inside and talked myself into believing everything I was doing was justified, even right. Maybe so I could sleep at night. Then the things she wanted got big, like the e-mail, only she got Anderson to give me those. assignments.Bray's too slippery to get caught."

"What things, for example?" I said.

"Dropping the bullet down the sink. That was bad enough."

"Yes, it was," I said, holding in my contempt for him.

"Which is one of the reasons I knew something really big must be on her mind when she sent me the page about meeting her at Buckhead's last night," he went on. "She said not to say a word to anyone and not answer her back unless there was a problem. Just to show up. Period.

"I was scared to death of her by then," he said, and that part I certainly believed. "She had me, you know. i was dirty and she had me. I was so scared of. what she might ask me to do next:"

"And what might that have been?"

He hesitated. A transfer truck swerved in front of me and I tapped my brakes. Bulldozers were moving dirt on the embankment, and dust was everywhere.

"Screw up the Container Man case: I knew that was coming. She was going to get me to tamper with something to get you into so much trouble that it was over for you. And what better case than one with Interpol and everything? With all the interest?"

"And have you done something to compromise that case, Chuck?" I said.

"No, ma'am."

"Have you tampered with any case?"

"Other than the bullet, no, ma'am."

"You realize of course you would be committing a felony if you altered or destroyed evidence? Do you realize Bray's heading you toward prison and probably even setting you up for it so she can get you out of the way after she's finished with me?"

"Deep down, I don't think she'd do that to me," he said.

He was nothing to her. He was a flunky who didn't have sense enough to avoid a trap when he found one because his ego and ambition got in the way.

"You're sure about that;" I said. "Sure Bray wouldn't make you the fall guy?"

He wavered.

"Are you the one who's been stealing things in the office?" I hit the matter head-on and asked.

"I have all of it. She wanted me to do… to do anything I could to make you look like you couldn't run the office. It's all at my house in a box. Eventually I was going to leave it in the building somewhere so someone would find it and return the stuff to everyone."

"Why would you let her have this much power over you?" I asked. "So much that you would lie and steal and premeditate tampering with evidence?"

"Oh, please don't let me get arrested, go to prison," he said in a panicky voice that would win him no acting awards. "I have a wife. A baby on the way. I'll commit suicide, I promise I will. I know lots of ways to do it."

"Don't even think such a thing;" I said. "Don't ever say that again."

"I will. I'm ruined, and it's all my fault. Nobody else's."

"You're not ruined unless you choose to be."

"It doesn't matter anymore," he muttered, and, I was beginning to fear he might be serious.

He was constantly licking his lips, and his words were sticky because his mouth was so dry.

"My wife wouldn't care. And the baby doesn't need to grow up with a father in prison."

"Don't you dare send your body to me;' I told him angrily. "Don't you dare have me walk in and find you on one of my tables."

He turned to me, shocked.

"Grow up," I said. "You don't just shoot your brains out when things turn to shit, do you hear me? Do you know what suicide is?"

He stared wide-eyed at me.

"It's getting in the last pissed-off word. It's a big so there," I said.

22

The Pit Stop was just past Kate's Beauty Salon and a small house with a sign out front advertising a psychic. I parked next to a beat-up black pickup truck tattooed with multiple bumper stickers that gave me broad hints about Mr. Pit.

The door to his business instantly opened and I was greeted by a man whose exposed skin, every inch of it, including his neck and head, was tattooed. His body piercing made me cringe.

He was older than I had expected, probably in his fifties, a wiry man with a long gray ponytail and a beard. He had a face that looked as if it had been beaten up a few times, and he dressed in a black leather vest over a T-shirt. His wallet was chained to his jeans.

"You must be Pit," I said as I_opened the trunk to get out the plastic bag.

"Come on in," he replied in a relaxed way, as if nothing in the world was off kilter or worth worrying about.

He walked in ahead of Ruffin and me and called out, "Taxi, sit, girl." Then he assured us, "Don't worry about her. She's gentler than baby shampoo."

I knew I wasn't going to like what was inside his shop.

"I didn't know you were bringing anybody with you," Pit commented, and I noticed his tongue sported a pointed silver post. "What's your name?"

"Chuck."

"He's one of my assistants," I explained. "If you have a place to sit, he'll wait." '

Taxi was a pit bull, a brown and black square block of muscle on four legs.

"Oh, yeah;' Pit was pointing out a corner of the room where there was a TV and a sitting area. "We gotta have a place for the customers to wait for their appointments. Chuck, you just help yourself. Let me know if you need change for the Coke machine."

"Thanks," he said, subdued.

I didn't like the way Taxi stared at me. I would never trust a pit bull no matter how gentle its owner said it was. To me, the mixture of bulldog and terrier had created the Frankenstein of breeding, and I had seen my share of tornup people, especially children.

"Okay,. Taxi, tummy rub," Pit said in a cooing voice.

Taxi rolled over, legs in the air, and her master squatted and began rubbing her stomach.

"You know"-he looked up at Chuck and me-"these dogs aren't bad unless the owners want 'em to be. They're just big babies. Aren't you, Taxi? I named her `Taxi' because some taxi driver came in here a year back and wanted a tattoo. Said he'd trade me a pit bull puppy for a Grim Reaper with his ex-wife's name under it. So that's what I did, didn't I, girl? Kind of a joke that she's a Pit and I am, too. We ain't related."

Pit's shop was a world I didn't know and couldn't have imagined, and I'd visited some very strange places in my career. Walls were covered with flash, every example edgeto-edge. There were thousands of Indians, winged horses, dragons, fish, frogs and cultist symbols that meant nothing to me. Pit's Trust No One. and Been There,Fucked That opinions were everywhere. Plastic skulls grimaced from shelves and tables, and tattoo magazines were placed about for brave hearts to flip through while they waited for the needle.

Oddly, what I would have found so offensive just an hour ago suddenly took on the authority and truth of a creed. People like Pit and probably much of his clientele were outlaws who bucked anything that took away the right of people to be who and what they are. Out of place in all of this was the dead man whose flesh I was carrying in a jar. There was nothing countercultural or defiant about someone dressed in Armani clothes and crocodile shoes.

"How did you get into this?" I asked Pit.

Chuck began browsing sheet-flash as if he were wandering through an art museum. I set the bag on the countertop by the cash register.

"Graffiti," Pit replied. "I bring a lot of that into my style, sort of like Grime at Primal Urge out in San Fran, not that I'm saying I'm anywhere near as good as him. But if you combine bright, more graffitilike images with the bolder lines of the old school, that's me."

He tapped his finger on a framed photograph of a nude woman smiling slyly, arms provocatively crossed over her breasts. She had a sunset behind a lighthouse on her belly.

"Now that lady there;" he said, "she comes in here with her boyfriend and says he's giving her a tattoo for her birthday. She starts out with this little itty-bitty butterfly on her hip, scared to death. After that she comes back every week for another one."

"Whys" I asked.

"It's addicting."

"Most people get more than one?"

"Most who get just one want to tuck it somewhere, usually out of sight. Like a heart on a butt or a boob. In other words, that one tattoo has special meaning. Or maybe the person got it when they were drunk-that happens, too, but not in my shop. I won't touch you if you smell like booze."

"If someone had one tattoo on his back and nowhere else on his body, as best I can tell? Important? Maybe something more than bravado or being drunk?" I asked.

"I'd say so. The back's a place people see, unless you never take your shirt off. So yeah, I'd say it probably meant something."

He looked at the bag on the countertop.

"So the tattoo in there came from the guy's back," he said.

"'No round yellow dots, each one about the circumference of a nailhead."

Pit stood still and pondered this, his face screwed.up as if he were in pain..

"Ibey got pupils, like eyes would?" he asked.

"No," I said, glancing at Chuck to see if he was in range of our conversation.

He was sitting on a couch, flipping through a magazine.

"Gosh," Pit said. "That's a hard one. No pupils. Can't think of anything without pupils if it's an animal or bird of some kind. Sounds to me you aren't talking flash. More likely it's custom."

He swept both hands over his shop, conducting his own orchestra of outrageous design.

"Now all that's sheets of flash," he said, "as opposed to a tattoo artist's original work, like Grime. I'm saying, you can look at some tattoos and recognize a particular style. No different than Van Gogh or Picasso. For example, I could spot a Jack Rudy or Tin Tin anywhere, most beautiful gray work you'll ever see."

Pit led me across the shop into what looked like a typical examining room in a doctor's office. It was equipped with an autoclave, ultrasonic cleaner, surgical soap, Biowrap, A amp; D ointment, tongue depressors and packs of sterile needles in big glass jars. The actual tattooing machine looked like something an electrologist would use, and there was a cart with squirt bottles of bright paints and caps for mixing. Central to all this was a gynecological chair. I supposed stirrups made it easier to work on legs and other parts of the body I didn't want to think about.

Pit spread a towel on a countertop, and we pulled on surgical gloves. He switched on a surgical lamp, pulling it close as I unscrewed the lid from the jar, my nose instantly assaulted by formalin's acrid bite. I dipped into the pink chemical and pulled out the block of skin. It was rubbery, the tissue permanently preserved, and Pit took it from me without pause and held it up in the light. He turned it this way and that and looked at it through a magnifying glass.

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I see those little suckers. Yup, there's claws holding on a branch. If you kinda lift the image out of the background, you can see the tail feathers."

"A bird?"

"It's a bird all right," he said. "Maybe an owl. You know, it's the eyes that jump out at you, and I think they were bigger than this at one time. The shading gives it away. Right here."

I leaned closer, his gloved finger moving over the skin in brushstrokes.

"See it?" No.

"It's very faint. Eyes have dark circles, like a bandit, sort of, kind of uneven, not very skillfully drawn. Someone tried to make them a whole lot smaller, and there's stripes radiating out from the edges of the bird. You wouldn't notice it unless you've worked with this sort of thing before, because all of it's so dark, you know, in such bad shape.

"But if you really scrutinize, you can see it's darker and heavier around the eyes, for lack of anything to call them. Yup. The more I look at it, I think it's an owl, and the yellow dots are a messy attempt to cover them up by turning them into owl eyes. Or something like owl eyes."

I was beginning to see the stripes, the feathers in the dark shading he was describing, and the way the bright yellow eyes were lined with dark ink as if someone had wanted to make them smaller.

"Someone gets something with yellow dots, doesn't want it anymore arid has something else put on top of it," Pit said. "Since the top layer of skin's gone, most of the new tattoo-the owl-came off. I guess the needles didn't go in as deep on that one. But they went in real deep with the yellow dots. A lot deeper than necessary, which tells me two different artists are involved."

He studied the block of skin some more.

"You can never really cover up an old tattoo," he resumed. "But if you know what you're doing, you can work over and around it so the eye is taken away from it. That's the trick. I guess you could almost call it an, optical illusion."

"Is there any way we can figure out what the yellow eyes might originally have been part of?" I asked him.

Pit looked disappointed and sighed.

"It's just a damn shame it's in such bad shape," he muttered, placing the skin on the towel and blinking several times. "Man, those fumes will get you. How do you work around that all the time?"

"Very, very carefully,":I said. "Would you mind if I use your phone?"

"Help yourself."

I stepped behind the counter, keeping an uneasy eye on Taxi as she sat up in her bed. She stared at me as if daring me to make one move she didn't like.

"It's okay," I told her in a soothing voice. "Pit? Is it all right if I page someone and give him this, number?"

"It ain't a secret. Help yourself."

"You're a good girl." I encouraged Taxi to be one as I stepped around the counter to use.the phone.

Her small, dull eyes reminded me of a shark's, her head hick and triangular like a snake's. She looked like something primitive that had evolved no further since the beginning of time, and I thought of what was written on the box inside the container.

"Could it be a wolf?" I said to Pit. "Even a werewolf?"

Pit sighed again, the hard work of payday weekend shadowing his eyes.

"Well, wolves are real popular. You know, pack instinct, lone wolf," he told me. "Hard to cover up one of those with a bird, an owl or whatever."

"Yeah:' Marino's voice came over the line.

"Hell, it could be so many things." Pit kept on talking loudly. "Coyote, dog, cat. Whatever's got a furry coat and yellow eyes with no pupils. Had to be small to cover it up with an owl, though. Real small."

"Who the hell is that talking about a furry coat?" Marino rudely asked.

I told him where I was and why, Pit rambling on all the while, pointing out all sorts of furry flash on a wall.

"Great."- Marino got mad right away. "Why don't you get one while you're there."

"Maybe another time."

"I can't believe you would go to a tattoo parlor alone. You got an idea the kind of people who go in a place like that? Drug dealers, assholes out on parole, motorcycle gangs.11'41t's all right."

"Oh, no, it ain't all right!' Marino erupted.

He was upset about something that went beyond my visiting a tattoo parlor.

"What's wrong, Marino?"

"Not a damn thing unless you consider being suspended without pay something wrong."

"There's no justification for that," I angrily said, although I'd been afraid it was inevitable.

"Bray thinks so. I guess I ruined her dinner last night.

She says if I do one more thing, I'm fired. The good news is I'm having fun thinking what the one more thing is I might decide to do."

"Hey! Let me show you something," Pit called out to me from across the room.

"We'll do something about this," I promised Marino.

'Yeah."

Taxi's eyes followed me as I hung up and picked my way around her. I scanned the flash on the wall and only felt worse. I wanted the tattoo to be a wolf, a werewolf, a small one, when in fact it could be something else entirely and probably was. I couldn't tolerate it when a question remained unanswered, when science and rational thinking went as far as they could go and quit. 1 couldn't remember ever feeling this discouraged and unsettled. The walls seemed to move in on me and sheets of flash jumped out like demons. Daggers through hearts and skulls, gravestones, skeletons, evil animals and ghastly ghouls played "Ring Around the Rosie" with me.

"Why do people want to wear death?" I raised my voice and Taxi raised her head. "Isn't living with it enough? Why would someone want to spend the rest of his life looking at death on his arm?"

Pit shrugged and didn't seem bothered in the least that I was questioning his art.

"See," he said, "when you think about it, Doc, there's nothing to fear but fear. So people want death tattoos so they won't be afraid of death. It's kind of like people who are terrified by snakes and then touch one in the zoo. In a way, you wear death every day, too," he said to me. "Don't you think you might fear it more if you didn't look at it every day?"

I didn't know how to answer that.

"See, you got a piece of a dead person's skin in that jar and you're not afraid of it," he went on. "But someone else walking in here and seeing that would probably scream or puke. Now, I'm no psychologist"-he vigorously chewed gum-"but there's something real important behind what someone chooses to have permanently drawn on his body. So you take this dead guy? That owl says something about him. What went on inside him. Most of all,.what he was scared of, which may have more to do with whatever's under that owl."

"It would seem that quite a lot of your clients are afraid of voluptuous naked women," I commented.

Pit chewed his gum as if it were trying to get away, and he pondered what I'd said for a moment.

"Hadn't thought about that one," he said, "but it fits. Most of these guys with nudies all over them are really scared of women. Scared. of the emotional part."

Chuck had turned on the TV and was watching Rosie O'Donnell, the volume low. I had seen thousands of tattoos on bodies, but I had never thought of them as a symbol of fear. Pit tapped the lid of the jar of formaliь.

"Ibis guy was afraid of something," he said. "Looks like he might have had a good reason to be."

23

I'd been home only long enough to hang up my coat and drop my briefcase by the door when the telephone rang. It was twenty minutes past eight, and my first thought was Lucy. The only update I'd gotten was that Jo would be transferred to MCV sometime this weekend.

I was frightened and becoming resentful. No matter what policies, protocols or judgment dictated, Lucy could contact me. She could let me know she and Jo were all right. She could tell me where she was.

I quickly grabbed the phone and was both surprised and uneasy when former Deputy Chief Al Carson's voice came over the line. I knew he would not contact me, especially at home, unless it was very important, the news very bad.

"I'm not supposed to be doing this but someone has to," he said right off. "There's been a homicide at the Quik Cary. That convenience store off Cary, near Libbie. You know which one I mean? Kind of a neighborhood market?"

He was talking rapidly and nervously. He sounded scared.

"Yes," I said. "It's close to my house."

I picked up a clipboard and began writing notes on a call sheet.

"An apparent robbery. Somebody came in, cleaned out the drawer and shot the clerk. A female."

I thought of the videotape I had looked at yesterday.

"When did this happen?" I asked.

"We think she got shot not more than an hour ago. I'm calling you myself because your office doesn't know yet."

I paused, not quite sure what he meant. In fact, what he'd just said couldn't possibly be right.

"I called Marino, too," he went on. "I guess there's nothing more they can do to me anymore."

"What do you mean my office doesn't know yet?" I asked.

"Police aren't supposed to be calling the M.E. anymore until we finish with the scene. Until the crime techs do, and they're just now getting there. So it could be hours…"

"Where the hell is this coming from?" I asked, although I knew.

"Dr. Scarpetta, I was pretty much forced to resign, but I would have anyway," Carson told me. "There are changes I can't live with. You know my guys have always gotten along really well with your office. But Bray's put in all these new people-what she did to Marino, that was enough to make me quit right there. But what matters right now is this makes two convenience store killings in a month. I don't want anything messed up. If it's the same guy, he's gonna do it again."

I called Fielding at home and told him what was going on.

"You want me to…?" he started to say.

"No," I cut him off. "I'm going right now. We're getting goddamn screwed, Jack."

I drove fast. Bruce Springsteen was singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and I thought of Bray. I had never really hated anyone before. Hate was poison. I had always resisted it. To hate was to lose, and it was all I could do right now to resist the heat of its flames.

The news came on, the homicide the lead story, covered live at the scene.

"… in what is the second convenience store murder in three weeks. Deputy Chief Bray, what can you tell us?"

"Details are sketchy at this time," her voice sounded inside my car. "We do know that several hours earlier, an unknown suspect entered the Quik Cary here and robbed it and shot the clerk."

My car phone rang.

"Where are you?" Marino said.

"Getting close to Libbie.°' "I'm going to pull into the Cary Town parking lot. I need to tell you what's going on because nobody's gonna tell you the time of day when you get there."

"We'll see about that."

Minutes later, I turned into the small shopping center and parked in front of Schwarzchild Jewelers, where Marino was sitting in his truck. Then he was inside my car, wearing jeans and boots, and a scuffed leather coat with a broken zipper and fleece lining as bald as his head. He had splashed on a lot of cologne, meaning he had been drinking beer. He tossed a cigarette butt and red ashes sailed through the night.

"Everything's under control;" he sardonically said. "Anderson's at the scene."

"And Bray."

"She's holding a goddamn press conference outside the convenience store," Marino said with disgust. "Let's go."

I drove back out to Cary Street.

"Start with this, Doc," he began. "The asshole shoots her at the counter, in the head. Then it's looking like he puts out the closed, sign, locks the door and drags her to the back, into the storeroom, and beats the holy shit out of her."

"He shot her and then beat her up?' :Yeah:" 'How were the police notified?" I asked.

"At seven-sixteen the burglar alarm went off," he replied. "The back door's armed even when the joint's open for business. Cops get there and find the front door locked, closed sign out, like I said. They go around back, find that door wide open. They go in, she's on the floor, blood everywhere. Tentatively identified as Kim Luong, thirty-year-old Asian female."

Bray continued to dominate the news.

"You said something earlier about a witness," a reporter was asking her.

"Only that a citizen reported seeing a male in dark clothing in the area around the time we believe the homicide took place," Bray replied. "He was ducking into an alleyway right down the block there. The person who reported this did not get a good look. We're hoping if someone else did, he'll call us. No detail is too small. It takes all of us to protect our community."

"What's she doing? Running for office?" Marino said.

"Is there a safe somewhere inside the store?" I asked him.

"In the back where her body was found. It hadn't been opened. So I've been told."

"Video camera?" I asked.

"Nope. Maybe he learned after whacking Gant and is hitting joints that aren't doing the Candid Camera number on him."

"Maybe."

He and I both knew he was making assumptions, pushing hard because he wasn't about to let go of his job.

"Carson tell you all this?" I asked.

"It ain't the cops who've suspended me," he answered. "And already I know you're thinking the M.O.'s a little different. But it ain't a science, Doc. You know that"

Benton used to toss that line at us with that wry smile of his. He was a profiler, an expert in modus operandi and patterns and predicting. But each crime had its own special choreography because every victim was different. Circumstances and moods were different, even the weather was different, and the killer often modified his routine. Benton used to complain about Hollywood renditions of what behavioral scientists could do. He wasn't clairvoyant, and violent people weren't driven by software.

"Maybe she pissed him off or something," Marino went on. "Maybe he'd just had a bad conversation with his mother, who the hell knows?"

"What's going to happen when people like Al Carson don't call you anymore?"

"It's my damn case," he said as if he hadn't heard me. "Gant was my case, and this one is too, any way you look at it. Even if it's not the same killer, who's gonna figure that out before I do, since I'm the one who knows everything there is about it?"

"You can't always barge in with both barrels going," I said. "That's not going to work with Bray. You've got to find a way to make it worth her while to tolerate you, and you better figure that out in the next five minutes."

He was silent as I turned onto Libbie Avenue.

"You're smart, Marino," I added. "Use your head. This isn't about turf or egos. This is about a woman who's dead:' "Shit," he said. "What the fuck's wrong with people?"

The Quik Cary was a small market that had neither a plate-glass front nor gas pumps. It wasn't brightly lit up or located in a spot that attracted customers either coming off or getting on heavily traveled roads. Except during the holidays, it stayed open only until six.

The parking lot throbbed red and blue, and in the midst of rumbling engines, cops and an awaiting rescue crew, Bray gloried in an aura of television lights that floated around her like a flotilla of small suns. She. was dressed in a long red wool cape, heels, and diamond earrings that flashed with each turn of her beautiful, head. By all appearances she had just rushed out of a black-tie party.

It was beginning to sleet as I lifted my crime case out of the trunk. Bray spotted me before the media did, and then her eyes found Marino and anger touched her face.

"… will not release that until her family has been notified," she was saying to the press.

"Watch this," Marino said under his breath.

He walked with a sense of urgency toward the store and did something I'd never seen him do before. He left himself wide open for a media ambush. He even went so far as to get on his portable radio as he tensely cast about, sending out every signal imaginable that he was in charge and knew many secrets.

"You in there, two-oh-two?" his voice carried to me as I locked up my car.

"Ten-four," a voice came back.

"In front, comin' in," Marino mumbled.

"Meet ya."

At least ten reporters and cameramen instantly surrounded him. It was amazing how fast they moved.

"Captain Marino?"

"Captain Marino!"

"How much money was stolen?"

Marino didn't shoo them off. Bray's eyes dragged across his face like claws as all attention shifted to him, this man whose neck her foot was on.

"Did they keep less than sixty dollars in the drawer like other convenience stores do?"

"Do you think convenience stores should have security guards this time of year?"

Marino, unshaven and full of beer, looked into the cameras and said, "If it was my store, I sure as hell would." - I locked my car. Bray was walking toward me.

"So you attribute these two robbery-homicides to the Christmas season?" another reporter said to Marino.

"I attribute them to some squirrel who's cold-blooded and got no conscience. He'll do it again," Marino answered. "And we've got to stop him and that's what we're trying to do."

Bray confronted me as I made my way around police cars. She had her cape pulled tightly around her, and she was as cold and stinging as the weather.

"Why do you let him do this?" she asked me.

I stopped in my tracks and looked her in the eye, my frosted breath puffing like a coal train about to run her over.

"Let is not a word I use with Marino," I said. "I suspect you're finding that out the hard way."

A reporter for a local gossip magazine raised his voice above the others and said, "Captain Marino! Talk on the street is you're not a detective anymore. What are you doing here"

"Deputy Chief Bray has me on special assignment," Marino grimly replied into microphones. "I'll be heading up this investigation."

"He's finished;" Bray said to me.

"He won't go quietly. You'll never hear so much noise in your life;" I promised her as I walked off.

24

Marino met me at the store's front door. When we stepped inside, the first person we saw was Anderson. She stood in front of the counter, wrapping the empty cash drawer in brown paper as crime-scene technician Al Eggleston dusted the cash register for prints. Anderson looked surprised and unhappy when she saw us.

"What are you doing here?" she confronted Marino.

"Came in to buy a six-pack. How you doin', Eggleston?"

"Same-o, same-o, Pete."

"We're not ready for you yet," Anderson said to me.

I ignored her and wondered how much damage she'd already done to the scene. Thank God, Eggleston was doing the important work. I immediately noticed the overturned chair behind the counter.

"Was the chair like that when the police got here?" I asked Eggleston.

"Far as I know."

Anderson abruptly went out of the store, probably to find Bray.

"Uh-oh," Marino said. "Tattletale."

"You ain't kidding."

On the wall behind the counter were arcs of blood from an arterial hemorrhage.

"Glad you're here, Pete, but you're poking a snake with a stick."

The sweeping trail led around the counter and through the aisle farthest from the store's front door.

"Marino, come here," I said.

"Hey, Eggleston, see if you can find the guy's DNA somewhere. Put it in a little bottle and maybe we can grow his clone in the lab," Marino said as he walked over to me. "Then we'll know who the hell he is."

"You're a rocket scientist, Pete."

I pointed out the arcs of blood made by the rise and fall of the systolic rhythm of Kim Luong's heart as she had bled to death through her carotid. The blood was low to the floor and stretched over some twenty feet of shelves stocked with paper towels, toilet paper and other household needs.

"Jesus Christ," Marino said as the significance hit him. "He's dragging her while she's spurting blood everywhere?"

"Yes."

"How long would she have survived, bleeding like that?"

"Minutes," I said. "Ten at the most."

She had left no other bloody wake except the faint fringed and narrow parallel impressions made by her hair and fingers as they dragged through her blood. I envisioned him pulling her feet first, her arms opening like wings filled with air, her hair trailing like feathers.

"He had her by the ankles," I said. "She has long hair."

Anderson had stepped back inside and was watching us, and I hated it when I had to guard every word I said around the police. But it happened. Over the years, I had worked with cops who were terrible leaks and I had no choice but to treat them like the enemy.

"She sure as hell didn't die right away," Marino added.

"A hole in your carotid isn't immediately disabling," I told him. "You can have your throat cut and still call nineone-one. She shouldn't have been immediately immobilized, but clearly she was."

The systolic sweeps got lower and fainter the further down the aisle we went, and I noted that small blood spatters were dry while larger amounts of blood were congealing. We followed streaks and smears past coolers full of beer, then through the doorway leading into the storeroom where crime-scene technician Gary Ham was on his knees while another officer took photographs, their backs to me, blocking my view.

When I stepped around them, I was stunned. Kim Luong's blue jeans and panties had been pulled down to her knees, a chemical thermometer inserted into her rectum. Ham looked up at me and he froze like someone caught stealing. We had worked together for years.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" I said to him in a hard tone he had never heard from me.

"Getting her temp, Doc;" Ham said.

"Did you swab lair before inserting the thermometer? In the event she was sodomized?" I demanded in the same angry voice as Marino made his way around me and stared at the body.

Ham hesitated "No, ma'am, I didn't:"

"Way to fucking go," Marino said to him.

Ham was in his late thirties, a tall, nice-looking man with dark hair and big brown eyes and long lashes. It wasn't uncommon for a little experience to begin seducing someone like him into believing he could do the forensic scientist's and medical examiner's work. But Ham had always stayed in bounds. He had always been respectful.

"And just how do I interpret the presence of any injury, now that you've introduced a hard object into one of her orifices?" I said to him.

He swallowed hard.

"If I find a contusion inside her rectum, can I swear in court that the thermometer didn't do it? And unless you can somehow vouch for the sterility of your equipment, any DNA recovered will be in question, too," I said.

Ham's face was red.

"Do you have any idea how many artifacts you've just introduced to this crime scene, Officer Ham?" I asked him.

"I've been very careful."

"Please move out of the way. Now."

I opened my case and angrily pulled on gloves, stretching my fingers and snapping latex all in one motion. I handed Marino a flashlight and studied my surroundings before I did another thing. The storeroom was dimly lit; hundreds of six-packs of sodas and beer as far as twenty feet away were spattered with blood. Inches- from the body were Tampax and paper towels, the bottom of the cartons soggy with blood. So far, there was no sign the killer had been interested in anything back here except his victim.

I squatted and studied the body, taking in every shade and texture of flesh and blood, every stroke of the killer's hellish art. I did not touch anything at first.

"God, he really beat the hell out of her, didn't he," said the cop who was taking photographs.

It was as if a wild animal had dragged her dying body off to its lair and mauled it. Her sweater and bra had been ripped open, her shoes and socks removed and tossed nearby. She was a fleshy woman with matronly hips and breasts, and the only way I had a clue about what she had looked like was the driver's license I was shown. Kim Luong had been pretty with a shy. smile and shiny long black hair.

"Were her pants on when she was found?" I asked Ham.

"Yes, ma'am."

"What about shoes and socks?"

"They were off. Exactly like you see them. We didn't touch them."

I didn't have to pick up her shoes and socks to see they were very bloody.

"Why would he take off her shoes and socks but not her pants?" one of the cops asked.

"Yeah. Why would someone do something weird like that?"

I took a look. There was dried blood on the bottom of her feet, too.

"I'll have to get her under a better light when we get her to the morgue," I said.

The gunshot wound in the front of her neck was plain to see. It was an entrance wound, and I turned her head just enough to see the exit in the back, angled to the left. It was this bullet that had hit her carotid artery.

"Did you recover a bullet?" I asked Ham:

"Dug one out of the wall behind the counter," he said, barely able to look at me. "No shell so far, if there is one."

There wouldn't be if she was shot with a revolver. Pistols ejected their cartridge cases, which was about the only helpful thing they did when they were used for violence.

"Where in the Wall?" I asked.

"If you're facing the counter, it would be to the left of where the chair would have been if she was sitting at the cash register."

"The exit wound is also off to the left," I said. "If they were face to face when she was shot, you may be looking for a left-handed shooter."

Kim Luong's face was severely lacerated and crushed, the skin split and torn from blows that had been made by some sort of tool or tools that had a pattern of round and linear wounds. It appeared she also had been beaten with his fists. When I palpatйd for fractures, bits of bone crunched beneath my fingertips. Her teeth were broken and pushed in.

"Hold it here," I directed Marino.

He moved the flashlight as I directed and I gently turned her head to the right and to the left, palpating her scalp through her hair and checking the back and sides of her neck. She was covered with more knuckle bruises, and more of the round and linear injuries, and also striated abrasions here and there.

"Except for pulling down her pants to get her body temp," I said to Ham, because I had to be sure, "she was just like this?"

"Other than her jeans being zipped up and buttoned, yes, ma'am," he replied. "Her sweater and bra were just exactly like that." He pointed. "Ripped right down the middle."

"With his bare hands." Marino squatted beside me. "Damn, he's strong. Doe, she would have pretty much been dead by the time he got her back here, right?"

"Not quite. She still has tissue response to her injuries. Some bruising."

"But for all practical purposes, he's beating the shit out of a dead body," Marino said. "I mean, she sure as hell wasn't sitting up and arguing with him. She wasn't struggling. You can look around and see that. Nothing knocked over or shoved around. No bloody footprints going all over the place."

"He knew her," Anderson's voice was behind me. "It had to be someone she knew. Otherwise he probably would have just shot her and taken the money and run:'

Marino was still down beside me, elbows resting on his big knees, flashlight dangling from one hand. He looked up at Anderson as if she had the intelligence of a banana.

"I didn't know you was a profiler, too;" he said. "You take some classes or something?"

"Marino, if you can shine it right there," I said. "It's hard to see:' - The light illuminated a blood pattern on the body that I hadn't noticed at first because I was too preoccupied with injuries. Virtually every inch of exposed flesh was smeared with bloody swirls and strokes, as if she had been fingerpainted. The blood was drying and beginning to crack. And there were hairs, the same long, pale hairs stuck to her blood.I pointed this out to Marino. He bent closer.

"Quiet," I warned him as I felt his reaction and knew what I was showing him.

"Here comes the boss," Eggleston announced as he stepped carefully through the doorway.

The room was crowded and airless. It looked as if a thrashing storm had rained blood upon it.

"We're going to string all this," Ham said to me.

"Recovered a cartridge case," Eggleston happily passed on to Marino.

"If you want a break; Marino, I'll hold the flashlight for her." Ham was trying to make up for his unpardonable sin.

"I think it's fairly obvious she was lying right here, immobile, when he beat her," I said, because I didn't think stringing was necessary in this case.

"Stringing will tell us for sure," he promised.

It was an old French technique in which one end of a string was taped at a bloodstain, and the other at the geometrically computed origin of the blood. This was done multiple times, resulting in a three-dimensional string model that showed how many blows were struck and where the victim was when they were.

"There's too many people in here," I loudly said.

Sweat was rolling down Marino's face. I could feel his body heat and smell his breath as he worked close to me.

"Get this to Interpol right away," I told him in a voice no one else could hear.

"No kidding."

"Speer three-eighty. Ever heard of it?" Eggleston said to Marino.

"Yeah. High-performance shit. Gold Dot," Marino replied. "That don't fit, at all."

I got out my chemical thermometer and set it on top of a box of paper plates to get the ambient temperature.

"I can already tell you what it is, Doc," Ham said. "Seventy-five-point-nine back here. It's warm."

Marino was moving the flashlight as my hands and eyes moved over the body.

"Normal people don't get Speer ammo," he was saying. "You're talking ten, eleven bucks for б box of twenty. Not to mention, your gun can't be a piece of shit or the damn thing will blow apart in your hand."

"The gun probably came off the street, then." Anderson was suddenly next to me. "Drugs."

"Case solved;" Marino replied. "Gee, thanks, Anderson. Hey, guys, we can all go home."

I could smell the sweet, cloying odor of Kim Luong's blood as it coagulated, the serum separating from the hemoglobin, cells breaking down. I withdrew the chemical thermometer Ham had inserted inside her. Her core temperature was 88.6 degrees. I looked up. There were three people in this room, not including Marino and me. My anger and frustration continued to build.

"We found her pocketbook and coat," Anderson went on. "Sixteen dollars in her billfold, so it doesn't look like he went in there. And oh, there was a paper bag nearby with a plastic container and fork. Looks like she brought dinner with her and warmed it up in the microwave."

"How do you know she warmed it up?"Marino asked.

Anderson was caught.

"Putting two and two together don't always make twenty-two," he added.

Livor mortis was in its early stages. Her jaw was set, and the small muscles of her neck and hands were, too.

"She's too stiff for only being dead a couple hours," I said.

"What causes it anyway?" Eggleston asked.

"Me, too. I've always wondered that."

"I had one in Bon Air one time..:' "What were you doing in Bon Air?" asked the officer taking photographs.

"It's a long story. But this guy has a heart attack during sex. The girlfriend just thinks he's gone to sleep, right? Wakes up the next morning and he's deader than dirt. She doesn't want it to look like he died in bed so she tries to put him in a chair. He was leaning' against it like an ironing board."

"I'm serious, Doc. What causes it?" Ham asked.

"I've always been curious about that, too." Diane Bray's voice came from the doorway.

She was standing there, her eyes fastened to me like steel rivets.

"When you die, your body quits, making adenosine triphosphate. That's why you get stiff," I said, not giving her a glance. "Marino, can you hold her like this so I can get a picture?"

He moved closer to me, and his big gloved hands- slid under her left side as I got my camera. I took a photograph of an injury below her left armpit, on the fleshy side of her left breast, as I calculated body temperature versus ambient temperature, and how advanced both livor mortis and rigor mortis were. I could hear footsteps and murmurs and someone coughing. I was sweating behind my surgical mask.

"I need some room," I said.

Nobody moved.

I looked up at Bray and stopped what I was doing.

"I need room," I sharply said to her. "Get these people out of here."

She jerked her head at everyone but me. Cops dropped surgical gloves in a red biological hazard bag as they went out the door.

"You too," Bray ordered Anderson.

Marino acted as if Bray didn't exist. Bray never took her eyes off me.

"I don't ever want to walk in on a scene like this again;' I said to her as I worked. "Your officers, your techs, nobody-and I mean nobody-touches the body or disturbs it in any way before I get there or one of my medical examiners does."

I looked up at her.

"Are we clear on that?" I said She seemed to give what I was saying thoughtful consideration. I loaded film in my thirty-five-millimeter camera. My eyes were getting tired because the light was bad, and I took the flashlight from Marino. I shined it obliquely on the area near the left breast, and then on another area on the right shoulder. Bray stepped in closer, brushing against me to see what I was looking at, and it was odd and startling to smell her perfume mingling with the odor of decomposing blood.

"The crime scene belongs to us, Kay," she said. "I understand you haven't had to work things that way in the past-probably not the entire time you've been here or maybe anywhere. That's what I was talking about when I mentioned:.."

"That's a bunch of bullshit!" Marino hurled rude words in her face.

"Captain, you stay out of this," Bray fired back at him.

"You're the one who needs to stay out of it," he raised his voice.

"Deputy Chief Bray," I said, "the law of Virginia states that the medical examiner shall take charge of the body. The body is my jurisdiction:'

I finished my photographs and met her cold, pale eyes.

"The body is not to be touched, altered or in any way interfered with. Am I clear?" I said again.

I pulled off my gloves and angrily threw them into the red bag.

"You have just cut this lady's heart out evidentially, Deputy Chief Bray."

I closed my scene case and latched it.

"You and the prosecutor are gonna get along real good on this one;" Marino added furiously as he pulled off his gloves, too. "This kind of case is what's called a free lunch:'

He poked a thick finger at the dead woman as if it were Bray who had slaughtered her.

"You just let him get away with it!" he yelled at her. "You and your little power games and big tits! Who'd you fuck to get where you are?"

Bray's face went livid.

"Marino!" I grabbed his arm.

"Let me tell you something."

Marino was out of control, yanking his arm away from me, breathing hard like a wounded bear. `This lady's beat-up face ain't about politics and sound bites, you goddamn-motherfucking-bitch! How'd you like it if it was your sister? Oh hell! What am I saying?" Marino threw his talc-dusted hands up in the air. "You wouldn't know the first fucking thing about caring about anybody!"

"Marino, get the squad in here now," I said.

"Marino's not calling anyone." Bray's tone had the effect of a metal box slamming shut.

"What are you gonna do, fire me?" Marino continued to defy her. "Well, go right ahead. And I'll tell all the reporters from here to fucking Iceland why."

"Firing's too good for you," Bray said. "Better you continue to suffer out of service and without pay. Dear me, this could go on a very, very long time."

She was gone in a flash of red, like a vengeful queen on her way to order armies to march in on us.

"Oh, no!" Marino called after her at the top, of his voice. "You got it all wrong, babe. Guess I forgot to tell you l fucking quit!"

He got on his radio and raised Ham to tell him that the squad needed to get in here as my mind streaked through formulas that weren't computing.

"Guess I showed her, huh, Doe?" Marino said, but I wasn't listening.

The burglar alarm had gone off.at seven-sixteen and now it was barely nine-thirty. Time of death was elusive and full of deceit if one wasn't careful to account for all of the variables, but Kim Luong's body temperature, liver mortis, rigor mortis and the condition of her spilled blood weren't consistent with her being dead only two hours.

"I feel like this room is shrink-wrapping me, Doc:' "She's been dead at least four or five hours," I said.

He wiped his sweaty face on his sleeve, eyes almost glassy. He couldn't stay still and kept nervously patting the pack of cigarettes in his jeans pocket.

"Since one or two in the afternoon? You're kidding me. What's he doing all that time?"

His eyes kept going to the doorway, waiting to see who would fill it next.

"I think he was doing a lot of things to it," I said.

"I guess I just fucked myself pretty good," Marino said.

Shuffling feet and the clacking of a stretcher sound from inside the store. Voices were muffled.

"I don't think she heard your last diplomatic comment;" I answered him. "Might be smart if you leave it that way."

"You think he might have hung out as long as he did because he didn't want to walk out in,broad daylight with blood all over his clothes?"

"I don't think that was the only reason," I said as two paramedics in jumpsuits turned the stretcher sideways to get it through the door.

"There's a lot of blood in here;" I told them. "Go around that way."

"Geez," one of them said.

I took the folded disposable sheets off the stretcher and Marino helped me spread one of them open on the floor.

"You guys lift her a few inches and we're going to scoot this sheet right under her," I instructed. "Good. That's fine."

She was on her back. Gory eyes stared out of shattered orbits. Plasticized paper rustled as I covered her with the other sheet: We lifted her up and zipped her inside a dark red pouch.

"It's getting icy out there," one of the paramedics let us know.

Marino's eyes darted around the store and then out the door into the parking lot where red and blue lights still strobed, but the attention had significantly waned. Reporters had, dashed back to their newsrooms and stations, and only the crime-scene technicians and a uniformed officer remained.

"Yeah, right," Marino muttered. "I'm suspended but you see any other detective here to work this thing? I ought to just let everything go to hell."

We walked back to my car as an old blue Volkswagen Beetle turned into the parking lot. The engine cut so abruptly the clutch popped, and the driver's door flew open and a teenaged girl with pale skin and short dark hair almost fell out, she was in such a hurry. She ran toward the pouched body as the paramedics loaded it into the ambulance. She raced toward them as if she might tackle them.

"Hey!" Marino yelled, going after her.

She reached the back of the ambulance as the tailgate slammed shut. Marino grabbed her.

"Let me see her!" she screamed. "Oh, please let go of me! Lei me see her!"

"Can't do that, ma'am," Marino's voice carried.

The paramedics swung open their doors and jumped in.

"Let me see her!"

"It's gonna be all right."

"No! No! Oh, please, God!" Grief tumbled out of her like a waterfall.

Marino had her from behind, holding tight. The diesel engine rumbled awake and I couldn't hear what else he said to her, but he let go of her as the ambulance drove away. She dropped to her knees. She clamped her hands on both sides of her head and stared up at the icy, overcast night, shrieking and wailing and crying out the slain woman's name.

"KIM! KIM! KIM!"

25

Marino decided to stay with Eggleston and Ham, also known as the Breakfast Boys, while they connected the dots with string at a scene where it wasn't necessary. I went home. Trees and grass were glazed with ice, and I thought all I needed now was б power outage, which was exactly what I got.

When I turned into my neighborhood, every house was dark, and Rita, working security, looked-as if she were holding a sйance in the guardhouse.

"Don't tell me," I said to her.

Candle flames wavered behind glass as she stepped out, pulling her uniform jacket tightly around her.

"Been out since about nine-thirty," she told me, shaking her head. `That's all we ever get in this city is ice."

My neighborhood was in a blackout as if a war were going on, and the sky was too overcast to see even a smudge of the moon. I could barely find my driveway and almost fell going up my front stone steps because of the ice. I clung to the railing and somehow managed to find the right key to unlock the door. My burglar alarm was still armed because it was on a backup battery, but that wouldn't last longer than twelve hours, and outages due to ice had been known to go on for days.

I punched in my code, then reset the alarm. I needed a shower. There was no way in hell I' was going out to my garage to toss my scene clothes in the wash, and the thought of running naked through my pitch-dark house and jumping into a dark shower filled me with horror. Silence was absolute except for the quiet smacking of sleet.

I found every candle I could and began strategically placing them around the house. I located flashlights. I built afire, and the inside of my house was pockets of darkness with shadows pushed back by several small logs with thin fingers of flame. At least the phone was still working, but of course the answering machine was dead.

It was impossible for me to sit still. In my bedroom I finally stripped and. washed myself with a cloth. I put on a robe and slippers as I tried to think what I could d to occupy my tune, because I was not one to allow empty space in my mind. I fantasized there was a message from Lucy but I couldn't access it right now. I wrote letters and end up crumpling them and tossing them into the fire. I watched the paper brown around the edges, ignite and turn black. Sleet smacked, and it began to get colder inside.

The temperature in my house slowly dropped, hours slipping deeper into the still morning. I tried to sleep and couldn't get warm. My mind wouldn't get still. My thoughts bounced from Lucy to Benton -to the awful scene where I'd just been. I saw a hemorrhaging woman dragged across the floor, and small owl eyes staring out of rotting flesh. I shifted positions continually. Lucy did not call.

Fear picked at my loose threads when I looked out the window into my dark backyard. -My heath fogged the glass, and the click-click of sleet turned into knitting needles when I dozed, to my mother knitting in Miami when my father was dying, knitting endless scarves for the poor in some cold place. Not a single car went by. I called Rita at the guard booth. She didn't answer.

My eyes blurred as I tried to drift off again at 3:00 A.M. Tree branches cracked like guns going off, and in the distance a train lumbered along the river. Its forlorn horn seemed to set the pitch for a percussion of screeching, clanking and rumbling that made me more uneasy. I lay in the dark, a comforter wrapped around me, and when daylight bruised the horizon, the power came back on. Marino called minutes later.

"What time you want me to pick you up?" he asked, his voice hoarse from sleep.

"Pick me up for what?" I blearily walked into the kitchen to make coffee. ` "Work."

I didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

"You looked out the window, Doc?" he asked. "No way you're going anywhere in that Nazi-mobile of yours."

"I've told you not to say that. It's not funny."

I went to the window and opened the blinds. The world was rock candy and glass coating every shrub and tree. Grass was a thick, stiff carpet. Icicles bared, long teeth from the eaves, and I knew my car wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.

"Oh," I said. "I guess I need a ride:'

Marino's big truck with its big chains churned up Richmond's roads for almost an hour before we reached my office. There wasn't another car in the lot. We carefully made our way into the building, our feet almost going out from under us several times because the pavement was glazed and we were the first to challenge it. I draped my coat over my chair in my office and both of us headed to the locker rooms to change.

The rescue squad had used a transportable autopsy table so we didn't have to lift the body off a gurney.We unzipped the pouch in the vast silence of this empty theater of death and opened the bloody sheets. Under the scrutiny of overhead diffused light, her wounds looked even more terrible. I pulled a fluorescent magnifying lamp closer, adjusting its arm and peering through the lens.Her magnified skin was a desert of dried, cracked blood and canyons of gashes and gaping wounds. I collected hairs, dozens of them, those pale blond, baby-fine hairs. Most were six or seven or eight inches long. They adhered to her belly, shoulders and breasts. I didn't find any on her face, and I placed the hairs inside a paper envelope to keep them dry.Hours were thieves slipping past, stealing the morning, and no matter how hard I tried to find an explanation for the ripped tightly knit sweater and underwire bra, there wasn't another one except the truth. The killer had done it with his bare hands.

"I've never seen anything quite like that," I said. "You're talking about incredible strength."

"Maybe he's on cocaine or angel dust or something," Marino said. "That might explain what he did to her, too. It might also account for the Gold Dot ammo, you know, if he's doing drug deals уn the street."

"I think that's the ammo Lucy said something about," I seemed to recall.

"Hot shit on the street," Marino said. "Big with dopers."

"If he was wacked out on drugs," I pointed out as I placed fibers in another envelope, "then it strikes me as rather improbable his thinking would be so organized. He put out the closed sign, locked the door, didn't go out the back armed door until he was ready. And maybe washed up."

"No evidence he did," Marino let me know. "Nothing in the drains or sink or toilet. No bloody paper towels. No nothing. Not even on the door he opened on his way out of the storeroom, so what I'm thinking is he used somethingmaybe part of his clothing, a paper towel, who knows-to open the door with so he didn't get blood or prints on the knob."

"That's not exactly disorganized. Not the actions of someone under the influence of drugs."

"I'd rather think he was on drugs;" Marino said ominously. "The alternative's a really bad one, I mean if he's the Incredible Hulk or something. I wish..:'

He stopped himself and I knew he was about to say he wished Benton were here to offer his experienced opinion. Yet it was so easy to depend on someone else when not all theories required an expert. Every scene and every wound resonated the emotion of the crime, and this homicide was frenzied and it was sexual and it was rage. That became only more apparent when I found large irregular areas of contusion. When I looked at them through a lens I saw small, curvilinear marks.

"Bite marks;" I said.

Marino came over to look.

"What's left of them. Beaten with blunt force," I added.

I moved the light around, looking for more and found two on the side of her right palm and one on the bottom of her left foot and two on the bottom of the right.

"Jesus," Marino muttered in an unnerved tone I rarely heard.

He moved from the wounded hands to the feet, staring.

"What the hell are we dealing with, Doc?".he asked.

All of the bite marks were contused so badly I could. make out the abrasions of teeth but nothing more. The indentations needed for casting had been eradicated. Nothing was going to assist us. There was too little left to ever make a match.

I swabbed for saliva and began taking one-by-one photographs as I tried to imagine what biting palms and soles might mean to whoever had killed her. Did he know her, after all? Were her hands and feet symbolic to him, a reminder of who she was, just as her face had been?

"So he ain't totally ignorant about evidence," Marino said.

"It appears he knows bite marks can identify someone," I replied as I used a spray hose to wash off the body.

"Bnrrr," Marino- shivered. "That always makes me cold."

"She doesn't feel it:' "I hope like hell she didn't feel any of what's happened to her."

"I think by the time he started in, she was already dead or close to dead, thank you, Lord," I said.

Her autopsy revealed something else to add to the horror. The bullet that had entered Kim Luong's neck and hit her carotid had also bruised her spinal cord between the fifth and sixth cervical disks, instantly paralyzing her. She could breathe and talk but not move as he dragged her down the aisle, her blood sweeping shelves, her-useless arms spread wide, limp, unable to clutch the wound in her neck. In my mind I saw the terror in her eyes. I heard her whimper as she wondered what he was going to do to her next, as she watched herself die.

"Goddamn bastard!" I said.

"I'm sorry as fucking hell they switched to lethal injection," Marino said in a hard, hateful voice. "Assholes like this ought to fry. They ought 'to choke on cyanide gas till their fucking eyes pop out. Instead, we send them off to a nice little nap."

I swiftly ran the scalpel from the clavicles to the sternum and down to the pelvis in the usual incision shaped like a Y Marino was quiet for a moment.

"You think you could stick that needle in his arm, Doc? You think you could turn on the gas or strap him in the chair and hit the switch?"

I didn't reply.

"I think about that a lot," he went on.

"I wouldn't think about it too much," I said.

"I know you could do it." He wouldn't let it rest. "And you know what else, I think you'd like it but just won't admit it, not even to yourself Sometimes I really want to kill someone."

I glanced up at him, blood speckling my face shield and saturating the long sleeves of my gown.

"Now you're really worrying me," I said, and I meant it.

"See, I think a lot of people feel that way and just won't admit it."

Her heart and lungs were within normal limits.

"I think most people don't feel that way."

Marino was getting more belligerent, as if his rage over what had been done to Kim Luong made him feel as powerless as she had been.

"I think Lucy feels that way;" he said.

I glanced up at him, refusing to believe it.

"I think she just waits for an opportunity. And if she don't get that out of her system, she's gonna end up waiting tables."

"Be quiet, Marino:" 'Truth hurts, don't it? Least I admit it. Take the asshole who did this. Me? I'd like to handcuff him to a chair, shackle his ankles and put the barrel of my pistol in his mouth and ask him if he had an orthodontist because he was about to need one."

Her spleen, kidneys, liver were within normal limits.

"Then I'd stick it against his eye, tell him to take a look and let me know if I needed to clean the inside of the barrel."

Inside her stomach were what appeared to be remnants of chicken, rice and vegetables, and I thought of the container and fork that had been found in a paper bag near her pocketbook and coat.

"Hell, maybe I'd just backup like I'm on the fucking firing range and use him as a target, see how much he liked..: ' "Stop it!" I said.

He shut up.

"Goddamn it, Marino. What's gotten into you?" I asked, scalpel in one hand, forceps in the other.

He was quiet for a while, our silence heavy as I worked and kept him busy with various tasks.

Then he said, "The woman who ran up to the ambulance last night is a friend of Kim's, works as a waitress at Shoney's, was taking night classes at VCU. They lived together. So the friend gets home from class. She's got no idea what's happened and her phone rings, and this dumbass reporter says, `What was your reaction when you heard?' "

He paused. I looked up at him as he stared at the openedup body, the chest cavity empty and gleaming red, pale ribs gracefully bowed out from the perfectly straight spine. I plugged in the Stryker saw.

"According to the friend, there's no indication she might have known anybody who struck her as weird. Nobody coming into the store and bothering her, giving her the creeps. There was a false alarm earlier in the week, Tuesday, same back door, it happens a lot. People forget it's armed," he went on, his eyes distant. "It's like he just suddenly flew out of hell:'

I began sawing through the skull with all its comminuted fractures and areas punched out by violent blows of a tool or tools I couldn't identify. A hot bony dust drifted through the air.

26

By early afternoon, roads had thawed enough so that other diligent, hopelessly behind forensic scientists could come to work. I decided to make my rounds because I was frantic.

My first stop was the Forensic Biology Section, a tenthousand-square-foot area where only an authorized few had access to electronic cards for the locks. People didn't drop by to chat. They traversed the corridor and glanced at intense scientists in white behind glass but rarely got any closer than that.

I pressed an intercom button to see if Jamie Kuhn was in.

"Let me find him," a voice called back.

The instant he opened the door, Kuhn held out a clean, long white lab coat, gloves and mask. Contamination was the enemy of DNA, especially in an era when every pipette, microtome, glove, refrigerator and even pen used for labeling might be questioned in court. The degree of laboratory precautions had become just about as stringent as the sterile procedures found in the operating room.

"I hate to do this to you, Jamie," I said.

"You always say that," he said. "Come on in."

There were three sets of doors to pass through, and fresh lab coats hung in each airlocked space to make sure you exchanged the one you'd just put on for yet another one. Tacky paper on the floors was for the bottom of your shoes. The process was repeated twice more to make sure no one carried contaminants from one area into another.

The examiners' work area was an open, bright room of black counterspace and computers, water baths, containment units and laminar flow hoods. Individual stations were neatly arranged with mineral oil, autopipettes, polypropylene tubes and tube racks. Reagents, or the substances used to cause reactions, were made in big batches from molecular biology-grade chemicals. They were given unique identification numbers and stored in small aliquots away from chemicals kept for general use.

Contamination was managed primarily through serialization, heat denaturation, enzymatic digestion, screening, repeated analysis, ultraviolet irradiation, iodinizing irradiation, use of controls and samples taken from a healthy volunteer. If all else failed, the examiner just quit on certain samples. Maybe he tried again in a few months. Maybe he didn't.

Polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, had made it possible to get DNA results in days instead of weeks. Now with short tandem repeat typing, STR, it was theoretically possible that Kuhn could get results in a day. That was, if there was cellular tissue for testing, and in the case of the pale hair from the unidentified man found in the container, there was not.

"That's a damn shame," I said. "Because it looks like I've found more of it. This time adhering to the body of the woman murdered last night at the Quik Cary."

"Wait a minute. Am I hearing this right? The hair from the container guy's clothing matches hair on her?"

"Looks like it. You can see my urgency."

"Your urgency's about to get more urgent," he said. "Because the hair's not cat hair, dog hair. It's not animal hair. It's human."

"It can't be," I said.

"It absolutely is."

Kuhn was a wiry young man who didn't get excited by much. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen his eyes light up.

"Fine, unpigmented, rudimentary," he went on. "Baby hair. I figured maybe the guy has a baby at home. But now, two cases? Maybe the same hair on the murdered lady?"

"Baby hair isn't six or seven inches long," I told him. "That's what I collected from her body."

"Maybe it grows longer in Belgium," he dryly said.

"Let's talk about the unidentified man in the container first. What would baby hair be doing all over him?" I asked. "Even if he does have a baby back home? And even if it were possible for baby hair to be that long?"

"Not all of them are that long. Some are extremely short. Like stubble when you shave:' "Any of the hair forcibly removed?" I asked.

"I'm not seeing any roots with follicular tissues still adhering-mostly the bulbous-shaped roots you associate with hair naturally falling out. Shedding, in other words. Which is why I can't do DNA."

"But some of it's been cut or shaved?" I thought out loud, drawing a blank.

"Right. Some's been cut, some hasn't. Like those weird styles. You've seen them-short on top and long and wispy on the sides."

"Not on a baby I haven't," I answered.

"What if he had triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets because his wife had been on a fertility drug?" Kuhn suggested. "The hair would be the same but if it's coming from, different kids that might explain the different lengths., The DNA would be the same, too, saying you had anything to test."

In identical twins, triplets, sextuplets, the DNA was identical, only the fingerprints were different.

"Dr. Scarpetta," Kuhn said, "all I can tell you is the hairs are alike visually, their morphology the same, in other words."

"Well, these hairs on this lady are alike visually, too."

"Any short ones, as if they were cut?"

"No," I replied.

"Sony I don't have more to tell you," he said.

"Believe me, Jamie, you've just told me quite a lot," I said. "I just don't know what any of it means."

"You figure it out," he tried to lighten up, "we'll write a paper on it."

I tried the trace evidence lab next and didn't even bother saying hello to Larry Posner. He was peering into a microscope that probably was more sharply focused than he was when he looked up at me.

"Larry," I said, "everything's going to hell."

"Always has been."

"What about our unidentified guy? Anything?" I asked. "Because let me tell you, I'm really groping:' "I'm relieved. I thought you dropped by to ask me about your lady downstairs," he replied. "And I was going to have to break the news that I'm not Mercury with winged feet."

"There may be a link between the two cases. Same weird hair found on the bodies. Human hair, Larry."

He thought about this.for a long moment.

"I don't get it," he finally said. "And I hate to tell you, but I don't have anything quite so dramatic to report to you."

"Anything you can tell me at all?" I asked.

"Start with the soil samples from the container. PLM picked up the usual," he began, referring to the polarized light nъcroscopy. "Quartz, sand, diatomite, flint and elements like iron and aluminum. Lots of trash. Glass, paint chips, vegetable debris, rodent hairs. You can only begin to imagine all the crap inside a cargo container like that.

"And diatoms all over the place, but what's a little off-beat is what I found when I examined the ones swept up from the container's floor, and the ones from the'surface of the body and exterior of the clothes. They're a mixture of saltwater and freshwater diatoms."

"Makes sense if the ship started out in the Scheldt River in Antwerp and then spent most of the voyage at sea," I remarked.

"But the inside of the clothing? That's exclusively freshwater. Don't get that unless he washed his clothes, shoes, socks, even underwear in a river, lake, whatever. And I wouldn't expect you to launder Armani and crocodile shoes in a river or lake, or swim in clothes like that, either.

"So it's like he's got freshwater diatoms against his skin, which is weird. And the mixture of salt and fresh on the outside, which you'd expect under the circumstances. You know, walking around on the dock, saltwater diatoms in the air, getting on his clothes, but not on the inside of them” "What about the vertebral bone?" I then asked.

"Freshwater diatoms. Consistent with freshwater drowning, maybe the river in Antwerp. And the hair on the guy's head-all freshwater diatoms. No saltwater ones mixed in."

Posner widened his eyes and rubbed them, as if they were very tired.

"This is really twisting my brain like a dishrag. Diatoms that don't add up, weirdo baby hair and the vertebral bone. Like an Oreo. One side chocolate, the otter vanilla, with chocolate and vanilla icing in the middle and a scoop of vanilla on top."

"Spare me the analogies, Larry. I'm confused enough."

"So how do you explain it?"

"I can only offer a scenario."

"Fire away."

"He might have only freshwater diatoms in his hair,if his head were immersed in fresh water," I said. "If he were put .headfirst inside a barrel with fresh water in the bottom, for example. You do that to somebody, they can't get out, just like toddlers who fall headfirst into buckets of waterthose five-gallon plastic kind detergent corRes in. Waisthigh and very stable. Impossible to topple it over. Or he could have been drowned in a normal-size bucket of fresh water if someone held him down."

"I'm going to have nightmares," Posner said.

"Don't stay here until the roads start freezing again," I said.

Marino gave me a ride home, and I took the jar of formalin with me because I would not give up hope that the flesh inside it had something else to say. I would keep it on my desk in my study and now and then put on gloves and study it in sidelight like an archaeologist trying to read crude symbols worn away on stone.

"You coming in?" I asked Marino.

"You know, my damn pager keeps going off and I can't figure out who it is," he said, shoving his truck in gear.

He held it up and squinted.

"Maybe if you turned on the overhead light:' I suggested.

"Probably some snitch too stoned to dial right," he replied.. "I'll eat something if you're offering. Then I gotta go."

As we stepped inside my house, his pager vibrated again. He grabbed it off his belt in exasperation, tilting it until he could read the display.

"Screwed up again! What's five-three-one? Anything you know that's got those numbers in it?" he asked, exasperated.

"Rose's home number does," I said.

27

Rose had grieved when her husband died, and I thought t she would fall apart when she'd had to put down one of her greyhounds. Yet somehow she'd always worn her dignity the sate way she dressed, properly and with discretion. But when she learned on the news that morning that Kim Luong had been murdered, Rose got hysterical.

"If only, if only…," she went on and on, crying in the wing chair near the fire in her small apartment.

"Rose, you got to quit saying that," Marino said.

She had known Kim Luong because Rose often shopped at the Quik Cary. Rose had gone there last night, probably at the same time the killer was still inside beating and biting and smearing blood. Thank God the store had been closed and locked.

I carried two mugs of ginseng tea into her living room while Marino drank coffee. Rose was shaking all over, face swollen from crying and gray hair hanging over the collar of her bathrobe. She looked like a neglected old woman in a nursing home.

"I didn't have the TV on. I was reading. So I didn't know about it until I heard it on the news this morning." She kept telling us the same story in different ways. "I had no idea, was sitting up in bed reading and worrying about all the problems in the office. Mainly Chuck. I think that boy's as twisted as they come and I've been working to show it."

I set down her tea.

"Rose," Marino said. "We can talk about Chuck another time. We need you to tell us exactly what happened last…"

"But you've got to listen to me first!" she exclaimed. "And Captain Marino, you've got to make Dr. Scarpetta listen! That boy hates her! He hates all three of us. I'm trying to tell you, you must do anything to get rid of him before it's too late."

"I'm going to take care of it as soon as…" I started to say.

But she was shaking her head.

"He's pure evil. I believe he's been following me, or at least someone involved with him," she claimed. "Maybe even that car you saw in my parking lot and the one following you. How do you know it wasn't him who rented it under a phony name so he didn't have to use his car and be recognized right away? How do you know it's not whoever he might be involved with?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Marino interrupted her, holding up his hand. "Why would he follow anybody?"

"Drugs," she answered as if she knew it for a fact. "This past Monday we had an overdose case come in, and it just so happened I decided to come in an hour and a half early because I was going to take a long lunch break to get my hair done."

I didn't believe that Rose just happened to come in early. I had asked her to help me find out what Ruffin was up to, and of course, she had made that her mission.

"You were out that day," she said to me. "And you had misplaced your appointment book and we looked everywhere with no luck. So by Monday I was obsessed with finding it because I knew how much you need it. I thought I'd check the morgue again.

"And I went in there before I'd even taken my coat off," she went on, "and here's Chuck at six-forty-five in the morning sitting at a desk with the pill counter and dozens of bottles lined up. Well, he looked as if I'd just caught him with his pants down. I asked him why he was getting started so early, and he said it was going to be a busy day and he was trying to get a head start."

"Was his car in the parking lot?" Marino asked.

"He parks in the deck," I explained. "His car wouldn't be visible from our building."

"The drugs were from Dr. Fielding's case," Rose resumed, "and out of curiosity I looked at the report. Well, the woman had about every drug known to man. Tranquilizers, antidepressants, narcotics. A total of some thirteen hundred pills, if you can believe that."

"Unfortunately, I can," I said.

Overdoses and suicides typically came to us with months, even years, of prescription drugs. Codeine, Percocet, morphine, methadone, PDC, Valium and fentanyl patches to name a few. It was an unbearably tedious task to count them to see how many were supposed to have been in the bottle and how many were left.

"So he's stealing pills instead of washing them down the sink," Marino said.

"I can't prove it;" Rose replied. "But Monday wasn't god-awful busy like it usually is. The overdose was the only case. Chuck avoided me as much as he could after that, and every time drugs came in with cases, I wondered if they'd gone in his pocket instead of down the drain."

"We can hook up a VCR where he's not going to see it. You've already got cameras down there. If he's doing it, we'll get him," Marino promised.

"That on top of everything else," I said. "The press about that would be awful. It might even go out on the wire, especially if an investigative reporter started digging and found out about my alleged refusal to take calls from families, and the chat room, and even the subterfuge of running into Bray in a parking lot."

Paranoia pushed against my chest and I took a deep breath. Marino was watching me.

"You're not thinking Bray's got something to do with this," Marino said, skeptically.

"Only in the sense that she helped put Chuck on the road he's on. He himself told me the more bad things he did, the easier it got."

"Well, I think Chuckie-boy's on his own when it comes to stealing prescription drugs. It's too easy for slime like him to resist. Like the cops who can't resist pocketing wads of cash at drug busts and shit like that. Hell, drugs like Lortabs, Lorcet, not to mention Percocet, can go for two to five bucks a pop on the street. What I'm curious about is where he's unloading the stuff"

"Maybe you can find out from his wife if he's out a lot at night," Rose suggested.

"Honey," Marino replied, "bad people do stuff like this in broad daylight."

Rose looked dejected and somewhat embarrassed, as if afraid that her being so upset had sent her spinning threads of truth into a tapestry of conviction. Marino got up to pour more coffee.

"You're thinking he's following you because you're suspicious of his drug dealing?" he asked Rose.

"Oh, I guess it sounds so far-fetched when I hear myself say it."

"Might be someone involved with Chuck, if we want to keep going down this path. And I don't think we should dismiss anything right now," Marino added. "If Rose knows, then you do," he said to me. 'Chuck sure as hell knows that:' "If this is tied in with drugs, then what's the motive if Chuck's involved in our being followed? To hurt us? To intimidate us?" I asked.

"This much I can guarantee," Marino replied from the kitchen. "He's mixed up with people who are way out of his league: And we're not talking small amounts of money. Think how many pills come in with some of these bodies. Cops have to turn in every bottle they find. Think of all the leftover pain medication or who-knows-what in your average person's medicine cabinet"

He came back into the living room and sat down, blowing into the cup as if that really would cool his coffee in a hurry.

"Add that to the shitload of other stuff they're actively taking or supposed to be taking and what do you get?" he went on. "That the only reason Chuckie-boy needs his job in the morgue is to steal drugs. Hell, he doesn't need the pay, and that may have something to do with why he's been doing such a shitty job over the last few months."

"He could be taking in thousands of dollars a week," I said.

"Doc, you got any reason to think he might be hooked up with your other officers, getting somebody to do the same thing? They get him the pills, he gives them a small cut'

I have no idea."

"You got four district offices. You steal drugs from all of them, you're getting into really big bucks now," Marino said. "Hell, the little shit may even be involved in organized crime, just one more drone bringing stuff to the hive. Problem is, this ain't shopping at Wal-Mart. He thinks it's so easy making deals with some guy in a suit, some foxy woman. This person moves the merchandise along to the next person in the chain. Maybe it's eventually traded for guns that end up in New York."

Or Miami, I thought.

"Thank God you alerted us, Rose;" I said. "rhe last thing I want is anything flowing out of the office and ending up in the hands of people who will hurt others or even kill them."

"Not to mention, Chuck's days are probably going to be numbered, too," Marino said. "People like him usually don't live too long."

He got up and moved to the end of the couch, closer to Rose:

"Now, Rose?" he gently said. "What's making you think what you've just told us has anything to do with Kim Luong's murder?"

She took a deep breath and turned off the lamp next to her as if it was bothering her eyes. Her hands were shaking so badly that when she reached -for her mug, she spilled some of her tea. She dabbed the wet spot on her lap with a tissue.

"On my way home from the office last night, I decided to pick up shortbreads and a few other things," she began, her voice getting shaky again.

"Do you know exactly what time this was?" Marino asked.

"Not to the minute. Around ten of six as best I can say."

"Let me be sure I've got this straight," Marino said, taking notes. "You stopped at the Quik Cary at about six o'clock P.m. Was it closed?"

"Yes. Which irritated me' a little because it's not supposed to close until six. I thought ugly thoughts, and now I feel so bad about that, too. Here she is dead in there and I'm mad at her because I couldn't get cookies…!" she sobbed.

"Did you see any cars in the lot?" Marino asked. "Any person or persons?"

"Not a one," she barely said.

"Think hard, Rose. Was there anything that struck you at all?"

"Oh, yes;" she said. "And this is what I've been trying to get at. I could see from Libbie that the market was closed because the lights were out, so I pulled into the lot to turn around, and I saw the closed sign on the door. I got back on Libbie and hadn't gone any farther than the ABC store when this car was suddenly behind me with its high beams on."

"Were you headed home?" I asked.

"Yes. And I really didn't think anything until I turned on Grove and he did, too, staying on my bumper with those darn lights about to blind me. Cars going the other way were flicking their lights up and down to tell him his high beams were on, in case he didn't know. But he clearly intended for them to be on. By now I was getting frightened."

"Any idea what kind of car? Could you see anything?" Marino asked.

"I was practically blinded, and then I was so confused. Immediately I thought of the car in my parking lot on Tuesday night when you came by," she said to me. "And then your telling me you'd been followed. And I started thinking about Chuck and drugs and the sort of horrible people who get involved in that."

"So you're driving along Grove," Marino got her back on track.

"Of course, I drove right on past my Apartment building, trying to figure out where to go to get away with him. And I don't know how I thought of it, but I suddenly cut over to the left and did a U-turn. Then I drove to where Grove ends at Three Chopt and took a left, him still behind me. The next right was the Country Club of Virginia, and I turned in there and drove straight to the entrance where the valets were. Needless to say, whoever it was vanished."

"That was damn smart of you," Marino said. "Damn smart. But why didn't you call the police?"

"It wouldn't have done any good. They wouldn't have believed me and I couldn't have described a thing, anyway."

"Well, you should have called me, at least," Marino said.

"I know."

"After this where did you go?" I asked.

"Here."

"Rose, you're scaring me," I said. "What if he was waiting for you somewhere?"

"I couldn't stay out all night, and I went a different route home."

"Any idea what time it was when he vanished?" Marino asked.

"Somewhere between six and six-fifteen. Oh, dear Lord,. I just can't believe when I pulled up to that store she was in there. And what if he was? If only I'd known. I can't stop thinking there must have been something I should have noticed. Maybe even when I was in there Tuesday night."

"Rose, you couldn't have known a damn thing unless you're a gypsy with a crystal ball;" Marino told her.

She took a deep, shaky.breath and pulled her robe more tightly around her.

"I can't seem to get warm," she said. "Kim was such a nice girl."

She stopped again, her face contorted by grief. Tears filled her eyes and spilled.

"She was never rude to anyone and worked so hard. How could anybody do something like that! She wanted to be a nurse! She wanted to spend her life helping people! I remember worrying about her being.alone in there so late at night, oh, God help me. It even crossed my mind when I was there on Tuesday but I didn't say anything!"

Her voice tumbled as if it were falling down a steep flight of stairs. I came over and knelt beside her, pulling her close.

"It's like when Sassy wasn't feeling well… so lethargic and I just thought she had eaten something she shouldn't have…"

"It's okay, Rose. Everything's going to be okay," I said.

"And it turned out she'd somehow gotten hold of a piece of glass… My little baby was bleeding inside… And I didn't do anything."

"You didn't know. We can't know everything." I felt a spasm of grief, too.

"If only I'd taken her to the vet sooner… I'll never, ever forgive myself for that. Poor little girl a prisoner in a little cage and muzzle and some monster hit her with something and broke her nose… at that goddamn dog track! And then I let her suffer and die!"

She wept as if outraged over every loss and act of cruelty the world had ever suffered. I held her clenched fists in both of my hands.

"Rose, now you listen to me;" I said. "You saved Sassy from hell just as you've saved others. There's nothing you could have done for Sassy any more than there was anything you could have done when you stopped to get your shortbreads. Kim was dead. She had been dead for hours."

"What about him?" she cried. "What if he had still been inside that store and had come out just as I had pulled in? I'd be dead, too, wouldn't I? Shot and dumped somewhere like garbage. Or maybe he would have done awful things to me, too."

She closed her eyes, exhausted, tears sneaking down her face. She went limp all over as the violent storm passed. Marino leaned forward on the couch and touched her knee.

"You got to help us out," he said. "We need to know why you think your being followed and the murder might be connected."

"Why don't you come home with me?" I said.

Her eyes cleared as she began to regain her composure.

"That car pulling out after me right there where she was murdered? Why didn't he start following me long before that?" she said. "And an hour, an hour and a half, before the alarm went off. Don't you find that an amazing coincidence?"

"Sure I do," Marino said. "But there've been a lot of amazing coincidences in my career."

"I feel foolish," Rose said, looking down at her hands.

"All of us are tired," I said. "I've got plenty of room…" "We're gonna nail Chuckle-boy for drugs," Marino said to her. "Not-a damn thing foolish about that."

"I'm going to stay here and go on to bed," Rose said.

I continued to sort through what she'd told us as we went down the stairs and into the parking lot.

"Look," Marino said, unlocking his car. "You've been around Chuck a whole lot more than I have. You know him a lot better, which is too bad for you."

"And you're going to ask me if he's the one in the rental car following us," I said as he backed out and turned on Randy Travis. "The answer's no. He's a sneak. He's a liar and a thief, but he's a coward, Marino. It takes a lot of arrogance to boldly tailgate someone with your high beams on. Whoever's doing it is very sure of himself. He has no fear of being caught because he thinks he's too smart for that."

"Sort of the definition of a psychopath," he said. "And now I feel worse. Shit. I don't want to think that guy who just did Luong is the one following you and Rose."

Roads had frozen over again and Richmond drivers, lacking sense, were sliding and spinning all over the place. Marino had his portable police radio on and was monitoring accidents.

"When are you going to turn that thing in?" I asked.

"When they come and try to take it from me," he replied. "I ain't turning in shit."

"That's the spirit."

"The hard thing about every case we've ever worked," he said, "is there's never just one thing going on. Cops try to connect so much crap that by the time we solve the case, we could have written the victim's biography. Half the time we find a connection, it's not one that matters. Like the husband who gets mad at his wife. She goes out the door, pissed, and ends up abducted from a mall parking lot, raped and murdered. Her husband pissing her off didn't make it happen. Maybe she was going shopping anyway."

He turned into my driveway and put the truck in park. I gave him a long look.

"Marino, what are you going to do about money?"

"I'll be all right."

I knew it wasn't true.

"You could help me out as a field investigator for a while," I said "Until this suspension nonsense ends."

He was silent. As long as Bray was there, it would never end Suspending him without pay was her way of forcing Marino to resign. If he did that, he was out of the way like AI Carson.

"I can hire you two ways;" I went on. "A case-by-case basis and you'll get fifty dollars per..:'

He snorted. "Fifty dollars my ass!"

"Or I can hire you part-time and eventually I'll have to advertise the position and you'll have to apply for it like everybody else:' "Don't make me sick."

"How much are you earning now?"

"About sixty-two plus benefits," he replied.

"The best I could do is make you a P-fourteen at senior level. Thirty hours a week. No benefits. Thirty-five a year."

"Now that's a good one. One of the funniest things I've heard in a while."

"I can also take you on as an instructor and coordinator in death investigation at the Institute. That's another thirtyfive. So that's seventy. No benefits. Actually, you'll probably make out better."

He thought about it for a moment, sucking smoke.

"I don't need your help right now," he said rudely. "And hanging around medical examiners and dead bodies ain't part of my life's plan."

I climbed out of his truck.

"Good night;" I said.

He angrily roared away and I knew it wasn't me he was really so angry with. He was frustrated and furious. His self-respect and vulnerability were naked in front of me and he didn't want me to see it. All the same, what he'd said hurt.

I threw my coat over a chair in the foyer and pulled off leather gloves. I put Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony on the CD player and my discordant nerves began to restore their rhythm like the strings that played. I ate an omelet and settled in bed with a book I was too tired to read.

I fell asleep with the light on and was shocked awake by the hammering of my burglar alarm. I got my Glock out of a drawer and fought the impulse to disarm the system. I couldn't stand the awful clangor. But I.didn't know what had set it off. The phone rang several minutes later. `.`This is ADT..:' "Yes, yes," I said loudly. "I don't know why it's gone off.

"We're showing zone five," the man said. "The kitchen back door."

"I have no idea."

"Then you'd like us to dispatch the police."

"I guess you'd better," I said as the air raid in my house went on.

28

I supposed a strong gust of wind might have set off the alarm, and minutes later I silenced it so I could hear the police arrive. I sat on my bed, waiting. I didn't go through the dreaded routine of securing every inch of my house, of walking into rooms and showers and dark spaces of fear.

I listened to silence and became acutely aware of the sounds of it. I heard the wind, the faint clicking of numbers rolling on the digital clock, heat blowing, my own breathing. A car turned into my driveway and I hurried to the front door as one of the offers sharply rapped with a baton or blackjack instead of ringing the bell.

"Police," a woman's no-nonsense voice announced.

I let them in. There were two officers, a young woman and an older man. The woman's nameplate identified her as J. F. Butler, and there was something about her that had an effect on me.

"The zone's the one for the kitchen door that leads outside," I told them. "I very much appreciate your coming so quickly."

"What's your name?" her partner, R. I. McElwayne, asked me.

He was acting as if he didn't know who I was, as if I were just a middle-aged lady in a bathrobe who happened to live in a nice house in a neighborhood that rarely needed the police.

"I Kay Scarpetta."

His tight demeanor loosened a bit, and he said, "I didn't know if you really existed. Heard about you a lot, but I never been to the morgue, not once in eighteen years, for which I'm grateful."

"'That's because back then you didn't have to go to demo posts and learn all these scientific things," Butler picked on him.

McElwayne tried not to smile as his eyes roamed curiously around my house.

"You're welcome to come watch a demo post anytime you want," I said to him.

Butler's attention was everywhere; her body on alert. She hadn't been dulled yet by the weight of her career, unlike her partner, whose main interest at this moment was my house and who I was. He had probably pulled a thousand cars and answered just as many false alarms by now, all for little pay and even less appreciation.

"We'd like to look around," Butler said to me, locking the front door. "Starting with down here."

"Please. Look anywhere you want."

"If you'll just stay right here," she said, heading toward the kitchen, and then it hit me hard, emotions catching me completely off guard.

She reminded me of Lucy. It was the eyes, the straight bridge of the nose, and the way she gestured. Lucy couldn't move her lips without moving her hands, as if she were conducting a conversation instead of having one. I stood in the foyer and could hear their feet on hardwood, their muffled voices, the shutting of doors. They took their time, and I imagined it was Butler who was making sure they didn't ignore a single space big enough to hide a human being.

They came down the stairs and went out into the icy night, the beams of their strong flashlights sweeping over windows, streaking across blinds. This went on another fifteen minutes, and when they knocked on the door to come back inside, they led me into. the kitchen, McElwayne blowing on his cold, red hands. Butler had something important on her mind.

"Are you aware there's a bent place in the jamb of the kitchen door?" she asked.

"No," I said, startled.

She unlocked the door near the table by the window, where I usually ate when I was with friends or alone. Raw, freezing air rushed in as I moved close to her to see what she was talking about. She shone her light on a smalf indented impression in the strike plate and edge of the wooden frame where it appeared someone had tried to pry open the door.

"It could have been there for a while and you haven't noticed," she said. "We didn't check when your alarm went off on Tuesday because it was the zone for the garage door."

"My alarm went off on Tuesday?" I said in amazement. "I don't know anything about that."

"I'm going out to the car," McElwayne said to his partner as he walked out of the kitchen, still rubbing his hands.

"Be right back." - "I was working day shift," she explained to me. "It appears your housekeeper accidentally set it off."

I couldn't understand why Marie would have set off the alarm in the, garage, unless she'd gone out that way for some reason and had ignored the warning beep for too long.

"She was pretty shook up," Butler went on. "Apparently couldn't remember the code until we were already here."

"What time was this?" I asked.

"Around eleven hundred hours. "

Marino wouldn't have heard the call come over the radio because at eleven o'clock he was in the morgue with me. I thought of the alarm not being set when I got home that night, of the soiled towels and dirt on the rug. I wondered why Marie hadn't left a note for me saying what had happened.

"We had no reason to check this door," Butler said. "So I can't say whether the pry mark was here on Tuesday or not."

"Even if it wasn't," I said, "obviously someone tried to get in at some point."

"Unit three-twenty," Butler said. "Ten-five to a precinct B and E detective."

"Unit seven-ninety-two," came the response.

"Can you respond, reference B' and E attempt?" she said, giving out my address.

"Ten-four. Take me about fifteen minutes."

Butler set her radio Upright on the kitchen table and studied the lock a little more. Cold gusting air blew a stack of napkins on the floor and sent pages of a newspaper fluttering. ` "He's coming out of Meadow and Cary," she told me, as if it were something I ought to know. "That's where the precinct is."

She shut the door.

"They're not part of the detective division anymore," she went on, watching for my reaction. "So they got moved, are part of uniform operations now. I guess this was about a month ago," she added as I began to suspect where the conversation was headed.

"I guess B and E detectives are under Deputy Chief Bray now," I said.

She hesitated, then replied with an ironic smile, "Isn't everybody?"

"Would you like a cup of coffee?" I asked.

"That would be nice. I don't want to put you out:'

I got a bag of coffee from the freezer. Butler, sat down and started filling out an offense report while I got out mugs and cream and sugar, and dispatchers and cops jumped in and out in ten-codes on the air. The doorbell rang and I let the B amp;E detective in. I didn't know him. It seemed I didn't know anyone anymore since Bray had taken people away from jobs they had learned so well.

'This the door right here?" the detective was asking Butler.

"Yeah. Hey, Johnny, you got a pen that works better than this?"

A headache began boxing with my brain.

"You got one that works at all?"

I couldn't believe what was going on.

"What's your D.O.B.?" McElwayne was asking me.

"Not too many people have alarm systems in their garage," Butler said. "In my opinion, the contacts are weaker than they're going to be in a regular door. Lightweight metal, a really big surface area. You get a strong gusting wind…"

"I've never had a strong wind set off the alarm in my garage," I said.

"But if you're a burglar and figure a house has a burglar alarm," Butler continued to reason, "you might not assume the garage door's on it. And maybe there's something in there worth stealing."

"In broad daylight?" I asked.

The detective was dusting the doorjamb while more cold air blew in.

"Okay, let's see, Doc." McElwayne continued filling out the report. "Got your home address. Need the one downtown, and your home and business telephone numbers."

"I really don't want my unlisted phone number in a press basket," I said, trying to restrain my building resentment of this intrusion, well intended or not.

"Dr. Scarpetta, you got any prints on file?" the detective asked, brush poised, black magnetic powder dirtying the door.

"Yes. For exclusionary purposes."

"Thought you might. I think all MRs ought to in case they touch something they're not supposed to," he said, not intending to insult me but doing it anyway.

"Do you understand what I'm saying?" I tried to get McElwayne to look up at me and listen. "I don't want this in the paper. I don't want every news reporter and God knows who else calling me at home and knowing my exact address and my Social Security number and D.O.B., race, sex, where I was born, height, weight, eye color, next of kin..,

"Anything happened lately we should know about?" McElwayne continued questioning me as Butler handed the detective lifting tape.

"A car followed me Wednesday night," I reluctantly replied.

I felt all eyes on me.

"It seems my secretary was followed, too. Last night."

McElwayne was writing all of this down, too. The doorbell sounded again, and I saw Marino in the video display of the Aiphone on the wall by the refrigerator.

"And I'd better not read about that in the paper;" I warned as I walked out of the kitchen.

"No, ma'am, it will be in the supplementary report. That doesn't go in the press basket," Butler's voice followed me.

"Goddamn it, do something," I said to Marino as I opened the door. "Someone tries to break into my goddamn house and now my privacy's going to be broken into next."

Marino was vigorously chewing gum and looked like I was the one who had committed a crime.

"It'd be nice if you'd let me know when someone tries to break into your house. I shouldn't have to hear about it on the fucking scanner," he said, his angry strides carrying him toward the sound of voices.

I'd had enough and retreated to my study to call Marie. A young child answered the phone, then Marie got on.

"I just found out about the alarm going off while you were here on Tuesday," I said to her.

"I'm very sorry, Mrs. Scarpetta," she said in a pleading voice. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't do anything to set it off. I was vacuuming and then it happened. I couldn't remember the code because I was so scared:"

"I understand, Marie," I said. "It scares me, too. It just went off again tonight, so I know exactly what you mean. But I need you to tell me these things when they happen."

"The police didn't believe me. I was sure of it. I told them I didn't go into the garage, and I could tell..:' "It's all right," I said again.

"I was afraid you would be angry with me because the police… that maybe you wouldn't want me working for you anymore… I should have told you. I will always. I promise:' "You don't need to be afraid. The police aren't going to hurt you in this country, Marie. It's not the same thing as where you're from. And I want you to be very careful when you're at my house. Keep the alarm on and make sure it's on when you leave. Did you notice anyone or maybe a car that caught your attention for some reason?"

"I remember it was raining hard and very cold. I didn't see anyone."

"You let me know if you do," I said.

29

Somehow the supplemental part of the attempted burglary offense report made it into the press basket in time for the six o'clock news on Saturday night. Reporters began calling both Rose and me at home with question after question about our being followed I had no doubt Bray was behind that little slip. It was a nice little bit of amusement for her on an otherwise cold, dreary weekend. Of course she didn't give a damn that my sixty-four-year-old secretary lived alone in a community that did not have a guard gate.

Late Sunday afternoon I sat in my great room, a fire burning, as I worked on a long overdue journal article that I had no heart for. The wretched weather continued and my concentration drifted. By now, Jo should have been admitted to MCV and Lucy should be in D.C., I supposed. I didn't know for sure. But of one thing I was certain. Lucy was angry, and whenever she was angry, she cut herself off from me. It could go on for months, even a year.

I had managed to avoid calling my mother or my sister Dorothy, which might have seemed pretty cold of me, but I didn't need one more watt of stress. I finally relented early Sunday evening. Apparently Dorothy wasn't home. I tried my mother next.

"No, Dorothy's not here," my mother said. "She's in Richmond, and maybe you would know that if you ever bothered to call your sister and your mother. Lucy's in a shooting, and you can't be bothered…"

"Dorothy's in Richmond?" I said in disbelief.

"What do you expect? She's her mother."

"So Lucy's in Richmond, too?" The thought sliced through me like a scalpel.

"That's why her mother's going there. Of course Lucy's in Richmond."

I didn't know why I should have been surprised. Dorothy was a narcissistic upstager. Whenever there was drama, she had to be the center of it. If that meant suddenly assuming the role of mother to a child she cared nothing about, Dorothy would.

"She left yesterday and didn't want to bother to ask about staying in your house, since you don't seem to care about your family," my mother said.

"Dorothy never wants to stay in my house."

My sister was quite fond of hotel bars. At my house, there was no possibility of meeting men, at ldast not any I was willing to share with her.

"Where is she staying?" I asked. "And is Lucy staying with her?"

"No one will tell me, all this secrecy business, and here I am, her grandmother..:"

I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Mother, I've got to go," I said.

I practically hung up on her and called the orthopedic department chair, Dr. Graham Worth, at home.

"Graham, you've got to help me out," I told him.

"Don't tell me a patient in my unit died," he wryly said.

"Graham, you know I wouldn't ask for your help unless it was something very important."

Levity gave way to silence.

"You've got a patient under an alias. She's DEA, was shot in Miami. You know who I mean."

He didn't answer me.

"My niece, Lucy, was involved in the same shooting;" I went on.

"I know about the shooting," he replied. "Certainly it's been in the news."

"I'm the one who asked Jo Sanders's DEA supervisor to transfer her to MCV I promised to'personally look after her, Graham."

"Listen, Kay," he said. "I've been instructed that under no circumstances am I allowed to let anyone but immediate family in to see her."

"No one else?" I said in disbelief. "Not even my niece?"

He paused, then said, "It pains me to tell you this, but especially not her."

"Why?That's ridiculous!"

"It's not my call."

I couldn't imagine Lucy's reaction if she was being barred from seeing her lover.

"She's got a shattered, comminuted fracture of the left femur;" he was explaining. "I've had to put in a plate. She's in traction and on morphine, Kay. She fades in and out: Only her parents are seeing her. I'm not even sure she really understands where she is or what happened to her."

"What about the head injury?" I asked.

"Just a grazing wound that opened the flesh."

"Has Lucy been there at all? Maybe waiting outside the room? Her mother might be with her."

"She was there earlier. Alone," Dr. Worth replied. "Sometime this morning. I doubt she's still there."

"At least give me a chance to talk to Jo's parents."

He wouldn't answer me.

"Graham?"

Silence.

"For God's sake. They're comrades. They're best friends."

Silence.

"Are you still there?"

"Yes."

"Damn it, Graham, they love each other. Jo might not even know if Lucy's alive."

"Jo is very well aware your niece is fine. Jo doesn't want to see her," he said.

I got off the phone and stared at it. Somewhere in this goddamn city my sister was checked into a hotel, and she knew where Lucy was. I went through the Yellow Pages, starting with the Omni, the Jefferson, the obvious hotels. I soon found that Dorothy had checked into the Berkeley in the historic area of the city known as Shockhoe Slip.

She didn't answer the phone in her room. There were only so many places in Richmond where she could carouse on a Sunday, and I hurried out of the house and got into my car. The skyline was shrouded in clouds, and I valetparked my car in front of the Berkeley. I knew right away when I walked inside that Dorothy would not be here. The small, elegant hotel had an intimate, dark bar with highbacked leather chairs and a quiet clientele. The bartender wore a white jacket and was very attentive when I went up to him.

"I'm looking for my sister and wonder if she's been in here," I said. I described her andhe shook his head.

I walked back outside and crossed the cobblestone street to the Tobacco Company, an old tobacco warehouse that had been turned into a restaurant with an exposed glass and brass elevator constantly gliding up and down through an atrium of lush plants and exotic flowers. Just inside the front door was a piano bar with a dance floor, and I spotted Dorothy sitting at a table crowded with five men. I walked up to them, clearly on a mission.

People at nearby tables stopped talking, all eyes on me as if I were a gunslinger who had just pushed her way through a saloon's swinging doors.

"Excuse me," I politely said to the man on Dorothy's left. "Do you mind if I sit here for a moment?"

He did mind, but he surrendered his chair and wandered off to the bar. Dorothy's other companions shifted about uncomfortably.

"I've come to get you;" I said to Dorothy, who clearly had been drinking for a while.

"Well, look who's here!" she exclaimed, and she raised her stinger in a toast. "My big sister. Let me introduce you," she said to her companions.

"Be quiet and listen to me," I said in a low voice.

"My legendary big sister."

Dorothy always got mean when she drank. She didn't slur her words or bump into things, but she could sexually tease men into misery and use her tongue like a nettle. I was ashamed of her demeanor and the way she dressed, which sometimes seemed an intended parody of me.

This night she wore the handsome dark blue suit of a professional, but beneath the jacket her tight pink sweater offered her companions more than a hint of nipples. Dorothy had always been obsessed with her small breasts. To have men staring at them somehow reassured her.

"Dorothy;" I said, leaning closer to her ear, almost overwhelmed by Chanel Coco, "you need to come with me. We have to talk."

"Do you know who she is?" she went on as I cringed. "The chief medical examiner of this fine Commonwealth. Can you believe it? I have a big sister who's a coroner."Wow, that's got to be really interesting," one of the men said.

"What can I get you to drink?" said another.

"So what do you think is the truth about the Ramsey case? Think the parents did it?"

"I'd like somebody to prove those were really Amelia Earhart's bones they found:' "Where's the waitress?"

I put my hand on Dorothy's arm and we got up from the table. One thing was true about my sister: She had too much pride to cause a scene that didn't make her look clever and appealing. I escorted her out into a dispirited night of darkened windows and fog.

"I'm not going home with you," she announced, now that there was no one to hear. "And let go of my fucking arm.

She pulled in the direction of her hotel while I tugged her toward my car.

"You're coming with me and we're going to figure out what to do about Lucy."

"I saw her earlier at the hospital," she said.

I put her in the passenger's side.

"She didn't mention anything about you;" my oversensitive sister said.

I got in and locked the doors.

"Jo's parents are very sweet," she added as we drove off. "I was very taken aback that they didn't know the truth about Lucy and Jo's relationship."

"What did you do? Tell them, Dorothy?"

"Not in so many words, but I suppose I implied certain things because I just assumed they knew. You know, it seems so odd to see a skyline like this when you're used to Miami."

I wanted to slap her.

"Anyway, after talking with the Sanderses for a while, I came to realize they're the Jerry Falwell type and weren't about to condone a lesbian relationship."

"I wish you wouldn't use that word:"

"Well, that's what they are. Descended from the Amazon types on the island of Lesbos in tile Aegean Sea, off the coast of Turkey. Turkish women have so much hair. You ever noticed?"

"You ever heard of Sappho?"

"Of course I've heard of him," Dorothy said.

"She was a Lesbian because she lived on Lesbos. She was one of the greatest lyric poets in antiquity."

"Ha. Nothing poetic about some of these body-pierced, stocky hockey players I see. And of course, the Sanderses didn't come right out and say they thought Lucy and Jo were lesbians. Their reasoning was Jo had been horribly traumatized, and to see Lucy would bring it all back. It was too- soon. They were quite emphatic in a very nice way, and when Lucy showed up, they were very kind and sympathetic when they told her."

I passed through the toll plaza.

"Unfortunately, you know how Lucy is. She challenged them. She said she didn't believe them, and got pretty loud and rude. I explained to the Sanderses that she was just very upset after all she'd been through. They were very patient and said they'd pray for her, and next thing I knew a nurse told Lucy she had to leave.

"She stormed out," my sister said. She looked over at me to add, "Of course, mad at you or not, she'll come looking for you, just like she always does."

"How could you do that to her?" I asked. "How could you get between her and Jo? What kind of person are you?”

Dorothy was taken aback. I could feel her bristle.

"You've always been so jealous of me because you're not her mother," she answered.

I turned off on the Meadow Street exit instead of keeping on toward home.

"Why don't we just settle this once and for all," Dorothy and her stingers said. "You're nothing but a machine, a computer, one of those high-tech instruments you love so much. And one has to ask what's wrong with a person who chooses to spend all her time with dead people. Refrigerated, stinky, rotting dead people, most of them low-lifes to begin with."

I got on the Downtown Expressway again, heading back downtown.

"Versus me, I believe in relationships. I spend my time in creative pursuits, in reflection and relationships, and I believe our bodies are our temples and we should take care of them and be proud of them. Look at you." She paused for effect. "You smoke, you drink, you don't even belong to a gym, I bet. Don't ask me why you're not fat and flabby, unless it's cutting through all those ribs and running around crime scenes or being on your feet all day in a goddamn morgue. But let's get to what the worst thing is."

She leaned close to me, her vodka breath an unpleasant vapor.

"Fasten your shoulder harness, Dorothy," I quietly said.

"What you've done to my daughter. My only child. You never had a child because you've always been too busy. So you took mine," she blasted me with her boozy breath. "I should have never, never, ever let her visit you. Where was my brain when I let her stay summers with you?"

She dramatically clutched her head in both hands.

"You filled her with all this guns and ammo and crimesolving shit! You turned her into a fucking little computer nerd by the time she was ten, when little girls should be going to birthday parties and riding 'ponies and making friends!"

I let her rail on, paying attention to the road.

"You exposed her to a big, ugly redneck cop, and let's face it. He's really your only close relationship with a man. I hope like hell you don't sleep with a pig like that. And I have to tell you, as sorry as I am about what happened to Benton, he was weak. Not enough sap in that tree, oh no. No yolk in that egg.

"Huh. You were the man in that relationship, Miss doctor-lawyer-chief. I've told you before and I'll tell you again, you're nothing but a man, with big tits. You fool everybody because you look so elegant in your Ralph Lauren and ritzy-titzy car. You think you're so fucking sexy with those big tits, always making me feel something's wrong with me and making fun of me when I ordered Mark Eden and all those other contraptions. And remember what Mother said?

"She gave me a photograph of a man's hairy hand and said, "That's what makes a woman's breasts get big."' "You're drunk," I said.

"We were teenagers and you made fun of me!"

"I never made fun of you"

"You made me feel stupid and ugly. And you had this blond hair and a chest and all the boys talked about you. Especially since you were smart, too. Oh, you've always thought you're so fucking smart because I couldn't do anything but English."

"Stop it, Dorothy."

"I hate you."

"No, you don't, Dorothy."

"But you don't fool me. Oh, no."

She shook her head from side to side, wagging her finger in my face.

"Oh, no. You can't fool me. I've always suspected the truth about you."

I was parked in front of the Berkeley Hotel, and she didn't even notice. She was screaming, -tears streaming down her face.

"You're a closet diesel dyke," she said hatefully. "And you turned my daughter into one! And now she almost gets killed and she thinks I'm lower than a sewer!"

"Why don't you go inside your hotel and get some sleep," I said to her.

She wiped her eyes and looked out the window, surprised to see her hotel, as if it were a spaceship that had silently landed.

"I'm not dumping you out on the roadside, Dorothy. But right now I think it's best we're not together."

She sniffled, her rage fading like fireworks in the night. "I'll get you to your room," I said.

She shook her head, her hands motionless in her lap, tears sliding down her miserable face.

"She didn't want to see me," she said in a voice as quiet as a breath. "The minute I came off the elevator in that hospital, she looked as if someone had just spat on her food."

A group of people were walking out of the Tobacco Company. I recognized the men who had been at Dorothy's table. They were walking unsteadily and laughing too loudly.

"She's always wanted to be just like you, Kay. Do you have any idea how that feels?" she cried. "I'm a somebody, too. Why can't she want to be like me?"

She suddenly moved over and hugged me. She cried into my neck, sobbing, shaking. I wanted to love her. But I didn't. I never had.

"I want her to adore me, too!" she exclaimed, carried away by emotion and alcohol and her own addiction to drama. "I want her to admire me, too! I want her to brag about me like she does you! I want her to think I'm brilliant and strong, that everyone turns around and looks at me when I walk into a room. I want her to think and say all those things-she thinks and says about you! I want her to ask my advice and want to grow up to be just like me."

I put the car in gear and drove up to the entrance of the hotel.

"Dorothy," I said, "you're the most selfish person I've ever known." 30It was almost nine o'clock by the time I got home, and I worried that I should have brought Dorothy with me instead of leaving her at the hotel. I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if she had gone right back across the street to the bar. Maybe there were a few lonely men left she could amuse.

I checked my telephone messages, annoyed by hangups. There were seven of them, and caller-m read unavailable each time. Reporters didn't like to leave messages, even at my office, because it gave me the option of not calling them back. I heard a car door shut in the driveway and almost wondered if it were Dorothy, but when I checked, a yellow taxi was driving away as Lucy rang the bell.

She was carrying one small suitcase and a tote bag and dropped them in the foyer, shoving the door shut without hugging me. Her left cheek was one dark purple bruise, and several smaller ones were beginning to turn yellow at the edges. I had seen enough injuries like that to know she had been punched.

"I hate her," she started in, glaring at me as if I were to blame. "Who told her to come here? Was it you?"

"You know I would never do something like that:' I said.

"Come on. Let's talk. We have so much talking to do. My God, I was beginning to think I was never going to see you again."

I sat her in front of the fire and tossed in another log. Lucy looked awful. She had dark circles under her eyes, her jeans and sweater were hanging off her, her reddishbrown hair was falling over her face. She propped a foot up on my coffee table. Velcro ripped as she took off her ankle holster and gun.

"You got anything to drink in this house?" she asked. "Some bourbon or something? There was no damn heat in the back of the taxi and the window wouldn't close. I'm frozen. Look at my hands."

She held them out. The nails were blue. I took both of them in mine and held them tight. I moved closer to her on the couch and put my arms around her again. She felt so thin.

"What happened to all that muscle?" I tried to be funny.

"I haven't had much food..:" She stared into the fire.

"They don't have food in Miami?"

She wouldn't smile.

"Why did Mother have to come? Why can't she just leave me alone? All my life she doesn't do a goddamn fucking thing except subject me to all her men, men, men," she said. "Parade herself around with all these dicks fawning over her while I had nobody. Hell, they had nobody, either, and didn't even know it."

"You've always had me."

She shoved her hair out of her eyes and didn't seem to hear me.

"You know what she did at the hospital?"

"How did she know where to find you?" I had to have that question answered first, and Lucy knew why I asked it.

"Because she's my birth mother," she said with singsong sarcasm. "So she's listed on various forms whether I like it or not, and of course she knows who Jo is. So Mom tracks down Jo's parents here in Richmond and finds out everything because she's so manipulative and people always think she's wonderful. The Sanderses tell her where Jo's room'is and Mother shows up at the hospital this morning and I didn't even know she was here until I was sitting there in the waiting area and she walked in like the prima donna she is."

She clenched and unclenched her fists as if her fingers were stiff.

"Then guess what?" she went on. "Mom puts on this big sympathetic act with the Sanderses. Is bringing them coffee, sandwiches, giving them all her little pearls of philosophy. And they're talking and talking, and I'm just sitting there like I don't exist, and then Mom comes over and pats my hand and says, Jo isn't having any visitors today.

"I ask her who the hell she is, telling me that. She says the Sanderses wanted her to tell me because they didn't want to hurt my feelings. So I finally just fucking leave. Mom may still be there for all I know."

"She's not," I said.

Lucy got up and stabbed a log with the poker. Sparks swarmed as if in protest.

"She's gone too far. This time she's done it," my niece said.

"Let's don't talk about her. I want to talk about you. Tell me what happened in Miami:"

She sat on the rug, leaning against the couch, staring into the fire. I got up and went to the bar and poured her a Booker's bourbon.

"Aunt Kay, I've got to see her."

I handed Lucy the drink and sat back down. I massaged her shoulders and she began to loosen up, her voice getting drowsy.

"She's in there and doesn't know I'm waiting for her. Maybe she thinks I can't be bothered."

"Why in the world would she think that, Lucy?"

She didn't answer me, but seemed drawn into smoke and flames. She sipped her drink.

"When we were driving there in my hot little V -twelveBenz," she said in a distant voice, "Jo had this bad feeling and she told me she did. I said it was normal to have a bad feeling when you're about to do a takedown. I even kidded her about it."

She paused, just staring at flames as if she were seeing something else.

"We get to the door of the apartment that these OneSixty-Fiver assholes are using as their clubhouse;' she resumed, "and Jo goes first. There're six of them in there instead of three. Right away we know we're had and I know what they're going to do. One of them grabs Jo and sticks a gun to her head to make her tell them where the Fisher Island place is we'd set up for the hit."

She took a deep breath and was silent, as if she couldn't go on. She sipped the bourbon.

"God, what is this stuff? The vapors alone are knocking me out."

"A hundred and twenty proof. Usually I'm not a pusher, but it wouldn't be such a bad thing for you to be knocked out right now. Stay here with me for a while;" I said.

"ATF and DEA did everything right," she told me.

"These things happen, Lucy."

"I had to think so fast. The only thing I knew to do was act like I didn't care if they blew her brains out or not. Here they are holding a gun to her head and I start acting pissed off at her, which wasn't at all what they were expecting."

She took another swallow of bourbon. It was hitting her hard.

"I walked up to this Moroccan asshole with the gun and get right in his face and tell him to go ahead and waste her, that she's a stupid bitch and I'm sick of her always getting in my way. But if he does her now, all he's going to do is fuck himself and everybody else."

She stared into the fire, eyes wide and unblinking, as if watching it again in her mind.

"I say, You think I didn't expect you would use us and then do this? You think I'm stupid? Well, guess what? I forgot to tell you Mr. Tortora is expecting our company-and I look at my watch-in exactly one hour and sixteen minutes. I thought it would be nice to entertain him before you motherfuckers showed up and blew his guts out and took all his guns and money and fucking cocaine. What happens if we don't show up? You think he won't get nervous?"

I couldn't take my eyes off Lucy. Images flew at me from all directions. I imagined her playing out this dangerous act, and I saw her in battle dress when she was at fire scenes and flying a helicopter and programming computers. I envisioned her as the irritating, irrepressible child I had virtually raised.. Marino was right. Lucy thought she had so much to prove. Her first impulse had always been to fight.

"I didn't think they really believed me," she said. "So I turn to Jo. I'll never forget the look in her eyes, the pistol barrel right against her temple. Her eyes." She paused. "They're so calm as she looks in mine because…"

Her voice shook.

"Because she wants me to know she loves me…" Lucy chokes on sobs. "She loves me! She wants me to know because she believes..:" Her voice went up and stopped. "She believes we're going to die. And that's when I start yelling at her. I call her a stupid fucking bitch and slap her face so hard my hand goes numb.

"And she just looks at me as if I'm all there is, blood trickling out of her nose and the sides of her mouth, a red river down her face, dripping off her chin. She didn't even cry. She's out of the story, lost her role, her training; everything she damn well knows what to do. I grab her. I shove her hard to the ground and get on top of her, swearing and slapping and yelling."

She wiped her eyes and stared straight ahead.

"And what's so awful, Aunt Kay, is part of it's real. I'm so angry with her for quitting on me, for just giving up. She was going to just give up and die, goddamn it!"

"Like Benton did;" I quietly said.

Lucy wiped her face on her shirt. She didn't seem to hear what I'd said.

"I'm so fucking tired of people giving up and leaving me;" she said in a shattered voice. "When I need them and they fucking give up!"

"Benton didn't give up, Lucy."

"I just keep swearing at Jo, screaming and hitting her and telling her I'm going to kill her as I straddle her, shaking her by her hair. It wakes her up, maybe even pisses her off, too, and she starts fighting back. Calls me a Cuban cunt and spits blood in my face, punches me, and by this time the guys are laughing and whistling and grabbing their crotches..: '

She took another long breath and shut her eyes, barely able to sit up. She leaned against my legs, firelight playing on her strong, beautiful face.

"She starts really struggling. My knees are so tight against her sides I'm surprised I didn't break her ribs, and while we're going at each other like that, I tear open her shirt, and this really gets the guys going and they don't see me grab my gun out of my ankle holster. I start firing. I just fire. Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire..:' Her voice trailed off.

I bent over and put my arms around her.

"You know? I'm wearing those wide-legged street jeans to hide my Sig. They say I fired eleven rounds. I don't even remember dropping the empty magazine, putting in a full one. Racking it back. Agents are everywhere and somehow I'm dragging Jo out the door. And she's bleeding heavily from her head."

Lucy's lower lip trembled as she tried to go on, her voice far away. She wasn't here. She was there, living it again.

"Fire. Fire. Fire. Her blood on my hands."

Her voice rose to God.

"I hit her and hit her. I can still feel the sting of her cheek against the palm of my hand."

She looked at her hand as if it should be put to death.

"I felt it. How soft her skin was. And she bled. I made her bleed. The skin I had touched and loved. I drew blood from it. Then the guns, the guns, the guns, and smoke and ringing in my ears and it's a blaze when it happens like that. It's over and never started. I knew she was dead."

She bowed her head and wept quietly, and I stroked her hair.

"You saved her life. And you saved yours;" I finally said. "Jo knows what you did and why you did it, Lucy. She should love you all the more."

"I'm in trouble this time, Aunt Kay," she said.

"You're a hero. That's what you are."

"No. You don't understand. It doesn't matter if it was a good shooting. It doesn't matter ifATF gives me a medal:"

She sat up and got to her feet. She stared down at me with defeat in her eyes and another emotion I didn't recognize. Maybe it was grief. She'd never shown grief when Benton was murdered. All I'd ever seen was rage.

"The bullet they took out of her leg? It's a Hornady Custom Jacketed hollowpoint. Ninety grains. What I had in my gun."

I didn't know what to say.

"I'm the one who shot her, Aunt Kay."

"Even if you did.:."

"What if she never walks again…? What if she's finished in law enforcement because of me?"

"She won't be jumping out of helicopters anytime soon," I said. "But she's going to be fine."

"What if I permanently damaged her face with my fucking fist?"

"Lucy, listen to me," I said. "You saved her life. If you killed two people to do that, then so be it. You had no choice. It's not that you wanted to:' "The hell I didn't;' she said. "I wish I'd killed all of them."

"You don't mean that:' "Maybe I'll just be a mercenary soldier," she bitterly said. "Got any murderers, rapists, carjackers, pedophiles, drug dealers you need to get rid of? Just call one-eighthundred-L-U-C-Y"

"You can't bring Benton back through killing."

Still, it was as if she didn't hear me.

"He wouldn't want you to feel this way," I said.

The telephone rang.

"He didn't abandon you, Lucy. Don't be angry with him because he died."

The phone rang a third time, and she couldn't restrain herself. She grabbed it, unable to hide the hope and fear in her eyes. I couldn't bring myself to tell her what Dr. Worth had told me. Now was not the time.

"Sure, hold on," she said, and disappointment and more hurt touched her face as she handed me the phone.

"Yes," I reluctantly answered.

"Is this Dr. Kay Scarpetta?" an unfamiliar male voice asked.

"Who is this?"

"It's important I verify who you are." The accent was American.

"If you're another reporter..:'

"I'm going to give you a phone number."

"I'm going to give you a promise," I said. "Tell me who you are, or I'm hanging up."

"Let me give you this number," and he began reciting it before I could refuse.

I recognized the country code for France.

"It's three o'clock in the morning in France," I said, as if he didn't know.

"It doesn't matter what time it is. We have been getting information from you and running it through our computer system."

"Not from me."

"No, not in the sense that you typed it into the computer, Dr. Scarpetta"

His voice was baritone and smooth, like fine polished wood.

"I'm at the secretariat in Lyon," he informed me. "Call the number I gave you and at least get our after-hours voice mail."

"How much sense does that…?"

"Please."

I hung up and tried, and a recording of a woman with a heavy French accent said "Bonjour, hello," and gave the office hours in both languages. I entered the extension he had given me, and the man's voice came back over the line.

"Bonjour, hello? And that's supposed to identify who you are?" I said. "You could be a restaurant for all I know."

"Please fax me a sheet of your letterhead. When I see that I'll fill you in."

He gave me the number. I put him on hold and went back to my study. I faxed a sheet of my stationery to him while Lucy remained in front of the fire, elbow on her knee, chin in her hand, listless.

"My name's Jay Talley, the ATF liaison at Interpol," he said when I got back with him. "We need you to come here right away. You and Captain Marino."

"I don't understand," I said. "You should have my reports. I have nothing more to add to them at this time."

"We wouldn't ask you if it wasn't important."

"Marino doesn't have a passport," I said.

"He went to the Bahamas three years ago."

I had forgotten that Marino had taken one of his many bad choices in women on a three-day cruise. Their relationship didn't last much longer than that.

"I don't care how important this is;" I said. "There's no way I'm getting on a plane and flying to France when I don't know what…"

"Hold on a second," he cut in, politely but with authority. "Senator Lord? Sir, are you there?"

"I'm here."

"Frank?" I said in amazement. "Where are you? Are you in France?"

I wondered how long he had been conferenced in and listening.

"Now listen, Kay. This is important," Senator Lord told me in a voice that reminded me of who he was. "Go and go right away. We need your help."

"We?"

Then Talley spoke. "You and Marino need to be at the Millionaire private terminal at four-thirty. That's A.M. your time. Less than six hours from now."

"I can't leave right now…" I started to say as Lucy filled my doorway.

"Don't be late. Your New York connection leaves at eight-thirty," he told me.

I thought Senator Lord had hung up, but suddenly his voice was there.

"Fhank you, Agent Talley," he said. "I'll talk to her now."

I could hear Talley get off the line.

"I want to know how you're doing, Kay," my friend the senator said.

"I've got no idea."

"I care;" he said. "I won't let anything happen to you. Just trust me. Now tell me how you're feeling."

"Other than being summoned to France and about to be fired and…" I started to add what had happened to Lucy, but she was standing right there.

"Everything's going to be fine," Senator Lord said.

"Whatever everything is;" I replied"Trust me."

I always had.

"You're going to be asked to do things that you're going to resist. Things that will scare you."

"I don't scare easily, Frank," I said.

31

Marino picked me up at quarter of four. It was a heartless hour of the morning that reminded me of sleepless rotations in hospitals, of early days in my career when I was the one who got the calls for cases nobody else wanted.

"Now you know what it feels like to be on midnight shift," Marino commented as we cut through icy roads.

"I know all about it anyway," I replied.

"Yeah, but the difference is, you don't have to. You could send someone else to scenes and stay home. You're the chief."

"I'm always leaving Lucy when she needs me, Marino."

"I'm telling you, Doc, she understands. She's probably gonna be heading up to D.C. anyway to deal with all this review board shit."

I hadn't told him about Dorothy's visit. It would have served no purpose other than to set him off.

"You're on the faculty at MCV I mean, you're a real doctor."

"Thank you."

"Can't you just go talk to the administrator or something?" he said, punching in the cigarette lighter. "Couldn't you pull some strings so Lucy could go in there?"

"As long as Jo isn't capable of making decisions, her family has complete control over who visits and who doesn't."

"Fucking religious wackos. Bible-banging Hitlers."

"There was a time when you were pretty narrowminded, too, Marino," I reminded him. "Seems to me you used to talk about queers and fags. I don't even want to repeat some of the words I've heard you use."

"Yeah. Well, I never meant any of it."

At the Millionaire jet center the temperature was in the low twenties and hard, icy wind grabbed and shoved me as I collected luggage out of the back of the truck. We were met by two pilots who didn't say much as they opened a gate to lead us across the tarmac, where a Uarjet was hooked up to a power cart. A thick manila envelope with my name on it was in one of the seats, and when we took off into the clear, cold night, I turned off cabin lights and slept until we landed in Teterboro, New Jersey.

A dark blue Explorer glided our way as we climbed down the metal steps. It was snowing small flakes that stung my face.

"Cop." Marino gave the nod as the Explorer stopped close to the plane.

"How do you know?"

"I always know," he said.

The driver was in jeans and a leather coat and looked as if he'd seen life from every angle and was happy to pick us up. He packed our baggage in the trunk. Marino climbed in front and off they. sailed into one comment and story after another because the driver was NYPD and Marino used to be. I floated in and out of their conversation as I dozed.

"… Adams in the detective division, he called around eleven. i guess Interpol got him first. I didn't know he had anything to do with them."

"Oh yeah?" Marino's voice was muted and soporific like bourbon on the rocks. "Some tear-ass I bet.::' "Naw. He's okay..:"

I slept and drifted, city lights touching my eyelids as I began to feel that empty ache again.

"… got so shit-faced one night I woke up the next morning and didn't know where my car or crass were. That was my wake-up call…"

The only other time I had flown supersonic had been with Benton. I remembered his body against me, the intense heat of my breasts touching him as we sat in those small gray leather seats and drank French wine, staring at jars of caviar we had no intention of eating.

I remembered exchanging hurtful words that turned into desperate lovemaking in London, in a flat near the American Embassy. Maybe Dorothy was right. Maybe sometimes I was too much in my mind and not as open as I wanted to be. But she was wrong about Benton. He had never been weak, and we had never been tepid in bed.

"Dr. Scarpetta?"