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3

WE BOUGHT DRIVE-THRU Whoppers and fries at a Burger King on Broadview, and it was dark out and very cool. Approaching headlights hurt my eyes, and no amount of Motrin would relieve the hot pain in my temples or the dread in my heart. Lucy had brought her own CDs and was playing one of them loudly as we glided through Warrenton in a rented black Ford LTD.

'What's this you're listening to?' I asked as a way of registering a complaint.

'Jim Brickman,' she said sweetly.

'Not hardly,' I said over flutes and drums. 'Sounds Native American to me. And maybe we could turn it down a bit?'

Instead, she turned it up.

'David Arkenstone. Spirit Wind. Got to open your mind, Aunt Kay. This one right now is called Destiny.'

Lucy drove like the wind, and my mind began to float.

'You're getting kooky on me,' I said as I imagined wolves and campfires in the night.

'His music's all about connectivity and finding your way and positive force,' she went on as the music got lively and added guitars. 'Don't you think that fits?'

I couldn't help but laugh at her complicated explanation. Lucy had to know how everything worked and the reason why. The music, in truth, was soothing, and I felt a brightening and calm in frightening places in my mind.

'What do you think happened, Aunt Kay?' Lucy suddenly broke the spell. 'I mean, in your heart of hearts.'

'Right now it's impossible to say,' I answered her the way I would anybody else. 'And we shouldn't assume anything, including gender or who might have been staying in the house.'

'Teun is already thinking arson, and so am I,' she matter-of-factly stated. 'What's weird is Pepper didn't alert on anything in any areas where we thought he might.'

'Like the master bathroom on the first floor,' I said.

'Nothing there. Poor Pepper worked like a dog and didn't get fed.'

The Labrador retriever had been food-reward trained since his youth to detect hydrocarbon petroleum distillates, such as kerosene, gasoline, lighter fluid, paint thinner, solvents, lamp oil. All were possible, if not common, choices for the arsonist who wanted to start a major fire with the drop of a match. When accelerants are poured at a scene, they pool and flow as their vapors burn. The liquid soaks into fabric or bedding or carpet. It seeps under furniture and between the cracks in flooring. It is not water-soluble or easy to wash away, so if Pepper had found nothing to excite his nose, chances were good that nothing was there.

'What we got to do is find out exactly what was in the house so we can begin to calculate the fuel load,' Lucy went on as the music turned to violins, and strings and drums got sadder. 'Then we can begin to get a better idea about what and how much would have been needed to get something like that going.'

'There was melted aluminum and glass, and tremendous burning of the body in the upper legs and lower arms, any areas that weren't spared by the glass door,' I said. 'That suggests to me the victim was down, possibly in the bathtub, when the fire reached her.'

'It would be bizarre to think a fire like this started in a marble bathroom,' my niece said.

'What about electrical? Any possibility of that?' I asked, and our motel's red and yellow lighted sign floated above the highway, maybe a mile ahead.

'Look, the place had been electrically upgraded. When fire reached the wires and insulation was degraded by heat, the ground wires came in contact with each other. The circuit failed, the wires arced and the circuit breakers tripped,' she said. 'That's exactly what I would expect to happen whether the fire was set or not. It's hard to say. There's a lot left to look at, and of course the labs will do their thing. But whatever got that fire going, got it going fast. You can tell from some of the flooring. There's a sharp demarcation between really deep charring and the unburned wood, and that means hot and fast.'

I remembered wood near the body looking just as she had described. It was alligatored, or blistered black on top, versus slowly burned all the way through.

'First floor again?' I asked as my private suspicions about this case grew darker.

'Probably. Plus, we know things happened fast anyway based on when the alarm went off and what the firefighters found seventeen minutes later.' She was quiet for a moment, then went on, 'The bathroom, the possible hemorrhage in tissue near her left eye. What? Maybe she was taking a bath or shower? She's overcome by carbon monoxide and falls and hits her head?'

'It appears she was fully dressed when she died,' I reminded her. 'Including boots. If the smoke alarm goes off while you're in the bath or shower, I doubt you'd take time to put on all that.'

Lucy turned the volume up even louder and adjusted the bass. Bells jingled with drums and I thought oddly of incense and myrrh. I wanted to lie in the sun with Benton and sleep. I wanted the ocean to roll over my feet as I walked in the morning exploring the beach, and I remembered Kenneth Sparkes as I had seen him last. I envisioned what was left of him turning up next.

'This is called The Wolf Hunt, ' Lucy said as she turned into a white brick Shell Food Mart. 'And maybe that's what we're on, huh? After the big bad wolf.'

'No,' I said as she parked. 'I think we're looking for a dragon.'

She threw a Nike windbreaker over her gun and BDUs.

'You didn't see me do this,' she said as she opened her door. 'Teun would kick my ass to the moon.'

'You've been around Marino too long,' I said, for he rarely minded rules and was known to carry beer home in the trunk of his unmarked police car.

Lucy went inside, and I doubted that she fooled anyone in her filthy boots and faded blue pants with so many pockets, and the tenacious smell of fire. A keyboard and cowbell began a different rhythm on the CD as I waited in the car and longed for sleep. Lucy returned with a six-pack of Heineken, and we drove on as I drifted with flute and percussion until sudden images shocked me straight up in my seat. I envisioned bared chalky teeth and dead eyes the grayish-blue of boiled eggs. Hair strayed and floated like dirty cornsilk in black water, and crazed, melted glass was an intricate sparkling web around what was left of the body.

'Are you all right?' Lucy sounded worried as she looked over at me.

'I think I fell asleep,' I said. 'I'm fine.'

Johnson's Motel was just ahead of us on the other side of the highway. It was stone with a red and white tin awning, and a red and yellow lit-up sign out front promised it was open twenty-four hours a day and had air conditioning. The NO part of the vacancy sign was dark, which boded well for those in need of a place to stay. We got out, and a welcome mat announced HELLO outside the lobby. Lucy rang a bell. A big black cat came to the door, and then a big woman seemed to materialize from nowhere to let us in.

'We should have a reservation for a room for two,' Lucy said.

'Check-out's eleven in the morning,' the woman stated as she went around to her side of the counter. 'I can give you fifteen down there at the end.'

'We're ATF,' Lucy said.

'Honey, I already figured out that one. The other lady was just in here. You're all paid up.'

A sign posted above the door said no checks but encouraged MasterCard and Visa, and I thought of McGovern and her resourceful ways.

'You need two keys?' the clerk asked us as she opened a drawer.

'Yes, ma'am.'

'Here's you go, honey, and there's two nice beds in there. If I'm not around when you check out, just leave the keys on the counter.'

'Glad you got security,' Lucy said drolly.

'Sure do. Double locks on every door.'

'How late does room service stay open?' Lucy played with her again.

'Until that Coke machine out front quits,' the woman said with a wink.

She was at least sixty with dyed red hair and jowls, and a squat body that pushed against every inch of her brown polyester slacks and yellow sweater. It was obvious that she was fond of black and white cows. There were carvings and ceramic ones on shelves and tables and fastened to the wall. A small fish tank was populated with an odd assortment of tadpoles and minnows, and I couldn't help asking her about them.

'Home grown?' I said.

She gave me a sheepish smile. 'I catch 'em in the pond out back. One of them turned into a frog not long ago and it drowned. I didn't know frogs can't live under water.'

'I'm gonna use the pay phone,' Lucy said, opening the screen door. 'And by the way, what happened to Marino?'

'I think some of them went out to eat somewhere,' I said.

She left with our Burger King bag, and I suspected she was calling Janet and that our Whoppers would be cold by the time we got to them. As I leaned against the counter, I noticed the clerk's messy desk on the other side, and the local paper with its front page headline: MEDIA MOGUL'S FARM DESTROYED BY FIRE. I recognized a subpoena among her clutter and posted notices of reward money for information about murders, accompanied by composite sketches of rapists, thieves, and killers. All the same, Fauquier was the typical quiet county where people got lulled into feeling safe.

'I hope you aren't working here all by yourself at night,' I said to the clerk, because it was my irrepressible habit to give security tips whether or not anyone wanted them.

'I've got Pickle,' she affectionately referred to her fat black cat.

'That's an interesting name.'

'You leave an open pickle jar around, and she'll get into it. Dips her paw right in, ever since she was a kitten.'

Pickle was sitting in a doorway leading into a room that I suspected was the clerk's private quarters. The cat's eyes were gold coins fixed on me as her fluffy tail twitched. She looked bored when the bell rang and her owner unlocked the door for a man in a tank top who was holding a burned-out lightbulb.

'Looks like it done it again, Helen.' He handed her the evidence.

She went into a cabinet and brought out a box of lightbulbs as I gave Lucy plenty of time to get off the pay phone so I could use it. I glanced at my watch, certain Benton should have made it to Hilton Head by now.

'Here you go, Big Jim.' She exchanged a new lightbulb for bad. 'That's sixty watts?' She squinted at it. 'Uh huh. You here a little longer?' She sounded as if she hoped he would be.

'Hell if I know.'

'Oh dear,' said Helen. 'So things still aren't too good.'

'When have they ever been?' He shook his head as he went out into the night.

'Fighting with his wife again,' Helen the clerk commented to me as she shook her head, too. 'Course, he's been here before, which is partly why they fight so much. Never knew there'd be so many people cheating on each other. Half the business here is from folks just three miles down the road.'

'And they can't fool you,' I said.

'Oh no-sir-ree-bob. But it's none of my business as long as they don't wreck the room.'

'You're not too far from the farm that burned,' I then said.

She got more animated. 'I was working that night. You could see the flames shooting up like a volcano going off.' She gestured broadly with her arms. 'Everyone staying here was out front watching and listening to the sirens. All those poor horses. I can't get over it.'

'Are you acquainted with Kenneth Sparkes?' I wondered out loud.

'Can't say I've ever seen him in person.'

'What about a woman who might have been staying in his house?' I asked. 'You ever heard anything about that?'

'Only what people say.' Helen was looking at the door as if someone might appear any second.

'For example,' I prodded.

'Well, I guess Mr Sparkes is quite the gentleman, you know,' Helen said. 'Not that his ways are popular around here, but he's quite a figure. Likes them young and pretty.'

She thought for a moment and gave me her eyes as moths flickered outside the window.

'There are those who got upset when they'd see him around with the newest one,' she said. 'You know, no matter what anybody says, this is still the Old South.'

'Anybody in particular who got upset?' I asked.

'Well, the Jackson boys. They're always in one sort of trouble or another,' she said, and she was still watching the door. 'They just don't like colored people. So for him to be sporting something pretty, young, and white, he tended to do that a lot Well, there's been talk. I'll just put it like that.'

I was imagining Ku Klux Klansmen with burning crosses, and white supremacists with cold eyes and guns. I had seen hate before. I had dipped my hands in its carnage for most of my life. My chest was tight as I bid Helen the clerk good night. I was trying not to leap to assumptions about prejudice and arson and an intended victim, which may have been only Sparkes and not a woman whose body was now on its way to Richmond. Of course, it may simply have been the former governor's vast property that the perpetrators had been interested in, and they did not know anyone was home.

The man in the tank top was on the pay phone when I went out. He was absently holding his new lightbulb and talking in an intense, low voice. As I walked past, his anger flared.

'Dammit, Louise! That's what I mean. You never shut up,' he snarled into the phone as I decided to call Benton later.

I unlocked the red door to room fifteen, and Lucy pretended that she hadn't been waiting for me as she sat in a wing chair, bent over a spiral notebook, making notes and calculations. But she had not touched her fast-food dinner, and I knew she was starved. I took Whoppers and French fries out of the bag and set paper napkins and food on a nearby table.

'Everything's cold,' I said simply.

'You get used to it.' Her voice was distant and distracted.

'Would you like to shower first?' I asked politely.

'Go ahead,' she replied, buried in math, a scowl furrowing her brow.

Our room was impressively clean for the price and decorated in shades of brown, with a Zenith TV almost as old as my niece. There were Chinese lamps and long-tasseled lanterns, porcelain figurines, static oil paintings and flower-printed spreads. Carpeting was a thick shag Indian design, and wallpaper was woodland scenes. Furniture was Formica or so thickly shellacked that I could not see the grain of the wood.

I inspected the bath and found it a solid pink and white tile that probably went back to the fifties, with Styrofoam cups and tiny wrapped bars of Lisa Luxury soap on the sink. But it was a single plastic red rose in a window that touched me most. Someone had done the best with the least to make strangers feel special, and I doubted that most patrons noticed or cared. Maybe forty years ago such resourcefulness and attention to detail would have mattered when people were more civilized than they seemed to be now.

I lowered the toilet lid and sat to remove my dirty wet boots. Then I fought with buttons and hooks until my clothes retreated to a wilted heap on the floor. I showered until I was warm and cleansed of the smell of fire and death. Lucy was working on her laptop when I emerged in an old Medical College of Virginia T-shirt and popped open a beer.

'What's up?' I asked as I sat on the couch.

'Just screwing around. I don't know enough to do much more than that,' she replied. 'But that was a big fucking fire, Aunt Kay. And it doesn't appear to have been set with gasoline.'

I had nothing to say.

'And someone died in it? In the master bathroom? Maybe? How did that happen? At eight o'clock at night?'

I did not know.

'I mean, she's in there brushing her teeth and the fire horn goes off?'

Lucy stared hard at me.

'And what?' she asked. 'She just stays there and dies?'

She paused to stretch sore shoulders.

'You tell me, Chief. You're the expert.'

'I can offer no explanation, Lucy,' I said.

'And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen. World famous expert Dr Kay Scarpetta doesn't know.' She was getting irritable. 'Nineteen horses,' she went on. 'So who took care of them? Sparkes doesn't have a stable hand? And why did one of the horses get away? The little black stallion?'

'How do you know it's a boy?' I said as someone knocked on our door. 'Who is it?' I asked through wood.

'Yo. It's me,' Marino announced gruffly.

I let him in and could tell by the expression on his face that he had news.

'Kenneth Sparkes is alive and well,' he announced.

'Where is he?' I was very confused again.

'Apparently, he's been out of the country and flew back when he heard the news. He's staying in Beaverdam and don't seem to have a clue about anything, including who the victim is,' Marino told us.

'Why Beaverdam?' I asked, calculating how long the trip would take to that remote part of Hanover County.

'His trainer lives there.'

'His?'

'Horse trainer. Not his trainer, like in weight lifting or nothing.'

'I see.'

'I'm heading out in the morning, around nine A.M.,' he said to me. 'You can go on to Richmond or go with me.'

'I have a body to identify, so I need to talk to him whether he claims to know anything or not. I guess I'm going with you,' I said as Lucy met my eyes. 'Are you planning on our fearless pilot dropping us off, or have you managed to get a car?'

'I'm skipping the whirlybird,' Marino retorted. 'And do I need to remind you that the last time you had a chat with Sparkes, you pissed him off?'

'I don't remember,' I said, and I really did not, for I had irritated Sparkes on more than one occasion when we disagreed about case details he thought should be released to the media.

'I can guarantee he does, Doc. You gonna share the beer or what?'

'I can't believe you don't have your own stash,' Lucy said as she resumed working on her laptop, keys clicking.

He went to the refrigerator and helped himself to one.

'You want my opinion at the end of the day?' he said. 'It's the same as it was.'

'Which is?' Lucy asked without looking up.

'Sparkes is behind this.'

He set the bottle opener on the coffee table and stopped at the door, resting his hand on the knob.

'For one thing, it's just too friggin' convenient that he was suddenly out of the country when it happened,' he talked on as he yawned. 'So he gets someone to do his dirty work. Money.' He slid a cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket and shoved it between his lips. 'That's all the bastard's ever cared about, anyway. Money and his dick.'

'Marino, for God's sake,' I complained.

I wanted to shut him up, and I wanted him to leave. But he ignored my cue.

'The worst news of all is now we probably got a homicide on our hands, on top of everything else,' he said as he opened the door. 'Meaning yours truly here is stuck on this case like a fly on a pest strip. And that goes for the two of you. Shit.'

He got out his lighter, the cigarette moving with his lips.

'The last thing I feel like doing right now. You know how many people that asshole's probably got in his pocket?' Marino would not stop. 'Judges, sheriffs, fire marshals'

'Marino,' I interrupted him because he was making everything worse. 'You're jumping to conclusions. In fact, you're jumping to Mars.'

He pointed his unlit cigarette at me. 'Just wait,' he said on his way out. 'Everywhere you turn on this one, you're going to run into a briar patch.'

'I'm used to it,' I said.

'You just think you are.'

He shut the door too hard.

'Hey, don't wreck the joint,' Lucy called out after him.

'Are you going to work on that laptop all night?' I asked her.

'Not all night.'

'It's getting late, and there's something you and I need to discuss,' I said, and Carrie Grethen was back in my mind.

'What if I told you I don't feel like it?' Lucy wasn't kidding.

'It wouldn't matter,' I replied. 'We have to talk.'

'You know, Aunt Kay, if you're going to start in on Teun and Philly'

'What?' I said, baffled. 'What does Teun have to do with anything?'

'I can tell you don't like her.'

'That's utterly ridiculous.'

'I can see through you,' she went on.

'I have nothing against Teun, and she is not relevant to this conversation.'

My niece got silent. She began taking off her boots.

'Lucy, I got a letter from Carrie.'

I waited to see a response and was rewarded with none.

'It's a bizarre note. Threatening, harassing, from Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center in New York.'

I paused again as Lucy dropped a boot to the shag carpeting.

'She's basically making sure we know that she intends to cause a lot of trouble during her trial,' I explained. 'Not that this should come as any great surprise. But, well, I' I stumbled as she tugged off wet socks and massaged her pale feet. 'We just need to be prepared, that's all.'

Lucy unbuckled her belt and unzipped her pants as if she had not heard a word I'd said. She pulled her filthy shirt over her head and threw it on the floor, stripping down to sports bra and cotton panties. She stalked toward the bathroom, her body beautiful and fluid, and I sat staring after her, stunned, until I heard water run.

It was as if I had never really noticed her full lips and breasts and her arms and legs curved and strong like a hunter's bow. Or maybe I simply had refused to see her as someone apart from me and sexual, because I chose not to understand her or the way she lived. I felt shamed and confused, when for an electric instant, I envisioned her as Carrie's supple, hungry lover. It did not seem so foreign that a woman would want to touch my niece.

Lucy took her time in the shower, and I knew this was deliberate because of the discussion we were about to have. She was thinking. I suspected she was furious. I anticipated she would vent her rage on me. But when she emerged a little later, she was wearing a Philadelphia fire marshal T-shirt that did nothing but darken my mood. She was cool and smelled like lemons.

'Not that it's any of my business,' I said, staring at the logo on her chest.

'Teun gave it to me,' she answered.

'Ah.'

'And you're right, Aunt Kay, it's none of your business.'

'I just wonder why you don't learn' I started in as my own temper flared.

'Learn?'

She feigned a clueless expression that was meant to irritate, eliminate, and make one feel vapid.

'About sleeping with people you work with.'

My emotions hurled down their own treacherous track. I was being unfair, jumping to conclusions with little evidence. But I was scared for Lucy in every way imaginable.

'Someone gives me a T-shirt and suddenly I'm sleeping with this person? Hmmm. Quite a deduction, Dr Scarpetta,' Lucy said with gathering fury. 'And by the way, you're one to talk about sleeping with people you work with. Look who you practically live with, hello?'

I was certain Lucy would have stormed out into the night if she had been dressed. Instead, she stood with her back to me, staring at a curtained window. She wiped outraged tears from her face as I tried to salvage what was left of a moment that I had never intended to turn out like this.

'We're both tired,' I said softly. 'It's been an awful day, and now Carrie has gotten just what she wanted. She has turned us on each other.'

My niece did not move or utter a sound as she wiped her face again, her back solidly to me like a wall.

'I am not at all implying that you are sleeping with Teun,' I went on. 'I'm only warning you of the heartbreak and chaos Well, I can see how it could happen.'

She turned around and stared at me with a challenge in her eyes.

'What do you mean, you can see how it could happen?' she demanded to know. 'She's gay? I don't remember her telling me that.'

'Maybe things aren't so good with Janet right now,' I went on. 'And people are people.'

She sat on the foot of my bed, and it was clear she intended to hold me to this conversation.

'Meaning?' she asked.

'Just that. I wasn't born in a cave. Teun's gender makes no difference to me. I do not know a thing about her proclivities. But if you are attracted to each other? Why wouldn't anyone be attracted to either of you? Both of you are striking and compelling and brilliant and heroic. I'm just reminding you that she's your supervisor, Lucy.'

My blood pounded as my voice got more intense.

'And then what?' I asked. 'Will you move from one federal agency to another until you've screwed yourself out of a career? That's my point, like it or not. And that's the last I will ever bring it up.'

My niece just stared at me as her eyes filled again. She did not wipe them this time, and tears rolled down her face and splashed the shirt Teun McGovern had given to her.

'I'm sorry, Lucy,' I said gently. 'I know your life isn't easy.'

We were silent as she looked away and wept. She took a deep, long breath that trembled in her chest.

'Have you ever loved a woman?' she asked me.

'I love you.'

'You know what I mean.'

'Not in love with one,' I said. 'Not to my knowledge.'

'That's rather evasive.'

'I didn't mean it to be.'

'Could you?'

'Could I what?'

'Love a woman,' she persisted.

'I don't know. I'm beginning to think I don't know anything.' I was as honest as I knew how to be. 'Probably that part of my brain is shut.'

'It has nothing to do with your brain.'

I wasn't sure what to say.

'I've slept with two men,' she said. 'So I know the difference, for your information.'

'Lucy, you don't need to plead your case to me.'

'My personal life should not be a case.'

'But it's about to become one,' I went back to that subject. 'What do you think will be Carrie's next move?'

Lucy opened another beer and glanced to see that I still had plenty.

'Send letters to the media?' I speculated for her. 'Lie under oath? Take the stand and go into gory detail about everything the two of you ever said and did and dreamed?'

'How the hell can I know?' Lucy retorted. 'She's had five years to do nothing but think and scheme while the rest of us have been rather busy.'

'What else might she know that could come out?' I had to ask.

Lucy got up and began to pace.

'You trusted her once,' I went on. 'You confided in her, and all the while she was an accomplice to Gault. You were their pipeline, Lucy. Right into the heart of all of us.'

'I'm really too tired to talk about this,' she said.

But she was going to talk about it. I was determined about that. I got up and turned off the overhead light, because I had always found it easier to talk in an atmosphere soft and full of shadows. Then I plumped pillows on her bed and mine and turned down the spreads. At first she did not take me up on my invitation, and she paced some more like a wild thing as I silently watched. Then she reluctantly sat on her bed and settled back.

'Let's talk about something besides your reputation for a moment,' I began in a calm voice. 'Let's talk about what this New York trial is all about.'

'I know what it's all about.'

I was going to give her an opening argument anyway and raised my hand to make her listen.

'Temple Gault killed at least five people in Virginia,' I began, 'and we know Carrie was involved in at least one of these since we have her on videotape pumping a bullet into the man's head. You remember that.'

She was silent.

'You were in the room when we watched that horrific footage right there in gory color on TV,' I went on.

'I know all this.'

Anger was crawling into Lucy's voice again.

'We've been over it a million times,' she said.

'You watched her kill,' I went on. 'This woman who was your lover when you were all of nineteen and naive and doing an internship at ERF, programming CAIN.'

I saw her draw up more into herself as my monologue became more painful. ERF was the FBI's Engineering Research Facility, which housed its Criminal Artificial Intelligence Network computer system known as CAIN. Lucy had conceived CAIN and been the driving force behind its creation. Now she was locked out of it and could not bear to hear its name.

'You watched your lover kill, after she had set you up in her cold-blooded premeditated way. You were no match for her,' I said.

'Why are you doing this?' Lucy's voice was muffled, her face resting on her arm.

'A reality check.'

'I don't need one.'

'I think you do. And by the way, we won't even go into the personal details both Carrie and Gault learned about me. And this brings us to New York, where Gault murdered his own sister and at least one police officer, and now forensic evidence shows that he didn't do it alone. Carrie's fingerprints were later recovered on some of Jayne Gault's personal effects. When she was captured in the Bowery, Jayne's blood was found on Carrie's pants. For all we know, Carrie pulled that trigger, too.'

'She probably did,' Lucy said. 'And I already know about that.'

'But not about Eddie Heath. Remember the candy bar and can of soup he bought at the 7-Eleven? The bag found with his dying, mutilated body? Carrie's thumbprint has since been recovered.'

'No way!' Lucy was shocked.

'There's more.'

'Why haven't you told me this before? She was doing this all along, with him. And probably helped him break out of prison back then, too.'

'We have no doubt. They were Bonnie and Clyde long before you met her, Lucy. She was killing when you were seventeen and had never been kissed.'

'You don't know that I'd never been kissed,' my niece said inanely.

No one spoke for a moment.

Then Lucy said, and her voice quavered, 'So you think she spent two years plotting a way to meet me and become And do the things she did to'

'To seduce you,' I cut in. 'I don't know if she planned it that far in advance. Frankly, I don't care.' My outrage mounted. 'We've moved heaven and earth to extradite her to Virginia for those crimes, and we can't. New York won't let her go.'

My beer bottle was limp and forgotten in my hands as I shut my eyes, and flashes of the dead played through my mind. I saw Eddie Heath propped up against a Dumpster as rain diluted the blood from his wounds, and the sheriff and prison guard killed by Gault and probably Carrie. I had touched their bodies and translated their pain into diagrams and autopsy protocols and dental charts. I could not help it. I wanted Carrie to die for what she had done to them, to my niece and me.

'She's a monster,' I said as my voice shook with grief and fury. 'I will do anything I can to make sure she is punished.'

'Why are you preaching all this to me?' Lucy said in a louder, upset voice. 'Do you somehow think I don't want the same thing?'

'I'm sure you do.'

'Just let me throw the switch or stick the needle in her arm.'

'Don't let your former relationship distract you from justice, Lucy.'

'Jesus Christ.'

'It's already an overwhelming struggle for you. And if you lose perspective, Carrie will have her way.'

'Jesus Christ,' Lucy said again. 'I don't want to hear any more.'

'You wonder what she wants?' I would not stop. 'I can tell you exactly. To manipulate. The thing she does best. And then what? She'll be found not guilty by reason of insanity and the judge will send her back to Kirby. Then she'll suddenly and dramatically improve, and the Kirby doctors will decide she's not insane. Double jeopardy. She can't be tried twice for the same crime. She ends up back on the street.'

'If she walks,' Lucy said coldly, 'I will find her and blow her brains out.'

'What kind of answer is that?'

I watched her silhouette sitting straight up against pillows on her bed. She was very stiff and I could hear her breathing as hatred pounded inside her.

'The world really won't care who or what you slept or sleep with unless you do,' I said to her more quietly. 'In fact, I think the jury will understand how it could have happened back then. When you were so young. And she was older and brilliant and striking to look at. When she was charismatic and attentive, and your supervisor.'

'Like Teun,' Lucy said, and I could not tell if she were mocking me.

'Teun is not a psychopath,' I said.


| Point of Origin | c