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7

RAIN WAS SLANTED and flying down like nails as I made my way home, scarcely able to see. I had turned the radio off because I did not want to hear any more news this day, and I was certain this would be one night when I was too keyed up to sleep. Twice I slowed to thirty miles an hour as my heavy Mercedes sedan splashed through water like a cigarette boat. On West Cary Street, dips and potholes were filled like tubs, and emergency lights streaking red and blue through the downpour reminded me to take my time.

It was almost ten o'clock when I finally pulled into my driveway and a note of fear was plucked in my heart when motion sensor lights did not come on near the garage door. The darkness was complete, with only the rumble of my car engine and drumming of rain to orient my senses as to what world I was in. For a moment, I deliberated about opening the garage door or speeding away.

'This is ridiculous,' I said to myself as I pressed a button on the visor.

But the door did not respond.

'Damn!'

I shifted the car into reverse and backed up without being able to see the driveway or brick border or even the shrubbery, for that matter. The tree I swiped was small and did no harm, but I felt sure I had churned up part of the lawn as I maneuvered to the front of my house, where timers inside had at least turned lamps on and the light in the foyer. As for motion sensor lights on either side of the front steps, they were out, too. I reasonably told myself that the weather had caused a power outage earlier in the evening, causing a circuit breaker to be thrown.

Rain swept into my car as I opened the door. I grabbed my pocketbook and briefcase and bolted up the front steps. I was soaked to the skin by the time I unlocked the front door, and the silence that greeted me thrilled me with fear. Lights dancing across the keypad by the door meant the burglar alarm had gone off, or perhaps an electrical surge had screwed that up, too. But it did not matter. By now I was terrified and afraid to move. So I stood in the foyer, water dripping on the hardwood floor as my brain raced to the nearest gun.

I could not remember if I had returned the Glock to a drawer of the kitchen desk. That certainly would be closer than my office or bedroom, which were on the other side of the house. Stone walls and windows were buffeted by the wind and lashed by rain, and I strained to hear any other sounds, such as the creaking of an upstairs floor or feet on carpet. In a burst of panic, I suddenly dropped my briefcase and pocketbook from my hands and ran through the dining room and into the kitchen, my wet feet almost going out from under me. I yanked open the bottom right drawer in the desk and almost cried out in relief when I grabbed my Glock.

For a while I searched my house again, flipping on lights in every room. Satisfied that I had no unwanted guests, I checked the fuse box in the garbage and flipped on the breakers that had tripped. Order was restored, the alarm reset, and I poured a tumbler of Black Bush Irish whiskey on the rocks and waited for my nerves to tuck themselves back inside their sheaths. Then I called Johnson's Motel in Warrenton, but Lucy was not there. So I tried her apartment in D.C. and Janet answered the phone.

'Hi, it's Kay,' I said. 'I hope I didn't wake anyone.'

'Oh, hello, Dr Scarpetta,' said Janet, who could not call me by my first name no matter how many times I had told her to. 'No, I'm just sitting here having a beer and waiting for Lucy.'

'I see,' I said, very disappointed. 'She's on her way home from Warrenton?'

'Not for long. You ought to see this place. Boxes everywhere. It's a wreck.'

'How are you holding up through all this, Janet?'

'I don't know yet,' she said, and I detected a quiver in her voice. 'It will be an adjustment. God knows, we've been through adjustments before.'

'And I'm sure you'll get through this one with flying colors.'

I sipped my whiskey and had no faith in what I'd just said, but at the moment I was grateful to hear a warm human voice.

'When I was married - ancient years ago - Tony and I were on two totally different planes,' I said. 'But we managed to find time for each other, quality time. In some ways, it was better like that.'

'And you also got divorced,' she politely pointed out.

'Not at first.'

'Lucy won't be here for at least another hour, Dr Scarpetta. Is there a message I can give her?'

I hesitated, not sure what to do.

'Is everything all right?' Janet then asked.

'Actually, no,' I said. 'I guess you haven't heard. I guess she hasn't heard either, for that matter.'

I gave her a quick summary of Carrie's letter to the press, and after I had finished, Janet was as silent as a cathedral.

'I'm telling you because you'd better be prepared,' I added. 'You could wake up tomorrow and see this in the paper. You might hear it on the late news tonight.'

'It's best you told me,' Janet said so quietly I could barely hear her. 'And I'll let Lucy know when she gets in.'

'Tell her to call me, if she's not too tired.'

'I'll tell her.'

'Good night, Janet.'

'No, it isn't. It isn't a good night at all,' she said. 'That bitch has been ruining our lives for years. One way or another. And I've fucking had enough of it! And I'm sorry to use that word.'

'I've said it before.'

'I was there, for God's sake!' She began to cry. 'Carrie was all over her, the manipulative psycho bitch. Lucy never stood a chance. My God, she was just a kid, this genius kid who probably should have stayed in college where she belonged instead of doing an internship with the Fucking Bureau of Investigation. Look, I'm still FBI, okay? But I see the shit. And they haven't done right by her, which just makes her all the more vulnerable to what Carrie is doing.'

My whiskey was half gone, and there wasn't enough of it in the world to make me feel better right now.

'She doesn't need to get upset, either,' Janet went on in a gush of frankness about her lover that I had never before heard. 'I don't know if she's told you. In fact, I don't think she ever intended to, but Lucy's been seeing a psychiatrist for two years, Dr Scarpetta.'

'Good. I'm glad to hear it,' I said, disguising my hurt. 'No, she hasn't told me, but I wouldn't necessarily expect her to,' I added with the perfect voice of objectivity as the ache in my heart got more intense.

'She's been suicidal,' Janet said. 'More than once.'

'I'm glad she s seeing someone,' was all I could think to say as tears welled.

I was devastated. Why had Lucy not reached out to me?

'Most of the great achievers have their very dark passages,' I said. 'I'm just glad she's doing something about it. Is she taking anything?'

'Wellbutrin. Prozac weirded her out. One minute a zombie and bar-hopping the next.'

'Oh.' I could barely speak.

'She doesn't need any more stress or upheavals or rejections,' Janet went on. 'You don't know what it's like. Something knocks her off balance, and she's down for weeks, up and down, up and down, morbid and miserable one minute and Mighty Mouse the next.'

She placed her hand over the receiver and blew her nose. I wanted to know the name of Lucy's psychiatrist but was afraid to ask. I wondered if my niece were bipolar and undiagnosed.

'Dr Scarpetta, I don't want her…' She struggled, choking. 'I don't want her to die.'

'She won't,' I said. 'I can promise you that.'

We hung up and I sat for a while on my bed, still dressed and afraid to sleep because of the chaos inside my head. For a while I wept in fury and in pain. Lucy could hurt me more than anyone, and she knew it. She could bruise me to the bone and crush my heart, and what Janet had told me was, by far, the most devastating blow. I could not help but think of Teun McGovern's inquisitive mind when we had talked in my office, and she had seemed to know so much about Lucy's difficulties. Had Lucy told her and not me?

I waited for Lucy to call, and she didn't. Since I had not called Benton, at midnight, he finally called me.

'Kay?'

'Have you heard?' I said with feeling. 'What Carrie has done?'

'I know about her letter.'

'Damn it, Benton. Damn it all.'

'I'm in New York,' he surprised me by saying. 'The Bureau's called me in.'

'Well, okay. And they should have. You know her.'

'Unfortunately.'

'I'm glad you're there,' I decided out loud. 'Somehow it seems safer. Isn't that an ironical thing to say? Since when is New York safer?'

'You're very upset.'

'Do you know anything more about where she is?' I swirled melting ice in my glass.

'We know she mailed her latest letter from a 10036 zip code, which is Times Square. The postdate is June tenth, yesterday, Tuesday.'

'The day she escaped.'

'Yes.'

'And we still don't know how she did that.'

'We still don't know,' he said. 'It's as if she beamed herself across the river.'

'No, it's not like that,' I said, weary and out of sorts. 'Someone saw something and someone probably helped her. She's always been skilled at getting people to do what she wants.'

'The profiling unit's had too many calls to count,' he said. 'Apparently she did a blitz mailing, all the major newspapers, including the Post and The New York Times.'

'And?'

'And this is too juicy for them to drop in a basket, Kay. The hunt for her is as big as the one for the Unabomber or Cunanan, and now she's writing to the media. The story's going to run. Hell, they'll print her grocery list and broadcast her belches. To them she's gold. She's magazine covers and movies in the making.'

'I don't want to hear anymore,' I said.

'I miss you.'

'You wouldn't if you were around me right now, Benton.'

We said good night and I fluffed the pillow behind my back and contemplated another whiskey but thought better of it. I tried to imagine what Carrie would do, and the twisted path always led back to Lucy. Somehow, that would be Carrie's tour de force because she was consumed by envy. Lucy was more gifted, more honorable, more everything, and Carrie would not rest until she had appropriated that fierce beauty and sucked up every drop of Lucy's life. It was becoming clear to me that Carrie did not even need to be present to do it. All of us were moving closer to her black hole, and the power of her pull was shockingly strong.

My sleep was tortured, and I dreamed of plane crashes and sheets soaked with blood. I was in a car and then a train, and someone was chasing me. When I awakened at half past six, the sun was announcing itself in a royal blue sky, and puddles gleamed in the grass. I carried my Glock into the bathroom, locked the door and took a quick shower. When I shut the water off, I listened closely to make sure my burglar alarm wasn't going, and then I checked the keypad in my bedroom to make sure the system was still armed. All the while, I was aware of how paranoid and downright irrational my behavior was. But I could not help it. I was scared.

Suddenly Carrie was everywhere. She was the thin woman in sunglasses and baseball cap walking along my street, or the driver pulling up close behind me at the toll plaza, or the homeless woman in a shapeless coat who stared at me as I crossed Broad Street. She was anyone white with punk hair and body piercing, or anyone androgynous or oddly dressed, and all the while I kept telling myself I had not seen Carrie in more than five years. I had no idea what she looked like now and quite possibly would not recognize her until it was too late.

The bay door was open when I parked behind my office, and Bliley's Funeral Home was loading a body into the back of a shiny black hearse, as the rhythm continued of bringing and taking away.

'Pretty weather,' I said to the attendant in his neat dark suit.

'Fine, how are you?' came the reply of someone who no longer listened.

Another well-dressed man climbed out to help, and stretcher legs clacked and the tailgate slammed shut. I waited for them to drive off, and I rolled down the big door after them.

My first stop was Fielding's office. It was not quite quarter after eight.

'How are we doing?' I asked as I knocked on his door. 'Come in,' he said.

He was scanning books on his shelves, his lab coat straining around his powerful shoulders. Life was difficult for my deputy chief, who rarely could find clothes that fit, since he basically had no waist or hips. I remembered our first company picnic at my house, when he had lounged in the sun with nothing but cut-offs on. I had been amazed and slightly embarrassed that I could scarcely take my eyes off him, not because I had any thoughts of bed, but rather his raw physical beauty had briefly held me hostage. I could not comprehend how anyone could find time to look like that.

'I guess you've seen the paper,' he said.

'The letter,' I said as my mood sunk.

'Yes.'

He slid out an outdated PDR and set it on the floor.

'Front page with a photo of you and an old mug shot of her. I'm sorry you have to put up with shit like this,' he said, hunting for other books. 'The phones up front are going crazy.'

'What have we got this morning?' I changed the subject.

'Last night's car wreck from Midlothian Turnpike, passenger and driver killed. They're views, and DeMaio's already started on them. Other than that, nothing else.'

'That's enough,' I said. 'I've got court.'

'Thought you were on vacation.'

'So did I.'

'Seriously. Didn't get it continued. What? You were gonna have to come back from Hilton Head?'

'Judge Bowls.'

'Huh,' Fielding said with disgust. 'He's done this to you how many times now? I think he waits to find out your void dates so he can decide on a court date that will totally screw you. Then what? You bust your butt to get back here and half the time he continues the case.'

'I'm on the pager,' I said.

'And you can guess what I'll be doing.'

He pointed at the paperwork cascading from piles on his desk.

'I'm so behind I need a rearview mirror,' he quipped.

'There's no point in nagging you,' I said.

The John Marshall Courts Building was but a ten-minute walk from our new location, and I thought the exercise would do me good. The morning was bright, the air cool and clean as I followed the sidewalk along Leigh Street and turned south on Ninth, passing police headquarters, my pocketbook over my shoulder and an accordion file tucked under an arm.

This morning's case was the mundane result of one drug dealer killing another, and I was surprised to see at least a dozen reporters on the third floor, outside the courtroom door. At first I thought Rose had made a mistake on my schedule, for it never occurred to me that the media might have been there for me.

But the minute I was spotted, they hurried my way with television cameras shouldered, microphones pointed, and flashguns going off. At first I was startled, then I was angry.

'Dr Scarpetta, what is your response to Carrie Grethen's letter?' asked a reporter from Channel 6.

'No comment,' I said as I frantically cast about for the commonwealth's attorney who had summoned me here to testify in his case.

'What about the conspiracy allegation?'

'Between you and your FBI lover?'

'That would be Benton Wesley?'

'What is your niece's reaction?'

I shoved past a cameraman, my nerves hopping like faulty wiring as my heart flew. I shut myself inside the small windowless witness room and sat in a wooden chair. I felt trapped and foolish, and wondered how I could have been so thick as not to consider that something like this might happen after what Carrie had done. I opened the accordion file and began going through various reports and diagrams, envisioning gunshot entrances and exits and which had been fatal. I stayed in my airless space for almost half an hour until the Commonwealth's attorney found me. We spoke for several minutes before I took the stand.

What ensued brought to fruition what had happened in the hallway moments before, and I found myself disassociating from the core of myself to survive what was nothing more than a ruthless attack.

'Dr Scarpetta,' said defense attorney Will Lampkin, who had been trying to get the best of me for years, 'how many times have you testified in this court?'

'I object,' said the C.A.

'Overruled,' said Judge Bowls, my fan.

'I've never counted,' I replied.

'But surely you can give us an estimate. More than a dozen? More than a hundred? A million?'

'More than a hundred,' I said as I felt his lust for blood.

'And you have always told the truth to the juries and the judges?'

Lampkin paced slowly, a pious expression on his florid face, hands clamped behind his back.

'I have always told the truth,' I answered.

'And you don't consider it somewhat dishonest, Dr Scarpetta, to sleep with the FBI?'

'I object!' The C.A. was on his feet.

'Objection sustained,' said the judge as he stared down at Lampkin, egging him on, really. 'What is your point, Mr Lampkin?'

'My point, Your Honor, is conflict of interest. It is widely known that Dr Scarpetta has an intimate relationship with at least one law enforcement individual she has worked cases with, and she has also influenced law enforcement - both the FBI and ATF - when it comes to her niece's career.'

'I object!'

'Overruled. Please get to the point, Mr Lampkin,' said the judge as he reached for his water and goaded some more.

'Thank you, Your Honor,' Lampkin said with excruciating deference. 'What I'm trying to illustrate is an old pattern here.'

The four whites and eight blacks sat politely in the jury box, staring back and forth from Lampkin to me as if they were watching a tennis match. Some of them were scowling. One was picking at a fingernail while another seemed asleep.

'Dr Scarpetta, isn't it true that you tend to manipulate situations to suit you?'

'I object! He's badgering the witness!'

'Overruled,' the judge said. 'Dr Scarpetta, please answer the question.'

'No, I absolutely do not tend to do that,' I said with feeling as I looked at the jurors.

Lampkin plucked a sheet of paper off the table where his felonious nineteen-year-old client sat.

'According to this morning's newspaper,' Lampkin hurried ahead, 'you've been manipulating law enforcement for years…'

'Your Honor! I object! This is outrageous!'

'Overruled,' the judge coolly stated.

'It says right here in black and white that you have conspired with the FBI to send an innocent woman to the electric chair!'

Lampkin approached the jurors and waved the photocopied article in their faces.

'Your Honor, for God's sake!' exclaimed the C.A., sweating through his suit jacket.

'Mr Lampkin, please get on with your cross-examination,' Judge Bowls said to the overweight, thick-necked Lampkin.

What I said about distance and trajectories, and what vital organs had been struck by ten-millimeter bullets, was a blur. I could scarcely remember a word of it after I hurried down the courthouse steps and walked swiftly without looking at anyone. Two tenacious reporters followed me for half a block, and finally turned back when they realized it was easier to talk to a stone. The unfairness of what had happened in the witness stand went beyond words. Carrie had needed to fire but one small round and already I was wounded. I knew this would not end.

When I unlocked the back door to my building, for an instant the glare of sunlight made it hard for me to see as I stepped inside the cool shaded bay. I opened the door leading inside and was relieved to see Fielding in the corridor, heading toward me. He was wearing fresh scrubs, and I supposed another case had come in.

'Everything under control?' I asked, tucking my sunglasses inside my pocketbook.

'A suicide from Powhatan. Fifteen-year-old girl shot herself in the head. It seems daddy wouldn't let her see her dirtbag boyfriend anymore. You look terrible, Kay.'

'It's called a shark attack.'

'Uh oh. Damn fucking lawyers. Who was it this time?'

He was ready to beat somebody up.

'Lampkin.'

'Oh, good ole Lamprey the eel!' Fielding squeezed my shoulder. 'It's gonna be all right. Trust me. It really will be. You just gotta block out the bullshit and go on.'

'I know.' I smiled at him. 'I'll be in the decomp room if you need me.'

The solitary task of patiently working on bones was a welcome relief, for I did not want anyone on my staff to detect my dejection and fear. I switched on lights and shut the door behind me. I tied a gown over my clothes and pulled on two layers of latex gloves, and turned on the electric burner and took the lid off the pot. The bones had continued processing after I had left last night, and I probed them with a wooden spoon. I spread a plasticized sheet over a table. The skull had been sawn open during autopsy, and I carefully lifted the dripping calvarium, and the bones of the face with its calcined teeth, from tepid, greasy water. I set them on the sheet to drain.

I preferred wooden tongue depressors versus plastic spatulas to scrape tissue from bone. Metal instruments were out of the question because they would cause damage that might obviate our finding true marks of violence. I worked very carefully, loosening and defleshing while the rest of the skeletal remains quietly cooked in their steamy pot. For two hours I cleaned and rinsed until my wrists and fingers ached. I missed lunch, and in fact never thought of it. At almost two P.M. I found a nick in the bone beneath the temporal region where I had found hemorrhage, and I stopped and stared in disbelief.

I pulled surgical lamps closer, blasting the table with light. The cut to bone was straight and linear, no more than an inch in length and so shallow it easily could have been missed. The only time I had ever seen an injury similar to this was in the nineteenth-century skulls of people who had been scalped. In those instances, the nicks or cuts were not generally associated with temporal bone, but that meant nothing, really.

Scalping was not an exact surgical procedure and anything was possible. Although I had found no evidence that the Warrenton victim was missing areas of scalp and hair, I could not swear to it. Certainly, when we had found her, the head was not intact, and while a scalping trophy might involve most of the cranium, it might also mean the excision of a single lock of hair.

I used a towel to pick up the phone because my hands were unfit to touch anything clean. I paged Marino. For ten minutes I waited for him to call back while I continued to carefully scrape. But I found no other marks. This did not mean, of course, that additional injury had not been lost, for at least a third of the twenty-two bones of the skull were burned away. My mind raced through what I should do. I yanked off my gloves and threw them in the trash, and I was flipping through an address book I had gotten out of my purse when Marino called.

'Where the hell are you?' I asked as stress gushed toxins through my body.

'At Liberty Valance eating.'

'Thank you for getting back to me so quickly,' I said irritably.

'Gee, Doc. It must've been lost in space somewhere, because I just got it. What the shit's going on?'

I could hear the background noise of people drinking and enjoying food that was guaranteed to be heavy and rich but worth it.

'Are you on a pay phone?' I asked.

'Yeah, and I'm off duty, just so you know.'

He took a swallow of something that I figured was beer.

'I've got to get to Washington tomorrow. Something significant has come up.'

'Uh oh. I hate it when you say that.'

'I found something else.'

'You gonna tell me or do I have to stay up all night pacing?'

He had been drinking, and I did not want to talk to him about this now.

'Listen, can you go with me, assuming Dr Vessey can see us?'

'The bones man at the Smithsonian?'

'I'll call him at home as soon as we get off the phone.'

'I'm off tomorrow, so I guess I can squeeze you in.'

I did not say anything as I stared at the simmering pot and turned the heat down just a little.

'Point is, count me in,' Marino said, swallowing again.

'Meet me at my house,' I said. 'At nine.'

'I'll be there with bells on.'

Next I tried Dr Vessey's Bethesda home and he answered on the first ring.

'Thank God,' I said. 'Alex? It's Kay Scarpetta.'

'Oh! Well, how are you?'

He was always a bit befuddled and missing in action in the minds of the hoi polloi who did not spend their lives putting people back together again. Dr Vessey was one of the finest forensic anthropologists in the world, and he had helped me many times before.

'I'll be much better if you tell me you're in town tomorrow,' I said.

'I'll be working on the railroad as always.'

'I've got a cut mark on a skull. I need your help. Are you familiar with the Warrenton fire?'

'Can't be conscious and not know about that.'

'Okay. Then you understand.'

'I won't be there until about ten and there's no place to park,' he said. 'I got in a pig's tooth the other day with aluminum foil stuck in it,' he absently went on about whatever he'd been doing of late. 'I guess from a pig roast, dug up in someone's backyard. The Mississippi coroner thought it was a homicide, some guy shot in the mouth.'

He coughed and loudly cleared his throat. I heard him drink something.

'Still getting bear paws now and then,' he went on, 'more coroners thinking they're human hands.'

'I know, Alex,' I said. 'Nothing has changed.'


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