Read From Potter's Field Online

Authors: Patricia Cornwell

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Fiction - Espionage, #Thriller, #Women Physicians, #Scarpetta, #Medical, #Kay (Fictitious character), #Virginia, #Forensic pathologists, #Medical examiners (Law), #Medical novels

From Potter's Field

BOOK: From Potter's Field
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.

-Genesis 4:10


He walked with sure steps through snow, which was deep in Central Park, and it was late now, but he was not certain how late. Toward the Ramble rocks were black beneath stars, and he could hear and see his breathing because he was not like anybody else. Temple Gault had always been magical, a god who wore a human body. He did not slip as he walked, for example, when he was quite certain others would, and he did not know fear. Beneath the bill of a baseball cap, his eyes scanned.

In the spot - and he knew precisely where it was - he squatted, moving the skirt of a long black coat out of the way. He set an old army knapsack in the snow and held his bare bloody hands in front of him, and though they were cold, they weren't impossibly cold. Gault did not like gloves unless they were made of latex, which was not warm, either. He washed his hands and face in soft new snow, then patted the used snow into a bloody snowball. This he placed next to the knapsack because he could not leave them.

He smiled his thin smile. He was a happy dog digging on the beach as he disrupted snow in the park, eradicating footprints, looking for the emergency door. Yes, it was where he thought, and he brushed aside more snow until he found the folded aluminum foil he had placed between the door and the frame. He gripped the ring that was the handle and opened the lid in the ground. Below were the dark bowels of the subway and the screaming of a train. He dropped the knapsack and snowball inside. His boots rang on a metal ladder as he went down.


Christmas Eve was cold and treacherous with black ice, and crime crackling on scanners. It was rare I was driven through Richmond's housing projects after dark. Usually, I drove. Usually, I was the lone pilot of the blue morgue van I took to scenes of violent and inexplicable death. But tonight I was in the passenger seat of a Crown Victoria, Christmas music drifting in and out of dispatchers and cops talking in codes.

'Sheriff Santa just took a right up there.' I pointed ahead. 'I think he's lost.'

'Yeah, well, I think he's fried,' said Captain Pete Marino, the commander of the violent precinct we were riding through. 'Next time we stop, take a look at his eyes.'

I wasn't surprised. Sheriff Lament Brown drove a Cadillac for his personal car, wore heavy gold jewelry, and was beloved by the community for the role he was playing right now. Those of us who knew the truth did not dare say a word. After all, it is sacrilege to say that Santa doesn't exist, and in this case, Santa truly did not. Sheriff Brown snorted cocaine and probably stole half of what was donated to be delivered by him to the poor each year. He was a scumbag who recently had made certain I was summoned for jury duty because our dislike of each other was mutual.

Windshield wipers dragged across glass. Snow-flakes brushed and swirled against Marino's car like dancing maidens, shy in white. They swarmed in sodium vapor lights and turned as black as the ice coating the streets. It was very cold. Most of the city was home with family, illuminated trees filling windows and fires lit. Karen Carpenter was dreaming of a white Christmas until Marino rudely changed the radio station.

'I got no respect for a woman who plays the drums.' He punched in the cigarette lighter.

'Karen Carpenter's dead,' I said, as if that granted her immunity from further slights. 'And she wasn't playing the drums just now.'

'Oh yeah.' He got out a cigarette. 'That's right. She had one of those eating problems. I forget what you call it.'

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir soared into the 'Hallelujah' chorus. I was supposed to fly to Miami in the morning to see my mother, sister and Lucy, my niece. Mother had been in the hospital for weeks. Once she had smoked as much as Marino did. I opened my window a little.

He was saying, 'Then her heart quit - in fact, that's really what got her in the end.'

'That's really what gets everybody in the end,' I said.

'Not around here. In this damn neighborhood it's lead poisoning.'

We were between two Richmond police cruisers with lights flashing red and blue in a motorcade carrying cops, reporters and television crews. At every stop, the media manifested its Christmas spirit by shoving past with notepads, microphones and cameras. Frenzied, they fought for sentimental coverage of Sheriff Santa beaming as he handed out presents and food to forgotten children of the projects and their shell-shocked mothers. Marino and I were in charge of blankets, for they had been my donation this year.

Around a corner, car doors opened along Magnolia Street in Whitcomb Court. Ahead, I caught a glimpse of blazing red as Santa passed through headlights, Richmond's chief of police and other top brass not far behind. Television cameras lit up and hovered in the air like UFOs, and flashguns flashed.

Marino complained beneath his stack of blankets, 'These things smell cheap. Where'd you get them, a pet store?'

'They're warm, washable, and won't give off toxic gases like cyanide in the event of a fire,' I said.

'Jesus. If that don't put you in a holiday mood.'

I wondered where we were as I looked out the window.

'I wouldn't use one in my doghouse,' he went on.

'You don't have a dog or a doghouse, and I didn't offer to give you one to use for anything.

Why are we going into this apartment? It's not on the list.'

'That's a damn good question.'

Reporters and people from law enforcement agencies and social services were outside the front door of an apartment that looked like all the others in a complex reminiscent of cement barracks. Marino and I squeezed through as camera lights floated in the dark, headlights burned and Sheriff Santa bellowed, 'HO! HO! HO!'

We pushed our way inside as Santa sat a small black boy on his knee and gave him several wrapped toys. The boy's name, I overheard, was Trevi, and he wore a blue cap with a marijuana leaf over the bill. His eyes were huge and he looked bewildered on this man's red velvet knee near a silver tree strung with lights. The overheated small room was airless and smelled of old grease.

'Coming through, ma'am.' A television cameraman nudged me out of the way- "

'You can just put it over here.'

'Who's got the rest of the toys?'

'Look, ma'am, you're going to have to step back.' The cameraman practically knocked me over. I felt my blood pressure going up.

'We need another box . . .'

'No we don't. Over there.'

'. . . of food? Oh, right. Gotcha.'

'If you're with social services,' the cameraman said to me, 'then how 'bout standing over there?'

'If you had half a brain you'd know she ain't with social services.' Marino glared at him.

An old woman in a baggy dress had started crying on the couch, and a major in white shirt and brass sat beside her to offer comfort. Marino moved close to me so he could whisper.

'Her daughter was whacked last month, last name King. You remember the case?' he said in my ear.

I shook my head. I did not remember. There were so many cases.

'The drone we think whacked her is a badass drug dealer named Jones,' he continued, to prod my memory.

I shook my head again. There were so many badass drug dealers, and Jones was not an uncommon name.

The cameraman was filming and I averted my face as Sheriff Santa gave me a contemptuous, glassy stare. The cameraman bumped hard into me again.

'I wouldn't do that one more time,' I warned him in a tone that made him know I meant it.

The press had turned their attention to the grandmother because this was the story of the night. Someone had been murdered, the victim's mother was crying, and Trevi was an orphan. Sheriff Santa, out of the limelight now, set the boy down.

'Captain Marino, I'll take one of those blankets,' a social worker said.

'I don't know why we're in this crib,' he said, handing her the stack. 'I wish someone would tell me.'

'There's just one child here,' the social worker went on. 'So we don't need all of these.' She acted as if Marino hadn't followed instructions as she took one folded blanket and handed the rest back.

'There's supposed to be four kids here. I'm telling you, this crib ain't on the list.' Marino grumbled.

A reporter came up to me. 'Excuse me, Dr. Scarpetta? So what brings you out this night? You waiting for someone to die?'

He was with the city newspaper, which had never treated me kindly. I pretended not to hear him. Sheriff Santa disappeared into the kitchen, and I thought this odd since he did not live here and had not asked permission. But the grandmother on the couch was in no frame of mind to see or care where he had gone.

I knelt beside Trevi, alone on the floor, lost in the wonder of new toys. 'That's quite a fire truck you've got there,' I said.

'It lights up.' He showed me a red light on the toy truck's roof that flashed when he turned a switch.

Marino got down beside him, too. 'They give you any extra batteries for that thing?' He tried to sound gruff, but couldn't disguise the smile in his voice. 'You gotta get the size right. See this little compartment here? They go in there, okay? And you got to use size C . . .'

The first gunshot sounded like a car backfire coming from the kitchen. Marino's eyes froze as he yanked his pistol from its holster and Trevi curled up on the floor like a centipede. I folded my body over the boy, gunshots exploding in rapid succession as the magazine of a semiautomatic was emptied somewhere near the back door.

'Get downl GET DOWN!'

'Oh my God!'

'Oh Jesus!'

Cameras, microphones crashed and fell as people screamed and fought for the door and got flat on the floor.


Marino headed toward the kitchen in combat stance, nine-millimeter drawn. The gunfire stopped and the room fell completely still.

I scooped up Trevi, my heart hammering. I began shaking. Grandmother remained on the couch, bent over, arms covering her head as if her plane were about to crash. I sat next to her, holding the boy close. He was rigid, his grandmother sobbing in terror.

'Oh Jesus. Please no Jesus.' She moaned and rocked.

'It's all right,' I firmly told her.

'Not no more of this! I can't stand no more of this. Sweet Jesusl'

I held her hand. 'It's going to be all right. Listen to me. It's quiet now. It's stopped.'

She rocked and wept, Trevi hugging her neck.

Marino reappeared in the doorway between the living room and kitchen, face tense, eyes darting. 'Doc.' He motioned to me.

I followed him out to a paltry backyard strung with sagging clotheslines, where snow swirled around a dark heap on the frosted grass. The victim was young, black and on his back, eyes barely open as they stared blindly at the milky sky. His blue down vest bore tiny rips. One bullet had entered through his right cheek, and as I compressed his chest and blew air into his mouth, blood covered my hands and instantly turned cold on my face. I could not save him. Sirens wailed and whelped in the night like a posse of wild spirits protesting another death.

I sat up, breathing hard. Marino helped me to my feet as shapes moved in the corner of my eye. I turned to see three officers leading Sheriff Santa away in handcuffs. His stocking cap had come off and I spotted it not far from me in the yard where shell casings gleamed in the beam of Marino's flashlight.

'What in God's name?' I said, shocked.

'Seems Old Saint Nick pissed off Old Saint Crack and they had a little tussle out here in the yard,' Marino said, very agitated and out of breath. 'That's why the parade got diverted to this particular crib. The only schedule it was on was the sheriff's.'

I was numb. I tasted blood and thought of AIDS.

The chief of police appeared and asked questions.

Marino began to explain. 'It appears the sheriff thought he'd deliver more than Christmas in this neighborhood.'


'We're assuming.'

'I wondered why we stopped here,' said the chief. 'This address isn't on the list.'

'Well, that's why.' Marino stared blankly at the body.

'Do we have an identity?'

'Anthony Jones of the Jones Brothers fame. Seventeen years old, been in jail more'n the Doc there's been to the opera. His older brother got whacked last year by a Tec 9. That was in Fairfield Court, on Phaup Street. And last month we think Anthony murdered Trevi's mother, but you know how it goes around here. Nobody saw nothing. We had no case. Maybe now we can clear it.'

'Trevi? You mean the little boy in there?' The chief's expression did not change.

'Yo. Anthony's probably the kid's father. Or was.'

'What about a weapon?'

'In which case?'

'In this case.'

'Smith and Wesson thirty-eight, all five rounds fired. Jones hadn't dumped his brass yet and we found a speedloader in the grass.'

'He fired five times and missed,' said the chief, resplendent in dress uniform, snow dusting the top of his cap.

'Hard to say. Sheriff Brown's got on a vest.'

'He's got on a bulletproof vest beneath his Santa suit.' The chief continued repeating the facts as if he notes.

'Yo.' Marino bent close to a tilting clothesline pole, the beam of light licking over rusting metal. With a gloved thumb, he rubbed a dimple made by a bullet. 'Well, well,' he said, 'looks like we got one black and one Pole shot tonight.'

The chief was silent for a moment, then said, 'My wife is Polish, Captain.'

Marino looked baffled as I inwardly cringed. 'Your last name ain't Polish,' he said.

'She took my name and I am not Polish,' said the chief, who was black. 'I suggest you refrain from ethnic and racial jokes, Captain,' he warned, jaw muscles bunching.

The ambulance arrived. I began to shiver.

'Look, I didn't mean . . .' Marino started to say.

The chief cut him off. 'I believe you are the perfect candidate for cultural diversity class.'

'I've already been.'

BOOK: From Potter's Field
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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