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
'What about him?'
'We may have found his footprints as far west as the Ramble, but it's hard to say. There are so many footprints over there and a lot of churned-up snow.'
'So the two of them left the Museum of Natural History through the subway station, entered the west side of the park, possibly walked to the Ramble, then headed over here.' I tried to piece it together. 'Inside the plaza, he apparently forced her to disrobe and take off her shoes. She walked barefoot to the fountain, where he shot her in the head.'
'That's the way it appears at this time,' said a stocky NYPD detective who introduced himself as T. L. O'Donnell.
'What is the temperature?' asked Wesley. 'Or better put, what was it late last night?'
'It got down to eleven degrees last night,' said O'Donnell, who was young and angry, with thick black hair. 'The windchill was about ten below zero.'
'And she took off her clothes and shoes,' Wesley seemed to say to himself. 'That's bizarre.'
'Not if someone's got a gun stuck to your head,' O'Donnell lightly stomped his feet. His hands were burrowed deep inside the pockets of a dark blue police jacket, which was not warm enough for temperatures this low, even with body armor on.
'If you are forced to disrobe outside in this cold,' Wesley reasonably said, 'you know you are going to die.'
No one spoke.
'You wouldn't be forced to take off clothes and shoes otherwise. The very act of disrobing is to go against any survival instinct, because obviously, you could not survive naked out here long.'
Still, everyone was silent as we stared at the fountain's grisly display. It was filled with snow stained red, and I could see the indentations made by the victim's bare buttocks when her body was positioned. Her blood was as bright as when she had died because it was frozen.
Then Marino spoke. 'Why the hell didn't she run?'
Wesley abruptly moved away from me and squatted to look at what we assumed were Gault's footprints. 'That's the question of the day,' he said. 'Why didn't she?'
I got down beside him to look at the footprints, too. The tread pattern of the impression clearly left in snow was curious. Gault had been wearing some type of footwear with intricate raised diamond-shaped and wavy tread, and a manufacturer's mark in the instep, and a wreathed logo in the heel. I estimated he wore a size seven and a half or eight.
'How is this being preserved?' I asked Commander Perm.
Detective O'Donnell answered, 'We've photographed the shoe impressions, and over there' - he pointed to a cluster of police officers some distance away on the opposite side of the fountain - 'are some better ones. We're trying to make a cast.'
Casting footwear impressions in snow was rife with perils. If the liquid dental stone wasn't cool enough and the snow wasn't frozen hard enough, one ended up melting the evidence. Wesley and I got up. We walked in silence to where the detective had pointed, and as I glanced around I saw Gault's steps.
He did not care that he had left very distinctive footprints. He did not care that he had left a trail in the park that we would painstakingly follow until we reached its end. We were determined to know every place he had been, and yet it did not matter to him. He did not believe we would catch him.
The officers on the other side of the fountain were spraying two shoe impressions with Snow Print Wax, holding aerosol cans a safe distance away and at an angle so the blast of pressurized red wax would not eradicate delicate tread detail. Another officer was stirring liquid dental stone in a plastic bucket.
By the time several layers of wax had been applied to the shoe prints, the dental stone would be cool enough to pour and make casts. The conditions were actually good for what was ordinarily a risky procedure. There was neither sun nor wind, and apparently the NYPD crime scene technicians had properly stored the wax at room temperature, because it had not lost its pressure. Nozzles were not spitting or clogged as I had so often seen with attempts in the past.
'Maybe we'll be lucky this time,' I said to Wesley as Marino headed our way.
'We're going to need all the luck we can get,' he said, staring off into dark woods.
East of us was the outer limits of the thirty-seven acres known as the Ramble, the isolated area of Central Park famous for bird-watching and winding footpaths through dense, rocky terrain. Every guidebook I had ever seen warned tourists that the Ramble was not recommended for lone hikers at any season or time of day. I wondered how Gault had enticed his victim into the park. I wondered where he had met her and what it was that had set him into motion. Perhaps it was simply that she had been an opportunity and he had been in the mood.
'How does one get from the Ramble to here?' I asked anybody who would listen.
The officer stirring dental stone met my eyes. He was about Marino's age, cheeks fleshy and red from the cold.
'There's a path along the lake,' he said, breath smoking.
'You can't see it real well. It's frozen and covered with snow.'
'Do you know if this path is the one they took?'
'This is a big park, ma'am. The snow's real messed up in most other places, like the Ramble, for example. Over there, nothing - not ten feet of snow - is going to keep away people after drugs or an encounter. Now here in Cherry Hill, you got another story. You got no cars allowed and for sure the horses aren't coming up here in weather like this. So we're lucky. We got a crime scene left.'
'Why are you thinking the perpetrator and the victim started in the Ramble?' asked Wesley, who was always direct and often terse when his profiler's mind was going through its convoluted subroutines and searching its scary database.
'One of the guys thinks he may have spotted her shoe prints over there,' said the officer, who liked to talk. 'Problem is, as you can see, hers aren't very distinctive.'
We looked around snow that was getting increasingly marred by law enforcement feet. The victim's footwear had no tread.
'Plus,' he went on, 'since there may be a homosexual component, we're considering the Ramble might have been a primary destination.'
'What homosexual component?' Wesley blandly asked.
'Based on earlier descriptions of both of them, they appeared to be a homosexual couple.'
'We're not talking about two men,' Wesley stated.
'At a glance, the victim did not look like a female.'
'At whose glance?'
'The Transit Police. You really need to talk to them.'
'Hey, Mossberg, you ready with the dental stone?'
'I'd do another layer.'
'We've done four. We got a really good shell, I mean, if your stuff is cool enough.'
The officer whose surname was Mossberg squatted and began to carefully pour viscous dental stone into a red wax-coated impression. The victim's footprints were near the ones we wanted to save, her foot about the same size as Gault's. I wondered if we would ever find her boots as my eyes followed the trail to an area some fifteen feet from the fountain, where impressions became those of bare feet. In fifteen steps, her bare footprints went straight to the fountain where Gault had shot her in the head.
As I looked around at shadows pushed back from the lighted plaza, as I felt the bite of intense cold, I could not understand this woman's mind-set. I could not understand her compliance last night.
'Why didn't she resist?' I said.
'Because Gault had her scared out of her mind,' said Marino, now by my side.
'Would you take off your clothes out here for any reason?' I asked him.
'I'm not her.' Anger flexed beneath his words.
'We do not know anything about her,' Wesley logically added.
'Except that she had shaved her head for some wacko reason,' Marino said.
'We don't know enough to get a handle on her behavior,' Wesley said. 'We don't even know who she is.'
'What do you think he did with her clothes?' Marino asked, looking around, hands in the pockets of a long camel's hair coat that he had begun to wear after several dates with Molly.
'Probably the same thing he did with Eddie Heath's clothes,' Wesley said, and he could no longer resist walking into the woods, just a little way.
Marino looked at me. 'We know what Gault did with Eddie Heath's clothes. It's not the same here.'
'I suppose that's the point.' I watched Wesley with a heavy heart. 'Gault does whatever he pleases.'
'Me, I personally don't think the squirrel keeps shit like that for souvenirs. He don't want a lot of crap to haul around when he's on the move.'
'Sometimes he disposes of them,' I said.
A Bic lighter sparked several times before begrudgingly offering Marino a small flame.
'She was completely under his control,' I thought aloud some more. 'He led her here and told her to undress, and she did. You can see where her shoe prints stop and her bare footprints begin. There was no struggle, no thought of running away. No resistance.'
He lit a cigarette. Wesley backed away from the woods, careful where he stepped. I felt him look at me.
'They had a relationship,' I said.
'Gault don't have relationships,' Marino said.
'He has his own type of them. Bent and warped as they may be. He had one with the warden of the penitentiary in Richmond and with Helen the guard.'
'Yeah, and he whacked both of them. He cut off Helen's head and left it in a friggin' bowling bag in a field. The farmer who found that little present still ain't right. I heard he started drinking like a fish and won't plant nothing in that field. He won't even let his cows go there.'
'I didn't say he didn't kill the people he has relationships with,' I replied. 'I just said that he has relationships.'
I stared at her footprints nearby. She had worn a size nine or ten shoe.
'I hope they're going to cast hers, too,' I said.
The officer named Mossberg was using a paint stirrer to deftly spread dental stone into every portion of the shoe print he was trying to cast. It had begun to snow again, hard small flakes that stung.
'They won't cast hers,' Marino said. 'They'll get pictures and that's it since she ain't going to be on any witness stand in this world.'
I was accustomed to witnesses who did not speak to anyone but me. 'I would like a cast of her shoe impression,' I said. 'We have to identify her. Her shoes might help.'
Marino went to Mossberg and his comrades, and they all began to talk as they periodically glanced my way. Wesley looked up at the overcast sky as snow fell harder.
'Christ,' he said. 'I hope this stops.'
Snow fell more furiously as Frances Penn drove us to the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South. There was nothing more anyone could do until the sun came up, and I feared by then Gault's homicidal trail would be covered.
Commander Penn was pensive as she drove on streets that were deserted for the city. It was almost half past two a.m. None of her officers were with us. I was in front, Marino and Wesley in the back.
'I will tell you frankly that I do not like multijurisdictional investigations,' I said to her.
'Then you have had much experience with them, Dr. Scarpetta. Anyone who has been through them doesn't like them.'
'They're a pain in the butt,' Marino offered as Wesley, typically, just listened.
'What should we expect?' I asked, and I was being as diplomatic as possible, but she knew what I wanted.
'NYPD will officially work this case, but it will be my officers out there digging, putting in the most hours, doing the dog work. That's always the way it is when we share a case that gets a lot of media attention.'
'My first job was with NYPD,' Marino said.
Commander Penn eyed him in the rearview mirror.
'I left this sewer because I wanted to,' he added with his usual diplomacy.
'Do you still know anybody?' she asked.
'Most of the guys I started with have probably either retired, left on disability, or else they've been promoted and are fat and chained to desks.'
I wondered if Marino considered that maybe his peers might say the latter about him.
Then Wesley spoke. 'It might not be a bad idea to see who's still around, Pete. Friends, I mean.'
'Yeah, well, don't hold your breath.'
'We don't want a problem here.'
'No way to totally avoid that,' Marino said. 'Cops are going to fight over this and be stingy with what they know. Everyone wants to be a hero.'
'We can't afford that,' Wesley went on without the slightest fluctuation of intensity or tone.
'No, we can't,' I agreed.
'Come to me whenever you wish,' Commander Penn said. 'I will do everything I can.'
'If they let you,' Marino said.
There were three commands in the Transit Police, and hers was Support and Development. She was in charge of education, training and crime analysis. The department's decentralized detectives fell under the Field Command and therefore did not answer to her.
'I am in charge of computers and, as you know, our department has one of the most sophisticated computer systems in the United States. It is because of our connection with CAIN that I was able to notify Quantico so quickly. I am involved in this
investigation. Not to worry,' Commander Penn said calmly.
'Tell me more about CAIN's usefulness in this case,' Wesley spoke again.
'The minute I got details about the nature of the homicide, I thought there was something familiar. I entered what we knew on the VICAP terminal and got a hit. So I called you literally as CAIN was calling me.'
'You'd heard of Gault?' Wesley asked her.
'I can't say that I am intimately acquainted with his MO.'
'You are now,' Wesley said.
Commander Penn pulled in front of the Athletic Club and unlocked the doors.
'Yes,' she said grimly. 'I am now.'
We checked in at a deserted desk inside a lovely lobby of antiques and old wood, and Marino headed for the elevator. He did not wait for us, and I knew why. He wanted to call Molly, with whom he was still infatuated beyond good sense, and whatever Wesley and I might do was something he did not care to know about.