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
'I doubt the bar is open this late,' Wesley said to me as brass doors shut and Marino invisibly rose to his floor.
'I'm quite certain it isn't.'
We looked around for a moment, as if, if we stood here long enough, someone would magically appear with glasses and a bottle.
'Let's go.' He lightly touched my elbow and we headed upstairs.
On the twelfth floor, he walked me to my room and I was nervous as I tried to insert my plastic card, which at first I held upside down. Then I could not get the magnetized strip in the proper way, and the tiny light on the brass handle stayed red.
'Here,' Wesley said.
'I think I've got it.'
'Could we have a nightcap?' he asked as I opened my door and turned on a light.
'At this hour, we'd probably be better off with a sleeping pill.'
'That's sort of what a nightcap is.'
My quarters were modest but handsomely appointed, and I dropped my bag on the queen-size bed.
'Are you a member here because of your father?' I asked.
Wesley and I had never been to New York together, and it bothered me that there was yet one more detail about him I did not know.
'He worked in New York. So yes, that's why. I used to come into the city a lot when I was growing up.'
'The minibar is under the TV,' I said.
'I need the key.'
'Of course you do.'
Amusement flickered in his eyes as he took the small steel key from my outstretched hand, his fingers touching my palm with a gentleness that reminded me of other times. Wesley had his way, and he was not like anyone else.
'Should I try to find ice?' He unscrewed the cap from a two-jigger bottle of Dewar's.
'Straight up and neat is fine.'
'You drink like a man.' He handed me my glass.
I watched him slip out of his dark wool overcoat and finely tailored jacket. His starched white shirt was wrinkled from the labors of this long day, and he removed his shoulder holster and pistol and placed them on a dresser.
'It's strange to be without a gun,' I said, for I often carried my .38 or, on more nerve-rattling occasions, the Browning High Power. But New York gun laws did not often bend for visiting police or people like me.
Wesley sat on the bed opposite the one I was on, and we sipped our drinks and looked at each other.
'We haven't been together much the last few months,' I said.
'I think we should try to talk about it,' I went on.
'Okay.' His gaze had not wavered from mine. 'Go ahead.'
'I see. So I have to start.'
'I could start, but you might not like what I would say.'
'I would like to hear whatever you want to say.'
He said, 'I'm thinking that it's Christmas morning and I'm inside your hotel room. Connie is home alone asleep in our bed and unhappy because I'm not there. The kids are unhappy because I'm not there.'
'I should be in Miami. My mother is very ill,' I said.
He silently stared off, and I loved the sharp angles and shadows of his face.
'Lucy is there, and as usual I'm not. Do you have any idea how many holidays with my family I've missed?'
'Yes, I have a very good idea,' he said.
'In fact, I'm not sure there has ever been a holiday when my thoughts have not been darkened by some terrible case. So it almost doesn't matter whether I am with family or alone.'
'You have to learn to turn it off, Kay.'
'I've learned that as well as it can be learned.'
'You have to leave it outside the door like stinking crime scene clothes.'
But I could not. A day never went by when a memory wasn't triggered, when an image didn't flash. I would see a face bloated by injury and death, a body in bondage. I would see suffering and annihilation in unbearable detail, for nothing was hidden from me. I knew the victims too well. I closed my eyes and saw bare footprints in snow. I saw blood the bright red of Christmas.
'Benton, I do not want to spend Christmas here,' I said with deep depression.
I felt him sit next to me. He pulled me to him and we held each other for a while. We could not be close without touching.
'We should not be doing this,' I said as we continued doing it.
'And it's really difficult to talk about.'
'I know.' He reached for the lamp and turned it off.
'I find that ironical,' I said. 'When you think of what we share, what we have seen. Talking should not be difficult.'
'Those darker landscapes have nothing to do with intimacy,' he said.
'Then why are you not intimate with Marino? Or your deputy chief, Fielding?'
'Working the same horrors does not mean the next logical step is to go to bed. But I don't think I could be intimate with someone who does not understand what it's like for me.'
'I don't know.' His hands went still.
'Do you tell Connie?' I referred to his wife, who did not know that Wesley and I had become lovers last fall.
'I don't tell her everything.'
'How much does she know?'
'She knows nothing about some things.' He paused. 'She knows very little, really, about my work. I don't want her to know.'
I did not reply.
'I don't want her to know because of what it does to us. We change color, just as when cities become sooty, moths change color.'
'I don't want to take on the dingy shade of our habitat. I refuse.'
'You can refuse all you like.'
'Do you think it's fair you hold so much back from your wife?' I said quietly, and it was very hard to think because my flesh felt hot where he traced the contours of it.
'It isn't fair for her, and it isn't fair for me.'
'But you feel you have no choice.'
'I know I don't. She understands that there are places in me beyond her reach.'
'Is that the way she wants it?'
'Yes.' I felt him reach for his Scotch. 'You ready for another round?'
'Yes,' I said.
He got up and metal snapped in the dark as he broke screw cap seals. He poured straight Scotch into our glasses and sat back down.
'That's all there is unless you want to switch to something else,' he said.
'I don't even need this much.'
'If you're asking me to say what we've done is right, I can't,' he said. 'I won't say that.'
'I know what we've done is not right.'
I took a swallow of my drink and as I reached to set the glass on the bedside table, his hands moved. We kissed again more deeply, and he did not waste time on buttons as his hands slid under and around whatever was in their way. We were frenzied, as if our clothes were on fire and we had to get them off.
Later, curtains began to glow with morning light and we floated between passion and sleep, mouths tasting like stale whiskey. I sat up, gathering covers around me.
'Benton, it's half past six.'
Groaning, he covered his eyes with an arm as if the sun were very rude to rouse him. He lay on his back, tangled in sheets, as I took a shower and began to dress. Hot water cleared my head, and this was the first Christmas morning in years when someone other than me had been in my bed. I felt I had stolen something.
'You can't go anywhere,' Wesley said, half asleep.
I buttoned my coat. 'I have to,' I said, sadly looking down at him.
'They're waiting for me at the morgue.'
'I'm sorry to hear it,' he mumbled into the pillow. 'I didn't know you felt that bad.'
New York's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was on First Avenue, across from the Gothic red brick hospital called Bellevue, where the city's autopsies had been performed in earlier years. Winter-brown vines and graffiti marred walls and wrought iron, and fat black bags of trash awaited pickup on top of filthy snow. Christmas music played nonstop inside the beat-up yellow cab squeaking to a halt on a street almost never this still.
'I need a receipt,' I said to my Russian driver, who had spent the last ten minutes telling me what was wrong with the world.
'How much for?'
'Eight.' I was generous. It was Christmas morning.
He nodded, scribbling, as I watched a man on the sidewalk watching me, near Bellevue's fence. Unshaven, with wild long hair, he wore a blue jean jacket lined with fleece, the cuffs of stained army pants caught in the tops of battered cowboy boots.
He began playing an imaginary guitar and singing as I got out of the cab.
'Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the day. OHHH what fun it is to ride to Galveston today-AAAAAYYYYY . . .'
'You have admirer,' my amused driver said as I took the receipt through an open window.
He drove off in a swirl of exhaust. There was not another person or car in sight, and the horrendous serenading got louder. Then my mentally disfranchised admirer darted after me. I was appalled when he began screaming, 'Galveston!' as if it were my name or an accusation. I fled into the chief medical examiner's lobby.
'There's someone following me,' I said to a security guard decidedly lacking in Christmas spirit as she sat at her desk.
The deranged musician pressed his face against the front door, staring in, nose flattened, cheeks blanched. He opened his mouth wide, obscenely rolling his tongue over the glass and thrusting his pelvis back and forth as if he were having sex with the building. The guard, a sturdy woman with dreadlocks, strode over to the door and banged on it with her fist.
'Benny, cut it out,' she scolded him loudly. 'You quit that right now, Benny.' She rapped harder. 'Don't you make me come out there.'
Benny backed away from the glass. Suddenly he was Nureyev doing pirouettes across the empty street.
'I'm Dr. Kay Scarpetta,' I said to the guard. 'Dr. Horowitz is expecting me.'
'No way the chief's expecting you. It's Christmas.' She regarded me with dark eyes that had seen it all. 'Dr. Pinto's on call. Now, I can try to get hold of him, if you want.' She headed back to her station.
'I'm well aware it's Christmas' - I followed her -'but Dr. Horowitz is supposed to meet me here.' I got out my wallet and displayed my chief medical examiner's gold shield.
She was not impressed. 'You been here before?'
'Hmm. Well, I sure haven't seen the chief today. But I guess that don't mean he didn't come in through the bay and didn't tell me. Sometimes they're here half a day and I don't know. Hmm. That's right, don't nobody bother to tell me.'
She reached for the phone. 'Hmm. No sir, I don't need to know.' She dialed. 'I don't need to know nothing, no not me. Dr. Horowitz? This is Bonita with security. I got a Dr. Scarlett.' She paused. 'I don't know.'
She looked at me. 'How you spell that?'
'S-c-a-r-p-e-t-t-a,' I patiently said.
She still didn't get it right but was close enough. 'Yes, sir, I sure will.' She hung up and announced, 'You can go on and have a seat over there.'
The waiting area was furnished and carpeted in gray, magazines arranged on black tables, a modest artificial Christmas tree in the center of the room. Inscribed on a marble wall was Taceant Colloquia Effugiat Risus Hie Locus Est Ubi Mors Gaudet Succurrere Vitae, which meant one would find little conversation or laughter in this place where death delighted to help the living. An Asian couple sat across from me on a couch, tightly holding hands. They did not speak or look up, Christmas for them forever wrapped in pain.
I wondered why they were here and whom they had lost, and I thought of all I knew. I wished I could somehow offer comfort, yet that gift did not seem meant for me. After all these years, the best I could say to the bereft was that death was quick and their loved one did not suffer. Most times when I offered such words, they weren't entirely true, for how does one measure the mental anguish of a woman made to strip in an isolated park on a bitterly cold night? How could any of us imagine what she felt when Gault marched her to that ice-filled fountain and cocked his gun?
Forcing her to disrobe was a reminder of the unlimited depths of his cruelty and his insatiable appetite for games. Her nudity had not been necessary. She had not needed it telegraphed to her that she was going to die alone at Christmas with no one knowing her name. Gault could have just shot her and been done with it. He could have pulled out his Glock and caught her unaware. The bastard.
'Mr. and Mrs. Li?' A white-haired woman appeared before the Asian couple.
I'll take you in now if you're ready.'
'Yes, yes,' said the man as his wife began to cry.
They were led in the direction of the viewing room, where the body of someone they loved would be carried up from the morgue by a special elevator.
Many people could not accept death unless they saw or touched it first, and despite the many viewings I had arranged and witnessed over the years, I really could not imagine going through such a ritual. I did not think I could bear that last fleeting glance through glass. Feeling the beginning of a headache, I closed my eyes and began massaging my temples. I sat like this for a long time until I sensed a presence.
'Dr. Scarpetta?' Dr. Horowitz's secretary was standing over me, her face concerned. 'Are you all right?'
'Emily,' I said, surprised. 'Yes, I'm fine, but I certainly wasn't expecting to see you here today.' I got up.
'Would you like some Tylenol?'
'You're very kind, but I'm fine,' I said.
'I wasn't expecting to see you here today, either. But things aren't exactly normal right now. I'm surprised you managed to get in without being accosted by reporters.'
'I didn't see any reporters,' I said.
'They were everywhere last night. I assume you saw the morning Times?'
'I'm afraid I haven't had a chance,' I said uncomfortably. I wondered if Wesley was still in bed.
'Things are a mess,' said Emily, a young woman with long, dark hair who was always so demure and plainly dressed that she seemed to have stepped forth from another age. 'Even the mayor's called. This is not the sort of publicity the city wants or needs. I still can't believe a reporter just happened to find the body.'