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Authors: Warren Adler

Tags: #Fiction, Mystery and Detective, Women Sleuths, General, Police Procedural, Political

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BOOK: Immaculate Deception
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He pulled the card out of his pocket and read the names. He
turned to Fiona.

"And you, FitzGerald, a good Irish girl should know
better than to press too hard on a grieving man of the same persuasion. Maybe
this one..." He nodded toward Cates. "...doesn't know better, but I
certainly expect you to observe decency and respect. You got any clues that are
legitimate and might make me or you change our minds, I'd be happy to hear it.
In the meantime get my wife's body the hell out of this shithouse, post
haste."

Bully Irish all right, showing his authority, giving them
his ass. He had drawn himself up to his full height and walked with exaggerated
dignity out of the office and the waiting room. They let him go. It was
pointless to argue. They had no facts, not even theories. There was a great
deal to say for his argument. If it was, indeed, suicide, which it probably
was, then he had a right to balk at those questions.

No, all was not right in the marriage of Jack and the late
Frankie McGuire. How could it be?

6

Dr. Charles Benton, the Chief Medical Examiner, had the
unconscious habit of making cathedrals out of his fingers and fitting the
forefingers and middle fingers into the cleft of his chin. It had always seemed
to Fiona to be an elaborate but suitable pose for this very wise and very
gentle man.

When she had started in homicide, they had established an
instant rapport and she had spent long hours with him in the sunny little
parlor of his Northeast Washington row house which he had shared with his
beloved late wife. Here, she had often unburdened herself, told him of her
fears and aspirations and, mostly, her disappointments, especially with men.

"My priest and confessor," she would chide him
after one of her many visits. "Catholic habits never die."

"More like a free shrink."

He would chuckle wryly and show his still white even teeth,
remarkable for a man of sixty. Often when they were together, she would study
his face, which she found endlessly fascinating. He was a light skinned black
man with hair as white, but not as fine, as cotton and eyes as blue as a South
Pacific lagoon. A good Cajun mix, he had joked in the faintest cadences of a Louisiana drawl.

To be with him was comforting and comfortable. He was, she
was certain, a rare find, especially for an orphan girl like herself living
astride two worlds, as remote from each other as Earth and Mars.

Most of his emotional life was invested in his past and he
had, unlike her, no pressing problems in his contemporary existence, despite
the heavy pressures of his job. This gave him the ability to make dispassionate
judgments and insights, not blemished by personal baggage. He feared nothing,
knew most of the strategies of survival in a bureaucracy and his access to the
secrets of the dead had provided him with a wisdom that she was certain few men
possessed.

She saw his face now through a haze of cigarette smoke, his
only apparent vice. Shafts of early afternoon spring sunlight had begun to
spear through the open slats of the blinds in his office. The tobacco smoke
could barely mask the medicinal odor that clung to him in this environment. It
always came as a pleasant surprise to note that for some reason he had never
brought the odors of his job home with him.

He was tired, she knew. It took nearly a full week to
complete the work of Washington's normal weekend orgies of blood. Special cases
like that of Frankie McGuire added to that burden.

Yet, despite the press of work and the endless parade of
corpses, not once had he ever referred to these corpses as "stiffs"
or "dead meat." To him, they were all people, their humanity still
articulate in their revelations, their dignity still intact. Often he had said
that a human being's soul continued to live as long as others retained their
memory of them as a living person.

Cates had gone to check on the memorial service planned for
Mrs. McGuire and Melanie had run out to get them sandwiches, although lunchtime
had long passed.

Fiona had explained to Dr. Benton what she had come about,
but there was always more to it than a mere report. In these business dealings
between them there existed an elaborate gamesmanship in which the psychological
implications of the victim's pathology were invariably broached. It gave every
inquiry a cat and mouse quality with roles reversing frequently. Always she
started out as the cat. Invariably she ended up as the mouse.

"A first for me, Fi. I've never done a member of that
august body. Luther was quite adamant about scheduling. Used her VIP status to
take her out of turn, put her at the top of the list. I told him that rank has
its privileges but that they normally end at the moment of death."

He undid his cathedral of fingers, took a deep drag on his
cigarette, blew smoke into the air, then looked at the glowing ash.

"Shame on me," he sighed. "Me, who knows
more than anyone the true color of a healthy lung." He shook his head,
took another deep drag, then punched out the cigarette.

"The speed of it caught me by surprise," Fiona
acknowledged.

"I always respond to Luther's persuasiveness." He
would under no circumstances ever refer to him as the Eggplant and there
existed between them an enormous professional respect. "He gave me to
understand that something was fishy in Denmark. Then he admitted that he
couldn't explain it, that something was nagging at him, that his peace of mind
was shattered because of it. I'm a sucker for Luther's humility."

"I've never seen it myself."

"Yes, I did her out of turn. It was quite a
revelation." He winked at her, teasing.

At that moment, Melanie came in with the sandwiches. She
had ordered a tuna on rye and Dr. Benton had his usual peanut butter and jelly
on white bread. Beside the wrapped sandwiches, Melanie placed two styrofoam
containers of coffee.

"The comfort of habit," he said, unwrapping the
sandwich with deft and sure fingers, fingers that she had seen lift out an
unbeating heart from a cracked open chest or separate a human liver from its
perch among the oily entrails. He bit into the sandwich and chewed carefully,
then washed it down with a swallow of coffee. She started on her tuna sandwich
oddly unruffled by the gory images that floated in her mind.

"It's all right for you to be curious. But what about
me. I've just taken a great deal of abuse from the woman's husband, as if it
were me that ordered the autopsy."

"Aside from the speed, would you have ordered an
autopsy?" Dr. Benton asked.

She thought a moment, took another bite of her sandwich.

"I don't think so. On the surface it looks like a
clear case of suicide. No sign of struggle. Appears to be a classic case of
self-inflicted poisoning. Nevertheless, the old Eggplant has a weird antenna.
Sometimes picks up strange messages."

"The choice of poison is strange. Cyanide. Haven't
seen much of that ever."

"Not exactly your average pharmaceutical."

"Killed the poor woman in seconds," Dr. Benton
said. "Excellent choice for quick disposal. Paralyzes the nervous system
for a blessed exit. My own method of choice if I were so inclined. Did you know
that Goering kept a capsule of it in his anus?"

She shook her head. Her experience with the Hitler era came
from books. Goering had died years before she was born.

"Was this a capsule?"

"Doubtful. It was clearly mixed with the wine."

"No container was found," Fiona said. "Of
course it could have gone down the disposal." She reconstructed it in her
mind, finally utilizing the images she had gathered earlier. "The bottle
of wine was in the refrigerator. She poured herself a glass, put in the dose,
flushed the wrapper down the toilet, probably nothing more than a folded bit of
paper or plastic. Then she replaced the bottle in the refrigerator, carried the
glass containing the poison to the bed, crawled in, smoothed out her nightgown
and the bedclothes, picked up the glass, took one big gulp and waited until
blessed death arrived. The remaining wine fell on the comforter. A single
glass. Meaning no company. Suicide for one." Fiona nodded, pleased with
her description. Later, after the results of the lab tests, she was certain
that her theory would be validated.

"Impeccable logic," Dr. Benton said.

"But no impeccable motive," Fiona sighed. She put
aside her sandwich, sipped some coffee, and watched him take the last bite of his
peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "All right then. She now arrives on your
table. What message, pray tell, has she sent from the grave?"

"A most remarkable organism," Dr. Benton said,
his fingers reconstructing his cathedral, the apex of which he tucked back in
his chin.

"Remarkable?"

"The woman had the most unblemished organs I've seen
in a long time in a body over forty. I wouldn't have given you two cents for an
Irish liver. Not a penny. They're invariably semi-cirrhotic. This was clean as
a whistle. And the rest of her as well. Good muscle tone. Nice clean veins, a
healthy heart and kidneys. Inside, everywhere, despite child-bearing, she was
well, ten years younger at least."

"So much for bad health as a motive," Fiona said
half joking. It had never been a consideration.

"A not infrequent one, I might add."

"So she had health. And position and money. Why the
hell would she commit suicide?"

"Ah, sweet mystery of death," Dr. Benton said,
leaning back in his chair, peering at her through the smooth light tan
cathedral structure. Often, he would sit like this for long moments, raking at
the mulch of ideas that his pathologist's mind had harvested. She left him to
his thoughts, waiting for him to speak.

"A member of Congress, was she?" he asked
rhetorically, needing no answer. She knew he was, like a boxer, jabbing at
something inside his mind, dancing around the ring, probing the always illusive
opponent. Suddenly he broke the cathedral and sat up.

"Tell me more about the political life," he said.

"Not good for marriage," Fiona said, remembering
her childhood. "The usual tensions of separation. It's a bitch in that
racket, which was why Mother insisted on setting up full housekeeping within
commuting distance. Early on when Daddy first went up to the Senate, we kept
the house in Yonkers. But she knew that Daddy was too attractive and vulnerable
to set loose among all the pretty young things from Pennsylvania and Ohio who migrated down to snare a politico." She stopped short. "Mother of Jesus.
Here I go meandering."

With Dr. Benton, her defenses and normal detective's
discipline always became unravelled. Theoretical logic in the detection
process, she had learned, was always filtered first through the dust-laden
light of something deeply personal.

Rarely did she articulate such allusions to her colleagues
in the MPD. For a woman, it was considered more than just bad form. It was
perceived as typical female emotionalism, that old chestnut so prevalent in a
male-dominated world. A pose of neutrality, more like the blindfolded lady of
Justice, was considered the operative stance for a woman in her position. Only
with Dr. Benton would she have dared offer her most deeply felt personal
perspective.

"So you think her act came out of personal
unhappiness? A typical condition of the political life ... domestic-wise."
Dr. Benton coaxed.

"It has some logic," Fiona continued. "They
had five kids, all grown, and what amounts to an arrangement. Another not
uncommon situation for couples of the Roman persuasion. McGuire was proud of
the lady, though, and is pushing a big show of it in the Capitol rotunda
tomorrow. Cates is checking it out."

"All right then. An arrangement," Dr. Benton
said, sitting back once again and reconstructing the cathedral. "An
unhappy marriage of longstanding is rarely a motive for suicide."

She nodded agreement.

"Have you considered unrequited love?" Dr. Benton
asked. She knew better than to ridicule the idea. His love for his wife, he had
told her, was the most compelling obsession of his life. Even in death. It was,
she had concluded, more than hopeless romanticism. If Dr. Benton had an
Achilles' heel it was this. Even his home had been turned into a shrine for his
beloved.

Once, in a moment of depressive grieving, he had confessed
that they had eschewed having children on the grounds that it would have
threatened a diminution of their love, their sharing. Time, too, had not done a
thing to lessen this obsession. His wife had been in her grave for fifteen
years.

"Are you suggesting she had a lover?"

"It happens," he sighed. Frankie McGuire? Somehow
it seemed off the mark, farfetched, but she did not discount it. Dr. Benton was
obviously heading in a specific direction.

"We are talking of a middle-aged female politician,
very conscious of her image and about to run again."

But even in her denial, Fiona felt a strange sense of
personal testing against her own experience. Did age confer immunity? With some
men, she had been reduced to emotional rubble. Nor could she deny the power and
exhilaration of being in love and the sense of loss and depression it
engendered when the object of it rejected her. It had happened. Yes, indeed.
But she had wanted to kill the sons of bitches. Not herself.

Dr. Benton raised his soft brown eyes, gentle as a doe's,
and looked at her. She could tell he had again turned inward, that he was
chasing a theory along its natural path.

"Suicide is rarely a compulsive act," he said.
"Mostly it is a planned response, usually the result of depressive but
logical thought processes. In this case, too, careful planning was required.
Research as to the expected reaction of the poison, its aquisition, not a
common off-the-shelf item, the choice of scene, timing and means of ingestion.
If it was suicide, she had worked that out beautifully."

"Then why no note? Why make it a mystery? She was a
woman with many responsibilities. She was the most vocal voice in Congress on
the issue of abortion, a leader of the pro-life movement, a..."

Dr. Benton, swiftly collapsing his cathedral, stood up
abruptly. For him it was a rare display of excitement and it startled her.

"Of course," he said. "I'd forgotten."
He turned to look at her. "Forgive me Fiona for playing the ferret."
He shook his head. "The woman, you see, was six weeks pregnant."

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