Black Notice, стр. 3

"Later;" Lucy said to me, and the line went dead.

2

Richmond police captain Pete Marino and I had known each other for so long it sometimes seemed we were inside each other's heads. So it really came as no great surprise when he called me before I had a chance to track him down.

"You sound really stopped up," he said tome. "You got a cold?"

"No;" I said. "I'm glad you called because I was getting ready to call you."

"Oh, yeah?"

I could tell he was smoking in either his truck or police car. Both had two-way radios and scanners that. this moment were making a lot of noise.

"Where are you?" I asked him.

"Crъising around, listening to the scanner," he said, as if he had the top down and was having a wonderful day. "Counting the hours till retirement. Ain't life grand? Nothing missin' but the bluebird of happiness."

His sarcasm could have shred paper.

"What in the world's wrong with you?" I said.

"I'm assuming you know about the ripe one they just found,at the Port of Richmond," he replied. "People puking all over the place, is what I hear. Just glad it ain't my fucking problem."

My mind wouldn't work. I didn't know what he was talking about. Call-waiting was clicking. I switched the cordless phone to the other ear as I walked into my study and pulled out a chair at the desk.

"What ripe one?" I asked him. "Marino, hold on," I said as call-waiting tried again. "Let me see who this is. Don't go away." I tapped the hang-up button.

"Scarpetta" I said.

"It's Jack," my deputy chief, Jack Fielding, said. "They've found a body inside a cargу container at the Port of Richmond. Badly decomposed:' "That's what Marino was just telling me," I said.

"You sound like you've got the flu. I think I'm getting it, too. And Chuck's coming in late because he's not feeling so great. Or so he says."

"Did this container-just come off a ship?" I interrupted him.

"The Sirius, as in the star. Definitely a weird situation. How do you want me to handle it?"

I began scribbling notes on a call sheet, my handwriting more illegible than usual, my central nervous system as crashed as a bad hard drive.

"I'll go; '.1 said without pause even as Benton's words pulsed in my mind.

I was off and running again. Maybe even faster this time.

"You don't need to do that, Dr. Scarpetta," Fielding said as if he were suddenly in charge. "I'll go down there. You're supposed to be taking the day off."

"Who do I contact when I get there?" I asked. I didn't want him tу start in again.

Fielding had been begging me for months to take a break, to go somewhere for a week or two or even consider a sabbatical. I was tired of people watching me with worried eyes.

I was angered by the intimation that Benton's death was affecting my performance at work, that I had begun isolating myself from my staff and others and looked exhausted and distracted.

"Detective Anderson notified us. She's at the scene," Fielding was saying.

Who.

"Must be new. Really, Dr. Scarpetta, I'll handle it. Why don't you take a break? Stay home:"

I realized I still had Marino on hold. I switched back to tell him I'd call as soon as I got off the line with my office. He'd already hung up.

"Tell me how to get there," I said to my deputy chief.

"I guess you're not going to accept my pro bono advice."

"If I'm coming from my house, Downtown Expressway, and then what?" I said.

He gave me directions. I got off the phone and hurried to my bedroom, Benton's letter in hand. I couldn't think of a place to keep it. I couldn't just leave it in a drawer or file cabinet. God forbid I should lose it or the housekeeper should discover it, and I didn't want it in a place where I might run across it unawares and be undone again. Thoughts spun wildly, my heart racing, adrenaline screaming through my blood as I stared at the stiff, creamy envelope, at "Kay" written in Benton's modest, careful hand.

I finally focused on the small fireproof safe bolted to the floor in my closet. I frantically tried to remember where I had' written down the combination.

"I'm losing my goddamn mind," I exclaimed out loud.

The combination was where I always kept it, between pages 670 and 671 of the seventh edition of Hunter's Tropical Medicine. I locked the letter in the safe and walked into the bathroom and repeatedly splashed cold water on my face. I called Rose, my secretary, and instructed her to arrange for a removal service to meet me at the Port of Richmond in about an hour and a half.

"Let them know the body's in very sorry shape," I emphasized.

"How are you going to get there?" Rose asked. "I'd tell you to stop here first and get the Suburban, but Chuck's taken it in for an oil change."

"I thought he was sick."

"He showed up fifteen minutes ago and left with the Suburban."

"Okay, I'll have to use my own car. Rose, I'm going to need the Ltuna-Lite and a hundrйd-foot extension cord. Have someone meet me in the parking lot with them. I'll call when I'm close."

"You need to know that Jean's in a bit of an uproar."

"What's the problem?" I asked, surprised.

Jean Adams was the office administrator and she rarely showed emotion, much less got upset.

"Apparently all the coffee money disappeared. You know this isn't the first time…"

"Damn!" I said. "Where was it kept?"

"Locked up in Jean's desk drawer, like always. Doesn't look like the lock was pried open or anything, but she went into the drawer this morning, no money. A hundred and eleven dollars and thirty-five cents."

"This has got to stop," I said.

"I don't know if you're aware of the latest;" Rose went on. "Lunches have started disappearing from the break room. Last week Cleta accidentally left her portable phone on her desk overnight and the next morning it was gone. Same thing happened to Dr. Riley. He left a nice pen in the pocket of his lab coat. Next morning, no pen"

"The crew that cleans up after hours?"

"Maybe;" Rose said. "But I will tell you, Dr. Scarpettaand I'm not trying to accuse anyone-I'm afraid it might be an inside job:' "You're right. We shouldn't accuse anyone. Is there any good news today?"

"Not so far," Rose matter-of-factly replied.

Rose had worked for me since I had been appointed chief medical examiner, which meant she had been running my life for most of my career. She had the remarkable ability to know virtually everything going on around her without getting caught up in it herself. My secretary remained untainted, and although the staff was somewhat afraid of her, she was the first one they ran to when there was a problem..

"Now you take care of yourself, Dr. Scarpetta," she went on. "You sound awful. Why don't you let Jack go to the scene and you stay in for once?"

"I'll just take my car," I said as a wave of grief rolled over me and sounded in my voice.

Rose caught it and rode it out in silence. I could hear her shuffling through papers on her desk. I knew she wanted to somehow comfort me, but I had never allowed that.

"Well, make sure you change before you get back in it," she finally said.

"Change what?"

"Your clothes. Before you get back into your car," she said as if rd never dealt with a decomposed body before.

"Thank you, Rose," I said.

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