Read Point of Origin Online

Authors: Patricia Cornwell

Tags: #Women detectives, #Medical examiners (Law), #Scarpetta; Kay (Fictitious character), #Mystery & Detective, #Virginia, #General, #Medical novels, #Women Physicians, #Mystery Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Legal stories, #Fiction, #Forensic pathologists

Point of Origin (2 page)

BOOK: Point of Origin
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

'Benton, why don't you shower and then we'll talk more about our plans for the week,' I said, dismissing recollections I could not bear. 'A few days alone to read and walk the beach would be just what you need. You know how much you love the bike trails. Maybe it would be good for you to have some space.'

'Lucy needs to know.' He got up, too. 'Even if Carrie's confined at the moment, she's going to cause more trouble that involves Lucy. That's what Carrie's promising in her letter to you.'

He walked out of the kitchen.

'How much more trouble can anybody cause?' I called after him as tears rose in my throat.

'Dragging your niece into the trial,' he stopped to say. 'Publicly. Splashed across The New York Times. Out on the AP, Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight. Around the world. FBI agent was lesbian lover of deranged serial killer . . .'

'Lucy's left the FBI with all its prejudices and lies and preoccupations with how the mighty Bureau looks to the world.' Tears flooded my eyes. 'There's nothing left. Nothing further they can do to crush her soul.'

'Kay, this is about far more than the FBI,' he said, and he sounded spent.

'Benton, don't start . . .' I could not finish.

He leaned against the doorway leading into my great room, where a fire burned, for the temperature had not gotten above sixty degrees this day. His eyes were pained. He did not like me to talk this way, and he did not want to peer into that darker side of his soul. He did not want to conjure up the malignant acts Carrie might carry out, and of course, he worried about me, too. I would be summoned to testify in the sentencing phase of Carrie Grethen's trial. I was Lucy's aunt. I supposed my credibility as a witness would be impeached, my testimony and reputation ruined.

'Let's go out tonight,' Wesley said in a kinder tone. 'Where would you like to go? La Petite? Or beer and barbecue at Benny's?'

'I'll thaw some soup.' I wiped my eyes as my voice faltered. 'I'm not very hungry, are you?'

'Come here,' he said to me sweetly.

I melted into him and he held me to his chest. He was salty when we kissed, and I was always surprised by the supple firmness of his body. I rested my head, and the stubble on his chin roughed my hair and was white like the beach I knew I would not see this week. There would be no long walks on wet sand or long talks over dinners at La Polla's and Charlie's.

'I think I should go see what she wants,' I finally said into his warm, damp neck.

'Not in a million years.'

'New York did Gault's autopsy. I don't have those photographs.'

'Carrie knows damn well what medical examiner did Gault's autopsy.'

'Then why is she asking me, if she knows?' I muttered.

My eyes were closed as I leaned against him. He paused and kissed the top of my head again and stroked my hair.

'You know why,' he said. 'Manipulation, jerking you around. What people like her do best. She wants you to get the photos for her. So she can see Gault mangled like chopped meat, so she can fantasize and get off on that. She's up to something and the worst thing you could do is respond to her in any way.'

'And this GKSWF -- something or other? Like out of a personal?'

'I don't know.'

'And the One Pheasant Place?'

'No idea.'

We stayed a long time in the doorway of this house I continued to think of singularly and unequivocally as my own. Benton parked his life with me when he was not consulting in big aberrant cases in this country and others. I knew it bothered him when I consistently said I this and my that, although he knew we were not married and nothing we owned separately belonged to both of us. I had passed the midline of my life and would not legally share my earnings with anyone, including my lover and my family. Maybe I sounded selfish, and maybe I was.

'What am I going to do while you're gone tomorrow?' Wesley got back to that subject.

'Drive to Hilton Head and get groceries,' I replied. 'Make sure there's plenty of Black Bush and Scotch. More than usual. And sunblock SPF 35 and 50, and South Carolina pecans, tomatoes, and Vidalia onions.'

Tears filled my eyes again, and I cleared my throat.

'As soon as I can, I'll get on a plane and meet you, but I don't know where this case in Warrenton is going to go. And we've already been over this. We've done it before. Half the time you can't go, the rest of the time it's me.'

'I guess our lives suck,' he said into my ear.

'Somehow we ask for it,' I replied, and most of all I felt an uncontrollable urge to sleep.


He bent down to my lips and slid his hands to favorite places.

'Before soup, we could go to bed.'

'Something very bad is going to happen during this trial,' I said, and I wanted my body to respond to him but didn't think it could.

'All of us in New York again. The Bureau, you, Lucy, at her trial. Yes, I'm sure for the past five years she has thought of nothing else and will cause all the trouble she can.'

I pulled away as Carrie's sharp, drawn face suddenly jumped out of a dark place in my mind. I remembered her when she was strikingly pretty and smoking with Lucy on a picnic table at night near the firing ranges of the FBI Academy at Quantico. I could still hear them teasing in low playful voices and saw their erotic kisses on the mouth, deep and long, and hands tangled in hair. I remembered the strange sensation running through my blood as I silently hurried away, without them knowing what I had seen. Carrie had begun the ruination of my only niece's life, and now the grotesque coda had come.

'Benton,' I said. 'I've got to pack my gear.'

'Your gear is fine. Trust me.'

He hungrily had undone layers of my clothing, desperate for skin. He always wanted me more when I was not in sync with him.

'I can't reassure you now,' I whispered. 'I can't tell you everything is going to be all right, because it won't be. Attorneys and the media will go after Lucy and me. They will dash us against the rocks, and Carne may go free. There!'

I held his face in my hands.

'Truth and justice. The American way,' I concluded.

'Stop it.'

He went still and his eyes were intense on mine.

'Don't start again,' he said. 'You didn't used to be this cynical.'

'I'm not cynical, and I'm not the one who started anything,' I answered him as my anger rose higher. 'I'm not the one who started with an eleven-year-old boy and cut off patches of his flesh and left him naked by a Dumpster with a bullet in his head. And then killed a sheriff and a prison guard. And Jayne -- Gault's own twin sister. Remember that, Benton? Remember? Remember Central Park on Christmas Eve. Bare footprints in snow and her frozen blood dripping from the fountain!'

'Of course I remember. I was there. I know all the same details you do.'

'No, you don't.'

I was furious now and moved away from him and gathered together my clothes.

'You don't put your hands inside their ruined bodies and touch and measure their wounds,' I said. 'You don't hear them speak after they're dead. You don't see the faces of loved ones waiting inside my poor, plain lobby to hear heartless, unspeakable news. You don't see what I do. Oh no, you don't, Benton Wesley. You see clean case files and glossy photos and cold crime scenes. You spend more time with the killers than with those they ripped from life. And maybe you sleep better than I do, too. Maybe you still dream because you aren't afraid to.'

He walked out of my house without a word, because I had gone too far. I had been unfair and mean, and not even truthful. Wesley knew only tortured sleep. He thrashed and muttered and coldly drenched the sheets. He rarely dreamed, or at least he had learned not to remember. I set salt and pepper shakers on corners of Carrie Grethen's letter to keep it from folding along its creases. Her mocking, unnerving words were evidence now and should not be touched or disturbed.

Ninhydrin or a Luma Lite might reveal her fingerprints on the cheap white paper, or exemplars of her writing might be matched with what she had scrawled to me. Then we would prove she had penned this twisted message at the brink of her murder trial in Superior Court of New York City. The jury would see that she had not changed after five years of psychiatric treatment paid for with their taxes. She felt no remorse. She reveled in what she had done.

I had no doubt Benton would be somewhere in my neighborhood because I had not heard his BMW leave. I hurried along new paved streets, passing big brick and stucco homes, until I caught him beneath trees staring out at a rocky stretch of the James River. The water was frigid and the color of glass, and cirrus clouds were indistinct chalky streaks in a fading sky.

'I'll head out to South Carolina as soon as I get back to the house. I'll get the condo ready and get your Scotch,' he said, not turning around. 'And Black Bush.'

'You don't need to leave tonight,' I said, and I was afraid to move closer to him as slanted light brightened his hair and the wind stirred it. 'I've got to get up early tomorrow. You can head out when I do.'

He was silent, staring up at a bald eagle that had followed me since I had left my house. Benton had put on a red windbreaker, but he looked chilled in his damp running shorts, and his arms were crossed tightly at his chest. His throat moved as he swallowed, his pain radiating from a hidden place that only I was allowed to see. At moments like this I did not know why he put up with me.

'Don't expect me to be a machine, Benton,' I said quietly for the millionth time since I had loved him.

Still he did not speak, and water barely had the energy to roll toward downtown, making a dull pouring sound as it unwittingly headed closer to the violence of dams.

'I take as much as I can,' I explained. 'I take more than most people could. Don't expect too much from me, Benton.'

The eagle soared in circles over the tops of tall trees, and Benton seemed more resigned when he spoke at last.

'And I take more than most people can,' he said. 'In part, because you do.'

'Yes, it works both ways.'

I stepped closer to him from behind and slipped my arms around the slick red nylon covering his waist.

'You know damn well it does,' he said.

I hugged him tight and dug my chin into his back.

'One of your neighbors is watching,' he said. 'I can see him through sliding glass. Did you know you have a peeper in this ritzy white-bread place?'

He placed his hands over mine, then lifted one finger at a time with nothing special in mind.

'Of course, if I lived here, I would peep at you too,' he added with a smile in his tone.

'You do live here.'

'Naw. I just sleep here.'

'Let's talk about the morning. As usual, they'll pick me up at the Eye Institute around five,' I told him. 'So I guess if I get up by four . . .' I sighed, wondering if life would always be like this. 'You should stay the night.'

'I'm not getting up at four,' he said.

THE NEXT MORNING came unkindly on a field that was flat and barely blue with first light. I had gotten up at four, and Wesley had gotten up, too, deciding he would rather leave when I did. We had kissed briefly and barely looked at each other as we had headed to our cars, for brevity at goodbyes was always easier than lingering. But as I had followed West Cary Street to the Huguenot Bridge, a heaviness seemed to spread through every inch of me and I was suddenly unnerved and sad.

I knew from weary experience that it was unlikely I would be seeing Wesley this week, and there would be no rest or reading or late mornings to sleep. Fire scenes were never easy, and if nothing else, a case involving an important personage in a wealthy bedroom community of D. C. would tie me up in politics and paperwork. The more attention a death caused, the more public pressure I was promised.

There were no lights on at the Eye Institute, which was not a place of medical research nor called such in honor of some benefactor or important personage named Eye. Several times a year I came here to have glasses adjusted or my vision checked, and it always seemed strange to park near fields where I was often lifted into the air, headed toward chaos. I opened my car door as the familiar distant sound moved over dark waves of trees, and I imagined burned bones and teeth scattered through black watery debris. I imagined Sparkes's sharp suits and strong face, and shock chilled me like fog.

The tadpole silhouette flew beneath an imperfect moon as I gathered water repellent duffle bags, and the scratched silver Halliburton aluminum flight case that stored my various medical examiner instruments and needs, including photography equipment. Two cars and a pickup truck began slowing on Huguenot Road, the city's twilight travelers unable to resist a helicopter low and about to land. The curious turned into the parking lot and got out to stare at blades slicing air in a slow sweep for power lines, puddles and muck, or sand and dirt that might boil up.

'Must be the governor coming in,' said an old man who had arrived in a rusting heap of a Plymouth.

'Could be someone delivering an organ,' said the driver of the pickup truck as he briefly turned his gaze on me.

Their words scattered like dry leaves as the black Bell LongRanger thundered in at a measured pitch and perfectly flared and gently descended. My niece Lucy, its pilot, hovered in a storm of fresh-mown grass flooded white by landing lights, and settled sweetly. I gathered my belongings and headed into beating wind. Plexiglas was tinted dark enough that I could not see through it as I pulled open the back door, but I recognized the big arm that reached down to grab my baggage. I climbed up as more traffic slowed to watch the aliens, and threads of gold bled through the tops of trees.

BOOK: Point of Origin
4.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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