Read Port Mortuary Online

Authors: Patricia Cornwell

Tags: #Patricia Cornwell, #Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective

Port Mortuary

A
LSO BY
P
ATRICIA
C
ORNWELL
THE SCARPETTA NOVELS

Postmortem

Body of Evidence

All That Remains

Cruel and Unusual

The Body Farm

From Potter’s Field

Cause of Death

Unnatural Exposure

Point of Origin

Black Notice

The Last Precinct

Blow Fly

Trace

Predator

Book of the Dead

Scarpetta

The Scarpetta Factor

ANDY BRAZIL SERIES

Hornet’s Nest

Southern Cross

Isle of Dogs

WIN GARANO SERIES

At Risk

The Front

NON-FICTION

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed

BIOGRAPHY

Ruth, a Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham

OTHER WORKS

Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta’s Kitchen
Life’s Little Fable

Scarpetta’s Winter Table

COPYRIGHT

Published by Hachette Digital

ISBN: 978-0-748-11709-3

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright (c) 2010 by CEI Enterprises, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

Hachette Digital

Little, Brown Book Group

100 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DY

www.hachette.co.uk

Contents

Also by Patricia Cornwell

Copyright

A Note to My Readers

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

A N
OTE TO
M
Y
R
EADERS

While this is a work of fiction, it is not science fiction. The medical and forensic procedures, and technologies and weapons, you are about to see exist now, even as you read this work. Some of what you are about to encounter is extremely disturbing. All of it is possible.

Also real and fully operational at this writing are various entities, including the following:

Port Mortuary at Dover Air Force Base

Armed Forces Medical Examiner (AFME)

Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory (AFDIL)

Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP)

Department of Defense (DoD)

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)

Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

Special Weapons Observation Remote Direct-Action System (SWORDS)

Although completely within the realm of possibility, the Cambridge Forensic Center (CFC), the Chatham Correctional Institute, Otwahl Technologies, and the Mortuary Operational Removal Transport (MORT) are creations of the author’s imagination, as are all of the characters in this story and the plot itself.

My Thanks -

To all the fine men and women of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, who have been kind enough during my career to share their insights and highly advanced knowledge, and to impress me with their discipline, their integrity, and their friendship.

As always, I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Staci Gruber, director of the Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Core, McLean Hospital, and assistant professor, Harvard Medical School, Department of Psychiatry.

And, of course, my gratitude to Dr. Marcella Fierro, former chief medical examiner of Virginia, and Dr. Jamie Downs, medical examiner, Savannah, Georgia, for their expertise in all things pathological.

T
O
S
TACI

You have to live with me

while I live it—

1

I
nside the changing room for female staff, I toss soiled scrubs into a biohazard hamper and strip off the rest of my clothes and medical clogs. I wonder if
Col. Scarpetta
stenciled in black on my locker will be removed the minute I return to New England in the morning. The thought hadn’t entered my mind before now, and it bothers me. A part of me doesn’t want to leave this place.

Life at Dover Air Force Base has its comforts, despite six months of hard training and the bleakness of handling death daily on behalf of the US government. My stay here has been surprisingly uncomplicated. I can even say it’s been pleasant. I’m going to miss getting up before dawn in my modest room, dressing in cargo pants, a polo shirt, and boots, and walking in the cold dark across the parking lot to the golf course clubhouse for coffee and something to eat before driving to Port Mortuary, where I’m not in charge. When I’m on duty for the armed forces medical examiner, the AFME, I’m no longer a chief. In fact, I’m outranked by quite a number of people, and critical decisions aren’t mine to make, assuming I’m even asked. Not so when I return to Massachusetts, where I’m depended on by everyone.

It’s Monday, February 8. The wall clock above the shiny white sinks reads 16:33 hours, lit up red like a warning. In less than ninety minutes I’m supposed to appear on CNN and explain what a forensic radiologic pathologist, or RadPath, is and why I’ve become one, and what Dover and the Department of Defense and the White House have to do with it. In other words, I’m not just a medical examiner anymore, I suppose I’ll say, and not just a habeas reservist with the AFME, either. Since 9/11, since the United States invaded Iraq, and now the surge of troops in Afghanistan —I rehearse points I should make—the line between the military and civilian worlds has forever faded. An example I might give: This past November during a forty-eight-hour period, thirteen fallen warriors were flown here from the Middle East, and just as many casualties arrived from Fort Hood, Texas. Mass casualty isn’t restricted to the battlefield, although I’m no longer sure what constitutes a battlefield. Maybe every place is one, I will say on TV. Our homes, our schools, our churches, commercial aircraft, and where we work, shop, and go on vacation.

I sort through toiletries as I sort through comments I need to make about 3-D imaging radiology, the use of computerized tomography, or CT, scans in the morgue, and I remind myself to emphasize that although my new headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the first civilian facility in the United States to do virtual autopsies, Baltimore will be next, and eventually the trend will spread. The traditional postmortem examination of dissect as you go and take photographs after the fact and hope you don’t miss something or introduce an artifact can be dramatically improved by technology and made more precise, and it should be.

I’m sorry I’m not doing
World News
tonight, because now that I think of it, I’d rather have this dialogue with Diane Sawyer. The problem with my being a regular on CNN is that familiarity often breeds contempt, and I should have thought about this before now. The interview could get personal, it occurs to me, and I should have mentioned the possibility to General Briggs. I should have told him what happened this morning when the irate mother of a dead soldier ripped into me over the phone, accusing me of hate crimes and threatening to take her complaints to the media.

Metal bangs like a gunshot as I shut my locker door. I pad over tan tile that always feels cool and smooth beneath my bare feet, carrying my plastic basket of olive-oil shampoo and conditioner, and an exfoliant scrub made of fossilized marine algae, a safety razor, a can of shaving gel for sensitive skin, liquid detergent, a washcloth, mouthwash, a toothbrush, a nail brush, and fragrant Neutrogena oil I’ll use when I’m done. Inside an open stall, I neatly arrange my personal effects on the tile ledge and turn on the water as hot as I can stand it, hard spray blasting as I move around to get all of me, then lifting my face up, then looking down at the floor, at my own pale feet. I let water pound the back of my neck and head in hopes that stiff muscles will relax a little as I mentally enter the closet inside my base lodging and explore what to wear.

General Briggs—John, as I refer to him when we’re alone— wants me in an Airman Battle Uniform, or better yet, Air Force blues, and I disagree. I should wear civilian clothes, what people see me in most of the time when I do television interviews, probably a simple dark suit and ivory blouse with a collar, and the understated Breguet watch on a leather strap that my niece, Lucy, gave me. Not the Blancpain with its oversized black face and ceramic bezel, which also is from her, because she’s obsessed with timepieces, with anything technically complicated and expensive. Not pants but a skirt and heels, so I come across as nonthreatening and accessible, a trick I learned long ago in court. For some reason, jurors like to see my legs while I describe in graphic anatomical detail fatal wounds and the agonal last moments of a victim’s life. Briggs will be displeased with my choice in attire, but I reminded him during the Super Bowl last night when we were having drinks that a man shouldn’t tell a woman what to wear unless he’s Ralph Lauren.

The steam in my shower stall shifts, disturbed by a draft, and I think I hear someone. Instantly, I’m annoyed. It could be anyone, any military personnel, doctor or otherwise, whoever is authorized to be inside this highly classified facility and in need of a toilet or a disinfecting or a change of clothes. I think about colleagues I was just with in the main autopsy room and have a feeling it’s Captain Avallone again. She was an unavoidable presence much of the morning during the CT scan, as if I don’t know how to do one after all this, and she drifted like ground fog around my work station the rest of the day. It’s probably she who’s just come in. Then I’m sure, because it’s always her, and I feel a clenching of resentment.
Go away.

“Dr. Scarpetta?” her familiar voice calls out, a voice that is bland and lacking in passion and seems to follow me everywhere. “You have a phone call.”

“I just got in,” I shout over the loud spatter of water.

It’s my way of telling her to leave me be.
A little privacy, please.
I don’t want to see Captain Avallone or anyone right now, and it has nothing to do with being naked.

“Sorry, ma’am. But Pete Marino needs to talk to you.” Her unemphatic voice moves closer.

“He’ll have to wait,” I yell.

“He says it’s important.”

“Can you ask him what he wants?”

“He just says it’s important, ma’am.”

I promise to get back to him shortly, and I probably sound rude but despite my best intentions, I can’t always be charming. Pete Marino is an investigator I’ve worked with half my life. I hope nothing terrible has happened back home. No, he would make sure I knew if there was a real emergency, if something was wrong with my husband, Benton; with Lucy; or if there was a major problem at the Cambridge Forensic Center, which I’ve been appointed to head. Marino would do more than simply ask someone to let me know he’s on the phone and it’s important. This is nothing more than his usual poor impulse control, I decide. When he thinks a thought, he feels he must share it with me instantly.

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