ALSO BY PATRICIA CORNWELL
THE SCARPETTA NOVELS
Body of Evidence
All That Remains
Cruel and Unusual
The Body Farm
From Potter’s Field
Cause of Death
Point of Origin
The Last Precinct
Book of the Dead
The Scarpetta Factor
ANDY BRAZIL SERIES
Isle of Dogs
WIN GARANO SERIES
Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed
Ruth, a Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham
Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta’s Kitchen
Life’s Little Fable
Scarpetta’s Winter Table
A NOTE TO MY READERS
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.
You have to live with me
while I live it—
Inside 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.