A Kay Scarpetta Mystery
After The Fact
THE COLD DUSK GIVES UP ITS BRUISED COLOR TO complete darkness, and I am grateful that the draperies in my bedroom are heavy enough to absorb even the faintest hint of my silhouette as I move about packing my bags. Life could not be more abnormal than it is right now.
"I want a drink," I announce as I open a dresser drawer. "I want to build a fire and have a drink and make pasta. Yellow and green broad noodles, sweet peppers, sausage. Le pappare-delle del cantunzein. I've always wanted to take a sabbatical, go to Italy, learn Italian, really learn it. Speak it. Not just know the names of food. Or maybe France. I will go to France. Maybe I'll go there right this minute," I add with a double edge of helplessness and rage. "I could live in Paris. Easily." It is my way of rejecting Virginia and everybody in it.
Richmond Police Captain Pete Marino dominates my bedroom like a thick lighthouse, his giant hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. He doesn't offer to help me pack the suit bag and tote bags laid open on the bed, knowing me well enough to not even think about it. Marino may look like a red-
neck, talk like a redneck, act like a redneck, but he is as smart as hell, sensitive and very perceptive. This very moment, for example, he realizes a simple fact: Not even twenty-four hours ago, a man named Jean-Baptiste Chandonne tracked through snow beneath a full moon and tricked his way into my house. I was already intimately familiar with Chandonne's modus operandi, so I can safely project what he would have done to me given the chance. But I haven't quite been able to subject myself to anatomically correct images of my own mauled dead body, and nobody could more accurately describe such a thing than I. I am a forensic pathologist with a law degree, the chief medical examiner of Virginia. I autop-sied the two women Chandonne recently killed here in Richmond and reviewed the cases of seven others he murdered in Paris.
Safer for me to say what he did to those victims, which was to savagely beat them, to bite their breasts, hands and feet, and to play with their blood. He doesn't always use the same weapon. Last night, he was armed with a chipping hammer, a peculiar tool used in masonry. It looks very much like a pickaxe. I know for a fact what a chipping hammer can do to a human body because Chandonne used a chipping hammer_the same one, I presume_on Diane Bray, his second Richmond victim, the policewoman he murdered two days ago, on Thursday.
"What day is it?" I ask Captain Marino. "Saturday, isn't it?"
"December eighteenth. One week before Christmas. Happy holidays." I unzip a side pocket of the suit bag.
"Yeah, December eighteenth."
He watches me as if I am someone who might spring into irrationality any second, his bloodshot eyes reflecting a wariness that pervades my house. Distrust is palpable in the air. I taste it like dust. I smell it like ozone. I feel it like dampness. The wet swishing of tires on the street, the discord of feet, of voices and radio chatter are a disharmony from hell as law enforcement continues its occupation of my property. I am violated. Every inch of my home is exposed, every facet of my life is laid bare. I may as well be a naked body on one of my own steel tables in the morgue. So Marino knows not to ask if he can help me pack. Oh yes, he sure as hell knows he better dare not even think about touching a damn thing, not a shoe, not a sock, not a hairbrush, not a bottle of shampoo, not the smallest item. Police have asked me to leave the sturdy stone house of dreams I built in my quiet, gated West End neighborhood. Imagine that. I am quite certain Jean-Baptiste Chandonne_Le Loup-Garou or The Werewolf, as he calls himself_is getting better treatment than I am. The law provides people like him with every human right conceivable: comfort, confidentiality, free room, free food and drink, and free medical care in the forensic ward of the Medical College of Virginia, where I am a member of the faculty.
Marino hasn't bathed or been to bed in at least twenty-four hours. When I move past him, I smell Chandonne's hideous body odor and am stabbed by nausea, a burning wrenching of my stomach that locks my brain and causes me to break out in a cold sweat. I straighten up and take a deep breath to dispel the olfactory hallucination as my attention is drawn beyond the windows to the slowing of a car. I have come to recognize the subtlest pause in traffic and know when it will become someone parking out front. It is a rhythm I have listened to for hours. People gawk. Neighbors rubberneck and stop in the middle of the road. I reel in an uncanny intoxication of emotions, one minute bewildered and then frightened the next. I swing from exhaustion to mania, from depression to tranquil-ity, and beneath it all, excitement fizzes as if my blood is filled with gas.
A car door shuts out front. "Now what?" I complain. "Who this time? The FBI?" I open another drawer. "Marino, that's it." I gesture with a fuck-you wave of my hands. "Get them out of my house, all of them. Now." Fury shimmers like mirages on hot blacktop. "So I can finish packing and get the hell out of here. Can't they just leave long enough for me to get out?" My hands shake as I pick through socks. "It's bad enough they're in my yard." I toss a pair of socks in the tote bag. "It's bad enough they're here at all." Another pair. "They can come back when I leave." And I throw another pair and miss, and stoop over to pick it up. "They can at least let me walk through my own house." Another pair. "And let me get out in peace and privacy." I put a pair back in the drawer. "Why the hell are they in my kitchen?" I change my mind and get out the socks I just put back. "Why are they in my study? I told them he didn't go in there."
"We gotta look around, Doc," is what Marino has to say about it.
He sits down on the foot of my bed, and that is wrong, too. I want to tell him to get off my bed and out of my room. It is all I can do not to order him out of my house and possibly out of my life. It doesn't matter how long I have known him or how much we have been through together.
"How's the elbow, Doc?" He indicates the cast that immobilizes my left arm like a stovepipe.
"It's fractured. It hurts like hell." I shut the drawer too hard.
'Taking your medicine?"
He watches my every move. "You need to be taking that stuff they gave you."
We have suddenly reversed roles. I act like the rude cop while he is logical and calm like the lawyer-physician I am supposed to be. I walk back into the cedar-lined closet and begin gathering blouses and laying them in the suit bag, making sure top buttons are buttoned, smoothing silk and polished cotton with my right hand. My left elbow throbs like a toothache, my flesh sweating and itching inside plaster. I spent most of the day in the hospital_not that getting a cast put on a fractured limb is a lengthy procedure, but doctors insisted on checking me very carefully to make sure I didn't have other injuries. I repeatedly explained that when I fled from my house, I fell down my front steps and fractured my elbow, nothing more. Jean-Baptiste Chandonne never had a chance to touch me. I got away and am okay, I kept saying during X ray after X ray. Hospital staff held me for observation until late afternoon and detectives were in and out of the examination room. They took my clothes. My niece, Lucy, had to bring me something to wear. I have had no sleep.