Flesh and blood a scarpe.., p.1
Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel (Scarpetta Novels Book 22), p.1Patricia Cornwell
Wisdom entereth not into a malicious mind, and science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.
—FRANÇOIS RABELAIS, 1532
About the Author
Also by Patricia Cornwell
About the Publisher
To Kay Scarpetta
Sunday, May 11
(11:43 P.M. to be exact)
A little verse I penned just for you. Happy Mother’s Day, Kay!!!!
(do turn the page please . . . )
The light is coming
And the dark
(& think you saw)
Is gone gone gone!
ments of shat-
and the Hangman leaves invisibly
Lust seeks its own level Dr. Death
an eye for an eye
a theft for a theft
an erotic dream of your dying breath
Pennies for your thoughts
Keep the change
watch the clock!
Tick Tock Doc!
JUNE 12, 2014
COPPER FLASHES LIKE SHARDS of aventurine glass on top of the old brick wall behind our house. I envision ancient pastel stucco workshops with red tile roofs along the Rio dei Vetrai canal, and fiery furnaces and blowpipes as maestros shape molten glass on marvers. Careful not to spill, I carry two espressos sweetened with agave nectar.
I hold the delicate curved handles of the mouth-blown cristallo cups, simple and rock crystal clear, the memory of finding them on the Venetian island of Murano a happy one. The aromas of garlic and charred peppers follow me outside as the screen door shuts with a soft thud. I detect the aromatic bright scent of fresh basil leaves I tore with my bare hands. It’s the best of mornings. It couldn’t be better.
My special salad has been mixed, the juices, herbs and spices mingling and saturating chunks of mantovana I baked on a stone days earlier. The olive oil bread is best slightly stale when used in panzanella, which like pizza was once the food of the poor whose ingenuity and resourcefulness transformed scraps of focaccia and vegetables into un’abbondanza. Imaginative savory dishes invite and reward improvisation, and this morning I added the thinly sliced core of fennel, kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper. I used sweet onions instead of red ones and added a hint of mint from the sunporch where I grow herbs in large terra-cotta olive jars I found years ago in France.
Pausing on the patio, I check the grill. Rising heat wavers, the lighter fluid and bag of briquettes a cautious distance away. My FBI husband Benton isn’t much of a cook but he knows how to light a good fire and is meticulous about safety. The neat pile of smoldering orange coals is coated in white ash. The swordfish filets can go on soon. Then my hedonistic preoccupations are abruptly interrupted as my attention snaps back to the wall.
I realize what I’m seeing is pennies. I try to recall if they were there earlier when it was barely dawn and I took out our greyhound, Sock. He was stubborn and clingy and I was unusually distracted. My mind was racing in multiple directions, powered by a euphoric anticipation of a Tuscan brunch before boarding a plane in Boston, and a sensual fog was burning off after an indulgent mindless rousing from bed where all that mattered was pleasure. I hardly remember taking out our dog. I hardly remember any details about being with him in the dimly lit dewy backyard.
So it’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have noticed the bright copper coins or anything else that might indicate an uninvited visitor has been on our property. I feel a chill at the edge of my thoughts, a dark shadow that’s unsettling. I’m reminded of what I don’t want to think about.
You’ve already left for vacation while you’re still here. And you know better.
My thoughts return to the kitchen, to the blue steel Rohrbaugh 9 mm in its pocket holster on the counter by the stove. Lightweight with laser grips, the pistol goes where I do even when Benton is home. But I’ve not had a single thought about guns or security this morning. I’ve freed my mind from micromanaging the deliveries to my headquarters throughout the night, discreetly pouched in black and transported in my windowless white trucks, five dead patients silently awaiting their appointments with the last physicians who will ever touch them on this earth.
I’ve avoided the usual dangerous, tragic, morbid realities and I know better.
Then I argue it away. Someone is playing a game with pennies. That’s all.
OUR NINETEENTH-CENTURY CAMBRIDGE HOUSE is on the northern border of the Harvard campus, around the corner from the Divinity School and across from the Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have our share of people who take shortcuts through our property. It’s not fenced in and the wall is more an ornamental ruin than a barrier. Children love to climb over it and hide behind it.
Probably one of them with too much time on his hands now that school is out.
“Did you notice what’s on our wall?” I make my way across sun-dappled grass, reaching the stone bench encircling the magnolia tree where Benton has been reading the paper while I prepare brunch.
“Notice what?” he asks.
Sock is stretched out near his feet, watching me accusingly. He knows exactly what’s in store for him. The instant I pulled out luggage late last night and began an inventory of tennis equipment and scuba gear he settled into a funk, an emotional hole he digs for himself, only this time it’s deeper. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to cheer him up.
“Pennies.” I hand Benton an espresso ground from whole beans, a robust sweetened stimulant that makes both of us very hungry for all things of the flesh.
He tests it carefully with the tip of his tongue.
“Did you see someone put them there?” I ask. “What about when you were lighting the grill? Were the pennies there then?”
“I didn’t notice and I’ve not seen anyone. They certainly weren’t put there while I’ve been out here,” he says. “How much longer for the coals?” It’s his way of asking if he did a good job. Like anyone else, he enjoys praise.
“They’re perfect. Thank you. Let’s give them maybe fifteen more minutes,” I reply as he returns to a story he’s reading about the dramatic rise in credit card fraud.
MIDMORNING SLANTED SUNLIGHT POLISHES his hair bright silver, a little longer than usual, falling low on his brow and curling up in back.
I can see the fine lines on his sharply handsome face, pleasant creases from smiling, and the cleft in his strong chin. His tapered hands are elegant and beautiful, the hands of a musician I always think whether he’s holding a newspaper, a book, a pen or a gun. I smell the subtle scent of his earthy aftershave as I lean over him to scan the story.
“I don’t know what these companies are going to do if it gets any worse.” I sip my espresso, unpleasantly reminded of my own recent brushes with cyber thieves. “The world is going to be bankrupted by criminals we can’t catch or see.”
“No surprise that using a keylogger has become rampant and harder to detect.” A page rustles as he turns it. “Someone gets your card number and makes purchases through PayPal-type accounts, often overseas and it’s untraceable. Not to mention malware.”
“I haven’t ordered anything on eBay in recent memory. I don’t do Craigslist or anything similar.” We’ve had this discussion repeatedly of late.
“I know how irritating it is. But it happens to other careful people.”
“It hasn’t happened to you.” I run my fingers through his thick soft hair, which turned platinum before I knew him, when he was very young.
“You shop more than I do,” he says.
“Not hardly. You and your fine suits, silk ties and expensive shoes. You see what I wear every day. Cargo pants. Scrubs. Rubber surgical clogs. Boots. Except when I go to court.”
“I’m envisioning you dressed for court. Are you wearing a skirt, that fitted pin-striped one with the slit in back?”
“And sensible pumps.”
“The word sensible is incompatible with what I’m fantasizing about.” He looks up at me, and I love the slender muscularity of his neck.
I trace the second cervical vertebra down to C7, gently, slowly digging my fingertips into the Longus colli muscle, feeling him relax, sensing his mood turning languid as he floats in a sensation of physical pleasure. He says I’m his Kryptonite and it’s true. I can hear it in his voice.
“My point?” he says. “It’s impossible to keep up with all of the malicious programs out there that record keystrokes and transmit the information to hackers. It can be as simple as opening an infected file attached to an email. You make it hard for me to think.”
“With the antispyware programs, one-time passwords, and firewalls Lucy implements to protect our server and email accounts? How could a keylogger get downloaded? And I intend to make it hard for you to think. As hard as possible.”
Caffeine and agave nectar are having their effect. I remember the feel of his skin, his sinewy leanness as he shampooed my hair in the shower, massaging my scalp and neck, touching me until it was unbearable. I’ve never tired of him. It’s not possible I could.
“Software can’t scan malware it doesn’t recognize,” he says.
“I don’t believe that’s the explanation.”
My techno-genius niece Lucy would never allow such a violation of the computer system she programs and maintains at my headquarters, the Cambridge Forensics Center, the CFC. It’s an uncomfortable fact that she is far more likely to be the perpetrator of malware and hacking than the victim of it.
“As I’ve said what probably happened is someone got hold of your card at a restaurant or in a store.” Benton turns another page and I trace the straight bridge of his nose, the curve of his ear. “That’s what Lucy thinks.”
“Four times since March?” But I’m thinking of our shower, the shiny white subway tile and the sounds of water falling, splashing loudly in different intensities and rhythms as we moved.
“And you also let Bryce use it when he places orders for you over the phone. Not that he would do anything reckless, at least not intentionally. But I wish you wouldn’t. He doesn’t understand reality the way we do.”
“He sees the worst things imaginable every day,” I reply.
“That doesn’t mean he understands. Bryce is naïve and trusting in a way we aren’t.”
The last time I asked my chief of staff to make a purchase with my credit card was a month ago when he sent gardenias to my mother for Mother’s Day. The most recent report of fraud was yesterday. I seriously doubt it’s related to Bryce or my mother, although it would fit neatly with the history of my dysfunctional familial world if my good deed were punished beyond my mother’s usual complaints and comparisons to my sister Dorothy, who would be in prison if being a self-consumed narcissist were a crime.
The gardenia topiary was an insensitive slight, since my mother has gardenias in her yard. It’s like sending ice to Eskimos. Dorothy sent the prettiest red roses with baby’s breath, my mother’s words exactly. Never mind that I went to the trouble to send her favorite flowering plant and unlike cut roses the topiary is alive.
“Well it’s frustrating and of course my replacement card will get here while we’re in Florida,” I remark to Benton. “So I leave home without it and that’s not a good way to start your vacation.”
“You don’t need it. I’ll treat.”
He usually does anyway. I make a good living but Benton is an only child and has old family money, a lot of it. His father, Parker Wesley, shrewdly invested an inherited fortune in commodities that included buying and selling fine art. Masterpieces by Miró, Whistler, Pissarro, Modigliani, Renoir and others for a while would hang in the Wesley home, and he also acquired and sold vintage cars and rare manuscripts, none of which he ultimately kept. It was all about knowing when to let go. Benton has a similar perspective and temperament. What he also absorbed from his New England roots are shrewd logic and a Yankee steely resolve that can endure hard work and discomfort without flinching.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to live well or gives a damn what people think. Benton isn’t ostentatious or wasteful but he does what he wants, and I scan our beautifully landscaped property and the back of our antique frame house, recently repainted, the timber siding smoky blue with granite gray shutters. The roof is dark slate tile with two dusky redbrick chimneys, and some of the windows have the original wavy glass. We would live a perfectly charmed and privileged existence were it not for our professions, and my attention returns to the small copper coins not far from us, flaring in the sun.
Sock is perfectly still in the grass, eyes open and watching my every move as I step closer to the wall and smell the perfume of English roses, apricot and pink with warm shades of yellow. The thick thriving bushes are halfway up the vintage bricks, and it pleases me that the tea roses are also doing especially well this spring.
The seven Lincoln pennies are heads up, all of them 1981, and that’s peculiar. They’re more than thirty years old and look newly minted. Maybe they’re fake. I think of the date. Lucy’s date. Her birth year. And today is my birthday.
I scan the old brick wall, some fifty feet in length and five feet high, what I poetically think of as a wrinkle in time, a wormhole connecting us to dimensions beyond, a portal between us and them, our lives now and the past. What’s left of our wall has become a metaphor for our attempts at barricading ourselves from anyone who might want to harm us. It’s really not possible if someone is determined enough, and a sensation flutters inside my mind, deep and unreachable. A memory. A buried or scarcely formed one.
THE RANGE OF OUR security cameras doesn’t include the far corners of the wall, which leans slightly and terminates in limestone pillars completely overtaken by ivy.
In the early 1800s when our house was built by a wealthy transcendentalist, the estate was an entire block surrounded by a serpentine wall. What’s left is a crumbling brick segment, and half an acre with a narrow driveway of pavers and a detached garage that originally was a carriage house. Whoever left the pennies probably won’t have been caught on video and I feel the same uneasiness again, a remnant of what I can’t recall.
“They look polished,” I add. “Obviously they are unless they’re not real.”
“Neighborhood kids,” Benton says.
His amber eyes watch me over the top of the Boston Globe, a smile playing on his lips. He’s in jeans and loafers, a Red Sox windbreaker on, and he sets down his espresso and the paper, gets up from the bench and walks over to me. Wrapping his arms around my waist from behind, he kisses my ear, resting his chin on top of my head.
“If life were always this good,” he says, “maybe I’d retire, say the hell with playing cops and robbers anymore.”
“You wouldn’t. And if only that was what you really played. We should eat fairly soon and get ready to head to the airport.”
Flesh and Blood: A Scarpetta Novel (Scarpetta Novels Book 22) by Patricia Cornwell / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes