Authors: Patricia Cornwell
Tags: #Women Sleuths, #General, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction
Body of Evidence
Kay Scapetta #2
Patricia D Cornwell
Dear M, Thirty days have passed in measured shades of sunlit color and changes in the wind. I think too much and do not dream.
Most afternoons I'm at Louie's writing on the porch and looking out at the sea. The water is mottled emerald green over the mosaic of sandbars, and aqua as it deepens. The sky goes on forever, clouds white puffs always moving like smoke. A constant breeze washes out the sounds of people swimming and sailboats anchoring just beyond the reef. The porch is covered and when a sudden storm whips up, as it often does late afternoon, I stay at my table smelling the rain and watching it turn the water nappy like fur rubbed the wrong way. Sometimes it pours and the sun shines at the same time.
Nobody bothers me. By now I am part of the restaurant's family, like Zulu, the black Lab who splashes after Frisbees, and the stray cats who silently wander up to politely wait for scraps. Louie's four-legged wards eat better than any human. It is a comfort to watch the world treat its creatures kindly. I cannot complain about my days.
It is the nights I dread.
When my thoughts creep back into dark crevices and spin their fearful webs I pitch myself into crowded Old Town streets, drawn to noisy bars like a moth to light. Walt and PJ have refined my nocturnal habits to an art. Walt returns to the rooming house first, at twilight because his silver jewelry business in Mallory Square grinds to a halt after dark. We open bottles of beer and wait for PJ. Then out we go, bar to bar, usually ending up at Sloppy Joe's. We are becoming inseparable. I hope the two of them will always be inseparable. Their love no longer seems out of the ordinary to me. Nothing does, except the death I see.
Men emaciated and wan, their eyes windows through which I see tormented souls. AIDS is a holocaust consuming the offerings of this small island. Odd I should feel at home with the exiled and the dying. I may be survived by all of them. When I lie awake at night listening to the whirring of the window fan I'm seized by images of how it will happen.
Every time I hear a telephone ring, I remember. Every time I hear someone walking behind me, I turn around. At night I look in my closet, behind the curtain and under my bed, then prop a chair in front of the door.
Dear God, I don't want to go home.
Beryl September 30 KEY WEST
Dear M, Yesterday at Louie's, Brent came out to the porch and said the phone was for me. My heart raced as I went inside and was answered by long distance static and the line going dead.
The way that made me feel! I've been telling myself I'm too paranoid. He would have said something, and delighted in my fear. It's impossible he knows where I am, impossible he could have tracked me here. One of the waiters is named Stu. He recently broke off with a friend up north, then moved here. Maybe his friend called and the connection was bad. It sounded like he asked for "Straw" instead of "Stu," and then when I answered he hung up.
I wish I had never told anyone my nickname. I am Beryl. I am Straw. I am frightened.
The book isn't finished. But I'm almost out of money, and the weather has turned. This morning it's dark and there's a fierce wind. I've stayed in my room because if I tried to work at Louie's the pages would blow out to sea. Streetlights have blinked on. Palm trees are struggling against the wind, fronds like inside-out umbrellas. The world moans outside my window like something wounded, and when the rain hits the glass it sounds as if a dark army has marched in and Key West is under siege.
I must leave soon. I will miss the island. I will miss PI and Walt. They have made me feel cared for and safe. I don't know what I'll do when I get back to Richmond. Perhaps I should move right away, but I don't know where I will go.
Returning the Key West letters to their manila folder, I got out a packet of surgical gloves, tucked it inside my black medical bag, and took the elevator down one floor to the morgue.
The tile hallway was damp from being mopped, the autopsy suite locked and closed for business. Diagonally across from the elevator was the stainless-steel refrigerator, and opening its massive door, I was greeted by the familiar blast of cold, foul air. I located the gurney inside without bothering to check toe tags, recognizing the slender foot protruding from a white sheet. I knew every inch of Beryl Madison.
Smoky-blue eyes stared dully from slitted lids, her face slack and marred with pale open cuts, most of them on the left side. Her neck was laid wide open to her spine, the strap muscles severed. Closely spaced over her left chest and breast were nine stab wounds spread open like large red buttonholes and almost perfectly vertical. They had been inflicted in rapid succession, one right after the other, the force so violent there were hilt marks in her skin. Cuts to her forearms and hands ranged from a quarter of an inch to four and a half inches in length. Counting two on her back, and excluding her stab wounds and cut throat, there were twenty-seven cutting injuries, all of them inflicted while she was attempting to ward off the slashing of a wide, sharp blade.
I would not need photographs or body diagrams. When I closed my eyes I could see Beryl Madison's face. I could see in sickening detail the violence inflicted upon her body. Her left lung was punctured four times. Her carotid arteries were almost transected. Her aortic arch, pulmonary artery, heart, and pericardial sac were penetrated. She was, for all practical purposes, dead by the time the madman almost decapitated her.
I was trying to make sense of it. Someone had threatened to murder her. She fled to Key West. She was terrified beyond reason. She did not want to die. The night she returned to Richmond it happened.
Why did you let him into your house! Why in God's name did you?
Rearranging the sheet, I returned the gumey to the others bearing bodies against the refrigerator's back wall. By this time tomorrow her body would be cremated, her ashes en route to California. Beryl Madison would have turned thirty-four next month. She had no living relatives, no one in this world, it seemed, except a half sister in Fresno. The heavy door sucked shut.
The tarmac of the parking lot behind the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner was warm and reassuring beneath my feet, and I could smell the creosote of nearby railroad trestles baking in the unseasonably warm sun. It was Halloween.
The bay door was open wide, one of my morgue assistants hosing off the concrete. He playfully arched water, slapping it close enough for me to feel mist around my ankles.
"Hey, Dr. Scarpetta, you keeping banker's hours now?" he called out.
It was a little past four-thirty. I rarely left the office before six.
"Need a lift somewhere?" he added.
"I've got a ride. Thanks," I answered.
I was born in Miami. I was no stranger to the part of the world where Beryl had hidden during the summer. When I closed my eyes I saw the colors of Key West. I saw bright greens and blues and sunsets so gaudy only God can get away with them. Beryl Madison should never have come home.
A brand-new LTD Crown Victoria, shining like black glass, slowly pulled into the lot. Expecting the familiar beat-up Plymouth, I was startled when the new Ford's window hummed open. "You waiting for the bus or what?"
Mirrored shades reflected my surprised face. Lieutenant Pete Marino was trying to look blase as electronic locks opened with a firm click.
"I'm impressed," I said, settling into the plush interior.
"Went with my promotion."
He revved the engine. "Not bad, huh?"
After years of broken-down dray horses, Marino had finally gotten himself a stallion. I noticed the hole in the dash as I got out my cigarettes.
"You been plugging in your bubble light or just your electric razor?"
"Oh, hell,' he complained. "Some drone swiped my lighter. At the car wash. I mean, I'd only had the car a day, you believe it? I take her in, right? Was too busy bitching after the fact, the brushes broke off the antenna, was giving the drones holy hell about that..."
Sometimes Marino reminded me of my mother.
"... wasn't until later I noticed the damn lighter gone."
He paused, digging in his pocket as I rummaged through my purse for matches.
"Yo, Chief, thought you was gonna quit smoking," he said rather sarcastically, dropping a Bic lighter in my lap.
"I am," I muttered. "Tomorrow."
The night Beryl Madison was murdered I was out enduring an overblown opera followed by drinks in an overrated English pub with a retired judge who became something less than honorable as the evening progressed. I wasn't wearing my pager. Unable to reach me, the police had summoned Fielding, my deputy chief, to the scene. This would be the first time I had been inside the slain author's house.
Windsor Farms was not the sort of neighborhood where one would expect anything so hideous to happen. Homes were large and set back from the street on impeccably landscaped lots. Most had burglar alarm systems, and all featured central air, eliminating the need for open windows. Money can't buy eternity, but it can buy a certain degree of security. I had never had a homicide case from the Farms.
"Obviously she had money from somewhere," I observed as Marino halted at a stop sign.
A snowy-haired woman walking her snowy Maltese squinted at us as the dog sniffed a tuft of grass, which was followed by the inevitable.
"What a worthless fuzz ball," he said, staring disdainfully at the woman and the dog moving on. "Hate mutts like that. Yap their damn heads off and piss all over the place. Gonna have a dog, ought to be something with teeth."
"Some people simply want company," I said.
He paused, then picked up on my earlier statement. "Beryl Madison had money, most of it tied up in her crib. Apparently whatever savings she had, she blew the dough down there in Queer West. We're still sorting through her paperwork."
"Had any of it been gone through?"
"Don't look like it," he replied. "Found out she didn't do half bad as a writer--bucks-wise. Appears she used several pen names. Adair Wilds, Emily Stratton, Edith Montague."
The mirrored shades turned my way again.
None of the names were familiar except Stratton. I said, "Her middle name is Stratton."
"Maybe accounting for her nickname, Straw."
"That and her blond hair," I remarked.
Beryl's hair was honey blond streaked gold by the sun. She was petite, with even, refined features. She may have been striking in life. It was hard to say. The only photograph from life I had seen was the one on her driver's license.
"When I talked to her half sister," Marino was explaining, "I found out Beryl was called Straw by the people she was close to. Whoever she was writing down there in the Keys, this person was aware of her nickname. That's the impression I get."
He adjusted the visor. "Can't figure why she Xeroxed those letters. Been chewing on that. I mean, how many people do you know who make photocopies of personal letters they write?"
"You've indicated she was an inveterate record keeper," I reminded him.
"Right. That's bugging me, too. Supposedly the squirrel's been threatening her for months. What'd he do? What'd he say? Don't know, because she didn't tape his calls or write nothing down. The lady makes photocopies of personal letters but don't keep a record when someone's threatening to whack her. Tell me if that makes sense."
"Not everybody thinks the way we do."
"Well, some people don't think because they're in the middle of something they don't want nobody to know about," he argued.
Pulling into a drive, he parked in front of the garage door. The grass was badly overgrown and spangled with tall dandelions swaying in the breeze, and there was a FOR SALE sign planted near the mailbox. Still tacked across the gray front door was a ribbon of yellow crime-scene tape.
"Her ride's inside the garage," Marino said as we got out. "A nice black Honda Accord EX. Some details about it you might find interesting."