Excerpt from The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Precinct

By Patricia Cornwell

The Last Precinct
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2000,
    432 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2001,
    480 pages.

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A uniformed officer whose nameplate reads M. I. Calloway steps inside my bedroom. "I'm sorry," she addresses Marino right off. "Captain, I didn't know you were back here."

"Well, now you know." He gives her a black look.

"Dr. Scarpetta?" Her wide eyes are like Ping-Pong balls, bouncing back and forth between Marino and me. "I need to ask you about the jar. Where the jar of the chemical, the formulin . . ."

"Formalin," I quietly correct her.

"Right," she says. "Exactly, I mean, where exactly was the jar when you picked it up?"

Marino remains on the bed, as if he makes himself at home on the foot of my bed every day of his life. He starts feeling for his cigarettes.

"The coffee table in the great room," I answer Calloway. "I've already told everybody that."

"Yes, ma'am, but where on the coffee table? It's a pretty big coffee table. I'm really sorry to bother you with all this. It's just we're trying to reconstruct how it all happened, because later it's only going to get harder to remember."

Marino slowly shakes a Lucky Strike loose from the pack. "Calloway?" He doesn't even look at her. "Since when are you a detective? Don't seem I remember you being in A Squad." He is the head of the Richmond Police Department's violent crime unit known as A Squad.

"We just aren't sure where the jar was, Captain." Her cheeks burn.

The cops probably assumed a woman coming back here to question me would be less intrusive than a male. Perhaps her comrades sent her back here for that reason, or maybe it was simply that she got the assignment because no one else wanted to tangle with me.

"When you walk into the great room and face the coffee table, it's the right corner of the table closest to you," I say to her. I have been through this many times. Nothing is clear. What happened is a blur, an unreal torquing of reality.

"And that's approximately where you were standing when you threw the chemical on him?" Calloway asks me.

"No. I was on the other side of the couch. Near the sliding glass door. He was chasing me and that's where I ended up," I explain.

"And after that you ran directly out of the house . . . ?" Calloway scratches through something she is writing on her small memo pad.

"Through the dining room," I interrupt her. "Where my gun was, where I happened to have set it on the dining room table earlier in the evening. Not a good place to leave it, I admit." My mind meanders. I feel as if I have severe jet lag. "I hit the panic alarm and went out the front door. With the gun, the Glock. But I slipped on ice and fractured my elbow. I couldn't pull the slide back, not with just one hand."

She writes this down, too. My story is tired and the same. If I have to tell it one more time, I might become irrational, and no cop on this planet has ever seen me irrational.

"You never fired it?" She glances up at me and wets her lips.

"I couldn't cock it."

"You never tried to fire it?"

"I don't know what you mean by try. I couldn't cock it."

"But you tried to?"

"You need a translator or something?" Marino erupts. The ominous way he stares at M. I. Calloway reminds me of the red dot a laser sight marks on a person before a bullet follows. "The gun wasn't cocked and she didn't fire it, you got that?" he repeats slowly and rudely. "How many cartridges you have in the magazine?" He directs this to me. "Eighteen? It's a Glock Seventeen, takes eighteen in the mag, one in the chamber, right?"

"I don't know," I tell him. "Probably not eighteen, definitely not. It's hard to get that many rounds in it because the spring's stiff, the spring in the magazine."

"Right, right. You remember the last time you shot that gun?" he then asks me.

Reprinted The Last Precinct By Patricia Cornwell By Permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, A Member Of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (C) 2000 Patricia Cornwell. All Rights Reserved. This Excerpt, Or Any Parts Thereof, May Not Be Reproduced in Any Form Without Permission.

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