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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"Whenever I was at the range last. Months at least."

"You always clean your guns after you go to the range, don't you, Doc." This is a statement, not an inquiry. Marino knows my habits and routines.

"Yes." I am standing in the middle of my bedroom, blinking. I have a headache and the lights hurt my eyes.

"You looked at the gun, Calloway? I mean, you've examined it, right?" He fixes her in his laser sight again. "So what's the deal?" He flaps a hand at her as if she is a stupid nuisance. "Tell me what you found."

She hesitates. I sense she doesn't want to give out information in front of me. Marino's question hangs heavy like moisture about to precipitate. I decide on two skirts, one navy blue, one gray, and drape them over the chair.

"There are fourteen rounds in the magazine," Calloway tells him in a robotic military tone. "There wasn't one in the chamber. It wasn't cocked. And it looks clean."

"Well, well. Then it wasn't cocked and she didn't shoot it. And it was a dark and stormy night and three Indians sat around a campfire. We want to go round and round, or can we fucking move along?" He is sweating and his body odor rises with his heat.

"Look, there's nothing new to add," I say, suddenly on the verge of tears, cold and trembling and smelling Chandonne's awful stench again.

"And why was it you had the jar in your home? And what exactly was in it? That stuff you use in the morgue, right?" Calloway positions herself to take Marino out of her sight line.

"Formalin. A ten percent dilution of formaldehyde known as formalin," I say. "It's used in the morgue to fix tissue, yes. Sections of organs. Skin, in this case."

I dashed a caustic chemical into the eyes of another human being. I maimed him. Maybe I permanently blinded him. I imagine him strapped to a bed on the ninth-floor prison ward of the Medical College of Virginia. I saved my own life and feel no satisfaction in that fact. All I feel is ruined.

"So you had human tissue in your house. The skin. A tattoo. From that unidentified body at the port? The one in the cargo container?" The sound of Calloway's voice, of her pen, of pages flipping, reminds me of reporters. "I don't mean to be dense, but why would you have something like that at your house?"

I go on to explain that we have had a very difficult time identifying the body from the port. We had nothing beyond a tattoo, really, and last week I drove to Petersburg and had an experienced tattoo artist look at the tattoo from my case. I came directly home afterward, which is why the tattoo in its jar of formalin happened to be in my house last night. "Ordinarily, I wouldn't have something like that in my house," I add.

"You kept it at your house for a week?" she asks with a dubious expression.

"A lot was happening. Kim Luong was murdered. My niece was almost killed in a shoot-out in Miami. I was called out of the country, to Lyon, France. Interpol wanted to see me, wanted to talk about seven women he"-I mean Chandonne-"probably murdered in Paris and the suspicion that the dead man in the cargo container might be Thomas Chandonne, the brother, the killer's brother, both of them sons of this Chandonne criminal cartel that half of law enforcement in the universe has been trying to bring down forever. Then Deputy Police Chief Diane Bray was murdered. Should I have returned the tattoo to the morgue?" My head pounds. "Yes, I certainly should have. But I was distracted. I just forgot." I almost snap at her.

"You just forgot," Officer Calloway repeats while Marino listens with gathering fury, trying to let her do her job and despising her at the same time. "Dr. Scarpetta, do you have other body parts in your house?" Calloway then asks.

A stabbing pain penetrates my right eye. I am getting a migraine.

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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