"Tell him to take a number and wait in line." Marino sticks to his deli-line allusion.
He lights the cigarette as I open the front door, and cold air bites my face and makes my eyes water. "Did you get my crime scene case?" I ask him.
"It's in the truck." He says this like a condescending husband who has been asked to fetch his wife's pocketbook.
"Why's Righter calling?" I want to know.
"Bunch of fucking voyeurs," he mutters.
Marino's truck is on the street out front and two massive tires have chewed tracks into my snowy churned-up lawn. Buford Righter and I have worked many cases together over the years and it stings that he did not ask me directly if he could come to my house. He has not, for that matter, contacted me to see how I am and let me know he is glad I am alive.
"You ask me, people just want to see your joint," Marino says. "So they give these excuses about needing to check this and that."
Slush seeps into my shoes as I carefully make my way along the driveway.
"You got no idea how many people ask me what your house is like. You'd think you was Lady Di or something. Plus, Righter's got his nose in everything, can't stand to be left out of the loop. Biggest fucking case since Jack the Ripper. Righter's bugging the hell out of us."
Flash guns suddenly explode in bright white stutters and I almost slip. I swear out loud. Photographers have gotten past the neighborhood guard gate. Three of them hurry toward me in a blaze of flashes as I struggle with one arm to climb into the truck's high front seat.
"Hey!" Marino yells at the nearest offender, a woman. "Goddamn bitch!" He lunges, trying to block her camera, and her feet go out from under her. She sits down hard on the slick street, camera equipment thudding and scattering.
"Fuckhead!" she screams at him. "Fuckhead!"
"Get in the truck! Get in the truck!" Marino yells at me.
My heart drills my ribs.
"I'm going to sue you, motherfucker!"
More flashes and I shut my coat in the door and have to open it again and shut it again while Marino shoves my bags in back and jumps into the driver's seat, the engine turning over and rumbling like a yacht. The photographer is trying to get up, and it occurs to me I ought to make sure she isn't injured. "We should see if she's hurt," I say, staring out the side window.
"Hell no. Fuck no." The truck lurches onto the street, fishtails and accelerates.
"Who are they?" Adrenaline pumps. Blue dots float before my eyes.
"Assholes. That's who." He snatches up the hand mike. "Unit nine," he announces over the air.
"Unit nine," the dispatcher comes back.
"I don't need pictures of me, my house . . ." I raise my voice. Every cell in my body lights up to protest the unfairness of it all.
"Ten-five unit three-twenty, ask him to call me on my portable." Marino holds the mike against his mouth. Unit three-twenty gets back to him right away, the portable phone vibrating like a huge insect. Marino flips it open and talks. "Somehow the media's gotten in the neighborhood. Photographers. I'm thinking they parked somewhere in Windsor Farms, came in on foot over the fence, through that open grassy area behind the guard booth. Send units to look for any cars parked where they shouldn't be and tow 'em. They step foot on the Doc's property, arrest 'em." He ends the call, flipping the phone shut as if he is Captain Kirk and has just ordered the Enterprise to attack.
We slow down at the guard booth and Joe steps out. He is an old man who has always been proud to wear his brown Pinkerton's uniform, and he is very nice, polite and protective, but I would not want to depend on him or his colleagues for more than nuisance control. It shouldn't surprise me a bit that Chandonne got inside my neighborhood or that now the media has. Joe's slack, wrinkled face turns uneasy when he notices me sitting inside the truck.
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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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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