Excerpt of The Last Precinct by Patricia Cornwell
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I Know From Lucy's Voice That She Is Scared. Rarely is my brilliant, forceful, helicopter-piloting, fitness-obsessed, federal-law-enforcement-agent niece scared.
"I feel really bad," she continues to repeat herself over the phone as Marino maintains his position on my bed and I pace.
"You shouldn't," I tell her. "The police don't want anybody here, and believe me, you don't want to be here. I guess you're staying with Jo and that's good." I say this to her as if it makes no difference to me, as if it doesn't bother me that she is not here and I haven't seen her all day. It does make a difference. It does bother me. But it is my old habit to give people an out. I don't like to be rejected, especially by Lucy Farinelli, whom I have raised like a daughter.
She hesitates before answering. "Actually, I'm downtown at the Jefferson."
I try to make sense of this. The Jefferson is the grandest hotel in the city, and I don't know why she would go to a hotel at all, much less an elegant, expensive one. Tears sting my eyes and I force them back, clearing my throat, shoving down hurt. "Oh," is all I say. "Well, that's good. I guess Jo's with you at the hotel, then."
"No, with her family. Look, I just checked in. I've got a room for you. Why don't I come get you?"
"A hotel's probably not a good idea right now." She thought of me and wants me with her. I feel a little better. "Anna's asked me to stay with her. In light of everything, I think it's best for me to go on to her house. She's invited you, too. But I guess you're settled."
"How did Anna know?" Lucy inquires. "She hear about it on the news?"
Since the attempt on my life happened at a very late hour, it won't be in the newspapers until tomorrow morning. But I expect there has been a storm of news breaks over the radio and on television. I don't know how Anna knew, now that I think about it. Lucy says she needs to stay put but will try to drop by later tonight. We hang up.
"The media finds out you're in a hotel, that's all you need. They'll be behind every bush," Marino says with a hard frown, looking like hell. "Where's Lucy staying?"
I repeat what she told me and almost wish I hadn't talked to her. All it did was make me feel worse. Trapped, I feel trapped, as if I am inside a diving bell a thousand feet under the sea, detached, light-headed, the world beyond me suddenly unrecognizable and surreal. I am numb yet every nerve is on fire.
"The Jefferson?" Marino is saying. "You gotta be kidding! She win the lottery or something? She not worried about the media finding her, too? What the shit's gotten into her?"
I resume packing. I can't answer his questions. I am so tired of questions.
"And she ain't at Jo's house. Huh," he goes on, "that's interesting. Huh. Never thought that would last." He yawns loudly and rubs his thick-featured, stubbly face as he watches me drape suits over a chair, continuing to pick out clothes for the office. To give Marino credit, he has tried to be even-tempered, even considerate, since I got home from the hospital. Decent behavior is difficult for him given the best of circumstances, which certainly are not the ones he finds himself in at present. He is strung out, sleep-deprived and fueled by caffeine and junk food, and I won't allow him to smoke inside my house. It was simply a matter of time before his self-control began to erode and he stepped back into his rude, big-mouthed character. I witness the metamorphosis and am strangely relieved by it. I am desperate for things familiar, no matter how unpleasant. Marino starts talking about what Lucy did last night when she pulled up in front of the house and discovered Jean-Baptiste Chandonne and me in my snowy front yard.
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.