The narrow road led me through a vacant land of
weeds and woods that ended abruptly at a security checkpoint. I felt as if I
were crossing the border into an unfriendly country. Beyond was a train yard
and hundreds of -boxcar---size orange containers stacked three and four
high. A guard who took his job very seriously stepped outside his booth. I
rolled down my window.
"May I help you, ma'am?" he asked in a flat military tone.
"I'm Dr. Kay Scarpetta," I replied.
"And who are you here to see?"
"I'm here because there's been a death," I explained. "I'm
the medical examiner." I showed him my credentials. He took them from
me and studied them carefully. I had a feeling he -didn't know what a
medical examiner was and -wasn't about to ask.
"So -you're the chief," he said, handing the worn black wallet
back to me. "The chief of what?"
"I'm the chief medical examiner of Virginia," I replied.
"The police are waiting for me." He stepped back inside his booth
and got on the phone as my impatience grew. It seemed every time I needed to
enter a secured area, I went through this. I used to assume my being a woman
was the reason, and in earlier days this was probably true at least some of
the time. Now I believed the threats of terrorism, crime and lawsuits were
the explanation. The guard wrote down a description of my car and the plate
number. He handed me a clipboard so I could sign in and gave me a visitor's
pass, which I -didn't clip on.
"See that pine tree down there?" he said, pointing.
"I see quite a few pine trees." "The little bent one. Take
a left at it and just head on towards the water, ma'am," he said.
"Have a nice day."
I moved on, passing huge tires parked here and there and several red
brick buildings with signs out front to identify the U.S. Customs Service
and Federal Marine Terminal. The port itself was rows of huge warehouses
with orange containers lined up at loading docks like animals feeding from
troughs. Moored off the wharf in the James River were two container ships,
the Euroclip and the Sirius, each almost twice as long as a football field.
Cranes hundreds of feet high were poised above open hatches the size of
Yellow crime-scene tape anchored by traffic cones circled a container
that was mounted on a chassis. No one was nearby. In fact, I saw no sign of
police except for an unmarked blue Caprice at the edge of the dock apron,
the driver, apparently, behind the wheel talking through the window to a man
in a white shirt and a tie. Work had stopped. Stevedores in hard hats and
reflective vests looked bored as they drank sodas or bottled water or
I dialed my office and got Fielding on the phone.
"When were we notified about this body?" I asked him.
"Hold on. Let me check the sheet." Paper rustled. "At
exactly ten -fifty---three."
"And when was it found?"
"Uh, Anderson -didn't seem to know that."
"How the hell could she not know something like that?"
"Like I said, I think she's new."
"Fielding, there's not a cop in sight except for her, or at least I
guess that's her. What exactly did she say to you when she called in the
"DOA, decomposed, asked for you to come to the scene."
"She specifically requested me?" I asked.
"Well, hell. -You're always everybody's first choice. That's nothing
new. But she said Marino told her to get you to the scene."
"Marino?" I asked, surprised. "He told her to tell me to
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