Excerpt of Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell
(Page 3 of 5)
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His jaw muscles were clenching, his face bright red and dripping sweat.
"You know, you -don't make a dime in this business unless things are
moving," he went on. "And not a darn thing's moved for more than
two and a half hours." He was working so hard not to swear around me.
"Not that I'm not sorry about someone being dead," he went on.
"But I sure would like you folks to do your business and leave."
He scowled up at the sky again. "And that includes the media."
"Mr. Shaw, what was being shipped inside the container?" I
asked him. "German camera equipment. You should know the seal on the
container's latch -wasn't broken. So it appears the cargo -wasn't tampered
"Did the foreign shipper affix the seal?"
"Meaning the body, alive or dead, most likely was inside the
container before it was sealed?" I said.
"That's what it looks like. The number matches the one on the entry
filed by the customs broker, nothing the least out of the ordinary. In fact,
this cargo's already been released by Customs. Was five days ago," Shaw
told me. "Which is why it was loaded straight on a chassis. Then we got
a whiff and no way that container was going anywhere." I looked around,
taking in the entire scene at once. A light breeze clinked heavy chains
against cranes that had been offloading steel beams from the Euroclip, three
hatches at a time, when all activity stopped. Forklifts and flatbed trucks
had been abandoned. Dockworkers and crew had nothing to do and kept their
eyes on us from the tarmac. Some looked on from the bows of their ships and
through the windows of deckhouses. Heat rose from -oil---stained asphalt
scattered with wooden frames, spacers and skids, and a CSX train clanked and
scraped through a crossing beyond the warehouses. The smell of creosote was
strong but could not mask the stench of rotting human flesh that drifted
like smoke on the air.
"Where did the ship set sail from?" I asked Shaw as I noticed a
marked car parking next to my Mercedes.
"Antwerp, Belgium, two weeks ago," he replied as he looked at
the Sirius and the Euroclip. "Foreign flag vessels like all the rest we
get. The only American flags we see anymore are if someone raises one as a
courtesy," he added with a trace of disappointment. A man on the
Euroclip was standing by the starboard side, looking back at us with
binoculars. I thought it strange he was dressed in long sleeves and long
pants, as warm as it was.
Shaw squinted. "Darn, this sun is bright." "What about
stowaways?" I asked. "Although I -can't imagine anyone choosing to
hide inside a locked container for two weeks on high seas."
"Never had one that I know of. Besides, -we're not the first port of
call. Chester, Pennsylvania, is. Most of our ships go from Antwerp to
Chester to here, and then straight back to Antwerp. A stowaway's most likely
going to bail out in Chester instead of waiting till he gets to Richmond.
-"We're a niche port, Dr. Scarpetta," Shaw went on. I watched
in disbelief as Pete Marino climbed out of the cruiser that had just parked
next to my car.
"Last year, maybe a hundred and twenty oceangoing ships and barges
called in the port," Shaw was saying.
Marino had been a detective as long as -I'd known him. I had never seen
him in uniform. "If it were me and I was trying to jump ship or was an
illegal alien, I think -I'd want to end up in some really big port like
Miami or L.A. where I could get lost in the shuffle." Anderson walked
up to us, chewing gum.
"Point is, we -don't break the seal and open them up unless we
suspect something illegal, drugs, undeclared cargo," Shaw continued.
"Every now and then we preselect a ship for a full shakedown search to
keep people honest."
Reprinted from Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell by
permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright
© 1999 by Cornwell Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or
any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.