His voice had more bite, his words more clipped. Benton's eyes burned with hate as he finally lifted them to me. "Carrie Grethen is mocking you, big chief. The FBI. Me," he went on.
"FIB," I muttered, and on another occasion, I might have found this funny.
Wesley stood and draped the towel over a shoulder.
"Let's say it's her," I started in again.
"It is." He had no doubt.
"Okay. Then there's more to this than mockery, Benton."
"Of course. She's making sure we don't forget that she and Lucy were lovers, something the general public doesn't know yet," he said. "The obvious point is, Carrie Grethen hasn't finished ruining people's lives."
I could not stand to hear her name, and it enraged me that she was now, this moment, inside my West End home. She might as well be sitting at my breakfast table with us, curdling the air with her foul, evil presence. I envisioned her condescending smile and blazing eyes and wondered what she looked like now after five years of steel bars and socializing with the criminally insane. Carrie was not crazy. She had never been that. She was a character disorder, a psychopath, a violent entity with no conscience.
I looked out at wind rocking Japanese maples in my yard and the incomplete stone wall that scarcely kept me from my neighbors. The telephone abruptly rang and I was reluctant to answer it.
"Dr. Scarpetta," I said into the receiver as I watched Benton's eyes sweep back down that red-penned page.
"Yo," Peter Marino's familiar voice came over the line. "It's me."
He was a captain with the Richmond Police Department, and I knew him well enough to recognize his tone. I braced myself for more bad news.
"What's up?" I said to him.
"A horse farm went up in flames last night in Warrenton. You may have heard about it on the news," he said. "Stables, close to twenty high-dollar horses, and the house. The whole nine yards. Everything burned to the ground."
So far, this wasn't making any sense. "Marino, why are you calling me about a fire? In the first place, Northern Virginia is not your turf."
"It is now," he said.
My kitchen seemed to get small and airless as I waited for the rest. "ATF's just called out NRT," he went on.
"Meaning us," I said.
"Bingo. Your ass and mine. First thing in the morning."
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' National Response Team, or NRT, was deployed when churches or businesses burned, and in bombings or any other disaster in which ATF had jurisdiction. Marino and I were not ATF, but it was not unusual for it and other law enforcement agencies to recruit us when the need arose. In recent years I had worked the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings and the crash of TWA Flight 800. I had helped with the identifications of the Branch Davidians at Waco and reviewed the disfigurement and death caused by the Unabomber. I knew from stressful experience that ATF included me in a call-out only when people were dead, and if Marino was recruited, too, then the suspicion was murder.
"How many?" I reached for my clipboard of call sheets.
"It's not how many, Doc. It's who. The owner of the farm is media big shot Kenneth Sparkes, the one and only. And right now it's looking like he didn't make it."
Reprinted from POINT OF ORIGIN by Patricia Cornwell by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1998 by Cornwell Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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