"Him," he said.
I shook my head, showed Harry my back, and walked to the reception area. It was loud and crowded, local VIPs churning like a bucketful of mice as they scrambled for position beside an Even More Important Person or in front of a news camera. Guests huddled three deep around the buffet table. I watched a heavy woman in evening wear slip two sandwiches into her purse before puzzling over meatbealls in gravy. A dozen feet away a florid county commissioner babbled proudly for a news crew.
". . . like to welcome y'all to the dedication of the new faculties . . . one of the uniqueist in the nation . . . proud to have voted the fundage . . . the tragedy of Dr. Caulfield should remind us to be ever viligent. . . ."
I saw Willet Lindy across the hall and plunged into the roiling bodies, excusing and pardoning my way his direction. A reporter from Channel 14 stared, then blocked my path.
"I know you, don't I?" she said, tapping a scarlet talon against pursed lips. "Weren't you part of, like, a big story a few months back, don't tell me . . ."
I spun and ducked and left her puzzling over my fifteen minutes of fame. Willet Lindy stood against the wall, sipping a soft drink. I pulled myself from the current and joined him.
"It's Wal-Mart three days before Christmas, Will," I said, loosening my tie and wincing at something dark dribbled on my shirt; following the same cosmic dictum that buttered bread always falls sticky side down, the stain was impossible to hide with my sport jacket. Lindy grinned and scooted sideways to give me a piece of wall for leaning. He was four years past my age of twenty-nine, but his gnomish face and receding hairline made him look a decade older. Lindy managed the nonmedical functions of the facility, such as maintenance and purchasing. I'd known him a year or so, starting when my detective status made me privy to the secrets of the morgue.
"Nice renovation of the place," I said. "Looks brand new." Lindy was a shorter guy, five seven or eight, and I had to speak down half a foot. Not hard, I was told I stooped naturally, a large puppet on slackened strings.
Lindy nodded. "Cosmetic changes aside, we replaced much of the equipment. Plus we have things we didn't have before"he pointed to a flyspeck dot in a ceiling tile"security cameras. Miniaturized. If something like the Caulfield incident happens again, the bomb squad can inspect the scene from a distance."
Caulfield was the first-timer pathologist whose hand had been mutilated by a bomb meant to kill a man already dead; a horrifying event, unsolved. "Not a lot of cops here, Will," I said to change the subject.
Lindy raised a dissenting eyebrow. "The chief and deputy chiefs, a captain or two."
I meant cops, but didn't have the time, or maybe the words, to explain the difference. As if cued, Captain Terrence Squill walked by, saw me, backed up. Squill and I had barely exchanged syllables in the past; he was so far up the ladder I squinted to see the bottoms of his shoes.
"Ryder, is it? What the hell are you doing here?" His eyes noted the blot on my shirt and his nose wrinkled. The director of Investigative Services was a compact and dapper man whose precise features and liquid, feminine eyes recalled a fortyish Orrin Hatch. The knot of his tie was so tight and symmetrical it seemed carved from marble. I knew nothing of gray suits but suspected I was looking at one fitted by a tailor.
"I got an invitation, thought I'd come and represent the department, sir."
He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "This is not an affair for junior personnel. Did you con some City Hall bimbo into slipping your name on the list? Or did you sneak in the back door?"
I was amazed at how much anger was in his eyes while his mouth remained smiling. Anyone out of earshot would figure we were talking football or fishing. "I never sneak," I said. "Like I told you, I got an"
Reprinted from The Hundredth Man by Jack Kerley by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright © Jack Kerley, 2004. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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