"Hey, man," Marino gruffly says through the open window, "how'd the photographers get in here?"
"What?" Joe instantly goes into protect mode, eyes narrowing as he stares down the slick, empty street, sodium vapor lights casting yellow auras high up on poles.
"In front of the Doc's house. At least three of 'em."
"They didn't come through here," Joe declares. He ducks back inside the booth and grabs the phone.
We drive off. "We can do but so much, Doc," Marino says to me. "You may as well duck your head in the sand because there's gonna be pictures and shit all over the place."
I stare out the window at lovely Georgian homes glowing with holiday festivity.
"Bad news is, your security risk just went up another mile." He is preaching to me, telling me what I already know and have no interest in dwelling on right now. "Because now half the world's gonna see your big fancy house and know exactly where you live. Problem is, and what worries the hell out of me, is stuff like this brings out other squirrels. Gives 'em ideas. They start imagining you as a victim and get off on it, like those assholes who go to the courthouse, cruising for rape cases to sit in on."
He eases to a stop at the intersection of Canterbury Road and West Cary Street, and headlights sweep over us as a compact dark-colored sedan turns in and slows. I recognize the narrow, insipid face of Buford Righter looking over at Marino's truck. Righter and Marino roll down their windows.
"You leaving . . . ?" Righter starts to say when his eyes shoot past Marino and land on me in surprise. I have the unnerving sense that I am the last person he wants to see. "Sorry for your trouble," Righter weirdly says to me, as if what is happening in my life is nothing more than trouble, an inconvenience, an unpleasantness.
"Yeah, heading out." Marino sucks on the cigarette, not the least bit helpful. He has already expressed his opinion about Righter's showing up at my house. It is unnecessary, and even if he truly thinks it is so important to eyeball the crime scene himself, why didn't he do it earlier when I was at the hospital?
Righter pulls his overcoat more tightly around his neck, light from street lamps glinting off his glasses. He nods and says to me, "Take care. Glad you're okay," deciding to acknowledge my so-called trouble. "This is real hard on all of us." A thought catches before it is out in words. Whatever he was going to say next is gone, retracted, struck from the record. "I'll be talking to you," he promises Marino.
Windows go up. We drive off.
"Give me a cigarette," I tell Marino. "I'm assuming he didn't come to my house earlier today," I then say.
"Yeah, actually he did. About ten o'clock this morning." He offers me the pack of unfiltered Lucky Strikes and flame spits out of a lighter he holds my way.
Anger coils through my entrails, and the back of my neck is hot, the pressure in my head almost unbearable. Fear stirs inside me like a waking beast. I turn mean, punching in the lighter on the dash, ungraciously leaving Marino's arm extended with the Bic lighter flaming. "Thanks for telling me," I sharply reply. "You mind my asking who the hell else has been in my house? And how many times? And how long they stayed and what they touched?"
"Hey, don't take it out on me," he warns.
I know the tone. He is about to lose his patience with me and my mess. We are like weather systems about to collide, and I don't want that. The last thing I need right now is a war with Marino. I touch the tip of the cigarette to bright orange coils and inhale deeply, the punch of pure tobacco spinning me. We drive several minutes in flinty silence, and when I finally speak, I sound numb, my feverish brain glazing over like the streets, depression a heavy pain spreading along my ribs. "I know you're just doing what has to be done. I appreciate it," I force the words. "Even if I'm not showing it."
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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