Excerpt from Black Notice by Patricia Cornwell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Black Notice

by Patricia Cornwell

Black Notice
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  • First Published:
    Aug 1999, 415 pages
    Aug 2000, 464 pages

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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 with."

"Did the foreign shipper affix the seal?"

"That's right."

"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.

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