"Not like this," he said.
"How close did you get?" I asked as Marino and Anderson caught up with us.
"Close enough," Shaw said.
"No one went inside it?" I wanted to make sure.
"I can guarantee you that, ma'am." The stench was getting to him.
Marino seemed unfazed. He shook out another cigarette and mumbled around it as he fired the lighter.
"So, Anderson," he said. "I -don't guess it could be livestock, you know, since you didn't look. Hell, maybe a big dog that accidentally got locked up in there. Sure would be a shame to drag the doc here and get the media all in a lather and then find out it's just some poor ol' wharf dog rotted in there."
He and I both knew there was no dog or pig or horse or any other animal in there. I opened my scene case while Marino and Anderson went on carping at each other. I dropped my car key inside and pulled on several layers of gloves and a surgical mask. I fitted my thirty-five-millimeter Nikon with a flash and a -twenty-eight-millimeter lens. I loaded -four hundred speed film so the photographs wouldn't be too grainy, and slipped sterile booties over my shoes.
"It's just like when we get bad smells coming from a - closed up house in the middle of July. We look through the window. Break in if we have to. Make sure what's in there's human before we call the M.E.," Marino continued to instruct his new protégé.
I ducked under the tape and stepped inside the dark container, relieved to find it was only half full of neatly stacked white cartons, leaving plenty of room to move around. I followed the beam of my flashlight deeper, sweeping it from side to side.
Near the back, it illuminated a bottom row of cartons soaked with the reddish purge fluid that leaks from the nose and mouth of a decomposing body. My light followed shoes and lower legs, and a bloated, bearded face jumped out of the dark. Bulging milky eyes stared, the tongue so swollen it protruded from the mouth as if the dead man were mocking me. My covered shoes made sticky sounds wherever I stepped.
The body was fully clothed and propped up in the corner, the container's metal walls bracing it from two sides. Legs were straight out, hands in the lap beneath a carton that apparently had fallen. I moved it out of the way and checked for defense injuries, or for abrasions and broken nails that might suggest he had tried to claw his way out. I saw no blood on his clothes, no sign of obvious injuries or that a struggle had taken place. I looked for food or water, for any provisions or holes made through the container's sides for ventilation, and found nothing.
I made my way between every row of boxes, squatting to shine oblique light on the metal floor, looking for shoe prints. Of course, they were everywhere. I moved an inch at a time, my knees about to give out. I found an empty plastic wastepaper basket. Then I found two silvery coins. I bent close to them. One was a deutsche mark. I didn't recognize the other one and touched nothing.
Marino seemed a mile away, standing in the container's opening.
"My car key's in my case," I called out to him through the surgical mask.
"Yeah?" he said, peering inside.
"Could you go get the LumaLite? I need the fiber-optic attachment and the extension cord. Maybe Mr. Shaw can help you find somewhere to plug it in. Has to be a grounded receptacle, one fifteen VAC."
"I love it when you talk dirty," he said.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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