"What asshole drowned a maggot?" one of the cops snipes.
"Yeah. Imagine inhaling alcohol . . ."
"What'cha talking about, Joey? You been inhaling it all night."
A dark, ominous humor begins to rumble like a distant storm, and Nic doesn't know how to duck out of it. She leans back in her chair, crossing her arms at her chest, doing her best to look indifferent as her mind unexpectedly plays one of her father's worn-out storm warnings: Now, Nic, honey, when there's lightning, don't stand alone or think you'll be protected by hiding in the trees. Find the nearest ditch and lie as low in it as you can. At the moment, she has no place to hide but in her own silence.
"Hey Doc, we already took our last test."
"Who brought homework to our party?"
"Yeah, we're off duty."
"Off duty, I see," Scarpetta muses. "So if you're off duty when the dead body of a missing person has just been found, you're not going to respond. Is that what you're saying?"
"I'd have to wait until my bourbon wears off," says a cop whose shaved head is so shiny it looks waxed.
"That's a thought," she says.
Now the cops are laughing--everyone but Nic.
"It can happen." Scarpetta sets the vial next to her wineglass. "At any given moment, we can get a call. It may prove to be the worst call of our careers, and here we are, slightly buzzed from a few drinks on our time off, or maybe sick, or in the middle of a fight with a lover, a friend, one of the kids."
She pushes away her half-eaten yellowfin tuna and folds her hands on top of the checkered tablecloth.
"But cases can't wait," she adds.
"Seriously. Isn't it true that some can?" asks a Chicago detective his classmates call Popeye because of the anchor tattooed on his left forearm. "Like bones in a well or buried in a basement. Or a body under a slab of concrete. I mean, they ain't going anywhere."
"The dead are impatient," Scarpetta says.
From Blowfly by Patricia Cornwell. Copyright Patricia Cornwell 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Putnam Publishing.
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