Red Mist: Scarpetta (Book 19)

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9780425250433: Red Mist: Scarpetta (Book 19)

With high-tension suspense and cutting-edge technology, Patricia Cornwell—the world’s #1 bestselling crime writer—once again proves her exceptional ability to entertain and enthrall in this remarkable novel featuring chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

On her quest to find out exactly what happened to her former deputy chief, Jack Fielding, murdered six months before, Scarpetta drives to the Georgia Prison for Women to meet a convicted sex offender and the mother of a vicious and diabolically brilliant killer. Against the advice of her FBI criminal intelligence agent husband, Benton Wesley, Scarpetta is determined to hear this woman out.

Scarpetta has both personal and professional reasons to learn more about a string of grisly killings: the murder of a Savannah family years earlier, a young woman on death row, and then other inexplicable deaths that begin to occur at a breathtaking pace. Driven by inner forces, Scarpetta discovers connections that compel her to conclude that what she thought ended with Fielding’s death and an attempt on her own life is only the beginning of something far more destructive: a terrifying terrain of conspiracy and potential terrorism on an international scale.

And she is the only one who can stop it.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Patricia Cornwell is one of the world’s major internationally bestselling authors, translated into more than thirty-five languages in more than 120 countries. She is a founder of the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine; a founding member of the National Forensic Academy; a member of the Advisory Board for the Forensic Sciences Training Program at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, New York City; and a member of the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital’s National Council, where she is an advocate for psychiatric research. In 2008, Cornwell won the Galaxy British Book Awards’s Book Direct Crime Thriller of the Year—the first American to win this prestigious award. In 2011, she was awarded the medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture in Paris. Her most recent bestsellers include Port Mortuary, The Scarpetta Factor, The Front, and Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed. Her earlier works include Postmortem—the only novel to win five major crime awards in a single year—and Cruel & Unusual, which won Britain’s Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of 1993. Dr. Kay Scarpetta herself won the 1999 Sherlock Award for the best detective created by an American author.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

With high-tension suspense and cutting-edge technology, Patricia Cornwell—the world’s #1 bestselling crime writer—once again proves her exceptional ability to entertain and enthrall in this remarkable novel featuring chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta.

On her quest to find out exactly what happened to her recently murdered former deputy chief, Jack Fielding, Scarpetta drives to the Georgia Prison for Women to meet a convicted sex offender and the mother of a vicious and diabolically brilliant killer. Against the advice of her FBI forensic psychologist husband, Benton Wesley, Scarpetta is determined to hear this woman out.

Scarpetta has both personal and professional reasons to learn more about a string of grisly killings: the murder of a Savannah family years earlier, a young woman on death row, and then other inexplicable deaths that begin to occur at a breathtaking pace. Driven by inner forces, Scarpetta discovers connections that compel her to conclude that what she thought ended with Fielding’s death and an attempt on her own life is only the beginning of something far more destructive: a terrifying terrain of conspiracy and potential terrorism on an international scale.

And she is the only one who can stop it.

Praise for the novels of Patricia Cornwell

PORT MORTUARY

“With Port Mortuary, Cornwell has presented a gift to her readers—a return to over-the-top forensics and bigger-than-life characters that drew us to the Scarpetta series in the first place.”

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger

“Entertaining…Scarpetta is one of the most believable characters in crime fiction because her many strengths are tempered by true human frailties…a must-read for crime fiction fans.”

The Vancouver Sun

THE SCARPETTA FACTOR

“[An] insistent and gripping thriller.”

—The Star-Ledger

“A finely crafted, pulse-racing thriller that readers won’t want to put down.”

Library Journal

SCARPETTA

“When it comes to the forensic sciences, nobody can touch Cornwell.”

The New York Times Book Review

“The coolly graphic autopsy scenes are classic Scarpetta, but new elements…keep this tale fresh.”

People

THE FRONT

“[A] classically written crime novel.”

USA Today

AT RISK

“Highly entertaining.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Scary.”

The Boston Globe

BOOK OF THE DEAD

“Compelling.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch

“What a walloping, riveting mix of…adventure and psychology. Author Cornwell certainly is skilled at dissecting the not always attractive innards of human nature.”

Forbes

PREDATOR

“A fine psychological thriller.”

The Denver Post

“Sensationally plotted, with a twist at the end that will leave you gasping for breath.”

Daily Express (U.K.)

TRACE

“Cornwell gets her Hitchcock on…[She] can generate willies with subtle poetic turns.”

People

“Fun [and] flamboyant.”

Entertainment Weekly

BLOW FLY

“[A] grisly fast-paced thriller…utterly chilling.”

Entertainment Weekly

“A story so compelling that even longtime readers will be stunned by its twists and turns.”

Chicago Tribune

THE LAST PRECINCT

“Ignites on the first page…Cornwell has created a character so real, so compelling, so driven that this reader has to remind herself regularly that Scarpetta is just a product of an author’s imagination.”

USA Today

“The most unexpected of the Kay Scarpetta novels so far…Compelling…Terrific.”

The Miami Herald

BLACK NOTICE

“Brainteasing…one of the most savage killers of her career…[a] hair-raising tale with a French twist.”

People

“The author’s darkest and perhaps best…a fast-paced, first-rate thriller.”

The San Francisco Examiner

POINT OF ORIGIN

“Cornwell lights a fire under familiar characters—and sparks her hottest adventure in years.”

People

“Packed with action and suspense.”

Rocky Mountain News

TITLES BY PATRICIA CORNWELL

SCARPETTA SERIES

ANDY BRAZIL SERIES

Isle of Dogs

Southern Cross

Hornet’s Nest

WIN GARANO SERIES

The Front

At Risk

NONFICTION

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper—Case Closed

BIOGRAPHY

Ruth, A Portrait: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham
(also published as A Time for Remembering:
The Story of Ruth Bell Graham
)

OTHER WORKS

Food to Die For: Secrets from Kay Scarpetta’s Kitchen
Life’s Little Fable
Scarpetta’s Winter Table

BERKLEY BOOKS NEW YORK

My thanks to the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, and also to Dr. Marcella Fierro, Dr. Jamie Downs, and other experts who were so helpful with my research, including Stephen Braga, who generously shared his expertise in criminal law.

As always, I am grateful to Dr. Staci Gruber for her incredible technical skills and expertise, and her patience and encouragement.

This book is dedicated to you, Staci.

And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.

—REVELATION 16:1

Table of Contents

1

Iron rails the rusty brown of old blood cut across a cracked paved road that leads deeper into the Lowcountry. As I drive over train tracks, it enters my mind that the Georgia Prison for Women is on the wrong side of them and maybe I should take it as another warning and turn back. It’s not quite four p.m., Thursday, June 30. There’s time to catch the last flight to Boston, but I know I won’t.

This part of coastal Georgia is a moody terrain of brooding forests draped with Spanish moss and mudflats etched with convoluted creeks that give way to grassy plains heavy with light. Snowy egrets and great blue herons fly low over brackish water, dragging their feet, and then the woods close in again on either side of the narrow tar-laced road I’m on. Coiling kudzu strangles underbrush and cloaks forest canopies in scaly dark leaves, and giant cypress trees with thick gnarled knees rise out of swamps like prehistoric creatures wading and prowling. While I’ve yet to spot an alligator or a snake, I’m sure they are there and aware of my big white machine roaring and chugging and backfiring.

How I ended up in such a rattletrap that wanders all over the road and stinks like fast food and cigarettes with a whiff of rotting fish, I don’t know. It’s not what I told my chief of staff, Bryce, to reserve, which was a safe, dependable, mid-size sedan, preferably a Volvo or a Camry, with side and head air bags and a GPS. When I was met outside the airport terminal by a young man in a white cargo van that doesn’t have air-conditioning or even a map, I told him there had been an error. I’d been given someone else’s vehicle by mistake. He pointed out the contract has my name on it, Kate Scarpetta, and I said my first name is Kay, not Kate, and I didn’t care whose name was on it. A cargo van wasn’t what I ordered. Lowcountry Concierge Connection was very sorry, said the young man, who was quite tan and dressed in a tank top, camo shorts, and fishing shoes. He couldn’t imagine what happened. Obviously a computer problem. He’d be glad to get me something else, but it would be much later in the day, possibly tomorrow.

So far nothing is going the way I’d planned, and I imagine my husband, Benton, saying he told me so. I see him leaning against the travertine countertop in the kitchen last night, tall and slender, with thick silver hair, his chiseled handsome face watching me somberly as we argued again about my coming here. It’s only now that the last trace of my headache is gone. I don’t know why a part of me still believes, contrary to evidence, that half a bottle of wine will resolve differences. It might have been more than half. It was a very nice pinot grigio for the money, light and clean with a hint of apples.

The air blowing through the open windows is thick and hot, and I smell the pungent, sulfuric odor of decomposing vegetation, of salt marshes and pluff mud. The van hesitates and surges by fits and starts around a sun-dappled bend where turkey buzzards forage on something dead. The huge ugly birds with their ragged wings and naked heads lift off in slow, heavy flaps as I swerve around the stiff pelt of a raccoon, the sultry air carrying a sharp putrid stench I know all too well. Animal or human, it doesn’t matter. I can recognize death from a distance, and were I to get out and take a close look, I probably could determine the exact cause of that raccoon’s demise and when it occurred and possibly reconstruct how it got hit and maybe by what.

Most people refer to me as a medical examiner, an ME, but some think I’m a coroner, and occasionally I’m confused with a police surgeon. To be precise, I’m a physician with a specialty in pathology, and subspecialties in forensic pathology and 3-D imaging radiology, or the use of CT scans to view a dead body internally before I touch it with a blade. I have a law degree and the special reservist rank of colonel with the Air Force, and therefore an affiliation with the Department of Defense, which last year appointed me to head the Cambridge Forensic Center it has funded in conjunction with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Harvard.

I’m an expert at determining the mechanism of what kills or why something doesn’t, whether it is a disease, a poison, a medical misadventure, an act of God, a handgun, or an improvised explosive device (IED). My every action has to be legally well informed. I’m expected to assist the United States government as needed and directed. I swear to oaths and testify under them, and what all this means is that I’m really not entitled to live the way most people do. It isn’t an option for me to be anything other than objective and clinical. I’m not supposed to have personal opinions or emotional reactions to any case, no matter how gruesome or cruel. Even if violence has impacted me directly, such as the attempt on my life four months ago, I’m to be as unmoved as an iron post or a rock. I’m to remain hard in my resolve, calm and cool.

“You’re not going to go PTSD on me, are you?” the chief of the Armed Forces Medical Examiners, General John Briggs, said to me after I was almost murdered in my own garage this past February 10. “Shit happens, Kay. The world is full of whack jobs.”

“Yes, John. Shit happens. Shit has happened before, and shit will happen again,” I replied, as if all were fine and I’d taken everything in stride, when I knew that wasn’t what I was feeling inside. I intend to get as many details as I can about what went wrong in Jack Fielding’s life, and I want Dawn Kincaid to pay the highest price. Prison with no chance of parole forever.

I glance at my watch without taking my hands off the wheel of the damn van with its bad case of the damn shakes. Maybe I should turn around. The last flight out of here to Boston is in less than two hours. I could make it, but I know I won’t be on it. For better or worse, I’m committed, as if I’ve been taken over by an autopilot, maybe a reckless one, possibly a vengeful one. I know I’m angry. As my FBI forensic psychologist husband put it last night while I was cooking dinner in our historic Cambridge home that was built by a well-known transcendentalist, “You’re being tricked, Kay. Possibly set up by others, but what concerns me most is you setting yourself up. What you perceive as your wish to be proactive and helpful is in fact your need to appease your guilt.”

“I’m not the reason Jack is dead,” I said.

“You’ve always felt guilty about him. You tend to feel guilty about a lot of things that have nothing to do with you.”

“I see. When I think I can make a difference, I should never trust it.” I used a pair of surgical scissors to cut the shells off boiled jumbo prawns. “When I decide that taking a risk might produce useful information and help bring about justice, it’s really my feeling guilty.”

“You think it’s your responsibility to fix things. Or prevent them. You always have. Going back to when you were a little girl taking care of your sick father.”

“I certainly can’t prevent anything now.” I pitched shells into the trash and dashed salt into a stainless-steel pot of water boiling on the ceramic-glass induction cooktop that is the hub of my kitchen. “Jack was molested as a boy, and I couldn’t prevent that. And I couldn’t prevent him from ruining his life. And now he’s been murdered and I didn’t stop that, either.” I grabbed a chef’s knife. “I barely prevented my own death, if we’re honest about it.” I diced onion and garlic, the fine steel blade clicking quickly against antibacterial polypropylene. “It’s a lucky accident I’m still around.”

“You should stay the hell out of Savannah,” Benton said, and I told him I had to go and to please open the wine and pour us each a glass, and we drank and disagreed. We picked distractedly at my mangia bene, vivi felice cucina, or eat well and live happy cooking, and neither of us was happy. All because of her.

It’s been a hellish existence for Kathleen Lawler. Currently serving twenty years for DUI manslaughter, she’s been locked up longer than she’s been free, going back to the seventies, when she was convicted of sexually molesting a boy who grew up to be my deputy chief medical examiner, Jack Fielding. Now he’s dead, shot in the head by their love child, as the media refers to Dawn Kincaid, given up for adoption at birth while her mother was in prison for what she did to conceive her. It’s a very long story. I find myself saying that a lot these days, and if I’ve learned nothing else in life it’s that one thing can and will lead to another. Kathleen Lawler’s catastrophic tale is a perfect example of what scientists mean when they say that the beat of a butterfly wing causes a hurricane on another part of the planet.

As I drive the loud, lurching rental van through an overgrown marshy terrain that probably didn’t look all that different in the age of dinosaurs, I wonder what beat of a butterfly wing, what breath of a disturbance, created Kathleen Lawler and the havoc she has wrought. I imagine her inside a six-by-eight-foot cell with its shiny steel toilet, gray metal bed, and narrow window covered by metal mesh that looks out over a prison yard of coarse grass, concrete picnic tables and benches, and Porta-Johns. I know how many changes of clothing she has, not “free-world clothes,” she’s explained in e-mails I don’t answer, but prison uniforms, trousers, and tops, two sets of each. She’s read every book in the prison library at least five times, is a gifted writer, she’s let m...

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