Patricia Cornwell

Chaos (Excerpt 2)


Chaos_by Patricia CornwellUS

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Chapter 1

MY SHOES SWISH through the hot dry grass, and sweat trickles beneath my clothes, down my chest, my back. I’m moving again, seeking shade as the sun settles lower and the slanted light shifts.

Every time I escape the glare it finds me again, the walled-in center of the Harvard campus a maze with its greens and lawns, its quadrangles and courtyards connected by paths and walkways. The stately brick-and-stone buildings draped in ivy live up to the stereotype, and I remember what I felt when I was given a tour at the age of fifteen. It’s as if I’m back in time with every step I take, sweetly, sadly.

It was on one of my few trips outside of Florida during my senior year in high school when I began exploring colleges and what I might amount to in life. I’ll never forget walking exactly where I am now and experiencing a limbic rush at the same time I was self-conscious and out of place. The memory is interrupted when I’m startled by a vibration, what feels and sounds like a large insect buzzing.

I stop walking on the piping-hot sidewalk, looking around, noticing a drone flying high over the Yard. Then I realize the buzzing is my own phone muffled by my suit jacket pocket, where it’s tucked away from the heat and sun. I check to see who’s calling. It’s Cambridge Police Investigator Pete Marino, and I answer.

“Is there something going on that I don’t know about?” he says right off, and the connection is pretty bad.

“I don’t think so,” I puzzle as I bake on the bricks.

“Why are you walking? Nobody should be out walking in this shit.” He’s curt and sounds irritated, and I’m instantly alerted this isn’t a friendly call. “So what the hell got into you?”

“Errands.” I feel on guard, and his tone is annoying. “And I’m walking to meet Benton.”

“Meeting him for what reason?” Marino asks as our cellular connection continues to deteriorate from good to spotty, back to okay and then fractured before it’s better again.

“The reason I’m meeting my husband is to eat dinner,” I reply with a trace of irony, and I don’t want a tense time with yet another person today. Is everything all right?”

“Maybe you should be the one telling me that.” His big voice suddenly booms painfully in my right ear. “How come you’re not with Bryce?”

My chatterbox chief of staff must have informed Marino about my refusing to get back into the car at Harvard Square, about my violation of protocol and reckless disregard for safety.

Before I can answer, Marino begins confronting me as if I’m a suspect in a crime. “You got out of the car about an hour and a half ago, were inside The Coop for maybe twenty minutes,” he’s saying. “And when you finally exited the store on Mass Ave? Where’d you go?”

“I had an errand on Arrow Street.” The sidewalks in the Yard form a brick spiderweb, and I find myself constantly making adjustments, taking the most efficient path, the quickest and coolest.

“What errand?” he asks as if it’s any of his business.

“At the Loeb Center, picking up tickets for Waitress, the Sara Bareilles musical,” I reply with forced civility that’s beginning to waver. “I thought Dorothy might like to go.”

“From what I hear you were acting as squirrelly as a shithouse rat.”

“Excuse me?” I stop walking.

“That’s the way it’s been described.”

“By whom? Bryce?”

“Nope. We got a nine-one-one call about you,” Marino says, and I’m stunned.


HE INFORMS ME that his police department was contacted about “a young guy and his older lady friend” arguing in Harvard Square about 4:45 p.m.

This young guy was described as in his late twenties with sandy-brown hair, blue capri pants, a white T-shirt, sneakers, designer sunglasses, and a tattoo of a marijuana leaf. The tattoo isn’t right but the rest of it is.

Supposedly the concerned citizen who called the police recognized me from the news, and it’s disturbing that my clothing description is accurate. I do in fact have on a khaki skirt suit, a white blouse, and tan leather pumps. Unfortunately it’s also correct I have a run in my panty hose, and I’ll strip them off and toss them when I get where I’m going.

“Was I mentioned by name?” I can’t believe this.

“The person said words to the effect that Doctor Kay Scarpetta was arguing with her pothead boyfriend and stormed out of the car.” Marino passes along another outrage.

“I didn’t storm. I got out like a normal person while he stayed behind the wheel and continued to talk.”

“You sure he didn’t get out and open the door for you?”

“He never does and I don’t encourage it. Maybe that’s what someone saw and misinterpreted it as him being angry. Bryce opened his window so we could talk and that was it.”

Marino lets me know that next I became abusive and physically violent, slapping Bryce through the open window I just described while repeatedly jabbing him in the chest with my index finger. He was yelling as if I was causing him injury and terror, and to put it succinctly, what a crock of shit. But I don’t say anything because of the uneasiness in my gut, a hollow tight feeling that’s my equivalent of a red warning flag.

Marino’s a cop. I may have known him forever but Cambridge is his turf. Technically he could give me a hard time if he wants, and that’s a new and insane thought. He’s never arrested me, not that there’s ever been a good reason. But he’s never so much as given me a parking ticket or warned me not to jaywalk. Professional courtesy is a two-way street. But it can quickly become a dead end if you’re not careful.

“I admit I might have been a little out of sorts but it’s not true that I slapped anyone—” I start to say.

“Let’s start with the first part of your statement,” Marino the detective interrupts me. “How little’s a little?”

“Are you interviewing me now? Should you read me my rights? Do I need a lawyer?”

“You’re a lawyer.”

“I’m not being funny, Marino.”

“I’m not either. A little out of sorts? I’m asking because he said you started yelling.”

“Before or after I slapped him?”

“Getting pissy doesn’t help anything, Doc.”

“I’m not pissy, and let’s be clear about who you’re even referencing. Let’s start with that. Because you know how Bryce exaggerates.”

“What I know is supposedly the two of you were fighting and disturbing the peace.”

“He actually said that?”

“The witness did.”

“What witness?”

“The one who called in the complaint.”

“Did you talk to this witness yourself?”

“I couldn’t find anybody who saw anything.”

“Then you must have looked,” I point out.

“After we got the call, I cruised the Square and asked around. Same thing I usually get. Nobody saw a damn thing.”

“Exactly. This is ridiculous.”

“I’m concerned someone might be out to get you,” he says, and we’ve been through this so many times over the years.

Marino lives and breathes his phobic conviction that something horrible is going to happen to me. But what he’s really worried about is his own self. It’s the same way he was with his former wife Doris before she finally ran off with a car salesman. Marino doesn’t understand the difference between neediness and love. They feel the same to him.

“If you want to waste taxpayer dollars you can check the CCTV cameras around the Square, especially in front of The Coop,” I suggest. “You’ll see I didn’t slap Bryce or anyone else.”

“I’m wondering if this has to do with your talk at the Kennedy School tomorrow night,” Marino says. “It’s been all over the news because it’s controversial. When you and General Briggs decided to make a presentation about the space shuttle blowing up maybe you should have expected a bunch of fruit loops to come out of the woodwork. Some of them think a UFO shot down the Columbia. And that’s why the space shuttle program was canceled.”

“I’m still waiting for a name of this alleged witness who lied to one of your nine-one-one operators.” I’m not interested in hearing him obsess about conspiracists and the pandemonium they might create at the Kennedy School event.

“He wouldn’t identify himself to the operator who took the call,” Marino says. “He was probably using one of those track phones you can buy right there at the CVS. It’s one of those numbers you can’t trace to anyone. Not that we’re done trying, but that’s how it’s looking, and it’s pretty much what we’re up against these days.”

I pass through the shade of a huge old oak with low-spreading branches that are too lush and green for September. The early evening heat presses down like a flaming hand, flattening and scorching the life out of everything, and I switch my shopping bag to my other arm. My messenger-style briefcase also has gotten very heavy, packed with a laptop, paperwork and other personal effects, the wide strap biting into my shoulder.

“Where are you exactly?” Marino’s voice is cutting in and out.

“Taking a shortcut.” I’m not interested in giving him my precise whereabouts. “And you? You’re muffled every other minute or talking in a barrel. Are you in your car?”

“What’d you do, take the Johnston Gate so you can cut through the Yard to Quincy Street?”

“How else would I go?” I’m evasive now in addition to being slightly breathless as I trudge along.

“So you’re near the church,” he says.

“Why are you asking? Are you coming to arrest me?”

“As soon as I find my handcuffs. Maybe you’ve seen them?”

“Maybe ask whoever you’re dating these days?”

“You’re gonna exit the Yard through the gate across from the museums. You know, at the light that will be on your left on the other side of the wall.” It seems like a directive rather than an assumption or a question.

“Where are you?” as my suspicions grow.

“What I just suggested would be most direct,” he says. “Past the church, past the Quad.”


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