PATRICIA CORNWELL. Unnatural Exposure


Unnatural Exposure


Unnatural Exposure


NIGHT FELL CLEAN and cold in Dublin, and wind moaned beyond my room as if a million pipes played the air. Gusts shook old windowpanes and sounded like spirits rushing past as I rearranged pillows one more time, finally resting on my back in a snarl of Irish linen. But sleep would not touch me, and images from the day returned. I saw bodies without limbs or heads, and sat up, sweating.

I switched on lamps, and the Shelbourne Hotel was suddenly around me in a warm glow of rich old woods and deep red plaids. I put on a robe, my eyes lingering on the phone by my fitfully-slept-in bed. It was almost two A.M. In Richmond, Virginia, it would be five hours earlier, and Pete Marino, commander of the city police department’s homicide squad, should be up. He was probably watching TV, smoking, eating something bad for him unless he was on the street.

I dialed his number, and he grabbed the phone as if he were right next to it.

‘Trick or treat.’ He was loudly on his way to being drunk.

‘You’re a little early,’ I said, already regretting the call. ‘By a couple of weeks.’

‘Doc?’ He paused in confusion. ‘That you? You back in Richmond?’

‘Still in Dublin. What’s all the commotion?’

‘Just some of us guys with faces so ugly we don’t need masks. So every day is Halloween. Hey! Bubba’s bluffing,’ he yelled out.

‘You always think everybody’s bluffing,’ a voice fired back. ‘It’s from being a detective too long.’

‘What you talking about? Marino can’t even detect his own B.O.’

Laughter in the background was loud as the drunk, derisive comments continued.

‘We’re playing poker,’ Marino said to me. ‘What the hell time is it there?’

‘You don’t want to know,’ I answered. ‘I’ve got some unsettling news, but it doesn’t sound like we should get into it now.’

‘No. No, hold on. Let me just move the phone. Shit. I hate the way the cord gets twisted, you know what I mean? Goddamn it.’ I could hear his heavy footsteps and a chair scraping. ‘Okay, Doc. So what the hell’s going on?’

‘I spent most of today discussing the landfill cases with the state pathologist. Marino, I’m increasingly suspicious that Ireland’s serial dismemberments are the work of the same individual we’re dealing with in Virginia.’

He raised his voice. ‘You guys hold it down in there!’

I could hear him moving farther away from his pals as I rearranged the duvet around me. I reached for the last few sips of Black Bush I had carried to bed.

‘Dr Foley worked the five Dublin cases,’ I went on. ‘I’ve reviewed all of them. Torsos. Spines cut horizontally through the caudal aspect of the fifth cervical vertebral body. Arms and legs severed through the joints, which is usual, as I’ve pointed out before. Victims are a racial mix, estimated ages between eighteen and thirty-five. All are unidentified and signed out as homicides by unspecified means. In each case, heads and limbs were never found, the remains discovered in privately owned landfills.’

‘Damn, if that don’t sound familiar.’ he said.

‘There are other details. But yes, the parallels are profound.’

‘So maybe the squirrel’s in the U.S. now,’ he said. ‘Guess it’s a damn good thing you went over there, after all.’

He certainly hadn’t thought so at first. No one really had. I was the chief medical examiner of Virginia, and when the Royal College of Surgeons had invited me to give a series of lectures at Trinity’s medical school, I could not pass up an opportunity to investigate the Dublin crimes. Marino had thought it a waste of time, while the FBI had assumed the value of the research would prove to be little more than statistical.

Doubts were understandable. The homicides in Ireland were more than ten years old, and as was true in the Virginia cases, there was so little to go on. We did not have fingerprints, dentition, sinus configurations or witnesses for identification. We did not have biological samples from people missing to compare to the victims’ DNA. We did not know the means of death. Therefore, it was very difficult to say much about the killer, except that I believed he was experienced with a meat saw and quite possibly used one in his profession, or had at one time.

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Categories: Cornwell, Patricia