Scarpetta’s Winter Table by Patricia Cornwell

Scarpetta’s Winter Table

by Patricia Cornwell

Scarpetta’s Winter Table

by Patricia Cornwell

Chapter 1

The night after Christmas was cold and brittle, and in Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s quiet Richmond neighborhood, trees were bare and groaning as they rocked in the wind. A candle burned in every window of her modern stone house, and a generous, fresh wreath of evergreen and holly was centered on the carved front door. Scarpetta had strung tiny white lights in shrubs on either side of the porch and tied big red bows on carriage lamps. She had been cooking since early afternoon, and by now her special people had gathered.

“That’s enough moonshine,” Scarpetta commented to Pete Marino, who was a captain at the Richmond police department and someone she had worked with for years. “No alcohol poisoning in my house.”

Marino didn’t listen as he poured two more jiggers of 100 proof Virginia Lightning into the blender. Each guest had his own contribution to the evening, and

his was eggnog, as it was every December 26, the biggest letdown day of the year. Scarpetta always insisted that the three of them spend it together.

“You don’t have to drink much of it,” said Marino. “One or two snorts, and then you move on to the next thing.”

“What next thing?” she asked, tapping a long wooden spoon on the side of the pot.

“I don’t see any smoked oysters.~~ “In the pantry~”

“Good. Wouldn’t be right if you left those out.”

“I never do. Doesn’t matter who else likes them.”

“That’s the spirit,” Marino said, pleased.

He was big with powerful hands capable of snatching bad people out of flight and pinning them to the ground or slamming them up against the side of a building. His red plaid shirt barely buttoned over his belly, and his thinning gray hair had a mind of its own. Scarpetta stirred the tomato sauce simmering on the stove.

“You got some wine, don’t you?” he went on. “I thought I’d be civilized tonight and go’ with something besides beer. Here, taste this, Doc.”

He poured a dollop of first-stage eggnog into a water glass and presented it to her. She sipped and her lips burned. The corn liquor warmed her throat all the way down on its way to heating up her stomach. Thoughts loosened. Much that had been vague and formless sharpened into focus.

“Wow,” said the intrepid chief medical examiner of Virginia. “That’s it. There will be no argument. Nobody’s driving anywhere tonight. In fact, no one’s going out of the house.

“I haven’t finished mixing up everything, so it will be a lot better when I’m done. Plus it’s got to sit for a while. You’re safe for a couple hours, long enough to get your pizza going, because don’t worry, Doc, ain’t no way I’m letting you out of making that since you only bother maybe once a year.

It was true that Scarpetta rarely had time to spend half a day in the kitchen, and although pizza was not a conventional holiday dinner, in her case it was an unforgettable one. Her specialty pie was a unique blend of Italy, Miami, and her own originality. No one who had ever sat at her table had gone away unchanged. Scarpetta cooked with warmth and imagination. The good doctor’s concoctions were meant to soothe and heal and make you feel less alone. When she gave you a meal, she gave you herself.

“Where’s the eggnog?” Lucy Farinelli called out from the great room. She was a special agent with ATF and Scarpetta’s only niece.

“Hold your horses!” Marino called back.

“I want it now.”

“Tough shit!”

“What then?”

“A couple hours!

“No way my horses can wait that long!”

“No eggnog before its time!” Marino thundered.

“Then I’m going running. All this frustration! OHHHH!”

“Aunt Kay says you can’t leave the house!”

Lucy secured her Sig Saur 9mm pistol inside a butt pack, buckling the strap snugly around her waist. She walked into the kitchen and hugged her aunt from behind. Scarpetta smiled as she continued stirring. Lucy made a face at Marino.

“Remember the first time Marino made his eggnog for us?” Lucy reminded them. “Wild Turkey, and lots of it. Red food coloring—for Christmas, of course. Whipped cream and peppermint candy sprinkles on top, served in frosted beer mugs. With those rather disgusting chocolate cupcakes you made.” She pointed at Marino. “Green icing, little Christmas trees made out of cocktail toothpicks stuck in the middle of each one—and they were raw in the middle!”

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Categories: Cornwell, Patricia