Why, it sure enough is.

"Whyyyit-shorrre-nuffffis," he echoes his mother's deep drawl and the slow, thick way she swims through her words when she's in the vodka bottle, way deep inside the vodka bottle.

"Do you like her new box?" he asks, dipping his finger inside the cigar box and blowing a puff of white dust into the air. "Now don't be jealous, but she's lost weight since you saw her last. I wonder what her secret is," he teases, and he dips in his finger again and blows more white dust into the air for his enormously fat mother's benefit, to make his disgustingly fat mother jealous, and he wipes his hands on the white handkerchief. "I think our dear friend Mrs. Arnette looks wonderful, divine really."

He peers closely at the photograph of Mrs. Arnette, her hair a blue tinted aura around her pink dead face. The only reason he knows her mouth is sutured shut is because he remembers doing it. Otherwise, his expert surgery is impossible to discern, and the uninitiated would never detect that the round contour of her eyes is due to the caps beneath the lids, and he remembers gently setting the caps in place over the sunken eyeballs and overlapping the lids and sticking them together with dabs of Vaseline.

"Now be sweet and ask Mrs. Arnette how she's feeling," he says to the cookie tin beneath the lawn chair. "She had cancer. So many of them did."


Dr. Joel Marcus gives her a stiff smile, and she shakes his dry, small boned hand. She feels she might despise him given a chance, but other than that premonition, which she pushes down into a dark part of her heart, she feels nothing.

About four months ago, she found out about him the same way she has found out about most things that have to do with her past life in Virginia. It was an accident, a coincidence. She happened to be on a plane reading USA Today, and happened to notice a news brief about Virginia that read, "Governor appoints new chief medical examiner after long search…" Finally, after years of no chief or acting chiefs, Virginia got a new chief. Scarpetta's opinion and guidance were not requested during the endless ordeal of a search. Her endorsement was not necessary when Dr. Marcus became a candidate for her former position.

Had she been asked, she would have confessed that she had never heard of him. This would have been followed by her diplomatic suggestion that she must have run into him at a national meeting or two and just didn't recall his name. Certainly he is a forensic pathologist of note, she would have offered, otherwise he would not have been recruited to head the most prominent statewide medical examiner system in the United States.

But as she shakes Dr. Marcus's hand and looks into his small cold eyes, she realizes he is a complete stranger. Clearly, he has been on no committees of significance, nor has he lectured at any pathology or medico-legal or forensic science meetings she has attended, or she would remember him. She may forget names, but rarely a face.

"Kay, at last we meet," he says, offending her again, only now it is worse because he is offending her in person.

What her intuition was reluctant to pick up over the phone is unavoidable now that she is in his presence inside the lobby of the building called Biotech II where she last worked as chief. Dr. Marcus is a small thin man with a small thin face and a small thin stripe of dirty gray hair on the back of his small head, as if nature has been trifling with him. He wears an outdated narrow tie, shapeless gray trousers and loafers. A sleeveless undershirt is visible beneath a cheap white dress shirt that sags around his thin neck, the inside of the collar dingy and rough with cotton picks.

"Let's go in," he says. "I'm afraid we've got a full house this morning."

She is about to inform him that she isn't alone when Marino emerges from the men's room, hitching up his black cargo pants, the LAPD cap pulled low over his eyes. Scarpetta is polite but all business as she makes introductions, explaining Marino, as much as he can be explained.

"He used to be with the Richmond Police Department and is a very experienced investigator," she says as Dr. Marcus's face hardens.

"You didn't mention you were bringing anyone," he says curtly in her former spacious lobby of granite and glass blocks, where she has signed in, where she has stood for twenty minutes, feeling as conspicuous as a statue in a rotunda, while she waited for Dr. Marcus, or someone, to come get her. "I thought I made it clear this is a very sensitive situation." Hey, not to worry. I'm a real sensitive guy," Marino says loudly.

Dr. Marcus doesn't seem to hear him, but he bristles. Scarpetta can almost hear his anger displace air.

"My senior superlative in high school was Most Likely to Be Sensitive," Marino adds loudly. "Yo, Bruce!" he yells to a uniformed guard who is at least thirty feet away, having just stepped out of the evidence room and into the lobby. "What'cha know, man? Still bowling on that sorry team The Pin Heads?"

"I didn't mention it?" Scarpetta is saying. "I apologize." She didn't mention it, and she isn't sorry. When she is called into a case, she'll bring who and whatever she wants, and she can't forgive Dr. Marcus for calling her Kay.

Bruce the guard looks puzzled, then amazed. "Marino! Holy smoke, that you? Talk about a ghost from the past."

"No, you didn't," Dr. Marcus reiterates to Scarpetta, momentarily off balance, his confusion palpable, like the flapping of startled birds.

"The one and only, and I ain't no ghost," Marino says as obnoxiously as possible.

"I'm not sure I can allow it. This hasn't been cleared," Dr. Marcus says, flustered and inadvertently exposing the ugly fact that someone he answers to not only knows Scarpetta is here but may indeed be the reason she is here.

"How long you in town?" The yelling between old friends goes on.

Scarpetta's inner voice warned her and she didn't listen. She is walking into something.

"Long as it takes, man."

This was a mistake, a bad one, she thinks. I should have gone to Aspen.

"When you get a minute, stop by."

"You got it, buddy."

"That's enough, please," Dr. Marcus snaps. "This is not a beer hall."

He wears a master key to the kingdom on a lanyard around his neck, and he stoops to hold the magnetic card close to an infrared scanner next to an opaque glass door. On the other side is the chief medical examiner's wing. Scarpetta's mouth is dry. She is sweating under the arms and her stomach feels hollow as she walks into the chief medical examiner's section of the handsome building she helped design and find funding for and moved into before she was fired. The dark blue couch and matching chair, the wooden coffee table, and the painting of a farm scene hanging on the wall are the same. The reception area hasn't changed, except there used to be two corn plants and several hibiscus. She was enthusiastic about her plants, watering them herself, picking off the dead leaves, rearranging them as the light changed with the seasons.

"I'm afraid you can't bring a guest," Dr. Marcus makes a decision as they pause before another locked door, this one leading into administrative offices and the morgue, the inner sanctum that once was hers rightfully and completely.

His magnetic card does its magic again and the lock clicks free. He goes first, walking fast, his small wire-rimmed glasses catching fluorescent light. "I got caught in traffic, so I'm running late, and we have a full house. Eight cases," he continues, directing his comments to her as if Marino doesn't exist. "I have to go straight into staff meeting. Probably the best thing is for you, Kay, to get coffee. I may be a while. Julie?" he calls out to a clerk who is invisible inside a cubicle, her fingers tapping like castanets on a computer keyboard. "If you could show our guest where to get coffee." This to Scarpetta, "If you'll just make yourself comfortable in the library. I'll get to you as soon as I can."