By: Patricia Cornwell


It is Sunday afternoon and Dr. Kay Scarpetta is in her office at the National Forensic Academy in Hollywood, Florida, where clouds are building, promising another thunderstorm. It’s not supposed to be this rainy and hot in February.

Gunfire pops, and voices yell things she can’t make out. Simulated combat is popular on the weekends. Special Ops agents can run around in black fatigues, shooting up the place, and nobody hears them, only Scarpetta, and she barely notices. She continues reviewing an emergency certificate issued by a coroner in Louisiana, an examination of a patient, a woman who later went on to murder five people and claims to have no memory of it.

The case probably isn’t a candidate for the Prefrontal Determinants of Aggressive-Type Overt Responsivity research study known as PREDATOR, Scarpetta decides, vaguely aware of a motorcycle getting louder on the Academy grounds.

She writes forensic psychologist Benton Wesley an e-mail:

A woman in the study would be interesting, but wouldn’t the data be irrelevant? I thought you were restricting PREDATOR to males.

The motorcycle blasts up to the building and stops right below her window. Pete Marino harassing her again, she thinks irritably as Benton sends her an Instant Message:

Louisiana probably wouldn’t let us have her anyway. They like to execute people too much down there. Food’s good, though.

She looks out the window as Marino kills the engine, gets off his bike, looks around in his macho way, always wondering who’s watching. She is locking PREDATOR case files in her desk drawer when he walks into her office without knocking and helps himself to a chair.

“You know anything about the Johnny Swift case?” he asks, his huge, tattooed arms bulging from a sleeveless denim vest with the Harley logo on the back.

Marino is the Academy’s head of investigations and a part-time death investigator at the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office. Of late, he looks like a parody of a biker thug. He sets his helmet on her desk, a scuffed black brain bucket with bullet-hole decals all over it.

“Refresh my memory. And that thing’s a hood ornament.” She indicates the helmet. “For show, and worthless if you have an accident on that donorcycle of yours.”

He tosses a file onto her desk. “A San Francisco doctor with an office here in Miami. Had a place in Hollywood on the beach, he and his brother. Not far from the Renaissance, you know, those twin high-rise condo buildings near John Lloyd State Park? About three months ago at Thanksgiving while he was at his place down here, his brother found him on the couch, dead from a shotgun wound to the chest. By the way, he’d just had wrist surgery and it didn’t go well. At a glance, a straightforward suicide.”

“I wasn’t at the ME’s office yet,” she reminds him.

She was already the Academy’s director of forensic science and medicine then. But she didn’t accept the position of consulting forensic pathologist at the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office until this past December when Dr. Bronson, the chief, started cutting back his hours, talking about retiring.

“I remember hearing something about it,” she says, uncomfortable in Marino’s presence, rarely happy to see him anymore.

“Dr. Bronson did the autopsy,” he says, looking at what’s on her desk, looking everywhere but at her.

“Were you involved?”

“Nope. Wasn’t in town. The case is still pending, because the Hollywood PD was worried at the time there might be more to it, suspicious of Laurel.”


“Johnny Swift’s brother, identical twins. There was nothing to prove anything, and it all went away. Then I got a phone call Friday morning about three a.m., a weird-ass phone call at my house that we’ve traced to a pay phone in Boston.”


“As in the Tea Party.”

“I thought your number’s unlisted.”

“It is.”

Marino slides a folded piece of torn brown paper from the back pocket of his jeans and opens it.

“I’m going to read you what the guy said, since I wrote it down word for word. He called himself Hog.”

“As in pig? That kind of hog?” She studies him, halfway wondering if he’s leading her on, setting her up for ridicule.

He’s been doing that a lot these days.

“He just said, I am Hog. Thou didst send a judgment to mock them. Whatever the hell that means. Then he said, There’s a reason certain items were missing from the Johnny Swift scene, and if you have half a brain, you’ll take a good look at what happened to Christian Christian. Nothing is coincidence. You’d better ask Scarpetta, because the hand of God will crush all perverts, including her dyke bitch niece.”

Scarpetta doesn’t let what she feels register in her voice when she replies. “Are you sure that’s exactly what he said?”

“Do I look like a fiction writer?”

“Christian Christian?”

“Who the hell knows. The guy wasn’t exactly interested in me asking questions like how to spell something. He talked in a soft voice, like someone who feels nothing, kind of flat, then hung up.”

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