Olivia Price walked into the Graveyard at six a.m. Every autopsy bay she’d ever worked in had a similar nickname, and this one was actually on the tamer side—not to be repeated to civilians, of course. True, this was where the bodies rested until they moved on to some other place, claimed by families or relegated to a nameless plot marked only by a number in a potter’s field, or what passed for that in the modern era. Her job was to help them find their way to wherever their journeys ended. She laughed at herself and the whimsical thought. She was a scientist, a doctor, not a priest. She dealt with corpses, the remains of a human being, whose spirit or essence, or whatever it was that made them unique individuals, had long since deserted the flesh. All the same, every body that came under her care was unique and special. Each still carried the outward and inner signs of a lifetime of living, no matter how brief that lifetime might’ve been. She was trained to read those signs, to take note of the evidence of disease or injury or injustice. She was the observer, the chronicler, the last biographer of those who ended up in the medical examiner’s office—victims of accident, illness, or merely the passage of time.
She had always known she’d be a doctor to the dead, and she was never happier than at this hour of the morning, when she was alone, before the inevitable interruptions from colleagues, students, and trainees disturbed the peace. Of course, she could still work through the inevitable chaos—the dead didn’t keep to a schedule or any other form of social convention—but she needed, relished, the peaceful solitude. She did her best work then, all thoughts orderly, efficient, and logical.
In the antechamber, she hung her white lab coat, a fresh one pressed and laundered every day, on the first hook inside the door, donned disposable booties over her flats, placed the gold ring with central opal on the thin gold link chain around her neck, and scrubbed her hands with the hexachlorophene-impregnated sponge. After drying off with the industrial blue paper towels, she tied on an impermeable green apron that draped from chest to knees, covered her hair, and entered the space that was more home than her own brownstone. Surprisingly bright and spaciously airy for a room underground, the twenty-by-sixty-foot suite held four stainless steel autopsy tables lined up down the center, leaving an aisle on either side and in between, each large enough to easily maneuver the gurneys. The floor-to-ceiling thermoregulated steel cadaver storage cubicles, each four feet square with a slot for the index card bearing the identifiers in black Magic Marker, occupied the far rear wall. Each long wall held waist-high counters with shelves and cabinets for equipment, extra-deep sinks, and several hoods for venting noxious fumes from chemically or naturally induced decomposition. Overhead cables, pulleys, and mechanical arms allowed cameras, spray washers, and X-ray devices to swivel into place above the tables. Wireless voice-activated recorders hung down above the tables, and computer monitors sat on shelves suspended from the ceiling at eye level.
The tables themselves were eight feet long and four feet wide, slanted at twenty degrees from head to foot so bodily fluids could drain through thin horizontal slats into the stainless steel basin below and from there into the special drain system designed to collect biological effluent for disposal. At the head of each table, a large hanging scale swung above an adjustable shelf equipped with a power saw and large-bore suction lines. In most respects, the autopsy suite resembled any other operating room.
Olivia checked the printout on the intake board next to the door, noting that another body had been delivered during the night, case 17A290-1: UM, TOA 0321. Unidentified male, time of arrival 3:21 a.m. Jane and John Does were denizens of the past, each body now being assigned an identifier that took precedence over their name, if that was even known. In this case, it wasn’t. No one had been assigned to the case yet. She would take care of that before morning review. Right now, she intended to begin the autopsy on a case delivered late the day before, a young male victim of a drive-by shooting. Undoubtedly the homicide detective assigned to the case would be calling for information once shift changed at the police station.
She checked the file number against the intake sheet, typed in her password and the file number on the computer adjacent to her table, and activated the voice recorder. As the assistant chief, she had her own work space that no one else used unless they were overwhelmed with casualties. Once the file came up and she’d double-checked that all the identifiers matched, she printed a series of labels that included the case number and her ID number. Done with the critical documentation to secure chain of evidence, she opened the corresponding storage cubicle, slid out the tray holding the body bag, engaged the hydraulics to lower it to stretcher level, and transferred it, after years of practice, without difficulty. If the diener had been present, he or she would have insisted on doing the transfer. They were the official Graveyard techs, after all, but she rarely actually needed an assistant and had to remind herself to let them do their jobs. She pushed the gurney to the side of her table, quickly unzipped the bag, and in several practiced moves, settled the body onto the stainless steel table.
For the first and only time, she surveyed Dejon Barnes. After this, he would be case 17A285-1.
Hello, Dejon. I’m Dr. Price. It’s my job to find out why you’re here.
Determining manner and cause of death was not only a legal necessity but a moral one, in her mind. If he had family, they would want to know how he died, even if she could never tell them why. So would the courts, if this turned out to be a homicide. She never made assumptions—she only dealt in facts. Facts never lied. She owed him the truth.
Before doing anything else, she photographed him as he lay there, even though he would’ve been photographed at the scene. This was her scene now.
His clothes had been removed, already bagged and tagged by the night diener, and according to the on-scene report she scanned on her monitor, the crime scene techs had collected physical evidence at the scene. After she completed the photographs, she pulled on gloves and combed through his medium-length jet-black hair with a wide-toothed stainless steel comb, searching for any foreign objects that might’ve been caught there. More than once she’d found bullets or other fragments that ended up being critical evidence. Not today.
Once finished, she pulled the overhead spray handle into place and methodically washed the remains. She drew no conclusions as she worked, despite noting the two-centimeter circular wound just medial to his left nipple in direct line with his heart. The cause of death might appear obvious to a novice, but she knew better than to make assumptions. An external wound that appeared to be from a projectile might prove to be the cause of death, but she would not know that until she had examined the entire body, dissected the major cavities, and reviewed the toxicology report. While it did not appear that the wound had been inflicted postmortem, she had to be sure some other agent hadn’t been the cause of death before the wound was suffered. Once she’d completed the wash down, she was ready for the first part of the autopsy, and everything she did and thought would be part of the official report.
She removed her gloves, engaged the recorder, and re-gloved.
“This is Dr. Olivia Price performing the external examination on case 17A285-1.”
After waiting until her awareness of her surroundings, thoughts of her workday to come, of her very sense of self, receded and her entire focus was on the body, she began her observations, noting the overall appearance of the body, his apparent state of health and nutrition, the presence or absence of tattoos, scars, deformities—congenital or accidental—and the wound. When finished with the visual inspection, she measured his height, limb length, and the dimensions of the entry and exit wounds, turning the body as needed to perform the same thorough examination of the back. Once he was lying faceup again, she drew intraocular fluid for DNA, injected the material into a sterile test tube, and affixed a preprinted label with his identifiers. She removed her gloves and diagrammed the wounds electronically on the tablet attached to her computer.
The external examination took her forty-five minutes, a routine she had performed hundreds of times before and that never varied. Ritual in science ensured that vital information was not overlooked or forgotten. Once that portion of the autopsy was completed, she opened her instrument tray and lined up what she would need in the precise order in which she would use it, comfortable and secure in the knowledge her findings would be complete when she finished.
Just as she reached for a new pair of gloves, the door behind her opened. She stiffened, a rush of annoyance breaking the clean white canvas of her concentration. She hadn’t expected anyone to be in this early. The other MEs didn’t start their workdays until after the eight a.m. review.
“I thought I saw your car out back,” a gravelly male voice announced.
“Morning, Dr. Greenly,” she said without turning. Her boss’s voice was unmistakable, as was the faint aroma of cherry smoke, the pipe tobacco he routinely used.
“Getting an early start, I see.” His tone held the slightest hint of censure that might just as easily be her imagination, but she didn’t think so.
“We have a busy day ahead,” Olivia replied neutrally, aware that her associates found her work habits curious, probably found her curious as well. She was used to it, had always been the odd one out, the too studious, too humorless, sometimes too weird one in any gathering. She couldn’t remember if she’d ever minded the persistent sense of being slightly out of step with everyone else, but she was so used to it now she ignored the sidelong looks and semi-snide comments about setting a bad example for everyone else that were sometimes directed at her. “I don’t want anyone to get overloaded.”
“I expect your staff can handle things without you burdening yourself too much,” he said, and she wondered if he was subtly trying to suggest that, like him, she needn’t spend too much time in hands-on work. Setting a bad example.
But then, she wasn’t like him, content to be only an administrator, to shuffle papers and study budgets and deal with the politics of running a city-funded department with close ties to one of the largest and most affluent medical centers in the nation. She would have to deal with that balancing act someday, when he retired and she took over his position. Which she would, she was certain. She had the training and the will. Running a big-city ME’s office was her destiny. But not now, and even when, she would never give up the practice of her craft. She was a medical examiner, and that was what she would be for the rest of her life. This was the one place where she fit.
“The best way for me to train residents is to spend time with them,” she said, although she knew that wasn’t what he was talking about. Teaching was not a requirement for bureaucrats. What she didn’t say was she needed to see the staff at work too, to be accountable for the department’s results.
“Yes, well, I won’t argue that point.” Greenly tipped his chin toward her table. “You’ll have to put this one on hold for a little while, I’m afraid. I’ve scheduled an interview for you at eight.”
Olivia frowned. “An interview? I wasn’t aware we had any positions open at the moment.”
“This is for the fellowship program.”
“We’ve already interviewed all the applicants. I was planning to call the candidates to offer positions this morning, in fact.”
“Yes, well, that’s why I want you to interview Dr. Reynolds before you do anything. That way, you can decide which of the others you’ll move to a wait list.”
“I’m sorry,” Olivia said. “I’m confused. Who is Dr. Reynolds? We already have three excellent candidates, all of whom are highly qualified and could go anywhere. We’re lucky to get such top choices.”
“You’ll want to take this one in place of one of those three,” he said flatly.
Olivia’s jaw tensed at the obvious order. “Oh? And why would that be, considering I don’t even know who he is?”
“She. She is,” he muttered, waving a hand. “It’s a bit of a long story, but I’ve already spoken to the appropriate people and gotten clearance for this. A bit unusual, I agree, but I think you’ll find it will all work out.”
“Sir,” Olivia said, trying hard to keep the irritation from her voice, “what is this all about? Who requested this?”
“Dr. Reynolds comes highly recommended from the chief of surgery and several other prominent university officials, and they would like to see her placed in our program right away.”
“And what is the incentive?” Olivia couldn’t miss the stench of politics, a lot like a decomp—impossible to wipe out or wash off. She’d never been able to hide her disdain for the power games, and some game was under way here. She resented being forced to play without even knowing the ground rules.
Greenly’s chest expanded, his look supremely satisfied. “I’ve just gotten approval to budget in the new DNA analysis lab and the upgrades to the chemical and mass spec units.”
Olivia tasted defeat, at least for this round. A state-of-the-art DNA sequencer would make a huge difference in many of their cases, where identifying the victim was often the first challenge. She understood how difficult it would be to turn that down for something that seemed on the surface as simple as accepting a new fellow on the recommendation of some obviously well-positioned physicians. All the same, she resented being told she didn’t have a choice in choosing who her fellows would be for the next twelve months. She’d already spent dozens of hours reviewing applications, reading letters of reference, and interviewing potential candidates. Being forced to take someone, sight and credentials unseen, went against everything she considered important. This was not the way things should be done. In her experience, deviating from the tried and true always led to disaster.
“Is there some reason Dr. Reynolds can’t enter the next applicant pool so that we have a chance to—”
“No, I’m afraid that won’t work. She’s ready for placement now, and her circumstances…Let’s just say a number of people feel it’s important that she get started.”
“I’ll speak with her, of course, but this is highly irregular, and I have to insist that I have the final say in this. The fellowship program, after all, does fall under my—”
“Of course, of course.”
“I’d like to review her file before we meet.”
“I’ll have it sent round to you. I’m sure once you’ve had a chance to look at all the information, you’ll be perfectly happy to take her.” Greenly smiled. “I know you have only the best interests of the office at heart.”
Olivia smiled rigidly. “Of course.”
After he left, leaving a trail of smoked cherries behind, she carefully rebagged the body, noted the time on the tape, and stripped off her contaminated boots and gloves and garments by the door. She washed up and donned her lab coat before walking back to her office. Once there, she texted the diener scheduled to cover the Graveyard that morning and requested he return the body to storage until she could resume her autopsy. With her morning plans in shambles, she determined to reestablish her routine. She checked her mail, reviewed the lab reports that had come in after-hours the night before, and signed off on the completed charts awaiting her attention. Once she was done with that and somewhat back on schedule, she went outside to the last food truck in line, her favorite, for her morning coffee and returned to her desk at 7:55. Since there was still no sign of the file, she called Greenly’s office to ask his secretary to bring it over. No one answered, and she left a voice mail.
When a knock sounded on her door, Olivia straightened and noted the time. Exactly eight a.m. Pleased with that, but in no way ready to accept Dr. Reynolds just because she’d been ordered to, she straightened the file folders into an orderly pile and folded her hands on her desk. “Come in, please.”
Olivia’s first thought was that Dr. Reynolds was older than she expected. Most applicants for a fellowship had had four years of college followed by medical school and almost as many years of residency, putting them in their late twenties. This woman looked to be a decade older. Maybe she was wrong about the age estimate, though, considering how haggard and not quite well she appeared. Used to avoiding assumptions, Olivia tried not to ascribe the gaunt frame that could use another twenty pounds and still be considered lean, or the hollow-eyed look in the dark-haired woman’s gray eyes, to the scar that ran down her left temple almost to her cheekbone and the limp she tried to hide. However, the cane that assisted her in moving into the room toward the single metal folding chair in front of Olivia’s desk was impossible to ignore. Logic concluded this woman had been through something seriously damaging in the not too distant past.
Olivia stood and held out her hand. “Dr. Reynolds, I am Dr. Olivia Price, the assistant chief medical examiner.”
Jay shifted the cane from her right hand to her left and held out her hand, mentally ordering the tremor to diminish. It never worked, but she couldn’t seem to stop trying. Gratefully, the woman across the desk appeared not to notice as she gripped Jay’s hand firmly and held it for a second.
“Jay Reynolds,” Jay said, embarrassed that she couldn’t hide her weakness and wondering if she’d ever get used to it. Knowing that she wouldn’t.
“Please,” Price said with a cool, clipped voice, “have a seat.”
Jay lowered herself onto the hard, narrow chair and extended her bad right leg. Her knee still throbbed like a son of a bitch if she kept it flexed for too long, but at least it held her up. She scanned the room and the woman watching her as she settled. She’d been in plenty of hospital offices in her life, and she couldn’t remember a single one as ruthlessly organized as this one. Every book on the crammed floor-to-ceiling bookcase was vertical and appeared to be exactly the same distance from the edge of the shelf, as if lined up with a ruler. Not a leaning one among them. Price’s desk was clear except for one absolutely square stack of folders in the corner, a phone, and a computer. There was an ornate patterned rug covering ninety percent of the institutional tile floor, thick and expensive looking, without a trace of lint or a stray hair. The only oddity aside from the unusual lack of chaos was the tri-level game board of some kind sitting on a carved, dark wood pedestal table in the far corner behind Price’s desk. Small shiny stones lay scattered on each level. She tried to pull the name of the game from her memory and came up blank. That didn’t happen nearly as often as it had six months ago, but the hot wave of frustration never lessened.
“What is that?” she muttered.
Price followed her gaze.
Price’s tone and expression never changed. Impersonal, cool, not exactly unfriendly, but no flicker of warmth either. Jay was used to making quick assessments and rapid judgments in the trauma bay, and her assessment of Olivia Price was that she was direct, reserved, maybe a little cautious, and despite that icy shell, a hell of a lot more attractive then Jay had anticipated. With her willowy build, honey-blond shoulder-length hair, deep green eyes, and near-porcelain skin over perfectly proportioned facial bones, she would probably be beautiful if any part of her face smiled, but not even her eyes held a hint of warmth. They were steely and appraising and remote. Jay straightened under the scrutiny.
“I’m afraid your interview was scheduled before I had a chance to review your file.” Olivia Price sighed. “In fact, I don’t have your file, and for that I apologize.”
Jay waited. She hadn’t known about the damn interview until the night before when Ali had called her, and if Ali and Vic hadn’t ganged up on her she wouldn’t be here now. Looked like Dr. Price hadn’t been briefed either. Great. Maybe this would be short and sweet and she could get the hell out of this dungeon. Hell, there weren’t even any windows down here. Not that there were any in most ORs either, but at least everyone there was alive. Mostly.
Price broke the silence. “Tell me how you come to be here, Dr. Reynolds.”
“I’m here to interview for the forensic pathology fellowship,” Jay said, treading carefully around what she felt was a whole battlefield full of land mines waiting to blow her out of the air.
“As I understand.” Price’s thin smile undoubtedly covered annoyance. “What’s your background? Where did you do your pathology residency, for example.”
Jay swallowed a laugh. Nothing about Olivia Price suggested humor would get through to her or impress her. All business. Super serious. And none too happy, if Jay still had any ability to read people.
“I didn’t…take a pathology residency, that is.”
Olivia’s evenly arched brows flattened as she frowned. “Then why are you here applying for this fellowship?”
“Quite a few people think it’s a good idea.”
“And you don’t.” No challenge, more a statement.
She was quick, and Jay respected that. Her direct gaze never wavered. Not someone to fuck with. “All things considered, it’s the best offer I’ve had in a while.”
“What is your training, then?”
“Surgery,” Jay said. “I’m board-certified in general surgery and…and that’s it.”
“No pathology training?”
“Actually, I have had more than most. My surgery training program required a year in the lab and I spent it doing gross pathology—surgical specimens, mostly.”
“Gross and histologic?” Olivia asked.
“That hardly makes you qualified for this position.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling everyone, but the pathology chair is willing to credit my surgical training and the year I spent in the lab toward the path residency. Along with this fellowship, and a concurrent six months of histo-path, also done here, and they’ll certify me to sit for the pathology boards.”
“You’re not presently qualified for a forensic fellowship here.”
“Why not?” Jay said, even though an hour ago she’d had no interest in the position. Now being told she wasn’t good enough, when she’d been telling herself for almost half a year she wasn’t good for much, only made her want to prove this woman was wrong.
“Really, Dr. Reynolds, you don’t strike me as naïve or inexperienced. You must know this is an advanced program for physicians with much more formal experience in pathology than you’ve had. We don’t have time to provide remedial training. Our fellows are expected to work at a high level of competence from the moment they arrive.”
“And what makes you think I can’t do that? I’ve been performing at a high level all my life. I don’t think your…” She searched for the word and didn’t know what to call them. They weren’t patients. They weren’t clients or customers either. They were corpses.
“‘Cases’ is the word I think you’re looking for,” Olivia said smoothly, the ice growing thicker in the room by the moment.
“At least there’s no urgency,” Jay finished.
Olivia sat forward, glacial gaze narrowing. “That’s just one of the many ways in which you are wrong, Doctor. Many things hinge on a speedy and accurate diagnosis of cause and manner of death. Death certificates are necessary before families can bury their dead, collect life insurance or other benefits, dissolve partnerships, execute wills, and of course, in the case of unlawful deaths, before the authorities can investigate properly. We must be as accurate and as efficient as any other emergency medical doctor.”
Jay bit back a retort, noting the ME hadn’t mentioned closure for the family in her list. Arguing over which specialty was more important was locker room banter, and besides, Price had a point. All those things mattered, maybe not quite as critically as a ruptured aorta, but medicine was about more than the moment. Maybe she’d fare better when she talked to the chief ME. She didn’t know where Olivia Price fit in the chain of command, and as much as she’d been willing to walk away from the whole crazy idea of a pathology residency at breakfast, now she wasn’t willing to burn her bridges.
“You’re right,” Jay said, “and I misspoke. In the trauma bay, the patient’s life depends on split-second decisions. I only meant that there is a slightly larger window of time to do the job that needs to be done in your field.”
Price tilted her head infinitesimally. “I will grant you that.”
Score one for me.
“Still, that does not excuse incompetence.”
Jay bristled. “I may be inexperienced in the specifics, but incompetence cannot be assumed, only observed, wouldn’t you agree?”
Olivia Price smiled, a genuine smile, and the impact was as unexpected and shocking as a sucker punch. Jay’s heart nearly stopped in her chest, and since she knew what that felt like, she was light-headed for a second. Where once there had been ice and stone, now there was heat and sunlight. For a heartbeat, less, Olivia was radiant. And if Jay hadn’t been absolutely positive she’d seen it, she wouldn’t have believed it.
The absence of that heat a second later sent a chill down her spine.
“You may not be aware,” Price said slowly, “but the job itself is physically rigorous. Every staff pathologist performs at least one autopsy a day, if not several, sometimes half a dozen or more, which requires standing, lifting, transferring bodies. Physical stamina is essential.”
As she talked, Jay’s jaws clenched and now her teeth ached. She knew what Olivia saw—skinny as a stick, pale as the patients Price probably labored over every day, weak and damaged. She couldn’t argue with what was evident to anyone who cared to look at her. “As I said before, that’s something that remains to be seen.”
“How long have you been out of the hospital?”
The gentleness of the question was worse than the previous distance. Jay would’ve liked to lie, but there was no point when the facts could be checked and probably would be before the day was ended. “A few months.”
Jay blew out a breath. “Three mornings a week, the hours can be flexible. I’ll work around it.”
“That hardly seems advisable.”
“My physical condition shouldn’t concern you as long as I can do the job.”
“And that’s exactly what does concern me. You are eminently unqualified on every level.”
“Is there anything else you need from me, then?” Jay asked. This was going nowhere, and she had better things to do than beat her head against the wall. Actually, she didn’t, but she could beat herself up all on her own.
“I have a question,” Price said. “It’s the same one I asked you when you first arrived. Why do you want this position?”
“I don’t, at least I didn’t,” Jay said, surprising herself with the words. But faking anything was never in her tool kit. “I’m a trauma surgeon—that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.” She huffed and looked down at herself. “As you can see, that plan has gone off the rails. I’m well trained and I can do the job you’re offering.”
“I can’t use anyone who isn’t one hundred percent committed.” Olivia Price rose. “I’m sorry.”
Jay pushed herself up and steadied herself with the cane. “Thank you for your time.”
“Of course,” Olivia said, watching as Jay crossed the room and let herself out. Jay Reynolds carried herself with pride, despite her injuries, visible and otherwise. A tragedy, one of dozens Olivia witnessed every day, although usually those were the kind that ended in death. Then again, there were more kinds of death than just physical. She knew that all too well.
A knock at her door brought her back from the brink of memory, a mental lapse she rarely allowed. For a second she wondered if Jay Reynolds had returned to plead her case again. But no, Jay didn’t look like the kind of woman who would do that—beneath the battered exterior and that hint of dark defeat in her eyes, her spirit still seethed.
“Yes?” Olivia called.
The door opened a few inches. “I’ve got that file you called about, Dr. Price.”
“Morning, Pam. Bring it in.”
Pam Hernandez, Greenly’s secretary, crossed the room with the file extended and a look of chagrin she couldn’t quite hide. “Sorry. Dr. Greenly couldn’t put his hands on it right away.”
“I imagine,” Olivia said. “Thank you.”
“Sure thing,” Pam said, beating a hasty retreat.
Olivia squared the file in the center of her desk and studied it, much as she did a body before she began the actual physical examination. The manila folder looked just like that of all the other applicants, but this one was brand new and uncreased. Whatever was inside, no one else had ever looked at it, and she doubted there was much of anything to see. Certainly not the reams of material they generally collected on an applicant, sometimes going all the way back to college—transcripts, medical school records and recommendations, copies of licensure, test scores, and personal affidavits. This was hastily thrown together to satisfy protocol.
Protocol. She checked her watch. 8:42.
She was already late for morning review, and what did it matter now what the file said. The decision was already made. She knew it and so did Jay Reynolds. Morning review was the time when pending cases were assigned. Presumably Greenly was running the session in her stead, which only meant she would have to go over all the cases set for that day with their assigned pathologists to be sure everything was in order and on schedule. Well, she’d be there in a few minutes. Another minute wouldn’t matter.
She opened the folder and drew out the three single pages, the first a half dozen lines of demographic material—name, DOB—she’d been wrong, Jay was only thirty years old—and a medical school dean’s letter dated six years previously. The summary stated the applicant, Jay Emerson Reynolds, was an excellent candidate for surgical training, having earned an honors grade in all her core courses and junior internships. Excellent was a code word for top of the class, which most medical schools didn’t actually stipulate in so many words, but everyone understood. The next page held a copy of her board certification in general surgery earned the year before, putting her on time, according to Olivia’s mental math, in her training schedule. The final page was a personal letter of recommendation from Ali Torveau, MD, the chief of the surgical trauma division at University Hospital, their affiliate institution next door. Olivia had talked with Ali Torveau a few times in the eighteen months she’d been with the ME’s office when she’d needed clarification about a case that had previously been Torveau’s. Her impression had been Torveau was bright, scrupulous about details, and not afraid to admit a surgical outcome was less favorable than she desired. Olivia had never found any indication an individual’s demise had been due to a surgical mishap in Torveau’s department. She scanned Torveau’s recommendation, focusing on the final paragraph.
“Dr. Jay Reynolds is a superb clinician, technically and intellectually, and will be a superior addition to any department lucky enough to secure her in the future. Her tenure as a trauma fellow at University Hospital proved her to be exemplary in judgment, skill, and dedication. I recommend her without reservation for a training position in pathology, for which her previous training affords her unique qualification.”
Olivia closed the folder and sat back. Well, that told her not much more than she already knew—Jay Reynolds had a lot of people in her corner, including quite a number of important and influential ones. That might mean she was well liked or it could mean she was simply well positioned politically. Torveau obviously held Reynolds in high regard, and like most surgeons, thought surgical training equipped someone to do just about anything as well as the experts in the field. As Jay herself had stated, though, she didn’t want to be a forensic pathologist. Her only interest was trauma surgery, and that road was clearly closed to her.
Olivia keyed her computer, entered her ID number and password, and scrolled into the statewide medical records database. Her department had access to online hospital records, since many of the cases they cleared originated as inpatients. Deducing Jay would have been treated at the hospital where she trained, Olivia searched the University Hospital records first. Jay’s name came up on-screen with an intake date of nine months ago. She hovered the mouse over the link for an instant and then closed the database.
Whatever was in that record would give her the facts, but she’d already seen the results. She spent her life steeped in the tragedy of others, witnessing day in and day out the aftermath of accident, illness, and crime. She didn’t search for reason, only for cause, and she couldn’t do the work she did if she allowed the concept of fairness to cloud her judgment. Still, for an instant, she mourned Jay Reynolds’s lost dreams.
Jay left the ME’s building less than an hour after she’d entered. Still early morning. This time nine months ago, she would’ve been in the OR, scrubbed and just starting the first case of the day, or making rounds with the team in the trauma intensive care unit. Instead, she was standing on the street corner at loose ends. All she had to look forward to for the rest of the day was a rehab session, which at this point, she could do on her own. Her personal effects were still in the TICU locker room. No one had said anything to her about clearing it out, and she hadn’t been back since she’d been discharged from the hospital. Like if she didn’t empty out her things, she wouldn’t have to face the hard fact that she was never going back. But she knew she was done, everyone knew she was done, and pretending things were going to be any different some magical time in the future was a loser’s game. Sitting in Olivia Price’s office, passing on a job she could do if she’d been willing to jettison her empty wishes, made her realize she was stuck in some self-appointed limbo, feeling sorry for herself. The admission made her wince.
Time to change the channel.
She got a coffee and a cinnamon roll from a food truck and ate standing out on the street corner, watching the traffic go by on University Boulevard. The light rain didn’t bother her, not with the smell of spring in the air. Most of the snow had melted and green poked up from the ground and blossomed on the branches. She looked at her watch. April 1. She grinned, accepting the irony that appeared to be her life. She admitted having been fooled—the question was, where to next.
“Time to get on with it and find out.” She tossed back the rest of the coffee, dumped the paper cup in a trash can, and made her way down the long delivery drive separating the ME building from the rear entrance to the medical complex. University Hospital had grown up over a couple hundred years, starting back when the medical school was established by Benjamin Franklin. Now it was a two-block-long labyrinth of mismatched buildings cobbled together and connected by hallways that started on one floor and ended on another. Only experienced residents were aware of the circuitous back routes, and part of the training tradition was losing the newbies the first time a code was called. Jay smiled to herself, thinking about the days of rushing headlong from the cafeteria on the ground floor through the hallways with her team, people parting to let them pass, some turning to watch, taking the stairs two at a time to the main level and shouldering through the trauma doors ready to take on any challenge. The Gods of War.
Not anymore. Her days of running anywhere apparently were over. The rehab doc assured her she’d be able to walk without a cane at some point, once she retrained the rest of the muscles on the right side of her body, once the ligaments in her knee got solid again and didn’t fold up every time she tried to climb a set of stairs faster than a snail. He wasn’t quite so optimistic about her arm, though. All the joints worked and the muscles were supposedly undamaged, although it felt weak to her, but the mainframe sending signals from her head to her hand wasn’t working right. The tremor was probably permanent, although she was learning to work with it. Good thing she’d always been fairly ambidextrous, and her motor skills on the left were pretty damn good.
Not good enough to operate, but she could hold a scalpel. For what, she didn’t know, but it mattered to her that she could. She flashed on Olivia Price studying her without a hint of pity, which she appreciated, even if she didn’t care for her conclusions. Unqualified. Dismissing her without a second thought, cool and impenetrable, except for those few moments where a little bit of sympathy peeked through, which Jay didn’t need, and that blazing instant when she’d smiled. Now, that Jay wouldn’t mind witnessing again.
And bullshit to the unqualified. Hell, she could hold a scalpel to cut a cadaver. She knew more about anatomy—okay, as much about anatomy—as Price. She didn’t need any training there. The rest she could get if she had a chance to get her hands dirty. Her chest tightened thinking how much she missed putting her hands to work.
She shoved the thought aside as she walked into the hospital feeling like a thief sneaking around. The halls were bustling, and no one paid her any attention in her civilian clothes. She was just another visitor to what had been her life. She keyed in her ID code on the pad next to the swinging doors at the trauma unit and, miracle of miracles, it still worked. She should have figured that, though. Ali wouldn’t have shut her out.
Hoping she didn’t run into anyone, she hurried as fast as her leg could manage the short distance to the locker room and pushed her way in. It was empty, and the relief made her a little dizzy for a second. She didn’t want to see anyone, hated the look of sympathy in their eyes or, not quite as bad, the discomfort mixed with embarrassed gratitude it hadn’t been them out on that highway. She parked her windbreaker along with her cane on the bench that ran the length of the room between the lockers and opened number 72. Her scrubs were stacked on the top shelf, her clogs on the bottom, and her lab coat with her name stitched on the front and trauma surgery on the arm hung from a hook. The pockets of her coat were filled with the usual equipment—a stethoscope, stainless steel bandage scissors, a couple of rolls of tape, a folded sheet of paper with patient names and work lists. She tossed the scrubs into the used clothing bin and stared at the coat, not sure what to do with it. After a minute, she retrieved the stethoscope and scissors and stored them on the empty top shelf of the locker. Somebody would use them or toss them, didn’t matter to her. She rolled up the coat and shoved it into the trash bin along with her OR clogs.
“Cleaning house?” Ali asked from behind her.
“Thought it was time,” Jay said, still staring into the empty space where her identity used to reside.
“How’d the interviews go?”
Jay closed the door, let the lock fall shut, and turned with her back against the bank of lockers. Ali leaned against the row opposite her, shadows under her deep brown eyes, her shaggy dark hair shaggier than usual.
“Long night?” Jay asked, avoiding the inevitable.
Ali Torveau nodded. “You know how it is with rainy nights and MVAs. Had a two-car head-on from the expressway about three.”
“Just finishing up?”
Ali grimaced. “Yeah. So?”
Ali’s eyebrow rose. “What do you mean? How do you know that already?”
“Have you ever met Olivia Price, the assistant chief ME?”
“Not in person but I talked to her a couple of times, I think. Sounds young, smart, no bullshit?”
“Yeah, that’s her. She informed me that I’m unacceptable on every level—I think that’s how she phrased it.”
“Does she know Andrews already approved you for the path residency?”
“I told her, but I got the idea she hadn’t been briefed on anything. I don’t think it would matter. I am an unorthodox candidate, and she’s a very orthodox, by-the-book kind of person.”
“Well, don’t be too sure yet. It sounds like she just didn’t get the whole picture.”
“I’m pretty sure she did.” Jay grinned. “And I probably didn’t help when I told her I didn’t really want to be a pathologist.”
Ali pressed her lips together and shoved her hands into her pockets. “Ookay. Talk to me, Jay. What do you want to do, then?”
“I’ve been asking myself that since I left Price’s office. A little late, I guess. I’ve been pretty much of an ass, haven’t I?”
“No, you haven’t. At least”—Ali smirked—“no more than ever.”
Jay laughed. Ali was as much a big sister to her as Vic. Her older sister and Ali had been best friends since grade school, and Jay had been the younger kid sister, tagging along whenever she could. They were so tight, and she looked so much more like Ali than her blond-goddess sister, people always thought they were a trio of sibs. She’d grown up wanting to be just like both of them, following them to medical school and surgical training and, she thought, into trauma surgery. Ali could kick her ass like nobody else in her life except her big sister Vic, and the two of them hadn’t been kicking her at all since the accident.
“Maybe you should’ve booted me in the ass a little sooner than this,” Jay said.
“You weren’t ready to be booted. Besides, it’s better if you boot yourself, and it sounds like maybe you are. What brought the change of heart?”
Jay shrugged, not entirely sure herself. “Being told I wasn’t good enough, maybe. Looking at a long day ahead of me and nothing to do that mattered.”
“Sounds like a good place to start.”
“Yeah, but I just blew my chances.”
Ali looked unperturbed, just like she always did when a problem cropped up, never deterred or discouraged. “Did you see Greenly?”
“For about five minutes right after Price. He didn’t have much to say except the standard line—he’d heard good things about me, glad I was interested, certain everything would work out. And then he was gone.”
“Well, he’s got the final word.”
Jay sighed. “Not if Dr. Price has anything to say about it.”
“Like I said—don’t be so sure.”
“I’ll work on that.”
“Good. Beau says hi, by the way, and to get your butt over for dinner.”
“Tell her I’ll be there next time.”
Ali nodded and blew out a breath. “I have to get going, but I’ll check with you later after I’ve made a few calls.”
“Look, you don’t have to—”
“Yeah, I do. You’re one of mine, remember?” Ali stepped over the bench and cupped the back of Jay’s neck, looking her in the eye. “You always will be. And you need to get your ass back to work.”
“Thanks,” Jay murmured as Ali disappeared around the corner. She leaned her head back against the lockers and closed her eyes. She needed to do something to feel worthwhile again. She wondered if she’d be able to convince Olivia Price of that.
As soon as roll call ended, Sandy slid a dollar into the antiquated vending machine in the hall outside the muster room and grabbed another coffee. Trying to drink and walk upstairs to the Narcotics Enforcement Unit on the second floor of the precinct house without burning her mouth and other critical structures, she mumbled bleary mornings to the officers she passed on her way. She ought to be used to working days by now, but even after a year she still preferred nights. When she’d walked the streets instead of working them, she’d never crawl out of bed before ten at night, stroll until dawn, cadge breakfast one way or another from a friendly café owner, and crash by noon. Now she was up at six, showered, dressed, and at the precinct house by seven, pretending to be awake for roll call. At least she could work in a polo shirt and chinos instead of a patrol uniform, so she didn’t have to polish shoes or brass. Small blessings and fifteen minutes saved. She’d cut her hair to collar length and styled it in loose layers so it didn’t need anything except a finger comb. Lucky for her, Dell liked it short as much as she had long and tangled. According to Dell, as long as it was still blond, she was happy. Sandy smiled to herself—as long as Dell was getting laid regular, which she was, Dell was happy. Keeping her that way was no hardship, for sure.
The only reason she didn’t mind days at the moment was Dell was working days too—so she got to curl up with her after they had night sex and wake up to morning sex. That made the misery of early wake-ups worth it. Sex with Dell anytime was always worth it. Except she usually fell asleep after having been properly tended to—thus round two of the coffee this a.m.
She’d barely made it through the dispatches on her desk from the night before when the phone balanced between her desk and her partner’s rang. Since she was the only one sitting there, she grabbed it.
“This is Palmetti, Homicide. Where’s Nunez?”
Sandy ground her teeth. Another dickhead who thought he was too important to talk to the rookie, even though she hadn’t been a rookie for a year. She scanned the room for her partner. Oscar Nunez was leaning against the water cooler, flirting with one of the uniforms.
“Busy with his hand on Turner’s ass.”
Palmetti laughed, a husky cigarette bark. “Yeah—that sounds right.”
“What can I do for you?”
“We got a DB we think has your name on it.”
Figures, a personal call could only mean they were trying to turf one. Sandy slugged the coffee she wasn’t going to get to finish, winced at the taste, and pulled over a pad and pen.
“It being male or female?”
“Female, youngish. Crack house down on Delaware.”
“Who called it in?”
He scoffed. “Landlord—at least that’s who he says he is. Came looking for rent.”
“And we want this why?”
“Couple of glassines next to the vic look designer—got a marking we’ve never seen before.”
Sandy perked up. “What kind of marking?”
“Weird waves with some kind of wings inside a circle.”
“Like a canceled stamp?”
“Yeah—could be that, if you close one eye and squint. You coming, or do I have to buy your dinner first?”
“Maybe you could bite me instead.”
Palmetti laughed. “I’ll be waiting, sweetheart.”
“Uh-huh. You do that.”
Still laughing, the homicide dick gave her the address.
“Body still there?”
“You’re my first call. CSU’s doing their thing. We’ll get the MEs rolling next.”
Sandy sighed. A DB likely drug overdose wasn’t going to get priority attention if there was more on the docket. “Try to get them there before noon.”
“I’ll work on it,” Palmetti said and disconnected.
Sandy stood, shoving the scrap of paper with the details in her pants pocket. Oscar was still romancing the pretty redhead from records. “Hey, Oz, we caught one.”
Oz gave the redhead another grin, murmured something no doubt smooth and soulful in her ear, and lazed his way over to Sandy. His sharp gaze belied his bedroom manner. “What you got?”
“A turf from homicide.”
“You let them talk you into that?”
They’d been partnered for three months since Sandy transferred into the drug division from a stint with vice, but they meshed like they’d been together a decade. Funny, since they couldn’t be more different—Oz had six years’ more street experience, two previous wives plus a sorta-serious girlfriend, four kids to support, and an eye for everything in skirts. Sandy was only a year out of the academy and had spent her life on the same streets Oscar had been walking, but she’d been trolling them for johns before working as a civilian CI for the High Profile Crimes Unit. That was how she’d met Dell and everyone else who mattered to her, and now she was on the job, settled down with her forever woman, who just happened to be the sexiest detective in the whole department.
“Remember the briefing about the new designer scag that showed up in NYC and Chicago—the super-deadly one?”
Oz’s brows drew down over his dreamy chocolate eyes. “Wings or something, right?”
“Bird—but the brand is supposed to be a wing. Anyhow, this might be it. So if you’re done romancing the next Mrs. Nunez, we should probably check it out.”
He waggled his brows. “Always so serious, partner. You gotta loosen up.”
She grinned. “I got plenty of excitement in my life, don’t you worry about it.”
“Do tell me about it sometime.”
“Don’t you wish.” If she told him just how hot Dell was in bed, or what a rush it was when Dell went undercover and Mitch came home, pumped up and ready for action, Oz would think she was making it up. Besides, the fewer people who knew about Mitch, the better. “Your heart couldn’t take it.”
Sighing, he pulled his topcoat off the back of his chair. “Just what we don’t need. Another goddamn epidemic of deadly shit on the streets.”
“Might be just another routine OD.” Sandy slouched into the bomber jacket she’d borrowed from Dell and never returned, and followed him into the hall. She liked wearing Dell’s clothes, even though they were all a little too big for her. Felt like carrying a little piece of Dell around with her.
He gave her the eye as they tromped down the stairs. “Routine OD. Yeah, right. You feeling lucky?”
“Don’t believe in it. Worse case, it’ll be a short batch and the mess will run its course before the ODs start stacking up on us.”
“We can only hope.” He didn’t sound convinced.
Olivia reached the auditorium only forty-five minutes late for morning review. She slipped through the door at the rear so as not to interrupt the presentations, and stopped short. The lights were on, but the tiered rows leading down to the stage and podium were empty. The screen at the back of the stage where the case summaries, X-rays, and histo slides should be projected was blank. Where was everyone? By her account, another ME along with Dr. Greenly, the lab techs, and at least two path residents should have been occupying the first few rows. She checked her watch even though she didn’t need to. She knew what time it was.
Of course, she should have known if Dr. Greenly was running the morning meeting, it would be brief. He’d probably called an end to the meeting as soon as the new cases were logged and distributed. Usually, each ME and resident presented their ongoing cases as well as those that had just been closed, giving everyone the opportunity to comment or sometimes provide very valuable feedback on those cases that were less than straightforward. She sighed. Well, at least she could get on with her day. Once she finished the autopsy she’d started earlier, she could check with everyone else on the status of their cases. Not the way she’d like to do things, but thus far the entire morning had been out of sync. Oddly, she felt out of sync too, as if she’d overlooked something important or failed to recognize the significance of some subtle but key finding. The sensation of things spinning outside her control was disquieting.
Luckily, she knew how to settle her unusual case of nerves.
Turning to leave the room, she texted the diener to prepare case 17A290-1 for her. By the time she got down to the Graveyard and prepared, he should have the body ready. When she entered the anteroom to don her protective wear, she glanced through the glass partition separating the prep area from the main autopsy room. Several other procedures were under way. At least everyone was working. Frowning, she checked her table. It was empty. Just as she hung her lab coat on its customary peg, the diener came through the outer door behind her.
The thin redhead was dressed in his usual maroon scrubs, the ID clipped to his chest pocket so faded with time, Olivia suspected it was close to her in age. “Morning, Elliot. I texted you, but I guess you didn’t get it.”
He frowned. “No, I got it. But then I ran into Dr. Greenly and he asked me to get his car ready, and when I told him I was on my way down here to prep your case, he told me I didn’t need to.”
“Sorry? Did he say why?”
“No, ma’am. He just said you wouldn’t be doing the case until later.”
Sending the morgue attendant to bring his car around was exactly something Dr. Greenly would do, and she couldn’t say a thing about it. His use, or rather misuse, of department personnel and in all likelihood other things was simply not something she could change. Seeing how distressed Elliot was by the lapse he had no control over, she smiled. “That’s fine, just miscommunication. You can get the body ready for me now.”
“Absolutely.” He pulled on a fresh pair of shoe covers from the blue plastic bin by the inner door. “Won’t take me a minute.”
The hall door opened again and Dr. Greenly filled the frame, holding the door ajar with one arm. “Ah, Dr. Price, there you are. I’ve been trying to reach you.”
Olivia checked her phone and didn’t see a message. “I’m sorry. I didn’t get anything from you.”
“Well, no matter. I’ve got you now. I’d like to see you in my office for a moment.”
“I was just about to start a case. Could we—”
“No, no, that’s fine. This won’t take but a minute. Elliot can wait, can’t you?”
“Yes, sir—no problem at all.”
“You go ahead with the rest of your work, Elliot,” Olivia said. “I’ll text you when I’m ready.”
“Sure thing, Doc,” he said, looking from Olivia to Greenly with obvious confusion.
Olivia grabbed her coat and followed the chief down the hall to his office. He held open the door and allowed her to step through before him.
“I thought you might want to reorganize your schedule so you could introduce Dr. Reynolds to everyone and give her an idea of how things run around here.” Greenly crossed to his desk and hiked a hip onto the front edge.
Olivia stopped short. “I’m afraid I don’t understand. I spoke with Dr. Reynolds this morning as you requested. She’s obviously a very accomplished physician, but she’s not right for—”
“I understand your reservations,” he said with surprising sincerity. “The circumstances are unusual, I agree, but Philip Andrews feels confident that with her previous clinical experience along with the advanced laboratory year in pathology she’s already completed and some intensive direction from us, she’ll meet the requirements to sit for the pathology boards with no trouble.”
“Of course, Dr. Andrews is in charge of his training program, but that doesn’t mean that our training program is flexible enough or that we should compro…” She struggled for words that wouldn’t be completely insulting to her superior. “I simply want to be sure we don’t alter our standards.”
He held up a finger. “And neither do I. That’s exactly why I’m assigning her to work with you exclusively for the time being. As things progress, we can reassess the supervisory details.” He checked his watch. “She should be here anytime. I called her just a few moments ago and gave her the good news.”
“I am sure she was quite surprised,” Olivia said dryly.
“That’s an understatement,” Jay said from the open doorway.
Olivia turned. Jay wore the same plain dark trousers and blue pinstripe shirt she’d worn for the interview, although her thick dark hair and the shoulders of her light jacket looked sodden. “Still raining, I see.”
“Spring showers.” Jay flicked wet strands off her neck with a slim, long-fingered hand.
Surgeon’s hands, Olivia couldn’t help but think. “Do you have any business to wrap up with your previous department?”
“Nope. I’m free and clear.” Jay’s gaze was direct as she met Olivia’s. “And I appreciate the opportunity to work.”
“All right then.” Olivia bowed to the inevitable. If Greenly had approved this special program, she would have to make the best of it, at least if—or until—it became apparent Dr. Reynolds could not meet the same standards as the other residents. Were that the case, then they would need to dismiss her without jeopardizing her eventual career path. She would be certain of that when she wrote a recommendation for whatever position Dr. Reynolds planned to pursue next.
“Well then,” Olivia said, “let’s start—” Her phone vibrated and she pulled it from her pocket. “It’s intake—excuse me a moment…This is Dr. Price.”
“It’s Bobbi, Dr. Price. We’ve got an unattended DB, PPD just called it in.”
“Address?” Olivia asked, switching to a text screen and typing in the address. “I’ve got it. On my way.”
“We’re rolling now,” the investigator said. “Meet you on scene.”
“I have a new fellow with me, so wait after photos if we’re held up.”
Olivia slid her phone away. Jay watched her expectantly, and she motioned her to follow. “Well, your training is about to begin. We’ve got a scene investigation to do.”
“What is it?” Jay asked.
“Unattended death. It’s up to us to determine if it’s an automatic autopsy or a natural death.”
Dr. Greenly said, “Dr. Reynolds probably wants to get settled before she—”
“Sounds good,” Jay said, keeping her gaze on Olivia. “Just tell me what you need me to do.”
“Come with me,” Olivia said, “and I’ll get you a field kit.”
“Well then, good luck,” Dr. Greenly called as Olivia and Jay slipped into the hall and let the door close behind them.
“So how does this work?” Jay said as they walked. “Do you…attend every death the police investigate?”
“If the police are involved, probably ninety percent. Any violent death, accidental or otherwise, requires an autopsy by law. In the case of hospital deaths or when the circumstances are otherwise clear-cut, the medical investigators who do the initial phone intake may just arrange for transport or release the body to the family.” Olivia turned a corner into the brightly lit equipment bay. “The ME and the MLIs—the medicolegal investigators—will respond to any suspicious death, suspected suicide, potential homicide, MVA, mass casualty, and the like.”
“And you’re on call today?”
“This month. If I’m tied up at an active scene, the second call will take over.”
“Sounds familiar,” Jay muttered.
“Somewhat, I’m sure.” Olivia pointed to a row of wide gray lockers. “You can claim one of those to store your personal effects. Some people prefer to work in scrubs, but you will be suiting up in the field if necessary, so street clothes are appropriate if you prefer. When doing an autopsy, you’ll also be wearing an impermeable cover gown, but you’ll probably be most comfortable in scrubs.”
“I’m good for now.”
“Fine. Let me show you where the field kits are, and we’ll sign one out for you.” Olivia led Jay into the adjoining room, really a big walk-in closet, with shelves on either side and red tackle boxes lined up on the bottom row.
“Do we use the same kit every day?” Jay asked.
“I prefer to keep my own field kit and restock as needed.” Olivia handed one to Jay. “You can either pick up a new kit when you’re on call or keep one and restock as needed. I advise you to check the contents before going out if you’re not stocking yourself.”
“Right here.” She pointed to the shelves. All the bins had coded locks. “You punch in your code for each item when you restock so we can keep track of inventory and, obviously, what each individual is using.” She handed Jay a clipboard. “You can sign right here for the kit. I’ll go over its contents with you when we have a chance.”
“All right, thanks.”
“We’ll take my car, it’s out back.”
“I haven’t felt quite so green since my first few days of medical school,” Jay muttered, keeping pace with Olivia despite the faint protest in her knee.
“I’m sure you’ll feel more comfortable after a few days.”
“I’m a pretty quick study,” Jay said.
Olivia did not reply.
“I’m over here,” Olivia said, leading the way across the gated lot behind the empty building.
Jay scanned the vehicles, looking for some kind of coroner’s wagon or van. When Olivia keyed the doors on a battered gray Chevy Tahoe that looked like it might have been new when Clinton was president, she said, “You drive your personal vehicle?”
“I like having all the gear I need accessible.” Olivia slid behind the wheel. “I know I’ll have what I need if I transport it myself.”
Jay hastened to climb in as Olivia started the engine. Glancing over her shoulder, she took in neat stacks of equipment cases and wrapped packs of coveralls. “Is that a metal detector back there?”
“Mmm—similar. It’s a sonar of sorts—detects uneven density in the ground.”
“Like buried bodies.”
Jay tried to picture Olivia marking off a grid, searching for buried bodies. Yeah, she could, absolutely. Olivia was no desk jockey—she looked capable of any kind of fieldwork, looked like she was the kind of chief to get her hands dirty. That suited Jay just fine—she wanted to learn from a hands-on expert. “So what do the MLIs do, exactly?”
“Much the same things that the police CSIs will do, but from a slightly different viewpoint.” She pulled the big rig out into traffic, continuing as she adroitly maneuvered between the slower-moving vehicles headed into Center City. “Photograph the body, preserve evidence in the immediate vicinity of the body, note environmental temperatures, disturbances in the physical terrain, and any other data that may impact our investigation.”
“And what do we do?”
Olivia cast her a quick glance. “You’re going to be my scribe.”
“Is that an ME term for scut monkey?”
Olivia smiled, almost laughed. Jay felt a thrill of accomplishment. If she worked at it, she might actually discover some way to provoke another one of those full-blown smiles. Right then, she decided that was going to become her real goal if she stuck with this crazy idea of training to be a pathologist.
“No,” Olivia said, “it’s a learning tool. And while in this situation not entirely critical, it will be when we’re dealing with a mass casualty situation, for example. It’s impossible for an examiner to stop and record everything, and it’s essential to have every observation noted.”
“Just how am I supposed to do this?”
“I have a tablet with the templates you need, and if we find something beyond routine…well then, you’ll scribble.”
Jay laughed. “I sort of like the term scribbler better than scribe. Sounds more contemporary.”
“For today, we’ll double-record and then go over everything when we get back.” Olivia pulled onto the expressway to circle around downtown Philadelphia to the broad boulevard that ran along the river, separating the city from New Jersey across the way. “Compare notes and impressions.”
“Sure,” Jay said, not relishing being relegated to the position of student again. She’d climbed the Mount Everest of surgical hierarchy without much trouble, but somehow, this mountain range looked a lot more formidable. She might as well get rid of the elephant hulking on the console between them. “I guess my turning up again was unexpected.”
“This entire morning has been unexpected,” Olivia said dryly.
“How many other fellows are you taking this year?”
“Ordinarily, we take three. I’m not sure what we’ll do now, but the conventional two-year fellowship starts in the summer.”
“So I’m an add-on.”
“That remains to be seen.”
Jay began to see the problem with Greenly’s abrupt edict to bring her into the program under less-than-ordinary terms. “So I might be taking someone else’s place?”
“As I said—”
“No wonder you’re not happy.”
“I’m neither happy nor unhappy,” Olivia said. “It wasn’t my decision to make.”
“But you’re stuck with me.”
“That’s not how I think of it,” Olivia said.
Jay shifted, stretching out her knee, subtly hoping to ease the cramp in her calf. “How do you look at it, then?”
Olivia shook her head. “Dr. Greenly has accepted you on somewhat unusual terms, but you’re here now. As long as you are here to work and to learn, I’m going to do my damnedest to make sure you do both.”
Jay grinned. “I can get behind that.”
Olivia shot her another look, and this time there was a hint of fire in her eyes that rocketed a bolt straight to the center of Jay’s chest. She’d been wrong in her initial assessment. There was nothing icy about Olivia Price. She was a banked fire, smoldering and ready to flare, but only on her own terms. A twist of interest coiled in Jay’s belly, a feeling she hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. “Why did you choose forensic pathology?”
“It suits me.” Olivia looked back to the road and didn’t answer.
So there was the barrier—the personal. Intrigued, Jay wanted to probe but decided to wait until she understood the ground a little better. If she made the wrong move one time, she’d never get anther chance with Olivia.
“This looks like it,” Olivia said, pulling over to the curb behind a cluster of police cruisers with light bars flashing and a couple of unmarkeds with blue dashboard beacons. The empty vehicles blocked most of the street in front of a ramshackle row of deserted buildings. A red and white van pulled behind them as they were getting out of Olivia’s SUV. A man and a woman, both wearing blue nylon windbreakers with Medical Examiner stenciled in yellow block letters on the back, jumped down and hurried over to them as Olivia opened the rear of her Tahoe.
“Hi, Doc,” the curly-haired blond female said.
The African American man who had been driving nodded to Olivia and looked at Jay’s cane quizzically.
“Darrell, Bobbi, this is Dr. Reynolds.” Olivia passed Jay a plastic pack containing a white Tyvek coverall. “She’s a new fellow who will be working with us.”
The techs both said hello, and the group headed down the cracked and uneven sidewalk toward the building with the crime-scene tape blocking it off from the street. Jay dodged piles of trash, dog litter, and foul-smelling puddles, doing her damnedest to keep her pant legs from getting soaked in biohazardous swamp water.
A bored-looking uniformed police officer stood on the sidewalk in front of a brick building with broken-out windows, a doorless entryway above a crumbling set of concrete stairs, and the desperate look of a dying time written all over its façade. The officer seemed to perk up as they approached.
Olivia held out her ID. “Dr. Olivia Price, medical examiner’s office.”
“Hey, Doc. Maybe now we’ll be able to wrap this up.” He noted something on a clipboard as Olivia passed.
The blond MLI paused and took out a tablet. “You first on scene?”
“Yeah.” He winced. “My lucky day, all right.”
She stayed behind talking with him as the other MLI went on ahead. Olivia waited at the top of the crumbling steps for Jay to climb them.
Following Olivia, Jay stepped into a dark, dank hallway and uncharted territory. The only thing she knew with certainty was that Olivia Price held her future in her hands.