Black Notice

Тема

Patricia Cornwell

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business. establishments, events, pr locates is entirely coincidental.

And the third angel poured out bis vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood.

(REVELATION 16:4)

BW

December 6, 1996

Epworth Heights

Luddington, Michigan

My Dearest Kay,

1 am sitting on the porch, staring out at Lake Michigan as a sharp wind reminds me I need to cut my hair. 1 am remembering when we were here last, both of us abandoning who and what we are for one precious moment in the history of our time. Kay, I need you to listen to me.

You are reading this because I am dead When I decided to write it, 1 asked Senator Lord to deliver it to you in person in the early part of December, a year after my death. I know how hard Christmas has always been for you, and now it must be unbearable. Loving you was when my life began. Now that it has ended, your gift to me is to go on.

Of course you haven't dealt with a damn thing, Kay. You have sped like hell to crime scenes and done more autopsies than ever. You have been consumed by court and running the institute, with lecturing, worrying about Lucy, getting irritated with Marino, eluding your neighbors and fearing the night. You haven't taken a vacation or a sick day, no matter how much you've needed it.

It's time to stop dodging your pain and let me comfort you. Hold my hand in your mind and remember the many times we talked about death, never accepting that any disease or accident or act of violence has the power of absolute annihilation because our bodies are just the suits we wear. And we are so much more than that.that everything's going to be all right. l ask you to do one for me to celebrate a Kay I want you to believe I am somehow aware of you as you read this, somehow looking after you, and life we've had that I know will never end. Call Marino and Lucy. Invite them over for dinner tonight. Cook one of your famous meals for them and save a place for me.

I love you forever, Kay,

Benton

1

The late morning blazed with blue skies and the colors of fall, but none of it was for me. Sunlight and beauty were for other people now, my life stark and without song. I stared out the window at a neighbor raking leaves and felt helpless, broken and gone.

Benton's words resurrected every awful image I had repressed. I saw beams of light picking out heat-shattered bones in soggy trash and water. Shock rocked me again when confusing shapes turned into a scorched head with no features and clumps of sooty silver hair.

I was sitting at my kitchen table sipping hot tea that Senator Frank Lord had brewed for me. I was exhausted and light-headed from storms of nausea that had sent me fleeing to the bathioam twice. I was humiliated, because beyond all things I feared losing control, and I just had.

"I need to rake the leaves again," I inanely said to my old friend. "December sixth and it's like October. Look out there, Frank. The acorns are big. Have you noticed? Supposedly that means a hard winter, but it doesn't even look like we're going to have winter. I can't remember if you have acorns in Washington."

"We, do," he said. "If you can find a tree or two."

"Are they big? The acorns, I mean."

"I'll be sure to look, Kay."

I covered my face with my hands and sobbed. He got up from the table and came around to my chair. Senator Lord and I had grown up in Miami and had gone to school in the same archdiocese, although I had attended St. Brendan's High School only one year and long after he was there. Yet that somewhat removed crossing of paths was a sign of what would come.

When he was the district attorney, I was working for the Dade County Medical Examiner's Office and often testified in his cases. When he was elected a United States senator and then appointed the chairman of the judiciary committee, I was the chief medical examiner of Virginia and he began calling on me to lend my voice in his fight against crime.

I was stunned when he called me yesterday to say he was coming to see me and had something important to deliver. I barely slept all night. I was devastated when he walked into my kitchen and slipped the simple white envelope out of a pocket of his suit..

As I sat with him now, it made perfect sense that Benton would have trusted him this much. He knew Senator Lord cared deeply for me and would never let me down. How typical of Benton to have a plan that would be executed perfectly, even though he wasn't around to see it through. How typical of him tу predict my behavior after his death and for every word of it to be true.

"Kay," Senator Lord said, standing over me as I wept in my chair, "I know how hard this must be and wish I could make it all go away. I think one of the hardest things I've ever done was promise Benton I would do this. I never wanted to believe this day would come, but it has and I'm here for you."

He fell silent, then added, "No one's ever asked me to do anything like this before, and I've been asked a lot of things."

"He wasn't like other people," I quietly replied as I willed myself to calm down. "You know that, Frank. Thank God you do."

Senator Lord was a striking man who bore himself with the dignity of his office. He had thick gray hair and intense blue eyes, was tall and lean and dressed, as was typical, in a conservative dark suit accented by a bold, bright tie, cuff links, pocket watch and stickpin., I got up from my chair and took a deep, shaky breath. I snatched several tissues from a box and wiped my face and nose.

"You were very kind to come here," I said to him.

"What else can I do for you?" he replied with a sad smile.

"You've done it all by being here. I can't imagine the trouble you've gone to. Your schedule and all."

"I must admit I flew in from Florida, and by the way, I checked on Lucy and she's doing great things down there," he said.

Lucy, my niece, was an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF. Recently, she had been reassigned to the Miami field office, and I hadn't seen her for months.

"Does she know about the letter?" I asked Senator Lord.

"No," he answered, looking out the window at a perfect day. "I think that's your call to make. And she's feeling rather neglected by you, I might add."

"By me?" I said, surprised. "She's the one who can't be reached. At least I'm not undercover chasing gun traffickers and other persons of such fine character. She can't even talk to me unless she's at headquarters or on a pay phone."

"You're not easy to find, either. You've been elsewhere in your spirit since Benton died. Missing in action, and I don't even think you realize it," he said. "I know. I've tried to reach out to you, too, haven't I?"

Tears flooded my eyes again.

"And if I get hold of you, what do you tell me? Every-thing's fine. Just busy Not to mention, you haven't come to see me once. Now and then in the old days, you even brought me some of your special soups. You haven't been taking care of those who love you. You haven't been taking care of yourself."

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