Nocek began to gather familiar blue and white garb. “Why do you wish to repeat the postmortem examination on this particular shooting victim, may I ask?”
“You may. The victim’s mother is a personal friend. She isn’t convinced the shooting was random.”
He glanced at her, as if assessing how proper it was for her to be the one running this secondary protocol, but instead of saying anything, smiled sadly. “Ah. If only that were the case. We try to find understanding in that which is not understandable. It is human nature.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, then. We have prepared the body for your arrival. Will you require assistance? I personally would be happy to lend my expertise.”
“Thank you. I would like a second set of eyes. Did you do the initial post?” Sam asked, setting her purse down on the counter. She washed her hands—one Mississippi, two—trying hard not to count aloud, then dried off and took the proffered gear from Nocek’s bony grip. Booties, mask, hair cover, gloves. She got the pieces in place quickly, actions born of repetition.
She hated every minute of this.
“It was not my day to work. I will not be influenced by the previous autopsy.”
“Excellent.” Sam would be. She’d see the incisions, the already dissected organs in their plastic shroud, the crusted blood that dried upon contact with the air. She’d look at the body of a homicide victim, and do everything in her power not to see Donovan. Her Donovan.
She took a deep breath, ignored the interested look Nocek gave her and nodded briskly. “I’m ready when you are.”
Nocek was already dressed for the autopsy suite: he simply slipped a new mask around his neck and pulled gloves from the box above the stainless-steel sink. Without speaking, he held the door for her.
Blessed Mary, full of grace. Give me strength.
She bit her tongue to contravene the overwhelming compulsion to get her hands under running water.
The body was on the first table, nearest the door. There was a buzz of activity—unlike the Nashville office, D.C. didn’t have the luxury of finishing up the day’s four or five posts at noon. There were so many more deaths, so many more murders, that the machine churned all day long and well into the night.
The staff was more extensive, as well. Nocek murmured names to her as they passed, each person finding a reason to swing by and see the pathologist who’d been called in to question, or affirm, their work.
Sam nodded and half smiled a few times, but her mind was captivated by Donovan.
The moment she saw him, she had to force back the tears that sprang into her eyes. He was so…dead. She saw death on a daily basis, but this, this ripped out her heart.
She swallowed, surprised to feel her stomach roiling.
She shouldn’t have come. She didn’t want her last memory of him to be this. This abomination of him. Of them. He wasn’t supposed to die like this.
Breathe, Sam. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three…
She shut her eyes. Disassociated. She could do this. She owed it to him.