Wonderful Milton’s going to learn to keep his mouth shut. “I appreciate his concern, but it’s really none of his business. Or the business of whomever he might have told.”
“The people who love you, darling Pearl, they’re concerned. What else do we have in this world where everything, including your own mother, will someday turn to dust? Someday soon, I might add in all sincerity, feeling more and more distressed every day as I do here in this nursing home hell.”
“Assisted living. It’s not a nursing home. Assisted-living apartments with televisions, comfortable beds, kitchens, private baths, recliners, all the food you can eat—including the pot roast you like so much. People who were on The Lawrence Welk Show come there to perform. There are game rooms, buses to Atlantic City. They’re assisted-living apartments.”
“Death’s waiting rooms, dear.”
Pearl was seething. “I think not.” She so yearned to terminate this conversation. “Is that all you wanted? If so, I’m busy.”
“You’re being snappish again.”
“I mean to be.”
“What I want is for you to consider the future, Pearl. Milton and a home—and children, God willing. A place without killers and guns and knives and rap talk. There are other jobs, Pearl. Milton said to Mrs. Kahn that you could work as his receptionist. It would be safe there. He wants you off the streets, Pearl. We all do. The people who—”
“Yeah, yeah. This is my job.”
“What I’m saying, Pearl, is there are other jobs.”
Like dermatologist receptionist.
Quinn blasted the horn and cursed at a battered, dusty cab that had cut him off.
“Is that that nice Mr. Quinn I hear, Pearl?”
“Such a good man. A protector and a provider. You should feel blessed, Pearl. You have your choice between two good men—one a mensch policeman retired with a generous pension, and the other a medical doctor, no less.”
“An obsessive maniac and a weasel.”
“What?” Quinn asked.
“I was talking into the phone.”
“I have to end this conversation, really.”
Quinn blasted the horn again, still focused on the cab that had cut him off. The driver extended his arm out the window and raised his middle finger.
Quinn leaned on the horn again. “If we had time I’d pull that bastard over.”
“We’ve got time,” Fedderman said from the backseat. “Lady we’re going to see is dead.”
“Look at that asshole, Feds!”
“Cabbies think they own the road like cops,” Fedderman said.
“Screw a buncha cabbies.”
“I need to go now. Sorry.”
Pearl broke the connection and sat seething over weasel Milton yammering his business to his motormouthed aunt.
What was wrong with the world?
“Was that your mother?” Quinn asked, seeing clear pavement ahead and goosing the car to higher speed.
“How’d you guess?” Pearl asked.
“Shoulda told her I said hi.”
“I should have, since she thinks you’re God.”
“Shoulda told her hi from me, too,” Fedderman said from the backseat.
“She thinks you’re a prick,” Pearl said.
The passageway where the dusty green Dumpster squatted like a military tank without a gun was blocked off at both ends with yellow crime scene tape. CSU techs were swarming busily about the scene with their luminol, magnifiers, tweezers, and plastic evidence bags. Tagging and bagging. The photographer was finished and tinkering with her equipment. Nobody seemed to want to look directly at the pale, waxy flesh object beside the Dumpster.
Quinn glanced around and didn’t see Nift. Maybe the Napoleonic little pest had come and gone.
Then a woman wearing jeans, a black T-shirt, and one of those vests with a thousand pockets approached. She was in her forties and had short brown hair in a practical cut, a trim body, and a sweet, lined face that was slightly red around the nose and eyes, as if she had rosacea. She was carrying a black medical bag.
He admitted it.
She smiled. Nice teeth—probably used whitener. “I’m Dr. Chavesky from the medical examiner’s office.”
“I expected Nift.”
“He had to go out of town on business.” Again the smile. Blinding but natural. “Disappointed?”
“Not so far.” He nodded toward the torso. “Finished with it?”
“Her? Yeah. I’m up on the case. As far as a preliminary gets us, she’s the same as the others. Shot through the heart, obvious postmortem trauma to the vaginal area. The point of whatever was shoved into her snagged on her labia minor. The way she was taken apart—crude but effective dismemberment.”
“Bullet still in her?” Pearl asked. She and Fedderman had been standing off to the side, listening. Dr. Chavesky turned her attention to them, knowing they were with Quinn, a set. “Yes. No exit wound. It’s a small caliber and it feels like it went through the sternum. We’ll have to see if it didn’t break up too much to run a comparative ballistics test.”
“Kill her right away?” Fedderman asked.
“Probably not. But within a few minutes. Of course, it’s also possible the killer shot her more than once. Obviously, the entire body isn’t here.”
Quinn looked over at the torso, the headless end. He quickly looked away. “How long’s she been dead?”
“My estimate’s ten to fifteen hours. I’d say she was in her early thirties when the clock stopped for her.”
“Any other trauma to her body?”
She gave him a look. “Besides the vaginal penetration and dismemberment, no. Just the bullet. It appears to have entered from a point directly in front of her while she was standing.” Chavesky glanced at her watch. “EMS should be here any minute to remove the body, unless you want them to leave it for a while. I gotta go.”
“We won’t be long looking it over,” Quinn said.
Dr. Chavesky nodded. “I’ll get a comprehensive postmortem report to you as soon as possible.”
She and Quinn exchanged cards. He glanced down at hers and saw that her full name was Dr. Linda Chavesky. He slipped the card into his shirt pocket, behind his folded reading glasses, and watched the doctor duck gracefully beneath the crime scene tape and climb into a gray city car. Though she was slender, she had to be strong, judging by the effortless way she handled the large black medical bag.
Quinn and his two detectives walked over to the nude torso.
Nift would have remarked on the victim’s breasts, which were not large, but well formed even in death. A young woman, all right. So much life stolen from her. Quinn quickly examined where her arms had been severed, where her head had been severed. He was able to do so without suffering any reaction. That would come later, when he was alone and not on the job. She had black pubic hair, and it didn’t take a doctor to know that violence had been done to the vaginal