The Bone Thief: A Body Farm Novel-5
broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,’ or something along those lines. Apparently—at least according to H. L. Mencken, who said it—we’re all idiots.”
    Culpepper smiled ruefully. “I guess I just proved his point by misquoting him, huh?”
    While Art packed up the superglue unit and trundled it away, I dialed the nurses’ station up on the hospital’s seventh floor. “We’re ready for him,” I said.
    THE WIDE, WINDOWLESS DOOR TO the autopsy suite swung inward. With the squeak of rubber tires on polished concrete, Eddie Garcia rolled into the morgue.
    Unlike most people delivered on wheels, though, Eddie Garcia was very much alive. Actually, “very much alive” was a bit of a stretch. He arrived in a wheelchair, and he still looked weak. Six weeks earlier he was very nearly dead: A searing dose of radiation had destroyed his entire left hand and claimed all but the last two fingers of his right hand, as well as ravaging his bone marrow and immune system. He was still a patient here at UT Medical Center—Miranda had wheeled him down from his room on the seventh floor—but his wounds were healing and his immune system was recovering. When I’d told him about the limbless corpse Miranda and I had exhumed, though, he’d voiced an interest in seeing the body. Eddie—Dr. Edelberto Garcia—was Knox County’s medical examiner, as well as the director of the Regional Forensic Center, so even if he was still on medical leave, he was certainly entitled to be present. He was also likely to be helpful, and I considered it an encouraging sign of his recovery that he was here.
    I’d turned up the autopsy suite’s exhaust fan to remove the smell of embalming fluid, but even so the acrid chemicals—a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, water, and various additives—stung my nostrils and eyes. They seemed to have stung Miranda’s, too, because she rubbed her face with a paper towel. The towel came away damp—her cheeks and the rims of her eyes were red and glistening—and I realized that it wasn’t the harsh chemicals causing her pain, but the far harsher blow that had been dealt to Eddie Garcia.
    Before his devastating injury, Garcia had been a handsome and elegant man. Tennessee’s first Hispanic medical examiner, he’d come to the United States from a prominent family in Mexico City. His medical education was first-rate, and his English was polished and precise—better than the English most of my friends and colleagues spoke, probably better than my own, too. His wife, Carmen, was a Colombian beauty; not surprisingly, their two-year-old son was a lovely boy. A few doors down the hall, on the desk in Garcia’s office, stood a family portrait, a black-and-white photo for which the family had posed in elaborate nineteenth-century dress. Carmen’s thick hair was pinned up, with a pair of tight curls framing the sides of her face above a pleated, high-collared white blouse and a fitted black jacket; Eddie’s wavy hair was slicked back, his mustache closely trimmed, a starched shirt buttoned tight; the baby, Tomás, wore a long white christening gown. With their aristocratic bearing and intelligent eyes, the people in the photo could have passed for old-line Spanish nobility, and for all I knew, they were. Now, though, it was impossible not to focus on the damage he’d suffered. Garcia’s right hand was a thin, scarred paw on which only the last two fingers remained; his left hand was simply not there. Destroyed by the radiation, the hand had been amputated just below the wrist. A pellet of intensely radioactive material, which he’d plucked from the body of a dead man, had seared both of Garcia’s hands and decimated his immune system. It had taken only a moment’s exposure—to a piece of metal the size of a ball bearing—to ravage his body, threaten his life, and jeopardize his career. Yet here he was now, against all odds, taking a first brave step back to the job that had

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