The Flower Net

The Flower Net by Lisa See Read Free Book Online

Book: The Flower Net by Lisa See Read Free Book Online
Authors: Lisa See
    Gardner flipped open his notebook and began to read with mathematical exactness. “The victim is a male, early twenties, weighing a hundred and twenty pounds. The hair tells us that he’s Chinese.” Gardner and the coroner agreed with David’s assumption that the victim wasn’t one of the immigrants or one of the crewmen. “Our guy’s had some pretty expensive dental work done, although the coroner couldn’t explain the present condition of the teeth, which were…”
    “Black, I remember.”
    “And then there’s the Rolex,” Gardner went on. “It was real.”
    “What killed him?”
    “That’s where it gets interesting. You know that thing with the hands and feet? The skin comes off like gloves and socks if a body’s been submerged in water for a long time. I can also tell you that our John Doe was tortured before death.”
    “Even with the decomposition, the coroner found deep burns on the victim’s arms and neck. Either he was tortured or he had a very strange way of putting out cigarettes.”
    “Did he drown?”
    “The fluid in his lungs is purely postmortem.”
    “Where did he die?” David queried.
    “I think a better question might be,
did he die?” Gardner rejoined.
    “Okay, then, when?”
    “Let me jump in here for a minute,” said Campbell. “The captain left the
so fast that he forgot his log. We found out that the ship left the port of Tianjin on January third. We faxed authorities in Tianjin, and they sent us back copies of the
’s bills of lading. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that immigrants were not listed on the manifest. What
a surprise is that a ship of this sort would leave Tianjin at all. Usually these ships leave from Fujian, Zhejiang, or Guangdong Province.”
    “Where is Tianjin?”
    “I didn’t know either, but it’s in the north near Beijing. It’s China’s third-largest city.”
    “And what was on the manifest?”
was supposed to carry needlepoint and Aubusson-style rugs, electronic gadgets, and ceramics from the interior.”
    “So why have an immigrant ship leave Tianjin?”
    “We don’t know. What we do know is that the victim has probably been dead since January third,” Campbell said.
    “So back to my question. If it’s not death by drowning, what killed him?”
    “You told me to stay with the body and I did,” said Gardner. “I’m telling you, Stark, you owe me big time. The pathologist cut that guy open from stem to stern. I don’t know what I was looking at. I don’t want to know. But the whole time the pathologist is talking, narrating. Our guy’s liver had gone to mush. His kidneys…” The FBI agent cringed at the memory. “His large and small intestines were eaten up with sores. His mucous membranes—I’m talking about inside his mouth and down his throat—were covered in blisters. Whatever killed him entered his body through his mouth and lungs, then systemically destroyed every single organ.”
    David and Campbell looked at each other, then waited as Gardner took a sip from his coffee.
    “The pathologist ran a toxicology scan. But let’s face it, Long Beach doesn’t have the most sophisticated equipment. A city pathologist isn’t going to be able to sort this out. This thing is weird.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “How did the pathologist put it? ‘We’ve got an organic toxic critter thing going here.’”
    “So whatever it is—this poison—came from an animal?”
    “An animal, an insect, a snake, a spider—the pathologist wasn’t sure. I had him draw tissue samples. They’re on their way to Washington to the FBI crime lab with everything else.”
    “What ‘else’?”
    “Dental impressions, the contents of his wallet, the gloves. Unfortunately, when a body’s been submerged, we lose fibers that we could tie to a crime scene.”
    “Hang on! Hang on! What’s all this?”
    “I forget you aren’t used to dealing with murder

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