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datatime: 2022-09-29 18:33:57 Author:TEwPzWeB

Spontaneous combustion?

It's kind of a legend in medical school. A joke, really. I seem to recall the FBI handled it.

There is more in the world than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Doctor-or in theMerck Manual . I will send over the case file for your perusal.

The stench hanging in the apartment entrance helped warn D'Agosta what was in store. It only grew worse as he walked through the dwelling on his way to the master bedroom. He'd been half asleep when he entered the building's lobby-filling out the incident report on the gunfire he'd exchanged in Riverside Park had taken longer than expected-but he sure as hell wasn't asleep now. It was amazing the way that stench just cut through everything: took away the 2A.M. grogginess, took away the aches in his joints, the pain of the skinned knees, the itch of the poison ivy he'd managed to roll through while evading the thugs.

He had seen a lot of unpleasant homicides in his day, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay on the floor beside the bed. It was a corpse, that much at least was clear: it had ruptured in a way he'd never seen before, the corpse unzipping itself from pubis to sternum, vomiting a shrunken tangle of burned and blackened organs. In an almost unconscious gesture, he reached up and touched the cross underneath his shirt, feeling its reassuring presence. If there was a devil, this was how he'd do it. This was definitely how he'd do it.

Negative, at least prelim, the SOC man answered. "There are other anomalies. Note the lack of the pugilistic effect-there's none of the contraction of the arm muscles one usually sees in such severe burn cases. Note also the heat fracturing in the bones of the extremities. Nearer the center of the body, the bones have actually been calcined. Do you have any idea how hot a fire would have to be to cause this kind of damage? Well over the combustion threshold. And yet there was no room flashover. In fact, from the look of things, the fire never evenapproached flashover. The heat was localized to the body, and the body only."

Pendergast held out his shield. "Mind if I ask a few questions, Doctor?"

Not yet. Heating,burning , is clear. But as for the cause . . . I have no idea.

You know of that case, Doctor?

The doctor looked up sharply. "You mean, like Mary Reeser?"

The M.E. ducked in. "Finished?"

He had seen a lot of unpleasant homicides in his day, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay on the floor beside the bed. It was a corpse, that much at least was clear: it had ruptured in a way he'd never seen before, the corpse unzipping itself from pubis to sternum, vomiting a shrunken tangle of burned and blackened organs. In an almost unconscious gesture, he reached up and touched the cross underneath his shirt, feeling its reassuring presence. If there was a devil, this was how he'd do it. This was definitely how he'd do it.

Not yet. Heating,burning , is clear. But as for the cause . . . I have no idea.

The doctor gave a low, cynical laugh. "You FBI fellows and your acronyms. I don't believe you'll find 'SHC' in theMerck Manual , Mr. Pendergast."

Yes. And if the case file can be believed, SHC-spontaneous human combustion, as it's referred to-is far from being a joke.

I sure hope so.

The last of the SOC boys-the fingernail picker-came back around the corpse on his hands and knees, bristling with test tubes and tweezers and swabs. He looked pretty green, too, and those guys were a tough bunch. They were the ones who had to find the fibers and hairs, swab stains, pick up all the bits and pieces. Close-in work, real close.

I sure hope so.

As you wish. The doctor departed with the SOC man, leaving them alone with the body.

Mrs. Dallbridge was in such a state of shock that she remained frozen as a statue, uncomprehending, while the spray slowly darkened her gown and her lovely bedspread and refilled the teacup on her tray with gray, chill water.

Accelerants?

He had seen a lot of unpleasant homicides in his day, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay on the floor beside the bed. It was a corpse, that much at least was clear: it had ruptured in a way he'd never seen before, the corpse unzipping itself from pubis to sternum, vomiting a shrunken tangle of burned and blackened organs. In an almost unconscious gesture, he reached up and touched the cross underneath his shirt, feeling its reassuring presence. If there was a devil, this was how he'd do it. This was definitely how he'd do it.

As you wish. The doctor departed with the SOC man, leaving them alone with the body.

Do you have a cause of death?

The voice was cut off by the unbearably shrill sound of the fire alarm in the hall, followed by the even louder blare of the siren within her apartment. She dropped the phone, covering her ears. A moment later there was a snapping noise as the sprinklers went off, and suddenly the room was full of water, streaming everywhere.

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