The Burning Room - Michael Connelly


It seemed to Bosch to be a form of torture heaped upon torture. Corazon was hunched over the steel table, her bloody and gloved hands deep inside the gutted torso, working with forceps and a long-bladed instrument she called the “butter knife.” Corazon was not tall and she stood on her tiptoes to be able to reach down and in with her tools. She braced her hip against the side of the autopsy table to gain leverage.

What bothered Bosch about the grisly tableau was that the body had already been so violated for so long. Both legs gone, one arm taken at the shoulder, the surgical scars old but somehow raw and red. The man’s mouth was open in a silent scream. His eyes were directed upward as if beseeching his God for mercy. Deep down Bosch knew that the dead were the dead and they no longer suffered the cruelties of life, but even so he felt like saying, Enough is enough. Asking, When does it stop? Shouldn’t death be the relief from the tortures of life?

But he didn’t say anything. He stood mute and just watched as he had hundreds of times before. More important than his outrage and the desire to speak out against the continuing atrocity inflicted on Orlando Merced was Bosch’s need for the bullet Corazon was trying to pry loose from the dead man’s spine.

Corazon dropped back on her heels to rest. She blew out her breath and temporarily fogged her spatter shield. She glanced at Bosch through the steamed plastic.

“Almost there,” she said. “And I’ll tell you what, they were right not to try to take it out back then. They would have had to saw entirely through T-twelve.”

Bosch just nodded, knowing she was referring to one of the vertebrae.

She turned to the table, where her instruments were spread out.

“I need something else…,” she said.

She put the butter knife in a stainless-steel sink, where a running faucet kept the water level to the overflow drain. She then moved her hand to the left of the sink and across the display of sterilized tools until she chose a long, slender pick. She went back to work with her hands in the hollow of the victim’s torso. All the organs and intestines had been removed, weighed, and bagged, leaving just the husk formed by the upturned ribs. She went up on her toes again and used her upper-body strength and the steel pick to finally pop the bullet loose from the spinal column. Bosch heard it rattle inside the rib cage.

“Got it!”

She pulled her arms out of the hollow, put down the pick, and sprayed the forceps with the hose attached to the table. She then held the instrument up to examine her find. She tapped the floor button for the recorder with her foot and went on the record.

“A projectile was removed from the anterior T-twelve vertebra. It is in damaged condition with severe flattening. I will photograph it and mark it with my initials before turning it over to Detective Hieronymus Bosch with the Open-Unsolved Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

She tapped the recorder button with her foot again and they were off the record. She smiled at him through her plastic screen.

“Sorry, Harry, you know me, a stickler for formalities.”

“I didn’t think you’d even remember.”

He and Corazon had once had a brief romance but that was a long time ago and very few people knew his real full name.

“Of course I would,” she said in mock protest.

There was almost an aura of humility about Teresa Corazon that had not been there in the past. She had been a climber and had eventually gotten what she wanted—the chief medical examiner’s post and all of its trappings, including a reality television show. But when one reaches the top of a public agency, one becomes a politician, and politicians fall out of favor. Teresa eventually fell hard and now she was back where she started, a deputy coroner with a caseload like anyone else’s in the office. At least they had let her keep her private autopsy suite. For now.

She took the bullet over to the counter, where she photographed it and then marked it with an indelible black pen. Bosch was ready with a small plastic evidence bag and she dropped it in. He then marked the bag with both of their initials, a chain-of-custody routine. He studied the misshaped projectile through the plastic. Despite the damage, he believed it was a .308-caliber bullet,