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Authors: Kathy Reichs

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Medical

Cross Bones (4 page)

BOOK: Cross Bones
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I reddened.

Ryan flipped the photo as I had. “What’sM de 1 H ?”

“You think that’s anM ?”

Ryan ignored my question.

“What was going on in October of sixty-three?” he asked, more of himself than of me.

“Oswald’s thoughts were on JFK.”

“Brennan, you can be a real—”

“We’ve established that.”

Crossing to Ryan, I reversed the photo and pointed at the object to the left of the leg bones.

“See that?” I asked.

“It’s a paintbrush.”

“It’s a cocked-up north arrow.”


“Old archaeologist’s trick. If you don’t have an official marker to indicate scale and direction, place something in the shot and point it north.”

“You think this was taken by an archaeologist?”


“What site?”

“A site with burials.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“Look, this Kessler’s probably a crackpot. Find him and gril him. Or talk to Miriam Ferris.” I flapped a hand at the print. “Maybe she knows why her husband was freaked over this thing.” I slipped off my lab coat. “If hewas freaked over the thing.”

Ryan studied the photo for a ful minute. Then he looked up and said, “Did you buy the tap pants?”

My cheeks flamed. “No.”

“Red satin. Sexy as hel .”

I narrowed my eyes in a “not here” warning look. “I’m cal ing it a day.”

Crossing to the closet, I hung up my lab coat and emptied the pockets. Emptied my libido.

When I returned, Ryan was on his feet, but again staring at Kessler’s photo.

“Think any of your paleo pals might recognize this?”

“I can make a few cal s.”

“Couldn’t hurt.”

At the door Ryan turned and flashed his brows.

“See you later?”

“Wednesday’s my tai chi night.”


“You’re on.”

Ryan pointed one finger and winked. “Tap pants.”

My Montreal condo is on the ground floor of a U-shaped low-rise. One bedroom, one study, two baths, living-dining room, a walk-through kitchen narrow enough to stand at the sink and pivot to reach the fridge behind you.

Through one kitchen archway, I cross a hal to French doors opening onto a central courtyard. Through the other kitchen archway, I cross through a living room to French doors opening onto a tiny enclosed yard.

Stone fireplace. Nice woodwork. Ample closets. Underground parking.

Nothing fancy. The building’s sel ing point is that it’s smack downtown. Centre-vil e. Everything I need is within two blocks of my bed.

Birdie didn’t appear at the sound of my key.

“Hey, Bird.”

No cat.


“Hey, Charlie.”

“Chirp. Chirp.”


“Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.” Wolf whistle.

Stuffing my coat into the closet, I dropped my laptop in the study, deposited my take-out lasagna in the kitchen, and continued through the far archway.

Birdie was in his sphinx pose, legs tucked, head up, front paws curled inward. When I joined him on the love seat, he glanced up, then refocused on the cage to his right.

Charlie tipped his head and eyed me through the bars.

“How are my boys?” I asked.

Birdie ignored me.

Charlie hopped to his seed dish and gave another wolf whistle fol owed by a chirp.

“My day? Tiring, but disaster-free.” I didn’t mention Kessler.

Charlie cocked his head and viewed me with his left eye.

Nothing from the cat.

“Glad you two are getting along.”

And they were.

The cockatiel was this year’s Christmas present from Ryan. Though I’d been less than enthused, given my cross-border lifestyle, Birdie had been smitten at first sight.

Upon my rejection of his bid for cohabitation, Ryan had proposed joint custody. When I was in Montreal, Charlie would be mine. When I was in Charlotte, Charlie and Ryan would batch it. Birdie usual y traveled with me.

This arrangement was working, and cat and cockatiel were firmly bonded.

I moved to the kitchen.

“Road trip,” Charlie squawked. “Don’t forget the bird.”

I was lousy at tai chi that night, but afterward I slept like a rock. Okay, lasagna isn’t great for “Grasp Sparrow’s Tail” or “White Crane Spreads Its Wings,”

but it kicks ass for “Internal Stil ness.”

I was up at seven the next morning, in the lab by eight.

I spent my first hour identifying, marking, and inventorying the fragments from Avram Ferris’s head. I wasn’t yet undertaking an in-depth examination, but I was noticing details, and a picture was emerging. A baffling picture.

That morning’s staff meeting ran the usual roster of the brainless, the brutal, and the sadly banal.

A twenty-seven-year-old male electrocuted himself by urinating in the track bed at the Lucien-L’Al ier metro.

A Boisbriand carpenter bludgeoned his wife of thirty years during an argument over who would go out for logs.

A fifty-nine-year-old crackhead overdosed in a pay-by-the-night flophouse near the Chinatown gate.

Nothing for the anthropologist.

At nine-twenty, I returned to my office and phoned Jacob Drum, a col eague at UNC-Charlotte. His voice mail answered. I left a message asking that he return my cal .

I’d been with the fragments another hour when the phone rang.

“Hey, Tempe.”

In greeting, we Southerners say “hey” not “hi.” To alert, draw the attention of, or show objection to another, we also say “hey,” but air is expel ed and the ending is truncated. This was an airless, four-A “hey.”

“Hey, Jake.”

“Won’t get above fifty in Charlotte today. Cold up there?”

In winter, Southerners delight in querying Canadian weather. In summer, interest plummets.

“It’s cold.” The predicted high was in negative figures.

“Going where the weather suits my clothes.”

“Off to dig?” Jake was a biblical archaeologist who’d been excavating in the Middle East for almost three decades.

“Yes, ma’am. Doing a first-century synagogue. Been planning it for months. Crew’s set. Got my regulars in Israel, meeting up with a field supervisor in Toronto on Saturday. Just finalizing my own travel arrangements now. Pain in the gumpy. Do you have any idea how rare these things are?”


“There are first-century synagogues at Masada and Gamla. That’s about it.”

“Sounds like a terrific opportunity. Listen, I’m glad I caught you. Got a favor to ask.”


I described Kessler’s print, leaving out specifics as to how I’d obtained it.

“Pic was shot in Israel?”

“I’m told it came from Israel.”

“It dates to the sixties?”

“‘October ’63’ is written on the back. And some kind of notation. Maybe an address.”

“Pretty vague.”


“I’l be glad to check it out.”

“I’l scan the image and send it by e-mail.”

“I’m not optimistic.”

“I appreciate your wil ingness to take a look.”

I knew what was coming. Jake reran the shtick like a bad beer ad.

“You gotta come dig with us, Tempe. Get back to your archaeological roots.”

“There’s nothing I’d like better, but I can’t take off now.”

“One of these days.”

“One of these days.”

After our cal , I hurried to the imaging section, scanned Kessler’s photo, and transferred the .jpg file to the computer in my lab. Then I hurried back, logged on, and transmitted the image to Jake’s in-box at UNCC.

Back to Ferris’s shattered head.

Cranial fractures show tremendous variability in patterning. The successful interpretation of any given pattern rests on an understanding of the biomechanical properties of bone, combined with a knowledge of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors involved in fracture production.

Simple, right? Like quantum physics.

Though bone seems rigid, it actual y has a certain amount of elasticity. When subjected to stress, a bone yields and changes shape. When its limits of elastic deformation are exceeded, the bone fails, or fractures.

That’s the biomechanical bit.

In the head, fractures travel the paths of least resistance. These paths are determined by things such as vault curvature, bony buttressing, and sutures, the squiggly junctures between individual bones.

Those are the intrinsic factors.

Extrinsic factors include the size, speed, and angle of the impacting object.

Think of it this way. The skul is a sphere with bumps and curves and gaps. There are predictable ways in which that sphere fails when wal oped by an impacting object. Both a .22-caliber bul et and a two-inch pipe are impacting objects. The bul et’s just moving a whole lot faster and striking a smal er area.

You get the idea.

Despite the massive damage, I knew I was seeing an atypical pattern in Ferris’s head. The more I looked, the more uneasy I grew.

I was placing an occipital fragment under the microscope when the phone rang. It was Jake Drum. This time there was no leisurely “hey.”

“Where did you say you got this photo?”

“I didn’t. It—”

“Who gave it to you?”

“A man named Kessler. But—”

“Do you stil have it?”


“How long wil you be in Montreal?”

“I’m leaving for a quick trip to the States on Saturday, but—”

“If I divert to Montreal tomorrow, can you show me the original?”

“Yes. Jake—”

“I’ve got to phone the airlines.” His voice was so taut it could have moored theQueen Mary. “In the meantime, hide that print.”

I was listening to a dial tone.



What could be so important that Jake would change plans he’d been making for months?

I centered Kessler’s photo on my blotter.

If I was right about the paintbrush, the body was oriented north–south with the head facing east. The wrists were crossed on the bel y. The legs were ful y extended.

Except for some displacement of the pelvic and foot bones, everything looked anatomical y correct.

Too correct.

A patel a sat perfectly positioned at the end of each femur. No way kneecaps stay in place that wel .

Something else was off.

The right fibula was on the inside of the right tibia. It should have been on the outside.

Conclusion: the scene had been doctored.

Had an archaeologist tidied the bones for a pic, or did the repositioning reflect some meaning?

I carried the photo to the scope, lowered the power, and positioned the fiber-optic light.

The soil around the bones was marked with footprints. Under magnification, I could make out at least two sole patterns.

Conclusion: more than one person had been present.

I took a shot at gender.

The skul ’s orbital ridges were large, the jaw square. Only the right half of the pelvis was visible, but the sciatic notch looked narrow and deep.

Conclusion: the individual was male, more probably than not.

I shifted to age.

The upper dentition looked relatively complete. The lower dentition had gaps and teeth in poor alignment. The right pubic symphysis, one of the surfaces at which the pelvic halves meet in front, was tipped toward the lens. Though the photo was grainy, the symphyseal face looked smooth and flat.

Conclusion: the individual was a young to middle-aged adult. Possibly.

Terrific, Brennan. A grown-up dead guy with bad teeth and rearranged bones. Possibly.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” I mimicked Ryan.

The clock said one-forty. I was starving.

Removing my lab coat, I clicked off the fiber-optic light and washed up. At the door, I hesitated.

Returning to the scope, I col ected the photo and slid it under an agenda in my desk drawer.

By three I was no clearer on the Ferris fragments than I’d been at noon. If anything, I was more frustrated.

People can reach only so far. They shoot themselves in the forehead, the temple, the mouth, the chest. They do not shoot themselves in the spine or the back of the head. It’s too hard to position a barrel there and keep a finger or toe on the trigger. So bul et path can often be used to distinguish suicide from homicide.

Blasting through bone, a bul et dislodges smal particles from the perimeter of the hole it creates, beveling an entrance wound internal y, and an exit wound external y.

Bul et in. Bul et out. Trajectory. Manner of death.

So what was the problem? Did Avram Ferris put a gun to his own head, or did someone else do the honors?

The problem was that the affected parts of Ferris’s skul looked like puzzle pieces dumped from a box. To consider beveling, I’d first have to determine what went where.

Hours of jigsawing had al owed me to identify one oval defect behind Ferris’s right ear, near the junction of the parietal, occipital, and temporal sutures.

Within Ferris’s reach? A stretch, but you betcha.

Another problem. The hole was beveled on both its endocranial and ectocranial surfaces.

Forget beveling. I was going to have to rely on fracture sequencing.

A skul is designed to house a brain and a very smal quantity of fluid. That’s it. No room for guests.

A bul et to the head sets up a series of events, each of which may be present, absent, or appear in combination with any other.

First, a hole is created. As that happens, fractures starburst outward and wrap the skul . The bul et tunnels through the brain, pushing aside gray matter and creating space where space isn’t meant to be. Intracranial pressure rises, concentric heaving fractures develop perpendicular to the fractures radiating from the entrance, and plates of bone lever outward. If heaving and radiating fractures intersect, blam-o! That section of skul shatters.

Another scenario. No shattering, but the bul et says adios on the far side of the skul . Fractures barrel backward from the exit hole and slam into those hotfooting it around from the entrance hole. Energy dissipates along the preexisting entrance fractures, and the exit fractures go no farther.

Think of it this way. A bul et to the brain imparts energy. That trapped energy has to go somewhere. Like al of us, it looks for the easy out. In a skul that means open sutures or preexisting cracks. Bottom line: fractures created by a bul et’s exit wil not cross fractures created by its entrance. Sort it out and you’ve got sequence.

BOOK: Cross Bones
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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