cover

About the Book

FLASH! Illuminated by lightning, a lifeless human hand seems to reach from a barrel of asphalt beside the Charlotte racetrack.

Forensic anthropologist Dr Tempe Brennan must find answers before thousands arrive for the year's big race. But before she can carry out a proper examination, the FBI mysteriously confiscate and destroy the body.

It's a dead end.

Until a young engineer alerts Tempe to the disappearance of a couple twelve years earlier - and a deadly conspiracy unravels.

About the Author

Kathy Reichs is vice president of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists; a member of the RCMP National Police Services Advisory Council; forensic anthropologist to the province of Quebec; and a professor of anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Her first book, Deja Dead, catapulted her to fame when it became a New York Times bestseller and won the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel. Her most recent novels are Flash and Bones and Bones Are Forever. All of her Temperance Brennan novels have been Sunday Times No. 1 bestsellers. For more information visit www.kathyreichs.com.

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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Kathy Reichs

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

From the Forensic Files of Dr. Kathy Reichs

Bones of the Lost

Copyright

Version 1.0
Epub ISBN 9781409021216
www.randomhouse.co.uk
Published in the United Kingdom in 2011 by William Heinemann
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Copyright © Temperance Brennan, L.P., 2011
Kathy Reichs has asserted her right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This is a work of fiction. Names and characters are the product of the author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Published by arrangement with the original publisher, Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
First published in Great Britain in 2011 by William Heinemann
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA
www.rbooks.co.uk
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at: www.randomhouse.co.uk/offices.htm
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
ISBN 978-0-434-01534-4 (Hardback edition)
ISBN 978-0-434-01536-8 (Trade paperback edition)
For
Declan Rex Reichs
Born July 1, 2010

Also by Kathy Reichs

Déjà Dead
Death du Jour
Deadly Decisions
Fatal Voyage
Grave Secrets
Bare Bones
Monday Mourning
Cross Bones
Break No Bones
Bones to Ashes
Devil Bones
Spider Bones (published as Mortal Remains in hardback in the UK)
Bones are Forever
The Virals Series
with Brendan Reichs
Virals
Seizure
Code

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Flash and Bones would not have been possible without the help of Barry Byrd. Muchas gracias, Byrdman! I owe you.

Scott and Tiffany Smith invited me into their home and included me with the Race Week gang. Thanks. You created a new fan. Marcus Smith and Bryan Hammond welcomed me to the Charlotte Motor Speedway and answered endless questions about NASCAR and the track. Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s awesome crew chief, provided information on cars and race teams. Marty Smith of ESPN offered the perspective of a media insider. Bruton Smith’s hospitality in the owner’s suite was greatly appreciated.

Drs. Jane Brock, Patty McFeeley, and Mike Graham responded to my queries about ricin. Dr. William C. Rodriguez and Mike Warns answered a million questions each. Sergeant Harold (Chuck) Henson, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, helped with details on policing and law enforcement.

D. G. Martin shared an article on the history of stock car racing, and David Perry graciously donated Real NASCAR: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill France, by Daniel S. Pierce, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

I appreciate the continued support of Chancellor Philip L. Dubois of the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

I am grateful to my family for their patience and understanding. Amazing how they still put up with my grumpy phases.

Deepest gratitude to my agent, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, and to my genius editors, Nan Graham and Susan Sandon. I also want to thank all those who work so very hard on my behalf, including: Katherine Monaghan, Paul Whitlatch, Rex Bonomelli, Kara Watson, Simon Littlewood, Gillian Holmes, Rob Waddington, Glenn O’Neill, Kathleen Nishimoto, Lauren Levine, Tracy Fisher, Michelle Feehan, Cathryn Summerhayes, and Raffaella De Angelis. I am also indebted to the Canadian crew, especially to Kevin Hanson, Amy Cormier, and David Millar.

And, of course, I am grateful to my readers. Without you, what’s the point?

If I have forgotten to thank anyone I am truly sorry. Though I tried to be careful, if the book has errors they are my fault.

figure

LOOKING BACK, I think of it as Race Week in the rain. Thunderboomers almost every day. Sure, it was spring. But these storms were over the top.

In the end, Summer saved my life.

I know. Sounds bizarre.

This is what happened.

Bloated, dark clouds hung low to the ground, but so far no rain.

Lucky break. I’d spent the morning digging up a corpse.

Sound macabre? Just part of the job. I’m a forensic anthropologist. I recover and analyze the dead that present in less than pristine condition—the burned, mummified, mutilated, dismembered, decomposed, and skeletal.

OK. Today’s target wasn’t actually a corpse. I’d been searching for overlooked body parts.

Short version. Last fall a housewife vanished from her Cabarrus County home in rural North Carolina. A week ago, while I was away on a working vacation in Hawaii, a trucker admitted to strangling the woman and burying her body in a sandpit. Impatient, the local cops had sallied forth with shovels and buckets. They delivered the bones in a Mott’s applesauce carton to my employer, the Medical Examiner’s Office, in neighboring Mecklenburg County.

Yesterday, my aloha tan still glowing, I’d begun my analysis. A skeletal inventory revealed that the hyoid, the mandible, and all of the upper incisors and canines were missing.

No teeth, no dental ID. No hyoid, no evidence of strangulation. Dr. Tim Larabee, the Mecklenburg County medical examiner, asked me to have a second go at the sandpit.

Correcting screwups usually makes me cranky. Today I was feeling upbeat.

I’d quickly found the missing bits and dispatched them to the MCME facility in Charlotte. I was en route to a shower, a late lunch, and time with my cat.

It was 1:50 p.m. My sweat-soaked tee was pasted to my back. My hair was yanked into a ratty knot. Sand lined my scalp and undies. Nevertheless, I was humming. Al Yankovic, “White & Nerdy.” What can I say? I’d watched a YouTube video and the tune lodged in my head.

Wind buffeted my Mazda as I merged onto southbound I-85. Slightly uneasy, I glanced at the sky, then thumbed on NPR.

Terry Gross was finishing an interview with W. S. Merwin, the U.S. poet laureate. Both were indifferent to the conditions outside my car.

Fair enough. The show was produced in Philadelphia, five hundred miles north of Dixie.

Terry launched into a teaser about an upcoming guest. I never caught the name.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

The National Weather Service has issued a severe-weather warning for parts of the North Carolina piedmont, including Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Anson, Stanly, and Union counties. Severe thunderstorms are expected to move through the area within the next hour. Rainfall of one to three inches is anticipated, creating the potential for flash flooding. Atmospheric conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. Stay tuned to this station for further updates.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

I tightened my grip on the wheel and goosed my speed to seventy-five. Risky in a sixty-five-mile-an-hour zone, but I wanted to reach home before the deluge.

Moments later Terry was interrupted again, this time by a muted whoop-whoop.

My eyes flicked to the radio.

Whoop!

Feeling stupid, I checked the rearview mirror.

A police cruiser was riding my bumper.

Annoyed, I pulled to the shoulder and lowered my window. When the cop approached, I held out my license.

“Dr. Temperance Brennan?”

“Looking somewhat worse for wear.” I beamed what I hoped was a winning smile.

Johnny Law did not beam back. “That won’t be necessary,” indicating my license.

Puzzled, I looked up at the guy. He was mid-twenties, slim, with an infant mustache that appeared to be going nowhere. A badge on his chest said R. Warner.

“The Concord Police Department received a request from the Mecklenburg County medical examiner to intercept and divert you.”

“Larabee sent the cops to find me?”

“Yes, ma’am. When I arrived at the recovery site, you’d left.”

“Why didn’t he call me directly?”

“Apparently he couldn’t get through.”

Of course not. While digging, I’d locked my iPhone in the car to protect it from sand.

“My phone is in the glove compartment.” No need to alarm Officer Warner. “I’m going to take it out.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The numbers on the little screen indicated three missed calls from Larabee. Three messages. I listened to the first: “Long story, which I’ll share when you’re back. The Concord PD received a report of a body at the Morehead Road landfill. Chapel Hill wants us to handle it. I’m elbow-deep in an autopsy. Since you’re in the area, I hoped you could swing by to check it out. Joe Hawkins is diverting that way with the van, just in case they’ve actually got something for us.”

The second message was the same as the first. Ditto the third, but more terse. It ended with the inducement: You’re a champ, Tempe.

A landfill in a storm? The champ was suddenly not so chipper.

“Ma’am, we should hurry. The rain won’t hold off much longer.”

“Lead on.” I could not have said this with less enthusiasm.

Warner returned to his cruiser, whoop-whooped, then pulled into traffic. Inwardly cursing Larabee, Warner, and the landfill, I palm-slapped the gearshift and followed.

Traffic on I-85 was unusually heavy for Thursday, midafternoon. As we approached Concord, I could see that the Bruton Smith Boulevard exit ramp was a parking lot.

And realized what a nightmare this little detour of Larabee’s would be.

The Morehead Road landfill is back-fence neighbor to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, a major stop on the NASCAR circuit. Races would be held there this weekend and next. Local print and broadcast coverage was extensive. Even I knew that tomorrow’s qualifying would determine which lucky drivers made the cut for Saturday’s All-Star Race.

Two hundred thousand avid fans would pour into Charlotte for Race Week. Looking at the sea of SUVs, campers, pickups, and sedans, I guessed that many had already hit town.

Warner rode the shoulder. I followed, ignoring the hostile glares of those cemented in the logjam.

Lights flashing, we snaked through the bedlam on Bruton Smith Boulevard, past the dragway, the dirt track, and a zillion fast-food joints. On the sidelines, the tattooed and tank-topped carried babies, six-packs, coolers, and radios. Vendors sold souvenirs from folding tables beneath improvised tents.

Warner looped the surrealistic geometry of the Speedway itself, made several turns, then rolled to a stop outside a small structure whose siding might once have been blue. Beyond the building loomed a series of mounds resembling a Martian mountain range.

A man emerged and issued Warner a yellow hard hat and a neon orange vest. As they talked, the man pointed at a gravel road rising sharply uphill.

Warner waited while I received my safety gear, then we proceeded up the slope. Trucks rumbled in both directions, engines churning hard going in, humming going out.

When the road leveled, I could see three men standing by an enormous Dumpster. Two wore coveralls. The third wore black pants and a long-sleeved black shirt over a white tee. Joe Hawkins, longtime death investigator for the MCME. All three featured gear identical to that lying on my passenger seat.

Warner nosed up to the Dumpster and parked. I pulled in beside him.

The men watched as I got out and donned my hard hat and vest. Fetching. A perfect complement to my current state of hygiene.

“We gotta quit meeting like this.” Joe and I had parted at the sandpit barely an hour earlier.

The older man stuck out a hand. “Weaver Molene.” He was flushed and sweating and filled his coveralls way beyond their intended capacity.

“Temperance Brennan.” I’d have skipped the handshake, given the black moons under Molene’s nails, but didn’t want to be rude.

“You the coroner?” he asked.

“I work for the medical examiner,” I said.

Molene introduced the younger man as Barcelona Jackson. Jackson was very thin and very black. And very, very nervous.

“Jackson and I work for the company that manages the landfill.”

“Impressive pile of trash,” I said.

“Site’s got a capacity of over two and a half million cubic meters.” Molene ran a dingy hankie across his face. “Friggin’ weird Jackson stumbled onto the one square foot holding a stiff. Or maybe not. Probably dozens out there.”

Jackson had mostly kept his eyes down. At Molene’s words, he raised and then quickly dropped them back to his boots.

“Tell me what you found, sir.”

Though I spoke to Jackson, Molene answered.

“Probably best we show you. And quick.” He pocket-jammed the hankie. “This storm’s coming fast.”

Molene set off at a pace I would have thought impossible for a man of his bulk. Jackson scampered after. I fell into line, paying attention as best I could to the uneven footing. Warner and Hawkins brought up the rear.

I’ve excavated in landfills, am familiar with the aroma of eau de dump, a delicate blend of methane and carbon dioxide with traces of ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen, hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide added for spice. I braced for the stench. Didn’t happen.

Good odor management, guys. Or maybe it was Mother Nature. Wind swirled dirt into little cyclones and tumbled cellophane wrappers, plastic bags, and torn paper across the landscape.

Our course took us the length of the active landfill, down a slope, then around a series of what appeared to be closed areas. Instead of raw earth, the tops of the older mounds were covered with grass.

As we walked, the rumble of trucks receded, and the whine of fine-tuned engines grew louder. Based on the changing acoustics, I figured the Speedway lay over a rise to our right.

After ten minutes, Molene stopped at the base of a truncated hillock. Though tentative grass greened the top, the side facing us was scarred and pitted, like a desert butte gouged by eons of wind.

Molene said something I didn’t catch. I was focused on the exposed stratigraphy.

Unlike the sandstone or shale that make up metamorphic rock, the mound’s layers were composed of flattened Pontiacs and Posturepedics, of squashed Pepsis, Pop-Tarts, Pringles, and Pampers.

Molene pointed to a crater in a brown-green layer eight feet above our heads, then to an object lying about two yards off the base of the mound. His explanation was lost to a clap of thunder.

Didn’t matter. It was obvious Jackson’s “stiff” had dropped from the mound, probably dislodged by the previous day’s storm.

I crossed to the thing and squatted. Molene, Warner, and Hawkins clustered around me but remained standing. Jackson kept his distance.

The object was a drum, approximately twenty inches in diameter and thirty inches high. Its cover lay off to one side.

“Looks like a metal container of some kind,” I said without looking up. “It’s too rusted to make out a logo or label.”

“Flip it,” Molene shouted. “Jackson and I turned the thing bottom up to protect the stuff inside.”

I tried. It weighed a ton.

Hawkins squatted, and together, we muscled the drum upright. Its interior was filled with a solid black mass.

I leaned close. Something pale was suspended in the dark fill, but the pre-storm gloom obscured all detail.

I was reaching for my Maglite when lightning sparked.

A human hand flashed white in the electric brilliance.

Dissolved to black.

figure

I RAN MY beam over the inky matrix.

The white inclusion was unquestionably a human hand.

The fill was rock-hard but crumbling at the exposed edges. I suspected asphalt. The size of the drum suggested a thirty-five-gallon capacity.

Thirty seconds of discussion, and we had a plan.

Warner and Jackson would stand guard while the rest of us returned to the management office. Though Jackson’s look said he’d rather be elsewhere, he offered no protest.

The clouds burst as Hawkins, Molene, and I picked our way back. We arrived mud-coated and thoroughly soaked.

To my dismay, two vehicles waited a short distance down the dirt road, motors idling, wipers slapping. I recognized the driver of the Ford Focus.

“Sonofabitch,” I said.

“What?” Behind me, Molene was breathing hard.

“Reporters.” I waved a hand in the direction of the cars.

“I didn’t talk to no one. I swear.”

“Their scanners probably picked up the radio transmission from the cops to the ME.”

“You’re kidding.”

“It’s Race Week.” I made no attempt to hide my irritation. “A murder at the Speedway would make splashy headlines.”

Seeing us, the reporters emerged from their cars and slip-slid to the checkpoint. One was a mushroom-shaped man holding an umbrella. The other was a woman in a slicker and pink vinyl boots.

The guard looked a question in our direction. Molene gestured “no” with both hands.

Denied access, the pair shouted through the downpour.

“How long has the body been out there?”

“Is it the kid who went missing from Bar Carolina?”

“Any tie-in to the Speedway?”

“Dr. Brennan—”

“Is the ME planning to—”

Hawkins, Molene, and I hurried into the office. The door slammed, cutting off the barrage of questions.

“Any chance it could be the Leonitus kid?” Hawkins referred to a young woman who’d vanished two years earlier after a night of barhopping with friends.

“How old is that sector?” I asked Molene.

“I’ll have to check the records.”

“Ballpark.” I removed my hard hat and vest and held them at arm’s length. Not that it mattered. I was dripping as much as they were.

“We stopped dumping in that area in 2005. That layer, I’d say late nineties to maybe 2002.”

“Then the vic ain’t Leonitus,” Hawkins said.

Or parts of her, I thought.

While Hawkins and Molene drove a motorized cart back out to retrieve the drum, I phoned Larabee. He said what I expected: See you tomorrow.

So much for lounging with my cat.

Thirty minutes later Jackson’s prize sat on plastic sheeting in the ME van, oozing muddy water and flecks of rust. Five minutes after that, it was making its way to Charlotte along with the Cabarrus County sandpit teeth and bones.

Officer Warner escorted me back to the interstate. After that I was on my own.

Between the downpour, rush hour, and the Race Week frenzy, vehicles were backed up to Minneapolis. Fortunately, that was opposite to my direction of travel, though westbound traffic was also heavy. While lurching and braking my way toward home, I wondered about the person we’d just recovered.

A whole body? A tight fit for a thirty-five-gallon container, but not impossible. Dismembered parts? I hoped not. A partial corpse would mean a return to the landfill for a systematic search.

That prospect was decidedly unappealing.

Friday promised a repeat of Thursday. Hot and sticky with more afternoon storms.

Wouldn’t affect me. I’d be stuck in the lab all day.

After a quick breakfast of granola and yogurt, I drove downtown. Or uptown, as Charlotteans prefer.

The Mecklenburg County medical examiner occupies one end of a featureless brick box that spent its early years as a Sears Garden Center. The box’s other end houses satellite offices of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Devoid of architectural charm save a slight rounding of the edges, the building is located at College and Tenth, just a hair outside the fashionable heart of uptown. Though plans exist to develop the site and move the facility, so far the MCME has stayed put.

Works for me. The place is just ten minutes from my town house.

At 8:05 I parked in the small tentacle of lot facing the MCME entrance, gathered my purse, and headed for the double glass doors. Across College, a half-dozen men sat or leaned on a wall bordering a large vacant lot. All wore the hodgepodge of ratty clothing that is the uniform of the homeless.

Beyond them, a black woman was muscling a stroller along the sidewalk toward the county services building, struggling with the uneven pavement.

The woman stopped to tug upward on her tube top. Her eyes drifted in my direction. I waved. She didn’t wave back.

Entering the vestibule, I tapped on a window above a counter to my left. A chubby woman turned in her chair and peered through the glass. Her blouse was sharply pressed, her hair permed and fixed primly in place.

Eunice Flowers has worked for the MCME since sometime back in the eighties, when it moved from the basement of the old Law Enforcement Center to its present location. Monday through Friday, she screens visitors, blessing some with entry, turning others away. She also types reports, organizes documents, and keeps track of every shred of information generated throughout the analysis of the dead.

Smiling, Mrs. Flowers buzzed me in. “You were a busy lady yesterday.”

“Very,” I said. “Anyone else here?”

“Dr. Larabee will be in shortly. Dr. Siu is lecturing at the university. Dr. Hartigan is in Chapel Hill.”

“Joe?”

“Gone to collect some poor soul from a Dumpster. Bless his heart. It’s gonna be another hot one today.” Mrs. Flowers’s vowels could have landed her a role in Gone With the Wind.

“Is the landfill body getting any attention?”

“Made the Observer. Local section. I’ve answered a half-dozen calls already.”

Mrs. Flowers’s tidiness includes not just her person but everything around her. At her workstation, Post-it notes hang equidistant, paper stacks are squared, pens, staplers, and scissors are stowed when idle. It is an orderliness of which I am incapable. Unnecessarily, she adjusted a photo of her cocker spaniel.

“Do you still have the paper?”

“I’d like it back, please.” She handed me her neatly folded copy. “The Belk ad is good for twenty percent off on linens.”

“Of course.”

“The consult requests are on your desk. I believe Joe placed everything in the stinky room before he left.”

The facility has a pair of autopsy rooms, each with a single table. The smaller of the two has special ventilation to combat foul odors.

For decomps and floaters. My kind of cases.

Good choice, Hawkins. Though the sandpit bones would be relatively aroma-free, there was no telling about the landfill vic. And I was uncertain how best to free the remains from the asphalt. Depending on their condition, things could get messy.

Passing the cubicles used by the death investigators, I checked the erasable board on the back wall. Five new arrivals had been entered in black Magic Marker. A newborn found dead in her bed. A man washed ashore at Mountain Island Lake. A woman bludgeoned with a frying pan in her kitchen on Sugar Creek Road.

My sandpit recovery had been designated MCME 226-11. Though the bones and teeth were probably those of the missing housewife, that assumption could always prove false. Thus, a new case number was assigned.

The landfill remains had been designated MCME 227-11.

My office is in back, near those of the three pathologists. The square footage is such that, were I not on staff, the space might have been used for the storage of buckets and mops.

Unlocking the door, I tossed the newspaper onto my desk, dropped into the chair, and placed my purse in a drawer. Two consult requests lay on the blotter, both signed by Tim Larabee.

I started with the Observer. The article was on page three of the local section, just six lines of copy. The byline said Earl Byrne, the mushroom guy I’d spotted in the Focus.

My name was mentioned, and the fact that remains had been transported from the Morehead Road landfill to the ME office. I figured Byrne had seen Hawkins and Molene load the drum into the van. Combining that with the radio transmission from the Concord cops, he’d decided the story was solid.

Fair enough. Maybe exposure would help with an ID.

I pulled a pair of forms from plastic mini-shelving on a filing cabinet at my back, filled in the case numbers, and wrote brief descriptions of each set of remains and the circumstances surrounding their discoveries. Then I went to the locker room, changed to surgical scrubs, and crossed to the stinky room.

The sandpit bones were on the counter, in the brown evidence bag in which I’d placed them.

The landfill drum sat atop its mud-caked sheeting on a morgue gurney.

Since the missing housewife was higher up the queue, I decided to start there.

After assembling camera, calipers, clipboard, and a magnifying lens, I accessorized with a paper apron and mask and snapped on latex gloves. No match for the hard hat and vest, but the look was elegant in its own way.

By ten-fifteen I was done. X-rays, measurement, and gross and microscopic observation revealed that the bones and teeth were compatible with the rest of the sandpit skeleton. Dental analysis would confirm the finding, but I was confident the parts I’d recovered belonged to the missing housewife.

And that she had indeed been murdered.

The hyoid, a delicate U-shaped bone from her throat, showed fractures on each of its wings. Such trauma almost always results from manual strangulation.

I was finalizing my notes when the phone rang in a cadence that indicated the call was internal.

“I have a gentleman here who wishes to see you.” Mrs. Flowers sounded flustered.

“Can’t Joe deal with him?”

“He’s still out.”

“I’m trying to focus on these cases,” I said.

“The gentleman says he has information that is extremely important.”

“Information about what?”

“The body from the landfill.”

“I can’t discuss that yet.”

“He thinks he knows who it is.” Hushed but excited.

“D. B. Cooper has finally turned up?” Snarky, but I’d heard this line many times before.

There was a moment of prim silence.

“Dr. Brennan. This man is not a crackpot.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“I’ve seen his picture in People magazine.”

figure

GENERATION? UPBRINGING? HORMONES? I’ve no clue the reason, but in the presence of attractive Y-chromosomers, Mrs. Flowers blushes and her voice goes breathy.

“Dr. Brennan, I’d like to present Wayne Gamble.”

I looked up.

Standing in my doorway was a compact man with intense brown eyes and dark blond hair cut short and combed straight back. He wore jeans and a black knit polo with a Hilderman Motorsports logo stitched in red.

I laid down my pen.

Gamble stepped into the office and held out a hand. His grip was firm but not a testosterone crusher.

“Please have a seat.”

I gestured at a chair on the far wall. Meaning six feet from my desk. Gamble dragged it forward, sat, and planted his palms on his knees.

“Can I get you anything?” Marilyn crooning birthday wishes to the prez. “Water? A soft drink?”

Gamble shook his head. “No, ma’am.”

Mrs. Flowers remained fixed in the hall.

“Perhaps it’s best if you close the door,” I said gently.

Cheeks flaming, Mrs. Flowers did as requested.

“What can I do for you, Mr. Gamble?”

For a moment the man just stared at his hands. Reconsidering? Choosing his words?

I wondered at his reticence. After all, he’d come to me. Why such caution?

“I’m the jackman for Stupak’s fifty-nine car.”

My confusion must have been obvious.

“The Sprint Cup Series? Sandy Stupak?” he said.

“He’s a NASCAR driver.”

“Sorry. Yeah. Stupak drives the fifty-nine Chevy for Hilderman Motorsports. I’m on his pit crew.”

“Thus your photo in People.”

Gamble gave a self-deprecating grin. “They did a spread on racing and I got caught in some of the shots. The photographer was aiming at Sandy.”

“You’re in town for the Coca-Cola 600?” Flaunting my minuscule knowledge of NASCAR.

“Yeah. Actually, I live in Kannapolis, just down the road. Raised there.” Again Gamble hesitated, obviously uncomfortable. “My sister, Cindi, was two years older than me.”

The verb tense clued me where this was going.

“Cindi went missing her senior year of high school.”

I waited out another pause.

“I read in the paper you found a body in the dump out by the Speedway. I’m wondering if it could be her.”

“When did your sister disappear?”

“1998.”

Molene thought the drum holding our John/Jane Doe had eroded from an area of the landfill active at that time. I kept this fact to myself. “Tell me about her.”

Gamble pulled a snapshot from his pocket and flipped it onto my desk. “That was taken just a couple of weeks before she went missing.”

Cindi Gamble looked like she could have modeled for yogurt ads. Her teeth were perfect, her skin flawless and lousy with health. She had a blond pixie bob and wore a silver loop in each ear.

“Are those cars on her earrings?” Returning the photo.

“Cindi wanted to be a NASCAR driver in the worst way. Drove go-karts from the time she was twelve, moved up to legends.”

Again, I must have looked lost.

“Little single-seat cars for beginners. Legends driving trains kids so they can advance to real short-course racing.”

I nodded, not really understanding.

Gamble didn’t see. His eyes were on the photo still in his hand. “Funny how life turns out. In high school I was all about football and beer. Cindi hung with the science geeks. Loved cars and engines. NASCAR was her dream, not mine.”

Though anxious for Gamble to get on with his story, I didn’t interrupt.

“The summer before her senior year, Cindi started dating another wannabe driver, a guy named Cale Lovette. That fall, Cindi and Cale both vanished. Bang. Gone without a trace. No one’s seen them since.”

Gamble’s eyes met mine. In them I saw apprehension. And resurrected pain.

“My folks went crazy. Posted flyers all over town. Handed them out in malls. Nothing.” Gamble wiped his palms on his jeans. “I’ve got to know. Could that body be my sister?”

“What makes you think Cindi is dead?”

“The police said the two of them left town together. But Cindi’s whole life was NASCAR. I mean, she was on fire to drive. What better place to do that than Charlotte? Why would she just pick up and leave? And she’s never turned up anywhere else.”

“There was an investigation?”

Gamble snorted in disgust. “The cops poked around for a while, decided Cindi and Cale took off to get married. She was too young to do that without parental approval.”

“You doubt that theory?”

Gamble’s shoulders rose, fell. “Hell, I don’t know what to believe. Cindi didn’t confide in me. But I’m sure my folks would never have agreed to her marrying Cale.”

“Why?”

“She was seventeen. He was twenty-four. And rolled with a pretty rough crowd.”

“Rough?”

“White-supremacist types. Hated blacks, Jews, immigrants. Hated the government. Back then I suspected Cale’s racist buddies might be involved. But what would they have against Cindi? I don’t know what to think.”

Gamble shoved the photo back in his pocket.

“Mr. Gamble, it’s unlikely that the person we recovered is your sister. I’m about to begin my analysis. If you’ll leave contact information, I’ll inform you when I’ve finished.”

I passed across pen and paper. Gamble scribbled something and handed them back.

“Should it prove necessary, could you obtain Cindi’s dental records?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you or another maternal relative be willing to provide a DNA sample?”

“It’s just me now.”

“What about Lovette?”

“I think Cale’s father still lives around here. If I can find a listing, I’ll give him a call.”

Gamble got to his feet.

I rose and opened the door.

“I’m truly sorry for your loss,” I said.

“I just keep pedaling to stay out front.”

With that odd comment, he strode down the hall.

I stood a moment, trying to recall news stories about Cindi Gamble and Cale Lovette. The disappearance of a seventeen-year-old kid should have generated a headline or two. Angel Leonitus certainly had.

I could not remember seeing anything on Gamble.

Vowing to research the case, I headed back to the stinky room.

The landfill drum was as I’d left it. I was circling the gurney, considering options, when Tim Larabee pushed through the door wearing street clothes.

Mecklenburg County’s chief medical examiner is a runner. Not the healthy knock-out-three-miles-in-the-neighborhood variety but the train-for-a-marathon-in-the-Gobi-Desert zealot. And it shows. Larabee’s body is sinewy and his cheeks are gaunt.

“Oh boy.” Larabee’s deep-set eyes were pointed at the gurney.

“Or girl,” I said. “Take a look.” I indicated the open end of the drum.

Larabee crossed to it and peered at the hand. “Any idea how much more is in there?”

I shook my head. “Can’t x-ray because of the metal and the density of the fill.”

“What’s your take?”

“Someone stowed a body or body parts, then filled the drum with asphalt. The hand was up top and became visible when the lid came off and the asphalt eroded.”

“Tight fit for an adult, but I’ve seen it done. Any dates on the sector where they found this thing?”

“A landfill worker said that area of the dump closed in 2005.”

“So it’s not Leonitus.”

“No. She’s too recent.”

“As of Monday, we got us another MP. Man came from Atlanta to Charlotte for Race Week. Wife reported him missing.” Larabee was studying the drum. “How will you get it out?”

How will I get it out?

Great.

Though I’d never freed remains from asphalt, I had liberated corpses from cement. In each case, because fats from the surface tissues had created a nonbinding surface, a small void had surrounded the body. I anticipated a similar situation here.

“The drum is no problem. We’ll cut through that. The asphalt is trickier. One option is to saw at horizontal and lateral planes to the block, then use an air hammer to create propagation cracks.”

“Or?”

“The other option is to chisel away as much asphalt as possible, then dip the block in solvent to dissolve what remains.”

“What kind of solvent?”

“Acetone or turpentine.”

Larabee thought a moment, then, “Asphalt and cement work damn well as sealants, so there might be fresh tissue preserved in there. Go with Plan A. Joe can help.”

“Joe’s out on a call.”

“He just got back.” Larabee changed the subject. “Have you examined the new sandpit bones?”

“Everything is consistent with the rest of the skeleton.”

“Music to my ears.” Larabee chin-cocked the drum. “Let me know how it goes.”

I was taking photos when Hawkins entered the autopsy room and strode to the gurney.

Cadaver-thin, with dark circles under puffy lower lids, bushy brows, and dyed black hair combed straight back from his face, Joe Hawkins looks like an older and hairier version of Larabee.

“How we going to crack this sucker?” Hawkins rapped gnarled knuckles on the drum.

I explained Plan A.

Without a word, Hawkins went in search of the necessary tools. I was finishing with overview shots when he returned, dressed in blue surgical scrubs identical to mine.

Hawkins and I donned goggles, then he inserted a blade, plugged in, and revved the handheld power saw.

The room filled with the whine of metal on metal and the acrid smell of hot steel. Rust particles arced and dropped to the gurney.

Five minutes of cutting, then Hawkins laid down the saw and tugged and twisted with his hands. The segment came free.

More cutting. More tugging.

Eventually a black lump lay on the gurney, and an exoskeleton of torn metal lay on the floor.

Joe killed the saw. Raising my goggles to my forehead, I stepped forward.

The asphalt cast was the exact shape and size of the drum’s interior. Objects grazed its surface, pale and ghostly as morgue flesh.

The curve of a jaw? The edge of a foot? I couldn’t be sure.

Hawkins switched to the air hammer and, with some direction from me, began working downward toward the body parts. As cracks formed, I freed chunks of asphalt and placed them on the counter. Later I would examine each and take samples so chemists could determine their elemental composition.

Maybe useful, maybe not. Better to be safe. One never knew what would later prove significant.

Slowly, the counter filled.

One hunk. Three. Nine. Fifteen.

As the cast shrank, its contour changed. A form took shape, like a figure emerging from a block of marble being sculpted.

The top of a head. An elbow. The curve of a hip.

At my signal, Joe set down the chisel. Using hand tools, I went at the remaining asphalt.

Forty minutes later a naked body lay curled on the stainless steel. The legs were flexed with the thighs tight to the chest. The head was down, the forehead pressed to the upraised knees. The feet pointed in opposite directions, toes spread at impossible angles. One arm L’ed backward. The other stretched high, fingers spread as though clawing for escape.

A sweet, fetid odor now rode the air. No surprise.

Though shriveled and discolored, overall, the cadaver was reasonably well preserved.

But that was changing fast.

figure

HAWKINS BENT SIDEWAYS and squinted through black-framed glasses that had gone in and out of vogue many times since their purchase.

“Dude’s hanging a full package.”

I joined him and checked the genitals.

“Definitely male,” I said. “And adult.”

I shot close-ups of the outstretched hand, then asked Hawkins to bag it. The fingers first spotted by Jackson were now in pretty bad shape, but those embedded deeper in the asphalt retained significant soft tissue. And nails, under which trace evidence might be found.

While Hawkins sealed the hands in brown paper sacks, I filled out a case marker and adjusted camera settings. As I moved around the body, shooting from all angles, Hawkins brushed away black crumbs and positioned the card.

“Looks like this will be one for Doc Larabee.”

Pathologists work with freshly dead or relatively intact corpses to determine identity, cause of death, and postmortem interval. They cut Y-incisions on torsos and remove skullcaps to extract innards and brains.

Anthropologists answer the same questions when the flesh is degraded or gone and the skeleton is the only game left. We eyeball, measure, and x-ray bone, and take samples for microscopic, chemical, or DNA analysis.

Hawkins was guessing that a regular autopsy might be possible.

“Let’s see how he looks stretched out,” I said.

Hawkins snugged the gurney to the autopsy table, and together we transferred MCME 227-11 and rolled him to his back. While I pulled on his ankles, Hawkins pushed downward on his legs. It took some effort, but eventually the John Doe lay flat on the stainless steel.

The man’s face was grotesque, the features distorted by a combination of hot asphalt and subsequent expansion and contraction while in the landfill. His abdomen was green and collapsed due to the action of anaerobic bacteria, the little buggers that start working from their home base in the gut once the heart stops beating.

Based on the amount of surface decomp, I guessed gray cells and organs might remain.

“I think you’re right, Joe.”

I pried loose the hand that had been twisted behind the man’s back. The fingers had shriveled, and the tips had suffered some skin slippage.

“We might get prints. Try rehydrating for an ink and roll.”

I was asking Hawkins to plump the fingertips by soaking and then injecting them with embalming fluid. Hopefully, he could obtain ridge detail for submission to national and state databases.

Hawkins nodded.

“Let’s get height,” I said.

Hawkins positioned a measuring rod beside the body, and I read the marker. As I jotted my estimate, he pried open the jaws. After thirty-five years on the job, he needed no direction.

MCME 227-11 had not been big on oral hygiene. His dentition contained no fillings or restorations. A molar and a premolar were missing on the upper left. Three of the remaining molars had cavities that could have housed small birds. The tongue side of every tooth was stained a deep coffee brown.

“The wisdom teeth have all erupted, but the first and second molars show very little wear,” I observed aloud.

“Young fella.”

Nodding agreement, I added my age estimate to the case form, completing a preliminary biological profile.

Male. White. Thirty to forty years of age. Five feet seven. Smoker. Dental records unlikely.

Not much, but a start for the pathologist.