cover

About the Book

Dr Temperance Brennan and her students are working on a site of prehistoric graves on an island near Charleston, South Carolina, when a decomposing body is uncovered in a shallow grave off a lonely beach.

The bone is fresh and the remains are still topped by wisps of hair – it’s a recent burial, and a case Tempe must take.

Tempe determines that the deceased is a middle-aged white male – but who was he? Why was he buried in a clandestine grave? And what does an unusual vertical fracture of one of the vertebrae signify?

Before long, another body is discovered – and Tempe finds herself drawn deeper into a shocking investigation which will challenge her entire view of humanity.

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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

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Epilogue

From the Forensic Files of Dr. Kathy Reichs

Bones of the Lost

Copyright

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.
Version 1.0
Epub ISBN 9781448107506
Reissued by Arrow Books in 2011
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Copyright © Temperance Brennan L.P. 2006
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 2006 by William Heinemann
First published in paperback in 2007 by
Arrow Books
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 2SA
www.randomhouse.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 978-0-099-55658-9
In loving memory of
Arvils Reichs
February 9, 1949–February 23, 2006
Dusi Saldi

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.

Also by Kathy Reichs
Déjà Dead
Death du Jour
Deadly Decisions
Fatal Voyage
Grave Secrets
Bare Bones
Monday Mourning
Cross Bones
Bones to Ashes
Devil Bones
Spider Bones (published as Mortal Remains in hardback in the UK)
Flash and Bones
Bones are Forever
The Virals Series
with Brendan Reichs
Virals
Seizure
Code

Acknowledgments

For their willingness to help, and for the knowledge and support they provided, I owe thanks to many.

Ted Rathbun, Ph.D., University of South Carolina, Columbia (retired), provided information on South Carolina archaeology. Robert Dillon, Ph.D., College of Charleston, gave guidance on malacology. Lee Goff, Ph.D., Chaminade University, is, and will always be, the guru of bugs.

Detective Chris Dozier, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, coached me on the use of AFIS. Detective John Appel, Guilford County, North Carolina, Sheriff’s Department (retired), and Detective Investigator Joseph P. Noya, Jr., NYPD Crime Scene Unit, helped with police minutiae.

Linda Kramer, R.N., Michelle Skipper, M.B.A., and Eric Skipper, M.D., helped with the non-Hodgkins lymphoma scenario.

Kerry Reichs kept me accurate on Charleston geography. Paul Reichs provided information on legal proceedings and offered useful comments on early versions of the manuscript.

Others helped but prefer to remain anonymous. You know who you are. Thanks a million.

J. Lawrence Angel was one of the grand old men of forensic anthropology. His chapter on the Spanish windlass and vertebral fracture really does exist: Angel, J. L., and P. C. Caldwell, “Death by strangulation: a forensic anthropological case from Wilmington, Delaware,” in Human Identification: Case Studies in Forensic Anthropology, eds. T. A. Rathbun and J. E. Buikstra (Springfield, I11.: Charles C. Thomas, 1986).

Heartfelt thanks to my editor, Nan Graham. Break No Bones benefited greatly from your advice. Thanks also to Nan’s assistant, Anna deVries. And thanks to Susan Sandon, my editor across the pond.

Last, but far from least, thanks to my agent, Jennifer Rudolph-Walsh, who always has time for a word of encouragement. And who always makes me feel smart. And pretty.

Though Break No Bones is a work of fiction, I have tried to keep details of the story honest. If there are mistakes, I own them. Don’t blame the folks acknowledged above.

1

NEVER FAILS. YOU’RE wrapping up the operation when someone blunders onto the season’s big score.

OK. I’m exaggerating. But it’s damn close to what happened. And the final outcome was far more disturbing than any last-minute discovery of a potsherd or hearth.

It was May 18, the second-to-the-last day of the archaeological field school. I had twenty students digging a site on Dewees, a barrier island north of Charleston, South Carolina.

I also had a journalist. With the IQ of plankton.

“Sixteen bodies?” Plankton pulled a spiral notebook as his brain strobed visions of Dahmer and Bundy. “Vics ID’d?”

“The graves are prehistoric.”

Two eyes rolled up, narrowed under puffy lids. “Old Indians?”

“Native Americans.”

“They got me covering dead Indians?” No political correctness prize for this guy.

“They?” Icy.

“The Moultrie News. The East Cooper community paper.”

Charleston, as Rhett told Scarlett, is a city marked by the genial grace of days gone by. Its heart is the Peninsula, a district of antebellum homes, cobbled streets, and outdoor markets bounded by the Ashley and Cooper rivers. Charlestonians define their turf by these waterways. Neighborhoods are referred to as “West Ashley” or “East Cooper,” the latter including Mount Pleasant, and three islands, Sullivan’s, the Isle of Palms, and Dewees. I assumed plankton’s paper covered that beat.

“And you are?” I asked.

“Homer Winborne.”

With his five-o’clock shadow and fast food paunch, the guy looked more like Homer Simpson.

“We’re busy here, Mr. Winborne.”

Winborne ignored that. “Isn’t it illegal?”

“We have a permit. The island’s being developed, and this little patch is slated for home sites.”

“Why bother?” Sweat soaked Winborne’s hairline. When he reached for a hanky, I noticed a tick cruising his collar.

“I’m an anthropologist on faculty at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. My students and I are here at the request of the state.”

Though the first bit was true, the back end was a stretch. Actually, it happened like this.

UNCC’s New World archaeologist normally conducted a student excavation during the short presummer term each May. In late March of this year, the lady had announced her acceptance of a position at Purdue. Busy sending out résumés throughout the winter, she’d ignored the field school. Sayonara. No instructor. No site.

Though my specialty is forensics, and I now work with the dead sent to coroners and medical examiners, my graduate training and early professional career were devoted to the not so recently deceased. For my doctoral research I’d examined thousands of prehistoric skeletons recovered from North American burial mounds.

The field school is one of the Anthropology Department’s most popular courses, and, as usual, was enrolled to capacity. My colleague’s unexpected departure sent the chair into a panic. He begged that I take over. The students were counting on it! A return to my roots! Two weeks at the beach! Extra pay! I thought he was going to throw in a Buick.

I’d suggested Dan Jaffer, a bioarchaeologist and my professional counterpart with the medical examiner/coroner system in the great Palmetto State to our south. I pleaded possible cases at the ME office in Charlotte, or at the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale in Montreal, the two agencies for which I regularly consult.

The chair gave it a shot. Good idea, bad timing. Dan Jaffer was on his way to Iraq.

I’d contacted Jaffer and he’d suggested Dewees as an excavation possibility. A burial ground was slated for destruction, and he’d been trying to forestall the bulldozers until the site’s significance could be ascertained. Predictably, the developer was ignoring his requests.

I’d contacted the Office of the State Archaeologist in Columbia, and on Dan’s recommendation they’d accepted my offer to dig some test trenches, thereby greatly displeasing the developer.

And here I was. With twenty undergraduates. And, on our thirteenth and penultimate day, plankton-brain.

My patience was fraying like an overused rope.

“Name?” Winborne might have been asking about grass seed.

I fought back the urge to walk away. Give him what he wants, I told myself. He’ll leave. Or, with luck, die from the heat.

“Temperance Brennan.”

“Temperance?” Amused.

“Yes, Homer.”

Winborne shrugged. “Don’t hear that name so much.”

“I’m called Tempe.”

“Like the town in Utah.”

“Arizona.”

“Right. What kind of Indians?”

“Probably Sewee.”

“How’d you know stuff was here?”

“Through a colleague at USC-Columbia.”

“How’d he know?”

“He spotted small mounds while doing a survey after the news of an impending development was announced.”

Winborne took a moment to make notes in his spiral. Or maybe he was buying time to come up with his idea of an insightful question. In the distance I could hear student chatter and the clatter of buckets. Overhead, a gull cawed and another answered.

“Mounds?” No one was going to short-list this guy for a Pulitzer.

“Following closure of the graves, shells and sand were heaped on top.”

“What’s the point in digging them up?”

That was it. I hit the little cretin with the interview terminator. Jargon.

“Burial customs aren’t well known for aboriginal Southeastern coastal populations, and this site could substantiate or refute ethnohistoric accounts. Many anthropologists believe the Sewee were part of the Cusabo group. According to some sources, Cusabo funerary practices involved defleshing of the corpse, then placement of the bones in bundles or boxes. Others describe the scaffolding of bodies to allow decomposition prior to burial in common graves.”

“Holy crap. That’s gross.”

“More so than draining the blood from a corpse and replacing it with chemical preservatives, injecting waxes and perfumes and applying makeup to simulate life, then interring in airtight coffins and vaults to forestall decay?”

Winborne looked at me as though I’d spoken Sanskrit. “Who does that?”

“We do.”

“So what are you finding?”

“Bones.”

“Just bones?” The tick was now crawling up Winborne’s neck. Give a heads-up? Screw it. The guy was irritating as hell.

I launched into my standard cop and coroner spiel. “The skeleton paints a story of an individual. Sex. Age. Height. Ancestry. In certain cases, medical history or manner of death.” Pointedly glancing at my watch, I followed with my archaeological shtick. “Ancient bones are a source of information on extinct populations. How people lived, how they died, what they ate, what diseases they suffered—”

Winborne’s gaze drifted over my shoulder. I turned.

Topher Burgess was approaching, various forms of organic and inorganic debris pasted to his sunburned torso. Short and plump, with knit cap, wire rims, and muttonchop sideburns, the kid reminded me of an undergraduate Smee.

“Odd one intruding into three-east.”

I waited, but Topher didn’t elaborate. Not surprising. On exams, Topher’s essays often consisted of single-sentence answers. Illustrated.

“Odd?” I coaxed.

“It’s articulated.”

A complete sentence. Gratifying, but not enlightening. I curled my fingers in a “give me more” gesture.

“We’re thinking intrusive.” Topher shifted his weight from one bare foot to another. It was a lot to shift.

“I’ll check it out in a minute.”

Topher nodded, turned, and trudged back to the excavation.

“What’s that mean, ‘articulated’?” The tick had reached Winborne’s ear and appeared to be considering alternate routes.

“In proper anatomical alignment. It’s uncommon with secondary burials, corpses put into the ground after loss of the flesh. The bones are usually jumbled, sometimes in clumps. Occasionally in these communal graves one or two skeletons will be articulated.”

“Why?”

“Could be a lot of reasons. Maybe someone died immediately before closure of a common pit. Maybe the group was moving on, didn’t have time to wait out decomposition.”

A full ten seconds of scribbling, during which the tick moved out of sight.

“Intrusive. What’s that mean?”

“A body was placed in the grave later. Would you like a closer look?”

“It’s what I’m living for.” Putting hanky to forehead, Winborne sighed as if he were onstage.

I crumbled. “There’s a tick in your collar.”

Winborne moved faster than it seemed possible for a man of his bulk to move, yanking his collar, doubling over, and batting his neck in one jerk. The tick flew to the sand and righted itself, apparently used to rejection.

I set off, skirting clusters of sea oats, their tasseled heads motionless in the heavy air. Only May, and already the mercury was hitting ninety. Though I love the Lowcountry, I was glad I wouldn’t be digging here into the summer.

I moved quickly, knowing Winborne wouldn’t keep up. Mean? Yes. But time was short. I had none to waste on a dullard reporter.

And I was conscience-clear on the tick.

Some student’s boom-box pounded out a tune I didn’t recognize by a group whose name I didn’t know and wouldn’t remember if told. I’d have preferred seabirds and surf, though today’s selections were better than the heavy metal the kids usually blasted.

Waiting for Winborne, I scanned the excavation. Two test trenches had already been dug and refilled. The first had yielded nothing but sterile soil. The second had produced human bone, early vindication of Jaffer’s suspicions.

Three other trenches were still open. At each, students worked trowels, hauled buckets, and sifted earth through mesh screens resting on sawhorse supports.

Topher was shooting pictures at the easternmost trench. The rest of his team sat cross-legged, eyeing the focus of his interest.

Winborne joined me on the cusp between panting and gasping. Mopping his forehead, he fought for breath.

“Hot day,” I said.

Winborne nodded, face the color of raspberry sherbet.

“You OK?”

“Peachy.”

I was moving toward Topher when Winborne’s voice stopped me.

“We got company.”

Turning, I saw a man in a pink Polo shirt and khaki pants hurrying across, not around, the dunes. He was small, almost child-size, with silver-gray hair buzzed to the scalp. I recognized him instantly. Richard L. “Dickie” Dupree, entrepreneur, developer, and all-around sleaze.

Dupree was accompanied by a basset whose tongue and belly barely cleared the ground.

First a journalist, now Dupree. This day was definitely heading for the scrap heap.

Ignoring Winborne, Dupree bore down on me with the determined self-righteousness of a Taliban mullah. The basset hung back to squirt a clump of sea oats.

We’ve all heard of personal space, that blanket of nothing we need between ourselves and others. For me, the zone is eighteen inches. Break in, I get edgy.

Some strangers crowd up close because of vision or hearing. Others, because of differing cultural mores. Not Dickie. Dupree believed nearness lent him greater force of expression.

Stopping a foot from my face, Dupree crossed his arms and squinted up into my eyes.

“Y’all be finishing tomorrow, I expect.” More statement than question.

“We will.” I stepped back.

“And then?” Dupree’s face was birdlike, the bones sharp under pink, translucent skin.

“I’ll file a preliminary report with the Office of the State Archaeologist next week.”

The basset wandered over and started sniffing my leg. It looked to be at least eighty years old.

“Colonel, don’t be rude with the little lady.” To me. “Colonel’s getting on. Forgets his manners.”

The little lady scratched Colonel behind one mangy ear.

“Shame to disappoint folks because of a buncha ole Indians.” Dupree smiled what he no doubt considered his “Southern gentleman” smile. Probably practiced it in the mirror while clipping his nose hairs.

“Many view this country’s heritage as something valuable,” I said.

“Can’t let these things stop progress, though, can we?”

I did not reply.

“You do understand my position, ma’am?”

“Yes, sir. I do.”

I abhorred Dupree’s position. His goal was money, earned by any means that wouldn’t get him indicted. Screw the rain forest, the wetlands, the seashore, the dunes, the culture that was here when the English arrived. Dickie Dupree would implode the Temple of Artemis if it stood where he wanted to slap up condos.

Behind us, Winborne had gone still. I knew he was listening.

“And what might this fine document say?” Another Sheriff of Mayberry smile.

“That this area is underlain by a pre-Columbian burial ground.”

Dupree’s smile wavered, held. Sensing tension, or perhaps bored, Colonel abandoned me for Winborne. I wiped my hand on my cutoffs.

“You know those folks up in Columbia well as I do. A report of that nature will shut me down for some time. That delay will cost me money.”

“An archaeological site is a nonrenewable cultural resource. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. I can’t in good conscience allow your needs to influence my findings, Mr. Dupree.”

The smile dissolved, and Dupree eyed me coldly.

“We’ll just have to see about that.” The veiled threat was little softened by the gentle, Lowcountry drawl.

“Yes, sir. We will.”

Pulling a pack of Kools from his pocket, Dupree cupped a hand and lit up. Chucking the match, he drew deeply, nodded, and started back toward the dunes, Colonel waddling at his heels.

“Mr. Dupree,” I called after him.

Dupree stopped, but didn’t turn to face me.

“It’s environmentally irresponsible to walk on dunes.”

Flicking a wave, Dupree continued on his way.

Anger and loathing rose in my chest.

“Dickie not your choice for Man of the Year?”

I turned. Winborne was unwrapping a stick of Juicy Fruit. I watched him put the gum in his mouth, daring with my eyes that he toss the paper as Dupree had tossed his match.

He got the message.

Wordlessly, I hooked a one-eighty and walked to three-east. I could hear Winborne scrabbling along behind me.

The students fell silent when I joined them. Eight eyes followed as I hopped down into the trench. Topher handed me a trowel. I squatted, and was enveloped by the smell of freshly turned earth.

And something else. Sweet. Fetid. Faint, but undeniable.

An odor that shouldn’t be there.

My stomach tightened.

Dropping to all fours, I examined Topher’s oddity, a segment of vertebral column curving outward from halfway up the western wall.

Above me, students threw out explanations.

“We were cleaning up the sides, you know, so we could, like, take photos of the stratigraphy.”

“We spotted stained soil.”

Topher added some brief detail.

I wasn’t listening. I was troweling, creating a profile view of the burial lying to the west of the trench. With each scrape my apprehension was heading north.

Thirty minutes of work revealed a spine and upper pelvic rim.

I sat back, a tingle of dread crawling my scalp.

The bones were connected by muscle and ligament.

As I stared, the first fly buzzed in, sun iridescent on its emerald body.

Sweet Jesus.

Rising, I brushed dirt from my knees. I had to get to a phone.

Dickie Dupree had a lot more to worry about than the ancient Sewee.

2

DEWEES ISLANDERS ARE rigidly smug about the ecological purity of living “across the way.” Sixty-five percent of their little kingdom is given over to a conservation easement. Ninety percent is undeveloped. Residents prefer things, as they say, wild on the vine. No grooming, no pruning.

No bridge. Access to Dewees is by private ferry or boat. Roads are sand-based, and internal combustion transport is tolerated solely for construction service and deliveries. Oh, yeah. The island has an ambulance, a fire engine, and an all-terrain brushfire-fighting vehicle. Though fond of serenity, the homeowners aren’t totally naive.

Ask me? Nature’s great when on vacation. It’s a pain in the ass when trying to report a suspicious death.

Dewees is only twelve hundred acres, and my crew was digging in the far southeastern corner, in a stand of maritime forest between Lake Timicau and the Atlantic Ocean. Not a chance of scoring a cell phone signal.

Leaving Topher in charge of the site, I hiked up the beach to a wooden boardwalk, used it to cross the dunes, and hopped into one of our half dozen golf carts. I was turning the key when a pack hit the seat beside me, followed by Winborne’s polyester-clad buttocks. Intent on finding a working phone, I hadn’t heard him trailing behind.

OK. Better than leaving the twit to snoop unsupervised.

Wordlessly, I gunned it, or whatever one does with electric carts. Winborne braced one hand on the dash and wrapped the other around an upright roof support.

I paralleled the ocean on Pelican Flight, made a right onto Dewees Inlet, passed the picnic pavilion, the pool, the tennis courts, and the nature center, and, at the top of the lagoon, hung a left toward the water. Pulling up at the ferry dock, I turned to Winborne.

“End of the line.”

“What?”

“How did you get out here?”

“Ferry.”

“And by ferry thou shalt return.”

“No way.”

“Suit yourself.”

Mistaking my meaning, Winborne settled back.

“Swim,” I clarified.

“You can’t jus—”

“Out.”

“I left a cart at your site.”

“A student will return it.”

Winborne slid to the ground, features crimped into a mask of poached displeasure.

“Have a good day, Mr. Winborne.”

Shooting east on Old House Lane, I passed through wrought iron gates decorated with free-form shells, and into the island’s public works area. Fire station. Water treatment facility. Administrative office. Island manager’s residence.

I felt like a first responder after an explosion of one of those neutron bombs. Buildings intact, but not a soul to be found.

Frustrated, I recircled the lagoon and pulled in behind a two-winged structure wrapped by an enormous porch. With its four guest suites and tiny restaurant, Huyler House was Dewees’s only concession to outsiders needing a bed or a beer. It was also home to the island’s community center. Bounding from the cart, I hurried toward it.

Though preoccupied with the grisly find in three-east, I had to appreciate the structure I was approaching. The designers of Huyler House wanted to give the impression of decades of sun and salt air. Weathered wood. Natural staining. Though standing fewer than ten years, the place resembled a heritage building.

Quite the reverse for the woman emerging through a side door. Althea Hunneycut “Honey” Youngblood looked old, but was probably ancient. Local lore had it Honey had witnessed the granting of Dewees to Thomas Cary by King William III in 1696.

Honey’s history was the topic of ongoing speculation, but islanders agreed on certain points. Honey had first visited Dewees as a guest of the Coulter Huyler family prior to World War II. The Huylers had been roughing it on Dewees since purchasing the island in ’25. No electricity. No phone. Windmill-powered well. Not my idea of beach ease.

Honey had arrived with a husband, though opinions vary as to the gentleman’s rank in the roll of spouses. When this hubby died Honey kept coming back, eventually marrying into the R. S. Reynolds family, to whom the Huylers sold their holdings in ’56. Yep. The aluminum folks. After that, Honey could do as she chose. She chose to remain on Dewees.

The Reynolds family sold their acreage to an investment partnership in ’72, and, within a decade, the first private homes went up. Honey’s was number one, a compact little bungalow overlooking Dewees Inlet. With the formation of the Island Preservation Partnership, or IPP, in ’91, Honey hired on as the island naturalist.

No one knew her age. Honey wasn’t sharing.

“Gonna be a hot one.” Honey’s conversations invariably opened with references to the weather.

“Yes, Miss Honey. It surely will.”

“I expect we’ll hit ninety today.” Honey’s “I”s came out “Ah” s, and many of her syllables took on lives of their own. Via our many conversations, I’d learned that the old gal could work vowels like no one I knew.

“I expect we will.” Smiling, I tried hurrying past.

“Thank God and all his angels and saints for air-conditioning.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Y’all are digging by the old tower?”

“Not far from there.” The tower had been built to spot submarines during World War II.

“Finding anything?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That’s grand. We could use some new specimens in our nature center.”

Not these specimens.

I smiled, and again tried moving on.

“I’ll be coming by one of these days.” Sun sparked the blue-white curls. “Gal’s gotta keep up with island events. Did I ever tell—”

“Please excuse me, but I’m in a bit of a hurry, Miss Honey.” I hated to brush her off, but I had to get to a phone.

‘“Course you are. Where are my manners?” Honey patted my arm. “Soon’s you get free, we’ll go fishing. My nephew’s living here now and he’s got a dandy of a boat.”

“Does he?”

“He surely does, gave it to him myself. Can’t take the helm like I once did, but I still love to fish. I’ll give him a holler, we’ll go out.”

With that, Honey strode down the path, backbone straight as a loblolly pine.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I bounded onto the porch and into the community center. Like the public works area, it was deserted.

Did the locals know something I didn’t? Where the hell was everyone?

Letting myself into the office, I crossed to the desk, dialed Information, then punched a number. A voice answered on the second ring.

“Charleston County Coroner’s Office.”

“This is Temperance Brennan. I called about a week ago. Is the coroner back?”

“One moment, please.”

I’d phoned Emma Rousseau shortly after arriving in Charleston, but had been disappointed to learn that my friend was in Florida, taking her first vacation in five years. Poor planning on my part. I should have e-mailed before I came down. But our friendship had never worked like that. When at a distance, we communicated infrequently. When reunited, we jumped in as if we’d parted only hours before.

“She’ll be with you shortly,” the operator updated me.

On hold, I recalled my first encounter with Emma Rousseau.

Eight years back. I was a guest lecturer at the College of Charleston. Emma, a nurse by training, had just been elected Charleston County coroner. A family was questioning her finding of “undetermined” as the manner of death in a skeletal case. Needing a consult, but afraid I’d refuse, and determined to have mine as an outside opinion, Emma hauled the bones to my lecture in a large plastic container. Impressed with such moxie, I’d agreed to help.

“Emma Rousseau.”

“Got a man in a tub who’s dying to meet you.” Bad joke, but we used it over and over.

“Hell’s bells, Tempe. You in Charleston?” Emma’s vowels weren’t up to Honey’s, but they came damn close.

“You’ll find a phone message somewhere in your mail stack. I’m running an archaeological field school out on Dewees. How was Florida?”

“Hot and sticky. You should have let me know you were coming. I could have rescheduled.”

“If you actually took time off, I’m sure you needed the break.”

Emma didn’t reply to that. “Dan Jaffer still out of the loop?”

“He’s been deployed to Iraq until sometime next month.”

“You met Miss Honey?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Love that old lady. Brimming with piss and vinegar.”

“She is that. Listen, Emma. I may have a problem.”

“Shoot.”

“Jaffer put me on to the site, thought it might be a Sewee burial ground. He was right. We’ve been getting bone since day one, but it’s typical pre-Columbian stuff. Dry, bleached, lots of postmortem deterioration.”

Emma didn’t interrupt with questions or comments.

“This morning my students spotted a fresh burial about eighteen inches down. The bone looks solid, and the vertebrae are connected by soft tissue. I cleared what I felt was safe without contaminating the scene, then figured I’d better give someone a heads-up. Not sure who handles Dewees.”

“Sheriff’s got jurisdiction for criminal matters. For suspicious death evaluation, the winner would be me. Got any hypotheses?”

“None involving the ancient Sewee.”

“You think the burial is recent?”

“Flies were opening a soup kitchen as I was scraping dirt.”

There was a pause. I could picture Emma checking her watch.

“I’ll be there in about an hour and a half. Need anything?”

“Body bag.”

I was waiting on the pier when Emma arrived in a twin-engine Sea Ray. Her hair was tucked under a baseball cap, and her face seemed thinner than I remembered. She wore Dolce & Gabbana shades, jeans, and a yellow T with Charleston County Coroner lettered in black.

I watched Emma drop fenders, maneuver to the dock, and tie up. When I reached the boat, she handed out a body bag, grabbed camera equipment, and stepped over the side.

In the cart I explained that, following our phone conversation, I’d returned to the site, staked out a simple ten-by-ten square, and shot a series of photographs. I described in more detail what I’d seen in the ground. And gave warning that my students were totally jazzed.

Emma spoke little as I drove. She seemed moody, distracted. Or maybe she trusted that I’d told her all she needed to know. All I knew.

Now and then I stole a sideways glance. Emma’s sunglasses made it impossible to know her expression. As we moved in and out of sunlight, shadows threw patterns across her features.

I didn’t share that I was feeling uneasy, anxious that I might be wrong and wasting Emma’s time.

More accurately, anxious that I might be right.

A shallow grave off a lonely beach. A decomposing corpse. I could think of few explanations. All of them involved suspicious death and body disposal.

Emma looked outwardly calm. Like me, she’d worked dozens, perhaps hundreds of scenes. Incinerated bodies, severed heads, mummified infants, plastic-wrapped body parts. For me, it was never easy. I wondered if Emma’s adrenaline was pumping like mine.

“That guy an undergrad?” Emma’s question broke into my thoughts.

I followed her line of vision.

Homer Winborne. Each time Topher turned his back, the creep was snapping photos with a pocket-size digital.

“Sonovabitch.”

“I take that as a negative.”

“He’s a reporter.”

“Shouldn’t be shooting.”

“Shouldn’t be here at all.”

Flying from the cart, I confronted Winborne. “What the hell are you doing?”

My students turned into a frozen tableau.

“Missed the ferry.” Winborne’s right shoulder hunched as his arm slid behind his back.

“Fork over the Nikon.” Razor tone.

“You’ve got no right to take my property.”

“Your ass is out of here. Now. Or I’m calling the sheriff to haul it to the bag.”

“Dr. Brennan.”

Emma had come up behind me. Winborne’s eyes narrowed as they read her T.

“Perhaps the gentleman could observe from a distance.” Emma, the voice of reason.

I turned my glare from Winborne to Emma. I was so peeved I couldn’t think of a suitable reply. “No way” lacked style, and “in a pig’s eye” seemed low in originality.

Emma nodded almost imperceptibly, indicating I should go along. Winborne was right, of course. I had no authority to confiscate his property or to give him orders. Emma was right, too. Better to control the press than to turn it away angry.

Or was the coroner thinking ahead to her next election?

“Whatever.” My reply was no better than the ones I’d rejected.

“Providing we hold the camera for safekeeping.” Emma held out a hand.

With a self-satisfied smile in my direction, Winborne placed the Nikon in it.

“This is puppy shit,” I muttered.

“How far back would you like Mr. Winborne to stand?”

“How about the mainland?”

As things turned out, Winborne’s presence made little difference.

Within hours we’d crossed an event horizon that changed my dig, my summer, and my views on human nature.

3

TOPHER AND A kid named Joe Horne started in with long-handled spades, gently slicing topsoil inside my ten-foot square. Six inches down we spotted discoloration.

Send in the A team.

Emma shot videos and stills, then she and I troweled, teasing away earth from around the stain. Topher worked the screen. The kid might be goofy, but he was a world-class sifter. Throughout the afternoon, students dropped by for progress checks, their CSI zeal wilting in inverse relation to the blossoming fly population.

By four, we’d uncovered a barely articulated torso, limb bones, a skull, and a jaw. The remains were encased in rotted fabric and topped by wisps of pale, blond hair.

Emma repeatedly radioed Junius Gullet, sheriff of Charleston County. Each time she was told that Gullett was unavailable, handling a domestic disturbance.

Winborne stayed on us like a hound on a cottontail. With the ratcheting heat and odor, his face morphed into something resembling splatter on a sidewalk.

At five, my students piled into carts and split for the ferry. Topher alone seemed open to working for as long as it took. He, Emma, and I kept moving dirt, sweating, and shooing Calliphoridae.

Winborne disappeared as we were transferring the last bones into a body bag. I didn’t see his departure. One time I glanced over, and he was gone.

I assumed Winborne was scurrying to his editor and then his keyboard. Emma wasn’t concerned. A body wasn’t big news in Charleston County, which chalked up twenty-six homicides a year with a mere three hundred thousand citizens working at it.

We’d kept our voices low, our actions discreet, Emma argued. Winborne had gotten nothing that could compromise an investigation. Coverage might be a plus, draw reports of missing persons, ultimately help with an ID. I remained skeptical, but said nothing. It was her patch.

Emma and I had our first real exchange on the way to the dock. The sun was low, slashing crimson through the trees and across the road. Even though we were moving, the salty pine smell of woods and marsh was tainted by the bouquet drifting from our backseat passenger.

Or maybe it was us. I couldn’t wait to shower, shampoo, and burn my clothes.

“First impressions?” Emma asked.

“Bone’s well preserved, but there’s less soft tissue than I’d anticipated based on eyeballing those first vertebrae. Ligament, some muscle fiber deep in the joints, that’s about it. Most of the smell is coming from the clothes.”

“Body was wrapped in them, not wearing them, right?”

“Right.”

“PMI?” Emma was asking how much time had elapsed since the victim’s death.

“For postmortem interval you’ll need to study the insect inclusions.”

“I’ll get an entomologist. Rough estimate?”

I shrugged. “In this climate, shallow burial, I’d say minimum of two years, maximum of five.”

“We got a lot of teeth.” Emma’s thoughts were slip-streaming ahead to the ID.

“Damn right we did. Eighteen in the sockets, eight in the ground, three in the screen.”

“And hair,” Emma added.

“Yes.”

“Long.”

“Meaningless, if you’re thinking gender. Look at Tom Wolfe. Willie Nelson.”

“Fabio.”

I definitely liked this woman.

“Where are you taking the remains?” I asked.

“Everything under my jurisdiction goes to the morgue at MUSC.” The Medical University of South Carolina. “The pathologists there perform all our autopsies. My forensic anthropologist and dentist work there, too. Guess I won’t be requesting a pathologist in this case.”

“Brain and organs are long gone. The autopsy will be skeletal only. You’ll need Jaffer.”

“He’s in Iraq.”

“He’ll be back next month,” I said.

“Can’t wait that long.”

“I’m committed to this field school.”

“It’s finished tomorrow.”

“I have to haul equipment back to UNCC. Write a report. Turn in grades.”

Emma didn’t reply.

“I may have cases at my lab in Charlotte.”

Emma continued to not reply.

“Or in Montreal.”

We rode in silence awhile, listening to the peeping of tree frogs and the hum of the cart. When Emma spoke again her voice was different, softer, yet quietly insistent.

“Someone’s probably missing this guy.”

I thought of the solitary grave we’d just unearthed.

I thought of my long-ago lecture and the guy in the tub.

I stopped trying to beg off.

We talked again as we loaded the boat and cast off, fell silent when we left the no-wake zone. Once Emma opened throttle, our words were lost to the wind, the motor, and the slap of water on the bow.

My car was at the marina on Isle of Palms, a narrow tongue of real estate lying between Sullivan’s and Dewees. So was a coroner’s van. It took only minutes to transfer our sad cargo.

Before cutting out into the intracoastal waterway, Emma left me with two words.

“I’ll call.”

I didn’t argue. I was tired and hungry. And cranky. I wanted to go home, shower, and eat the cold shrimp and she-crab soup I’d left in the fridge.

Walking up the dock, I noticed Topher Burgess stepping from the ferry. He was listening to his iPod, and didn’t seem to see or hear me.

I watched my student cross to his Jeep. Funny kid, I thought. Smart, though far from a brilliant performer. Accepted by his peers, but always apart.

Like me at that age.

I clicked on the roof light in my Mazda, dug my mobile from my pack, and checked for a signal. Four bars.

Three messages. I recognized none of the numbers.

It was now 8:45.

Disappointed, I replaced the phone, pulled from the lot, cut across the island, and turned right onto Palm Boulevard. Traffic was light, though that wouldn’t last. Two weeks and cars would be clogging these roads like silt in a storm drain.

I was staying at a friend’s beach house. When Anne had upgraded from Sullivan’s two years earlier, she hadn’t messed around. Her new getaway had five bedrooms, six baths, and enough square footage to host the World Cup.

Taking a couple of feeder streets, I maneuvered toward the beach, pulled into Anne’s drive, and parked under the house. Ocean Boulevard. No second row for oceanfront Annie.

Every window was dark since I had planned on a predusk return. Without turning on lights, I went straight to the outdoor shower, stripped, and cranked up the hot water. Twenty minutes with rosemary, mint, and a lot of lather, and I felt reasonably restored.

Leaving the stall, I bundled my clothing into a plastic sack and trashed it. No way I’d subject Annie’s Maytag to that.

Wearing only a towel, I entered the house through the back veranda and climbed to my room. Panties and a T. Brush through my hair. Gorgeous.

While zapping my soup, I again checked my messages. Nothing. Where was Ryan? Taking my mobile and my dinner to the porch, I settled in a rocker.

Anne called her place “Sea for Miles.” No kidding. The horizon spread from Havana to Halifax.

There’s something about the ocean. One minute I was eating. The next I was jolted awake by the sound of my cell. My plate and bowl sat empty. I had no recollection of closing my eyes.

The voice wasn’t the one I was hoping to hear.

“Yo.”

Only frat boys and my estranged husband still said “yo.”

“Dude.” I was too tired to be clever.

“How goes the dig?”

I pictured the bones now lying in the MUSC morgue. I pictured Emma’s face as she had pulled away from the dock. I didn’t want to go into it.

“Fine.”

“Wrapping up tomorrow?”

“Some loose ends may take longer than I’d expected. How’s Birdie?”

“Doing twenty-four/seven surveillance on Boyd. Your cat thinks my dog’s been conjured up from the dark side to pollute his life. Chow thinks the cat’s some kind of fluffy wind-up toy.”

“Who’s in control?”

“Bird’s definitely alpha. So, when are you back to Charlotte?” Too casual. Something was up.

“I’m not sure. Why?” Wary.

“Gentleman came to my office yesterday. He has financial issues with Aubrey Herron, and it seems his daughter’s hooked up with Herron as well.”

The Reverend Aubrey Herron was a televangelist with a small but ardent following throughout the Southeast, known as God’s Mercy Church. In addition to its headquarters and TV studio, GMC operated a number of Third World orphanages and several free medical clinics in the Carolinas and Georgia.

“God Means Charity.” Herron closed every broadcast with the slogan.

“Give Mucho Cash.” Pete quoted a popular variation.

“What’s the problem?” I asked.

“Financial reports have not been forthcoming, the kid’s gone incommunicado, and the Reverend Herron is being less than cooperative on either issue.”

“Shouldn’t Daddy hire a private investigator?”

“Daddy did. The guy went missing.”

“You’re thinking Bermuda Triangle?”

“Aliens.”

“You’re a lawyer, Pete. Not a gumshoe.”

“There’s money involved.”

“No!”

Pete ignored that.

“Daddy’s really worried?” I asked.

“Daddy’s beyond worried and out the other side.”

“About the money or the daughter?”

“Perceptive question. Flynn’s really hiring me to look into the books. Wants me to bring pressure on GMC. If I can scare up something on the daughter, that’s a bonus. I offered to drop in on the reverend.”

“And scare the wingtips off him.”

“With my legal acumen.”

Comprehension sprang into focus.

“GMC is headquartered in Charleston,” I said.

“I talked to Anne. She offered the house, if it’s cool with you.”

“When?” I gave a sigh that would have made Homer Winborne proud.

“Sunday?”

“Why not.” Only a billion reasons.

A beep indicated an incoming call. When I lowered the phone, the LCD panel glowed the digits I’d been hoping to see. Montreal exchange.

“Gotta go, Pete.”

I clicked over.

“Phoning too late?”

“Never.” I smiled my first smile since uncovering the skeleton in three-east.

“Lonely?”

“I posted my number in the men’s room at Hyman’s Seafood.”

“I love it when you go all mushy missing me.”

Andrew Ryan is a detective with the Major Crimes Division of the Quebec Provincial Police. You get the picture: Brennan, anthropologist, Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale; Ryan, cop, Section de crimes contre la personne, Sûrété du Québec. We’ve worked homicides together for more than a decade.

Recently, Ryan and I had started working other things, as well. Personal things.

One of them did a wee flip at the sound of his voice.

“Good day digging?”

I drew a breath, stopped. Share? Wait?

Ryan picked up on my hesitation.

“What?” he encouraged.

“We found an intrusive burial. A complete skeleton with vestiges of soft tissue and associated clothing.”

“Recent?”

“Yes. I called the coroner. She and I exhumed it together. It’s now at the morgue.”

While Ryan is charming, thoughtful, and witty, he can also be annoying as hell. I knew his response before it left his lips.

“How do you get yourself into these situations, Brennan?”

“I submit well-written résumés.”

“Will you do the consult?”

“I have my students to think about.”

Wind ruffled the palmetto fronds. Across the dunes, surf pounded sand.

“You’ll take the case.”

I didn’t agree or disagree.

“How’s Lily?” I asked.

“Only three door-slamming incidents today. Minor league. No broken glass or splintered wood. I take that as a sign the visit’s going well.”

Lily was new to Ryan’s life. And vice versa. For almost two decades father and daughter knew nothing of each other. Then Lily’s mother made contact.

Nineteen and pregnant, though not sharing that biological reality with her weekend pal-in-the-dark Ryan, Lutetia had fled Canada for her family home in the Bahamas. She’d married in the islands, divorced when Lily was twelve, and returned to Nova Scotia. Once Lily was out of high school, she’d begun running with a fast crowd. She’d taken to staying out nights, had been busted for possession. Lutetia knew the signs. She’d tried the outlaw life herself. That’s where she’d met Ryan, during his own personal undergraduate counterculture insurrection. Knowing her long-ago lover was now a cop, Lutetia had decided he should participate in the effort to salvage his young-adult daughter.

Though the news had hit Ryan in the old solar plexus, he’d embraced fatherhood and was trying hard. This visit to Nova Scotia was his latest foray into his daughter’s world. But Lily wasn’t making her old man’s task easy.

“One word,” I said. “Patience.”

“Roger that, wise one.” Ryan knew I’d had runins with my own daughter, Katy.

“How long will you stay in Halifax?”

“We’ll see how it goes. I haven’t given up on that idea of joining you if you’re still willing to hang there awhile.”

Oh, boy.

“That could be complicated. Pete just called. He may be here for a day or two.”

Ryan waited.

“He has business in Charleston, so Anne invited him. What could I say? It’s Anne’s house and the place has enough beds to accommodate the College of Cardinals.”

“Beds or bedrooms?”

At times Ryan had the tact of a wrecking ball.

“Call me tomorrow?” I closed the topic.

“Scrub your number from that men’s-room wall?”

“You bet, sailor.”

I was wired after talking to Pete and Ryan. Or maybe it was the unplanned power nap. I knew I wouldn’t sleep.

Pulling on shorts, I padded barefoot across the boardwalk. The tide was out, and the beach yawned fifty yards to the water’s edge. A gazillion stars winked overhead. Walking the surf, I let my thoughts roam.

Pete, my first love. My only love for over two decades.

Ryan, my first gamble since Pete’s betrayal.

Katy, my wonderful, flighty, finally-about-to-be-a-college-graduate daughter.

But mostly, I pondered that sad grave on Dewees. Violent death is my job. I see it often, yet I never get used to it.