The eighth book in the Temperance Brennan series, 2005
As usual, I am deeply indebted to many of my colleagues, family, and friends for their time, expertise, and advice.
Dr. James Tabor, Chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, lit the initial spark forCross Bones, shared his personal notes and research findings, checked a thousand fine points, and gallantly squired me around Israel.
Dr. Charles Greenblatt and Kim Vernon, Science and Antiquity Group, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Dr. Carney Matheson, Paleo-DNA Laboratory, Lakehead University, coached me on ancient DNA. Dr. Mark Leney, DNA Coordinator, CILHI, Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command, and Dr. David Sweet, Director, Bureau of Forensic Dentistry, University of British Columbia, answered questions about modern DNA.
Azriel Gorsky, Head (Emeritus), Fibers and Polymers Laboratory, Division of Identification and Forensic Science, Israel National Police, gave advice on hair and fiber analysis, and on the workings of Israeli law enforcement.
Dr. Elazor Zadok, Brigadier General, Director, Division of Identification and Forensic Science, Israel National Police, allowed a tour of their Forensic Science facility. Dr. Tzipi Kahana, Chief Inspector, Forensic Anthropologist, Division of Identification and Forensic Science, Israel National Police, familiarized me with the Israeli medical examiner system.
Dr. Shimon Gibson, Jerusalem Archaeological Field Unit, took me to sites throughout Israel, and answered many questions about his homeland.
Debbie Sklar, Israel Antiquities Authority, provided a private tour of the Rockefeller Museum.
Officer Christopher Dozier, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and Sergent-détective Stephen Rudman, Superviseur, Analyse et Liaison, Communauté Urbaine de Montréal Police (retired), supplied information on obtaining phone records.
Roz Lippel helped keep the Hebrew honest. Marie-Eve Provost did the same for the French.
Special thanks go to Paul Reichs for his insightful comments on the manuscript.
Credit must be given to two books mentioned in the text: Masada: Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand by Yigael Yadin, George Weidenfeld amp; Nicolson Limited, 1966; The Jesus Scroll by Donovan Joyce, Dial Press, 1973.
Last, but far from least, heartfelt thanks to my editor, Nan Graham. Her advice madeCross Bones a far better book. Thanks also to my editor across the pond, Susan Sandon.
And, of course, to Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, Co-Head of the Worldwide Literary Department, Executive Vice President, and one of the first two women appointed to the Board of Directors of the William Morris Agency. Way to go, girl! Thanks for hanging in as my agent.
For Susanne Kirk, editor, Scribner, 1975-2004
For Dr. James Woodward, chancellor,
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 1989-2005
Thanks for the years of support and encouragement.
Enjoy your retirements!
Depart from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it.
– Jewish Holy Scripture,
The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.
– New Testament, James 3:18
And make not Allah because of your swearing (by him) an obstacle to your doing good and guarding (against evil) and making peace between men, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
– Koran 2:224
• From 1963 to 1965, Masada, site of a first-century Jewish revolt against the Romans, was excavated by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin and a team of international volunteers. Yadin’s workers recovered the fragmentary and commingled remains of approximately twenty-five skeletons from a cave complex, designated Loci 2001/2002, located below the casement wall at the southern tip of the summit. Unlike other human remains found within the main complex of ruins at the northern end of Masada, these bones were not immediately reported to the press.
In the 1990s, a photo surfaced of a single intact skeleton that was also recovered from Loci 2001/2002 during the 1963 to 1965 excavation. That skeleton was never mentioned or described by the project’s physical anthropologist, Nicu Haas. It was not discussed by Yadin in his published reports or interviews.
* Formal field notes were not kept during the Masada excavation, but oral briefings took place regularly between Yadin and his staff. Transcripts of these sessions are archived at the Mount Scopus Campus of Hebrew University. Pages covering the period of the discovery and clearing of Loci 2001/2002 are missing.
* Neither the bones from the twenty-five commingled individuals, nor the articulated skeleton, nor the contents of Loci 2001/2002, are described in the six volumes of the final Masada excavation publication.
* Though Nicu Haas was in possession of the bones for more than five years, he published nothing on the commingled individuals or on the complete skeleton recovered at Loci 2001/2002. Haas’s handwritten notes, including a full bone inventory, indicate he never received the complete skeleton.
* In the late 1960s, Yigael Yadin stated in press interviews that carbon-14 dating was seldom done, and that it was not his job to initiate such tests. The journalRadiocarbon indicates that Yadin sent samples for carbon-14 dating from other Israeli excavations during that period. Despite uncertainty concerning the age of the Loci 2001/2002 remains, Yadin never sent samples for radiocarbon dating.
• In 1968, the skeletal remains of a “crucified man” were found during road construction north of the Old City of Jerusalem. The deceased, Yehochanan, died at approximately twenty-five years of age, during the first century. A nail and wood fragments were embedded in one of Yehochanan’s heel bones.
• In 1973, Australian journalist Donovan Joyce publishedThe Jesus Scroll (Dial Press). Joyce claimed to have visited Israel, met a volunteer from Yadin’s excavation team, and seen a stolen first-century scroll from Masada containing the last will and testament of “Jesus, son of James.” According to Joyce, the scroll was smuggled out of Israel, presumably to the USSR.
• In 1980, roadworkers uncovered a tomb in Talpiot, just south of the Old City of Jerusalem. The tomb contained ossuaries inscribed with the names Mara (Mary), Yehuda, son of Yeshua (Jude, son of Jesus), Matya (Matthew), Yeshua, son of Yehosef (Jesus, son of Joseph), Yose (Joseph), and Marya (Mary). The coexistence of the names in one tomb is rare. Skeletal materials have been submitted for DNA testing.
• In 2000, American archaeologist James Tabor and his team discovered a freshly robbed tomb in the Hinnom Valley, outside Jerusalem. The tomb contained twenty ossuaries, all but one shattered. The lower chamber held a burial shroud wrapping a fragmentary human skeleton and hair. Carbon-14 testing showed the shroud was first-century in age. Microscopic examination revealed the hair was clean and vermin-free, indicating the deceased had been of high status. Anthropological analysis determined the remains were those of an adult male. DNA sequencing demonstrated a familial relationship among most of the other individuals buried in the tomb.
• In 2002, Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan revealed the existence of a first-century ossuary inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” That fall, the ossuary was made public. While experts agree that the small stone coffin is first-century in age, controversy surrounds the authenticity of the inscription. Circumstantial evidence suggests the ossuary came from the vicinity of the Hinnom, possibly from Tabor’s “shroud” tomb.
A formal request was submitted to the Israel Antiquities Authority for DNA testing of bone material found in the James ossuary. DNA sequencing would allow comparison of the James ossuary remains with those recovered from Tabor’s Hinnom “shroud” tomb. The request was denied.
As this book went to press:
• In January of 2005, indictments were issued against Oded Golan and several others for the forgery of antiquities. Mr. Golan maintains his innocence, and continues in his insistence that the James ossuary is authentic. Experts remain divided.
FOLLOWING ANEASTER DINNER OF HAM, PEAS, AND CREAMED potatoes, Charles “Le Cowboy” Bellemare pinched a twenty from his sister, drove to a crack house in Verdun, and vanished.
That summer the crack house was sold up-market. That winter the new homeowners grew frustrated with the draw in their fireplace. On Monday, February seventh, the man of the house opened the flue and thrust upward with a rake handle. A desiccated leg tumbled into the ash bed.
Papa called the cops. The cops called the fire department and the Bureau du coroner. The coroner called our forensics lab. Pelletier caught the case.
Pelletier and two morgue techs were standing on the lawn within an hour of the leg drop. To say the scene was confused would be like saying D-day was hectic. Outraged father. Hysterical mother. Overwrought kids. Mesmerized neighbors. Annoyed cops. Mystified firefighters.
Dr. Jean Pelletier is the most senior of the five pathologists at the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale, Quebec ’s central crime and medico-legal lab. He’s got bad joints and bad dentures, and zero tolerance for anything or anyone that wastes his time. Pelletier took one look and ordered a wrecking ball.
The exterior wall of the chimney was pulverized. A well-smoked corpse was extracted, strapped to a gurney, and transported to our lab. The next day Pelletier eyeballed the remains and said,“ossements.” Bones.
Enter I, Dr. Temperance Brennan, forensic anthropologist for North Carolina and Quebec. La Belle Province and Dixie? Long story, starting with a faculty swap between my home university, UNC-Charlotte, and McGill. When the exchange year ended, I headed south, but continued consulting for the lab in Montreal. A decade later, I’m still commuting, and lay claim to the mother lode of frequent flyer miles.
Pelletier’sdemande d’expertise en anthropologie was on my desk when I arrived in Montreal for my February rotation.
It was now Wednesday, February 16, and the chimney bones formed a complete skeleton on my worktable. Though the victim hadn’t been a believer in regular checkups, eliminating dental records as an option, all skeletal indicators fit Bellemare. Age, sex, race, and height estimates, along with surgical pins in the right fibula and tibia, told me I was looking at the long-lost Cowboy.
Other than a hairline fracture of the cranial base, probably caused by the unplanned chimney dive, I’d found no evidence of trauma.
I was pondering how and why a man goes up on a roof and falls down the chimney, when the phone rang.
“It seems I need your assistance, Temperance.” Only Pierre LaManche called me by my full name, hitting hard on the last syllable, and rhyming it with “sconce” instead of “fence.” LaManche had assigned himself a cadaver that I suspected might present decomposition issues.
“Oui.”My boss paused. “And other complicating factors.”
“I’ll be right down.”
After saving the Bellemare report on disk, I left my lab, passed through the glass doors separating the medico-legal section from the rest of the floor, turned into a side corridor, and pushed a button beside a solitary elevator. Accessible only through the two secure levels comprising the LSJML, and through the coroner’s office below on eleven, this lift had a single destination: the morgue.
Descending to the basement, I reviewed what I’d learned at that morning’s staff meeting.
Avram Ferris, a fifty-six-year-old Orthodox Jew, had gone missing a week earlier. Ferris’s body had been discovered late yesterday in a storage closet on the upper floor of his place of business. No signs of a break-in. No signs of a struggle. Employee said he’d been acting odd. Death by self-inflicted gunshot wound was the on-scene assessment. The man’s family was adamant in its rejection of suicide as an explanation.
The coroner had ordered an autopsy. Ferris’s relatives and rabbi had objected. Negotiations had been heated.
I was about to see the compromise that had been reached.
And the handiwork of the cats.
From the elevator, I turned left, then right toward the morgue. Nearing the outer door to the autopsy wing, I heard sounds drifting from the family room, a forlorn little chamber reserved for those called upon to identify the dead.
Soft sobbing. A female voice.
I pictured the bleak little space with its plastic plants and plastic chairs and discreetly curtained window, and felt the usual ache. We did no hospital autopsies at the LSJML. No end-stage liver disease. No pancreatic cancer. We were scripted for murder, suicide, accidental and sudden and unexpected death. The family room held those just ambushed by the unthinkable and unforeseen. Their grief never failed to touch me.
Pulling open a bright blue door, I proceeded down a narrow corridor, passing computer stations, drying racks, and stainless steel carts on my right, more blue doors on my left, each labeled SALLE D’AUTOPSIE. At the fourth door, I took a deep breath and entered.
Along with the skeletal, I get the burned, the mummified, the mutilated, and the decomposed. My job is to restore the identity death has erased. I frequently use room four since it is outfitted with special ventilation. This morning the system was barely keeping up with the odor of decay.
Some autopsies play to an empty house. Some pack them in. Despite the stench, Avram Ferris’s postmortem was standing room only.
LaManche. His autopsy tech, Lisa. A police photographer. Two uniforms. A Sûrété du Québec detective I didn’t know. Tall guy, freckled, and paler than tofu.
An SQ detective Idid know. Well. Andrew Ryan. Six-two. Sandy hair. Viking blue eyes.
We nodded to each other. Ryan the cop. Tempe the anthropologist.
If the official players weren’t crowd enough, four outsiders formed a shoulder-to-shoulder wall of disapproval at the foot of the corpse.
I did a quick scan. All male. Two midfifties, two maybe closing out their sixties. Dark hair. Glasses. Beards. Black suits. Yarmulkes.
The wall regarded me with appraising eyes. Eight hands stayed clasped behind four rigid backs.
LaManche lowered his mask and introduced me to the quartet of observers.
“Given the condition of Mr. Ferris’s body, an anthropologist is needed.”
Four puzzled looks.
“Dr. Brennan’s expertise is skeletal anatomy.” LaManche spoke English. “She is fully aware of your special needs.”
Other than careful collection of all blood and tissue, I hadn’t a clue of their special needs.
“I’m very sorry for your loss,” I said, pressing my clipboard to my chest.
Four somber nods.
Their loss lay at center stage, plastic sheeting stretched between his body and the stainless steel. More sheeting had been spread on the floor below and around the table. Empty tubs, jars, and vials sat ready on a rolling cart.
The body had been stripped and washed, but no incision had been made. Two paper bags lay flattened on the counter. I assumed LaManche had completed his external exam, including tests for gunpowder and other trace evidence on Ferris’s hands.
Eight eyes tracked me as I crossed to the deceased. Observer number four reclasped his hands in front of his genitals.
Avram Ferris didn’t look like he’d died last week. He looked like he’d died during the Clinton years. His eyes were black, his tongue purple, his skin mottled olive and eggplant. His gut was distended, his scrotum ballooned to the size of beach balls.
I looked to Ryan for an explanation.
“Temperature in the closet was pushing ninety-two,” he said.
“Why so hot?”
“We figure one of the cats brushed the thermostat,” Ryan said.
I did a quick calculation. Ninety-two Fahrenheit. About thirty-five Celsius. No wonder Ferris was setting a land record for decomposition.
But heat had been just one of this gentleman’s problems.
When hungry, the most docile among us grow cranky. When starved, we grow desperate. Id overrides ethics. We eat. We survive. That common instinct drives herd animals, predators, wagon trains, and soccer teams.
Even Fido and Fluffy go vulture.
Avram Ferris had made the mistake of punching out while trapped with two domestic shorthairs and a Siamese.
And a short supply of Friskies.
I moved around the table.
Ferris’s left temporal and parietal bones were oddly splayed. Though I couldn’t see the occipital, it was obvious the back of his head had taken a hit.
Pulling on gloves, I wedged two fingers under the skull and palpated. The bone yielded like sludge. Only scalp tissue was keeping the flip side together.
I eased the head down and examined the face.
It was difficult to imagine what Ferris had looked like in life. His left cheek was macerated. Tooth marks scored the underlying bone, and fragments glistened opalescent in the angry red stew.
Though swollen and marbled, Ferris’s face was largely intact on the right.
I straightened, considered the patterning of the mutilation. Despite the heat and the smell of putrefaction, the cats hadn’t ventured to the right of Ferris’s nose or south to the rest of the body.
I understood why LaManche needed me.
“There was an open wound on the left side of the face?” I asked him.
“Oui. And another at the back of the skull. The putrefaction and scavenging make it impossible to determine bullet trajectory.”
“I’ll need a full set of cranial X-rays,” I said to Lisa.
“All angles. And I’ll need the skull.”
“Impossible.” Observer four again came alive. “We have an agreement.”
LaManche raised a gloved hand. “I have the responsibility to determine the truth in this matter.”
“You gave your word there would be no retention of specimens.” Though the man’s face was the color of oatmeal, a pink bud was mushrooming on each of his cheeks.
“Unless absolutely unavoidable.” LaManche was all reason.
Observer four turned to the man on his left. Observer three raised his chin and gazed down through lowered lids.
“Let him speak.” Unruffled. The rabbi counseling patience.
LaManche turned to me.
“Dr. Brennan, proceed with your analysis, leaving the skull and all untraumatized bone in place.”
“If that proves unworkable, resume normal protocol.”
I do not like being told how to do my job. I do not like working with less than the maximum available information, or employing less than optimum procedure.
I do like and respect Pierre LaManche. He is the finest pathologist I’ve ever known.
I looked at my boss. The old man nodded almost imperceptibly. Work with me, he was signaling.
I shifted my gaze to the faces hovering above Avram Ferris. In each I saw the age-old struggle of dogma versus pragmatics. The body as temple. The body as ducts and ganglia and piss and bile.
In each I saw the anguish of loss.
The same anguish I’d overheard just minutes before.
“Of course,” I said quietly. “Call when you’re ready to retract the scalp.”
I looked at Ryan. He winked, Ryan the cop hinting at Ryan the lover.
The woman was still crying when I left the autopsy wing. Her companion, or companions, were now silent.
I hesitated, not wanting to intrude on personal sorrow.
Was that it? Or was that merely an excuse to shield myself?
I often witness grief. Time and again I am present for that head-on collision when survivors face the realization of their altered lives. Meals that will never be shared. Conversations that will never be spoken. Little Golden Books that will never be read aloud.
I see the pain, but have no help to offer. I am an outsider, a voyeur looking on after the crash, after the fire, after the shooting. I am part of the screaming sirens, the stretching of the yellow tape, the zipping of the body bag.
I cannot diminish the overwhelming sorrow. And I hate my impotence.
Feeling like a coward, I turned into the family room.
Two women sat side by side, together but not touching. The younger could have been thirty or fifty. She had pale skin, heavy brows, and curly dark hair tied back on her neck. She wore a black skirt and a long black sweater with a high cowl that brushed her jaw.
The older woman was so wrinkled she reminded me of the dried-apple dolls crafted in the Carolina mountains. She wore an ankle-length dress whose color fell somewhere between black and purple. Loose threads spiraled where the top three buttons should have been.
I cleared my throat.
Apple Granny glanced up, tears glistening on the face of ten thousand creases.
The gnarled fingers bunched and rebunched a hanky.
“I’m Temperance Brennan. I’ll be helping with Mr. Ferris’s autopsy.”
The old woman’s head dropped to the right, jolting her wig to a suboptimal angle.
“Please accept my condolences. I know how difficult this is for you.”
The younger woman raised two heart-stopping lilac eyes. “Do you?”
Loss is difficult to understand. I know that. My understanding of loss is incomplete. I know that, too.
I lost my brother to leukemia when he was three. I lost my grandmother when she’d lived more than ninety years. Each time, the grief was like a living thing, invading my body and nesting deep in my marrow and nerve endings.
Kevin had been barely past baby. Gran was living in memories that didn’t include me. I loved them. They loved me. But they were not the entire focus of my life, and both deaths were anticipated.
How did anyone deal with the sudden loss of a spouse? Of a child?
I didn’t want to imagine.
The younger woman pressed her point. “You can’t presume to understand the sorrow we feel.”
Unnecessarily confrontational, I thought. Clumsy condolences are still condolences.
“Of course not,” I said, looking from her to her companion and back. “That was presumptuous of me.”
Neither woman spoke.
“I am very sorry for your loss.”
The younger woman waited so long I thought she wasn’t going to respond.
“I’m Miriam Ferris. Avram is…was my husband.” Miriam’s hand came up and paused, as if uncertain as to its mission. “Dora is Avram’s mother.”
The hand fluttered toward Dora, then dropped to rejoin its counterpart.
“I suppose our presence during the autopsy is irregular. There’s nothing we can do.” Miriam’s voice sounded husky with grief. “This is all so…” Her words trailed off, but her eyes stayed fixed on me.
I tried to think of something comforting, or uplifting, or even just calming to say. No words formed in my mind. I fell back on clichés.
“I do understand the pain of losing a loved one.”
A twitch made Dora’s right cheek jump. Her shoulders slumped and her head dropped.
I moved to her, squatted, and placed my hand on hers.
“Why Avram?” Choked. “Why my only son? A mother should not bury her son.”
Miriam said something in Hebrew or Yiddish.
“Who is this God? Why does he do this?”
Miriam spoke again, this time with quiet reprimand.
Dora’s eyes rolled up to mine. “Why not take me? I’m old. I’m ready.” The wrinkled lips trembled.
“I can’t answer that, ma’am.” My own voice sounded husky.
A tear dropped from Dora’s chin to my thumb.
I looked down at that single drop of wetness.
“May I make you some tea, Mrs. Ferris?”
“We’ll be fine,” Miriam said. “Thank you.”
I squeezed Dora’s hand. The skin felt dry, the bones brittle.
Feeling useless, I stood and handed Miriam a card. “I’ll be upstairs for the next few hours. If there’s anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to call.”
Exiting the viewing room, I noticed one of the bearded observers watching from across the hall.
As I passed, the man stepped forward to block my path.
“That was very kind.” His voice had a peculiar raspy quality, like Kenny Rogers singing “Lucille.”
“A woman has lost her son. Another her husband.”
“I saw you in there. It is obvious you are a person of compassion. A person of honor.”
Where was this going?
The man hesitated, as though debating a few final points with himself. Then he reached into a pocket, withdrew an envelope, and handed it to me.
“This is the reason Avram Ferris is dead.”
THE ENVELOPE HELD A SINGLE BLACK-AND-WHITE PRINT. PICTURED was a supine skeleton, skull twisted, jaw agape in a frozen scream.
I flipped the photo. Written on the back were the date, October 1963, and a blurry notation. H de 1 H. Maybe.
I looked a question at the bearded gentleman blocking my way. He made no move to explain.
“Why are you showing this to me?”
“I believe it’s the reason Avram Ferris is dead.”
“So you’ve said.”
Kessler crossed his arms. Uncrossed them. Rubbed palms on his pants.
“He said he was in danger.” Kessler jabbed four fingers at the print. “Said if anything happened it would be because of this.”
“Mr. Ferris gave this to you?”
“Yes.” Kessler glanced over his shoulder.
Kessler’s answer was a shrug.
My eyes dropped back to the print. The skeleton was fully extended, its right arm and hip partially obscured by a rock or ledge. An object lay in the dirt beside the left knee. A familiar object.
“Where does this come from?” I looked up. Kessler was again checking to his rear.
“Mr. Ferris was afraid his life was in danger?”
“Terrified. Said if the photo came to light there’d be havoc.”
“What sort of havoc?”
“I don’t know.” Kessler raised two palms. “Look, I have no idea what the picture is. I don’t know what it means. I agreed to keep it. That’s it. That’s my role.”
“What was your connection to Mr. Ferris?”
“We were business associates.”
I held out the photo. Kessler dropped his hands to his sides.
“Tell Detective Ryan what you’ve told me,” I said.
Kessler stepped back. “You know what I know.”
At that moment my cell sounded. I slipped it from my belt.
“Got another call about Bellemare.”
Kessler sidestepped me and moved toward the family room.
I waggled the print. Kessler shook his head no and hurried down the hall.
“Are you ready to release the Cowboy?”
“I’m on my way up.”
“Bon. Sister’s busting her bloomers for a burial.”
When I disconnected and turned, the hall was empty. Fine. I’d give the photo to Ryan. He’d have a copy of the list of observers. If he wanted to follow up, he could get contact information for Kessler.
I pressed for the elevator.
By noon I’d completed my report on Charles Bellemare, concluding that, however strange the circumstances, the Cowboy’s last ride had been the result of his own folly. Turn on. Tune in. Drop out. Or down, in Bellemare’s case. What had he been doing up there?
At lunch, LaManche informed me there’d be difficulty viewing Ferris’s head wounds in situ. X-rays showed only one bullet fragment, and indicated the back of the skull and the left half of the face were shattered. He also informed me that my analysis would be critical since mutilation by the cats had distorted the patterning of metallic trace observable on X-ray.
In addition, Ferris had fallen with his hands beneath him. Decomposition had rendered gunshot-residue testing inconclusive.
At one-thirty I descended again to the morgue.
Ferris’s torso was now open from throat to pubis, and his organs floated in covered containers. The stench in the room had kicked into the red zone.
Ryan and the photographer were there, along with two of the morning’s four observers. LaManche waited five minutes, then nodded a go-ahead to his autopsy tech.
Lisa made incisions behind Ferris’s ears and across his crown. Using scalpel and fingers, she then teased off the scalp, working from the top toward the back of the skull, stopping periodically to position the case label for photographs. As fragments were freed, LaManche and I observed, diagrammed, then gathered them into containers.
When we’d finished with the top and back of Ferris’s head, Lisa retracted the skin from his face, and LaManche and I repeated the procedure, examining, sketching, stepping back for pics. Slowly, we extracted the wreckage that had been Ferris’s maxillary, zygomatic, nasal, and temporal bones.
By four what remained of Ferris’s face was back in position, and Y-shaped stitching held his belly and chest. The photographer had five rolls of film. LaManche had a ream of diagrams and notes. I had four tubs of bloody shards.
I was cleaning bone fragments when Ryan appeared in the corridor outside my lab. I watched his approach through the window above my sink.
Craggy face, eyes too blue for his own good.
Seeing me, Ryan pressed his palms and nose to the glass. I flicked water at him.
He pushed back and pointed at my door. I mouthed “open,” and waved him through, a goofy smile spreading across my face.
Okay. Maybe Ryan isn’t so bad for me.
But I had reached that opinion only recently.
For almost a decade Ryan and I had butted heads in an on-again, off-again nonrelationship. Up-down. Yes-no. Hot-cold.
I’ve been attracted to Ryan since the get-go, but there have been more obstacles to acting on that attraction than there were signers of the Declaration.
I believe in the separation of job from play. No watercooler romance for this señorita. No way.
Ryan works homicide. I work the morgue. Professional exclusion clause applies. Obstacle one.
Then there was Ryan himself. Everyone knew his bio. Born in Nova Scotia of Irish parents, young Andrew ended up on the wrong end of a biker’s shattered Budweiser bottle. Switching from the dark side, the boy signed on with the good guys and rose to the rank of lieutenant-detective with the provincial police. Grown-up Andrew is kind, intelligent, and strictly straight arrow where his work is concerned.
And widely known as the squad room Lothario. Stud muffin exclusion clause applies. Obstacle two.
But Ryan sweet-talked the loopholes, and, after years of resistance, I finally jumped through. Then obstacle three roared in with the Yule.
Lily. A nineteen-year-old daughter, complete with iPod, belly ring, and Bahamian mother, a flesh-and-blood memento of Ryan’s long-ago ride with the Wild Ones.
Though mystified and somewhat daunted by the prospect, Ryan embraced the product of his past and made some decisions about his future. Last Christmas he’d committed to long-distance parenting. That same week he’d asked me to be his roomie.
Whoa, bucko. I gave that plan a veto.
Though I still bunk with my feline compadre, Birdie, Ryan and I are dancing around a preliminary draft of a working arrangement.
So far the dance has been good.
And strictly home turf. We keep it to ourselves.
“How’s it going, cupcake?” Ryan asked, coming through the door.
“Good.” I added a fragment to those drying on the corkboard.
“That the chimney stiff?” Ryan was eyeing the box holding Charles Bellemare.
“Happy trails for the Cowboy,” I said.
“Guy take a hit?”
I shook my head. “Looks like he leaned to when he should have leaned fro. No idea why he was sitting on a chimney ledge.” I stripped off my gloves and squeezed soap onto my hands. “Who’s the blond guy downstairs?”
“Birch. He’ll be working Ferris with me.”
Ryan shook his head. “Loan-over. You think Ferris offed himself?”
I turned and shot Ryan a you-know-better-than-that look.
Ryan gave me an expression of choirboy innocence. “Not trying to rush you.”
Yanking paper towels from the holder, I said, “Tell me about him.”
Ryan nudged Bellemare aside and rested one haunch on my worktable.
“Really?” Mock surprise.
“The Fab Four were here to ensure a kosher autopsy.”
“Who were they?” I wadded and tossed the paper towels.
“Rabbi, members of the temple, one brother. You want names?”
I shook my head.
“Ferris was a bit more secular than his kin. Operated an import business from a warehouse out near Mirabel airport. Told the wife he’d be out of town on Thursday and Friday. According to…” Ryan pulled out and glanced at a spiral pad.
“Miriam,” I supplied.
“Right.” Ryan gave me an odd look. “According to Miriam, Ferris was trying to expand the business. He called around four on Wednesday, said he was heading out, and that he’d be back late on Friday. When he didn’t arrive by sundown, Miriam figured he’d been delayed and preferred not to drive on the Sabbath.”
“Had that happened before?
Ryan nodded. “Ferris wasn’t in the habit of phoning home. When he hadn’t shown up Saturday night, Miriam started working the speed dial. No one in the family had seen him. Neither had his secretary. Miriam didn’t know which accounts he was planning to hit, so she decided to sit tight. Sunday morning she checked the warehouse. Sunday afternoon she filed a missing person report. Cops said they’d investigate if hubby hadn’t surfaced by Monday morning.”
“Grown man extending his business trip?”
Ryan shrugged one shoulder. “Happens.”
“Ferris never left Montreal?”
“LaManche thinks he died not long after his call to Miriam.”
“Miriam’s story checks out?”
“The body was found in a closet?”
Ryan nodded. “Blood and brains all over the walls.”
“What kind of closet?”
“Small storage space off an upstairs office.”
“Why would cats be in there with him?”
“The door’s outfitted with one of those little two-way flaps. Ferris kept food and litter in there.”
“He gathered the cats to shoot himself?”
“Maybe they were in there when he took the bullet, maybe they slipped in later. Ferris may have died sitting on a stool, then tumbled off. Somehow his feet ended up jamming the kitty door.”
I thought about that.
“Miriam didn’t check the closet when she visited on Sunday?”
“She didn’t hear scratching or meowing?”
“The missus isnot a cat lover. That’s why Ferris kept them at work.”
“She didn’t notice any odor?”
“Apparently Ferris wasn’t real fastidious about feline toilette. Miriam said if she’d smelled anything she’d have figured it was Kitty Litter.”
“She didn’t find the building overly warm?”
“Nope. But if a cat brushed the thermostat after her visit, Ferris would still have been cooking from Sunday till Tuesday.”
“Did Ferris have other employees besides the secretary?”
“Nope.” Ryan consulted the notes in his spiral. “Courtney Purviance. Miriam calls her a secretary. Purviance prefers the term ‘associate.’”
“Is the wife downgrading, or the help upgrading?”
“More likely the former. Appears Purviance played a pretty big role in running the business.”
“Where was Purviance on Wednesday?”
“Left early. Bad sinuses.”
“Why didn’t Purviance find Ferris on Monday?”
“Monday was some kind of Jewish holiday. Purviance took the day off to plant trees.”
“Et tu, Brute.”
“The festival of trees. Was anything missing?”
“Purviance insists there’s nothing in the place worth stealing. Computer’s old. Radio’s older. Inventory’s not valuable. But she’s checking.”
“How long has she worked for Ferris?”
“Anything suspicious in Ferris’s background? Known associates? Enemies? Gambling debts? Jilted girlfriend? Boyfriend?”
Ryan shook his head.
“Anything to suggest he was suicidal?”
“I’m digging, but so far zip. Stable marriage. Took the little woman to Boca in January. Business wasn’t blazing, but it was producing a steady living. Especially since Purviance hired on, a fact she’s not hesitant to mention. According to the family, there were no signs of depression, but Purviance thought he’d been unusually moody in recent weeks.”
I remembered Kessler and slipped the photo from the pocket of my lab coat.
“A gift from one of the Fab Four.” I held it out. “He thinks it’s the reason Ferris is dead.”
“He thinks it’s the reason Ferris is dead.”
“You can be a real pain in the ass, Brennan.”
“I work at it.”
Ryan studied the photo.
“Which of the Fab Four?”
Floating a brow, Ryan laid down the photo and flipped a page in his spiral.
“That’s the name he gave me.”
When Ryan looked up the brow had settled.
“No one named Kessler was cleared for that autopsy.”
“I’M CERTAINKESSLER’S THE NAME HE GAVE.”
“He was an authorized observer?”
“As opposed to one of the multitudes of Hasidim who haunt these halls?”
Ryan ignored my sarcasm.
“Did Kessler say that’s why he was here?”
“No.” For some reason Ryan’s questions were irking me.
“You’d seen Kessler earlier in the autopsy room?”
I’d been distressed over Miriam and Dora Ferris, then distracted by Pelletier’s call. Kessler had glasses, a beard, and a black suit. My mind had settled for a cultural stereotype.
I wasn’t irked at Ryan. I was irked at myself.
“I just assumed.”
“Let’s take it from the top.”
I told Ryan about the incident in the downstairs corridor.
“So Kessler was in the hall when you left the family room.”
“Did you see where he came from?”
“Where he went?”
“I thought he was going to join Dora and Miriam.”
“Did you actually see him enter the family room?”
“I was speaking to Pelletier.” It came out sharper than I intended.
“Don’t be defensive.”
“That was not defensive,” I said defensively, and did a two-handed pull to unsnap my lab coat. “That was enlargement of detail.”
Ryan picked up Kessler’s print.
“What am I looking at?”
Ryan’s eyes rolled up.
“Kessler-” I stopped. “The mysterious bearded stranger told me it came from Israel.”
“The photocame from Israel, or was shot there?”
Another screw-up on my part.
“The picture’s over forty years old. It’s probably meaningless.”
“When someone says it caused a death, it’s not meaningless.”
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?”
“A site with burials.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere.”
“Look, this Kessler’s probably a crackpot. Find him and grill 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 full minute. Then he looked up and said, “Did you buy the tap pants?”
My cheeks flamed. “No.”
“Red satin. Sexy as hell.”
I narrowed my eyes in a “not here” warning look. “I’m calling 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 calls.”
At the door Ryan turned and flashed his brows.
“See you later?”
“Wednesday’s my tai chi night.”
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 hall 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 selling point is that it’s smack downtown. Centre-ville. Everything I need is within two blocks of my bed.
Birdie didn’t appear at the sound of my key.
“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 followed 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 usually 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 Stillness.”
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’Allier 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 colleague at UNC-Charlotte. His voice mail answered. I left a message asking that he return my call.
I’d been with the fragments another hour when the phone rang.
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 expelled and the ending is truncated. This was an airless, four-A “hey.”
“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.”
“I’ll be glad to check it out.”
“I’ll scan the image and send it by e-mail.”
“I’m not optimistic.”
“I appreciate your willingness 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 call, 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 actually 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 skull is a sphere with bumps and curves and gaps. There are predictable ways in which that sphere fails when walloped by an impacting object. Both a. 22-caliber bullet and a two-inch pipe are impacting objects. The bullet’s just moving a whole lot faster and striking a smaller 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 still have it?”
“How long will 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?”
“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.
I STARED AT THE PHONE.
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 belly. The legs were fully extended.
Except for some displacement of the pelvic and foot bones, everything looked anatomically correct.
A patella sat perfectly positioned at the end of each femur. No way kneecaps stay in place that well.
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 skull’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 collected 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 bullet path can often be used to distinguish suicide from homicide.
Blasting through bone, a bullet dislodges small particles from the perimeter of the hole it creates, beveling an entrance wound internally, and an exit wound externally.
Bullet in. Bullet 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 skull looked like puzzle pieces dumped from a box. To consider beveling, I’d first have to determine what went where.
Hours of jigsawing had allowed 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 skull is designed to house a brain and a very small quantity of fluid. That’s it. No room for guests.
A bullet 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 skull. The bullet 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 skull shatters.
Another scenario. No shattering, but the bullet says adios on the far side of the skull. 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 bullet to the brain imparts energy. That trapped energy has to go somewhere. Like all of us, it looks for the easy out. In a skull that means open sutures or preexisting cracks. Bottom line: fractures created by a bullet’s exit will not cross fractures created by its entrance. Sort it out and you’ve got sequence.
But sorting out the dead ends requires reconstruction.
There was no getting around it. I’d have to put the pieces back together.
That would take time and patience.
And a lot of glue.
I got out my stainless steel bowls, my sand, and my Elmer’s. Pair by pair I joined fragments and held them until the bonding set. Then I placed the mini-reconstructions upright in the sand, positioned so they’d dry without slippage or distortion.
The lab techs’ boom box went silent.
The windows darkened.
A bell sounded, indicating the house phones had rolled to night service.
I worked on, selecting, manipulating, gluing, balancing. Silence settled around me, grew loud within the after-hours-big-building emptiness.
When I looked up, the clock said six-twenty.
Why was that wrong?
Ryan was due at my condo at seven!
Flying to the sink, I washed my hands, tore off my lab coat, grabbed my belongings, and bolted.
Outside, a cold rain was falling. No. That’s being kind. The stuff was sleet. Icy slush that clung to my jacket and burned my cheeks.
It took ten minutes to hack through the glacier on my windshield, another thirty to make a drive that was normally fifteen.
When I arrived, Ryan was wall-leaning outside my door, a bag of groceries beside his feet.
There exists some indissoluble law of nature. When encountering Andrew Ryan, I look my worst.
And Ryan looks like something sketched out by a matinee-idol planning committee. Always.
Tonight he wore a bomber jacket, striped woolen muffler, and faded jeans.
Ryan smiled when he saw me, purse drooping from one shoulder, laptop in my left hand, briefcase in my right. My cheeks were chapped, my hair wet and plastered to my face. Runoff had turned my mascara to an Impressionist study in sludge.
“Dogs got tangled in the traces?”
“I think you’re supposed to yell ‘mush.’”
Ryan pushed from the wall, relieved me of the computer with one hand, and with the other brushed aside my bangs. Several held form as a solid clump.
“Close encounter with Dippity-do?”
“I’ve been gluing.” I dug out my keys.
Ryan moved to the cusp of a comment, held back. Bending, he snatched up his bag and followed me into the condo.
“Charlie, boy,” Ryan called out.
“Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp. Chirp.”
“You and Charlie spend some quality time,” I said. “I’m going to de-glue.”
“I didn’t even order them, Ryan.”
In twenty minutes I’d showered, shampooed, blow-dried, and applied subtle but artful maquillage. I sported pink cords, a body-molding top, and Issey Miyaki behind each ear.
No tap pants, but a man-killer thong. Dusty rose. Not the undies my mother would have worn.
Ryan was in the kitchen. The condo smelled of tomatoes, anchovies, garlic, and oregano.
“Making your world-famous puttanesca?” I asked, stretching to tiptoes to kiss Ryan on the cheek.
“Whoa.” Ryan wrapped me in his arms and kissed me on the mouth. Fingering my waistband, he pulled outward, and peered down my back.
“Not tap pants. But not bad.”
I did a two-handed push from his chest.
“You really didn’t order them?”
“I really didn’t order them.”
Birdie appeared, looked disapproving, then strolled to his bowl.
During dinner, I described my frustration with the Ferris case. Over coffee and dessert, Ryan gave an update on his investigation.
“Ferris was an importer of ritual clothing. Yarmulkes, talliths.”
Ryan misread my expression.
“The tallith’s the prayer shawl.”
“I’m impressed you know that.” Like me, Ryan was raised Catholic.
“I looked it up. Why the face?”
“Seems it would be a very small market.”
“Ferris also handled ritual articles for the home. Menorahs, mezuzahs, Shabbat candles, kiddush cups, challah covers. I plan to look those up.”
Ryan offered the pastry plate. There was onemille feuille left. I wanted it. I shook my head. Ryan took it.
“Ferris sold throughout Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes. It wasn’t Wal-Mart, but he made a living.”
“You talked again with the secretary?”
“Appears Purviance really is more than a secretary. Handles the books, tracks inventory, travels to Israel and the States to evaluate product, schmooze suppliers.”
“ Israel ’s tough duty these days.”
“Purviance spent time on a kibbutz back in the eighties, so she knows her way around. And she speaks English, French, Hebrew, and Arabic.”
“Father was French. Mother was Tunisian. Anyway, Purviance tells the same story. Business doing well. Not an enemy in the world. Though she did feel Ferris had been more moody than usual in the days leading up to his death. I’ll give her a day to finish with the warehouse, then we’ll have another little chat.”
“Did you find Kessler?”
Ryan crossed to the couch and dug a paper from his jacket. Returning to the table, he handed it to me.
“These were the people cleared for autopsy patrol.”
I read the names.
“No Kessler.” I stated the obvious. “Did you locate anyone who knows the guy?”
“Talking to the family’s like talking to cement. They’re doinganinut. ”
“First stage of mourning.”
“How long doesaninut last?”
I pictured the cranial segments taking shape in my sand bowls.
“Could be a long one.”
“Ferris’s wife told me to come back when the family’s finished sitting shiva. That lasts a week. I suggested I’d be dropping by sooner.”
“This must be a nightmare for her.”
“Interesting sidebar. Ferris was insured for two million big ones, with a double-up clause for accidental death.”
Ryan nodded. “They had no kids.”
I told Ryan about my conversation with Jake Drum. “I can’t imagine why he’s coming here.”
“Think he’ll really show?”
I’d wondered that myself.
“The hesitation tells me you’ve got your doubts,” Ryan said. “This guy a flake?”
“Jake’s not flaky. Just different.”
“Jake’s a brilliant archaeologist. Worked at Qumran.”
Ryan gave me quizzical look.
“ Dead Sea scrolls. He can translate a zillion languages.”
“Any that are spoken today?”
I threw a napkin at Ryan.
After clearing the table, Ryan and I stretched out on the sofa. Birdie flopped by the fire.
We talked of personal things.
Ryan’s daughter in Halifax. Lily was dating a guitarist and considering a move to Vancouver. Ryan feared the items were not unrelated.
Katy. For her twelfth and final semester at the University of Virginia, my daughter was taking pottery, fencing, and a class on the feminine mystique in modern film. Her independent study involved interviewing patrons of pubs.
Birdie purred. Or snored.
Charlie squawked and resquawked a line from “Hard-Hearted Hannah.”
The fire crackled and popped. Ice ticked the windows.
After a while everyone drifted into silence.
Ryan reached back and pulled the lamp chain. Amber light danced the familiar shapes in my home.
Ryan and I lay molded like tango dancers, my head nestled below his collarbone. He smelled of soap and the logs he’d carried in for the fire. His fingers caressed my hair. My cheek. My neck.
I felt content. Calm. A million miles from skeletons and shattered skulls.
Ryan is built on sinewy, ropelike lines. Long ones. Eventually I felt one line grow longer.
We left Birdie in charge of the hearth.
RYAN LEFT EARLY THE NEXT MORNING. SOMETHING ABOUT ALL-WEATHERradials and balance and a warped rim. I am not a good listener at 7A. M. Nor am I the least bit interested in tires.
I am interested in air routing between Charlotte and Montreal. I can recite the entire USAirways flight schedule. Knowing the daily direct flight had been eliminated, I was certain Jake wouldn’t arrive before midafternoon. I rolled over and went back to sleep.
A bagel and coffee around eight, and I headed to the lab. I was leaving for five days, and knew the Ferris family was anxious for information.
And for the body.
I spent another Elmer’s morning joining the dozens of segments I’d built the day before. Like assembling atoms into molecules into whole cells, I built larger and larger sections of vault.
The facial bones were a different story. Splintering was extensive, either due to the cats, or simply due to the fragile nature of the bones themselves. There would be no reconstructing the left side of Ferris’s face.
Nevertheless, a pattern emerged.
Though the lines were complex, it appeared that no break crossed the starburst radiating from the hole behind Ferris’s right ear. Fracture sequencing pointed to that wound as the entrance.
But why were the hole’s edges beveled on the outside of the skull? An entrance site should have been beveled on the inside.
I could think of one explanation, but fragments were missing from the area immediately above and to the left of the defect. To be certain, I’d need those fragments.
At two I wrote LaManche a note, explaining what I lacked. I reminded him that I was going to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in New Orleans, and that I would return to Montreal Wednesday night.
For the next two hours I ran errands. Bank. Dry cleaner. Cat chow. Birdseed. Ryan had agreed to take Birdie and Charlie, but the man has interesting views on pet care. I wanted to raise the odds in favor of proper feeding.
Jake phoned as I was driving underground into my garage. He was in the outer vestibule. Hurrying upstairs, I let him in the front door and led him down the corridor to my condo.
As we walked, I remembered the first time I’d laid eyes on Jake Drum. I was new to UNCC, and had met few faculty members outside my discipline. None from the Department of Religious Studies. Jake appeared in my lab late one evening, at a time when assaults on female students had caused security announcements to be broadcast campus-wide.
I was nervous as a mouse staring across a tank at an underweight python.
My fears were ungrounded. Jake had a question concerning bone preservation.
“Tea?” I offered now.
“You bet. I got pretzels and Sprite on the plane.”
“The dishes are behind you.”
I watched Jake select mugs, thinking what a terrible perp he’d make. His nose is thin and prominent, his brows bushy and dead straight above Rasputin black eyes. He stands six feet six, weighs 170, and shaves his head.
Witnesses would remember Jake exactly as he is.
Today I suspected he’d caused strangers on the sidewalk to circle wide. His agitation was palpable.
We exchanged small talk while waiting for the kettle.
Jake had checked into a small hotel off the western edge of the McGill University campus. He’d rented a car to drive to Toronto the next morning. On Monday he’d leave for Jerusalem, where he and his Israeli crew would excavate their first-century synagogue.
Jake proffered his usual invitation to dig. I proffered my usual thanks and regrets.
When the tea was ready, Jake settled at the dining room table. I retrieved a magnifier and Kessler’s print and laid them on the glass.
Jake stared at the photo as though he’d never seen one before.
After a full minute, he took up the lens. As he scanned the print his movements grew measured and deliberate.
In one way Jake and I are very much alike.
When annoyed, I grow churlish, snap, counter with sarcasm. When angry, truly white-hot livid irate, I go deadly calm.
So does Jake. I know. I’ve heard him debate issues at faculty council.
The ice facade is also my response to fear. I suspected this was also true of Jake. The change in his demeanor sent a chill scurrying through my mind.
“What is it?” I asked.
Jake raised his head and stared past me, lost, I could only guess, in a moment of probes, and trowels, and the smell of turned earth.
Then he tapped the photo with one long, slender finger.
A disjointed thought. Were it not for the calluses, Jake’s hands might have been those of a concert pianist.
“Have you spoken with the man who gave this to you?”
“Only briefly. We’re trying to locate him.”
“What exactly did he say?”
I hesitated, debating what I could ethically divulge. Ferris’s death had been reported by the media. Kessler had not asked for confidentiality.
I explained the shooting, the autopsy, and the man who called himself Kessler.
“It’s supposed to have come from Israel.”
“It does,” Jake said.
“That’s a hunch?”
“That’s a fact.”
I frowned. “You’re that certain?”
Jake leaned back. “What do you know about Masada?”
“It’s a peak in Israel where a lot of folks died.”
Jake’s lips did something approaching a smile.
“Please expand, Ms. Brennan.”
I dug back. Way back.
“In the first centuryB. C. -”
“Politically incorrect. The term isB. C. E now. Before the Common Era.”
“-the whole area from Syria to Egypt, anciently known as the land of Israel, which the Romans called Palestine, came under Roman rule. Needless to say, the Jews were pissed. Over the next century, a number of rebellions arose to throw the Roman bastards out. Each was a bust.”
“I’ve never heard it put in quite those terms. Go on.”
“About sixty-sixA. D., sorry, C. E., yet another Jewish revolt steam-rolled across the region. This one scared the sandals off the Romans, and the emperor deployed troops to suppress the insurgents.”
I tunneled deep for dates.
“About five years into the revolt the Roman general Vespasian conquered Jerusalem, sacked the temple, and routed the survivors.”
“ Masada ’s a giant rock in the Judean desert. At the start of the war a group of Jewish zealots hiked it to the top and hunkered in. The Roman general-I’m blanking on the name.”
“That’s the guy. Silva was not amused. Masada was a pocket of defiance he would not tolerate. Silva set up perimeter camps, constructed an encircling wall, then an enormous ramp up the side of Masada. When his troops finally rolled a battering ram up the incline and breached the fortress, they found everyone dead.”
I didn’t mention my source, but I remembered all this from an early-eighties miniseries on Masada. Peter O’Toole as Silva?
“Excellent. Though your telling lacks a certain sense of scale. Silva didn’t just march a few platoons to Masada. His operation was massive, including his entire Tenth Legion, its auxiliary troops, and thousands of Jewish prisoners of war. Silva didn’t intend to leave until the rebels were subjugated.”
“Who was in charge up top?”
“Eleazar ben Ya’ir. The Jews had been up there seven years, and were as committed to staying as Silva was to ousting them.”
More miniseries memory bytes. Decades earlier, Herod had been into major development at Masada, ordering a casement wall around the top, defense towers, storehouses, barracks, arsenals, and a cistern system for catching and storing rainwater. Seventy years after the old king’s death, the warehouses were still stocked, and the zealots had everything they needed.
“The main source on Masada is Flavius Josephus,” Jake went on. “Joseph ben Matatyahu, in Hebrew. At the beginning of the sixty-six revolt, Josephus was serving as a Jewish commander in Galilee. Later he went over to the Romans. Regardless of his loyalties or disloyalties, the guy was a brilliant historian.”
“And the only reporter in town at the time.”
“There is that. But Josephus’ descriptions are amazingly detailed. According to his account, the night the fortress was breached, Eleazar ben Ya’ir gathered his followers.”
Jake leaned forward and set the scene.
“Picture this. The wall was burning. The Romans would pour in at dawn. There was no hope of escape. Ben Ya’ir argued that a death of glory was preferable to a life of slavery. Lots were cast, and ten men were elected to kill all the others. Another set of lots determined who among the ten would kill his fellow assassins, and, finally, himself.”
“There were no dissenters?”
“If so, those opinions were overruled. Two women and several children did hide out and survive. Most of Josephus’ information came from them.”
“How many died?”
“Nine hundred and sixty men, women, and children,” Jake said, his voice soft. “Jews view Masada as one of the most dramatic episodes in their history. Especially Israeli Jews.”
“What does Masada have to do with Kessler’s photo?”
“The fate of the remains of the Jewish zealots has always been a mystery. According to Josephus, Silva established a garrison on the summit immediately after Masada ’s conquest.”
“Surely Masada has been excavated.”
“For years, every digger on the planet was drooling for a permit. An Israeli archaeologist named Yigael Yadin finally got the nod. Yadin worked for two field seasons using a team of volunteers. The first lasted from October of sixty-three until May of sixty-four, the second from November of sixty-four until April of sixty-five.”
I had my first inkling where Jake was going.
“Yadin’s team recovered human remains?”
“Three skeletons. On the lower terrace of Herod’s palace villa.”
“The periodic uprisings kept the old boy nervous, so he fortified Masada as a sort of safe house should he and his family ever need to escape. And Herod wasn’t into discomfort. In addition to the wall and defensive towers, he commissioned palaces complete with colonnades, mosaics, frescoes, terraces, gardens, the whole nine yards.”
I pointed to the photo. “This is one of the three?”
Jake shook his head. “According to Yadin, one was the skeleton of a male in his twenties. Not far away lay the bones of a young woman, her sandals and scalp perfectly preserved. I’m not kidding. I’ve seen the pictures. The woman’s hair looked like she’d braided it the morning she was unearthed.”
“Aridity makes for great preservation.”
“Yes. Though the remains weren’t exactly as Yadin interpreted them.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s not important. According to Yadin, the third skeleton was that of a child.”
“What about this guy?” Again, I pointed at Kessler’s photo.
“This guy.” Jake’s jaw muscles bunched, relaxed. “This guy wasn’t supposed to be up there at all.”
“NOT SUPPOSED TO BE UP THERE?”
“That’s my theory.”
“Anyone share it?”
“Who is he?”
“That’s the puzzler.”
I sat back and assumed a listening posture.
“Following their victory, Silva’s troops would have thrown the zealots’ bodies over the cliffs, or buried the corpses communally somewhere on the summit. Yadin’s team dug some test trenches, but found no evidence of a mass grave. Wait a sec.”
Jake pulled two items from a battered leather briefcase, and placed them on the table. The first was a map.
I scooted my chair close and we both leaned in.
“ Masada is shaped like a Stealth aircraft, with one wing pointing north, the other pointing south, and the cockpit pointing west.”
My mind Rorschach-ed an amoeba, but I kept it to myself.
Jake indicated the upper edge of the summit, near the tip of his Stealth’s southern wing.
“There’s a network of caves here, a few yards below the casement wall.”
Jake slid the second item from under the map.
Old black-and-white print. Human bones. Boot-scuffed dirt.
Kessler déjà vu.
But not quite.
In this photo the bones of many people were scattered and jumbled. Also, this shot had an official north arrow/scale marker, and, in the upper right corner, an arm and knee could be seen as an excavator brushed something lying in the dirt.
“Yadin’s team found skeletal remains in one of the southern summit caves,” I guessed, not taking my eyes from the print. “This shot was taken during excavation.”
“Yes.” Jake indicated a spot on the Masada diagram. “The locus was designated Cave 2001. Yadin mentions it in his preliminary report on the Masada project, and includes a brief description by Yoram Tsafrir, the supervising excavator of the locus.”
“Minimum number of individuals in the cave?” I asked, counting at least five skulls.
“Depends on how you read Yadin.”
I looked up, surprised. “MNI shouldn’t be that tough to determine. Did a physical anthropologist examine the bones?”
“Dr. Nicu Haas of Hebrew University. Based on Haas’s evaluation, in his first field season report, Yadin gave a total of twenty-five individuals: fourteen males, six females, four children, and one fetus. But, if you read his wording carefully, he treated one very old male as separate from the other males.”
“Bringing his actual total to twenty-six.”
“Exactly. In his popular book-”
“The one that came out in sixty-six?”
“Right. Masada: Herod’s Fortress and the Zealots’ Last Stand. In that publication, Yadin does basically the same thing, saying Haas found fourteen males aged twenty-two to sixty, one male over seventy, six females, four kids, and a fetus.”
“So it’s unclear whether the total count was twenty-five or twenty-six?”
“Blistering. Could be an honest error.”
“It could be.” Jake’s voice suggested he didn’t believe it.
“Ages of the women and children?”
“The kids were eight to twelve years. The women were all young, fifteen to twenty-two.”
Sudden insight. “You think our fellow here is the septuagenarian?” I tapped Kessler’s photo.
“I’ll get to him in a minute. For now, let me focus on the cave. In their reports, neither Tsafrir nor Yadin indicated when Cave 2001 was discovered or when it was cleared.”
“Could be just sloppy-”
He cut me off.
“The find was never announced to the media.”
“Perhaps that was done out of respect for the dead.”
“Yadin called a press conference when the three palace skeletons were found.” Jake shook his hands, fingers splayed like E.T. “Big excitement. We’ve got remains of the Jewish defenders of Masada. This was late November of sixty-three. Cave 2001 was discovered and cleared in October of sixty-three, one monthbefore that press conference.”
Jake’s index finger augured into the photo.
“Yadin knew about the cave bones and never brought them up.”
“If the dates weren’t made public, how doyou know when the cave was discovered or excavated?”
“I’ve spoken with a volunteer who worked the site. The guy’s trustworthy, and he’d have no reason to lie. And believe me, I’ve researched the media coverage. It wasn’t justthat press conference. Throughout both dig seasons the media reported regularly on what was being found at Masada. TheJerusalem Post keeps topical archives, and I’ve spent hours with their Masada file. Articles mention mosaics, scrolls, the synagogue, themikvehs, the three skeletons from the northern palace. There’s not a single word on the remains from Cave 2001.”
Jake was on a roll.
“And I’m not just talking thePost. In October of sixty-four theIllustrated London News published an extensive spread on Masada, pictures and all. The palace skeletons are mentioned, no respect for the dead there, but there’s zilch on the cave bones.”
Charlie chose that moment to yodel.
“What the hell is that?”
“My cockatiel. He doesn’t usually do that unless you give him beer.”
“You’re kidding.” Jake sounded shocked.
“Of course.” I stood and gathered our mugs. “Charlie gets quite maudlin when he drinks. More tea?”
Jake smiled and held out his mug. “Please.”
When I returned, Jake was working a kink from his neck. I thought of a goose.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “Yadin talked freely about the palace skeletons, but never once discussed the cave bones publicly?”
“The only mention I’ve ever found of Cave 2001 is in coverage of Yadin’s press conference following the second season’s excavation. In theJerusalem Post on March 28, 1965, Yadin is quoted as lamenting that only twenty-eight skeletons had been found at Masada.”
“Twenty-five from the cave, and three from the northern palace.”
“If it was twenty-five.”
I rolled that around in my head.
“Who did Yadin think these cave burials were?”
“Based on what?”
“Two things. Associated artifacts, and similarity of the skulls to a type unearthed in the Bar Kochba caves in Nahal Hever. At the time, those burials were thought to be Jews killed in the second Jewish revolt against Rome.”
“Turned out the bones were Chalcolithic.”
Mental Rolodex. Chalcolithic. Stone and copper tools. Fourth millenniumB. C. E., after the Neolithic, before the Bronze Age. Way too early for Masada.
“Physical anthropologists hold little confidence in skull typing,” I said.
“I know. But that was Haas’s conclusion, and Yadin accepted it.”
There was a long, thoughtful silence. I broke it.
“Where are the bones now?”
“Allegedly, everyone’s back in the ground at Masada.”
Jake’s mug clunked the tabletop.
“Let me fast-forward a bit. In his popular book, Yadin touched briefly on the human remains recovered in Cave 2001. Shlomo Lorinez, an ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset, read the thing and went ballistic. He’d missed the one press report back in sixty-five in which the skeletons were mentioned. Lorinez mounted a protest in the Knesset, charging that cynical archaeologists and medical researchers were violating Jewish law. He demanded to know where the remains were, and insisted on proper burial for the defenders of Masada.
“Major public controversy. The religious affairs minister and the chief rabbis proposed placement of all Masada bones in a Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Yadin objected, and suggested interment of the three palace skeletons at Masada, but reburial of the Cave 2001 folks in the cave in which they’d been found. Yadin was trumped, and in July of sixty-nine, all remains went back into the ground near the tip of the Roman ramp.”
I was finding this very confusing. Why would Yadin have opposed reburial of the cave bones on the Mount of Olives? Why suggest reburial of the palace skeletons on Masada, but return of the cave bones to the cave? Was it a question of keeping the cave folks off holy ground? Or was he uncomfortable with the idea of the cave folks and the palace folks sharing the same grave?
Charlie broke my chain of thought with a line from “Hey, Big Spender.”
“Did anything else turn up with the cave bones?” I asked.
“A lot of domestic utensils. Cooking pots, lamps, basketry.”
“Suggesting the caves had been lived in.”
“It was wartime. Jerusalem was toast. All sorts of refugees might have fled to high ground. Some might have lived apart from the zealot community.”
Ah-hah. “So those in the cave could have been non-Jews?”
“Not what Israel wanted to publicize.”
“Not at all. Masada had become its sacred emblem. Jews making their last stand, choosing suicide over surrender. The site was a metaphor for the new state. Until recently, the Israeli military held special ceremonies inducting troops into their elite units on top of Masada.”
“According to Tsafrir, the cave bones were in disarray, with clothing fragments intermingled among them, as though the bodies had been dumped,” Jake said. “That’s not a typical pattern for Jewish burial.”
Birdie chose that moment to hop onto my lap.
I made introductions. Jake scratched the cat’s ear, then picked up his thread.
“To date, the Israel Exploration Society has published five volumes on the Masada excavation. Volume three notes that the caves were surveyed and excavated, but, aside from that, and a map with an outline drawing of Cave 2001, there’s no mention anywhere of anything found at that locus, human or material.”
Jake leaned back and picked up his mug. Lowered it.
“Wait. Change that. There is an addendum at the back of volume four. A carbon-fourteen report on textiles found in the cave. That testing was done years later. But that’s it.”
Displacing Birdie to the floor, I slid Kessler’s photo from below Jake’s Masada diagram.
“So where does this guy fit in?”
“That’s where things get really weird. Cave 2001 contained the remains of one fully intact skeleton completely separate from the intermingled bones. The individual was supine, with hands crossed, head turned to the side.” Jake impaled me with a look. “Not a single report mentions that articulated skeleton.”
“I assume you learned about the skeleton from this same volunteer who worked the cave back in the sixties.”
“This is the part where you tell me that the articulated skeleton wasn’t reburied with the others,” I guessed.
“This is the part.” Jake drained his mug. “Press coverage of the reinterment consistently refers to twenty-seven individuals, three from the northern palace, and twenty-four from the cave.”
“Not twenty-five or twenty-six. Maybe they left out the fetus.”
“I’m convinced they left out the fetusand the articulated skeleton.”
“Let me get this straight. You’re saying a volunteer excavator, an eyewitness, told you personally that he and Tsafrir recovered a fully articulated skeleton from Cave 2001. But no such skeleton was ever mentioned in press coverage, or in Yadin’s official report or popular book.”
“And you think that skeleton was not reburied with the rest of the cave and palace bones?”
Jake nodded again.
I tapped the Kessler photo. “Did this volunteer remember if photos were taken?”
“He snapped them himself.”
“Who had possession of the remains during their five years above-ground?” I asked.
“Did he publish?”
“Nothing. And Haas typically wrote exhaustive reports, including drawings, tables, measurements, even facial reconstructions. His analysis of the burials at Giv’at ha-Mivtar is incredibly detailed.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Haas took a bad fall in seventy-five. Put him in a coma. He died in eighty-seven without regaining consciousness. Or writing a report.”
“So Haas won’t be clearing up the body count or the mystery of the intact skeleton.”
“Not without a séance.”
“Hey, big spender…” Charlie was sticking with a winner.
Jake changed tack. “Let me ask you this. You’re Yadin. You’ve got these strange cave bones. What’s the first thing you do?”
“In the sixties.”
“I was still losing baby teeth.”
“Work with me.”
“Carbon-fourteen testing. Establish antiquity.”
“I’ve told that back then carbon-fourteen dating wasn’t done in Israel. So tally this into the picture. In his rants to the Knesset, Lorinez insisted that some Masada skeletons had been sent abroad.”
“Lorinez was the ultra-Orthodox MK pushing for reburial?”
“Yes. And what Lorinez was saying makes sense. Why wouldn’t Yadin request radiocarbon dating on the cave burials?”
“So you think Lorinez was right,” I said.
“I do. But according to Yadin, no Masada bones left the country.”
“In onePost interview I read Yadin said it wasn’t his job to initiate such tests. In the same article an anthropologist laid it off to cost.”
“Radiocarbon dating isn’t that expensive.” Even as long ago as the early eighties, testing only ran about $150 per sample. “Surprising Yadin didn’t order it, given the importance of the site.”
“Not as surprising as Haas’s failure to write up the cave bones,” Jake said.
I let things percolate a moment in my head. Then, “You suspect the cave folks may not have been part of the main zealot group?”
I picked up Kessler’s photo.
“And that this is the unreported articulated skeleton.”
“You think this skeleton may have been shipped out of Israel, and not reinterred with the others.”
“That is the million-dollar question.”
I picked up the print.
“Where’s this fellow now?”
“That, Dr. Brennan, earns a million more.”
EACH YEAR, ONE HAPLESS BURG BECOMES JAMBOREE CENTRALfor the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. For a week, engineers, psychiatrists, dentists, lawyers, pathologists, anthropologists, and myriad lab geeks converge like moths on a rolled-up rug. New Orleans drew the short straw this year.
Monday through Wednesday are given over to board, committee, and business meetings. On Thursday and Friday, scientific sessions offer insider tips on cutting-edge theory and technique. As a grad student, then as a tenderfoot consultant, I attended these presentations with the ardent zeal of a religious fanatic. Now, I prefer informal networking with old friends.
Using either approach, the conference is exhausting.
Partly my fault. I volunteer for too much. Translate that to I do not struggle sufficiently against impressment.
I spent Sunday working with a colleague with whom I was coauthoring an article for publication in theJournal of Forensic Sciences. The next three days passed in a blur of Robert’s Rules, rémoulade, and rounds of drinks. Hurricanes for my booze-rational colleagues. Perrier for me.
Conversations centered on two topics: previous escapades and odd cases. Topping this year’s register of the bizarre and the baffling were skeletonized gallstones the size of Cocoa Puffs, a jailhouse suicide with a telephone cord, and a sleepwalking cop with his own bullet in his brain.
I floated a description of the Ferris case. Opinions differed concerning the peculiar beveling. Most agreed with the scenario I’d been considering.
My schedule did not permit sitting through the scientific papers. By the time I cabbed it to the New Orleans airport Wednesday, I was beat.
Mechanical problem. Forty-minute delay. Welcome to air travel in America. Check in a minute late and your flight has departed. Check in an hour early and your flight has been delayed. Mechanical problems, crew problems, weather problems, problem problems. I knew them all.
An hour later I’d finished entering committee minutes into my laptop, and my five-forty flight was posted for eight.
So much for the Chicago connection.
Frustrated, I dragged myself to customer services, stood in line, and obtained new routing. The good news: I would get to Montreal tonight. The bad news: I would land shortly before midnight. The additional bad news: I would visit Detroit on the way.
Frothing accomplishes little in these situations, other than raising one’s blood pressure.
At the airport bookstore, only a few million copies of the year’s blockbuster bestseller barred my way. I plucked one from the pyramid. The flap blurbed a mystery that would shatter an “explosive ancient truth.”
Why not? The rest of the universe was reading the thing.
By wheels-down, I’d gotten through forty chapters. Okay. They were short. But the story was intriguing.
I wondered if Jake and his colleagues were reading the book, and if so, how they were rating the premise.
Thursday’s alarm was as welcome as a case of pinkeye. And almost as painful.
Arriving on the twelfth floor of L’édifice Wilfrid Derome, the building that serves as mother ship for the provincial police and forensics labs, I hurried straight to the staff meeting.
Only two autopsies. One went to Pelletier, the other to Emily Santangelo.
LaManche informed me that, following the request I’d made in my note, he’d asked Lisa to revisit Avram Ferris’s head. She’d retrieved additional fragments and sent them upstairs from the morgue. He asked when I anticipated finishing my analysis. I estimated early afternoon.
Sure enough, seven shards lay beside the sink in my lab. Their LSJML number matched that assigned to Ferris’s corpse.
After grabbing a lab coat, I played my phone messages, and returned two calls. Then I settled at my sand bowls and began jockeying the newcomer fragments into my reconstructed segments.
Two called the parietal home. One locked into the right occipital. One was a loner.
Three filled in the edge of the oval defect.
It was sufficient. I had my answer.
I was washing up when my cell warbled. It was Jake Drum with a miserable connection.
“Sounds like you’re calling from Pluto.”
“No service…” the line crackled and spit “…ince Pluto’s been demoted from planet to…”
Demoted to what? Moon?
“You’re in Israel?”
“ Paris…nd changed plans…the Musée de l’Homme.”
I listened to a long stretch of transatlantic popping and sputtering.
“Are you phoning on a cellular?”
“…ocated an accession number…missing since the…eventies.”
“Jake. Call me back on a land line. I can hardly hear you.”
Apparently Jake couldn’t hear me either.
“…eep looking…all you back on a land line.”
My phone beeped and went dead.
I clicked off.
Jake had gone to Paris. Why?
To visit the Musée de l’Homme. Why?
Mental head slap.
I took Kessler’s photo to the scope, flipped it, and viewed the notation under magnification.
October, 1963. M de l’H.
What I’d taken to be the digit 1 was a lowercaseL. And Ryan had been right. The firstH was actually a smearedM. M de l’H. Musée de l’Homme. Jake must have recognized the abbreviation, flown to Paris, visited the museum, and dug up an accession number for the Masada skeleton.
LaManche wears soft-soled shoes and keeps his pockets empty of coins and keys. No scuffs. No jingles. For his bulk, the man moves extraordinarily quietly.
My mind was shaping the next “why?” when my nose sent it the scent of Flying Dutchman.
I swiveled. LaManche had entered through the histo lab and was standing behind me.
LaManche and I took seats, and I placed my reconstructions between us.
“I’ll skip the basics.”
LaManche smiled forgivingly. I bit my tongue.
Picking up the segment that had comprised the right posterior of Ferris’s skull, I pointed my pen.
“Oval defect with radiating fractures.”
I indicated the spiderweb of intersecting cracks on that segment and on two others.
“So the entrance is behind and below the right ear?” LaManche’s eyes remained on the segments.
“Yes. But it’s complicated.”
“The beveling.” LaManche zeroed in on the problem.
Returning to the first segment, I pointed to the external beveling adjacent to the oval defect.
“If the gun barrel is in tight contact with the skull, ectocranial beveling can be created by the blow-back of gases,” LaManche said.
“I don’t think that’s the case here. Notice the shape of the defect.”
LaManche leaned closer.
“A bullet entering perpendicular to a skull’s surface usually produces a circular defect,” I said. “A bullet entering tangentially produces an irregular perforation, often more oval in shape.”
“Mais, oui. A keyhole defect.”
“Exactly. A portion of the bullet actually sheared off and was lost outside the skull. Thus the external beveling at the entrance.”
LaManche looked up. “So the bullet entered behind the right ear and exited the left cheek.”
LaManche considered that.
“Such a trajectory is uncommon but possible in suicide. Monsieur Ferris was right-handed.”
“There’s more. Take a closer look.”
I handed LaManche a magnifying lens. He raised and lowered it over the oval defect.
“The rounded end looks scalloped.” LaManche studied the oval for another thirty seconds. “As though the circle is superimposed on the oval.”
“Or the reverse. The border of the circular defect is clean on the skull’s external surface. But check inside.”
He rotated the segment.
“Endocranial beveling.” LaManche grasped it immediately. “It’s a double entrance.”
I nodded. “The first bullet hit Ferris’s skull straight on. Textbook. Outside border clean, inside border beveled. The second struck the same spot, but at an angle.”
“Producing a keyhole defect.”
I nodded. “Ferris’s head moved or the shooter’s hand twitched.”
Fatigue? Sadness? Resignation? LaManche sagged as I voiced my ugly conclusion.
“Avram Ferris was shot twice in the back of the head. Execution style.”
That night Ryan cooked at my place. Arctic char, asparagus, and what we from Dixie call smashed potatoes. The spuds he baked, peeled, then worked with a fork, adding green onions and olive oil as he mashed.
I watched in awe. I’ve been called insightful. Brilliant even. When it comes to cooking, I have the vision of a guppy. Given an eon to ponder, my brain would never conceive a road map to mashed potatoes that did not pass through boiling.
Birdie was immensely appreciative of Ryan’sfruits de mer, and spent the evening trawling for handouts. Later, he settled on the hearth. His purring said feline life didn’t get much better.
Over dinner, I shared my conclusion regarding manner of death in the Ferris case. Ryan already knew. The investigation was now officially homicide.
“The weapon’s a Jericho nine-millimeter,” he said.
“Where was it?”
“Way back in a corner of the closet, under a cart.”
“Did the gun belong to Ferris?”
“If so, no one knew about it.”
I reached for more salad.
“SIJ recovered one nine-millimeter bullet from the closet,” Ryan went on.
“Only one?” That didn’t fit with my double-entry scenario.
“In a ceiling panel.”
Nor did that.
“What was a bullet doing overhead?” I asked.
“Maybe Ferris went for the shooter, they struggled, the gun discharged.”
“Maybe the shooter placed the gun in Ferris’s hand and pulled the trigger.”
“Simulated suicide?” Ryan.
“Every TV viewer knows you gotta have gunshot residue.”
“LaManche didn’t find any.”
“Doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.”
I munched and thought.
LaManche had recovered one bullet fragment from the victim’s head. SIJ had dug one bullet from the ceiling. Where was the rest of the ballistic evidence?
“You said Ferris may have been sitting on a stool when he took the shots?” I asked.
“Facing the door?”
“Which was probably open. SIJ’s going over the office and hallways. You wouldn’t believe how much crap is stacked in this place.”
“What about casings?”
Ryan shook his head. “Shooter must have collected them.”
That didn’t make sense either.
“Why leave the gun, then turn around and collect the bullet casings?”
“An astute question, Dr. Brennan.”
I had no astute answer.
I offered salad to Ryan. He declined.
Ryan changed gears. “Dropped in on the widow again today.”
“The lady won’t be topping my Miss Congeniality ballot.”
“So she says.”
“You don’t buy it?”
“My gut says there’s something to gnaw on there.”
“Bad metaphor.” I was thinking of the cats.
“Big word,” I said. “Sexy.”
“Tap pants,” Ryan said.
Over dessert, I told Ryan what I’d learned about Kessler’s photo.
“Drum actually diverted to Paris?”
“He’s convinced the print shows this Masada skeleton?”
“And Jake’s not one to get worked up easily.”
Ryan gave me an odd look.
“How well do you know this Jake?”
“More than twenty years.”
“The query concerned depth, not length of acquaintance.”
Eye roll. “Getting a little personal?”
“I’m thinking maybe we should pool our tips.”
I hadn’t a clue what that meant.
“I also had another chat with Courtney Purviance,” Ryan said. “Interesting lady.”
“Until the discussion turns to Ferris or details of the business. Then she slams shut like a bank vault.”
“Protecting the boss?”
“Or afraid she’s going to find herself out on the street. I picked up vibes she’s not all that fond of Miriam.”
“What did she say?”
“It’s not what she said.” Ryan thought a moment. “It was more her demeanor. Anyway, I did pry loose that Ferris dealt in artifacts from time to time.”
“Items from the Holy Land?” I guessed.
“Legally obtained and transported, of course.”
“There’s a huge black market in illegal antiquities,” I said.
“Colossal,” Ryan agreed.
“You think Ferris was involved with the Masada bones?”
“And that got him killed?”
“Kessler thought so.”
“Have you tracked Kessler down?”
“Could all be coincidence.”
I didn’t think so.
RYAN WOKE ME SHORTLY AFTER SIX FOR SOME PRE-SUNRISE BONDING. Birdie slipped from the bedroom. Down the hall, Charlie squawked a line from Clarence Carter’s “Strokin’.”
While I showered, Ryan toasted bagels and made coffee. Over breakfast we discussed the cockatiel’s reeducation process.
Though unmentioned on the occasion of our Yuletide exchange, I’d quickly noted Charlie’s unorthodoxrépertoire noir. Upon questioning, Ryan had admitted that our feathered darling came to him via a vice squad raid on a female enterprise. The ladies’ taste had been lusty, and the bird had absorbed.
For months I’d been working to redirect Charlie’s musical and oratorical talents. With mixed results.
At eight, I popped in a cockatiel-training CD and Ryan and I rode together to L’édifice Wilfrid Derome. He headed to thecrimes contre la personne squad room on the first floor, and I took the LSJML elevator to the twelfth.
After shooting close-ups and composing a summary report, I told LaManche that the remains in my possession could be released to the Ferris family. Though burial had taken place while I was in New Orleans, arrangements had been made for placement of the cranial fragments in a coffin-side pit.
At ten-thirty, I phoned Ryan. He said he’d meet me in the lobby in five. I waited ten. Bored, I slipped into the cafeteria for a Diet Coke roadie. At the counter, I made an impulse buy of Scottish shortbreads. One never knew.
Ryan was waiting when I returned to the lobby. Popping the soda, I stashed the cookies in my shoulder bag.
For twenty-seven years Avram Ferris had run his import business out of a light-industrial park off the autoroute des Laurentides, midway between Montreal island and the old Mirabel airport.
Constructed in the seventies, Mirabel was envisioned as Montreal ’s once-and-future aviation jewel. Though thirty miles out, a high speed rail line was to connect the airport with the city center. Lickety-split. You’d be at the gate!
The rail line never happened.
By the early nineties the commute was intolerable and getting worse. Sixty-nine bucks for a taxi downtown.
Frustrated, officials finally threw in the towel and mothballed Mirabel in favor of its geographically friendlier rival. Mirabel now gets cargo and charters. All other domestic, North American, and international flights arrive and depart Dorval, recently rechristened Pierre Elliott Trudeau International.
Avram Ferris didn’t care. He’d started Les Imports Ashkenazim near Mirabel, and that’s where he’d kept it.
And that’s where he’d died.
He’d lived in Côte-des-Neiges, a middle-class residential neighborhood tucked behind the Jewish General Hospital, just northwest of le centre-ville.
Ryan took the Décarie expressway, cut east on Van Horne, then north on Plamondon to Vézina. Pulling to the curb, he pointed to a two-story redbrick box in a row of two-story redbrick boxes.
I scanned the block.
Each building was identical, its right side a mirror image of its left. Wood-framed doors jutted in front, balconies hung from upstairs windows. All walks were shoveled. All shrubs were wrapped. In the driveways, Chevy and Ford station wagons waited under tubular-framed, plastic-shrouded shelters.
“Not the Jaguar and SUV set,” I said.
“Looks like the homeowners held a meeting and banned any trim that ain’t white.”
Ryan chin-cocked the building directly opposite. “Ferris’s unit is upstairs on the left. His brother’s down, Mama and another brother are in the duplex next door.”
“Ferris’s commute must have been hell.”
“Probably stayed here out of love of architectural self-expression.”
“You said Avram and Miriam had no kids?”
Ryan nodded. “They married late. The first wife had health problems, died in eighty-nine. Ferris remarried in ninety-seven. So far, no progeny.”
“Isn’t that against the rules?”
Ryan gave me a quizzical look.
The look held.
“Jewish law. You’re supposed to have babies. Not waste your seed.”
“You’re thinking of the farmer’s almanac.”
Ryan and I walked to the small front stoop.
Ryan stepped up and rang the top bell.
Ryan rang again.
We waited some more.
An old woman trudged by behind us, grocery cart rattling in cadence with her boots.
“Isn’t the widow supposed to hunker in?” Ryan asked, hitting the bell a third time.
“Shiva only lasts a week.”
“You say daily kaddish, don’t party, don’t shave or snip and clip for a while. But basically you get on with your life.”
“How do you know all this?”
“My first boyfriend was Jewish.”
“He moved to Altoona.”
Ryan opened the storm door and pounded.
The cart woman stopped, turned, and stared unabashedly over her triple-wrapped muffler.
To the right, a curtain moved. I touched Ryan’s arm and tipped my head. “Dora’s home.”
Ryan smiled brightly.
“Avram was a nice Jewish boy who went eight years between marriages. Maybe he and Mama were close.”
“Maybe he told her stuff.”
“Or Mama noticed things on her own.”
I thought of something.
“Old ladies like cookies.”
“They’re known for it.”
I reached into my purse and pulled out the shortbreads.
“Mama might warm to us, feel chatty.”
“Damn.” Ryan turned. “We’re good at this.”
Only, Dora didn’t answer the door. Miriam did. She wore black slacks, a black silk blouse, a black cardigan, and pearls.
As on our first meeting, I was struck by Miriam’s eyes. There were dark hollows beneath them now, but it didn’t matter. Those lavender irises were showstoppers.
Miriam was not unaware of the effect her eyes had on men. After flicking a glance at me, she shifted to Ryan and leaned forward slightly, one hand wrapping her waist, the other gathering the cardigan at her throat.
“Detective.” Soft. A little breathy.
“Good morning, Mrs. Ferris,” Ryan said. “I hope you’re feeling better.”
Miriam’s skin was ghostly. She looked thinner than I remembered.
“There are a few points I’d like to clear up,” Ryan said.
Miriam’s focus shifted to a point between and beyond us. The old woman’s cart cranked up.
Miriam reengaged on Ryan, and her head tipped slightly.
“Can’t this wait?”
Ryan let the question hang in the triangle of space between us.
“Who is it?” A quavery voice floated from inside the house.
Miriam turned and said something in Yiddish or Hebrew, then reoriented to us.
“My mother-in-law is unwell.”
“Your husband is dead,” Ryan said, not too gently. “I can’t delay a murder investigation for the comfort of the bereaved.”
“I live with that thought every moment of the day. So you believe it’s murder, then?”
“As do you, I think. Are you avoiding me, Mrs. Ferris?”
Lavender and blue met head-on. Neither gave way.
“I’d like to ask you again about a man named Kessler.”
“I’m going to tell you again. I don’t know him.”
“Might your mother-in-law?”
“How do you know that, Mrs. Ferris? Kessler claimed to know your husband. Have you discussed Kessler with your mother-in-law?”
“No, but she has never mentioned that name. My husband’s business brought him into contact with many people.”
“One of whom may have pumped two rounds into his head.”
“Are you trying to shock me, Detective?”
“Are you aware that your husband dealt in antiquities?”
Miriam’s brows dipped almost imperceptibly. Then, “Who told you that?”
“Is that statement untrue?”
“Ms. Purviance has a tendency to exaggerate her role in my husband’s affairs.” Miriam’s voice was edged like a scythe.
“Are you suggesting she’d lie?”
“I’m suggesting the woman has little in her life but her job.”
“Ms. Purviance suggested your husband’s demeanor had changed prior to his death.”
“That’s ridiculous. If Avram had been troubled, surely I’d have noticed.”
Ryan circled back to his point.
“Is it not true that your husband dealt in antiquities?”
“Antiques formed a very small part of Avram’s trade.”
“You know that?”
“I know that.”
“You’ve told me you know little about the business.”
“That much I know.”
The day was clear with a temperature just above freezing.
“Might those antiquities have included human remains?” Ryan asked.
The violet eyes widened. “Dear God, no.”
Most people are uncomfortable with gaps in conversation. When faced with silence, they feel compelled to fill it. Ryan uses this impulse. He did so now. He waited. It worked.
“That would bechet, ” Miriam elaborated.
Ryan still waited.
Miriam was opening her mouth to say more, when the voice again warbled behind her. She swiveled and spoke over her shoulder.
When she turned back, sunlight glinted off moisture on her upper lip.
“I must help my mother-in-law prepare for Shabbat.”
Ryan handed Miriam a card.
“If I think of anything I will call.” Again, the widened eyes. “I really do want Avram’s killer brought to justice.”
“Have a nice day,” Ryan said.
“Shabbat shalom,”I said.
As we turned to go, Miriam reached out and laid a hand on Ryan’s arm.
“Regardless of what you think, Detective, I did love my husband.” There was a chilling bleakness to her voice.
Ryan and I didn’t speak until we were back in his car.
“Well?” Ryan asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
We both thought about that.
“Kind of like sin,” I said.
“The lady’s not into the power of sisterhood,” Ryan said.
“She acted like I wasn’t there,” I agreed.
“You were,” Ryan said.
“I thought so,” I said.
“She’s definitely not one of Purviance’s fans.”
Ryan started the engine and pulled from the curb.
“I’d say I’m pretty good at character analysis,” he said.
“I’d say that’s a fair assessment,” I agreed.
“But I can’t figure Miriam. One moment she’s bereaved. The next she’s broadcasting this fuck-you attitude. Protecting something?”
“She was perspiring,” I said
“On a cold day,” Ryan said.
We rolled to a stop at the corner.
“Now what?” Ryan asked.
“You’re the detective,” I said.
“The gun was an orphan. Can’t trace it. My canvass of Ferris’s neighbors in the industrial park turned up zip. Ditto for statements by family and business associates. I’m still waiting for tax records and a phone dump on the warehouse. I’ve got a Kessler query into every synagogue in town.”
“Sounds like you’ve been doing some serious detecting.”
“I’ve been detecting my ass off, but progress is halting,” Ryan said.
“SIJ’s still working the scene. Purviance is still checking to see if anything was stolen. That leaves lunch.”
I’d barely settled with my Whopper when my cell phone warbled. It was Jake Drum. This time the connection was clear.
“You actually diverted to Paris?” I asked, then mouthed the name Jake Drum to Ryan.
“No big deal. Instead of driving to Toronto and catching a flight to Tel Aviv, I’m connecting through Charles de Gaulle.”
“The skeleton’s that important?”
“It could be huge.”
“What have you learned?”
Ryan partially unwrapped my burger and handed it to me. I took a one-handed bite.
“My hunch was right,” Jake said. “A Masada skeleton arrived at the Musée de l’Homme in November of 1963. I located a specimen file and an accession number.”
“What are you eating?”
“Fast food is sacrilege in a city like Montreal.”
“The gastronomic slippery slope.”
I compounded the blasphemy with a sip of Diet Coke.
“Are the bones still there?”
“No.” Jake sounded frustrated.
I went for more Whopper. Ketchup dribbled my chin. Ryan blotted it with a napkin.
“I found a woman named Marie-Nicole Varin who helped inventory collections in the early seventies. Varin recalls coming across a Masada skeleton. But it’s not at the museum now. We searched everywhere.”
“No one’s seen it since the seventies?”
“Aren’t records kept on the movement of every specimen?”
“Should be. The rest of that file’s missing.”
“What’s the museum’s explanation?”
“C’est la vie. Few of the current staff were here back then. Varin did the inventory with a graduate student named Yossi Lerner. She thinks Lerner may still be in Paris. And here’s an interesting twist. Varin thinks Lerner’s either American or Canadian.”
That stopped the Whopper midway to my mouth.
“I’m trying to track him down.”
“Bonne chance,”I said.
“I’ll need more than luck.”
I told Ryan what Jake had said.
He listened without comment.
We finished our fries.
Back on Van Horne, we watched a man in a long black coat, black hat, knickers, and pale stockings pass a kid in jeans and a Blue Jays jacket.
“Shabbat’s coming on fast,” I said.
“Probably won’t increase the warmth of our welcome in these parts.”
“Ever done surveillance?”
I shook my head.
“Gets the blood pumping,” Ryan said.
“So I’ve heard,” I said.
“Miriam might go out.”
“Leaving Dora alone.”
“I’ve yet to speak to Dora alone.”
“We could pick up flowers,” I suggested.
We hit a florist and were back at the Ferris duplex forty minutes after leaving it.
An hour later Miriam walked out Dora’s front door.
DORA ANSWERED ON THE SECOND RING. IN THE BRIGHT SUNLIGHT, her wrinkled skin looked almost translucent.
Ryan reintroduced us.
The old woman regarded us blankly. I wondered if she was on medication.
Ryan held out his badge.
Dora looked at it, her expression passive. It was obvious she didn’t know who we were.
I offered the bouquet and cookies.
“Shabbat shalom,”I said.
“Shabbat shalom,”she said, more reflex than greeting.
“We’re so very sorry about your son, Mrs. Ferris. I’ve been away, or I would have called sooner.”
Dora took my offerings and bent to smell the flowers. Straightening, she inspected the cookies, then returned them to me.
“Sorry, miss. They are not kosher.”
Feeling like an idiot, I put the cookies in my purse.
Dora’s eyes floated to Ryan, then back to me. They were small and moist and frosted with age.
“You were there at my son’s autopsy.” Slight accent. Maybe Eastern European.
“Yes, ma’am. I was.”
“There’s no one here.”
“We’d like to talk to you, Mrs. Ferris.”
“To me?” Surprise. A little fear.
“Miriam’s gone to market.”
“This will only take a moment.”
She hesitated, then turned and led us through a smoky-mirrored entry to a plastic-covered grouping in a small sunny living room.
“I’ll find a vase. Please sit.”
She disappeared down a hallway to the right of the entrance. I looked around.
The place was a testimonial to sixties bad taste. White sateen upholstery. Laminated oak tables. Flocked wallpaper. Wall-to-wall gold semishag.
A dozen smells bickered for attention. Disinfectant. Garlic. Air freshener. From somewhere a closet or chest threw in a bid for cedar.
Dora shuffled back and we spent a few moments flower arranging.
Then, dropping into a wooden rocker with pillows strapped to its seat and back, she spread her feet and arranged her dress. Blue cross-trainers poked from below the hem.
“The children are with Roslyn and Ruthie at the synagogue.”
I assumed those were the daughters-in-law from the other duplexes.
Dora clasped her hands in her lap and looked down at them. “Miriam has returned to the butcher for something she left behind.”
Ryan and I exchanged glances. He nodded that I should begin.
“Mrs. Ferris, I know you’ve already talked with Detective Ryan.”
The frosted gaze came up, level and unblinking.
“We hate to disturb you again, but we’re wondering if anything new has come to mind since those conversations.”
Dora shook her head slowly.
“Did your son have any unusual visitors in the weeks before his death?”
“Had your son argued with anyone? Complained about anyone?”
“Was he involved in any political movements?”
“Avram’s life was his family. His business and his family.”
I knew I was repeating the same questions Ryan had asked. Interrogation 101. Sometimes the ploy works, triggers previously forgotten recollections or details initially deemed irrelevant.
And this was the first time Dora had been questioned alone.
“Did your son have enemies? Anyone who might have wished him harm?”
“We are Jews, miss.”
“I was thinking of a specific individual.”
“Are you acquainted with the men who observed your son’s autopsy?”
“Yes.” Dora pulled on an ear and made a gurgling sound in her throat.
“Who chose those individuals?”
“Why did only two men return in the afternoon?”
“That would have been the rabbi’s decision.”
“Do you know a man by the name of Kessler?”
“I once knew a Moshe Kessler.”
“Was he in attendance at your son’s autopsy?”
“Moshe died during the war.”
My cell phone chose that moment to sound.
I checked the screen.
I ignored the call.
“Were you aware that your son sold antiques?”
“Avram sold many things.”
My phone rang again.
Apologizing, I turned it off.
Impulse. Frustration. Inspiration. A name in my head like an unwanted jingle. I’m not sure why I asked the next question.
“Do you know a man named Yossi Lerner?”
The furrows cornering Dora’s eyes deepened. The wrinkled lips tucked in.
“Does that name mean something to you, Mrs. Ferris?”
“My son had a friend named Yossi Lerner.”
“Really?” I kept my face neutral, my voice calm.
“Avram and Yossi met as students at McGill.”
“When was that?” I didn’t look at Ryan.
“Did they keep in touch?” Casual.
“I have no idea. Oh, dear.” Dora gulped air into her lungs. “Is Yossi involved in all this?”
“Of course not. I’m just throwing out names. Do you know where Mr. Lerner lives now?”
“I haven’t seen Yossi in years.”
The front door opened, closed. Seconds later Miriam appeared in the living room.
Miriam stared at us, face so devoid of expression she could have been studying moss. When she spoke, it was to Ryan.
“I told you my mother-in law is unwell. Why are you bothering her?”
“I’m fin-” Dora started to speak.
Miriam cut her off.
“She’s eighty-four and has just lost her son.”
Dora made atsk sound.
As before, Ryan gave Miriam silence, waited for her to fill it. This time she didn’t.
“It’s all right. We were having a nice discussion.” Dora flapped a blue-veined hand.
“What are you discussing?” Miriam’s gaze stayed on Ryan as though Dora hadn’t spoken.
“Euripides,” Ryan said.
“Is that supposed to be humorous, Detective?”
I watched Miriam carefully. If I expected a reaction, there was none.
“Who’s Yossi Lerner?”
“A friend of your husband’s.”
“I don’t know him.”
“A school friend.”
“That would be before my time.”
I looked at Dora. The old woman’s gaze had gone fuzzy, as though she were viewing memories outside the room.
“Why are you asking about this man? This Yossi Lerner?” Miriam pulled off her gloves.
“His name came up.”
“In your investigation?” The violet eyes showed the slightest surprise.
“In what context?”
Outside, I heard thebeep beep of a car alarm. Dora didn’t stir.
Ryan looked at me. I nodded.
Ryan told Miriam about Kessler and his photo.
Miriam’s face registered nothing as she listened. It was impossible to guess her interest or emotions.
“Is there a link between this skeleton and my husband’s death?”
“Straight or sugar-coated?”
Ryan raised digits as he ticked off points.
“A man is murdered. A guy produces a photo, claims the skeleton in that photo is the reason for the shooting. That guy is now missing.”
Ryan’s pinky joined the others.
“There’s evidence the skeleton in the photo came from Masada.”
“The victim dealt in Israeli antiquities.”
Ryan started over with his index finger.
“The skeleton was once in the possession of one Yossi Lerner. The victim was once pals with one Yossi Lerner.”
“The other was a priest.”
We all turned to Dora.
She spoke to the air.
“The other boy was a priest,” she repeated. “But he was later. Or was he?”
“What other boy?” I asked gently.
“Avram had two friends. Yossi, and then later this other boy.” Dora tapped a fist to her chin. “He was a priest. He surely was.”
Miriam crossed to her mother-in-law, but did not reach out to her.
I was reminded of the scene in the morgue family room. The women had been side by side but distant. They had not touched. They had not embraced. The younger had not shared her strength with the older. The older had not sought comfort from the younger.
“They were very close,” Dora went on.
“Your son and his friends?” I encouraged.
Dora smiled the first smile I’d seen on her face. “Such inquisitive minds. Always reading. Always questioning. Arguing. All night, some times.”
“What was the priest’s name?” I asked.
Dora gave a tight shake of her head.
“He was from the Beauce. I remember that. He called uszayde andbubbe. ”
“Where did your son meet this priest?”
“ Yeshiva University.”
“In New York?”
Dora nodded. “Avram and Yossi had just graduated from McGill. Avram was much more spiritual back then. He was studying to be a rabbi. This priest was taking courses in Near Eastern religions, or some such thing. They were drawn to each other, being the only Canadians, I suppose.”
Dora’s eyes drifted.
“Was he a priest then?” she said more to herself than to us. “Or did he become a priest later?” Dora’s fingers tightened. Her hand trembled. “Oh, dear. Oh, my.”
Miriam stepped toward Ryan.
“Detective, I really must object.”
Ryan caught my eye. We both rose.
Miriam sent Ryan off with a carbon copy of her earlier adieu.
“Find who did this, Detective, but please don’t upset my mother-in-law when she is alone.”
“First, she seemed more in reverie than upset. Second, I can’t have such limits on my investigation. But we will attempt to be kind.”
Nothing for me.
Back in the car Ryan wondered why I’d asked about Lerner.
“I haven’t a clue,” I said.
“Good impulse,” he said.
“Good impulse,” I agreed.
We also agreed that Lerner deserved follow-up.
While Ryan drove, I listened to my messages.
All from Jake Drum.
I’ve got contact information for Yossi Lerner. Call me.
I’ve talked to Yossi Lerner. Call me.
Amazing news. Call me.
Each “call me” was more agitated than the one before.
I told Ryan.
“Call the man,” he said.
“Yes. I want more on Lerner.”
“I’m anxious to hear what Jake’s learned, but I’ll be home shortly. I’d rather wait and talk on a land line. Mobile to mobile is worse than phoning Zambia.”
“Have you phoned Zambia?”
“I can never get through.”
Ten minutes later, Ryan dropped me at my condo.
“I’ve got a stakeout this weekend, and I’m already late.” He took my chin in his hands and thumbed my cheeks. “Stay on this Lerner thing. Let me know what Jake’s got.”
“Heart-thumping surveillance,” I said.
“You know what I’d rather surveil,” he said.
“I’m not sure that’s a word.”
Ryan kissed me.
“I’ll owe you,” he said.
“I’ll collect,” I said.
Ryan headed back to Wilfrid Derome. I headed inside.
After greeting Birdie and Charlie, I changed into jeans, and made a cup of Earl Grey. Then I took the handset to the sofa and punched in Jake’s number.
He answered on the first ring.
“You’re still in France?” I asked.
“You’re going to be late for your own dig.”
“They won’t start without me. I’m the boss.”
“I forgot that.”
“What I’m finding here is much more important.”
Birdie hopped into my lap. I stroked his head. He shot a leg and started licking his toes.
“I’ve spoken with Yossi Lerner.”
“I guessed that from your messages.”
“Lerner still lives in Paris. He’s from Quebec.”
It had to be the Yossi Lerner that Dora remembered.
“Lerner was working at the museum when the Masada skeleton was there as a part-timer while researching his doctoral thesis. Are you ready for this?”
“Cut the drama, Jake.”
“This’ll grab you by the throat.”
“LET ME BACK UP A MINUTE. THISLERNER’S KIND OF A STRANGEduck. No family. Lives with a ferret. Does pickup archaeology. Israel. Egypt. Jordan. Goes in on grant money, runs a dig, writes a report, moves on. Does a lot of salvage work,” Jake said.
“Save what you can before they bulldoze for the bypass.”
“Is Lerner affiliated with any institution?”
“He’s had some temporary appointments, but says he’s never been interested in a permanent position. Finds it too confining.”
“That regular income can be a burden.”
“The guy’s definitely not into money. Lives in a seventeenth-century walk-up built as a barracks for musketeers. Whole apartment’s about the size of a Buick. Access is via a winding stone staircase. Nice view of Notre-Dame, though.”
“So you went to see him?”
“When I phoned, he said he worked nights, invited me over. We spent two hours celebrating the Sun King.”
“We did serious damage to a bottle of Martell VSOP Medaillon.”
“How old is this guy?”
“Late fifties, maybe.”
Avram Ferris was fifty-six.
“Not as fervently as in his youth.”
“What’s his story?”
“No, Jake. Louis the Fourteenth.”
I leaned back. Birdie scootched up onto my chest.
“Lerner was cool initially, but after the fourth snifter he was talking like a convert at Betty Ford. You don’t want to hear about the thing with the pianist, do you?”
“Lerner worked at the Musée de l’Homme from seventy-one until seventy-four, while researching his dissertation.”
“The Dead Sea scrolls.”
“Probably didn’t take the Essenes that long to write them.”
“Lerner takes things slowly. And seriously. Back then he was taking Judaism very seriously.”
“Miss pianist change that?”
“Who said anything about a miss?”
“Get to the Masada bones.”
“In seventy-two Lerner was asked to assist in inventorying a number of museum collections. In doing so he came across a file containing a shipping invoice and the photo of a skeleton.”
“The invoice suggested the bones came from Masada?”
“Was it dated?”
Locus 2001, the cave below the casement wall on Masada ’s southern summit. The jumbled bones. The isolated skeleton. According to Jake’s volunteer-informant, Cave 2001 was discovered and cleared in October of ’63, one month before the museum’s invoice date. I felt a spark of excitement.
“Was it signed?”
“Yes, but Lerner doesn’t remember by whom. He searched the museum’s collections, found the skeleton, made a notation in the file indicating the specimen’s condition and storeroom location, as per protocol, and moved on. But something bothered him. Why had that one set of bones been sent to the museum? Why had the bones remained boxed up and out of sight? Are you purring?”
“It’s the cat.”
“The following year Lerner read a book by an Australian journalist, Donovan Joyce. Joyce’s premise was that Jesus survived the cross.”
“And retired to a nice little place in the islands?”
“He lived to be eighty and died fighting the Romans at Masada.”
“That’s not all. While at Masada, Jesus produced a scroll containing his last will and testament.”
“And how was Joyce privy to these little gems?”
“In December of sixty-four, Joyce was in Israel researching a book. While there, he says he was approached by a man calling himself Professor Max Grosset, a volunteer excavator on Yigael Yadin’s team. Grosset claimed to have stolen an ancient scroll from Masada, and solicited Joyce’s help in smuggling his booty out of the country. Grosset swore the scroll had fantastic importance, its authorship alone making it priceless. Joyce refused to become involved, but swears he saw and handled Grosset’s scroll.”
“And later wrote a book about it.”
“Joyce had gone to the Holy Land to view Masada, but the Israelis refused his request for a permit to visit the summit. Forced to abandon his original book idea, he regrouped and began investigating the plausibility of Grosset’s scroll. Astounded by his findings, Joyce ended up devoting eight years to the project. While he never again saw Grosset, Joyce claims to have unearthed startling new information about Jesus’ paternity, marital status, crucifixion, and resurrection.”
“In his book, Joyce mentions the skeletons found in Cave 2001.”
“According to Joyce, the twenty-five individuals in the cave represented a very special group, separate from the Jewish zealots. He concludes that, following Masada ’s conquest, out of respect for these individuals, General Silva would have ordered his soldiers to leave the cave burials undisturbed.”
“Because the remains were those of Jesus and his followers.”
“That’s the implication.”
“Lerner believed this crackpot theory?”
“The book’s out of print now, but I managed to lay my hands on a copy. I’ve got to admit, if you’re open to such thinking, Joyce’s arguments are persuasive.”
“Exactly. Back to Lerner. After reading Joyce’s book, our pious young scholar decided there was a good possibility the bones he’d uncovered at the museum were those of Jesus.”
“Christ and his followers at Judaism’s most sacred site.”
“You’ve got it. The possibility rocked Lerner’s world.”
“Would have rocked Israel, too, not to mention all of Christendom. What did Lerner do?”
“Major angst. What if it was Jesus? What if it wasn’t Jesus, but someone else of importance in the fledgling Christian movement? What if the bones fell into the wrong hands? What if the press got wind of the story? The sanctity of Masada would be disturbed. The Christian world would be enraged over what was sure to be labeled a Jewish hoax. Night after night he agonized.
“After weeks of mental torment, Lerner decided the skeleton had to go. He spent days planning ways to snatch and destroy it. He considered burning the bones. Smashing them with hammers. Weighting them and dropping them into the sea.
“Then his conscience would flip. Theft is theft. If the skeleton was Jesus he was still a Jew and a holy man. Lerner hardly slept. In the end, he couldn’t bring himself to destroy the skeleton, but he couldn’t live with the thought someone else might find it. To preserve religious culture and tradition, he resolved the skeleton had to disappear.”
“Lerner trashed the file and stole the bones.”
“Smuggled them out of the museum in an athletic bag.”
“And?” I sat up.
Birdie jumped to the floor, turned, and fixed me with round yellow eyes.
“That’s the throat-grabber. What’s the name of your gunshot victim?”
“That’s what I thought.” Jake’s next words jolted me like a bottle rocket. “Lerner gave the bones and the photo to Avram Ferris.”
“His boyhood buddy,” I breathed.
“Ferris had spent two years kibbutzing in Israel, and was passing through Paris on his way back to Montreal.”
When we disconnected I tried Ryan. No answer. The heart-thumping surveillance had probably begun.
Too agitated to eat, I headed for the gym. Questions looped through my head as I pounded out flight after flight on the StairMaster. I tried arranging them into a logical progression.
Did Kessler’s photo really show the missing Masada skeleton?
If so, did Ferris have the Masada skeleton when he was killed?
Who else knew he had it?
Was Ferris planning to sell the skeleton on the black market? To whom? Why now?
Or was he perhaps offering to destroy it for a price? To be paid by whom? Jews? Christians?
If not, why was Ferris shot?
Where was the skeleton now?
Where was Kessler?
Who was Kessler?
Why would Ferris accept a stolen skeleton?
I could conjure some possibilities for that one. Loyalty to a friend? Shared concern about the disturbance of the sanctity of the Masada legend or fear over a colossal Jewish-Christian theological confrontation at a time when Western Christian support was essential to the preservation of Israel? Dora said her son was quite pious back then. Jesus living after the crucifixion and dying during the siege of Masada? It would have been a nightmare for Christians and Jews alike.
Or would it? Jesus was a Jew. Why shouldn’t he or his followers have been at Masada?
No. Jesus was a heretic Jew. He outraged the high priests.
Back to questions.
What would Ferris have done with the bones?
The logical repository would have been his warehouse.
SIJ had found no bones.
Might he have concealed them in such a way that a search would never turn them up?
I made mental notes. Ask Ryan. Ask Courtney Purviance.
Wiping sweat from my face, I pumped on.
Something was wrong with the warehouse idea.
The Torah forbids leaving a body unburied overnight. Deuteronomy or someone. Wouldn’t Ferris have felt polluted having human remains in his work area? At least uncomfortable? I moved from the StairMaster to the bench press machine.
Maybe Ferris was only a transporter. Maybe he gave the bones to someone else.
Someone who shared his and Lerner’s concern?
But any Jew would be bound by the Torah prohibition.
Someone with other reasons for wanting the skeleton to disappear?
If Jesus didn’t die on the cross, if Jesus lived, and his bones ended up in the Musée de l’Homme, such a finding would rock the Vatican and all of Protestant Christianity as well. The suggestion would have to be absolutely refuted, or it would blow the most basic tenet of the Christian faith right out of the water. No empty tomb. No angels. No resurrection. No Easter. The investigation and the controversy would be headline news around the globe for months. Years. The debate would be unprecedented. The passion and acrimony would be devastating.
I stopped in midpump.
The third friend! The priest from the Beauce!
Dora said the two men were very close.
Priests have no hang-ups with human bones. They wear them as relics. Embed them in altars. Display them in churches all over Europe.
Suddenly, I was in a froth to locate that priest.
I looked at my watch. Six-thirty. Grabbing my towel, I headed for the locker room.
My cell phone was barely registering a pulse. Throwing on sweats and my jacket, I hurried outside.
Jake answered after four rings, voice thick with sleep.
As I walked along Ste-Catherine, I explained about Ferris, Lerner, and the priest.
“I need a name, Jake.”
“It’s after midnight here.”
“Doesn’t Lerner work at night?”
I heard a yawn.
“And anything else you can find out about this priest. Was he involved in the theft of the skeleton? Where was he living back in seventy-three? Where is he living now?”
“Boxers or briefs?”
“That kind of thing.”
“Calling this late might tick Lerner off.”
“I have confidence in your persuasive abilities.”
“And my boyish charm.”
I was stepping out of my shower when the phone rang.
Wrapping myself in a towel, I did a slip-’n’-slide across the tile, bolted to my bedroom, and grabbed the handset.
“You’re a rock star,” I said, jotting the name on the back of a bank statement.
“You have me confused with Sting,” Jake said.
“Was Morissonneau involved in the skeleton heist?”
“Where is he now?”
“Lerner never knew Morissonneau all that well. Says he left for Paris shortly after the other two met at Yeshiva. Hasn’t seen or heard from Morissonneau since seventy-one.”
“I did learn one thing.”
“Morissonneau’s a Cistercian.”
“A Trappist monk?”
“If you say so.”
After a defrosted dinner of Thai chicken and rice, I booted my computer and began a Web search.
Charlie kept squawking “Get Off of My Cloud.” Birdie purred on the desk to my right.
In the course of my research, I learned several things.
In 1098C. E., a renewal movement began within Benedictine monasticism, at the monastery of Cîteaux, in central France. The idea was to restore, as far as possible, the literal observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict. I never learned what that meant.
The Latin word for Cîteaux isCistercium, and those who signed on to the reform movement came to be known as Cistercians.
Today there are several orders within the Cistercians, one of which is the OCSO, Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. Trappist, the nickname for the OCSO, came from another reform movement at another French monastery, La Trappe, in the seventeenth century.
Lots of reform movements. Makes sense, I guess. Monks have a lot of time to reflect and decide to do better.
I found three Cistercian monasteries in Quebec. One in Oka, near Lac des Deux-Montagnes, One at Mistassini, near Lac Saint-Jean. One in the Montérégie region, near Saint-Hyacinthe. Each had a website.
I spent two hours working through endless cyberloops explaining the monastic day, the spiritual journey, the meaning of vocation, the history of the order. Search as I might, I found no membership listing for any of the monasteries.
I was about to give up when I stumbled on a brief announcement.
On July 17, 2004, the monks of l’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges, with Fr. Charles Turgeon, OCSO presiding, chose their eighth abbot, Fr. Sylvain Morissonneau, 59. Born in Beauce County, Quebec, Fr. Morissonneau attended university at Laval. He was ordained a priest in 1968, then pursued academic studies in the United States. Fr. Morissonneau entered the abbey in 1971. For eight years prior to his election, he served as the monastery’s business manager. He brings to the office skills both practical and academic.
So Morissonneau had stuck with the contemplative life, I thought, clicking from the monastery’s website to MapQuest Canada.
Sorry, Father. Your solitude’s about to be busted.
THEMONTÉRÉGIE IS AN AGRICULTURAL BELT LYING BETWEENMontreal and the U.S. border. Composed of hills and valleys, crisscrossed by the rivière Richelieu, and outlined by the banks of the fleuve Saint-Laurent, the region is lousy with parks and green space. Parc national des Îles-de-Boucherville. Parc national du Mont-Saint-Bruno. Le Centre de la Nature du Mont Saint-Hilaire. Tourists visit the Montérégie for nature, produce, cycling, skiing, and golf.
L’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges was located on the banks of la rivière Yamaska, north of the town of Saint-Hyacinthe, in the center of a trapezoid formed by Saint-Simon, Saint-Hugues, Saint-Jude, and Saint-Barnabe-Sud.
The Montérégie is also lousy with saints.
At nine-twenty the next morning, I turned from the two-lane onto a smaller paved road that wound through apple orchards for approximately a half mile, then made a sharp turn and cut through a high stone wall. A discreet plaque indicated I’d found the monks.
The monastery sprawled beyond an expanse of open lawn, and was shaded by enormous elms. Constructed of Quebec gray stone, the place looked like a church with metastatic disease. Wings shot from three sides, and subsidiary winglets shot from the wings. A four-story round tower stood at the junction of the easternmost wing and the church proper, and an ornate square spire shot from its western-most counterpart. Some windows were arched. Others were square and shuttered. Several outbuildings lay between the main structure and the cornfields and river at its back.
I took a moment to assess.
From my cybertour I’d learned that many monks make concessions to economic necessity, producing and selling baked goods, cheese, chocolate, wine, veggies, or items of piety. Some host visitors seeking spiritual rejuvenation.
These boys didn’t appear to be of that mind-set. I saw no welcoming shingle. No gift shop. Not a single parked car.
I pulled to the front of the building. No one appeared to greet or challenge me.
My time on the Web had also taught me that the monks of Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges rise at 4A. M., observe multiple rounds of prayer, then labor from eight until noon. I’d planned my visit to coincide with the morning work period.
In February that didn’t involve apples or corn. Other than sparrows and ground squirrels, there wasn’t a sign of life.
I got out and softly clicked the car door shut. Something about the place demanded quiet. An orange door to the right of the round tower looked like my best bet. I was walking in that direction when a monk rounded the far end of the spire wing. He wore a brown hooded cape, socks, and sandals.
The monk didn’t stop when he saw me, but continued more slowly in my direction, as though giving himself time to consider the encounter.
He halted three yards from me. He’d been injured at some point. The left side of his face looked slack, his left eyelid drooped, and a white line diagonaled that cheek.
The monk looked at me but didn’t speak. He had hair mowed to his scalp, sharpness to his chin, and a face gaunt as a musculoskeletal diagram.
“I’m Dr. Temperance Brennan,” I said. “I’m here to speak with Sylvain Morissonneau.”
“It’s a matter of some urgency.”
I flashed my LSJML identity card.
The monk glanced at the ID but held his ground.
I’d anticipated a cool reception. Reaching into my shoulder bag, I withdrew a sealed envelope containing a photocopy of Kessler’s print, stepped forward, and held it out.
“Please give this to Father Morissonneau. I’m certain he’ll see me.”
A scarecrow hand snaked from the robe, snatched the envelope, then signaled that I should follow.
The monk led me through the orange door, across a small vestibule, and down a lavishly paneled hall. The air smelled like Monday mornings in the parochial schools of my youth. A mélange of wet wool, disinfectant, and wood polish.
Entering a library, my host gestured that I should sit. A flattened palm indicated that I should stay.
When the monk had gone I surveyed my surroundings.
The library looked like a set transported from a Harry Potter movie. Dark paneling, leaded-glass cabinets, rolling ladders going up to third-story shelves. Enough wood had been used to deforest British Columbia.
I counted eight long tables and twelve card catalogs with tiny brass handles on the drawers. Not a computer in sight.
I didn’t hear the second monk enter. He was just there.
This monk was wearing a white cassock and a brown overgarment made up of rectangular front and back panels. No cape.
“I am Father Sylvain Morissonneau, abbot of this community.”
“I’m sorry to come unannounced.” I held out my hand.
Morissonneau smiled but kept his hands tucked. He looked older, but better-fed than the first monk.
“You are with the police?”
“The medical-legal lab in Montreal.”
“Please.” Morissonneau made a hand gesture identical to that of his colleague. “Follow me.” English, with a heavy québécois accent.
Morissonneau led me back down the main corridor, across a large open space, then into a long, narrow hall. After passing a dozen closed doors, we entered what appeared to be an office.
Morissonneau closed the door, and gestured again.
Compared with the library, this room was spartan. White walls. Gray tile floor. Plain oak desk. Standard metal file cabinets. The only adornments were a crucifix behind the desk, and a painting above one row of cabinets. Jesus talking to angels. And looking considerably more fit than in the carved wooden version hanging over the desk.
I glanced from the canvas to the cross. A phrase popped into my head. Before and after. The thought made me feel sacrilegious.
Morissonneau took the straight-back desk chair, laid my photocopy on the blotter, laced his fingers, and looked at me.
I waited some more.
“I assume you have seen Avram Ferris.” Low and even.
“Avram sent you to me?”
Morissonneau didn’t know.
“What is it Avram wants?”
I took a deep breath. I hated what I had to do.
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Father. Avram Ferris was murdered two weeks ago.”
Morissonneau’s lips formed some silent prayer, and his eyes dropped to his hands. When he looked up his face was clouded with an expression I’d seen too often.
“The police are investigating.”
Morrissonneau leaned forward onto the desk.
“Are there leads?”
I pointed at the photocopy.
“That photo was given to me by a man named Kessler,” I said.
“Are you acquainted with Mr. Kessler?”
“Can you describe this gentleman?”
“Sorry.” Morissonneau’s eyes had gone neutral behind his gold-rimmed glasses. “That description fits many.”
“Many who would have access to this photo?”
Morissonneau ignored this. “How is it you come to me?”
“I got your name from Yossi Lerner.” Close enough.
“How is Yossi?”
I told Morissonneau what Kessler had said about the photo.
“I see.” He arched his fingers and tapped them on the blotter. For a moment his focus shifted to the photocopy, then to the painting to my right.
“Avram Ferris was shot in the back of the head, execution style.”
“Enough.” Morissonneau rose. “Please wait.” He gave me the palm-stay gesture. I was beginning to feel like Lassie.
Morissonneau hurried from the room.
Five minutes passed.
A clock bonged somewhere down the hall. Otherwise, the building was silent.
Ten minutes passed.
Bored, I rose and crossed to examine the painting. I’d been right but wrong. The canvas and crucifix did constitute a before-and-after sequence, but I’d reversed the order.
The painting depicted Easter morning. Four figures were framed by a tomb. Two angels sat on an open stone coffin, and a woman, probably Mary Magdalene, stood between them. A risen Jesus was to the right.
As in the library, I didn’t hear Morissonneau’s entry. The first thing I knew he was circling me, a two-by-three-foot crate in his hands. He stopped when he saw me, and his face softened.
“Lovely, isn’t it? So much more delicate than most renderings of the resurrection.” Morissonneau’s voice was altogether different than it had been earlier. He sounded like Gramps showing photos of the grandkids.
“Yes, it is.” The painting had an ethereal quality that really was beautiful.
“Edward Burne-Jones. Do you know him?” Morissonneau asked.
I shook my head.
“He was a Victorian English artist, a student of Rossetti. Many Burne-Jones paintings have an almost dreamlike quality to them. This one is titledThe Morning of the Resurrection. It was done in 1882.”
Morissonneau’s gaze lingered a moment on the painting, then his jaw tightened and his lips went thin. Circling the desk, he set the crate on the blotter and resumed his seat.
Morissonneau paused a moment, collecting his thoughts. When he spoke his tone was again tense.
“The monastic life is one of solitude, prayer, and study. I chose that.” Morissonneau spoke slowly, putting pauses where pauses wouldn’t normally go. “With my vows, I turned my back on involvement in the politics and concerns of this world.”
Morissonneau placed a liver-spotted hand on the crate.
“But I could not ignore world events. And I could not turn my back on friendship.”
Morissonneau stared at his hand, engaged, still, in some inner struggle. Truth or dare.
“These bones are from the Musée de l’Homme.”
A match flared in my chest.
“The skeleton stolen by Yossi Lerner.”
“How long have you had it?”
“You agreed to keep it for Avram Ferris?”
“So many ‘whys.’ Why did Avram insist that I take it? Why did I consent? Why have I persisted in this shared dishonesty?”
“Start with Ferris.”
“Avram accepted the skeleton from Yossi because of loyalty, and because Yossi convinced him that its rediscovery would trigger cataclysmic events. After transporting the bones to Canada, Avram hid them at his warehouse for several years. Eventually, he grew uncomfortable. More than uncomfortable. Obsessed.”
“Avram is a Jew. These are the remains of a human being.” Morissonneau caressed the box. “And…”
Morissonneau’s head cocked up. Light reflected from one lens.
I heard the soft swish of fabric.
“Frère Marc?” Morissonneau’s voice was sharp.
I swiveled. A form filled the open doorway. Placing fingers to lips, the scar-faced monk raised his one good brow.
Morissonneau shook his head.“Laissez-nous.” Leave us.
The monk bowed and withdrew.
Lurching to his feet, Morissonneau strode across the office and closed the door.
“Avram grew uncomfortable,” I prompted when he’d resumed his seat.
“He believed what Yossi believed.” Hushed.
“That the skeleton is that of Jesus Christ?”
Morissonneau’s eyes flicked to the painting, then down again. He nodded.
“Did you believe that?”
“Believe it? No, I didn’t believe it, but I didn’t know. Don’t know. I couldn’t take a chance. What if Yossi and Avram were right? Jesus not dead on the cross? It would be the death knell for Christianity.”
“It would undercut the most fundamental tenets of the faith.”
“Just so. The Christian faith is based on the premise of our savior’s death and resurrection. Belief in the Passion is pivotal to a creed around which one billion souls fashion their lives. One billion souls, Dr. Brennan. The consequences of the undermining of that belief would be unthinkable.”
Morissonneau closed his eyes, imagining, I could only guess, unthinkable consequences. When he opened them, his voice was stronger.
“Avram and Yossi were probably wrong. I don’t believe these are the bones of Jesus Christ. But what if the press picked up on the story? What if the cesspool that is today’s mass media engaged in one of their nauseating spectacles, selling their souls for a larger share of the audience for the six o’clock news? The ensuing controversy alone would be a catastrophe.”
He didn’t wait for a reply.
“I’ll tell you what would happen. A billion lives would be wrenched out of joint. Faith would be subverted. Spiritual devastation would be rampant. The Christian world would be cast into crisis. But it wouldn’t end there, Dr. Brennan. Like it or not, Christianity is a powerful political and economic force. Collapse of the Christian church would lead to global upheaval. Instability. World chaos.”
Morissonneau punched the air with one finger.
“Western civilization would be torn loose at the roots. I believed that then. I believe that even more fervently now, with Islamic extremists pushing their new brand of religious fanaticism.”
He leaned forward.
“I am Catholic, but I have studied the Muslim faith. And I have watched closely developments in the Middle East. Even back then, I saw the unrest and knew a crisis was looming. Do you remember the Munich Olympic games?”
“Palestinian terrorists kidnapped part of the Israeli team. All eleven athletes were killed.”
“The kidnappers were members of a PLO faction called Black September. Three were captured. A little over a month later, a Lufthansa jet was hijacked by more terrorists demanding the release of the Munich killers. The Germans complied. That was 1972, Dr. Brennan. I watched the news coverage, knowing it was just the beginning. Those events took place one year before Yossi stole the skeleton and gave it to Avram.
“I am a tolerant man. I have nothing but the highest regard for my Islamic brethren. Muslims generally are hardworking, family-centered, peace-loving people who adhere to the same values you and I hold dear. But, among the good, there exists a sinister minority driven by hate and committed to destruction.”
“Are you familiar with Wahhabism, Dr. Brennan?”
“Wahhabism is an austere form of Islam that blossomed on the Arabian Peninsula. For over two centuries it’s been Saudi Arabia ’s dominant faith.”
“What distinguishes Wahhabism from mainstream Islam?”
“Insistence on a literal interpretation of the Koran.”
“Sounds like good old Christian fundamentalism.”
“In many ways it is. But Wahhabism goes much further, calling for the complete rejection and destruction of anything and everything not based on the original teachings of Muhammad. The sect’s explosive growth began in the seventies when Saudi charities started funding Wahhabi mosques and schools, called madrassas, everywhere from Islamabad to Culver City.”
“Is the movement really that bad?”
“Was Afghanistan that bad under the Taliban? Or Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini?”
Morissonneau didn’t pause for an answer.
“Wahhabis aren’t simply interested in minds and souls. The sect has an ambitious political agenda focused on the replacement of secular leadership with a fundamentalist religious governing group or person in every Muslim country on the planet.”
Jingoist paranoia? I kept my doubts to myself.
“Wahhabis are infiltrating governments and the military throughout the Muslim world, positioning themselves in anticipation of ousting or assassinating secular leaders.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“Look at the destruction of modern Lebanon leading to the Syrian occupation. Look at Egypt and the murder of Anwar Sadat. Look at the attempts on the lives of Mubarak of Egypt, Hussein of Jordan, Musharraf of Pakistan. Look at the repression of secular leaders in Iran.”
Again, Morissonneau raised a hand and pointed a finger at me. It now trembled.
“Osama bin Laden is Wahhabi, as were the members of his nine-eleven teams. These fanatics are engaged in what they call the Third Great Jihad, or holy war, and anything, anything is fair game if it advances their cause.”
Morissonneau’s hand dropped to the crate. I saw where he was going.
“Including the bones of Jesus Christ,” I said.
“Even thepurported bones of Jesus Christ. These madmen would use their power to manipulate the press, twisting and distorting the issue to suit their purposes. A media circus over the authentication of Jesus’ bones would maim the faith of millions, and hand these jihadists the means to erode the foundation of the Church that is my life. If I could prevent such a travesty I felt obliged to do so.
“My primary reason for taking these bones was to protect my beloved Church. Fear of Islamic extremism was secondary back then. But as the years passed, that fear grew.”
Morissonneau drew air through his nose and leaned back.
“It became the reason I kept them.”
“The monastery has a crypt. Christianity has no prohibition against burial among the living.”
“You felt no obligation to notify the museum?”
“Don’t misunderstand me, Dr. Brennan. I am a man of God. Ethics mean a lot to me. This was not easy. I struggled with the decision. I have struggled with it every day.”
“But you agreed to hide the skeleton.”
“I was young when this began. God forgive me. I saw it as one of the necessary deceits of our time. Then, as time passed and no one, including the museum, seemed to be interested in the bones, I thought it best to let them lie.”
“But now it is enough. A man is dead. A decent man. A friend. Perhaps over nothing more than a box of old bones and a lunatic theory in a crazy book.”
“I trust you will do everything in your power to keep this affair confidential,” Morissonneau said.
“I’m not known for my warmth toward the press.”
“So I’ve heard.”
I must have looked surprised.
“I placed a call.”
So Morissonneau’s life wasn’t all that cloistered.
“I’ll contact the Israeli authorities,” I said. “It’s likely the bones will return to them, and it’s doubtful they’ll be calling a press conference, either.”
“What happens now is in God’s hands.”
I lifted the box. The contents shifted with a soft clunking sound.
“Please keep me informed,” Morissonneau said.
“I’ll attempt to keep your name out of this, Father. But I can’t guarantee that will be possible.”
Morissonneau started to speak. Then his mouth closed and he quit trying to explain or excuse.
IDIDN’T COME CLOSE TO KEEPING WITHIN TEN MILES OF THElimit, but luck was with me. Johnny Law was pointing his radar at some other road.
Arriving at Wilfrid Derome, I parked in the lot reserved for cops. Screw it. It was Saturday and I might have God in my Mazda.
The temperature had surged upward into the low forties, and the predicted snowfall had begun as drizzle. Dirty mounds were melting into cracks and puddling pavements and curbs.
Opening the trunk, I retrieved Morissonneau’s crate and hurried inside. Except for guards, the lobby was deserted.
So was the twelfth floor.
Setting the crate on my worktable, I stripped off my jacket and called Ryan.
My heart was thumping as I slipped on a lab coat.
Why? Did I really believe I had the skeleton of Jesus?
Of course not.
So who was in the box?
Someone had wanted these bones out of Israel. Lerner had stolen them. Ferris had transported and hidden them. Morissonneau had lied about them, against his conscience.
Had Ferris died because of them?
Religious fervor breeds obsessive actions. Whether these actions are rational or irrational depends on your perspective. I knew that. But why all the intrigue? Why the obsession to hide them but not destroy them?
Was Morissonneau right? Would jihadists kill to obtain these bones? Or was the good father lashing out against religious and political philosophies he viewed as threatening to his own?
No clue. But I intended to pursue answers to these questions as vigorously as I knew how.
I got a hammer from the storage closet.
The wood was dry. The nails were old. Splinters flew as each popped free.
Eventually, sixteen nails rested by the crate. Laying aside my hammer, I lifted the lid.
Dust. Dry bone. Smells as old as the first fossil vertebrate.
The long bones lay on the bottom, parallel, with kneecaps and hand and foot bones jumbled among them. The rest formed a middle layer. The skull was on top, jaw detached, empty orbits staring skyward. The skeleton looked like hundreds of others I’d seen, spoils of a farmer’s field, a shallow grave, a dozer cut at a demolition site.
Transferring the skull to a cork stabilizer ring, I positioned the jaw and stared at the fleshless face.
What had it looked like in life? Whose had it been?
Nope. No speculation.
One by one, I articulated every element.
Forty minutes later, an anatomically correct skeleton lay on my table. Nothing was missing save a tiny throat bone called the hyoid and a few finger and toe phalanges.
I was sliding a case form onto a clipboard when my phone rang. It was Ryan.
I told him about my morning.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Ferris and Lerner were believers.”
“Morissonneau wasn’t so sure.”
“What do you think?” Ryan asked.
“I’m just starting my analysis.”
“I’m just starting my analysis.”
“My ass ain’t mine until this stakeout’s done. But I got a call this morning. I may have caught a break on the Ferris homicide.”
“No kidding,” I said.
“When I’m cut loose here I’ll follow up,” Ryan said.
“What’s the lead?”
“When I’m cut loose here I’ll follow up.”
“Damn, we’re professional,” Ryan said.
“No reckless speculation for us,” I agreed.
“Not a hasty conclusion in sight.”
When we’d disconnected I dashed to the first-floor cafeteria, devoured a tuna sandwich and Diet Coke, and raced back to the lab.
I wanted to torpedo straight to the key questions. I forced myself to stick to protocol.
I started with gender.
Pelvis: narrow sciatic notch, narrow pelvic inlet, chunky pubic bones bridging an inverted V in front.
Skull: bulging brow ridges, blunt orbital borders, large crests, muscle attachments, and mastoid processes.
There was no wiggle room. This skeleton was all boy.
I turned to age.
Angling my light, I observed the left pelvic half where it would have joined hands with the right pelvic half in life. The surface was pitted and slightly depressed relative to the height of an oval rim circling its perimeter. Spiny growths protruded from the rim’s upper and lower edges.
The right pubic symphysis looked the same.
I got up and walked to the watercooler.
I took a drink.
I took a breath.
Calmer, I returned to the skeleton and selected ribs three through five from both sides of the chest. Only two retained undamaged sternal ends. Laying the other ribs aside, I observed this pair closely.
Both ribs ended in deep, U-shaped indentations surrounded by thin walls terminating in sharp-edged rims. Bony spicules projected from the superior and inferior borders of each rim.
I leaned back and laid down my pencil.
Feeling what? Relief? Disappointment? I wasn’t sure.
The pubic symphyses scored as phase six on the Suchey-Brooks age-determination system, a set of standards derived from the analysis of the pelves of hundreds of adults of documented age at death. For males, phase six suggests a mean age of sixty-one.
The ribs scored as phase six on the Iscan-Loth age-determination system, a set of standards based on the quantification of morphological changes in ribs collected from adults at autopsy. For males, this suggests an age range of forty-three to fifty-five.
Granted, Y-chromosomers are tremendously variable. Granted, I’d yet to observe the long bones and the molar roots radiologically. Nevertheless, I was certain my preliminary conclusion would hold. I jotted it on the case form.
Age at death: forty to sixty years.
There was no way this guy died in his thirties.
Like Jesus of Nazareth.
IfJesus of Nazareth died in his thirties. Joyce’s theory had him living until eighty.
This guy fit neither profile.
There was also no way this man had lived into his seventies.
So he also failed to fit the profile of the old male from Cave 2001. But had the isolated skeleton described by Jake’s volunteer-informant actually been the old male? Maybe not. Maybe Yadin’s septuagenarian was jumbled with the commingled bones, and the isolated skeleton was another individual altogether. An individual of forty to sixty.
Like this guy.
I flipped to the next page.
Most systems for racial assessment rely on variations in skull shape, facial architecture, dental form, and cranial metrics. Though I often rely on the latter, there was a problem.
If I took measurements and ran them through Fordisc 2.0, the program would compare my unknown to whites, blacks, American Indians, Hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese.
Big help if crate-man lived in Israel two thousand years back.
I went through the trait list on my form. Prominent nasal bones. Narrow nasal opening. Flat facial profile when viewed from the side. Cheekbones hugging the face. On and on.
Everything suggested Caucasoid, or at least European-like ancestry. Not Negroid. Not Mongoloid.
I took measurements and ran them. Every comparison placed the skull squarely with the whites.
Okay. Computer and eyeballs were in agreement.
What then? Was the man Middle Eastern? Southern European? Jewish? Gentile? I knew of no way to sort that out. Nor did DNA testing offer any help.
I moved on to stature.
Selecting the leg bones, I eliminated those with eroded or damaged ends, and measured the rest on an osteometric board. Then I plugged the measurements into Fordisc 2.0, and asked for a calculation using all males in the database, with race unknown.
Height: sixty-four to sixty-eight inches.
I spent the next several hours scrutinizing every knob and crest and hole and notch, every facet and joint, every millimeter of cortical surface under magnification. I found nothing. No genetic variations. No lesions or indicators of illness. No trauma, healed or otherwise.
No penetrating wounds in the hands or feet.
Killing the fiber-optic light on the scope, I arched backward and stretched, my shoulders and neck feeling like someone had set them on fire.
Could it be I was getting older?
I crossed to my desk, dropped into my chair, and checked my watch. Five fifty-five. Midnight in Paris.
Too late to phone.
Jake answered sounding groggy and asked me to wait.
“What’s up?” Jake had returned, whooshing a pop-top.
“It ain’t Jesus.”
“The skeleton from the Musée de l’Homme.”
“What about it?”
“I’m looking at it.”
“It’s a middle-aged white guy of average stature.”
“You’re not holding up your end of this conversation, Jake.”
“You have Lerner’s bones?”
“The skeleton he liberated is here in my lab.”
“Not this guy.”
“This guy saw forty come and go. My best estimate says he was at least fifty at death.”
“Could he have been seventy?”
“I doubt it.”
“So it’s not the older Masada male referred to by Yadin and Tsafrir.”
“Do we know for a fact that Yadin’s old guy was the isolated skeleton?”
“Actually, no. The older bones could have been mixed in with the main heap. That would leave the isolated skeleton as one of the fourteen males aged twenty-two to sixty.”
“Or totally unaccounted for.”
“Yes.” There was a long pause. “Tell me how you got the skeleton.”
I told him about Morissonneau and my visit to the monastery.
“That’s what Ryan said.”
When Jake spoke again his voice was almost a whisper.
“What are you going to do?”
“First off, tell my boss. These are human remains. They were found in Quebec. They’re the coroner’s responsibility. Also, the bones may be evidence in a homicide investigation.”
“Undoubtedly my boss will tell me to contact the appropriate authorities in Israel.”
There was another pause. Sleet plopped against the window above my desk and ran in rivulets down the glass. Twelve floors below, traffic clogged the streets and crawled the Jacques Cartier Bridge. Taillights drew glistening red ribbons on the pavement.
“You’re sure this is the skeleton in the Kessler photo?”
Good question. One I hadn’t considered.
“I saw nothing to rule that out,” I said.
“Anything to rule it in?”
“Is it worth another look?”
“I’ll do it now.”
“Will you talk to me before you contact Israel?”
“Please promise you’ll ring me first?”
Why not. Jake had initiated this whole thing.
When we hung up, I sat a moment, hand resting on the receiver. Jake sounded uneasy about my notifying the Israeli authorities. Why?
He wanted first claim on rights to publish concerning the discovery and analysis of the skeleton? He feared losing control of the skeleton? He distrusted his Israeli colleagues? He distrusted the Israeli authorities?
I had no idea. Why hadn’t I asked?
I was hungry. My back hurt. I wanted to go home, have dinner with Birdie and Charlie, and curl up with my book.
Instead I dug out Kessler’s photo and placed it under the scope. Slowly, I moved from the top of the skull south over the face.
The forehead showed no unique identifier.
I twisted my head right, then left to relieve the pain in my neck.
Back to the scope.
When the mouth came into view, I stared through the eyepiece. I looked up and across my worktable at the skull.
Something wasn’t right.
Returning my eyes to the scope, I increased magnification. The teeth ballooned.
I brought the central incisor into focus, then inched from the midline toward the back of the jaw.
My stomach knotted.
I got up, retrieved my magnifying glass, and picked up the skull. Rotating the palate upward, I examined the dentition.
The knot tightened.
I closed my eyes.
What the hell could this mean?
ICARRIED THE PHOTO FROM THE SCOPE TO THE SKULL. USING THEhand lens, I counted from the midline of the palate to a gap on the right.
Two incisors, one canine, two premolars. Gap. Two molars.
The skeleton in Kessler’s print was missing its first upper molar on the right.
The skull on my worktable was not.
Was this not the skeleton pictured in the photo?
I returned to the scope, raised it, and positioned the skull. Then I directed the fiber-optic light onto the right maxillary molars.
Under magnification, I could see that the molar roots were exposed more than normal. The socket edges were pitted and porous.
Periodontal disease. No big deal.
Whatwas a big deal was the condition of the right first upper molar’s chewing surface. The cusps were high and rounded, while the cusps on the adjacent molars were completely ground down.
What the hell was that all about?
I articulated the jaw and noted occlusion. The first molar made contact before any other molar in the row. If anything, the first molar should have exhibited greater wear than its neighbors, not less.
I leaned back and considered.
There were two possibilities. A. This was a different skeleton from that in the Kessler photo. B. This was the same skeleton, but with a molar inserted into the gap.
If a molar had been inserted, there were two possibilities. A. It was the actual tooth that had been lost from the jaw. Teeth often fall out once the soft tissue decomposes. B. It was the tooth of another, mistakenly inserted into the jaw. This possibility would explain the differential cusp wear.
When had the tooth been reinserted? Three possibilities seemed reasonable. A. At the time of burial. B. During Yadin’s excavation. C. During the skeleton’s stay at the Musée de l’Homme.
My instincts said B.
Okay. If the tooth was replaced during the Masada dig, who had done it? Many possibilities. A. Yadin. B. Tsafrir. C. Haas. D. An excavator.
My gut feeling?
An excavator found the tooth beside the skeleton, tried the jaw, it seemed to fit, he stuck it in. The Cave 2001 bones were jumbled. Good records weren’t kept. Mistakes happen all the time with students and unskilled volunteers.
So. Funerary act? Simple error? Neither of the above, different skeleton than that in Kessler’s photo?
I was in over my head. I needed an odontologist.
It was now ten past seven on a Saturday night. I knew what Marc Bergeron, our lab’s dental expert, would say.
Get apical X-rays.
I couldn’t do that until Monday.
Frustrated, I spent the next hour studying Kessler’s print under magnification.
I spotted no anatomical quirk or detail that could tie the skeleton in the photo unequivocally to the bones on my table.
For the rest of the evening I sat around feeling agitated and blocked. Birdie and I watched an NCAA basketball game. I was strongly for Duke. Bird was pulling for the Clemson Tigers. Probably a feline thing.
Sunday morning it took less than thirty minutes online to locate and order the Donovan Joyce book. The Jesus Scroll. Ads blurbed it as the most disturbing work ever written about Christianity. Good press. Too bad the thing was out of print.
Every few hours I called Jake. His mobile was off. At one, I quit leaving messages and tried his hotel. He’d checked out.
Ryan’s surveillance ended with three arrests and the confiscation of a truckload of cigarettes. He showed up at six, eyes deeply shadowed, hair wet from the shower. I had a Perrier, Ryan had a Moosehead, then we walked to Katsura on rue de la Montagne.
My patch of centre-ville was quiet. Few students milled outside Concordia University. Few fun-seekers partied on rue Crescent.
There’s something ’bout a Sunday.
Or maybe it was the temperature. Overnight, Saturday’s sleet had given way to clear skies and arctic cold.
Over sushi, I gave Ryan the rundown on Morissonneau’s skeleton, ending with my conclusion that the bones were those of a white male aged forty to sixty at the time of his death.
“So my age estimate rules out the Cave 2001 septuagenarian, the Bible’s thirty-three-year-old Jesus, and Donovan Joyce’s eighty-year-old Jesus.”
“But you’re certain Kessler’s photo shows the isolated skeleton in Cave 2001, and that that skeleton is the one Lerner stole from the Musée de l’Homme and gave to Ferris, who gave it to Morissonneau?”
“Jake’s certain. He’s talked to someone who worked as a volunteer excavator in Cave 2001. But I can’t find a single unique identifier to unequivocally tie Morissonneau’s skeleton to the one in Kessler’s photo. And there’s something going on with one of the teeth.”
I told Ryan about the odd molar.
“So you suspect it’s not the same skeleton?”
“Or it is the same skeleton, but the molar was inserted after the photo was taken.”
“Someone found the guy’s missing tooth during recovery and stuck it back in the socket?”
“You sound unconvinced.”
“The cusps look less ground down to me.”
“Meaning the tooth could be from another person, someone younger.”
“I don’t know. Maybe just a mix-up. Yadin used volunteers. Maybe one of them inserted the molar, thinking it belonged.”
“You’re going to see Bergeron?”
Ryan filled me in on his lead in the Ferris case.
“When I ran the name Kessler, not a lot popped out.”
“Dearth of Jewish felons?”
“Meyer Lansky,” Ryan said.
“I stand corrected,” I said.
“Bugsy Siegel,” Ryan added.
“Elegant,” Ryan said.
“Shakespearean,” I agreed.
“When I tinkered around, whatdid pop out was a guy named Hershel Kaplan.”
I was stumped. What follows thrice. Frice? Quatrice?
“Kaplan’s a small-time hustler. Did a couple of bumps for white-collar stuff. Credit card fraud. Check forgery. Also goes by the names Hershel Cantor and Harry Kester.”
“Let me guess. Kessler was also one of Kaplan’s aliases.”
“Hirsch Kessler.” Ryan dug a photocopy from his back pocket. “That your boy?”
I studied the photo. Glasses. Dark hair. This guy was clean-shaven.
“Maybe.” They all look alike? I felt like a moron.
I closed my eyes and conjured Kessler.
I opened my eyes and stared at the mug shot.
Subconscious ring-a-ding. What?
The craning neck. The drooping lids. A word when Kessler ambushed me outside the family room. Turtle. I’d forgotten. The same word had again flashed into my mind.
“Kessler had a beard. But I think it’s the same man.” I handed the paper back. “Sorry. It’s the best I can do.”
“It’s a start.”
“Where’s Kessler now? Kaplan?”
“I’m looking into that.”
Back home, Ryan talked with Charlie while I showered. I was standing naked by my dresser when he entered the bedroom.
I turned, a lace baby doll nightie in one hand, a satin charmeuse slip in the other.
“I’m going to have to know what you’re doing, ma’am.”
“You a cop?”
“That’s why I ask the tough questions.”
I raised the lingerie and a questioning brow.
“Put down the nighties and step away from the dresser.”
It was a typical Monday morning madhouse at the lab. Four dead in a house fire. One shooting. One hanging. Two stabbings. A crib death.
Only one case for me.
Objects had been found in the basement sink of an apartment high-rise in Côte Saint-Luc. Police suspected they were the skull bones of an infant or toddler.
After the morning meeting, I asked LaManche to follow me to my lab. I showed him Morissonneau’s skeleton, filled him in on its history and possible provenance, and explained how it had come into my possession.
As expected, LaManche assigned the remains an LSJML number, and told me to treat them as a coroner case. Final resolution would be my call. Should I declare the bones ancient, I was free to release them to the appropriate archaeologists.
When LaManche had gone, I asked my lab technician, Denis, to X-ray the skeleton’s dentition. Then I got down to the baby.
I had to admit the specimens looked like two very young and incomplete parietal bones. The concave surfaces showed the vascular patterning produced by close association with the brain’s outer surface.
Cleaning resolved the issue.
The “bones” were fragments of coconut shell. The venous patterning was the result of water action on caked mud.
When I’d delivered my report to the secretary’s office, Denis handed me a small brown envelope. I dumped the contents onto my light box.
One look strengthened my suspicion that the first maxillary molar had been reinserted into the skeleton’s jaw. And not too skillfully. On X-ray, I could see that the tooth’s angle was slightly wrong, and that the roots didn’t conform properly to their sockets.
And something else.
As a tooth ages, its cusps grind down. Okay. I’d spotted the discrepancy in wear. But other features also change with time. The older a tooth, the more secondary dentin in its pulp chamber and canal.
I’m no dentist, but the right first maxillary molar looked less radio-opaque than the other molars.
I phoned Marc Bergeron. His receptionist put me on hold. I listened to a Thousand Strings play something resembling “Sweet Caroline.” In my mind’s eye I saw a patient, reclined, agape, tubing sucking at his mouth. I was glad it wasn’t me.
Marc picked up during a mind-numbing version of “Uptown Girl.” He’d squeeze me in that afternoon.
Jake called as I was packaging the skull.
“Did you get my messages?” I asked.
“I checked out Saturday and took the midnight flight to Tel Aviv.”
“You’re in Israel?”
“ Jerusalem. What’s up?”
I told him about the inconsistency between the skeleton in the photo and the skeleton in my lab, and described the seemingly aberrant molar.
“What does it mean?”
“I’m seeing our odontologist this afternoon.”
There was a long, long pause. Then, “I want you to pull that molar and one or two others.”
“For DNA testing. I also want you to cut femoral segments. Is that a problem?”
“If Ferris and Lerner are right, these bones are almost two thousand years old.”
“It’s possible to extract mitochondrial DNA from old bone, right?”
“It’s possible. But then what? Forensic analysis is based on comparison, either to the victim’s own DNA, or to that of a family member. If mtDNAcould be extracted and amplified, to what would you compare it?”
Long Jake pause. Then, “New finds are unearthed every day. You never know what will turn up, or what will be relevant down the road. And I’ve got grant money specifically earmarked for this type of thing. What about race?”
“What about it?”
“Wasn’t there a recent case where profilers said the perp was white and some lab predicted, correctly, that the guy was black?”
“You’re thinking of the Derrick Todd Lee case in Baton Rouge. That test relies on nuclear DNA.”
“Can’t nuclear DNA be extracted from ancient bone?”
“Some claim to have done it. There’s a growing field of study on aDNA.”
“Ancient DNA. Folks at Cambridge and Oxford are working on getting nuclear DNA from archaeological material. Here in Canada, there’s an institute called the Paleo-DNA Laboratory in Thunder Bay.”
I remembered a recent article inThe American Journal of Human Genetics.
“A French group reported on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from skeletons dug from a two-thousand-year-old necropolis in Mongolia. But Jake, even if you could get nuclear DNA, racial prediction is very limited.”
“There’s a Florida company that offers a test that translates genetic markers into a prediction of likely racial mix. They claim they can predict the percentage present of Indo-European, Native American, East Asian, and sub-Saharan-African ancestry.”
“Not much help with the bones of an ancient Palestinian.”
“No,” I agreed.
I listened to another of Jake’s pauses.
“But either mito or nuclear DNA analysis might show whether that odd molar belonged to a different individual.”
“It’s a long shot.”
“But it might.”
“It might,” I conceded.
“Who does these tests?”
I told him.
“Visit your dentist, see what he says about the odd tooth. Then take samples. And cut enough bone for radiocarbon analysis, too.”
“The coroner’s not going to foot the bill,” I said.
“I’ll use my grant money.”
I was zipping my parka when Ryan came through the door.
What he told me sent my thoughts winging a one-eighty.
“MIRIAMFERRIS IS RELATED TOHERSHELKAPLAN?”
“Affinal.” I was having trouble wrapping my mind around Ryan’s statement.
“It’s a kinship term. Means linked by marriage.” Ryan gave his most boyish smile. “I use it in tribute to your anthropological past.”
I sketched a mental diagram of what he’d just said. “Miriam Ferris was married to Hershel Kaplan’s wife’s brother?”
“But Miriam denied knowing Kaplan,” I said.
“We asked about Kessler.”
“One of Kaplan’s known aliases.”
“Confusing, isn’t it?”
“If Kaplan was family, Miriam would have known him.”
“Presumably,” Ryan agreed.
“She’d have recognized him at the autopsy.”
“If she’d seen him.”
“You really think Kaplan is Kessler?” I asked.
“You were reasonably convinced by the mug shot.” Ryan was looking at the box on my table.
“Is Kaplan’s wife’s brother still alive?”
“Former wife. Before the divorce, Miriam’s husband would have been Kaplan’s brother-in-law. Anyway, the guy died of diabetic complications in ninety-five.”
“So Kaplan and his wife split, leaving him single. And Miriam’s husband died, leaving her single.”
“Yep. Ferris’s murder was a return engagement for the grieving widow. You’d think she’d be better at it. What’s in the box?”
“I’m taking Morissonneau’s skull to Bergeron for an opinion on the teeth.”
“His patients should love that.”
Ryan pulled his lips back in a ghoulish grimace.
I rolled my eyes.
“When did Miriam tie the knot with Avram Ferris?” I asked.
“Pretty quick after her first husband’s death.”
“Some widows bounce right back.”
Miriam didn’t strike me as a bouncer, but I kept the thought to myself.
“How long has Kaplan been divorced?” I asked.
“The missus bailed during his second stretch at Bordeaux.”
“I checked Kaplan’s prison sheet. The guy caused no problems, appeared sincere in his desire to improve himself, got cut loose at half time.”
“So he has a parole officer?”
“When was he released?”
“Two thousand and one. According to Hinson, Kaplan’s been a legit businessman ever since.”
“Guppies and guinea pigs.”
I raised a quizzical brow.
“Centre d’animaux Kaplan.”
“He has a pet store?”
Ryan nodded. “Owns the building. Guppies down, Kaplan up.”
“Does he still meet with the PO?”
“Monthly. Been a model parolee.”
“Never missed a check-in until two weeks ago. He failed to call or show up on February fourteenth.”
“The Monday following the weekend Avram Ferris was shot.”
“Want to pet the Pomeranians?”
“Bergeron’s expecting me at one.”
Ryan looked at his watch.
“Meet you downstairs at two-thirty?”
“I’ll bring a Milk-Bone.”
Bergeron’s office is at Place Ville-Marie, a multitowered high-rise at the corner of René-Lévesque and University. He shares it with a partner named Bougainvillier. I’d never met Bougainvillier, but I always pictured a flowering vine with glasses.
After driving to the centre-ville, I parked underground, and rode an elevator to the seventeenth floor.
Bergeron was with a patient, so I settled in the waiting room, box at my feet. A large woman sat opposite, thumbing a copy ofChâtelaine. When I reached for a magazine, she looked up and smiled. She needed a dentist.
Five minutes after my arrival, theChâtelaine woman was invited into the inner sanctum. I suspected she’d be there awhile.
Moments later a man exited the inner sanctum. His jacket was off and his tie was loose. He was moving fast.
Bergeron appeared and led me to his office. A high whining emanated from down the hall. I pictured theChâtelaine woman. I pictured the plant inThe Little Shop of Horrors.
As I unpacked my box, I sketched some background for Bergeron. He listened, bony arms crossed on bony chest, white frizz luminous in the window light.
When I’d finished Bergeron took the skull and examined the upper teeth. He examined the jaw. He articulated the jaw and studied the molar occlusion.
Bergeron held out a hand. I placed the tiny brown envelope in it.
Clicking on a light box, Bergeron arranged the dental X-rays and leaned close. His hair haloed like a dandelion in the bright fluorescence.
Seconds passed. A full minute.
“Mon Dieu, no question.” A skeletal finger tapped the second and third right upper molars. “Look at these pulp chambers and canals. This man was at least fifty. Probably older.”
The finger moved to the row’s first molar.
“There’s much less dentin deposition here. This tooth is unquestionably from a younger person.”
“How much younger?”
Bergeron straightened, pooched air through his lips. “Thirty-five. Maybe forty. No more.”
Bergeron returned to the skull.
“Minimal cusp wear. Probably the lower end of that range.”
“Can you tell when the molar was reinserted?”
Bergeron looked at me as though I’d asked him to calculate quadratic equations in his head.
“A rough estimate?” I amended.
“The glue is yellowed and flaking.”
“Wait.” I raised a palm. “You’re saying the tooth’s glued in?”
“So it wasn’t reinserted two thousand years back?”
“Definitely not. Maybe a few decades back.”
“In the sixties?”
Option B or C, insertion during Yadin’s excavation, or at the Musée de l’Homme. My gut was still going with the former.
“Would you mind extracting those three upper molars?”
“Not at all.”
Bergeron reboxed the skull and hurried from the office, his six-foot-three frame moving with all the grace of an ironing board.
I gathered the X-rays, wondering if I was making a big deal over nothing. The odd tooth came from a younger individual. Someone stuck the thing into the wrong jaw. Maybe a volunteer digger. Maybe Haas. Maybe an unskilled museum worker.
Down the hall, the whining continued.
There are myriad points at which errors of individuation can occur. Recovery. Transport. Sorting. Cleaning. Maybe the admixture took place in the cave. Maybe in Haas’s lab. Maybe later at the museum in Paris.
Bergeron returned and handed me the box and a ziplock bag.
“Anything else you can tell me?” I asked.
“Whoever replaced that molar was a dental jackass.”
Le centre d’animaux Kaplan was a two-story glass-fronted store in a row of two- and three-story glass-fronted stores on rue Jean-Talon. Signs in the window offered Nutrience dog and cat foods, tropical fish, and a special on parakeets, cage included.
Two doors opened directly off the sidewalk, one wood, one glass. Chimes jangled as Ryan pushed through the latter.
The shop was crammed with odors and sounds. Tanks bubbled along one wall, birdcages lined another, their occupants ranging from the drab to the flamboyant. Beyond the fish I could see other representatives of the Linnaean hierarchy. Frogs. A coiled snake. A small furry thing curled into a ball.
Up front were rabbits, kittens, a lizard with a wattle to rival my great aunt Minnie’s. Puppies dozed in cages. One stood, tail wagging, front paws pressed to the wire mesh. One gnawed a red rubber duck.
Parallel shelves shot the center of the store. A kid of about seventeen was sliding collars onto hangers halfway down the side opposite the birds.
Hearing chimes, the kid turned, but didn’t speak.
“Yo,” the kid said.
“Some help, please.”
Dropping his carton, the kid slouched toward us.
Ryan badged him.
“Way cool. And you would be?”
Bernie was scrupulously adhering to his interpretation of gangsta chic. Low-slung jeans with knee-level crotch, shirt unbuttoned over a grungy T. He was way too skinny to make the look work. Everyone was.
“I’m Detective Ryan. This is Dr. Brennan.”
Bernie’s eyes slid to me. They were small and dark and overset by brows that met in the middle. Bernie’d probably bought his share of Clearasil.
“We’re looking for Hershel Kaplan.”
“He’s not here.”
“Is Mr. Kaplan often away?”
Bernie raised one shoulder and cocked his head.
“Do you know where the gentleman is today?”
Bernie shrugged both shoulders.
“Are these questions too tough for you, Bernie?”
Bernie scraped hair from his forehead.
“Shall I start over?” Ryan’s voice could have frozen margaritas.
“Don’t bust my ass, man. I just work for the guy.”
A puppy began yapping. It wanted out.
“Listen carefully. Has Mr. Kaplan been here today?”
“I opened up.”
“Has he called?”
“Is Mr. Kaplan upstairs?”
“He’s on vacation, aw’right?” Bernie shifted weight from one leg to the other. There wasn’t much to shift.
“It would have been helpful if you’d said that at the outset, Bernie.”
Bernie looked at the floor.
“Do you know where Mr. Kaplan has gone?”
Bernie shook his head.
“When he’ll be back?”
The head shake continued.
“There’s something wrong here, Bernie. I’m getting the feeling you don’t want to talk to me.”
Bernie kept eyeing the mud on his sneakers.
“This going to mess up that bonus Kaplan promised?”
“Look, I don’t know.” Bernie’s head came up. “Kaplan told me to keep the place running and not talk it up that he’d split.”
“When was that?”
“Maybe a week ago.”
“Do you have a key to Mr. Kaplan’s apartment?”
Bernie didn’t respond to that.
“You still live at home, Bernie?”
“We could swing by, ask Mom to help clear this up.”
“His key might be on the ring.”
Ryan turned to me.
“Do you smell gas?”
“Maybe.” I sniffed. I smelled many things. “Yes, you could be right.”
“How about you, Bernie? You smell gas?”
“That’s the ferret.”
“Smells like gas to me.” Ryan moved a few feet to his left, then to his right, nose working the air. “Yeah. Gas. Dangerous stuff.”
Ryan turned to Bernie.
“Would you like us to check it out?”
Bernie looked skeptical.
“Wouldn’t want to guess wrong with all these creatures depending on you,” Ryan said, the essence of reasonableness.
“Yeah. Sure, man.”
Bernie crossed to the counter and pulled keys from below the register.
Ryan took the keys and turned to me.
“Citizen asked us to check out a gas leak.”
I gave a shrug that would have made Bernie proud.
Ryan and I exited the glass door, hooked a left, and reentered the building through the wooden door. A narrow staircase rose steeply to a second-floor landing.
We clumped up.
Ryan knocked. There was no answer. Ryan knocked again, harder.
“Police, Mr. Kaplan.”
“We’re coming in.”
Ryan inserted key after key. The fourth worked.
Kaplan’s apartment had a small kitchen, a living room, a bedroom, a bath with black-and-white tile and a freestanding tub. Venetian blinds covered the windows, and genuinely awful mass-market landscapes decorated the walls.
Some concessions had been made to evolving technology. The tub had been jerry-rigged with a handheld shower. A microwave had been placed on a kitchen counter. An answering machine had been connected to a bedroom phone. Otherwise, the place looked as if it had been ripped from a low-budget thirties movie.
“Elegant,” Ryan said.
“Understated,” I agreed.
“I hate it when decorators get carried away.”
“Lose all appreciation for linoleum.”
We moved to the bedroom.
A folding table held phone books, ledgers, and stacks of papers. I crossed to it and began poking around. Behind me Ryan opened and closed dresser drawers. Several minutes passed.
“Find anything?” I asked.
“A lot of bad shirts.”
Ryan shifted to the nightstand.
He made his discovery as I made mine.
IPICKED UP THE LETTER ASRYANPRESSED THE BUTTON ON THEanswering machine.
I read while listening to the sugary voice: This message is for Hershel Kaplan. Your reservation for Saturday, February twenty-sixth, has been confirmed on Air Canada flight nine-five-eight-zero, operated by El Al, departing Toronto Pearson International Airport at eleven-fiftyP. M. Please be advised that, due to heightened security, El Al requires passenger check-in at least three hours prior to departure. Have a pleasant flight.
“Kaplan’s gone to Israel,” Ryan said.
“Kaplan may have known Miriam Ferris better than we thought,” I said. “Look at this.”
Ryan crossed to me. I handed him a pale gold card.
You view happiness as an impossible dream. I have seen it in your eyes. Pleasure and joy have moved to a place beyond the scope of your imagination.
You are angry? Ashamed? Afraid? Don’t be. We are pushing forward, slowly, like swimmers moving through an angry sea. The waves will recede. We will triumph.
I pointed to initials embossed on the card. “M. F.”
“The acronym has other meanings.”
“Rarely on stationery. AndM. F. isn’t a common initial combination.”
Ryan thought a moment.
“Morgan Freeman. Marshall Field. Millard Fillmore. Morgan Fairchild.”
“I’m impressed.” I worked it. “Masahisa Fukase.”
“Fukase’s a Japanese photographer. Does amazing images of crows.”
“Some of Fairchild’s images were pretty amazing.”
Eye roll. “I have a gut feeling Miriam wrote this. But when? There’s no date. And why?”
“To cheer Kaplan in prison?”
I pointed to the note’s last line. “Wewill triumph?”
“To encourage Kaplan to pump two slugs into hubby?”
Suddenly the room felt cold and dark.
“Time to call Israel,” Ryan said.
Back at Wilfrid Derome, Ryan peeled off to the crimes contre la personne squad room, and I returned to my lab. Selecting the right femur from Morissonneau’s skeleton, I descended to autopsy room four, and placed the bone on the table.
After connecting the Stryker saw, I masked, and cut two one-inch plugs from the femur’s midshaft. Then I returned to my lab and phoned Jake. Once again, I was rousing him at the midnight hour.
I told Jake what Bergeron had said about the odd molar.
“How did someone else’s tooth get into the jaw of that skeleton?”
“It happens. My guess is the molar somehow became incorporated with the skeleton during recovery of the bones in the cave. The roots fit the socket reasonably well, so someone, maybe a volunteer digger, slipped it into the jaw.”
“And Haas later glued it.”
“Maybe. Maybe someone at the Musée de l’Homme. It’s probably just an error.”
“Did you cut samples for DNA testing?”
I reiterated my skepticism about the value of DNA in a case in which no comparative samples existed.
“I want the tests done.”
“Okay. It’s your grant money.”
“And carbon fourteen.”
“Priority or standard delivery on the radiocarbon?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Days versus weeks. And several hundred dollars.”
I gave Jake the names of the labs I intended to use. He agreed and provided a billing account number.
“Jake, if carbon-fourteen testing indicates this skeleton is as old as you say it is, you know I’ll have to contact the Israeli authorities.”
“Call me first.”
“I’ll call. But I’d like to kn-”
“Thanks, Tempe.” Quick intake of breath. I sensed Jake was about to tell me something. Then, “This could be explosive.”
I started to question that, decided not to press. I wanted to get the samples ready for morning pickup.
After disconnecting, I logged onto the Net, called up the websites, and downloaded two case-submission forms for the DNA testing, and one for the radiometric testing.
The odd molar had come from a different individual than the bones and teeth of the rest of the skeleton. I wanted it treated as a single case for DNA testing. I assigned the odd molar one sample number.
I assigned a second, single sample number to one of the plugs I’d cut from the skeleton’s femur and one of the molars Bergeron had extracted from its jaw.
I registered the second of the skeleton’s molars and the second bone plug for radiocarbon dating.
When I’d completed the paperwork, I asked Denis to FedEx the bone and tooth samples to the respective labs.
That was it. There was nothing else I could do.
Frost crept across my windows. Snow capped the slats of my side-yard fence.
My casework entered a typical late winter lull. No hikers or campers. Fewer kids in the parks. Snow on the land, ice on the river. Scavengers hunkered in, waiting out winter.
Come spring, the bodies would blossom like monarchs swarming north. For now, it was quiet.
Tuesday morning, I purchased Yadin’s popular work on Masada. Beautiful photographs, chapters and chapters on the palaces, bathhouses, synagogues, and scrolls. But Jake was right. Yadin devoted barely a page to the cave skeletons, and included only one lonely photo. Hard to believe the book triggered such a controversy when it was published in ’66.
Tuesday afternoon, Ryan learned that Hershel Kaplan had entered Israel on February 27. Kaplan’s present whereabouts were unknown. The Israel National Police were looking for him.
Ryan phoned Wednesday afternoon to ask if I’d like to accompany him on a follow-up with Courtney Purviance, then grab some dinner.
“Follow-up on what?”
“No biggie, just a detail on one of Ferris’s associates. Guy named Klingman says he stopped by to see Ferris that Friday, couldn’t scare anyone up. Just dottingi ’s and crossingt ’s.”
What the hell. I had nothing better to do.
Ryan picked me up around four. Purviance lived in a typical Montreal walk-up in Saint-Léonard. Gray stone. Blue trim. Iron staircase shooting straight up the front.
The lobby was small, the tile floor filmed by salty snowmelt. Beside the interior door were four mail slots, each with a handwritten nameplate and buzzer. Purviance lived in unit 2-B.
Ryan thumbed the button. A female voice answered. Ryan gave his name. The woman responded with a question.
While Ryan cleared security, I scanned the names of the other tenants.
Purviance told Ryan to wait.
He turned. I must have been smiling.
“What’s so funny?”
“Look at these names.” I pointed to 1-A. “How does that translate in French?”
I tapped 1-B. “That’s ‘olive’ in Italian.” 2-A. “That’s ‘oak’ in Latvian. We’ve got an international arborist convention, right here in Saint-Léonard.”
Ryan smiled and shook his head.
“I don’t know how your brain works, Brennan.”
“Stunning, isn’t it?”
The door buzzed. We climbed to the second floor.
When Ryan knocked, Purviance again asked that he identify himself. He did. A million locks rattled. The door cracked. A nose peeked out. The door closed. A chain disengaged. The door reopened.
Ryan introduced me as a colleague. Purviance nodded and led us to a tiny living room filled with way too much furniture. Filled with way too much, period. Every shelf, tabletop, and horizontal surface was crammed with memorabilia.
Purviance had been watching aLaw amp; Order rerun. Briscoe was telling a suspect he didn’t know jack.
Clicking off the TV, Purviance took a seat opposite Ryan. She was short, blonde, and twenty pounds overweight. I guessed her age at just north of forty.
As the two talked, I checked out the apartment.
The living room gave onto a dining room, which gave onto a kitchen, shotgun style. I assumed the bedroom and bath were reached by a short hallway branching off to the right. With the exception of the room in which we were seated, I guessed the place received natural light a total of one hour a day.
I refocused on Ryan and Purviance. The woman looked drawn and weary, but now and then sunlight caught her face. When that happened Courtney Purviance was startlingly beautiful.
Ryan was asking about Harold Klingman. Purviance was explaining that Klingman owned a shop in Halifax. Her fingers adjusted and readjusted the fringe on a throw pillow.
“Would Klingman’s visit to Ferris have been unusual?”
“Mr. Klingman often dropped by the warehouse when he was in Montreal.”
“You were out sick that Friday.”
“I have sinus problems.”
I believed it. Purviance’s speech was punctuated with frequent sniffing. She cleared her throat repeatedly. Every few seconds, a hand darted from the pillow and swiped her nose. I found myself fighting the urge to hand her a tissue.
“You said earlier that Ferris was acting moody just before his death. Can you elaborate on that?”
Purviance shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know. He seemed quieter.”
“He didn’t joke around as much.” The fringe-straightening intensified. “Kept to himself more.”
“Got any theories why that might have been?”
Purviance snorted, then abandoned the pillow for a go at her nose. “Talked much with Miriam?”
“You think there was trouble on the home front?”
Purviance raised her brows and palms in a “beats me” gesture.
“Did Ferris ever mention marital difficulties?”
Ryan asked a few more questions about Purviance’s relationship with Miriam, then moved on to other topics. Another fifteen minutes, and he wrapped up.
After leaving, we grabbed an early dinner on Saint-Laurent. Ryan asked my impression of Purviance. I told him the lady clearly had no love for Miriam Ferris. And she needed a good nasal spray.
Thursday, the Donovan Joyce book arrived. The Jesus Scroll. I opened it around noon, intending a quick scan.
At some point it began to snow. When I looked up, the sky had dimmed, and my side-yard fence caps had grown into tall, furry hats.
Joyce’s theory was more bizarre than that in my airport novel. It went something like this.
Jesus was Mary’s illegitimate son. He survived the cross. He married Mary Magdalene. He lived to a ripe old age, wrote his last will and testament, and was killed during the final siege at Masada.
Jake’s summary of Joyce’s involvement with Max Grosset had been accurate. According to Joyce, Grosset was an American professor with a British accent who’d worked as a volunteer archaeologist at Masada. Grosset told Joyce, during a chance encounter at Ben-Gurion airport in December of 1964, that he’d unearthed the Jesus scroll the previous field season, hidden it, then returned to Masada to retrieve it.
Joyce got a peek at Grosset’s scroll in the airport men’s room. To Joyce, the writing looked Hebrew. Grosset said it was Aramaic, and translated the first line. Yeshua ben Ya’akob Gennesareth. “Jesus of Gennesareth, son of Jacob/James.” The writer had added the astonishing information that he was the last in the line of the Maccabean kings of Israel.
Though offered $5,000, Joyce refused to assist Grosset in smuggling the scroll out of Israel. Grosset succeeded on his own, and the scroll ended up in Russia.
Later, unable to pursue his original book topic because he’d been denied permission to visit Masada, and intrigued by what he’d seen in the men’s room at Ben-Gurion, Joyce had researched the name on the scroll. The appellation “Son of James” was used, Joyce concluded, because Joseph had died childless, and, according to Jewish law, his brother James would have raised Mary’s illegitimate child. “Gennesareth” was one of history’s several names for the Sea of Galilee.
Joyce was so convinced of the scroll’s authenticity that he spent the next eight years researching Jesus’ life.
I was still reading when Ryan arrived with enough food to feed Guadalajara.
I popped a Diet Coke. Ryan popped a Moosehead. As we ate enchiladas, I hit the main points.
“Jesus viewed himself as a descendant in the Hasmonean line.”
Ryan looked at me.
“The Maccabean kings. His movement wasn’t simply religious. It was a grab for political power.”
“Oh good. Another conspiracy theory.” Ryan dipped a finger in the guacamole. I handed him a tortilla.
“According to Joyce, Jesus wanted to be king of Israel. That pissed Rome off, and the penalty was death. But Jesus wasn’t betrayed, he surrendered to authorities following negotiation by an intermediary.”
“Let me guess. Judas?”
“Yep. The deal was that Pilate would release Barabas, and Jesus would turn himself in.”
“And why would he do that?”
“Barabas was his son.”
“I see.” Ryan wasn’t buying any of it.
“This prisoner exchange involved an escape mechanism, and the whole plan depended on controlling the clock.”
“Life is timing.”
“Do you want to hear this?”
“Is there any possibility of sex right now?”
I narrowed my eyes.
“I want to hear this.”
“There were two forms of crucifixion-slow and fast. Slow, a prisoner could last up to seven days. Fast, you were dead in twenty-four hours. According to Joyce, Jesus and his followers had to time his execution so that fast was the only option.”
“Fast would be my choice.”
“Sabbath was approaching. And Passover. According to Jewish law, no corpse could remain on a cross.”
“But crucifixion was a Roman show.” Ryan went for another enchilada. “Historians agree Pilate was a tyrant and a bully. Would he have given a rat’s ass about Jewish law?”
“It was in Pilate’s interest to keep the locals happy. Anyway, the plot involved the use of a death-mimicking drug. Papaver somniferum orClaviceps purpurea. ”
“I love it when you talk dirty.”
“The opium poppy and ergot, a lysergic-acid producing fungus. In modern lingo, heroin and LSD. Both were known in Judea. The drug would have been administered via the sponge on the reed. According to the Gospels, Jesus first refused the sponge, later accepted it, drank, and immediately died.”
“Only you’re saying he lived.”
“I’m not saying it. Joyce is.”
“How do you get a live body down from a cross in front of witnesses and guards?”
“Keep the witnesses at a distance. Bribe the guards. It’s not like there was a coroner standing by.”
“Let me get this straight. Jesus is out cold. He’s whisked to the tomb, later spirited away, nursed back to health, and somehow ends up at Masada.”
“That’s what Joyce says.”
“What was this wingnut doing in Israel?”
“Nice to see you’re keeping an open mind. Joyce went to research a book on Masada. But the Israeli authorities denied him access.”
“Maybe the Grosset incident is a figment of Joyce’s imagination. Or a story he invented out of spite.”
“Maybe it is.” I helped myself to the last of the salsa. “Or maybe it’s real.”
Nothing much happened for the next few days. I finished the Joyce book. I finished the Yadin book.
Jake was right on that account, too. Yadin described the remains from the Herodian period. He discussed the Romans who’d occupied Masada briefly after 73C. E., and Byzantine monks who’d settled there in the fifth and sixth centuries. He gave detailed information on the period of the Jewish revolt, including an elaborate discussion of the three skeletons found in the northern palace. Wide-angles, close-ups, diagrams, maps. But just one photo and a few paragraphs on the cave skeletons.
On Sunday, Ryan and I went skating on Beaver Lake, then gorged on mussels at L’Actuel on rue Peel. I hadla casserole marinière au vin blanc. Ryan hadla casserole à l’ail. I’ve got to credit the boy. He can handle garlic that would kill a marine.
On Monday I logged into my e-mail and found a report from the radiometric-testing lab.
I hesitated. What if the skeleton was only a century old? Or medieval, like the shroud of Turin?
What if it dated to the time of Christ?
If it did, it did. So what? My estimate of age at death made the individual too old to be Jesus. Or too young, if you believed Joyce.
I double-clicked to open the file.
The lab had found sufficient organic material to triple-test each bone and tooth sample. The results were presented as raw data, then calibrated to a date in years before present, and to a calendar date range, given asC. E. orB. C. E. Nothing politically incorrect about archaeology.
I looked at the dates derived from the tooth.
Sample 1: Mean Date (BP-years before present) 1,970 +/- 41 years
Calendar date range 6 BCE-76 CE
Sample 2: Mean Date (BP-years before present) 1,937 +/- 54 years
Calendar date range 14 CE-122 CE
Sample 3: Mean Date (BP-years before present) 2,007 +/- 45 years
Calendar date range 47 BCE-43 CE
I looked at the femoral dates. Total overlap with the dental dates.
The skeleton dated to the time of Christ.
I experienced a moment of total blankness. Then arguments and questions bumper-car-ed through my brain.
What did it mean?
Who to call?
I dialed Ryan, got his voice mail, and left a message telling him the bones were two thousand years old.
I dialed Jake. Voice mail. Same message.
The urge expelled all momentary uncertainty. Grabbing jacket and purse, I bolted for the Montérégie.
Within an hour I was at l’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges. This time I went straight through the orange door into the lobby separating the library from Morissonneau’s office corridor. No one appeared.
Muffled chanting floated from somewhere to my right. I started toward it.
I’d gone ten yards when a voice stopped me.
“Arrêtez!”More hiss than speech. Halt!
“You have no right to be here.” In the dim light, the monk’s eyes looked devoid of pupils.
“I’ve come to see Father Morissonneau.”
The hooded face stiffened.
“Who are you?”
“Dr. Temperance Brennan.”
“Why do you disturb us in our sorrow?” The dead black eyes bore straight into mine.
“I’m sorry. I must speak with Father Morissonneau.”
Something flicked in the gaze, like a match flaring behind darkly tinted glass. The monk crossed himself.
His next words sent ice up my spine.
Not a flicker in the gargoyle stare.
“When?” I sputtered. “How?”
“Why have you come here?” The monk’s voice wasn’t cold or warm. It was neutral, devoid of emotion.
“Father Morissonneau and I met not long ago. He seemed fine.” I made no effort to mask my shock. “When did he die?”
“Almost a week ago.” Flat, revealing nothing beyond the words.
“You are family?”
I dug a card from my purse and handed it to him. The monk’s eyes slid down, back up.
“On Wednesday, March second, the Abbot failed to return from his morning walk. The grounds were searched. His body was found on one of the paths.”
I sucked in air.
“His heart had failed.”
I thought back. Morissonneau had looked perfectly healthy. Robust, even.
“Was the abbot under the care of a physician?”
“I am not at liberty to share that information.”
“Did he have a history of coronary disease?”
The monk didn’t bother to answer that.
“Was the coroner notified?”
“The Lord God reigns over life and death. We accept his wisdom.”
“The coroner doesn’t,” I snapped.
Strobe images. Ferris’s shattered skull. Morissonneau stroking a box of old bones. A Burne-Jones paintingThe Resurrection. Words about jihad. Assassination.
I was growing frightened. And angry.
“Where is Father Morissonneau now?”
“With the Lord.”
I gave the monk a screw-you look.
“Where is his body?”
The monk frowned.
A robed arm unfolded and gestured in the direction of the door. I was being ushered out.
I could have argued that the priest’s death should have been reported, that by failing to do so the monks had broken the law. This didn’t seem the time.
Mumbling condolences, I hurried from the monastery.
On the drive back to Montreal, my fear escalated. What had Jake said about the skeleton Morissonneau had given me? Its discovery could be explosive.
Avram Ferris had possessed the skeleton and he’d been shot. Sylvain Morissonneau had possessed the skeleton and he was dead.
Now I possessed the skeleton. Was I in danger?
Every few minutes my eyes jerked to the rearview mirror.
Had Morissonneau really died of natural causes? The man had been in his fifties. He’d looked perfectly fit.
Had be been murdered?
My chest felt tight. The car seemed hot and cramped. Though the weather was frigid, I cracked a window.
Ferris had died sometime over the weekend of February twelfth. Kessler/Kaplan had entered Israel on the twenty-seventh. Morissonneau had been found dead on March second.
If Morissonneau’s death was due to foul play, Kaplan couldn’t have been involved.
Unless Kaplan had returned to Canada.
Again, I checked my rear. Nothing but empty highway.
I’d visited Morissonneau on Saturday, the twenty-sixth. He’d died four days later.
A coincidence the size of Lake Titicaca.
Time to call the Israeli authorities.
The lab was relatively calm for a Monday. Only four autopsies were in progress downstairs.
Upstairs, LaManche was leaving to lecture at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa. I stopped him in the corridor and shared my concerns over Morissonneau’s death. LaManche said he’d look into it.
I then explained the carbon-14 results on the skeleton.
“Given an estimated age of roughly two thousand years, you are free to release the bones to the proper authorities.”
“I’ll get on it,” I said.
“Without delay. We have such limited storage space.”
LaManche paused, remembering, perhaps, the Ferris autopsy and its overseers.
“And it is best to avoid offending any of our religious communities.” Another pause. “And, remote as the possibility may be, international incidents can arise from the most harmless of circumstances. We would not want that to happen. Please, do this as soon as possible.”
Remembering my promise, I phoned Jake. He was still not answering. I left a message informing him that I was about to contact the Israeli authorities concerning turnover of Morissonneau’s skeleton.
I sat a moment, wondering which agency to phone. I hadn’t asked Jake because I’d promised to speak with him again before I made the call. Now he was unavailable, and LaManche wanted the case resolved.
My thoughts took a detour. Why was Jake so uneasy about my speaking to Israel? What was he afraid of? Was there someone in particular he wanted out of the loop?
Back to the question at hand. I was certain the Israel National Police would have no interest in a death two millennia back. Though Israeli archaeology was not my bailiwick, I knew most countries have agencies to oversee the preservation of cultural heritage, including antiquities.
I logged on to the Internet, and Googled the words “ Israel ” and “antiquities.” Almost every listing included a reference to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Five minutes of surfing got me a number.
I checked the time. Eleven-twentyA. M. Six-twentyP. M. in Israel. I doubted anyone would be working this late.
I punched the digits.
A woman answered on the second ring.
“Shalom. This is Dr. Temperance Brennan. I’m sorry, but I don’t speak Hebrew.”
“You’ve reached the offices of the Israel Antiquities Authority.” Heavily accented English.
“I’m calling from the Laboratoire de sciences judiciaires et de médecine légale in Montreal, Canada.”
“I’m forensic anthropologist for the medical-legal lab in Montreal.”
“Yes.” Boredom tinged with impatience.
“Remains have come to light here under somewhat unusual circumstances.”
“A human skeleton.”
“Yes?” Slightly less bored.
“There is evidence to suggest this skeleton may have been unearthed at Masada during Yigael Yadin’s excavation in the sixties.”
“Your name, please?”
I did. For a full five minutes. Then the woman came back on. She did not sound bored.
“May I ask how this skeleton came into your possession?”
“I’ll explain the situation to the proper authority.”
“The IAA is the proper authority.”
“Who is the director, please?”
“Perhaps I should speak with Mr. Blotnik.”
“He’s gone for the day.”
“Is it possible to reach-”
“Dr. Blotnik dislikes interruptions at home.”
For some reason, I felt reluctant to divulge the full story. Jake’s admonition not to call before contacting him? LaManche’s reference to international relations? Irrational gut reaction? I didn’t know, but there it was.
“I mean no disrespect. But I would prefer to speak with the director.”
“I am physical anthropologist for the IAA. If the bones are to come here, Dr. Blotnik will direct me to handle the transaction.”
“And you are?”
“Ruth Anne Bloom.”
“I’m sorry, Dr. Bloom, but I’ll need verification from the director.”
“That’s a highly unusual request.”
“I’m still making it. This is a highly unusual skeleton.”
“May I have your contact information?” Glacial.
I gave Bloom my cell and lab phone numbers.
“I’ll pass on the message.”
I thanked her and hung up.
Logging back on to the Internet, I Googled Tovya Blotnik. The name came up in conjunction with several articles addressing a controversy over an ancient stone coffin called the James ossuary. In each, Blotnik was cited as director-general of the IAA.
Okay. Blotnik was kosher. So why the hindbrain heads-up to be cautious with Bloom?
The fact that Lerner and Ferris thought the skeleton in my lab was Jesus Christ? The fact that Jake asked me not to do what I was doing?
I wasn’t sure. But again, there it was.
I was shooting the last few pictures of Morissonneau’s skeleton when Ryan reappeared, looking like the cat that swallowed Big Bird. I waved him into the lab.
“They’ve got him,” he said.
“I’ll bite,” I said.
“How’d they catch him?”
“Genius failed to pay for a bauble.”
“He stole something?”
“Slipped a necklace into his pocket. All a terrible mistake. He intended to pay.”
“Of course. What now?”
“I’d like to haul his ass back to Canada.”
“Can you do that?”
“Not unless we charge him. Then we can formally request extradition through external affairs.”
“Have you got enough to charge him?”
“He’d fight it anyway.”
Ryan chin-gestured the skeleton. “What’s happening with Masada Max?”
“Carbon fourteen puts his birthday somewhere around the time of the Bethlehem star.”
“I’m trying to send him back to Israel.”
I told Ryan about my conversation with the IAA.
“What got your sonar pinging?”
I thought about that.
“Jake told me not to talk to anyone in Israel until I’d spoken with him.”
“So why call?”
“LaManche wants the skeleton gone.”
“Why not level with Bloom?”
“Jake’s caution, I suppose. I’m not sure. A little voice just told me to wait and talk to Blotnik.”
“Probably a good bet.”
“There’s something else.”
I told him about Morissonneau.
Ryan’s brows dipped. He was about to speak when both my cell and his beeper erupted.
Ryan took the gizmo from his belt, checked the number, and pointed at my desk phone. I nodded and stepped into the adjoining lab.
“Tovya Blotnik calling from Jerusalem.” Santa voice. Rich and jolly as hell.
“I’m delighted to hear from you, sir. I wasn’t expecting your call before morning.”
“Ruth Anne Bloom phoned me at home.”
So much for the ban on interruptions.
“Thank you for taking the time,” I said.
“Not at all. Not at all. It’s a pleasure to accommodate foreign colleagues.” Blotnik chuckled. “You work for a coroner in Canada?”
I explained my position.
“Right, then. What’s this about a skeleton from Masada?”
I described the photo that had started it all. Then, using no names, I told Blotnik how the skeleton had been stolen from the Musée de l’Homme by Yossi Lerner, then hidden by Avram Ferris and Sylvain Morissonneau.
I outlined the radiocarbon results.
I did not mention Hershel Kaplan. I did not mention the Joyce book, or the reason behind the theft and concealment of the bones. I did not mention the samples I’d sent off for DNA testing.
I did not mention the fact that Ferris and Morissonneau were dead.
“You obtained this photo how?” Blotnik asked.
“From a member of the local Jewish community.” True enough.
“Probably all nonsense.” The jovial chuckle now sounded forced. “But we can’t ignore this, now can we?”
“I think not.”
“And I’m sure you’re quite anxious to be rid of this mess.”
“I’ve been authorized to release the bones. If you’ll provide a shipping address, I’ll arrange with FedEx-”
No chuckle there.
“No, no. I can’t put you to all that trouble. I’ll send someone.”
“From Israel to Quebec?”
“It’s no problem.”
“Dr. Blotnik, archaeological materials are transported internationally all the time. I’m perfectly happy to package the materials and use any shipping service you select-”
“I must insist.”
I said nothing.
“There have been some unfortunate outcomes recently. Perhaps you’ve heard of the James ossuary?”
The James ossuary was the ancient stone coffin mentioned in the Internet links. I vaguely recalled something in the news a few years back about damage to an ossuary on loan to the Royal Ontario Museum.
“The James ossuary was the piece broken in transport to Toronto?”
“Smashed would be a better word. En route from Israel to Canada.”
“It’s your call, sir.”
“Please. This is best. I’ll be back in touch shortly with the name of the envoy.”
Before I could reply Blotnik cut me off.
“The skeletonis in a secure location?”
“Security is of the utmost importance. Make sure no one has access to those bones.”
I returned to my lab as Ryan was cradling the receiver.
“Kaplan’s not talking,” he said.
“Guy in major crimes over there says he’ll turn up the heat.”
Ryan noticed that I was disconnected from the conversation.
“What’s up, sunshine?”
“I don’t know.”
Ryan’s expression reshaped subtly.
“Too much cloak and dagger over this skeleton,” I said. “Even if itis the missing Masada skeleton. If thereis a missing Masada skeleton.”
I recounted my conversation with Blotnik.
“A five-thousand-mile trip seems a bit drastic,” Ryan agreed.
“A bit. Antiquities are routinely shipped around the globe. There are companies that specialize in doing just that.”
“How about this.” Ryan placed a hand on each of my shoulders. “We have a nice dinner, go back to your place, maybe slip into something derived from the art of dance.”
“I didn’t order the tap pants.”
My gaze drifted to the window. I felt anxious and restless, and didn’t know why.
Ryan stroked my cheek. “Nothing’s going to change overnight, Tempe.”
Ryan was dead wrong.
THAT NIGHTIDREAMED OF THE MAN NAMED TOVYABLOTKIN. He was wearing dark glasses and a black hat, like Belushi and Aykroyd in their Blues Brothers act. Blotkin was on his haunches, scraping with a trowel. It was dark, and each time his head moved moonlight glinted off his lenses.
In my dream Blotkin plucked something from the ground, rose, and offered the object to a second figure whose back was to me. The second figure turned. It was Sylvain Morissonneau. He was holding a small black canvas.
Light seeped from Morissonneau’s fingertips as he scratched dirt from the canvas. Slowly, a painting emerged. Four figures in a tomb: two angels, a woman, the risen Jesus.
Jesus’ features dissolved leaving only a skull, gleaming and brilliant white. A new face took shape above the orbits and orifices, like fog congealing in mountain terrain. It was the face of Jesus that had hung over my grandmother’s bed. The Jesus with gimmicky I’m-following-you-everywhere eyes. The Jesus that had frightened me throughout my childhood.
I tried to run. I was fixed in place.
The Jesus mouth opened. A tooth floated out. The tooth grew and spiraled toward me.
I tried to bat it down.
My lids flew up.
The room was dark save for the digits on my clock radio. Ryan snored softly beside me.
My dreams are normally not Freudian puzzlers. My subconscious takes events and weaves them into psychedelic tapestries. Morissonneau’s comment about the dreamlike quality of Burne-Jones’s paintings? Whatever the trigger, this one had been a beaut.
I looked at the clock. Five forty-two.
I tried sleeping.
At six-fifteen I gave up.
Birdie trailed me to the kitchen. I made coffee. Charlie wolf-whistled, broke off, and rummaged in his seed dish.
I took my mug to the sofa. Birdie settled in my lap.
Outside, two sparrows poked fruitlessly at the courtyard snow. I knew how they felt.
More questions than answers on the skeleton. No explanation of how Sylvain Morissonneau died. No progress on Ferris.
No idea why Jake hadn’t returned my calls.
Or had he?
Tiptoeing into the bedroom, I retrieved my purse, returned to the sofa, and dug out my cell phone.
Jake had called. Twice.
Damn! Why hadn’t I heard?
I’d been engaged in festivities with Ryan.
Jake had left a simple message. Twice. Call me.
I punched in Jake’s number. He answered right away.
“It’s a good thing you’ve got international coverage,” I said. “All this speed-dialing to Jerusalem would force me to mortgage the place on St. Bart’s.”
“You’ve got a place on St. Bart’s?”
“No. But I’d like one.” Birdie reoccupied my lap. “The carbon-fourteen results came back. The skeleton’s two thousand years old.”
“Have you contacted anyone?” Jake asked.
“The IAA. I had to, Jake.”
“Who did you speak with?” Tight.
“Tovya Blotnik. He wants to send an envoy to Montreal to collect the bones.”
“Does Blotnik know you took samples for DNA testing?”
“No. You do know those results will take longer?”
Jake ignored my question.
“Does he know about the odd tooth?”
“No. I thought you might want to talk about that first. Jake, there’s something else.” I told him about Morissonneau.
“Holy crap. Do you think the guy’s ticker really clocked out?”
“I don’t know.”
Empty air. Then, “Did Blotnik say anything about a tomb or an ossuary?”
“He mentioned a James ossuary.”
More empty air. Charlie filled it on my end with a line from “Strokin’.” I wondered briefly what the cockatiel had witnessed the night before. Jake’s voice brought me back.
“You’re sure he said James ossuary?”
“Yes. What’s the big deal with this James ossuary?”
“Never mind that for now. Tempe, listen to me. Listen carefully. This is important. Don’t mention the DNA samples. All right? Can you hold back on that for a bit?”
“Can you please trust me and promise you won’t mention the DNA testing for now?”
“At this point there’s nothing to mention.”
“And I don’t want you to give that skeleton to Blotnik.”
“Please. Can you do this for me?”
“Not if you won’t tell me what’s going on. Whyshouldn’t I cooperate with the IAA?”
“I can’t discuss this by phone.”
“If Masada is the place of origin, legally I must return the skeleton to Israel. I have no choice.”
“Bring it yourself. I’ll pay your expenses.”
“I can’t dance off to Israel right now.”
“Why not? I’ll deal with Blotnik.”
“Bring it myself?”
What would I tell LaManche? Ryan? Who would take care of Birdie? Charlie?
Jesus, I was thinking like my mother.
“I’ll have to think about this, Jake.”
“Screw thinking. Just come to Israel and bring the skeleton.”
“You don’t seriously believe I’ve got the bones of Jesus?”
Long pause. When Jake spoke again his voice was different, lower and more guarded.
“All I can say is that I’m onto something big.”
“If I’m right, it’s mammoth. Please, Tempe. Book a flight. Or I can do it for you. I’ll meet you at Ben-Gurion. Don’t tell anyone you’re coming.”
“I don’t want to spoil your George Smiley moment, but-”
“Say you’ll make the trip.”
“I’ll think about it.”
I was doing that when Ryan appeared. He’d pulled on jeans. Just jeans. The jeans hung low.
My libido sat up.
Ryan noticed it do so.
“I could lose the Levi’s so you can ogle the naughty bits.”
“I made coffee.”
Ryan kissed my head, yawned, and disappeared. Birdie jumped down and padded after him.
I heard rattling, then the refrigerator. Ryan reappeared with my AAFS mug, dropped into an armchair, and thrust both legs full length.
Charlie whistled a line from “ Dixie,” then screeched, “Strokin’!”
“Did I hear conversation?” Ryan asked.
I waggled the cell phone. “Jake wants me to deliver Morissonneau’s skeleton to Israel. He’s pretty insistent.”
“Land of sun and fun.”
“And suicide bombers.”
“And that.” Ryan blew across his coffee. “Do you want to go to Israel?”
“I do and I don’t.”
“I love a woman who knows her mind.”
“I’ve always wanted to visit the Holy Land.”
“Things are slow. Your lab wouldn’t implode if you disappeared for a week.”
“What about the boys?” I swept a hand at Birdie and Charlie. “What if Katy needed me?”
I felt instantly stupid. My daughter was twenty-four and a thousand miles away. And a short drive from her father.
“Violence got you nervous?”
“I’ve traveled to dicier places.”
“Why not go?”
I had no answer.
Iwas needed at the lab.
Two kids found bones in a trunk in their uncle’s attic. Cold case! Call the cops!
The bones were human. Female, white, thirty to forty years at the time of her death.
Important detail. Every bone had been drilled with tiny holes. Some holes still sported wires.
The knee bone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the foot bone.
You get the picture. Unc was a retired physician. The kids’ unknown was a teaching skeleton.
My report was completed by 9:05.
After lunch, my thoughts veered to Jake and his guarded mention of a major discovery. What discovery? And why such concern for Masada Max, as Ryan had taken to calling the skeleton? Max couldn’t possibly be Jesus. Max had been too old at the time of his death.
Or too young. Wasn’t that the premise of the Joyce book?
Both Jake and Blotnik had made reference to the James ossuary. Several Internet articles had mentioned it.
Curious, I did some cyber-surfing.
It yielded the following.
An ossuary is a small stone casket.
Ossuaries served an important function in Jewish burial in first-century Israel. The deceased were entombed and left to decay. One year later, their bones were collected and permanently interred in ossuaries.
Thousands of ancient ossuaries have been discovered throughout Israel and Palestine. One can be purchased on the antiquities market for a few hundred dollars.
The James ossuary is a first-century limestone box measuring approximately twenty inches in length. It is inscribed in Aramaic with the words “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”
When first reported in 2002, the James ossuary made a big splash. According to many, before its discovery, no evidence of Jesus existed outside written texts. The box was heralded as the first physical link to Jesus.
Okay. That’s big.
In 2003, an IAA authentication committee was formed. The committee declared the box legit, the inscription a forgery, based largely on oxygen isotope analysis of patina, an encrustation caused by surface oxidation.
The finding led to controversy. Many experts disagreed, calling the committee’s work sloppy, its conclusions premature.
Bottom line? No one disputes the age of the box. Some question the inscription, in whole or in part. Some accept the whole enchilada.
Ryan came by at two. Resting a haunch on my desk, he raised his brows. I raised mine back.
“Just for kicks I ran a check on your monastery. Address kicked out something interesting.”
I leaned back in my chair.
“Father André Gervais dimed the SQ post in Saint-Hyacinthe one week ago today.”
“Gervais is a monk at l’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges?”
Ryan nodded. “Seems the boys were edgy about a car with two male occupants parked inside their wall. Saint-Hyacinthe sent a cruiser to check it out.” Ryan paused for effect. “Both the driver and passenger were Palestinian nationals.”
“Nope. The other team.” Ryan checked a spiral pad. “Jamal Hasan Abu-Jarur. Muhammed Hazman Shalaideh. Car was a rental.”
“What were they doing out there?”
“Claimed they were sightseeing and got lost. Both men had valid passports. Names came up clean. The cop told them to move along.”
“When was this?”
My scalp prickled.
“Three days after my visit. One day before Morissonneau died.”
“Could be coincidence.”
“We’re running into a lot of those.”
“Now for the good news.”
“Hershel Kaplan made fourteen trips to Israel in the two years prior to his last jolt in Bordeaux. Turns out Kaplan’s cousin to one of Jerusalem ’s less fastidious antiquities dealers.”
“Ira Friedman’s the Israel National Police major crimes dick I’ve been dealing with. Friedman worked Kaplan pretty hard, suggested they were looking at him for violations of the Antiquities Law, the Protection of Holy Places Law, the desecration of graves, the destruction of cultural resources, tax fraud, smuggling, trespass, the rape of the lock, the mutiny on theBounty, the murder of Lesnitsky, the kidnapping of Rapunzel, the theft of the golden fleece, and the wreck of theEdmund Fitzgerald. ”
“He said that?”
“I’m paraphrasing. Friedman got Kaplan thinking seriously about his future. He also dropped my name, mentioned that Canada wanted to discuss the rubber content of some checks.”
“Ploy worked. Kaplan’s developed an enormous interest in talking to the home folks.”
“Wants me, and only me.”
“Man’s got good instincts.”
Ryan smiled a smile as wide as the Chattahoochee. “Friedman wants me in Jerusalem. The brass okayed it.”
“The SQ’s actually footing the bill?”
“Amazing, eh? External affairs rolled it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The Mounties bumped it back to us. I’m lead investigator on the Ferris homicide, so I’m the lucky traveler.”
“We’ll be in high demand in Israel,” I said.
“Shall we oblige?” Ryan asked.
THERE’S ONE ADVANTAGE TO FLYING INTO A WAR ZONE. SEATavailability.
As I booked with Air Canada, Denis wrapped Masada Max and packed him into a hockey bag. Then I raced home to arrange cat and cockatiel care. Winston, my building’s custodian, agreed. I’d owe him a fifth of Crown Royal.
I was stuffing a suitcase when Ryan buzzed. Zipping the lid, I dug a catnip mouse from my stash, tossed it to Birdie, and flew out the door.
I have known Ryan for years and traveled with him on several occasions. The man has many fine qualities. Patience in airports is not among them.
We took the 7P. M. shuttle to Toronto, Ryan grousing all the way about premature departures and long layovers.
He needn’t have worried. Our AC flight to Tel Aviv was operated by El Al, and security was tighter than Los Alamos in the forties. By the time we explained and reexplained the contents of my carry-on and its supporting documentation, cleared the panty-by-panty luggage check, and discussed our life histories and future aspirations in the personal interrogation session, it was after ten.
Ryan used the few minutes left to sweet-talk the gate agent. Between giggles, the nice lady upgraded us to business class.
We boarded on time. We departed on time. An aviation miracle.
At cruising altitude, Ryan accepted his second champagne, and an in-air set of toothy smiles was exchanged.
I have a routine on long international flights.
Phase one. I drink the OJ and read until dinner.
Phase two. I eat sparingly. I sawAirplane. I remember the bad fish.
Phase three. I slap theDO NOT DISTURB sticker on my seat, lean back, and crank up as many movies as it takes to drop off.
I followed my routine, starting with a guide to the Holy Land that Winston had produced. Don’t ask why. I’ve never known the man to travel outside Quebec.
Ryan read James Joyce’sDubliners and ate everything served. He was snoring by the opening credits of his first film.
I lasted throughPirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, and the window-box scene inArsenic and Old Lace. Somewhere around dawn I drifted off, but my mind never really disengaged.
Or so I thought.
When I opened my eyes an attendant was clearing Ryan’s meal tray.
I raised my seat.
“Sleep well, cupcake?”
Ryan tried brushing hair from my cheek. It stuck. I broke the saliva bond and did a two-handed ear tuck.
“Coffee?” Ryan flattened bangs that were reaching for the overheads.
Ryan waggled his mug at an attendant and pointed to me. I set up my tray. Coffee appeared on it.
“Pleasure, Detective.” Audrey’s smile left last night’s in the dental dust.
Security at Ben-Gurion wasn’t as rigorous as it had been at Pearson. Maybe Ryan’s badge. Maybe the coroner’s detailed paperwork. Maybe confidence that if we’d had nitro in our blow-dryers they’d have found it by now.
Exiting customs, I noticed a man wall-leaning ahead and to our left. He had shaggy hair and wore an argyle sweater, jeans, and sneakers. Except for bushy brows and a few more years, the man was a Gilligan double.
Gilligan was following our progress.
I elbowed Ryan.
“I see him,” Ryan said, not breaking pace.
“Guy looks like Gilligan.”
Ryan looked at me.
“I hatedGilligan’s Island. ”
“But you’re acquainted with the character.”
“Except Ginger,” Ryan amended. “Ginger had talent.”
Gilligan pushed from the wall, dropped his hands and spread his feet, making no attempt to mask his interest in us.
When we drew within yards, Gilligan made his move.
“Shalom.”The voice was deeper than you’d expect from a guy Gilligan’s size.
Friedman stuck out a hand. Ryan shook it.
“Welcome to Israel.”
Ryan introduced me. I shook Friedman’s hand. The grip was more powerful than you’d expect from a guy Gilligan’s size.
Friedman led us outside to a white Ford Escort illegally parked in a taxi zone. Ryan loaded the luggage, opened the front door and offered the passenger seat.
Ryan’s six-two. I’m five-five. I opted for the back.
I pushed aside papers, a manual of some kind, balled-up food wrappers, boots, a motorcycle helmet, a baseball cap, and a nylon jacket. There were French fries in the crack. I left them there.
“Sorry about the car,” Friedman said.
“No problem.” Brushing crumbs from the upholstery, I crawled in, wondering if declining Jake’s offer of airport pickup had been a mistake.
As we drove, Friedman brought Ryan up-to-date.
“Someone up your food chain contacted one of your external affairs guys, who contacted one of our senior police representatives for the U.S. and Canada. Seems your guy knew our guy at the consulate in New York.”
“A personal touch can mean so much.”
Friedman stole a sideways glance, obviously unfamiliar with Ryan’s sense of humor. “Our guy in New York sent paper to the International Relations Unit at national headquarters here in Jerusalem. IRU bounced the request down to major crimes. I caught it.”
Friedman merged onto Highway 1.
“Normally this kind of request goes nowhere. We’d have nothing to ask your suspect, no knowledge of the crime. That’s assuming we could even find him. Once a tourist enters the country, he’s pretty much invisible. If we did locate him, legally he could refuse to talk to us.”
“But Kaplan was kind enough to palm a choker,” Ryan said.
“Herodian shekel on a gold chain.” Friedman snorted. “Dumb ass. Thing wasn’t even real.”
“How long can you hold him?”
“Twenty-four hours, and we’ve already eaten that. I can push it to forty-eight with some fancy talking. Then it’s charge him or kick him.”
“Will the shopkeeper press charges?”
Friedman shrugged. “Who knows? Guy got his coin back. But if Kaplan walks, I’ll keep him on a very short leash.”
Now and then Friedman would glance in the rearview. Our eyes would meet. We’d both smile.
Between rounds of collegiality, I tried taking in the landscape. I knew from Winston’s book that the route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was taking us from the coastal plain, through the Shephelah, or lowlands, into the Judean hill country, and up into the mountains.
Night had fallen. I couldn’t see much.
We rounded curve after curve, then suddenly Jerusalem was twinkling before us. A vanilla-wafer moon grazed the top of the Temple Mount, lighting the Old City with an amber glow.
I’ve observed few scenes that triggered a physical reaction. Haleakala volcano at dawn. The Taj Mahal at sunset. The Masai Mara during wildebeest migration.
Moonlit Jerusalem stopped my breath. Friedman picked up on it, and our eyes met again.
“Awesome, isn’t it?”
I nodded in the dark.
“Lived here fifteen years. I still get goose bumps.”
I wasn’t listening. My mind was shanking up images. Suicide bombers. Christmas pageants. West Bank settlements. Catechism classes at my old parish church. Newsreel scenes of angry young men.
Israel is a place where the wonder of the past slams daily into the bitter reality of the present. Driving through the night, I couldn’t take my eyes from the ancient settlement forever and always at the center of it all.
A quarter hour after first seeing Jerusalem, we were in the city. Cars lined the curbs, bumper sniffing bumper, like dogs in some frozen canine parade. Vehicles crammed the streets. Pedestrians thronged the walks, women inhijab or full burka, men in black hats, teens in Levi 501’s.
How like Quebec, I thought, with its constant clash of religion, language, and culture. French and English. The two solitudes. In Jerusalem the ante was upped to three. Muslim beside Christian beside Jew, all separate.
I lowered my window.
The air was packed with smells. Cement. Exhaust. Whiffs of flowers, spices, garbage, cooking grease.
I listened to the familiar city-night jazz. Car horns. Traffic humming on an overpass. The sound of a piano slipping from an open door. It was the melody of a thousand urban centers.
Ryan had booked us into the American Colony, a Turkish-style manse-turned-hotel in East Jerusalem. His thinking: Arab sector, no bombs.
Friedman turned from the Nablus Road into a circle drive bordered by flowers and palms. Passing a small antiquities shop, he looped around and stopped under a vine-draped portico.
Friedman alighted and retrieved our suitcases.
“I’ll be in the bar.” Friedman slammed the trunk. “Lower level.”
Ryan’s choice was a good one. The American Colony was all antiques, chandeliers, hanging tapestries, and hammered bronze. The floors were polished stone. The windows and doorways were arched, and the floor plan centered on a flower-filled courtyard.
Everything but the pasha himself.
We were expected. Check-in was quick.
As Ryan asked a few questions, I scanned names engraved on small marble wall plaques. Saul Bellow. John Steinbeck. Jimmy Carter. Winston Churchill. Jane Fonda. Giorgio Armani.
My room was everything the lobby promised. Mirrored armoire. Carved writing desk. Persian carpet. Bathroom aglow with gold gilt mirrors and black-and-white tile.
I wanted to shower and crawl into the four-poster. Instead, I brushed teeth and hair, changed, and hurried downstairs.
Ryan and Friedman were already seated at a low table in one of the alcoves. Each had a bottle of Taybeh beer.
Friedman signaled a waiter.
I ordered Perrier and an Arabic salad. Ryan went with spaghetti.
“This hotel is beautiful,” I said.
“The place was built by some fat-cat Arab around 1860. Forget his name. Room one was his. The other downstairs rooms were his wives’ summer digs, and in the winter, the ladies moved up a floor. The guy was hot for a son, but no one obliged, so he married a fourth time, and built two more rooms. The new bride disappointed him, too, so he died.”
Friedman sipped his beer.
“In 1873, a big-bucks Chicago attorney named Horatio Spafford sent his wife and four daughters off on a European vacation. The ship sank and only Mama survived.” Another sip.
“Couple years, couple more daughters. Then the Spaffords lost a son. They were real religious, members of some church organization, so they decided to seek consolation in the Holy Land. In 1881 they came and settled with friends in the Old City. The group became known as the American Colony, and developed quite a reputation for helping the poor.
“Long story short, others joined and the group outgrew its digs. The Spaffords rented, then eventually bought this place. Ever hear of Peter Ustinov?”
Ryan and I nodded.
“In 1902 Peter’s granddaddy started sending visitors here from a hotel he owned up in Jaffa. Became the American Colony Hostel, later Hotel. The place has survived four wars and four regimes.”
“The Turks, the Brits, the Jordanians, and the Israelis,” I guessed.
“Bingo. But you’re not here for a history lesson. Why’s this toad Kaplan such a hot property in Canada?”
Ryan filled Friedman in on the Ferris investigation.
“Big leap from bad paper to homicide,” Friedman said.
“Jumbo,” Ryan agreed. “But the widow’s got a history with Kaplan.”
“Which she failed to mention,” Friedman said.
“She did,” Ryan said.
“And Kaplan fled the country.”
“Widow stands to collect four million,” Friedman said.
“Four million’s a lot of motivation.”
“Nothing gets by you,” Ryan said.
“You’d like to chat with Mr. Kaplan?”
“At his earliest convenience.”
“First thing in the morning?”
“Nah, let him brush his teeth.”
Friedman turned to me. “My fault, I’m sure, but I didn’t get your connection to the case.”
I explained how I’d obtained the photo from Kaplan and the skeleton from Morissonneau, and mentioned my call to the IAA.
“Who’d you talk to?”
“Tovya Blotnik and Ruth Anne Bloom.”
“Bloom’s the bone lady?”
I hid a smile. I’d been given the same tag.
“They mention that bone box?” Friedman asked.
“The James ossuary?”
“Blotnik mentioned it. Why?”
Friedman ignored my question. “This Drum suggest you keep a low profile once you got here?”
“Jake advised me not to contact anyone in Israel before meeting with him.”
Friedman drained his beer. When he spoke again his voice sounded flat, as though he was sealing his real thoughts from it.
“Your friend’s advice is solid.”
Solid. But, as things turned out, futile.
FIVE-TWENTY A.M.OUTSIDE MY WINDOW THE TREETOPS WEREblack, the mosque’s minaret just a hard shadow across the street. I’d been jarred awake by its loudspeaker sounding the call tofajr, morning prayer.
God is great, the muezzin coaxed in Arabic. Prayer is better than sleep.
I wasn’t so sure. I felt sluggish and disconnected, like a patient clawing out of anesthesia.
The mechanical wailing ended. Birdsong filled the void. A barking dog. The thunk of a car door.
I lay in bed, gripped by a shapeless sense that tragedy loomed not far off. What? When?
I watched my room ooze from silver to pink as I listened to traffic sounds merge and strengthen. I prodded my unconscious. Why the uneasiness?
Jet lag? Fear for my safety? Guilt over Morissonneau?
Whoa. There was a burrow I hadn’t poked. I’d visited the monastery, four days later Morissonneau was a body on a path. Had my actions triggered the priest’s death? Should I have known I was placing him in danger?
HadI placed Morissonneau in danger?
What the hellwas this skeleton?
In part, my anxiety grew from the fact that others seemed to know what I did not.
Blotnik. Friedman. Even Jake appeared to be holding back.
Especially Jake? Did my friend have an agenda he wasn’t sharing? I didn’t really believe that.
And holding back on what?
The James ossuary for one thing. Everyone was skittering around the subject. I vowed to crack that mystery today.
I felt better. I was taking action. Or at least planning to take action.
At six I rose, showered, and descended to the restaurant, hoping Ryan had also awakened early. I also hoped he’d reconciled to the fact that I was in 304 and he was down the hall in 307.
We’d discussed sleeping arrangements before leaving Montreal. I’d insisted on separate rooms, arguing that we were traveling to Israel on official business. Ryan had objected, saying no one would know. I’d suggested it would be fun to sneak back and forth. Ryan had disagreed. I’d prevailed.
Ryan was seated at a table, scowling at something on his plate.
“Why would anyone serve olives for breakfast?” Ryan’s tone suggested he was more jet-lagged than I.
“You don’t like olives?”
“After fiveP. M. ” Ryan sidelined the offending fruit and dug into a mound of eggs the size of Mount Rushmore. “In gin.”
Deducing that congenial conversation would not be forthcoming, I focused on my hummus and cheese.
“You and Friedman are off to see Kaplan?” I asked when Rushmore had been reduced to a hummock.
Ryan nodded then checked his watch.
“Masada Max is going to Blotnik?” he asked.
“Yes. But I promised Jake I’d meet with him before contacting anyone else. He’ll be here any minute, then we’ll head over to the IAA.”
Knocking back his coffee, Ryan stood and aimed a finger at me. “Be careful out there, soldier.”
I snapped two fingers to my forehead. “Roger that.”
Ryan returned salute and strode from the room.
Jake arrived at seven wearing jeans, a sleeveless camouflage jacket, and a blue Hawaiian shirt open over a white T. Quite a fashion statement on a shave-headed, six-foot-sixer with hedgerow brows.
“You brought boots?” Jake asked, dropping into the chair Ryan had vacated.
“To meet with Blotnik?”
“I want you to see something.”
“I’m here to deliver a skeleton, Jake.”
“First I need for you to see this.”
“First I need for you to tell me what the hell’s going on.”
“Today.” It came out louder than I intended. Or not.
“I’ll explain on the way.”
“Starting with this ossuary?”
Two men passed speaking Arabic. Jake watched until they disappeared through the low stone arch leading from the restaurant.
“Can you lock the bones in your room safe?” Jake’s voice was barely above a whisper.
I shook my head. “Too small.”
“This better be good,” I said, tossing my napkin onto my plate.
Jake pointed at my feet.
Driving across the city, Jake told me the strange story of the James ossuary.
“No one disputes the authenticity of the box. It’s the inscription that’s in question. The IAA declared it a fake. Others say the ‘brother of Jesus’ part is legit, but claim the words ‘James, son of Joseph’ were added later. Others believe the opposite, that the Jesus phrase was added later. Still others think the Jesus phrase was forged.”
“To goose the ossuary’s value on the antiquities market.”
“Didn’t an IAA committee dissect every aspect of the thing?”
“Yeah. Right. First of all, there were two subcommittees. One looked at writing and content. The other looked at materials. The writing and content subcommittee contained one expert on ancient Hebrew writing, but other equally qualified epigraphers dispute her conclusions.”
“An epigrapher is a specialist in analyzing and dating script?”
“Correct. Get this. One genius on the committee pointed to variations in handwriting and in thickness and depth of the lettering as proof of forgery. I won’t bore you with detail, but variation is exactly what you’d expect on a nonmechanically incised inscription. Uniform lettering would be a dead giveaway of a fake. And the mixing of formal and cursive script is a well-known phenomenon in ancient engraving.
“Another issue was misspelling. Joseph was spelledYWSP, and James was spelledY’OB. One committee member said Joseph should have beenYHWSP, and that theY’OB spelling of James had never been found on any Second Temple period ossuary.”
“The Second Temple period is the time of Jesus.”
Jake nodded. “I did my own survey. The James ossuary’s spelling appeared in more than ten percent of the Joseph inscriptions I located. I found five occurrences of the name James. Three, a majority, had the same spelling as that on the James ossuary.”
“Was the committee unaware of the existence of these other inscriptions?”
“You tell me.”
Jake’s eyes kept shifting to the traffic around us.
“Incidentally, the committee included not a single New Testament scholar or historian of early Christianity.”
“What about the oxygen isotope analysis?” I asked.
Jake’s eyes cut to me. “You’ve done some homework.”
“Just some Web surfing.”
“The oxygen isotope analysis was ordered by the materials subcommittee. It showed no patina deep down in the letters, but picked up a grayish chalk-and-water paste that shouldn’t have been there. The committee concluded that the paste had been applied intentionally to imitate weathering. But it’s not that simple.”
Jake readjusted the rear and side-view mirrors.
“Turns out the patina on the ‘Jesus’ part of the inscription is identical to the overall patina on the box. In ancient Aramaic, Jesus would have been the last word inscribed. So if that word’s legit, and even some members of the IAA now agree that it is, then I think the whole inscription must be legit. Think about it. Why would an ossuary be inscribed with just the words ‘brother of someone’? It doesn’t make sense.”
“How do you explain the paste?”
“Scrubbing could have removed the patina down in the letters. And it could have altered the chemical composition of the patina by creating carbonate particles. The ossuary’s owner said the thing had been cleaned repeatedly over the years.”
“Who’s the owner?”
“An Israeli antiquities collector named Oded Golan. Golan says he was told at the time of his purchase that the ossuary came from a tomb in Silwan.” Jake jabbed a thumb at my window. “We’re on the outskirts of Silwan now.”
Again, Jake scanned the cars ahead and behind. His nervousness was making me edgy.
“Problem is the ossuary’s not recorded as an archaeologically excavated artifact from Silwan or from anywhere else in Israel.”
“You think it was looted.”
“Gee. You think?” Jake’s voice dripped sarcasm. “Golan claims he’s had the ossuary more than thirty years, making it legal, since antiquities acquired before 1978 are fair game.”
“You don’t believe him?”
“Golan’s reported to have floated a price tag of two million U.S. for the thing.” Jake snorted. “What do you think?”
I thought it was a lot of money.
Jake pointed through the windshield at a hill rising steeply off the shoulder of the road.
“The Mount of Olives. We’ve come around the east side, and now we’re skirting the southern edge.”
Jake turned left onto a small street lined with sand-colored low-rises, many decorated with crudely drawn planes or cars, indicating an occupant had made hajj to Mecca. Boys chased balls. Dogs worked patterns around the boys. Women shook rugs, lugged groceries, swept stoops. Men conversed on rusted lawn chairs.
My mind flashed an image of the Palestinians parked outside l’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges. I told Jake about them, and paraphrased some of the things Morissonneau had said.
Jake opened his mouth, reconsidered, closed it.
“What?” I asked.
“What’s not possible?”
“What is it you’re not telling me?”
All I got was a head shake.
The predawn premonition of tragedy rolled over in my brainpan.
Jake made another turn and pulled into a clearing behind the village. Ahead and to the left, stone stairs descended to what appeared to be a school. Boys stood, sat, or pushed and shoved on the steps.
“Is Morissonneau’s death related to-” To what? I had no idea what we were doing. “To those men?” A sweep of my hand took in the hockey bag, the village, and the valley below. “To this?”
“Forget Muslims. Muslims don’t give a rat’s ass about Masada or Jesus. Islam views Jesus not as a divinity, but as a holy man.”
“A prophet like Abraham or Moses?”
“A messiah, even. According to Muslims, Jesus didn’t die on the cross, he was taken alive to heaven, from where he will return.”
That sounded familiar.
“What about Allah’s Holy Warriors? The radical fringe?”
“What about them?”
“Wouldn’t the jihadists love to lay their hands on the bones of Jesus?”
“To ransack Christianity.”
A blackbird swooped to earth as we parked. We both watched it hop through garbage, wings half-spread, as though uncertain whether to stay or go.
Jake remained silent.
“I have a bad feeling about Morissonneau’s death,” I said.
“Don’t look to Muslims.”
“Who would you look to?”
“Seriously?” Jake turned to me.
I couldn’t help laughing. “You sound like a character inThe Da Vinci Code. ”
Jake didn’t say anything.
Outside my window, the bird pecked roadkill. I thought of Poe. The thought was not uplifting.
“I’m listening,” I said, settling back.
“You’re a product of Catholic schooling?”
“Nuns teach the New Testament?”
“They were hall of fame on guilt, but bush league on scripture.”
“The good sisters teach you Jesus had siblings?”
“Of course not. That’s why the James ossuary’s got the pope’s panties in a twist.”
The metaphor was jarring.
“The RC Church has a hard-on for virgin birth.”
I didn’t even want to think about that one.
“And it’s stupid. The New Testament is full of references to Jesus’ siblings. Matthew 13:55: ‘Is not his mother called Mary and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?’ Mark 6:3 repeats the same thing. In Galatians 1:19, Paul refers to his meeting with ‘James the Lord’s brother.’ Matthew 13:56 and Mark 6:3 both indicate that Jesus had sisters.”
“Don’t some biblical scholars interpret these as references to half-siblings, maybe born to a previous wife of Joseph before his marriage to Mary?”
“Both Matthew 1:25 and Luke 2:7 state that Jesus was Mary’s first-born son, though that does not rule out prior children of Joseph. But it’s not just the Bible that refers to Jesus’ siblings. The historian Josephus talks of ‘the brother of Jesus-who was called Christ-whose name was James.’”
Jake was on a roll.
“In Jesus’ time, virginity after marriage would have been unthinkable, a violation of Jewish law. It just wasn’t done.”
“So James and the others might have been later children of Mary.”
“Matthew’s gospel plainly states that, after Jesus was born, Josephknew Mary.” Jake came down hard on the word “knew.” “And Matthew wasn’t talking handshakes and cookies. He used the word in the biblical sense.
“Though Joseph isn’t the only candidate for Daddy of Jesus’ siblings. Once Jesus grows up, Joseph totally disappears. You never hear about the guy.”
“So Mary might have remarried?”
“If Joseph died or left, it would have been expected.”
I understood the dilemma for the Catholic Church.
“Whether by Joseph or by some other man, the implication is that Mary gave birth to other children. And one of them was James. So if the James ossuary is real, it throws into question the whole concept of perpetual virginity, and perhaps, by association, the concept of virgin birth.”
Another Jake snort.
“ Saint Jerome and his cronies cooked that one up in the fourth century. Jesus’ pal Mary Magdalene became a prostitute. Jesus’ mother became a virgin. Good women don’t have sex. Bad women do. The idea appealed to the misogynist male ego. The concept became dogma, and the Vatican ’s been championing it ever since.”
“So if the James ossuary is real, and the box actually belonged to Jesus’ brother, the Vatican has some explaining to do.”
“You bet. The idea of Mary as a mama is a mega-problem for the Vatican. Hell, even if the box means only that Joseph had other kids, that’s still a problem. It suggests that Joseph impregnated his wives. And, again, the Vatican ’s credibility is screwed.”
The blackbird had been joined by others. For a few moments I watched them squabble over carrion rights.
Okay. The James ossuary blew the lid on Mary’s virginity. I could see how the Vatican would be concerned about that. I could see how Christian or Muslim radicals might want to get their hands on the box. Same argument Morissonneau had presented. Save the faith. Wreck the faith. But how did the ossuary link to the Masada skeleton? Or did it? Had the two finds coincidentally surfaced at the same time?
“What does the James ossuary have to do with Morissonneau’s skeleton?”
Jake hesitated. “I’m not sure. Yet. But here’s an interesting sidebar. Oded Golan worked as a volunteer at Masada.”
“For Yigael Yadin?” I asked.
Jake nodded, again checked his surroundings. I wanted to probe the connection between Max and the James ossuary, but Jake gave me no chance.
“Where?” I asked.
“The Jesus family tomb.”
BEFOREICOULD REACT, JAKE CLIMBED FROM THE TRUCK. THEblackbirds cawed in protest and flapped skyward.
Reaching behind the seat, Jake transferred items from his pack to the zipper compartment of my hockey bag. Then he shouldered the bag’s strap, scanned the area, locked the driver’s-side door, and set off.
I trailed behind, a cascade of questions whirling in my brain.
The Jesus family tomb? If authenticated, such a find would be huge. CNN, BBC, around the globe mammoth.
What proof did Jake have?
Why had he waited until now to tell me?
How did this tomb relate to the bones I’d carried from l’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges? To the James ossuary?
I felt fearful.
I felt awestruck.
I felt totally jazzed.
Ten yards downslope, Jake stopped on a ledge.
“We’re standing on the edge of the Kidron Valley.” Jake indicated the gorge at our feet. “The Kidron meets the Hinnom just south of here, then veers west.”
I must have looked lost.
“The Hinnom Valley runs south from the Jaffa Gate on the west side of the Old City, then eastward along the south side of Mount Zion until it meets the Kidron. The Kidron separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives on the east side of the city.” Jake pointed. “Over there. Know much about the Hinnom?”
“The place has quite a colorful history. In the pre-Christian era, babies are supposed to have been sacrificed to the gods Moloch and Baal in the Hinnom. The Jews turned the valley into a city dump-garbage, anything deemed unclean, including the bodies of executed criminals, were burned there. In later Jewish literature the valley was called Ge-Hinnom, and in the Greek of the New Testament, Gehenna. Because of the trash fires, the Hinnom provided imagery for a fiery hell in the Books of Isaiah and the New Testament. Gehenna is the source of the English word ‘hell.’”
Jake stuck a thumb at an ancient tree at my back.
“Judas is supposed to have hanged himself there. According to tradition, his body fell from that tree and was disemboweled.”
“You don’t believe that’s the actual tree-”
A small bird darted between us, moving so fast I couldn’t make out its color. Jake threw up an arm, and a boot slipped. Pebbles shot downward.
My adrenals opened fire.
Regaining his footing, Jake continued with a question.
“According to the Bible, where did Christ go after his crucifixion?”
“Into a tomb.”
“He descended into hell, and on the third day rose again. Right?”
“At the time that was written the Hinnom was constantly burning and had taken on the popular image as the place ‘down there’ where the wicked would be cast into the flames of destruction. Hell. Hell Valley. The biblical reference is to burial in a location in or near the Hinnom.”
Jake left no gap for comment.
“These valleys were the location of the tombs of the wealthy.”
“Like Joseph of Aramathea.”
“You got it.” Jake pointed flat-handed to our left and rear, then swept his arm in a clockwise arc. “Silwan’s the village behind us. Abu Tor’s across the way.” Jake closed his circle on the hill to our right. “The Mount of Olives is to the north.”
I sited off his fingers. Jerusalem crawled the summit westward from the Mount, its domes facing off across the Kidron with the minarets of Silwan.
“These hills are honeycombed with ancient tombs.” Jake yanked out a bandanna and wiped sweat from his head. “I’m taking you to one unearthed by Palestinian roadwork a few years back.”
“How far down the valley?” I asked.
Jake backhanded the bandanna into a jeans pocket, grabbed a bush, and hopped off the ledge. I watched him scrabble downhill, bald head shining like a copper pot.
Using the same bush, I squatted, kicked out my legs, and bellied over the edge. When my feet made contact, I let go, turned, and began picking my way downhill, sliding on loose rocks and grabbing vegetation.
The sun was climbing a brilliant blue sky. Inside my Windbreaker, I began to sweat.
Again and again I thought of the pair outside l’Abbaye Sainte-Marie-des-Neiges. My eyes kept moving from the ground at my feet to the village at my back. The slope was at least sixty degrees where Jake had chosen to descend. If anyone wanted to pick us off, we were easy targets.
On one backward glance I spotted a man walking a path on the valley rim.
My heart gunned into overdrive.
An assassin? A man walking a path on the valley rim?
I looked downhill. Jake was drawing farther and farther ahead.
I goosed the tempo.
Five yards down, I slipped and cracked my shin. Tears shot from wherever they’d been waiting on call. I blinked them back.
Screw it. If someone wanted to kill us we’d be dead by now.
I dropped back to my tenderfoot crawl.
Jake was spot-on. The tomb wasn’t at the bottom, but it was way down the valley, in a grassy stretch strewn with rocks and boulders.
When I arrived he was squatting by an outcrop squinting into a rectangle the size of my microwave. I watched him roll a paper, light one end, and thrust the makeshift torch into the opening.
Closing my eyes, I talked myself down.
Wind on my face.
Sun-heated grass. Garbage. Coal smoke.
Dust on my teeth and tongue.
The buzzing of an insect. Gears grinding way off up the valley.
I took a deep breath. A second. A third.
I opened my eyes.
Small red flowers bloomed at my feet.
I took another breath. Counted.
Six flowers. Seven. Ten.
I looked up to see Jake eyeing me oddly.
“I’m a bit claustrophobic.” I offered the understatement of the decade.
“We don’t have to go in,” Jake said.
“We’re here,” I said.
Jake looked skeptical.
“I’m fine.” The overstatement of the decade.
“The air’s okay,” Jake said.
“What more could one ask?” I said.
“I’ll go first,” Jake said.
He slid down the incline and disappeared, feet-first.
“Hand me the bones.” His voice came out muffled and hollow.
My heartbeat revved as I maneuvered the bag. I breathed it back to normal.
“Come on down.” Quiz-show dramatic.
Turning, I thrust my feet into darkness. Jake grabbed my ankles. I inched backward until I felt hands on my waist. I dropped.
Murky dimness. One skewed rectangle of light squeezing in from outside.
“You okay?” Jake asked.
Jake’s flashlight clicked on.
The space was approximately eight feet square, with a ceiling so low we had to crouch. Food wrappers, cans, and broken glass littered the floor, graffiti marred the walls. The air smelled like a mix of mud and ammonia.
“Bad news, Jake. Some have come before.” I pointed at a used condom.
“These tombs are popular with drifters and kids.”
Jake’s beam darted here and there. It looked yellow and wavery, and not reassuring.
As my eyes adjusted, I picked out details.
The tomb’s entrance was to the east, facing the Old City. The northern, western, and southern walls were cut by a series of oblong recesses, each approximately two feet wide. Stones blocked the entrances to a few of the recesses, but most were wide-open. In the amber beam I could see their interiors were packed with fill.
“The little chambers are called loculi,” Jake said. “Kochimin Hebrew. During the first century, the dead were shrouded and left in loculi until decomposed. Then the bones were collected and permanently stored in ossuaries.”
I felt a tingle on one hand. I looked down. Jake noticed and shot the beam my way.
A daddy longlegs was high-stepping it up my sleeve. Gently pinching one leg, I displaced the arachnid. I freak in tight spaces, but I’m cool with spiders.
“This tomb has a lower level.”
Jake duck-walked to the southwest corner. I followed.
Jake pointed his light at what I’d assumed to be a loculus. It disappeared into total darkness.
“You game for the cellar if I’m there to catch you?”
“Go,” I said, not granting my amygdala time to react.
Jake rolled to his stomach, inserted his legs, and wiggled downward. Closing my eyes I did the same.
I felt hands.
I felt terra firma.
I stuck the landing.
I opened my eyes.
There wasn’t a pixel of light. Jake was so close our shoulders were touching.
I became intensely interested in the flashlight.
A yellow shaft cut the darkness.
“Those batteries new?” I asked.
The ammonia smell was stronger at this level. I recognized what it was. Urine. I made a note to keep my hands off the floor.
Jake played his beam over the wall we were facing, and then over the one to our left.
The lower chamber was smaller, but appeared to be laid out like the one above. That would mean two loculi to the north. Two to the south. Three in back.
“You say there are thousands of these tombs?” My voice sounded dead in the underground space.
“Most were robbed long ago. I stumbled onto this one while hiking with students in the fall of 2000. Kid spotted the opening, saw artifacts scattered outside. It was obvious looters had just hit, so we called the IAA.”
“You did a full excavation?”
“Hardly. The IAA archaeologist couldn’t have been less impressed. Said there was nothing left that was worth protecting, and left us to our own devices. We salvaged what we could.”
“Why the disinterest?”
“In his opinion, the site wasn’t anything special. I don’t know if the guy had a hot date that night, or what. He couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”
“You disagree with his assessment?”
“Less than two years after we found this tomb, Oded Golan, the antiquities collector I told you about, revealed the existence of the James ossuary to a French epigrapher named André Lemaire.”
“You think the ossuary was stolen from here?”
“It makes sense. The ossuary is rumored to have come from somewhere near Silwan. Within two years of the looting of this tomb the ossuary was presented to the world.”
“If the James ossuary came from this tomb, that would suggest this is the place Jesus’ brother was buried.”
“Making this the Jesus family tomb.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.
“We found twelve boxes, all smashed, the remains tossed aside.”
Jake dropped one knee and raised the other. His movement sent shadows dancing the walls.
“But that’s not the best of it. Golan’s James ossuary has elaborate detailing, and the motif’s a dead ringer for the boxes we found here. What’s more-”
Jake’s head shot up.
His fingers wrapped my arm.
“What?” I hissed.
Jake clicked off the light and touched a finger to my lips.
Ice flooded my veins.
I remembered the man on the valley rim. Had we been followed?
How easy it would be to block the entrance! How easy it would be to shoot down the tunnel!
Beside me I felt Jake go totally still. I did the same.
Heart hammering, I strained for the faintest sound.
“False alarm,” Jake whispered when an eon had passed. “But we left the bones topside. I’m going to grab them.”
“Can’t we just move on to the IAA?”
“When I tell you what else we found here, you’ll want the full tour. And you’ll want to see what’s at my lab. It’s amazing.” Jake handed me the flashlight. “Back in a sec.”
“Look around while you’re up there,” I whispered. “Make sure there’s no papal vigilante crouched by the entrance.” The joke sounded lame.
I watched Jake muscle up the tunnel, hoping I had the arm strength to do the same. When his boots disappeared, I crawled along the wall I was facing and directed the light inside the first of the loculi.
Empty, but the dirt-covered floor was gouged and scuffed. Jake’s students? The looters?
I moved down the wall, then rounded the corner.
Same story in each loculus.
Duckwalking to the base of the tunnel, I looked up and listened. Not the faintest sound drifted down from above.
The air felt damp and cold. Inside my jacket, my sweat-soaked shirt adhered to my back. I began to shiver.
Where the hell was Jake?
“Jake?” I called up.
“Probably securing the perimeter,” I murmured to break the silence.
I was moving along the southern wall when the beam dimmed, strengthened, dimmed, and died.
I shook the flashlight. Not a flicker. I shook it again. Nothing.
I heard a sound behind me.
Had I imagined it?
I held my breath. One. Two. Thr-
I heard it again. The rub of something soft scraping stone.
Dear God! I wasn’t alone!
Moments later, I sensed, more than heard, another whisper of movement.
The tiny hairs rose on my nape and arms.
I held absolutely motionless. A second. A year.
Another sound. Different. More terrifying.
My skin went taut from scalp to sternum.
GROWL? PURR? GROAN?
Before I could pigeonhole it, the sound stopped.
My brain groped for a familiar image to explain what I’d heard.
It came up empty.
I thumbed the flashlight switch. Nothing. I thumbed it in the opposite direction. More nothing.
Eyes wide, I searched my surroundings.
I was trapped underground, surrounded by stone and hillside a thousand feet thick. It was dark. And damp.
And I wasn’t alone!
Something’s in here! a voice screamed in my head.
My chest felt tight. I drew air through my nose.
The stench of urine seemed stronger now. And there was something else. Fecal matter? Rotting flesh?
I tried breathing through my mouth.
My mind flew in a million directions.
Turn around? Scream? Break for the tunnel?
I was frozen in place. Afraid to move. Afraid to stay still.
Then, I heard it again. Half growl, half rumble.
My fingers death-gripped the flashlight. It might at least serve as a club.
Something scratched stone.
Cold fear sparked my nerves.
I shook the flashlight. The batteries rattled but offered nothing.
I shook harder.
A weak yellow cone wormed into the darkness. Still squatting, I pivoted slowly and lit the corner behind me.
And caught a shadow of movement in the last loculus!
Get out! screamed the voice in my head.
I was backing toward the tunnel when the growl started again. The message was low and feral.
I froze again. Hand shaking, I refocused on the loculus.
Eyes gleamed from low in the recess, pupils round and red as neon cranberries. Below them, the outline of a scarred snout.
Wild dog? Fox? Hyena?
The jackal stood with neck angled down, shoulder blades shooting to bony peaks behind its ears. Its fur was mangy and matted.
I took a cautious step backward.
The jackal bared teeth that were brown and glistening. It’s forelimbs flexed and its head shot up.
Every muscle in me went rigid.
The jackal swung its snout from side to side, nostrils working the air. The movement sent shadows rippling the hills and valleys of its rib cage. Though emaciated, its belly hung low.
Dear God! I was trapped underground with a starving jackal! Probably a pregnant female!
Where was Jake? What to do?
My brain coughed up facts garnered from some nature documentary.
Jackals are nocturnal in areas inhabited by humans.
The jackal had been sleeping. Jake and I had startled her awake. Not good.
Jackals are territorial and scent-mark their turf.
The urine smell. The jackal viewed the tomb as her territory, and me as an invader. Not good.
Jackals live and hunt as monogamous pairs.
The jackal had a mate.
Sweet Jesus! The male could return at any time. He could be in the loculus with her!
I couldn’t wait for Jake. I had to make a move.
Waistbanding the light, I pivoted, and crawled toward the mouth of the tunnel.
Behind me I heard a snarl, then scratching. I sensed air movement. I braced and regripped the flashlight. Maybe I could jam it into the jackal’s mouth, prevent teeth sinking into my flesh. Maybe I could strike a blow to the head.
The jackal didn’t attack.
Get out before you’re one against two!
I resnugged the flashlight in my waistband, and gripped stones jutting from opposite sides of the tunnel. Thrusting with my legs and pulling with my hands, I heaved upward with all my strength.
After repositioning my feet, I reached for another handhold, and pulled and lunged upward again.
My right-foot support held. The left broke free.
Spinning, I fell back down the tunnel and hit the floor hard. A flash-fire of pain ripped my shoulder and cheek.
The tomb went black.
My heart went stratospheric.
I lay still, taking in sound.
Blood roaring in my ears.
Stones rattling down the tunnel.
Thetic-tic-tic of the rolling flashlight.
Theting of metal hitting rock.
Underlying it all, a low, rumbling growl.
Within seconds, the stones stopped falling and the flashlight lay silent.
Only my heart and the jackal played on.
The growling was no longer coming from the southeastern loculus. Or was it? The tomb was acting as an echo chamber, ricocheting sound from wall to wall. I couldn’t pinpoint the jackal’s location.
The darkness pressed in.
My options had tanked. The jackal now held an advantage. She could see, hear, and smell me in the dark. I had no idea where she was.
Weak as it was, my beam had confused the jackal, held her in place like a deer on a highway. It might work again.
Would my movement provoke the jackal? Would the batteries function? I took the double gamble.
Extending my left arm, I inched my hand across the tomb floor.
And found nothing.
My jacket swished, sounding like thunder in the small space.
The jackal growled louder, and then went still. I heard fast breathing. The panting was more terrible than the growling had been. Was she preparing to pounce?
I pictured eyes watching in the dark. My groping grew desperate. My hand swept right, front, left.
Finally, my fingers closed on a metal tube.
I drew the flashlight to me and hit the switch.
Sickly yellow lit my body. I almost wept with relief.
The growling kicked into high.
Heart thudding, I pushed to my elbows and played the light over the northern and eastern walls.
The southern wall.
Reorienting, I swept the beam over the western side of the tomb. Every recess was filled with dirt and rock, leaving no crevice in which a jackal could hide.
I was probing the loculus closest to me, when a trickle of dirt cascaded down the wall.
The batteries chose that moment to die.
I heard movement above my head.
Fighting back tears, I shook the flashlight. It kicked back on.
I raised the beam.
The loculi were stacked one above the other in the western wall. The jackal was crouched in one of the upper-level recesses.
When my beam hit her, the jackal drew back her lips and snarled. Her body tensed. Her limbs flexed.
Our eyes met. The jackal’s were round and shiny.
A sudden realization. The jackal, too, felt trapped. She wanted out. I was blocking the tunnel.
We stared at each other. I stared a split second longer.
Snarling, the jackal launched herself at me.
I reacted without thought, dropping to the floor, wrapping my hands around my head, and tucking into a fetal curl. The weight of the jackal hit my left hip and thigh. I heard a snarl, and felt the weight shift.
Levering an elbow, I tried dragging myself away from the tunnel mouth. Paws hit my chest and moved toward my throat. I tucked my chin and crossed my arms, expecting teeth to rip my flesh. Then, the press of weight against my torso, the brush of fur against my head, and sudden release. The jackal had bounded over me and upward.
I heard panting and claws scraping stone. I turned my light toward the tunnel. The jackal was slinking out of sight.
Amazingly, the flashlight continued to shine, though weakly. Quick assessment. I gave the jackal time to put mileage between us, then crawled toward the tunnel. There had been some collapse, but the stones were nothing I couldn’t handle.
I spent two minutes lifting and rolling rock, then positioned my feet as before and flexed to heave myself upward.
And realized my left hip had taken a hit. Great. All I needed was another tumble and I’d be down here for a very long time.
Dropping back, I tested my legs.
As I shifted from foot to foot, my light angled upward and caught a hollow from which rocks had been knocked free.
I let my beam sniff the scar.
It looked deep. Too deep.
I rose and wedged myself upward into the tunnel for a closer look.
The scar wasn’t a scar. It was a breach.
Angling the beam, I peered into the void beyond.
It took a moment for my eyes to pick it out.
It took another for my mind to comprehend.
Oh my God! I had to show Jake!
Injuries forgotten, I pulled myself upward.
Just below the tunnel mouth, I paused and peeked out, prairie-dog style.
The upper chamber looked empty. No Jake. No jackal.
“Jake!” I hissed.
“Jake!” I repeated as loudly as I could without bringing in vocal cords.
I braced my feet, threw out my arms, and pulled and pushed myself onto the upper-chamber floor.
Jake didn’t appear.
Ignoring the objections of my shoulder and hip, I rose to a squat and looked around in the flashlight sweep.
I was alone.
No sound filtered in from outside the tomb.
Rotating quickly, I moved my beam through the velvety black around me.
Blue flashed in the darkness of a northern loculus.
What the hell?
I knew what the hell.
I worked the light. I was right. The hockey bag.
But why? Where was Jake?
“Jake!” Full vocal.
I dropped to all fours, crawled toward the loculus, stopped. Jake had hidden the bag for a reason. Reversing, I crawled toward the tomb’s entrance.
It was then I heard the first sound since leaving the tunnel. I froze, head cocked.
A muffled voice.
Jake’s voice. Words I couldn’t make out. Hebrew?
More words I couldn’t make out. Angry words.
A soft thud. Another.
The blackness grew blacker. I glanced toward the entrance.
Legs were blocking the small square of sunlight.
IN A HEARTBEAT, BOOTS SHOT INTO THE TOMB. ABODY FOLLOWED. A large body.
I scrabbled backward and pressed myself to a wall. Crumpled cans jabbed my knees and pop-tops gouged the palms of my hands.
My mind flashed again to the man on the valley rim. My heart pounded. Sweet Mother of God! Would I live through this day?
Tightening my grip, I raised the flashlight, ready to strike.
The body had settled onto its haunches, back to me. My beam lit coconut palms on Waikiki blue.
I took my first breath since seeing the legs. Outside I could hear shouting.
“What the hell’s going on?”
“Hevrat Kadisha.” Jake threw the words over one shoulder, never taking his eyes from the entrance.
“I don’t speak Hebrew.”
“The goddamn bone police.” Jake was panting from exertion.
I waited for him to explain.
“That clears it up.”
“They’re here?” I pictured men inshtreimel andpeyos rolling over the rim of the Kidron.
“They think we have human bones in here.”
“We do have human bones in here.”
“They want them.”
“What do we do?”
“Wait them out.”
“Will they leave?”
That was not reassuring.
“This is insane,” I said after listening for a few moments to the shouting outside.
“These cretins show up at excavations all the time.”
“To harass. Hell, we often need police protection just to do our jobs.”
“Isn’t access to archaeological sites by permit only?”
“These head cases don’t care. They’re opposed to the unearthing of the dead forany reason, and they’ll riot in order to stop a dig.”
“Is theirs a majority view?” In my mind’s eye the bearded men now carried posters and placards.
Outside, the voices eventually stilled. Somehow, I found the quiet more disconcerting than the shouting.
I told Jake about the jackal.
“You’re sure it was a jackal?”
“I’m sure,” I said.
“I didn’t see it run from the tomb.”
“She was moving fast,” I said.
“And I was focused on those morons out there. You’re okay?”
“Sorry,” Jake said. “I should have checked before we went down.”
I agreed wholeheartedly.
Outside the tomb, the silence continued.
I shone the light on my watch. Nine-seventeen.
“What’s the law in Israel regarding human remains?” I asked, still speaking in a loud church whisper.
“Bones can be excavated if they’re about to be destroyed by development or plunder. Once they’ve been studied, they must be handed over to the Ministry of Religious Affairs for reburial.”
As we spoke, Jake kept his eyes on the small opening through which he’d just slithered.
“Sounds reasonable. Similar statutes protect native burials in North America.”
“These fanatics are hardly reasonable. They believe halakha, Jewish law, forbids any disturbance of the Jewish dead. Period.”
“What if a site is about to be bulldozed?”
“They don’t care.” Jake flapped a hand at the entrance. “They say build a bridge, dig a tunnel, reroute the road, encase the whole bloody tomb in cement.”
“Are they still out there?”
“Who decides if human remains are Jewish?” My stomach was still knotted from my encounter with the jackal. I was talking mainly to calm myself.
“The guardians of Orthodoxy, themselves. Handy, eh?”
“What if ancestry’s unclear?” I was thinking of the bones in the bag behind me.
Jake snorted. “The Ministry of Religious Affairs ponies up a thousand shekels for each reburial. How many do you suppose are declared non-Jewish?”
“The Hevrat Kadisha say prayers over the bones and, voilà, the dead are converted to Judaism.”
I didn’t get it, but I let it go.
Ominous quiet slipped in from outside. Again I checked my watch. Nine twenty-two.
“How long do we wait?” I asked.
“Until the coast is clear,” Jake said.
Jake and I fell silent. Now and then one or the other of us would shift, seeking to gain a more comfortable position. Being six-six, Jake shifted most.
My hip hurt. My shoulder hurt. I was cold and damp. I was sitting in garbage in a crypt waiting out folks who would have put the Inquisition to shame.
And it wasn’t even 10A. M.
An eon later, I again illuminated my watch face. Twenty minutes had passed. I was about to suggest checking for cleared coasts, when a man shouted.
Another took up the cry.“Asur!”
My stomach knot tightened. The men were close now, on the hillside just outside the tomb.
I looked at Jake.
“‘Forbidden,’” he translated.
Something ricocheted off the outcrop above the tomb entrance.
“What the hell was that?”
“Probably a rock.”
“They’re throwing at us?” If a whisper can be shrill, mine was.
I heard another something wing off the capstone.
“They say we’re children of the devil,” Jake explained.
“How many are out there?” I asked.
A fist-size stone hit the rim of the entrance.
“Asur! Asur la’asot et zeh!”It had now become a chant.“Asur! Asur!”
Jake raised his eyebrows at me. In the darkness they looked like a solid black hedge levitating skyward. I raised mine back.
“I’ll have a look,” he said.
“Be careful,” I said, for lack of a better contribution.
Squat-walking to the entrance, Jake dropped one knee, placed a hand on it, and craned out.
What happened next happened fast.
The chanting fragmented into individual cries.
“Shalom alaichem,”Jake wished the men peace.
Angry voices shouted back.
“Lo!”Jake shouted. I understood enough Hebrew to know that meant no.
There was a sickening crack, as rock hit bone.
Jake’s spine arched, one leg shot backward, and he slumped to the ground.
I scrabbled to him on all fours.
Jake’s head lay outside, his shoulders and body inside the tomb.
Reaching out, I placed trembling fingers on Jake’s throat.
I felt a pulse, weak but steady.
Rising to a crouch, I leaned into the opening for a better view of Jake’s head.
Jake’s face was down, but I could see the back and side of his skull. Blood flecked his ear, and glistened red in the sunlit grass. Already flies were buzzing in for quick look-sees.
Cold fear barreled through my veins.
First a jackal, and now this! What to do? Move Jake and risk exacerbating his injury? Leave him and go for help?
Impossible without risking a skull fracture of my own.
Outside, the chanting started up again.
Give the bastards what they want?
They’d bury the skeleton. The truth about Max would be lost forever.
Another rock winged off the tomb’s exterior. Then another.
No ancient mystery was worth the loss of a life. Jake needed medical attention.
Setting the flashlight on the tomb floor, I scrabbled backward, took hold of Jake’s boots, and pulled.
He didn’t budge. I pulled again. Harder.
Inch by inch, I tugged Jake into the protection of the tomb. Then I crawled around his body and turned his head sideways. Should Jake become nauseous, I didn’t want him choking on his vomit.
Then I remembered.
Jake’s cell phone! Was it on him? Could I get at it?
Working my way down, I checked Jake’s shirt pocket, his left front and rear jeans pockets, and every accessible opening on his camouflage jacket.
The hockey bag?
I angled toward the northern loculi. My hands looked bitter white as I crawled toward the bag. It was as though I were watching the hands of another. I saw them struggle with zippers, disappear into pouch after pouch.
My brain recognized the feel of the familiar shape.
Yanking the phone free, I flipped the cover. The small screen flashed a neon blue welcome.
What digits to punch? 911?
I had no idea what one dialed in an emergency in Israel.
Scrolling through Jake’s directory, I chose a local listing, and hit “send.”
The screen flashed the number and the word “Dialing.” I heard a series of beeps, then one long beep, then the screen welcomed me anew.
I tried again. Same result.
Damn! Too deep in rock for a signal!
I was about to try again, when Jake moaned. Pocketing the phone, I crawled to him.
When I arrived, Jake had rolled to his belly, and drawn his palms in under his chest.
“Take it easy,” I said, picking up the flashlight.
Moving gingerly, Jake maneuvered to a sit. A tendril of blood trickled from a gash in his forehead. He swiped at it, creating a dark smear across his nose and right cheek.
“What happened?” Groggy.
“You stopped a rock with your head.”
“Where are we?”
“A tomb in the Kidron.”
Jake seemed to struggle a moment, then, “The Hevrat Kadisha.”
“At least one of them has a future in major league baseball.”
“We’ve got to get out of this place.”
“If it’s the last thing we ever do.”
“Is the bag still in the loculus?”
Jake hopped to a squat, swayed, dropped his head, and braced himself straight-armed against the ground.
I reached out to steady him.
“Can you climb the hill?”
“Minor setback.” Whole muscle bundles went taut, then Jake dropped to all fours. “Beam me up, Scottie.”
As I lit his way, Jake crawled not to the entrance, but to the northern wall, rolled a large stone toward the loculus containing Masada Max, and wedged it into the opening.
“Let’s go,” he said, rejoining me.
“Will they come in here?”
“Maybe. But we’d never make it past them to the truck.”
“Will they notice the hockey bag?”
“I could move it to the lower level.”
For the first time since crawling topside, I remembered what I’d uncovered in the lower chamber. I didn’t want the Hevrat Kadisha going down there and finding it. Losing Max would be bad enough. Losing what had been walled in below would double the calamity.
“Let’s leave the bag in the loculus and hope they don’t spot it. If they do come in here, I don’t want them poking around downstairs. I’ll explain when we’re in the truck. How do we do this?”
“We walk out.”
“Just like that?”
“When they see that I’m injured, they’ll probably back off.”
“They’ll also note that we’re empty-handed.”
“They’ll also note that.”
“Do you suppose they saw the hockey bag?”
“I have no idea. Are you ready?”
I nodded, and switched off the flashlight. Jake stuck his head through the opening and shouted.
Surprised? Wary? Rearming? The Hevrat Kadisha fell silent.
Extending both arms, Jake flexed his legs, and torqued himself up and out.
When Jake’s boots cleared the opening, I followed. Halfway up I felt a hand on my waistband, then I was kneeling on the hillside.
The jolt to sunlight was blinding. My pupils went to pinpoints. My eyes slammed shut.
I opened them to one of the strangest scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
OUR ATTACKERS WORE BROAD-BRIMMED HATS AND LONG-COATEDblack suits. Bearded and side-curled, each looked hotter and angrier than the next.
Okay. My mental image had been spot-on. But I’d been way off on the numbers.
As Jake again wished the men peace and opened discussion, I took a quick count.
Forty-two, including a couple of kids under the age of twelve, and another half dozen who looked to be teenagers. Apparently ultra-Orthodoxy was a growth industry.
Hebrew flew around me. Based on my newly acquired vocabulary, I was able to grasp that Jake and I were being accused of having taken or done something forbidden, and that some thought we were the children of Satan. I assumed Jake was denying both charges.
Men and boys shouted, glasses and clothing coated with dust. Some bobbed, side curls bouncing like tethered Slinkys.
After several minutes of animated dialogue, Jake focused on a gray-hair who seemed to be the alpha male, probably a rabbi. As the two spoke, the others fell silent.
The rabbi bellowed, face raspberry, pointed finger wagging in the sunlight. I caught the word “ashem.” Shame.
Jake listened, replied calmly, the voice of reason.
Eventually, the foot soldiers of Orthodoxy grew restless. Some resumed shouting. Some shook fists. A few of the younger men, probably yeshiva students, picked up stones.
I kept my eye on the latter.
After a fruitless ten minutes, Jake raised his hands in an I-give-up gesture. Turning to me he said, “This is pointless. We’re out of here.”
I joined him, and together we circled left.
The rabbi yelled a command. The battalion split. The right flank stayed at the tomb. The left flank stuck to Jake and me.
With long strides, Jake began climbing up out of the Kidron. I followed, taking two steps to every one of his.
Yard after yard I scrambled, panting, sweating, hauling myself up on rocks, vines, and bushes. My hip screamed. My legs grew heavy.
Now and then I glanced downhill. A dozen black hats dogged my trail. My neck and back stayed stiff, anticipating the impact of cobble on cranium.
Fortunately, our pursuers spent their days in temples and yeshivas, not gyms. Jake and I left the valley well in the lead.
A half dozen cars now occupied the clearing behind Silwan. Jake’s truck was where we’d left it, but the driver’s side window was not. Tiny cubes of glass flashed sunlight from the ground. Both the truck’s doors were open, and papers, books, and clothing lay tossed about.
“Shit!” Jake sprinted the last few yards, and began grabbing his belongings and tossing them into the back.
I joined in. Within seconds we’d gathered everything, slammed ourselves in, and hit the locks.
The first black hats crested the summit as Jake turned the key, palmed the gearshift, and hit the gas. The wheels spun, and we lurched forward, two plumes of dust following our wake.
I looked back.
The men were wiping brows, replacing headwear, shaking fists. They looked like a jittering troupe of black marionettes, momentarily tangled, but firm in their belief God was pulling the strings.
Jake made a left, then a right out of the village. I kept my eyes on the rear window.
At the blacktop, Jake slowed and put a hand on my arm to calm me.
“Think they’ll follow?” I asked.
Jake’s fingers closed like a vise.
I turned to him.
And felt yet another rush of fear.
Jake’s left hand was gripping the wheel hard. Too hard. His knuckles protruded like bony white knobs. His face was pasty and his breath was coming in short, shallow gasps.
“Are you all right?”
The truck was losing speed, as though Jake couldn’t keep his mind on both accelerating and steering.
Jake turned to me. One pupil was a speck, the other a vacant black hole.
I grabbed the wheel just as Jake collapsed forward onto it, his boot dropping full on the gas.
The truck lurched. The speedometer rose. Twenty. Twenty-two. Twenty-five.
My first reaction was panic. Naturally, that didn’t slow the pickup.
My brain kicked in.
One-arming Jake against the seat back, I grabbed the wheel.
The truck continued gathering speed.
While steering with my left hand, I struggled to shift Jake’s leg with my right. The leg was dead weight. I couldn’t lift or jostle it sideways.
The truck was on a downslope and accelerating fast. Twenty-seven. Thirty.
I tried shoving Jake’s leg. Kicking it with my heel.
My movements jerked the wheel. The truck swerved and a tire dropped onto the shoulder. I corrected. Gravel flew, and the truck hopped back up onto the pavement.
Trees were clipping by faster and faster. We hit thirty-five. I had to do something.
The Mount of Olives formed a sheer rock face on the left. Twenty yards up, I saw a recess fronted by a small clearing overgrown with brambles.
I fought the urge to spin the wheel. Not yet. Wait.
Please, God! Hold the traffic!
I swung the wheel left. The truck veered over the center line and careened on the rims of two wheels. Abandoning my attempts at steering, I wedged both hands under Jake’s thigh and heaved upward. His boot lifted a few millimeters. The engine hitched and backed off.
The truck shattered a wooden guardrail, pitched sideways, and slid, spewing dirt and gravel. Brambles and cold, Cambrian rock closed in.
I yanked Jake toward me and down. Then I threw myself over him, arms covering our heads.
Branches clawed the side panels. Something popped against the windshield.
I heard a loud metallic crunch, felt a jolt, and Jake and I pitched into the wheel.
The engine cut off.
No voice called out. No bee bumbled. No car whizzed past. Just the silence of the Mount and my own frenzied breathing.
For several heartbeats, I stayed motionless, feeling adrenaline making the rounds.
Finally, one bird threw out a tentative caw.
I sat up and checked Jake. His forehead had a lump the size of a bluepoint oyster. His eyelids looked mauve, and his skin felt clammy. He needed a doc. Pronto.
Could I move him?
Would the engine turn over?
Opening my door against the resistance of the brambles, I slid to the ground, and plowed my way around the truck.
Pull Jake out? Shove him sideways?
Jake was six-six and weighed 170. I was five-five and weighed, well, less.
Fighting vegetation, I yanked the driver’s side door and stepped in. I was wriggling an arm under Jake’s back when a vehicle slowed and left the pavement behind me. Gravel crunched as it rolled to a stop.
A Samaritan? A zealot?
Withdrawing my arm, I turned.
White Corolla. Two men in front.
The men looked at me through the windshield. I looked back.
The men conferred.
My gaze dropped to the license plate. White numbers, red background.
Relief flooded through me.
Both men got out. One wore a sport jacket and khakis. The other wore a pale blue shirt with black epaulettes, black shoulder patch, and black braided cord looping the armpit and running into the left breast pocket. A silver pin over the right pocket proclaimed in Hebrew what I assumed to be the cop’s name.
“Shalom.”The cop had a high forehead capped by a thin blond crew cut. He looked about thirty. I gave him two years until he started pricing hair plugs.
“Geveret, HaKol beseder?”Madam, is everything all right?
“My friend needs medical attention,” I said in English.
Crew Cut approached. His partner remained behind the open door of their vehicle, right hand cocked at his hip.
Clawing free of the bushes I stepped away from the truck, non-threatening.
“And you would be?”
“Temperance Brennan. I’m a forensic anthropologist. American.”
“The driver is Dr. Jacob Drum. He’s an American archaeologist working here in Israel.”
Jake made an odd gurgling sound in his throat. Crew Cut’s gaze cut to him, and then to the remains of Jake’s driver’s side window.
Jake chose that moment to rejoin the conscious. Or perhaps he’d been awake and listening to the exchange. Bending forward, he retrieved his sunglasses from among the pedals, slipped them on, and straightened.
Glancing from the cop to me and back, Jake slid to the passenger side to facilitate conversation.
The cop circled to him.
Moreshalom s were exchanged.
“Are you injured, sir?”
“Just a bump.” Jake’s laugh was convincing. The blue point on his forehead was not.
“Shall I radio for an ambulance?”
Crew Cut’s face looked dubious. Perhaps it was the incongruity between the injury to Jake and the injury to Jake’s window. Perhaps it was always that way. It had looked dubious upon its exit from the Corolla.
“Really,” Jake said. “I’m fine.”
I should have objected. I didn’t.
“I must have hit a pothole, or dropped a wheel or something.” Jake gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Dumb-ass move.”
Crew Cut glanced at the blacktop, then back at Jake.
“I’m excavating a site near Talpiot. Working with a crew from the Rockefeller Museum.”
So Jake had heard me.
“Just showing the little lady around.”
Crew Cut’s mouth moved to say something, reconsidered, merely requested the usual papers.
Jake produced a U.S. passport, an Israeli driver’s license, and the truck’s registration. I forked over my passport.
Crew Cut studied each document. Then, “I’ll be a moment.” To Jake, “Please stay in your vehicle.”
“Mind if I see if this piece of junk will start?”
“Don’t move the vehicle.”
While Crew Cut ran our names, Jake tried the ignition, again and again, with no luck. The wounded piece of junk had gone as far as it was going that day.
A semi rumbled by. A bus. An army Jeep. I watched each recede, its taillights growing smaller and closer together.
Jake slumped against the seat back and swallowed several times. I suspected he was feeling queasy.
Crew Cut returned and handed back our documents. I checked the side mirror. The plainclothes cop was now slouched behind the wheel.
“Can I offer you a ride, Dr. Drum?”
“Yeah.” Jake’s bravado had evaporated. “Thanks.”
We got out. Pointlessly, Jake locked the truck, then we followed Crew Cut and climbed into the Corolla’s backseat.
The plainclothes cop eyed us, nodded. He wore silver-rimmed glasses on a tired face. Crew Cut introduced him as Sergeant Schenck.
“Where to?” Schenck asked.
Jake started to give directions to his apartment in Beit Hanina. I cut him off.
“I’m fine,” Jake protested. Weakly.
“Take us to an ER.” My tone suggested not an inch of wiggle room.
“You’re staying at the American Colony, Dr. Brennan?” Schenck.
The boys had been thorough.
Schenck made a U-turn onto the blacktop.
During the ride, Jake stayed awake, but grew passive. At my request, Schenck radioed ahead to the ER.
When Schenck pulled up, two orderlies swept Jake from the car, strapped him to a gurney, and whisked him away for CTs or MRIs or whatever techno-wizardry is brought to bear in cases of head trauma.
Schenck and Crew Cut handed me a form. I signed. They sped off.
A nurse pumped me for information on Jake. I supplied what I could. I signed other forms. I learned I was at Hadassah Hospital, on the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University, just a few minutes north of the Israel National Police Headquarters.
Paperwork completed, I took a seat in the waiting area, prepared for a long stay. I’d been there ten minutes when a tall man in aviator shades pushed through the double doors.
I felt, what? Relief? Gratitude? Embarrassment?
Drawing close, Ryan slid the aviators onto his head.
“You good, soldier?” The electric blues were filled with concern.
“Offense run scrimmages on your face?”
“I slipped in a tomb.”
“I hate it when that happens.” Ryan’s mouth did that twitchy thing it does when I’m looking like hell.
“Don’t say it,” I warned.
My hair was sweaty from climbing in and out of the Kidron. My face was scraped and swollen from my tunnel dive. My jacket was smeared with paw prints. I was dirt-speckled, bramble-scratched, and my jeans and fingernails were caked with enough crypt mud to plaster a hut.
Ryan dropped into the chair beside me.
“What went down out there?”
I told him about the tomb and the jackal, and about the incoming rounds from the Hevrat Kadisha.
“Jake lost consciousness?”
“Briefly.” I left out details of the runaway truck.
“Probably a mild concussion.”
I told him.
“Better hope these guys follow their own dictates and let the dead lie.”
I explained Jake’s theory that the James ossuary had been looted from this tomb, making the place the Jesus family crypt.
“This hypothesis is based on carvings on old boxes?”
“Jake claims to have more proof at his lab. Says it’s dynamite.”
A woman arrived with an infant. The infant was crying. The woman eyed me, kept walking, and took a seat in the farthest bank of chairs.
“I saw something, Ryan.” With one thumbnail, I dug mud from under the other. “When I was in the lower chamber.”
I described what I’d spotted through the hole created when the rock fell out.
Across the room the baby was picking up steam. The mother rose and began pacing the floor.
I thought of Katy. I remembered the night she spiked a temperature of 105, and the emergency-room run with Pete. Suddenly, I missed my daughter very much.
“How did you know we were here?” I asked, dragging my thoughts back to the present.
“Schenck’s major crimes. He knew Friedman was working Kaplan, and that I’d come to Israel with some female American anthropologist. Schenck put two and two together and dimed Friedman.”
“Any news on that front?”
“Kaplan’s denying he copped the necklace.”
“TURNS OUT THE ACCUSED, THAT WOULD BEKAPLAN, AND THEwronged, that would be Litvak, go way back.”
“Kaplan is a friend of the shopkeeper he robbed?”
“Distant cousin and sometime supplier. Kaplan provides Litvak with the occasional, how did Litvak phrase it? Item of curiosity.”
“Litvak deals in antiquities?”
“Of course not.”
“Of course not.”
“Litvak and Kaplan had had words just prior to the disappearance of the necklace.”
“Words over what?”
“Kaplan promised something and failed to deliver. Litvak was pissed. Things got heated. Kaplan stormed out.”
“Palming the necklace on his way.”
Ryan nodded. “Litvak was so peeved he called the cops.”
“Litvak’s not the sharpest knife in the set. And a bit of a hothead.”
The infant was cranking up for a personal best. The woman walked by, patting its back.
Ryan and I smiled them past.
“What was Kaplan supposed to have delivered to Litvak?” I asked when mother and child had moved off.
“An item of curiosity.”
I rolled my eyes. It hurt.
Ryan folded his shades and slid them into his shirt pocket. Leaning back, he stretched his legs and laced his fingers on top of his stomach.
“A gen-oo-ine Masada relic.”
I was about to say something clever like, “No shit!” when the triage nurse entered the waiting area and strode our way. Ryan and I stood.
“Mr. Drum has suffered a mild concussion. Dr. Epstein has decided to keep him overnight.”
“You’re admitting him?”
“For observation. It’s standard. Other than a headache and possibly some irritability, Mr. Drum should be fine in a day or two.”
“When can I see him?”
“It’ll be an hour or two until he’s transferred upstairs.”
When the nurse had gone, Ryan turned in his chair.
“How about lunch?”
“How about lunch with strong liquor, then sex?”
“You are one silver-tongued devil.”
Ryan’s face lit up.
Ryan’s face fell.
“I need to tell Jake what I saw in that tomb.”
Two hours later, Ryan and I were in Jake’s room. The patient was wearing one of those tie-at-the-nape gowns that had seen way too much bleach. Tubing ran from his right arm. His left was thrown over his forehead, palm out.
“It wasn’t the tomb,” Jake snapped, voice thick, face paler than the gown.
“Then why the demonstration?”
“The Hevrat Kadisha were targeting you!”
The nurse hadn’t been kidding about irritability.
“They know why you’re in Israel.”
“How could they?”
“You called the IAA.”
“Not since I’ve been here.”
“You contacted Tovya Blotnik from Montreal.” Barked like one who might eat his own young.
“The phones at the IAA are bugged.”
“By whom?” I wasn’t believing this.
“Who think you are a child of the devil,” Ryan inserted.
I threw him a look that said I wasn’t amused.
Jake ignored the exchange.
“These people are lunatics,” he went on. “They throw rocks so people can’t drive on the Sabbath. They put up posters damning archaeologists by name. I get calls over and over in the middle of the night, recorded messages, cursing me to die of cancer, hoping that terrible things happen to my family.”
Jake’s eyes closed against the fluorescents burning overhead.
“It wasn’t the tomb,” he repeated. “They know that tomb’s empty. And they haven’t a clue about its true importance.”
“Then what did they want?” I asked, confused.
Jake’s eyes opened.
“I’ll tell you what they wanted. The rabbi kept demanding the remains of the hero of Masada.”
Whom we’d left in a loculus not twenty feet from them.
“Will they search the tomb?”
“What do you think?” An ornery ten-year-old.
I refused to be sucked in by Jake’s foul mood.
“I think it depends on whether they saw us with the hockey bag.”
“Give the lady a big gold star.”
The little lady.
Jake lowered his arm and stared at his clenched fist. For a few seconds, no one spoke.
I broke the silence.
“There’s more, Jake.”
Jake looked at me. I noticed that his pupils had equalized.
“I dislodged a rock climbing up from the lower chamber. There’s a recess behind the tunnel wall that’s completely closed off.”
“Right.” Scornful. “A hidden loculus.”
“When I shined the flashlight inside, I saw what looked like old fabric.”
“You’re serious?” Jake struggled to sit up.
“There’s no question that tomb dates to the first century. The ossuaries prove that. Textiles from that period have been found in the desert, but never in Jerusalem.”
“If you promise not to take my head off, I’ll tell you the rest.”
Jake lay back on his pillow.
“I think the fabric may be a shroud.”
“I also saw bones.”
At that moment a nurse came through the door, rubber heels squeaking on the shiny gray tile. When she’d finished checking Jake she turned to me.
“You must leave now. This patient needs rest.”
Jake struggled up onto his elbows. “We’ve got to get back out there,” he said to me.
“Lie down, Mr. Drum.” The nurse placed hands on Jake’s shoulders and applied pressure.
The nurse gave him a look that suggested rubber hoses were next.
The nurse looked at me.
“Now.” Her tone suggested rubber hoses for visitors.
I patted Jake’s arm.
“I’ll go back out first thing in the morning.”
“It can’t wait.”
Nurse Ratchet glared my way.
I stepped back from the bed.
Jake raised his head from the pillow and spit one last word.
“Now!” Sounding just like Nurse Ratchet.
Ryan phoned INP headquarters from the hospital lobby. I was too preoccupied to pay much attention.
How would I find my way back to the Kidron? Who would help me once I got to the tomb? I couldn’t ask Ryan. He was here on police business. Friedman was taking time out of his schedule to help him. Ryan needed to focus on Kaplan.
“Friedman’s coming,” Ryan said, flipping the cover on his rented mobile.
“He’s finished with Kaplan?”
“He’s giving the gentleman time to reflect.”
“Kaplan thinks he’s been arrested because of Litvak’s necklace?”
“And some bad checks in Canada.”
“You haven’t yet questioned him about Ferris?”
Ryan shook his head. “Friedman’s got an interesting approach. Says little, lets the suspect talk, all the while watching for details and inconsistencies he can pounce on later.”
“Give a liar enough rope…”
“Kaplan’s getting enough to dangle from the top of K2.”
“When does Ferris go into the mix?”
“Will you show Kaplan the picture he gave me at the autopsy?”
“Should give him a jolt.”
I experienced a sudden jolt of my own.
“Ohmygod, Ryan! Do you suppose Max could be Kaplan’s gen-oo-ine Masada relic? Do you suppose Kaplan got wind of the skeleton from Ferris?”
Ryan smiled widely. “Want to come along and ask him?”
“Could help Friedman with his pounce.”
“I’m sure he’d agree.”
“I’m a terrific pouncer.”
“I’ve seen you. It’s frightening.”
“It’s a gift.”
While we waited, Ryan asked how I planned to return to the Kidron.
I admitted to some uncertainty on logistics.
We’d been in the lobby ten minutes when Friedman arrived. En route to the American Colony, he updated Ryan on the Kaplan interrogation.
There was little to update. Kaplan was still saying he’d intended to pay for the necklace. Litvak was now saying maybe he’d been a bit hasty.
Ryan filled Friedman in on my morning’s activities.
“You think this textile’s genuine first century?” Friedman asked into the rearview mirror.
“It’s definitely old,” I said. “And the loculus looks undisturbed.”
“And looters will be on that tomb like flies on a corpse.”
Friedman thought a moment. Then, “Whoo-hoo!!”
“We be tomb raiders!”
Friedman had been watching far too many movies.
“Where to?” he asked.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked.
“Ab-so-fuckin-lutely,” Friedman said. “I take this country’s cultural heritage very seriously.”
“Don’t we need a permit? Or at least authorization?”
“Got it covered.”
“The hotel, please. I’ll pick up my camera.”
“Anything else?” Ryan asked.
“A shovel and something to dislodge stones.” My mind flashed to the blackout in the lower chamber. “And powerful flashlights with brand-new batteries.”
Friedman dropped me at the American Colony, then he and Ryan set off on a supply mission. I raced to the third floor.
Jake would recover!
I would retrieve Max and, perhaps, a first-century shroud!
Wrapping whose remains?
From whose tomb?
I was pitched so high I took the stairs two risers at a time.
Soap was in my future! A hairbrush! A dry shirt!
Ryan and Friedman were helping!
Life was good! An adventure!
Then I opened my door.
And stared in disbelief.
MY ROOM WAS TRASHED.
The bed had been stripped, the linens tossed, the mattress flipped. The closet and armoire stood agape, with hangers, shoes, and sweaters flung in all directions.
My euphoria crumbled.
Stupid. Of course they’d gone, and wouldn’t introduce themselves if they hadn’t.
I checked the door for signs of forced entry. The lock was intact. The wood was not gouged.
Heart bounding, I rushed into the room.
Every drawer was open. My suitcase was upended, the contents pitched and mauled.
My laptop lay untouched on the desk.
I tried to think what that meant.
Thieves? Of course not!
Why leave the computer?
From whom? About what?
With shaky hands, I snatched up underwear, T-shirts, jeans.
Like Jake, gathering belongings from around his truck.
My mind loosened.
The thought carved a wedge. Anger barreled in.
“You smarmy little bastards!”
I slammed drawers. Folded sweaters. Rehung pants.
Outrage hardened me, annihilating any prospect of tears.
I finished with the bedroom, moved to the bath. Arranged my toiletries. Washed my face. Brushed my hair.
I’d just changed shirts when the phone rang. Ryan was in the lobby.
“My room’s been ransacked,” I said, without preamble.
“Probably Hevrat Kadisha looking for Max.”
“You’re not having a gold-star morning.”
“I’ll buttonhole the manager.”
“I’m on my way down.”
By the time I descended, Ryan had been joined by Friedman, and they’d established two things. No visitor had inquired about me. No desk clerk had given out my room key.
Or had admitted to doing so.
I believed it. The American Colony was operated and staffed by Arabs. I doubted there was a Hevrat Kadisha sympathizer among them.
The manager, Mrs. Hanani, asked if I wished to file an official police report. Her voice conveyed a decided lack of enthusiasm.
Clearly relieved, Mrs. Hanani promised a full in-house investigation, stepped-up security, and compensation for anything stolen or damaged.
Friedman assured her that was a splendid plan.
I made a request. Mrs. Hanani hurried to the kitchen to fill it.
When she returned I slipped the items into my backpack, offered thanks, and assured her I’d lost nothing of value.
Climbing into Friedman’s car, I wondered if later I’d regret my separate-rooms dictum. Professionalism be damned. Lying in bed, alone in the dark, I knew I’d want Ryan beside me.
It took almost an hour to get back to the Kidron. The Jerusalem police had been tipped that a suicide bomber was headed their way from Bethlehem. Extra checkpoints had been set up, and traffic was snarled.
On the way, I asked Friedman about the permit. Patting a pocket, he assured me he’d obtained the paper. I believed him.
At Silwan, I directed Friedman to the same clearing in which Jake had parked. As he and Ryan dug tools from the trunk, I checked the valley.
Not a black hat in sight.
I led the trek downhill. Ryan and Friedman followed.
At the tomb I stood a moment, considering the entrance. The small black portal stared back blankly.
I felt a hitch in my heartbeat. Ignoring it, I turned. Both my companions were perspiring and breathing hard.
“What about the jackal?” I asked.
“I’ll announce we’ve come to call.” Friedman pulled his revolver, squatted, and fired a bullet into the tomb. “If she’s in there, she’ll take off.”
We waited. No jackal appeared.
“She’s probably miles from here,” Friedman said.
“I’ll check the lower level,” Ryan said, holding out his hand.
Friedman handed him the gun.
Ryan winged a shovel and crowbar through the opening, then wriggled down into the tomb. I heard a second shot, then the scraping of boots. Silence. More scraping, then Ryan’s face appeared in the entrance.
“Jackal-free,” he said, handing Friedman his weapon.
“I’ll take first watch.” Friedman’s mouth looked tight. I wondered if he shared my aversion to close confinement.
I strode forward, shoved my pack then my feet into darkness and dropped, hoping to fool whatever neurons were monitoring personal space. They fell for it. I was in the tomb before my brain was wise to the move.
Beside me, Ryan was working a Mag-Lite. Our faces were jack-o’-lanterns, our shadows dark cutouts in the wash of white behind us.
“Point it over there.” I indicated the northern loculus.
Ryan redirected the beam. The rock had been moved. No hint of blue leaped from the gloom.
I crawled to the loculus. Ryan followed.
The small recess was empty.
“They got him?” Ryan asked.
I wasn’t surprised.
But I was crushed to see it.
Max had been taken.
“I’m sorry,” Ryan said.
Southern manners. Reflex. I started to say, “It’s all right,” caught myself. It wasn’t all right.
The skeleton was gone.
I slumped back onto my heels, feeling the oppressive weight of the tomb. The cold rock. The stale air. The velvety silence.
Had I really had a close encounter with one of Masada’s dead?
Had I lost him for good?
Was I sitting in a burial place of the holy?
Was I being watched?
By the Hevrat Kadisha?
By the souls of those peopling the catechisms of my youth?
Who had Max been?
Who had lain in this tomb?
Who lay here still?
I felt a hand on my shoulder. My brain snapped back.
“Let’s go below,” I whispered.
Crawling to the tunnel, I used the same technique that had gotten me into the tomb.
In and down.
Ryan was beside me in seconds.
Hadn’t I dumped all the fallen rocks to the right? Some now lay to the left. Was my memory faulty? Had these rocks also been moved?
Dear God, let it still be here!
Ryan crooked the Mag-Lite at the breach I’d created in my tumble. Bright white arrowed into inky black.
And fell on russet.
As before, my eyes strained to absorb. My brain struggled to sort.
Rough texture. Lumpy contour.
Peeking from one edge, barely visible, a tiny brown cylinder knobbed at one end.
A human phalanx.
I grabbed Ryan’s arm.
No time for proper archaeological protocol. We had to get the goods out before the Hevrat Kadisha got wise.
While I held the light, Ryan wedged the crowbar into a crack outlining a rock immediately above the breach. Ryan heaved, triggering a rainfall of pebbles.
The rock wobbled, dropped back into place.
Ryan heaved harder.
The rock shifted, settled again.
I watched as Ryan made a dozen thrusts, glad Friedman was covering our flank topside. I hoped we wouldn’t need him down here.
Ryan exchanged the crowbar for the shovel. Inserting the blade, he levered backward on the handle with all his strength.
The rock popped forward and dropped with a thud.
I scrambled to the enlarged opening. It was big enough.
My heart started throwing in extra beats.
Calm. Ryan’s here. Friedman’s on guard at the entrance.
Leading with my head and shoulders, I pulled myself into the loculus, and wriggled to the far end, moving gingerly and hugging the wall. Ryan lit my way.
What I’d spotted was indeed textile. Two sections remained, each rotten and discolored. The larger was toward the opening of the loculus, the foot end. The smaller was farther in, near where I assumed the head lay.
Leaning close, I could make out a coarse checkerboard weave. The pieces were small, the edges ragged, indicating much of the original had been lost.
Some bones lay below the shroud. Others ringed it. In addition to the phalanx, I recognized fragments of ulna, femur, pelvis, and skull.
How to recover what remained without tearing the shroud? I ran through options. None was ideal.
Inserting my fingertips, I lifted a corner of the larger section.
The fabric rose with a soft crinkling, the sound of dry leaves being crushed underfoot.
I tested at intervals.
Portions came up easily. Portions stuck.
I dug my digital camera from my pack. With Ryan lighting the loculus like a tiny movie set, I placed my Swiss Army knife as a scale marker, and took shots from several angles.
Photos done, I dug out the Tupperware and spatula supplied by Mrs. Hanani.
Using the spatula’s blade and my fingertips, I carefully separated cloth from underlying bone and rock. When I had liftoff, I gently wound each segment of cloth in onto itself, and sealed each roll in a separate tub.
Not optimal, but under the circumstances, the best I could do.
With the shroud removed, I had a clear view of the human remains.
The phalanx and one calcaneus were the only intact bones. The rest of the skeleton was fragmented and badly deteriorated.
With shadow puppets mimicking my actions on the walls around me, I spent the next hour gathering bones, teeth, and underlying fill.
My back and joints ached from working pretzeled into the cramped space. My feet went numb.
At one point Friedman called down from above, “Everything okay?”
“Hunky-dory,” Ryan answered.
And later, “How long?”
“Should I make camp?”
“Soon,” Ryan repeated.
Late afternoon was bleeding into dusk when we finally surfaced.
Ryan climbed out first. I handed up the shovel, the crowbar, and the pack containing the remnants of the shroud and the person whom that shroud had once wrapped.
The former lay coiled in a pair of shallow containers. The latter filled two small tubs. Barely. A third tub held fill from the loculus floor.
Friedman was sitting on the ground, ankles crossed, back to the hillside. He didn’t look irked. He didn’t look bored.
He looked like Gilligan waiting for the Captain.
On seeing us, Friedman drained his bottled water, and cranked to his feet.
“Get your man?”
Good question. I’d taken a peek. The pelvic fragments were broadcasting mixed signals on gender.
I gave a thumbs-up, then brushed dirt from my hands by rubbing them together.
“Going up?” Ryan asked Friedman in an elevator voice.
Friedman nodded, took the shovel, and began climbing. We fell in behind.
Twenty yards from the top we stopped for a group breather. Friedman’s face was crimson. Sweat matted Ryan’s hairline. I was far from ready for close-ups, myself.
Minutes later, we were at Friedman’s car.
“Join us for dinner?” Ryan asked as Friedman pulled out of Silwan.
Friedman shook his head. “Gotta get home.”
To what? I wondered. A wife? A budgie? A chop defrosting in the kitchen sink?
At the hotel, Ryan and Friedman remained outside. I went straight to the desk. The clerk managed to check out my appearance while avoiding actual eye contact. I was impressed. But not enough to explain why I looked like a train wreck.
Keys in hand, I started back toward the circle drive. Ryan had left Friedman and was walking toward me through the portico. Behind him, I could see Friedman conversing with Mrs. Hanani.
The hotel manager stood stiffly, eyes down, arms wrapping her waist.
Friedman said something. Mrs. Hanani’s head jerked up and shook in negation.
While Friedman spoke again, Mrs. Hanani pulled cigarettes from a pocket and tried lighting up. The match head jigged around, finally hit its target. Mrs. Hanani drew smoke into her lungs, exhaled, again shook her head.
Friedman walked away. Mrs. Hanani took a drag and exhaled slowly, squinting through the smoke at his departing back. I couldn’t read her expression.
“What is it?” Ryan asked.
I held out his key.
Ryan’s hand closed around mine.
“What chow would you be favorin’, ma’am?”
I knew I wanted a shower. I knew I wanted clean clothes. I knew I wanted food, followed by twelve hours of sleep.
I hadn’t a clue what cuisine I favored.
“Got a plan?”
“On Histadrut. Been there since before Israel was Israel. Friedman tells me Mouli Azrieli’s an institution.”
“Mouli would be the owner.”
Ryan nodded. “Mouli’s reputed to have turned Kissinger away rather than close the doors to his regulars. But more to the point, Mouli is said to rustle up some mean beef goulash.”
Rustle up? Ryan was going into his cowboy routine.
“Thirty minutes.” I raised one muddy finger. “On one condition.”
Ryan spread his arms. What?
“Lose the lingo.”
I turned toward the stairs.
“Lock the booty in your room safe,” Ryan said to my back. “Rustlers in these parts.”
I stopped. Ryan was right. But my room had been burgled. It wasn’t safe. I’d lost one set of bones, and didn’t want to risk losing another.
“Do you think Friedman would secure the bones at police headquarters overnight?”
I held out my pack. Ryan took it.
Soap and shampoo. Blush and mascara. A half hour later, in soft light, from the right angle, I looked reasonably good.
Fink’s boasted a total of six tables. And a million examples of bric-a-brac. Though the decor was dated, the goulash was excellent.
And Mouli did join us with his stack of scrapbooks. Golda Meir. Kirk Douglas. John Steinbeck. Shirley MacLaine. His celeb collection rivaled that at the American Colony.
In the taxi, Ryan asked, “What would you be thinking, lass?” He’d tradedGunsmoke for Galway.
“Mouli needs new curtains. What would you be thinkin’?”
Ryan beamed a smile as wide as Galway Bay.
“Ah, ’tis that,” I said.
“’Tis,” he said.
I needn’t have worried about fretting sleepless alone in the dark.
ISLEPT THROUGH THE MUEZZIN’S CALL TO PRAYER. ISLEPTthrough morning rush hour humming by my window. I slept through Ryan slipping off to his room.
I awoke to my jeans playing “A Hard Day’s Night.”
That couldn’t be right.
“I should be sleepin’ like a log…”
The music cut off.
Weird dream. Lying back, I remembered the prior evening’s postprandial romp. The lyrics fast-forwarded in my mind.
“You know I feel all right…”
The tinny music blared again.
Bolting from bed, I unpocketed the phone, and dropped the jeans back onto the floor.
“You’vegot my cell.”
“How are you?”
I looked at the clock. Seven-forty.
“Peachy. I love being bled and having thumbs shoved up my butt.”
“I’m outa here before they take another run at me.”
“You’ve been released?”
“Right.” Jake snorted.
“Jake, you have to-”
“Uh. Huh. Did you get it?”
“The bag was gone.”
I waited out the explosion.
“What about the other?”
“I have the shrou-”
“Don’t say it over a cell phone! Can you get to my place?”
“I’ve got to deal with the truck, then scare up a replacement vehicle.” Pause. “Eleven?”
“Directions?” I darted to the desk.
Jake gave them. The landmarks and street names meant nothing to me.
“I have to call the IAA, Jake.” To tell them I’d lost the skeleton. I was dreading it.
“First, let me show you what else I recovered from that tomb.”
“I’ve been in Israel for two days. I have to call Blotnik.”
“When you’ve seen what I have.”
“Today,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah,” he snapped. “And bring my goddamn phone.”
Obviously Jake still had irritability issues. And paranoia issues? Did he really believe his calls were being monitored?
I was standing naked, phone in one hand, pen in the other, when someone kicked my door.
Crap. Now what?
I checked the peephole.
Ryan had returned bearing bagels and coffee. He’d shaved, and his hair was wet from the shower.
Through my morning toilette, I described Jake’s call.
“We’ll finish with Kaplan well before eleven. Where’s Jake living?”
“I’ll get you out there.”
“I’ve got directions.”
“How is he?”
Kaplan was being held at a police station in the Russian Compound, one of the first quarters to be established outside the Old City. Originally intended as a residence for Russian pilgrims, it was now a down-at-the-heels piece of inner city deservedly slated for urban renewal.
The district headquarters and attached lockup were a collection of buildings wedged between Jaffa Street and the Russian church. Stone walls, iron window grates. Dingy and decrepit, the place blended well with the hood.
Police units pointed every which way. Friedman parked among them, by a cement barricade flanking the compound. Near it, a massive stone pillar lay half-exposed in the earth.
The pillar was fenced off with iron railings, inside of which were mounded thousands of cigarette butts. I pictured policemen and nervous prisoners taking their last open-air drags before heading or being herded inside.
Friedman noticed me eyeing the pillar.
“First century,” he said.
“Herod strikes again?” Ryan said.
Friedman nodded. “They say it was intended for the royal stoa of Herod’s Temple Mount.”
“The old boy was quite a builder.”
“Quarrymen noticed a crack, so they just left the thing in the ground. Two millennia later, it’s still here.”
We passed through a small guardhouse where we were electronically searched, then questioned. Inside the station, we were again quizzed by a sentry who had to have been at least a year out of high school, then led to a recently vacated office.
Smoke fouled the air. Papers littered the desk, topped by a half-drunk mug of coffee. Stacks of reports. A Rolodex flipped toT.
I noted a name on the mug. Solomon.
I wondered how ole Sol felt about being booted from his digs.
The air had that universal police station smell. A small fan did its best, but it wasn’t enough.
Friedman disappeared, returned. Minutes later, a uniformed cop escorted the prisoner into the office. Kaplan wore black pants and a white shirt. No belt. No shoelaces.
The cop took up a position outside the door. Ryan leaned on one wall. I leaned on another.
Kaplan flashed Friedman a chamber-of-commerce smile. He was clean-shaven, and his eyes seemed pouchier than I remembered.
“I trust Mr. Litvak has come to his senses.”
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.
The raspy voice cinched it. Kessler and Kaplan were one and the same.
Friedman pointed to a chair. Kaplan sat.
“This is such a silly misunderstanding.” Kaplan laughed a silly-misunderstanding laugh.
Friedman took Sol’s desk chair and inspected his fingernails.
Kaplan turned and got his first good look at me. Something flicked in his eyes, shutter-quick.
Recognition? The first inkling of why he was here?
Ryan stepped forward. Wordlessly, he held up the photo of Max.
Kaplan’s smile faltered, but hung in.
“You remember Dr. Brennan?” Ryan nodded in my direction.
Kaplan didn’t reply.
“Avram Ferris?” Ryan went on. “All that nasty autopsy business?”
“Tell me about it,” Ryan said.
“What’s to tell?”
“I didn’t travel to Israel to discuss checks, Mr. Kaplan.” Ryan’s voice could have cut polar ice. “Or is it Kessler?”
Kaplan crossed his arms. “Yes, Detective. I knew Avram Ferris. Is that what you came here to ask?”
“Where did you get this?” Ryan tapped the photo.
Ryan gave Kaplan silence. Kaplan filled it.
Kaplan flicked a glance at Friedman. Friedman was still admiring his manicure.
“Ferris and I did occasional business.”
“It’s stuffy in here.” Kaplan’s bonhomie was fading fast. “I need water.”
“Mr. Kaplan.” Deep disappointment in Friedman’s voice. “Is that how we ask?”
“Please.” Exaggerated sigh.
Friedman strode to the door and spoke to someone in the corridor. Returning to his seat, he smiled at Kaplan. The smile held all the warmth of a proto-amphibian.
“Business?” Ryan repeated.
“I bought and sold things for him.”
“What kind of things?”
A small guy with a big nose arrived and handed Kaplan a grimy glass. The guy was scowling. Sol?
Kaplan gulped, looked up, but didn’t speak.
“What kind of things?” Ryan repeated.
Kaplan shrugged. The water trembled.
“Protecting client confidentiality, Mr. Kaplan?”
Kaplan shrugged again.
“Skeletal things?” Ryan waggled the photo of Max.
Kaplan’s face stiffened. Draining the water, he carefully placed the glass on Sol’s blotter, leaned back, and laced his fingers.
“I want a lawyer.”
“Do you need a lawyer?”
“You don’t intimidate me.”
“You hiding something, Mr. Kaplan?”
Ryan turned to Friedman.
“What do you think, Ira? You suppose Mr. Kaplan was engaged in a little black-marketeering?”
“I think that’s possible, Andy.”
Kaplan’s face remained deadpan.
“Or maybe he decided illicit antiques were kids’ stuff, embarked on a more ambitious career path.”
Kaplan’s fingers were thin. He clasped them so tightly the knuckles went white.
“Could be, Andy. Now that you mention it, he looks like a real Renaissance guy to me.”
Ryan addressed Kaplan.
“That it? You decide to up the ante?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean murder, Hersh. It is Hersh, isn’t it?”
“Jesus Christ.” A flush crept north from Kaplan’s collar. “Are you crazy?”
“What do you think, Ira? You think Hersh capped Avram Ferris?”
“No!” Kaplan shot forward and twisted from Ryan to Friedman. “No!”
Ryan and Friedman exchanged shrugs.
“This is insane.” The flush detonated across Kaplan’s face. “I didn’t kill anyone. I couldn’t.”
Ryan and Friedman waited.
“Okay.” Kaplan raised both hands. “Look.” Kaplan chose his words carefully. “Occasionally I secure objects of questionable provenance.”
“You did this for Ferris?”
Kaplan nodded. “Ferris phoned, asked if I could find a buyer for something special.”
“Something that would cause havoc in the Christian world. Those were his words.”
Ryan raised the photo.
Kaplan nodded. “Ferris gave me the photo, said not to tell anyone where I got it.”
“When was this?”
“I don’t know. This winter.”
“That’s a bit vague, Hersh.”
Ryan and I exchanged glances. Ferris was shot in mid-February.
“I floated word, found there was interest, told Ferris I’d deal, but first I’d need more than just his word and his photo for validation. He said he’d get me proof of the skeleton’s authenticity. Before we could meet, Ferris was dead.”
“What did Ferris tell you about the skeleton?” I asked.
Kaplan turned to me. His eyes showed something for a moment, then went neutral.
“It came from Masada.”
“How’d Ferris get it?’
“He didn’t say.”
“He said it was a person of historic importance, and claimed to have proof.”
We all thought about that. What proof might Ferris have had? Statements from Lerner? Le Musée de l’Homme? The museum file that Lerner had stolen? Maybe the original paperwork from Israel?
In the corridor, I heard someone talking to the cop. Poor, displaced Sol?
“What about Miriam Ferris?” Ryan changed tack.
“What about her?”
“Are you acquainted with Mrs. Ferris?”
“Is that a yes?”
“I know her.”
“In the biblical sense?”
“Let me rephrase, Hersh. I did ask if it was Hersh, didn’t I? Did you have an affair with Miriam Ferris?”
“First I asked confirmation of your given name. Then I asked if you were doing Miriam. Two-part questions too tough for you?”
“Miriam was married to my ex-wife’s brother.”
“After your brother-in-law’s death, you two kept in touch?”
Kaplan didn’t answer. Ryan waited. Kaplan folded.
“That how you hooked up with Ferris?”
Again the silence. Again the wait. Again Kaplan crumbled.
“Miriam is a good person.”
“Answer my question, Hersh.”
“Why pony up the photo at Ferris’s autopsy?”
Kaplan shrugged one shoulder. “Just trying to help.”
Ryan went over it and over it. Kaplan grew restless, but stuck to his story. He knew Miriam through his former brother-in-law, and Ferris through Miriam. From time to time, he did some minor-league buying and selling of illegal goods. He’d agreed to unload the skeleton for Ferris. Before he got full background on the bones, Ferris was killed. He didn’t do it. His conscience told him to surrender the photo.
Kaplan’s version never changed.
AT HALF PAST TEN, RYAN ANDIRECLAIMED POSSESSION OF THEshroud and bones, then climbed into Friedman’s personal car, an ’84 Tempo with a duct tapeK on the right rear window. Friedman stayed with Kaplan.
“What’s his plan?” I asked
“Give the gentleman time to reconsider his tale.”
“Ask him to repeat it.”
“Repetition is good,” I said.
“Brings out inconsistencies.”
“And forgotten details.”
“Case in point, Mama Ferris,” Ryan said.
“Got us hooked into Yossi Lerner and Sylvain Morissonneau,” I agreed.
Beit Hanina is an Arab village with the timely good fortune to find itself within modern Jerusalem’s new municipal boundaries. It is now Beit Hanina Hadashah, or New Beit Hanina. Jake had kept a flat here for as long as I’d known him.
Jake’s directions sent us into territory that was Jordan from 1948 until 1967. Ten minutes after leaving the Russian Compound, we hit the Neve Yakov checkpoint on the Ramallah, formerly the Nablus, Road. Good timing. The queue only stretched a block and a half.
Ryan joined the line and we crept forward, car length by car length. On our trip to the Kidron, Jake had told me that the wall designed to cocoon Israel from the rest of the world would shoot down the center of the road we were on. I scanned the stores flanking each side.
Pizza parlors. Dry cleaners. Sweet shops. Florists. We could have been in St-Lambert. Scarsdale. Pontiac. Elmhurst.
But this was Israel. To my left lay the insiders, those whose businesses would prosper despite the wall. To my right lay the outsiders, those whose businesses would wither because of the wall. Sad, I thought. These, the common folk humping to feed their families, were the real winners and losers in this disputed land.
Without Friedman, Ryan and I had anticipated a grilling. Au contraire. The guard glanced at our passports and Ryan’s badge, bent for a look, and waved us through. Crossing into the West Bank, we made an immediate left, then another onto Jake’s street.
Jake rented the top floor of a small stucco home owned by an Italian archaeologist named Antonia Fiorelli. Jake lived up. Fiorelli lived down, with seven cats.
Ryan announced our arrival via a cracked speaker in the property wall. Seconds later Jake opened the gate, led us past a chicken-wire coop housing goats and rabbits, down a winding pebble walk, and up an outer staircase. By the second floor, we’d picked up a three-cat escort.
There are several feline types. The pet-me-I-adore-you-let-me-curl-in-your-lap calico. The feed-me-don’t-bug-me-I’ll-call-youSiamese. The I’m-watching-to-see-if-your-chest-is-still-moving-while-you-sleep feral tom.
This trio fit nicely into category three.
Most of Jake’s flat was taken up by a large central room with brown tile floor, white plaster walls, and brick trim arching the windows and doors. Wooden cabinets lined one end, and swooped around as an island to separate the kitchen from the living and dining areas.
Jake’s bedroom was the size of a broiler oven. It contained an untidy bed, a dresser, and a cardboard box for dirty laundry.
Everything else was “office.” A vestibule area had been converted to a computer and map room. An enclosed porch was used for artifact cleaning. A back bedroom was set up for cataloging, recording, and analysis.
Jake’s disposition had improved since our earlier phone conversation. He greeted us and inquired about our morning before asking for the shroud. He even said please. And smiled.
“This was the best I could do under the circum-”
“Yeah. Yeah.” Jake gave a come-on gesture with both hands.
Okay. The mood rally wasn’t complete.
I set Mrs. Hanani’s Tupperware on the counter. Jake opened and inspected the contents of the first tub.
“Oh my God.”
He pried the cover from the second tub.
“Oh my God.”
Ryan looked at me.
Jake moved to the shroud containers.
Oh my God, Ryan mouthed over Jake’s arched back. I crimped my eyes in a knock-it-off warning.
Wordlessly, Jake stared at the larger section of shroud.
“Oh. My. God.”
Jake disappeared into the back bedroom, returned with a magnifying lens, and inspected the larger remnant.
“I’ll take these to Esther Getz this afternoon,” he said.
Jake studied the shroud a full minute, then straightened.
“Getz is a textile expert at the Rockefeller Museum. Did you examine the bones?”
I shook my head. “There’s not much to examine.”
Jake set down the lens, stepped back, and made a sweeping gesture with one long arm. Ryan gave a trumpet flourish with his lips.
I moved to the counter, and gently poured the contents of each tub onto its lid.
“Do you have gloves?”
Jake started toward the back bedroom.
“And tweezers,” I said to his retreating back. “And a probe or dental pick.”
He got all three. As Jake and Ryan watched, I sorted, naming each fragment.
“Phalanx. Calcaneus.” Those were the easy ones. No other shard was larger than my earlobe. “Ulna, femur, pelvis, skull.”
“So what do you think?” Jake asked when I’d finished.
“I think there’s not much to examine.”
“Male or female?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Damn it, Tempe. This is serious.”
I inspected a chunk of occipital bone. The nuchal crest was prominent, but it wasn’t a record-setter. Ditto for the linea aspera on some splinters of femoral shaft. The only thing left of the pelvis was the thick, chunky part that had formed a joint with the sacrum. No gender-specific feature remained.
“The muscle attachments are robust. I’d give it a qualified ‘male,’ and that’s probably the best I’ll be able to do. Nothing’s complete enough for measurement.”
I picked up and rotated the heel bone. A small, circular defect caught my eye. Jake noticed my interest.
I pointed at the tiny tunnel on the outer side of the bone. “That’s not natural.”
“What do you mean, not natural?” Jake asked.
“It’s not supposed to be there.”
Jake repeated his come-on gesture, more impatient than before.
“It’s not a foramen for a vessel or nerve. The bone’s badly abraded, but, from what I can see, the hole’s edges are sharp, not smooth.”
I lay down the calcaneus and handed Jake the glass. He bent and brought the midpart of the bone into focus.
“What do you think it is?” Ryan asked.
Before I could answer, Jake shot into the map room. Drawers opened and slammed, then he reappeared, flipping through stapled pages.
Slapping the pages onto the counter, Jake jabbed a finger at one.
I looked down.
Jake was pointing at an article titled “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” His finger was on a page of photographs. Much detail had been lost in the photocopy process, but the subject was obvious.
Four shots depicted fragments of a calcaneus and other foot bones, some before and some after separation and reconstruction. Though coated with a thick, calcareous crust, an iron nail could be seen traversing the calcaneus from side to side. A wooden plaque peeked from below the nail head.
A fifth photo showed a modern heel bone for comparison. On it was a circular lesion positioned precisely as the defect on our shroud calcaneus.
I looked a question at Jake.