Also by Kathy Reichs
DEATH DU JOUR
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2004 by Temperance Brennan, L.P.
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
“Monday, Monday” by John Phillips
Copyright © 1965 Universal-MCA Music Publishing, Inc. (ASCAP)
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
SCRIBNER and design are trademarks of Macmillan Library Reference USA, Inc., used under license by Simon & Schuster, the publisher of this work.
DESIGNED BY ERICH HOBBING
Text set in Stempel Garamond
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Monday mourning/Kathy Reichs.
1. Brennan, Temperance (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
2. Women forensic anthropologists—Fiction.
3. Montréal (Québec)—Fiction. 4. Pizza industry—Fiction.
5. Restaurants—Fiction. I. Title.
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
Thanks to Darden Hood, Director, Beta Analytic Inc., for advice on radiocarbon dating. W. Alan Gorman and James K. W. Lee, Department of Geological Sciences, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, and Brian Beard, Department of Geology, University of Wisconsin, shared their knowledge of bedrock geology and strontium isotope analysis.
Michael Finnegan, Department of Anthropology, Kansas State University, provided details on aging bone with UV light. Robert B. J. Dorion, Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale, supplied information on property research in Montreal. Sergeant Pierre Marineau, Special Constable, Securité Publique, guided me on a tour of the Montreal courthouse. Claude Pothel, Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale, answered questions pertaining to pathology and autopsies. Michael Abel shared his knowledge of all things Jewish. Jim Junot double-checked countless details.
Paul Reichs offered advice on the qualification of an expert witness. As usual, his comments on the manuscript were greatly appreciated.
My friend Michelle Phillips graciously allowed the use of the “Monday, Monday” lyrics.
Much gratitude to James Woodward, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, for his continued support. Merci to André Lauzon, Chef de service, and to all of my colleagues at the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale.
My editor, Susanne Kirk, and my agent, Jennifer Walsh, were, as always, patient, understanding, and totally supportive.
For Deborah Miner
My baby sister.
Thanks for always being there.
Oh Monday mornin’ you gave me no warnin’ of what was to be…
—JOHN PHILLIPS, The Mamas and the Papas
Can’t trust that day…
AS THE TUNE PLAYED INSIDE MY HEAD, GUNFIRE EXPLODED IN the cramped underground space around me.
My eyes flew up as muscle, bone, and guts splattered against rock just three feet from me.
The mangled body seemed glued for a moment, then slid downward, leaving a smear of blood and hair.
I felt warm droplets on my cheek, backhanded them with a gloved hand.
Still squatting, I swiveled.
Sergeant-détective Luc Claudel’s brows plunged into a V. He lowered but did not holster his nine-millimeter.
“Rats. They are the devil’s spawn.” Claudel’s French was clipped and nasal, reflecting his upriver roots.
“Throw rocks,” I snapped.
“That bastard was big enough to throw them back.”
Hours of squatting in the cold and damp on a December Monday in Montreal had taken a toll. My knees protested as I rose to a standing position.
“Where is Charbonneau?” I asked, rotating one booted foot, then the other.
“Questioning the owner. I wish him luck. Moron has the IQ of pea soup.”
“The owner discovered this?” I flapped a hand at the ground behind me.
“Non. Le plombier.”
“What was a plumber doing in the cellar?”
“Genius spotted a trapdoor beside the commode, decided to do some underground exploration to acquaint himself with the sewage pipes.”
Remembering my own descent down the rickety staircase, I wondered why anyone would take the risk.
“The bones were lying on the surface?”
“Says he tripped on something sticking out of the ground. There.” Claudel cocked his chin at a shallow pit where the south wall met the dirt floor. “Pulled it loose. Showed the owner. Together they checked out the local library’s anatomy collection to see if the bone was human. Picked a book with nice color pictures since they probably can’t read.”
I was about to ask a follow-up question when something clicked above us. Claudel and I looked up, expecting his partner.
Instead of Charbonneau, we saw a scarecrow man in a knee-length sweater, baggy jeans, and dirty blue Nikes. Pigtails wormed from the lower edge of a red bandanna wrapped his head.
The man was crouched in the doorway, pointing a throwaway Kodak in my direction.
Claudel’s V narrowed and his parrot nose went a deeper red. “Tabernac!”
Two more clicks, then bandanna man scrabbled sideways.
Holstering his weapon, Claudel grabbed the wooden railing. “Until SIJ returns, throw rocks.”
SIJ—Section d’Identité Judiciaire. The Quebec equivalent of Crime Scene Recovery.
I watched Claudel’s perfectly fitted buttocks disappear through the small rectangular opening. Though tempted, I pegged not a single rock.
Upstairs, muted voices, the clump of boots. Downstairs, just the hum of the generator for the portable lights.
Breath suspended, I listened to the shadows around me.
No squeaking. No scratching. No scurrying feet.
No beady eyes. No naked, scaly tails.
The little buggers were probably regrouping for another offensive.
Though I disagreed with Claudel’s approach to the problem, I was with him on one thing: I could do without the rodents.
Satisfied that I was alone for the moment, I refocused on the moldy crate at my feet. Dr. Energy’s Power Tonic. Dead tired? Dr. Energy’s makes your bones want to get up and dance.
Not these bones, Doc.
I gazed at the crate’s grisly contents.
Though most of the skeleton remained caked, dirt had been brushed from some bones. Their outer surfaces looked chestnut under the harsh illumination of the portable lights. A clavicle. Ribs. A pelvis.
A human skull.
Though I’d said it a half dozen times, reiteration couldn’t hurt. I’d come from Charlotte to Montreal a day early to prepare for court on Tuesday. A man had been accused of killing and dismembering his wife. I’d be testifying on the saw mark analysis I’d done on her skeleton. It was complicated material and I’d wanted to review my case file. Instead, I was freezing my ass digging up the basement of a pizza parlor.
Pierre LaManche had visited my office early this morning. I’d recognized the look, correctly guessed what was coming as soon as I saw him.
Bones had been found in the cellar of a pizza-by-the-slice joint, my boss had told me. The owner had called the police. The police had called the coroner. The coroner had called the medicolegal lab.
LaManche wanted me to check it out.
“S’il vous plaît.”
“I’m on the stand tomorrow.”
“The Pétit trial?”
“The remains are probably those of animals,” LaManche said in his precise, Parisian French. “It should not take you long.”
“Where?” I reached for a tablet.
LaManche read the address from a paper in his hand. Rue Ste-Catherine, a few blocks east of Centre-ville.
The thought of working with Claudel had triggered the morning’s first “damn.”
There are some small-town departments around the island city of Montreal, but the two main players in law enforcement are the SQ and the CUM. La Sûreté du Québec is the provincial force. The SQ rules in the boonies, and in towns lacking municipal departments. The Police de la Communauté Urbaine de Montréal, or CUM, are the city cops. The island belongs to the CUM.
Luc Claudel and Michel Charbonneau are detectives with the Major Crimes Division of the CUM. As forensic anthropologist for the province of Quebec, I’ve worked with both over the years. With Charbonneau, the experience is always a pleasure. With his partner, the experience is always an experience. Though a good cop, Luc Claudel has the patience of a firecracker, the sensitivity of Vlad the Impaler, and a persistent skepticism as to the value of forensic anthropology.
Snappy dresser, though.
Dr. Energy’s crate had already been loaded with loose bones when I’d arrived in the basement two hours earlier. Though Claudel had yet to provide many details, I assumed the bone collecting had been done by the owner, perhaps with the assistance of the hapless plumber. My job had been to determine if the remains were human.
That finding had generated the morning’s second “damn.”
My next task had been to determine whether anyone else lay in repose beneath the surface of the cellar. I’d started with three exploratory techniques.
Side lighting the floor with a flashlight beam had shown depressions in the dirt. Probing had located resistance below each depression, suggesting the presence of subsurface objects. Test trenching had produced human bones.
Bad news for a leisurely review of the Pétit file.
When I’d rendered my opinion, Claudel and Charbonneau had contributed to “damn”s three through five. A few quebecois expletives had been added for emphasis.
SIJ had been called. The crime scene unit routine had begun. Lights had been set up. Pictures had been taken. While Claudel and Charbonneau questioned the owner and his assistant, a ground penetrating radar unit had been dragged around the cellar. The GPR showed subsurface disturbances beginning four inches down in each depression. Otherwise, the basement was clean.
Claudel and his semiautomatic manned rat patrol while the SIJ techs took a break and I laid out two simple four-square grids. I was attaching the last string to the last stake when Claudel enjoyed his Rambo moment with the rats.
Now what? Wait for the SIJ techs to return?
Using SIJ equipment, I shot prints and video. Then I rubbed circulation into my hands, replaced my gloves, folded into a squat, and began troweling soil from square 1-A.
As I dug, I felt the usual crime scene rush. The quickened senses. The intense curiosity. What if it’s nothing? What if it’s something?
What if I smash a critically important section to hell?
I thought of other excavations. Other deaths. A wannabe saint in a burned-out church. A decapitated teen at a biker crib. Bullet-riddled dopers in a streamside grave.
I don’t know how long I’d been digging when the SIJ team returned, the taller of the two carrying a Styrofoam cup. I searched my memory for his name.
Root. Racine. Tall and thin like a root. The mnemonic worked.
René Racine. New guy. We’d processed a handful of scenes. His shorter counterpart was Pierre Gilbert. I’d known him a decade.
Sipping tepid coffee, I explained what I’d done in their absence. Then I asked Gilbert to film and haul dirt, Racine to screen.
Back to the grid.
When I’d taken square 1-A down three inches, I moved on to 1-B. Then 1-C and 1-D.
Nothing but dirt.
OK. The GPR showed a discrepancy beginning four inches below the surface.
I kept digging.
My fingers and toes numbed. My bone marrow chilled. I lost track of time.
Gilbert carried buckets of dirt from my grid to the screen. Racine sifted. Now and then Gilbert shot a pic. When all of grid one was down a level three inches, I went back to square 1-A. At a depth of six inches I shifted squares as I had before.
I’d taken two swipes at square 1-B when I noticed a change in soil color. I asked Gilbert to reposition a light.
One glance and my diastolic ratcheted up.
Gilbert squatted by my side. Racine joined him.
“Quoi?” Gilbert asked. What?
I ran the tip of my trowel around the outer edge of the blob seeping into 1-B.
“The dirt’s darker,” Racine observed.
“Staining indicates decomposition,” I explained.
Both techs looked at me.
I pointed to squares 1-C and 1-D. “Someone or something’s going south under there.”
“Alert Claudel?” Gilbert asked.
“Make his day.”
Four hours later all my digits were ice. Though I’d tuqued my head and scarved my neck, I was shivering inside my one-hundred-percent-microporous-
to-forty-below-Celsius Kanuk parka.
Gilbert was moving around the cellar, snapping and filming from various angles. Racine was watching, gloved hands thrust into his armpits for warmth. Both looked comfy in their arctic jumpsuits.
The two homicide cops, Claudel and Charbonneau, stood side by side, feet spread, hands clasped in front of their genitals. Each wore a black woolen overcoat and black leather gloves. Neither wore a happy face.
Eight dead rats adorned the base of the walls.
The plumber’s pit and the two depressions were open to a depth of two feet. The former had yielded a few scattered bones left behind by the plumber and owner. The depression trenches were a different story.
The skeleton under grid one lay in a fetal curl. It was unclothed, and not a single artifact had turned up in the screen.
The individual under grid two had been bundled before burial. The parts we could see looked fully skeletal.
Flicking the last particles of dirt from the second burial, I set aside my paintbrush, stood, and stomped my feet to warm them.
“That a blanket?” Charbonneau’s voice sounded husky from the cold.
“Looks more like leather,” I said.
He jabbed a thumb at Dr. Energy’s crate.
“This the rest of the dude in the box?”
Sergeant-détective Michel Charbonneau was born in Chicoutimi, six hours up the St. Lawrence from Montreal, in a region known as the Saguenay. Before entering the CUM, he’d spent several years working in the West Texas oil fields. Proud of his cowboy youth, Charbonneau always addressed me in my mother tongue. His English was good, though “de”s replaced “the”s, syllables were often inappropriately accented, and his phrasing used enough slang to fill a ten-gallon hat.
“Let’s hope so.”
“You hope so?” A small vapor cloud puffed from Claudel’s mouth.
“Yes, Monsieur Claudel. I hope so.”
Claudel’s lips tucked in, but he said nothing.
When Gilbert finished shooting the bundled burial, I dropped to my knees and tugged at a corner of the leather. It tore.
Changing from my warm woolies to surgical gloves, I leaned in and began teasing free an edge, gingerly separating, lifting, then rolling the leather backward onto itself.
With the outer layer fully peeled to the left, I began on the inner. At places, fibers adhered to the skeleton. Hands shaking from cold and nervousness, I scalpeled rotten leather from underlying bone.
“What’s that white stuff?” Racine asked.
“Adipocere,” he repeated.
“Grave wax,” I said, not in the mood for a chemistry lesson. “Fatty acids and calcium soaps from muscle or fat undergoing chemical changes, usually after long burial or immersion in water.”
“Why’s it not on the other skeleton?”
“I don’t know.”
I heard Claudel puff air through his lips. I ignored him.
Fifteen minutes later I’d detached the inner layer and laid back the shroud, fully exposing the skeleton.
Though damaged, the skull was clearly present.
“Three heads, three people.” Charbonneau stated the obvious.
“Tabernouche,” Claudel said.
“Damn,” I said.
Gilbert and Racine remained mute.
“Any idea what we’ve got here, Doc?” Charbonneau asked.
I creaked to my feet. Eight eyes followed me to Dr. Energy’s crate.
One by one I removed and observed the two pelvic halves, then the skull.
Crossing to the first trench, I knelt, extricated, and inspected the same skeletal elements.
Replacing those bones, I crawled to the second trench, leaned in, and studied the skull fragments.
No. Not again. The universal victims.
I teased free the right demi-pelvis.
Breath billowed in front of five faces.
Sitting back on my heels, I cleaned dirt from the pubic symphysis.
And felt something go cold in my chest.
Three women. Barely past girl.
WAKING TO THE TUESDAY MORNING WEATHER REPORT, I KNEW I was in for killer cold. Not the occasional mid-forties damp we whine about in January in North Carolina. I mean subzero cold. Arctic cold. If-I-stop-moving-I’ll-die-and-be-eaten-by-wolves cold.
I adore Montreal. I love the not-quite-eight-hundred-foot mountain, the old port, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Gay Village, the steel and glass skyscrapers of Centre-ville, the tangled neighborhoods with their alleys and gray stones and impossible staircases.
Montreal is a schizoid scrapper, continually fighting with herself. Anglophone-Francophone. Separatist-Federalist. Catholic-Protestant. Old-New. I find it fascinating. I delight in the whole empanada, falafel, poutine, Kong Pao multiculturalism of the place. Hurley’s Irish Pub. Katsura. L’Express. Fairmont Bagel. Trattoria Trestevere.
I partake in the city’s never-ending round of festivals: Le Festival International de Jazz, Les Fêtes Gourmandes Internationales, Le Festival des Films du Monde, the bug-tasting festival at the Insectarium. I frequent the stores on Ste-Catherine, the outdoor markets at Jean-Talon and Atwater, the antique shops along Notre-Dame. I visit the museums, picnic in the parks, bike the paths along the Lachine Canal. I relish it all.
I do not relish the climate from November to May.
I admit it. I have lived too long in the South. I hate feeling chilled. I have no patience with snow and ice. Keep your boots and Chap-Stick and ice hotels. Give me shorts and sandals and a thirty-blocker.
My cat, Birdie, shares this view. When I sat up he rose, arched, then tunneled back under the covers. Smiling, I watched his body compact into a tight round lump. Birdie. My sole and loyal roommate.
“I’m with you, Bird,” I said, offing the clock radio.
The lump curled tighter.
I looked at the digits. Five-thirty.
I looked at the window. Pitch-black.
I bolted for the bathroom.
Twenty minutes later I was at my kitchen table, coffee at my elbow, Pétit file spread before me.
Marie-Reine Pétit was a forty-two-year-old mother of three who worked at a boulangerie selling bread. Two years earlier she’d gone missing. Four months later Marie-Reine’s decomposed torso had been discovered in a hockey bag in a storage shed behind the Pétit home. Marie-Reine’s head and limbs had been stashed nearby in matching luggage.
A search of the Pétit basement uncovered coping, hack, and carpenter’s saws. I had analyzed the cut marks on Marie-Reine’s bones to determine if a tool similar to one of hubby’s had made them. Bingo on the hacksaw. Rejean Pétit was now on trial for the murder of his wife.
Two hours and three coffees later, I gathered my photos and papers and rechecked the subpoena.
De comparaître personnellement devant la Cour du Québec, chamber criminelle et penal, au Palais de Justice de Montréal, à 09:00 heures, le 3 décembre—
Hot diggety. Personally invited to testify. As personal as a summons to a tax audit. No RSVP necessary.
I noted the courtroom.
Zipping into boots and parka, I grabbed gloves, hat, and scarf, set the security alarm, and headed down to the garage. Birdie had yet to uncurl. Apparently my cat had enjoyed a predawn breakfast.
My old Mazda started on the first try. Good omen.
At the top of the ramp, I braked too quickly and swam crosswise into the lane like a kid on a Slip ’n Slide. Bad omen.
Rush hour. The streets were clogged, every vehicle spinning up slush. The early morning sun turned my salt-spattered windshield opaque. Though I applied my wipers and sprayers repeatedly, for stretches I found myself driving blind. Within blocks, I regretted not taking a taxi.
In the late sixteenth century a group of Laurentian Iroquois lived in a village they called Hochelaga, situated between a small mountain and a major river, just below the last stretch of serious rapids. In 1642, French missionaries and adventurers dropped in and stayed. The French called their outpost Ville-Marie.
Over the years, the residents of Ville-Marie prospered and built and paved. The village took on the name of the mountain behind it, Mont Real. The river was christened the St. Lawrence.
Hello, Europeans. Good-bye, First Nations.
Today the former Hochelaga–Ville-Marie turf is known as Vieux-Montréal. Tourists love it.
Stretching uphill from the river, Old Montreal oozes quaint. Gaslights. Horse-drawn carriages. Sidewalk vendors. Outdoor cafés. The solid stone buildings that were once home to colonists, stables, workshops, and warehouses now house museums, boutiques, galleries, and restaurants. The streets are narrow and cobbled.
And offer not a chance of parking.
Wishing, once again, I’d taken a taxi, I left the car in a pay lot, then hurried up boulevard St-Laurent to the Palais de Justice, located at 1 rue Notre-Dame est, on the northern perimeter of the historic district. Salt crunched underfoot. Breath froze on my scarf. Pigeons remained huddled when I passed, preferring collective body warmth to the safety of flight.
As I walked, I thought of the pizza basement skeletons. Would the bones really prove to be those of dead girls? I hoped not, but deep down I already knew.
I also thought of Marie-Reine Pétit, and felt sorrow for a life cut short by unspeakable malice. I wondered about the Pétit children. Father jailed for murdering mother. Could these kids ever recover, or were they irreparably damaged by the horror that had been thrust upon them?
Passing, I glanced at the McDonald’s franchise across St-Laurent from the Palais de Justice. The owners had made a stab at colonial. They’d lost the arches and thrown up blue awnings. It didn’t really work, but they had tried.
The designers of Montreal’s main courthouse didn’t bother with architectural harmony. The lower stories consist of an oblong box covered with vertical black bars overhanging a smaller, glass-fronted box beneath. The upper stories shoot skyward as a featureless monolith. The building blends with the neighborhood like a Hummer parked in an Amish colony.
I entered the Palais to a packed house. Old ladies in ankle-length furs. Gangsta teens in clothes big enough to accommodate armies. Men in suits. Black-robed attorneys and judges. Some waited. Others hurried. There seemed no in-between.
Winding among large planters and uprights bearing starburst lights, I crossed to a bank of elevators at the back of the lobby. Coffee smells drifted from the Café Vienne. Already wired, I considered but passed up a fourth cup.
Upstairs, the scene was similar, though tipped in favor of the waiting game. People sat on perforated red metal benches, leaned against walls, or stood conversing in hushed voices. A few conferred with counsel in small interrogation rooms lining the corridor. None looked happy.
I took a seat outside 4.01 and pulled the Pétit file from my briefcase. Ten minutes later Louise Cloutier emerged from the courtroom. With her long blonde hair and oversized glasses, the crown prosecutor looked about seventeen.
“You’ll be my first witness.” Cloutier’s face was tense.
“I’m ready,” I said.
“Your testimony is going to be critical.”
Cloutier’s fingers twisted and untwisted a paper clip. She’d wanted to meet the previous day, but the pizza basement caper had nixed that. Our late-night phone conversation hadn’t provided the degree of preparation she’d wanted. I tried to reassure her.
“I can’t tie the marks on the bones to Pétit’s specific hacksaw, but I can say firmly that they were made by an identical tool.”
Cloutier nodded. “Consistent with.”
“Consistent with,” I agreed.
“Your testimony is going to be key, because in his original statement Pétit claimed he never laid eyes on that saw. An analyst from your lab is going to testify that she removed the handle and found minute traces of blood in one of the screw grooves.” I knew all of this from the previous night’s discussion. Cloutier was verbalizing the case against Pétit as much for her sake as for mine.
“A DNA expert is going to testify that the blood is Pétit’s. That ties him to the saw.”
“And I tie the saw to the victim,” I said.
Cloutier nodded. “This judge is a real pisser about qualifying experts.”
“Aren’t they all?”
Cloutier flicked a nervous smile. “The bailiff will call you in about five minutes.”
It was closer to twenty.
The courtroom was standard, nondescript modern. Gray-textured walls. Gray-textured carpet. Gray-textured fabric on long bolted benches. The only color was at center stage, inside the gates separating the spectators from the official players. Attorneys’ chairs upholstered in red, yellow, and brown. The blue, red, and white of the Quebec and Canadian flags.
A dozen people occupied the public benches. Eyes followed as I walked up the center aisle and took the stand. The judge was ahead and to my left, the jury straight ahead, facing me. Monsieur Pétit was to my right.
I have testified many times. I have faced men and women accused of monstrous crimes. Murder. Rape. Torture. Dismemberment. I am always underwhelmed by the accused.
This time was no exception. Rejean Pétit looked ordinary. Timid, even. The man could have been my uncle Frank.
The clerk swore me in. Cloutier rose and began questioning me from the prosecutor’s table.
“Please state your full name.”
“Temperance Deasee Brennan.”
We spoke into microphones suspended from the ceiling, our voices the only sound in the room.
“What is your profession?”
“I am a forensic anthropologist.”
“How long have you practiced that profession?”
“Approximately twenty years.”
“Where do you practice that profession?”
“I am a full professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I am forensic anthropologist for the province of Quebec through the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale, in Montreal, and for the state of North Carolina through the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, headquartered in Chapel Hill.”
“You are an American citizen?”
“Yes. I have a Canadian work permit. I split my time between Montreal and Charlotte.”
“Why is it that an American serves as forensic anthropologist for a Canadian province?”
“There is no Canadian citizen who is both board-certified in this field and fluent in French.”
“We’ll return to the question of board certification. Please describe your educational qualifications.”
“I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the American University in Washington, D.C. I hold MA and PhD degrees in Biological Anthropology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.”
Next followed an endless series of questions on my graduate studies, my thesis and doctoral topics, my research, my grants, my publications. Where? When? With whom? What journals? I thought she was going to ask the color of my panties the day I defended my dissertation.
“Have you authored any books, Dr. Brennan?”
I listed them.
“Do you belong to any professional associations?”
I listed them.
“Have you held office in any of those associations?”
I listed them.
“Are you certified by any regulatory body?”
“I am certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.”
“Please tell the court what that means.”
I described the process of application, the examination, the ethics review, and explained the importance of certifying boards in assessing the competence of those offering themselves as experts.
“In addition to the medicolegal labs in Quebec and North Carolina, is there any other context in which you practice your profession?”
“I have worked for the United Nations, for the United States Military Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii, as an instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and as an instructor at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Training Academy in Ottawa, Ontario. I am a member of a United States National Disaster Mortuary Response Team. On occasion I consult for private clients.”
The jury sat motionless, either fascinated or comatose. Pétit’s lawyer was taking no notes.
“Please tell us, Dr. Brennan. What does a forensic anthropologist do?”
I spoke directly to the jury.
“Forensic anthropologists are specialists in the human skeleton. We are brought into cases, usually, though not always, by pathologists. Our expertise is sought when a normal autopsy, focusing on organs and soft tissue, either is not possible or is severely limited and the bones must be examined for answers to crucial questions.”
“What types of questions?”
“The questions usually focus on identity, manner of death, and postmortem mutilation or other damage.”
“How do you help with questions of identity?”
“By examining skeletal remains I am able to provide a biological profile, including the age, sex, race, and height of the deceased. In certain cases I am able to compare anatomical landmarks observed on an unknown individual with similar landmarks visible on the ante-mortem X-rays of a known individual.”
“Aren’t most identifications accomplished using fingerprints, dental records, or DNA?”
“Yes. But to utilize dental or medical information it is first necessary to narrow the number of possibles to the smallest ascertainable sample. With the anthropological profile, an investigating officer can review missing persons reports, come up with names, and obtain individual records for comparison with the data associated with the discovered remains. We often provide the first level of analysis of a completely unknown set of remains.”
“How do you help with questions concerning manner of death?”
“By analyzing fracture patterns, forensic anthropologists are able to reconstruct events that caused particular traumas.”
“What types of trauma do you typically examine, Dr. Brennan?”
“Gunshot. Sharp instrument. Blunt instrument. Strangulation. But again, let me emphasize that this expertise would be requested only in situations in which the body was compromised to the point that those questions cannot be answered through soft tissue and organ examination solely.”
“What do you mean by compromised?”
“A body that is decomposed, burned, mummified, skeletal—”
The jury had definitely perked up. Three stared wide-eyed. A woman in the back row held a hand to her mouth.
“Have you previously been qualified by the courts of Quebec Province and elsewhere to serve as an expert witness in criminal trials?”
“Yes. Many times.”
Cloutier turned to the judge.
“Your Honor, we tender Dr. Temperance Brennan as an expert in the field of forensic anthropology.”
The defense raised no objection.
We were off.
By mid-afternoon Cloutier had finished with me. As opposing counsel rose, I felt my stomach tighten.
Here comes rough water, I thought. Mischaracterization, incredulity, and general nastiness.
Pétit’s attorney was organized and civil.
And finished by five.
As things turned out, his cross-examination was nothing compared with the nastiness I would encounter in dealing with the pizza basement bones.
IT WAS DARK WHEN I EMERGED FROM THE COURTHOUSE. WHITE lights twinkled in the trees along rue Notre-Dame. A calèche clopped by, horse sporting red-tasseled ear covers and a sprig of pine. Flakes floated around faux gas lanterns.
Bonne fête! Christmas in Quebec.
Traffic was again bumper-to-bumper. I nosed in and began creeping north on St-Laurent, still high on an après witness stand rush.
My fingers drummed the wheel. My thoughts ricocheted from topic to topic. My testimony. The pizza basement skeletons. My daughter. The evening ahead.
What might I have told the jury that I hadn’t? Could my explanations have been clearer? Had they understood? Would they convict the guilty bastard?
What would I discover at the lab tomorrow? Would the skeletons prove to be what I knew they were? Would Claudel be his usual obnoxious self?
What was making Katy unhappy? When we’d last spoken she’d hinted that all was not rosy in Charlottesville. Would my daughter complete her final year of university, or would she announce at Christmas that she was dropping out of the University of Virginia without obtaining her degree?
What would I learn at dinner tonight? Was my recently acknowledged love about to implode? Was it love?
At de la Gauchetière I passed under the dragon gate and entered Chinatown. The shops were closing, and the last few pedestrians were hurrying home, faces wrapped, backs hunched against the cold.
On Sundays, Chinatown takes on a bazaar atmosphere. Restaurants serve dim sum; in clement weather grocers set up outdoor stalls filled with exotic produce, potted eggs, dried fish, herbs Chi-noise. On festival days there are dragon dances, martial arts demonstrations, fireworks. Weekdays, however, are strictly business.
My thoughts veered back to my daughter. Katy loves the place. When she visits Montreal, a trip to Chinatown is nonnegotiable.
Before turning left onto René-Lévesque, I glanced across the intersection up St-Laurent. Like rue Notre-Dame, the Main was decked in its Christmas finest.
St. Lawrence. The Main. A century ago a major commercial artery, and stopping-off point for immigrant groups. Irish. Portuguese. Italians. Jews. No matter their country of origin or ethnic affiliation, most newcomers put in time on the streets and avenues around St-Laurent.
As I waited out the traffic light at Peel, a man crossed my headlights, tall, face ruddy, hair sandy and tousled in the wind.
Andrew Ryan, Lieutenant-détective, Section de Crimes contra la Personne, Sûreté du Québec. My first romantic sortie after the breakup of a twenty-year marriage.
My partner in history’s briefest affair?
The tempo of the finger drumming sped up.
Since Ryan works homicide and I work the morgue, our professional lives often intersect. I identify the vics. Ryan collars the perps. For a decade we’ve investigated gangbangers, cultists, bikers, psychopaths, and people who seriously dislike their spouses.
Over the years I’d heard stories of Ryan’s past. The wild youth. The conversion to the good guys. Ryan’s rise within the provincial police.
I’d also heard tales about Ryan’s present. The theme never varied. The guy was a player.
Often he suggested playing with me.
I have a steadfast rule against amour in the workplace.
But Ryan’s thinking is often at odds with mine. And he likes a challenge.
He persisted, I stood firm. Moving force. Resisting object. I’d been separated two years, knew I wouldn’t be returning to my husband, Pete. I liked Ryan. He was intelligent, sensitive, and sexy as hell.
Four months back. Guatemala. An emotionally battering time for us both. I decided to reassess.
I invited Ryan to North Carolina. I bought the mother lode of skimpies and a man-eater black dress. I took the plunge.
Ryan and I spent a week at the beach and hardly saw the ocean. Or the black dress.
My stomach did that flip thing it does when I think of Ryan. And that beach week.
Add another item to the list of positives. Canadian or not, the guy is Captain America in bed.
We’d been, if not “a couple,” at least “an item” since August. A secret item. We kept it to ourselves.
Our times together looked like the clichéd sequences in romantic comedies. Walking hand in hand. Cuddling by fires. Romping in leaves. Romping in bed.
So why the feeling that something is wrong?
Turning right onto Guy, I gave the question some thought.
There’d been long, late-night conversations following Ryan’s return to Montreal from North Carolina. Recently, the frequency of those calls had diminished.
Big deal. You’re in Montreal every month.
True. But Ryan had been less available on my last trip. Slammed at work, he claimed. I wondered.
I’d been so happy. Had I missed or misread some signals? Was Ryan distancing himself from me?
Was I imagining the whole thing, mooning like the heroine in a pulp fiction romance?
For distraction, I clicked on the radio.
Daniel Bélanger sang “Séche Tes Pleurs.” “Dry Your Tears.”
Good advice, Daniel.
The snow was coming faster now. I turned on the wipers and focused on my driving.
Whether we eat at his place or mine, Ryan usually prepares the meal. Tonight I’d volunteered.
I cook well, but not instinctively. I need recipes.
Arriving home at six, I spent a few minutes recapping my day for Birdie, then took out the folder in which I stuff menus clipped from the Gazette.
A five-minute search produced a winner. Grilled chicken breast with melon salsa. Wild rice. Tortilla and arugula salad.
The list of ingredients was relatively short. How hard could it be?
I threw on my parka and walked to Le Faubourg Ste-Catherine.
Poultry, greens, rice, no problem.
Ever try scoring a Crenshaw melon in December in the arctic?
A discussion with the stock boy resolved the crisis. I substituted cantaloupe.
By seven-fifteen I had the salsa marinating, the rice boiling, the chicken baking, and the salad mixed. Sinatra was flowing from a CD, and I reeked of Chanel No. 5.
I was ready. Belly-sucking size-four Christmas-red jeans. Hair tucked behind my ears and disheveled Meg Ryan style in back. Fluffed bangs. Orchid and lavender lids. Katy’s idea. Hazel eyes—lavender shadow. Dazzling!
Ryan arrived at seven-thirty with a six-pack of Moosehead, a baguette, and a small white box from a patisserie. His face was flushed from the cold, and fresh snow sparkled on his hair and shoulders.
Bending, he kissed me on the mouth then wrapped me in his arms.
“You look good.” Ryan pressed me to him. I smelled Irish Spring and aftershave mingled with leather.
Releasing me, Ryan slipped off his bomber jacket and tossed it on the sofa.
Birdie rocketed to the rug and shot down the hall.
“Sorry. Didn’t see the little guy.”
“You look really good.” Ryan caressed my cheek with his knuckles.
My stomach did jumping jacks.
“You’re not half bad, yourself, Detective.”
It’s true. Ryan is tall and lanky, with sandy hair, and impossibly blue eyes. Tonight he was wearing jeans and a Galway sweater.
I come from generations of Irish farmers and fishermen. Blame DNA. Blue eyes and cable knit knock me out.
“What’s in the box?” I asked.
“Surprise for the chef.”
Ryan detached a beer and placed the rest in the fridge.
“Something smells good.” He lifted the cover on the salsa bowl.
“Melon salsa. Crenshaws are tough to find in December.” I left it at that.
“Buy you a beer or mixed drink, cupcake?” Ryan flashed his brows and flicked an imaginary cigar.
I checked the rice. Ryan dug a Diet Coke from the fridge. His lips twitched at the corners as he offered the can.
“Who’s calling most?”
“Sorry?” I was lost.
“Agents or talent scouts?”
My hand froze in midair. I knew what was coming.
“Le Journal de Montréal.”
Ryan nodded. “Above the fold.”
“Front page?” I was dismayed.
“Fourteen back. Color photo. You’ll love the angle.”
An image flashed across my mind. A skinny black man in a knee-length sweater. A trapdoor. A camera.
The little turd at the pizza parlor had sold his snapshots.
When working a case, I am adamant in my refusal to give media interviews. Many journalists think me rude. Others have described me in more colorful terms. I don’t care. Over the years I have learned that statements inevitably lead to misquotes. And misquotes invariably lead to problems.
And I never look good in the pics.
“Can I open that for you?” Ryan retrieved the Coke, pulled the tab, and handed it back.
“No doubt you’ve brought a copy,” I said, setting the can on the counter and yanking the oven door.
“For the safety of diners, viewing will take place when all cutlery’s cleared.”
During dinner I told Ryan about my day in court.
“The reviews are good,” he said.
Ryan has a spy network that makes the CIA look like a Cub Scout pack. He usually knows of my movements before I tell him. It annoys the hell out of me.
And Ryan’s amusement over the Journal piece was lowering my threshold for irritation.
Get over it, Brennan. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
“Really?” I smiled.
“Critics gave you four stars.”
“Word is, Pétit’s going down.”
I said nothing.
“Tell me about this pizza parlor case.” Ryan switched gears.
“Isn’t the whole affair laid out in Le Journal?” I helped myself to more salad.
“Coverage is a bit vague. May I have that?”
I handed him the bowl.
We ate arugula for a full three minutes. Ryan broke the silence.
“Are you going to tell me about your bones?”
My eyes met his. The interest looked sincere.
I relented, but kept my account brief. When I’d finished, Ryan rose and retrieved a section of newspaper from his jacket.
Both shots had been taken from above and to my right. In the first, I was talking to Claudel, eyes angry, gloved finger jabbing the air. The caption might have read “Attack of the Shrew.”
The second captured the shrew on all fours, ass pointing skyward.
“Any idea how the Journal got these?” Ryan asked.
“The owner’s slimeball assistant.”
“Claudel caught the case?”
“Yes.” I picked bread crumbs from the tabletop.
Ryan reached out and placed his hand on mine. “Claudel’s come around a lot.”
I didn’t reply.
Ryan was about to speak again when his cell phone twittered.
Giving my hand a squeeze, he pulled the unit from his belt and checked the caller ID. His eyes flicked up in frustration. Or irritation. Or something I couldn’t read.
“I’ve got to take this,” he said.
Pushing back from the table, he moved off down the hall.
As I cleared dishes I could hear the rhythm of the conversation. The words were muffled, but the cadence suggested agitation.
In moments, he was back.
“Sorry, babe. I’ve got to go.”
“You’re leaving?” I was stunned.
“It’s a thankless business.”
“We haven’t eaten your pastry.”
The Irish blues would not meet mine.
A peck on the cheek.
The chef was alone with her uneaten surprise.
I AWOKE FEELING DOWN AND NOT KNOWING WHY.
Because I was alone? Because my only bed partner was a big white cat? I hadn’t planned my life that way. Pete and I had intended to grow old together. To sail married into the afterlife.
Then my forever-hubby shared Mr. Happy with a real estate agent.
And I enjoyed my own little fling with the bottle.
Whatever, as Katy would say. Life marches.
Outside, the weather was gray, blustery, and uninviting. The clock said seven-ten. Birdie was nowhere to be seen.
Pulling off my nightshirt, I took a hot shower, then blow-dried my hair. Birdie strolled in as I was brushing my teeth. I greeted him, then smiled into the mirror, considering whether it was a mascara day.
Then I remembered.
Ryan’s hasty retreat. The look in his eyes.
Jamming my toothbrush back into its charger, I wandered to the bedroom and stared at the frosted window. Crystalline spirals and snowflake geometrics. So delicate. So fragile.
Like the fantasy I’d constructed of a life with Ryan?
I wondered again what was going on.
And why I was acting the featured ditz in a Doris Day comedy.
“Screw this, Doris,” I said aloud.
Birdie looked up, but kept his thoughts to himself.
“And screw you, Andrew Ryan.”
Returning to the bathroom, I layered on the Revlon.
The Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale occupies the top two floors of the Édifice Wilfrid-Derome, a T-shaped building in the Hochelaga-Maissoneuve district, just east of Centre-ville. The Bureau du Coroner is on the eleventh floor, the morgue is in the basement. The remaining space belongs to the SQ.
At eight-fifteen the twelfth floor was filling with white-coated men and women. Several greeted me as I swiped my security pass, first at the lobby entrance, then at the glass doors separating the medicolegal wing from the rest of the T. I returned their “bonjour”s and continued to my office, not in the mood to chat. I was still upset from last night’s encounter with Ryan. Make that nonencounter.
As at most medical examiner and coroner facilities, each workday at the LSJML begins with a meeting of the professional staff. I’d barely removed my outerwear when the phone rang. Pierre LaManche. It had been a busy night. The chief was anxious to begin.
When I entered the conference room, only LaManche and Jean Pelletier were seated at the table. Both did that half-standing thing older men do when women enter a room.
LaManche asked about the Pétit trial. I told him I thought my testimony had gone well.
“And Monday’s recovery?”
“Except for mild hypothermia, and the fact that your animal bones turned out to be three people, that also went well.”
“You will begin your analyses today?” asked LaManche in his Sorbonne French.
“Yes.” I didn’t mention what I thought I already knew based on my cursory examination in the basement. I wanted to be sure.
“Detective Claudel asked me to inform you that he would come today at one-thirty.”
“Detective Claudel will have a long wait. I’ll hardly have begun.”
Hearing Pelletier grunt, I looked in his direction.
Though subordinate to LaManche, Jean Pelletier had been at the lab a full decade when the chief hired on. He was a small, compact man, with thin gray hair and bags under his eyes the size of mackerels.
Pelletier was a devotee of Le Journal. I knew what was coming.
“Oui.” Pelletier’s fingers were permanently yellowed from a half century of smoking Gauloises cigarettes. One of them pointed at me. “Oui. This angle is much more flattering. Highlights your lovely green eyes.”
In answer, I rolled my lovely green eyes.
As I took a chair, Nathalie Ayers, Marcel Morin, and Emily Santangelo joined us. “Bonjour”s and “Comment ça va”s were exchanged. Pelletier complimented Santangelo on her haircut. Her look suggested the subject was best left alone. She was right.
After distributing copies of the day’s lineup, LaManche began discussing and assigning cases.
A forty-seven-year-old man had been found hanging from a cross-beam in his garage in Laval.
A fifty-four-year-old man had been stabbed by his son following an argument over leftover sausages. Mama had called the St-Hyacinthe police.
A resident of Longueuil had slammed his all-terrain vehicle into a snowbank on a rural road in the Gatineau. Alcohol was involved.
An estranged couple had been found dead of gunshot wounds in a home in St-Léonard. Two for her, one for him. The ex-to-be went out with a nine-millimeter Glock in his mouth.
“If I can’t have you no one can.” Pelletier’s dentures clacked as he spoke.
“Typical.” Ayers’s voice sounded bitter.
She was right. We’d seen the scenario all too often.
A young woman had been discovered behind a karaoke bar on rue Jean-Talon. A combination of overdose and hypothermia was suspected.
The pizza basement skeletons had been assigned LSJML numbers 38426, 38427, and 38428.
“Detective Claudel feels these skeletons are old and probably of little forensic interest?” LaManche said it more as a question than a statement.
“And how could Monsieur Claudel know that?” Though it was possible this would turn out to be true, it irked me that Claudel would render an opinion entirely outside his expertise.
“Monsieur Claudel is a man of many talents.” Though Pelletier’s expression was deadpan, I wasn’t fooled. The old pathologist knew of the friction between Claudel and me, and loved to tease.
“Claudel has studied archaeology?” I asked.
Pelletier’s brows shot up. “Monsieur Claudel puts in hours examining ancient relics.”
The others remained silent, awaiting the punch line.
“Really?” Why not play straight man?
“Bien sûr. Checks his pecker every morning.”
“Thank you, Dr. Pelletier.” LaManche traded deadpan for deadpan. “Along those lines, would you please take the hanging?”
Ayers got the stabbing. The ATV accident went to Santangelo, the suicide/homicide to Morin. As each case was dispensed, LaManche marked his master sheet with the appropriate initials. Pe. Ay. Sa. Mo.
Br went onto dossiers 38426, 38427, and 38428, the pizza basement bones.
Anticipating a lengthy meeting with the board that reviews infant deaths in the province, LaManche assigned himself no autopsy.
When we dispersed, I returned to my office. LaManche stuck his head in moments later. One of the autopsy technicians was out with bronchitis. With five posts, things would be difficult. Would I mind working alone?
As I snapped three case forms onto a clipboard, I noticed that the red light on my phone was flashing.
The minutest of flutters. Ryan?
Get over it, Doris.
Responding to the prompts, I entered my mailbox and code numbers.
A journalist from Allô Police.
A journalist from the Gazette.
A journalist from the CTV evening news.
Disappointed, I deleted the messages and hurried to the women’s locker room. After changing into surgical scrubs, I took a side corridor to a single elevator tucked between the secretarial office and the library. Restricted to those with special clearance, this elevator featured buttons allowing only three stops. LSJML. Coroner. Morgue. I pressed M and the doors slid shut.
Downstairs, through another secure door, a long, narrow corridor shoots the length of the building. To the left, an X-ray room and four autopsy suites, three with single tables, one with a pair. To the right, drying racks, computer stations, wheeled tubs and carts for transporting specimens to the histology, pathology, toxicology, DNA, and odontology-anthropology labs upstairs.
Through a small glass window in each door, I could see that Ayers and Morin were beginning their externals in rooms one and two. Each was working with a police photographer and an autopsy technician.
Another tech was arranging instruments in room three. He would be assisting Santangelo.
And I was on my own.
And Claudel would be here in less than four hours.
Having begun the day down, my mood was descending by the moment.
I continued on to room four. My room. A room specially ventilated for decomps, floaters, mummified corpses, and other aromatics.
As do the others, room four has double doors leading to a morgue bay. The bay is lined with refrigerated compartments, each housing a double-decker gurney.
Tossing my clipboard onto the counter, I pulled a plastic apron from one drawer, gloves and mask from another, donned them, snagged a small metal cart from the corridor, and pushed backward through the double doors.
Six white cards. One red sticker.
Six in residence, one HIV positive.
I located those cards with my initials. LSJML-38426. LSJML-38427. LSJML-38428. Ossements. Inconnu. Bones. Unknown.
Normally, I would have taken the cases sequentially, fully analyzing one before beginning another. But Detective Delightful was due at one-thirty. Anticipating Claudel’s impatience, I decided to abandon protocol, and do a quick age-sex assessment of each set of remains.
It was a mistake I would later regret.
Moving from one stainless steel door to a second, then a third, I selected the same bones I’d viewed in the pizza parlor basement, and wheeled them to room four.
After jotting the relevant information onto a case form, I began with 38426, the bones from Dr. Energy’s crate.
First the skull.
Gracile muscle attachments. Rounded occiput. Small mastoids. Smooth supraorbital ridges ending in sharp orbital borders.
I switched to a pelvic bone.
Broad, flaring hip blades. Elongated pubic portion with a tiny, elevated ridge coursing across the belly side. Obtuse subpubic angle. Wide sciatic notch.
I checked off these features on the “gender evaluation” page, and penned my conclusion.
Flipping to the “age evaluation” section, I noted that the basilar suture, the gap between the occipital and sphenoid bones at the base of the skull, had recently fused. That told me the girl was probably in her mid to late teens.
Back to the pelvis.
Throughout childhood, each pelvic half is composed of three separate elements, the ilium, the ischium, and the pubis. In early adolescence, these bones fuse within the hip socket.
This pelvis had seen puberty come and go.
I noted furrows running across the pubic symphyses, the faces where the two pelvic halves meet in front. I flipped the bone.
The superior border of the hip blade showed squiggles, indicating the absence of a finishing crescent of bone. Squiggles were also evident on the ischium, near the point at which the body is supported when sitting.
I felt the familiar cold creep into my belly. I would check the teeth and long bones, but all indicators supported my initial impression.
Dr. Energy’s stowaway was a girl who had died in her mid to late teens.
Replacing 38426 on the cart, I turned to the bones I’d selected from 38427. Then 38428.
The world retreated into a different dimension. Phones. Printers. Voices. Carts. All disappeared. Nothing existed but the fragile remains on my table.
I worked straight through lunch, my sense of sadness mounting with each observation.
I am often accused of feeling more warmth toward the dead than toward the living. The charge isn’t true. Yes, I grieve for those on my table. But I am also keenly aware of the sorrow visited on those left behind. This case was no exception. I felt great empathy for the families who had loved and lost these girls.
At exactly one thirty-four the phone shrilled. Lowering my mask, I crossed to the desk.
“You have finished?” Though he did not identify himself, I knew the voice.
“I have some preliminary information. Room four.”
“I am waiting in your office.”
Sure, Claudel. That’s fine with me. Make yourself at home.
“Would you like to observe what I’ve found?”
“That will not be necessary.”
Claudel’s aversion to autopsies is legendary. I used to play on this, think up ruses to force him belowdecks. I no longer bothered.
“I’ll need a few minutes to clean up,” I said.
“This is probably pointless, anyway.”
“I sincerely hope so.” I hung up.
Easy. It’s Claudel. The man is a throwback.
Drawing a sheet over the table, I stripped off my gloves, scrubbed, and headed upstairs, a growing dread hanging heavy on my mind.
I knew my bones. I knew I was right.
Despite his sanctimonious arrogance, I hoped to God Claudel was right, too.
CLAUDEL WAS SEATED FACING MY DESK, BROWS, NOSE, AND mouth pointing south. He did not rise or greet me when I entered. I returned his cordiality.
“You have finished?”
“No, Monsieur Claudel. I have not finished. I have hardly begun.” I sat. “But I have made some disturbing observations.”
Claudel curled his fingers in a “give it to me” gesture.
“Based on cranial and pelvic features, I can tell you that skeleton 38426 is that of a female who died in her mid to late teens. Analysis of the long bones will allow me to narrow that age estimate, but it’s obvious that the basilar suture has only recently fused, the iliac crest—”
“I do not need an anatomy lesson.”
How about my heel up your ass?
“The victim is young.” Chilly.
“They’re all young.”
Claudel’s brows angled up in a question.
“Females. In their teens or barely past.”
“Cause of death?”
“That will require a detailed examination of each skeleton.”
“Not usually as kids.”
“Uncertain at this point.” Though I had yet to verify ancestry, cranio-facial details suggested all three were white.
“So it’s possible we’ve dug up Pocahontas and her court.”
I bit back a response. I would not let Claudel goad me into a premature statement.
“While the bones from the crate and those from the northeastern depression retain no soft tissue, those from the bundled burial show traces of adipocere. Grave wax. I am not convinced these deaths took place in the distant past.”
Claudel spread both hands, palms up. “Five years, ten, a century?”
“A determination of time since death will require further study. At this point I would not write these burials off as historic or prehistoric.”
“I do not require instruction on how to prepare my reports. What exactly are you telling me?”
“I’m telling you we just recovered three dead girls from a pizza parlor basement. At this stage of inquiry, it is not appropriate to conclude that the remains are of great antiquity.”
For several seconds Claudel and I glared at each other. Then he reached into a breast pocket, extracted a Ziploc baggie, and tossed it onto the desktop.
Slowly, I dropped my eyes.
The baggie contained three round items.
“Feel free to remove them.”
Unzipping the baggie, I dropped the objects onto my palm. Each was a flat metal disk measuring slightly over an inch in diameter. Though corroded, I could see that each disk had a female silhouette engraved on the front, an eyelet on the back. The initials ST were etched beside each eyelet.
I looked a question at Claudel.
“With some persuasion, the Prince of Pizza admitted to liberating certain items while crating the bones.”
“They were buried with the skeleton?”
“The gentleman is a little vague on provenance. But yes, they are buttons. And it’s obvious they are old.”
“How can you be certain they’re old?”
“I can’t. Dr. Antoinette Legault at the McCord could.”
The McCord Museum of Canadian History houses over a million artifacts, with more than sixteen thousand of those belonging to the clothing and apparel collection.
“Legault is a button expert?”
Claudel ignored my question. “The buttons were manufactured in the nineteenth century.”
Before I could reply, Claudel’s cell phone warbled. Without excusing himself, he rose and stepped into the hall.
My eyes went back to the buttons. Did they mean the skeletons had been in the ground a century or more?
In less than a minute, Claudel was back.
“Something important has come up.”
I was being dismissed.
I have a temper. I admit that. Sometimes I lose it. Claudel’s condescension was prodding me toward one of those times. I had rushed through a preliminary evaluation to accommodate his schedule on the assumption that this investigation was of immediate priority, and now he was brushing me aside after a cursory inquiry.
“Meaning this case is not important?”
Claudel lowered his chin and looked at me, a picture of infinitely strained patience.
“I am a police officer, not a historian.”
“And I am a scientist, not a conjecturer.”
“These artifacts”—he flapped a hand at the buttons—“belong to another century.”
“Three dead girls now belong to this one.” I rose abruptly.
Claudel’s body stiffened. His eyes crimped.
“A prostitute has just arrived at l’hôpital Notre-Dame with a fractured skull and a knife in her gut. Her colleague is less fortunate. She is dead. My partner and I are going to arrest a certain pimp to improve other ladies’ odds of surviving.”
Claudel jabbed a finger in my direction.
“That, madame, is important.”
With that he strode out the door.
I stood a moment, face burning with anger. I despise the fact that Claudel has the power to turn me pyrotechnic, sometimes illogically so. But there it was. He’d done it again.
Dropping into my chair, I swiveled, put my feet on the sill, and leaned my head sideways against the wall. Twelve floors down, the city stretched toward the river. Miniature cars and trucks flowed across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, motoring toward Île Ste-Hélène, the south shore suburbs, New York State.
I closed my eyes and did some Yogic breathing, Slowly, my anger dissipated. When I opened them, I felt—what?
Death investigations are complex enough. Why was it always doubly difficult with Claudel? Why couldn’t he and I enjoy the easy exchange that characterized my professional interactions with other homicide investigators? With Ryan?
Doris tapped on my shoulder for a few frames of Pillow Talk.
Some things were clear. Claudel’s mind was made up. He didn’t like rats. He didn’t like the pizza parlor. He didn’t think these bones were worth his attention. Whatever investigative support I needed I would have to find through other sources.
“OK, you supercilious, knee-jerk skeptic. Scoff at my analysis without trying to understand it. We’ll do this without you.”
Grabbing my clipboard, I headed back downstairs.
Three hours later I’d finished a skeletal inventory on LSJML-38426. The remains were complete save for the hyoid, a tiny U-shaped bone suspended in the soft tissue of the throat, and several of the smaller hand and foot bones.
Long bones continue to increase in length as long as their epiphyses, the small caps at each end, remain separate from the bone itself. Growth stops when a bone’s epiphyses unite with its shaft. Luckily for the anthropologist, each set of epiphyses marches to its own clock.
By observing the state of development of the arm, leg, and collarbones, I was able to narrow my age estimate. I’d requested dental X-rays so I could observe molar root development, but already I had no doubt. The girl in the crate had died between the ages of sixteen and eighteen.
My case form had a dozen checks in the column indicating European ancestry. Narrow nasal opening. Sharply projecting lower nasal border. Highly angled nasal bridge. Prominent nasal spine. Cheekbones tight to the face. Every feature and measurement placed the skull squarely in the Caucasoid category. I was certain the girl was white.
And tiny. Leg bone measurements indicated she stood approximately five feet two inches tall.
Though I’d examined every bone and bone fragment, I’d found not a single mark of violence. A few scratches in the vicinity of the right auditory canal looked superficial and V-shaped under magnification. I suspected the marks were a postmortem artifact, caused by abrasion with the ground surface, or careless handling during removal to the crate.
The teeth showed evidence of poor hygiene and no dental restorations.
Now I was turning to postmortem interval. How long had she been dead? With just dry bone, PMI was going to be a bitch.
The human body is a Copernican microcosm composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. The heart is the daystar, providing life source to every metabolic system in the galaxy.
When the heart stops pumping, it’s cytoplasmic chaos. Cellular enzymes begin a cannibalistic feast on the body’s own carbohydrates and proteins. Cell membranes rupture, releasing food for armies of microorganisms. Bacteria in the gut start munching outward. Environmental bacteria, carrion insects, and scavenging animals start munching inward.
Burial, submersion, or embalming retards the process of decomposition. Certain mechanical and chemical agents boost it.
So how long are we talking for dust to dust?
With extreme heat and humidity, loss of soft tissue can occur in as little as three days. But that’s a land record. Under normal conditions, with shallow burial, a body takes six months to a year to go skeletal.
Enclosure in a basement might slow that. Enclosure in a basement in the subarctic might slow that a lot.
What facts did I have?
The bodies were found in shallow graves. Was that the original place of burial? How soon after death had they been placed there?
At least two had been flexed, knees drawn tight to the chest. At least one had been bundled, wrapped in an outer covering of leather. Beyond that, I knew squat. Moisture. Soil acidity. Temperature fluctuation.
What could I say?
The bones were dry, disarticulated, and completely devoid of flesh and odor. There was staining, and some soil invasion into the cranial sinuses and marrow cavities. Unless Claudel’s buttons were legitimately associated, the girls had been stashed, naked and anonymous, with no accompanying artifacts.
Best estimate: more than a year and less than a millennium. Claudel would have a field day with that.
Frustrated, I packed up LSJML-38426, determined to ask a lot more questions.
I was rolling out LSJML-38427 when the phone behind me rang again. Irritated at the interruption, and expecting Claudel’s arrogant cynicism, I yanked down my mask and snatched up the receiver.
“Dr. Temperance Brennan?” A female voice, quavery and uncertain.
I looked at my watch. Five minutes until the switchboard rolled over to the night service.
“I didn’t expect you to actually answer. I mean, I thought I would get another secretary. The operat—”
“Is there something I can help you with?” I matched her English.
There was a pause, as if the caller was actually considering the question. In the background I could hear what sounded like birds.
“Well, I don’t know. Actually, I thought perhaps I could be of help to you.”
Great. Another citizen volunteer.
Members of crime scene recovery units are typically not scientists. They are technicians. They collect hairs, fibers, glass fragments, paint chips, blood, semen, saliva, and other physical evidence. They dust for prints. They shoot pics. When the goodies are tagged and logged, the crime scene unit’s involvement is over. No high-tech magic. No heart rush surveillance. No hot lead shoot-outs. Specialists with advanced degrees do the science. Cops chase the bad guys.
But Tinsel Town has done another tap dance; the public has been conned into believing crime scene techs are scientists and detectives, and every week I am contacted by starry-eyed viewers who think they may have uncovered something. I try to be kind, but this latest Hollywood myth needs a kick in the pants.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but to work at this lab you must submit your credentials and go through a formal hiring process.”
“Oh.” I heard a sharp intake of air.
“If you stop in the personnel office, I’m certain that printed material exists giving job descript—”
“No, no. You misunderstand. I saw your photo in Le Journal yesterday. I phoned your office.”
Worse than a cop show groupie. A snoopy neighbor with the tip of the century. Or some basehead looking to score a reward.
Tossing my pen to the blotter, I dropped into the chair. The call was probably a long shot, but so was Deep Throat.
“This may sound crazy.” Nervous throat clearing. “And I know how very busy you must be.”
“Actually, I am in the middle of something, Mrs.—?”
The name was distorted by static. Gallant? Ballant? Talent?
“—bones you dug up.”
Another pause. More background whistling and squawking.
“What about them?”
The voice became stronger.
“I feel it is my moral responsibility.”
I said nothing, staring at the bones on the gurney and thinking about moral responsibilities.
“My moral duty to follow through. At least with a telephone call. Before I leave. It’s the least I can do. People just don’t take time anymore. No one bothers. No one wants to get involved.”
In the hall, I heard voices, doors slamming, then quiet. The autopsy techs had left for the day. I leaned back, tired, but anxious to finish the conversation and get back to work.
“What is it you would like to tell me?”
“I’ve lived a long time in Montreal. I know what went on in that building.”
“The one where those bones were hidden.”
The woman now had my full attention.
“The pizza parlor?”
“Now it is.”
At that moment a bell shrilled, like those regulating movement in old school buildings.
The line went dead.
I JIGGLED THE BUTTON, TRYING TO GET THE SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR’S attention.
Slamming the receiver, I raced for the elevator.
Susanne, the LSJML receptionist, lives in a small town halfway between Montreal and the Ontario border. Her daily commute involves a metro, a train, and timing more delicate than a space station linkup. At closing, Susanne is off like a shot. I hoped by some miracle to catch her in flight.
Lighted digits indicated the elevator was on thirteen.
Come on. Come on.
It took a month for the car to descend, another for the trip upstairs. On twelve, I bolted through the opening doors.
Susanne’s desk was deserted.
Praying that the informant had phoned back, and that the call had been rolled by the automatic night service to my voice mail, I rushed to my office.
The red light was flashing.
A mechanical voice announced five messages.
My friend Anne in South Carolina.
Allô Police. Again.
The Gazette. Again.
A newcomer from CFCF news.
Mixed emotions. Curiosity that Anne had called. Relief that Ryan had tried to contact me. Frustration that my mysterious tipster had not. Fear that I’d lost the woman forever.
What was her name? Gallant? Ballant? Talent? Why hadn’t I asked that she spell it?
Flopping into my chair, I stared at the phone, willing the little square to light up and tell me a call had come into the system. I drummed the desktop. Pulled the phone cord. Allowed the spirals to curl back into place.
Why wasn’t the woman trying to reconnect? She had the number. Wait. Hadn’t she referred to an earlier call? Did she think I’d blown her off? That I’d hung up on her? Had she given up?
I opened the desk drawer. Rooted for a pen. Closed the drawer.
Hadn’t the caller mentioned something about leaving? Leaving home? The city? The province? For the day? For good?
I was dividing triangles into smaller triangles, berating myself for my carelessness, when my cell phone sounded. I flew to my purse and dug it out.
“I’ve been called gallant, but never Mrs.”
“I thought you were someone else.”
I knew that was stupid as soon as I said it. Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent had phoned through the switchboard. She couldn’t possibly know my private number.
“It shatters me to hear such disappointment in your voice.”
Resuming my seat, I smiled the first smile of the day. “You’re dazzling, Ryan. My disappointment has to do with a case.”
“The pizza basement skeletons.”
As we spoke I kept watch on the message light. One twinkle and I’d leap back into my voice mail.
“Did today bring the pleasure of Claudel’s company?”
“He was here.”
“The rest of the Waffen SS couldn’t make it.”
“Claudel can be a little rigid.”
“Claudel is a Neanderthal. No. I sell the Paleolithic short. Neanderthals had fully sapient brains.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Claudel’s brain. He just tends to put a lot of weight on past experience and usual patterns. Where was Charbonneau?”
“Two prostitutes were assaulted. One died. The other is hanging on at the Notre-Dame Hospital.”
“I heard about that,” Ryan said.
Of course. A twinge of irritation.
“I believe the ladies’ business manager was invited in for questioning.”
“You would know.”
Ryan either ignored or missed the annoyance in my voice.
“What does Claudel want to do with your bones?”
“Unfortunately, very little.”
“I know what I’d like to do with your bones.”
“That didn’t top your agenda last night,” Doris piped up before I could stop her.
Ryan did not reply.
“All three skeletons are the remains of young girls,” I segued back.
“Claudel relieved the owner of some buttons he claimed to have found with one set of bones. An expert at the McCord assessed them as nineteenth century.”
“Let me guess. Claudel’s not interested in what he sees as prehistoric?”
“Odd, since his head’s been up his ass since the Neolithic.”
“Having a bad day, sunshine?” The amusement in Ryan’s voice irked me. His failure to explain last night’s hasty departure irked me. My desire for an explanation irked me.
What was Anne’s philosophy? Never explain, never complain.
Right on, Annie.
“This week has not been a picnic,” I said, still staring at my desk phone. The little square remained frustratingly dark.
“Claudel’s a good cop,” Ryan said. “Sometimes he needs more convincing than we intuitively brighter types.”
“His mind is made up.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
A moment of silence. Ryan broke it.
“How old do you think these bones are?”
“I’m not sure. I’m not even sure all three girls died at the same time.”
“None that I’ve noticed.”
“The burials haven’t been in the basement that long.”
“We should be taking them seriously.”
Again, Ryan ignored my churlishness.
“On what do you base your gut feeling?”
I’d been asking myself that question for three days.
I didn’t mention my recent mysterious informant. Or the brainless indifference with which I’d treated her.
“Yes, cupcake.” I cut him off.
“You must find evidence to convince Claudel that he’s wrong.” Patient, a teacher reprimanding a kindergartner.
Long pause, filled with my irritated breathing. Again, Ryan spoke first.
“I’m guessing tonight is not good for you.”
“What does that mean?”
“I understand how tired and frustrated you are. Go home and take one of your famous bubble baths. Things’ll serve up better in the morning.”
When we’d disconnected, I sat listening to the hum of the empty building.
There was no denying it. I’d been in Montreal three full days. And nights. Ryan had been his usual amiable and charming self.
And almost totally unavailable.
I didn’t need a burning bush. Officer Studmuffin was moving on.
And I was stuck with Detective Dickhead.
I tottered toward tears, yanked myself back.
I’d lived without Ryan. I would do so again.
I’d coexisted with Claudel. I would do so again.
But was the problem with Ryan of my own making? Why had I been so short with him just now?
Outside, the wind gusted. Downstairs, three young women lay silent on stainless steel.
I glanced at the phone. Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent wasn’t hitting her redial button.
“Screw bubbles,” I said, rocketing from my chair.
“And screw you, Andrew Ryan. Wherever you are.”
By nine I’d finished with LSJML-38427, the skeleton from the first depression.
Female. White. Age fifteen to seventeen. Sixty-four to sixty-seven inches tall. No odor, no hair, not a shred of soft tissue. Bones well preserved, but dry and discolored, with some soil infiltration. Postmortem cranial damage, including fragmentation of the right temporal area, right facial bones, and right mandibular ramus. No perimortem skeletal trauma. No dental work. No associated clothing or possessions. 38427 was a carbon copy of 38426.
With one difference. I’d seen this young lady in situ and knew something about burial context. LSJML-38427 had been placed naked in a pit in a fetal curl.
We of the Judeo-Christian persuasion send our dead packing in their Sunday best. We literally lay them out, legs extended, hands on the belly or straight down at the sides. The tucked sleeping posture is more typical of our precontact native brethren.
So. Did the curled posture support Claudel’s assumption of antiquity?
Not that simple.
A flexed body requires a smaller hole. Less digging. Less time and energy. Pit burial is also popular with those in a hurry.
Exhausted, I wheeled the bones to their bay, changed, returned to my office, and rechecked the phone.
By the time I clocked out, it was well past ten. Wind whipped around the corner of Wilfrid-Derome, slicing through my clothes like a blade. My breath billowed as I scurried to my car.
Throughout the drive, I could think of nothing but the girls in the morgue.
Had they died of illness? Had they been killed in a manner leaving no mark on their bones? Poisoning? Smothering?
At the Viger traffic light, two teenagers emerged from the shadow of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. Tattooed, pierced, and spiked, they raised squeegees with tense nonchalance. Nodding a go-ahead, I dug a dollar from my purse and watched as they scraped dirty water down my windshield.
Had the pizza basement girls been young rebels like these, marching toward nonconformity down prescribed paths? Had they been loners, abused by family tyrants? Runaways struggling to survive on the streets?
I’d found not a single indicator of clothing. Granted, natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and wool deteriorate quickly. But why no zipper tooth? Eyelet? Bodice fastener? Bra hook? These girls had been stripped before being hidden in anonymous graves.
Had they died together? Over a span of months? Years?
And always, the central question: When? A decade ago? A century?
By the time I reached home, a headache was cranking into high gear, and I was hungry enough to eat Lithuania. Except for granola bars and diet sodas, I’d consumed nothing all day.
After showering, I nuked a frozen Mexican dinner. As I dined with Letterman, I thought about Anne. Anne would understand. Let me vent. Say comforting things. I’d just collected the handset, when it rang in my hand.
“How’s Birdie?” Anne.
“You’re calling about my cat?”
“I don’t think the little guy gets enough attention.”
The little guy was beside me on the couch, staring at the sour cream oozing from my burrito remains.
“I’m sure Bird would agree.”
Setting my dinner on the coffee table, I scooped a dollop of cream and offered a finger. Birdie licked it clean and refocused on the plate.
“How about you?”
I was lost. “How about me what?”
“Are you getting enough attention?”
Though Anne has the instincts of a NAVSAT, she couldn’t have known of my anxiety over Ryan.
“I was just about to call you,” I said.
“I’m not,” she continued, not really listening to my answer.
“What are you talking about?”
Anne is married to an attorney named Tom Turnip. When Tom was a second-year associate with his firm, a senior partner had addressed him as Ted for an entire month. He’d been Tom-Ted ever since.
“What about TT?”
Though I wanted to be sympathetic, I was far too exhausted for puzzles.
“Please just tell me.”
“Good idea. I’ll be there tomorrow.”
EIGHT HOURS LATER MY STATE OF MIND WAS MUCH IMPROVED. The headache was gone. The sun was shining. My best friend was coming.
Maybe. Anne has a way of changing her mind.
Speaking of changing minds, Ryan was right. Evidence as to postmortem interval, or PMI, was at the heart of the debate with Claudel.
Crunching cornflakes, I considered the problem.
At this point I knew 38426 and 38427 had come from shallow graves in a dry basement. The skeletons were devoid of flesh but well preserved, with no surface cracking or flaking.
Mental checklist. What other data are useful for pinpointing PMI with dry bones?
Deterioration of associated materials. I had none.
Analysis of insect inclusions. I had none.
Bird nosed toward my cereal, hoping to score milk. I displaced him to a chair.
Should I move on to 38428, or should I focus on establishing PMI?
Birdie oozed back onto the table. Again, I lifted him down.
If I found evidence that the burials were old, I could relax and notify the archaeologists. On the other hand, if I found evidence that the deaths were recent, as I suspected, the coroner would insist on an investigation, and Claudel would have no choice. He and Charbonneau could start the legwork while I analyzed the third set of remains.
As I poured coffee, Birdie launched a third sortie. I relocated him again, somewhat less gently.
OK. I had no artifacts or bugs. What options did that leave?
I knew that the elemental composition of bone changes over time. The amount of nitrogen decreases, the amount of fluoride increases. But these shifts are too slow to be of use in evaluating the age of modern remains.
I’d read studies that focused on radiography, histology, chemical reaction, and isotope content. I was aware of research that pointed to amino acids as useful in distinguishing recent from ancient bone.
But a myriad of factors influence biochemical and physical processes. Temperature. Ground moisture. Oxygen tension. Microbial activity. Soil pH. No technique is reliably accurate. Once the flesh and bugs move on, PMI becomes the Bermuda Triangle of forensic anthropology.
I could think of only one test that might yield definitive results. But it would take time and cost money, and only a handful of labs performed it. Given the current financial climate, I knew it would be a hard sell to LaManche.
But it was worth a shot.
Placing my bowl on the floor, I gathered my purse and laptop and set off.
In my office, the message light remained obstinately dark.
The morning meeting was routine. A man dead of fumes from a malfunctioning space heater. An alcohol-related traffic death. An autoerotic with a faulty escape knot in his noose. A charred body in a burned-out motor home.
Pelletier caught the fire victim. Though the remains were thought to be those of the trailer’s owner, he asked that I be available in case things got dicey.
As the others filed out, I turned to LaManche.
“May I speak with you a moment?”
“Mais, oui.” LaManche folded back into his seat.
“I’ve examined two of the skeletons from the pizza parlor basement.”
When LaManche raised his brows, the lines in his flesh elongated and deepened. He seemed suddenly older, more worn than I remembered. Was it the cold morning light from the windows behind me? Was LaManche unwell? Had I simply not noticed until this moment?
“The two victims I’ve examined are young and female,” I said. “I’m certain the third is a young woman as well.”
“You use the word ‘victim.’”
“They’re kids and they’re dead.”
LaManche’s melancholy eyes did not flinch at my sharpness.
“But I’ve found no signs of violence,” I admitted.
“Monsieur Claudel feels these remains are probably not recent.”
“The restaurant owner found buttons that could be nineteenth century.”
“Could be?” The brows rose again.
“Claudel took them to the McCord.”
“You are unconvinced?”
“Even if the buttons are genuine, it’s unclear whether they were associated with any of the skeletons. Their presence in the basement could have any number of explanations.”
LaManche sighed and pulled his ear. “Monsieur Claudel also told me that the building is more than a hundred years old.”
“Claudel has researched the property?” I felt heat flush my face. “He has not shared that information with me.”
“Construction took place over a century ago.”
I have a flash point temper. My father’s temper. Along with drink, Daddy’s fury sometimes ruled him. I grew up with the impact of those outbursts.
Like Daddy, I succumbed to the lure of the bottle. Unlike him, I walked away from booze. Also unlike him, I learned to control my temper. When fire simmers inside, outside I grow deadly calm.
“Did Monsieur Claudel not realize that such information is relevant to my task?” I asked, my voice glacial.
“I am certain he will inform you in detail.”
“During my lifetime?”
“Do not grow defensive. I am not fighting you.”
I drew a deep breath.
“There is one test which might resolve the question.”
“You’ve heard of Carbon 14 dating?”
“I know it is used to assign age to organic materials, including human bone. I do not know how it works.”
“Radiocarbon, or Carbon 14, is an unstable isotope. Like all radioactive substances, it decays by releasing subatomic particles at a uniform rate.”
LaManche’s eyes stayed heavy on mine.
“In about 5,730 years half of a population of radiocarbon atoms will have reverted to nitrogen.”
“That is the half-life.”
I nodded. “After 11,460 years, a fourth of the original amount of radiocarbon remains. After another 5,730 years, only an eighth remains, and so on.”
LaManche did not interrupt.
“The amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere is really tiny. There’s only about one radiocarbon atom for every trillion stable carbon atoms. Radiocarbon is constantly being created in the upper atmosphere by cosmic bombardment of nitrogen. Some of the nitrogen converts to radiocarbon, which immediately oxidizes to CO2. That CO2 works its way down into the biosphere, where it’s taken up by plants. Since humans, animals, and plants comprise the same food chain, as long as they are alive they have a constant amount of radiocarbon in them. The actual amount is gradually decreasing due to radioactive decay, but is being replenished through food intake, or through photosynthesis in the case of plants. This equilibrium exists as long as an organism is alive. When it dies, decay becomes the only active process. Radiocarbon dating is a method that determines the point in time at which this disequilibrium started.”
LaManche raised both palms in a gesture of skepticism. “Five-thousand-plus years. How can such a slow process be of value with recent remains?”
“A fair question. It’s true that Carbon 14 dating has been used primarily by archaeologists, and has been shown to be quite reliable. But the technique is based on a number of assumptions, one of which is that the atmospheric level of radiocarbon has remained constant over time. Data inconsistent with that assumption can actually be used to give the process wider applicability.”
“That’s where it gets interesting. Studies have documented significant anomalies in radiocarbon data for certain time periods. Two perturbations have taken place over the past eighty years, both of which were caused by human activity.”
LaManche leaned back, interlaced his fingers, and laid his hands on his chest. A hint for brevity? I did some mental abridgment.
“The period from about 1910 to 1950 is characterized by a decrease of atmospheric radiocarbon, probably due to the release into the atmosphere of the products of combustion of fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas.”
“Because of their great age, fossil fuels contain no detectable radiocarbon. They are said to be dead. Since the combustion of these fuels releases carbon dioxide devoid of radiocarbon, the relative amount of Carbon 14 in the atmosphere drops.”
“But beginning about 1950, the atmospheric testing of thermonuclear weapons reversed this downward trend.”
“The radiocarbon in living things increased.”
“Dramatically. From 1950 to 1963, the values rose to about 85 percent above contemporary reference levels. In 1963, an international agreement halted atmospheric nuclear testing by most nations, and biospheric radiocarbon levels began settling into a new equilibrium.”
“Such folly.” LaManche wagged his head sadly.
“These permutations are known as the fossil fuel and atomic bomb effects.”
LaManche stole a glance at his watch.
“The bottom line is that artificial or ‘bomb’ Carbon 14 can be used to determine if someone died before or after the period of atmospheric nuclear testing.”
“How is this test done?”
“There are actually two methods. With the standard radiometric technique, materials are analyzed by synthesizing the sample carbon to benzene, then measuring the Carbon 14 content in a scintillation spectrometer.”
“And the other method?”
“With the other method results are derived from reduction of the sample carbon to graphite. The graphite is then tested for Carbon 14 content in an accelerator mass spectrometer.”
For several seconds LaManche said nothing. Then, “How much bone is required?”
“For conventional decay counting, two hundred fifty grams. For accelerator mass spectrometry, just a gram or even less.”
“AMS testing costs more?”
I told him.
LaManche removed his glasses and squeezed the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger.
“Is there no intermediate step to determine that such an expenditure is justified?”
“There’s one thing I could try. The technique isn’t terribly reliable, but it’s simple and might show if death occurred more or less than a hundred years ago.”
LaManche started to speak.
“And free,” I added. “I can do it myself. But again, it will yield only a very rough indication of whether the bones are more or less than a century old.”
“Please.” LaManche repositioned his glasses and rose. “In the meantime I will discuss your proposal with Dr. Authier.”
Jean-François Authier, the chief coroner, considered all requests for exceptional expenditures. Few were granted.
Grabbing a lab coat from my office, I headed to the morgue. Morin and Ayers were already cutting Y incisions in room two. I requested a UV light, and waited while the tech got it. Then I hurried to the appropriate bay and pulled the left femora from skeletons 38426, 38427, and 38428.
In autopsy room four, I wrote the respective case numbers on the proximal and distal ends of the leg bones, and placed them on the autopsy table. Each made a soft thunk in the stillness.
After masking, I plugged in and revved a Stryker saw. White powder coned on the stainless steel as I bisected each femoral shaft. A hot, acrid odor filled the air.
I wondered again about the young women whose bones I was cutting. Had they died surrounded by family? Probably not. Alone and frightened? More likely. Hopeful of rescue? Desperate? Angry? Relieved? All possible. They never get to say.
When I’d finished sawing, I gathered the femoral segments and the UV light, and carried them to a storage closet at the end of the hall.
Come on. Let this work.
Entering the closet, I located an outlet and plugged in the UV. Then I set the femoral halves on a shelf with their freshly sawn surfaces facing outward.
When I closed the door, it was pitch-black.
Barely breathing, I pointed the UV and thumbed the switch.
“YES!” MY FREE HAND PUMPED THE AIR.
Limb bones of up to a century in age may fluoresce when viewed under UV light. This fluorescence diminishes over time, the dead zone progressing outward from the marrow cavity and inward from the external surface. A century postmortem, the yellow-green glow is absent altogether.
These babies were smoking like neon doughnuts.
OK, Claudel. That’s step one.
Returning the femora to their respective body bags, I went in search of my boss.
LaManche was slicing a brain in the histo lab. He looked up when I entered, knife in one hand, plastic apron tied behind his neck and waist. I explained what I’d done.
“The cut surfaces lit up like novas.”
“The presence of organic constituents.”
LaManche laid his knife on the corkboard. “So these are not native burials.”
“These girls died after 1900.”
“Probably.” Less vehement.
“The building was constructed around the turn of the century.”
I did not reply.
“Do you recall the remains found near le Cathédral Marie-Reine-du-Monde?”
LaManche was referring to a time he’d sent me downtown to investigate “bodies” discovered by a water main crew. I’d arrived to find backhoes, dump trucks, and an enormous hole in boulevard René-Lévesque. Skull, rib, and long-bone fragments lined the pavement and lay at the bottom of the freshly dug trench. Mingled with the human bits I could see wood slivers and corroded nails.
Easy one. Coffin burials.
Archaeologists later confirmed my opinion. Until a cholera epidemic forced its closure in the mid-eighteenth century, a cemetery had occupied the land where the cathedral now oversees rush hour on René-Lévesque. The repair crew had stumbled on a few souls overlooked during the graveyard’s relocation.
“You think the bloody building was constructed over unmarked graves?” I asked. “I found no evidence of coffins.”
French Canadians are virtuosos of the shrug, using subtle nuances of hands, eyes, shoulders, and lips to convey countless meanings. I agree. I disagree. I don’t care. What can I do? Who knows? You are a fool. Do as you like.
LaManche raised one shoulder and both brows. A “maybe, maybe not” shrug.
“Have you discussed radiocarbon dating with Authier?” I asked.
“Dr. Authier is hosting visitors from the Moroccan Institute of Legal Medicine. I left a message asking that he call me.”
“The testing will take time.” I didn’t mask my agitation.
“Temperance.” LaManche was the only person on the planet to address me thus. On his tongue mon nom had perky little accent marks and rhymed with “sconce.” “You are becoming much too personally involved.”
“I don’t believe these bones are ancient. They don’t have that feel, that look. The context seems wrong. I—”
“Did these girls die last week?” The hound dog face sagged with patience.
“Is there great urgency?”
I said nothing.
LaManche gazed at me so long I thought his mind had wandered. Then, “Send off your samples. I will deal with Dr. Authier.”
“Thank you.” I resisted the impulse to hug him.
“In the meantime, perhaps the third skeleton will yield useful information.” With that not so subtle hint, LaManche turned back to his brain.
Elated, I headed downstairs and changed into scrubs.
Lisa stopped me on my way to autopsy room four. The trailer fire victim had no teeth, no dentures, and no printable digits. Identification had become problematical, and Dr. Pelletier wanted my opinion.
I told her I would join Pelletier in half an hour.
Working quickly, I cut a one-inch plug from the midshaft of each femur, raced upstairs, logged onto the Web, and entered the address of the Florida lab that would perform the analyses. Clicking onto the sample data sheet, I filled in the required information, and requested testing by accelerated mass spectrometry.
I paused at the section concerning delivery. Standard service took two to four weeks. With advanced service, results could be available in as little as six days.
At a significantly higher price.
Screw it. If Authier balked, I’d pay.
I checked the second box and hit SEND.
After completing transfer-of-evidence forms, I gave Denis the address, and asked that he package and FedEx the specimens immediately.
I had to agree with Pelletier. The owner of the motor home was a sixty-four-year-old white male. The body on the table was wearing the charred remains of a Wonder Bra and handcuffs.
OK. So the guy was kinky.
Nope. X-rays showed a diaphragm center stage in the pelvis.
It was late afternoon when we finally got it sorted.
The fire victim was female, white, and toothless, with healed fractures of the right radius and both nasal bones. She’d been walking the earth thirty-five to fifty years.
Where was Trailer Man? That problem now belonged to the cops.
At three-forty, I washed, changed, and returned topside, grabbing a Diet Coke and two powdered sugar doughnuts on the way to my office.
The phone was flashing like a sale light at Kmart. Bolting from the door, I grabbed the receiver.
Anne. Her flight would arrive at five twenty-five.
Arthur Holliday, the man who would perform the Carbon 14 test. His message asked that I contact him before sending the samples.
Racing to the secretarial office, I checked the mound of outgoing mail. FedEx had yet to collect my package. I dug it out, returned to my office, and dialed the lab in Florida, puzzled as to what the problem could be.
“Tempe, good, good. I called as soon as I got your e-mail. Have you sent off the bone samples?”
“They’re ready, but still here. Is there a problem?”
“No, no. Not at all. Terrific. Good. Listen, do your unknowns have teeth?”
“Good. Good. Listen, we’ve got a little research project going down here, and we wondered if place of birth might be of interest in your case.”
“I hadn’t considered that angle, but yes, that information might be useful. Can you do that?”
“Is there a lot of groundwater in that basement?”
“No, it’s fairly dry.”
“I can’t promise anything, but we’re getting some pretty good results with our strontium isotope analyses. If you’ll allow us to store the results in our database, then get back to us when your unknowns are eventually identified, I’ll be glad to perform this experimental test on your samples gratis.”
“We need to expand our reference database.”
“What should I send?”
He told me and started to expound on the reasons for needing both bone and tooth specimens. The clock said three-fifty. I cut him off.
“Art, could you explain this when we discuss results? If I want these specimens to go out with today’s FedEx pickup, I have to get back to the skeletons and pull the teeth within the next thirty minutes.”
“Yes, yes. Of course. We’ll talk then. Tempe, this may go nowhere, but, well, you never know.”
Disconnecting, I descended to the morgue, cut another plug of bone from the femur of each set of remains, replaced the bone, removed the jaw, returned to my lab, photographed the jaw, removed the right second molar from each, repacked everything, and returned the parcel to the mound of uncollected mail, thankful that I’d already had dental X-rays made.
By four-thirty, I’d resettled in my office.
Crossing my ankles on the window ledge, I sipped diet soda, nibbled my first doughnut, and forced my thoughts to subjects other than the pizza basement girls.
What about Katy? I had no idea what my daughter was doing at that moment. Or even her specific whereabouts. Call? I looked at my watch. She was probably out, studying at the library or in class. Right.
Presumably, Katy was diligently attending classes and planning her future beyond university. I was not being kept advised. Had my little girl slipped into an adulthood in which I would play only minor walk-ons?
That smiley-face thought cranked my mind back to the girls who were now skeletons.
Why no single shred of clothing? Had I missed something? Should I have used a finer mesh screen? Had the owner gathered more than buttons? What could explain three girls buried naked in a basement?
Diet Coke. Mental right turn.
Why the unexpected visit? What was behind the funny sound in her voice?
With the second doughnut, my mind took another go at the skeletons.
If all three girls died at the same time, why adipocere only with the third set of remains? OK. The wrapping. But why just that one burial?
Nope. New topic.
A sweater I’d seen in Ogilvy’s window. A ratchety noise in my car’s engine. An odd brown spot on my right shoulder.
At the end of the second doughnut, my mind made another hard run at the skeletons.
The bodies had been less than six inches down. Why so close to the surface? Native burials typically lie much deeper. So do historic graves.
What if Art really could tell me where each of the girls had been born? Would that be helpful? Or would his analysis merely indicate that they were locals?
Maybe LaManche had a point. Maybe I was becoming obsessed. I was jumpy and defensive. I wasn’t sleeping well. The case had even entered my dreams.
My mind veered down another alley.
Could work dissatisfaction be at the root of my problem with Ryan? Were anxiety and frustration transferring to him and firing my own destruction in that arena?
As though triggered by some errant electron escaping that synapse, the phone rang. I swiveled and snatched the receiver, this time nearly upsetting my drink.
Susanne informed me that a detective was on his way to my office.
Claudel. Just what I needed.
Only it wasn’t.
Standing six feet two, wearing khakis, fawn linen, and a tweed jacket, Ryan looked like a cross between Pierce Brosnan and the older guy in an Adidas ad. He shook his head at the Diet Coke in my hand and the sugar powdering my desk blotter.
“The woman is a swirling mass of contradiction.”
“I have eclectic tastes.”
“Your tastes must confuse the hell out of your pancreas.”
“It’s my pancreas.”
Ryan looked surprised at the sharpness of my response.
“Catching you at a bad time, cupcake?”
“I was expecting someone else.” I set down the can. “Honey bun.”
“I’m hearing that a lot lately.”
“That I am other than your expectations.”
“I thought someone might be calling with information on a case.”
“Once more I’ve dashed hopes of which I know nothing.”
“You sound like Winston Churchill,” I said, slumping back in my chair.
“That is nonsense up with which I will not put.”
“A for grammar, D-minus for clarity.” I pressed powdered sugar onto the tip of my finger.
“Winnie said it.”
“You repeated it.”
“How are things going with Claudel?” Ryan leaned against the doorjamb and crossed arms and ankles. As usual, I found my eyes drawn to his. No matter how often I experienced it, the intensity of the blue always caught me off guard.
“Claudel’s running on a limited supply of brain cells. The few he has need to e-mail each other regularly to maintain contact.”
“And the system is down?”
“I haven’t heard from Claudel today. Actually, I’m looking forward to sharing something with him.”
I licked sugar from my finger and dipped more from the blotter.
“You going to share it with Honey Bun?”
“LaManche authorized expenditure for a special test I requested.”
“Without passing it by Authier?”
“LaManche can be a rascal. What test?”
“As in mummies and mastodons?”
I walked Ryan through the short course I’d given LaManche, but decided against mentioning the strontium isotope analysis. Too iffy.
“How far out for results?”
“Hopefully, no more than a week. LaManche suggested I move on to the third skeleton. Basically, he’s telling me to forget about PMI for now.”
“Not bad advice.”
“Goes with the job.”
Ryan’s beeper sounded. He checked the number and clipped the gizmo back on his belt.
“Granted, these kids didn’t die last week, or even last month,” I went on. “But I can’t shake the thought that time is being wasted. I just have a bad feeling about this case.”
I told Ryan about Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent.
“What exactly did she say?”
“That she knew what had gone on in that building.”
“We didn’t get that far.”
“She could be a crackpot.”
“She could be.”
“You say she sounded old.”
“I’ve thought of that, Ryan. But what if she is sharp and she is on the level? And she does know something?”
“She’ll ring back.”
“Are you having her call tracked?”
“Want me to see what I can find out?”
“I can handle it.”
“What threat could an old lady pose to anybody?”
“This woman knows about our little field trip to the basement. God knows who else read or heard about it. You saw Le Journal. The media were on the thing like cats on a fish wagon.”
“Other than its age, what do you know about this building?”
“Three dead girls were buried in its basement.”
“You can be a pain in the ass, Brennan.”
“I work at it.”
“Have dinner with me tonight?” Ryan asked.
Deafening quiet slipped across the office. Thirty seconds. A full minute.
Uncrossing his ankles, Ryan straightened from the wall. The ice blue eyes looked straight into mine. It was not a happy look.
“We need to talk.”
“Yes,” I said.
Adios, cowboy, I thought, watching Ryan disappear through the door.
MIDWEEK, LATE AFTERNOON IS NOT A GOOD TIME FOR MOTORING in Montreal. Through the Ville-Marie Tunnel and onto the 20, I flew along at a clip that reached thirty-five mph at its peak. At the Turcot Interchange, my progress could be measured in spastic movements of car lengths.
A bumper sticker glimmered in the taillights ahead of me. The beatings will continue until morale improves. The first reading drew a chuckle. By the tenth, the humor had bled out. Translate: The traffic snarl will continue until impatience subsides.
To ease the boredom, I scanned billboards. Slogans in mangled English and French hawked cell phones and Hondas and sitcoms and hair spray.
With darkness, a hard wind had kicked up. Now and then the car rocked, as though toed at one end by a giant sneaker. A winter city crept by my windshield. Lamp-lit windows in the high hills of Westmount. The blackened rail yards. Suburban bungalows electric with discount store Christmas schlock.
Past Ville St-Pierre, congestion eased, and I gunned it back up to a blistering thirty. My fingers drummed the wheel. The dashboard clock said five-thirty. Anne’s flight had probably landed.
A full hour after leaving the lab, I entered the terminal at Dorval Airport. Anne had cleared customs and was standing at the end of a chute of people awaiting arrivals.
I did the windmill thing with my arms. Catching sight of me, Anne grasped the pull-handle of a boxcar-sized suitcase and wheeled it in my direction. A laptop hung from one shoulder, an enormous leather purse from the other.
Sudden flashback. My sister, Harry, surrounded by enough Louis Vuitton for a world tour. She’d come for a week. She’d stayed a month.
Anne is very tall and very blonde. More eyes than mine followed as she muscled her Pullman through the crowd of greeters. Reaching me, she bent and threw both arms around my neck. The laptop slid forward and gouged my ribs.
“Traffic was a nightmare,” I said, relieving Anne of her shoulder gear.
“You’re a darlin’ to come for me.”
“I’m thrilled you’re here.”
“The pilot claimed it was eighteen below. Can that be true?” Anne’s drawl sounded as out of place in the quebecois hubbub as the Rawhide theme at a PETA benefit.
“That’s Celsius.” I didn’t point out that the reading was only a hair above zero in her worldview.
“I hope there’s a blizzard. Snow would be a kick.”
“Did you bring warm clothing?”
Anne spread both arms in a check-it-out gesture.
My friend wore a cable-knit sweater, suede jacket, green cords, and pink angora muffler with matching hat. I was certain her purse contained fuzzy pink mittens to complete the accessorizing. I knew her thinking. “Winter chic.”
Though Anne was born in Alabama and schooled in Mississippi, she had traveled North, and, like many Southerners, gained a theoretical understanding of the concept of cold. But the mind is an overprotective parent. What it doesn’t care for, it hides. Like many inhabiting the subtropics, Anne had repressed the reality of subzero mercury.
This was Quebec. Anne was dressed for autumn cool in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Exiting the terminal, I heard Ms. Winter Chic suck in her breath. Smiling, I hurried her toward the car. I really couldn’t fault Anne. Though I commute regularly between Charlotte and Montreal, that first winter blast clotheslines even me.
Anne talked around topics on the drive to Centre-ville. Her cats, Regis and Kathie Lee. The twins, Josh and Lola. Her youngest son, Stuart, who’d become a spokesman for gay rights. Between bursts, she’d stop, and a moody silence would fill the small space around us.
Now and then I’d sneak a sideways glance. Anne’s face flickered in a mosaic of neon and brake lights. I could take nothing from it. She uttered not a word about the reason for her visit.
OK, old friend. Tell the tale when you will.
An hour and a half later Anne began meandering through an explanation. As she talked, I sensed vacillation, as though she were testing ideas as she spoke them.
We’d stopped at home to deposit Anne’s things, and were now in the Trattoria Trestevere on lower Crescent. The waiter had just delivered Caesar salads. I was drinking Perrier. Anne was working on her third chardonnay.
And the chardonnay was working on Anne.
“I’m forty-six years old, Tempe. If I don’t search for some meaning now, there’s going to be nothing out there for me to find later.” She tapped a manicured nail to her breast. “Or in here.”
Again, I thought of my sister. Harry had come to Montreal questing for inner peace. She’d hooked up with apocalyptic crazies who were going to take her on a voyage to permanent peace. As in dead. Fortunately, she’d survived. Anne’s discourse sounded like flotsom straight down the same self-help psychobabble pipeline.
“So the kids are all right?”
“Tom didn’t do anything to piss you off?”
The nail pointed at me. “Tom didn’t do anything. Ever. Unless you count defending asshole developers who want to rid the world of trees, and spending the rest of the time seeking the grail of a hole in one. Guess it’s my own fault marrying someone with a name like Turnip.”
Tom-Ted’s surname had also been a source of much amusement over the years.
“The tuber is terminated.”
“You’ve left him?” I couldn’t believe it.
“After twenty-four years and three kids?”
“This does not concern the kids.”
My fork stopped in midair. Anne and I froze eye to eye.
“You know that’s not what I mean,” she said. “The kids are grown. Josh and Lola have graduated college. Stuart’s off doing whatever it is Stuart does.” She jabbed at a lettuce leaf. “They’re moving on with their lives and I’m left with selling real estate and cultivating fucking azaleas.”
Upon completion of my doctorate at Northwestern, Pete joined a Charlotte law firm, and I accepted an appointment at UNCC. I was thrilled to leave Chicago and return to my beloved North Carolina. But the move had its downside.
By day, I was surrounded by academics. Dedicated. Compassionate. Bright. And as socially sophisticated as the Burpee seed catalog. Katy was an infant. My colleagues were childless and clueless concerning the demands of parenthood.
Each evening, I collected my baby at child care and transitioned to a picture perfect ad for country club living. Manicured lawns. Upmarket cars. Stepford wives with stay-at-home mind-sets. Female conversation focused on tennis, golf, and car pools.
I was despairing of ever developing meaningful female friendships when I spotted Anne at a neighborhood charity tea. Or heard her, to be more precise. Steel magnolia meets the drunken sailor.
I zeroed in. Instant connection.
Anne and I have seen each other’s kids through broken bones and broken hearts. Our families have shared two decades of camping and ski trips, Thanksgiving dinners, christenings, and funerals. Until the collapse of my marriage, the Turnips and the Petersonses hadn’t missed a summer at the ocean. Now Anne and I made the beach trips alone.
“What have you told the kids?”
“Nothing. I haven’t actually moved out of the house. I’m on a leave of absence. Traveling.”
“Let’s not talk about me, darlin’. Let’s talk about you. What are you working on these days?”
There is no pursuing an issue with Anne when she closes down.
I summarized the pizza basement case, and told her of my frustration with my pal Claudel.
“You’ll bring him around. You always have before. Get to the good stuff. Are you seeing anyone?”
The waiter replaced our salads with entrées. Lasagna for Anne. Veal piccata for me. Anne ordered another wine, then snatched up the grinder and screwed cheese onto her pasta. I decided to try another run at the Tom thing.
“What exactly is the focus of this new personal outreach program?” I tried to keep the cynicism from my voice.
“Fulfillment. Self-esteem. Appreciation.” She smacked the grinder onto the tabletop. “And don’t even suggest it. I’m not signing up for one more puking course.”
We ate in silence for a few moments. When Anne spoke again her tone sounded lighter, but forced, somehow.
“I got more attention from the hunk in 3C than I have from Tom Turnip in the past twelve months. Boy’s probably out buying me gardenias right now.” Anne knocked back a swig of wine. “Hell, messages are probably piling up on your answering machine as we speak.”
“What boy in 3C?”
“A sweet little stud I met on the plane.”
“You gave him my phone number?”
“How do you know he’s harmless?”
“He was in first class.”
“So were the nice lads who torpedoed the Trade Center.”
My friend looked at me as though I’d suggested she cut off a foot.
“Don’t get your panties in a bunch, Tempe. I’m not actually going to see the guy.”
I wasn’t believing this. I use extreme caution in giving out my home number. Anne had blithely shared it with a complete stranger, who might be calling my home looking for her.
“I’d had a couple of Manhattans,” she continued, oblivious to the extent of my annoyance. “We talked. He asked where he could reach me. I jotted the stuff on a napkin—”
“Stuff? Meaning address, too?”
Anne gave an Academy Award orbital roll.
“I’m sure the guy tossed it as he exited the Jetway. How’s your veal?”
In contrast to the conversation, my meat was perfect.
“Good,” I mumbled. So the guy might not call. He could show up on my doorstep.
“Mine is parfait. See what I mean? Already I’m in a different galaxy from Clover, South Carolina.” Anne circled her fork in the air. “Québec! La belle province! C’est magnifique!”
I have been accused of speaking Southern French. Anne’s accent left me in the Dixie dust.
“This is just a cooling-off period, right? A marital sabbatical?”
When I was married to Pete, Anne and I often joked about the “marital sabbatical.” It was our code phrase for “road trip, no men allowed.”
“I could be dead a week and Tom Turnip wouldn’t notice I was gone.” The fork came back up, this time pointed at me. “No. That may be harsh. If Tom ran out of toilet paper he might holler to inquire as to my whereabouts.”
Anne gave one of her full, throaty laughs. “There’s a pretty picture, darlin’. The great barrister, caught midstep taking a dum—”
“Hon, the boy is history.”
For a few moments we ate in silence. When I’d finished, I gave the topic one last shot.
“Annie, this is Tempe. I know you. I know Tom. I’ve seen you two together for twenty years. Tell me what’s really going on.”
Anne laid down her fork and began working the paper napkin under her wineglass. A full minute passed before she spoke.
“Things were amazing when Tom and I first met. The March of the Toreadors every night. And things stayed great. The books and talk shows tell you that married couples go from towering inferno to not so hot, and that that’s normal. But it didn’t happen with Tom and me.”
Jagged scallops were appearing along the napkin’s edge.
“Not until a couple of years ago.”
“Are you talking about sex?”
“I’m talking about a major, total downshift. Tom stopped smoldering and began focusing on anything that wasn’t me. I began settling for less and less of him. Last week it struck me. Our paths were barely crossing.”
“Nothing terrible had happened?”
“That’s just it. Nothing had happened. Nothing was happening. Nothing was about to happen. I’d begun to feel numb. And I’d begun to think numb wasn’t so bad. Numb began to feel normal.”
Anne gathered the napkin scraps into a tiny mound.
“Life’s too short, Tempe. I don’t want my obituary to read, ‘Here lies a woman who sold houses.’”
“Isn’t it a bit soon to just pull the plug?”
With a sweep of the hand, Anne sent the scraps spiraling to the floor.
“I have aspired to be the perfect wife more than half my life. The result has been deep disappointment. Cut and run. That’s my new philosophy.”
“Have you considered counseling?”
“When hell and the golf courses freeze over.”
“You know Tom loves you.”
“We meet very few people in this life who truly care.”
“Right you are, darling.” Anne drained her fourth chardonnay with a quick, jerky move, and set the glass onto the mutilated napkin. “And those are the folks who hurt us the most.”
“Annie.” I forced my friend’s eyes to mine. They were a deep, dusky green, the pupils shining with an alcohol buzz. “Are you sure?”
Anne curled the fingers of both hands and placed her forehead on her fists. A hesitation, then her face came back up.
The unhappiness in her voice stopped my heart.
During dinner the wind had blustered up for a personal best, and the temperature had dropped in opposition. Negotiating the quarter mile home felt like mushing the Iditarod from Anchorage to Nome.
Gusts moaned up Ste-Catherine, manhandling our clothing and sandblasting our faces with ice and snow. Anne and I ran hunched like soldiers on a bunker charge.
Rounding the corner of my block, I noticed oddly drifted snow against the outer door of my building. Though cold teared my eyes, something about the white mound looked very wrong.
As I blinked my vision into focus, the drift expanded, changed shape, contracted again.
I stopped, frowned. Could it be?
An appendage snaked out, was drawn back.
What the hell was going on?
I dashed across the street and up the outer stairs.
My cat raised his chin slightly and rolled his eyes up. Seeing me, he shot forward without seeming to flex a limb. A small cloud puffed from my mouth as my chest caught his catapulted weight.
Birdie clawed upward, laid his chin on my shoulder, and pressed his belly to my jacket. His fur smelled wet. His body shivered from cold or fear.
“What’s he doing out here?” A gust snatched Anne’s question and whipped it up the street.
“I don’t know.”
“Can he let himself out?”
“Someone had to have opened a door.”
“You tight enough with anyone to give out a key?”
“So who’s been inside?”
“I have no idea.”
“Well, we better find out.”
Pulling off her mittens, Anne produced a Mace dispenser from her shoulder bag.
“I think that’s illegal here,” I said.
“So shoot me.” Anne yanked the outer door.
Entering the vestibule was like stepping from a vortex into a vacuum.
Handing off Birdie, I removed my mittens, reached into a pocket, and took out my keys. Palms sweaty, I unlocked the interior door.
The lobby was graveyard quiet. No snow residue or wet prints marred the runners or the marble floor. Heart hammering, I crossed and made a hard right. Anne followed.
Faux brass wall sconces light the interior lobby and corridors. Normally, the low-level illumination is sufficient. Tonight, two candles were out, leaving murky pools of darkness between the islands of yellow dotting my hallway.
Had the bulbs been out when we left? I couldn’t remember.
My condo lay straight ahead. Seeing it, I stopped dead, totally unnerved.
Black space gaped between the open door and jamb.
THROUGH THE GAP, I COULD MAKE OUT DISORDERED SHADOWS and an odd luminescence, like moonlight on water.
I glanced over my shoulder. Anne stood with one arm wrapping the cat, the other upraised, Mace at the ready. Birdie clung to her chest, head twisted one-eighty to stare at his home.
I turned back to the door, straining to hear sounds on the far side. A footfall. A cough. The whisper of a sleeve.
Behind me, Anne’s ragged breathing. Beyond the door, intimidating silence.
The three of us held stock-still, eyes wide, a triptych in trepidation.
A heartbeat. A lifetime.
Then Birdie made his move. Scrabbling upward, he gave a “Rrrp,” rocketed off Anne’s chest, and shot toward the opening. In a lunge to grab him, Anne only managed to divert his flight path.
Paws slammed the door, sending it backward into the wall. Birdie sped inside as the door ricocheted back from the wall and shut.
Blood drained from my brain. Options kaleidoscoped.
Retreat? Call out? Dial 911?
I find cell phones in restaurants annoying beyond tolerance. I hadn’t brought mine to dinner.
I turned to Anne. Her face was a tense white oval in the dim light.
I pantomimed punching numbers on a cell phone. Anne shook her head, canister on high. Lady Liberty with Mace, but no phone.
We traded looks of indecision. I spoke first, barely a whisper.
“Could the latch have failed to catch?”
“I pulled it tight. But it’s your damn door.” Barely a sibilant, but she managed to hiss. “Besides, that doesn’t explain Birdie being outside.”
“If someone was waiting to assault us, the door wouldn’t be open.”
“Assault us?” Anne’s eyes saucered. “Oh, sweet Jesus. Are you talking about some homicidal crazoid you’ve pissed off through your work?”
“That’s not what I meant.” It was exactly what I meant. “I meant some random intruder.”
Anne’s eyes ballooned. “Great. Some crazoid rapist.”
“That’s not the point. Leaving the door open would be a dead giveaway of a break-in.”
“Excellent choice of wording.”
Under stress, Anne’s sarcasm keeps its cool.
“If it’s a routine burglary, they wouldn’t announce their presence with an open door. The door makes no sense if anyone’s inside.”
Lady Liberty relaxed her arm a fraction, but said nothing.
Creeping forward, I placed my ear to the door.
But something else.
Squatting, I held my hand to the crack. Cold air was seeping out.
“What?” Anne was still using her church voice.
“There’s a door or window open inside.”
“Meaning the Ripper has split? Or settled in for a Guinness and garroting?”
At that moment the lobby door opened. We both went rigid.
Anne’s Mace arm shot skyward.
Footsteps retreated down the wing opposite mine. A door opened, closed.
Then more footsteps. Coming in our direction!
I motioned Anne into the stairwell hallway parallel to my door. We shrank sideways as one.
A figure filled the frame of the main entrance to my corridor, tuque pulled low to his eyes. Dimness and the hat obscured the man’s face. All I could make out was body form. Tall. Lean.
The figure hesitated, then pulled off the tuque and strode toward us.
Anne’s knuckles went white around her canister.
The figure passed under a sconce. Sandy hair. Bomber jacket.
Relief flooded through me. Followed by embarrassment. And feelings of which I was uncertain.
Defusing Anne with a gesture, I stepped forward.
“What are you doing here?” Whispered, but shrill, thanks to the adrenaline pumping through me.
Ryan’s smile sagged, but held on. “I’ve come to view that greeting as a sign of affection.”
“I’m always saying that because you’re always showing up unexpectedly.”
Ryan placed both hands on his chest. “I am a man smitten.” He spread the hands wide. “I cannot stay away.”
Anne lowered her arm, a look of confusion crimping her features.
Ryan turned, preparing to beam charm in Anne’s direction. Seeing the Mace, his smile wavered. He looked a question at me.
Annoyance and embarrassment began a full-court press against fear and relief. If the break-in wasn’t real, I didn’t want to look like a fool. If the break-in was real, I didn’t want to need Ryan’s help. Or his protection.
Unfortunately, at that moment, I suspected I needed both.
“Someone may have broken into my place.”
Ryan didn’t question what I’d said. He spoke without moving.
“How long were you away?”
“A couple of hours. We’ve been back five minutes or less.”
“Did you set the alarm when you left?”
Normally I am good about security. Tonight, Anne and I had been intent on catch-up.
“Probably.” I wasn’t sure.
Pocketing gloves and tuque, Ryan unzipped his jacket, drew his Glock, and gestured us back toward the stairwell.
Anne slid left, back pressed to the wall. I moved behind Ryan.
Ryan twisted sideways against the wall and rapped the door with his gun butt.
“Police! On entre!”
No answer. No movement.
Ryan barked again, in French, then English.
Ryan pointed at the lock.
I stepped forward and used my key. Sweeping me back behind him with one arm, Ryan nudged the door open with his foot.
Gun gripped in both hands, barrel angled skyward, Ryan crossed the threshold. I followed.
Something crunched underfoot.
One step. Two.
The mirrored wall in the foyer gaped densely black. Courtyard light sparked like phosphorous off the marble floor.
A saffron trapezoid gleamed from the glass-topped table in the dining room ahead. Other shapes formed out of the darkness. The writing desk. A corner of the sideboard.
A sudden sense of foreboding. I’d left lights burning.
Again, Ryan called out.
Again, no answer.
Ryan and I crept through the darkness, predators testing the air.
Sounds of emptiness. The refrigerator. The humidifier.
Cold, from the direction of the living room.
At the side hall Ryan reached out and flicked the switch. Motioning me to stay put, he made a hard right and disappeared. Lights went on in the bedroom, the bath, the study.
No one bolted. No one rushed past me. Ryan’s movements were the only sounds.
Backtracking to the main hall, Ryan moved forward and probed the kitchen, then the living room. In seconds he reappeared.
I took my first real breath since entering the apartment.
Seeing my terror, Ryan reengaged the safety and holstered his gun, then wrapped his arms around me.
“Someone cut the glass in the French door.”
“But the alarm?” My voice sounded stretched and quavery, like an overused cassette.
“Wasn’t breached. Do you have a motion detector?”
I felt Ryan’s chin tap the crown of my head.
“Birdie kept triggering the damn thing,” I said defensively.
“What the hell?”
Ryan and I turned. Anne was standing in the doorway, Mace aloft, eyes wide.
“Bienvenue à Montréal,” said Ryan.
Anne’s brows shot skyward.
“He’s a cop,” I said.
“Serve and protect,” Ryan said.
Anne lowered brows and Mace. “My kind of community policing.”
Ryan released me and I made introductions.
Hearing voices, Birdie fired from the bedroom and raced a figure eight around my ankles, fur erect with agitation.
“Detective Ryan would be the ‘sort of’ referred to at dinner?” Anne floated one brow in query.
“Someone’s been in here,” I said, shooting her a “not now” look.
“Holy shit,” Anne said, crunching into the foyer.
As Ryan phoned burglary, Anne and I assessed the damage.
While the French door pane had been cleanly cut, without damage to the security-system trip wires, glass had been shattered in the foyer, dining room, and bathroom mirrors, and in every picture frame in the place. Fragments glittered from furniture, sinks, countertops, and floors.
A few books and papers had been tossed here and there, but otherwise, the main living areas were unharmed.
In contrast, the bedrooms were chaos. Bed pillows were shredded, drawers pulled out and upended, closets ransacked.
A hasty inventory turned up two losses. Anne’s digital camera. Anne’s laptop. Otherwise, nothing seemed to be missing.
“Thank God,” said Anne, drawing out the deity’s name.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, gesturing lamely at her belongings.
Tossing the jewelry pouch onto the dresser, Anne shot out a hip and placed a hand on it. “Guess the little pricks didn’t care for Tom Turnip’s taste in gems.”
It took an hour to do the paperwork. The officers promised that crime scene would check for prints, shoe impressions, and tool marks in the morning.
Anne and I thanked them. No one had much enthusiasm. We all knew that her belongings had disappeared into the black hole of petty theft.
Ryan stayed. Perhaps to inspire diligence on the part of the CUM. Perhaps to buoy my flagging spirits.
When the cops had gone, Ryan offered his place as refuge. I looked at Anne. She shook her head no. Her eyes told me the adrenaline was yielding to the alcohol.
Anne and I did some rough cleanup while Ryan went in search of duct tape, cardboard, and plastic. When he returned, we watched him construct a temporary patch on the French door. Then Anne excused herself and disappeared into the bathroom.
Watching Ryan drop the extra tape into a paper bag, I realized I hadn’t a clue why he’d come.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I began.
“No thanks required.”
“I’ve been so caught up in this”—I waved an arm at the mess behind me—“circus, I haven’t even asked why you stopped by.”
Ryan laid the bag on the coffee table, straightened, and placed a hand on each of my shoulders. For a long moment, he said nothing. Then his face softened, he brushed hair from my cheek, and his hand went back to my shoulder.
When I thought I could bear his silence no longer, he spoke.
“I’m going to be scarce for a while.”
Stomach clutch. Here it comes. The end of the end.
“I can’t go into details, but it’s big—CUM, SQ, RCMP, even the Americans are involved. Op’s been under way for several months.”
A moment went by before I got it.
“You’re talking about a police sting?”
“Claudel’s in, so’s Charbonneau. I’m not compromising anything by telling you that.”
My mind was just not forming the links.
“Why are you telling me that?”
“Claudel’s lack of interest in your pizza bones. I know it’s been grinding at you.”
“You’ll be away?”
“It’s not what I want.” The hint of a smile. “Comes with the glamour and the big bucks.”
I looked down at my hands.
“I hate to leave you alone with this.”
“I didn’t call for backup, Ryan. You dropped in.”
“I don’t like the look of this, Tempe.” Ryan’s voice was gentle.
“It’s not a big deal.”
I could feel cobalt eyes roving my features.
“I’m requesting stepped-up surveillance.”
“I’ll be fine.”
Ryan raised my chin with one finger.
“I’m not sure what went down here, but I intend to find out.”
“It’s a pissant B and E.”
The finger went to my lips.
“Think about it. What was taken? What was left behind? Why the slick entry, then all the smashed glass?”
Ryan squeezed my hands in his, a gesture intended to calm. Instead, it increased my agitation.
“I really would like to stay, Tempe.”
I searched his face, hoping for words that would comfort. Instead Ryan released me and slipped into his jacket. Grabbing the tape, he reached out, touched my cheek, and was gone.
I stood a moment, pondering his comment.
Stay what, Andrew Ryan? The course? The night? Cool? Free?
Not a sound from the bathroom. Not a sound from the study. Anne’s light was off.
After cranking up the heat, I checked the lock on every door and window, set the alarm, and tested the phone. Then I headed toward my room.
I hadn’t noticed earlier. As I crossed the threshold, it drew my attention like some malignant phantom.
My legs gridlocked in shock at the macabre outrage above my bed.
Rushing forward, I jumped onto the bed, yanked a long, jagged shard from the painting above the headboard, and hurled it to the far side of the room.
Glass shattered. Fragments bounced from the wall and dropped onto others swept to the baseboard during our hasty cleanup.
“You low-life son of a bitch!”
My heart hammered. Tears burned the backs of my lids.
Stripping off my clothes, I flung them one by one after the shard. Then I threw myself under the covers, naked and trembling.
As an entering freshman at UVA, Katy chose a studio arts major. Her interest was short-lived, but during that brief blossoming, my daughter was as passionate about les beaux arts as any Montmartre aspirant. In one semester she produced four prints, fourteen drawings, and six oils, her style a lyrical blend of fauvist gaudiness and Barbizon realism.
On my fortieth, my only-born presented me with a Katy Petersons oil original, a raucous Matisse-meets-Rousseau interpretation of a Charlottesville hillside. I treasure that canvas. It is one of the few possessions I have transported from Carolina to Quebec to make a home out of my condo. Katy’s landscape is my last sight as I pull back the covers each night, and regularly catches my eye whenever I move through the room.
Why couldn’t you just take whatever it was you wanted? Why ruin Katy’s painting? Why ruin my daughter’s beautiful goddamned painting?
I squeezed my eyelids, too angry to cry, too angry not to. My fingers bunched and rebunched the blanket.
Minutes clicked by.
Tears trickled to my temples.
Eventually, my breathing steadied and my death grip on the blanket relaxed.
I opened my eyes to blackness, and the soft orange glow of the clock radio. I stared at the digits, willing back rational thought.
Eventually, the anger abated. I began picking apart the mosaic of the last three hours.
What had gone on here? Had Anne and I merely interrupted a burglary in progress, or had we climbed into something more sinister? B and E didn’t figure.
Again, my fingers grip-locked. A stranger had violated my personal space.
Who? A very selective thief looking for particular items of value? A junkie looking for anything that could be fenced to fund a buy? Thrill-seeking kids?
Why? Most important, why the gratuitous violence?
I remembered Ryan’s words.
What was stolen?
Anne’s laptop and camera.
What was wrong there?
The jewelry case had been in full view. It contained items of value and was portable. Why not take that? The TV? The DVD player? Less portable. My laptop? In the excitement of Anne’s arrival, I’d left it in the trunk of my car.
Had the intruder been spooked before scoring the good stuff? Not likely. He had taken the time to break things. Assuming it was a he. Gratuitous damage is more characteristic of the male of the species.
The main door was open when we arrived. The courtyard doors were locked from the inside. Escape through the French doors would have necessitated scaling the backyard fence.
So? That’s how he’d come in. Had the front door been opened simply for the effect when I returned? Had Bird been thrown out or had he bolted through the French door when things were being smashed?
I rolled over. Punched the pillow. Rolled back.
Why so much damage? Where were my neighbors? Had no one heard the noise?
Was Ryan right? Was the episode more than a simple B and E? Burglars work in silence.
Why cut cleanly through the French door then smash mirrors and pictures?
Why mutilate the painting?
Another blast of anger.
Was the act a threat? A warning?
If so, to whom? Me? Anne?
From whom? One of my schizoid crazies? A random schizoid crazy? Anne’s buddy from the plane?
Thoughts winged and collided in my head.
I heard soft crunching, like whispered footsteps in sand. A weight hit the bed, then Birdie curled by my knee.
I reached down and stroked him.
“I love you, Bird boy.”
Birdie stretched full length against my leg.
“As for you, you loathsome son of a bitch. Yes, you’ve gotten to me, but one day we may have a reckoning.”
I was talking aloud over the gentle purring.
I awoke with a sense that something was wrong. Not full memory, just a nagging from the lower centers.
I opened my eyes. Sunlight sparkled from flecks on the carpet and dresser top.
Birdie was gone. Through my partially open door I could hear a radio.
I found Anne drinking coffee in the kitchen, working a crossword and humming David Bowie.
Hearing me, she sang out aloud.
“Ch- ch- ch—changes!”
“Is that a suggestion?” I asked.
Anne glanced at my hair over the pink and green floral frames of her reading glasses, one of a dozen pairs she purchases each year at Steinmart.
“That do’s gotta go.”
“You’re not exactly the Suave girl, yourself.”
Anne’s hair was twisted upward and clipped with a barrette. A spray winged from her head like the crown on Katy’s cockatiel.
“I considered more tidying, but wasn’t sure how much I should touch.” Anne stood, dug a mug from a cabinet, filled, and handed it to me.
“What’s on the rail for the lizard?”
Anne had many expressions deriving from her Mississippi childhood. This was one I hadn’t heard before.
“What are your plans for today?”
“I have a date with the last of those pizza basement skeletons. Yours?”
“Contemporary Art Museum. That’s the Place-des-Arts metro stop, right?”
I poured cream into my coffee, then dropped two halves of an English muffin into the toaster.
“Did you know that twenty-five hundred morons bared their fat asses in the rain for a Spencer Tunick photo in that plaza?”
“How do you know they were all rump heavy?”
“Ever been to a nude beach?”
Anne had a point. Those who shouldn’t are often those who most willingly flaunt it.
“Then St-Denise for lunch and shopping,” she went on.
“Alone?” I asked, remembering the hunk in 3C.
“Yes, Mom. Alone.”
“Annie, do you suppose that man could have broken in here?”
“Why in the world would he do that? He probably doesn’t know you, and that is no way to impress me. Why would he do something so totally crazy?”
“I don’t think it could be him, really I don’t. The guy looked perfectly normal. But…” Her voice trailed off. “I’m sorry, Tempe. It was stupid.”
I was spreading blackberry jam when Anne spoke again.
“What’s a seven-letter word for ‘insensitive’?”
“Beginning with C.”
Anne’s eyes rolled up over the flowery frames.
“I think I’ll go with ‘callous,’” she said.
Anne refocused on her puzzle. I settled opposite her and listened to the news. A fire in St-Léonard. Another Habs loss. More snow on the way.
I’d just finished my muffin when Anne tossed down her glasses and pen.
“Is this Claudel a good detective?”
I sheeshed air through my lips.
“I take that as a negative.”
“Claudel’s thorough, but narrow-minded, opinionated, and stubborn. He also sees no need for forensic anthropologists in general, and female ones in particular. He views every suggestion as interfering.”
“Let me guess. And he’s not making much of an effort on your skeleton case?”
“He’s not even humoring me. And he considers it to be his skeleton case, not mine.”
“You’ve had that problem with him before, haven’t you?”
“Oh, yeah. Often-wrong-but-never-in-doubt Claudel.”
“So he’s not your favorite?”
“Claudel’s not a laugh riot. His questions are curt to the point of rudeness, and he rarely explains why particular facts are of interest to him, or why my opinions are not.”
“What would it take to get him to listen?”
“I could sing the Hallelujah Chorus naked.” I got up and popped a second muffin into the toaster.
“You still have the bod, but you never had the voice. I was thinking along more professional lines,” Anne said.
“The point of controversy is postmortem interval. Claudel believes the bones are old. I don’t. I’ve sent off samples for Carbon 14 testing, but I won’t get results for at least a week.”
“What else might get his attention?”
“Six or seven dead preschoolers.”
“You’re starting to piss me off, Tempe. I’m asking a serious question.” Anne held out her empty mug. “What would inspire Claudel to show more interest in your bones?”
“Proof that the deaths were recent.”
I poured two refills and gave her one.
“There you go.” Anne proffered her coffee-free hand, palm up.
“Claudel believes such proof is lacking.”
“Don’t wait for the Carbon 14. Change his mind.”
“He refuses to explore the possibility.”
“So give him more to chew on.”
“What am I supposed to do? Hire thugs and have him beaten until he agrees?”
“Agrees to what?”
“What is this, twenty questions?” I sat back down with my second muffin.
“What is it you would like Claudel to do?”
I gave that a few moments’ thought.
“Canvas the neighborhood. Learn more about the building. Research previous residents. Find out who owned the place. Who lived there. How long the first floor has been commercial. What businesses have occupied the premises. What building permits were issued and to whom.”
“There you go.” Again, the upraised palm.
“That’s the second time you’ve said that.”
“Don’t force me to three.”
“Where do I go?”
“To the solution to your problem.”
It was too early. I wasn’t making the bridges.
“Do it yourself.”
“Claudel would go ballistic.”
“How could he? He says the bones are old. He sees no reason to explore further. You’re doing additional research.”
“It’s not my job.”
“Apparently Claudel thinks it’s not his either.”
“Claudel has no interest in my suggestions, but if I do anything that even loosely resembles detective work, he gets overtly hostile.”
“Look. You don’t have to make a TV series out of it. Just poke down the burrow and see what crawls out.”
I thought about that while Anne entered, erased, then reentered thirty-four down in her puzzle. She had a point. What could it hurt to check out old deeds, tax records, and building permits? If Claudel was right, I’d be working with the archaeologists anyway. Besides, he was going to be tied up with this sting Ryan had mentioned. Also, when Claudel was free again and heard I was looking into things, though furious, he might feel obligated to do more investigating himself, just to guard against my finding things that he had not.
At that moment, the doorbell chirped. When I answered, SIJ announced its presence. I buzzed the team in, pointed out the damaged French door, Anne’s room, and Katy’s painting, and asked if they’d mind starting in the living room.
While the techs shot photos and dusted for prints, Anne and I retreated to our respective quarters to dress and brush and apply whatever makeup each deemed essential. During my toilette, I considered options.
It was Friday. Public offices were closed on weekends. If I examined the third skeleton today, I wouldn’t have access to the courthouse or City Hall until Monday.
I could work at the lab anytime, over the weekend if absolutely necessary. I couldn’t research records anytime.
Once again, full analysis of the third skeleton was being deferred.
After replenishing Birdie’s food and water, I checked with the SIJ techs. So far, zip.
I was reaching for the phone when Anne swept into my bedroom. She wore boots and the jacket she’d declined the evening before. The angora scarf was in place, the hat and mittens clutched in one hand.
“Setting off?” I asked.
“We’re setting off,” Anne said.
“What about the museum?”
“Art is eternal. It will be there tomorrow. Today I sleuth. See? Already my life is multidimensional. You and I. Cagney and Lacey. It’ll be a gas.”
“Cagney and Lacey were trained detectives with badges and guns. We’ll be more like Miss Marple and one of her friends from the garden club. But, OK, let’s give it a go. The crime scene techs will let themselves out. I’ll check my messages and we’re on our way.”
I dialed the lab, punched in my mailbox number and access code. One message. Nine forty-three the previous evening.
The woman’s words started a holocaust of possibilities whirling through my head, each uglier than the next.
FRANTICALLY, I JABBED AT A PEN ON MY DRESSER. ANNE DARTED and handed it to me.
“Dr. Brennan. I feel I must give this one last try or I will not be able to live with myself.”
I logged details of the voice. Old. Female.
“I called the day before yesterday about the story in Le Journal.”
A pause. As before, I heard chirping in the background, vaguely familiar chirping.
“I believe I know who is dead and why.” Shot through with desolation and doubt.
“Come on,” I urged under my breath. “Who are you?”
“You have my name.”
“No. I don’t!”
Anne’s head snapped up in surprise at my outcry.
“You may reach me at 514-937—”
Anne watched as I scribbled the number, clicked off, and dialed.
Somewhere on the island a phone rang ten, eleven, twelve times.
I cut the connection and repunched the digits.
A dozen more unanswered rings.
I clicked off and tossed the handset onto the bed, my whole body taut with frustration. I rose and paced the room, then snatched up the handset and dialed again.
“Pick up your goddamn phone!”
What to do? Call Claudel or Charbonneau and give him the number? Call Ryan? All three of them were probably fully occupied with this massive joint operation they were on and didn’t have time for phone numbers.
Disconnecting, I grabbed my keys, raced to the basement, and retrieved my laptop from the trunk of my car. When I returned to the bedroom Anne was sitting on the bed, arms crossed, one foot flicking up and down. She watched without comment as I booted the computer, and typed the phone number into a browser.
No results. The browser suggested I check my spelling or try different words. “How do you spell a number, you ignorant twit?”
I tried another browser. Then another.
No matches. Same useful tips.
“What good are you!”
Snatching the handset again, I punched another number, requested an individual, and made an inquiry.
No. Wednesday’s call to the lab had not yet been traced. Why not? These things take time. Well, then, write down this number and see if you get a match.
I sailed the handset back onto the bed, crossed to the dresser, dug for gloves, and slammed the drawer.
While jamming my right hand into one glove, I let go of the other. I bent to pick it up, dropped it again, kicked it to the wall, retrieved it, and yanked it onto my left hand.
When I turned Anne was gazing up at me, arms still folded, an amused expression on her face.
“Is this our resident forensic specialist demonstrating the art of a tantrum?” Anne asked in a Mr. Rogers voice.
“You think that was a tantrum? Piss me off and I’ll show you a gorilla.”
“I haven’t seen you stage a nutty like that since you caught Pete screwing the travel agent.”
“It was a Realtor.” I had to smile. “And she definitely had a fat ass.”
“Let me guess. We aren’t pleased with our phone message?”
“No. We aren’t.”
I summarized the tale of Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent’s calls.
“That brought out the Diva of Dachau?”
I didn’t respond.
“The nice lady is probably out buying her weekly Metamucil. She has called twice. She will call a third time.” Again, the patient schoolmarm. “If not, you have the number and you will reach her later. Or you must have resources downtown that can identify the listing that goes with that number. Hell, some everyman directory assistance systems will give you the name and address if you have a number.”
I could not mask my agitation.
“Anne, the woman said she knew who was dead and why. If she’s legit she can break this investigation wide open. Of course, she may not be legit. I’d like to talk to her before I set Claudel off on a false trail You’re right, I need to make some more efforts to talk to her myself. She called me, not the police.”
“I do have one other question.”
I raised my hands in a go-ahead gesture.
“How do you plan to button your jacket?”
I yanked off both gloves and pegged them at her.
For the second time that week I pulled into a pay lot in the old quarter. The sky was gunmetal, the air heavy with unborn snow.
“Bundle up,” I told Anne, zipping my parka.
“Where are we going?”
“Hôtel de Ville.”
“We’re booking a room?” Muffled through angora scarving.
“City Hall. It’s a four-block walk.”
Perched atop place Jacques-Cartier, Montreal’s City Hall is a Victorian extravagance in copper and stone. Built between 1872 and 1878, the place looks as though its designer didn’t quite know when to call it a day. Mansard roof? Très Parisien. Columns? Of course. Porticos? Bien sûr. Eaves, dormer windows, balconies, cupola, clock? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
Though devastated by fire in 1922, Hôtel de Ville remained structurally sound, was rejuvenated, and today is a favorite with both natives and visitors, one of Montreal’s most charming landmarks.
“One would not confuse this with the Clover City Hall,” Anne said as we climbed the front steps.
I pointed to a balcony over the front door. “See that?”
“Charles de Gaulle made his famous or infamous Vive le Québec Libre speech from that balcony.”
“The separatists liked it.”
Despite its modern status as a tourist attraction, Hôtel de Ville remains the city’s main administrative center. And the repository of the information I was seeking. I hoped.
Anne and I entered to the smell of radiator heat and wet wool. Across the lobby, a kiosk offered Renseignements. Information.
A woman looked up when I approached. She was about twenty, with towering blonde hair that added inches to her height.
The woman stifled a yawn as I explained what I wanted. Before I’d finished, she pointed to a wallboard listing offices and locations, her bony arm clattering with plastic bracelets.
“Accès Montréal,” she said.
“Merci,” I said.
“I think she could have been less interested,” Anne said, trailing me to the office directory. “But not without a heavy dose of Lithium.”
In the Access Montreal office we encountered an older, heavier, and decidedly friendlier version of Ms. Information. The woman greeted us in typical Montreal Franglais.
I explained my objective in French.
The woman dropped chained glasses to her bosom and replied in English.
“If you have a civic address, I can look up the cadastral and lot numbers.”
I must have looked confused.
“The cadastral number describes the parcel of land. The important one is the lot number. With that you can research the history of the property at the Registre Foncier du Québec office in the Bureau d’Enregistrement.”
“Is that located here?”
“Palais de Justice. Second floor. Room 2.175.”
I jotted the address of the pizza parlor building and handed it across the counter.
“Shouldn’t be long.”
It wasn’t. In ten minutes the woman returned with the numbers. I thanked her, and Anne and I set off.
Montreal’s three courthouses lie just west of its City Hall. As we scurried along rue Notre-Dame, Anne’s eyes probed gallery, café, and boutique windows. She hung back to pat a horse, gushed over the beauty of the Château Ramezay, laughed at cars snowbanked in by plows.
Architecturally, City Hall and the modern courthouse have little in common aside from the fact that each is a building. Anne did not comment on the charm of the latter.
Before entering, I pulled out my cellular and tried Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent’s number.
As on the day of my testimony, the courthouse was busy with lawyers, judges, journalists, security guards, and worried-looking people. The lobby was controlled confusion, each face looking like it would rather be elsewhere.
Anne and I rode an elevator to the second floor and went directly to room 2.175. When my turn came, I explained my mission, this time to a short, bald clerk shaped like a cookie jar.
“There’s a fee,” Cookie Jar said.
He told me.
I forked over the money. Cookie Jar handed me a receipt.
“That allows you to research all day.”
I presented my lot and cadastral numbers.
Cookie Jar studied the paper. Then he looked up, a pudgy finger jabbing black-framed glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“These numbers go pretty far back. Anything prior to 1974 can’t be researched online. Depending on how often the property changed hands, this could take time.”
“But I can find out who owned the building?”
Cookie Jar nodded. “Every deed transfer is recorded with the provincial government.” He held up the paper. “What’s at this location now?”
“The building has residential units upstairs, small businesses below. The address that interests me is a pizza-by-the-slice joint.”
Cookie Jar shook his head. “If the property is commercial, you won’t learn what businesses have occupied it unless the owner has included such information.”
“How could I find that out?”
“Tax records maybe. Or business permits.”
“But I can determine who the owners have been?”
Cookie Jar nodded. In some irrational way, looking at him made me think of Don Ho and tiny bubbles.
“That’s a start,” I said.
Cookie Jar pointed to the one unoccupied computer in the room. “If you need something prior to 1974, I’ll explain how to use the books.”
I crossed to the terminal, took off my jacket, and hung it on the chair back. Anne followed.
Slinging my purse strap over the jacket, I turned to her.
“There’s no reason for you to sit and watch me punch a keyboard and dig through old books.”
“I don’t mind.”
“Right. The diversions for which you flew twelve hundred miles are not found in this registry.”
“Beats cooking and freezing casseroles for surgeries and funerals.”
“Wouldn’t you rather shop?”
Anne was in the Mariana Trench of doldrums. Sitting here watching me was not going to cheer her.
“Go to the basilica. Scout out a place to eat. When I’ve finished, I’ll phone your cell.”
“You won’t get frustrated and throw another hissy?”
I put a hand on her shoulder.
“Go forth and shop with the mighty. Your work here is done.”
Three hours later, I was still at it.
The online research had taken forty minutes, thirty-seven figuring out what I was doing, three printing out information on the building’s current owner.
Digging backward through the tomes of bound deeds had taken somewhere in the vicinity of an eon.
Cookie Jar had been polite and helpful, patiently taking my money and photocopying the record of each transaction as I found it.
In the course of my research, I discovered several things.
Claudel was correct about the building’s age. Prior to construction, the land had been part of the CNN train yards. Since then, the property had changed hands several times.
I was studying my collection of photocopies when one name leaped out.
I knew that name.
A local politician? A singer?
I stared at the name, willing a synapse.
A television personality? A case I’d worked? Someone I knew?
The date of transfer was before my time in Montreal. So why the subliminal ring-a-ding?
“Sweet mother of Mary!”
Jamming the printouts and photocopies into my purse, I grabbed my jacket, and bolted.
OUTSIDE, SNOW WAS POWDERING THE STAIRS AND HANDRAILS, and adding to mounds lining the sidewalks and streets. I didn’t care. As soon as I cleared the doors I phoned Claudel.
The CUM operator told me Claudel was out. I asked for Charbonneau. Out.
“This is Dr. Brennan from medicolegal. Do you know when either will be back?”
“No.” Distracted. “Tried their beepers?”
She gave them to me. I dialed and left my cellular as a numeric page for each detective. But I had little hope of an immediate response. Claudel, in particular, was not likely to be diverted from a major operation to call me back on a case in which he had almost no interest.
Next I tried Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent.
Working hard to calm myself, I phoned Anne. She was buying ornaments at a Christmas shop.
Anne suggested Le Jardin Nelson for lunch, and started to give directions.
“I know where it is,” I cut her off.
A metered silence, then, “Did we have a bad search?”
“I think I’ve found something. See you in ten.”
Hunching against the snow, I hurried toward place Jacques-Cartier, a pedestrian playground stretching from rue Notre-Dame riverward to rue de la Commune. Lined with restaurants, cafés, and kitschy T-shirt and souvenir shops, le place teems with life during mild weather. Today I shared the square with a handful of tourists, one street artist, and a scraggy yellow terrier pissing on a lamppost.
Flakes were obliterating the cobblestones, the street signs, the pillar memorializing Admiral Nelson, the Englishman who spanked the French at the battle of Trafalgar. Never a favorite with the separatists. Beyond the square, I could see the gauzy blur of the silver-domed Bonsecours Market, City Hall until mothballed by the mansarded Parisian at my back.
Quebec. The Twin Solitudes. One French and Catholic, the other English and Calvinist. The two languages and cultures have butted heads in the province since the Brits seized Montreal in 1760. Place Jacques-Cartier is a microcosm in stone of the linguistic tribalism.
Le Jardin Nelson is located halfway down the west side of the square. The restaurant is squat and solid, with plaza-side terraces under bright blue awnings. A parasoled courtyard with infrared heaters keeps the eatery Montréal chic many months of the year.
This was not one of them. When I entered, Anne looked up over her menu and tracked me across the room.
“It’s really coming down,” I said, removing my parka, then shaking flakes.
“Will it stick?”
“Snow always sticks in Montreal.”
“Hm.” I placed my cellular on the tabletop.
A young woman filled water glasses. Anne ordered Crêpes Forestiers and a glass of chardonnay. I went for Crêpes Argenteuil and a Diet Coke.
“Find any treasures?” I asked when the waitress had gone.
Even in a state of apathy, Anne is a commando shopper. She showed me her purchases.
Tangerine wool sweater. Hand-painted Provençal bowl. Six pewter frogs on red satin ribbons.
“Odd choice for the unfettered life,” I said, gesturing at the ornaments.
“I can use them as gifts,” Anne said, rewrapping the tissue.
The waitress delivered drinks. I sipped my Coke, unwound my napkin, positioned my utensils. Adjusted the fork. Aligned the spoon and knife. Repositioned the fork. Checked my cell phone to be sure it was on.
Then I flattened the edges of my place mat with both palms. Straightened the fringe. Picked up the phone. Laid it back down.
Anne raised one analytical brow.
“Expecting a call?”
“I left messages for Claudel and his partner.”
“Are you going to tell me what you discovered?”
I pulled the photocopies and printouts from my purse and stacked them on the side of my mat.
“I’ll spare you a Michener saga on the land. The building went up in 1901 and was owned by a man named Yves Sauriol. At that time it was all residential. Sauriol’s son, Jacques, inherited in twenty-eight, then his son, Yves, got the place in thirty-nine.
“In 1947, Yves Sauriol, Jr., sold the property to Éric-Emmanuel Gratton. That’s when the first floor went commercial. A small printing company occupied the space until 1970.
“Éric-Emmanuel Gratton died in 1958, and his wife, Marie, inherited. Marie went to her reward in sixty-three, and the place transferred to their son, Gille. Gille Gratton sold the property in 1970.”
“Is this going to have a punch line?”
“To Nicolò Cataneo.”
Anne’s expression indicated the name meant nothing.
“Nick ‘the Knife’ Cataneo.”
The green eyes went wide. “Mafia?”
I nodded again.
“That explains the manic moves with your flatware.”
“I don’t know much about the mob, but Nicolò Cataneo is a name I’ve heard over the years.”
“The Mafia operates here?”
“Since the turn of the century.”
“I thought you had bikers.”
“We do. And right now they’re the biggest game in town. But the biker boys are just one element in the wonderful world of organized crime in Montreal. The Mafia, the West End Gang, and the Hells Angels make up what’s known as the ‘Consortium.’”
“Like New York’s ‘Commission’?”
“Do the sunny peninsula folk here get along with the sunny peninsula folk south of the border? Or are they island folk?”
“As in Italy versus Sicily? I’m not privy to the details of ancestral geography. I do know that at one time Montreal was virtually a branch office for New York City.”
“The Bonanno family? I read a book on that.”
I nodded. “The Montreal organization was led by a fellow named Vic ‘the Egg’ Cotroni. I think Cotroni died in the mideighties.”
I checked my cell. Still on. Still no messages.
“What’s the West End Gang?” Anne asked.
“We Irish are but foot soldiers in the Army of the Lord.”
“More like poets and barflies, in reverse order of diligence.”
“What’s this Consortium into?”
“Prostitution. Gambling. Illegal substances. The Consortium determines things like drug prices, quantities to be imported, the names of lucky buyers. Cotroni’s network is thought to have smuggled millions of dollars’ worth of narcotics into the American market over the years. The profits from illicit activities are then laundered through legitimate businesses.”
“Typical pattern, from what I read.”
“Same one the biker gangs have adopted. They must teach it in the business schools.”
At that moment the waitress arrived with our food. Another phone check. Still humming. Still no messages.
“Getting back to the building,” I said, after a few crepe moments. “Nick the Knife bought the place in 1970, and held on to it for ten years.”
“How is all this relevant to your skeletons?”
“I’m talking wiseguys, not choirboys, Anne. Anyone could have been buried in that basement.”
“Aren’t we being a bit melodramatic?”
“People were whacked left and right in those days.”
“Strip clubs? Prostitution? Life’s pretty cheap to these thugs.”
Especially female life, I thought, flashing on the gutted hooker now at the Nôtre-Dame Hospital.
Anne focused on her crepes until their completion. Then, “What was on the ground floor when this Knife guy owned the building?”
“That information wasn’t available.”
“Who bought the property?”
I checked my printout.
“In 1980 the building was purchased by Richard Cyr. According to records, Cyr still owns it.”
“What does Cyr have on the ground floor?”
“There are four separate businesses.”
“Including a pizza parlor.”
“Where does Monsieur Cyr live?”
Back to the printout.
“How far is that from Montreal?”
“It’s a neighborhood just west of Centre-ville.”
Anne’s wineglass froze in midair. As in my kitchen that morning, the other hand came up, palm skyward.
“There you go.”
“That’s three, Annie.”
“Your next step. Give Cyr a call. Better yet. If he’s that close, how ’bout a surprise drop-in? The Cagney and Lacey thing’s been kind of a bust for me so far. Let’s solve this case.”
My eyes swung to the phone by my plate. The little screen offered nothing but my name and the time.
It was obvious neither Claudel nor Charbonneau was answering my page.
I raised my Coke. Anne raised her wine.
“Archaeological research,” I said, clinking my glass to hers.
“With one slight modification.” Anne drained her chardonnay. “We’re digging for dirt instead of in it.”
Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, or NDG, is a quiet residential neighborhood two circles out from Centre-ville. Not the Westmount of the well-heeled English, or the Outremont of their hotsy-totsy French counterparts, but nice. Middle-class. A good place to raise kids and collies.
Richard Cyr lived in a redbrick duplex on Coronation, within spitting distance of the Loyola Campus of Concordia University. It took twenty minutes to get there, another five to size the place up.
Faded metal awning over a small front porch. Postage-stamp yards in front and back. Driveway leading nowhere. Blue Ford Falcon.
“Monsieur Cyr doesn’t step and fetch to the call of the shovel,” Anne noted.
In winter, Montreal homeowners either clear their own walks or hire a company or neighborhood kid for the task. Cyr did neither. The afternoon’s snowfall was blanketing a sidewalk already two inches deep in packed snow and ice from earlier accumulations.
Anne and I had to watch our footing as we made our way to the steps and up onto the porch. When I pressed the bell, an elaborate chime sounded somewhere deep in the house.
A full minute later, no one had answered.
I rang again.
Nothing but chimes.
“Cyr must be physically impaired and the tightest miser on the planet,” Anne observed, almost losing her footing.
“Maybe he spends his money on other things.”
“There’s a happy thought. This peckerhead’s on his yacht in Barbados while we’re trying not to kill ourselves navigating his front steps.”
“Car’s here,” I observed.
Anne turned to look. “Guess he doesn’t drop the bucks on glitzy wheels.”
I was raising my hand for another go at the chimes, when the inner door opened. A man peered out through the aluminum and glass storm door.
The man did not look happy, but his expression was not what alarmed us.
Anne and I started easing back off the porch.
THE MAN WATCHING US WAS SHORT AND WIRY, WITH YELLOWED white hair and an elaborate gray mustache. He wore grease-smeared glasses and gold chains around his neck.
Nothing else. Just glasses and chains.
The man’s scowl turned to self-satisfaction at the sight of Anne and me backpedaling unsteadily across his porch. Then the expression went fierce again.
“Je suis Catholique!”
My boots slithered and angled on the uneven ice.
Cyr grabbed his penis and waggled it at us.
Beside me, Anne grabbed the railing and made a one-eighty toward the steps.
“Catholique!” the man shouted.
I stopped. I’d seen Harry use the same ploy. Dressed.
“We’re not missionaries, Monsieur Cyr.”
The scowl wavered, then reaffixed itself.
“And I’m not Pee-wee Herman.” The name sounded strange in joual French.
I reached into my purse.
Cyr made a feint at the door. “Get lost!”
I pulled out one of my cards.
“And don’t leave none of your damn pamphlets, tabernouche!!”
“We’re not with any church.”
Realizing what was happening, Anne used the handrail to turn herself back toward the house.
Cyr repeated his penile threat, this time in Anne’s direction.
“Oh, horror,” Anne said, sotto voce. “Assault with a dead weapon.”
The grimy lenses froze on my companion. A smile did a slow crawl across the wrinkled lips.
Cyr waggled again.
Anne replied with the old standard. “What do you think, Tempe? Looks like a penis, only smaller.”
Anne opened her mouth to counter.
I truncated the exchange. “Monsieur Cyr, I’m part of an investigation concerning property you own and I need to ask some questions about your building.”
Cyr reoriented to me, fingers of one hand still wrapping his merchandise.
“You girls ain’t storm trooping to save my damn soul?”
“Sir, we’re here to discuss the property you own.”
“You with the city?”
I hesitated. “Yes.” After all, I was with the province, and Cyr hadn’t asked to see identification.
“Some pissant tenant lodge a complaint?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“She with the city?” Cyr tipped his head at Anne.
“She’s with me.”
“She’s a looker, that one.”
“Yes. Sir, we really need to ask you some questions.”
Cyr opened the storm door. Anne and I picked our way forward and stepped inside. When Cyr closed the inner door, the small foyer dimmed. The air felt hot and dry and smelled of smoke and decades of unventilated cooking.
“You’re a looker, all right.” Cyr winked up at Anne, who stood a good foot taller than he. He seemed to have forgotten that he was naked.
“You want to throw a blanket on ole Hopalong?” Anne suggested.
“I thought you was Watchtower,” said Cyr in English. “Those folks ain’t got the common sense God gave a parsnip. But they leave you alone if you’re naked.” It came out nek-kid. “Or tell ’em you’re Catholic.” It came out cat-lick.
Anne pointed at Cyr’s genitalia.
Cyr led us through leaded glass doors and gestured to a living room on the right.
“Gimme a minute.”
Cyr began climbing a central stairway, placing one foot on a riser, then joining it with the other, one blue-veined hand gripping the banister. His body looked frog-belly white against the dark wood paneling covering the stairwell, and his ascending derriere was hairy black.
Plastic crackled as Anne and I settled on opposite ends of a rose brocade sofa. I unzipped and removed my parka. Anne remained fully clothed.
“I never saw this on Cagney and Lacey.”
I grinned in response. My eyes took a visual tour. Opposite the sofa, a La-Z-Boy and a plastic-coated armchair. Stage right, a fireplace, the bricks painted brown. Stage left, a small organ, a large TV with a shabby armchair pulled close to the screen. No plastic.
Everywhere, velvety quiet.
I wondered if the old man had added the vinyl slipcovers, or simply left them in place when the furniture was delivered.
I doubted there was a Mrs. Cyr. There were no figurines, photographs, or souvenirs of holidays past. Ashtrays overflowed. Stacks of Playboy and National Geographic filled the fireplace enclosure.
I noticed Anne was also checking the place out.
“This could all be yours,” I said in a low voice. “I think Cyr’s in love.”
“I think ole Hopalong is harmless,” Anne whispered back.
“You said you craved life in the fast lane.”
“The little guy is a biscuit.”
I wondered if she meant ole Hopalong or Cyr, but didn’t ask.
Moments later we heard footfalls.
Cyr reappeared wearing sneakers, a green plaid shirt, and gray wool pants hiked up to his nipples.
“You girls want a drink?”
We both declined.
“Nice nip on a snowy day?”
“No thank you.”
“Speak up if you change your minds.”
Cyr shuffled to the recliner and lowered himself, a tsunami of Old Spice following in his wake.
“You’ve got a damn fine head of hair, young lady.” Cyr spoke to Anne.
“Thank you,” Anne said.
It was true. By some bizarre fluke of genetics Anne’s hair is blonde and thick and willing to grow as long as she’ll let it. Right now she wasn’t letting it, but the fact remains, it will. While I try never to hold such perfection against her, there have been times this has proven difficult. Today was not one of them.
“You’re a tall one.” Cyr breathed nasally, firing out words between short puffs. “You married?”
“Let me know if things bottom out.” Cyr turned to me. “I’m a sucker for blondes.”
I wanted to get matters on a more official footing.
“How’s my English?”
“Excellent.” Though heavily accented, it was good.
Cyr cocked his chin at the fireplace.
“Keep it sharp reading.”
“Aren’t you annoyed by all those naked women breaking up the text?” Anne asked, undermining my efforts at official inquiry.
Cyr made a wheezing noise I took to be a chuckle. “She’s a pistol, that one, yes?”
“Annie Oakley herself.” I rose and handed Cyr my printout.
“Records indicate you own this property.”
Cyr raised the printout to within inches of his face, and read in silence for almost a minute.
“Oui.” The inhaled joual oui. “She’s mine.”
“You’ve owned it since 1980?”
“Four-karat pain in the ass.” Cyr thrust the paper back at me.
I took the printout and resumed my seat.
“You purchased the property from Nicolò Cataneo?”
“Do you know why Mr. Cataneo sold it?”
“Didn’t ask. Property was listed for sale.”
“Isn’t that a standard question when making such a large investment?”
“To Nicolò Cataneo?”
Cyr had a point.
“May I ask what was on the ground floor at the time of your purchase?”
Cyr answered without hesitation.
“Bakery. Le Boulangerie Lugano. Cleared out before I took possession.”
“What replaced the bakery?”
“I subdivided. Put four businesses in the same space. More cost-effective.”
“One of those businesses is a pizza parlor?”
“Le Pizza Paradis Express.”
“How long has that been there?”
“Since 2001.” Cyr puffed air out through his lips. “Better it should be called ‘rat hairs and cockroaches by the slice.’ Damn ethnics wouldn’t know hygiene if it punched ’em in the face.” Like a former prime minister, Cyr pronounced the word et-nicks. “But I got no gripe with Matoub. Pays his rent right on time.”
“Said Matoub is the current tenant?” I’d learned that from Claudel on the day of the recovery.
Cyr twisted a finger in his ear and inspected it absently.
“Do you remember any tenants previous to Mr. Matoub?” I went on.
“Course I remember the previous tenants. Remember every damn one of ’em. I look like I’m short-listed for assisted living?”
Expectations often grow from stereotypes, and, though loath to admit it, I’m as guilty as the next. Because Cyr was old, I’d assumed his memory would be less than spot-on. I was quickly revising that view. Though eccentric, ole Hopalong was nobody’s fool.
“Had more tenants than Blondie’s got hairs on that pretty head.”
Cyr gave Anne an eyebrow flash.
Anne tipped her pretty head and Groucho-ed back.
“Before the pizza parlor, place was a nail salon,” Cyr said to me. “Vietnamese named Truong had a half dozen little ladies painting nails in there. Didn’t make a go, I guess. Only lasted a year or two.”
“And before that?”
“Liked the nail ladies. Looked like little china dolls. Covered their teeth when they laughed.”
“Before the nail salon?”
“Before the nail salon place was a pawnshop. Guy named Ménard.” Cyr pointed one gnarled finger. “Stéphane. Sébastien. Sylvain. Something like that. Bought and sold junk. Must have been pretty good at it, ’cause he hung in nine years. Eighty-nine to ninety-eight.”
I did some quick math. “Did the place sit empty awhile between the pawnshop and the nail salon?”
“Couple of months.”
“And before the pawnshop?”
“Let’s see. Eighty to eighty-nine there was a luggage store, a butcher shop, and some kind of travel agency. I’d have to go to my records for names and dates.”
“Please do that, sir.”
Cyr’s eyes narrowed behind their greasy lenses. “Would you mind my asking why you’re asking all this, young lady?”
I was expecting the question, was surprised Cyr hadn’t posed it sooner. What to tell him? What to hold back?
“Something has been found in the basement of your building which is being investigated.”
If I wanted a reaction, I didn’t get one, nor did he ask who was investigating.
“May I ask about access to the pizza parlor basement?” I went on.
“Used to have a stairway leading up to a street-level door. Lost that entrance with the renovation.”
“Is access possible from elsewhere in the building?”
Cyr shook his head. “Basement hasn’t been used in years. The only way down is through a trapdoor in the crapper.” He turned to Anne. “Pardon my rowdy tongue.”
“A perfectly acceptable historic reference.”
Blank stares from Cyr and me.
“Inventor of the silent, valveless water-waste preventer.”
“Someone else got the patent, but Crapper invented the toilet.”
Where did she come up with this stuff?
Cyr gave a laugh that sounded like one of Crapper’s brainchildren. “Sacrifice. You are a pip. That husband of yours loses playground privileges, you give old Richard Cyr a call.”
“You’re as good as on my speed dial.”
Cyr pushed to his feet using both hands.
“May take me a few minutes to dig through my files. Want some scotch that’ll curl your toenails?”
Again, Anne and I declined.
A half hour later Cyr shuffled back clutching a sheet from a spiral tablet.
Anne and I stood.
“How ’bout you ladies stay for dinner? We could order out, maybe knock back some enchiladas and margaritas?”
“That’s very kind,” I said. “But I’m working right now, not socializing.”
“You know where to find me.”
I zipped into my jacket and Cyr led us to the foyer.
At the door, I handed him my card.
“Please phone if you think of anything.”
Cyr held out his paper. “As I recall, these folks was about as sinister as mushroom soup.”
“Merci, Monsieur Cyr.”
“Someone got killed, I had nothing to do with it.” Low and without a trace of humor.
“What makes you think someone was killed?” Since Cyr hadn’t mentioned Le Journal, I assumed he hadn’t seen the article.
“That detective told me what was down in that cellar.”
So Claudel had interviewed Cyr. Damn him. Again, he’d left me out of the loop.
“Is that a fact?”
“Pompous little shitass.”
“Little prick acted like I wasn’t quite bright. I didn’t tell him shit.”
“Tell me, Mr. Cyr. How do you think three people ended up buried in your basement?”
“Something bad went down, it was before my time.”
“How can you be so certain?”
“You ever meet Nicolò Cataneo?” The old man’s voice could have sharpened a razor.
I shook my head no.
THE STORM HAD ITS SLEEVES ROLLED UP, ITS COLLAR UNBUTTONED, and its tie hanging loose. Going for a two-footer.
Anne didn’t say a word as we picked our way to the car. She watched impassively as I dialed into my voice mail.
I tried Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent’s number.
I checked to see if her call to the lab on Wednesday had been traced, or if the number she’d left Thursday had been tied to a name or address.
Working on it.
“Damn!” Why didn’t they at least give me the name on the listing for the number I’d given them? They could compare the earlier call when they finished their trace. Were they just putting me behind any and all requests from detectives?
Ramming the cellular into my purse, I dug a scraper from the backseat, got out, cleared the windows, slid back behind the wheel, and slammed the door.
After starting the engine, I rocked the Mazda by shifting between forward and reverse. At the first hint of traction, I accelerated, and we fishtailed from the curb. White-knuckling, I turtled forward, squinting to see through the blanket of white.
We’d gone two blocks when Anne broke the silence.
“We could try old newspapers, pull up stories on missing girls.”
“English or French?”
“Wouldn’t disappearances be reported in both?”
“Not necessarily.” My attention was focused on holding to the tracks created by previous traffic. “And Montreal has several French papers today, has had godzillions in both languages over the years.”
The car’s rear winged left. I steered into the spin and straightened.
“We could start with the English papers.”
“What years? The building went up at the turn of the century.”
The snow was winning out over the wipers. I maxed the defroster.
“The UV fluorescence tells me the bones are probably not older than the building. Beyond that, I can’t narrow it.”
“OK. We won’t search newspaper archives.”
“Without knowing language and time frame, we’d be at it all winter. Also, the girls were found here, but may not have gone missing here.”
We crept another block.
“What about that button?” Anne asked.
“What about that button?” I snapped, again coaxing the rear wheels back behind the front.
Loosening her scarf, Anne leaned back in an attitude that suggested I was now to be ignored.
“Sorry.” I was playing Claudel to Anne’s Tempe.
The silence lengthened. Clearly, it was going to be up to me to end it.
“I apologize. Driving in blizzards makes me tense. What was your button idea?”
After a few more moments of “you’re being an asshole” muteness, Anne rephrased her suggestion.
“Maybe you could talk to another expert. Try to develop more information.”
Gently pumping the brakes, I brought the car to a stop. Across Sherbrooke, an old woman walked an old dog. Both wore boots. Both had their eyes crimped against the snow.
I looked at Anne.
Maybe I could.
Depressing the gas pedal slowly, I crawled into the intersection and turned left.
Jesus, of course I could. I’d been ignoring the buttons, accepting Claudel’s opinion concerning their age. Maybe his McCord source was less than a quiz kid.
Suddenly, I was in a froth to get another opinion.
“Annie, you’re a rock star.”
“You up for a couple more stops before dinner?”
Anne waited in the car while I dashed up to the lab, made a quick call, and grabbed the buttons. When I rejoined her, she was listening to Zachary Richard on a local French station.
“What’s he singing about?”
“Someone named Marjolaine.”
“I think he misses her.”
“So he says.”
“Louisiana Cajun. Your part of the world.”
Anne leaned back and closed her eyes. “That boy can sing about me any ole day.”
It took twice the normal drive time to return to the old quarter. Though it was just past five, night was in full command. Streetlights were on, shops were closing, pedestrians were hurrying, heads bent, purses and packages pressed to their chests.
Leaving boulevard René-Lévesque, I followed rue Berri to its southern end, then turned west and crept along rue de la Commune. To our right, the narrow lanes of Vieux-Montréal crisscrossed the hill. To our left lay le Marché Bonsecours, le Pavillon Jacques-Cartier, les Centre de Sciences de Montréal, beyond them the St. Lawrence, its water a black sheen like ebony ice.
“It’s beautiful,” Anne said. “In an arctic tundra sort of way.”
“Cue the caribou.”
In the ice-free months ships belly up to quays jutting from the river’s edge, and cyclists, skateboarders, picnickers, and tourists throng the adjacent parklands and promenades. This evening the riverfront was still and dark.
At the head of place d’Youville, I turned onto a small side street, and parked opposite the old customs house. Anne followed as I trudged downhill, threading her way drunkenly in my tracks.
Glancing across the river, my gaze fell on the snow-misted outline of Habitat ’67. Built for World Expo, the complex is a pile of geometric cubes that challenges the delicate art of balance. Born more of imagination than architectural pragmatism, Habitat’s walkways and patios are a delight in summer, an invitation to hypothermia in winter.
Andrew Ryan lived in Habitat.
A multitude of questions sidetracked my concentration.
Where was Ryan? What was he feeling? What was I feeling? What had he meant? The need to talk. Agreed. But about what? Commitment? Compromise? Conclusion?
I pushed the questions aside. Ryan was working an operation and not thinking or feeling anything having to do with me.
At de la Commune, we entered a futuristic gray stone building, all corners and angles. High up, a banner draped one tower. ICI NAQUIT MONTRÉAL. “Where Montreal Was Born.”
“What is this place?” Anne stomped snow onto the green tile floor.
“Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History.”
A man’s face rose from below a circular desk at the far end of the lobby. It was gaunt and pale, and needed a shave.
“Sorry.” Rising, the man pointed to a sign. He was wearing an army surplus overcoat, and holding a boot in one hand. “The museum is closed.”
“I have an appointment with Dr. Mousseau.”
Surprise. “Your name, please?”
The man punched a number, spoke a few words, then cradled the receiver.
“Dr. Mousseau is in the crypt. Do you know the way?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Crossing the lobby, I led Anne past a small theater, down a set of iron stairs, and into a long, narrow, softly lit hall, its walls and floor made completely of stone.
“I feel like Alice tunnel-chasing the hatter,” said Anne.
“This point of land was the site of Montreal’s first settlement. The exhibit demonstrates how the city has grown and changed over the past three centuries.”
Anne flapped her gloves at a truncated wall rising from the floor. “The original foundations?”
“No, but old.” I pointed to the far end of the hall. “That walkway lies directly below place d’Youville, near where we parked. What’s now street was once a sewage dump, before that a river.”
“Tempe?” The voice rang hollowly off rock and mortar. “Est-ce toi, Tempe?”
“Ici.” Over here.
“Who’s Mousseau?” Anne whispered.
“The staff archaeologist.”
“I’ll bet the woman’s got buttons.”
“More buttons than a political primary.”
Monique Mousseau was working at one of several dozen glass cases lining the corridors spidering off from the main chamber. At her side, a metal cart held a camera, a magnifying glass, a laptop, a loose-leaf binder, and several books.
Seeing us, Mousseau reshelved an object, closed and locked the cabinet, dropped Harry Potter glasses to her chest, and hurried toward us.
“Bonjour, Tempe. Comment ça va?”
Mousseau kissed each of my cheeks, then stepped back and beamed up at me, hands still clasping my upper arms.
“You’re good, my friend?”
“I’m good,” I replied in English, then introduced Anne.
“A very great pleasure to meet you.” Mousseau cranked Anne’s arm as one would a pump handle.
“Likewise.” Anne stepped back, overwhelmed by the tiny cyclone working her limb.
The two women looked like members of different species. Anne was tall and blonde. Mousseau stood four foot eleven and had curly black hair. Anne was swathed in pink angora. The archaeologist wore a khaki boy’s shirt, black jeans, and lumberjack boots. An enormous wad of keys dangled from one belt loop.
“Thanks for agreeing to see us so late on a snowy Friday,” I said.
“Is it snowing?” Mousseau released Anne and swiveled to me, bouncing like someone jiggered on speed.
I’d met Monique Mousseau a decade back, soon after my first sortie to Montreal. I’d worked with her often over the years, and understood that her energy did not come from a chemical high. The woman’s extraordinary vigor came from love of life and vocation. Give Mousseau a trowel and she’d dig up New England.
“Gangbusters,” I said.
“How wonderful. I’ve been underground so long today I’ve lost touch with the outside world. How does it look?”
Mousseau’s laugh echoed louder than a sound someone her size should. “So. Tell me about these buttons.”
I described the skeletons and the basement.
“Fascinating.” Every utterance owned an exclamation point. “Let’s take a look.”
I dug out and handed her the Ziploc.
Mousseau slid the Harry Potters onto her nose and examined the buttons, turning the baggie over and over in her hands. A full minute passed. Then another.
Mousseau’s face took on a puzzled expression.
Anne and I looked at each other.
Mousseau raised round lenses toward me.
“May I remove them?”
Unzipping the baggie, Mousseau shook the buttons onto her palm, crossed to the cart, and studied each with the magnifying glass. Using a fingertip, she rolled the buttons, observed, righted them, and observed some more. With each move the perplexed expression deepened.
Anne and I exchanged another glance.
Mousseau’s examination seemed to go on forever. Then, “Will you excuse me one moment?”
Mousseau hurried off, leaving two of the three buttons on her cart.
Around us, an eerie silence. Outside, the occasional honking of a horn.
The waiting played hell with my nerves. Why the confusion? What was Mousseau seeing?
A lifetime later the archaeologist returned, picked up the abandoned buttons, and resumed her inspection. Finally, she looked up, eyes enormous behind their lenses.
“Antoinette Legault looked at these?”
“A detective showed them to her at the McCord.”
“Legault felt they were nineteenth century?”
My heart plummeted.
Mousseau crossed to me, held up her palm, and manipulated two buttons with the tip of her pen.
“These are sterling silver, produced by a jeweler and watchmaker named R. L. Christie.”
“Sometime between 1890 and 1900.”
“I was pretty sure I recognized Christie’s work, but I looked them up just to be sure.”
I nodded, too deflated to think of something to say.
“But this”—Mousseau flipped the third button with her pen—“is a copy, and a poor copy at that.”
I stared at her blankly.
Mousseau handed me the lens. “Compare this one,” she indicated one of the Christie buttons, “to this one.” The pen moved to the forgery.
Under magnification, details of the Christie woman’s face were clear. Eyes. Nose. Curls. In contrast, the silhouette on the fake was a featureless outline.
Mousseau flipped the buttons. “Notice the initials etched beside the eyelet.”
Even to an amateur, the difference was obvious. Christie had engraved his letters with smooth, flowing motions. On the forgery, the S had been gouged as a series of intersecting cuts.
I was perplexed and somewhat taken aback.
But not as taken aback as I would be come Monday morning.
MY CONDO IS A GROUND-FLOOR UNIT IN A FOUR-STORY LOW-RISE wrapping a central courtyard. Two bedrooms. Two baths. Living and dining rooms. Narrow-gauge kitchen. Foyer.
From the long hall running between the front entrance and the dining room, just opposite the kitchen, French doors open onto a patio bordering the central courtyard. From the living room, another set of French doors gives access to a tiny patch of lawn.
In summer, I plant herbs along the edge of the grass. In winter, I watch snow build on the redwood fence, and on the boughs of the pine within its confines. Five square yards. Acreage extraordinaire in a downtown flat.
That night, the dark little yard triggered feelings of exposure and vulnerability. No matter that the patrol car Ryan had requested was passing frequently. His makeshift patch on the door was a constant reminder of my unbidden caller and the point of entry he had chosen. What other choices had been available to him? I had to admit that having Anne there was a comfort.
After a quick meal of carry-out Thai, Anne and I cleaned. Anger wormed inside me as I swept and vacuumed.
Again, I fell asleep with my thoughts brawling.
Had some coked-out ragnose violated my refuge? That seemed most likely. Someone desperate for cash for a fix who turned destructive when he didn’t find it. No B and E felon would have been that messy. But what about a scare scenario? Some greaseball ordered to divert me from long-hidden mob secrets leaving a “we know where you live” message. Or was it some malevolent sociopath with an issue specifically related to me?
What did the buttons mean?
Why hadn’t Claudel or Charbonneau returned my calls?
Where was Ryan? Why hadn’t he phoned?
Did I give a rat’s ass? Of course I did.
Saturday morning Anne made a trip to Le Faubourg while I dealt with the glass repairman. By noon a new pane was in, the refrigerator was stocked, and the place was reasonably clean.
For reasons my subconscious chooses not share with me, there are certain items I am incapable of discarding. Prescription medicines. National Geographic s. American Academy of Forensic Sciences directories. Phone books.
Hey, you never know.
After tomato, cheese, and mayo sandwiches with Anne, I collected every phone book in the house and stacked them beside my computer. Then I pulled out Cyr’s list. Where to begin locating tenants? Work backward or forward?
I started with Cyr’s earliest renters.
From 1976 until 1982 a luggage shop had occupied the space currently in use by Matoub’s pizzeria. The proprietor had been a woman named Sylvie Vasco.
The number on Cyr’s list was answered by a college student living in the McGill ghetto. He had no idea what I was talking about.
Neither the computer nor any directory listed a Sylvie, but together they coughed up seven S. Vascos. One number had been disconnected. Two went unanswered. My fourth call got me a lawyer’s office. My last three were picked up by women. None was named Sylvie or knew of a Vasco named Sylvie or Sylvia.
Circling the two unanswered numbers, I moved on.
From 1982 until 1987 the pizza parlor space had been occupied by a butcher shop named Boucherie Lehaim. Cyr had written the name Abraham Cohen, then made a notation “sp?”
The White Pages listed a zillion Cohens in and around Montreal. They too suggested alternate spellings, including Coen, Cohen, Cohn, Kohen, and Kohn.
The Yellow Pages listed a Boucherie Lehaim in Hampstead.
No one answered the Boucherie’s phone.
Back to Cyr’s list.
Patrick Ockleman and Ilya Fabian had been Cyr’s tenants from 1987 to 1988. The old man had penned the words “queer” and “travel” next to their names.
I found nothing in any directory for the name Ockleman.
Ilya Fabian was listed at an Amherst address in the Gay Village. The phone was answered on the first ring.
I introduced myself and asked if I was speaking with Ilya Fabian.
I asked if the gentleman was the same Ilya Fabian who had operated a travel agency on Ste-Catherine in the late eighties.
I asked if Ockleman and his partner had used or visited the basement of the property during their tenancy.
“You said you’re with the coroner?” Wariness now edged with distaste.
“Oh my God. Was someone dead down there? Was there a body in that cellar?”
What to tell him?
“I’m investigating bones found buried below the floor.”
“Oh my Gawd!”
“The material is probably quite old.”
“Oh my Gawd! Like The Exorcist. No, no. What was that movie with the little girl? The one where they built the house over the cemetery? Yes! Poltergeist.”
“I’m not surprised about that basement. Patrick and I took one look at that wretched, stinking, filthy cesspool and never set foot in it again. Made my skin crawl every time I thought about all that creeping and breeding going on below my feet.” Fabian gave “creeping” and “breeding” at least four e’s each. “That basement was alive with vermin.” Four i’s to “alive.” “And now you’re telling me there were corpses down there?”
“Did you ever use the cellar for storage?”
“God forbid.” In my mind I saw a theatrical shudder.
Bit squeamish for a tour operator, I thought.
“Did your agency specialize in any particular world area, Mr. Fabian?”
“Patrick and I arranged gay travel packages to sacred places.” Sniff. “The era was a bear market for spiritual journeys. We folded in eighteen months.”
“Where is Mr. Ockleman now?”
I waited for Fabian to elaborate. He didn’t.
“May I ask how and when your partner died?”
“He was run over by a bus, of all things. A tour bus.” Whiny. “In Stowe, Vermont, four years ago. Wheels squashed his head like an overripe—”
“Thank you, Mr. Fabian. If follow-up is needed we’ll be back in touch.”
I disconnected. Fabian and Ockleman seemed unlikely candidates for serial killers, but I underlined the number and made a few notes.
The next name listed was S. Ménard. Beside it Cyr had written “pawnshop” and the dates 1989 to 1998.
I found four pages of Ménards in the Montreal phone book, seventy-eight listed with the initial S.
After forty-two calls I decided Ménard was a job for a detective.
Phan Loc Truong’s nail salon had occupied Cyr’s property from 1998 until 1999.
Not as discouraging as Ménard, but the White Pages alone listed 227 Truongs. No Phan Loc. Two P’s.
Neither of the P’s listed was a Phan Loc. Neither knew a Phan Loc who had operated a nail salon.
I started working my way through the rest of the Truongs. Many spoke little English or French. Many had affiliations to nail salons, but none knew anything about the shop once located in Richard Cyr’s building.
I was dialing my twenty-ninth Truong when a voice interrupted me.
Anne was standing in the doorway. The room had gone dark without my noticing.
“A lot of ladies willing to do my nails.”
Discouraged, I turned off the computer.
Together Anne and I cooked steaks, potatoes, and asparagus. As we ate, I told her about my fruitless afternoon.
After dinner we watched two Inspector Clouseau movies while Birdie dozed between us. None of us laughed much. We all turned in early.
Around noon on Sunday I tried the Boucherie Lehaim again.
At two P.M. my call was answered.
“Shalom.” Voice like a baritone oboe.
I introduced myself.
The man said his name was Harry Cohen.
“Is this the same Boucherie Lehaim that was located on Ste-Catherine during the eighties?”
“It is. The shop belonged to my father then.”
“Yes. We moved in eighty-seven.”
“May I ask why?”
“We cater to a strictly kosher crowd. This neighborhood seemed a better fit.”
“I know this may sound like an odd question, Mr. Cohen, but can you remember anything about the basement of that building?”
“The cellar was accessed through our shop. We kept nothing there, and I don’t remember anyone ever entering or leaving it.”
“Might other tenants have used the basement for storage?”
“We would not have permitted that kind of use of our space, and the only way down was through a trapdoor in our bathroom. My father kept that door padlocked at all times.”
“Do you know his reason for doing that?”
“My father is extremely conscientious about security.”
“Why is that?”
“He was born Jewish in Ukraine in 1927.”
I was grasping at straws. What to ask?
“Did you know the tenants that preceded or followed you?”
“You were in that location for almost six years. Did anything in particular trigger your move?”
“That neighborhood became”—Cohen hesitated—“unpleasant.”
“We are Chabad-Lubavitch, Dr. Brennan. Ultra-Orthodox Jews. Even in Montreal we are not always understood.”
I thanked Cohen and disconnected.
A small spruce is rooted in a stone planter at courtyard central. Each December our caretaker strings the scraggly thing with lights. No tasteful Presbyterian-in-Connecticut-Christmas-white for Winston. It’s rainbow natty, or nothing at all.
My cat is especially appreciative. Birdie puts in hours curled by the fireplace, eyes shifting from the flames to Winston’s miracle in the snow.
Anne and I idled away Sunday afternoon following Birdie’s lead. We spent long stretches by the fire, heads pillowed, ankles crossed on the hearth. Over endless cups of coffee and tea, I whined about Claudel and Ryan. Anne whined about Tom. We laughed at our neediness. We were somber over our neediness.
Through the hours of talk and tide of words I came to understand the true depth of Anne’s unhappiness. The shopping and banter had been “game face.” Slap on the greasepaint and raise the curtain. The show must go on. Win one for the team. Do it for the kids. Do it for Tempe.
Anne had always been unflappable. I found her intense sadness deeply disturbing. I prayed it wasn’t a permanent sadness.
As we talked, I tried to think of encouraging things to say. Or comforting. Or at least distracting. But everything I came up with sounded clichéd and worn. In the end, I simply tried to show my support. But I feared for my friend.
Mostly, Anne and I shared memories. The night we swam naked at the lake. The party where Anne did a bunny-hop pratfall. The beach trip on which we misplaced two-year-old Stuart. The day I showed up drunk at Katy’s recital.
The year I showed up drunk at everything.
Between chats, we’d check our messages.
Many from Tom.
None from Ryan.
Though I dialed every few hours, Mrs. Gallant/Ballant/Talent persisted in not answering. She was equally unswerving in not phoning again.
Now and then conversation veered to Claudel’s buttons. Monique Mousseau had ventured no opinion as to the age or meaning of the forgery. Anne and I cooked up countless scenarios. None made sense. Birdie offered little input.
Sunday evening I finally persuaded Anne to accept a call from Tom. Later she drank a great deal of wine. Quietly.
ANNE WAS STILL SLEEPING WHEN I LEFT FOR THE LAB MONDAY morning. I jotted a note asking her to phone when she woke. I didn’t expect a call before noon.
Exiting the garage, I was almost blinded. The sky was immaculate, the sun brilliant off the weekend’s snow.
Once again the city’s armada of plows had prevailed. All roads were clear in Centre-ville. Farther east, most side streets were passable, though bordered by vehicles buried to their roofs. The cars looked like hippos frozen in rivers of milk.
Here and there I passed frustrated commuters, shovels pumping, breath mimicking the exhaust from their half-hidden vehicles.
The lesser streets surrounding the lab were impossible, so I parked in Wilfrid-Derome’s pay lot. Crossing to the building’s back entrance, I wove between snowbanks and circled a small sidewalk plow, its amber light pulsing in the crystalline air.
My footfalls sounded sharp and crunchy. In the distance, tow trucks jolted residents awake with their brain-piercing two-toned whrrps. Out of bed! Move your ass! Move your car!
The day’s first surprise ambled in as I was reaching to check my voice mail.
Michel Charbonneau is a large man whose size isn’t diminishing any with age. His bull neck, beefy face, and spiky hair give him the look of an electrified football tackle.
Unlike Claudel, who favors designer silks and wools, Charbonneau has taste that runs to polyesters and markdowns. Today he wore a burnt-orange shirt, black pants, and a tie that looked like a street fight at the south end of a color wheel. His jacket was an unfortunate brown and tan plaid.
Dropping into a chair, Charbonneau draped his overcoat across his lap. I noticed an abrasion on his left cheek.
Charbonneau noticed me noticing.
“You should see the other guy.”
“Sorry I didn’t get back to you. Claudel and I were last-minute loan-overs to narco, and the bust came down on Friday. I suppose you read about it?”
“No. I haven’t gotten to the news.” Anne and I had dispensed with all forms of journalism over the weekend, opting for videos and oldies on the Movie Channel.
“Task force had been backgrounding the thing for months.”
I let him go on.
“Couple of pharmaceutical pinstripes were pipelining pseudo-ephedrine under the counter. Stuff’s used in the production of methamphetamines. Product was warehoused in Quebec and Ontario, then trucked all over Canada and the lower forty-eight.”
Charbonneau hunched forward, rested elbows on thighs, and let his hands dangle.
“These bozos were supplying cookers from Halifax to Houston. Dragged forty-three to the bag on Friday, eleven more on Saturday. A lot of lawyers will be banking retainers.”
“Was Andrew Ryan involved in the sting?”
Charbonneau smiled and wagged his head.
“Even if he is SQ, that guy’s the stuff of legend.”
To say some rivalry exists between the SQ and the CUM would be like saying the Palestinians have some issues with the Israelis.
“Why is that?” I picked up a pen and began drawing squares inside squares.
“Saturday morning Ryan almost gets his lights blown out, right? That night I see him cool as an ice slick, squiring a number half his age.” Charbonneau leaned back and curved a figure eight in the air with his hands. “Very little spandex, acres of skin. Ryan’s what, forty-five? Forty-seven? Chick’s barely out of braces.”
I subdivided a square. Disinterested.
“The señorita’s hanging in, so I guess the guy’s still got what it takes.”
Ryan and I had been discreet. Beyond discreet. Charbonneau had no way of knowing we’d been lovers.
“Hanging in?” Casual.
Charbonneau shrugged. “I’ve seen them together before.”
“Let’s see, when was that?” Charbonneau sailed on, unaware of the reaction his words were having. “August? Yeah. August. It was hotter than a friggin’ banana boat.”
A meaty finger pointed in my direction.
“I came by here to ask about a case. You were down South. I had to testify, and the preliminary took place in early August. I spotted Ryan and the prom queen as I was leaving the courthouse. Yep. It was the first week of August.”
The first week of August. Ryan in Charlotte. An urgent phone call. Trouble with his niece. An unscheduled return to Canada.
I tossed the pen and buckled down my face.
“Monsieur Charbonneau, I called Friday because I’ve found information relevant to the pizza basement skeletons.”
Charbonneau slumped back and thrust out both feet. “I’m listening.”
“I got a second opinion on the buttons found by Said Matoub.”
Charabonneau looked blank.
“The owner of the pizza parlor.”
“The guy who found the skeletons.”
“Actually that was the plumber, but close enough. Matoub admitted to having pocketed three silver buttons while collecting the bones.”
“Your partner took the buttons to the McCord for evaluation.”
“Lady there said they were old.”
“Antoinette Legault. She was only partially correct.”
“According to Monique Mousseau at Pointe-à-Callière, only two of the buttons are nineteenth century in age. The third is a forgery.”
“She didn’t know.”
“How old is the fake?”
“She couldn’t assign an age, but doubted it was of much antiquity.”
“OK. So maybe the buttons don’t go with the bones. That ain’t exactly a smoking gun.”
“Have you heard of a man named Nicolò Cataneo?”
“Nick the Knife? Who hasn’t?”
“The building housing Matoub’s pizzeria currently belongs to Richard Cyr. Cyr purchased the property from Nicolò Cataneo.”
Charbonneau retracted his feet and sat up.
“How long did Cataneo own the place?”
“Does that mean something, Detective?”
“I know Cataneo was connected.”
Charbonneau began picking at the cuticle on his right thumb.
“What is it you’re not telling me?”
Charbonneau looked undecided a moment, then slumped back.
“Things exploded here in the late seventies. The Calabrian and Sicilian factions went at each other big-time. Power struggle ended with the assassination of a boss named Paolo Violi.”
“A new boss took over.”
Down the hall I heard one phone ring, then another, and another. LaManche was gathering his troops for the morning meeting.
“New boss broke with the Bonannos in New York and established ties between the Montreal family and the Caruana/Cuntrera family.”
“Your point?” I made a show of checking my watch.
“It was a wild ride.” Charbonneau shrugged. “Bunch of guys got killed.”
“And maybe some girls?”
Charbonneau shrugged again. “You didn’t say anything about trauma to those bones.”
“I didn’t find any. You’ll speak to your partner?”
Charbonneau tugged an earlobe, rolled his eyes sideways, then back to me. He hesitated a moment, then seemed to arrive at some private decision.
“Luc’s spoken to Cyr.”
“Guess he didn’t tell you.”
“We probably should have.”
“That would have been nice.”
“The old geezer never mentioned Cataneo.”
“Perhaps that has to do with your partner’s social skills.”
“You learn anything else?”
I told him about Cyr’s list of tenants, and about the phone calls I’d made.
“So who do you like? The drag queen or the guy in the side curls and hat?”
“Chabad-Lubavitch men don’t wear the payot or the streimel.”
“Just having some fun with you, Doc. You think either could be a player?”
“You’re asking my opinion?”
“Not likely.” I rose.
Charbonneau lumbered to his feet, flipped his coat over one arm, and dug a paper from a pocket. “I’m supposed to give you this.”
The note contained the telephone number left by Mrs. Ballant/ Gallant/Talent, the name Alban Fisher, and an address in Candiac.
“That a phone trace?”
“Someone giving you a hard time?”
“Besides the freak that broke into my condo?”
“Oh, yeah?” Charbonneau’s face tensed.
“It’s nothing. Anyway, Ryan’s got stepped-up surveillance on my place.”
I glanced at the paper Charbonneau had handed me.
“This woman called claiming to know something about the pizza parlor bones.”
“Beats me. She said she knew what had gone on in Cyr’s building.”
“You let me know what this lady says as soon as you talk to her. If you don’t reach her today I’ll take a spin out there. And you let me know if anyone hassles you, Doc. I mean it.”
Again, Charbonneau hesitated, longer this time.
“Don’t let Luc get under your skin. He’ll come around. And, Doc, he won’t stand for you being hassled either. You can believe that.”
Having survived the minefield of Charbonneau’s conversation, I should have been prepared for my next surprise. I wasn’t.
When I arrived in the conference room, the five pathologists were deep in discussion.
I mumbled an apology for my late arrival. LaManche slid a photocopy across the table.
Three autopsies had already been assigned. Pelletier got two crack addicts found in the Lionel-Groulx Metro. Morin drew a cyclist crushed by a fire truck.
I flipped a page and glanced quickly through the last two cases.
A man had been discovered facedown below the staircase at the Mont Royal end of Drummond.
Nom de décédé: Inconnu. Unknown.
A woman had been found dead in her bed.
Nom de décédé: Louise Parent
Date de naissance: 1943/6/18
Info.: Mort suspecte
My eyes dropped to the next line.
My heart dropped like a rock.
LAMANCHE’S VOICE GREW DISTANT. THE ROOM RECEDED around me.
Jamming one hand into the pocket of my lab coat, I yanked out Charbonneau’s note.
The address on the phone trace matched the address on the case file.
As I stared at the name, LaManche spoke it.
Ballant. Gallant. Talent. Parent.
Bands of tension squeezed my chest.
“Who discovered her?”
Everyone turned, surprised at my vehemence.
Wordlessly, LaManche pulled out the police report.
“Claudia Bastillo. The victim’s niece.”
LaManche read silently for several seconds.
“Madame Bastillo was in the habit of talking regularly with her mother. The mother, Rose Fisher, and the victim, Louise Parent, were sisters, sharing a residence in Candiac.”
LaManche filtered the pertinent facts.
“Over the weekend, Bastillo’s calls went unanswered. Early this morning she went to check and found her aunt dead in bed.”
Dear God! I’d been trying to reach Parent during the same period as her niece!
“Rose Fisher is all right?”
LaManche finished skimming.
“The report says nothing concerning the whereabouts of Madame Fisher. I assume the lady is among the living since she is not on her way here.”
“Cause of death?” I knew it was stupid as soon as I asked it.
LaManche looked up over his glasses.
“That is why Madame Parent is coming to us.”
Questions swirled and tilted.
Foul play or ghastly coincidence? Had Parent been killed, or had she died of natural causes? Was her death related to the calls made to me?
Had the calls been placed by Louise Parent?
Say something? Hold off?
I glanced at the box indicating police jurisdiction.
I decided to wait until I’d spoken to the investigating officers. Until LaManche had completed his autopsy.
“Dr. Santangelo, please take the staircase gentleman,” LaManche continued.
Santangelo marked her list.
“I will take Madame Parent when she arrives,” LaManche said.
LaManche jotted “La” next to Louise Parent’s name. Business concluded, everyone rose and filed out.
Back in my office I wasted no time dialing Ryan’s number. He answered on the first ring.
“Who’ll be working the Louise Parent case?”
“Yes, it is nice to hear your voice. Yes, it is a bit warmer today. Yes, it was a bitch of a weekend,” Ryan said.
“How was your weekend?”
“The big sting?”
“All wrapped up.”
“They’ve cut you loose?”
I waited. He did not elaborate.
“Who’ll be working the Louise Parent case?”
Squad room noises indicated Ryan was a few floors below me.
“Candiac?” I prodded. “Sixty-year-old woman found dead in her bed this morning. Who’ll catch the case?”
“You’re looking at him, kid.”
“They didn’t give you much downtime.”
“Seems I was missed here.”
“Find anyone who’ll pal around with you yet?”
Several years earlier Ryan’s partner had died in a plane crash while escorting a prisoner from Georgia to Montreal. Since then Ryan had been working alone, shifting from one special assignment to another.
“The charisma is simply too overpowering.”
“Could be the aftershave.”
“I like flying solo.”
“Why did Parent come in as a mort suspecte?”
“My guess would be the death looked suspicious.”
“You’re a laugh riot, Ryan.”
“Vic was in good health, not that old. No malfunctioning space heater. No leaking gas or carbon monoxide. No history of depression. No suicide note. Vic’s sixty-four-year-old sister’s in the wind. Disappeared. Candiac cops thought it called for a look-see by the big boys.”
“LaManche is doing the autopsy this morning.”
I pictured Ryan shoulder-cradling the phone, ankles crossed on his desk.
I pictured Ryan lying in my bed.
I pictured Ryan strutting with a prom queen.
“Vic’s niece found the body. Claims it’s out of character for her mother to take off without telling her.”
I heard paper rustle.
“You’re trying to locate her?”
“Who’s Alban Fisher?”
Hitch of hesitation. “I can find out. Why?”
“Remember the woman who phoned about the pizza parlor skeletons?”
“Remember I thought her name was Ballant or Gallant or something like that?”
“Both calls came from Rose Fisher’s house in Candiac.”
“Sounds similar over a bad connection.”
“The phone account’s in the name of Alban Fisher?” Ryan guessed.
“Alban in the directory?”
I laid down the receiver, pulled out the phone book, and thumbed to the F’s. Sometimes detecting doesn’t take much genius. Alban Fisher was listed at the Candiac address.
“The niece didn’t put anyone else in the picture. Said the women lived alone. I’ll give her a call.”
“I’ll get back to you when LaManche finishes.”
“Could be a simple heart attack.”
“Happens all the time.”
“Second leading cause of death.”
“You sure the ticker isn’t numero uno?”
“Anything else breaking?”
I told him about the forged button. He asked what it meant. I told him I hadn’t a clue.
Then I told him about Nicolò Cataneo.
There was a pause, after which Ryan’s voice sounded different. Harder, somehow.
“I don’t like the sound of that, Tempe. Wiseguys value life about as much as they value used dental floss. You watch your back.”
“I always do.”
“I missed you this weekend.”
“Your friend still there?”
“We’ll talk when she’s gone.”
“Anne doesn’t bite.”
Long pause. Ryan broke it.
“Let me know what LaManche says. Page me if I’m out.”
Before launching into my analysis of the third skeleton, I made a detour to the main autopsy room. Pelletier had the first of the crack twins on table one. LaManche had Louise Parent on table two.
Parent had arrived wearing a granny gown. The long flannel nightie lay spread on the counter. Red roses on pink. Lace-trimmed yoke with tiny pearl buttons.
Flashbulb memory. Gran, shuffling to bed with her Dearfoam slippers and her chamomile tea.
My gaze shifted to the body.
Parent looked small and pitiful on the perforated steel. So alone. So dead.
Stab of sorrow.
I pushed it down.
LaManche gently twisted the dead woman’s head. Opened her jaw. Levered one shoulder. The wrinkled back and buttocks were purple with livor.
LaManche pushed a finger into the discolored flesh. The pressure point did not blanch.
LaManche allowed the body to resettle onto its back, then lifted a lifeless hand. Paper-thin peelings were loosening from the underlying dermis.
“Lividity is fixed. Rigor mortis has come and gone. Skin slippage has barely begun.”
As LaManche jotted his observations, my eyes roamed the geography of Parent’s corpse.
The woman’s muscles were withered, her hair gray, her skin pale to the point of translucence. Her shriveled breasts lay limp on her bony chest. Her belly was going green.
“How long do you think she’s been dead?” I asked.
“I see no marbling, no bloating, only minimal putrefaction. The house was warm, but not excessively hot. I will of course check her stomach contents and eye fluids, but at this point I’d say forty-eight to seventy-two hours.”
Another stab of pain.
I had blown this woman off on Wednesday. She had phoned me again on Thursday. LaManche’s estimate placed her death on Friday or Saturday.
I noticed a thin white line on her abdomen.
“Looks like she’s had some sort of surgery.”
LaManche was already sketching the scar onto a diagram.
My eyes moved to Parent’s face.
Both eyes were half open and covered with dark bands.
In death, the eyelid muscles relax, exposing the corneas, and allowing the epithelial tissue to dry. Tache noir sclerotique. Normal. But the change gave Parent the macabre look of yesterday’s roadkill.
I leaned in and inspected Parent’s teeth. Though worn, they were clean and only moderately discolored. The gums showed little swelling or resorption. Dental hygiene had been good.
I was straightening when my eye fell on something lodged between the right lateral incisor and canine. I drew closer.
Something was definitely there.
Digging a handheld lens from a drawer, I returned to the table.
Under magnification, details were clearer.
“Dr. LaManche,” I said. “Take a look at this.”
LAMANCHE CIRCLED THE TABLE AND I HANDED HIM THE LENS. He studied Parent’s dentition, then spoke without straightening.
“Yes,” I agreed.
LaManche used forceps to transfer the feather to a plastic vial. Then he spread Parent’s jaws and examined her back teeth.
“I see no others.” Muffled through his mask.
“Please.” He turned to the autopsy technician. “Lisa?”
As I dug the apparatus from a closet, Lisa transferred Parent to a gurney and rolled her next door to the X-ray room. By the time I rejoined them, she had also collected the granny gown and spread it on the X-ray table.
While LaManche and I donned orange-tinted plastic goggles, Lisa hooked up the Luma-Lite, an alternate light source composed of a black box and an enhanced blue fiber-optic cable. With it, we would be able to see trace evidence invisible to the naked eye.
“Ready?” Lisa asked.
Lisa slipped on her goggles and hit the light switch.
In the dark, the pathologist began scanning Parent’s nightie. Here and there hairs lit up like tiny white wires. Lisa tweezed and transferred them into a plastic vial.
When we’d finished with the gown, LaManche turned to the corpse. Slowly, the light crept over Parent’s feet and legs. It probed the hills and valleys of her pubis, belly, rib cage, and breasts. Lit the hollow at the base of her throat.
Nothing glowed but a few more hairs.
“They look identical to her head hair,” I said.
“Yes,” LaManche agreed.
Parent’s hands and fingernails yielded nothing. Her eyes, nostrils, and ears were clean.
Then the beam entered the dark recess of the woman’s mouth.
“Bonjour,” Lisa said in the darkness.
One molar sparked like phosphorous along the gum line.
“That’s not a hair,” I said.
Lisa withdrew the thing with forceps.
Though we worked another thirty minutes in the dark, our efforts produced only two more hairs, both fine and wavy like those of the victim.
When Lisa restored the lights, LaManche and I headed back to the autopsy room. There he opened the molar vial and examined the contents under magnification. It seemed a decade until he spoke.
“It is another feather fragment.”
LaManche and I exchanged glances, identical suspicions crossing our minds.
At that moment, Lisa reappeared with Mrs. Parent. LaManche crossed to the gurney. I followed.
Grasping the tissue firmly, LaManche rolled the woman’s upper lip upward. The inner surface appeared normal.
When LaManche pulled Parent’s lower lip downward, I could see tiny horizontal lacerations marring the smooth purple flesh. Each corresponded to the position of a lower incisor.
Using thumb and forefinger, the pathologist spread Parent’s left eyelids. Then her right. Both eyes showed petechia, pinpoint red dots and blotching of the sclera and conjunctiva.
“Asphyxia,” I said, terrible images filling my thoughts.
I pictured this woman alone in her bed. Her safe place. Her refuge. A silhouette looming in the darkness. Fingers wrapping her throat. Oxygen hunger. Heart-pounding terror.
“Petechial hemorrhage can be caused by many things, Temperance. Its presence indicates little more than capillary rupture.”
“Resulting from sudden increase in vascular congestion in the head,” I said.
“Yes,” LaManche said.
“As in strangulation,” I said.
“Petechiae can occur due to coughing, sneezing, vomiting, straining at stool, laboring in childbirth—”
“I doubt this woman was having a baby.”
LaManche continued speaking as he probed Parent’s throat with a gloved finger.
“—foreign object obstruction, gagging, swelling of the airway linings.”
“Are you seeing indications of any of those?”
LaManche raised his eyes to mine.
“I have barely begun my external exam.”
“She could have been smothered.”
“There are no scratches, no broken nails, no signs of violence or of a defensive struggle.” More to himself than to me.
“She could have been smothered in her sleep. With a pillow.” I was verbalizing thoughts as they were forming in my head. “A pillow would leave no marks. A pillow would explain the feathers in her mouth and the cuts on her lip.”
“Coarse petechiae aren’t uncommon in corpses found prone with the head at a level lower than the rest of the body.”
“The lividity on her back and shoulders suggests she died face up.”
LaManche straightened. “Detective Ryan promised scene photos this afternoon.”
For a moment our gazes locked. Then I lowered my mask and told LaManche the story of Mrs. Parent.
The sad old eyes held mine. Then, “I appreciate your bringing the victim’s involvement with you to my attention. I will take extra care in performing my internal examination.”
The statement was unnecessary. I knew LaManche would be as meticulous with Mrs. Parent as he was with every corpse he studied, prime minister or petty thief. Pierre LaManche refused to acknowledge unexplained death.
By ten-thirty I’d unwrapped the bundled remains recovered from the second depression in the pizza parlor basement.
By eleven-thirty I’d disengaged the bones from their leather shroud, removed their matrix of dirt and adipocere, and arranged them anatomically on the autopsy table.
By three-forty I’d completed my inventory and examination.
The skeleton designated LSJML-38428 was that of a white female, sixty-five to sixty-eight inches in height, who had died between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two. She had poor dental hygiene, no restorations, and a well-healed Colles’ fracture of the right radius. Her skeleton showed only minimal postmortem damage, and bore no evidence of trauma occurring at or near the time of her death.
My preliminary conclusions had been correct. Though slightly older, this third girl was disturbingly similar to the other two.
I was jotting a few last notes when I heard the door to the outer office open and close. Seconds later LaManche appeared. His expression told me he hadn’t come to report an aneurysm.
“I found excess deoxygenated hemoglobin in the venous blood, indicating cyanosis.”
“Nothing atypical for a woman in her seventh decade of life.”
“So she may have been smothered.”
“I fear that is a possibility.”
LaManche wagged his head. “No fractures. No hemorrhage. No scratches or claw marks. No tissue under her nails. Nothing to suggest a struggle.”
“She could have been attacked while sleeping. Or drugged.”
“I will request a full toxicology screen.”
Again, the outer door opened then clicked shut. Booted footsteps crossed the ante-office.
Ryan was doing detective casual that day. Denim shirt, jeans, tan wool blazer with elbow patches.
Ryan and LaManche exchanged “Bonjour”s.
Ryan and I exchanged nods.
LaManche filled Ryan in on his findings.
“Time of death?” Ryan asked.
“Did you observe any evidence of a last meal?”
“Saucepan, spoon, and cup in the dish rack. Empty soup can in the trash. Garden vegetable.”
“The stomach contents were completely evacuated. That would have occurred within three hours of consumption of the soup.”
“Niece says the ladies usually ate supper around seven, turned in around nine or ten.”
“If the soup was her supper, and not her lunch.” LaManche raised a finger. “And keep in mind that gastric physiology is extremely variable. Nervous stress and certain diseases can delay stomach emptying.”
I remembered the shaky voice at the other end of the line. Parent’s agitation had been evident even at a distance.
“I’ll request a warrant to pull up the phone records.”
“But the state of decomposition suggests death probably occurred on Friday. And now.” LaManche clasped his hands behind his back. “What have you brought us, Detective?”
Ryan slid a brown envelope from a jacket pocket, and spread color photos on the counter.
One by one, the five-by-sevens took us to Louise Parent’s final day.
Exterior views of a blond brick bungalow. Ice-free walks. Front porch, window strung with multicolored lights. Blue wooden door. Wreath with Joyeuse Fêtes! on a red velvet ribbon. Front lawn with plastic reindeer.
Enclosed backyard, a child’s sled leaning on the far side of chain-link fencing. Ice-free cement stoop. Snow shovel.
Wordlessly, LaManche and I worked our way through the photos.
Close-ups of the rear and front doors showing undamaged knobs and latches.
A kitchen, shot from the right, then the left. Stove, refrigerator, wraparound counter with stainless steel sink. Freestanding butcher block.
Single spoon, mug, and pan in the dish rack.
“Looks very tidy,” I said.
“Not a thing out of place,” Ryan agreed. “No signs of a break-in. No signs of company.”
“The doors were locked?” LaManche.
“Bastillo thinks so, but can’t swear to it.”
“That is the niece?”
Ryan nodded. “Bastillo got a call on her cellular just as she arrived at her mother’s door. She remembers having trouble with her key, but figured it was because she was holding the phone in one hand and trying to unlock the door with the other. She admits that if the door was open, she could have unwittingly locked it then unlocked it again.”
“Did the home have a security system?” LaManche.
Ryan shook his head no, then pulled a snapshot from his pocket and handed it to LaManche. LaManche passed it on to me.
The snapshot showed a plump woman with apricot hair and Jackson Pollock makeup. She looked to be somewhere just north of sixty.
“Rose Fisher?” I asked.
I returned the snapshot and went back to the crime scene photos.
Living room with doilied sofa and love seat. Picture window. Lace curtains. Closed venetian blinds. Birdcage on an ornate metal stand.
I remembered the background twittering during Parent’s calls.
“What kind of bird?” I asked dismally.
Like Katy’s. Those were the sounds I’d tried to place over the phone.
“Who’s caring for it?”
Ryan gave me an odd look. “Bastillo.”
“Has the victim’s sister turned up?” LaManche asked.
“Rose Fisher. No.”
“What do you make of that?”
“Bastillo says her mother and aunt liked to take off on road trips, but normally gave her a heads-up.”
“So she could feed the bird,” I guessed.
“These ladies, they went by car?” LaManche asked.
“Fisher’s. A ninety-four Pontiac Grand Prix.”
“Is that vehicle now missing?”
“It’s not at Fisher’s house. I’ve put out an APB. If it’s out there, someone should spot the plate.”
“Who’s Alban Fisher?” I asked.
“Fisher’s husband. Tax accountant. Died in ninety-four. Rose never bothered to change the name on the phone.”
“Can Bastillo think of anyone who might have wanted to harm her mother or aunt?”
“The two had an ongoing beef with some neighbor about parking an SUV too close to their driveway. Bastillo insists we should check this guy out.”
“Bastillo seem credible?” I asked.
“I doubt she’ll be recruited by the Berkeley Roundtable, but she comes off sincere enough.” Ryan did a head nod toward LaManche. “Doc says homicide, I’ll start digging on the lady’s background.”
LaManche and Ryan became disembodied voices as I continued down the row of photos.
A corridor. A bedroom. A bathroom. A second bedroom, slightly smaller than the first. Maple dresser, nightstand, four-poster.
Louise Parent was a child-sized bulge under pale pink bedding. She lay facing the door, right arm thrown upward, head angled oddly on a rumpled pillow. Her eyes were black and empty crescents. Gray hair trailed limply across her face.
A pink floral quilt lay neatly drawn back across the foot of the bed. A second pillow sat atop the folded quilt. This one had no pillow slip.
“Bastillo moved the body?” I asked of no one in particular.
“Says she found her aunt unconscious and tried to rouse her.”
“Did she touch the pillow?”
“She doesn’t remember.”
Beneath the bed, I could see two neatly aligned slippers. On the nightstand, a folded pair of eyeglasses, a mug, and a vial of prescription pills.
“That is the Ambien that was sent to us?” LaManche asked.
“Yes. Labeled for thirty, filled last Wednesday. Eight missing.”
“Do you know the contents of the mug?”
“Water. Bastillo filled it when she couldn’t rouse her aunt. Says she got rattled. Didn’t know what to do.”
“Had she found it empty?”
“She thinks so. Remember, this Bastillo isn’t the sharpest knife in the set.”
“Did you find medications other than those that came in with the body?” LaManche asked.
“Vioxx for arthritis. You’ve got that. Otherwise, just the standard medicine cabinet collection. Calcium. Aspirin. Preparation H. Half-used tube of Neosporin. Over-the-counter allergy meds.”
“Anything unusual about the mug being in the bedroom?” I asked.
“According to Bastillo, her mother’s snoring registers a seven on the Richter. Parent was a light sleeper so when she hit the sack her habit was to knock back a couple of Ambien with herbal tea. If the mug held anything, and she isn’t sure that it did, Bastillo says she would have figured it was tea and tossed it.”
“Probably a good idea to get that mug,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am.” Ryan nodded solemnly.
My cheeks flamed. Of course they’d collected the mug.
“We can do amylase testing for Parent’s saliva on the pillowcase, but that won’t be particularly useful,” said LaManche.
“Old ladies drool,” I said.
“They’re known for doing it,” Ryan agreed.