Authors: Kathy Reichs
Tags: #Mystery & Crime
“Bomb or mechanical failure?”
I gave him a withering look.
“The repair records indicate there were minor problems with the plane
over the past two years. Normal parts were reworked, and some sort of switch was replaced twice.
But the maintenance records group is saying it looks pretty routine.”
“Any progress on the tipster?”
“The calls were made from a pay phone in Atlanta. Both CNN and the FBI
have tapes, and voice analysis is being done.”
Ryan swigged his lemonade, made a face, set it on the table.
“What’s the word from the body teams?”
“This is strictly between us, Ryan. Anything official has to come from
He curled his fingers in a “go on” gesture.
“We’re finding penetrations and a lot of lower leg and ankle
That’s not typical of ground impact.“
I flashed back to the gouty foot, and again felt puzzled. Ryan must
have read my face.
“What now, buttercup?”
“Can I bounce something off you?”
“This is going to sound weird.”
“As opposed to your normally conventional views.”
More withering eye action.
“Remember the foot we rescued from the coyotes?”
“It doesn’t match any passenger.”
“What doesn’t fit?”
“Mainly age, and I feel pretty confident in my estimate. There was no
one that old on the plane. Could someone have boarded without being listed?”
“I can look into it. We used to hitch rides in the military, but I
suspect that would be pretty tough on a commercial flight. Airline employees sometimes ride free.
It’s called deadheading. But they’d be listed on the manifest.”
“You were in the military?”
I ignored that.
“Could someone have given a ticket away? Or sold it?”
“You’re required to show a picture ID.”
“What if the ticketed passenger checks in, shows ID, then passes the
ticket to someone else?”
I finished my pickle.
“Or could someone have been transporting a biological specimen? This
foot looks muckier than the stuff I’ve been processing.”
He looked at me skeptically. “Muckier?”
“The tissue breakdown seems more advanced.”
“Isn’t decay rate affected by the environment?”
“Of course it is.”
I dabbed up ketchup and popped the last of my sandwich into my
“I think biological specimens have to be reported,” Ryan said.
I recalled times I’d flown with bones, boarding with them as
In at least one instance I’d transported tissue sealed in Tupperware so
I could study saw marks left by a serial killer. I wasn’t convinced.
“Maybe the coyotes got the foot someplace else,” I suggested.
“An old cemetery.”
“Air Trans South 228 nosed into a cemetery?”
“Not directly into one.” I remembered my encounter with Simon Midkiff
and his worry about his dig, and realized how absurd I must sound.
Nevertheless, Ryan’s skepticism irked me. “You’re the expert on can ids
Surely youlre aware that they drag things around.”
“Maybe the foot took a jolt in life that makes it look older than its
I had to admit that was possible.
“And more decomposed.”
I gathered napkins and utensils and carried our plates to the sink.
“Look, how ‘ we stroll Coyote Canyon tomorrow, see if anyone’s pushing
up daisies?” I turned to look at him. “Really?”
“Anything to ease your troubled mind, cupcake.” That’s not how it
I SPENT THE NEXT MORNING SEPARATING FLESH INTO FOUR INDIviduals Case
number 432 came from a burned segment of fuselage that lay in a valley north of the main crash
site. Inside the body bag I found one relatively intact corpse missing the top of the skull and
the lower arms. The bag also contained a partial head and a complete right arm with a portion of
mandible embedded in the triceps muscle. Everything was congealed into a single charred mass.
I determined that the corpse was that of a black female in her early
twenties who stood five feet seven at the time of death. Her X rays showed healed fractures of
the right humerus and scapula. I classified number 432 as fragmented human remains, recorded my
observations, and sent the body on to odontology.
The partial head, a white male in his late teens, became number 432A,
and was also forwarded for dental analysis. The jaw fragment belonged to someone older than
number 432A, probably a female, and went on to the dentists as number 432C. The state of bone
development suggested that the unrelated arm came from an adult over twenty. I calculated upper
and lower limits for stature, but was unable to determine gender since all hand and arm bone
measurements fell into the overlap range for males and females. I sent the arm to the fingerprint
section as case number 432D.
It was twelve-fifteen when I looked at my watch. I had to hurry.
I spotted Ryan through a small window in the morgue’s back door. He was
sitting on the steps, one long leg outstretched, the other raised to support an elbow as he spoke
into a cell phone. Opening the door, I could hear that his words were English, his tone agitated,
and I suspected the business was other than official.
“Well, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
He turned a shoulder when he saw me, and his answers grew terse.
“Do what you want, Danielle.”
I waited until he had disconnected, then joined him on the porch.
“Sorry I’m late.”
He flipped the cover and slid the phone into his pocket, his movements
stiff and jerky.
“Problems on the home front?”
“What’s your pleasure for lunch? Fish or fowl?”
“Nice dodge,” I said, smiling. “And about as subtle as a full court
“The home front is not your concern. Subtle enough?”
Though my mouth opened, no words emerged.
“It’s just a personal disagreement.”
“Have a lovers’ spat with the Archbishop of Canterbury for all I care,
just don’t treat me to the performance.” Heat flamed my cheeks.
“Since when are you curious about my love life?”
“I couldn’t care less about your love life,” I snapped.
“Thus the inquisition.”
“Let’s forget it.” Ryan reached out, but I stepped back.
“You did ask me to meet you here.”
“Look, this investigation has us both on edge.”
“But I don’t take cheap shots at you.”
“What I don’t need is more browbeating,” he said, lowering the shades
from the top of his head.
“Browbeating?” I exploded.
Ryan repeated his question. “Fish or fowl?”
“Go fowl your own fish.”
I whirled and lunged for the doorknob, my face burning with anger. Or
was it humiliation? Or hurt?
Inside, I slammed then leaned against the door. From the lot I heard an
engine, then the squeal of brakes as a truck arrived with twenty more cases. Rolling my head, I
saw Ryan kick a heel at the ground, then cross to his rental car.
Why had he made me so furious? I’d spent a lot of time thinking of the
man during his months undercover. But distancing myself from Ryan had become so routine, I’d
never considered the possibility that someone else might enter his life. Was that now the case?
While I wanted to know, I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask.
I turned back to find Larke Tyrell regarding me intently.
“You need some R and R.”
“I’m taking two hours this afternoon.” I’d requested the break so Ryan
and I could search the area where I’d found the foot. Now I’d have to do it alone.
“Sandwich?” Larke tilted his chin toward the staff lounge.
Minutes later we were seated at one of the folding tables.
“Squashed subs and pulverized chips,” he said.
“My usual order.”
“How’s Lamanche?” Larke had selected what looked like tuna on
“Back to his usual cantankerous self.”
Being the director of the medico-legal unit, Pierre Lamanche was Larke
Tyrell’s counterpart at the lab in Montreal. My two bosses had known each other for years through
membership in the National Association of Medical Examiners and the American Academy of Forensic
Lamanche had suffered a heart attack the previous spring but was fully
recovered and back to work.
“Mighty glad to hear that.”
As we peeled cellophane and popped sodas, I remembered the ME’s first
appearance at the site.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure.” He watched me carefully, his eyes chestnut in the sunlight
angling down from an overhead window.
“Jesus, Larke, I’m fine, so quit with the stress assessment.
Lieutenant-Detective Ryan just happens to be a horse’s ass.“
“Noted. You sleeping O. K.?”
“Like Custer after Little Bighorn.” I avoided the impulse to roll my
“What’s your question?”
“When you and the lieutenant governor arrived last week, where did the
I upended my chip bag and poured fragments into my hand.
“There’s a house a spit west of the crash site. The pilot liked the lay
of the land so that’s where he put us down.”
“There’s a landing strip?”
“Hell, no, just a small clearing. I thought Davenport was gonna soil his
Calvin Kleins, he was so scared.” Larke chuckled. “It was like a scene out of M A S H. Tnggs kept
insisting we head back out, and the pilot kept saying, ”Yes, sir, yes, sir,“ then put that bird
exactly where he wanted.”
I palmed the chips into my mouth.
“Then we just worked our way toward the site. I’d say it was maybe a
“It’s a house?”
“An old cabin or something. I didn’t pay much attention.”
“Did you see a road?”
He shook his head. “Why the questions?” I told him about the foot.
“I didn’t notice a cemetery, but there’s no harm poking around out
there. You sure these were coyotes?”
“Be safe; take a radio and a can of Mace.”
“Do coyotes hunt during the day?”
“Coyotes hunt whenever they feel like it.”
North Carolina’s official tree is the longleaf pine, its official
flower the dogwood. The shad boat, the saltwater bass, and the Eastern box turtle have been
similarly honored. The state boasts wild ponies on the Shackleford Banks and the nation’s highest
suspension bridge at Grandfather Mountain. The Old North State flows from the peaks of the
southern Appalachians in the west, across the hills of the piedmont, to the marshlands, beaches,
and barrier islands along its eastern shore. It is Mount Mitchell and the Outer Banks. Blowing
Rock and Cape Fear.
Linville Gorge and Bald Head Island.
North Carolina’s geography splits its residents along ideological
The high-country crowd plays recreational roulette mountain biking,
hang gliding, white water kayaking, rock climbing, and, in winter, downhill skiing and
snowboarding. The less reckless go in for golf, antiques, bluegrass music, and the viewing of
Fans of the low country favor salt air, warm sand, ocean fishing, and
Atlantic breakers. Temperatures are mild. The locals have never owned mittens or snow tires.
Except for the occasional shark or renegade gator, the fauna is nonthreatening. Golf, of course,
also permeates the low country.
While I am awed by the beauty of foaming rivers, cascading falls, and
towering trees, my allegiance has always been to the sea. I prefer ecozones where shorts and
sundresses suffice, and only one layer is needed. Give me a swimsuit catalog and forget Eddie
Bauer. All things considered, I’d rather be at the beach.
These thoughts drifted through my mind as I circled the debris
The day was clear but breezy, the smell of decay less apparent. Though
victim recovery was well along, and fewer bodies littered the ground, the big picture looked
relatively unchanged. Bio-suited figures still wandered about and crawled through the wreckage,
though some now wore caps marked FBI.
I found Larke’s opening and cut into the woods. Though the
high-altitude sunlight was warm, the temperature dropped appreciably when I moved into shadow. I
followed the trail I’d taken the week before, now and then stopping to listen. Branches tapped
and scraped, and dead leaves tumbled across the ground with soft ticking sounds.
Overhead, a woodpecker drummed a staccato tattoo, paused, repeated
I was wearing a bright yellow jacket, wanting to surprise no one, and
hoping the Tommy Hilfiger colors would suggest avoidance to the coyote mind. If not, I’d zap the
furry buggers. Inside my pocket I clutched a small can of Mace.
At the fallen sourwood, I dropped to one knee and scanned the forest
floor. Then I rose and looked around. Other than my Louisville Slugger branch, there was no hint
of my can id adventure.
I continued along the subtle passageway. The ground was slightly
concave, and I had to take care not to turn an ankle on a rock hidden beneath leaves. Though
lower than the surrounding scrub, the vegetation at times rose almost to my knees.
I kept my eyes roving, watching for critters or signs of interment.
Larke’s house meant human settlement, and I knew that old farmsteads
often included family burials. One summer I’d directed a dig at the top of Chimney Rock.
Intending to excavate only the cabin, we’d uncovered a tiny graveyard, unlisted on any document.
Also timber rattlers and water moccasins, I suddenly remembered.
I pressed on through cool, dark shade, thorns and twigs tugging my
clothes and insects dive-bombing my face. Gusts sent shadows dancing, changing shape around me.
Then, without warning, the trees gave way to a small clearing. As I emerged into sunlight a
white-tailed deer raised its head, stared, then disappeared.