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Authors: Carrie Stuart Parks

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The Bones Will Speak (2 page)

BOOK: The Bones Will Speak
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“Yes, ma'am.”

She turned, dropped the cat, and picked up a folded newspaper on a nearby table. “See? It's like a portrait.” The front page featured two composite drawings, with the headlines blaring, “Terrorism Strikes Again!” She'd taken Wite-Out and painted part of the hair and beard on one of the drawings and inked a mustache on the other. “They're those priests. Those whatcha-call-it priests.”

“Phineas Priesthood.”

“That's it. Though why men of God would set bombs and kill people is beyond me.” She pursed her lips as if sucking on a lemon.

He shifted his weight and glanced back at Margie. “Yes, ma'am. They're not really priests. Their religion is more like the Aryan Nations. You said you saw the—”

“They're hiding right there.” She stepped onto the porch and pointed at a white house across the street.

Higgins turned to see where she pointed. A flicker of movement to his left caught his attention, a flash of red plaid shirt disappearing behind a garage.


The front door across the street flew open.

Pop, pop!

Mrs. Jackson's window shattered.

Adrenalin surged through Mike's veins. He grabbed the startled woman and shoved her backward into the house. Spinning, he screamed at Margie, “Get down,” then dropped to the porch on his stomach, scrabbling for his shoulder mic.

Pop, pop, pop!
Bullets pounded into the wall above him.

He couldn't remember the 10-code. “Shots fired. They're shooting at me.” He let go of the mic and fumbled for his pistol. From his prone position, he couldn't see over his patrol car.

Car doors slammed.

Taking a deep breath, he rolled left behind the porch column.

An engine revved.

He stood.

A faded-red Toyota pickup backed from the driveway and raced down the street.

Higgins holstered his pistol and sprinted for his car, shouting into his shoulder mic, “They're getting away . . . I mean, I'm in pursuit . . .” He slid into the seat, started the engine, and slammed the car into gear. Picking up the car radio, he continued, “A red Toyota pickup, two suspects . . .” He turned on his lights and siren. “Heading east on Mission . . . No, they've turned south on—”

A hand grabbed his arm.

Higgins dropped the mic. The car swerved.

Margie unfolded from an impossibly tiny position on the floor and slid into the passenger seat. She pulled the seat belt tight across her body. Her face was ashen.

Snatching up the radio, Higgins said, “They've just turned east onto I-90. I'm in pursuit. Request backup.” He twisted the wheel and skated to the on-ramp.

The truck accelerated ahead.

Higgins floored the patrol car.

The pickup shot onto the highway, narrowly missed a van, and overcorrected. Dust and gravel spit from the spinning tires.

Gripping the steering wheel with both white-knuckled hands, Higgins lifted his foot from the accelerator.

The pickup spun, smashed into the guardrail, and twisted back into traffic.

The eastbound, fully loaded logging truck tried to avoid the pickup, but was too close. It slammed into the pickup's side. The smaller truck folded around it like an aluminum can.

Higgins stopped.

As if in slow motion, both vehicles left the highway and plunged into the shallow Coeur d'Alene River, running parallel to the highway.

Margie gasped.

Reaching for the radio, Higgins cleared his throat. “Dispatch, request an ambulance and tow truck . . . and I think you can tell Spokane PD they don't need to worry about their Phineas Priesthood terrorist cell anymore.”



across the lawn, frantically waving my arms. “Stop digging! Winston, no!”

Winston, my Great Pyrenees, paused in his vigorous burial of some form of road kill and raised a muddy nose in my direction.

“I mean it!” Why hadn't I bought one of those nice, retriever-type dogs who mindlessly played fetch all day? Winston spent his time wading in the creek, digging pool-sized holes in the lawn, and—judging from the green stain—applying
eau de
cow pie around his ear. I crept toward him.

He playfully raised his tail over his back and dodged left.

“I'm warning you.” I pointed a finger at him. Phthalo-blue watercolor rimmed my nail, making my gesture less threatening and more like I was growing a rare fungus.

Unfazed, he darted toward the line of flowering lilac bushes
lining the driveway, temporarily passing from sight.
How could a hundred-and-sixty-pound canine move so fast?
I circled in the other direction, slipping closer, then carefully parted the branches. No dog.

This was ridiculous. I could chase my dog until I retrieved the road kill from his mouth, or scrub it off the carpet for the next week. And it was getting dark, with Prussian-blue shadows stretching between Montana's pine-covered Bitterroot Mountains.

I glanced to my left. Winston crouched, wagging his tail. I moved toward him. He snatched his prize and shook it.

Two black hollows appeared.

I couldn't move. The air rushed from my lungs and came out in a long hiss. I patted my leg, urging the dog closer.

Winston lifted the object, exposing a hole with radiating cracks.

Crouching, I extended my hand. “Come on, fellow. Good doggie, over here.”

He placed his find on the ground. It came to rest on its even row of ivory teeth.

I approached gingerly, knelt on the soggy ground, and inspected the sightless eye sockets. “Oh, dear Lord.”

Winston nudged the skull forward.

I yelped and sprawled on my rear. An overfed beetle plopped out of the nasal aperture and landed on my shoelace.

Heart racing like a runaway horse, I violently kicked the offending bug, skidded backward, and stood. Fumbling my cell phone from my jeans pocket, I punched in Dave's number. “Leave it to you, Winston, to find a skull full of bugs—”

“Ravalli County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Dave Moore.”

“She's dead. You've got to come now, Dave!” Winston pawed at the skull like a volleyball.

“Stop that, Winston. You're just going to make more bugs fall out.” I bumped the dog away with my leg.

“What is it now, Gwen? You're calling me because Winston has bugs?”

I rubbed my face. “Of course not. Don't be silly. I already told you she's dead—”

“Question one: Are you okay?”

“Yes! Well—”

“Good, good. Now, question two: Where are you?”

“I'm home. Near home. The edge of the woods—”

“Choose one.”

“Doggone it, Dave, don't patronize me.” I wanted to sling the phone across the yard, then race over to the sheriff's office and kick Dave in the shin. “Stop being irritating and get over here.”

“Ah, yes. That brings me to question three. Who's ‘she'?”

“She's a skull. Or technically a cranium. Didn't I say that? She was murdered.”

“Murdered? Are you sure she isn't a lost hiker or hunter?”

“Oh, for Pete's sake, Dave. She's got a neat bullet hole in her forehead, and a not-so-neat exit wound shattering the back.” The dog reached a paw around my leg and attempted to snag his plaything. I tapped it out of reach with my shoe. I sincerely hoped no one was watching me play a macabre version of skull soccer with my dog. I already had a reputation for being eccentric.

“Are you positive it's female?”

“Just look at it!” I realized I was holding the phone over the skull and quickly put the cell back to my ear. “I'm not a forensic anthropologist, but if I had to guess, I'd say female. There's a
lack of development in the supraorbital ridges, the zygomatic process is less pronounced, there's an absence of the external occipital protuberance—”

“Speak English.”

“Don't interrupt. She has signs of animal activity—chewing—and is missing the lower jaw. Hence she's a cranium, not a skull, but her teeth are in good shape in the maxilla. That's the upper jaw.”

“I know what that is. You're a forensic artist. Since when has a skull spooked you?”

“It's not the skull; it's the bugs.”

“Yeah, yeah, you and your insect phobia. I think you're just out of practice with the real thing. You've been doing too much work on plaster castings.”

“I don't even want to
about plaster castings.” It was only eight months since my work in Utah and I still had nightmares.

“Speaking of that case, didn't you find some body parts on your property in that case too? Are you turning into Montana's version of the body farm?”

“Very funny.” Leave it to Dave to know how to simultaneously calm me down and irritate me beyond belief. He treated me like a kid sister, which, in a sense, I was. His family took me in when I was fourteen.

“I will concede that I haven't reconstructed a skull from a homicide case for a while.” I smoothed my paint-stained denim shirt. “But in the past, they've always arrived cleaned. In a neatly labeled evidence pouch. All the slithery things inside them boiled away.”

“You're getting mighty prissy about receiving evidence.”

“Ha. Do you have any missing-persons reports?” I took a
deep breath, then scratched my dog behind the ear. I stopped and looked at my hand. Fresh, cow-pie green. Great. I wiped the poo on the grass.

“One came in less than an hour ago from the Missoula Police Department. Possible abduction this morning of a fourteen-year-old girl, name of Mattie Banks.”

“If she was abducted this morning, she'd hardly be down to bone by evening . . . unless someone boiled her head . . .”

“You have a sick mind.”

“So you like to point out.”

“I'll check missing persons, also give a call to the state guys, see how fast they can get here. We're really shorthanded. I got two officers on sick leave, but I'll be over within the hour.”

I gazed at the vast Bitterroot wilderness stretching past my yard. Churning indigo clouds now blotted out the setting sun. April weather could change in a second in the mountains.

“On second thought, don't come over tonight. A storm's about to break.” I thought for a moment. “Unless you want to call in half the law enforcement in Montana, the National Guard, and every Explorer Scout in the West, I need to see if I can narrow down the possible perimeter for this homicide. Pyrs can retrieve road kill or tasty dead critters from about a five-mile radius. That gives us a lot of back country to search.”

“Then we'll get Winston to take us to her body.”

“Ha! Forget the ‘we.' If you show up, Winston will just want you to pet him. Let me see what I can do with the dog first.”

Winston wagged his tail.

“You've undoubtedly compromised everything to boot, Winston.”

A splash of rain struck my arm, and I glanced up. The wind
brushed through the pines, creating a sibilant murmur. “I'll get my noble hound to track tomorrow. I'll call you.”

I dropped the phone into my pocket. “Come on, Winston. I'm not leaving you alone with your prize. Heel.” We crossed the yard to the house. “Sit. Now, stay. I'm not handling that thing with my bare hands, even dung-covered.” I stepped into the kitchen, scrubbed up, grabbed a pair of latex gloves and a large paper grocery bag, then went outside. After placing the skull in the bag, I folded the top closed and carried it to my studio. Winston trailed behind.

I set the package on my drafting table. A host of nightmarish insects were in there. What if they got out? I rubbed my arms to make the little hairs lie down, then fastened a continuous line of staples across the top and applied two-inch tape over the staples.


I jumped and dropped the tape.

Aynslee, my fourteen-year-old daughter, stood at the door. “You got a phone call. Some attorney or something from Spokane. He said you're getting a subpoena on an old case.”

“Did he say what case?”

“Something about a priest. When's dinner?”

“Dinner? Is it that late?” I glanced at my watch. “Turn on the oven. We'll have pizza tonight. Special treat.”

“It's not special if we have it every night,” Aynslee muttered as she left the room.

“We didn't have it last night,” I called after her.

“Yes, we did. Pepperoni. And two nights ago we had sausage and extra cheese.”

You'd think the child would be grateful I wasn't cooking.
Tuna noodle casserole with potato-chip topping was the extent of my culinary skills. A blast of rain struck the windows, pelting it like tiny marbles, and a deep rumbling shook the glass. Winston raised his head from his bed in the corner.

“Don't worry, ole boy. It's just thunder.” I cupped my hands against the window to block out the room's light and watched the storm gather momentum, then turned and stared at the paper sack. “How long have you waited,” I whispered, “for someone to find you?”



Mattie Banks
stirred and moaned. Another cold drip fell on her cheek, crept to her chin, hovered for a moment, then slithered down her neck. She shivered, opened her eyes, and blinked.

Nothing changed the absolute blackness.

Her head thumped. That rodent, Ace, must have sold her some bad coke. Again.

The thumping increased. Not just her brain. The drumming of liquid . . . or was it rain hitting metal overhead?

She tried to move. Something held her arms—her hands—together behind her. She tugged. What? The answer smacked her like a judge's gavel.

That man.

Jerking harder, stabbing agony shot up her arms, the juvenile arthritis that twisted her fingers protested her movements. Her stupid copper bracelet didn't help the pain at all.
I'm fourteen and already have old-lady hands.

BOOK: The Bones Will Speak
3.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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