Authors: Tess Gerritsen
Jane looked down at the cartouche. “So Medea’s a murderer.”
Robinson nodded. “She’s also a survivor.”
Josephine Pulcillo stepped off the city bus and walked in a daze along busy Washington Street, oblivious to the traffic and the relentless thump of car stereos. At the corner she crossed the road, and even the sharp squeal of tires skidding to a stop a few feet away did not shake her as deeply as what she had seen that morning, in that autopsy suite.
Surely it was a coincidence. A startling one, but what else could it be? Most likely the cartouche wasn’t even an accurate translation. Trinket sellers in Cairo would tell you any tale in hopes of taking your dollars. Dangle enough money in front of them and they’d brazenly swear that Cleopatra herself had worn some worthless piece of junk. Perhaps the engraver had been asked to write Maddie or Melody or Mabel. It was far less likely that the hieroglyphs were meant to spell out
since it was a name rarely heard except in the context of Greek tragedy.
She flinched as a horn blared and turned to see a black pickup truck crawling along the street beside her. The window rolled down, and a young man called out: “Hey gorgeous, want a ride? There’s plenty of room on my lap!”
One rude gesture involving her middle finger was all it took to let him know what she thought of his offer. He gave a laugh and the truck roared off, spewing exhaust. Her eyes were still watering from the fumes as she climbed the stairs and stepped into her apartment building. Pausing by the lobby mailboxes, she dug through her purse for her mailbox key and suddenly gave a sigh.
She crossed to Apartment 1A and knocked.
The door swung open and a bug-eyed alien peered out. “You found your keys yet?” the alien asked.
“Mr. Goodwin? That is you, isn’t it?”
“What? Oh, sorry. These old eyes aren’t what they used to be. Need Robocop glasses just to see the darn screw heads.” The building superintendent pulled off his pair of magnifying goggles, and the bug-eyed alien transformed to an utterly ordinary man in his sixties, unruly tufts of gray hair standing up on his head like miniature horns. “So did that key ring ever turn up?”
“I’m sure I just misplaced it at work. I’ve managed to make copies of my car keys and apartment keys, but—”
“I know. You want the new mailbox key, right?”
“You said you’d have to change the lock.”
“I did it this morning. Come on in and I’ll give you the new key.”
Reluctantly, she followed him into his apartment. Once you stepped into Mr. Goodwin’s lair, it could be a good half hour before you escaped. Mr. Goodwrench was what the tenants called him, for reasons that were apparent as she walked into his living room—or what
to be a living room. Instead it was a tinkerer’s palace, every horizontal surface covered with old hair dryers and radios and electronic gizmos in various stages of being dismantled or reassembled.
Just a hobby of mine,
he’d once told her.
No need to throw anything away ever again. I can fix it for you!
You just had to be willing to wait a decade or more for him to get around to it.
“I hope you find that key ring of yours,” he said as he led her past dozens of repair projects gathering dust. “Makes me nervous, having loose apartment keys floating around out there. The world is full of creeps, you know. And did you hear what Mr. Lubin’s been saying?”
“No.” She didn’t want to hear what grumpy Mr. Lubin across the hall had to say.
“He’s seen a black car casing our building. It drives by real slow every afternoon, and there’s a man at the wheel.”
“Maybe he’s just looking for a parking place. That’s the reason I hardly drive my car anywhere. Besides the price of gas, I hate giving up my parking spot.”
“Mr. Lubin’s got a keen eye for these things. Did you know he used to work as a spy?”
She gave a laugh. “Do you really think that’s true?”
“Why wouldn’t it be? I mean, he wouldn’t lie about something like that.”
You have no idea what some people lie about.
Mr. Goodwin opened a drawer, setting off a noisy rattle, and pulled out a key. “Here you go. I’ll have to charge you forty-five bucks for changing the lock.”
“Can I just add it to my rent check?”
“Sure thing.” He grinned. “I trust you.”
I’m the last person you should be trusting.
She turned to leave.
“Oh, wait. I got your mail here again.” He crossed to the cluttered dining room table and gathered up a stack of mail and a package, all bundled together with a rubber band. “The mailman couldn’t fit this into your box, so I told him I’d give it to you.” He nodded at the package. “I see you ordered something else from L.L. Bean, eh? You must like that company.”
“Yes, I do. Thank you for holding my mail.”
“So do you buy clothes or camping gear from them?”
“And they fit you okay? Even through the mail?”
“They fit me fine.” With a tight smile, she turned to leave before he could start asking her where she bought her lingerie. “See you later.”
“Me, I’d just as soon try on clothes before I buy ’em,” he said.
“Never could get a decent fit through mail order.”
“I’ll give you the rent check tomorrow.”
“And you keep looking for those keys, okay? You’ve got to be careful these days, especially a pretty girl like you, living all alone. Not a good thing if your keys end up in the wrong hands.”
She bolted out of his apartment and started up the stairs.
“Hold on!” he called out. “There’s one more thing. I almost forgot to ask you. Do you know anyone named Josephine Sommer?”
She froze on the steps, her arms clamped around the bundle of mail, her back rigid as a board. Slowly she turned to look at him. “What did you say?”
“The mailman asked me if that might be you, but I told him no, your name was Pulcillo.”
“Why—why did he ask that question?”
“Because there’s a letter in there with your apartment number and the last name says Sommer, not Pulcillo. He figured it might be your maiden name or something. I told him you were single, as far as I knew. Still, it
your apartment number, and there aren’t too many Josephines around, so I figured it must be meant for you. That’s why I kept it in with the rest of your mail.”
She swallowed. “Thank you,” she murmured.
She didn’t respond. She just kept climbing the stairs, even though she knew he was watching her and waiting for an answer. Before he had the chance to lob another question, she ducked into her apartment and shut the door.
She was hugging the bundle of mail so tightly she could feel her heart slamming against it. She yanked off the rubber band and dumped the mail onto her coffee table. Envelopes and glossy catalogs spilled across the surface. Shoving aside the box from L.L. Bean, she sifted through the swirl of mail until she spotted an envelope with the name
written in an unfamiliar hand. It had a Boston postmark, but there was no return address.
Somebody in Boston knows this name. What else do they know about me?
For a long time she sat without opening the envelope, afraid to read its contents. Afraid that, once she opened it, her life would change. For this one last moment, she could still be Josephine Pulcillo, the quiet young woman who never spoke of her past. The underpaid archaeologist who was content to hide away in the Crispin Museum’s back room, fussing over bits of papyrus and scraps of linen.
I’ve been careful, she thought. So careful to keep my head down and my eyes on my work, yet somehow the past has caught up with me.
Taking a deep breath, she finally tore open the envelope. Tucked inside was a note with only six words written in block letters. Words that told her what she already knew.
THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS.
The docent at the Crispin Museum appeared ancient enough to be exhibited in a display case herself. The gray-haired little gnome was barely tall enough to peer over the counter of the reception desk as she announced: “I’m sorry, but we don’t open until exactly ten
. If you’d like to come back in seven minutes, I’ll sell you the tickets then.”
“We’re not here to tour the museum,” said Jane. “We’re with Boston PD. I’m Detective Rizzoli and this is Detective Frost. Mr. Crispin is expecting us.”
“I wasn’t informed.”
“Is he here?”
“Yes. He and Miss Duke are in a meeting upstairs,” the woman said, clearly enunciating the title
as though to emphasize that in this building, old-fashioned rules of etiquette still applied. She came around from behind the counter, revealing a plaid kilt-skirt and enormous orthopedic shoes. Pinned to her white cotton blouse was a name tag:
MRS. WILLEBRANDT, DOCENT.
“I’ll take you to his office. But first I need to lock up the cash box. We’re expecting a large crowd again today, and I don’t want to leave it unattended.”
“Oh, we can find the way to his office,” said Frost. “If you’ll tell us where it is.”
“I don’t want you to get lost.”
Frost gave her his best charm-the-old-ladies smile. “I was a Boy Scout, ma’am. I promise, I won’t get lost.”
Mrs. Willebrandt refused to be charmed. She eyed him dubiously through steel-rimmed spectacles. “It’s on the third floor,” she finally said. “You can take the elevator, but it’s
slow.” She pointed to a black grille cage that looked more like an ancient death trap than an elevator.
“We’ll take the stairs,” said Jane.
“They’re straight ahead, through the main gallery.”
however, was not a direction that one could navigate in this building. When Jane and Frost stepped into the first-floor gallery, they confronted a maze of display cases. The first case that greeted them contained a life-sized wax figure of a nineteenth-century gentleman garbed in a fine woolen suit and waistcoat. In one hand he held a compass; in the other, he clutched a yellowed map. Though he faced them through the glass, his eyes looked elsewhere, focused on some lofty and distant destination that only he could see.
Frost leaned forward and read the plaque at the gentleman’s feet. “‘Dr. Cornelius M. Crispin, Explorer and Scientist, 1830 through 1912. The treasures he brought home from around the world were the beginnings of the Crispin Museum Collection.’” He straightened. “Wow. Imagine listing that as your occupation.
would be more accurate.” Jane moved on to the next case, where gold coins glittered under display lights. “Hey, look. This says these are from the kingdom of Croesus.”
was a rich guy.”
“You mean Croesus was for real? I thought he was just some fairy tale.”
They continued to the next case, which was filled with pottery and clay figurines. “Cool,” said Frost. “These are Sumerian. You know, this is really old stuff. When Alice gets home, I’m going to bring her here. She’d love this museum. Funny how I never even heard of it before.”
“Everyone’s heard of it now. Nothing like a murder to put your place on the map.”
They wandered deeper into the maze of cases, past marble busts of Greeks and Romans, past rusted swords and glinting jewelry, their footsteps creaking on old wood floors. So many cases were crammed into the gallery that the passages between them were narrow alleys, and every turn brought a fresh surprise, another treasure that demanded their attention.
They emerged at last into an open area near the stairwell. Frost started up the steps to the second floor, but Jane did not follow him. Instead, she was drawn toward a narrow doorway, framed in faux stone.
“Rizzoli?” said Frost, glancing back.
“Hold on a minute,” she said, gazing up at the seductive invitation that beckoned from the doorway lintel:
COME. STEP INTO THE LAND OF THE PHARAOHS.
She could not resist.
Moving through the doorway, she found the space beyond so dimly lit that she had to pause as her eyes adjusted to the shadows. Slowly a room filled with wonders revealed itself.
“Wow,” whispered Frost, who had followed.
They stood in an Egyptian burial chamber, its walls covered with hieroglyphs and funerary paintings. Displayed in the room were tomb artifacts, illuminated softly by discreetly placed spotlights. She saw a sarcophagus, gaping open as though awaiting its eternal occupant. A carved jackal head leered from atop a stone canopic jar. On the wall hung funerary masks, dark eyes staring eerily from painted faces. Beneath glass, a papyrus scroll lay open to a passage from the Book of the Dead.
Against the far wall was a vacant glass case. It was the size of a coffin.
Peering into it, she saw a photograph of a mummy resting inside a crate, and an index card with the handwritten notice:
FUTURE RESTING PLACE OF MADAM X. WATCH FOR HER ARRIVAL!
Madam X would never make an appearance here, yet already she’d served her purpose, and crowds were now turning up at the museum. She’d drawn in the curious, the hordes seeking morbid thrills eager for a glimpse of death. But one thrill seeker had taken it a step further. He had been twisted enough to actually
a mummy, to gut a woman, to salt and pack her cavities with spices. To wrap her in linen, binding her naked limbs and torso strip by strip, like a spider spinning silken threads around its helpless prey. Jane stared at that empty case and considered the prospect of eternity inside that glass coffin. Suddenly the room seemed close and airless, and her chest felt as constricted as if she were the one bound head-to-toe, strips of linen strangling her, suffocating her. She fumbled at the top button of her blouse to loosen her collar.
Startled, Jane turned to see a woman silhouetted in the narrow doorway. She was dressed in a formfitting pantsuit that flattered her slender frame, and her short blond hair gleamed in a backlit halo.
“Mrs. Willebrandt told us you’d arrived. We’ve been waiting upstairs for you. I thought you might have gotten lost.”
“This museum is really interesting,” said Frost. “We couldn’t help taking a look around.”
As Jane and Frost stepped out of the tomb exhibit, the woman offered a brisk and businesslike handshake. In the brighter light of the main gallery, Jane saw that she was a handsome blonde in her forties—about a century younger than the docent they’d encountered at the front desk. “I’m Debbie Duke, one of the volunteers here.”
“Detective Rizzoli,” said Jane. “And Detective Frost.”
“Simon’s waiting in his office, if you’d like to follow me.” Debbie turned and led the way up the stairs, her stylish pumps clicking against the well-worn wooden steps. On the second-floor landing, Jane was once again distracted by an eye-catching exhibit: A stuffed and mounted grizzly bear had its claws bared as though about to slash anyone coming up the stairs.
“Did one of Mr. Crispin’s ancestors shoot this thing?” asked Jane.
“Oh.” Debbie glanced back with a look of distaste. “That’s Big Ben. I’ll have to check, but I think Simon’s father brought that thing home from Alaska. I’m just learning about the collection myself.”
“You’re new here?”
“Since April. We’re trying to recruit new volunteers, if you know anyone who’d like to join us. We’re especially looking for younger volunteers, to work with the children.”
Jane still couldn’t take her eyes off those lethal-looking bear claws. “I thought this was an archaeology museum,” she said. “How does this bear fit in?”
“Actually, it’s an
museum, and that’s what makes it so hard to market ourselves. Most of this was collected by five generations of Crispins, but we also have a number of donated items. On the second floor, we display a lot of animals with fangs and claws. It’s strange, but that’s where the kids always seem to end up. They like to stare at carnivores. Bunnies bore them.”
“Bunnies can’t kill you,” said Jane.
“Maybe that’s what it is. We all like to be scared, don’t we?” Debbie turned and continued up the stairs.
“What’s up on the third floor?” Frost asked.
“More display space. I’ll show you. We use it for our rotating exhibits.”
“So you bring in new stuff?”
“Oh, we don’t have to bring in anything. There’s so much stored down in the basement that we could probably change that exhibit every month for the next twenty years and never repeat ourselves.”
“So what have you got up there now?”
“You mean human?”
Debbie gave him a quietly amused look. “Of course. How else do we catch the attention of a hopelessly jaded public? We could show them the most exquisite Ming vase, or a carved ivory screen from Persia, and they’d turn their backs and go straight for the human remains.”
“And where do these bones come from?”
are well documented. They were brought back from Turkey a century ago by one of the Crispins. I can’t remember which one, probably Cornelius. Dr. Robinson thought it was time to get them out of storage and back in the public eye. This exhibit’s all about ancient burial practices.”
“You sound like an archaeologist yourself.”
“Me?” Debbie laughed. “I’ve just got a lot of time on my hands, and I love beautiful things. So I think museums are worth supporting. Did you see the exhibit downstairs? Aside from the mounted carnivores, we have treasures that deserve to be seen. That’s what the museum should focus on, not stuffed bears, but you have to give the public what it wants. That’s why we had such high hopes for Madam X. She would have brought in enough cash to keep our heat turned on, at least.”
They reached the third floor and walked into the Ancient Cemeteries exhibit. Jane saw glass cases containing human bones arranged on sand, as though just uncovered by the archaeologist’s trowel. While Debbie walked briskly past them, Jane found herself falling behind, staring at skeletons curled into fetal positions, at a dead mother’s bony limbs lovingly embracing the fragmented remains of a child. The child could not have been much older than her own daughter, Regina. A whole village of the dead lies here, thought Jane. What sort of man would so brutally rip these people from their resting places and ship them to be ogled in a foreign land? Did Simon Crispin’s ancestor feel any inkling of guilt as he’d wrenched these bones from their graves? Old coins or marble statues or human bones—all were treated the same by the Crispin family. They were items to be collected and displayed like trophies.
“Detective?” said Debbie.
Leaving behind the silent dead, Jane and Frost followed Debbie into Simon Crispin’s office.
The man who sat waiting for them looked far frailer than she’d expected. His hair had thinned to white wisps, and brown age spots blotted his hands and scalp. But his piercing blue eyes were agleam with keen interest as he shook hands with his two visitors.
“Thank you for seeing us, Mr. Crispin,” said Jane.
“I wish I could have attended the autopsy myself,” he said.
“But my hip hasn’t quite healed from surgery, and I’m still hobbling around with a cane. Please, sit down.”
Jane glanced around at the room, which was furnished with a massive oak desk and armchairs upholstered in frayed green velvet. With its dark wood paneling and Palladian windows, the room looked like it belonged in a genteel club from an earlier century, a place where gentlemen sipped sherry. But like the rest of the building, the room showed its age. The Persian carpet was worn almost threadbare, and the yellowing volumes in the barrister’s bookcase appeared to be at least a hundred years old.
Jane sat in one of the velvet chairs, feeling dwarfed by the throne-sized furniture, like a child playing queen for a day. Frost, too, settled into one of the massive chairs, but instead of looking kingly, he looked vaguely constipated on his velvet throne.
“We’ll do all we can to help you with this investigation,” said Simon. “Dr. Robinson’s the one in charge of daily operations. I’m afraid I’m rather useless since I broke my hip.”
“How did it happen?” asked Jane.
“I fell into an excavation pit in Turkey.” He saw Jane’s raised eyebrow and smiled. “Yes, even at the ripe old age of eighty-two, I was working in the field. I’ve never been merely an armchair archaeologist. I believe one has to get one’s hands dirty or you’re nothing but a
” The note of contempt he used for that last word left no doubt what he thought of such dabblers.
Debbie said, “You’ll be back in the field before you know it, Simon. At your age, it just takes time to heal.”
time. I left Turkey seven months ago, and I’m worried the excavation’s turned into a mess.” He gave a sigh. “But it couldn’t be as big a mess as we’re dealing with here.”
“I assume Dr. Robinson told you what we found in the autopsy yesterday,” said Jane.
“Yes. And to say that we’re shocked is an understatement. This is not the kind of attention any museum wants.”
“I doubt it’s the kind of attention Madam X wanted, either.”
“I wasn’t even aware we
a mummy in our collection until Nicholas discovered her during his inventory.”
“He said that was back in January.”
“Yes. Soon after I had my hip operation.”
“How does a museum lose track of something as valuable as a mummy?”
He gave a sheepish smile. “Visit any museum with a large collection, and chances are you’ll find basements as disorganized as ours. We’re a hundred and thirty years old. In that time, over a dozen curators and hundreds of interns, docents, and other volunteers have worked under this roof. Field notes get lost, records go missing, and items get misplaced. So it’s not surprising we’ve lost track of what we own.” He sighed. “I’m afraid I must assume the largest burden of blame.”
“For too long, I left the operational details entirely in the hands of Dr. William Scott-Kerr, our former curator. I was abroad so much, I didn’t know what was happening here at home. But Mrs. Willebrandt saw his deterioration. How he began to misplace papers or affix the wrong labels to displays. Eventually he became so forgetful, he couldn’t identify even common implements. The tragedy is, this man was once brilliant, a former field archaeologist who’d worked all over the world. Mrs. Willebrandt wrote me about her concerns, and when I got home, I could see we had a serious problem. I didn’t have the heart to immediately dismiss him, and as it turned out, I didn’t have to. He was struck by a car and killed, right outside this building. Only seventy-four years old, but it was probably a blessing, considering the grim prognosis had he lived.”