Authors: Tess Gerritsen
And how will I know when I’ve reached it?
It was time to pay a call on the gadget man.
She went downstairs and knocked on the door to 1A. Mr. Goodwin appeared, his magnifying goggles perched on top of his head like a second pair of eyes.
“I wonder if I could ask you a favor?” she said.
“I’m right in the middle of something. Will it be quick?”
She glanced past him, into the room cluttered with small appliances and electronics waiting to be repaired. “I’m thinking of buying a GPS for my car. You have one, don’t you? Is it easy to figure out?”
Instantly his face lit up. Ask him about a gadget, any gadget, and you could make him a happy man. “Oh my, yes! I don’t know what I’d do without mine. I have three of them. I took one to Frankfurt last year, when I visited my daughter, and just like that I knew the streets like a native. Didn’t have to ask for directions, just plugged in the address and off I went. You should’ve seen the looks of envy I got. There were guys stopping me on the street just so they could get a closer look at it.”
“Is it complicated?”
“You want me to show you? Come in, come in!” He led her into the living room, having forgotten whatever task had been occupying him earlier. From a drawer, he pulled out a sleek little device scarcely larger than a pack of cards. “Here, I’ll turn it on and you can give it a spin. You won’t need my help at all. It’s all intuitive, you see, just a matter of navigating through the menu. If you know the address, it’ll take you right to the door. You can search for restaurants, hotels. You can even make it speak to you in French.”
“I like to hike. What if I’m in the woods and I break my leg? How do I know where I am?”
“You mean if you want to call for help? That’s easy. You just dial nine one one on your phone and tell them your coordinates.” He snatched the device from her and tapped the screen a few times. “See? This is our location. Latitude and longitude. If I were a hiker, I wouldn’t go into the wilds without it. It’s as essential as a first-aid kit.”
“Wow.” She gave him an appropriately impressed smile. “I just don’t know if I’m ready to shell out the money for one of these things.”
“Why don’t you borrow it for a day? Play with it. You’ll see how easy it is.”
“Are you sure? That would be great.”
“Like I said, I have two others. Let me know how you like it.”
“I’ll take good care of it, I promise.”
“You want me to come with you? Give you some operating tips?”
“No, I’ll figure it out.” She gave him a wave and stepped out of his apartment. “I’m just going to take it on a little hike tomorrow.”
Josephine pulled into the trailhead parking area and turned off the engine. She sat for a moment, studying the entrance to the trail, which was merely a narrow passage carved into the gloom of thick forest. According to Google Earth, this was the closest point she could reach by car to the coordinates written on the map. It was time to get out and walk.
Though the heaviest of the rain had ended last night, gray clouds still hung low in the sky this morning, and the air itself seemed to drip with lingering moisture. She stood at the edge of the woods, staring at a narrow footpath that faded from view into deep shadows. She felt a chill, like a breath of frost on her neck. Suddenly she wanted to climb back into her car and lock the doors. To drive home and forget she’d ever received that map. Apprehensive as she was about venturing into the woods, though, she was even more fearful of the consequences should she ignore the note. Whoever had sent it could turn out to be her best friend.
Or her worst enemy.
She glanced up at the cold kiss of water dripping from the tree branches overhead. Pulling up the hood of her jacket, she started down the trail.
The dirt path was studded with brightly colored toadstools, their caps glistening with rainwater. The fungi were no doubt poisonous; the pretty ones usually were. As the saying went:
There are bold mushroom hunters and old mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters.
The coordinates on the handheld GPS began to change, the numbers readjusting as she hiked deeper into the woods. The device would not be able to give her pinpoint accuracy. The best she could hope for was to be led to within a few dozen yards of what she was supposed to find. If the item she sought was small, how would she locate it among these dense trees?
Thunder crackled in the distance; another storm was coming. Nothing to worry about yet, she thought. If the lightning got closer, she’d stay away from the tallest tree and crouch down in a ditch. That was the theory, anyway. The drip of rain from the leaves became steady, drops clattering onto her jacket. The nylon hood trapped noise, magnifying the sound of her own breathing, her own heartbeat. In tiny fractions of degrees, the GPS coordinates inched slowly toward her goal.
Though it was midmorning, the woods seemed to be falling swiftly darker. Or maybe it was just the thickening rain clouds, threatening to turn this slow and steady drip into a torrent. She quickened her pace, moving at a brisk walk now, her boots splashing through mud and wet leaves. Suddenly she halted, frowning at the GPS.
She’d overshot. She needed to go back.
Retracing her steps, she returned to a bend in the path and stared into the trees. The GPS was telling her to leave the trail. Beyond the tangle of branches, the trees seemed to open up, revealing a tantalizing peek of a clearing.
She clambered off the footway and toward the clearing, twigs snapping beneath her boots, her progress as loud and clumsy as an elephant’s. Branches hit her face in wet slaps. She climbed onto a fallen log and was about to drop down on the other side when her gaze froze on the soil, and on the large shoe print stamped into the earth. Rain had worried away the edges, melted the tread marks. Someone else had climbed over this log. Someone else had scrambled through this underbrush. But he had been moving in the other direction, toward the trail, not away from it. The print did not look fresh. Nevertheless, she paused to scan her surroundings. She saw only drooping branches and tree trunks scabby with lichen. Who in his right mind would hang out here all night and all day in the woods, waiting to ambush a woman who might not ever come? A woman who might not even recognize that those numbers on the map were coordinates?
Reassured by her own logic, she hopped off the log and kept walking, her gaze back on the GPS, watching the numbers slowly shift. Closer, she thought. Almost there.
The trees suddenly thinned and she stumbled out of the woods, into a meadow. For a moment she stood blinking at the broad expanse of tall grass and wildflowers, blossoms drooping with moisture. Where now? According to the GPS, this was the spot where she was meant to come, but she saw no markers, no outstanding features of any kind. Just this meadow and, at its center, a lone apple tree, its branches gnarled with age.
She walked into the clearing, her jeans swishing through wet grass, the dampness seeping through her pant legs. Except for the drip, drip of rain, the day was eerily still, with only the distant bark of a dog. She walked to the center of the meadow and slowly turned, taking in the periphery of trees, but saw no movement, not even the flutter of a bird.
What do you want me to find?
A crack of thunder split the air, and she glanced up at the blackening sky. Time to get out of this clearing. It was the height of foolhardiness to stand beside a lone tree during a lightning storm.
Only at that instant did she focus on the apple tree itself. On the object that hung on a nail that had been pounded into the trunk. It was above her eye level, partly hidden by a branch, and she had missed seeing it until now. She stared up at what dangled from the nail.
My missing keys.
She pulled them off the nail and whirled around, frantically searching the meadow for whoever might have left them hanging on the tree. Thunder cracked. Like the shot of a starter pistol, it sent her running. But it wasn’t the storm that made her flee headlong into the trees, that made her tear through the underbrush and back toward the trail, heedless of the branches whipping her face. It was the image of her own keys on that tree trunk, keys that she was now clutching tightly, even though they felt alien. Contaminated.
She was gasping for breath by the time she stumbled from the trailhead. Her car was no longer the only vehicle sitting in the lot; a Volvo was now parked nearby. Her hands cold and numb, she fumbled to open the door. Scrambling in behind the wheel, she clicked the locks shut.
For a moment, she sat breathing hard, the windshield fogging up from her breath. She stared down at the keys she’d just plucked from the lone apple tree. They looked exactly the same as always, five keys dangling from a ring made in the shape of an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol for life. There were the two keys to her apartment, the keys for her car, and the key to her mailbox. Someone had had them for over a week. While I slept, she thought, someone could have walked into my apartment. Or stolen my mail. Or rifled through…
With a gasp of panic, she jerked around, expecting to see a monster waiting to pounce from the backseat. But all she saw were stray museum files and an empty water bottle. No monsters, no ax murderer. She sank back against her seat, and the laugh that escaped her throat had the faint note of hysteria.
Someone is trying to drive me insane. Just like they drove my mother insane.
She inserted the key in the ignition and was about to start the engine when her gaze fixed on the trunk key, clattering against the others. All last night, she thought, my car was parked on the street near my apartment building. Exposed and unguarded.
She looked out at the parking area. Through the steamed window, she saw the owners of the parked Volvo come up the road. It was a young couple with a boy and a girl of about ten. The boy was walking a black Labrador. Or rather, the Labrador seemed to be walking the boy, dragging him as the boy tried to hold on to the leash.
Reassured that she was not alone, Josephine took the keys and stepped out of the car. Raindrops pelted her bare head, but she scarcely noticed the wetness sliding down her neck and seeping into her shirt collar. She circled to the back of the car and stared at the trunk, trying to remember when she’d last opened it. It had been her weekly visit to the grocery store. She could still picture the bulging plastic bags sitting in the trunk, and remembered lifting them out and carrying them upstairs in a single trip. There should be nothing left behind in the trunk now.
The dog began to bark wildly, and the boy holding the leash yelled, “Sam, come
! What’s the matter with you?”
Josephine turned and saw the boy was trying to drag his dog toward the family Volvo, but the dog kept barking at Josephine.
“Sorry,” the boy’s mother called out. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him.” Now she took the leash, and the dog yelped as he was forced toward the Volvo.
Josephine unlocked her trunk. It lifted open.
When she saw what lay inside she stumbled backward, gasping. Rain tap-tapped in a steady tattoo down her cheeks, soaking her hair, trickling like the stroke of icy fingers. The dog broke loose and came tearing toward her, barking hysterically. She heard one of the children start to scream.
Their mother cried out, “Oh my God. Oh my
As the father dialed 911, Josephine staggered over to a tree and sank down in shock onto the rain-sodden moss.
Whatever the hour, whatever the weather, Maura Isles always managed to arrive looking elegant. Jane stood shivering in damp slacks, her hair dripping with rain, and she felt a twinge of envy as she saw the medical examiner step out of the black Lexus. Maura’s hair was sleek and perfect as a helmet, and she managed to make even a rain parka look fashionable. But then, she hadn’t spent the last hour as Jane had, standing in this parking lot, rain pelting her hair.
As Maura moved through the police line, cops respectfully stepped aside for her, as though making way for royalty. And like royalty, Maura moved with aloof purpose and headed straight toward the parked Honda where Jane was now waiting.
“Isn’t Milton a little out of your jurisdiction?” asked Maura.
“When you see what we’ve got, you’ll understand why they called us.”
“This is the car?”
Jane nodded. “It belongs to Josephine Pulcillo. She says that a week ago she lost track of her keys and assumed she’d just misplaced them. Now it looks like they might have been stolen, and whoever had them also had access to her car. Which explains how this thing got into the trunk.” Jane turned to the Honda. “Hope you’re ready for this. Because this one is definitely going to give me nightmares.”
“I’ve heard you say that before.”
“Yeah, well, this time I really mean it.” With gloved hands, Jane lifted the hood of the trunk, releasing what smelled like rotting leather. Jane had been subjected before to the odors of a decaying body, but this was different; it did not smell of putrefaction. It did not even smell human. Certainly, she’d never seen any human being look like what now lay curled in the trunk of that Honda.
For a moment, Maura could not seem to muster a sound. She stared in silence at a mass of tangled black hair, at a face darkened to the color of tar. Every skin fold, every fine line of the nude body was perfectly preserved, as though frozen in bronze. Just as preserved was the woman’s dying expression, her face twisted and her mouth agape in an eternal shriek.
“At first, I thought it couldn’t be real,” said Jane. “I thought it was a rubber Halloween gag that you’d hang up to scare the trick-or-treaters. Not flesh, but some kind of fake zombie. I mean, how could you turn a woman into something like
?” Jane paused and took a breath. “Then I saw her teeth.”
Maura stared into the gaping mouth and said softly: “She has a dental filling.”
Jane turned away and looked instead at a TV news van that had just pulled up beyond the police line. “So tell me how a woman gets to look that way, Doc,” she said. “Tell me how you transform a body into a Halloween monster.”
“I don’t know.”
That answer surprised Jane. She’d come to think of Maura Isles as the authority on every manner of death, no matter how obscure. “You can’t do something like this in a week, right?” asked Jane. “Maybe not even a month. It’s gotta take time to turn a woman into that thing.”
Or into a mummy.
Maura looked at her. “Where is Dr. Pulcillo? What does she say about this?”
Jane pointed toward the road, where the lineup of parked cars was steadily growing larger. “She’s down there, sitting in the car with Frost. She says she has no idea how the body got into her trunk. The last time she used her car was a few days ago, when she bought groceries. If this body were in the trunk more than a day or two, it would probably smell worse. She would have noticed it inside her car.”
“Her keys went missing a week ago?”
“She has no idea how she lost them. All she remembers is getting home from work one day, and they weren’t in her purse.”
“What was she doing up here?”
“She came out for a hike.”
“On a day like this?”
Heavier raindrops began to plop onto their parkas, and Maura closed the trunk, shutting off their view of the monstrous thing lying inside. “Something is not right about this.”
Jane laughed. “You think?”
“I’m talking about the weather.”
“Well, I’m not happy about the weather, either, but what can you do?”
“Josephine Pulcillo came up here all alone, on a day like today, to take a hike?”
Jane nodded. “That bothered me, too. I asked her about it.”
“What did she say?”
“She needed to get outdoors. And she likes to hike alone.”
“And apparently during thunderstorms.” Maura turned to look at the car where Josephine was now sitting. “She’s a very attractive girl, don’t you think?”
“Attractive? More like drop-dead gorgeous. I’m going to have to put Frost on a leash, the way he’s panting after her.”
Maura was still gazing toward Josephine, her frown deepening. “There’s been a great deal of publicity about Madam X. That big article in the
back in March. More news reports these past few weeks, with photos.”
“You mean photos of Josephine.”
Maura nodded. “Maybe she’s picked up an admirer.”
One particular admirer, thought Jane. Someone who’d known all along what was hidden in the museum basement. The publicity about Madam X would certainly have drawn his attention. He would have read every article, perused every photo. He would have seen Josephine’s face.
She looked down at the trunk, grateful that it was now closed and she did not have to see the wretched occupant, its body twisted as though in the throes of agony. “I think our collector has just sent us a message. He’s telling us he’s still alive. And hunting for new specimens.”
“He’s also telling us he’s right here in Boston.” Once again, Maura turned to look in Josephine’s direction. “You said she lost her keys. Which keys?”
“To her car. And her apartment.”
Maura’s chin lifted in dismay. “That’s not good.”
“Her locks are being changed as we speak. We’ve already spoken to her building manager, and we’ll see that she gets home safely.”
Maura’s cell phone rang, and she glanced at the number. “Excuse me,” she said, turning away to take the call. Jane noted the furtive dip of Maura’s head, the way her shoulders curled forward, as though to block anyone’s view of her conversation.
“What about Saturday night, can you make it then? It’s been so long…”
It was the whispers that gave her away. She was talking to Daniel Brophy, but Jane heard no joy in the murmured conversation, only disappointment.
What else but disappointment can you expect when you fall in love with an unattainable man?
Maura ended the conversation with a soft, “I’ll call you later.” She turned to face Jane but didn’t meet her gaze. Instead she focused her attention on the Honda. A dead body was a safer topic of conversation. Unlike a lover, a corpse would not break her heart or disappoint her or leave her lonely at night.
“I assume CSU will be examining the trunk?” Maura said, and she was all business now, once again snapping into the role of the coldly logical medical examiner.
“We’re impounding the vehicle. When will you do the autopsy?”
“I want to do some preliminary studies first. X-rays, tissue samples. I need to understand exactly what preservation process I’m dealing with before I start cutting her open.”
“So you won’t do the autopsy today?”
“It won’t be until after the weekend. By the looks of the body, she’s been dead a long time. A few extra days won’t change the postmortem results.” Maura glanced toward Josephine. “What about Dr. Pulcillo?”
“We’re still talking to her. After we get her home and into some dry clothes, maybe she’ll remember a few more details.”
Josephine Pulcillo is one odd duck, thought Jane as she and Frost stood in the young woman’s apartment, waiting for her to emerge from the bedroom. The living room was furnished in the décor of
starving college student.
The fabric of the sleeper sofa was ratty from the claws of some phantom cat, and the coffee table was stained with drink rings. There were textbooks and technical journals lining the bookshelves, but Jane saw no photographs, no personal mementos, nothing that gave any clues to the occupant’s personality. On the computer, screensaver images of Egyptian temples cycled in a continuous loop.
When Josephine at last reappeared, her damp hair was tamed into a ponytail. Though she wore fresh jeans and a cotton pullover, she still looked chilled, her face as rigid as a stone carving. A statue of an Egyptian queen, perhaps, or some mythical beauty; Frost openly stared, as though he were in the presence of a goddess. If his wife, Alice, were here, she’d probably give him a swift and badly needed kick in the shins.
Maybe I should do it on Alice’s behalf.
“Are you feeling better, Dr. Pulcillo?” he asked. “Do you need some more time before we talk about this?”
“Maybe a cup of coffee before we start?”
“I’ll make some for you.” Josephine turned toward the kitchen.
“No, I was thinking of
Whether you needed anything.”
“Frost,” snapped Jane, “she just said she’s ready to talk. So why don’t we all sit down and get started?”
“I just want to be sure she’s comfortable. That’s all.”
Frost and Jane settled onto the battered-looking couch. Through the cushion, Jane felt the bite of a broken spring. She slid away from it, leaving a wide gap between her and Frost. They sat at opposite ends of the couch, like an estranged couple at a counseling session.
Josephine sank onto a chair, and her face was as unreadable as onyx. She might be only twenty-six, but she was eerily self-contained, any emotions she might possess kept under tight lock and key. Something is not right here, thought Jane. Was she the only one who felt it? Frost seemed to have lost any sense of objectivity.
“Let’s talk about those keys again, Dr. Pulcillo,” Jane began.
“You said they went missing over a week ago?”
“When I got home last Wednesday, I couldn’t find my key ring in my purse. I thought I’d misplaced it at work, but I couldn’t find it there, either. You can ask Mr. Goodwin about it. He charged me forty-five dollars to replace the mailbox key.”
“And the missing key ring never turned up again?”
Josephine’s gaze dropped to her lap. What followed was only a few beats of silence, but it was enough to catch Jane’s attention. Why would such a straightforward question require so much thought?
“No,” said Josephine. “I never saw those keys again.”
Frost asked, “When you’re at work, where do you keep your purse?”
“In my desk.” Josephine visibly relaxed, as though this was a question she had no problem answering.
“Is your office locked?” He leaned forward, as though afraid to miss a single word she said.
“No. I’m in and out of my office all day, so I don’t bother to lock it.”
“I assume the museum has security tapes? Some record of who might have gone into your office?”
“What does that mean?”
“Our security camera system went on the blink three weeks ago and it hasn’t been repaired yet.” She shrugged. “It’s a budget issue. Money’s always short, and we thought that just having the cameras in public view would be enough to deter any thieves.”
“So any visitor to the museum could have wandered upstairs to your office and taken the keys.”
“And after all the publicity about Madam X, we’ve had droves of visitors. The public’s finally discovered the Crispin Museum.”
Jane said, “Why would a thief take just your key ring and leave your purse? Was anything else missing from your office?”
“No. At least, I haven’t noticed. That’s why I didn’t worry about it. I just assumed I’d dropped the keys somewhere. I never imagined someone would use them to get into my car. To put that…thing in my trunk.”
“Your apartment building doesn’t have a parking lot,” observed Frost.
Josephine shook her head. “It’s every man for himself. I park on the street like all the other tenants. That’s why I don’t keep anything valuable in my car, because they’re always getting broken into. But it’s usually to take things.” She gave a shudder. “Not put things
“How is security in this building?” asked Frost.
“We’ll get to that issue in a minute,” said Jane.
“Someone has her key ring. I think that’s the most pressing concern, the fact that he has access to her car and to her apartment. The fact that he seems to be focused on her.” He turned to the young woman. “Do you have any idea why?”
Josephine’s gaze skittered away. “No, I don’t.”
“Could it be someone you know? Someone you’ve recently met?”
“I’ve only been in Boston for five months.”
“Where were you before that?” Jane asked.
“Job hunting in California. I moved to Boston after the museum hired me.”
“Any enemies, Dr. Pulcillo? Any ex-boyfriends you don’t get along with?”
“Any archaeologist friends who’d know how to turn a woman into a mummy? Or a shrunken head?”
“That knowledge is available to a lot of people. You don’t have to be an archaeologist.”
“But your friends
Josephine shrugged. “I don’t have all that many friends.”
“As I told you, I’m new to Boston. I only got here in March.”
“So you can’t think of anyone who might have stalked you? Stolen your keys? Anyone who might try to terrify you by putting a body in your trunk?”
For the first time, Josephine’s composure slipped, revealing the frightened soul beneath the mask. She whispered: “No, I don’t! I don’t know who’s doing this. Or why he chose
Jane studied the young woman, begrudgingly admiring the flawless skin, the coal-dark eyes. What would it be like to be so beautiful? To walk into a room and feel every man’s gaze on you?
Including gazes that you don’t welcome?
“You understand, I hope, that you’re going to have to be a lot more careful from now on,” said Frost.
Josephine swallowed. “I know.”
“Is there somewhere else you can stay? Some place you’d like us to take you?” he asked.
“I think…I think I may leave town for a while.” Josephine straightened, as though heartened by having a plan of action. “My aunt lives in Vermont. I’ll stay with her.”