Read The Bone Thief: A Body Farm Novel-5 Online

Authors: Jefferson Bass

Tags: #Mystery, #Mystery And Suspense Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Espionage, #American Mystery & Suspense Fiction, #Forensic anthropologists, #General, #Radiation victims, #Crime laboratories, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Brockton; Bill (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Thriller

The Bone Thief: A Body Farm Novel-5

The Bone Thief

Jefferson Bass

To Jane Elizabeth McPherson and Carol Lee Bass,

our beloved wives and also our best friends

Contents

Chapter 1

THE WOMAN’S FACE BLURRED AND SMEARED AS I pivoted the…

Chapter 2

THE MAN’S FACE STARED BACK AT ME, HIS EXPRESSION hovering…

Chapter 3

THE BACKHOE LURCHED AND BUCKED AS ITS CLAW tore into…

Chapter 4

THE NEXT CAR THAT ENTERED THE CEMETERY’S GATES was the…

Chapter 5

THE DOT OF THE LASER POINTER DANCED ACROSS THE rib…

Chapter 6

THE NAKED AND DISMEMBERED CORPSE OF TREY Willoughby lay faceup…

Chapter 7

I GRITTED MY TEETH AS I PULLED INTO THE PARKING…

Chapter 8

I STARED AT THE SMALL DIGITAL RECORDER IN MY hand,…

Chapter 9

I DROPPED THE RECORDER AT DR. HOOVER’S OFFICE the next morning…

Chapter 10

THE GROUND-FLOOR DOOR OF THE STADIUM STAIRWELL banged shut, and…

Chapter 11

THE VOICE IN MY EAR SOUNDED FRIENDLY, BUT IT HIT…

Chapter 12

I STOPPED BY KPD THE NEXT MORNING TO SEE ART…

Chapter 13

“JESUS,” SAID MIRANDA, “SHE’S ON THE LAM AND SHE’S knocked…

Chapter 14

BURT DEVRIESS’S LAW OFFICE OCCUPIED SOME OF the swankiest real…

Chapter 15

I WAS JUST PULLING IN TO THE PARKING LOT FOR…

Chapter 16

MY SON ANSWERED ON THE THIRD RING. I HADN’T CALLED…

Chapter 17

“YOU DON’T LOOK SO HOT,” SAID MIRANDA WHEN I walked…

Chapter 18

CULPEPPER PAUSED BETWEEN BITES OF EGG SALAD. “So here’s another…

Chapter 19

“SEEMS LIKE WE’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE!” SHOUTED Miranda over the…

Chapter 20

AMONG THE VIEWING AUDIENCE FOR WBIR’S GRAVE-ROBBING robbing story
was…

Chapter 21

THE STEAM-JACKETED KETTLE HAD DONE ITS WORK well: Thirty-six hours…

Chapter 22

I AWOKE TO THE THUNK OF THE 737’S LANDING GEAR…

Chapter 23

“SHERWOOD FOREST CAFÉ OR SIR GALAHAD’S PUB?” Sinclair offered the…

Chapter 24

GLEN FAUST’S TALK WAS TITLED “SYNTHETIC TISSUE,” a phrase bound…

Chapter 25

RAY HAD BEEN RIGHT. AS SOON AS I TOLD THE…

Chapter 26

“SO HOW WAS YOUR VEGAS TRIP?” MIRANDA’S TONE was casual.

Chapter 27

TWO HOURS LATER THE STAIRWELL DOOR OUTSIDE MY office banged…

Chapter 28

THE MARKER AT THE HEAD OF THE GRAVE WAS A…

Chapter 29

BY THE NEXT AFTERNOON, THE MEDIA CALLS HAD driven me…

Chapter 30

THE GLEAMING WHITE TRACTOR-TRAILER INCHED along the edge of the…

Chapter 31

FOR A BIRD OR A PLANE OR SUPERMAN, ASHEVILLE was…

Chapter 32

I’D BUILT AN HOUR OF CUSHION INTO MY SCHEDULE, in…

Chapter 33

I WAS STILL WAY BEHIND ON MY SLEEP AND WAY…

Chapter 34

IT WAS A PLAIN #10 ENVELOPE, ADDRESSED TO ME BY…

Chapter 35

A DAY AFTER EDDIE GARCIA’S SURPRISE DEPARTURE for Atlanta in…

Chapter 36

I WINCED WHEN I LOOKED AT MY CELL PHONE’S DISPLAY…

Chapter 37

AFTER TALKING WITH SINCLAIR AND RANKIN, I FELT the need…

Chapter 38

PEGGY GAVE ME A SIDELONG, INQUISITIVE LOOK AS SHE handed…

Chapter 39

“AND YOU’RE SURE IT WAS IN THE DRAWER?”

Chapter 40

I WAS STILL ELATED BY LAURA TELFORD’S OFFER AND Eddie’s…

Chapter 41

CROSSING THE TENNESSEE RIVER ON ALCOA HIGHWAY, I stayed in…

Chapter 42

“AND YOU THINK SOMEONE TOOK A SHOT AT YOU?” The…

Chapter 43

ROOSTER RANKIN WAS ASLEEP WHEN I PHONED HIM—it was not…

Chapter 44

I DID LET FAUST DIE, THOUGH NOT ON PURPOSE. BY…

Chapter 45

THE WIND GUSTED AND SHIFTED, FLINGING RAINDROPS against the curved…

Epilogue

I AWOKE TO FIND A STRANGE HAND ON MY SHOULDER,…

Author’s Note:
Fact and Fiction

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Other Books by Jefferson Bass

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

CHAPTER 1

THE WOMAN’S FACE BLURRED AND SMEARED AS I
pivoted the camera on the tripod. Then her familiar, photogenic features—features I’d seen a thousand times on my television screen—whirred into autofocused perfection: wavy honey-blond hair, indigo eyes, a model’s cheekbones, polar-white teeth outlined by Angelina Jolie lips. Knoxville news anchor Maureen Gershwin was forty-two—middle-aged, technically speaking—but she was a low-mileage, high-dollar version of forty-two. She was beautiful and vibrant and healthy-looking, except for one minor detail: Maureen Gershwin was dead.

“Pardon my cynicism,” said Miranda, “but I can’t help noticing that out of dozens of corpses to choose from, you’ve picked one worthy of Victoria’s Secret for your little photo shoot.”

Miranda Lovelady was both my graduate assistant and my self-appointed social conscience. A smart, seasoned Ph.D. candidate in forensic anthropology, Miranda was a young woman of liberal opinions, liberally dispensed. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but five years of collegiality and camaraderie tempered our occasional personal differences. One of Miranda’s duties was running the Anthropology Department’s osteology laboratory, the bone lab tucked deep beneath the grandstands of the University of Tennessee’s football stadium. Miranda also helped coordinate the body-donation program at the Anthropology Research Facility—“the Body Farm,” UT’s three-acre plot devoted to the study of human decomposition. By studying bodies as they decayed in various settings and conditions, we’d gained tremendous insights into postmortem changes—insights that allowed forensic scientists all over the world to give police more accurate time-since-death estimates in cases where days or weeks or even years elapsed between the time someone was killed and the time the body was discovered. Despite the rural-sounding name, the Body Farm was beginning to resemble a city of the dead, at least in population density. The number of bodies donated to our research program had grown steadily—from a handful a year in our early years to well over a hundred a year now. Scientifically, the population boom was a bonanza, but it was also an embarrassment of riches: The facility was rapidly running out of elbow room—and rib-cage room, and skull room; lately Miranda had taken to mapping the location of each body with GPS coordinates with just a few keystrokes, she could print out an up-to-the-minute map of our postmortem subdivision. The technology helped us keep track of where we’d already put people, and it also helped us pinpoint patches of unclaimed ground on which to house new residents. Unfortunately, the patches of unclaimed ground were becoming scarce and small. We’d tucked Maureen Gershwin—known to television viewers throughout East Tennessee as Maurie, or sometimes by her nickname, “The Face”—in the most distant corner of the fenced-in area, to minimize the gawking. Gershwin had risen through the television ranks, from weathergirl to reporter to anchorwoman, and recently she’d added occasional commentaries she called “Maurie’s Minutes,” which took a more personal, reflective tone. Those had made her more popular than ever, so I wanted to give her some measure of privacy at the Body Farm, even though I was photographically invading that privacy. The facility was off-limits to the general public, of course, but a surprising number of living, breathing people passed through its gates: anthropology grad students, the UT police force, the instructors and students of the National Forensic Academy, FBI trainees, even the occasional strong-stomached VIP visitor from the university’s board of trustees. Like all our donated corpses, Maurie Gershwin was identified not by name but by a number—her metal armband and legband identified her only as “21-09,” the twenty-first donated body of the year 2009—but she was so well known to Knoxville television viewers that there was no hope of keeping her anonymous, at least not until the bacteria and bugs had rendered her famous face unrecognizable.

As I tinkered with the camera’s zoom control, Miranda took the opportunity to chide me further. “The T-shirt and sweat-pants she’s wearing—you sure you don’t want to swap those out for something flashier? Maybe a little black dress that shows some thigh and some cleavage?”

“Come on, Miranda,” I snapped, “you saw the letter she sent with her donor form. Sheasked to have her decomposition documented. Why is that worse than honoring other donor requests, like being put in the shade of a maple tree?” She frowned, unwilling to concede. “Besides, I’m only photographing her face, not the rest of her.”

“But you can see my point,” she persisted, “can’t you? Don’t you think it’s a tad creepy that you’re aiming this camera at this particular corpse, the most beautiful corpse in the history of the Body Farm?

Crap, Dr. B., she looks better dead than I do alive.”

I glanced from the newswoman’s face to Miranda’s: peaches-and-cream skin and green eyes, framed by a cascade of chestnut hair. I actually preferred Miranda’s looks, but I knew she wouldn’t believe me if I told her so. “Not for long,” I said. “Day by day—hell, hour by hour—she’ll get a lot less gorgeous. We’ll end up with one glamour shot and hundreds of pictures where she goes from bad to worse and from worse to worser.”

“I don’t understand why she asked for this.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said. “Iunderstand, and, more to the point,she understood. She talked to me about it a year or so ago, back when she produced that three-part series about the Body Farm for Channel 10. You remember the end of the series, when she added a ‘Maurie’s Minute’ about the importance of body donations? I thought that was a great touch, signing the consent form at the very end of the newscast.”

“I hated it,” Miranda said. “She was playing to the camera. Or maybe just to Dr. Bill Brockton.”

I stepped away from my own camera and caught Miranda’s eye. “Excuse me,” I said, pointing to the corpse, “but I refute you thus. Looks to me like she said what she meant and meant what she said. Remember what the letter said? ‘I wish I could watch what happens to me’? Her coanchor, Randall Gibbons, said she’d told him she wouldn’t mind being the subject of a science documentary. Postmortem participatory journalism, I guess—one last story, filed from beyond the grave.”

“Swell. Film at eleven, smell at twelve,” Miranda joked mirthlessly. “Deathstyles of the Rich and Famous. We do bow before beauty, don’t we?”

I snapped a picture, then checked the display on the back of the camera. The framing was slightly off and the screen was washed out by the daylight, but I had to agree that Miranda had a point: Even dead, Maurie Gershwin was a beauty, at least for a few more hours. “Her looks did have a lot to do with her success,” I conceded, “but I don’t think they defined her, at least not to herself. In fact, I think she had a healthy sense of irony about the fleeting nature of physical beauty.”

“Yeah, well. Too bad her cardiovascular system wasn’t as strong as her sense of irony,” said Miranda.

“Stroking out at forty-two, and right there on camera no less.”

“Aneurysm,” I said. “Not stroke.” Gershwin had died of an aortic aneurysm that ruptured catastrophically—and in the middle of a newscast. In hindsight, a diagnostic clue had gone undetected.

“Did you see the news any of the last few nights before she died?”

Miranda nodded.

“Did you notice that her voice was a little hoarse?”

She looked at me sharply, her eyebrows shooting up in a question.

“One of the laryngeal nerves—the recurrent vagus nerve, which controls the voice box—wraps around the aortic arch. A fast-growing aneurysm on the aorta can stretch that nerve, causing hoarseness. Maurie thought she’d just strained her voice last week during a charity telethon—that’s what she said on the air two nights ago, right before she died—when in fact her body was trying to warn her.”

Miranda shook her head. “Sad. Ironic. Here’s another irony for you: Her death made her a lot more famous than all those years of reporting the news. Somebody posted an Internet video of that clip from the newscast where she collapses in midsentence. They called it ‘Film at Eleven: Hot News Babe Dies on Camera.’ As of this morning, thirty million people had watched her die.”

“Thirteen million people have seen that footage?”

“Thirtymillion.”

The figure stunned me. “That’s probably twenty-nine and a half million more than ever watched her live.”

“Web fame’s an odd, viral thing.” She shrugged. “You remember Susan Boyle?”

I shook my head.

“Sure you do; you just don’t realize you do. That dumpy, middle-aged Brit who belted out a song on the limey version ofAmerican Idol ?”

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