I T WAS PAST EIGHT WHEN MY FIRST VISITOR ARRIVED.
After leaving Mrs. Veckhoff, I'd bought a rotisserie chicken at the Roasting Company, then collected Birdie from my neighbor. The three of us had shared the fowl, Bird's tail fluffing like a feather duster each time Boyd moved in his direction. I was scraping plates at the sink when I heard the knock.
Pete stood on the back stoop, a bouquet of daisies in one hand. As I opened the door, he bowed at the waist and proffered the flowers.
“On behalf of my canine associate.”
“Not necessary, but appreciated.” I held open the door, and he went past me into the kitchen.
Boyd bounded over at the sound of Pete's voice, dropped snout onto front paws, rump in the air, then began cavorting around the kitchen. Pete clapped and called his name. Boyd went berserk, barking and racing in circles. Birdie bolted.
“Stop. He'll scratch the floor.”
Pete took a chair at the table and Boyd moved beside him.
Boyd stared at Pete, eyebrows dancing. Pete tapped the dog's rump, and Boyd sat, chin upon his master's knee. Pete began a two-handed ear scratch.
“Got any beer?”
“Right. How'd you two get along?”
I opened and placed a Hire's in front of him.
“When did you get back?” Pete lowered and tipped the bottle so Boyd could drink.
“Today. How did things go in Indiana?”
“The local arson investigators were about as sophisticated as the Bobbsey twins. But the real problem was the liability insurance adjuster representing the roofer. His client was working on a roof patch with an acetylene torch in the exact area where the fire started.”
He wiped the mouth of the bottle with his hand and drank.
“This asshole knew the cause and origin. We knew the cause and origin. He knew we knew it. We knew he knew we knew, but his official position was that they needed additional investigation.”
“Will it go to court?”
“Depends on what they offer.” He lowered the root beer again, and Boyd slurped. “But it was good to have a break from chow breath, here.”
“You love that dog.”
“Not as much as I love you.” He gave me his “Goofy Pete” grin.
“Any progress on your DMORT problems?”
Pete looked at his watch.
“I want to hear all about it, but right now I'm bushed.”
He drained the bottle and stood. Boyd shot to his feet.
“I think I will mosey with my dog.”
I watched them leave, Boyd dancing around Pete's legs. When I turned, Birdie was peering in from the hall doorway, feet positioned for a quick retreat.
“Good riddance” is what I said. Miffed is what I felt. The damn dog hadn't looked back once.
Birdie and I were watching The Big Sleep when the second knock sounded. I was in a T-shirt, panties, and my old flannel robe. He was in my lap.
Ryan stood on the doorstep, face ashen in the porch light. I avoided repeating my usual opener. He'd tell me soon enough why he was in Charlotte.
“How did you know I'd be here?”
He ignored my question.
“Spending the evening by yourself?”
I tipped my head. “Bacall and Bogart are in the study.”
I opened the door, as I had for Pete, and he brushed past me into the kitchen. I smelled cigarette smoke and perspiration, and assumed he'd driven straight from Swain County.
“Will they mind if I make it a foursome?” Though his words were light, his face told me his heart was not.
He followed me to the den, and we settled at opposite ends of the couch. I clicked off the TV.
“Bertrand's been ID'ed.”
“Mostly dental. And some other”—his Adam's apple rose and fell—“fragments.”
He shook his head, a short, tight gesture.
“They were seated at ground zero, so Petricelli may be vapor. What they found of Bertrand was two valleys over from the main site.” His voice was tight and shaky. “Embedded in a tree.”
“Has Tyrell released the body?”
“This morning. I'm escorting it to Montreal on Sunday.”
I wanted to wrap my arms around his neck, to press my cheek to his chest and stroke his hair. I didn't move.
“The family wants a civil ceremony, so the SQ's organizing a funeral for Wednesday.”
I didn't hesitate.
“I'm going with you.”
“That's not necessary.” He kept opening and closing one hand around the other. His knuckles looked hard and white as a row of pebbles.
“Jean was my friend, too.”
“It's a long trip.”
His eyes glistened. He blinked, leaned back, and ran both hands up and down his face.
“Would you like me to go?”
“What about this pissing match with Tyrell?”
I told him about the tooth fragment, held back the rest.
“How long will the profiling take?”
“Four or five days. So there's no reason I have to stay here. Would you like me to go?”
He looked at me, and a wrinkle formed at the corner of his mouth.
“I have a feeling you will, anyway.”
Knowing he would spend the next two days arranging transport for Bertrand's casket and meeting with McMahon at FBI headquarters, Ryan had booked a room at the Adams Mark Hotel near uptown. Or perhaps he had other reasons. I didn't ask.
The next day I researched names on the H&F list, and learned only one thing. Once outside my own lab my investigative skills are limited.
Encouraged by my success in Bryson City, I spent a library morning with back issues of the Charlotte Observer. Though a mediocre public official, State Senator Pat Veckhoff had been a model citizen. Otherwise, I discovered zilch.
The Internet produced a few references to the poetry of Kendall Rollins, the poet Mrs. Veckhoff had mentioned. That was it. Davis. Payne. Birkby. Warren. They were common names, leading into labyrinths of useless information. The Charlotte White Pages listed dozens of each.
That evening, I took Ryan to dinner at the Selwyn Pub. He seemed withdrawn and preoccupied. I didn't push.
Sunday afternoon Birdie went to Pete, and Ryan and I flew to Montreal. What remained of Jean Bertrand traveled below in a glossy metal casket.
We were met at Dorval Airport by a funeral director, two hearse attendants, and four uniformed officers of the Sûreté du Québec. Together we escorted the body into town.
October can be glorious in Montreal, with church spires and skyscrapers piercing a crisp, blue sky, the mountain burning brightly in the background. Or it can be gray and cheerless, with rain, sleet, or even snow.
This Sunday the temperature flirted with freezing, and dark, heavy clouds hung over the city. Trees looked stark and black, lawns and parkways frosted white. Burlap-wrapped shrubs stood guard outside homes and businesses, floral mummies bundled against the cold.
It was past seven by the time we delivered Bertrand to an Urgel Bourgie in St-Lambert. Ryan and I parted ways, he being taken to his condo at Habitat, I to mine in Centre-ville.
Arriving, I threw my overnighter on the bed, turned on the heat, checked my answering machine, and then the refrigerator. The former was full, flashing like a blue light at a Kmart special. The latter was empty, stark white walls and smeared glass shelves.
LaManche. Isabelle. Four telemarketers. A McGill graduate student. LaManche.
Digging a jacket and gloves from the hall closet, I walked to Le Faubourg for provisions.
By the time I returned, the condo had warmed. I built a fire anyway, needing its comfort more than its heat. I was feeling as down as I had at Sharon Hall, haunted by the specter of Ryan's mysterious Danielle, saddened by the prospect of Bertrand's funeral.
As I stir-fried scallops and green beans, sleet began ticking against the windows. I ate at the hearth, thinking of the man I'd come to bury.
The detective and I had worked together over the years, when murder victims caused our paths to cross, and I'd come to understand certain things about him. Incapable of deviousness, he'd seen the world in black and white, with cops on one side of a moral line, criminals on the other. He'd had faith in the system, never doubting it would sort the good guys from the bad.
Bertrand had visited me here the previous spring, devastated by an incomprehensible break with Ryan. I pictured him sitting on my couch that night, wretched with anger and disbelief, not knowing what to say or do, the same feelings now overpowering Andrew Ryan.
After dinner, I loaded the dishwasher, stoked the fire, then took the handset to the sofa. Mentally switching to French, I dialed LaManche's home number.
My boss said he was glad I'd come to Montreal, even though the circumstances were so sad. There were two anthropology cases at the lab.
“Last week a woman was found, nude and decomposed, wrapped in a blanket in Parc Nicholas-Veil.”
“Where is that?”
“The far northern edge of the city.”
The Communauté Urbaine de Montréal Police, or Montreal Urban Community Police, have jurisdiction over everything on the island of Montreal.
“Oui. Sergent-détective Luc Claudel.”
Claudel. The highly regarded bulldog of a detective who would grudgingly work with me, but remained unconvinced that female forensic anthropologists were helpful to law enforcement. Just what I needed.
“Has she been ID'ed?”
“There is a presumptive identification, and a man has been arrested. The suspect is claiming she fell, but Monsieur Claudel is suspicious. I would like you to examine the cranial trauma.” LaManche's French, always so proper.
“I'll do it tomorrow.”
The second case was less urgent. A small plane had crashed two years earlier near Chicoutimi, the copilot never found. A segment of diaphysis had recently washed up in that vicinity. Could I determine if the bone was human? I assured him I could.
LaManche thanked me, asked about the Air TransSouth recovery, and expressed sorrow over Bertrand's death. He did not inquire about my problems with the authorities. Surely the news would have reached him, but he was too discreet to raise a painful subject.
The telemarketers I ignored.
The graduate student had long since obtained the needed reference.
My friend Isabelle had hosted one of her soirees the previous Saturday. I apologized for missing her call, and her dinner party. She assured me there would be another soon.
I had just replaced the handset when my cell phone rang. I sprinted across the room and dug it out, once again vowing to find a better storage location than my purse. It took a moment for the voice to register.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Finalizing world peace. I just got off the phone with Kofi Annan.”
“Where are you?”
“Why the hell are you back in Canada?”
I told her about Bertrand.
“Is that why you sound so bummed?”
“Partly. Are you in Charlotte? How was London?”
“What does that mean? Partly?”
“You don't want to know.”
“Of course I do. What's wrong?”
I unloaded. My friend listened. Twenty minutes later I took a breath, not weeping but close.
“So the Arthur property and unidentified foot issue are separate from the crash complaint issue?”
“Sort of. I don't think the foot came from anyone on the flight. I have to prove that.”
“You think it's this Mitchell character who's been missing since February?”
“And the NTSB still doesn't know what took that plane out?”
“And all you know about this property is that some guy named Livingstone gave it as a wedding gift to some guy named Arthur who sold it to some guy named Dashwood.”
“But the deed is in the name of an investment group, not Dashwood.”
“H&F. In Delaware.”
“And some of the officers' names match up to the names of people who died right before local seniors went missing.”
“I took notes.”
“Yes. And you have no idea why Davenport is on a tear for you?”
Silence hummed across two countries.
“We heard about some lord in England named Dashwood. A friend of Benjamin Franklin's, I think.”
“That should crack this wide open. How was London?”
“Great. But too much the ABC tour.”
“‘Another bloody cathedral.’ Ted likes history. He even dragged me through a bunch of caves. When will you be back in Charlotte?”
“Where are we going for Thanksgiving?”
Anne and I met when we were young and pregnant, I with Katy, she with her son, Brad. That first summer we'd all packed up and taken the babies to the ocean for a week. We'd been going to one beach or another every summer and Thanksgiving ever since.
“The kids like Myrtle. I like Holden.”
“I want to try Pawleys Island. Let's have lunch. We'll discuss it and I'll tell you all about my trip. Tempe, things will get back to normal. You'll see.”
I fell asleep listening to sleet, thinking of sand and palmetto, and wondering if I had any chance at all of having a normal life again.
The Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale is the central medico-legal and crime laboratory for the province of Quebec. It is located on the top two floors of the Édifice Wilfrid-Derome, known to locals as the Sûreté du Québec, or SQ building.
By nine-thirty Monday morning I was in the anthropology-odontology lab, having already attended the morning staff meeting, and collected my Demande d'Expertise en Anthropologie request form from the pathologist assigned to each case. After determining that the copilot long-bone shaft actually came from the lower leg of a mule deer, I wrote a brief report and turned to Claudel's lady.
I arranged the bones in anatomical order on my worktable, did a skeletal inventory, then checked indicators of age, sex, race, and height for consistency with the presumed ID. This could be important, since the victim had been toothless, and dental records did not exist.
I broke at one-thirty and ate my bagel with cream cheese, banana, and Chips Ahoy! cookies while watching boats sailing under cars driving over the Jacques Cartier Bridge far below my office window. By two I was back with the bones, and by four-thirty I had finished my analysis.
The victim could have shattered her jaw, orbit, and cheekbone and smashed the depressed fractures into her forehead by falling. From a hot air balloon or high-rise building.
I called Claudel and left a verbal opinion of homicide, locked up, and went home.
I spent another night by myself, cooking and eating a chicken breast, watching a rerun of Northern Exposure, reading a few chapters of a novel by James Lee Burke. It was as though Ryan had dropped from the planet. I was asleep by eleven.
The next day was spent documenting the battered lady: photographing my findings with regard to biological profile and photographing, diagramming, describing, and explaining the injury patterns on her skull and face. By late afternoon I'd compiled a report and left it in the secretarial office. I was removing my lab coat when Ryan appeared at my office door.
“Need a lift to the funeral?”
“Rough couple of days?” I asked, taking my purse from the bottom desk drawer.
“There's not a lot of sunshine in the squad.”
“No,” I said, meeting his gaze.
“I'm completely jammed up with this Petricelli thing.”
“Yes.” My eyes never left his.
“Turns out Metraux isn't quite so sure about eyeballing Pepper.”
“Because of Bertrand?”
“These bastards will dime their own mothers for an afternoon out.”
“As tap water in Tijuana. Do you want the ride?”
“If it's not too much trouble.”
“I'll pick you up at eight-fifteen.”
* * *
Since Sergent-détective Jean Bertrand had died while on duty, he was given full state honors. La Direction des Communications of the Sûreté du Québec had informed every police force in North America, using the CPIC system in Canada and the NCIC system in the United States. An honor guard flanked the casket at the funeral parlor. The body was escorted from there to the church, from the church to the cemetery.
While I had expected a large turnout, I was astounded by the mass of people who showed up. In addition to Bertrand's family and friends, his fellow SQ officers, members of the CUM, and many from the medico-legal lab, it looked like every police department in Canada, and many in the United States, had sent representatives. French and English media sent reporters and TV crews.
By noon, the bits of Bertrand that passed for his corpse lay in the ground at the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, and Ryan and I were winding our way down the mountain toward Centre-ville.
“When do you fly out?” he asked, splitting off Côte-des-Neiges onto rue St-Mathieu.
“Eleven-fifty tomorrow morning.”
“I'll pick you up at ten-thirty.”
“If you're aspiring to a position as my chauffeur, the pay is lousy.”
The joke plunged to its death before I'd finished saying it.
“I'm on the same flight.”
“Last night the Charlotte PD busted an Atlanta lowlife named Pecan Billie Holmes.”
He dug a pack of du Maurier's from his pocket, tapped one out on the steering wheel, and placed it between his lips. After lighting up with one hand, he inhaled, then blew smoke through both nostrils. I lowered my window.
“Seems the Pecan had a lot to say about a certain telephone tip to the FBI.”