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Chapter 29


Emotions snapped inside me. Shock. Pity. Anger. Wariness.


“A single bullet to the brain. An aide found him at his home.”

“A suicide?”

“Or a setup.”

“Is Tyrell doing the post?”


“Has it hit the media?”

“Oh, yeah. They're pissing their pants for information.”

Relief. The pressure would lift from me. Guilt. A man is dead and you think first of yourself.

“But the thing's wrapped tighter than the U.S. war plan.”

“Did Davenport leave a note?”

“None found. What's up here?” He gestured toward the autopsy tables.

“Got some time?”

“The crash was due to carelessness and mechanical failure.” He spread his arms. “I'm a free man.”

The wall clock said seven forty-five. I told Stan and Maggie to call it a day, then led Ryan to my cubicle and explained the Veckhoff diary.

“You're suggesting that random elderly persons were murdered following the deaths of prominent citizens?” He tried but failed to keep the skepticism from his voice.


“And no one noticed.”

“The disappearances weren't frequent enough to suggest a pattern, and the selection of aged victims created less of a ripple.”

“And this granny-napping has been going on for half a century.”


It did sound preposterous, and this made me edgy. When edgy, I get mouthy.

“And gramps was fair game, too.”

“And the perps used the Arthur house to dispose of the bodies.”

“Yes, but for more than just disposing.”

“And this was some sort of group in which everyone had a code name.”

“Has,” I snapped.


“Are you talking cult?”

“No. Yes. I don't know. I don't think so. But I do think the victims were used in some sort of ritual.”

“Why is that?”

“Come with me.”

I walked him from table to table, making introductions and pointing out details. Finally, I took him to the dissecting scope and focused the lens on Edna Farrell's right femur. When he'd studied it, I inserted one of Tucker Adams's thighbones. Rafferty. Odell.

The pattern was unmistakable. Same nicks. Same distribution.

“What are they?”

“Cut marks.”

“As in knife?”

“Something with a sharp blade.”

“What do they mean?”

“I don't know.”

Each bone made a soft thunk as I replaced it on the stainless steel. Ryan watched me, his face unreadable.

My heels clicked loudly as I crossed to the sink, then walked to my cubicle to remove my lab coat and put on my jacket. When I returned, Ryan was standing over the skeleton I believed to be the apple farmer, Albert Odell.

“So you know who they are.”

“Except for that gentleman.”

I indicated the elderly black male. “And you think they were strangled.”


“What the hell for?”

“Talk to McMahon. That's police work.”

Ryan followed me out to the parking lot. As I was sliding behind the wheel, he shot off one more question.

“What kind of twisted mutant would snatch old people, choke them to death, and play with their bodies?”

The answer would come from an unexpected source.

Back at High Ridge House, I made myself a ham salad sandwich, grabbed a bag of Sunchips and a handful of sugar cookies, and headed out to dine with Boyd. Though I apologized profusely for my negligence over the past week, his eyebrows barely moved, and his tongue remained firmly out of sight. The dog was annoyed.

More guilt. More self-censure.

After giving Boyd the sandwich, chips, and cookies, I filled his bowls with water and chow, and promised him a long walk the following day. He was sniffing the Alpo as I slipped away.

I reprovisioned myself and took the snack to my room. A note lay on the floor. Based on the mode of delivery, I suspected it had come from McMahon.

It had. He asked that I stop by FBI headquarters the next day.

I wolfed down my dinner, took a hot bath, and phoned a colleague at UNC-Chapel Hill. Though it was past eleven, I knew Jim's routine. No morning classes. Home around six. After dinner, a five-mile run, then back to his archaeology lab until 2 A.M. Except when excavating, Jim was nocturnal.

After greetings and a brief catch-up, I asked for his help.

“Doing some archaeology?”

“It's more fun than my usual work,” I said noncommittally.

I described the strange nicks and striations without revealing the nature of the victims.

“How old is this stuff?”

“Not that old.”

“It's odd that the marks are restricted to a single bone, but the pattern you're describing sounds suspicious. I'm going to fax you three recent articles and a number of my own photos.”

I thanked him and gave him the morgue number.

“Where is that?”

“Swain County.”

“You working with Midkiff?”


“Someone told me he was digging up there.”

Next, I phoned Katy. We talked about her classes, about Boyd, about a skirt she'd seen in the Victoria's Secret catalog. We made plans for the beach at Thanksgiving. I never mentioned the murders or my growing trepidation.

After the phone call, I climbed into bed and lay in the dark, visualizing the skeletons we'd recovered from the cellar. Though I'd never seen an actual case, I knew in my heart what the strange marks meant.

But why?

I felt horror. I felt disbelief. Then I felt nothing until the sun warmed my face at 7 A.M.

Jim's photos and articles lay on the fax machine when I arrived at the morgue. Nature, Science, and American Antiquity. I read each and studied his pictures. Then I reexamined every skull and long bone, taking Polaroids of anything that looked suspicious.

Still, I could not believe it. Ancient times, ancient peoples, yes. These things didn't happen in modern America.

A sudden synapse.

One more phone call. Colorado. Twenty minutes later, another fax.

I stared at it, the paper trembling slightly in my hand.

Dear God. It was undeniable.

I found McMahon at his temporary headquarters in the Bryson City Fire Department. As with the incident morgue, the function of the FBI office had changed. McMahon and his colleagues had shifted their focus from crash to crime scene investigation, their paradigm from terrorism to homicide.

Space formerly occupied by the NTSB was now empty, and several cubicles had been merged to create what looked like a task force squad room. Bulletin boards that had once featured the names of terrorist groups and militant radicals now held those of eight murder victims. In one cluster, the positive IDs: Edna Farrell. Albert Odell. Jeremiah Mitchell. George Adair. In another, the unknown and those still in question: John Doe. Tucker Adams. Charlie Wayne Tramper. Mary Francis Rafferty.

Though every name was accompanied by a date of disappearance, the amount and type of information varied considerably from board to board.

On the opposite end of the room, more boards displayed photos of the Arthur house. I recognized the attic cots, the dining room table, the great room fireplace. I was examining shots of the basement murals when McMahon joined me.

“Cheerful stuff.”

“Sheriff Crowe thought that was a copy of a Goya.”

“She's right. It's Saturn Devouring His Children. ”

He tapped a photo of the raft scene.

“This one's by Théodore Géricault. Know him?”

I shook my head.

“It's called The Raft of Medusa. ”

“What's the story?”

“We're checking.”

“Who's the bear?”

“Same answer. We ran the name but came up with zip. Can't be that many Baxbakualanuxsiwaes out there.”

He removed a thumbtack with his nail and handed me a list.

“Familiar with anyone on the playbill?”

“The names from the tunnel walls?”

“Yeah. Special Agent Rayner's working them.”

Three folding tables lined the back of the room. One held a computer, the others cardboard boxes, each marked with date and provenance: Kitchen drawer L3. Living room, north wall bookcase. Other boxes were stacked on the floor.

A young man in shirtsleeves and tie worked at the computer. I'd seen him at the Arthur house, but we hadn't met. McMahon gestured from the agent to me.

“Roger Rayner, Tempe Brennan.”

Rayner looked up and smiled, then went back to his monitor.

“We've nailed a few of the more obvious players. The Greek and Roman gods, for example.”

I noted comments following some names. Cronus. Dionysus. The Daughters of Mineus. The Daughters of Pelias. Polyphemus.

“And the pope and the Aztec emperor popped right up. But who the hell is Dasakumaracarita? Or Abd al-Latif? Or Hamatsa?” He pronounced the names syllable by syllable. “At least I can say ‘Sawney Beane’ or ‘John Gregg.’”

He ran a hand through his hair and it did its rooster thing.

“I figured an anthropologist might recognize some obscure goddess or something.”

I was staring at one name, my nerve cells tingling. Hamatsa.

Moctezuma. The Aztecs.

Saturn devouring his children.

“Is there somewhere we can talk in private?” My voice sounded high and shaky.

McMahon gave me an odd look, then led me into an adjacent cubicle.

I took a moment to collect my thoughts.

“What I'm about to say is going to sound ludicrous, but I'd like you to hear me out.”

He leaned back and laced his fingers across his paunch.

“Among the Kwakiutl of the Pacific Northwest, the Hamatsa were a society of tribal elite. Young men who hoped to become Hamatsa went through a lengthy period of isolation.”

“Like fraternity pledges.”

“Yes. During their time in the forest the initiates would periodically appear on the outskirts of the village, demented and screaming, charge in, bite flesh from the arms and chests of those unfortunate enough to be present, then disappear back into the woods.”

McMahon's eyes were on his hands.

“Shortly before the end of his exile, each initiate was brought a mummy that had been soaked in salt water, cleaned, and split open. The initiate was expected to smoke-cure the corpse for the final ritual.”

I swallowed.

“During that ritual the aspirant and senior members of the brotherhood devoured portions of the corpse.”

McMahon did not look at me.

“Are you familiar with the Aztecs?”


“They appeased their gods through the ritual eating of human beings.”


McMahon's eyes finally met mine.

“On a grand scale. When Cortés and his men entered Moctezuma's capital, Tenochtitlán, they found mounds of human skulls in the city square, others impaled on spikes. Their estimate was over one hundred thousand.”

Silence. Then, “Saturn ate his children.”

“Polyphemus captured Ulysses and dined on his crew.”

“Why the pope?”

“I'm not sure.”

McMahon disappeared, returned in a moment.

“Rayner's looking him up.”

He looked at a note, scratched a clump of hair.

“Rayner found the Géricault painting. It's based on the 1816 wreck of a French frigate, La Méduse. According to the story, survivors ate the dead while stranded at sea.”

I was about to show McMahon my own findings when Rayner appeared in the doorway. We listened as he read from scribbled notes.

“I don't think you want the old boy's entire résumé, so I'll give you the highlights. Pope Innocent III is best known for organizing the Fourth Lateran Council in twelve fifteen A.D. Anyone who was anyone in Christendom was told to get his butt to this meeting.”

He looked up.

“I'm paraphrasing. With all the honchos convened, Innocent decreed that henceforth the words hoc est corpus meum were to be taken literally, and the faithful were required to believe in transubstantiation. That's the idea that, at Mass, the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ.”

He looked up again to see if we were with him.

“Innocent decreed that the act isn't symbolic, it's real. Apparently this question had been debated for about a thousand years, so Innocent decided to settle the issue. From then on, if you doubted transubstantiation, you were guilty of heresy.”

“Thanks, Roger.”

“No problem.” He withdrew.

“So what's the link?” McMahon asked.

“Innocent defined the most sacred ceremonial act of Christianity as true God-eating. It's what anthropologists call ritual anthropophagy.”

A childhood memory. A nun in traditional habit, crucifix on her breast, chalk on her hands.

“Do you know the origin of the word host?”

McMahon shook his head.

“ Hostia. It means ‘sacrificial victim’ in Latin.”

“You think we're dealing with some fringe group that gets high on cannibalism?”

I took a steadying breath.

“I think it's much worse than that.”

“Worse than what?”

We both turned. Ryan stood in the spot recently occupied by Rayner. McMahon gestured at a chair.

“Worse than drooling over myths and allegorical paintings. I'm glad you're here, Ryan. You can verify what I'm about to describe.”

I pulled Jim's photos from my briefcase and handed the first to McMahon.

“That is the reconstructed leg bone of a red deer. The gashes were made with a sharp instrument, probably a stone knife. Notice how they cluster around the tendon and ligament attachment points, and at the joints.”

McMahon passed the photo to Ryan, and I handed him several more.

“Those are also animal bones. Notice the similar distribution of cut marks and striations.”

Next picture.

“Those are fragments of human bone. They were recovered from the same cave in southeastern France where the animal bones were found.”

“Looks like the same pattern.”

“It is.”


“Butchery. The bones were stripped of flesh and cut or twisted apart at the joints.”

“How old is this stuff?”

“One hundred thousand to one hundred and twenty thousand years. The site was occupied by Neanderthals.”

“Is this relevant?”

I gave him several more prints.

“Those are also human bones. They were recovered at a site near Mesa Verde, in southwestern Colorado.”

“Anasazi?” Ryan asked, reaching for a photo.


“Who are the Anasazi?” McMahon.

“Ancestors of groups like the Hopi and Zuni. This site was occupied by a small group around 1130 to 1150 A.D., during a period of extreme drought. A colleague from Chapel Hill did the digging. These are his photos. At least thirty-five adults and kids were butchered. Notice that the pattern is identical.”

I fed them another photo.

“Those are stone tools found in association with the human bones. Tests confirmed the presence of human blood.”


“That ceramic cooking pot held the residue of human tissues.”

“How can they be sure these marks aren't caused by abrasion? Or by animals? Or by some sort of burial ritual? Maybe they cut up the dead to prepare them for the afterlife. That could explain the bloody tools and pot.”

“That was exactly the argument until this was discovered.”

I passed them another photo.

“What the hell is that?” McMahon gave it to Ryan.

“After seven people were killed, cooked, and eaten in a small underground room at this site, one of the diners squatted over the cold hearth and defecated.”

“Holy shit.”

“Exactly. Archaeologists call preserved feces coprolites. Biochemical tests showed traces of digested human muscle protein in this particular beauty.”

“Could the protein have gotten there by some other route?”

“Not myoglobin. Tests also showed this guy had eaten almost nothing but meat for eighteen hours prior to his grand gesture.”

“That is great stuff, Tempe, but I've got eight stiffs and a pack of reporters breathing down my neck. Other than perps with a morbid taste in art and literature, how is this relevant? You're showing me people who have been dead for centuries.”

I placed three more photos on his desk.

“Ever heard of Alfred G. Packer?”

He glanced at his watch, then at the pictures.


“Alfie Packer is reputed to have killed and eaten five people in Colorado during the winter of 1874. He was tried and convicted of murder. The victims were recently exhumed and analyzed.”

“What the hell for?”

“Historic accuracy.”

Ryan circled behind McMahon. As the two men studied the bones of the Packer victims, I got up and spread my Polaroids across the desk.

“I took these at the morgue this morning.”

Like spectators at a tennis match, their eyes shifted among the Neanderthals, the Anasazi, the Packer victims, and my Polaroids. For a very long time no one spoke.

McMahon broke the silence.

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a bloody pear tree.”


@by txiuqw4

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