Read an Excerpt
It was Jake’s idea of a perfect rainy Friday night. The trial was over, the truth had prevailed—too bad about Manny Manfreda; she had done a good job but she didn’t have the right evidence—and now he was alone in his Upper East Side brownstone kitchen, eating Chinese food, reading a treatise on blood spatter, and listening to Duke Ellington’s soundtrack of Anatomy of a Murder. Brilliant movie, inspiring music. Peace, it’s wonderful.
Alongside his take-out containers, piles of paperwork cluttered the top of his chrome-and-red Formica table; he’d tackle it over the weekend. His kitchen held a motley group of appliances: a recently purchased commercial stainless steel refrigerator, an avocado-green stove from the sixties, a white porcelain double sink from the fifties. The countertops were fifties Formica in green geometrical patterns; the metal cabinets, painted and repainted over the years, were a drab beige. A butcher-block island, scarred by years of white rings from wet plates and glasses, stood in faded glory in the center of the space. French doors in the back opened into a garden, converted by neglect into living quarters for a few happy squirrels, some pigeons, and an occasional chair.
Jake had bought the five-story brownstone in the mid-1980s, shortly after being hired at the ME’s office. He could only afford it because it was north of Ninety-sixth Street near Harlem, in those days not the nicest of neighborhoods. But he didn’t see it as an investment or even a possession. He saw New York’s history: the wealthy who had once populated the area, the careful work of nineteenth-century stonemasons, and the varied texture of the constantly changing community. When he finally had the money to do some work on the place, it was so full of forensic teaching materials and artifacts he had no idea where to start. Besides, he didn’t have the time. This was New York. People died by the hundreds every day. He never had the time.
The music stopped, and he stopped eating and stared at his food. The sauce on his sesame chicken, he realized, was nearly the consistency of human blood. He picked up a knife, dipped it, and spattered the sauce across the kitchen table and the wall behind it, as though someone had stabbed the chicken from behind.
The phone rang. Damn. He picked it up. “Rosen.”
The two words gave him a jolt of pleasure. The only voice allowed to intrude into his solitude was Pete Harrigan’s—any time and any place. Pete, thirty years Jake’s senior, was one of only two people on this earth Jake loved. The other was his brother, Sam, and Sam didn’t have intrusion privileges.
“Sure I miss you.” Jake studied the mess on the table. “In fact, I was just thinking about you. The influence of knife length on cast-off blood spatter patterns.”
“I’m flattered,” Harrigan said. “But you should be out on a date. Weren’t you seeing that fingerprint expert from—”
“Broke it off,” Jake said quickly, feeling a flash of pain. “Too soon after my divorce.”
“Trouble with women, trouble in the office. I hear you’ve had a go-round with the chief. Too much private work, not enough time serving the city.” Harrigan had once been chief himself. Retired now, he obviously still had tentacles inside the ME’s office. “How is my old friend Charles Pederson?”
“Still the same where you’re concerned,” Jake said. “Hey, you’re the one who taught me any medical examiner worth a damn pisses off the powers that be. Comes with the territory.”
“And you were my best student. Developed pissing off into a specialty. How’s Wally?” Harrigan was given to abrupt changes of subject.
“Blossoming. The man’s a godsend. I thank you for him every day.”
Dr. Walter Winnick—Wally—was a protégé whom Harrigan had recommended to Jake. The man had a clubfoot, but his mind sprinted to invariably accurate conclusions; Jake couldn’t have handled his workload without him.
“Glad to hear it.”
“How’s Elizabeth?” Jake asked.
“Fine. The woman’s going to be New Jersey’s next governor. Ever since she married that Markis fellow, though, she’s pretty much stopped visiting. If I want to see my daughter, I have to go to New Jersey, and even then I have to make an appointment through her press agent.”
There was a pause. Unusual, Jake thought. Pete was generally so voluble Jake couldn’t shut him up. He could hear Harrigan’s labored breathing. Sick, Jake wondered, or in trouble? “What’s up?”
“Let’s talk shop.”
“Sure,” Jake said, relieved. “You heard about the Carramia case?”
“As a matter of fact, no. For once I’m not calling about your cases, I’m calling about one of mine.”
“Shoot,” Jake said.
A hesitation, a cough. “I was wondering if you’d like to come up here and help me decipher some bones.”
Dr. Peter Harrigan lived in the hamlet of Turner, a little town on a big lake two hours north of the city. Jake got there at six the next morning. He met Harrigan at his home, a white Cape Cod cottage with yellow shutters, which looked from the outside more like a doll’s house than the residence of a globally respected forensic pathologist.
The two men embraced. “We’ll have to take your car,” Pete said. “My Suburban’s sick.” He piled a box of autopsy tools, a camera, and a few body bags into the backseat of Jake’s Camaro and brought two mugs of coffee to the front. He was wearing the same blue Polartec jacket Jake had given him seven years ago on the eve of Pete’s departure; Jake had on the dark green oilskin Marianna had bought him on their only trip to London.
“You do realize,” Jake said, as Pete backed the Camaro out of the driveway, “that you live in the geographical center of nowhere.”
Harrigan grinned. “It’s exciting, though. Big-time crime. Just last week our mayor shot an elk out of season. Town’s still debating how much to fine him.”
Jake swallowed hot coffee. It was bitter and strong; considering his sleep deprivation he was going to need a lot of it. “You lived in New York for over thirty years.”
“I got over it.”
After almost four decades in forensic pathology, Harrigan had retired to the country to please his wife, Dolores, who died less than three years later. Bored with fishing, he had taken on the post of Baxter County medical examiner, which meant signing off on one or two death certificates a week and doing two or three autopsies a month. At seventy-two, he was the oldest sitting medical examiner in the state of New York.
“So explain,” Jake said. “Why did I drive up here in the middle of the night?”
“To get here before the excavation starts up again.”
“Excavation of what?”
“That field in the distance.”
“And they’re digging on a Saturday morning?”
“Apparently,” Pete said, “the building of a shopping mall waits for no man—or bones.”
They were traveling on a two-lane road, passing trees, not houses. “A shopping mall? Up here?”
“Rumor has it the governor’s going to give the Senecas rights to build a casino. The town fathers are half mad with the prospect of all those tourists, so naturally they want to give them a place to spend their winnings. And what more appropriate location than in back of the Turner insane asylum?”
Jake grunted. “Fat chance anyone will win.”
Pete glanced at him, amused. “You never were much of a gambler, were you.”
“Only at love. And look what that won me: a monthly alimony check.”
Jake still felt the divorce of his parents with almost the same pain he’d experienced with his own. He remembered hugging his father’s leg the last time he walked out the door. His younger brother, Sam, had been a baby, couldn’t even stand yet, and didn’t know what was going on. But Jake’s childhood had gone downhill from that moment. After twenty years of being a medical examiner, he was convinced that the biggest risk factors for murder were love and marriage. He believed the marriage vow should say, I promise to love, honor, and not kill you. He had chosen a career as an ME both to improve society and to prove that a delinquent kid could make something of his life. The time it took to make a marriage work wasn’t compatible with his goals.
They continued down the road, sunlight just starting to peek through the trees. “They’d just broken ground on their god- forsaken center early yesterday afternoon,” Pete said, “when the backhoe brought up the upper part of a skull. The lower jaw, the mandible, was missing, probably carried off with the dirt before the crew realized what they had. In a construction site like this, the first instinct is to ignore anything that gets in the way, but the backhoe driver called the authorities and they called me. I found an ulna and a tibia to go along with the skull and ordered a shutdown; I left them at the site, of course.” Harrigan shot Jake a look. “I leave you to guess what the developer said the delay would cost him.”
Jake smiled into his mug. “An arm and a leg?”
“I’m guessing those aren’t an old settler’s bones or you wouldn’t have brought me up here.”
“You got it. Within an hour, the scene was crawling with people: the developer himself—R. Seward Reynolds—his lackeys, his lawyers, the mayor, the sheriff, half the town council, and the ever-lovely Marge Crespy, doyenne of the Turner Historical Society.”
“All of them seemed eager for the remains to be a settler. I told them, Impossible.”
Jake got the familiar queasy feeling in his stomach that came with the suspicion of corruption. “Sure. A settler means no fights over Indian burial grounds, no worries about a crime scene. They can just rebury the bones somewhere else and get on with the mall.” He looked at his friend and mentor, feeling the anger in Pete’s bearing. “Do you think it’s a Native American?”
“I found an incisor. It isn’t shovel-shaped. The skull has rectangular eye sockets and a triangular nasal opening. You tell me.”
From the Hardcover edition.