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By J.F. Margos
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe dense fog slithered up the riverbank, coiling itself around the traffic light ahead of me and partially obscuring the green glow until I was underneath it. With daylight barely peeking over the limestone cliffs on the other bank, the fog was an especially unwanted handicap. I plunged the clutch pedal into the floor and, feeling the ball of the gearshift lever in the palm of my hand, I eased the stick down into second, slid the clutch slowly out of the floor and appreciated the rumble of the downshift and the tug of the engine braking. With my left palm I wheeled the car into a left turn and began my descent down the hill to the low-water bridge below the Tom Miller Dam. They called that machine of mine a Mustang, but it had a roar and rumble more like a wildcat.
I pulled the car over to the edge of the road when I reached the island in the middle of the bridge. Red Bud Isle they called it, but on that morning it was a gray silhouette on gray water shrouded in a thick, gray mist. I was sick of this weather and ready for spring and Texas sunshine.
I could see red and blue strobing lights through the underbelly of the fog. Bones found on the riverbank of Red Bud Isle had attracted a large and serious crowd, and I was about to become part of it. It would be my job to put a face back on the deceased.
As I turned off the key, I saw Malcolm walking toward the car. His uniform looked as if he'd slept in it.
"Well, Toni, I could sure hear those wheels comin' before I ever saw them." "Uh-huh."
"Wow, what a machine. You know Steve Mc-Queen drove one like this in Bullitt."
"Mine is a '65."
"It's just like the one McQueen drove."
"McQueen's was a '67. Where's Chris, Malcolm?"
"Sorry,Toni, off to the right-hand side of the bridge here, and then down on this side of the island."
I began to walk toward the area to which Malcolm had directed me.
"Toni, can I drive it sometime?"
"Absolutely not, Malcolm," I called over my shoulder, stifling what I really wanted to say. Somehow Malcolm always brought out the worst in me. I should have been more patient and tolerant. Satan sends the simple to make us stumble.
It was cool out and the dampness of the fog added even more of a chill. I was wearing my jeans and black western boots, with the pointy toes like a real Texan, and an old faded yellow T-shirt. Most people would have worn a light jacket in the cool air, but I was enjoying it in my shirtsleeves.
This was the least favorite part of my job as a forensic sculptor, but a necessary part of it nevertheless. Luckily, most of the bodies I saw in my work were devoid of flesh-a far cry from the sights I had seen in Vietnam as a nurse.
I made my way through the redbuds and other trees that covered the islet. The trees were dense and the underbrush was thick in between them. Boots and jeans were definitely the right gear to be wearing. Straight in front of me, several hundred feet beyond the tip of the island loomed the concrete face of the Tom Miller Dam. The soft rushing of the water from the hydraulic power plant provided backup for the mourning doves cooing their morning song. As I made my way through the foliage, the smell of damp earth, tree buds and tall grasses moistened by dew filled the air. The fog was lifting with the sunrise and thinning to a wispy ribbon overhead and I could see the back of Dr. Christine Nakis, the Travis County medical examiner, near the island's edge.
Her short, dark hair curled over the collar of her lab coat and she stood with both hands on her hips overseeing the excavation of Austin's latest John or Jane Doe. Between Chris and the river was a muddy area where the excavation was being carried out by three forensic technicians.
I walked down to the riverbank and stopped several feet to the left of Chris. A finger bone was pointed directly at me-well, not actually "pointing" per se, but it was sticking out of the mud and I happened to be in its path. A few inches down the bank, the curve of a pelvic bone emerged. The mud was sticky reddish-brown clay and the sole of my boots stuck in it and made a sucking sound as I pulled one foot up and stepped next to Chris.
Chris had an extensive background as a forensic anthropologist in addition to her work as a medical examiner. Because of that background, Chris understood why I liked to be in on a case as soon as possible. It helped me get a "feeling" for the victim and how he or she was murdered. She had awakened me at 5:30 a.m., given me the bare particulars and told me where to meet her. She stood there, intent on the riverbank, neatly dressed in a khaki skirt and a white button-down shirt with the white lab coat over her clothes. The sides of her shoes were caked with the red-brown mud that had curled up over the soles as Chris had made her way to the water's edge. At five-seven it seemed that I towered over Chris's five-foot-three stature. She looked over and up at me when I moved next to her. "Nice outfit," she said sarcastically.
"When you wake me up at five-thirty in the morning to come to the river bottom to look at a body, don't expect me to dress up."
She smiled. "Actually I'm jealous. If I didn't have to go to the morgue and work a full day after this, I'd dress like that, too."
"How long do you think it'll take them to get the body out?" "A while." "That's accurate."
Chris gave me the eye roll. "So, any idea of gender yet?"
Excerpted from Shattered Image by J.F. Margos Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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