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Just once, Kyra thought, it would be nice to be treated like a lady. In old movies and books, heroes were always holding up their hands and saying, "Please, there are ladies present" when people got out of hand. She wondered if anybody would ever treat her that way. Maybe this wish was a little over the top because Kyra Elliott didn't see herself as the ladylike typebut being treated like something other than one of the boys would be good.
It wasn't as if she looked like one of the boys. She wore her dark auburn hair long, sometimes restraining the waves while she worked, but still in a feminine style. Her clothes were not terribly girlie and were often covered by a lab coat or evidence coveralls, but no one would have mistaken her for anything but a woman.
Still, there was something about her that always seemed to make the men she worked with treat her as if she was just one of the crew. Sometimes there were advantages to that, she decided as she watched her colleagues from the lab continue their mild harassment of a Maryland state trooper. At least they were honest and open around her. They didn't try to hide their shenanigans, either.
While Bill and Terry pointed out all the more spectacular things about the contents of the body bag that the young man had brought in, Kyra stood nearby. The trooper, who must have been all of twenty-two, tried not to lose it in front of the two older, more seasoned men. He wasn't doing all that well, turning a pale shade of green under his tanned skin and short blond hair. After a few minutes Kyra knew it was time to step in.
"Come on, guys, knock it off," she finally said. "Don't let them get to you," Kyratold the young officer. "They only give you a hard time because all of this bothers them, too."
"Come on, Doc, we were only having a little fun," Terry grumbled. The older of the two technicians, he should have known better. The trooper probably wasn't much older than the son Kyra had seen in pictures on Terry's desk.
"Well, save it for a more appropriate time," she told them, watching relief wash over the trooper's face. "Right now we need to get a report from this man so that he can be on his way." She looked pointedly at Bill, who nodded curtly and picked up one of their handheld computer units to check everything in. Kyra stood nearby without comment until she was sure that the lab workers were back on track doing their job properly, then she stepped away to continue her paperwork. Even the advances of modern technology hadn't eliminated all of the forms and irritations of her job. While a lot could be done on computers, there were still papers the state crime lab insisted on using.
"You're still not used to them," Allie said quietly, looking over to the technicians. Kyra's assistant was so astute that she often forgot that Allie was about the same age as the young trooper. In the two months Kyra had been on this job she'd proved invaluable.
Kyra sighed softly. "You're right. Things were a lot different at the university. It was quiet there, and everybody was respectful of the work we did."
"Do you regret coming over here?" Allie peered over the top of her gold wire glasses, which slipped down the soft bridge of her nose.
"Not really. I know this is where I belong. The criminal consulting work we did in my department there was what made me come alive." When the state of Maryland approached her with an offer to lead a forensic anthropology group in their newly expanded state crime lab, Kyra had few doubts about taking the job. And the ease of her transition from the university had only reinforced her feeling that the change was part of God's plan for her life right now. But there were still a few times like today when she missed the quieter atmosphere in academic research. She had to admit, it wasn't always peaceful at the university; lab workers seemed to know who was the most squeamish and capitalized on that for fun there, too. But it hadn't happened as often or as rowdily.
Sighing again, Kyra watched her team members take the trooper's report and shake his hand in a friendly manner. She knew that Terry and Bill meant well; they had just been at their jobs so long that death didn't bother them very much anymore. It surprised them when outsiders were disturbed by the environment in the labs, and they tended to harp on that feeling. How could she find a way to change their way of reacting without calling them to task too hard? Both of her lab techs were basically good people and Kyra wanted to bring that out in them.
Before she could puzzle that through any further, Allie touched her arm lightly, making Kyra jump. "Sorry, Dr. Elliott. I didn't mean to startle you. But you've got a call on line one and it sounds urgent."
Kyra nodded and went searching for the phone. Fortunately, the handset had actually been set in its cradle on the corner of a countertop instead of being put down someplace under a pile of papers.
"Kyra Elliott." She made another mental note to talk to Allie about calling her by her formal title. Unless there were higher-ups from the crime labs present, Kyra thought titles were pretty stuffy.
The person on the other end identified himself as a detective sergeant with the state police, and any hopes Kyra had of an uneventful day catching up on paperwork went right out the window. "We've got something out here you have to see," the man said, a grim set to his voice. "You'll need a crew." He gave her directions to a spot Kyra knew to be the overgrown edges of a state park where recent floods had made things inaccessible for a couple of weeks. Now the water had receded, replaced by late-spring sunshine. The com-mander's tone told her that whatever the waters had stirred up, it wouldn't be a good thing.
An hour later Kyra stood in a secluded spot halfway between the state lab in Pikesville and the Pennsylvania border looking at a swampy patch of ground. "Some bird-watchers reported this, if you can believe that," the detective sergeant told her, shaking his head. His salt-and-pepper hair marked him as someone who'd been in the job awhile, he'd probably seen this sort of thing before. "I'm hoping that we can have a day or two before the media gets hold of the news, at least. That, or maybe I'm wrong and what I'm seeing aren't human bones."
"I don't think you're wrong," Kyra said, her heart sinking. "What we're looking at is most likely human remains."
"I guess we could always hope that we're real lucky and maybe this is just an Indian burial site, or some forgotten Civil War grave."
Kyra sighed, squatting to examine the scene without touching anything with her gloved hands. "I'm afraid not. This appears to be something much more recent." What she didn't tell the detective was what she'd seen that made her the most distressed. Unless she was seeing things the wrong way, the size of the bones led her to think that whoever had been left here had not been an adult. And to make matters even worse, there appeared to be more than one set of bones. Kyra found herself praying silently as she began to direct her team in their work. It might be days before this was all sorted out, and she would need all the help she could get.
Kyra's heart sank as she gingerly got closer to the ground to examine what was in front of her without contaminating the scene. She'd only been on the job as the state crime lab's chief forensic anthropologist for a few months, and before this her work had been relatively low-key. She rested her gloved fingers on the ground, contemplating the fact that this discovery would change all that in a hurry.
Sighing, she straightened up slowly, careful not to brush against anything. The white coveralls she wore over her street clothes would keep her from leaving too much trace evidence, but she always liked to err on the side of caution. Kyra hadn't gotten to her position in the state crime lab by being careless.
"Let me get my photo crew in here. When they're done, we'll start taking things out slowly."
"How slowly?" The detective looked up, scanning the sky. "It's not that late in the day. I was hoping we might get this finished before dark."
Kyra sighed again. "You mean dark today?" She watched the man as his eyebrows rose in consternation.
"It's going to take you that long?"
"At least two days, probably. That's if everything goes smoothly, which never happens. And it's going to be slow, painstaking work."
"Great. Now tell me how we keep this from being a media feeding frenzy by the end of tomorrow."
Kyra shrugged. "My job is just to do this right. I can't help you with the media. You'll have to deal with them all by yourself."
"Tell me why I shouldn't arrest you." The uniformed officer glared at Joshua Richards, who tried to focus through the haze before his eyes. "Your license doesn't match the name you've already given me and your story makes no sense."
"Call the number I gave you. The person who answers will back me up." Josh's head throbbed and his right shoulder was going to ache for days. When had he gotten to the point where just doing his job hurt this much? Thirty-five was too young to think of himself as middle-aged, wasn't it? Tonight he wasn't so sure.
The officer's answering laugh was short, dismissive. "Convenient. Probably a buddy on a cell phone. I bet you've got a deal when he gets in trouble you'd do the same for him, right?"
"It's not like that. Call the number. It's my unit chief in the bureau."
"Sure. And he'll say "
"She. Special Agent Gorman is a she."
"Even better. She'll say that Joshua Richards if that's your real name "
"It's my real name," Josh said through clenched teeth, trying not to let his temper get the better of him again. He still couldn't believe that he'd been so out of it that when the officer first asked for his name, he'd blurted out a last name that he hadn't used since he was eleven. What kind of Freudian slip was that?
"Sure. Whatever. Anyway, she'll say you're a great guy and you were just doing your civic duty here, cleaning up the streets even though you just happened to be loaded to the gills."
Joshua fought the urge to wince; it would only make his head and shoulder hurt worse. And if he caused himself more pain he'd lose even more control. That would probably convince this officer that he really was as impaired by alcohol as the man seemed to think Josh was. Explaining the truth would be far more difficult. The man in uniform looked as if he was just experienced enough not to accept the truth; that most of the reek of liquor on Josh was splashed on his clothes, not from drinking the stuff.
Still, in his undercover role on this investigation he couldn't have totally avoided a drink at the bar. He would have been more conspicuous without one than with something in front of him. So he'd had a little bit to drink, as little as possible. Still, he didn't normally drink by choice, and the alcohol coupled with a shortage of sleep and the nagging disappointment he felt with life made for a dangerous combination.
So instead of staying low profile undercover he'd gotten himself into a fight. Not only had he lost, but his stupidity could cost the bureau five months of hard work, and put his job in jeopardy. As he mulled this over, the officer in charge was making a call on his phone. From what Josh could hear the man had finally taken him seriously and called Ms. Gorman. The discussion was short and to the point. When the officer finished, his expression looked thoughtful.
"Okay, so maybe you were telling the truth. At least that was convincing enough that I won't arrest you. But if that was really your boss I don't envy you the day you're going to have tomorrow." The man's grim smile made Josh's head throb even harder.
He drove home carefully, using little-traveled roads and side streets even after he'd bought coffee and something to eat to counteract the alcohol in his system. Pam Gorman was going to skin him alive in the office tomorrow, and he probably deserved every bit of what she gave him. His life was spiraling downward as he watched.
What did he do now? For a brief, flashing moment the cool, dark sanctuary of a church in Illinois flashed through his mind. The place had been far from welcoming; at least it seemed cold and remote in the memories he'd carried around for nearly a quarter century. Kneeling there in a back pew was the last time Josh remembered praying.
"What do You want me to do?" he asked out loud into the darkness. He got no clear sense of an answer. Still, what he'd said was like a prayer. Maybe it even was a prayer. All Josh knew for sure is that he needed to talk to somebody. Here in the dark in his car talking to God sounded about as reasonable as anything else.
"I need help. For the first time in my life I feel like I can't make it on my own and I don't know where to go." Josh ran out of words at that point, and it was starting to feel strange to talk out loud in the car to someone he wasn't sure existed. Still, it gave him an odd sense of peace and he went home wondering what would happen next.