Beyond the Bone

Beyond the Bone

by Reginald Hill
Beyond the Bone

Beyond the Bone

by Reginald Hill

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A stolen skeleton leads to a web of mystery: “Those who treasure quirky characters, lively dialogue, and ingenious plots will be delighted” (Booklist).
In England, a skeleton from Roman times goes missing from the site of an archaeological dig—as does the man overseeing the project. In Baghdad, a diplomat dies suddenly. And in California, a scientist commits suicide.
These three events are in fact linked—and one tough, determined woman may be about to unravel a shocking conspiracy that lies behind them all, in this lively mystery by “one of Britain’s most consistently excellent crime novelists” (The Times, London).
“The captivating cast includes an obnoxious student of archaeology, a fraudulent town official, a vaguely clairvoyant eccentric, a couple of mysterious brothers, and various other folks who aren’t quite what they seem to be.” —Booklist
“Reginald Hill delivers literate, complex, and immensely satisfying thrillers.” —Orlando Sentinel

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504059688
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 12/17/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 211
Sales rank: 10,062
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Reginald Hill was an English crime writer and fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He won the 1995 Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement.

Read an Excerpt


To be ignorant of evils to come, and forgetfull of evils past, is a mercifull provision in nature ...

The wind poured out of the east that night, a chilling torrent which penetrated every nook and cranny of the ancient wall so that there was no lee to the north or to the south as its waves scoured the gorge of the Irthing and roared in triumph over the broken walls of the once mighty fort at Camboglanna. Not many of the living moved in the waste that night, but a few there were and they felt the storm's fury for a while.

Crow stirred uneasily in the narrow confines of the straw-filled niche which served as his bed. In the low-roofed chamber lit only by the dying embers of a peat fire, the creatures which shared his dwelling woke instantly to bright-eyed awareness. Crow's eyes too were open but he saw nothing of the room nor of the attendant beasts. Instead images crowded into his mind, misty, confused, overlapping, so that there was no way of separating past, present and future, if indeed they were more than the meaningless fragments of fantasy each man carries beneath his diurnal thoughts.

He saw men in their fury and terror slaying other men; spears splitting linked armour and short swords slicing through animal fells; he saw other men killing for other needs; saw a girl's mouth open in a scream which only pleasured those who heard it; saw a man swing at a rope's end, his black tongue deriding those who lived on; saw a raging fire which devoured and purified; saw a naked woman come close with death in her eyes; saw an urn full of the ashes of many lives, many hopes; and saw himself buried deep in a cavern from which only his despairing cries could ever escape.

He shook his head and broke up the images, lay in thought for a while, then fell into a deep and untroubled sleep while outside the wind drove the thin wiry moor-grass in waves of panic over the contours of the indifferent land.


But who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried?

It was just past noon on a March day washed clean by wind and showers that Zeugma found the first skeleton.

'Good,' she said. 'Super,' as she started to brush the dirt out of the empty eye-socket.

'I say, well done, Humpty,' said her companion, peering appreciatively into the trench. 'Look, I've poured myself a mug of coffee. Do you want one now or can't you drag yourself away?' She thought for a moment, running her earth-stained fingers absently along the smooth curve of the skull's cheek-bones.

'All right,' she said. 'I'll break for lunch. If I don't, you'll just eat all the smoked salmon and leave me the cheese. Give us a hand up. And don't call me Humpty.'

He reached into the trench and pulled her out. They stood close for a moment; the man, Leo Pasquino, tall, gangling, middle-aged, his expression of amiable vacancy accentuated by the unseeing blankness of his left eye which was made of glass; the girl in her middle twenties, unambiguously plump, her rosy cheeks glowing through an unrestrainable tangle of russet hair. Recently someone had told her she looked like a personification of Keats' autumn. As he had been attempting to unzip her slacks at the time, she assumed it was a compliment.

Behind them the treeless moorland ran away in rising undulations as though eager to reach a horizon which seemed to press close against the faded blue-wash of the sky.

Pasquino turned and made his way to a dust-caked Range Rover on the bonnet of which rested a picnic hamper. Zeugma stayed a little longer, meditatively returning the empty stare from the broken earth below.

'Come on,' called her companion. 'He's been there eighteen hundred years. I don't suppose he's going anywhere now.'

'No, I don't suppose he is,' she said, turning.

At the Range Rover, the man was busily thrusting smoked salmon sandwiches into his mouth two at a time. The cheese, she noted, were quite untouched.

'After we've eaten,' he said in a muffled voice, 'I think I'll stroll up to the top there and do a bit of surveying. You don't get much of this weather up here and I should be able to do a visual check of these aerial photos.'

'I thought the camera couldn't lie,' said Zeugma.

'True, but like most things incapable of dishonesty, it can't think either. Even one human eye perched before an expert and experienced human brain is worth a hundred Leicas.'

'Still, we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the camera,' she answered, her own voice muffled now as she made sure that at least she got her fair share of the cheese. 'It was lucky you got hold of those photos.'

'They merely help to confirm what I know,' he said, as if piqued. 'Well, I'll be off. Watch how you go now. He was doubtless a brave chap. Give him a decent resurrection. See you in about an hour.'

He gulped down a final mouthful of the filthy black coffee he always took with him on his expeditions to the Great Outdoors. It was deliberately made as strong and bitter as possible to discourage others from sharing it, but Zeugma had trained herself to stomach the stuff. It was, she claimed, a necessary survival technique.

Thrusting the flask and the last two smoked salmon sandwiches into a small rucksack which he draped casually over his left shoulder, he set off north and uphill, waving his two-and-a-half-inch Ordnance Survey map in a gesture which may have been valedictory or merely an effort to unfold it.

Zeugma watched him for a while, then with a bit of a sigh she stepped carefully into the trench. No doubt Leo would return in an hour or two having made half a dozen discoveries more important than her own excavation. But her own researches had brought her here and in fairness he had been most co-operative. She regarded the bones at her feet with a feeling of strong possessiveness.

Pasquino knelt in the damp grass and looked with interest at the object he had just unearthed. To the untutored eye it was an urn, but he recognized it as a bell beaker of the early Bronze Age. It was not empty. Carefully he inserted his hand and examined with interest the fine white powder which adhered to his fingers. Whistling tunelessly to himself, he now pursued his excavations with something less than the meticulous care he preached to his disciples. Indeed one or two more artefacts he unearthed and put aside in a fashion almost cavalier until the small trenching tool struck through the earth at the main object of his search. Now he used his fingers until sufficient soil had been removed to confirm his find.

For a few moments he sat back on his heels, rocking gently to and fro as his mind examined the possible procedures to be followed. It may have been seconds or minutes before he realized he was being watched.

The young man who stood behind him smiled uncertainly as though in half recognition.

'Professor Pasquino, is it?' he said.

'Yes,' said Pasquino.

'I thought it was,' said the young man with relief and came forward with his hand outstretched.

'Access? No problem, Mr Bulstrode. We'd get top priority for something like this. We could turn that little winding road into a four-lane highway in no time at all.'

Sam Lakenheath spoke with all the authority of the chief officer of the North East Cumberland Development Council. And where this high position did not win automatic respect, his appearance was always ready to give a nudge in the right direction.

At thirty (arguably the age where youthful vigours and mature thought find their most productive union) he was still athletically slim. His hair was cut at just the right length to avoid being offensive to either trendy visitors from the south or his local bare-necked employers. And he dressed well, suiting himself admirably for each occasion; but just well enough to excite admiration, never envy.

His companion, a shiny middle-aged man in a lightweight suit, slowly turned through 360 degrees, scanning the surrounding countryside intensely as though imprinting every contour on his mind. For a moment Lakenheath felt the stirrings of hope.

Bulstrode spoke.

'There's a potential here, certainly, Mr Lakenheath. I'd like to stay on for a couple of days, up to the weekend perhaps, and really get some kind of feel of the area. What we've got to remember is, if Polyfibre moved up here, it's not just a question of plant and siting, no, it's a question of shifting a substantial number of our executives. And would they come? That's one of the things the board will want my comments on. Recreational facilities, that kind of thing. What's the night life like? How would we be fixed for getting into the golf club? That kind of thing. There is a golf club, isn't there?'

'Several,' said Lakenheath. The note of vibrant enthusiasm had faded from his voice. He had been here before; he recognized the symptoms. Before his very eyes he had seen Bulstrode, Proteus-like, change shape. Poly-fibre-man, recognizable by his keen eyes, his slightly flared nostrils and his functional, uncluttered silhouette, had disappeared; and with him any chance of Poly-fibre bringing a new age of prosperity to East Cumberland. In his place was Bulstrode-man with three days to kill and someone else paying all expenses. To the imaginative eye his silhouette now had a golf bag on its shoulders, a glass at his lips and something like Mr Punch's truncheon protruding from its loins.

'Miss Amis!' called Bulstrode.

'Yes?' Bulstrode's secretary rose languidly from the grassy bank on which she had been enjoying the sunshine. Upright she swayed uncertainly like a new-born calf on long elegant legs. Even in motion, thought Lakenheath gloomily, she finds it hard to keep them together.

'Time to go, Miss Amis. Lots to do. We'll be staying on a couple of days.'

'Oh,' said Miss Amis, making only a token effort to sound surprised.

'Shall we go?'

Without waiting for an answer, Bulstrode set off down the rutted track which led back to the road. Lakenheath glanced round one more time and shrugged his shoulders. He was really neither disappointed nor surprised, though something competitive in him prevented him from ever just going through the motions. But it was hard to imagine anything less like a factory site than this slow, powerful surge of land, almost unchanged in contour and vegetation since the Romans patrolled its heights, doubtless wondering what the hell they were doing so far from home. Only the distant roofs of the cottages forming the tiny hamlet of Blackrigg gave evidence that time had passed, and their architecture, organic rather than cerebral, had nothing to do with concrete and glass.

Never mind the Romans, what am I doing here? wondered Lakenheath as he set off after Miss Amis whose far from sensible sandals were setting up a wobble which reached all the way to her behind. Lakenheath fixed his eyes on this interesting phenomenon and quickened his pace slightly.

I'm wasting my time here, his thoughts drifted on. What can I hope to achieve? Best to forget it and get out with dignity while I can. Enjoy yourself!

He caught up with Miss Amis. Bulstrode was almost out of sight. A man must take his chances. At my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near. He placed his hand at the base of Miss Amis's spine and said, 'Are you all right, my dear?' She smiled at him, but now a new sound joined the rustle of wind and cry of birds. It came from behind and he thought again, this time with alarm, of Time's winged chariot.

But when he turned he saw that Time was travelling in a hard-driven Range Rover and clearly had no intention of stopping.

He glimpsed a round rosy face mouthing inaudible suggestions at him, then he and Miss Amis subsided into a hawthorn bush in what, in other circumstances and vegetation, might have been an interesting tangle of limbs. Angrily and unchivalrously he pushed himself upright and set off down the track vowing vengeance on the Range Rover's driver.

His chance came sooner than expected. He had left the ancient Morris Oxford which the N.E.C.D.C. generously let him use on its official business parked in the neck of the track, just off the minor road which ran down to Blackrigg. To attempt to bring it further would have been suicidal. It was blocking the Range Rover's access to the road, however, and the female driver, a wild figure with dishevelled hair and a plump body which threatened every seam of her cotton blouse and denim slacks, was haranguing Bulstrode.

'Either you move this museum-piece or I will! Do you think you own the blasted road or something. For heaven's sake, man, don't stand there like a fossilized frog. Move the car!'

Despite his own anger, Lakenheath found he got a small charge of pleasure from hearing Bulstrode so addressed.

He joined the fray.

'This is my car. What seems to be the trouble?'

'Well, if it's your car, you move the damned thing.' She had a strong, girls' public school kind of voice.

'Would you mind telling ...'

'Look. You're inconsiderate, we've established that. I hope to heaven you're not going to turn out to be stupid as well. I want to get out on the road. I'm in a hurry. If I can't get by your car, I'll go through it! Savvy?'

She climbed back into the Range Rover and switched on the engine.

Lakenheath was tempted to accept the challenge, but the thought of the reaction of Mr Sayer, his explosive boss, to a wrecked car made him change his mind. Instead he put on his rueful, let's-patch-things-up grin and produced his key.

'All right,' he said. 'I'll move.'

She glowered back at him, but something in her education prevented her from being totally unresponsive to a truce flag.

'Please hurry,' she said. 'It's an emergency.'

Some phrases are nearly always counter-productive. Lakenheath paused in his progress to the Morris.

'Emergency,' he said in his clipped, emergency voice. 'Can I help?'

'Yes. You can move your bloody car! Oh, look. I'm sorry. But do hurry. I've lost somebody, my guardian, Dr Pasquino. He went off about midday and he hasn't come back yet and it's nearly five. I've been searching for him for the past couple of hours and now I think I ought to get a proper search going before dark. He might have slipped and broken something, or anything ...!'

'Yes. Of course.' Lakenheath considered for a moment. 'Better get you to a telephone. The Old Kith Inn at Blackrigg, that's the nearest.'

'That,' she said with a restraint on her temper as obvious and uncertain as that exercised by her buttons on her breasts, 'is where I am heading. And that is where I would have been ten minutes ago if I hadn't had to waste my time talking to incompetent, ill-mannered and inconsiderate half-wits. Move that bloody car!'

She put the Range Rover into gear, Lakenheath leapt into the Morris and only a first time start and superb reverse acceleration got him out of her way in time.

'An impetuous young woman,' said Bulstrode, pushing Miss Amis into the back seat.

'Silly bitch,' said Lakenheath starting for the village. 'You can't help some people.'

As they approached the Old Kith, Bulstrode touched his arm and pointed at the Range Rover, abandoned with its door still open in front of the pub.

'Perhaps we should look in,' he said. 'Check that all's well. Besides, I could do with a drink.'

I daresay you could, thought Lakenheath bitterly. But can you do without it? The manner in which Bulstrode had disposed of five large gins, two bottles of claret and half a pint of brandy at lunch would have been impressive if the monthly argument with Sayer about the limits of his entertainment allowance had not taken place the day before.

'Surely,' he said, braking.

The first person they saw in the bar was the fat girl. She had a large Scotch in front of her and a pensive look on her face.

' 'Evening, gents,' said the ancient leather-faced landlord from behind the bar. 'We're not really open, but what's it to be?' Bulstrode ignored him.

'Everything under control, my dear?' he said to the girl.

'Yes thanks,' she said, made garrulous by relief, or by something, thought Lakenheath. 'At least I think so. There was a message waiting for me with Charley here. It seems that Leo, Dr Pasquino that is, did get a bit lost, but by chance he ran into someone who knew him, an old friend who's got a house up in Liddesdale somewhere. So he's gone there for dinner. And they rang Charley about an hour ago.'

'Well, that's extraordinary,' said Bulstrode. 'Just leaving you hanging around, worrying!'

'He's an extraordinary man,' said the girl defensively. 'Sometimes he doesn't think, that's all.'

'So your mad dash wasn't really necessary,' said Lakenheath smugly. 'Ah well. So it goes. Miss Amis, what will you drink?'

The girl turned her broad back on him and he steered Bulstrode and his secretary into the window-seat.

'You know, it is very pleasant here,' said Bulstrode, staring pensively through the leaded lights into the quiet street outside.

Lakenheath's keen ear thought it detected a sincere note in Bulstrode's voice. Could the man be weakening? If so, he ought to go into his spiel. That was what he was paid for.


Excerpted from "Beyond the Bone"
by .
Copyright © 1999 Estate of Reginald Hill.
Excerpted by permission of Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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