When he wakes up he remembers nothing, not even his own name. He doesn’t know why he’s squatting in Central Park or why he carries the human femur that earned him the nickname “Bone.” He has no idea what he’s done over the past year wandering the streets of Manhattan—or what came before.
Det. Lt. Perry Lightning suspects that Bone is the serial killer who’s been brutalizing the city’s homeless population. He also suspects Bone is playing games, pretending to have no knowledge of his life or his actions. But despite what the detective thinks, Bone doesn’t remember committing those horrific crimes.
With the help of a social worker named Anne and a street performer named Zulu, Bone attempts to discover the truth. But his pursuit of the past is about to take them deep into New York’s underground . . . where untold horrors await.
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His first sensation was of vague discomfort, a damp chilliness which almost immediately exploded into wet cold so fierce and piercing it seemed his heart would freeze and shatter; next he was aware of cold rain beating on his head, melting away his hair and scalp ...
"... me, Bone?" A woman's voice echoing somewhere in the dark depths of his stirring consciousness, a disembodied human sound balanced on the cusp between sleep and wakefulness, or one dream and another. "Bone, can you hear me?"
Then came anxiety, which quickly swelled into fear. Something was terribly wrong, but he did not know what it was. A dream? Whose dream? He could not remember anything. He was missing huge chunks of himself, but he could not recall where he had left, or lost, them. Without the pieces of himself that were inexplicably missing he felt reduced to no more than a pair of eyes trapped inside an alien, out-of-control body squatting in cold mud oozing over the tops of his shoes and soaking through the seat of his pants. He sensed that the body was gripping something in its right hand, but he did not know what it was. Fear became terror and he felt as if he were suffocating, the air being crushed from his lungs.
Who was the stranger squatting in the mud?! Who am I?!
Somewhere off to his right in this freezing, black ocean of rain and mud, a man's voice said, "Look at the poor son-of-a-bitch; he's shaking like a leaf. I'm going to —"
"No, Barry!" The woman. Her tone sharp, confident, commanding. "Don't go near him yet. Just let him be for a few minutes."
"Anne's right, Barry." Another man's voice. Authoritative tone despite a foreign accent that gave the sound a lilting, almost song-like quality. Off to his left. The two men were flanking the woman, who was closest to him. Very close to him. "I'd say he's trembling as much from fear as cold, and he might very well be dangerous."
"Oh, come on, Ali," the woman said. "I just don't want him to be any more frightened than he already is. He's never given any indication that he's dangerous; quite the opposite."
"He's never squatted in the rain and mud for two days before, either," the high-pitched, lilting voice of authority said. "Obviously, something's changed in him, and I don't think it wise to approach him until we can determine just what, and how deep, that change or those changes may be. The bone he carries is a human femur which appears to have ossified; it would make a formidable weapon. You're too close to him, Anne."
"I'm all right."
"I can handle him," the man on his right with the deeper voice said. "If you give the word that we can take him in, Ali, I'll get him to the van."
"No," the woman said firmly. "If you start grabbing at him, we could lose him again. This is the biggest reaction we've ever seen in him. Whatever's happening inside his head is important, and we don't want to rush things."
"Agreed," the lilting voice said. "Anne, come back under the umbrella."
"I'm all right, Ali."
"How long are we supposed to just stand around here in the rain and wait?"
"If you're cold, Barry, go sit in the van."
He blinked — and suddenly he could see. He was crouched in the middle of a very large field which was bordered by trees. Beyond the trees, shrouded in mist and fog, dozens of tall buildings thrust up into a lead-colored sky. Atop one building was a sign, Essex House; it meant nothing to him, except that it told him the stranger could read. The sight of the magnificent stone and glass buildings surrounding the meadow and the trees deeply touched him for reasons he could not understand. He had no idea who, what or where he was, and he could not remember ever seeing the meadow or the trees or the tall buildings beyond, but there was no doubt that they reminded him of something. Perhaps it was all a dream, a nightmare, and he would awaken at any moment and remember who he was.
"Give me a break, partner. It just seems to me that it's not going to do anyone any good for two city workers and a psychiatrist to catch pneumonia waiting around for a man to decide if he wants to come in out of the rain. Bone's been here two days already, and there's no telling how long he intends to stay. If Ali will sign the papers, let's at least get the guy's body inside the van, out of the rain, and worry about his head later. As it is, he must be half dead by now. It's freezing out here."
He judged the man with the deeper voice, the one off to his right who had just spoken, to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Under six feet, heavyset, he wore a bright blue windbreaker with a New York Giants logo over a black, woolen turtleneck sweater, jeans which were stretched tight by heavily muscled thighs and tucked into the tops of laced leather boots with rubber soles. His close-cropped black hair with its widow's peak was matted down over a broad forehead. His nose seemed too small for the rest of his face, which was dominated by a broad chin thrust out as if in defiance of the rain beating down on his uncovered head. The bright green eyes, now focused on him, with the rest of his features and the set of his body, revealed a mix of emotions — curiosity, wonder, caution and perhaps not a little hostility and fear.
The features of the other two people were hidden in the shadows beneath the hoods of bulky, gray rain slickers that came down to their knees. The man off to his left had a slight, even frail, build, and seemed almost lost in his oversize slicker beneath the large black umbrella he held over his head.
The woman, about five feet five or six, was standing directly in front of him, very close, no more than two yards away.
"Anne, don't —!"
But the woman ignored the burly man's warning as she abruptly stepped forward and crouched down directly in front of him, less than an arm's length away. The sudden movement caused her hood to slip off, but she made no move to pull it back up. Before the rain darkened and matted it down, he saw thick, shiny, dark brown hair, shoulder-length and prematurely gray around the temples. He judged her to be in her early thirties, attractive if not beautiful, with an aura of both toughness and tenderness. She had a full mouth, with an exaggerated cleft in her upper lip, a thin, aquiline nose, high cheekbones, fair skin, bright hazel eyes that now glistened with tears. He saw yearning in the reflective pools of the hazel eyes, hope and a great deal of anxiety; but he sensed that the anxiety was not for herself, but for him.
Suddenly the woman reached into the deep pocket of her slicker, drew out what appeared to be a sandwich wrapped in waxed paper, held it out to him in a trembling hand. The rain spattering on the waxed paper sounded like machine-gun fire.
"Please, Bone," the woman said in a quavering voice that was close to a sob. The tears that had glistened in her eyes now welled, spilled over her lids and ran down her cheeks to be washed away by the rain. "At least take the sandwich. You haven't eaten anything in two days, and you must be starving. You'll die."
He stared at the waxed-paper package in the woman's outstretched, trembling hand, watched the fat raindrops splatter and pop on its surface. Rat-tatta-tatta-rat-tatta.
The woman withdrew the sandwich, lowered her head and breathed a deep sigh. Then, without straightening up, she twisted around and spoke to the short man standing under the black umbrella. "You've got to give us the okay to take him in involuntarily, Ali. It's why we dragged you out here."
"I understand that," the man replied easily in his lilting, singsong voice. "But on what grounds? Who is he hurting?"
"Himself, Ali! Damn it, you know that!"
"It isn't really that cold — certainly nowhere near freezing, which is the critical temperature. After all, it's springtime."
"Ali, he's been out here two days! He's going to catch pneumonia, if he doesn't have it already!"
"I'll be told that's not sufficient grounds for involuntary incarceration. Your perception of what's happening here is relatively unimportant, and you know that. The increase in tuberculosis among this population is mushrooming, as you also know; but even the fact that a man or woman is dying of tuberculosis — and infecting countless others — is not, by itself, considered grounds for involuntary incarceration. We'll be asked in all seriousness by some half-assed young lawyer how we could be certain he wasn't just trying to wash himself."
"Now you sound like one of those goddamned lawyers!" the woman snapped. Her voice was growing husky, as if she might be sick herself.
"You know which side I'm on, Anne," the man under the umbrella replied evenly. "But I'm the one who has to answer to those lawyers and judges, and it's my time that will be wasted answering questions and filling out forms that could eventually lead to a court order freeing him again, anyway. You talk as if you've never been through this business with me before. What is so special about this man? Without too much difficulty, I believe we could find fifty other homeless people here in the park, out in the rain."
"No, Ali! Not like Bone! Not squatting out in the open, unprotected! And not for two days!" She paused, sighed heavily again, and then resumed speaking in a tone that had become plaintive. "At least we can get him inside for a few hours, Ali; get him dried off and put some food in his belly."
"Maybe, maybe not. He might resist — violently — any attempt to undress him, give him medication or food. It's bad professional practice to make a move we know will probably be blocked, Anne — bad for me, bad for you, and bad for the cause we serve. It's the responsibility of the city and the courts to set the guidelines, which they've done. We may know they're totally unrealistic, but all we can do is advise change and keep working within those guidelines. In this instance, we'll probably be told in no uncertain terms that just because a man doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain is no reason to deprive him of his civil liberties. I'm sorry, Anne. I want to help this man you call Bone as much as you do."
"I doubt that," the heavyset man said tightly. "Anne has a thing for Bone."
The woman shook her head impatiently. "Ali, you're the psychiatrist on call, and HRA needs your written authorization to shelter this man against his will. Give it to us, and I promise I'll deal with the lawyers. I think you're being unreasonable. Bone looks like he's about to keel over from exhaustion, anyway, so why can't you just sign the goddamned papers?!"
Bone? he thought. This was the name of the stranger whose body he haunted?
"I think it's premature, Anne. He's not physically acting out, overtly endangering himself or others. I'm sorry."
He abruptly stood up.
"Anne, watch out!" the burly man in the blue windbreaker shouted as he started forward, his large hands balled into fists.
The woman twisted back around to look up at him, then quickly straightened up and stepped even closer, as if to shield him from the other man. She stood so close that, even through her heavy parka, he could feel the distinctive softness of large breasts pressing against his left arm. "Wait, Barry! Don't touch him! It's all right! He won't hurt me!" The man with the bright green eyes and short black hair stopped; but his hands remained clenched into fists, and he was balanced on the balls of his feet, ready to leap forward. The man under the umbrella hadn't appeared to react at all.
"I'm responsible for your safety," the man said in a low, tense voice, impatiently swiping at the water collecting on his broad chin. "It's why they send me out with you."
"I'm safe," she replied, and then slowly turned her head to look into his face. There was no fear in her hazel eyes, he thought; excitement, hope and compassion — but no fear. He was still very conscious of the feel of her breasts against his arm, the confident gentleness of her voice. "We're not going to hurt you, Bone. Please don't try to hurt any of us."
Then she slowly lowered her gaze, to his right. He looked down and was startled to see that he was holding a large bone in his right hand, and that his arm was half raised, as if to strike with the strange object, which, now that he was aware of it, felt as heavy, cold and hard as stone; he could understand the burly man's concern, and was struck anew by the woman's confidence and fearlessness.
He was the one who was afraid.
He lowered his arm — but did not release the bone. He wondered why anyone would carry a bone around with him, yet realized that the stranger whose body he inhabited did — had. Indeed, these people seemed to know the stranger, called him "Bone." Where had the stranger carried the bone? Why?
He was afraid. And, suddenly, he was ravenously hungry.
The woman stepped away and once again, slowly, held out the sandwich to him.
He transferred the bone to his left armpit — slowly, deliberately, so as to show he was not threatening anybody — and then took the sandwich from the woman's outstretched hand. His own hands shook as he fumbled with the wrapper, and he finally tore it off, dropping the pieces of waxed paper into the mud at his feet. He bit into the sandwich and groaned aloud with satiated need and pleasure at the taste and texture of the bread, ham, cheese, lettuce and mayonnaise. He wolfed down the first sandwich, accepted a second, which the woman, beaming with pleasure, had produced from the deep pockets of her gray parka. When he had finished this he felt better, if a bit dizzy. He licked mayonnaise off his fingers, then glanced up to find that the two men had moved closer, and now stood on either side of the woman. At this distance he could see that the slight man under the umbrella had a dark brown complexion, accented by a thin, very dark moustache that matched the color of his hair, and very large, limpid black eyes that were now staring at him with intense curiosity.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked, looking from one face to another.
The dark eyebrows of the frail-looking man under the umbrella lifted slightly. "I am Dr. Ali Hakim," he said, his lilting voice now carrying more than a trace of amusement as well as surprise. "This is my colleague, Miss Anne Winchell, and her assistant, Mr. Barry Prindle. And who the hell, may we ask, are you?"
He searched his stranger's mind for an answer that wouldn't appear. His fear, which had been forgotten as his terrible hunger had been recognized and partially assuaged, now returned, and was worse. "I ... don't know," he said hoarsely, looking around him at the mud and wet grass, the trees, sidewalks and lampposts, the tall buildings that rose like a circular mountain range all around them. "Where am I?"
The woman's broad smile vanished as she frowned with concern. "You're in the Sheep Meadow. Don't you remember coming here?"
His stomach muscles tightened as his fear continued to grow in him. Reflexively, he took the bone from under his left arm and gripped it tightly. The heavyset man to his right tensed, and the woman quickly put her hand on his arm.
"Sheep meadow? What sheep meadow? Where?"
Still frowning, the woman exchanged glances with the brown-skinned man under the umbrella, then looked back at him. "The Sheep Meadow in Central Park — New York City. Don't you know who or where you are, Bone? Don't those names mean anything to you?"
Again, he searched the stranger's mind, and again found no answers. He studied the faces of the people standing in front of him — the woman's, anxious and pensive; the burly man's, cautious and suspicious. The expression on the face of the man under the umbrella was impassive, with only the brightness of his limpid, expressive eyes revealing his continued keen curiosity.
"Not at the moment," he replied at last, glancing down at the bizarre object he held in his hand. "You call me 'Bone.' I presume because of this." He paused, looked hard at the woman. "But you also talk as if you know me. Do you?"
"Yes," the woman replied softly, in a strained voice that clearly reflected dismay and disappointment. "At least, I feel as if I do."
"For how long?"
"A little over a year — since Barry and I approached you over on Eighth Avenue."
He swallowed hard, found that his mouth was very dry. He licked rain from his lips, then closed his eyes and probed desperately into the stranger's mind for some feeling, however vague, of recognition or familiarity. There was none, and he opened his eyes. "I've been here a year?" he said to the woman as he gestured around him, making no effort to hide his fear. A year!
Excerpted from "Bone"
Copyright © 2017 George C. Chesbro.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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