Make No Bonesby Aaron Elkins
There is not much left of the irascible Albert Evan Jasper, “dean of American forensic anthropologists,” after his demise in a fiery car crash. But in accord with his wishes, his remains—a few charred bits of bone—are installed in an Oregon museum to create a fascinating if macabre exhibit. All agree that it is a fitting end for a great
There is not much left of the irascible Albert Evan Jasper, “dean of American forensic anthropologists,” after his demise in a fiery car crash. But in accord with his wishes, his remains—a few charred bits of bone—are installed in an Oregon museum to create a fascinating if macabre exhibit. All agree that it is a fitting end for a great forensic scientist—until what is left of him disappears in the midst of the biannual meeting (a.k.a., the “bone bash and weenie roast”) of the august WAFA—the Western Association of Forensic Anthropologists—in nearby Bend, Oregon.Like his fellow attendees, Gideon Oliver—the Skeleton Detective—is baffled. Only the WAFA attendees could possibly have made off with the remains, but who in the world would steal something like that? And why? All had an opportunity, but who had a motive?Soon enough, the discovery of another body in a nearby shallow grave will bring to the fore a deeper, more urgent mystery, and when one of the current attendees is found dead in his cabin, all hell breaks loose.
Gideon Oliver is now faced with the most difficult challenge of his career—unmasking a dangerous, brilliant killer who knows every bit as much about forensic science as he does. Or almost.
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Makes No Bones
The Gideon Oliver Series: Book 7
By Aaron Elkins
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1991 Aaron Elkins
All rights reserved.
From: Miranda Glass, Curator of Anthropology, Central Oregon Museum of Natural History.
To: Members of the Western Association of Forensic Anthropologists.
Subject: Sixth Biennial WAFA Conference
Esteemed Fellow Body-Snatchers:
June 16-22, the week of our eagerly anticipated bone bash and weenie roast, is fast approaching. As this year's host I hereby bid you a genial welcome.
Fittingly enough, this year's enlightenment and jollification will be held where it all started: the decaying but still scenic Whitebark Lodge ...
* * *
Nelson Halston Hobert, president of the National Society of Forensic Anthropology, Distinguished Services Professor of Human Biology at the University of Northern New Mexico, and at sixty-four the undisputed dean of American forensic anthropologists, frowned as he read the letter. The breakfast dishes had been cleared to one side, his third cup of coffee was freshly poured, and his morning pipe was newly lit and fragrant. His posture was one of thoughtful repose, his mood benign but troubled.
"Damn," he murmured, "that's going to stir up a few old anxieties."
Across the table from him his wife appraised him and found him wanting.
"You have something in your beard," she told him in a matter-of-fact tone. "Banana bread, I believe."
"Mm," he said abstractedly, "I suppose." He continued to read.
"Honestly," Frieda Hobert said, not unfondly. She reached across the pile of mail and used the tip of her folded napkin to dab the offending crumb from her husband's bristly gray beard. Another flick removed a shred of tobacco from his old brown jogging suit. She looked him over once more, this time approvingly, and sat back satisfied.
If Hobert was aware of these attentions he gave no sign. "Miranda's set up this year's WAFA meeting," he told her. "The week of June sixteenth."
"You can't make it. Pru is getting married on the sixteenth. In Fort Lauderdale."
"I know, but couldn't I—"
"Absolutely not. You were rooting around in Ethiopia when Vannie was married. You're not going to miss this one." She dipped her chin and looked at him over the top of her plastic-rimmed glasses so he would know she meant it.
"No, I suppose I shouldn't," he said reluctantly. "Well, we could see about flights out of Fort Lauderdale that evening—"
"Nellie, I am not sitting up in an airplane all night long, not after what is bound to be an exhausting day. We can leave the next day, after a good night's sleep. Believe me, WAFA will manage to survive without you for a day or two.
Nellie scratched his gleaming scalp and frowned. "Normally I'd have no doubt about that. But ... all right, we'll get a flight the next day."
The "we" was a foregone conclusion. For a dozen years, ever since she'd quit her job teaching, Frieda had accompanied him to his conferences and conventions. Occasionally this was annoying, but not often. She was extremely helpful on his trips, making airplane and hotel reservations, arranging his appointment calendar, even packing his clothes, and relieving him of a hundred bothersome details. He had become, he realized, a substitute for the generations of grade-school kids she'd nurtured for twenty-five years, but that was all right with Nellie. If not him, then who?
Besides, the truth was that he liked having her with him, liked starting and ending the day with her. They'd been married a long time now, and although there were plenty of ups and downs, a day without Frieda put him off his stride, made him feel not quite whole.
"You know why you need me?" she'd once asked when they were discussing the subject. "Because without me you tend to forget you're an august personage and have to behave accordingly."
Well, she certainly had a point there. It wasn't easy remembering you were an august personage.
She lowered the envelope she was opening. "What do you mean, normally you'd have no doubt?"
"Frieda," he said, "Miranda's arranged the meeting for Whitebark Lodge."
"Whitebark Lodge!" Her expression was pained. "What an absolutely rotten idea. What on earth was she thinking of?"
"Well, you have to remember, Miranda wasn't there the night that ... well, the night of the party. No guilty memories for her."
"I hardly think guilt is the right word, Nellie. How could any of you even dream how it was going to turn out? You can't hold yourselves responsible for Albert Evan Jasper's—for what happened to him."
As she spoke he nodded along with her, drawing on his pipe. "I know, Frieda, I know." It wasn't the first time he'd heard her say it, and in general he agreed with her.
"Still," she said, tapping the envelope against her longish chin, "it's going to stir up some rather unpleasant associations, isn't it?"
"That's for damn sure." Nellie swallowed the last of his coffee, sucked hard on his pipe to make sure it was still lit, and abruptly stood up, not wanting to go into it with her just then. "It's not even nine, and I'm not due at school until one I'm going to put in the thyme and cotoneaster out front. What do you think of that?"
"I'm utterly astounded, my dear. They've only been sitting out there three weeks."
* * *
One week, actually, but that was Frieda for you. She enjoyed her little digs. Kneeling in the sun, working from his knees at a lazy pace, Nellie mixed the potting soil with earth from one of the planting holes in the prescribed three-to-one ratio.
"In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico," D. H. Lawrence had written, "one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to the new."
If you asked Nellie, Lawrence had gotten it wrong. For him the high desert morning was relaxing, not energizing; very nearly anesthetic, in fact. The thin, dry air, the crisp, brilliant light, the rolling, open, pinyon-dotted foothills of the Sangre de Cristos, all made him feel sleepy and content, as sleek as a pampered house cat. Sleek and reflective and, on this particular morning, a shade melancholy.
He was reflecting on the first WAFA meeting, ten years earlier, as he worked the soil. "Rather unpleasant associations," Frieda had said, and she'd been putting it mildly. Damn unpleasant was the way he would put it. What else could you call it when you'd been responsible, no matter how unintentionally, for the death—the violent, unnecessary death—of the man to whom you owed very nearly everything important you had?
He leaned back on his heels, trowel at rest. Miranda's letter would have gone out to all forty or so WAFA members. For four of them—and only four—the mention of Whitebark Lodge would create those same "rather unpleasant associations."
He wondered what they were thinking about right now.
* * *
Callie Duffer was thinking about—or at least talking about—the self-esteem needs and personal-growth potential of an anthropology student named Marc Vroom, who was in considerable danger of flunking out of Nevada State University in his first graduate semester. As departmental chair, she felt she was required to declare her opinions.
"Surely you see," she told the three faculty members gathered in her office, "that failing this young man would solve none of his problems."
"Well, it'd go a long way toward solving mine," Harlow Pollard grumbled.
Callie swallowed down a surge of irritation. Had he said it with a hint of humor, even sardonic humor, she might have smiled. But Harlow was about as humorous as a codfish, and not so very much quicker on the uptake. Still, what was the point of getting annoyed? The man was to be pitied, a simplistic dinosaur incapable of comprehending the new dynamics of the educational suprasystem and the role of academics as change-agents. Poor Harlow still thought that he was there to teach anthropology, period. A living argument, Callie thought, against the tenure system.
Marge Harris, one of the younger instructors, tentatively waggled her fingers for attention. "Callie," she said hesitantly, "we all understand how dedicated you are to the concept of the university as a social support network—"
Harlow made an unpleasant strangled sound.
"—but you haven't had him in any of your classes," Marge went on. "He's constantly unprepared. When he's not argumentative he's flippant. When we try to point out what we expect of him, he treats it as a huge joke—"
"Ah!" Callie said, seizing on this, "what we expect of him. Couldn't that be the problem right there? Have we tried to attune ourselves to his needs? Have we taken the trouble to understand where he's coming from?"
A telling thrust, Callie thought, but the three of them just sat there, dumb and resisting. You'd think that at least the younger ones would grasp the importance of structural flexibility when you were dealing with a dysfunctional—
"Can I tell you what happened Friday?" Harlow said, face down, mumbling, talking to all of them. "I was giving my 304 midterm. Mr. Vroom came in fifteen minutes late, sat there five minutes, handed in his paper, and left. Do you know what he wrote?"
"No, what did he write, Harlow?" Callie said with a wooden-lipped attempt at a smile. How strange it was, when you came to think of it, that almost everything she said to Harlow Pollard required this granite-willed attitude of indulgence on her part. At fifty-three, he was nine years her senior, and once upon a time he had been her major professor. She had gotten her Ph.D. under him, right here at Nevada State, and started immediately as a temporary lecturer when he was already a fully tenured associate professor.
And now, she thought, idly fingering the buttery brown leather arm of the chair she'd inherited when she'd taken over the department, now here she was a dozen years later, a full professor and department chair to boot. And soon to be dean of faculty, if she didn't screw things up. And poor, plodding, shortsighted Harlow? Harlow was still an associate professor. He would be an associate professor when he retired. (Soon, God willing.)
"Well, here's what he wrote," Harlow droned on. "'Sorry, prof, not my day.' This was in big block letters, then he drew one of those, what do you call them, one of those Happy Faces, and wrote 'Have a nice day."
He looked up, thick-witted and impenetrable. "Can anyone tell me what to make of that?"
Callie was weary of the conversation, but she leaned forward with what she hoped looked like eagerness. "But can't you see that, looked at in the right way, that's his attempt—faltering, tentative, to be sure—to open up communication? This is our chance to respond, to show him that we care, that we can be nurturing as well as censuring."
"Nurturing ...?" Harlow echoed opaquely. He really, truly didn't get it, didn't even understand the words. The others weren't much better.
"He is twenty-eight years old," ventured Will Martinez, who couldn't have been more than a couple of years older. "You'd think—"
Callie decided it was time to assert her authority. Enough was enough. "I'm glad you've all shared your thoughts with me," she said briskly. "I've learned a lot from listening to you, but it's clear to me we have a way to go here. I think we should devote our team-building session Thursday to some hands-on training in nondirective counseling. I'll ask Dr. Mehrabian from human resources development to put us through some problem-solving role play. Does that make sense to everyone? Does anyone see any problem with that? Is there any feedback?"
Aside from the resigned, almost imperceptible slumping of three sets of shoulders, there was no feedback.
* * *
It hadn't been one of her better faculty meetings, Callie thought with irritation as the door closed behind them. She hadn't elicited enough response, as exasperating as that invariably turned out to be. She hadn't made them feel that the training was their idea. Well, what could she expect? The letter from Miranda had arrived only an hour earlier, and of course it had upset her. She was a high-strung person; she'd never claimed she wasn't.
Harlow must have received his copy in the morning's mail too; that would be more than enough to account for his having looked even more gray-faced and dyspeptic than usual.
She pulled it out of the desk tray and scanned it again. Whitebark Lodge. What a host of wretched memories that name stirred up.
Not that it had started badly, of course. It had been Nellie Hobert's idea in the first place, as she recalled: an informal conference-cum-retirement-party-in-the-woods for Albert Evan Jasper, put on by the celebrated anthropologist's grateful and adoring former students. Never mind that Callie had felt neither grateful nor adoring toward the chauvinistic old bully; never mind that she had left him after two maddening years to come and study with the less demanding Harlow Pollard, himself a browbeaten former student of Jasper's. The facts were that she had learned a lot from Jasper, that she'd been flattered to be invited to the meeting, and that some sort of send-off seemed his due.
Well, the old man had gotten a send-off, all right. Straight out of this life. She couldn't claim to be sorry about that even now, but it had been a miserable experience for her all the same. For a long time she had dragged around a burden of guilt, as if it had been her fault, her personal doing, that had driven him to his death.
Which it hadn't been, of course; hers or anyone else's. The therapeutic-psychodrama group at Esalen had helped her get that unwholesome idea out of her mind, and the marathon encounter weekend with its follow-up week of transformational body-mind work had put things in their true perspective: Albert Evan Jasper had been "driven" to nothing; he had made his own decisions, followed his own course, and marched—decisively and arrogantly as always—to his own violent end.
And now, even in death, even ten years later, even after she'd gotten it out of her system—or so she'd believed—here he was, still blighting her life. And no doubt doing the same to Nellie Hobert, and poor old Harlow, and the rest of them.
Damn him, she thought.
* * *
In his smaller, dustier office two floors below Callie's, Harlow Pollard stared hollowly at Miranda's letter. He was filled with a sense of impending doom, of a fateful circle coming closed. Whitebark Lodge. When he'd first read those words a few hours ago, his immediate reaction had been an instinctive aversion. He wouldn't go. How could he? How could Callie, how could any of them? But then a sort of desperate, horrible resignation had come over him. Oh, yes, he would go back. A part of him had always known that one day he would, that his long ordeal would be resolved there.
He frowned, probing with his middle finger at the spot below his sternum where the familiar pain was focused, where he was sure he could feel the acid eating through his stomach lining. He took a couple of chewable Pepto-Bismol tablets from the family-sized box in his lower desk drawer and forced them down a dry throat with a gulp of herbal tea that had been on his desk since yesterday.
My God, my God, Whitebark Lodge.
Not that he bore the responsibility for what had happened there. No one could say that. Of all of them, he was probably the least to blame. Whose fault was it, then? Well, that depended on how you looked at it. On the one hand, you might say it was everyone's, in an indirect sort of way, of course. On the other, wasn't it really Jasper himself ...
Harlow passed his hand over his eyes. With puffy, unsteady fingers he tore the plastic wrapper from two more pink, heart-shaped Pepto-Bismol tablets.
* * *
A few hundred miles to the east, in a similar office in a similar building on the campus of the Colorado Institute of Technology, Professor Leland Roach was suffering no such distress. Happily engrossed in his work, his spare and narrow-shouldered form hunched over the laptop computer on his desk, he clicked away at his latest contribution to the Southwestern Journal of Paleopathology. His own words, elegant and authoritative, blinked comfortingly into existence on the screen:
... these fecal samples were then rehydrated in an aqueous trisodium phosphate solution, resulting in the recovery of four oocysts of a parasitic protozoan identified as belonging to the genus Eimeria; most probably E. piriformis. This provocative burning ...
Excerpted from Makes No Bones by Aaron Elkins. Copyright © 1991 Aaron Elkins. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Aaron Elkins is a former anthropologist and professor who has been writing mysteries and thrillers since 1982. His major continuing series features forensic anthropologist‑detective Gideon Oliver, “the Skeleton Detective.” There are fifteen published titles to date in the series. The Gideon Oliver books have been (roughly) translated into a major ABC‑TV series and have been selections of the Book‑of‑the‑Month Club, the Literary Guild, and the Readers Digest Condensed Mystery Series. His work has been published in a dozen languages.
Mr. Elkins won the 1988 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year for Old Bones , the fourth book in the Gideon Oliver Series. He and his cowriter and wife, Charlotte, also won an Agatha Award, and he has also won a Nero Wolfe Award. Mr. Elkins lives on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula with Charlotte.
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