Excerpt: 'Remains Silent'

After almost four decades in forensic pathology, Harrigan had retired to the country to please his wife, Dolores, who died less than three years later. Bored with fishing, he had taken on the post of Baxter County medical examiner, which meant signing off on one or two death certificates a week and doing two or three autopsies a month. At seventy-two, he was the oldest sitting medical examiner in the state of New York.

"So explain," Jake said."Why did I drive up here in the middle of the night?"

"To get here before the excavation starts up again."

"Excavation of what?"

"That field in the distance."

"And they're digging on a Saturday morning?"

"Apparently," Pete said,"the building of a shopping mall waits for no man -- or bones."

They were traveling on a two-lane road, passing trees, not houses. "A shopping mall? Up here?"

"Rumor has it the governor's going to give the Senecas rights to build a casino. The town fathers are half mad with the prospect of all those tourists, so naturally they want to give them a place to spend their winnings. And what more appropriate location than in back of the Turner insane asylum?"

Jake grunted."Fat chance anyone will win."

Pete glanced at him, amused."You never were much of a gambler, were you."

"Only at love. And look what that won me: a monthly alimony check."

Jake still felt the divorce of his parents with almost the same pain he'd experienced with his own. He remembered hugging his father's leg the last time he walked out the door. His younger brother, Sam, had been a baby, couldn't even stand yet, and didn't know what was going on. But Jake's childhood had gone downhill from that moment. After twenty years of being a medical examiner, he was convinced that the biggest risk factors for murder were love and marriage. He believed the marriage vow should say, I promise to love, honor, and not kill you. He had chosen a career as an ME both to improve society and to prove that a delinquent kid could make something of his life. The time it took to make a marriage work wasn't compatible with his goals.

They continued down the road, sunlight just starting to peek through the trees. "They'd just broken ground on their godforsaken center early yesterday afternoon," Pete said, "when the backhoe brought up the upper part of a skull. The lower jaw, the mandible, was missing, probably carried off with the dirt before the crew realized what they had. In a construction site like this, the first instinct is to ignore anything that gets in the way, but the backhoe driver called the authorities and they called me. I found an ulna and a tibia to go along with the skull and ordered a shutdown; I left them at the site, of course." Harrigan shot Jake a look."I leave you to guess what the developer said the delay would cost him."

Jake smiled into his mug. "An arm and a leg?"

"Just so."

"I'm guessing those aren't an old settler's bones or you wouldn't have brought me up here."

"You got it. Within an hour, the scene was crawling with people: the developer himself -- R. Seward Reynolds -- his lackeys, his lawyers, the mayor, the sheriff, half the town council, and the ever-lovely Marge Crespy, doyenne of the Turner Historical Society."

"Good God!"

"All of them seemed eager for the remains to be a settler. I told them, 'Impossible.'"

Jake got the familiar queasy feeling in his stomach that came with the suspicion of corruption. "Sure. A settler means no fights over Indian burial grounds, no worries about a crime scene. They can just rebury the bones somewhere else and get on with the mall." He looked at his friend and mentor, feeling the anger in Pete's bearing. "Do you think it's a Native American?"

"I found an incisor. It isn't shovel-shaped. The skull has rectangular eye sockets and a triangular nasal opening. You tell me."

Excerpted with permission from "Remains Silent," by Michael Baden and Linda Kenney. Published by Alfred A. Knopf. Copyright © 2005 by Michael Baden.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...