Inside the bundle clutched by skeleton five, I found an arch of tiny vertebral disks with a miniature rib cage curving around it. Arm and leg bones the size of matches. A minute jaw.
Señora Ch'i'p's infant grandchild.
Among the paper-thin cranial fragments, a 556 projectile, the type fired by an assault rifle.
I remembered how I'd felt at the slaughter of kittens, but this time I felt rage. There were no streets to walk here at the gravesite, no way to work off my anger. I stared at the little bones, trying to picture the man who had pulled the trigger. How could he sleep at night? How could he face people in the day?
At six Mateo gave the order to quit. Up top the air smelled of rain, and veins of lightning pulsated inside heavy, black clouds. The locals had gone.
Moving quickly, we covered the well, stored the equipment we would leave behind, and loaded up that which we would carry. As the team worked, rain began plinking in large, cold drops on the temporary roof above our heads. Amado, the DA's representative, waited with lawn chair folded, face unreadable.
Mateo signed the chain of custody book over to the police guards, then we set off through the corn, winding one behind another like ants on a scent trail. We'd just begun our long, steep climb when the storm broke. Hard, driving rain stung my face and drenched my hair and clothes. Lightning flashed. Thunder boomed. Trees and cornstalks bent in the wind.
Within minutes, water sluiced down the hillside, turning the path into a slick, brown stream of mud. Again and again I lost my footing, hitting hard on one knee, then the other. I crawled upward, right hand clawing at vegetation, left hand dragging a bag of trowels, feet scrambling for traction. Though rain and darkness obscured my vision, I could hear others above and below me. Their hunched forms whitened each time lightning leapt across the sky. My legs trembled, my chest burned.
An eon later I crested the ridge and dragged myself onto the patch of earth where we'd left the vehicles eleven hours earlier. I was placing shovels in the bed of a pickup when Mateo's satellite phone sounded, the ring barely audible above the wind and rain.
"Can someone get that?" Mateo shouted.
Slipping and sliding toward the cab, I grabbed his pack, dug out the handset, and clicked on.
"Tempe Brennan," I shouted.
"Are you still at the site?" English. It was Molly Carraway, my colleague from Minnesota.
"We're just about to pull out. It's raining like hell," I shouted, backhanding water from my eyes.
"It's dry here."
"Where are you?"
"Just outside Sololá. We were late leaving. Listen, we think we're being followed."
"A black sedan's been on our ass since Guatemala City. Carlos tried a couple of maneuvers to lose it, but the guy's hanging on like a bad cold."
"Can you tell who's driving?"
"Not really. The glass is tinted an -- "
I heard a loud thump, a scream, then static, as though the phone had been dropped and was rolling around.
"Jesus Christ!" Carlos's voice was muted by distance.
I heard agitated words that I couldn't make out.
"Molly, what is it?"
Shouts. Another thump. Scraping. A car horn. A loud crunch. Male voices.
"What's happening?" Alarm raised my voice an octave.
A shouted command.
"Fuck you!" Carlos.
"Molly! Tell me what's going on!" I was almost screaming. The others had stopped loading to stare at me.
"No!" Molly Carraway spoke from a distant galaxy, her voice small and tinny and filled with panic. "Please. No!"
Two muted pops.
Copyright © 2002 by Temperance Brennan, L.P.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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