I shut the computer down and leaned back in my chair.
What would I say to Gideon Banks?
Bad luck, Mr. Banks. Looks like your youngest gave birth, wrapped the tyke in a blanket, and used him as kindling.
Wham-o! The visual cells sent up a new mental image. Banks pulling a Kodak print from a cracked leather wallet. Six brown faces. Close haircuts for the boys, pigtails for the girls. All with teeth too big for the smiles.
The old man beaming over the photo, adamant that each child would go to college.
I slipped off my lab coat and hung it on the hook behind my door.
If the Banks kids had attended UNC-Charlotte while I was on the faculty, they'd shown little interest in anthropology. I'd met only one. Reggie, a son midrange in the offspring chronology, had taken my human evolution course.
The memory cells offered a gangly kid in a baseball cap, brim low over razor-blade brows. Last row in the lecture hall. A intellect, C+ effort.
How long ago? Fifteen years? Eighteen?
I'd worked with a lot of students back then. In those days my research focused on the ancient dead, and I'd taught several undergraduate classes. Bioarchaeology. Osteology. Primate ecology.
One morning an anthro grad showed up at my lab. A homicide detective with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD, she'd brought bones recovered from a shallow grave. Could her former prof determine if the remains were those of a missing child?
I could. They were.
That case was my first encounter with coroner work. Today the only seminar I teach is in forensic anthropology, and I commute between Charlotte and Montreal serving as forensic anthropologist to each jurisdiction.
The geography had been difficult when I'd taught full-time, requiring complex choreography within the academic calendar. Now, save for the duration of that single seminar, I shift as needed. A few weeks north, a few weeks south, longer when casework or court testimony requires.
North Carolina and Quebec? Long story.
My academic colleagues call what I do "applied." Using my knowledge of bones, I tease details from cadavers and skeletons, or parts thereof, too compromised for autopsy. I give names to the skeletal, the decomposed, the mummified, the burned, and the mutilated, who might otherwise go to anonymous graves. For some, I determine the manner and time of their passing.
With Tamela's baby there'd been but a cup of charred fragments. A newborn is chump change to a woodstove.
Mr. Banks, I'm so sorry to have to tell you, but --
My cell phone sounded.
"Yo, Doc. I'm parked out front." Skinny Slidell. Of the twenty-four detectives in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD Felony Investigative Bureau/Homicide Unit, perhaps my least favorite.
"Be right there."
I'd been in Charlotte several weeks when an informant's tip led to the shocking discovery in the woodstove. The bones had come to me. Slidell and his partner had caught the case as a homicide. They'd tossed the scene, tracked down witnesses, taken statements. Everything led to Tamela Banks.
I shouldered my purse and laptop and headed out. In passing, I stuck my head into the autopsy room. Larabee looked up from his gunshot victim and waggled a gloved finger in warning.
My reply was an exaggerated eye roll.
The Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner facility occupies one end of a featureless brick shoebox that entered life as a Sears Garden Center. The other end of the shoebox houses satellite offices of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Devoid of architectural charm save a slight rounding of the edges, the building is surrounded by enough asphalt to pave Rhode Island.
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