Ruth teaches at the University of North Norfolk (UNN
is the unprepossessing acronym), a new university just
outside Kings Lynn. She teaches archaeology, which is a
new discipline there, specialising in forensic archaeology,
which is newer still. Phil, her head of department,
frequently jokes that there is nothing new about archaeology
and Ruth always smiles dutifully. It is only a matter
of time, she thinks, before Phil gets himself a bumper
sticker. Archaeologists dig it. Youre never too old for an
archaeologist. Her special interest is bones. Why didnt the
skeleton go to the ball? Because he had no body to dance
with. She has heard them all but she still laughs every time.
Last year her students bought her a life-size cut-out of
Bones from Star Trek. He stands at the top of her stairs,
terrifying the cats.
On the radio someone is discussing life after death. Why
do we feel the need to create a heaven? Is this a sign that
there is one or just wishful thinking on a massive scale?
Ruths parents talk about heaven as if it is very familiar, a
kind of cosmic shopping centre where they will know their
way around and have free passes for the park-and-ride, and
where Ruth will languish forever in the underground car
park. Until she is Born Again, of course. Ruth prefers the
Catholic heaven, remembered from student trips to Italy
and Spain. Vast cloudy skies, incense and smoke, darkness
and mystery. Ruth likes the Vast: paintings by John Martin,
the Vatican, the Norfolk sky. Just as well, she thinks wryly
as she negotiates the turn into the university grounds.
The university consists of long, low buildings, linked by
glass walkways. On grey mornings like this it looks
inviting, the buttery light shining out across the myriad car
parks, a row of dwarf lamps lighting the way to the
Archaeology and Natural Sciences Building. Closer to, it
looks less impressive. Though the building is only ten years
old, cracks are appearing in the concrete façade, there is
graffiti on the walls and a good third of the dwarf lamps
dont work. Ruth hardly notices this, however, as she parks
in her usual space and hauls out her heavy rucksack
heavy because it is half-full of bones.
Climbing the dank-smelling staircase to her office, she
thinks about her first lecture: First Principles in
Excavation. Although they are postgraduates, many of her
students will have little or no first-hand experience of digs.
Many are from overseas (the university needs the fees) and
the frozen East Anglian earth will be quite a culture shock
for them. This is why they wont do their first official dig
As she scrabbles for her key card in the corridor, she is
aware of two people approaching her. One is Phil, the
Head of Department, the other she doesnt recognise. He is
tall and dark, with greying hair cut very short and there is
something hard about him, something contained and
slightly dangerous that makes her think that he cant be a
student and certainly not a lecturer. She stands aside to let
them pass but, to her surprise, Phil stops in front of her
and speaks in a serious voice which nevertheless contains
an ill-concealed edge of excitement.
Ruth. Theres someone who wants to meet you.
A student after all, then. Ruth starts to paste a welcoming
smile on her face but it is frozen by Phils next words.
This is Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. He
wants to talk to you about a murder.
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