As I was packaging what remained of the dead baby, the man I would kill was burning pavement north toward Charlotte.
I didn't know that at the time. I'd never heard the man's name, knew nothing of the grisly game in which he was a player.
At that moment I was focused on what I would say to Gideon Banks. How would I break the news that his grandchild was dead, his youngest daughter on the run?
My brain cells had been bickering all morning. You're a forensic anthropologist, the logic guys would say. Visiting the family is not your responsibility. The medical examiner will report your findings. The homicide detective will deliver the news. A phone call.
All valid points, the conscience guys would counter. But this case is different. You know Gideon Banks.
I felt a deep sadness as I tucked the tiny bundle of bones into its container, fastened the lid, and wrote a file number across the plastic. So little to examine. Such a short life.
As I secured the tub in an evidence locker, the memory cells floated an image of Gideon Banks. Wrinkled brown face, fuzzy gray hair, voice like ripping duct tape.
Expand the image.
A small man in a plaid flannel shirt arcing a string mop across a tile floor.
The memory cells had been offering the same image all morning. Though I'd tried to conjure up others, this one kept reappearing.
Gideon Banks and I had worked together at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for almost two decades until his retirement three years back. I'd periodically thanked him for keeping my office and lab clean, given him birthday cards and a small gift each Christmas. I knew he was conscientious, polite, deeply religious, and devoted to his kids.
And he kept the corridors spotless.
That was it. Beyond the workplace, our lives did not connect.
Until Tamela Banks placed her newborn in a woodstove and vanished.
Crossing to my office, I booted up my laptop and spread my notes across the desktop. I'd barely begun my report when a form filled the open doorway.
"A home visit really is above and beyond."
I hit "save" and looked up.
The Mecklenburg County medical examiner was wearing green surgical scrubs. A stain on his right shoulder mimicked the shape of Massachusetts in dull red.
"I don't mind." Like I didn't mind suppurating boils on my buttocks.
"I'll be glad to speak to him."
Tim Larabee might have been handsome were it not for his addiction to running. The daily marathon training had wizened his body, thinned his hair, and leatherized his face. The perpetual tan seemed to gather in the hollows of his cheeks, and to pool around eyes set way too deep. Eyes that were now crimped with concern.
"Next to God and the Baptist church, family has been the cornerstone of Gideon Banks's life," I said. "This will shake him."
"Perhaps it's not as bad as it seems."
I gave Larabee the Look. We'd had this conversation an hour earlier.
"All right." He raised a sinewy hand. "It seems bad. I'm sure Mr. Banks will appreciate the personal input. Who's driving you?"
"Your lucky day."
"I wanted to go alone, but Slidell refused to take no for an answer."
"Not Skinny?" Mock surprise.
"I think Skinny's hoping for some kind of lifetime achievement award."
"I think Skinny's hoping to get laid."
I pegged a pen at him. He batted it down.
Larabee withdrew. I heard the autopsy room door click open, then shut.
I checked my watch. Three forty-two. Slidell would be here in twenty minutes. The brain cells did a collective cringe. On Skinny there was cerebral agreement.
Copyright © 2003 by Temperance Brennan, L.P.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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