My name is Temperance Deassee Brennan. I'm five-five,
feisty, and forty-plus. Multidegreed. Overworked.
Slashing lines through that bit of literary inspiration, I
penned another opening.
I'm a forensic anthropologist. I know death. Now it stalks
me. This is my story.
Merciful God. Jack Webb and Dragnet reincarnate.
I glanced at the clock. Two thirty-five.
Abandoning the incipient autobiography, I began to doodle.
Circles inside circles. The clock face. The conference room. The
UNCC campus. Charlotte. North Carolina. North America. Earth. The
Around me, my colleagues argued minutiae with all the passion of
religious zealots. The current debate concerned wording within a
subsection of the departmental self-study. The room was stifling,
the topic poke-me-in-the-eye dull. We'd been in session for over
two hours, and time was not flying.
I added spiral arms to the outermost of my concentric circles.
Began filling spaces with dots. Four hundred billion stars in the
galaxy. I wished I could put my chair into hyperdrive to any one of
Anthropology is a broad discipline, comprised of linked
subspecialties. Physical. Cultural. Archaeological. Linguistic. Our
department has the full quartet. Members of each group were feeling
a need to have their say.
George Petrella is a linguist who researches myth as a narrative
of individual and collective identity. Occasionally he says
something I understand.
At the moment, Petrella was objecting to the wording "reducible
to" four distinct fields. He was proposing substitution of the
phrase "divisible into."
Cheresa Bickham, a Southwestern archaeologist, and Jennifer
Roberts, a specialist in cross-cultural belief systems, were
holding firm for "reducible to."
Tiring of my galactic pointillism, and not able to reduce or
divide my ennui into any matters of interest, I switched to
Temperance. The trait of avoiding excess.
Double order, please. Side of restraint. Hold the ego.
The verbiage flowed on.
At 3:10 a vote was taken. "Divisible into" carried the day.
Evander Doe, department chair for over a decade, was presiding.
Though roughly my age, Doe looks like someone out of a Grant Wood
painting. Bald. Owlish wire-rims. Pachyderm ears.
Most who know Doe consider him dour. Not me. I've seen the man
smile at least two or three times.
Having put "divisible into" behind him, Doe proceeded to the
next burning issue. I halted my swirly lettering to listen.
Should the department's mission statement stress historical ties
to the humanities and critical theory, or should it emphasize the
emerging role of the natural sciences and empirical
My aborted autobiography had been smack on. I would die
of boredom before this meeting adjourned.
Sudden mental image. The infamous sensory deprivation
experiments of the 1950s. I pictured volunteers wearing opaque
goggles and padded hand muffs, lying on cots in white-noise
I listed their symptoms and compared them to my present
Anxiety. Depression. Antisocial behavior.
I crossed out the fourth item. Though stressed and irritable, I
wasn't hallucinating. Yet. Not that I'd mind. A vivid vision would
have provided diversion.
Don't get me wrong. I've not grown cynical about teaching. I
love being a professor. I regret that my interaction with students
seems more limited each year.
Why so little classroom time? Back to the subdiscipline
Ever try to see just a doctor? Forget it. Cardiologist.
Dermatologist. Endocrinologist. Gastroenterologist. It's a
specialized world. My field is no different.
Anthropology: the study of the human organism. Physical
anthropology: the study of the biology, variability, and evolution
of the human organism. Osteology: the study of the bones of the
human organism. Forensic anthropology: the study of the bones of
the human organism for legal purposes.
Follow the diverging branches, and there I am. Though my
training was in bioarchaeology, and I started my career excavating
and analyzing ancient remains, I shifted into forensics years ago.
Crossed to the dark side, my grad school buddies still tease. Drawn
by fame and fortune. Yeah, right. Well, maybe some notoriety, but
certainly no fortune.
Forensic anthropologists work with the recently dead. We're
employed by law enforcement agencies, coroners, medical examiners,
prosecutors, defense attorneys, the military, human rights groups,
and mass-disaster recovery teams. Drawing on our knowledge of
biomechanics, genetics, and skeletal anatomy, we address questions
of identification, cause of death, postmortem interval, and
postmortem alteration of the corpse. We examine the burned,
decomposed, mummified, mutilated, dismembered, and skeletal. Often,
by the time we see remains, they're too compromised for an autopsy
to yield data of value.
As an employee of the state of North Carolina, I'm under
contract to both UNC-Charlotte, and to the Office of the Chief
Medical Examiner, which has facilities in Charlotte and Chapel
Hill. In addition, I consult for the Laboratoire de sciences
judiciaires et de médecine légale in Montreal.
North Carolina and Quebec? Extraordinaire. More on that
Because of my cross-border treks and my dual responsibilities
within North Carolina, I teach only one course at UNCC, an
upper-level seminar in forensic anthropology. This was my biannual
semester in the classroom.
And the conference room.
I look forward to the teaching. It's the interminable meetings
that I detest. And the faculty politics.
Someone moved that the mission statement be returned to
committee for further study. Hands rose, mine among them. As far as
I was concerned, the thing could be sent to Zimbabwe for permanent
Doe introduced the next agenda item. Formation of a committee on
Inwardly groaning, I began a list of tasks requiring my
1. Specimens to Alex.
Alex is my lab and teaching assistant. Using my selections, she
would set up a bone quiz for the next seminar.
2. Report to LaManche.
Pierre LaManche is a pathologist, and chief of the medico-legal
section at the LSJML. The last case I'd done before leaving
Montreal the previous week was one of his, an auto-fire victim.
According to my analysis, the charred corpse was that of a
thirty-something white male.
Unfortunately for LaManche, the presumed driver should have been
a fifty-nine-year-old Asian female. Unfortunately for the victim,
someone had pumped two slugs into his left parietal. Unfortunately
for me, the case was a homicide and would probably require my
presence in court.
3. Report to Larabee.
Tim Larabee is the Mecklenburg County medical examiner, and
director of the three-pathologist Charlotte facility. His had been
the first case I'd done upon returning to North Carolina, a bloated
and decomposed lower torso washed up on the shore of the Catawba
River. Pelvic structure had indicated the individual was male.
Skeletal development had bracketed the age between twelve and
fourteen. Healed fractures of the right fourth and fifth
metatarsals had suggested the possibility of an ID from antemortem
hospital records and X-rays, if such could be found.
4. Phone Larabee.
Arriving on campus today, I'd found a two-word voice mail from
the MCME: Call me. I'd been dialing when Petrella came to
drag me into the meeting from hell.
When last we'd spoken, Larabee had located no missing person
reports that matched the Catawba River vic's profile. Perhaps he'd
now found one. I hoped so, for the sake of the family. And the
I thought of the conversation Larabee would have with the
parents. I've had those talks, delivered those life-shattering
pronouncements. It's the worst part of my job. There is no easy way
to tell a mother and father that their child is dead. That his legs
have been found, but his head remains missing.
5. Sorenstein recommendation.
Rudy Sorenstein was an undergraduate with hopes of continuing
his studies at Harvard or Berkeley. No letter from me was going to
make that happen. But Rudy tried hard. Worked well with others. I'd
give his mediocre GPA the best spin possible.
6. Katy shopping.
Kathleen Brennan Petersons is my daughter, living in Charlotte
as of this fall, employed as a researcher in the public defender's
office. Having spent the previous six years as an undergraduate at
the University of Virginia, Katy was desperately in need of clothes
made of fabric other than denim. And of money to buy them. I'd
offered to serve as fashion consultant. There's irony. Pete, my
estranged husband, was functioning as ways and means.
7. Birdie litter.
Birdie is my cat. He is fussy concerning matters of feline
toilette, and expresses his displeasure in ways I try to prevent.
Inconveniently, Birdie's preferred litter brand is available only
in veterinary offices.
8. Dental checkup.
The notification had been delivered with yesterday's mail.
Sure. I'd get right on that.
9. Dry cleaning.
10. Car inspection.
11. Shower door handle.
I sensed, more than heard, an odd sound in the room.
Glancing up, I realized attention was focused on me.
"Sorry." I shifted a hand to cover my tablet. Casually.
"Your preference, Dr. Brennan?"
"Read them back."
Doe listed what I assumed were three hotly contested names.
"Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct. Committee
on the Evaluation of Ethical Procedures. Committee on Ethical
Standards and Practices."
"The latter implies the imposition of rules set by an external
body or regulating board." Petrella was doing petulant.
Bickham threw her pen to the tabletop. "No. It does not. It is
simp --- "
"The department is creating an ethics committee, right?"
"It's critical that the body's title accurately reflect the
philosophical underpinnings --- "
"Yes." Doe's reply to my question cut Petrella off.
"Why not call it the Ethics Committee?"
Ten pairs of eyes froze on my face. Some looked confused. Some
surprised. Some offended.
Petrella slumped back in his chair.
Roberts dropped her gaze.
Doe cleared his throat. Before he could speak, a soft knock
broke the silence.
The door opened, and a face appeared in the crack. Round.
Freckled. Worried. Twenty-two curious eyes swiveled to it.
"Sorry to interrupt." Naomi Gilder was the newest of the
departmental secretaries. And the most timid. "I wouldn't, of
Naomi's gaze slid to me.
"Dr. Larabee said it was urgent that he speak with Dr.
My first impulse was to do an arm-pump Yes! Instead, I raised
acquiescent brows and palms. Duty calls. What can one
Gathering my papers, I left the room and practically danced
across the reception area and down a corridor lined with faculty
offices. Every door was closed. Of course they were. The occupants
were cloistered in a windowless conference room arguing
I felt exhilarated. Free!
Entering my office, I punched Larabee's number. My eyes drifted
to the window. Four floors down, rivers of students flowed to and
from late-afternoon classes. Low, angled rays bronzed the trees and
ferns in Van Landingham Glen. When I'd entered the meeting the sun
had been straight overhead.
"Larabee." The voice was a little on the high side, with a soft
"Did I drag you from something important?"
"Never mind. Is this regarding the Catawba River floater?"
"Twelve-year-old from Mount Holly name of Anson Tyler. Parents
were on a gambling junket in Vegas. Returned day before yesterday,
discovered the kid hadn't been home for a week."
"How did they calculate that?"
"Counted the remaining Pop-Tarts."
"You obtained medical records?"
"I want your take, of course, but I'd bet the farm the broken
toes on Tyler's X-rays match those on our vic."
I thought of little Anson alone in his house. Watching TV.
Making peanut butter sandwiches and toasting Pop-Tarts. Sleeping
with the lights on.
The feeling of exhilaration began to fade.
"What morons go off and leave a twelve-year-old child?"
"The Tylers won't be getting nominations for parents of the
"They'll be charged with child neglect?"
"Is Anson Tyler the reason you called?" According to Naomi,
Larabee had said urgent. Positive ID's didn't usually fall into
"Earlier. But not now. Just got off the horn with the homicide
boys. They may have a nasty situation."
Trepidation quashed the last lingering traces of
Excerpted from DEVIL BONES © Copyright 2010 by Kathy
Reichs. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Star. All rights