Give Me The Beat, Boy
‘Give me the beat, Boys, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your Rock and Roll
and drift away …’
~Mentor Williams, 1972
Brennan sighed, a shallow smile resting on her lips after that titillating barrage of affection from her mate. She admired the breadth of Booth’s shoulders as he sauntered away from her. After Jim Croce’s smoky baritone wove a final tale of unconventional love between a barfly and a roller derby queen, the dusty plastic button on the cassette player disengaged with a sproing!
As Brennan snapped on a new set of gloves and got back to work, Booth perused the enormous music selection once again and chose a compilation of mixed-genre duets featuring Frank Sinatra and a myriad of other big names.
As Sinatra and Luther Vandross struck up a rendition of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, Brennan began a visual examination of the victim’s cranium and mandible. Moving distally, she inspected each of the seven cervical vertebra, and made a note to herself to return for a more thorough inspection later. Moving distally again, she reviewed the remaining seventeen vertebrae, took only a passing glance over the ribs, and continued down to the clavicles, scapulae, humeri, radii, ulnae, carpals, metacarpals, and phalanges. Venturing proximally, and then distally once again, she examined the innominates and sacrum, skipped the femora, tibias, and patellae, and finish with as many bones of the feet as were present. She then returned to the ribs.
“Bones, you said cadaver dogs won’t be able to sniff out bare bones like Banty’s and Aleesha’s?”
“Correct,” she said, distractedly. “Minute particles on the distal aspect of right posterior ribs five and six,” she enumerated in a dry professional tone for her examination recording device. Reaching for the large magnifying glass, she scrutinized the ribs in question, then cervical vertebrae two through five. A disjointed story was only beginning to knit itself together in her brain. What could have possibly happened, she wondered. How are the anomalies connected to each other? At the very beginning, it is difficult to predict what observations would later prove meaningless, and which would prove significant. Speculating was pointless; she focused on simply gathering information. “Booth, hand me the medical examiner’s original notes. If I recall correctly, the documentation of Banty’s autopsy lacks specificity in regard to trauma on the occipital condyles of the cranial base and the transverse processes of the C2 through C5 vertebrae.”
Booth flipped through the short stack of files from Deputy LeSerf, and located the report by Dr. Ian Shcherbakov. “Let’s have a look here.”
“Look for mention of the distal aspect of the right posterior fifth and sixth ribs as well.”
Booth lay the file open and scanned the first page looking for the words ribs, and then condyles.
“Here we are,” he said, folding the first page of the report over. “Uh, okay— we got old injuries—remodeled, looks like a wrist—uh, radius. Left.”
“Hm. Okay, yeah, I see that,” she said, leaning over the radii with her magnifying glass. “How about the cervical vertebrae? Anything about those?”
“Uh—yes. ‘Cause of death,” Booth read. “Fractured facets of the transverse processes of C2 through C4 vertebra. Broken neck. Severed spinal column.” He paused thoughtfully. “Huh—and that’s it. Case closed.” He looked up at Brennan for a beat. “I’ll bet since the teeth in this cranium were an identical match with the dental records—and the broken neck was the obvious cause of death, the ME found no need to look further, you know, at the leg bones.”
“Hm,” Brennan grunted. “Are you sure that’s all the report says?”
He flipped to the back of the file expecting to find X-ray images, but there were none.
“I suppose, if you can already see the bones, there’s no reason to take an x-ray, right?”
“Unless there appears to be a puncture of some sort or something imbedded in the tissue requiring examination without damaging the bone. What about the ribs?”
“Nothing about the ribs,” he confirmed, slapping the file closed and holding it out to her.
“And no mention of the Atlas, the C1 vertebra?” She didn’t look up, didn’t take the file, but gently returned the fifth right posterior rib to the table and glanced at the cervical vertebra for what would be the first of several times.
“I know what an Atlas is, Bones,” he chuffed, flipping the manilla cover open again. “Surprisingly, no. Nothing about the Atlas. Is that out of the ordinary?”
Brennan nodded, then picked up the fifth right posterior vertebra for comparison. This rib appeared pristine, as did the sixth right posterior rib. “Hm,” she grunted, making a mental note to have Wendell examine them under the electron microscope.
“What are you thinking?” It had been a while since he’d endured an entire examination and his curiosity was piqued.
“I don’t know yet,” she answered very slowly and in a hollow tone as she brought the rib bone to her nose and took a whiff. This was her domain, and she was in the zone. She began circling the remains, picking up several bones, smelling them, then returning them to their spots, her face pinched in rapt concentration.
Accepting her semi-response, Booth embarked upon a mental search for alternative methods for locating that third victim, now that the cadaver dogs were a bust.
“So, maybe we can use ground penetrating radar,” Booth murmured aloud. “That’s a lot of land, though.” He drummed his fingers on the table, then flipped open the laptop and began a Google query.
“It is a lot of land,” Brennan commented, momentarily poking her head out of her intellectual fog as she walked between the autopsy tables. She held out a bone in front of Booth’s face. “Smell this,” she commanded.
“What?” Booth took a step back. “God, do I have to?”
“Booth, just—” she waved it under his nose. Booth reared back, then slowly returned and sniffed quickly.
“Hmm. What is that?” Booth’s eyes flew open wide, then retracted into a curious squint.
“The bone is a femur, the scent is unclear. What does it remind you of?”
“Makeup or something. Face cream? One of those magical youth-enizing things you women put on at night—maybe?”
“Interesting. I thought it smelled dendrological—nutty—from something with bark, but edible. And euthanizing means killing something.”
“I meant, something that makes the skin look and feel more youthful. Youth-enizing.”
“Oh,” she grimaced and nodded.
Booth smelled it again. “It’s not cedar but it’s sweetish, spicy.”
“Yes. It’s very faint. Here,” she said, holding the bone out to him again. “Feel it—the surface.”
“What? I thought we weren’t supposed to touch remains without gloves on!”
“I’m making an exception,” she said, “there’s a lot of surface area on a femur, and I don’t think the bone is caustic. Just be judicious in your examination.”
“You don’t think the bone is caustic? Okay,” he sighed, swallowed deeply, then tapped the bone quickly as if it were a hot burner. Brennan glared at him reproachfully. “Okay, fine!” He relented, placing the tip of his index finger on the shaft. “What am I looking for?”
“Rub the surface. What do you feel?”
Booth’s face pinched quizzically, then went blank. “What am I supposed to feel?”
“Here, compare the texture to this,” she said, choosing a clavicle from the table behind her and holding it out to him as well. Booth ran his index and middle fingers over the surface of each bone. After a moment, she switched out the clavicle for the left innominate. “Feel the difference?”
“Yeah. The femur is softer. I mean,” his mouth pinched in thought, “like—flower petal soft. Almost velvety. The clavicle—it’s dry?”
“Exactly. Very good description, Booth” She smiled and returned the femur to the autopsy table, and then chose a tibia to present to him.
“Tibia is soft as well—like the femur.” Booth frowned in wonderment, curiosity creasing his brow. He smelled the tibia. “And has the same scent—like the femur! Could the killer have used some kind of ceremonial precious oils? What does frankincense smell like?” He sniffed the cold dry morgue air. “And why can we smell the spiciness on the bones, but we can’t smell the putrefaction anymore?” He turned around slowly and sniffed the morgue air again.
“The scent on the bones is different. New. That’s why. Thank God,” she said, under her breath. “The femora and the tibias—I wish there was better lighting in here—they appear to possess a slightly different tint as well.”
“Yeah, like chicken bones—”
“Exactly,” she said, returning both bones to their rightful places, then standing at the foot of her table to take in the skeleton as a whole. “As if he’d greased them up and cooked them, allowing the medulla ossium to seep into the bone.”
Booth rubbed his thumbs in circular patterns over his other finger tips then took another whiff of his fingertips. The scent was as faint as a whisper, but it was definitely there. “Did you notice the smelly ones seem heavier than the other bones.”
“Of course, they do, Booth. The femur is the largest and heaviest bone in the body. Fifty-seven percent of the femoral neck is cortical bone tissue, compact tissue; the shaft is ninety-five percent cortical bone tissue. The tibia is the second largest, and the strongest bone, each tibia carrying forty percent of the body’s weight.” Brennan chewed on the side of her lower lip for a moment. “The contributor of these femora and tibias was athletic, like Aleesha. And, just like Aleesha’s, these bones hypertrophied as a result of the piezoelectric properties of bone under repetitive weight-bearing exercise. Comparative to the rest of the remains, these bones are outside the expected weight range—comparatively speaking. I can tell that just by feel.” She picked up a femur in one hand, a tibia in the other and tested their weights by gently raising and lifting each.
“Hm,” Booth grunted pensively. “So they are heavier than they should be. Do you think that’s why he chose them, the femurs and tibias, because of their size and strength?”
“Motivation is your domain, Booth. What do you think?”
Booth stared blankly at the remains. “Maybe there’s some psychological reason behind them—or, maybe he just picked two random bones.”
“Perhaps. However, it doesn’t seem random—”
“Maybe he figured the femurs and tibias would be the least likely to break or lose during transport?” He shrugged, meeting her eyes.
“Possibly,” she conceded. “As long as there are no conspicuous kerf marks, fractures, or hemorrhagic staining on the femora, they would be of little interest to an ME. An investigative examination of the skeleton would focus on the the ribs—which protect the heart,” she said, gesturing toward the drooping ladder of ribs lying on Banty’s table, “and the cranium—which protects the brain—”
“Ahh,” he said in a sing-song tone. “And the spine, which protects the spinal cord—the killer smacked her head around and broke the thingies off her vertebra. Those are important as well.”
“Exactly. The spinal column—” she smiled. “These three areas are most closely examined for cause of death—in the absence of revealing visceral evidence. So, searching these three, Dr. Shcherbakov was satisfied with cause of death,” she chagrined. “And he was right about that.” She glared at Booth intensely, her lips in a stern line.
“It’s just that there’s so much more to this story, Booth, and these young women deserve to have their stories told.”
Booth grimaced and nodded. “That’s your job; you’re the brilliant one,” he said, winking a twinkle across to her. “And their killer needs to be stopped. What else are you thinking?”
“The femur-tibia combination was a brilliant choice.”
“What do you mean?”
“If I had to pick a bone, I would chose the femur. Ipso facto colombo oreo, it was a brilliant choice! Then I would include the tibia because the greater variance in comparative size between a tibia from one skeleton and the corresponding femur of another one would be more conspicuous than a comparative variance between femur and patella or calcaneus. No, it was prudent to include the tibias or risk suspicion.”
“So—basically, it would be more noticeable if he didn’t take the tibias?”
“I think this guy is all about subterfuge, Bones,” he said, nodding toward the lower half of the skeleton, “By choosing to exchange the femur-tibia combination, the switched bones were hidden in plain sight!”
“Precisely. And—the subterfuge was furthered by the very obvious cause of death!”
“Hm,” Booth grunted, pulling on his lower lip. “That’s why I think this has to do with some kind of ritual,” he said, closing the files and stacking them on the pile with the others. “Hey, I really can’t smell death anymore. That air conditioner thing really works.”
“Thanks to you, and the miracle of neural adaptation!”
They exchanged a furtive glance, then Booth returned to his computer screen.
“So,” chuckled Booth playfully a moment later, “if you had a bone to pick—”
“Yes,” she nodded, meeting his amused gaze. “I would choose the femur and the tibia combination— as I said, it’s brilliant.”
“Do you have any other bones to pick?”
“What? I’m not a homicidal maniac, if that’s what you’re insinuating—”
“I’m not insinuating anything,” he defended, holding his hands up in surrender. “It’s just an idiomatic phrase—it means that you have a complaint to lodge. Like, I have a bone to pick with you about the crappy service at this restaurant. Like that. And you said, that if you were to pick a bone—”
“—I think I get it, Booth, and I recognize that you are simply toying with me with your suggestive punning, but I do not have any complaint to lodge other than that it is getting rather hypothermic in here.” She sent him a playfully reproachful smirk. “And that if we had unloaded our luggage from that town car we could be donning sweaters and jackets by now.”
Booth stared back expressionlessly, then dropped his head and began to whistle as he tapped aimlessly on the keyboard. “If I had a bone to pick—or bones,” he mumbled, though loud enough for her to clearly understand what he said.
Brennan snorted snarkily.
“I know what bone you’d pick!”
“No, you don’t,” he mumbled back playfully, not looking up.
“I bet I do—”
“—I bet you don’t.”
“Fine. Go ahead. What bone—or bones—would you pick?” She asked in a sarcastic tone.
“I’d pick you,” he mumbled, still not looking up. “Every time.”
Brennan smiled silently, pulled her measuring tape out of her pocket, and returned to continue her documentation. Booth stole a look up at her and noted the crooked grin across her lips as she began measuring each bone. Several beats later, she looked up and cocked her head to the side.
“Whenever I’m asked where I would prefer to sit—in a restaurant—” she said, self-consciously, focusing back on her work with feigning casualness.
“—Yeah?” Booth chuffed, only slightly surprised at this non sequitur.
“Table or a booth?” she grinned at a patella. “I always choose Booth,” she said, looking up. “Every time.”
Booth groaned and slapped his forehead. “Corny,” he chuckled. “Corny as a corn crib, but I’ll give you two points for effort.”
“Just two?” She mewled disappointingly before they both giggled and snorted.
Tearing his eyes away from his partner, Booth focused on the laptop screen.
Ten minutes later, the tapping of Booth’s fingertips on the keyboard broke through Brennan’s determined fugue, alerting her to a memory of something she’d heard him say earlier.
“As I previously stated, you are correct, Booth,” Brennan said calmly as if they had been in the middle of a conversation.
“I know I am,” he chuckled. “Uh—what about?”
“There is far too much land to efficiently cover with ground penetrating radar,” she said, continuing to document her findings, then measuring a metacarpal. “It would be pointless under the circumstances—” She made another note on her pad without looking up.
“Well, let’s not jump to conclusions. You always say to get all the facts first, right?” Booth sighed heavily as he shifted from foot to foot and leaned into the table to take some weight off his feet. “That’s what I was just looking up. Thought I’d do one of your Fermi calculations and get a guestimate here. Listen to this,” he said, punching a key to bring an Excel spreadsheet to the foreground. “I figured I’d start by narrowing down the field, right?” He continued without looking up for confirmation. “Killers are creatures of habit just like the rest of us. They have favorite spots, routines, patterns. That’s how they get caught, right? Green River Killer buried his kills up and down the Green River, Hillside Stranglers—they left them on hillsides in the Glendale and Highland Park areas of California, then here in Washington. Howard Epps—”
“—The marshlands,” Brennan contributed in a somber tone.
“Right, and Jeffery Dahmer—well, he was the mother of all sick bastards like nothing I’ve ever seen—he strangled people in his own home and apartments, even in hisgrandmother’s house—God!. Sick duck! Did you know he kept body parts in files and the fridge, and eventually—”
“Booth—!” Brennan clenched her teeth and grimaced.
“Yeah? Come on, how can that bother you? You see gross stuff all the time!”
Brennan swiveled from side to side as if looking for something. “I look at remains after the crime has been committed. I am able to compartmentalize that and view it scientifically, but thinking about him having a grandmother—and that he brought victims to his parents’ home and killed them there, right where they eat their meals and play Scrabble—somehow that makes it all the more tragic,” she scowled as if her skin were crawling with mites. “Continue,” she croaked.
“Okay, so far we’ve got two sets of remains from three individuals, right? We have two similar locations—sporadically trafficked grassy/woody stretches of undeveloped land, right? A man walking purposefully wouldn’t be out of place, but he could find lots of places to hide things, do things—to be there long enough to dig a hole, systematically assemble a skeleton in that hole, then refill the hole—without getting caught.”
“Uh, The chances that we’ll find that third victim here, in a similar setting, or in Haverford are about 70%—”
“We’re talking about miles and miles of vegetation and park here, plus campus grounds back in Pennsylvania,” she said blandly. “I could give you an estimate of the square mileage and how long it would take to cover it if I knew how many GPRs we could requisition. Where’d you get that statistic anyway?”
“The seventy percent? Made it up. Gotta start somewhere. Maybe it’s not really that many miles once you do the math, I do the math, I mean. I say we get local law enforcement looking for that third set of remains while you and I are interrogating everyone linked to the Banty case here tomorrow.”
“Two victims, two locations, sixty-six percent likelihood we’ll find that third victim in Haverford or here. Thirty-three percent likelihood we’ll find her in a different location entirely, though it does make sense that the third location would be woody and sporadically populated—”
“Well, let’s work with what we got right now. This is what I’ve come up with: Philly college campuses with woodland areas. Excluding universities and colleges with more than 2,000 students or fewer than 100 acres; excluding all-girl colleges, and urban locations—”
“Urban campuses are devoid of forestation, but why no all-female universities? I would think the atmosphere of an all-girl campus would be rife with potential victims.”
“Yeah, but it’s a lot easier to blend in when you’re not the only guy hanging around, or one of very few, right? So—that leaves Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore, Delaware Valley college, and I’m including Cabrini College despite their larger student population because they only have 112 acres of grassland.”
“—and I come up with 1,420 acres, which may sound like a lot, but that’s not even two and a half square miles. Then—”
“Booth—” Brennan attempted to interrupt him, but he was unstoppable at this point.
“—Here in Washington State, I’ve calculated 1,657 acres of forest and riverside trails including Island Center Park where Banty was found. That’s only—uh, that’s less than a total of five miles total between here and Philly. Think that’s do-able?”
“The number five may seem small, but an acre is the amount of land that takes a day to plough with a yoke of oxen. Imagine mowing an acre of land. How long would that take?”
Booth squinted in her direction.
“Okay, twenty-five hockey fields—one acre is equivalent to twenty-five hockey fields.”
“Hm. They’re rinks. Hockey rinks. Does that include everything— players, penalty, and scorekeepers benches?”
“I assume so. How long would it take to clean them?”
“You don’t clean them, Bones, you resurface the ice—”
“Fifteen, twenty minutes per—let’s say eight hours. Crapola—so, three thousand acres is gonna take—four months. I’m screwed,” he huffed dejectedly. “That can’t be right—that’s just ridiculous.”
“It’s too much land.”
“Bones, I don’t know how else to narrow this down. We need more information.”
“Well,” Brennan answered, “we will have more information once Dr. Hodgins does an isotope analysis on the bone apatite. That will give us some geographical information—”
“Hm,” Booth grunted, deep in thought, then whistled aimlessly through his front teeth as his mental wheels turned. “Cadaver dogs smell bones—but—” He paused, a figurative light bulb dancing over his head.
“You said cadaver dogs are trained to specifically sniff out putrefaction, right?”
“Correct. Humans have ten square inches of olfactory mucosa and roughly five million sensitive cells within the nose. Canines have 150 square inches of olfactory mucosa, and 200 million sensitive cells. As repugnant as the odor in this autopsy is for you and me, can you imagine what it would be like for a dog?”
“Hm,” Brennan considered. “I believe suicide is an emotional choice, unless one is risking their life to save another. I wouldn’t expect a canine to commit emotional suicide, Booth.”
“Because they couldn’t leave a note, right?” Booth chuckled. “Let’s stay on point, here! Didn’t you tell me there were dogs being trained to locate ancient artifacts and old burial grounds in the Malapupu Islands. Do you remember that? Those wouldn’t have meat on them anymore, would they?”
“Wow. You are—correct, Booth! You—are absolutely correct! Where did I read that?” Brennan pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. “Oh yes! Canines were trained to locate 2.6 million year old Aboriginal tombs found buried under slag heaps at the Baratti and Populonia Archaeological Park in South Australia!”
Booth’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “Yes!” He yelped, doing a jaunty fist pump. “How many dogs you think they have? Wait—Australia—that’s probably out of the question—and out of our jurisdiction.”
“That was several years ago, they have most likely been training canines ever since then. And—neither out of the question nor your jurisdiction—I believe there’s a training facility in Arizona.”
“Yes! Now you’re talking! Do you have their number? I suppose it’s too late to call—” Booth bit his lip, momentarily dejected.
“I have the number of a Dr. Harold Winchester, and now I recall it’s Birmingham, not Arizona. He may be on a dig, however. He was headed to Cairo at the time of the article.”
“Let’s call him! Wait—excrement! We can’t call him now. It’s well after one a.m., almost two! What time is it in Alabama?”
“Almost four in the morning,” Brennan said dryly, staring through a hand-held magnifying glass at the head of the left femur. “Booth, you must be tired. When have you ever let a little inconvenience get between you and capturing a killer?” She quirked an eyebrow at her mate.
“Damn straight. The Big Dog’s in town and he doesn’t give a damn what time it is—anywhere!”
“There you go,” she replied, directing Booth to where he could find the phone number for Dr. Harold Winchester in Birmingham, Alabama—where it was precisely two minutes after one o’clock in the morning.
After five rings, Booth almost hung up, but didn’t. At twelve rings, Brennan glanced quizzically at Booth. He shrugged in response, but continued to listen for a pick-up, or at least an answering machine.
Dr. Harold Winchester, having put his migraine to bed with four extra strength Ibuprofen and a fifth of Bourbon, hoped the ringing would go away without him having to do anything but roll over and cover his head with a pillow. When he finally gave up and swatted blindly for the phone on his bedside table, his growl made it clear he was not pleased to be answering the phone at what he considered an uncivilized time of the morning.
“Frank, yeh stinkin’ bastard, what are you callin’ me fer?” He barked into the receiver without ever opening his eyes.
“Dr. Harold Winchester, this is FBI Agent Seeley Booth. My partner and I are working on a case that requires the use of your cadaver, er, bone dogs.”
“Wha?” Harold rubbed his eyes several times and felt around for his glasses. “What the sam hell time is it, anyway, Frank?”
“Sir, I apologize for the hour. This is not Frank—it’s the FBI, sir, and we need to commandeer your bone dogs. Me and my partner, Dr. Temperance Brennan—”
“Temperance?! Riiiiiight! How stupid do you think I am? I knew I’d live to regret mentioning her name to you! And you sure as shite don’t sound like no—anthropologist!”
“Dr. Winchester, I am not an anthropologist. I am a special agent with the FBI, and again, I apologize for the hour. Dr. Temperance Brennan of the Jeffersonian Institution in Washington, D.C. is my partner—”
“I don’t care who you’re sleeping with, son—”
“—The case we’re working involves the bones of three young women,” continued Booth, ignoring Winchester’s snide protests, “maybe more. I request that you take this seriously, sir. Now, you are that Harold Winchester, the anthropologist who’s been working with bone dogs to unearth completely clean bones, correct?” Booth’s voice had an edge by this time.
“For Pete’s sake, Frank. You got me, okay? You got me. Hah, hah, hah. See you in the morning,” he grumbled, adding several colorful words. Gerry loved using colorful language. It made him feel powerful, intimidating. “Temperance Brennan, my ass—next thing you’ll be tellin’ me you’re Marilyn Monroe!”
“What do I have to do to convince you that I mean business,” Booth growled through the phone. He took a deep breath and yelled into the phone. “Does the name Dr. Temperance Brennan mean anything to you?!”
“You know exactly what it means to me, Franklin. She’s that leggy filly who’s sharper than a brass tack and well too aware of it, and I told you I wouldn’t work with her if you promised me a Nobel Prize!” Actually, decades previously, Harold had admired Brennan from afar for the duration of a four-day conference and finally mustered the courage to invite her to collaborate with him on a project. She’d shot him down on the basis that what he proposed would not be a valuable use of her time. She’d read one of his earlier articles and found the work shoddy and the findings uninteresting. And she told him so.
Harold still smarted from the rebuff, but had followed her progress over the years and always secretly hoped he’d run into her now that he’d pioneered several ground-breaking excavation methodologies that were being used all over the world.
Now—what did I read about her in Forensic Anthropology Quarterly? Winchester scratched his stubbly chin and searched his memory banks. Wait! I think she does work with the FBI—! A flash of adrenaline shot through Harold’s chest. He hopped out of bed and stood at attention. Could it be—? Does she need my help? Or, is this a joke, another one of Frank’s obnoxious pranks?
“FBI, you say?” Winchester choked into the receiver, then cleared his throat. “Tell me something that will prove you’re with Dr. Temperance Brennan,” he challenged.
“Bones—” Booth relayed the request.
“Tell him he spelled the word ‘Australopithecus Sebida’ incorrectly in his article about their vegetarian lifestyle,” Brennan offered absently while scrutinizing the distal end of the right tibia. “It’s not ‘aust-rolah-pithecus—it’s Aust-R-A-L-O-pithecus!'”
Halfway through the spelling lesson, Booth held the phone in Brennan’s direction to capture the words he had no interest in repeating. “Got that, Sparky?”
“Hey!” Winchester barked. “My graduate assistant made that mistake, not me! And it was corrected for the individual copies—”
“What did I tell you, Booth? It’s the weak who blame others—” she smirked, shaking her head slowly side to side. Booth’s eyes flew open at the chill in her tone and stifled a laugh. She shoots; she scores, he thought, grinning.
“I heard that,” Winchester shouted nastily into the phone. “Just who do you think you—”
“Hey, Sparky, watch your tone!” Booth snarled back.
“Are you impugning my authority, Dr. Winchester?” Brennan shouted across the morgue toward the phone.
Winchester choked on his tongue. He recognized her voice and broke out in a cold sweat. If her biting comments hadn’t confirmed that this was indeed the woman in question, that voice was unmistakable.
Booth allowed Brennan’s terse threat to ring in the air for a moment before continuing.
“Here’s what you’re gonna do, Sparky, you’re going to tell me how many of these wonder pups you have, and then you are going to get them on a plane or bus or a magic carpet—I don’t really care what—and you’re gonna get half of them up here, the other half to Philadelphia, before I send someone over there to arrest you for impeding the progress of a federal investigation! ! Understand? Now,” he said, taking a breath. “How many you got and when can we expect to receive them?”
A subdued Dr. Winchester requested fifteen minutes to make a few calls before settling the details. In the end, Booth and Brennan were victorious, being promised fifteen canines per coast.
Their triumph having given Booth renewed energy, he plucked a stilled cassette out of the tape player and inserted a mixtape called, ‘The Top Twenty Best Guitar Riffs. Of. All. Time.’ He proceeded to spend the next half hour bobbing his head to the beat and jamming on his invisible Fender Stratocaster as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s iconic ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ filled the room, and Brennan weighed and finished measuring all 201 bones. By the time she was finished, Booth had worked up a little sweat jamming on his Gibson SG steel string electric air guitar along with Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Metallica’s Kirk Hammet, and several more. When he got to Tom Scholz playing ‘More Than a Feeling, Booth broke out the falsetto and sang along, smiling when Brennan laughed, and delighted when she started bopping along to the beat.
As Brennan revisited her notes on the four bones this case was centered around, Booth gasped when ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ rolled off the tape. Rocking and nodding across the room in a musician’s crouch, he accompanied Angus Young in an energetic live performance of the display Brennan and the entire team had watched on tape this morning. Brennan just shook her head and laughed.
“Agh!” She yelped when he hip-checked her rhythmically to the beat toward the end of the song. “I’m glad you’ve found a way to warm up, Booth. I, on the other hand, can not afford such a luxury, my work requiring uninterrupted focus.”
“This is your domain, Bones. You can mess around all you want when we’re in my domain,” he said, kissing her on the back of the head before returning to choose another tape.
“I don’t need to make a mess when I’m in your domain, Booth,” she protested, looking up from her notes. “I’m never bored. I find your work fascinating. Disorienting and counterintuitive, at least to me sometimes, but fascinating nonetheless.”
Booth shrugged dismissively, snapping a new audio tape into the cassette player. “Yeah, but I’m always talking to you while I work. You always know what’s going on. See, my domain is all about action.” He shook his fists in the air for emphasis. “The Big Dog’s all about kicking ass and taking names, baby,” he said, “That’s what I’m all about!”
“I’m about action,” she protested. “I’m about getting things done.”
“Sure you are, but your things are quiet. I have no idea what’s going on half the time! But, I know I just gotta wait,” he grinned, “and you’ll come up with something brilliant.”
“Patience is a virtue, right—?”
“That’s right, baby,” he chided. “And I am nothing if not patient.” He gave her a meaningful stare knowing full well she’d understand his intent.
“Hm,” she grunted, grinning ear to ear without looking up.
On the tail of her noncommittal response, the four cellos and two violas of the Boston Pops’ fifteen minute delivery of Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ spindled elegantly into the air. Delighted to find a solitary drum stick in the middle of a bouquet of pencils on Dr. Shcherbakov’s desk, Booth raised his arms and began to conduct the orchestra, the drumstick as his baton.
“Know what this is, Bones?”
“It’s a wooden drumstick for a percussion instrument,” she said, glancing up quickly.
“No,” he grimaced, “the music! You know what piece this is?”
“Of course, it’s commonly played in accompaniment to fireworks on the 4th of July and you love it because of the fifteen cannons firing at the end.”
“Yes! How’d you know that?” He stared at her in wonderment. “About me and the canons?”
She rewarded him with a toothy grin. “I know you, that is how.” She winked, and returned her attention to her work.
Ten minutes later, unable to stand her intent silence any longer, he walked around and stood by her side with his hands clasped behind his back.
“Are you seeing anything more—there,” he said, nodding at the skeleton splayed out before them, “that links Banty’s and Aleesha’s cases?”
“There is a preponderance of evidence that does not contradict the supposition of a connection, yes,” she said with a small shrug and a sigh. “Something else has come to my attention, Booth—the femora and tibias appear to not have aged as swiftly as the rest of the skeleton. This usually indicates a difference in time exposed to the elements—”
“Are you saying that Banty’s skeleton may have sat drying for a while until the killer took his next victim—which he promptly buried with the freshly cleaned bones?”
Brennan nodded disconsolately. “I’d say up to two weeks.”
“Wow. Or, this third victim wasn’t killed until two weeks after Banty and Aleesha.”
“Or—or, as we have suspected, it was simply the application of the amalgamate he treated the bones of this third victim with—as evidenced by the the aroma and texture we discussed earlier.
“Why didn’t the medical examiner notice this before?”
“That is what I have been wondering myself, Booth,” she admitted forlornly. “If we learn that the third victim went missing within days of Aleesha and Banty, that would mean that she was held captive, possibly tortured, for several weeks before being killed.”
“Is there any evidence of that?”
“Not on the four bones we have of the third victim. However, the minute particles I noted on the posterior ribs may be semi-microscopic fractures—which would indicate there was more to these deaths than simple internal decapitation.”
Booth flinched. “I still can’t stand that terminology—internal decapitation. Can we just call it a broken neck? Why the pinchy face?”
“I don’t mean to belabor the point, Booth, but I am frustrated by the lack of commitment exhibited by the slipshod autopsy.” Brennan exhaled sharply, her shoulders dropping. She clenched her jaw, and stared, unseeing, at the table. “A heinous crime had been committed, and no one had looked further than absolutely necessary. As a result, even more victims could be out there.”
“Are you thinking maybe there was collusion of some kind? Maybe someone with an agenda paid someone else not to look too closely at the remains?”
A cold wave scampered up Brennan’s spine. “Copulating donkey turds,” she gasped quietly, covering her mouth with the back of her gloved wrist, “that hadn’t even occurred to me.” After a moment of silent staring into Booth’s eyes across the room, Brennan continued. “The naked eye can see that these femora and tibias are of different size and texture. There is a one inch disparity between these femora and those that truly belong to Banty Solicious, if her medical records are accurate,” Brennan chagrined, dropping her head to the side.
“Uh, that may be obvious to you, Bones, but—”
“Look at this patella,” she mewled disgustedly. “It would barely cover the synovial joint, between femur and tibia. Even if it did, her palellofemoral arthritis would have made bending her knee nearly impossible!” Brennan placed the patella atop the conjunction of femoral head and tibia. It teetered awkwardly and fell off immediately. The color difference was obvious, though: the patella being white, the others slightly gray.
“Well, like I said, maybe the killer paid off the medical examiner—told him to close the case quickly.”
“Hm,” Brennan grunted, deep in thought. “Didn’t Deputy LeSerf mention there were financial constraints in King County? Perhaps it wasn’t a board certified medical examiner at all, but an untrained, inexperienced coroner that performed the autopsy. Anyone can be a coroner, you know. Even you, Booth.”
Booth’s eyebrows shot up at that suggestion. “No, thank you. You won’t catch me poking around in all that slimy dead stuff. No, sir. I don’t even gargle with listerine because it’s supposed to kill germs fast, and I can’t stand the thought of something dying in my mouth!” Booth gagged as an involuntary shiver started at his shoulders and traveled down his torso. With a final little shiver and a cough, Booth flipped open the folder once again. “Nope. This Dr. William Astor who signed the report has a whole alphabet typed under his signature.”
“What do you mean?”
“Uh, there’s M.D.—”
“That would be osteopathic medicine; bones/joints/muscles.”
“Of course,” Booth chuffed. “And then, he’s also got PhD and MBA.”
“Doctor of philosophy, but that could be in any area of study. MBA is a masters in business administration.”
“Basically, he’s a major league smarty pants,” concluded Booth, drumming his fingers on the top of the file.
“Bingo, baby. So, why the slipshod work?”
“Maybe the budget cuts were too much for Dr. ABCDEFG. Maybe he felt he deserved a little bonus on the side, courtesy of our killer.”
Booth gazed at Brennan as she wrapped her fingers around the ledge of the tabletop and stood preternaturally still for a minute, then drummed her fingers on the stainless steel surface.
“That means I can’t trust a damn thing written in that report!” Brennan spat. Grabbing the magnifying glass once more, she prepared to examine every inch of bone surface again. Booth concentrated on not rolling his eyes and crying out at the prospect of spending another hour in the morgue while Brennan repeated her examination.
Sensing Booth’s frustration, Brennan glanced up quickly, then back down at her work. “If you need something to do, you may borrow my measuring tape. I seem to recall you mentioning something about getting your bones measured!” She said coquettishly.
“Ha!” Booth snorted and chuckled. “No man wants their, uh, junk measured in a blizzard like the one we’re standing in.” He dipped his chin and gazed back up at her through his lashes. “You do know I’m not talking about real bones—”
“—I know exactly what you’re talking about!” Brennan chortled as her cheeks were infused with a generous dose of hemoglobin. She pursed her lips and avoided his gaze, choosing instead to focus on her inventory notes.
“Not gonna bite, huh?” Booth stifled a huge grin, his own neck getting very warm.
“Stop. I’m trying to focus,” she said in a low voice, fiercely trying not to laugh, and still refusing to meet his eye. “You could measure me,” she suggested in a lilting tone.
Booth considered that for a moment, but before he could say or do anything, Brennan was talking again.
“Do the notes say anything about missing the lateral cuniform of the left foot and the second through fourth distal phalanges of the right foot?”
Booth checked the notes. “Nope. Maybe they got lost somewhere between the coroner’s office and the funeral home.”
“That’s possible. There was most likely a span of time, perhaps as much as a month, between the finding of the remains and the interment of them at the cemetery.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Look at the coffin,” she said, nodding backward toward the twenty-five by twenty inch mahogany box. She braced her hands on the autopsy table to ponder the full skeleton before her. “There’s no way that likeness of Banty Solicious carved into the lid could have been carved before she was found. They wouldn’t have known they could use such a small container,” she said, matter of factly.
“Whoa,” Booth gasped, stunned and motionless. Until now he hadn’t so much as glanced at the coffin. His mouth went dry.
He shivered involuntarily, then his eyes snapped back to Brennan’s.
“Nothing,” he said, trying to shake off the cloud of malaise creeping through him. He swallowed and licked his lips, then grabbed his stomach. It felt like a hive of silent bees were bouncing around in there, trying to claw their way up through his esophagus.
“Booth, are you okay?” She said, staring into his eyes, assessing the dilation of his pupils. She lay a hand on his forearm and found it cool, clammy. He didn’t move. “Booth?” She asked, jostling his arm. When he was despondent, she followed his line of sight to the casket behind her.
“That’s, uh—,” he mouthed soundlessly, then cleared his throat. “That – that’s the casket? It looks more like—like a—a footlocker, or a cedar chest—or something.” He walked over to the ornately carved box atop the accordion cart and shoved his hands into his armpits. “And what’s that?” He asked, nodding at the chiseled relief rising out of the wood. It was an intricate carving of a young girl in a spring dress, wind in her hair as she walked through a field of daisies. A cross, rosary beads, and a bible lay loosely in her slender fingers.
“Whoa. That’s a small casket,” Booth said, in a forced blank tone, his mortification barely contained. Breathe, he thought, trying to calm himself. “That would barely fit Parker,” he mumbled, trying to dismiss what was really bothering him—the fact that the image appeared to be breathing. He shivered involuntarily.
“It was an odd choice, a juvenile casket, but an economical one. Her remains fit perfectly. An adult sized mahogany casket on top of what they must have paid for the artwork, would have cost them twice as much,” Brennan said distractedly, her focus on the pulse bouncing at his throat. Booth’s eyebrows raised quickly then lowered and pinched together as if he were trying to justify something that defied justification. He exhaled forcefully, his shoulders falling, his arms dropping to his sides. He huffed two or three more times. “I’ve never seen, uh, anything like it—”
“What specifically are you referring to?”
“I’m surprised there’s not more dirt on this thing. It was down there for, what? Four years?”He cleared his throat again. The comment sounded lame, even to his own ears, but he wasn’t about to say what he was really thinking.
“The amount of time it was interred makes no difference, Booth. Caskets are buried inside vaults. If they weren’t, the weight of 5-6 feet of soil on top of a wooden box would collapse it in time. Cemeteries would become uninhabitable—sinkholes of terror. Just imagine—”
“I don’t have to imagine, I’ve been there,” he cut her off, zombie-faced. This is what he’d been thinking about. And he had been there. In Bagrami, two and a half hours outside Kabul. And near Pul-e-Charkhi prison. Twice. And a hundred times more in his nightmares. There, and everywhere, mass graves weren’t fortified by vaults, or acknowledged in any way, for that matter. The Afghan terrain was devastated by fossil fuel pollution, spent land mines; the scars of war. Though drought, desertification and deforestation were plights worthy of activists’ attention, scattershot sinkholes chockablock with osseous remnants of disarticulated lives remained unmarked and unredressed, their inhabitants erased as if they’d never been born.
In his dreams, the cold, grey, statue-like bodies did breathe. They visited him when unconsciousness dissolved his defenses and ushered the nightmares in for coffee and biscotti. In one of Booth’s recurring nightmares, he ran through rolling sheets of mist across a cemetery, the ground giving way beneath him as he ran. He’d find himself in hole after hole filled with the rotting corpses of his sniper targets. Sometimes they were alive; sometimes dead. But they were always angry, murderous. Sometimes they roared deafeningly until his head split open and he couldn’t find all the pieces. Sometimes wives were in the graves as well, dead and rotting or raging hysterically as they clawed at his feet. Booth shook himself, as if doing so would dislodge the images in his head. He realized Brennan had been speaking to him, though he hadn’t heard a single word she’d said.
“—death rituals aren’t publicized in the way the more joyous milestones in life are, Booth. Birth, coming of age, marriage, anniversaries. But death and burial rituals established by societies serve a utilitarian and necessary purpose. Dr. Sweets contends that they anchor the bereaved in reality, assist in the grieving process, give legitimacy to a very real loss. Their intent is to provide the grieving person or persons with very specific directions at a time when they may be paralyzed emotionally, socially, and economically. They also specify a code of acceptable behavior during interactions with the bereaved. In cultures inculcated with strong spiritual beliefs, these practices are intended to provide hope and reinforce the myth of a deity. The rights and rituals can be quite ornate and consuming—”
Booth faded out for a moment, pondering the lack of communal support for the grieving that accompanies the spiritual death, sliver by sliver, experienced by those who have taken life in combat. Can I share these thoughts, he wondered. I am not exactly the man she thinks I am. She sees me as a hero, a strong person. She needs me to be a strong person. I have to be one to do this job. Why does this come down on me so hard sometimes, and others I’m fine. Or, at least I think I’m just fine. I’ve really only been able to feel fine, like I can handle this, since we started working together. He shook his head at his thoughts. Brennan assumed he was responding to her comments, so she continued.
“—though the death industry is the most lucrative here in the United States,” Brennan continued, though she’d begun to reluctantly focus once more on her work. “In other countries, family members care for the deceased’s remains. What do you think happens to the bodies of those men you killed in Afghanistan and elsewhere? They aren’t left to rot on the side of the road, or in tents—or wherever they fall.”
Booth shivered and swallowed, his mouth gone dry. As chilly as it was in that morgue, there were welts of sweat clinging to his hairline. Brennan’s voice droned on unintelligibly through a haze of cotton.
“—corpses were most likely carried inside by their devastated wives or mothers, or, in the most unfortunate cases, by their children. Though it is customary for a family member of the same sex to bathe the corpse, in a war zone such as most of your kills were likely executed, it could have been the wives or mothers tasked with the responsibility of bathing the corpse an odd number of times, usually three for males, five for—”
Closing his eyes, Booth recalled the unwelcome image of his father who sometimes appeared in those nightmares. Occasionally, the elder Booth would stand above one of the sinkholes, arms crossed, a derisive and condescending smirk plastered across his alcohol-flushed face as Booth struggled and thrashed about among the dead. Edwin Booth’s entire posture exuded disgust, disappointment. You’re a mess, it said. A poor excuse for a man—a coward. A wave of anger and resentment rose on a tide of bile in the back of Booth’s throat as he stood lost in thought, staring at the tiny casket. He’d heard his old man’s spiteful words in his head as many times as he’d heard the screams of his own sniper targets. Once again, Booth was overcome with a desire he knew would never be fulfilled; he wished to God that he’d beat the crap out of his old man when he had the chance. The fact that he harbored that desire disgusted him. He was angry at his dad for making him have that desire. And he was angry with himself.
“—I’d rather be sent off in some kind of ritual that disposes of my remains. Though, my brain would most likely have to be removed first, I am sure scientists will want to examine it—”
Booth’s fists and jaw clenched and unclenched behind her as Brennan’s voice droned on.
“—despite a semester of gross anatomy class, and despite my ability to compartmentalize, I don’t think I could clean or prepare my own parents’ cadavers for burial, much less my child’s. Though, it’s purported to be a great deal of help with acceptance of the loved one’s—”
Booth felt dizzy. He’d worked diligently not to think about what happened with the bodies of his targets. He was trained to view the targets as grave threats against humanity, ones whose life would be taken in exchange for the hundreds of lives saved by the single elimination. That’s what he tried to remember, but the harder he tried, the more he saw their faces, hear the screams of their loved ones. Booth shivered.
“—wrapped in no more than three white cotton sheets for a shroud, then laid to rest on their right side perpendicular to Qibla, meaning Mecca—”
Booth knew what all this meant. He had attended several funerals for friends he’d made while at war. One thing he never expected to learn, but did, was that the color of a person’s skin and the clothing they wore weren’t guarantees of political or spiritual allegiances. He’d found peace-keepers of all peoples to be of one mind: united we stand; divided we fall. As a result, he and his team found assistance—and allegiance—in some of the least likely places, and with some of the least likely figures. He came to understand that God has many faces and many names, but the one they all had in common was peace.
“—with very specific prayers for the forgiveness of the dead. And the prayers are different depending on the age and sex of the deceased—”
“Enough!” Booth blurted, turning abruptly and walking briskly toward the door. He stood with his back to Brennan and dropped his head.
Brennan jumped in surprise. “Booth, what’s wrong?” She started to walk toward him, but he turned, his steady gaze stopping her in his tracks. “You’re actually—you don’t look so good, Booth!” She took another step forward, then stopped. Booth’s body language was unequivocal. It said, Don’t touch me. Don’t even come near me.
“Bones,” he said, inhaling sharply, holding his breath, then exhaling deliberately. “Look. I’m sorry. I’m—really hungry—huh, really hungry—”
“Are you sure? Because you look nauseous. To be precise, your pallor is—pale feldgrau.”
“Wha?” He burped. Then puckered uncomfortably at the taste in his mouth.
“It’s a kind of light grey-green. Your body language appears to indicate you are either angry or about to be violently ill. Are you sure you aren’t suffering from gastrointestinal—?”
“Bones!” He stared hard, swallowing. He softened at the site of the panicked concern in her eyes. “Listen, I’ll be fine. I didn’t mean to freak out. It’s just, I mean, I just need some food,” he said grabbing his stomach and twisting his mouth into a disgruntled frown. “I think the stink, and the fatigue, and the hunger, too. It just all hit me. Like, boom! I’m gonna go find the can. Alright? If I find a vending machine, you want anything?”
Brennan’s face was pinched in concern. “Are you sure?”
“I am,” he said, managing a wan smile. “I really am. I think whatever I ate on the plane is trying to make a run for it,” he said, holding his breath and covering his mouth.
“Well, then go!” she blurted. “Do you want me to come with you?”
He shook his head. No.
“If you’re not back here in five,” she insisted, “I’ll come find you.”
“Deal,” he gulped as he turned on his heel and pushed through the door. Fortunately, the men’s restroom was two doors down on the left. He hadn’t felt this much abdominal turmoil since he’d washed down an entire package of Oreo cookies with two cans of Mountain Dew. That was two years ago. Once the moaning and sweating subsided, Booth felt almost as good as new. The physical effect of his memories had momentarily overridden the memories themselves. As he washed his hands and splashed water on his face, those thoughts began to reemerge. Oh, no you don’t, he warned the insistent demon in his head. Then he remembered the bible verse Ed Williams, his priest friend from the plane, suggested Booth remember when he felt overwhelmed by his past:
“Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou
savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
~ Matthew 16:23
Booth thought the words, then waited. He always felt a little self-conscious when he thought those words—as if addressing Satan brought him closer and made him more real. No matter how old he got, it still had the power to creep booth out. But if it worked, it was worth it. And it usually worked. Surprisingly, he suddenly felt like the barrage of images that wanted to devour him were held at bay behind a plexiglass wall. Pulling out his wallet, he searched for the battered prayer card his mom had pulled out of her purse and pressed into his palm the month before she left, making him promise never to forget the words inscribed there in gold lettering. He held the card to his nose and inhaled deeply. It still smelled like lipstick, Kleenex, Chanel No. 5, and spearmint gum … just like Mom. He read it to himself for the millionth time:
The Light of God surrounds me.
The Love of God enfolds me.
The Power of God protects me.
The Presence of God watches over me.
The Mind of God guides me.
The Life of God flows through me.
The Laws of God direct me.
The Power of God abides within me.
The Joy of God uplifts me.
The Strength of God renews me.
The Beauty of God inspires me.
Wherever I am, God is!
~ JDF, 1941
“Well, Mom,” he said. “I hope this brings me protection like you said it always did for you.”
At that exact moment, he felt the familiar buzz of a text notification in his pocket. “Thank you, Jesus,” Booth exclaimed, shoving the prayer card back into his wallet, his wallet back into his pocket.
The text was from Angela. Motorcycle helmet. She’d sent it three hours earlier, but the sketchy signal in the basement morgue must have delayed it.
“I’ll be damned,” he said, his voice echoing in the tiny bathroom. Then he remembered Brennan’s texts from that afternoon during their meeting. He scrolled through smiling at his favorites.
From Brennan: Did U notice ther R no continuous protrusions/indentations below my gluteus maximus or small of my back? 😉
Booth’s response: U 4got yr undrwr again! What R U Tring 2 do 2 me? Nice necklace, BTW. I know what yr hidng underneath. Thinking bout those bites now …
Brennan’s response: I bite back.&UR very pleasing2look at this A.M. Glad U like my ncklce. B-OX
Then he remembered Cam catching him not paying attention, and telling her the text was from his boss.
“Cullen? Is it from Cullen?” She’d asked.
Booth had said the first thing that came to his mind. “No, higher up than that …”
He’d been surprised at words that tumbled out of his mouth, but there was nothing he could do about it. Booth chuckled, thinking back over that whole meeting. This relationship is going to work, he assured the empty bathroom. Then he made a promise to himself. No matter what it took, or what it might cost him, he was going to tell Brennan about his nightmares.
Knocking on the morgue door, he was met by a smiley-faced Brennan who was singing along to the audio tape. The last cassette he’d loaded into the player was a mixed tape Dr. Shcherbakov had titled, Favorites: Volume Two.
“I’ve found it, Booth!” She proclaimed as she peeled off her gloves, replacing them with clean ones after having sullied them by touching the door knob.
“Cause of death?” He couldn’t help chuckling at her exuberance. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for this whole collection of distractions, he said in silent prayer. Ed Williams’ quote, Mom’s prayer card, Angela’s text, Bones’ wonderful texts, and her faith in me, and now whatever it is she’s so excited about. For a brief moment, it felt warm in the room, and Booth knew that was God’s response to his thanks.
“No. We already know cause of death, Booth!”
“Angela just texted me that she’s figured out it was a motorcycle helmet that caused the blood stains on Aleesha’s cheek bones.”
“Either that or she’s taking up a new hobby. Didn’t give any details other than ‘Motorcycle helmet’. So, what did you find?” He glanced behind Brennan toward the diminutive casket and chuckled nervously. Get thee behind me, Satan, he thought, clenching his jaw, then closing his eyes for the briefest of moments. That command still felt awkward, he thought, but who cares. If it works, it works. Opening his eyes a half second later, he focused on Brennan, flicked an unemotional glance behind her, and then leaned back against Shcherbakov’s desk and crossed his arms.
“Rewind the cassette about five minutes worth,” she said delightedly, her face lit with barely contained glee.
Booth’s eyebrows reached toward his hairline with curiosity. He stared at her for a moment, shrugged as if to say, Okay, I’ll play along, then turned and did as she asked. Croce’s, ‘I Have To Say I Love You In A Song’ sprang at him when he pushed the play button. “What am I looking for?”
“I found the song!”
“What song? This? We heard this one before, Bones.”
“I know, and I do enjoy that song, but I found the song, Booth—”
“The song, huh?” His brow furrowed. “And … am I supposed to know what that means?” He shook his head and shrugged.
“Yes. You were captured on tape performing a fertility ritual to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ earlier today—”
“—yeah—” His brow creased even deeper in curiocity.
“Sooooo,” she mewled conspiratorially, “I’ve been asking myself what song I would perform—if I were to perform—you know, a fertility ritual in your honor. MyEtruscan fertility entreaty,” she beamed.
“You’re kidding me,” Booth gasped, his mouth falling open.
“No,” she replied, in a very serious tone. “What? You don’t think I would do the same for you? I wouldn’t allow myself to get caught on tape.”
“Of course—” he chuffed at the austerity in her tone.
“Booth,” she cocked her head to the side and gave him a mildly reproachful look. “I am serious. Do you want to hear it or not?” She smirked, but waited patiently for his response as Croce completed the last repetition of his final verse.
“Of course, I do want to hear it. This is great, and a little funny, that’s all. Let’s hear it!”
“It comes up next,” she said, glancing behind him at the tape player. “After ‘I Love You In A Song.”
As if on queue, the first twenty-four drowsy notes of a solitary electric guitar sauntered into the chill morgue air. A warm baseline ushered in the first verse of Brennan’s sultry entreaty to the gods on behalf of her mate’s fertility. Booth recognized the intro and allowed his eyelids to drift closed as a slow shallow smile lifted the corners of his mouth. When the vocals began, his eyebrows lifted, and his whole face opened in surprise. A satisfied grin slid slowly across his lips, then deepened. Not only was this an excellent song, it was the 1973 bluesy classic rock recording of ‘Drift Away’ by Dobie Gray, not the 2003 remake by Uncle Kracker. Booth opened his eyes a slit and watched Brennan as she stumbled over the words of the the first verse, wondering how it related to their relationship.
“Okay, that first verse doesn’t relate to our relationship at all,” Brennan explained in a raised voice, “because it’s a little depressing. But here comes the first part that made me think about you.”
Then it came. And she sang along. And he understood.
‘Oh, give me the beat, boy, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.’
The first two lines of the chorus repeated as Brennan nodded her head to the mellow medium-tempo beat.
“I thought you didn’t believe in a soul,” Booth said over the music, his cheeks tickling with amusement.
“It’s a metaphorical soul, Booth. Just keep listening.” She swayed side to side as she surveyed the remains, occasionally picking up a bone and looking at it through the magnifying glass.
“Oh, dah dah dah dah …” She didn’t know all the words, but she mumbled along happily. “Dah, dah, dah, ah tiiiiiiime! Uh, I, I don’t understand the things I do-whew. Mmm mum … world outside seems-looks!- so unki-ii-ind. I’m, I’m countin’ on You-who-who-who, dadum, to carry me throu-ough! Whhooahhh, give me the beat BOY!”
“See how I changed it to mean not all boys, just you, Booth? Though technically you are not a boy. Anyway,” she shrugged, continuing to the end of the chorus. “…. My soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll.”
Booth nodded to the beat and rubbed circles into his cheek muscles where they’d become sore from excessive grinning. By the time the third verse came along he’d forgotten about the casket, his earlier disturbing thoughts, his escape to the bathroom. Brennan continued verbally stumbling along until the final verse, which she knew word for word. As Brennan closed her eyes and sang every word through happy lips, Booth thought his heart would explode.
‘Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me-ee-ee
want you to kno-ow I believe in your song
And rhythm and rhyme and harmony-y-y
You’ve helped me along
Makin’ me stro-ong.
Then came the a cappella chorus. Brennan raised her arms and clapped along, twice per measure, to the beat.
‘Oh, give me the beat, boy, and free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.’
Booth joined the slow claps when the lines repeated, but stopped himself when he could hardly contain the burning urge to walk up behind her and wrap his arms around her. His desire to watch her was a sliver stronger and won. So, he stayed right where he was, barely blinking, committing this moment to memory, tucking it away for the next time the Filthy Stinking Bastard came knocking.
Booth sighed contentedly and walked between the autopsy tables to lean against the one holding their laptop, her bags, and the communication equipment. There was still a stainless steel table between them, but it felt good to be a little closer. He crossed his arms, relaxed back against his table, and watched his mate intently as she continued to absently sing the final words of the song.
‘Na na na, won’t you, won’t you take me
Oh, take me—’
Of course, those final words gave Booth a couple ideas about doing just that—taking her in the carnal sense—but he thought he’d keep those to himself as he had been doing for the last six years.
The song ended while Brennan was in the middle of making some notes in her notebook. Laying her pen down, she smiled up at him sheepishly, and moved down the table toward the lower appendicular skeleton to finish up with what was left of the legs and feet.
“So?” She asked self-consciously.
“So, what?” he said in a low voice.
She shrugged with one shoulder without looking up.
“What did you think,” she said, flicking a quick coy glance up to meet his eyes. “About the song I chose … for you?” She felt her cheeks getting warm, wishing the rest of her body would follow suit in the chilled morgue.
Booth nodded, his chin dropping to his chest. “You wanna get lost in my Rock ‘n’ Roll, huh?”
“As absolutely soon as possible, Operation Pringles Partner!” She was still enjoying a high from singing along, and being able to share that with him.
“I approve,” he said, in a quiet lilting tone. He continued to watch her unabashedly, amazed at her tranquility, mesmerized by her careful exacting movements as she gently returned one tibia to the table and picked up the other without making a sound. She glanced up at him several times, then continued making notes.
Booth continued to watch her; delighted, thankful, happy. Then humbled. Then his thoughts, as thoughts often do when one fixates unchecked upon the beddable body of their heart’s desire, began to run away with themselves once again. He had no idea what his face was doing, but when Brennan finally looked up to address him, she stopped mid sentence.
“Booth, the cartilaginous union between—,” she began, squinting at the cranium which she held upside-down midair. “Holy invertebrates! Why are you looking at me—” She glanced down at her chest to see if something was amiss. “Uh,” she lowered the cranium and cocked her head to the side accusingly; “you do know it is not literally possible to burn a hole through a cotton-polyester blend by staring intently at it for an extended period of time? You do know that, right?”
“Can’t blame a guy for trying,” he chuckled. “But if you could, you would have gone up in flames about ten minutes ago.”
She smirked back at him, then smiled. “What are you thinking over there? You have a mischievous expression on your face.”
Booth shrugged with one shoulder and his eyebrows. “Thinking about doing what I’m told.” He said. Then, “did I say that outloud?” He chuckled at himself and dragged a palm over his forehead. “Ohhhh,” he moaned.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means I said exactly what I was thinking, Bones, without meaning to.”
“I understood that part, but the rest you’re going to have to explain,” she said calmly, a hint of flirtatiousness in her voice to match the mischievousness in his expression. “What did you mean by ‘doing what you were told’?”
“Well,” he began, straightening up and adjusting his shoulders as if his shirt were crooked. “The last line of the song.”
Brennan looked up at the ceiling, her mouth moving as she recalled the words of the song. “Get lost in the rock and roll?” She prompted coquettishly. This felt like a game. It was a game. “Thank goodness I’m nearly finished with Banty’s remains,” she said, stretching her head side to side almost touching her shoulders. “Oh, I can barely think. I’m freezing and exhausted. Hungry too.”
“I’ll help you out. If I recall correctly, which believe me, I do, the last line was ‘Take me.”
“Hm. Yes. Though it doesn’t indicate where the songwriter wants to be taken to. Though,” she said, then paused thoughtfully. “‘Take me’, in the vernacular, could refer to capturing someone for the purpose of sexual intercourse. And since it is an intimate and poetic tribute to one person’s appreciation for the other’s—” Brennan couldn’t think of the right words. She’d gotten caught up in singing the song, but now all she remembered was the feeling … which she couldn’t put into words. “It’s about one person who is grateful to the other person for …”
“—having brought Pringles into their life?”
Brennan smiled, astonished. “Precisely, Booth. That was exactly the intent of the song. Therefore, one could make the intuitive leap that the ‘take me’ command was in reference to the sex act.” A congratulatory smile lifted one side of her mouth.
“That’s what I took it to mean,” Booth snorted, looking up at her through his lashes.
“You,” she said playfully, “are flirting with me, Agent Booth.”
“You,” he answered, mimicking her tone, “are correct, Dr. Brennan.”
They stared at each other over the table for a moment, neither saying anything.
“So, mathematically speaking, that would mean that you were considering taking me sexually …”
“Hm,” he grunted, glancing at the floor, then rubbing his eyes, and standing up straight. He unrolled his shirt cuffs, which he’d rolled up to splash water on his face.
“Oh.” Brennan’s eyes dropped to the table as a spear of adrenaline shot through her chest. “I see.” She chuckled to herself.
Booth chuckled quietly. “So, how much time we got left here?”
“Give me another ten or fifteen, then another fifteen to pack the remains, seal them for Hodgins.
Ten minutes later she was staring at the cranium through the magnifying glass. She carefully dropped her wrists onto the table and growled in frustration. “I am so cold, Booth. Geez!” She stomped her feet to increase her circulation. “My nose is cold. I’ve lost feeling in my toes and the the tips of my fingers are numb.”
“Okay. Tell me about the panties.”
“Yeah, but, if you wanna warm up, think warm thoughts. I have an idea.” Booth retrieved a clear tarp from the supplies closet and tried to wrap it around her, but it kept falling off. He gave up, and wrapped it around himself, then hopped up and sat on the table next to the laptop, communication equipment, and Brennan’s bags. He watched her as she stood at her table, huddled over Banty’s remains.
“Maybe those are warm thoughts for you,” Brennan said, frustrated that his attempts to warm her had been fruitless. “They are just undergarments to me.” Brennan objected, then sighed loudly and rolled her eyes when Booth continued to stare at her, saying nothing, waiting. “They’re black,” she admitted, pretending to be bored by the topic.
“I already knew that. What else?”
“What, like you mean … like that they are really small?”
“Yeah,” he said, intrigued. “How small?” He sniffed, then rubbed his own numb nose. He peered at her with great interest.
“You lie like a rug.”
She shrugged and puckered coquettishly, saying nothing. “I do not lie. I may … embellish … if I think it will bring you pleasure …” She winked at him.
“Well, I appreciate that,” he chuffed, his stomach doing summersaults in response to the twinkle in her eye.
“Good. Your turn.”
“Tell me something that will raise my temperature.”
“Okay. I just took you. Right here,” he said, nodding at the tabletop where Banty lay.
“What?” She said, her eyes distractedly glancing over the cranium still in her hand, but now resting on the table.
“I just took you—”
“Took me where?”
“Right here—,” he announced, tapping firmly on the tabletop with his index finger. “—on this table.”
She stared hard at him as if he had a third eye.
“You’re not making sense, Booth.” Then she saw the corners of his mouth salaciously curling, the delight in his eyes. “Wha—you mean—sexually, like in the song?”
“Wa-hoh yeah,” he chuckled devilishly, “Right here.” He pressed his lips together and grinned, his eyebrows jumping, then quickly dropping. He glanced at Banty’s remains and paused. Then his eyes fell to the floor. “How clean do you think this floor is?”
Brennan snorted. “Booth, surely you don’t mean that literally. How could you find this place inspiring sexually?!” She stared at him, stunned and perplexed. “Please tell me you don’t actually mean here,” She asked hopefully.
“Of course not.” He answered, backpedaling as he shrugged uncomfortably. The conversation had taken a weird turn that he hadn’t intended. In actuality, he would be happy to take her anywhere regardless of the conditions. I’m a man, he thought to himself. It’s just my nature. However, it was obvious Brennan was not at all entertained by the idea. Tapping on his temple, he added, “I can take you anywhere I want because it’s my imagination, my fantasy. And this is the number one sex organ, right? The good old noggin,” he said tapping his temple.
Brennan picked up the femur and grunted. “As long as it’s somewhere clean and in no way related to the work we do, Booth. I’m willing to be adventurous, but even I have limits.”
Booth pursed his lips for a moment, drawing a blank over where to go from there.
Brennan’s relieved sigh was a reset button. “Okay, Big Dog, say more,” she encouraged cautiously.
“Uh, okay. Let’s say I took you on the carpeted floor of a very clean living room in front of a crackling fire. Oh, and I fed you strawberries and champagne first.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Huh? How’s that for an, uh, inspiring location?”
“Mmm. It’s a little cliché, but I’ll take it,” she said, with a smile. “I’d prefer raspberries,” she added with an open smile.
“Then you shall have raspberries. And it’s cliché because it’s a great idea, Bones. Have you ever done that? You know, on the floor with a fire and maybe a little wine?”
“No, but this attempt to inspire warm thoughts is beginning to work. However, you’ve a long way to go to thaw my toes.”
That’s not the body part I was aiming for, he almost said.
“Come on,” she urged him playfully. “Everything’s foreplay,” she added, as if she’d read his mind. “What was I wearing?”
“Very tiny underwear. Black,” he grinned.
“Is that all?” She laughed.
“And one of my shirts, maybe.” He closed his eyes and smiled at the image he saw in his mind’s eye. “Yeah,” he said in a low voice. “One of the shirts I wear for work. Long, down past the butt, you know, with buttons up the front, a collar, rolled up cuffs. Your hair down around your shoulders. The shirt unbuttoned to about right here,” he said tapping on the bottom tip of his own sternum. His smile deepened, his eyes still closed.
Brennan watched as he did this little exercise. She saw his eyes moving underneath the lids, his mouth moving a bit as he smiled; chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, sighed. She wanted to see what he was seeing. She wanted to be in there with him; inside his fantasy, seeing the fire in his eyes and the desire in the increasing tempo of his heartbeat. She suddenly noticed she’d become flushed with warmth. Hands, feet, nose, and elbows were still freezing, but her shoulders, chest, and thighs were beginning to get quite warm and tingly.
Booth opened his eyes to find hers trained intently upon his. Her work was all but forgotten for the moment. She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t upset. She was drawn in. Her mouth fell open. Booth shifted his weight, and stared back at her, caught in the intensity of her gaze.
Brennan closed her mouth and leaned forward against her table. For a long moment they stool like that, everything else falling away. Brennan exhaled and relaxed, an tender aura overtaking her.
“And you are wearing everything you have on now,” she said quietly. “Except the belt, your socks and shoes, and perhaps your watch. And you’ve just come home. No, wait. First you come home, then you take off your belt, your shoes and socks, and your watch.” Her smile warmed Booth throughout, sending a shiver through him. “And you join me in front of the fire.”
Booth smiled back, the outside corners of his eyes crinkling. They both sighed, then chuckled.
“So,” said Brennan, breaking the shared trance. “Did I enjoy myself … on this carpeted floor in front of a crackling fire, plied as I was with alcohol and raspberries … maybe a little chocolate as well?”
“Well, of course,” he announced, confidently, following her lead. “Of course!” The ‘duh!’ was implied.
“Wha—how can you be so sure?” She queried, raising a graceful eyebrow, sending the challenge; an arrow to the ego.
“It was my fantasy, that’s how I know,” he said teasingly. “Uh,” he looked around, scratching his head as he did so. “There aren’t any security cameras in here are there?” He glanced around the ceiling, the walls.
“There aren’t. I already checked. So tell me, in your fantasy, how did you know I enjoyed myself?”
“Okay,” he said, shrugging, “what the hell, why not? Okay. You purred like a kitten. Then you howled like a wolf at a full moon. Then—then you panted like a puppy,” he said quickly, almost chewing his words. “Then you purred like a kitten again, snuggled up against my chest—”
“And took a nap.”
Brennan gasp-laughed. “Ha!”
She stared blankly for a moment. The silence stretched to a yawn. “I’m usually much more participatory, energetic,” she said pensively, then turned back to her work.
Booth snorted. “You were tired. You let me do all the work.”
“Yes. That makes sense.” She quirked a perfect eyebrow and smiled, then gave an approving frown and nodded.
“You are quite poetic, Booth,” Brennan said a moment later.
“Your description of your fantasy. You do use a great deal of animal imagery, however.”
“Hm. It goes along with my animal magnetism.”
“Throughout antiquity, people with sentimental temperaments such as yours have made their living by recording history through poetry, telling stories about a victorious hunt, politics, love. All you need is a commission and a sponsor.”
“What, like a king paying me to write something like ‘The Iliad’ or ‘The Odyssey’? Shakespeare?”
“The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ are Homer. Shakespeare wrote ‘Hamlet’—.”
“—I knew that,” Booth said, defensively. “I took some poetry, remember? Shakespeare also wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’—”
“—And ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. Kiss me, Kate!”
“Precisely. There are fights in some of those, great battles between the forces of good and evil. Maybe you’d enjoy writing about that?”
“Hm. I don’t know. Like I said, you’re the real writer, Bones.” But he thought about it for several moments. “Okay, check this out.” He cleared his throat and held a hand up in the air as if about to make a proclamation. “Here goes.”
‘Gave my heart to a woman named Bones.
Who paid me in kisses and moans …’
“What rhymes with moans?” He said, scratching his chin, his brow pinched in thought. “Stones, phones, condones, microphones, jones—”
Brennan shook her head and giggled. “It doesn’t have to rhyme exactly, Booth.”
“—Loans moans, pones, clones, roans, sloans, tones, thrones, bemoans, known—what a minute. Thrones. That could work.” He cleared his throat and began at the beginning.
‘Gave my heart to a woman named Bones.
Who paid me in kisses and moans,
With a smile on her face,
She offered me grace …
… And I felt like a king on a throne.’
Brennan grimaced and nodded several times. “It’s a very fine start.”
“Your turn,” he said.
Brennan looked up in surprise and shook her head. “I don’t know. You’re the romantic.”
“But you write all that great stuff between Agent Andy and Kathy Reichs. That’s gotta come from somewhere … other than Angela, I mean. She may give you the ideas, but you put them into words.”
Brennan smirked, but could see he meant it. “I’ll think about it. Later. Right now I want to get this done and get out of here.” Ten minutes into her concentrated efforts, Booth’s fantasy all but forgotten, Brennan was freezing again. “Aghhhhh! I can barely function!” She groaned, spreading her fingers wide then slowly curling her fingers, knuckle by knuckle, into fists. She clenched them several more times, trying to force circulation, before acceding that her nervous system’s numbness was delaying the commands from her brain to her extremities.
“You are such a wimp, Bones.” Booth propelled himself off the examination table he was sitting on, his tarp crackling like heavy boots through a layer of day old ice.
“Oh, said he wrapped up in a sheet of plastic like a package of Ritz crackers!” She snorted derisively.
“Hey, at least I’m warm!” He walked to the corner of the room and turned the faucet of the utility sink. He shoved his paws into the stream of warm water and cranked the knob further to the left. Plunging liquid soap into his palm, he vigorously scrubbed both hands up to his elbows, allowing the tarp to fall away behind him.
“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you. I have some official FBI business to tend to that I might as well take care of right now.”
“Official FBI business. That’s ominous sounding,” Brennan replied unemotionally.
“Yeah,” he said, drying his hands on a paper from the rotary towel dispenser. Tossing the towel in the trash can, he walked up behind Brennan and slid his hands over her hips. “Seems there was a report submitted straight to the top.”
Brennan gasped, and stopped what she was doing. “Wha—Cullen? Does it have to do with this case?”
“It has to do with someone working on the case.”
“Hm,” she grunted. “Someone at the Jeffersonian?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact.”
“It appears there was a report submitted, to someone higher than God, that a certain item of clothing had gone missing.”
After a moment of silence, Brennan laughed out loud and leaned her head backward to rest on Booth’s chin. “Panty raid,” she nodded and sighed in amused resignation. “Well, I know how seriously you take your job, Agent Booth.” She snorted.
“I figured you might,” he whispered into her ear and kissed her cheek, causing a shiver to scamper down her spine.
Brennan sat on the couch in the darkened ante room of her hotel room. As she waited for Booth to emerge from the bathroom to tell her what had been upsetting him all evening, she smiled wanly, recalling what happened after Booth reminded her about the texts they’d exchanged during the morning’s meeting with the Jeffersonian team. Then she thought about the poem she had finally constructed and recited for him in this very room before he left. It was when she’d gone into the bedroom to write down the poem that he’d escaped despite his promises that he wouldn’t leave. She’d entitled her poem ‘Sir Seeley’, and he’d seemed pleased with it.
Her mind wandered to the surprising discovery Booth had made as they had prepared to leave the King County medical examiner’s office, and was once again impressed by his acute attention to detail. This might actually crack the case wide open, she thought to herself, then turned toward the bedroom when she heard movement behind the door …
Bring me to the next chapter, ‘Sir Seeley’ >>>
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