The Meaning in the Name
What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose
By any other name
Would smell as sweet
Brennan pulled the door closed behind her as she passed into the anteroom—leaving Booth alone and stunned, in her bathroom. It wasn’t until she’d slumped onto the couch facing the glass doors leading onto the balcony that she realized she had been shaking. Then she spied her roses, six white and one red, sprawled on the floor between the glass doors and the coffee table which had been knocked askew. What happened in here and why didn’t I notice this before—she wondered. And what happened to the vase the roses were in?
She knelt over the coffee table to gather the roses Booth had arranged for her to receive at the front desk when they first arrived at the hotel. She drew them across her cheek and under her nose inhaling their spicy sweetness, remembering Booth’s words:
“They represent our journey together, Bones. Six years of friendship followed by a year of passion to come”, he’d said sheepishly. “Six white, one red.”
“When I think of us, where we are now, I think of orange. Do you know why, Booth?” She’d countered playfully, pulling the red flower from the vase and dragging it’s petals across his upper lip.
“Orange? What, it’s your favorite popsicle flavor?” He’d chortled, taking it from her hand and dragging it along her jaw until she released a low chuckle and grabbed it back from him.
“Because though red is traditionally recognized as the color of love and romance, orange is the color of desire and exuberant enthusiasm.”
A grin had crept across his face, his lips forming a silent, “Ohhhh,” before she covered them with an exuberantly enthusiastic and seductively adventurous kiss.
“Orange,” he said in a hoarse whisper several moments later. “Good to know.”
Brennan smiled at the memory of that snippet of conversation and drank in the scent once again as if it could magically purify her. Like shucking off a sweater on a cool day turned unexpectedly warm, she released herself from concerns of vases and catawampus coffee tables—leaving only room for thoughts of Booth.
She rubbed her tired eyes, and dropped onto the couch with a limp bounce. Knowing that he was only feet away was reassuring. She allowed her shoulders to drop and her chest to rise, then fall, with the first truly deep breaths since she’d answered his call a mere ten minutes earlier. Barely hanging up the phone, she’d fled to his room to find him shaken and disoriented. She had assumed he’d had another nightmare. Soon he would walk out of the bathroom and tell her all about it. I hope I say the right thing—I hope I can, on some level, she thought, understand what he’s going through and be able to provide him some comfort. And, together, I hope we can confront his demons so he can have peace!
As was her nature, Brennan shuffled through the events of the day looking for clues as to what might have brought on the nightmare. It wasn’t the fear of being unequally yoked,she reminded herself. Ed Williams had calmed Booth’s fears in regard to spiritual equality. Then what, in the name of all invertebrates, did they discuss afterwards? She demanded from the universe, knowing she’d get no response. The second half of their discussion is clearly the source of his angst. The timing supports this theory, she told herself. He was fine, almost sanguine, before we got onto the flight to Washington and before his conversation with Ed—but he was clearly agitated after their talk.
Something more had happened later to further agitate him, though he’d tried to deny it. Booth had brooded in the car from the airport into downtown Seattle, then something at the medical examiner’s office had panicked him. Was it something I did; something I said? What was it? Brennan bit the inside of her lip and sucked air through her teeth making a chirping sound, then squeezed her eyes closed to sharpen her focus. She quizzed herself, reviewing the details of the evening.
Sheriff Restovich and Deputy LeSerf had been standing inside the glass doors anxiously awaiting the arrival of Brennan and Booth at 908 Jefferson Street when the town car pulled up to the curb.
“What do you mean we’re leaving our suitcases in the town car?” Asked Brennan insistently as she stood on the damp sidewalk in front of Harborview Medical Center where the King County Medical Examiner was housed. Booth, standing behind the car and talking with Sebastian, was unresponsive. “Doesn’t Sebastian have other fares to take care of?”
Booth finally shot Brennan a big-eyed don’t-get-your-panties-in-a-twist look.
“Booth!” She took a step toward him and reached out to tug on his sleeve.
Booth signed. He grabbed her hand and tucked it into the crook of his elbow, patting it with finality as he tore his eyes from Sebastian and glanced in her direction. “They are taking our stuff straight up to our rooms at the hotel, Bones.” He said, reaching down to scoop up an instrument bag with his other arm.
“Are you sure? That can’t be right, Booth. What kind of taxi service provides that kind of—uh, service?”
“Trust me, this kind does. The car belongs to the hotel. It’s a service that the hotel provides to some of its guests. Hey,” he said excitedly, cocking a brow at her, “maybe they heard that the famous Dr. Temperance Brennan, the most prestigious forensic anthropologist in the world, was coming to stay at their hotel, huh?” Booth grinned smugly, impressed with his own ingenuity.
“Hm,” she grunted, considering the possibility. “That does make sense. Perhaps that’s why we have been prohibited from offering gratuities to the driver. You are sure tips are included in our room rate?”
“Positive,” Booth said, leading her in the direction of the entrance to the building. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Wait, Booth! The communication equipment!” Brennan glanced over her shoulder toward the town car.
“Oh, yes! Right, right,” he said, realizing the laptop bag containing the communication equipment was still sitting on the sidewalk beside the car. “Tell ya what, you head in there and I’ll be right behind you, alright?”
“But—I’ll carry it if you’ll just hand it to me, Booth.”
“You just—get in there,” he directed sharply as he put his lips to her cheek for a quick but warm kiss before propelling her toward the glass door. “Look! That must be Sherriff Restovich right there. She looks quite excited to see you.”
“Well—” Brennan mumbled, surveying the two women standing just inside the glass doors. In appearance, they couldn’t have been more opposite. “I suppose—”
The first uniformed woman, though five-foot-nothing and barely 110 lbs, was shapely and meticulously dressed. Her mess of curly white-blond hair was kept at bay by a thin black headband. Two errant pin curls sprang, one from each temple, giving the impression she’d just sprouted nascent horns. She had crystal blue eyes; her solid round cheeks tacked in place by extraordinarily deep dimples. Her incongruously generous chest defined the term ‘bust line’ straining against her uniform giving the impression that at any moment she may topple over. Her trousers clung to the contours of her thighs belying a hard won sturdiness born of hundreds of hours on the uneven bars followed by both high school and college varsity volleyball. Simply put, Restovich was a pack of dynamite in a tan wrapper. Brennan later mentioned to Booth that Restovich looked like a Kewpie Doll in a Marilyn Monroe wig.
When Restovich spotted Brennan, beads of sweat popped out of her forehead, her face was flush with excitement. Like a child at the arrival gate awaiting her mother, Restovich fluttered a hummingbird wave and broke into an overly eager smile.
Beside Restovich stood a handsomely large-boned, golden-skinned woman who towered over her partner by a solid ten inches. She wore a waist-length mane barely restrained in an ebony French braid, which lay upon her spine like a dozing reptile. Deputy Annette LeSerf exuded an air of restrained curiosity. Her stance was strong and solid, but her uniform hung loose enough to mask her figure. Her clean face was accented with a broad mouth filled with strong, square teeth.
LeSerf possessed a quiet confidence that men often misconstrued as timidity until they experienced her wry sense of humor. Her fellow male officers considered her one of the guys—with breasts, of course. LeSerf was stoic by nature and at complete ease with other people’s husbands and boyfriends. No female with two good eyes in her head considered LeSerf a threat once they got to know her. LeSerf wore her tender though protected heart on her sleeve and only had eyes for Sheriff Sharon Restovich. Everyone understood this—except the Sheriff herself.
Brennan stopped in her tracks at the spectacle of the two women standing just inside the glass doors, and turned back toward Booth.
“Listen, will you just—get in there? Just—go!” Booth urged, slightly annoyed. He wanted a private word with Sebastian before the chauffeur drove off.
Brennan smirked, then relented and faced her audience. As soon as she was inside the glass door, Restovich grabbed her hand in two of her own and began pumping energetically as if trying to fill a pail with water from a spigot.
“I’m so excited that you are here, Ma’am!” She gasped in a breathy voice, nearly pulling Brennan’s arm out of its socket. Restovich gulped several times to catch her breath. Brennan startled and tried ineffectually to reclaim her hand.
“You are so very—extraordinarily—beautiful,” Restovich panted and squealed in a worshipful voice.
“While it is accurate that under usual conditions I am considered—beautiful—though not extraordinarily so, mathematically speaking—that’s hardly an appropriate greeting between professionals. Can you direct me to the Medical Examiner’s office, please?” Brennan stared pointedly at her phalanges and metacarpals, her appendicular epidermis white from dwindling circulation. “And would you kindly release me?!”
“Uh—well,” Restovich began while struggling to determine whether or not this was a good time to ask her idol for an autograph. “Well—um, cert-certainly—” Restovich said haltingly; giving no indication she intended to stop pumping. Her pallor deepened from red to eggplant as she tried to make a quick decision. She was as flummoxed as a contestant on Let’s Make A Deal faced with choosing between the Brand New Car and Door Number 2! The purple flush continued its climb up her scalp under her mane of goldilocks.
Deputy Annette LeSerf took a step forward, gently but firmly took hold of Restovich and Brennan’s wrists, and pulled their hands apart with a forced grunt. Clearing her throat, she extended her own hand in greeting.
“I apologize. May I assume you are Dr. Temperance Brennan from the Jeffersonian Institution in D.C.?”
“I am,” responded Brennan, wiping her hand on her pants and hesitating before accepting LeSerf’s extended hand.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m Deputy Annette LeSerf, and—allow me introduce you to Sheriff Sharon Restovich.”
“Oh!” Brennan blurted, straightening her clothing and bending to retrieve her bag which had ended up underfoot during the frantic greeting. She glanced between LeSerf and Restovich several times, scrutinizing the later, unconvinced of her authority. “This can’t be the Sheriff! She’s barely coherent!”
LeSerf pursed her lips, cocked an eyebrow and grimaced reproachfully. “Yes, she most certainly is the sheriff! Sharon, er, Sheriff Restovich is also your biggest fan, Dr. Brennan. She has all of your books —she’s read all of your articles—”
“But—but, she’s not even coherent! Are you sure she can read?” Brennan impugned, her brow wrinkling in incredulity.
“Of course she can read!” Snapped LeSerf, barely controlling her irritation. “She is the Sheriff—and one of the most brilliant people I have ever had the pleasure to work with. She runs this whole place! Well, not this place—” she huffed, twisting to gesture toward the edifice of the Harborview Medical Center. “Sheriff Restovich is the head of all law enforcement here in King County.”
Restovich stood beside LeSerf nodding eagerly, unrankled by Brennan’s unflattering comments.
“Listen,” said LeSerf in a low forceful voice, “Sharon is simply suffering from hyper excitement over meeting her celebrity crush—uh, I mean, someone of your distinction.” LeSerf’s ears pinked as Restovich’s head continued to bob in confirmation as she fanned herself.
“Well—you may want to sit down, Sheriff Restovich,” offered Brennan, concerned. “Does she suffer from cerebral hyperperfusion syndrome?” Brennan glanced between the two uniformed women and grabbed Restovich’s wrist to ascertain her heart rate. “Without proper medical attention she’s at risk of intracerebral or subarachnoid hemorrhage. She’s so—flushed. Unless she’s perhaps—”
“I assure you this is merely situational, Dr. Brennan. She is usually not like this and, in general, she’s as healthy as a horse. She’s just a little—over stimulated—or perhaps—.” A thought struck LeSerf, causing her head to snap toward Restovich. “Sharon! Did you even eat today?!”
“Uh—um,” Restovich chirped guiltily, her enormous eyes still glued to Brennan. “Maybe an apple—for lunch?”
LeSerf shot Restovich a reproving glare and received a sheepish shrugging half-grin in return. LeSerf rolled her eyes and shook her head, and then dropped her forehead into her hand before turning back to Brennan.
“It appears she’s got low blood sugar. Sometimes she just gets too busy and forgets to eat altogether.”
At that moment Booth sailed through the door to stand behind his partner.
“You must be Agent Seeley Booth?” The taller woman said smartly as she stepped toward him.
“That I am. You must be Sheriff Restovich?” Booth set down the instrument case and received her greeting.
“I’m Deputy LeSerf. This is Sheriff Restovich,” LeSerf stepped back and nudged Restovich forward when Booth extended his hand.
“Pleased to meet you, Agent—Agent Booth,” choked Restovich tearing her wide eyes from Brennan to look dismissively at him. Her focus snapped back to Brennan like an overstretched rubber band.
“We have everything set up for you in the Medical Examiner’s Office. I have read all of Dr. Brennan’s books,” gushed Restovich, “and cannot tell you how this is a dream come true—I mean, what an utter privilege it is—for me, I mean, uh, all of Seattle to have a renowned person such as Dr. Brennan here in our fine city!”
“Well, we wish it could be under better circumstances,” Booth said wryly, then shared a glance to meet his partner’s eyes before facing LeSerf again.
Restovich glanced at Booth as if she’d only just now realized he was actually there. Turning toward Brennan once again, she began listing to the left as all color drained from her cheeks. Her mouth had suddenly gone as dry as an Arizona sidewalk. “Uh—” she panted, swaying slightly against LeSerf as more beads of sweat popped out along her hairline. Still concentrating on Brennan’s face, Restovich’s eyes glimmered with panic. She glanced pleadingly at LeSerf, her mouth opening and closing like a trout out of water.
“Whoops! Where’s your blood testing kit?!” LeSerf demanded, holding her partner up.
“What—?!” Restovich said, agitated, her speech slightly slurred. “I’m fine, Netty, I’m fine,” she wheezed unconvincingly.
LeSerf began to speak quickly toward Brennan and Booth as she took Restovich by the elbow. “The Sheriff is an enthusiastic servant of the people of this city and an even more dedicated fan of yours, Dr. Brennan. Please forgive her this awkward first impression. I promise by tomorrow she will have regained her wits and will be able to help you in any way you see fit.”
“But, what about—?” Brennan objected.
“Yesh!” Sharon blurted, her slur become more pronounced. She rallied as she vainly attempted to combat the effects of her failing nervous system and remain vertical. “Yesh—musht-stt unner-undersand-stand,” she said slowly, clearing her throat in disappointment of her inability to articulate what she wanted to say. She wrung her sweaty, shaky hands and felt her nose itch, but didn’t dare rub it for fear she wouldn’t be able to stop.
She looked hopefully at Brennan; hope that this would be forgotten by tomorrow.
Booth slid a sideways glance at Brennan telepathically begging her to respond mercifully toward this poor star-struck woman.
Brennan met Booth’s gaze and attempted to read his thoughts. He nodded ever so slightly with the side of his head in the direction of Sheriff Restovich. A smile of comprehension slowly overcame Brennan’s features.
“I appreciate the enthusiastic welcome,” she began, flicking a glance back to Booth for approval. Booth rewarded her with a shallow nod and a sideways grin. “… And—and,” she glanced back at Booth, then back to LeSerf and Restovich, “—and I Look forward to—to—” She sighed wearily and dropped the façade. “Would you mind just bringing us to the medical examiner’s office,” she said, feeling this whole episode was going on way too long.
“Cert—certainly!” Exclaimed Restovich, though it was evident she was in no condition to do anything of the sort.
“Certainly, Dr. Brennan. Give me one moment—” LeSerf held them off with a flat palm as she discretely whispered something into Sharon’s ear receiving a lazy nod in response. LeSerf accompanied Restovich back down the hall and returned alone a moment later.
“Sheriff Restovich has some rather urgent police business to attend to at present. Can I take that case, Agent Booth?”
“She was a lot more professional on the phone—” LeSerf overheard Booth mumbling to Brennan.
“Honestly—Agent Booth, Dr. Brennan, please don’t hold this against Sharon. She is more than just a fan of your work. You inspired her to go back to school for her masters in forensics.”
Brennan stared at the deputy, unsure what to say.
“She’s also a diabetic who didn’t eat all afternoon. I’ve, uh, actually never seen her this unhinged. She was just so anxious to meet you.”
“I have never seen such a severe reaction from a connoisseur of my publications,” answered Brennan quietly, realizing she hadn’t eaten since mid afternoon. “Will she be okay?”
“I promise you, once she’s had some real food and some sleep, maybe a little biofeedback … she will be right as rain and most likely thoroughly embarrassed!” LeSerf pursed her lips in regret. “Please, Dr. Brennan, she is the most wonderful person I know, and smart as a whip—”
“Whips are sentient and therefore they have no IQ—” Brennan objected.
“She’s just a little over enthusiastic, overwhelmed,” her voice trailed off distractedly.
A silence ensued during which Brennan shifted her weight from foot to foot then picked up the communication equipment Booth had deposited at her feet.
“The morgue?” Booth quirked an eyebrow quizzically toward LeSerf.
“Yes. Absolutely,” LeSerf said. “Right this way.” She turned abruptly as if awakened from a daydream and led them through the vestibule and into a wide blunt hallway flanked on either side by five conventional-sized elevator cars and, finally, a much wider elevator with fire engine red doors. The paint on the doors was glossy and thick having been repainted at least twenty times to cover the scrapes and gouges suffered from collisions with large heavy object on wheels propelled by impatient people. They stood in front of the doors waiting.
LeSerf selected a gold key from a substantial collection hanging from a chain on her belt. She inserted it into the control panel, rotated it twice, and pressed the button with the red number three. After a moment of silence, the car wailed and screeched its irritation at being called to duty.
“Uh, I requested some information from Sheriff Restovich?” Booth glanced back over his shoulder in the direction from which they’d just come.
“Yes. I have everything for you right here,” she said nodding down at four thick manila file folders in the crook of her left arm. “In these files are the original police and coroner reports. You’ll also find contact information for forty-two other individuals including those who discovered the remains at Island Center Forest and all persons associated with the Banty Solicious case—family, friends, co-workers, bosses, teachers—boyfriends.” She handed him the short stack of battered folders.
“Can you send this to me digitally?”
“Already e-mailed to the address you gave Sharon, er, Sheriff Restovich. She thought you’d want the hard copies tonight so you could look at them while you’re here. Unfortunately, the Internet is sketchy in the dungeon, er, the morgue. We weren’t sure you’d be able to access all of this digitally tonight while you’re down here.”
“Gotcha—does this include everyone involved in putting that bike trail in the park over the spot where she was found?”
“Yes, sir. And the boyfriend.”
“That’s the second time you’ve mentioned her boyfriend, Deputy. What’s that all about?”
“He was the main suspect. Last to see her alive, though he never admitted it and we couldn’t prove it. Name’s Tanner Speary. Handsome guy, if you like that sorta thing. Still lives in town. Says he’s still looking for her killer. Some say he’s a little crazy. Got discharged from the Air Force because of all this.”
“Hm,” Brennan and Booth grunted in unison, then shared an interested glance.
A ding announced the elevator’s arrival and the doors chugged open. The three stepped into the large cubicle and were quickly enveloped in the aromas associated with government buildings: floor wax, tired metal, copier toner, and ammonia. LeSerf pressed the button for the third sub level.
As the elevator doors closed and the car began its painfully slow descent, Booth set down the instrument case and began flipping through the pages of the first file.
“I don’t understand your comment about the boyfriend, Tanner—?” Brennan raised an inquisitive brow in LeSerf’s direction. Booth looked up from the files.
“Speary. Tanner Speary. Yeah. Strange situation. What did you want to know?”
“What exactly do you mean by, ‘he’s handsome, if you like that kind of thing’?”
“Oh, uh, very serious young man. Very serious. Very clean cut, still totally military—even though he was discharged for being a mental case. Lotsa folks think he killed her then snapped-kind of a O.J. Simpson thing.”
“But—what bearing does his physical attractiveness have on the case?”
“Well, some say he was cut some slack because he was a media darling. The reporters at the Chronicle—that’s the King County Chronicle—all had crushes on him. One reporter, Banjo Jones—I know, strange name—she wrote an exposé on his efforts to find her killer. The others accused her of just trying to get into his—uh—life,” she said, coughing to cover her euphemism.
“We’ll have to talk with both of them tomorrow first thing,” Booth said. “Bring them in—but not together—and don’t let them talk beforehand. Can you do that?”
“Absolutely, sir. Anyone else you’d like me to arrange for? Perhaps the Soliciouses, Banty’s parents? They are the only ones who know you’re here since they had to approve the exhumation, of course.”
“I’d – well, we’d like to see them first. Find out what they think of this Tristan guy.”
“Tanner. Tanner Speary, sir. I’ll set it all up. Anything else?”
“I’ll let you know.”
“The medical examiner, I’d like to talk with him tomorrow,” added Brennan.
“Well, I’d arrange that if I could, but Dr. Shcherbakov, he’s in the same cemetery Ms. Solicious was dug up from. He passed away about six months ago. His second in command, Dr. Astor, took over for him but hasn’t had the heart to remove any of the old guy’s personal effects from the morgue. You do have Dr. Sherb’s—that’s what we call, uh, called Dr. Shcherbakov —Sherb—you have his complete notes there,” she said, nodding to the files in Booth’s hands. “Billy Astor—the new guy—he worked with Sherb when Banty was discovered. May have even been the one who actually performed the autopsy—if you can call it that, an autopsy, I mean.” LeSerf nodded hopefully toward the files in Booth’s hands. “I may also be able to find one or two of his protégés that were here when the remains were found. Would that be helpful?”
“Yes, it would. Thank you, Deputy LeSerf.”
Inside the first of the four files, Booth perused the specifics he was already familiar with:
Victim: Banty Louise Solicious, born April 29, 1985
Last seen: June 17, 2006
Date found: May 30, 2007, eleven months and two weeks after reported missing.
Location: Island Center Forest
Found by: Jonnifer Strider, surveyor, and Bjorn Anderson, geologist, contractors hired by Elson’s Excavation to provide survey information to be included in King County RFP #28957 requesting bids for installation of a bike path
“Banty was twenty-one years old,” remarked Booth doing a quick calculation, his brows reaching for each other across his forehead. “Aleesha Grimes—wasn’t she twenty-one?”
“Yes, she was,” Brennan confirmed. “Why?”
“Just noticing. That’s all.” Booth glanced up at the elevator control panel. “Man, how far down are we going? This is either the longest or the slowest elevator ride in history.” He allowed the file cover to drift closed.
“Well,” replied LeSerf, “it sure seems sometimes that this elevator goes all the way to H-E-Double-Toothpicks, based on what you might see when the doors open!”
“Does this open directly into the morgue proper?” Asked Brennan.
“No. The morgue is down the hall to the left and just around the corner, but it can still get dicey in the halls. For example, we just had a thirty-car pile up with eighteen fatalities. We had toes tagged up and down the hall on both sides. The morgue is slated for expansion in 2018, but right now all we have is a walk-in refrigeration unit with a capacity of, uh, nine—you know, nine cadavers—but we can squeeze fifteen in there in a pinch. Standing room only, of course, if you’ll pardon the pun,” she said, chuffing at her own joke.
Brennan and Booth’s eyes slid toward each other and glanced away quickly, both trying not to groan or roll their eyes.
“I don’t think you understand the meaning of the word pun, Deputy LeSerf,” objected Brennan. “Cadavers can’t stand—”
“Bones—” Booth quickly whispered under his breath. He shook his head when her eyes met his and received a return ‘What? I’m not wrong’ expression back from his partner.
“So, eighteen cadavers all at once this week plus our usual traffic was—whew!—well, it wasn’t pretty. Like a scene straight out of that Vincent Price movie, ‘House of Wax’. Remember that? All the statues on display at the museum were actually real dead people dipped in wax?!” LeSerf shivered involuntarily. “To this day I still can’t take a step inside a museum without a little pharmaceutical assistance, if ya’ know what I mean, heh.”
“I love museums,” sad Brennan in a bland tone. “I work in one of the finest in the country—”
“No offense intended,” LeSerf interjected quickly, trying not to make eye contact with Brennan or Booth. “The Jeffersonian is highly regarded. Sharon, er, Sheriff Restovich—well, its her dream to visit there one day—” LeSerf wiped away the nervous perspiration gathering on her forehead and above her lip. If she offended these two and Restovich found out, LeSerf would never hear the end of it.
As if in response to a silent plea for a diversion, the car came to a whining stop then paused before the doors arthritically chugged open. Brennan leaned forward and stopped, frozen in place by the cloying stench of decomposing flesh.
“Mother of God!” Booth gagged and quickly curled the Banty Solicious files around his face. LeSerf squinted and cupped a hand over her nose and mouth.
Within moments, the noxious fumes seeped into the car and expanded to envelop the three seemingly paralyzed passengers.
Brennan shut off the air intake into her nasal cavity and took slow shallow breaths through tight lips. “Putrefaction,” she mumbled and walked, undaunted, out of the elevator. LeSerf and Booth cautiously followed.
“We had commercial grade fans and three dehumidifiers down here all weekend. It was a freaking wind tunnel, believe me. And the noise—!” LeSerf shoved a finger into one ear and jiggled it around. “Little good that did!”
LeSerf shook her head in disgust as her tongue flicked in and out of her mouth in a display of disgust. “But like I said, we were slammed with bodies. But this isn’t the worst of it, Dr. Brennan— this is actually an improvement over the state of things this weekend!”
“It was worse than this?” Booth squeaked from behind the folders.
“Hard to imagine, idn’t it?” LeSerf pointed to the left in response to Brennan’s inquisitive glance.
“We’ve had more bodies than that here before—but this was just bad news all around—”
LeSerf stopped talking to cover her mouth with her shirt cuff. Brennan, however, was undeterred.
“After a while your main and accessory olfactory systems—and most especially the bipolar neurons of your olfactory epithelium—will cease to transduce into perception the chemical signals from even the most repugnant odor molecules, thereby disengaging your prepiriform cortex—more precisely, your entire rhinencephalon.”
“What?” LeSerf stopped and stared at her, her eyes shadowed by a shelf of quizzical brow.
“I don’t know what that means either, heh,” snorted Booth, chuckling good-naturedly behind his mask of manila files. Brennan shot him a playful stink eye.
“It means that this miasma or decomposition—the repugnant odor—eventually you will no longer smell or taste the putrefaction.”
“Taste?!” Blurted Booth.
“No way!” Choked LeSerf, gagging dramatically.
“Way. It’s called sensory adaptation,” Brennan tossed off as she continued down the hall, “or neural adaptation.”
“I will never get used to this—Holy God!” Exclaimed Booth in disgust wrapped around a hefty dose of incredulity.
“Did she say—taste it?” LeSerf frowned, her mouth flopping open, then slamming shut abruptly.
“Just wait,” Brennan answered unemotionally as she looked around. “You should be grateful that your olfactory mucosa is only about 10 square centimeters. There are 110,000 kinds of smells in nature. Humans only perceive 100-200 of them. And, yes, we do experience the chemical composition of odorants gustatorially,” she confirmed, then added, “Wetaste them, in the vernacular.”
LeSerf stared quizzically at the anthropologist. “Well, I don’t eat vernacular, whatever that is—I don’t think we have it here in Seattle—”
“Oh, I assure you, you do!” Brennan interrupted, wincing at a poke in the ribs from her partner.
“—uh, well— I think I’m gonna be sick just thinking about it,” mumbled LeSerf in a garbled voice behind fingers clamped across her mouth. She dove for a nearby trashcan and began spitting into it.
“Oh, it’s too late now, Deputy. Once you’ve perceived the odorant, it—it’s already on your taste buds and in your sinus cavity. Is the morgue in this direction?” She asked, pointing to the left.
“Well, she’s just a barrel of fun,” LeSerf snarked, looking past Brennan to Booth.
“Yeah, a real comedian,” he agreed. “So—how the Sam-hell was it worse than this yesterday and why does it still smell like Satan’s toilet down here?” Booth finally lowered the Banty files to expose his bloodless puckered lips. He glanced at the trashcan just in case his digestive system decided to eject its contents.
“Weeeeel. Sometime about the middle of the night on Saturday—the refrigeration unit was full to overflowing by then, you see—the compressor went wonky and the thermometer decided to crap out on us too. We usually keep the fridge at 4° Celsius—that’s thirty-nine degrees Fahrenheit—and it was up to ’bout 18 Celsius—that’s 65 Fahrenheit—what with the last bodies warming up the place and the gasses and all the bacteria and the decomposition—all that factored in.” LeSerf whistled to indicate the enormity of the whole situation.
“What?” Booth asked.
“That is unfortunate,” agreed Brennan.
“Tell me about it,” agreed LeSerf, rolling her eyes. “No one knew this had happened until the 5 a.m. security guard went on rounds this morning. Poor guy puked up all but his toenails then passed out cold in the hallway. Wasn’t discovered by his partner ’til thirty minutes later.” LeSerf blanched recalling the sight of him sprawled on the floor in his own vomit.
Booth and Brennan exchanged a furtive glance, knowing exactly what the other was thinking. Maybe we should call it a night and come back tomorrow—or the day after? Or, how about NEVER?
“We might as well get this over with, Booth,” Brennan said quietly, with an apologetic smirk. “You won’t even be aware of the stench in a little while.”
“But I’m aware of it now!” He gagged pleadingly; pulling out a handkerchief and covering his mouth and nose once again.
Brennan pressed her lips together in a doleful smirk. She shrugged apologetically, and moved on.
Booth rolled his eyes, hung his head, and begrudgingly trudged forward to the end of the hall behind his partner.
“We got a guy out here to look at it,” LeSerf had been saying, unaware of the exchange taking place behind her, “you know, the refrigeration service guy? But he says we need a thing-a-ma-what’s-it from Michigan that won’t be here until tomorrow morning. God only knows how long it will take to install the dang thing!”
The three slowly walked a number of steps, occasionally chancing a sniff to see if the odor was as bad as it was the previous time they’d smelled it.
“Why is it that when something smells this god-awful, you know, like a stinky diaper, or a skunk—you can’t help smelling it a bunch ‘a times—?” Booth asked incredulously.
“—Or your own flatulence?” Brennan mumbled, somewhat amused.
“Yeah,” Booth admitted, unabashedly, “and why do people sniff it again and again? What is that all about? I tell ya’, people are just weird.”
“The word ‘weird’ suggests the strangeness, the oddity, uncommonness of something. However, fascination with man’s own bodily functions and the products of those functions is universal and therefore not at all odd or uncommon—”
“Whatever, Bones. I’m just saying—why do we torture ourselves—?”
“Dr. Sweets would say that it’s not torture at all. Humans repeat behaviors they find pleasurable or beneficial. Perhaps we enjoy experiencing foul sensations? Throughout antiquity there have been factions, pockets of humanity, which induce foul sensations for the purpose of intensifying pleasure. I could give you several colorful examples that would surprise even you, Booth—” she paused, seeing the trepidation in Booth’s eyes and chuckling.
“Maybe later—” he rasped, blanching.
“I said, maybe later—which is generally understood to mean an emphatic, but polite no.”
“—Adolf Hitler was both a coprophiliac and an urolagniac, or a ‘pisswhore’ in the vernacular—” Brennan continued undeterred.
“Now I know we don’t have ‘vernacular’ here,” LeSerf mumbled under her breath.
“—He enjoyed being urinated and defecated upon during the sex act –if you believe psychoanalyst Walter Langer’s analysis. However, Hitler is an extreme case. I think what you are referring to is a mere fascination with repugnant odorants: the scent of gasoline –or, burning rubber, cow dung, –or, human bromidrosis–”
Booth and LeSerf shot a quizzical glance in Brennan’s direction.
“Body odor, of course,” she clarified. “Bromidrosis is foul-smelling perspiration. Some people have an affinity for it.”
“Dang!” LeSerf spit into the garbage can a couple of more times.
“Bones, I’m not talking about things people like to smell! I’m talking about things people don’t like to smell but they smell them repeatedly anyway, like they gotta see if it’s still as bad as they thought it was.”
“It’s actually a perverse thrill,” Brennan nodded matter-of-factly.
“A thrill? Are you kidding me?” Coughed LeSerf who’d been only slightly paying attention by this time. She rolled her eyes and walked to the end of the hall without waiting for an answer.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” Booth said.
“I never joke about these things, Booth, you know that. Dr. Sweets says some humans experience a perverse thrill from doing or seeing something they know they shouldn’t. Pornography, for example—”
Booth’s responding snort and guffaw were cut short by Deputy LeSerf’s matter-of-fact voice.
“You don’t have to open the doors to the refrigerator unit where the cadavers are, right?” Reaching her destination, LeSerf turned to address her followers. “She—Banty Solicious, I mean— hasn’t been refrigerated for ’bout four years so she won’t need it now, am I right?”
“We do not have to open the refrigeration unit. No,” replied Brennan.
“Then you should be just fine. Or, at least, it shouldn’t get any worse, I should think.”
“Were you on the force when Miss Solicious was discovered?” Booth asked between pinched lips. He caught Brennan’s eye, then refocused on the deputy.
“Uh, where was I? She went missing five years ago, right? I was on homicide at the time, but it wasn’t my case. Sharon had just been promoted to major crimes and it wasn’t her case either,” LeSerf confirmed.
“Did you know the girl?” Booth lifted the cover of the first file again to peek at the contents.
“No, not personally, Agent Booth, but everyone knew about her after the fact – well, I mean, after she went missing. She was the sweetest girl, from what they say, poor kid. Her parents spent a ton of money making sure the word got out and a reward was posted for finding her. The dad had some connections at city hall. There was hell to pay because resources were shifted from the Green River Killer case toward Ms. Solicious—and some felt it was coercion from the Mayors office. It was an election year and Mr. Solicious is a part time lobbyist for a bunch of liberal causes.” LeSerf looked from Brennan to Booth and back as if this information should hold some special meaning.
“Anyway. There were cadaver dogs all over the place. Because of them, we uncovered three of the Green River Killer victims, but no Miss Banty Solicious,” she said, turning toward the door.
“You wouldn’t have found Banty with cadaver dogs anyway,” Brennan said, matter-of-factly.
“Banty’s remains were cleared of all viscera and any decomposable materials prior to interment at Island Forest,” Brennan explained.
“Note to self,” mumbled Booth in disgust, “cancel cadaver dogs. Excrement!”
“Oh, I see,” LeSerf said, though clearly she didn’t. Turning back to her task, LeSerf flipped through her heavy mess of keys. “Here we are,” she said, a lilt of delight in her tone. She was anxious to check on Sharon Restovich, but even more anxious to escape the confining and stinky basement hall of Harborview Medical Center.
“Now, here’s the thing,” LeSerf said, holding up a single key. “This is one of only three keys to this place. This is the only door into the morgue, okay?” She nodded at the door, inserted the key, and turned it. “And I can’t give it to you. So, you make sure you have all your stuff with you when you leave, because you won’t be getting back in until tomorrow morning at oh-eight-hundred. Got it?” She stared hard at each partner in turn, awaiting any sign of comprehension.
“Got it,” they replied in unison, exchanging circumspect looks that said, One key, one door. What the hell?
Once across the threshold into the morgue, Booth bent to set the instrument case on the floor.
“Don’t put that on the floor!” Brennan shrieked.
“Why?!” Booth yanked the case back up and wrapped both arms around it.
“You think a hospital floor is filthy? A morgue like this would make an ER look like—well—just—take my word for it; this floor is teeming with all manner of bio hazardous waste!”
“This thing is heavy, Bones! How long do I have to hold it?”
“Just give me a minute. Here, hold this!” Brennan shoved the communication equipment case at Booth and looked around for something, anything, to use as a barrier between their belongings and the bacteria-infested surfaces of the empty medical examiner’s office. Spying an antiquated rotary towel dispenser to the right of the scrub sink and immediately below the wall-mounted x-ray light box, Brennan clutched her bag between her knees and cranked the lever half expecting a jack-in-the-box to pop out of the top of the thing.
“Put the cases up here,” she said, covering one end of an autopsy table with the towels as she blew wisps of errant hair out of her eyes.
Booth’s tongue made a lap around his lips as he hefted each case up onto the paper towels with a grunt.
“It wasn’t really that heavy, heh,” he explained, grabbing his shoulder and rotating his arm. “It’s just—I’d been carrying it for so long—.”
“Naturally, Agent Booth,” LeSerf stifled a grin. “How long do you think you’ll be here tonight, if you don’t mind my askin’?”
“About two hours,” said Booth, looking to Brennan for confirmation. “Yep. About two hours.”
“Okay. There are vending machines down the hall. We can’t get anyone to deliver real food down here, bein’ it’s the morgue and all—but there’s a coffee machine round the corner,” LeSerf spoke directly to Booth as Brennan had already lost interest. “Remember—if you need to go out and come back in, one of you should stay in here. Now, there’ll be a security guard coming by in about an hour, but after lock down, the only guards are the exterior patrol. There’s no phone in the hall out there—the on-call ME has the cell with him. So, you might want to make sure you take your own cell with you wherever you go. I know it sounds like a lot of rules, but we’re used to it here and our system works just fine. We only have problems when new people come.”
“Got it. Not a problem,” assured Booth, tapping the original Banty files across his nose and mouth and stifling a yawn.
After a cursory facilities tour which Booth was thankful didn’t include the inside of the overflowing refrigeration unit, Booth slipped a piece of cardboard between the lock assembly and the door jamb and escorted LeSerf back to the first floor elevator bank, then reluctantly rode the car back down into the hellish putrescence that was the King County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Slipping quietly back through the door as if late for Sunday services, Booth spied Brennan clad in a mustard yellow bib apron across which was splashed the warning: ‘Danger, Men Cooking’. He knew better than to disturb her while she prepared to review remains.
Brennan had ignored the tour of the dismal 23 x 22 foot space, familiar as she already was with the trappings of a medical examiner’s office and anxious as she was to wrap her brain around the puzzle awaiting her inside the exhumed casket. She now stood between the two autopsy tables, which she’d draped with clear vinyl tarps that hung, limp and desolate as funeral palls, over the stainless steel tables. As Booth watched from just inside the door, Brennan retreated to a narrow closet in the far corner of the room and retrieved a box of clear medical grade gloves and two face shields.
On her way back to the center of the room, Brennan surveyed the macabre collection of tools hanging from dusty hooks protruding from a dingy and pealing pegboard to the left of the scrub sink. She clenched her teeth, sighed and glanced at the contents of the countertop below the pegboard: stacks of files, a cacophony of antiquated or broken tools, a pile of disposable kidney-shaped emesis dishes, and two dusty spray bottles which had been relabeled in permanent marker: ‘WARNING! NOT WATER: CHEMILUMINESCENT’, and ‘WARNING! NOT WATER: POTASSIUM FERRICYANIDE’.
The room’s interior walls were cinder block, the floor gray concrete, sloping almost imperceptibly toward the center of the room where the two steel autopsy tables stood. Under each table was a grated drain in the floor running the length of each table. Below each table was a six gallon bucket of kitty litter for catching liquid refuse. The opposite wall contained two metal file cabinets painted blood red.
“Somebody had a sense of humor,” mumbled Booth, staring at the file cabinets.
“This place is certainly not the Jeffersonian,” Brennan mumbled distractedly. “Still, I’ve seen worse.” She continued to the autopsy tables and deposited her cache next to the bags and cases she’d already rearranged there.
Booth nodded distractedly and stepped toward the pegboard to marvel at the mishmash of culinary instruments and carpenter’s tools. Chisels, saws, ladles, knives and blunt-nosed scissors in a myriad of shapes and sizes, hammers, calipers, square and slide rules, hooks, bolt cutters from Home Depot, forceps with pointy teeth, scalpels, clamps, measuring cups, needles, spatulas and slotted spoons. On a shelf to the left sat boxes of quart- and gallon-size ziploc baggies, strainers, kitchen scales, mixing bowls in graduating sizes, and petri and custard dishes. Across the room on the other side of the autopsy tables and cheek to jowl with the blood red file cabinets was a makeshift desk. Flanking the desk on the right was a two-door cooler filled with small plastic jars, tissue samples, and several unidentifiable liquids.
Any unoccupied space around the periphery was lined with steel countertops upon which lay files, a blotter calendar, empty Campbell soup cans stuffed with pencils and pens, and several collections of manuals, texts, and spiral bound notebooks occasionally held upright by plain black metal book ends.
The only things missing from this scene, Booth decided, was a grisly circuitry set hooked to a glass jar containing a formaldehyde-immersed disembodied head. That and a pale-skinned hunchback named Igor dragging a clubbed foot through a web-strewn trap door.
‘”I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel—’ quoth he,” Booth enunciated in a dramatically ominous Boris Karloffian tone. He felt a cold shock wash over him when he turned to find Brennan staring at him, amused and smiling.
“Ah,” she whispered in quiet delight. “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!”
“Of course. ‘Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery,'” he added, “‘and be overwhelmed by disappointments’. Heh, sometimes I feel like that,” he said quietly, stuffing his hands in his pockets, then pulling them back out awkwardly and staring, unseeing, around the room. “A fallen angel leading a double existence—” he said before he could stop himself. —A cold-blooded killer for hire, hiding under the auspices of government directives, he thought. He hadn’t meant anything serious by the quote—until it was out there in the air, stinging him with its poignancy. His eyes dropped self-consciously to his hands then his feet. He shifted his weight from foot to foot before seeking refuge in the coolness of Brennan’s eyes. “Meh, ignore me, Bones,” he shrugged, “I’m just talking gibberish—here in a morgue in the middle of the night, heh—” His voice was hollow, his chuckle empty. He shrugged one shoulder and grimaced weakly.
“Booth,” Brennan said, searching his eyes. She reached out to lace her fingers through his. “You are not a fallen angel,” she whispered forcefully, pulsing his fingers with several deliberate squeezes then stroking his knuckles with the pad of her thumb. She cocked her head to the side and stared quizzically into his eyes, then nodded and smiled sweetly. “You are the opposite.” She released his hand and draped her arm over his shoulder and around his neck. She stood up on her tippy toes, and leaned into his chest to kiss him tenderly on the cheek. “The. Absolute. Most. Opposite. Possible,” she said, looking soulfully from eye to eye. “I speak the truth. Understand?” She said, frowning encouragingly up into her lover’s face.
Can God’s grace truly be big enough to erase my crimes as if they never happened? Do I deserve to forgive myself? How could I after everything I’ve done to ruin all those innocent families! He pleaded with himself. Booth’s eyes watered and a sharp tartness invaded his sinuses. He closed his eyes and dropped his forehead on hers, exhaling slowly several times. He opened his mouth to say something, but opted for silence and forced an empty smile to stretch across his broad lips. He swallowed dryly, his Adam’s apple struggling to dip and rise against the ball of dough caught in his throat.
Brennan, still pressed up against him, rocked him soothingly side to side. She dropped her forehead to his chin and closed her eyes in deference to his acute discomfort. Booth pressed his lips gratefully against the smooth skin between her perfectly shaped eyebrows and emitted a quiet ragged hum.
“I know something is troubling you, Booth. It’s okay,” she said, pressing firm hypnotic circles over his shoulder muscles then letting her fingers crawl into the short hairs at the nape of his neck. Booth shivered involuntarily and hummed in response. “When you are ready, we can talk, okay?” She felt him nod and begin to relax, his breath tickling her eyelashes and the baby fine hairs across her cheek. “For now, lets get our work done and get out of Frankenstein’s laboratory, alright?” She felt him nod again and heard an agreeable rumble vibrate from deep in his chest. She smiled, but still worried. “If you need a powerful distraction, you can think about what was in the gift bag from Angela and—”
“—And imagine you in them. Ahhhh,” he sighed, a grateful calm beginning to slowly envelop him. “The illustrious hot-babe-in-a-thong panties!” Booth was slowly reviving and refocusing. His palms found their way to the small of her back; his fingertips wandered further south to her waist then dropped down to take full measure of her backside. “That’s good thinking, Bones,” he sighed, nearly lifting her off her feet as he enjoyed the bountiful springiness that filled his hands. “Oh, heaven help us all,” he groaned, “you know exactly what to say to get me distracted. Have I told you lately how amazing you are?”
“Hmmmm? Yes, you have.”
“Um, well,” he grunted, “At least I’m consistent,” he chuckled in a relaxed tone as he kneaded her buttocks until she chuckled and gently pulled herself out of the circle of his embrace.
“Wait a minute,” he objected, pulling her back and sinking his nose into her hair. “Mmmmmm. Your hair smells so much better than the rest of this place! Maybe I’ll just stand right here and breathe you in for the next two hours.”
“Booth, while that may be most enjoyable, it is thoroughly impractical. You do have things to do as well. Why don’t you find the thermostat and decrease the temperature in the room,” she said, tapping on his shoulder before stepping out of his embrace. “That should help until our olfactory receptors equalize.”
“Oh, great idea! Slow down the molecules in the air, right? See, I know stuff.”
“Very good, yes! Decrease the stench—or at least our perception of it. Maybe we’ll be able to breathe more comfortably.”
“—until our neural napkins take over, right?”
“Our natural adaptation,” she corrected, belatedly realizing it was a joke. “Though, calling them neural napkins makes sense metaphorically in reference to what they accomplish. Ugh. I can still taste the putrefaction,” Brennan gagged, pressing the back of her wrist up to her mouth.
Booth crossed his arms, and leaned back against an autopsy table. Spying a box of Kleenex on the medical examiner’s desktop, he yanked out a tissue and blew into it energetically two or three times, then wiped his upper lip before tossing the wad into the garbage can.
“Clearing your sinuses won’t get rid of it all, Booth. How long do you think that tissue has been sitting in air containing a high concentration of fecal matter, putrefaction vapors, perhaps even bodily fluids?” She said all this without glancing in his direction. As a result, she didn’t notice his rush toward the utility sink until the sound of him spitting and almost dry heaving assaulted her ears.
“I’m gonna need a decontamination shower after this,” he whispered, hoarse with revulsion.
“Why don’t you go find that thermostat and set it to—maybe—”
“Below zero? That ought to do it, don’t ya’ think? Freeze the suckers dead in their tracks.”
“I should think 40 would be sufficient,” she chuckled, “perhaps even overkill. We can start there.”
Booth spied the thermostat and disappeared behind the closet door for a moment, then returned rubbing his hands together vigorously. “I feel better already—just knowing I’ve done something. Take that—disgusting molecules!”
Brennan shook her head and chuckled again, then retrieved a pen and a packet of blank forms from her bag. She snapped two pairs of clear medical grade vinyl gloves over her hands and turned in the direction of the metal accordion casket cart. Atop the cart rested the casket containing the remains of victim two, Miss Banty Solicious.
“Why don’t you see if we’ve anything from Dr. Hodgins yet. Or, Mr. Bray,” she tossed over her shoulder as she approached the casket.
“Gimme a minute,” said Booth, rubbing his hands together again. “Hear that?” He pointed at the air conditioner vent in the ceiling out of which poured a chilling rush of clean air. “Resistance is futile, Suckahs!” He whipped around in a crouch pointing an invisible handgun and making shooting noises. “You’re welcome, by the way, Bones,” he said blowing on the end of the invisible barrel, then flipping and holstering his imaginary gun.
Twenty minutes later, Booth was still wandering aimlessly around the tiny morgue.
“You’re already bored.” It was a statement not requiring a response. “This is Doctor Temperance Brennan of the Jeffersonian Institution,” she began, recording her examination for later transcription. “Attending is my partner—”
“—and mate,” interjected Booth, sidling up beside her and leaning toward the microphone. “A dashing and irresistible cowboy of a guy, I might add.”
“It is not necessary to state that you are my mate, nor is it technically accurate—,” she said.
“—Of which I am painfully aware—” he said smirking at her as he shoved his hands into his pockets and jingled about $3 in coins against his Zippo.
“—Should I also mention that you are a father? And a Flyers fan?”
Booth shrugged and grinned playfully.
“—attending is Special Agent Seeley Booth of the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Before me is the exhumed casket of Miss Banty Louise Solicious—The casket shows no signs of being opened or tampered with since—” She glanced at the paperwork she’d found laid atop the casket. “—since it’s extraction from Calvary Cemetery, 5041-35th Avenue NE, Seattle, WA from where it was extracted earlier today.” She gave the date.
“How do you know I’m bored?” Booth picked-up a clear blue plastic Terminator Tiger Shark yo-yo with holographic geometric designs on the hubs and slipped the string loop over his middle finger. As he waited for Brennan’s response he began to effortlessly throw, spool and catch the toy several times in fluid movements.
“You’re playing with imaginary toys, Booth,” she said distractedly, “which I have to admit is better than when you play with real toys which can be noisy and distracting.” She looked up curiously at the sound of the heavy plastic slapping against his palm. Shaking her head several times and chuckling, she returned to the casket she’d just opened. “You are so predictable, Booth.” She chuckled again and continued in her sterile professional tone, “On cursory examination, there appear to be fewer than the requisite 206 bones. There are instead 202. All appendicular bones, cranium, mandible, innominate, and clavicles lay loose in the casket. Labeled plastic bags in varying sizes contain complete collections of ribs and vertebrae. The left foot is missing one, no, two bones. The right foot appears to be missing three bones— making the total number of bones present to be 201 instead of 202.”
“A gun is not a toy,” Booth said with a straight face, drawing quickly and aiming the invisible barrel at the refrigeration unit.
“Yours was,” she scoffed without looking up.
“Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it isn’t real,” he countered belatedly, hands on hips. He braced for the challenge.
Brennan glanced up at him and caught his eye, a message passing between them—We’re not having a religious debate right here, right now. Brennan nodded slightly, smirked and bowed her head to continue with her notes.
Booth’s arms dropped to his sides as he shrugged and looked away. Bored.
“Booth, focus. Check the email.”
“Right,” he replied in a resigned tone. Booth retrieved the laptop and flipped open the cover. “I’m just the glorified messenger boy. You know what I really need is some action—”
“Well, I can assure you, there will be no action around here,” she snickered, “except examination of these remains.”
“There’s a joke in there somewhere, a good one—”
“It’s called a double entendre—”
“Yeah, I got it,” Booth replied sardonically.
“Good. Email?” Beginning with the cranium, Brennan began arranging the bones on the autopsy table.
“Okay. Here we go!” Booth unloaded the laptop and flipped it open. He tapped on the keyboard until the email program spun to life. He covered his lower lip with the tip of his tongue thoughtfully and scrolled through the spam to find the first message of interest.
“Okay. Sweets sent us a psychological profile—skip that—we’ll read that later.”
“Anything from Hodgins?”
“Angela’s murder weapon search of industrial equipment is a bust. Nothing fits. However … however … she says Wendell found something – but she doesn’t say what. Thanks, Ange!”
“Is there an email from Mr. Bray? It’s beginning to get quite cold in here, Booth.”
“Yip, here it is,” he said, “Okay—dah—dah—dah—electron microscope—here we go: bilateral hemorrhagic staining on the mental foramen along the oblique line of the mandible where the triangularis intertwines with the risorius and the orbicularis oris—blah—blah—” He said frowning, then making a disgruntled raspberry. “PLBTH!”
“Keep reading, Booth, I need to hear exactly what he says. May not mean anything to you, but it means something to me!”
“Okay, okay! A little translation would be nice, though.” When she didn’t respond, he continued. “He says, Same happened to the buccinator muscle causing staining on the alveolar process—”
“Hm,” she grunted frowning pensively and nodding.
“Ah—murder weapon pressed against these muscles—blah—blah—blood was forced out of the blood vessels—traces of bodily fluid on the mental foramen—”
“Excellent! Look at me, Booth,” she commanded. “There are traces of fluid on the cheek bones and chin in a pattern like this.” She made two sideways ‘V’s with her index and middle fingers. She placed each index finger on a cheek bone and each middle finger just below her bottom lip.
“OhooOOOOohhh. A little Pulp Fiction action. Got it.”
“I don’t know what you are referring to, but—”
“Better keep reading your pop culture manual, Bones. It’s a Quentin Tarantino classic. John Travolta and Uma Thurman—”
“Continue,” she said, grimacing. “Those are strange patterns. Anything else from Dr. Bray?”
“Nothing else written, but he attached an image.” Booth clicked on the image and turned the screen toward Brennan. “Looks like it could have been a hockey helmet—like a goalie—or maybe a catchers helmet. Maybe a really old football helmet.”
“More like one of those—what do you call it—fighting helmets? The kind that covers the cheeks?”
“Yes. Yes, yes, yes.”
“Wow. We were right.”
“Nothing I said suggested this is more than conjecture, Booth.”
“Fine. We have another from Angela. Says she’s looking at sports, combat, safety, and law enforcement helmets … says whatever it is it has to be lined with expanded poly styrene or thermocol—” He said, his brow furrowing as he glanced through some images she attached. “Thermocol must be foam cushioning—”
“Exactly. Yes. That fits for the fighting—”
“—boxing, Bones. There’s all kinds of competitive fighting. You’ve got your wrestling, your boxing, your tae kwan do, your kay-rah-tay.” He had to accompany each genre with some arm and hand motions to demonstrate.
“As long as we’re talking about the one with the face guard extensions that extend here,” she said, showing him her Uma Thurman once again. “This is progress. Anything from Hodgins?”
“Next up … Dr. Jack Hodgins! He says that according to his massive spectaculars—”
“Yeah, that thing. According to that, all bones buried with Aleesha’s cranium, except for the femora and tibias, belong to Aleesha. Then he says a bunch of mumbo jumbo about drilling and bone powder and dormant cells or something – and he throws Cam in there too – uh, blah—blah—blah—okay—Man, this is making my head hurt!” He wiped a hand across his brow. “Here we’ve got some English. The femora and tibias are from the same person – duh, we knew that already, dude – and he says as soon as he gets the Washington bones from here, he can confirm that they belong to either Aleesha or someone else.”
“Hm. Okay. Just as I thought. Anything else?”
“Nope.” Booth scrolled through another dozen or two emails. “Nope.” He snapped the cover shut and stared at Brennan for a moment as she carefully arranged Banty’s bones, one by one, into the shape of a human skeleton. He sighed. Bored again.
After a cursory glance around the room, he strolled to the makeshift desk and began snooping around the belongings of the late Dr. Shcherbakov, King County’s recently deceased medical examiner.
Shcherbakov’s desk was cluttered with a myriad of family photos including several of himself and his wife, over the years, sitting on a couch sandwiched between several grown children and surrounded by a gaggle of grandchildren on the floor and filling laps. Stuffed in every nook and cranny between magazines, photos, and mugs were the requisite collection of gifts and cards lovingly crafted by juvenile hands, and a career’s worth of promotional tchotchkes collected from conventions and medical equipment sales people.
What most interested Booth was an ancient Sanyo radio-cassette player with recessed silver dollar pancake speakers, and a swivel periscope antenna whose tip had long since been snapped off and replaced with a piece of mangled coat hanger. The single cassette player was speckled with five different shades of paint and the rewind button had been replaced with a larger pencil eraser. Arranged in a columnar fashion inside a custom made cassette storage unit above the desk was an impressive collection of professionally recorded audio tapes followed by a dozen or so mixed tapes labeled in the same hand.
While Brennan completed the cataloging and arranging of Banty’s remains, Booth counted 240 tapes in all, or 238 if you took into consideration that two of the cassettes were head cleaners. Booth’s eyes danced from cassette to cassette up and down the first several columns. Arranged alphabetically by artist or band; every tape was wrapped in its original J-card. Shcherbakov’s eclectic taste spanned many generations and all genres. He had selections from Buddy Holly to Streisand, Elvis to Simon and Garfunkel, the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar to AC/DC and Led Zeppelin.
“Man-oh-man! This guy was serious about his music! You know, Bones, you can tell a lot about a person by their music collection.” His comment received a noncommittal grunt in response, as Brennan was absorbed in her work assembling a life size Banty puzzle. Her process was punctuated by the occasional grunt, sigh, or curious hum.
“What do they tell you about the late Dr. Ian Dr. Shcherbakov?”
“That he was old, heh, heh,” Booth tossed over his shoulder off-handedly, “And secure in his masculinity.”
“How can you determine his level of security in his manhood?” She challenged in a tone suggesting this was an absurd assumption.
“Because, he’s got Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and, heh, Michael Bublé, for crying out loud. It takes stones to openly display stuff like that!” Booth ran a finger down the titles, tapping once or twice on the cases he recognized. Releasing a long, slow two-note whistle, he plucked a tape from the second column.
“He’s got everything—everything—Jim Croce ever recorded! Man, I loved that guy’s music. Well, Dr. Shcherby,” he mused wistfully, “you’ve just redeemed yourself in my eyes. Did you know he was killed in a plane crash?”
“No, Croce! Thirty years young. Croce, yep, he was the real deal. He wrote about real life. Hard life—bar fights, shootin’ pool, breakin’ up, prison, unemployment and loneliness—and about finding out who you are and where you came from—Like this song—” He quietly intoned the first verse of ‘I Got A Name’:
“Like the pine trees lining the winding road
I got a name, I got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad
I got a name, I got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid.
“Love that song,” Booth’s voice trailed off as he read the titles of Croce’s songs and got lost in a whirlwind of sepia-toned memories of road trips to the coast taken with Pops and Jared. He and Jared always groaned when Pops punched his own home-brewed collection of ‘real’ music into the player. Though neither ever admitted it to anyone, not even to each other, both boys secretly wanted to live a real life like Jim Croce.
Shucking off the pastel thoughts of his childhood, Booth shrugged his shoulders unevenly as if to settle an ill-fitting shirt. Then he grinned to himself, recalling some of Croce’s more colorful lyrics about pulling on Superman’s cape and a man badder than Old King Kong.
“Yeah, he was certainly a man’s man: tough and dusty on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside.”
“We’re all soft and viscous on the inside, Booth. If a person is concerned about being tough on the outside, there are creams and vitamin supplements for that—”
“Man, if he’d lived longer there’s no telling what he could have done. He was on fire when he died.” Booth perused the track listing of ‘Photographs and memories: His Greatest Hits by Jim Croce.’
“In the plane crash?”
“No. His work! His songs were on all the charts. You know, like, ‘Time in a Bottle’?. Everyone knows that song.'”
“Even me,” Brennan said, smiling up at her soon-to-be-mate. In fact, she knew it very well. Max and Christine Brennan had loved Jim Croce. In the early ’60’s they’d seen Croce and his wife Ingrid perform live at a little bar in Lima, PA, called The Riddle Paddock. From then on they followed Croce’s career, buying all his records and singles. Max frequently said Croce’s music, ‘reminds me of the gold old days of free love and other unmentionable things!’ Then he’d wiggle his eyebrows at his wife. So, yes, Brennan was very familiar with ‘Time In A Bottle’ as well as all his other titles, but she smiled without admitting anything to Booth.
“Size and robusticity of the scull, brow ridges,” Brennan spoke for the recorder and copied into her notes, “and the arch of the maxilla indicate female approximately 18-21 years old. Wear on the mandibular teeth and lower incisors support that age range. Shape of pallet indicates Caucasian. Judging by the pelvic inlet and pubic symphysis, victim is pre gravid, never having given birth. So far all signs consistent with the identity of Ms. Banty Solicious as recorded in her medical records.”
Then Booth spied his all time favorite Jim Croce title. “Ha Aaaaaaaaaaaah—know this one, Bones?” He asked with an amorous gleam in his eye. He began to quietly sing in a nostalgic tone:
“Well, I know it’s kinda late,
I hope I didn’t wake ya’,
But what I gotta say can’t wait.
I know you’d understand—”
Brennan picked up the tune and together she and Booth carried it through the end of the verse.
“Cuz everytime time I tried to tell you—
the words just came out wrong.
So, I have to say I love you in a song—”
Brennan sighed and smiled, her cheeks and chest infused with the same glow as the clear, clean dual acoustics of Croce’s steel-string accompaniment of her memory of the song.
“I think we’re having a moment,” he whispered, grinning from dimple to dimple. Brennan smiled and continued.
“I know it’s kinda strange,
but every time I’m near you—”
Booth joined her, each of them returning to what they had been doing before their saunter down memory lane: he to perusing album titles, she to making notes.
“I just run out of things to say I hope you understand—
Every time the time was right the words just came out wrong.
So I have to saaaay I love you—in a song!”
Booth snapped open the ‘Croce’s Greatest Hits’ tape and clicked it into the cassette player; pushed play. Thirty interval notes jumped off the keys of a popcorn and peanuts barroom piano to be followed by a joyous, ‘Whoop!’ announcing the opening of ‘Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown’.
“That is a lovely sentiment—,” Brennan mumbled, squinting quizzically at the distal end of a right hamate bone, “—I’ve always thought—writing a song to tell someone you love them. Though some might consider that cowardly.”
“It’s not cowardly, Bones. It’s sweet—and romantic!” Booth stared pensively at the top of her head for a moment.
“I suppose it’s better than writing a note and leaving it in underneath their windshield wiper!”
“Anything can be romantic if the intent and the context are right, Bones. I tried to tell you once, you know,” he mumbled thoughtfully after a moment. He leaned back against the desk and glanced sideways at her as she bent over the table.
“Hmm?” She didn’t look up from her notes. “Tell me what? There are minute particles on the distal aspect of right posterior ribs 5th and 6th,” she said distractedly.
“Nothing,” he said, waving a dismissive hand as a silvery web of self-consciousness wrapped itself around his neck and tightened his vocal chords. “Oh! Look at this,” he cried after a moment. “Neil Diamond—and Engelbert Humperdinck. Now, that name always cracked me up. I never understood what would possess a parent to name a kid Engelbert? I mean, he’s already gotta deal with Humperdinck, for Christ’s sake!” Booth shook his head in empathetic dismay. “Bet that kid got the snot beat out of him on the playground on a regular basis,” he chuffed.
“The Germans, Booth. That’s who would give their child a name that sounds ludicrous to the American ear. However, Humperdinck was a very distinguished early nineteenth century German composer who composed the opera Hänsel und Gretel and Szenen Aus Dem Deutschen Studentenleben. Very innovative and under appreciated, as many great minds are in their own time. What’s more, he was the inventor of Sprechgesang!”
“Really? How fascinating!” Booth feigned wonderment. “I always wondered who invented the Screech Gang!” He rolled his eyes and snorted, then gave a howling yawn followed by snoring noises.
“Very mature, Booth. Dr. Sweets says that sarcasm many times stems from a deep sense of insecurity—”
“Sometimes a joke is just a joke, Bones,” he smirked. “Besides, I was just being funny.”
“Sprechgesang is a king of vocal technique that’s halfway between singing and speaking. It’s operatic, Booth. I wouldn’t expect you to be familiar with it.”
“Whatever. I was talking about the more recent Humperdinck—”
“Perhaps you mean the one who sprung from the colorful imagination of William Goldman,” she said haltingly as if reciting a blurb from a dust cover. “—in a tale of true love and high adventure, pirates, princesses, giants, miracles, fencing, and a frightening assortment of wild beasts—”
“The Princess Bride,” she replied triumphantly. “One of my favorite childhood novels. It was adapted and made into a movie—Russ says Emma and Hayley have watched it one hundred times. I think he was exaggerating though.”
“Uh, wow,” he nodded impressed. “But, sorry, no. Hey, I thought all you read was textbooks? Anyway, I was talking about the one that sprung from the colorful throat of, I mean, who was famous for his romantic ballads, like ‘I Sing You Asleep After The Lovin’, and, ‘Please Release Me, Let Me Go ‘Cuz I Don’t Love You Anymore.”
“That’s not very romantic!” She scoffed as Jim Croce began the first verse of ‘Operator’.
“Oh, it gets worse. He calls the woman cold—in a song! Can you believe that?”
“Does she sue for alienation of affection and diminish his net worth by half?”
“It’s just a song, Bones. Nothing really happened. It’s a song.”
“Where do you think songs come from, Booth? From Personal experience! Songs and poetry based upon personal experience or history, conspicuous or not, have long been an accepted way of inculcating the young with the values and traditions of their elders. They are equally effective devices for expressing sentiments surreptitiously—sentiments the writer doesn’t have the ability or courage to say openly. He, or she, if confronted about the song, can hide behind a façade of artistic creativity thereby avoiding the pain of retribution.”
“Yes,” he said with a delightful grin. “Just like in, ‘I Have To Say I Love You In A Song!’ It comes from a guy’s real life! Anyway, my guess is that Engelbert Humperdinck, the singer, not the German one or the writer, was a stage name.”
“Is Seeley your stage name? Who names their kid Seeley? Or Temperance, for that matter?”
“Touché,” Booth smirked and continued his perusal of the tapes. He turned back around abruptly and said, “For your information, Seeley is French, but it comes from the German word, ‘Selig’, which means ‘blessed’. Obviously mom chose it, Dad didn’t have a religious or romantic bone in his body. So, apparently that’s who names their kid Seeley.”
Brennan looked up and nodded silently, then her eyes dropped to the table. Booth considered letting the topic drop. ‘Temperance’ wasn’t Brennan’s given name, not from birth at least. She was originally named ‘Joy’. Temperance, meaning ‘moderation’, Booth suddenly realized, is kind of a downgrade from ‘Joy’. Who names a kid ‘moderation’? He thought to himself. That’s as unexciting as ‘adequate’. You wouldn’t name a kid ‘Adequate’. Then he had an idea.
“Do you know the full meaning of the name ‘Temperance’?”
“Of course I do, Booth. It means self-restraint, moderation,” she said despondently. “Can you please hand me the original medical examiner’s file?”
“See, you don’t know the rest of it!” He grinned, leaning toward her over her autopsy table, his arms spread wide, his hands resting on the table top.
“Wha—uh? There is nothing more, Booth.” She quirked a mildly irritated eyebrow. “The ME’s report?”
“Well—” he began in a soft affectionate tone as he strolled over to her side of the table, completely ignoring her request.
Brennan followed his leisurely self-assured approach with quizzical eyes. He’s mocking me, she thought. Is he mocking me?
“—I bet you didn’t know that ‘Temperance’ also means ‘wildly beautiful woman whose smile puts the stars to shame—” he said, leading her by the elbow away from the table as she searched his face for traces of sarcasm.
To her surprise and relief, she did see amusement in his darkening chocolate eyes, but there was also love and warmth and joy. Authentic joy.
“—A woman whose eyes sparkle like sun reflecting off the Emerald Sea—” he whispered earnestly, gently pulling her into his arms despite her gloved hands and slight mewl of protest. He pressed a warm soft lingering kiss into her forehead causing her pulse to butterfly across her chest. If there remained any question in her mind as to his intent, the way he playfully nipped at the tip of her nose and peppered each cheek and earlobe with wet kisses would have removed all doubt. She shuddered involuntarily, and knew it had nothing to do with the decreasing temperature of the morgue.
“—A woman whose heart is big enough that she could save the whole world if she had time—” he breathed against her neck sending a shock of adrenaline straight into her chest, down her already liquified spine, and then below the Mason Dixon.
“Haahhhhh,” she sighed in a feathery falsetto as the velvet tones of Jim Croce’s tenor swirled the lyrics of Photographs and Memories around them.
“—and,” he continued, “and—a woman who makes me feel like the happiest and luckiest man alive.”
With that, he trailed several oxytocin-releasing, goose bump-inducing kisses from behind her ear down her neck and almost as far as the lowest love bite he’d imprinted on her breast that morning. By the time he made it back up to devour her lips, she was more than ready to surrender everything to him. At that point, drunk as she was on his seductive affection, she would have believed anything he said to her. That is, if she could hear anything over the violent pounding of her heart against her ribs. Behind his back, she yanked and tore at her gloves until they fell to the floor and wrapped her arms around his waist, running her fingers up and down the ridges of muscles on either side of his spine and across his shoulders.
On the verge of losing the battle to keep herself from wrapping a leg around his thigh and climbing him like a tree, she felt him pull out of the kiss to gaze intently into her eyes.
“Now that,” he purred, squeezing her tightly enough to crack her ribs, “is the true meaning of the name Temperance.”
“I’m going to need new gloves,” she muttered fatuously, once she found her voice.
“That’s what you have to say after—?”
She cut him off with two fingers across his lips and an unbridled, intoxicated sigh. “There is an error in your logic, Booth!”
“You think you’re so smart,” he said, mildly disappointed.
“I am smart! But let me finish, Booth! I think,” she insisted, her lips parting in a thoroughly satisfied smile as she allowed her eyes to take a leisurely tour around his features. “I have no argument with the real meaning of my name, however—,” she offered, tracing the graceful contours of his broad mouth, then kissing him tenderly and nibbling on his bottom lip before stopping to look up through a fringe of chestnut lashes. “I think, Booth,” she beamed at him, “you have confused the meaning of the name Temperance with the meaning of the name Bones.”
“Ahhhh,” he agreed with great satisfaction as he tilted his head back and squinted at her. “Okay. Yes. In this case, I’m going to have to agree with you, Bones.”
Her cheeks ached from smiling. “I have been truly blessed, Booth,” she nodded sheepishly.
“Blessed? As in—by God?!Heh!”
“That’s not what I meant.” She demurred in a low voice. “I meant—” a crease appeared between her brows. “What I meant is that I—that you are a gift—in my life, Booth. That’s all,” she said with an inconsequential shrug. “That’s all,” she said, a gently challenging tone in her voice. She looked hard over his shoulder then around the room, feeling the flush in her cheeks pounding and spreading.
His mouth fell open, then he snapped it shut. “Hm,” he grunted, a contemplative rumble vibrating in his chest, his brows drawn together in thoughtful consideration. “Hm.” He pursed his lips, dropped his head to the side she was staring past and waited for her to look back at him. When their eyes finally met, she frowned and gave him widened eyes that said, It’s no big deal—
What she found in the eyes looking back at her was, Yes it is a big deal, and you know it, and I love it that you said it.
“Ohhh-kay,” he said quietly and crushed her to his chest again, lifting her an inch off the floor. When he set her down he smacked her playfully on the buttocks before they disentangled their limbs.
For a moment Brennan feared she might fall apart or ooze to the floor like an overcooked piece of spaghetti. Though I know it is not possible, she assured herself, it feels as if the heads of my proximal femora, the lateral and medial condyles of my distal femora and proximal tibias, and both my patellae have dissolved into the synovial fluid of my knee joints!
In short, she feared her bones had turned to jelly. For a rational anthropologist, that’s pretty serious stuff.
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