The woods, p.33
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       The Woods, p.33

           Harlan Coben
 
Chapter 34

  Sheriff Lowell's accusations echoed in the still of the woods. Lowell, nobody's fool, thought Paul Copeland had lied about the murders.

  Had he? Did it matter?

  Muse thought about that. She liked Cope, no question. He was a great boss and a damned good prosecutor. But now Lowells words had brought her back. They reminded her of what she already knew: This was a homicide case. Like any other. It leads where it leads, even if that means back to her boss.

  No favorites.

  A few minutes later a noise came from the brush. Muse spotted An drew Barrett. Barrett made lanky an art form, all long limbs and elbows and awkward, jerky movements. He was dragging what looked like a baby carriage behind him. It had to be the XJR. Muse called out to him.

  Barrett looked up, clearly displeased with the interruption. When he saw who it was, his face lit up.

  "Hey, Muse!"

  "Andrew. "

  "Wow, great to see you. "

  "Uh-huh," she said. "What are you doing?"

  "What do you mean, what am I doing?" He put the machine down.

  There were three young people in John Jay sweatshirts trudging along beside him-students, she assumed. "I'm looking for graves. "

  "I thought you found something. "

  "I did. Its up ahead another hundred yards. But I thought there were two bodies missing, so I figured, hey, why rest on my laurels, you know what I'm saying?"

  Muse swallowed. "You found a body?"

  Barrett's face had a fervor usually reserved for tent revivals.

  "Muse, this machine. Oh my, it's just amazing. We got lucky, of course. There hasn't been any rain in this area in, I don't know, how long, Sheriff?"

  "Two, three weeks," Lowell said.

  "See, that helps. A lot. Dry ground. You know anything about how ground-penetrating radar works? I stuck an 800 MHz on this baby. That lets me go down only four feet-but what a four feet! Most of the time, they look too deep. But very few killers dig beyond three, four feet. The other problem is, the current machines have trouble differentiating between like-size items. Like, say, a pipe or deep roots versus what we want-bones. The XJR not only gets you clearer cross-sectional underground images of the soil, but with the new 3-D enhancer-"

  "Barrett?" Muse said.

  He pushed up his glasses. "What?"

  "Do I look like I give the smallest rats buttock how your toy works?"

  He pushed the glasses up again. "Uh. . . "

  "I just care that your toy works. So please tell me what you found before I shoot someone?"

  "Bones, Muse," he said with a smile. "We found bones. "

  "Human, right?"

  "Definitely. In fact, the first thing we found was a skull. That's when we stopped digging. The pros are excavating now. "

  "How old are they?"

  "What, the bones?"

  "No, Barrett, that oak tree. Yes, the bones. "

  "How the hell would I know? The coroner might have an idea. She's at the site now. "

  Muse hurried past him. Lowell followed. Up ahead she could make out big spotlights, almost like a movie set. She knew that lots of excavation teams used powerful voltage even when they were digging in the direct sunlight. As one crime-scene-unit guy had told her, bright lights help differentiate the flotsam from the gold: "Without the bright lights, its like judging how hot a chick is by being drunk in a dark bar. You may think you have something, but in the morning, you want to bite your arm off. "

  Lowell pointed toward an attractive woman wearing rubber gloves.

  Muse figured it was another student-she couldn't have been thirty years old. She had long, cave black hair perfectly pulled back, like a flamenco dancer.

  "That's Doc O'Neill," Lowell said.

  "She's your coroner?"

  "Yep. You know it's an elected position out here?"

  "You mean they have campaigns and stuff? Like, hi, I'm Doctor O'Neill, I'm really good with the dead'?"

  "I'd make a witty comeback," Lowell said, "but you city slickers are too clever for us yokels. "

  As Muse got closer, she could see that "attractive" may have been understating it. Tara O'Neill was a knockout. Muse could see that her looks were something of a distraction to the crew too. The coroner is not in charge of a crime scene. The police are. But everyone kept sneaking glances at O'Neill. Muse stepped quickly toward her.

  "I'm Loren Muse, chief investigator for Essex County. "

  The woman offered the glove hand. "Tara O'Neill, coroner. "

  "What can you tell me about the body?"

  She looked wary for a second, but Lowell nodded that it was okay. "Are you the one who sent Mr. Barrett out here?" O'Neill asked. "I am. " "Interesting fellow. " "As I'm well aware. "

  "That machine works, though. I don't know how on earth he found these bones. But he's good. I think it helped that they ran over the skull first. "

  O'Neill blinked and looked away.

  "There a problem?" Muse asked.

  She shook her head. "I grew up in this area. I used to play right here, right over this spot. You'd think, I don't know, you'd think I would have felt a chill or something. But nope, nothing. "

  Muse tapped her foot, waited.

  "I was ten when those teens vanished. My friends and I used to hike out here, you know? We'd light fires. We'd make up stories about how the two kids who were never found were still out here, watching us, that they were the undead or whatever, and that they were going to hunt us down and kill us. It was stupid. Just a way of getting your boyfriend to give you his jacket and put his arm around you. "

  Tara O'Neill smiled and shook her head. "Doctor O'Neill?" "Yes. " "Please tell me what you found here. " "We're still working on it, but from what I can see we have a fairly complete skeleton. It was found three feet down. I'll need to get the bones to the lab to make a positive ID. "

  "What can you tell me now?"

  "Come this way. "

  She walked Muse over to the other side of the dig. The bones were tagged and laid out on a blue tarmac. "No clothing?" Muse said. "None. " "Did they disintegrate or was the body buried naked?" "I can't say for sure. But since there are no coins or jewelry or but tons or zippers or even footwear-that usually lasts a very long time- my guess would be naked. "

  Muse just stared at the brown skull. "Cause of death?"

  "Too early to tell. But there are some things we know. "

  "Such as?"

  "The bones are in pretty bad shape. They weren't buried all that deep and they've been here awhile. " "Howling?" "It's hard to say. I took a seminar last year on crime-scene soil sampling. You can tell by the way the ground has been disturbed how long ago the hole was dug. But that's very preliminary. "

  "Anything? A guesstimate?"

  "The bones have been here awhile. My best estimate would be at least fifteen years. In short - and to answer the question on your mind - it is consistent, very consistent, with the time frame of the murders that took place in these woods twenty years ago. "

  Muse swallowed and asked the real question that she'd wanted to ask from the beginning.

  "Can you tell gender? Can you tell me if the bones belong to some one male or female?"

  A deep voice interrupted, "Uh, Doc?"

  It was one of the crime-scene guys, complete with the prerequisite windbreaker announcing such. He was husky with a thick beard and a thicker midsection. He had a small hand shovel and was breathing the labored breath of the out-of-shape.

  "What's up, Terry?" O'Neill asked.

  "I think we got it all. "

  "You want to pack it in?"

  "For tonight, yeah, I think. We might want to come out tomorrow, check for more. But we'd like to transport the body now, if that's okay with you. " "Give me two minutes," O'Neill said. Terry nodded and left them alone. Tara O'Neill kept her eyes on the bones. "Do you know anything about the human skeleton, Investigator Muse?" "Some. "

  "Without a thorough examination, it can be pretty
difficult to tell the difference between the male and female skeleton. One of the things we go by is the size and density of the bones. Males have a tendency to be thicker and larger, of course. Sometimes the actual height of the victim can help-males are usually taller. But those things often aren't definitive. "

  "Are you saying you don't know?"

  O'Neill smiled. "I'm not saying that at all. Let me show you. "

  Tara O'Neill got down on her haunches. So did Muse. O'Neill had a thin flashlight in her hand, the kind that casts a narrow but potent beam.

  "I said, pretty difficult. Not impossible. Take a look. "

  She pointed her light toward the skull.

  "Do you know what you're looking at?"

  "No," Muse said.

  "First off, the bones appear to be on the lighter side. Second, check out the spot below where the eyebrows would have been. "

  "Okay. "

  "That's technically known as the supraorbital ridge. It's more pronounced in males. Females have very vertical foreheads. Now, this skull has been worn down, but you can see the ridge is not pronounced. But the real key -what I want to show you down here - is in the pelvis area, more specifically, the pelvic cavity. "

  She shifted the flashlight. "Do you see it there?"

  "Yeah, I see it, I guess. So?"

  "It's pretty wide. "

  "Which means?"

  Tara O'Neill snapped off the flashlight.

  "Which means," O'Neill said, getting back to her feet, "that your victim is Caucasian, about five-foot-seven-the same height as Camille Copeland, by the way - and yes, female. "

  Dillon said, "You're not going to believe this. "

  York looked up. "What?"

  "I got a computer hit on that Volkswagen. There are only fourteen in the tri-state area that fit the bill. But here's the kicker. One is registered to a guy named Ira Silverstein. That name ring a bell?" "Isn't he the guy who owned that camp?" That's it. "Are you telling me that Copeland might have been right all along?" "I got the address where this Ira Silverstein is staying," Dillon said. "Some kind of rehab place. " "So what are we waiting for?" York said. "Lets haul ass. "