Skeleton's Key

By: Stacy Green


“This morning,” Jeb answered. “But the deputy medical examiner doesn’t know when she’ll get a chance to look at them. She’s overloaded. In the meantime, we’ll keep digging. See if we can find a full skeleton. Gender can be determined from the skull, but I’d love to have the pelvis to back it up.”

“How much longer you want to keep digging?”

“I want to excavate what we marked off. We’ll see after that. Of course, we’ve got to have the continued permission of the owner.”

Since the dig wasn’t an official crime scene and the medical examiner hadn’t categorized the bones, Adams County needed Dani’s consent for further digging.

“Pretty sure you’ll get it. She wants to know who it was.”

“Me too,” Jeb said. “I don’t like the marks on the skull. I’m no expert, but I get a bad feeling every time I look at them.”

Cage’s response stalled in his throat at the sound of Dani’s quick steps on the rotten stairs. He hurried to the basement door just as she emerged from the doorway looking flushed and edgy. Some of her hair had escaped from the ponytail to curl around her face. She pushed a lock out of the way leaving a smudge of dust behind. “Have you looked at some of the things in the winter kitchen? I saw a tea kettle I might be able to salvage, plus an old ice cream freezer and a beetle.”

“A what?”

“A beetle,” Dani said. “It’s like a pestle. People used it to pound food and tenderize meat. And those were just surface items. I bet there are more.”

“Honestly ma’am, I haven’t spent much time in the basement until this week. The rest of the house needed to be livable for you.”

“I appreciate that.” She fanned herself again. “And we need to get something straight. No more ma’am. I know you’re a good old Southern boy and it’s a habit, but please, call me Dani.”

Jeb coughed, his laughter barely disguised. Good old Southern boy? Is this what all northerners thought of politeness? He supposed their lives were too busy for pleasantries. The few he’d spent any amount of time with were nothing but greedy, lying carpet baggers looking to line their pockets with Roselea heritage. He glanced at Dani. He’d just met her, and lumping her in with that group wasn’t fair.

Dani looked over Cage’s shoulder. “Hello, I’m Dani Evans. You must be Jeb?”

“I am.” The coroner stood to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too, although I’m not liking the circumstances. Do you think we can identify her?”

“Her?”

“For some reason, Dani thinks it’s a woman.” Cage didn’t admit his gut agreed.

“I see,” Jeb said. “I just don’t know. We’ll have to wait to see what the ME says. Erin’s damned good though. She’ll find whatever there is to find.”

“Well, you have my permission to dig up the entire area,” Dani said. “On one condition.”

Jeb waited. So did Cage.

“I want to help.”





5




Energy rushed through Dani with the speed of an Amtrak train as she waited for an answer from the genteel coroner. Her hands tingled, and blazing warmth stretched from her head to her sweating toes. She needed to dig out her sandals. And put in more air conditioning. A small window unit poured air into the kitchen, but it wasn’t enough to combat the high temperature of the rest of the house.

“I don’t think so,” Cage said. “You’re not trained.”

“Neither are you,” she shot back. She looked at Jeb. “I’ve excavated plenty of old basements looking for artifacts. I also did a dig in college looking for bones. Not to mention all the old basements I’ve stumped around in. I can be a lot of help to you.”

Jeb scratched his chin. “Well, I’ve already got Billy. He’s studying biology at Ole Miss and likes to help out on his breaks. But I could use the extra help.” He rubbed his knees. “I’m not as young as I used to be, and Cage has to work the next few days. Would make things move a lot faster.”

“She’s a civilian,” Cage huffed. He crossed his arms over his chest.

Dani stood her ground. “It’s my house.”

“It’s against protocol.”

“So are half the death investigations in the United States. Adams County is small and doesn’t have the resources to do a proper investigation.” She glanced at Jeb. “No offense. These are old bones. It’s not a crime scene. There’s no reason I can’t help.”

“Jeb, you can’t be seriously considering letting her dig.”

“She’s right,” the coroner said. “The county hasn’t made this an official investigation. We’re not talking flesh and blood down there, and we need to get this done. I’ll check with the Sheriff, but he’ll likely give the go ahead as long as I’m okay with it.” He held up his hand at Cage’s protest. “You can help, but you’re not to be working on the site unless myself or Billy is here. Understood?”