Robin Burcell

The Bone Chamber

The second book in the Sydney Fitzpatrick series, 2010

To

Cara, Alexa, and Brenna.

Believe in yourselves and reach for the stars.

1

Sydney Fitzpatrick pulled out a small scale model of a crime scene from the metal cabinet at the front of the classroom, then eyed the clock by the classroom door. Nine-forty. Twenty more minutes and her Friday was officially kick-starting-once the students left and she completed the final paperwork. This was the last segment of a two-week forensic art course at the FBI Academy, with twenty-five law enforcement would-be artists from around the country. “Here,” she said, setting the model on the table at the front of the class, “we have an interesting and controversial case. It dates back to the 1970s, before computers were all the rage in re-creating crime scenes, but it offers a good example of how a forensic artist can-”

She stopped when the classroom door opened. Special Agent in Charge Terrance Harcourt poked his head in the doorway. “You have a minute?”

“Sure.” She excused herself to the men and women, then stepped from the room. Harcourt, a man in his fifties, gray-haired, dress shirt unbuttoned at the collar, sleeves rolled to his forearms, stood next to a man she’d never seen. He was taller than Harcourt, was maybe her age, mid-thirties, with a dark suit, a crisp tie, and a stance that screamed federal agent of the anal sort, she thought, closing the door tightly so that their conversation wouldn’t be overheard.

“Sorry to interrupt your class,” Harcourt said. “This is Special Agent Zachary Griffin. And this, of course, is our resident forensic artist, Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick.”

“Good to meet you,” Griffin said, shaking her hand.

“A pleasure,” Sydney said. “What can I do for you?”

“I heard you were the go-to girl when it comes to recommending forensic anthropologists,” Griffin said. “I know there are a few on the East Coast, but my case is too important to draw one out of a hat. I was hoping if I gave you a wish list, you could give me a name.”

“Depends,” she said, glancing into the classroom-not that she expected her students to be throwing spit wads. Cops were, however, notorious pranksters. “What’s your wish list?”

“Fast, reliable, the best in his or her field, and experienced in working with forensic artists.”

“I know of two offhand. One in Vermont, one in D.C.”

“The D.C. area would be more convenient.”

“That would be Dr. Natasha Gilbert.”

“How well do you know her?”

“We’re good friends. I’ve worked a number of cases with her. If you want experience, she’s the one.”

“Any chance you can dig up her number?”

“You have pen and paper? I’ll write it down for you.”

He gave her a pen and small pad from his suit coat pocket. “And when might you be available for the sketch?” he asked, when she gave him the number.

No doubt Harcourt hadn’t told him her plans. Or maybe, in typical federal agent style, SA Griffin hadn’t asked her boss, just assumed she’d be available. “If you can wait until after Thanksgiving, I’m yours.”

“That’s two weeks from now. We’re on a tight schedule.”

“Unfortunately, as much as I’d love to work with Tasha, I’m tied up all day Saturday, then leaving Sunday for San Francisco to visit family for a much needed holiday vacation. If you’d like an artist sooner, my boss can hook you up,” she said, nodding toward SAC Harcourt.

“Absolutely,” Harcourt said. “We have a full list of artists available at a moment’s notice. A number of them on the East Coast.”

“If there’s nothing else,” Sydney said, her hand on the door, “I have a class to get back to.”

SA Griffin looked as though there was something else, but then he glanced into the classroom, stepped back, and said, “Enjoy your trip home.”

“That should do it,” Harcourt said. “Thanks.”

The two men left, and Sydney returned to her class, not giving the matter another thought. At least not until she received a call at her office from the forensic anthropologist in question about an hour later. “Syd? Tasha. Just wanted to thank you for the job you sent my way.”

“Not a problem,” Sydney told her as she tucked the phone beneath her ear, balancing it so that she could continue sorting through the course evaluations left by her students in the forensic art class. SAC Harcourt was a stickler for making sure paperwork was completed, and she didn’t want anything hanging when she left for vacation. “What sort of case is it?”

“Not sure. Yet. I heard you can’t work it with me?”

“Flying to my mom’s on Sunday. Too much to do between now and then.”

A moment of silence, then Tasha said, “What happened to that workaholic I used to know?”

“Hit with reality on my last case. One that made me take a hard look at priorities,” she said, not willing to go into details with her friend. It was one of the reasons she’d ended up back at Quantico. In the past, she would have taken this job in an instant, knowing her family would be there when she finished, no matter how long it took. Back then, she believed in what she was doing, believed that she had something to offer, to help. But she’d lost her edge on that last case and she needed to regroup, and flying home to be with her family for the two weeks preceding Thanksgiving was part of that effort. The sad reality was that the dead would be there for her when she got back. What she’d learned on her last case was that her family might not be. Deciding that she should offer her friend some sort of explanation, she added, “These days, family comes first.”

“Don’t blame you. Hold on a sec.” More silence, then, “Sorry. My secretary’s breathing down my neck. Listen, I was thinking that since you sent this forensic job my way, I could buy you dinner. Haven’t seen you since-hell, what’s it been? Six, seven months since you left here?”

“About that long. But let’s catch up when I get back from vacation. Scotty’s already asked me to dinner. He’s helping me look for an apartment tomorrow and wanted to go over a few he found on the Internet. I was hoping to find one before I left.”

“You are not going blow me off for an ex-boyfriend. I just got back from a dig and I so need to see a friendly face. Girls’ night out for old times’ sake.”

“I really wish I could.”

“You know we’ll have fun, and Scotty will understand. Eventually. Ristorante Primavera at seven. I won’t take no for an answer.”

Tasha hung up before Sydney could object. And she wasn’t even sure she wanted to. Scotty was undoubtedly using the apartment search to go out with her, and she didn’t need to spend Friday night with him just to look at computer printouts of places they were going to see in person on Saturday. The question was whether to hit him

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