‘Why would the new bodies be on top of them?’

‘I think these old bones were dug up, dumped back in the dirt, and your murder victims dumped on top of them. The whole site’s a jumble. I mean, bones that look that old, you expect it. Ground settles over time, bodies sink. But these seem, well, shuffled.’

‘Anything other than the bones?’

‘Latches. Nails. Locks. A few slivers of wood.’



That was freaky, Whit thought. Why would you put a lock on a coffin? ‘You said wood. From a casket?’


‘Wouldn’t a casket have kept the bones better organized?’

‘Apparently not these.’ Parker finished his water. ‘Don’t think they were buried in caskets. Coffins would have mostly rotted away by now, anyway.’

‘These bones… how old are they?’

‘The wetter the soil, the browner the bones get over time. These are pretty brown. We’ll assemble the skeletons as much as we can tonight and tomorrow. We’ll probably remove the bones in the next few hours, once we’ve cleaned away the dirt, gotten samples, sifted, photographed and mapped the site. If we can identify the make of the nails and latches, that can help us date the bones.’

‘The family of the murder victims are friends of mine,’ Whit said. ‘We’d like to get Mr Gilbert’s and Mrs Tran’s bodies out of there as soon as possible.’

‘We’ll hurry,’ Parker said, a softening in his tone for the first time. ‘You’ll need to transfer the old bones to my custody for examination, Judge.’ Whit nodded and Parker headed back to the dig, flush with light from the fire trucks.

The diggers worked tenderly, quietly around Patch and Thuy, as though the couple slept and the techs were gentle spirits, come to grant them sweet dreams. Finally they were done. The bodies were lifted out slowly, placed on clean sheets. Whit filled out an authorization for autopsy, had David countersign it. He watched the bodies taken away by the mortuary service for autopsy in nearby Nueces County. The service people carried the bodies carefully on their stretchers. The forensic anthropologists continued their work around the old bones, industrious and steady as ants.

By midnight, Wednesday fading into Thursday, the FA team had put an astonishing assortment of bones – including three human skulls, brown as walnuts – into paper bags. Whit signed over the bones to Parker and the FA team headed to Corpus Christi to sleep and finish their work. Lucy slept upstairs. Whit had showered and lain with her until she dozed off, then come down to Patch Gilbert’s empty den at two a.m., unable to sleep. He watched an old Perry Mason rerun. Perry’s was a perfect world for you, one where justice ticked along sure as clockwork.

Whit let the TV mumble along and sat in front of the bay window. He cracked open the window so he could hear the murmur of St Leo Bay. The night was dark, the moon shy behind clouds, the fireflies glowing and vanishing like candle wick embers, just snuffed out between wet finger and thumb. The fire truck lights still blazed over the now-canopied site, an officer standing watch.

The old house was full of the old man, his laughter, his teasing. On a side table there was a bottle of Glenfiddich that Whit had seen Patch open only last week. He found two shot glasses and picked up the bottle. He poured the shots of fine Scotch, one for him, one for Patch.

He didn’t touch either drink for a long moment, then downed both. The Scotch burned his throat a little, made his eyes water. Closest to tears he would get.

Patch. Thuy. Promise you. Whoever did this won’t walk.

He went to bed, curling next to Lucy, shielding her from the night.


‘Patch Gilbert wanted a hundred thousand dollars. Raised real quietly,’ Gooch said. ‘You know how I feel about publicity. I’m not talking to the police, but I’ll tell you about the deal.’

Gooch opened a Shiner Bock. He and Whit watched the noontime sun play along the ripples in the Golden Gulf Marina. The summer live-aboards were gearing up for lunch, the inescapable Jimmy Buffett tunes drifting across the waters, lunchtime beers popping open, hung-over throats clearing and gearing up for another half day of lazy life.

‘Am I supposed to be grateful?’ Whit pulled a soda from the cooler. ‘Goddamn it, Gooch, don’t you do this to me.’ Thursday morning court had been full – traffic and small claims – but Whit was distracted, bug-eyed from lack of sleep and anxious to hear back from Parker on the bones and the Nueces County ME’s office on the autopsies.

‘I don’t know that I was the first or only person Patch approached.’ Gooch leaned back in the lounge chair, took off his T-shirt in the bright sun, closed his eyes. His chest was big and broad, dark with tan but white where the scars lay. One, small and blossom-shaped, looked like a bullet wound, another like a healed slash across his abdomen, another like a long-ago stab in his shoulder. He never talked about the scars.

‘Why would he ask you for a hundred thousand bucks?’

Gooch opened one eye to stare at Whit.

It was strange to have your closest friend stay an enigma. Gooch could stare down hired killers, practice the intricacies of hand-to-hand combat, and make troublesome people disappear into federal custody. He was a fishing guide, captain of a premier boat named Don’t Ask, and yet something far more. He was one of the ugliest men Whit had ever seen, with a face a mother might reluctantly love, but he had charisma that drew certain people like moths to a flame. Gooch had saved Whit’s life several months ago, disposing of drug dealers with all the ease of a priest dealing with tardy schoolgirls. And Gooch had made it clear that explanations as to the how would not be forthcoming. Whit had sensed that Gooch waited then, to see if the friendship would survive, if Whit would respect his obsessive need for privacy. Whit was glad to be alive and pretended like nothing had happened.

‘People consider me resourceful and discreet,’ Gooch said.

‘Ah,’ Whit said. A heavy sailboat crawled into the marina; on it, three women in bikinis turned their faces and flat bellies toward the warm sun. Whit watched them lean against the rails in glorious idleness.

‘So what level of detail you want?' Gooch asked.

‘Go deep.’

‘Fine. Patch was a steady client of mine. Took him and some of his old army friends fishing. He knows I know a lot of people. People with money. So he asked me if I knew of folks who might be interested in a very quiet, private investment. People who could part with a hundred thou and not blink.’

‘Patch could have sold some of his land if he needed money.’

‘Apparently not an option he considered,’ Gooch said. ‘I told him I would need to know more. He said he’d tell me more if I got an investor or two willing to talk to him. I told him I couldn’t waste the time of wealthy people, that I had to consider these folks were my clients and if this was some half-assed scheme it was going to make me look bad. Shit, maybe he was selling life-size Chia pets, you know?’

‘He gave you no indication why he needed this money?’

‘Just asked me to line up some multimillionaires. Which, frankly, represents a very narrow slice of my client pie.’

‘And you think he approached other people?’

‘He struck me as being in a hurry. I asked why he couldn’t go to a bank; he said he wanted it quiet. But fast. I believe the term he used was “hot and big enough to blow this town off the map”.’

‘So he wanted no attention now, but whatever he was working on would create a great deal of attention later.’

Gooch sipped beer. ‘So there’s your anonymous tip. Was it good for you?’

‘Maybe he was blowing smoke, Gooch. Maybe he owed someone a big chunk of money. Someone decided to collect.’

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