Sergeant-detective Michel Charbonneau was born in Chicoutimi, six hours up the St. Lawrence from Montreal, in a region known as the Saguenay. Before entering the CUM, he’d spent several years working in the West Texas oil fields. Proud of his cowboy youth, Charbonneau always addressed me in my mother tongue. His English was good, though “de”s replaced “the”s, syllables were often inappropriately accented, and his phrasing used enough slang to fill a ten-gallon hat.

“Let’s hope so.”

“You hope so?” A small vapor cloud puffed from Claudel’s mouth.

“Yes, Monsieur Claudel. I hope so.”

Claudel’s lips tucked in, but he said nothing.

When Gilbert finished shooting the bundled burial, I dropped to my knees and tugged at a corner of the leather. It tore.

Changing from my warm woolies to surgical gloves, I leaned in and began teasing free an edge, gingerly separating, lifting, then rolling the leather backward onto itself.

With the outer layer fully peeled to the left, I began on the inner. At places, fibers adhered to the skeleton. Hands shaking from cold and nervousness, I scalpeled rotten leather from underlying bone.

“What’s that white stuff?” Racine asked.


“Adipocere,” he repeated.

“Grave wax,” I said, not in the mood for a chemistry lesson. “Fatty acids and calcium soaps from muscle or fat undergoing chemical changes, usually after long burial or immersion in water.”

“Why’s it not on the other skeleton?”

“I don’t know.”

I heard Claudel puff air through his lips. I ignored him.

Fifteen minutes later I’d detached the inner layer and laid back the shroud, fully exposing the skeleton.

Though damaged, the skull was clearly present.

“Three heads, three people.” Charbonneau stated the obvious.

“Tabernouche,” Claudel said.

“Damn,” I said.

Gilbert and Racine remained mute.

“Any idea what we’ve got here, Doc?” Charbonneau asked.

I creaked to my feet. Eight eyes followed me to Dr. Energy’s crate.

One by one I removed and observed the two pelvic halves, then the skull.

Crossing to the first trench, I knelt, extricated, and inspected the same skeletal elements.

Dear God.

Replacing those bones, I crawled to the second trench, leaned in, and studied the skull fragments.

No. Not again. The universal victims.

I teased free the right demi-pelvis.

Breath billowed in front of five faces.

Sitting back on my heels, I cleaned dirt from the pubic symphysis.

And felt something go cold in my chest.

Three women. Barely past girl.


WAKING TO THE TUESDAY MORNING WEATHER REPORT, I KNEW I was in for killer cold. Not the occasional mid-forties damp we whine about in January in North Carolina. I mean subzero cold. Arctic cold. If-I-stop-moving- I’ll-die-and-be-eaten-by-wolves cold.

I adore Montreal. I love the not-quite-eight-hundred-foot mountain, the old port, Little Italy, Chinatown, the Gay Village, the steel and glass skyscrapers of Centre-ville, the tangled neighborhoods with their alleys and gray stones and impossible staircases.

Montreal is a schizoid scrapper, continually fighting with herself. Anglophone-Francophone. Separatist- Federalist. Catholic-Protestant. Old-New. I find it fascinating. I delight in the whole empanada, falafel, poutine, Kong Pao multiculturalism of the place. Hurley’s Irish Pub. Katsura. L’Express. Fairmont Bagel. Trattoria Trestevere.

I partake in the city’s never-ending round of festivals: Le Festival International de Jazz, Les Fetes Gourmandes Internationales, Le Festival des Films du Monde, the bug-tasting festival at the Insectarium. I frequent the stores on Ste-Catherine, the outdoor markets at Jean-Talon and Atwater, the antique shops along Notre-Dame. I visit the museums, picnic in the parks, bike the paths along the Lachine Canal. I relish it all.

I do not relish the climate from November to May.

I admit it. I have lived too long in the South. I hate feeling chilled. I have no patience with snow and ice. Keep

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