Kit Franklyn, lately drowning in personal doubts about her life and career, thinks that investigating the corpse she found in the garden of her new home will be the perfect distraction. Together with her boss, the loveable and unconventional chief medical examiner Andy Broussard, she sets out to solve this case that’s growing colder by the minute. Though they identify the body as a missing hooker, now dead for twenty-seven years, all hope of conviction seems lost—until the unorthodox duo link the body and two recent murders to a group of local, wealthy physicians.
Don Donaldson, who also writes as D. J. Donaldson, holds a Ph.D. in human anatomy. In his professional career, he has taught microscopic anatomy to over 5,000 medical and dental students and published dozens of research papers on wound healing. He is also the author of seven published forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his two West Highland terriers.
“Likeable protagonists, abundant forensic lore, and vivid descriptions of colorful New Orelans and its denizens…”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
The night air was warm and humid, but her skin was pebbly with gooseflesh. Usually talkative and outgoing, tonight she lay quietly, almost pensively, her back to the stars, her face turned to the side. A fly hummed out of the darkness and landed. It briefly explored the surface of her cloudy cornea, then began to tuck its eggs into the corner of her eye. Her respiration had ceased many hours earlier, but enzymes were still functioning, acting now without direction, turning on the organs they once served. One life had ended, but millions reaped the benefits, finding passage into previously forbidden chambers where in mindless celebration they multiplied.
She was lifted from the grass and dropped into a hole in the earth, her rigidity requiring the same fit she once demanded of her clothing. Then the dirt… filling… covering… hiding…
With the sun, life spilled into the streets and the ground warmed. Though it was cool below, her red cells eventually gave up their hemoglobin, which seeped from her vessels, staining her once-blemish-free skin with reddish brown trails. A shower brought smiles to the lips of the living, but also summoned forth delicate mycelial threads from germinating mold spores that began digesting her clothing.
Days passed into weeks and the gases came, lifting the dirt, creating pressures that rearranged… pushed… expelled. In life, she had been desired by many. In death, she was sought by more and they came to her, embraced her and became one with her. Then as the weeks blended into months, their ardor waned and one by one they left her, until she was very much alone.
Yikes! She had forgotten Bubba.
Kit hurried down the hall and nudged the kitchen door open. Predictably, a small black nose appeared in the crack.
She slipped her hand inside and grabbed Lucky, the owner of the nose, by the collar. “Oh yes, you little varmint, you’d like to get into the new varnish, wouldn’t you?”
When she was safely into the kitchen with the door shut behind her, she let the little dog go. He responded by scampering happily about the room, his claws clacking on the linoleum like a little flop-eared flamenco dancer.
Watermelon. That’s why she had come inside… to get Bubba a piece of melon.
She washed her hands at the sink and looked out the window at Bubba Oustellette, hard at work digging the holes for the posts that would support the rose trellis in the center of her planned rose garden. Bubba was dressed as usual, in navy blue coveralls and a matching T-shirt. On his head was a dark green baseball cap bearing the logo of an ocean wave showing its teeth and carrying a football.
Poor Bubba. The posthole digger was bigger than he was and he was sweating terribly. She got the watermelon from the fridge and cut it in half. She lopped off a thick circle, put it on a dinner plate, and stuck a fork in the center, about all the culinary ability or inclination any kitchen was likely to see from her. On the way out, Lucky darted into the yard.
Bubba looked as though he’d taken a shower with his clothes on—his dark hair hanging in wet ropes from under his cap, his shirt sticking to him like a coat of blue paint. In the future, she was going to have to be more careful. She had merely asked whether he knew anyone she could hire to build a rose trellis and he had volunteered to do it for nothing. And she hadn’t been able to talk him out of it. Now, here he was, giving up his Saturday and courting heatstroke, as well.
“How about a little break, Bubba?”
Bubba chunked the digger into the hole and grinned through his bushy black beard. “Ah don’ need no coaxin’ for dat,” the little Cajun said, taking off his cap and wiping his forehead with his arm.
“Come on, sit over here in the shade and see if this melon is as good as it looks. Or, if you like, we can go inside where it’s cool.”
“Out here is okay.”
Kit led Bubba to a pair of folding lawn chairs under a young pin oak, where Bubba didn’t want to sit until she did.
“Bubba, get in that chair.”
Sheepishly, he did as she ordered. “Ah think you got a little Gramma O in you,” he said, taking the plate and the salt Kit held out to him.
Grandma O operated the restaurant where Kit usually ate lunch. She was Grandmother only to Bubba, but everyone called her Grandma O, mostly because that’s what she called herself on the restaurant’s sign and menu.
“A little of Grandma O? I’ll consider that a compliment,” Kit said.
“Well, Ah hope you don’ let it mushroom, cause Ah got all Ah can handle with da original.”
Bubba sprinkled his melon with salt and stored the shaker in the chest pocket of his coveralls. He carved a large piece from the melon’s seedless center, then paused. “Ain’t you havin’ any?”
“Maybe in a minute,” Kit said, enjoying the feeling of sitting under her own oak in her own backyard. The yard was small but was given a nice sense of privacy by the unusually tall cypress fence that a previous owner had put up.
The yard itself wasn’t much to look at now: a carpet of mangy Bermuda; some scraggly privet on each side of the back door in beds lined with three different shades of brick set in the ground to resemble the teeth on a saw, and, of course, those awful clothesline poles and all that cement around them.
She looked at Bubba, intending to ask his advice on methods for removal of the poles but realized he’d just want to help with that as well. What she needed was a…
Lord. She put her hand to her eyes in disbelief. For an instant, she had imagined she needed a husband. She looked warily at the house, alert now to a danger in its purchase that hadn’t occurred to her before. She didn’t need a husband. She didn’t need a man at all. She stood up. “Bubba, I want to dig the next hole. I’m going inside to change. Keep an eye on Lucky for me while I’m inside, will you? He likes to dig and I’m afraid he might try to go under the fence.”
“He’s good at it, too,” Bubba said, pointing.
Looking behind her, Kit saw Lucky’s front paws churning at the pile of dirt beside the hole Bubba had been working on. The little dog shoved his muzzle into the cavity he’d made and pulled out something white, which he dragged a few feet to the side. He lay down and began chewing on it.
Afraid that it might be something harmful, Kit hurried toward him. “No! Bad dog! Bad dog!”
Lucky’s ears lifted and he looked at Kit with big round eyes that said, playtime.
She leaned down to take the object from him, but he snatched it up and darted off. Lucky ran with abandon, leaping over the lumber Bubba had brought and making a three-quarter circle around the yard. He dropped to his belly, with the object between his paws and watched to see whether Kit would come after him.
“Bubba, I’m going to need some help here.”
Bubba put his plate under his chair and circled around behind the oak while Kit closed in from the front. Lucky’s eyes darted back and forth between them as he triangulated their approach.
Having grown up around animals of all kinds and knowing them well, Bubba was aware that Lucky would not let him get much closer. So he flung himself into the air, covering the last few feet in a daring surprise maneuver.
When Bubba hit, driving the salt shaker into his sternum, Lucky was ten feet away, his legs a blur as he ran, the object firmly between his teeth.
It was far too hot to play this game and Kit was about ready to get the hose after the dog, when he dropped the object and went after a blue jay that had landed near the fence. Kit hurried to the object and bent down for a closer look. Despite the bright sun beating on her back, she went gray and cold inside.
“What is it?” Bubba said, getting to his feet.
“Part of a jawbone,” Kit said.
“Somebody’s buried pet?”
“If it is, it’s been to the dentist.”