When he saw Louise Partridge with her half-dead flowers, he thought he was hallucinating. They’d been giving him Percocet for the pain.

“I hate hospitals,” she said.

“Agreed.” Johnny sat up in bed. He assumed he looked like an idiot—he was wearing a hospital gown—but actually Louise felt mutely and stupidly drawn to him. He was half naked and staring at her. She sat down on the edge of Mr. Hirsch’s bed. She thought she might have a hangover herself.

“Go ahead,” Mr. Hirsch said bitterly. “Don’t mind me. Make yourself comfortable.”

He’d spent forty years being sarcastic, but as Louise had gone to private school she took him at his word and said, “Thanks.”

“Allegra told me you’re living with someone. She said he drives a Volvo.” Johnny sneered. “Those cars are so overrated.”

“Your sister isn’t as observant as she thinks she is. Is that why you stopped calling and hanging up, because of the Volvo?”

“Calling?” Johnny said, feeling shifty, even if he was a police officer.

Louise rose off Mr. Hirsch’s bed and came to stand beside Johnny. She had something in her hand. A smooth white arc. She couldn’t help but notice that they kept the temperature much too hot in hospitals. They thought only of the dying, never of the living. But wasn’t that always the way?

Louise thought she might burn alive standing there.

“I don’t think a basset hound’s behind this,” she said, showing Johnny the bone she carried with her.


“You never know,” Johnny Mott said. People who knew him would have been shocked to hear just how thoughtful he sounded.

“Really?” Louise said. “Maybe that’s true for you, but I always do. I don’t have to think twice about things.”

AFTER A TIME, Brian had collected all of the bones and washed them in a bucket. They were then spread out on Louise’s porch, to dry in the sun. A spine, ribs, long femurs, knobby things that Louise assumed were some kind of elbows or knees. Everyone in town was talking about the dig. Brian had to chase groups of interested ten-year-old boys off the property. Skittish teenagers came creeping around at night, daring each other to walk past the bone house.

Then one Saturday morning the board of trustees from the museum unexpectedly came to call. The board consisted of Mrs. Gerri Partridge, who was a cousin of Louise’s, once removed; Hillary Jacob, who ran the faltering bookstore; and Allegra Mott, who seemed too young and snippy to be on the board of anything.

“Hello,” Louise said when she opened the door.

Thankfully she was dressed in an A-line skirt and a blouse, both found in her mother’s closet. The outfit looked half decent if you didn’t notice the fraying seams. The women from the board had already turned their attention to the pile of bones. Brian was up in bed, sleeping it off. He had taken to visiting the Jack Straw Bar and Grill every night, not coming home till the wee hours.

“So you told your brother about the Volvo,” Louise remarked to Allegra.

“Sure,” Allegra said mildly. “Why not?”

“No reason,” Louise said. “None at all.”

The museum ladies informed Louise that due to the potential historical nature of the finding on her property, they would like to have the skeleton on permanent display in the Blackwell Museum.

“I don’t know about that,” Louise hedged. “The expedition’s being funded by Harvard.”

“What gets found in Blackwell stays in Blackwell,” Allegra Mott said. “You of all people should understand that.”

It sounded like some sort of veiled threat. But as a matter of fact, Louise had been experiencing a sinking feeling every time she saw the bones on the porch or heard the click clack of Brian Alter’s shovel. She was actually pleased the skull hadn’t yet been found.

“I’ll keep your request in mind,” she said.

Soon after, a professor from Harvard phoned looking for Brian. Dr. Seymour, the professor in charge of Brian’s research. Brian hadn’t checked in or sent a report in some time.

“I’m certain he’ll be in touch soon,” Louise assured the professor.

In fact, Brian had taken to sleeping all day, then getting up and going directly to the Jack Straw. Louise thought she had a budding alcoholic on her hands, maybe even a full-fledged drunk. One night she heard a ruckus on her porch. She ran downstairs in her nightgown and was met by the Motts, Johnny and his father, Frank, there on police business. They had brought home a sloshed, argumentative Brian, who tripped over his own feet as he attempted to take off and go back to the tavern for last call.

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