The Hungry Bones

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Chapter One

“The mouth and hands of anyone at the scene are the biggest source of contamination,” Alexa Glock replied to the question. “Wearing masks, barrier clothing, and gloves is crucial.”

Professor Campbell, one of three on the interview committee, frowned from the upper-left Zoom box. “Anything to add?”

Alexa glanced at her image: behold the winner of the Bed-Head Hair prize. She refrained from taming it. “Protect the scene. Use disposable equipment when possible and sterilized equipment when it’s not.” This was Forensics 101 stuff.

Professor Campbell, whose specialty was DNA, leaned so close to her computer that Alexa could see her nose hairs. “Are you familiar with the Phantom of Heilbronn?”

Even though it was two a.m. in New Zealand, Alexa perked up. “She was Germany’s most wanted woman. She left DNA at forty crime scenes, but in the end, it was found she didn’t exist and the DNA came from contaminated swabs.”

“Aye.” Professor Campbell relaxed into her seat and studied Alexa’s curriculum vitae. “No PhD?”

“I have two master’s degrees.”

“No DMD?”

Most odontologists – Alexa’s specialty – were Doctors of Medicine in Dentistry so the professor was right to inquire. “My university created a special masters program because of a shortage.” Two years of nothing but teeth. Should she share her motto with the professors? She tongued her top incisors and went for it. “Lips may lie, but teeth never do.”

Lower-left box – Assistant Professor Abby Akintola, specialty bloodstain patterns – bared her teeth in a congenial smile but Professor Campbell frowned. “If you joined the faculty at Abertay University in Scotland, we would expect you to complete a PhD.”

Alexa liked a challenge.

Dr. Ben Odden, chair of the forensics department, upper-right box, seemed to be speaking.

“You’re on mute,” Dr. Campbell shouted.

A whimper came from the kitchen. Alexa’s roommate’s canine partner, Kaos, was stirring. His doggy-dreams were interrupted. The apartment was open-concept and there was no door to close.

Dr. Odden unmuted. “I see you submitted an article to Forensics Today. “Bacterium in Great White Shark Bite Lacerations.”

“They’ve expressed some interest.” If Alexa took a university position, she’d have more time for research and writing.

“What are you working on now?” Dr. Odden asked.

Alexa had a professional crush on Ben Odden. She’d devoured many of his published articles over the years, and had used some of his cutting edge techniques. It was a thrill to ‘meet’ him. “The pink tooth phenomenon. I was recently involved in a case where the deceased presented a pink molar.”
Kaos howled.

“Is there a problem?” Dr. Campbell asked.

Alexa hoped her roommate Natalie would wake up and soothe the German shepherd. She wasn’t sure she wanted to leave her traveling forensic investigator job anyway. Especially after her boss had called earlier. “Your friend Dr. Luckenbaugh requested you. She received approval to exhume a Chinese gold miner, buried around 1900. She needs an odontologist. Can you get to Arrowtown tomorrow?”

Ana Luckenbaugh was a forensic archaeologist who worked with Preserving Heritage. Alexa had already booked a flight. But first she wanted to ace this interview.

Kaos’s howls turned to barks.

“What’s that?” Professor Campbell shouted.

Alexa popped out of her Zoom box. She ran to the kitchen and opened the crate. Kaos jumped on her. “Down. Hush.”

She ran back, the gangling dog at her heels. She pushed Kaos’s butt down and whispered for him to sit and slipped back into her chair. “It’s my roommate’s dog.” She hated the sound of that. On the verge of thirty-eight and living with a roommate. “I’m looking into the relationship of pink tooth phenomenon and head position.” She flashed back to her last away case. The deceased had been found head-down. The positioning had accelerated decomposition in his facial area. And possibly the PTP. The image of maggots in the corpse’s orifices crawled into her head. She shook it away.

The interview went on for twenty more minutes. Kaos pushed his head into her Zoom box once and charmed the scientists, even Dr. Campbell.
“We’ll be in touch,” Dr. Odden said. “Maybe get you over to Dundee to check oot our facilities.”

Alexa took off the blouse covering her sleep shirt and realized her abrupt Zoom departure to fetch Kaos probably revealed her shortie pajama bottoms. Did that constitute a flash? She snorted, turned off the light, and lay on the couch, fingers buried in the remnants of Kaos’s puppy fur. Did she want to leave New Zealand for a job in Scotland? In the darkness, skeletal remains of gold rush miners staked a claim on her thoughts. She pictured the teeth protruding from their jaws.