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Die For Me

Chapter One

Philadelphia, Sunday, January 14, 10:25 A.M.

Detective Vito Ciccotelli got out of his truck, his skin still vibrating. The beat-up old dirt road that led to the crime scene had only served to further rile his already churning stomach. He sucked in a breath and immediately regretted it. After fourteen years on the force, the odor of death still came as a putrid and unwelcome surprise.

“That shot my shocks to holy hell.” Nick Lawrence grimaced, slamming the door of his sensible sedan. “Shit.” His Carolina drawl drew the curse out to four full syllables.

Two uniforms stood staring down into a hole halfway across the snow-covered field. Handkerchiefs covered their faces. A woman was crouched down in the hole, the top of her head barely visible. “I guess CSU’s already uncovered the body,” Vito said dryly.

“Y’think?” Nick bent down and shoved the cuffs of his pants into the cowboy boots he kept polished to a spit shine. “Well, Chick, let’s get this show on the road.”

“In a minute.” Vito reached behind his seat for his snow boots, then flinched when a thorn jabbed deep into his thumb. “Dammit.” For a few seconds he sucked on the tiny wound, then with care moved the bouquet of roses out of the way to get to his boots. From the corner of his eye he could see Nick sober. But his partner said nothing.

“It’s been two years. Today,” Vito added bitterly. “How time flies.”

Nick’s voice was quiet. “It’s supposed to heal, too.”

And Nick was right. Two years had dulled the edge of Vito’s grief. But guilt . . . that was a different matter entirely. “I’m going out to the cemetery this afternoon.”

“You want me to go with you?”

“Thanks, but no.” Vito shoved his feet into his boots. “Let’s go see what they found.”

Six years as a homicide detective had taught Vito that there were no simple murders, just varying degrees of hard ones. As soon as he stopped at the edge of the grave the crime scene unit had just unearthed in the snow-covered field, he knew this would be one of the harder ones.

Neither Vito nor Nick said a word as they studied the victim, who might have remained hidden forever were it not for an elderly man and his metal detector. The roses, the cemetery, and everything else was pushed aside as Vito focused on the body in the hole. He dragged his gaze from her hands to what was left of her face.

Their Jane Doe had been small, five-two or five-three, and appeared to have been young. Short, dark hair framed a face too decomposed to be easily identifiable and Vito wondered how long she’d been here. He wondered if anyone had missed her. If anyone still waited for her to come home.

He felt the familiar surge of pity and sadness and pushed it to the edge of his mind along with all the other things he wanted to forget. For now he’d focus on the body, the evidence. Later, he and Nick would consider the woman—who she’d been and who she’d known. They’d do so as a means to catch the sick sonofabitch who’d left her nude body to rot in an unmarked grave in an open field, who’d violated her even after death. Pity shifted to outrage as Vito’s gaze returned to the victim’s hands.

“He posed her,” Nick murmured beside him and in the soft words Vito heard the same outrage he felt. “He fucking posed her.”

Indeed he had. Her hands were pressed together between her breasts, her fingertips pointing to her chin. “Permanently folded in prayer,” Vito said grimly.

“Religious murderer?” Nick mused.

“God, I hope not.” A buzz of apprehension tickled his spine. “Religious murderers tend not to stop with just one. There could be more.”

“Maybe.” Nick crouched down to peer into the grave which was about three feet deep. “How did he permanently pose her hands, Jen?”

CSU Sergeant Jen McFain looked up, her eyes covered with goggles, her nose and mouth by a mask. “Wire,” she said. “Looks like steel, but very fine. It’s wound around her fingers. You’ll be able to see it better once the ME cleans her up.”

Vito frowned. “Doesn’t seem like wire that thin would be enough to trip the sensor on a metal detector, especially under a couple feet of dirt.”

“You’re right, the wire wouldn’t have set it off. For that we can thank the rods your perp ran under the victim’s arms.” Jen traced one gloved finger along the underside of her own arm, down to her wrist. “They’re thin and bendable, but have enough mass to set off a metal detector. It’s how he kept her arms fixed in position.”

Vito shook his head. “Why?” he asked and Jen shrugged.

“Maybe we’ll get more from the body. I haven’t gotten much from the hole so far. Except . . .” She nimbly climbed from the grave. “The old man uncovered one of her arms using his garden spade. Now, he’s in pretty good shape, but even I couldn’t have dug that deep with a garden spade this time of year.”

Nick looked into the grave. “The ground must not have been frozen.”

Jen nodded. “Exactly. When he found the arm he stopped digging and called 911. When we got here, we started moving dirt to see what we had. The fill was easy to move until we got to the grave wall, then it was hard as a rock. Look at the corners. They look like they were cut using a T square. They’re frozen solid.”

Vito felt a sick tug at his gut. “He dug the grave before the ground froze. He planned this pretty far in advance.”

Nick was frowning. “And nobody noticed a gaping hole?”

“Perp might’ve covered it with something,” Jen said. “Also, I don’t think the fill dirt came from this field. I’ll run the tests to tell you for sure. That’s all I got for now. I can’t do anything more until the ME gets here.”

“Thanks, Jen,” Vito said. “Let’s talk to the property owner,” he said to Nick.

Harlan Winchester was about seventy, but his eyes were clear and sharp. He’d been waiting in the back seat of the police cruiser and got out when he saw them coming. “I suppose I’ll have to tell you detectives the same thing I told the officers.”

Vito put a little sympathy into his nod. “I’m afraid so. I’m Detective Ciccotelli and this is my partner, Detective Lawrence. Can you take us through what happened?”

“Hell, I didn’t even want that damn metal detector. It was a present from my wife. She’s worried I don’t get enough exercise since I retired.”

“So you got out this morning and walked?” Vito prompted and Winchester scowled.

“‘Harlan P. Winchester,’” he mimicked in a high, nasal voice, “‘you’ve been in that good-for-nothin’ chair for the last ten years. Get your moldy butt up and walk.’ So I did, ’cause I couldn’t stand to listen to her nag me anymore. I thought I might find something interesting to make Ginny shut up. But . . . I never dreamed I’d find a person.”

“Was the body the first object your detector picked up?” Nick asked.

“Yeah.” His mouth set grimly. “I took out my garden spade. It was then I thought about how hard the ground would be. I didn’t think I’d be able to break the surface, much less dig deep. I almost put my spade away before I started, but I’d only been gone fifteen minutes and Ginny would have nagged me some more. So I started digging.” He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, his bravado gone like so much mist. “My spade . . . it hit her arm. So I stopped digging and called 911.”

“Can you tell us a little more about this land?” Vito asked. “Who has access to it?”

“Anybody with an ATV or four-wheel drive, I guess. You can’t see this field from the highway and the little drive that connects to the main road isn’t even paved.”

Vito nodded, grateful he’d driven his truck, leaving his Mustang parked safely in his garage alongside his bike. “It’s definitely a rugged road. How do you get back here?”

“Today I walked.” He pointed to the tree line where a single set of footprints emerged. “But this was the first time I’ve been back here. We only moved in a month ago. This land was my aunt’s,” he explained. “She died and left it to me.”

“So, did your aunt come out to this field often?”

“I wouldn’t think so. She was a recluse, never left the house. That’s all I know.”

“Sir, you’ve been a big help,” Vito said. “Thank you.”

Winchester’s shoulders sagged. “Then I can go home?”

“Sure. The officers will drive you home.”

Winchester got in the cruiser and it headed out, passing a gray Volvo on its way in. The Volvo parked behind Nick’s sedan and a trim woman in her midfifties got out and started across the field. ME Katherine Bauer was here. It was time to face Jane Doe.

Vito started toward the grave, but Nick didn’t move. He was looking at Winchester’s metal detector sitting inside the CSU van. “We should check the rest of the field, Chick.”

“You think there are more.”

“I think we can’t leave until we know there aren’t.”

Another shiver of apprehension raced down Vito’s back. In his heart he already knew what they would find. “You’re right. Let’s see what else is out there.”

Sunday, January 14, 10:30 A.M.

“Everybody’s eyes closed?” Sophie Johannsen frowned at her graduate students in the darkness. “Bruce, you’re peeking,” she said.

“I’m not peeking,” he grumbled. “Besides, it’s too dark to see anything anyway.”

“Hurry up,” Marta said impatiently. “Turn on the lights.”

Sophie flicked on the lights, savoring the moment. “I give you . . . the Great Hall.”

For a moment no one said a word. Then Spandan let out a low whistle that echoed off the ceiling, twenty feet above their heads.

Bruce’s face broke into a grin. “You did it. You finally finished it.”

Marta’s jaw squared. “It’s nice.”

Sophie blinked at the younger woman’s terse tone, but before she could say a word she heard the soft whir of John’s wheelchair as he passed her to stare up at the far wall. “You did all this yourself,” he murmured, looking around in his quiet way. “Awesome.”

Sophie shook her head. “Not nearly by myself. You all helped, cleaning swords and armor and helping me plan the sword display. This was definitely a group effort.”

Last fall, all fifteen members of her Weapons and Warfare graduate seminar had been enthusiastic volunteers at the Albright Museum of History, where Sophie spent her days. Now she was down to these faithful four. They’d come every Sunday for months, giving their time. They earned class credit, but more valuable was the opportunity to touch the medieval treasures their classmates could only view through glass.

Sophie understood their fascination. She also knew that holding a fifteenth-century sword in a sterile museum was but a shadow of the thrill of unearthing that sword herself, of brushing away the dirt, exposing a treasure no eyes had seen in five hundred years. Six months ago as a field archeologist in southern France, she’d lived for that rush, waking every morning wondering what buried treasure she’d find at the dig that day. Now, as the Albright Museum’s head curator, she could only touch the treasures unearthed by others. Touching them, caring for them would have to be enough for now.

And as hard as it had been to walk away from the French dig of her dreams, every time she sat at her grandmother’s side as she lay in a nursing-home bed, Sophie knew she’d made the right choice.

Moments like this, seeing the pride on the faces of her students, made her choice easier to bear, too. With pride of her own, Sophie admired what they’d accomplished. Large enough to easily accommodate groups of thirty or more, the new Great Hall was a spectacular sight. Against the far wall, three suits of armor stood at attention under a display of one hundred swords, arranged in a woven lattice pattern. War banners hung on the left wall, and on the right wall she’d mounted the Houarneau tapestry, one of the jewels of the collection amassed by Theodore Albright I during his brilliant archeological career.

Standing in front of the tapestry, Sophie took a moment to enjoy looking at it. The twelfth-century Houarneau tapestry, like all the other treasures in the Albright collection, never failed to steal her breath away. “Wow,” she murmured.

“‘Wow?’” Bruce shook his head with a smile. “Dr. J, you should be able to think of a better word than that, in any one of a dozen languages.”

“Only ten,” she corrected and watched him roll his eyes. For Sophie, the study of language had always been a practical pleasure. Fluency in ancient languages enabled her research, but more, she loved the fluid rhythm and nuance of words themselves. She’d had few opportunities to use her skill since coming home and she missed it.

So, still admiring the tapestry, she indulged herself. “C’est incroyable.” The French flowed through her mind like a welcome melody, which was no surprise. Excepting a few short visits back to Philly, Sophie had made France her home for the last fifteen years. Other languages required more conscious effort, but still her mind skimmed easily. Greek, German, Russian . . . she picked the words like flowers from a field. “Katapliktikos. Hat was. O moy bog.”

Marta raised a brow. “And all that translated, means?”

Sophie’s lips curved. “Essentially . . . wow.” She took another satisfied look around. “It’s been a huge hit with tour groups.” Her smile dimmed. Just thinking about the tours, or more specifically the tour guides, was enough to suck the joy right out of her day.

John turned his chair so he could stare up at the swords. “You did this so fast.”

She set the unpleasant tours aside in her mind. “The trick was Bruce’s computer-generated mockup. It showed where to place the supports, and once that was done mounting the swords was easy. It looks as authentic as any display I’ve ever seen in any castle anywhere.” She aimed a smile of appreciation toward Bruce. “Thank you.”

Bruce beamed. “And the paneling? I thought you were going with painted walls.”

Once again her smile dimmed. “I was overruled on that. Ted Albright insisted that the wood would make the place look more like a true hall and not a museum.”

“He was right,” Marta said, her lips pursed tightly. “It looks better.”

“Yeah, well maybe it does, but he also cleaned out my operating budget for this year,” Sophie said, annoyed. “I had a list of new acquisitions that I now can’t afford. We couldn’t even afford to have the damn paneling installed.” She looked at her abused hands, nicked and scraped. “While you all were back home sleeping until noon and pigging out on turkey leftovers, I was here with Ted Albright every day, putting up all this paneling. God, what a nightmare. Do you know how high these walls are?”

The whole paneling debacle had been the source of yet another argument with Ted “the Third” Albright. Ted was the only grandson of the great archeologist, which unfortunately made him the sole owner of the Albright collection. He was also the owner of the museum, which unfortunately made him Sophie’s boss. She rued the day she’d ever heard of Ted Albright and his Barnum and Bailey approach to running a museum, but until a position opened up in one of the other museums, this job was it.

Marta turned to look at her, her eyes cold and . . . disappointed. “Spending two weeks alone with Ted Albright doesn’t sound like a hardship. He’s an attractive man,” she added, her tone acidic. “I’m surprised you managed to get any work done at all.”

Uncomfortable silence filled the room as Sophie stood, shocked and staring at the woman she’d mentored for four months. This can’t be happening again. But it was.

The men exchanged looks of wary confusion, but Sophie knew exactly what Marta was saying, exactly what she’d heard. The disappointment she’d seen in Marta’s eyes now made sense. Rage and denial screamed through Sophie’s mind, but she decided to address the current insinuation and leave the past covered, for now.

“Ted’s married, Marta. And just so you can set the record straight, we weren’t alone. Ted’s wife, son, and daughter were working with us the whole time.”

Maintaining her icy stare, Marta said nothing. Awkwardly Bruce blew out a breath. “So,” he said. “Last semester we revamped the Great Hall. What’s next, Dr. J?”

Ignoring the churning of her stomach, Sophie led the group to the exhibition area beyond the Great Hall. “The next project is redoing the weapons exhibit.”

“Yes.” Spandan socked the air. “Finally. This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

“Then your wait is over.” Sophie stopped at the glass display cabinet that held a half-dozen very rare medieval swords. The Houarneau tapestry was exquisite, but these weapons were her favorite items of the entire Albright collection.

“I always wonder who owned them,” Bruce said softly. “Who fought with them.”

John brought his chair closer. “And how many died at their tip,” he murmured. He looked up, his eyes hidden behind the hair that was always in his face. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Sophie said. “I’ve often wondered the same thing.” Her mouth quirked up at a sudden memory. “My very first day as curator, a kid tried to pull the fifteenth-C Bastardsword off the wall and play Braveheart. Nearly gave me heart failure.”

“They weren’t behind glass?” Bruce gasped, appalled. Both Spandan and John wore similar looks of horror.

Marta hung back, arms crossed and jaw cocked to one side. She said nothing.

Sophie decided to deal with her privately. “No, Ted believes that putting glass between artifacts and museum patrons degrades the ‘entertainment experience.’” It had been their first argument. “He agreed to put these behind glass if we displayed some of the less valuable swords out in the Great Hall.” Sophie sighed. “And if we displayed these rare swords in an ‘entertaining’ way. This display case was a temporary compromise until I could get the Great Hall finished. So this is the next project.”

“What exactly does ‘entertaining’ mean?” Spandan asked.

Sophie frowned. “Think mannequins and costumes,” she said darkly. Costumes were Ted’s passion, and when he’d only wanted to dress up mannequins, she could go with the flow. But two weeks ago he’d unveiled his newest scheme, adding another role to Sophie’s job description. To kick off the new Great Hall, they’d give tours . . . in period garb. Specifically, Sophie and Ted’s nineteen-year-old son, Theo, would lead the tours and nothing Sophie could say would change Ted’s mind. Finally she’d outright refused—and in a rare fit of serious temper Ted Albright had threatened to fire her.

Sophie had very nearly quit—until she’d gotten home that night and looked through the mail. The nursing home was raising the cost of Anna’s room. So Sophie swallowed her pride, donned the damn costume and did Ted’s damn tours during the day. In the evenings she’d redoubled her search for another job.

“Did the boy damage the sword?” John asked.

“Thankfully, no. When you handle them, be sure you wear your gloves.”

Bruce waved his white gloves like a truce flag. “We always do,” he said cheerfully.

“And I appreciate it.” He was trying to lighten her mood and Sophie appreciated that as well. “Your assignment is the following—each of you will prepare an exhibit proposal, including the space requirements and cost of materials you’ll need to build it. It’s due in three weeks. Keep it simple. I don’t have the budget for anything grand.”

She left the three men to work and walked to where Marta stood motionless and stony-faced. “So now what?” Sophie asked.

A petite woman, Marta craned her neck to meet Sophie’s eyes. “Excuse me?”

“Marta, you obviously heard something. You’ve also obviously chosen not only to believe it but to publicly challenge me on it. Your choices as I see them are to either apologize to me for your disrespect and we go on, or continue this attitude.”

Marta frowned. “And if I continue?”

“Then there’s the door. This is a volunteer experience, on both our parts.” Sophie’s expression softened. “Look, you’re a nice kid and an asset to this museum. I’d miss you if you were gone. I’d really rather you chose door number one.”

Marta swallowed hard. “I was visiting a friend. A grad student at Shelton College.”

Shelton. The memory of the few months she’d been enrolled at Shelton College still made Sophie physically ill, more than ten years later. “It was just a matter of time.”

Marta’s chin trembled. “I was bragging on you to my friend, how you were such a great role model, my mentor, that you’re a woman who made a name for herself in the field using her brain. My friend laughed and said you’d used other parts of your body to get ahead. She said you slept with Dr. Brewster so you could get on his dig team at Avignon, that that’s how you got your start. Then when you went back to France, you slept with Dr. Moraux. That’s why you moved up so fast, why you got your own dig team when you were so young. I told her it wasn’t true, that you wouldn’t do that. Did you?”

Sophie knew she would be well within her rights to tell Marta that this was none of her business. But Marta was obviously disillusioned. And hurt. So Sophie reopened a wound that had never really healed. “Did I sleep with Brewster? Yes.” And she still felt the shame of it. “Did I do it to get on his dig team? No.”

“Then why did you?” Marta whispered. “He’s married.”

“I know that now. I didn’t then. I was young. He was older and . . . he deceived me. I made a stupid mistake, Marta, one I’m still paying for. I can tell you I got to where I am without Dr. Alan Brewster.” His very name still left a vile taste on her tongue, but she watched Marta’s expression change as she accepted that her mentor was human, too.

“But I never slept with Etienne Moraux,” she went on fiercely. “And I got to where I was by working my ass off. I published more papers than anyone else and did all the grunt work to prove myself. Which is how you should do it, too. And Marta, no more comments about Ted. However we disagree over this museum, Ted’s devoted to his wife. Darla Albright is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Rumors like that can destroy a marriage. Are we clear?”

Marta nodded, relief in her face and respect back in her eyes. “Yes.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “You could have just thrown me out.”

“I could have, but I have a feeling I’m going to need you, especially for this new exhibit.” Sophie looked down at her own ratty jeans. “I have no fashion sense, twenty-first or fifteenth century. You’ll have to dress Ted’s damn mannequins.”

Marta laughed softly. “That I can do. Thanks, Dr. J. For keeping me. And for telling me when you didn’t have to. Next time I see my friend I’ll tell her my original opinion stands.” Her lips turned up charmingly. “I still want to be you when I grow up.”

Embarrassed, Sophie shook her head. “Trust me, you don’t. Now get to work.”

Sunday, January 14, 12:25 P.M.

Vito had placed a red flag in the snow every place Nick picked up a metal object. Now Nick and Vito stood with Jen, staring in dismay at five red flags.

“Any or all of those could be more Jane Does,” Jen said quietly. “We have to know.”

Nick sighed. “We’re going to have to search this whole field.”

“That’s a lot of manpower,” Vito grumbled. “Does CSU have the resources?”

“No, I’d have to request support. But I don’t want to go up the ladder with that kind of request until I’m damn sure these flags don’t mark arrowheads or buried Coke cans.”

“We could just start digging at one of the flags,” Nick said. “See what we turn up.”

“We could.” Jen frowned. “But I want to know what’s under our feet before we do. I don’t want to lose evidence because we moved too fast or the wrong way.”

“Cadaver dogs?” Vito suggested.

“Maybe, but what I’d really like to have is a scan of the property. I saw it on the History Channel. These archeologists used ground-penetrating radar to locate the ruins of an ancient wall. It was very cool.” Jen sighed. “But I’d never get the funds to pay a contractor. Let’s bring in the dogs and get it done.”

Nick held up a wagging finger. “Not so fast. The show was about archeologists, right? Well, if we had an archeologist, he might be able to do that . . . radar thing.”

Jen’s eyes sharpened. “Do you know an archeologist?”

“No,” Nick said, “but the city’s chock full of universities. Somebody must know one.”

“They’d have to work for cheap,” Vito said. “And they’d have to be somebody we could trust.” Vito thought about the body, the way the hands were posed. “The press would have a field day with this if it leaked.”

“And our asses would be deep fried,” Nick muttered.

“Who do you need to trust?”

Vito turned to find the ME standing behind him. “Hi, Katherine. Are you done?”

Katherine Bauer nodded wearily, peeling off her gloves. “The body’s in the bus.”

“Cause?” Nick asked.

“Nothing yet. I’m thinking she’s been dead two or three weeks at least. I can’t give you anything more until I get some tissue samples under my microscope. So,” she tilted her head sideways. “Who do you need to be able to trust?”

“I want to get a scan of the property,” Jen said. “I was going to see if anyone knows any of the professors in the archeology departments in the local universities.”

“I do,” Katherine said, and the three of them stared at her.

Jen’s eyes widened. “You do? A real live archeologist?”

“A dead one won’t do us much good,” Nick said dryly and Jen’s cheeks turned red.

Katherine chuckled. “Yes, I know a real live archeologist. She’s home on . . . a sabbatical of sorts. She’s considered an expert in her field. I know she’d help.”

“And she’s discreet?” Nick insisted and Katherine patted his arm maternally.

“Very discreet. I’ve known her for more than twenty-five years. I can call her now if you want.” She waited, her gray brows lifted.

“At least we’ll know,” Nick said. “I vote yes.”

Vito nodded. “Let’s call her.”

Sunday, January 14, 12:30 P.M.

“God, it’s incredible.” Spandan held the Bastardsword in his gloved hands with all the care and respect due a treasure that had survived five hundred years. “I bet you wanted to kill that kid for trying to rip this off the wall.”

Sophie looked down at the two-handed longsword she’d taken from the case. The students were taking a “creativity break” to better help them “envision the assignment.” Sophie knew they really just wanted to touch the swords and she couldn’t blame them. There was a fundamental power in holding a weapon this old. And this lethal.

“I was more angry at his mother who was too busy talking on her cell phone to watch her kid.” She chuckled. “Luckily my brain hadn’t fully settled back into English, so when I cussed her out, it was in French. But, uh, some things transcend language.”

“So what did she do?” Marta asked.

“Went crying to Ted. He gave her a refund, then came after me. ‘You can’t frighten the guests, Sophie,’” she mimicked. “I still remember the look on that woman’s face when I dragged her little brat over to her. She wasn’t much bigger than the kid. Nearly broke her neck looking up at me. It was one of the few times being tall was an asset.”

“You need better security in this place,” John commented, his eyes focused on the Viking Age sword he held. “It’s a wonder nobody’s walked off with any artifacts.”

Sophie frowned. “We have an alarm system, but you’re right. Before, hardly anyone knew we were here, but now, with all these tours, we definitely need a guard.” The salary for a guard had been in her operating budget for the coming year. But nooo . . . Ted wanted paneling. It was enough to make her twitch. “I know of at least two Italian reliquaries that are no longer on their shelf. I keep checking for them on eBay.”

“Makes you wish for medieval justice,” Spandan grumbled.

“What would have been the penalty for theft?” John asked, slanting a look up at her.

Sophie carefully settled the longsword back in the display case. “Depends on what point in the Middle Ages—early, high, or late—and on what was stolen, if it was stolen by force or by stealth, and who the victim was and who the thief was. Felony thieves might be hanged, but most small thefts were settled by recompense.”

“I thought they cut off a hand or gouged out an eye,” Bruce said.

“Not commonly,” Sophie told him, her lips quirking at his obvious disappointment. “It didn’t make sense for the lord to disfigure the people who were working his land. Without a hand or a foot they couldn’t make him as much money.”

“No exceptions?” Bruce asked and Sophie shot him an amused look.

“Bloodthirsty today, aren’t we? Hmm. Exceptions.” She considered it. “Outside Europe, there were cultures that certainly still practiced eye-for-an-eye justice. Thieves lost one hand and the opposite foot. In European culture, go back to the tenth century and you’ll find amputation of ‘the hand with which he did it’ as a punishment in the Anglo-Saxon Dooms. But the culprit had to be caught stealing from a church.”

“Your reliquaries would have been in a church back then,” Spandan pointed out.

Sophie had to chuckle. “Yes, they would have been, so it’s a damn good thing they were stolen from here and now, not there and then. Now your ‘creativity break’ is over. Put the swords away and get back to work.”

Sighing heavily they did as she asked, first Spandan, then Bruce and Marta. Until only John remained. In almost an offertory way, he lifted the sword with both hands and with both hands Sophie took it. Fondly she studied the stylized pommel. “I found one like this once, at a dig in Denmark. Not this nice, and not all in one piece. The blade had corroded completely through, right in the middle. But what a feeling it was, uncovering it for the first time. Like it had been sleeping for all those years and woke up, just for me.” She glanced down at him with an embarrassed laugh. “That sounds crazy, I know.”

His smile was solemn. “No, not crazy. You must miss it, being in the field.”

Sophie arranged the contents of the case and locked it. “Some days more than others. Today I miss it a great deal.” Tomorrow, when she was leading a tour in period garb, she’d miss it a great deal more. “Let’s go—”

Her cell phone rang, surprising her. Even Ted gave her one day of rest. “Hello?”

“Sophie, it’s Katherine. Are you alone?”

Sophie straightened at the urgency in Katherine’s voice. “No. Should I be?”

“Yes. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

“Hold on. John, I need to take this. Can I meet you and the others in the hall in a few?” He nodded and turned his chair toward the Great Hall and the other students. When he was gone, she shut the door. “Go ahead, Katherine. What’s wrong?”

“I need your help.”

Katherine’s daughter Trisha had been Sophie’s best friend since kindergarten and Katherine had become the mother Sophie had never had. “Name it.”

“We need to excavate a field and we need to know where to dig.”

Sophie’s mind instantly put “medical examiner” and “excavation” together, conjuring a picture of a mass grave. She’d excavated dozens of gravesites over the years and knew exactly what needed to be done. She found her pulse increasing at the thought of doing real fieldwork again. “Where and when do you need me?”

“In a field about a half hour north of town, an hour ago.”

“Katherine, it’ll take me at least two hours to get my equipment up there.”

“Two hours? Why?” In the background Sophie heard several disgruntled voices.

“Because I’m at the museum and I have my bike. I can’t tie all that equipment to the seat. I have to go home first and get Gran’s car. Plus, I was going to sit with her this afternoon. I need to stop by the nursing home and check on her at least.”

“I’ll check on Anna myself. You go to the college and get the equipment. One of the detectives will meet you there and transport you and the equipment to the site.”

“Have him meet me in front of the humanities building at Whitman College. It’s the one with the funky ape sculpture in front. I’ll be out front by 1:30.”

There was more murmuring, more intense. “Okay,” Katherine said, exasperated. “Detective Ciccotelli wants to be sure you understand this is to be kept in the utmost confidence. You must exercise extreme discretion and say nothing to anyone.”

“Understood.” She returned to the Great Hall. “Guys, I need to go now.”

The students immediately began to gather their work. “Is your grandmother okay, Dr. J?” Bruce asked, his forehead creasing in concern.

Sophie hesitated. “She will be.” Not the whole truth and hopefully for Anna, not a lie. “For now, you get a few free hours this afternoon. Don’t have too much fun.”

When they were gone, she locked up, set the alarm, and headed toward Whitman College as fast as she legally dared, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. For months she’d been missing the field. It looked like she was finally about to find one.

Die For Me
by by Karen Rose

  • Mass Market Paperback: 584 pages
  • Publisher: Vision
  • ISBN-10: 0446616915
  • ISBN-13: 9780446616911