Deep in the primeval rainforest of Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the skeletal remains of a murdered man are discovered. And a strange, unsettling tale begins to unfold, for forensic anthropologist Gideon Oliver determines that the murder weapon was a primitive bone spear of a type not seen for the last ten thousand years. And whoever--or whatever--hurled it did so with seemingly superhuman force. Bigfoot "sightings" immediately crop up, but Gideon isn't buying them. But something is continuing to kill people, and Gideon, helped by forest ranger Julie Tendler and FBI special agent John Lau, plunges into the dark heart of an unexplored wilderness to uncover the bizarre, astonishing explanation.
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August 25, 2010
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Excerpt from The Dark Place by Aaron Elkins
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Dr. Fenster pressed his lips into a tight little bud. He wasn't a bone man, had never cared for bones. Too much guesswork, especially after they'd been in the ground a while. They shrank, they warped, they were inconclusive cause-of-death indicators, they gave unreliable tissue types. Give him some blood, on the other hand, or semen, or saliva, or best of all a major organ, and you really had something. A pathologist could get his teeth into something like that, so to speak.
He sighed noisily and rearranged the bones on the oak table again, this time in a neat row, but Lau could see he wasn't getting anywhere. After waiting politely for the older man to speak, Lau said, "What do you think, Dr. Fenster? Is it one of them?"
The pathologist shook his head irascibly and pushed his round, wire-rimmed glasses up on his nose. They were the kind of glasses a five-year-old might draw on a cartoon face, Lau thought. All in all, Dr. Arthur Fenster looked a lot like a child's drawing: a rabbit wearing little round glasses. An irritated rabbit.
"How can you tell anything from this junk?" Fenster said. "A few vertebrae, a scapula..." He flicked the pieces disgustedly with the backs of his fingers. "It could be Eckert, could be the Hartman one. It's been buried for five years at least. Looks like a male, maybe in his twenties, maybe older. But I'm not even sure it all belongs to one person." He folded his arms and leaned stiffly back in his chair. "This garbage is next to worthless. A waste of my time." He looked at the FBI agent with a mixture of annoyance and disapproval.
John Lau's big, flat, Asian face remained impassive. "Well, it's all we have, sir," he said. "Isn't there anything else you can tell us?"
Fenster picked up one of the vertebrae and thrust it toward Lau. "See that growth on the ventral surface?"
Lau nodded. He didn't know the ventral surface from whatever the others were, but he could see that the ugly, rough excrescence wasn't a normal part of the bone.
"I'm not sure exactly what it is," Fenster said. "Some kind of oddball exostosis--a tumor, or a weird variation of osteomyelitis. Maybe even bone syphilis, although that usually doesn't show up in vertebrae. Anyway, it's a lead. Have a look at Eckert's and Hartman's medical records. If one of them had a bone disease in a highly advanced state, then there's a good chance this is him."
"Okay, that's helpful," Lau said, trying to look grateful. "You don't suppose a physical anthropologist would be able to tell us anything more? I heard Gideon Oliver was working on a dig up near Dungeness. That's only a few hours from Quinault."
Lau had thought it might be a mistake to mention Gideon Oliver, and it was. Fenster snorted, bringing his glasses down over his nose again. He pushed them back up. "Oh, God, spare me, will you? I know you think his reports on the Schuster case and that kidnapping in New Mexico were God's gift to the world, but I'm a pathologist and I know. They were fantasy, garbage, crap. He was lucky. Maybe he knows his anthropometric theory--maybe, I say--but his conclusions are...speculative." He rolled his mobile lips around the word as if it might befoul them.
"Still," Lau said, knowing it was pointless, "he might--"
"Good Lord, the man's an academic!" Clearly, that closed the case. Lau nodded resignedly. It would have been nice to have the pathologist recommend asking Oliver's help, but it wasn't required.
The telephone on the untidy desk against the wall buzzed, and Lau turned in his swivel chair to reach it, glad for the diversion.
"Lau," he said; then almost immediately, "Where?" He sat up straight and rummaged through the desk with both hands, twisting his neck to hold the telephone between ear and shoulder. "How many?" he said, writing on a yellow notepad. For a while he listened erectly and wrote, then fell suddenly against the back of the chair. "Oh, God," he said, "that's all we need."
He hung up and turned toward Fenster, slapping the pad on the worktable in front of him. "Five more bodies found."
"Bodies or skeletons?"
"Skeletons. Mostly just a few bone fragments, not in good shape. Some are just four or five fragments in a basket."
"Some of them were buried in baskets."
Fenster pursed his tiny red mouth like a child holding his breath and burst out suddenly: "This is ridiculous! I'm not going to spend any more time poking around a bunch of bones in baskets. They're probably just old Indian burials anyway."
"Probably, but you know, there are unverified reports of people disappearing around here for fifty years."
"Yeah, sure, also unverified reports of the Abominable Snowman clumping around stealing sheep and scaring little kiddies."
His eyes on the pad, Lau smiled slightly. With slow, heavy strokes, he circled the last word he'd written. "Bigfoot," he said aloud. "You hit the nail on the head, sir. They've found some eighteen-inch, humanlike footprints nearby. They look like Bigfoot tracks, the locals say."
Fenster took off his glasses, finically disengaging the wire loops from one ear at a time. Silently he inserted the glasses into a case and snapped it shut with a sharp, terminal click. Then he rose. "I'm not going to be involved in this, Mr. Lau. I deal in real things, not fairy tales. I'll look at your five baskets of bones this afternoon, and then I have a case waiting for me at headquarters. A hallux major." He paused, looking at Lau as if he expected a challenge. "A woman," he said precisely, "has bitten the big toe off a would-be attacker. The toe has been recovered, and I mean to identify him from it. Now, that is the real world."
Lau barely repressed his grimace. Fenster took his jacket from the back of a chair and shrugged into it. "If you need more help than my poor abilities can provide, you have my sincere encouragement to bring in Gideon Oliver from Fantasyland University."