Our story begins in the lab. . .

One of Jack’s most treasured possessions is a yellowed chapbook of Richard Brautigan poems signed by the artist’s hand. Peace, the inscription reads, next to the date: August 26, 1970. With just fourteen years left to his life, the poet’s handwriting seems almost childlike on the page. Open. Hopeful.

Jack traced the word again and again before leafing through the brittle pages with shaking fingers. The work within was far from Brautigan’s best, but there are certain slivers of the 60s that shine vivid and clear, reaching Jack like music to soothe or carve him open.

When I was a child
I had a graveyard
where I buried insects
and dead birds under
a rose tree

Carved from belly to brisket and bled out would feel fine, he thought. He’d been carrying the musty refugee from the used bookstore in his messenger bag for week, forgotten until he emptied the bag out on the lab table to make room for a sheaf of soil analysis and toxicology reports.

I would bury the insects
in tin foil and match boxes.
I would bury the birds
in pieces of red cloth

Being called upon to harvest bugs and particulates from the rotting corpse of someone he knew was nothing Jack was prepared for, and even though that deed was a week past him, he was still feeling weightless and vaguely nauseated. He closed the book and returned it to its place in the bottom of his satchel and piled printouts on top of it.

When Angela glided up behind him with a query about dinner it startled him back to the room enough to jump and curse beneath his breath.

“That’s it,” she affirmed, taking his elbow. “You’ve been twitchy since we got the Desjardins case yesterday and I want to know why.”

It was tempting. It would have been easy to take a seat and lay out what he knew about Lucille Desjardins, what he feared, what his gut told him about her death. The concern swept Angela’s wide face, settled her smile into a grimace, and he knew he could tell her more than he dared tell his bosses or his other colleagues. He could.

Except that he couldn't.

Their friendship buoys him and makes him happy. He grooves on her insouciance and snarky joy, and he’s unwilling to sacrifice the way they banter and play and flirt and tease for another dozen layers of intimacy that he’s not ready for. “Big life,” he’d said. Jack needs to keep that illusion of her to get through the nightmare he’s in. So he gave her what little truth he feels safe in sharing, which is no more than he’s shared with Brennan or Cam or Zach.

“There are inconsistencies in the evidence that could conceivably change the cause of death, but Cam’s in such a goddamn hurry to move the case out here she won’t give me the time I need to assemble more findings. Can’t believe Brennan’s on the same page with her.”

Cam had listened at first, absorbed the details of his initial findings and had actually considered his questions. She’d been getting better at that, finally inured to Brennan’s reliance on hard science, but in the end she’d dismissed his queries, insisting that the case was perfectly straightforward.

“If Hendrik Lindgren hadn’t pulled heavy-duty strings to send this case here we never would have seen it, Hodgepodge,” she’d told him. “Family history of cardiovascular disease. No drugs or signs of struggle, no evidence of foul play. No more to it than that.”

“With all due respect, that’s just sloppy science,” he’d countered, knowing it was futile. “You know there’s no demonstrated clinical relationship between hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and family history. Dr. Brennan confirmed the elevated levels of…”

“I don’t care if she was running the New York City Marathon before she collapsed, Jack. Case closed.” Cam had leaned close to him then, as if to check his lab coat for polymer filaments or flecks of birdshit. “Since when does a bug and slime guy take such an interest in the clinical facts of a case? Got an M.D. you’d like to tell me about?”

He’d walked away without an answer, a throwaway line, or a backward glance.

“Lindgren’s driving that train, Jack. Lindgren Energy? Gotta admit that’s a pretty impressive engine. I know it rankles you, but there are some titans you can’t fight.”

Jack took a breath and stepped closer, as if closed distance could help make his point. “There is a reason Lindgren arranged to have Luc… the victim ID’ed at the Jeffersonian. He’s looking for something, needs us to make the case for some reason. The remains come to us with insufficient soil samples, a paper thin preliminary autopsy report, without jewelry or personal effects? Lindgren wants confirmation that a healthy 42-year old woman just dropped dead. You tell me -- why he couldn’t have gotten that from the Barnstable County coroner’s office? What’s the point in bringing her here?”

Angela considered his theory, and he saw by her expression that he should have dismissed her concerns, said goodnight, and left it at that.

“So he’s arranged to have this woman identified by a brilliant forensic anthropologist at a world-renowned research institute so he can cover up a crime.”

“Yes. No. It’s complicated.”

“You have a gift for understatement. And yes, I know, we’re ruled by the corporate oligarchy, of which Lindgren Energy is a super-mega-monster player with insidious motives intent on global domination and destruction. Fine.” The knife-edge in her tone softened slightly as she put her hand on his arm. “If you’re not careful with this conspiracy stuff Cam will fire you. She’s not Goodman, Jack. She’s not gonna let you play her.”

There’s no question in Jack’s mind that Camille Saroyan would fire Christ off the cross if it would have closed the case against Pontius Pilate with less paperwork, and he told Angela as much. She laughed, urged him to pack up and come out with her for a drink, but let the subject drop when he moved back to his Leica scope and focused on a slide. It was easier to watch spirochetes shudder and swim beneath glass than have another conversation in which he would be told to let the subject of Lucille Desjardins drop, so that’s what he did.

“Maybe you should take a couple of days,” she said, backing toward the door. “Hit the road, see the sights. Watch the leaves change.”

Jack sighed into the dual eyepiece. “With this group’s history of wild vacation fun? Yeah, right.”

Baudelaire would come
and join in
my insect funerals
saying little prayers
the size of dead birds.