Créacht do dháil mé im árthach galair.
A fateful wound hath made me a hulk of sadness.
Irish poet Dáibhí Ó Bruadair, 1652
With a sodden rasp, Brendan McGann's turf spade sliced into the bank of earth below his feet. Had he known all that he'd turn up with the winter's fuel, perhaps he would have stopped that moment, climbed up onto the bank, and filled his shed with the uniform sods of extruded turf that a person could order nowadays by the lorry-load.
But Brendan continued, loosening each sopping black brick with the square-bladed turf spade, tossing it over the bank, where it landed with a plump slap. He performed his task with a grace and facility that comes from repeating the same motion times without number. Though his father and grandfather and generations before had taken their turf from this same patch of bog, Brendan never thought of himself as carrying on an age-old tradition, any more than he considered the life cycles of all the ancient, primitive plants whose resting place he now disturbed. This annual chore was the only way he'd ever known to stave off the bitter cold that crept under his door each November.
Chilblains were the farthest thing from Brendan's mind this unusually sun-drenched late-April morning. A steady westerly breeze swept over the bog, chasing high clouds across the watery blue of the sky, and teasing the moisture from the turf. Good drying today, his father would have said. Brendan worked in his shirtsleeves; his wool jacket, elbows permanently jointed from constant wearing, lay on the bank above his head. He paused, balancing his left arm on the handle of the upright sleán, and, with one rolled-up sleeve, mopped the sweat from his forehead, pushing away the damp, dark hair that stuck there. The skin on his face and forearms was beginning to feel the first pleasant tightness of a sunburn. Hunger was strong upon him at the moment, but just beyond it was an equally hollow feeling of anxiety. This might be the last year he could cut turf on his own land without interference. The thought of it burned in the pit of his stomach. As he clambered up the bank to fetch the handkerchief from his coat pocket, he searched the horizon for a bicycle.
Forty yards away, his younger brother Fintan made a comic figure as he struggled against the weight of a turf-laden wheelbarrow. Fintan dumped his two dozen wet sods at the end of a long row, one of many that lent the surface of the bog the temporary texture of corduroy. For a good square mile around them, little huts of footed turf covered the landscape. Here and there on the neighbors' allotments, large white plastic bags bulged with sods dried as hard as dung.
"Any sign of her yet?" Brendan shouted to his brother, who raised his shoulders in a shrug and kept at his work. The two men had been hard at it since nine, with only a short tea break midmorning. Their sister Una was to bring them sandwiches and tea, and pitch in with footing the turf. It was cumbersome, backbreaking work, turning the sods by hand so that they dried in the sun. It would be another month before this lot could be drawn home.
Tucking his handkerchief in his back pocket, Brendan descended once more into his gravelike void, noting with a small grimace of satisfaction the angled pattern his sleán had made down the wall of the bank. He was reaching the good black turf now, more appreciated in these parts for its long-burning density than for the fact that it had remained in this place, undisturbed and undecayed, for perhaps eight thousand years.
He set to work again, trying to drown out the rumbling in his belly by concentrating on the sound and the rhythm of cutting. He was used to hard physical labor, but there was no doubt about it, something in the bog air put a fierce hunger on a man. What might the day's lunch be? Chicken sandwiches, or egg, or perhaps a bit of salty red bacon on a slab of brown bread. Each stroke became a wolfish bite, a slug of hot sweet tea to wash it down. One more row, he thought, heaving each successive sod with more violence, just one more rowand then his blade stopped dead.
Fintan's head poked into view at the edge of the cutaway. "What's the matter? Strike a bit of Noah's ark down there?"
"Ah, no," Brendan said. "Only a bit of horsehair."
There were four things, their father always said, that could stop a man cutting turf. Brendan could hear the old man's voice: Wig, water, blocks, and horsehair. Then he'd hold up four fingers in front of their faces. Meet any of them, boys, and it's your Waterloo.
"Hand us down the spade, will yeh?"
Fintan obliged, then leaned on the handle of his fork to watch. Though these things typically turned out to be tree trunks and roots, other wonders turned up in bogs occasionallyrough beams of oak, ancient oxcarts, wheels of cheese or wooden tubs of butter. Stores buried for keeping in cool wetness and long since forgottenobjects caught and suspended outside of time by the watery, airless, preserving power of the bog.
Working deliberately, Brendan dug around the perimeter of the fibrous mat, probing for its edges, and scraping away loose bits of peat. He knelt on the spongy bank and pulled at the strands that began to emerge from the soaking turf. This wasn't horsehair, it was tangled and matted, all right, but it was too long, and far too fine to be the rooty material his father called horsehair. Brendan worked his broad fingers into the dense black peat he'd pried loose with the spade. Without warning, a block in his left hand gave way, and he cast it aside.
"Holy Christ," Fintan whispered, and Brendan looked down. Almost touching his knee were the unmistakable and delicate curves of a human ear. It was stained a dark tobacco brown, and though the face was not visible, something in the line of the jaw, and the dripping tangle of fine hair above it, told him at once that this ear belonged to a woman. Brendan struggled to his feet, only dimly aware of the cold water seeping through the knees of his trousers and down into his wellingtons.
"Sorry, lads. You must be perished with the hunger." Una's breathless apology carried toward them on a bit of breeze. "But you should have seen me. I was literally up to my elbows..." Her voice trailed off when she saw the faces her brothers turned toward her. Brendan watched her stained fingers tighten their grip on the flask, and on the sandwiches she'd wrapped hastily in paper, as Una stepped to the edge of the bank beside Fintan and looked down at their awful discovery.
"Ah, Jaysus, poor creature" was all that she could say.
Cormac Maguire was in the shower when the call came. He let it ring, as he customarily did, until the answerphone came on. But hearing the excitement in Peadar Wynne's voice, he hastily wrapped himself in a towel and sprinted down the stairs, hoping to catch Peadar before he rang off. Cormac stood just over six feet and, though he'd begun to feel a few creaks during the passage of his thirty-ninth year, still possessed a rower's lean, muscular frame. His dark brown hair was cut short; intense dark eyes, a long, straight nose, and a square jaw defined his angular face. His pale olive complexion would soak up sun as he spent time in the field during the summer months. He had neglected to shave for the past couple of days, and now water dripped at irregular intervals from his chin to his bare chest.
Peadara technician in the archaeology department at University College Dublin, where Cormac was on the facultywas a normally languid young man, whose concave frame and large hands invariably put Cormac in mind of a stick figure from an ancient cave painting. The cause of Peadar's agitation was soon clear: some farmers cutting turf had discovered a body yesterday in a raised bog near Lough Derg in the southeast corner of County Galway, about two and a half hours west of Dublin.
Although hundreds of bog bodies had turned up in central Europe, mostly in Germany and Denmark, they were somewhat of a rarity in Ireland. Fewer than fifty such discoveries had ever been made in Irish bogs, and they offered an unparalleled opportunity to gaze directly into the past. Peat bogs not only preserved skin, hair, and vital organs, but even subtle facial expressions, and often revealed what a person who drew his dying breath twenty centuries ago had taken for his last meal on earth. Modern turf-cutting methods often damaged bog bodies. If this was a complete specimen, it would be the first in nearly twenty-five years, since the ancient remains of a woman had been discovered at Meenybraddan in Donegal. This body today had been found by a man cutting turf by hand, so there was a good chance that it was intact.
With Peadar's voice seeping into his ear, Cormac crossed to the desk to put on his glasses, and culled from the flow of words the few that were pertinent to the matter at hand. "Has Drummond been there?" he asked. Malachy Drummond, the chief state pathologist, visited the scene of any suspicious death, to decide whether it should be classified as a police matter. Drummond had been to the site this morning, Peadar said, and upon examination of the remains had declared it a case for the archaeologists rather than the police. The National Museum had jurisdiction over all such bog remains, but as it happened, Peadar explained, their entire conservation staff had just left for a conference in Belgium and would be away for the next four days, so the the museum's keeper of conservation had phoned from Brussels to see whether Cormac would be available to do the excavation.
"He said he realized you were on leave, but that he'd consider it a personal favor."
"Phone back, would you, Peadar, and tell him I'm on my way."
Cormac paused to clear his throat before he broached the next subject. "I presume somebody's informed Dr. Gavin." Nora Gavin was a lecturer in anatomy at Trinity College Medical School, an American with a particular interest in bog bodiesand as it turned out, the one person Cormac felt disinclined to have working beside him, though he didn't see how it could be avoided. It would be easier if he didn't have to phone her himself.
"She's already been notified. Says she'll meet you there," Peadar said.
Twenty minutes later, Cormac was on the road. What would they find at the bog? Given the natural preservatives in peat, it was difficult to tell at first how long someone had been buried in ithe remembered an account of English workmen uncovering the remains of a middle-aged female in a fen during the 1950s, spurring a tearful confession from a local man who told police he'd killed his wife and dumped her body in the marsh. Latershortly after the remorseful husband hanged himself in his prison cellthe corpse in question turned out to be a woman who died sometime in the late Iron Age. The remains of the missing wife never turned up.
Cormac felt a growing excitement as he considered the possible significance of this new find. It had been ten years or so since he himself had been involved in an excavation of bog remains; he and a colleague had uncovered a fully articulated hand and arm at a bog road site in Offaly. He remembered studying the grooved and brown-stained fingernails, in particular. It was curious how arbitrary preservation in bog environments could be; sometimes bones were completely decalcified, but the skin, hair, and internal organs were intact. A well-preserved ancient body could often be found alongside completely skeletized remains in what one would quite naturally presume were the same conditions.
Cormac was dressed for the field, in jeans, a dark cotton pullover, and a bright blue anorak; he had tossed his waterproofs and wellingtons in the back of the jeep. As he drove through the confusion of suburban developments that had begun sprouting along the major roads out of the city, past the point where the built-up areas began to give way to the expansive pastures of prosperous farms and the tree-lined edges of stone-walled estates, he looked forward to escaping the din of Dublin. This journey would take him west across the great shallow basin of low bogland and pasture that formed the Midlands, and to the lip of the Shannon estuary, the place he always considered the most significant border on this little island. The larger world invariably imagined Ireland divided into north and south, but for him a greater division had always existed between east and west, especially between the lush, fertile planters' dominion around Dublin that early English settlers had dubbed "the Pale" and the stony, wind-beaten west, where the last vestiges of Gaelic Ireland had long since been quite literally banished. You could still hear the echo of an ancient culture in the traditional music, of course, but it was also in the way people spoke, in their manner, in the very pace of their lives, which seemed to slow perceptibly the farther west he traveled. This drive always seemed to take him backward in time.
The trip would take at least two and a half hours, so Cormac fished with one hand in the glove box and brought out a tape of Jack Dolan, a flute player of the old puff-and-blow Leitrim style. Beside him on the passenger seat was his wooden flute caseEast Galway was an area fairly saturated with flute players, and you never knew when a bit of music might turn up. Alongside the instrument case was Cormac's site kit, which he carried in his father's old medical bag. The small gilt "J.M." on its worn leather surface reminded him that he was also heading back into his own past, to a place only an hour's drive from where he had grown up, on the west coast of Clare. He should, he knew, make a trip to the church in Kilgarvan where his mother was buried. He berated himself for harboring such ambivalence about her. There was nothing to be done now, except to try to understand her better in death than he had in life. He'd visit her graveif he had a chance.
Cormac disliked driving the motorways. When he wasn't in a hurry, he savored crawling along the secondary routes. Today there was a reason for haste: once removed from its sterile environment, a bog body was susceptible to dehydration and rapid decomposition. The usual procedure was to excavate around and then cut away the entire section of turf containing the body, continuing to use the peat in its preservative capacity even after the remains reached the lab at Collins Barracks in Dublin. Conservation methods used on bog bodies so fartanning, freeze-dryinghad yet to prove successful over the long term. Bacteria and mold still set in too easily. The current approach was to pack remains in wet peat, then in several layers of black plastic sheeting, and keep them refrigerated indefinitely at four degrees Celsius. The National Museum recently had a room-sized unit built specially for the purpose. Not ideal, certainly, but the best current option.
Cormac's mind began sorting out the details of the excavation. If one cubic meter of waterlogged peat weighed a ton, what type of a crate would have to be built to contain two cubic meters? And how long would it take to excavate the whole area by hand? But beneath the ticking metronome of these conscious thoughts was a hidden melody, aroused by a chance connection to a human being whose life and death were about to intersect with his own. He wondered for the first time whether this new bog body was man or woman. It mattered little to his work whether the person was male or female, ancient or modern, but each individual found in the bogand indeed any human remainshad a unique story to tell. The question was always how well you could decipher the story from what was left behind.
It's easy to get caught up in the methodology, in all the highly technical aspects of what we do, his colleague and mentor Gabriel McCrossan had once told him. But that's just our way of seeking knowledge, it's not the essence of what we're about. Keep in mind that our main concern is peoplewe learn about ourselves by studying those who have come before.
This would be his first trip into the field without Gabriel. Only three weeks ago, he had dropped by the office and found the old man dead at his desk. The fountain pen had tumbled from his right hand, and a large blot of ink had formed where it had last made contact with the paper. Cormac knew the old man would have shared his excitement about this new find.
Gabriel had always maintained that all scientific inquiry, whether it was undertaken through the lens of a microscope or the lens of a telescope, consisted of peering at the vast universe through one tiny peephole. He had often spoken of their archaeological work as seeing through a glass darkly, trying to reconstruct the past with sparse and imperfect evidence. Gabriel had relished the moments when something turned up. Another piece of the puzzle, my boy, he'd say, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Another little piece of the puzzle.
Cormac had just crossed over the Roscommon border at Athlone, noting the gradually shrinking proportions of the fields, the increasing narrowness of the roads, the first signs that he was well and truly in the West, when he remembered the potentially awkward situation that awaited him at the site. Gabriel had first introduced him to Nora Gavin. Although Nora was American, her parents were from Ireland, and she and the old man had some sort of prior connection; he'd been at university with her father or something. It was hard to tell how old she was; probably somewhere in her late thirties. From the way Gabriel had kept mentioning Nora, and insisting that Cormac must meet her, he also guessed that she was unattached. She seemed intelligent, and pleasant enough on the few occasions when they'd met, but nothing had come of Gabriel's prodding. Then one evening about six months ago, he and Nora had both been among a small group of people invited to supper at Gabriel's house, and the old man had pressed him into giving her a lift home. Cormac remembered how annoyed he'd felt, letting himself be maneuvered into a corner. Nora lived in one of those modern blocks of flats along the Grand Canal, not far from his own place. He'd hardly spoken a word to her on the drive, and hadn't even waited to see whether she got inside safely. As he pulled away, he glanced into the rearview mirror to find her at the curbside looking after him. He hadn't seen her since. Surely she'd been at Gabriel's memorial, but his memory of that day was too clouded by grief to be trusted.
At Ballinasloe he turned off the main road and headed south toward Portumna, the town at the head of Lough Derg. To the west, the ground sloped gradually upward to the feathery pine forests that covered the Slieve Aughty Mountains; to the east lay what remained of the ancient body of water that once covered the whole center of Ireland. Farther down the lakeshore were the holiday resort towns of Mountshannon and Scarriff, but in this remote corner of Galway, there was only farmland and mountain overlooking small, hidden lakes and treeless stretches of bog. As he approached the lakeshore, he began to see homemade signs posted along the road. At first he thought they were To Let notices or adverts of some kind, but as he drew near the first one he read, "No Bog License"; a bit farther on was one that said, "No Bog Evictions", and finally:
TURF CUTTING PROHIBITED
YEAR 200? ? ? ?
He wasn't surprised to see such sentiments expressed along the roadside. There had long been controversy about Ireland's use of peat, since it was an unrenewable resource. Irish bogs also provided a wildlife habitat unique in all of Europe, and there was increasing pressure from the EU to consider the environmental consequences of turf-cutting.
Cormac arrived at the site at a quarter past two. The sun was still fairly high overhead, barely veiled by a few wispy clouds. Here and there the bog's heathery surface was scarred with deep black gashes. There were no ditches here, no fencing, no visible evidence of property boundaries on this raised blanket of turf. And yet he'd wager each of the locals knew precisely where his own turf allotment ended and his neighbor's began. A random scattering of spiky, pale green furze bushes, not yet covered in bright saffron blossoms, stood close to the road. Beyond them, a patch of bog cotton shivered in the breeze. And beyond that, about fifty yards away, Cormac could see a small group of people, including Nora Gavin and a uniformed Garda officer. He felt something like dread as he stepped into his waterproof trousers, then carefully removed his shoes and plunged each stocking foot into a sturdy wellington. He stood for a moment at the roadside, squinting as he surveyed the horizon for some fixed point, a church steeple or radio tower, anything that would help him map out exactly where the body had been discovered; nothing appeared. A short distance down the road, the door of an ancient-looking Toyota opened, and a squarish man in a brown leather jacket emerged. A slight protrusion of the man's midsection suggested a fondness for porter, and the sunlight glinted off his silvery-white hair. He seemed to have been waiting. Cormac lifted his jacket and site kit out of the passenger seat and extended his hand as the man drew near.
"Cormac Maguire. The National Museum asked me to oversee the excavation."
"Ah, the archaeologist," said the man, taking the hand Cormac proffered and giving it a firm squeeze. Now that Cormac was closer, he could see the man's fresh pink countenance belied his hoary head; he was probably no more than forty-five.
"Detective Garrett Devaney," the man said. "Dr. Gavin will be glad to see you. Said she had to wait for you to begin." Devaney spoke out of the corner of his mouth, as if every word were an aside, and his pale blue eyes darted slantwise under their lids, giving him a perpetual look of wry amusement. Then the policeman tipped his head across the bog, and they turned to make their way to the gathering, treading carefully over the soggy ground, with Devaney leading the way and talking backward at Cormac. "You probably know most of it, local farmer cutting turf. According to him, nobody's so much as opened a drain on that section for a hundred years or more. Malachy Drummondyou know Drummond, the pathologist?apparently agreed. He was in and out of it in about ten minutes this morning."
"If you don't mind me asking, what's a detective still doing here, all the way from..."
"...from Loughrea, if this isn't reckoned to be one of your unsolved murders?"
"Ah well, we didn't know that for certain, now did we? There was some notion it might be a woman gone missing from nearby. I'm just here to clear up any questions on that score. And I live just down the road."
"Is there much disturbance around the body?"
"It's fairly clean," Devaney said. "Once he realized what he was onto, the lad with the spade set it down in a bit of a hurry."
Nora Gavin approached as they drew nearer the cutaway. She was taller than Cormac remembered, and dressed as he was, in jeans and Wellingtons, but no waterproofs. Her large blue eyes, dark hair, and milk-white skin exemplified the paradoxical features so common in Ireland. Occasionally some word or inflection would hint at her Irish origins, but for the most part, Nora's accent betrayed the years she'd spent in the broad middle of America. Her hair was different, perhaps shorter than the last time they'd met, and drew Cormac's attention to the graceful line of her neck, something he'd not noticed before. In his recent fit of self-recrimination for the way he'd behaved toward her, Cormac had quite forgotten how thoroughly attractive she was, and felt vast relief that the excitement of the occasion seemed to have removed any awkwardness about their last encounter.
"Cormac, it's good to see you," she said, reaching out to take his hand. "I'm realizing I must have driven the whole way like an absolute maniac, and I'm sorry to say I've been pestering these poor people with questions."
"I apologize for keeping you waiting," Cormac said. "Good to see you as well." He turned to Devaney. "The man who found the bodyis he here?"
"Brendan McGann," Devaney said, indicating the stocky man of about thirty who stood a few feet from him, leaning on the handle of a two-grain fork. The shaggy curls that framed McGann's face cast it into shadow. Apart from the reticent farmer, the mood of the group was expectant as Devaney introduced them. Declan Mullins, the young Garda officer, obviously fresh out of the academy at Templemore, had a slender neck and prominent ears, which lent him the air of an overgrown altar boy. The fair-haired woman in the denim jacket and Indian skirt, whom he guessed to be in her midtwenties, was McGann's sister Una. Cormac was struck by her large dark eyes, and the way her broad mouth turned up slightly at the corners. But most unusual were her hands and fingernails, which were stained as though they'd been steeped in blackberry juice.
"All right if I have a look?" Cormac asked Brendan McGann, who said nothing, but put his lips together and tipped his head to signal assent. Cormac climbed carefully into the hole with his site bag, feeling the soggy turf spring like rubber under his weight. The cutaway was a space a couple of meters in length, but narrower than a man's arm spanlarge enough for one person to work comfortably enough, but extremely close quarters for two. One wall rose higher than the other, and its surface, which graduated from sepia to coal-black, bore the oblique impressions of a foot sleán. The floor was uneven, and Cormac turned his attention to the area of loose peat where Brendan McGann had apparently been stopped in his work. He knelt and used his bare hands to scrape away the damp peat that had been replaced over the body. It was too risky to use a trowel in a bog excavation: a sharp metal edge could too easily damage waterlogged objects. His breath came faster as he caught the first glimpse of finely preserved hair and skin, but he was unprepared for the wave of pity that struck him at the sight of an ear, as small and fragile as that of a child. He looked up to see Nora Gavin crouched at the very edge of the cutaway, captivated by the grisly image that had just emerged from the peat.
"Are you ready?" Cormac asked. She nodded wordlessly, then climbed down into the cutaway beside him.
"First we have to determine the way the body is situated before we begin the complete excavation," Cormac said. "The head appears to be turned at roughly a forty-five-degree angle to the cutaway floor here, which means the body could be articulated in any number of different ways." He was aware that this was probably Nora's first experience of a bog body in situ, so after carefully covering the head once more with wet peat, Cormac pulled paper and pencil from his bag and hastily drew a sketch to show her what they were about to do.
"So, here's the headright? The body could be fully extended or flexed, and it could also be angled downward, if it's intact. We'll mark out as much of a circle as we can, then dig small test pits, like this," he said, making small circles on the diagram, "starting from the outside of the circle and moving inward. That way we can establish how large a block of peat will have to be removed. The pits should be about fifty centimeters apart, and twenty to thirty centimeters deep. We'll have to dig with our bare hands; that way we can't do any damage, and it's important for sensing the texture of the surrounding material." He unstrapped his wristwatch, glancing at it briefly before putting it into his pocket. "If only it weren't so late in the day. We'll have to work quickly." He handed her his waterproof jacket. "You can kneel on this if you like. Any last thoughts before we get stuck in?"
"I don't think so," she said. Her eyes rested for an instant on his stubbly chin, and as she turned away, Cormac felt a faint flush of embarrassment; in the rush to get out here he hadn't taken the time to shave. He lifted his sweater over his head and rolled up his sleeves. As he worked, plunging his bare arm into the dense, waterlogged peat, he considered that there was nothing in the world quite like the consistency of turf. If a bog wasn't exactly liquid, it wasn't quite solid either, but a curious mixture somewhere between the two. It was also extremely cold; with their sleeves and shirt fronts completely soaked through, both he and Nora had to stop every few minutes to warm their hands. After nearly twenty minutes thoroughly probing almost the entire arc of their circle, they had turned up nothing at all.
"Is it just me," she asked, leaning back and rubbing off the tiny flecks of wet peat that stuck to her arms, "or is something missing herelike any sign of a body?"
"Let's have another look at her," Cormac said. With Nora watching over his shoulder, he removed a larger portion of the protective peat, to find the woman's features obscured by her long red hair, which clung like seaweed on a victim of drowning. Bog tannins gave hair of every hueeven black haira reddish tinge, but it was still possible to tell the original color. Cormac carefully lifted the damp strands and laid them aside, then froze when he saw what lay beneath. The girl's mouth was clamped tightly shut, her top teeth deeply embedded in the flesh of her lower lip. One eye stared wildly; the other was half closed. Her face seemed distorted with fear, a far cry from the images he'd seen of Iron Age bog men, whose unblemished bodies and tranquil expressions led to theories that they were either drugged, or willing victims of sacrifice. In its brief exposure to the air, the girl's hair had already begun to dry, and a few strands began to play in the breeze that scooped down into the trench. Something about this tiny movement made it seem, for one surreal instant, that she was alive. Cormac felt Nora Gavin's involuntary start beside him. "Shall I go on?" he asked. Nora's head slowly turned until her eyes met his, and she nodded.
Cormac continued scraping away the soft black turf with his fingers, until what he had half suspected was confirmed. The girl's neck ended abruptly, he estimated, between the third and fourth vertebrae. He sat back on his heels.
"My God," Nora said. "She's been decapitated."
The girl was young, perhaps no more than twenty, and, if you removed the ghastly expression, had probably been quite beautiful, with a gracefully arched brow, high cheekbones, and a delicate chin. Beside his knee, Cormac could make out a ragged fringe of rough fabric, like torn burlap. Who was this girl, that she had come to such a harsh and desolate end? When he rose slowly to his feet again, he found the McGanns and the young policeman gazing at her solemnly, as he and Nora had, in silence.
The sound of voices came from the road. Detective Devaney was having words with a strangera tall, fair-haired man dressed in jeans and heavy work boots. The man broke away from Devaney, and began to cross in long strides to the digging site. Devaney followed after, leaping sideways through the heather like a terrier. They could hear the policeman's words: "...completely unrelated... Haven't we promised to notify you if there's any news at all?" The stranger ignored Devaney, and marched stone-faced through the scrub. When he reached the cutaway, the man was breathing heavily, though he still said nothing. His eyes met Cormac's for an instant, but his gaze was distracted until it at last seized upon the terrible, upturned face of the red-haired girl. And at that moment, all purpose seemed to drain out of him. He fell to his knees and clapped a hand over his eyes, as if suddenly overcome by extreme exhaustion or relief. After a moment or two, Una McGann stepped to the stranger's side and helped him to his feet.
"Hugh," she said, looking into his face intently, "you know it isn't Mina." He nodded mutely, then straightened and let her walk with him away from the trench. Devaney's eyes had never left the stranger's face. Now the policeman raised a hand to the back of his neck and sighed. Cormac caught another slight movement with the corner of his eye, and glanced up to see Brendan McGann twisting the two-grain fork in his hands, his eyes trained on his sister's back.
In the course of his work, Cormac had often felt like a detective, sorting through evidence and piecing together clues to unlock the secrets and the lives of those long dead. Here were two mysteries dropped in tandem right into his lap. Whatif anythinghad they to do with one another? He wished he could keep digging until he had discovered what word or thought or deed had brought the red-haired girl to this place. But archaeology was not that kind of science. Whatever small knowledge he could gain came in shards, in fragments, in frustrating, piecemeal fashion. Would they ever find out who she was, or why she died? He looked down into the dead girl's once-beautiful face, and pledged that he would try.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Erin M. Hart