“Grace, we have GOT to go! We’re all ready running late!”
“Just give me another ten minutes,” Grace replied distractedly, not looking up from the mummified body lying on her autopsy table. “I’m almost done here.”
“You were ‘almost done here’ two hours ago,” George reminded her. Even without looking up, she could hear the smirk in his voice.
“This time I really mean it.” She leaned her elbow on the table for leverage and began to extract a tissue sample from the intercostal space between the victim’s 6th and 7th ribs. “I just want to get this last bit of trace…” She trailed off as she extracted the tissue and placed it on a slide.
“Grace, this banquet is really important to John. This guy has been in a metal box in the ground for nearly a decade. I think he’ll survive until tomorrow.”
Grace looked up, startled. “What time is it?”
“The banquet doesn’t start until seven, you nut.”
“And if I don’t get you out of here to get home, showered, changed, and the boys settled in, we’ll never make it on time. Everyone else left half an hour ago.”
Grace finally looked up from the body. “I’ll get done quicker if you finish inputting his data into NCIC. I want to cross reference this with all known interment cases, see if this guy is the first victim of this type.” She handed him the digital mic she had been using to dictate her findings. “I’ll get him in storage and wash up.”
“Make it snappy,” George replied, sitting down at her computer to input the data. “I don’t want to miss the open bar.”
Grace rolled her eyes and grinned as she rolled the gurney back into the refrigerator.
“Bones, you might want to take a look at this.”
Agent Seeley Booth entered Temperance Brennan’s office at his usual fast clip. He spun her laptop around to face him, pulled up the web browser, and began entering a web page.
“Excuse me! I was trying to work. I have an article due to the National Journal of Anthropology on the Latin-American subculture–”
“Fascinating, Bones. Regale me later. Look what came up on NCIC.” He spun the lap top around to face her again and watched as she read.
“An interred body found outside of Atlanta, remote location, body buried inside an unidentified metal container, remains mummified.” Temperance looked up at Booth with a vaguely confused expression. “I don’t see why this is relevant.”
“Okay, well, see if this rings a bell. You and Hodgins were locked in your car under a strip mine, left for dead. You decided to blow the car up, you operated on Hodgins without anesthetic … are you seeing the relevance now?”
He could tell from her face that she was seeing it and was suddenly sorry he hadn’t taken a more sensitive tack– she was obviously trying not to re-live those hellish 12 hours. Brennan hadn’t made more than a cursory mention of these events in the last two years. Although it would have seemed to most people that she was just being typically introverted Brennan, he could tell from long experience that she had been more affected by it than she cared to admit.
“Yes, the Gravedigger. It’s all coming back to me now,” she replied in her mildly sarcastic way. “And you think this case in Atlanta might be the Gravedigger.”
“He hasn’t struck around here in the past few years. Maybe he’s moving South. Or maybe he started in the South. His first victim was never found. Maybe this is it.”
“Tracking the migrations of serial killers is your job, Booth, not mine.”
“But examining the body to see if it really is a Gravedigger victim is yours, Bones.” He perched on the edge of her desk and gave her a winning smile. “Come on, you can’t tell me you don’t want to go down to Atlanta. Mint juleps, magnolia blossoms, Southern belles, plantations–“
“The 12th highest crime rate in the country, humidity, smog–“
“Oh, please. You live in the city with the seventh highest crime rate in the country. Bones, look, if you don’t want to wrangle with the Gravedigger, fine. Leave the wrangling to me. That’s why I carry a gun. But at least help me out by taking a look and seeing whether this guy is a genuine Gravedigger victim or just a copy-cat. Either way, it’ll get you out of the city for a few days.”
Brennan finally nodded. “All right. Which agency put it in to NCIC?”
“One I’ve been dying to meet for years now,” Booth grinned. “The VCTF.”
The banquet ended at eleven. After several hours of dining and dancing (and far too much partaking of the open bar) Grace was riding high on the warm glow that stopped just short of actual drunkenness. George drove her home and then stopped in for an impromptu night cap. Grace paid the babysitter and checked on her boys, then came back downstairs to find George shaking martinis.
“It’s a good thing I don’t do this very often,” Grace laughed, sinking down onto the sofa and kicking off her heels. “I can’t remember the last time I had this much to drink.”
“Tell me about it.” George loosened his tie. “Although I disagree with you--we really need to do this more often. We spend too much time up to our eyeballs in blood, death, dismemberment, and unsubs … we need an evening of wining, dining, and dancing at least once a quarter.”
Grace took the martini he handed her and sipped contentedly. “Did you see the way Rachel and John were staring at each other?”
“I haven’t seen him smile like that since Kate died.” George grinned. “And speaking of smiling– Bailey looked like the cat that ate the canary when you snuggled up to him during that Sinatra song.”
“I didn’t snuggle!” Grace protested half-heartedly.
“You most certainly did.”
“I was letting him lead!”
“You were plastered against him.”
“I was not– Oh, fine.” Grace threw up her hands. “I was snuggled up to Bailey. Happy? It was–he just felt so nice!”
“I’ll bet.” George raised his eyebrows in a way that made her blush.
“Look, the fact that we’re both apparently fantasizing about the same man is a little weird to me.”
“Ah ha!” George set his drink on the side table and pointed at her. “You admitted it! You said it! You’ve been fantasizing about Bailey!”
“What, and you haven’t?” Grace shot back.
“That, my dear, is entirely beside the point,” George grinned. “Ask him out.”
“What? No! Jesus, George, he’s my boss, my divorce was just finalized, I have two kids– I’m in no shape to have a relationship right now, mentally or physically.”
“Gracie, don’t give up on it before it’s even happened.”
“It’s not going to happen, George. Not for me. I’m not Karen Archer. I’m not his type and never will be.” She sipped her drink, leaned her head back, and shut her eyes.
“Hey.” She felt the sofa give as he sat down next to her and the coolness of his hand on the side of her face, his thumb stroking up and down her cheekbone. “You’re amazing and any man would be lucky to have you. You’re the only one who can’t see that.”
Grace opened her eyes and smiled at her best friend. “You’re so sweet to me.”
“You stuck by me through all of this crap over the last year and a half. I should be treating you like a princess.”
Grace leaned forward just enough to meet his lips in a gentle, easy kiss, no pressure or promises. George returned the kiss then pulled her against him to rest her head on his chest. They lay still, sharing the rhythm of each other’s heartbeat, until both fell asleep.
Grace woke to a splitting headache. The room reeled as she sat up and tried to take stock of the situation. The back of her neck felt like it was on fire and she clamped her hand there, hissing when her skin seared as if she had a bad sunburn.
“What the hell–“
Why was she lying on her couch in a black dress?
Why was her neck burning and her head spinning?
And why was George slumped over the arm of the sofa next to her?
“George--” She took his shoulder and shook him hard. “George, wake up.”
He groaned softly and blinked. “What the hell– oh, my neck.”
“I know, mine hurts, too.”
“Grace?” He looked around, blinking slowly. “How– why am I here?”
“I was about to ask you the same thing.”
“You don’t remember?”
“Last thing I remember we were working on the mummified man from the vault container.” She pressed her fingers to her forehead, fighting nausea. “Didn’t we– we had John’s banquet to go to.”
George looked them both over. “Based on our clothes, I’d say we went.” His eyes lit on the martini glasses sitting on the table by the sofa. “And came back here for a drink.”
“This is more than a hangover.” Grace checked the clock on the mantle, saw that it was 4:42 am. “Oh, lord. The baby should have woken me up for his feeding. I slept right through it.” She rose unsteadily and headed for the stairs. “Let me check on the boys, then see if we can piece together what’s happening.”
George sat on the sofa, cradling his head in his hands, wondering what the hell had happened between 4:30pm and 4:42am to make him lose twelve hours worth of memories. It must have something to do with the pain in the back of his neck.
He was just mulling that over when Grace’s scream erupted from upstairs.
The phone barely registered through Bailey Malone’s haze of dreams. It wasn’t until the fifth ring that he finally reached over to grab the receiver and bring it groggily to his ear.
“Bailey, they’re gone!”
Grace, her voice ragged, frantic. Bailey jerked upright in bed, fully awake.
“Grace? Wait, wait, Grace, slow down, who’s gone?”
“My boys! Someone broke into my house and took my boys!”
He was out of bed and pulling on pants, yanking his gun out of the gun safe and his badge from his dresser drawer.
“When did this happen?”
“I– I don’t– Georgie wasn’t up for his normal feeding, he wasn’t crying, I went to see and– the window– the alarm--”
“Where are you, Gracie? Is there anyone else in the house?”
“George is. We woke up and-- we can’t remember, I mean--” She choked. “I don’t know what happened, neither of us do, we can’t–“
“Did you call the police?”
“I hit the panic button on the alarm but nothing’s happening!”
“I’ll call it in myself. Stay put. I’m on my way to you now.” He hung up the phone and continued dressing.
As he was pulling on his shoes there was a soft knock on his bedroom door. His nineteen-year-old daughter, Frances, was silhouetted in the doorway, blinking sleep from her eyes.
“Daddy, is everything okay? I heard the phone ring.”
Bailey smiled at his daughter as he quickly tucked in a shirt and secured his badge to his belt. Just a year ago she wouldn’t have been at all concerned with late night phone calls ... hell, a year ago she wouldn’t have been home to hear them. College had certainly done her a world of good, he reflected. It was just too bad a call like this would interrupt their time together.
“There’s an emergency at Grace’s, Frannie. I have to go.”
Frances frowned. She’d met the men and women her father worked with at social gatherings and her occasional foray into his office. She wasn’t particularly close to any of them but she knew them all by name and reputation. She’d never spent any amount of time with Grace but she did feel indebted to the woman who had helped her father convalesce after she’d accidentally shot him two years ago.
“Can I, you know, do anything? Do you need someone to drive you over so you can take notes or whatever?”
Bailey hugged his daughter around the shoulders. “You go on back to bed, sweetheart. If I need anything, I’ll call. I promise. Thanks for asking.”
“Yeah, no problem.” Frances ran a hand through her hair. “Tell Grace I hope everything’s okay.”
“Will do.” He grabbed his car keys from the dresser and swept past Frances into the hallway. “I’ll call you later, sweetie. Get some more sleep.”
“Be careful, Daddy.”
And then he was out the door. Frances heard the roar of his Expedition starting in the garage and felt the slight vibration of the garage door going up and then back down. She bit her lip, frowned, yawned, and went back to bed.
Grace’s two-story Victorian was dark when Bailey pulled up. He hurried up the front steps and into the house, drawing his gun and flashlight as he did so, noting that the front door was unlocked and the alarm pad dead on the wall.
“Grace?” he called, swinging the light from corner to corner. “George? Answer me!”
“Bailey, up here.” George’s voice came from the upstairs hallway. He sounded clear-headed enough, a fact that went a long way in reassuring Bailey.
“Stay put, let me clear the downstairs.” He checked each room, each closet, noting anything obviously out of place. Alarm pads were dark and night lights failed to glow.
“Bailey?” George called down. “Everything okay?”
“It’s clear.” He holstered his gun and took the stairs two at a time.
He found George sitting next to Grace in the upstairs hallway. She was slumped on the floor, her head bent low over her knees. George held a washcloth against the back of her neck.
“Grace?” Bailey exchanged glances with the younger man when she didn’t respond. He reached to touch her shoulder. “Should I call an ambulance?”
“Might not be a bad idea,” George replied.
“I’m okay,” Grace murmured, waving off the suggestion. “I’m just dizzy. Just need to breathe.”
Bailey checked her pulse quickly, reassured when it was strong and steady. “Stay with her, George. I’m going to have a look in Jayson’s room.”
Bailey pushed open the door to four-year-old Jayson’s room with a gloved hand and looked around, repeating his own mental notes out loud, as was his habit. “At first glance, there’s no sign of forced entry. The windows are locked, the blinds are undisturbed. The blankets on the bed are disarrayed but there’s no visible physical evidence to indicate a struggle or use of force. The night-light in the corner is out, as is the alarm clock and the smoke detector. Power must have been shut off at the breaker box.” He prowled around the room, eyes scanning, then opened the adjoining door to baby George’s nursery.
It offered a different picture from Jayson’s room. The window here was open and the curtains were blowing in the breeze. The alarm panel, smoke detector, and carbon monoxide detector were all dead. Bailey crossed to the window and looked down. A tall metal utility ladder was braced against the outside wall, bringing to mind thoughts of the Lindbergh baby, details that were too similar to be coincidental. Copy-cattery.
Bailey walked back out to the hallway. Grace was sitting up now, looking woozy. When she tried to stand, Bailey caught her arm and lowered her back to the floor.
“Easy. Stay here till you’re steadier.”
“My boys. Did you find anything?”
“The window to Georgie’s room is open. Do you keep it unlocked?”
“Of course not!”
“Do you have an extra key for the front or back doors hidden someplace that a neighbor or friend knew about? Or do you have someone who comes inside during the day to clean?”
“No, I--” She looked from Bailey to George and back again, as if perhaps they had answers. “Oh my god, how did this happen?”
Bailey shook his head. “We can only speculate about the point of entry, at least until we know more but ...” He trailed off as he realized that that wasn’t what she meant.
Grace raised a trembling hand to her mouth, looking sick. “I mean, how did this happen to me?
John and Rachel were barely sober. John’s banquet had been the catalyst that turned their flirtatious relationship into something much more serious. They’d barely made it back to John’s apartment before they were on each other, tossing clothes aside, kissing hungrily. Lovemaking, napping, and more lovemaking had left them both warm and drowsy, wanting only their beds and each other. A late night case was the last thing either of them had in mind.
“What’s going on?” John wondered, yawning as he shifted his Porsche down Peachtree Street. “What’s the big emergency?”
“Mmm, don’t know.” Rachel was sipping on an enormous cup of coffee and trying to keep her eyes open. “Bailey’s text just said get to the office.”
“Better be good,” John mumbled. “He took me away from some of the best sex I’ve had in a while.” He leaned over at a red light to nip at Rachel’s neck. “How about you?”
“It’s the only sex I’ve had in a while.” She slid her hand to his thigh and rubbed lightly. “But it was good.” Rachel’s phone rang. She pulled it out of her purse and nudged it open, all business. “Rachel Burke ... Hey, Bailey.”
John glanced over in alarm when her voice rose an octave. “WHAT? ... Is she all right? ... No, I– Oh, Jesus--Are you with her? ... No, we’re on our way right now ... We’re just coming off Peachtree and headed for the 15 ... I’ll call Georgia State Police right now, have them send out an Amber Alert ... I’ll do that as soon as we get to the office ... Right ...Bye.”
“What is it?”
“Grace’s sons were taken from her home sometime in the last 12 hours. Bailey wants an Amber Alert out now.”
John slammed on the accelerator and flipped the switch to turn on his siren. “Is she okay?”
“She was tasered. So was George. I guess he stopped at her house for a night-cap after the banquet. Either way, neither of them can remember anything. As soon as we hit the Command Center, we need to start compiling offender lists-- known pedophiles and convicted kidnappers, anyone recently paroled with a history of violence toward children. We need to cross-check addresses of known offenders with Grace’s neighborhood, the neighborhoods surrounding Jayson’s school and George’s day-care, and any place Grace and the kids frequent. Maybe someone’s had an eye on them for awhile.” She started dialing in the number for the Georgia State Police. “Let me get this alert taken care of.”
John gunned the Porsche up the on-ramp to the interstate and headed for the VCTF’s downtown offices, speedometer pushing 90.
“In most cultures it is common courtesy to call ahead before arriving at someone’s place of business at 6am,” Brennan commented.
“In most cultures sane people wouldn’t be up this early,” Booth shot back, steering the rental car out of the lot at Hartsfield International.
“Actually, the phrase ‘early to bed, early to rise’ is–“
”Bones, that is a thrilling lecture, I’m sure, but I have no clue where I’m going. Maybe you could, I don’t know, turn on the GPS for me.”
Brennan raised her eyebrows and began punching in the address for the VCTF’s downtown office building.
Once they were headed in the right direction, Booth began to map out their plan of attack.
“We’ll hit the VCTF first, see if anyone’s around this early. I’m sure they’ve got some poor squint who lives in the lab or the office. If no one’s there, we can grab a little breakfast, take a walk to Turner Field–“
“What’s Turner Field?”
“Home of the Braves.” Booth couldn’t keep a grin off his face.
“Who are the Braves?”
Booth turned to stare at her incredulously and started to drift into the HOV lane. A sharp word from Brennan had him steering correctly again.
“Geez, Bones, you really do live under a rock, don’t you? The Atlanta Braves. The baseball team. You DO know what baseball is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know what baseball is,” Brennan replied drily. “I just don’t happen to feel any compulsion to follow it.”
“Parker and I do. The Braves are his favorite team. I’m going back to DC with the biggest load of Braves memorabilia known to man.”
“Well, have fun with your baseball. I’ll just stick around the lab . . . Turn right. You’re going to miss it.”
They walked from the underground parking structure to the ground level entrance to the unassuming building that housed the VCTF. Though it was barely 6:30, a guard was posted just inside the glassed front doors. When Booth flashed his badge, he opened the door and allowed Brennan and Booth to enter.
“A little early to be out, Agent--”
“Booth. This is Dr. Brennan. We just came in from DC. We’re looking for Bailey Malone.”
“He and his team came in a few hours ago. Are they expecting you?”
“They aren’t. But we have some information that may relate to a current case.”
The guard got on his radio and called up, then offered them a terse nod. “He’s waiting on you.”
Stepping out of the elevator into the VCTF’s Command Center was like stepping into a different world.
“Whoa,” Booth muttered. “Mission impossible. We don’t have anything like this in DC.”
“Agent Booth?” A tall man with dark hair and a face scarred by years on the job stepped forward. Despite his incongruously casual clothing, he radiated an air of authority. Booth knew without having to be told that this was Bailey Malone.
“Agent Malone, I’m Special Agent Seeley Booth. This is my partner, Dr. Temperance Brennan. We’re sorry to barge in on you this early.”
“It certainly would have been easier to call,” Malone agreed. “I’m afraid we can’t offer you much help with whatever case has brought you here today, Agent Booth, we have an in-house matter that must take precedence over anything else.” He gestured to the Command Center where his team was gathered. Pictures of two young boys were lit on the large screen. “My CME’s children were taken from her house early this morning.”
Brennan’s body went whip tense. “They were kidnapped?”
Malone turned his intense eyes on her. “That’s right.”
“Was there a ransom demand?”
“Any physical evidence at the scene of the abduction?”
“No trace. Is there something you aren’t telling me, Dr. Brennan?”
Brennan was staring at the picture of the boys intently, her eyes feverishly bright. “Agent Malone, could I see the remains your CME posted about on NCIC?”
Malone looked curious. “How is that–“
Booth had finally caught on to Brennan’s line of thought. “Agent Malone, I can explain everything. But I strongly suggest you let Dr. Brennan take a look at those remains. If she finds what I think she’s going to find, we might have some answers for your CME about her children.”
“Bailey?” a voice called from the Command Center. “What’s going on?”
A curvy brunette with dark curls and a worried expression came up the steps to join Malone. She hugged her arms to her chest as if cold. Booth took note of the way Malone’s eyes softened when he looked at her, the way he took a protective step closer to her.
“Grace, this is Agent Booth and Dr. Brennan from DC. They want to see the remains you posted about on NCIC.”
“I realize now is not a good time,” Brennan interjected quickly, “but I think it might help us find your children.”
“Of course. Tell me what you’ve got.” Grace began walking toward the morgue in quick strides. Brennan quickly caught up to her and the two women left Booth and Malone trailing along in their wake.
“What exactly do you think you’ve found, Agent Booth?” Malone asked as they followed the women to the morgue.
Booth met Malone’s eyes and shook his head. “Trouble. Big trouble.”