MATTHEW CARTER walked into my life six months after I accidentally became a household name.
I’D BEEN stupid enough to let a film student from the University of Texas follow me around for a semester, waving a camera in my face, as a favor to a friend of mine. A forensic anthropologist, I specialize in the identification of humans when their remains are found in advanced stages of decomposition. Usually, it’s a lengthy, laborious process that involves hours of research and absolutely no glamour. The twenty-minute documentary the young idiot produced should have been one of the most boring pieces of film ever created. And it would have been, if two weeks before he finished filming, I hadn’t been called in to consult on the Klienschmidt case.
Henry Klienschmidt was a reclusive, eccentric millionaire who died alone in his sprawling Southern Indiana farmhouse perched on a hill in the middle of two hundred acres of overgrown woodland and fallow cornfields. Passing without either heirs or a will, Klienschmidt’s estate was so tied up in red tape that his crimes probably would have gone unnoticed forever if, during the due diligence on his assets, an ambitious tax assessor hadn’t decided he needed to walk every acre of the woods to make sure Klienschmidt hadn’t hidden anything of value in them. The assessor, who was as clumsy as he was obsessive, tripped half a mile from the farmhouse. When he got himself back on his feet, the first thing he noticed was that he’d fallen into a poison ivy patch. The second was that he’d tripped over a bone. A very big bone.
Four hours and a little bit of excavation later, the Indiana State Police had plane tickets waiting for me. Using his daddy’s credit card, the idiot booked the seat beside mine. I got there just in time to agree with the coroner that the big bone was actually a human femur, and to identify inconsistencies in the landscape that looked like thirteen more burial mounds in addition to the five that the police had already started uncovering.
And just like that, I ended up consulting on the investigation of what turned out to be the most prolific serial killer the state of Indiana had ever produced. Because of the sensational nature of the murders—eighteen young women over the course of twenty years—there was considerable press during the investigation. I reluctantly allowed myself to be interviewed a time or two, but I managed to stay in the background for the most part.
Then, right after things started to quiet down and I’d settled myself back at my lab in Austin, the idiot’s documentary debuted. In what I had to assume was a misguided attempt to thank me, he’d managed to make me look like a modern-day Indiana Jones instead of the exacting, meticulous asshole I knew myself to be. And worse, he’d made the body identification process out to be some sort of electrifying CSI/Law and Order love child. I’d been fending off reporters, agents, and reality television producers ever since. They were like cockroaches. If you smashed one, you were guaranteed to wake up and find two more scuttling along your floorboards the next morning.
In the guise of “helping calm things down by letting you escape for awhile,” the state of Texas had seized the opportunity to capitalize on my fifteen minutes of fame and booked me on an extended guest lecture junket. When I realized that refusal wasn’t an option, I agreed to go. On the bright side, all the travel gave me plenty of time to think of creative ways to murder the idiot.