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Tess Gerritsen

The Bone Garden

In memory of Ernest Brune Tom, who always taught me to reach for the stars

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

It's been a long, hard year for me as I labored to bring The Bone Garden to life. More than ever, I'm grateful for the two angels who've stood by me, rooted for me, and always told me the truth— even when I didn't want to hear it. Here's a huge thanks to my agent, Meg Ruley, who knows all about the care and feeding of a writer's soul, and to my editor, Linda Marrow, who has some of the best story instincts in the business. Thanks also to Selina Walker, Dana Isaacson, and Dan Mallory for all the ways they made this book so much better. And to my wonderful husband, Jacob: If they gave out awards for — best writer's spouse, — you'd win it, hands down!

March 20, 1888

Dearest Margaret,

I thank you for your kind condolences, so sincerely offered, for the loss of my darling Amelia. This has been a most difficult winter for me, as every month seems to bring the passing of yet another old friend to illness and age. Now it is with deepest gloom that I must consider the rapidly evaporating years left to me.

I realize that this is perhaps my last chance to broach a difficult subject which I should have raised long ago. I have been reluctant to speak of this, as I know that your aunt felt it wisest to keep this from you. Believe me, she did it solely out of love, as she wanted to protect you. But I have known you from your earliest years, dear Margaret, and have watched you grow into the fearless woman you have become. I know that you firmly believe in the power of truth. And so I believe that you would want to know this story, however disturbing you may find it.

Fifty-eight years have passed since these events. You were only an infant at the time, and would have no memory of them. Indeed, I myself had almost forgotten about them. But this past Wednesday, I discovered an old news clipping that has been tucked all these years in my ancient copy of Wistar's Anatomy, and I realized that unless I speak of it soon, the facts will almost certainly die with me. Since your aunt's passing, I am now the only one left who knows the tale. All others are now gone.

I must warn you that the details are not pleasant. But there is nobility in this story, and heartbreaking courage as well. You may not have considered your aunt endowed with these qualities. No doubt she seemed no more extraordinary than any other gray-haired lady whom one passes on the street. But I assure you, Margaret, she was most worthy of our respect.

Worthier, perhaps, than any woman I have ever met.

Now the hour here grows late, and after nightfall, an old man's eyes can stay open only so long. For now, I enclose the news clipping, which I earlier mentioned. If you have no desire to learn more, please tell me, and I will never again mention this. But if indeed the subject of your parents holds any interest for you, then at my next opportunity, I will once again pick up my pen. And you will learn the story, the true story, of your aunt and the West End Reaper.

With fondest regards,

O.W.H.

One

The present

SO THIS IS HOW a marriage ends, thought Julia Hamill as she rammed the shovel into the soil. Not with sweet whispers goodbye, not with the loving clasp of arthritic hands forty years from now, not with children and grandchildren grieving around her hospital bed. She lifted a scoop of earth and flung it aside, sending rocks clattering onto the growing mound. It was all clay and stones, good for growing nothing except blackberry canes. Barren soil, like her marriage, from which nothing long lasting, nothing worth holding on to, had sprouted.

She stamped down on the shovel and heard a clang, felt the concussion slam up her spine as the blade hit a rock— a big one. She repositioned the blade, but even when she attacked the rock at different angles, she could not pry it loose. Demoralized and sweating in the heat, she stared down at the hole. All morning she had been digging like a woman possessed, and beneath her leather gloves blisters were peeled open. Julia's digging had stirred up a cloud of mosquitoes that whined around her face and infiltrated her hair.

There was no way around it: If she wanted to plant a garden in this spot, if she wanted to transform this weed-choked yard, she had to keep at it. This rock was in her way.

Suddenly the task seemed hopeless, beyond her puny efforts. She dropped the shovel and slumped to the ground, rump landing on the stony pile of dirt. Why had she ever thought she could restore this garden, salvage this house? She looked across the tangle of weeds and stared at the sagging porch, the weathered clapboards. Julia's Folly— that's what she should name the place. Bought when she hadn't been thinking straight, when her life was collapsing. Why not add more flotsam to the wreckage? This was to be a consolation prize for surviving her divorce. At thirty-eight years old, Julia would finally have a house in her own name, a house with a past, a soul. When she had first walked through the rooms with the real estate agent, and had gazed at the hand-hewn beams, spied the bit of antique wallpaper peeking through a tear in the many layers that had since covered it, she'd known this house was special. And it had called to her, asking for her help.

— The location's unbeatable, — the agent had said. — It comes with nearly an acre of land, something you seldom find anymore this close to Boston. —

— Then why is it still for sale? — Julia had asked.

— You can see what bad shape it's in. When we first got the listing, there were boxes and boxes of books and old papers, stacked to the ceiling. It took a month for the heirs to haul it all away. Obviously, it needs bottom-up renovations, right down to the foundation. —

— Well, I like the fact that it has an interesting past. It wouldn't put me off buying it. —

The agent hesitated. — There's another issue I should tell you about. Full disclosure. —

— What issue? —

— The previous owner was a woman in her nineties, and— well, she died here. That makes some buyers a bit squeamish. —

— In her nineties? Of natural causes, then? —

— That's the assumption. —

Julia had frowned. — They don't know? —

— It was summertime. And it took almost three weeks before one of her relatives discovered… — The agent's voice trailed off. Suddenly she brightened. — But hey, the land alone is special. You could tear down this whole place. Get rid of it and start fresh! —

The way the world gets rid of old wives like me, Julia had thought. This splendid, dilapidated house and I both deserve better.

That same afternoon, Julia had signed the purchase agreement.

Now, as she slumped on the mound of dirt, slapping at mosquitoes, she thought: What did I get myself into? If Richard ever saw this wreck, it would only confirm what he already thought of her. Gullible Julia, putty in a Realtor's hands. Proud owner of a junk heap.

She swiped a hand over her eyes, smearing sweat across her cheek. Then she looked down at the hole again. How could she possibly expect to get her life in order when she couldn't even summon the strength to move one stupid rock?

She picked up a trowel and, leaning into the hole, began to scrape away dirt. More of the rock emerged, like an iceberg's tip whose hidden bulk she could only guess at. Maybe big enough to sink the Titanic. She kept digging, deeper and deeper, heedless of the mosquitoes and the sun glaring on her bare head. Suddenly the rock symbolized every obstacle, every challenge that she'd ever wobbled away from.

I will not let you defeat me.

With the trowel, she hacked at the soil beneath the rock, trying to free up enough space to pry the shovel underneath it. Her hair slid into her face, strands clinging to sweaty skin as she reached deeper into the hole, scraping, tunneling. Before Richard saw this place, she'd turn it into a paradise. She had two months before she'd have to face another classroom of third graders. Two months to uproot these weeds, nourish the soil, put in roses. Richard had told her that if she ever planted roses in their Brookline yard, they'd die on her. You need to know what you're doing, he'd said— just a casual remark, but it had stung nevertheless. She knew what he'd really meant.

You need to know what you're doing. And you don't.

She dropped onto her belly and hacked away. Her trowel collided with something solid. Oh, God, not another rock. Shoving back her hair, she stared down at what her tool had just hit. Its metal tip had fractured a surface, and cracks radiated from the impact point. She brushed away dirt and pebbles, exposing an unnaturally smooth dome. Lying belly-down on the ground, she felt her heart thudding against the earth and suddenly found it hard to take a breath. But she kept digging, with both hands now, gloved fingers scraping through stubborn clay. More of the dome emerged,

. . .
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