Chapter One T
HE CADAVER KID isn’t such a kid anymore and he isn’t in the FBI anymore either.
Yet here he stands in Quantico, Virginia, a guest lecturer with an attentive audience.
And there’s still a cadaver on tap. And it’s horny.
Death and sex, that’s where it’s always at in criminal matters.
Behind the Kid, an eight-foot-wide screen displays a decomposed human corpse that would make any CSI
TV show producer proud.
Its muted gray, black, and beige tones don’t offer the graphic punch of color. The photo was obviously shot at night. Still, the grinning skull shows a pair of small, ramlike horns, two ribbed ridges growing back from where the hairline would start.
Welcome to post–Millennium Revelation crime scene issues. It’s not just who
the corpse du jour is, but what
I’m sitting at the back of the room, the Cadaver Kid’s anonymous but proud significant other. I’d been introduced as a “consulting partner” when the senior agent in charge had escorted us in. He’d found us quite the “dramatic pair.”
This is my partner’s solo show, though, and I’m happy to play wallpaper. I’m wearing my dullest TV reporter navy-blue suit, chosen to blend in here, but when we’re a duo my Snow White looks are the cream in Ric’s rich, Latino coffee-bar coloring.
Besides, he looks so great in the foreground.
Ricardo Montoya left the FBI in his midtwenties for freelance consulting work and landed a reunion lecturer spot before he’s even pushing thirty, but he’s cool with not being part of the dark-suit-and-tie crowd anymore.
No monotone façade that reads “FBI Agent” for him. His usual pale tropical-weight suit would look good on Brad Pitt. It also proclaims he’s from a hot climate and a hot crime town, Las Vegas, Nevada,
So do the Lucchese cowboy boots whose pointy roach-stomping toes peek discreetly from his pant legs. They warn he might have a switchblade or two on him to handle a motorcycle gang on instant notice.
He’s been introduced today as a former agent “phenomenally gifted” at finding buried corpses. Hence the nickname.
The Cadaver Kid surveys the large conference room converted to a mini-auditorium in his honor.
Once the Kid had to keep his methods secret from his FBI colleagues. Now the agency has lightened up and smartened up. Ric’s been invited here to confess just how “phenomenally gifted” the FBI’s legendary Cadaver Kid was. I get to watch.
“We all know the Three D’s of Finding Bodies 101,” Ric begins. “Directions, Dogs, Digging.”
A knowing chuckle shivers through the audience, all models of the modern FBI agent, serious, dark-suited people in their early twenties. They’re relaxed enough to show a sense of humor. Good. He’s going to take them into the horror side soon enough.
He paces like an attorney in court, keeping eye contact with the most people possible. “The perpetrator or a witness or the investigation team itself supplies Directions to where the body might be.”
Ric picks a remote control off the desk. A dark, woodsy site fills the screen. “If the area is large and success isn’t forthcoming, we bring in the cadaver Dog teams.” Another slide of dogs at work, oddly resembling truffle-hunting pigs in France. “And then we Dig.”
In the next image Ric clicks to the screen to focus on a body freshly pulled from an excavated hole.
The audience has been nodding along with Ric, not nodding off. He’s showing procedure as usual but each body and every “dig” is different and fascinating for different reasons. I can hear the unspoken question. “When will we see a close-up of those weird horns?”
Ric steps around the tabletop lectern. “To find bodies when I worked with the FBI, I used a fourth D.” He holds up an odd object, a fallen branch from the thick brush that so often surrounds body dumping grounds.
rod,” Ric announces, being definitely dramatic in his own right.
I study the audience as their murmuring profiles turn to one another. Polite frowns indicate attention but not full understanding. Yet.
“This fork of willow wood,” Ric says with a smile, “was the Cadaver Kid’s secret weapon for all those remarkable body finds I made while with the Bureau. Even though it was long after the Millennium Revelation, my superiors called it ‘gifted profiling.’ This small forked stick is my trade secret. It was all I used and absolutely free for the taking.”
Now they laugh softly.
“Let’s see if there are any buried bodies beneath this conference room.” “Oooh,”
the audience coos in spooky unison. Somebody hums the iconic Twilight Zone
theme music. “The truth is out there, Mulder,” someone else shouts.
Ric grins. “This just a demonstration. I promise no corpses will be harmed.”
His wrists twist, forcing his hands and the Y end of the implement downward.
“Here I’m obviously moving the dowsing or divining rod myself. In the wild, I use my strength to hold it level until some possibly chemical-magnetic force rotates the wood in my hands so forcibly I can’t keep it from spinning until the end stem points due Down
. One last D
Everyone chuckles. Are they solid D
“I’ll paraphrase an infamous politician, ladies and gentlemen. I am not a water witch. That’s what dowsers are sometimes called. My family was adept at finding water. I dowsed up dead lizards instead, not a valued gift in the desert.”
Murmurs stir the crowd as people consult one another on how much of this to believe.
“The force is really undeniable,” Ric continues, now sounding like Luke Skywalker from Star Wars
. “Perhaps we can hold a future talk at the Body Farm so you all can get some hands-on experience. I can work through anyone, true believer or skeptic.
“The Millennium Revelation, as you know and are now allowed to admit and use in your profession, intensified any borderline paranormal abilities ordinary humans had. Its major effect was bringing un
humans out of their protective shadows and into our twenty-first-century lives in many roles . . . unsuspected neighbor, possible ally, victim of hate crimes or violator of the law, enemy of the state, and perpetrator of crimes against humanity undreamed of.”
Ric leans against the front of the desk, the object in his hands now the focus of every eye. The rod reminds me of the chopped-off forked tongue of a giant snake. He’s holding a branch of the fork in each fist with the stem of the Y aimed at the audience like a gun barrel.
“I call on Miss Delilah Street to stand and testify. She knows I only needed to touch the backs of her hands on a dowsing rod to dredge up the dead.”
A wolf whistle shrieks from somewhere and another anonymous guy calls, “The pretty shill in the audience, Montoya. Cheap trick.”
I can see Ric smolder from fifty feet away at someone inadvertently calling me a “cheap trick,” but I can speak for myself.
“Can you argue with his FBI record?” I ask. “I’m a former award-winning TV reporter, no shill and no patsy, and I don’t believe in water dowsing.”
That gets the group mumbling again, bewildered that I’m not supporting the speaker who’d introduced me.
“But I do believe in dead dowsing,” I go on, “because the Vegas police dug up the seventy-five-year-old bones of an embracing couple on the park site where”—How am I going to put this delicately for a mostly male crowd? Not possible—“where I saw and felt the dowsing rod act as if it had a twenty-mule team pulling it.”
The mental picture of the mules distracts attention from how I saw and felt the dowsing rod perform, which is just too, too phallic for bureaucrats. The audience quiets as I sit back down.
“Most authorities,” Ric reminds them, “most people
don’t believe anyone can water dowse, or dowse for precious ores and stones, much less the dead. Traditionally dowsers favor certain tree woods, like willow, but most can also use bent metal rods, glass, or improvise with a coat hanger if necessary. I’ve even dowsed with barbed wire.”
A mass intake of breath makes the room seem to sigh. The audience has made the leap to realizing how painful that would be . . . barbed wire spinning in your palms so hard and fast the point of the Y aims down.
Ric nods. “Tore my hands up on that occasion, ladies and gentlemen, but the blood is necessary for stage two of my facility. When my blood drops to the ground where the dowsing rod has indicated it harbors a body, the dead will rise.”
Actual gasps fill the room.
Ric clicks a 3-D night scene into life on the screen behind him. At first glance, to me, it looks like a still from the first great zombie movie, the black-and-white Night of the Living Dead
“This is a night shot of a desert ranch I call the Lazy Z,” he explains. “I’m not presenting a day scene because I don’t want any landmarks to betray its location. These are zombies I’ve reclaimed from the traffic in unhumans across the Mexican border.”
A horse ambles through the corral, led by a poky cowpoke.
“Is the horse a zombie?” a smart-ass voice calls from the audience.
“No. Horses ca...