Chapter 12 - Hypothesizing

Tempe never had gone to sleep. She'd worked an all-nighter, examined every bone at least twice, and still had nothing to show for it – nothing more than the two thoracic fractures she'd found in the first hour, and while probably painful, they most definitely didn't provide a cause of death. She was no longer alone in the lab, not that it mattered. Angela was in the midst of programming in dental x-rays for an overlay comparison (a quicker solution than waiting for the forensic odontologist due that afternoon). Zack and Hodgins each had their own assignments, but seemed more interested in rehashing Zack's date of the previous evening which had apparently not been a good one. Tempe wasn't entirely certain why, for though the two had discussed it at length, their conversation drifted into her mind as disconnected snatches that she was too busy to make sense of.

The evidence just didn't point to anything. Other than the discoveries Hodgins had made at the crime scene, there was nothing to draw a conclusion from: no skull trauma, no breaks in the cervical vertebrae, no defensive fractures to the phalanges. The rib fractures were the only new breaks in this skeleton and it could actually have happened post mortem. The bones were telling her nothing, and so she had nothing to offer Booth. That was unacceptable.

And where was Booth? She was surprised he hadn't already arrived, urging information that she didn't have in the way he'd done last night. They'd spoken briefly by phone an hour ago, when Booth had called to say he was postponing their appointment with Sweets. He'd not even asked her if she'd found anything. At the time she'd been thankful, now she was worried. She needed to offer him something. They had to catch whoever was killing everyone at Booth's church…

"If the evidence doesn't add up to anything, shouldn't the lack of evidence add up to something?" she wondered aloud without looking up, hardly aware that she'd interrupted Hodgins' dating advice.

The lab grew eerily silent. Hodgins was the first to speak, "There must be a million ways to kill someone and you want us to narrow it down by what's not here? What if we missed a method?"

"What investigative value would that have?" Zack asked.

Both valid points, and yet she didn't want Booth to walk into the lab wearing that hopeful look while she had nothing to give him. "It's just – there's nothing except the thoracic fractures. I have no reason to think they're important, but I do." Finally she looked up. She hadn't even heard the lab door open, and yet she suddenly became aware that there were five people in the room, rather than three. All of them were gaping at her, but Sweets and Booth looked the most incredulous. What a way to tell Booth she'd hit a blockade.

"You're going on instinct, Dr. Brennan? That's awesome. It's like a breakthrough," said Sweets.

Tempe felt foolish and it must have showed on her face because Angela instantly frowned at Sweets. "Brennan often sees evidence in bones that others miss. To the rest of us, she always seems intuitive," she defended as she stood, knowing how uncomfortable Tempe was with the concept of trusting instinct. "You're just tired," she told Tempe. "Probably there's a scientific reason it's drawing your attention, and if you'd slept, you'd know exactly why. Where are the fractures?"

Grateful, Tempe indicated the location on herself for the benefit of Angela and Booth, who were less versed in science. Then she showed them the actual bones. "A parallel break in the crest of each fifth rib seems – odd. If the sternum were cracked too, we might have a cause of death. The fractures are fresh, but could have been produced post mortem, except I can't see how that would happen by putting the body beneath the inverted bathtub or even by carrying the body from wherever he was killed to the burn site."

Hodgins folded his arms against his chest. "You know, that's something I don't get. If the old man wasn't killed in the church and never left the grounds, how is it nobody saw anyone out of place?"

"Maybe the killer is familiar, maybe even part of the staff," Sweets suggested.

"We've interviewed the staff. I do trust my gut, and my gut tells me that no one who lives there killed Father Ernest, or knows anything about fire," Booth supplied. He leaned back against the wall and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Worse, the chemical trail that seemed so promising has so far led to a dead end. Sure there are limited people who buy the fire stop stuff – none who have motive, means or opportunity. And it turns out this stuff is mostly purchased at Christmas, for putting on Christmas trees. Fact is, the killer could have been hanging on to some for a couple months. Do you think he's been planning it that long?"

"Does it have to be a he?" Angela interjected.

"Most serial killers are male," Brennan answered. "This has many hallmarks of a serial, but even if it isn't, statistics favor a male."

"Besides, hauling such a large cadaver from anywhere other than the church suggests some upper body strength," Zack said. "But I'm uncertain why we've ruled out the murder in the burnt out church."

"We haven't exactly," Booth explained. "It's only that Mrs. McMasters said Father Ernest wouldn't set foot in there. He didn't want to see the charred remnants of what had been his sanctuary for so many years. Apparently, he wasn't even helping the volunteers, though everyone else was. He rarely left the rectory, and my money's on there for the murder site, though our searches turned up nothing: no blood, no signs of a struggle, not even any signs of forced entry."

"So all the evidence was in the first murder," Hodgins remarked.

"Except that wasn't followed up properly. In shuffling things back and forth between police and FBI, it seems the actual candlestick – if that's what it was – was never found." Booth flexed a fist as he spoke.

"So maybe the killer collected a trophy," Sweets surmised. "But then, what's the trophy this time? Are you sure this is the same killer?"

"The positioning is consistent, the location is the consistent," Tempe explained, "Although admittedly, the fire method and the causes of death are not consistent. Still, mirroring the stain-glass windows – that was kept out of the press." She looked back at the skeleton. "There's so much less evidence than before. Usually they get more careless, not less."

But Hodgins was staring at the skeleton – not his usual sort of focus. "Assuming those fractures happened during his death – and we don't know that to be true – it would seem to rule out a few things." He began to wring his hands. "That's just such an unsupported assumption."

"Assumptions can keep an investigator from seeing the real evidence," Zack quoted. That was something Tempe had told him on his first day. Both Zack and Hodgins looked anxious, a feeling that Tempe understood completely. She preferred hard science, using tangible facts to reach indisputable answers.

"So make a theory and then challenge it," Angela suggested. "It's unconventional, but sometimes you learn more from being wrong than from being right." Tempe gaped at her and suffered the inexplicable sensation that the floor had just disappeared from beneath her feet.

"Just think of it as doing the process backward," Booth said with a nod. "An experiment and nothing more." He was trying to be reassuring while Hodgins and Zack looked like Tempe felt. Booth directed his next words at Hodgins. "It's like your lone gunman argument, right? You look at the official story and you don't buy it. So you come up with what could have happened and see if it fits the facts as you know them." He gave Sweets a sideways glance that Tempe did not know the meaning of. She knew that Booth didn't put much stock in Hodgins conspiracy theories, even though a few happened to have turned out to be correct. But Hodgins warmed to this argument.

"Okay, yeah," he said, nodding.

Sweets jumped in, "And you can tell that the man didn't die of getting clobbered, shot, stabbed or by a fatal fall. That's worth something, right?"

"You missed beheading," Angela added sarcastically.

"Actually, he could have been stabbed, not all fatal stab wounds strike bone," Zack said matter-of-factly.

"No," Tempe interrupted. "We can rule out stabbing. It's messy and no matter how careful you are there is always some spray or splatter. We didn't use a luminol or blue star test, but the crew did use the black light in all rooms of the rectory and in the church. No blood, right?"

"Right," Booth agreed, meeting her gaze. "And there wasn't a point that the rectory was ever empty. There were no screams or cries. If the murder took place in the rectory, it was quiet."

"So we're looking for a quiet, bloodless method of death that causes no marks to the bone except the rib fractures which were most likely caused by being compressed against something," Zack offered.

"Why compressed?" Sweets wondered.

Tempe answered, "The way the bone cracked." Sweets looked fascinated but confused, so she picked an example he'd recognize. "Think what happens with clay when its been bisque fired. If you gouge it with a tool hard enough to crack the piece, you'll also see a divot that matches the shape of the tool. But if you push it against something that causes the break, it cracks cleanly enough that you could glue it back together and it fits perfectly." She held her hands up and fit her curved fingers together to indicate the fit. "But of course that example isn't the most accurate because these ribs are only fractured, not broken clean."

"So whatever method was used to kill him might have included his being pressed against something chest high?" Booth asked.

"Right," Tempe responded, pleased that he'd understood so well.

"So might he have been strangled?"

"No marks on the cervical vertebrae to indicate a cord or garrote, but if someone strangled him with their hands, it might fit," Zack replied.

"Though you'd usually see damage to the hands as the victim tried to stop it," Tempe added.

"So he was slammed against something and his arms were pinned so he couldn't fight back," Booth guessed.

"But there's no marks on the arm bones to confirm the theory," Tempe stated, sighing.

"No, but the premise points to a very strong killer, which fits." Booth soothed. "Keep working on it, Bones. You'll find something. You've never let me down yet."

Sweets looked back and forth between them, while Tempe didn't know whether to feel flattered or even more worried. This might be the time she let him down, and she was certain that this was the one case when failing wasn't an option.