Disclaimer: I do not own Bones or anything related to it. I stand to make no monetary or other gain from writing this work of fiction.
I have tried to be as scientifically accurate as possible. I am not a scientist, however, so please forgive any errors. Also, if you notice any specific errors, please let me know either in a review or by message and I will correct them.
I also gave Dr. Brennan an intern because it didn't make sense to me that she would be in the field by herself.
This fanfiction refers to a conversation that took place in Brennan's office in Season 1, Episode 13: "The Woman in the Garden." Some quotes are taken directly from the episode.
"You beat up a gang-leader?" Angela asked as she walked into Brennan's office.
"Booth told you that?" Brennan surmised. She glanced up at Angela, only barely taking her eyes off the computer screen.
"You did! You got into a fight with a gangbanger." Angela sat down opposite Brennan.
Brennan was not the best at identifying emotional cues, but she detected anger and that confused her. "You're mad at me?"
"The guy's a killer, Brennan!" Now the anger was plainly evident.
"Angela, relax," she scoffed. Brennan turned back to her computer as she attempted to deflect Angela's concern. "We were in the FBI building."
"Look, I know you're all about self-reliance and fighting your own battles and standing up for yourself, but now as your friend – and knowing how much you hate psychology here – you need therapy."
Brennan stared at her for a moment. "I'm sorry I upset you," she said earnestly. That much, at least, she truly was sorry for. She sat up, turning away from her computer again and finally giving Angela her full attention. "It's just that I've dealt with him before," she said with a slight shrug.
"With who?" Angela asked. Her voice had a frustrated edge to it.
"People who think they can get what they want through fear: gangbangers, members of death squads…"
"I know it's psychology again, but you said 'him' – like one guy."
"I didn't mean Ortez specifically, I meant people like him." They stared at each other for a moment and it was clear that Angela was not satisfied. Brennan lowered her eyes, looking at her lap as she recalled the events of several years ago. "On my last trip to El Salvador," she began. She spoke slowly, measuring each word as she went.
"Yeah, I remember," Angela interrupted. "I tried to get you to go to Italy with me." She looked at Brennan and was silenced by the depth in her friend's eyes. Brennan took a deep breath…
The hot Salvadorean sun beat down against the back of her neck as Dr. Temperance Brennan stepped off the bus. It was only ten o'clock and already the temperature had passed 36˚C. It was the middle of the dry season and the ground beneath her feet was cracked with the heat. A hundred yards away, beyond the village and the tents that had been set up to cover the dig, the tropical jungle sprawled. Brennan could feel the humidity cast off by the seemingly endless growth of trees that extended from horizon to horizon. The jungle seemed unhindered by the rainless months that scorched the cleared agricultural lands from November to April each year.
"Doctor Brennan!" The voice came from among a small group who had been waiting by the road where the bus stopped. A thin man rushed forward and stretched out a brown, work-worn hand. Brennan took it and he pumped her hand heartily. "It is so good to have you here. I am Dr. Gonzalez of the Soyapango Archeology Institute."
"It is good to meet you." Brennan gave the perfunctory response in a flat tone as her eyes focused on the tents over the man's shoulder.
"My colleagues and I have been working at a dig in this region for the past six months. We have unearthed some remarkable Mayan constructions and artifacts dating back to mid pre-classic period of Mesoamerica. Perhaps you would like to rest from your travels? You can visit our dig this afternoon," he gestured at the tents behind him, "and tomorrow we will make the journey to gravesite."
"It would give me great pleasure to see the results of your dig," Brennan replied frankly. "But I would very much like to continue on to the site as soon as possible. Perhaps I may join you for a few days after I have identified these remains."
"Of course, of course." Gonzalez beamed. He turned to his interns and spoke to them in rapid Spanish. Brennan listened, but his speech was too rapid for her to follow and his Spanish was mixed with the local Ch'olan dialect. In many parts of El Salvador, as in most Central American countries, the Mayan language still thrived in rural areas and was spoken alongside and interspersed with the formal language of Spanish. The interns boarded the short bus that had carried Dr. Brennan from the capitol, San Salvador. They emerged moments later, loaded down both with the equipment Brennan had brought with her and with additional equipment for the main dig that had been sent from the university in San Salvador.
Brennan and Gonzalez talked about his dig while the interns carried their new equipment into one of the tents and loaded Brennan's equipment onto donkeys. It did not take long before they were ready to go. Two interns came with them. Only once they were on the trail heading into the thick woods did Brennan finally ask about the bones.
Gonzalez walked beside her; all four of them walked and each of them had their own, fully-loaded donkey to guide. For now, the trail was wide enough for two humans and two donkeys to walk abreast. Further on, it would narrow and force them to walk single file.
"Once we narrowed in on this region as a possible dig site, we asked locals in the surrounding areas if they had ever uncovered any artifacts. People often discover such things when, for example, they plow a new field or dig a well in a new location. We received dozens of shards of pottery and similar items. Once we began offering a small monetary reward for such items, many teenagers took up the pastime of exploring farther and farther into the forest in hopes of earning some extra money be retrieving Mayan relics. A group of boys found a gravesite by an abandoned well – at first, they thought they had discovered a Mayan burial ground. As soon as I arrived to examine the site, I knew that was not the case. The skeletons were not buried deep enough, they were laid out on their backs rather than curled on their sides, and none of the traditional grave offerings were present – there was not a single whistle or jade bead among them. Now, I am an archeologist, not an anthropologist, but I believe I can recognize bullet holes when I see them. And in all my research on the Maya, I have yet to find any evidence that they used guns."
"Well of course not," Dr. Brennan interjected. "The earliest recorded use of anything close to what we might consider a firearm was with the invention of gunpowder during the Tang Dynasty in China. Such technology did not arrive in Mesoamerica until the early sixteenth century."
"Indeed." Dr. Gonzalez gave her a sideways glance. "As I was saying, once I ascertained that these remains were somewhat more recent than my usual findings, I requested a Forensic Anthropologist to identify them. I was so happy to discover that it was you who had answered the posting. You know how small the world is in our circles and you are very well known. One of my graduate students, Paula da Silva, is especially an admirer of yours. She will be staying with you at the gravesites and assisting you in the identification of the bodies. She is Brazilian, but her Spanish is flawless and her English excellent. I am sure that she will be able to help you in whatever you might need."
"Thank you, I will be glad of the extra hands," Brennan replied. She glanced over her shoulder to where the two interns were walking behind them. Paula was dark-skinned, very obviously descendant of native South American tribes. Her hair was silky and jet-black; it fell to her waist and swayed as she walked. Her male companion, another of Gonzalez's interns was more clearly mestizo, a mixture of indigenous and European blood. His skin was moderately fair, though he had the short stature and stocky build characteristic of Mayan descendants. "What do you know of the bodies that were uncovered?"
"There were three skeletons buried in parallel graves in typical Catholic fashion – on their backs with their feet to the east. They appeared to be one adult and two juveniles. I later discovered a fourth body, a juvenile female, in the bottom of a dried well approximately a kilometer away."
When he stopped at that, Brennan looked askance at him. "Anything else?"
"I'm sorry, Dr. Brennan, that is all I was able to ascertain in my brief examination. My area of expertise is Mayan architecture, not murder. As soon as the Mayan abodes were discovered at the site of my current dig, I left the burial site in the jungle to come back and start the project."
"That is quite understandable," Brennan said.
They didn't reach the site until almost late afternoon. Dr. Gonzalez looked worriedly at his watch. "We should unload quickly," he said. "Jesús is very familiar with the trail, but even still, I would prefer if we could be out of the woods before dark."
The white tent that covered the burial site was incongruous among the deep greens and vibrant colors of the forest. Red strips tied around trees marked the path to the second site, where a similar though somewhat smaller tent covered the opening to the well.
It took less than twenty minutes to unload and then Dr. Gonzalez and Jesús were mounted on their donkeys, each with a second donkey in tow. Jesús clicked his tongue and squeezed his heels and they set off back down the trail at a brisk pace.
Brennan and Paula were mostly quiet as they set up the equipment inside the tent. There was a small section separated from the main room by a partition – that would be their sleeping quarters. The generator, computer, lamps, imaging scanners, and the rest would all be kept in the main room, where three collapsible examining tables stood side by side, waiting for the remains.
A section of earth approximately 2x3 meters had been roped off. Brennan could plainly see the archeologist's care in the removal of the top layers of soil. The bones were partially exposed, though the posterior portions of the ribs and most of the spinal column were still covered.
"Miss da Silva, if you would, help me free the rest of the bones and most the bodies onto the examining table."
"Yes, Dr. Brennan." Paula had a discernable Brazilian accent. The "r" in Brennan's name was virtually swallowed by the "b," as was common in the northern parts of Brazil, where indigenous culture and bloodlines were more prominent.
Brennan began with one of the smaller skeletons and Paula with the largest one. The second, smaller juvenile was in the middle, sandwiched between the others. It was painstaking work. Dr. Gonzalez and his team had already cleared most of the surrounding soil, so they did not have to use dowel to carefully shovel away large sections. Instead they started with moderate-sized brushed and moved to increasingly smaller and more delicate brushes as they neared the bones.
It was nearly midnight before they had all three skeletons laid out on the tables. Brennan knew that she should be tired – she had insisted on arriving at the dig early in the day and so her bus had left San Salvador before 4am. She had spent the day on a hot bus travelling bumpy roads and then had walked more than fifteen miles across the rough jungle floor to arrive at the site. All this was followed by six or seven hours of clearing and lifting bones from the ground. Her back ached from spending so long crouched over the gravesite. That was how she knew that she had been spending too much time at the Jeffersonian and too little time in the field – when she had been doing her doctoral research, she frequently spent days bending over graves without feeling a thing. Either she was getting old or she was getting complacent in her field-skills; neither option was acceptable.
Paula glanced up across the table at Dr. Brennan. It was late, but the older woman showed no signs of tiring. Paula could feel the day's fatigue sweeping over her, but she was determined not to show it. At Dr. Gonzalez's dig, the days were long and started early. With the exception of a few hours break during the heat of the day, they worked from dawn until dust and collapsed in their cots early each night. Already she was up much later than she was accustomed to, but she was determined not to show any signs of exhaustion until Dr. Brennan indicated that it was time for them to turn in.
Brennan set up an audio recorder at the foot of the table. She spoke aloud as she began her examination of the tallest skeleton. "The body is male, 35 to 40 years of age, 164 cm tall." She examined the worn hips, the hunched shoulders, and the evidence of strong ligament connections in the arms. "Most likely an agricultural worker. Defensive fractures on left ulna and in the right metacarpals. A lateral fracture of the left femur. Massive perimortem trauma to the thoracic vertabrae on the right side and to the second, third and fifth ribs on the left. Expansion of the ribcage indicates a protective posture. A bullet hole in the frontal bone – diameter of entry and the degree of damage to the cranium upon exit suggest a close range shot. Additional postmortem injuries to the mandible, maxilla and zygomatic bones."
She moved onto the next body. Tomorrow she would examine each bone in detail. Right now, she was only giving a rough sketch and basic information.
Paula started yawning around 2am and by 3 o'clock, Brennan realized that it was probably past time they both got some sleep. "I believe that will suffice for this evening, Miss da Silva," she said as she removed her gloves. Paula smiled in grateful relief – an expression that went completely unnoticed by Dr. Brennan.
Later, wrapped in her sleeping bag and listening to the sounds of the jungle around, Brennan couldn't help but contemplate the final moments of the people whose skeletons she had just examined. The older boy had been approximately 14 to 15 years old and the younger between 7 and 9. They had all shown signs of an excruciatingly violent death. The adult had tried to protect someone – most likely one or both of the juveniles. That was obvious from the expansion of the ribcage and the damage to the thoracic vertebrae where he had likely been repeatedly kicked. He had fought hard – the damage to his ribs probably meant that he was already dead or dying before the bullet entered his brain. His face had been obliterated after death, most likely in an attempt to obscure his identity. The boys had each died from a single bullet wound to the frontal bone. They had fewer defensive wounds and the damage to their facial bones was less extensive.
Brennan rolled over. The edge of the tent was barely a foot away and she could hear some small nocturnal creature scurrying along the opposite side. She could discover their identities – she would give them back their names and their faces. She would give their families an answer to their deaths. Brennan sighed and the sound was swallowed by the endless expanse of jungle around her. Tomorrow she would work more with the three male skeletons and then she would go see about the female skeleton in the well.
Four days later, Brennan was alone in the tent by the well. Paula was back at the main tent, still photographing and cataloguing the injuries they had identified. They had extracted DNA samples from what little marrow remained – the three men shared the same Y-chromosome. The father and two sons had died together and been buried together. At Dr. Brennan's request, Paula was also taking photographs of the pieced-together skulls from every conceivable angle and emailing them to a Ms. Montenegro at the Jeffersonian.
Brennan, a half a mile away, was leaned over the bones of the juvenile female. It had taken her and Paula the better part of the day before to carefully lift all the bones out of the bottom of the dry well. Paula had taken a bone marrow sampling back to the main tent. From that, she could extract DNA to compare to the other victims.
Her audio recorder sat at the foot of the table as Brennan began her usual examination of the remains. "Female, approximately 13 years old, 155 cm tall. Fusion of the pelvic bones was nearing completion at the time of death, indicating that the victim was only recently past puberty. The formation of the distal phalanges in the right hand indicate that she spent a considerable amount of time writing – once I have a facial reconstruction, I can check with nearby schools as a possible means of establishing identity. Compressions of the carpals and the tarsal bones indicate the victim was bound for an extended period before death. Dislocation of the left femur from the hip and…" Brennan leaned in as she lifted the bone up to eye-level to examine it more closely. "Multiple hairline fractures to the ilium and pubis on both sides." She put the pelvis down and moved farther up the body.
Brennan's fingers traced over the bones, learning from each one. She picked them up, turned them over in her hands. She felt their weight, their texture. She learned their color and their feel. "Minor fractures on the fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs on the left side. Fractured right clavicle. Damage to the zygomatic bone, the suprarbital process, the parietal bone and the vomer. All of these injuries antemortem – remodeling suggests they were all inflicted within a range of two to four weeks before death."
"Perdóname, Señora." Dr. Brennan did not turn when she heard the deep voice from the entrance to the tent. If anything, she was annoyed to be interrupted.
"¿Sí? ¿Quién es?" Yes? Who are you? She spared a glance up from her work as she gingerly set the girl's skull back on the table. The man was dressed in a brown uniform and carried a semi-automatic at his side. He was probably a police officer. Brennan turned back to her table. She was a famous forensic anthropologist and often foreign governments provided her security when they invited her to identify remains. She did not particularly enjoy having an armed escort, but many countries insisted that they be allowed to protect her within their borders. The Salvadorean government had offered to provide her with an escort, but Brennan had turned them down. Apparently they decided to ignore her request to not be bothered with security. "Si está aquí para protegerme, por favor quedase afuera." If you are here to protect me, please just stay outside.
"Put the bones down."
Brennan ignored him. Her fingers traced gently over the distal phalanges. There were deep gouges – the girl had been alive when they threw her in the well and had tried to claw her way up to freedom.
"¡Señora! Put the bones down. Stop what you are doing – now!"
Brennan exhaled long and slowly as she faced him. "I am Doctor Temperance Brennan, invited here by your government to identify these bones. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." She turned her back to him. She heard him step out of the tent and as soon as he was gone, she put him out of her mind.
She was absorbed by her discovery of the gouges to the phalanges. If her suspicion was correct and the girl was alive when she was placed in the well, then the most likely cause of death would have been thirst. No, Brennan thought, time of death was over six months ago – during the rainy season. The well would have collected sufficient water from precipitation for her to live long enough to starve to death. I originally thought that her bones showed signs of long-term malnutrition, but it could be from a single, extended period of starvation resulting in death. I'll have Miss da Silva do a bone density analysis when I get back to the main tent tonight.
She was so absorbed in her work that she did not hear the three sets of footsteps as the men entered the tent. She did not hear them approach and she did not know they were there until she felt the muzzle of a gun shoved rudely into the small of her back. "Stop what you are doing," the man commanded again. Brennan lifted her hands to shoulder height as she straightened. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see the two goons he had brought back with him.
The man smiled. Most people proved quite compliant when faced with the business end of a gun. He eased the barrel away from her and nodded to his men. One of them had a burlap bag in his hands.
As soon as she felt the gun pull away from her, Brennan spun around. Her left forearm swiped the gun to the side, ensuring that even if he fired he would not hit her as her right elbow struck him in the center of the chest. The man wheezed and stumbled backward. The man on her right grabbed her arm but Brennan shook him off and kicked him back. The man on her left reached into his belt for a handgun but Brennan struck him in the jaw.
The first man was back on his feet, his gun in hand. He snarled and drove the butt of his gun into Brennan's side. She stumbled – off balance for only a second – but it was enough. A bag descended over her head and someone pulled back, yanking the hem tight around her neck. Brennan fought but someone struck her again with a gun, a glancing blow to her cranium. She remembered falling forward, remembered the feel of their hands lifting her up. They slung her across a donkey, her legs on one side and her head and shoulders dangling on the other. Brennan tried to move, tried to speak, but her thoughts were slow and her voice slurred. If they left her in this position for any extended period of time, too much blood would pool in her head and face. She had already received a fairly strong blow to the head – excess blood would cause increased swelling and would risk serious damage to her brain.
"No…" The word slipped past her lips but the man who was currently tying her down did not seem to notice. "No," she said again, louder this time. She couldn't see anything but she felt him pause in his work. "Let me sit. Let me ride." There was no response, so Brennan repeated herself in Spanish.
He undid the ropes he had already tied. Brennan felt a rush of vertigo as he helped her sit in the saddle. She took a deep breath and felt the burlap rustle against her face. Her head was pounding, her mouth was dry. It was very disconcerting to be seated atop a donkey without any means of steering or even the ability to see where they were going. The man tied her hands in front of her and secured the rope to the saddle horn. Brennan heard one of the men say "Vamos!" and the beast under her lurched forward. Brennan felt the disconcerting sensation of slipping to one side and squeezed her legs tight against the animal's sides. She felt queasy; without her sight, she could not predict the sudden dips and bumps and – worst of all – the sudden descents down a riverbank or steep incline.
Eventually they were joined by a second group. Brennan heard Miss da Silva calling out in her native Portuguese, "Socorro! Socorro!" Help! Help! There was a sound of flesh meeting flesh and a soft grunt and Paula fell silent.
Brennan did not know how many hours passed before they finally came to a halt. Her hands had gone numb from the tight ropes around her wrists and her butt and thighs ached from where she had clung tight to the saddle. One of the men grabbed her around the lower ribcage and pulled her down. Her legs were stiff and nearly buckled under her. He pushed her forward but Brennan resisted. No sooner had she pulled away than she felt a gun press against her right temporal bone. Another, stronger man grabbed her by the arm and propelled her forward, the gun still pressed into her skin.
They entered a building and went down a flight of stairs. A door opened and the man shoved her forward. Brennan stumbled in and, as soon as she regained her footing, turned around to face the door. Her hands, still tied together in front of her, came up to pull the sack away from her face. All she could see was the barest glimpse of the man's hand as he pulled the door closed. She heard a lock slide into place.
The only light in her small cell seeped around the edges of the door. It took a while for her eyes to adjust; while she waited, she worked at undoing the knots that tied her hands in front of her. She used her teeth to pull at the strands and by the time she had her hands free she could see well enough to better examine her surroundings.
The floor was nothing but hard packed dirt. The walls were constructed with wood slats. They were shoddily thrown together – nails were exposed and in several places, there were gaps wide enough for Brennan to slip her hand through. On the other side of the wood, she discovered more dirt, too hard to dig through. Brennan stretched her arms up far over her head and stood on tip-toe to explore the ceiling. The wood was thicker here and more solidly constructed. She could hear footsteps. They crossed directly above her and a shower of dust rained down in Brennan's face. She sneezed and took a few steps back, shaking her head to clear the dust from her eyes.
There was nothing in the room – nothing but the dirt floor and windowless walls and the locked door.
Hours passed in silence. Brennan waited. It would do no good to injure herself attempting to escape – she had seen the thickness of the door when the man closed it and had tested it for herself to see if perhaps there were any places weakened by rot. There weren't.
She did not know how long had passed before she heard footsteps descending the stairs on the other side of the door. She heard the lock turn and the latch released. The man stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the light streaming through the open doorway. Brennan squinted slightly as she waited for her sphincter papillae to contract. She could not see him well and found herself wishing that she had paid more attention when she first saw him in the tent. Brennan had a habit of immediately dismissing environmental stimuli which she did not see as relevant to her work at hand.
"Dr. Brennan, you should have stopped when I told you to." His voice was heavily accented but he spoke clearly. "Some things are better left undiscovered."
"I do not agree." Before she had finished speaking, there was a gun to her face.
"I did not ask whether you agreed, Señora," he hissed. "I do not want you looking at those bones. So you will not." He stepped backward and slammed the door closed behind him.
The darkness overwhelmed her. Brennan was never one to give way to flights of fantasy, yet she could not deny the effects of adrenaline. Fear did have a discernible effect on both the body and the mind. She was currently experiencing hyperactive activity in the synapses of her amygdale and her adrenal glands were secreting copious amounts of epinephrine. The neurochemicals that raced in her bloodstream made her hyperaware of her body and her surroundings.
She could feel the sweat pooling above her clavicle and was experiencing piloerection in the hairs on her arms, legs, and the back of her neck. The ground beneath her was cool and the grit clung to her sweaty skin. She sat with her legs crossed and her back straight and tried to focus on any of the dozens of meditation techniques she had seen used in various cultures. It didn't help. Her mind was too active.
She traced the room a dozen times over, using her footsteps and her body to approximate its measurements. The door was one armspan wide – approximately 75cm. It was set in the center of a wall that measured at her length plus an additional cubit (the length of her arm from fingertip to elbow) – almost 2 meters. The adjacent wall was the same. She could measure physical aspects of her prison; she simply had no way to tell how long she had been there.
Brennan disliked the fact that she had no way to tell the time. It meant that she had no empirical, objective way to quantify her captivity.
She lay on her stomach with her arms crossed beneath her head and her face turned to the side. Her eyes watched the thin slivers of light that crept around the edges of the door. She fell asleep eventually.
When she woke, her heart was pounding. The door was open and light flooded into her cell. There was no figure in the doorway – no obstruction in her path to freedom. Brennan stirred but before she could pounce to her feet, a firm grip closed around her wrist.
"Hola, Señora," the man smirked. Brennan jerked her arm back as she leapt to her feet. The man grinned. He circled her, stalking her as a predator watches its prey before lunging for the kill. Brennan kept her eyes on him. She could see his face now. Before, he had been a nuisance not worth her attention, but now she memorized his features. He was short, only about 160cm – considerably less than Brennan at 175 – though his build was stocky and muscular. His dark eyes were set deep in the orbital cavities and bushy brows lined the supraorbital ridge. His skin was a deep brown and he had a goatee that lined his upper lip and wrapped around to his chin. He never fully straightened his back and his legs had a barely noticeable bow as he paced in front of her. Brennan wondered if that was the result of a congenital defect or if it was an occupational marker. She mentally catalogued the various occupations that could produce similar results.
His teeth flashed at her in a smile, though Brennan did not think that his was the same kind of smile that she might receive from, say, Angela.
Brennan waited for him to make the first move. He did. He lunged forward and tried to push her back against the wall. Brennan evaded the move, but she was surprised at his strength. She dodged around him, but he maintained an iron grip on her arm. He swung her toward him as his other hand reached into his back pocket and pulled out a knife. "You have the look of one who knows death, who has seen his face many times," he said. He stared up at her, his face barely level with her chin. "Am I right?"
"If you are intending to anthropomorphize the concept of 'death,' than no, I don't 'know death,' Brennan replied clearly. "However, I am a forensic anthropologist, so, yes; I have seen death many times."
He held the knife at her throat as he pushed her back against the wall. "You know the smell of death, the taste of it."
"Yes." The knife was so close that she could feel it cutting the outer layer of epidermis as she spoke.
"As do I. You see…" He slid the knife around and held the tip of the blade at the soft point under her ear. "My job deals with death as well."
"And just what is your occupation?" Brennan asked, her voice level.
He laughed, but did not answer. "As a curiosity, from one professional to another, what would be your preferred manner of death?"
Brennan looked down at him, taking in his sweat-stained face and his eager expression. "I hardly think that your profession can be equated with mine." The knife dug in and Brennan felt a warm trickle slide down her neck. "But, given the choice, I would prefer to die of natural causes at an age which approximates the average life expectancy for someone in my culture and of my socioeconomic status."
"How about a slit throat? Have you ever considered that as a possible means of death?"
The knife danced at the dip in the base of her neck, just above the manubrium of her sternum. The valves in her heart were opening and closing with astonishing speed. "I would prefer not," she said simply. Her mouth was surprisingly dry and Brennan wondered why she felt a sudden chill.
The man snorted in amusement. "An honest answer," he noted.
"Yes." Brennan's chest heaved and she wondered at the cause of her sudden shortness of breath. She was not sure when his apparent amusement vanished but, before she even realized there had been a change in his demeanor, he struck her across the face and walked out of the room. The door slammed behind him and Brennan's hand came up to touch her burning cheek. The door opened again – just enough for a hand to reach through and throw something in – and then it closed and Brennan heard the lock click into place. The object that had been tossed into her cell had bounced once and then rolled until it connected with the wall.
Brennan's eyes still had not adjusted back to the darkness and she felt lost without her sight as she dropped to her hands and knees and searched. It was a water bottle. Brennan twisted the cap off and drank deeply.
Only after she had gulped down a third of the liquid did Brennan stop. She hastily screwed the cap back on, mentally berating herself for not thinking ahead that she might need to ration it. She did not know how long she had been there, nor how long it might be before they gave her water again. She put it aside, determined to only drink again when she absolutely needed to.
It was a long time before he came back. Brennan guessed that it had been a day or two. She was thirsty but there was very little remaining in her water bottle now and she was afraid to drink it. She was hungry but there was nothing to eat. Brennan kept reminding herself that the human body could go three days without water and two weeks or more without food. That knowledge did not help when the dryness in her throat was all she could think of and her stomach rumbled and groaned as the acid churned with nothing to digest.
She wondered about the graduate student Dr. Gonzalez had entrusted to her. Brennan hoped that Paula was receiving better treatment than she was. There was no way to know if that was the case, and there was nothing Brennan could do to help her regardless. All that she could do for now was wait – wait for a chance to grab her freedom or wait for the man to release her or wait for him to throw her in a well like he had thrown in the little girl whose bones she had examined.
She was sitting in the corner of the room with her knees drawn up to her chest when she heard his footsteps coming down the stairs. She knew that she should get up and fight him but somehow she couldn't find the energy. The light was blinding when he opened the door and Brennan lifted her arm to shield her eyes.
"I hope you have been comfortable, Señora," the man said.
"I would appreciate some more water," Brennan stated simply. "And news of my graduate student."
The man gave a short bark of a laugh. "The señorita is fine," he replied. Not for the first time, Brenna wished she were better at reading people. She had a subtle inkling that there was some hidden meaning in the man's laugh, but she did not know what it was. "As far as water… I'm afraid you will not be here much longer. I'm sure you can empathize that it is difficult to carry all the necessities so far into the jungle. I do not want to waste the water we have brought in by giving it to one who is soon to be a corpse."
He pulled his knife out and played with it, tossing it back and forth between his hands as he watched her. Brennan gave no visible reaction to his words – she was well schooled at hiding her reactions. Foster care had taught her that much at least.
"You asked before what my job was. My job is to make sure that when an important man wants something to stay hidden, it stays hidden. You tried to uncover things that were meant to stay buried. So then, what do you think I should do with you?"
Brennan did not answer. She had no desire to engage him or respond to his threats.
The man put his knife away and drew a gun from his belt. Brennan wished that he would step out of the doorway. If he would move away from the door, she might have a chance at slipping past him.
"I think I should put a bullet in your head. I'll toss you down some long forgotten well and by the time they find your bones nobody will be able to tell who you are or where you were from. Your loved ones will never know what happened to you."
That hit hard, though it did not show on Brennan's face. She remembered the pain, the sense of complete loss when her parents had vanished. She had never discovered what happened to them. She never learned how they had died or where their bodies lay. She knew the pain and it stuck her like a knife in the side.
"Tell me, who will miss you when you are dead? Did you leave a boyfriend behind in America? Do you have parents who will cry when they learn that you are dead? Brothers and sisters, perhaps?"
A choking feeling rose within her. I have no one, she realized. If they killed her, it could be weeks before anybody even noticed something was wrong. She and Paula were not expected back for another week and if they didn't arrive back on the expected date, Dr. Gonzalez would simply assume that they had found something interesting and decided to stay longer. Brennan had been regularly emailing some of the members of her lab, but most of them had taken advantage of her being gone and were on vacation. Nobody would notice the lack of correspondence. Nobody would know anything was wrong.
Tears burned hot and heavy behind her eyes and her breath came in short shudders. Her shoulders shook with every gasp of air. Brennan bit her lower lip as she tried to rein in her emotions.
The man stepped forward. Brennan tensed as he approached. She pushed herself up and shook her hair back out of her face. She glared at him as the tears dried on her face. Her eyes were red and swollen and every breath of air seemed to sear her lungs. The man drew closer still. Brennan's vision was blurred by her tears but she saw his hand relax as he lowered his gun and dropped his guard. He thought she was defenseless and broken. He was about to learn otherwise.
She broke his nose on her first strike and kicked the gun out of his hand while he was doubled over. It clattered across the floor and Brennan lunged after it. Her fingers closed around the cool grip and her finger sought the trigger. The man grabbed her about the waist and jerked her back. The gun slipped free from her grip and Brennan twisted. The man's strong arms were locked about her middle and her legs were pinned beneath him.
Brennan jabbed toward his eyes. The man cried out and drew back, releasing her as he scrambled away. He circled her warily. Brennan knew the gun was on the ground behind her, but she did not dare take her eyes off her opponent. By the time she turned and reached for the weapon, he would be on her again.
Brennan saw an opening and took it. Her kick flew high and straight, connecting right at his kidney. Her elbow jabbed down into the muscle above the collarbone, between his neck and shoulder. Her final blow was to the back of his head and he dropped.
She snatched up the gun as she raced for the open door. The light grew brighter as Brennan leapt up the stairs two at a time.
She emerged in a room that was as dingy and dirty as her cell below. Three men were seated at a wooden table playing cards. They jumped to their feet when they saw Brennan in the doorway at the top of the stairs. One of them knocked the table in his hurry to stand and a flask tipped. The smell of cheap tequila filled the room as all three men grabbed their own weapons and took aim. The pistol in Brennan's hand suddenly felt pitiful when compared with the semi-automatics held by her opponents.
She was outnumbered and outgunned. When they yelled at her to drop the gun, Brennan uncurled her fingers and let it fall to the ground. Her heart pounded but her body felt strangely cold. She felt numb.
She heard footsteps as the man came up the stairs behind her. He grabbed her by the neck of her shirt and pulled her back against him. His other arm looped around her with his knife clutched in his fist. He shuffled around, turning them so that his back was to his men and her back was to the stairs. The blood under his broken nose was drying onto his skin. "¡Puta!" he spat. Flecks of blood and spittle landed on Brennan's face as he hissed at her. "¡Maldita puta!" he swore again. Brennan pulled away from him, but she felt her heel brush the edge of the top stair and froze. There was nowhere for her to go.
The man knew it too. He smiled at her and Brenna felt the flat of his knife slip over her shoulder. The cold metal caressed her skin as the fingers of his other hand dug into her arm. "I'm going to kill you, bitch."
Brennan woke in darkness and in pain. It hurt to breath. It hurt to move. Her face felt warm and sticky and when her fingers explored, she found a deep gash along the supraorbital ridge above her left eye. She tried to stand but her ankle was badly twisted and gave way under her weight. Brennan crawled across the small cell to find her water bottle. The dirt clung to her sweat-soaked body as she made her way across the room. Her outstretched hand found the thin plastic and she heard the weak material crinkle in her grasp. There was not much left, but her throat felt like sandpaper, her tongue was swollen and it hurt to swallow. She needed water. Water meant life.
Another day passed.
And then another.
At least, Brennan thought that it had been at least two days since the man had shoved her down the stairs. She couldn't be sure. Time passed slowly and her wounds made each minute seem interminably long. Dirt caked in her cuts and scrapes and her whole body felt hot and lethargic. Infections would develop quickly, she knew, and then a fever would follow.
Another day went by. When she woke again to the sounds of footsteps, Brennan had little strength to move. She was severely dehydrated and a fever had set it. She no longer gave any thought to food – her only desire was for water. The man pushed the door open. Brennan turned her face away; the light was too bright to bear after so many days in darkness. He drew his pistol as he walked over and crouched beside her. Brennan felt the cool ring of metal press against her forehead. "Estás lista para morir?" the man whispered. Are you ready to die?
Brennan sat up slowly. One of the lower five ribs – she wasn't sure which one – was aching terribly, as it had since the tumble down the stairs. She had not been able to move without pain since then. The gun followed her as she lifted herself off the ground. Brennan rested her head back against the rough wood on the wall. The mouth of the gun pressed hard against her. If he fired, she would never hear the shot or feel any pain. "No," she said calmly, her eyes closed. Her mouth was so dry that it hurt to talk. "No, I am not." She felt the gun withdraw and breathed a sigh of relief. The next thing she felt was a sting of pain as he pistol-whipped her. The gun cut across her face and Brennan's head snapped to the side. She fell to the ground and cried out as her hurt rib caught the full weight of her body. The man kicked her and then turned and walked out.
He came back only a few hours later, accompanied by one of his men. The man stood to the side as his assistant bound Brennan's hands in front of her. She was too weak to resist. The man tugged upward on her wrists and ordered her to stand.
Brennan pulled herself up. Her left ankle was grotesquely swollen and could barely withstand any weight. The man stood before her and Brennan saw that he had not set the break in his nose. If he did not get it set properly, it would impair his breathing and would have to be rebroken in order to be fixed properly. Brennan allowed herself a fleeting satisfaction at the idea. Then her thoughts turned somber and the glimmer of satisfaction faded away.
His iron grip closed on her arm and he propelled her away from the wall and toward the stairs. Brennan limped after him, her face steeled against the pain. At the top of the stairs, another man was waiting with a burlap bag in hand. She tried weakly to fend them off, but one of them held her arms down while the other pushed the bag down over her face and tightened it around her neck so that she could not shake it off. They led her outside and helped her to mount a waiting donkey. Brennan clutched the saddle horn with both hands.
The ride back was long and difficult. Brennan had to grit her teeth against the pain as the donkey-ride jostled her ribcage. She had been weakened by her captivity and even staying ahorse was difficult. She was nauseous and dehydrated. At one point, she was struck with vertigo and had to lean forward, running her hands up the animal's mane and resting her face along its neck. She heard the men laughing when she did so, but she couldn't find the energy to care.
When they finally stopped, it was all Brennan could do not to slide sideways off the donkey. She managed to stay on until one of the men helped pull her off. She didn't know if she fell to her knees or if he pushed her down, but when they yanked the sack off her head, Brennan was on the ground. She glanced sideways and saw Paula da Silva on her knees next to her.
The young Brazilian's eyes were wide and terrified. Bruises covered her arms and neck and she had a black eye. Her clothing was torn in places and she looked haggard and tired. Her hands were tied behind her back and she had been gagged with a strip of cloth tied around her head.
Brennan looked around. They were back at the small tent by the well. The table where the girl's bones had been was empty. Everything else was destroyed – her tape recorder was crushed and all the tape pulled out and ripped to shreds, the laptop had been smashed and all her notes had been gathered in a pile and burned.
The man stood in front of her, an AK-47 held casually at his side. His men stood at the entrance to the tent with the donkeys. He lit a cigarette and drew it down halfway before speaking. "I like you, Señora. You are resilient," he said to Brennan with a smirk. His eyes flicked over to the younger woman beside her. He walked over to stand in front of Paula and the hand not holding the cigarette moved down to cup her chin. "And you know that I like you, Señorita." He moved back to Brennan and lifted the tip of his gun to run it alongside her face. Brennan resisted the urge to flinch away. "So I will give you two a chance."
He nodded to his men. One of them went to a donkey and untied a gallon of kerosene. He walked around the outer edge of the tent, dousing the walls with the fluid.
The man smiled. "If you two survive, remember never to come back here. Never say anything about this place or the bones you saw here. If you do…" he fired a single shot into the air directly between them. "Am I clear?" he asked.
Brennan gave a single, curt nod.
"Good." The man walked out of the tent. "Light it up," he ordered and seconds later the white fabric of the small tent burst into flames.
Later, Brennan would wonder how she had managed to get them both out of the inferno. The pain from her ankle was almost debilitating and Miss da Silva was in an unfortunate state of shock and was in no condition to help either of them. Brennan pulled the young woman to her feet and supported her weight as she limped toward one section of wall where the fire was smallest. There was no other choice but to hold her breath and push through the flames. Brennan shoved Paula through first.
The young woman broke easily through the fire-weakened cloth and fell to the ground coughing. Brennan stumbled through a second afterward. She hastily beat out a few spots of flame that had leeched onto her clothing and then did the same for the young student. Brennan used her teeth to undo the knots the bound her wrists together.
"Miss da Silva, can you stand?" Brennan asked. There was no response and she shook the woman's shoulder roughly. "Miss da Silva!"
Paula stirred and blinked her wide eyes as slowly as an owl. "Yes, Dr. Brennan," she said softly. "I think I can." She rolled over so that Brennan could untie her as well.
"Are you injured?"
"No. Not very."
"There is a river between here and the main tent, remember?" Brennan asked. "We must get to the river. Then you can rest, but not until then."
"I understand." Her voice was tight and thin and Paula's face was strained as she struggled to her feet. Brennan had to brace against a tree, but she managed to get back on her feet as well. Together they made their way down the small path toward the main tent. When they reached the river, Brennan lost her footing and slid down the bank into the shallow water. The cool liquid felt wonderful as it rushed over her swollen ankle. Paula stumbled down the bank after her. They both drank the river water, eager to quench their thirst.
The shadows grew long as they washed in the river, scraping off the dirt and grime of captivity. By the time they made it to the main site, the sky was growing dark. Here, like at the smaller tent, every trace of the bones was gone and all the equipment destroyed. The tent had been burned and the ash covered the remnants of their camp. "It's gone," Paula said softly. "It's all gone."
Brennan was tired and in pain. "Yes, Miss da Silva. A very apt observation."
"What do we do?" There was fear in the woman's voice, and sadness.
"When I was about your age and in a similar circumstance, I asked that same question of a professor."
"What did she say?"
"He told me that it is our job to tell the truth. 'We tell the truth and we do not flinch.'"
Paula looked down at the ground and nudged a pile of dirt with her foot. "I was afraid," she confessed.
"I was as well," Brennan replied. "But that… people like them… they are the reason that we cannot flinch. Their victims – the people in those graves – had names and faces and families. Their families deserve to know what happened to them. So for them, we tell the truth. We tell the stories of the dead who cannot speak for themselves."
They started a fire and slept in the ashes of their camp. By the next morning, Brennan's ankle had swollen too much to fit into her shoes. She used her jacket to create a makeshift bandage and Paula found her a suitable stick to use as a walking pole.
They walked all morning in silence. It was late afternoon before Paula broke the silence. "I ran her DNA before they came," Paula said quietly. "All four victims were related – a father, two sons, and a daughter."
"The girl died almost a month after the other three," Brennan informed her. "She showed signs of having been held captive for a period of time and the damage to her hips and pelvis indicate sexual abuse. She was alive when they threw her in the well."
"So what do we do now?"
Brennan sighed. "We find out who they were." Her leg hurt more than she could say, her ribs ached and she was running a fever. A few of the cuts on her body were reddening and there was one scrape on her side that had started to ooze pus earlier in the day. She was tired, injured, and in a great deal of pain. But she knew that they had to keep going – if they made it back to Gonzalez's dig site, they would be able to get medical attention as well as food and water. All they had to do was keep moving.
"How? We've lost all the evidence, all the samples and all our records were destroyed."
"We have nothing for the official report, no. But we still remember what we uncovered. We know they were a family and we know they died between 6 and 8 months ago. That should be enough to find them in a missing persons database. We can at least tell their families what happened to them."
It was almost dark when they reached the edge of the jungle. The sight of the dig was a welcome relief. One of the other interns at the site spotted them and soon Dr. Gonzalez was coming toward them, leading two donkeys.
Gonzalez took in their battered appearances and noted Brennan's limp. "What happened?" he asked.
"Someone didn't want those remains identified." Brennan answered.
"Are you going to report it? Do we need to go back to collect your equipment?"
Brennan shook her head. "No. There is nothing left."
Gonzalez looked at Paula then and spoke to her in quiet Spanish. Brennan didn't listen. She mounted one of the donkeys and waited. Finally, the other two broke their conversation. Paula mounted the other donkey and Gonzalez walked between them as the three headed back toward the dig. "Paula tells me that you saved her life."
"I do not know that that is correct," Brennan stated flatly. "Miss da Silva was uninjured; she very well could have made the trip on her own. If anything, I likely slowed her down."
"Regardless," Gonzalez looked up at her and every line in his face was filled with sincere gratitude. "I thank you."
They reached the dig site and Gonzalez led them to his tent. All of the interns shared a large, barracks-style tent that was divided by gender, but Gonzalez and the few other doctors on site each had their own abodes. Brennan sank gratefully in a chair and propped her leg up on an upturned crate that Gonzalez brought for her. "Do any of the doctors here have a medical background, by any chance?" Brennan asked.
"One does – Dr. Fernandez. I can go get her if you like. I know she brought a medical kit to the dig, since we are so far from advanced medical care here.
When Dr. Fernandez arrived, she was polite and professional and did not ask questions. Brennan told her to see to Miss da Silva first, but the young woman insisted that she had nothing worse than scrapes and bruises. Dr. Fernanez gave her a shot of antibiotics and started her on an anti-fungal and anti-worm regimen to counteract anything they may have picked up by drinking the river water. Her pills in hand, Paula left Dr. Gonzalez's tent and headed back to the intern quarters and to the friends she had not seen since Dr. Brennan arrived.
In addition to a strong dose of the same medications she had given Paula, Dr. Fernandez's prescription for Dr. Brennan involved rest and immobility. The dig team had a mobile x-ray, which they mostly used to see as-yet-unexcavated artifacts, in order to examine them first before digging in case the dig process damaged them. The x-ray worked well enough for Fernandez to get clear pictures of Brennan's rib and ankle. There was a minute, hairline fracture to the tenth rib – it would heal on its own, given time, and likely cause no complications. Fernandez rigged an impromptu boot for Brennan's ankle and one of the interns fashioned a rough pair of crutches out of wood retrieved from the jungle.
When Brennan asked the date, Dr. Fernandez surprised her with the answer. Brennan could have sworn that she had been locked in that room for a week or more, but apparently it had only been three days. Brennan had two weeks remaining of her planned three weeks in El Salvador. That would give her enough time to at least partially recover before she had to go back to the Jeffersonian.
For the next two weeks, Brennan limped around the dig on her crutches. The dig had not uncovered any skeletal remains (to her disappointment) but Brennan was proficient in excavation techniques and had of course taken Cultural Anthropology as part of her graduate course-load. Dr. Gonzalez assigned her three interns and a section of the dig. Her interns set up a chair and stool for her to prop her leg on under the tent that covered their area. They worked diligently under her supervision.
Brenan noticed that, after their time in the jungle, Miss da Silva seemed strangely shy around her. The graduate student preferred to spend her time surrounded by her fellow female intern. At times, it even seemed that she avoided contact with Dr. Brennan – until the day when Brennan was ready to leave.
Brennan woke up on the morning of her departure with a strange feeling of apprehension. She got out of her cot, thinking that she needed to pack. As soon as she was out of bed, though, Brennan remembered that she had nothing to pack. All of her belongings had been destroyed at the gravesites in the jungle. She had only a single outfit – all the clothes that she had been wearing for the past two weeks had been borrowed from other women at the dig site.
The bus for the capitol arrived around 9 am and Brennan was waiting by the road when it pulled up. She had bid farewell to her colleagues and thanked Dr. Gonzalez the night before. He had asked if she wanted them to see her off, but Brennan insisted they not interrupt their work at the dig. So she was surprised to see someone crossing the open expanse between the dig and the road. The bus driver waited, the door open, as Brennan turned to speak to Paula da Silva.
"Dr. Brennan!" The young woman was out of breath, so Brennan waited a moment for her to continue. "I just wanted to come say… goodbye. And thank you."
Never good at social interactions, Brennan was unsure what was required of her in this situation. Brennan held out her hand. "It was a pleasure working with you." As soon as the words left her mouth, Brennan felt sure that it was the wrong thing to say.
"Salvaste minha vida." In her earnestness, the words tumbled out of her mouth in her native tongue. "Obrigada." You saved my life. Thank you.
Brennan did not speak Portuguese, but it was close enough to other Romance languages that she could get the gist of what Miss da Silva was saying. "It was nothing," she shrugged off the girl's thanks.
"I have to know, though…" She had her emotions under control now and switched back to English. "How do you deal with something like that? What am I supposed to do with what happened back there? Am I just supposed to forget that it ever happened?"
"No," Brennan said simply. "It happened. You can let it scare you or you can deal with it, learn from it, and move on." The bus driver was growing impatient. He eased his foot off the brakes and the bus rolled forward a few inches on the dirt road. "I have to go now, Miss da Silva."
The young woman obviously had more she wanted to say, but she stepped away from the road. "Good-bye, Dr. Brennan."
Brennan spent a few days in the capitol city before flying back to Washington. She made inquires with the missing persons database, but to no avail. In many areas, the police were as corrupt as the druglords and, in many instances, worked for them. People went missing all the time and were only rarely reported to the authorities.
When she arrived in DC, Brennan walked back into the Jeffersonian as if nothing had ever happened. She explained the boot on her ankle with a tale that she had stumbled over a large tree root during her trek in the jungle. She waved off the loss of her equipment with the excuse that she had left it with the dig team. She had enough money to replace everything out of pocket and the Jeffersonian could write off the loss as a donation.
She went back to work.
Now, years later, she was finally ready to tell the story. The version she gave Angela was cut and dried: just the facts and only the barest facts at that. "I was in a tent set up by one of the gravesites. I was working with the remains of a young girl – maybe thirteen. She had been shot in the head and dumped into a well. This cop shows up and – he might have been a soldier, it's not easy to tell. I thought he was there to guard me but he told me to stop. When I refused, he called in two others. They put a bag over my head and tossed me into a cell with dirt floors and no windows."
"For how long?" Angela whispered.
"Later I found out it was three days. But I thought it was a week, maybe more." She swallowed. "He came in every day and made me believe I was going to die. He said that he'd shoot me and toss me into a well and that no one would ever know who I was or what became of me. I promised myself if I ever had the chance, I'd get even." Angela nodded in silent understanding. "That doesn't mean I need therapy," Brennan finished sullenly.
That was all that was said. Brennan knew that Angela probably had more questions, but she didn't feel like sharing everything. There was no need to relive the experience in the telling of it. It happened. It was over. And, like Brennan had told Miss da Silva: "You deal with it, you learn from it, and you move on."