New Year’s Day 2014
Dr. Quinn Allenby huddled deeper into her coat in an effort to keep out the bitter wind as she walked toward the ancient graveyard of what had once been the Leper Hospital of St. James. Several locals milled about, hoping for a glimpse of the grave, but for the most part, the cemetery was deserted on this Wednesday morning. The day was cold and damp, with a thick mist blurring the edges of the crumbling ruins and making the landscape appear almost gothic. Bare tree limbs formed an intricate lacework pattern against the leaden sky, but their trunks melted into the gauzy mist that swirled between the weathered crosses and left a slick coating of moisture on every surface.
“Here, take my gloves,” Gabe said, handing Quinn a pair of leather gloves that he pulled out of his coat pocket.
Quinn accepted the gloves gratefully and pulled them on after taking one last look at the beautiful diamond ring on her finger. They’d been engaged for less than twenty-four hours, but instead of celebrating and sharing the news with their families, they were in Dunwich, of all places, summoned by Rhys Morgan of the BBC to come and examine the remains that had been unearthed by a curious terrier on his morning walk. Rhys was pacing just outside the tent, a mobile phone pressed to his ear as he talked animatedly to someone on the other end. A young man with a video camera stood idly by, exchanging looks of bitter resentment with a middle-aged woman who was in the process of adjusting the lighting to better illuminate the scene. Rhys likely dragged his employees away from New Year’s Eve celebrations and brought them to this bleak village for something that might be nothing more than the mortal remains of a medieval leper.
To Quinn, Dunwich was probably one of the saddest places in England. Some referred to it as the ‘Atlantis of Britain’, but in Quinn’s opinion, that was too romantic a name for a bustling port city that slid into the sea and was reduced from a population of several thousand to less than one hundred. Dunwich had once been the capital of East Anglia, with a port to match that of fourteenth-century London, but a series of terrible storms coupled with a powerful coastal drift eroded the coastline, permanently covering about a square mile of the town with seawater.
Of the original structures, the ruins of the Leper Hospital and Greyfriars Franciscan Priory were the last remnants of the medieval town. The Franciscans had wisely moved their priory further inland in 1290, and the Leper Hospital had been built far from the main population for fear of contagion. The port and the rest of the town, including twelve churches, were fifty feet underwater, with the last proud structure, that of All Saints’ Church, succumbing to its fate and vanishing into the North Sea in 1922. Now, the village of Dunwich numbered a handful of houses, a museum, and a pub, and was a melancholy spot on the face of the Suffolk coast.
“Quinn, glad you could make it.” Rhys’s tone was brusque as he rang off and strode toward Quinn and Gabe. “And Gabriel Russell. Even better. Two archeologists are better than one, I always say,” he chuckled without mirth. “You two seem to be attached at the hip these days,” he remarked caustically.
Gabe threw Quinn an expectant look, but Quinn ignored it. She saw no reason to share their news with Rhys. Quinn had to work with Rhys Morgan, but they didn’t have to be friends, especially not after what she’d learned from her mother. Rhys was not her biological father, but he could have been, being one of the three men who assaulted her mother when she was a teenager. He’d contacted Sylvia and tried to make amends, but Quinn could never truly forgive him or give him her trust ever again.
“So, what have we got?” Quinn asked, pulling aside the white tarpaulin and stepping into the tent that had been erected above the grave. Rhys was right on her heels, his excitement palpable. He’d been searching for a suitable subject for the next installment of ‘Echoes from the Past,’ a program about archeological mysteries, hosted by the renowned Dr. Quinn Allenby. What the viewers didn’t know was that Quinn was possessed of a rare gift, which Rhys exploited shamelessly to flesh out the characters and learn their secrets. Quinn was able to see into the past when holding an object belonging to the deceased in her bare hands, an ability that often left her feeling heartbroken and frustrated. Rhys clearly hoped that this new find would be another mind-blowing mystery, one to rival the first episode of the program, entitled ‘The Lovers.’
“What we have here is a shallow grave on the fringes of the cemetery,” Rhys replied. “There’s no headstone, no coffin, and the deceased, who appears to have been a child, is buried face-down. I’ve already cleared it with the local constabulary, and they’re sure that the burial is not a recent one, so they have no professional interest in it.”
Quinn squatted down next to the grave with Gabe peering over her shoulder. She’d seen many graves and many human remains, but something about this particular one made her swallow back tears. Unless the deceased had been a very short adult, it had to be a child, a child who’d been dumped face down into a hole and left to rot — a child who was unloved, unmourned, and unwanted. Or was he? Rhys was right; there was a story here, and probably a very interesting one.
“Well?” Rhys prompted, impatient as ever. “What do you think?”
“I won’t know anything for certain until the bones are excavated, cleaned, and tested. But here is what I do know. The skeleton appears to be that of a child. It was buried face down as a sign of disrespect, possibly even as a punishment. Prone burials were used throughout history to humiliate the dead and their families. I have no way of knowing if the child died of natural causes until a bone expert examines the remains. I would like to dig several trenches in the immediate vicinity to see if there are any more such burials. I can’t imagine that it was just the one. We might need to get permission from the diocese, given that we’d be disturbing a patch of land bordering hallowed ground. Rhys, I’ll leave that up to you. Let me get my tools and protective clothing. I don’t want any contamination of the site. Gabe, perhaps some of your students might like to volunteer. This is an excellent learning opportunity, and I need someone to do the grunt work,” Quinn added with a smile.
“I’ll call the Institute. In the meantime, I’m at your disposal.”
“When was the last time you held a trowel in your hands, Dr. Russell?” Quinn teased. Gabe had given up digging in the dirt to become head of department at the UCL Institute of Archeology in London, having had his fill of practical experience. Despite his complaints to the contrary, he enjoyed the role of administrator and liked being around young people, who were enthusiastic and eager to get their hands dirty. Gabe patted his pockets, a look of consternation on his face.
“I can’t find my mobile. I must have left it at yours,” he said. They’d left in such a hurry that morning that it was entirely possible that Gabe left his phone behind. He had a habit of leaving it wherever he used it last, and that would have been in bed last night when he texted his mum to tell her that Quinn had said yes.
“Here, use mine. The Institute is in the contacts,” Quinn said, holding out her mobile to Gabe.
Gabe stepped off to the side to call his assistant, Sherry Lee. She wouldn’t be in the office today, but would get his message as soon as she came to work tomorrow and put out a call for volunteers. Gabe handed Quinn back the phone and blew on his hands, which were turning red with cold.
“I think we’ve done all we can for the moment,” he said, giving Quinn a hand up.
“I’d like you to get started as soon as possible,” Rhys protested. “Dave, here, will film the excavation and the removal of the bones. I thought it’d be a nice touch for the opening scenes of the episode. People like to see what the remains looked like in situ. Drinks on me at six,” he added in an effort to pacify his disgruntled employees.
“Right. Let’s go get our kit,” Gabe said as he escorted Quinn out of the tent. “Are you all right?” he asked as they walked back toward his car where all their equipment was stowed in the boot.
Quinn shrugged. “I wish I could just walk away from this one.”
Gabe turned Quinn to face him and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Why? What’s bothering you? Did you see something?”
“No,” Quinn shook her head. “But there’s something about this case that disturbs me. Probably because someone saw fit to purposely disrespect a child, even in death. It’s unsettling."
“Yes, it is. Do you want to speak to Rhys about opting out?” he asked, already knowing the answer. Quinn was under contract to finish out the series, and Rhys, being the consummate showman, would never pass up a dramatic, disturbing case because of the tender sensibilities of his star. Quinn was a professional and would behave like one. But there was one way in which she might be spared the gruesome details of the child’s life and death: if there were no personal objects found with the remains. That way she would be flying blind, using only scientific data, her heart not engaged.
“No, I have to do this, but perhaps I’ll get lucky.”
“Fingers crossed,” Gabe said with a warm smile, knowing exactly what Quinn was referring to.
Quinn crossed her fingers and returned his smile. It helped to know that he understood her so well and was there to support her.