SILENCE THE DEAD

Betty Jo Dean lay as she had for over thirty years, shrouded in black vinyl, forever seventeen.

None of them—not the two gray-haired forensics people, not the state's attorney or the cops or even the bastards who'd long kept their fists on the lids in the town—dared breathe. The only sound came from the exhaust fan in the ceiling. It thrummed irregularly, loud then soft, rough then smooth, like a bad heart about to burst. As though it, too, feared what Betty Jo Dean was about to reveal.

The doctor, a man of many such exhumations, bent over the stainless steel table and unzipped the body bag.

He froze. His assistant gasped, and dropped her metal probe to clatter on the cold tile floor.

The mayor, disgraced and exiled to the back of the room, pushed through the wall of stunned cops and looked down.

She wore only panties and a bra. No one had bothered to dress her. Her skin was mottled, and gray.

Except for the skull. It was polished and shiny and, unlike the rest of her, arrogantly devoid of flesh.

And it was loose, wedged at the top of the bag like a grotesque afterthought, a thing casually tossed in. Its jaw had opened wide, as if screaming in outrage.

The mayor had imagined all sorts of horrors, but not this. He spun in a fury to face the hating eyes of those he'd forced to pull her from the ground. His words came with spit.

“That's not her head.”