The Broken – Irina Shapiro

She never saw it coming. The blow was so forceful, it lifted her up and for a few terrifying moments she was airborne, hurtling through the dark night on wings of excruciating pain. And then she landed on the ground with a sickening thud, her limbs splaying at odd angles, as if she were a broken doll. Her head rolled to the side, and a trickle of blood ran down her chin and onto her shoulder. The pain was so visceral, she thought her heart would stop from sheer shock, but then all sensation began to recede, replaced with a creeping chill that spread from the tips of her fingers and toes inward, toward her major organs. She began to tremble as tears of white-hot terror slid down her cheeks. This time, there’d be no dramatic rescue, no second chance. This was it. Her life was at an end, and what a legacy she was leaving behind. A trail of tears. She’d cut a swath through life with her angry sword, had taken what she wanted, leaving nothing but carnage in her wake. Well, now she was the carrion, left mangled and defenseless to be picked over by the crows that wore the disguise of family. Perhaps she deserved it, she thought with uncompromising clarity, for what she’d done couldn’t be forgiven, or forgotten by those she’d hurt. She’d tried to destroy something precious and sacred, and this was her punishment, her just reward for her vanity. “Why did you do it?” she whispered hoarsely, staring blindly at the star-strewn sky.

For she knew the face of her executioner, had seen it for just a second before the devastating impact. As death cradled her head in its gentle hands, she stepped into its comforting embrace, leaving behind a woman who’d been irreparably broken long before this night. Chapter 1 June 2015 London, England A miserable drizzle fell from a leaden sky as Quinn left the house, making her hair damp and coating her face with a sheen of moisture. It was nearly the middle of June, but it was cold enough to wear a thick cardigan. She unfurled her umbrella and hurried toward the Tube station. She’d have loved to take a taxi, but traffic always slowed to a crawl when it rained, and it would take longer to travel cross-town by car than by Tube. Rhys was meeting her at an address in Spitalfields, not an area she was overly familiar with. Quinn descended into the station and consulted the map. Nearly half an hour later she emerged on Shoreditch Road and walked to the address Rhys had texted her. The building was modern, but not very attractive, and had a discreet sign that proclaimed it to be the City Mortuary.

Quinn looked around, wondering what on earth Rhys wanted to show her here. He said they had a new case, but nothing that resembled an archeological find could possibly be located here. Fishing her mobile out of her bag, Quinn checked her messages. She’d left Alex with a childminder, a twenty-year-old college student who preferred to take evening classes and work during the day. Nicola had stayed with Alex three times to date and seemed to be taking good care of him. Still, Quinn worried and checked her phone multiple times to make sure there were no frantic calls or texts from Nicola. She didn’t want to annoy Nicola, so she rang Gabe instead, but the call went directly to voicemail. Quinn returned her mobile to her bag and looked up and down the street, hoping Rhys would get there soon. A few moments later, Rhys emerged from a taxi and greeted Quinn with, “Filthy weather. I prefer a good downpour to this pissing rain any day.

” “Good morning to you too,” Quinn replied. She’d been sheltering in the doorway but would be glad to get inside and out of the rain, which was beginning to come down in earnest. “Rhys, what exactly are we doing here?” “You’ll see. I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.” “Nothing you do surprises me anymore, so no danger of that.” “All the same,” Rhys replied as he held the door open for her. The interior of the building wasn’t any more pleasant than the exterior, and the familiar smell of carbolic and death accosted Quinn’s senses as soon as they advanced down the narrow corridor. A fluorescent light flickered overhead, threatening to go. It was like something out of a bad horror film. “Nice place,” Quinn commented.

Her sarcasm wasn’t lost on Rhys. “Not all mortuaries are as upscale as Colin Scott’s. This one’s used primarily by the local Criminal Investigations Department, and from what I understand, there’s no shortage of bodies.” “Lovely,” Quinn replied, wishing desperately to be out in the fresh air, even if the rain was coming down. This place gave her the creeps. A short, portly man came out to greet them. Quinn placed him somewhere in his sixties, but the bald pate and the sizeable paunch probably added years to his appearance. His thick horn-rimmed spectacles made him look like a wise old owl. “Mr. Morgan, a pleasure to meet you,” the man said, extending his hand.

“Dr. Clegg, this is Dr. Allenby,” Rhys said. “Dr. Allenby, an honor. I’m a great admirer of your program. I’m fascinated with anything that has to do with human remains. Occupational hazard, I’m afraid,” he said, chuckling. “You have a real talent for bringing history to life. It’s almost as if you’d known those people and had spent time with them.

They seem so heartbreakingly alive when you speak of them.” “Thank you, Dr. Clegg. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the program,” Quinn said, still unsure of why Rhys had brought her to this seedy mortuary. “Dr. Clegg, if you would be so kind as to fill Dr. Allenby in on the details before showing her the remains.” “Of course. Let’s talk in my office, shall we? Can I offer you both a cup of coffee?” “Yes, thank you,” Rhys replied. Quinn nodded.

She hadn’t had any breakfast, per Rhys’s suggestion, but thought a coffee would be safe enough. Dr. Clegg guided them to his office and left them to chat while he went to get the coffee. “Were you alerted to this case by someone who rang the Echoes from the Past hotline?” Quinn asked. Rhys’s assistant had been fielding a surprising number of calls since Rhys set up the hotline a few months ago. “No. As a matter of fact, I received a call from your pal, Drew Camden, a few days ago. He thought I’d find this one interesting. He’d heard about it from a mate of his on the Met.” “Drew called you about a case?” Quinn asked with some surprise.

As far as she knew, Rhys and Drew Camden had never met, but they were very much aware of one another, given Quinn’s search for her twin and their respective roles in locating Jo Turing. Quinn sighed. She hadn’t heard from Jo since she had so suddenly departed a fortnight ago, after their trip to Leicester in search of Jo’s daughter, whom she’d given up at birth. Whatever Jo had learned from the letter her father had left for her seemed to have sent her running, but Jo had never so much as said goodbye or provided even the most basic of explanations. Quinn had tried calling her several times since that day, but her mobile was off, and her agent, Charles Sutcliffe, remained mum, although he had assured Quinn that Jo was fine and off on a new assignment somewhere in the Middle East. “Drew is a fan of the program,” Rhys replied. “He thought we’d be all over this one.” “And will we?” “Oh, I think so. Not a pleasant sight though, from what I understand.” “It rarely is.

” Rhys turned to look at Quinn. “It’s a baby.” “We’ve come across babies before,” Quinn replied, puzzled by Rhys’s sudden need to coddle her. “Not like this one.” Any further questions were forestalled by Dr. Clegg, who returned with three mugs of coffee. The coffee was surprisingly good, and Quinn drank it quickly, grateful for its warmth. “Right,” Dr. Clegg said as he reached for a file and opened it in front of him. “The remains were discovered just over a fortnight ago at a property owned by Mr.

and Mrs. Brock. The Brocks had lived at that address for nearly fifty years, but it seems they weren’t keen gardeners and never bothered much with their back garden. Having recently retired, Mrs. Brock decided it was high time she planted some flowers in her garden and put her elderly husband to work, digging. The Brocks had successfully planted two rose bushes before coming across something wrapped in oilskin. Upon unwrapping the find, which they hoped would be buried treasure, they came across the remains of a child, wrapped in what remained of a woolen shawl. Naturally, they called the police.” Dr. Clegg took a noisy sip of coffee and adjusted his spectacles, which were sliding down his nose.

“I was called in to examine the remains.” “And what have you discovered?” Rhys asked. He seemed eager to get to the more pertinent details. “Given that the body had been wrapped in oilcloth, it was insulated from the moisture in the ground, and therefore better preserved than a body that had been buried without would have been. The assumption was that this might have been a recent burial, but upon closer examination, I determined that this child died over fifty years ago, so no official investigation has been opened.” “What makes these remains so remarkable?” Quinn asked. She could see that both Rhys and Dr. Clegg were bursting with something akin to excitement, their coffee forgotten. “Allow me to show you.” Dr.

Clegg led them to the lab, where several bodies were laid out, awaiting postmortems. Quinn averted her gaze. As an archeologist, she dealt with death on a daily basis, but not recent death. Coming face to face with the recently deceased still shocked her, and she didn’t relish the reminder that no matter how well a life had been lived, it still ended up in pretty much the same way: cold, ugly, leaking bodily fluids and bloated with gasses. She recalled one particularly gruesome detail she’d read about Victorian mortuaries. The morticians often made holes in the bellies of the deceased and inserted tubes to allow the gasses to escape. If the corpses weren’t claimed for burial quickly, they held a match to the tubes, making them glow like candles, the flame fed by the noxious gasses that had built up in the body. “This way, please,” Dr. Clegg said, directing them to the furthest slab. The remains were covered with a sheet, but Quinn’s heart nearly burst with sadness at the tiny shape beneath the cover.

The child had to be a newborn. Dr. Clegg ceremoniously drew back the sheet and Quinn stared at the skull and torso of a baby. “Where is the rest of it?” she asked, turning to look at the doctor, who was now practically bursting with glee. “This is it.” “Had the surrounding area been excavated?” “Yes, the entire garden had been dug up, newly planted rose bushes and all. This is all there was.” Quinn stared at the slab, speechless with horror. She knew what she was looking at but couldn’t fathom how the child would have come to be in such condition. “You said on the telephone there were no signs of violence?” “This child appears to have died a natural death.

” “What became of its limbs?” Quinn asked, her gaze glued to what was left of the baby. “They must have been removed post-mortem, and whoever did it had extensive medical knowledge.” “But why would someone dismember a child before burying it?” “That is for you to find out, Dr. Allenby. It’s what you do, isn’t it?” Dr. Clegg replied, smiling at her. “It’s a historical mystery,” he added for good measure. “Yes, I suppose it is,” Quinn muttered. She’d never been overly squeamish or easily affected by cases, but since having Alex all of that had changed. Mothers and babies held a special place in her heart, and the sight of this poor, mutilated child made her want to weep.

What had happened to it? How did it die, and why would anyone remove its limbs before burying it in the garden, like a dead dog? These are questions she would have to answer if Rhys decided to make this find the subject of the next episode. “I’ll just wait outside. I need some air,” Quinn said and fled the laboratory. “Be right there,” Rhys called after her. He came out several minutes later, a cardboard box beneath his arm. “I assume you’ll want Dr. Scott to examine the remains,” he said as he handed Quinn the box. “No doubt he’ll run more tests and be able to give us greater insight into when this child actually lived and what killed it. And then you can work your magic,” he added with a grin. “How can I? I have nothing to go on,” Quinn replied, accepting the box despite her better judgment.

“Oh, but you do.” Rhys pulled a plastic bag out of his pocket. “The baby was buried with this. It had been used to secure the shawl.”

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