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Porter wiped his brow and replaced his weatherbeaten straw hat. He had worn it on every dig since his team had found the strange formation of jawbones the archaelogical community had dubbed the "Goblin Group" but which so far had defied analysis. For a scientist, Porter was remarkably superstitious, even as he fought against pseudoscience in his lecture hall. In fact, some of his graduate students had inscribed a shovel with the legend "Post hoc, ergo propter hoc;" Porter's favorite logical fallacy.
He unfolded his legs and enjoyed the protesting muscles. At fifty-eight, he had lost much of his flexibility of body, but none of his mind. He was still the keenest eye in making connections between bits of bone and fossilized excreta to deduce entire animal populations.
The sun was going down, casting long shadows over the site. A coyote howled without menace a few miles away. Far, far away in the distance, Porter could make out the LDS church and its spire in the glemmering late afternoon sun. He grinned as he gathered his brush and began the delicate work of uncovering the ruins that might have been Mayan. The church elders would no doubt dislike his presence here, even two miles away. A secular humanist scientist, part of the class of men and women who would one day discover the lost transitional fossil that would once and for all put to rest the pleasant poetry of Genesis in favor of the cold, unfeeling facts of evolution. He could hardly be welcome.
He looked up at the faint sound. Glen, his oldest graduate assistant, was waving to him from his auxiliary dig site.
Porter got up, hearing bones crack in the process. He let out an involuntary laugh of pain as his protesting muscles, the same ones he had enjoyed the pleasant soreness of earlier, now shot burning torches through his spine. He spent the first nine steps simply working his joints back into place and hobbled stiffly over to Glen who was looking wild-eyed.
“What have you found? Captain Kidd’s treasure?” He smiled. He knew his humor was mild and hopelessly out of date, but his students seemed to find him a harmless old bird because of it.
“No, Doctor. Uh…something recent.” He pointed to the dig site.
Porter squinted into the shadow of the pit. The edge of the site was the vague right angles of a possible Mayan condominium, but on a much higher strata at the extreme north end of the site was the faint beginnings of a whitish material Doctor Cruickshank knew to be bone.
He sighed. This happened more often than he cared to remember. Promising sites and digs would be held up for days while police were called in to investigate a murder or missing persons case long since closed. In non-American countries, well-placed bribes could allow work to continue on the site despite the human remains of violence; In America, such bribes did not work as often.
“All right. Let’s start getting it out.”
Porter directed the team as it made quick work uncovering the skeleton. It was fairly fresh; although no organic material remained on its frame, the bones themselves were sturdy.
His team expertly extracted the skeleton from the earth: the grave had been dug surprisingly deep for what Porter had assumed was a killsite. Despite his gentle nature, Dr. Cruikshank had more than a passing familiarity with murder.
He watched as a femur was gingerly moved, hand over hand, to the reconstruction zone Glen had hurriedly set up. All looked like it was under excellent supervision. Porter, suddenly weary, trudged to the yellow cooler with the duct-taped red lid and drew himself a cut of water, then another. He leaned on the cooler and felt his age.
Twenty-nine years. He’d been a professor (of one rank or another) for almost three decades. He’d spent the vast majority of his life in academia, teaching from dusty books his dusty facts and now and then, trooping out into the field to brush dust off old mouldy bones and bits of crockery. He was tired. And now this.
He turned to watch the excavation. It was an adult, he guessed, someone buried here decades ago for an unknown reason. He could barely make out the activity in the shadowy pit. Glen was directing his charges at the reconstruction site, and Porter grinned with pride at the young man’s confidence. He was, no doubt, seamlessly rebuilding the human corpse on the relatively flat slab of bedrock they had reached three days ago.
Glen cocked his head and looked around. He spotted Porter at the water cooler and waved him over.
Porter’s grin widened. Evidently the old bird was still useful, he thought, as he made his slow laborious way to the reconstruction site.
“Doctor…I think we might have two separate finds mixed together. But…well, I’m sure I screwed it up somehow, but I’ll be damned if I can see how.”
Cruikshank peered down at the rebuilt corpse.
Seven days later, Porter had still not recovered, and he knew he never would. He had done all the preliminary work he needed to: the laboratory was still working, and would be doing so for years to come. But he knew with his almost three decades of experience, down to his Coleman hiking boots and up to his superstitious straw hat what had happened here. The skeleton had been reconstructed properly, and the head trauma indicated wrongful death.
Someone, more than thirty years ago, had killed an angel.