"Yeah, I might actually feel something."
"Is writhing around on the ground in unimaginable pain the kind of feeling you want?"
Of course not, he thought. That's the reason I...
"Mortimer!" Shanna appeared in the doorway of the study. "It’s really here?"
He nodded, eyes twinkling, then turning cold again as he glanced toward Jenny. "Leave us."
Shanna walked past the nurse and came around the sofa. Mortimer could smell whatever body wash she’d used in the shower that morning as she sat down beside him, her brown curls bouncing off her shoulders like an honest-to-god shampoo commercial. She was thirty-five, had been single when she moved out to Durango at Mortimer’s request, but in the eight weeks she’d been here, she’d met a sheriff’s deputy and inexplicably fallen for him. It remained beyond Mortimer’s comprehension how this gorgeous biological anthropologist had seen anything in that redneck, who, as far as Mortimer could tell, was the epitome of what made the world throw-up in its mouth when it thought of Red State America.
Then again, he was old and dying, and maybe just a little bit jealous.
He opened the middle drawer, glancing out the big windows into the San Juan Mountains beyond a gaping canyon. The peaks were flushed with alpenglow, the snowfields pink as the sun dropped over southwest Colorado.
He unlocked the hasps and flipped them open, gingerly lifting off the top half of the box, bringing it onto his lap as Shanna leaned in. They could only see the back of the skull, the bone deep brown, heavily calcified, full of hairline fractures and several larger cracks, one square-inch piece missing entirely. He worked his fingers down into the hard black foam that had protected the skull on its journey across the ocean, and carefully lifted it out.
Not at all what he’d been expecting, and it didn’t match the artist conceptions in any of the scandal rags. This wasn’t a skull from an old Christopher Lee Hammer film. This was an affront against nature. Mortimer found it difficult to breathe. But he also registered something else, something he hadn’t felt since his diagnosis. Excitement.