Mark’s police-issue Crown Victoria was parked in front of my house, and we all piled in, me in the front passenger seat and Gretchen in the back. The car had no official police markings on it, yet somehow cars veered out of our way as we drove up behind them. I guess a Crown Vic just screamed fuzz, even when it was painted basic black. There was a flashing police light on the dashboard that I wish Mark would use, but he didn’t. He didn’t need it. Our destination was only about five minutes up the road: Forest Hills Cemetery.
This may sound creepy, but I’ve always found Forest Hills Cemetery to be one of the perks of living in Jamaica Plain. Although I preferred Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge just a tad more, the antique and morbid splendor of Forest Hills was nothing to sneeze at. We parked at the end of Tower Street and strode in through the spidery wrought-iron gate at the side entrance.
It was the height of May and the lilacs were in full bloom, a peculiar juxtaposition to our macabre errand. I tried to appear suitably serious, but it was hard not to feel ebullient in the sunshine and warm-scented breeze after suffering for months under the frigid yoke of a New England winter. Gretchen held my hand and I could see that she was having similar feelings, that we should be out enjoying a stroll in the merry month of May, not stalking some supernatural menace in a graveyard. Only Mark looked genuinely grim, for he had already witnessed the foulness that we were about to discover.
Mark led us down a succession of narrow paths that wound between stooping elms, stone angels and endless slabs of grey slate. Their drabness stood in stark relief against the vibrant green of the grass and leaves, the lavender lilacs, and the white and red dogwood. Death and life co-mingled here in the garden of eternity. In the end was the beginning, and in the beginning was the end.
We arrived at a grand family crypt, surmounted with a familial crest and the surname PEABODY. I recognized the name immediately. One of the oldest families in Boston. The iron gate to the crypt was ajar. Someone had destroyed the Victorian-era padlock, the elegant mechanisms within desecrated by brute force. Mark pushed the gate wide open and motioned for us to follow. Gretchen and I looked at each other and smiled. We had dared the very halls of Hades himself. What could a little tomb in Forest Hills Cemetery contain that could shock us?
Mark withdrew a handheld flashlight and shone a beacon of truth onto the crypt’s darkened interior. The stone coffins within had been plundered. Some were empty, their contents spirited away for heavens knew what blasphemous purpose. But two contained remnants of bodies, any trace of flesh stripped from them. As I knelt down to examine the bones, I saw that they were marked with dozens of nicks. Could they be...?
“Teeth marks,” Mark confirmed, holding a white handkerchief to his mouth. I wish I had one too. Between the gnawed-on human bones and the charnel stench, I felt like I was going to hurl.
“Let’s get out of here,” Gretchen said, pulling on my arm. I looked at Mark and he nodded his agreement. We emerged in the fresh air once more, shuddering to our souls. Mark swung the gate shut, although he had to leave it ajar.
“This isn’t the only one,” he said. “Tombs all over the city are being ransacked. Someone is...eating the bodies. Sometimes they take the bodies to go, and sometimes they dine in. All the graves have been old so far. None less than a hundred years old. But this is the furthest afield they’ve come. Most of the robberies have been downtown.”
“Any in Copp’s Hill?” I asked.
Mark perked up. “As a matter of fact, yes. Most of the earliest ones were there. We had to work fast to cover them up. Tourists love that place. How did you know that?”
“Just a hunch,” I said.
“If you know anything about this...”
I held up my hands. “I don’t. I swear. But I have an idea how to find out about it. Give me a couple days and I’ll let you know.”
Mark looked at me suspiciously, then handed me his card. I guess cops were just suspicious by nature. “Forty-eight hours. If you find out anything at all, let me know. Can I give you a lift back home?”
“Actually, it’s such a nice day, I think I’ll walk. Care to join me, Gretch?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”
Arm-in-arm, we strode up Centre Street like two young lovers on a spring day, not at all like two people who had just seen the inside of a pillaged tomb. There are some things the brain just can’t process all at once. I’m sure the images would resurface in my dreams that night.
We stopped at the Store 24 and bought a pack of American Spirits each to satisfy our shared addiction. After we had stepped back into the sunshine and ceremonially tamped down our packs, I lit the cigarette that appeared like magic between Gretchen’s lips before lighting my own. I took a deep drag, long overdue after seeing open caskets, rotting flesh and gnawed-upon bones.
“So I guess you’re like some kind of detective now,” Gretchen said. “Jack, P.I.”
“And you’re my trusty partner-in-crime.”
“All we need are a few more and we can have our own Scooby gang.”
“I get to be Shaggy,” I said.
“Zoiks!” Gretchen replied. “Can I be Scooby then?”
“Only if you share your Scooby snacks.”
“I guess I’m really more of a Velma type. Although I suspect she was a lesbian.”
“I can see you as Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” I suggested.
“She was a lesbian too.”
“Interesting,” I said smiling. I knew Gretchen most certainly was not a lesbian. Bisexual, perhaps, but not a lesbian.
“I’m going to have to go back to Mousehole this evening to study. I have a big exam tomorrow morning.”
“That’s okay. I should probably do the investigation on my own anyway.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Dollars to donuts, Copp’s Hill Cemetery has something to do with all this. I’ll go down there tonight and poke a few sticks in some holes. See what surfaces.”
“Well, I am Jack the Giant-Killer. Danger is my middle name.”
“I thought your middle name was ‘the’.”
I tickled Gretchen in the ribs, almost making her drop her cigarette. “Wise ass.”
After her laughter subsided, Gretchen suddenly became serious. “Be careful, Jack. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“I will be.”
“While I’m at Mousehole, I’ll ask the Reverend if he knows anything that might be helpful. I’ll call you and let you know.”
I dropped my third cigarette into the gutter. We had arrived at the house on the hill.
“Do you have to leave now?” I said.
“I can stick around for a little while. What did you have in mind?”
“Afternoon delight? We need to put those lesbian rumors to bed.”
“I thought you’d never ask...”