AT A PICTURESQUE university in the Blue Ridge of southwest Virginia, the mountain laurel blossomed on shady hillsides and the squirrels scampered under the oaks on the campus quad. All this was wasted on Elizabeth MacPherson, who hunched over a technical journal in the shabby, windowless cubicle reserved for graduate students in forensic anthropology. Her thoughts were far from queen and empire: she was reading about maggots.
The scholarly article detailing the usefulness of insect life in determining time and place of death almost sanitized the subject past the point of gruesomeness. Almost, but not quite. Elizabeth found herself scratching her just-washed hair and brushing imaginary specks of dirt off her khaki skirt. She thought it odd that a mere article would make her squeamish, considering that the examination of corpses was a routine occurrence for her. As a graduate student in forensic anthropology, Elizabeth had become accustomed to all manner of unsavory exhibits. She was inured to gruesome sights, but she had difficulty in controlling her imagination-and that was the trouble with the journal article. Besides, it awakened a childhood memory of her brother putting a fishing worm down her back. She shuddered, remembering the feel of writhing coldness, when she suddenly noticed the word
The case description began:
The killer had removed all identifying characteristics-eyes, ears, fingertips-from the bodies of the women, but through diligent inquiry the police learned that two women, Isabella Ruxton and her maid Mary Rogerson, were missing from over the border in Lancaster, and that they had been on their way to Edinburgh. Isabella’s husband, Dr. Buck Ruxton, insisted that the women were not missing, but they could not be found in Edinburgh, and no one recalled seeing them along the way. Dr. Ruxton, who was known to be notoriously jealous, was charged with murder. But when did the killings occur? The police theorized that the women died on September 19, days after they left Lancaster, which would have provided a good alibi for the doctor.
To test this theory, investigators took maggots from the body parts and sent them to Alexander Mearns at the University of Glasgow.
The Ruxton case marked the first time that maggots had been used to determine time of death. It was one of the historic moments in the annals of her often-unglamorous profession. Elizabeth thought of mentioning this Scottish achievement to her fianc?, but decided that he might not regard it as romantic or complimentary to his homeland. Still, it was interesting. She made a note of the Ruxtons.
The round clock tacked on the cinderblock wall said eight minutes after eleven. If the article became any more graphic, lunch could be postponed indefinitely, which was just as well, she thought, straining to insert her finger into the waistband of her skirt. Perhaps she ought to go in search of more maggot articles for future lunchtime reading. Or she could try
It was now June (lion cubs on her World Wild Life calendar), and she contemplated the next twelve months, feeling like someone crouched with her toes on a white line. It was going to be a year of computer screens and boiled rice. (On second thought, that menu reminded her too much of her present reading material. Make that lettuce salads.) In September she would take her orals and then begin writing the dissertation for her doctorate in forensic anthropology. If all went as planned, a svelte (with cheekbones!) Elizabeth would defend before her doctoral committee near the end of the term in May, and then
He was spending the summer at home in glorious Scotland, while she was stuck at the university, teaching undergraduate anthropology to disgruntled summer-school hostages in an un-air-conditioned building.
Elizabeth sighed again. There was some justice: Bill wasn’t having a restful summer, either. Her brother was clerking for a law firm in Richmond; she hoped the lawyers were getting their money’s worth. At least she would have a break in another week when the spring semester ended, perhaps a week at the beach-Virginia Beach, that is; a poor substitute for Waikiki. And that would be
“Forensic anthro,” she said in her most businesslike tone.
“Good afternoon, Miss Anthro,” said an unmistakably Scottish voice.
“Cameron! I was just thinking about you!”
“And why was that?”
“No, no,” said Cameron. “I just felt like talking to you. How are things at the university?”
“Dull,” said Elizabeth. “I feel like a prisoner in this Gothic mausoleum. I’d rather be at the beach. How are things with you?”
“Oh, peaceful,” said Cameron, who thought it would be unchivalrous to claim to be having a good time when one’s fianc?e has declared herself miserable. “Miss you, of course.”
“I should hope so.”
“I do have a bit of good news, actually,” said Cameron, endeavoring to sound both casual and innocent. “Thought you might like to hear it. Do you remember that work I did on the project to save the North Sea seals? The country has recognized my work by giving me a bit of an honor. I’ve been invited to the Royal Garden Party here in Edinburgh.”
After a gratifying gasp of awe, Elizabeth said, “What does that mean, exactly? Why do they want to see you?”
“To look after the royal seal!” Cameron laughed-alone-at his little marine-biologist joke, and then proceeded to explain. “Each summer the palace gives two garden parties (one at Buckingham Palace for English notables, and one for Scots at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh) to honor various members of the British public: distinguished civil servants, influential business people, civic officials, and outstanding achievers in the arts and sciences.”
“Just the odd thousand or so of the Queen’s closest chums,” said Elizabeth. “I see.”
Cameron saw his chance. “More like eight thousand, I’m afraid. You’re right, of course. I doubt if I’ll catch more than a glimpse of Her Majesty. Just a dreary function, really.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Elizabeth.
“No, I shan’t. Technically one mustn’t. After all, it is a royal summons. I’ll tell you all about it.”
There was a transatlantic silence.
Cameron cleared his throat. “Well, I just thought I’d tell you the news. I know you’re rather interested in all the royal goings-on. Thought you’d be pleased for me.”
After another frosty interval, Elizabeth said, “You mean you just called me to tell me about the invitation? Don’t you have the common decency to invite me along?”
Cameron, who had interpreted his fianc?e’s silence as a concession to the force of his arguments, offered another-fatal-bit of logic. “And like an idiot, Ian forgot to send me the letter. So I’m only just finding out about the invitation now, with the garden party only three weeks away-”
“Three weeks!” cried Elizabeth.
“Yes,” said Cameron, more confidently now. “Thursday, the sixth of July. Hardly any time at all, really.”
British reserve was much in evidence on the other end of the line. “I thought your parents were away on vacation-”
“They are. In Hawaii. But Mother is no good at this sort of thing anyway. No, if you really want a society wedding, my aunt Amanda is the only person who can handle it. I’ll bet she could even manage it in three weeks. I’m not sure if we could get the invitations
“Yes. I’m here.”
“This is all right with you, isn’t it?” she asked softly. “I mean, we were planning the wedding anyway, and I know this is short notice, but
Cameron sighed. He had not mistaken her reasonable tone for a willingness to be reasonable. “Well, I hadn’t planned on spending my honeymoon in chilly Auld Reekie. Look, how about going to the Bahamas instead? Maybe you can meet Miss Universe.”
“Don’t be silly. King Farouk was right, you know.”
“What? Sorry, bad connection. It sounded like you said
“So I did. King Farouk once predicted that in fifty years there would be only five kings in the world: spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs, and the King of England. British royalty is… I don’t know… sort of magical.”
“I know.” Cameron sighed again. “I had a friend who went to school at Gordonstoun, and he said that the surest way to have it off with a girl was to pretend to be-”
“Cameron!” Elizabeth’s tone was ominous.
“All right! All right! Benedict Arnold must be laughing up his sleeve somewhere, you bloody royalist! But if you think you can manage, and if you’re set on doing it…”
“You don’t mind getting married in America?”
“No. I don’t anticipate having many guests anyway, since I haven’t really kept up with my mates from school. Mother and Ian will come over, of course, and I expect Denny Allan will attend if he can. After all, he knows you from the Banrigh expedition, and besides, he’s always wanted to go to Disney World, and this is a perfect excuse to get there. I’ll give him a call, and then let you know if he’ll be on hand. We can draft him as an usher.”
“Good! What about bridesmaids? Any cousins or old girlfriends you’d like to import?”
“No, thank you. You’ll have to manage on your own.”
“Leave everything to me! Oh, Cameron, thank you! This is going to be so amazing! I’d better get started on the preparations right away. Was there anything else?”
“What? Oh, no. No.” Just a small matter of running Adam McIver to earth and squeezing another invitation out of him. Cameron wondered if they’d have to fax over a copy of the marriage license. Which reminded him… “Wait! Elizabeth! Don’t I have to be in America to apply for the wedding license?”
“I’ll see if we can get around that!” his bride-to-be assured him. “My brother is a lawyer, remember?”
Too bad he isn’t an archbishop, thought Cameron. “Very well, dear. I’ll leave you to it. Let me go and tell the family the good news. Perhaps I ought to call your parents as well. Ask for your hand officially, and all that.”
“I have the number of the hotel somewhere here,” said Elizabeth, flipping through papers on her desk.
“What time is it in Hawaii, anyhow?” asked Cameron, wondering if the task could be postponed until he got accustomed to the idea himself.
“I don’t have a clue,” said Elizabeth. “I’m not even sure what
“Just fine, dear,” said Cameron. Ian should have stopped laughing by then. Sighing in resignation, he started to look up the number of Old St. Andrews House, where no doubt Adam McIver was lurking, making trouble for untold numbers of his old schoolmates.
Department of Forensic Anthropology
Office of the Graduate Students Merridew Ball
Department of Foresnic Anthropology
Office of Graduate Students Merridew Ball