Orville headed into the trial the next morning still groggy from a lack of sleep and his head swimming with what he had found when he had reset the urn. The fact that it had somehow been overturned in the night had been eclipsed by the discovery that it had ashes in it. It did not make him as frightened or concerned for himself as much as it was disturbing that someone out there somewhere might have lost a loved one when this urn got into the garage sale. And that was, he assumed, that the ashes were from human remains and not just some soot. For the moment though, Orville did his best to push this new development in his life out of his mind to focus on the first day of Winter’s defense case for Sarah.
He sat with Kathryn just a few rows behind Sarah as Alberto made his opening statement summarizing they already knew. That he would be basing his defense of Sarah Holding on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of two completely unknown witnesses…at least unknown to anyone in Laconia. As well, he hammered home over and over Sarah’s standing in the community. He went on to add that he would present his own witnesses that would indeed show them that the mere idea that Sarah Holding could have even entertained the possibility of murdering Joe Garrity was ludicrous.
Orville heard Alberto’s eloquent and dramatic opening salvo, but with everything else going on they were just words buzzing in the air as his brain tried to cope with it all. Kathryn finally leaned over and whispered in his ear.
“You OK, Orville?”
“I don’t know. You look like you are a million miles away right now. Plus you look like hell…no offense.”
“Did not sleep well last night. I can fill you in after today’s session is over, OK?”
Kathryn leaned back to her normal posture in her seat nodding and they sat quietly as Alberto called his first character witness to the stand. Orville struggled to stay alert and attentive as the day went on, plying himself with caffeine whenever there was a break. He felt the day had gone well for Sarah as Alberto paraded resident after resident that knew Sarah well and vouched for her stellar character and how they could not imagine how anyone might even consider that Sarah might have hurt Joe, much less killed him. Orville saw several of the jury members nod slightly when these witnesses spoke, but after a bit he was concerned that maybe he was bringing too many into court fearing that the jury might get overwhelmed or fatigued and lose their focus.
The day ended with only a few objections from Redding, about half of which went his way, so both Orville and Kathryn felt good following his initial defense. They waited on Alberto outside the courtroom.
“Nice job, counselor,” Orville said as Alberto came over to greet them.
“It’s a beginning. The real challenge comes next trying to get the jury to believe Sarah’s long-standing reputation and character over those two surprise witness testimonies Redding sprung on us.”
“Think you scored points with the jury today?” Kathryn asked.
“Hard to say. Maybe. Over time I have tried to read juries as I spoke, but I have found more often then not it is a crap shoot. They seemed receptive, but as much as I hate to admit it, both Finley and Robertson looked pretty credible.”
“Harry Doyle still not finding anything on them?”
“Nope. It’s just like they came out of nowhere just when James Holding needed them, you know?”
Orville nodded as Alberto just conformed what he had been feeling all along. He had this sinking feeling that those two had cooked this up with James Holding, but there was just nothing tangible to prove it.
“Well…” Orville went on, “we’ll let you go. I am sure you have work to do before tomorrow.”
Winter nodded and picked up his briefcase and walked away leaving them standing alone in the deserted hallway. Kathryn looked over at Orville and stared.
“What?” he asked.
“So what is going on with you?”
“It’s…uh…weird, I guess.”
“OK…I can do weird. Let me buy you a coffee and we can talk.”
“I think this one might require something a little stronger. The Angry Ferret?”
Kathryn nodded and they walked across the town square to the pub passing Redding in the midst of his daily ego building exercise as he held court with reporters outside the courtroom to assure them that despite Mr. Winter’s efforts, they would soon be handing down a guilty verdict on Sarah Holding.
When they were out of earshot Orville shook his head.
“What a jackass…”
“True,” Kathryn replied, “but a clever jackass.”
Orville settled back into his seat with Kathryn across the table from him as they cupped their respective beers and looked at one another.
“OK, Orville…we’re here. Let’s have it!”
“Where to start…I guess it all began with this urn I bought a few weeks ago at the Laconia Community Garage sale over in the square.”
“You bought a what? A real urn? Like burial urn? Something you want to tell me, Orville?”
Orville chuckled at her joke, but just shook his head no.
“No, Kathryn…nothing like that. I was just browsing the tables at the sale and came across this intriguing green urn. Just bought it on a whim as a decorative piece for my fireplace mantle is all.”
“OK…yeah, a bit odd…maybe even weird as you say. So?”
“Last night I was pretty worn out from the last day of Redding’s theatrics in court, so I turned in early. Only I could not sleep. Still too keyed up emotionally I guess. Anyway, after I finally fell asleep this loud thunking from the living room woke me up and I went to check it out.”
“Thunking? That even a word?”
“It is now I guess. Anyway I was a bit wary when I first went out in case I was having a break-in of some sort, but everything was fine. No locks tampered with, no windows broken, nothing missing.”
“Yeah…but when I went back through the living room the urn which I had placed in the center of the mantle was lying on its side with the lid popped off just next to it.”
“Thus the thunk. I guess.”
“Yep…but here’s where it gets weird.”
At this point, Orville saw nothing to be gained by telling Kathryn about the light that he had seen oozing away from his living room or the flash of brilliance that had proceeded it. In fact, he was still not sure he had really seen those things and surely Kathryn would think he might have been having another TIA episode which had brought on a vision, like before. Or she would just think him going a bit wonky in the head. Maybe later, he thought…
“I went to put in back upright again and…well…the thing has ashes in it.”
“Yeah…apparently I bought an urn that came with someone else’s ashes. Assuming they are not just soot or debris from a fireplace or something.”
Kathryn said nothing.
“You OK, Kathryn?”
“Yeah…sure. I was just not prepared for that one, Orville.”
“Me either. Any suggestions on what I do now?”
“Who sold you the urn?”
“This little woman at the sale that was, according to her, manning a table for the neighbors on her block.”
“Any idea where it came from exactly?”
“Nope. It was not hers. She said it was just in a box of stuff she picked up along the way.”
“It is a little unsettling I guess to have the thing in the house knowing what I know now.”
“I can imagine. Maybe get the contents confirmed? Maybe it is just junk from a campfire clean up?”
“I guess. Though who would put ashes from a fire in a burial urn?”
“It’s a crazy world these days, Orville. I am no longer surprised at anything anymore.”
“You think Phil Gleason over at Gleason’s Funeral Home could tell me if they are human remains or not?”
“Good place to start. What if they are? Then what?”
“I have no idea. First things first I guess. I may be getting all wigged out over nothing.”
The next morning Orville packed up the urn in its velvet bag and stashed it in his car so he could slip by and see Phil Gleason after Sarah’s court proceedings that day. But when he arrived at the courthouse they were told Judge Mallory had postponed the trial for a day while he attended to an emergency. Orville was not sure if that worked in Sarah’s favor or not. Would a break in the trial give everyone some time to just relax and mull over what had been presented or would the delay interrupt the flow of Alberto’s defense? No one was at the courtroom when Orville arrived, though. He just read the notice on the door and went back outside. He figured with as much experience as Alberto had under his belt that this was most likely something he had seen many times…and if not, he sure seemed seasoned enough to just roll with it. And anyway, there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Orville pulled out his cell phone and gave Phil Gleason a call to see if he could come by now since the trial had been called off for the day.
“Sure, Orville,” Gleason said, “nothing much going on here this morning. Come on by anytime.”
With his anxiety level rising with each successive block that Orville drove as he approached the funeral home, he found himself totally unprepared for what might be next if Phil told him these were human remains. He supposed you had to contact the authorities in that case, but he would worry about that later. A light rain began to fall in a mist as Orville pulled into the parking lot at Gleason’s. He slipped on his raincoat and held the urn in its bag under his coat as he hustled up to the entrance. Phil was waiting for him in the greeting area just inside the front entrance and smiled as Orville shut the door behind him.
“Hey, Orville,” he said in his practiced calming funeral director’s voice. “How’s retirement treating you?”
“Not bad, I guess. Still trying to adjust to a new routine, though.”
“Sure…sure. So…you have something for me to look at you said?”
Orville nodded as he removed the velvet bag from around the urn and went through the whole story about the urn, how he had come to acquire it and what he had found inside.
“Can you tell me if the ashes are human remains or not?”
“Possibly. Let’s go in the back and I can take a look.”
Orville followed him into a room that was obviously use for preparing bodies for burial and he handed over the urn. Phil slipped on a pair of latex gloves and a mask and set the urn on a wide stainless-steel table. He gently removed the lid and set it aside on a protective cloth. He then got a plastic tray from a cabinet and set it next to the opened urn. He gazed inside and just nodded.
“Cannot say from just a look inside. OK if we remove some and take a look?”
“Sure, Phil. Whatever you need.”
He held the lip of the urn over the tray and carefully tapped out a small volume of the ashes before setting the urn back near the lid. He examined the ashes he had removed with a magnifying glass while he brushed them back and forth over the tray before walking over to Orville and removing his mask and gloves.
“What’s the verdict, Phil?”
“First of all, what you have got here is not just junk from a fireplace or a campfire. Most people think of the ashes from a cremation as the whole body but what is actually left are unburned pieces of bone and teeth. In the business we refer to this as cremains. A parlance of my colleagues…just a euphemism for clients.”
“So this is from a person then?”
“Impossible to tell without DNA testing, Orville. In a lot of cases the remaining bone and tooth fragments get pulverized or powdered. This sample I pulled out definitely has what I would suspect are bone remnants, but there are not really any fragments as such. Being powdered, it is impossible to say if they are human or not without the DNA screen.”
“Could just be an animal or some sort?”
“Sure. The volume seems too large for pet remains, but yeah…that is a possibility.”
“DNA testing would answer it?”
“It would, but it is really pricey. And most likely you would not have an answer for months. And there is always the possibility that depending on the age of the cremains that it is too degraded to be accurately analyzed.”
“You said you have no idea where the urn came from, right?”
“Yeah. Just at the garage sale in town…you know that community thing they do each spring?”
Phil nodded as he went back to carefully return the contents he had pulled out to examine back into the urn. He secured the cap and slipped the urn back into the bag before handing it back to Orville.
“Wish I could have had a more definitive answer for you Orville.”
“No problem. I just had no idea what to do about it is all. Thanks for taking a look.”
Gleason led him back out to the entrance.
“Want my advice, Orville?”
“You could go two ways on this I guess if it was up to me. One…if the idea of the cremains in your house does not wig you out, just ignore it. The urn obviously got away from someone, but it does not seem as if it an issue or I am sure there would have been some furor following the sale.”
“Take the cremains somewhere appropriate and release them. It’s what most people would do anyway if they are not storing them in an urn for some reason. But in this case most would have had the urn placed in a mausoleum somewhere, not just sitting around in the garage or attic for a rummage sale later.”
“My best guess if that whoever had this cremation done—and this is assuming the cremains are human, of course—is no longer with us either. Probably whoever the woman got this urn from for the garage sale had no idea it still had ashes in it. It’s not your family, so unless it makes you uncomfortable, I would just let it go one way or the other. DNA testing seems wasteful based on that.”
“OK, Phil. Thanks for the advice. I’ll have to think this over. Not exactly something I thought I’d ever have to deal with, you know?”
“I am sure.”
Gleason stood at the open door as he watched Orville dash through a rain that had picked up in intensity since Orville had arrived. He had to agree with Orville, though. Even in his business since he had opened the funeral home, he had never come across such a thing either…