In the five minutes it had taken Rob to drive to the site, what was a sprinkle at the office had become a downpour. The rain hadn't kept a small crowd from gathering beside a backhoe sitting in the center of the empty lot, though. Tommy and Kelly stood between Marion Peterson and someone Rob didn't recognize.
Marion Peterson was a large bear of a man. And grizzly would be a very good adjective to add to that description. Rob kind of liked the guy, even if he was a pain in the butt. c
Marion and his two sons were the Peterson Construction Company. Marion would have been operating the backhoe today. The young guy on Kelly's right was probably one of the two boys.
"What's up?" Rob asked of no one in particular. Rob wanted Tommy to fill him in but took care not to offend Kelly. She was the engineer in charge of this project. Tommy was just the construction observer, a title that, before the lawyers took over, was job inspector. But Ron needn't have worried about being subtle. It became obvious nobody wanted to answer.
Finally Tommy gave it a shot. "Look down there."
Tommy pointed to the far wall of the excavation, to a strip of soil darker than the surrounding dirt, as if someone had painted a three-foot wide vertical stripe down the side of the hole.
The sight puzzled Rob, but only for a second. "You hit a well or pit for an outhouse that's been filled in. What of it?"
Marion pointed at the base of the dark area. "Look again," he said.
At the bottom of the excavation, the dark earth was wet and soupy. The excavation wall was sloughing off there, Rob had assumed due to the rain, which was really coming down now. He squatted by the hole to get a better look. A flat rectangle of wood was partly exposed at the base. Maybe an outhouse seat or part of a well cover or.... He finally saw what had caused the urgent request for his presence.
"What the...? No, what is that?" Rob wasn't buying his first impression.
It was Kelly's turn to speak up. "It's a hand." Her voice sounded flat and emotionless. If she was shocked, it didn't show. Or maybe the novelty had worn off.
"Naw, it's not." Rob still wouldn't bite. He'd been taken in by practical jokers on construction sites as a young field engineer. Later on, he'd pulled a few stunts himself. "It's chicken bones." He squinted and wiped the rain out of his face. "It's a raccoon skeleton, maybe. Or just a few tree roots."
But, Rob thought, it looks like a hand. Not a skeleton hand from a Halloween party. It appeared kind of gray and shriveled, but with the flesh still on.
Tommy spoke up. "It's a hand, Rob. A person's hand. Definitely."
"No." Rob just wouldn't be the patsy for a prank. "No, it's not." Rob stood and took another step forward, getting as close to the edge of the hole as possible. "It's not a hand. It's a.... "He turned to the group huddled in the rain, staring at him.
"It's a hand!"