1.06 "Endgames" - by Emma Bull
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
---Curt Siodmak, The Wolf Man (1941)Act I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., October, 2007
As he walked the hall between Shadow Unit and the more public spaces of the BAU, Stephen Reyes pinched the bridge of his nose and slid his fingers hard down the ridge of each eyebrow, trying to push away his headache. He'd use both hands, but he had the case jacket in his right. The cause of the headache, those documents.
Bureaucracies would kill and eat you like any other monster. Just not quite so literally.
Supervisory Special Agent Pete Pauley met him at the door of the BAU briefing room. Pauley was built like major-league pitchers used to be, before steroids and weight training: long-limbed, big chest, skinny hips. His brown brush cut was always so fresh Reyes wondered if he buzzed it himself. "Sir," Pauley said, for the benefit of the rank and file in earshot.
Reyes smiled, nodded. "Agent Pauley." Because the rank and file didn't need to know when all was not sweetness and light between Down the Hall and the WTF. He walked in, and Pauley shut the door.
Down the Hall, the briefing room had windows. Reyes looked out one at the relentless gray of an October misting rain. "Nice view," he said, because poetic justice was the best kind. He boxed the headache into a corner of his mind. Later, he promised it.
"Coffee?" Pauley said. He had the pot in hand.
"No, thank you."
"I've never seen you guys turn down coffee." Pauley poured a cup for himself. "This must be serious."
It was. So he wasn't here to chat, and certainly not about drinking tea.
Reyes pulled out one of the padded chairs and sat down. Get comfortable, as if you owned the place. Pauley had the height advantage standing, anyway. And lately Reyes's right knee hurt if he stood for too long, and the metatarsals and heels of both feet. You're old, Stephen. It said so on his driver's license, so it shouldn't be a surprise.
He laid the case jacket on the briefing room table and flipped it open to the first scene photo. "This is our case."
Pauley's shoulders rose and fell--a sigh. "You want to tell me why?"
"Because Special Agent Gates says it is."
Pauley set his cup down hard enough to rock coffee over the lip. He swore (at the coffee, or Reyes, or both), snatched a paper napkin from beside the coffee maker, and blotted up the spill. Then he dropped into a chair. "You know how that's gonna fly over here."
"I know that when Hafidha tells me she sees anomalous influence in case documents on screen, I follow up on it."
"With nothing to back her up?"
"Should I not trust my people?"
"That's between you and them. 'Don't worry, it's magic' won't play at this end of the hall."
"How do you know?" Reyes put on his most disarming smile, held both hands palms-up in a half-shrug, half nothing-up-my-sleeve. "I've never tried it before."
Pauley's eyes cut toward the closed door, as if he could see through walls to where Hafidha conversed with information as if it were a living thing, as if her monitors were bound demons that fetched knowledge when she pointed a finger. "My boss thinks your SA at the computer is a way to scam a sympathy pay grade bump for a technical analyst."
"Then your boss is an idiot." Especially given that Hafidha could outscore his boss on the firing range.
"Sometimes. But he doesn't like to get too far Down the Hall. So he doesn't know you the way I do."
"And to know us is to love us." Reyes leaned forward and crossed his arms on the table. Confiding, inviting confidences. You couldn't play a player, which Pauley was. But even players couldn't always control their reflexes. "Why are you so set on hanging onto this one?"
"Besides that it's an easy clearance?"
"Is that what we look for? I missed the memo."
Pauley pushed back in his chair, laced his hands behind his head, and frowned. "Look. It's a plain-vanilla serial arsonist. We do our job, build a profile, send it to Tucson, and go on with our business. At worst, we decide it's a political-cause bomber and hand it to Domestic Counterterrorism, and we're still home by dinner time." Pauley shifted forward, propped his elbow on the table, fingers to his temple with the palm facing out. Signifying openness and interest. Reyes appreciated a good liar. "If you guys get hold of it, Jesus Christ knows what all will go into it and how long it'll take. And if it turns out to be a goddamn plain-vanilla serial arsonist, the egg will be on more faces than yours."
"It's not ordinary serial arson. What happens when Tucson and Pima County rely on your profile, and everything goes to hell?"
"Your boss may think Gates is a glorified technical analyst. You know better."
Pauley took in air, blew out his cheeks on the exhale. "I don't, actually. But I'm more'n half convinced you do."
Reyes couldn't perceive what Hafidha saw and heard when the anomaly touched events documented on her monitors. She said the text fluttered with waves of color, that images flexed and breathed, that audio files developed a background of groaning, scraping distortion. Neither he nor Hafidha could prove it by any method short of mapping activity in her sensory cortex while she was doing it. Even that might not prove it. And Hafidha was as likely to agree to testing as a cat would to a bath. He needed her more than he needed proof.
"They called us for help, Pete."
"No, they called us. They don't know you exist."
"And whose fault is that?" But Reyes said it mildly, because it wasn't Pete Pauley's fault, either. Reyes closed the manila jacket and spread his hands flat on it. "What do you want to do about this?"
Pauley looked wary. Smart man. "You outrank me."
"But you have the authority to make this decision. It's why you got that second S." Which sounded like You owe us. Well, if it did, it did. "I could go over your head, and your boss's, and talk to the Assistant Director. The AD hates that, your boss hates that, and when your boss complains to you, you hate that. But I get my case."
Pauley wrapped both hands around his coffee cup and stared into it as if it were the underside of a Magic 8-Ball. "Or I could just give it to you." He raised his head and scowled at Reyes. "And cross my fingers that it doesn't come back here with 'Oops! Sorry!' on it in your handwriting, and I get to explain how all that taxpayer money got spent putting it there."
Reyes leaned back and steepled his fingers in front of a smile. "I never apologize."
Daniel Brady brought Chaz Villette back from lunch bigger around than when they left.
Brady heard Hafidha's voice as they rounded the corner from the hall. "See, that's the problem. The only boys who interest me for more than a week are dead. And in a case file."
It came from Hafidha's office. Chaz caught Brady's eye and cocked his head. So Brady ducked in with Chaz right behind. It didn't sound like a conversation either of them could walk innocently past.
Hafidha was running some kind of mapping software on her center monitor. The screensaver was up on the left one. On the right Brady recognized a police incident report; icanhascheezburger.com was barely showing at the bottom edge.
Daphne Worth was hunched over a spread of forensics reports at the back counter. Her tongue stuck out the corner of her mouth.
"Is it the 'dead' part that works for you, or the 'case file' part?" Brady asked.
"Both," Hafidha said, her eyes on the monitor. "I do not settle." She twitched her left hand sideways--it looked unconscious--and an irregular outline drew over the map on the screen.
Worth raised her head and wiped her bangs out of her eyes. "Poor, poor boys. Destined to be dumped like a flat Coke, unless they can get mysteriously murdered."
Chaz sidled in to peer at Hafidha's map. Worth looked Chaz over and smiled at Brady. You're welcome, Brady thought.
"I'd say I don't know where he puts it, but the evidence is right there." Brady jerked his thumb at Chaz's waist, which now almost filled out his tweed jacket.
"Hey!" Chaz glared. It was a good-natured one. When Chaz was pissed off he tended toward no expression at all.
"You can't move fast enough to do anything to me."
"Snake-like torpor?" Worth asked brightly.
"Honey, he's not at all like a python." Hafidha put her left index finger on the tip of her nose and wiggled it side to side. Screensavers popped up on the other monitors. "If he were, you'd be able to see the outline of--" She spun her chair and raised her eyebrows at Brady. "What am I looking for?"
"Two half-pound bacon cheeseburgers, onion rings, and a chocolate shake. And don't let those Carl's Jr. idiots tell you theirs are just as good." Brady pried his raincoat buttons out of their buttonholes.
"Seriously." Chaz beamed. "Always send the Texan to scout for burgers."
Worth squinted at Chaz's middle. "Wait, I think I see an onion ring--"
Chaz pointed at Worth's reports. "D'you want me to use my mighty powers on those, or not?"
"Yes! Yes!" Worth pressed her palms together and looked beseeching. "I'll be nice, I promise. I won't even mention your brave little kidneys--"
Brady jerked his shoulders out of his coat. "Don't start with the kidneys. We got past that bit already. No spinach salad is big enough to be called 'lunch.'" He ducked into the hall for a coat hanger.
Chaz rarely mentioned that the way he had to eat could kill him someday, and when he did, he seemed unalarmed. Brady had to admit the list of things Chaz could not face head-on could be calligraphed on a thumbnail. So maybe dying untimely didn't make that list.
Still. Intelligent design, my ass. You don't make somebody like that and build in planned obsolescence. Yes, it was built into everyone else, too. But not like that. It was enough to make Brady feel guilty about being so damned healthy.
Worth stepped out of Hafidha's cave, documents clutched against her chest. She spotted Brady and scurried to join him. "Thanks," she murmured.
"Why can't he just eat?" That sounded irritable. And open to interpretation. Well, he was irritated--just not at Chaz. Or not at any part of Chaz that Chaz could fix.
Worth looked down at her shoes, and Brady gave himself a swift inward kick. Keep it for someone who needs scaring. But Daphne Worth was careful, not timid. He kept forgetting that. When she raised her head he could see she was busy with the question. "I think it's because he loves food. And he resents having to treat it like medication. You know, take X amount six times daily."
Could that take the thrill out a steak and a baked potato? Yeah, it probably could. "Meal in a pill. I thought sci-fi geeks liked that."
Worth glared at him from under her bangs. "Says the only person I know who owns Pitch Black on DVD."
"Different kind of geek," he said blandly, to watch her blush.
She tossed the hair off her face and looked back at the door to Hafidha's office. "I nag him. Which is stupid, because it just makes him feel like a project. But he can go out for burgers with you, and it's..." She raised her shoulders and squinched her mouth. "It's just going out for burgers. That's a good thing."
"In spite of the poor little kidneys?"
She snorted and looked down at the jumble of paper in her arms. "I've got to make sense of these before five. Veterans' stats. Falkner intimidated three neurosurgeons at Walter Reed to get them."
"Hate to waste that kind of mojo," Brady said gravely, nodding.
He got a good big grin for it. Worth wasn't as easy with him as she was with Hafidha and Chaz. He hadn't earned it. Now she shook her head over her files and said, "Someone should warn them not to mess with the Jewish Mom from Hell."
"Jews don't believe in hell," Reyes said, blowing in from the hall. He had a manila folder in one hand. "Everybody, briefing room, five minutes." He sailed through the bullpen and into his office.
Hafidha stuck her head around the edge of her door. "Hah! He rescued my case, I bet you money."
"Arizona?" Chaz asked, oozing past her out of the room.
"Seventy-eight degrees. Sunny. And best of all, nobody's dead."
"Count me in," said Brady.
On reflection, Reyes preferred the WTF's briefing room to the larger one Down the Hall. More congenial company, for a start, even accounting for the Loneliness of Command factor.
He wished Falkner were back from Quantico, though. The team trusted her. They were more comfortable with Reyes, with each other, with whatever threat they were assessing, when she was there.
Brady had propped himself against the wall by the door, having lost the race for a chair, and was eyeing the images of blackened ruins on the monitor. "So why is this one of ours, again?"
Reyes considered the things he wanted to say, including, Oh, not you, too.
Before he could settle on one, Hafidha gave a little twist of her shoulders. "Because I said so."
Worth's head swivelled at the note in Hafidha's voice. Pack dynamics; Worth was most sensitive to them. Chaz stopped his coffee cup halfway to his mouth, frowning through the steam.
Eight people were bound to break out into subgroups. Any dinner party conversation demonstrated that. This team split along varying boundaries, depending on the circumstances: age, military background, gender, sense of humor, a few dozen others. Reyes had thought Hafidha's and Chaz's club was private, no alphas allowed. But the door seemed to have opened for Worth.
Well, if people were easy to figure out, every agent in the BAU would be looking for work.
Sol Todd's attention was fixed on the sparrow-track shorthand in his notebook. Nikki Lau pretended to read the file in front of her, but under lowered lids, she eyed Hafidha.
Brady made the half-turn that was all he had room for between Todd's chair and the wall, so he could face Hafidha without cricking his neck. "I'm not saying it's not ours. I'm asking why, is all."
Chaz ducked his head to his coffee cup and swallowed hastily. "Conventional triggering devices, explosive, and extent of damage. No anomalous mechanism or distribution."
Brady nodded. "What Chaz said. Where's the boogey in our boogeyman?"
Hafidha wrinkled her nose. "Oh, that why. Sorry."
Lau sent a sympathetic grimace across the table. "We don't doubt your uncanny gifts." Filling in any social gaps Brady might have left.
Another unexpected alliance--Brady and Lau--and one of equals. There'd never been a sense, even when Lau first came into the unit, of Brady taking her under his wing. Reyes wished he'd been privy to the mechanism of that acquaintance. He suspected it would tell him a lot about Brady and Lau both.
"So," Lau continued, "it's possible there's evidence that hasn't been collected yet."
"Or the Mulder Factor isn't in the explosions themselves." Todd leaned his chin on the heel of his right hand and contemplated the ceiling over Lau's head.
"Or both." Reyes studied the faces around the table. "We need to work this as if we were profiling a normal arson case. We'll get to a host eventually." Six heads nodded. "That leaves us with four explosions and fires in the past month that destroyed structures in housing developments under construction on the outskirts of Tucson."
"In Edward Abbey country," Todd added.
Lau raised her eyebrows. "Not the playwright. No, that's Albee."
"Abbey. Writer and environmentalist. And fellow crazy old fart." Todd sounded grave, but Lau snickered. "He's credited with creating--well, popularizing, at least--the concept of monkeywrenching."
"Eco-terrorism," Brady said. He looked around the room. Reyes knew he was registering various forms of frowning. He stretched his long body like a cat and twitched up his lips at one corner. "According to Bureau reporting policy."
Hafidha rolled her eyes. "Because the line between civil disobedience and terrorism is still not blurry enough."
"And still not ours to draw. Focus, people." Reyes watched them do it. "Let's start with Todd's hypothetical monkeywrencher. What do we have for environmental triggers?"
"Tons," Chaz said. "Arizona just passed Nevada as the fastest growing state, and the whole Southwest is running out of water. The Colorado River system's been coming up short by almost a million acre-feet a year. Every new housing start is a potential new water demand: eighty to a hundred gallons per day per resident in the house."
No one commented anymore when Chaz produced facts like that, and Chaz no longer flinched after he did it.
"Plus habitat destruction, air pollution from construction equipment and wind erosion, introduction of non-native plants," Lau chipped in. "These aren't single housing starts. The developers usually scrape the whole planned area flat first thing, hundreds of acres at a time."
Chaz shot her an admiring look.
Brady crossed his arms over his chest and nodded; Reyes hadn't expected that. "Emergency responders have a beef with this stuff, too. County planning and zoning commission doesn't do its job, you end up with a dense population and not enough fire, police, and ambulance service. Or even road access, sometimes."
"How many developers are we talking about?" Todd asked.
Hafidha flipped her laptop open and raised her eyebrows at it. It's all right, Reyes told himself again. She's the good guys. "One. Gilden Properties."
"Iiiinteresting." Lau tilted forward and propped her chin on one hand, tapped her lips with the end of her pen. Reyes watched Chaz stare at the pen, catch himself, and duck his head.
Hafidha's mouth twisted sourly. "Yeah, except Arthur Gilden is the biggest real estate development mogul in southern Arizona by a factor of, oh, ten."
"So statistically, four explosions in Gilden Properties developments isn't too significant." Chaz sighed.
"But we'll follow up," Reyes said. "Any individuals or groups publicly opposing Gilden?"
Hafidha looked at him over the laptop screen. "Oh, Boss-man. Seriously."
Yes, stupid question. "All right. Table the environmental angle for now. Other motives?"
"Personal." Worth bit her lip. "Someone lost a job with the developer, or a contractor or subcontractor. Or lost property or investment money, or was injured on a building site."
"Injury's a common way in for the anomaly," Todd observed.
"Good. What else?"
"Industrial sabotage," said Brady. "If there's a building boom on, it means big money for somebody. Maybe big enough to commit arson over."
"Insurance claims," Lau offered. "This will be costing the insurer a bomb." She flushed. "So to speak."
Brady frowned. "But more than Gilden would make selling the properties?"
"Sure-thing lump-sum payment," Lau replied with a shrug. "If Gilden is strapped for cash-- Hafs, how about financial reports on Gilden Properties?"
Hafidha shook her head."Guys, we are so missing something." She pointed, palm-up, at her screen, then at the monitor at the end of the room. "No bodies. No physical injuries. Just property damage."
Reyes watched them, saw the fact sink in that had driven him down the hall to lean on Pauley.
"No hurt," Worth said. "The Thing wants pain."
One way or another, it wanted pain. A gamma sought other people's pain. A beta-- It was only a hypothesis, that a beta used its own exposure to suffering to control the anomaly.
But suffering could also weaken the organism's defenses. Pain was a crack the anomaly could use.
"If he wants pain, he'll escalate. Soon." Reyes let that take root before he added, "I'll head the away team; Brady, Lau, Chaz, you're with me."
The team gathered their notes. Chaz looked sidelong at Reyes before he stuffed his in his backpack and threw it over his right shoulder. Reyes stared back. But if Chaz had considered saying something, he'd changed his mind. He joined the others filing out the door, quieter than they'd come in and more purposeful. Reyes followed them.
He met--nearly ran into--Esther Falkner outside the door. "We've got it?" she said.
Reyes nodded. "And the team's briefed."
She fell into step beside him as he headed for his office. He was hurrying, but Falkner was long-legged and long-striding. It made him feel as if he wasn't moving fast enough. "Who's going?"
"Brady, Lau, and Chaz."
He watched her attention sweep over Todd's desk, as if by accident. "Good. Hafidha, Todd, and Worth are a match for anything that'll come up here."
Reyes stopped at his office door. "Where will you be?"
There was no challenge in her face or voice, no suggestion that she was prepared to argue. She never argued with him in front of the team. Reyes opened his office door and nodded her inside.
"All right. Why?" Reyes sat on the front edge of his desk, leaving the visitor's chair for Falkner. But she shrugged at it.
"More back trouble?" Reyes asked.
She winced and stretched. "My next car will have lumbar supports. Adjustable. Until then, I'm just waiting for the naproxen to kick in."
"You could get a scrip, you know."
She smiled, crooked and self-aware. "Then when would I operate all that heavy machinery?"
"There is that."
"You think this could be a beta." She sprang it without warning, without so much as a shift in her weight.
"I have no reason to think anything at all, except that this is serial arson, and that an anomalous influence is involved."
"Did you tell them?"
"I don't have anything to tell." Falkner managed to look skeptical without changing expression. Reyes relented. "They're halfway to it by themselves."
"You taught them what to look for."
He'd taught them what he knew, and what he thought he knew. Hafidha had already forced him to modify the definition of a beta. He might be just as wrong about the rest of it. There might be a state between beta and gamma. There might be an evolutionary process. Hafidha might be going through it. Chaz--
Chaz, by his own account, might have converted before he could walk. A newborn beta would fail to thrive, but a nine-month-old could consume enough calories to support growth and anomalous brain function. If there was an evolution, shouldn't it have happened to him?
But that was why he kept Chaz in sight, wasn't it? And why he made sure someone had an eye on Hafidha.
Reyes sighed. "Esther, don't take this personally, but I don't need you in Tucson."
"No, you probably don't. Do you think Lau and Brady do?"
It stopped him so hard he was angry, because having it pointed out that he'd been thick-headed and insensitive did that. But only for an instant. "The Melinda Grossman case was over a month ago." He felt entitled to offer an excuse, at least.
"You know what it's like when there are kids involved. And that was a worst-case scenario."
Reyes wanted to say, You're a parent. It's different for you. But it was worse when it was a kid. Or someone close to you. Or yourself, seen through clouded, fly-specked glass. And he should have remembered that.
"We should have got Grossman alive." His voice came harsh out of his throat. Melinda Grossman's mythology had required a gun. Keep them away, and she might have been safe.
Imprisoned for life, unless someone found a cure for a malady that didn't officially exist.
Falkner leaned forward to give him the hard wide-eyed stare. "And Brady and Lau shouldn't have split up, and Lau shouldn't have approached Melinda solo. Everyone understands that. Brady and Lau most of all."
In a dangerous job, comparatively little things could blow one's concentration or undermine one's confidence. Melinda Grossman was not a little thing.
He laced his fingers and stared at them. "Sometimes I zip right past the obvious, don't I?"
"One of the perils of being so damned fast."
It was good of Falkner to not say aloud what she was thinking: They will run until they drop in their tracks to prove themselves. And you will let them do it, because in the heat of the chase you forget they're human. You forget to be human.
He forced his hands through his hair, across his scalp. Just for the sensation; his hair was too short and dense for his fingers to affect how it lay. His forehead went on for longer than it used to. "It feels as if we're almost out of time. It always does, lately."
Falkner studied his face. Reading the instrument panel, he thought with a surge of irritation. He pushed away from the desk and moved to look out the window. The weather there was the same as Down the Hall's.
"Any idea where you're getting that feeling?" At least she didn't sound like a therapist with a delusional patient.
He shook his head. "It's not as if the anomaly has the equivalent of the nuclear clock ticking away."
"Not as far as we know."
That made him turn. Falkner's arms were crossed, her hands cupping her elbows. Protective gesture, at odds with her ironic smile.
He smiled back. "Thank you for that reassuring analysis. Hell, maybe it's just age."
"Todd's older than you."
"Todd's still thirty-five in the privacy of his own brain. But some days I feel the fullness of my years a little more than I like." The headache was coming back. He rubbed the spot between his eyebrows. "When mandatory retirement comes around, how the hell do I walk away, knowing this is still out there?"
Her gaze fell away, sideways and down, as if a landscape had opened at her feet. Falkner's emotions crossed her face in millimeters and microseconds as a rule, and they rarely included sadness. But Reyes could swear he saw it now. The loneliness of command. Even in a shared command, one was alone.
But when she looked up she wore the ironic smile again. "I wondered, after I read the story of Jacob wrestling the messenger. That must have overshadowed every other conflict in his life. Do you think any fight satisfied him after that? Even when he won?"
The Pentateuch and the Christian Bible. The holy metaphors, easier to look into than mirrors. Reyes drew a long breath and raised his eyebrows. "Don't we call them 'angels'?"
"Not where I come from."
Reyes had to admit, he was glad she'd be with them.
Brady claimed the couch in the cabin of the Gulfstream. Even in a luxury business jet, there wasn't quite enough legroom for him to get comfortable in most of the seats on the plane. On the couch he could stick his legs into the aisle. Pulling his feet out of the way when someone headed for the galley or the john was a small price to pay.
Didn't Chaz mind accordion-folding into one of the rows? He was taller than Brady, for godsake. Well, he got a place to set his laptop. And the pleasure of sitting opposite Lau. It was fun to watch him sneak appreciative looks across the fold-out table when he thought Lau wouldn't notice.
The overhead task lights pooled on the two of them, made patent leather of Lau's hair, highlighted the aura of fine, stubborn frizz around Chaz's. Nice effects, but if Brady were doing the lighting, he'd want more fill to counter the highlights off the tip of Lau's nose and the entire length of Chaz's. What fill there was came from Chaz's laptop screen, and that needed a gel; the blue glow tinted his face greenish-gray.
As if she could hear him thinking, Lau sent a little sideways look and grin over to Brady. He smiled back, closed-mouthed. Like an old married couple, except for the parts that weren't. An old married couple who liked each other.
With his fidgety mannerisms and too-long curling hair and flaky sense of style, Chaz would set off a lot of people's fag-o-meter. A lot of people were pretty damned stupid, when it came down to it. Chaz was so relentlessly heterosexual that Brady sometimes wondered if it were part of the beta wiring: the anomaly pressuring the organism to pass its traits on.
Chaz seemed to have been responsible so far about unintentional spawning. Well, if eventually there were more of Chaz's genes in the pool, Brady could live with that.
The same people who'd tag Chaz as queer would see Brady, in his business suit and business haircut, with his linebacker shoulders and Mount Rushmore emotions, as a man's man.
It gave him a lot of unworthy satisfaction to think how right they were.
"It's the favorite sport of Arizona's environmental radical fringe," Brady said across the aisle to Chaz and Lau. "Other places, they spike trees and let farm animals loose. Here it's burning down new construction." He tapped the top sheet in the folder on his lap. "Mark Warren Sands in Phoenix, spring 2000 to January 2001, multiple fires under the identity of Coalition to Save the Preserves."
"Which didn't really exist." Chaz rummaged in his backpack, came up with a two-pack of granola bars. "Sands was an excitement-motivated arsonist who invented a bogus group to generate media coverage. That was what he was getting off on." He tore the wrapper along the seam with the quick efficiency of a mountain man skinning a deer.
Lau looked over Chaz's head into some non-existent vista. "I remember him. Former public relations guy. He said he did it to prove he could still run a campaign."
Falkner slid out of her seat further up the cabin, rubbed the inside corners of her eyes with her middle fingers, and started down the aisle toward them. Brady tucked his feet against the couch as she passed and she gave him a bent-cornered smile in acknowledgment.
Brady flipped a page. "Then June 2001. Four high-dollar homes under construction torched in exclusive real estate on the north side of Tucson. No suspects, never solved."
Chaz swallowed a mouthful of Chaz-biscuit. "Those were six years ago, custom homes in exclusive areas. Class and privilege issues as much as local ecology. But this guy is targeting high-density development, middle-class sprawl." He bit the second granola bar in half as if for emphasis.
"In this economy, being able to buy at all can seem like wealth and privilege," Brady countered.
Reyes twisted around in his seat, elbow on the arm rest. "We're not looking at an activist group."
"Political arsonists sign their work." Falkner leaned in the galley passthrough, cooling her coffee with her breath. "That's the point: unless they claim credit, it's perceived as just a fire, not a political statement."
"None of our sites were signed," Reyes finished. "And no contact with the media to claim credit."
Lau tapped her file with the end of her pen. "Which doesn't rule out the possibility that our guy started as a monkeywrencher. Fanaticism's another crack for the anomaly."
"What about the physical evidence? Any similarities between these bombings and the earlier construction fires?" Brady asked. If the gamma had gone to fire-setting school with an existing radical group, the hardware might be consistent.
Chaz gave a dissatisfied flat-lipped grimace. "Radio-controlled remote triggering, but that's so common with cases like this it hardly proves anything, except that the UNSUB can use a soldering iron. But the 2001 fires were set with incendiaries brought from off-site. Our guy is using the gas lines of the houses themselves for explosive material."
"When does the gas get turned on in a new development?" Falkner asked.
"He'd have to know, wouldn't he?" Lau thumbed a note on her BlackBerry.
Reyes frowned, the one that meant "good job." "Arson investigator's meeting us at the airport. Tomorrow we'll go over the sites, see how they fit with what we know about serial arsonist profiles. And keep looking for the anomalous element. There's a host in here somewhere. As long as we don't know where, we can't warn local police and fire when not to turn their backs."
Brady looked down at his lap full of paper. "I don't want to jinx us, but this would be easier if we had some victims to do victimology on."
"We do." Falkner sipped coffee and quirked an eyebrow. "Arthur Gilden."
"You're a sad excuse for a capitalist," Reyes told Brady.
The stars had faded out of the sky, but it wasn't bright enough yet to see if the gray overhead was cloud. Work lights glared from stands and truck mounts; in another hour the investigators wouldn't need them.
There was only so much they could do now, anyway. This was a fresh crime scene, and the evidence was still too hot to touch.
Lieutenant Graciela Carraldo stood at Reyes's shoulder, compact, plump, and scowling, hair pulled back from her wide forehead and broad Apache cheekbones, her fire department jacket zipped against the chill. "Looks like our guy wanted you to have a nice new one to play with."
Reyes turned at the note in her voice. "Did he know we were coming?"
Carraldo leaned away a fraction of an inch, straightened her shoulders. "My department knew. Tucson PD. Local news is covering this as ongoing, but nobody leaked an FBI story to 'em."
"Good. He's getting enough attention." Outside the police vehicle cordon, TV remote van transmitters rose like the necks of high-tech giraffes.
Beyond the cordon, hundreds of acres of desert lay scraped and featureless, except for flagged stakes marking imaginary streets, hypothetical lot boundaries, paths for utilities that, like Schroedinger's Cat, might or might not be there when you dug down to them. The earth-movers had stripped away the desert's reality and left nothing but markers for a dream.
Inside the cordon firefighters prowled with their equipment, as if looking for a lick of flame they might have missed. Carraldo's investigators huddled at the back doors of their van, drinking coffee while Chaz asked them questions. At the center of it all lay this row of blackened rectilinear skeletons, a short block of the dream laid waste.
"The security guard was on site?" Reyes asked.
Carraldo nodded. "There's not a builder or developer in town hasn't put extra security on their sites. But look at this." She swept an arm, encompassing the burned block, the houses around it, some of which were still only foundations and frames, the concrete pads waiting to be built on, the flatbed trailers stacked with lumber and pipe. "How many security guards d'you think you'd need to spot this guy, in this mess, in the dark? Especially if the first tip you have that he's here is shit blowing up?" She shook her head. "And your average security guard? Better than nothing. But I'd rather have a couple of junkyard dogs."
Reyes puffed air out his nose. Police academy washouts, kids working their way through college, and a few good career rent-a-cops. "The guard called it in?"
Chaz jogged up with a cup of the arson team's coffee just as she said it. The collar of his wool jacket was turned up, and he clutched the styrofoam in both hands as if he longed for mittens. "No pattern in the times or dates of the fires. I checked them against moon phases and rising and setting times. So far it's random."
"What, do you think he's a werewolf?" Carraldo asked, glaring.
Chaz looked at her sideways under half-lowered lids. "He might have avoided full moons because he'd be easier to spot." He enunciated carefully. Carraldo didn't seem to notice the insult.
"So his timetable may be internal," Reyes said. "The pressure builds up. When it becomes overwhelming..."
"Boom." Chaz made his unhappy long-mouthed grimace.
Carraldo shrugged. "No way to predict the next time or place?"
Reyes lifted his chin at the crime scene. "The intervals between fires will get shorter. That, we're sure of."
Brady strode down the chewed, muddy track that would someday be a street and stopped beside Carraldo. "Tucson PD is combing for shoe prints and tire marks. Of which there are plenty. Mostly from several dozen work boots and double-axle trucks."
"Can't rule those out. We're looking for someone who knows the gas hookups. It might be someone in the building trades."
The sky was white-tinged-with-gold over the mountains to the east. Reyes pressed his coat against his body with his elbows to hold the heat close. He was going to run up against the wall of lack of sleep any minute; feeling the chill was a warning. Ten years ago he could operate on adrenaline and curiosity for forty-eight hours at a time.
Chaz frowned down at his coffee. "I put a lot of sugar in this, but I should still get breakfast pretty quick."
"Thank god." Brady took a step toward where they'd parked the cars, and shrugged Chaz on to join him. "My stomach thinks my throat's been cut."
"You realize that one's older than both of us combined," Chaz said, tolerantly amused.
"Nope." Chaz hunched his backpack higher on his right shoulder. "The classics are classic for a reason."
"Call when you're done," Reyes told them. "I'll have work for you."
He watched them stride off among the fire trucks. There'd been some unspoken agreement that had followed the mention of breakfast. Brady might be hungry, but it wasn't about Brady, however much he'd made it look that way. Chaz could be prickly about being taken care of. He didn't seem to mind this, though.
As long as they got the work done, Reyes didn't need to know the negotiations behind it. If that changed, he could worry about it then.
Carraldo also watched them go. "The skinny one seems kind of young. I thought maybe he was a tech, but they don't carry, do they?"
Reyes's jaw muscles tensed, and his toes pushed against the insoles of his shoes, as if they could get a better purchase on the dirt. Digging in for a fight. Falkner would probably ignore Carraldo. Only one of the reasons Reyes would predecease Esther Falkner: hypertension.
"The skinny one," he said. "Oh, Special Agent Dr. Villette. He's been with the ACTF for two years now."
He watched her readjust her assumptions, then realize that was why he'd said it, then fight down the urge to come back at him.
"It's all right." Reyes smiled. "You can call me a manipulative son of a bitch. Everyone does."
Carraldo struggled against it, but finally gave a quick, growly laugh. "Not 'til you're out of hearing, I bet." She shook her head. "Well, you know where to find me. If I can grease any wheels, just ask."
"I'll let you know as soon as we have some leads. Thank you, Lieutenant."
Reyes watched her off to the arson van before he turned and headed toward the perimeter. Lau and Falkner would be there. Time to get their initial story straight, and figure out how much good it could do them if released into the wild.
The nice thing about this one, so far, was that there was nothing to cover up.
Lau seemed to be none the worse for lack of sleep. She was a small, straight brush stroke of dark brown suit and copper-colored sweater, already camera-worthy, bright-eyed and intense and saying into her phone, "Then call the press conference for three. That'll nail the early-evening broadcasts, and we can give the Daily Star, the Citizen, and the Republic snacks after that if we've got 'em."
Falkner stood ten feet away, looking out over the news vans and their crews, her hands deep in the pockets of her black overcoat. A raven and--what would that make Lau? Some smaller bird he couldn't recall. People retired to Arizona for the birdwatching. Weren't there birds everywhere? And surely there were better things to do with one's sunset years than search the view with binoculars.
Falkner jerked her head toward Lau. "As you can see, progress is being made."
"Mmm. Will we have something reassuring to say by three?"
"I was thinking, 'Don't worry, the FBI is on the case.'"
Reyes huffed air out his nose. "We get mixed results with that one."
Lau disconnected and came over. "How are we doing?"
"The arson investigators have our shopping list. Which is almost identical to theirs, right now."
Lau grimaced; it looked as if she'd learned it from Chaz, then reduced it to normal human proportions. "Did you see what they named this development?"
He hadn't, actually; he'd noticed steel serif letters on the stuccoed ornamental sweeps to either side of the main drive, but it was dark then, and he was thinking about explosions.
It surprised a crack of laughter out of him.
Falkner frowned from Lau to Reyes. "What?"
Reyes looked across the brutal flatness to the fringe of gray-green on the horizon that must be desert plants. "'Cienega' means 'swamp.'"
Feeding Chaz was like being responsible for keeping the Energizer Bunny topped off.
Brady pulled in at the first promising Mexican cafe they saw ("promising" in this case meaning a place where people came to eat, and assumed the food would be Mexican because that's what food was supposed to be). The parking lot was nearly full, mostly with aging pickup trucks, some with business names on the sides.
The front windows were studded with party-store paper decorations: skeletons, bats, jack-o'lanterns. He'd forgotten about Halloween. Apparently he was getting old and stuffy. Besides, they got Halloween most days at work, minus the candy bars.
Brady pushed chile rellenos, rice, and beans across the formica tabletop until Chaz was unfolded and fully inflated, like a blow-up figure on a car dealer's roof. In a place like this, the clientele envied and admired Chaz's capacity for food. The kid ought to have a Mexican grandmother to feed him and be proud of him.
Chaz wiped salsa from the corner of his mouth with his napkin and sighed. "All birthdays should start like that."
"It's your birthday? You were born on Halloween?"
"Statistically speaking, someone has to be."
"Yeah. But it was you. Suddenly the universe doesn't look so random."
"About the funny. Don't quit your day job." Chaz tugged his laptop out of the abyss of his black leather backpack (which was full of information and food, based on past evidence). He popped the lid open. "Gah. No signal."
"Taquerias with free wi-fi are few and far between."
"Tucson has municipal service."
"Downtown, maybe. What you after?"
Chaz shrugged and tucked the laptop away. "New homes as a proportion of real estate sales. I remembered what you said about industrial sabotage, and I wondered how much money we're looking at. And Hafs is sending financial records and lists of activist groups. I could snag 'em with the phone, but it'd be harder to work with them."
"We'll find a coffee place." Brady stretched and felt a pop between his shoulder blades as the tension let go. "Any speculations on why our gamma isn't doing magic tricks?"
"Just because the detonations aren't anomalous--"
"I know. He might be hoodooing something else. But it was the arson reports that Hafidha spotted, so I'm thinking not."
Chaz frowned. "If you've got it, you use it. Pretty much what humans do, whether it's good for us or not." He flourished a hand at the window, the street, the businesses and traffic along it. "Maybe the explosions are secondary, to destroy the evidence of what he's doing?"
"If so, it works. We got nothin'."
Chaz's mouth twisted as if he were chewing the inside of his lip. "What if...what if he's not a gamma?"
"He blows stuff up, Chaz. Unless-- You think Hafidha fucked up?"
"Not even slightly." He hunched one shoulder, looked down at his empty plate. "I have been known to blow stuff up. A little. Sort of."
Oh, really, now? Brady thought. Chaz's face didn't tell him anything. "Not like this, man."
"No, not like this." Chaz cleared his throat. "Well, even I can't eat any more. Break time's over; back on our heads. I'll call in." He slid out of the booth, dragging his backpack behind him, and ambled toward the door to the parking lot.
When Chaz had more to say, Brady figured he'd hear it.
Mexican for breakfast made Brady nostalgic. In Dallas, when he caught third shift, it would be his dinner and Andre's breakfast, and Andre would order migas or machaca con huevos, because he said if it didn't have eggs, it didn't count.
And arteriosclerosis turned out not to be an issue.
Maybe "nostalgic" wasn't exactly the right word.
Brady paid the bill at the register. The woman who took his card was about sternum-high on him, with a straight black ponytail to her waist and a wide mouth. "You guys get enough to eat?" she asked, with a grin and a pointed look at the table strewn with scraped plates.
I should have let Chaz get the bill. Flirting was free, but Chaz would have appreciated it more. "Yep. Just like Mom used to make."
She looked him up and down and shook her head sadly. "You should be so lucky."
He let a little Dallas into his words. "Texas moms make damned fine frijoles refritos."
"Oh, Tex-Mex. It's pretty good, if you can't get to Sonora." She gave him a wink and four peppermints with the receipt.
Brady stepped out into the morning sunshine. The sky was turning the deep turquoise skies never seemed to manage east of the left half of Texas. It was probably still raining in D. C.
Chaz stood hip-shot against the rented SUV, his attention on the thin rectangle of polished metal and black glass in his hand.
Brady squinted at it through reflected sun. "Is that--"
"--an Adorable Overhyped Phone? Yes."
He looked without looking at Chaz's shabby jacket, frayed collar points, and scarred oxfords. "You spend your entire salary on kitchen knives, phones, and wristwatches?"
"It's just one phone. And the watch is Chinese." Chaz stuck out his left arm to admire the domed crystal. "Swiss engineers, though." He sounded smug.
Not unlike the way Brady talked about the V-8 in his truck. "So what's Dad got for us?"
"Arthur Gilden, of Gilden Properties."
"Victimology. He looked at the weather and decided he ought to profile the scenes himself?"
Chaz held out the phone. "You could call him and ask."
"Aww. You're trying to be funny."
"I'm succeeding, too." Chaz bounced once, a little springy motion on his toes.
Brady tossed him two of the peppermints. "Let's go talk to a rich guy."
Gilden Properties occupied the third floor of a bronze-glass office building on Broadway, between a row of high-end boutiques and a chain hotel. "Occupied" to distinguish from "owned," which was Gilden Properties' relationship to the rest of the building. All the metal in the lobby and the elevators was brushed brass, and the gloss on the black marble floors was downright oppressive.
Brady showed his I.D. to the receptionist, a slender red-haired woman in a black suit and too much mascara. Chaz was right behind him with his. "Special Agents Brady and Villette to see Mr. Gilden."
The wall behind the reception desk looked like waxed oak, low-gloss, fine-grained, and featureless except for a shallow niche cut into it about a third of the way along the right side. A figurine filled it. The carving was rougher than anything Brady had seen since they pulled into the parking lot, but it was unmistakeable: a man in a long robe, bearded, curly-haired, a lily in one hand and an absurdly modern handsaw in the other. St. Joseph the carpenter, who helped sell houses.
"Mr. Gilden is expecting you." The receptionist sounded breathless.
"I'll take 'em," said a resonant male voice on Brady's right. He turned to see a thickset square-faced man with graying brown hair and an easy, confiding smile. "Dave Schumacher. VP of Acquisitions." He thrust his right hand out to Brady. "Gil's expecting you."
Classic "you can trust me" handshake. Sure, you can, Brady thought. But damn, he felt as if he ought to. The guy could probably sell you your own teeth. "Special Agent Daniel Brady. This is Special Agent Charles Villette." Brady turned to Chaz.
Chaz leaned over a scale model across from the reception desk: a miniature community on a tabletop held up by a black marble pedestal. He raised his head. "This isn't anything like where last night's explosion happened."
It wasn't. The tiny model buildings seemed to be sculpted rather than built from heavy card like most architect's mockups; their right angles were softened like old adobe. Mirror floor plans and varied lot angles made each house seem unique, though Brady suspected there were only maybe eight or ten basic designs. Chaz would know for sure. The development was laid out in a series of concentric circles, with car traffic routed around the backs of the houses and walking paths along the fronts. The whole thing centered on a little park and a round community building, with what looked like retail property on the outside and an event space in the middle.
Schumacher's smile stretched. "La Corona. Pretty, isn't it? That's our dream project. Green materials, low water demand, mixed use, a real village feel. We've got a team working on how to make it profitable."
Chaz did the chin-tuck he usually applied to Sol Todd's least-believable stories. "I'd think these would be bought up pretty fast."
"Too expensive per unit. As much as we'd have to sell one of those houses for, you could build yourself a custom on a few acres in the foothills." Schumacher shook his head. "People want to buy a lifestyle. But they want it for the price of a house." It had the sound of a pat phrase. He frowned down at the model as if it were responsible for the failure of several dozen visions.
Chaz twitched his eyebrows at Brady. Brady resolved to ask him later what the hell he meant.
Schumacher shrugged and got his smile back. "Come on, I'll take you to Gil's office."
Arthur Gilden's office was bigger than a few of Brady's past apartments. Gilden's wide rosewood desk cut at a diagonal across one corner, facing an enormous spread of floor-to-ceiling window that formed most of the opposite two walls. It overlooked a green fuzz of palo verde trees and the long stripe of Broadway Boulevard, alive with traffic.
Anyone who came to talk to Gilden sat with his back to the view. It made Brady twitchy. So he resolved not to twitch.
Gilden stood up and came around the desk to greet them. He was big, close to Brady's height, and heavy. Judging from the fit of his suit, he'd been heavier. Brady knew Chaz would notice, too. His hair was still dark, but it had given up fighting for the top of his head, and left suntan and freckles in undisputed possession.
Brady had expected another salesman greeting, but Gilden nodded with consulting-physician gravity and kept his right hand in his trouser pocket.
"Welcome, gentlemen. Please, sit." Gilden's voice was louder than the room called for. "Can I offer you water? Coffee? Soda? Only diet, I'm afraid." He waved them to the pair of leather armchairs ranged before the desk.
Brady sank into one and nearly laughed. Designed to make the visitor look up at Gilden. "No, thank you," Brady said, and Chaz, perched on the front of the other chair, shook his head.
Schumacher lingered at the office door. "Gil, if you don't need me here, I'll get back to the South Tucson project."
"I've got this. Thanks, Dave."
Schumacher's smile looked a little forced. But he shot a last look at Gilden, Brady, and Chaz, and left.
"I'm grateful to you for coming out to help with this." Gilden made it sound as if he'd hired them.
So Brady went for coolly professional. "It's important to stop someone like this before he escalates."
"Escalates?" Gilden looked blank. "To what?"
"That depends on why he's doing it," said Chaz. Based on Gilden's face, that didn't help him much.
Brady pushed his shoulders against the chair back and stuck his elbows out over the arms, occupying as much space as possible. "Mr. Gilden, it may be coincidence that only your properties have been hit by the arsonist. But in case it's not, we need to know why you or your company might have been targeted. Can you tell us a little about your competitors?" It seemed the safest place to start.
Gilden blinked, deliberate and owl-like. Then he spread his hands above his desk, shaping a large space between them. "It's a dog-eat-dog business, Agent. There's outfits who'd bend a few state statutes to grab a job away from us. But none of 'em would commit this kind of crime."
"Would they say the same of you?"
"'Scuse me?" Gilden's eyebrows climbed his forehead.
"That you'd bend state statutes."
"Agent Brady, if we'd done anything actionable, we'd be in court. We've been fined a few times--we've missed filing deadlines, we hired a damned incompetent hydrologist and got slapped with a county notice. That sounds bad, but it's the price of doing business. I'll bet a few corners get cut in your job, too."
Chaz's eyebrows rose. Brady made his voice cold and dry as a martini made with Stoli from the freezer. "We're not noted for it."
Gilden turned alarmingly red. "Sorry. But my point is, this industry has more people looking over its shoulder than nuclear power. If we didn't keep our noses clean, we'd be shut down. We're competitive, but we're not criminals. Whatever the Sierra Club types say when you stick a microphone in front of 'em."
"Have you been targeted by activist groups?" Chaz asked.
Gilden started; he seemed to have forgotten Chaz was there. "There's 'activists' at every county commission meeting. We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies and tests the county wants. We show up to present them and the room fills up with flannel-shirt self-declared 'experts' trying to shoot holes in every sentence. We come with facts. They come with a load of alarmist bull. These people cost us a fortune."
"What about personal enemies, Mr. Gilden?"
Gilden smiled at Chaz; not the sort of smile that was going to go down well. "Agent, if this was about me, they could find me here or at my home. Besides, I thought teenage vandalism accounted for most crimes like this."
Chaz's face was as immobile as it could get when he replied, "Though these are explosions, we're treating them as arson for the purpose of the investigation; the explosion appears to be just to spread the fire. Vandalism is one motive for arson. There's also thrill-seeking, concealment of evidence, revenge--against a person, an institution, a group or minority, or society in general--and ideological extremism. But the most common one after vandalism is profit."
Brady was almost sorry to give Gilden an excuse to be the first to break eye contact. "The devices used suggest this isn't a high school kid on a spree. Have you had to fire anyone lately? A contractor, an employee? Someone who made a fuss about it, or that you'd expect to make a fuss and didn't?"
"If we screwed a contractor, it'd be all over town in fifteen minutes. We'd have land and nobody to build on it." Gilden glowered like a Victorian politician in a tintype. "And my employees? Agent Brady, this company is my family. I raise hell over safety, health--my people are the best in the business. They could work for anybody. But they choose to stay here."
"Family." Brady decided not to share the stats on family violence.
Gilden raised his chin, relaxed his mouth. This was ground he felt sure of. "Six months ago, Dave--Dave Schumacher, met you out front--had a heart attack. Not a big one, but it was a wake-up call. Dave and I were buying properties to flip twenty years ago. It would have been like losing a brother.
"So I started a company-wide weight-loss incentive." Gilden pushed back from his desk, drew his right fist out of his pants pocket, hooked his thumb in his belt, and tugged it away from his waist. "And I don't ask my people to do anything I won't do."
If Gilden or one of his employees was the gamma, a company weight-loss program would make finding them harder. "Any new ventures in the last few months? Anything that would step on a new set of toes?"
"The Lago Oro project is seniors' resort living. So maybe Del Webb's toes. But it's a growth area in the industry. Golf course property, health club, gated security--a snowbird's dream."
"What about the model out front?" Chaz asked.
Gilden's eyes narrowed; he took a breath before he turned to Chaz. "La Corona? That's Dave's baby. Sometimes it changes you, a scare like a heart attack. He came back to work crazy for that project. Hell, I think it gave him something to get well for."
"But you're not building it."
"This company's about volume, not high-dollar properties. He knows that. I'm just waiting him out 'til he comes back down to earth. And it's not as if we don't do low-impact projects. Downtown infill, replacing derelict blocks with new properties--that's good business and good for the planet." Another pat phrase; Gilden probably used it at industry luncheons.
It didn't impress Chaz. "Why display the model, then?"
Gilden cocked his head at Chaz, like a dog at a strange sound. "Well, it's damned pretty. And it shows what we could do. Real estate is half dreams, Agent. Problem with La Corona is, it's all dream. Can't make a living on that."
Chaz's gaze took in the office. To Brady, the gesture said, And I see you're just getting by. But Gilden seemed to miss the subtext.
Someone less physical would have looked silly staggering up out of the chair cushions, but Brady planted his feet, gripped the arms, and rose smoothly. If Gilden caught the message in that, he didn't show it. Chaz popped up off the edge of his seat. "Thank you, Mr. Gilden," Brady said. "If we need more information, we'll be in touch." Brady offered his right hand. Gilden, after a moment's hesitation, shook it.
Chaz didn't offer to shake, and Gilden didn't seem to expect it. Brady remembered that Chaz had managed to dodge the handshake with Schumacher, too. It was Chaz's personal version of a cloaking device: a subsonic "please don't touch" pulse. Most people seemed to get it. If it worked every time, Brady would have figured it for another creepy beta skill.
Gilden escorted them to the reception area; the receptionist nodded and smiled, at them and at her boss. She didn't seem nervous under the eye of the company president.
They reached the parking lot before Chaz said, "Sorry."
Brady raised his eyebrows. "What about?"
"I let him know I didn't like him."
Brady laughed, and immediately regretted it, but Chaz didn't seem offended. "Hell, for once in my life I got to be Good Cop. I hardly knew what to do with myself."
Chaz grinned. "Obviously."
"That," Brady continued, "may be the most insecure rich guy I've ever met."
"And positioning them facing away from the window, as if Gilden's saying, 'I'm more important than anything out there.' The big empty room, as if he takes up that much space just by breathing. Keeping his back to the corner."
"Also, no computer."
Brady looked a question at him.
"Too important to type anything himself." Chaz stared out across the parking lot narrow-eyed, though the sun was behind them. "But power is about having information right under your hand." He hunched his shoulders suddenly and looked down. "Gilden's symbolism is out of date. He used to be the guy out in front of the pack, but he's been passed and he knows it. He doesn't know how to change to catch up. So he's hanging on tighter to what he does know."
"Good call. So given all those clues, how likely is it he's getting as little personal and professional grief as he says he is?" Brady fished the keys out of his pants pocket.
"Let's get coffee and wi-fi and see what Hafs has on him." Chaz lengthened his stride toward the SUV. "I'll drive."
Reyes leaned back in his chair, inhaled the comforting smells of garlic, bread, and simmered tomatoes, and studied as much of the team as was gathered at the round table. So far it was Falkner and Lau, but Chaz had called to say he and Brady were en route.
If Lau was still shaken by the Grossman case, she was hiding it well. She would, though. Lau knew that appearance could substitute for essence, and sometimes become it. Her hands were folded and relaxed on her placemat and her gaze steady on his when she said, "Local media is pretty receptive. If we need to get the profile to the public, they'll run it." She crooked one side of her mouth in a not-smile. "A lot of real estate advertising dollars out there."
"On the other side of the aisle, we've barely scratched the surface of local groups opposed to development." Falkner had draped her coat over her chair and unbuttoned her suit jacket; the neat white V of her blouse glowed in the overhead light. Reyes bet it would be unmarred by tomato sauce at the end of the meal. "If our gamma's been spotted on the fringes of one of them, we haven't found the right one yet."
"So this could take a while," he said.
"It could take catching him red-handed." Falkner shrugged. "But we'd need an impossible quantity of manpower for the stakeout."
Brady and Chaz wound through the restaurant between the tables, seeming unconscious of the diners who turned to watch as they passed. Brady pulled out the chair next to Lau.
"And how was your day?" Lau asked him.
Brady settled on the chair and sighed. "Chaz made me drink mud."
Chaz looked up from hooking his backpack over the chair next to Reyes. "And eat carrot cake!"
"To kill the taste of the mud."
Chaz snorted. "Also, we've had a wi-fi curse all day, so no figures from Hafs."
"I got 'em," Lau said. "I'll summarize; you can do pattern magic on them later."
The waiter arrived before she could begin. Reyes ordered chicken piccata and risotto. Lau never objected to sitting at table with meat eaters, but he thought making her watch him eat veal might try her patience unnecessarily.
Lau asked for her insalata caprese to be served with the entrees, which meant she could talk while everyone else dug into soup or salad. "According to Hafidha, Gilden's industry isn't quite the profit monster it looks at first glance. New houses are going up faster than they're selling. Builders are working on spec, hoping buyers will show up. There's lots of shiny new developments with too many houses sitting vacant."
Reyes speared a mushroom out of his salad and ate it. It was an acceptable salad, but he hoped it was the low point of the meal. "So Gilden Properties probably has cash flow problems."
"More like definitely. The company started a big project in the next county and were turned down by the planning commission. They'll have spent a bundle on surveys, studies, and testing, and none of it is going to show a return." Lau plucked a roll out of the basket in the middle of the table, cracked through the crust with her thumbs, and tore it open. Steam and the smell of yeast rose up.
Brady nodded. "That would explain why Gilden sounded so very pissed off about county planning meetings. That wound's still raw."
"So he might need the insurance payout," Chaz said. Lau handed him half her roll with no sign of prior agreement. The light was too low for Reyes to see if Chaz flushed when he took it, but it seemed likely.
Falkner stirred her minestrone and frowned. "Gilden Properties might need it. Whether it's Gilden or someone else there, who feels responsible...? Or someone who believes his job might be cut if the company starts tightening its belt."
"Speaking of belts," Brady began, and the main courses arrived.
While they ate, Brady gave them his and Chaz's profile of Gilden. He offered it as victimology, but they all knew it could cut either way.
And while he listened, Reyes ate. The brightness of the lemon made saliva spring in his mouth. He felt the thin breading crunch under his teeth, and swallowed tender chicken and rice rich with cheese. How often had he eaten good food with half his attention, the other half on death, destruction, and the allure of the hunt?
Was it wrong to hope for at least as many more occasions to come? Even if he believed in a god, he wouldn't have had the nerve to send that prayer out to it.
When Brady finished, Falkner said, "Gilden's business is full of small fish trying to look big."
"Yeah, but we know Gilden was big." Brady raised his fork like a lecturer at the blackboard with a piece of chalk. "And not just financially. Either he's lost weight mighty fast, or he can't afford to replace his suits."
Lau shrugged. "Why replace your wardrobe if you're not done losing weight?"
"Maybe. But he's defensive, and nervous."
Chaz swallowed a hurried mouthful of fettucine and swiped alfredo sauce off his mouth just in time to keep it from reaching his chin. "So is Dave Schumacher. He wasn't comfortable leaving us alone with Gilden."
"Because he knew something about Gilden, or the other way around?" Falkner mused.
"Gilden's Catholic," said Reyes. Brady raised his eyebrows; Reyes answered the implied question. "An employee might have St. Joseph in his office. Putting the statue at the front desk is a statement only the boss can make. Let's find out what Gilden's parish church is."
"A pattern of donations could tell us something," Chaz said.
"So could his parish priest." Reyes managed not to curl his lip. "The confessional is sealed, but a badge trumps a lot of other reservations."
Lau wiped olive oil off her plate with her last bit of roll, ate it, and slid her chair back. "Speaking of which. I'll call the hotel and make sure the rooms are ready."
She swept between the tables toward the front door; diners' heads swiveled again.
Reyes pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. "I grilled the arson investigators and went over their evidence. It's all there, and normal. We still have no sign of anomalous activity."
Falkner raised her eyes to his.
Chaz yawned, hugely and suddenly; he covered his mouth with his fork still in his hand, and Reyes was afraid for a moment he'd stab himself in the nose. "Um. Sorry."
Reyes hid his own sympathetic yawn as Lau strode back to the table. "I bear bad news. They've got four rooms for us, not five. Sounds as if the office didn't forward our updated reservation." She shrugged apologetically at Falkner. "And they're full. I could find us another hotel..."
And wrestle with cancellation and the new billing through the Bureau, or expense it and hope to straighten it out later. And the whole team was exhausted, not just Chaz. Reyes shook his head. "Brady, Chaz, you'll share."
Chaz looked outraged. Brady looked resigned. He gave Falkner a one-cornered grin. "I'm outranked."
Chaz sighed; his shoulders dropped theatrically. "Do not turn the thermostat down."
Brady raised an eyebrow. "Don't order crappy sci-fi movies off pay-per-view."
"Hey!" Lau said cheerfully. "There might be a body after all!"
"Nah. I'm too tired to kill him."
Reyes signed the bill while the others scraped away from the table. Chaz was the last, wrestling his backpack off his chair. "By the way, happy birthday," Reyes told him.
Chaz's head snapped up, and he blinked. "How did-- Oh." His mouth pressed closed. Then his smile broke out, all the way to his eyes. "Thank you."
"You should have said something. Twenty-five?"
Chaz adjusted the straps of his backpack with unnecessary care. "Not a big deal."
Which is why you smiled when someone remembered. "Many happy returns."
Chaz glanced up again, nodded, and fled, only slowing to pass Falkner coming back from the restroom.
Falkner picked up her coat. "Everything okay?"
"Mmm." Reyes led the way toward the front door.
They paused for a waiter with a tray. Falkner said, "You still think Hafidha's right."
"I do." She had to be. What was the alternative?
At the corner of his eye he could see Falkner watching him. He pretended he couldn't.
The parking lot bordered on a street of tidy, flat-roofed houses. Porch lights were on along the block, and figures with bags and flashlights hurried and clumped on the sidewalk. Trick-or-treaters. In spite of a cloud of unlikely urban myth and municipal regulation, kids still dressed up and extorted candy from the neighbors.
He remembered a year when his dad had taken him around the neighborhood. They'd had to stop early, because his father had a gig that night. That was all right; he'd been happy just to walk next to him for an hour. His father waited on the sidewalk while he went to the doors, and he forgot to say thank you half the time, he was in such a hurry to get back. His dad hadn't insisted on holding his hand; it made him feel grown up and proud. He must have been six or so.
He felt Falkner beside him. "Rebekah announced yesterday that this was her last year."
"How do they decide these things? I'd still be out there if I could get away with it."
Falkner laughed, barely audible. "The continental divide of life. One minute you're racing for the high ground. The next, you're trying to slow your descent."
And no one could dig his heels in hard enough. "Let's go. We're going to be slogging tomorrow."
In the dream, there was an old-fashioned diner where Brady's kitchen was supposed to be, and in the dream, he'd expected that. A radio played behind the counter. In one sparkle-vinyl-upholstered booth, Lau sat across from Andre. They both smiled as he walked up. He sat next to Lau. Shouldn't he have sat beside Andre? But if he moved now, it would be obvious, and he'd piss off one of them no matter what. Something on the grill sizzled, louder and louder. No, that was the crackle of fire. The diner was on fire, but he couldn't see flames.
He woke to a line of light between the curtains, the sound of the shower, and his pulse loud and fast in his ears.
Not really a nightmare by his standards.
What he'd dreamed as radio was singing from the bathroom. Now that he was awake, he made out Chaz's breathy tenor:
"If you could find some way to be
A little bit less afraid of me
You'd see the voices that control me from inside my head
Say I shouldn't kill you yet."
"Jesus fucking Twilight Zone," Brady groaned, and pulled the pillow over his head.
"You couldn't have been wrong, just this once?" Falkner dropped wearily into a chair in the meeting room Lieutenant Carraldo had lent them.
"About what?" Reyes asked.
Across the room Chaz leaned back from his laptop and rubbed his eyes.
"The slogging. I was hoping it was an empty threat."
Reyes gave her a humorless smile. "You know I don't make those."
"So far, everyone hates Gilden Properties--and nearly the entire real estate development industry--except realtors and car dealers."
"Public transportation is underfunded in Tucson," Chaz answered. He laced his fingers behind his head and arched his back. Reyes heard his spine crack from two yards away. "So sprawl sells cars."
Falkner spread her hands, palm up. "It's an entire competing ecosystem."
"Any reason to hate Gilden more than his competitors?"
Falkner shook her head. "Maybe Brady or Lau will turn something up."
Chaz's laptop played the first few bars of the Looney Tunes theme music, and he spun back to it and tapped a key. "Hey, Hafs. Reyes and Falkner are here, too." He turned the computer to face into the room, and rolled his chair to follow.
On screen, Hafidha blinked and shook her head. "Gah. Dizzy much. Okay, Gilden and Schumacher did start out buying houses for quick resale. But they rehabbed them first, and they did the work themselves. Which means, in case you hadn't already leaped ahead, both of them know something about electrical wiring and gas fixtures."
"And you can find instructions for radio-controlled triggers online." Falkner leaned forward, elbows on her knees.
"Except Gilden's not computer-savvy," Chaz objected.
"Are we sure of that?" Reyes asked.
Hafidha rolled her eyes upward. "Comandante, he's got one e-mail address. On AOL. It averages nine messages a week, and hasn't even had its spam filter tweaked. Gilden Properties' website is designed, maintained, and hosted by a company in Phoenix. He barely knows my universe exists."
"Hafidha, tell me you didn't read his e-mail."
Even in the contrasty image on Chaz's screen, Reyes could see Hafidha's wounded expression. "I am an honorable pirate. Also not done. It turns out Gilden and Schumacher may have either forged or bought a couple of inspection reports so their rehabs would meet the building codes."
"Turns out?" Reyes didn't look forward to the answer.
"There was a house fire. Wiring short. G. and S. insisted it was in a part of the house they hadn't wired, they produced the inspection report, the inspector who signed off said he'd never been in that house. Somebody was fibbing, but there's no telling who."
"Who died?" Falkner asked, her voice hard.
"Four college kids who were renting the place."
"Could be a trigger." Chaz looked over his shoulder at Reyes, eyes wide.
"Over fifteen years ago?" Hafidha shrugged. "Long incubation, sweetie."
"We can't rule it out," Reyes told her, and the others. "Anything else?"
"More crunchy facts and figures arriving on your communicators as we speak, but that's what stands out. Oh, and Gilden's parish church is St. Agnes. Which, interestingly, is also Schumacher's. Address and GoogleMap uploading..." She raised her eyebrows and focused on something just off camera. "...Now."
Hurrying footsteps in the hall; the door swept open on Lieutenant Carraldo, glaring, her jaw working. "One of Gilden's sites." She stopped for breath.
"Another explosion?" Reyes asked. But they'd all happened at night.
Carraldo shook her head fiercely. "It's been invaded."
Three empty former schoolbuses stood angled across the newly-paved streets of what the billboard at the gate declared would be Lago Oro Active Living Resort. Brady had to admit there was such a thing as passive living, but he doubted that was in the designers' heads.
Tucson PD blocked the entry with cruisers, party lights revolving; a third cruiser boxed in another bus on the street, and an officer had the driver sitting on the curb with his hands on his head. The passengers shouted out the windows; Brady heard a toddler crying among them. Two officers with rifles blocked the bus doors.
"That's going to look good when the news vans get here," Lau sighed.
"Who called 'em?"
"Police scanner, Danny. Six o'clock news will lead with the Tucson police threatening a bus full of homeless people."
"And rounding up more." Brady turned to look back at the development where uniforms were searching among the unfinished houses for the passengers of the other three buses.
A dark SUV pulled into the curb against traffic. Tick, tick, tick, Brady thought, and was surprised when the front passenger door opened at one and a half. But that turned out to be Carraldo. The other doors opened on three and disgorged Reyes, Falkner, and Chaz.
"What do we know?" Reyes asked as soon as they were in earshot.
"People turned away from homeless shelters," Lau said. "Mostly for lack of room, but there'll be a few in the mix refused for drug or alcohol use or previous violent episodes. The buses were rented and driven by members of a group calling themselves The New Commons, according to the one on the curb there."
"History majors?" Reyes asked, one satirical eyebrow flying. Lau shrugged.
Carraldo braced her hands on her hips and surveyed the landscape. "It's like the chickens came home to roost. You can bet some of these people used to live in buildings Gilden knocked down."
"I thought Gilden stuck to big scrape-and-build stuff like this." Brady nodded at the houses.
"Branching out." Carraldo gave him a grin full of not-amused. "They bought a downtown block and bulldozed it for an office complex. Got a shitload of tax breaks for neighborhood redevelopment."
Reyes turned to Carraldo. "Lieutenant, it's vital we get everyone out of here before nightfall."
"We were going to do that anyway. Got a particular reason?"
"Because this will attract the arsonist's attention."
Carraldo reared back, frowning. "He doesn't target inhabited buildings. He'll hit anywhere but here."
Over Reyes's shoulder, Brady saw Chaz's head turn, his eyes narrow. But it was Falkner who spoke. "This type of UNSUB doesn't stop at property damage. The addition of potential victims to one of his usual targets-- It increases the chance that he'll escalate before we can catch him."
Carraldo pulled her cell out of her jacket pocket. "I'll get us more manpower. Oh, for fuck's sake."
Brady turned to follow her gaze. The first of the TV news trucks was pulling up beyond the cruisers.
Carraldo loped off, probably to organize a barricade. Brady heard sirens approaching.
"Guys," Chaz said. "She's right. He doesn't target inhabited buildings."
"We can't count on that--" Falkner began.
"No, no, no." Chaz's hands curved tense in front of his face, as if he were holding his thought and trying to pass it like a basketball. "We've been assuming he's striking out at the developments. But what if it's that he's not striking out at people?"
It took a second to decode. "The anomaly causes pain," Reyes said.
"But there isn't any pain here. Or anything anomalous. What if he's resisting it?"
Brady shook his head. "You said it yourself: If we've got it, we use it."
"If we're not aware we're doing harm, sure. But he is. A gamma who sets five fires and doesn't cause one injury? That has to be it."
"Why does it have to be?" Brady snapped. "Maybe he doesn't know what he wants yet. Maybe this is dress rehearsal. God damn it, Chaz, get fucking serious."
The team stared at him--an interesting mix of expressions. It was Chaz's blank, still face that made him play his own words back, feel the fury that balled his fists in his pockets and clenched his jaw.
Come on, asshole. Apologize. But his throat was too tight with anger to work.
Reyes broke the silence. "Let's help get these people out of here. No one goes in alone; look out for weapons and watch your backs."
Brady turned and headed toward the houses. If he was lucky, someone would try to pull a knife on him.
The camera crews managed to slip past the police, of course. Reyes was there when the leader of the group was brought out of a house between two police officers. "We are the New Commons!" he shouted to the reporters as he was hurried past. "Poverty is a crime committed by the rich!"
The cops tucked him neatly in the back of a patrol car. Rank, it seemed, had privileges even within the crime of trespassing; other organizers and the homeless squatters who resisted were being cuffed and loaded into police vans as they were found. The quiet ones were being held on their own buses.
Carraldo trudged over to Reyes. "You want to talk to him?"
She must have seen him staring at the car. "He hasn't lawyered up?"
Carraldo blew air through her lips, a substitute for laughter. "You know better than that. The point of this kind of thing is the statement. You think he might be our guy?"
"No. But he might know him."
When Reyes slid into the patrol car's back seat, the man next to him straightened as much as he could with his hands cuffed behind him, and stared forward as if Reyes wasn't there.
"My name is Stephen Reyes. I'm with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit."
That startled the man, though he tried to hide it. He was in his early thirties, with short light-brown hair and tortoiseshell glasses. He had a runner's muscular thinness and a smoker's cough, though Reyes couldn't smell cigarette smoke on him.
"Are we domestic terrorists now?" The man's jaw clenched. "I thought we were just poor people."
Reyes laid his hands relaxed on his thighs and watched the roundup out the windshield as he said, "You may have got your glasses frames through a charity, and someone might have put an almost-new Calvin Klein shirt in a shelter donation box. But your haircut cost you at least twenty-five dollars."
At the corner of his vision, Reyes saw the man's head turn. "I'm not a hypocrite."
"No, you're a man who almost despairs of the world and humanity. There are days you can hardly stand to walk out your door, the injustice and inequity sickens you so. You need to do more than give money to charities so they can pay salaries to administrators. You feel the world's time is running out."
The mixture of hope and sorrow on the man's face almost made Reyes feel guilty. It was only a canned profile of a kind of civil disobedience. But the man felt understood.
"What's your name?" Reyes asked him.
"Mr. Kellogg. We're looking for someone who's potentially very dangerous. He may have gravitated to your movement, or to groups opposing development. But his motivations aren't political."
Kellogg shrugged. "I don't know why he'd be with us, then."
Reyes nodded, as if Kellogg had told him something useful. "He seems socially well-adjusted at first. But on better acquaintance, you'd notice he's frightened, insecure. He'll have mood swings--one moment he's outgoing, pleasant, but the next he's angry, or so depressed he can hardly speak. When he's angry, he may urge violent solutions. His metaphors are about burning or explosions. The person we're looking for has experience with electrical work. And he may have lost weight suddenly."
As Reyes spoke, he was aware of how much of his list fit Arthur Gilden.
Kellogg shook his head. "No. That doesn't sound like one of us."
Reyes slid his card case out of his pocket, thumbed out a card, and held it up. "May I put this in your shirt pocket, Mr. Kellogg? If you remember anything that might help, I'd appreciate a call."
Kellogg nodded. Reyes put the card in his pocket and said, "Thank you."
He slid out of the patrol car and went in search of Carraldo. "Nothing," he told her. "Will you do me a favor?"
She eyed him warily. Reyes was reminded of Pauley. "Depends."
"Get him off with a warning, will you?"
She gave her growling laugh again. "You sweet-talked me into it."
The mountains to the west of town looked like a stage backdrop done by a grade-school class: pointy, lopsided, irrational. The sun glared red above them by the time the last of the buses and the police vans pulled out with their sorry loads.
The grind of power screwdrivers rose up from the empty buildings. Gilden Properties had sent a maintenance crew to board up the houses that had been broken into. Police cars parked at the ends of the streets, waiting for the crews to finish.
Brady beat dust out of his shirt. His jacket was in the SUV; with the sun dropping, he'd want it soon. He felt filthy and exhausted and revolted with himself and the universe. Kicking homeless people out of squats was not his idea of a good day's work.
At the gate, on a low wall by the unfinished guard station, someone sat folded up, knees under chin. Brady walked over, and Chaz looked up, silent.
"I'm sorry," Brady said. "I heard... Melinda Grossman turned a goddamn gun on herself rather than listen to the Thing. Then you describe a gamma who's holding out against it. And I thought of..."
Chaz nodded. "I know."
Brady blew out a long breath and sat down hard next to Chaz. "In a shitty movie, this is where I'd pull an old photo out of my wallet."
That made Chaz smile. "You can if you want to." He unfolded enough to put his feet on the ground and wrap his arms around his ribs. "You're bleeding."
Chaz tapped his own temple, left side at the hairline.
Brady probed, felt the scrape under his fingers. "Oh. Right. The percentage of mentally ill people among the homeless is still pretty high." If he hadn't felt it earlier, it would keep. "You eat lately?"
Chaz's mouth twisted.
It was Chaz's turn to sigh. "No, you're right. I kind of made it your problem." He pulled a packet of cheese and peanut butter crackers out of his pocket. "I've been working on these."
"Want me to get us the hell out of here?"
Lau came around the corner of the guard station, pushing her hair back with both hands. "Well, we've questioned everyone who might conceivably have contact with the host. Big zero. It has to be someone with a car or truck."
"No public transportation." Chaz sounded disapproving.
"And they had to bus those people out here to have a demonstration. Oh, god, today was a waste." Lau scrubbed her eyes and raked her hands through her hair again, a single motion. "Can we go home yet?"
"Not 'til we find the bad guy," said Chaz.
Brady nodded. The bad guy. It wouldn't help to think of him as anything else.
Reyes woke to the burring of the phone on the bedside table. He was aware instantly that he was in a hotel room, that this was Tucson, and that it was too early for this to be his wake-up call. "Reyes," he said into the receiver, his voice cracking.
"It's Carraldo. You were right--he hit Lago Oro."
It took a moment for Reyes to put the name together with the scene of yesterday's demonstration. "We cleared it out."
Silence on the line, just a little too long. Then Carraldo said, "We found four bodies."
He was out of bed before the reciever hit the cradle. His other hand reached for his cell.
Lago Oro was changed by gray morning light, the pall of smoke, the pools of oily water and muddy lots. The streets were jammed with fire trucks, paramedics' units, police cars, and a panel van with the logo of the Pima County Coroner. Reyes thought of Brady's comment that developers didn't think about emergency response when they designed access. The community's single entrance and narrow winding streets had slowed the fire trucks down.
The team scattered without consultation to work their areas of expertise. Reyes went straight to the blackened house where the coroner's van waited, where the camera flashes were most frequent.
The blasts had occurred in houses on the east ends of three blocks. The wind was still blowing east to west. Shrapnel and sparks had carried the fire from one close-set house to another. In several others, escaping gas had ignited, blown the house, and spread the fire further. The devastation made their first scene look like a Homecoming bonfire.
Reyes didn't believe in coincidence. The gamma hit Lago Oro because of what had happened there yesterday. But had that caused the escalation, too? And had he meant to kill?
Carraldo met him at the tape barrier. "The explosion was set in the next house over, then caught this one on fire. From the location of the bodies..." Her eyes dropped, but only for a moment. She'd been a long time at this job. "They probably died of smoke inhalation. We haven't been able to determine yet if they entered the house after we cleared the demonstrators, maybe found a way in the repair crews had missed. Or if--" She swallowed, and continued, "--they were already hidden when the building was boarded up."
He'd been at the job a long time, too, but not long enough that the possibility didn't turn him sick and cold. "Any I.D. yet?"
Carraldo shook her head. "Two adults, two children: a boy and a girl." She jerked her head for Reyes to follow her ten feet down the barricade to a tarp spread on the ground.
It was like a collection of artifacts from an archaeological dig, but without the cleansing distance of time. A half-burned sneaker. Plastic water bottles deformed by heat. A charred windbreaker. A pink nylon backpack, partly blackened and its plastic character decals melted, part eerily preserved and whole. It might have been protected by a body on top of it. The pictures were of cartoon girls who were almost, but not quite, the Disney princesses.
"Everything here was bought in Mexico," Carraldo said.
"Illegals." The word was hard to say in this context.
"If they were with the demonstrators, it would make sense. The shelters are supposed to report 'em."
Reyes stared down at the contents of the tarp. "Yesterday was the Feast of All Saints. It used to be called the Feast of All Martyrs." He raised his eyes to Carraldo. "I wonder if our UNSUB knows that?"
"He was aware they were in the house? It was deliberate?"
"Maybe. Or it wasn't. And when he finds out, it will color the way he sees his actions." Reyes wiped his hands on his thighs. They felt ashy, though he didn't recall touching anything. "Put the M.E. to work identifying the victims as quickly as you can. I'll send my media specialist to consult on this. We want the UNSUB to know he killed, and who, as soon as possible."
"You said killing is what these guys want."
"This one may be different."
Reyes found Lau alone at the end of the first burned block, intent on thumbing notes into her BlackBerry. His steps crunched across the dirt, but she didn't look up.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yep." She paused just long enough to make him believe that was all he'd get. "I got the details from one of the investigators." A long, shaky breath; then she said, "I was one of the last people off the site." She looked away from her notes, examined a thumbnail, scratched at the cuticle.
"You didn't kill Melinda and Carol Grossman."
Lau flinched. She glanced up, met his eyes, dropped her gaze again. "I didn't save them."
"That's not our job."
This time when she looked up, she didn't look away.
"We save lives by stopping the people who will take them. But the job is about stopping, not saving. If we can stop a host without taking a life, we should. We rarely can."
Lau took another long, slow breath, closed her eyes, and nodded.
"I need you to work this. We have to let the host know who he's killed, personalize the deaths for him. If Chaz is right, it may bring him out from under cover."
"And their family should know what happened to them." Her shoulders squared.
Falkner would have started with that. The hunt gave him tunnel vision.
Reyes had taken three steps when Lau said, "Hah. Boss?"
He looked back, and Lau waved her BlackBerry. "Chaz says none of the houses where the fires started were broken into yesterday."
It took him a moment's visualization. "Which means they weren't boarded up. Easier to get access."
"Good work," he said, "both of you. Keep me posted."
Father Thomas Fiore met Brady and Reyes at the St. Agnes parish offices. Brady wondered if Catholics had a special name for church offices. Reyes would know. Given the tilt of Reyes's head, Brady decided not to ask.
The room was small, white-plastered, and crowded with furniture: a desk, wooden chairs, overloaded bookshelves, two four-drawer filing cabinets. The dark wood crucifix on the wall by the door might have dated, like the church, to the 1940s. A casement window beside the desk opened into a courtyard; Brady could see the dust-greens and dull purple of yucca and prickly pear, and a rank-looking clump of Mexican hat blooming crimson and yellow.
Father Fiore was tanned, white-haired, and would have made a good host for a show on the Outdoor Life Network. Fishers of Men Who Fish, maybe. He had the the confident, upright posture and flexible voice of someone used to living in public.
"Father Fiore," Reyes began, "we realize there are things you can't tell us about your parishioners. What we're looking for are things you may have observed as a neighbor and a friend, not as a priest."
Father Fiore showed them a half-smile. "I'm afraid I'm always a priest, gentlemen."
"Of course." Reyes was brisk; the fingers of his left hand drummed lightly on his thigh. "But you've chosen a--not worldly, but certainly public--career in the church. In charge of a wealthy parish in a diocese where your voice has a lot of weight in the community. You're not afraid to share your opinions."
Father Fiore lowered his chin and eyed Reyes through the tops of his glasses. "This is a conservative congregation, Agent Reyes. I give my parishioners a voice in a liberal community in which they don't always feel heard."
"Good," Brady said. "You can tell us what your congregation says about Arthur Gilden and Dave Schumacher."
"Mr. Gilden's a good Catholic--"
"Who donated half the necessary funds to buy the land for your new church." Reyes smiled, sleepy-eyed. "And whose company was then hired to acquire and survey the land and build the complex."
"After a public bidding process," Father Fiore said stiffly.
"Father Fiore," Brady interrupted, "we're here because four people died last night in an explosion in a Gilden Properties development. We believe Mr. Gilden is being targeted. He and Mr. Schumacher may be in danger. We need you to tell us the things other people can't, so we can help them."
Reyes sat back in his chair and folded his hands over his stomach. Done for now. Brady considered kicking him in the ankle. Instead, he leaned forward, clasped his fingers together over his knees, and packed as much earnest and sympathetic in his face as he could.
The priest sighed. "Arthur's a good man. He's driven, single-minded--worldly, yes--but he gives back to the community. He donates to civic events. Gilden Properties is one of the sponsors of the All Souls' Parade every year. I believe he's a good Christian."
"Today is the Feast of All Souls," Reyes observed.
"Yes, tonight's service. The parade is on Sunday night, downtown. I'm afraid it has more to do with Halloween and Dia de los Muertos than a Catholic feast day, but the Church isn't directly involved."
Brady shifted in his chair to bring Father Fiore's attention back to him. "What's Dave Schumacher like?"
"Friendly, outgoing. A good negotiator. People like working under him on parish business."
"He and his wife support the church with money, and time. Dave collects toys to repair, that we donate to children's homes in Mexico. He started the program a few years ago."
"Gluing bits back on, repainting, that kind of thing?"
"Mostly battery-powered toys. Robots, cars, those--what are they called, Leap Frogs? The learning games."
"How is Gilden's health?" Brady asked. "Any major illnesses recently? Any significant loss or trauma?"
"No. Arthur's been overweight for as long as I've known him, but he's very healthy. I was worried about Dave last year. He was under a lot of stress, and finally had the heart attack. But he's been much better since then. He and his wife..."
"What is it, Father?" Reyes's voice was mild.
"Nothing to do with your investigation. I will say that Dave recovered his spirits and his health both. He wants to offer an ex voto for his recovery, to Saint John of God, Saint Teresa de Avila, and Saint Barbara. He was very excited when he proposed it to me."
Reyes leaned sharply forward. "What was it to be?"
"He didn't say."
"And when did he come to you?"
"I... Several months ago, I believe."
Reyes curled his fingers over his knees. "Has Mr. Schumacher spoken to you about it recently?"
"Not... A month ago, perhaps."
"When he said there was a hitch, that it might take longer to fulfill his vow than he'd planned."
Father Fiore stared at Reyes. Brady recognized the "how did you read my mind?" look.
"Has Schumacher's attendance at Mass dropped off, Father?" Reyes asked.
"He's...he's very busy." Father Fiore's voice died away.
"Thank you, Father," Reyes said. "We'll call you if we have any more questions."
Outside, Brady said, "Well, that would have been easier if I'd had a lapsed Catholic along. Oh, wait."
Reyes raised both eyebrows.
"You did antagonize the witness," Brady told him.
"Don't you like being Good Cop?"
"Second time this week," Brady sighed.
Reyes said, "Call Hafidha and get Schumacher's address. I want to talk to his wife."
"Because of where the priest stopped talking?" Brady pulled out his phone.
"The model development that Gilden said was Schumacher's dream project, La Corona. He proposed it to Gilden after his heart attack."
"You think that's what Schumacher was telling the priest about."
"I think that's his votive offering. Saint John of God is invoked against heart attack, Teresa of Avila against sickness. Barbara is the patron of builders. And for a little irony, John and Barbara are also patrons of firefighters, but I think that's incidental. Schumacher wanted to build La Corona as an offering to them, but Gilden is blocking him. Now, why did he choose that to offer?"
"It's what he does."
"It may also be what he did. He may see it as atonement for something related to his work."
"The house fire?"
"Maybe. Hafidha's right, though. That's a long way back."
"I can understand the heart attack as the crack for the anomaly. But not being able to make an offering? Not enough of a trigger."
"The most powerful, all-inclusive mythologies gammas present are religious ones. Dave Schumacher's a wealthy, educated man, but if he's a devout Catholic, he believes in those three saints the way you believe in gravity. They're waiting for him to fulfill his vow."
"What happens if he can't?"
Reyes's mouth worked. "He'll find something else he thinks will be acceptable in their sight."
The Schumacher house was two miles away, a rambling Santa Fe-style structure in the foothills of the Catalinas with a view over the city-filled valley. They rang the bell three times. There was no answer.
Brady called the number Hafidha had given them. He could hear it ring inside. No shadow passed a window, no one picked up. He hung up when the answering machine kicked in.
"We'll keep trying her," Reyes said. "He has no reason to harm her."
"If he's our firebug at all. But if he is, he may have seen the news, and decided after four bodies he had no way out but murder-suicide."
Reyes shook his head. "He tried to confine the damage to uninhabited places. He even stuck to Gilden projects, things he could think of as his. That kind of murder doesn't feel right."
Brady opened the driver's side door of the SUV. "You're gambling."
"We always gamble." Reyes climbed into the passenger's seat and slammed the door.
Brady waited until he'd navigated the curving drive. "Well, this whole trip is based on one."
Reyes's head turned; he waited, silent. Brady hated that Reyes couldn't just ask, "What do you mean?" like a normal person.
"Hafidha says we've got a gamma. What if she's wrong?"
Reyes stared silent at the road.
Brady gathered his nerve, but his voice came out thinner than usual when he said, "What if she's lying?"
If it was inconceivable, Reyes would jump down his throat.
Reyes continued to stare out the windshield.
"It's occurred to you," Brady said.
"And right now it doesn't change how we work this case."
It would certainly change their homecoming.
They wound down out of the foothills into the endless strip-mall-and-office-park development that marked Tucson's last few decades of growth. Brady stopped at a red light beside a Jeep loaded with four high school boys. Based on their face paint and indecipherable shouting, they were working themselves up for a football game.
He'd been stupid and hormonal once himself. "If you're right about the potential mythology behind this... What's the Feast of All Souls?"
Reyes folded his hands behind his head and stretched, and Brady was reminded of Chaz. "There are two feasts of the Church, back to back. The Feast of All Saints celebrates those who lived sinless lives and achieved the beatific vision. It once honored the martyrs of the Church. The Feast of All Souls remembers those who have died and are held back from heaven by their sins in life, but who can be saved from Purgatory by the prayers of the living. The faithful departed."
"Which do you think our guy sees himself as?"
"Saint, martyr, or faithful departed?"
"Or lost soul?"
Reyes closed his eyes. "Let's find him and ask."
The morning news broadcasts and papers led with the story of a Nicaraguan family's death in the fire at the Lago Oro development in South Tucson. The Acostas, Jorge and Luisa, and their children Barbara and Esteban. Lau had chased down a family photo, through some unimaginable means: four people dressed up and smiling in front of a dry plaza fountain. Now they smiled from the cover of the Daily Star and the kitchen TVs of a few thousand Arizona households.
The Schumachers' phone went unanswered through the morning.
"We don't have enough for a warrant," Carraldo told Reyes. She sat on the edge of the center table in their makeshift office, swinging one leg and cupping her coffee mug in both hands.
"If 9-1-1 gets a call saying there was screaming heard at that address, they'll have to dispatch someone to check."
"And the 9-1-1 log would show it was your phone the call was made from, and you'd be fucked."
Reyes didn't mention that he--or rather, Hafidha--could get around that if it became necessary. He didn't mean to look over at Chaz, either, who might have heard the conversation. But he was aware that the rustling and crunching of Chaz mowing his way through a family-size bag of Fritos had stopped.
"Hah!" Chaz kicked himself and his rolling chair away from the desk. He was grinning. "And also, hah!"
"What?" Reyes rounded the table and leaned over Chaz's laptop.
Chaz rolled up to the desk again, and Reyes remembered and edged away to give him room. "Here's the list of Gilden Properties' acquisitions for last year, and the amounts paid." Chaz tapped a bony finger on columns of property descriptions, dates, numbers. His eyes were on the screen, focused sharp, and he wore a half-smile. "They've added the purchase costs of the acquisitions into the amount paid. Which they aren't supposed to do, but that's a wrist-slap. Unless you do it to hide something."
He clicked keys; another list scrolled up the screen. "Among those costs are payments for environmental surveys. All to the same company: Santa Rita Resources. Gilden Properties' acquisitions division paid them five hundred ninety-seven thousand, three hundred and fifty dollars over the last year."
Chaz hit another key. The screen blanked, and filled up with a list of five accounts and dollar amounts. "Santa Rita Resources paid consulting fees to five companies. Companies owned by people with relatives on county planning boards." Chaz scrolled down to the total. "Five hundred ninety-seven thousand, three hundred and fifty dollars." He looked triumphantly up at Reyes.
"They presented cooked environmental surveys and paid board members to look the other way." Reyes felt his heart speed up, his breath quicken. Thrill of the hunt.
"And I'll bet Santa Rita Resources is made of paper. Or in this case, electrons. This went on until six months ago. When Schumacher--the vice president of acquisitions--had a heart attack. The stress of hiding this may have contributed."
"This was what La Corona was an offering for. Not just a thank-you for saving his life. An act of repentance." Reyes stepped back and looked down at Chaz. "Would anyone else have found this?"
"You mean, who didn't--" Chaz's eyes cut away to Carraldo for an instant, and back to Reyes. "--have Bureau access? Not right away. But it would have come out." Chaz shrugged. "And Gilden could say he hadn't known. Maybe he didn't. But Schumacher couldn't have claimed ignorance. Gilden must have promised Schumacher the company would take care of him."
Reyes's cell shivered in his breast pocket. It was Falkner.
"Schumacher's wife just pulled in the driveway," she said without preamble. "No sign of Schumacher, unless she's got him in the trunk."
"Hold position," he told her. "We'll be there in fifteen."
Chaz had already slapped his laptop closed and grabbed his backpack.
Carraldo slid off the table edge. "Want me along?"
Reyes shook his head. "Right now, it's a witness interview. If that changes, I'll call in the cavalry."
Chaz stayed in the car out front to watch the house; Brady and Lau were parked on the next street up the hill with a view of the rear of the property. Reyes and Falkner went inside, into the wide, high-ceilinged rooms with Navajo rugs, Mexican pottery, dark red leather upholstery, and Toni Schumacher upright and impenetrably smiling in her living room.
Schumacher wiped her palms on the thighs of her denim slacks. Her hands disagreed with her face, with its confident fundraising-dinner expression. She was younger than her husband by seven years, but not, Reyes thought, a trophy wife. Her pullover was cashmere, and the silver-gray pearls in her earlobes were tasteful but large. She wore a floral perfume, applied sparingly; it came and went in his nose like a restless ghost. A fine gold chain circled her neck and disappeared under the collar of her sweater. Reyes was sure there was a crucifix on it.
"Ms. Schumacher, can you tell us where your husband is?" Falkner asked, in a voice that said This is purely routine.
"We have a cabin up north, outside Alpine. He goes there to relax on weekends. I'm afraid there's no phone."
"And you know he's there?"
"Yes. He left a note on my cell."
"What time was that?"
"Yesterday morning. I'm not sure of the time. I deleted it after I read it."
Falkner, divinely calm, said, "That's all right. Your carrier will have a record."
Schumacher's face paled, then flushed.
"You were away from home last night. Can you tell us where?"
"I was at a church retreat," Schumacher said firmly, without a moment's pause.
Schumacher's purse lay on one of the stools at the kitchen breakfast bar, halfway between the garage door and the living room where they sat. If she'd had an overnight bag, it would be on the floor beside it; or the bag and the purse would both be put away.
Toni Schumacher was an extraordinarily bad liar. Or was Reyes just used to dealing with good ones? He shifted his weight toward Schumacher, just enough to push her boundaries. "Who else was there?"
Schumacher slid her palms along her thighs again. "I don't know why you're prying into my business. Am I accused of something?"
Falkner asked gently, "Don't you want to ask the same thing about your husband?"
Schumacher froze. She was wondering if she'd made a mistake. Falkner tilted back a little, as if she'd won a point. The leather upholstery creaked.
Reyes said, "When was the last time you saw your husband?"
A beat before Schumacher turned from Falkner to Reyes. She no longer knew who was the threat. "I don't have to answer any of these questions."
Falkner met Reyes's eyes. He gave her the nod. It would be better coming from her.
Falkner leaned forward, elbows on knees. Schumacher sat stiffly upright on her leather sofa. "I understand if you'd rather not answer questions. Let me tell you what we think happened, instead." Her voice was gentle, pitched low; the intonations and inflections were those of sympathy, of comfort. It was the way she talked to the survivors.
"Your husband helped Arthur Gilden bribe officials to get land deals approved. Keeping that secret put a strain on your marriage, and led to his heart attack."
Schumacher folded her hands in her lap. Her face was settled in a half-smile. Distress tolerance skills, for when you couldn't alter the situation.
"But the heart attack was a wake-up call," Falkner continued. "Dave seemed determined to change. Your relationship improved. And he was excited about the La Corona project. If he could shift the company's focus to greener, more responsible development, he felt it would make up for some of the damage he'd helped do.
"Then he presented the project to Gilden. When he realized Gilden was never going to approve it, Dave became moody, depressed, angry. He stopped going to Mass. He began to eat constantly."
Schumacher raised one hand to her mouth, caught herself, and let it fall again. She nibbled at her lower lip instead.
Falkner didn't look away from Schumacher's face. "You asked him to see a doctor, but he wouldn't. You've suspected he's hiding something from you.
"Yesterday afternoon he phoned you. Ms. Schumacher--Toni--what did he say? What made you afraid to come home last night?"
Schumacher's eyes jerked to Falkner's. Her breathing was irregular and shallow. Reyes saw her throat work. "He said good-bye."
Brady and Lau met the rest of the team on the driveway outside Schumacher's house.
"He's got an endgame," Reyes said. "We don't know what it is, or how long we've got before he plays it."
He might have done it already. Brady knew the thought had crossed everybody's mind. It just wasn't useful to say out loud.
"Lau, Falkner," Reyes continued, "see if you can raise someone and get a warrant to search Schumacher's office. If you explain things to Gilden the right way, he'll help."
Meaning, Brady thought, that it might be good to remind Gilden how much they had on him already. Lau got it, too, based on her crooked smile.
"I'll drive," Falkner said. "You phone." She turned toward one of the SUVs, her black coat belling behind her. Lau loped after, BlackBerry in her hand.
Reyes jerked his head in Brady's direction. "Brady, Chaz, we'll search the house. Look for anything to suggest where he's going, or what he'll do."
The house's interior was what Brady had expected. Ms. Schumacher wasn't, quite. She sat on her couch straight-backed, her hands pressed together between her knees, her reddened eyes fixed on the wall across the room. The fireplace wall, with its projecting mantel and handsome freestanding Taxco silver cross.
"Ms. Schumacher, I'm Agent Daniel Brady." Schumacher turned her head to him when he spoke. Something about it suggested she was evaluating each motion: Is this the normal thing to do? And this? "We're going to look for clues your husband might have left about where he meant to go. Have you thought of anything else that might help us?"
Schumacher breathed in, held it. "I keep remembering...stupid things. We quarreled over the garage door remote. The one in his truck didn't work the day I drove it. I got soaking wet, and I asked him was it so hard to remember to replace the batteries... He called me petty. I guess I was, wasn't I?"
"When was that?"
She frowned. "I think--it must have been early October. It almost never rains in October. I didn't have an umbrella."
About the time the fires started. Dave Schumacher would be frustrated, angry, pushed to the edge. But he hadn't hurt his wife.
Chaz appeared at the kitchen door, knuckles white around the knob.
"Thank you, Ms. Schumacher," Brady said, and went to join him.
Dave Schumacher had a workshop off the kitchen. It was arranged with the near-obsessive tidiness Brady had seen in a lot of engineers' offices. Two soldering irons, their bases fixed to the workbench, with replacement tips racked beside them; coils of solder of various weights; screwdrivers and pliers hung from pegboard in order of size. Stacking bins by the bench held electronic toys, sorted by type.
Not all the toys were put away. Brady saw a scarlet Indy car jammed nose-first under the workbench. A monster truck, overturned, lay behind the door. A dune buggy in the middle of the floor looked as if a toy tree had fallen on it and broken its back, scattering plastic body fragments across the tile.
He looked up to find Chaz's eyes on him. "Rage?" Brady suggested.
Chaz shook his head and pointed to the litter on the workbench.
"What are those?'
Chaz plucked a pen out of his jacket pocket and used it to lift one: a kidney-shaped box of black plastic, studded with big buttons in red, yellow, green. Half the box hung splintered at the end of exposed wire. "Transmitters," Chaz said. "I think he smashed them with a hammer. All of them."
Brady looked again at the radio-controlled cars on the floor, the broken controllers on the workbench. Everything under a month of undisturbed dust.
"The cars kept moving," Chaz said, a horror-movie flatness in his voice. "He couldn't make them stop. He thought maybe he had the wrong transmitter, but none of them worked on the cars. He broke the transmitters, all of them. They still didn't stop. And finally he stomped on the car." Chaz raised his eyes from the wreckage to Brady. "Not rage. Fear."
Brady could feel it secondhand, standing amid the remains of Dave Schumacher's conversion. "He didn't need a transmitter to set off the explosions."
Chaz shook his head.
Radio-controlled explosions. Mining, road-building, special effects. Schumacher's manifestation could turn them into serial carnage.
Except Schumacher meant to prevent it. "He can't do it." Brady realized he'd spoken aloud. "He can't stop himself. The anomaly doesn't work like that."
Chaz opened his mouth. It took two tries before he got out, "Eddie Cieslewicz did. And Melinda Grossman."
"Not like this. Not-- If Reyes is right, hell, this is premeditated. The anomaly keeps the host alive."
"Not exactly." Chaz's voice was soft; it made Brady notice how harsh his own had been. "The anomaly makes the host stronger. Tougher. So it's easier for the host to keep itself alive."
Brady stared at Chaz's down-turned profile. He was giving Brady a sort of privacy.
The host kept itself alive. Was that it? Andre was a fighter. Had fighting betrayed him and made him a monster? Or was Melinda Grossman, who'd resisted the very will to live, the determined one?
"Come on," Brady said. "We've got to find this guy." He nodded at the broken controller box. "Before he does that to himself."
A successful white-collar criminal knew how to hide his trail. A white-collar criminal who became a host kept his skills.
Toni Schumacher and her house had told the team everything they could, Reyes was sure. He left his card with her just in case, and reminded her once more that they meant to save her husband's life.
Falkner and Lau had drawn a blank at Schumacher's office. Gilden last saw Schumacher on Wednesday afternoon. Now Falkner, Brady, and Reyes plowed through contact numbers of Gilden Properties employees, trying to find someone who had seen Dave Schumacher since then. Lau did the same with the congregation of St. Agnes Catholic Church.
Chaz perched on the rolling chair at the desk, his laptop open, combing through files Hafidha had sent for Schumacher's patterns of behavior, relationships, associations with places or dates or times. Three pyramids of tiny white sugar skulls, like miniature stacked cannonballs, lined the edge of the desk next to him. There'd been four originally.
You can't save everyone. James Cauldwell had said that, back in Omaha. They hadn't saved Cauldwell. If Dave Schumacher didn't want to be saved, did that change anything? As a child, Reyes had learned despair was a sin. Now he knew it was an illness. But it wasn't always curable.
The souls of the faithful dead were trapped in Purgatory, waiting for the prayers of the living to free them. The hosts were trapped in their own bodies by the anomaly, and nothing so far had released them except death. But Schumacher didn't know that. His mythology included redemption.
They had to remind him of it.
Falkner swept through the door, PDA in her fist. "An assistant in the Public Relations department--Schumacher was there on Friday afternoon. Gilden Properties lends projection equipment to the All Souls parade every year. Schumacher came by and offered to deliver the hardware. The assistant pulled the file to see who it should go to, then went with Schumacher to the storage room. When she got back to her desk, she couldn't find the file. She thought Schumacher might have taken it by accident."
"He's sweeping his backtrail," Reyes said.
Chaz's fingers chattered on the keyboard. "Guys?" He looked up, eyebrows canted, mouth open. "This isn't good." He turned the screen toward the room.
He'd called up the website of the All Souls parade, with photos from the previous year.
Photos of the finale and a stage full of fire effects.
The projectionist shrugged at Brady. The silver chain that looped from earring to earring in his right ear shivered, catching the bounced light from the projector and the street. "I didn't take delivery. All I do is set it up and run it."
The images glowed, immense, faintly patterned by the texture of brick under paint, on the blank white side of the four-story building that edged the vacant lot. New and old, color and black and white: photos of dead loved ones sent by people all over town, to be included in the slowly-changing display. A community shrine of remembrance, a citywide ofrenda. Someone's father, someone's sister, someone's high school best friend, a child, an old woman. They belonged to no one and everyone.
Brady would have slowed down to admire the staging, if he didn't have more immediate life and death on his mind.
Chaz shifted from foot to foot next to him, head craning. The streetlights reflected up to show people on the roof of the building across Toole Avenue. The sidewalks were lined with spectators waiting for the parade to arrive.
The bomb squad had already examined the projector and found it untampered with. Schumacher wasn't going to target them from a rooftop with a rifle. But it was one thing to know that, and another to tell it to the cold spot on the back of Brady's neck.
The doubled blare of a train horn made him jump. The tracks sliced through downtown, with enough grade crossings that people within earshot must be used to the noise. Unless they had a hypervigilance problem, of course.
The crowd was full of officers in plainclothes. SWAT waited in a collection of unmarked vans along the route. The team was a button-push away. Brady wished Reyes hadn't declared radio earphones would attract too much notice. He would have liked a little chatter.
Brady jerked his head toward the street corner, and he and Chaz moved out of the lot to the edge of the spectators.
"Reyes thinks we can take him alive," Chaz murmured.
"Reyes thinks we can take all of them alive." The possibilities sat churning in his stomach. If Schumacher could hold it together against the monster in him, they could save his life. If Schumacher could hold it together, what made him so special? Why should he live, and not--
"The others," Chaz said, and for a moment it seemed as if he was finishing Brady's thought. "So many of them are obsessed, insane--monsters. But Schumacher... He made mistakes. He tried to atone."
"He killed four people."
"But he started out--" Chaz pushed a breath out hard. Brady turned to look.
Chaz frowned out over the heads of the spectators. His lips were pinched closed between his teeth.
"Don't borrow trouble," Brady said.
"What if that's how it happens? What if one day I'm not Good Guy Chaz, I'm Dark Chaz, and it's too late to do anything about it?"
"You read too many comic books. Have I mentioned that?"
It surprised a laugh out of Chaz. He focused on the crowd, turned away to survey the length of the street toward the end of the parade route.
"Brady," he said, breathless.
The photo projected on the wall behind them was the one Lau had found: the Acosta family arrayed before an empty fountain. Brady's heart sped up. "Somebody else might--"
The next photo looked like one from a company newsletter. Arthur Gilden, heavier than when he and Chaz had visited him. He was smiling at the camera, holding out a plaque, and shaking the hand of the man beside him. Who was also heavier than the last time they'd seen him.
Brady was sure it was Dave Schumacher, even though there was a burned-edge hole where his face belonged.
"Pictures of the dead," Chaz whispered.
Brady was already jabbing the speed-dial alert on his phone.
"Gilden's not picking up," Lau said. "Not at home, not on his cell."
Gamblers have iron nerves, Reyes thought. Did they get dizzy when they called and came up short? "He blames Gilden. For the bribes, for his failure to fulfill his vow." Of course he did. Reyes had thought Schumacher burned Gilden developments because he identified them as his. God damn him for an idiot with tunnel vision.
Falkner hunched over her phone, saying, "...Arthur Gilden's house to check, and report back."
Reyes heard drums behind him: not the rudimental drumming of a marching band, but an ocean-thunder, a sound like galloping, a raging dance, the roar of burning.
The parade rounded the corner.
Two kettle drums on wheels, an oversize primitive bass drum, and a dozen hand drums. A screeching wall of single-note horns, like berserkers shrieking in battle. Human voices chanting, climbing the scale and falling again.
A skeleton puppet, fifteen feet tall--two people in black held it up, two more walked on either side and waved its arms with the poles they carried. Two more puppets behind, nearly as large: a skeleton bride and groom, and the puppeteers made them circle together in a parody of waltzing.
Costumed marchers, homemade finery. Some pushed strollers with costumed children. Half a dozen absurd mutated bicycles, their riders in animal masks. A dozen people painted with iridescent fish scales pulled a platform where a skeleton-Neptune sat enthroned, surrounded by painted cardboard sea creatures, Xs for eyes.
The parade filled the street from edge to edge, on its way to the paved lot with its raised stage and towers where the finale would take place. Anarchy, chaos, a celebration of life-in-the-face-of-death.
Falkner looked up from her phone. "Gilden's house is unlocked and empty," she shouted.
"Tell me Gilden is not his substitute offering," Brady yelled over Reyes's shoulder. Reyes turned to find Brady alert, head swiveling, and Chaz nervous behind him.
At the corner of Reyes's eye, something moved. Faster than the parade.
Against motion and darkness, the blocky figure on the bicycle was almost invisible. Black coattails flapped. A point of orange light glowed, flared, became two flames. One arced spinning and spitting into the air.
Two voices shouted. Brady filled his vision. He pushed Reyes back, against Falkner. Where was Lau? Where was Chaz? Reyes felt the crowd around him bend, break, swirl unfocused like blown leaves.
"God damn," Brady panted above him.
Past Brady's outstretched arm, Reyes saw a plainclothes cop push up off the pavement, slapping a smoldering spot on his jacket. Underneath him, green smoke still leaked from a black sphere, a fireworks version of a cartoon cannonball bomb.
Further down the street, the bicycle lay on its side. Its rider hung by his armpits between two more cops. His eyes and mouth gaped with shock turning to fear. Blue-streaked hair fell over his flushed face, still soft with puppy fat. Reyes guessed his age at seventeen.
He would not shake. He would not hyperventilate or stagger, dizzy with adrenaline. Brady still gripped his left biceps, which made it possible to keep those resolutions.
Nothing had changed. A gamma's fuse was still burning down.
Think, Stephen. Schumacher wanted to die. He hadn't wanted to kill. But the anomaly seemed to thrive on suffering and destruction. Schumacher had vented his anger and his urge to harm on property, not people. Until the Acostas. What if he'd tasted death and found it irresistable?
Someone grabbed his other arm: Carraldo, dark eyes fierce, her jacket too short to completely hide her holster. "Nobody's spotted him. If he's got Gilden with him, he can't be lurking on the goddamn street."
"You talked to the pyrotechnics crew?" He was still short of breath.
"Yeah. They only had a couple effects that were radio-controlled, and they yanked those. They were pretty damned pissed off about it."
Schumacher would have been here. He would have wanted to see the photos. And after that...
Falkner's eyes were on Reyes. "He doesn't profile like a mass murderer."
And after that he'd stick to his pattern. "Lieutenant, the downtown block that Gilden Properties bought and bulldozed. Where is it?"
Carraldo jerked her thumb. "Four blocks north and west."
"Get SWAT deployed. He's there."
The block was parted from the rest of downtown by the train tracks. It was scraped bare, like the housing developments. A chain-link fence wrapped around it, one panel ajar, and a site office trailer anchored a corner, its windows dark, its door gaping open above a short flight of metal steps. Tucson PD's spotlights augmented the street lighting and made the space seem depthless and unreal.
"He's in there?" Brady said, peering over the roof of the squad car. It could be homeless guys or crackheads or no one at all, but even as he asked, he knew it wasn't.
"SWAT says two people. Hell of a coincidence if it's not." Carraldo had broken out her ballistic vest. Brady's own chest shouted FBI. He felt like Spam in a Kevlar can. There was no sign that Schumacher had a gun.
"No shot yet?"
"Not 'til we can I.D. somebody."
"And not then," Reyes said sharply behind them. "We can talk him out."
The bits of gray in Reyes's hair caught the light. Between that and the letters on his vest it was mostly dark face, dark shirt, dark nylon.
"He's taken a hostage," Brady said. "This is escalation." He knew Reyes would hear in the way he said it: If he was fighting it, he's stopped.
"Gilden's still alive."
There were plenty of possible reasons why. Most of them were bad.
"Sharpshooters'll hold," Carraldo said with a shrug. "Just not forever."
This wasn't an undercover op anymore; they were all on radio. Brady tapped his own ear, and Reyes groped for his dangling earpiece and settled it in.
Falkner joined them, another dark shape. "You're going in?"
"Can I talk you out of this?"
Falkner could ask things like that, and Reyes would give her a considered answer.
"Every minute is making it harder for him."
Carraldo's dark brows pulled down. Maybe she heard the echoes of what they weren't saying.
Falkner stared narrow-eyed across the bare ground to the trailer. "The fence limits your options. Watch your line of retreat."
No one ever said, "Be careful." No point.
Reyes passed through the gap in the fence, hands shoulder high, steps slow and even.
The threat was in the trailer. But Brady couldn't keep from scanning the facades around them: the roof of a warehouse, the high windows of a garage, a stuccoed office building like a monster dozen-eyed toad. There was nothing to guard Reyes's back from. Why couldn't he stop trying?
Halfway to the trailer, exposed in the empty space, Reyes stopped. The spotlights cast his shadow in spokes at his feet.
"David Schumacher. I'm Special Agent Stephen Reyes of the FBI." It wasn't shouting; it was stage-voice, what an actor would use for Shakespeare's Hal urging on his troops. It made the words sound sturdy enough to hang your coat on. "I know what happened to you, Mr. Schumacher."
A waiting silence. Schumacher was in there thinking, He can't possibly know.
"You never meant to hurt anyone. You did everything you could to avoid it. You're not a murderer, Mr. Schumacher." As Reyes spoke, he shifted his weight, compensated. Each time he was a half-step closer to the trailer.
Inside it, a thump; off to his left Brady saw a police rifle barrel shift, seeking.
"Their blood is on my hands." Schumacher was hoarse, his voice high with tension.
"That was an accident. You've done nothing that can't be forgiven."
Schumacher didn't reply.
"Is Arthur Gilden with you?" Reyes called.
Brady let out the breath he'd been holding. Not dead in a ditch, or hidden somewhere they might not find him until too late.
"Is he all right?" Reyes asked it like a doctor on rounds, routine.
"Good. Why don't you send him out, Mr. Schumacher? Let him go, and I promise no one will hurt you."
"It's too late."
"It's not, Mr. Schumacher. You've been strong. You could have done terrible things. You must have been tempted. But you stayed your hand. You showed mercy. You deserve mercy."
Brady heard thumping, scuffling, from inside the trailer. Suddenly, in the dark gap of the door, a figure showed. When it pushed forward, the light fell on it.
It was Gilden. All that was visible of Schumacher behind Gilden's bulk was the forearm around Gilden's throat. Gilden's arms were pinned to his sides by the duct tape wound around his chest and belly, over his white polo shirt.
The same tape strapped a bundle to Gilden's body, a squarish, irregular lump sprouting loops of wire.
"Bomb squad," Brady snapped into his mic. "Talk to me."
"Please," Gilden said, barely audible.
"I repent my sins." Schumacher's voice trembled and scratched.
"If that's C4, we're fucked," said a stranger's voice in Brady's ear. "It's enough to take out us and some of the building next door."
"Reyes, you get that?"
"You won't hurt Gilden, Dave." Brady knew Reyes was talking to him as much as to Schumacher. "God judges, not us. You know that. Gilden deserves a chance to make up for what he's done. So do you. Let Gilden go, Dave. Let us help you."
"Hail, Mary, full of grace," said Schumacher, and his voice grew steady. "The Lord is with thee."
No, no, no.
"Shit," Carraldo whispered.
"Somebody tell me you've got the shot," Brady begged his microphone.
Falkner started for the fence. "Stephen--"
"Dave, you made a vow." Reyes's voice was a whip-crack. "This won't fulfill it." He stepped toward the trailer.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now--"
Gilden seemed to lunge forward. At the grade crossing down the street, the train horn bellowed, bellowed as Gilden fell, open-mouthed, down the steps. The horn filled Brady's head, but he could still hear the shot.
In the trailer doorway, Schumacher swayed.
Reyes took three quick steps toward the trailer, but Falkner was running flat out across the dirt, coat flying. She brought him down hard, and there was no way to tell if he'd been making for Gilden or for Schumacher.
Schumacher fell backward into the darkness.
Brady got through the fence gap ahead of the bomb squad because he had to. Falkner turned the white oval of her face up to him as he passed, yelled, "Go! Go!" as if he needed that. He took the stairs in a pair of leaps, pistol already in his hand, and found himself standing over Schumacher with the view of his face interrupted by the front sight.
SWAT had got the head shot. But that was why Brady was there first. He held on the target until the paramedics got to the door. Then he said, "Stay out of my line of fire," and continued to hold.
He followed, pistol out, finger registered on the barrel, when they carried Schumacher down the stairs strapped to the stretcher. Years ago Worth had put a man in an ambulance and seen him come back to life. She hadn't had anyone nearby ready with a gun.
"Brady," Falkner said. She waited at the bottom of the stairs. "Stand down."
He blinked. Falkner jerked her head toward Gilden.
He lay sobbing on the ground as the bomb squad cut him out of the duct tape. An officer stood beside him in protective gear, his face shield flipped up. He held the package that had been taped to Gilden's chest.
"Fake," he said, thin and shaky. "It's clay."
Reyes sat in an examining room at Tucson Medical Center, because it was a private place to wait. He was good at waiting, usually. Now it was almost more than he could manage to stay in the molded plastic chair, his elbows on his knees, massaging his hands until they ached.
He jerked upright when the door latch scraped. Falkner came in.
She began with a deep inhalation, and Reyes knew he wouldn't like what followed. "The doctors explained to Ms. Schumacher that he might recover...some brain function."
"Is he breathing unassisted?"
Falkner's jaw worked. "She told them to take him off the ventilator. He's gone."
Reyes heard a muffled boom. His hand slamming the counter, he realized.
"What could you have done?" Falkner's voice grated, tired and angry. "You couldn't tell her he was likely to make a miraculous recovery. Even if you could, what would he have been if it happened?" She blew through her lips. "We couldn't save him, Stephen."
"He lost his faith."
"I thought he was a good Catholic. But when redemption wasn't abstract anymore... He couldn't believe it applied to him."
"Doomed by his own mythology," Falkner said.
"You'd think, of all people, I'd take that into account."
She made a noise that might pass for a laugh. "I guess you're not as special as you think."
He raised his head. The lines around her eyes and mouth were scribed deep with weariness. "Is that Esther Falkner for, 'It's not all about you, Reyes?'"
"It is today, at least." She wiped her hands up her face and into her hair. "Let's go home."
The cabin was full of diffuse morning light, kind on the eyes. Brady rubbed his anyway. He'd stretched out on the hotel bed, but he didn't think he'd actually slept.
Based on appearances, no one else had either. Usually nobody slept on the flight out, and everybody slept on the flight back. But Lau had a paperback open on her lap, and she stared blankly at it, nibbling on a cuticle. Chaz took things out of his backpack, arranged them in heaps by some system only he knew, then put them back. Reyes had the Tucson papers, but he didn't spend long on any section. Falkner sat, hands in her lap, and frowned out the window.
Reyes folded his latest attempt closed with a snap. The real estate section, Brady noticed. Reyes ought to have known better.
"Seniors' communities," he said, as if the words were sour. "Why the hell would anyone want to spend his declining years surrounded by old people?"
"All right," Brady replied. "How do you want to spend your declining years? Assuming these aren't them."
Reyes stared at him under half-lowered lids. Brady almost thought he wouldn't answer. "Sailboat in the Caribbean."
"Can you sail?"
"I'll figure it out."
Lau laughed as only someone who actually knew how to sail would laugh at that.
"And you?" Reyes raised his eyebrows at her.
She blinked, frowned, pursed her lips. "I'm going to be the old bat at the end of the block with thirty cats, who runs out on the porch in her slippers screaming, 'You goddamn kids get off my lawn!'"
"You'll be terrific at it," Brady told her.
"You damn betcha. How about you?"
He wasn't ready for that. What did he expect out of old age? Getting old, mostly. Ten-seven, he thought. Out of service. Off duty. He'd be off duty someday, wouldn't he? "I'll work 'til they kick me out of the Bureau. Then I'm getting a part-time job as a shopping mall Santa Claus."
"In cowboy boots," said Falkner drily. "Me, I think I'll be a grandmother. Eventually."
Lau grinned. "Better remind the kids there's no rush."
Across the aisle, Chaz bent his head over his open backpack, still rummaging, wearing a small closed-lipped smile and worried eyebrows. So he could pretend he hadn't listened.
Brady's gut clenched. Intelligent design. My ass.
Brady rose, stalked to the end of the cabin where he'd stuffed his go bag, dug in the bottom for the deck of cards. Then he walked back and waved it under Chaz's nose. "Gin," he said.
Chaz looked up, eyebrows climbing his forehead. At last he said, "Loser buys sushi."
"Oh, come on."
"Okay, loser buys teppanyaki. It's your bankruptcy."
Brady unfolded the table and sat down across from him.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is, in its deepest being, something helpless that wants help from us.
--Rainer Maria Rilke
"Skullcrusher Mountain" © Jonathan Coulton. Lyrics used by permission. Visit jonathancoulton.com for complete lyrics and more music.