2.03 "The Sin Eater" - by Emma BullAct I | Act II | Act III | Act IV | Act V
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
Avon, Wisconsin, October 2008
When Ingrid Lessing pushed through the glass doors of Kolb Hall, she heard laughter in the Campus Security dispatcher's office. A little too loud, a little strained. But still. Good for them.
She leaned on the hall counter and stuck her head in the open service window. "Hey, no fun on duty!"
Barb Shipton grinned over one sloping shoulder, showing the teeth of a lifetime smoker. "Day shift was over five minutes ago, boss. You got nothin' on me."
She was right. The new kid, DuKayne, was ready to take over the dispatcher's desk for second shift. He came loaded with class work, as usual: physics, this evening. "Sorry, Ms. Lessing--"
"Your leg," Ingrid said. "I am pulling it."
He laughed, but carefully. Ingrid reviewed the duty rosters in her head, recalling who'd been working when the worst of the shit hit the ventilators. Not DuKayne.
But he'd have heard it all. The security guards hung out in dispatch and gossiped between rounds, and Ingrid wasn't stupid enough to tell them to stop. This was their squad room and break room, and knowledge might not be better than body armor, but it helped you figure out when to duck. The dispatchers knew everything.
And the second and third shift dispatchers were all students. Which meant the student population of Sullivan College knew everything, too. If only the information flowed in both directions, Ingrid thought for the umpty-thousandth time.
DuKayne took the desk chair, and Barb tugged her purse out of the file cabinet and checked for her car keys.
Ingrid heard heavy steps coming down the hall on the other side of the office just before Joe Womerik filled the doorway. He pushed his black-framed glasses against the bridge of his nose with his index finger, an unconscious salute. "South campus checked. Admin building and the Chapel are secured," he said in his big, slow voice. "Art Center front door's unlocked, though. Some kind of show tonight. Hey, hi, boss."
"Hi, JoWo. Thanks. Who else is on?" She knew, but it was chat, and it was a good way to find out if everything was running smoothly without coming out and asking it.
"Sheila's getting trained on the residence halls. Tim came in early to show her where to click in."
Sheila's voice crackled on the outdated dispatch radio. "Unit three to base. Ten-thirty...shit, ten-thirty-three. My twenty-- I'm at Bacon Hall. Jumper. She's going to jump."
Ingrid had the mic in her hand; she didn't remember reaching through the window to grab it. "Unit three, this is base. Backup on the way. Where are you?"
(Crackle.) "Bacon. Bacon, the quad side. Tim--" (Crackle.)
Ingrid grabbed a walkie from the charging station. "DuKayne, nine-one-one. Tell 'em it's Sullivan campus security, give 'em our code, and tell them we need fire department ladder truck and the ambo. Right now."
She hit the front doors and the cool evening air running. JoWo's big cop boots pounded behind her.
Thirty or so students already formed a ragged arc on the sidewalk and lawn in front of Bacon Hall. As Ingrid pelted into hearing range, Sheila was saying, "--back, please. Keep the area clear for emergency vehicles." Good girl. Thank God for smart new hires.
The sun was going down on the other side of the river. The sky was stained-glass blue, and the clouds were like peach slices, gold shading to rose. Against that backdrop the figure on the roof of the four-story dorm was a black paper cutout, faceless, genderless.
When Sheila caught sight of Ingrid, the relief on her face broke Ingrid's heart.
"Good work," Ingrid told her. "Keep them back. Draft a few to help you." She had time now to look at the students' faces. The tall, big-nosed kid who managed the coffee house. The girl who taught folk dancing. One of the late-night guys at the campus radio station. "You, you, you. Help Officer Pennicuik keep people away from the building." She turned back to Sheila. "Where's Tim?"
"He went up there."
"Who is it?"
Sheila shook her head. "I don't know. Shit. I don't know her."
"Gildersen," Tim Miner's voice answered, and there was Tim, rock-steady, pink-faced and panting. His dead-leaf-colored hair stuck to his forehead in little arrows. "Cat Gildersen. The dispatcher." The last word split on the way out over a gasp of air.
Second shift Fridays. Cat had smiled shyly and said she didn't mind missing Friday night events; she was a music major, she spent so much time in the practice rooms that she needed to work dispatch to keep up on her academics. "And I'm not a party type, I guess," Cat had confessed with a self-effacing grimace. She was nervous on the desk, but she always followed procedure. One of ours.
You still think like a cop. But Ingrid hired the dispatchers. That made them hers.
"She's blocked the roof doors somehow," Tim said. "By the time we got a ram up there--"
"Did you talk to her?"
He shook his head. "I called. Nothing."
"Give me your passkey just in case. I'm going to try to flag her from a fourth-floor window."
Tim yanked it off his ring and handed it over. "Fire department--"
"Called. I want to keep her busy." Which they both knew meant, I want her not to panic and swan-dive at the sight of the truck. "JoWo, you're with me."
The kids in the dorm had figured out something was wrong. They didn't know what to do about it yet, so they were milling in the halls and stairwells. Two security uniforms, and JoWo's size, did some road-clearing. "Go to your rooms, please, and stay there," Ingrid repeated on each landing as she pushed up the stairwell. "You're in no danger. But we need the exits clear."
She hoped they needed the exits clear. She hoped Cat didn't make her own way down.
The new dorms had lounges on each floor, but Bacon dated to the 1920s, when lounging happened on the first floor under the housemother's eye. Ingrid banged on the door of 410, halfway down the hall on the quad side.
The door opened a foot, and a wide-eyed blond boy stared out at her.
"I don't care what you're doing or what you're growing, and I'm not going to look. I need your window. This is life or death."
She must have sounded as if she meant it. The kid held the door open.
The window screen was missing; thank God for the oversights of the housing office. But the frame was old, with eighty years of paint on it. It opened six inches and jammed, yanked her tendons and sent pain like the smack of a hammer through her weak right shoulder. "JoWo--" she gasped.
He bumped her aside, planted his feet wide, and heaved. Paint and wood screeched and shed flakes onto the linoleum.
Ingrid grabbed the frame before JoWo let go and slid out head-first and belly-up, until she was half outside the building. JoWo gripped her belt; it felt solid as a rescue harness. "Cat! Cat, it's Ingrid! Please, will you talk to me?"
She couldn't see at first, after the dim stairwell, against the dazzle of the sky. Then Cat moved. She was kneeling on the white-painted roof cornice, looking, not down, but across the quad. Ingrid couldn't see her expression.
"Cat, please step back from the edge. It's not really safe." Calm, friendly, authoritative. And I'm hanging practically upside down by my belt from a fourth-floor window. Guess I'm a natural.
"Ingrid?" Cat sounded calm, too, and a little surprised.
"Yep. Cat, unblock the door up there. I'll come to you. We can talk."
"No. I have to do this."
Ingrid heard sirens down the hill. Where the hell had they been? The town wasn't that big. "No, no, you don't. Whatever the trouble is, we can find another way to fix it."
Cat shook her head; her unbound hair flailed around her face like a snapped ash-blonde towel. "It's me, Ingrid. It's my fault. The chem lab fire, the guy with the knife, the vandalism, the thefts--" Her high, wobbly voice was stronger than Ingrid had ever heard it.
Ingrid's abdominal muscles burned with the strain, pulling against gravity, maintaining the half-crunch that kept Cat in sight. "You didn't do those things, Cat. You can't have. The knifing in the dining hall--you were on the desk when it happened."
"It's a curse," said Cat, steady as stone.
Cat had once told her, wry-mouthed, "To my family, Missouri Synod Lutherans are wild-eyed liberals." They wanted her to go to Bible college, get a teaching certificate, get married. Not get a scholarship to a private liberal-arts college that Ingrid's old guidance counsellor would have called a "freak-flag school." "There's no such thing," Ingrid said, short of breath.
"I'm sorry, Ingrid. When I'm gone it'll stop. It'll just get worse if I don't." And Cat unfolded to stand on the cornice.
"Cat, no. It's all right. You haven't done anything. Cat--"
It was a graceful motion. Not a dive, not a jump. Just an effortless leaning forward into the arms of gravity. Ingrid flung out a hand--instinct, it wouldn't help--and heard JoWo grunt when momentum tugged her further out the window. Below her people shouted, screamed, but they weren't as real as the black silhouette, T-shaped, printed against the sky, printed on her vision long after it fell out of sight.
JoWo hauled her in the window, helped her through the room and out into the empty hall. The residents must have all gone to watch. Had the blond kid gone, too, or was he still standing inside the door of his room, wondering what had just happened? It was true, what Ingrid had told him. He could have been running a casino in there. She hadn't seen a thing.
The paramedics were working when she got outside, looking for signs of life. But they had the bag ready, and anyone could tell they were going to have to use it.
The students had drawn back and broken into clusters, sharing horror, comfort, disbelief, anger. Fear. Of course, fear. Because they must be asking each other, What next? What new, rotten event was preparing to show up uninvited on the campus calendar?
Sheila stood sentinel over nothing, her face wet with tears. She'll quit, even odds. I don't blame her. Tim moved slowly through the bystanders, touching base. The students liked him; they knew he was honest and fair, calm in the heart of their storms, flexible unless pushed. He'd be good with them now, letting them know authority was there to hold back the chaos and put broken things right.
It was the lie she lived by. Thank God Tim was there to tell it; she didn't think she could, right now.
Twilight crept up. The lamps came on around the edges of the quad. Three men from Buildings and Grounds roped off the sidewalk and began to scrub at the stain, overlaying the smell of the grass they'd mowed in the afternoon with disinfectant. The Dean of Student Life called, and JoWo went to open the chapel he'd made sure was locked earlier, so students could gather, share memories, be told by the administration that There Was No Tragedy Like the Loss of a Young Life.
Ingrid sat behind her desk in the office next door to the dispatcher's, trying not to admit she was waiting for the next phone call, the next radio call, the next shout or scream or crash.
There was no such thing as a curse.
Tim knocked on the frame of her open door. The hall's overhead lights picked up the shoulders of his blue uniform shirt and the comb-furrows in his tidied hair. "You okay?"
She realized her office was dark, and her face burned with tears. "Not even a little."
Tim slid around the corner of the door and lowered himself cautiously into one of the plastic chairs, the ones that made her keep staff meetings short because she hated to make anyone sit in them longer than necessary. Tim moved like a bigger man than he was. He wasn't as tall as Ingrid, and except for the breadth of his shoulders, he wasn't particularly wide. Ingrid thought the way he carried himself was part of why he was effective in security. She'd never heard him raise his voice.
"You couldn't have stopped her," Tim said. A straightforward comment, without sympathy. After all, why did Ingrid need sympathy? It wasn't as if she'd known the deceased well.
Obviously, she hadn't known her at all.
"There must have been... She wasn't happy. She told me she got e-mail saying she'd burn in hell. She thought it was probably from her sister, but what kind of family would do that?"
Tim shook his head. "Wasn't she seeing some guy?"
"Broke up with her. He didn't say why, the bastard." The boyfriend should have been there for her. But then, that was also true of Cat's boss. "I knew she wasn't happy. I should have seen it."
Tim cupped his short-fingered square hands over his knees and pushed his head forward, as if he wanted to see her expression in the uneven light from the hall. "You couldn't've known she'd kill herself."
Nobody could have. Even someone who'd understood Cat, who saw she was nervous and sensitive, even the person who'd sent her e-mail, couldn't have known.
But they might have been hoping.
Nikki Lau arrived at the airport departure lounge, briefcase handbag on her shoulder and carry-on skittering behind, to find she wasn't the first team member there. Daniel Brady stood silhouetted against the pearl-gray morning light through the windows. Lau didn't need details; she knew him by his shoulders, his straight spine, his easy assumption of parade rest. He looked as if he could stand that way for hours.
She walked up behind him. "Hey."
He started, which surprised her. He blinked away whatever he was thinking, and scraped both hands through his polished blond hair. "Hey, you. Damn, I figured at this hour we'd be holding the plane for you."
"You know me. Born ready."
"Yeah." He tipped his head toward his left shoulder. "I do know you."
Oh, so well. "I woke up at three and couldn't drop off again."
He flashed his wide, white smile down at her. "See, here I was, thinking you'd been kidnapped by pod people. Anything I can help with?"
Lau thought about it. "Got a cure for the dark-before-the-dawn 'Ohmygod what am I doing with my life' heebie-jeebies?"
"If I did, I'd get rich and work for fun. Any specific jeebie you want to mention?"
"Just the cloud of gnat-like doubt." Sometimes it was as if her family, in their least-sensitive and enlightened incarnation, sat on her shoulder and breathed expectations in her ear. This work of yours, this career--what will you have when you're old? What are you giving to the future?
Fewer bad guys, she'd tell the phantom voices. Fewer gammas. That ought to be plenty.
"Any sign of Chaz?" Brady asked.
"He'll be here." It came out of her mouth prickly. She hadn't meant that.
Brady seemed unruffled. "I know he will. Just asking if you saw him on the way in."
Lau walked to a row of seats by the window, dropped her shoulder bag in one, and plopped down next to it. Brady followed her; the chair groaned under his muscle and bone when he sat.
"We can't take care of him," Lau said at last. "He'll be furious if we do."
Brady nodded. "And we can't not take care of him. A cop comes back to active duty after being hurt that bad--he can't know if he can do the job. Sometimes he can't. If there isn't somebody there to back him up..."
"Hey, watch your manly pronouns, there."
That made Brady grin. "Yeah, 'cause it's not like girls are tough."
Lau punched him in the biceps, and he clutched his arm and sagged in his seat, groaning. "Okay, seriously. You know Reyes is going to be watching him like a freakin' review board, but he's not going to show anything to Reyes. If Chaz needs an assist, it'll be up to us to spot it."
"And provide it in a way he can pretend not to notice."
Brady nodded. They sat a moment in the easy silence that Lau treasured. She'd spent too much time explaining herself to people--"Smart, pretty girl like you? You want to do what?" But Brady got her. She hoped like hell she did the same for him, or anything else half as valuable.
He said, "I think I'm seeing somebody."
She'd begun to wonder if he was going to tell her. She'd figured it out--among other things, Brady wasn't usually a stare-into-space guy--but figuring it out wasn't the same as direct from the source. She pivoted her head slowly, like an owl, and raised her eyebrows. "You think? Usually you notice that sort of thing."
"Yeah, well." Brady straightened a pocket flap on his suit coat. "He's ashamed."
She wasn't sure which seemed more impossible: that anyone could be that clueless, or that Brady would put up with it. "Danny... You can do better than somebody who's ashamed of you."
"It's not me he's ashamed of." His blue eyes looked straight down into hers, and his expression was all stoicism and calm and yet, unmistakably, sad.
He stared down the length of the terminal, and his voice was matter-of-fact when he added, "He works for State. You know what they're like."
The State Department represented the U.S. to the rest of the globe. They had an image to sell. God damn the fucked-upness of the world. But she growled, "Jesus on a trampoline!" which made him laugh, and which made it unnecessary to admit that neither of them could fix the world by themselves. "What's his name?"
The infinitesimal pause before he answered put her on alert. "Gray. Grayson."
Lau eyed him narrowly. "Grayson? Where does that come from?"
Brady sighed like a resigned Great Dane. "He's a Yankee."
She managed to pat his arm and cough out, "Oh, sweetie," before the giggling crippled her.
Brady watched Chaz bridge the cards on the fold-out table between them. There wouldn't be time to do more than shuffle and deal before the plane reached cruising altitude. When that happened, Reyes was going to pop out of his seat and start the briefing they hadn't had before they left. But sometimes you needed to do something with your hands, to pretend you didn't need anything at all. When you did, your friends shouldn't call you on it.
Maybe it was Chaz's way of pushing reset, of establishing a baseline for normal at the start of the job. Maybe he shared Brady's twitchiness over the cases that got them out of bed and onto the plane without passing the "go" of the briefing room.
Brady liked the ritual of gathering as a team, crowded into that damned tiny room. When they didn't do it, he missed the sharing of ideas and the chance to listen to the human engine running. If one of the cylinders was misfiring, he wanted to know before they got out in the field.
He slipped a look at Lau across the aisle. She was watching Chaz's hands, too, but she must have got the someone's-looking feeling; her eyes cut to Brady's, and her eyebrows gave a twitch.
If Worth or Hafidha were here, they could fuss over Chaz. They were the only ones he'd take it from. Falkner didn't fuss; she gave orders, and Chaz followed them. But Falkner was back in D.C., as well. In theory, Brady could give orders (Supervisory Special Agent), but Chaz only followed Brady's orders if he agreed with them.
Brady had no idea if Reyes was likely to order Chaz to take care of himself, or if Chaz would obey.
Chaz's fingers didn't falter, but Brady could tell he was compensating for stiffness in his right wrist, and the tightness in his shoulders. Pain was a hell of a teacher, especially of unconscious behavior.
Three months out of the hospital, and he was still too damned skinny, even for Chaz. The skin around his two-colored eyes managed to be sunken and puffy at once, and faintly bruised-looking. Not eating or sleeping well. Hell, it would be a surprise if he were.
Hunching his shoulders also hiked Chaz's arms further into his sleeves, so the hems were sure to cover his wrists. And if Brady wasn't used to watching him fiddle with it, he might not have noticed there was no gadgety wristwatch on his arm.
Brady could see it all without seeming to look; it was a professional skill. It helped that Chaz didn't want to know they were looking.
Brady wondered about the reflex that made Chaz cover up. It had to be reflex, not reason, because he only had to look in the mirror to realize anyone would know he wasn't all right. Lau was on the money: in this production, Chaz was playing Mr. I'm Fine.
The seatbelt light cut off, and Reyes swept up the papers on the table before him and stood. Way to call it, Mr. Profiler. He swung down the aisle and settled into the seat across from Lau, so the four of them made a square with the aisle down the middle.
He could have sat there when we boarded. Except Reyes wouldn't prep in front of them. It would remind his team he wasn't born knowing everything. Brady wanted to catch Lau's eye, or Chaz's. Instead he fixed his gaze on Reyes like a good soldier. Chaz gathered the cards and poked them in their box.
Reyes handed out photos, copies of police reports and newspaper articles. "Sullivan College in Avon, Wisconsin. Private four-year liberal arts college, one of an association of well-regarded schools in the Midwest. It's rated one of the best small colleges in the country. One thousand, two hundred students, about fifty percent from the Midwest, thirty from states east of Ohio, a significant minority from California and the Pacific Northwest, and twenty-four students from outside the U.S. One hundred seventy-three faculty members, and all the usual administrative and support staff."
From the photos, it was a nice place. The buildings were a mix of modern, fake-Federal, and 19th century neo-Gothic, but the red brick gave them a family resemblance. It looked as if the founders hoped to remind prospective students of Boston. The campus map showed the academic and administration buildings at one end of the campus and the dorms, dining hall, and student services at the other, separated by a street. Except for that stretch of pavement, the campus touched the rest of Avon only around its outer edges.
"So who did what to whom?" Lau asked, pushing the photos aside to look at the first police report.
Reyes fiddled his own papers before he answered. Uh-oh, Brady thought, and saw the same thought cross Chaz's face, and Lau's.
"Sullivan has experienced a series--an escalating series--of disturbances since the beginning of the fall term."
"Disturbances," Brady repeated.
"Malicious rumors, slander, cruel hoaxes, vandalism, petty theft, fights, arson, assault, and now, suicide."
"Wait." It was the first thing Chaz had said since he'd pulled out the cards. "When did the term start?" He scrabbled through the records. "September second? That whole list in a month?"
Reyes pressed his lips flat and nodded.
"You wouldn't get that much mayhem in a month at a school the size of UCLA," Lau said. "Okay, maybe UCLA. But twelve hundred students?"
"Sounds like they have a problem," Brady agreed. "But why do we think they have our kind of problem?"
Lau scowled down at a sheaf of photocopied newspaper article and drummed her pen against her lower lip. "I don't see anything to activate the Houdini Clause. Sure, it's not likely that a single person would make so much trouble in so many ways over so little time, but it's not actually impossible." She looked abruptly up at Reyes. "For that matter, how did this get to the BAU? No interstate element, no indication of serial crime, no behavioral signatures--"
"Tamara Belker, the Dean of Student Life, is a friend of Victor Celentano."
Brady studied Reyes's half-averted face. "Knowing the chief of the Behavioral Analysis Unit doesn't mean you can call in the Feds when flying shit threatens your enrollment numbers."
"Celentano thought it was worth looking into. I agreed."
"And the field office in Chicago was all out of regular agents?"
Reyes gave Brady the look that said Brady was a pain in Reyes's ass, but since Reyes was a goddamn bodhisattva, he wasn't going to cuss him out. "We can do as good a job of hunting a non-anomalous UNSUB as the average field agent. The reverse isn't true. So in this case, we play it safe."
"It's the escalation, isn't it?" Chaz's voice was rough; he cleared his throat. "That's why we're going, and why we're in a hurry. Because if there's a jammer in this, he might be brand-new. We could learn more about how it starts."
Which explained why Reyes went for it. Brady still wanted to know why Celentano waved it in front of him. Maybe this was a slow ball across the plate after too many ugly cases. Or Celentano was pulling them out of the game until they got their shit together. Or he was testing them. If they insisted on finding a gamma where there was nothing but overwrought college kids, they'd look like tinfoil-hat loonies.
If there was a gamma, and they couldn't find him, there'd be bodies. But that was always true.
Lau slid out of her shoes and tucked her feet under her on the gray-upholstered seat. Brady recognized her digging-in pose. "The first police report is for vandalism--paint remover poured on a car hood. Ick. Tires and seats slashed on bikes outside the student union. Ah, then there's a classic: 'fag' spray-painted on the side of another car. Asshole."
"Eviscerated effigy hung from a tree outside the library. Then a--a dog, same thing." Chaz's voice was hollow. "Both female."
"An exhibit of East African art trashed, and 'Niggerland' painted on the walls. Okay, this is nuts." Even as he said it, Brady realized his voice was too loud, his heart rate was up. "The first two incidents might target some specific group--the car and the bikes might belong to gays or women or African-Americans. But who the hell hates everybody? There's got to be more than one vandal."
Reyes shook his head. "The rest of the incidents don't conform to standards for hate crimes. Three paintings stolen from a gallery the night before an art major's show. Exam questions stolen from a physics professor's office. All the plants a bio student had started as part of his senior project taken from the greenhouse. In the knife attack in the student dining hall, both attacker and victim were white males." Reyes must have seen Brady's mouth open; he finished, "The fight was about something the victim was alleged to have said he would do to the girlfriend of the attacker."
"Sounds like somebody who knows the campus and has a lot of access."
Chaz made a scornful noise between his lips. "A place that size? Everybody knows the campus."
"And nobody knows how to lock a door?"
"The question of access at least suggests we're looking for someone who lives or works on campus," Reyes said hastily. "Someone from off campus would stand out in a small student and employee population."
Brady tried to catch Chaz's eye across the table. Chaz would appreciate Dad's "don't make me come over there" voice. But Chaz frowned at the photos instead.
"Then there's the suicide." Lau sounded bleak. "Jesus, in the middle of the dorms, in front of witnesses."
Brady felt his insides clench at the thought of it: how it would look, how it would sound. How many college kids had ever seen a dead body, never mind one like that? He hadn't even been there, and it made him a little sick.
He looked from Lau to Reyes, to Chaz, and saw his own anger and horror-- Of course. "He wants a reaction," he said aloud. "The bogus hate crimes--he was pushing buttons. Everything in those police reports would stir up a geographically compact, insulated population of college kids like a stick to a beehive."
Lau's head snapped up, making her black hair sweep the air like wings. "So the point isn't the crimes, it's the chaos? Could be. Might be a clue to his manifestation, or his mythology. Or both."
Reyes spread his hands wide over the documents in front of him, as if he could absorb clues out of the ink through his fingertips. "Don't go into this assuming we're on a bug hunt. If we focus on the anomaly, we could miss the ordinary emerging psycho killer." Reyes might have been perfectly serious. If so, Brady was pretty sure Reyes was the only person alive who could say a sentence like that with a straight face.
"All right," Lau said. "Garden variety or gamma, what does he get out of stirring up the campus?" What does he get out of it?"
Brady leaned his chin on his fists. "If it's not a gamma, it could be a distraction. Cover for something else. Or this is aimed at the college itself--see previous reference to enrollment."
"A gamma often wants the same things a non-anomalous criminal wants," Reyes said. "The difference is method, not motivation."
"Except when it's not." Chaz's eyes were tracking swiftly down the police reports, page after page. He didn't see the look Reyes sent sideways at him. Was it for the comment, Brady wondered, or for the distant way he'd made it? Or neither?
"If the pattern of escalation holds, what comes after suicide?" Lau asked. She knew, of course, but Brady answered anyway.
Reyes let Brady drive the rented sedan. He wanted to watch as they crossed the unacknowledged lines between factory town, professors' homes, student rentals, and campus property. The lines were there, as always. But Reyes was surprised at how they blurred, and how subtle the neighborhood differences were. An expensive private college in a blue-collar town could turn itself into an unwalled fortress of privilege. Sullivan College appeared to have worked out something like coexistence.
The pressure generating the college's problems was likely coming from within, then. Judging by appearances, anyway, and sometimes one could.
Reyes was human (whatever others might claim to the contrary), and humans didn't multitask well. Still, he split his attention between the shaded streets with their foursquare houses and the conversation in the back seat.
"UCLA is a city all by itself," Lau said. "The dynamics of a school like this-- Maybe it's more like life in a small town."
Reyes waited for Chaz to mention his time at Princeton, a very different city from UCLA and still unlike Sullivan. Or possibly his high school; its enrollment was about what Sullivan's was, but he didn't think he'd ever heard Chaz mention his high school years.
Instead, Chaz said, "Different size, but similar identity groups. Administrators, professors, support personnel, blue-collar jobs. Jocks, tech geeks, artists, Greeks, slackers. Same categories, smaller pool." His flat voice might have been invoked by pushing a button on a museum display.
In Tucson almost a year ago, and in San Diego after Thanksgiving, Reyes had watched Chaz work comfortably, confidently, as an essential piece of the team-puzzle. The real Chaz, he'd told himself. Because that's how he'd thought, he'd thought too little; he'd taken Chaz's ease and energy for granted. People returned to their default state. If you knew what it was, you knew what to expect.
Except for nearly twenty years, Chaz had hidden his real self under a series of disguises, surviving in potentially hostile territory. Reyes had assumed Chaz was free now. He'd forgotten Chaz might not agree. And Reyes was among the people least likely to be able to convince Chaz otherwise.
He could try. He could crane his neck to look around the headrest and say something about Chaz's experience with Ivy League kids and how it might translate to this campus. Anything to say he knew Chaz was himself, singular, valuable.
Brady turned the sedan into a parking area marked with a blue-and-gold sign reading "Visitors," and announced, "You are here."
Chaz slid stiffly out the rear passenger-side door, and the moment was gone.
Another blue-and-gold sign suggested that the Administration building was thataway. They'd all seen photos of the red brick, the white columns and cupola; they didn't need the tip. Still, the reality of it struck Reyes, the almost pastoral quality of the green lawns and old buildings. A landscape on which to raise scholars. Surrounded by the illusion of peace, he felt anxiety nibbling the edge of his awareness.
Brady dropped back as they climbed the steps to the entrance, until he was at Reyes's shoulder. "I'm pretty sure you've thought about how we'll look if there's no gamma," Brady murmured.
Reyes nodded. "Like employees of the Justice Department."
"With no local police invite and no request through the regional field office."
Reyes tilted his head to look up at Brady, and felt one eyebrow inch up his forehead before he could stop it. "I had no idea you were such a political animal."
"If there's hell to pay for sending federal employees to address a private-sector problem, it's Celentano who'll get the bill."
Brady puffed air out his nose. "I was thinking more in terms of housecleaning than bill-paying."
Would that be such a bad thing? It depended on how well the trash was buried. "One could make a good case that we've got no business here. But since we are here, let's do the job."
Then they were at the door, and whatever Brady wanted to say, agreement or objection, had to wait.
The Dean of Student Life came from her office into the reception area to meet them. Tamara Belker's skin reminded Reyes of the horse chestnuts he used to pick up in the park when he was small. He guessed her age at somewhere in the last half of her forties. She had an eagle's beak of a nose, a long, squared-off chin, and cheekbones broad and flat as a planed board. Her tight-coiling hair was cropped nearly as close as his own, and dyed cayenne red. She wore black trousers and a black-and-white tweed jacket. Every motion of her body, her hands, her face, said, "Don't worry. I've got it covered."
It must have been habit, because Reyes was pretty sure she knew she didn't, not this time.
"Dr. Reyes." Belker put out her hand to him. "Thank you for coming. This is your team?"
There was no doubt in her voice, which made Reyes conscious of the picture they made as he introduced them. "Supervisory Special Agent Daniel Brady, Special Agent Nicolette Lau, and Special Agent Charles Villette." Brady, towering and golden as a Norse fantasy; Lau, like a small, shining knife honed so sharp you'd never feel the cut; and Chaz, an elongated neatly-dressed scarecrow, hands in his pockets, shoulders lifted, and eyes cataloguing the room.
And a well-dressed black man with a doctorate in charge of them all. The only way his team could more thoroughly spit in the eye of tradition would be to add an agent in a wheelchair. Maybe J. Edgar Hoover had been dead long enough after all, and taken his cookie-cutter agents with him to the grave.
"We can talk in my office," said Belker, meaning, of course, that they shouldn't talk where they were.
Reyes admired the silent language of the room Belker led them to. Everything in it had been top-of-the-line the previous decade. Now the furniture was lightly scuffed or faded. To a gathering of students, or to their parents, the room said, "We don't spend your tuition on administrators' offices."
He knew the language because years ago he'd heard and seen it spoken on a daily basis. Ah. That was where the tension in his belly and back were coming from: the past. He kept expecting to outlive it, but it was like malaria, sleeping in his cells until something woke it up.
Funny, Sullivan College was nothing like the University of Chicago. Tamara Belker was nothing like...anyone he'd worked with. And the part of him that might once have belonged to a place like this and the greater community it represented had withered like a disused limb.
It was a big room, with an angular burnt-orange couch and three compact armchairs, besides the task chair behind the teak desk. Instead of sitting in that, Belker took one of the armchairs. Reyes sat at the end of the couch closest to her. Chaz took a chair, balanced lightly at the front edge, and Lau another, and Brady sat, last as usual, next to Reyes.
Belker leaned forward, elbows on her knees, palms pressed together in mid-air. "This may be a difficult subject, but I have to bring it up before we go any further. The college prefers that you keep this...this case, and your presence, low-profile."
Beside him, Brady stiffened. Don't ask, don't tell, Reyes thought. He hoped Lau and Chaz weren't suppressing any adrenal reactions; two of them was enough. "We need to be able to do our work."
Belker nipped her lower lip and dropped her gaze to her hands. When she raised her head again, she'd resolved something. "So do we. If we become fodder for the wire services on a daily basis, that won't happen." The look she fixed on Reyes probably turned disruptive students to stone. "I'm an old friend of Victor Celentano's. So I know he wants his unit covered in glory and immune from budget cuts. Sullivan is not the place to accomplish that, whatever instructions you have from him."
Reyes relaxed into the couch cushions and let himself have the smile he wanted. "If we did have instructions, we'd ignore 'em. It's too early to be sure, but based on our preliminary profile, one of the things the UNS--the perpetrator wants is to upset the campus. We're not going to help him do that."
Belker blinked, and Reyes thought he might see her flush if her skin were lighter. "No offense, Agent Reyes?"
He kept his face bland and businesslike. "I'm also pretty well acquainted with Victor Celentano."
The muscles around her mouth puckered, but her smile won the wrestling match. "Let me call the head of campus security. I think she'll be the most help to you."
She stood and went out the door into the reception area. Brady leaned over and murmured, "I don't think you're supposed to talk about your boss in front of your reports."
Reyes raised his eyebrows. "There goes the chain of command."
Ingrid Lessing, head of campus security, met the four of them outside the administration building. Brady knew enough about wearing a uniform to see she was comfortable in the pressed light-blue shirt and navy trousers with their stitched-in creases. The easy authority in her stance reminded Brady more of real police than rent-a-cop. She was unarmed, of course. This was a top-dollar boutique liberal arts college, the kind of place that bred generations of alumni who voted for gun control.
In a perfect world, that would mean she wouldn't need to shoot at anyone.
She was tall, fit without being skinny, and wore her graying blonde hair in a grown-up pixie cut. The skin below her right eye, into her hairline and down her jawbone to her collar, was pocked and shiny with scar tissue.
Reyes introduced his team. Somehow Lessing managed the blocking so she acknowledged them pleasantly and didn't shake hands. It was so smooth Brady didn't notice until the moment had passed, and she was saying, "I'll point out the campus landmarks on the way to my office."
Chaz dodged handshakes, too, if not as gracefully. Chaz did it because he had Issues about touching and being touched. Why did Lessing?
As they started down the sidewalk, Brady snuck a look at Chaz and raised his eyebrows, hoping Chaz would know it meant, Did you see that? Chaz's face gave a near-microscopic twitch in response. Brady had no idea what it signified.
Telepathy still not working. Check.
Reyes and Lau followed close behind Lessing, with Chaz and Brady bringing up the rear. The sidewalks edged and crossed the open, vivid-green sea of lawn, connecting eventually to the red-brick buildings. Mature oaks cast clouds of shade over benches and grassy slopes, and kids flopped in them with books and takeout coffee cups and laptops.
"The whole campus has wireless?" Brady asked.
"Yep. You need a Sullivan password to log on, but you can get signal everywhere, including some of the rental housing close to campus."
In the courtyard of a classroom building, two students, male and female, were handing out flyers to passers-by. Brady watched the most common dynamic: accept flyer without eye contact, crumple and toss into the trash can by the door, say something to companion, laugh. Some students kept the flyer.
As Brady watched, a girl with a pierced lip and a flying fish tattoo showing at the edge of her tank top waved a flyer like a baton. "Then what about Jews?" she demanded of the paper-slingers. "Christianity is based on Jewish law. Don't you respect that?"
The guy, stocky with jock-short hair, answered earnestly, "It's because the Jews fell away from God's word that He had to send His son Jesus Christ to us. His lesson supersedes the Jews' laws."
Brady had heard that one before. The Christian jock and his partner, a blonde girl with a pageboy haircut and an embroidered pink blouse, parted and smiled politely at the Authority Figures as the team passed. Brady plucked a crumpled flyer from the trash and smoothed it as he walked.
"Fellowship dinner," he muttered, "Students United In Christ, college-approved free-speech house, live in God's uncorrupted light with fellow Christians. All right, then." They passed another trash can, and Brady dropped the flyer in. "This doesn't seem like a Fundie kind of campus."
"They go where the sinners are," Chaz said. His voice sounded a little hollow. Brady pretended not to notice.
Sugar maples, turned by early cold nights, shed orange-yellow leaves like spilled paint across grass and concrete, sun and shade. If you were going to go nuts from teenage hormones, pressure, and maybe the anomaly, it was a pretty place to do it.
As Lessing named the buildings they passed, Brady listened--less to the content than how she said it. Student union, art center, anthropology, history, language arts, the new drama center and science building, the chapel. Lessing liked the place. She approved of it. And she forgot, just a little, that Sullivan College wasn't on the radar for people who didn't belong to it.
They paused at the curb of the city street that bisected the campus. Brady used looking for traffic as an excuse to make a status check on Chaz.
Chaz's hands were stuffed in his jacket pockets, as if he were afraid of what they'd do if he let them out. That pushed his shoulders up, because his arms were so long. His eyes obeyed the direction of Lessing's waving hand and narration (field house, student activities office, dorm, dorm).
Chaz looked where Lessing pointed, but from his face, Brady would swear he was seeing something else. Or nothing at all. Or straight through all the brick and glass to the people inside, watching their hearts beat and lungs work.
Brady couldn't tell from Chaz's face whether he approved of all that breathing.
Then Chaz caught Brady's eye, and his expression wasn't there to study anymore. All it left behind was a mild blankness, and a chill in Brady's guts.
Give him time. If he wants to talk, he'll talk. Brady longed fiercely for Hafidha, for Worth. Chaz didn't open up to Daniel Brady, no matter how much he might need to.
The campus security offices claimed a strip of rooms in the first floor of one of the angular residence halls built in the '60s. The exterior was brick, but once inside the glass double doors Brady could see it was only a shell around three stories of concrete block. Even the interior walls were block. Maybe in the '60s Avon, Wisconsin was on the list of first-strike nuke targets.
Lessing led them past the security dispatcher's office--she waved as she passed the door, and the dispatcher, a square-faced, middle-aged woman, waved back--and showed them into the next room. Lessing's own office, obviously, or an office for anyone else with authority. The concrete was painted khaki. The window looked into the wide grassy quadrangle circled by dorm buildings. A detailed map of the campus hung on the wall opposite the window, next to the door. The desk was brown steel, the desk chair's vinyl showed padding through a split in the backrest, and the visitors' chairs were chrome and molded plastic, and stackable.
If he ignored the view out the window, Brady could believe he was in an underfunded police department back office. He felt right at home.
They hadn't all sat down before Lessing said, "Tell me what you need. I've got copies here of our dispatch logs and incident reports, and my people are prepared to talk to you whenever you're ready. What else?"
Chain of command. Ranking agent takes lead, unless there's a reason to do otherwise. Brady waited to see how Reyes would open.
Reyes sat neatly erect in the crappy plastic chair, as if he were doing it a favor. As if he were the Federal Bureau of Investigation the way monarchs were supposed to be their kingdoms. "The summary we have mentions incidents that wouldn't result in calls to security."
Lessing, to her credit, took a beat or two before she replied. "All I've got on those is rumor. They're the kinds of things that happen on college campuses all the time, so I haven't considered 'em in my stats. I don't know how they're relevant, but then I can't figure out how any of this stuff can be connected."
"But you think it is," Lau offered gently. Not so much Good Cop to Reyes's Bad as Therapist to his Authority Figure.
"Small geographic area with a uniform, stable population and a rapid significant spike in reported crimes? Yeah."
Ah-hah. "I was in Dallas homicide before I joined the Bureau," Brady said, knowing the team would let him run with the connection. "Where were you?"
"St. Louis, Central Division." Lessing shrugged one shoulder. "Patrol."
"Uniforms do all the work, investigation gets all the credit."
She grinned; the scar tissue puckered like a cloud of dimples on the right side of her face. "Did I say that?"
"Why'd you quit?"
Lessing's eyes narrowed, though the smile stayed. Too smart to be lured in by a little ex-cop bonhomie. "Maybe I was fired." Then she relented. "Shotgun at a robbery made me re-examine my priorities." She held her right hand up next to her face. Probably about the same position it was in when the shot hit her. The first joints of her index and second finger were missing. It explained why she dodged handshakes.
She knew they'd verify her story. She couldn't know that four ACTF brains had just checked off the box marked "previous trauma."
"How did you hear about the other problems on campus?" Chaz asked. Good. Chaz knew that he and Lau could ask and not sound like Authority asking Lessing to account for her results.
Lessing turned her left shoulder toward the window. One shoulder to the college, one to the Feds. Was that how she saw herself? "Part of the job of campus security is to keep the town cops off campus. The assumption is that we know the place and the people. We know what's a prank, what's actually dangerous. We don't bust kids for drinking beer in their rooms; we bust 'em for selling beer to minors. We don't hassle students who smoke a joint on campus. Avon police can't come onto Sullivan property without a call from us.
"But it only works if we really do know the place. We walk a line between 'We're here to help' and ass-kicking, because people on campus have to trust us. We're like old-fashioned beat cops. Neighborhood policing. I won't keep an officer on staff who can't manage some kind of rapport with the kids."
"So you heard from the students?"
"I heard, or my second shift supervisor, or one of the other guards, or a dispatcher. You can see why I have to treat them as rumors or pranks. Some of 'em we looked into informally, since they involved school facilities like the campus health center."
Reyes lifted his chin. It dragged Lessing's attention to him like a deer spotting a hunter in a stand. "We don't have any paper on those."
"Three kids got notices on health center letterhead, all on the same day. One was a pregnancy test, two for STDs. They said the kids tested positive." During Lessing's explanation, Brady saw Chaz pull his legs under his chair and lay an unconscious protective hand over the bend of his arm. "The health center asked for our help when one of the kids threatened to sue."
"Why didn't you write an incident report?"
"I would, now. This was before the vandalism. The letters came through campus mail, so there's no way to track them. All I could do was keep an eye on the volunteers at the health center, to catch or clear them. And yes, I checked their alibis for the things that happened later."
"So we're looking for someone with a lot of physical access around campus." Brady watched Lessing as he said it.
"At a small school full of bright kids with a lot of resources. Welcome to my world. What we have to put up with from the physics and chemistry departments alone would give you a heart attack."
"You haven't looked closer to home?"
Lessing's eyebrows disappeared into her hair. "My people? Of course I have. They've got the keys. They're also background-checked to hell and gone, and have no motive for any of this shit. I could see somebody having a mad on for one person, or a few people. But there's no connection between the victims."
"So far," Reyes said, because he was still playing Top Dog.
"So far. Look, you know there's no way to completely secure a building. We'd need someone on every door 24-7. Camera coverage is spotty on campus, because we've never needed it much, and what isn't needed isn't funded. And if, by some miracle, we caught the vandalism and arson and theft on tape--how does that help with the assault in the cafeteria? Or the suicide?"
Brady could hear the tightness in her throat. "Was there an inciting incident for the suicide?
Lessing scuffled aimlessly at the papers in front of her, as if she wanted to burrow into them. "She said she got some e-mails. Somebody seemed to know she was on the run from a conservative Christian background and wanted her to feel guilty about it. Her boyfriend broke it off--his name and number are in those files, you'll probably want to talk to him."
"Gildersen was one of the student security dispatchers."
Lessing nodded. "Who don't, by the way, have the keys. And who I also check out pretty thoroughly. Complete with a polygraph before I hire 'em."
Brady resisted the impulse to point out that if polygraphs were perfect, half the cops in the world could go home. "You might have missed something."
He watched her jaw work, and saw when she let go. "Yeah. I've got my staff list here, too, with the dates and shifts everyone worked. I'll help you set up interviews. I've also got lists of faculty and staff who work in the buildings with break-ins."
A double-tap knock at the door swiveled all five heads in the room. "Come in," Lessing called, in a voice guaranteed to make it past the proscenium arch and to the back of the hall. Definitely enough to be heard outside the steel door.
It angled open, and a square-faced, rosy-skinned man with smooth brown hair stuck his head in. Brady saw the same blue shirt collar at his neck that Lessing wore.
"Ooops," said the new guy. "I'll come back later."
"No, now's good. Come in, Tim, and shut it behind you."
Brady stood up to offer his chair. The new guy shook his head and waved his hand palm-down.
He was Brady's age or a little younger, and noticeably shorter than Lessing. Not big enough to have played football, but he'd likely made his college wrestling team proud. His shirt stretched across his pecs rather than his stomach, which was more than Brady could say for a lot of cops he'd met. Though he wouldn't flag this man as ex-police.
"Tim Miner," Lessing announced. "He's the supervisor for second shift. Tim, meet the FBI."
Lessing made the introductions, and Brady shook hands when his name came around. Miner had small, square hands and a grip like a junkyard dog. Brady smiled and squeezed right back. When Miner shook Lau's hand, she couldn't hide the wince. Chaz managed to be out of reach; Miner had to settle for a nod from him.
"Don't know how you can crack this," Miner said. "But it's worth a try. The whole campus is looking over its shoulder."
Lau hunched forward in her chair, hands clasped. "Who first realized you had a problem?"
"That would be me," Lessing said. "I told Belker. Just before Cat--" Lessing swallowed, and didn't seem to care about hiding it. "--Gildersen killed herself, we began to suspect the incidents were related."
"I'm glad you called us," Reyes said, soothing now, reinforcing good behavior. "If all these incidents have a single cause, there's a clear pattern of escalation, which means a growing threat. We'll review what you've got, and draft a list of witnesses we'll need to talk to. You can help us with that?"
Lessing nodded. She probably knew Reyes could have ordered instead of asked.
"I'd like to house the team as close to campus as possible."
"Hell, we can put you on campus, if you want. They're remodeling one of the old dorms as a B & B for visitors."
Meaning enrollment was down, Brady realized. Another source of tension.
"That would be ideal," Reyes said.
"There's only three suites finished, so two of you will have to double up." Lessing's gaze bounced off Reyes and across Brady, but she stopped herself before she looked at Lau. "Unless you want the Ramada Inn after all, but it's across town."
"We'll be fine," Brady said, as much for Reyes as for Lessing. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Chaz's head move, a tuck of the chin that almost passed for a flinch.
That's new. Well, Brady would give him as much emotional and physical elbow room as he could, and it would have to do.
"Tim?" Lessing turned to Miner. "You want to show the agents over to Voegle and get 'em checked in?"
She picked up the fat manila envelope from her desk and passed it to Reyes. "Anything that's not covered in there, I'll try to find for you."
Miner led them outside and across the quad to the corner opposite the security office. Voegle Hall was a narrow three-story building that shared a wall with the larger dorm beside it. They were both old pseudo-Colonial style, with arches of wood-framed glass above the heavy paneled doors.
Inside the front door was a tiny sitting area to the left, and a reception desk on the right. The place smelled of lumber and paint and wallboard gypsum, though there was no sign of remodeling chaos. At the desk, a young woman with skin the color of old pennies and a head full of freshly-done braids handed them four key cards. "Second floor," she said, aloof as Old Money. "Reserved parking in the lot behind the building. The dining room's not finished, but you can use the college food service next door for breakfast. Just show your keys."
Brady heard Chaz draw a long breath through his nose and let it out. Was that good, or bad? "I'll pray for French toast," he told the receptionist, more to see what Chaz would do than to try to make her smile. Which was good, since she didn't smile. And Chaz ducked his head, which hid his face with a grove of hair.
Brady dropped his key card in his jacket pocket. "I'll move the car. If I can remember how to find it."
He could, of course. Reyes met his eyes for an instant, lowered his chin just enough that it counted as visible.
"I'll take you back over," Miner assured Brady.
Yes, you will, and thank you for volunteering before I maneuvered you into it.
After all, as Lessing herself said, campus security had all the keys.
They strode back through the dorms and down the short row of houses with Greek letters on the roof peaks or lawns. The air already smelled like autumn, dry decay and moist earth, and fallen leaves scraped pavement under their feet as they walked.
"Nice place," Brady said. "I wouldn't mind pounding a beat, if it were all like this."
Miner shook his head. "You'd mind in January, trust me."
"Worked here long?"
"A year. I came on last fall term. Did corporate security in Milwaukee before that. Sat at a desk and signed people in and out, called somebody when the elevators quit working, escorted new fires out of the building and checked to make sure they didn't take company property with 'em. Worst job of my life." Miner said it peaceably, without heat, the way one did when living well turned out to be the best revenge.
"I expect the kids here can be a pain in the ass," Brady offered. When Miner looked a question at him, he added, "Add rich-kid entitlement to just plain not grown up yet, and you must see a few who could use a boot to the butt."
Miner smiled. "Oh, maybe. But they like to talk to you. They probably figure everybody's middle-class, right? Not like the guys with the snazzy leather briefcases."
"Little snobby at the old job, were they?"
"I guess for some people, working stiffs are like furniture." Miner shrugged. He didn't seem to take it personally, whatever the story behind the comment was. "I figure it's their loss. You never know who's going to say the thing you need to hear, you know?"
Brady agreed, and didn't mention how much the sentiment applied to his current assignment.
"You're in visitor parking?" Miner pointed with his chin past the building with the white cupola. "Right behind Administration there."
So Miner didn't express hostility toward Sullivan College or its inhabitants or his work, not in a casual fishing expedition, anyway. An easygoing guy, just right for getting along with a campus full of strong-minded, opinionated teenagers and adults. Lessing seemed to know how to hire 'em.
Brady used parking the car behind Voegle as an excuse to scout the back entrance. His key card worked there, too. The shadowy space under the back stairs bristled with five-gallon plastic paint buckets, long-handled rollers, and crumpled canvas drop cloths. He hefted the team's go bags, two in each hand, and jogged up the stairs just for the satisfaction of knowing he could.
Quick, heavy footsteps in the hall. Reyes kept his face turned to the campus security duty roster in his lap, but he still saw Chaz raise his head from his laptop and watch the door, one hand on the trackpad, the other loose in his lap near his holster.
Once that would have been abnormal behavior in Chaz. After what he'd been through, however, hypervigilance was logical as breathing. So long as it didn't control him, Reyes refused to allow himself to worry.
Brady appeared at the open door to the room, weighted down with everyone's bags. "Some roomie you are," he said to Chaz, whose hands were now on the keyboard and had no relationship to his weapon. "We barely move in, and you're having a party already."
"Hey, I'd have helped with those." Lau unfolded her legs and bounced off the foot of one of the double beds to lift her bag and Chaz's off Brady's right arm.
"The last three steps nearly killed me, but I didn't have a hand free for my phone." Brady wasn't even breathing hard.
"Their rooms are tiny," Chaz said, by way of belated explanation. He was visibly more relaxed than he'd been since they left D.C., in the controlled space of the room with just his teammates. He'll get better, Reyes insisted. It didn't happen all at once.
Brady frowned around the room, pretending to doubts about the blue-on-blue striped wallpaper and oak wainscoting, the crisp white duvets with the obligatory silly bedscarves, the pair of wing chairs flanking a tea table, the two long windows looking out over the quad. "Tell me we don't have to share a bathroom with Lau."
Lau stuck out her lower lip and poked him in the stomach. "Hey! I shower faster than you do."
"I've got more surface area," Brady said placidly. Lau snickered.
"Private baths, mini fridges, and coffee makers." Reyes gestured to the door beside the closet, and the coffee pot on the dresser. "Sullivan doesn't want to lose any visiting parents to the Ramada, it seems."
Brady handed Reyes his bag and dropped his own at the foot of one of the beds. "Ramada's probably cheaper. And I'll bet you twenty bucks we wake up to the sweet sounds of construction."
"Don't take it," Chaz muttered, smoothing a campus map on the bedspread and swiveling his gaze between that and his screen. "I saw a power screwdriver on the next landing up."
Reyes raised his eyebrows at Brady. Brady shrugged. "Anyway. Tim Miner's been here for a year. Seems like a rock. We'll see what his background check looks like, though."
"And Lessing's." Lau shrugged out of her suit jacket, dropped that and her dress shoes on her bag by the door, and thumped onto the foot of the bed again. It was a casual, unselfconscious move, the sort that usually led Chaz to pretend not to watch. But Chaz's attention was on his screen.
"She's included herself in the personnel files she passed along," Lau continued. "Worked security here for nine years, head of security for the last five. If the target is the college itself, I don't see what she'd get out of this. Besides, she's the one who blew the whistle."
"Which is just what she'd do, if she wasn't getting the level of response she craved." Reyes tapped the duty roster. "The security staff is small, with overlapping shift rotations. Even limiting ourselves to guards and dispatchers on duty during incidents, we've got four, maybe five possibles in the security office itself. And off-duty staff are free to come and go on campus with no logs to track them."
"Also true of students," Chaz said. "But instructors at this end of campus would be likely to be noticed. So would office staff."
Lau planted her elbows on her knees and propped her chin on her knuckles. "A lot of the incidents wouldn't require the UNSUB to be around when they happened. Spreading rumors, encouraging quarrels, inciting a suicide."
"But he wants to be, doesn't he?" Chaz looked around the room. "These are all personal, emotional attacks. It's not about property damage. It's about that punch to the gut. The sick feeling and how it shows up on your victim's face. You--he has to be there."
Chaz's expression grew pinched and shuttered. Brady, who'd been watching Chaz almost as relentlessly as Reyes had, must have noticed that, and the verbal change of direction as well; his eyes skidded to Reyes, flicked away. No, Chaz didn't usually identify with the gamma, but it was a legitimate technique. Even if it made Chaz uncomfortable.
"He'll be at the scenes," Lau said.
"Chaz, get Hafidha to start combing the web for images people have posted from the incidents." Camera phones, Reyes thought. Not just annoyances anymore. "I want you to study them for anyone who might have been at every one."
Chaz frowned. "That might not be much use on a campus this size."
"It could still narrow our suspect pool."
Brady shook his head over a handful of police reports. "If the point is to kick the college itself--to screw with its reputation or cut into enrollment--some of these attacks are pretty low-yield."
"But they're all very effective in producing distress in the campus population," Reyes noted. "If he's targeting a group for cause, there's a connection between the victims that we haven't found yet."
"Or the point is flying shit for its own sake," Brady finished. "And our scumbag of the week gets off on that."
"On chaos and hurt," Lau said.
The conditions in which the anomaly seemed to thrive. "Either way, the appearance of the FBI on campus is going to affect him. If he doesn't already know we're here, he soon will. Chaz--" Reyes began.
"Victimology," Chaz said, like an answer to a question too often asked in class. "Establish correlations. Dorms, majors, schedules, professors, extracurriculars, habits. And the images."
"Good. Brady, Lau, let's make some interview lists."
Sullivan College had eleven residence halls, each with its own resident manager. The managers were seniors, or in one of the very few post-grad programs Sullivan offered, or simply hanging on for an extra year waiting for their ideal job or an opening in a master's program somewhere else. They were an interface between students and the housing office. They settled conflicts, made minor repairs, and kept order in their dorms, and sometimes offered tea and sympathy to the homesick, the heartbroken, and the hyper-stressed.
They were also likely to be an audience, appreciative or otherwise, to most campus angst. Lau's first job was to gather information from that potentially rich source of gossip and insider information. Her second was to look for the traits of an emerging gamma or a developing psychopathic personality among the resident managers themselves. She set up with a list of names and her cellphone in a small meeting room in the student union, and arranged to talk with each of them.
She was far from the only person in the student union using a cellphone. But most of the students she spotted were text messaging. Of course: in class, in the library, in the dining hall, texting was silent and private. Which meant Lau could conduct interviews without having to shout. She made herself comfortable at a table and let her subjects come to her.
The resident manager of Cooper, Maia Siu, also worked in the college dining hall, and was present when the fight broke out during dinner. But the two students involved lived in other dorms, and she didn't know them. Vin Chamberlin, the manager of Bacon, where Cat Gildersen had lived and jumped, knew Gildersen. "Nobody told me she was depressed," he said, with an edge of desperation. "I'm not a counselor, you know? I change light bulbs and tell people to turn down their stereos."
The manager of Stinson, Paula Steenberg, was a sturdy red-headed woman majoring in physics. Steenberg told Lau, "It wasn't just Loreena and the bogus AIDS test results. One of the guys on second floor--someone slipped a photo under his door of his girlfriend lap-dancing some guy at a frat party. He and the girlfriend had a horrible fight. I mean, really scary. I had to force the lock, and his friends broke it up. Nobody was hurt, so I didn't report it. But..."
"What did his girlfriend say?" Lau asked.
"That it wasn't her. I don't know. But even if it was, why would somebody tell Jason that way?"
"Someone wanted to hurt them both."
Steenberg shook her head. "It's just crazy now. Awful. Nobody trusts anybody. I'm--I might take the term off. I don't want to be here right now."
Ken Maloney, resident manager of Rydell, was an International Studies major, and no fan of U.S. government agencies. "I don't have to talk to you."
"Of course not, Mr. Maloney," Lau replied, brisk and friendly and matter-of-fact. "But it might help us find whoever's creating so much trouble on campus. You might keep someone else from dying."
That gave him pause, at least for a moment. But he rallied. "Some of us have a pretty good idea who's behind it. The only time the FBI pays attention to college campuses is to silence dissent and protect their corporate masters."
Lau managed not to say anything snide. After all, sometimes it was true. "What do you believe is provoking the incidents around the school?"
Maloney snorted. "There's a lot of people who don't like schools where kids learn to think. I'm drinking bottled water, and I don't eat in the dining hall. That's all I'm saying." It was, in fact, all he would say.
Karin Sebarski, who managed Williamson, didn't answer her phone. So Lau walked across campus to try knocking. Old-fashioned, but you never knew. And if Sebarski wasn't around, someone else at Williamson might feel talkative.
As she walked, Lau student-watched. A tall, thin, suntanned boy hurtled past on a skateboard, backpack over one shoulder, t-shirt flapping. She thought of Chaz, and felt the familiar almost-pain under her ribcage. How long before he'd reach without considering first? When would he run, skateboard, climb, move without fear of hurting? Six weeks? Six months? Never?
It's my destiny to hold a grudge against other people's fathers.
In her gray tailored pants and jacket, she might as well have been wearing a sandwich board that read "OUTSIDER." Students passing singly and in groups watched her, pretending to ignore her. Several times she saw someone pull out a phone after she passed. Maybe it was a regional thing; but she'd expected more frank stares, maybe even a grin at the poor suit lost on campus.
They were nervous. They distrusted strangers. They were waiting for the next bad thing.
Something about it scratched at the back of her brain. It was perfectly reasonable, in a paranoid way, to be leery of anything out of the ordinary, given the current rash of awful. But there was something not reasonable at work, too. Maybe once she slowed down, she'd see it.
Williamson was an old dorm, and the resident manager's unit was the two-room apartment once allotted to the housemother. The door was a mosaic of flyers: Don't forget recycling is Wednesday! Put sorted material in the bins by Tuesday night! and Dorm meeting first Monday of every month! Bring your topics to Karin by the Friday before if you want them on the agenda!
Karin Sebarski was fond of exclamation marks.
Lau knocked, not really expecting an answer. But after a pause she heard the thwap of flip-flops, and the clack of the door lock opening. A woman with very pale skin and straight dark hair peered through the gap. "Yeah?"
Lau showed her ID. "Karin Sebarski? Nicolette Lau with the FBI. I'm sorry to bother you. We're helping the college investigate the recent violence and property crimes on campus."
Sebarski stared fixedly at Lau's ID. "Did I do something?"
Lau gave her the "oh, heavens no" smile. "When I was in college, the dorm managers knew everything. I'm hoping if I gather all that collective knowledge, we might spot a pattern that will help us. Would you mind talking to me? Just for a few minutes."
"Oh. Oh! Of course not. Come in. Would you like tea? I've got my own little kitchen, it's no problem."
Lau followed Sebarski's gesture and stepped into the front room. It was charming and flowery and, to her eye, expensive by college-student standards. The drapes matched the upholstery on the loveseat and the pad in the white wicker armchair, which matched the desk. Pier One. Not furnished from the Goodwill down in town.
The room was also tidy, rigidly so. Dust free and everything at right angles. It would look pretty in a magazine photo, but in person it looked...well, like a magazine photo.
"No thanks, about the tea," Lau said.
"Oh." Sebarski seemed a little taken aback. "Have a seat. What can I do to help?"
Lau watched Sebarski's thin face and deep-set, intent eyes as she asked her questions. What have you heard? What have you experienced? Where were you? Are you concerned? Do you have opinions? Lau tried to sound more like a counselor than a cop. Her tone made Sebarski lean forward, skinny hands clenched and head nodding.
She answered Lau eagerly and in oppressive detail. It was as if she was afraid to let silence back in. Still, her answers came down to I Have No New Information.
Unlike Paula Steenberg, the redheaded physics major, Sebarski didn't seem particularly upset by the events on campus.
When Lau ran out of questions, Sebarski said, "Are you...are you with the Behavioral Science Unit?"
After Ken Maloney, Lau wasn't sure what this was leading up to. "It's the Behavioral Analysis Unit now, but yes. We help local authorities with problems with a psychological component, like this one."
Sebarski beamed. "You're a profiler!"
"It's not very much like the TV version."
Sebarski skooched forward on the wicker chair, making it creak. "I'm a psychology major. I was going to go into clinical, but last year I decided I'd get my master's in abnormal and apply to the FBI. You don't have to have been in the police first, do you?"
"No, there are several specialties the Bureau likes to hire." Lau wondered if she ought to tell Sebarski that psych was pretty far down the list, below lawyers, accountants, and engineers.
"I think I could be a good profiler. I've read all the books, Douglas and Ressler and Beale and Hazelwood. I read the Law Enforcement bulletins on the website every week, and I follow all the investigations in the news." She clasped her hands in her lap, like a little girl reciting, and bobbed her head almost imperceptibly, as if approving her own story.
"That's a start," Lau said carefully.
"Can you tell me what you're looking for here? I mean, I'm a good observer. And I'd have an advantage, with the students. I can ask around and pass on anything that seems weird. Do you suspect a student, or somebody from off campus? Have you got a profile yet?"
When Sebarski stopped for breath, Lau asked, "Did you feel safe on campus at the beginning of this term?"
Sebarski blinked, as if she hadn't thought about it. "Well, yes."
"How do you feel now?"
"I... Fine. Campus security is always around. And there's lights on everywhere. And you know, all the damage that's happened... I mean, I might be afraid if I were homosexual, or foreign--" Sebarski seemed to realize she was talking to a woman whose last name was Lau, and changed direction. "My dad gave me pepper spray my freshman year, but I've never had to use it."
The thing scratching in the back of Lau's head had grown claws. If she hadn't been highly trained in answering questions from the media while thinking about something else entirely, she might have offended Sebarski in getting out of her dorm room. Instead, her last view of the woman was the vast stretch of her smile through her slowly-closing door. Lau hurried toward the exit and the quad, yanking her phone from her pocket.
"Rape," said Lau's voice through the cellphone at Reyes's ear, and he stepped over to one of the benches that looked over the rolling lawn and sat. She sounded as if he'd need to.
"That's the number one article of fear on any college campus," Lau went on. "Serial rapists. College campuses are perceived as prime hunting grounds for sexual predators, and there are enough instances of it every year around the country to feed that fear."
"But there's been no instance of rape here," Reyes said, and as the words formed and left his mouth, he realized what she was saying. "If this UNSUB wants to terrorize the campus, it's among the first attacks he'd use."
"Except he didn't. Why not?"
They both knew one possible answer. "We can't assume we're looking for a woman. Not yet."
"'Course not. But whatever is going on--"
"--that's a significant data point. Good work. How far have you got?"
"I'll have a first pass on the resident managers by six. And I'll ask Hafs to start background checks on a few right now."
"Meet at Brady's and Chaz's room when you're done. We'll find dinner and compare notes."
He slipped his phone back in his pocket. Brady was interviewing as many campus security employees as were available on short notice. Reyes had talked to Buildings and Grounds, housekeepers, food service staff, and the nurse practitioner, the LPN, and the student volunteers at the campus clinic. Chaz...
Chaz was safe in his room, armed with a Sullivan College password and all the internet he could want, tracking down the victimology. Was Chaz content with that? It certainly needed doing. But Reyes was aware of a reluctance in himself to send Chaz trotting around the campus talking to people, drawing the attention of whoever they were hunting.
He can take care of himself. That's why you let him return to the field. But someone still had to do the victimology.
Reyes was tired and frustrated. And homesick for a home he'd never really had. He was awash in the swells of lawn, the solemn, lofty buildings, and the students who saw it all through a veil of equations, poetic forms, the events of the French Revolution, the paint on a pottery shard.
Reyes longed abruptly to see life through that veil. It blurred detail, but it emphasized the shape. It hid differences and highlighted similarities.
Spotting detail and identifying difference were what he was here for. Detail and difference could save the lives of these children--and there was no question that his quarry would want to take another life. Reyes wondered if he'd known it before the UNSUB did.
He'd intended to pursue knowledge, not people. But the knowledge he most wanted was contained somewhere in human bodies. He wished, suddenly, that Solomon Todd was with the team. Todd would appreciate the irony.
Reyes lifted his head at the sound of footsteps. The figure approached from the direction of the student union: a man in a t-shirt, windbreaker, and jeans, carrying a small zippered duffel. He shook the contents of a snack-size bag of pretzels into his palm. When he tipped his head back to toss them in his mouth, Reyes recognized the second shift security supervisor, Tim Miner.
"Officer Miner. Off duty today?"
Miner crumpled the pretzel bag and stuffed it in his windbreaker. "Dr. Reyes. Hi there. Yep, 'til five, but I'll take what I can get. How's the investigation going?"
"Very well." Forward, at least. But fast enough to beat the UNSUB to his--or her--next victim?
"What do we know so far?"
Miner was entitled to that "we." He was one of the officers who'd worked the incidents, who'd helped compile the facts Reyes's team was using. But Reyes had to fight down his proprietary instincts when local police or an agent from another unit made that statement of ownership and inclusion. Does not play well with others.
"Nothing with any certainty." He was aware he sounded stiff. "Once we're confident of a profile, we'll provide it to campus security and the local police."
"I'll bet you've got some guesses already, though. Care to share?"
"If this were a game of charades, I would."
As soon as he snapped the words, Reyes was ashamed of himself. He'd have to tell Brady he'd antagonized an important witness, and Brady would need to distance himself from Reyes to get Miner to open up again.
But Miner, instead of taking offense, shrugged his wide shoulders. "No problem. Just hoping for a jump on the competition, I guess."
Reyes was used to considering his words and second-guessing his responses. One of his wives and several of his co-workers considered it evidence of his manipulative streak, and maybe it was. But he generally knew what to expect from people. When he lost his temper, he knew what to expect then, too.
What he expected was not what Miner had done.
"And who's the competition?" Reyes put a hint of scorn in his voice, a little amusement. The rent-a-cop wants to buddy up to the federal agent.
Miner cocked his head. "Well, the bad guy. But I bet sometimes you government guys are your own competition, aren't you? You hear about folks being passed over for promotions, about people backstabbing their bosses to get ahead..." He shrugged. By his manner, these were the distant trials of strangers, nothing to do with him.
If so, why had Miner brought them up?
A tall, good-looking young man pushed through the side door of the science building on their right, carrying a cardboard box that clinked ominously. "Hey, Tim!" he called.
"Hey, Omar. Tell me that's not a distillery in there."
Omar laughed, showing luminous white teeth that must have had braces once. Reyes recognized his brown brushed-leather bomber jacket as Abercrombie's. "Chem lounge has coffee mugs falling out of the cupboards. I talked Schulewitz into letting me cull the herd and take 'em down to Safe Space."
Miner pursed his lips. "Making room for...?"
"More mugs? Entropy wins. But damn, those kids drink coffee like an AA meeting." Omar managed to shrug at Miner and sneak an appraising look at Reyes simultaneously. Miner didn't seem to notice, so Reyes put out his hand.
"Stephen Reyes." He left out the FBI part, for the time being.
Omar wedged his hand neatly into Reyes's. Their fingers were nearly the same shade, but Reyes's showed ashy around the cuticles and knuckles, dry with neglect and years.
"Omar Fuller," said the younger man, smiling. "Pleased to meet you."
Politics, Reyes thought. Government, academic, corporate, or non-profit. Anything else would be a waste. The personable rolled off Omar Fuller in waves, overwhelming Reyes's inclination to be jealous of his youth, his looks, or his money.
"What's Safe Space?" Reyes asked, to see how close he was.
"Gay teen center. I'm a counselor." Fuller's grin widened. "Pay it forward, right?"
Non-profit. "Or try, anyway."
"I gotta get this to the car before the bottom lets go." Fuller gave the box a rueful hitch.
"I'll give you a hand." Miner pushed the duffle up his arm and gathered the box out of Fuller's grip. "See you 'round, Dr. Reyes."
Reyes watched them head off toward the residential end of campus.
Sometimes, when talking to others, one learned more about one's self than about them. Reyes already knew he was possessive about information and snappish when pushed. He sometimes recalled he was vain. But that he was jealous of youth and personality was hard to admit even to himself.
Not that he was otherwise coming away empty-handed. He'd learned that Tim Miner was a difficult man to rile. Reyes knew how to control his reactions; Miner controlled his so thoroughly he might as well not have them. If Reyes's ex-wife was right, was that a sign that Miner was trying to manipulate Reyes?
He arrived at the steps of the Administration building without any recollection of the space between there and where he'd talked to Miner and Fuller. He wasn't sure why he was here, except it had been a place to march to, a path with no professional or personal checkpoints or switchbacks to slow him down.
Well, since he was here, he might as well accomplish something.
He was aware that Tamara Belker might have left for the day, but when he asked for her, the student receptionist buzzed her office, and spoke to someone. Moments later, Belker stepped out her office door.
"Dr. Reyes," she said, and smiled, though it would be reasonable to assume that, if he brought news, it would fall in the unpleasant-to-bad range.
"Dean Belker. Any chance I could have a few minutes of your time?"
"Of course. Hold my calls, please, John."
Maybe Belker did expect the worst; this time she sat behind the desk. Reyes sank onto the orange couch again.
"When we investigate a case, we study the victims as well as the crimes themselves. So far, we've found no connection between the victims of the incidents except their connection to the college itself."
Belker tipped her head back and drew a breath. "The college is the target?"
""Not necessarily. But to rule out the possibility, I need more information from you."
"I provided everything we have to the FBI when I asked for your help."
Reyes leaned forward, pressing his palms together. "When you were still concerned with what Celentano might do with the information."
Belker sat very still. "Are you accusing me of withholding evidence?"
"No. I want to find out if you have evidence you don't recognize." Because that would give her an out, if she needed one. "Dean Belker, has anyone in administration, or any of the department heads, received angry letters, e-mails, phone calls, any threatening communications? Or any kind of anonymous note or call?"
Her brows pulled together and down, forming two neat lines over her hawk nose. Did other people really not see thinking as attractive? Belker wasn't just trying to remember; she was trying to figure out what Reyes was asking for. She was counting her weapons and his, and he was pitifully grateful he had arranged dinner with his team, or he'd be asking her if she had plans.
"I haven't gotten any, or heard of any. If it was a college-related matter and not a personal grudge, I think I would have. But I'll check on it for you."
"Thank you. Anything that might be considered a complaint against Sullivan's policies or behavior collectively. Even a complaint about an individual might become the responsibility of the college, in an injured person's mind."
He watched her as he said it, waiting for the flicker in the facial muscles that said, Yes, I remember that. Yes, that sounds like that flap from last term, last year. The flicker didn't come. He had, suddenly, less appetite for dinner.
"I'll make the phone calls now," Belker said.
There was nothing more Reyes could do but leave and let her get to it.
Any college town had a pizza joint. Reyes hoped, with the number of students at Sullivan who'd grown up in Chicago, Avon would have to be supplied with actual decent pizza. The student at the reception desk of their dorm-turned-B&B gave him the name and location of Argenzio's on Main, and swore it was the best Avon could do.
Reyes hoped it was superb. If they came to the conclusions he was afraid of, they'd need the consolation.
While the other three found a parking space, Reyes claimed the long table for six in the most isolated corner and ordered breadsticks, four fried ravioli appetizers, three house salads, and the removal of two of the chairs. They might still be pressed for room to set out the food, but it was the best he could do.
The team came in the door single-file, threading through the red checked tablecloths and the smell of tomatoes and garlic. Lau had point, Brady took last in line as usual, and both wore the casual vigilance that civilians rarely noticed. Chaz, towering behind Lau, spidery in front of Brady, moved steadily enough, but his expression, focused and distant at once, made Reyes glad he'd told the waiter to bring the breadsticks and salad right away.
Ordering went with comfortable efficiency; they ate together often enough to know what worked. The only surprise was when Lau ordered a whole small vegetarian pizza for herself and said to Chaz, "You can nosh my extra." Chaz kept his eyes on the menu and nodded.
Lau looked over Chaz's head to Brady, who met her eyes. His teammates had conspired to worry about him. If Chaz had noticed, he chose to pretend he hadn't.
When the waiter left, Lau wedged a breadstick in the corner of her mouth like a cigarette holder and said, "I'll start. None of the resident managers is aware of a troublemaker, or group of troublemakers, or other identifiable disruptive element. Or rather, if they have a group they think is a pain in the ass, it's a different group every time. In fact, Ken Maloney, manager of Rydell, thinks it's us."
Brady frowned. "What did he say?"
"That he's not drinking the water and not talking to the pigs."
"Paranoia's not a good sign."
"It also doesn't fit this psychopathy, my Log Cabin Republican friend." That made Brady grin, and Lau continued. "Our bad guy's likely to want to talk."
"If the UNSUB's point is to stir up the campus, he'll want to inject himself into the investigation as much as he can," Reyes agreed. "He needs to see the effects."
"As in the case of Karin Sebarski." Lau pushed a printout photo of a dark-haired, narrow-faced, staring girl into the middle of the table. "Psych major, fascinated with the BAU, offered to get her Nancy Drew on for us."
"What's your gut say?" Reyes laced his fingers and rested his chin on them.
Lau bit the end off the breadstick and crunched. "It says neurosis, not gamma. But when I talked to her, I realized what's missing from this scenario. Or maybe what's present. The people I talked to are aware of a threat, and they're suspicious and nervous. And the men are just as nervous as the women."
She tucked the photo of Sebarski away as the waiter appeared. He set appetizers at each place, and paused hopefully over the tray of salads.
"Here, there, and there," Reyes said, pointing to Chaz and Lau.
"Rabbit food," Brady purred as the waiter hurried away, and dunked a whole crispy-edged ravioli in tomato sauce and poked it in his mouth.
Chaz accordion-folded a romaine leaf on his fork with agonizing precision while Brady said, "The rumors, the fake health center reports, vandalizing the car and the bicycles, and inciting to suicide, those could all profile as female. But the arson, the fag bashing, and the museum damage are acts usually associated with males."
"Sullivan is very progressive when it comes to gender roles," Reyes said blandly. Lau coughed into her water glass.
"It's true, though." Chaz raised his eyes from his salad plate, acute for the first time that evening. "As sex roles and power change in society as a whole, our profiles have to change. A lot of the behavior we study is learned, not innate."
"So a woman successful in a traditionally male job might do things we expect more often from men." Brady made his last ravioli disappear. He hadn't once dripped sauce anywhere.
Lau tapped her breadstick against her lower lip. "Like, say, Ingrid Lessing?"
Chaz twisted his head a little on the pivot of his neck, left and sideways. It looked like a substitute for a shrug. "The perceived power relationships would have to go back to childhood. We won't see the behavioral shift consistently displayed for decades yet. Which doesn't mean it's not Lessing."
"Anybody in campus security had means and opportunity for getting up in the victims' private lives," Brady said. "We're pitch dark on motive, though."
"Not exactly." Reyes stretched against the chair back and realized irritably that all three of his tablemates knew it meant reluctance and bad news. "Dean Belker confirmed for me this evening that there have been no anonymous complaints or threats against the college or professors. No one's claimed credit for the disturbances on campus. No one's tried to make contact with the administration."
"He's not targeting the college," Chaz said.
The pizzas arrived, in a fog of garlic scent, and the waiter set plates before each of them. Reyes wished fleetingly for a glass of wine, but he had work to do.
"So the mayhem's all for him." Brady dragged a slice of pepperoni and mushroom onto his plate and went to work on it.
"Can we draw him out?" Lau suggested. "We can feed a bogus announcement to the local news, something he'll have to correct."
Reyes swallowed a mouthful of pizza. Good enough. "Low profile, remember? The college won't approve our going to the media except as a last resort. Besides, if our UNSUB wanted recognition, he'd be in contact with the administration or the media himself. He's getting what he wants already. We have to figure out what it is."
Chaz tugged a slice of Lau's pizza free of its neighbors, mozzarella trailing behind it like crepe paper. He nipped off the point of the triangle and swallowed quickly. "The victims aren't united by anything except the college itself. They're all campus residents. There's no apparent sexual component to any of the attacks. Targets include women and men, no pattern of sexual orientation. Even the false AIDS and pregnancy test results targeted students with pretty moderate sex lives."
Reyes decided the moment called for valor, not discretion. "Meaning?"
"Two of the three each had a single sexual partner, who also claimed to be monogamous. The third wasn't currently seeing anyone. In the case of the AIDS results, both students stated they'd had no opportunity for contact with infected needles." The tightness in Chaz's throat at the end of the sentence was only noticeable if one were watching for it.
Reyes prevented the moment of silence. "But all three had sexual experiences that could have resulted in pregnancy or disease under other circumstances."
Chaz's eyes widened. "If they hadn't, the letters wouldn't have scared them. So the UNSUB had to know that."
Another data point.
"Tell me this guy--or gal--isn't picking targets by mind-reading." Brady bit into a third slice as if he meant to frighten the rest of the pizza into testifying.
Reyes drew a long, careful breath. "Remember the vandalism in the museum, and the arson. If he's getting what he wants, this isn't about picking targets."
His three agents froze in mid-chew, mid-fork motion. "Jason Saito," Brady said.
"Saito was a sadist; he wanted fear. This UNSUB doesn't appear to distinguish between fear, outrage, grief, anger--any emotion strong enough to trump reason. That's what he wants."
Chaz closed his eyes; the parts of his face that weren't built on bone seemed to have sunk. "That's the pattern. He began with harassment, one or two people at a time. Then he figured out how to make more people mad or scared. Shared grief. Moral outrage. Righteous anger generates a hell of a lot of adrenaline response."
"That's why he skipped over rape." Lau's hands had closed around the edge of the table, and her face was hard. "It would only scare half the campus, and he wanted more."
"Forty-eight percent," Chaz said absently. "Fifty-one counting college employees. Besides, rape doesn't fit the behavioral pattern. Rumors, notes, hate speech, psychological undermining--the UNSUB isn't hands-on. Either physical contact doesn't add to his pleasure, or it actually detracts. The M.O. is gossip and sneak attacks."
"Calling this one as a gamma is still a hell of an assumption." Brady pushed his plate away from the edge of the table and crossed his arms in the space it had occupied.
"True," Reyes admitted. "A non-anomalous UNSUB might be following this pattern, and we haven't figured out why yet. But the behavior we've seen would be consistent with a gamma who's stirring up strong emotions for their own sake."
"For his sake," Brady corrected. The tightness around his mouth said, louder than a voice, that it was Brady who'd brought in Saito and had good reason to hate the idea of an emotional predator.
"Damn." Lau sank back in her chair, eyes wide. "And he doesn't even have to manage it all himself."
Brady raised an eyebrow at her, which saved Reyes from doing it.
"Twitter," she said. "God-damned Twitter. All around us, kids are sending and receiving 140-characters-or-fewer messages like 'Oh Em Gee some chick splatted off dorm roof Double-You Tee Eff jumped or pushed?'."
The muscles showed in Brady's jaw. "And 'Don't trust health center. They lie to people who have sex. Bet the condoms have holes. Fundies in charge?'"
"You," Lau growled, "are a little too good at this."
"I always was quick at learning lines."
"The Information Age," said Reyes. "All those amygdalae, all those limbic systems, going off like smoke alarms." He rubbed the orbits of his eyes, raked his fingertips over his forehead and into his scalp. "If he's what we're afraid he is, he won't stop at murder. He'll want a mob."
The team stared, but it was Brady who said, "I really, really hope you've thought of that before he has."
No more than I do, Reyes thought, and knew he didn't have to say it.
That there were leftovers at all was a pretty good indicator of trouble. Lau, with neat sleight-of-hand, made sure her styrofoam clamshell ended up in Brady's grip, on top of the one Brady had filled without comment. Without comment, Brady could pretend he was gathering stray slices for himself.
For all he knew, maybe he was.
He wished there was someone he could talk to about Chaz's intermittent remoteness and crappy appetite, about the fucked-up evil shit humans were capable of even without anomalous help. He could talk to Lau, but there was only so much the choir had to say to each other once they got past, "I hear you, brother."
If he were in D.C., he might call someone. No, he wouldn't. They didn't have that kind of thing. Perfectly good, but not just-called-to-chat.
In the hall outside their rooms, Reyes said, "You three get some sleep. I'm going down to the security office to do the equivalent of a ride-along."
"Wake me halfway through the shift. I'll take the butt-end." Brady was disappointed when Lau didn't snicker.
"We'll see," replied Reyes, and jogged back down the stairs.
Brady followed Chaz into their goddamn charming room, and juggled the boxes of leftovers onto the dresser that hid the mini-fridge. "Hey," he said, "you want a crack at these before I put 'em in to get cold?"
Chaz looked up from his go bag, a wad of clothing in one hand and the waterproof zippered pouch of his bathroom stuff in the other. "No thanks."
"When you don't eat, you fall over."
"And when you fall over, you can't do the job."
Chaz straightened up. "Are you done? 'Cause if you are, I'm taking the bathroom first."
Chaz, being a grownup, didn't slam the bathroom door. Brady didn't feel grown up at all, and wanted to give said door a good kick and yell through it that some people could behave less like assholes when other people made the mistake of showing they cared whether some people lived or died.
On reflection, the structure of the thought was so complex he doubted he could say it out loud without sounding like a Monty Python routine. He put the leftovers in the fridge and dug his sleep pants out of his bag.
By the time Brady finished his turn in the bathroom, Chaz was only a spiky-looking hill under the duvet of one double bed. He might even have been asleep. Brady rolled into the other bed, arranged himself so as little of him hung off the end of the mattress as possible, and clicked off the lamp.
Ingrid Lessing waited for Reyes outside the library entrance. She was a dark, bulky shape in her uniform trousers and navy windbreaker, her radio holster blistering the line of her left thigh. She stood with her arms crossed and her feet a little apart, and Reyes read the edge in her stance from the curb fifty feet away.
If he'd had his own windbreaker, the Bureau-issue one, the visual cues would have been different. Wool suit jackets were for the people at desks who didn't understand the job.
So when he got within hearing, he said, "I'll try not to get in the way, honest."
Her grin was lopsided, but genuine. "Did I sound snotty on the radio? I'm surprised the signal was that clear."
"You sounded very professional."
"Ah, but you're a profiler."
"It's not magic." Reyes walked with her, beside and a little behind, as she followed the sidewalk toward the chapel. "You do the same thing, and did it in St. Louis, too, as part of your job."
"Study behavior." She didn't ask it as a question, but it was.
"Our advantage is, that's the whole of our job." He wondered if Lessing knew it wasn't true. Were polite fictions the best kind, or the worst? Especially when you doled them out hoping for non-fiction in return. "St. Louis can be challenging police work. Though I suppose you weren't assigned to the more...urban districts." Reyes let a little sarcasm drip off the word "urban," the new politically correct word for "scary brown people."
Lessing didn't bother to hide her offense. "White girls can't jump?"
"You must have had trouble establishing your authority."
Her voice was low, suited to the setting and the job (night watchmen kept the peace, they didn't disturb it), but she got plenty of anger in, even so. "My guess is, you've never been police. When you are, if you do your job, you try not to be white or black or brown. You try to be blue." She plucked at the front of her windbreaker. "Otherwise you can generate a lot of bullshit that gets people hurt."
"Is that how you got hurt?" Reyes tried to fill his voice with the kind of sympathy that made a victim want to rise up out of her hospital bed and kick the speaker.
"This is going to surprise you, but shotguns don't know what color people are."
"What color was the guy who pulled the trigger?"
Lessing stopped and turned to face him. She might have been giving a statement. "The two robbers were white and Hispanic. The clerk was black. He was the one with the shotgun. So it was kind of a friendly fire situation."
Reyes gave her a moment to believe she'd shut him up before he said, "I suppose you feel more in charge on a predominantly-white campus."
"Oh, you bet I do," Lessing snapped. "That's why I'm walking around out here in the dark trying to catch some sonofabitch before he kills somebody. If I didn't feel in charge, I'd be sitting on my ass back in the office waiting for the trouble to come to me."
She set off down the sidewalk again, but Reyes could tell she had to make an effort to maintain a patrol pace. She wanted to march off and leave him coughing in her dust.
"Do your injuries still cause you trouble?"
She didn't answer. Reyes wondered if the rest of their rounds would be made in silence. At last she blew air between her lips and said, "Yeah." She paused to poke her flashlight beam into a dense clump of head-high shrubbery before she moved on.
Reyes decided to pitch her a slow one over the plate. "You liked being a cop?"
"I did." Lessing kept her gaze moving, everywhere but on him. "How about you?"
"As you say, I didn't come to the Bureau from police work."
"No kidding?" She did look at him then, sly amusement, and he knew she was getting her own back for the lecture about profiling. "But you're one now. One way or another, we're all after the bad guy."
Tim Miner, who hadn't been a cop, had put it in the same words. Was that coincidence?
The chapel dated from the early '60s, when college students were required to attend it. The architect had left the campus a structure that was still useful and beautiful now that the college took no responsibility for students' souls. Limestone, he guessed. He couldn't be sure from the landscape lighting, the glow from scattered lampposts, and the light from town that bounced off the overcast.
Lessing checked the front doors: locked. "So?"
"Do you like law enforcement?"
Had anyone ever asked him that before? "I like finding out the truth," Reyes replied.
"Not 'catching the bad guy' or 'solving problems?'"
"When you were with the police, how often did you do either of those?"
Lessing opened her mouth, ready with an easy answer. She closed it, and checked the side door, snapped her flashlight on to sweep the shrubbery, shut it off again. "Doing the first one didn't always accomplish the second," she said at last, looking out over the lawn between the buildings.
"Hell of a job at the end of the day, to know you did what the law demanded, but left the suffering intact."
This time the pause before Lessing's answer was hardly noticeable. "What did you do before you became a G-man? Teach poetry?"
Reyes managed to muffle his crack of laughter.
Lessing stopped walking. "And you want to know if I'm the one making these kids suffer, because I resent them having no fucking clue about pain and fear."
So much for fiction, polite or otherwise. "It's why we're here, to find out who it is. The 'because' is part of the process." Yet here he was, wishing he didn't have to press this woman.
Lessing kept her hands at her sides, but they flexed as if she'd like to grip something, crush it, throw it. In the half light, her lips pulled back from closed teeth, and every word came out honed. "Here's the truth, then. They drive me crazy. For half of them, 'poor' means having to take the bus because your parents need both BMWs. They think the worst thing in the world is whatever's pissed them off this week."
She found something to do with her hands at last; she dragged them through her hair. The motion looked fierce enough to hurt. Reyes heard her breathe out once, hard. "But they care. They're clueless, some of 'em, but they give a shit. And when they leave here, a lot of them go to work making the world better. I bust my ass to hire the right people to keep them safe in the meantime."
"Is that why you're working second shift, when you have an officer who's hired to supervise during these hours?"
"Tim does damned good work, but there's him and one other guard to work nights right now. Excuse me if I'm not home watching American Idol."
"It's not on tonight," Reyes said blandly.
"It's the stupidest TV show I could think of off the top of my head!"
Reyes smiled. "Good choice, then. Should we get back to making your rounds?"
She glared, then snorted. "Jesus, do people try to kill you very often?"
"You'd be surprised how rarely."
Lessing laughed, a low growl that barely moved air, and her shoulders dropped an inch.
They went on to check the entrances to the next class building. Nothing moved under the trees, across the lawn, in the shadows of shrubbery or walls. Reyes heard cars pass on the highway at the bottom of the hill, in the street two blocks over. A bird rustled in the leaves overhead and fell silent. He turned his suit coat collar up against the slow chill and wished for another layer.
Lessing noticed. "I really can do this by myself."
He shrugged. "It's useful to know the routine."
"You think whoever's fucking with us knows it, too."
Reyes drew a long, cold breath out of the night. "Yes. I think he does."
Brady woke without knowing why. When he opened his eyes, a silhouette showed at the window against the light from the quad.
Instinct held him motionless, evaluating. It gave him time to recognize Chaz, one bony ass-cheek propped on the wide window ledge, one zigzag leg folded up to his chest, long-sleeved t-shirt and cotton flannel pants hanging like an unstaked tent on its poles. He was eating a slice of pizza with, from the body language, grim determination.
"Hey," Brady mumbled.
Chaz started and Brady blinked, and for an instant he thought he'd dreamed the whole thing. But Chaz still sat in the window, both feet on the floor now, and the room smelled like garlic.
"Didn't mean to spook you," Brady said.
For some reason, that made Chaz laugh, in a not-funny way.
Brady slid out of bed, trying to look casual about it, and stretched. Something was wrong. If it got wronger, he'd rather not be lying down when it happened.
Chaz still didn't have anything to say, and the backlighting hid his face. So Brady ventured, "If it'd make you feel better to toss your hair like a sixteen-year-old girl and say 'Whatever,' I promise not to stop you."
Another laugh-like thing, but this one was maybe amused. Also, maybe hurting.
"Was that the last of the pizza?"
Significant, if unreadable, pause. Great actors could say whole paragraphs in silence. Normal people were just silent. "Yeah."
"Damn. You really are the worst roommate ever," Brady said cheerfully.
"Sometimes...in front of people especially. It's hard to eat."
The antiretrovirals made patients sick; the side effects sounded a hell of a lot like chemotherapy. Chaz was done with his course of treatment. But the body learned triggers, anxiety responses. It could learn that eating made it sick and refuse to forget the lesson.
Still, Brady wondered about that in front of people.
He looked past Chaz, out the long window into the quad. The grass was silver under the scattered post lamps. A bat shivered across the sky, visible against the reflection off the clouds. From where Brady stood, the dorm windows were dark. Early in the term; no finals, no all-nighters. "I bet this is a nice place to go to school."
Chaz turned to follow his gaze out the window. Now Brady could see his face, the stiff, empty look of bullied kids and suspects under questioning. Name. Rank. Serial number. Brady fought the urge to step back, and replayed the last few minutes. If that face was for him, he'd done something awful.
Chaz curled his arms around his ribcage, against outside cold, inside hurt, or both. "In college," he murmured, so close to the window his breath fogged the glass, "I was...I felt like I fit in. For once. At least, I wasn't more out of place than anybody else. The things I could do were worth something." His head tilted, until his forehead and nose thumped softly on the pane. He tapped the glass with a fingernail. "I used to belong to this."
Brady was pretty sure there was no right response, and equally certain he had to say something. "You still could, you know." There was no institution of higher learning in the English-speaking world that wouldn't blow its budget to get Charles Villette on the faculty. And a few in the non-English-speaking world would spring for a full-time translator.
Chaz's eyebrows dropped, and his bony jaw thrust forward. He turned his head toward Brady just enough to meet his eyes. "If you tell Dad I'm not fit for field work, I'm pretty sure he'll listen."
Brady sighed. "Shit. I didn't mean that. Do you think you're not--"
He felt it as if someone had hit the ceiling of the room below with an enormous rubber mallet. The sound was close behind--a bass-drum throb, the scream of metal tearing, the glass panes before their eyes smacked against putty and wood.
Brady swept Chaz one-armed to the floor and followed right behind.
Glass broke somewhere, but not in their room. Car alarms commenced to whoop and wail. Brady rolled to his feet and looked out the window. Over the roofs of the dorms that marked the quad's west side, something glowed orange.
When he turned, Chaz was already pulling on his chinos.
A blooming of sound, big and spreading bigger, impossible to mistake for anything but an explosion. Except in the still cold air of the campus at night an explosion seemed unreal as a host of angels. It came from behind them.
From the residence halls. Where Reyes's team slept.
As fast as Reyes moved, Lessing was still ahead of him. She yanked her radio out of its holster as she sprinted, shouted into it. Unit one to base...
It occurred to him, barely, to look for traffic as they crossed the street that divided the campus. He watched, too, for anyone moving in the opposite direction, away from the noise, from the column of smoke rising over the near roofs. The running itself he didn't notice, though afterward he knew he must have done it. As they got close, they became part of a current: students, some half-dressed, hurrying toward the scene. Reyes scanned their faces: fear, excitement, curiosity. A rising tide of emotion.
The heat, the orange light, the poisonous smoke and the crackling of flame found them before they rounded the corner to the parking area behind the older dorms. The car itself was violently dismantled: one door burning like a giant wind-carried leaf on the nearby soccer field, the others blown open and warped, safety glass strewn like rock sugar across the pavement and grass and sparkling gold in the firelight. Flames devoured the upholstery, the plastic and vinyl of the dash, and turned them into oily, reeking smoke. Reyes pressed his sleeve against his nose and mouth and blinked hard against the blur of stinging tears.
Then he saw the motion. The driver's side door hung half off its hinges, and a figure slumped out of it, one arm reaching feebly like the twitching leg of a dying spider.
He and Lessing pressed forward against the heat and smoke. The growing crowd of onlookers were stopped by the sheer impossibility, the preposterous horror, of the wreckage in front of them. Reyes shouldered past one boy, shirtless and barefoot in jeans, who was already thumbing at his phone. Just past him, a girl held hers up to grab a photo.
Two figures plunged toward the burning car from the opposite side. An instant's anger--civilians in danger--before he recognized Brady and Chaz, the latter with a bundle of white cloth under one arm.
By the time Reyes reached them, they'd managed to lift the victim out of the car onto the sheet. They each grabbed a corner--suddenly Lau was there, too, both fists twisted in the cloth, still in her pajamas--and scurried away from the flames, placing their feet as carefully as they could and hoping the makeshift stretcher would absorb the motion. Reyes spared a look for Chaz, diagonally across the sheet; his face was drawn tight, as the weight pulled at his back muscles.
They settled the sheet and its burden on the soccer field under a street light. Reyes lifted his head at sirens down the hill.
"I called it in before I left my room," Lau said, breathless and calm. Reyes thought the latter was a professional overlay.
Chaz crouched by the man (Chaz? Reyes wondered, but was grateful) and sought under the collar of his jacket with two fingers, seeking unburned skin and a pulse. Most of the man's face was scorched black, cracked and weeping blood and lymph in the crevices. The right eye and its eyelid couldn't be told apart in the ruin of the deformed right temple and cheekbone. The man's mouth gaped, shocking red in the black, and his tongue flexed. He was trying to speak.
In a moment of surprise and terror, a human would gasp. A bombing victim would drag super-heated air into his throat and lungs.
The man wore a leather jacket. It was blackened and smoking, but still mostly whole. If the nearest burn center could keep him alive long enough, there might be sufficient skin under there for grafts.
A brown, brushed-leather bomber jacket. And the skin under Chaz's fingers was as brown as Reyes's own.
"Omar Fuller," Reyes said, and the one remaining eye in the man's face turned toward him.
"Oh. Jesus fucking Christ." Lessing dropped to her knees by the sheet and reached out a hand. There was no place to put it, so it hovered, and shook. "Omar, the ambulance is almost here. Can you hear me? Hang on."
Fuller's mouth moved. His tongue made no sound, brushing the scorched roof of his mouth.
Lessing hadn't lied; the ambulance howled into the parking lot, followed by a pair of police cars and a fire truck. All four vehicles shot red and blue light across the tableau from Hell. Reyes stepped out of the way of a paramedic and turned to catalogue it. He needed to know what was here, every horrible item, every vignette, every face.
A security guard kept the frightened crowd of students back from the burning car. By his size, it would be Joseph Womerik, the second of the night crew. The crowd of onlookers had grown. Reyes saw one, three, a dozen with phones out. How many different versions of the event were out there already? How fast could terror travel?
Reyes grabbed Brady's arm. "Tell the police to help Womerik disperse the crowd."
Brady loped off without even a nod. Break up the crowd, fragment the emotional feedback loop. Time was important.
Two male students sidled toward the end of the crowd, as if for a better view of Omar Fuller. One passed a bottle-shaped paper bag to the other.
Womerik's big-man impassive front cracked. He bolted sideways like a running back, grabbed the bag from the student's fingers, and pegged it against a tree with a muffled shattering noise. Reyes couldn't hear what Womerik shouted when he grabbed the two young men by their shirt fronts and shook them.
He hoped Womerik wouldn't be fired for inappropriate physical contact. Because loss of control and failure of judgement were normal when one's emotions ran high.
About half the windows of the dorms facing the soccer field had broken. Chaz might be able to explain why all of them hadn't. Reyes spotted another blue windbreaker: Tim Miner was keeping students from wandering into the area of fallen glass. One boy confronted Miner, flailed his arms, spoke, his face driven by the passion behind the words. Miner nodded, put a hand on the kid's shoulder. The kid burst into tears and Miner nodded.
The ambulance doors slammed; Chaz and Lau stepped back as it shot off down the drive toward, with luck, Omar Fuller's salvation.
Reyes scanned his team. Brady scowled as he helped Lessing brief the local cop, his chest rising and falling, his hands curled into fists. Yes, Reyes thought, We were right here. There was still nothing we could have done. He'd say it aloud to Brady later and see if he believed him. He wouldn't now. Chaz watched after the ambulance until it turned the corner out of sight, and shivered. Then he folded his arms over his chest. There was nothing in his face at all, and Reyes had no idea what Chaz needed to hear from him, or if it would do any good.
Lau stepped up beside Reyes, absurdly straight-backed and serious in green flannel pajamas printed with doughnuts. "Should one of us go to the hospital and try to get a statement?"
Reyes shook his head. "Fuller can't talk. If that changes, we'll question him then." If he lives. "Right now, I want to know what happened to that car, and who was last seen near it."
Lessing walked back from the officers and firefighters taping off the steaming remains of the car. Her shoulders sloped; her head pushed ahead of her when she walked. Brady followed behind, adopting her into the company of those whose retreat he guarded. "The nearest fully equipped bomb unit is in Madison," Lessing said when she came in range. "They're on their way. Until they get here, we won't know how it went down."
"Are you all right?" Reyes found himself asking.
Lessing scrubbed at her face, pushing at the weariness, leaving soot marks behind. "Omar was... He's a big man on campus, I guess you'd say. Track star, organizer, volunteer. A good guy. Popular."
Miner approached them, stopping to talk to straggling students. Reyes heard him say to a girl in a terrycloth robe, "I bet you'll miss him." He couldn't catch the girl's reply.
"I called the housing office," Miner said as he trotted up to Lessing, Brady, and Reyes. "They'll get buildings and grounds to clean up the busted windows and do a board-up. Guess the kids in those rooms will have to bunk with friends."
Reyes watched Miner dust his palms on his uniform pants. "Miner, where would Omar Fuller have been, or where would he be going, at this hour?"
Miner blinked. "Fuller? No idea. I don't really know him."
"You called him by his first name this afternoon, when I was with you."
"I know his name. It's a pretty small school. And nobody's formal, you know?"
"He was carrying a box. Did you see what was in it?"
"Fifteen or twenty coffee mugs, maybe. Some cheap glasses. Goodwill stuff."
"But you helped take it to his car."
Reyes could imagine Lessing, under the same questioning, asking, "What the hell are you getting at?" "Did you see anything in the car when you got there?"
"Sure. Road atlas, couple empty coffee cups, some papers on the passenger seat, couple books in the back. Pretty much just like a car."
"If there was a bomb, it can't have been there this afternoon," Lessing said. "Why wouldn't it have gone off then?"
"Because it wasn't triggered," Brady said. "Or because it wasn't made right. Or, yeah, because it wasn't there yet." He looked down at Reyes. "We won't know 'til the bomb squad takes a look."
"Do students on campus with cars keep them locked at night?" Reyes asked Lessing.
"We tell them to. We tell them to keep their dorm rooms locked, too. They don't always."
Brady leaned across Reyes to look at Miner. "Did Fuller have a car stereo?"
"Maybe. I guess. I wasn't looking for it." Miner kept the calm he'd used on the students, the steady, even voice and temper that helped get the spectators off the scene, back to their dorms. An asset to campus security.
"Thank you, Officer Miner, Officer Lessing," Reyes said briskly. "Will you ask the police to let us know when the bomb squad arrives? We'll be in our rooms."
He felt Brady's surprise, but he knew Brady wouldn't object out loud. Reyes gathered Lau and Chaz with his eyes, tipped his head in the direction of Voegle Hall and their rooms.
His team was quiet on the way to the building, past the receptionist, up the stairs, and along the hall. Once inside Brady's and Chaz's room, Reyes didn't keep them waiting.
"Tim Miner knew Omar Fuller. We met him this afternoon outside the science building. They knew each other. And Omar Fuller wasn't dressed like a full-ride scholarship."
Brady lifted his chin. "Definitely car sound system. He'd lock the car."
"So either the bomb was planted this afternoon, or..."
Chaz looked up from where he sat on the end of the unmade bed. "If you're helping someone put something in a car, it would be easy to break the door lock while you were at it."
If one knew how. Reyes didn't want to know if Chaz did, or where he'd learned.
"Miner was the only person on the scene tonight who wasn't upset," Lau said. "But you say he knew Fuller. At the very least, even if someone he knew being blown up didn't get to him, wouldn't Miner be angry that our guy had gotten away with another crime on his watch?"
"Or he'd pretend to be angry, to throw us off," Brady offered.
"Except he didn't. As if it hadn't occurred to him."
All those limbic systems, Reyes thought. His team, Lessing, Womerik, the students, all struggling with their emotions. But not Miner.
Someone knocked on the door, and Brady answered, swung the door wide and let in Lessing and a cop in an unfamiliar uniform, carrying an evidence bag. "Petersen, from the bomb squad." Lessing's voice was dull with weariness.
"I know it's early yet," Reyes said. "But did you find anything that might help us?"
"We'll ship the whole thing to your lab when we've got it," Petersen replied. "But I'm guessing amateur. Bigger than he needed. In a box on the seat, maybe. If they'd fastened it to the seat or chassis, it would've concentrated the force of the blast more. We haven't got all the pieces, but I figured you ought to see this." He held the bag out to Reyes.
Through the clear plastic, the long, curved piece of iron was easy to see. So were the marks ground into it. A Christian cross. The letters "GHF."
Brady frowned over Reyes's shoulder, studying the piece of metal without taking it. Suddenly he lifted his head and said to Lessing, "Is Fuller gay?"
She frowned. "Yeah. I don't recall it being an issue."
Brady pointed to the letters on the metal, and raised his eyebrows at Reyes. "God hates fags," he said.
A chill went down Reyes's scalp and back. "Who knows about this?"
Lessing and Petersen looked at each other. "The guy who found it," Petersen said. "Couple of local cops. Security staff. Now you."
"About eight too many." Reyes turned to find Chaz still sitting on the foot of the bed. "Lau's right," Chaz continued. "By now, the whole campus knows."
The quad wasn't quiet anymore.
Brady moved from dorm to dorm, watching kids talking, crying, comforting each other. Whenever he came close, the talk stopped until he moved on. Now there were lots of lighted windows in the buildings.
He was a stranger, an outsider, obvious even at night from across the quad. But outsiders might break up the dynamic on campus, slow down the transformation of clusters of students into a mob. That was Reyes's hope, anyway, when he'd sent Brady and Lau out to circulate.
Reyes hadn't sent Chaz.
Chaz was to stay in Voegle and monitor campus websites and Twitter feeds and report if anything looked like blowing up. He and Hafidha were sorting through the mass of posted photos of the car bombing, looking for repeated faces in different shots, who was there and who wasn't. It was a good strategy...except Hafidha could have done it from back in D.C., and freed Chaz up to help on campus.
Chaz had to know he was being kept on the bench. He'd hate it. Reyes had to know that. So what the hell was Reyes thinking?
Brady watched two kids walk off on different vectors as he approached. Chaz wasn't himself right now, it was true. Brady wasn't sure he'd be, either, if he'd gone through what Chaz had. What it looked as if Chaz had gone through, anyway. Chaz wasn't exactly talking.
If Reyes thought Chaz couldn't be counted on, he wouldn't have let him on the plane. How comforting that was depended on how much Reyes's and Brady's standards of risk assessment matched. Reyes thought Chaz could be trusted. To do what?
Reyes would have the facts, such as they were. Reyes had access to the records, the statements, the evidence.
Was that why Chaz wasn't out here now?
Lau's phone broke the peace of the south end of campus with its tinny rendition of "Also Sprach Zarathustra." She answered before the third chord burst into the following "TAH-DAH." "Yes, boss?"
Reyes, clipped and intense, said, "Tim Miner's got an apartment in Janesville seven miles north of here. By the time we get a warrant and get up there to search, the situation may be out of hand."
"But he's got to have a car," Lau finished for him.
That Reyes didn't acknowledge that was a kind of praise: You're keeping up. Good. "When I saw Miner, before we met Fuller, he was coming from the direction of the student union. He was carrying a duffel bag, and he was out of uniform. He was finishing a bag of pretzels."
"Car parked behind the union?" Lau could imagine it: the drive from home, long enough to rouse the grinding appetite of the anomaly (if, in fact, that was what rode Miner); passing through the student union to grab and eat the calories that allowed him to pass for normal.
"His employee file says he drives a dark blue Pontiac Sunfire." Reyes rapped out the license number. Chaz wouldn't need the help, but Lau fished a ballpoint out of her jacket pocket and wrote it on her wrist.
"On my way," she said.
"Call me when you find it." Reyes broke the connection.
She wanted to jog across the empty space at the heart of the campus. She felt exposed, like a sniper's target. But targets ran. So did people closing in on a suspect. The suspect mustn't know.
The parking area behind the union was small and unevenly lit. High-risk area, she found herself thinking, and wondered if people in this pleasant place had had the sense to see it that way, before hell broke loose. It wasn't hard to find Miner's car among the few Toyotas and Hondas and a tiny flock of aging motorcycles.
The front left fender of the Sunfire sported a fist-size dent, and the bumper below it rattled loose on its mounts. The paint was oxidized from being kept outdoors. Lau saw no sign of an alarm system.
She pressed her face to the drivers' side window, cupping her hands around her eyes to block out stray light. A duffel bag, the one Miner must have been carrying when he met Reyes, slumped on the passenger seat, empty. Evidence. Traces of explosive material, if they were lucky. If they could gather evidence enough to get a warrant to search the car.
Lau cupped her hands around her eyes again and peered into the back seat.
Dead leaves, she thought, raked into a heap. But the leaves that filled the rear footwell and skimmed over the back seat cushions shone in the slanting light, crinkled plastic and foil, bright printed images and logos.
Snack food bags. Candy wrappers. Cookie boxes. Burger pods and grease-stained bags from take-out chicken. An individual landfill stoked with the residue of a frenzy of eating. No magazines or newspapers or junk mail, no forgotten t-shirts or empty cans of Fix-a-Flat. Not ordinary hoarding. It was all about food.
Lau plucked out her phone with steady fingers, speed-dialed Reyes. "Evidence of compulsive, excessive eating," she said, her voice flat in her ears. "We've got a bug, boss."
Quick footsteps slapped the sidewalk ahead of Brady, echoed off buildings around the corner and out of sight. Brady kept walking. His jacket was unbuttoned, and his hand knew where the holster on his hip was.
The person who rounded the corner was Tim Miner. His nylon uniform jacket shone like crumpled wet metal in the light from a dorm room window "Agent Brady? Agent Reyes said you'd be out here somewhere." Miner sounded a little out of breath.
"Where's Reyes?" Because Reyes had gone to campus security to ask Miner why he seemed to know so much less about Omar Fuller than he had that afternoon. Brady felt the weight of the Glock.
"He might still be at the security office. He got a call on his cell. Then he wrote this down and asked me to find you and give it to you."
Brady took the folded piece of paper left-handed. Reyes had his cell. Why hadn't he used it to call Brady? He didn't quite take his eyes off Miner as he read.
Find Chaz now. Don't let him out of your sight. Take Miner with you.
It was Reyes's handwriting.
"Did he say anything else?" Brady asked.
Miner's eyebrows met and rose in the middle, like a worried hound, like a cartoon character. Brady had never seen anything but stolid cheerfulness on Miner's face before. The new expression looked strained. "Like I say, there was a call. He seemed...well, as if he was trying not to get upset." Miner paused, for breath or thought or both. "When he gave me that note, he told me to not get near Agent Villette. You know what that's about?"
Brady felt his hands go cold. Every sensible thought in his head struggled to control a tidal wave: Andre coming toward him across the room in Dallas. Frank Scott's staged butchery in San Diego. Joe Lawrence Hakes staring into a surveillance camera with the blank hunger of a shark. A blood-drenched room in an empty house in Texas.
Chaz's voice, dull and distant, correcting Reyes: Except when it's not.
What did Reyes count on Chaz to do?
Brady's phone muttered in his trouser pocket: the Texas Sapphires' cover of "Las Vegas."
Reyes hadn't called Brady. But Chaz was calling him.
Brady kept his eye on Miner as he answered the call. "Yeah?"
"Brady, where's Reyes?" Chaz sounded...intense.
"You try his phone?"
"Voicemail. Look, I'm following new Twitter hashtags for 'Omar' and 'hatekiller.' Somebody tweeted that Fuller died at the hospital. Now they're bringing the crazy in dump trucks. The Students United in Christ house on campus looks like where they're delivering it."
"Is it true, about Fuller?"
"I don't know, but wouldn't we have heard it first?"
Someone would have. Who they told would depend on what they wanted the news to do. "Where are you?"
"On my way to the Christian Students' house. I'm calling Lau. See if you can find Lessing and have her meet us."
He should call Lau to warn her. He should get to Chaz before Chaz got to anyone else. He should keep Miner in sight and away from anyplace he could make the situation worse. Donkey, bale of hay, wolf. (Two wolves, whispered his back brain.) "I've got Officer Miner right here," Brady said, to see what the response was.
"Brady, I think--shit. Never mind."
"Just watch your back." And Chaz was gone.
The post lamps cast the wrong color light, but Brady thought Miner was flushed.
Miner might not be a gamma. But Brady was pretty sure-- Then he remembered Jason Saito, who in his own way had taught Brady how to guard his thoughts and feelings.
He didn't trust Miner. But Miner couldn't know about betas and gammas and Chaz's damage. He wouldn't have known the button was there to push. And the note was in Reyes's handwriting.
"Where's the Students United in Christ house?" Brady snapped. Chaz would know. The campus map would be in his head.
"I'll show you."
"Do it at a run." Brady had Lau on speed dial. He could run and call at the same time.
In the dim light of the back stairwell of Voegle Hall, Reyes checked his watch and swore. No Brady, no Miner.
Miner might not have gone to find Brady. He might have walked straight out of the security office and into the wind, driving away in that car absurdly, chillingly full of takeout trash. But the only thing Miner had that resembled an emotion was the boundless confidence of the sociopath and the pleasure of thriving in plain sight of his enemies. Reyes was sure of it. He wouldn't be able to walk away from whatever turmoil Reyes's note was going to cause Brady. It was the only way to ensure that Miner would follow Brady to Voegle rather than rushing to the SUC House to bask in his handiwork.
It was also a last test. A garden-variety sociopath might bolt. But a gamma hooked on the adrenaline rush of strong emotion wouldn't be able to resist the bait Reyes had dropped.
Brady, Chaz, and Reyes would isolate Miner in the room in Voegle Hall, keep him distracted from the turmoil outside, take him into custody. Lau should arrive any minute. Miner, in the early stages of his manifestation, wouldn't be more than the four of them could handle.
Unless Miner really was reading minds, and not merely emotions. Reyes had worked himself up when he pretended Lau's call was about Chaz; his suspicion of Miner should have been tangled in fear, anger, anything else he could churn the situation into. But if Miner knew he'd been tagged, he'd bolt.
Reyes hoped the rest of the team had put the clues together. He hoped they'd understand why he hadn't said aloud, Miner is the gamma. Put it into words, and the brain prioritized it, gave it authority. Put emotion behind it. If they hadn't understood before they closed the net around Miner, it would be all right, because gathered together in that room where their quarry could do no more damage, Reyes would simply tell them.
Now they weren't gathered.
When they got back to D.C. would be soon enough to observe that, if Reyes's guess was right, Miner's abilities didn't seem to affect anything but his own brain function. If so, was he a malevolent first-stage beta? A proto-gamma?
Get everyone home first. Theorize then. Get them home safe.
Reyes climbed the back stairs two at a time. Brady and Miner couldn't have gotten past him. But wherever they were, he could at least check on Chaz.
The door of the big front room was closed and locked. Reyes pressed his ear to it--nothing. He knocked. No reply.
"Chaz?" he called, and didn't have breath for more, because the gallop of his heartbeat crowded and compressed his lungs. No reply.
A side kick by the latch ripped the bolt out of the old wood frame and shot pain through Reyes's knee and hip. He staggered into the room.
Chaz's laptop was open on one bed, the screensaver crawling across the flat panel. There was no one to see it but Reyes.
Lau slammed into the room, weapon at low ready, and Reyes's heart nearly left his chest. Her vigilant scan ended at Reyes, and her eyes widened when she realized he was the only one there. "Oh, god."
"We'll find them," Reyes croaked.
Lau holstered her pistol and grabbed her phone from her pocket, thumbed keys. "Voicemail. One from each of them."
As she listened to her messages, Reyes clung to the back of one of the upholstered chairs and tried to breathe deep and slow. He wasn't going to lose an agent on a God-damned college campus.
"Students United in Christ House," Lau said, and grabbed the campus map.
"I know where it is," Reyes told her. Why did he remember that bit of the map? "Let's go."
The kids on the grass across the drive from the Christian house moved like birds in a cornfield, assembling to migrate. Clumps of them burst into motion for no apparent reason and settled; others paced back and forth, see and be seen. Lessing couldn't tell yet if they had leaders. They hadn't reached whatever critical mass was, but people kept appearing, singly, in couples, by handfuls.
Migratory birds ought to be a peaceful image. But Lessing remembered the dry cornfields of her childhood, and the sense the birds gave her, of gathering power waiting for a signal.
She popped the snap on her radio holster and thumbed "talk." "Unit one to unit four, over."
"This is unit four," JoWo acknowledged.
"JoWo, get the bullhorn from the equipment locker. And you'll find a blue cardboard box in the back of the uniform closet--get that, too, and bring 'em to the back door of the SUC house." No one called it the Suck House in her hearing; right now the thought couldn't make even her inner twelve-year-old snicker. "Don't slow up for anything, hear me? I don't care if you see somebody mugging the dean for beer money. Don't stop for anything. Unit one out."
Students United in Christ had rented a house that once belonged to a sorority. It was a two-story white colonial with a broad front porch and a balcony on the second floor. The balcony rail used to display the sorority's homecoming banners and welcoming messages to pledges. Now it wore a banner that read "JESUS IS LORD." The sorority flower borders were draggled now; the Christians weren't much for gardening.
Lessing had never seen the big square house as fortress-like before. Besieged, it had a new face. How did it look to the gathering crowd across the street?
A figure plunged under a low pine bough at the edge of the yard and hurtled toward her. She turned, prepared to block him. It was the young FBI agent, Villette, thin as a bundle of sticks brought to life. He staggered to a graceless halt. "Two of my team are on the way," he panted without preamble. "So is Tim Miner. He's... I'm sorry. He's the--the one who's behind the trouble."
Lessing wanted to ask why--why Villette thought so, why Tim would do that, why she was standing here when Agent Reyes had nailed it: catching the bad guy didn't always solve the problem.
Tim was her right hand. She could count on him. Hadn't Tim understood that?
A chant began across the street. As she'd come to expect from the student body of Sullivan, it was unreasonably clever. "Jesus loves you, maybe so / But SUC has got to go!" Among the shouters she saw a tall, earnest bearded kid who worked at the copy service. A brown-haired sophomore who promised to be a star in Sullivan women's soccer. A woman with bead-studded braids who led a moon circle in the fourth floor Kolb lounge once a month.
They wouldn't hurt anyone. But caught up in fear and righteous rage, they weren't them anymore.
"Did Tim do this?" she murmured, nodding toward the growing crowd, the raised voices.
Villette's mouth twisted. "Kind of. He provided the opportunity. They didn't have to take him up on it."
She eyed his profile. Villette seemed to take this personally, and that was another thing she wanted the "why" of. "We can hope they take it out in yelling and banners and a petition to the Dean."
"Take your god and go!" screamed a big, heavy-set guy with long pale hair. Others in the crowd picked it up. "Take your god and go!" A marching rhythm. A dozen students stepped forward into the street.
Twenty feet away, at the Students United in Christ house, the porch light snapped on. A blond kid stepped out the front door.
"Oh, fuck, no," Lessing breathed, and took three running steps out of the trees toward the porch.
The first rock hit the porch steps. The second one broke a window. The third hit Lessing above the ear.
Absurd, that she knew how many steps, that she knew it was a rock, but she wasn't sure how she ended up on her knees in the foundation plantings. Why was that?
If they tried to approach the house from the front, they'd get mugged. Brady knew he made a hell of a target in a crowd. And Miner might get away from him.
Miner was not getting away. Whatever they lost here, to this case, it wouldn't be the UNSUB. Anomaloid or not, Miner fulfilled too many requirements for the Unknown Subject tormenting the campus. And he'd denied knowing Fuller. His easygoing front might be just that, a front. Or it might be an effect of his manifestation.
They would bring in the bad guy. Bile scorched the back of Brady's throat, and he swallowed hard. They would bring in whoever they had to.
Find Chaz. Worry about it then.
Miner led Brady across a street, through the backyards of three other campus houses. Frat houses? Women's studies? In the dark, in haste, they were a jumble of grass, back doors, a confusion of cooking, compost, woodsmoke smells. Sullivan College had seemed like such a pretty place.
Ahead of them, glass broke. The animal voice of a mob growled and yipped.
Brady could see the street in front of the house when he broke through the yard's border of trees. Students eddied onto the pavement, edging their way forward. They weren't soldiers; they didn't charge. They were more like a dog pack, working up their courage in darts forward, small retreats. The motion gradually shifted the whole pack closer.
Miner stopped at the edge of the trees, captured by the chaos in the street. He took a step, two, toward the crowd. His eyes and mouth were round, his face flushed even in the spill of the street light. Brady grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the building.
The back of the Christians' house was dark, but Brady saw a motion in the shrubbery at the corner. He squinted. A woman, a tall woman, limp and being dragged. The one doing the dragging was taller still and thin as a starved hound.
"Chaz," Brady said, and drew the Glock. "Put her down."
Chaz's head snapped up. The woman was Ingrid Lessing. She wasn't unconscious, but there was blood running over her ear and down her jaw, and when Chaz let go, she stayed half-lying on the grass.
Miner's head swiveled, toward the commotion at the front of the house, then to the tableau of Brady, Chaz, and...Brady had to think of her as Chaz's prey, even though it made his guts feel as if they were turning to water. Lessing, injured from a blow. Miner hovered, shivered visibly.
"Brady..." Chaz said, then apparently ran out of things to say. He stood half-erect where he'd let go of Lessing; Lessing crawled away, toward the back porch.
If Miner bolted for the front of the house, Brady would have to go after him, and he'd lose Chaz. That might be better. Someone else, some stranger, could be the one to stop Chaz.
Except it was the team's job. The team could minimize the collateral damage.
The team could be just and merciful.
"He's dangerous." Miner was hoarse with their panting run, with the effect of other people's adrenaline. "That's what Agent Reyes's note meant. 'Stay away from Villette.'"
Chaz's head swung around so fast that Miner took a step back, and Brady nearly touched the trigger. "Reyes said..." Chaz repeated, and stopped. He gazed from Miner to Brady, and Brady saw when he realized the scene was real: the Glock, the tension, Lessing crawling and stumbling away.
Miner watched them, his mouth half-open. He no longer looked like a steady, easygoing man. This had to be too damned good for him, didn't it? Fear and grief and anger, confusion and...whatever the anomaly might be pumping through Chaz. If Brady had to fire, the second goddamn bullet was going between Miner's eyes.
"If you let him get away," Miner warned, "they'll say you couldn’t do it."
"Brady?" Chaz's voice shook, unashamed. His hands hovered at his sides, in sight. "Miner's... He's the gamma."
"I know." Brady's voice sounded insanely calm in his own ears. Yes, Miner was the gamma. Brady trusted Chaz to know it, to tell him the truth.
Brady watched the front sight of the Glock. In his peripheral vision, he could see Miner, his feet nailed to the dirt, unable to look away. But the front sight lined up with Chaz's long nose, the top edge even with Chaz's eyebrows. Hazel eye on one side, brown eye on the other.
Sheepdog eyes. Across the table on the plane. Across the bullpen. Looking innocent over stupid April Fool's jokes.
No amount of past had made a difference when it was Andre, whom he'd loved.
"Use two fingers," Brady ordered, loud, but no louder than he had to be. "Take your weapon out of your holster and put it on the ground."
"I won't shoot you," Chaz said, his voice breaking in a messy train wreck of amusement and shock. "I couldn't hit you anyway."
Chaz opened his hand wide, pried his pistol out with thumb and forefinger, and dropped it on the side of him away from Miner. That was a small relief: whatever else happened, Chaz didn't trust Miner.
"Tim," Chaz said suddenly. "This isn't who you are. You're a good person. I've read the reports."
Miner squinted at Chaz, as if he were an animal who'd burst into song.
"They did the CAT scans, the MRIs. The damage to your limbic system was too extensive. And nobody can live without emotions--remembering what it felt like to be whole, to be happy, excited. Nobody could expect that."
"I used to be a Packers fan," Miner said.
For a second it made no sense. Then Brady remembered what it meant: in front of the TV with friends, yelling for a touchdown, bellowing at the ref.
"You lost everything. You had to find something else," Chaz said, nodding. "I know." His eyes, wide and empty under the collapsed fronds of his hair, met Brady's. "I have, too."
At the front of the house, more glass broke. A cheer echoed off the surrounding houses.
"And all these kids who have so much?" Chaz rattled on. "They could spare a little for you. They'd never miss it."
Brady's palms were wet, slicking his two-handed grip. "Both of you, lie down on the ground and put your hands behind your head." He had to project over the sound of the commotion in the street.
Lessing was out of sight. Had she made it to safety? Which was the more immediate threat, the mob or the anomaly?
"You're not safe," Miner said. "He'll use me to distract you. He's too smart for you."
"Brady," said Chaz, his voice pitched only a little too high, "there's a whole lot of angry people out there who want to hurt someone."
Breathe in. Breathe out. It didn't keep his stomach from trying to climb up his esophagus. "I'm hoping somebody else can deal with the normal people. I'm the one trained to deal with gammas."
Chaz frowned (his eyebrows met under the front sight, and Brady wondered why his hands weren't shaking), and his mouth opened. And closed, and opened again. "That's what this is."
"That's what this is."
"I'm not. I...I haven't. I'm okay." Chaz's voice rose higher still. He hadn't really understood it before. Now he knew if Brady had to, he'd fire. "I'm not going to kill you," Chaz said, tight-throated and unsteady, struggling to be heard over the crowd, "but Reyes might."
"You heard Miner. The warning was from Reyes."
Chaz closed his eyes tight, until the crows' feet radiated out from the corners where age hadn't put them yet. "I've had your back, man."
"I've had yours." Brady's heart hammered; he couldn't swallow. It was worse than Andre. With Andre, at least he hadn't known what was going on. "I owe you the choice. Lie down and put your hands behind your head, or come at me."
Idlewood, or a bullet. Fuck if he knew which he'd take, if he were Chaz.
Chaz wavered on his feet, his head swinging slowly back and forth like a stunned horse. Brady breathed in, laid the first joint of his finger on the trigger, began the exhale that steadied his hand and focused his brain. The sound of the shot was going to startle the mob.
"Agent Brady! Stand down!"
Reyes. Reyes was running toward him across the grass--Jesus, Hafidha was right, he had a goddamn fucking knack for putting himself in the way of an accidental shot--and Lau was right behind him.
"Your message," Brady shouted for the back row, over the crowd scene. He held onto the calm of the approaching shot.
"Was a ruse. It was meant to lure Miner. It wasn't true."
Miner looked from Reyes, to Brady with the Glock still raised, to Chaz staring like a charmed cobra down Brady's gun barrel. At the front of the house a girl's scream rose above muddled shouts, incongruously: "Christ-killers!" Maybe it was the girl who'd passed out flyers in her pink blouse and smiled kindly at all the sinners. So many ways to lie.
For an instant, Miner stared hungrily toward the house. He blinked, took a step backward, two, then spun and lunged--
But Lau's weight hit him at the hips like a cannonball. Miner went hard and face-first into the grass. Lau made several sharp, forceful motions that Brady couldn't track, and Miner lay still under her, groaning faintly. A flash of metal as she yanked the cuffs out of her back pocket.
Now Brady's hands shook. His sight picture wobbled, or maybe it was Chaz who did that. Brady registered his finger along the barrel and let his arms fall. He had to use both hands to get the Glock in the holster, he shook so badly.
Chaz staggered, tipped sideways, and ended up cross-legged on the lawn, his face in his hands.
Compared to the sound of a car blowing up, the boom was nothing much, though Brady felt it in his chest like a bass drum. Boom, and a screech, and the yard glowed like day under a red sun. Boom, screech, a yellow day this time.
"They're legal to buy in Wisconsin," Lau said, breathless and bemused. She'd put plastic zip cuffs around Miner's ankles; as Brady watched, she jerked them up snug.
Lessing's voice, immense and tinny with amplification, sounded from the front of the house. "The man who planted the bomb in Omar Fuller's car is under arrest and in the custody of the FBI. He's been implicated in the other violence and property crime on campus as well. He is not a student or a resident of this house."
"She's on the front balcony." Reyes sounded as if he barely had the strength to speak, but he was steady on his feet. "When we got here, Womerik was lighting the fuses, and Lessing was running into the house with the bullhorn."
There was near silence on the other side of the house and in the street. This was the payoff for the way Lessing ran her department. When she spoke, the mob listened to her.
The whine of the bullhorn came again. "Fuller is alive and in intensive care. Please go back to your dorms. We'll provide verifiable information as we get it, through the radio station and on the campus paper's website. If you still have questions, you're welcome to come to the campus security office and ask for Officer Lessing, or anyone else on duty. We'll answer anything we can, and anything we can't we'll tell you why."
Four Avon police officers and a pair of black-and-whites were parked in back of the house. Someone must have convinced them Miner was more dangerous than he looked; they read him his rights as he lay on his belly in the grass, covered by the scattergun. Lau was standing next to Brady, an arm around his waist. He seemed to have missed when it happened. "Danny. Come sit down, okay? Let me get you some water."
"Let Reyes deal with Chaz." Her voice was tight, and he could hear her teeth snap together at the end of the sentence. "Maybe he'll be good at it and surprise us all."
Brady swiveled his head and stared down at her. Her lips were pressed closed. He followed the line of her gaze to the side of the house. Chaz stood, arms crossed tight over his stomach, his head tilted a little forward, looking at nothing. Brady had seen autistic kids stand that way for hours.
Reyes stood at Chaz's side, murmuring something, not touching him. Brady knew Reyes was small. But next to the cold, slender pillar of Chaz, Reyes stood with his shoulders bent forward, his head thrust out and up, trying to see into Chaz's eyes, and he looked tiny, and old, and helpless. At last Reyes raised a hand to touch Chaz's elbow. Chaz barely moved, but somehow, when Reyes's hand came down, Chaz's elbow wasn't there.
Brady found he couldn't feel sorry for Reyes at all.
The big security guard, Joe Womerik, sauntered up to them from the far corner of the house's back yard. He carried a blue cardboard box under one arm, and wore a grin like a smug steer. "We confiscated 'em last summer. I couldn't figure out why the hell she'd keep 'em around in the office like that." Womerik opened the top flap to reveal three fat cardboard cylinders mounted on wooden stalks and printed with stars and spangles and words Brady couldn't read in the shadow of the box.
"Because you never know when you're going to have to get someone's attention," Lau said. Her voice climbed up to the last word, then broke, but not from laughter.
Sullivan College served breakfast to the team in the Founder's Dining Room, where neither the food nor the ambiance was likely to remind anyone of a college cafeteria.
None of them ate much.
Tamara Belker, Reyes reflected, bore a distressing resemblance to himself. She thanked him for solving their problem, and for keeping it out of the official public eye as much as possible. She was gracious and positive. Reyes was pretty sure it was an exquisite shell over a seething filling of can't-wait-to-see-the-last-of-you.
Ingrid Lessing had even more reason to want to see Reyes and his team out the door and gone. But she met Reyes in the parking lot behind Voegle, as he carried his bag to the rented sedan.
"Thank you," she said.
"That's good of you."
Lessing snorted. "Tim wasn't your fault." Some of the color left her face, and her eyes closed. "I trusted him like I trust myself. I bragged about it, how carefully I screen my people. And I hired the goddamn wolf and gave him a sheep disguise to wear."
Reyes bit his lip. He could tell her that Tim Miner wasn't anyone's fault, any more than an earthquake or a harvest wiped out by disease. But he wasn't really sure, was he? Even if he were allowed to speak, what could he say?
According to hospital records in Milwaukee, the infection that damaged Miner's limbic system was probably a rare form of meningitis. It worked slowly, but the neurologists could do nothing to stop its progress. Miner's corporate employer, besieged with complaints that Miner was "creepy" in his lack of emotional response, laid him off.
At his last company physical a little over a year ago, he weighed 223 pounds. On the application he filled out for Lessing, he gave his weight as 150.
We hurt people, and hurt them, and hurt them, until they break. Sometimes they break like that.
Chaz came down the back stairs with his go bag over his shoulder. He saw Reyes just outside the doorway and stopped. Not hesitating; just waiting his turn, as if Reyes were a stranger in line at the bank.
Reyes stepped aside, and Chaz crossed the asphalt to the car.
Lessing watched him go, turned to Reyes, and canted her eyebrows.
"It'll get worked out," Reyes said, because polite fictions were all he had left.
He should conserve them. He'd need every one of them for the trip home.
Esther Falkner knocked on the semi-glossy walnut door with its knife-edge nameplate and brushed-steel hardware. The interview she was about to have could be done on the phone. But the symbolism, of having to leave her territory and march into Victor Celentano's, to stand before his desk as any of her reports might have to stand at hers, wasn't lost on her.
"Come in," Celentano called. He always sounded like the aftermath of a coughing fit, his voice rough and tight and never carrying as far as it ought to.
She stepped in and closed the door behind her.
The Behavioral Analysis Unit was a stronghold of science in the service of order. That, and the BAU's glamor-unit status, was the message of Celentano's office. Pearly green-gray walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, shining dark walnut desk and shelves, recessed lights and brushed-chrome wall sconces. Falkner thought about the Anomalous Crimes Task Force's scramble of stray furniture and crowded quarters, and kept her face blank.
"Agent Falkner. Have a seat, please."
Celentano was a larger, pale version of Stephen Reyes in so many ways. His taste in suits wasn't quite as good, but he took his place as a symbol of the Bureau seriously. His sandy hair was thinning and retreating on top, and his jaw was softer than it had been a year ago. He had gray eyes with heavy lids. Falkner wondered if some people mistook him for sleepy.
"Yes, sir." She sat, with grace and no lowering of her guard.
"Explain to me why I heard about Agent Reyes's mishandling of the business in Wisconsin from Agent Lau and not from you."
Celentano's tone was pleasantly social. If she hadn't been paying attention, she might not have realized he'd opened fire. But was there anyone who wandered inattentive into Celentano's sights?
They exchanged stone faces. Falkner breathed slowly, from the belly, twice, before she said, "I thought you encouraged Lau to help keep Reyes in check."
"She diverts the media when Reyes would like to call them in and give a press conference, complete with PowerPoint presentation. This was a little different."
Of course it was. What Reyes had done to Brady was only slightly less abominable than what he'd done to Chaz. If Lau would stand for either offense, she wouldn't be the person Falkner thought she was. "Do you think I've failed to do my duty?"
Celentano leaned back in his chair. "I think you failed to report a serious abuse of authority by a senior agent. Are you protecting Agent Reyes?"
Falkner waited long enough to make him focus on her, impatient. At last she said, "I'm protecting my team."
"This seems like a strange way to do it."
"The identity of the Anomalous Crimes Task Force is bound up with Stephen Reyes's, and vice versa. It's a lousy situation, and it's lousy because of times like this. If the unit didn't identify with Reyes, they'd be fine right now. Instead..." She considered possible descriptions of the state of things. The fault lines: Brady on one side, Chaz on the other, Lau supporting Brady and Hafidha and Worth circling around Chaz. Todd moving warily from camp to camp like a herald with a flag of truce. And Reyes in splendid isolation, his orders obeyed and his wishes ignored. She settled on, "Morale is at an all-time low."
"Your agents identify with Reyes in spite of what he did?"
Falkner snorted, an undignified sound. "They hate his guts. But the unit's still his, and they're still the unit's. And they know he thought it was a risk worth taking, and that he didn't take it lightly. As bad as things turned out, it still worked. We took Miner into custody alive. Omar Fuller, the young man whose car was bombed, is recovering." Though the team couldn't take credit for that one, it was a mark in the plus column on the PR scorecard.
Celentano rested one elbow on his stomach and wedged his chin in the arch between his thumb and forefinger. Like a rifle rest, it allowed him a stable sight picture. Finally he blinked. "What do you advise?"
"Let him try to win them back."
It was Celentano's turn to snort.
"If you don't, my team won't see this as Reyes's failure. It'll be theirs. Ours. You'll lose them, Vic. And I'm convinced the Bureau can't afford that."
Celentano swiveled his chair to stare out the long window. "All right," he said at last. "Reyes knows what his unpaid leave is for. I'll hold off on any other disciplinary action." He raised his head. "But any more shit, and I will pull the plug on him."
"Yes, sir. Thank you." Falkner stood. Then she remembered she, too, had a question that needed answering. "Why did you send us to Wisconsin? Why not send a team of your people?"
Celentano's eyebrows went up. "Your team are my people, Agent Falkner."
Yes, they were. Not wildcat spook-chasing vigilantes, but members of the BAU, with a place in the hierarchy. It was the only reason they were allowed to exist.
"And I sent the ACTF because I thought they were the best agents for the job," Celentano finished. He looked into her face, impatient. Time's up. There's work to do.
Falkner left, and was careful to close the door quietly behind her.
She walked slowly Down the Hall to Shadow Unit, listening to her steps echo back at her from the hard-finished walls. She'd bargained for Stephen Reyes's professional life, and the life of her team, and won.
She was still not sure she'd done the right thing.