"The Unicorn Evils" - by Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
--Dylan Thomas, "And Death Shall have No Dominion"
"Half Angel Half Eagle" © Jane Siberry & Sheeba Records, used with permission.
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 0430 hours EDT
Daniel Brady walked through the silent bullpen, over an hour still to go till sunrise, a mug of coffee engulfed in his right hand. He paused before the hallway door, nerving himself.
You should have been there.
Rich plumes of steam rose from the mug. Absentmindedly, he began to raise it to his lips, but arrested the motion when he remembered that the coffee wasn't for him.
If you had been there, you could have taken care of them.
He passed through the door and turned right, to Hafidha's dark and silent Sanctum Sanctorum. The ribsprung yellow couch hulked against the wall, what looked like a heap of dirty laundry huddled on it.
You could have taken care of her.
Brady paused in the door of the office. "Rise and shine, Duke."
One gray-blue eye, blearily squinched, emerged from under the zippered edge of a jacket. "From Hell's heart I stab at thee," Todd grated. "Team back?"
"Is it the end of the world?"
Brady didn't need a mirror to know what his face said. Todd's expression was the only reflection necessary. "Pretty much yes. Coffee's on. The team will be on the ground in forty-five minutes and there's not time to do much except refuel and turn the plane around. As much of the team as came home."
Todd jerked upright, an adrenaline response if ever Brady'd seen one. "What do you mean?"
Brady held out the coffee, which Todd accepted gratefully. "Hafidha didn't show up for the flight."
Brady'd put a little more milk in the mug than usual to cool it for fast drinking--to which Todd applied himself. Between sips, he said, "And they didn't go looking?"
"Worth and Nikki stayed behind. We don't know yet--" Brady stopped. The anxiety and fear in his stomach swirled like water going down a drain. We can't be certain the worst has happened. He didn't need to say that to Todd. Todd could fill it in already. "She's gone off the rez, and we don't know why."
Even as the words were leaving his mouth, he cursed himself for choosing them. But at this point, all he could do was continue. "Reyes, Chaz, and Falkner are on their way home. The plan is we meet them at the airport and trade off. Reyes and Chaz will come back here to coordinate both teams. We'll fly back out with Falkner."
Todd held the mug to one side, rolling his neck against the familiar cramps of the couch sleeper. The corduroy windbreaker he'd been huddled under slipped down as he hiked himself up a little further. "Reyes is grounding Chaz?"
"Or maybe protecting him. Celentano wants him where he can be seen." Brady felt the strain in his neck, the sting in his eyes as he turned his head sideways, pulling against the hurt that wanted to turn into crying. "We're dropping Pete Pauley off in Ohio along the way, Sol."
Todd nodded. "So we're not going after her."
"No. We're headed to North Dakota. Falkner says she's fit enough to come with us."
Todd gulped one more long swallow. When he looked up again, his gaze was clearer, but he winced like his neck still hurt. Brady hunkered beside the couch in pity. "Falkner will make herself fit."
"If it kills her."
Todd nodded. "I bet she was one ballbreaker of a good LT. And god in Hell, I know I'm going to hate myself for asking, but what's in North Dakota?"
Brady's hands flexed in the fabric of his trousers. "Somebody poisoned one hundred and sixty-seven students and teachers at a junior high school on a reservation in Rolette County. They're asking for Federal help and Celentano thinks it's one of ours. There's nobody else but us, Sol."
"Reservation school." Todd said. He stood up, one hand on Brady's shoulder for a prop, and moved past him toward the hall. Brady followed. Out in the light, glancing into the bottom of his mug to assure himself that it was empty, Todd must have twisted that around in his head until it made a kind of horrible sense. "Indian reservation. One hundred sixty-seven dead. Requesting our help?"
"Yeah." Brady said. "This is gonna be bad."
Once through the doors, Todd headed straight for the coffee machine, scrubbing his free hand through his hair. When he spoke, it wasn't a complaint. It was just a naked assessment of fact. "We can't do this."
"No," Brady said. "We can't."
Somewhere over Virginia, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 0500 hours EDT
The plane had always been a haven for them. Now it vibrated with emptiness and tension. Falkner sat at the port side four-top, staring out the window at darkness and feeling like the third-party mediator in an acrimonious divorce. Reyes occupied the most forward seat on the starboard side, his back to the cockpit bulkhead, head bent over his laptop as if he were actually reading. And Chaz lay on his back on the couch across the aisle from her, eyes closed, knees drawn up so his legs fit, either feigning sleep or attempting it. Whichever, he was having no success--the brown flesh pulled pale across the knuckles of his left hand where it rested on his chest, revealing tension and tribulation as he squeezed his fist on nothing again and again.
Falkner wanted badly to cross the aisle and take that hand in her own. But he wasn't either of her daughters; he was a grown man, with the scars to prove it, and the last thing he needed was the kind of support he might interpret as a vote of no-confidence.
Not when he was already smarting from Reyes pulling him out of the field, and from--from what Hafidha had done.
He'd wanted to stay behind and help Lau and Worth look for Hafidha. Reyes had refused to allow it. By the time Falkner intervened in the argument, it had escalated to an actual shouting match, and was well on its way to screaming and possibly blows. Falkner scrubbed her hands across her face, trying to get the ring of raised voices out of her ears. It didn't work; the raised voice that had ended the utterly predictable brawl and sent both men to their corners like kicked dogs had been her own, and she hadn't had the time to be gentle.
She couldn't reach out to Chaz without suggesting she doubted his strength. On the other hand, it wouldn't do any harm to suggest to Reyes that she doubted his. She unfolded carefully from her seat, swung into the galley and made two cups of tea, soft-footed down the aisle to set them both on Reyes's table, and slid onto the gray cushions across from him.
The engines made enough noise that a quiet conversation at one end of the cabin was inaudible at the other.
"You were right. We were out of control," said Reyes, without looking up from the laptop screen. She kept silent to make him raise his eyes. When he did, she pushed a cup toward him. He raised his eyebrows at the teabag tags hanging over both rims. The creases in his brow furrowed the darkening scars in his hairline.
"I like tea," Falkner answered the unvoiced question. "And it's a good beverage for civilized conversation."
"Which of us needs the civilizing?"
"You think one of us doesn't?" She sipped hot liquid across the cup rim and her tongue. She was no judge of tea, but it was leafy and earthy and just astringent enough to suggest it was a serious beverage for serious adult persons. "And have you noticed that right isn't any easier to take than wrong?"
Reyes sucked his tea, mixing it with air to cool it. Falkner wondered if his new dental work was sensitive to cold and heat. "He's the last person who should be on her trail."
"Because he'll fuck it up? He'll let his feelings get in the way?" The obscenity would startle him, coming from her. As she meant it to.
Reyes turned a level look on her, his black-coffee irises like pistol bores, and Falkner imagined a world in which Stephen Reyes was a tenured professor, using mere eye contact to say things like, "Did you wake up this morning planning to be stupid?" Falkner held her ground.
"Because he'd succeed if it killed him. And it likely would. Neither he nor I are going after Hafidha."
His lips pressed hard together, and he swiveled his head to stare out at the suggestion of dawn through heavy clouds. He hadn't meant to talk about himself.
When Falkner had shouted them down, back on the ground in Ohio, Chaz and Reyes had drawn apart, then drawn together, suddenly shoulder to shoulder. She wondered if either of them had been conscious enough of his actions to realize they were covering each others' flanks--unconsciously, instinctively, when a minute before they'd been at each others' throats. "He thinks you don't trust him," Falkner said, and swallowed more tea.
Reyes snorted. "I'll never outrun that, will I? It's me I don't trust. He..." Reyes's nails clinked on the glazed surface of the mug in a pattern Falkner didn't recognize. "If it came to a crisis, he wouldn't compromise. And I would. And we'd both be wrong. Neither of us should have to live with that."
"Depends on the crisis, doesn't it?"
Reyes looked down at his laptop again, but Falkner doubted he saw anything there. "I brought her in," he said finally, so softly she could barely hear him over the steady whine of the engines. "I told her she'd have a place and a purpose and a future, that she could keep doing the things she loved where the need was greater and the stakes were higher." He rubbed the inside corners of his eyes hard, pushed his fingers along his eyebrows and the bones of his eye sockets, and she could see the pressure in the graying of his skin where he forced the blood from the vessels underneath. "High stakes, high stress. Arguably the worst thing I could have done to her."
Chaz and Reyes both blamed themselves, of course. Blamed themselves for not seeing, not intervening, not being somehow superhuman enough to work some magic and make everything all right for a woman they both cared for deeply.
"Would it have been better," Falkner asked, "if you'd made her decisions for her?"
His expression was bare as a dead tree, and his eyes dull and weary.
Chaz sat up and fumbled behind him for one of the restraints in the cushions of the couch. A moment later, the prepare-for-approach chime sounded in the cabin. Reyes ducked his chin and made much of securing his lap belt. Falkner took the cups back to the galley.
The tragedy was that Reyes and Chaz were licking the same wounds, aware that they were feeling the same pain and could be helping one another with it--and too busy hurting and withdrawing to take those first steps.
Falkner slid back into her seat and clicked her own belt as the plane banked and began its approach. It would come. She had faith in them, and in their relationship. If everybody lived long enough, it would come.
Dulles International Airport, Washington, D. C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 0515 hours EDT
It was raining when the Gulfstream touched down at Dulles. What staggered down the plane's boarding stairs bore little resemblance to the honed professionals who had embarked a few days before. Todd fought the urge to rub his eyes. Brady, who stood on Todd's left side, the in and out of his breathing as soothing as that of a big quiet animal, couldn't hide the twist of his mouth around a frown of frustration and despair. The brimmed hat clapped on over his yellow hair dripped water front and back. A gray-beige raincoat, belted around his bulk, collected beaded droplets at the hem.
Chaz was first down, his shirt untucked, the flesh of his cheeks already drawing tight over the bones. If Worth could see him, she'd slap a burger with fries and a milkshake into his hands, and Todd figured after Miami, he might have a little of the same latitude. He hadn't thought far enough in advance for the milkshake, but he glanced at Brady in apology and said "Hey, Platypus! Heads up!" as Chaz hit the bottom of the stairs.
Reyes was appearing at the top, but Todd didn't think that was why Chaz's head snapped around with an alacrity that suggested active hypervigilance. His hands were already coming up as Todd tossed him the plastic Subway bag that had been tucked under his left arm. "You look like you could use that."
Brady didn't protest. Instead, he waved Chaz off as Chaz splashed forward, trying to hand back their improvised breakfast. "You need it. We don't. There's plenty of food on the plane."
Peanut butter crackers and oatmeal packets, but Todd wasn't going to complain.
"There's plenty of food on the ground," Chaz retorted, but he didn't have the heart to put up much of a fight.
Reyes hit the asphalt with Falkner on his heels. His go bag was shoved under one arm, Hafidha's fuzzy monster laptop case over the other shoulder. Todd found he couldn't actually look at the thing with its great googling eyes without wanting to construct elaborate metaphors about their accusing stare.
Chaz stepped close to Todd before Reyes and Falkner caught up. He started to say something, but whatever it was didn't get all the way up his throat before he closed his mouth and swallowed it again, voicebox bobbing in his striated throat like a small animal kicking in a trap. He stared down at his feet, so crumpled under the weight of his emotions that Todd was looking at him more or less on eye level.
"I want to go to her, too," Todd said. "But we don't know right now if Nikki and Daphne are any closer to her than we are. We don't know where she is, and the place you can help her most is here."
Chaz looked up. Todd wondered if he knew he'd bitten his lower lip bloody. "I know where she is," he said, so quietly Todd understood him mostly by lipreading. "She's in the wind."
That same wind scarfed Chaz's hair across his cheek, strands catching on his lips as he spoke. It raised the hairs on Todd's nape, where chilly rain trickled.
Behind them, the whir of tires on wet asphalt, the sound of an opening door. Crisp footsteps squeaked across the tarmac, two sets rather than the one Todd had expected. He didn't turn; he already suspected, and he'd know soon enough. Don't hand away your advantages by letting them see your surprise, Solomon.
Reyes flicked water off the tight, short coils of his hair like a cat. The rain spattered his immaculate suitcoat, spotted the pewter-colored silk tie. He didn't say anything, just took one deep breath and sighed. The space between him and Chaz spoke volumes. He didn't turn to greet the new arrivals either, but he was facing in the right direction to see them. Falkner touched his sleeve with the back of her hand.
Everything functioning as it should. Even the fights. We'll hold the fort no matter who comes.
Pauley and Celentano became visible in Todd's peripheral vision before he realized that he was thinking of them as the enemy. Todd caught Reyes' eye and the usual silent understanding passed between them. This was the handoff; tag team eff bee eye. In the wake of Hope Mitchell, Reyes was getting better at delegating, or maybe he was just too fucking tired to do it all himself anymore.
Brady cleared his throat thoughtfully. "That's a hell of a metaphor when you stop to think about it."
Chaz smiled the most painfully anhedonic smile Todd had ever seen. Apparently he, like Todd, was past playing the game where they pretended to be surprised that Brady had a liberal arts education. He didn't speak, though, just shook his head, and Todd noticed Falkner moving up on his left side to support him. And, incidentally, put her body between Chaz and Celentano.
Todd nodded and held Chaz's gaze, since he had it. "Pretty, isn't it? Every cop's a poet."
That smile, if possible, grew harder and more bitter until Chaz looked away. He turned and walked toward Pauley and Celentano, sweeping Reyes in his wake.
Falkner almost started after them, but Brady put a hand on her arm. "Reyes can handle Celentano."
She scowled at him, but nodded. "It was a bad ride home."
"Gonna be a bad ride out, too," Pauley said, coming within earshot. He looked underslept and barely-tidied, his hair sticking in unwashed locks where he'd combed it. Beyond him, Chaz had reached Celentano and stopped him, and from everything Todd could see, he'd also amended his body language into something professional, polite, and welcoming. How much of that is him and how much of that is Boy Wonder?
As if there were a difference. "How can you tell the dancer from the dance?" he muttered under his breath.
Celentano's body language was pretty articulate, too. He outweighed Chaz in both mass and physical authority, but he couldn't match his height. Still, he didn't stretch to try. He leaned a little forward and tilted his head, examining Chaz and Reyes as if he were dickering over a car and trying to get a discount for dents.
When he turned back, Pauley and Falkner were looking questions at him. "Never mind. Come on; we'd better hurry or we'll miss that plane."
Unlikely, since its departure was dependent on them. And Falkner shook her head.
"We're still waiting on one," Falkner said, as a second dark sedan purred across the approach to pull up beside the one that had disgorged Pauley and Celentano. The driver stepped out before the wheels had quite stopped turning and opened the rear door.
It was all very John Woo until a pair of stubby female legs in sensible slacks and shoes slid out, and Madeline Frost, MD, levered herself from the passenger compartment, wearing a blue slicker and holding an umbrella. She dusted herself fussily before turning to retrieve a gray tweed rolling bag.
All activity stopped as she trundled it across the concrete. Celentano, Chaz, and Reyes lifted their chins and watched like antelope wary at a water hole. Todd saw Brady take a deep breath. Falkner and Pauley turned shoulder to shoulder, so they almost looked welcoming.
"Oh," Brady said. The stony outline of his jaw told Todd that Brady was seeing one hundred and sixty-seven dead people laid out in rows in a parking lot, on the painted wood of a basketball court. Sixteen rows of ten, plus seven left over. Or thirteen rows of twelve, with eleven left over. Yes, that was the way they'd do it. People liked things to be orderly.
Todd touched his elbow. "Want to offer to get her bag?"
Somewhere Over Virginia, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 0545 hours EDT
Todd was settling into his chair at the four-top when Brady leaned across him and placed a cup of coffee between his hands. He dropped two packages of peanut butter crackers and one of Oreos on the table beside it. "Good work."
"Good work?" Falkner and Pauley were at the front of the plane, heads bent. Liaising, Todd thought wryly. Or working out a strategy. Frost was in the last seat before the galley, her head tipped back, neck supported by a horseshoe travel pillow. Todd wondered if she were actually dozing, or simply isolating herself from other primates in close quarters.
Brady lowered himself into the chair opposite Todd. "The guilt will make him eat it." He picked open his own package of crackers with a thumbnail, and Todd fancied for a moment that the crackle was the sound of the worry lines drawing themselves between his eyebrows. "He wouldn't otherwise."
Todd picked up the coffee cup. Brady'd brought it how he liked it this time: real milk, medium-brown, no sugar. "We do what we can."
Brady took a deep breath and let it out, cleansing himself of something. When he looked up, he was Special Agent Daniel The-G-Stands-For-G-Man Brady, solid as a rock and twice as impermeable, all tailored suit and Eliot Ness stare. "And we're damned good at what we do."
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D. C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 0550 hours EDT
Reyes could have set up Hafidha's laptop in her Sanctum and started work on it there. Or he could have parked it on the extension of his own desk. But he found that, in the echoing emptiness of the space normally occupied by his now-scattered team, he wanted the companionship of another working body. The desk by the window, beside Lau's, was still untenanted, piled with overflow files and non-confidential paperwork. Reyes could claim it for a few days without inconveniencing anyone.
He refused to contemplate the possibility that this would take more than a few days to resolve. Just as he refused to believe they might not have even those few days.
While Villette pretended not to watch, Reyes cleared off three square feet of desktop and plunked the laptop there. He plugged it in, made sure the wireless switch was in the off position, and unceremoniously powered it up.
It booted fast, and Reyes found himself staring at a password prompt layered over Hafidha's current Krazy Kat desktop image.
He heard Villette's chair whisk across the carpet, and the soft footsteps that followed. Villette was light on his feet again, athletic and effortless as he crossed the bullpen to stand over Reyes's shoulder, something Reyes would normally never permit--just as he'd normally never put his flank to a room like this. Outside the windows, a gray sky was beginning to show the silhouettes of the surrounding rooflines, and the cold overcast light fell in a blurring diagonal across the laptop screen.
"She's hacked the firmware on that," Villette said, hesitantly. Reyes could hear the desire to repair their earlier argument in his tone, and welcomed it. "It's customized for her, um. User interface."
"Which means nobody else can use it," Reyes encouraged. He didn't turn to look at Villette, because Villette sounded understandably skittish, and it was too bright outside to get much from the reflection in the window. But he could guess at Villette's expression, the stretched-thin weariness and worry that would grace the cantilevered bones of his face.
"Accidental byproduct," Villette said. "She uses her laptop as a portal to the FBI computers, because it's easier than modifying them, too."
"We need to know what's on it."
"Even if we could use that, we wouldn't find anything. Hafidha knows about data security, for God's sake. Yes, she's probably got incriminating stuff in memory. The one she's got with her, at the end of her neck. You can't crack the files on this one, and you can't crack the files on that one."
"Of course we can."
Reyes felt Villette's stare on the back of his neck. He took a deep breath, aware that this was his shot at getting Villette focused and working, rather than despairing. He looked up and caught Villette's eye, ignoring the discomfort craning his neck caused these days. "We're behavioral analysts. It's what we do. It's what you and I can do, to help Hafidha and the rest of the team."
The thing Villette's mouth did was expressive, if ambiguous. "If you won't let me go after Hafs, at least let me follow the team to North Dakota."
"What can you do there that you can't do here?" Reyes asked.
"They need me. I'm the closest thing to a First Peoples agent in the BAU. Even if I'm mestizo rather than Métis, my presence could help take some of the edge off."
He jittered with tension, hands twisting in his pockets. He desperately needed to be doing something, anything, preferably physical. And Reyes could not give him that. But he could at least give him direction.
"Bonding is what the local law enforcement liaison officer is for," he said gently.
"They need me."
"I need you." Reyes raised one hand, stilling Villette's protest. "Falkner's going to call when they hit the ground in Cinci, and she'll need anything you can get her on mass poisonings and the local political background."
"Hafidha will be able to tap that phone call," Villette said.
"She'll be monitoring your web searches, too, and everything anybody does with the entire FBI network--unless she's decided to cut all contact. We have to run with the assumption that she's keeping an eye on us. Now get to work."
The contemplating look Villette gave him was a reflection of the thought process going on behind those mismatched eyes. He wasn't angry anymore. Reyes was pretty sure it had been referred aggression anyway, and was prepared to forget anything Chaz had said if Chaz would forgive him back.
Reyes didn't imagine it was forgiveness that Villette was processing now. Instead, he had just grasped the practical applications of what Reyes had told him--and not told him--and was considering ways to use those searches to influence Hafidha's actions.
"I see," he said, and went back to his desk, head a little higher.
Villette could have entered the Sanctum Sanctorum and used Hafidha's webcam to communicate with the team on the plane. But Reyes didn't blame him for just liberating the webcam and a second flat-panel monitor and working from his own desk. It didn't have Hafidha's wall of monitors and massive array of under-desk power, but Villette didn't need seventeen simultaneous access points.
And, Reyes thought, Chaz's desk and chair were tall enough for him, and it didn't break his heart to sit there.
He put his head down and worked while Reyes started profiling Hafidha. Eventually, he'd have to bring Villette in on this; he knew her better than anybody. But Reyes could buy him a little time to get square with the idea.
When Falkner called, Villette was ready. Reyes came around behind his desk now, so the webcam would pick him up also, but he let Villette do the talking. Falkner's camera showed Brady and Todd behind her, as well. Frost was not in evidence.
Falkner leaned forward, framed in the narrow borders of the video conference feed. "Assuming the local authorities are right, and this is a mass poisoning incident, how sure are we that it isn't a terrorist attack?"
Villette licked his lips. He held the coffee cup in one hand, but didn't drink. Reyes wondered if it were nervous thirst, or something to clench his hand around. "According to research at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, it's incredibly uncommon. There have been 365 confirmed cases of malicious food contamination in the world since 1950. People deliberately contaminated a water supply seven times, which resulted in a total of three deaths. There are only four cases total of deliberate contamination of a food supply, and in none of those cases was anyone harmed."
Falkner's eyebrows rose. "Those numbers don't add up, Chaz."
Villette shook his head. His hair was still flattened in the back from sleeping--or feigning sleep--on the plane. "The numbers don't add up because seventy-two percent of the reported poisonings were absolutely normal everyday generic acquaintance murder attempts. Strychnine in the coffee, cyanide in the tea. And only sixteen percent of these cases resulted in five or more casualties. Nineteen cases claimed ten or more lives. Four of those involved serial killers operating over a time frame of years.
"Among gammas, we have Clemson McCain, who does not show up in the Singapore study for obvious reasons. But I'm not sure direct action upon the victim qualifies under the parameters of the study, in any case."
Todd, Reyes noticed, did not react. Brady ducked down to get more firmly in frame and said, "We don't know how the UNSUB is causing these deaths. It could be direct action."
"It could," Reyes agreed. He brushed a hand by Villette's shoulder, not quite allowing the contact he would have used to cue a less touch-prohibitive individual to keep talking.
With Chaz, the motion was enough. "There are also intentional group poisonings in a controlled environment. These are most often the result of a mass suicide linked to religious cult activity, as with Jonestown or Heaven's Gate. Those cases must be considered separately because of the more or less willing participation of the victims."
That cracked Todd's stoneface. "Not all of them are willing. Cooperation can be coerced."
Villette set his coffee cup down between his body and the keyboard. "Twenty-three percent of cases occurred at a food service level, and a little more than a tenth of that twenty-three percent resulted in one hundred deaths or more. Forty-four percent resulted in none. By far the most common agents used in these poisonings were conventional toxins such as cyanide, lye, or mercury. There were nine incidents involving biological agents, among which the study includes botulinum toxin, ricin, salmonella, and fecal matter, and eight cases of radiological poisoning, most of which are poetic justice meted out to former KGB agents and so on. There's also a case or two of suspected or confirmed intentional poisoning with dioxin. I'd hate to be the guy handling that stuff."
"So what you're saying here," Todd said, his voice thin and wary over the connection, "is that mass poisonings are awfully hard to manage."
"That's what I'm saying, yes. Poison is a tricky way to kill: tolerances vary, which is why we talk about an LD-50: a lethal dose for fifty percent of the individuals exposed. Which is, by definition, not lethal to the other fifty percent. So something like this, where there are absolutely no survivors?"
"It's anomalous," Brady said, as Falkner turned her head to look at him, lips pursing in consideration.
Chaz nodded. "Damned anomalous."
"Good work," Falkner said. "What have you got on the political situation?"
"It's a mess," Chaz said. "You're walking into a worst-case scenario in terms of Federal versus Indian relations. Emphasis on the word versus. Details are in the dossiers I sent, keywords Leonard Peltier and Russell Means. The population of Rolette County is more than seventy-five percent American Indian, by the 2000 census, and it and the surrounding areas are some of the poorest regions in the United States. Unemployment and the diseases of poverty are rampant.
"The Metigoshe Reservation maintains its own elementary schools, junior high, and high school. There is some manufacturing industry on the reservation, and a fair amount of tourism. The reservation's population is around nine thousand; there are about twenty thousand enrolled band members, but--obviously--most of them live elsewhere. Unemployment on the reservation is close to seventy percent, and life expectancy under fifty.
"The good news is that the tribal lands where the killing took place have their own independent police department. They requested assistance, and it's been handed to us, primarily, as a mass murder. So that's one less jurisdiction to deal with, although you can bet the local BIA will want in on the collar. If there is a collar. If it's a cluster, they'll be just as happy to let us take the fall."
"Walk on eggshells," Falkner translated. "Don't carry any stick at all."
Chaz said, "The chief of police is Winona Spencer, 55. She is a returnee; educated in Ann Arbor, she served twenty-one years on the Minneapolis police force. Her service record suggests a pretty good cop."
Falkner said, "If the gamma is not a tribal member, will that be worse or better?"
"If they are," Reyes said, "jurisdiction becomes more complicated. If the gamma is not an Indian, he or she is our problem. If he or she is... tribal authority trumps state and federal, although as a major crime this will still be tried in Federal court. I do note that the DEA doesn't always abide by those guidelines."
"Neither had the FBI, historically," Chaz said. "That's part of what we're up against here."
Reyes did not miss the reproachful glance that said, I could be helping them.
"They asked for help," he said. "Help is on the way. Offer full cooperation, Esther, and we'll sort the details out with Celentano as necessary. He's promised to make sure the BIA is kept as far away as practicable."
"How far is that?"
Reyes swallowed. "Depends on if anybody calls up a Senator, I guess."
Yardston, OH, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 0730 hours CDT
Pete Pauley looked like he'd been driving all night, and Daphne was pretty sure it wasn't an artifact of the crappy fluorescent illumination in the Yardston Denny's. The sun was up, the sky a funny lumpy gunmetal color that boded ill for anybody with picnic plans on this particular Tuesday. Daphne hadn't had a chance to check Weather Underground yet, but she was pretty sure the Midwest was about to treat them to one of its legendary thunderstorms.
Lau caught her looking. "Maybe we'll get a tornado," she said, half-hopefully. She pushed her eggs around her plate with the edge of her fork. Daphne wasn't sure any of them had made it into Lau. "Ground some planes."
Daphne cupped her coffee cup between her hands, more for comfort than because she wanted any more coffee. Any more of this coffee, anyway. She'd kill for a cup of T.'s home-ground brew. "If she's flying, she's already gone. Long gone."
"Not necessarily. The question is going to be how she decides to travel. Airports, they're bottlenecks." Pauley was knocking back the brown, burned water like it was nectar and ambrosia, but then Daphne had seen him drink out of the Down The Hall pot at three in the afternoon when it had been stewing since eleven. And he'd already flown from D.C. to Cincinnati and driven in this morning. She was half-surprised he hadn't parachuted out of the Gulfstream over a cornfield, though she supposed the cruising altitude was really too high.
"Train stations, bus stations, also, though less so. Car rental agencies." Lau leaned forward. She was drinking watery hot cocoa from powder, and Daphne was relieved to see that those calories, at least, were getting into her. Mother hen.
Nikki noticed her looking and patted her arm. Daphne caught the fingers and gave them a squeeze. "Computer records won't be useful. And whatever we find, we can't get it back home except in person." We're on our own. No safety lines.
"Nothing by digital means," Pauley said. "Which means sneakernet if we need to report in. Celentano knows we'll be running on radio silence. The North Dakota team are going to make it look like we're all with them."
"The plane stopped in Cincinnati to pick us up." Lau smiled a tight, professional smile that didn't do a thing to settle the wrenching in Daphne's gut. "Good thing I've got enough cash for breakfast."
"I've got cash," Pauley said. "Victor didn't kick us out to drown."
"Of course not," Daphne said. "He wants her back as bad as we do."
"In one piece," Pauley said in the tone of one who is reinforcing a point he does not expect to have believed. He pushed a flat palm across his worried forehead and good-boy haircut. "We need a strategy."
"We have one," Lau said. "Old fashioned footwork. We've started already, but it's grim. Still, she was on foot when she left the hotel, and she's not precisely a nondescript individual. Somebody saw her."
"Or if somebody didn't see her, it's because she went to ground fast. And stayed there." Daphne forced herself to eat two more forkfuls of cottage cheese. It tasted like sandy lard, and she wasn't sure she could blame the restaurant for that entirely.
Pauley reached for the coffee carafe, unfazed by the fingerprints liberally salting its chrome surface. No wonder he and Todd got along so well; they both raised phlegmatic to the level of performance art. "You sound as if you like that version of events."
"Chaz couldn't find her," she said. "And he looked. So she had to have a bolt-hole located and planned on using it, because we were after her in under ten minutes, she was on foot, this town doesn't have prowling taxis, and nobody is outrunning Chaz Villette when he's in a hurry to catch up."
"So she might not have that much of a head start," Lau said. "She might be counting on us overshooting her."
"She might still be in Yardston, and if she's not, the trail might not be cold," Daphne confirmed.
Pauley nodded. "How much time have you ladies devoted to this footwork already?"
"All day yesterday," Lau said. "Most of the night."
"Check the bus station yet?"
Daphne smiled, although it felt drawn and pasted across her cheeks like white glue drying on skin. "If you're done with your breakfast, that's where we're going next."
The bus station consisted of a counter in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express. The man behind it was thick-waisted, pink-faced, and smelled of cigarettes. He hadn't sold a ticket to a tall, slender black woman.
"Only two buses a day, so it's not hard to remember," he said with a shrug. "One to Cinncinati, one back. Eleven-fifteen a.m. and five-twenty p.m."
I was with her at five-fifty-one, Lau thought. "Was the bus on time yesterday evening?"
"Yes, ma'am. Officer. Nobody boarded, neither."
"Thank you." Lau flipped open her card case, thumbed out a card, and handed it across the desk. "If you do see a woman matching that description, don't interfere with her; just call that number immediately."
Lau squared her shoulders and turned to meet Worth and Pauley in the middle of the lobby. Their faces were report enough, as she supposed hers was, but she waited until Pauley held the door for his fellow agents and let it settle closed behind them before she said, "Not the bus."
"The desk clerk hadn't seen her, either," Worth said. She jammed a blunt-fingered hand through her hair, knocking her growing-out bangs askew. Outside, the morning's threat of rain had blossomed into full-blown warfare, a crackling electrical storm that backsplashed water eighteen inches off the pavement and made the windows shake against their frames.
"Right." Lau lowered her voice and her head, feeling as if the rain pushed her shoulders down. She turned close into Worth and Pauley to close the triangle and create a kind of intimacy between them, in defiance of the size of the room. "So we're doing this all wrong. We're fucking behavioral analysts. Can we think like Hafidha? Come on, Daphs, you know her better than any of us--"
"I--" Worth's mouth did that crumpled-paper thing it did when you were right and she hated it. "Yeah. We're friends. This isn't right."
"None of it is right." Hesitantly, Pauley put his hand on her shoulder. Worth didn't step away, but neither did she give any sign she'd noticed it. "You're trying to help her, Worthie. She's going to appreciate that eventually, if not today."
Worth managed a pinched smile. "Thanks. All right. Chaz quartered the whole area on foot, and if he'd seen anything that so much as suggested Hafidha was anywhere to be found, he would have been all over it like a dachshund down a badger sett. So she evaporated, and she planned on evaporating, which means she reverse-profiled us and went for something that we would never think of.
"She's got to know we'd think of public transit, but all Yardston's got--it's got buses, barely, and they're not regular. And it's hard to hitchhike these days. I've tried to flag down roadside assistance, and you know, nobody bloody stops even for that."
The sick-sharp sensation coming up Lau's throat was desperation. "But after the first heat was off she'd move, and move fast. She'd know we'd comb the immediate area as soon as we could organize. And she wouldn't leave any clues there, anyway. So where does she move to? She needs transportation, no matter where she's going. What's in range of a strong woman on foot with her stuff in a pillowcase?"
"So she's on foot," Pauley said. "Where does she go to hide on a Monday in the middle of suburban Ohio? What are her options? The housing development, a Staples, an industrial park."
Lau looked up. "Industrial parks have service roads, landscaping, electronic security systems. Industrial parks in depressed rust belt towns have empty buildings."
Worth nodded. "It's a place to start. We'll hit those. Maybe a security guard saw somebody out walking? Those kind of places aren't really havens for pedestrians, except on the lunch hour."
"Let's go back to the hotel and start working a spiral out again," Lau said. "In a few hours, we'll have burned enough daylight that it'll be about the same time of day as it was when she took off. We'll recanvass; the right people, the ones who might have noticed something, will be home."
Worth's eyes met hers. The communication that passed between them was grounded in solid acquaintanceship and too many life or death situations. Lau wondered if she dared call it a friendship, too.
Worth nodded. "Let's do it."
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1000 hours CDT
It was not raining in North Dakota--a small blessing, Esther Falkner thought.
Two women met the Gulfstream on the dusty tarmac of the reservation's airport, its one runway so short that even the ex-Navy pilot must have pulled some serious black magic to land. Both were tall. One was spare, almost bony, with an outdoorswoman's crow's-feet, tanned fair skin, and brown-black hair as dark as Falkner's, but cropped short and shot with more gray. Silver rings laddered both ears from lobes to cartilage, glinting against the salt-then-pepper of her hair. She had a gunbelt strapped on over an indigo uniform with a gray-blue shirt open at the collar, a badge on the breast and the shoulders decorated with an embroidered patch bearing the reservation's seal, a red star, and the words Tribal Police.
The other woman was broader, darker-skinned, and lighter-eyed, a medium brunette who wore her hair in a single thick braid like Falkner's. She wore sunglasses pushed up onto her head. A gray shirt girded by a dark blue tie peeked out the collar of her blue Gore-Tex patrol jacket, and a yellow stripe decorated the outside seam of her navy trousers.
"Who ordered the Mountie?" Brady said, paused beside Falkner at the top of the stairs. The metal scaffolding settled under his weight. It gave a little additional squeak of protest as Todd stepped out behind them, but she couldn't help but consider it pro forma with Brady already loading the structure.
Frost waited until they were all on their way down the stairs to step out. She followed silently except for the brisk tapping of her shoes.
"The reservation crosses the international border," Todd said, tiredly. "If they invited us, it makes sense that they invited them."
Brady grunted. "Well, that's a jurisdictional clusterfuck. You think she knows about the anomaly?"
Falkner shrugged. "The chief or the constable? The tribal authorities probably don't love the Mounties any more than they love us Feds. The history's just as bad, and just as muddy. Let's just remember that we're guests, and the goal is finding the gamma before anybody else dies."
She descended, knowing the men would follow, and watched the Mountie and the tribal cop come up to meet them. "Chief Spencer?" she asked at the bottom, extending her hand. "I'm SSA Falkner of the Anomalous Crimes Task Force. My colleagues are Supervisory Special Agents Daniel Brady and Solomon Todd, and Dr. Madeline Frost, who is a forensic pathologist. We're very sorry to meet you under such circumstances."
Up close, some of the tribal officer's pallor could be attributed to the exhaustion that also left her cheeks hollow and her eyes settled into grim caves. Nevertheless, Chief Spencer gave Falkner a firm handshake before handing her off to the Mountie. "Good of you to come, Special Agent. Welcome to the Metigoshe Reservation. This is Constable Robin Spears of the RCMP. She's our liaison officer on the Canadian side and an old friend. I have to admit, I'm surprised to get you folks all the way from Washington and not the BIA."
"We're specialists, Chief Spencer," Falkner said, shaking the constable's hand while Spencer dealt with greeting Todd and Brady. Frost stayed back, her hands full of luggage, conspicuously unavailable for physical contact.
Chief Spencer snorted. "So're they. Call me Winona, would you?"
"Esther, then," Falkner reciprocated. "Will we be meeting a BIA liaison?"
"When we get back to the house," Spencer said, meaning the station house. "Please, follow me to the car."
Falkner let Spencer and Spears lead her team toward the waiting Chevy Tahoe, white with round tribal police seals on the doors and a red and blue lightbar across the roof. They walked in silence. Falkner watched the hitch of Spencer's stride as she compensated unconsciously for the weight of her utility belt. Everything about her said career cop, career officer.
It was comforting, even when Spencer's hand came out and she said, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask for your sidearms. We don't allow non-band members to go armed on tribal lands."
Falkner tried not to let her surprise show in her expression, but she thought Spears caught a glimpse of it. She laid a hand on her holster and unclipped it without a word. Todd's face betrayed nothing but amicable cooperation as he divested himself of his weapon. Brady looked grim.
Falkner weighed the sidearm in her palm before extending it. "This is an expression of great trust on our part. How much do you know about what we call anomalous crimes?"
"I'm guessing," Spencer said, "that you don't mean mass murders?"
"I don't mean mass murders," Falkner said. "Have you heard of a popular crime writer named Rupert Beale?"
"Sure," Spencer said. She placed the weapons in a locking toolbox in the back of the Tahoe. After pulling a receipt book from her pocket, she wrote out a ticket for Falkner's service weapon, then Todd's. "Used to be a Chicago cop before he got shot up, didn't he? I was in Minneapolis when that happened. We all heard about it. I'd rather not wind up in one of his case studies."
"You may already be," Falkner said. "The thing is, these crimes--there's no easy way to say it."
Based on Spencer's level look, Falkner figured it was worth the attempt. "The perpetrators have an extraordinary resistance to physical trauma. Think of somebody on PCP; the brain chemistry or something causes them to tough up like you wouldn't believe. If he or she has not committed suicide, which sometimes happens, when the UNSUB can no longer avoid capture, they will seek a violent death and try to take as many of us with them as possible."
Spencer glanced at Spears. "You ever hear of this sort of thing, Robin?"
The Mountie nodded. "Not formally. But it's come up now and again."
"We'll have to clear an exception with the Tribal Chairman," Spencer said. Reluctantly, Brady handed her his holster. She wrote him a claim ticket. "He wants to see us today anyway."
"I'm not armed," said Frost, as Spencer extended her hand to her. Something of the aura of chill that always surrounded Frost must have reached Spencer, because Spencer blinked before lowering her hand.
Falkner intervened. "Has your investigation turned up anything new while we were in the air?"
Spencer looked at Constable Spears. Spears' face remained impassive behind her sunglasses. Spencer sighed. "We're a little overwhelmed," she admitted. "I have no suspects at present. We're still identifying the dead and trying to figure out if there is anybody who should be counted among them who isn't. This is--" she shook her head, leaving Falkner wishing she didn't have the experience to fill in the rest of the sentence. Beyond description. Paralyzing. Mindboggling.
"Awful," Spears added. By her accent, she was as local as Spencer, leading Falkner to reassess her assumptions about the women's relationship. Maybe the Mounties were smart enough to send a constable back to her own turf to play liaison officer. "You won't mind my saying that I hope it turns out this is one of yours."
Todd huffed amusement, and Falkner would bet from Spears's expression that he had just shot her a sympathetic smile. (Standard Issue, Solomon Todd, One Each.)
Yup. Definitely from around here. When Spears said yours, she meant American and non-First Peoples: the FBI's lookout. Neither Spears nor Spencer craved final jurisdiction on this perp, and Falkner couldn't blame them. She'd seen this in cops all over America. You wanted the bad guy to be an alien, and barring that, at least an other. An outsider, somebody you could tell yourself wasn't like you.
Falkner sure as hell did. Only the brutality of long experience kept her cognizant that all the bad guys were like her: human monsters, blood and bone, every one made of the same meat and brain and tendon as she.
Even when it made her want to shed her skin and crawl out the other side as a songbird or a fluffy bunny or maybe a flatworm of some kind.
"I just hope we catch up with them," Falkner said, wincing at the gender-neutral singular them even as she was careful to use it. "I know how much bad blood there is" --hopefully, mentioning it would be better than letting it fester in silence-- "but the ACTF's mandate is to support local authorities where we can." She saw the doubt crease Spencer's brow and knew it wasn't concern over who would get credit for the collar.
Verbal assurances were worthless when there was this much justified distrust and painful history. Spencer had been desperate enough to call for help; now it was up to Falkner and her skeleton team to earn her respect.
Todd cleared his throat. "Have you had the opportunity to do any canvassing yet?" Nothing accusatory in his tone; just the suggestion that of course Spencer intended it, as soon as time and manpower permitted.
Spencer chirped the doors. "We've just started, now that we've borrowed some emergency responders from the Oglalla tribal authorities, the BIA, the Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and from surrounding towns. We don't have the personnel for something like this."
To Falkner's surprise, it was Brady who stepped up beside Spencer. He held the driver's side rear door for Falkner, but she could tell where his focus lay. "Don't sweat it," he said. "New York City doesn't have the personnel for something like this. You do what you can with what you have, okay?"
For a second, Falkner thought he'd misjudged, and Spencer was about to bite his head off. But he must have sounded sincere, because Spencer's shoulders came back down and she nodded. "You've done this sort of thing before, I take it?"
"That's another one of the things we mean when we say Anomalous," Todd said, climbing in past Brady. To Falkner's surprise, Constable Spears clambered into the wayback beside him, leaving the middle seats for Frost and Brady.
"You ride up front," Spears said to Falkner. "I've had the briefing already. I can live without hearing it twice."
"If you are going to the crime scene," Frost said, "I would like to examine the victims. May I be dropped off along the way?"
"We haven't moved them far," Spencer said. "We didn't have enough morgue space for everybody."
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C.,Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1100 hours EDT
From his temporary desk in the bullpen, Reyes could hear the phone in his office ringing, the double buzz of an internal call. He glanced around; no sign of Chaz, who he'd sent off to get some sleep anywhere he could--and hadn't brooked arguments.
Reyes leaned in his office door long enough to identify the extension flashing on his phone and bite back a heartfelt sigh. It was an inevitable conversation, and one he thought he'd just as soon have in person.
Down The Hall, he passed through quiet desks and bowed heads on his way to Celentano's office. Stanley Murchison was there, fiddling with a Zodiac-looking cipher it would have taken Villette thirty seconds to decode. Reyes walked past him, past Pauley's unoccupied desk closest to the coffee machine--the same one Todd had sat at, during his tenure here--past Dr. Lisa Marshall's occupied station. She had crime scene photos spread all over every flat surface in her cube, taped to the monitor, propped up on the keyboard. They were the usual bloody, exhausting fare, and she looked grateful to have an excuse to glance up and wave. Tiny silver clasps bobbed on the ends of her pixyish sisterlocks, leaving Reyes suddenly, profoundly homesick for Hafidha and her clinking beads.
"How is he?" he asked under his breath, tipping his head at Celentano's office door.
She sighed and rolled her eyes, winning an unwilling smile from him. "In," she said, apparently considering fair warning carried on the semiotics.
Five more steps took him to Celentano's office. The door was open, the blinds closed. He tapped on the frame and leaned in. "Missed the call," he said. "Thought I'd just walk down. What do you have, Victor?"
Celentano was already looking up; of course, Reyes's shadow passing across the blinds and the soft sounds of his conversation with Marshall would have alerted him.
"I was about to ask you. Come in. Shut it behind you." Celentano closed the folder on his desk and laid it to one side, as if Reyes were a junior agent who wasn't cleared for a glimpse of a case file.
Reyes honestly hadn't expected the kind of conversation they could have with the door open, but it would have been nice to be surprised. He did as he was told.
"What's the status of the Ohio investigation?"
Reyes felt his breath stop momentarily. Not North Dakota, with its unspeakable hill of dead, but Ohio. "They've ruled out search areas. But there's nothing positive--no records, no eyewitnesses. Not unexpected at this point, however. I'd say we're progressing on schedule." Defensive, Stephen. He didn't ask you that.
"Not unexpected." Celentano plucked the pen off his desk--a luxurious fat ballpoint with gold fittings--and swiveled it back and forth between his thumb and forefinger. "Not for pursuit of a suspect." Reyes's tea curdled vilely in his stomach as Celentano continued, "But strange for a Federal agent in the field, don't you think?"
"Until we find Agent Gates, we're making no assumptions about the cause of her disappearance."
The pen stopped swinging. "Don't bullshit me, Stephen," Celentano's voice was soft, nearly gentle. It put Reyes on high alert. "I've been running interference for you since this hit the fan, but the calls I'm getting and the offices they're from-- I need better answers than 'We're working on it.'"
Reyes considered Celentano's relaxed, open expression, his widened eyes. The trust-me-I'm-here-for-you look. Until you have to toss someone out of the sleigh. Because you won't cut off your career to feed the wolves.
Celentano pinched the bridge of his nose and tapped the pen on the report in front of him, the one revealed when he'd moved that top file away. "And what was Villette doing questioning a subject who had already requested a lawyer?"
Poor Sandy Cramer, who'd managed to kill herself in a police station in the presence of two ACTF agents. "He wasn't questioning her," Reyes said.
"He was in an interview room with her. It looks pretty damned bad even if I don't consider the fact that he brought her a fucking weapon, Stephen."
Reyes found himself scowling at his superior officer, which was only very rarely a good idea. With an effort, he smoothed his expression. "This isn't about Villette. This is about Gates."
"If--if, Stephen--both our anomaloid employees were affected preferentially by the same gamma, it's a very scary precedent. We can't plead mind-control in front of a review board, you know. Gates is likely to lose her badge over this. And that's if mind control is all it was."
Reyes couldn't help but notice the ease with which Celentano said those words--anomaloid, gamma. Said them as if they were familiar. They flowed trippingly on his tongue.
He'd been saying them a lot, and it hadn't been to Reyes. But he'd also said our, not your. Which could be an honest clue as to whose side Celentano believed himself to be on, or it could be intentional manipulation.
"And what about all the times when a manifestation affected everyone but the betas? What about Villette's handling of the Frank Scott case? Or Gates singlehandedly taking down the John Doe in Chillicothe?"
"It's prejudice," Celentano admitted. He pinched the bridge of his nose again. "Plain and simple. But that doesn't affect the fact that it exists. Or that we have to maneuver around it. Where's Villette?"
"I told him to get some sleep." It wasn't an outright lie. He'd been nodding over his desk when Reyes last saw him. The fact that Reyes was morally certain he hadn't left the building didn't change what Reyes had said.
"Bring him in. I want him interviewed."
"We need him working this case, Victor. Not sitting in an interview room."
Celentano's hand gesture ended discussion. "Bring him in."