"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.
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Tuesday, May 12 2009, 1500 hours CDT
Amos Sainawap's trailer was at the end of a dirt road that led into the woods off a gravel road. Once it starts to snow, he must be more isolated than Ted Kaczynski, Brady thought. Then he saw the outline of a snowmobile under a blue tarp on a two-wheel trailer, and junked the idea. Welcome to North Dakota. He wondered if anyone remembered to wear a helmet.
When he stepped out the driver's side of the borrowed Blazer, he heard a steady, muffled thump, even as a bridge construction piledriver. It seemed to bounce off the surrounding trees and come from everywhere at once. The sound of the truck door closing didn't make a dent in it.
As Brady approached the greenish treated-lumber stairs and deck before the front door, he could tell the thumping was coming from behind the trailer. He could make out a rising and falling human voice as well. On impulse, he turned away from the steps and followed a flattened path through the grass around the end of the trailer.
A man sat spraddle-legged on an upturned log in the midst of a scraped-bare patch of ground. He hunched forward over a round, flat drum pinned between his knees, and swung the wooden beater in one hand with almost inhuman regularity. His shoulder-length black hair fell forward to hide his face, but Brady knew the chanting voice belonged to him. Almost at his work-booted feet lay a shallow pit, where a handful of wood sent up a little flame and a thread of sharp-scented smoke.
Brady walked forward and stopped when he could see around the man's hair. A twitch of the head told Brady the man had seen him, too, but the chanting and drumming continued for a good sixty seconds more. The drumbeat accelerated to double time and stopped.
Without looking up, the drummer asked, "Do you go to church?"
Brady hoped he hadn't looked startled. "Yes."
"Do you interrupt the prayers there?"
"Do you always pray in places where ignorant white guys can interrupt you?"
The drummer blew through his lips, like a horse, irritated.
"Amos Sainawap?" The drummer nodded, once, and short. "I'm Supervisory Special Agent Daniel Brady of the FBI. I'd like to ask you some questions about the events of yesterday."
"Events," Sainawap echoed. His eyes pinched closed under a creased brow, over cheekbones pitted with acne scars. "You mean there was more than one?"
"Depends on how you're counting. You teach history at the junior high." It wasn't a question, but again, Sainawap nodded. "But you didn't come in yesterday. Where were you?"
"I was sick."
"You went to the clinic?"
"No, I went to the bathroom, threw up, and lay down on the couch."
As conversationally as you could say a thing like that, Brady observed, "A lot of the kids at the school threw up, too. They aren't here this afternoon, though."
Sainawap's shoulders rose and his head hunched a little between them, as if he were about to throw a punch. His eyes narrowed. Then the whole pose drooped slightly like a candle in a sunny window. "I've got chronic stomach and liver trouble. I guess...I guess it saved my life."
"Looks that way. How did you hear about the deaths at the school?"
Sainawap jerked his thumb over his shoulder at the telephone junction box on the back of the trailer. "Ever live in a small town? News travels fast. Bad news travels faster." He set the drum down, leaning it against the log, and propped the beater against it. "Which is why I already heard the Feds were on the rez."
"You were expecting me?" Brady made his face bland, his eyes open and innocent. It never looked anything but ironic at his size, but that was useful sometimes, too.
Sainawap scrubbed his hands over his face and said nothing.
Brady squatted on his heels in the dirt and laid his hands over his kneecaps. It looked casual, but he figured the space between them at about twenty feet, and a fit man could move fast from a crouch. "I would have thought it would be tough to get a teaching job when you have a record," he ventured.
Brady counted two beats and admired the man's dramatic timing before Sainawap swiveled his head to glare at Brady. "I was an alcoholic by the time I was fourteen. I was busted for fighting, shoplifting, vandalism--underage drinking too damned many times to count. The night my buddy and I got lit up and thought we could walk home from Bottineau in January--I had two toes frozen off. He died of exposure. It took me four tries, but that was the night I swore I was done drinking. And you know what that makes me, Agent Brady?"
It was Brady's turn to shake his head, because he didn't want to interrupt the monologue.
Sainawap jabbed out his left arm, toward the road and the direction Brady had driven in from. "It makes me just like those kids. They don't listen to me much more than they listen to anybody else, but at least maybe I have a better chance at telling them what they need to hear." His voice shook at the end of the sentence. "What they needed to hear. They don't need anything now."
Brady let the silence hang, let Sainawap gather his self-control. He wanted information at present; if he wanted emotion later, he knew how to bring it back. "What did they need to hear?"
After a little more breathing, Sainawap let out a humorless snort of laughter. Brady thought he was changing the subject when he said, "We've got satellite TV and DVD players now. You can rent movies at the rez store. You know what the moneymakers are?" When Brady shook his head, Sainawap replied, "Gangsta shit. And you know why? Because compared to here, big-city street gangs look like they've got some kind of choice."
"Agency," Brady said.
Sainawap looked startled, as if he'd forgotten he was speaking to someone who could speak back, or would. "Fancy word for a G-man."
"Or for a junior high teacher." Brady pointed his chin toward Sainawap's drum. "Did you teach them about that?"
"I tried to teach them things that already belonged to them. To give them pride in themselves. But hell, the whole point of the reservations and the Indian schools and the assimilation was so Indian culture would die off. We're reassembling it from books written by white anthropologists. Put that up against what they learn from MTV and juvie..." Sainawap lifted his hands and let them fall, as if they were everything he'd tried to do.
Because what was left of his work if the kids he'd given it to were dead? "Can you think of anyone on the reservation who would benefit from what happened at the school? Anyone with a point to make, say, or a grudge to work out?"
"You mean, was this political?" Sainawap said it as if the word tasted bad.
"Not necessarily. I'm with the Anomalous Crimes Task Force. The cases we work involve a twisted worldview--what we call a mythology. An individual with a certain kind of mythology might feel personal resentment toward the school, or see it as a threat, maybe. Does that ring any bells?"
Sainawap gave it serious consideration. Whatever he thought of Special Agent Daniel Brady, he cared more about the dead. "No. Our schools are hope for the adults. There aren't a lot of ways we can give the children what we didn't get, so the schools are important. Some of the kids are hard cases. Some of 'em just don't have anyone at home who can make them come to school and study. But the ones who hate the school and the teachers--they just skip. They're not like this."
Brady filed that away for further study. Sainawap braced his hands on his thighs, and Brady thought he was about to stand up. Instead he said, "You know the statue, 'The End of the Trail?'"
"Yeah." It was reproduced, mostly in silhouette, in almost every tourist trap gift shop in the West, on t-shirts, mugs, keychains, ashtrays, tote bags, and coasters. An Indian slumped on an exhausted horse, his spine curved in an arc, his legs hanging limp along the horse's flanks, his spear at an aimless tilt.
"That's a picture of learned helplessness. When you're convinced nothing you do can change anything. White men made that the image of the noble, defeated Indian, and damned if the Indians didn't buy it. These days the women are our best warriors. They believe in change. They're like the men used to be. But most of the men are like little children." Sainawap shook his head. "What you're talking about, that kind of anger? Learned helplessness tells you even something big, a mass murder, won't help you. You're better off turning the gun on yourself."
"Are you helpless?"
"No." Sainawap said in a hard voice, without hesitation. "But I know that what doesn't change, dies. And I don't want to die. It's why I stopped drinking."
"But you want to teach the old ways to the kids."
Sainawap threw back his head, stretched out his arms to either side to indicate the trailer, the snowmobile, the trees, and probably a slew of things around them that Brady couldn't see. "I'm not living in a bark lodge cooking venison over an open fire and trading with other tribes for pipestone, am I? The past is our strength, but it's still the past. You can't live there." Sainawap smoothed his hair back as if his scalp hurt. "Damn. I seem to be having this argument a lot lately."
"I'm not arguing," Brady told him. No, you couldn't live in the past. Even if that was the neighborhood where you'd meant to put down roots. He stood up. "Thank you, Mr. Sainawap. I or one of my team will let you know if we have any more questions."
"Even at the school, nobody called me Mr. Sainawap."
Brady paused. It was a personal question--but he'd gotten away with quite a few of those already. "Amos is a pretty unusual name for our generation."
Sainawap gave Brady a hard, hostile grin. It made him look like a wicked pixie, and Brady was sorry he'd never get to see the real thing. "Back when I was born, when an Ojibwe woman went to the hospital to give birth, the nurses would hand her a list of white names to give her baby. I don't know where the hell they got those lists, but they weren't exactly full of Kelly and Jason and Brad and Mindy. If the Indian woman couldn't read English, she'd have to just point."
Brady considered the possibilities. "There's probably worse ways to get the job done. But I'm not coming up with any right now."
"Nope," said Sainawap. "I guess that's also part of our culture."
Rolette County, ND, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1700 hours CDT
If Todd had thought the roles of good cop and bad cop would be self-determining, working with Spears for ten minutes disabused him. He'd volunteered to take the preliminary canvass of the approach roads. Undermanned as they were, he'd expected to go alone, and that was all right. He figured he could handle most of what he was likely to find out here. Spears had volunteered to come with him, and despite momentary misgivings about her agenda, he'd accepted. How often did you get to work with the Mounties?
But she'd surprised him. She had no jurisdiction on American soil, of course, and he couldn't help but imagine Reyes in the opposite situation. Todd knew he'd get a chance to find out how he handled it when they started on the Canadian side. But what impressed him most was the way she handled each interview as if it she had no personal investment in the case, as if their preliminary canvass were as neutral as a robbery investigation. Just another day on the job, Todd thought, flanking her as she led the way up cinderblock steps to their fifth widely-spaced stop along the dusty side of State Route 20.
Five houses, and they were already seven miles from the sign that had once read, "You Are Now Leaving The Metigoshe Indian Reservation. Please Drive Carefully And Come Back Soon." Todd's eyes felt like somebody had rolled them in sand and shoved them back into their sockets ungreased. His joints ached in a manner that left him thinking longingly of hotel hot tubs and his own memory-foam mattress. Who said not being in pain was a luxury? In his line of work, given the inexquisite torments of short sleep and long travel, consideration for his much-abused body was the sort of thing likely to keep it functional enough to stay alive for another week or two.
The house--or improvised dwelling, if he was being precise--that he and Spears climbed towards didn't look as if it offered much in the way of comfort or luxury. It had started life as an Airstream trailer (Todd thought about North Dakota winters and shuddered; the bales of straw heaped around it might be some insulation, but he doubted they were enough) and had been expanded haphazardly, with cinderblock and salvaged lumber. It reflected ingenuity, Todd thought charitably, if not skill.
Spears, lifting one hand to knock, turned over her shoulder to raise her eyebrows at Todd. "Building codes don't apply if the homeowner does the work himself?"
Todd raised his back. "And here I was thinking he hired the same contractor who built those condemned houses on the Rez."
She snorted and shook the laugh out before turning back to the door. This time, she knocked without hesitatingly, an experienced cop's hard, sharp rap.
The whole structure rattled alarmingly as someone crossed the interior, to the point where Todd saw Spears' hands twitch forward as if to catch the trailer before it could fall on her. It took the occupant two good jerks to get the door open. Todd found himself wincing at each one.
The man who stood framed in it was white, heavyset, and sun-faded. He wore a plaid shirt unbuttoned over a cotton undershirt, and his belly hung over the belt that dragged his stained jeans up to half-mast. The mottles on his denuded scalp didn't look cancerous, but it might be only a matter of time. Don't judge, Todd reminded himself. Poor and rural does not mean dumb or vicious.
In this case, however, it didn't take long for him to accept that sometimes it could expand to encompass both.
"What do you want?" The resident--Todd corrected his brain when it wanted to go with denizen--snarled more than spoke. Todd made a conscious effort to lighten his expression, to keep his face serious and pleasant. There was a tax roll list on the clipboard tossed in the behind-the-seat well of his and Spears's borrowed pickup, and he'd glanced at it before they got out. "Mr. Jackson Black? I'm Special Agent Todd, with the FBI." He extended his ID folder, flipped open. "This is Constable Spears, who is assisting my inquiry."
She rolled her eyes where Black couldn't see it, but of course that was technically correct.
"I ain't done nothing," Black said. "If you got a warrant, show me it now."
"You're not under any suspicion," Spears said smoothly. "We're investigating an incident that took place on the Metigoshe Reservation yesterday. We're canvassing area residents who might have seen anything unusual, anyone leaving or entering the Reservation yesterday morning? Anything you might have noticed between seven and noon?"
Black was either a better liar than Todd gave him credit for, or he didn't listen to the local news. "Some goddamned skin get drunk and set his wife and kids on fire again? No, that wouldn't bring out the feds. So what happened?"
Todd would normally ask to step inside, but with a sideways glance at Spears--her thumb hooked casually in her gunbelt, which currently didn't have a weapon on it--he decided he'd be just as happy doing this on the porch.
She said, "There was a massacre at one of the junior high schools."
That got a slow blink, and no sassy comment this time. "Fuck, another school shooter?" Black shook his head, the corners of his mouth drawing hard lines down from his nose, and then seemed to recollect that these were the Feds and he was supposed to be running them off his property. "I didn't see a damned thing. Those damned blanket-asses can go the hell back where they came from, and you two can get the hell off my lawn."
The lawn in question was more a rutted mix of dust and tussocks, but it was the thought that counted. Todd nodded and held out a business card. "If you think of anything, give me a call? Farm folks are usually more observant than your average city-dweller. They have to be; they live close to the land."
Black had been about to shut the door in Spears' face, but Todd's blithe comment stopped it halfway. He took the card and squinted at it as if he'd left his reading glasses on top of the TV. "You ain't farting Dixie. What do you know about farms?"
That it's an exercise of extreme charity to call this one. "My mom and dad had a farm," Todd said. "They sold it off before the bank foreclosed, back in the 80's. But I grew up on it. It's a hard way of life to let go of."
"Huh," Black said. He tucked the card into his pocket. "All right, Agent Todd. I'll call you if I think of anything."
"Thank you," Todd said, and waited until the door clicked shut before he let his dismay show in his face. Spears was too disciplined to stomp down the cinderblocks, but she swept past him with a leggy stride, and he had to hustle to catch up. As she slid into the driver's seat, he opened the passenger side door.
She waited until the door was shut and he was belted in before mocking, nasal and sharp, "Those damned blanket-asses should go back where they came from."
Todd smiled down at his hands. "I don't think he'd like that one bit."
He caught her turning the key, glaring at the dusty two-lane blacktop they were parked alongside through a worn windshield. She convulsed and stalled it. Hands on the wheel, she heaved up sharp bursts of laughter like it hurt. "God damn, Todd. You could sell frybread to Indians." She paused. "Actually, considering, that's not too hard, if it's good frybread. You think he did it?"
"I think he's got enough poison in him to kill hundreds by spitting in a watershed area," Todd said. "But no, I don't think he did it."
"Well, that's disappointing. Neither do I." This time, the engine caught and stayed caught. She slid it into first and rolled forward so gently he never felt her touch the gas. She floated it into second as they turned onto the state route, and Todd wondered if she was trying to impress him to make up for the stall. It was working, either way.
"Illinois Nazis," Spears muttered under her breath. "I hate Illinois Nazis."
"Try coming from Indiana," Todd said. "And how did you know that was my favorite movie?"
"I didn't," she said. "It's mine."
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1900 hours CDT
"I found her," Villette said, and sat back in his chair. "Or at least, I found where she was six hours ago."
Reyes had known it was coming. He'd been checking the contents of the thumb drive he'd retrieved from Hafidha's desk drawer--Black Heart Procession's Six and extras, nothing else--and the spindle CD with its TurboTax files just as advertised, when he'd seen the stiffness enter Villette's spine; the way his eyes had scanned the monitor three times, even though the information the screen contained was already indelibly recorded in his mind. He'd seen Villette take the breath and steel himself.
He'd tried not to look like he was staring, but given the blank look on Villette's face, he wouldn't have noticed if Reyes had spun his appropriated chair around and glared. "Tell me."
Villette just waved to the monitor. He stood up, balancing with both hands on his desk, and straightened with an effort. "I need coffee."
Reyes could give him the time. He crossed the bullpen to take Villette's place behind the keyboard, having to duck only slightly to see the taller man's monitor clearly from a standing position. The top tab in the browser displayed a newswire report timestamped some fifteen minutes previous, the lede--a word Reyes never would have known, prior to sharing fifteen years of his life with Solomon Todd--mentioning the shooting in Des Moines, Iowa of Michael Randall Cross, a banker who "had been repeatedly questioned regarding allegations of child sexual abuse." The second paragraph, however, provided the relevant information.
Cross, 43, was shot dead in his driveway by an unknown individual after pages of documentation regarding his alleged abuses were anonymously uploaded to a Des Moines sex offender watchdog site around 10 AM this morning. The information, which included emails and video files apparently retrieved from Cross's home computer, contained explicit content involving at least twelve pre-adolescent children....
Chaz's voice floated from the kitchenette, over the sound of brewing coffee. "Des Moines is a little over nine hours from Yardston by car if you observe the speed limits. A straight shot along the 90."
West Coast boy, diagnosed that part of Reyes' mind that drew conclusions from the use of a direct article. "She would have been observing the speed limit," he said. "Or no more than five miles over. So she left Yardston no later than midnight, headed west, and was in Des Moines by nine, where something set her on the trail of Michael Cross."
Chaz appeared in the doorway, cradling a coffee cup. "That's how I knew it was her, Reyes. She-- she keeps an eye on these kinds of cases. She looks for ways to nudge them. When she can."
Reyes closed his eyes. "And she was watching Cross."
He didn't need to watch to know how miserably Chaz nodded. The smell of coffee reached him and he swallowed hard. "Can I have a cup of that? Black?"
"I can make you tea--"
Now Reyes opened his eyes, and looking at Chaz's dog-worried face with a stab of pity. "Medicinal purposes," he said. "I'm Cubano, I can take it." He smiled even though it hurt. "Now solve me a hard one, Boy Wonder: we know where she is, or where she was going, as of eight hours ago. So how the hell do we get that information to the away team?"
Chaz shook his head. "Western Union stopped sending telegrams in January of 2006--wait. Fax to the Cinci field office. Have them send a runner. That would work, wouldn't it?"
"We can risk it," Reyes said. "We have to do something."
Rolette County, ND, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 2100 hours CDT
Somewhere in between the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh house, on State Route I Don't Remember Anymore, without turning her head, Spears said to Todd, "So what kind of a name is 'Todd', anyway?"
"English," he said, leaning back on the head support and closing his eyes. Just resting them. Just for a minute. "Just like Spears. Unless it's Scottish. Apparently there's a minor geneological bunfight over whether it's Scots or Middle English. I'm actually more Ohio German, percentagewise. I've got a little Cherokee on my Mom's side."
She snorted. "Why does every white guy who wants to claim Indian heritage say he's part Cherokee?"
Todd snorted back, smiling despite himself. "At a guess? Because the Cherokee Christianized and intermarried a lot, before the people who'd previously been their neighbors decided the damned heathen Indians needed moving on. Off their good farmland, incidentally."
This time there was a longer hesitation, and a question that could have been mocking, but instead came out a little lost. "Do you think it makes you special?"
"Not any more than the German," he said. "I wonder sometimes, if that great-great grandmother hadn't stayed East--well, I wouldn't be me. But there'd be somebody else with those mitochondria, living some other life. If the English had stayed home in Manchester or wherever. Same thing."
"Unless they were Scots."
"Unless they were Scots." Now he sat up, rubbing his hands together, and grinned. "I did use to work with a guy who claimed he was full-blooded Apache. I think he was really Puerto Rican, but hey, if it made him feel like he was more cut out for the work we were doing..." He knew what he'd meant to say next, but his voice trailed off. He swallowed. "I guess we all develop mythologies that help us cope."
She glanced at him sidelong as a truck passed going the other way, headlights flashing across her face. "I'm going to regret this," she said. "This work you were doing. What was it?"
"Wrassling salt-water crocodiles in the Mekong Delta." Todd held up his left hand, showing the missing fingers. "You have to hold the mouths shut--they're not as strong that way--but everybody starts off a rookie. You know, crocodiles are extinct there now. You have to go to Myanmar if you want to wrassle in Southeast Asia now."
She groaned. "And your full-blooded Apache friend?"
"Crocodiles," Todd said sadly. "Sometimes, all a mythology does is fool you."
Two beats, and then suddenly the truck skewed sideways as she downshifted and jammed on the brake. It skipped along the verge of the road for a second before stopping, and Todd was dead certain she was going to order him out of the cab. He hoped she'd at least let him ride in the bed; it was dark, and a long walk back to the rez. But instead she folded over the steering wheel, guffawing until she choked.
He would have reached for her, but she waved him away. When she finally stopped, gasping between little wheezing whickers, she pushed herself back from the wheel and shook her head. Her right hand shot out to take hold of the gearshift, and the truck bumped back onto the road.
It was at least ninety seconds before she said, "Your family weren't really farmers, were they?"
He shrugged. "What the hell else is there to do in Indiana?" He wondered if this was a good time to ask her when the Residential School she'd attended was closed, and decided that maybe it was enough for him to know that that was one of the things driving her without rubbing her nose in it. Cold-reading people's triggers was his job, but you didn't have to get all Stephen Reyes about it unless they made you.
"Hmph." Another pause, another oncoming truck. She sighed and said, "I've got a little German, too. My grandfather's father."
Todd looked out over the hood of the truck at the night and the grass and the trees and the stars behind all of it. "Glauben Sie, dass Sie deswegen etwas Besonderes sind?"
"You better goddamned believe it."
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 0030 hours EDT
At the sound of footsteps on the hall carpet, Villette wavered and vanished like smoke. Reyes even turned his head to stare at the apparently empty seat behind the apparently unused desk, but there might as well have been tumbleweeds blowing across the half-height cube.
Reyes wasn't supposed to know that his team referred to the BAU's Agent Murchison as Blaze behind his back--and quite possibly to his face, given that Reyes was certain to court-testimony tolerances that Hafidha had been behind the nickname. But two-thirds of Reyes' job was knowing things he wasn't supposed to know. For a moment, he paused, blinded by the unanticipated sting of missing Hafidha.
Grief took its own time, but how long was every thought going to lead him to this knifeblade sensation? It couldn't be worse than a divorce.
And then Stanley Murchison pushed through the hall door, and Reyes got up from his chair, buttoning his suit jacket as he stood. Sometimes you needed that extra inch of authority.
"Hey." Murchison didn't actually cross the threshold. Like a vampire, Reyes thought. He just leaned his medium-brown head and the ex-Marine shoulders in their Bureau-blue suit through the door, braced on the frame and on the door handle. Reyes had always thought the Leathernecks bred a totally different subspecies of asshole, when they bred 'em, but Murchison was pure salesguy smarm. He was also, unfortunately, damned good at his job, and even better at getting people to underestimate him.
It just goes to show, Reyes thought, you can't rely on stereotypes. What he said was, "Special Agent?"
"Victor asked me to check on the status of your investigations."
Reyes lowered his chin and pinned Murchison with a stare. First-name status with the Unit Chief. Pull the other leg, it's got bells on, he thought, and knew by the sudden opening and closing of Murchison's mouth that the message had been received.
Murchison cleared his throat and added, "He also suggested I might offer to help, since you're understaffed and spread thin."
He made it sound like a peace offering rather than the imposition of a political officer. Reyes smiled. "Good plan," he said. "I can use the extra hands. Victor wants Dr. Villette in house for the duration. Why don't you head over to his apartment and pick him up? Tell him I need him back at the office."
Murchison gave him a considering look, but Reyes's poker face had stood up to worse scrutiny. "Alone?"
"You're not there to arrest him," Reyes said. "Just give him a ride to work."
"...Right," Murchison said, and winked. "So let's don't give him any reason to suspect otherwise. Tell Celentano where I'm going?"
"Call me before you go in," Reyes said. He shaped it like an order. He wasn't in Murchison's direct chain of command, but he had the seniority and the will to use it. And Murchison, ex-military, had the tendency to follow any order delivered in a confident tone. "And bring some backup in a second car. I don't anticipate any trouble, but it's better to be safe."
As Murchison vanished back Down The Hall, Villette reappeared without fanfare. Perhaps it wasn't even right to say he reappeared: he just suddenly stopped not being there. It should have been surprising, but somehow it felt more as if an unnoticed void had been filled. "Wild goose chase?" he said, sotto voce, as he rose from his chair to raid for more snacks.
Despite himself, the thrill of adrenaline pumped through Reyes's veins made him grin, just a little. "It won''t do him any harm. Or whoever he drags along with him."
"Frost's first autopsy report is in." Villette gestured to his screen. Reyes also hadn't heard his email alert. Interesting. It's not just invisibility. It's a complete aura of Somebody Else's Problem.
Reyes let his eyebrows do the talking.
"Cyanide," Villette said. "Hydrocyanic acid, to be exact, and some of its salts. Real detectable hydrogen and potassium cyanide--KCN and HCN--massive quantities. Hundreds of times the LD50, which is only sixty milligrams or so. So it's not another Clemson McCain, mimicking the symptoms and leaving the poison home."
"There's cyanide in the environment," Reyes said. "Cigarette smoke, household objects. Most of the compounds are nontoxic. What if the gamma can free and concentrate lethal amounts of it?"
Villette rubbed his face in exhaution. "Cyanide. From the Greek kyanos, 'dark blue.' The same root as cyanosis, did you know? Ironic, because cyanide kills by asphyxiation, but it turns you red, not blue. Cyanosis is caused by the circulation of deoxygenated blood. With cyanide, according to Frost, the blood gets absolutely saturated with oxygen, because your cells lose the ability to process it. Death is caused when the cyanide ion halts cellular respiration by inhibiting a mitochondrial enzyme called cytochrome c oxidase."
That last sounded like he was quoting the email directly. His voice had that distant packed quality, and he was free-associating, synthesizing wildly. He did it all the time, as far as Reyes knew: the pattern software without an off switch. But he usually filtered it more successfully. Reyes didn't need any better evidence of Villette's profound exhaustion. Especially since he could always compare his own.
"So... how did it get its name?" Reyes asked, because he wanted to keep Villette talking, engaging.
"They refined it from Prussian blue," Villette called as he vanished into the kitchen. "You know, the dye pigment? Go figure, because it's what the Germans used in the gas chambers during the Holocaust, too."
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 0100 hours CDT
Falkner had not been sleeping, but she had been trying, spread out on the worn quilt of the tribal chairman's guest bedroom. Her team were quartered like unwelcome Redcoats at neighboring houses; the closest motel was near the minimum-security prison forty-five minutes south. When her phone jangled with the opening bars of "Cold Ethyl," she winced. The joke had been in remarkably poor taste all along, but she'd never quite gotten around to pulling rank to force Hafidha to change it. Now she wondered if she ever would.
She kept the pain out of her voice as she lifted it to her ear and answered. "Hello, Dr. Frost. Brady asked me your question, and it turns out I can. Scheduling may be a bit tricky, though."
"It won't be necessary," Frost said. "It turns out the diener at the hospital morgue can smell it, and we have already completed the first three post-mortems. But thank you for offering. I have, however, another issue to bring to your attention."
"I'm all ears," Falkner said. She straightened her shoulders, pulling the tension out of her spine. Stand up straight, she scolded herself. Engage your core.
"Would you consider volunteering to help with the relief efforts to be a means of injecting one's self into the investigation?"
"Possibly." A cracking sound rewarded her as she rolled her shoulders. She bit down her sigh; Frost would think the irritation was directed at her.
"I would recommend asking Chief Spencer for a list of everybody who donated materials for shrouds. Some of them were... peculiar."
"Inappropriate," Frost said. She considered it, as if it were a foreign word she wasn't quite certain of. Falkner could almost hear her nod in satisfaction at the nuances before she said once more, "Inappropriate."
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Wednesday 13 May 2009, 0430 hours EDT
When Murchison poked his head around the corner again, Chaz made sure he was invisible. Reyes still knew he was still there--the giveaway smell of vanilla and garlic hung on the air. He should mention that to Chaz--apparently his mythology automatically encompassed sight and sound, but not aroma.
It did cross his mind that that piece of knowledge could serve as a secret weapon, but he dismissed the thought almost before it formed, and not just because of the disapproving spectre of Falkner frowning at Reyes from inside his own head. Chaz had earned trust, and Reyes was going to learn to treat him as a willing ally rather than a pawn if it killed him.
"Murchison," Reyes said, spinning his borrowed chair. "I told Celentano everything I know about Villette's habits and possible whereabouts already."
This time, Murchison came through the door. He stood just inside it, arms folded as if he blocked the throne room door from interlopers bent on overthrowing the rightful monarch. "Does he have a girlfriend?"
"In Las Vegas, as far as I know," Reyes said. "I already asked Marshall to check flights and hospitals, but he knows he's on call. He wouldn't have gone far."
"If he wasn't going to go far, he would be answering his phone," Murchison said.
"Maybe he went to a double feature."
"Do they still have those?" Murchison rocked his head back, less than a nod, and smiled through a whuff of air. "Celentano wants a BOLO. And he wants you in his office in thirty minutes with updated statuses."
The resultant click in Reyes's head sounded so loud he couldn't believe Blaze didn't hear it. He caught a breath around the thumping of his heart, and said "He'll have 'em both."
"He'll have 'em both," Reyes said. "Do the BOLO--no, get Lisa to do the BOLO. You take over the airports. Tell Victor I'll be in his office in five minutes."
Murchison stood staring for an instant, obviously boggled by Reyes's sudden and unconditional capitulation. Reyes, channeling his grandmother, half rose from his chair and made a shooing motion with both hands. "Go, go! Tell Victor I'll have everything he wants, but I can only get it for him if you leave me alone to get it finished."
"He'll be ecstatic," Murchison said dryly, and vanished back the way he had come. Villette appeared a moment later in the door of the kitchenette, cupping a giant mug of coffee with cream in both hands.
"Isn't that Lau's mug?"
Villette drank from it. "I'll wash it. You know, my friend in Vegas isn't exactly a girlfriend. It's more what you'd call a...fluid situation."
"Kids these days," Reyes said. "What Murchison doesn't know--"
"Is going to get somebody killed sooner or later. You're letting them put a APB out on me? That's embarrassing."
"It serves our purpose," Reyes said. He wanted tea, suddenly. When he got up to make it, he had to move past Villette.
Villette frowned at him. "The last time I saw that expression on your face, the night ended with Brady pointing a gun at my head." Apparently, enough exhaustion and stress and a big enough external threat could make him treat Reyes as a peer and a team member. That could be useful, one of these days.
But even as he was filing the data away for later consideration, Reyes winced. He deserved that. He dropped a sachet into a warmed cup and ran boiling water over it from the spigot on the side of the coffeemaker. A welcome, astringent smell rose with the steam. The Darjeeling would take about three minutes, five if he wanted to drink it with milk. "Bullet used in the Des Moines shooting was .30 cal."
"Not Hafidha," Villette said, relief swelling his voice.
"Not Hafidha's gun. Do you really think she didn't incite it?"
I think she can't go to jail for it, Villette's mismatched eyes said, but he knew as well as Reyes did that that was a matter open to debate in the courts.
Well, he was going to be furious anyway. Might as well get it all out of the way at once, clear the air and get on with it. Are you really contemplating a policy of honesty, Stephen?
Reyes parked his butt against the counter and laced his fingers through the handle of the cup. "We can't afford to follow her around the country, waiting for her to pull this again. And we don't have any means of finding her. So the only available solution--"
"Is to bring her to us."
Deliberately, Reyes nodded.
"You know she's monitoring for my name."
Again, Reyes nodded.
"If she thinks you're going to put her little brother in Idlewood for what she's done--"
"She'll try to take the heat off you. She'll try to organize a scenario where her disappearance is justified in retrospect. The most likely way for her to do that is by assisting the investigation in North Dakota. If she has any control over her actions at all--which she may. Evidence suggests that she's operating much closer to the Susannah Greenwood or Clemson McCain end of the model than the Joseph Hakes or Eileen Cho end."
The coffee slopped on Villette's fingers, the heavy cream content rendering it the same shade as his skin. He lifted the hand and the mug and slurped the fingers clean, then hastily drank the coffee down so it wouldn't happen again. "Evidence. You mean, that she didn't kill us all in Yardston."
One last time, Reyes nodded.
"You sick, manipulative son of a bitch."
Villette kept his voice from rising, but he couldn't stop the way it scratched and cracked. Reyes thought if his grip on the coffee mug got any tighter, it might just shatter in his hand.
Reyes said, as calmly as he could manage, "We study human behavior. Do you honestly believe that, having studied it, we won't use it? Manipulation is our God-damned day job. I am trying to save a woman's life here, Villette, and the lives of everybody she and the thing in her head may decide is in need of killing. You can cut me a little slack on the ethics."
Villette's left hand came up, flat-palmed. The universal human gesture for please, for the love of God, stop.
Reyes let his voice grind to a halt. Villette nodded, starkly defined muscles bulging on each side of his cadaverous jaw. He turned his head and stared toward the door to the office, toward escape. His feet followed the gaze; wordlessly, he turned on the balls of his feet and was gone.
A moment later, Reyes heard the scrape of a desk chair. Villette was back at work.
It was just about time to take his teabag out. Three minutes was a long, long time.
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 0500 hours EDT
When Reyes got back from delivering his report to Celentano, Villette was gone. Not just "nowhere to be seen." Gone. No longer in the bullpen, not in the kitchenette or copy room, not in Hafidha's sanctum, not in Falkner's office--and not holed up in Reyes's office, where Reyes had offered the use of the brown leather couch for future napping.
In the wind, Reyes thought, echoing Villette's earlier sentiment. He crossed to Villette's desk, pulled out the bottom file drawer. It was unlocked and there was no go bag evident. Even dirty clothes were still spare clothes. Somebody had cleaned the handfuls of Clif bars out of the top drawer, too.
Reyes straightened, one hand pressing the small of his back. He knew where Villette was going. The only question was how he'd get there.
Reyes thought he might know the answer to that one, too.
He pulled out his phone and thumbed speed dial. Celentano answered immediately. "You have something?"
"Maybe a lead on Villette's whereabouts," Reyes said. "Maybe nothing. I'm heading out for an hour or two."
He heard the hesitation, heard Celentano think about asking after his destination. There was a long pause, and Victor said, "Call if you need backup."
Maybe he was still on their side after all.
"And Stephen?" The hesitation dragged out even further. "...Go. Just go. Get them back."
Reyes took a breath. "And if we can't?"
"That's not an option," Celentano said, and cut the line.
Reyes was more accustomed to being hung up on by soon-to-be-ex-wives than by colleagues. He stared at the phone for a second to be sure and then slid it into his pocket. One brief pause in his own office to pick up his bag of dirty clothes and a few other items of gear, and then off to Dulles.
He wondered how long he had before Celentano came after.
Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C., Wednesday, May 13 2009, 0545 hours EDT
Reyes arrived at Dulles as nautical twilight was shading into civil twilight, the last bright stars fading into the blue but the sun not yet encroaching on the horizon. He presented himself and his credentials immediately to the security office and identified himself as a Federal Officer, qualified to fly armed. The uniformed woman behind the counter was petite and tired, medium brown hair stripped back in a Serious Business ponytail that made him brutally homesick for Esther Falkner. He thought she had at least a couple of kids, which made him pity her working the graveyard shift.
She said, "How can I help you, Special Agent Reyes?"
Reyes made himself confident, competent, and calm. "Another FBI agent would have presented himself to you in the past half-hour. Charles Villette. Tall man, Latino, very thin? He'll be flying as an air marshal this morning. It's a matter of urgency that I get a message to him."
She looked down at her monitors, or possibly her hands. "I can't tell you what flight he's on," she said. "For security reasons, I don't know, and it's not in the computer."
"That's okay," Reyes said. While he was pitying, he spared a moment of pity for the unsuspecting airline passenger who was about to get bumped so he could cover the backs of his team. "It's six o'clock in the morning. If you can provide me with a list of the first few flights with a possible connection through to Grand Forks, I should be able to find him."
"That," she said pleasantly--tiredly-- "I can do."
As Reyes had expected, Villette had chosen immediacy over subterfuge. He was parked in a corner of the gate waiting area, sitting out the first-boarding frenzy of a 6:15 Northwest flight that would connect him through St. Louis and Minneapolis to the wilds of the glacier-scoured upper Midwest, reading a copy of TIME magazine with distracted irritation.
"You could have called," he said, as Reyes settled down beside him. He didn't look up.
"Would you have answered?"
Villette shrugged. It looked like he was disarticulating every joint in his upper body. "I'm not coming back with you."
Reyes dropped his go back with a thump. "I'm coming out with you," he said, in a polite tone that brooked no argument.
"You're lucky I didn't make the 5:35."
"You're taking the long way around. The 6:30 gets into GFK at 10:30."
Chaz smiled. "You think she's checking flights to St. Louis?"
Reyes pulled a P.D. James paperback out of his go bag, but left it closed on his lap. "By the way, your vanishing trick?"
Villette nodded. Now he lowered the magazine and met Reyes's gaze.
"It doesn't work on sense of smell."
Villette's forehead crinkled. "Huh."
"Yeah," Reyes said, "Huh. Smart of you to make sure your name wasn't on the passenger manifest."
"Could be flagged," Villette said, leaving it open who might be doing the flagging.
Reyes's teeth gave him trouble when he forgot himself and ground them. Consciously, he relaxed his jaw. He didn't say I hope Hafidha still wouldn't bring a plane down. Because you didn't hope things like that where the anomaly could hear you. Superstitious? Sure. But you still didn't.
"I brought the bug zapper," Reyes said, touching his belt opposite the usual home of his sidearm, where the amped-up TASER Villette had once used to electrocute himself was concealed under his sportcoat. "Just in case."
Villette made a sound like a frustrated pony, but he didn't protest. Instead, he changed the subject--which contained within it tacit permission for Reyes to ride along. And when, Reyes wondered, had he started looking for Villette's permission?
"I don't think we can kid ourselves anymore. Either the anomaly is evolving, or we've been missing a lot of its potential for ick for a long time now."
"You're the synthesist. Do you think it's sapient?"
Villette stretched out his long legs uncomfortably. "If it is, I'm not sure it's just one sapience."
"Demonic possession?" Reyes couldn't keep the archness from his voice.
At least it made Villette chuckle. "Oh, we're back to that, are we? I'm not even sure it's sentient, honestly. But evolution and trial and error often result in something that looks suspiciously like intelligent design."
"And I don't know if you've considered this," Chaz said, "but organisms often evolve faster when experiencing selective pressure."
"Us," Reyes said, unwillingly.
Chaz gave up and stuffed the phone into his coat pocket. "Not to put too fine a point on it. We're punctuating its equilibrium."
Reyes leaned forward, elbows on his knees. "We'll worry about that after we have Hafidha back home in one piece. When we're on the plane, get some sleep, Villette. I'll keep an eye out for tigers."
"Some air marshal."
"Some fibbie, if you pass out on top of the UNSUB."
"Right. If you promise to sleep between St. Louis and Minneapolis," Villette said. "I got more of a nap than you have." He paused and reached into his pocket. "Here."
Reyes put out a hand without seeing what Villette had palmed. It was smooth and warm from body heat, about the size of a big pack of gum. When Villette lifted his hand off Reyes's, Reyes smiled. A prepaid cell phone. Light blue.
"Don't you need this?" he asked.
Villette held up a matching phone in red. "I bought two."
Somewhere in Eastern Iowa, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 0530 hours CDT
Daphne stretched her legs across the back seat of Pauley's Bureau wheels and leaned against the driver's side rear door. Wadded up behind her, her jacket took the edge off the armrest; the shoulder belt cutting into her trapezius and the side of her throat was a reminder that this wasn't the safest position on earth, in the event of a crash.
Lack of sleep was more likely to get her killed at this point than poor seatbelt discipline.
It was a good thing you'd have to work hard to get lost traveling westbound all night on 90. They had been running without GPS and with their cell phones turned off, the highway outside a wall of water and orange construction cones that appeared and disappeared through the tumbling curtains of rain with every lightning flash. Lau and Daphne had gone so far as to pull the batteries; Pauley had just powered his down. "She might not be looking for me," he'd said. "And if we do need to get a call out fast--"
It had been Lau who nodded. "Acceptable risk," she said, and dropped the pieces of her own handset into a mesh pocket on her go bag.
Now she was driving, windshield wipers twitching back and forth on 'interval,' the radio tuned low to a classic rock station, and Pauley was passed out cold in the front passenger seat, a travel pillow tucked into the corner between his neck, his chair, and the window.
The sun was still below the horizon, the road ahead black with rain, but when Daphne glanced over her right shoulder she could see a paler band along the horizon, and the underside of livid clouds lit purple and rose by the hidden sun. Let that be an omen, she prayed. Please take care of her. I need my sister home.
It seemed selfish to ask on her own behalf, and presumptuous to ask for Chaz--she's the only family he has--or Hafidha. But prayer was a focus for intention, and Daphne's intentions were all bent on one thing.
Bring her home safe. Bring her home safe. Bring us all home.
In the front seat, Pauley stirred but didn't waken. Daphne was glad he could sleep: one of them being rested might keep them all alive. Nikki drummed her nails on the wheel, a habitual nervous gesture. Daphne couldn't see, but she would bet Nikki was chewing on her hair. She sighed, only half-aware that a sound was escaping her.
"You okay back there?" Lau asked, softly.
Daphne opened her mouth for the facile answer, and then paused. "No," she answered, surprised at herself and surprised at Lau's generosity in asking.
Lau's glossy head bobbed. "Me either."
Daphne raised a hand, reached across her body, and touched Lau's shoulder. In the end, she thought, it was always the EMT training that came back to her in times of crisis, and she was glad to have it now. "We're doing everything we can," she said, as Lau's shoulder shivered tense and worried, muscular under her fingertips. "We're doing everything we can."
Des Moines, IA, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 0830 hours CDT
Des Moines, Iowa, was not large enough for a Field Office, but its Resident Agency occupied a suite in an office building on the Westown Parkway. The broad brick structure in the middle of a wide lawn, otherwise occupied by law offices, looked low and sprawling to Daphne's East-coast eyes. She slid their Bureau car into one of a selection of unoccupied spaces and put it in park, grateful to Lau's facility with AAA road maps in the absence of their GPS. In the passenger seat, Lau looked up from considered study of her folded hands.
Pauley was asleep in the back seat, and parking hadn't wakened him. In a decision made through eye contact, Daphne and Lau opened their doors, slid out--rumpled and blinking--and crossed a grassy strip dotted with trees that in this Northern clime still hadn't quite assumed their full summer plumage to arrive at a glass airlock door. She held this exterior one for Lau; Lau held the interior one for her. They crossed into a small, gray-carpeted lobby with a prominent directory on one wall and no security or reception desk.
"When was the last time you saw a government office like this?" Lau said, the sweep of her small hand taking in the unhardened whole of the building.
"Sometime before Timothy McVeigh," Daphne answered.
"I wonder if there's a lot of competition for Resident Agent to Des Moines?"
"Thinking of finding a less stressful posting?"
Lau just grinned. "Suite 302. Race you."
The third floor was the top floor, which made Daphne muse about sprawl, out here in a land where buildings were flat and had big lawns, and there was a lot of prairie but not so much bedrock to build on. Neither she nor Lau were out of breath when they topped the flight, despite having taken it at a thoroughly undignified run. Daphne allowed herself a brief smile of satisfaction. Not bad for a couple of old broads in their thirties.
There was little enough to smile about these days.
Ahead, the familiar FBI seal decorated a glass door, and Daphne was pretty sure from the weight when she opened it that this one, at least, was bullet-resistant. A white, redheaded receptionist glanced up as Lau entered, Daphne on her heels. "May I help you?"
She looked dubious, and Daphne could imagine how they looked--travelstained, crumpled, tousled, and bruised under the eyes. Even Lau looked scuffed around the edges, her usual polish abraded and chipped. She said, "I'm Special Agent Nicolette Lau. This is Special Agent Daphne Worth. We're the BAU representatives SSA Reyes faxed Special Agent Krohn about."
"Oh, of course," she said, her face lighting up. "I'm Angie Bakker. You look tired. It's a long drive from Yardston. Please help yourselves to coffee while I let Paul know you're here." She gestured to the pot in the corner, brimming and obviously fresh, and Lau's exhaustion-grayed complexion brightened visibly.
"Thank you. So. Much." Lau turned on her heel and made a beeline for the pot. She had just come back with mugs for both herself and Daphne (who mouthed thank you thank you thank you over the rim of hers) when Ms. Bakker returned.
"Just let me check your ID and you can go right in," she said, with a grin. "Not that I doubt you--"
"Just doing your job," Daphne said, and produced her folder.
The back office Bakker led them through was clean and organized, featuring a few bright touches among the inevitable beige of copy machines and printers. There were four desks, one of which looked unused, but only one of them currently boasted an occupant. A clean-shaven, shirtsleeves Standard Issue Midwestern Fibbie in his forties, he looked up as they entered, then stood with a red paper folder in his left hand, extending the right. "Paul Krohn," he said, as Lau shook it. "All I've got for you is a relayed phone message, I'm afraid."
Lau accepted the folder while Daphne shook Krohn's hand. She flipped it open while Daphne finished the introductions, and Daphne saw her react. "What is it?"
Lau blinked. "Reyes says to meet two at the Grand Forks airport, Northwest flight 3578. 4:42 pm."
"Sorry," Krohn said. "I'd offer you breakfast, but that's a nine-and-a-half hour drive if everything goes right. You'll be shaving it fairly fine."
Bakker cleared her throat. "There's a Panera on the way back to the highway."
"Oh, damn," Lau said. "I am never gonna get the creases out of these pants."
"Or your butt," Daphne said, finishing her too-hot coffee in a swallow. "Come on, Thelma. Time to make the cowboy drive."
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 0900 hours CDT
Donna Kakenowash's smooth-skinned round face looked as if it ought to be smiling. The photos on her refrigerator backed Todd up on that: Kakenowash and two other women clowning at a softball game; with half a dozen kids dressed in cardboard and crepe paper costumes; with an elderly man and woman at what looked like a rodeo.
"That's my grandma and grandpa last year," Kakenowash said, when she saw where his eyes had gone. "Grandpa passed this winter. And that--" she touched the photo of the costumed kids with a fingertip. "My social studies class. We put on a play, on Columbus Day, you know..." Todd heard her breath grab in her tight throat, a painful-sounding moist click.
"I'm sorry," Todd said, because he was.
She studied him across the horizontal ledges of her cheekbones. The frown sat wrong on her face. "So Winona called in the FBI."
"Yes, ma'am," Todd said, thinking himself inoffensive and acceptable. Only a very small Special Agent, ma'am. I won't eat much at all.
Kakenowash shook her head, but led him through the cheerfully messy kitchen of her double-wide trailer to the cloth-draped card table and wood folding chairs in the dining alcove. The chairs were softened by round crocheted cushions in bright colors that spiraled out from the center, like the peppermints beside a diner cash register. "I like these," he said, nodding at the cushions. "Your work?"
She shook her head. "My grandma. She makes afghans, too. She puts them in the raffles at the church."
Todd had seen enough of the community already to know "the church" was either the Catholic church in Bottineau or the Methodist one on the reservation. Nothing in Kakenowash's trailer suggested religious obsession--or any obsession, for that matter. He knew he couldn't gamma-hunt on hunches alone, but he was almost sure enough to drop his guard that Kakenowash wasn't their poisoner. She was plump and deep-bosomed, and while that wasn't a reliable part of the profile anymore, Todd thought the dozens of diet soda cans in the recycling bin by the kitchen door were a strong argument against gammahood.
She sat in the chair nearest the kitchen counter, leaving Todd the one with its back to the window. He hoped the backlighting didn't obscure too much of his expression.
"Ms. Kakenowash, you weren't at the school yesterday at the start of classes, were you?"
She looked down at the bright checked tablecloth, and her lips gave a little twist. "The day before, my grandma--she lives with me--slipped on the steps. I took her to the infirmary. They said she had a broken ankle and might need surgery, so she had to go to the hospital in Rugby."
"You went with her."
Kakenowash nodded, drew a sharp breath, licked her lips. "I called the school office and left a message to tell 'em I'd be late. It's probably still on the machine. I don't know if anyone even played it." The pleasant rising note of Kakenowash's sentences climbed out of control, until the last word was a high-pitched whistle of air. Tears coursed down her cheeks as if someone had pulled a cork out of the ducts.
Todd reached across the table and laid his hand on hers, because, professional demeanor be damned, you didn't ignore pain if you could help it. She turned her hand over and gripped his hard, and made a half-wailing, half-choking sound.
Sometimes all you could say was nothing at all. All you could do was be there.
At last Kakenowash pulled her hand away and snuffled, wiping the tears off her cheeks with both palms. Todd looked around for a box of tissues (Used to be that a gentleman never left home without his handkerchief), but Kakenowash fumbled half-blind for the magazine rack beside her chair, came up with a handful of Kleenex, and blew her nose. "It hurts to think about it," she said. No "I'm sorry" or any other suggestion that what she'd done was weak or embarrassing. Todd was surprised suddenly at how rare that was.
"When you came home and headed for the school, what time was it?"
"It was... I remember thinking I was going to miss the start of second period. So I guess maybe just before nine."
"Do you remember seeing anyone or anything unusual as you drove in?"
Kakenowash rubbed her face again. "There's not a lot of traffic until you get pretty close to the school. I saw Joe Saquash--he's one of the bus drivers--coming from the parking lot where they leave the busses. And Felicity, I gave her a ride because her car broke down."
"Who is Felicity?"
"Felicity Tabor. She's a student teacher. We get lots of 'em, and thank god, because we never have enough teachers. She lives outside. In town."
Todd took a moment to adjust the picture that drew in his head; "outside" meant "outside the reservation." "So you went to town to pick her up?"
"No, her car broke down on the way. I saw her by the road. Everything's pretty far from everything else out here, you know? If anybody's hitchhiking, somebody stops and picks them up."
Which would have made it a dependable way to leave the crime scene. Felicity Tabor was heading toward the school; still, plenty of UNSUBS returned to the scene. "Do you know Ms. Tabor well?"
"She's a good kid. When she got here last fall, you could tell she had all that Dances With Wolves, Thunderheart stuff in her head about Indians. We get lots of that in the student teachers, too." Kakenowash shrugged, and for the first time Todd saw a hint of the smile she wore in the photos. "We don't worry about it. The kids take care of that pretty quick." The smile cracked, fell, was sucked back into her mouth by a dragged-in breath. "Shit." She swallowed hard and clenched her hands in the tablecloth.
"Did you see anyone else?" Todd asked, as much to give her something to cling to as to get the answer.
"No--oh, yeah. Sam Fredeaux, one of the eighth graders. He was at the end of the old logging road, maybe getting to school late, too. Sam doesn't usually come in late."
"Not the tardy sort?"
Kakenowash snorted. "No, he just doesn't come in at all. He's ADD, does pretty bad at most subjects. He looked scared that I saw him, so maybe he thought he was going to kind of sneak in."
To Kakenowash, it would be impossible for one thirteen-year-old boy to kill one hundred sixty-seven people. Todd wished he thought it was impossible, too. "Which was was he headed? Toward the school, or away?"
"I thought toward. I'm not sure." Kakenowash frowned across the table. "You think maybe he saw--that he saw something?"
"I don't know. We'll ask him, and see if he can help us." Todd stood up. He liked the crocheted cushions even more; his spine smarted where the slats of the chair back had dug into them, and he could imagine what the seat would have done to his poor aged ass.
Kakenowash's hands clutched, twisted, and she stared down at them. "We're gonna bury our kids," she said, and her voice was thin and high. "Here, in the cemetery. We're gonna bury all those kids. How can that be possible?"
Yet another circumstance in which there was nothing to say. "Thank you, Ms. Kakenowash. Again, I'm so sorry for your loss."
All changed, he thought, changed utterly. But someone forgot to bring the terrible beauty.