"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, 2009,1015 hours CDT
The ride from the airport to the junior high school took under a half hour. Brady spent it staring out the window, listening to Chief Spencer brief Falkner in the front seat.
The Chippewa land was beautiful in the morning, a rolling countryside rich with blue lakes that glimmered between the deep green stands of willow and cottonwood. But it was a beauty punctuated by poverty; most of the houses Brady saw were shaggy-roofed and peeling. Here in this harsh interior continental climate, he saw evidence of uninsulated trailers heated with kerosene, and an entire tract of ranch style bungalows that looked like they'd been built and then abandoned to the wild.
"What happened here?" he asked, when Spencer paused in her explanations.
"These were supposed to be affordable housing," she said. "They're uninhabitable. Black mold, and the builder did not do the toxic waste remediation they were contracted for. We've been tied up in court ten years trying to get our money back, but--" he saw the rise and fall of her shoulders on either side of the seat back "--he went out of business. We tried to bring criminal charges, but no luck."
"Damn." Brady craned his head over his shoulder to catch Todd's attention. They were approaching the outskirts of a small block-and-clapboard town. The ring of EMS vehicles around one long yellow-painted building identified it as their destination. For a moment, he missed Daphne Worth; this was the sort of scene that she would handle as if she'd been born into it. But Daphne had her own problems, problems she would probably be more than happy to trade. He said, "And the unemployment rate out here is two thirds?"
"Worse that than, in the current economy." Spears leaned forward, reluctant to press on the back of Frost's chair. Frost, thankfully, seemed disinclined to small talk. "Suicide rates are four times the national average, Special Agent. One in four seventeen-year-olds is an alcoholic. This is not an easy place to live."
"I didn't imagine it was," Brady said. "Thank you for clarifying." He knew from Todd's mild expression of interest, however, that Todd had caught the same implications that he had. They wouldn't have to look far for cracks and stressors in this environment.
Nor, he thought, staring at the back of Chief Spencer's head, would they have to look far for guts and smarts. Thank God for small mercies.
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1115 hours EDT
The couch in Hafidha's Sanctum was unoccupied.
At the sight of that expanse of shabby chrome-yellow velvet, Reyes felt his heart rate kick up like an engine revving in neutral, felt sweat prickle his neck, heard his breath rush back and forth through his nose. Breathe in on five. Hold for five. Breathe out on five. He was not going to pass out in the hall and leave his team without whatever help he could give them.
Of course Villette wasn't on Hafidha's couch. This was the last place he'd go. And just because he wasn't here didn't mean he'd headed home after all, or--think it, because nothing is unthinkable to a rational mind--bolted when Reyes's back was turned.
He crossed the hall soft-footed and stepped into the briefing room, then waited for his eyes to adjust. Light from the hallway fluorescents streaked a reflection across the bare table and made the gray commercial carpet look like rough-finished concrete. He flipped the switch by the door to be sure, but this room was empty, too.
The bullpen was silent and still, the pattern of half-wall barriers around the desks like the broken structures of some mountaintop ruin centuries old. Reyes imagined he could hear the wind singing around the abandoned furniture, but it was only his breathing. In on five. Hold for five.
It was so like a nightmare that he wondered if he'd actually had it and forgotten it until now. The empty chairs, the silence, the missing team.
Reyes found Chaz at last in the copy room. He'd turned his go bag into a lumpy pillow and draped his jacket over his upper body. He lay on the harsh carpet with his knees drawn up, his arms wrapped around his ribs, and in spite of physical discomfort and mental turbulence had fallen asleep.
His hunched shoulder and his hip made peaks as sharp as young mountains. The dark hollows around his closed eyes looked like ham-fisted Hollywood zombie makeup. Let him sleep. He's not going anywhere. And as soon as Reyes broke his news... I do murder sleep. Good thing I don't want to be king.
Reyes crouched far enough away to seem unthreatening. "Chaz. I'm sorry, but you have to wake up."
Villette's eyebrows pinched brown skin between them; his eyelids squeezed tight. Then they snapped open, because he would hear "have" and think of Hafidha, Worth, the team. Never himself first. Reyes was startled to realize that jab of feeling was anger. He swallowed it.
Chaz pushed himself up on one arm, a lopsided A-frame. That put his bicolored eyes almost at a level with Reyes's. "What is it?"
Reyes sucked at his teeth cautiously, considering the options. "Celentano wants you brought in for questioning."
They were so close together that Reyes couldn't help but see Chaz's pupils widen. Another person's first response would be to burst out with protests, questions. Chaz's instincts were more feral: silence, and behind it the overclocked brain running scenarios. Finally he said, his voice choppy and flat, "We can't be trusted."
"We" meaning jammers. Just by drawing the line, Celentano had shouldered a space between Chaz and Hafidha and the rest of humanity. But now wasn't the time to make notes on the origins of intolerance. "I let him believe you'd left for home. I also told him it wasn't in anyone's best interest to have you locked in an interview room."
Chaz filled his lungs and emptied them, hard. He broke eye contact with a dip of his chin, levered himself up over his feet, and unfolded to stand upright. He swept up his jacket with one hand; with the other he caught the strap of his go bag and dropped it on his shoulder. He'd had more expression when he was sleeping. "I guess that's it, then. Any chance you can give me an hour's head start?"
"Don't be an idiot," Reyes snapped. Chaz's mouth opened, but before he could say any of the angry things forming in his head, Reyes added, with as little heat as he could manage, "I'd like you to consider the possible outcomes of going on the lam."
Chaz's eyes were still narrowed and dangerous. "I might be able to find her."
"You might. Then you're both on the run, and convicted by your own actions. Of course, if you don't find her, you've still made her look even more suspect."
Chaz's jaw worked. He glanced toward the door, but his shoulders dropped; he wasn't going to push past Reyes immediately. "So I'm supposed to turn myself in? As a good-faith gesture?"
"I suspect Unit Chief Celentano has considerable discretion in how far he lets the ACTF range, and how thoroughly he reports on our actions. But he doesn't have the final say on this. If someone above him panics and orders the beta experiment terminated, and you're in custody, you might stay that way. And if you're considered at large when that happens, it might be terminated with extreme prejudice."
That snapped Chaz's head around. He swallowed. "That... Is that likely?"
"You can't use your ability continuously." Reyes had stumbled only a little over the noun, but a little was more than he wanted. "If you were in range of a sharpshooter with a high-powered rifle, would you know?"
What Chaz did with his shoulders suggested either "No," or "I don't know." "Hafs wouldn't, either," he said, his voice half-strangled.
"The clock is running. And we don't know how long we've got."
"Celentano will send someone to my apartment."
More likely two someones. No, Celentano would send four agents to bring Villette in, because he'd learned his lesson about taking anomalous individuals into custody. And they might even be ordered to take no chances. "I suggest you not be there."
Chaz blinked. "But you just--"
"There's food in the kitchenette, and there can be more. You've got clothes in that bag. And I think we can improve your sleeping arrangements. Would you mind very much living right here for the duration?" Reyes tilted his left hand palm-up, offering without, he hoped, insisting.
Chaz turned slowly, surrounded by copier, networked printer, cartons of paper, file boxes, the supply cabinet, an extra desk chair. At the close of the circle, he stared down into Reyes's face. A grin slowly stretched his mouth. "Hiding from the FBI in the Hoover Building. I'm the Purloined Letter."
"Let's hope it's been a while since Victor read Poe." But Reyes smiled back. The clock was always running. They'd beaten it before.
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Tuesday, May 12 2009,1100 hours CDT
It wasn't that Solomon Todd hadn't seen this sort of thing before.
It was that he had.
Behind the walls of the school, inside the media perimeter, the bodies had been tidied away, but the photos Spears and Spencer handed out showed how it had been. One hundred and sixty-seven bodies were not tidy. Somewhere, those children and teachers and administrators had been straightened out and lined up neatly, but as Todd wandered from classroom to classroom, it was his job to imagine them as they would be if they were not yet covered with clean white sheets, not laid out in rows, not yet removed to whatever gym or community center or other staging area had been requisitioned for processing and identification.
It was not his job to imagine the families identifying their dead. He was damned grateful for that.
In mid-May, North Dakota was not yet experiencing the summer extremes of heat and humidity that would summon thunderstorms and tornados. But inside the un-air-conditioned school it was hot enough to send sweat trickling between Todd's shoulderblades, and the stench of bodily fluids lingered.
It was still nothing like a rain forest. The similarity was all in the photographs, and in Todd's mind.
Human brains were particularly good at remembering trauma, and making the associations that warned of incipient danger. This place is like this other place, where you were hurt badly. It was, evolutionarily speaking, selective. Avoiding places like the places that nearly killed you was a good way of staying alive long enough to pass on your genes.
Not exactly idly, Todd wondered if he'd ever managed that. Youth, inexperience, the Seventies... if he had, nobody had ever gotten in touch with him about it. It was a little sobering to realize he could plausibly have a kid out there somewhere who would be, now, Brady's age.
He snorted. The way his luck ran, it was probably Brady.
You're avoiding the subject at hand, he told his recalcitrant brain, and brought it back to the photos and the vivid reality of the present crime scene. The school wasn't big, but there were six classrooms, and a gymnasium and a cafeteria completing the C-shape that enveloped a dusty playground. The construction might not reflect wealth, but the playscape--hammered wood and half-buried truck tires--indicated PTA dedication.
The whole thing was cinderblock outside and linoleum in, and every single person--students, teachers, administrators, support staff, the portly security guard--who had been here yesterday was dead now.
Todd forced himself to stare at the dead people in the scene photos and compare them to the classrooms and hallways he reconnoitered. The victims did not quite lie where they had fallen, because paramedics had come among them, turning, checking, walking on. Every one of them bore a black tag, evidence of triage. They lay in puddles of vomit and urine and the froth they'd died in. One or two clutched cell phones; one was draped halfway out the window.
There was no sign of fire, which was a kind of grace--for Todd, at least. But most of the dead were very small, which was no grace at all.
Todd made himself look at their faces, appreciate each one as an individual, imagine their lives. He made himself soft and open, laid himself bare to the death laid just as bare all around. It was difficult; the instinct was to close yourself, get glossy and hard, and he'd done that in the past. But when you got too hard you chipped, and when you closed yourself too tightly you missed things.
And so he'd learned to let the pain flow through. It left traces, it wore channels. You couldn't keep it from eroding away parts of who you were. But if you let it flow rather than damming it, you could choose where you directed it, and what you kept above the flood.
Brady had wandered off somewhere--no doubt constructing elaborate scenes and blocking in his head--so Todd stole a glance at Falkner, who would have looked serene and professional if he hadn't noticed the set of her jaw. This was her second building full of dead children in a week, and while Todd hadn't been present to see how she handled the first one, at least this time it wasn't a surprise. She looked set like concrete, graven, old. He knew she dyed the gray out of her hair--hard enough to be a woman and taken for a professional in your forties without looking like the job was aging you--but this was the first time he ever remembered seeing traces of silver roots showing at the temples and part.
They were all, he thought, as he followed Falkner into the small cafeteria, working too fucking hard.
Including Chief Spencer--who was standing by the outside doors, apparently having just returned from guiding Frost to wherever Frost had needed guiding to--and Constable Spears, beside her. After less than twenty-four hours, both women had already acquired the drawn, wary looks of front-line fighters.
Falkner had wanted to send Todd along with Frost and Spencer--to liaise, Todd understood, though it hadn't been spoken out loud--but Frost had simply sniffed and trundled off, drawing Spencer in her wake, before Falkner and Todd had gotten themselves organized. They were all off their stride, the whole team, and while the gaps might not be showing to outside observers, to Todd they glared as if somebody was shining a laser through them.
Still, he judged from Spencer's more than previously taut expression that she'd gotten a full dose of the old Frost magic. He let the back of his hand brush Falkner's. When she looked at him, he made his face friendly, mouthed "beat it," and changed course directly toward Spencer.
Falkner suddenly got very interested in the milk machines.
Spencer looked up as Todd arrived, shuffling across the dirty floor in his bootie-wrapped brown loafers, careful to step around the evidence markers. He put himself kittycorner to her and Spears, opening their path toward Falkner and the doors to the rest of the small school.
Some things, it was best to get out of the way right quickly. He filled his voice with wry commiseration and asked, "How'd it go with Dr. Frost?"
"Tell me she's good at her job."
"She's the best I've ever seen," Todd said, believing it. "She rattled you."
Spencer rubbed the back of her neck left-handed, like it hurt. "She asked if we had any 'taboos' about how she handled the bodies."
Todd huffed amusement. "Vintage. What did you tell her?"
The neck-rub turned into a shrug. Spencer's hand fell down by her side. "I asked if she was afraid of offending tribal superstitions, to which she responded, 'I am not afraid. All tribes have superstitions, and it's polite to observe them.' She sounded so damned clinical." She shook her head. "The creepiest thing about her is the lack of ego. Unless it's the lack of malice. She actually doesn't think of herself as part of the same species, does she?"
"Dr. Frost," Todd said, "is what happens to the baby Rhesus monkey who doesn't even get a wire dummy to love."
"Christ," Spencer said. "That poor woman."
"At least she's found someplace in the world to make herself useful," Spears retorted. "Pity the guy who hasn't. He's the one who spends his time cruising around in a pickup truck, working on his daydreams of something like--" Her gesture took in the empty school, Falkner ducking down to inspect the refrigeration unit under the milk dispensers now, the gray-painted steel double doors and the echoing hallways beyond. "Killing off a whole bunch of reservation Indian brats before they can grow up and take advantage of the massive welfare benefits the government hands them. Bastards."
It was unexpectedly fervent, but Todd thought he knew what was behind it. "You think it was a local racist? A political act?"
Spears folded her arms over her chest and sighed. "Somebody who drank the Kool-aid. Metaphorically speaking. And got these babies to do so literally. Do you know what mortality rates were at the Residential Schools my government ran for First Peoples children up into our lifetimes, Agent Todd?"
"Sol," he said. He did--at least he had an idea--but he shook his head. "I don't."
"Sixty-nine percent," she said, unconsciously picking at the sleeve of her jacket. "They said they were killing the Indian in the child, but what they were really doing was killing the child. Outright. Rape, beatings, starvation, filthy living conditions, intentional exposure to tuberculosis. The USA hasn't done any better. They--" Todd heard the hesitation when she didn't say you "--they've always been intent on genocide. That won't change until we're dead or assimilated."
"And you became a Mountie." It could have been the key to an explosion, but he must have got the tone right: a little awe, a little compassion. Because she checked, and looked at him, and took a deep breath of the count-to-ten variety.
"I think this is an act of terrorism," she said. "You should talk to some of the local whites on the American side."
"Is that where you'll be focusing your investigation?"
She smiled painfully. "Not to the exclusion of other candidates. Sol."
Todd nodded. "I'm not saying it's not a hypothesis worth testing."
"You're saying don't go drinking that Kool-aid myself." Spears looked at Spencer.
Spencer's gaze rested on hers for a moment longer than you'd expect from a casual acquaintance, and Todd made sure his eyebrows did not rise. Oh. Well then.
He rolled his shoulders, wondering if Spears was somehow reading his mind with all this talk of Kool-aid. Gamma power: evoking the victim's most traumatic memories. A shiver danced across his skin: he had more or less just described what he'd overheard Chaz doing to Reyes in Miami.
He made his voice soft. "There's a whole lot of flavors of Kool-aid. The hard part is not drinking it when it tastes sort of like something you believe in."
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1100 hours CDT
This was where Brady could be useful. He was grateful for the opportunity.
He walked slowly along the off-white linoleum of the hallway, noting smudges from students who had apparently not observed the age-old proscription against black carbon soles.
Those students were lined up in a morgue somewhere, and Madeline Frost was poking at them.They wouldn't, Brady thought, his jaw flexing so hard he thought his teeth should creak, be worried about detentions or footwear again.
In one hand, Brady held the sheaf of terrible photos, which he consulted with each few footsteps, comparing them to the lay of the land. Photos made the set seem flat, two-dimensional. They removed the dimensions of space and time; they made movement seem simple.
When he walked the hall, and looked at how the bodies had lain, he started to see a pattern.
The first victims had been taken by surprise, felled almost instantly. They had dropped in their tracks, clutching their faces and throats, in attitudes that made Brady wonder about nerve gas. But further down the hall, people had had time to turn and stare: they all fell facing the initial chaos, as if the noise had summoned their attention and death had caught them while they stood, transfixed like deer at a twig crack. Another ten feet, and the bodies had faced away.
These had had time to run.
It had not helped them.
He started there, he thought, turning back to scan the end of the corridor closest the outside double doors. He just walked in and started killing.
If Chaz were here, he could have glanced at the photos and stared at the hallway and told Brady exactly what the gamma's effective range was. Brady just knew he had one, that it swept before him like a wall of death, and that nobody it touched lived to tell the tale.
What kind of a manifestation is sudden total death? What do you do about a gamma who walks down a hallway, just killing everyone in sight? Even if they're on the other side of a closed door? How does he do it?
Well, maybe Frost would be able to tell them something.
Brady devoutly hoped so. Because as he stood in the bright morning in the empty school, hearing only the sounds of brother and sister law enforcement agents moving out of sight, a sensation like dripping icewater trickled down his spine.
We can't do this, he remembered Todd saying.
He was desperately afraid that Duke was right.
Yardston, OH, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1000-1300 hours CDT
The three agents had shared out a trio of aged walkie-talkies that Lau had picked up from the Army-Navy store (good, old-fashioned, short-range radio signals; not a microchip in sight) and split up, driving slowly along patched asphalt streets. Worth thought the semi-suburban wasteland where the industrial outskirts of Yardston met a raggle-taggle housing development had never seemed so depressing. The rain came down in waves, soaking her hair and the shoulders of her soft wool plum-colored suit jacket (Hafidha picked that out for her, and the iris pin on her lapel too) every time she got out of the car to run up to a front door and speak with the occupants.
As was becoming a theme, no one had seen anything.
These roads were either lined with untrimmed trees framing brick or clapboard houses that had seen better days, or cut straight through concrete and cinderblock commercial zones notable for a predominant fauna of titty bars and liquor stores scowling out through grimy windows. No-tell motel, sporting goods store, Hooters, pizza joint, Chinese Cuisine To Take Out Or Eat Here (with no apparent facilities for eating here), Mickey's Drive-In, bowling alley. A classic slice of Americana.
"It's enough to turn me gamma," Worth said to the damp air in this damned Subaru, wishing for the thousandth time that her passenger seat were miraculously full of Chaz Villette and his head full of maps, working the geographic profile. She tried to imagine Hafidha hoofing it along these streets in her chartreuse velvet swing coat without attracting a flock of locals, and shook her head.
She never made it this far.
Turn back, look harder. Hafidha hadn't had more than ten minutes and probably closer to five between when she and Lau had left the room and when Chaz had lit out after her. Which meant a possible travel radius of something like a third of a mile, if she hadn't wanted to attract attention by running.
Which meant the housing development or--
"Oh, for the love of willy pete," Worth said, not caring for once that she sounded like Danny Brady, one-man linguistic meme. "We got snookered."
Misdirection. How does the magician work? She gets you looking over there, where the magic is supposed to be happening, and she does it all right under your nose.
Worth pulled over, because she imagined that the safety statistics on attempting to operate a walkie-talkie while driving were probably right up there with combined chauffering, texting, and macrame. The air was full of static, making Lau's stroke of walkie-talkie genius a little less effective, but maybe it would work. "Worth to Lau and Pauley, do you copy?"
A crackle, and Lau's voice came back, thin and flattened and fuzzy with storm noise. "Copy." A moment later, Worth thought she heard the tinny echo of Pauley's distant answer.
"I think I figured it out," she said. "Meet me back at the motel. Um. Over."
"Again?" Lau said. "Okay, be there in five. Lau out."
"Worth out," Worth said. I hope Pauley heard me.
He had. He had been closer; he was waiting for her and Lau in the lobby when they walked in, Worth walked in clutching the bulky black walkie-talkie in one hand. She swept her team mates up with a hand gesture as she walked past, head shaking.
They trouped back down the corridor to the corner where Lau had tripped on Hafidha's go bag and fallen; Worth stopped them there with a hand gesture. She turned and looked left; looked right.
The wall to the left was blank; a niche ten feet on led to the ice machine and vending. On the right--
"Room 126," Lau said. "Fuck me gently."
"Card lock," Worth said. "Computers. That stuff with the window was a decoy."
"She still in there?" Pauley asked, his right hand resting lightly on his pistol butt.
Worth shook her head. "Would you be? She waited us out here. After we left, so did she. No fuss, no muss. She probably stole a car out of long-term parking. Something new, with an electronic ignition and remote locks. Lots of microchips. If not a luxury car, maybe a Prius. She drove that for a while and stole or bought another. She could be anywhere by now."
They stood together, shoulder to shoulder, staring at the door for enough time that Worth started to feel a little light-headed. Then Lau cleared her throat. "I'll get the manager. She won't have left anything behind, but we'll check anyway. But the more important thing is getting everybody in the hotel to check their cars so we know what she's driving."
Pauley rubbed his eyes. "I'll get down to the cop shop and see if anybody in the neighborhood filed a report already."
"Oh, good idea," said Lau. "You'll like Sheriff McKinley."
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1345 hours EDT
"Reyes," Villette said, his voice just loud enough to carry the length of the bullpen, "I have--" a breath like a decision "--something."
"Bad or good?" Reyes was already on his feet, walking away from the suitcoat he'd left draped over the back of an office chair, hearing Todd's response in his backbrain as if the man were in the room. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
Too many damn years working together.
"Yes," Villette said, scooting his chair aside so Reyes could get a direct look at the monitors.
It was a YouTube video, which Villette had restarted from the top for Reyes' benefit. The first footage was of people walking, shot from head height, most of them preteens. The focal length was fixed and so was the point of view; so those at the near and far sides of the corridor were blurry and out of focus. There was no sound.
With no warning those people--children and adults--began to run. A moment later, they began to fall.
Reyes watched in silence as they died. It was quick, at least. So quick he almost couldn't accept what he was watching; might not have, if he hadn't seen the scene photos.
They dropped out of frame, and the camera did not follow them down. It was an utterly impassive observer, which Reyes found more terrible than if there had been someone behind it to react.
Another few seconds passed--he heard the whisper of Villette counting under his breath--and then another figure crossed the frame. A white-clad shoulder, dark brown or black hair long enough to move across it, a sharp nose. A woman, Reyes thought, but the figure was blurry and half out of frame and gone before he had time to really get a look.
"That's our gamma," Villette said.
"Can you download that? Freeze frame?"
"There's capture software," Villette said. "I'm working on it. I'm not--"
--Hafidha. From the way Villette's bitten lips thinned, that reminder was unwelcome. "So who the hell uploaded it?"
"I'm working on that too. And the gamma's effective range, which I'd say is about thirty feet."
That was something, at least. "Webcam, do you think?"
"Webcam in somebody's locker," Villette agreed. "Pinpoint lens poked out one of the ventilation slots. Wireless uplink to a computer. That's pretty good tech for a student in a poverty-riddled school district. Somebody wanted to see who was passing him anonymous notes?"
"Somebody was sending the feed to somebody who survived," Reyes said. "And that somebody was enough of an asshole to post this to the internet."
"Asshole," Villette said, his hands moving over the keyboard with confidence. "Adolescent. Same difference. We'll have to pull a warrant to obtain the server logs."
"Pull it," Reyes said, sliding his hand into his pants pocket so he could clench it in frustration. Hafidha would have had the information in a heartbeat. Would, if she wanted to, as soon as Villette filed the paperwork. If she was watching Chaz.
"Good work," Reyes said, shoulders cold in the air conditioning as he walked back to his temporary accommodations. "Let the away team know what you've got and what you're doing about it. Get them to find out whose locker that is; it might be faster than the warrant."
"On it," Villette said. "Also going to check if the school has any security cameras at all, and once I can cap that image, I'll get it to the team for use when screening witnesses. Somebody has to know who the gamma is."
"And where she's gone." Reyes shrugged his jacket back on. It wasn't just the air conditioning making his shoulders cold.
Wherever Hafidha was, she was watching Chaz.
Yardston, OH, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1400 hours CDT
The range on the walkies didn't reach from the cop shop back to the hotel, but Pete Pauley figured it was likely fairly safe to call the main front desk number from a cop shop landline. Hafidha might conceivably be monitoring every outgoing call from one (or incoming call to the other) but she'd have the Carnivore Problem--too much information in too many formats, and while it was conceivable that she was offloading some of the processing to outside systems...
Well, he just wouldn't say her name. Or his, or Worthie's, or Nikki's. Or the words Federal Agent. Or--
Yes. This could get tricky.
He settled for bending the truth hard enough to make it squeak, and hoped he wasn't betting his cowboy boots on an already losing hand. "Good afternoon. I'm calling from the Yardston Sheriff's Department. I understand you have some officers there speaking with a manager?"
Social engineering; they taught that at Quantico too.
A moment later, he had Nikki on the line. "It's Pete." Common name, not one on Hafidha's immediate watch list: again, it should be safe. "I've got something. Meet me here. Pack up."
"We're on our way."
Nikki Lau was almost always as good as her word. Despite the rain, still coming down in a gully-washer that did Pauley's Montana heart good, she and Worth met Pauley at the house in under fifteen minutes. Pauley waited for them at the side door under a little bit of an awning, the concrete step under his feet marred with the burned smudges of crushed-out cigarettes: this must be the smoker's point of exile. From his elevation, he could see the women's go bags tossed in the back seat as they rolled past, cruising slowly down the line of parking spaces to an empty one. Nikki was driving, which was always a smart choice; she made a lousy passenger.
Faint steam rose from the agents' clothing as they stepped out of the warm car. Worth huddled under an umbrella; Nikki just hot-footed across the wet pavement in her size six red-and-black Danskos. A nice thing about field agent women; they wore shoes they could run in.
She drew up beside Pauley out of breath and shaking wet hair out of her eyes. He tried not to stare, instead keeping his eyes on Worth until she caught up.
Worth ducked under the awning. "What do you have?"
"Car stolen in the neighborhood near our hotel, reported this morning," he said. "Turned up parked in the service area of a Nissan dealership on the other side of town half an hour ago. I was sitting right beside the officer who took the call when it came it." He shook his head.
"Phew." Worth shook her umbrella out--pointing it away from Pauley and Nikki--before folding it. "Sometimes you get lucky. We could have missed that for days. Did she buy a car?"
Pauley held the interior door wide. "My car's around the other side. Just in case we get a hot lead, grab your go bags and let's go find out, shall we?"
"Great," Daphne said, looking back at the rental car, a hundred yards away through driving rain. "Now he tells us."
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1050-1400 hours CDT
Eventually, Madeline Frost would have at least some of the patients brought to the Pierce County hospital in Rugby for autopsy. The Metigoshe Indian Reservation had a small infirmary and emergency services, but trauma and any lengthy hospitalizations were outsourced. It was also the site of the nearest autopsy suite that would suit Frost's needs, however minimally--but all the morgues in Rolette County would have needed to be pressed into service to handle 167 dead. There was no way, in any case, that she or anyone she deputized--assuming she were willing to trust some local ME or coroner with the responsibility for her dead--could conduct 167 autopsies fast enough to be useful to an active field investigation. She would need to be selective.
She could have proceeded directly to Rugby, but that would have prevented her from seeing the bodies in situ--or as close as possible. It also would have prevented her from conducting at least a superficial examination of the majority of the patients. Just because she didn't have time to go inside all of them was no excuse for sloppy work.
She waited until the police officer had left the basketball court, and then she waited another ninety seconds, exactly, before crossing scuffed varnish to where the dead reposed, laid out under worn, mismatched sheets that must have been donated willy nilly by community members. Puppies, autumn leaves, sunflowers, geometric patterns, some plain white and one set decked with gaudy rainbows. Both the flat and the fitted sheet from that set were in use; as she paused beside one she could see its mate tucked around another still form about fifteen feet away at the three-point line.
Pathologists and medical examiners on television were inevitably eccentrics. They talked to their patients, slept on autopsy tables or in morgue drawers, ate their lunches while conducting postmortems. Frost found these characterizations disrespectful, inasmuch as she considered them at all. Disrespectful of the patients more so than the pathologists, when--after all--the patients had so much more invested.
Frost drew on gloves before she crouched beside the first rainbow-wrapped body. It was as good a metric for random selection as any, and more satisfying than flipping a coin. Gently, she drew the sheet back, exposing the face of a boy of thirteen or so, his dulling eyes open, his lips caked with the dried residue of yellow froth. Around his mouth, Frost could see the angry marks of alkaline burns. His own vomit had seared his skin.
Because there was no one else present to whom she must convey information, she didn't feel the need to nod. Rigor would have locked his jaw by now, but she imagined what she would eventually see inside his mouth was similar: alkaline burns, traces of empty-stomach vomit. His burned lips showed no sign of cyanosis; his complexion was a healthy, blood-flushed nut-brown that hinted at some percentage of African-American ancestry.
Frost's hands were steady, firm but gentle as she lifted his right hand and pushed up the sleeve of his gray-and-red rugby shirt. Rigor was not so advanced as to immobilize the arm. The underside, where the livor mortis had settled, did not show the bright, unmistakable cherry-red flush she might have expected on a paler-skinned patient. But his hand had been curled up, the fingernails down, and in the nail-beds the color showed dramatically.
Over the next two hours, she examined eight more patients chosen through the same metric of the brightest, most childish and colorful sheets--the other rainbows, three different designs of cartoon unicorn (a set and two singletons), a pair in a clouds-and-stars pattern, and one single fitted sheet with orange and green polka dots--revealed the same symptoms. One boy was pale-complected enough to reveal the classic diagnostic: a sharp boundary of livor mortis that might have been outlined with a red wax crayon and colored in.
There, surrounded by her dead, Frost stood. She stripped off her gloves and dropped them into a trash bag. The number she keyed into her phone came from memory.
"Special Agent Brady," she said, when he answered. "This is Madeline Frost. While I do not yet have anything conclusive, my preliminary impression is death by chemical asphyxia. Ingested per orum, I would say."
Brady hesitated. "They suffocated from...swallowing?"
Not everyone, Frost reminded herself, understood plain English. She spoke calmly, clearly, and politely. "They suffocated because of something they swallowed. An agent which interfered with their ability to process oxygen on the cellular level. There is an unmistakable hallmark: candy-apple red discoloration of the blood, mucosa, and internal organs. I will be even more certain, of course, when I can complete some autopsies."
She heard him clear his throat, the scratch of a pen as he jotted hasty notes. "Bright red blood. That's carbon monoxide poisoning. Oral carbon monoxide? Fatal to one hundred and sixty-seven people? Simultaneously?"
"Unlikely in the extreme," Frost allowed. She shifted the phone to her other hand. "Agent Brady, I don't suppose you have the genetic predisposition to smell hydrogen cyanide? It purportedly smells of bitter almonds, as any murder mystery will explain."
"I don't know."
She sniffed in disappointment. "A pity. Because I do not, and in cases of an ingested rather than inhaled chemical asphyxiant, cyanide is the prime suspect. But you see, when cyanide salts come into contact with acid, they react to form hydrogen cyanide gas. The human gastrointestinal tract is quite full of hydrochloric acid."
"Oh," he said.
"So I should like to undertake some precautions," she said.
"I'll talk to Falkner." He hesitated and she waited, because the quality of the silence hinted that he had more to ask, and she did not wish to encourage him to waste her time with further calls when he had nerved himself. "Doctor Frost. How likely is it that you could get one hundred and sixty-seven people to take cyanide simultaneously?"
"Even if you did," she said, "it would not kill them all within fifteen minutes, let alone five. There are burns around the patients' mouths suggestive of the swallowing of a strong solution of potassium or sodium cyanide, with concomitant vomiting. Ingested cyanide salts are only immediately fatal on an empty stomach. Otherwise, it can be minutes--as long as an hour--before acid concentrations in the stomach are sufficient to convert the salts to hydrogen cyanide."
Brady muttered something she didn't quite catch.
"I beg your pardon?"
"So much for the movies," he repeated. "Thank you, Doctor Frost."
"My pleasure, Agent Brady. Please ask SSA Falkner about her sense of smell, and call me back. Have a good day."
She lowered the phone from her ear, tight across her chest from the necessity of dealing pleasantly with another human being. Three long breaths eased the tension. She was safe here, surrounded by the dead.
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1430 hours CDT
"If she has wheels," Villette said, staring blank and hollow-eyed at the fax on his desk, "she could be headed anywhere on the continent."
His hands gripped the sides of his chair cushion, like a man in a carnival ride with a broken seatbelt. But it was his voice more than his face that hurt Reyes like a thumb on a bruise: uninflected, as if he breathed in enough air to push the words out his mouth only under duress. You should have sent him home, Stephen. Even he can't think when he hurts this bad.
Hafidha could have hidden Villette digitally while Villette handled the physical disappearance. But if she hadn't gone AWOL, no one would need to disappear. Instead she was using her countermeasures for her own benefit. The anomaly is inherently selfish.
He kicked himself for anthropomorphizing, for being helpless in the face of his team's pain, for everything he'd done and not done that led here. "Villette. That's enough."
Chaz swung his head around as if it weighed too much, as if he were a captive bear goaded and turning toward the source of its torment. Before he could snap at him, Reyes continued, "She cannot be anywhere. You know better than that. She isn't moving at random. She's going away from something, toward something. Tell me what it is."
Chaz looked down at the fax again, then raised his gaze to the windows across the bullpen. Reyes had time for two determinedly-slow breaths before Chaz's eyes closed tight. "I don't know. All I know is, she won't come here."
"Good. One destination we can mark off the list." Reyes wanted to scrub his hands over his face, but it would look like frustration. What Chaz needed from him now was steady confidence, direction. An anchor. I thought that was what Esther was for. "If she's driving, you can determine a possible range of travel to start with."
Reyes tapped his index fingernail once on the desk. Focus, said the sound, and End of discussion. He stepped away, toward the doors to the corridor outside the bullpen. Villette didn't ask where he was going, and he was grateful for that, because he didn't want to say it aloud.
But someone had to search for the gamma in the things she'd left behind.
Yardston, OH, Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1400 hours CDT
Worth walked the parking lot while Lau and Pauley talked to the salesguy. She'd probably drawn the short straw, and given the occasional, not-too-distant rumble of thunder, it was possible that using her umbrella wasn't the brightest idea ever. But she was surrounded by light poles and banners and large metal objects, and at this point, she was willing to take her chances.
Somewhere back East, Chaz and Reyes were bent over Hafidha's laptop. And Hafs herself was who knew where, in who knew what kind of danger. Daphne folded the arm that wasn't holding her umbrella up across her belly, a self-comforting gesture that reminded her of the way Chaz hugged himself when he was nervous or cold, and so wound up not being very comforting after all. If I were Hafidha--
It didn't help. Her profiler-brain was too full of spinning wheels and an endless litany of circular thinking that more or less boiled down to Please please please don't let this be what it looks like.
She turned in patent relief at footsteps behind her. Even Nikki had accepted the need for an umbrella now, though she was letting Pauley--with his eight-inch height advantage--carry it for both of them.
"Salesguys didn't sell her anything," Lau reported, when they were within calling range. Pauley nodded confirmation.
Daphne unwound that arm from her belly and waved vaguely at the lot. Even the new-car part of the dealership looked seedy. "Let me guess; the dealership is missing a vehicle out of inventory? Something that was parked at the back of the lot?"
"A 2007 king cab truck," Pauley said. "Four wheel drive, maroon paint. They had to do a visual inspection to figure out what was missing--they just took it in trade two days ago and it's not in the computer yet. They said."
And if it had been, well, easy enough to delete a database record. No sweat at all.
"Even money she's already swapped the plates." Lau shook her head. "The time for subtlety has passed, guys. The only way we're going to do this is to issue a BOLO covering the midwest and find that damned truck. If she hasn't already crossed the border into Canada we might have a chance."
"A BOLO," Daphne said. "You know those systems are all computerized now?"
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Tuesday, May 12 2009, 1400 hours CDT
Outside the cinder-block tribal administration building, in a square of grass flanked by parking spaces, an American flag snapped and stuttered in the wind halfway up its flagpole. Falkner noticed Winona Spencer watching her across the roof of the car.
Section 7m of the Flag Code didn't mention the mass murder of one hundred sixty-seven schoolchildren and teachers. But the law was no match for this kind of human suffering, and Falkner wasn't sure it should be. She ducked her head in something Spencer might or might not read as a nod, and followed her up the cement walk to the doors.
The building's central hall was floored with a scuffed linoleum mosaic: a circle divided in four colored sections, around a smaller circle that held the tribe's motif, four arrowheads pointing outward like a compass rose. The steel-and-glass door on the right-hand wall sported a sign with the same motif, and "Metigoshe Tribal Police" in capital letters.
It looked like a lot of small-town copshops she'd been to in the course of her Bureau career. But in spite of the American flag displayed outside, this was another nation, with its language and sovereignties and feelings about foreigners trampling through its most painful scenes.
Children have no nation, Falkner reminded herself. They're the world's responsibility.
Chief Spencer opened the door, and Falkner passed through close behind her, so Spencer wouldn't have to hold it.
The woman in civvies at the desk nodded at Spencer, and might have said something, but the desk phone rang just then. Spencer led the way to an office that, according to the plastic name plate beside it, was hers.
Two men rose from the metal folding chairs along the wall when they entered. Spencer leaned her head and one shoulder toward them. "Tribal chairman Noah Curtis, and Lucas Sorensson of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Supervisory Special Agent Esther Falkner of the FBI."
Curtis was heavy-set, in the way of a man who got used to the calorie demands of hard physical activity and now wasn't active. He was still broad through the shoulders, however, and his pearl-snap chambray shirt pulled snug over his chest. His salt-and-pepper hair was cut short. His mouth was thin and hard in his round face, and his eyes were red and puffy. When he stepped forward to shake hands, Falkner noticed the sharp tock of cowboy boot heels on the hard flooring. "Agent Falkner," he said, his voice hoarse. "Thank you for coming."
Sorensson was white, in a Wonder Bread way, if first impressions were to be believed. His no-color hair wasn't thick enough to protect his scalp from sunburn, and the pink extended to his forehead, nose, and the tops of his ears. His blue eyes looked over-diluted, and his tan suit, white shirt, and light-blue tie contributed to the impression that he was camouflaged for some other ecosystem than this one.
"SSA Falkner," Sorensson said in a rush. "Are you certain this is a homicide?"
It startled her, before she stepped back mentally and saw it from outside her job. She was certain because her team had different standards for what was possible than anyone who hadn't tangled with a gamma. Which was why she had to lie to Sorensson. "We believe this is likely to be a homicide. Our investigation should turn up information one way or the other very soon."
"I don't want to interfere in your investigation. But if this turns out not to be murder, my office needs to look into the possibility of environmental hazard, building code violation--" He stopped his headlong monologue, and his telltale skin flushed, then paled. "I'm sorry." Sorensson hunched one shoulder, stared past Falkner to Spencer, then turned to Noah Curtis. "I'm sorry. This isn't the time--it's not right to..." His throat bobbed as he swallowed.
Curtis reached out a big, rough hand and laid it on Sorensson's shoulder, then let it drop. "This is the time to do our jobs. Nothing else we can do."
Sorensson swallowed again and nodded. "Agent Falkner's work takes precedence. But if I could send in investigators to do preliminary studies, it would give us a jump on things if it is in our jurisdiction. If it's groundwater contamination, something that could happen again--"
And you have a superior back in Aberdeen who wants this cleared up before it starts to stink, Falkner thought, pushing her disgust down her own throat. Lau was better at these things, or at least, made a better pretense of not wanting to throw bureaucrats out windows. And it wasn't Sorensson's fault. "This is Chief Spencer's jurisdiction. My team is here at her request to help evaluate the situation. Right now my concern is preserving and collecting evidence, and the school grounds are still a secured crime scene." She saw a muscle jump in Sorensson's tightened jaw. "But we could use your perspective in our investigation. Does your office keep records on builders' liens on reservation property, and civil court cases involving reservation residents?"
"Yes, it does." Sorensson's body language was already less poker-like. Good.
"The tribal police wouldn't have any of that on file. It would be a great help if you could find any case files pertaining to the school, school personnel, toxic materials, or any other dispute that seems connected."
"I can do that. Thank you, Agent Falkner." He met her gaze, and she had the shaming suspicion that he knew what she was up to, and had his own reasons to be glad of it. He pulled a card case out of his jacket pocket, slid out a card, and passed it to her. "You'll keep me informed?"
Sorensson left the office, and Chief Spencer waited until his coattails disappeared around the doorframe before she muttered, "Go boil some water."
Falkner bit the inside of her lip to keep from smiling.
"Sit," Spencer ordered, and Falkner dropped into the chair Sorensson had occupied as Curtis sagged back into his. "What do we know so far, and what can we expect?"
Falkner gathered herself, laid her hands in her lap one on top of the other. This was no different from any other police briefing. "You know the person who did this. You've seen him. He was able to walk into the school without provoking comment."
"Someone from the rez?" Spencer asked, tight-voiced.
But Curtis shook his head. "Plenty of people from outside come and go on tribal land. Deliveries to the store, utilities service guys, post office. All the schools have some teachers and staff come in from town."
"Chief Spencer can start following up on regular deliveries and service calls to see if they intersect with the time of the murders. And we need a list of everyone who would ordinarily be at the school today who wasn't."
Spencer raised her chin. Falkner recognized the pose; her team members did it, as if it helped a new idea take root. "Because one of them might be the killer. Or someone the killer didn't want to target."
Falkner nodded. "The person who did this may have personal or political motives, but this is about an obsession. The method used in the homicides--poison--will have some connection to that obsession. This is not the first time the UNSUB has poisoned someone. He's killed before, though not on this scale. Review any previous poisoning deaths, especially any that seemed accidental or self-inflicted."
"We see a lot of alcohol poisoning." His voice was flat and bitter. "It'd be easy to miss a murder in there."
This wasn't the time for emotion. As Curtis himself had said, the work needed doing. "These will also not be the UNSUB's last murders. I know you've closed the schools and tribal offices. You should cancel any other events that would gather a crowd, because the UNSUB will be drawn to them."
Spencer and Curtis exchanged a look. "Friday night," Curtis said. "We have a bingo game in the community center every Friday night. We can't afford to build a casino, but we've got that."
They had too small a sample to build on yet, but a community bingo night could have something in common in a jammer's mythology with a junior high school. How was it possible to have so many deaths, and still have too small a sample? "Can you cancel it?"
"Nobody'll like that. Folks come in from town. And if they think it's dangerous to come on the rez..."
"It's our way of letting the locals have a chance to give some of the state back to the Indians," Spencer said, dry as paper. "We don't have a lot of income stream."
"We'll have to identify our killer before Friday, then." Falkner pushed herself up out of the chair. She was conscious of wanting to do exactly the opposite, to sit and sit, blank-minded, letting someone else take up the reins and the responsibility. You need sleep, that's all. "Chairman Curtis, Chief Spencer tells me we have to apply to you for permission to go armed on tribal land."
Curtis replied with a slow nod. "My people have a lot of history of being tried by a bullet. And some of the people doing the shooting have been FBI."
"I understand. But I'm sending my team out to face someone who has killed one hundred sixty-seven people. I can't send them out unarmed."
Curtis's face pinched at the number. He drew a long, harsh breath, and said, "Two of them--they were my daughters. Nina and Cindy." He pressed his lips even tighter together and turned as if to look out the little window behind Spencer's desk. Falkner didn't think he was seeing the outdoors.
"I have two daughters," Falkner said, letting the words fall softly. "I'm so sorry for your loss." It might not be a welcome sentiment coming from a Federal agent. From one parent to another, it was simple human decency.
Curtis swiveled his head back to study her face, and nodded. "Your agents can carry. But we have enough grieving."
"Yes, sir." As Spencer rose and stepped around her desk, Falkner wondered if there was any way she could say, We'll keep him from killing again. No, there wasn't. "Chief Spencer, let's figure out who wasn't at the school."
J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building, Washington D.C., Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 1500 hours EDT
Hafidha hated it when Reyes--or anyone--leaned over her shoulder while she worked. Reyes knew it, and tried to remember not to do it. But absorption tended to hunch him forward like a waiting vulture, whether the business he was absorbed in was his or someone else's.
What would she say to someone actually sitting in her fancy Aeron chair? He rolled it back gently from the desk, across the extra-large carpet protector she'd demanded from Facilities so she could kick off and sail from one end of her work area to the other without drag from the gray tweed olefin.
Something like: Out there you're El Queso Grande. In here, I'm the queen. And you're sitting in my throne. She was independent and territorial. Not a team player? That depended, didn't it, on what kind of team it was?
One knew one's friends and co-workers as well as one needed to, or happened to. After that, knowledge was a gift or an accident, to be used--or not--accordingly. What he was about to do was a violation of trust, which was why he had to be the one to do it.
But the self-loathing was almost enough to keep him from sitting in that chair.
In pursuit of an Unknown Subject, an analyst gathered information from current behavior, combined it with a history of characteristics of other individuals, and constructed a picture of the crime and the criminal. And the word "subject" freed the analyst from the assumption of criminality: the focus of the investigation moved away from assignment of guilt. The techniques could be applied to suicides, hostages, the mentally ill.
Steve, he could hear Todd saying, move away from the whiteboard. They each had their sanity-saving distancing methods. Reyes was not unaware of his own.
Hafidha was a subject, though not unknown. But he had two entities to profile, didn't he? Hafidha, and the anomaly. That last was his UNSUB. Whether they were a team, or a kidnapper and its hostage, remained to be discovered.
Reyes lowered himself into the chair and rolled it up to the desk.
Except for the bare spot the laptop would occupy, the room was just as it was when she used it. A green glass dish in easy arm's reach sparkled with foil-wrapped chocolates; the manufacturer's name was in French, and not one Reyes recognized. The jar of jelly beans on the filing cabinet was half-full.
Reyes could see Hafidha's height in the angles of the flatscreen monitors, the sight lines to the photos, postcards, clipped magazine pages, and posters on the walls. (The bottom four panels of The Gashleycrumb Tinies were half obscured, for Reyes, by the rightmost monitor.) He could feel it in the way the backs of his thighs pressed the chair seat with his feet flat on the floor.
She'd hung a sweater on the back of the door; like Chaz, she was sensitive to cold. Unlike Chaz's blending-in sport coats, the sweater was purple and peacock blue freckled with red-violet. A tall person drew the eye. Chaz preferred to duck out of sight. Hafidha wanted the world to keep looking.
Sometimes that was another way of not being seen.
You know these things already. But they were things a host could build a mythology out of. Everyone had a mythology--"I never win raffles," "Always take the first parking spot," "My parents love my brother more than me." Everyone tried to impose order on entropy. The anomaly only increased the chance that a mythology would have dangerous consequences.
Hafidha hated entropy. She'd sought a place in the Secret Service in spite of her family's doubts. Her anomalous abilities were directed toward communication, consistency, making things work. The identity she inhabited was of a person who maintained order, who held the world together a little bit longer, who stopped people who wanted to see it broken. It was what Reyes had seen in her, that made him bring her into the ACTF.
He swiveled the chair to face the three posters over Hafidha's bookshelves. A photo of Stephen Hawking, taken around the release of A Brief History of Time. A copy of the "I Want to Believe" poster that had hung behind Fox Mulder's desk on The X-Files. Robert Smith of The Cure, his hair like a black explosion of thorns and smoke, his eyes paint-ringed in a pale face.
Reyes knew what they stood for: the team's theories about the nature of the anomaly. Science, the supernatural, and bracketed by those two, the nagging doubt that neither explanation seemed universally adequate. They also described categories for cases: Down the Hall could deal with straightforward applications of physics, however extreme. The ACTF sorted out the questionable events, and dealt with the anomalous ones.
But these were Hafidha's particular symbols. Hawking, Smith, and Spooky Mulder. The power of science trapped in and limited by a frail container. Darkness with an alluring aspect. Powerlessness in the face of uncertainty, and an uphill battle against forces that hid the truth.
He realized his hands hurt from his grip on the chair arms.
The desk drawers were full of ordinary things: pens, rubber bands, paper clips, restaurant takeout menus, spare cables, a soldering iron. Hafidha's laptop was probably the only wireless connection in the Hoover Building, since the Bureau subscribed to the theory that wireless was inherently less secure. Had he been foolish to assume that Hafidha's internal encryption was uncrackable?
There were some novelties: a heart-shaped black thumb drive tucked inside a heart-shaped tin box; an angel duckie fob that lit up when Reyes' hand brushed it. It was the mate of the devil duckie that lived on Todd's keychain; Reyes could imagine Hafidha's delight at its flamboyance and silliness, and Todd's delight in sharing it with her.
His misery threatened to rise up and drown him. But he was not entitled to that; it was not his place to feel hopeless or helpless or heartbroken. He wouldn't impinge on Chaz's grief that way, even if Hafidha had not needed him focused and smart.
He tucked the thumb drive into his pocket. He'd check it later. It would amount to nothing, but he would check anyway.
It wasn't until he tugged on the bottom file drawer and found it locked that it occurred to him to wonder about the contents of the drawers. Perfectly ordinary. They were exactly what a stranger would expect to find in them.
Why would Hafidha need to lock a file drawer? Any sensitive material would be on her laptop, not on paper in her desk. Reyes fished his own keys out of his trouser pocket and began to fiddle them in the drawer lock. Yes, I am a bad human being. I'll apologize to her when we find her.
One of the file cabinet keys fit well enough to shift the latch; pushing down on the drawer handle and yanking hard did the rest.
The drawer was mostly empty. He was baffled at first. Then he remembered Hafidha's go bag, found in the hotel hallway in Ohio. As he did, the smell of gun oil reached his nose. Yes, there was her cleaning kit, and a left-side holster in brown nylon, businesslike but not very Hafidha.
She would lock the drawer she kept her weapon in. But her weapon was with her now. Did she lock it whenever she closed it out of habit? He reached into the far back of the drawer, into shadow. His fingers brushed something hard, an edge, a cylinder... He slid it out into the light.
Like the empty space in the drawer, it initially made no sense. A pencil-thick wooden dowel, one end thrust through a black rubber grommet, the grommet filling the hole of a compact disc. Someone had written on the disc in black felt-tip, "TAXES 07." Fuzzy red-orange thread wrapped a tidy cone around the dowel on one side of the disc, pulled taut over the disc's edge, and knotted around the wood on the other side.
A spindle. Homemade out of parts that, when disassembled, would be unremarkable stored with the other contents of Hafidha's desk.
Strictly speaking, what was wound around the dowel would probably be called yarn rather than thread. Reyes fingered the the fiber where it spanned the space between the disc edge and the dowel. "Frog hair," he murmured. Where had he heard that expression? But it fit this stuff that sliced thin and bright as the beam of a ruby laser.
Surely one didn't produce this tiny, even strand without a lot of practice.
Reyes knew there were things about his team he wasn't privy to, simply because he was the boss. He also knew they held a mostly unvoiced belief that he knew everything already anyway, and didn't need to be told about anyone's personal life. Hafidha was not necessarily hiding her hobbies, just because he didn't happen to know about them.
So he stepped across the hall back to the bullpen.
Villette was in the kitchenette, eating Breyer's vanilla bean ice cream from the half-gallon carton as methodically as a plane refueling in midair.
"What does Hafidha do for fun?" Reyes asked him.
Villette blinked and frowned, trying to derive context from text. "Dancing. Buying vintage clothes. Baking. Swimming. Ice skating. Snowboarding."
"Does she spin?"
The line between Villette's brows deepened. "Stationary bicycle?" he said. Reyes wondered if he knew how much his expression revealed his opinion of riding a bicycle without going anywhere.
"No, yarn. Have you seen her spin? Maybe making things with yarn?"
Villette's head swung forward, as if it were weighed down with memory. "No. I take it she does?"
"It seems so." I'm sorry, Reyes wanted to tell him. I'm sorry there's anything about her you don't know. I'm sorry I had to tell you she didn't share everything with you.
Why didn't she? But as soon as he asked the question, he knew. You kept secrets so you'd know there were things that belonged only to you. If knowledge was power, then knowledge of you was power over you. Withhold enough, and you could slip the leash.
I ought to know. Reyes clenched his teeth and felt a dart of pain in his jaw. It's the way I've always lived.