"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, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 1000 hours CDT
Sam Fredeaux sat sullen on the sagging plaid couch in his grandmother's pre-fab house. At least, it looked like sullen. But Brady remembered a little about being thirteen. "Nice haircut," he said gravely.
Sam ducked his head self-consciously and swiped his palm across the close-shaved scalp over his left ear. On top his hair was longer, clotted in messy spikes. It clashed with the last childish roundness in his face. He looked too small for thirteen. Brady had a disorienting moment of feeling like Esther Falkner: a pinch at his heart that this kid was determined to fight his way out of childhood too soon.
Sam's grandmother, Doris Jeviss, perched on the other end of the couch. She murmured, "The sister of one of his friends did it. She cut all his friends' hair one day." Her voice dried up suddenly. Brady wondered how many boys with fresh hip-hop haircuts were lying under sheets now.
"Sam, my name's Danny Brady. I'm with the FBI. I'm here to find out who killed all those people at the junior high school."
That got Brady a quick look. Like his hair, Sam's eyes seemed too old for his face. But his gaze dropped back to his sneakers before he said, "Okay."
Brady leaned forward in the brown upholstered chair and crossed his forearms over his knees."Do you like school, Sam?"
"Sam!" his grandmother protested. Sam shot her a guilty sideways look before focusing on his shoes again.
"Still, you're better at some subjects than others, I'll bet." Sam shrugged, and Brady added, "Sports?" He straightened up, held his arms a little away from his ribs, let his shoulders occupy their natural space. "I played football. Not like you'd ever guess."
His deadpan got him an eyeroll and a twitch of the mouth from Sam. "I like hockey," he replied, in a soft growl that broke upward on the last syllable. "Summer sucks."
Mrs. Jeviss's mouth pursed, and she frowned. But she may have felt Brady at work; she didn't speak this time.
"I hear that. How about fixing things? Was that a dirt bike I saw out front?"
Sharp nod. "It runs pretty good now." Sam flushed, just a little, and Brady thought it was with pride.
"So you like doing things you're good at. That makes sense. You're not good at English and history and social studies?"
Sam met his eyes. "Nope."
Brady gave a one-sided shrug. "Teachers just don't understand stuff like that."
The kid looked at him up and slantwise, doubtful. But the man-to-man approach seemed to reach him.
"How about computers? Digital video?"
The response was so quick Brady was shocked, and he'd been expecting something. Sam's eyes dropped; his face went blank and hard; his hands lay like dead things on either side of him on the couch cushion.
Doris Jeviss opened her lips, but Brady raised his hand swiftly and said to Sam, "You spend a lot of time in the computer lab, don't you? There's a note in your school record that says you have some pretty hot skills in electronics for a kid your age. Written by a...Mr. Bello."
Sam pushed back with his toes, dug his butt further into the couch padding.
"Did you like Mr. Bello?"
Sam's fingers clenched.
Suddenly Brady wished he weren't here. Falkner could have done this. Todd could have, genial ice man that he was. This kid had been sideswiped by life over and over; he didn't deserve to have his nose rubbed in this new head-on collision. But he was halfway in already. The harm's done, Brady told himself. You can't make it worse.
"Sam, there was a video camera in a locker in the school hallway. Lucy Mishenene's locker. Someone took the feed from that camera and uploaded it to YouTube, three hours after the killings. Do you know anything about it?"
Of course, Sam shook his head. So hard there was no way to doubt it was a lie.
"Why was the camera there, Sam? What was it recording?"
His chewed, grubby nails dug into the fabric of his jeans. "We were making a movie," he blurted, the words tumbling like rocks in a flooding wash. "We wanted to show what it's like being a kid here. People give us shit: clothes, blankets, toys. You can tell--they don't know who we are. So we wanted to tell 'em. We only told Mr. Bello, so we could borrow the cameras." He gulped back a sob, and squeezed his mouth shut tight.
Brady leaned a little further toward the boy, his head a little lower. "Why did you upload the video to YouTube?"
"I didn't know what else to do." Sam raised his eyes to Brady's face. They were full of tears. "I was watching it streaming, to make sure it was working right, and I saw--" He squeezed his eyes shut, which forced the tears down his cheeks. "I didn't know what to do. I ran to go to the school, but I was scared."
"What were you scared of?"
"That...it would happen to me. That I'd see something. So I went home. And I posted the video, because I thought maybe somebody would see and know what to do." He wiped the tears away angrily and sat staring at his lap.
There was nothing Sam could have done. That didn't mean he could live with that. He'd watched it happen. "You did the right thing," Brady said softly. "Another agent at the FBI saw the video. It helped us figure out a lot of things about what went on."
Sam didn't lift his face, but Brady thought his shoulders loosened just a little.
"Did you recognize the person in the video, the one who seemed to be..." Brady found he couldn't finish the sentence, not to the kid.
Sam shook his head.
"Are you sure?"
"Okay. Who knew about your movie project, besides Mr. Bello?"
Sam gave another hard shake of his head. "A lot of the teachers would have complained that we were doing it instead of schoolwork. Ms. Shoemaker--Mr. Bello said she might not want us using the equipment. Ms. Tabor doesn't want us doing anything fun. I don't think anyone would have told."
"All right. Thank you, Sam. If I think of any other questions you might be able to answer, may I come back?"
After a pause, Sam said, "I guess. Yeah."
Brady stood up and caught Mrs. Jeviss's eye. She understood. "Sam, you go down to the store for me. The list is on the counter. Get some money out of my purse."
When they heard the screen door slam, Mrs. Jeviss asked, "Is he in trouble?"
"No, ma'am. I meant what I said, about the video. I'm just sorry he saw it."
She swallowed. "I saw on TV when the Towers were hit. Children shouldn't know these things." She rubbed her eyes, and Brady realized she'd wiped away tears, too. "They told you he has trouble in school? The doctor said he probably has fetal alcohol spectrum. His momma--she was killed last year by a car, walking home from a party late. Since then, he lives with me. I try hard. But some things you can't protect them from, you know?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Brady.
After all, trying to protect people was his day job. So he knew a little about not being able to do it.
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 1030 hours CDT
Falkner pushed the end button and frowned at her phone for at least three seconds, until Todd's name and phone number and the call duration blinked to black. She rubbed her temples and tried to guess at the source of her headache for purposes of successful treatment--exhaustion? Glare? Ponytail? Lack of caffeine? Too much caffeine? Dehydration?
"All of the above," she muttered, stuffing the phone into her pocket as Chief Spencer came across the tiny, cluttered main office of the tribal police station to perch on the corner of Falkner's borrowed linoleum-top desk. "Winona."
"Esther," Spencer said, and handed her a sour cream doughnut wrapped in a paper napkin. "It's not much, but it's calories. The whole damned rez is on a physical fitness challenge to combat diabetes. These things are worth their weight in gold around here."
"Bless you." It was worth its weight in gold to Falkner, too. She took it reverentially, broke off a piece, and tucked it into her mouth. She had a coffee cup around here somewhere. Right, on the other side of the phone. Thank God. She washed the doughnut down with a mouthful and closed her eyes in thanks.
"I've maybe got something," Spencer said, when Falkner's mouth was clear.
Falkner looked up, grateful for the weight of her service weapon on her hip where it belonged.
"One of the Oglalla volunteers canvassing in town turned up an eyewitness report of 'a skinny girl with long black hair' leaving the junior high at 7:14," she said.
It was amazing how definite a trigger response you could build up to a common, nondescript word like skinny. Falkner drank more coffee rapidly, to lubricate her exhaustion-dried mouth for speaking. "That's ten minutes after the video the D.C. team located was shot."
Spencer nodded. "Which shows a girl with long dark hair apparently orchestrating the slaughter. Of course, we have our share of women--and men--with long dark hair around here." She ran a hand through her own short locks. "Esther, I've been wondering something."
"I'm here to give answers, when I can," she said.
"Your team keeps talking about stressors and cracks and manifestations. You guys hunt serial killers. There aren't any serial killer Indians outside of fiction."
"Sherman Alexie," Falkner said. "It's a pretty good novel, although I wouldn't recommend it as a textbook on behavioral profiling. Gammas--are both like and unlike serial killers. Not all gammas kill. What they all do is cause enormous suffering, and they also seem to arise from it."
Spencer stood abruptly, rocking the desk. Falkner kept her coffee from capsizing only through skills acquired in combat. "We've got that," she said. "Look. I have to ask. Not to put too fine a point on it, and I'm not saying I want this to be one of mine. There's something else that suffering breeds. Gang culture, and we're starting to have it in spades. The kids take names from West Coast gangs, or they call themselves things like 'The Skins.' They talk about embracing warrior culture, but really they're getting into knife fights and selling each other meth--"
"I don't think it's a gangbanger," Falkner said softly. She reached out and touched Spencer's arm, drawing her attention when Spencer seemed inclined to turn on her bootheel and begin to pace. "Cyanide, like that--I'm not sure yet what that implies about the killer's mythology, but there's not much to reflect a culture of machismo in poisoning a bunch of kids."
"Some of those kids were probably in the gangs," Spencer reminded.
Falkner nodded. In gangs, and dead, and more or less the age of her own daughters. "Gangbangers think about bullets," she said. "Who thinks about poison? That's what we need to figure out."
Spencer pressed her hand to her mouth and bit at the back of it, hard enough to leave marks. It had the look of a longtime nervous habit. Falkner thought of a parrot pulling its own feathers out from stress and wondered how many years it had been since Spencer quit smoking.
Spencer said, "Oh, that list of names you wanted. I have it. The donors and volunteers for the... the casualties."
Good, clean, military word. Cop word. A solid euphemism. Falkner admired it even as she nodded, and Spencer handed her a photocopy of a sheet of paper that had been folded lengthwise and written on in meticulous Catholic-shool script.
Falkner's eye caught on a name. "There's a name on here that's already on our interview list. Felicity Tabor."
"She's a student teacher from off-rez," Spencer said. "Lives with her parents out in the county past Rugby, if I remember the interview notes. That's a long drive for a student teaching gig. You'd think there would be schools closer. You want to bump her up to today's schedule?"
"I do," said Falkner, ignoring the premonition that spidered chilly fingers across the small of her back. "I really think I do."
Rugby, Pierce County, ND, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 1200 hours CDT
The town of Rugby, North Dakota, had a modern-art sculpture of the Northern Lights, a stone marker proclaiming it the Geographical Center of North America, and a two-lane Main Street with diagonal parking along the sides and no overwhelming need for traffic signals. It had a senior center and a sport shop and it probably had a Wal-Mart somewhere that was not evident to casual inspection of the downtown.
Felicity Tabor's home--her father Bradley's home, according to her files; her mother Alicia had been dead since the previous year--was not at all what Falkner had expected, and Falkner had expected anything from a nice old family home to a weed-courted doublewide. Instead, the Tabors' house was squat and curved and honey-colored, with an old-fashioned turf roof, as if it had grown up out of the ground. A row of conifers shaded it on the windy side, a grove of cottonwoods clustered around it otherwise.
"I'll be damned," said Spencer as they turned into the driveway. "She lives in the Hay House."
"Hay House," Spencer repeated. "It's a local landmark. The whole thing is built of shaped straw bales covered in mud and sealant. It's supposed to have a ferocious R-value. Damned hippies." She said it affectionately, like a Minnesotan. "I wish I were getting to see the inside of this place under better circumstances."
The cop's curse, Falkner thought. You came and went in all sorts of interesting places, and never when you were in the mood to stop and look at them.
She opened her door and Spencer followed, quickly catching up and then passing her so as to be the first one at the door. It opened as they approached, revealing a man of medium height with deeply tanned skin and well-cut black hair. Closer up, Falkner could see the spreading net of wrinkles at the corners of his brown eyes, and the white hairs scattered among the black ones. His spectacles rode the tip of his nose like a cowboy about to lose contact with the bull. His green brushed-twill shirt was tucked into tan chinos, and both fit him well.
"Chief Spencer," he said, the fear in his voice enough to curdle doughnut and coffee in Falkner's stomach. "I recognize you from the news. I'm Brad Tabor. Have you found Felicity?"
It was a wash which of them checked harder. Spencer looked at Falkner, her jaw dropping open. Falkner recovered a little faster, but she put it down to jadedness rather than reflexes. "Actually," she said, "we were hoping to speak with your daughter, Mr. Tabor. I'm Supervisory Special Agent Esther Falkner with the FBI." Producing her ID, Falkner added the gestures that completed her incantation. "I'm helping the Metigoshe Reservation police with their inquiries into Monday's mass murder. But I take it she's not at home?"
"She never came home last night," Tabor said. "I reported her missing to the Sheriff's department this morning. But she was terribly broken up about the killings--we both were. She only missed being there by a matter of minutes when it happened." He stopped and seemed to recollect himself. "Please, come in."
He held the door wide, Falkner stepping carefully as she came up the smooth-edged stairs to a roof-shaded stoop high enough to compensate for a fairly significant drift of snow, come winter. Tabor stood aside to let them enter, then shut the door carefully.
Inside the Hay House it was cool and still. The walls had been painted in creams and russets, and Falkner could see the hand-smoothed clay behind the colors. Benches scattered with bright cushions were molded into parts of the living room, and the windows set three panes deep in two-foot-thick walls. There were family photos and an Apple computer in evidence on the coffee table, but no television in sight. "You have a beautiful home, Mr. Tabor."
"Thank you," he said. "My late wife designed it. She was a sustainable-building architect. The house has its own well, solar panels on the roof--" he went on for a little, but Falkner was looking at the photos. Late wife, certainly, and moreover, beloved wife. The pictures while she was living showed a family together--blonde mother, dark father, blonde daughter, all tanned and wearing clothes that tended towards the breathable and durable. The photos without her, however, did not show Brad Tabor at all, and the girl--the same girl--had allowed her hair to grow long and ragged and dyed it an unrelieved black.
The photos also made it plain what Alicia Tabor had died of. Falkner could see the telltale signs of cancer and chemotherapy and eventual resignation to the inevitable in her ravaged face.
The photos were not too old. Falkner swallowed, suddenly glad that it was Spencer in the room with her and not Worth. Not that Worth couldn't handle it. Not that Falkner was happy about the reason Worth was busy somewhere else.
But she hated the way that muscle in Worth's well-defined jaw would jump while she handled it just fine.
"When did she pass away?" Spencer asked, with a glance at Falkner.
Falkner encouraged her with the barest possible nod.
"Last May," he said. "I told Felicity she could take a year off college, but she insisted. She wanted to finish for her mother." He sat down very gently on the edge of one of those sinuous, hand-smoothed hay-and-adobe benches and leaned his head against the wall."It's--we find ways to cope," he said. "We find ways to cope. Alicia would have wanted us to find ways to be happy."
He looked anything but, his expression drawn down so sharply it didn't take a great stretch of imagination for Falkner to picture tiny weights dangling from various bits of his face. "Mr. Tabor," she said, remembering Brady's report of his conversation with Amos Sainawap, "are you Indian?" It was getting easier to say Indian and not Native American, the churching of education and media aside.
"Half," he said. "My mother was Chippewa. Turtle Mountain Band. We're not enrolled, though." He swallowed and folded his hands together. "Felicity was after me to do the paperwork, before Alicia died."
And then she stopped mentioning it. Falkner didn't shoot a glance at Spencer, and Spencer's chin jerked slightly as she didn't shoot one back. Instead, the police chief said, "May we see Felicity's room?"
He seemed to struggle to recollect himself enough to answer. "Of course," he said, standing. "Follow me."
The hallway was long and as sinuous as the benches and the outline of the walls, and Felicity's bedroom was at the end of it. Falkner imagined after a while, you might go mad just looking for a straight line. When Tabor nudged open the door, however, all her snide thoughts evaporated and were replaced with something like horrified wonder.
It didn't look like the bedroom of a 22-year-old Education major. It looked like the bedroom of a twelve-year-old girl.
Those curvaceous walls were painted grey and lavender, what you could see of them. Every bulwark and bulkhead, however, was all but wallpapered with images, until you could not see the Hay House's hobbit-hole structures behind.
They were mostly commercial-art fantasy posters in airbrushed pastels. Several dozen of them, and every single one featured the same subject matter. They were posters of unicorns. Prancing, threatening, bowing. Pawing, leaping, galloping with their foals alongside. Dipping their slender, spiraled, prismatic horns into bodies of water. Rearing atop mountain crags. Over the head of the bed hung the most impressive of all, jet-black on dusty black velvet, with a gold foil horn that caught splinters of sunlight from the window.
There were stuffed unicorns on the unicorn-patterned quilt, and ceramic and molded plastic unicorns on the shelves along with books about unicorns. Crystal and blown-glass unicorns decorated the window ledge. Falkner found herself turning the Look she would normally shoot to Reyes at Spencer, and was relieved to find Spencer shooting it back, with a little extra body English on the eyebrows. Tchotchkes. As far as the eye could see.
"She collects them," Tabor said apologetically.
What wasn't unicorns was crystals--mostly purple--amethyst, maybe? Now, Falkner wished that Worth were here to ask, and to ask what they were supposed to be good for--dreamcatchers, Zuni fetishes carved from stone and cottonwood root, badly-leather-burned Medicine Shields. A string of pearls wrapped around the base of a silver candlestick.
"There's a diary," Spencer said.
Falkner glanced at Tabor for permission. He nodded, twisting his small hands together again, and she tugged on one blue nitrile glove before lifting the cloth-bound book off the carefully made bed. Two guesses what the pattern is. It was lavender, and the unicorn was stamped on the cover, and in gold on every page. When Falkner raised it, it fell open to a page marked with something too thick to make a proper bookmark.
A plain silver ring, very slender, set with a tiny diamond solitaire that sparkled as it tumbled through the air and bounced off the quilt. Spencer picked it up with the corner of a handkerchief when it settled. "Purity," she said, reading the inscription inside. "It's a promise ring."
"It must belong to a friend," Tabor said. "Felicity would never lower herself to that evangelical nonsense."
Falkner did not let him see her glance at the tawdry dreamcatchers with their bright plastic beads. "Did she have any boyfriends? Girlfriends?"
His eyes widened with shock, but he shook his head. "Not serious ones."
"Felicity colored her hair black after your wife died. Did she tell you why?"
"I-- No. It was maybe a month after the funeral. Her hair was so much like her mother's--I thought maybe it reminded her too much of her. But she kept it up."
"Why do you think your daughter stopped encouraging you to get on the tribal rolls?"
"There was so much else on our minds. Alicia-- There at the end, we were with her all the time. I was just-- I was dazed, I think. Felicity had school. She was so upset, she got so skinny and her skin and hair--" Tabor frowned, focusing inward, into memory, looking for the dropped thread of a father-daughter project. "There was so much else to do."
Reyes would ask the next question without a qualm. Falkner found she wasn't quite so cold-blooded. "Were you and your daughter close before that? Did she usually share her feelings with you?"
"Yes. She did. I'm sorry, what--" Tabor stopped short and shook his head like a horse shaking away flies. Falkner could see him gathering up dignity and anger to shield himself from the thing he couldn't look at. "How is this going to help you find my daughter?"
"Knowing her state of mind might allow us to determine where she would have gone."
"She's just lost. She might be out there, hurt. She's lost." Tabor's voice rose, stacatto, insistent. Falkner and Spencer stood silent and professional under the weight of it, until it broke. "Oh, God. Oh, my God. You're not...you don't think Felicity would--would do..." Tabor turned his head, back and forth between the police chief and Falkner. Hoping for the denial. Knowing it wouldn't quite come.
Spencer laid a hand on Tabor's forearm. "We don't judge ahead of the facts, Mr. Tabor. We just want to find your daughter. She may know something that can help us."
Tabor groped behind him for the white-and-lilac checked upholstered chair and sat carefully on the arm. The world was loose at the seams. Treat it carefully, or it might give way beneath you.
The only way out is through, for all of us, Falkner thought. "When was the anniversary of your wife's death?"
He grimaced, but said "Tuesday."
Standing there in Felicity's room, she asked him all the usual questions--change in behavior, change in appetite, change in outlook--and got the usual answers. And felt herself sagging more and more under the weight of it as she did. This is all he has left. This is his daughter.
If you thought about it for too long, it could shake your faith in anything.
"Thank you," she said. She and Spencer didn't even need to share that look this time; she could feel Spencer on point like a good bird dog. They worked well together. Pity she was too old for the FBI, but Falkner was pretty sure her tribe needed her more, anyway.
Falkner lifted the diary. "May I borrow this? I'll sign a receipt. It may help us find her."
He leaned against the chair back, eyes half-closing in relief. His hands at last untwisted and hung by his thighs. "Please," he said."Take it away."
Feeling like the biggest heel that ever lived, Falkner slipped it into an evidence bag and found another one for the ring. "Thank you," she said.
Outside in the police 4x4, she flipped her cellphone open and called Madeline Frost while Spencer gloved up and opened the diary. Frost answered on the first ring. "Madeline Frost speaking. Hello, Special Agent Falkner."
"Hello, Dr. Frost," Falkner said. In the driver's seat, Spencer held the ring up in its bag to catch the light that fell all over and between them. The seats were warm against Falkner's back and thighs. "I won't take too much of your time. Those inappropriate donations. Can you tell me what exactly was inappropriate about them?"
"Rainbows," Frost said promptly. "Unicorns. Childish patterns that most people would consider incongruous for covering the dead."
"Thank you," Falkner said. She hung up the phone and looked at Spencer.
Spencer looked up from scanning pages. "This is," she said, "some crazy shit."
She raised the book so Falkner could read. In violet ink, the first page said colonialism is a poison everyone here is sick with it they puke it up in video games and wanting to be hockey stars and buying cigarettes and gasoline they don't even know they're sick they think they're in the FUTURE but they're getting small and dry and shriveled I can hear them rattle when they talk because of the dried-out hearts how long did it take a hundred years? for them to give the land to the poisoners and not take care of it anymore the way they should the strength the innocence all gone even A he's a big plastic poison lie he doesn't care about saving the kids EVERYONE is SICK
"She's a transmuter," Falkner said tiredly, with the bone-deep certainty of knowledge that only the mother of an eleven-year-old girl can field as a scholar of unicorns. "Unicorn horns turn poison into clean water. That's why the unicorn dips his horn in the spring, to make the water safe to drink."
Spencer touched the ring in its plastic pouch. "They only like virgins, don't they?"
"And their horns can heal any sickness. They're magical cures."
"For cancer?" Spencer asked.
"For everything," Falkner answered. "Except that didn't work out so well for Felicity. Her mother still died. And she still wasn't magic."
"And neither was her father." Spencer curled her fingers hard around the steering wheel. "Did I hear that right? She blamed him? Because he was Indian? No, she dyed her hair black."
"I think," Falkner said reluctantly, "because he wasn't Indian enough."
"To cure her mother's cancer? Crazy Horse wasn't that Indian."
Falkner sighed. "Remember when I talked about the killer's mythology?"
"God damn." Spencer shook her head. "Which piece of herself does this girl hate more, the white part or the Indian?" Her hands spread as if to express the enormity of the misery she perceived and could not articulate. "Every way you look at this, it's awful."
"A selection of equally awful options are part of what we mean when we say 'anomalous.'" Falkner knew she was taking refuge in Todd's catchphrases. Except sometimes Todd's catchphrases were more like mantras, and sometimes mantras were all you got.
Because Spencer was one of the best cops Falkner had ever seen, because good cops were bulldogs as well as confessors, she came back to the question again, even though it had spikes and she winced when she picked it up. "So she dyed her hair black. To look more like the noble savage she wanted to be?" Spencer scrubbed both hands across an exhaustion-rutted face. "Did you catch all that tourist Indian plastic shaman shit in her room?"
Falkner shook her head. When her eyes closed, she still saw the silver-blue airbrushed highlights on the awful black velvet unicorn over the head of the bed. "Yes. I mean, I saw it. But she wasn't trying to look more like a Hollywood Indian, or at least that wasn't her only motivation. So, Winona. If a white unicorn heals the sick and cures the afflicted... What do you suppose a black unicorn is for?"
Grand Forks International Airport, Grand Forks, ND, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 1700 hours CDT
Pauley was fairly certain that Grand Forks International Airport deserved that designation on the basis of a daily flight to Calgary. Its sole terminal was a red brick building with a shaded exterior walkway running along the front. Pauley wondered if the whole thing was actually even twice as long as a 747. The long late-spring evening was balmy and soft as he stepped out of its slanted light and through the glass and brushed-aluminum doors.
He looked around for baggage claim, and instead found Stephen Reyes.
"Meet two?" Pauley said.
Reyes let one corner of his mouth curl up, stretching the fading scars from that awful case in January into creases. "Villette's grabbing trail rations."
Involuntarily, Pauley glanced over his shoulder, but the mobile fire-watch tower of SA Charles Villette was nowhere in sight. "Celentano let you spring him?"
"I told you he did," Reyes said.
Pauley opened his mouth to protest, and Reyes held up a hand.
"Pete. At this point, what the hell are you going to do about it? You know he's our best chance of getting Gates in with no loss of life." This time, he glanced over his shoulder. Pauley, following the gaze, caught sight of Villette's unmistakable silhouette in the Hudson News.
"Holy shit, Reyes!" A matron nearby shot the two men a scathing glance. Pauley quickly modulated his voice. "You're using him as bait?"
Reyes rubbed his cheeks with one hand. His fingers rasped in his unshaven beard, silver prickles showing bright among the black against his chestnut-colored skin. "Desperate times."
Pauley felt the corners of his mouth twist down into a scowl. Tracking Villette out of the corner of his eyes, he dropped his volume further and asked, "So, Reyes. Have you asked yourself yet what could Hafidha do to cause the most pain? To give the anomaly the most... satisfaction?"
Reyes, too, checked over his shoulder again. Villette was just coming toward them, two bulging plastic sacks swinging from his right hand. He closed his eyes, his complexion ashy-looking with exhaustion. "Die."
Daphne woke with a horrid start, clapping her right hand on her sidearm before she realized where she was (scrunched down in the driver's seat of the musty-smelling Bureau wheels) and what that noise was (Chaz Villette, who had been knocking on the window and was now backing away slowly, in mock horror, both hands raised). In the back seat, Lau lifted her head and looked around.
As Daphne opened the door, Lau said, "I am so not sitting on the hump." And then, as Daphne held the keys out to Chaz, "Oh, don't you dare."
Daphne looked over her shoulder. "Are you fit to drive?"
Lau let her head fall back expressively. "Just tell me you brought the Scooby Snacks."
"Are you kidding?" Chaz said, looking from Daphne to Lau, as Pauley and Reyes materialized behind him. "We killed and ate Fred and Shaggy somewhere over Missouri."
Metigoshe Indian Reservation, Delia, ND, Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 2200 hours CDT
Brady was a mile down the gravel BIA road when his phone gave its text message chirp. Twenty-eight percent of accidents occur during cellphone use, Brady thought, and dug his out of his jacket pocket. If you'd grown up driving back roads in Texas, you ought to be able to drive on gravel one-handed.
The message was from Falkner.
COME IN. SUSPECT IDENTIFIED.
He felt his heart rate tick up, his breathing quicken. This must be how a hunting dog feels when the boss takes the twelve-gauge out of the gun safe.
The conference room in the tribal police office seemed too small to contain the five of them, but Falkner was certain it was meant to hold at least twice that number comfortably. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, hers and theirs, that made the walls seem close.
She spoke mostly to Winona Spencer and Robin Spears, but she also wanted to ground Todd and Brady, remind them of the likely outcome of this one. "What I'm going to tell you now will sound impossible. Unfortunately, it's not. We've investigated crimes like this for years, and in some cases gotten up close and personal with the people who commit them. If you don't believe what I'm about to tell you and act accordingly, there's a good chance innocent people will die."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Todd shift his weight. He knew why she'd said "innocent."
"Felicity Tabor will be much stronger than she looks. Her reaction times will be faster than normal. But most important, she's deadly at a distance. Approximately thirty feet, according to our analyst's conclusions on watching the video footage. He also believes she needs to see her victims. Since there's no way to test that, I suggest you not count on it."
Spencer met Falkner's eyes, and Falkner thought she saw grim comprehension there. "We just have to figure out where she's gone. My guys are watching for her car. They've got orders not to approach."
Spears frowned. "So how do we bring Tabor in?"
"We don't," Todd said, his voice as gentle as a parent telling a child he has to turn the bedroom light off.
Falkner watched comprehension rise in Spears's face, her lips part, her eyes widen. Spears shook her head. "That isn't...we don't operate that way."
"We," in this case, being the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Todd could have probably listed for her the times when the RCMP did, in fact, operate that way. Instead, he said, "One of the things we confront in anomalous crimes is that some of the perpetrators are impossible to keep in custody. How do you put Tabor in jail?"
Spears frowned. "I-- Sedatives? Some sort of drugs?"
Falkner stepped up, because she didn't shift the dirty jobs onto her reports. "Tabor's metabolism will burn through them at a phenomenal rate. We'd have to keep her in a near-coma to prevent her killing every doctor, guard, or prisoner who came within her range. The risk to facilities staff if we underdose, or to her if we overdose--" The explanation dried up in her throat. Because, as she said the words, she saw Hafidha lying in the white bedding of an Idlewood cell, the IV stand beside her sending slow poison into her veins.
Spears's jaw firmed as she stared at Todd. "I guess it's not just Indians the FBI executes summarily. I'm sorry. I thought you were different."
Falkner kept her voice calm. "If we see the opportunity to bring her in alive, we will. We have made arrangements to hold prisoners who are equally dangerous. But please don't risk your own lives or those of my agents to do so, and accept before we go out there that it may not be possible."
Spencer and Spears traded a look. Slowly, painfully, Spencer nodded. She didn't need Falkner to explain how dangerous Tabor was. She'd been one of the first in the school.
Brady had picked up Tabor's diary from the conference room table, and a pair of nitrile gloves from his pocket. Falkner knew when he got to the entry Chief Spencer had shown her from the narrowing of his eyes.
"A," he said. "Amos Sainawap." Brady looked down at the page again and read, "Even A he's a big plastic poison lie."
"Would she call him by his first name?"
"According to Sainawap, everyone did."
"This reservation is a small town," Spencer said. "Everybody's on a first-name basis."
Brady's expression seemed to condense, until he looked like a stone bust with ice crystals under the eyelids. "Sainawap also said this is a small town. 'News travels fast, bad news travels faster.' What if Tabor knows about that YouTube video?"
Spencer's breath hissed in through her nose. "And Sam Fredeaux dodged her first pogrom."
"We'll have to split up," Falkner ordered, hating the necessity. "Todd, you and I will cover Sainawap. Chief Spencer, Constable Spears, take Agent Brady with you to check on the Fredeaux boy."
Spencer plucked a digital radio from the row of chargers on a shelf and tossed one underhand to Falkner. "Cell reception is crap up here. Besides, this is quicker than dialing." She passed one to Todd, and one to Brady.
After a quick look to make sure she knew how to operate it, Falkner dropped it into her jacket pocket. "Good. Call in when you arrive. If there's no sign of Tabor, bring the boy and his grandmother here where we can harden a perimeter."
Spears and Spencer went out the conference room door first. Brady gave her a quick nod (because he would never say "Watch yourself out there" out loud) before he followed them, taking up his tail gunner position for his temporary unit.
"Separation anxiety," Todd murmured, too softly for anyone but Falkner to hear.
Another division of the team. "I think we've all got it," Falkner said. "Come on, guard dog. Let's do our stuff."
They rolled up to the front of Sam's grandmother's pre-fab with the headlights off, but the light spilling between the front window curtains was enough to show the Honda civic parked out front. Spencer killed the engine, but held up a hand to Brady and Spears. "Hold on." She pulled a mini-maglight off her belt, held it against the windshield, and clicked it on. It spotlighted the license plate. She clicked it off again.
Brady squinted through the darkness at the front of the house. "Door's ajar." Just a hairline of light around the frame. He remembered that living room, the layout, obstacles between the front door and anyone inside.
"I'll call," Spears murmured, taking the radio from Spencer. While he studied the house, Brady listened to her saying, "Unit One to Falkner, suspect's vehicle outside one-twenty-seven BIA Road Four. Suspect may be inside. Over."
He didn't have to listen to the response. They were going in. Because sitting outside and waiting for Tabor to finish killing Sam Fredeaux before they shot her just wasn't happening.
Spencer slid out of the driver's seat, with Spears a second behind on the passenger side. Brady came out behind Spencer. None of them needed to remind the others not to shut the doors. They approached the house in a loose triangle, weapons at low ready. Spencer stopped outside the door, and Brady and Spears flanked it.
Inside the house a female voice demanded, "Tell me! Is anyone else here?" The voice wobbled, as if the speaker was doing something physical.
"Fuck off!" That was Sam Fredeaux, his voice cracking into childhood treble halfway through.
Hang on, kid. Keep fighting.
How were Spencer and Spears at marksmanship? Brady was good, but good enough to take the head shot past a hostage, if they needed to? Hafidha is. He kicked the thought behind him, hard.
He held up three fingers to Spencer and raised his eyebrows. She shook her head and pressed her left hand down, palm toward the ground. Go in soft.
And Brady cursed himself, because he should have worked this out before they arrived. He'd forgotten how much Spencer didn't know. He frowned at her, but she shook her head again and turned toward the weather-scoured front door.
"Felicity Tabor," Spencer called, carrying but easy, no threat implied. "It's Winona Spencer. Don't be alarmed, Ms. Tabor, I'm going to open this door now."
Brady leaned in, preparing to shove Spencer out of range if Tabor hit the panic button. If Tabor's panic button didn't work faster than Brady's reflexes.
Spencer pushed the door lightly with her left hand and let it swing open as she resumed her two-handed grip on her pistol. She didn't raise it from low ready.
Brady's heart beat so hard he could barely breathe. He edged up to the doorframe and got the living room in his peripheral vision.
A skinny woman--a girl, really, though malnutrition was sucking her dry of youth--with ragged black hair and sunken, bruised-looking eyes stood pressed against the back wall. She wasn't tall, but she still had to crouch to hold Sam Fredeaux in front of her. Undersized, because of his mother's alcoholism.
Tabor's grip on his upper arms was so tight his flesh bulged the cotton jersey of his maroon shirt around her fingers. Sam's eyes were squeezed closed, his mouth open and panting, and tears smeared his cheeks.
"Ms. Tabor, let Sam go. He hasn't done anything." Spencer's voice was calm, but Brady could see the pulse in her throat, as fast as his own. Spears shot a look across the doorway at him, but all he could do was return it. Damn it, we can't take her alive.
The distance from the back wall to the door was maybe fifteen feet.
"Yes, he has." Tabor's face was fierce, but her voice was creepily reasonable. "And it'll get worse. He's poisoned inside. I have to clean it off, burn off the weeds. Then maybe the pure ones will grow again."
Spencer stepped forward, into the house. Brady nearly reached out to drag her back. But sudden, violent motion could panic Tabor. He settled for mumuring, "Spencer, pull back now."
He might as well have given the order to a goddamn lamp post.
Brady could hear the tension in Spencer's throat when she said, "Ms. Tabor--Felicity. Are you one of the pure ones?"
Tabor's eyes seemed big as a pair of hubcaps. "That's not what I'm here for. I have other work."
Spencer said, "Were you supposed to heal your mother?"
Tabor jerked back, and Sam cried out; her tight grip must have got tighter.
"Spencer," Brady said, warning. But he was impressed in spite of himself. Hell, she sounds like me.
"Felicity," Spencer said gently, drawing her left hand away from her gun and down in a calming gesture. "Unicorns aren't real. But you are. Sam, there, is. Did you know his mother died, too? About a year ago."
Tabor stole a quick glance away from Spencer to the top of Sam's head. It wasn't enough for Brady to act on.
"Let him go now, Felicity. We'll help you make everything better. But you have to let him go."
Felicity looked around--at Spencer, at the room, at Brady and Spears at the door ready to blow her head off. And Brady swore he could see her eyes clear, as if she'd been drunk and was suddenly, horribly sober. He slipped his finger onto the trigger and wondered what would happen if he didn't make the shot.
"No! He's coming with me. If you try to hurt me or stop me, I'll kill him." She began to drag Sam backward toward the entry to the kitchen. Sam struggled, but that just made Tabor scoop him up (a frail, skinny girl holding a fighting thirteen-year-old) and clutch him to her, where he blocked Brady's line of fire.
"Felicity, don't--" Spencer began. But Felicity screamed at her, a wordless, angry animal noise, so loud it shook the window glass, and lunged backward into the kitchen.
Spencer leaped after her, with Spears and Brady on her heels. The kitchen was empty, the back door open.
None of them bothered with the three rickety steps down from the door to the overgrown back yard; they jumped from the stoop to the ground and landed running. They all saw the figure plunging into the woods that started, sharp as a stage curtain, at the edge of the yard.
Maybe it was because Brady was tail-end Charlie, and was watching Spears and, beyond her, Spencer, rather than focusing on Tabor. But he caught the motion out the corner of his vision, on the right. A movement in the scrub at the treeline, just a little lighter than the trunks of the pines.
The shade of a maroon shirt in the darkness.
Sam lay curled in a ball at the foot of a tree. Brady reached him just in time to witness his last convulsion. The smells of loam and pine needles were overwhelmed by the stink of acidic vomit, and Sam's mouth was smeared with foam.
Brady dropped to his knees and fumbled for a pulse in Sam's neck as he yanked out the radio Spencer had lent him. "All units, need medical behind one twenty-seven BIA Road Four. Thirteen year old boy, symptoms of cyanide poisoning..." No pulse. Brady swept Sam up in his arms and bolted back to the edge of the yard where he could lay the kid flat. There beside the dirt bike, he started chest compressions.
It wasn't going to help. And Spencer and Spears were chasing a gamma through the darkness behind him, with barely a clue what they were tangling with. Where the fuck are the medics?
Tabor wanted to know who else was in the house with Sam. She could have killed the kid when he opened the door. But she wanted to know who else was there.
She had a hierarchy for her targets. It was Sam's turn; he was supposed to die in the school. And his grandmother's turn, maybe, for failing to make Sam what Tabor wanted him to be. That was why the teachers died, wasn't it? And Sam hadn't told her where his grandmother was. He'd never, Brady thought bitterly, still working, know he'd died a fucking hero. Was that why she hadn't snuffed Spencer, Spears, and Brady as soon as the front door opened? It wasn't their turn?
Maybe that would keep them all alive long enough to take out the gamma.
He heard the siren rushing down on him, saw the party lights reflected off the side of the house and the trunks of the trees. "Here!" he yelled as the first paramedic rounded the building.
He waited until the responders crouched next to Sam's body. Then he drew his gun and set off into the woods, following the trail of flattened brush.