Dark Reservations by John Fortunato is the debut mystery in the Joe Evers series about the Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent (available October 13, 2015).
Bureau of Indian Affairs special agent Joe Evers still mourns the death of his wife and, after a bungled investigation, faces a forced early retirement. What he needs is a new career, not another case. But when Congressman Arlen Edgerton's bullet-riddled Lincoln turns up on the Navajo reservation—twenty years after he disappeared during a corruption probe—Joe must resurrect his failing career to solve the mysterious cold case.
Joe partners with Navajo tribal officer Randall Bluehorse, his investigation antagonizes potential suspects, including a wealthy art collector, a former president of the Navajo Nation, a powerful U.S. senator, and Edgerton's widow, who is now the front-runner in the New Mexico governor's race. An unexpected romance further complicates both the investigation and Joe's troubled relationship with his daughter, forcing him to confront his emotional demons while on the trail of a ruthless killer.
Joe uncovers a murderous conspiracy that leads him from ancient Anasazi burial grounds on the Navajo Nation to backroom deals in Washington, D.C. Along the way, he delves into the dangerous world of black market trade in Native American artifacts. Can he unravel the mystery and bring the true criminal to justice, or will he become another silenced victim?
Thursday, 6:35 A.M.
Sky City Casino, Pueblo of Acoma, New Mexico
When Joe Evers arrived, his squad was already donning their vests and checking their weapons. He was late and had missed the briefing.
“You’re with us,” Stretch said. “Sadi and I have the rear. You have outbuildings and vehicles.” He handed Joe a picture of the subject, Roy Manygoats.
Cordelli was the case agent and had designated the casino’s rear parking lot as the staging area. From here, they would go to Manygoats’s residence to make the arrest. If he wasn’t there, they would go mobile, trying to track him down as quickly as possible.
Standing beside his vehicle, Cordelli spotted Joe. He shook his head and said something to Dale, who glanced at Joe and laughed.
“Let’s hurry up,” Dale said. He wore his vest high over his rather generous gut, the large, yellow BIA letters sitting just below his chin.
“What are you doing here?” Joe asked.
Dale walked away, ignoring his question. He rarely went on operations, not since becoming squad supervisor six years earlier, which coincided with his outgrowing his tactical vest. Too much desk time, he’d said. Too many tacos, the squad had said.
Stretch charged his M4 carbine. “He thought you would be a no-show.” The assault rifle appeared petite in front of his six-foot-seven frame.
Perhaps it was guilt, but Joe thought his friend and former partner was going to add again. He put on his vest and started for the passenger door of Stretch’s unmarked Suburban.
“Don’t even think about it,” Sadi said, and reached past him for the handle. She jogged a thumb toward the backseat.
They traveled in convoy, three vehicles, into the heart of Acoma, which was located off I-40, west of Albuquerque. This was Indian Country. Reservation land. Rural, desolate, and hard.
Four dirt roads later, they arrived at a trailer a little more than a mile from an adobe village that sat atop a plateau and was known as Sky City. As they pulled up, a couple of scrawny rez dogs came from behind the building, both mutts, both starving. Stretch drove to the rear, stopping ten feet from the back door. They climbed out, guns drawn.
The other half of the team was at the front door, making entry.
A few hundred feet behind the trailer were the remnants of a corral, two abandoned vehicles, and an outhouse.
Cordelli’s voice came through the radio. “His mother’s saying he’s not here.”
Joe checked the vehicles. Empty. He made his way to the dilapidated corral and searched behind a pile of car tires. The land here was devoid of trees, only scrub grass and a few scraggly bushes, no place for a person to hide.
He moved on to the outhouse, a plywood special in need of paint. From twenty or so feet away, the air was already redolent with the smell of human waste. Tasking him with the outhouse was punishment. He was the senior agent, but he’d been put on the perimeter. He’d been put on shit duty.
A dog barked.
Sadi and Stretch were by the back door of the trailer, which was now open. Cordelli stood in the entryway. One of the mutts challenged them from the building’s corner.
A sound emanated from the outhouse, a soft creaking. Joe raised his Glock.
“Police! Come out!” he said, not sure if there was someone inside, but not wanting that person to hear his uncertainty.
The door burst open and a skinny kid in a blue T-shirt came running out, away from Joe, into the open field beyond.
Joe cursed and holstered his weapon, then took off after him. It wasn’t a kid, but a teenager. He called for the teen to stop.
The runner ignored him, heading toward an arroyo some two hundred yards beyond. The ground was rocky and dotted with flat cacti and mesquite brush, but the teen proved agile. Joe knew he was too old and too out of shape to chase this guy far. All he could do was try for an all-out sprint and get him quickly, or else let him go. He took longer strides and focused on his breathing. The gap between them closed. The teen turned.
It was Manygoats. All nineteen years of him. He had the look of a rabbit chased by a dog—an old dog.
Joe reached out and grabbed for his shirt. Fabric ripped. The effort threw Joe off balance and he stumbled forward, taking long, erratic bounds to stay upright. But he was going too fast. He fell to the ground, dragging the teen with him. They rolled. Joe lost hold of the shirt. They both came up on a knee. Manygoats’s eyes revealed the terror of a man facing a lifetime in prison.
“Don’t make it worse,” Joe said between breaths.
Manygoats tried to get to his feet.
Joe lunged and slammed him to the ground. They wrestled. Joe felt movement by his right hip, his holster. Manygoats had the Glock halfway out. Joe clamped his right elbow down over his weapon and the young hand, then raked it backward with all his strength, knocking the weapon away. He seized the teen’s arm and wrenched it behind his back. Manygoats shifted and tried for the gun with his free hand, but he didn’t have the reach, and before Joe could retrieve it, a boot came down on the grip.
Cordelli stood above him.
Joe cuffed Manygoats, then dusted himself off.
Stretch grinned as he handed the weapon back to Joe. “Maybe I should hold on to that for you, seeing how much trouble you’re having with it?”
The rest of the squad gathered around them.
Dale wanted to know what had happened. Joe told him, leaving out the part about losing his weapon.
“Good work,” Dale said.
“Tell him about your gun, cowboy,” Cordelli said. Half Italian and half Ute, Cordelli had the face and body of Michelangelo’s David, with a mouth that spat arrowheads. Joe carried a few scars.
Stretch came to stand next to Joe. “Why don’t you shut up, Cordelli.”
“What about it?” Dale asked.
“Nothing. The punk tried to grab for it when I put him on the ground. I had it under control.”
“You’re just lucky I came along.” Cordelli pointed a finger gun at Joe. “You might’ve been retiring in a box.”
Stretch pulled Joe toward his vehicle.
“Write it up, Joe,” Dale said. “Get it to Cordelli before the detention hearing.”
A report would be embarrassing, but Joe didn’t argue. He had only three months left. At least things couldn’t get any worse.
THURSDAY, 11:42 A.M.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe and Stretch stood in the middle of the squad room, looking up at the television suspended from the ceiling. The news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the screen announced breaking news. Authorities had found Congressman Arlen Edgerton’s vehicle on the Navajo reservation.
What the ticker did not tell viewers was that the congressman, two of his staff, and the vehicle they’d been traveling in had gone missing more than twenty years earlier. But soon the news anchor, a young, attractive brunette who looked strikingly similar to every other brunette news anchor, reported the full story, punctuating the facts with provocative questions that rivaled the skills of the most accomplished true-crime writer: Did the corruption probe prove Edgerton was taking money? Why, after a two-year-long investigation, did the independent counsel find only one suspicious transaction involving Edgerton?
“They’ll be spinning it by noon,” Stretch said.
“His wife. Her campaign. She’s dirty, just like he was.”
Joe nodded, not really caring. He knew his friend, knew he enjoyed passing judgment, everything black and white, never a shade of gray, never a faded edge.
On the screen, superimposed over the background to the assembly-line brunette, was a picture of Congressman Edgerton and his secretary, Faye Hannaway, he in a conservative dark gray suit, she in a red look-at-me dress. The photo appeared to have been taken at a campaign party. A banner in the background read ARLEN EDGERTON FOR CHANGE. It seemed only the candidates got swapped out, never the slogans.
“Joe!” Dale called from the doorway to his office. “Get in here.”
When Joe entered, Dale waved him to a seat in front of his desk. He ripped a sheet of paper from his notepad and handed it to Joe.
“That’s the number for the officer who found Edgerton’s vehicle.”
Joe stared at the paper, confused. On it was written “Randall Bluehorse,” below that a phone number.
“What’s this for?”
“You’re catching it. The FBI’s letting us run with it. We handled the disappearance back in ’88.”
“And I’m handling it? Bullshit. I’m out of here in three months.”
“Clear it and you go out big.”
“Is this because of this morning?”
“No. It’s because you’re still my senior agent.”
Dale didn’t say best agent. He wouldn’t say that. Not anymore. Joe tossed the paper to Dale. It landed atop a red ’76 Datsun 510, part of Dale’s model-car collection, a replica of the car Paul Newman had driven to win several of his first professional races.
“Get Stretch. Or your wonder boy Cordelli.”
“You refusing the assignment?” Dale leaned back in his chair. “If so, I can put you out right now. You’re the one with a kid in college, not me.”
Joe lowered his gaze, not because he was hurt or beaten, but because he knew if he stared at that puffed-up face any longer, he might launch himself across the desk.
“You’re an asshole.” He snatched up the paper and stormed out.
He marched past Stretch to his own cubicle, where he flung down the officer’s number.
What the hell was Dale’s game? He’d already won, had already gotten the board to force through Joe’s retirement, had already ruined his life. In the end, they had agreed that if Joe didn’t fight the review board’s decision, he could use his remaining time to wrap up cases and find a job. Now it seemed that deal was off.
He opened his center desk drawer and grabbed for his bottle of aspirin, what he thought of as his morning-after pill. He fumbled with the lid, his fingers jittery. It had nothing to do with his need for a drink. He wanted to punch Dale in his smug, fat face, not fiddle with the childproof dot and arrow.
He threw the bottle at his computer. The lid popped. White tablets sprayed over the papers and folders and a crumpled burrito wrapper on his desk.
He picked up two pills. Chewed them. Their chalky texture coated his mouth, not quite overpowering the bitter taste Dale’s words had left.
“What’d he want?” Stretch asked.
“He wants me to work the Edgerton case.”
“The vehicle? It’s FBI. What’s he want you to do with it?”
Joe picked up the paper with Bluehorse’s phone number.
“I guess he wants me to find Edgerton.”
THURSDAY, 10:42 P.M.
OTHMANN ESTATE, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Arthur Othmann unfolded the clear plastic painter’s tarp and spread it over the bone white carpet in his study. He stepped back to appraise his handiwork and then repositioned it so the sides were parallel to the display cabinets that ran the length of the room.
“Perfect,” he said to no one.
Muted voices carried from another part of the house.
He checked his watch, then smiled up at the oil portrait of his father, Alexander Othmann, founder of the once Great Pacific Mining Company, now both defunct. “They’re right on time, Pops.”
The portrait’s massive gold-leaf wood frame, ornately carved, clashed with the Native American artifacts displayed in the cabinets along the walls. Its shimmering trim and grotesque size gave it an otherworldly quality, a doorway to the spirit world, what the Navajo might call Xajiinai. According to their creation story, the Navajo emerged through Xajiinai, a hole in the La Plata Mountains of southwestern Colorado that allowed them to ascend from the underworld. Othmann knew all about Navajo history. It was, after all, their past that fed his passion for the arts. His father had never shared that passion. In fact, he hated that his only son, the last male carrier of the Othmann bloodline, was interested in the arts and was “a little light in his goddamn pants!” Toward the end of his life, his father would growl those words through wrinkled brown lips wrapped around a Padrón cigar, which looked like a shovel handle sticking out of the old man’s face. The son didn’t care about understanding his father, only outliving him. Not hard, considering the old bastard had been in his seventies when Arthur finished college. And during those seven years after his return from Stanford, where he’d studied art history, they had lived together in the house, with only a maid and a nurse (his mother had died his first year away—not a great loss), and it was during those seven years that the son had often fantasized about that shovel handle.
Once, after acquiring a rather spectacular ninth-century Anasazi watering bowl, he had shared his thoughts of the portrait with his bodyguard, David “Books” Drud, over a glass of celebratory scotch. “I like to think it’s a portal to the afterlife, and my father visits from time to time to see how I’m spending his money. And I get to kill the old bastard all over again.” Books gave a respectful chuckle and sipped the five-thousand-dollar-a-bottle whisky. But Othmann had not been joking.
The voices were in the hallway now.
He strode over to the stone mantel behind his desk. Atop it sat a wood carving of a rug-weaving loom. The tiny weaver’s seat had been hollowed out and a miniature camera installed. In a darkened room ten feet below the study, a twenty-five-terabyte digital recorder captured every moment on Othmann’s estate. He never skimped on security.
The door opened.
A middle-aged Navajo man stumbled in. Strands of long, black hair stuck to his face. His dirty clothes and the black patch over his left eye gave him the appearance of a down-on-his-luck desert pirate. At one time, this had been Othmann’s prized silversmith, whose work had been shown at the Smithsonian and sold in the Faubourg Saint-Honoré district in Paris. But when the Navajo silversmith had lost his eye in a drunken brawl four years earlier, he also lost his talent. Now he was just Eddie Begay, the snitch.
Books stepped behind Eddie, his imposing figure clogging the doorway. He shoved the skinny man forward. Eddie’s feet failed to keep up, and he fell to his knees onto the plastic tarp.
Eddie had grown comfortable groveling these past few years; alcohol seemed to lubricate his humility. Kneeling on the floor, he actually looked somewhat at ease.
“You doing some remodeling, Mr. O?” Eddie said.
Books moved to stand behind their guest.
“I thought we were friends, Eddie,” Othmann said, his voice soft, with just a touch of hurt.
“We are. You’re my bil naa’aash.”
“Cousin-brother. I like that. Yes, I suppose we are brothers of a sort. Brothers in art.”
Eddie must have put up a fight because Books’s right trouser leg was muddied and torn. Othmann was curious.
“His dog didn’t like it when I put Eddie in the car,” Books said, his voice slow, tired, as though his words had traveled a long way before passing his lips.
“He killed my dog, Mr. O. He slammed her head in the car door.”
“It was practically dead anyway,” Books said. “Nothing but skin and bones. You people don’t take care of your dogs.”
“Fuck you, man.”
Books was fast. Othmann almost missed it. He heard a slap, and then Eddie’s head snapped forward.
“Eddie,” Othmann said. “Look at me, Eddie. A little birdie told me you got caught diddling a kid.”
“I never done nothing like that. I got a woman. I don’t touch kids. If anyone told you that, they’re just trying to mess up our business arrangement.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, our business arrangement.”
Eddie squinted. “I thought you were happy with the carving.”
“Oh, I’m very happy with it. And I have it on good authority it’s authentic.”
The carving was a chunk of stone with a thousand-year-old petroglyph of a spiral-beaked bird that Eddie had chiseled from a cliff at Chaco Canyon. It now sat below them as part of Othmann’s very private and very illegal collection in an environmentally controlled vault. And in that same vault was the recorder that was, at that very moment, capturing Eddie Begay’s every word.
Othmann continued. “Why don’t you tell us what the police are accusing you of, Eddie?”
“This is bullshit. I’m not telling you any—”
Books drove a knee to the back of his head. Eddie did a face plant on the tarp. He didn’t move.
“I hope you didn’t kill him.”
Eddie let out a sound somewhere between a whimper and a groan and struggled back to his knees. His eye patch had shifted, granting Othmann an unwanted view of a black sunken hole. Was that what Xajiinai was? Black and bottomless? Not like his father’s portrait at all. Maybe Eddie was the portal to communicate with the dead, to communicate with good ol’ Pops.
“What did they say you did?” Othmann asked.
Eddie took several deep breaths. His good eye seemed unable to focus. “They said … they said I touched my sister’s boy. But I didn’t.”
Othmann walked around to the front of his desk, careful not to block the camera’s view. “And what did you tell the FBI about me?”
“How did you know it was the FBI?”
“Eddie, it’s time to be honest. I need to know I can trust you. Now, what did you tell them about me?”
“Nothing. Why would I talk about you? They were asking about my nephew.”
“Did you tell them about the carving?”
“No.” Eddie’s voice was high.
“What do you think, David? Did he talk?”
“He talked. A man that can’t take care of his dog isn’t loyal to anyone.”
“Are you loyal, Eddie?”
Another knee to the back of his head.
Books wrinkled his nose. “I think he shit himself.”
A minute passed.
Eddie regained consciousness. He groaned. Blood dripped from his nose onto the plastic.
“Oh man.” Eddie pulled at the seat of his pants.
“Stay on the tarp,” Othmann said.
The broken man sat back on his knees, swaying. A silver and turquoise squash-blossom necklace, which Eddie usually wore beneath his shirt, now hung exposed on his chest. It had been handed down through his family, originally belonging to his great-grandfather, who had been the chief of his clan before the Long Walk. Its craftsmanship was some of the best work Othmann had ever seen. But no matter how tough things had gotten for Eddie, he had never parted with his great-grandfather’s legacy.
“Eddie, Eddie. Why are you doing this to yourself? It’s a simple question. I already know the answer, but I want to hear you say it.”
“Okay … but don’t let him knee me anymore. I’m seeing double.”
“David, don’t knee him anymore.”
Eddie stared as Books unbuckled his belt. Books pulled it from his waistband and grasped both ends in his right hand, letting the loop dangle by his side.
“What did you tell the FBI about me?”
Eddie licked his lips, smearing the trickle of blood from his nose, spreading it wide, giving himself a clown’s red mouth.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I got scared. Real scared. I was never in trouble like that before.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That I used to make jewelry for you, and when I couldn’t do that anymore, I started getting you things.”
“I told them about the prayer sticks … and the artifacts.”
“Did you tell them about the Chaco carving?”
Eddie hung his head.
“And they want you to talk to the grand jury, right?”
“I’ll disappear. I have a cousin in California. I can hide out there. Really. I won’t talk to them again. I promise.”
“I know you won’t.”
Books dropped the belt loop over Eddie’s head.
The silversmith clawed at the thin strip of leather.
Othmann stared into the dying man’s empty eye socket.
Later that night, in the environmentally controlled vault below, while replaying the hidden-camera footage, feeling the effects of Cuervo Black and a line of Christmas powder, Othmann would think about this moment and tell himself he saw his father staring out of that depthless black hole, the tip of his cigar glowing with the brilliance of hellfire, and his wrinkled lips mouthing the words You’re a little light in your goddamn pants!
FRIDAY, 9:38 A.M.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Supervisory Special Agent in Charge Dale Warren thumbed through a copy of that month’s issue of Model Cars Magazine, pausing on an article about applying alclad chrome to bumpers and grilles. His cell phone rang. He recognized the number and answered.
“It’s assigned,” he said. “I gave it to one of my … older agents.” Dale disconnected the call without waiting for a response.
Then he picked up the 1952 Moebius Hudson Hornet convertible parked at the edge of his desk and eyed its bumpers. The metallic paint was dull and pitted from a poor application he’d attempted the previous summer. He laid the car back down and returned to the article.
FRIDAY, 10:31 A.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
Joe pulled his Tahoe behind the marked Navajo Police vehicle and stepped out. They were parked on the side of Jones Ranch Road in Chi Chil Tah, a small Navajo community twenty miles southwest of Gallup, consisting of a school, a small housing development, some scattered trailers and ranch homes, and a chapter house, the Navajo equivalent of a town hall. The blacktop had ended about four miles back, and now he stood on hard-packed clay surrounded by piñon trees.
The officer, who had been leaning against his ride’s front fender, approached. He wore the tan uniform of the Navajo Police Department, and wore it well, crisp and clean. A rookie.
“Call me Joe.” He flashed his credentials, then slipped them back into his sport coat. He didn’t ask the officer’s name. His name tag read R. BLUEHORSE.
A big grin spread across the officer’s face. He reached out and pumped Joe’s extended hand with all the enthusiasm of a teenager being given the keys to the car for the first time. “Glad to meet you. I’m pretty new to the force. My first week out on my own and I caught this case. Lucky, I guess.”
Lucky? A cold case? Lots of work and little chance to clear it. The kid had no idea.
Joe pulled his hand to safety. “Sorry, I’m a little late.” Mornings had become more and more difficult for him over the past year.
Bluehorse looked at Joe’s shoes. “Did I tell you it was in the woods?”
The cuffs of Joe’s wrinkled khakis sat atop a pair of tasseled loafers. No doubt boots would have been a better choice. “They’re old.” They weren’t.
The officer seemed to be waiting for something.
“You want to show me what you found?”
“Isn’t there anyone else coming? You know, to process it.”
“I need to check it out first.”
Officer Bluehorse looked down the road one last time, as though willing there to be more attention to his find. Then he walked to the north side of the road and set off through the woods. Joe followed.
This was the high desert, six thousand feet above sea level, just enough rainfall to support life. The trees were spread far apart, with a sprinkling of sage, rabbitbrush, and brown grass between them. The scent of sage was strong, almost overpowering. Joe studied the distance between trees. He guessed a car could zigzag a path through these woods if the driver didn’t care about beating the vehicle to hell.
“I plan on putting an application in with BIA or FBI when I finish my bachelor’s,” Bluehorse said.
“Go with the FBI. They offer dental.”
Joe smiled, something he’d not done in some time.
“Which would you recommend?”
“Either,” Joe said. “FBI if you don’t care where they send you. BIA if you want to work reservations the rest of your life.” And don’t mind being screwed over once in a while by your supervisor.
“I think I want to work reservations.”
Enjoy the screwing.
“So how did you find the vehicle?”
“We were searching for a missing hunter, and I just came across it.”
They arrived at a shallow arroyo. Joe slid down and could feel loose soil spill into his shoes. When they climbed out on the other side, he was breathing hard. It had to be the elevation and not the four or more beers a night—usually more—he told himself.
“Hold on.” Joe leaned against a tree and took off his shoes, one at a time, shaking them out as he filled his lungs. “What made you run the vehicle?”
“The bullet holes.”
“Bullet holes? Why didn’t you tell me about them when I called?”
Bluehorse shifted his weight to his other foot. “The car’s been here a long time. They could be from hunters having target practice. I didn’t want to sound the alarm. And you didn’t ask any questions.”
“I shouldn’t have to ask.”
The officer lowered his gaze. “Yes, sir. Sorry.”
Joe hadn’t meant to come off so harsh. “The news didn’t mention bullet holes.”
“I haven’t turned in my report yet. I wanted to keep that and the location quiet until you arrived.”
“That’s great, but how did the story even get out?”
“This is Navajo land,” Bluehorse said. “There are no secrets. I guess someone in the department talked.”
Joe slipped his foot back into his second shoe. He patted the trunk of a tree. “Is this oak?” he asked, trying to stretch out the break a little longer.
Bluehorse perked up. He peered toward the tree’s canopy. “A real fine one, too.” He touched the bark with his hand. “There’s a lot of oak here, mostly down by the canyons. The name Chi Chil Tah means ‘where the oaks grow.’ My grandpa was Hopi, a kachina carver. Do you know what they are?”
Joe did. Small colorful carvings of Indian dancers representing various spirits.
Bluehorse continued in a soft, almost sad voice. “He used to take me out this way when I was a kid to gather wood. Most kachinas are made from cottonwood root. It’s soft and easy to carve. But my grandpa made a special oak kachina for men with what he called ‘the wandering spirit.’ Oak is heavy, he’d say; it plants the man firmly with his family. He also made it for people who suffered great losses because oak was strong and could bear great burdens.”
“He sounds like a wise man.”
“He was. He died a few years back.”
Joe’s chest tightened. He felt for Bluehorse. For this young man’s loss. He thought of Christine, his own loss. Memories flashed through his head like a silent montage. Images of her. Images of them. He pushed them out of his head. Those memories were for the nights when he lay awake in bed, not having had quite enough alcohol to dull the pain, to bring on the blackness and the comfort of oblivion. On those nights, his memories would infiltrate his mind like termites, trying to destroy his will to go on without her. He stood in the woods now, struggling to catch his breath, but he couldn’t. He faced away and inhaled deeply. After a bit, he turned back. Bluehorse had his eyes closed and his left ear pressed against the tree.
“We’d sometimes wander these woods for hours till we found the right tree. He’d say he could hear the tree’s energy, its life. He’d take wood only from a healthy tree, never a sickly or dying one.” Bluehorse pushed himself off the trunk, turned, and started again through the woods.
Joe followed. He knew he had just witnessed something profound, something that should have given him a flash of insight into the human condition, or some glimpse of a universal truth. Instead, he just felt dull. His head hurt, memories of Christine still fighting to get back in. He trudged on, following the young officer, weaving between trees both living and dead.
They hiked the next ten minutes in silence, Bluehorse in front, maintaining an easy pace; Joe, some distance behind, breathing hard, trying to keep up. Finally they arrived, quietly, solemnly, forgoing any discussion that might herald the journey’s end.
Between two dead piñon trees, surrounded by sage and rabbitbrush, painted in shadows, out of place in this seemingly untouched wilderness, sat the remains of a bone white Lincoln Town Car.
Bluehorse had not downplayed its condition. There was little left. The doors were angled open, seats missing. The dash had been ripped apart, its wire innards dangling. Only brittle shards remained of the rear window. All the tires were gone, the axles resting on an assortment of logs and stones.
Joe made a slow circle around the remains. He detected the faintest scent of engine oil, surprising considering all the years the vehicle had rested there. Yet, at the same time, he knew the longevity of odor. He had been to many body recoveries over the years. And he knew how strong the smell of decay could be even after a decade under the earth, as if the dead refused to break their connection with the living.
The vehicle’s vinyl roof was shredded and its four headlights broken. Its front bumper lay lopsided, like a stroke patient’s smile. Three evenly spaced bullet holes cut across the windshield. Possibly some idiot’s idea of target practice, but it challenged the idea that Edgerton had simply skipped out with the money, which had always seemed a little too storybook for Joe.
He bent down by the rear bumper. On the left, faded, peeling, barely legible, was a sticker that read EDGERTON FOR CONGRESS. To the right of that was DUKAKIS FOR PRESIDENT IN ’88.
“Nice work.” Joe was being honest, but he wished the officer had waited three months to call it in. That way, Joe could have read about it at his new job. If he could find a new job.
“Call me Joe.”
“So what’s all the fuss over Edgerton? I mean, I know he ran off with some money, but it’s not like he killed anyone.”
“At the time, it was pretty big. Right after the Iran-Contra scandal. People were upset about political corruption. I think Edgerton became everyone’s target. Also, it was sort of a mystery. What happened with all the money? Sort of like D. B. Cooper.”
“Who’s D. B. Cooper?”
Joe grinned. “When were you born?”
“Forget it.” Joe turned his attention back to the Lincoln. “Why don’t you give me your take on this?”
Officer Bluehorse straightened. “Yes, sir—I mean, Joe.” He walked to the engine compartment.
“The whole car’s been stripped, even the engine.”
Joe looked under the hood. In place of the motor was a pile of sticks and shredded bark. A pack rat’s nest.
“At first I thought the vehicle may have been put here after being stripped somewhere else. But I found an old trail right over there.” Bluehorse pointed north. “It’s overgrown now, but that must be how they got the engine out. Also, I found some of the engine parts under the car, so that told me they dismantled it here. Same with lug nuts and some dashboard pieces.
“I can’t be sure, but it looks like those three shots through the windshield were fired from a downward angle. My guess is the shooter was standing on the hood and fired down into the dash.”
Joe poked his head inside. A gouge ran down the front edge of the dashboard, over the missing radio console, showing the trajectory of a round. It seemed unlikely the shooter had been aiming for the occupants.
“And there’s something else,” Bluehorse said. He closed the driver-side door and then walked around to the passenger side. Joe followed. They squeezed between the piñon tree and the front passenger door. They crouched down. Joe looked to where Bluehorse pointed, at the now-closed driver-side door. The door’s plastic panel had long since been removed, and Joe could see the fabricated metal frame and mechanical components inside. A single bullet hole, round, jagged, had ripped into the frame at the base of the window, just below the pop-up lock lever. He hadn’t noticed them on his walk around the vehicle, but he had noticed that the paint had peeled at the top of the door and that rust had begun working its way down from that same corner.
“I don’t know the caliber,” Bluehorse said. “But it’s big.”
Joe walked around and examined the hole. After a moment he said, “Forty-five.” This bullet hole was interesting—and troubling. It was larger than the rounds in the windshield. He looked down. At first he thought he was looking at a brown carpet, but then he realized the entire floorboard was covered in rodent droppings. The rug had been removed.
“You want to stay involved with the investigation?”
“You’re going to have to keep quiet about what we do, even to your supervisors. Is that going to be a problem?”
Bluehorse hesitated. “The chief asked me to keep him updated.”
“You can keep him updated, but we’ll have to agree on what those updates will be. If that makes you feel uncomfortable, tell me now. I can’t have any more leaks to the press.”
“I don’t think the chief would leak to the press.”
“That’s the deal, Bluehorse. I like how you’ve handled it so far. I think you should be part of the investigation, since you’re the one who found the car, but it’s your call.”
“Are you going to bring out a crime-scene team?”
“Okay. I’m in,” Bluehorse said, smiling. “But please give my chief decent updates, so I don’t lose my job.”
“Welcome to the team.”
“Well, we have no idea if the bullet holes are related to Edgerton’s disappearance. It could’ve been some hunters having fun.”
“What if it wasn’t?”
“That’s why we cover our asses and bring in an FBI evidence team.”
FRIDAY, 12:49 P.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
Officer Bluehorse watched Joe’s Tahoe disappear down the road. He couldn’t help but grin. He was on the case. Only a rookie and he was going to be working one of the biggest cases to hit the reservation since … since he didn’t know when.
He wanted to tell someone, but he didn’t know who. He’d have to wait until he got home tonight. He saw himself sitting around the dinner table with his folks, forking a few peas, offhandedly mentioning the investigation. Oh, by the way. That Edgerton case. The BIA wants me to work it.
He couldn’t wait.
But for now, he’d have to satisfy himself by telling someone else. He took out his cell phone.
“Chief, this is Officer Bluehorse. We just finished.” He told the chief about Joe’s inspection of the Lincoln, grinning the entire time. “He said I could assist with the investigation, if that’s okay with you, sir.”
His good mood soured slightly. “I’m not sure what his plans are, sir. He’s going to call me tomorrow.”
After he disconnected, he stood there for a bit, not moving, still flying high, but beginning to see the ground. Joe had given him a chance; he wouldn’t let him down.
He punched in his grandmother’s number.
“Shi másání,” he said. “I’m in Chi Chil Tah and was thinking of Shi chei.”
They talked a little about family and about why he hadn’t been out to see her the past couple weeks. He didn’t mention the case to her, though. She didn’t follow the news, and it would have taken too long to explain its importance. But he did have a reason for calling.
“Shí másání, do you still have any of Shi chei’s oak kachinas?”
FRIDAY, 2:18 P.M.
EDGERTON FOR GOVERNOR HEADQUARTERS, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
For the past month, the two dozen volunteers who staffed Grace Edgerton’s campaign headquarters buzzed with the excitement of an impending win. The polls predicted it. Her staff echoed it. In four weeks’ time, Grace Edgerton would be elected governor of the great state of New Mexico. And she was ready. Ready to lead New Mexico to a prosperous future that would embrace the multiethnic population and leverage the state’s technological centers, the backbone of its economy. She would also protect the border, not to keep Mexicans from following their dream and coming to the United States, but to stop the flow of drugs and violence. Those were her campaign pledges. And any one of her volunteers there in the office would swear she planned to do just that. She loved New Mexico. To her, it was the Land of Enchantment.
But yesterday, things had changed. Brooding silence descended upon her headquarters. Volunteers spoke in hushed whispers as they stole furtive glances toward Grace Edgerton’s office and the battalion of senior staff dashing in and out. The change began right after Channel 13 reported her husband’s vehicle had been found.
In less than a month, voters would go to the polls and decide which lever to pull—or rather, which button to push. Her volunteers started talking about defeat. That morning, two had called in and said they could no longer volunteer because they had found jobs.
Now, Congresswoman Grace Edgerton rocked back and forth in her tufted high-backed burgundy office chair. That morning’s edition of the Albuquerque Journal lay on her desk. The photograph above the fold showed a smiling Arlen and Grace Edgerton, their hands joined and raised in a victory pose. Arlen’s first election, in 1986.
Gabriella Soyria Cullodena Sedillo-Edgerton began to cry.
Cullodena was her grandmother’s first name on her mother’s side, the Gilchrist side. A proud Scottish family. Her father, Gustavo Alejandro Sedillo, came from a wealthy Mexican family. Both sides opposed her parents’ union. But when Grace was born, their families put aside their ethnic differences and doted on their pequeño joya, their little jewel.
Grace’s parents lived in Matamoros, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border, across from Brownsville, Texas. But a few months before Grace was due, her mother moved to Brownsville and delivered her first baby at Mercy Hospital, or La Merced, as the locals called it, ensuring Grace’s birthright citizenship. Grace grew up attending the best private schools in America. Later she attended the University of New Mexico, which wasn’t the best, but it did have the largest Hispanic population in the country and was close enough for Gustavo Sedillo to check up on his only daughter. At age twenty-two, she met an older man, Arlen Edgerton, a transplanted blue blood from Massachusetts, who became a campus activist and her college lover. At age twenty-six, she was the wife of Congressman Arlen Edgerton, the beloved New Mexican, the celebrated liberal, and her political role model. At age thirty, she was Congresswoman Grace Edgerton. And now, at an age that she tried her best never to divulge, she would be Governor Grace Edgerton.
Her office door flung open. She wiped away a tear.
“We’ve got trouble.” Christopher Staples, her campaign manager, strode into the office, an invisible cloud of cheap aftershave in tow. He plopped his two-doughnut-a-day bottom onto the burgundy leather couch she kept in there for those long nights during the campaign. “Big trouble. Godzilla sequel–size trouble. King fucking Kong–size trouble. This is the shit you can’t foresee. The shit that can torpedo a run at the last minute.”
Her chest fluttered. “What is it?”
“This could sink us. Sink you.”
“Chris, calm down and tell me.”
“So close. So freakin’ close.”
“Arlen’s vehicle was riddled with bullets.”
“See what I mean. A shitstorm is about to hit and stink up your campaign.”
“You can say that again.”
She whispered, “Arlen.”
Chris stared at her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, but his tone didn’t agree. “I shouldn’t have dropped it on you like that. But we need to move.”
Grace took a deep breath and wiped away another tear.
“Kendall called. There’s a Washington Post reporter already sniffing around, working the angle that you knew about the affair and maybe you put a hit out on your husband and that tramp.”
“Her name was Faye and she wasn’t a tramp and they weren’t lovers. I shouldn’t have to be telling you this. You’re supposed to be on my side.” She looked down at the paper on her desk. At the picture of her and Arlen holding hands. “Those rumors are old. No one cares about them now.”
“This is the Washington fucking Post. You know, the Watergate folks. They put the FBI to shame.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Damn it, Grace. Take your blinders off. Arlen’s disappearance never amounted to much back then because no one had any answers. No one knew what happened. Anything goes now. They could find the gun in your desk drawer, for all I know.”
She sprang to her feet. “What the hell do you mean by that?”
“Kendall’s concerned, and I don’t blame him. If he endorses you now, there can be blowback later. He wants you in office so you can return the favor when he announces his run for the White House. But you go up in flames with this, he gets burned.” He leaned his head back, pressing the palms of his hands against his eyes. “Shit. You may have been considered for the VP ticket. I so wanted out of this state. You know, I was even checking out condos in D.C.”
“Knock it off. I’ll talk to him.”
He dropped his hands and met her gaze. His expression suggested he was witnessing humanity’s fall from grace. “Look, I’m neither your priest nor your lawyer. I was hired to get you elected. If you had anything to do with it, I don’t care. But if you, by some wild chance now, do get elected and the feds come knocking at the governor’s mansion someday, perhaps it would be in your best interest to start planting a few seeds of marital discord. It might help you later. I get paid either way; just give me the word.”
“Let me make one thing perfectly clear. I love—loved—Arlen, and I want to know what happened to him, just like everyone else. And if you don’t believe me, then maybe you need to consider joining Percy’s camp.”
“Don’t think I haven’t.” Chris struggled to his feet. “And remember what I said. Marital problems make you sympathetic.”
FRIDAY, 2:59 P.M.
BANK OF ALBUQUERQUE TOWER, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe parked in a no parking zone. He tossed his placard on the dash. The laminated card read FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY—FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT VEHICLE. He hurried into the building.
Inside, he scanned the tenant directory posted on the wall.
THE HAMILTON GROUP … 17th Floor.
He checked the time. He was late.
FRIDAY, 4:37 P.M.
MICKEY’S BAR & GRILL, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
On the drive over, Joe had received a call from Bluehorse. The Gallup newspaper had printed a story about Edgerton’s vehicle being found bullet-riddled.
With his finger, Joe wrote the words shit happens in the condensation on his mug of beer. He appraised his work. Andy Warhol had nothing on him. Pop art at its finest.
“Wanna talk about it?” Mickey Sheehan said as he sorted through the quarters in the bar’s register, forever on the lookout for rare coins.
“Not right now. I’m finding my muse.”
“Ask her if she’s got a sister.”
“You need a bingo partner?”
“One of my waitresses quit.”
Mickey started on the nickels. Joe watched. Back in August, Joe had been sitting on the same stool when Mickey yelled, “I’ll be damned. No P.” He repeated that a few times, slapping the mahogany bar top and laughing. He later told Joe that all the dimes minted in Philadelphia after 1980 had a P, designating the city. In 1982, the mint accidentally omitted the P from a small batch. Mickey’s dime would fetch a couple thousand dollars, though he’d never sell it. “I got a spot for it right next to my 1955 doubled-die penny.” Joe had no idea what a 1955 doubled-die penny was, but he appreciated Mickey’s enthusiasm, especially when he gave the bar a round of drinks on the house.
Mickey finished his coin hunt and limped to the other end of the counter to check on the only other customers at the bar, two men in suits and ties who huddled together and talked in whispers, as though they were discussing trade secrets. Maybe they were.
Mickey’s Bar & Grill had the feel of an old-time saloon. The walls were of wood panel and exposed brick, and the thick oak tables and chairs were covered with liberally applied coats of varnish. The place smelled of smoked ribs and frothy ale. War photographs decorated the walls. Mickey had served in Vietnam with the Screaming Eagles. He once told Joe how he’d earned his Purple Heart. “During the war—and don’t believe that conflict bullshit; it was a goddamn war—I was at Firebase Ripcord when the shit hit the fan. We was getting pounded by mortars. I jump in a foxhole and feel a sting on my right calf. I reach down to rub it, thinking I got nicked by a flying stone or something, and the son of a bitch is gone.” He looked Joe in the eye. “Now my foot powder lasts twice as long.” He’d winked then, but Joe had been too involved in the story to laugh or smile, or whatever the old war vet had expected.
Joe liked Mickey and he liked the bar. It relaxed him. He sipped his beer and enjoyed the relative quiet of pre–happy hour. Mickey would turn the music on around 4:30, sometimes Tony Bennett, sometimes something more current. And then the after-work regulars would start to trickle in, most sitting at the bar, a few grabbing tables for dinner. Joe knew the routine of the regulars. He’d become a member two years ago, ever since Christine’s …
He downed the mug and set it at the end of the counter, indicating to Mickey he wanted—no, needed—another. Mickey hobbled over, took out a fresh mug from under the counter, and filled it.
“Ready to talk?”
“Yeah. Just needed to get one down.”
“Had a job interview today. I was late and it didn’t go too well. The guy was younger than my daughter.”
“Don’t worry about it. You got a good reputation and you know your shit. It’ll work out. But next time, don’t forget to shave.”
Joe stroked his face. Shit. Actually, he’d hadn’t forgotten. He just hadn’t bothered. Shaving was one of those things that didn’t seem so important anymore.
Mickey went on: “How’s Melissa?”
“Top of her class, as always. Just like her mom.” He took a swallow of beer, a long swallow. “Nothing like her dad. At least I can be thankful for that.”
“Snap out of it, Joe.” Mickey’s voice was serious. “I don’t mind your business. Hell, I appreciate it. But you got more going for you than coming in here and drinking by yourself every night. You’re still young—younger than me, anyway. Get out and meet people. Meet some women.”
“You’re a broken record, Mick.”
“See what I mean. You’re outta touch. They ain’t got records no more. You gotta say, ‘Mick, you sound like a skipping CD.’”
Joe smiled. “I don’t think anyone says that.”
“They should. ‘Broken record’ sounds old-fashioned.”
Joe wrote skipping CD in the condensation on his mug, wrapping the letters all the way around so they started and stopped at the handle. No, it didn’t have the same ring as “broken record.”
“We may have a prospect,” Mickey said.
Three women walked toward the bar. They didn’t look over. Joe knew two of them, Linda and Sue. Two very nice, and very loud, married women who came to Mickey’s a couple times a week to grab a drink and do battle with the bar’s sound system. They worked for a large development company down the street. Joe liked them because they were fun to listen to. He didn’t know the third woman, a blonde. She walked between the other two, laughing a nice laugh, a friendly laugh. Joe immediately liked her. She filled out her beige pants like roses fill out a bouquet—and she wore sensible heels. If she had been wearing high heels, he’d have pegged her as high-maintenance. Christine, his wife, had never worn stilettos, but she’d always had great legs and never needed the extra sculpting.
Joe returned to his beer. This time he wrote stilletto in the condensation, not sure how to spell it. He tried to remember if he’d ever written the word before. He didn’t think so. He couldn’t remember writing high heels, either.
Joe took another long swallow of beer. He was about to draw a high heel, when a woman spoke behind him.
“It’s only one l.”
Joe turned and saw the blonde standing next to him. She offered a smile. He turned on his charm.
She pointed to his mug. “Stiletto has one l. Why did you write that on your mug?”
Joe had an answer, but not one that made sense. Oh, hi. I noticed you weren’t wearing stilettos, so I knew you weren’t high-maintenance. Why, no, I’m not crazy. Why do you ask? Instead, he lied. “Reliving my fifth-grade spelling bee. I got it wrong then, too.”
“You’d think you would have come to terms with that by now.”
“Some losses are harder to get over than others.”
“I’m sure.” Their eyes locked for a moment. “I came over to thank you for the drink.”
Joe searched out Mickey. The old bastard winked.
“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Joe said. “Linda and Sue are a lot of fun.” Lame.
“They are.” She leaned in and whispered, “But they’re so loud.”
“Loud? I never noticed.”
She laughed and held out her hand. “I’m Gillian.”
“Joe. Nice to meet you.”
“Would you like to join us?”
“No, I wouldn’t be great company tonight. And besides, I have a failed geometry test from ninth grade I have to revisit. Still can’t figure how I botched that one.” He drew a triangle on his glass.
“You’re funny.” She turned and went back to her friends. Linda and Sue both looked over and waved. “Hi, Joe,” they shouted almost in unison, but not quite. He waved back and placed his half-empty mug on the end of the counter. Mickey came over.
“She thanked me for the drink,” Joe said.
“You’re a real sweetheart.”
“Yeah, I surprise myself sometimes.”
“One more. I don’t want to ruin my nice-guy impression by staggering out of here.”
“Too late. Linda and Sue already know you. But I’ll see what I can do with the new girl.”
FRIDAY, 7:23 P.M.
LOS DANZANTES, CIUDAD DE MÉXICO, DISTRITO FEDERAL, MEXICO
Cedro Bartolome swirled his glass of Chianti. He examined its legs, sniffed, and then took a sip. Plums and Mother Earth.
“Excelente,” he said.
The waiter poured wine for the other three guests.
Tonight was special. For the last three weeks, he’d been courting a new client for the firm, a conglomerate with sizable holdings in both Mexico and the United States. A few hours earlier, the conglomerate’s in-house counsel had notified him it had selected his firm, so he had called his wife, Daniela, and told her they would go out tonight to celebrate. Then he invited Ernesto and his wife. Ernesto was one of Cedro’s five partners at the firm, and he rarely refused an opportunity to enjoy good food and spirits.
“Have you been following the news in America about Edgerton?” Ernesto asked in Spanish.
Almost two decades had passed since Cedro had last heard the name.
“It’s not good,” Ernesto said. “The authorities found his car. They could start asking you questions again, maybe put some pressure on the firm. We should be ready.”
Cedro sipped his wine. He detected the pedestrian flavor of sour berries.
SATURDAY, 9:11 A.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
It took Joe a few minutes to find Bluehorse’s trail, two tire tracks turning north off Jones Ranch Road. He got out and stuck a small orange flag into the clay by the path. Then he climbed back in his vehicle and drove into the tree line.
The way was rough. He switched to four-wheel drive. As he weaved around trees, he glanced occasionally in his rearview mirror, catching the brilliant rays of sunlight that penetrated the thin canopy and gave the clouds of dust behind him a surreal glow, as though he were passing through a magical gateway, a rift through worlds. Perhaps he was. Many have described the Navajo Nation as a mystical place, a place where superstition and the substantive world fuse into a new reality.
The trail ended in a small clearing, perhaps fifty feet at its widest. He parked next to Bluehorse’s unit, then got out. They shook hands.
“The others are on their way,” Joe said. “Should be here by ten.”
“I called the chief a few minutes ago. He said he was upset I didn’t know about this yesterday.”
Joe had asked Bluehorse not to tell his chief the FBI would process the vehicle today. He hadn’t wanted any press showing up at the road. He’d suspected the chief was the one behind leaking the story about the bullet holes.
“Don’t worry. You’ll have enough to update him on after we finish here.”
“Did you tell your boss?” Bluehorse asked.
“We don’t talk much.”
SATURDAY, 9:30 A.M.
THE CONSTITUTION ROOM, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Kendall Holmes touched his lips to the gold-rimmed china cup and sipped the Earl Grey tea, letting it bathe his palate. The soft bergamot tang excited his mouth yet calmed his body. He relaxed into the oversized poppy-colored leather chair in the waiting lounge of the Constitution Room, an exclusive power dining spot in D.C. Anyone who was anyone kept this number on speed dial, and anyone who mattered had standing reservations. More legislation was finalized here than on the Senate and House floors combined. And, to be honest, the Constitution Room offered the proper atmosphere to run a country, rivaling the White House in elegance and grandeur—no, exceeding the White House. On his last visit to the home of the supposed most powerful man in the free world, he had noted how shabby the place looked. The radiators begging for paint, the plaster walls bulging and out of shape. Unacceptable. He might have an opportunity to do something about that in a couple of years. The Constitution Room, however, was flawless. Even the silver and crystal chandeliers hanging from the twenty-foot ceiling gleamed with a perpetual polish. Never a speck of dust or the taint of tarnish. More important, these dangling islands of light cast the perfect illumination. As with every decision inside the Beltway, it was likely the product of a three-hundred-page report prepared by a consultant who had studied the exact number of lumens required to attract venerated statesmen—as well as the reviled.
Holmes looked over at the waiter, who stood off to the corner, visible to the eye yet distant to the ear. Eavesdropping does not attract politicians. Kendall held up his tea and nodded, indicating it was a fine cup. The young man returned the nod with a quick smile. The waiter was new. Holmes would develop him over time. Sources were important. A waiter at the Constitution Room was gold, maybe even platinum. A tidbit here, a morsel there. Holmes called it “mosaic intelligence.” Individually, the pieces were meaningless, but together, they made a picture. That was the purpose of his meeting this morning. To gather intelligence. But with caution.
He checked his watch, a Blancpain. Nine-thirty-two. The roman numerals circling the face appeared blurry. He’d stayed up late last night, leaving in his contacts, something he rarely did because his eyes were sensitive. The Edgerton mess was not only disrupting his usual calm but also his sleep. His phone vibrated, a text from his head of security—and longtime bodyguard—who waited in the lobby. His guest had arrived.
A minute later, Helena Newridge, a journalist for the Washington Post, waddled through the lounge, her head bobbling about, no doubt spying for gossip. The bulky jewelry around her neck and wrists gave off a rattle as she walked.
Holmes hid his disgust. “Ms. Newridge, over here.”
She sat down across from him. “I haven’t been here in a while. Budget cuts—unlike the government.”
He gave her his win-over laugh, one he’d perfected for his community-outreach meetings with constituents. “Allow me to grant you an appropriation. This will be my treat.” He slipped on his D.C. smile.
“You’re very smooth, Senator.”
“I enjoy people.”
She gave a smirk. “Uh-huh.”
“But before we begin, we have to agree on the terms. Yes?”
“We covered that on the phone.”
“We did, but for my own peace of mind, I would like to confirm our arrangement. You’re new to certain circles, so I need to know if you can be trusted to keep a confidence.”
“It’s my bread and butter.”
“I’m sure.” He smiled, showing his laser-whitened dental work, and his slightly pointy canines. “So we agree to background only. No quotes and I am not to be mentioned in the piece, correct?”
“And no recording.”
She looked disappointed. “Fine, no recording.”
“Okay, shall we eat now?”
“Sure, as long as we talk, too.”
SATURDAY, 9:56 A.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
Two midnight blue Suburbans pushed through the tree line. The first parked beside Joe’s vehicle. Behind the wheel was Andi McBride. She burst from her vehicle and strode up to Joe like a hungry bear greeting a hiker.
“What do you have, Joe? And I hope we aren’t parked in the scene.”
“Hello to you, too, Andi. How have you been? How’s the family? Go anywhere interesting on vacation this year?”
“Cut the crap. You know we’ve got all day to catch up. But if you want to know, I missed my jujitsu class this morning, so I haven’t relieved all my stress”—she looked Joe up and down and cracked a knuckle—“yet. I got food poisoning on my cruise and was sick for three days. And if I don’t get back to Albuquerque by six, my ex- is going to go apeshit, because I promised to take Pauly to the movies tonight. Other than that, I’m great.”
Bluehorse, who was standing next to Joe, took a step back.
“Happy to hear it—I mean that you’re great,” Joe said, trying to suppress a smile.
“You doing all right?”
“My boss is on my ass, the job is telling me to retire, and there’s a vehicle just over there”—he gestured to the east—“that’s probably going to be a giant hemorrhoid. And I have another tuition payment due in two weeks. Other than that, I’m great.”
“Happy to hear it—about you being great, I mean.”
They shook hands.
“All right. Give me the nickel summary and skip the Edgerton part. I’ve been watching the news.” She held her pen and clipboard at the ready.
Joe let Bluehorse tell about his find and the bullet holes. As he spoke, two more agents joined them, one male and one female. The female agent was reserved and stayed off to the side of the group, filling out what Joe guessed was a crime-scene form. He recognized the man.
“It’s Joe, right?” said Mark Fisher, a young candlewick of a man constantly burning nervous energy. “We did the Lujan case together in Sandia.”
Joe recalled the case. A fired railroad worker went home and lodged an ax in his son’s head because the teen had left a carton of milk on the counter to spoil. The drunken father had wanted a bowl of cereal.
“It’s been a while, Mark.”
“I read the father got seventeen years. Good job.”
“Thanks,” Joe said. “We appreciated your help with it.”
“Did they set a date for your retirement party?” Andi asked Joe.
“Not yet. Stretch is on it, though.”
Andi assigned Mark to evidence collection, and the other agent to photos and sketching.
Before they started, Mark went back to the Suburban. He returned a few minutes later carrying a long black plastic case, a camera bag, a camo backpack, and a tripod. Then they all followed Bluehorse to the once-forgotten hunk of metal sitting a short distance in the woods.
The milky white paint of the Lincoln glowed rather than radiated from the morning sunlight, giving its edges a fuzziness that seemed to ripple as though alive. The group circled the plundered vehicle. Criminologists suggest that stripping a vehicle is an act of vandalism, representing a breakdown of law and order, society’s failure at self-policing. Joe saw it as a symptom of social cancer. The doers, like mutated cells, ate away at a neighborhood, spreading, infecting others, until the mass got so large that the community collapsed. He was sure some of these cancerous cells lived nearby. They had taken what they could from this vehicle over the years, rather than reporting it to the police so a proper investigation could have been completed back when the congressman went missing. Now Joe had to deal with it.
Bluehorse showed them the bullet hole in the driver-side door and offered his theories.
“Let’s see you work some magic, Mark,” Joe said. He didn’t feel hopeful, but he knew he had to cover every angle in order to uncover any possible clue.
“That’s why I get paid the big bucks.” Mark passed out breathing masks and gloves to Joe and Bluehorse as the other agent took photographs of the vehicle and the surrounding area. Over the next hour, they shoveled out the rat droppings from inside the vehicle and ran metal detectors over the piles, looking for slugs or shells or anything else out of place that might potentially be a clue. They found nothing other than nuts and bolts, bottle caps, and metal brackets.
When they finished, Mark climbed into the vehicle to examine the bullet holes in the windshield and door. He and the female agent photographed and measured them all. When they were done, Mark focused on the door, placing his left cheek to the hole. He peered through.
“Oh yeah. This is going to be fun.”
Joe could hear a slight giddiness in his voice. He knew evidence guys—and gals—got excited by challenges at a scene.
“I feel pretty confident we can find this round,” Mark said. “No guarantee, of course. But definitely possible.”
Mark went to work. He opened the long black case and extracted a small box, a long metal rod, and a tiny tripod, all of which he handed to Bluehorse.
“Hold on to these until I get inside.”
Mark slid back inside the vehicle.
Bluehorse handed Mark the equipment.
Mark placed it on the battered dashboard, opened it, and withdrew several small white plastic cones with holes running lengthwise through them. He held them to the bullet hole in the door, inserting each one gently, and then removing it to try the next, searching for a cone that fit snugly into the hole and was oriented in the direction the round would have traveled. He seemed to find the one he wanted and placed the others back in the box.
He grabbed the long rod and pushed it through the bottom of the cone, sliding the small white plastic halfway down its length. Angling the rod, he inserted it through the bullet hole until the cone seated. He wiggled the rod assembly a few times until he appeared satisfied. He looked up. The rod pierced the driver’s door like a magician’s sword through a magic box.
“Now for the angle finder,” Mark said, more to himself than to the others.
Mark held a yellow plastic device at the back end of the rod. He read the dial and then made a notation on a small notepad he pulled from the cargo pocket of his pants.
Joe was absorbed by the process. He’d seen this technique used only once before, in an accidental shooting involving elk hunters.
Mark extended the legs of the tripod so they touched the now somewhat clean floorboard and then placed the rod in a small U-shaped clip at the tripod’s top. After making a few adjustments, he leaned back and appraised his work.
“This is not going to be perfect, but it’ll give us a good search vector.”
“You got my attention,” Joe said. “What’s next?”
“Do you have any idea if the vehicle was moved over the last twenty years? Maybe pushed or towed? Even a few feet?”
Because of the car parts under and around the vehicle, they didn’t believe it had been moved. It appeared to have been stripped in place.
“There are three unknowns we’re dealing with here,” Mark began. “First, was this vehicle parked here when the shot was fired? Second, was there anything on the outside of this door that could have intercepted the round and subsequently changed its direction, like a person or a tree that’s been cut down since? And third, was the round an ice bullet and has it since melted away?”
Bluehorse looked surprised.
“Okay, we only have two unknowns. But one of these days someone will try something tricky like that, and I’ll be ready.”
“I pity the fool,” Joe said in a poor imitation of Mr. T.
Mark and Bluehorse both looked at him, heads cocked.
“The A-Team?” Joe waited for a response. Nothing. He shook his head. “Young’uns.”
Mark went on: “So we could do an entire three-part mathematical equation to calculate the round’s time aloft, maximum height, and horizontal distance traveled, taking into account wind resistance and the Earth’s rotation, but…”
Bluehorse bit. “But?”
“But we don’t know the round’s velocity, and without that, I can’t do the calculations.”
Bluehorse bit again. “Oh.”
“So we’re left with one option. The string technique.”
No one said anything.
Mark continued, possibly a little disappointed by the lack of response. “I connect a laser to the rod and shoot out a beam for about two hundred yards or until something stops it—something that could have stopped a round. That’s our trajectory. Then we run a string from here to that point and use a metal detector along the string’s path. If the shot was fired from this vehicle while it was sitting here, and if my angle of travel is correct, the round should be within five to ten feet on either side of that string.”
Bluehorse clapped his hands together. “I’m game.”
“Let me make two disclaimers. First, the car is at a lower angle because the tires are gone. Second, if my angle of travel through the door is off, or if the car shifted to the side over the years, that round may not be in our search area.”
“Fair enough,” Joe said.
“Let’s find ourselves a bullet.” Mark rifled through the little black box on the dash and pulled out a small penlike tube. He placed it at the back end of the rod and screwed it to the tip, making slow, careful twists, as though he were assembling a bomb. When it was connected, he checked the angle finder again and made an adjustment to the tripod.
“Bluehorse,” Mark said. “In my backpack you’ll find several sheets of white card stock. Grab a piece and hold it in front of the rod.”
Bluehorse unzipped the bag.
A gunshot shattered the relative quiet of the woods.
SATURDAY, 11:43 A.M.
RESIDENCE OF WILLIAM TOM, FORT DEFIANCE (NAVAJO NATION), ARIZONA
William Tom dipped the last piece of wheat bread into the mixture of egg yolk and green chili. As he lifted the soaked morsel to his mouth, he felt the light patter of liquid on his shirt. He shoved what remained between his fingers into his mouth and used his forefinger to catch the runaways on his stretched and yellowed T-shirt, smearing them into a single large stain. He called out to his wife.
“Chllarrr!” Swallowing, he tried again. “Char!”
“Ha’átíí?” Charlene replied, annoyance apparent in her voice. She was sitting in the living room, watching cartoons.
“I need a new shirt.”
“Because I got a stain on it.”
“Damn it! I need a new shirt.”
“Stop watching that shit and get me a shirt.”
“You’re a disgrace to your Navajo ancestors, woman. Don’t speak the language if you can’t live by the traditions.”
“Go get it yourself, old man,” she said, switching to English.
He pushed himself away from the kitchen table, his wheelchair sliding easily over the linoleum floor. He wheeled into the living room, looking at the back of Charlene’s head as he went. At forty-two, she was twenty-five years his junior. Her liver was probably older than his, the way she drank, but that was probably all. She would surely outlive him.
He never touched alcohol and always ate well, but that hadn’t made a difference. His whole body had given up on him a decade ago when he’d developed type 2 diabetes. He’d lost his right foot from a complication eight years ago. Then they took his lower leg. Last year, they took his thigh. Two months ago, a sharp tingling started to come and go in his left foot, but he kept that quiet. He’d lost most of the sight in his right eye and had been surprised that the doctors hadn’t offered to cut that out, too.
In the bedroom, he maneuvered himself to the dresser and opened the middle drawer. The bottom three drawers were his, the top three hers. He pulled out a once-white T-shirt, now a sickly shade of piss.
William had left the Navajo reservation at the age of ten to attend boarding school in Vermont. He stayed there until he was eighteen, with few trips back home during those years. He went on to study archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, and only after graduation did he return to the reservation. He wanted to bring his education back to his people. He was appointed as director of Navajo Antiquities, a department of government that safeguarded the Navajo Nation’s cultural history, and a place where he tried to make a difference. But that position offered little opportunity. So, many years later, he ran for president of the Navajo Nation. One requirement for presidency was fluency in Navajo. Because he’d left the reservation so young, he’d never mastered the language. But when he wanted something, he did what was needed to attain it, so he’d studied hard for most of a year to gain fluency. He was elected in 1991, the same year he met Charlene, his third wife. His first two wives had become too traditional for him. Now, in his later, wiser years, he wished Charlene would become more traditional.
He pulled off his stained shirt and placed it on his lap. It took him a little time, but he put on the new shirt and adjusted it down around his back. His body had grown weak these last few years and simple tasks like getting dressed tired him quickly. He wheeled over to the laundry basket. The clothes were piled high, overflowing onto the floor. The pile would grow much larger before Char got around to doing the wash. He rolled up the soiled shirt and was about to toss it on the mound, when he saw a pair of her panties on top.
She had gone out the night before and hadn’t returned home until after two, waking him up when she stumbled through the front door. She’d gone to Gallup, she’d said, with a few friends and had some drinks at the American Bar. When he asked her how she had gotten home, she said a friend drove her. She would not name the friend. He looked at the panties now, tempted to examine them for evidence of infidelity, to prove once again that she was cheating on him. But he realized it wouldn’t do any good. He’d confronted her before, and she hadn’t denied it.
“What do you want me to do?” she’d said. “I’m a woman. I’m young. You just want to sit home and read your stupid books. I can’t do that.” She hadn’t spoken Navajo that time.
That was the first of a dozen arguments they’d had about her sleeping around. His family would tell him from time to time that they’d seen her here or there with this guy or that guy. He’d tell them to mind their own business. Once, he told his brother, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t run after her.” He’d stopped driving when he started to lose his sight, so he just sat at home like a good invalid. He still wielded some power on the reservation, still had some friends—still had some enemies, too. He could find someone to pay a visit to one of her friends, but that would imply he still cared. He didn’t. Let her have her fun. He wouldn’t be around much longer. Didn’t want to be around much longer. Living was too much work now. Work and pain. As for him, they could put him in the ground tomorrow. A relic to be uncovered sometime in the future. A fitting end for an archaeologist.
He tossed his shirt on top of the pile and spun his chair around. He wheeled through the living room, out the front door, and onto the porch.
The Navajo Times lay there, wrapped with a rubber band. He bent and scooped it up, the effort making him breathe hard. He coughed. He smelled the air. The sage was strong and clean, energizing. As president, he had often told his constituents how much he loved the high desert and beautiful mesas, and how blessed the Navajo were to occupy their ancestral lands between the four sacred mountains. But after leaving office, he started telling the truth. He missed Vermont. He missed the deep greens and the vibrant colors of the Northeast. And more important, he missed the world-class hospitals there.
He sat for several moments, enjoying the warm sunshine. Then he pulled off the rubber band and unfolded the paper. He focused on the top story. “Clue to Congressman Edgerton’s Disappearance Found on Reservation.” His hands shook as he read.
SATURDAY, 11:43 A.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
Joe dropped to one knee, gun drawn. The sound of the shot had been close. Too close. He checked on the others. Bluehorse knelt by the fender. Mark’s head eased up to the driver-side window from within the car.
Joe scanned the woods. Who the hell was shooting? And what were they shooting at?
“Police! Stop firing your weapon!”
Another gunshot roared.
It came from the east.
Joe and Bluehorse moved behind the vehicle.
“Police! Stop shooting!”
“Get out of there, Mark.” Joe said.
Mark crawled through the passenger door on his hands and knees, staying low, below the dash.
Bluehorse pointed in the direction of the shooter. “Maybe forty yards.”
“Sounds like a shotgun,” Mark said.
Joe swept his weapon across the tree line.
“Andi,” Joe shouted over his shoulder. “You all right?”
Her voice came back immediately. “Right as rain!” She and the other agent were a little ways back, crouched behind trees. “Hunter?”
“Probably,” Joe said.
“This is the police! Stop firing your weapon!”
“What do you want to do?” Mark asked.
“Let’s move to contact before this asshole sends one our way,” Joe said. They made a quick plan. He would head toward the shooter. Bluehorse and Mark would flank right. Andi would stay behind to secure the scene, along with the other agent.
He had worked with Andi many times over the years and would have preferred to go into the woods with her, but sometimes a situation dictated differently. Thankfully, Bluehorse and Mark both seemed more than capable of handling themselves. Some officers he’d encountered would have given him cause to worry. And he guessed his own squad may have felt that way about him.
Another gunshot went off.
They sprinted for the tree line.
Joe’s adrenaline surged. Twenty steps and his heart was already hammering. His thoughts turned dark. Would he have a heart attack or catch a stray bullet from some yokel shooting cans? With less than ninety days till retirement, what the hell was he doing out here? This was the type of story cops shared in the locker room. Hey, you remember old Joe from BIA. He was only ninety days out when …
He ran on, trying to clear his head. When was his last conversation with Melissa? Wednesday? Had he told her he loved her? He wasn’t sure.
Another gun shot. Much louder. Closer. Like he was on the range without ear protection. He yelled for Bluehorse and Mark to hold up. He needed to get his bearings.
“See anything?” he asked.
He yelled again into the woods.
Another gunshot. He zeroed in on the sound and rushed forward, jumping over sage and rabbitbrush. He smelled cordite in the air. That and freshly turned soil. Maybe a little burned wood, too.
He saw a figure no more than two dozen steps ahead of him. It appeared to be a man. He held a double-barreled shotgun, his back to Joe.
“Police! Stop firing!”
The man held the gun to his shoulder. It pointed down to the ground, to a fallen oak in front of him. Another round went off. Deafening. What the hell was he firing at?
Joe slowed, gun at his chest, muzzle lowered. He didn’t expect to use force, but the man had a firearm. Bluehorse and Mark moved up from Joe’s right. Good. Less chance of cross fire.
“Police! Stop firing!”
The man made no movement to indicate he’d heard the command. Instead, he broke the shotgun open and began to eject the two shells. Joe ran up behind him. With his left hand, he grabbed the man’s wrist, disabling the hand that held the shotgun. The man turned and let out a startled yelp. Joe was glad the man hadn’t dropped right there from fright. He was old enough. The warranty on his heart had surely expired a decade earlier. From the deep lines in his face and his urine-colored eyes, wide now from surprise, Joe guessed the old man had watched eighty pass him by a few years back. Hell, maybe even ninety, from the looks of his barren gum line. How had this decrepit old soul been firing a shotgun?
Bluehorse and Mark came to stand next to Joe.
They all looked down at the hole in the ground under the oak. A burrow.
The old man stared at Joe and then at Bluehorse. He gave Bluehorse’s uniform the once-over.
“What are you shooting at, Grandpa?” Joe asked, his tone giving the title respect.
“Huh?” The old man cocked his head to the side, so his right ear faced Joe.
Louder: “What are you shooting at?”
The old man pointed to the other side of the oak. Joe leaned over for a view. A coyote lay dead on the ground, its body ripped apart from shotgun blasts.
“Why are you shooting at the hole?”
Joe repeated himself, this time closer to the man’s ear. Bluehorse and Mark covered their smiles.
The old man had been out to exterminate an entire den. Joe didn’t agree with such wholesale slaughter of wildlife, but he knew how the Navajo viewed coyote: bad luck and a nuisance.
Mark spoke loudly, “Damn, old man, you gave us quite a scare.”
The old man turned to Mark. “My English bad.”
Bluehorse spoke to the old man in Navajo while Mark left to tell the others about the situation.
After a few minutes, Bluehorse filled Joe in on the grandpa.
“He lives a little east of here. The coyote killed two of his chickens and attacked one of his dogs, almost killed him, too.”
“Ask him about the Lincoln.”
Bluehorse spoke again in Navajo. His face was practically up against the side of the old man’s head. Several more minutes passed as they talked.
“He says the car’s been there a long time. Back when Peter MacDonald was president, before he was arrested by the FBI, before the riot. They called the police back then, but no one came out.”
Joe knew the history. Every BIA agent did. Early in 1989, the then president of the Navajo Nation, Peter MacDonald, was suspended from office following allegations of corruption. On July 20 of that same year, MacDonald, unhappy with his own removal, led a group of supporters to take over the Navajo administration building in Window Rock, Arizona. The few Navajo police officers who responded to control the crowd and protect property were attacked by supporters; three lost their weapons, one of which was used in a shoot-out between supporters and the police. In the end, two people were killed and several officers wounded.
“He stays away from the car,” Bluehorse said, “because evil spirits walk there.”
“Why does he think that?”
Bluehorse translated. The old man’s answer was long, his voice quiet, as though he didn’t like the subject.
Bluehorse’s voice had a touch of excitement. “There was blood on the seats when he found the car. The front seat, he thinks, but he’s not sure because it was so long ago. That was why he called the police. He remembers the bullet hole in the door, but the ones in the windshield were from his son, Leon, years later, after the car had been stripped. His son had just been goofing around.” Now his voice turned somber. “He thinks the car was bad luck for his son, who killed himself a few years later. The old man thinks it was because his son had disrespected the spirits.”
SATURDAY, 12:51 P.M.
RESIDENCE OF HAWK RUSHINGWATER, CHINLE (NAVAJO NATION), ARIZONA
Hawk Rushingwater, known as Dwight Henry before he broke ties with the American Indian Movement and founded Navajo NOW, tore open the envelope and extracted a handwritten letter and a check. He tossed the letter to Sleeping Bear, who sat across from him at the battered kitchen table. A small battery-powered radio sat on the counter behind them. A woman announcer reported the news in Navajo.
“Ten bucks.” He flung the check to Sleeping Bear. It fluttered to a rest next to the bookkeeper’s beer. “Donations are way down. We need publicity.”
Sleeping Bear read the letter. “A Girl Scout in Green Bay held a cupcake sale.”
“Write her back. Tell her to try selling magic brownies. Bigger profit margins.”
Nightwind, who sat on the couch reading a comic book, laughed. Then he coughed. He took a hit from his bong, long and deep. He coughed again and went back to reading.
“We could do a podcast,” Sleeping Bear said. “Maybe a video of you talking about the UN project.”
“Yeah, I like that. Like our own news channel on the Internet. Maybe we can boycott something, too. Something controversial. Beer distributors.” Rushingwater took a deep breath and pushed out his chest. “I call upon the righteous to take up our cause and put a stop to the annihilation of our people and the pervasion of capitalism. The beer industry has targeted Native American communities for genocide.”
“Perversion,” Sleeping Bear said.
Nightwind laughed. Rushingwater turned, lip curled, ready to attack, but Nightwind was laughing at his comic.
Sleeping Bear downed the rest of his warm beer, stood, and made his way to the bathroom, a five-gallon Home Depot bucket at the other end of the trailer. He stumbled only once.
Rushingwater watched Nightwind reading. Then something the radio announcer said caught his attention. Congressman Edgerton. Rushingwater tilted his head as though the idea formulating inside was too heavy for his neck. He grinned, a big toothy grin.
SATURDAY, 1:01 P.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
Mark was back inside the Lincoln, rechecking his bullet-trajectory rig, when Joe returned to the scene. Bluehorse had accompanied the old man home so he could talk with his wife. It was unlikely she had any additional information, but it was best to be thorough.
If the old man was telling the truth—and Joe had no reason to doubt him—then something had happened in this vehicle. Something bad. Blood put a whole different spin on this case, more than simply a congressman fleeing prosecution. Most people had assumed Edgerton had run. Others, however, including several prominent news personalities, had speculated Edgerton and his staffers had been killed to protect the people behind the corruption, but those theories never amounted to much because no bodies were ever recovered. In addition, there had been a number of alleged sightings over the intervening years, but none ever confirmed, and that folklore further cemented the idea Edgerton had simply fled. Mexico and South America had topped the list of possible destinations. The most outlandish had been a story connecting Edgerton to a secret cabal bent on world domination, operating on a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. This was supposedly the same island where John F. Kennedy had lived out the remainder of his life, confined to a wheelchair. Joe knew conspiracy theories abounded when prominent people were killed or went missing. Of course, being a New Mexican, Joe well knew the story of Edgerton and even the tales of alleged sightings, which were often discussed on the evening news programs. But he never gave them much thought. He’d had his own cases. Wasting energy on gossip and speculation was something he never did.
And he didn’t want to squander his time now considering tabloid scuttlebutt. Joe was still waiting for the case file, which he’d requested from the archives. Without it, the only information he had access to came from the publicized corruption probe, which estimated Edgerton had made off with as much as half a million dollars, possibly more. But the investigation was able to link him directly to only one small wire transfer made to a Mexico City bank. The money had been traced back to a lobbyist representing a group of casino developers interested in influencing the new Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The lobbyist tried to ensure his clients would profit from exorbitant casino-management fees. Today, Indian gaming revenue was twice the size of that of Las Vegas and Atlantic City combined. A $27 billion industry. Half a million dollars in 1988 was now a stingy tip tossed to a cocktail waitress. He’d probably made off with a lot more than anyone had guessed. For all Joe knew, Edgerton was sitting on a beach somewhere, sipping a mojito, watching the news, and laughing his ass off that his car had finally been found. If he had run off alone, it could explain the blood. Edgerton could have killed the driver and that girl, the one the tabloids had labeled “the tramp with the movie star name.” No witnesses. Edgerton as a killer didn’t fit. There was nothing to indicate violence in the congressman’s past. But Joe wasn’t a fool. People did crazy things when money or sex was involved. Then again, there was another possibility. Edgerton had been killed to shut him up. Or one or both of his missing staffers had killed him and made off with the money. Or—
Mark was calling to him.
“Can you grab the card stock from my backpack?”
Joe searched the backpack and pulled out a sheet of the heavy paper.
“Now stand in front of the laser,” Mark said, “and let the beam hit the center of the stock.”
Joe moved into position and saw a bright red dot the diameter of a pencil hitting the paper. He shifted so the light rested in the center.
“The next part’s easy. You walk backward, keeping the light on the sheet. If the light hits a tree, we’ll just shoot an azimuth. It’s not as accurate, but, oh well.”
Joe began walking backward slowly, keeping the cardboard close to his body, head lowered, looking at the red dot as it danced up and down the sheet with each step. His progress was slow. And for some reason, Mark felt it necessary to offer encouragement.
“You’re doing good. Nice and slow. Don’t lose the beam. It’s hard to find again.”
Joe ignored him.
“Hey, watch out for the cactus.”
Joe, a little annoyed, looked up at Mark. “I think I can—” His right foot landed on something flat and forgiving. Son of a bitch. He shifted to the side. When he looked down, the red dot was gone.
He looked behind him. The way seemed clear. It took him several minutes to find the red dot again. Then he continued moving backward.
Mark stayed silent.
Sixty paces later, Joe backed against a full-grown pine.
Joe yelled to Mark. “It stops here.”
The beam was higher than the hole in the driver-side door by at least a foot, coming almost to his chest. Joe estimated the distance to the vehicle to be seventy-five yards. He checked the trunk for a questionable hole while Mark stretched yellow string along the ground from the Lincoln’s door to the pine. He then created a triangle from two more lengths of string, the tip of the triangle at the vehicle’s door, the base ending ten feet on each side of the tree.
Bluehorse returned, and they all broke for lunch.
SATURDAY, 1:46 P.M.
THE NEW MEXICO MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY AND SCIENCE, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Sierra Hannaway knelt at the base of the Coelophysis, a dinosaur the size of a human, with a long, flat head and an impressive set of sharp carnivorous teeth. Coelophysis roamed New Mexico in the Triassic period, but several of the plants in the display were from the Carboniferous period. A major faux pas if another museum called them on it, but necessary if Sierra was to open the display on time. Paul, the director of acquisitions, had ordered an entire jungle of the wrong period, so Sierra was forced to use these plants until the correct period flora arrived, which might not be for several more weeks.
She jammed another handful of the fake flora into the display’s painted foam base, and then started to cry. Her tears came freely. She looked around. A young couple with a little girl of maybe five paused on their way through the display room to stare at her.
“Why are you crying?” the little girl asked.
Her mother quickly hushed her.
Holding up the plants, Sierra said, “They’re the wrong period.”
The mother pushed the little girl forward, not giving her time to ask another question.
Sierra threw the plastic flora back into a cardboard box, stood, and ran to the restroom.
She splashed water on her face and took several deep breaths. She checked under the stalls. No feet.
She turned back and stared at herself in the mirror.
“It’s been so long, Faye. I don’t know if I can go through it again.”
She walked into one of the empty stalls, sat down, and wept.
SATURDAY, 2:22 P.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
After lunch, Mark gathered them all by the Lincoln. He passed out ground-searching metal detectors, sifter trays, and shovels. After a quick how-to on using a detector, he assigned a plot in the triangle to each of them, passed out small marking flags, and set them to work. If a metal object was detected underground, they would plant a flag on the spot. After they searched the entire triangle, they would go back and dig up the hits.
Forty-five minutes and two planted flags later, Joe finished searching his plot. So did the others. They traded the detectors for handheld versions and took up trowels and plastic sifting trays.
Joe went to his first flag and jammed the trowel deep into the clay soil. He removed a clump, placed it on his sifting tray, and ran the handheld metal detector over it. The detector beeped. He shook the tray, letting the loose dirt fall through the screen. Several rocks and a crushed green shotgun shell remained. Probably not related to the case, but it had to be collected.
Mark came over, carrying his backpack. He withdrew a camera, a GPS unit, a brown paper bag, and a black marker. Joe took the bag and marker and wrote out the date, time, location, description, and his name.
Mark photographed the shell. Then Joe dropped it in the bag. Mark pulled out a small stapler to seal it. They would tape it later.
That routine continued for the next twenty minutes, until Andi called, “I think I found it!”
Joe and Mark rushed over. On Andi’s tray lay a black-colored chunk of metal: a deformed lead slug.
“Looks like a forty-five.” Mark turned to look at Joe. “Could be your door slug. What do you think?”
“Luck of the Irish, Andi. I owe you a beer.”
“One? You’re insulting my ancestors.”
They finished their treasure hunt a half hour later and compared notes on their finds: one lead slug, one shotgun shell, the rusty remains of a rifle trigger and trigger guard, one penny, fourteen bottle caps (mostly found near the vehicle), four pull-tabs (also mostly found near the vehicle), six nuts, two bolts, a three-inch piece of car trim, and one D battery. They bagged and tagged only the slug, shotgun shell, and trigger and guard. Mark pocketed the penny, saying it would be littering if they left it. He didn’t seem to care about the other junk, though.
The tow truck arrived at four and hauled the vehicle back to the FBI’s holding facility in Albuquerque. They cleared the site at five, which included taking exit photos of the area. Joe planned to catch a late dinner at Mickey’s and then grab a nice long shower. Monday, he would brief Dale.
When he was on I-40, he called Melissa. It would be close to 7:30 New York time. After his stunt in the woods with the old man, he wanted to hear her voice. She answered on the third ring. In that instant, the tensions of the day—the tensions of the case—fell away.
MONDAY, 8:03 A.M.
PARKING GARAGE, HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C.
The back door to the Lincoln opened, but Kendall Holmes did not move. His bodyguard waited. In a way, the problem he was dealing with at that moment was partly of his bodyguard’s making. But only partly. Edgerton was the real problem. Always had been.
Holmes finished typing out an e-mail to Chris Staples on his phone. He would have to meet with Grace Edgerton. A face-to-face would be good. He could promise her quiet support while protecting his public image. A win-win. Then if she survived, he could count on her later. After all, he would have his own campaign to worry about in two months. The big one. He was already getting calls from the party asking him what the fallout would be from the Edgerton debacle. He had to control it. Minimize collateral damage. If not, the party would stop him from running in the primary.
“Were you able to reach out to your friend?” he said to his bodyguard, whose dark, chiseled features reminded Kendall of the rocky formations found throughout the Navajo Nation.
“He will want a favor later.”
MONDAY, 9:18 A.M.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
“Why didn’t you call me Saturday?” Dale asked.
“I didn’t want to bother you on the weekend,” Joe said, lying.
“Goddamn it. Who knows about it?”
“Andi, two of her agents, and Bluehorse. Oh, and he briefed his chief.”
“His chief knew before I did?” A vein stood out along Dale’s temple.
Joe looked down to hide a smirk. One of Dale’s model cars sat in the middle of the desk, a crumpled polishing rag next to it.
“Is that a Studebaker?”
Dale swatted away Joe’s hand when he reached for the car. “Don’t fuck around. If this hits the press before Washington knows about it, my ass becomes a target. And so does yours.”
“Then you’d better make some calls. And while you’re at it, why don’t you give this case to Cordelli.”
“Fine. I thought it was a fugitive case. You’re not up to handling a high-profile murder. Go do your job-search bullshit. I don’t care. Just get out of here.”
On the way to his desk, Ginny called his name.
“Joe, there’s a woman here about Edgerton.”
“Tell Cordelli. It’s his now.”
“Who’s on duty?”
“Tenny. He’s out, too.”
Ginny, who had been handling the squad’s administrative matters for over twenty-three years, looked at him with her “Can you talk to this person?” eyes, which she always used when a walk-in came to the office and the duty agent wasn’t available. Ginny was like a nanny to the squad, the one who always had a cookie and kind word for everyone. How could he refuse her?
“Who is it?”
Joe thought for a moment, trying to place the name. Nothing.
“Did she say why she’s here?”
“Her sister, Faye Hannaway.”
The tramp with the movie star name.
Ginny gave him a sly smile. “She’s not wearing a wedding ring.”
“Is everyone trying to set me up?”
“Everyone but you.”
Joe rubbed his brow with his thumb and forefinger. He’d awakened with the usual headache this morning, but it had subsided on the drive in. Now it was returning.
Ginny winked. “Be a gentleman and turn on that Joe Evers charm.”
Joe gave a fake smile.
To the right of Ginny’s desk was the reception window, which provided a view of the waiting room. The woman wore a simple blue dress, the hem dropping below her knees. Conservative. There seemed nothing striking about this woman, except for her shoes: blue with shiny stones covering the toes. For some reason, the shoes seemed to say something about her, hinting at a hidden flair. Then he realized this was the second time he’d noticed a woman’s shoes. First at Mickey’s and now here. But perhaps footwear wasn’t really what drew his attention.
He stepped into the waiting room. The woman looked up. Runny mascara marred petite, elegant features. She was a few years younger than Joe, but only a few.
“Hello, I’m Joe Evers. How can I help you?”
The woman stood, and he saw her hair, all of it. He had seen it through the window but hadn’t thought anything of it then. But now it was stunning, a shimmering ebony cascading down to the small of her back. The cheap fluorescent lamps in the room could not diminish its iridescent quality. When she moved, her hair glistened like dew running down fine blades of grass. Joe stared, captivated.
“Are you the agent handling the case?”
“Let’s talk in here.” He opened the door leading to the interview room. Devoid of decoration or warmth, the space contained only a desk, a phone, and three chairs. Its purpose was to obtain information from walk-ins, not entertain them.
He positioned one of the chairs for her, then sat behind the desk.
“It’s about my sister.” She brought a tissue to her cheek. “I’m sorry. I thought this was all behind me. It’s been so many years.”
“I understand. Some things are difficult. Take your time.”
She looked up over her tissue, meeting his eyes. “Thank you.”
He offered a smile.
“I’ve been following the news about Congressman Edgerton’s car being found and…”
“I want to know if you’re going to be like the rest of those so-called investigators who worked on my sister’s case. All they ever did was call her a conspirator and a gold digger.”
Joe put a hand up. “Listen, I—”
“I’m not done. I need to get this out now, or I never will.” She took a deep breath. “I accepted what they said twenty years ago because I was young and didn’t know any better. But now I can’t let you guys explain away her disappearance as though it were some ridiculous Bonnie and Clyde thing.”
“I’m not—” He stopped himself. He was about to say he wasn’t working the case anymore, but he thought that might get her even more upset. But stopping himself didn’t make a difference.
“You’re not what? Not interested?”
“Look, Ms. Hannaway, if you just came here to yell at me—”
“I’m not yelling. I just want someone to finally take her case seriously. My sister didn’t run away. I know something happened to her. I just want closure. Our mother and father died never knowing what happened. Or why it happened. People said she ran off with Edgerton. People talked behind our backs, snickered, called her a tramp and a thief.” She lowered her head. “My father had a small life-insurance policy taken out on us when we were young, only a thousand dollars. He didn’t even put a claim in when my sister went missing, didn’t even think about it. But do you know what they did, the Great American Insurance Company, with their billboards that read ‘Take Comfort with Us’? A year after my sister went missing, they sent us a letter. They said they investigated and couldn’t pay off on the policy because she was wanted in connection with congressional corruption, and it was their opinion she fled the country. No one even asked them to pay off the policy. And no one asked them for their opinion. My mother and father sat in the kitchen and cried over that letter, hugging each other. The rumors and tabloids didn’t bother them half as much as that letter.” She pulled out another tissue to soak up those painful memories.
Joe sat in silence, not sure what to say to comfort this woman, not sure if she even wanted him to try.
“Do you know what it’s like to lose someone?” she asked. “Someone you love and care about. And then when they’re gone, you realize you can’t move on. You’re stuck. Stuck because you can’t get closure. You can’t understand why that person was taken. And you somehow feel responsible. Do you know what that’s like?”
Joe knew. He knew all too well. He looked at the woman in front of him. He wanted to hug her and tell her he understood. Tell her that was exactly how he’d felt ever since Christine died. Instead, he did something he knew he shouldn’t. Maybe something he couldn’t.
“I’ll do my best to find out what happened to your sister.”
Her expression seemed to convey doubt, but she didn’t voice her feelings. Instead, she stood, shook his hand, turned, and walked out without a backward glance.
Joe stayed in the room for another ten minutes, considered their conversation. Then he went back into Dale’s office.
Dale was on the phone, so Joe plopped in the seat in front of his desk and waited. He listened to Dale tell the person on the other end about the bullet holes and that the old man had remembered seeing blood. He gave Joe a look that said, Get the hell out of my face. Joe ignored it. He guessed this was Dale’s third or fourth phone call. On high-profile cases, the big bosses never wanted to wait to read the reports. They always demanded verbal updates. Everyone was afraid to be caught outside the circle of knowledge. After a few minutes, Dale hung up.
“I want the case back.”
Dale said nothing, but his mouth moved a few times, as though he were practicing what he would say, Joe had caught him off guard. “Forget it. Not after that stunt. I’m giving it to Cordelli.”
Joe tasted his own pride as it slipped down his throat. “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have kept you out of the loop. It won’t happen again. I’ll keep you updated from here on out.”
“I can’t trust you anymore. I should have known that when I gave it to you. No way. Cordelli gets it.”
“Dale, you were right. I need this. I do. I need it.”
Joe had one last card to play.
“I’ll rescind my retirement paperwork.”
That caught Dale’s attention. “You can’t. It’s too late.”
“I called HR.” He hadn’t. “I can. And if you try to fight it, I’ll file an appeal, which could take a good part of a year to settle.”
Dale picked up his desk phone, probably to check with Human Resources.
Joe hurried on: “Or … you can let me run with the Edgerton case. Come three months, whatever happens, I leave. No problems. You don’t even have to attend my retirement party.”
Dale put down the phone. He didn’t say anything for several moments. Then he leaned forward, his words slow, menacing.
“Okay. Run with it. But if you screw with me, I will file those negligence actions against you for the Longman case, retirement or no retirement. You got me?”
MONDAY, 10:10 A.M.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
The yellow Post-it note stuck to Professor Lawrence Trudle’s office door read “Larry, Congratulations. Meeting 10:30 conference room. RW.” Professor Trudle peeled the note off the stained wood, crumpled it, and shoved it in his pocket. He unlocked the door, walked in, and went straight to his credenza, on which sat a four-cup electric teakettle. He dropped his bulging ostrich-skin briefcase, which his wife had given him the previous Christmas, to the floor and extracted a gallon jug of springwater from the bottom cabinet of the same credenza. Then he filled the kettle and turned it on. Next, he opened the top right drawer to his desk and reached all the way to the back, behind the selection of Bigelow teas, and pulled out a Folgers coffee single. He unwrapped the string and placed the small coffee bag in his Who’s Your Mummy? coffee mug. Finished with his morning routine, he dropped into his desk chair to await the click of the kettle, a beautiful sound signaling the water had reached a boil and it was time to sin.
Professor Trudle was the only Mormon in the University of New Mexico’s Anthropology Department, so one would have thought he wouldn’t worry about his colleagues catching him drinking coffee, giving into the allure of the black nectar, which meant breaking his vow to abstain from caffeine. But one would have been wrong. Professor Trudle preferred to sin in private.
He removed his glasses and set them down on his desk. He massaged the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger, closed his eyes, leaned back, and waited for the click.
“Knock! Knock!” a voice barked.
Professor Steve Mercado stood at the door, beaming.
“Good morning, Steve.”
“And what a fine morning it is, Professor Trudle. Yes indeedy. A fine morning, made even finer by the good news of a grant. Am I the first to congratulate you?”
Steve walked in and plopped down on one of the chairs used by students during office hours.
“No. You are the second. I got a warm and friendly posty from our esteemed department head with, as I am sure you are aware, a rather surprising announcement of a meeting. I suspect he wants to share the good news with our fellow faculty. I was just contemplating his true motivation when you so crassly interrupted my somber meditation.”
“I apologize, but your somber meditation looked curiously like napping.” Steve withdrew a pen from his shirt pocket. Holding it lightly between his right thumb and forefinger, he tapped it against his left palm.
“Apology accepted. Any idea why Westerberry is having this meeting? And don’t say he wants to celebrate my good news. That’s horse pucky and you know it.”
“Whoa, watch the language. No, I believe it’s to gloat on one of your past misadventures—the Trudle Turkey.”
On the bookcase beside Steve sat Lawrence’s three published books. The second book, Anasazi Lineage to the Aztec, was the smallest of the three, but it had caused him the greatest chagrin in his career.
He planted both elbows on the desk and hung his head in his hands.
“I guess as an archaeologist you can never get away from the past.” Steve grinned. “And with Edgerton all over the news, I guess Westerberry sees an opportunity to poke fun.”
Lawrence rubbed his temples.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s going to mention Edgerton, and you’ll take the bait and say that Edgerton’s disappearance is linked to your stolen artifacts. But you won’t stop there. You’ll say that those artifacts prove your theories and blah, blah, blah.”
“But it’s true.”
“I’m not going to argue the history of the Anasazi with you. I’m just saying he’s setting the stage for you to embarrass yourself … again.”
Lawrence picked up his glasses and set them back on his face.
Steve continued. “If you go in there and react, our esteemed colleagues are going to laugh behind your back like they did when you published your book without proof.”
“Did you laugh, too?”
“No. I did the ‘I told you so’ thing, remember? And if you go to this meeting and play into his hands, I’m going to do the ‘I told you so’ thing again.”
“But if they find Edgerton, perhaps—”
“Look. You earned this grant. You put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting the committee to approve it. Westerberry knows that and knows you deserve the recognition. But he would love to temper your success with a poke at your Anasazi fiasco. Don’t give him the satisfaction. Don’t let him bait you.”
The kettle clicked off.
“Come on, sinner, grab your coffee and let’s go.”
Surprised, Lawrence turned to the teakettle. Next to the kettle sat his mug, the Folgers label dangling down the side.
MONDAY, 11:07 A.M.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe was typing up a transfer document for one of his cases when he heard a commotion by the office entrance. He stepped out of his cubicle to see what was happening. Cordelli, Stretch, Sadi, and Tenny were guffawing as they passed Ginny’s desk. They went silent when they saw Joe.
“What’s up, tiger?” Cordelli asked.
They were all wearing cargo pants. An op?
“Did I miss something this morning?” Joe asked.
Cordelli walked past Joe, close enough to brush elbows. “I had an arrest.”
“We knew you were busy with the Edgerton thing,” Stretch said.
“Yeah, busy. That’s new.” Sadi snorted.
Joe ignored her comment. She was the only female on the squad, and her attitude was as tightly wound as her hair, which she kept in a taut bun at the back of her head. She was a good agent, efficient and tough, never trying to prove herself, because she didn’t have to. She’d spent nine years as a criminal investigator in the Pueblo of Zuni before joining the BIA.
“Fine,” Joe said. He’d lost their respect.
Sadi and Tenny went to their desks. Stretch hung back.
“Come on,” Stretch said. “Let’s take a ride.”
“Where?” But it really didn’t matter. Joe didn’t want to be in the office.
“Pueblo Pintado. I gotta find a guy.”
Stretch looked toward her cubicle. “Don’t let her hear you say that.”
On the way out, Ginny handed Joe a FedEx package. It was the case file on Arlen Edgerton. Joe took it with him.
MONDAY, 11:56 A.M.
STATE ROUTE 550, SANDOVAL COUNTY, NEW MEXICO
Route 550 cuts through Zia Pueblo, a small community northeast of Albuquerque. The brown and beige of the New Mexican desert turns slightly greener there, mostly due to the Jemez River, which borders the road to the east. But the scenery didn’t interest Joe. He’d been reading the Edgerton file for the past thirty minutes, allowing Stretch to navigate the winding road in silence. But now, having skimmed most of the file and realizing there had been few leads developed back when the congressman went missing, he felt he needed a break.
“What’s in Pueblo Pintado?”
“Shit, you’re still here,” Stretch said.
“Sorry, I needed to cool off.”
“It’s all right. We’re going to see Eddie Begay. He’s in front of the grand jury tomorrow, but he’s not answering his phone.”
“Sounds like he doesn’t want to testify.”
Stretch nodded. “Probably not. Thing is, he’s the whole case. No physical evidence. I want to take him back to Albuquerque and stash him in a hotel. He likes the bottle. We can’t depend on him to show.”
Stretch looked at Joe, then turned away.
“Is that why you guys didn’t tell me about the arrest this morning? Am I undependable, too?”
“You know that’s not—”
“Don’t bullshit me.”
Stretch didn’t answer right away. Instead, he stared out the windshield at the barren desert to the west. Joe waited.
“They feel you’re washed-up. Cordelli doesn’t think you can do the job any longer. He’s saying you’ve lost your edge.”
“He’s an asshole. And he’s still wet behind the ears. I’m over the hill, yeah, but I haven’t lost my edge.”
“It’s not just him. Tenny and Sadi agree. They don’t trust you. They don’t think your head’s in the game anymore. Ever since the Longman trial. Maybe even before then.”
“Screw Tenny. The guy never had a thought in his head unless Cordelli put it there.”
“What about Sadi? She calls it straight.”
Joe had no answer.
They were passing the southern edge of Fenton Lake State Park. Half a dozen crows circled over a wooded area to the east, perhaps planning to kill one of their own who lay injured on the ground below. They were known to do that. Was he projecting? Maybe. Joe had heard enough truth about himself. “So what’s your case about?”
“Our guy got jammed up on a CSA and squealed. He told the FBI he sold a Navajo artifact to some collector in Santa Fe. They called us because they knew we tried to bust the same buyer a few years back.”
“Arthur Othmann. He likes to spend his daddy’s fortune on art.”
“And the artifact?”
“Begay chiseled off a thousand-year-old petroglyph from Chaco Canyon.”
“Bold little bastard. What’s something like that go for?”
“He only got twenty-five hundred. He’s a pedophile and an idiot.”
They rode in silence for a little ways, the conversation seeming to have reached a natural ebb. Joe tried to appreciate the land around him. In a few months, he might never work in the field again. Almost all the jobs he’d responded to were deskbound. Except for one, an insurance adjuster for a small firm out of Rio Rancho. The pay sucked, but at least it wouldn’t be all pushing paper. And he’d be able to do most of that from home, e-mailing in his reports. But they hadn’t called him back. Maybe he should send them a follow-up letter. He supposed, if he had to, he could live just on his pension for a little while, but he wouldn’t be able to help Melissa with college or pay off the rest of Christine’s medical bills.
“So what did you get from Edgerton’s file?” Stretch asked.
“A little, not much. It was worked pretty much as a fugitive case. Though they did track down one threat, a hate letter from an AIM member out of Crownpoint. But they really didn’t follow up on it.”
“Did they check out the wife? I prefer simple motives like jealousy.” As usual, everything was black and white for Stretch, which was often the best approach for most investigations.
“I can see her taking out the husband and girlfriend, but the driver?”
“Just a witness she couldn’t let live. She got his congressional seat, right? Did she get his money, too? Maybe a little jealousy, a little greed. Kind of like a tossed salad of motives.”
“I thought you like to keep it simple. And anyway, she’s got her own money.”
“You’re right. Keep it simple. Put me down for the jealousy angle. A woman scorned. Powerful shit.”
“Speaking of scorned females, how’s the wife?”
“She loves me.”
“Taking the whole family to Italy helped, I’m sure.”
“Didn’t hurt.” Stretch gave a sly smile.
“So … do you need any help on the Edgerton case?” Stretch asked.
No doubt Stretch wanted to change the subject. Joe knew it was awkward talking about family to someone whose own family had fallen apart. But Stretch really did deserve the Best Dad award. He paid his dues every day. Did all the fatherly stuff. Spent time with his kids. Coaching, volunteering, attending all the crappy school plays, even a cool vacation every year. His kids were teenagers now, but he still seemed able to stay involved in their lives. Joe felt an ache in his chest.
Joe’s phone rang. It was Bluehorse, reporting the latest development. When he finished, Joe provided a sage response.
Bluehorse responded in kind.
“Well, we knew it would get out fast,” Joe said. “Forget about it. We got a dog team coming out from Albuquerque tomorrow at nine. Do me a favor, though. Hold off on telling your chief.”
Joe clicked the phone off. “That was the NPD officer I’m working with. Apparently, the Gallup Herald put out a story about the bullet holes in Edgerton’s vehicle. They’re really hyping it up.”
“What newspaper wouldn’t?”
He didn’t want to make the next call, but he had promised Dale he would keep him updated. Joe swallowed. He tasted pride again.
MONDAY 12:45 P.M.
RESIDENCE OF EDDIE BEGAY, PUEBLO PINTADO, NEW MEXICO
“Looks abandoned,” Joe said.
He and Stretch walked to the trailer. Several sheets of peeled aluminum sheathing exposed rotted plywood beneath. The trailer had once been painted yellow; now it was the whitish gray color of oxidization.
Stretch climbed the wooden steps that led to the front door. He placed each foot with care. Joe stayed a few paces back, watching the windows. Several were covered with trash bags.
Stretch knocked. They waited. An unpleasant smell tainted the air. Spoiled food maybe.
When no one answered, they walked around back. Cardboard covered another two windows.
“I’m guessing he didn’t put any of that twenty-five hundred toward renovations,” Joe said.
“More likely he pickled his liver with it.”
Joe lifted a corner of the cardboard and peered inside. Empty, except for discarded beer cans and saved trash.
When they went around the other side, heading back to the front, Joe noticed an animal lying on the ground. A dog. He walked over. Its head had been crushed. Dry blood caked the animal’s ear and jaw. From the degree of decay and the colony of insects, Joe guessed the animal had been there a few days, which explained the smell.
“Do you think he would have left his dog like this if he was staying here?” Joe asked.
Stretch shrugged. “The guy’s a dirtbag. Who knows?”
Begay’s trailer wasn’t part of a community. It sat by itself in the open country, like so many of the residences on the reservation. No electric, no water, no paved driveways, just desert and sun. About a quarter mile to the south, there was a hogan, the traditional Navajo dwelling, a small, round wooden structure with an east-facing door. The Navajo believed in greeting the morning.
“Let’s check out the neighbor,” Joe said.
“Why bother? He got scared and ran off. I’m sure he’ll turn up in a few weeks.”
“We’re already here.”
“Fine.” Stretch plodded back to his Suburban.
Joe looked down at the dog. It was a mutt, mostly Lab. He hated to leave it out there to rot, but he guessed that was nature’s way. He checked the sky. No crows. Strange. A crow could smell decay for miles. Were they afraid of this place? Ridiculous. But Joe sensed that somehow this dog was wrong. Perhaps it was a harbinger of things to come.
Stop it, he told himself.
He didn’t like thinking that way. Life was already chock-full of crap, no need to conjure up more.
“I’ll walk. Stretch my legs a little.” And clear my head, too, he thought.
Stretch nodded and climbed into his vehicle.
Joe started toward the hogan. He forced his mind back to his job search and the insurance adjuster position. He decided he wouldn’t send out that follow-up letter. A desk job might be nice for a change.
MONDAY 1:04 P.M.
WASHINGTON POST HEADQUARTERS, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Helena Newridge had one unusual physical tic that she’d noticed in herself a number of years ago. She probably had others but never bothered to take inventory. It was during the time she studied mass media at UDC and had seen Bree Simpson talking to Barry. Bree was the typical buxom-beauty media darling. And Barry, whose last name she no longer remembered, was someone Helena wanted to trounce after a bar run. It was when she’d seen the two of them talking, and how easy it was for someone like Bree to attract the attention of a man, that she felt her right eyelid do a dance. And now, as she weaved through the pool of respected contributors granted cubicle space, her right eyelid performed the Macarena. It made her realize just how much she wanted to be one of the regulars, and not a gossip nobody.
“One day.” She said those words quietly so as not to disturb anyone, but she knew no one would have paid her mind anyway. Her byline was more of an afterthought than a selling point for the Post.
She strode into the editor’s office. Arvin, the manager of classifieds, slumped in one of the chairs before the desk of Ezra Gray, a managing editor at the paper.
“Morning, boss.” She placed the printout of the article she’d found on Ezra’s desk. She sniffed. Cherry. On the bookcase behind him lay his pipe. She’d never seen him smoke it, but rumor held that he celebrated putting a big story to bed with the pipe and a glass of Royal Lochnagar here in his office, door shut, and the journalist of the moment in company. He had a flair for the old traditions of journalism. That was one of the reasons he held on to the gossip column, while many other papers did away with theirs or went Web only, which was often where Helena’s contributions ended up.
Ezra read the Gallup Herald’s article about bullet holes and blood in Edgerton’s vehicle. He lifted an eyebrow.
Helena shifted her considerable weight from her right leg to her left.
He handed the single page back to her. “It’s interesting.”
“Interesting? Damn right it’s interesting. I’d like to run with it. It’s the trifecta: sex, money, and murder.”
The managing editor laughed. “What about Senator Fordham falling down during the banquet last night? She may have a medical condition she’s hiding.”
“There’s nothing there. She’s fat. I’m fat. You should see me trying to walk in heels.”
Arvin laughed behind her.
She leaned on Ezra’s desk. “I want out of gossip. Give me a chance, please. And I’m smelling front-page serial.” She sniffed. “Ahh, it smells like Pulitzer.”
Ezra laughed. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Bernstein.”
She lowered her voice to what she hoped was a sexy whisper. “Come on, Ezra. You give me seven days in the Land of Enchantment and in seven months you get to enjoy a free lunch at Columbia while I receive my award.”
Ezra’s laugh was worthy of imitation by any respectable archvillain.
Helena’s stomach dropped. “Okay. How about I go out there on my own dime? If you like my angle, you approve my reimbursement.”
“I like your spunk, Helena,” Ezra said. “It’s a deal.”
MONDAY 1:15 P.M.
PUEBLO PINTADO, NEW MEXICO
Stretch was already talking to the occupant of the hogan when Joe walked up. They stood in front of the house, next to an older dark blue pickup, which clearly had earned the moniker Ford Tough. The resident was a middle-aged woman with a slight hunch to her back. She barely reached Stretch’s chest and had to crane her head to talk to him.
“Eddie ain’t been around for a few days,” she said. “He usually asks me for a ride on Fridays to go into town. He don’t drive no more because of his eye.” She pointed to her own right eye, hesitated, then pointed to her left.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Stretch asked.
She looked over to Eddie’s trailer. “Is he in trouble?”
“Nope. I just need to talk to him.”
She studied Stretch’s face. “Last week, maybe Wednesday … no, Thursday. He had a visitor. Pretty late. I only looked over because I heard his dog barking. I think they was fighting.”
“Why do you think that?” Stretch asked.
“I heard Eddie yelling.”
“Who was the visitor?”
“I don’t know. I think he was a bilagáana—I mean a white guy. He drove a nice truck like yours, maybe gray. Hard to tell ’cause it was almost dark out.”
“What’d the guy look like?”
She pulled up her baggy bright red Fire Rock Casino T-shirt. Its out-of-shape neck had been drifting downward. “I don’t know. A white guy. Big. They was too far away.”
“Since he hasn’t come back, do you know where he might be now?”
“His mom lives in Shiprock. The trailer there was his dad’s.” She pushed out her lips and chin toward Eddie’s home. Navajo often lipped directions rather than pointing a finger. “He died a few years back.”
“Thank you, ma’am. If I leave you my card, will you call me if you see him?”
She nodded. Joe doubted she would. Stretch handed her his card.
“I have a question, ma’am,” Joe said. “There’s a dead dog by Eddie’s house. Do you know how it was killed?”
“Killed? Someone killed it?” She lowered her head. “We get skinwalkers around these parts. They’ll kill a dog if it keeps barking. And Eddie’s dog liked to bark.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Joe said.
MONDAY, 4:28 P.M.
MICKEY’S BAR & GRILL, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
The savory smell of roast beef welcomed Joe. The aroma was from the full steamboat cut of beef that Mickey roasted to make his signature sandwich, the Combo, chunks of tender beef on a kaiser roll with a thick slice of provolone cheese, and a wet, sloppy scoop of gravy. His stomach knocked to tell him it was ready. All he’d eaten today was a bean wrap, which he’d gotten that morning from the burrito lady who came by the office carrying a small cooler filled with chicken, beef, or bean. The burrito lady didn’t know she’d been sustaining him for the past several months. Sometimes, he’d buy two or three, storing the extras in the office fridge for lunch or dinner, sometimes taking them home for the weekend.
Walking toward the bar, Joe noticed a solitary figure sitting at a table in the corner of the dining area, reading a book, sipping a drink. It was the woman from Friday. What was her name? Ginger? No, Gillian. Nice name. He hadn’t thought about the sound of it before. Gillian. Smooth.
Mickey grinned and whipped out a frosted mug from under the counter. “Evening, Joe. What’s the good word?”
“The guys will be around tonight. They had an arrest.” Joe felt awkward attending the ritual, since he hadn’t been invited that morning, but he didn’t want to come off like an angry little brat, even though what he really wanted to do was break their toys and throw a tantrum.
“Anything I’ll see in the paper?”
“No. Just the usual. Sex, lies, and video-streamed preliminary hearings.” As heinous as some of the crimes were on the reservation, very little of it found its way into the newspapers or the evening news.
Mickey filled the mug from the tap. “Too bad. A good juicy case is just what you need. Get a little media attention and—boom. The job offers come pouring in. Everybody loves a celebrity. And you’re probably due your fifteen minutes of fame.”
Joe checked out the customers. A balding middle-aged man with glasses and a bad comb-over sat four stools over, reading from a binder and gnawing his pencil between sips of beer. In the dining area, a young couple worked on a pair of Combos. He glanced at Gillian’s table. Serafina, a young Hispanic waitress who yelled at Mickey in Spanish when they fought, collected a glass and napkin and wiped down the surface. Gillian was no longer there.
He turned back, to see Mickey pushing a mug toward him, a perfect one-inch foam head fizzing quietly atop it. The beginning of a slow decompression. Exactly what he needed to do. Blow off some steam. Chill out. Relax. A fellow barfly had once shared a mantra with Joe: “Be the beer. Be the beer.”
Joe stopped. What just happened? He’d thought of himself as a barfly. Was he? Had he fallen so low that he’d actually started to commune with drunks? Had he joined the Church of the Golden Barley? He didn’t need this beer. He grabbed the handle and raised it chest-high, then told himself to put it down. He’d promised Melissa he’d cut back. He lowered it, so it hovered over the wood counter. Condensation coated the outside. Inside, tiny bubbles broke free, rising to the top, joining their brethren in an orgy of effervescent bliss. Just one sip. He licked his lips. And then regretted it. That was a sure sign of hunger. Craving. Need. A tug-of-war battled in his mind. Put it down versus take a sip.
“You all right, Joe?” Mickey picked up a dish towel and flipped it over his shoulder. The quintessential bartender, tools ready, senses sharp, prepared to offer sage advice at a moment’s notice. It wasn’t just the alcohol that kept Joe coming back. It was Mickey. He was one of the few friends he had left. One of the few he hadn’t alienated since losing Christine.
“The usual,” Joe said. He put the mug down and wrote friends in the condensation. Then a woman’s voice came from behind him.
“They say the eyes are the windows to the soul.” Gillian placed her purse and a book on the counter. “In your case, I think it’s your beer mug. Stilettos and friends. Freud would love to get inside your head.”
She knew how to wear a smile. He returned it, feeling a tingling in his stomach. Maybe it was because he hadn’t eaten. Maybe. For a moment, he was at a loss for words. Surprise, he guessed. He started to tell her that he thought she had left but then decided not to. She might think him a stalker for noticing.
“Who needs Freud when I have Mickey here? He’s held more therapy sessions than Dr. Phil. And he makes an incredible roast beef sandwich, too.”
“You guys should open a PR firm. You sell each other so well. Last night, Mickey pitches you. Today, you do a commercial for him.”
“Yeah, well, let me warn you that Mickey tends to color things a bit.”
Mickey piped up: “I’ll have you know I was a Boy Scout. And we never lie.” He stood up straight, raised his right hand with two fingers extended, looked at it, and then added one more.
“He colors things, huh? By how much?”
She laughed, and he realized he liked making her laugh.
“So, how is Joe the Despondent Spelling Bee Champ today?” She pointed to the mug. “Working on another missed win?”
“I guess spelling bee fame is not as fleeting as I once thought.”
“Hey, everybody’s entitled to their fifteen minutes.”
“That’s funny. Mickey just said the same thing. And he doesn’t even know I’m a frustrated spelling bee runner-up.”
“I think she’s got the gift, Joe.” Mickey said. “You know, can sense things like one of them psychics.”
“No, I’m just an Andy Warhol fan,” she said.
Mickey leaned in conspiratorially. “Well, I’ve been told I got the gift. And right now I’m sensing I need to order you two a couple of my one-of-a-kind, incredibly delicious roast beef Combos, some red wine, soft music, and put you in that quiet corner over there.” He pointed to a small alcove.
Joe said nothing.
Gillian laughed. “I’ll have to take a rain check. My sister is picking me up.”
“Did I say my one-of-a-kind, incredibly delicious, never refused roast beef Combo?”
“I would love to, but I really do have to go.”
Mickey was a war hero. No surrender. “I’ll tell you what. Tomorrow, you two be here at five thirty and I’ll make my wife’s secret recipe for penne alla vodka.” He put his fingers together, kissed them—smack—and flicked his wrist. “Bellissimo.”
“Mick, for an Irishman, your Italian sucks,” Joe said.
“Hey.” Mickey waved his hands around and spoke in a thick Italian-immigrant voice. “I look Irish, but I cook Italian.”
Joe and Gillian both laughed.
“I don’t know,” Gillian said.
“Let me tell you. This recipe’ll knock your socks off.…” Mickey leaned over the counter and looked at her feet. “I mean knock your pumps off.”
“Well, if you’re promising to knock my pumps off, Mickey.” She gave him a mischievous grin. “How can a girl refuse?”
Mickey placed both hands over his heart. “You’re making an old man very happy, missy.” Then he pointed to Joe. “You keep quiet. I don’t want you blowing this.”
“You’re right,” Joe said. “He is a good PR man.”
“Told you.” Gillian picked up her book and purse. “I’m sure my sister’s outside by now. I guess I’ll see you both tomorrow. Toodles.” She spun around and walked away. Joe thought he’d seen some redness in her cheeks. A blush? Excitement? He liked toodles. He liked a lot of things about her.
Joe turned back to Mickey. “Maybe I should take you along on my job interviews.”
“Man, drop the funk. You need to wake up, smell the coffee, and mingle with some babes. I look at you and I feel like a teenager.”
Joe was getting tired of hearing the same thing from everybody.
“What’s getting old is that speech.”
“Do yourself a favor. Reach for the life preserver, or else you’re going to drown in your own self-pity.”
Mickey limped off to check on the pencil chewer. Good riddance.
Joe took a sip from his mug, forgetting the battle that had waged in him only minutes earlier. He should be happy. Dinner with a beautiful woman. What’s not to like? But it wasn’t about not liking it. He was afraid. He hadn’t been on a date in twenty-two years. So he told himself it wasn’t a date. It was two adults having dinner. What was the big deal? They seemed to get along. And she was easy to talk to. It should be fun. Nothing to it. A fine meal, some chitchat, a little wine, talk about family, career, movies. Tomorrow would be a nice change.
Then why was he still afraid?
MONDAY, 5:00 P.M.
OTHMANN ESTATE, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Books placed a small cardboard box on Othmann’s desk.
“She wanted three thousand,” Books said. “I gave her a grand.”
Othmann opened the box and unwrapped a dirty hand towel, careful not to drop the item within. It was a mortar and pestle made of stone.
“She smelled. Maybe she’ll bathe now that she’s got some money.”
Othmann took out several photographs from his top desk drawer. They were images taken at the Acoma Museum. They showed a four-hundred-year-old mortar and pestle used by the tribe to ground ceremonial corn. He smiled. Maybe he could use it to grind up some of his Christmas powder. Have his own sacred ceremony.
“When they find it missing, all the cleaners will be questioned,” Books said.
“She knows I’m good pay. She’ll keep quiet.”
“No. Not like Eddie.”
Othmann picked up the precious artifact and cradled it in his hands. He removed a small card from the printer by his desk. On it, he had documented the history of the item as well as the date he acquired it. He was a meticulous collector and record keeper. At the display cabinet closest to his desk, he pushed a tiny lever underneath the bottom shelf. Click.
Books pulled the display cabinet forward to reveal stairs, which led down to Othmann’s private gallery.
MONDAY, 5:15 P.M.
MICKEY’S BAR & GRILL, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
A hand clasped Joe on the shoulder and squeezed.
“I see you beat us to the drinking hole,” Tenny said. He took the seat next to Joe.
Cordelli parked himself on the other side of Tenny. “What a surprise.”
“Cordelli,” Joe said. “I didn’t see you. I’ll be right back. I left my hemorrhoid cream in the car.”
Tenny laughed. “Zing.”
“I’ll give that to you, Joe,” Cordelli said.
“Aren’t you the philanthropist.”
Tenny whooped. “That’s two. What’s gotten into you tonight?”
“You know”—Cordelli’s voice went solemn, professorial—“they say people are most funny where they feel most at home. Is that it, Joe? This where you feel most at home?”
“You’re an asshole.”
“Hey, it’s all in fun. Don’t get mad. You look like you’re running dry over there. Let me buy you another.” Cordelli slapped the counter. “Hey, Mickey. You got some thirsty people over here.”
The bar was starting to fill as professionals from nearby offices trickled in. Joe’s squad would stay at the bar most of the night. There was something about sitting around a table that made a get-together more sober, more real. Maybe it was because people felt the need to control their volume, in order not to disturb the other diners. The bar kept it loose, allowed Joe to pick and choose his conversations. But it sometimes got tiring, avoiding getting cornered in a discussion, bobbing and weaving through the banter like a boxer working the ropes.
He was on his second beer, courtesy of Cordelli, when Stretch and Sadi showed up. Stretch plopped down on Joe’s left; Sadi sat one seat over. She didn’t look happy. Not so unusual. But she seemed more sullen than normal, if that was possible.
“What’s wrong?” Joe asked.
Stretch spun on his stool to face him. “Sadi checked with Begay’s family. No one’s seen him since last week.”
“That little prick better show tomorrow,” Sadi said, anger oozing. “Or I’m gonna slam his ass so fast with charges, he’ll be Bubba’s prison bitch by Halloween.” She clobbered the counter with her fist.
Stretch gave Joe a sideways look. No one laughed. They knew better. She didn’t see herself as funny, so if anyone laughed at one of her comments, she thought the person was laughing at her, not with her.
Joe and Stretch talked a little more about the case. Sadi remained silent, resting her jaw on her right hand, fist clenched, her pinkie tapping a beat on her chin to an unknown tune.
They placed their orders. Mickey returned a short time later with five Combos, and they all dug in. When they were done, each plate sat covered in used napkins.
Joe leaned back, his belly full and his spirits buoyed. A good meal had that effect on him. Christine was an excellent cook—had been an excellent cook. After a rotten day at work, he’d come home to a set table, his plate piled with whatever feast suited her fancy. Joe, Christine, and Melissa would sit around eating and talking, discussing the day’s events, joking, laughing, enjoying one another’s company and the time spent together. The grime from his job, which had built up throughout the day, would be washed away by the time they cleared the dishes. On the nights that Joe cooked, it was usually something thrown together. Looking back, he wished he had spent more time preparing those meals. He knew now that dinnertime had been important to her. To her, it had been family time. There was so much he would have done differently if he had known.
Tenny’s loud voice brought Joe back to Mickey’s. “What kept you? We already ate.”
“The usual,” Dale said. “Crime and politics.”
“What’s happening, cappy?” Mickey said. “You keepin’ these miscreants you call a squad in line?”
“Twenty-three years in law enforcement, and I end up a zookeeper.”
Mickey cleared away the plates. “Should I order you up a Combo?”
“Of course,” Dale said. He grabbed an empty stool and wedged it between Joe and Tenny.
“Hey, Mickey,” Stretch yelled. “Joe’s promising to give me a date so we can start planning his retirement party. I’m thinking second week in December. That’s when his daughter comes home.”
“You tell me when and I’ll have the back room available.”
Mickey had a reception-size private dining area in the rear that he used for special events and meetings. The room easily accommodated a hundred people. Joe doubted his party would fill more than twenty seats.
“All I want is something private with the squad,” Joe said.
“Too bad,” Stretch said. “I already have people calling to attend. We’re gonna give you a nice send-off.”
“I say we give him a full-blown roast, dais and all,” Cordelli said. “I’ll write some material.”
Stretch shook his head. “I heard your material. My gang informant would be embarrassed by it, let alone Joe’s daughter.”
Tenny came to Cordelli’s aid. “I think a roast would be a blast. We’ll keep it in good taste. What do you say, Joe?”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to have much say in what you guys decide. But keep it small. I’m not into crowds much anymore.”
Cordelli took the opportunity. “That’s strange. You like happy hour.”
The group laughed.
“Good one,” Joe said. He was in a better mood now that he had eaten.
Cordelli stood up and moved to the center of their little group. They all turned in their seats to face him. He held up his beer. “Down a thug, down a mug.” This was the squad’s arrest ritual.
“You’re a son of a bitch, Cordelli.” Dale said, grinning, a full glass in his hand. Everyone else had half or less. The others quickly finished theirs and watched Dale chugging. He slowed at the halfway point.
The squad started chanting, “Down. Down. Down.”
Dale drained the last gulp and put down the mug. Then he gave a slight bow.
Cordelli raised a hand. “Hey, Mickey. Another round on me.”
Dale leaned into Joe. “I was late because I got a call from Chief Cornfield over at Navajo Nation. He’s angry. He thinks you’re cutting his office out of the case.”
“That’s because it goes from his ears to the front page of the paper.”
Dale nodded knowingly.
“So how is the Edgerton case going?” Tenny asked. But before Joe could answer, Tenny turned to Dale. “And by the way, boss, why’d you give it to him? He’s leaving. I’d have worked it.”
“Yeah.” Cordelli stood behind them. “Joe’s on his way out. That could’ve been a high-profile case. Now it’s as good as dead.”
Stretch put his beer on the counter and turned to face Cordelli. “Why don’t you back off.” Sadi also turned, but she kept quiet.
Cordelli smirked. “Well, it’s the—”
“Shut up, Cordelli,” Dale ordered. “I assigned it to Joe. It’s his. End of story.”
Joe stood and walked off toward the restrooms. The talk was turning ugly.
Cordelli yelled, “Hey, if you need a real investigator to work that case, call me. My number’s in the book.”
“It’s over the urinal, too,” Joe shot back.
When Joe returned to the bar, Cordelli was recounting the detention hearing for today’s arrestee.
“… so the marshals are shorthanded and they ask me to help take the perv back down to holding. We’re on the elevator and he turns to me and says, ‘I don’t understand why the judge thought I was a flight risk. I don’t even live near an airport.’” Everyone laughed, including Mickey.
Cordelli saw Joe. “Hey, seriously, why don’t you give me the Edgerton case?”
“Put it to bed, Cordelli,” Dale said.
Sadi, who had been twisting a napkin and tearing it to pieces, turned her attention to the argument. “I agree, dude. Give it a rest.”
Cordelli looked around at everyone. “What? It’s a good case. He’ll just run it into the ground. No offense, Joe, but you ain’t exactly sprintin’ these days.” He smiled. “I’m guessing some of the higher-ups don’t want the Edgerton case going anywhere. That’s the only reason that explains why they gave it to you.”
Joe stepped up to Cordelli. “You’re an asshole.”
Stretch raised a hand. “I second that.”
Dale stood up and grabbed Joe’s elbow, steering him to the front door.
When they were outside, Joe said, “I was wondering the same thing. Why did you give me this case originally?”
Dale waited a few seconds before responding. “I told you. I thought it might be good for your career.”
“Bullshit. If you were worried about my career, you wouldn’t have told the board I was a drunk.”
They moved to the side of the door to let a group of women enter. A blonde with thick green eye shadow looked over, probably drawn to the raised voices. Dale lowered his. “It’s a big case, and I need someone who’s going to move carefully on it.”
“You mean slow or not at all.”
“I know you’re a good investigator. This case is delicate. A lot of important people involved. Edgerton’s wife is running for governor, so we don’t want to be used by the press to further some political agenda. Plus, BIA conducted the investigation twenty years ago. We don’t want egg on our faces now. We need to control what gets released to the public.”
Joe laughed. “You want to bury the truth.”
“Don’t put words in my mouth. I just don’t want to lose control in the press and make BIA look bad.” Dale pulled out a pack of Camels from his inside breast pocket and shook one out. He rarely smoked.
“So you assigned it to me, hoping it wouldn’t go anywhere, right? No investigation. No bad news.”
“I assigned it to you because you have the most experience on the squad, and you’re careful.” Dale patted his pockets. He didn’t find what he was looking for.
Joe nodded toward the entrance of Mickey’s. “They think it’s bullshit.”
“Why don’t you go home. We’ll talk about it in the morning.” He returned the unlit cigarette to the pack and shoved it back inside his breast pocket. He hitched up his pants.
“I’ll be out with the cadaver dogs tomorrow.”
“Fine. We’ll talk Wednesday.”
Joe pulled out his wallet. He handed Dale some bills for his tab.
Dale shook his head. “I got it. And do me a favor. Don’t let Cordelli get under your skin.”
“That’s too much to ask.”
TUESDAY, 9:25 A.M.
ALBUQUERQUE AIRPORT, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Helena Newridge yanked her oversize suitcase off the luggage carousel, gave a loud tsk to the geeky-looking guy next to her who hadn’t offered to help or get out of her way, and headed to the Enterprise rental counter.
She pulled out her phone and punched in the number she had called only ten minutes earlier, when her plane landed.
“Hey, sweetie. This is Helena Newridge again. Did the chief get in yet?”
He had. She was transferred.
“Hello, Chief. I got your message.… Yes, thank you.”
She listened as Chief Cornfield welcomed her to New Mexico.
“If you give me directions, I’ll be fine. Unless you want to lend me one of your cute Navajo officers as a guide.”
The chief gave her directions.
TUESDAY, 9:42 A.M.
JONES RANCH ROAD, CHI CHIL TAH (NAVAJO NATION), NEW MEXICO
“Ya’at eeh, my friend,” Bluehorse said.
Joe nodded. “Sorry I’m late.”
“They started about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Why’s Andi here?” Joe had recognized her Suburban parked with two other vehicles in the field.
“She’s anticipating bodies.”
They walked into the woods, heading to where Edgerton’s vehicle had been found. Andi and Mark sat on folding chairs, drinking coffee and chatting. Starbucks in the woods. In the distance, two women worked, each with a dog. One of the dogs raced over to Joe to say hello. The second dog followed. They were both chocolate Labs. The cadaver dog team. Joe introduced himself to the handlers, and then the dog team returned to work. He didn’t direct the handlers. He trusted that Bluehorse and Andi had already worked all that out with them. But really, it didn’t matter. They had no leads that suggested any particular direction. It was a guessing game at this point. Educated guesses, but still guesses. In investigation parlance, this was called a “logical investigation.” Looking for bodies near a bloody vehicle was the logical next step. Nothing brilliant. Nothing flashy. Nothing that would sound good in a book someday. And like most successful investigations, it would be the fundamentals that solved the case, not psychics, high-tech gadgets, satellite imagery, or any other fancy techniques shown in the movies. Joe had never been afraid to try something new, but it had always been the basics that had led him to the clues that solved a case. He hoped the basics would hold true again.
It was almost two hours later when the dogs hit on something. The elder of the two handlers called to Joe. She looked like a librarian in shorts, her platinum hair in a pseudobeehive and large red eyeglasses covering half her face.
“Hemingway found something,” she said.
They were maybe thirty yards north of where the vehicle had been recovered. A juniper lay flat on the ground, its once-dark green needles now brown and scarce. Hemingway, the bigger of the two Labs, began whining. The handler went to the dog and stroked his back, which seemed to soothe the animal. Joe had learned over the years that some cadaver dogs became depressed after finding a body. Either they were traumatized by death or they picked up on the emotions of their handlers. Whatever the reason, Joe had seen the change in some dogs.
Joe surveyed the ground, not expecting it to reveal its decades-old secret, if it even held a secret. Withered grass, loose rocks, discarded piñon husks, orphaned weeds, and hard-packed clay refused to offer witness to what rested below. The oak nearby, strong and silent, said nothing. But it didn’t have to. Buried remains usually spoke for themselves.
“It’s all yours,” Joe said.
Andi and Mark got to work. They took several photographs, then excavated the ground using trowels. The area the dog had identified showed a slight depression, which was consistent with a body decomposing and the soil sinking to fill the void. Not always, but sometimes. It depended on the depth and the soil composition.
The topsoil here was the color of sand. It became darker as Andi dug. One, two, three inches. She lifted a scoop of the deeper soil to her nose. It had a russet color. She sniffed.
She held it out to Joe. The soil had a slightly rancid odor, which was stronger than decaying vegetation. He recognized the odor from other recoveries. Not nearly as strong, but still present.
Mark was the first to hit bone. He had uncovered a two-square-foot area eighteen inches deep when he hit something hard. He brushed away soil to reveal fabric. Ten minutes later, he uncovered what appeared to be the upper thighbone of a person.
Joe bent down and gave Hemingway a vigorous neck rub. The dog enjoyed the attention and tried to lick Joe’s face.
“Why Hemingway?” Joe asked.
“He’s my favorite author,” the handler said.
“Are you an English teacher?”
“No, a librarian, twenty-seven years. I still work part-time.” Amused, Joe continued to give Hemingway attention.
Some handlers worked for police agencies, others for nonprofit groups. This group was out of Albuquerque and consisted of volunteers not directly associated with a specific law-enforcement agency. They survived through grants and occasional donations from the requesting department or the families of missing persons. He’d worked with this group before, but not these handlers. When he got back to the office tomorrow, he would put in a request for payment to the organization. Since they didn’t invoice their services, Joe would have to work out a dollar amount to cover their travel expenses and incidentals. A few hundred dollars, maybe five if Dale wasn’t penny-pinching this month.
Bluehorse came over and patted the dog’s head. The officer wore a smile, which Joe knew didn’t derive from the dog or the body. It was from the satisfaction of finding a lead. The young officer’s instincts had initiated this investigation. Finding this body confirmed that Bluehorse’s gut had been right. He would make a fine criminal investigator someday. Maybe a fine agent.
Andi took more photos, then started sketching the scene.
By noon, most of the body was excavated. Turned soil, stained from leeched human oils, encircled the small depression where the skeleton lay. The air was now heady with the smell of mild putrefaction, the miasma of death. Time had surely weakened its potency, but it was still present.
From the bits of clothing around the bones, it looked to be the skeletal remains of a man. Light-colored dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes.
Bluehorse stood several feet behind Joe, slipping his hands in and out of his pants pockets. Navajo do not like to look upon dead bodies. They believe evil spirits gravitate to onlookers.
“I appreciate your hanging in here,” Joe said. “I know it goes against your traditions.”
“You grow up hearing the stories and taboos and don’t really believe all of it, and yet…”
Joe had heard much of the Navajo lore over the years, but he was always interested in learning more. “So, what are some of the taboos for a situation like this?”
“We believe evil spirits are everywhere, just waiting to bewitch you. They linger mostly in the dark and around dead bodies. Touching a bone will draw them to you. Saying the name of a dead person draws them to you. And walking over a grave will draw them to you—though that can also give you a sore leg. Dead bodies are never good.”
“How do you protect yourself?”
Bluehorse grinned. He reached for his duty belt and removed a small leather satchel. He held it up. “A medicine bag. Corn pollen.” He pulled a silver chain through the collar of his shirt. “And Saint Michael.”
Joe grinned and touched his own medal around his neck, which Christine had given him their first year together. She’d said she wanted to make sure someone was looking out for him. He was about to ask Bluehorse if he was Catholic, when Andi spoke.
“Who the hell is she?” she asked.
A short, heavyset woman strode toward them, snapping photos on her phone.
Joe advanced on the woman.
“Who are you, ma’am?” he said, putting himself between her and the remains. Bluehorse appeared next to Joe.
The woman offered a great big smile. “Is this where you all found Congressman Edgerton’s vehicle?” She raised her hand to her mouth. “Oh my. Is that his body?”
Joe wasn’t fooled.
“Who are you, ma’am?”
She held out a business card.
The card read Helena Newridge, Journalist, Washington Post. It looked like it had been printed at home.
Before he mentioned the cheap stock, she said, “I’m waiting for my new cards. Political desk reporter.”
“Uh-huh,” he said. “Do you have any other ID?”
She reached in a small purse that hung under her right arm and pulled out a driver’s license and handed it to him.
It showed a D.C. address. He handed it back to her.
“I need to ask you to delete those photos,” he said.
“Now you know I can’t do that.” She actually batted her eyes at him.
“Let’s walk back to the road, ma’am.”
“While I’m here,” she said, trying to step around Joe, “I may as well—”
Joe moved his body in front of hers. “I can’t let you do that, ma’am.”
“Why? Is this a crime scene?”
“I can’t answer that.”
She lost her smile. “Then there’s really no reason for me to walk back with you, is there?”
They stared at each other.
“Look, you can either cooperate and I can make sure you get all the information we give to the press, or you can be difficult and I make sure you’re cut out. I’m really not that hard to work with, ma’am.”
“Oh, stop with the ‘ma’am’ crap. My name’s Helena.” She held out a hand.
Joe shook it.
“So is this the site or not?”
Someone had already told her this was the place, or else she wouldn’t have come.
“Let’s start walking and I’ll answer what I can.”
Joe called to Andi. “I’m going to accompany this young lady back to her vehicle.”
“Young lady?” Helena said. “Aren’t you the charmer.”
“Where did you park?”
“On the road.”
Joe had Bluehorse lead them back through the woods to Jones Ranch Road.
“So, who are you?” she asked.
“Joe Evers, I’m with the BIA out of Albuquerque. If we talk, you can’t quote me or reference me as a source with the BIA. Deal?”
“Deal. So is this where they found Edgerton’s vehicle?”
“Yes. Will you delete those photos?”
“No. Whose body is that?”
“Can’t say. How did you find this place?”
“Sorry, can’t say. Did those dogs find the body?”
“Sorry, can’t say. Are you working a particular angle for a story?”
“Good question,” she said. “Not yet. Are you working a particular angle on your investigation?”
“Not yet. What do you plan to do with those photos?”
“Stupid question, Joe. You know I don’t need your confirmation that you found a body to use them.”
“I know. But like I said, if you want first crack at our information, then you need to play ball.”
Her eyes narrowed. “And what does that mean?”
“I’d prefer not to have those pictures in the paper.”
“They make us look stupid. You got too close to the scene. And photos are dangerous for undercover work.”
“Undercover? Ain’t that stretching it?”
“You asked. And it’s a real concern.”
“And what do I get if I hold back?”
“There’s something you don’t know about what you saw back there. Knowing that something won’t make you look stupid. And I’ll answer some questions as a bonus.”
“I need a photo.”
“What if I show you where the vehicle was found. No one’s gotten that yet. We towed the vehicle, but you can get a location shot. There’s some junk debris on the ground and oil stains. With the right lighting, it can be made to look quite grisly.”
She thought about it a moment. “You know the way to a woman’s heart, don’t you? But I still have to write about the body.”
“Fine, but without a photo of my team.”
“Okay. Now what don’t I know?”
“This is the Navajo Nation. They don’t always bury their dead in cemeteries. That body may be totally unrelated to the Edgerton case. It might have been what we call a ‘ceremonial burial.’”
“But you’re going to call me first when you identify the body, right?”
Joe’s head nodded even though his mind recoiled at the thought of tipping off a major newspaper.
TUESDAY, 5:59 P.M.
MICKEY’S BAR & GRILL, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe walked into Mickey’s, still wearing the same clothes from the body recovery. Not the best impression for a first date. Was this a date? He wasn’t sure. He considered the thought, then corrected himself. Of course, it was a date. His stomach churned. Nerves. Guilt. A little of both maybe.
They had cleared the scene by four o’clock and sent the remains to the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator, referred to by law enforcement as OMI. The body had no identification, but despite what he’d told the reporter, it did not look in any way like a Navajo ceremonial burial. After a quick debrief with the team, Joe had raced back to Albuquerque, knowing he would be late. He’d called ahead to Mickey. Now, standing by the entryway, he wished he’d had time to go home and change. A little aftershave would have been nice, too.
He made his way to the quiet rear of the dining area and saw Gillian sitting at a table, a candle at its center, casting soft shadows on the wall behind her. Had Mickey dimmed the lights more than usual? He was, undeniably, a virtuoso at creating an uncomfortable situation.
“Hi, Joe!” chimed two voices in unison.
Sue and Linda sat at the bar, waving, Mickey behind them at the counter, also waving. All three were sporting big grins. Their watchful eyes transported Joe back to fourth grade, to a field trip to Rocket’s Roller Rink, with its giant disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and the overhead speakers delivering a mix of funk and love songs. But now a slow song was playing. And he was that ten-year-old awkward boy again, hoping that Kristin, the girl he’d had a crush on since second grade, would allow him to hold her hand for the four laps it would take while the Jackson 5 promised “I’ll be there.” The memory was so real, he expected to see Mrs. Rubino, his fourth-grade homeroom teacher—and tonight’s spiritual chaperone—sitting behind Gillian, telling him to sit up straight and stop daydreaming.
Gillian turned upon hearing her friends’ greeting and now watched Joe approach. The look on her face made him think she might actually be glad to see him.
“Sorry I’m late. It really was unavoidable.”
“No problem. I had Mickey to keep me company, as well as Linda and Sue, who kept telling me that I was being stood up.” She said this with a gleam in her eye. Joe guessed she might have enjoyed the attention.
She continued, “Oh, and Mickey is quite your wingman. He told me you were in Gallup busting a terrorist cell and had to brief the president. He called you a ‘man of duty.’ Nice title. Is that on your business card?”
“No. But I did cut that briefing short. I told him I had a very important dinner engagement. The president tends to get a little testy, so he may try to call me back.” Joe made a show of pressing the power button on his phone. “There. No interruptions … unless, of course, you’d like to say hi to him. If so, I’ll call him back.” He held up the phone, waiting for her reply.
She sat there a moment, a tiny smile frozen on her face. Had he gone too far with the joke? It’d been stupid, but he’d meant it to be playful. Now she’d be wondering if he was a moron.
Then she laughed. “You had me for a second.” She held up her right hand, thumb and forefinger pinched together. “Just an itsy-bitsy second. You said it so seriously.” She laughed again and raised her glass, holding it above the table. The red wine matched her ruby-colored dress. It covered her shoulders and contrasted nicely with her blond hair. He didn’t know if she had tried for sexy, but she’d pulled it off.
Joe gave his drink order, a red wine, to the waitress. Then the expected get-to-know-each-other session started. They discussed their jobs and family. Joe avoided talking about Christine. When the topic arose, he simply said she’d died two years ago. He found himself bragging about Melissa. Gillian did the parent thing, too, and told Joe about her daughter and son, both at college. She spoke very little of her ex, though, which made Joe wonder if their breakup was still, in her mind, unsettled. Mickey came over, white towel draped over his forearm, and served warm bread and a Caesar salad. He also took a jab at the president for making Joe tardy. Gillian laughed. When he left, silence fell over the table for the first time.
Joe reached for his wineglass; his ring finger and pinkie shook. He looked at Gillian. She wasn’t paying attention to his hand. He didn’t feel nervous. Their banter had put him at ease. She’d been easy to talk to. Enjoyable, actually. Was he having the shakes? He couldn’t tell. He wasn’t an alcoholic, was he? At that moment, he didn’t know the answer. He picked up his water glass instead.
“Did you grow up in Albuquerque?” Gillian asked.
“Air force brat. Moved around. Born in California. My father was stationed at Edwards. Later we moved to New Jersey, Kansas, Guam, then New Mexico, where he retired.”
“Wow. All that moving around, experiencing all those new places.” She sighed. “I’ve spent my entire life in Albuquerque.”
“To be honest, they all seem the same to me now. Just school and regular kid stuff everywhere, except for Guam. A tropical island is pretty exciting to a kid. Lots of poverty, but incredible beaches. We’d go diving and grab a lobster and cook it up right there on the beach.”
“Sounds like a little piece of paradise.”
“It was. I really love the ocean. I’m surprised I stayed in New Mexico.”
“Not me. I saw Jaws when I was a kid. Been afraid of the water ever since. We went to San Diego one year and my father carried me into the ocean and dropped me right into a wave. I screamed so loud, the lifeguard blew his whistle and told my father to take me out. Never been in it since.”
Before Joe could reply, Mickey returned with their food. He laid out a family-style dish of penne alla vodka, a small bowl of grated Parmesan cheese, and a plate of Italian sausage.
“You’re both gonna enjoy this. And even if you don’t, you’re both gonna enjoy this,” Mickey said, his voice deep and slow.
Joe cringed. “Was that supposed to be the Godfather?”
Mickey lifted his head and rubbed the back of his hand under his chin. “Someday, and that day may never come, I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day—accept this meal as a gift.”
“You outdid yourself tonight, Mickey,” Joe said.
Gillian clapped; Joe followed. “Bravo!” she said.
“Now, this old man will get outta your hair so you two birds can create some beautiful magic together. Ciao.”
Their host walked off to tend the bar.
Joe served the pasta.
A man’s voice spoke. “And who is this lovely young lady?”
Joe held the pasta suspended over Gillian’s plate. His jaw tightened, as did his hand holding the serving spoon. Cordelli approached the table, Tenny following like a good puppy. Joe emptied the spoon onto Gillian’s plate before answering.
Joe introduced Gillian.
“You never mentioned you were seeing someone,” Cordelli said.
Joe forced a jovial tone. “Sorry, Dad. I forgot to ask permission to borrow the car.”
Cordelli smiled. It actually looked good-natured.
“I only thought you might have mentioned her in the office.”
Gillian spoke to Joe. “I’m glad this is our first time out; otherwise, you would’ve hurt my feelings. A woman likes to be thought about and talked about, nicely, of course.”
“Joe’s the quiet type,” Cordelli said. “Strong and silent, just like in the movies.”
She looked at Joe and smiled. “Well, he’s not that quiet tonight. He’s rather funny.”
“We don’t want to intrude on you two. Enjoy your dinner.”
Cordelli and Tenny walked over to the bar.
“That seemed … odd,” Gillian said.
“They are odd.”
She blushed. “They brought something up that I wasn’t quite sure how to talk about.”
He felt a tingle in his stomach. It wasn’t hunger. He reached for his wineglass, took a sip. A gulp. The first of the night.
She went on. “Back in June, after nineteen years of marriage, my husband told me he needed to find himself.” She picked up her wine and sipped. Then she placed her glass back on the table and met his gaze. “He left, and now I’m lost. I’m not looking for another relationship. At least not right now.” She lowered her head and spoke to the pasta. “You seem like a really nice guy, but I’m not ready for that yet.”
He waited for her to continue, but she didn’t.
“Is that all? I thought it was something serious, like you don’t like vodka sauce.”
She laughed and looked back up at him.
He continued, “I’m just glad not to be eating alone. Let’s enjoy the evening. No pressure. No promises. No expectations. Fair enough?”
“Thank you.” She picked up her fork. “And I love vodka sauce.”
WEDNESDAY, 9:56 A.M.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
The morning seemed clear to Joe, everything sharp and defined. Feeling a little hokey, he thought of Johnny Nash. The man seemed to know a thing or two about bright sunshiny days.
After dinner the previous evening, Joe and Gillian had talked over coffee and cannoli—another one of Mickey’s Italian surprises. At nine, Joe offered to drive her home, but she insisted she would be fine. She made it clear they should take things slow, very slow, but she kissed him on the cheek as she left.
Mickey had cornered him afterward, and Joe felt obligated to share with him her desire to set speed traps. Mickey nodded. “Smart girl,” he said. “Hope she doesn’t wait too long. You’re not getting any younger, and neither am I.” Joe went home soon after, getting to bed by eleven. When he woke this morning, he felt … different. One glass of wine with last night’s meal. Not bad.
Now he sat in his cubicle, squad chatter the only background noise. In front of him sat several pages of his notes on the Edgerton case. He’d spent the last hour reading through the logs and interviews of the high-profile investigation from twenty years ago. It was starting to make sense. He began to understand why the original investigator felt Edgerton had run off. Jake Adderman, the lobbyist who had been charged in the subsequent federal investigation for congressional bribery, had been linked to several casino-development interests and two Indian tribes. One of his shell companies, Indigenous Peoples Self-Governance Foundation, had been set up to promote Indian gaming. The investigation had uncovered a wire transfer of fifteen thousand dollars from the foundation to an account with Banamex, a large Mexican bank. According to the file, Special Agent Malcolm Tsosie, who had retired soon after Joe came on with the BIA in 1990, had tracked down the transfer and determined that the receiving account had been opened under Arlen Edgerton’s name. The account also listed a Mexico City attorney by the name of Cedro Bartolome as the paymaster. Joe wasn’t sure what that meant, but a report indicated that when Bartolome was contacted by the legal attaché at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, he refused to discuss the account or Arlen Edgerton. Other wire transfers totaling more than $750,000 from the foundation had been made to two Cayman Islands accounts, neither of which was ever identified. It was apparent that after finding the account linked to Edgerton, the case had shifted from a missing-person investigation to a fugitive hunt.
Things were different now. Joe had found a body, and if it turned out to be linked to Edgerton’s disappearance, then he was looking at a murder investigation. That might make things easier. It almost always did. Few cases were unsolvable. The absolute stranger crime was rare. When it came to murder, how the victim was killed often reflected the murderer’s emotional state at the time of the crime and sometimes it indicated if the killer knew the victim or if he or she was a stranger. Anger. Revenge. Greed. Jealousy. Emotions help narrow the pool of suspects. If the victim was stabbed twenty-seven times, a likely suspect was a romantic partner—or Squeaky Fromme. When OMI shared their preliminary findings on the body, he might get a better direction for the case—maybe. A skeleton was not nearly as good at ratting out the culprit as a good old-fashioned flesh and blood body.
This morning, Joe’s analytical skills seemed sharper, and it wasn’t simply because of his reduced alcohol intake. There’d been chunks of time over the last two years that he wouldn’t drink for days or weeks. No. It wasn’t that. Last night, thanks to Mickey and Gillian, he’d let go of something … his stress? No, not stress. Work wasn’t so taxing. He hadn’t performed any heavy lifting in a while. Hell, that’s why they wanted him packed up and sitting in a window seat on the express train to retirement. Perhaps it was the restful sleep he’d had last night. No dreams. No guilt. Or maybe it was that he’d awakened this morning without an overwhelming sense of responsibility. Responsibility for Melissa. For his wife.
As soon as these thoughts entered his mind, the fog moved in, mucking up the clarity he had so enjoyed the last few hours. Was he forgetting her? In that instant, the papers in front of him dimmed. That sunshiny-day thing winked out.
“Cordelli said you had a date last night.” Stretch stood at the edge of Joe’s cubicle, his lanky arm resting across the divider. “Heard she was quite a looker.”
“You wanna swap stories in the locker room?”
Stretch raised both hands in front of him, palms out. “Whoa there, cowpoke. I’m only asking because I’m happy for you. I’m not trying to pry, but if you want to share, I’m all ears.”
“Share? What is this, an AA meeting?”
“Take a breath, Joe. I’m just doing the friend thing here, okay?”
“Sorry,” Joe said, realizing Stretch would have no idea why he was feeling defensive. “I know you’re not screwing with me. And yes, I did have dinner last night. Her name’s Gillian. She’s very nice, but we’re only friends.”
“Good for you, buddy.” Stretch gave him the attaboy nod. “I actually came over to ask about your cold case. Dale said you recovered a body yesterday and had a run-in with the press. He was pretty upset about the scene photos in the paper.”
“He would have gone through the roof if he’d seen the originals. Us digging up the body.” Joe picked up the reporter’s business card from his desk. “Helena Newridge. Washington Post. Ever hear of her?”
Stretch shook his head.
“The few articles I could find seem to be D.C. gossip. I don’t know what she’s doing here.” Joe tossed the card back down. “I’m heading over to OMI in an hour. Want to tag along?”
WEDNESDAY, 11:23 A.M.
NEW MEXICO OFFICE OF THE MEDICAL INVESTIGATOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO CAMPUS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
If this had been a standard autopsy, Joe, Stretch, and Bluehorse would have been standing behind the observation glass, watching the pathologist cut into the body, but since these were only bones, they were allowed inside the exam room. Everyone wore latex gloves and breathing masks. The masks were probably excellent at filtering bacteria and particles but did little for the smell. The air reeked, an effluvia of putrefaction and disinfectant from that morning’s autopsies.
On the metal table before them rested the result of the previous day’s cadaver dog search. The bones formed an almost complete human skeleton. Some were missing. Dirt, grime, and age had created a dark patchwork of muted colors that made the remains look more like tree branches than the bleached white bones found in displays or on television. In real life, death and decay were dirty work that marred the body as well as the soul.
The tattered clothing, which had dressed the bones in the shallow grave, had been separated and was now spread out on a second metal table to their right.
The pathologist stood on the other side of the bone-covered table wearing a head cover, goggles, mask, and layers of blue and white scrubs. A full-length blue apron covered his torso and legs.
When the man spoke, his voice had the tone of a high school teacher presenting biology to the football team. “This is the skeleton recovered yesterday. It will be sent down to the University of North Texas, to their Center for Human Identification. They’ll do a complete workup on the bones, so understand that the findings I’m about to share with you are in no way official. Andi asked for a preliminary exam, so that’s all I’m offering, preliminary findings based on my opinion and my opinion alone.” The doctor looked at Joe as though waiting for some sort of acknowledgment.
Joe obliged. “I understand.”
“Okay, so let’s begin. It looks to be that of an adult male, between the ages of thirty to fifty-five, five five to five ten, one hundred and fifty to two hundred and seventy-five pounds, possibly Caucasian. Looks like it’s been in the ground for more than fifteen years, but I can’t be sure because New Mexico has such a unique climate. The dry conditions and clay soil can preserve bodies and clothing much better than other areas in the country, making it difficult for me to estimate how long it may have stayed underground. The center should be able to give a better time frame. We’re missing three phalanges, the hallux and second toe on the right foot and the—”
“What’s a hallux?” Stretch asked.
“Sorry. What’s missing is the big toe and the second toe on the right foot, and the pinkie toe on the left foot. I think the disappearance was due to animals, because there appears to be some gnaw marks on the sesamoid bo—I mean the bones connecting the toe to the foot. The right tibia and fibula are also missing. Don’t know if we have all the vertebrae. I didn’t count them. A few teeth, but I don’t know if they were lost postmortem or perimortem. And the only fingers recovered on the left hand were the thumb and forefinger. About eight ribs are broken, some missing but the breaks look postmortem. One rib is of interest. Fourth rib, right side.” The pathologist lifted three bone fragments from the table and attempted to connect them together. “The second break, here.” He pointed. “The bones don’t fit together. The edges seem shattered, not broken. Possible gunshot.”
“What makes you think gunshot?” Stretch said.
“The shattered bone appears to be the result of a projectile. A bullet is my best guess, but it’s only a guess.”
“I don’t have much more to tell you on the bones.” The pathologist moved to stand behind the table where the clothing lay. He pointed to a piece of dark blue fabric. “Dress pants. Synthetic material, possibly polyester blend, which helps explain why it held up so well. No wallet. No pocket litter.”
“No pocket litter?” Bluehorse asked. “Is that strange? I mean, that’s one of the things we look for when we try to determine if a ceremonial burial took place. That and the cheap suit makes me think it might be ceremonial.”
“The grave was shallow,” Joe said, “which isn’t consistent with a family burial.”
Joe was well aware of ceremonial burials. He’d investigated several suspected body dumps over the years, only to determine the sites were simply noncemetery graves. Native Americans often buried loved ones outside of cemeteries, sometimes without grave markers so no one could come along and dig them up to steal belongings—or body parts. Human bones are still part of Native American witchcraft rituals. Noncemetery burials were more common fifty years ago, but today, to bury someone outside of a cemetery within the Navajo Nation, the family would need the approval of the Navajo Land Board, which maintained records of present-day burial sites as well as known ancient ones.
The pathologist pointed to the shirt.
“Eighteen neck, thirty sleeves, manufacturer tag is unreadable. Most of the shirt is rotted. Some looks like it’s been eaten, or more likely carried off for nesting. The suit jacket protected a lot of it from decay.”
Joe could make out the collar and shoulders. The left sleeve was missing; the right retained most of its length. The stomach area of the shirt was gone. The chest was tattered with dark stains the color of soot. The back was completely intact, with only a few small holes.
“The area on the shirt where I suspect the bullet punctured the flesh has been eaten away. Blood draws insects and small animals, so those areas are often attacked first. Overall, your body and clothing are in remarkable condition. If they are part of the Edgerton disappearance, then that would put them underground over twenty years. I’m surprised you were able to recover an almost-intact skeleton. Was the grave covered by stones? That might explain why the animals left it alone.”
Joe shook his head, “Just dirt, but a neighbor seemed pretty efficient at killing coyotes.”
The pathologist raised an eyebrow.
Joe went on. “You said the body was one fifty to two seventy-five. Why such a wide range?”
“The lower range is based on his height. The upper range I guesstimated from the size of his clothing. If the clothing belonged to this man, he was obese. The center will be able to give you a better weight range.”
“Edgerton was pretty fit, but I recall the driver was heavy,” Joe said. “I have a report saying that our office sent OMI the dental records of all three people back when they went missing. Are they still on file here?”
“They were digitized and added to NamUs three years ago. I pulled them this morning.” NamUs was the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a database used by medical examiners and investigators to identify remains.
Joe sensed a break in the case. “And?”
“Our odontologist has not done a comparison yet, but I think you’re looking at the remains of Nicholas Garcia.”
WEDNESDAY, 3:08 P.M.
EDGERTON FOR GOVERNOR HEADQUARTERS, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Joe and Bluehorse parked in the lot next to Grace Edgerton’s campaign office. Joe thought about having Bluehorse park his marked unit elsewhere to avoid attention, but when they pulled up, there were no news vans or cameramen hanging around outside.
Edgerton’s campaign office was situated in an art district, surrounded by galleries and bistros and money. It had all the elegance of a weed in a finely manicured garden. A banner across the front showed a giant picture of the possible future governor looking proud and determined, and next to her were the words BELIEVE NEW MEXICO.
“You think they’re going to circle the wagons?” Bluehorse asked.
“My people are used to that tactic.”
“Let’s be straight on something,” Joe said. “Grace Edgerton is a possible suspect so we’re here to get information, not give it, okay?”
Bluehorse nodded in agreement.
Inside, Joe found the receptionist, an older, friendly-looking woman with gray hair, metal-rimmed glasses, and a cookie baker’s face. She was on the phone, asking the person on the other end whom he or she would vote for in November.
They waited only a minute for the woman to hang up. “Hello, how may I help you?”
“We’re here to see Mrs. Edgerton.”
“You need to speak with Cassie. She’s Grace’s secretary.” She pointed to a young woman sitting behind a desk at the back of the large, open room. Behind the young woman, along the back wall, were office doors, all closed.
As they walked over, Bluehorse leaned in and whispered, “Things are changing, Joe. The oldest person in the room is not always the one in charge.”
“I thought the Navajo believed in respecting their elders?”
“We do. We also believe Sa, Old Age Woman, keeps her promise and lets the old die off so the young can take their place. That’s how we learn patience. So don’t worry, I can wait.”
Cassie was in her midtwenties, no older. Her warm smile gave her a country-girl look, but Joe doubted there was any naïveté when it came to this woman. She held a phone to her right ear and a pen in her left hand, jotting notes in a calendar book, alternately looking at her computer screen and typing. When she hung up, Joe identified himself.
“Yes, they’re expecting you,” she said. “I’ll let Mr. Staples know you’re here. Please have a seat.” She waved toward several chairs that sat along the wall.
So they were expecting him. A private meeting with Grace Edgerton seemed unlikely now.
The door to the office directly behind Cassie opened and two men exited. The first was a tall Native American who looked Navajo, but Joe couldn’t be sure.
Next came Senator Kendall Holmes. Joe knew him instantly. He’d been a fixture of New Mexico politics for many years. Holmes was also mentioned in the Edgerton case file.
Joe approached the politician. “Excuse me, Senator Holmes.”
The Native American placed a hand roughly on Joe’s chest, stopping him in mid-stride. Up close, the man looked Navajo.
“It’s going to be tough wiping your ass without that hand,” Joe said in a low voice, so only the tall man could hear him.
The Navajo neither blinked nor budged.
“It’s okay,” Senator Holmes said.
Joe stepped past the bodyguard, who continued to scrutinize his every move.
“Senator Holmes, I’m Special Agent Joe Evers with the BIA. I’m following up on Arlen Edgerton’s vehicle. I’d like to speak with you today, if that’s possible?”
“I’m sorry, Agent. I’m due back in D.C. this evening. Perhaps you can call my office and set up an appointment. But to be honest, I’m not sure what more I can offer other than what I told the investigator back when Arlen went missing.”
“I just have a few follow-up questions. It won’t take long.”
“Sorry, I need to catch a flight.” He strode away. His Navajo muscle followed.
A portly gentleman with thick eyebrows and bouncing jowls came out of the same office from which the senator had emerged. He wore a look on his face that said everything was peachy and even if it wasn’t, he could make it so.
“Mr. Evers,” the man said. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Christopher Staples, Mrs. Edgerton’s campaign manager.”
He yanked on Joe’s arm as they shook hands. Each jolt released aftershave from Staples’s body. Joe blinked from the burn as he introduced Bluehorse. More aftershave mingled with oxygen.
“Thanks for coming in today,” Staples said. “We appreciate your giving us an update.”
Joe had spoken to Staples earlier that morning, asking to speak to the congresswoman. He never said he would be giving an update on the investigation. Apparently, Chris Staples liked to play with words.
“Come this way, gentlemen. The future governor is anxious to meet you both.”
Joe glanced toward the street entrance. The tall Indian stared at him as he and the senator exited the building.
Mrs. Edgerton’s eyes were puffy, as though she’d been crying. She stood in the center of the room, talking to an attractive middle-aged woman dressed in a simple neutral-colored dress that reached below her knees. The woman wore little makeup. Joe guessed she was an adviser and knew better than to draw attention away from the person she was working for. The congresswoman wore a tailored red pantsuit that probably turned a few heads in the Capitol Building. It would have turned his. Joe guessed he and Mrs. Edgerton were close in age, she only a few years older.
Staples made the introductions. The woman was Paige Rousseau. French. They shook hands and exchanged smiles. Joe liked a few things French. Baguettes. Croissants. Women in berets. And now Paige. She appeared serious but geniune.
“Pleased to meet you, Agent Evers,” Grace Edgerton said. “And you, Officer Bluehorse. I appreciate your finding the time to give us an update on the case.”
More word games.
They all sat down, Mrs. Edgerton moving to the chair behind her desk, Staples and Paige taking the two seats in front, leaving Joe and Bluehorse to sit on the sofa.
“Sorry for the confusion,” Joe said, “but I’m not here to give you an update on the case. I’m here to talk to you because you’re part of my investigation.”
Edgerton glanced at Staples.
Joe continued. “I was hoping to speak to you in private because I have to ask you some questions about your husband, which may be … very sensitive.”
“Years ago, when I decided to run for my husband’s seat, I accepted that my life would be an open book.” She looked directly at Joe as she spoke, her posture straight and her tone even straighter. “I’m in a gubernational race right now and cannot afford to keep anything from my team. I trust them, and I appreciate your concern and sensitivity. I have nothing to hide, and neither did my husband, so you can speak freely in front of Paige and Chris.”
“Fine.” Joe paused, ordering his thoughts. “I’m sure this whole matter has come as somewhat of a shock after all these years, and—”
“Of course it’s a shock,” Staples said. “Look at the damn timing. After twenty years, you find the car only weeks before the biggest election of her life. And now a body. Grace was upset all morning. You couldn’t have given us a heads-up about the body? She had to read about it in the paper. It all seems a little too much. A little too staged.”
“If you’re trying to imply that we’re conducting this investigation based on some sort of political agenda, then you’re way out of line,” Joe said. “The congressman’s car was found in the woods while Navajo PD was investigating an entirely unrelated case.”
Staples opened his mouth and then closed it again. Paige pursed her lips, but the corners raised ever so slightly, betraying a smile.
Bluehorse shifted next to Joe. “Ma’am, I’m the officer who found you husband’s vehicle, and I can assure you it’s just as Agent Evers said. I have no interest in politics, especially politics off the reservation.”
“I never thought otherwise,” Grace Edgerton said. “I think Chris is only being protective of me and the campaign. I don’t think he was trying to imply any sort of impropriety on anyone’s part.”
Staples gave a dismissive laugh, as though he found such an idea a joke. “Not at all. I thought the vehicle might have been found after a tip from an anonymous caller or something like that. I wasn’t trying to imply you two were … were involved in something.” He gave another awkward laugh. Laughing seemed uncomfortable for him.
Joe shifted into interrogation mode. After a few basic questions to gauge her response, he moved to the meat of the interview. “At the time of his disappearance, what was going on in his personal and political life?”
“That’s a very broad question, Agent Evers. And also very difficult. It’s been a long time.” She looked away, seeming to stare off toward nothing. “As to his personal life, that was basically me. We didn’t have kids, but we had talked about having them. He wanted two. A boy and a girl.” She hesitated. “But I guess that wasn’t meant to be, was it? Politics was who he was. From the minute he woke up till his head hit the pillow, which was usually past midnight, he was being the statesman. We did have our ‘us’ time, not a lot, mind you, but we had it. Arlen was a good man. He loved me, but he also loved the people of New Mexico. He wanted to take care of his constituents, and that meant bringing jobs here, bringing federal money, and increasing federal support to the tribes. I’m sure you’re most interested in knowing whether he took the payoffs they accused him of, and if he had an affair with his secretary. Am I right?”
“Yes,” Joe said. “But that’s not all.”
She took a breath and leaned back in her chair. “No on both counts. He would never have taken that money. He didn’t need it. We both came from wealthy families. We weren’t rich ourselves, but we were never concerned about our finances.”
“Maybe your husband didn’t take the money for himself. Maybe he was hoping to use it for something else. Something good.”
“He would never have jeopardized his seat. He loved our system of government too much. And, even if the idea of the end justifying the means ever did cross his mind, he would have shared those thoughts with me. We had no secrets. He respected my counsel. He did not take that money.” She paused, pressing out imaginary wrinkles on her red slacks. “He was a good man.”
Joe picked up on her change in demeanor. “I think there’s something you’re not telling me, Mrs. Edgerton. If you want me to find out what happened to Arlen, I need to know what you know.”
“I think she told you what she knows,” Staples said.
Joe’s tone softened. “I know there’s something you want to tell me. I don’t know if it’s important or not, but I do know that in a cold case sometimes the smallest thing can make the biggest difference. Everything we talk about is confidential, Mrs. Edgerton. All we want to do is find out what happened to your husband.”
“So do the papers,” Staples said, his voice thundering in the room, which had just gone quiet.
The congresswoman looked up, but her gaze fell on Paige.
“Grace,” Paige began. “I think Agent Evers is right. Do you remember how we wrestled with the Patriot Act? In the end, we agreed that law enforcement needed access to the tools and information to investigate national threats. It’s the same here. He needs information to do his investigation. I know you don’t have anything to hide.” Paige turned and looked at Joe and Bluehorse. “And I believe they will respect your confidence.”
The congresswoman looked down at her desk.
“In Navajo, words are magical,” Bluehorse said. “They can give you power over a person or situation. A Navajo will not reveal his Indian name to just anyone, only to someone he trusts. Your words right now may help us find out what happened to your husband. I’ve known Joe only a few days now, since we’ve been working this case, but I believe he’s a good man. Someone you can trust.”
“What about you, Mr. Bluehorse?” Staples asked. “Can she trust you?”
The congresswoman raised her head and looked at each of them in turn, ending with Joe. “I don’t want you to read too much into what I’m going to say, because it’s really … I don’t know. When the investigators asked me about Arlen and Faye back then, they wanted to know if they often traveled together. I said they did, but … but that wasn’t necessarily true.”
Staples raised his right hand, cutting the congresswoman off. “Grace, if you’re about to say you … misspoke back then, I think we should have Ed in here just to be on the safe side. We’re moving into his territory now.”
“I’m not concerned about whether she lied twenty years ago,” Joe said. “I’m only interested in having all the information now, so I can do my job. And besides, the statute of limitations ran out a long, long time ago.”
“The press doesn’t have a statute of limitations,” Staples said. “Most of the time, they respect no limits.”
“All I care about right now is what happened to your husband. What didn’t you tell the investigators?”
“It was true that he sometimes took Faye around with him, but only to meet and greets and things like that. He always told me when he would be taking her, and I would go along, if I could.”
“Why was that?”
“We were very conscious about his image. I don’t believe anything ever would have happened. I trusted my husband. I wasn’t foolish then, and I’m not foolish now. We were in love, plain and simple. He would not have done anything to ruin our marriage.” She wiped at her eyes.
“I could see why he loved you,” Joe said. “You’ve proven yourself an amazing woman.”
“No offense, Mr. Evers, but I don’t need to be charmed or cajoled. I’m going to tell you everything.”
Staples shifted in his seat.
“Ken Holmes was my husband’s chief of staff back then. He felt that people might question Faye’s role because she was an attractive young woman. Rumors might circulate about them—or any woman around Arlen. He was very handsome.”
“It’s Senator Holmes now, correct?” Joe asked.
“Yes, Ken was very ambitious. Still is. I heard he might be planning a run for the White House soon.” She laughed. “The day Arlen went missing, Ellery Gates was flying in to meet with him. Gates held a seat in Oklahoma. They had planned two days of fishing. Arlen loved fishing and was taking Ellery to Farmington. He used to say he was going to make fly-fishing the state sport because New Mexico had some of the best rivers in the country.”
Staples lowered his head, either embarrassed by the touching remembrance or annoyed. Paige pulled a tissue from a box on the credenza beside her and handed it to the congresswoman. After a few moments, Mrs. Edgerton continued.
“Arlen was working on two bills impacting Native Americans. He loved their culture, but he also wanted their votes. Arlen and Ellery were sponsoring an Indian gaming bill together, but they disagreed on a few points. That’s why they were meeting.” She took a deep breath. “Arlen’s second bill was to protect Native American artifacts from a growing black-market trade. He went to the Navajo Nation that day to visit a site where a number of ancient artifacts had been stolen. What I didn’t tell the investigators was that Arlen hadn’t told me he was taking Faye with him. I don’t know why, but I just blurted out that it was normal for him to take Faye along. And once it was out there, I couldn’t take it back. But it wasn’t true. He would never take Faye without me, but I couldn’t go that day because I was in Las Cruces, meeting with the University Hispanic League. I so wish I had canceled that trip.”
“Do you know where they went that day?” Joe asked.
“He was meeting with an archaeologist at the Navajo Nation dig site, but I didn’t know precisely where. Arlen was looking for anecdotal stories to bring to the floor.” She shook her head. “Both bills were eventually passed, but they removed Arlen’s name because of the scandal.”
Joe took out a pad and jotted a few notes. “What were the bills?”
“The Indian Gaming Regulatory Bill and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Bill.”
“Do you remember the archaeologist?”
“No, but I remember Arlen saying he was from UNM. He asked if I knew him, but I didn’t. Arlen and I both attended UNM. We met there.”
“What can you tell me about your husband’s driver?”
“Nick?” She grinned. “He was very loyal to my husband. He’d worked on his first campaign. After getting elected, Arlen gave Nick whatever work he could. Nick helped write some speeches and also drove Arlen around. That might sound like a strange combination, speechwriter and driver, but Nick was an aspiring novelist. He wrote mostly short stories—fantasy, I think. He appreciated the odd jobs. It let him focus on his writing. He had just finished his novel when he went missing. I’d told him I wanted to read it.” She put her tissue to use.
“Did anyone ever threaten your husband? Any enemies?”
“Of course. It comes with the office.”
“Any threats that stand out? Odd letters or messages? Anything strange around the time of his disappearance?”
“Nothing really. He received the usual threatening letters. The investigators asked about them. They did seem interested in one, though. A letter from someone on the Navajo reservation. I think … I think the person who sent the letter was a member of AIM, or some other movement. I don’t remember his name, but I’m sure it will be in your file. I gave permission to the investigators to search Arlen’s office as well as Faye’s desk. They found the threat letters. Oh, and they were also looking for Faye’s calendar book. It was gone, but that wasn’t unusual, because she always had it with her, even took it home.”
“Tell me about Cedro Bartolome,” Joe said.
“I don’t know a Cedro Bartolome.” She hesitated. “At least I don’t think I do. Who is he?”
“He’s the lawyer in Mexico City your husband used to set up a bank account.”
“I remember now. Not his name, but that a lawyer was involved. I am sure he will tell you my husband did not set up that account. When do you plan to speak to him?”
“Yeah,” Staples said. “When? If he says it wasn’t Arlen, we can feed that to the press.”
“Nothing is going to be fed to the press,” Joe said. “This is an investigation, not a campaign stunt.”
“I understand,” Mrs. Edgerton said. “But you will be speaking to him, right?”
“I don’t know. He’s an attorney and outside U.S. jurisdiction. There’s not much reason for him to speak to me.”
“Well, that sucks,” Staples said.
“Have you ever owned a gun, Mrs. Edgerton?”
“I really think Ed should be here,” Staples said.
She raised her hand, gesturing for Staples to be quiet. “No, I never owned a gun.”
Joe asked a few more questions, but none that revealed any new information.
“Okay, Mr. Evers. I answered your questions. Now, please answer mine. Was the body you recovered yesterday my husband’s?”
“I’m sorry, but it’s an ongoing inv—”
“Damn you, Mr. Evers. Don’t treat me like a suspect. It’s my husband’s disappearance you’re investigating. My husband. Not just a name in your case file.”
Joe was surprised by her directness, but he wouldn’t be bullied.
“We haven’t identified the remains yet. OMI will do the identification. Hopefully, we’ll know in a few days.”
They asked Joe and Bluehorse several more probing questions, which Joe wouldn’t answer. Then Paige asked to end the meeting so the congresswoman could have some alone time before her next appointment. Paige stayed with her while Staples walked Joe and Bluehorse out.
“Why was Senator Holmes here?” Joe asked.
“Arlen’s car is a headache for everyone,” Staples said. “I have a pack of reporters waiting for my press release,” he added. “We go to the polls in three weeks. What you release to the press can change the outcome of this election. You know that. So I hope you don’t have a political ax to grind. Grace is the real deal. And I’m not saying that because I’m paid to. She wants the best for this state. Bad press can kill her chances. From what I understand, you’re no stranger to bad press.”
“I’m not following you,” Joe said.
“I read about the Longman case.”
Joe didn’t reply.
“So please keep us updated on what you find out. I’d appreciate it, and so would Grace.”
“That’s a hell of a way to get me on your side.”
“I’m not trying to get you on my side. I don’t want anyone saying we tried to influence your investigation. I just want you to know I’ll be watching. I know she’s not involved. As long as the truth comes out, she’ll win this election. I’m confident of that. But if someone decides to play games with the truth and drags her into this mess … well, some members of the press who support her might not like it. And I’ll be sure to point them to the person responsible.” Staples reached into his pants pocket. “Here. It’ll be a collector’s item when she’s president.” He handed Joe and Bluehorse each a small white-and-blue Edgerton for Governor button. “Don’t forget to vote.”
WEDNESDAY, 4:40 P.M.
EDGERTON FOR GOVERNOR HEADQUARTERS, SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Helena Newridge, arms crossed, large purse dangling, leaned against Joe’s Tahoe like a thug taking ownership of a corner.
“I didn’t hear from you, Joe.”
“I’ll talk to you later,” Bluehorse said as he walked on to his own unit, leaving Joe to deal with her by himself. The young officer displayed much wisdom.
“What are you doing here, Helena?”
“Same as you. Came to talk to her. I was hoping you came to arrest her, but I guess that was wishful thinking.”
“Why would I arrest her?”
“Because she killed her husband.”
Joe waited for the bomb.
“I lied to you yesterday,” Helena said. “You asked what my angle was. Well, I think little Miss Oh I Love New Mexico is a vindictive, cheated-on wife who took revenge on her rotten, philandering husband.”
Joe unlocked the door to his Tahoe. “And you base this on…”
“The fact I was a vindictive, cheated-on wife who wanted revenge on my rotten, philandering husband.”
Joe smiled. “So where were you the day Arlen Edgerton went missing?”
She gave a full belly laugh. “Joey, you do have a sense of humor. I wasn’t so sure of that yesterday.”
He didn’t care for Joey, but coming from her it seemed friendly, almost endearing. “How do you know Edgerton’s even dead?”
“I don’t, but I was hoping that the body you recovered would be his.”
“That wouldn’t prove she killed him.”
“No, but a source tells me she knew about his affair with Faye and they argued about it. There may even have been talk of Arlen leaving her to marry Faye. His bullet-riddled body would go a long way in supporting my theory.”
“Who’s your source?”
“Oh, Joey. You know better than that.”
“What else did he tell you?”
“Good try, but I never said he. And the source said Mrs. Edgerton was mean enough to do it.”
“I thought this was a two-way street.”
“What’s your question?”
“Did she own a gun?”
“I’m told no,” Joe said. He climbed in behind the wheel.
“Did she tell you that?”
“Can’t say.” He started the engine.
“Did Arlen own a gun?”
“Probably, but I haven’t checked yet.”
“Hmmm. I’ll be checking on that, too.”
“Good, let me know what you find.” He tried to close the door. She held it open.
“Not so fast, Joey. Whose body is it?”
“When I get an ID, I’ll call you.”
“That’s it? I give you good stuff, and you give me nothing.”
“I’ll tell you what. Check into that gun angle. Find me a gun and I’ll tell you if it’s involved. How’s that?”
She thought about that. “Is there anything I should know before I talk to the wannabe governor?”
“Yeah, watch out for her campaign manager. He bites.”
WEDNESDAY, 5:05 P.M.
INTERSTATE HIGHWAY 25 SOUTH, OUTSIDE OF SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
Cruising along 25 on his way home, Joe’s mind filtered out the rush-hour traffic around him and instead replayed the interview with Grace Edgerton. She’d proved to be of little value. In a cold case, it was often hard to read a person’s emotions so many years after a crime. Witnesses and subjects, even victims, find it easy to hide behind faulty memories. In this case, Joe felt the congresswoman had been honest with him. Hell, he wanted to believe she’d been honest with him. But he couldn’t be sure. She made a living by telling people what they wanted to hear.
She’d mentioned three people Joe planned on interviewing. Kendall Holmes, now Senator Holmes, with whom an interview seemed unlikely. Dwight Henry, whose name she hadn’t been able to recall, referring to him only as the AIM member who had sent the threatening letter. Joe had found a copy of the letter in the case file, as well as an interview with Dwight by the original case agent. And finally, she had mentioned an archaeologist, who seemed to be the last person to have seen Arlen and his group alive, Professor Lawrence Trudle. Joe had read the professor’s interview and found it light, their meeting the day the congressman had disappeared amounting to nothing more than a few minutes staring at a dig site. At least that’s how the report read, but Joe felt there had been more to it. He planned on talking to the professor sooner rather than later. Actually, tomorrow. Joe had searched his name on the Internet that morning and found him still listed as a faculty member at UNM. His posted office hours were nine to eleven o’clock on Thursdays.
Joe also planned to call upon Senator Holmes tomorrow, or at least schedule an appointment for an interview. But that would depend on the BIA. It was the agency’s protocol to get approval before interviewing any state or federal politician. Joe had requested approval from Dale just that morning to interview Grace Edgerton. The request had gone up to D.C. Two hours later, the approval came down. He wondered how long it would take for approval to interview Senator Holmes, who sat on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, overseers of the BIA. Joe might retire before that approval was granted. So only Dwight Henry was left. He decided he would let Bluehorse track down that lead.
He called Bluehorse. They rehashed Grace Edgerton’s interview first and then talked about Dwight Henry and recent AIM activity on the reservation, which turned out to be virtually nonexistent, at least to Bluehorse’s knowledge, but he said he would check into it. The young officer agreed to locate the activist and try to set up an interview, which Joe warned might not be easy. AIM had a long-standing distrust of the government and law enforcement, including tribal law enforcement.
After disconnecting with Bluehorse, and still driving, Joe took out his notebook and wrote down “Gun” at the bottom of his notes on Grace Edgerton. Next to it he wrote “Helena Newridge.” She might prove useful after all. Who was her source? Someone who must have known Grace and Arlen well, unless it was all a lie. Was the source someone on Grace’s staff? A family member? Someone from the other candidate’s team trying to plant suspicion right before the election? Exactly what Staples had warned about. For now, he’d have to weigh Helena’s information very carefully. He hated reporters. Even when they were helping, they were a pain in the ass. Her source could be anyone, perhaps even Grace’s running mate. He wasn’t exactly sure how politics worked in New Mexico, but he recalled that the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor ran on separate tickets in the primary. If Grace was dirtied up, would the running mate get a shot at the governor’s ticket? He didn’t know. He tried to recall the name of her running mate. Jackson Adler. The owner of Adler Advanced Materials, a New Mexico defense and aerospace company. A big player. Rich. Probably ambitious, too. Joe would consider the angle, but it was a little too far-fetched. KISS—keep it simple, stupid. A touchstone for investigators. And Stretch’s recommendation. He needed to focus on probabilities, not possibilities. Another maxim. Besides, Joe hated politics.
He turned his attention to driving. Traffic was somewhat heavy heading back to Albuquerque. It would take at least another forty minutes.
He picked up his phone again and punched in his daughter’s number. He loved talking to her, loved learning what was new in her life, loved hearing her say she was happy and her grades were great. They always were. She was smart. Her mother’s genes, no doubt. The “Radiant Book Worms” he would call them both. That and “Brainy Bugs.” But there were days when he would avoid talking to her. The days he had difficulty accepting that Christine was gone. He would avoid Melissa then because he knew he would bring her down, make her worry about him. Even when he put on a happy front, she sensed his depression somehow.
She answered this time. He could hear voices and music in the background.
“Hey, Brainy Bug. How’s the semester shaping up?” he asked.
“Would you be upset if I dropped out and returned home to start a broccoli farm?”
“You can always come home, but I know you’re lying.”
“And how do you know that?”
“’Cause you hate broccoli.”
“Damn, I should have said cauliflower.”
“I’m sure Columbia’s too easy for you. Maybe you should have chosen Harvard.”
She laughed. “Yeah, too easy. I study all night, every night.”
“Doesn’t sound like you’re studying tonight. You at a party?”
“Why, you worried?”
“Of course. New York. Big city, big worries.”
“There’s a filmmaker here who’s showing his latest documentary. They’re playing music.”
He listened. “Mexican?”
“Mexican folk-festival music. That’s what his film’s about.”
“Okay, now I feel better. I know you’re not mixing with the wrong crowd if you’re going to events like that. So, anything new?”
Only the Mexican folk music came through the phone.
“No, nothing new.”
“What is it?”
“Dad, you’re interrogating me.”
“Only because I love you. Now spill.” He held his breath, waiting for the worst.
“Well, it’s really good news, but I don’t know how you’ll take it.”
“Honey, I never want you to be afraid to talk to me or tell me anything. What is it?”
“Well … I told you my grades were really good, and … well … I got invited to do a student exchange at Cambridge for next semester. It’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance again and it’s really a big deal and I really want to go and I hope you’re okay with it.”
Several things ran through his mind. First and foremost was how far away she would be and that he wouldn’t be there if she needed him. But then he realized he wasn’t there for her now. She was two thousand miles away.
“Honey, that’s great.”
“No it’s not. I can hear it in your voice.”
“Now you’re interrogating me.”
“I know you’re worried, but I’ll be all right. You know you can trust me.”
“Honey, I always trust you. It’s the guys I don’t trust. And of course I’m happy for you. I don’t want you to pass up such a great opportunity.”
“I’m so happy you’re okay with it, Dad. I have to put in my name next week, and I was worried about asking you. When I get home, I’ll tell you all about it.”
“Just make sure you get me some pictures of Stonehenge, and maybe a little piece of it, too, if nobody’s looking. Nothing big. A chip will do.”
“You got it. So what’s new in Albuquerque?”
“Nothing. Except your over-the-hill father had a date last night.” He’d gotten caught up in her good mood and tossed it out without thinking. He hadn’t intended on mentioning it at all. And never like that.
Only the Mexican folk music came through the line.
Idiot, he thought.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to throw it out there like that. It wasn’t a date. Just dinner.”
“Dad, it’s okay. You caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting it. I’m happy. Who is she?”
“Her name is Gillian and she works in Albuquerque at a big construction company.”
“She’s a construction worker?”
“Yep, operates a jackhammer and rips cast-iron pipes out of the ground with her teeth. They call her Gillian the Giant.”
“Wow, a keeper. So, how did you meet her?”
“Hey, what’s with the twenty questions? You’re at your Mexican folk thing. How about we talk about this later?”
“It sounds like you’re avoiding me.”
“Okay, but before you hang up, tell me how your job interview went.”
“Went great. Knocked the guy’s socks off. Literally. He had to pick them up in between questions. Now get back to your fiesta. We’ll talk later.”
“Love you, Dad.”
“Not as much as I love you, Brainy Bug.”
He pressed the disconnect key, not wanting to end the conversation but knowing she would start digging if he didn’t. She worried about him probably as much as he worried about her.
WEDNESDAY, 6:30 P.M.
GATES RANCH, SOUTH OF KAUFMAN, TEXAS
Ellery Gates thumbed the television remote. Every station had news about the body. Talking heads spouted all kinds of nonsense and conspiracy theories. One idiot even suggested Ellery was somehow involved, explaining that it might have been an attempt to cover up his own corruption. “Everyone knows,” the moron had said, “Ellery was in New Mexico that day. He would be at the top of my suspect list.” Of course no one mentioned Ellery had not arrived in Albuquerque till after Edgerton had been reported missing. So, like any newsworthy item that held the nation’s attention, lies and speculation took center stage over logic and reason. Ellery was being dragged back into the spotlight of political corruption. Joy.
But he supposed he couldn’t complain. The last ten years had been peaceful for him. He’d left Oklahoma, his birth state, the state where two libraries, a section of highway, a federal building, and an overpass were named for Samson Gates, his father and the longest-serving United States senator to represent the Sooners. His father had left big shoes for his only son to fill. But Congressman Ellery Gates had given it his best. He had believed he was doing the right thing for the state. Thought he was even on the side of the angels. So what if he catered to the old-boy network? He used that very same network to do good, too. Some folks might even have considered his accomplishments great, but not anymore. Not after a fall. Never after a plunge from Mount Olympus.
He never took the money because he needed it—or even wanted it. It was just the way that sort of thing worked. The money was only so the other side felt comfortable about the arrangement, less chance of a double cross. And Ellery never sold his conscience. He always did what he felt was right, even when money was involved. If it wasn’t right, no deal. The news had labeled his actions the result of greed. But Ellery was wealthy, very wealthy. His grandfather had been one of the largest wheat producers in Oklahoma, and later, when natural gas was found under his fields, owner of the largest gas reserve in the eastern part of the state. That same wealth had financed Samson Gates’s run for the Senate and kept him in office for almost three decades. But it couldn’t keep Ellery there. After Casinogate—CNN’s coinage—Ellery became the old-boy whipping boy.
“Do you need anything else before I turn in?” Mariana stood in the doorway to the television room, where Ellery found himself most nights now. She wiped her hands on a dish towel.
Ellery looked at his almost-empty glass of Johnnie Walker Red, cradled, forgotten, in his left hand.
“No, I’m fine.”
“You shouldn’t watch that, Mr. Gates. It’s not healthy.”
“When you reach my age, you care less and less about what people think of you. Any visitors today?”
“A few, but Gustavo chased them off.”
“Sorry. It’s been a lot for both of you. Why don’t you and Gustavo take off this weekend. On me. Somewhere nice.”
“Thank you, but we should stay. Those news folks are loco. Gustavo caught one climbing the fence.”
“No. I insist. I’ll get Ernesto to stay the weekend.”
She didn’t look happy. “Thank you, sir.”
THURSDAY, 8:17 A.M.
BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, OFFICE OF INVESTIGATIONS, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
“You old fox,” Cordelli said when Joe walked into the office. “I didn’t know you were stepping out with the ladies. Where’d you meet that hot little number? Gillian, right?”
“Drop it,” Joe said, heading for his desk, not turning around.
“Hey, I’m trying to pay you a compliment. She seemed nice.”
“Glad you approve.”
Half a dozen “While You Were Out” notes rested on his keyboard. Ginny could easily have transferred all those calls to his voice mail, but she was old-fashioned and liked taking messages. The top one read “Sierra Hannaway—again!” He closed his eyes. Damn. She’d seen the news about the body. And he hadn’t thought to call her. He let out a breath. Maybe the squad was right. Maybe he had lost his edge. Maybe a person’s edge was simply staying on top of cases. Sierra deserved to find things out from him, not the evening news. He’d decided he would give that courtesy to her and to Grace Edgerton. And he’d do the same for the driver’s family, too.
“You know your problem, Joe?” Cordelli said. He stood at the end of Joe’s cubicle, his forearm on the filing cabinet. “You ain’t part of the team. It’s Team Joe or nothing. You’re a dinosaur, man. You somehow survived the meteor, but now the world’s a different place and you don’t quite fit in, do you?”
“You’re right. The world is different. I used to run with meat eaters. Now I’m stuck with toads like you.” Joe walked forward, shouldering past Cordelli.
Stretch and Sadi stood at the end of their cubicles, watching. Ginny looked up from a telephone call. Joe had an audience. A reality show free of commercials. Joe Evers: A Life Faded. He knew they were waiting for him to explode or fall apart like he had last year. Cordelli was still talking as Joe made his way to Ginny’s desk. She hung up the phone as he approached.
“Ignore him, Joe,” Ginny said, her eyes expressing sympathy. Another person butting into his life. He didn’t need her pity.
“Did you notify Nick Garcia’s parents that we were reopening the case?” Joe asked. Ginny mailed out all the victim notifications.
“No,” Ginny said. “His parents died some years ago. He doesn’t have any siblings. I even looked—”
“You didn’t think to tell me that sooner?” Joe raised his voice. “I’m the case agent, Ginny. I need to know those things.” She cringed, but Joe continued anyway. “You don’t think I can handle my cases, either, do you?”
“No … I never…” She looked around for help.
Cordelli’s voice: “Now you’re going off on Ginny. What the hell’s wrong with you, man?”
Joe’s jaw tightened. “Back off.”
Stretch whispered something to Cordelli that Joe couldn’t hear. Et tu, my friend.
Cordelli raised his voice. “You lost your wife, Joe. Bad shit happens, but you have to move on and take care of what’s in your life now, because that’s all—”
“Shut your mouth, Cordelli,” Joe said, spinning around, advancing on him. “Don’t you ever mention my wife again, you arrogant little prick.”
Cordelli fell silent, a look of uncertainty on his face. He took a step back. “Joe, all I’m trying to say is—”
“You’ve said enough already.” Joe was ten feet from him and closing, intent on smashing a fist into the little prick’s smug face. Maybe two or three times. He wouldn’t count.
A hand grabbed Joe’s left shoulder. Stretch’s voice: “Take it easy.”
He shrugged it off. Only two strides separated Joe and Cordelli. Joe’s hands balled into fists. Cordelli took another step back. Joe smiled.
“You better watch yourself, old man.” Cordelli’s voice wavered. “You come at me, I’m going to put you down.”
Sadi stepped between them, her back to Joe. “You need to back off, asshole, before Joe beats your half-Mediterranean ass back to Italy.”
Stretch grabbed Joe’s arm. “You don’t need this. Don’t bring more shit down on yourself.”
Joe turned to Stretch. “I have only three months left. And I’m KMA, remember.” Stretch had kidded Joe about being kiss my ass–eligible, meaning that if Joe got in trouble now, the process to sanction him would take longer than his time left in the bureau. He had a total of twenty-two years in government service and could retire at any time.
“What the hell is going on?” Dale bellowed from his office doorway.
“Nothing,” Stretch said. “We’re good.”
“Good my ass. Get in here, Joe!”
“I need to get out of here,” Joe said, turning to go.
“I’m not asking.”
“We’re good, Dale.” Joe’s anger waned. Cordelli’s being afraid of him had been therapy enough.
“Get in here or go home … for good.”
Joe walked back but paused at Ginny’s desk. “Sorry for snapping. It wasn’t meant for you.”
“I know.” But she leaned back when she said it.
Dale stepped aside. Joe entered. Dale followed, closing the door.
“What the hell was that all about?”
“Wonder Boy talks shit sometimes.”
“Toughen up. Life’s a bitch. You, of all people, know that.”
“Cordelli was pushing my buttons. He thinks he’s God’s gift to the BIA.”
“Yeah, he may be full of himself, but you’re a pain in the ass. You drag your sorry ass around here every day crying, Woe is me. Even Stretch has to work to be your friend.”
“Me and Stretch are fine.”
“Damn it, Joe. We were never close, but even I can see how you’ve changed.”
Joe stood up and faced Dale. “Is that all you wanted me in here for? To tell me I’m miserable? Mission accomplished. Can I go?”
Dale walked behind his desk. “You’re incredible.” He sat down. “People are reaching out to help, and you push them away.”
Joe felt his anger returning. “Yeah, you’re a big help. You and that review board. Thanks. You’re a peach.”
“I called that board because you became unfit. You stopped caring about your cases. You even stopped caring about yourself. Our victims deserve more than that. Longman’s family deserved better than you gave them.”
“You don’t think I know that? You don’t think I regret what happened? But it was a mistake. I screwed up. We all screw up. No one’s perfect doing this job, even your golden boy Cordelli. But I don’t deserve to be canned over it.”
“You weren’t canned. They asked you to retire. You agreed.”
Joe pursed his lips. “Are we done? You need anything else, boss?” He looked over at the bookcase full of model cars. Dale’s pride and joy. One good shove would send the whole miserable collection to the floor.
“What’s the status of the Edgerton case?”
“I’m working follow-ups. I want to interview Senator Holmes. He was Edgerton’s chief of staff.”
“Forget it. I’m not calling Washington on that one. You’re not fishing around in his pond. Not with the press watching our every move.”
“You want me to solve this case, or just run it into the ground?”
“Funny. I got a call from a Chris Staples. He was concerned about the same thing. He was afraid you would try and run Grace Edgerton’s campaign into the ground.”
“What do you think?”
“Any other time, I’d say I know you better than that. But now, with what just happened, I’m not so sure.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I gave it to you. Run with it. Sink or swim, it’s yours.”
Part of Joe was relieved. But only a part. He wanted to work the case. Perhaps he could figure out what happened to Edgerton and go out on a high. But another part of him knew cold cases were often unsolvable. There was a better chance he would go out on a low. Even lower than he was right at that moment, which, honestly, seemed impossible.
“Then let me do my job.”
“Doing your job is what I’ve been asking you to do for a year now.”
THURSDAY, 9:10 A.M.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
“Special Agent?” the girl behind the reception desk said. “What makes you special?” She tilted her head and smiled up at Joe. Too bad she was Melissa’s age.
Joe put away his credentials. He returned the smile. He hoped he wasn’t blushing. “I like to think it’s my personality.”
“You carry handcuffs?”
“I do.” Joe was looking around now, hoping no one was overhearing their conversation. Students and faculty moved through the hallway behind him, oblivious to the bold flirting by this nubile teen. He didn’t know if she was a teen. She could be twenty-five. Wishful thinking. Thankfully, the university had cranked up the air-conditioning.
“I’ve never been handcuffed.”
Time to put an end to this before he needed a shower. “That’s because you’re a good girl. And I hope you stay one.”
She wasn’t deterred. “Maybe I’m not a good girl.”
Maybe he should test her convictions. “Professor Trudle?”
She actually pouted, but she pointed down the hall. “Last door on the left.”
He got out of there—quick.
The girl had put him in a better mood. A different mood. After he finished with the professor, he planned to grab some lunch, then head over to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, where Sierra Hannaway worked. He had called her during the drive to the university, and she’d agreed to meet him at two.
The doors along the hall listed names and titles. The one the girl had indicated bore Professor Lawrence Trudle’s name on a small plastic plaque. The door was open. A balding man, quite a few years older than Joe, with big, round professorial eyeglasses, sat behind a desk.
“Yes. What can I do for you?”
“I’m here about Congressman Edgerton.” Joe threw the name out there, watching the man closely for a reaction, but there was no need for scrutiny. The man wore his emotions on his sleeve.
“I’ve been following the news. I was hoping someone would come talk to me. Are you an investigator or with the press?”
Joe showed his credentials. The professor didn’t ask him why he was special.
“The Bureau of Indian Affairs. I remember speaking to an agent from there back when all this occurred.”
The professor stood and shook hands. Joe eased into a chair in front of the desk and took out his notepad.
“I appreciate your time, Professor.”
“Yes, of course. Anything I can do. I was told I was the last person to see the congressman and Faye that day.”
Faye? Joe felt a tingle of suspicion creep up the back of his neck.
“What do you remember?”
“Oh, I remember everything. That day changed my life. Well, actually, finding those artifacts changed my life.”
“I’d been contacted by Faye Hannaway, Congressman Edgerton’s secretary. She said the congressman was working on a piece of legislation to protect Native American antiquities. He wanted to come out and talk with me and visit my site, where a number of artifacts had been stolen. I said of course. I mean, I wanted those artifacts back. I thought that if a congressman could throw some of his weight around, perhaps the police would actually take the case seriously.”
“What do you mean, take it seriously?”
“I’d reported the theft to the Navajo Nation police, but I’m not even sure they made a report. It happened a week before the congressman visited the site. I made the report the night of the theft, and when I followed up a few days later, they couldn’t find the original report. I think William Tom squashed the whole investigation.”
“William Tom? The president of Navajo Nation?” Joe groaned inside. Not another conspiracy theory. He jotted the name down anyway.
“The same. But he wasn’t president back then. At that time, he was the director of Navajo Antiquities. Smart man, very ambitious. He always talked like he knew what was best for the Navajo people. His words, not mine. He always said ‘my people’ when he spoke about the tribe. A little grandiose, if you ask me.”
“Help me understand,” Joe said, somewhat incredulous. “Why would the director of Navajo Antiquities want to stop an investigation into stolen Navajo artifacts?”
“Because I think he stole them.”
Joe closed his notepad.
Trudle continued: “William visited my site the morning of the theft. I was required to call his office after a find, so that they could inventory the items with us. He arrived alone, made his inventory, and then left. He was amazed at what we’d found, as was I. Later that day, I ran into Gallup to purchase more packing material. We’d found much more than we’d expected. Massive pots. Preserved bones. What looked like painted stones with pictographs that seemed to tell a story. We never got to examine them, though. When I returned that night, everything was gone.”
“Why do you suspect William Tom?”
“Because I saw him driving back on six oh two when I was returning to the site. It was about nine o’clock at night. I saw his truck, a Suburban.”
“He could have been working late.”
“When I confronted him the next day, he denied it was his truck. But I knew his truck. It had Department of Navajo Antiquities printed on the side.”
Joe opened his notepad again.
“When I got back to camp,” the professor continued, “our most important finds were gone. My two assistants had been in their tents. One had fallen asleep and the other had been listening to music. Neither heard or saw anything. William Tom was the only one outside my group who knew of the find and knew what those artifacts were worth.”
“Worth to whom? It seems like a big risk for someone like him. How much are we talking?”
“Artifacts are worth whatever a collector is willing to pay for them. Maybe a few thousand dollars, maybe some financial help for a presidential run. I later found out that he was very close to Arthur Othmann, who was one of his campaign’s biggest supporters. A lot of Santa Fe money. Do you know who he is? Arthur Othmann?”
The name sounded familiar. Joe shrugged.
“He’s somewhat known in archaeology circles as a collector of Native American art and antiquities. He’s tried to finance several of our digs. The Othmann Gallery in Santa Fe sells legitimate art, but I’m told he also sells to the black market. At least that’s the rumor. I think that was who Tom sold the artifacts to.”
Now Joe placed the name. Arthur Othmann was the subject in Stretch and Sadi’s investigation.
“You said these artifacts changed your life. How?”
Professor Trudle stood and walked over to his bookcase, where he pulled a slim volume off the middle shelf.
“This is what is known as the ‘Trudle Turkey,’” the professor said as he handed Joe the book.
Joe read the title, Anasazi Lineage to the Aztec. He recalled his own knowledge of the ancient ruins in New Mexico and Arizona and the people who supposedly built them. “You believe the Anasazi were connected with the Aztec Empire?”
Professor Trudle removed his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “Most mainstream archaeologists don’t believe that, but some items found at El Morro and Chaco Canyon point to that lineage. What I found were two massive pots that had residue inside consistent with the boiling of humans, a common ritual in Aztec ceremonies.”
“That’s very interesting.” Joe wondered how the interview had gone so far off topic.
The professor put his glasses back on and beamed. “Yes, it is. But I lost the proof when the artifacts were stolen. All I had was a scraping of the residue. The actual pots would have supported my theory. Luckily, my assistant had taken some very good photographs. I used them in the book. As a matter of fact, she was the reason Congressman Edgerton visited the site.”
“Who was your assistant?”
“Sierra Hannaway, Faye’s younger sister.”
Joe took in the information. Why wasn’t that in the file? It would have explained why Edgerton went out to visit the professor and why Faye went with him. It would have punched a crater-size hole in the illicit affair angle.
“Was Sierra there when you met with Edgerton?”
“Yes, but only in the beginning. She left soon after they arrived, for a supply run to Gallup. She was with Steve. Steve Mercado. He’s a professor here now, in this department. And he’s a friend.”
“So what happened at the meeting?”
“Nothing. We talked about protecting Native American antiquities and he told me he wanted to use the theft as an example. He was working on what would become the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act, NAGPRA. We spoke for about an hour, I showed him the site, and he left.”
“Who was there that day?”
“The congressman, Faye, a man who stayed with the car, and Sierra and Steve. But as I said, Sierra and Steve left soon after.”
“Anyone else? Perhaps someone visited the site that day, a passerby? Anyone?”
“No. No one.”
“Any vehicles? Anything out of the ordinary?”
The professor said no. Joe tried several variations of the question, but there seemed nothing otherwise unusual that day or during the visit.
“I’m sure you know about the supposed affair between Edgerton and Faye,” Joe said. “Did you notice anything between them?”
“No. Not at all. They seemed friendly, but professional. After all that stuff about them came out, Sierra came to talk to me. She asked about the same thing, thinking that because I’m a man, I might have picked up on something. I didn’t. The whole story didn’t make sense. Why would he have stopped to talk with me and visit the site, only to skip town? He even took photos. Why do all that?”
They talked some more. Then the professor checked his watch. “I’m sorry, I have to get to my class. Can we continue this later?”
“Sure, but one last question. Where was your site?”
“Jones Ranch. It’s in the book.”
Joe looked down.
Trudle continued. “There’s a map inside. I didn’t give the exact location, but it’s within a football field of the actual site. We try to protect dig locations. Keep it. I have boxes of them in my garage. It wasn’t a big seller.”
They walked into the hall.
Joe saw the receptionist. She waved. Trudle glanced at Joe but said nothing.
“Thanks for your time, Professor. I may have another agent from my office come out to talk to you about Arthur Othmann.”
The professor seemed pleased.
THURSDAY, 1:48 P.M.
CENTRAL AVENUE NW, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
“Hey, Brainy Bug,” Joe said into his phone, surprised to hear from his daughter this early in the afternoon on a weekday. He was in his vehicle, on his way to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque.
He heard the stress in her voice.
“What’s wrong, Lissa? Where are you?”
“I’m…” She paused. “Don’t get upset. I’m okay. I’m at the apartment. There’s a policeman with me.”
“What happened?” Joe’s hand clenched the steering wheel. The Tahoe drifted into the right lane. A car horn blared, and he swerved back left.
“The landlord’s here, too,” she said.
Joe remembered the man from his trip to New York to find Melissa an apartment for her second year at Columbia. Rudy. It took him a moment, but his last name came to him. Palmieri. Rudy Palmieri, an old Italian. A nice man. The kind of older gentleman who would look after two young girls on their own. Joe had approved of him and the apartment.
“I got back from school about a half hour ago, and when I walked in … the place was a wreck. The TV’s missing and Shana’s laptop. They even took the router box for the Internet. I can’t believe it. I think they ate here, too. There was food left out on the counter. I didn’t check all of Shana’s stuff, but I’m missing my perfume and—”
“Don’t worry about that. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. But I’m mad as hell.”
“Where’s Shana?” Joe asked.
“She’s on her way. She’s with her boyfriend.”
“She’s okay, too?”
“Yeah. She’s okay.”
“Let me speak to the officer,” Joe said.
He heard his daughter talking to someone, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying. There was a muffled sound, then a man’s voice came on the line.
“This is Officer O’Brien.”
Joe introduced himself and let the officer know he, too, was on the job. Then he asked for his take on the burglary.
“The best I can tell, the perp jimmied the doorknob. Apparently, the dead bolt wasn’t set.”
“Any damage to the place. Any sicko stuff? Anything I need to be worried about for my daughter and her roommate?”
“No. Looks like a simple burglary,” the officer said. “There’ve been a few on the block the past month.” He gave Joe the log number for the report. Officer O’Brien wasn’t going to lift prints. Most big cities didn’t process burglary scenes unless it was a major theft or a burglary linked to something else, like murder or rape or arson. “I’ll give your daughter my cell number. If she has any more problems, she can call me.”
“Thanks. If I can ever do you a good turn down here in Albuquerque, let me know.” Joe gave the officer his cell phone number. That was how it often worked in law enforcement. A favor for a favor. This guy might call a year or two from now looking for some help, never mentioning the original favor, only saying how they knew each other, or how their paths had crossed a few years back.
Joe had parked in the lot in front of the museum and was walking through the main doors when Melissa got back on the phone.
“Did Shana get there yet?” Joe asked.
“Ask Mr. Palmieri if he can stay with you until she gets home.” More mumbled voices.
“You have a chain on the door, right?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Tonight, set the chain and the dead bolt. The officer said the perp must’ve jimmied the doorknob lock. Did you or Shana set the bolt today?”
“No, we haven’t been.”
He walked to the counter where visitors purchase tickets.
“Hold on a second, honey,” Joe said into the phone. He lowered it and spoke to the woman behind the counter.
“I’m here to see Ms. Hannaway. She’s expecting me.”
She picked up a phone and dialed a number.
Joe spoke into his cell phone again. “Did either of you lose a set of keys recently?”
“Double-check with Shana.”
“She’s waiting for you by the security desk,” the woman behind the counter said. “Right through those doors.”
Joe nodded but continued speaking into his phone.
“You’re getting a security system installed. I’ll arrange it.”
On his right, large glass partitions separated a gift store from the main corridor, which led into the museum proper. A round information counter was tucked up against the glass wall. Behind it sat a disinterested middle-aged security guard, a copy of the Albuquerque Journal opened to the crossword puzzle.
“Dad, we don’t need a security system. We’ll lock the dead bolt. I promise.”
Sierra Hannaway stood beside the security desk, talking to a man with a ponytail and a goatee. He wore a white thigh-length lab coat, bell-bottoms, and sandals. A bohemian.
“Don’t argue, Lissa. This guy could be a wacko. Either you let me install the alarm or I fly out there, lift prints, and investigate. What do you want to do?”
No response. Joe knew Melissa was getting angry.
The security guard handed Joe a pen and pointed to the visitors’ log. Before signing, Joe looked over at Sierra. She and the man were watching him. She turned and said something to the man, but Joe couldn’t hear what she said. He seemed to size up Joe. Then he walked away. The man was younger than Sierra, perhaps by ten years, but the way he’d stood next to her made Joe think they knew each other well, maybe intimately.
“I’m sure Shana would prefer an alarm system over my poking around the apartment and interviewing her boyfriend,” Joe said. “What’s his name?”
“Fine,” Melissa said, her frustration obvious. “We’ll do the alarm.”
Joe didn’t care if Melissa was upset with him. He didn’t know what he would do if something happened to her. What he wanted to do was hop on a plane and check out the situation himself, but he knew that was overreacting. Or was it?
“How about I fly out there and spend a few days with you. Maybe we—”
“Dad. Stop it. You’re doing it again. You’re smothering me. I’m fine. We’re fine. The alarm will be more than fine. No more. Please. I called you because I wanted you to know. Don’t make me not want to call you when something happens.”
Joe took a deep breath. “Okay. We’ll do the alarm. I’ll call you later. And get me the boyfriend’s name.”
“I’ll call you later.” Then, in a low voice, he said, “I love you.”
“You seem busy,” Sierra said once he’d pocketed the phone. “Should I expect to be told you don’t have time to work on my sister’s case?” She was obviously still mad that he hadn’t called her about the body. She’d been testy when they’d spoken earlier.
“That wasn’t a case. It was my daughter. She’s in New York, at college by herself. Her apartment was broken into. Couldn’t wait. Sorry.” He wasn’t sorry.
He noticed something change in Sierra. Perhaps it was a shift in her stance or maybe her face softened. He wasn’t sure.
“I apologize,” she said. “I shouldn’t have attacked you. I’m not used to anyone paying attention to my sister’s case, and I want to yell at someone about it. I guess you’re that someone.”
They talked as they walked.
“I can understand your frustration,” he said.
“I’m not sure you can,” she replied, but her voice was soft, almost apologetic. “Hearing people give you lip service when you’re trying to deal with your grief is difficult.”
Joe thought about Christine. “I had a lot of doctors and specialists talking about hope and new advances when my wife got sick. In the end, I think the truth would have been easier.”
She stopped walking and turned to face him. “I’m sorry again. I didn’t mean … of course other people have loss. I wasn’t—”
“It’s okay,” he said. “You’re allowed to feel the way you do. There’s no right way to deal with these things. Believe me, I know.”
She looked into his eyes. “Thank you.”
They were in the grand room of the museum now, the ceiling at least three stories high. A twenty-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex turned its head to Joe and opened its mouth, revealing two rows of massive teeth. An elephant-size Triceratops ignored the apparently hungry meat eater next to it and bobbed its head up and down, grazing on a mound of plastic foliage.
“Pretty neat, huh?” she said. “It’s animatronics. The same engineers who design robotics for Disney built that.”
“Kids must love it.”
“When we have visiting classes, we have to post a guard next to the display to keep them from climbing on top of them or putting their arms in the T. rex’s mouth.”
She led Joe around the left side of the two dinosaurs, into an alcove, and then down another corridor. They passed a set of double doors.
“What do you do here?” he asked.
“I’m the chief preparator. I actually work in the building next door, which is where we do our skeletal restorations and assembly. I also oversee our volunteer restorations and sometimes help set up displays. That’s the fun part.” They stopped at a glass-enclosed room, which allowed visitors a full view of the workers beyond. A sign read FOSSILWORKS. “This is where our volunteer preparators work.”
An assortment of various-size metal tables lined the walls of the work space beyond. Three people sat at different stations, all of them hunched over, focused on the items on their individual tables. An older gentleman, possibly in his sixties, sat at the table closest to where Joe stood looking in. He wore a T-shirt showing a squatting dinosaur; it read COPROLITE HAPPENS! Joe grinned. In front of the man was a mound of soil and rock sitting in what looked like half of an egg the size of a baby’s cradle.
“The white part is a plaster mold, called a ‘jacket.’ We pour it over a fossil deposit out in the field and then dig down below the mold to scoop up that portion of sediment. He’s extracting the jaw of a phytosaur,” she said, pointing to an oar-shaped fossil next to the man. “A giant crocodile that prowled the floodplains in New Mexico in the late Triassic period. About five hundred fragments so far, all glued together.”
An old woman sat at another table. She squinted through a large round magnifying glass that articulated on a mechanical arm attached to the edge of the table. She appeared to be working on a collection of small vertebrae. She held one of the tiny bones between her gloved thumb and forefinger and probed it with a dental pick.
Next to her sat another older gentleman. He rubbed a small animal’s skull with a bright green-and-yellow toothbrush.
“I’ll be right back,” Sierra said. She walked through a door at the end of the glass wall.
Joe watched her through the glass, her white lab coat swishing this way and that. He appreciated her slim figure beneath, which swayed from side to side against the material, outlining her hips and legs.
The little pixie back at UNM had warmed his blood.
Joe turned his attention back to the volunteers. The old woman was looking at him. Their eyes met, and she smiled.
Sierra now stood at the center of the room. The three occupants turned to look at her. She said something that Joe couldn’t hear, and the two men nodded and returned to their work. The old woman waved Sierra over. They exchanged a few words, and at one point the old woman stole a glance at Joe. Sierra shook her head. The old woman nodded. Sierra walked away, exiting through the same far door.
“Did she guess I was a cop?” Joe asked.
“No,” she said.
He waited, but she didn’t offer any further explanation.
“There’s a conference room upstairs we can use,” she said, and walked off.
Joe glanced back into the volunteer preparators’ room. The old woman smiled and waved. He waved back, then turned and hurried after Sierra.
The conference room consisted of eight chairs arranged around an oval table. Sierra took a seat at the end closest to the door. An accordion folder already sat on the table. Joe chose the seat opposite hers. When he’d called to arrange this interview, they’d spoken about the recovered skeleton, so he felt comfortable starting with a different topic now.
“I spoke with Professor Trudle at UNM,” he said. “He told me about the dig at Jones Ranch and that you were there when the congressman and your sister visited. Tell me what you remember about that day.”
“I’ve played it over in my mind so many times. Down to the clothes I wore. Nothing stands out.”
He flipped open his notepad and took out a pen. “Tell me what you remember.”
She took a deep breath. “I have to go back about two months before the visit. That’s when my sister called me. At the time, I was doing graduate work in anthropology at UNM; only later did I get into paleontology. She told me about a bill Arlen was working on to protect Native American artifacts and asked if there was someone at the university he could talk to for some background on the issue. I gave her Professor Trudle’s name. Two months later, we had the theft at our dig site, and Professor Trudle asked me to tell Arlen. I called my sister. The next day, he and my sister came out to look at the site.” Sierra paused. “She surprised me. I didn’t know she’d be with him.”
She stared at his notepad.
“You okay?” he asked.
“You’re the first person in twenty years to take what I’m saying seriously.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t remember any of the other agents taking notes. All they did was ask about Arlen and Faye, and how they got along, if she ever talked to me about him.”
“Some investigators don’t take notes during an interview, but make them afterward,” Joe said.
“No, that wasn’t it. They were so damn convinced that he was guilty and my sister was his lover. You’d think we were talking about Bonnie and Clyde.”
Joe wasn’t about to argue with her. He’d started to feel the same way about the investigation. Over lunch, he’d reviewed Sierra’s statement from back then and had not seen any mention of the dig site or Sierra’s contact with Faye about the theft. Sierra had been mentioned only as Faye’s sister. But the omission didn’t mean the original agents were unaware of the connection. During an investigation, a lot of work is performed and a lot of people interviewed, but not everything makes it into a report.
“You’re sure they visited the site the next day?”
“Early. Ten o’clock maybe.”
If their disappearance had been planned, it had been planned the day before.
“How did she know where to go? The dig site doesn’t sound like it was easy to get to.”
“I gave her directions over the phone. We didn’t have e-mail back then, and I didn’t have access to a fax to send her a map.”
“Where did you call her from?” Joe asked, looking for some clue as to who might have known about the visit.
“I drove to Gallup and used a pay phone in front of the courthouse. No cell phones back then, either.”
“Who knew about the congressman’s visit?”
“Hmmm. I never thought about that. I guess it was me, Lawrence, of course, Arlen, Faye, and Steve Mercado. He was another grad student working at the site. He’s a professor now at UNM. Oh, and Nick, Arlen’s driver.”
“I notice your refer to the congressman as Arlen.”
“I worked on his campaign. Even danced with him at his election party. He was a nice man. Not a bad dancer, either. I knew Nick, too.”
Another omission from the file.
“Don’t get offended, but I need to ask. Was the congressman a womanizer? Did you get any sense of that when you danced with him?”
“You’re starting to sound like the others.”
“All I’m asking for is the truth. You’re an attractive woman.” Joe realized belatedly what he’d just said, but he continued on without a pause. “When you danced with him, or spent time with him, did he ever make a pass, or in any way indicate he was—”
“No. Even when we danced, it was at a distance. You never met him, I’m sure, because if you had, you would know better. He was always a gentleman.”
“I know you don’t like the question, but I need to explore the possibility of another woman, and I don’t mean Faye.”
“I never saw anything that made me think he was stepping out on his wife. And Faye never said anything like that.”
“Let’s go back to the dig site. They arrive. Then what?”
“Then Steve and I head into Gallup to get water and supplies.”
“What kind of supplies?”
“Is that important?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think it was gas for the generator,” she said. “Yeah, I remember now. After the theft, Professor Trudle kept the site lights running all night, and that meant that the generator ran all night, too, so we needed gas. Also, I wanted to clean up. We used the showers at UNM-Gallup.”
“So, when you and Steve went to Gallup, Professor Trudle was left alone with the congressman and Faye?”
“And Nick. What do you know about Nick?”
“I think Faye said he was a writer. I didn’t know him well. Only to say hi. His father called me after they went missing. He accused me of knowing where Nick was. He said that my sister was involved in the scandal with Edgerton and that they had pulled Nick into it. He was an old man and wanted to blame someone.”
“How did he get your number?”
“You don’t have any idea how big the media coverage was back then, do you? That was my fifteen minutes of fame.”
He thought about his conversation with Gillian only the week before. “What were your fifteen minutes like?”
“The first two weeks, I had reporters camped outside my apartment. They were at my parents’ house, too. And I received so many phone calls. Some threats, some support, mostly crazy people. My parents received calls, too. And some letters.”
“Did any of the calls or letters have details about the disappearance?”
“My sister was either sunbathing on some South American beach or she was abducted by aliens. One person said that Edgerton was secretly an intergalactic ambassador. I don’t know if people like that ever realize how much their foolishness hurts.” She wiped at her brimming eye with the back of her hand and then picked up the accordion folder next to her and placed it in front of Joe. “Here are the letters and some newspaper clippings. I thought they might help.”
He took his time going through the material. She waited patiently. He asked more questions about the case, about her sister, and about the congressman. When he felt he had covered everything, he asked for her opinion on what had happened. An opinion often provided good insight into how that person’s mind worked. If she mentioned the Illuminati, he was out of here.
“I think someone killed them. I don’t know why. Maybe because of that casino bill he was working on. Maybe because of some other bill. Maybe it was random. I don’t know. But I do know my sister is dead, because there is no way she would just run away and cause me and my parents to worry all these years.”
“Is there anyone you suspect?”
She didn’t answer right away. “I always thought Faye’s boyfriend, Bobby Lopez, could have done something to her. He always seemed a little … controlling. The jealous type. He works for the Albuquerque Police Department now. I saw him last year. We had some vandalism here. The creep actually hit on me.”
Joe asked a few more questions about the boyfriend. When he’d finished, she asked, “Will you call me when you identify the body?”
She dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Please find my sister, Agent Evers.”
“Sierra,” a man’s voice said.
They both turned. In the doorway stood the ponytailed man Sierra had been talking to at the security desk. Joe had pegged him as a bohemian. But now, he got a better look. Not bohemian. Ponytail was the guy on the cover of every romance novel, only he didn’t have a torn shirt—yet.
Ponytail spoke. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but if we don’t leave now, we’re going to be late.” He stared at Joe.
Joe thought the guy was going to lift his leg and mark his territory right then and there.
“That’s fine, Ms. Hannaway,” Joe said. “I have enough here to work on.” He shoved the letters and envelopes back into the accordion folder. “I’ll make copies and get the originals back to you.”
THURSDAY, 8:35 P.M.
JOE EVERS’S APARTMENT, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe reclined on the couch, feet up, a beer within easy reach. The Edgerton file was spread out around him, along with an empty bean burrito wrapper.
Sierra suspected Faye’s boyfriend, Bobby Lopez, so he started with him. Lopez had served six years with the 101st Airborne Division and was part of Operation Urgent Fury, the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983. In June 1987, he received an honorable discharge and returned to Albuquerque, his hometown. According to his interview, he’d met Faye at a Veterans of Foreign Wars event. They started dating. Three months later, he moved in with her. He was unemployed at the time. The day Faye disappeared, he was at home watching soap operas and The People’s Court. Not much of an alibi. He was familiar with firearms and had tactical training. Joe wrote “Bobby Lopez” on his legal pad and jotted a few notes.
He spent the next hour going through the file, identifying everyone of interest to the investigation. He added their names to his list. He planned to conduct a follow-up interview with each of them. He hoped they were all alive. Time had a way of thinning out witness lists in a cold case.
By his third beer, he had eight names written on his sheet. Not many. All of them had been interviewed by the BIA agent who’d headed the case, Malcolm Tsosie.
Joe had transferred to BIA from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS, long before it was rolled into Homeland Security after 9/11. During Joe’s first year with BIA, Malcolm had been put on suspension, so they’d never met. Back then, Joe had been assigned to the Mescalero Apache reservation and was living in Roswell. He’d spent little time in Albuquerque, where Malcolm worked. Like Joe, Malcolm had also left under a cloud. If he remembered correctly, Malcolm had been investigated for excessive force. He’d been on the Laguna reservation, interviewing a victim, when the victim’s neighbors began fighting. A domestic. Malcolm and another agent attempted to break it up. The irate husband punched Malcolm, so Malcolm hit the man on the head with an expandable baton, putting him in a coma for eight days. When the man came to, he had no recollection of the incident, but Malcolm had already come under investigation by then. Apparently, it wasn’t his first violent encounter. Rather than face a review board, Malcolm had quit. No retirement. Nothing. Malcolm was roughly Joe’s age, so he was likely still working. Dale might know how to find him. They’d been partners at one time.
Reading the original investigation reports proved disappointing. All the interviews seemed to focus on Edgerton’s affair and the investigation of casino gaming corruption. The day Edgerton went missing was the same day the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, later renamed the House Committee on Ethics, announced it was opening a probe into allegations of bribery and corruption by Edgerton and Ellery Gates, a congressman from Oklahoma. Gates was mentioned in a number of the news stories about Edgerton. The congressional probe had focused on their joint sponsorship of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Bill and a number of significant money transfers to offshore accounts and to Gates’s reelection campaign fund. As Joe had learned the day before, the source of the money was the nonprofit group Indigenous Peoples Self-Governance Foundation, which turned out to be a front funded by three international gaming corporations and two Oklahoma tribes. The corporations wanted favorable access to gaming on tribal lands. The tribes wanted less oversight. Both goals were compatible. A three-year investigation resulted in an opinion of corruption against Edgerton, but he was never found, so he never responded to the charges and never faced punishment. Ellery Gates, however, did face his peers. He was expelled from the House and fined by the IRS for failing to pay taxes on the income. No prison. Lucky bastard. The evidence against him was solid.
But now, after finding Edgerton’s vehicle and a skeleton, Joe wasn’t so sure the congressman had run off with the money. The case appeared much more sinister.
Joe read over his notes.
1. Bobby Lopez: boyfriend of Faye, former military, unemployed at time of disappearance, now police officer (jealousy?)
2. Grace Edgerton: wife (jealousy?)
3. Kendall Holmes: Edgerton’s chief of staff, now senator (congressional inquiry? involved in bribery?)
4. Ellery Gates: traveled to New Mexico day of disappearance, involved in bribery, powerful, now living in Texas (protect himself in bribery inquiry?)
5. William Tom: director of Navajo Antiquities, later president of Navajo Nation (theft at archaeology site?)
6. Hawk Rushingwater: real name Dwight Henry, American Indian Movement, radical, sent vague threats (make example of Edgerton? prove himself?)
7. Dr. Lawrence Trudle: UNM archaeologist, last to meet with Edgerton, had artifacts stolen (motive unknown)
8. Sierra Hannaway: younger sister of Faye Hannaway (motive unknown)
The list was interesting but incomplete. He added another name.
9. Indigenous Peoples Self-Governance Foundation: bribed Edgerton and Gates, any one of the corporations or tribes (protect themselves in the investigation?)
He looked at his list again. Several good leads, but Stretch was right: Look for the simple motive. Bobby Lopez fit that nicely. Jealousy.
FRIDAY, 10:40 A.M.
ALBUQUERQUE POLICE HEADQUARTERS, 400 ROMA AVENUE NW, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe sat in Captain Carmen Chavez’s corner office at police headquarters. Their friendship went back years. They’d first met at a regional police shooting competition. Joe was good, but Chavez had proven better. She’d won four of the seven revolver matches, becoming the first female officer to ever achieve that honor. Several National Police Shooting plaques hung on her walls. “Good guy?” Joe asked. Chavez oversaw personnel, including Bobby Lopez.
“He’s a sexist pig with a bad attitude and a worse temper,” Chavez said. “He’s had so many excessive-force complaints made against him that I keep his file in my desk. It saves time when I need to send it to IA.” She shook her head. “Somehow he gets out of them.”
A knock at the door.
“That’s the prick now.” She stood and came around the desk. “I’ll let you talk to him in here while I grab a cup of coffee.”
She called Lopez in and made the introductions. Joe showed his credentials and gave him a business card. They shook hands. Lopez’s grip was a little too firm, his eye contact a little too long.
“I guess you can have a union rep if you want,” Chavez said. “But Joe’s questions concern a matter prior to your employment. It’s your call.”
When he learned it was about Faye Hannaway, Bobby agreed to talk.
Chavez nodded to Joe on her way out. He got the message: Good luck.
Lopez’s gaze followed the captain’s backside out the door. Chavez had this guy pegged.
“Thanks for talking to me. Can I call you Bobby?”
“That’s my name.”
Bobby dropped into the seat across from Joe and reclined as though not having a care. He was intimidating, with his tightly cropped blond hair slicked back, his compact frame, no neck, and powerful arms. Joe guessed steroids. The man before him looked like a G.I. Joe action figure. His name tag read B. LOPEZ.
“Is Bobby short for Robert?”
“Nope. Bobby Joe.”
“Where’re you from, Bobby?”
“I’m from Grants, Joe.”
Joe decided that trying to build rapport with this asshole would only waste time. “What can you tell me about Faye?”
“She ran off with that Edgerton fuck and left me on the hook for her apartment. She’s a whore. Did you find her?”
“No, but I hope to.”
“Drag her ass back here to New Mexico so everyone can see what a cunt she is.”
Bobby had charm. “I take it you didn’t care for her?”
“You must be a college boy.”
Joe smiled. “Everyone seems to think Faye was having an affair with Edgerton. What do you think?”
“She’d spread her legs for anybody. I screwed her the night we met. That’s why I moved in with her. Easy. Not someone you would take home to Mom, but okay in the sack.”
Joe leaned forward, moving into Bobby’s space. “I read in the file that when you met her you were unemployed and living at a veterans shelter. Then you moved in with her. I guess she was a free ride in every sense, right?”
Bobby was silent for several seconds. “Yeah, I got out of the army and was having difficulty finding a job.”
“Discharged after Grenada. Did you suffer from PTSD when you got back?”
“Is that important, or are you just a nosy prick?”
“I wasn’t nuts. I had problems finding a job. So what? So did other guys. Grenada was a big cluster fuck.” He rubbed the back of his forefinger over one eyebrow, then rubbed again. “Our friggin’ commander ordered us to jump at seven hundred feet. No point in carrying a reserve, ’cause you don’t have time to deploy it. So we carried extra ammo instead. We came in low and hot. The drop zone was an airfield. Do you know what it’s like to hit asphalt and concrete coming in that low with extra weight? More than half my unit took leg injuries on landing. A big fucking cluster. All to get out a bunch of Commie students. Most didn’t even wanna leave.”
“That piss you off?”
“Hell yeah. A big fucking waste.”
“Did Faye’s affair with Edgerton piss you off, too?”
Bobby’s nostrils flared. “Is that supposed to be your big interview technique? Surprise questions? Catch me off guard?”
“Wanted to see how you’d react.”
“Do you have any real questions, or are you going to waste my time with bullshit?”
“Tell me what you were doing the day Faye went missing.”
“It’s in the file. Read it. You got a degree.”
Joe embraced the silence; it was often an ally during interviews.
“I don’t remember,” Bobby said. “It was over twenty years ago.”
“Everyone else seems to remember that day.”
“I don’t care about anyone else. I don’t remember.”
“Why are you different?”
“I said, I don’t remember.” Bobby’s attention drifted to the desk. He seemed to find Captain Chavez’s files interesting.
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a simple question.”
“I was drinking back then. And doing weed. I don’t remember.”
“It’s the fucking truth.”
“Unemployed. Drinking. Drugs. A real catch.”
“Did you beat her, too? Offer her the deluxe package?”
“Fuck you.” Bobby got up, yanked the door open, and walked out.
Joe silently chastised himself. He’d allowed the creep to get to him. Joe wasn’t a tenderfoot. He knew better.
FRIDAY, 11:11 A.M.
GALLUP DISTRIBUTION, ROUTE 66, GALLUP, NEW MEXICO
A crowd of about seventy Native Americans milled along the sidewalk of Gallup Distribution. The facility, a small warehouse, distributed beer to regional bars and liquor stores. A few nonnatives also joined in the milling. It had rained earlier, so the ground was still wet. Some of the people carried umbrellas. They looked bored.
Cars passed by, tooting their horns in response to the hand-painted signs the protesters carried: HONK! TO STOP THE GENOCIDE; ALCOHOL IS KILLING OUR NATIVE SONS & DAUGHTERS; STOP THE CONSPIRACY, JOIN NAVAJO NOW.
Bluehorse wasn’t sure if the honkers agreed or were making fun of the group. While he watched from his unit, which was parked at a gas station a little ways down Route 66, a metallic blue Toyota with extended chrome rims and tinted windows swerved close to the sidewalk where the protesters circled. The Toyota hit a small puddle along the curb. Water sprayed, people jumped back, and cries of anger followed. An empty soda or beer can flew from the Toyota’s passenger side. The sound of it bouncing along the roadway carried all the way to Bluehorse. The officer in the Gallup PD patrol car parked next to his vehicle also had been watching the protesters and turned on his flashers and took off after the troublemakers. Bluehorse put his Tahoe in drive and headed over to the now partially wet group.
He pulled into the lot beside Gallup Distribution. Two employees standing by the front door waved to him, probably hoping he would move the group along.
Curious faces looked over from the protest group—unfriendly faces. Before getting out, Bluehorse checked the driver’s license photo for Dwight Henry, aka Hawk Rushingwater. He spotted him. Dwight stood to the edge of the crowd, drinking from a bottle of water, carrying a red bullhorn, and staring at Bluehorse. Dwight’s was one of the unfriendly faces. So was the big heavyset man’s next to him. The big man wore a black T-shirt that read MY ANCESTORS SURVIVED THE LONG WALK.
Bluehorse approached Dwight. The big man stepped forward, standing in front of his little leader.
“Dwight Henry?” Bluehorse asked.
“This isn’t the rez,” the big man said.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
“You don’t have any authority off the rez, Mr. Police Officer. The white man makes sure of that.”
“I thought your group was about protecting people’s rights. Who needs authority to talk to someone?”
A skinny Navajo walked over. He wore thin wire-rim glasses and a polo shirt. “Hello, Officer. How can we be of help?”
“I need to talk to Dwight. Who are you?”
“I’m Sleeping Bear. And if you would, please refer to Dwight as Hawk. We use our spiritual names.”
“Fine,” Bluehorse said. He looked around the big man to Dwight. “Can we talk for a few minutes, Hawk?”
People started to drift over. Eavesdroppers.
“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a protest?”
“When would be a good time?”
The horn blasts from passing vehicles diminished now that the sign holders had left the sidewalk to gather around Bluehorse’s little party.
Rushingwater stepped forward to stand beside his bodyguard. “What’s it about?”
“I don’t think you want to discuss it in front of all these people.”
Rushingwater raised his hands. He still held the bullhorn. “I have nothing to hide from my oppressed brothers and sisters. We are all used to the white man’s government trampling our rights as the great herds of buffalo once trampled these lands. We’re mere cattle to the white man, and the reservation is our range.”
Sleeping Bear said. “Buffalo? This isn’t the—”
“I have no secrets,” Rushingwater repeated, raising his voice, playing to the crowd. “What is this about?”
“It’s about Arlen Edgerton,” Bluehorse said.
The eavesdroppers seemed impressed. Heads turned to Rushingwater.
“Tell that reporter to get back here,” Rushingwater said to Sleeping Bear. “Tell him the NPD wants to interrogate me regarding Congressman Arlen Edgerton’s disappearance.”
Sleeping Bear shook his head. “Hold on. Let’s—”
“I didn’t say that,” Bluehorse said. The honking from passersby had entirely stopped. All seventy or so protesters formed a shoulder-to-shoulder ring around Bluehorse and Rushingwater.
“I heard you say it,” a woman in her sixties said. “I’m a witness.” She bore a mound of turquoise necklaces around her neck.
The heads around Bluehorse bobbed up and down like chickens at feed time.
The hair on the back of Bluehorse’s neck jumped up and tried to get his attention, yelled at him to get the hell out of there. “Look, I just want contact information for you.” Where was that Gallup officer? Was he still ticketing that knucklehead in the Toyota? He glanced over at the two employees by the front door. They were watching the show. Why didn’t they call the police? Because they thought he was the police, that’s why. If things went bad, Bluehorse would be on his own.
“Why do you want to know how to find him?” the old woman said. “So you can get him alone? Make him disappear?”
What was she talking about?
“Ask your questions here,” Rushingwater said. “In front of my people. The people you sold out.”
Someone bumped Bluehorse from behind. He moved his hand to cover his holster and turned to the threat. A wall of faces stared back.
“Okay, everyone, move back,” Bluehorse ordered, his voice loud but slightly high-pitched.
“Are you afraid of your own people, officer man?” Rushingwater said.
Another bump. Bluehorse spun around and drew his Taser, afraid to draw his gun. Get out of there! his neck hair screamed.
“Whoa! Whoa!” Sleeping Bear yelled, arms raised, moving to stand beside Bluehorse. “This is a peaceful demonstration. Let’s not get carried away. This officer only came to talk.” He stepped forward, pushing his hands out toward the people. They moved back—slowly.
“Everyone just back up,” Bluehorse said. He turned, showing the Taser to those around him. When the Taser moved in the direction of Rushingwater, the old woman reacted.
“He’s going to shoot him!”
A fist caught Bluehorse on the left side of his head. His vision blurred. He staggered. Another blow glanced off the back of his head. He fought the reflex to fire the Taser. An arm wrapped around him.
“Stop! Back up! Back up!” It was Sleeping Bear standing next to Bluehorse, holding him up.
“What are you doing?” It was the same woman. “He tried to shoot Rushingwater!”
“Shut up, old woman!” Sleeping Bear started moving Bluehorse backward toward the vehicle. “Nightwind!”
A hand grabbed onto Bluehorse’s right arm. He was turned around, walking forward now, his head clearing, his left ear ringing.
“That was stupid, man,” Sleeping Bear whispered. “Never mess around with a crowd. Some of these people are crazy.”
“Yeah,” Bluehorse said, holstering his Taser. “Lesson learned.” He shrugged off the helping hands. The crowd was moving back toward the road. “Which one hit me?”
“Come on. You know I can’t say. I got you out of there. Be grateful.”
Bluehorse looked from Sleeping Bear to the other man who’d helped him. It was the big guy with the Long Walk T-shirt. Nightwind. He didn’t look pleased to have saved a cop.
“All right,” Bluehorse said. “Thanks for your help. But I still need to talk to him.”
“No one’s stopping you. Just not here. We stay in a trailer three miles northeast of Chinle Chapter House.”
“Why so helpful now?”
“Our supporters aren’t around now,” Sleeping Bear pointed with his lips toward Rushingwater, who was getting attaboys from the other protesters. “He can’t look weak before the man.”
“And I’m the man?”
Sleeping Bear grinned. “Today, you were the man.”
FRIDAY, 11:31 A.M.
ALBUQUERQUE POLICE HEADQUARTERS, 400 ROMA AVENUE NW, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
It was raining when Joe stepped outside onto the sidewalk. The clouds came in from the west, the smell of ozone strong. He had a pang of nostalgia and stopped to let the feeling manifest. The rain fell on him with a gentle patter. The memory took hold. The first time he’d met Christine. Twenty-two years ago. When he worked for INS. He’d traveled down to Roswell to interview an Iranian teacher on a work visa who taught math at Eastern New Mexico State University. It had rained that day. When he’d parked in the lot, he’d noticed a woman trying to lift a large box of papers out of her trunk. He’d offered her a hand and followed her inside. They’d dried themselves off with napkins from the cafeteria over a cup of coffee. She’d told him she taught English. That cup of coffee had lasted nearly an hour. Two years later, they were married. The following year, Joe took a transfer to BIA to stay in Roswell. Later, they moved to Albuquerque.
His phone rang.
The memory slipped away, and so did the feeling.
“This is Dr. Lineman with OMI,” a female voice said when he answered. “I’m the forensic odontologist. I examined the jaw on the skull you brought in earlier this week. Sorry, I couldn’t get to it sooner. I was at a seminar in St. Paul. I got back yesterday.”
“Nice city. I’m sure you enjoyed it.” Joe gave the response out of courtesy. He was anxious to hear what the doctor had found.
“Anyway, I called to tell you that I compared the skull to the dental records of Nicholas Garcia and I consider them a match. I’ll have a report out to you in a couple of days.”
No surprise there. Joe thanked her and clicked off.
By the time he reached his car, which was parked two blocks from the police headquarters, he was soaked. He hung his sport coat up on a hanger in the backseat to let it dry. Christine would have yelled at him for not taking an umbrella, and she would have sent his sports coat to the dry cleaner’s the next day.
On the trip back to the office, he ticked off the list of people he had to notify about the identification. But there was one call he didn’t have to make. Nick Garcia had no living relatives. No loved ones. No friends, except maybe Grace Edgerton—if she wasn’t the one who’d killed him. What a way to leave this world. Remembered only as an entry in a cold case.
FRIDAY, 12:41 P.M.
MICKEY’S BAR & GRILL, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO
Joe decided to grab lunch instead of heading back to the office. He hadn’t yet made any of the notification calls regarding Nicholas Garcia. Whether it was his encounter with Bobby Lopez or the rain, he didn’t know, but he wasn’t in the mood to call people and tell them someone they knew was dead. He supposed it shouldn’t be that hard considering it had been over twenty years, but nevertheless.
No one had needed to notify Joe when Christine died. He’d been at her bedside all night. Melissa had been there, too. The doctors had told them that would be best. Christine had looked so thin, so pale, none of the rich Latin color that he found so sensual when they’d first met. She wore the Mickey Mouse head wrap. Joe had promised to take her and Melissa to Disneyland when she recovered, so Melissa had bought her mother the scarf soon after the chemo treatments began. When she’d first been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she’d been in stage 3, which meant it had spread to her lymphatic system. The doctors had been so quick to give them hope, but slow to render a prognosis. Cowards. Joe soon learned that stage 3 was a death sentence.
Now, as he sat at the bar, making his way through a solitary lunch, he realized it had rained the day Christine died. Rain served as bookends to their love.
“So you do lunch and dinner here?”
Gillian stood behind him. Her hair was pulled up, revealing a slender neck. Her beauty made him wince. Christine’s neck had been slender as she lay dying, starving from a lack of appetite, a lack of will, worn out from her battle with a vicious and ruthless enemy, an enemy that gave no quarter. He put down his sandwich and grabbed a napkin, covering his mouth while he finished chewing. Then he swallowed. It stuck in his throat. He sipped his iced tea, trying to wash it—push it—down.
“Hi,” he said.
Mickey waved to her from the other end of the counter. She waved back.
“I wanted to call you,” Joe said. “I thought you might like to see a show tomorrow at a little theater in North Valley.”
Her smile faltered. “I’m glad you’re here. I wanted to talk to you, too.”
His chest tingled. The bar wasn’t full, yet he felt crowded.
“I got a call from my ex Wednesday. He broke up with his midlife hottie.” She looked away, seeming to have an interest in the other customers.
Joe pushed out the stool next to him, moving it close to Gillian. “Do you want to sit and talk?”
“I have to get back with Sue and Linda.”
Her two coworkers sat at a table in the dining area. They weren’t their usual smiling selves.
“He wants to come back. We went to dinner last night.… I don’t know … it’s all so confusing. I mean, not you. We just met. But with him. It’s confusing with him. We were together nineteen years. I feel I owe him at least a chance. At least that.”
Joe wasn’t sure what to say. He barely knew this woman. He had hoped to get to know her better, perhaps a lot better, but they were nothing more than acquaintances right now. She wasn’t upset about their relationship, of course. He’d been around victims long enough to recognize confusion, and the emotions associated with it. Her ex had sprung a surprise on her, and she didn’t know how to handle it.
“I think you should do whatever you feel is right. I would’ve liked an opportunity to get to know you better, I won’t lie about that, but I also think nineteen years is a lot of history. I know if it was me, I’d be kicking myself right now, mad that I ever let you go.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Your friends are waiting for you,” he said. “I have a feeling they’re eager to give you advice.”
She looked back at Sue and Linda. “They are.”
“I’m glad you have someone to talk to,” he said. “Let me know how things go.”
“Thanks, Joe.” She stood there a moment, awkward, her eyes searching, meeting his, lingering. Then she walked away.
He turned back to his plate, no longer hungry. He hadn’t known Gillian except for a single dinner date, a friendly meal, but he had liked her, and had really wanted to see her again.
Mickey came over. “You look like you just lost the big game. What’s up?”
“Give me a beer.”
Copyright © 2015 John Fortunato.
John Fortunato was a Captain in the U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, who served at the Pentagon during the early part of the Global War on Terrorism. He is now a Special Agent with the FBI and has earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. A native of Philadelphia, he currently lives in Michigan with his wife and three daughters.