The car slowed at the signs for the exit to the Kiowa reservation, and bumped off the highway onto a dirt road that stretched as far as the eye could see towards nothing. The scenery raced past the windows brown and unchanging; the sun was too bright, throwing the harsh landscape into sharp angles and casting only tentative shadows. The rental car's AC had conked out just before passing through a tiny, seemingly nameless Oklahoma town, a desolate strip of decrepit buildings with peeling paint and papered-over windows, baseball-hatted townsfolk sitting idly on the steps outside. Hap, who owned the garage and very few teeth, had shrugged that if they wanted the car fixed, to leave it and come back in a week, maybe two, he'd "get 'round to it." Jimmy planned to wrap up their investigation and be back in Denver well before that time, so he'd slammed the hood down on the car and yanked the keys from the mechanic, saying thanks but no thanks.
That was an hour ago, and even with the windows rolled all the way down the heat was intense. Through the windshield, the air shimmered and quaked with the heat. Inside, the heat only added to the tension that had been simmering since they left Denver; with every mile it got closer to boiling over. Jimmy took a swig of the Slurpee he'd bought while waiting in Hap's garage, and grimaced, transferring it to his left hand to fling the warm, watery mess out the window.
Lou stretched in the passenger seat with her bare feet up on the dashboard, and wiped her face with a paper napkin she then balled up in her fist. Her short hair was damp, pushed back behind her ears, and the sleeves of her once crisp Oxford shirt were rolled up above her elbows. The radio since they'd gotten into the car was blaring staticky old-school country music, Hank Jr., Patsy, Merle, Cash, Nelson and the like, cranked up full volume to be heard over the wind whistling past, and she hummed along in spite of herself, leaning her head out the window to catch as much of the breeze as possible, breathing in the clean air as deep as her lungs would hold it.
She rubbed the back of her neck with the crumpled-up napkin, her fingers running along the chain she wore under her shirt and pulling up the ring suspended on it. Playing with the ring between her fingers, she considered it again, for the hundredth time since she got in the car. She slipped it on her ring finger idly, though she knew well enough he'd bought the wrong size and it was too small, fitting only down to the second knuckle. The diamond was an ordinary round cut, average-sized at just over a carat, in a plain 18k gold setting, but with exceptional clarity. She tilted it in the sunlight, watching it sparkle and flash.
"You gonna play with that thing forever, or just make up your mind to wear it or take it off once and for all?" Jimmy sniped, staring ahead. She dropped the ring back under her shirt.
"If you don't mind, I'll give him my answer first."
He didn't answer, and she looked at him irritably. "And if you have a problem working with me now that I'm with somebody else, just say so."
Jimmy's face kept looking forward, his eyes hidden behind his Ray Bans and his mouth set in a smirk. "It's your life, you do what you want with it," he retorted.
"Thanks, I will."
They rode in silence for several minutes, staring ahead, and George Strait's voice flowed out of the radio. When George reached the lyric about how "I had my chances, but I set you free," Lou reached over and clicked the dial off with a sharp, vicious motion and turned her head out the window again, broodingly.
Long minutes crawled by, Lou wondering how long this dirt road could possibly be, before Jimmy's face softened and he reached across to squeeze her arm gently. "I'm sorry," he said gruffly.
Nodding, she pulled out the dossier on the case they were working and flipped through it again. She examined a picture of their main suspect, Joseph Redbear. It was nothing more than a mug shot, but even in the grainy photo the noble set of his jaw and the piercing directness of his eyes caught Lou's attention. The FBI had more than a passing interest in Redbear, a radical Native American activist and self-styled Kiowa warrior who'd done time in the Federal pen a few years ago for a variety of conspiracies against the U.S. Government, in the hopes of restoring Native American control over the tribal lands.
She turned the page to look at the picture of the victim, Jeff Tompkins, M.D., a brand new doctor who'd gotten a job in the reservation clinic. The dossier contained several newspaper articles, interviews Dr. Tompkins had given in the weeks before his death, and she reviewed them again. The young man was advocating improved health care education and treatment on the reservation, and expressed his frustration with both lack of funds and resistance from within the rez itself, from many who distrusted white man's medicine in preference for old cures and remedies. Lou put the two pictures side by side and glanced from one man to the other; neither man looked like a killer nor a victim.
Their boss back in Denver had brought them in to his office and impressed on them that they had two weeks, no more, to get in and find proof of Red Bear's guilt and get out; the Bureau's resources wouldn't stretch enough for a full-blown investigation and the only reason they were there at all was for another crack at Redbear, who had dodged the most serious of the charges the FBI had sought to pin on him years ago. The media in Denver had gotten hold of the story of the idealistic white doctor murdered on the roof of his clinic and the FBI hoped for a high-profile bust with little expenditure of resources. Otherwise the rez would have been left to its own devices and tribal police force to deal with a routine murder case.
A billboard announcing their entrance into the reservation flashed past and Lou glanced in the side mirror. She suddenly groaned, as a motorcycle pulled out from behind the billboard, siren blaring.
"Damn it," Jimmy muttered. "What's this guy's problem? I wasn't more than five miles over," Jimmy grumbled, pulling onto the shoulder.
"Keep your opinion to yourself when he gets up here, will you? Just show him your badge and we'll be on our way with his apologies, I'm sure. He's probably tribal police, and I'm sure they'll be glad to have our help on this investigation," Lou whispered, rummaging in the glove compartment for the insurance and registration.
The man who set his helmet on his handlebars and leisurely approached Jimmy's window didn't look like the usual traffic cop. His jeans were faded and worn and beneath his leather jacket his badge was pinned on a plain black t-shirt that had seen better days. "In a hurry are we?" he asked pleasantly enough, tucking his long dark hair behind his ears and leaning his arm on the hood of the car to look in at them. Lou looked at her reflection in his sunglasses. She leaned across Jimmy to hand over the car registration and insurance, and the officer took it from her outstretched fingers with a nod and a slight smile turning up the corner of his mouth. Lou found herself smiling back, and Jimmy scowled darkly, the sweat dripping down the sides of his face from the blazing sun.
"Look buddy, we're with the FBI and we're here on official business, so I guess we're entitled to a little professional courtesy," Jimmy said harshly, flashing his badge.
The man at the window raised one eyebrow at the comment and his voice chilled by several degrees, "You aren't entitled to anything on the rez. If you want entitlement then head on back to your world, huh?" He went about painstakingly writing a ticket, taking his time while Jimmy fumed, rubbing the side of his face against the shoulder of his own already damp and wilted white button-down shirt. "You two the ones they sent out to find out about Dr. Tompkins, then?" the officer observed.
"No, we're sightseeing," Jimmy cracked, gesturing extravagantly at the dusty, dry surroundings.
"Yep, you people pushed us onto a regular garden spot," the officer shot back, losing no composure. He handed Jimmy the ticket and paused to remove his sunglasses. "Name's Buck Cross; I'm with the tribal police."
He stretched his arm into the car and shook Lou's hand and then offered his hand to Jimmy too. Grudgingly Jimmy took it, shaking it once with a sharp jerk. "Hickok. And this is my partner, Louise McCloud."
Buck smiled at Lou and then he winked; she giggled in response. Jimmy huffed audibly in frustration and Buck turned back to him. "I know you FBI guys usually do what you want; but I'd suggest you let me help you out on this. Outsiders don't usually fare too well out here."
"That a threat?" Jimmy asked quickly, hoping that it was.
"Nope, just a fact," Buck answered back coolly. "Tribal headquarters are in Carnegie, about an hour east, but I've been taking a look at the file on this case already - "
"This is a federal case," Jimmy said firmly.
Buck nodded. "I know that. I run the office in Red Sand Village, about fifteen minutes up the road. If you guys want to follow me, we can review the case there. I might know some things your Denver office didn't get their hands on."
"Thanks," Lou piped in, "we'd appreciate that."
Buck caught sight of the open dossier on her lap and his brow suddenly furrowed. He looked at both of them with an openly hostile stare before suddenly flicking his sunglasses back on and stomping back to his motorcycle.
"Touchy guy," muttered Jimmy as he shoved the speeding ticket into the glove compartment and slammed it shut, and waited for the motorcycle to pull out ahead of them.
Lou just shook her head. "I'm reminded of a certain pot and a certain kettle," she said just loud enough for him to hear. Jimmy gritted his teeth and hit the gas hard and they roared back onto the road, spitting gravel and dust behind them.
The office was tiny, wedged in behind the post office in a building that looked as though it should have been condemned twenty years earlier. Inside, the wallpaper peeled in drooping strips, the glue spotted the bare wall, yellowed and cracked. The carcasses of a year's worth of flies littered the window sills and still more clung to the curled strips of flypaper hanging from the ceiling; three or four surviving relatives buzzed through the air, lackadaisical in the drowsy summer heat. Despite that, the office retained an overall sense of tidiness. The floor was swept, the few chairs that made up the miniscule waiting area though stained and bursting at the seams stood straight and orderly, and the desk was a monument to OCD perfection. Inside a Houston Astros coffee mug every pencil stood at attention, eraser side up. The few papers on the desktop were perfectly stacked and across the front a variety of brochures and pamphlets covering child vaccines, scholarship programs, and gun safety classes were precisely arranged.
Buck held the door open for them and Lou immediately turned around the one framed photo on the desk. It was the only sign of personality in the whole space and by that fact alone it was magnetic. It was just a snapshot. Buck, his hair buzzed in police blues and shaking hands with another cop, whose head was shaved. They seemed to be laughing at something and were both clearly very young. She looked up to ask him about it but was surprised to see his face darkened with rage as he flung his sunglasses and keys down on the desk. He jerked open a desk drawer and tossed it on the desk. "This just came in this morning. Initial report from the medical examiner," he carelessly flew a few pages of paper across towards Jimmy and started picking photographs out of the file and slapping them onto the desk top with irritation. "Body as it was found, roof top, clinic doors - no forced entry," he lifted his eyes up from the pictures to meet Jimmy's. "Seen enough yet?" he asked, and stared at Jimmy with apparent hatred. "Do you plan on doing an investigation at all, Hickok, or are you just here to rubber-stamp the man Washington's already picked out to take the fall?"
For his part, Jimmy looked genuinely taken aback for a moment. But only a moment, soon enough he smirked with enjoyment at the prospect of a fight. "I don't think a lot of investigation is gonna be needed; but if you are implying something you'd best say it plain and clear. I'd like to know exactly what sort of a lesson I need to teach you about the Bureau."
Seething, Buck tore the dossier out of Lou's hands and slammed it onto the desk, his perfect piles of papers fluttering up and landing in disarray. "They've given you a complete rundown on who they want brought in, haven't they? Tompkins' death is just an excuse to put Joseph Redbear behind bars. And like a stupid dog that does what he's told you're here to play fetch for them, no thinking involved."
"Watch it, Cross. I don't like being insulted before I get to know a guy," Jimmy snarled back, clenching his fists at his sides.
But Buck was not to be deterred. "I'd think with your face and attitude, you'd be used to it, Hickok. And while we're on the topic of personal dislikes, I don't like flashy feds speeding in here like they can run roughshod over an entire community, blundering around my investigation, on my rez. I'm going to be watching you, Hickok, and if you step even an inch out of line on this, I'll be on you like a dog on a bone."
"That's the second time you've threatened me today," Jimmy said lowly, taking a step closer to Buck, who did not back down. The flies stopped buzzing as though the tension in the room was too thick to fly through.
"Joseph Redbear is innocent. We're not going to waste time investigating him, while the real killer walks free," Buck stated simply; he clearly was not accustomed to being contradicted.
"The hell we're not, he's the only person of interest in this case," Jimmy snapped.
"For what reason?" Buck shouted, closing in on Jimmy till they were all but toe-to-toe. "Because Washington doesn't like to see him free? Because he disagrees with the wrongs they've done and wants to see things changed? That makes him a murderer? Or just a convenient scapegoat?"
Jimmy's eyes didn't leave Buck's as he answered back, the fine spray of his spit just falling short of Buck's face, "He's got a rap sheet a mile long and a hell of a motive, that's what reason. If I think someone's to blame for my wife dying, you can bet I'm goin' after him."
Watching silently from the corner, Lou noticed Buck wince at Jimmy's words and it dawned on her that he knew these people. To her and Jimmy they were pictures and profiles, but Buck lived among them, had to have friends and family. She suddenly found herself with a hand on Buck's arm, gently pulling him back. "Redbear's the only lead we've got right now," she said calmly, "but if another lead comes up, we'll follow it. You have my word on it, Buck."
Buck looked at her for a second and pulled away from her and Jimmy. "We'll have to find another lead then, because Joe didn't do it." He looked at her when he said it, his voice calm now. Lou found herself staring into his deep brown eyes and nodded; she believed him.
Visibly annoyed, Jimmy cut in, "Well, unless you got something solid for us to start on, Cross, I'd just as soon work up the lead we got. If you two don't mind, that is," he smirked mirthlessly. He took the dossier off Buck's desk and flicked it open.
"I told you, you're wasting valuable time and resources. He isn't the one."
"You sound mighty sure about that, considering he threatened the victim in the medical clinic not three days before he was found dead behind it."
"My gut tells me he's innocent." Buck was dead serious, meeting Jimmy's gaze evenly.
"Well, last time I checked, your gut wasn't admissible in court. So 'less you have something in the line of, oh, I dunno, evidence ruling him out, then the next step'd be looking up this Redbear fella. You wouldn't happen to know where we might find him, Officer?"
"Fine, you wanna waste time, we'll go track down Joe first." Buck started striding toward the doorway past them.
"Hold on, I didn't say you're coming," Jimmy protested, scowling and raising his voice as he followed Buck outside. "Just point us in his direction. We're exercising our Federal jurisdiction over this matter and we'll be conducting the investigation from here out."
"I have concurrent jurisdiction on this reservation, Agent, and if I say I'm going, I'm going. Got it?" Yanking on his helmet, Buck threw a leg over his motorcycle and started the engine with a roar. "You coming or not?"
Jimmy squinted angrily under the blazing sun as it reflected off the chrome of Buck's motorcycle, about to growl a loud protest when Lou intervened between the two alpha dogs circling each other over the same territory; in this case, she knew that the one on his home turf had the advantage they needed for their purposes here.
"Jimmy, it'll save time if we just work directly with Buck on this," Lou urged him. "C'mon, let's get back in the car and get on with it." She took the keys from his hand and rushed over to get in the driver's seat, gesturing to him to climb in beside her. With a final jerk of his chin at Buck to retain a stab at dominance, Jimmy reluctantly pulled the door open, and in a moment Lou backed out and followed Buck's motorcycle.
Jimmy scowled as they drove into the depths of the reservation behind Buck, ignoring the strange beauty of the barren, craggy landscape as it rolled past them, the jackrabbits that scurried along the rocks and the hawks that snoozed on the power lines. "Where the hell is he taking us?" Jimmy muttered, sitting tensed and alert in the passenger seat like a coiled rattler watching for an opening to strike. A group of mobile homes up on cinder blocks loomed in the distance, and Lou squinted against the slanting sun at them. Clotheslines were strung among the homes and bedraggled youngsters played in the dirt, their mothers gathered in lawn chairs outside watching them. Buck parked the motorcycle and Lou pulled up behind him in a swirl of pale yellow dust.
"This Redbear's place?" Jimmy asked, getting out of his side of the car and looking with distaste at the group of trailers.
"Yes. Looks like he's not here, though." Buck strode past them, as Jimmy stared openly. He nodded at the doorway. "That's his place."
Jimmy tapped on the doorway cautiously as Buck rolled his eyes. "Told you, Hickok, he won't be in there. I assume you have a search warrant for his residence?" he prompted, impatiently. Jimmy made an impatient movement and raised his pistol to shoot off the lock of the trailer.
Alarmed, Buck called out, "Hold on there, willya, quickdraw? Do you always do things the hard way?" Stepping past Jimmy, he took a credit card from his wallet and slipped it between the door and the frame, popping the doorway open and holding it for the agents, who stepped inside cautiously.
Holstering her sidearm once they were sure the room was secure, Lou looked around the trailer, decorated with tribal artifacts, including a wide array of deadly-looking hand-made hunting knives and bows and arrows in a display case. She gazed at the case, musing that if Redbear had planned Tompkins' death, it might have made more sense for him to use one of these weapons on him. But Jeff Tompkins had been pushed to his death off the clinic roof.
"Here we go," Jimmy said, sitting at a small writing desk in the corner. A picture of Redbear and a beautiful woman with long braided dark hair was framed and hanging over it, the only modern item of décor in the one-room dwelling. "Helena Songbird," he said, studying the picture. "His wife, who died at the clinic two weeks before Tompkins' murder."
Pulling on gloves, Jimmy turned over the folder sitting on top of the desk. It contained a copy of Helena's medical records. Jimmy looked up. "Proof that medical error caused her death," he said, eyebrows raised. "She was perfectly healthy before she was Tompkins' patient. Plain enough what happened next, ain't it? He confronted Tompkins, blamed him for what happened. He ends up face-first in the sage three days later." Sliding the papers into a plastic bag, Jimmy smirked, "You know, Cross, my gut's telling me something right now, and it's that your buddy Redbear is guilty, open and shut case."
Before Buck could respond, a quavering voice sounded at the doorway. "Redbear had reason to want to kill, but in this case he did not."
Jimmy whirled around, startled, and Buck chuckled lightly. "This is Stephen Runningbear," he introduced, nodding at the old man who'd materialized without a sound in the doorway. "One of our elders," he said respectfully.
"Lot of bears in the buckwheat around here," Jimmy grumbled. "You're Redbear's neighbor, I take it. Don't tell me, he was a decent fella, nice neighbor, quiet, kept to himself mostly, am I right?"
Runningbear was bent with age but stood proud. His dark hair was generously streaked with gray and his hands trembled, the knuckles swollen and strange. His creased face was drawn, haggard, and he spoke slowly. "Redbear did not kill Dr. Tompkins," he insisted doggedly. Lou looked sharply at Runningbear, who seemed unduly invested in the matter, and he cast his eyes down. "He was angry and grief-stricken that day he went to the clinic, but he promised me afterward that he would leave Tompkins be. He was willing to forgive. Joseph Redbear understands better than most that good intentions can have tragic consequences."
"And you're sure he didn't change his mind later?" Jimmy said skeptically.
"He could not have done it. That night, he was at a council meeting with me, fifty miles from there, in the canyon," the old man cut in. "Robert Blackwolf was there too. We can vouch for him."
Jimmy asked suspiciously, "Just what kinda council meeting was it, out in the middle of nowhere, anyway?"
"The movement," Buck explained, patiently. "The Native American Freedom movement. Steve's the leader, and Joe's a member. What, isn't that in your file either?"
"What's that, an offshoot of that whack-job group he was working for when he tried to bomb the Federal Building in the County seat six years ago?" Jimmy asked, ignoring Buck's jibe.
"As I said, good intentions." Runningbear's eyes glittered angrily, and he turned to Buck to demand in a shaking voice, "Why are you helping these whites, Running Buck? Have you no loyalty to your own people? To your own brother?"
There was a stunned moment of silence, like the eye in the hurricane, before the two agents reacted.
"Brother-" Lou started, but Jimmy's roar cut her off.
"Just whose brother are you, Cross? What's he talkin' about? Out with it."
Buck shrugged a shoulder. "Joe's my half-brother," he said casually. "I figured you knew. Man, the Federal Bureau of Incompetents sure gave you a half-assed dossier on the guy you're supposed to be pinning a murder on."
Jimmy stood up, enraged, and Lou grimaced. Buck didn't know what kind of powder keg he was holding a match to, but the officer stood his ground unconcerned as Jimmy got in his face, shouting and magenta with fury. "You got no business bein' part'a this investigation, dammit, it's a blatant conflict of interest. I see now why you've been trying to throw us off Redbear's trail. Get this loud and get this clear, Cross: I'm in charge of this investigation, and it's me who'll be watching you from here out, got it? If I find out you're interfering in my case again, I'll take you on. And you don't wanta take me on, trust me," he seethed. Jimmy stormed past him, and Lou looked apologetically at Buck before she followed her sweaty and indignant partner out the small metal door.
"Jimmy!" she shouted, stretching to grab at her partner's arm. "Cool it, will you?"
Jimmy turned to her, still visibly shaking with anger, his jaw clenched tight. "I ain't workin' with him," he said through gritted teeth, a vein pulsing on the side of his forehead.
"How do we know whose side he's on, Lou? How can we trust him?" He slammed the top of the car with the flat of his hand in frustration and the children playing in the dirt nearby stopped to stare in their direction. "I haven't liked that guy's attitude since we got here -"
"Jimmy," Lou began again and turned back to see Buck talking quietly with Stephen Runningbear in the doorway of his brother's trailer, seemingly unfazed by Jimmy's tirade. "We're clearly out of our element here. As much as I'd like this to be an open-and-shut case and be back home -"
"Back with Kid, you mean," Jimmy muttered, interrupting her.
Lou sighed with irritation; the ring around her neck suddenly felt very heavy. "We need Buck's help on this," she stated firmly, ignoring his comment. "And maybe he's right. It seems like we didn't get the full picture of what's going on here when we were briefed."
Jimmy sagged heavily against the car. "Fine, Lou, whatever you say." He wasn't happy at being overruled. He looked up at her, his eyes hard. "Take some advice, though: Try to remember that ring of yours next time you're staring at your new buddy Cross, huh? I don't think Kid would approve."
Lou stared at him, her own tiny frame beginning to quaver with rage. Jimmy stared back coolly, his lips working into a smirk; he'd hit his mark. Nonchalantly unaware of what he was walking into, and clearly unaffected by the earlier explosion, Buck sauntered over to them. "Steve says Joe went hunting about three days ago up in the ridges; chances are he's still there." He gestured at the craggy rise in the distance, a crooked line against the horizon.
"Hunting?" Jimmy scoffed, "For three days?"
Buck ignored him. "It's rough country that way; nothing but a couple of campsites. My bike might make it, but there aren't roads for your car. Be best if we took horses. If we leave now we should catch up with him tomorrow morning, afternoon maybe."
"Tomorrow?" Lou said in disbelief. She couldn't honestly say she was prepared for an entire afternoon on horseback.
"Yeah. We can make it to the base of the ridges tonight and track him in tomorrow," Buck smiled mischievously. "He won't have gone too far in; the game sticks to the foothills and ravines."
"Or we could just wait here until he comes back," Jimmy offered.
"Could be a long wait," Buck answered back, a full fledged smile on his face. The sudden lack of confidence from both agents was improving his mood considerably.
Jimmy pressed his lips together, and looked with raised eyebrows at Lou, who stared back dolefully and finally shrugged her shoulders in defeat. "Where do we get horses?"
"Gary's got a herd," Buck answered, gesturing to a paddock down the road that had previously gone unnoticed. "They're really tribal property, so we shouldn't have any problem borrowing a few. Steve's got some camping gear at his place for you two. Said he'll meet us down at Gary's."
"Let's go, then," Jimmy said, throwing his hands up in exasperation and climbing into the car's passenger seat. Buck grinned at Lou and squeezed her shoulder encouragingly before walking to his bike.
Lou climbed into the driver's seat and started the car in a daze. "I don't like horses," Jimmy grumbled next to her, "and I don't like camping." Lou said nothing as the car pulled out behind Buck's bike and headed for the house and corral a mile down the road. Jimmy kept right on muttering, "And I really don't like that Cross fella looking so smug." Lou looked over at him and couldn't help but laugh. His arms were crossed, his lips pursed into a pout, and he stared out the window with a look that could kill. It was endearing in an irritating sort of way, and for a second she remembered why she'd loved him. Jimmy turned his eyes back to her and caught her staring. Lou quickly looked away, before she could see the hope in his face.
Gary Ondo was a robust man of forty-five. Nimble of foot, slow of speech and surprisingly round. His hair was mostly gray and hung in two thick braids down his chest, which was spanned by an outrageously loud Western shirt, bright turquoise and red. He had on a white straw cowboy hat with a Harley Davidson hat band and on his pudgy fingers silver rings flashed in the sunlight. He spit a streak of brown tobacco juice at Buck's feet, missing by a hair the toe of Buck's black boots.
"Nope," Gary said with a shake of his head, "ain't gonna happen, Buck."
Buck was getting frustrated. "Those horses belong to the tribe, Gary, and this is tribal police business."
Gary didn't budge, his voice amiable, even if his words were not, "What are white folks doin' in tribal business? Nope. Your brother is a good man, a leader to our people; I won't help them take him back to jail. If you were true Kiowa you wouldn't either, Buck."
"If we can't track him down, I can't clear his name. I'm trying to help him," Buck pleaded.
Gary spat again, just as near Buck as previously. "Nope," was all he said.
"Then I guess we stake out the trailer instead," said Jimmy, a little relieved.
"No," Buck contradicted, "it could be days before Redbear comes back."
"I'm not real comfortable with this whole set-up, Cross," Jimmy huffed angrily. "How do we know you're not leading us on a wild goose chase, just to give your brother a chance to hit the road?"
Buck breathed heavily and would have answered but just then Runningbear pulled up in his '75 Cadillac. Gary Ondo immediately stepped away from the bickering to greet the old man. "Steve," he shouted pleasantly, "what can I do you for?"
Runningbear shook Gary's hand warmly in both of his. "I brought supplies for Buck and the agents; they must find Joseph."
Gary stopped short. "Don't tell me you're in on this too, old man?" He clucked his tongue in admonition. "I told you when he came back here that it was trouble letting a white-hearted man in the tribal police. He brings trouble to our doorstep." Lou and Jimmy glanced at Buck who said nothing but clenched his jaw and fists in response. His chin lifted higher and he squared his shoulders.
"Running Buck is Kiowa," Runningbear stated firmly. "You are worried about Joseph," he said with a kindly peer into Gary Ondo's face. "There is nothing to worry about. They find him and he confirms what they have already been told, that he was at a council meeting the night Jeff died and then they can turn their attention to finding the truth. This is what Buck has told me and I believe him." The old man nodded at Buck, who relaxed and nodded back.
Gary stared at Buck for a long moment and then slapped his hands against his meaty thighs with a sigh. "Alright," he said walking towards the stable. "Three horses for two days and they better come back in the same condition they leave." He spat again as he passed Buck, this time the thick brown goop landing square on Buck's left boot. He looked up at Buck, sheepishly, "Sorry. Accident."
"No it wasn't," Jimmy growled; an insult to a fellow officer, even one he had an uncomfortable wariness about, was not to be taken lightly. Lou's small hand tugged on his elbow as his muscles started to propel him towards Gary Ondo.
"Let it alone, Hickok," Buck said quietly and pulling a bandana out of his pocket bent down to clean his shoe.
Lou limped over to the campfire, aching in places she didn't even know she had after riding all afternoon. The cicadas were whirring, the stars were blinking in the black nothingness of the skies, but Lou noticed none of it. "Haven't been on a horse in years," she explained sheepishly, squatting with difficulty beside Buck.
"You'll really feel it tomorrow," Buck predicted, smiling at her. "Here, try this, it'll help."
Lou stretched out her hand as Buck rummaged in a backpack, and was vaguely disappointed when he handed her a small bottle of ibuprofen. "Oh," she said.
"You were hoping for something a little more mystical?" Buck guessed, grinning. She shrugged and swallowed two of the pills, washing them down with a swig of tepid water from her canteen. The fire was taking hold, the kindling leaves and shredded twigs folding up on themselves and glowing red warmth. "Well, once we finish this waste of time, I'll take you to an honest-to-goodness medicine woman. Miakonda can fix you right up. And more importantly, she knows every secret there is on this reservation."
"How's that?" Lou asked, curiously, breaking up more sticks for kindling and tossing it on the fire, sending up a small spray of sparks. The bright red light caught Buck's face for a moment and Lou felt herself blush.
"Mia would say the wind tells her. I don't know but that it's so." He added some larger sticks to the fire, and they watched the flames crawl up their edges. Jimmy came to sit beside them, rummaging in a bag for supplies. Buck continued, "All I know is I start half my investigations with a visit to Mia, and she's never steered me wrong."
"Who's that . . . a girlfriend of yours?" Jimmy asked, abruptly, shooting a look at Lou.
Buck laughed aloud. "No. Never woulda occurred to either of us. Mia and I are like brother and sister, always have been."
Lou stood up guiltily. "Excuse me," she murmured, fumbling in her pocket for her cell phone and wandering off.
Jimmy shook his head disgustedly and slammed two cans of pork and beans on the ground. "Time for the nightly report," he muttered. Buck raised an eyebrow. Laboriously opening the first can with a tiny can opener, Jimmy jerked his head toward Lou. "Her would-be fiancé," he explained. "He expects a phone call the same time every night we work late or outta town, or he gets all bent outta shape. If we were any closer to Denver he'd probably already be ridin' in here on a white horse, tryin' to rescue her from who knows what, since she's a half-hour late calling."
"Control freak, is he?"
Dumping the beans into a small pot, and banging the can on the side to dislodge a few clingers, Jimmy shrugged. "Ah, he's . . . okay, I guess. Just a little overprotective. In an annoying way, but he means well." Glancing over at Lou, who was weaving her way up the hill trying to get a few bars of reception, he said more softly, "If I really thought he'd be bad to her, I . . ." He cut off suddenly. "Never mind," he finished gruffly.
Buck left it alone, directing his attention to the primitive dinner preparations. As Jimmy attacked the second can with the can opener, Buck snatched the beans from his hand and deftly opened the can with his pocket knife. He handed it back with a smile and Jimmy shook his head in annoyance. After several minutes, Lou reappeared, sticking the phone into her pocket.
"You get Kid, or can we expect to see him waiting in Buck's office when we get back?" Jimmy asked crankily.
"Shut up," Lou said absently, leaning over to stir the beans to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Shooting her an irritable look, Jimmy handed her a stack of three tin plates and she started scraping up the mess onto them. Buck leaned back against his saddle bag, watching the charged interplay between the partners from under lowered eyelids, while seeming to whittle a small stick with his penknife.
"Runningbear really laid out quite a spread here," Jimmy said sarcastically. "Cowboy caviar, right?"
"Something like that. When we get back to town I'll take you someplace we can get a decent meal," Buck said, looking at Lou, who dropped her own eyes to look at her plate studiously.
They ate in silence, the sounds of the night growing louder and pressing in on them. Somewhere in the distance a pack of coyotes yipped and yowled. The wind gusted against the fire, making it dance, throwing first one of them and then another into the light, reminding them they were not truly alone. The sounds of the coyotes died down, and the night became still and quiet. They mumbled good nights and lay in their sleeping bags, watching the fire die down and keeping their thoughts to themselves.
Under pink and gold dawn's light the next morning, Lou clambered up on the horse Ondo had selected for her, as they set off looking for some trace of Buck's brother. Riding along the rough terrain behind Buck's horse, she glanced overhead. They were truly in the middle of nowhere now, flanked by a steep, craggy cliff on the left hand side, with no cell phone bars on the small screen of her phone. She stuck the phone in her saddlebag, hoping they'd get back where there was some reception soon. It was an eerie feeling, riding along on horseback like this, no sound but their horses' echoing hoof beats, and cut off from any contact with the outside world. Almost like stepping through a time warp into the distant past, a past where life moved at a slower pace than the frenetic life she'd left behind in Denver, with all its deadlines and hassles and responsibilities and people asking for answers every five minutes. For this time at least, the questions would have to wait, and she had to admit she was enjoying the respite.
Jimmy, though, was getting more and more frustrated by the minute. He wanted a bust in this case, wanted it soon, and was regretting the decision to come looking for Redbear in his own habitat as it were. His hand hovered over his weapon as they rode along, ready in case they were being led into a trap by their suspect's brother.
A moment finally came when he'd had enough, and Jimmy pulled up on his reins and called ahead peremptorily to their self-appointed leader. "That's it, Cross. Where the hell is he?"
Buck clucked to his horse to stop, and turned his mount to face them coolly. "I'll let you know when I spot him, Hickok. I don't have a homing device on him, you know."
Jimmy opened his mouth to retort, but the sound of gunfire over the next bluff cut him off. "Let's go," he ordered, pulling his weapon and putting his heels to his horse. Thundering over the ridge, they spotted a small hunting party, three men, squatting beside a slain deer, the tallest holding a small object over their prey and offering it to the east, west, north and south while muttering something, before turning toward the intruders slowly.
"Running Buck," the man said calmly. "Ha'cho, brother. You came all this way looking for me?"
Jimmy sprang down from his horse, his gun already drawn, and flashed his badge. "FBI," he said. "Lay down your weapons."
"Joe, it'll be okay. Just answer a couple questions and you can go about your business," Buck said, getting down and walking swiftly after Jimmy.
"I'll be the one who decides who's going about what, Cross. I said drop your weapons, gentlemen," Jimmy roared, his gun cocked and pointed sideways at them as he approached. "Now!"
Redbear eyed Jimmy coldly, curling his fingers tightly around his own weapon for a tense moment before tossing his hunting rifle to the ground with a clatter.
"Let's see some id," Jimmy followed up, patting the man down as Lou checked the other two, relieving them of their rifle and cross-bow in a business-like fashion, ignoring their insolent glares. Clicking a pair of cuffs on his prisoner, Jimmy prodded him. "Where you keeping it?"
"In my left jacket pocket. My hunting license is in there too, all in order, so if you came all the way in here about that -"
Jimmy shoved Redbear to his knees. "Shut it, pal. This is a murder investigation, not a joke, got it?" he directed, patting him down and retrieving a wallet from his pocket, flipping it open.
"Murder?" Redbear asked, furrowing his brow. "Who's been murdered?"
Buck brushed past Jimmy and helped his brother to his feet, turning him around. "Where were you on the night of the seventeenth, Joe?"
"At council meeting in the old canyon. Left from there to go hunting. What's this about?"
Jimmy tossed the wallet to Buck dismissively, and sardonically started to slowly clap his hands. "Nice show, you two. You should take it on the road. Lots of call for family acts these days. Unless you have an encore, I'll do the rest of the questioning." Stepping in front of Redbear, he jerked his head at him and demanded, "You had a problem with Dr. Jeff Tompkins, I understand? Something about your wife Helena?"
Redbear's eyes glowered like a burning coal, with hatred, boring straight into Jimmy's. "I did. But what's that got to do with why you're here?"
"Somebody killed Jeff Tompkins, and you look like the biggest suspect from where I'm standing."
The other man's face crumpled unexpectedly, raw emotion crossing and darkening it. "Someone - someone killed Two Ponies?" he said, his voice shaking and scratchy. He ducked his head away from Jimmy, toward his brother, searching his face.
"Running Buck - is it true?" he demanded, his face wild and crazed, as he advanced on Buck till he was standing mere inches away, arms still bound behind him.
Buck gripped his shoulders and looked into his face for a long, searching moment. Lou studied the brothers, weighing and measuring their emotions, their reactions.
"Yes, Joe, somebody did. I brought these two FBI agents to confirm your alibi. Who else was there that night with you?" Redbear had slumped, his head hanging down, as Buck tried to support his shoulders. Buck shook him roughly. "Joe, come on. Your life depends on - -"
"My life?" Redbear erupted, jerking away from Buck's hands. "I have no life now that Songbird is dead because of Two Ponies. The fool deserved to die, and I only wish I had been the one to send him to the Great Spirits. But I promised his father I would try to forgive."
"His father?" Jimmy asked, puzzled. "William Tompkins?" he recalled from the dossier.
"His Indian father," Redbear corrected, not looking at Jimmy or Lou but keeping his face turned to the ground. "Steve Runningbear."
"Really. You holding out on us again, Cross?" Jimmy said grimly.
Buck let out an empty laugh. "About Jeff being Kiowa? Yeah, I guess you wouldn't be here wasting your time finding an Indian's killer, would you? Does this mean you're going back to Denver now? I hope?"
"Cross, I swear to the Almighty - I asked you, did you know Runningbear was Tompkins' father?"
Buck shook his head thoughtfully. "Nope. I knew he was at least part Kiowa; only had to look at him to know that. But I didn't know who his father was. Had my suspicions, mind you . . . I've known Jeff Tompkins and his sister Jenny their whole lives. Their mother was a teacher on the rez, got pregnant while she was working here; but that's all I ever heard for sure."
Jimmy looked over at Lou, who shrugged. "What's this 'Two Ponies' business?" she asked. "We're talking about Jeff Tompkins, right?"
"When he came back from med school, Jeff started calling himself that, showing up at the tribal events," Buck mused. "He wasn't stupid; he knew he wasn't Bill Tompkins' son. He wanted to get closer to his roots, I guess. He started nosing around trying to find out who his father was. I didn't know he'd found him."
The man Lou was holding by the arm interrupted. "He didn't. Runningbear would not acknowledge him, but I knew it every time he looked at Jeff Two Ponies."
"Who're you, then?" Jimmy sighed. "Don't tell me, something 'bear', right? Or 'Running' something?"
"I am Robert Blackwolf," the man seethed. "And I can vouch for Redbear. We were with Runningbear in the Buffalo Gorge, planning the next general meeting."
"Bob's Runningbear's second in command in the council. At least he was until my brother got out of prison," Buck clarified, glaring at Blackwolf, who snarled back not unlike his namesake, drawing a contemptuous chuckle from Buck.
"You knew Two Ponies, then?" Lou asked Blackwolf.
Blackwolf glared at the ground, clearly regretting having spoken at all. "If you want to ask me anything else, I want to talk to a lawyer," he muttered sullenly.
Lou and Jimmy looked at each other a moment, talking without words like they had for years as partners on the job and off, before Lou proceeded carefully. "Now, we could go that way, sure. But it's an awful hassle when all we're trying to do is confirm where y'all were on the night of the 17th and who can back y'all up about it."
"I want a lawyer," Blackwolf repeated.
"You're stalling," muttered Buck, and then realizing he'd been heard turned towards Jimmy, "The council's lawyer is in Oklahoma City. And Robert knows that if we wait for him, this investigation grinds to a halt for at least a day, likely two." He gestured to Lou to unlock his brother's handcuffs, and with a nod from Jimmy, she complied.
Blackwolf laughed, "Trust the son of a white man to see corruption in common sense. You know, Buck, that these people are here to push us back down into our place, to throw our warriors into their prisons and throw away the key. And yet you help them anyway."
Lou placed a gentle hand on Blackwolf's chest feeling how he was already leaning towards Buck, his muscles knotted and tensed for a fight. "We're just trying to get to the truth," she said calmly.
Blackwolf threw off her hand and spat a single Kiowa word disgustedly in her direction. Buck immediately lunged over his brother's shoulder at the larger man, his own voice breaking on a torrent of angry Kiowa. "Whoa!" Jimmy shouted, helping Redbear hold Buck back.
"Someday your brother will not be around," Blackwolf shouted, looking evenly at Buck from behind the third man's cautioning arm, "and you will not be able to hide behind him."
"Let's just stay calm," Jimmy said through gritted teeth, though he felt anything but calm himself. He carefully managed to put himself between Lou and the men; he didn't need to know Kiowa to know what Blackwolf had said. He shifted his eyes from face to face mulling over the possibilities. He had no reason to hold Blackwolf, not yet anyway. "Call your lawyer," he said icily, "because there are a helluva lot of questions you're going to answer. Redbear, you're with us." He started to slowly back up towards the horses, being sure to keep Lou behind him at all times. And was thankful to see that Buck followed them slowly, one hand on his brother's elbow, his eyes still locked on Blackwolf.
Jimmy heard Lou whisper as they walked. "Listen, Steve Runningbear wouldn't cover for his son's killer, would he? If he says Redbear and Blackwolf were at the council that night, then it's probably true."
"Or, it could be they're all covering for Redbear with some cock-and-bull story. There's not a word about Dr. Tompkins being half-Indian in our background check. Bill Tompkins is on his birth certificate. And I never heard Runningbear claim to be his father back when we were talkin' to him yesterday. So I say let's get back to town, take a look at the investigation that was done on the scene, and see if it gives us anything." He turned away from Lou, irritably, and she watched him a moment, dissatisfied, before following.
"You're free to go," Jimmy muttered grumpily. "Just don't go too far." He rubbed his eyes, gritty with exhaustion and prairie dust, and opened them to see Lou staring at him from across the table and Redbear walking out the door. It had been a long day; it was 11:30 at night and Jimmy didn't feel any closer to having his man.
Lou leaned across the table from him. "He didn't do it, Jimmy."
Jimmy laughed bitterly, "Yeah, that's what I keep hearing." He stood up and paced. Redbear had left the door open and Jimmy could see out into the tribal police headquarters, deserted at this time of night and identical to just about every other police station he'd been in. Redbear and Buck were talking by the front door, the fluorescent lights overhead throwing their faces into grotesque shadows. "Hard to believe they've got a headquarters like this when Buck works out of that hell-hole." He looked back at Lou who was tiredly toying with the engagement ring at her neck again. Without much thought, Jimmy punched the wall in frustration, shouting "Damn!" almost immediately as his hand collided with the plaster.
Lou jumped and Buck said a hurried goodbye to his brother before jogging back towards the interrogation room. "What happened in here?" he asked when he arrived, looking in confusion at Lou who was carefully cradling Jimmy's hand and Jimmy who was trying to shoo her away.
"Somebody," Lou answered ruefully, "thought punching a wall would make him feel better."
"It's alright," Jimmy sputtered, his face going red from pain or anger or shame or maybe all three. "Leave it alone; it's alright."
Lou dropped it and looked him in the eye. "The hell it is, it's already started swelling."
"It's alright," Jimmy stated firmly, in a voice Lou knew better than to argue with. "Cross, I want to take a look at the clinic. You said it was around here, right?"
"It's on the other side of the building," Buck answered. "But isn't it getting a little late tonight?"
"Yes," said Lou before Jimmy had a chance to answer. "It is. And I'm starving."
Buck smiled widely at her. "I know just the place."
The Silver Spoon was open twenty-four hours a day. Its bright blue neon sign blinked continuously and the pie case was always full. Buck had only discovered it since he'd returned to the reservation three years before. The cool kids had talked about it during high school. After dances and parties, the lucky ones with cars and expendable money would drive down to Carnegie and have breakfast at The Silver Spoon no matter the hour. The food was good, greasy and cheap, and the owner, Teaspoon Hunter, was the sort of wise listener that you hoped for in a bartender, but never got. The three of them were in luck because it was Teaspoon himself waiting tables tonight. He found them a booth by the windows, far enough away from the only other customers, a teenage couple too engaged in canoodling to pay attention to their milkshakes and chicken fingers.
Buck slid into the booth and was surprised when Lou slid in next to him, leaving Jimmy alone on the other side. Buck caught a glimpse of Jimmy's hand, puffy knuckles beginning to purple with bruises. "Jesus, Hickok," Buck whistled lowly, "that's nasty; we oughta have Mia look at it."
"It doesn't hurt," Jimmy grumbled.
"Liar," Lou shot back, barely peering from behind her menu. They were silent for a moment, looking over the menu. The sandwiches "stacked high" with this and that, "golden mounds" of French fries, "the best onion rings in Oklahoma", and breakfast twenty-four hours a day.
At last Teaspoon showed up at the table, his eyes glittering with curiosity. "See you brought in some friends, tonight, Buck." He pulled three sets of cutlery wrapped in napkins from his apron and set them down in front of his customers, reserving a special smile and tip of his battered-looking black cowboy hat for the lady.
Buck nodded. "Yep. Federal agents Hickok and McCloud. This is Teaspoon Hunter, owner of the Silver Spoon, and sometime waiter," Buck said by way of introduction.
Teaspoon nodded at them politely. "Reckon ye're out here to investigate what happened to Jeff Tompkins. You talked to Mia 'bout that yet?"
Buck shook his head. "Not yet. I've been trying to convince Hickok here to have her take a look at his hand."
Teaspoon took one look at Jimmy's hand and let out a whistle identical to Buck's. Jimmy looked from under lowered lids up at the man, daring him to say something. Teaspoon met his gaze and said simply, "A man such as yerself can handle a little somethin' like that, I'd imagine. Now what can I get for you fine folks? Miss?"
Lou looked over the menu wearily, she was too tired and too hungry to care much what she ate just so long as she ate it soon. "Just pancakes and coffee, I guess," she muttered, and handing Teaspoon her menu slumped exhaustedly against the bright green vinyl booth.
"Grilled cheese sandwich, French fries, coffee," Jimmy said gruffly.
Buck raised an eyebrow at Jimmy in amusement. "Grilled cheese?" Jimmy stared back at him and Buck flashed his palms at him and let the subject rest. He looked up at Teaspoon. "The usual, Teaspoon."
Teaspoon grinned, leaning back to bellow over his shoulder at the chef, "The gentleman will take a chance, along with two eggs, wreck 'em. A stack of Vermont fer the lady. And a GAC with frog sticks for the angry stranger." Leaning back to face the three again, he smiled affably for a pause and then cleared his throat. "Well, guess I'll get yer java."
"Make his decaf," Lou said without thinking, pointing at Jimmy.
Jimmy glared and Teaspoon nodded, leaving to get the coffee pot.
"What's the usual?" Lou asked Buck, keeping her eyes closed.
"Corned beef and scrambled eggs," Buck answered, then chuckled, "Traditional Kiowa fare."
Jimmy snorted. "So, look, Cross, you got any leads other than Redbear or what?"
"Like I said, we ought to see Mia. She and Jeff were - "
But Lou interrupted him with a groan loud enough even to interrupt the frantic kissing of the couple in the corner. "Can we please talk about something, anything, other than the case? Don't you two ever stop working?"
Buck laughed and turned toward her. "Well, what do you want to talk about?"
"I don't know." She was looking at him too, and for a moment wondered if choosing to sit next to him was such a brilliant idea. "We could talk about you."
"Yeah, Cross, why don't we do that?" Jimmy butted into the moment abruptly. "Why don't we talk about why nobody around here likes you."
"Let's not," Buck muttered and started to nervously play with the sugar packets, arranging them in the ceramic container by color, pink at the back, white at the front, pale blue in the middle.
"If I understand right," continued Jimmy, not to be deterred, "you're half white. That right?"
"Yes," Buck looked up and met the challenge in Jimmy's eyes.
Jimmy pushed on, "Seems like that doesn't sit too well with most people."
Lou struck her spoon against the pink-flecked Formica table with a sharp thwack. "It would be something of a scandal, I bet, that Runningbear was Tompkins' father."
The eyes of the two boys turned slowly, as if on pivots, to look at her. "Yeah," said Buck slowly, "Runningbear is a respected elder, but having a son who was raised white," he shrugged his shoulders, "yeah, it'd be a scandal alright."
Lou nodded, thoughtfully. "You sure Jeff didn't find out? Seems as if it was getting around . . . "
"If you're suggesting that Runningbear had anything to do with killing Jeff, forget it," Buck protested.
"Sure, Cross, let's rule out all your pals while we're at it. I guess everybody on the whole damn rez is innocent as far as you're concerned?" Jimmy challenged him. "Or maybe one of those famous Indian spirits did it? Sitting bull," he scoffed.
Teaspoon was back with the orange-handled coffee pot, turning over the coffee cups and pouring with an exaggerated and graceful sweep of his arm. "Seems to me you'd wanna talk about this with Mia, seein' as how she was the last one to see 'im alive, right?"
Buck slid his eyes up at Teaspoon, who looked back innocently.
"Teaspoon here is a retired county sheriff," Buck explained. "Retired," he re-emphasized. Teaspoon grinned, "Yep. That was before I found my true callin'," he said modestly just as the chef smashed down on the bell and screamed, "Order up!"
"That'd be your food, now wouldn't it?" the old man chuckled. "Right there, Barnett!"
"So this Mia was the last one to see Jeff Tompkins alive, was she?" Jimmy asked. "When was that?"
"I haven't talked to her yet -" Buck started, as Teaspoon returned with three steaming plates, slapping them down in front of the three.
"I hear tell he left her place around two in the morning, to go to the clinic," Teaspoon volunteered.
"Two in the morning? They were lovers?" Lou said, clutching her ring in her fist.
"Sure," Buck said, carefully pushing his corned beef hash into a rectangle shape with his fork. Taking a bite, he used his knife to make the hash rectangular again before taking a bite of toast.
"Again, Cross, this is the kind of information that would be helpful in a murder investigation," Jimmy said, through a mouthful of grilled cheese.
Buck didn't look up from his food and shrugged lightly, "You haven't been interested in anything other than Joe since you got here, Hickok."
"So he had a relationship with this medicine woman person," Lou mused. "Any problems between them? Any third parties in that relationship?"
"Not for Jeff, there weren't. He was crazy about her. Mia, well . . . when we go to see her tomorrow, she can explain how she --"
"We see her tonight," Jimmy interrupted.
"Tonight? It's midnight now," Buck protested. "And she's doing the Little Moon ceremony tonight. She can't be interrupted."
"I don't know what a Little Moon ceremony is, but it doesn't preempt a Federal murder investigation," Jimmy informed him, shoveling his meal down hurriedly.
"Jimmy, certainly we can wait until the morning to question her," Lou said, exhausted. "I smell like a stable, and you're even worse. We're exhausted, I just want to check in to the hotel and get a shower and a good night's sleep."
"Nobody's stopping you. And don't you owe somebody a call?" Jimmy said, standing up to fling a twenty on the table.
Lou froze, staring up at him. "Sit down. If you're going out there, I am too, but I intend to eat my damn pancakes first, is that okay?" she snarled angrily. Jimmy nodded diffidently and sitting back down took a savage bite out of his sandwich, chewing with his mouth partially open.
"Kickingbird thinks he'll have a full report on the body in two days maybe sooner," Buck said thoughtfully between bites, "maybe we'll get some hard evidence from that. All you're working off now is motive."
"Kickingbird?" Jimmy asked, his voice muted by a mouthful of French fries.
Lou and Buck answered back simultaneously, "Coroner."
Jimmy stared back at Lou, bug-eyed. "From the initial report it looks like this wasn't just manslaughter either," she added, not looking up from her meal, "Tompkins' hand was broken; probably the killer stomped on it when he grabbed the edge of the roof." She looked up to see both of them staring at her. "What?"
"How in the hell do you know that?" Jimmy's voice was disbelieving, "None of that was in the dossier."
Lou glared back at him, "Did you even read the medical examiner's report Buck gave us?" Jimmy didn't have a chance to answer before Lou's cell phone lit up and moved closer to her plate powered only by its own vibration. Lou glared at Jimmy. "Don't say a word," she said pointedly. She carefully shifted her body away from Buck and picked up the phone, trying to keep her voice low enough not to be heard. Buck continued to eat nonchalantly, pretending to ignore Jimmy's stare or the way Lou kept furtively glancing at the two of them, as if she was being unfaithful just eating with them. Buck couldn't hear the conversation on the other side of the phone but he noticed the sudden switch in Lou, when she abruptly laughed and stopped looking as though she were ashamed to be caught talking to her possible fiancé. After a brief review of the day's events she closed the conversation, "I love you too, Kid. Thanks for calling me," she paused just long enough to smile and for a blush to begin making its way down her neck. "I miss you too. Good night." She snapped the cell phone shut, a wistful smile still playing on her lips.
Jimmy snorted angrily, "Now that we're done with tonight's sweet talkin', mind if we get back to business?"
"Can it, Jimmy," Lou spat, glaring at him fiercely.
"You two always work together this well?" Buck asked idly, rearranging the last bites of his hash on the plate again, before looking up and intercepting a pained look between the other two.
"We used to work together just fine," Jimmy said, staring into Lou's eyes. She held his gaze a moment, and then dropped it to her plate, pushing it away.
"I'm not hungry enough to finish all this. Let's go," she said, hurriedly.
Buck gulped down the last perfect square of hash from the plate and bolted his coffee before rushing after them. "Wait up," he muttered. "You folks sure are uncivilized."
There was a full moon on the ridge as the three lawmen approached a slender figure kneeling on a large rock, and the light illuminated her as if it were day. As they approached, they could see that it was a young woman with long, straight black hair flowing down over her tie-backed t-shirt; Jimmy tilted his head admiringly as he noted a series of tattoos depicting the phases of the moon progressing across the small of her back. She was chanting, and her hands were raised over some objects before her on the rock. As they came closer, they saw they were a pair of glasses and a man's plain white t-shirt. Suddenly a howling blast of wind gusted from out of nowhere and caught her hair, swirling it around her head, and she turned to face them, staring with wide-open, glittering black eyes.
"Buck. What took you so long?" she said sadly in a whispery, musical voice. "I expected you sooner."
"Got held up with these two," he apologized, helping her up. She was tall, nearly Buck's height, and slim in worn blue jeans. She held the glasses and shirt to her chest, nodding, and he added, "You okay?"
She paused a second, before shaking her head. "Not really." Buck took her in his arms and she buried her head on his shoulder.
Before Jimmy and Lou could say anything more, a young man ran up, telling the young woman, "The tipi's ready, Mia."
"Time to start the ceremony," Mia said, gently pushing Buck's arms away.
"We have a few questions first," Jimmy interrupted, as Mia walked past him without speaking or sparing him a second or even a first glance.
"Excuse me, ma'am, I'm Federal agent James Hickok, this is my partner Louise McCloud; and we have a few questions to ask you about Jeff Tompkins," he said, after her retreating form, walking gracefully but swiftly like a deer toward a heavily decorated tipi with smoke curling from its roof in the distance.
"I have no answers. Yet," she said serenely, before opening the flap of the tipi. Turning around, she added, "You can join us if you seek the truth."
Jimmy gave a skeptical grunt and smirk at Lou, who shook her head in warning and followed after Buck and Mia. Raising his eyes toward the moon despairingly, Jimmy plodded after them.
They entered the tent, Buck casually seating himself at the edge of a low, horseshoe-shaped earthen altar. Mia knelt at the center. Lou and Jimmy stood awkwardly at the door of the tipi, looking around warily.
"What the heck kinda carnival act is this," Jimmy whispered sidelong at Lou.
She shrugged. "Buck seems to put a lot of weight in her opinions," Lou said. "That's good enough for me."
"Right. What's this Little Moon thing about, anyway?" Jimmy grumbled, as he and Lou moved to sit on either side of Buck.
"It's a religious ceremony. Mia will try to provoke a vision. Since she's holding Jeff's glasses and shirt, the vision will hopefully be about him."
"You really believe in this crap?" Jimmy said, his voice ringing with skepticism bordering on disrespect. A muscle in Buck's cheek flickered, but he kept his eyes on the ceremony about to start.
"I believe Mia has a gift," Buck said stiffly. "I've seen it at work too many times not to."
Mia knelt at the low table, placing a box filled with small dried pieces of cactus plant, and held the glasses tightly in her hand.
"What's in the box?" Lou asked, curiously, leaning toward Buck and placing a hand on his arm.
"It's peyote buttons. They come from the mescal cactus. They're known to have hallucinogenic properties associated with visions." Seeing Jimmy frown, Buck added, "And they're legal for anyone with Native American blood to ingest for purposes of religious ceremonies, like this one."
Mia had placed several peyote buttons in her mouth, chewing them slowly, and stared silently into the fire in the center of the room as one of the elders beat a drum slowly from the corner. The peyote slowly took hold causing her pupils to dilate and her breath to come quicker. Suddenly she gripped the table and started to whimper slightly.
"It's starting," Buck whispered, watching his friend intently with a worried expression. "Looks like a pretty strong one."
Soon Mia was breathless, panting, with her eyes half shut and fixed on the fire, rocking back and forth in her seat rhythmically. Watching her intently, Jimmy unbuttoned the top button on his shirt, muttering, "Hell, I don't know if I should call an ambulance or get my video camera." Lou shot a disgusted look at him but then jumped, as a shriek seemed to tear itself from Mia and through everyone in the room. The medicine woman stood up, staring ahead blindly, her mouth opened and her eyes closed, but moving underneath her lids.
"Mia," Buck called out to her, worried. "What do you see?"
She seemed unable to speak, but cupped her right hand and tapped the right side of her chest three times, then made a second sign.
"She's using Indian sign. Those were the signs for father bear," Buck said, reluctantly. They watched as the increasingly agitated woman made another sign, holding her left hand open at chest level with the palm turned in, and then placed the right hand palm turned in closer to her body. She quickly moved the right hand behind the left.
"Run after," Buck supplied.
Now she placed both fists alongside her body, and moved them forward forcefully.
"I get that one," Jimmy said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "Push."
The drum was beating relentlessly in the corner and the fire was casting bizarre shadows on the roof of the tipi, as a tear dropped down Mia's cheek and she made the final sign. She half-closed her right hand and held it in front of her right shoulder, pushing it toward the left and down, diagonally across her chest.
"Kill." Buck put a hand over his face, shaking his head.
Mia suddenly jerked and blinked as if someone had thrown cold water over her and dropped to her knees, head down on the table. Her tears were flowing so freely, they were pooling under her fingers on the table by the time Buck slowly headed over to her side and put an arm around her shoulders.
"What a complete pile," Jimmy said uncertainly, watching Mia shaking with tears against Buck's chest.
"Did you see Runningbear do it, Mia?" Buck asked, sadly.
"I don't know. I saw two bears, one bigger, older. And it attacked the smaller one," she cried, rubbing her eyes with the backs of her tattooed wrists. "The smaller bear was afraid. He knew it was the end." Her tear-streaked face looked up at Buck's. "I wanted to believe he didn't see it coming," she admitted. "He died afraid," she finished sadly.
"So you think it was Runningbear, killing his own son?" Lou prompted.
"Could be Redbear, too, he's older than Tompkins was, and the bear thing could be - -" Jimmy stopped suddenly, turning red. "I can't believe I'm having this conversation," he muttered, running a hand over his face in disbelief. "Been hanging around this place too damn long."
"I don't believe Runningbear would have killed Two Ponies. I don't think it's that," Mia whispered. "I don't understand the vision. I'm sorry, Buck."
"It's okay," he soothed her, rubbing her bare shoulder gently. "You did your best." He looked up at the others.
"How about a little actual investigation, now, if we're done with this here pow-wow?" Jimmy asked.
"I've told you all I saw," Mia said, drying her eyes on a bandana Buck handed her.
"Well, let's talk for a minute about what you saw in real life -" Jimmy started, trying to regain some of his usual bluster.
Buck looked up at him sternly. "Let it rest for a minute, Hickok." He helped Mia up and walked with her out of the tipi. Jimmy and Lou quickly followed.
"Now, wait a second," Jimmy shouted at Buck'sand Mia's quickly retreating figures. "I'm not done with her."
Buck's head whipped around, and his voice was cold and fierce. "Did you see what just happened in there, Hickok? Is there some reason you have to solve this case before the sun rises? Give her a minute before you start the interrogation, alright?"
Very slowly Mia turned around so that she too was looking at Jimmy, her eyes not looking just at him but seemingly inside him as well, as if taking measure. She brushed off her jeans and tucked Buck's bandana in his back pocket casually, speaking, "It's alright, Running Buck. He wants to find out who killed Two Ponies, and that is something I want too." She pointed down the ridge to where a few lights shone in the night. "Walk with me to my house and we will talk there."
They walked on, the dry grass crunching underfoot, the sound of insect wings buzzing past their ears. Jimmy looked over at Lou and saw her yawn and it dawned on him just how late it was. Mia's house was small, old fashioned with a creaky looking front porch and a screen door that hung loosely from its hinges. Three camping lanterns hung from the porch eaves and the moths that surrounded them cast jittery shadows on the walls and windows.
Mia led the way inside and the other three followed. The house was dark, but soon blazed into light. The front room had a bright orange couch with a multi colored, hand-knit afghan folded across the back. On a side table was a large eagle feather fan and a pink ceramic swan. A doorway opened into a kitchen with hideous olive green linoleum that matched the stove and refrigerator. Jimmy felt like he was visiting his grandmother.
Mia dropped Tompkins' things on the table by the door and gestured for them to make themselves comfortable. She perched on the edge of a pearl pink recliner with lace doilies on the arms and regarded them all pleasantly, hands folded on her knee. "I am prepared to answer your questions."
"Did you see Jeff leave that night to go to the clinic?" Buck asked, anticipating Jimmy's first question.
"Yes. He went after he talked to someone on the phone."
"His cell?" Jimmy asked.
"It was my landline," she said, indicating the avocado-green wall phone mounted on the kitchen wall through the open door with a backwards jerk of her thumb.
Lou sighed in disappointment at the dead-end, but pressed on. "Did you hear any of that conversation?"
Mia paused, glancing at Buck apprehensively.
"It's okay, Mia. Whatever it is, we need to find the truth."
"It was about Helena Songbird," she said reluctantly, glancing at Jimmy's triumphant face. "He was very upset about her death. Especially since . . ."
"Since what, Mia?"
"Since he and I had argued about her beforehand. I was treating her pregnancy and planned to deliver her baby. But Jeff . . . he loved me, but he never respected my craft," she said. "He convinced her to go to the clinic to give birth there. When she died, so unexpectedly, he couldn't understand why. He was determined to prove that it was not because of the white man's medicine."
"What about the phone call?" Lou redirected her gently. "Who was it?"
"I don't know. I was sleeping, and heard the phone ring. He wasn't in bed; he picked it up in the kitchen. I heard him say Songbird's name. He was very upset and when he hung up, he said he was going to the clinic. He took a clean pair of jeans and a t-shirt out of the dryer, put them on and left; he wouldn't answer any of my questions."
She hung her head, crying again. "Songbird was my friend too," she said brokenly. "He wanted to prove to me, as much as to himself, that it wasn't his fault."
Jimmy tried to take control of the interview again, though he looked away from Mia's sad eyes when he asked the next question. "You remember anything else, Mia?"
She started to shake her head, but then her face lit up slightly. "Yes. He had an envelope from a lab in Oklahoma City. He put it in his pocket to take with him."
"There was nothing in his pockets when he was found," Buck said. "I think we'd best go back to the clinic and take a look around."
"C'mon, Buck. He gets a call about Redbear's wife in the middle of the night, goes to the clinic, and somebody shoves him off the roof. It's back on Redbear."
"You're forgetting the alibi Runningbear and Blackwolf provided. Unless of course, you don't want to take the word of two Indians."
Jimmy shifted his weight, and looked at the ground. "It's not that at all, Buck. Look . . . I know you don't want it to be your brother, but who else would have wanted him dead, or called him in the middle of the night about Helena?"
Buck made an impatient movement with his hand. "Let's get to the clinic, take a look around there, before we lock up a man with an airtight alibi for murder, okay?"
"Not tonight," said Mia simply and firmly.
"Yes, tonight. Right now," Jimmy answered back, "We've been wasting enough time, - "
Buck made a movement to shush Jimmy and gestured at Lou, sitting up but sound asleep on Mia's couch, one long string of spittle spilling out her mouth and pooling on a throw pillow. After bending over her to tilt her sideways onto the couch, Buck tenderly unfolded the blanket on top of the couch and draped it across her.
"It's already three," Mia added in a whisper, "let her sleep for a few hours before you go."
Buck eyed Jimmy. "You ought to get some sleep too."
Jimmy huffed out hot air and stood there for an instant, watching Lou sleep, before nodding his head curtly and stalking out the door. The screen door slammed and his heavy footsteps clomped across the porch. Outside he let himself collapse on the front steps, for the first time really feeling the pain in his hand. A host of moths swarmed around the wan porch lights, and Jimmy felt slightly nauseous sitting in the ghostly yellow light. The darkness seemed to press in on him, hot and heavy. The stars were very far away and looking out into the prairie was like looking into absolute nothingness. Jimmy usually avoided moments like this, moments of stillness and solitude. They gave him an opportunity to think, and his thoughts usually tended on his partner and they were very rarely happy.
The screen door squeaked open again and closed with the faintest thud. Mia sat beside him, clutching a bundled old dish towel in her hand. "Ice," she offered, holding it up for him to see it better. "Buck told me you hurt your hand."
Jimmy grunted and pulled the sore hand closer to his body. "It's alright."
"Let me see it," Mia commanded and grabbed his elbow, tugging firmly.
Jimmy shook his head. "I don't need any of your 'medicine'. It'll be fine in a few days."
"I'm an RN, you know," Mia said calmly, and pulled at his arm harder. Jimmy felt like a child resisting so finally he gave in, and looked away wincing as she gently held his hand, pushing her cool fingers against the swelling. "I know all about modern medicine. I just don't like it." She held his hand in hers, using her other hand to gently press the ice against his knuckles. "What did you do to it?"
Jimmy mumbled under his breath, and Mia didn't push him to repeat himself. He suddenly felt uncomfortable on the porch, as though the heat and the darkness were pushing him closer to her. He was suddenly very aware of the last few chips of vermillion polish on her fingernails, of the slight smell of jasmine that came from her hair, of the tiny white scar just above her lip. The whir of insects seemed very loud and yet he felt as though the sound of their hearts beating was drowning it out.
"I gave him that name, Two Ponies," she said, smiling through a mist of new tears. "I had a vision about him not long after he came home from medical school. Two horses racing side-by-side, one white, one red. His two halves." She sighed. "His two halves were at war with each other, and each was at war with the other's people. One reason it could not be 'forever' for us," she mused. "Our worlds didn't intersect enough."
"But if you loved him, why would that matter?" Jimmy asked, without thinking.
Her voice was whispery but matter-of-fact, as she answered, "Sometimes there can be love or great passion, or even both together, between two people. If they are not meant to be one, if it's not in the stars, then it still cannot be." She looked at him earnestly. "You know this as well as I do, true? You and your partner," Mia said, off-handedly.
Jimmy jerked his hand away, groaning at the sudden movement and the pain that shot up his arm. Mia laughed at him and he looked back at her dark eyes. He felt suddenly embarrassed. She'd done him a kindness, had spoken honestly with him, and even now did not blame him for his ingratitude. "I'm sorry," he said stiffly, "it's not somethin' I like to talk about."
She simply nodded. She reached for his hand again. "If you are willing I do know a traditional remedy that will lessen the pain. Kiowa mothers have been using it for many generations for childhood injuries." She looked up at him from under her spidery eyelashes and winked. "And it has a 100% success rate."
Jimmy looked at her for a second and then with a shake of his head and the slightest of laughs said, "Be my guest."
Mia held his hand gently in hers and slowly brought it up higher into the light. She kissed it softly, right where the knuckle had split and the swelling was the worst. "There. All better."
Jimmy woke up to a soft slap in the face. "Up and at 'em, partner; it's nine o'clock," Lou said with a smile. Jimmy groaned and opened his eyes to a bleary view of Mia's front room. He'd fallen asleep in the old recliner, and he had a crick in his neck, as well as the unpleasant sensation that something had crawled into his mouth and died while he slept. He yawned loudly and forced his eyes into focus. Through the doorway he saw light streaming in through the kitchen windows and Buck and Mia talking and laughing like old friends do. He wasn't thrilled with the sight.
"Hey, Hickok, want some toast?" Buck asked, leaning against the doorway and lifting his coffee mug in a salute.
"Just coffee," Jimmy grumbled, standing up and feeling all his muscles protest.
Buck disappeared back into the kitchen to fetch another cup of coffee. Jimmy looked at Lou, her hair was wet and glossy, having finally been able to take that shower she'd been wanting, and she had on fresh clothes. Jimmy imagined he was smelling pretty rank himself.
"So Buck and I were thinking we should go back to the clinic this morning and see what we can find," Lou said between gulps of coffee.
"Sounds like a plan." Buck came back in the room and handed Jimmy a coffee mug. Jimmy took a drink, letting it burn his tongue and then smacking his lips with satisfaction. His mind cleared a little and he felt his nerves wake up. "Ugh," Jimmy groaned, "I'm a mess."
Mia leaned around the kitchen doorway and smiled at him. "Take a shower, James. The clinic will still be there and you'll be clean." She disappeared again.
Jimmy blushed. "Uh, yeah, thanks, Mia." He avoided looking at Buck and Lou, who were exchanging very amused looks and lumbered out to the car for a change of clothes.
Lou flopped back down on the couch with a sigh and Buck joined her. "You're in a better mood this morning," he commented.
Lou smiled. "Well, I'm clean for the first time in days, and that's a definite improvement."
"I thought it might have to do with that hour long phone call this morning."
Lou turned scarlet and shrugged her shoulders. "Kid likes to check up on me."
Buck nudged her good-naturedly. "Didn't seem like you minded."
"Kid is very sweet but . . ." she looked at him shyly, "but he likes certainties and I," she paused for a moment, caught off guard by the sincere attention Buck was paying her. She grinned, feeling reckless. "I like taking chances."
Jimmy walked back in, looking sheepish. Buck choked down a laugh and jerked his head towards a narrow hallway. "Last door on the right."
Jimmy grunted and stalked down the hall. Buck and Lou watched him go and then turned again towards each other. "You know," Lou said, refusing to meet his eyes, "Jimmy interrupted a conversation we were having last night. You were going to tell us about yourself."
Buck suddenly became very interested in his coffee. "Not much to tell."
"You haven't lived here all your life," Lou prompted. "You went to college."
Buck nodded. "I spent my entire childhood waiting for the day I could leave the rez. Two days after high school graduation I was out of here."
He offered nothing more and the sound of the shower down the hall filled the room. Lou picked at some lint on the arm of the couch. "And now you're back," she said simply.
"And now I'm back." Buck took another big drink of coffee.
"Buck," Lou began, speaking softly, "can I ask you something?"
He looked at her, flicking his dark brown eyes over her face, his brow furrowed, as though he were trying to find something in her. At last he looked away. "Ask away."
"Is it just because you're half white that people don't," it suddenly dawned on her that there was no polite way to ask the question and she struggled to find a nice way to phrase it. "Don't, well, they don't seem to, I guess - "
"Like me?" Buck leaned back against the couch, tilting his head up to look at the ceiling and then clenching his eyes shut. "Joe's father was a respected elder and an important man in the tribe. A drunk white killed him and raped his wife and I was the result. That was bad enough." He opened his eyes a crack and looked over at her for a brief second before closing them again. "But then I chose to live in the white world and left the Kiowa behind. That was unforgivable."
Lou laid her hand gently over his own and was pleased when he turned his palm up and let his fingers close around hers. The shower turned off with a shudder from the old pipes, and Mia's voice could be heard singing what sounded like a Kiowa lullaby in the kitchen. Buck kept his eyes closed and gave Lou's hand a tiny squeeze just as they heard Jimmy's footsteps in the hall. Abruptly, Lou took her hand away.
"Alright," Jimmy said brusquely, all business, "let's get going."
Mia walked in from the kitchen and joined them. "I'm coming too."
"Oh, no you're not," Jimmy contradicted hotly. "I've got enough local talent on this investigation without you, Moon-beam."
"It's Miakonda," she enunciated clearly, as if Jimmy were a large, but very slow child. "It means Sacred Moon, not moon-beam. And I'm coming. It's final." She quickly pulled her long hair into a ponytail, letting the snap of the rubber band punctuate her statement and then in two quick steps was out the door.
"I wouldn't argue with her," Buck said with one final swig of coffee before following Mia outside. Lou tagged along behind him.
Flinging open the screen door, Jimmy saw that Mia was already seated in the passenger seat of their rented car. "Hurry up," she called. "Two Ponies' spirit needs us to solve this to put him to rest."
"Don't argue," Buck repeated out the side of his mouth. "You wanna ride with me?" he asked Lou.
Lou looked at the motorcycle, black and sleek, the chrome glittering in the sun; an orange circle with the dark silhouette of a weary Indian warrior and his horse was painted on the fuel tank. "Thought you'd never ask," she said. Buck handed her his helmet and got on his motorcycle as Jimmy gawked angrily from next to the car. Lou climbed on, holding on tight to Buck's waist, and they roared off.
Mia leaned over and tapped on the driver's side window. "Ready?" she asked, looking up at him. He jerked open the door and got in, fuming, and gunned the engine to life.
Jimmy stewed angrily as they followed Buck's motorcycle, and glanced over at Mia, who had taken Tompkins' glasses with her and was fingering them softly.
Jimmy's hands tightened on the wheel and he searched for a biting retort that wasn't coming. He glanced over at her, childlike and ethereal, looking out the window with Jeff Tompkins' glasses clutched to her chest, and then back out the front window at the road, driving in silence for several minutes.
"We'll find whoever did this, Miakonda," he heard himself promise, looking back at her. She smiled at him, her face lit up by the sun shining through the car window, and he felt a strange and unfamiliar peacefulness creeping into his heart as he smiled back.
The clinic, along with the tribal police headquarters, was located inside the Kiowa Tribe Headquarters, a huge building in Carnegie that dominated practically an entire city block. The shingles of the roof had been individually painted white and black to make a mosaic depicting a giant thunderbird, and it gave the otherwise stark, sterile building a strange sense of grandeur. Lou started to feel disappointed as the building loomed larger and larger in front of them. She'd enjoyed the short ride from Mia's into town. The bike was an older model and the rear shocks were nonexistent but the saddle was suspended atop two giant springs, which bounced and jolted with every pebble and pothole. Instead of being frightening it was exhilarating, the whip of air against her shoulders, whistling past her helmet, the heat of Buck's torso through his shirt, and the way he'd purposely taken the corners too fast to make her hold on tighter. They were wading into dangerous waters, Lou thought.
Buck passed up the parking lot filled with squad cars and a few motorcycles like his own, in favor of the smaller gravel lot at the other end of the building. A concrete ramp led up to a second-story door, painted white with one large pane glass window, and a blue and white sign saying simply "Clinic". The motorcycle kicked up dust and pebbles as Buck pulled it in beside the only other car in the lot, an old blue Cutlass covered in bumper stickers promoting Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, freedom for Tibet and Leonard Peltier.
Lou tried to get the heavy motorcycle helmet off her head, feeling her hair tangle with the struggle. Buck laughed at her and gently unbuckled the chin strap. Lou pulled off the helmet, losing sight of him for a moment and then found herself blushing as she looked into Buck's very deep brown eyes and those were very, very dangerous waters to get caught in. She looked away just in time to catch Jimmy's stare as he drove into the parking lot, stopping the car with a jerk on the other side of the Cutlass.
"Well, Hickok," Buck called to him across the car. "Where do you want to start? Inside or where the body was found?"
"Inside," Jimmy answered and the four of them walked silently up the ramp and through the door.
Inside an ancient air-conditioner was running full blast and still the air was stifling. The front waiting room was tiny. The pretty blonde in pink office scrubs sitting behind the check-in window stood up immediately when they walked in. It was clear from the stiff set of her shoulders and the grim line of her mouth that she was not happy to see them.
"Jenny," Buck said, a trifle less confident than he generally was, "these are the federal agents looking into Jeff's death. Mind if we look around a little?"
Jenny didn't look at him, but stared instead at Mia. "She's not a federal agent; not even tribal police."
"No, she's not," Buck admitted, biting his lip a little. The room was too small for the charged energy that was currently floating through it and his head began to swim a little at the thought of all the currents that were running swiftly among the five of them.
"Then I don't think she needs to be here," Jenny said curtly.
"Now wait a minute," Jimmy started to protest but was cut off by Mia's hand on his arm.
"No, James, it's alright. Jenny was Two Ponies' sister. She thinks I was cruel to him when I said I couldn't marry him."
Jenny stalked out from behind the small counter. "He gave everything up for you. He worked here instead of at a real hospital. He gave up his name. He hadn't talked to our father for months."
Mia shook her head gently and answered in her steady whispery voice, "That was not my fault. Your father didn't like that Two Ponies was trying to find out about his people."
"Jenny," Buck looked from face to face in the cramped room, "we just need to look around. Mia saw Jeff with some papers the night he died, and we need to find them. It'll be easier if she helps."
Jenny thrust her hands into her pockets with a vengeance but said nothing more to Mia. She looked at Buck and her face softened a little. "Alright. I haven't touched anything in his office."
"Thanks, Jen," Buck said and clasped her shoulder quickly. She nodded at him sadly and gestured past the counter to the office door.
Not sure what they were looking for, the group filed into the office. Lou looked around at the walls first. Her eyes ran over the framed diplomas from an Ivy League college and medical school, the board certification in internal medicine, several newly framed museum prints of tribal artwork, and lit on the two photographs displayed on a shelf behind the desk. There was one of Mia's smiling face, and another of an older, white couple and Jenny standing with Jeff Tompkins, who was dressed in his medical school academic regalia for graduation. Lou took down that one. The two women were standing close to Jeff, each holding an arm and smiling broadly. The older man was behind his wife, with a forced-looking smile on his face.
Jimmy drew on a pair of gloves to search the desk, pulling open the drawers and sitting down at the desk to examine the contents, particularly a small pad of white paper with "ZYRTEC" printed in large letters across the bottom and some scrawled notations over it, including a telephone number in Oklahoma City. He didn't flinch away when Mia placed a hand on his shoulder and bent to look at the pad, her hair falling over his arm slightly, but just picked up the phone in the office and dialed the number, waiting for someone to pick up on the other end.
Lou saw that there were a number of filing cabinets lining the far wall and went over to open the one marked "R-T". Running her fingers along the folders marked with patient names, she frowned slightly, noticing there was no file marked "Songbird". Returning to the front of the cabinet, she checked for one marked Redbear. Nothing.
"What the hell is going on in here?" a voice boomed from the doorway. A large man wearing an expensive charcoal-gray suit, his face bright red, the older man from the picture she'd just seen behind the desk, barged in with Jenny close behind. "You got no right to look at that," he stormed, slamming the cabinet shut and towering over Lou. She grimly stared back, before flashing her badge and answering coolly, "This is a Federal investigation of a murder, Mr.?"
"Bill Tompkins. It's my son's death you're investigating. And I'm on the board of directors of this clinic, so if you don't mind, I'll insist on proper procedure before you go rifling through confidential patient files."
Lou glanced over at the others. Jimmy was nodding, and hung up the phone calmly, standing up. "Mr. Tompkins, hello. I'm Federal Agent James Hickok. We're very sorry about your loss, sir."
Tompkins narrowed his eyes, looking back and forth at the group. "What're these two doing in here if this is a Federal investigation? Especially her," he said venomously, glaring at Mia. "And what are you looking for in here anyway?"
"That's a lot of questions, Mr. Tompkins. Mind if we ask a few?" Jimmy said, moving closer and facing him.
"When was the last time you talked to your son, sir?" Lou asked.
"The day before he died," Tompkins promptly answered. Jenny looked at him in open surprise.
"What did you two talk about?"
"Lots of things, I don't remember specifics now."
"Something happen that made you suddenly want to reconnect?" Buck prompted. "Jenny said you hadn't spoken to Jeff for some time."
Tompkins glared at Buck with open contempt. "That's none of your business."
Lou pressed on. "Did you talk to him about anything to do with Helena Songbird or Joe Redbear?"
"I knew that nut job came in here threatening my son, if that's what you mean. He said if his wife had gone to that witch doctor over there to have her baby, she'd be alive," Tompkins said, gesturing disgustedly toward Mia. "Talking a lot of nonsense. They had to call security. I don't know what the holdup is arresting him. How long are you going to jerk around with this investigation before you haul in the man who killed my son?"
"Joe has an alibi, Bill," Buck cut in. "Steve Runningbear, and-"
"Steve Runningbear, is it?" Bill shouted. "That son of a-" he cut off, breathing hard and turning to look out the window over the parking lot. "That son of a bitch," he finished, his voice shaking. "He's lying, covering for one of his own."
"Why would he do that, sir?" Lou said, carefully. "You know, there's a lot of talk around town about Runningbear and Two Ponies."
"Don't call him that. That's not his name. His name is Jeff Tompkins, that's who he was, got it?" Tompkins said, red-faced.
Lou continued as if the interruption hadn't happened. "Some people told us Runningbear was Jeff's father. Is that true?"
Tompkins glared at her, and something made Jimmy place his hand over his gun, but when Tompkins answered, his voice was just tired and sad. "I was there when that boy was born. I walked the floors with him every night when he had colic. I put him on the school bus the first day of kindergarten and was a father to him every day of his life, including paying for Harvard, for Duke Med School." The man's voice was rising stridently now, as he continued, "Runningbear . . . all he did was sleep with my wife thirty years ago. Hell, he was ashamed of Jeff and his fancy white man's education, because his mother was white, because we raised him to be a success in the real world. Tell me; who do you think his father was?"
"Runningbear was ashamed of Jeff?" Lou pressed, putting a hand sympathetically on Tompkins' arm. Jimmy watched Lou do her sensitive female agent routine, knowing it might produce more information than his own usual approach; and sure enough, Tompkins blinked slightly and shrugged. "I gave in about a month ago and told Jeff the truth. He went to Runningbear, and that son of a bitch begged him not to tell anybody or speak of it again."
Lou tisked, big brown eyes all sympathy and compassion. "But why? Why did he say that to Jeff?"
Tompkins laughed a short bitter laugh. "He's a big shot in his little reservation world, in that Native American independence craziness he's into. Having a white son didn't fit the image. And he has a wife and another family, besides," he said, suddenly extremely helpful.
"Was he married when he had the affair with Mrs. Tompkins?" Lou persisted.
Tompkins' eyes lit up. "Yeah, he's been married all this time. I doubt he wanted her to know for sure the rumors were all true," he suggested eagerly.
"Two Ponies was devastated when Runningbear refused to acknowledge him," Mia concurred. "He kept trying to get him to reconsider, to see that he was a true Kiowa at heart too. But Runningbear was afraid of what his wife, Marion, would feel about it, and I can't blame him for that. She is very ill; she has a serious heart condition and COPD," she explained. "She stays in her home all day, on oxygen, and has no idea about Two Ponies, even though many on the rez knew or suspected."
"Not to mention the shame of having a half white son," Buck muttered, staring at the floor, "Steve would've lost a lot of face within the movement."
Tompkins pounced on this, nodding vigorously. "That's right. Maybe Runningbear was involved in this."
Jimmy tapped on the desk with a pencil, brooding, and shook his head. "Mr. Tompkins, I think we've got enough from you just now, if you'll excuse us," he dismissed the older man, in a voice that brooked no disagreement. Tompkins awkwardly backed out of the small office, and Jimmy got up, placing the scratchpad in a plastic envelope.
"James, I don't mean to suggest Runningbear was involved," Mia said, woebegone.
"Not to worry. It's still on Redbear as far as I'm concerned. The lab told me that Jeff called there about test results on tissues taken from Helena Songbird's body, the morning he was killed. He went to pick up the results personally at the lab that afternoon." Jimmy looked up sympathetically at Buck. "We just found out that Runningbear's word on this isn't worth a lot, don't you think?" he said, not unkindly.
Buck's lower lip was sticking out, and his brow was furrowed. "I think we found out it's pretty damn airtight. He's the victim's father, isn't he?"
"Technically, yeah, but he sure didn't want to be. Don't you think it's more than possible Steve Runningbear backed Joe up out of fear?"
"Fear of what?" Buck said indignantly.
Jimmy sighed patiently. "Your brother could have threatened to tell uh, Mrs. Runningbear the truth to get him to keep quiet. Or maybe Runningbear was just happy to have his little embarrassment cleaned up."
"What about Blackwolf?" Lou protested. "He says he was with Redbear too, remember? What reason would he have to lie?"
"Robert Blackwolf hated my brother too," Jenny cut in. They whirled around to look at her. She had remained silent and forgotten in the corner of the room after her father left. "I was involved with Robert for a short time." She put a hand up over her face as if unconsciously covering a bruise that was no longer there.
"Jeff and I convinced Jenny not to see Blackwolf anymore, when we saw he was hurting her," Buck murmured, rubbing Jenny's arm.
"Robert blamed my brother and Buck for losing me. He was already jealous of Jeff because he knew he was Runningbear's real son. Runningbear and Marion have only daughters, and he was like a father to him." Her face went from pale to grayish, as she shut her eyes and tried to shut out the thought that Blackwolf could be involved in any way in her brother's death.
"So we have three people with motives, all providing each other with alibis," Lou said wearily. "Reasonable doubt, anyone?"
"Redbear's motive is the strongest, and he's the only one who threatened him in the last few days," Jimmy interrupted. "We're going to go see Redbear again, re-question him, see if we can shake his alibi a little. Let's go."
"I think we've got other leads that need running down," Lou protested. "I'm staying in town," she said stubbornly. The two partners stared at each other.
Jimmy shrugged, and turned to walk out of the office silently. To his surprise, as he strode down the ramp toward his car, he heard light steps tapping along behind him, scattering the gravel slightly. "So you're coming after all," he said smugly, before Mia drew alongside him with a determined expression. "Yes," she said. "I'd like to help." She trotted ahead of him with her odd loping stride and got in to the passenger seat again. "Don't bother going to his trailer. Joe is probably out at the cemetery, by Songbird's grave. That's where he spends most of his time these days when he's not working." She looked expectantly at Jimmy, who resignedly walked around the car and started the engine without another word.
Back in the office, Buck picked up the phone and hit 'redial', waiting for the lab to pick up. "That's Oklahoma City Testing and Diagnostics?" he asked, writing down the name and address. "Thanks."
"I got some things to do back at headquarters," he informed Jenny and Lou.
"On this case?" Lou asked, curiously.
"Some. Got a few other cases going too, unlike you two," he teased. "Let's meet up for lunch, I may have something for you by then. Teaspoon's place?"
After Buck had left, Lou turned to Jenny. "Thanks for your help, Jenny. I know how hard this must be on you."
Jenny nodded, crossing her hands in front of her chest. "I can't help thinking about what you said, about Robert having a motive. He threatened Jeff and me too, you know. We had orders of protection out against him. It's just as likely him as Joe Redbear," she said worriedly. "Joe and Robert weren't exactly friends, but they worked together in the movement, and maybe it's Joe covering for Robert, and not the other way around."
Lou considered that. Who was covering for whom here, anyway? Her mind was puzzling with it, with all the possible configurations. "Well, where does Blackwolf work?" she asked, finally.
Jenny shook her head dubiously. "He owns a bar here in town. Why do you want to know?"
"I want to question him again, of course."
The blonde girl's eyes widened, and she protested, "Lou, you can't. If he knows I said anything - "
"I'll keep your name out of it, Jenny."
"It's not just that. He's dangerous, Lou, I should know. Don't go there by yourself."
Lou blew out sharply, her breath blowing a lock of hair on her forehead up at an odd angle, and started lecturing, "I am an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jenny. I can handle myself. Where is this place? Can I walk there?"
"Yeah, but -"
"Jenny. The address, please."
Ten miles out of town, Mia pointed at a wide and dusty turnout where an old white truck sat baking in the afternoon sun. "That's Joe's truck," she said simply. Jimmy scanned the surrounding area carefully, but could see nothing but the sea of brown grass and a copse of trees thirty yards in the distance.
"What's he doing in the middle of nowhere?" he muttered to himself as he climbed out of the car. A hot wind brushed past him and he kept passing his wary eyes over the desolate landscape, looking for some sign of Redbear.
He started when Mia came up beside him. "The cemetery," she reminded him and led the way to a worn trail beside the turn out, where an old tin sign, rusted and cock-eyed said "All Saints Cemetery". With a sigh, Jimmy followed Mia as she started up the path. "It is very old," Mia said as she slowed to walk beside him. "Missionaries started it in the 1890's, but it has been reclaimed and now only the very traditional Kiowa use it, the elders and those involved in the movement. Everyone else prefers the new cemetery in Carnegie, but I think it is ugly. And how could your spirit rest in town? At least out here there is the peace of nature."
"Right," Jimmy grunted, more to have something to say than because he'd ever thought about his spirit resting in the grave or anywhere else.
A lizard skittered across their trail and Jimmy flinched. He felt Mia's hand rest gently against his elbow and then somehow found himself holding it, their fingers interlaced in an oddly natural way. He dropped her hand quickly and marched purposefully forward, muttering, "I don't think this is a good idea." She followed after him, seemingly unconcerned and unoffended.
The path led straight into the cluster of cottonwoods Jimmy had seen from the road. A wrought-iron fence tilted and falling with a crooked gate met them just outside of the trees. It had been intended for a smaller graveyard and only the one side remained, a rougher barbed wire fence encompassing the other three sides. The trees were in the older part, where stones crumbled and sank into the earth and the graves grew over with wild grasses and black-eyed Susans. They kept walking past the trees to the newer section. In the far corner, Joe Redbear sat cross legged on the ground, meticulously slicing an apple with his pocket knife. He didn't seem to notice their approach.
Helena Songbird's marker was of rough gray stone with a lengthy inscription in phonetic Kiowa beneath her name, which was rendered in simple block lettering as "Helena SongBird RedBear," and the twenty-nine year span of her life. Leaning against it was a handmade cradleboard, already beginning to fade in the sun and the yellow dust of the plains already settling into the folds of the leather. Joe sliced another piece from his apple and slipped it into his mouth just as Jimmy's shadow fell over him. He did not look up. "Come for more questions?"
"Yep," Jimmy answered.
Redbear stood up slowly and mumbled something in Kiowa under his breath. Jimmy noticed Mia lower her head reverently and he did the same. At last Redbear turned to them and his face was creased and tired. "Not here."
Mia answered before Jimmy had a chance, "We'll go to Buck's office in Red Sand Village."
Joe nodded and started to walk stiffly out of the cemetery, Mia following him. "Hey," Jimmy said, still standing at Helena's grave and wondering who exactly was running this investigation.
Mia turned around and looked at him, all innocence. "What, James?" She waited for his answer but at last he threw his hands in the air and with a sigh plodded after her.
Lou inspected the bar from the outside before walking in. The windows were tinted so that it was impossible to see anything within except for the neon beer signs by the front door. The rough wood siding was peppered with fliers advertising local bands and events, bright colored corners fastened tight with staples left behind from those that had been torn down. The only sign was an old fashioned wooden sign above the door that said only "Drinks / Pool". The back door was chained shut in a clear fire code violation leaving only one way in and out. She plodded around the building, littered with cigarette butts and discarded foil wrappers, hearing Kid's Southern drawl cautioning her not to risk it, as clearly as if he were trotting behind her with that annoying worried pucker he tended to develop between his eyes at moments like this one. She shook off the imagined warning, unreasonably irritated at Kid even though he was nowhere in sight. The door had been recently painted dark green and after another moment's hesitation Lou pushed it open and marched inside.
She took a second to let her eyes adjust to the dark interior. It wasn't noon yet, so there weren't too many customers. A skinny kid with pimples was hustling pool at the lone table. His mark, a sweaty Gary Ondo, Lou noted, was taking it good-naturedly as though he'd known what he was getting himself into. At the bar sat two men, both broad across the shoulders, wearing Wranglers, plaid shirts, and white straw cowboy hats. One of them was drinking bourbon with purpose and the other was nursing a beer while shouting encouragement to Gary at the pool table. A tired looking barmaid was wiping down a table in the corner with a dirty rag. She frowned, shaking her head slightly at Lou, before shrugging and wearily sticking a dollar bill left on the table into the side pocket of her jeans, and disappearing into a storeroom behind the bar. As she went, she brushed past Robert Blackwolf who was talking to the bartender, an enormous man whose muscles bulged under a graying white undershirt. Blackwolf looked up at Lou with hostile eyes and back in the pit of her stomach Lou felt a pinprick of fear.
Ignoring her own gut's clear warning, Lou approached the bar, making eye contact with Robert Blackwolf and flashing her badge. "Mr. Blackwolf, I was hoping you wouldn't mind answering some questions today."
Blackwolf sniffed at her contemptuously, "Told you before, lady. I don't talk unless my lawyer's here."
"So call him," Lou said brusquely. "We can do this back at the station with your lawyer or we can do this here, no difference to me." Sometimes she could play up the fact that she was a woman, play on men's misconceptions regarding the "weaker" sex; and sometimes she knew, she had to prove she could play hardball. Casually, she put her hands on her hips, pushing back her dark blazer to show the very edge of her shoulder holster.
The move didn't go unnoticed by Blackwolf, but it didn't seem to have the desired effect. He snorted a derisive laugh and circled round the bar to stand beside her. "Well, if you're offering a choice, Agent, let's do this here." She had to crane her neck upwards to meet his gaze. "You're in enemy territory now, lady, you should walk with care."
Lou squared her shoulders and stood evenly on her feet, meeting Blackwolf's sharp eyes with her own. "I'm a federal agent, Mr. Blackwolf, and I won't be intimidated. Now, can we cooperate on this or not?"
"There is no cooperation between enemies!" Blackwolf shouted, slamming his hands on the bar alongside either side of her and Lou found herself suddenly trapped. She willed herself not to panic and to continue to meet Blackwolf's gaze, even when she saw Gary Ondo and the pool hustler hurriedly exit. Behind her, the hulking bartender chuckled roughly, and the lank-haired cocktail waitress peek out from the storeroom and as quickly retreat back into it.
"I'm not your enemy, okay - " Lou began, her voice wavering, but Blackwolf interrupted her immediately.
"All whites are my enemy. You do not belong here. Here we are not a conquered people. Here the Kiowa are proud and we are warriors as we were meant to be." Something about Blackwolf's hard eyes, the commanding look on his face, along with the smell of bourbon on his breath made Lou's mind go strangely blank, her legs turn weak, and she stared up at him speechless and wobbly. He nodded behind her at the bartender and Lou felt his giant sweaty hands clamp down on her arms and pull her tight against the bar. Blackwolf leaned in even closer to her and she could smell the stale tobacco clinging to his clothes. "I will teach you that we are enemies, you and I. And I will teach you to show me the respect a Kiowa warrior deserves."
Buck took a seat at an extra desk at the police headquarters. He hated working there; his fellow officers generally regarded him with open hostility and it was why he had asked for one of the satellite offices when most of the men avoided such assignments. Buck turned the pencils in the can on the desk so "Ticonderoga" was facing toward him again as was the proper way for pencils to be arranged. He pulled one out and tapped the desk while waiting for the woman on the other end of the line to get back on.
"So, everything in order, then?" he said, when she finally did.
"Yes, Officer. We'll be faxing the report to you in a minute."
Buck replaced the receiver and went back over to the fax machine. He'd spent a good hour getting Judge Enright to sign a court order turning over any lab results ordered by Jeff Tompkins, M.D. on the day of his death from the Oklahoma City lab, faxing the order, and then speaking at length with the secretary and head of the lab there by phone. He knew Jimmy wouldn't see the need to run down this information, but the obsessive-compulsive in him wanted to know each and every thing that Jeff had done the last day of his life, leave no stone unturned in this horrible matter, and after all Helena's death was still unexplained as well. The old fax machine rang and then made the high-pitched screeching sound that meant he'd learn what was on Jeff's mind with regard to Helena the day he died.
The ancient machine's long roll of shiny thermosensitive paper started moving and Buck waited impatiently, until the machine cut across, dropping the missive into a basket underneath. He picked it up and ran his eyes over it, surprise flickering across his face momentarily, then folded the paper up into thirds lengthwise, then across in thirds again, before putting it in his pocket. He flicked off the light to go back to the clinic, check the information he'd just gotten against their records, but the phone rang and he wavered. Going over, he picked it up before it went to voice mail. "Cross," he said briskly. "Jenny? I was just headed over there to see -" he paused as Jenny spoke, then, concerned, looked up at the clock. "Thanks for letting me know, Jen. I'll see you tomorrow."
He hung up the phone again and dialed the cell phone number Lou had given him. It went to voice mail, and he hung up, cursing and racing for the door.
Lou felt her heart beat frantically, seemingly trying to escape from her rib cage. Blackwolf leaned in closer still, jerking her blazer as far down her shoulders as he could before it got bunched up at the bartender's hands, which still held on to her, vise-like. He kept his eyes on hers, watching her face with a cold analytical detachment. In desperation Lou looked over to the other men sitting at the bar. The bourbon drinker stayed focused on his glass and the other man watched them, a huge grin plastered across his face. Glancing down she saw Blackwolf's hands had moved to his flashing silver belt buckle imprinted with an eagle, and he was slowly pulling the strap backwards and loosening the belt in a deliberate and terrifyingly businesslike fashion.
She closed her eyes and leaned farther back against the bar, trying weakly to put some breathing room between herself and the sinewy menace of Blackwolf. And then suddenly, there was shouting and a space opened up in front of her and the greasy hands on her arms were gone. Her eyes flew open, her hand went instinctively for her gun, and she looked at the ground where Buck had one knee against Blackwolf's back and was snapping handcuffs on him. The bartender was already around the bar and Lou whirled on him, leveling her gun at his heart. "Stop! Don't move!" she shouted, her voice unnaturally shrill. The man came to a stuttering halt, his hands just barely raised and a smirk on his face.
Buck spared only a quick look up at Lou and was then focused back on Blackwolf, jerking him to his feet and spitting out his rights. Lou heard the beer drinker at the bar laugh and she backed off into the middle of the room to cover both him and the bartender.
"How you expectin' to get Bob to the station?" the man asked, still grinning and the bartender joined him in a short burst of laughter. "Better start running, Running Buck. While you still can."
Buck darted a glance at Lou and she nodded quickly back at him to affirm she had the situation under control. She locked her left hand around her right wrist in an attempt to steady her gun. Buck tugged and pushed Blackwolf with him behind the bar and located a phone. He kept his eyes on the men in the room as he quickly dialed the station house. Lou could hear the phone ring on the other side and then silence as it was answered. "This is Officer Cross, I have Robert Blackwolf in custody at his bar, requesting a squad car to assist in getting him to the station for booking."
There was a long silence and the man at the bar finished his beer and his shoulders shook with silent laughter. He exchanged a look with Blackwolf who smiled smugly back. "Damn it, he just attacked a federal officer, Tony. You want feds all over this place?" Another silence and Lou started to feel a little jittery. No one in the room was intimidated by her gun and her stomach wouldn't stop churning, her hands wouldn't stop shaking, she could feel her breath gust in and out as though she might burst with the effort. "All the cars are not out, Tony. This is a load of crap. You might not like me but - " Lou could hear the sudden hollow sound of the dial tone and Buck slammed the phone down with a crash that drowned out his swearing. "We'll walk," he said determinedly, and started to back Blackwolf up towards the door. There was the sound of a stool scraping against the hardwood floor, and Lou watched as the bourbon drinker stood up slowly and turned a hateful glare on Buck. No one looked at her anymore and the three men were focused solely on Buck with the sort of look predators have for prey.
Lou's gun pivoted between the three, but she knew she wasn't about to shoot anyone. She had the numbing feeling that if she had, it wouldn't have made any difference. She slowly made her way over to stand beside Buck. She saw the vein in his neck thumping with his pulse and the strain in his jaw. He kept his eyes locked on the men in front of him and expertly unlocked the handcuffs around Blackwolf's hands. He shoved Blackwolf away from him and backing up walked out the door, Lou right by his side.
"Put this on," he shouted angrily, flinging his motorcycle helmet at her as she holstered her piece. Blackwolf opened the bar door and stood in the doorway refastening his pants with a meaningful look at Lou before jerking his head smugly at Buck. Buck's stare never left Blackwolf's narrowed, cold black eyes as the motorcycle tore out of the parking lot and onto the road.
He headed straight down the main drag doing fifty. They made it through two green lights and one yellow before coming to an abrupt stop at a red. Over the vicious hum of the motorcycle he shouted, "You okay?"
He tried to crane his neck to see her face. "No you're not."
"Lou, you're crying," he said gently, putting one hand on hers where it clutched at his jacket.
"I can feel you shaking." The light turned green and the motorcycle sprang away from the intersection as they headed out of town. Lou clung to his waist a little tighter and rested her cheek against his shoulders. The wind whipped her tears away and the landscape blurred as they sped on down a relentlessly straight road and back into Red Sand Village.
Jimmy clenched his hands on the wheel, waiting for the light to turn green and listening to Mia and Redbear speaking in a quiet but steady stream of Kiowa back and forth across the front seat.
"No talking except in English," he finally exploded, and Mia spared a look at him from the corner of her eye.
"Don't mind him, Joseph. His bark is worse than his bite," she said airily, laying a slender, turquoise-ringed hand on Jimmy's shoulder. Jimmy had to remember to shrug her hand off impatiently, and make an effort to glare at her placid face half-heartedly. She smiled and inclined her head toward the windshield.
"The light's green, James. We're almost at Buck's office." She started humming that same Kiowa tune she had earlier, idly, her head leaned against the headrest.
He hit the gas with a vengeance, and the rental car's wheels spun under him as they shot forward.
"Why exactly is Buck working out in the middle of nowhere instead of in Carnegie?" Jimmy grumbled, not expecting an answer.
"Self-imposed exile," came the sarcastic reply from the backseat and Jimmy glanced at Redbear through the rearview mirror.
"Red Sand Village is a good place," Mia explained, letting her eyes close as she spoke. "It is a very old settlement and many elders live there."
"And Robert Blackwolf and his friends won't stir up trouble there out of respect for those elders," Redbear added.
"You don't sound like you like Robert Blackwolf very much," Jimmy's eyes snapped again to the rear-view mirror.
Redbear sighed wearily and turned to look out the window. "No, I don't." He did not offer any more information.
Mia turned toward Jimmy. "Bob isn't easy for anyone to like. He makes a show of being in the movement, but the truth is that he's always been trapped here. He did not have the opportunity as Buck did to try things in the white world and return by choice."
"Why in hell he'd ever want to return is beyond me," Jimmy muttered under his breath as he caught sight of the tiny village in the distance.
"It is his home," Mia stated simply and returned to humming. Jimmy and Redbear both snorted dismissively at her words and the three of them looked out the car windows, separate in their thoughts.
Buck pulled up at the office behind the post office and let the bike idle for awhile as Lou wiped her eyes and set her jaw, before finally shutting it down. She stood up and stared blindly at the sandstone building.
Buck grabbed her hand. "C'mon," he said and led her past the office door to a smaller door at the corner. He opened it up and led her up a flight of creaky stairs and unlocked another door at the top. Inside was a leather couch and he guided her to it gently.
"I'm sorry," Lou whispered, not meeting his eyes, nervously playing with the ring on her necklace.
"You don't have to be sorry for anything, Louise. Are you hurt?" She didn't answer, just shook her head. "Good," he said with a forced cheerfulness. "I'll fix you some coffee." He left her on the couch and she could hear the rattling of dishes from the kitchen.
She looked around at the place. It was only one room, and there was a large bed pushed into a corner with a dark wood frame and a red and gray blocked quilt. There were tea candles on the butcher block coffee table and a series of framed black and white landscapes on the walls. Lou stood up and looked at the photos, books, and knick-knacks on the large bookcase behind the couch. "So this is your place?" she asked lamely.
"It ain't your granny's," Buck said with a chuckle.
"It's not what I expected." Her voice did not sound like it was a pleasant surprise.
Buck leaned against the kitchen doorway and looked at her, one eyebrow raised. "What did you expect? Buffalo robes?"
"No," she answered emphatically, "but not Crate & Barrel, that's for sure."
Buck laughed and turned back into the kitchen. "My girlfriend decorated. We bought the stuff when we lived together in Houston and she didn't want to take it with her when she left. I just haven't cared enough to change it."
He came back in and handed her a cup of coffee before flopping down on the couch. Lou took a sip and sat next to him. She ventured a sideways look at him before whispering, "Thanks for showing up at the bar."
He put his arm around her shoulder and his thumb ran up and down her shoulder comfortingly. "How's the coffee?"
"Tastes like plastic."
"It's awful, I know." He looked at her and pulled her closer to him. "You sure you're alright?"
Lou choked down one more swallow of awful coffee. She held the mug in both hands and stared into the swirling liquid. "I'm fine, just . . . just bad memories, you know." She felt him nod though she didn't see it. "My dad was an agent too, y'know. A crooked one. He's been doing time for awhile now, but when I was younger," her voice trailed off and Buck said nothing, his thumb still rubbing her shoulder. "It was his partner, Wicks. I was only fourteen. Cocktail party at my parent's house, Wicks stumbles into my room drunk. I thought my dad would be mad if he knew, so I didn't cry out, didn't make a sound, just let him do what he was there for. Guess some things never change," she said, self-loathing in her voice, looking gloomily down into the coffee cup in her lap.
Buck's thumb came to a standstill. "I'm sorry, Lou."
She laughed ruefully and put her coffee mug on the table before turning to look at him. His eyes mirrored the color of the coffee and she looked at him for a long moment, the wrinkles of concern across his forehead and the soft line of his mouth. "I've never told anyone. Not my parents. Not Kid, not Jimmy."
Lou felt herself staring at him, but she didn't look away. She raised a hand towards his face and Buck caught her wrist. "Lou," he said gently, a warning. She ignored him and leaned in, easily moving her hand out of his and wrapping her fingers around his neck, pulling him towards her until at last he curled his own arm around the back of her head and kissed her. Mia's voice floated up from the office below. "His bike's outside; he must be upstairs." Lou didn't hear her, and she didn't hear the door open downstairs, but suddenly Buck had pulled away from her and Jimmy's voice came in through the door, just as her cell started blaring the lyrics to John Denver's "Country Roads", which Kid had jokingly programmed into her phone as his own ringtone and she couldn't figure out how to change back. She jumped up from the couch and jabbed violently at the cell, walking to the kitchen to answer it in semi-private.
"I'm in a meeting," Lou whispered into the phone. "Yeah, I'm fine, why wouldn't I be?" she glanced over her shoulder through the doorway, as Jimmy stared pointedly at her, and attempted a whispered, "I love you too, gotta go." But Kid kept talking, and she stood at the counter, drumming her knuckles against the white Formica waiting for him to finish.
Mia materialized in the kitchen, leaning around her to take a coffee cup down from the cupboard, tilt the coffeepot and sniff at the coffee, and then pour it down the sink. "Buck, this is disgusting. Sometime let Teaspoon teach you how it's done," she called comfortably, rinsing out the pot and looking sidelong at Lou, who had whispered another I love you and goodbye and was clicking off her cell. "Want a fresh cup?" Mia asked, taking down cups from the cabinet.
Lou shook her head, leaning against the counter.
"You all right?" Mia ventured, refilling the coffee maker's tank and tossing the filter and grounds into the garbage pail under the sink.
"Fine," Lou mumbled, shoving the phone back in her pocket. Hearing his innocent, cheerful voice made her sick with guilt over what his call had interrupted. She loved him, he was good to her, so what on earth was she doing? When she'd finally found somebody who wasn't consumed by his own demons like she was, like Jimmy was, someone who wanted to take care of her, why was it so hard to let him do it? She glanced out at the living room, looking at Buck who didn't need to be saved from anything, who didn't need to save anybody else either. "I'm fine," she repeated.
Replacing the filter and counting out the spoonfuls of coffee, Mia nodded. "Just trying to help," she chirped, pushing the button on the coffee maker and rummaging in the cupboard again, pulling out a tin of cookies and checking the expiration date before tossing it in the garbage and returning to the cabinet in search of something edible.
Lou turned on her heel and skulked back over to the couch, planting herself next to Buck with a thump. For the first time she noticed Redbear having a hushed and hurried conversation with his brother, who was seated across the table from him in an armchair. Jimmy stomped around the room in his usual high spirits. He picked up a framed photo of a young woman standing on the beach, her long brunette hair blown crazy by the wind. "Who's she?" he asked gruffly.
A little annoyed at being interrupted, Buck looked over to Jimmy and answered quickly, "That's uh, Camille."
"The girlfriend that picked out the furniture," Lou half-asked and half-stated. Buck just nodded curtly in response and turned back to his brother.
"Why aren't you still with her?" Jimmy pestered. "Or is it just chance we haven't run into her yet?"
"Camille came with Buck when he moved back from Houston; she didn't last very long though," said Mia, coming in with three cups of coffee carefully balanced in her hands. Mia distributed the cups of coffee to the men and taking the photo out of Jimmy's hand led him to the couch. Once he'd sat down next to Lou with an irritated grunt, Mia perched on the arm of the couch next to him, folding her long legs under her.
"So, it looks like it wasn't Jeff's fault that Songbird died," Buck said, taking a swig of Mia's far superior coffee. He pulled the lab report from his jacket pocket. "From the looks of this report, Jeff found out the medication he administered was tainted. Got this report the day he died," he said, letting Mia see the report before passing it to Jimmy, who snatched it, eyeing it for a moment and passing it to Lou dismissively. Buck looked at Lou. "That means it wasn't Jeff's error as the physician. Joe wouldn't have had a reason to kill Jeff, he wasn't to blame for Helena's death," he said, looking at his brother's impassive face.
"Don't know," Jimmy said stubbornly. "Tompkins still administered the drug, and if Helena had gone to Mia for treatment, then it wouldn't have happened, would it, Joe?"
Redbear hadn't moved even a muscle in his face during the conversation, but his eyes flickered at Jimmy before reaching for the paper. "I know nothing about this. I was at tribal council with Blackwolf and Runningbear. I've said all this before, and they will back me up."
"I wouldn't put much stock in either of their word," Jimmy said. "And either of them had reason to want Jeff dead too. Maybe all three of you are in this together."
"What about the tainted drugs, Buck?" Redbear asked, looking up from the lab report and pointedly ignoring Jimmy. "How could that have happened? Who is responsible for that, for Songbird's death?"
"Well, I'm going to be looking into that, Joe, because this information makes her death a homicide too," Buck agreed.
Jimmy waved his hand. "Well, I'm here about a murder, not a products liability case, so- "
"Yes. The death of a white doctor will always take precedence over a Kiowa woman and her child," Redbear flared, jumping up and knocking the untouched coffee cup over on the white shag. Seeing Jimmy's dismissive look, Redbear lunged a second time for his throat, overturning the coffee table and its contents. Jimmy and Buck subdued him quickly, and planting a knee on his back, Jimmy panted, "Thanks for makin' it easy, Redbear. Buck, you got a holding cell down there?"
"Jimmy, come on. He hardly laid a hand on you; he just lost his wife and baby -"
"He's going in the tank, here or at the Federal office, I'm not taking a chance on him skipping the reservation," Jimmy insisted, hauling Redbear up and pointing him toward the door. Mia sighed and went back to the kitchen, returning with a bottle of carpet cleaner and some paper towels, and bending to spray down the three puddles of coffee on Buck's once-pristine carpet.
"Joe, I'm working on Helena's case, I promise," Buck said, following behind and fishing in his pockets for the key to the holding cell.
"I know . . . a'ho, brother," Redbear said, his head bowed.
As Buck closed the cell door on his brother, and spoke quietly with the uniformed guard he'd called to take charge of the lockdown, Lou murmured to Jimmy, "You know we can't make a case stick on just motive, Jimmy. We're going nowhere fast on this mess."
"Tell me something I don't know," Jimmy said, exasperated.
"You can't keep him here without charging him more than -"
"I know how long I can hold him."
"Well if we're holding everybody then maybe we should round up Blackwolf and Runningbear too, don't you think?" Lou felt her cheeks flush with anger and she lifted her chin obstinately as she spoke, "I talked with Blackwolf again today and he's got motive to spare and he seems a lot more likely to be a killer than Redbear."
"You're only saying that because Redbear is Buck's brother," Jimmy snapped. "The two of you need to stop wasting time on being sentimental and sympathetic; we need a break in this case, damn it." He turned away from her, staring out the window with arms crossed.
She put a hand on his arm. "What's been eating at you since we got here, Jimmy?"
Processing paperwork at his desk across the room, Buck watched from the corner of his eye.
"You know what it is. What's going on with you and Cross? I walked in on something."
Lou stiffened. "You have no right to ask that, not anymore. "
"I don't get it." He turned and stared at her until she dropped her gaze. "I thought Kid had something to offer you that I didn't. A commitment, like you supposedly wanted? Now it turns out I stepped aside for nothing. You're willing to step out on Mr. White Picket Fence for a guy you've known three days? What the hell?"
"You and I were over way before Kid came along, so this isn't about you, okay?"
Jimmy flinched as if she'd flung a glass of water in his face, and in the background Buck got up to go to the file room.
Jimmy searched her face, wondering if she knew the answers any better than he did. "Why, Lou? What are you looking for, anyway?"
"I can't explain it. It's just there, a natural connection, I . . ." she trailed off, shutting her eyes and turning her back. "It's just . . .." Just what, that was the question. Just she felt like she'd known and trusted Buck all her life already. "It's just easier with Buck, okay? He doesn't try so damn hard all the time."
Lou caught the hurt in Jimmy's voice before his anger smothered it up. "You were the one who asked for something from me that I told you wasn't in me to give. And damn it, I did try, and if you're holding that against me . . ."
Lou shook her head and laughed humorlessly. "Jimmy, I guess I sometimes wanted it not to be so much work, for it to just be, you know?"
Buck's voice startled her as he stuck his head back in the office. "Look, I'm heading over to the clinic to work on the Songbird piece of this. Anybody coming?"
"Yes," Lou said, pushing past Jimmy, needing to put some space between her and the questions Jimmy was forcing her to ask herself.
Jimmy watched her follow Buck out the door, and then went out in the hall in time to see Mia wandering down the stairs forlornly. "You need a ride home, I guess," he said, feeling as tired and lost as she looked. She nodded and walked ahead of him to the car as Buck's motorcycle roared away with Buck and Lou on it.
They got into the car and he pulled out into the street, heading toward her place in silence all the way home, and up to the porch of her dilapidated house. "I'm sorry, we got more questions than answers today, Mia. It happens like that sometimes."
She put her hand on the door, nodding, and he pulled her into his arms; they clung to each other frantically, shutting out the hurt, before backing into the house and onto the couch in her living room, holding on for dear life. He cradled her there for long minutes wavering and knowing full well that they were both nursing broken hearts that would still be that way afterwards if they kept going like they both wanted to, and in the end he kissed her tenderly on the forehead and contented himself with that much. She hid her face in the crook of his neck like a little girl, stroking his chest and whispering, "You have more work to do?"
"Yeah," he said, resting his head against hers. A sudden thought occurred to him, "Do you know some guy named Kickingbird?"
"Lots of 'em," Mia answered drowsily, her fingers tracing lazy circles across his chest.
"Coroner," Jimmy clarified, "I've got to get something concrete on someone."
Mia nodded against him, "His office is in the tribal headquarters too. Basement. If you go through the front door, the front desk can point you in the right direction."
Gently Jimmy pushed her away. "I'll let you know what I find out." He bent for another kiss on her smooth cheek, to comfort her and maybe himself too, and stood up, holding onto her hand a moment before leaving, the broken screen door clanking shut behind.
In a half-hour Jimmy walked up the steps to the medical examiner's office, and headed down to the morgue, wanting to check on what the holdup was on the official autopsy results. Looking inside, he saw that Jeff Two Ponies Tompkins himself lay on the slab, his internal organs arranged carefully in jars, a toe tag hanging and fluttering in the slight breeze from the air conditioner vent overhead.
"Federal agent James Hickok," he announced. "You are?"
"Reservation Medical Examiner. Dr. Woodrow W. Kickingbird," the doctor replied, straightening up. He was a tall, angular man with bronze skin who looked too young and cheerful to be a coroner.
"Mind telling me what's taking so long with this autopsy, Doctor?"
"Just being extra careful, sir," the young man said eagerly. He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. "It's my first homicide case. I was elected only a few months ago."
"Great," Jimmy said. "Lemme see what we got here." He approached the slab and drew on a pair of gloves, edging young Dr. Kickingbird out of the way. He picked up Tompkins' arms and examined them, frowning. The fingernails were ragged, the tips of his fingers scraped-looking. And the knuckles were fractured on one of the hands. Jimmy glanced up at the clean shaven face, at the lone tattoo on the body, a crescent moon with Mia's name embedded in it on the back of the right forearm. He turned to Dr. Kickingbird, who was watching him expectantly. Jimmy pointed at the forensic slides neatly laid out on the table behind him. "Where are the slides from the swabs under the nails?"
"Right here sir," Kickingbird said quickly, rummaging through the dozens of slides. Jimmy liked his attitude, and took the slides Woodrow handed him, placed them on the microscope and leaned his hands on either side of the instrument, bending down to look.
As he expected, graphite from the roof and blood cells, that would have to be given a full DNA workup, even though likely it was Jeff's own blood from scrabbling at the roof's edge. And a couple of fibers . . . he turned up the magnification and looked more closely. They were shaped like short human hairs with overlapping scales . . . most likely wool, dyed a dark gray. He switched off the microscope. Lou was right this was more than an impulsive shove over the side of the roof. The killer had smashed Tompkins' hands deliberately, all while looking him right in his eyes. Just like Mia saw in her vision, Jeff had known it was coming.
He got up and nodded to the coroner, pulling off his plastic gloves and depositing them in the garbage on his way out.
"The pharmacy's records will be in here," Jenny sighed, pointing down the hall at a small office. "I don't understand why this is taking precedence over my brother's murder, Buck," she protested, before subsiding at Buck's disapproving look. "I know, Helena's life was important too," she said, sheepishly. She tapped on the door, and an older woman with bright red lipstick clashing with her lavender twinset, and a pair of reading glasses hung on a beaded chain, opened it. "What can I do for you, Jenny?" she smiled.
"Hi, Carol. These agents are here to see anything you have on the last order of this medication." Jenny handed the lab report with the medication's name circled on it. "I'd heard about the drug company selling some tainted batches of this in some third world countries; guess one slipped into the U.S. We'd better recall anything in the pharmacy from that batch and notify the manufacturer," Jenny said wearily.
"Goodness me," Carol fluttered.
Carol set down her Carnegie Wildcats mug, and rifled through the filing cabinet, perplexed. "It should be there." She rummaged through the files a second time. "Strange. Dr. Tompkins was in looking at this the evening he died," she recalled. "He wanted to take it with him, but I said no. I let him make a copy. I took the original back from him myself, and then he left."
"What time?" Buck probed, taking the woman by the arm gently.
Carol rubbed her heavily-powdered chin. "It was closing time. I locked up the room and went home."
"Who else has a key to this room?" Buck asked, his dark eyes intense.
Carol put a hand on her helmet of sandy-colored hair, and ticked off slowly, "The janitor. Me, and Mr. Tompkins of course."
"Buck what are you getting at?" Lou asked, mystified. Buck was staring at the cabinet, when Jimmy appeared at the doorway.
"Thought we should take a look up on the roof, just to be sure there's no-" he paused, as Buck swept past him. "We going someplace else, now?" he complained, following the others.
"Last stop," Buck answered, slamming open the door to the clinic and heading toward his motorcycle.
Buck didn't wait for Lou and she found herself scrambling into the rental car with Jimmy as Buck's motorcycle was already turning out of the parking lot. "What the hell is going on?"
Jimmy muttered grumpily as he tried to catch up, pushing the car far past the speed limit and still unable to gain on Buck. "You have any idea what this is all about?" Jimmy asked Lou, sparing a glance in her direction.
"No more than you do," she answered back.
Jimmy came to a screeching halt at a red light as Buck sped on through. "Damn it!" he shouted, slamming his open palm against the steering wheel. "Keep your eyes on him." He tapped his thumbs against the steering wheel in an impatient tattoo. "Just when I get actual, real, hard evidence, Cross has to lead us on another wild goose chase."
The light turned green and the wheels squealed as they lurched forward. Buck had come to a stop at a red light himself a few blocks ahead of them. "What evidence?" Lou asked, fighting the urge to grab the handle over her window as the storefronts on either side slid past in a blur. Buck's light turned green and she didn't give Jimmy time to answer her question. "He turned left." Jimmy gunned the engine and they made the same turn as the light turned to yellow. The street quickly turned residential and Lou breathed a sigh of relief as both Buck and Jimmy slowed down. "What evidence?" she repeated.
"Jeff Tompkins got a piece of his killer, or at least their suit, under his nails," Jimmy answered. "We match fibers and we've got a case."
"I can't see Redbear wearing a suit," Lou muttered. "I didn't see one in his place when we were there, either."
"Maybe it wasn't a suit," Jimmy snapped back. "Maybe it was a loincloth. I don't know. I'm just saying as soon as Cross is done leading us around, we're getting a warrant for Redbear's closet." He paused and added as an afterthought, "And Runningbear and Blackwolf."
Ahead of them, Buck's motorcycle came to a screeching halt outside of a large Tudor house, the front yard overflowing with well-tended rosebushes. Jimmy climbed out of the car and slammed the door before walking towards Buck. "Want to give me a clue as to what we're doing, Cross?"
"This is the Tompkins house," Buck answered evenly, "and I have a few questions for Bill." He set his helmet roughly on the seat of his bike and bounded up the steps with strength and grace, just like his namesake. Jimmy sighed heavily and followed with Lou just behind him.
The doorbell had barely sounded when Bill Tompkins opened up the door, wearing shirtsleeves, a burgundy tie and looking generally displeased. "What are you doing here?"
"We've got some things to ask you," Buck pushed past him into the house and Tompkins stood bewildered at the door as Jimmy and Lou followed him in.
"Come on in," the older man said sarcastically. "Please make yourself at home." He shut the door and gestured into a bright room with heavy leather furniture and a huge stone fireplace. Jimmy looked around and whistled softly, the place stank of money. Tompkins followed them in and poured himself a scotch from a crystal decanter on the sideboard. "I'd offer you a drink, but presumably if you want one, you'll fix it yourself."
Buck was not at all ruffled by the man's rude demeanor and he looked straight at Tompkins and asked bluntly, "Where are the pharmacy records for the drugs administered to Helena Songbird?"
Tompkins' face went as red as his tie and he choked for a moment on his scotch. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"You're a bad liar," noted Jimmy. He stood casually, weight to one hip, but Lou had known him long enough to know he was on alert and she felt her own shoulders tense, felt acutely the pressure of her shoulder holster against her torso.
Buck looked like a coiled spring, and his voice held even only by a supreme effort. "Everybody knows the hospital funnels equipment and meds to the clinic as a tax break, Bill. And everybody knows that you oversee it, trying to be sure you get the most bang for your buck. The only thing that remains a mystery is whether you stole the records out of embarrassment once Jeff told you the drugs were tainted or if you'd known all along."
Tompkins put down his empty glass with a shaking hand. "I don't think you have a right to be here, bullying me with these ridiculous accusations. Now, get out of my house."
"Look, Mr. Tompkins, this ain't nothin' official. We're just trying to put together a case, that's all. Just figured you'd want to know our progress, is all." Jimmy walked around Tompkins and poured himself a drink. "If Jeff gave Helena Songbird bad meds, well, what husband wouldn't want revenge on the doctor that killed his wife?" He sipped from the glass and nodded at Tompkins in appreciation of the scotch's fine quality.
"You son of a bitch," Buck muttered under his breath and started for Jimmy, stopped only by Lou's slender arm.
Jimmy rested his glass on the sideboard and ran his hand over a suit jacket that had been casually draped across the back of an armchair. "Nice suit," he murmured, "worsted wool, Italian, right?"
Tompkins was taken aback by the sudden switch in conversation, and he stuttered as he answered, "Yes, actually."
"Professional interest," said Jimmy as he picked up his glass again. "Official business they always want us in suits and ties. Hard finding a good one these days. It would take more than bureau wages to buy something like that I can tell you." Tompkins relaxed visibly at Jimmy's flattery.
Lou watched Jimmy keenly. He never acted this politely unless . . . she felt her nerves pop to attention, unless he had his man.
The four people in the room eyed each other tensely, and the silence was cut by the clanking of the automatic garage door opening.
"My wife's home," Tompkins said, setting down the glass. "You'll have to go; this interview is over."
"Yeah, well, we have some questions for Sally, not just you," Buck started, and Tompkins cut him off.
"No, you don't. You won't upset my wife with all this nonsense, not now, not when she's just lost her son," Tompkins boomed, starting to take Buck by the shoulder to steer him out, but dropping his hand when Buck leveled a forbidding stare at him.
"Bill," a shaky woman's voice wavered from the hallway. "Bill, we have to talk, it's important, honey."
The door opened and a short brunette woman wearing an expensive pair of dark-wash jeans and a silk blouse with pearls framing the collar appeared in the frame, with Mia standing behind her, holding Jeff's mother's arm protectively and looking at Tompkins with accusing, sad eyes.
"What are all these people doing here, Bill? What's happened?" Sally asked, and Tompkins glared hatefully at Mia.
"What's she doing here, is the question. What crap has she been telling you?" Tompkins asked.
"Nothing, Bill, Mia just called me and asked me to come pick her up so we could talk. She said it was important and we had to come back here to talk to you. She just said in the car that she knows who killed Jeff," Sally said, clutching Mia's hand.
Tompkins' eyes goggled at Mia. "You know who killed my son?"
Mia's thick black hair was half out of its ponytail and falling loose down the left side of her face, unheeded. "You know it too," she said, tears brimming up. "I saw you," she accused, stepping away from Sally's clutching hands. "I saw you kill him, he begged for mercy and you showed him none," she said, her breath coming hard and her pupils so dilated as to give her an owl-like, wild-eyed appearance. Jimmy looked questioningly at Buck, who shrugged his shoulders silently, turning back to watch Mia and Tompkins intently.
"You saw nothing," Tompkins shouted, his face twisted in rage. "You're stoned out of your head, on that crazy peyote you like so much."
"I took twice as much this time, so I could have another vision, a clearer one," Mia agreed, wiping sweat from her face shakily with her forearm. "I know the truth now. You're the father bear. You killed the boy you raised. Why?" she wailed, and Tompkins turned away with a disgusted face.
"Wasn't it enough for you to turn my son against me with your damn voodoo, now that he's dead you come in my house and accuse me like this? Get out," he ordered dismissively with a brief wave of his hand in her direction. Mia shook her head, moving closer to him, her hands shaking so that the beaded bracelets on her wrists rattled audibly.
"Mia." Buck pulled the overwrought woman gently by the arm away from Tompkins, and pressed two fingers to her wrist. "You took too much. Your pulse is too fast," he said softly after a few seconds, and she jerked her hand away.
"It doesn't matter. He did this, Running Buck, he murdered Two Ponies," she insisted doggedly, and Jimmy looked quickly at Sally, stunned and pressing her hand over her mouth in the corner, gray-faced. He always hated questioning the victims' mothers, and this was going to be a lot worse than usual. He braced himself and tried taking control of the investigation again.
"Mrs. Tompkins. Nobody's accusing anybody of anything. I know your husband loved your son," he said carefully, watching the stricken woman. "Right?"
Sally kept her hand pressed over her mouth and jerked her head, tears spilling over. "No. No, he didn't. He never accepted him, not really. He never forgave him for not being his real son," she choked, the words sounding as if they were dragged from the pit of her soul and forced out.
"That's not true. I gave that boy everything," Tompkins yelled, his fists balled at his sides and backing up like a cornered animal. "He was the one, after everything I did for him, who turned his back on me. I tried, damn it. I tried like hell for thirty years to be a father to that ungrateful kid, and what thanks do I get for it?"
"You went through the motions, Bill. Your heart wasn't in it. You never really let Jeff in, and he sensed that," Sally said. "It was my fault; I should have just left, not let it go on like I did. I was weak. I convinced myself, if you acted the part, what difference did it make? I should have listened to my heart, Jeff would have been better off if I'd just told him the truth about who he was."
"You're wrong. I was a good father, damn it."
"Let's all just simmer down, shall we?" Jimmy said, coolly. "Buck? She all right?"
Buck had sat Mia down on a leather armchair, and was kneeling by her side, holding her hand. He looked up and nodded, turning his head toward Sally. "Mrs. Tompkins, do you remember anything about the night Jeff died, the next morning?"
"It's . . . it's a blur, when I got the news the next day, everything else went out of my head," Sally whimpered. Lou took her arm and guided her gently to the couch.
"Think, ma'am. What time did you and your husband go to bed?" she asked, sitting next to her and taking her hand.
Sally looked dully at Tompkins, trying to wet her dry lips before speaking hoarsely. "He went out after dinner, and didn't come back before I went to bed. When I woke up, he was in the bed with me."
"What was he wearing when he left after dinner?" Jimmy asked.
"His dark gray suit," she answered, slowly. When Jimmy's eyes flickered a moment, Sally burst into tears. "Was the killer wearing a gray suit? Is that it? Bill, please, what's going on? Did you see Jeff that night? Did you . . . did you have an argument?"
"How could you ask me that?" Tompkins erupted incredulously. "You believe some drug-induced hallucination this one dreams up instead of your own husband?" He looked menacingly at Mia and Jimmy put his hand over his gun.
Buck turned to Tompkins roughly, tired of the cat and mouse game, and spitting the words into his face, narrowed his eyes dangerously. "Let's end this Bill, where were you and who can vouch for you for the night of the seventeenth, damn it?"
Tompkins looked around the room, wildly.
"Fine. The hard way then," Buck said abruptly letting go of Tompkins' arm and pulling his phone from his pocket dismissively and starting to dial. "I'll get a squad car for you and I'm sure Mrs. Tompkins will give her consent for us to search your house. If you left any physical evidence we'll find it, whether or not you cooperate, I'll be sure to let the prosecutor know not to cut you any slack. Works just fine for me."
Staring at Buck and at Sally's devastated look, the wheels turning in his head almost visibly, Tompkins' face went from indignant to frightened to resigned within the space between two heartbeats. He picked up the scotch and downed it in a practiced gulp, and sank into a chair. Buck saw Jimmy move toward Tompkins with a sympathetic face, no doubt preparing to break out his "good cop" impression. He turned toward the window to let Jimmy work, and quietly called in for a squad car to the tribal police headquarters.
Jimmy sat down on the edge of the large leather ottoman that served as a coffee table, facing Tompkins, sitting drooped forward with his elbows down on his knees. "Nobody thinks you did this with malice aforethought, Mr. Tompkins. I can figure how it was." He took the glass from Tompkins and set it on the side table, not taking his eyes from his suspect. "He threatened to turn you in. Wouldn't listen to how it was an accident, how you'd get sued or worse over Helena Songbird. After all you did for him, that must've hurt like hell."
Tompkins nodded, his head hanging down.
"After all, what happened with her was an accident, it was done. There was no bringing her back. What good would it do, dragging you down too?"
"I tried to tell him that, see," Tompkins said, rubbing his hand across his face.
"He wouldn't listen, would he, Bill?" Jimmy whispered. He leaned a little closer, his head not quite touching Tompkins. "He didn't see, turning you in wasn't going to solve anything, but it would kill his mother, ruin you and everything you've built up here, the life you've worked hard for. I can see how it must have been."
"It would kill Sally and Jenny too, I told him. He didn't care; all he talked about was Joe Redbear needing to know the truth. And about her, wanting her to believe in him again," Tompkins said, vindictively. He turned to shoot a filthy glare at Mia, who had her eyes fixed on Jimmy and Tompkins.
"What happened? You get into a scuffle, got too close to the edge of the roof? Get in a shoving match?" Jimmy asked, carefully going in small increments, taking him there in baby steps like Sam had trained him years ago, but Sally let out an agonized sob.
"Bill, look at me and tell me the truth. Did you kill my baby?" she demanded, jumping up and standing over her husband. "Damn it, Bill, why? To keep from going to prison?"
Tompkins glowered, looking down at his feet, in expensive dress shoes. Jimmy followed his gaze and paused a moment before quietly asking, "Those are the shoes you had on, aren't they, Bill?"
The room was frozen quiet, except for the ticking of an expensive clock over the mantel and the sounds of the automatic sprinkler going on outside to water the emerald green carpet of lawn in front of the house.
Jimmy lowered his voice and appealed to him, like he would to a friend in trouble. "Bill. You know if there's DNA on those we'll find it. Bill. Those are the shoes, aren't they?"
Finally, Tompkins nodded.
Buck made the calls and Jimmy stayed where he was, his energy still focused on Tompkins, but his eyes flicked over to Lou, who caught the glance. She'd worked with him long enough to understand and she put an arm over Sally Tompkins' shaking shoulders. "Mrs. Tompkins, you don't need to be here when the arrest is made. Why don't you show me where a phone is and we can call your daughter."
"There's . . . there's a phone in the kitchen," said Sally, her voice halting and mangled by sobs.
Lou looked to Buck for help but he was still on his cell, talking to dispatch. Mia stood up and joined them. "I'll show you," she said, resting her hand on Jimmy's shoulder for a split second before leading the way through an arched doorway and into a sunny breakfast nook with a bright white kitchen just beyond the table and chairs. "I'll call," Mia offered as Lou helped Mrs. Tompkins into a chair.
"No," Sally protested with a weak waving of her hand, "I should tell her. Please just bring me the phone."
Mia brought the phone to her and she and Lou politely retreated to the kitchen to let Mrs. Tompkins break the news in private. Mia leaned against the counter exhausted and Lou eyed her with concern. "Do you need anything, Mia?"
Mia shook her head. "No, it will just take some time for the vision to leave me is all." She sighed and, opening her eyes, seemed to look at Lou with a new-found clarity. "Why don't you wear your ring on your finger?"
"It doesn't fit," Lou answered feebly. Mia didn't say anything, just looked steadily at her.
"I haven't decided that I want to," Lou admitted, her voice sounding more defensive than she'd meant.
Mia nodded knowingly. "You do not know what you want, or what you're willing to give up to have it." Lou fidgeted at the accuracy but also the analytical detachment of the statement. Considering the way her stomach churned at the thought of the choice, it had to be more complicated than that. Lou regarded Mia for a moment, wondering if she shouldn't just blurt out the whole confusing thing and have someone else sort it out. Mia's eyes were faraway on Two Ponies and what was lost and what most likely could never have been anyway. "And love doesn't always come all neat and clean in a perfect package with squared-off corners, does it?" she murmured, her eyes focusing again on Lou.
Before Lou could even begin to answer, Mia added, "And then there's Buck."
Lou colored slightly at the statement. "What about Buck?"
Mia shrugged, "You like him and he could love you."
Mia nodded slowly, as though the effort of the movement took all her energy. "But he will always love his people more." Their conversation ended then, as the sound of a siren split the air and Mrs. Tompkins' sobbing turned hysterical.
Two tribal policemen guided Tompkins toward the waiting police car as Mia, Jimmy, Lou and Buck stood watching somberly in a line in front of the rhododendrons outside the Tompkins' house. Jimmy turned to Mia. "You okay? That stuff wearing off yet?"
Not listening, Mia had her eyes squeezed shut, trying to will forth another vision. She wished with all her might for a vision of Jeff at peace, or perhaps of two ponies running free, now that their namesake's murder had been solved. But nothing came. She opened her eyes and looked sadly at Jimmy.
"Let's drop you home," Jimmy said, putting an arm around her bare shoulders and opening the passenger door to his car. "Meet you two back at the station for the final paperwork."
Lou tugged on Buck's arm as Jimmy and Mia rode off toward her house. "There's something else to tie up."
He waited for her to go on, taking his sunglasses out of his pocket and putting them on, watching her.
"Blackwolf. The others at the bar. I don't want to let it go. Not this time."
A little surprised, Buck put a leg over the motorcycle, handing back the helmet to her. "What do you want to do? Arrest him yourself, or for me to do it? Either way."
She climbed on behind, slipping her arms around him and pressing up against him one more time. "I trust you to do it. I'll come back and testify when it's time, if you need me to. Don't say anything to Jimmy, okay?" She rested her chin against his shoulder, and he put his hand over hers around his waist, lacing his fingers into hers and nodding, and they sat there for a moment, before he reluctantly freed his hand and started the motorcycle, roaring off back toward the station.
Jimmy kept a worried eye on Mia on the way back to her house. Outside it had clouded up and sheet lightning flashed in the east as a storm moved steadily closer. Mia's face was as pale as the sky and beads of sweat gathered across her forehead, and her eyes were squeezed shut. She wiped her arm across her brow, but the movement was too languid to be of much use. Jimmy caught her hand as her arm descended and held on to it.
"How long does that stuff last?" he asked worriedly.
Mia squeezed his hand gently. "I'll be fine, James," she whispered softly.
"You don't look fine," he muttered as the rain started to spill out of the clouds.
"Can I roll down the window?" she asked, her voice barely audible. "I like the smell of the rain." Jimmy nodded curtly, not giving a damn about the rental car's interior. Once her window was down, the cool clean smell of the rain invaded the car and Mia opened her eyes at last to stare in contemplation at the roof of the car. "The rain is a wonderful thing," she said, her voice sounding stronger. "It washes everything away so the earth can be new again." She closed her eyes again and began to hum. The tune had become familiar to Jimmy over the short time he'd known her, and he found his jangled nerves settling down at the sound of it.
At last they drove up her driveway, and Jimmy turned off his motor just as the first crack of thunder boomed out, rattling the car windows. Mia's bright eyes popped open and she let go of his hand to get out of the car and walk slowly up the stairs and into her house.
"Don't you lock your door?" Jimmy called after her.
She looked over her shoulder with a small smile. "There's no need. Will you come in, James?" He nodded and followed her inside. "I'll have some tea," she said softly and put a kettle on to boil before flopping onto her couch. She patted the cushion beside her and Jimmy, standing awkwardly beside the door, joined her. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and idly fidgeted with his collar. Jimmy slipped his arm around her and drew her close. "I thought once I knew the truth it wouldn't hurt as much," she mumbled into his shirt, her breath hot.
Jimmy kissed the top of her head and held her tight. There was nothing to say. He could only let her cling to him and cry, her hand bruising his neck as she held onto him. Outside the rain fell faster, the thunder boomed louder, as though the sky had needed to mourn as well. The full fury of the storm lasted only a moment, and Mia's sobs slowed and hiccoughed, her grip on Jimmy lessened and the tea kettle whistled, a shrill reminder that life will always, relentlessly, go on.
Jimmy sauntered back into the tribal headquarters, pulling off his sunglasses with a smooth motion and nodding to the local cops, scanning for Buck's desk.
"Your partner went down to the conference room on the end of the hall with Buck Cross, to finish the paperwork on Bill Tompkins," one of them volunteered.
He nodded briskly and headed down the hall, and heard their voices coming from the open door, and something made him slow down.
"So if you sign the complaint here and here, I can make the arrests and have them charged within a day or two. If they take a deal you won't have to come back and testify, of course." Buck was saying offhandedly. Jimmy stopped short and stood in the hallway, his hand against the wall.
"Buck, thanks for everything. I know it'll be hard on you, you're already unpopular enough around here without having to arrest those three, especially for attacking a white woman on the rez."
"Well, I'm used to being unpopular, as you put it," Buck chuckled. "I think it's important for you not to just let it go, not this time, am I right?"
Jimmy, drawing closer to the door, saw Buck comfortingly place a hand on the back of Lou's neck, and saw her look up tearfully at him. They turned their heads together and saw him standing looking at them in the doorway, and Buck dropped his hand casually and picked up his pen again. "Good timing, Jimmy. We almost got the paperwork together here without you."
"Everything okay, Lou?" Jimmy asked, but she didn't look up from her section of the paperwork.
"Fine, we'll be done with all this and on a plane to Denver tomorrow morning," she said off-handedly, and Jimmy saw he wasn't to be trusted with whatever it was that was making her drop her pen and cross her arms over her chest, covering her upper arms with her hands and look out the window.
Jimmy patted his stomach contentedly as he and Lou walked out of the Silver Spoon. It was early and the sun had only just come up. The puddles from the night's storm glared in the early morning light and the town still smelled of wet concrete and mud. Jimmy looked over the place a little sadly as they walked across the parking lot to the car. It wasn't much and it wasn't anything he liked, but something in the pit of his stomach told him he would miss it.
A familiar Indian motorcycle pulled up beside the car and Jimmy grinned as Mia got off from behind Buck and ran across the blacktop to him. He paid too much attention to the feel of her in his arms and the smell of her hair to watch Buck and Lou embrace.
Lou felt butterflies as Buck looked down at her, keeping his hand on the small of her back. She studied his dark eyes, thinking she might find some answers in them but came up empty. "Well?" he asked and she understood the question.
She kissed him softly on the cheek and took a step back. "Thanks, Buck."
He nodded in understanding and his eyes flicked quickly to the ring on her necklace, which Lou had not even realized she was clutching. She blushed madly, but suddenly she felt in a hurry to get home. She shrugged helplessly at Buck and he laughed good-naturedly, any hurt on his part well hidden.
"Get a room already," Buck called out to Mia and Jimmy and Jimmy suddenly looked at them, his face going red and a guilty smile on his face. Mia only giggled. Jimmy let go of Mia long enough to shake Buck's hand. "Cross, you ever want a job out in the real world, I'd be happy to put in a good word for you."
"Thanks, Hickok, I'll keep that in mind." The four of them stood awkwardly for a moment, unsure how to say goodbye. At last Buck cleared his throat loudly. "Better hit the road; you two don't want to miss your plane."
"Guess we better," said Jimmy slapping Buck on the back and headed for the car. Lou hugged Mia quickly, shot one last glance at Buck and climbed in the passenger seat. The car was already stuffy, and remembering the a/c was out she rolled down the window as the engine sputtered to life.
"Don't speed!" Buck shouted as they pulled past and out onto the street. Mia stood waving as the car drove down the road. Buck stood beside her and as the car turned and disappeared from sight, he draped a brotherly arm across her shoulders. "You gonna miss him?"
Mia sighed, "I think he'll be back."
Buck laughed and gave her shoulders a squeeze. "God, Mia, I hope not."
Mia ignored his comment. "She won't, though."
"Don't you think so?"
She looked at him, her dark eyes glittering in the early morning sun. "She likes you, but she'll go home to the other one."
Buck nodded and looked back in the direction they had driven. "I think you're right." They stood there for a moment until the smell of hash browns washed over them in a sudden gust of wind. Buck patted her shoulder and dropped his arm. "Want some breakfast?"
"Yes. I'm starved."
"Let's go then," he nudged her towards the door and followed behind her, sparing one last glance for the horizon.