This is the first draft of a science fiction novel I've penned named "Hollis Whittaker." There are succeeding drafts underway, with both storyline, chapter order and grammatical changes, but if you have any thoughts, feel free to contact me about them. I'd love to hear what you think, even if it's critical.


Hollis Whittaker

Chapters 21-25

XXI

With the beginnings of a cool blue sky creeping across the horizon, dusk had yet to usher in any warmth from the evening before and the Honda Accord was colder inside than outside as the boys piled in. With a shiver in his lips, Kirby joked to Hollis in the front seat that he should open the window to let in some heat. Cha’Risa turned the key in the ignition and the starter struggled for the energy to wake the engine from its icy slumber. It was an uneasy moment as the trio waited for the reassuring sound of a running engine, but the car spurred to life and provided a collective sigh of relief.

As the car pulled away from the Braithwaite Inn, Kirby spread out on the back seat, closing his eyes and pulling his arms inside his Redskins sweatshirt.

“Can I check my email?” Hollis asked.

Cha’Risa pulled her phone from her jacket pocket and handed it to him. Within a few swipes he was reading through a reply from Alexus.


ive nown kirby since lk k and he nvr liked me so thats y i dont like him idek y he dsnt lk me i think hes funny and everything but he always calls me a btch wich i hate i evn invited him to my bday in 1st grade and he sed the prty sucked cuz it wz myn so u need to talk to him insted of me omg how far away r u guyz r u still in virg that wud b so kool 2 go somewhere awsum wats it lik


“Any luck?” Cha’Risa asked, trying not to disturb Kirby.

“Yeah, she got back to me.”

“Do you mind reading it to me?”

Hollis read through the email. “I’m going to get back to her, okay?”

“Yeah,” Cha’Risa replied. “But you know the drill.”

“Don’t tell her where we are and read it to you before I hit send.”

“Exactly.”


Hollis clicked on the phone for a few minutes, his eyes still adjusting to the morning light. After receiving an approval, he sent the email and offered the phone back to Cha’Risa, but pulled back as she reached out for it. “Should I check the news?” he asked.

“Yeah, sure,” she said. “That’d be pretty smart. Better to know everything we can.”

The boy tapped the phone a number of times and fell silent as he scrolled through the morning’s news. “Um,” he said. “Cha’Risa?”

“What? What is it?” The apprehension in her voice was palpable.

“There’s a picture of you,” Hollis responded. “They know who you are.”

The Accord pulled to an abrupt stop on the edge of the road, the gravel slipping under its tires. Cha’Risa grabbed the phone out of Hollis’ hands and read the article aloud.


DELACROIX, Va. —— Police identified the woman believed to have kidnapped two fifth grade boys at gunpoint from one of their homes on Wednesday. Cha’Risa Gutierrez, 24, of Agóyó Pueblo, N.M. has been named as the primary suspect in the Amber Alert abduction of 10-year olds Hollis Whittaker and Kirby Cooper-Quinn, both of Delacroix. Gutierrez, who is driving a blue Ford Aerostar minivan with New Mexico plates “506 KUP,” is considered armed and dangerous.

Police would not comment on a motive, but the case has drawn national attention due to the meteoric rise to fame of one of the abductees in the past week. Whittaker was labeled a “child prodigy” by world-renowned astronomers recently for his discovery of a long-elusive ninth planet. Scientists were stunned that the discovery came from a child with only a fifth grade background in their area of study.

Detective Terrence Pacquet, of the Delacroix Police Department, told a crowded room of reporters and well-wishers that Gutierrez had a “substantial criminal record” with multiple arrests including criminal threatening, unlawful discharge of a weapon and disorderly conduct.

“At this time, we are not ruling anything out, including serious bodily harm to either of the two children,” Pacquet said. “Ms. Gutierrez discharged a rifle inside the Whittaker home during the abduction and anytime a firearm is used in an abduction, there is obvious reason to be concerned.”

Pacquet described Gutierrez as petite, a Native American with long black hair. At the time of the abduction, she was reportedly wearing a black jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, though he added that she may have changed her clothing or hairstyle.

Adding to the mystery, Pacquet revealed that both Whittaker and Cooper-Quinn were the first on scene at a homicide earlier in the day. The two boys, Pacquet explained, “happened upon” Fern Mori, 66, owner of Relics and More, an antique store in Delacroix. Mori had been shot multiple times while at her place of business and her case is still under investigation. Pacquet would not call Gutierrez a suspect in that homicide, but also would not rule her out as a suspect.

“I think the fact that we have a homicide involving the two boys raises a lot more questions than it answers,” Pacquet said. “There are aspects to both of these cases that I am not prepared to discuss. Ms. Gutierrez is the number one person of interest, but at this time I am not prepared to name her as a suspect in Ms. Mori’s case. I can only say that we would like to talk to her.”

Pacquet declined to comment on a man and a woman allegedly present at the abduction claiming to be government agents. Hollis Whittaker’s parents told reporters that the male “agent” had tried to kill their son when Gutierrez interrupted and abducted the boys. Graham Whittaker, Hollis’ father, was visibly shaken and appeared to have been involved in an altercation when he described the supposed federal agents as “murderers.”

Pacquet denied any knowledge of involvement by federal agencies. He said that his department had neither contacted the federal authorities nor been notified of their interest in either of the cases. There was a second firearm discharged during the abduction, he noted.

“I can say that we have recovered a slug consistent with the Whittakers’ description of events. It was a different caliber than the first weapon, which leads us to believe that there are, in fact, two other people out there who know something about this. They aren’t suspects in the boys’ abductions, but they certainly seem to be involved in some way and we have reason to believe that they are also armed and dangerous.”

The man was described as being in his early to mid 30s with brown hair and average to above average height. The woman is shorter and believed to be in her mid 30s as well, with dark hair. A police artist is close to releasing sketches of the two individuals.



“Substantial record? What am I, Charles Manson? Multiple arrests?” Cha’Risa shouted as she re-read parts of the article. “Including criminal threatening, unlawful discharge of a weapon and disorderly conduct? That’s it. There’s no long list. They make it sound like I’m a career criminal. Those were the only ones!”

Hollis and Kirby eyed each other. Cha’Risa was glued to the phone, stewing over the bits that annoyed her.

She shoved the phone back into her jacket pocket and let out a long, heavy breath through her nose, staring out the front windshield. “That’s just bullshit,” she said. “Only one of those was real, and I was fifteen. Kids do stupid things. And that should be sealed, shouldn’t it? I was a juvenile!” She looked at Hollis for some commiseration, but the boy only shrugged.

She jammed the car back into gear and barreled back onto the road, pushing the car well above the speed limit.

“Shouldn’t you be keeping it slower?” Hollis asked.

With her lips still pursed and her knuckles turning white on the steering wheel, Cha’Risa wasn’t ready to let go of her anger, but she slowly eased up on the gas. Her lower jaw jutted out. “It’s just bullshit, you know what I mean?”

“Yeah,” the boys replied in unison.

Over the next few miles, Cha’Risa’s grip loosened and her breathing calmed. “Sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry about that. I’m not a criminal.”

There was no response.

Cha’Risa always became agitated when she thought about her legal troubles. She saw herself as being in the wrong place at the wrong time and that she was unfairly treated for doing the right thing. A criminal record didn’t tell any of the story. It was just a mark upon her for the rest of the foreseeable future. She’d been told that eventually she’d be able to get the convictions expunged, but the truth was that anyone who Googled her name would see her troubles with the law. There was no outrunning legal problems in the modern era and it made the possibility off a better job look relatively thin.

Twenty minutes after Cha’Risa’s outbursts Kirby stirred in the back seat. The heat had warmed up the cabin and he had settled in. “Hey Hollis, turn on some tunes,” he said. Hollis didn’t reply, so Kirby hit him on the shoulder. “Hey man, turn on some music.”

Cha’Risa glanced over toward Hollis. His face had gone blank, his eyes turned upward in his head, only the whites showing.

“Hollis!” Cha’Risa shook the boy’s shoulder. He offered no resistance, slumping toward the passenger door. “Oh my god, Hollis!” She grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back toward her, jerking the vehicle toward the side of the road. Kirby pulled himself up to the arm rest between the front seats.

Cha’Risa threw the car in park and grabbed Hollis by both shoulders, turning him to face her and shaking him. “Hollis, wake up!” The boy remained unresponsive. “What is this, a seizure? Has he ever done this?”

“I don’t know,” Kirby replied. “I don’t think so.”

“Did he ever mention having seizures?”

“No.”

“What about medication? Is he on something for this? Holy shit!”

“I don’t know.” The increased pitch in Kirby’s voice was matching Cha’Risa’s.

She removed Hollis seat belt and unzipped his jacket as two cars whizzed by on the road. “Shit! Oh my god, we have to get off the road.” Checking in the rear view mirror, she gunned it out of the side of the road and frantically searched for a place to turn in. “See if you can wake him,” she said.

Leaning in between the two front seats, Kirby began shaking his friend, but Hollis was out. “He’s not doing anything,” said Kirby.

“Keep trying.” Cha’Risa kept her speed at a reasonable rate to avoid any unwanted police notice, but her eyes betrayed her distress. “What’s this?” She slowed the car as they approached a thin dirt path heading into a wooded area. It was big enough for the car to fit as long as it didn’t get stuck on the rough terrain. She didn’t have a choice. She turned in and gunned the accelerator to get up a small embankment and pulled in far enough to block the view of the road.

She motioned Kirby back and shook Hollis by both arms. Inching closer to him, she opened the boy’s mouth and peered inside. “Did he choke on something? Did you see him eat something?”

“No.”

She put her cheek up against his face for a few seconds. “He’s breathing. That’s good.”

Pulling her phone from her pocket, she swiped it a few times and held it up to her ear. “Naali? Naali, it’s me. Something’s wrong with Hollis. He’s passed out or something . . . I don’t know, his eyes are turned up into his head. He’s not responding to anything . . . What? Wait, I’m going to put you on speakerphone.”

She tapped the phone and laid it in the drink holder between the seats. “Say that again, Naali.”

An ancient voice came from the phone. “Is he breathing?”

“Yes,” Cha’Risa replied. “I checked.”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen for some time,” her grandfather said.

“What wasn’t? What’s happening?”

“It happens to all Níłchʼi caretakers. It takes its toll on the body. I don’t know that it’s ever been passed onto someone so young. Does he have any health issues?”

Cha’Risa looked at Kirby. “He’s got a heart thing, right?”

“Yeah,” said Kirby. “He can’t run too far. He’s on drugs for it.”

“Has he taken the drugs?” Naali asked.

“He hasn’t,” Cha’Risa responded. “We didn’t exactly have a chance to get his doctor’s approval. I don’t think he had any on him.” She looked at Kirby again. “Did he?”

“I don’t think so,” said Kirby.

“Okay,” the grandfather said. “Hold on, let me look at something.”

Kirby and Cha’Risa stared at Hollis, waiting for a miracle answer from the old man. A minute passed.

“Naali?” Cha’Risa said. “Are you there?” There was no response. “Oh, come on,” she said with more than a hint of anxiety to her voice. Another thirty seconds passed before her grandfather picked up the receiver again.

“Okay,” he said. “There’s a doctor. Grew up in Agóyó. She’s a good woman. She has an office in Arkansas. You’re what, past Nashville?”

“Yeah, a little bit,” said Cha’Risa.

“She’s in between Nashville and here. Probably a couple, few hours.”

“Is he going to get better? Will it be okay to wait that long?”

“All I can tell you is that the first time usually lasts a few hours. It can be quite draining.”

“A few hours? The first time? Are you serious? What am I supposed to do with a passed-out kid?”

“I don’t know,” the man replied. “Pretend he’s asleep? You must remember I have had very little contact with the Níłchʼi, just fading memories and legend. I was very young when it was lost.”

“What if he doesn’t wake up?”

“I do not believe he is in imminent danger. He will wake up, but you must bring him to the doctor. Mary Ruth Deschene is her name. She is in River Band, Arkansas. I will call her.”

Kirby leaned in toward the phone. “What if he does wake up?”

“I would still bring him to see Dr. Deschene. She will provide heart pills, I am certain. I do not know the severity of his heart problem, but the Níłchʼi can be a burden even for healthy adults in the beginning.”

“Can she be trusted, the doctor?” asked Cha’Risa.

“I believe so. She is from a good family. I will tell her that all discretion must be practiced.”

“Okay, thank you Naali. I guess we’ll see you when we see you.”

“Very good Cha’Risa. Good bye.”

Cha’Risa stopped before tapping end on the phone. “Naali. Naali! Are you still there?”

“I am here,” the man said as if coming back to the receiver.

“How often does this thing happen?” Cha’Risa asked.

“I don’t know. As I say, I have little one-on-one experience with the Níłchʼi. My father was the expert and he was killed before he told me much about it.”



XXII

Lewis Bowman returned the can of Mountain Dew to the collapsible tray table, which was wobbling on the verge of collapse by his recliner. He buried his head in the plush headrest of the chair and stretched his wiry recumbent body as if he’d just woken. His left sock had a few threads still holding it together as it dangled over the end of the leg rest. The other foot was planted squarely on the carpet.

A bowl of salsa had been finished off a couple days prior, but was still gathering crust on the coffee table in front of him along with a dozen or so magazines, a pizza box, a few beer cans and used paper plates. The focus of his attention was the 50-inch flat screen a few feet in front of him, illuminating the room in a harsh blue light. NCIS had just wrapped up and there was a college game starting on channel 36. He pointed the remote at the TV, but stopped.

“Have you seen this woman?” The news anchor was teasing one of the big stories for the upcoming half hour. “Authorities say she kidnapped two children at gunpoint and is on the run. The latest on the national manhunt for a boy genius and his captor . . . And the latest cell phone scams, how can you avoid falling victim? Victoria Jacobs will let you know, coming up at six.”

Lewis’ gaze grew sharper. He squinted at the picture and lowered the remote back down to the arm of the chair as a cheap commercial for Hunkins Furniture took over the screen. A man in a Hawaiian shirt, oversized sunglasses and an umbrella hat yelled into the camera, “We’re not crazy! I’m telling you, we’re not crazy! But our prices are. Hi everyone, I’m Tom Hunkins and here at Hunkins Furniture, we have the craziest prices in the state, maybe even the country. Our prices are so low, you’ll think we’ve gone crazy. But we’re just crazy about giving you the best deal on furniture, like this bedroom set, pillow-top king-size bed with real hardwood headboard, two, count ‘em two hardwood nightstands and a big, did I say big? I meant really big chest and mirror all for nine ninety-nine. You heard right, nine ninety-nine!”

Lewis lowered the leg rest on his recliner and leaned in toward the television as Tom Hunkins kept yelling. The commercial gave way to another and Lewis sighed in frustration. “Come on! Goddamned commercials.” When the news anchor returned to the screen, Lewis turned the volume up with the remote.

“Good evening. Our top story: Authorities in Virginia are asking the public to be on the lookout for this woman.” A mugshot of Cha’Risa covered the screen. “According to police, Cha’Risa Gutierrez is wanted in connection with the abduction of two young boys from one of their homes in Delacroix, Virginia. She was last seen in a blue Ford Aerostar minivan in the small northern Virginia . . .”

“No she wasn’t,” Lewis said to himself with a wheezy chuckle. “You little minx.” He reached into the front pocket of his grimy jeans and pulled out a smart phone. He swiped it on and the cracks in the screen became less prevalent. Then he punched in the phone number displayed on the bottom of the TV screen. “Oh sweet cheeks, let’s hope they got a reward for you. I knew you was hiding something.”

He muted the television, then spoke into the phone. “Yeah, I seen that woman you’re looking for.”


• • • • •


Dan West felt his kitchen was too far detached from his living room. Whenever he and his partner entertained, at least one of them ended up being removed from the action for awhile, sometimes both of them. There were always hors d’oeuvres to check or drinks to refresh. They had been in Delacroix too long, saving money, but this was the year they’d be upgrading to a real home, one with an open concept design. And a great location. It would be a longer commute for both of them, but Oakbridge definitely suited their personalities better; its culture consisted of more than football and Miller Lite.

What was he thinking? How had trivialities even entered his mind? Two of his students had been abducted.

“Milk or sugar?” he shouted.

“Both,” the woman said from the living room. “Thank you.”

Reaching inside the fridge, Dan pulled out a half gallon of one percent and placed it on a tray next to a stainless steel sugar container and two coffees. He picked up the tray and made for the kitchen exit, but spun around at the last second, taking a few steps back and grabbing a package of shortbread biscuits from the cupboard. He shook them in his hand, disappointed that he’d almost forgotten them.

“Here we are,” he said, laying the tray on the coffee table in the living room. “As I said, I don’t know if there’s anything I can tell you that I didn’t tell the other detective.”

The woman, looked in dire need of about a shovel’s worth of Xanax, as if only working 60 hours a week was her idea of letting her hair down. Even though she was seated on a high-end recliner, her matching gray slacks and suit jacket reminded Dan of a JC Penney mannequin, with the top button on her white blouse unbuttoned just as it should be. This woman didn’t give any thought to what she was wearing. She saw what was expected of her and stuck to that. What did it matter, he asked himself, as long as she was good at her job.

She’d introduced herself as a detective from the Delacroix police department. “Thank you,” she said, taking a coffee from the tray. “I’m not expecting to learn anything we don’t already know, but we like to be thorough.”

Dan took a seat on the couch and reached for his coffee. “I understand. Detective Atterberry, was it?”

The woman nodded her head and took a sip of coffee.

“Have you heard anything about the two people posing as federal agents?” he asked.

“We haven’t,” she replied. “Have you?”

“Just what’s around the rumor mill. Nobody seems to think they were really federal agents.”

“It would seem unlikely,” she said.

“People are up in the air about who killed Fern Mori. Was it the woman who kidnapped the boys, or was it these two people? I mean none of it makes any sense, does it?”

“Not yet, but it’s my job to put the pieces together,” she replied. “Why don’t we start with the medallion. The Whittakers said there was a big deal made about it. You’re the one who directed the kids to the antique store, is that right?”

“It is. It looked old, so I figured maybe it was a collectible. I didn’t know if it’d be worth anything, but I think it’s great when kids learn from real world experiences, you know? I thought maybe they’d find out a bit of local history.”

“Did you handle it?”

“Briefly. I took a look at it, but I didn’t recognize it as anything.”

The woman wrote short notes throughout the 15-minute interview, and when she was ready to leave, Dan walked her to the side door. The floodlight at the head of his driveway lit up his Jeep Compass and the newer model Toyota Camry behind it. It was a cold night, but not bitter. He waved as she backed her car out of the driveway. With little more than a silhouette to go by, it didn’t seem she returned the gesture. Maybe she hadn’t seen him. The car accelerated toward Spring Street and Dan admired the Christmas decorations around the neighborhood. Some were beautiful, others over-the-top, but he felt his classic white lights provided the right cheery, seasonal mood. He stepped back inside.


• • • • •


Agent Grey backed out of the driveway and headed toward Spring Street. The rental vehicle still had that new car smell, which she liked. She yielded to traffic on Route 202, then slowly accelerated onto the road. She wasn’t in any hurry. Dan West hadn’t been much help and unless her partner had had better luck, their operation was stuck in limbo. Eventually the myriad of eyes and ears would alert them to something important, but for the time being all they could do was wait.

She did her best thinking while driving alone. The first step was always to clear her mind. She turned the heater on for its steady sound more than anything else. It helped to cut down on outside noises. She checked her mirror, no tailgaters. Good. Then she let her thoughts go, leaving the driving to instinct. This was her version of meditating. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Focus on the breath. It was during moments like this that she had breakthroughs, connections that were obvious, yet hadn’t occurred to her. Sometimes she could visualize solutions to complex problems; it was all a matter of time and the right state of mind.

When she checked the car’s clock, it was because her next stop, Lucy’s Kitchen, had triggered her to pay attention again. Eight minutes had passed with no new insights. She slowed the vehicle and veered into the parking lot, the fairly nondescript restaurant lit well for a non-chain. The lot was mostly empty.

She exited the Camry and locked the doors with the fob. Everything was kept locked; never make it easy for your foe.

Concrete stairs led up to a vestibule, into which a line of hungry patrons would overflow during the busy hours. But dinner had passed and there were no crowds in this podunk little town. Everyone was safely tucked behind the glow of a television set being fed an obvious and not-so-obvious stream of advertising. Agent Grey planned instead to dine on whatever dessert was on special today at Lucy’s.

She glanced at the gumball machines in the vestibule and the cork board filled with flyers for guitar lessons and cancer benefits. Just like every other town, she thought.

She pulled at the glass door, which had more heft than would be expected, and crossed the threshold. For some reason the red tile floor was the first thing that caught her eye. It was well-worn, especially around the entrance, the welcome mat notwithstanding. A glass case displayed a plethora of wonderful baked goods, cakes and muffins, cookies and pies. It was the most inviting sight she’d seen in weeks. Pondering for a moment, she settled on the flaky goodness of a bear claw.

The display case/cashier station separated two dining areas. She looked right and spotted Agent Breiner by the far wall, a dirty plate pushed to the side of his table and a cup of coffee in front of him. He was one sorry son-of-a-bitch, from his clichéd love of coffee to his macho sense of humor. He did his job well, but he was hell to partner with.

Breiner had his nose in his phone. He didn’t acknowledge Grey until she placed her jacket on the empty chair next to him.

“How’d it go,” he asked.

“He handled it,” Grey replied.

That caught his attention. “He handled it?”

Grey took the free seat with a nod.

Breiner shoved a menu toward her. “So someone needs to follow up with Mr. West.”

Grey didn’t respond. She opened the menu and flipped through the pages. “Good selection,” she said.

“I wouldn’t get too comfortable.”

She looked at him. “You got something?”

Breiner leaned back in his chair and pushed his shoulders back. “We got the bitch.”

“We ID’d her?”

Breiner nodded. “And it looks like she’s going home.”



XXIII

It seemed like just another southern strip mall, stucco walls rising to red clay rooftops, a Supercuts and a Dollar Tree. The parking lot was half full.

Cha’Risa pulled the Accord to a stop on the outskirts. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.

“What?” Hollis asked.

“What do you mean, what? This so-called doctor is located across from a Golden Corral.”

“So?”

“So, just keep your heads down, will you? I’m going to check it out.”

“I think I’m okay.”

“I don’t care what you think. You were completely out of it, a limp noodle. That’s not normal.”

“Yeah, but we could get spotted.”

Cha’Risa relaxed into the seat. “Yeah.” She paused for a moment. “I don’t know what to tell you. I gotta make sure you’re alright.”

“I said I was fine.”

“I’ll be back in a couple.” She patted him on the head, and looked back at Kirby before throwing the door open and making a beeline for the doctor’s office on the far right side of the mall. The wall of windows looked like it might have previously belonged a Chinese restaurant or a shoe store. White curtains separated the interior from passing shoppers. She stepped inside through a pair of glass doors to a spartan waiting room, the odor of antiseptic strong in the air. An old couple read magazines in cheap chairs toward the back of the waiting room and a blonde woman in her fifties sat behind a chest-high reception desk, her head just visible on the far side and her curly locks stiff from too much hairspray. She reminded Cha’Risa of the Nixon era, a pair of pearl rimmed glasses dangling at the end of her nose. She was typing on a computer as Cha’Risa approached.

For a full 30 seconds the woman ignored Cha’Risa, but when she finally looked up, she seemed more pleasant.

“Sorry about that,” she said. “How can I help y’all?”

“I’m here to see Doctor Deschene.”

“Okay, what’s your name?” The woman asked.

“I don’t have an appointment, but she should be expecting me.”

“Oh,” the woman replied. “And what was your name?”

“Cha’Risa.”

“Okay, well if you wouldn’t mind having a seat, I’ll see if she’s available.”

Cha’Risa returned the smile and took the nearest chair next to an end table covered in dated magazines. She picked one up and held it in front of her face, her eyes scanning more of the doctor’s office than the periodical. No one was paying any attention to her, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. And it certainly didn’t mean she was free from being recognized. Maybe the receptionist had already identified her and was calling the police. She looked at the old couple, each one huddled in their own magazine, apparently oblivious to all distractions. How could people be like that? Cha’Risa always checked people out whenever someone new entered a room. Wasn’t that just normal?

The receptionist mumbled a few words into the phone that Cha’Risa couldn’t make out and hung up.

Landscape panoramas lined the gray walls, a snow-covered mountaintop, the New York City skyline. There was a striking wide photo of the Shiprock Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico, the famous 1,800-foot rock jutting out of the flat brown of the Four Corners. In the foreground, a lone dirt road winded past the rock under the blanket of an indigo sky. It set Cha’Risa’s heart at ease to know that although Shiprock wasn’t their reservation, the doctor still apparently had an affinity for the Navajo.

Minutes later, a Navajo woman, not too many years Cha’Risa’s senior strode down a hallway from the back, a middle-aged man by her side. There was a healthy glow to the woman’s cheeks and she had a chin that was the focus of her face. She looked vaguely familiar, maybe from when Cha’Risa was a teenager. The doctor bade goodbye to the man she had accompanied and turned to the waiting room. Her eyes locked on the only other Native American in the room.

“Hi Cha’Risa,” the doctor said as she approached. They shook hands and Dr. Deschene motioned to the examining room with her head. “Do you want to . . .?”

Cha’Risa followed her down a lengthy corridor decorated with a mix of Navajo artwork and cityscapes. “You look familiar,” the doctor said. “I think I remember you from Agóyó.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Cha’Risa responded.

Inside the back room, Dr. Deschene closed the door. “Go ahead and sit down,” she said.

The room was small, an examining table, a sink and cabinets, a table and two chairs. Dr. Deschene hopped up onto the examining table, the fresh sanitary paper crushing as she sat. Cha’Risa took a chair.

“So what’s the problem?”

“Did Naali explain anything?”

“Not much. He said you were with a sick boy.”

“He’s out in the car,” Cha’Risa replied.

“Well, do you want to . . .”

Cha’Risa interrupted her. “The thing is, there has to be total discretion. I have to know you won’t tell anyone.”

“As far as I’m concerned, your grandfather is all I need. I’d do anything for that man.”

Cha’Risa exposed a halfway relieved grin. “Okay, let me go get him. I have to trust someone.”

She made her way through the waiting room and out to the Honda, popping her head in the driver’s side door. “You two ready?”

“Yep,” Kirby replied.

Hollis was a little more reluctant. “I guess.”

“Try not to draw any attention,” said Cha’Risa.

“How are we supposed to do that?” Kirby said, with more than a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“I don’t know. Just shut up.”

The trio made their way into the office and out back where Dr. Deschene was still sitting on the examining table. The doctor had an instant recognition when the two boys entered. “Oh my god,” she said. “Oh my god, Cha’Risa, what are you doing?”

“Don’t believe the news,” Cha’Risa replied.

Dr. Deschene sat in silence for a few seconds and Cha’Risa wondered whether she should grab the boys and make a run for it. Respecting her grandfather might not be enough of an incentive for the doctor to aid and abet a kidnapping.

“Are you boys okay?” Dr. Deschene asked.

Kirby and Hollis both nodded.

She threw up her hands. “Okay then. Talk to me. Who needs help?”

“It’s this one,” Cha’Risa said, pulling Hollis closer to her side. “Hollis here was totally lifeless a few hours ago. I mean out of it.”

“How do you feel now, Hollis?”

“Good,” the boy replied.

“Okay. Does he have any conditions? Is he on medication?”

“I have heart disease,” said Hollis.

“Any idea what kind?”

Hollis shrugged.

“Well you’re probably too young to have plaque buildup. Would you recognize the name? Is it congenital, heart valve problems, cardiomyopathy?”

“That’s it,” said Hollis.

“Cardiomyopathy? Ok, we’re getting somewhere. Do you know what kind? Hypertrophic, dilated?”

“Yeah, dilated.”

“Dilated okay. So you must be on some medication, right?”

“I take a blue pill and a white one every day.”

“And you haven’t had those today, right?”

“No.”

“Do you know if they were ACE inhibitors, beta blockers?”

“No.”

“No, that’s not right?”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Oh boy. Do you think you’d recognize the name?”

“My mother usually just gives them to me.”

“Great,” said Dr. Deschene, squishing her cheeks as she thought. “Did she ever tell you your injection fraction?”

“What’s that?”

“A percentage. It means how efficiently your heart is pumping, forty-percent, thirty-percent.”

“It’s supposed to be twenty-five to thirty percent.”

“Alright then. Why don’t you hop up here?” She jumped off the examining table and patted it with her hand, and Hollis climbed up onto the crinkly paper. The doctor reached inside a drawer beneath the sink and retrieved a stethoscope, placing it on her ears and holding the business end on Hollis’ chest. “Take deep breaths,” she said, moving it to several locations across by his ribs, neck and back. Then she took his blood pressure with a cuff she pulled from the wall.

The doctor’s voice rose so that she was clearly addressing Cha’Risa. “When you say he was out of it, what do you mean, exactly? What happened?”

“We were driving and he just wasn’t responding to anything. His eyes were rolled back. He was like a limp noodle.”

“So totally unresponsive? Does he have a history of seizures?”

“No,” said Hollis.

“What was he doing before? Did he eat anything, do anything strenuous?”

“It’s definitely been an intense couple of days,” Cha’Risa replied. “But we were just driving for awhile, not doing anything really.”

“And how long did it last?”

“He started coming to about an hour ago, so he was out of it for a good hour and a half, two hours.”

“Two hours?” Dr. Deschene was beginning to sound angry. “You should have brought him straight to a hospital.”

“It’s just that Naali said it would be okay.”

“With no offense to your grandfather, I can’t expect he has much experience dealing with heart disease and kids.”

“No, but he does have . . . He’s the only one who knows anything about . . .”

The doctor let Cha’Risa’s words hang for a few seconds. “He’s the only one who knows anything about what?”

Cha’Risa didn’t want to answer, but the doctor looked like she was about to lose her patience. “He has the Níłchʼi.”

Dr. Deschene’s mouth dropped open. “Hollis has the Níłchʼi, the Níłchʼi?”

“Unless you’ve heard of another one.”

“That’s unbelievable. Does he have it now?”

Hollis pulled the medallion from underneath his shirt and let it drop back down in the open. It was glowing stronger than it had been before, even evident in the office light.

“Oh my god, I was pushing that thing around. So that’s it, that’s the Níłchʼi?”

“That’s it,” Hollis replied as if it weren’t a big deal. “You wanna hold it?”

She didn’t respond, so Hollis removed the necklace and held it out, offering it to her. She reached her hand out a bit reluctantly, took the object and held it close to her face, examining both sides. “This is unbelievable. How do you know this is it?”

“Trust me,” said Hollis. “That’s it.”

Dr. Deschene looked awed. “Okay, I’m going to admit your grandfather is going to know more about what’s going on here than I am. I thought those were all just folk tales, you know?”

“I know,” Cha’Risa replied.

The doctor handed the medallion back to Hollis. “Well this is obviously yours then. You know what I’d like to do? Okay a couple things. First I’m going to give him the pills I’d prescribe if he were my patient to tide him over, with the stipulation that you find out exactly what he’s been taking, dosage and everything.”

“We’ll figure out a way to do it,” said Cha’Risa.

The doctor faced Cha’Risa. “I’d also like to check Hollis out with an fMRI. We’d have to get him to Duke Community.”

“A hospital?” Cha’Risa exclaimed. “No. Uh uh. There is no way we can do that.”

“I think it would be safer knowing if there’s something going on with his brain. He shouldn’t have passed out because of his heart. I think we owe it to him to figure out what the Níłchʼi is doing to him.”

“Yeah, well let’s just say that ain’t going to happen. Anything we learn would be outweighed by possible lead poisoning.”

“Lead poisoning?” Kirby asked.

“It’s a euphemism,” Cha’Risa explained.

“What’s a euphemism?” Kirby asked.

“You have to bring these boys to the police,” said Dr. Deschene. “If someone’s really trying to kill him, you can’t protect him.”

“You’ve heard the stories. You know who took it. It’s true. I stopped one of them from putting a bullet in him. They can get inside police stations. They can get him. We have to stay away from them long enough for Naali to figure something out.”

“Figure something out? What are you going to do, keep him hidden for the rest of his life? What about his parents?”

“I don’t know!” Cha’Risa’s face had grown red, her eyes wide. “What do you want from me? Last week at this time, I was making beds.”

The room grew silent. “Do you have any idea how much I’d rather be making beds?”



XXIV

“So like, they’re okay?”

“Yeah, I think so, but Hollis said they’d be in trouble if anyone found them,” Alexus replied. She glared directly into Jayden’s eyes, as if the weight of Hollis’ and Kirby’s safety had fallen directly on her.

“But that lady kidnapped them and, like, the cops are trying to find her,” said Jayden.

“That’s just what they want you to believe. You know those other people the police are looking for? Hollis said they’re the ones really trying to hurt them. The lady saved them.”

“That’s stupid. This lady can’t protect them better than the cops can.” Jayden wasn’t going to make this easy. And honestly, Alexus was having a hard time figuring out her own feelings on the subject. “Why wouldn’t they just go to the cops and they can put them in witness protection or something?”

“What if the cops get them and then the government comes in and gets a warrant and kills them?”

“A warrant to kill him? That’s not how it works. And why would the government kill him?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re totally insane-o.” Jayden’s voice was getting louder. “And plus, you said you felt bad lying to your mother.”

“Shh.” Alexus hushed her friend and lowered her own voice. Jayden’s living room wasn’t the most private spot for a discussion of this magnitude. “I did. I do, but, I don’t know. Sometimes adults don’t know everything. Just look at Harry Potter.”

“Oh my god, Harry Potter isn’t real. You do know that, right?”

“No, but there are a lot of good lessons in it.”

“Like adults aren’t always right.”

“They’re not. Adults make mistakes too.”

“You know you’re freaking me out, right? What do you want to do, call them and, like, tell them everything, that this cop guy is pretending to be you and they, like, know everything?”

Alexus wasn’t sure how she felt. She spread herself out on the sofa, her head against the armrest and her socked feet pushing into Jayden’s hips. “Kind of.”

“Oh my god, Alexus, are you in love with Hollis or something? This is stupid.”

“No.”

“Trust me, that is not the way to get him back here.”

“I totally am not,” Alexus said, speaking over Jayden. “He just seemed like he was fine.”

“You were only talking through emails. For all you know, it was this lady.”

“How would she even know who am I am, and why would she email me?”

“I don’t know. You gave Hollis your email, remember? She might have taken it out of his pocket and now she’s using you for information.”

Alexus was quiet for a few seconds. “I don’t think so.”

“You need to just leave this one. We’re only kids. You know that, right?”

From down the hallway, Jayden’s mother shouted to her daughter. “Jayden, I told you to make your bed this morning.”

The girl tried to ignore the oblique directive, but her mother wouldn’t be easing off. Parents never left well enough alone. “Jayden! Do you hear me?”

“Ugh,” the fifth grader moaned before shouting a response, “I will.”

“Jayden!” Her mother cried.

“You want to help me make my bed?” Jayden asked.

“I totally do,” Alexus replied without budging.

Jayden could read the writing on the wall. She rolled her eyes. “All right mom! Give me a break. Alexus is here.”

“She can help if she wants, but you’re making this bed right now, young lady.”

With all the energy she could muster for the task at hand, Jayden rolled herself off the couch and plodded down the hall toward her mother’s voice.

Alexus turned her attention to the television, which was fixed on the Disney Channel. Her eyes glazed over, eventually focusing on Jayden’s iPad on the coffee table. This was ridiculous. She couldn’t possibly get involved and let her mother down again. But it was now or never. Her own email had been confiscated and her mother wasn’t going to let her have another account for the foreseeable future. She could warn Hollis. The adults didn’t understand. She sat up and looked over the back of the sofa. Jayden and her mother were talking. It would take a few minutes to make the bed.

She sat up and grabbed the iPad. The woman’s email address was easy to remember. She tapped out a quick email and hit send before she had a chance to chicken out. Then she put the tablet back to sleep and reclined onto the sofa again.

• • • • •

“You know I only said we shouldn’t do that test because it’s too risky, right?” Cha’Risa was talking to Hollis, who was in the Accord’s passenger seat. Kirby was in the back, checking out the other stores in the strip mall that they wouldn’t be able to visit.

“I know. I don’t care,” Hollis replied. “Do you think I want to go get all sorts of tests and stuff at the hospital?”

“I just worry about you. What if it’s not the Níłchʼi? What if it’s something to do with your heart? All I know is seizures are never good.”

“I feel good.”

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you feel good. Your body can have all sorts of things wrong with it, even if you feel great.”

The boy tried to turn on the radio, but the car wasn’t started, so Cha’Risa turned the key, bringing the automobile to life. He reached for it again and a mix of static and music streamed out of the car speakers. He fiddled around with the buttons.

“So what are you thinking?” Cha’Risa asked.

“I feel like someone’s watching us.”

“What do you mean?” She scanned the parking lot, worried that his increased intelligence clued him into things she couldn’t sense.

“Not us, I guess, me,” he said. “I feel like there’s someone watching me.”

“Like the agents or something?”

“No, nobody bad. I don’t know. It’s just a feeling.”

“You think there’s somebody good watching you?” Cha’Risa seemed a little incredulous.

“And I think I’m getting smarter.”

Cha’Risa drew out her response. “Okaaay.”

“I was only getting flashes before. I could see patterns, but now I’m seeing them all the time. I can feel the bonds holding everything together, that lamp post over there and the tar and all the stores, and us.”

“What do you mean you feel them?”

“Just . . . like I know them.”

“Like in the Matrix?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a movie. Never mind.”

“I’m hungry,” said Kirby.

“Alright, we’ll grab something,” Cha’Risa replied, glancing at Hollis, who had yet to find anything suitable on the radio. “Maybe we should bring you to Vegas and give you a shot at blackjack.”
“Wouldn’t that be dangerous?” Hollis asked.

“Don’t worry. We aren’t heading to Vegas. That was another movie reference.” Cha’Risa figured she had enough money to last until New Mexico. She had withdrawn the money that Naali had placed into her bank account earlier in the morning. But she began to wonder if Hollis could be like a younger Rainman, if he could count cards or even predict the outcome of a roulette wheel.

“How many cars in this parking lot?” she asked.

“Seventy-six,” Hollis answered.

Cha’Risa had no idea if he was right, but she decided to test him further. “What number am I thinking?”

“I don’t know,” he responded. “Ninety-seven.”

“Okay, no. That’s wrong.”

“What number am I thinking?” Kirby chimed in.

“That one didn’t work, Kirby,” Cha’Risa said. “We need something concrete.” She reached across Hollis and opened the glove compartment, retrieving the owner’s manual for the car. She held out the book toward Hollis and fanned through it, stopping on the last page. “How many pages in this book?”

Hollis didn’t miss a beat. “Three hundred and two.”

She checked out the booklet. “Hold on. This doesn’t have the . . .” She thumbed back a few pages, then flipped to the front of the book and went page by page for a few sheets. “Yes,” she said with a smile. “Three hundred and two.”

“Awesome,” Kirby said, inserting his face between the front seats. “Give him another one. We should totally go to Las Vegas. We could get rich.”

“Rich and dead,” said Hollis.

“You can count cards,” said Kirby. “My cousin told me you can do it with a computer, but we’ve got you.”

Cha’Risa butted in, “They don’t exactly let children gamble, even in Vegas.”

That settled Kirby down a bit. “Aww,” he said, sinking into the back seat.

Cha’Risa pulled her phone out of her jacket and swiped through it. “Let’s just check this shit before we go.” Hollis settled on a pop music station and leaned back in his seat.

“Hey Hollis,” said Kirby. “How about giving us a break? Do you think me or Cha’Risa wants to listen to this crap?”

“So much for super intelligence,” Cha’Risa said, squinting her eyes at the phone. “What’s this? This is from Alexus.”

Hollis sat up at attention and held out his hand for the phone, but Cha’Risa was reading.

“This is someone else’s email,” she said, her eyes combing over the screen. “This isn’t good. Shit! This isn’t good.”

Kirby sat up in his seat again and both boys stared at Cha’Risa. “What?” asked Hollis.

She finished reading and held the phone down by her chest. “Alexus says the cops are using her email and pretending to be her. That’s gotta be how they know who I am. They found out through my email address.”

“Do you think they know where we’re going?” asked Kirby.

“They have to. I live with my grandfather. Shit!” Cha’Risa had started swiping through the phone again. “Let’s see what else there is.”

“So what are we going to do now?” Hollis asked.

She didn’t reply.

“Oh man,” said Kirby, lying back on the seat. “So we can’t even go meet with her grandfather then, can we?”

“You think they’ll be staking out his house?” Hollis asked.

“That’s what I’d do. So if we go meet up with him, they’re totally going to be there and nab us.”

“Shit!” Cha’Risa shouted. “That fucker!”

The boys drew in again as she continued. “This is all over the news. That little bastard I bought the car from must have squealed.”

“What?” Hollis asked.

“They know what we’re driving again. That little prick! I knew I should have kicked him in the groin when I had the chance. So now, not only do they know where we’re going, but they know what we’re driving. We’ve got every cop in the country looking for this car now.”

“What the hell,” said Kirby. “So now what do we do, walk?”

“We’re not walking to New Mexico from here,” she said.

“You think we should steal one?”

Cha’Risa glanced out the window toward the doctor’s office.



XXV

A blue Volvo inched to a stop in the side parking lot of the Red Clay Motel, the overhead lot lights reflecting off the car’s freshly waxed exterior. The engine shut off and the car lay still and silent for a full two minutes, the metal clicking as it cooled.

Cha’Risa stepped out, easing the door shut behind her. Hollis and Kirby were fast asleep inside the car and she didn’t want to disturb them. At least they’d made it over the New Mexico border from Texas. She figured it was still another four hours home, but in her mind, the state line was a win.

There was no way they would have made it this far without Dr. Deschene’s help. The doctor had offered her car to the trio with the caveat that she’d need to report it stolen within 24 hours. That was the only way to avoid being an accomplice to the kidnapping, but it still gave Cha’Risa and the boys a chance. Cha’Risa had until 3 p.m. tomorrow to reach Naali, and after that, things would be worked out. She’d told Dr. Deschene that she’d abandon the car somewhere it could be discovered, making sure to wipe it down for fingerprints first. It seemed like a win for everyone.

Outside the motel’s lobby doors, two large men in cowboy hats puffed on cigarettes, speaking to one another in loud southern drawls. Texas businessmen. Southern men didn’t seem to notice how much room they took up, in acreage or in decibels. They both nodded a friendly hello as Cha’Risa reached for the lobby doors. She returned the gesture, trying her best not to stand out in any way.

The Red Clay lobby looked like it had been refurbished a dozen years prior, slightly passé. It would pass the muster for John and Jane Q. Disney, but not for a road-weary veteran. There was a pot of coffee aging in a breakfast nook sans people. It might have been there since the afternoon. Trays lay at the ready for the morning’s business warriors, soon enough to be filled with croissants and muffins, orange juice and muesli. For now, the only other soul was the woman in the back room staring intently at her phone.

Cha’Risa approached the front desk and waited, and it wasn’t a few seconds before the woman out back laid down her phone to greet her. She exited the back room with a practiced smile. “How can I help you?” she asked, in a homogenized, corporate American preamble, her sense of locality having been driven from her through training videos.

“Just a single room,” Cha’Risa replied.

“Do you have a reservation?”

“No.”

“Okay, let me see what we have here.” The woman clicked through screens on the computer, pausing every once in awhile to read something she’d apparently never seen. “We have a single, if you’d like. It’s seventy-eight a night.”

“That will be fine,” said Cha’Risa.

“How would you like to pay, credit card?”

“Cash.”

“Just the one night?” the woman asked.

Cha’Risa nodded.

“Okay, I will need a credit card for incidentals,” the woman said. “It won’t be charged. It’s just to protect us from room damage or charges to the room.”

With an embarrassed look, Cha’Risa explained that she didn’t have a credit card.

“I’m afraid we’ll need a one hundred dollar deposit in that case,” the woman said. “I’m sorry, it’s policy. You’ll get it back at checkout.”

“That’s okay,” Cha’Risa replied. She reached into her pocket and pulled out some bills. “So, one-seventy-eight?”

The woman tapped a few keys on the computer and waited another 30 seconds before responding. Why was this so difficult, as if it were something the woman was just figuring out? As a chambermaid, Cha’Risa only had limited dealings with being on the customer side of the desk, but she knew it was never really as quick as you’d think. The room was seventy-eight dollars and the deposit was one hundred. That’s one hundred seventy-eight, easy math. Behind a casual smile, Cha’Risa fumed for another half a minute.

“Yes,” the woman replied.

Cha’Risa counted out a hundred and eighty dollars and handed it over. That lead to another series of video screens before the woman started assembling the needed accoutrement: a card key, a sleeve in which to place the key, a form to fill out, a receipt.

The two cowboys from outside walked in through the sliding doors, prattling on as if no one else were around, while Cha’Risa filled out the form with fictitious information and handed it back. And with two dollars change and a card key, she headed out through the front door.

The car windows were beginning to steam up. The boys gave off enough heat to power a small neighborhood. Cha’Risa leaned her head in and gently called for them to wake up. “Guys. Guys! Hello! We have a room.”

Hollis and Kirby slowly shuffled off their dreams and joined the present. Without acknowledging their colleague, they grabbed bags and followed like moths to a flame as Cha’Risa lead their way in through the back door of the motel. The room, on the first floor, was nondescript, a shag-carpeted relic of the 1980s with stucco ceilings, a mini fridge stocked with nothing and a single air-exchange-unit blowing dry, heated recycled air.

Kirby made for the recliner, as Hollis curled up on the floor, each of them reserving the coveted bed for Cha’Risa. She watched them fade out of consciousness with a weary grin across her face. “Remind me to buy you guys toothbrushes sometime,” she said. They didn’t respond.

Pulling her phone from her pocket, she swiped her finger across the screen, pausing. “I can’t use this,” she said in a hushed tone. “They’d obviously be listening in.” She sat on the edge of the bed and reached for the room’s phone, read a number off her cell’s address book and punched it in on the hard-line. “Uncle Abraham? It’s Cha’Risa. . . . I’m well aware of that. . . . They’re fine. They’re asleep. . . . Listen, I need you to do me a favor.”



• • • • •



Hollis felt a hand shaking his shoulder. He opened his eyes. Cha’Risa was kneeling next to him speaking softly. “Wake up little guy. We need to get going.” The sun was beginning to illuminate the curtain’s edges. She stood up and woke Kirby, who was still passed out in the recliner.

“I’m going to see about getting my deposit back,” she said. “I need you two to head out to the car in case they want to check out the room for damage. The keys are right there on the nightstand.” She waited for response, but the boys were still groggy and motionless. “Guys,” she said louder.

Kirby didn’t move, but he at least responded. “We heard you.”

“And you’re getting up?”

“We’re getting up.”

“I want to see you move.”

Kirby budged an elbow.

“Up!” she said even louder. “I mean it.”

The boy slowly rose from the chair and stumbled toward the bathroom.

“And make sure he’s up too,” said Cha’Risa. “I need you two out of here.”

“Yeah, yeah. I got it.” Kirby stepped into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

She leaned her head closer to the bathroom door. “And the car keys?”

“On the nightstand,” Kirby replied.

And with that Cha’Risa grabbed her bags and left the room.

Five minutes later, she crouched down into the driver’s seat of Dr. Deschene’s Volvo, Hollis was awake in the back seat, but Kirby, in the front passenger seat, looked dead to the world. That was fine. As long as everyone was present, they could get moving. In four hours she could transfer responsibility for the two boys to her grandfather and have another adult’s opinion on how to get out of this mess.

By the time Cha’Risa had the car back on the highway, she noticed in the rearview mirror that Hollis’ eyes were upturned in his head again. “Oh my god,” she said to herself. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. Well, at least he’s got four hours to shake it off.”



• • • • •



Agents Breiner and Grey stared down at Agóyó Pueblo from atop an escarpment, their silver Ford Expedition running to keep the heat working. The altitude of the New Mexico mountains brought an unexpected chill.

The closest home, a few hundred yards away, was a single-wide trailer on the outskirts of the pueblo. It was a 1970s unit, white with umber highlights. A brown corrugated metal awning provided shade for three folding chairs outside the trailer, an old grill sat rusting by the front door and a satellite dish capped off the home. A single cable connected the trailer to a utility pole and an old rusty Chevy truck was parked by the pole.

Vegetation was scarce in this part of New Mexico, a smattering of sagebrush shrubs, a mix of yellow grass and dirt, some motionless tumbleweeds. Agent Grey didn’t like it.

“Why on God’s earth would anyone live like this?” she asked.

Breiner didn’t reply.

“Do people really live in those things?” She was referring to the traditional adobe homes making up the pueblo, just beyond the trailer from their viewpoint. They were the same rectangular buildings the natives had been living in for centuries, topping out at three stories. Most of the dwellings had cyan doors and small windows. Wooden beams ran through the adobe walls, supporting the roofs.

“Yeah,” Breiner replied. “They’re traditional homes.”

“They’re horrible.”

“I don’t know. I don’t think it would be so bad.”

Grey didn’t reply.

A pair of binoculars were on the armrest between them. Breiner picked them up and raised them to his eyes. “That’s definitely them,” he said. “Two of them.” There were two Native Americans who stood out. They weren’t interacting with anyone else in the pueblo and they looked too alert for pueblo residents. For hours they’d wandered aimlessly around the grounds never straying too far from the main path through the pueblo, nor too far from the trailer the agents were watching.

“Feds?” Grey asked.

“Mmm hmm.” He lowered the binoculars and placed them back on the armrest. “We’re going to have to take them out if they get to them first.”

Grey didn’t reply.

“We’re sure she’s still living with her grandfather?” Breiner asked.

“As sure as we can be. I just don’t know if they’ll actually show. I mean, would you come here if everyone was looking for you and they knew who you were?”

“Fucking retards. Why would they tell the media they knew who she was?”

“I assume they thought the kids were in danger and someone would spot them.”

“Fuck that. They screwed this whole thing up.”

“You can complain all you want, but there’s nothing we can do about it. This is the best place we have. You want to try somewhere else?”

“No. This is the best place we have. I’m sick of cleaning up after amateurs.” Breiner grabbed the binoculars again and peered through them. “Hang on. Something has our friend’s attention. . . . Who’s this?”

A Toyota Camry slowly emerged from the Pueblo, dust kicking up in its wake. The car was heading for the trailer.

“Is it them?” Grey asked.

“I can’t tell. I don’t think so. It’s not an Accord.”

“Maybe they switched cars.”

The Camry pulled up next to the trailer and a Native American man stepped out. He was medium-build, a modern-day cowboy, with a jean jacket and Stetson hat. He approached the trailer’s door, knocked and entered.

“It’s not them,” Breiner said.

“Who the hell is it?”

“It’s a fucking Indian, how the hell should I know? I can get the plate. Write this down.”

Grey pulled a phone from her bag. “Go.”

“New Mexico, one, three, eight, whisky, lima, bravo.”

“I’ll call it in,” she said.

Breiner studied the scene for another minute while Grey called in the license plate number. He didn’t like this. Maybe this man was bringing the grandfather to meet the girl, or maybe he was delivering a message. They could be arranging to meet somewhere. Of course, maybe it was no one. There was no reason to believe that Cha’Risa Gutierrez was planning on involving her grandfather. But word was that she was closer to the old man than to anyone else and it was all they had to go on.

“It’s an uncle,” Grey said, while putting away the phone. “Abraham Gutierrez, the grandfather’s son.”

“Just visiting, you think?”

“I doubt that,” Grey replied. “Your niece is on every television station in the country. You think he’s just stopping off for a coffee?”

“I don’t think. I say we wait until the uncle leaves, take care of the old man and wait for the target to walk in to our laps.”

“Sounds good to me.”

But the agents didn’t budge. They both knew the best chance at success was to be patient.

They waited silently for 45 minutes. And then there was movement. Breiner watched through the binoculars as both men exited the trailer, the uncle and the grandfather. The uncle came out first and stopped to help the old man down the stairs. The grandfather had a plaid jacket, a baseball hat and was pulling an oxygen tank. Uncle Abraham helped the grandfather into the truck and then returned to his Camry, both men waved goodbye to each other and drove back through the pueblo. The Native American federal agents who’d been casing the scene walked briskly toward the pueblo’s parking area, but Breiner and Grey had already shot back onto the main road and made a beeline in the direction of the pueblo. The road they were on intersected the one leading from the pueblo. They would pick a covert area and wait for the old man to drive by.

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