The other was shorter and stockier, but even from afar it was apparent he was an impressive physical specimen by the slope of his shoulders and the taper of his waist. He hopped down from where he sat on the tailgate and rolled what sounded like a bottle deeper into the bed. He wore a checked flannel shirt open over a tight white T-shirt and even tighter blue jeans. A long, dark braid snaked out from beneath his cowboy hat.
Whoever they were, the chief obviously didn’t perceive them as a threat. He approached them with his guard down and his fists on his hips. I thought I saw a smile form in the shadows lurking under the brim of the tall man’s hat.
“How did I know we’d end up running into you sooner or later?” Antone extended his arm and shook the tall man’s hand. “I guess word travels even faster than I thought around here.”
“It does when the FBI rears its ugly head on our reservation. People go straight into panic mode thinking we’re about to find ourselves in the middle of another Pine Ridge situation.” He turned to face me. “Finally decided to show up, I see.”
“Roman and his boy here were the ones who found what I just showed you,” Antone said. He pronounced it Row-mahn. I couldn’t help but think that made it sound pretentious.
“I figured I would look you up when it was a good time for me, rather than waiting for you to track me down when it was convenient for you. And I was curious. Can’t fault a guy for that, can you?”
“Thought you’d catch a glimpse of the FBI’s token Injun?”
His smile grew even wider. There were flecks of tobacco along his gum line.
“Like I said, can’t fault a guy for being curious.”
I heard the scuffing sound of boots from my left and felt the weight of Roman’s son’s stare on me. I turned casually to find his eyes fixed directly on my face. I nodded, but solicited no appreciable reaction whatsoever. I turned back to his father.
“Anything you want to tell me about the nature of your discovery?”
“Nothing I didn’t already tell the chief.”
“What were you doing up there when you found the crime scene?”
“Little of this. Little of that.”
“Get anything that day?”
“It had been a fairly productive hunt, all in all.”
“I assume you have an alibi for the time of the murder.”
“Tell me when that might have been and I’d imagine I could scrape one up.”
“Without a body, you can’t fix time of death,” his son said. I turned to find him still staring directly at me. I think he might even have advanced a step, but I couldn’t be completely sure. This “boy” had to have been in his mid-thirties. I would have initially guessed lower based on his physique. Up close it was apparent that he wore his age in the lines around his eyes and the corners of his mouth. There was something oddly familiar about him, but I couldn’t quite place it. His face was devoid of expression, save for the slightest twinkle of what I read as both amusement and hostility in his eyes. Or maybe merely distrust. “So there’s no way you can pinpoint a date, let alone a time for which an alibi would be necessary.”
“What do you know about the body?”
“Only that there wasn’t one.”
“And what do you think might have happened to it?”
“A lot of things can happen out here in the desert. Could have been a coyote dragged it off—”
He was about to say something else when his father cut him off.
“Whole desert’s thick with them. We don’t know any more about the body than you do, I’m afraid. We’d have told the chief if we did.”
I glanced back at the son. He was still staring at me, but he had distanced himself enough that he was no longer in my personal space. The way the moonlight hit him made him look like someone I knew, but, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out who. There was something so familiar about his face that I was almost certain I had seen him somewhere before. It was the eyes. Something about his eyes—
He caught me looking and turned away to face the desert.
“Anything at all out of the ordinary you might remember could end up being important,” I said to the father. “Don’t hesitate to call the chief. He’ll know how to reach me Mr.…Sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Walker,” he said. “Roman Walker. And this is my son, Ban.”
To say it was surreal standing in the home in which my father grew up would have been an understatement of titanic proportions. I felt like I had crossed over into some parallel universe where the father that was my father had never been my father, but some stranger who wore his skin and lived a completely different life.
I’m the kind of guy who needs to be in control of any given situation, which, in this case, was like trying to walk straight up a wall. I simply had to resign myself to the fact that I’d fallen down the rabbit hole and do my best to land on my feet. I had an investigation to conduct and could ill afford any sort of distraction, let alone one of a personal nature.
Despite my earlier gripes, I was fortunate to have ridden with the chief to the canyon. The long ride back to the station had granted me the opportunity to sort through my thoughts. And staring out into the desert at night—with the pitchfork saguaros lording over the sand and the sky so clear I could almost imagine reaching right up and grabbing the stars—did wonders to help me find something resembling a moment of clarity.
I don’t know why I hadn’t expected to encounter blood relations while I was here. It was naïve to think that my father’s parents were his only physical link to this reservation. Considering he never talked about them, why in the world would he mention an older brother? Maybe there would have come a time when my father explained the situation to me, maybe even brought my mother and me out here to see where he was from. Maybe that had always been his intention and he simply ran out of time in the end. We all make plans for the future without seriously contemplating the fact that we could be struck by a car or diagnosed with some terminal disease or vaporized by a Scud missile the very next day. I may not have known my father as well as I would have liked, but I had known him well enough to understand that he wasn’t a man willing to run forever. He was the kind who faced his demons, one way or another. Just on his own terms. Or at least that’s the way I choose to remember him, the way I choose to be myself.
I could compartmentalize when I had to. The commitment to maintaining two lives—one professional and one personal—had been a prerequisite for joining the Bureau, especially as a field agent. The problem was that in this case, I had yet to determine where to draw the line between them. I don’t believe in cosmic forces or serendipity or even coincidence. I couldn’t ignore the fact that my uncle and cousin, who previously hadn’t even existed in my wildest dreams, were the first to find the scene of a murder that was always meant to fall into my lap. Not because fate or destiny or some mystical shaman decreed it, but because I was the only logical choice for the assignment based on who I was and the skill set I possessed.
I had delivered my report via my laptop in my Crown Vic in the parking lot of the station after Antone dropped me off on his way home for the night. I think I did a reasonable job of appearing in control of the situation. I obviously hadn’t been in a position to pass along anything resembling an actual development, but Nielsen had become somewhat detached himself after learning of the second similar case that had never made it onto our radar. It could have been easily misplaced or overlooked or dismissed out of hand. Things like that happened all the time. We needed to confirm that one of those scenarios had happened, though. Otherwise the spotlight of suspicion fell squarely onto the chief and, to a lesser extent, my newfound kin.