By Gil Hale — corbidae@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: All disclaimers, usual or unusual, apply.

Part One

For a long time, the things he saw made no sense. It was like hearing words in a language he couldn’t understand. His eyes registered objects, forms and movements but they meant nothing. Slowly—maybe very slowly, he had no idea of that either—concepts began to take shape. White. One day he woke, if it was sleep that had been holding his mind in blankness, and the word was there in his mind, giving shape to a thought: almost everything in his world was white. Time passed and the whiteness resolved into separate ideas: white walls; white sheets; people in white clothes.

Suddenly, a huge leap, he captured the word ‘hospital’ and that made a sort of sense, but left him with a vague feeling of puzzlement. Was he hurt? He didn’t feel as if anything was painful, and food and bathroom breaks appeared to happen normally, though still in a distant and only half-comprehensible way.

One day, after more movement and meaningless sound from the white coats, he lay and stared at his hands. Tanned, calloused, an old scar on the ball of the thumb, they were a sharp contrast to the white sheets. He moved them idly. He had control of them, but they looked unfamiliar, a stranger’s hands. He had no idea where the scar had come from or what his hands had once done.

That was the moment when he realised that he didn’t know who he was. The fear and anger that erupted in him at the thought was the most real thing he’d felt in… forever.

Josiah sat down heavily, sucker-punched, as he still was every morning when he came into work, by the absence of Team 7’s leader. How long could it go on hitting him like this? He looked at the unforgiving accuracy of his desk calendar. It was five months since the day Chris had disappeared, and not once in those five months had there been a trace, a hint, a murmur from an informant to give any clue to his team about what had happened to him or where he had gone. Since the first week, when the Ram had been found, neatly parked and forensically useless in a downtown parking lot, the investigation had gone nowhere.

There had been nothing at the time to suggest violence, at the ranch, in the parking lot, or anywhere else they’d considered—but no reason either why Chris should have gone without coercion. Josiah knew that Orrin Travis still considered it a possibility that Chris might have gone from choice. They’d all argued at the time that if he had, he’d have made arrangements for the horses, not left them to become distressed by the time Buck and Vin reached the ranch on the Monday. But the horses had come to no real harm and Chris would have known the team would be up there within the day if he didn’t show for work on Monday morning and wasn’t answering his phone. It was only Team 7 who considered it impossible he’d left voluntarily.

From the horses, they worked out that Chris must have left sometime on the Friday evening. The ranch was so exactly as he always left it, with no sign, even at DNA level, of a struggle that it seemed most likely he’d gotten into trouble wherever it was he’d gone. And where that was, they couldn’t find out.

The phone and answering machine at the ranch were no help to the investigation, and Chris had had an accident with his cell phone a couple of days before, so if he’d called anyone or been called it was from his temporary prepaid. The Ram showed on no CCTV except near the parking lot, and was parked at an angle where the security cameras had no chance of picking up the driver, though the tapes were viewed again and again for any known criminals.

Chris had been sought with urgency for a month, with professionalism after that, but five months was a long time for anyone but his own team, and even they had exhausted all the possibilities. The cases they’d been working on had been concluded successfully. The best ATF interrogators, and Josiah himself, had been reluctantly convinced by the denials of the men arrested that they knew anything about Chris’s disappearance. No informers had picked up even a whisper. One deep cover agent was pulled out, sacrificing a long-standing investigation, and he was certain that no one in gun crime in Denver had anything to do with it. Whatever had happened to Chris, it had no obvious link with present or past cases or with the ATF at all.

Chris had disappeared late June; Thanksgiving showed later this month on Josiah’s calendar. It didn’t promise to be a happy one. But in five months, a lot had happened, even for Team7. No one forgot Chris; everyone was still ready to go into immediate action at the merest ghost of a clue to his whereabouts, but in some ways, life moved on.

In September, Rain told Nathan that her pregnancy test was positive, and suddenly there was a huge new joy and concern and focus in his life. Josiah sometimes saw him run his hand over the slight swell of her belly, reading sign that his medic’s fingers could recognise; Nathan had once told him the strange jumble of emotions he felt then: a wish that Chris could somehow, against the odds, be back with them when the baby was born; a deeper understanding than he’d had before of what it must have meant to Chris to be a father; a hope for the future that almost made him feel guilty. And day to day, there was morning sickness and working out their finances and waiting for the first ultrasound. Nathan still thought of Chris, a lot, but without ever intending to, he’d lost that single-mindedness he’d had at first.

Buck and JD weren’t meant by nature to brood. Josiah was glad JD was spending more time with Casey. The boy had been obsessive at first, but now slowly even his internet searches grew less frequent. Buck had never stopped feeling the hole in his life, anyone could see that, but for him it wasn’t the first time of experiencing the painful gap where Chris’s friendship had been. For a month he wore himself out following up every possible and impossible angle, then reluctantly he became resigned. He always said he didn’t believe Chris was dead. Logical or not, he just reckoned he’d know, and his heart said Chris was alive. So either there’d be some clue sometime and Josiah knew that Buck would instantly drop everything to follow it, wherever it took him, or Chris would walk back into his life like he’d done before. Until then, Buck could no more help living in the present than he could help breathing.

Josiah himself had found another way to peace. He’d prayed more since Chris disappeared than he’d done in years. He felt a kind of purpose when he was praying, that it was the one thing he could do for Chris without knowing where or how he was. Like Buck, he didn’t believe Chris was dead. Making a time every day to pray for him, sometimes in a church or chapel, more often here at his desk, was Josiah’s way of coming to terms with his absence. Lately though, his prayers had been taking longer, and quite a lot of that time had been concentrated on Vin and Ezra.

Vin and Ezra had neither hope, nor resignation, nor any way of finding peace with the situation. In five months they’d earned more than enough informal warnings and official reprimands to get any other agents suspended. The problem wasn’t their work on the job. Orrin Travis still considered them to have outstanding skills as Team 7’s sharpshooter and undercover specialist. He just wasn’t sure how long he could let it outweigh everything else.

Where the rest of Team 7 had gradually begun to lead something like a normal life, Vin and Ezra had become increasingly obsessed. Since the likely avenues of investigation had been explored, they’d begun to spend all their free time on the improbable ones. Orrin had dealt with complaints from other teams about losing informers after Vin and Ezra had pulled them in and questioned them; he’d been diplomatic with tearful secretaries and furious computer technicians who hadn’t felt able to prioritise Vin and Ezra’s ‘requests’; he’d struggled with the fall-out from over-vigorous interrogations, and with angry DAs, and last but definitely not least with journalists who’d scented the chance to bring a couple of good men down. If it wasn’t for their success rate on the job and a sympathy he tried not to allow to cloud his judgment, Orrin would have suspended Vin and Ezra weeks ago.

“If there’s another incident, I won’t be able to let it go,” he warned Josiah, who had some influence with them.

“If you suspend them, we’ll have even less control over what they do,” Josiah pointed out.

“They have to see they’re achieving nothing.”

“They do see it,” Josiah said quietly. He knew, and Orrin did if he thought it through, that this was exactly what was leading Vin and Ezra to increasingly desperate measures. “Thing is, it was Chris who made Vin and Ezra into team players. His authority gave them a sort of stability. You’ve got their files; you know their backgrounds. Maybe they could just about have handled something happening to Chris in other circumstances, but not knowing where he is, whether he’s in trouble and been needing us all this time—that’s the worst situation for them.”

“I know, and I’ve cut them more slack than any half dozen agents. But one more serious complaint and they will be suspended.”

“I’ll see they understand that,” Josiah promised.

The problem, of course, wasn’t making Vin and Ezra understand, it was making them care what action the director took.

“Think we’re goin’ t’ worry about our careers if we’ve a chance of findin’ out what happened t’ Chris?” Vin asked. He looked tired and edgy; Josiah had seen him slowly but steadily lose all the calm confidence and relaxed fitness that had once characterised him. There were permanent shadows under Vin’s eyes and he’d lost weight, in spite of Josiah bringing him doughnuts, Nathan offering fruit and Rain and Inez sending regular invitations to meals. Nettie had been the only one who could make Vin swallow a proper meal, and Nettie had had to rush off to the side of a cousin who’d had a stroke. She’d been away now for nearly two months as the cousin’s rehabilitation proved painfully slow.

“You yourself wouldn’t hesitate to place Chris above any consideration of proper protocol,” Ezra pointed out to Josiah.

“No, I wouldn’t. But…” Josiah hesitated. He wanted to say that he’d need at least some possibility of a useful outcome before he did anything as reckless as some of Vin and Ezra’s recent moves, but he couldn’t find words that didn’t seem heartless. Besides, when he looked in Ezra’s eyes he saw a depth of weariness and depression that chilled him.

“Problem is,” Josiah finished slowly in the end, “the last thing we can handle is to lose anyone else from the team. We’re used to Vin covering us and you making the judgments on a bust. Don’t think we’d feel too confident with strangers.”

Even though this was true, it was manipulative and he didn’t like himself any the better for it, but it was the one thing that might give them pause.

“Ain’t plannin’ t’ let you down,” Vin said.

“We have no current lines of enquiry,” Ezra added bleakly.

“Gotta go right back t’ th’ start and look for somethin’ we missed.”

“Maybe I could help you,” Josiah offered, though he couldn’t imagine there was anything Vin and Ezra hadn’t already followed up and he wasn’t sure going over it yet again would bring anything but more pain.

Vin nodded. “We’re takin’ all th’ papers with us this weekend. We done what’s obvious, gotta take a look at it sideways now.”

Josiah knew Vin meant they’d take the reports out to Chris’s ranch. At first, all Team 7 had taken a share in going out to keep an eye on things and exercise the horses, though Yosemite was happy to handle it, and did so when they were working. Gradually, though, it had become Vin and Ezra’s role. JD only had the motorbike, which made it a difficult journey for him as the weather got worse. Buck had been having trouble with the pickup, but anyway, Chris’s absence had brought back some harsh memories of the first loss of Sarah and Adam—Josiah knew how hard Buck found it to go to the empty ranch. Rain was still throwing up enough to prefer to avoid longer drives, and Nathan was reluctant to leave her. Josiah made it out there from time to time, juggling other commitments with the youth shelter and visits to Hannah, but he was there nothing like as often as Vin and Ezra, who seemed to spend more time at the ranch the longer Chris had been gone. They were still keeping the place exactly the same, as if they thought Chris might walk back into it any minute, and that didn’t make it easier for anyone else, especially Buck.

“I’m not doing anything this weekend,” Josiah said. “Going out there Friday night? I’ll do my best to come along.”

He had every intention of joining them, but even in his most pessimistic moments he’d never have imagined the run of trouble that would hit Team 7 over the remainder of the week.

It started Wednesday morning, when Buck called in late, from the Emergency Room, where he’d just been having his ankle X-rayed. Nathan went over to pick him up and run him back to the apartment.

“It’s sprained, not broken,” he said when he came back. “Bad sprain though, it’s real swollen and turning blue already.”

“He fall on the stairs?” Josiah asked.

“No, tripped over that cat JD’s minding for Casey.”

Casey had been looking after the cat for a friend who was on a prolonged trip to France, and had asked JD to mind it while she joined Nettie for a few days. The cat was used to regular meals, not an occasional full bowl when JD remembered. Naturally, on seeing Buck staggering bleary-eyed towards the kitchen first thing in the morning, it had entwined itself affectionately between his legs, prepared to love anybody who might have a can opener. Buck hadn’t even remembered the cat’s existence. He’d taken a nasty tumble—on the cat, which had been very unhappy about it.

“JD left him at ER and went on to the vet with the cat,” Nathan explained. “He should be in later. Buck’ll be off for the rest of the week though.”

JD did come in by lunchtime, his hands and arms a mass of scratches. “Casey’s really mad at me,” he said gloomily. “I had to call her because I’d lost the vet’s details. I keep telling her the vet says the cat will be fine, it’s Buck who came off worse but she isn’t listening.”

“I hope you cleaned those scratches,” Nathan said. “Where are Vin and Ezra?”

“Gone to hand over one of our cases to Team 3,” Josiah said. “I told Orrin about Buck, and he thought we’d better cut our caseload a bit.”

This began to look a particularly wise decision when on Thursday morning Nathan came in with his arm in a sling, cleared by the doctor for desk work but nothing more.

“I went to an ‘expectant father’s’ group,” he told Josiah ruefully. “They showed a video of a birth—amazing detail, but a bit messy, especially if you didn’t know what to expect. The guy next to me keeled over, and I tried to catch him, which I suppose was pretty stupid since he must’ve weighed close to three hundred pounds. The worst of it is, I can’t drive, and I was going to take Rain over to her mother’s this evening.”

In the end Josiah drove Rain to her mother’s house where she was staying for a long weekend, and promised to pick Nathan up for work on Friday morning. He arrived at the apartment late, held up by some unexpected roadwork, and just as they were leaving, JD called.

It must be those cat scratches, Josiah realised, listening to Nathan’s end of the conversation: “Damn it JD, I told you to clean those up and put some antiseptic on… Yes, he’ll probably have to prescribe you an antibiotic now… No, go right away. Work can wait. You don’t want septicaemia.”

Josiah and Nathan were over an hour late arriving at the ATF building, and as it turned out, that hour really mattered. With Buck and JD also absent, it had meant that Vin and Ezra were alone in the office when Pat McGinty and Karl Weiss of Team 3 came along to complain that some of the paperwork was missing on the case that had just been transferred to them.

McGinty was a red haired descendant of Derry brawlers, with a short fuse on his temper; Weiss’s arrogant manner had made him one of the least popular agents in the building. Put that together with the fact that Vin was permanently on edge and Ezra had completely lost the ability to suffer fools gladly, and trouble had probably been inevitable, especially after Vin and Ezra had insisted the files were complete when Team 3 received them. Josiah spent his first hour at work dealing with the aftermath.

“As far as I can make out, the trouble started when Standish said my men had the reading skills of kindergarten drop outs,” Sam Brigham, Team 3 leader, said as he and Josiah defended their agents to Orrin Travis.

“Way I heard it, McGinty was the trigger, saying Team 7 should get their heads out of their asses and do a better job,” Josiah said. “Either way, it was Weiss who was really out of line. He’s not stupid; he must have known what would happen when he told Vin and Ezra they were useless because they were ‘obsessing over Chris Larabee’. And he said Chris had been a drunk and a maverick even before he walked out! There was no excuse for that.”

“I’m not making excuses for Karl,” Sam agreed. “But I’d rather deal with him myself. He won’t get off lightly. If you suspend him, I’m going to be really short on men, because Ericson’s still on the sick list after last week’s bust.”

“This didn’t happen because Vin and Ezra were looking for trouble,” Josiah appealed to the director. “You couldn’t expect them not to react.”

“I expect them to have more self-control than to be scrapping in the hallways,” Orrin said flatly. “Whatever the provocation, there’s no doubt Tanner threw the first punch. And I’d already given them their last warning. I’m sorry Josiah. I’m suspending Vin and Ezra, and Karl Weiss too, Sam, and I’ll give Pat McGinty an official reprimand. Also, as Buck Wilmington is off for at least another week, Nathan’s on desk duty and young Dunne has just called in sick, I’m standing Team 7 down altogether. Nathan can deal with the paperwork resulting from that and you can join Sam on Team 3, Josiah, since he needs another man.”

Josiah found himself dismissed before he could find words to protest. Sam Brigham must have seen his fists clenching as they went out. “Take it easy,” he said quietly. “I’m as sorry as you are about what happened; Pat and Karl should never have gone down there taking the tone they did. But Vin and Ezra were running out of rope; it was going to happen sooner or later. You know you’ll be welcome on my team till things smooth over.”

Josiah nodded. Sam Brigham was a good team leader, and no problem to work with. But somehow, having Team 7 stood down seemed like the beginning of the end. Even if Chris came back, would they all have been reassigned? And would Vin and Ezra actually come back. He hardly heard the other things Sam was saying; the loud bitterness of his thoughts drowned everything else out.

Rosa had often wondered about the way she’d been chosen to look after the strange patient in Room 13, though she never voiced her thoughts. When she’d gotten this job at the Alderways Institute, she’d been warned by the other staff never to ask questions; private psychiatric patients from very wealthy backgrounds were paying for discretion as well as medical care. Slowly over the eight months she’d worked here, she’d noticed that it was often other people who were paying for that privacy, for inconvenient relatives to be safely institutionalised when they could really have coped outside.

Just once she’d broken the unwritten rule about questions, while she was still very new. She had asked about the strength of the dosage of tranquillisers prescribed for a patient. Her query had been handled professionally; there was no doubt that the doctors and psychiatrists here were well qualified. Later the same day though, she’d been called into the administration office and warned that Alderways was considering making some cutbacks in staff; as one of the most recently employed her job was among the least secure. No one had implied any connection. Maybe it really had been a coincidence. But Rosa didn’t think so. On the other hand, she wasn’t a doctor and perhaps her question had been unreasonable; her doubts had certainly been refuted in a way she couldn’t argue with.

She’d kept her head down after that. The salary she earned here kept her, her mother and ten-year-old Lyndon quite comfortably, and even left a little to put away because she hoped one day Lyndon would go to college. It had been such a struggle when her husband left them, and again when her father died. She really didn’t want to lose this job.

She liked being the main caregiver for Mr Kennedy—JD Kennedy, so not quite the same as the president. She was the only person who seemed to have any interest in him as a person. She’d once met the people who had him committed here, and that was months ago when he was a new patient. Not his family, she’d thought at first. Lawyers, perhaps, or someone else with power of attorney. But the expensively dressed man who’d given the instructions turned out to be the patient’s uncle, though his name, Fischer, showed it might not be a close connection. He didn’t like Mr Kennedy, relative or not, she had been sure of that. There had been something in his cold eyes closer to hate when he looked at his nephew. He was a racist too. She’d learn to recognise the signs. When he’d looked at Rosa, he’d seen a black woman, not a person, and those cold eyes had grown harder with contempt.

That was why she’d been surprised when he first asked for her to look after Mr Kennedy. Once she’d thought about it, though, it made a rather unpleasant sense. There had been so little the poor man could do for himself when he first came in, not even the most personal things. As she took care of feeding and washing him, she felt sure that the man who’d placed him here had intended her presence to add to his humiliation—that he’d not just be helpless, but have to accept the care of a black nurse.

She didn’t think Mr Kennedy felt like that though. She took care to treat him with dignity, whether he was aware of it or not, and when, gradually, occasional flickers of reaction showed in his blank eyes, there was never any recoiling or distaste there.

She’d been instructed at the start to be very careful to report any change or progress in the patient. For the first couple of weeks she’d been anxious at having to report almost no difference or improvement—but then she realised that everyone was quite satisfied with that. Apparently Alderways wasn’t in a hurry to cure him. She remembered the subtle hatred in the eyes of the man who was paying for him to be here, and wondered. At the time it was only a month since she’d been warned about the security of her job; this was the second occasion she was forced to question the ethics of the place. Could you buy a lack of improvement in a patient?

She’d been wiser by then though. She made a silent, personal resolve to do all she could for Mr Kennedy, and she guessed she could do that best by appearing very quiet and docile, following instructions and not seeming too intelligent. She never questioned the surprising quantity of drugs he was prescribed, but by tiny steps she reduced the amount she was actually administering, and after a couple of months the doctors did reduce the dose—there was no sign of the patient being anything but passive.

Rosa always talked to him, always looked for anything that brought even a hint of a reaction, but for the most part when Mr Kennedy didn’t look blank, he looked in pain and lost. She dropped the tranquillizer dose even more, and perhaps she should have been worried when one day she found him sitting on his bed staring at his hands and there was something different in his eyes—fear, and anger.

“Mr Kennedy?” she asked gently, though he had never answered her before.

He stared at her, and she thought she glimpsed something in him very different from the passive patient Alderways knew—something like a strength of will, and an angry courage, though the moment didn’t last. Then slowly and stiffly, his face twisted with effort as though he’d forgotten how to speak, he forced out three words. “Who… ‘m… I?”

She realised then why he looked so lost. No one had told her anything about his being amnesiac. Perhaps they didn’t realise. She knew from his notes there had been some sort of electric shock treatment before he arrived at Alderways, and from what she’d seen of his condition, no one could possibly have talked to him since then. She didn’t report his words, though. She tried to tell him the little she knew about his name and how he’d arrived at the institute, but it obviously meant nothing to him. He did, very occasionally, struggle to speak after that, but always when they were alone, as if some instinctive wariness made him conceal the slight recovery he’d made, and almost never with enough clarity for her to understand.

After the third month of his stay, Rosa gained permission to take him out into the grounds sometimes. Far away from anyone else, concealed by trees or bushes, she began to help him to exercise and regain some strength. It became their secret. As far as the doctors and the administration department at Alderways were concerned, Mr Kennedy was still almost as mindless and helpless as when he arrived.

Rosa rejoiced to see the improvement in him that only she was aware of—and if he understood nothing else, he seemed to understand the need to keep hidden any gains in ability he made. But as yet another month drew to a close, she wondered uneasily where she went from here. She had no status, no contacts, no idea who Mr Kennedy was or where he came from. How much more could she help him now?

Vin and Ezra hadn’t bothered to clear their desks. Ezra had collected all the files on Chris’s disappearance before they went in to Orrin Travis, and had filled his briefcase and Vin’s rucksack. They’d expected to be suspended, and when they were, they walked out of the building without a backward glance. There was no danger of the team getting some risky assignment now, not with Buck and Nathan out of action.

Vin rubbed his knuckles down the side of his jeans; they were sore from making contact with Weiss’s face. He felt no satisfaction though. Weiss had asked for it, and he’d gotten it, but the bleakness of their failure to find Chris made everything else unimportant.

“Might’s well go straight t’ th’ ranch,” he said. They both had clothes and toothbrushes there; they’d spent more of their free time there than in their own homes for the last few months.

Ezra nodded. “We’ll have more time to concentrate on going through these papers now,” he said.

“And we’re free t’ follow up what we want.”

“I had considered suggesting we should take some annual leave, but in some ways this leaves us at greater liberty.”

“Ain’t responsible t’ Travis now.”


Vin always felt better when he rattled along the last stretch of road to the ranch. He understood the way Buck felt about it—hell, you only had to look at Buck’s face when he went into the empty building to know how the loss hit him when he came out here. But Vin felt that way wherever he was, and at the ranch there were things he could do for Chris: caring for the horses, or doing odd jobs on the barns and the land. He knew Ezra felt the same. Ez had taken charge of the business documents and all the other paperwork that needed attending to. Between them they’d make sure everything would be okay for Chris when he came back.

And he would come back. Vin rubbed his knuckles again. Fuck all the doubters outside Team 7 who thought Chris was gone for good. He wasn’t.

They didn’t need to talk much once they’d gotten to the ranch. They had a routine for the chores, and neither of them cared much what they ate. Tonight was kind of different though. Tonight, after they’d grabbed a hasty snack, they went into the den, cleared all the furniture back against the walls, and spread every scrap of information to do with Chris’s disappearance in chronological order across the floor.

Ezra looked at the wall-to-wall carpeting of files. “So much paper to reach a single conclusion.”

“Jackshit in seventy volumes,” Vin agreed, suddenly daunted by the sheer scale of it. Skimming stacks of writing wasn’t one of his better skills.

“We can dismiss any interrogations we carried out ourselves, at least for the time being,” Ezra decided, collecting up a number of files and removing them to the couch.

“We c’n chuck out all th’ crap about Chris leavin’ for some reason of his own.” Vin let Ezra sort those files out too; Ezra could do it at a glance.

“Also low on the scale of potential usefulness are all the reports on those people arrested by Chris who are still incarcerated, but we should look again at the ones who have been released.”

They had soon piled the couch and coffee table up, but there was still little of the floor showing. Ezra stared at the mass of paperwork for a long moment, maybe not feeling much better about it than Vin. Then he squatted down at the very beginning, picked up the first two folders, handed one to Vin and began to read his own with grim concentration.

Vin sat on the arm of the couch and opened the one he’d been handed. He hadn’t realised how immediately familiar it would all seem. There were interviews in here with Yosemite, with the local store owner, with other folk Vin knew… Swift, smothering, that Monday when he’d realised Chris was gone was as clear as yesterday. He could smell the horses, see the silent, empty yard, hear his own voice making call after futile call…

He pushed it all out of his mind and gave his attention to the words in front of him. For once he was glad that reading took so much of his concentration. Look at it sideways. That was what Ez reckoned they needed to do. Look for some angle that wasn’t in the normal line of investigation. Vin read the folder once, painstakingly, went back to the beginning now he’d familiarised himself with it, and looked for that side trail. They’d decided the best chance would be right back at the beginning.

“Perhaps before the beginning,” Ezra said, his thoughts following Vin’s as close as a shadow. “Do you have anything of interest from earlier in the week?”

Vin turned back a couple of pages. There was something that had just niggled at him a little as he read it. “What do you think of this?” he asked.

It was the interview with the local storekeeper. The guy hadn’t seen Chris since the Wednesday of the week he went, so there wasn’t much to the interview. Chris had been in, picked up a few groceries, a pack of sandwiches and a bottle of coke.

“You never see Chris touch coke,” Vin said. ” He don’t like things sweet. I remember now I noticed it afore, but I just thought Mr Dunning had made a mistake—anyhow, we’d all seen Chris plenty of times since then.”

“Chris doesn’t bring lunch to work,” Ezra said, reading the interview carefully. “Why would he be buying sandwiches? You’re right. If this hadn’t been so early in the week, we might have paid it some attention, at least to check it out.”

Vin glanced at his watch. “Store’ll still be open.”

It was all he needed to say. He and Ez were the same on this—all the time they weren’t looking for Chris it was like something was burning under their feet.

They took Ezra’s Jaguar. Old Jim Dunning who’d kept the store for more than thirty years loved to look at that car. Sure enough, he stepped outside almost as soon as Ezra pulled up. His wife was dealing with the one customer Vin could see in the store, so it looked like Jim was free to talk.

They didn’t need to find a way of starting in on what they wanted. Jim Dunning took a long look at them as well as the car. “Guess you boys aren’t here just to stock up,” he said. “You got news?”

Ezra shook his head. “Nothing new; just some questions, if you’ve the time at the moment.”

“Come and sit down and have coffee and ask all you want.”

Jim made good coffee, strong and rich, but it still tasted like nothing to Vin. Everything seemed the same, till it half choked him to get food down.

“It’s about Chris,” he told the storekeeper.

“I guessed that, son. What is there you think I can help you with, though?”

It didn’t sound much when you put it into words, Vin thought. Ezra wrapped it up some, but what had they got when it came down to it? Chris had bought a coke and a sandwich… Weiss’d die laughing if he could hear them.

Jim Dunning didn’t laugh though. “Yeah, I thought that was odd too. Not at the time. I was real busy that morning, only thinking about getting the customers through. But after I talked to your guys, read through that statement before I signed it, it struck me. When they’d gone I went and checked the till receipts for the Wednesday morning, and I was right, he had bought those things.” He glanced over at his wife. “Molly, didn’t I say to you then it was odd Mr Larabee getting coke when he always says he can’t stand it.”

“I still think he got it for that boy,” Molly said, finishing with her customer.

No one had mentioned a boy before. To Vin it was like hearing the one particular crack of a twig at night that was somehow different from all the other crackles and rustles of the land. It sharpened his attention, and next to him he could feel Ezra grow alert.

“A boy?” Ezra asked quietly, prompting them.

“I didn’t see him,” Jim said. “Molly told me about him when I mentioned the cola, but I don’t see it meaning much.”

“I saw him outside,” Molly said. “Like Jim told you, we were busy, but I was carrying some of Sue Baines shopping while she managed the twins. The boy was walking with Mr Larabee like he’d come from the Ram. He went around to the washroom while Mr Larabee went in the store. I hardly thought about it then, but looking back it seemed to me he was getting a lift into town.”

“You didn’t recognise him?” Vin asked.

“No.” Molly was definite about that. “He was a negro lad, thin, real scruffily dressed. I’d never seen him before.”

“We didn’t think it was something to report,” Jim said, a little worried. “We weren’t too sure if he’d been riding along with Mr Larabee, and even if he had, being as that was the Wednesday, we reckoned Mr Larabee would have told you about it if there was anything worth knowing.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” Ezra said. “However, Vin and I have decided to go back over every detail of the case. You say this was an African American teenager, untidily dressed. Can you estimate his age?”

“Fifteen, maybe,” Molly said doubtfully. “I only saw him for a minute. He wasn’t the sort of lad to be trouble for anyone, nothing like those gangs you see in town. He looked a poor thing, really.”

Ezra wrote down the little there was to write. They thanked the Dunnings and bought groceries for the weekend, but Vin was impatient to be on the move. When they were back in the Jaguar, he said, “Feels worth following up.”

“I agree,” Ezra said. “It’s the first detail I have heard that suggests even a small variation in Chris’s normal routine. And as the time in question is the Wednesday morning, Chris would still have had his cell phone for a few more hours. We’ll go back to the ranch and check the records of calls again.”

Chris had gone for a late lunch on the Wednesday with Buck and JD, and it had just been bad luck that he’d been about to answer a call on his cell phone as their horsing around had sent them tumbling in his direction. JD’s elbow had caught the phone, and it had fallen under Buck’s feet. It might just have survived that, but spinning around at Chris’s angry shout, Buck had sent it into the gutter and under the wheels of a delivery van. The memory of Buck and JD’s chastened return—and of the extremely unpleasant chores Chris found them for the rest of the day—would have made Vin smile if it had been in any other context.

“Chris had the phone okay at one thirty. I called him then. Must’ve gotten busted around two.”

Ezra found what they wanted in a couple of minutes once they were back at the ranch. He’d read the files so often, he could remember where to look for any details.

“Between us, we can probably recognise a high proportion of these numbers,” he said. “The unfamiliar ones are more likely to yield something of interest.”

In fact, there were very few calls to numbers neither of them recognised, and one of those turned out to be a horse feed supplier. Ezra called one that was a Boulder number.

Leaning near the phone, Vin could just hear the reply. “Churches Together Shelter and Advice Center.”

“Do you have accommodation for homeless young people?” Ezra asked.

“We can arrange it. Is this an emergency?”

It was late now. Vin saw Ezra reluctantly decide it probably wasn’t the moment to demand an interview. “No, not an emergency,” Ezra said, a note in his voice giving the lie to that. For Team 7, the whole of the last five months had been an ongoing emergency. “I’m an ATF agent, looking into a series of events that took place last June. It’s just a possibility that someone from your organisation may be able to help us with regard to the investigation. Would it be possible for myself and a colleague to come over tomorrow morning?”

“Sure. I’ll be asleep by then, but there’ll be plenty of people around. Your best bet is probably Jake Schiller—he knows pretty well everything that goes on. I’m David McNair, by the way. Just say I invited you to come over and talk to us.” There was an outbreak of noise in the background, and he paused, then said, “Sounds like our coffee maker’s on the fritz again. I’d better go if you don’t mind. We’ll expect you in the morning.”

Vin felt the surge of hope, like he’d felt it a hundred times before. Maybe this would be the lead that gave them a breakthrough. He didn’t say anything though, nor did Ezra. Just made the bitterness when it came to nothing that much worse if you put the hope into words.

Ez called the one other number that they hadn’t recognised. He got a recorded message. “This is the Denver Holocaust memorial archive. Our office hours are from 8.00 am to 6.00pm. If you would like to leave a message…”

The voice was cut off as Ezra replaced the receiver. “Not so much of a possibility,” he said. “However, we could stop by there once we’ve been to Boulder. I suggest we get some sleep and make an early start.”

The early start proved easier than the sleep; they were both in the kitchen before six, Ezra up as readily as Vin over the last few months. Vin offered over-strong coffee, Ezra drank it without complaint. Ezra gestured to the Jag; Vin didn’t argue. They hardly needed to talk these days. The downside was they couldn’t hide much from each other either. Vin felt the treacherous hope bubble in his chest, tried to conceal it but saw that Ezra knew—and was trying to suppress his own eagerness. This felt like a trail worth following, but they’d been wrong so many times before.

When Rosa was driving home, she always tried to leave behind her worries about her work. The evening was Lyndon’s time. Her mother would have seen to the meal and most of the chores; after they’d eaten, Rosa could sit down and hear about her son’s day, help with his schoolwork, or maybe play a game.

Tonight, though, she couldn’t forget her concerns. She’d just made her monthly report on Mr Kennedy. As usual, she’d kept her face down, talked apologetically, talked about the patient’s lack of progress. That was no problem. No one else had taken any interest in him for a long time now, certainly not enough to notice details like his improving muscle tone or the increasingly frequent glimpses of character and intelligence struggling to emerge.

She’d been quite happy with how the meeting was going until the end, when her manager said, “Good, good. It sounds as though we’ll have no problem with the visit from Mr Fischer, then.”

“Mr Kennedy’s uncle is planning to come here?” Rosa asked trying to keep the alarm out of her voice.

Perhaps she didn’t succeed very well, because the manager said kindly enough, “You don’t need to worry about it. They’ve been satisfied with the reports. It’s probably because next week will be six months. I expect they feel it’s appropriate to make an occasional visit.”

It might well be no more than that, but Rosa remembered the cold, intelligent eyes that had looked her over when Mr Kennedy’s uncle had him admitted. That was a man who would notice details, and his attention might be sharpened even more by the hatred she was sure he felt for his nephew. He might well see the difference from six months ago. And she felt another concern, too—that the sight of his uncle’s face might stir an angry reaction in Mr Kennedy. Would he understand the need to be the docile, almost mindless person she’d been creating in her reports? In spite of the progress he’d made, she knew the world was still a confused and confusing place to him. He had the will to get better. He seemed to feel some emotions now, and the blankness wasn’t as often there. But she had a feeling that none of that would be enough to help him deal with the arrival of his uncle.

One week! What else could she do? She knew nothing about his background, where he’d come from, whether he had any other family or anyone that cared what happened to him. No one had visited him in five months. There was no one she could talk to about him. She couldn’t think where to start.

“You’re quiet tonight,” her mother said, after Lyndon was in bed. “Cat got your tongue? Or are you worrying about that place again? I told you, if you think they don’t do right there, you give it up. We’re not so poor you got to sell your soul.”

“Who else would be there for my patients if I left?” Rosa said. “If I run away they’ll get someone worse.”

“Well, if that’s why you’re there and you’re doing your best for them, there’s no need to be so down about it.”

“I’m worried about one of the patients, that’s all,” Rosa said. She couldn’t tell her mother any more without breaching confidentiality. “I’ve been going over and over it in my head, and I can’t see how to help him.”

Her mother frowned at her as if she was still ten years old like Lyndon. “Well, you know what to do, and I don’t see you doing it any more, not in a long time. Get down on your knees and ask the Lord’s help for the man. You think God don’t have enough grace left?”

“It’s a complicated situation, momma—medical and legal problems, and so on.”

“So. You think that makes a difference? Didn’t I bring you up to know God’s bigger than all that? You get praying, Rosa. Forget the size of the problem.”

Forget the size of Alderways, and the money and power she saw there daily? Her mother had no idea of the numbers of distinguished doctors and wealthy patients, with corporations and smooth lawyers to back them up—nor of men like Mr Kennedy’s uncle.

“Faith like a mustard seed,” he mother said reprovingly from the kitchen, as if all she needed was to remember her Sunday school lessons.

Rosa sighed. She was sure her faith wasn’t even mustard-seed sized. In fact, just now it felt like something you’d only be able to see through an electron microscope.

Ezra and Vin had arrived at the Boulder Shelter so early that they found David McNair just about to hand over the office to his colleague.

“Hi—sorry—I was just going to explain about you,” he said. “Jake—these are ATF agents…” he paused. “Actually I don’t think I got your names.”

“Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner,” Ezra said. “We’re trying to trace someone who may have come here last June.”

“We need to see some identification,” Jake Schiller said, more wary and less friendly than McNair.

Ezra and Vin showed their ID and hoped that his wariness wouldn’t run to a telephone call. To discourage this, Ezra began a quick but comprehensive explanation of Chris Larabee’s disappearance, and the reason for their visit.

“It’s a long time ago,” McNair said doubtfully. “Five months—you’ve been investigating all this time?”

“He’s a friend,” Vin said briefly.

Ezra was watching the other man. If his instincts were still serving him correctly, Jake Schiller had heard something in their story that provoked a memory or a reaction, and a slight but perceptible—to Ezra—increase in wariness.

“I would like to stress that we have exhausted every other line of enquiry,” Ezra said. “While there are other possibilities, which are also under investigation, it’s our personal belief that Mr Larabee is both alive and in urgent need of help. I hope if there is anything at all that you can tell us, you’ll do so.”

“Last June,” Schiller said abruptly. “I’ll have to go look up my records. Maybe you’d like coffee? David?”

“I need to get home before Fiona goes out to work.”

“Coffee’d be good,” Vin said.

“I’ll send someone in with a tray.”

Schiller went out. Vin and Ezra, left alone, looked at one another and knew they’d shared the same impression.

“He knows something,” Vin said.

“I concur. However, although I may be reading too much into subtleties of body language, I’d say he feels suspicious of us rather than guilty in any way.”

“Makes sense,” Vin agreed. “If the kid was in some kind of trouble, they’re not just going to hand out his address—especially not to federal agents.”

“At least, not without checking our credentials.”

Vin frowned. “If he calls headquarters he’ll find out we’re suspended.”

“I doubt if any additional ATF involvement is on his agenda. If I were in his position, I would try to call an acquaintance rather than the authorities—someone who might have heard of agents Tanner and Standish and have an opinion on their characters.”

Vin thought about that for a minute. “Well, let’s hope whoever he calls thinks we’re some of the good guys.”

Fortunately—and perhaps predictably, though they hadn’t thought of it—Jake Schiller had called the homeless centre in Denver where Josiah frequently helped out. They discovered later that he’d found out they were not only genuine ATF agents but ones who lent a hand with repairs, Christmas meals and a bit of fundraising. It made his manner perceptibly friendlier when he returned.

“Who’d y’ talk to?” Vin asked, dryly.

Jake met his eyes, gave a wry smile. “Was it that obvious? Old Rev Benson. Says he’s known you for a few years. He also says you’ve spent every minute you could looking for Mr Larabee since he disappeared. I didn’t mean any offence, checking up like that. I wanted to be sure.”

“If the young man in question is wanted for some offence, that’s really not what concerns us at the moment,” Ezra said.

“No, he’s not in trouble with the law. He ran away from what sounds like some very nasty people. I never did get the full story. The boy—Sammy—has some speech and learning problems. He’s improving a little, so it may not all have been genuine disability, just a result of the way he’s been treated. I’m not sure how much Mr Larabee knew, or guessed. He brought Sammy here, but he only told me the barest facts. He did say the people who’d ill treated him might be looking for him, and that I should keep him out of sight, make up a different name and background for him for the time being. I’m sure he was planning to come back and tell me more. I didn’t know anything about him being an ATF agent—or about his disappearance. He just called, came with Sammy and went again. I did try to call the cell phone number he gave me, but it was always out of service. If it hadn’t been for what Sammy could manage to say, and the scars on him, I’d’ve doubted the story. As it was, I just sorted things out for Sammy quietly, and your visit’s the first time I’ve thought about it in a while.”

“Chris had an accident with his cell phone that same day,” Ezra said. “I don’t know why he didn’t say anything to any of us about the boy, but we hadn’t heard about him till yesterday. Then we followed up Chris’s phone call. We didn’t know he’d actually been here.”

“He called ahead. Must have gotten my name from someone because he asked for me specifically. Luckily I’m usually around.”

“Why’d he want you?” Vin asked. He was leaning forward, tenser than ever. It was bothering him why Chris hadn’t spoken to him, or any of them, about this.

“I don’t suppose he did, just someone who’d been vouched for as being able to keep a secret. Look, I need to tell you more about Sammy, but not here. I’ll take you to meet him, and I’ll tell you what Mr Larabee told me. I don’t know if it’ll help you, though.”

“But you do think there’s a possibility this could be linked to Chris disappearing,” Ezra said. He had seen that in Jake’s expression, almost from the start.

“Yes. Maybe. Because although I didn’t know he was ATF you could see he was a guy who could handle himself, and he was… I don’t know exactly… worried, angry, sure the people who might be after Sammy were real trouble. I’d rather talk about it somewhere else.”

“Okay,” Vin said. “We’ll follow you.”

Jake drove a few blocks and pulled up at a small apartment block. He must have called while he was on the way, because the elderly lady, Mrs Dubose, whose apartment he led them to, was expecting them. Sammy was hovering nervously behind her. She was a good choice to place the boy with, Ezra thought. In age and appearance she might easily have been his grandmother.

She welcomed them in to a small but spotless living room. “Come and sit down. Would you like some coffee?”

“Just had some thanks, ma’am,” Vin said. “We’re really wanting to talk to Sammy. Don’t know if Mr Schiller explained that to you?”

“About Chris,” Sammy said suddenly, in an unexpectedly deep voice. “Jake says you want me to tell you how Chris got me safe.”

“That’s right,” Jake said. “Do you want me to tell them what I know first?”

Sammy shook his head. He turned to Vin. “Chris is your friend?”

“Good friend,” Vin said, and Ezra wondered if everyone else could hear the pain in those two brief words.

“He was good to me,” Sammy said. “First real good white person I ever met. Mrs Dubose teach me there’s lotsa good people in the world, but I didn’t know that till Chris saved me. Why you want me to tell you though? You coulda asked Chris.”

Ezra had evidently overestimated how much information Jake had given them.

“I didn’t want to make it too complicated over the phone,” Jake said to him quietly, but at the same time Vin said to Sammy, “Chris is missing. Went missin’ two days after he met you. We just found out about you. Y’ tell us everything y’ can about that day and maybe it’ll help us find him.”

Sammy stared at him. “Chris is gone?”


“Been gone all that time?”


Sammy turned back to Jake, his face horrified. “Oh man, Jake. You know what happen? Must be the master got him. I shouldn’t never have told Chris ’bout the master. He real angry when he heard. I say, please Chris, don’t go lookin’, but he must’ve gone lookin’.”

Mrs Dubose put her arm around Sammy. “We don’t know that,” she said. “Now, let Jake explain to these gentlemen about where you were running from, and then you can tell them about the day Chris rescued you.”

Ezra took Vin’s arm and propelled him to the couch; they needed to have as calm an atmosphere as possible if Sammy was going to recollect details. Ezra’s own feelings were a confusion of hope that at last they were finding out something worth hearing, frustration, that they’d never stumbled on this earlier, and alarm. He tried to put it all aside and listen carefully.

Jake couldn’t miss the urgency stiffening Vin; he didn’t waste time on preambles.

“Basically,” he said, “Sammy grew up as a slave. I’m not using the word lightly. All he knew, all his life, till he ran away, was working for a man he called ‘master’ on an estate or huge ranch somewhere not too far from Denver. I know it doesn’t sound possible in this day and age, but as far as I can make out, there were men and women, and children, who lived and worked in a way you could only call slavery. Sammy never went to school, laboured for long hours, didn’t know he had any rights at all—and, show him your back, Sam…”

Sammy turned around, briefly lifted his shirt, and Ezra saw the white thin scars of repeated whippings.

“I tried to do stuff right,” Sammy said. “Sometimes I don’t learn too quick.”

“You learn just fine now,” Mrs Dubose said. “You’re a good worker, Sammy, but even if you weren’t, no one can do that to you. It’s wrong and it’s against the law.”

“Sammy didn’t know any other life,” Jake said. “It’s hard to think of running away from something that’s been your whole world. Sammy’s mother had come there as a girl, maybe from South America. Sounds like she’d lost her parents and her uncle more or less sold her, couldn’t afford her keep. All he knows about his father is that he was killed in an accident with farm machinery while Sammy was young.”

“But you knowed there had t’ be more,” Vin said softly to Sammy.

Ezra wondered which part of Vin’s own hard childhood that understanding came from. Sammy met Vin’s eyes and nodded.

“I bin workin’ outdoors. The horses, the wild animals, they had more life’n me. I’s maybe ten, twelve, when I’m thinkin’, maybe I could live like them. But I had ma. And I was afraid of the master, and the other master. And Berndt.”

“The owner of the estate doesn’t seem to have been there, or involved, most of the time,” Jake explained. “The man called Berndt was in charge in his absence. The whippings were his work.”

“But Berndt was scared of the master,” Sammy said. “All the staff, they lived better’n us, but they was just as feared of him.”

While Ezra’s brain was still protesting the sheer implausibility of what he was hearing, Vin leaned forward and asked, “What was his name? Your ‘master’—what did other people call him?”

“We all jus’ call him ‘master’. I never heard no one but us and the house servants. We ain’t s’posed t’ be in the way when there’s guests. Berndt call him sumthin else, sometime, but it weren’t a name, I don’t think. Was a word I don’t know. I think maybe it mean master in some foreign talk, anyway.”

“It’s only this last month or so Sammy’s been able to tell us this much,” Mrs Dubose explained. “The story was all much more of a jumble when he first came.”

“You have to realise, Mr Larabee didn’t hear anything nearly so coherent,” Jake agreed. “I’m amazed he understood as much as he did. He was quite sure Sammy had been kept as a slave, though at the time I thought that was rather farfetched—it seemed much more likely he’d had a stepfather or something who’d ill-treated him. Mr Larabee had guessed a lot of what we’ve only learned slowly. But of course, he couldn’t be certain of any of it. I suspect that’s why he didn’t want to talk about it until he had more facts. All we could say for certain was that Sammy had been running from someone who’d abused him.”

“I’s runnin’ and hidin’ two nights,” Sammy said. “From the day my ma died. Ma was real sick, doctor come out to her and say to Berndt, she not goin’ to get better. Ma, she ask to say goodbye to me, then the doc give her a…”

“Injection,” Mrs Dubose prompted quietly.

“Yeah. But it don’t make her well. She die real quick after that.” He was silent for a minute, sad and also puzzled. Ezra, thinking it sounded like a grim kind of euthanasia—or maybe ‘putting down’ was a better term—wondered what sort of ugliness they might be dealing with here.

Sammy took a deep breath and went on with his story. “Guess ma knowed. She pull me close and tell me what to do, and then say goodbye. She tell me, ‘the doctor got a big car, Sammy. You hide in the trunk. Hide and make it look shut, but don’t let it shut tight.’ I didn’t want her to be on her own, so I wait till that doctor tell Berndt ‘she’s gone’, then I go out quite quiet, and go to the car, and no one’s there, so I get in the trunk and don’t let it shut tight. I’s scared when the doc drives off, but I keep real quiet, and I hold the trunk open jus’ a crack, so I know when we’s off the master’s land. It’s a long time, a real long time, ‘fore the car’s goin’ slow, but then he stop sudden and I’m bumped and I’m scared the trunks shut tight, but it ain’t and I rolls out quiet and run into the forest.”

“He didn’t see you?” Vin asked.

“Don’t think so. I look back from the trees, and there’s somethin’ dead in the road, car must’ve hit it. I guess he’s lookin’ at that.”

“Sammy went on running for the next couple of days,” Jake said.

“Ma says, keep the sun behind me till it’s high, then in front of me,” Sammy said. “I done that, and keep away from roads, but it’s cold at night and I’m real hungry, don’t hardly even got a drink. I count two nights, and I’m not feelin’ so good that mornin’ and I make a mistake. I don’t see a drop comin, and I’s scared cuz I rolls down the side into a road. But I were lucky I did. That’s when Chris come.”

He looked at Mrs Dubose. “I told ’em it all right?”

“You did a good job, Sammy. You told them everything.”

“Mr Larabee picked Sammy up, got him something to eat and drink, and like I said, understood enough of his story to want to get him out of sight. He told me that if he hadn’t misunderstood Sammy, something very nasty was going on somewhere in Colorado. He left me to sort out Sammy’s care, and he said he had contacts in the police and he’d investigate. I settled Sammy with Mrs Dubose straight away—she’s looked after women running from abusive husbands, and teenagers with family problems. It was nearly a month before I was sure I wasn’t going to hear from Mr Larabee.”

“We still hadn’t really heard Sammy’s story then,” Mrs Dubose said.

“That’s right. And when we began to, he mentioned some things—like people arriving by helicopter—that made us think there was serious money involved. Wealthy men can hire very successful lawyers, and Sammy’s speech was still confused. Even if we found out who’d ill treated him, we might have trouble taking it any further—they’d have had plenty of time to work out some convincing story. Sammy was doing well, and I thought that if there were any other people being equally badly treated, the investigation Mr Larabee was starting should find that out. It looks like a really bad decision now to have just let things go, but at the time I thought that was best for Sammy, to just let him make a new start.”

“Ain’t blamin’ you,” Vin said.

“Chris’s reservations about how far he’d understood correctly must have similarly kept him from talking about it to any of us,” Ezra agreed. “Presumably he must have decided to look for some hard factual evidence.”

“And maybe lookin’ for it is what happened t’ him,” Vin said grimly. He stood up, as urgent in his manner as if Chris had only just gone missing. “And that’s where we need t’ go now—t’ find where the trail might’ve led him. You done good Sammy, but we have t’ go on now.”

Sammy nodded, his face solemn. Ezra also stood up because, however foolish it was to feel that minutes counted after all these months, he felt the same urgency as Vin. “If you recollect anything else that might help, these are our cell numbers, these are our home numbers, and this is the number for Chris’s ranch,” he said. There would have to be a Colorado-wide phone catastrophe before Jake found himself again unable to get in touch.

Jake smiled slightly, and put the sheet away in his wallet. “We’ll go over it again, see if we can come up with anything,” he said. “If … when you do find Mr Larabee, we’d be glad to hear about it.”

Ezra couldn’t find an answer to that, but Vin was already at the door so he didn’t try. They went out with hasty goodbyes, to the sound of three very different voices wishing them good luck.

“Where are we going?” he asked Vin, increasing his pace because Vin was walking fast, apparently with some destination in mind.

“That… holocaust place, can’t remember the exact name.”

“The memorial archive,” Ezra said. “You think there’s a connection? Or just because it was another call Chris made that day?”


They’d reached the Jaguar by now. Ezra was glad to have the driving, something to concentrate on while at a different level his mind sifted the story they’d just heard.

The man they called Mr Kennedy knew in some slow, inarticulate, detached way that he was improving. On good days now his mind was clear enough for him to feel the impotent fury of a rat in a trap. But confusion and chaos were never far away.

Even when he could think a little, nothing was familiar and nothing made sense. The name they gave him wasn’t his name. That was a small ember of certainty in what was mostly ashes. The people here all called him Mr Kennedy with confidence, even Rosa, but it was a lie. He might not know who he was, but he’d recovered enough to know who he wasn’t. And he was equally sure he’d never known this place or its staff before he struggled back to consciousness here.

These thoughts didn’t form logically or coherently in his mind; tiny, slow additions over the weeks had built them up. The ideas came most clearly when he was out of doors with Rosa working at the exercises that strengthened his arms and legs. He understood now what must at first just have been primitive instinct, that he needed to keep his improvement hidden. Rosa was worried about it, he’d read her body language from the start and maybe reacted to it. The last few times he’d seen her, her anxiety had been stronger, closer to fear.

He fought for hours in the long times spent closed in his room to rebuild the lost connection between his mind and his mouth, so that he could talk to her. It had worked with his hearing. More words made sense every day, not just names but whole chunks of what Rosa said to him, but his own speech would almost never come, and when it did it he had to force it out a word at a time. The frustration was a burning goad. Only his stronger sense of the need to hold it in, to keep his growing strength secret and hidden, kept him from hurling the furniture—and himself—at the white walls.

Rosa could tell when he was angry. He thought that frightened her too. She’d hurry to take him outside when she saw the heat of it in his eyes. He understood, though he couldn’t form the thought distinctly, that she was afraid for him, not of him, afraid of what would happen if anyone else saw what she knew. That helped him find a painful control. It also added to his confusion. One of the few ideas that actually came to him in words was ‘What sort of fucking hospital is this anyway?’

When he wasn’t struggling for speech, the man who wasn’t Mr Kennedy mostly spent the hours in his room fighting for memories. Who had he once been? How did he end up in this place? Sometimes he wondered if he’d been in a car crash, one that had killed his family. Some things about that felt right, but others jarred. He remembered grief. It touched him like a ghost when he was falling asleep or just waking; a trace of recollection of grief and anger and of the burn of whisky in his throat. But now his sense of the passage of time had returned a little, he realised it felt too far away, too long ago. Something else had brought him here.

And he was alone.

That had been the slowest thought to take shape, and he didn’t know where it had come from. Why shouldn’t he be alone? Confused as his mind was, he believed more and more that at some time he really had lost his family, so where did the haunting sense of further emptiness come from? The idea that there were other faces and voices lost to him, but living? Maybe sometimes he dreamed of them, but if he did all that was left on waking was a further sense of confusion. If he’d still had anyone—friends? brothers?—where were they now?

Need pounded in Vin’s head, thrummed there like the urgent wail of an alarm: the need to be on the move, racing to the next mark on the trail because maybe, who knew, it was now, after so many months, that time was finally running out for Chris. He didn’t need to look at Ezra to know Ez felt the same; all he had to see was the whiteness of Ezra’s knuckles as he gripped the wheel.

He noticed, though, that Ezra seemed to know where he was going.

“The archive is housed at the university,” Ezra said, catching his glance. “It’s something I have always intended to visit, and somehow other things have intervened.”

Vin had never even heard of it until it presented the other major question mark from that list of Chris’s calls. Now he felt it had to fit with Sammy’s story somehow, because whoever had left those thin lines of a whipping in the dark skin of Sammy’s back, was probably a man to hold a hate for the Jews too.

“This archive—it’d just be from the war?” he asked Ezra.

“Not necessarily. Although it would primarily be a memorial to the millions killed in the holocaust, most such places do deal with more recent examples of anti-Semitism especially from neo Nazi groups.”

Vin nodded, thinking. They’d made such an early start that it was still before noon when they finished negotiating the south Denver traffic and pulled in to the visitors parking lot. Good timing, because it turned out the archive opened to the general public at eleven.

“You can come at other times of course,” the pleasant, professional woman at the desk told them when Vin asked, “but you have to call ahead. Were you planning to come at some other time?”

“No ma’am. We’re trying to trace a friend who may have visited back in June, but he may just have called. Would you have been working here then?” He was aware of black and white scenes of appalling suffering on the walls around him, but he was more focussed on the thought that Chris might be suffering now.

“Oh please, make it Judith,” the woman said. “Ma’am makes me feel like an old schoolmistress. I’ve been at the archive for some years now, but I don’t quite understand what you want. You’ve lost touch with your friend? Why do you think we could help?”

Vin glanced at Ezra, who was better at explanations, but Ezra was staring at the photographs and his eyes were hollow with pain. He was looking at scenes of children: a line of them, some very young, some in the arms of older brothers and sisters, captured by an uncaring photographer in the last few moments of their lives. They moved forward, hand in hand, bewildered, lost, obedient. The building they were heading for was an extermination chamber.

Vin looked a moment or two at the pictures and let it hurt, because it was right that seeing this should hurt. It should wound the eyes and clutch unforgettably around the heart. But—and he didn’t like himself any better for being able to do it—he still went on to explain to Judith about Chris’s disappearance, and the fact they’d just traced the call to the archive.

Judith didn’t remember Chris’s name or face, but she had a work schedule which stretched back to the beginning of the year. After studying it for a few minutes and checking Vin’s time frame, she made a couple of calls to colleagues. On the second, she handed the phone to Vin. “This is Simon Goulder. He thinks he spoke to a Chris Larabee back then.”

“I’m sure I did, in fact,” Simon told Vin. “But it was only the once, and over the phone—I never met him. I only remember it because it was out of the ordinary. Mr Larabee knew that we often hear of incidents of anti-Semitism which will never reach court—things where the evidence isn’t enough, or it relies on a person’s word. He had a whole list of company names and those of a few charitable funds and wanted to know if we’d ever had any complaints against them.”

“Had you?”

“Just one, and that hadn’t come to anything. It was a fund that awards research grants. A girl came to us claiming she had been turned down because she’s Jewish, but the case came to nothing. Her professor had given her work and proposal a poor report, and the committee simply awarded the grant to someone with better reviews. She left soon after that, and I can’t say I would ever have thought about it again if Mr Larabee hadn’t mentioned the fund.”

Vin thought about it. Time to cast about a bit, looking for where the trail went. “You knew the girl?”

“No, not until she came to us, and she didn’t make a good impression. She was very bitter, and rather arrogant about her abilities and her work. When she found her professor had given her a poor report she began to accuse him as well, and that was patently ridiculous. I know the man. He’s not anti-Semitic, I can assure you.”

“We’d like t’ talk to him all the same if its possible,” Vin said politely. “Just in case Chris called him too. We’re trying to get a complete picture of those days back then. Coverin’ all the possibilities, that’s all. Since it’s a case of a missin’ federal officer.”

Intimidated by this, as he was meant to be, Simon gave him the name of the professor and directions to his office.

“Thanks,” Vin said. “Appreciate yer help.” He ended the call, and turned to Ezra.

“Time t’ go,” he said quietly, and seeing Ezra’s reluctance to turn away from the displays, he added, “We c’n come back, see this proper, but not now.”

His urgency crept into his tone as a plea, not a demand and Ezra responded to it, coming reluctantly with him, but turning back to look again at the photographs. “They were just children. What sort of evil or insanity would do that to them?”

“Th’ same sort that’d whip a boy like Sammy till he was half-flayed, and would likely have killed him if he was caught,” Vin said, the connection sharp in his own mind. “And if Chris isn’t dead—and I don’t b’lieve he is—the sort that’d want to put him in some kind of livin’ hell.”

Ezra shook himself, and was fully back with Vin again. “You got a name,” he said. “I heard that much. A professor?”

“Lib’ral arts,” Vin said. “You c’n do th’ talkin’. Let’s go.”

Josiah drove out to the ranch late on the Saturday morning, and found he’d missed Vin and Ezra. He glanced into the barn, stopped at the corral to rub Beavis’ nose, saw all the chores had been done. It was the same in the house; the lingering smell of coffee was the only testament to the fact Vin and Ezra had recently been here, until he went into the den. The sight of all the files, heaped on the furniture, spread about the floor, told him eloquently enough how they’d been spending their time. He picked up one that lay open and saw it was from the week before Chris disappeared. They’d said they were going right back to the start.

Josiah flipped the pages. The way the file lay suggested perhaps Vin and Ezra had found something in it worth following up, but he couldn’t see what. After a while he tried Ezra’s cell phone and found it was off. “I’m at the ranch,” he told voice mail. “Call me if you’d like me to cook dinner.”

He was worried—for no reason maybe except he was always worried about Vin and Ezra these days—and restless and reluctant to leave before he knew where they were. His answer came from an unexpected source. Midway through the afternoon, while he was fixing a piece of fence that barely needed it, Yosemite turned up.

“Your boys called to let me know they can’t make it back today or tomorrow,” he said. “Asked me to give you the message and a hand with the horses.”

Josiah put his hammer down and stretched a little. “Don’t suppose they said what they were doing?”

Yosemite shook his head. “It was Vin called and he ain’t much of a talker. Sounded in an all-fired hurry to me. But he said to tell you they was sorry about yesterday. They been in trouble again?”

“Couple of guys at work mouthed off to them about Chris,” Josiah said. “They reacted, it got out of hand, and they’ve been suspended.”

“Been getting closer to the edge for a while,” Yosemite said reflectively. “You want a hand putting the other two guys straight, you know where to come.”

“Appreciate the offer, but I think Vin and Ezra already made the point,” Josiah said. He was glad of Yosemite’s company, and uncritical concern for Vin and Ezra though. He grilled steaks for the two of them after they’d finished the chores. Yosemite was no more of a talker than Vin, but his silence was more friendly than a lot of people’s conversation.

In the end, Josiah decided to spend the night at the ranch, but there was no further word from Vin and Ezra, and when he tried to contact them the next day, they weren’t home nor answering their cell phones. The worst of his concern was eased by a message left on the Team 7 office answering machine saying Vin and Ezra had decided to take a few days away, but he thought of the den full of open files, and their hasty departure, and wondered just why they’d gone, and where.

Continue on to Part 2 of 6