Huge swaths of the high plains still lay under snow that first fell in November of ’42, but it was a dry cold and the roads were clear. From the air Headwater looked like an abstract map drawn in fine black ink on paper bleached an unearthly white.
The victim was found by a man in his eighties named Tashunka. He was older than the town of Headwater, a mere boy of the People when the Golden Gift came to Wanica in that final hunt. The biggest animal he ever killed was a coyote baited with a rabbit he caught in another trap. Tashunka almost didn’t see the girl. Her body was dangling at a roadside attraction that had always bored him. On a map somewhere one line terminated on another. Three states came together at this place, but even when there was no snow Tashunka had never seen any lines.
What caught his eye was not so much that the dead girl was naked but how her head and arms drooped back, and how her feet didn’t touch the ground, as though she were nailed to an invisible cross. So he backed up his truck and parked in the little tri-state corral. There were two other set of tire tracks in the snow and two sets of footprints which became a tangled net near the body.
Tashunka tried to be careful in his approach to leave the site clean for the sheriff. He could see no movement of the girl’s chest and no condensation from her mouth. The dead girl was too pale to be one of the People. Of a certainty she had part of the White Wing of the Church of Green Dome. Her ponytail gave that away. And Tashunka wept with frustration that he could not do the simple kindness of closing her frozen eyes staring out upon eternity.
Tashunka recognized the dead girl at last: Kimberly Zinter. Then he wept more deeply, knowing why she was murdered and guessing who the killer must be. Of a certainty the unhappy union of the Red Wing and White Wing of the Church was finished. He retraced his steps to the truck.
An hour later Tashunka returned with Sheriff Roddy Walker to the little fenced-off area nigh to the road. The tri-state marker was a wooden beam embedded in the ground, one foot square with a sloping top, and Kimberly’s back rested on this, held fast by frozen blood. The sheriff told deputy Bill to start snapping pictures while deputy Bob followed Roddy around with a notepad and took down a running commentary.
“I need to steal your sole with my camera, Chief,” Bill said, so “lay it out there.”
Tashunka smiled weakly at the joke and lifted one leg as best he could. Bill got a photo of the bottom of both the old Indian’s boots to make sure they could differentiate his footprints from that of the perps. Then Tashunka was left behind as Bill methodically photographed his way to the girl’s body..
When the sheriff and his deputies completely surveyed and documented the murder scene they all pitched in, lifted Kimberly free of the survey marker, and laid her gently on a foldaway stretcher that sheriff Walker had brought with him. Tashunka was surprised to hear the sheriff shout an oath. Roddy has read the plaque that Kim’s body was covering and realized they were at the exact place some surveyor decided the corners of two states ran flush against the border of a third. At a stroke that made the case Federal.
Then they walked the body out of there, pausing a moment for Tashunka to get another close look at it.
“This was Kimberly Zinter,” he told them, and he put his fingers on her face just long enough to melt the eyelids so he could close them. “I’ve seen her at Temple.”
The sheriff dug around in the glove box of his truck and came back with a manila folder containing a photo, which he compared to the dead girl’s blood-streaked face.
“The gentleman is right, boys. This was the local girl the FBI was looking for. One of the two, anyway.”
He noted how the girl wore a headdress that was similar to one that some of the Kuwapi townspeople often wore. It was a lattice of beads adorning two sharp white horns.
After the deputies carefully loaded the body of the girl in the canopy of the department’s green 1940 Dodge half-ton truck, Bob said, “So this wasn’t gonna be our case from the gitgo, even if she wasn’t lying dead spread out over three states. What do we do now, sheriff?”
Tashunka said, “I remember when you were just a boy, sheriff, and I remember when you left us. None of your men are Greendomites. You might not be up on Church politics and they can’t help you. I don’t know who did this terrible thing to the girl but I can tell you why.”
But inactivity had cooled the sweat under Roddy’s coat and he shivered in the face of a stiff wind from the frozen plains.
“This is not the place, Tashunka,” he said, “This body must go to our little hospital. But if you meet me at the station in an hour I will listen to what you have to say about this.”
After that Sheriff Roddy drove deputy Bill and the body around the large hill near the crime scene which was named Green Dome. It was almost five thousand feet above sea level, but only eight hundred feet above the town of Headwater, and it was never green at all in January.
“I just can’t win, Bill,” Roddy lamented. “Half the male population of Headwater between 18 and 45 is off killing Japs and Krauts and Eye- talians. Things were getting real quiet around here. Then the FBI sets up shop and stay all summer. Now I got my first homicide.”
They passed the stretch where the Bureau parked their trailer but there were no lights on and no smoke from a wood stove.
Bill said, “The FBI was here last summer but now people are saying they saw some G-men back in town, staking out the bus station and ask- ing people of they’ve seen our victim and another girl named Sofie Krause. Those girls were in federal custody somewhere for half of last year, but apparently they’ve escaped and made the FBI look … hell, they are incompetent.”
“But they wouldn’t kill the girl for doing that, if your thoughts are trending on those lines, Bill.”
Roddy drove around the northern slopes of Green Dome and Headwater came into view. With a thousand souls it was the biggest town for a hundred miles around.
Bill asked, “What do you want me to do after we give the body to Dr. Wahkan?”
“Develop the film and file it,’ Roddy told his deputy. “Then get back to the scene and help Bob look for the murder weapon. I didn’t see prints leading away from the marker so I figure the perpetrator either tossed it away or kept it. To know what he chose would be a good thing for me to know.”
The town’s sole doctor was known as Wahkan to the People, but the whites called him Plenty Practice. No one had ever died under his knife, but even a local legend such as Doctor Wahkan could not call back the dead.
“Kim Zinter,” the doctor said when he saw the bloody corpse. “Heartbreaking. And her father died only last year. I can’t “imagine how Clara is going to take this.”
The sheriff looked inward and frowned deeply, knowing he must be the one to tell her.
Dr. Wahkan donned a pair of rubber gloves. “I have never carried out this protocol for you before, Sheriff, and for your father I only had to do so three times. That alone tells you how, in the main, Headwater really is a good place.”
“How did you know her name, Doctor?”
“I saw this girl last spring when her mother brought her in. And I also saw another girl who is the same age, one named Sofie Krause. They both had the same symptoms.”
Dr. Wahkan pulled Kim’s headdress away, but the two white horns remained in place. Removing the jewelry and holding out the jewelry, he said, “No doubt you have seen something similar to this before.”
Roddy nodded. “I know it is a Kuwapi thing. My first guess was Kim was wearing it because it was starting to catch on as a fad among the white kids in town. Sort of like their so-called music.”
Wahkan reached down to grabbed one on the horns on Kimberly’s head and shook it. This caused her whole head to shake as well. “Actually, they wear the jewelry to cover up the fact that these horns are real.”
“I’ll be damned,” Roddy said. “I never guessed!”
Dr, Wahkan lifted Kim’s hair so the sheriff could see the skin of her scalp where the horns emerged from her skull. There was a smooth transition. The skin simply hardened and merged with the horns, yet the horns themselves were not mere a feature of the skin, like calluses. They were rooted to the bone.
“We call this the Change,” the doctor told him. “Naturally both girls and particularly their parents were alarmed when it started to happen to them, but they were actually quite safe. The Change is known among the Kuwapi people. It spreads by sexual contact.”
“You seem to know a lot about it, Dr. Wahkan.”
“I know that among the Changed are the Begotten and the Made. I know both the Begotten and the Made can Make the Change, but only the Begotten can beget the Change. I told Kim and Sofie the Change had been present among some members of the Red Wing for a human lifetime and more, and if you believe the Green Book it goes back much, much further than that. But when I tried to explain all this to their mothers they wouldn’t believe me. They took the girls somewhere to get a second opinion, and now Headwater is infested with outsiders.”
“Headwater is a good place, Doctor, just like you said, but the killer deliberately draped her body across three states. That forces my hand. I must report this crime to the very outsiders who have made things less good here over the last few month. But I can’t believe she was killed just for wearing Red Wing jewelry.”
“A flirtation with the Red Wing might run deeper than a penchant for hair accessories,” the doctor suggested. And with that, in the full view of the sheriff, he began to run the body of the girl through the necessary indignity of an autopsy.
The town of Headwater, true to its name, sat at the source of the Squaw River. Paved road ended there, as did the railroad. There were no hotels. West, north, and south of the town was nothing but empty grasslands. No one from outside of town ever spent the night in Headwater because no one ever passed through. The Bureau had to crane off a trailer on national grasslands just to have a place for its agents to sleep.
The Church of Green Dome had steadily lost adherents since peaking in 1915 but there were still many congregations scattered across America and even a few in Europe. When families of the deceased came to Headwater for the Last Rite often the only place for them to stay was the Temple itself.
The C Wing had six modest rooms which were offered to visiting fami- lies for their brief stay of a day or two. Klaus Hansen had never giv- en them much thought. As far as he knew or cared the beds made them- selves, so when he arrived at the temple with Paul Bergin in tow he was startled to find Dory and Gabriel cleaning the rooms.
“What is this?” he demanded.
“It went with the position of Extraordinary Lay Minister of the Last Rite,” Gabriel replied. “Somebody has to get the rooms ready, and now I guess the Deacon does it.”
“Then what’s she doing here?”
“Cousin Dory is pitching in.”
“I’m reclaiming Sundays for the White Wing. I only want Red Wingers to be here, if they must, on Wednesdays.”
Dory and Gabriel, being Red Wingers both, made as though to leave, but Klaus said, “Not you, boy.”
“I’ll pick you up at five, cuz,” said Dory on her way out.
“Where’s the Golden Gift?” demanded Klaus after Dory was good and gone.
“It’s right here in the Temple, sir, just as we agreed.”
“How do I know that’s true?”
“This is the Temple of Green Dome, sir. Liars have no part in the life to come.”
“Show it to me.”
“Sir, my father told me to only bring it out at need.”
“You need to show it to me.”
Gabriel unlocked a supply room similar to the one downstairs in the temple basement. A red butter cookie tin sat on a shelf. It was empty but Gabriel needed the can for his trick. When che reached outside of the universe it always looked like somebody chopped hez hand off with an ax, which would need explaining. Gabriel produced the relic. To Hansen’s eyes it looked like che pulled it out of the tin.
“How do I know that’s not just something you whipped up in metal shop and painted gold? Make this box disappear for me.”
Paul Bergin set down a cardboard box he was carrying.
“What’s in the box, sir?”
“Old clothes and shoes. Never mind what’s in the box, just make it disappear with your alleged relic.”
Gabriel squeezed the Artifact. The hissing shifted down in pitch as the black rip in reality grew, drinking in the light and air of the room. Hez ponytail tossed in the growing breeze as he lapped up the box into nothingness. He tried not to damage the floor but it was unavoidable.
Neither Klaus Hansen nor Paul Bergin had never been so close to the Golden Gift in operation. They were entranced by the sheer otherworldliness of it. Gabriel was amazed at hez self-restraint for not slicing the men in half where they stood.
When the thrill of the Golden Gift wore off, Hansen said, “Put it back in the can and lock this room back up.”
Gabriel gave a very convincing performance of putting the Artifact away. Slight-of-hand never entered the mind of Klaus.
When it was done Klaus told hem to hand over the key and the look on his face seemed to dare hem to show even a twinge of insubordination, but he got nothing. “Who else has a key?”
“Mr. Bergin never returned his key after he quit.”
“I never quit,” Bergin said.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Hansen said. “Your wife is dead.”
“Oh, I know, sir.”
“What do you mean, you know? You don’t seem too cut up over it.”
“Cut up. I get it, sir.”
“The last thing I need from you is your mouth, boy.”
“She predicted it would happen, sir,” Gabriel said. “Besides, our Lord himself said, ‘He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.'”
“Do you know what I believe, son? I believe the death of your so-called wife makes me the Prophet of the Church. And I believe you still have some rooms to clean.”
Tashunka waited outside the sheriff’s office long past when Roddy said he’d meet him, trying to stay warm inside his running truck. Roddy apologized for the delay and invited the old fellow to come indoors for some fresh coffee. “Doctor Wahkan had some interesting things to say,” the sheriff told him.
Tashunka followed Walker inside and sat shivering in his seat until the coffee was ready. “And what of the three stupid boys who took a bullwhip to a plains Indian and didn’t think he’d have friends who could do something far worse in retaliation?”
“The three stupid boys were still there looking perfectly miserable until they laid eyes on the dead girl. That seemed to make their whole day. Would that Headwater had a bigger hospital. They wouldn’t tell me what was so funny. I figure you’re about to tell me.”
Tashunka leaned back in his seat nursing the coffee. His eyes landed on a photograph of the elder Sheriff Walker, now deceased. Two years already? “Everyone greatly respected your father, Roddy, both White Wing and Red Wing alike. I was there at his Final Rite.”
Roddy flushed with sudden anger. “And I, his son, was not permitted to be there because I don’t believe in fairy tales about angels and sun gods and killing relics and I made the mistake of letting everybody know that.”
“Sheriff,” admonished Tashunka,”if you allow your heart to grow black you will take everything I say in a way I do not mean.”
Roddy glared at him while he took another sip of coffee, then lowered his eyes. Soon he was calm again and said, “You are absolutely right, Tashunka. At a minimum I know how important the relic is in the life of your Church.”
Tashunka said, “Red and White wings swap power but the Golden Gift stays in the Red Wing. God gave it to Chief Wanica, who gave it in turn to his son Jashen. Klaus Hansen says the Apostle should have it. Jashen thought it would quiet things to let it pass on, but he gave it to his son Gabriel Shybear.”
“Gabriel Shybear. That explains how he got his whipping. And he said his house and the Temple had been ransacked too. They must have been trying to beat the Golden Gift out of him. I count myself fortunate I never embraced the faith of the Green Dome Church as my own, Tashunka. It’s much too violent.”
“It gets better,” Tashunka said. “Jashen said he was setting aside the rule that Greendomites must marry only their cousins, in just one instance, so that Gabriel could marry Kim Zinter. When they heard that Hansen and half the Bunners stood up and walked out of the Temple.”
Roddy smiled at Tashunka’s use of the word ‘Bunners’. Greendomites had to wear their hair in a ponytail, even the men, but in the White Wing this ponytail was done up in a bun. He shuddered at how close he had come to being a Bunner himself. But even people who had nothing to do with the Church knew about their biggest hobby horse: mandatory cousin marriage. Roddy knew a deep current of racism ran among the Bunners but the requirement for consanguineous marriages had kept a firm lid on it. Kim Zinter was fourth generation White Wing at least, she’d have no kin among the Red Wing. Her marriage and any subsequent children would have blown the door wide open.
As though he could read Roddy’s mind, Tashunka said, “Hansen would see this marriage between Gabriel and Kim as a horrible disease infecting the body of the Church. Their children would have marriageable cousins in both wings, and with each passing year it would just grow worse.”
“So now I have a possible motive,” the sheriff said.
Deputies Bill and Bob rushed in just then and threw a Cellophane bag on the sheriff’s desk containing the murder weapon.
“We found it,” Bob said, “Just like you guessed, Sheriff, not more than throwing distance from the body.”
The blade was thin and flexible. It was just a steak knife.
Roddy picked up the bag and frowned with disappointment. “This game isn’t as fun when the other side isn’t even trying to win. Not a Sears Roebuck kitchen knife: no, something handmade.’
Next came a duty Sheriff Walker found to be every bit as distasteful as his father described. Roddy recalled the recent death of Erik Zinter. How does one tell a newly-widowed woman that her entire family has been wiped off the face of the earth?
The young woman who answered the door was not Clara Zinter. Her hair was a rich, dark red. She had eyes that were a light, icy green, striking for being so rare, but she was a little too chubby even for a time before models made being as skinny as a beanpole sexy. What stood out to Roddy, however, was the horns. She had two white horns on her head just like the victim. In fact, Roddy was looking at the spitting image of the deceased. She stood in the doorway patiently waiting for him to speak. He pulled out his file to be sure. Identical. So this must be Kim’s twin sister. He cleared his throat and said, “Good afternoon. I’m Sheriff Walker. Is Mrs. Clara Zinter at home?”
“Mother isn’t here anymore,” the young lady said, “She’s with her own folks in Pennsylvania. I’m Robyn. Do you want to come in? I’m sure you have questions and it will be better than standing here in the doorway.”
Roddy took off his hat and accepted her offer. The hardwood floors were covered with throw-rugs. He could smell the light odor of a gas furnace. A radio tuned to Headwater’s one station was playing “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. Robyn turned it down.
The sheriff said, “Please, Robyn, if you could turn the radio off entirely. I afraid I have very bad news for you.”
The girl complied, then she invited the sheriff to be seated. He did so and got the overall impression that the Zinter family was firmly situated in the middle-class. Not destitute by any means, but not ostentatious either. A small coffee table lay between them. Robyn smoothed out her plaid dress and Roddy saw that she wore bobby socks and saddle shoes. “You were about to tell me that you found the body of my sister,” Robyn said, “and that she had been brutally stabbed to death.”
On one level Roddy felt relief. His duty to notify the next-of-kin had been mooted. But Robyn had stated things she should not yet know. “You dont seem to be too upset about it,” Roddy said, taking a small notebook and pen out of his jacket liner. The sympathetic bearer of bad news was a detective again. “When did you know your sister was dead, Miss Zinter? Did an old Indian fellow pay you a visit today?”
“Call me Robyn, please,” she said. “One name. Robyn. Not Miss Zinter. Nobody else has visited me today, Sheriff. I find it difficult to say how I knew she died. If I tell you the truth you will probably think I’m a little crazy.”
Roddy said, ‘Robyn, this is a murder investigation so I exhort you to hold to the thought that whatever you tell me must always be the truth. As for believing you are insane, frankly, I’m already having trouble with your attitude toward the news of your twin sister’s murder.”
“Sheriff, have you ever heard those stories about identical twins who seem to have a link that defies any explanatio? Twins who were separated at birth? They never met, yet they they led lives with coincidence piled upon coincidence, with the same type of job, and even the same type of spouse.”
“And the same type of horns, Robyn? Are you Begotten, or Made?”
“Made. Same way. I hated the idea of people telling us apart.”
“Are you telling me you have some kind of radio in your head that let you know what was happening to your sister? Because if that’s what you’re saying, I wouldn’t believe you were insane. I would run you in to the station for knowing material facts about this case with no plausible explanation why.”
“Sheriff, there’s no need to do that. I’m going to give you three tips that will break this case wide open for you in record time. If they don’t pan out, I’ll still be right here because this is where I live. Then you can do what you will.”
She held out a pinky. “One, the murder weapon was from a set that is now missing one knife.” She held a finger with a wedding ring. “Two, tomorrow is trash day.” She held out her middle finger. “Three, someone clever enough to make this bigger than a local case is too clever to get his own hands dirty, but he might have a willing sidekick who is not quite so clever.”
Mark Felt had been with the Bureau just one year but the quality of his reports filtering back to Washington had brought him to the notice of the Director, J. Edgar Hoover. On the eve of Special Agent Felt’s transfer to DC Hoover telephoned him personally.
Felt tried to maintain a respectful tone with the Director but he knew he was in for disappointment. The San Antonio field office was deemed a punishment detail where agents were sent to be toughened up, and it was particularly hard on agents who were married.
When it came it was every bit as bad as he thought it would be. Felt’s transfer to Washington to work on counter-espionage was put on hold until he solved a simple homicide smack in the middle of the country. Hoover took this one personally; and so, natch, the FBI did as well.
“You’ll be coordinating with Special Agent in Charge Clyde Tolson on this one,” Hoover said. “Do you know him?”
Felt could only answer that he knew Tolson was the SAC at a division of the Bureau known only as DECON, but none of his associates knew what the initials meant.
“In Clyde’s pretty little head,” Hoover said with a nervous chuckle, “DECON stands for Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neutralization. But to me, you, the other agents and most important of all, Congress, Tolson heads up the Special Projects section.”
“I understand sir,” said Felt. “But what if, by some misfortune, my work runs at cross-purposes to those of SAiC Tolson? Which case takes precedence?”
Hoover said Felt had the upper hand. He was to mesh with Tolson where practical but Felt’s reports were to go directly to DC. “Also you will have the complete cooperation of the local law enforcement community, such as it is. Not even Tolson has that. But bear in mind that Headwater is a small town at the ragged edge of nowhere. You will be shocked to find it lacking in most basic amenities.”
Hoover wrapped up with a few more details, saying Agent Felt this and Agent Felt that. In twenty years Mark Felt would draw close enough to J. Edgar that he would just be called ‘Felt’ but he’d never be on a first-name basis like ‘Clyde’ and that would suit him fine.
Felt did win one important concession. He received permission to draw a Bureau sedan so his wife Audrey could proceed to DC as originally planned while he took his own car north through most of Texas and three other states to fix this burr under the Director’s saddle.
Scissors, paper, rock, two out of three times, and Deputy Bob Lurz had to be the one to climb into the garbage truck at the place where 6th made a little jog north and 7th took its place. Paul Bergin lived on N Street and 6th. Deputy Bill Holsinger stayed out of sight and drove down to L and 7th to pick Bob up when he was done.
The fellow driving the truck and the fellow dumping the cans were duly deputized. At O street Bob was told that Paul Bergin was making a last minute addition of a grocery bag to the can already out on the street. Two more pickups and Bob had this grocery bag in his hands.
“Jesus Christ, Bob, you reek!” gasped Bill when his partner piled into the truck with the evidence.
“All in the line of duty. Look what we got.” He let Bill peek inside at a wooden knife block. The handles were the same as the murder weapon. One blade was missing.
“So it’s Deacon Paul Bergin for sure,” said Deputy Bill. “I’m with the sheriff on this one. When the perpetrators make catching them this easy it’s no fun at all.”
“There should be nothing fun about any of this, Bill,” his partner admonished. “Kimberly Zinter is dead.”
One summer head up the Big Muddy to St. Louis and hang a left. Now you’re on the Missouri, the longest river in North America. Go upriver past Sioux City, Iowa and hang a left again on the Niobrara River. Head west until you’re walking in a dry river bed. You missed it. Back up. The Squaw River is a shorter tributary of the Niobrara, yet it has a year-round flow despite winding across the most arid grasslands of the high plains. Bison used to reliably congregate at the edge of the Squaw River to drink, and the hunters of The People knew it.
On a ridge above Headwater is a pillar of rock carved by wind to look like an Indian woman carrying a papoose in her papoose, hence the name Squaw River. Just west of town the river bends around the south and west flanks of Green Dome and pours from an underground cistern.
Headwater is where the river begins, but it’s also where the railroad and pavement ends. Other than a few dirt roads and old wagon tracks, the land north, west and south of town is literally the biggest void in the lower forty-eight states. Headwater has nothing for tourists, even when it wasn’t wartime and there were tourists to be had. The view from the top of Green Dome was out over thirty-five miles of nothing. If you were from out of town you were only there to get hitched and your extended family put you up.
Special Agent Mark Felt drove to the strip of land where Hoover told him the FBI had dropped a trailer. It was unoccupied. Felt let himself in using a spare key he had obtained from the Wichita field office.
The kitchen was still a kitchen, but the living room was a workspace. He checked the trailer’s two bedrooms and saw they contained two cots apiece. After he cleaned himself up a bit Felt helped himself to the files stacked on the desks. One of them, with brittle yellowed paper that Felt instinctively handled with great care, was a report on the final days of Fort Price, a former Army outpost a number of miles to the east.
The report contained pages from the commanding officer’s journal and testimony of the six surviving soldiers, including one who had been captured and maimed. Felt stopped reading the Fort Price file when he heard the sound of a vehicle’s tires crunching up to the FBI trailer.
Felt had already met Clyde Tolson at the handshaking ceremony the previous year when Hoover inspected his graduating class but this fellow wasn’t he.
When the agent came in Felt thought the man looked more movie gangster than g-man, investigatee more than investigator, and somewhat later he learned he was one of the very few members of the Democratic Party to be accepted into the Bureau. “Are you William Mark Felt?” the newcomer asked.
Felt, who had been sitting ramrod straight in his chair, now stood ramrod straight on his feet and extended his hand. “Just Mark Felt, please.” And the newcomer remarked on their mutual good fortune, as he was Bill Sullivan, and two Williams would have been confusing.
Sullivan approached the desk to see what Felt had been reading, amused by Mark’s body language which seemed to dare him to say something derogatory about the presumption. “Ah yes, Cowboys and Indians,” he said when he saw the material a bit closer. “How far did you get?”
“The Indians dropped a couple cows,” Felt replied, “and the Cowboys dropped a couple Indians. If you hadn’t shown up, Bill, I’m sure I would have plowed my way through to the part where the US Army lost their fort. A lifetime ago. Is this one of Tolson’s special projects?”
“DECON,” Sullivan said. “Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neutralization. I’m sure the Director told you this was Special Projects but my advice to you is to play along with Special Agent in Charge Tolson on this. At least until you break the murder case.”
Felt silently absorbed this and nodded once, clearly accepting the advice. He donned his overcoat and said, “Where is Tolson, by the way? I’ve only just arrived from the Texas office and the Director gave me almost nothing in the way of a briefing.”
“Tolson is waiting for you at what qualifies for a hospital in this tiny hamlet,” Sullivan said. “It’s practically a one-room log cabin. He’s with Dr. Ian Trochmann. I’ll take you there, but I won’t be staying. I’ve got tasking of my own.”
As Sullivan drove Mark Felt to the hospital to take over the investigation Felt said, “You got me wondering why Tolson gives a damn about the Army losing a fort way back when.”
Sullivan shrugged. “It was the little brother to Custer’s Last Stand. One thing that really strikes me about the Indian wars was how the Indians gave as well as they got. We only beat them with numbers.”
“Numbers, time, and the fact that they weren’t really as blood-thirsty as people make them out to be. Did you ever hear of something they did called ‘counting coup’? No? It was the wartime equivalent of touch football. They went to war like we go to ball games.”
At Headwater’s only hospital a plump nurse in her fifties wheeled out a shivering boy with bandaged stumps where his feet should have been. She was followed by Deputies Bill and Bob wheeling out one boy apiece, each with identical injuries.
Sullivan led Felt up the walkway and made the first introductions. “Felt, this is nurse Ella Fader, and in the wheelchair is young Scott Hilling. Ella, this is FBI Special Agent Mark Felt.”
Felt couldn’t help grinning at her name. She saw that and shook her head to warn him off.
After that Sullivan introduced Deputy Bob Lurz, pushing Johnny Sunkel, and Deputy Bill Holsinger pushing Larry Porter. Felt wondered aloud why they were being rolled out to see the snow.
Deputy Bob said, “Special Agent in Charge Clyde Tolson was of the mind they needed fresh air for about an hour.”
Agent Sullivan told Felt, “The Indians here used to believe if they could make a captive scream his shade would be their servant in the afterlife. Some still remember. Not quite the touch football you mentioned earlier. There was a young Indian fellow in this little clinic a few days ago who was horsewhipped. Goes by the name of Gabriel Shybear. I think these three boys did it, and I think Gabriel’s friends worked them over with knives as payback. But nobody is talking, not Gabriel, and not these kids. Nobody wants to name names.”
“Oh, there you are Felt,” SAIC Clyde Tolson said when they arrived indoors. Felt remembered his oblong face and searing gaze from last year at Quantico when he inspected the graduating class 15 with Director Hoover.
The sheriff was also there and Sullivan made the introduction, “Special Agent Mark Felt, this is Sheriff Roddy Walker.”
Mark decided to hit the ground running. Even as he shook Roddy’s hand he looked at his watch and said, “Sheriff, it’s quarter of four and I am assuming responsibility for this investigation. The Bureau expects your full cooperation.”
“Special Agent Felt, this department will pull out every stop to cooperate with your investigation. But I am curious about one thing: why start now? Ten years ago there was another murder victim found just a few yards over the state line. My father was the sheriff at the time. He reported it up to the Bureau and expected a federal response but he was just told to handle it locally.”
Felt said, “I don’t know the particulars of your father’s case. In this one the deceased is already involved in a DECON investigation by Special Agent in Charge Tolson, and whoever perpetrated the crime arranged her corpse in such a way that deliberately goaded the Director.”
As Hoover had cautioned him, he refered to the Special Projects section by the acronym coined by Tolson. Hoover had told him to mesh with Tolson’s investigation where practical but that his reports were to go directly to DC. This particular case irritated Hoover so much he even issued a Bureau sedan so Felt’s wife could proceed to DC as they originally planned, knowing this would smooth over any resentment Felt had over being diverted on this side trip. That was uncharacteristic of the Director. More typically, Hoover deliberately imposed hardships on his agents in the field to “toughen them up” without regard to what it might do to their marriages.
For his part Tolson appeared pleased by Felt’s can-do attitude and that he didn’t need to be reminded of his preferred term for the Special Projects section. Unaware of Felt’s conversation with the Director he suspected Sullivan was instrumental there.
Sheriff Roddy introduced Dr. Wahkan to the federals. A man donning scrubs was introduced in turn as as Dr. Ian Trochmann, part of Tolson’s DECON project. He said he was preparing to perform the autopsy all over again for the federal side of the house.
“There’s not going to be much of the girl left after that,” said Dr. Wahkan, in a vain attempt to call the whole thing off.
Sheriff Walker found a sudden need to be outside and Sullivan followed him. On the way out they heard Dr. Wahkan said, “Agent Tolson, my prayer is that you find whatever you are looking for quickly, and never again return to Headwater. Not even uncivilized men treat their dead in this manner.”
The sheriff heard Special Agent Mark Felt’s stomach growl and guessed the man might not have eaten since breakfast. He invited Felt to dine out. Felt heartily agreed, so long as the sheriff remembered not to talk about the case in the restaurant. Roddy decided on Bea’s Chicken Inn only five blocks east of the hospital. Headwater wasn’t a very large town. Roddy took him over in the half-ton truck and along the way Felt invited him to spill what he had uncovered up to that point.
Roddy said, “We have what is very likely the murder weapon, and it has fingerprints. We have many photographs of the scene with tire and boot marks in snow. That house coming up is the home of the deceased. I made contact with her twin sister there, one Robyn Zinter, who recently moved to Headwater. She already knew Kim was dead and described circumstances of that death. I didn’t bring her in because I knew this was going to be the Bureau’s case from the gitgo, and also because some of the things she said were pretty crazy.”
Bea’s Chicken Inn was kitty-corner to Robyn’s house. When Roddy pulled into the parking lot he gave Felt one more item from the case. “The murder weapon came from a set of knives, and this morning we recovered the set, based on a lead. The source of the lead was the aforementioned Miss Robyn Zinter. But the lead was too good to risk passing up.”
“Do you think she’s indulging in misdirection, sheriff?”
“I can’t figure her out at all. She expresses zero sorrow for her sister. None. She intelligent and sweet but half the things that come out of her mouth make no sense at all.”
When they went inside and were seated Roddy remarked that the place was much less busy that it used to be on weeknights. “Coal was the mainstay of the town and that’s drying up.”
Felt said, “I heard wartime meat rationing will start in a month or two.”
Roddy nodded. “Places like this won’t close up, but they’ll have to collect ration cards from customers and put them all together to get resupplied. I suppose it’ll be even less crowded then.”
“I have a law degree,’ Felt said, ‘and I was leaning toward the intersection of business and government, but the war intervened. In wartime our country becomes, temporarily, a military dictatorship with all hands on deck. So as with your coal miners here my own work dried up too.”
“Your education was not criminal law?”
“Well, make no mistake, I was immersed in criminal law at Quantico. But the crimes that draw my attention don’t happen in towns like Headwater. I want to go after spies.”
The waitress came to take their order. She took the menus but left the two silver half-dollar coins that had been on the table when the men were seated.
“The people who ate at this table before us were from the Red Wing of the Church,” Roddy said confidently.
“How do you know?”
He gestured at the two coins. “Those half-dollars. 1942. The mint mark should be D for Denver, but they’ll both be O be- cause the die was worn and nobody caught it in time.
Mark Felt looked at both coins and saw Roddy’s guess was true. “How strange. But what’s the connection to the Red Wing?”
“There’s a fellow I know here who runs a pawn shop, he brought these to my attention. Normally a mint mark of O would make these collectible. This fellow found out the Denver Mint had struck about a hundred of these flawed fifty-cent pieces before their quality control spotted the problem and halted the run. But there are many more than a hundred of them circulating here in Headwater. Everywhere you go in Headwater you’ll see them, always from the Red Wing, usually retirees living on social security, this old fellow gets a tube for his radio at the hardware store and leaves a half-dollar, that old lady gets her hair done and leaves some more.”
“Do you think somebody in Headwater is counterfeiting coins?”
“If they are, Agent Felt, I really don’t see how they would profit by it. If you melt a silver half-dollar down all you get is a half-dollar’s worth of raw silver bullion.
“But Pawn Shop Guy says the little O under ‘In God We Trust’ makes it collectible.”
“Sure, if there was only a hundred of them. There’s probably a hundred thousand of them now and they’re breeding. I chalk it down to one of the many unexplained things about this town.”
“Just before we met I was reading how Chief Wanica and a boy named Tashunka somehow fought off a half-dozen armed men.”
Roddy was tempted to tell Felt this Tashunka found the deceased, but that would break Felt’s rule: it was germaine to the case.
The waitress arrived with their food. The sheriff withheld his reply until after they were served. Then he said, “My guess is Special Agent in Charge Tolson is running that old mystery to ground. But I don’t want to break your rule and talk about active cases while we’re eating.”
They stopped conversing and ate while Mark Felt expressed his appreciation for the food with grunts and eyebrow gestures. Roddy asked, “How many spies have you caught, Agent Felt?”
“None so far,” Mark admitted. “I’ve only been with the Bureau for one year. Half of ’42 was spent at the Academy and in DC, and for the rest of the year I was in Texas in hot field offices doing little more than interviewing references people had listed when they applied for government jobs. Hardly the exciting life of a g-man that I envisioned.”
“How’s the pay?”
“About sixty a week.”
“Not shabby at all, Special Agent Felt.”
“What is shabby is having to pick up and move every few months. My wife Audrey and I were in the middle of another move to DC so I could catch spies like I wanted, but I got diverted here.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Four years, twice as many relocations, and somehow my beautiful girl still puts up with me.”
At the station after supper Felt had his first look at the evidence in the case, the photographs and the fingerprints and the knife found near the scene. And there was the set the knife came from, retrieved from Bergin’s trash. Felt began to interrogate the sheriff and the deputies as though he were some pricy city lawyer Paul Bergin might retain.
Felt asked the sheriff, “What made you think to dig in Mr. Bergin’s trash?”
“Bergin and Hansen,” Walker corrected him. “They’re wrapped up in some nasty politics presently going on in the Church of Green Dome, which is sort of a big deal here in Headwater. I was given that tip by Tashunka, the same fellow you mentioned over dinner. The boy who was with Chief Wanica., He was also the one who found the body. We didn’t find any evidence in Hansen’s trash.”
Felt turned to Deputy Bob. “Are you sure this came from Mr. Bergin’s house, Deputy?”
“I counted four stops after I got in the garbage truck. There are three houses between the Bergin place and where I crawled inside.”
“But did you actually see that you were in front of his house?”
“No, Agent Felt. I was inside the truck. I didn’t have a clear view to the side.”
Deputy Bill shook his head when Felt glanced at him. He had also been well out of sight. “But the driver of the garbage truck and the pick-up man both said they saw Paul Bergin throw this bag in his trash can just before they picked it up,” he said.
When Agent Felt absorbed all this he looked simultaneously pleased and troubled. “Sheriff Walker, I’m pleasantly surprised by what you’ve managed to get so far, but I wonder if you do see the glaring hole in our case?”
Walker nodded. “I do, Special Agent Felt.”
“I can give you their names if you wish, Agent Felt,” said Bill. “The trash men were deputized for this operation just like the Sheriff told us to do. That gives them legal standing. ”
“It also gives them elevated responsibility, Bill,” said Roddy, “and I hope you explained that to them when you swore them in.”
Felt said, “Then I think we’re ready to see a judge. We might have just enough now to fingerprint both Mr. and Mrs. Bergin.”
Sheriff Walker approached a large cork board to look at photographs pinned thereupon. “And if his boots and tires match what we posted here, Special Agent Felt, then we will have a little bit more than just enough.’
Felt nodded with obvious pleasure. But the homicide investigation experienced the first headwinds from Judge Karl Porter when he was visted by Felt and the sheriff at his house and declined to allow them to to bring the Bergins to the station for fingerprints. He also declined to let them bring Robyn in for more for questioning. The judge mused, aloud, “Your case is starting to become a fishing expedition.”
If Felt was disappointed it didn’t show. “Tomorrow morning we’l go visit the Bergin place anyway,” he told the Sheriff outside the courthouse. “I want to see if I can shake something loose. And when we’re doing that you have your men call the state capitol and get the number of Bergin’s plates, then have them go up to the temple and take photographs of his tire treads.”
“Oh, we already have Bergin’s plate number on file,” Roddy said. “He doesn’t think the wartime speed limit of thirty-five miles per hour applies to church deacons.”
Agent Felt smiled in admiration. “Sheriff, this is one of the smallest towns I’ve ever seen, but the way you run your department is a G-man’s dream.
When Felt wasn’t in counter-surveillance mode he slammed to the full reverse and became a man of precise routine. His ritual at the end of the workday was always to sit in a library, summarize the events of the day on a legal pad, and mail what he had written to Dotty back in DC. Somehow this young woman named Robyn the sheriff interrogated already knew that.
That day had been more eventful than any since Quantico, and it took Felt longer than usual to summarize events for Dotty on the stationary Robyn had provided. When he was finished, Felt spotted a book on the table with a note taped to it, inked in a neat feminine hand.
The note said:
Dear Special Agent Mark Felt,
You are zeroing in on the perp but there were two sets of footprints at the scene of Kim’s murder and you’re only on track to get the low-hanging fruit. The other fellow is smarter and has (or rather he will have) an unexpected ally within the Bureau itself. Meanwhile, to compensate for the unfortunate renovation of B Wing at the Temple, which you will see tomorrow, I am bringing to your attention to this excellent account of the Red Wing’s part in the origin of the Church of Green Dome. It might explain the strange behavior of your supervisor SAC Tolson. Enjoy!
Felt glanced around the library to see if Robyn was watching. How did she know to leave the book at just that table and not another one? The title of the book was “Island in the Sky: The Life of the Kuwapi People” written in 1925 by Leliel Shybear and it was rather thick. He didn’t have time to start reading the book and finish his notes before the library closed but he made himself a promise to wrap things up early the next day so he could see where this Robyn was trying to steer his attention.