Actions

Work Header

The Laws on the Rez

Chapter Text

When I re-read this for about the fourth time, I couldn’t believe I missed so many errors. I also had some changes I wanted to make, so hope this works!

Sargent Mathias, of the Cheyenne Tribal Police Department, was bored, something that could was a hazard of his job. Either too boring, or too frantic, there never seemed to be an in-between. Chasing speeders wasn’t in his job description, but at times, like now, it became part of his job simply because he was there.

He’d been following the silver Acura MDX for a while, simply to annoy the driver on one hand, and because they were consistently driving five to nine miles an hour over the speed limit. The ticket wouldn’t have been worth it, but he was curious as to why the driver of such a nice, though not new, SUV was heading towards the rez. He was contemplating giving up the chase and passing the driver on the next stretch of road, when the deer changed all of that.

He watched the buck dash across the road, hoping the driver would miss it. There might be sufficient room, if the driver saw it in time. If not, he might have to call for an ambulance, or at least a tow truck. Deer tended to be the cause of smashed in grills, radiators, and a lot of trouble in general. They were also a delicious food staple.

Then the driver pulled a neat bit of driving. Whoever they were, when they had stepped on the brake the car started to spin. Instead of careening off the road, the driver neatly brought it back under control. It was a neat piece of driving, and as a cop, Mathias could appreciate it. He thought the driver might continue after righting themselves, but instead the silver MDX pulled over to the side of the road.

Mathias pulled in behind, his blues flashing. He jumped out of his SUV and ran over to the side of the Acura to make sure the driver was all right.
He or she had his head on the steering wheel, long dark brown hair falling in a curtain, disguising their features. He waited a moment, then tapped gently on the window. When there was no response, he tapped again.

“Are you all right?” he asked, wondering if they heard him. The window rolled down and the driver raised her head, looking blankly at him for a moment.

He reached in and unlocked the door. “Come on,” he said, “I think you need to take a walk,” and took hold of her slender hand. She didn’t resist, but meekly allowed herself to be pulled out of the car, still not speaking.

“My name’s Mathias, what’s yours?” He was trying to make conversation and it was then that he noticed her eyes. A pale violet blue, startling in her face. She wasn’t Indian, he thought as he looked for the familiar features that might give away a Native American heritage. She had high cheekbones in her heart shaped face, a straight nose, generous mouth, and her skin had a pale gold cast that stopped just short of ivory.

“My name’s Alia, Alia Kassam.” She said nothing more as they walked until she suddenly sank to her knees. “I can’t believe I did that,” she said, “By all rights I should not have been able to pull it off.”

“That was a neat bit of driving you did, for a moment I was afraid you were going to crash into a tree, or worse. Where did you learn to drive like that?” He waited, giving her time to answer.

“The Bureau, I mean the FBI. I worked for them up until a year ago as a forensic pathologist, then when my parents got killed I retired. I just couldn’t take it anymore; death became way too personal.”

A Fibbie? This woman did not seem the type. He wondered what he could find if he searched her car, anything that would revealed her history? He decided to wait to process what she had told him, and guided her to a path up the hill.

“There’s a nice place to sit up here, with a pretty view. You still look shaken and I don’t want you behind the wheel until I know you’re ready to drive.” He directed her to a clearing high on the hillside. There was a log where he planned to sit with her, but when they reached it, she gave a gasp and covered her mouth.

“No,” she whispered, barely audible, and pointed. She hadn’t screamed, he noticed. He followed her finger and saw a young Indian girl lying on the ground, looking for all the world like she was sleeping, until you looked closely and saw the ugly red wound on her forehead. It was all too obvious how she had died.

“Such a pretty girl,” she said, “What a shame.” She looked around, taking in the beauty of Wyoming mountain country. “I could do a cursory exam, if you like. It wouldn’t be official since I’m not with the Bureau anymore, though I’m still a forensic pathologist. Are we on reservation or county land?”

He thought for a moment, “Wait until I get my crime scene tape. I’d appreciate it, though we’ll have to keep it unofficial. Can I trust you?”
“Yes, Mathias,” she said and smiled. She had a nice smile. She knelt on the ground, looking at the girl, and he thought he saw her wipe a tear from her eye.

“Be right back,” he promised, and practically ran to his cruiser and back up the hill where he found her looking at the body.

She looked up, “He hit her with a rock, see, but I think he threw it away so no one could find it. No way to tell which direction, but he probably didn’t throw it in the direction of the road. I’d like to find a hospital so I could do a rape kit and an autopsy. I bet he raped her, but I don’t know if it was pre- or post mortem.” She paused, “You still haven’t told me if she’s from the reservation.”

He sighed. There were times when he was glad to hand things over to the feds. His department didn’t have the funds to investigate felonies, so he was only allowed to handle misdemeanors. If he did have her do an autopsy, it would be breaking the rules, but how often did he cross paths with a FBI pathologist? And if the girl was on county land, it would mean handing her over to Walt Longmire before he had a chance to find out what happened.

“How do you know it was rape?” he asked her, “Or that there was only one perp?”

“After fifteen years in the Bureau, I’ve learned to trust my instincts.” She stood up, looked around, “I’m guessing the crime was committed here, like I’m guessing it was one person. Look, I know you’re only supposed to investigate misdemeanors, but if you can find a way, I’d like to do this autopsy for you. I owe you a favor, I appreciate your checking on me. I hate bureaucratic red tape, and if I can get the autopsy done for you, she won’t have to wait until they get around to it. I wouldn’t advise mentioning my name though, if you can help it.”

So, there is more to you than meets the eye, he thought, and it intrigues me. He was sounding like Standing Bear. There was also the fact that he found her attractive. Like many Native American men, he didn’t date white women as a rule, but he found this one appealing She was not the normal kind of pretty, but he found her alluring, and tempting. This is trouble, Mathias, he told himself, you better be careful, someone sees you with a white chick, and you’ll never hear the end of it. But so far he had the impression that this one might be worth it.

“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked, moving to safer ground, but every time he looked at her eyes he felt himself being drawn in.

“No, I need a hotel room and food—badly. I’ve only eaten breakfast and I’ve been driving for a long time. I was supposed to meet Auntie on the rez, but I think I’ll have to cancel and see her tomorrow. I’m just too tired. I need a meal and about ten hours of sleep.

“Auntie? Who’s Auntie,” he asked, puzzled. There was no way, despite her coloring, that she had Cheyenne blood.

“She’s a third cousin or so by marriage, on my mom’s side. I have no idea how the family pedigree runs. She’s some sort of cousin, but Mom always had me call her Auntie out of respect. When she heard I retired from the Bureau, she called and asked me if I could help her with something.” She shook her finger at him, “I’ll only tell you if you find me a restaurant and a place to stay. I am so tired I’m not surprised I almost hit that deer.”

He smiled, a nice smile she noticed. “If you don’t mind casinos, there’s a hotel attached to the Four Arrows casino, a fairly nice one. How long are you planning on staying?” he asked.

“How long? Don’t know, but I might look around for a temporary rental. I think I’m going to be here a while. Annie’s cousin could put me up, but I’m not so sure I’d be welcome on the rez, even though I’m not FBI anymore.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” he said, as he picked up his phone and speed dialed a number. “Yeah, this is Mathias. I want to book a room for someone, she’ll check in in about an hour or so.” He leaned over and smiled at her, “Can’t she give all that to you when she checks in? Great. Oh, and if you see him, tell Jacob I need to talk to him.”

He looked down at the body. She was definitely on county land, so he was going to have to call Walt Longmire and tell him he’d found a body. That also meant either he would have to wait, or call someone from his office to wait until someone from the Absaroka Sheriff’s office arrived. He wasn’t going to neglect the crime scene, and he wasn’t going to disturb the body.

He also wasn’t going to keep Alia waiting there with him, as much as he’d like to. He could see the violet shadows under her eyes, and could tell she was tired. It had been a piece of good luck that she’d been able to maneuver out of that spin.

He put his hands on her shoulders, and much to his surprise he kissed her gently on the lips. “How did you last fifteen years in the FBI?” he asked, “You seem too soft hearted, too caring.”

“That was the advantage of being a pathologist, you don’t have so much with the living, though I spent my fair share in the field. With the dead, you want to do for them what you can. They come to us without a name or identity sometimes. My job was to find out all I could before I handed them back to their families. I know, I sound crazy,” she said.

“You sound like a Cheyenne; we have a closer relation to our dead than white people do. I’m turning her over to the county. I was hoping to take you for a late lunch, but I’ve got to wait here until someone arrives, and maybe help with the crime scene. I’d like to take you to breakfast tomorrow, if I can.” He hoped she’d say yes.

“Sure,” she replied, “But I buy—I owe you that.” Sure was not what she seemed.

He’d been flirting, and he thought she was responding, but wasn’t quite sure. You are not getting away, he thought, not unless we both think it won’t work out. Just this once I’m not going to worry about what my constituents might think. He pulled a card out of his pocket. “In case you need them, here are the directions to the casino. I’ll call you as soon as I get a chance, and let you know what they found out.”

“See if you can get them to let me do the autopsy, I feel like I’m invested in this now. And, I’d like to go to breakfast with you. Just call me and let me know.”

“I’ll walk you down to your car.” He placed his hand gingerly on the small of her back. She didn’t pull away, and when they reached the cars, she kissed him swiftly on the cheek and got into her Acura. At that moment, unfortunately, he saw Vic pull up in her truck. Your timing is lousy, Filly, he thought and watched Alia pull away as Vic opened her door.

Chapter Text

“So who was that?” Victoria Moretti was a tall drink of water, but the cool blonde beauty could be a giant pain in the ass. “Who was it?” she insisted.

“No one, Filly, Jealous?” He neither liked nor disliked her, but she had an irritating ability to annoy. “Where’s Walt?”

“He’s coming, I happened to be in the neighborhood so I decided to see what was going on.”

“Come on,” he said, and started up the hill, not bothering to see if she would follow. He twisted a piece of tape around a tree for whoever came after them.

They climbed the path to the clearing, Vic complaining, every so often, asking if they were almost there. He said nothing but kept climbing. When they reached the clearing, he pointed, “There, next to the log. Looks like her head was bashed in by a rock. She’s been here a few days, but no one saw her. She looks like she might be Cheyenne, but I don’t recognize her. Maybe an autopsy will say if she was raped or not, then killed to make sure she didn’t talk. Think Walt can find the time to investigate this?”

“Investigate what?” Walt Longmire appeared, climbing under the tape. He looked at the girl laying on the ground. “What a shame,“ he said, “Who’d want to kill a pretty girl like this?”

Walt Longmire was a tall, raw-boned Wyoming cowboy, but he wasn’t a bad guy. Their paths crossed too often, but he was generally respectful of Mathias and stayed out of Cheyenne business, about as often as Mathias stayed away from the county. On occasion, both were known to go behind the other’s back, but they generally respected each others' territory. The arrangement could be mutually beneficial, and if necessity dictated that they needed to work together, it could be done with a minimal amount of difficulty.

“Did she have any ID?” Walt asked, “did you find the murder weapon?”

Mathias shook his head, “For all I know he took it with him, or threw it as far away as he could. All I have is her, and unless she has a record, or we can get a photo ID, we have no way of even knowing who she is. How long do you think it will be until she can be autopsied?”

“I don’t know how busy the coroner is, Mathias, if he’s not backed up it should be soon.”

“Well, there’s a former FBI pathologist who’s staying at the casino, if you can get a room for her, she might be willing to do it.”

I knew it, thought Vic, but I didn’t know that Mathias liked white women. Now that’s a surprise.

“I’ll see.” Walt had a congenial temperament, until you crossed him. “If this pathologist is willing to help out, I’m sure it would be appreciated. Maybe I should transfer her back to you, there’s always another murder victim waiting, unfortunately.”

They set about doing the small things that made up a crime scene investigation. Mathias was not surprised when they turned her over and found nothing, she looked like she hadn’t been moved since her murder. Full rigor had set in, but it told them nothing. Vic grumbled when she had to retrieve her kit from her truck, but she was angry at herself for not thinking to bring it in the first place. Having to investigate any murder was unpleasant, but a young person’s murder was the worst.

As he expected, there was no sign of the weapon. Most likely a rock with the victim’s blood on it, it would now be far from the scene. It would take more than just the three of them to locate it, if they could. It could be covered now with leaves, or it could have lodged in a hidden place in a log or tree roots.

When they finished with the girl, Mathias and Walt wrapped her in a blanket and carried her down to the Walt’s Bronco. This was a lousy way to transport a body, Mathias thought, we need a coroner’s van that serves both the county and the reservation. It’s not respectful to move a body this way, especially a young girl who deserves better.

“I’ll fill out the paperwork and send you a copy, Mathias. If there’s any way we can expedite this, we’ll do it. Tell your FBI friend if we can use her help, we will.” And we could use it, Walt thought, we have more murders than there should be for a small town, even if this is Wyoming.

Mathias watched them drive off. By all rights the girl should have been his responsibility, but that was the way it worked out sometimes.
He was in a foul mood as he drove back to the reservation. It bothered him that he could not place the girl, and wondered if she was even Cheyenne. There was a lot of traffic back and forth from Wyoming and South Dakota, and there were Arapaho, Sioux, and Crow who could be found on the rez. Now, with the opening of the casino and hotel, tourists of all ethnicities could be found there. If the girl was not a resident, she could definitely be a visitor. They would have to get prints and a DNA sample, and hope that she might be in the system—or that someone had seen here.

He groaned inwardly when he saw the pile of paperwork sitting on his desk. He was proud of the fact that he was sheriff, and knew that he was a good one, but the amount of paperwork had increased along with his promotion. He intended to get his paperwork done, but what he really wanted was to see if Alia was settled into the hotel, and had gotten some much needed food and rest.

He organized the various sheets of paper, and began to get to work. He stopped only to get a burger and coke, as much to get away from his desk for a few minutes, as to get food. When he returned, he sat down and began to eat, pleased that the stack of paper seemed much smaller than it did when he left. He hated paperwork, but always felt a sense of satisfaction when he’d completed it.

It was close to eight when he finished. He organized the piles, set a large portion of it in his “To be Filed” basket. He grabbed his coat, and said “good night” to the girl at the front desk and made his way out the door.

He’d made up his mind what he was going to do when he slid into his car. He didn’t know if what he planned was wise, but her violet blue eyes were haunting him, and he told himself that he just wanted to see how she was doing, and that she was okay. If he were to be truly honest with himself, he’d admit that he’d been planning this all afternoon. He could say that he didn’t know why he was doing it, but he knew better.

Being the sheriff had its perks. Instead of having to wait for the front clerk to call her, all he’d had to do was ask, to get her room number. He didn’t have the patience to wait for the elevator, so he ran up the stairs instead.

He hesitated for just a moment before he knocked, then rapped his knuckles against the door, the same way he might when knocking at a suspect’s door. There was a brief moment of hesitation and then the door swung open and she appeared in the doorway.

There were tears in her eyes, which surprised him. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” He walked into her room, and took her in his arms. “Hey,” he said, and kissed her forehead, “Can I help?”

Her answer was to put her arms around him, holding him tightly. He stood there, with his arms her waist, and when she tilted her head back to look at him, he kissed her. He didn’t know if it was the right thing to do, but decided not to think about it when they began tearing at each other’s clothes.

He picked her up and lay her on the bed, and was about to turn off the light when she told him, “Leave it on.” There was almost a desperate quality to their lovemaking, but she was as fierce and aggressive as he. Something almost animal seemed to have been released in them, and if he was rough, she did not push him away, but seemed to welcome it.

At last they collapsed, exhausted, and held each other, saying nothing for a long time. He was the one who broke the silence. He tightened his arm around her waist and asked her, “So when are you going to tell me why you’ve come to the rez?” He tried to sound serious, tried to sound like he would if he were angry.

He didn’t succeed. Goes to show what a pretty girl will do to you, Mathias, especially after you’ve fucked her and enjoyed it more than you thought you would.

She turned in his arms so she could look at him. “Well, I wondered if you were going to get around to asking me that.” She stroked his cheek with a long, slender finger, “How many people do you know who live on the reservation.

“Quite a few, maybe not everyone, but quite a few, why?”

“Do you know the Rainwaters? Mary Rainwater to be specific, Rachel her daughter used to live with her until…”

“Until she was kidnapped. Yes, I remember that. I didn’t want to turn the case over to the Feds but I didn’t have a choice. If I remember rightly, they did a half ass job of investigating, then just quit. Nothing to go on, they said, case has gone cold, no sense investigating it any further until we can find more evidence.” He pulled her closer to him, as if to block out the memory.

“Well, Annie Rainwater, my ‘auntie’, is her aunt and Rachel’s her grand-niece. After my parents were killed…”

“Sweetheart,” he said, “I didn’t know, what happened?”

“They were hit by a drunk driver, and killed instantly. He was going about sixty miles an hour on a city street. The witnesses who saw it said he seemed to come out of nowhere and aimed directly for my parents’ car. He died instantly, so there was no one to question, and the car was stolen, but the owners never pressed charges. I’m not convinced this was accidental, it’s just too suspicious. I haven’t been able to find out anything yet, but I will.”

“Anyway, after they died, Annie called me up to give me her condolences, along with her advice, she’s known for that. ‘Call me when you’re ready to resume your life’, she told me, she had something for me to do, if I was up to it. She knew I’d taken a leave from the FBI, but I hadn’t made up my mind about resigning. The police department kept saying that it was an accident, and that there was nothing to investigate. I tried, but after a while I got tired of running into roadblocks, so I gave it up for a while.”

“It was time to quit the FBI, with the death of my parents I had a bad case of burnout. I thought it was going to be hard, but it wasn’t, it turned out to be really easy.”

“So what did Annie Rainwater want?” he tried to get her back on point.

“Annie told me about Rachel, and the lousy job the fibbies did investigating it. I felt sorry for Mary, I’m not a parent, but it must be hard to lose a child. Losing my parents really tore me apart, it was like, ‘who was I’ now that I was no longer their daughter. My dad’s culture is really big on family, we had all sorts of invitations to come to Lebanon and stay as long as we wanted. Relatives I didn’t even know I had came knocking at the door, or calling, just in case we needed anything. I appreciate family now in a way I never used to.”

“I called Rachel, and we had a good crying session over the phone. She asked if I’d mind coming to the rez so could go over the paperwork she managed to get, and see if there was something I could work with. I told her it would be hard, they never found Rachel’s body, there were never any suspects, it was like she just vanished. I told her I didn’t know what I could do, but I’d try. If she could come up with the names of some of Rachel’s friends, someone we could interview that maybe the FBI wasn’t willing to bother with. I didn’t make any promises, but I told I’d see what I could do.”

“You’re crazy, you know, there’s probably no way to solve this case.” He kissed her neck, then her cheek, “When do you go see her?”

“Tomorrow, She said I could come any time, she’d be home all day. She gave me directions, but I’ve never been on the rez before—I hope I don’t get lost.”

“I’ll come with you.” He ignored the look she was giving him, “I’d rather you don’t try to find your way alone, not until you know this place. Having me with you will help ease the way.”

“Mathias, I’d planned on going alone, you don’t need to do this.” She was starting to pull away from him, but he drew her back.
“And don’t forget, I’m a cop, maybe I can help. Are all Lebanese women this stubborn?”

“Yes, and don’t forget I’m not helpless, okay? Maybe having you with me would be a good thing, and help smooth the way. I’ve heard that some Indians don’t like whites very much. Are you one of those?”

“little idiot.” He smiled at her and pushed her down on the bed, “Am I acting like I don’t like white girls?”

Chapter Text

Mathias slept through most of the night, despite the noise from the cars going to and from the casino. He was so used to the quiet of the rez that this surprised him, and he wondered if it was because of the woman who slept at his side.
His sleep was deep and dreamless until early in the morning, then, like a heartbeat, he began to hear the sound of drums. Then, as if on cue, the singing began, and it was a song which had not been invented and would never again be heard.
From a distance the dancer appeared, approaching with small, mincing steps. She sang as she danced, the bells jingling on her costume, the steps of her dance performed in a perfect, sacred way. She danced and sang, the streamers on her sleeves flying gently in the breezes.
The sound of the drum and singers disappeared as the girl finished her dance. She spoke then for the first and only time, “Do you know what I’m trying to tell you?” she said in Cheyenne, and vanished in a clap of thunder.
He sat up suddenly, instantly awake, and put his hand out to find Alia, but the space where she had slept was empty. His “cop” instincts came into play, and he grabbed his gun with one hand, and his .pants with the other. “Alia”, he called, wondering where she was, starting to worry a little though he knew there was probably nothing to fear.
Then he heard the high pitch whine of the motor of a hair dryer. It stopped and she came out of the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her.
He took her by the waist and pulled her into the bed. “What were you doing? It’s not even five o’clock.” He held her close to him, smelling the scent of the lavender and sage-soap provided for the guests at the hotel. He inhaled her fragrance, pulling her hair back, kissing her.
“I woke at three and my mind wouldn’t let me go back to sleep. I’m worried that I won’t be able to do anything for Mary. A friend of mine found some papers from the case and there is almost nothing there. It’s like the feds didn’t even want to do an investigation, so no one tried. I have a feeling that there won’t be much more to what Mary has. I’m going to have to start this from the beginning, and after two years, what is anyone going to remember? All I can hope for is that there’s someone who knew what was going on in Rachel’s life. Mary doesn’t know much, she told me. What do parents know about what’s goes on in a teenager’s mind?”
Mathias didn’t tell her about the strange dream he’d had. He didn’t even know the meaning of it. If he could find a holy man, maybe that would help. He wasn’t sure what he believed in, being a cop was not good for spirituality. It was more important to be practical and engaged in the here and now. He couldn’t remember if Mary Rainwater was traditional or Christian, as were many of the tribe. “Try to get some sleep,” he told her. “I’ll get up in an hour or so, and go to my place and take a shower and change. When I come back here I’ll bring the papers I found that I filed when Mary first came in and told me Rachel was missing. I don’t think there’s anything very helpful, but you’re going to have to work with small steps. I think that once people get used to the idea of you, they’ll like you. After all, you’re trying to help Mary Rainwater find her daughter, and I’ll help you as much as I can.”
She looked him and smiled. She nestled against him, relaxing, laying her head on his shoulder. You’re too damned seductive, he thought, and to make it worse you’re beautiful. I’ve always avoided white women, but every so often someone like you comes along and complicates my life. I don’t mind, I like the thought of having you around. I just wish I could know what’s going to come of this, it could be something good or it could blow up in our faces in a bad way.
“Go to sleep,” he told her, and they drifted off. When he woke again, it was six thirty. He dressed quickly, then kissed her and grabbed his keys along with one of the room keys. He paused for a moment before he went out the door, wanting to join her in bed, but first he wanted to get out of his uniform. It was one of his rare days off, and he intended to enjoy it as much as possible.
He felt guiltily relieved that she was not with him when he went to his small apartment. This was something that he would have to deal with, he thought, realizing that what might not have been intended to be serious, was turning into something more. And besides, she was not truly white, but half Lebanese. Her dusky gold skin was darker than some of the girls on the rez. And he didn’t know when he’d met a girl that enchanted him so.
When he got back to the hotel, she was drinking coffee, going over the materials she’d managed to get through friends in the bureau. The stack of papers was pathetically small, surely a girl who had been missing for two years deserved more than that.
She looked at him, giving him a melancholy smile. She held up the small stack of papers, “And to think that this is the investigation of a girl missing, possibly kidnapped. With all the resources the feds have, you’d think there’d be more than this. After all, we solved the cases of Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgeway. All it takes sometimes is good detective work, and a lucky break. It can be hard, though, but I wonder how much effort they actually put into it.”
“Don’t give up so soon,” he warned her, “You’re investigating this on your own. No one can tell you how to do it, or what you can’t do. And if you don’t, you’ll at least be able to bring some peace to her mother, knowing that someone actually did something. You care, and you know that a lot of the feds don’t.”
She looked at him bleakly, “Yes, you’re right, I do care. I cared about every missing person whose case I investigated. They’d haunt my dreams sometimes, and that made me try harder because I felt so guilty, like maybe I hadn’t done enough.”
And who did I dream of this morning, he wondered, was it Rachel? Or was it the girl on the hillside that I had to turn over to Walt. There’s a coincidence here somewhere, only I don’t know what it is.

The Rainwaters were relatively prosperous compared to many families on the rez. They placed a strong emphasis on academics and the majority of the clan graduated from high school and went on to college. Most left the reservation, but one or two families usually stayed, taking care of the home that had been held by the clan since the reservation was established.
Mathias had expected Alia to be shocked by the state of the reservation housing, but “You’ve never been to Beirut, or the refugee camps, have you?” she told him. She was seeing a sad parallel between the plight of the Palestinians and the state of the reservation. She asked him what government programs were in place, whether there were charities that helped out with food and housing. “Do the Cheyenne have support from a group like Southwest Indian Foundation? Who helps when the houses need repair? Are people in need of things like woodstoves?”
He recognized the helper, the one who wanted to fix things. He could see the wheels turning, but she had seen the ugly side of life in the Palestinian camps. True humanitarians had it rough sometimes, they saw injustice and wanted to make it right, but knew it was probably a lost cause. Maybe that was why she had joined the FBI, she saw there was more of an opportunity to right the that she could . Even though she left she was probably still an agent, or a cop at heart.

Anne Rainwater was tall and big boned, her salt and pepper hair hung past her waist, but she had a warm and welcoming smile. In contrast, her niece Mary was short and plump, her hair styled in a curly black permanent. She was wearing a bright, plum-colored sweater and matching slacks, while Anne wore an ivory colored sweater and biscuit colored jacket and skirt.
Both aunt and niece shared the same almond eyes in a square face, a wide mouth with a friendly smile. Alia looked up and saw a picture of a girl sitting on the mantle with the same features and decided she must have resembled her Rainwater relatives.
Mary brought out coffee and freshly made fry bread, and they sat and ate until the awkwardness passed and they felt ready to get down to business. Alia looked at Mathias, as if asking, how do I get this started?
Anne disappeared, then came back holding a stack of papers. “This isn’t much,” she apologized, but it’s all we have. There was no traces, no body found.”
“She told me goodnight,” said Mary, “And then in the morning she was gone. None of her friends seemed to know anything. They saw her the day before, when she was at school, but that’s the last they heard of her. I have a list of her friends’ names, most of them are still here.”
“Do you remember what Malachi said, Mathias? About how she’d dropped off the face of the earth and he was afraid that was where she might remain? I always thought that strange, but it appears that he turned out to be right.”
“Anne, Mary, I want to be honest with you. Cold cases are the hardest to solve, and ones with no witnesses even worse. I’m going to guess that Rachel met someone after she was sure you were in bed, and I imagine that is the person who took her life. I don’t think you harbor any illusions about her being alive. I’d like to say that she might be, but it’s not likely. I promise, I will find out anything I can, but I’m not hopeful about finding a body that you could bring home and bury. I’ll try to find people who might have seen here, but please remember this is a case that is going to be very hard to solve.”
Mathias helped her gather up papers and stuffed them into her briefcase. She shook the hands of aunt and niece and tried hard to suppress the tears that were gathering in her eyes. Mary hugged her, saying, “I know you’ll try, if it’s God’s will, you will succeed.”
As they disappeared out the door, Mary turned to her aunt and said, “He’s in love with her, isn’t he?”
Anne laughed, “You’re imagining things. Two attractive people who seemed to fit, that’s all. You’re too much of a romantic.”
Mary’s eyes twinkled at her behind her glasses. “Didn’t you see the way he looked at her, the way he’d touch her hand or her shoulder? They’re in love, mark my words.”

She was silent as Mathias helped her into the truck. She stared out the window as they drove off the reservation, trying to ignore the ugliness and see only the beauty. At last she spoke, saying the things she felt out loud.
“This is why I quit the bureau. I got tired of working hopeless cases. The desperation of the families, my desperation in wanting to help them wore me out. I’d rather track a serial killer, no matter how heinous, it’s less discouraging. These women are nice people, I want to help them, but I don’t know how. I’m afraid I’m going to let them down.”
He put his hand with its long fingers on hers, noting that her skin was only a few shades lighter than his. “They know, babe, they know. What matters to them is that you want to try. You’re doing this because you’re kind, you care. No one else would do this for them, trust me.”
“Hmmm.” She looked at him, “Mathias, I need a house, I can’t work in a hotel room. I need to be where it’s quiet where I can have my privacy. I want something I can rent, but I’ll buy if there’s no other choice.”
He was taken aback. “You’ll buy? Really? Can you afford it?”
She sighed. “I can afford it, more than afford it. I have money, Mathias, my parents left my brother and I an obscene amount of money. Doesn’t matter though, I’d rather give the money back and have my parents live again.” Tears were forming in her eyes, and she brushed them away.
“So, I’ve found a rich girlfriend?” He wanted to use humor to lighten her mood. Part of him wished he didn’t know about the money, but the woman sitting next to him in his truck was the same one he’d made love to the night before. A part of him that he admitted that he was glad she might be putting down roots in Absaroka County. He wanted to know her better, and now there was a chance to spend time together that they might not have had. She was the one, he didn’t know why, but he knew. It was just a matter of time.

Chapter Text

Halfway through the drive back to the hotel, she leaned back and closed her eyes. He looked at her, wondering if she was all right. She was tired, he could tell, the dark shadows under her eyes gave her away.

He squeezed her leg with his right hand. “Hey, are you awake? Do you want to go to the hotel and get some sleep?”

“I was thinking about something, Mathias, something I wanted to mention to the Rainwater ladies, but wasn’t sure if it was a good idea.”
The look she gave him was his clue, he had an idea what she meant, but he gave her the lead

“What is it? And why didn’t you say anything?”

“Well, how do you tell a mother her daughter might have fallen in with a pimp? Do you have much of a problem with prostitution on the rez?”

“Not really, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Prostitutes wouldn’t make much money here so they’d have to go somewhere else
.”
“I didn’t think so, but Rachel could have fallen in with someone who tricked her into it. Just think, she’s about fifteen at the time, probably pretty naïve, and she meets a man who’s older than her. He tells her a lie about being in love with her, and tricks her into meeting him after her mom goes to bed and runs off with him.”

“She’s fifteen, and probably not very smart when it comes to men. He probably dresses well, and seems good looking and seductive. Fifteen is a good age, a malleable age, looks older than thirteen or fourteen would so a john might assume she’s sixteen and therefore won’t feel so guilty.

He probably takes her to Cheyenne or someplace like that, the rez or Durant would be way too small for him to make any meaningful money. And there’s tourists, and when the men are away from home a lot of them seek out girls for company.”

He patted her leg, “I knew you were a smart girl. I was thinking of that, too, but like you, I didn’t think it was the time to bring it up. It was hard enough for them, that would have been cruel. If she’s a prostitute, she could still be alive, but her life isn’t a very good one. Her pimp probably has her hooked on heroin, after two years she probably has a pretty bad habit going.”

“She might be alive, might not,” Alia said, “It all depends. Those girls are so stupid when it comes to their pimps. ‘Boyfriends’, they call them, and some would do almost anything for them even when they beat them. And how would we even find her? They get arrested a lot, but they use aliases and false ID’s, looking for the arrest records of Rachel Rainwater wouldn’t do any good. Hell, I don’t even know where to start—Cheyenne is a guess, but she could be in Montana, Idaho, Portland, Seattle. Did they give us a list of her friends?”

“Check your briefcase,” Mathias told her, “I think it’s in there.”

She pulled out her briefcase and started going through the stacks of paper. “There,” she said and set aside one sheet, “This is it. Mathias, could you go through it and see if any of them has an arrest record? Is there a directory for the rez so I can check for addresses and phone numbers?” She clicked her briefcase shut, “I know no one will probably want to talk to me, but I’ll feel better if I have the information.”

“I’ll have one of the girls check it out, I’ll tell her it’s for me. I’d feel better if you let me go with you when you try to talk to them. Some of them will cooperate, but there are some who are rather undependable, even if you’re ex-FBI you can get hurt.”

“That bad, huh? I don’t even look all that white, guess Indians don’t like Arabs.”

“No, that’s not it. Don’t like Arabs—you’re crazy. Are you hungry or can it wait?”

“Well, I ate a lot of fry bread. What’s going on?” She turned sideways in her seat, looking at him.

“The hotel is not cheap, and you said you wanted to find a place to rent. I have a friend in Durant who’s a realtor, I thought we’d go see if we could find you a nice cabin with a little bit of acreage. Didn’t you mention that you liked riding horses?”

“Yes, I do. I’d like to keep a couple, we could go riding on your days off, if you like. I want to see which one of us is better.”

“Okay, then, cabin first, lunch later. It’s easy to find horses here, and there’s lots of tack shop that carry used saddles. I haven’t ridden in a while, and it would be nice to have someone to ride with.” He took her hand and squeezed it.

 

Lunch hour at the Red Pony. Henry Standing Bear, the proprietor, assured her that his were the best burgers in town, bar none. She smiled to be polite, and noticed that he was staring at her, the stares she had gotten from men since she reached puberty.

And Mathias was not pleased. “You can go now, Standing Bear,” he told him, “If we want anything more, we’ll tell you.” He watched as he made his way back to the bar. “Does this happen to you a lot?” he asked her.

She shook her head, “Only sometimes.” She didn’t want to admit it, but a little part of her liked his jealousy.

“Liar,” he said, and smiled. “Okay, let’s look at these cabins and see if we can find one you liked.”

They went through the images on her iPad. Some were no more than houses and were in town. Others had no acreage, one was nice but dismissed by Mathias as being too remote.

“If something happens to you I want someone to be able reach you quickly. Even if you call 911 here, it can take twenty minutes or more for someone to reach you.” His face was earnest and she felt touched that he would worry about her
.
“Well, how about this one: twenty acres, so I can set up a decent sized pasture and fence it. There’s a half-finished barn, so I can finish it to my specs. I’ll have someone inspect it so I know what work needs to be done. And it’s bigger than anything else we’ve looked at—and it’s close to the rez, too. If I need you, you won’t be that far away. I like this one, Mathias, I’d like to buy it.”

“Are you sure?” He remembered that she told him she had money, but somehow, he rejected the thought. Money was the realm of Jacob Nighthorse and his ilk, not the woman who was sitting next to him.

“Mathias, my brother just sold our parents’ house—for a lot of money. Real estate in New York is ridiculous. I’ve got to invest my share, or as much of it as I can, or I’ll have to pay taxes on it, federal and state. And, I need to get away from New York, as well as the east coast. I’ll visit my family, but that’s it. Everything about New York reminds me of losing my parents. I need a break, no, I need an escape.”

“You have to understand,” she went on, “That I’m ready to leave my life back east behind. What’s left is the memories of a failed marriage and my parents’ deaths. I need a refuge, a retreat, someplace to just be away. And I love it here, the people, the mountains, the wildlife. People, well, some people, in New York dream about living in a place like this.”

“It’s too expensive,” he objected, “And you don’t know if you’ll stay.

“In that case, I can sell it, maybe for more than I bought it for. Mathias, I don’t have to worry about money, okay? You have no idea about that, but I grew up a rich kid and I inherited a lot of money, more than I’ll ever need. I’m going to try to find a job as a coroner, or a forensic pathologist because I don’t want to waste my degree and my experience. I’ve got FBI creds, that should count for something. This is new to me, this way of life, but I’ll work around it. Will you at least look at it with me?”

In the end, he gave into her, obtaining the promise that she’d look at the place he favored, too, but knew she was going to win out. At first, he had been afraid that she would return to New York, but now it was evident that would not happen and it frightened him a little. He wanted her had wanted to break away. Until he saw Standing Bear giving her that frank, open stare of his, that changed everything. No one else was going to touch this woman, he decided
.
After lunch, the agent showed them three cabins they picked out. When they looked at the last one, Alia’s favorite, Mathias realized this was the only one that would do. It was bigger, roomier, lighter, and the woodstove was practically new and a high quality. The appliances were of a good quality, a large capacity hot water tank, and high quality Honda generator.

What was strange was that furniture had been left behind, as if the owners had left in a hurry. There was a table in the dining room, a bed in the bedroom, along with a dresser and chest, and, curiously, dishes in the cupboard.

“What happened here?” Mathias asked the agent, “It’s almost like the previous tenants left in a hurry.”

“Well, they were foreclosed on and fought it for a long time. They received an eviction notice, and the next day they just disappeared. No one knows what happened to them, but I’m sure there was no foul play, Mathias.”

“I’ll keep the table and the dresser, the rest has to go. It makes me nervous just to see their leavings. I’m going to take it, how long to do inspections and get the paperwork finalized?” She looked at Mathias, her look saying clearly, don’t say anything.

They went back and filled out paperwork, the fact that she was paying cash would speed things along since she wouldn’t have to seek out financing.

They left the office, she feeling confident while he was not so sure. “Don’t worry, Mathias, you don’t have to keep seeing me if you don’t want to,” she teased.

He looked for a deserted spot, then shoved her against the wall. “Don’t you ever say that again to me, even though you spoke it in jest. I’m falling in love with you, and the fact that you seem to have committed yourself to staying here means a lot to me. I didn’t expect this would happen, I wasn’t prepared for you, but now that you’re here, I have no intention of letting you go, you hear?”

She put her arms around his neck and kissed him. “Me, too, Mathias, I just wasn’t sure what you wanted. Now I know.”

They drove back to the hotel and made love, then lay around talking and resting. He’d loosened her long hair from her ponytail and had grabbed a handful, intending to pull her close to him when she said,

“Mathias, if I tell you something will you promise not to laugh at me?” He was about to ask why, when he saw how serious she was.

“I’m still going to get that cabin, but something is not right. Not just the furniture being left, but the way it was abandoned. I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s something more to it. I have relatives that believe in all kinds of crazy stuff, but even though I don’t, something about that cabin feels wrong. I’m strong, I don’t scare easily, but I’m getting the feeling that something more happened to that family. Someone knows something, I’m sure.”

She sat up and looked at him, her violet eyes staring straight into his. “Is there a medicine man or a shaman or someone who could cleanse and bless the cabin? I have a feeling I’m going to be sharing it with someone or something I can’t see?”

Chapter Text

Mathias sat in the front seat of Alia’s MDX, letting the motor run, listening carefully. The timing had seemed off, and though he was good with cars, he wasn’t familiar with Hondas. He’d purchased a maintenance manual and had gone over the engine with a fine toothed comb. Now her Acura was running smoothly, and he wouldn’t worry about her having problems in the winter.

He stepped out of the carport and could smell snow in the air. The double carport they’d built would have to make do during the winter, but in the spring it would be converted to a garage. The barn they’d hoped would be finished before winter would have to wait until spring, along with fencing of the pasture. The little things had been taken care of, but the projects she had wanted done the most had not materialized, but things had to be taken care of one at a time.

He ducked out of the cold into the warm cabin, and took off his boots. She’d let the fire burn down, so he placed a couple of logs in the wood stove, appreciating the heat it put out. The stray kitten who had adopted them ran to him and rubbed against him, and Mathias wondered again why the cat seemed to favor him over her. He picked “Mouser” up, and held him for a brief moment, then put him down and admonished him to go away in Cheyenne.

She was using her laptop on the kitchen table instead of the tower she’d bought for both of their use. He went over to her and put his cold hands on her neck, and watched, pleased, as she shrieked, almost jumping out of her chair. “Bastard,” she said and glared at him, but only for a moment. They were getting used to the other’s eccentricities. He enjoyed teasing her because she never stayed mad, and gave as good as she got. They could be playful in their relationship now that they were at ease with each other.
He looked at the screen of her laptop, “What are you doing?”

“Well, I’ve gotten in touch with a friend of mine in D.C. He’s putting together some supplies that I’m going to donate to the Indian Health Clinic. We’ve been working on a list of what they might need most, rape kits are definitely going to be included. He’s going to hunt down some medication samples, and vouchers, though those with Medicaid might do all right with a prescription. And I might see about taking some classes so I qualify as a general practitioner as well as a coroner—I have, after all, graduated from medical school.”
“If you’re making donations, you might to talk to Jacob Nighthorse, he handles a lot of the philanthropy for the rez. Oh, and what’s for dinner?” That wonderfully mundane question reminded him of the domestic bliss they seemed to be enjoying.

“Steak, stir fried green beans, salad, baked potatoes.” She paused for a moment, “Mathias, I heard a noise again—and it wasn’t Mouser knocking things over, for a change.”
He’d put his foot down about not wanting the medicine man to cleanse and bless the cabin, but it was not like he wasn’t having his doubts. ”Nothing bad has happened,” he said, “Sometimes these things just stop. Let’s just leave it alone for a while and see what happens.”

“Well, I may go to the assessor’s office and find out who’s lived here. Maybe find out if something happened in the past. This wouldn’t be my first experience with ghosts.”
“If you want, if it’s really a ghost,” he said noncommittally, he didn’t want to encourage her, but would not discourage her, either. He suddenly shut the lid of her laptop. “Why don’t you put the potatoes in the oven so they can start baking.”

She knew what he really meant, and heated the oven while she got the potatoes ready to bake. She opened the laptop and saved her work, then took the hand he extended and let him lead her into the bedroom.

The work they’d put into the cabin showed. There had been minor repairs to the roof and had added insulation. She’d invested in some new and used furniture, as well as a high end foam mattress, along with a down comforter and flannel sheets, so they slept comfortably at night. The wood stove was of a good quality, and heated the bedroom as well as the rest of the cabin. The weather was starting to get cold and when winter arrived in earnest, they would be more than comfortable.

He pushed her onto the bed and whispered, “Hey lady, are you going to cooperate or am I going to have to cuff you.She giggled, then said, “You wish,” then they began a very short wrestling match with an indeterminate winner. Things took a different turn, and she pulled off her sweater and jeans, then helping him with his. They snuggled together under the comforter and began to make slow, deliberate love, taking the time to thoroughly enjoy each other.

Sometime later, when she was lying in his arms she surprised him and asked, “Has the sheriff found out anything about the girl we found? No one ever called me in and I wondered if they had any DNA record of her, and if not, did they have dental records?”

“You ask me this after we just had sex?” he teased.

“Well, I just thought of it and wanted to ask what the dental care system is like on the rez.”

“It depends on whether you have Medicaid and can find a dentist to get to, or if your parents are better off and have insurance and can afford to send you. You’d rely on dental records if you didn’t have DNA?”

“That’s how it works. If her killer left his DNA on her, and if he’s in CODIS, you could find him, but if she’s not,, she could go unidentified, well, a long time. That’s what’s so frustrating, you have someone, they’re obviously a victim of a crime, but no ID, and no DNA in CODIS. It’s frustrating, as a coroner, or as a forensic pathologist, to know that there are the means but not necessarily the way to get the information you need. Frankly, I don’t know why the county hasn’t jumped on the opportunity to hire me, Maybe there’s no money, but I could consult for free. The rez, at least, is interested in having me provide medical services.”

She got up and picked up her clothes and handed him his. “If you want dinner, I’ve got to fix it. Thanks for looking at my car—I didn’t realize it needed it.” She gave him a puckish smile.

“You’re welcome. I’m going to take it tomorrow and have tires put on it. If you want to go anywhere, you’ll have to drive mine, I’ll take my cruiser home, but you might want to plan on staying home, it looks like snow.”

“I was going to buy groceries, but it can wait a couple of days.” She frowned at the look he gave her, “If we’re going to be snowbound, it makes sense to stock up, yes? Plus, I’ve got to re-learn how to drive in the snow. Oh,” she paused, “I’m not making the kind of progress I was hoping to on Rachel Rainwater. Some of her friends don’t want to talk to me—and why should they? Some went away to college or just moved away, and the ones on the rez basically haven’t told me anything helpful. Someone has to know something, unless she was really secretive, and she doesn’t seem to be that kind of girl.”

She began to cut the green beens, then smashed and chopped a clove of garlic. He admired the way she handled the knife, and wondered what else she could do with it.
“Do you want my help?” he asked.

“Well, they might not talk to you, either, but maybe you have a better chance. I haven’t felt this frustrated since I went to the Palestinian refugee camps with my father. We were there to help, we were Arab…

“Thought you were Lebanese.”

“Not a lot of difference. Anyway, we didn’t dress fancy or anything, but we stood out. We didn’t look, well, hunted, the way they did, desperate. My father hated Israel, did all he could to ease his conscious, that he had it good, that he thrived in a country that was considered the enemy. That was why he expected my brother and I to excel in school, to go to college, we were to pay it forward. I guess I inherited that from him, my work ethic, and my pathetic desire to try to do some good in the world.”

He put his arm around her waist, “That’s not so pathetic, but it’s frustrating. Wanting to do good doesn’t always pay off. You’ll find that out working for the clinic, you’ll get burnt out and want to quit. Don’t sat I didn’t warn you.”

“Well, then, you’ll either have to talk me into quitting or encourage me to keep going. I know what happens when you try to change the world, all I have to do is remember my father. Here,” she handed him a bag of lettuce, “You get to do the salad.” She threw the green bean pieces into the skillet and began to toss skillfully into the air
.
After dinner, they watched a movie they didn’t really have any interest in. After a while, they dosed off, full from a good dinner, the warmth of the cabin, and the kitten nestled in their laps. After a while Mathias began to have one of the dreams that had plagued him lately that he never could remember when he woke.

“Wake up now,” he heard a voice say in his dream, and opened his eyes and heard the crash she had been speaking of. He jumped up, and the kitten hissed as it was tossed off his lap.

He looked around, it had sounded like it had come from the bookcase, but nothing had been disturbed, or broken. She was superstitious and kept no Native American artifacts or relics, not even pots. All she kept was an old Chinese vase, and some semi-precious stones and a large amethyst. I don’t want to attract anything, she had told him.

Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to bring a medicine man in, but he was not yet prepared to go that far. A noise was a far cry from things breaking or disappearing. He didn’t know if she was afraid, or would just move past this. And he knew from experience that it might not stay.

He woke her, saying, let’s go to bed. She fell asleep quickly, but he lay awake for a long time, listening for the noise. When he did sleep, it was free of dreams but not restful. He was tired when his alarm went off, but not so bad he could not get through the day. He was more determined than ever to not tell her what had happened, She was happy in the cabin, and they were growing as a couple. Taking care of this could wait, he told himself, no use upsetting her, letting her know what was going on. Only if things changed, he thought, then cut the thought short.

Chapter Text

To my loyal readers: If you wonder why there is little to no Vic or Walt Longmire in his, it’s because I really don’t like their characters. Vic, I think, is a bitch, and Walt just seems to hold irrational grudges against people like Jacob Nighthorse, and he thought Mathias might be Hector, I mean really!!

I do like Henry and when I can work him in I intend to. Vic or Walt might be a little longer in coming.

The next morning, she woke and turned to find Mathias had left. “What?” she said, and sat up, looking over at the clock to see what time it was.

There was a note covering the clock face, she pulled it off and saw “Are you awake?” written on a post-it note. The clock read nine a.m., and she wondered why she slept so long. There was an arrow pointing left on the note, and she saw a thermos with a note that read, helpfully, “Coffee.” She reached for the coffee mug that sat next to it, which had a note that read, “Look outside.” She pulled on her robe and walked over to the window and pulled back the curtains.

Outside was a winter wonderland of white snow. The trees were covered with great mounds of white, weighing them down, threatening to break the more fragile branches of the deciduous trees, while the evergreens branches had their needles and could bear the weight. There were customers at the feeding stations they’d set up for the birds, and they fought over who would be allowed to eat.

Another note was attached to the window. “I have your car,” it read, “you’re stuck at home today. Love.” A small heart completed the note.

“Okay, Mathias,” she said out loud, “I’ll bother you about my car later. You can tell me how it drove in the snow.” She would get another truck, she decided, with four-wheel drive. Maybe a Grand Cherokee or a Range Rover, she’d check the internet and try to find something close. But something that she wanted, she promised herself, Mathias had already told her that she should have bought something better than the MDX. No wonder he did so well as tribal police chief, he clearly liked to run things.

The kitten surprised her and started climbing up the skirts of her robe. “Hey, cut that out,” she said, and picked him up by the scruff of his neck. “We’ll have none of that,” she told him and carried him into kitchen and filled his bowl. The cabin was still warm, but she added wood to the stove. She went back to the bedroom and fetched the coffee.

She had an idea she’d been contemplating the night before, and fetched her laptop and put it on the kitchen table. A shower could wait, she decided, but she dressed, not liking to spend time in her robe. She plugged in the power cord to her laptop and turned on the computer, then began the process of breaking into the Absaroka county computer system.
It was easier than she had expected, clearly, they did not have much experience with hackers and possessed just a basic security system. If she did nothing more than to observe and maybe copy files, not seek to do any damage, they might not find her right away. This was not, after all, a system as sophisticated as Seattle or Denver. All she wanted to do was access the coroner’s files and see what she could find out about the girl she and Mathias had found. Probably just as easy as it was to get into the system in the first place, she thought.

Soon it became obvious that she had not been the only intruder. Someone else had been there, though the coroner’s office had not been their destination. Curious, she tried to follow them, and the traces led her to the county personnel files.

“Well, I’ll be,” she said to the kitten, “Mouser, who do you think would be interested in Walt Longmire’s files?”

She decided to leave them alone, and returned to the site for the coroner’s office. She found the girl, and the information on her was scanty at best. As the copies printed out, she wondered why a more thorough DNA search had not been done—maybe for lack of time and money. And the girl’s dental x-rays showed she had excellent teeth, maybe she had never been to a dentist, so no dental x-rays had been found.

Mathias surprised her by coming in, leaving his snow-covered boots by the door. He peered over her shoulder, saying, “That’s illegal, you know, you could get arrested.”
Ignoring him, she asked, “Mathias, who would want to break into Walter Longmire’s personal files?”

“I don’t know,” he said, and sat on the table, “Did someone break into them that, wasn’t you?”

“I’m serious, but yes. I don’t know how far they got, I followed the path they left out of curiosity—I don’t know how far they got because I left as soon as I saw who they were checking out. Something tells me they weren’t doing it just for a lark. I just wanted information from the county that wouldn’t harm anyone, or the system--they were after something quite different, I’m sure.”

“So,” he teased, “It was okay for you to hack into the county system because you didn’t intend any mischief, eh?” He kissed the top of her head.

Exasperated, she answered, “Of course not, but I wasn’t in someone’s private files. That poor girl’s files will be accessed by anyone who is looking for someone they’ve lost. By the way, how knowledgeable is the coroner when it comes to searching CODIS?”

“He’s good, but you might go down there and offer your services. If you offer to work for free, he might take you up on it.” He paused, “I came home for lunch, any chance of your making it? I did leave you coffee this morning, after all.”

Evidently, she was on the menu, too. Just before he left, she told him about buying a second SUV. “After all, I don’t like being stranded at home all day, and I learned to drive in adverse circumstances in the FBI.”

He thought for a moment, “Get something reliable, I understand how staying home might not suit you. And stop hacking into computers where you don’t belong. Next time, if you want to know something, ask. And if you don’t have any luck, ask me. I’d rather someone else got in trouble for hacking.”

The tiny “beep” that let Mathias know he had a new email brought him back to attention. His mind didn’t always wander from his paperwork, but it happened, especially if there was a lot of it. This time his mind had wandered. And he knew why.

He had been keeping his relationship with Alia a secret, and he knew it had to stop, no matter what the consequences. It was time he told his mother and sister, but he kept putting it off. He had even kept his apartment, in case of an emergency, he told himself, but knew it was a front.

She was being patient, but even she knew this had gone on long enough. He wasn’t a coward, he was just being cautious. Once people knew Alia they would understand why they fit so well, in the meantime, he knew the hostility that followed the relationships between Native American and White could be a hard thing to overcome, maybe even threaten his job.
He opened the mail, to find a short note stating, “look at the attachment.” He opened it and found the complete autopsy report with sticky notes she’d attached.

“He did dental x-rays, but didn’t do much with them. I could do a DNA analysis on the tooth and tell if she was from around here or not—why didn’t he?”

“Money,” he replied, “It’s always about the money, and the time.”

“Hmmm,” came the reply, “How long do they keep a body before they cremate or bury it in a potter’s field?”

“You could ask, you wouldn’t need hack the system to find that out.” He smiled as he typed this.

“Yeah, but won’t they want to know why?”

“Ask.” He thought for a minute, “Have you been looking for cars?”

“I found a Range Rover in Cheyenne that’s reasonable. Any objections to learning how to work on one?”

“If I go with you to check it out. Why not American? Try looking for Jeeps.”

“Just wait, you’ll like driving a Range Rover, I’ll be lucky if I ever get to drive it. Will you be home early?”

“Yes, probably. Behave yourself and quit hacking into the county’s computers.”

She sent an emoticon of a face sticking out a tongue.

Paperwork was endless, and a drag. He was sure she’d dealt with her fair share of it in hr. days in the FBI, and probably hated it as much as he did. He’d discovered the secret to dealing with it a long time ago—just get it done and out of the way. The piles tended to grow shorter if he did it.

At last he finished. He stared the stack in front of him, flipping through it and making sure it was done correctly. He looked out the window to see the snow still falling, and sighed. He’d like to leave early and go home, but people on the rez might be having problems because of the snow. He turned to his computer and typed Alia a sort email.

“Will be home later than I thought in case of problems due to snow.”

“Check your email,” came the instant reply.

He opened his mail and saw her latest message. Opening it he saw an attachment, which he opened, only to find that it was an update of the report she’d sent him.

“A friend of mine is a forensic artist—aren’t you glad you know someone who used to be in the FBI? He did a drawing of how the girl’s face would have looked before it was smashed with the rock. I didn’t tell you, but I took some strands of her hair with the roots attached and sent it to a friend who works at a DNA lab. Once it’s done (yes, another friend) is going to run it through all the available CODIS databases—probably more access than the locals here know about. I’m going to ask the coroner if he found any traces of her attacker’s DNA on her body. I bet the perp has a record.”

“Oh, since all of this is unofficial, if you decide you want to investigate this on your own, you probably have better evidence than the county does. If you want to turn this over to Longmire, go ahead, but I’d love it if you’d let me investigate this, with or without you.

“No, don’t thank me.”

He chuckled as he read her notes. “My own private FBI agent,” he smiled. Maybe he should talk to Walt Longmire and let him know what she’d found, but maybe not. He resented having to turn cases over to the county or the feds. The limits placed on the tribal police by the FBI chafed him, it wasn’t fair, he wasn’t the only one who felt the tribal police should be allowed more responsibility. Criminals slipped through the cracks with the way the system was set up. And it frustrated him that there was nothing he could do about it. He’d introduce her to Cady Longmire and the law firm she had set up on the rez. He hoped that she could help Cady out, Cady was trying hard and was a little over her head at times.

He looked at the computer and decided he could go home. If the snow did not let up, he wouldn’t go to work tomorrow. Fortunately, her MDX handled well in the snow, and he was willing to admit the Japanese luxury SUV’s were worth the money that people were willing to pay for them. Maybe a Range Rover would not be such a bad idea.

He dropped his papers into the out basket, and covered his computer. “Go home, don’t wait until it gets worse,” he told the girl at the front desk, “don’t come in tomorrow if the snow if too bad.”

She watched him with her heart in her eyes. No one knew for certain, but people at the station were certain that Mathias had a new girlfriend. No one knew who, or where she came from, but someone had mentioned that they had seen him with a white woman in Durant, eating at a restaurant. Mathias’ apartment was empty, only a note saying to contact him at the station had been taped to the door. Otherwise, it was dark and quiet. Clearly, he no longer lived there.
But Mathias wouldn’t hook up with a white woman—would he?

He pulled into the carport, then opened the door to the house. He removed his boots and walked through the living room on stocking feet.

The smell of the carnitas hit his nose. “Smells good,” he called out, and picked up the kitten who started meowing at his feet.

“Good, hopefully it will taste good, too. I didn’t expect you home so soon.” She came over and kissed him, feeling like a sit com haus frau, “I didn’t expect you home so soon.”

“Things were manageable, if they really need me to help pull cars out of ditches, they can call. If it’s an emergency, I can be reached by phone—let’s hope there isn’t one. I’d just as soon stay home.

He sat at the table, and dropped the disgruntled cat on the floor. She had already set out plates and silverware, and deposited the bowls of carnitas, rice, and tortillas. She set the salad bowl in front of him and he smiled and said, “The way you know how to cook, we shouldn’t ever have to go out to eat.”

“Ha, ha, wait until you have to cook because I don’t feel like cooking,” she said with a smile, it was an old joke.

“You know,” he told her, changing the subject, “I appreciate all the information you’re giving me, but I’m not allowed to investigate these cases.”

“Ah, but there’s no such restrictions on me. I’m just showing you this stuff as a courtesy. I’m not finding anything out about Rachel Rainwater, it’s as if she vanished from the face of the earth, so I’m working on a case where there’s plenty of evidence. Didn’t the sheriff say he’d run the prostitutes out of the county? Well, he should know better, they simply change locations, then drift back to their old grounds. I don’t know if this girl was a pro or not, she may just be a girl who pissed someone off, but I’m checking out everything. I have a feeling I know more than your coroner, and I’m thinking the only reason we don’t know who she is is that no one has checked out the right sources.”

“Be careful,” Mathias told her, “You don't know who you're dealing with."

“Neither do they,” she said, and grinned.

Chapter Text

Mathias woke in the middle of the night, and reached for her, only to discover her half of the bed was empty. He looked up and saw her staring out the window, holding the curtain aside to let in the moonlight.

He put his hands on her shoulders, then grabbed the afghan at the foot of the bed, to wrap around her cold flesh. “What the hell were you thinking?” he asked but she paid no attention.

“I was watching the snow, but it quit falling. I couldn’t sleep so I watched the snow. Will it start again?”

He shook his head, “Come on, let’s get you to bed, you’re freezing. Next time you decide to get up when it’s this cold, put something on, or at least wrap a blanket around you.”
She allowed him to put her in bed, tucking the covers around her. He got in next to her, pulling her tightly to him. “Why were you awake?”

She sighed, “I couldn’t stop thinking, wondering how long are you going to keep me a secret. I know it’s complicated for you, but I’m tired of it and I want things to change. Have you given up your old apartment? If we’re going to live together, I don’t want to worry about saying the wrong thing and giving you away, I want you to be proud you’re with me.”

“I haven’t been fair to you, have I? You deserve better, and it’s on me. I’m happier with you than I’ve ever been with anyone. I think the reason I never re-married was that I was waiting for you. I’ve been worried about people on the tribal council and the police department would react when they found out I was with someone who wasn’t Cheyenne. I’ve been a coward and I’m sorry. I want you to know I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you.” He lifted her chin and kissed her, “But the next time I find you naked in a cold room, I’m going to turn you over my knee.”

They snuggled up together and she soon fell asleep. He looked at the snow and realized that even driving his cruiser, it would be hard to get to the station. Though it had stopped snowing, at least a foot had accumulated over night. He lay back down, watching her sleep, then got up and put on some sweats and went to the phone in the kitchen and called in the office to tell them they could reach him at home, giving them her number—there was no cell service where they were. The next thing he was going to do was install a phone in the bedroom so he could call from bed.

The little light on the coffeemaker was blinking, letting him know that it was done. He poured himself a cup, then put the rest into a thermos. He looked into the refrigerator and pulled out the bacon they had bought on their last trip into town. He heated the oven and wrapped the biscuits she had baked the day before into some foil and put them in.
By the time the biscuits were hot, the bacon had finished cooking. He put bacon and biscuits, along with the coffee and orange juice on a tray that he carried into their bedroom.
“Hey, wake up, I’ve made you breakfast.” He set the tray on the bed and kissed her.

“Hmm,” she said, and smiled, “I see you cooked bacon—but I’m the one who made the biscuits.”

“At least I’m serving you breakfast in bed, you’ve never done that for me. Butter, and your favorite raspberry jam is coming—and I forgot glasses and coffee cups.”

“And knives. Are you going to work today?” she called as he went into the kitchen.

“Maybe,” he said as he came back into the room, “It’ll be mostly calls about snow problems, no power, tree damage, blocked roads, and that’s mostly not my responsibility. What frustrates me is the people who have no source of heat when the power goes out. Old people who don’t have stoves, or young families. It gets pretty cold here. We’ll set up a warming station and bring as many in as we can.”

“Can I get them some stoves? And some wood they can use right away that they won’t have to chop? There’s a kind of stove Southwest Indians provides on the Big Rez, that they can cook on, too.”

“Don’t go trying to solve all the problems on the rez, Alia, you’re too damn soft hearted.” He saw the downcast look on her face, “Okay, okay, there are a few people you could help, but you let me deal with this. I know you have the money, and I appreciate what you want to do. If you really want to help, little steps, okay? Like you’re doing with the clinic.”

Her face brightened, knowing that at least for the moment she had won. How could she explain to Mathias that the suffering she had seen in the refugee camps had made her want to help whenever she could. Her father had instilled a sympathy for the Palestinians in his children. He had seen Syria invade his beloved Lebanon and Israel seize the territories that were designated for the Palestinians by the treaty of 1948 that created Israel.

She changed the subject, wanting to preserve the mood. “Can we go for a walk after breakfast? It doesn’t look like it’s going to snow again anytime soon, the skies seem to be clear. I’ve never seen snow like this—this is not how it looks in New York when it snows—except for maybe Central Park and that gets crowded. It’s so beautiful and so white. I’m a city girl, a New York girl, this is all so new to me.”

“Eat.” He pointed at the tray. “If you really want to go outdoors and walk instead of staying in here where it’s warm, that’s what we’ll do.” His look told her he thought she was crazy.
But after breakfast, that’s just what they did. The snow impeded them somewhat, but it wasn’t so bad. And it was beautiful, the trees were mounded with snow, and the sky was a clear blue. She’d brought along her camera, and would pause every so often when a certain view caught her eye.

She aimed her camera straight ahead, then lowered it. “Mathias, look,” she said softly, and pointed as she had the first day. She handed him her camera and his eyes followed the direction she indicated and saw what she had seen.

A pink boot was hanging from a tree—one pink boot, the other was nowhere in sight. He gave her back her camera and took her hand. “Come on,” he said urgently, “This is not going to be good.”

And it wasn’t. When they got to the foot of the tree, they couldn’t smell it because of the cold, but underneath the branches they could make out a shape. Both knew what it was, both recognized it before they even reached her.

There were a few clumps of snow on the ground, but it had barely touched her. Her body would be frozen, both knew that, and it was way too cold for insect activity, but she’d been there at least a few days.

“He put her there before the snow fell, maybe thinking he’d left no footprints.” Alia wanted to get to the body, but knew enough not to destroy evidence. “And it looks like her head was smashed in with a rock, or maybe a large piece of wood, just like the other one. Bundy used to beat his victims to death, just like this one. I wonder how much trace evidence there is, if she has any ID on her, or if he took it. Look, her coat is unfastened, I wonder what I’d find if I looked. So much for our walk.”

“Crawl under the branches a little way, and see if you can get some pictures—and get a picture of that boot hanging from the tree. We gotta get home so I can call this in. This one’s on the rez, I don’t have to turn it over to Walt Longmire, but the feds won’t let me investigate it, either.” He put his arm around her waist, “Maybe we can find a way to have you do this, though it’s not likely.” He t looked at her, knowing that his joke hadn’t gone over well.

They walked back, arm in arm. “Mathias, I know this is only two bodies, but this is looking a lot like it might be a serial killer. He’s trying to hide the bodies—except that pink boot might be his way of taunting us. If that’s the case, then there’s other bodies, or even skeletal remains in out of the way places. Why so close to us? He must have known our cabin is on this road. Did he want us to find her?”

“I don’t know,” Mathias said grimly, “But from now on, you lock doors, keep your “38” where you can reach it quickly, and do not, I repeat, do not, take walks alone. You’re obviously not his target, he seems to prefer Indian girls in their late teens, but I don’t want you taking chances. As soon as the roads clear up enough, we’ll find an SUV for you. This is too close to home and I don’t like it.”

She sat and listened as Mathias called the discovery of the body in. This was not New York, she had not expected such a murder rate. When he was done, he grabbed the afghan from the couch and wrapped it tightly around her. He held her tightly, resting his cheek on her dark brown hair.

“They’ll probably try clearing the road so they can get her out. There may not be so much in town, and we’ll take her to the hospital in Durant and see if Doc Weston can do the autopsy. And no, you can’t go. I’ll tell him about you, and see if he’s interested. I know he needs the help so maybe the two of you can work something out. Don’t wait dinner on me. I’ll get home as soon as I can, but I don’t know when that will be. Keep listening for the plow—it may take a while but it will be here.”

They sat, huddled together, each taking strength from the other. She had almost fallen asleep when Mathias said, “Listen—do you hear that? That’s the plow. I’ve got to get ready to go.”

She put more wood on the fire, then lay back on the couch, holding the kitten. Mathias came out of the bedroom, dressed in his uniform and down jacket. “I’ll call you from Durant, just as soon as I know anything. And I’ll call Jacob Nighthorse and tell him about your idea for woodstoves—which is a very good one, by the way. The two of you should meet and talk foundations. There’s a lot he wants to do on the rez, and he’ll appreciate your input.”

She started to cry, seemingly out of nowhere. He sat and held her, “You know, all of this might be the right thing to do, but maybe it’s too soon after your parents dying.”

“Something like that,” she murmured, burying her face in his jacket.

There was a knock at the door, and he said, “Sweetheart, I’ve got to go. Call me if you need anything, and I’ll call you from the hospital. I’m sorry this happened, and I’m sorrier that this happened so close to our home. But don’t worry, I promise that I’m going to take care of you. While I’m around, you’re safe.” He got up, kissed her, and walked out the door, leaving her feeling very alone and tired. She wanted to call him back, to ask him not to leave her alone, but knew better.

 

U

Chapter Text

Mathias opened the door and stepped onto the porch, almost colliding with Jimmy Afraid of Her.

“Nice place,” said Jimmy, “Sure beats that crummy apartment of yours. Who’s is it?”

“Thanks, asshole. It belongs to me and my girlfriend.” True enough, though not exactly. It was on reservation land, so when she bought it, she put it in both their names. He’d paid for half of the extensive work that was required to rebuild it, but did a lot of the work himself. Working on this cabin had been a labor of love for both of them. It was worth the drain it had put on his savings, but he’d determined that he contribute as much as he could, so that the cabin was truly theirs.

“Girlfriend? Mathias the ‘I’m not getting married again’? She from the rez? Anyone I know?” Jimmy stood there grinning, and Mathias wanted very badly to hit him.

“No one you know, and yes, girlfriend,” he said firmly, “I’ve found a good one and I’m making sure I don’t lose her. You can keep your revolving door girlfriends if you want, I have something better. Grab your kit and we’ll walk, it’s not far.”

“Anyone I know?” he persisted. Jimmy couldn’t leave it alone, he was like that. He pulled his kit out of his truck, and they began to walk towards the tree with the pink boot.

“No. See that boot, she’s under the tree there. It protected her from the worst of the snow. I dunno know how bad the ground is, we’ll have to see.”

The girl lay where he and Alia had found her. He crawled under the tree and saw that she was lightly dusted with snow that must have drifted from the branches. Jimmy started to wipe it away but Mathias stayed his hand, “No,” he said, “Leave it alone, we don’t want to disturb any trace evidence. They can take care of that in the lab.” He stuck his knife into the needles that hid the soil.

It was hard, not rock hard, but it probably wouldn’t be easy to remove her. Well, Mathias, he told himself, you’ve got someone who may know a way to do this you’ve just got to be willing to ask for her help.

He took a last look at the crime scene, noticed that she had been right about the coat being open. Her arms la flush against her side and her long hair loose about her. He fingered a thin piece, and noticed it was frozen. How long had she lain beneath the tree anyway? When did the perp put her there? Had he been aware that someone was living in the cabin up the road?

“Come on,” he told Jimmy, thinking, you better behave your ass.

“What’s going on?” Jimmy demanded.

“We’re going to need help, and I know who to ask.” He started walking back up the road, not bothering to see if Jimmy had followed. He was feeling nervous about this. Jimmy might keep his mouth shut, but the temptation to tell might be too great. Better now, he thought, the longer I keep it a secret, the worse it might be when the tribe finally found out. Maybe, he told himself grimly.

They entered the cabin through the carport. “Take off your boots,” he told Jimmy, “We have new carpet.

Alia came out of the bedroom, clearly surprised. “What the hell is this?” the look on her face said, but she gave Jimmy her brightest smile, and held out her hand, “Hi, I’m Alia Kassam, nice to meet you.”

“Uh, Jimmy Afraid of you, I mean Her.” Mathias smiled. Jimmy was clearly surprised, and impressed. Alia’s hair fell over her dark blue sweater, making the color of her violet eyes pop. Was it the fact that she wasn’t Cheyenne, or way it the fact that Alia was drop dead gorgeous that had him so flustered? Either one, thought Mathias.

“Didn’t expect you back so soon, Mathias.” Her smile, the one she used to put people at ease, had worked on Jimmy. She looked at Mathias, “What’s wrong?”

“Know any good ways to remove a body that’s frozen to the ground?” He put his arm around her waist and gave Jimmy a “she’s mine, hands off” look.

“Yes, wouldn’t be the first time, but let’s have lunch first. I’ve got stuff like a butane torch and propane stoves, that should help soften up the soil. All we need are pots and a way to transport the water. An archaeologist friend of mine does a lot of work in the Andes, and showed me how to do this. It helps to have friends.”

She turned to Jimmy, “Roast beef sandwiches all right with you? It’s not too early for lunch, and I’m hungry, we skipped breakfast.” And would you please stop staring at me? she thought.

It wasn’t just lunch, it was a feast, thought Jimmy. Roast beef piled high on dark rye bread accompanied by hot vegetable soup. There was no restaurant in Durant that served food like this. “This is really good,” he told her, “I hope Mathias appreciates you.” He enjoyed the look on Mathias’ face as he said this.

“He better,” she said and laughed. She had a nice laugh, “My father was a restaurateur in New York. I never had a bologna or peanut butter sandwich for lunch, but a mini meal. My mother was from Montreal and was a whiz at French cuisine. My father preferred Mediterranean and Italian, but could cook just about anything. Until my brother and I left and went to college, he and I must have worked in just about every restaurant he owned. It was fun sometimes, and we always got to keep the tips we earned. I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.

Mathias stood up, “Let’s go, we can clean up later. Where’s your stuff?”

She pulled a black duffle bag from the closet. Propane stoves and cooking pots, along with small cartridges. She retrieved towels from the linen closet, then as an afterthought she added two small trowels.

“Mathias, that big pot with the lid, fill it with as much water as you can handle. We can melt snow, but it takes too damn long. Jimmy, do you have a blanket we can wrap the body in?”

They walked slowly to the tree, taking care to look for any footprints that the killer might have left. Alia knelt next to the body, taking in the dusting of snow that covered her, and the one bare foot that made the sight so poignant.

She lit the stoves, and filling with pots with water she set them on the heat. “Get the water as close to the body as you can, the idea is to soften the ground, then we can loosen her with trowels and the spade. This isn’t so bad, you ought to try removing frozen bodies from ice cold rock that have been there for 500 years.”

They waited for the water to boil, then carefully poured the water around the perimeter of the corpse. They began to loosen the body carefully with the trowels and spade, until they freed her from the frozen ground. Mathias and Jimmy searched for what evidence they could around her, but there was not much to be found. The killer had found the perfect medium to disguise his crime.

They wrapped the girl in the blanket, and carried her to Jimmy’s truck. “Do you want to come with us?” Mathias asked her, surprising himself by wishing that she would.

“No, I’m going to take one last look around and bring the stuff back to the house.”

“Let Jimmy and I help you with that, that will be easier than you carrying it.” Mathias overruled her objections, but she understood. Until the killer, whoever he was, and the signs seemed to indicate it was probably a “he”, was gone from the rez, he didn’t want her to be alone and vulnerable. She felt it unnecessary, but she was touched.

“Just tell the coroner about me, My medical licenses are current for New York and Seattle, I’d just have to get certified for Wyoming. Just be sure to tell him that I’m offering to work for free, same as I’m doing for the Indian Health Clinic. I spent a lot of time in school and my father paid a lot of money for it, there’s no sense in letting my training go to waste.”

They left her stuff in the carport, taking only the notes she’d made. For some odd reason Jimmy noticed that she and Mathias were exactly the same height when they kissed each other goodbye.

As they made their way to Jimmy’s truck Mathias kept thinking, don’t say anything about her, just don’t say anything, but knew it was coming when Jimmy asked him…

“What the hell are you doing with a white chick?” he turned the key in the ignition, “How do you think that’s going to go over.”

“She’s only half white, her father was Lebanese, that’s like an Arab,” he said in response to the blank look on Jimmy’s face.

“But she’s not Cheyenne, or even Indian,” Jimmy pointed out.

“Yeah, so? Who has the right to tell me who I can and can’t love. She’s being quiet about it, but she’s doing a lot of stuff on the rez. When she saw how much was needed in the clinic, she ordered a bunch of supplies, along with free drug samples for people who can’t afford them. She’s trying to see if she can find out anything about Mary Rainwater’s daughter, not that she’s had any luck so far. She told me about the suffering she’s seen in the Palestinian refugee camps, and that makes her want to help to make people’s lives better. She has a meeting with Jacob Night Horse next week to find out the best way to get things done.”

“And it makes no never mind to you how beautiful she is, I bet. I know you, man, when you make up your mind about something, no one can make you budge. You’re going to marry her, aren’t you?”

Mathias slumped in the seat, “Yeah, something like that.”

“Well, okay. I won’t say anything, but people are going to find out. All I have to say is, when you get married, I want to be your best man.”

Chapter Text

Alia stood in front of the mirror in the rest room of Jacob Nighthorse offices. She wore her favorite suit, the black Cashmere Donna Karan and a silk shell underneath. That, plus the diamond earrings, gave her confidence. I’m serious Mr. Nighthorse, she thought, and I want you to take me seriously
.
OK, I’m ready, she told herself. She clutched her leather briefcase a little too tightly, but it’s presence gave her confidence. She walked into Nighthorse’s offices and told the receptionist, “Alia, ah, Dr. Alia Kassam to see Jacob Nighthorse.” Her voice was smooth and full of a confidence she did not feel, but she’d learned long ago to not let it bother her.
When he came out, he was not quite what she expected. He was not full blood Cheyenne, not handsome as she had supposed. The look he gave her was a familiar one, she’d gotten it since she’d hit puberty. Let her be the unexpected one, then. She would be the one who would surprise him.

He had a firm, professional handshake, very FBI, she thought to herself. Not exactly attractive, but neither was Mathias for that matter. He did exude a self confidence that might compensate for his lack of looks, and now seemed more attractive than she thought before.

“I’m Jacob Nighthorse, let's talk in my office." His office was filled with Native paintings, and antiques. He sat in a big leather chair behind an old fashioned walnut desk that must have been expensive. "Please sit down, Alia? ‘Kassam’, is that Arabic?”

“Well, technically it’s Lebanese, but we speak Arabic so it’s rather dual nationality. My father was from Lebanon, and my mother was French Canadian. Our house was sort of multi-national, Lebanese, French, and American.” Stop talking so much, Alia, she told herself.

“What can I do for you, Alia? May I call you Alia?”

“I need to learn about foundations, how to set them up, how to administer them, who I can go to that will be honest enough to help me with this. I’ve already stocked the Indian Health Clinic, and bought a few things, and I have one or two other projects I’d like to put forward.”

“Do you intend to fund them yourself?” Jacob Nighthorse leaned forward, staring at her intently. It made her uncomfortable.

“No, I can’t afford to be sole provider. I have friends I intend to call on for help, and hopefully they have friends. My father was a big believer in sharing his wealth with the less fortunate. He had very humble beginnings, escaped Lebanon just before the civil war. He and his brothers opened one restaurant, then branched out. He told me he had phenomenal luck that combined with hard work let him get where he did. And he taught my brother and I his work ethic, and the value of reaching out to others.”

“What are you interested in besides the health clinic?”

“I want to set up a foundation that will fund and run a women’s shelter. Not just for battered women, but for homeless women, too. I want to be able to hook them up with medical care and educational benefits. I’m told that the nearest shelter is two and a half hours from here. Women who have a place to go are less likely to return to their abuser. I want to give them that place. It will cost a lot of money, but if I can help someone save themselves it will be worth it. I just hope that I will have support from women from the tribe, that it’s something they will want.” Now she was learning forward, trying to emphasize how serious she was about this.

“It is something that is needed, and I’m sure your friends Annie and Mary Rainwater will want to be involved. I’d certainly like to help you, Dr. Kassam.” Was he saying that to show her that he was sincere and wanted to help. She hadn’t really been Dr. Kassam since she left the FBI. “I think you’re making me more aware of the needs of the women of this community.” That sounded pretentious. “If you can make up a proposal for me to submit…”

She reached into the briefcase and pulled it out. Didn’t he think she’d come prepared? Smiling her brightest smile, she handed him the proposal that she’d prepared. “Any questions, you can reach me at my home phone, we don’t have service at the cabin. And my cell number is also on there.”

He looked at his watch, “Say,” he said, “Would you like to have lunch, we can discuss this some more in a less formal setting.”

“Yes, I’d like that. I have a lot of questions about what kind of philanthropic work has been done on the rez. I have friends, and maybe some people who knew my parents, that might like to be involved. That’s the advantage of New York, a lot of rich people with money they’re looking to find a source of tax deductions.”

“That never hurts,” he laughed, but she wondered if laughter, too, was real or only professional. He took her to a private room off the main dining room. It has glass doors that were closed, but would have opened onto a sort of private garden with plants and trees native to Wyoming. Now it was covered with snow, making it look like a kind of Japanese winter garden, stark but serene, and beautiful.

“Let me order for us,” he told her, “I have some Alaska salmon I had flown in. Do you like salmon?”

“Pacific salmon is a treat. At home, there is a lot of Atlantic salmon, but not the same.

She was relieved of making anything but small talk when lunch arrived. The salmon had been grilled with its edges lightly charred. The natural buttery taste of the high-quality salmon was enhanced by the flavorings of salt, pepper, lemon, and fresh rosemary. Like any good salmon fixed this way, it seemed to melt in her mouth and she grew briefly nostalgic for the friends she’s left behind in Seattle and the first taste she’d ever had of Pacific Northwest Salmon.

“Mmm, this is really good,” she wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin, “I was raised by a restauranteur and I know food. I wish Dad would have been a little more flexible sometimes, and served this. There are restaurants in New York that do, but that stubborn Lebanese always did things his way, not that it hurt.”

When Jacob Nighthorse laughed this time, it seemed natural, not the artificial laughter of before. It was easy for her to join in, and for the first time she felt at ease in his company.
“You would have had to know my father, traditional but not conservative. I have a lot of respect for him and what he accomplished. He gave my brother and I a work ethic that I hope I can pass on to my kids if I ever have any. It’s just too bad that he had to die, he really didn’t deserve it.”

“I know the feeling,” he replied, “Do you happen to be free for dinner sometime this week?”

Maybe she should have expected this, but she still wasn’t ready. “No, I’m sorry, dinner is not possible. I’m in a relationship and that would not be okay; not with him, not with me.”
She watched the expression on Nighthorse’s face change from amiable to angry, turning an unusual shade of red she did not think possible.

He dropped his fork on his plate. “Is he Cheyenne? If he is he could lose everything by being with you, his position on the tribal council, his job, his friends, his family. Do you have the right to jeopardize someone’s life and happiness?”

He had chosen the wrong person to debate with. She set her fork down, stood up slowly and grasped the edge of the table. Leaning forward, she spoke in a slow, deliberate voice. “The last time I checked, no one person or group, no matter who they are, has the right to tell someone who they can and cannot love. I see a lot of mixed blood on this rez, and that includes you. And if someone did have the say so to dictate who married or didn’t marry whom, my Lebanese father would never have married my French mother, or my brother would never have married his African-American wife. I wouldn’t have imagined you’d be so insecure—and as to whether I’m with a man who’s Cheyenne, well, that’s none of your god damn business.”

She turned and left, and sought the shelter of her car. She knew she should have waited before she drove, but she didn’t want him to catch up to her. And driving seemed to be calming her down, and her MDX hummed along down the road, getting her home before she should have been.

She pulled into the carport, noticing that Mathias was home, but not really caring why. She felt light headed somehow, but that didn’t stop her from going to the cabinet and grabbing her bottle of Johnny Walker, and pouring a generous two fingers. She was about to add some ice when someone removed the glass from her hand.

“What the hell is wrong with you, Alia?” said Mathias.

She said nothing, but held out her hand. He went to the sink, poured out half the contents of the glass, then added some ice and gave it back to her.

“That fucker hit on me, then tried to fish around and find out who I’m with.” She took a long drink, then looked at the glass. “I need more,” she said.

“No, you don’t,” he said firmly, and guided her to the sofa, “Now talk, and let’s see what we can do with this.”

She sighed noisily as she sat down. “The meeting seemed to go really well, like he understood what I needed and that he knew what to do to help me. When he asked me to lunch I thought great, now we can really talk with the pressure of the meeting over. Then, out of the blue, he asked me to dinner. I told him I couldn’t, that I was involved with someone, and he lost it.”

“I’m going to kick his ass,” said Mathias heatedly.

“That better be a figurative kicking of his ass, you’re not that stupid. I need him, Mathias, he gives me a direct link to the rez. I need his contacts, I need his knowledge of what the Cheyenne need and where I can fit in. You always need help with philanthropy, it’s something you can’t do alone if you want to do it right. I need to bring in other people, and I can start with my friends in New York. But an Indian reservation is something new to me, I need to do this in a way where I can see the most good done. Without his knowledge, I’m flying blind. Maybe Annie and Mary can help me, but I need Nighthorse on my side.

He rubbed her shoulder, trying to ease the tension out of it. “Maybe we should get married now instead of waiting. That way we’re out front and no unpleasant surprises. Ignore what Nighthorse says, my family is going to love you, they don’t judge.” He waited for her to answer, but she just took a sip of her drink and looked at him.

“Well, I have some news of my own, they’ve found another body on the rez and she’s definitely Cheyenne. Doc Weston says he could use your help, what do you say?”

Chapter Text

Alia was having “the dream” again, the one where she dreamed she had turned the alarm off, then woke again to find she had not done so. And so, the cycle would repeat until she was awake. She hated the dream because it left her feeling tired.

When she finally opened her eyes, she realized that Mathias had turned on the bedside lamp and left a mug of steaming coffee for her. “Ah, thank you Mathias,” she said out loud, and drank deeply from the hot, bitter brew. Mathias always made his coffee strong, but she preferred her lighter brew.

She grabbed her thick, woolen robe and wrapped it around her. The cabin was warm, and she didn’t need to use the bathroom heater as she took her shower. When she emerged, she rubbed her thick hair down with a towel. She could let it dry naturally—no one in the morgue would care what she looked like.

Mathias was in the kitchen, spooning bacon and eggs onto the plates they had just bought. The smell made her hungry, so she refilled her coffee and sat down to eat her breakfast.

“Pink scrubs?” Mathias asked, “That the standard uniform for an autopsy?”

“They’re my uniform, especially if I’m not working for any one agency. I’m free lancing here. Hey, is it true Doc Weston wants to pay me?” She put forkfuls of food into her mouth between words.

“That’s what he told me. I told him you wanted to work for free since you were doing this on your own, but he seems to think he should compensate you, even if it’s basically minimum wage. You’ll like him, he’s professional, and he seems grateful for the help. Who can blame him, you’re former FBI and he has high expectations.”

“And he won’t be disappointed. I’ve been dying to get my hands on those girls. I want to give you something to tell the parents, even if it’s bad news it’s better than none. Now, if I can only ID them, we can find out who they are and notify their parents.”

“Well, maybe you’ll have better luck with the new one.” Mathias was smiling, he liked to tease her if getting a rise out of her was possible.
“Aaarrgh, I was perfectly happy forgetting about that one, thanks, Matias. But I need a break and you can never tell when it’s coming. There’s no way I’m going to get all three done today, I might not even finish two, depending on what I find. Plus, I’ve got to get used to working in his lab without re-arranging things. I liked my labs at the FBI, I had everything exactly where I needed it. Did you warm up my car, Mathias? I think I’d like to get going and get this done.”

“It’s ready. Call me and let me know what you’ve found out.” He kissed her, holding her closely for a moment before letting go.

 

Hospitals usually had their morgues in the basement, but as a courtesy she introduced herself at the front desk and told them Dr. Weston was expecting her. A few minutes later he appeared, a tallish man wearing rumpled green scrubs, the universal uniform for hospital coroners. His face looked tired, and his hair was tousled, as if comb and brush had been lost a long time ago.

“Alia?” he asked and held out his hand. She took his, liking the firmness of his grip.

“Dr. Alia Kassam, formerly of the FBI. Now I’m…” she didn’t know how to finish it.

“Well,” he said, “I’ve got plenty here that I need help with, including the three brought in by the Cheyenne Police Department.” He punched an elevator call button. “Morgue is in the second basement. The only elevator is this one, and I have a card for you. Need to keep the civilians and curiosity seekers, plus the occasional reporter, out. Cafeteria is on the sixth floor, not bad but I bring food from home. They do make a decent breakfast.”

The elevator beeped and the door opened. “After you,” Weston said in an attempt to be gallant, “We’ll get you going on paperwork. I know you’d like to get to work right away, but we got to do things the right way. Make everything official and you can work here all you like. You wouldn’t mind helping me out with some other cases, would you?

“After my girls are take care of, yes, I’d be happy to. I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed, it’s going to be a little crazy for me trying to get those girls autopsied. I’d planned on only having to do two, but I should know things never work out the way I expect them to. It’s going to take longer, and that I hadn’t planned on.”

 

The paperwork wasn’t as bad as the FBI’s, but still an annoyance. After she finished, Dr. Weston had her stand against the door so he could take a picture for her badge. The last thing he gave her was a key card for the door and a pin number. “Well, this makes you an official employee now. It will be nice having another doctor here, even if you are technically a medical examiner. Bet they’re glad to have you at the Indian Health Clinic, even though they don’t tend to have much luck with their volunteer doctors.”

“That’s because their doctors probably didn’t serve time with ‘Doctors Without Borders’ or work in the Palestinian refugee camps. I know what it’s like to have to run for cover when the shelling starts or the camp is being invaded. I’ve seen hopeless and it’s not pretty, but it makes me feel better when I try to help. My dad was big on that, and I inherited it from him.”

She was not going to be discouraged by the skeptical look that Weston gave her, but asked him to bring out the latest victim.

She hated to see a body pulled out from the drawer, having it place on a gurney didn’t really seem to help. The girl had been found the previous night, not far outside town. Her clothes had been removed and bagged so Alia could check them later.

“We don’t know how long she’s been out there,” Weston said apologetically, “A few days, she’s too cold to get a time of death. She had ligature marks around her neck, in addition to the bruise on her head. I don’t know if he strangles them first, then beats them, or what. I figured I’d leave the autopsying to you and see what you can come up with. My lab isn’t as well equipped as the FBI, so if there’s something you need, let me know.”

Alia nodded, hoping he’d go away and leave her alone, which he fortunately did. She stood and looked at the body, running a gloved hand over the wound. The ligature marks were a surprise, but not unexpected. A killer was not necessarily consistent or logical, and it fell to her to try to figure out why he did what he did. She wished that murderers would stop doing what they did and put her out of business.

First came the swabbing of the body, and the DNA samples. It would have been better if she had seen the body in situ, the context was always important, for it could yield valuable information. Photos, as always, helped, but bit was not the same. There was a reason coroners liked to be at the crime scene to supervise.

She sighed, then picked up a scalpel and made a “Y” incision, then took the spreader and opened the chest. She had done this so often over the years that it had become second nature, and if she’s ever been bothered by it, she could no longer recall it. Being around corpses didn’t bother her the way it did the other students, she had seen more than one dead body, some fresh, some not.

She began the more mundane part of autopsies, the measuring and weighing of organs and checking of stomach contents. The girl seemed healthy enough, there were stains on her fingers that indicated she smoked, but that seemed the worst of it. She looked at the girl’s face—so young and so pretty. Cheyenne, from her looks. Who was killing these girls?

She suddenly had a thought, reaching her hand down, she found the uterus and ovaries, and what she could feel gave her an idea.

She found Weston, working on another autopsy in the adjacent room. “Can I have an ultrasound sent down here? I think I found something.”

“What are you looking for?”

“Well, I think she’s pregnant, and I don’t know if a standard pregnancy test would work. If I do an ultrasound maybe I can tell how far along she is. This guy is really a monster if he’s killing pregnant girls. I won’t get around to the other two today. Now, can I get that ultrasound?”

“How does after lunch sound?” Weston asked.

Lunch? How had that much time passed. It was like when she worked for the FBI. She’d get involved in her work and lose all track of time.

She headed to the cafeteria. From the looks of it, the food was no better or worse than that of other hospitals she’d worked in. She chose a Caesar salad, promising herself she would pack a lunch tomorrow. Eager to get back to her work, she didn’t linger over her meal, but bought an extra coke for the afternoon when she would need the sugar and caffeine

As he’d promised, an ultrasound was waiting for her. “Good, thanks,” she said to Weston, “I don’t know if this will work or not, but sometimes it does. It can be hard to find a dead fetus in a dead mother, but sometimes I do have luck.”

She put the lubricant on the girl’s stomach, and began to move the ultra sound indicator around. Doc Weston watched, adding an extra eye.
“There,” said Alia triumphantly, “I knew it, she was pregnant at the time of death. I’ll see if I can get a DNA sample for the father, but I don’t know how badly it’s degraded. She looks like she’s been out there longer than the other two girls.”

“So,” he said, “What do you know about serial killers?”

“Outside of the fact that they’re messed up people in general? They generally stick to their own ethnic group, though Gary Ridgway blew a hole in that theory. Since these girls are Cheyenne, there’s about a ninety percent chance their killer will be Cheyenne, too. If you want psychological stuff, he may have been a bed wetter, had mother issues, but I’ll leave that to a profiler. My guess is that these girls were prostitutes, and he has a big problem with them. What? Who knows. In the meantime, I’m going to call Mathias and tell him we’re having pizza for dinner, unless he feels like cooking. I’ve got a bunch of dictation and notes to work on.”

Chapter Text

Mathias came home to find her sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by papers, a small recorder in her hand
.
She looked up and smiled, “Hi, this is what you don’t see in hospitals—all the dreaded paperwork. I decided I’d rather do it here, instead of at the morgue—more privacy. But now,” she began to gather together the piles of paper, “I’d rather eat that pizza you’re holding, I’m starving. Being on your feet for hours is tiring work.”

“Find out anything interesting
?”
“Well, I did the girl who they just found, and learned something interesting. She was strangled before she was hit with a rock, like he wanted to maim her, or maybe it’s a signature. So, I have two other girls to autopsy, and I’m thinking maybe they’ll have ligature marks, too, that we missed before. Either way, he’s a serial killer, Mathias, I’m almost positive. For the most part, serial killers stick to their own ethnic group, which is what he’s doing so far. And he’s just killing women. There’s got to be other bodies out there, but I don’t know where you’d look for them.”

“Some may turn up when hunting season starts, if they’re there.”

“But that’s months away, Mathias, and they may be hidden in places we can’t find them. When the snow melts, one or two may turn up. The FBI can’t accuse you of trying to investigate if you just happen to come across a body, can they?”

Mathias removed a piece of pizza from the box. “Trying to make me lose my job?”

“Heavens, no,” she replied, “But this case has gotten hold of me, and I’m having trouble letting it go. This guy, he makes me angry. What right does he have to kill these girls? Why’s he doing it anyway? Did he get an STD from a prostitute? Did he have trouble performing and she made fun of him? Does he see it as a morality issue? I know I shouldn’t do this, but I have a friend who’s a profiler who’ll take a look at this for me, just for fun. Just because you’re not allowed to, doesn’t mean I can’t investigate this on my own. Especially since I have a feeling Rachel Rainwater may be one of his victims. I guess I’m personally invested on that count.

Mathias sighed, and leaned over the table and took her hands. “Ally, I want you to listen to me. I know you want to go after this perp, yourself, but don’t, don’t even try.” She tried to pull away from him but he held her tightly. “Look, I know you’ve spent time in Syria and Lebanon, but it’s not the same as here. You could get hurt, you could get lost, and how many days would it take for me to find you then? You’re a stranger here, you don’t know who to trust, and that Glock Nine you carry might not do you any good.

“If they’re more girls, and I think I agree with you that there are, they’re not going to be found, if, if they’re found, until the snow melts. I know these mountains pretty well, I grew up here, but there are places that only your perp may know where the bodies are hidden. The bones may have been scattered, and we’ll only find them if a hunter happens to stumble across them.”

“Do you think that could happen, I mean, a hunter or a poacher just happening on these bones? Rachel Rainwater has been gone three years now, and no one has found any trace of here.” She paused, “You know, I hope she’s not dead, but that would be better than being a prostitute—and even then she might be dead now.”

“I know, babe, a part of me feels that way, too. But, I want you to realize that you can’t do everything that you want. There are people on the reservation who really hate whites…”

“I’m only half white, the other half is Arab.”

He shook her hands, “Listen to me, you don’t know the reservation, how dangerous it can be sometimes. You need to get to know people here, let them know what you’re doing, who you are. Then you can find allies. Please promise me that you won’t do anything without me. When spring comes, we can head up into the hills and see what we can find. In the meantime, I’ll start asking around, see what people know. It may be possible to locate remains, and if we can, we should, I just don’t want you doing it on your own, all right?”

“Okay,” she sighed, “Maybe I’m a little too overconfident sometimes, especially if I want something really badly. And don’t say anything,” she warned as he was about to speak.

 

Mathias wondered why his alarm went off so early the next morning, but had his answer when Alia sat up and put on her woolen robe.
“Go back to sleep,” she told him, “I want to get to the morgue early before anyone gets there. I used to do that at Quantico, and it was nice to be alone.”

“Well, since I’m awake, I’ll put on some coffee and fix you breakfast. It won’t hurt for me to get in early, I just hope you don’t make a habit of this!”

By the time he finished, he’d set out bacon, eggs, and toast. A pitcher or orange juice sat next "

“Mathias, when do you think the snow will start to melt? She asked him as she took another swallow of juice.

“Around April, maybe May, spring comes slowly here in the mountains. Why?”

“I want to put up some more posters on the rez, to see if we can identify the girls. I’m hesitant to offer a reward, but it would be nice if people had an eye out for more bodies. And make them aware that a serial killer is probably on the loose, and his prey is adolescent girls. They’re hard to catch, and it usually takes public cooperation to bring them out from under cover. I want this guy off the streets, off the rez. I have a feeling more bodies are going to turn up if we don’t find him.”

“I have friends on the tribal council, I’ll ask them to bring it up. You’re right, he seems to be targeting Cheyenne girls, which means he’s probably operating here.”

“I’d appreciate that. The police force needs to start looking. A lot of things will probably change in the spring.”

 

When she got to the morgue, she put on a pot of coffee, and set out the bagels and cream cheese that she bought. She scrubbed in, put on a gown and gloves, then took out the second body, the one found on county property, and put her gently on the slab.

She looked at her for a moment, gently stroking her cheek. “I think I know how he found you, being a prostitute is a hard life and risky.” She looked at her arms, then examined the rest of the body, looking for track marks. “Well, at least it looks like you managed to avoid getting hooked on heroin. A pro usually winds up hooked on drugs, but at least you didn’t.”

She put the girl’s hair into a net, then began the examination. She swabbed the body for trace evidence, then put it in a container to be sent to the lab—one of her choice if she could manage it.

She began to make the “Y” incision, saying, “Sorry sweetheart” as she cut into her chest. She spread the opening, and began the tedious task of removing the organs, weighing them, and packaging them.

The ligature marks were obvious, now that she was not wearing clothes. The mark where she had been hit with the rock, or whatever it had been, still stood out. Damn it, this girl was healthy, well fed, didn’t show any signs of any disease. Pimps didn’t take care of their whores, ever, yet someone had looked after this girl.

She was a prostitute, no doubt about that, judging from the abrasions on her vagina and genitalia. How long had she been hooking, anyway? Had on forced into it, or had she thought it was a way of making easy money? And who was she?

She lost track of time, working with the girl on the slab. Weston had come in and thanked her for the bagels, but she’d barely paid attention. It was just her and the girl on the slab that had her Ion her own.

She made herself take a lunch break, drinking a coke and allowing herself the luxury of a cigarette. The quiet she’d cherished had suddenly been broken, she heard a man’s voice and a woman clearly objecting to whatever it was he wanted.

Suddenly, Walt Longmire stood in front of her. “You’re Alia Kassam, right? The new assistant coroner?”

So, Weston had come up with a title for her. “Yes, what do you want?” she said rudely, wishing that he would go away. She needed to get back to work.

“I’ve come to tell you I’m taking custody of the body since it was found in Absaroka County.” She couldn’t tell if Longmire was smiling or not. But now, people seemed to have figured out that she and Mathias were serious.

“You mean, you’re going to take custody after I do all the work. You might have saved me the trouble before I did the autopsy and had Weston do it instead. Pretty sneaky way to make sure that the ex-FBI agent did it for you. You can have her, Weston can finish up. Nothing unusual about this girl, except that she was murdered.”

“The tribe’s going to want her back, you know, even if we can’t figure out right away who her family is. I hope you leave her here for convenience’s sake. I don’t want her buried if there’s a chance that she can be claimed.” She put out her cigarette and headed back into the morgue. There was something about this Wyoming cowboy that she didn’t like, but didn’t care to find out.

Chapter Text

Weston could tell Alia was upset by the way she jerked a pair of gloves out of the box, tearing them, and having to take a second. She tied her mask then went over to the girl on the slab, looking at her.

Maybe I should have warned her, he thought guiltily, then said, “Hey, what happened?”

He could not see her features due to the mask, but her eyes crinkled at the corners. “I think I got ‘Longmired’. I told him if he wanted the body, he’ll have to wait for you to finish the autopsy. I am going to finish it, just don’t tell him that.” She paused, “I don’t have much experience with cowboys, I’m from back east. Is he a jerk, or a zealot? Most of the time I’d rather deal with jerks than zealots.”

“Well, he’s something of both. He’s a good sheriff, mind you, just like Mathias is a very good police chief. Very concerned for their constituents but they can get a little, er, extreme, at times.”

“Now, why doesn’t that surprise me? And thank you for recognizing that Mathias is good at his job.”

It was an opening and he had to take it. “Is it true then, that you and Mathias are, well, an item? Rumors about what goes on the rez does reach us, since we’re practically neighbors. I imagine that you and Mathias might be in a tricky situation.”

“Well, it would be worse if I were Muslim, but fortunately I’m not. Mathias and I are talking marriage, it’s just a matter of timing. I’d like to get this case taken care of before we’d do it, but I know how cases like this go. It could stretch on for years, before we got any viable clues. Thank god for my friends back in DC, I have access to things I don’t have here, and I don’t have to turn it over until I get caught.”

Mathias was sitting at the dining room table, reading the latest copy of the Washington Post. The local newspaper was a joke, she’d told him, she’d subscribed to the New York Times and the Post so that she could keep up with real news.

He rose and kissed her. “I got some steaks, the ribeyes that you like. Potatoes are baking in the oven and as soon as you’re ready, I’ll put the steaks on the grill.” He’d decided he liked the stove top grill, except for the cleaning part.

“Walt Longmire came by the morgue today, and told me he was taking custody of the girl we found. I haven’t done any personal DNA tests on her, but I’ll bet she belongs to the Cheyenne nation. Can he just step in and take over like that? She was found on county land, but if she’s Cheyenne, won’t she be the responsibility of your police force?”

“Well, look at it this way. If the feds take her, chances are nothing will be done. I don’t think Walt Longmire is half the investigator you are and maybe he knows it. If you want to solve the case, try and figure out a way to work with him. Oh, here, thought you might like to see this.

He spread out some missing person photos. “I think this one,” he pointed to a very pretty young Cheyenne girl, I think this is the one we found up the road, the one with the pink rubber boots. If you could check tomorrow and let me know, I’d appreciate it. Her name is Lucy Snowbird and she went missing recently. And this one,” he pointed to another picture, “She’s Wanda Black Elk, and she’s ‘been gone for a while. She went out with some friends and disappeared, no one’s heard from her since. This may solve who two of them are.”

“So, you want me to turn her over to the county? You don’t mind her being in his jurisdiction?”

“For right now, no. What I want is to solve this case. If there are three working on this, maybe it will mean a better chance of solving it quickly.”

“Well, it didn’t work that way for Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer, but they killed a lot more women. This guy, whoever he is, has got to be stopped. John, my friendly profiler, says he’ll email me a rough draft. It’s too bad we don’t have any images of him, or any witnesses. On Monday, I’m going to ask around and see if there are any hookers who’d be willing to talk to me. Their pimps won’t like it, but too bad. I’m flash my counterfeit badge at them, and see if they cooperate."

“Do you still want to go to Denver this weekend?” Time for a change of subject, he thought. “I’ve been checking out used Range Rovers and I found four nice ones at a decent price. And I checked out the specs and I think I won’t have any problems working on them. Why don’t you make reservations for Saturday morning? We can fly down, spend the night, and then drive back. There’s a maroon one, that’s only ten years old, that looks clean. I’ll bring some tools with me just in case there’s a problem. We can even stay an extra day or two and get some winterized tires.”

“Sounds good,” she smiled and sat on his lap, “You’d take extra days off work for me?”

He sighed, “I’ve got days off work that have accumulated for years. We could take a ski vacation if you wanted to. Now, if you’ll get off my lap, I’ll fix dinner.”

Working for the FBI had taught her to suppress as much as she could, and no wonder, she saw many things that she wished she could forget. Same as working in the camps, so much pain and suffering that she could not alleviate but wanted so badly to. It was no wonder then, that she had taught herself to forget her dreams. She had done it for so long now it was second nature.

That’s why it surprised her that she was aware that she was dreaming. She was in the mountains, but not the beloved mountains of her Lebanese home. She was in the Rockies and it was bitter cold, but her bare feet seemed not to mind it at all. And she was alone, or was she alone? She could hear the heartbeat of Cheyenne drums and the tinkling of bells on a dancer’s costume.

The dancer’s slow, mincing steps were bringing her into sight—all she had to do was wait. And soon she saw her, the ribbons on her orange and turquoise costume streamed out in a wind that only the dancer could feel.

Now she was dancing in a clearing, singing, but Alia did not know the meaning of the song, only that the notes came louder and louder until they drowned out the sound of the drums.

Danger, in the strange way of dreams Alia could feel danger approaching. Suddenly a grizzly bear charged the dancer, taking her frail neck into its powerful jaws. He shook her body, causing the head to fly off, only to land at Alia’s feet.

“Help us,” the girl said, then closed her eyes and died.

Alia sat up and started to scream. Mathias came immediately awake, taking her in his arms, rocking her, soothing her. “It’s all right, you’re all right,” he told her, “It was only a bad dream, but it’s over now. Shh.”

She stayed in his arms, not bearing to let go of him. “Mathias,” she asked softly, “What would be the significance of a grizzly bear killing a dancer by tearing off her head?”

“Nothing, my love,” he soothed her, “It was just a dream.” But it’s not so far from the one you had, he thought, dancers and bears, what does it mean?

He held her until she fell asleep. He tucked the covers around her, making sure she’d be warm. Was the old man still alive, he wondered? He remembered the old man, the way he could seem scary during rituals, but loved children, telling them stories that had been told to him by his great grandfather. Alia might like him, he was a good listener as well as a healer. If she was still having nightmares when they got back he’d insist she talk to him. Nightmares were not good things.

Chapter Text

Mathias held her until she fell asleep, but she tossed and turned, and moaned as she slept. In the morning, she seemed no better.

He looked at her, then sighed and pulled off his uniform shirt. He pulled a sweater out of the large armoire they shared (she took up the bulk of it) and put it on. As he went into the living room he could hear a click as the coffee pot turned on.

It was still cold, so he stirred the remains of the fire and slowly added more wood, and soon the fire in the woodstove was burning and crackling merrily. The coffee pot was fast, and already he could smell the dark brew. Pouring himself a cup, he went to the table that served as both desk and a place to eat and picked up the large tablet that she always left there. He turned it on and saw that she’d bookmarked her favorite travel site, so he went straight to it.

She’d booked the flight for tomorrow, but he re-booked for one leaving today. The flight from Laramie to Denver only took forty minutes, so they’d arrive in plenty of time. Once they got to Denver they’d need a car, so he changed that reservation, too, for one he could pick up today. He kept the Jeep she’d requested. If he was honest with himself, he enjoyed cars as much as she did, and it was nice to be able to choose from newer, more expensive models.

Last of all, he called and changed the hotel reservations. He turned to see her standing in the doorway. “I can’t stand to have that dream again, I don’t know why it kept coming back.”

She went to his side and kissed him, “can I have your coffee?”

“Get your own, and while you’re at it, get dressed and packed. We’re going today, you need to get out of here. And,” he paused, “If that dream won’t go away, it means you’re not listening to what it’s trying to tell you. It’ll only take forty minutes to fly to Denver from Laramie. It looks like a nice day for a drive, and I’ll have time to show you Laramie. Have you ever been to Denver?”

“Nope, and I guess that means I can get a new pair of cowboy boots.” She disappeared into the kitchen, and he heard the gurgling sound as she poured a cup of coffee.

What part of the dream had kept coming back? The bear? Or the bear tearing off the dancer’s head? It wasn’t quite same as his dream, why had it been her that had seen the bear? And were they ever going to find this guy, he didn’t want to find any more bodies of young girls.
The day was crisp, clear, and cold, and since the road was dry and free of snow, it was perfect for driving. There was sun, the sky, the clear, icy blue of a Wyoming sky. Occasionally they’d see antelope grazing along the road. Just like in Lebanon, she told him.

Mathias was enjoying the way her Acura handled, and was becoming more assured of her desire for the Range Rover. “Where did this interested in Range Rovers come from, anyway?” he asked her.

“Well, blame it on my dad. We always had these snappy little European cars, small and good mileage, but my brother and I started begging him to get a truck. We’d research SUV’s and trucks, and I promised myself someday I’d get one. When I was in Europe friend of mine had a Land Rover and I fell in love, and later I learned about Range Rovers. They’re very popular in Europe, and the U.S., too. Now that I have an excuse, I want to get my Range Rover.”

“I got the MDX because the price was good, and it handles nicely, but I still wanted a Range Rover. You know, I’d always dreamed of getting my truck, and finding a place to live out west. You don’t know what it’s like to be a city kid. You think it’s all cowboys and Indians and Yellowstone and ranches. And it is, in some respects. I have friends in New York who would be blown away by all this. I go outside our cabin every morning and can’t believe I’m living this.”

He took her hand and squeezed it. “I didn’t exactly dream of a Lebanese girl, but we found each other. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. Do you want breakfast?”

 

They came to Laramie with plenty of time to spare. He drove around, showing her the places he knew. He was looking forward to showing her Denver. Maybe they could get tickets for a basketball game—the Nuggets should be playing. He hadn’t taken time off work in a long time. He always had obligations, so much of his time off had sat untouched.

“Lot of skiers, I thought they’d be in Vail.” She observed.

“They are. Do you ski?”

“A little,” she admitted, “But it’s been a long time. I’ve been snowshoeing, too. There are some mountains on the east coast, but nothing like this. What’s Denver like?”

“Like a big city, or big for the west. Still, it does have your cowboys and Indians,” he teased, “It would be a good place for you when you feel like shopping, or getting away. You’re not a small-town girl, like people in Durant, so when you need to stretch your legs, go to Denver. I won’t mind.”

They parked the car and waited in the small airport. Normally he would have felt like an alien, but Alia made it seem fun. He wondered what people thought seeing the two of them together, the Indian and the white girl, but that wasn’t all that uncommon. They would get stared at when they did something simple, such as grocery shopping, but he’d learned to ignore it, though inwardly he was angry. With anyone else he would have felt like he was standing out here, but not with her.

They had a tailwind, and the flight took only half an hour on the little commuter plane. They retrieved their bags and went to the rental agency, where they settled on a nice Grand Cherokee. The GPS was good and they found the La Quinta Inn where she had booked their reservations. It was too early to check in but he saw her slip a bill into the desk clerk’s hand and they were shown to their room on the eighth floor.

He scowled at her, but she stuck her tongue out mischievously. And it was nice to check in now instead of having to wait.

“I’m going to go downstairs and see what I can find out about restaurants,” she told him. There’s a Cracker Barrel attached here, but I’m not in the mood, I’ll see if I can find something that sounds better. She disappeared out the door.

He was starting to wonder where she went, when he heard knocking at the door. She hurried into the room, as if she had something on her mind. “Look,” she told him, and threw a newspaper onto the coffee table. “Look at this article, look! Someone has killed two Paiute girls only ten miles from the airport. They only found them last night, but they don’t know how long they’ve been there. Read the article, especially the two paragraphs at the end.

He pulled out his reading glasses and began to skim the article, until he came to the paragraphs she had been pointing to. “These murders resemble the three that were recently discovered in Absaroka County in Wyoming. Thanks to the weather, no one has been able to determine just when these girls were killed. Any help from the public would be gratefully appreciated. You can reach the police department at 800-555-3232.” He put down the paper and looked at her, “So you think the killer of these girls is our boy?”

“I’m thinking he may be. Winter murders are hardest—no insect activity to use for dating, bodies too frozen to do a temperature. I never liked them. But did you notice the article didn’t mention the blunt force trauma to the face? Remember, law enforcement likes to hold back some into when they appeal for help from the public. That’s this guy’s signature, otherwise, why bother? The ligature marks e let us know that he strangled them, then beat in their foreheads with a blunt object. Serial killers sometimes move around to throw the police off their trail. If these girls show the same MO as the others, then he’s trying to fool us.”

“And I bet your next question is do I have any contacts in the Denver PD that I can contact. Sorry, I don’t. I’d have to go through channels and I’m not supposed to investigate murders. And you’re not with the Feds anymore.”

“But I’m an ‘assistant coroner’ now for Absaroka county, Dave Weston has seen to that. So maybe, I can pursue this as a coroner and ask them about the bodies when we get home. I’m an investigator at heart, that’s why I joined the FBI. Serial killers tend to keep killing until they’re caught, and if I can help catch him, I will.”

“You be careful, the fact that you pack quite a bit of firepower may protect you, or not. Now, do you want to change clothes before we get dinner? And what kind of restaurants are close?”

They settled on Mexican. For a girl who was brought up on gourmet food, she seemed to love burgers, Mexican, and takeout Chinese. He wondered what it was like for her growing up. Did she get teased because of her Mideastern heritage? It had taken a while for him to notice, but now could see the Lebanese influence etched on her delicate features. What had it been like for her family after 9/11 when people began to openly hate anyone who might be Muslim?

She picked up the paper again when they returned from dinner, but he took it gently from her hands. “No, not now,” he said, “You’ll have plenty of time to do that later. You need to take a break from this, that was part of the reason for coming to Denver. Our trip is supposed to be about Range Rovers, remember?”

 

In the end, it was the maroon Range Rover, and not the others. They had gone to see it first, but he insisted they wait because it was costlier than the others. She clearly was ready to write a check now, but went along with him as they looked at the three others. Each, however, was not satisfactory. There was a distinct rattle in the undercarriage of one. The engine kept missing as they took a second for a test drive. The third had clearly seen better days. The interior was not as clean as the ad had said, there was clearly an oil leak and it was plain that more money would have to be invested than would be worth it.

So, they went back to the maroon, finding the owner had saved it for them, sure that his vehicle was the best choice. She followed in the Jeep as Mathias drove their new truck to the rental agency. “This handles really well, I didn’t expect it to. And the GPS is looking good, the directions to the agency were correct, which isn’t always the case.” He leaned over and kissed her, “You’re right, we are going to argue over who gets to drive this! I may have had my doubts, babe, but this was a good idea. It makes sense to have two SUV’s for winter, and this will be great for going camping in the summer,” he enthused.

Which means I’ll drive the MDX home from Laramie, she thought, but I don’t mind. I like the way he acknowledges that I’m right. And it wasn’t too much money, and he didn’t argue with me about that. I’m happy in a way I haven’t been in a long time.

They filled the tank and Mathias topped off the fluids, then went back to the hotel and made love until they were hungry and decided to go to dinner. When they finished, Mathias lay back on his pillow, then thought he saw something out the window.

He got up, looked outside and smiled. He turned to her, “Get dressed,” he said, "Dress warm. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

“What?” she asked, and begin to pull on her clothes, adding a warm sweater.

“If I tell you, it won’t be a surprise.”

They went to their new car, and drove out of the garage. He had his toolbox in the back, and the previous owners had left an old down sleeping bad in the back. He headed out of town, and up into the hills. He drove until he found a road he liked that led up a hill that was almost a small mountain. Their new Range Rover responded as he changed gears, almost charging up the mountain.

“We did good, babe, we got a good one here. Just wait until winter, with the right tires, driving in the snow will be a breeze.”

There was a clearing at the top, and even from inside their vehicle, Alia could see millions of stars. “This is like going into the hills in Lebanon. So many stars, you can even see the Milky Way. The constellations are different, though, I used to get confused trying to figure out what was where. Wait, what was that?”

The Northern Lights were out. They watched, entranced, as the Aurora Borealis put on their own private show. The shapes and the lights changed, seeming to dance in the night sky.

“Wow, you don’t see this in New York City, I never even saw them in Lebanon. I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen them. Does this happen often?”

“They kind of come and go. You can’t see them in the city, too many likes. That’s what’s nice about where we live, not many city lights. We’re lucky the lights from Denver don’t show up here. Being up high really helps.” He yawned, “Let’s go back, I need to sleep. I’ve got a long drive home tomorrow, you’ll cut out a big part of it by flying.”

The next morning, she bought her boots—a pair of Tony Lama’s that caught her eye. They went to a trading post where Mathias bought her an exquisite turquoise and silver ring. “I know it’s not a diamond, but we can always get one later. Now, maybe people will take us seriously when we say we’re engaged. I think the tribe is hoping we don’t mean it.”

He dropped her off at the airline terminal, then took off, heading for Durant. She pulled out the newspaper and re-read the article. I wonder if it’s him,” she thought, “It might be, but maybe the police department didn’t hold any details back. I don’t even know long the bodies have been out there. I’m going to have to use my “assistant coroner” card and see if I can fish out some information. I’ve been trained but the FBI, if I can’t convince them to talk to me, I don’t deserve to say I’m an ex-Fed.

Chapter Text

She was almost home, but it seemed like it was taking forever. The flight from Denver to Laramie had seemed to take longer, and now she couldn’t wait to see the lights of the cabin. It had been a very pleasurable weekend, making her think that it would be a good thing to coax Mathias into taking more time off.

She looked down at her ring. It was Zuni design, the most exquisite of all the Southwest silversmiths. She had casually pointed out that she thought the ring beautiful, but the price was too high, even if it supported the native jewelry artists. She never dreamt that Mathias would buy it just because she liked it so much
.
A sign let her know that she had reached the outskirts of Durant. She made an unplanned, but necessary stop at the grocery store when she realized she was hungry and had nothing thawed for dinner. Opting for easy, she picked out a rotisserie chicken, along with potatoes for baking, a packaged salad, and some green beans. She ignored a cheesecake even though it looked good, and paid for her merchandise.

She pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to the cabin. She had left Mouser plenty of food and water, plus an extra cat box. He’d be overjoyed to see her, then start pouting. The cat would go outside and not come in for an hour or two until he felt like forgiving her—which was one of the things she loved about cats.

She pulled into the carport, and took the bags out of the car, notice something was strange. A little, black mound was near the door and when she went to look, discovered that a kitten had taken refuge at the front door. She shifted her bags to one hand, and scooped it up, and receiving a loud hiss as thanks.

As she knelt, she heard the sound: “thwunk, thwunk”. She crouched down, protecting both herself and the kitten. Her heart pounding, she looked around, trying to see who had fired the arrows, but the yard looked empty. She began to breathe heavily, remembering the first time in the refugee camp where she had been working being shelled by Syrian rockets. She had been told to drop and wait until it seemed clear, then run like hell for shelter.

She didn’t know if it was safe, but she unlocked the door and ran into the cabin, managing somehow to hold onto both groceries and kitten. Snatching her cell phone out of her purse, she dialed Mathias’ number and tried not to cry when heard his voice on the other end.
“Hey babe, what’s up?” There was a pause, then he said, “Are you okay?”

“Someone shot two arrows at me, they would have hit, only I was kneeling down looking at something.” She wasn’t going to bring the kitten into the conversation.

“What? Are you…never mind. Have you called the tribal police?”

“I called you first, I needed to, oh, never mind. I’m still not thinking clearly. This isn’t as bad as a rocket attack in the camps, but it’s bad enough. I’m sort of in shock.”

“Okay, I’ll call them. Lock the doors. I’m going to have someone sent out there, and I’ll get home as soon as I can. Don’t touch the arrows, we’re going to need to see if we can get prints off them. If you get really scared, call Mary Rainwater, or call me. You’re going to be all right!”
“All right, call the tribal police—and drive as fast as you can without getting a ticket. This is really unnerving.”

“Okay, I love you, you’ll be all right—okay.”

She said something reassuring, then hung up, and realized she’d held onto the kitten the whole time she’d been on the phone. She got up and put it, no her, in the laundry room and fetched Mouser’s extra cat box and cleaned it out, replacing the litter. She gave the newcomer a generous portion of food and water, then shut the door.

She took off her coat, went into the kitchen, and put the groceries into the refrigerator. Mouser chose that moment to make an appearance, rubbing against her the way he did if he thought he could coax food out of her. At that moment, the new kitten chose to meow, and he ran to the laundry room door, peering intently at the crack under it, then stretching a paw gingerly into the gap.

She turned on the oven, then went to refill his food and water. “Nope, forget it, you don’t get to meet her for a few days. Are you even going to tell me you’re glad to see me?” The oven binged, and she put the potatoes on the rack, closed the door and set the timer.

It was then that she heard the “cop knock” at the door. She looked out the window and saw two uniformed Cheyenne police standing on the porch. She opened the door and saw a man and a woman standing there, looking concerned but also trying to look reassuring.

“Nice arrows you got there,” the man joked, “I’m Benton Red Cloud and this is my partner Sheila Lone Wolf. I’m going to look around and see what I can find. Sheila has a few questions for you.”

“Come in,” she opened the door and let Sheila in. She was very young, seemed too young, but Alia had noticed that the older she got, the younger others tended to seem.

“Would you like something to drink? I don’t have coffee made, but I have bottled water and a couple of kinds of sodas. Mathias and I are sugar junkies.” Stop talking so fast, you’re nervous but you have a right to be. Try and calm down.

Detective Lone Wolf had a sweet smile. “Water would be fine. I’m sure you’re familiar with the questions I’m going to ask. Mathias said…”
“I was with the Feds, yes, that’s true. There was a point where sometimes I’d do interrogations in my sleep—that’s how routine it got. Go ahead, I’ll try not to get ahead of myself.”

And it was hard not to when she could anticipate the questions. It was just the first time she was on the receiving end, and it was a little disconcerting. She could remember when she was the young FBI agent, eager and wanting to right the wrongs of this world. It hadn’t taken that long for her to become disillusioned, but she was good at her job and stuck it out.

Mouser suddenly chose to make an appearance, and decided to jump on Sheila Lone Wolf’s lap. “Oh, I’m sorry, we don’t have company much, I had no idea he’d do that. I can put him away.”

“It’s all right,” smiled Sheila, “I like cats, and who doesn’t love kittens.”

“I guess that’s what he thought,” laughed Alia, “Mathias isn’t much of a cat person, but he’s come around, especially since Mouser here likes to catch the mice that wander into the cabin. We always had cats in New York—the rats find their way inside somehow, but when they catch a whiff of the cat scent, they tend to stay away. We had an old tom we rescued from the street, and he could make short work of rodents. People used to borrow him, and I swear he knew just about everyone on the block.”

Mathias opened the door, and went straight to her, holding her closely. “Are you okay?” he asked, looking at her intently, “I saw those arrows, you were lucky.”

“I was crouching down to look at something, and heard them, it reminded me of when they Syrians would fire rockets at the camps. That eerie whining noise would give it away, but you didn’t have much time to find cover.”

Sheila was fascinated. “What camps? Where did this happen, and Syria?”

“I worked with ‘Medicines Sans Frontieres, that’s ‘Doctors Without Borders.’ I did a lot of work in the Palestinian refugee camps. For some reason, the Israelis and Syrians seemed to want to kill us. The old excuse about ‘terrorists’. Try women and children, and old people—if they could make it. It wasn’t a matter of if you might get shelled, you knew it was coming, so you tried to stay ready.” She sighed.

Mathias kissed her again, “I’m going to talk to Benton, then they’ll go back to the station to make their report. I’m going to stay home tomorrow.”

“You don’t need to, I’m fine.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

Sheila stood up and shook Alia’s hand. “It was nice to meet you, I hope I get to see you again.” Mathias escorted her out, and she could hear Mathias say something to him. Then the prowler rumbled away and Mathias came back in.

“Mathias, I don’t need a baby sitter. Whoever he is, he’d be crazy to come back any time soon. If he was hiding, he must have seen the officers. He’d be crazy to try anything any time soon.”

“This is for me, okay, my peace of mind. One more day off work won’t hurt. I saw where those arrows landed—you could have been killed. I know I must have paperwork waiting, but like you, I can do it at home. Cut me some slack, I’m worried about you.” He sat down at the table, “I was thinking maybe we can move into my apartment for a little while, just to be safe. It’ll be closer to work for me.” He kissed the top of her head.

“I thought you got rid of that, you told me you did. But the answer to that is ‘no’. No way am I letting anyone drive me out of my home. If that happens, then they win. No way.”

“Are all Lebanese women as stubborn as you?”

She smiled. “Yup, and don’t forget I’m half French—French women are stubborn, too. Have you eaten?”

“No, I thought we’d go to the Red Pony.”

“No need. I got dinner in Durant. Nothing fancy, just a rotisserie chicken, green beans, baked potatoes, and salad. Didn’t get dessert, though. Does that sound okay?”

“Sounds great, we won’t have to go into town.” He went to the sink and washed his hands. “Anything I can do?”

“Just sit,” she answered, “Potatoes are done, and all I need to do is stir fry the green beans. Get the salad out of the fridge, and set the table.”

“No problem,” he answered, and at that moment, a high, wailing noise came from the laundry room. He went and opened the door, picked up the kitten and held her up. “Who’s this?”

“She doesn’t have a name, yet. She saved my life, I stooped down to pick her up and that’s when the arrows were fired. I’m sure they didn’t count on a kitten getting in the way of their plans.”

He hugged the kitten, “So you saved her for me, eh? I think you deserve a treat for that.”

She put dinner on the table. “For some stupid reason, I want to name her ‘Joker’, I have no idea why, but that seems to be what I want to call her. Mouser needs a playmate. I think she’ll give him a run for his money.”

The kitten swiped at Mathias’ nose. “I think you’re right, she’d feisty.” He put her back in the laundry room and shut the door. He went and sat at the table, “Are you sure I can’t talk you into moving into the apartment for a little while?”

“No, I don’t want to leave. I want to try and fine a contractor to work on the barn. And I’m looking around for horses.”

“Found anything?” He took a bite of the chicken and washed it down with water.

“Well, not anything specific. I’m thinking about quarter horses, appaloosas, morgans, or maybe I can find a couple of thoroughbreds at a bargain basement price because they’re not racing that well. I had a big black thoroughbred I used to use as a show horse. They’re pretty good at dressage, too. I’m looking forward to riding again. I found a tack shop that sells used saddles at a good price. I can get a good deal on all the tack.”

They went to bed exhausted, and didn’t make love until the next morning. He got up, dressed, and told her, “I’m going to the station to check on things. I’ll ask about contractors, I’m sure there are a couple of people who could use the work. Remember, keep the doors locked. If you need anything, let me know and I’ll take care of it.” He kissed her.

When he got to the station, it was obvious the cat was out of the bag. What you wanted, but hadn’t planned on it happening like this. He wondered who had talked, and guessed it had been Sheila. At least they hadn’t applauded him.

He went into his office, and checked his in basket. It was full, just as he had expected, there were messages in his mailbox that he had to go through. He was half afraid that he was going to find a threatening message in his email, but all the messages were the usual office mail.

Someone knocked at his door. “Mathias?” It was Benton Red Cloud, “They found a body by the Powder River. A young girl with a wound on her forehead. Who do you want to send?”

“Me, I’ll go. If you want you and Sheila can come with me. I’ve got to call Alia and let her know where it is.” Benton looked puzzled. “Alia is not just a doctor, she’d also a forensic pathologist. She’s been doing autopsies on the last few bodies we found. I’ll see you at the crime scene.”

Benton nodded his head. and shut the door. Damn, thought Mathias, more bodies, not just here, Denver, too. I was hoping this guy would disappear.

Chapter Text

Someone must have given Alia good directions, for when Mathias got to the crime scene, she was waiting for him. She hadn’t set up a perimeter, so he got out his tape and, due to the lack of trees, anchored it with stones.

“Is this reservation or county?” she asked, “I’m going to do the preliminary anyway, but it would be nice to know.”

“It’s reservation,” he replied, “I’d hate for you to have to hand it over to Walt Longmire.”

She smiled, “Me too,’ then squatted down and began to examine the body.

“Well, she’s in soft rigor, so she’s been here about twenty-four hours. She should have softened by now, but it’s still cold. I’ll take her temperature, but what I find will probably agree. He must have brought her here early yesterday. Look at the ligature marks, and the mark on her forehead, this is our boy, all right. Bet he’s not through killing. It’s almost compulsive with serial killers, the need to keep killing. I’d sure like to know if there are any older bodies he has hidden. I can’t shake the feeling that the he has.”

“It’s going to take going up into the hills,” Mathias agreed, “To see if anything’s there. I wasn’t so sure at first, but now I find myself agreeing with you. Can’t do anything, though, until the snow starts melting.”

“Which may mean the bodies will start sliding down the hill and wind up disarticulated. I may be lucky enough to get a rape kit done on this one, unless he’s been using condoms. Will you lift her up, please, so I can search her back pockets? She may feel sort of heavy because of the rigor.” Mathias lifted the girl and Alia searched her back pockets.

“Damn, nothing again! He’s taken anything that would help ID her. God, I hate this bastard!” She paused, “Mathias, do you think he was the one who shot those arrows at me yesterday?”

“Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe he went to look for his bodies and found they’re gone.”

“Yeah, serial killers like to re-visit their victims, Ridgway did a lot of that, so did Bundy, I guess. Do you think he knows about me, or us? Could he have found out about our cabin?”

“Well, everyone knows I’m the tribal police chief, so they know who I am. People now seem to know that you’re a medical examiner who’s working with Weston, and you’re helping me out. It wouldn’t be so hard to find out about our cabin, maybe he got curious after he lost the body on our road, after he went and checked it out. We’re visible, Alia, even to the tribe. I’m sure people have known about us for longer than we thought.

She snapped her fingers, “Mary Rainwater. Annie called me and told me could be something of a gossip. And we haven’t exactly been secretive about our relationship.”

He was about to answer when Benton and Sheila drove up. They got out of their truck, Sheila carrying a blanket that was no doubt intended for wrapping the body.

“What do we have here?” asked Benton.

“Well, I’d say time of death was about twenty-four hours ago. She’s young, I’ll bet she’s no older than sixteen or seventeen. And I’m pretty sure she’s a pro, it’s really too bad. I don’t know where she’s working out of, though. Is it a house, or is there a small motel around here? I haven’t been here long enough to know how long it’s been going on.”

“Longmire said he ran them out of town,” said Mathias.

Alia shook her head. “He doesn’t know much about prostitutes. You chase them out of one area, and they turn up in another. There’s usually a circuit they make that takes around six months. And when they’re they almost never use their real names. I’d like to know the circuit they work, and where they’ll be going next. These girls are native, they may not work out of Durant, like they may not work out of the rez, but they’re somewhere. This town isn’t a good place for the girls to try to make money, too small. Ideally, they’d work near a tourist destination, that’s where the money is.”

“They have one now,” ventured Sheila, “The casino and the hotel. I bet that’s attracting them.”

“Soon as the weather warms up, yes, I agree. But there’s no major ski resorts here for winter traffic. Maybe hunters provide enough money? Tourists need easy roads, easy hotel and motel access. Small motels are perfect for prostitution. I don’t think there’d be much auto traffic—no bus stops, no place for them to ply their trade.”

“Until the weather warms up. But you’re right, babe, the casino is going to draw them,” Mathias said.

“So where is our boy coming from? Look around here, not a lot of tire tracks, here, but there must have been some before we got here. I bet he drove up, deposited the body, and left. There might be foot prints, but ours seem more obvious.”

“Why don’t you two take the body to the morgue,” Mathias suggested.

“And ask Dave when it would be a good time for me to come and do the autopsy? If you don’t mind,” she added.

They watched the young cops drive off with the girl’s body in the trunk. Alia waited a long time before she spoke. “I’m going to have to do pregnancy tests on them from now on, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. It makes me mad that he kills these girls when they’re pregnant. And I’d sure like to get my hands on their pimp and give him a piece of my mind.”

“I wouldn’t want to be that pimp, then, you’d kill him. What do you plan on doing today?”

“Now that I’ve got a new body? I’d prefer to not have to deal with her, I’d like to take it easy, I didn’t realize how tired I was. What I’d really like to do is find out where the girls hang out, and find out if there’s been any sick tricks. I’d like to try to talk to the girls who’re in the lock up and offer them a ‘get out of jail free’ card for the next time they get busted. I’ve found out if you offer them something they know they can use, they’re more willing to talk. Like the girls on the street, if I pass out money, or even coffee and donuts, they may want to help. If we’re talking about one of their pimps they probably won’t talk, but johns are another matter.”

“Well, let’s go to the Bizzy Bee and get breakfast. We can talk to Henry tonight and see if any girls have been hanging out in the ‘Pony’. He won’t want to talk to me, but I’m sure he’ll be willing to talk to you. He’ll know more about any working girls than Walt will.”

“Walt Longmire is awfully arrogant, isn’t he? I’m going to have to talk to him, and I’m not looking forward to it. I’m going to have to tell him he’s not so smart as he thinks he is, and it may not go over well.”

“Walt has this idea about how things should be, according to his view of right and wrong.”

“The truth according to Walt Longmire, huh? Mathias, doesn’t he know that the world is not black and white? Like the truth is not cut and dried, but it’s a matter of perspective. Hasn’t he ever seen Kurosawa’s ‘Rashomon’?”

“I haven’t even seen that, babe. What’s it about?”

“It’s about a rape, and the characters tell their story of what happened. It’s about how truth can be perception.” She sighed noisily, “I saw the world as black and white when I was young, it took a lot of growing up for me to see that’s not. I like Kurosawa’s films, I love ‘The Seven Samurai’, I think that’s my favorite. That’s the film they based ‘The Magnificent Seven’ on.”

That one at least he had seen. He and Alia were so different, but they seemed to accept that about each other. They were definitely an odd couple, but they worked.

Her phone rang and she answered, “Alia Kassam,” then listened to her caller. “Okay, thanks,” then hung up. “Dave. He says he could use me, but he heard about what happened and he’d understand if I wanted to take a couple of days off. If he hears anything, he’ll pass it on to me.”
“Okay, let’s go home and do paperwork. We can drive back into town and eat at the ‘Pony’ tonight. Maybe you can talk to Henry and tell him what’s on your mind. He’ll have insight into the mind of Walt Longmire and let you know what he thinks. He and I don’t care much for each other, but he won’t hold it against you, in fact, he may like you.”

“That’s good, because I’ll probably need him as a source occasionally. Let’s go home, if I show up at the morgue Weston may change his mind. I want to look at plans for barns. Now that the weather is warming up, we can start riding. I’ve got to find some horses and tack, I can’t wait to get back on a horse and show you how well I can ride.”

“You want to go local for the horses?”

“I want to find a race track somewhere, and see if I can get a bargain on a thoroughbred or two. Or I can find a quarter horse racing track, and look for horses there. And find a good source for feed and bedding, and a vet. We can always board them until the barn’s finished.”
“Sounds like you got this figured out!” he smiled.

“Oh, I’m an expert at this sort of thing, got the organizational stuff figured out. I’m good at that, you know, it helped me out a lot when I was a ‘Fibbie’. If we decided to move and we had to sell the cabin, I’d be on top of that, too.”

“I believe it,” he said and laughed. He paid the check and they left the café, driving back in their respective vehicles. Life was going from good to better, all he had to do was find out who fired the arrows at their door. God help them if he got his hands on them.

 

For the first time since he met Alia, Mathias felt at ease walking into the Red Pony with her. There were the usual stares, but he could ignore them. Eat your hearts out, he thought, I’ve got a woman that the rest of you would give your left nut to have. She’s beautiful, she’s kind, she’s intelligent, and she makes me laugh. I look forward to going home because I know she’s there, and I know just how lucky I am.

When they were seated, he scribbled a note on a napkin, and handed it to the waitress. “Give this to Standing Bear.” She filled their water glasses, gave them their menus, and almost ran up to the bar. She gave the note to the man tending bar. He read the note and watched as she pointed them out.

She came back to the table. “Henry will talk to you now. I’ll show you to his office.”

Mathias started to stand up, but Alia motioned him to stay where he was. “I think I’ll talk to him alone, Mathias. I think it will be better that way. If I need you, I’ll have someone come and get you.” He watched as Alia went to Standing Bear’s office, and closed the door behind her.
Henry Standing Bear had heard about Mathias’ new girlfriend, but this was the first close look he’d gotten at her. The rumors were certainly true, she was a beauty; he’d never seen violet eyes before and they were stunning. She also wasn’t young, but that certainly didn’t seem to matter. Some women stay beautiful no matter how old they get, and Dr. Alia Kassam wore her beauty agelessly.

He’d also heard about the philanthropic work she was doing on the rez. The clinic was better stocked than it probably had ever been. She was seen there frequently, helping out, assisting the younger, less experienced doctors. She had an easy way with the patients, could put them at ease and made it clear she was interested in their problems. And it wasn’t easy to fool the Cheyenne.

He'd also heard about her and Nighthorse. Nighthorse couldn’t use his money to tempt her away from Mathias, she had money of her own. She was also smarter than Nighthorse and he knew it, hence the way he had lost his temper when she turned him down cold. He wondered how they were going to work together, she had projects in mind that she would need his help for, and he needed her ideas and drive.

He held out his hand, “Henry Standing Bear,” and she took it with a nice, firm grip.

“Dr. Alia Kassam,” she shook his hand, sensing a straight forward manner that she liked.

“Have a seat,” he said, and gestured to a straight-backed chair, “What can I do for you?”

She sat, “I need some insight from you. Another girl was found today, this time on the rez,” she emphasized, “And I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re dealing with someone killing prostitutes. Since they wouldn’t make much money on the rez, they might be taking their business into town. And I’m sure they come in here to take a quick break, get some coffee and maybe some food.”

“I do not know about that,” Henry said in his clipped manner, “Besides, Walt ran them out of town.”

She smiled, “He only thinks he did, if he really thinks that’s what happened. “Their pimps tend to move them around after they get arrested too many times. It’s obvious that not all of them did leave town, the girls I found were probably pros. Whoever is killing them is only killing Cheyenne, so far, but he might decide to branch out, so to speak.”

“We’re dealing with a serial killer here. I think he’s Cheyenne because that’s who his victims are, so far. Spring is coming, so are the tourists, and the girls are going to be working the casino, and I need for Walt Longmire to leave them alone.”

“Why? The girls will bring crime with them—robbery, assault, drugs. Do you not think that if there are no prostitutes, there would be no killings?”

“No, they’d just go somewhere else, and so would he. And the girls get assaulted for more often than the johns do. I need for you to talk to the girls, make friends with them, and find out where they are. I need to warn these girls that they’re in danger. I’m trying to identify a couple of bodies and they can help me get names. I need to notify families, maybe they’ve written off their daughters, but they’re still their child. These girls usually come from troubled families, and I’m not surprised they take the path that they’ve chosen.

She set a small stack of cards that she’d recently had made on his desk. “Here is how you can reach me. Try and get the girls to take my card, tell them I’m willing to help if they need it. I want to get this guy, he’s killing sixteen-year-old girls—not nice. I’m not with the feds anymore, but I’m still a cop at heart. Don’t make me beg you to help me, do the right thing, Standing Bear.” She left his office, closing the door softly behind her.

Chapter Text

Dear Negative Reviewers: I may be indignant for about, oh, 10 seconds, after reading your review, but that’s it. You are entitled to express your opinion, really. Now I probably won’t keep your review, but that’s my prerogative. I’ve noticed that people get real pissy when they, or their favorite story, get a review they don’t like. It’s really kind of pathetic, just an opinion about your story, no more no less. I know we all want to have people think our stories are no less than wonderful, but that’s not how it works.

 

As she left Henry’s office she felt like people were staring at her—and maybe they were. She was becoming a more familiar sight in town, but had not lived in Durant long enough to be considered one of their own. Normally she tried to not let it get to her, but sometimes, like today, it did.

She sat down at the table, and drummed her fingers. “Henry Standing Bear is certainly an odd duck. He kept looking at me like he didn’t comprehend what I was saying, or believed it. It was like I was committing a heresy by saying that Walt Longmire should not be doing things the way he’s doing them.”

“Which is?” Mathias coaxed gently.

“He needs to leave the hookers alone, for right now, that’s all I was saying. I know prostitution is not a victimless crime, but they’re victims, too. These girls come from broken homes, for the most part, were mentally and physically abused, and their pimps get them hooked on drugs so they can work long hours. The pimps beat them, their johns beat them, they work hard for a pathetically small amount of money. We used to bring them coffee and donuts when we were working cases and asked them what was going on in the street. You’d be amazed at what these ladies know. I hate self-righteous bastards. Have you ordered yet?”

“A bacon cheeseburger for you, and a coke, and the same for me. You’re going to have trouble with Walt Longmire, you know.”

“I know. God save me from self-righteous, red neck cowboys, especially if they’re law enforcement. Mathias, we need these girls. In a place, as small as Durant and the rez, they are going to have a lot of regulars. If this guy is picking them up somewhere no one can see him, they won’t know anything about who he is. The girls tend to look after each other, if there’s a sick trick then they make sure the word is passed along to avoid him. Ridgway picked his victims up off the street, but no one seemed to miss the girls until after they were murdered. God, how did he get away with it anyway?”

“Do you want me to be there when you talk to Longmire?” That’s if you talk to Longmire, he thought.

“Well, maybe. If he sees that you’re taking me seriously, maybe he will, too. nothing. There’s a need and these girls supply it. Sometimes when they get out of hand, crowding corners and streets, you should step in, but Durant is too small for drastic measures. All cops should have to spend time in a big city, just to understand that life is not what it is in a small town. There’s ways to work with the girls, to get them to cooperate with you, if you’re willing.”

Their food came to the table, and Alia attacked her burger. “I’m hungry all the times these days. Dave says it’s because I’m taking on too much and I’m wearing myself out. According to him, I should be working at the clinic, or the hospital, but not both. I promise I’ll find a doctor in Denver and get a complete work-up. I just don’t know when I’m going to find the time.” She took a drink of her coke to wash down the burger.

“Well, do you think it could be something else?” Mathias smiled at her to let her know what he meant.

She looked at him, wide-eyed, “Do you mean could I be pregnant? I really don’t think so; mid-eastern women tends to lose their fertility earlier than western women. Look at long we’ve been sleeping together, and nothing has happened.”

“But we’re not using anything, and you’re not even forty yet. Why don’t you go see a doctor, and get checked up and have a pregnancy test? It wouldn’t be such a bad thing if you were. We have a good life, and a lot to offer a kid. Just promise me you’ll go the doctor, okay?” He could see the look of panic in her eyes, “We don’t know anything yet, so you don’t need to worry. I’ve noticed that you look tired lately and that’s not like you. Let’s make sure you’re healthy and take it from there.”

She was quiet on the way home, and he knew something was wrong. “Hey,” he said, “Why are you so quiet?”

“When I talk to Longmire, will you come with me? I don’t think he’s going to listen to me.”

He reached over, squeezed her leg. “Why do you say that, babe?”

“Durant’s his town, not mine, I haven’t been here that long. I’m from New York, what do I know about a small Wyoming town, or a small-town Wyoming sheriff? I’m the girlfriend…”

“Fiancée,” he corrected, “You’re my fiancée, and if you’re pregnant, we’re getting married.”

She was silent for a moment. “Okay, then. Only if we get a pre-nup. I want to make sure you get an equal distribution of everything we’ve gotten, just in case we’re not on good terms. And a will, if something happens to me, the house and the cars should be yours, along with everything else.”

“And guardianship of our kid. I think I need to do the same thing. And yes, I’ll be with you when you meet up with Walt. Believe it or not, a lot of cops sympathize with the girls on the street. I agree with you, driving them away isn’t going to solve anything. I bet you’re already thinking about getting a program set up to help them transition off the street, aren’t you?”

On the drive home, he noticed the lights of a store, and pulled into the parking lot. “Wait a minute, I’ll be right back,” he told her and got out of the car. A few minutes later he was back, carrying a small paper back which he dropped in her lap.

“What?” she said, and opened it. Inside the bag was a pregnancy test.

“That’s supposed to be for early detection. We don’t know how far along you are. Use it when you get home.”

"Yeah, and if there was a test there to find out the sex, you’d have gotten that one, too.”

“I don’t need to, I already know it’s a boy—but we don’t have to name him Mathias unless you want to.”

 

Mathias’ phone rang at midnight. “Yeah?” she heard him say, “And where is this? I’ll be there in about 20 minutes.” He yawned and hung up his phone. “Gotta run, they found another body. You get some sleep.”

“Oh no, not without me you don’t. I’m pregnant, I’m not crippled.” The test had proved positive. He’d tried not to show how happy he was when he could sense her ambivalence. “It’s okay,” he soothed her, “I know this isn’t what you expected, and we’ve moved really quickly in our relationship, but it’s all right. You won’t give up anything you don’t want to, and Mary Rainwater will probably install herself as your housekeeper and nurse.” And, I’ve got to tell my mom, he thought, this complicates things, but my mom is an open person. It will be all right.”

“You should stay here,” he told her, but she shook her head and got dressed. It was okay, she read a crime scene better than anyone else in the department. The Cheyenne had to come to value her experience and her willingness to help.

“Do you have any lamps? Even Coleman lanterns work in a pinch.” She picked up her case, “I’m ready, are you? Do you want to take the Range Rover?”

The crime scene was in the woods, not in any of the locations where bodies had so far been found. It was just off one of the many paths that teens took into this section of the woods.

Two teenagers were standing, their hands cuffed behind them. “This doesn’t look right, Mathias,” she murmured, “There shouldn’t be two perps, just one, serial killers are mostly lone wolves.”

“You may be right, let’s check it out. I’ll have someone to take you to the body.”

“This way ma’am,” a young police woman appeared at her side, holding a light, and led her to the girl’s body. “Here she is.

“Thanks,” said Alia, “Now stand there and hold the lantern there, right where I can get a good look at her.” She set her bad down, and began her examination of a very young girl’s face. “Well, it’s not him,” she said out loud, not thinking about it.

“You mean the serial killer?” The young cop’s eyes were wide, and Alia decided to play with it. “Once of the ways we look for killers is to look for their footprint, meaning how they do things. See this,” she pointed to where the victim’s throat had been slashed, “The killer we’re looking for strangles his victims with a ligature—then he takes a rock and smashes in their face.”

“That’s sick.”

“Yes, it is. Sort of tells you what he thinks of his victim. This girl is younger than the victims we’ve been finding, so maybe those two boys had something to do with it. She didn’t deserve to have this happen to her. I was in the FBI for fifteen years and I’m still not used to this. Let’s let the guys take care of the body. I’m going to have to do the autopsy, so that’s fair.”

“What do you think?” Mathias asked when they came back.

“I think we should ask these two,” she looked in their direction.

The teens looked arrogant, and scared. One of the policeman held a wicked, bloody knife in his rubber gloved hand.

Now she could see there was a third boy, younger than the other two. He had called the police. He told them his friends had come here, and they’d planned to have sex with a girl. She’d resisted and fought back, and the older boy had stabbed her. As soon as he understood what was going on, he’d run into town and called the police. He’d wanted to go back to try to help the girl, but his friend was mean, and he was scared he might get hurt.

“He said he wasn’t around to see this,” said Mathias, “and I believe him. We’re taking the boys to the station house, and we’ll arraign them in the morning. I hate to see things like this.”

“It’s too dark for me to examine the crime scene. I’ll come up here and do it tomorrow. I’ve got work to do, like catch up on autopsies and paperwork. Those kids, what inspired them to do something so stupid?”

“Teen age macho, and they weren’t raised right. I hope they don’t get tried as adults, they’re not ready for hard time. I’m going to take you home, then go to directly to work, no sense going back to sleep, I’ll come home as early as I can. You need your rest.”
He drove her back to the cabin, “Are you okay?”

“Mathias, don’t fuss, I’m fine. Please, I need to feel normal in the worst way. Now that I don’t work for the Fibbies, I’m taking better care of myself than I have in years. I just feel kind of separate from myself, I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant, but it will be all right. Just don’t fuss, just treat me like you always do.”

“Might be kind of hard,” he grinned, and she took her hand and pushed him.

“I know, you’re really happy about this,” she told him, “So you can be happy for the two of us until I catch up to you. I promise, if I need anything, I’ll tell you, and I won’t do anything stupid.” She kissed him, held him tightly then let him go. “I need to get some sleep. I’ll call you when I get to the morgue.” One last kiss and she let herself out of the truck.

She called Doc Weston in the morning to let him know she’d be there, but it would be later. She forced herself to eat breakfast although eating was the last thing she wanted to do. She drove to the crime scene in her Acura, then let herself into the area that had been cordoned off.

This should be an easy one, she thought, a straight forward stabbing, no unexplained wounds. Two suspects, one live witness, one dead one. I’ll find foot prints and since the ground is soft enough, probably signs of a struggle, then prints again leading away from the scene where the kid with the conscience had the good sense to be scared and left.

She didn’t see the man standing among the trees watching her. She wouldn’t have thought much of it, and if she had, the 38 that she wore in a holster on her hip would have reassured her. She felt safe with the tribal cops guarding the scene, but if she’d know he was watching her, she would not have been comfortable—at all.

Chapter Text

The day of their meeting with Walt was the first day she had morning sickness. She sprang suddenly out of bed, waking Mathias, and ran into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

He could hear her getting sick, then the sound of her brushing her teeth and washing her face. She emerged from the bathroom and got immediately into bed pulling the covers around her.

“This is your fault,” she told him, and he laughed.

“I don’t think it works that way. I’ll fix you something to eat, it will help you feel better.” He disappeared into the kitchen. A while later he re-emerged, carrying a tray on which were plates of toast, eggs and bacon. He set it next to the bed, then returned carrying coffee, orange juice, glasses and silverware.

He was right, the food did help, and she helped herself to it generously. “I can’t get eating like this, Mathias,” she said, “I’ll get fat.”

“You’re going to anyway, might as well enjoy having an excuse. Did you have morning sickness before?

“Yes,” she sighed, “Everyone told me that was a sign I had a healthy baby. That part they weren’t so right about.”

“Well, we’ll keep on top of that. Have you thought about where you want to go for pre-natal care? You might think about Sheridan—it’s smaller than Laramie, but closer. And I’m going to go with you to as many of your appointments that I can. Cat’s out of the bag, now, so no one should be surprised you’re expecting.”

“I wish I could go to Denver, but it’s too far. They have a decent birthing center. These small towns don’t really have the money to provide one. Maybe Sheridan, I don’t know, it’s a lot closer than Laramie. There’s no way I’m delivering at home, or in Durant. I want to know that there will be access to a decent NICU. The thought of having my newborn flown to Denver is too scary.”

He put his arms around her shoulders and hugged her. Talking about the child she lost was painful for her. All he could do was try to reassure that this time could be different. He couldn’t imagine how it felt for her, so he didn’t try
.
He got up, “I’m going to take a shower, and then head to work. Stay in bed, now is a good time to learn how to take it easy. After the baby comes you’re not gonna get much rest. I’ll meet you at the Durant Sheriff’s office at two-thirty.”

“That’s two thirty regular time, not Indian time, right?”

Vic Moretti was bored, so bored in fact that she was actually paying attention to the paper work that was laying on her desk. But it wasn’t providing enough of a diversion, so she kept looking outside the large window next to her desk.

A silver Acura MDX pulled into a parking spot across the street from the building that housed the station house. The driver had yet to exit his or her vehicle, so she hadn’t been about to check them out. The Acura stood out in a town where people tended to drive pickups, or SUV’s like Broncos or Jeeps, making her wonder just who the driver was.

Mathias’ Yukon pulled up and parked next to the Acura. He got out then went to the Acura’s driver’s side and opened the door, looking up at her window as she did so.

“My god,” she said softly, “Ruby, check this out.” Ruby obediently came to the window, “Will you look at that!”

A petite woman, dark, but not as dark as Mathias, took his hand. Together they crossed the and soon Vic heard footsteps coming up the stairs, then the door opened and she got a better look.

She looked younger than Mathias, but definitely middle aged. Her dark brown hair, so dark it seemed almost black, hung almost to her hips. And her eyes were a startling violet blue color; Vic had never seen eyes like that before. The woman was lovely, so much so that she wondered what she was doing with Mathias.

Walt was obviously expecting them, because he had some out of his office and was now shaking the woman’s hand. The trio disappeared into Walt’s office and shut the door behind them
.
Vic stared at Ruby, “Who was that?”

Ruby sniffed, “Mathias’ new girlfriend—evidently she used to be with the FBI. And she’s a doctor, she’s been helping out Dave Weston and the tribe doing forensic work for them.

“What is she doing with Mathias? She’s gorgeous. How in the world…”

“Who knows? They bought a cabin just off the reservation and re-built it. I heard she’s loaded, inherited a lot of money when her parents were killed by a drunk driver. She’ll never hurt for money, both she and her brother are doctors. He still lives in New York, but she came out here after she quit the FBI. Very strange if you ask me.”

Vic sighed and went back to her paperwork. Every so often she would glance at Walt’s door, dying for the moment to be a fly on the wall so she could know what was going on.

Inside Walt Longmire’s office things were indeed interesting, and a little frustrating for the sheriff.

“Now, let me get this straight,” he said, “You’re telling me that the hookers I ran out of town are back, or might be back, and you want me to leave them alone?”

“Exactly,” said Mathias, jumping in. He had seen the look on Alia’s face when Longmire had called them “hookers.” “We might be looking at a serial killer here, and prostitutes seem to be his target of choice. If you run the girls out of town again, assuming you can even find them, he’ll follow them, which will make it hard to keep track of him—if we can find him.”

“Or, maybe, he’ll switch to white girls who aren’t prostitutes, though that wouldn’t be his MO. We’re trying to keep him here. Serial killers are notoriously hard to catch. They’ll operate for years until they die or just quit, and are never discovered. Look how long it took to catch Bundy and Gary Ridgway—Bundy was always on the move. Once this guy leaves, he’s gone, and there will be a lot of unsolved murders on the books. I want to keep that from happening.”

Damn, I wish she’d quit looking at me, thought Walt. Alia had been staring at him intently through the whole interview. Her eyes were a stunning shade of violet, and she had a way of looking like she was looking straight through him. He noticed that when she started to get excited, Mathias would take her hand and squeeze it. Were the two of them involved, hadn’t he heard something about Mathias and a new girl from Henry?

He pulled himself together, “So what you are saying is I should allow these women in my town and the crimes they commit? I got them out of here to prevent that.”

“Whatever they’re doing, it’s not as bad as what is being done to them—by their johns and their pimps. These girls have had a rough time. Do you prefer to not allow us a chance to catch this guy? I need to have you work with these girls, and find out what’s going on. They see a lot of what’s on the street. And there’s another thing, I want to get a program going to get them off the street. Things have been going against these girls from the start, maybe I can help them find another way.”

Longmire didn’t know what to say. Half of what she said made sense, but as a cop he felt that hookers had no business in Durant. “I’ll get back to you on this,” he said, “I have to think it over. I haven’t had any complaints about prostitutes, yet, but with the casino opening, I’m sure it’s coming.”

He opened the door and showed them out, taking one last look at Alia. He was going to check and see if she was really a doctor, and former FBI. This was a woman you didn’t come across very often, and he wondered if Mathias knew just how lucky he was—or what she was.

She cast a long look at Vic as she and Mathias were leaving. When they reached the street she asked, “Who is that woman with a face like a praying mantis?”

Mathias choked back a laugh. “That’s Deputy Vic Moretti—his trusted assistant and maybe paramour, I’m not sure. Don’t let Walt hear you say that.”

“Why in the world would she be interested in an old man? Is she desperate?”

He’d never heard anyone say this about Walt and Vic. “Maybe. Maybe they think they’re the right person for each other.”
gh, certainly better than him. I always wonder about these May-December romances, they seem kind of pathetic.”

“If she thinks the right person is an old cowboy. She’s good looking enough she could do better than him."

“Okay, Alia, enough of that. Things didn’t go so badly today, now did they?”

“Depends on how you define ‘badly’. I was hoping he’d be willing to look at the bigger picture. This is a serial killer we’re after. I think finding him should be more important than protecting his turf. I’ve got to try to get cooperation from all these small town sheriffs. I wonder if there has been killings we don’t know about, especially outside of Durant and the rez?”

“That a subtle way of asking me to use my computer access to find out? How many murders do you think this guy has committed?”
“Maybe too many, maybe it’s more localized than I thought. That’s why I need you to check missing persons, find out how many girls have gone missing around the time we met. It might have started just before that, if we go by the bodies we found.”

He put his arm around her shoulders, “Ah, the things I do for you. Are you hungry?”

“Why do you keep asking me that? Just wait until I start showing, by that time I’ll always be hungry.”

Mathias’ phone rang. “Just a minute, babe, I’ve got to take this.” He punched the button on his phone, “Yeah, hello, this is Mathias.” He walked away, as he always did when he took a call from the station.

Alia wandered idly down the street, looking in shop windows, watching the people on the street. An old Indian, smelling of alcohol, clothes old, tattered, and smelly. She stepped out of his way, feeling simultaneously disgusted and guilty. Even before she started working with the Cheyenne, she knew their history. She understood the hatred some felt for white people because she felt the same hatred for Israel and what they had done to the Palestinians. She had bought some acceptance with her clinic work, but it would take time before she won over most of the tribe.

Someone reached out and grabbed her arm, a surprisingly strong grip. She turned around to see the old man. He said something to her in Cheyenne, she could not understand what he said, but the look on his face was full of hate.

“Let go of me, now,” she said evenly, and pulled gently, but the old Cheyenne tightened his grip, saying something again that she could not understand, until he said, “fucking bitch.”

She twisted his arm behind his back, pushed him against a building, and pushed his head roughly against the side of a building, holding it there.
“Okay,” she said, “If you can call me a fucking bitch, you maybe can tell me what you said, in English.”

“Hold it, Alia, I’ve got this,” said Mathias. He’d seen what was going on, and wondered how she would handle it. He couldn’t blame her for what she’d done, she hadn’t hurt the old man, after all.

“Okay, Freddie, what did you say to her?” he asked
.
“I told her she should be ashamed that she took one of the Human Beings away from his people. She should go back to the white people where she belongs. That’s why I called her a fucking bitch.” The old man was defiant.

“She didn’t take me away from anyone, and she’s not white. She could file charges against you, but if you apologize she will allow me to you go. Will you do that?” He winked at Alia.

The old man muttered something in Cheyenne, then said, “I am sorry, it was the white man’s booze that made me do this.” Mathias let him go, admonishing to stop drinking and get off the streets.

They watched him hurry down the sidewalk. “Mathias, what did he say in Cheyenne?

“He said he’s given you a name, ‘Afraid of Her,’ evidently you scare him.”

“Wasn’t that the name of Crazy Horse’s daughter? That’s funny.”

“Okay, Afraid of Her, why don’t we go get some coffee and share a dessert?”

 

“Afraid of Her” was really the name of Crazy Horse’s daughter. She died at a very young age. Her mother may have been one of Crazy Horse’s wives by the name of Black Shawl. Crazy Horse liked the women and they liked him—what can I say?

Chapter Text

“Can I have a pack of Marlboro Lights please?”

The convenience store clerk looked at the girl. “Okay, what year were you born?” The girl rattled off the correct number, the clerk knew she wasn’t old enough. She sighed, she felt sorry for these girls. She put the pack of cigarettes, along with a can of coke on the counter. “Is there anything else you want?”

The girl shook her head. She must be half Cheyenne or possibly more, maybe enough to be a tribal member. She looked like anyone’s daughter, except for the heavy makeup and the sequined top that revealed about half a belly that had not its baby fat. She was pleasingly plump in the way of some adolescents, and she had a pretty face, with round dark eyes and long lashes.

Someone’s daughter, that’s what she looked like. She saw these girls come in, night after night, seeking a little bit of something to give them some energy to supplement whatever their pimp had pumped them full of.

She didn’t like it when they stood in front of her store, trying to pick up their customers as they went in and out of the little convenience store. She ought to call the cops, probably, and make them move on, but she just felt too much pity. These were somebody’s daughters, not nameless criminals. These girls probably had had a rough time, they had to, to be driven to the streets. She’d know a girl, when she was in her teens, with a drunk for a father and an addict for a mother. She taken care of the four kids until one day she’d snapped. They’d found her two years later, dead of an overdose, and had been buried her next to her mother.

She recognized the pimp’s car now, he drove up to the front of the store and three girls clustered around his car, listening to whatever he was telling them. The girls broke away, then the sheriff’s car pulled up lights flashing. The pimp tried to pull away, but the Bronco followed him, and soon he was out of his car, bent over as he was cuffed and thrown none too gently into the back of the cruiser. So, someone on the block had called the sheriff after all.

One of the girls was at the counter, the one who had purchased the cigarettes and coke. “Hide me,” she pleaded, “If they catch me they’ll put me in juvie, then send me back to my mother.”

The clerk didn’t even have to think. “Go to the back of the storage room. You can find a place to sit down and there’s a bathroom back there. No smoking, do you understand? I’ll call you when they’re gone, just be quiet.”

 

“What should we do with him, Walt?” Vic Moretti asked. The pimp was cuffed and she held his arm behind his back. “And the car?”

The car in question was an old model Lincoln, but it had been kept in reasonably good shape. The back seat was roomy enough that he could have slept comfortably. Frisking had revealed there were no firearms on him, but what would they have found if they’d opened the trunk? No matter what the circumstances, if they forced the trunk open, anything they found would be dismissed because they’d done so without a warrant. The pimp was being held—for the moment, on only the flimsiest of grounds.

And the pimp, a veteran of many arrests, knew it. He straightened up and said, “You got no grounds to hold me.”

Walt slammed him down on the hood of the Bronco. “We’ll lock him up tonight, then transfer him to Tri County in the morning. We’ll have his card put in impound.” He jerked on the cuffs, causing objections from the pimp, then put him in the holding seat in the back of the Bronco. He put a ticket on the Lincoln so it could be towed the next day.

Vic got into the Bronco. “What about the girls, I counted three, but they’re nowhere to be found.”

“We’ll take care of them later.” Walt made no mention of the conversation he’d had with Mathias and his girlfriend the day before. “I got them out of my town once, and I’ll do it again. I don’t want to deal with the trouble they cause, and now with the casino, there’s going to be more of the same. Prostitution means trouble, and this is the sort of trouble the casino will attract. Martha worked so hard, she’d be so disappointed, this is the least I could for her.”

Vic said nothing, merely nodded. She always wondered if Walt had come to terms with Martha’s death. A dead wife was the worst rival of all to deal with.

“You can come out now,” said the clerk, “the sheriff is gone, along with your pimp.”

“He’s not my pimp,” corrected the girl, “He’s my boyfriend. I help him out and he takes care of me.”

In exchange for your selling your body night after night, thought the clerk. “Well, I’ve had a few boyfriends myself, I’ve never had to see my body for any of them.” She pushed the girl’s sleeve up before she had a chance object, revealing the track marks. “They didn’t force drugs on me, either.”

The girl started to object, but didn’t. She’d had this conversation before and it never went the way she wanted to. “Where would I go, I can’t go home anymore, I’d rather be on the streets.”

The clerk pressed a hundred-dollar bill into her hand. “There’s a shelter, it’s two hours away from here, but I’ll give you a ride if you stick around. No using it to score drugs or giving it to your ‘boyfriend’. If you keep on living your life the way you are, it’s going to kill you, one way or another. Do we have a deal?”

An older model sedan with patches of primer, had been circling the block. The clerk came out with the girl, and the car slowed, its driver hidden in the shadows. It came to a stop, the driver looking hard at the girl and the clerk, then sped away.

“Now what was that” the clerk said out loud, and the girl replied,

“I recognize him, he seems to hang around when we’re trying to pick up tricks. Girls that have gone with him haven’t come back, so we leave him alone, he’s scary.”

“It’s too bad we didn’t get license plate number, but it’ll be easy to recognize. Do you want to escape the fate of those missing girls? “
“How do I know that I can trust you?” the girl answered, “Murder isn’t limited to one sex only.”

“Well, I can take you to the station, and drop you off with the sheriff. Believe it or not there are good Samaritans in this world. I bet you carry a knife or a little gun, you could kill me if you feel threatened .”

“No,” said the girl, “I trust you. Somehow I want to get as far away from here as I can.”

 

Mathias sat in Jacob Nighthorse’s conference room, wondering why he had called the meeting. Surely, he would have heard of the engagement by now, there was little that Night horse didn’t know about the goings-on on the rez.

Nighthorse liked to keep people waiting, then when he entered the room, saying “Sorry I’m late. I had something to take care of that took longer than I expected.” This was meant to imply that he was a busy man, and honored you by giving you his time in his busy day. Mathias knew better but it was interesting to watch Nighthorse perform his little routine, as if he expected that Mathias would fall for it.

Nighthorse finally entered the conference room. “Sorry man,” he said, “I had something to take care of that took longer than I expected.”
Mathias wanted to snicker, the thought of repeating him word for word had been tempting, but wouldn’t have been worth it. So, instead, he asked him, “What do you want, Jacob?”

“We need to discuss a security matter. It’s been reported that we have prostitutes doing business at the casino. What do you plan to do about it?”
“Well, I could arrest their customers—that should discourage them from picking up girls of questionable reputation. What do you expect me to do? I can have them arrested, but the minute they make bail they’ll be back out on the street. You have security, escort them off the premises when you see them. Best of all, forbid your male customers from interacting with them, though I don’t really think that would work.”

“I need more than that, Mathias, they’re going to be a nuisance.”

“Do they interfere with business? No? Maybe they’re creating a nuisance while they turn their tricks. I can provide you with a couple more people, but why not use your security to keep them out? I’m having enough trouble trying to track down a killer who sees them as fair play. Tell you what, use your security cameras to get their pictures, and their johns. But there’s probably more going on than just girls trying to pick up tricks.”
“Since when did you go so soft on prostitutes?” Nighthorse demanded.

“Since I started investigating the murders of sixteen-year-old prostitutes. Gives you a different perspective when you find a body of a young girl lying alone on a mountain in the cold. Makes you wonder who they were and how they got there.

“Well, that doesn’t sound like you—does it have anything to do with that white woman you’re with? How do you think the tribe’s gonna like that?"

“If it’s any of your business, some of them are liking it just fine. She’s doing a lot to help improve the tribal clinic and she helps out the young doctors. We’re lucky to have her, she cares and it’s not out of guilt. She’s spent time in Doctors Without Borders and has worked in refugee camps. She knows suffering, and it’s her personal mission to end as much as she can. And, by the way, she’s my fiancée, so show some respect.”

Nighthorse chose to ignore what he said. “So, can I count on you to help solve the hooker problem?”

“Yes,” said Mathias amiably, “But you realize that this will cost you. The tribe’s resources only go so far, if you want extra you have to pay for it.” He got up and let himself out.

 

The girl was quiet on the drive to the shelter in Sheridan. She was either tired or the junk she had used was making her tired. Either way, the clerk didn’t care. She looked over at the girl, noticing that in the shadowy light of the interior of the car looked about twelve years old. She’d raised her kids, wasn’t interested in being a mom again, but this girl had touched her. Maybe she’d see about being her foster mother, if it looked like she was going to get better.

Mathias was glad to get out of the casino. He kept an eye out for the hookers as he made his way from Nighthorse’s office and noticed there were a few suspicious looking girls. Good luck, ladies, he thought, I’m going to have to run you out of here, but it’s nothing personal, just business.
He headed to the cabin, always the best part of his day, she’d promised to have a late supper ready and share it with him. He loved to run his hand over her belly, imagining the little life that was growing inside her. On her next doctor appointment, they would find out the sex.

The old sedan was weaving back and forth over the line, narrowly missing his cruiser. He turned on his lights and his siren, more to warn the driver than an actual intent to pull him over. As he passed him, he noticed the primer patches, visible even in the dark. What was that Junker doing on his road, he didn’t belong, he knew the vehicles of the few places that lived on their road, and a junky old sedan that didn’t belong anywhere near here?

Alia. Suddenly he remembered. He stepped on the gas and sped to the cabin, hoping she was okay. He pulled into the carport, and but ran into the house.

“Mathias,” she said, what’s wrong, are you okay? Her violet eyes were full of concern.

He sat down at the table. “Yeah, I’m all right, I just saw a car that didn’t belong here. An older model sedan with primer patches—have you seen it.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think so. Think it’s a car that has something to do with our murders?” She had a claim in the case, had put a lot of work in. If he saw something that looked important, she wanted to be on top of it. They’d had so many bodies, but no leads. Like him, she was about to grasp onto anything that seemed important.

“Umm, lasagna,” he said to break the subject, I thought you didn’t like it.”

“I don’t, but I had a craving for it. Crazy, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’m glad, you haven’t fixed it in ages.”

“This ought to take care of the cravings, after this I’m not going to make it for a long time.” She grew quiet for a second before she spoke again, “Mathias, tell me about this car.”

Chapter Text

The convenience store clerk dropped the girl off at the shelter in Sheridan. She gave her her phone number and told her to call if she needed anything. Don’t be afraid to call her at the store, she told her, any time day or night.

She got in her car and headed back to Durant. She had no idea why it was this girl, or why she should even care, but she did. Maybe she cared, maybe she cared too much, either way, she did not regret what she had done.

When she reached Durant, she drove by the store to see if the pimp’s care had been towed away. Thankfully, it had, but now an old sedan, primer patches on its paint, sat in its place. A girl was talking to the driver and she remembered the girl telling her, “We stay away, the girls who’ve left with him never came back.”

She gunned the motor and drove towards the car, hoping that she wouldn’t have to hit him. The girl ran away and the driver honked angrily. She pulled her pistol out of the glove box, and aimed at him
.
The driver had no way of knowing that she was a good shot, and that she always kept her gun loaded. She took aim and shot through the driver’s side window, making sure she didn’t hit him. The driver gunned the engine and the old junker took off, too fast for her to even get the license number. She followed him down the street for aways, but lost him, so she turned around and drove home, exhausted from her day. She knew she should talk to the cops, but she’d worked a ten-hour day, and then driven to Sheridan and back. She’d do it tomorrow.

Though it was early in her pregnancy, Alia had taken to sleeping a lot. Her morning sickness was infrequent, and when it hit, it fortunately did not last all day. Her OB seemed like warm, caring, and capable physician, but was in Sheridan. Mathias wished she had found a doctor closer to Durant, she was not happy with what the small town had to offer.

Mathias’ alarm went off, and he hit it right away, hoping it would not disturb her. He wanted her to sleep, he wanted her to take it easy, but Alia Kassam was a workaholic who did not do easy. She’d switched her morning workouts from a five-mile run to a shorter walk, but she was busy as ever with her work at the clinic, the hospital, and home visits she’d started making to the Cheyenne who had no means to get to the clinic.

He tried to slide out of bed without waking her, but her eyes were already open. She sat up and wrapped the covers around her shoulders. “Do you have any idea who might own that car you saw last night?”

He groaned, and collapsed on the bed in mock dismay. “Of all the women, I could have fallen in love with, why did I pick a cop?” He sat next to her and put his arm around her shoulders. “Good morning, Mathias, I love you. Have a good day at work, do you want me to bring you lunch?”

She rolled her eyes, repeating after him, “Good morning, Mathias, yes, of course I love you. I’ll bring you lunch, but you better be there. And yes, I feel fine so I’m getting up.” It had been a successful display of sarcasm, and the victory had been hers.

“By the way, did you know that serial killers often drive junky cars? I guess that a new car, even if they could afford it, seems too conspicuous. And an old sedan, or a pickup with a canopy is a good way to hide a body. Bundy even managed it driving a VW bug—an old one.”

“You heard from your profiler friend, didn’t you?”

“Yup, and I found my old class notes. This guy’s close, I can feel it, but the fact he might have been on our road makes me nervous. I want to feel safe where I live, I don’t want to feel threatened.”

“Yeah, it makes me nervous too, babe, so make sure you have a side arm close by at all times. Keep an eye out for him, if we see him again, I’m going to have someone do a drive by once a day, just to be on the safe side. Oh,” he paused, “Pastrami on light rye, please, and a slice of one of those dill pickles your brother sends you from New York.”

“Oh, speaking of my brother, he and my sister in law want to come out here for Christmas. How bad do you think the snow will be? I really miss him, Mathias, I miss the Christmases we used to have at home.”

“Why not have them come in June, after the baby gets here? Why not take them to Yellowstone or Grand Teton? I can join you on my days off, I want to meet your brother so we can compare notes. I know you’ve always wanted to see it, though I don’t know why you haven’t. It won’t be that hard to travel with baby, speaking of which, when’s your next appointment?”

It was another one of those days. Slow and boring, making Vic wish for a nice, messy murder to relieve the tedium. Walt had gone to Sheridan with Cady, and hadn’t told her what was going on. Typical, but that was Walt.

She turned to her favorite activity, window watching. An elderly Cheyenne woman parked her truck (which had obviously seen better days), and was looking around for something. She cast her eyes on the sign identifying the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Department. She threw her bag over her shoulder, and began a laborious walk to the steps that led up to the department. It was obviously not easy for her, but there seemed a toughness about her that was helping survive the walk and stairs.

Vic thought it comical, though she knew it unkind. Ruby came over, something of a window watcher herself, especially when Walt was gone.

“What do you see, Vic?” she asked.

“Oh, just this old Cheyenne woman trying to walk up here. She looks like she needs an elevator to get up here. What’s wrong?”

“That’s Justine Big Horn, and she’s no older than I am. She had a stroke and survived, and walks on her own. She was raised in town, we practically grew up together, we went to the same schools. She raised three children on her own when her husband left. Ferg! There’s a woman outside who needs your help getting up the stairs.”

She placed a chair next to Vic’s desk and poured a cup of coffee. Soon Ferg appeared with an elderly, plump, Cheyenne woman on his arm that he guided to the chair Ruby had waiting for her.

“Justine!” Ruby squeezed her shoulders affectionately, “I haven’t seen you in ages. How have you been. You look marvelous, I told my husband that that stroke wouldn’t beat you.”

“It tried, Ruby, lord knows it tried, but I had the medicine man brought in, and I swear I felt stronger after he finished. My son thought I was just an old fool, but my daughter understood. The doctor was amazed at the progress I made, said it was unheard of for someone my age, but I told him it was the power of belief. I’ve been back at my store, good as new, just a little fatter.”

“Is there something we can do for you, Mrs. Bighorn?” If Ruby and this old woman got to talking, Vic thought, there was no telling when they’d finally stop.

“Why yes, there is. I keep my store open late and though the doctor says I need more rest, I like to take an evening shift here and there. My store’s right at the edge of the downtown district, and there always seems to be something interesting—though not as interesting as last night.”
?

“You and Walt took a call from someone last night, near her store, though she didn’t call it in. Do you remember, Vic? The nuisance call about that pimp and his girls?”

Vic did remember, the pimp was still sitting in his cell, waiting to be transported to Tri-Counties. They hadn’t been able to find the girls, they’d disappeared into the shadows, going places where a vehicle couldn’t go.
“Well,” said Justine, “I watched you go, after you put that pimp in your car. After you left, a car drove by, real slow. It was an old model sedan, with primer patches on it. One of the girls had taken refuge in my store, and she told me that when girls got into that car, they were never seen again.”
“Well, we talked for a while, and I convinced her to let me take her to the Lutheran Shelter in Sheridan. I can’t help it,” she said indignantly, “I feel sorry for those girls. Ruby and me knew someone who had a hard life at home, so one days she disappeared. Do you remember that, Ruby?” Ruby nodded solemnly, “They found her two years later in a ditch, beaten to death. So, I don’t know what will happen, but maybe this girl will take the chance I gave her.”
“But that’s not all,” Justine Big Horn was a natural storyteller and was relishing the attention. “When I got back to Durant, I decided to run by my store and see if things were all right. And there it was, big as day, that sedan with the primer patches, and a girl was learning inside talking to him. I didn’t want to take a chance, so I gunned my motor and made like I was going to hit him. Then, for good measure, I took my pistol out of my glove compartment and fired a round at him. He and the girl took off—if opposite directions, fortunately.”
“Mathias saw him too, probably after your little run in with him.” Vic’s least favorite person had been standing and listening, “He was swaying around and Mathias ran his siren and his blues, to get him out of the way. And this happened on our road, where we found one of the bodies. Mathias isn’t exactly happy about it.”
Vic did not like Mathias, or his girlfriend/fiancé/ whatever. She held less of a grudge against Mathias, but his ex-FBI companion got on her nerves. Vic considered herself intelligent, but not only was Alia Kassam a former agent, she was also a doctor, a coroner, and a forensic pathologist. Vic considered herself good with crime scenes, but she’d heard about Alia and her work at the FBI.
The worst part was that Alia was stunningly beautiful, and Vic did not like feeling jealous. She had even caught Walt staring at her—she had wanted to call him on it but decided to keep the peace. Alia Kassam could do a lot better than Mathias, but she seemed happy, content even, in her relationship with him.
And right now, she wished that Alia Kassam, M.D. would disappear and never come to Durant again.
Alia walked over to Justine Big Horn and introduced herself, asking a few questions that Vic had not gotten around to yet. She looked at Vic and Ruby and said, “This guy is sounding more and more like a serial killer, but we don’t have the proof—yet. I’m going to talk to Mathias and let him know what I heard, but from the sound of it, it’s time we talked and compared notes. There’s been girls killed on the rez and girls killed in the county. I don’t have enough evidence yet to say this is our guy, but he is showing some resemblance to the profile my friend did for me.”
“A profile a friend did? What kind of friend?” Vic was attempting sarcasm and failing.
“A former profiler in the FBI who’s retired. He’s very good and it does help to have friends in the right places. I know there’s a lot of junk cars out there, but serial killers seem to favor them.”
“What makes you so sure he’s a serial killer?” Vic was trying to redeem herself.
“Did you study serial killers at the academy? His choice of victims for a start. He seems to be choosing Cheyenne or Native girls, he has a signature method of killing and he’s going to a lot of trouble to prevent his victims from being identified. Serial killers are usually Caucasian, but he’s not. I’m willing to bet he’s Cheyenne, since that’s what most of his victims are. He probably works a menial job, too, if he works.
She drew a card out of her pocket and handed it to Justine Big Horn, “Please, if you see this guy again, give me a call.”
“Wait,” said Vic, “This is county and you’re rez.”
“No, Mathias is rez, I’m independent. I just happen to be marrying him. And unless you’d rather spend your time bickering, we need to work together. It we spend our time and energy fighting over who’s on who’s turf, that will be a gift to this guy. We aren’t the enemy, the murderer is. You need to remember that. Tell Walt we need to sit down and compare notes. Serial killers are hard to catch, but it can be done.”
Vic watched as Alia walked out of the office. “I hate her,” she told Ruby.

Chapter Text

I wanted to “re-do” the episode about Mingan, the kid who committed suicide after his father died from a heroin overdose. Henry’s heart was in the right place, but he was totally clueless in how he handled it. It was the wrong time to tell Mingan things would get better—he just lost his father, for crying out loud. And then to send him to school? It was obvious that kid was on the edge of suicide. Sorry Henry. I’m doing things a little differently here.

It seemed like the killer had just stopped. First a week, then two weeks went by and there were no bodies. Then a month, then two months, and it was obvious to everyone that at least, for the time being, there were no new bodies, and so no murders.

“Think he’s stopped?” Mathias asked, and Alia shook her head.

“No, he’s gone to ground, maybe even left the state, say to Colorado or New Mexico, maybe Utah. If you have any contact with other tribal police departments, now’s the time to reach out. I’m going to have to make some phone calls I don’t want to make to some agents that I know. The last thing that I really want to admit is that I’m carrying on an investigation that could possibly be illegal. As far as I know, though, I don’t think anyone has really been working on it.” She paused, “He’s going to be back, I don’t know if it’s because he has ties to this area, or what, but he’ll be back.”

Mathias picked up the stack of papers she had with her and set them on the bedside table. ” Enough of this,” he said, “You eat, sleep, and breathe this case, you need to take a break. He put his hand on her belly, feeling the slight flutterings of the baby’s first kicks. “Wow,” he said, “strong little cuss, ain’t he?” He called him “he” even though they had not yet found out the baby’s sex.

“Just like his father,” she said, and smiled.

 

Spring came, and the thaw began, and bones began to appear on the mountain side. The killer had not bothered to bury them, perhaps thinking that he would not need to. But the spring was unusually warm, and with the snowmelt came the pieces of the skeletons.

Alia sat at her table, going through the paperwork. By now she had it organized, and assembled into the semblance of a timeline. All the material had fit into two large notebooks, there for her convenience for when the murders began again. And Alia knew that they would, it was only a matter of time.

The door opened, and Mathias came in. “Oh good, you’re dressed, I think we may need your help.”

“With what?” she asked, as she picked up her messenger bag.

“Tell you in the car,” he said, “Bring something to eat, in case you get hungry before lunch.”

She was five months pregnant now, and had lost her flat belly. She took yoga and pregnancy exercise classes, and felt good. The pregnancy had become real, no longer just a speculation. She and her doctor had arranged for her to take a battery of tests to assure that the baby was normal and healthy. And, to Mathias’ delight, the baby was a boy.

“We’ve had an overdose, heroin, bad scene. There’s a fifteen-year-old boy involved, his father was the one who OD’. I thought you could stand in until DCF arrived, you’re good with kids, especially teenagers.”

“Does he have family? Someone who could take him in?”

“No, no one. Maybe neighbors, but he’s going to need looking after. You’re good at that, you’re home, and I’m worried about him.”
She was about to answer when they pulled into the driveway. There was another squad car, an ambulance, and a group of people standing around, including law enforcement. The body was lying on a gurney, not yet in the ambulance.

“Why the hell is the body sitting out there like that, right where the kid can see? Haven’t they called the coroner yet? They need to get the death declared and get the body out of sight.” She was angry and in danger of losing her temper. “Where is a the boy?”

“There he is, next to Standing Bear. His name is Mingan.”

“Then that’s where I’m needed. I’ll go talk to him. see how he’s doing. With Henry next to him, I’m not going to be able to talk to him the way I want to. I’ve got to talk him into coming home with us. That kid has death in his eyes, I’ve seen it before. He’s looking for a way to kill himself because he thinks that there’s no way out. Do you object, Mathias?”

“No, not at all. He can stay until DCF finds some family, or some people who can take him in. He’ll be better off with us.”

Henry Standing Bear had heard that Mathias’ girlfriend was pregnant. Ordinarily he’d be curious about the baby and whether she and Mathias would be getting married, but his attentions were concentrated on the boy who stood next to him.

He would take Mingan under his wing, he decided. He’d told him that as bad as things seemed now, they would get better. In the meantime, he would take care of him, Mingan would find that he was not alone.

Mingan looked up, and saw a lovely woman with eyes the color of lupines coming towards him. She was about medium height, and her long brown hair fell past her hips. She wasn’t Cheyenne, but he’d heard she was a doctor, and worked at the clinic, among other things. He’d heard that she and Mathias were living together. Gossip travels quickly on the rez.

“Hi, Mingan, my name is Alia. I’ve come to check on you. DCF isn’t here yet, but Mathias and I want to take you home with us for a while until we can work out better arrangements.”

“Mingan is going to stay with me,” objected Henry Standing Bear, not happy with what he was hearing.

“Mingan, will you please wait right there while I talk to Henry? Thanks,” she said as he nodded.

She grabbed Henry’s arm and dragged him away to where she could keep Mingan in sight. “You can’t take care of him, you don’t even have a place for him. This kid is in danger, he’s got death in his eyes. Left on his own, he’s going to kill himself so he can join his father because he thinks he’s alone and no one cares. I’ve seen that look in the camps, and I know what’s going to happen. I’m going to keep him home with me so I can keep an eye, maybe two, on him. I don’t even trust him to be safe at school. I’m scared for this kid, and I’m telling you right now that your place is the last place he should be.”

“So, what do you plan on doing?” he asked cynically
.
“Mathias and I are going to take him in and I’m not going to let him out of my sight. As soon as he’s ready I’m getting him into therapy because he needs it. His junkie father gave him a Play Station but his needs were hardly being met. He’s thinner than he should be, god only knows what he’s been eating. If you’re really worried about him, you can come and see him, bring his friends if you can, but he’s coming with me because what he needs you can’t provide. He’ll have his own room, and the cabin is peaceful. When the therapist and I think he’s ready to go back to school, then he’ll go. And in the meantime, he’s coming home with me.

They went back to Mingan, who was looking at Alia with his heart in his eyes. “Let’s find Mathias, Mingan, I’m eating for two and I’m always hungry. Henry needs to get back to work and I’d like to get something to eat at the Busy Bee. I know you’re not hungry but you need to eat. Mathias will take us back to the cabin, so you need to get anything you might think you need and bring it with you. And you can take your Play Station, you won’t want anyone to steal it. Oh, don’t worry about dirty laundry, I’ll do it for you when we get home.”

She sent for a policeman to help Mingan gather his things.

“He needs to go to school,” said Henry, “He needs to be as normal as he can.”

“No,” she replied sharply, “That is exactly what he doesn’t need. Life will never be normal for him again—or at least not until he’s into adulthood. He not only lost his father, he lost his father to an overdose. He needs to stay away from his school and his neighborhood until he’s ready to face his loss. We do it your way, he’s going to kill himself, that’s not a maybe, it’s a certainty. When he’s ready, I’ll have his teachers, or a tutor, help him with his schoolwork. He needs therapy, too. That boy has death in his eyes, and your platitudes won’t help.” She stalked off and found Mingan, then took him gently by the arm to Mathias’ cruiser.

Mathias helped Mingan load his bags into the cruiser. “Ready?” he asked him, Mingan slowly nodded as if he were in a dream. Without a word, he got into the back of the cruiser.

Mathias got in and started the motor. “I wish you spoke Arabic,” Alia whispered in his ear.

“You know me, I barely speak English,” he grinned, “I don’t think he’s really paying attention.”

“I don’t want to take the chance,” she replied, “Let’s just go get something to eat. Mingan, are you hungry, have you eaten today?” The boy shook his head.

“We’re going to get something to eat. You should try to eat something, even if it’s only a little. Just pick something that looks good and try to eat a few bites.”

News hadn’t spread yet to town, so when they came into the restaurant, no one turned and stared. They were seated right away and busied themselves with looking at the menu
.
Mathias ordered steak and eggs, and Alia ordered pancakes with a side of bacon. Mingan ordered apple pie with ice cream, and a glass of milk at her insistence. It wasn’t much, but at least it was something, Alia told herself, if apple pie was what sounded good to Mingan, that was what he would have.

In the end, Mingan ate half his pie and more of his milk due to Alia’s coaxing. When they left the restaurant, the sun had come out, seeming almost like a rebuke considering the day’s event.

Mathias drove faster than he should have, in a hurry to get to the cabin and then back to the station house. It was a relief for both him and Alia when they reached their cabin, and pulled Mingan’s things out of the back and carried them into their house.

He pulled her into his arms, asking, “Are you okay?”

“I don’t know, Mathias, what was I thinking? I have obligations I’m going to neglect, and I’m not even sure…”

“You are the best intentioned, most generous, helpful person I have ever known. You’re doing this because he needs you, and you are the one he needs right now. You know kids like him, what they need, Standing Bear doesn’t. And you’re not doing this alone. Now, go do what you’re good at, and I’ll see you tonight. I’ll bring something home for dinner.” He kissed her, “I love you, don’t forget that.”

Mingan stood, looking lost and confused, in the middle of the living room. “Come on,” she told him, “I’ll show you to your room.”

The spare room was sunny, and she’d decorated it in warm colors. “Here,” she said, “There’s a chest of drawers for your things, and extra blankets and pillows if you want them. The TV,” she gestured to the wide screen sitting on the chest, “should be compatible with your play station. I bet you know how to set up, but Mathias will try to help if he can. Just keep the volume low, or use headphones, because video games drive me nuts.”

She went to the door, hesitating for a moment, “Take as long as you like to settle in. When you’re ready, come out to the living room and we can talk. Oh, I almost forgot, two of your teachers will come by next week and help you with your school work so you don’t fall too far behind. If you want your friends to come over, I’m fine with that. Just let me know if I need to arrange transportation.”

Then she went into the living room and pretended to read. Soon she heard the video game, louder at first, then the volume was turned down. That’s a good sign, she chuckled.

The bedroom door swung open, and Mingan walked over to her. “I’m done, everything’s put away. It will take some time to really organize my stuff. How long am I going to be here?”

“That will be up to you. I want to hook you up to a therapist I know from when I worked in y Lebanon, who specializes in kids who’ve dealt with dramatic loss. There were a lot of kids who went through really bad stuff in the refugee camps.”

“Refugee camps?” She had peaked his interest, good, she thought.

“I used to work with this organization called ‘Doctors Without Borders’. We go to some of the worst places on earth, like the horn of Africa, the Middle East, and provide aid and medical care. A lot of kids come in who’ve seen their parents and brothers and sisters killed. When we first see them, we can tell they have lost all hope. We minister to their minds and bodies and help them get well. That’s what I want to do for you. I know it won’t be easy. I lost my parents a year ago in a drunk driving crash, the driver came out of nowhere and rammed into my parents’ car. I’m still not over but I’m better.”

She hadn’t meant to bring up personal matters, but she could tell it helped to reach him, a little.

They spent the rest of the afternoon setting up his accounts on the computer she and Mathias never used. She set down rules and boundaries and he seemed to agree. He was almost too quiet and cooperative, and she knew she’d not be sleeping very well for the next few nights until she knew he might not try to harm himself. It was a relief to hear the tapping on the front door, and the sight of Henry Standing Bear was something of a relief.

“Hey, guys,” she said, having a sudden inspiration, “It’s really nice outside, anyone want to take a walk?”

The men went along with her, and she showed them the cabin and the acreage, which she knew Standing Bear had never seen.
“Isn’t he going to go to school? He needs to.” Standing Bear asked.

“No, he needs a break. He’s going to get some tutoring from his school, and I’ve got to arrange for a therapist. School would be too awkward for him right now. He can have his friends over, when he’s ready. I’ve got to find a good foster home that deals with kids who’ve been traumatized like him. It’ll take a few days before I know if he’s going to be comfortable here. You can’t take care of him, Henry, you don’t know about these things. He’s a good kid, I intend to see that he remains a live one.

Chapter Text

Mathias brought home a giant pizza loaded down with every topping that sounded good. He set it on the table, then leaned down and kissed Alia, who was sitting there looking at her computer.

“Junk food, it might be more appealing than a nutritious meal,” he told her, “Maybe he won’t eat much, but not too many teens turn down pizza.”

He went to Mingan’s room, and knocked. “Dinner, I brought pizza. Eat what you want, you can always eat more later, that’s the beauty of pizza.”

He woke early the next morning, remembering that he had to work. Not even tribal police chiefs were immune from working weekends and occasional lousy shifts. He turned over and looked at Alia, then ran his hand over her swelling stomach. He whispered a prayer to his child in Cheyenne, then put his hand on her breast and kissed it.

“Hey,” he whispered in her ear, “I’ve got something for you that I don’t want to waste.”

She slapped his hand away, and then giggled softy, not wanting to wake Mingan. Pregnancy had not interrupted their sex life. When he asked her when they would have to quit, “Labor,” she had replied
.
When they finished she lay resting in his arms. “Mathias, are we going to have to give him up?” she said, asking the question he had been waiting for her to ask.

“Probably, especially if they can find the right family. You’re going to have a baby in a few months, and your hands will be full. Besides, you’re not Cheyenne, and Indian Child and Welfare services will want him to go to a Cheyenne couple if they can find one, preferably one with kids. That would be good for him, don’t you think?

She sighed noisily, “Yes, you’re right, and if he has family and they’re a good match, I have no argument. I just want to know they’re stable and sober, and will keep up his therapy. He’s going to carry this for a long time, you know.”

He kissed the top of her head, “Yes, I know, I just want you to be okay with it. He’s only been here a couple of days, and I can see you’re becoming attached, but don’t get too attached, okay?”

He got up and dressed, reluctantly, and pulled on his jacket. He went out to the main room where he found Mingan eating a piece of the previous night’s pizza. Mingan looked startled, but Mathias grabbed a piece out of the refrigerator.

“Pizza, the breakfast of champions. Take care of my lady for me, okay? She probably has something planned, but it’s okay to tell her you’d rather not. I’ll see you tonight, Mingan.” He ruffled the boy’s hair and went out the door.

Alia showered and dressed, then came into the main room. “Pizza for breakfast?” she queried, “You’re as bad as Mathias, I’d have heartburn that wouldn’t quit if I did that.” She poured some granola in a bowl, added milk.

He looked at her, then down at his pizza, then back at her, as if he was uncertain of what he wanted to say. “Could you do a favor for me?” It caught her momentarily off guard.

“Of course, if I can. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I forgot some stuff at home that I want to get. Do you think we could go by my house?”

“They might have crime scene tape up, and if that’s the case, we can’t, but we can try. What did you want to get?”

“Oh, just some stuff,” he said vaguely, “If we can’t get in, that’s ok, maybe we can try later.”

“Well, tell you what. There are some horses I want to look at, so we’ll go buy your house first, then head out to the ranch where they have some appaloosas I want to look at. We’ll see if we can catch Mathias at lunch, and you can ask him about it then, if you like” She paused for a moment, “You’re probably not all that interested in horses, but it won’t take that long, I promise. Oh, I almost forgot, I’ve got to go to the store, but you can pick up some stuff you like. Whatever you want is fine for right now.”

Mingan was impressed by her MDX, and let her know. “You like this?” she asked him, “You should see the Range Rover. Mathias and I fight over who gets to drive it.”

She pulled onto the road, driving a little faster than she should, showing off. “I almost got a Porsche Cayenne, but this is a more practical. If I had found a Jeep I liked, I would have gotten that, but I didn’t. This works just fine.”

“Wasn’t it expensive?”

“The Porsche would have been, this wasn’t really. I’m in a position where I can afford to get what I want. I got the Rover because it’s practical for out here. If I were still living in New York, I would have gotten a little 911, but I’m not. Where am I going, I wasn’t paying attention when Mathias drove to your house.

Mingan directed her to the house he had lived in with his father. She pulled up in front, and put the MDX in Park.

The crime scene tape was crisscrossed against the door. “Sorry Mingan, we can’t go in now, it’ll be a few more days.”

“There’s one more place, okay? Just up the street from here that I want to check.”

“Okay,” why did she have the feeling it wasn’t his house he was interested in after all. She drove slowly up the street until he told her to stop.
“See that house with the red Fierro in the garage? That’s him, that’s the dealer that sold heroin to my dad.” Mingan had an almost eager look on his face.

“Yes, Mathias told me about him. He’s arrested him three times, but he can’t hold him. It’s very frustrating dealing with the federal government.”

“Could you, well, shoot him? That way he wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else?”

Oh, the naivety of fifteen, when right and wrong seems so firmly defined. “Mingan, I can’t. Even if I were still in the FBI I wouldn’t. If we could shoot people because they’re bad people there would be a lot less grief in this world, but also a lot less justice.” She sighed, and said, “Look, I still have friends in the bureau, and they don’t like drugs and drug dealers any more than I do. I’ll ask them if they can check it out. It might not help, but it might. Please don’t get your hopes up, though. Now we’re going to go look at horses.” And I’m going to lock up our guns in the gun cabinet, because I don’t trust you right now, she thought.

The ranch was on the edge of the reservation. The owner was not Cheyenne, but Nez Pearce and sold both registered and unregistered Appaloosas, she had found his site on the web and had seen two nice looking registered Appaloosas she liked. They were a little pricy, but if the horses looked as nice as they did in their pictures, she might buy one or two. Appaloosas were perfectly suited to Wyoming.

She drove until she came to a large log cabin, not fancy but serviceable. It was clearly a man’s abode, there were various deer antlers and antelope horns decorating the front. The owner had even bagged a moose and proudly displayed its antlers in a place of prominence.

An older man came out, not Cheyenne but clearly native. “Come on,” she told Mingan, “Horses won’t hurt you.”

Reluctantly, he got out of the car, and was polite enough to shake the owner’s hand.

The old man looked at them, and grinned. He was missing a few teeth, but he had a friendly enough smile. “You come to buy my horses?” he asked, “Come along then, they’re in a pen not far from here. I’ve got one you might like, he’s a nice, three-year-old colt.”

“Is he saddle broke?” Alia asked, “If he’s as nice as you say, I’m interested.”

“You can ride him if you’re brave enough,” the old man answered, “You’ll have to tell me what you think.”

It was obvious which horse he was talking about. A blue appaloosa, his hindquarters spotted, stood out from the herd. He had an intelligent, curious face, and he came to the fence as soon as he saw the old Nez Pearce.

The old man stroked his nose, and fondled his ears. “He’s out of my favorite stallion. This one has never been fearful, and he’s smart as a whip. If you want to ride him, go ahead, I’ll take you to my arena so you can give him a good run.”

“That would be nice, what do you think Mingan? You want to ride?” The boy was holding back, clearly not comfortable even around horses in a pen.

“No way,” he replied.

The old man snorted, “An Indian boy who won’t ride a horse. I bet you play video games, too. In my day, we were out riding our ponies every chance we got. I bet you don’t even know how to shoot a rifle.” He shook his head in disgust.

He snapped a lead on the horse and brought him out of the pen. The horse behaved himself as he was led to the arena and tied to the fence. The old man left, then came back carrying a saddle and a bridle.

The appaloosa, saddled and bridled, was led inside the pen. The old man held its head while Alia mounted, then gave her the reins.
“He should do whatever you ask him, just expect a little coltish foolishness and be ready for it. He’s a good horse.” He swatted him on the rump.

She wasn’t ready for the pace at which the colt took off, but was not surprised. There was room to run than in the pen and she let the colt stretch his legs. She took him through his paces, trotting, cantering, then a full gallop. She raised one hand and made yipping noises, clearly enjoying herself, then trotted him back to the old man. He held him while she checked him out, feet, legs, conformation and teeth.

She smiled. “I want him, oh yes, I want him. I’ll write you a check right now. Can you recommend a good place to board him?”

“You don’t want to ask how much?” the old man was incredulous.

“You won’t ask much more than he’s worth. If he’s registered, the price will be higher, but he’s nice, he’s nice. I want him, and I don’t want to lose him.”

“Okay, let’s cool him down and talk in my office.” The “office” was a room in his cabin that held a desk and various papers on the wall. He had an older computer on his desk and typed out the contract and printed out two copies.

Mingan was surprised when she didn’t object to the price, but the old man would throw in six months of boarding and feed. He also promised to have him ridden frequently, so that when Alia brought him home, she wouldn’t have to re-break him.

She shook the old man’s hand, and to Mingan’s surprise the old man shook his, too. “You get out and ride,” he told him, “Boys should be outdoors and not playing video games all day.”

Before she left, she took some pictures of the colt with her phone, and sent them to Mathias. “He’s going to like this colt as much as I do,” she told Mingan, “If he wants another appaloosa, we can go back to the old man’s, but I’m not sure that’s what I. And If I get the chance, I am going to teach you to ride.”

Mingan said nothing, but hunkered down in his seat. There was something about him that made Alia uneasy. Something was on his mind that he was keeping to himself. More than ever, she was determined to see that Mingan could not get to the guns they kept. It had not bothered her before that the hunting rifles kept in the living room and the pistols kept safely locked in gun safes.

She knew very little about Mingan Pines and knew it. Was he capable of shooting the heroin dealer who had caused the death of his father? Maybe, and right now he was as capable of trying as he was of taking his own life
.
“You’re taking on a lot,” Mathias had warned her, but she knew. Maybe a foster home would be best for the boy, preferable one in Colorado or Montana. In the meantime, all she could do was try to protect him from himself.

She tried to engage Mingan in conversation as they drove to the Cheyenne Tribal Police Station, but he did not seem to want to talk. When they got to the station house, she would not let him sit alone in the car, so he asked if he could wait while she went into Mathias’ office.
“Suit yourself,” she said, and went to see Mathias where she found him looking at the pictures of the horse.

“That’s a nice colt, where did you get him?”

“The old Nez Pearce who has that ranch outside the rez. He has some nice horses as far as I could tell. I may go back and get another, if I see one that I like.”

“Don’t you like the clay colored ones?"

“Not so much. I don’t remember if he had a white or not. I had a friend who had a pretty white one with a lot of spots. I’m not crazy about them, but the colt I bought is the nicest. He seems smart, maybe he could be a roping horse, but that can come later.”

Mathias got up and locked the door, then sat down. He patted his knee and held out his arms and she came to him and sat on his lap.
“You’re worried about something,” he said, “I can tell. You seem sort of distracted. What’s wrong?”

“Mingan. He took me by the house where the dealer who sold drugs to his father lived, under the pretense of wanting to get something from his house. He asked me if I could shoot the dealer, I couldn’t believe it. He knows you can’t make an arrest stick. I’m afraid of what he might do. Are the gun safes locked? We never had to worry before, but now I’m worried.”

“Yes, we’ve kept them locked, but when Mingan came, I checked and made sure. Do you really think he’d try something?”

“I don’t know, I just know he’s really angry. I got him an appointment with my friend for next week, but that’s not until Friday. He’s feeling overwhelmed, and lonely and hurt. I haven’t even asked about the funeral arrangements and if he wants to go. There’s some insurance, and one of his father’s brothers came down from Canada. I’m hoping that he’ll see Mingan and talk to him. I’m just a little afraid, this isn’t like the camps. When he has his tutors come from school, when he starts seeing friends, I’ll relax a little. Until then, Mathias, I’m a little scared.”

Chapter Text

Mathias gently pushed her off his lap. “I’m going to pretend that I didn’t hear what you just told me. I think it’s time we got Mingan legal representation, someone who will represent his interests.”

“Did you have someone in mind?”

“Cady Longmire has a legal clinic on the rez, I think that’s a good place to start. She’s very busy, but I think she would take him on as a client.” He leaned back in his chair.

“It’s reached that point then? It’s a well-known fact that kids in the system do better with legal representation, but, Mathias, is this something we should worry about? Maybe he was just venting, maybe what he said didn’t mean anything.”

“Alia, based on what you told me, we should be careful. Mingan is going through a lot, and who knows what he’d do? I wish your therapist friend could get here earlier.”

“So do I, but I hope she’s the best fit for him—we’re lucky she could spare the time. I wish Mingan would talk, he’s holding an awful lot. Maybe Delia can draw him out and let us know what’s in his head.”

“I know you want him to stay with us, and I think he does, too, but I’m not so sure it’s the right thing.”

“I know how you feel about taking him on permanently.” She held up her hand as he started to object. “No, I think you might be right. I feel guilty about not being at the clinic, but I don’t want to leave Mingan on his own until I know he won’t try to hurt himself—or anyone else. I’ll have plenty on my hands once the baby comes and I get back to work. I don’t need for you to remind me I need to take care of myself.”

“You know,” he said slowly, “I read somewhere that sometimes there isn’t a lot of distance between being suicidal and committing murder. We owe it to Mingan to make sure he doesn’t cross that line. I’m going to call Cady and see if she can come over tonight.”

She leaned over and kissed him. “I wonder if Mingan realizes all the people that are fighting for him? How we want to take care of him.” She left his office and Mathias wondered again if she was doing too much, if she should take it easy, but to Alia it was do all you can, never easy.

When he got home, she had the fire stoked, and four fat steaks were sitting on a plate, ready to be grilled. “Cady’s coming for dinner,” she smiled, “I called her at her office just after she hung up with you. Do you want to cook them on the grill, or should I use the stove?”

“No, I’ll do them,” he said, a little puzzled, “I didn’t know she could make it tonight.”

“I told her I’d really appreciate it. Look, Mathias, I did a psych rotation in medical school, but I’m no psychologist. Mingan sees a therapist next week, but I’m worried for him now. It would be nice if he had a lawyer who had his back. You’re a cop, and if he does anything, you’ll be bound by the law. I feel like something is happening but I don’t know what it is. I just want to see if we can stop it before it happens. Maybe being pregnant has me over anxious, I don’t know.”

Mathias put his arms around her, holding her tight, soothing her. “It’s okay, I understand, I want to protect him too. If hiring Cady for him will make you feel better, than that’s what we do. We may be on opposite sides sometimes, but I’m always on your side. Did you get some beer for Cady?”

“No, I thought it might be awkward. I’m not drinking because I’m pregnant, and you don’t drink. I have cokes and ice tea, and lots of water cooling outside. I can’t wait to meet her, you know, she sounds like a person after my own heart.”

“Yes, in a lot of ways you are alike, both impulsive and possessed by a desire to make the world right. Let me change my clothes and I’ll put the steaks on when she gets here. I don’t know what Mingan wants to do, I bet he’s been eating pizza all day.” Mathias shook his head.

“At least he’s eating. Have you forgotten what it’s like to be a teenage boy?”

Mingan had his door shut, playing with his Play Station. Mathias knocked, and the game paused. He stuck his head out. “Yeah?” he asked.

“Steak for dinner, are you interested?” Mathias imagined that steak had been a rare treat at Mingan’s house, “Oh, and we’re having company.”

“Who?” It was a question asked casually, and Mathias answered it in the same way.

“Oh, just someone I know. I’ll fix a steak for you then. Not too full of pizza, are you?”

“No, steak sounds good.” Mingan closed his door and the video game resumed.

At seven there was a knock at the door. Alia opened it and came face to face with Cady Longmire.

“Hi,” she said, feeling awkward. She handed a large bowl to Alia, “I didn’t know if I should bring anything, so I brought a salad. Wow,” she looked at Alia and blinked, “Mathias never told me how gorgeous you are!”

“Come in,” said Alia, somewhat non-plussed, “I think he should tell me more often, myself, though he is good with ‘I love you’, when he remembers.”

They looked at Mathias, who was grinning and laughing. “Don’t listen to her, Cady, she rules the house and she knows it.” He picked up the plate of stakes, “I’ll put these on the grill and they should be done pretty quickly. Don’t talk about me while I’m gone.”

“Can I get you something, Cady? If I wasn’t pregnant, there’d be wine, but all I can offer you now is water, iced tea, or coke.”

“Iced tea would be fine. When are you due, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Sometime in September, if the baby’s on time. I’m first time as an older mother, so nothing is really set in stone. Since I’m a doctor, it makes it worse. I know all the timelines, and facts, but it doesn’t make pregnancy any easier. In a month or two I’ll be getting into the awkward stage.”

“Do you know if it’s a boy or girl?”

“Boy, and I’ve told Mathias, no ‘Mathias Junior.’ I’d like to name it after my dad, I really miss him.”

“What was his name?”

“Yusef, he was Lebanese, but we’d call him ‘Joseph’. I think Mathias understands how I feel, but he likes to tease me.”

Mathias came in with the now-cooked steaks, just as the phone rang. “I’ll get it, babe,” he said, and picked it up. His expression grew serious as he listened. He handed the plate to Alia and went to the pen and pad they kept beside the phone.

“Uh-huh, uh-huh. And where was it? Okay,” he wrote furiously on the pad. “All right, I’ll see you in a bit,” he said and hung up the phone. “Okay, babe, another body, this one on the rez. I’m sorry you can’t come, but you can keep Cady company.” He kissed her and stroked her hair. “Sorry, Cady, sort of hoped this was over, but they’ve found another body, near where they found an earlier one. Killer’s going back to his dump sites, I guess. Don’t know what time I’ll be home, but don’t wait up.”

He went in the bedroom and changed his clothes, and re-emerged carrying his Glock and his radio. “You guys have things to talk over, Mingan will probably want to eat in his room and keep playing his games. I’m sorry to have to leave, Cady, but I’ll catch up with you later.” He gave Alia one last kiss, and disappeared out the door.

“Sorry, Cady, didn’t expect that. The murders have slowed down and we’d hoped it would stay that way.” She looked thoughtful for a minute, “It’s strange the way the murders have almost seemed to define my relationship with Mathias. The day we met, we found the first body, and it’s never stopped. Until I got this far along in my pregnancy, I was helping him investiage; now, I can’t. I feel like I’ve lost my purpose. I think Mathias sort of expects I’ll settle into the roles of wife and mother, but I don’t think that fits me. I’m a doctor, ex-FBI, and I still like an investigator.”

“Well,” said Cady carefully, “Is there any more you want to do in the cabin? Like ‘nesting’ if it’s not too early? You guys have done a fantastic job with this place. It’s nice seeing Mathias out of his apartment, and happy with you. He seems more content than he ever has. It’s like the two of you suit each other somehow.”

A crack of thunder split the air, and rain began to come down hard. “Damn,” said Alia,”this wasn’t supposed to happen. Mathias is going to get soaked at the crime scene. I must be getting a case of ‘wifey’ or something. Oh, we should eat before the steaks get cold.”

She went to Mingan’s door and knocked gently. “Hey, steaks and baked potatoes are done. Do you want to eat with us or do you want to eat in your room?” She looked at Cady and winked.

The door opened, and Mingan stood in front of it. “Can I eat in my room? I promise, if I make a mess, I’ll clean it up.”

She looked at Cady and shrugged, “Sure. There’s a steak for you, and baked potatoes and salad. Dressing in the fridge, pick what you want.”

Mingan came out and introduced himself to Cady, he shook her hand somewhat stiffly, but it was clear he was making an effort. “Hi, I’m Mingan, it’s meet you,” he said.

Cady smiled her warm smile, “It’s nice to meet you too, Mingan. If I don’t get a chance to talk to you before I leave I hope I will another time.”
Mingan smiled his unsure smile, then went and put a steak on his plate. He added salad and a baked potato, then retreated again to his room.

“Well, the elephant in the room has retreated to his bedroom,” said Alia, “Between his play station and his tv, he won’t hear anything we say.”
“He seems like a nice kid,” said Cady, “He must feel safe here.”

“He does, but now comes the hard part. DCF has finally taken notice of him. I found out today that he does have family, but not in Wyoming. They kind of pulled away when Mingan’s father got so heavily into his heroin habit.” She stopped for a moment, to figure out what she wanted to say. “We know you’re busy, but we want to find someone to represent him. Kids who make their way through the system without representation fare very badly. If the courts decide to place Mingan with relatives, we want to make sure he’s put into the best situation. Mathias and I have his back, are familiar with the courts, but Mingan needs more. Are you interested?”

“Well, it will be a challenge to find the time, but yes. He’s in a hard place and needs all the support he can get. I’m so glad he’s with Mathias and you, for now. You’ve done a good job protecting him.”

“Thank you, Mathias and I have gotten fond of him, but this may not be the best place. With the baby coming, my eventual return to the clinic, I’ll have less time for him. We have to do something about his school. We have tutors coming so he won’t be very behind in his schoolwork, but we’re wondering if he should change schools, or stay where he is. If he winds up out of state, it will be hard for him, but a loving family will help him along. I’m so glad to hear you’ll represent him,” she added.

Cady stayed late, helping with the kitchen cleanup. They retired to the sofa and began to talk about themselves, finding it easy after bonding over their concerns about Mingan.

At midnight, Cady excused herself, saying she had to be at work early. The rain had not stopped, and there was a particularly loud clap of thunder as she was stepping off the porch.

“I didn’t know you had storms like this at this time of year,” said Alia, watching the sky anxiously.

Cady laughed, “Welcome to the mountains, Wyoming will surprise you every time. Hope Mathias is staying dry!”

“Me, too. Drive carefully, and let’s get together for coffee, soon.” Alia closed the door after her, happy that she’d made a friend. She’d ask Mathias for directions to the legal clinic, she decided.

She decided not to sleep on the bed, but took a pillow and blanket and made herself comfortable on the sofa. The sofa made an acceptable substitute for a bed, and she soon fell asleep, lost in her dreams.

At three o’clock she was wakened by the sound of the door, and Mathias came in, coughing.

“I’m soaked,” he complained, and she jumped up to help him remove his wet clothes. She put him to bed and took a towel to dry his heavy long hair. “I don’t feel too good,” he muttered, and she put her hand on his forehead.

“Jesus,” she said and jerked her hand away. He was burning up, and she and got the thermometer from her medical bag and placed it gently in his ear, resisting his hand as he tried to push it away. One hundred and two point five, it read. “Guess you’re lucky I’m a doctor,” she said, but he had fallen asleep and could not hear her.

She went to the bathroom and soaked a washcloth, then gently laid it on Mathias’ head. No, Mathias, she thought, not now, I need you well. She sat next to him on the bed, then looked up and saw Mingan standing in the doorway.

“Is something wrong with Mathias?” he asked.

“He’s very sick, Mingan, and I’m going to need your help. I have to go to Indian Health and get some stuff I don’t have here. I need you to keep an eye on him for me, can you do that? Mingan nodded. “Good. There’s some chicken broth in the fridge—heat up some of that for him, about a cup. There’s some echinacea tea in the cupboard, so boil some water, and make him a cup of that. I don’t think he’ll feel like eating much, if he eats at all.”

“Do you want me to do anything else?” he asked.

“No, for right now, that’s it. If he starts to get much worse, call the hospital. I’ll take him in when I get home. Oh, you can keep changing the cloth on his forehead. Use lukewarm water, not cold. I have to get dressed, then I’m going to Indian Health and see what I can find. It ought to be stocked with the what I need. Oh, use a mask, he may be contagious. I’ve got to go, but I’ll try not to be gone too long. And yes, I’m worried about him. I’m a doctor, and a good one, but I can’t work a miracle.” And right now I could use one, she grimly.

Chapter Text

She looked at Mathias, wishing that Mingan would go away. When he finally went back to his room, she began to change her clothes, putting on the sack like dress that was more comfortable than her jeans.

The familiar rumblings in her stomach started, and she ran into the bathroom and was sick. Damn, she thought, I thought this was over. When it finished and her head no longer felt dizzy, she brushed her teeth, grabbed her coat and her purse, and got into the Range Rover, and drove like a mad woman to the Indian Health clinic.

A light was on in the window, she’d hoped she’d be alone. She parked her truck, and went to the door, finding it locked. She dug her keys out of her bag, and opened the door, to find Eddie Big River asleep on a gurney. She smiled and shook her head, he’d probably pulled an all-nighter, one of the few employees in the clinic who wouldn’t complain about doing it.

She tip-toed carefully around him, heading back to the supply room. She was one of the few who had a key, and she unlocked it turned on the light. She looked around, taking a quick mental tally, happy that nothing had been stolen. She understood the occasional need, but before anything was taken that was “unofficial”, she preferred to be asked.

“Alia, what are you doing here?” Eddie stood behind her, trying to rub the sleep out of his eyes, “What’s wrong, can I help?”

“Can I help” was Eddie’s mantra. He was one of the best nurses in the clinic, so good, in fact, that she was trying to convince him to become a Physician’s Assistant. He’d be good, too, if she could succeed in convincing him the time and effort was worth it.

“Mathias is sick, really sick, I’m getting some stuff here to tide me over until my brother can Fed-Ex some Keflex and a good codeine cough syrup. He must not have felt good, but he never tells me, now his fever is pushing a hundred and three and he has a wicked cough.”

“I need a syringe of penicillin, and some more masks. Can you think of any pharmacies around here that would carry high end antibiotics and codeine cough syrup?”

“Not likely,” he grinned. He favored his Tlingit father, he was short and compactly built, and tended towards stoutness. He was laid back and good natured, but had a work ethic that bordered on fanatical. She liked working with him and knew she could depend on him.

She sat on one of the couches and dialed her brother’s number—they ought to be awake now, the kids had to be gotten ready for school. She wondered if they still drove them. The phone rang five times before someone answered, and she heard the familiar sound of her sister in law’s Somali accent.

“Lala,” she said, using her nickname for her sister in law, and lapsed into Arabic, the language Lala was more comfortable in. She explained to her what was going on, and asked for Keflex and a codeine cough be overnighted to her.

“I get you better, you get by tomorrow morning. You take care you don’t get sick now, oh here’s your brother. “

“How are the cowboys and Indians?” he asked in English as perfect as her own.

“He’s sick, really sick, but I’m going to try to get him on his feet. Tell Lala I appreciate her help.”

“Well, you take care of you. I want to meet this Indian of yours and tell him I expect him to take care of you.”

“He does, big brother, and I’ve got to go so I can take care of him. Love to all of you, I miss you.”

She hung up and saw Eddie standing next to her, holding a bag. “I can never make any sense of it when you speak Arabic. I’ve got the syringe for you, and some alcohol wipes. I found some throat lozenges, and I threw in a bottle of Ecotrin. Call me if you need help, I don’t know if Mingan is really going to be good for this.”

“I better get home, I’m worried about Mathias.”

Eddie followed her to her car, “You take care now,” he said, and watched her pull out of the parking lot. He looked at the building that she had helped to remodel, and lit his first cigarette of the day. The sun was just coming up and he had two hours before he was off.

 

Mingan watched as she pulled out onto the road. He went back into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. He watched as Mathias began to breathe rapidly, then his back arched as he shouted something in Cheyenne, then collapsed onto the bed.

The cloth on his forehead had fallen off. Mingan gingerly picked it up, and took it to the bathroom sink and ran lukewarm water over it, as Alia had instructed. Carefully, he approached Mathias and replaced the cloth on his forehead, watching to make sure it stayed in place.

Mathias looked bad. His normal color had faded to an unhealthy yellow, and he was breathing hard. When would Alia get back anyway, he wondered, his eyes wandering idly around the room, until they lit on a familiar object, one he’d never noticed before.

Not everyone on the rez kept their guns in gun cabinets, but some did, especially if there were children involved. It had never been an issue for Mingan’s father, his guns had been pawned for drug money a long time. That had included the old, antique match lock that had belonged to his great-great grandfather. How it had been kept out of the hands of the soldiers Mingan had never known.

He got up to take a closer look. As far as he could see it was built to hold rifles—maybe there were pistols in it, too. It wasn’t locked by a key, but by a button combination lock. He ran to the living room, and tried to access their laptops but without the passwords he couldn’t. That was one way they could have kept the combination but what if their computers crashed? There’d have to be a hard copy, right? Where would it be kept.

Mathias’ clothes still lay in a wet heap, Alia had not had a chance to put them away, He picked them up, looked anxiously out the window, then took them to the laundry room. He set them on top of the washer and began to rifle through Mathias’ pants pockets.

He was good at this. He had learned how to pilfer his father’s jeans pockets in search of his wallet. He’d then withdraw some money, enough for school lunches and a little for groceries. His father loved his son, but he loved heroin more, and Mingan resorted to petty theft to make sure they had enough to eat.

His probing fingers found Mathias’ wallet and he drew it out. The outside leather was wet, but inside the wallet the bills and pieces of paper that Mathias kept were dry. He set the bills to one side, keeping them in order, then carefully went through the pieces of paper one by one, hoping he’d find what he was looking.

The very last one, worn and somewhat crumpled, had numbers written on it, numbers that just might match the combination of the gun safe. Snatching it up, he ran into the bedroom, keeping an eye on Mathias the whole time. By some miracle, perhaps the gods were watching him, the numbers matched the combination!

He opened the door, very carefully, and looked through the contents. There were hunting rifles, and one that Mathias must use for police work. There were also boxes that contained various side arms, including an older model “38”, and a box of ammo. He set it and the ammo aside, then replaced the door and secured the lock.

He ran into his room and concealed his newly acquired weapon and ammunition in the back of the closet. In better days, his father had owned several guns, including one like this one. He’d shown Mingan how to load and shoot. Now all that remain was to find his chance.

 

When Alia came in the back door, she noticed that Mingan had picked up Mathias’ wet clothes and put them on the washing machine. Oh, thank you Mingan, she thought as she made her way into the living room. Mingan was sitting there, reading, which she though was odd, but after all, Alia, he might be there so he could her Mathias.”

“How is he?” she dispensed with the pleasantries, and watched as Mingan shook his head.

“Not very good, he was doing a lot of moaning and he was kind of jerky. He shouted something once that I couldn’t understand.”

“Well, let’s see if we can make him better. I’m going to give him a shot of penicillin, that may help. My sister in law is sending me some stuff from New York, some strong antibiotics and some cough syrup I can’t here. I’m going to need your help giving him the injection, so I’m going to need you to help turn him on his side and hold him. Think you can do that?”

How could he tell her he’d do anything for her? She stood, looking beautiful and sad, her pregnancy giving her a glow that made her sadness beautiful. She put her coat in the closet and they went into the bedroom where Mathias was sleeping peacefully after the long morning.

She instructed Mingan to turn Mathias towards him, and then rubbed an alcohol wipe on a naked buttock. She jammed the needle in, holding him down until she’d injected all the contents. Then, gently, she pulled the covers over him and kissed him on the cheek.

Mingan left the room, looking over his shoulder. Alia stood there, staring at Mathias as if she would will him to consciousness. “I don’t know what to do,” he heard her say.

1the oldest, but he had a smiling, intelligent face. He was dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans, but he held an eagle feather fan in his left hand.

“Are you Alia?” his eyes twinkled behind his glasses, “I’m Reggie Smoke. Janet called me and told me you were interested a ceremony for Mathias.”

“Yes, come in, please. I’m glad you could come. I’m sorry I don’t have anything but this morning’s coffee to offer you, or water. I’m trying to catch up on my sleep.”

“That’s a good idea,” he nodded vigorously, “You need to take care of the little one. Can I see Mathias?”

“Sure, he’s in the bedroom. He’s more peaceful right now, but that can change. He’s been coughing and his fever is still high, though I need to take his temperature. The problem with being a doctor is knowing all the things that it could be. You tend not to see the forest for the trees sometimes. I still think I can make him better without putting him in the hospital.”

“Tell you what,” Reggie told her, “I’m going to pray over him, and decide which ceremony will be the best.

Alia watched as Reggie swept the fan over Mathias and prayed, softly chanting in the singing manner of the Cheyenne. The look on his face was intense, worried, and once he put his ear to Mathias’s lips, as if trying to hear something.

He came out of the room, a worried look on his face. “He is very ill, but he is fighting. He does not want to leave you alone, and he wants to meet his son. I don’t know about white medicine, but I do know that if we work together, I think we can make him well. It will be a hard journey for he is very tired. I can arrange for a sing tonight. Normally I would need more time to prepare, but we must do this now. Janet will help you. You must concentrate on resting and caring for your son. I must go home and get ready, and I will see you tonight, but first…”

He lifted his eagle feather fan over her head and said a small prayer. He laid his hand briefly on her cheek and left without saying a word.

Chapter Text

Alia hadn’t realized just how tired she was, until she woke to see Mathias smiling at her. She looked at the clock and the numbers read nine o’clock.

She sat up, ready to jump out of bed, “Mathias, why did you let me sleep for so long?”

His hand stroked her hair, and he pulled her close to him. “You must have been tired, you never woke up all night. You needed your rest.” He started coughing, and she handed the bottle of water to him. “How sick have I been, anyway?”

“Very sick, I haven’t been able to wake you. You didn’t wake up until Reggie Smoke finished the sing. You had me worried, Mathias.”

“Well, I know you were taking care of me, how well were you taking care of you?” He lifted a quizzical brow.

“Wasn’t time, I needed to make sure you pulled out of this. I was so worried I asked my brother to send me some stuff. It should get here today…”

He coughed again, but not so badly, “Must work really well for you, your both being doctors.”

She smiled sheepishly, “Yeah, well, sometimes. I’m worried that what you have will turn into bronchitis or pneumonia. He has access to some stuff that I can’t get here. He’s sending a care package, not just medicine,” she paused letting it sink in, “If I made some oatmeal, would you try and eat a little? You’re going to need to have some food in your stomach before I can start you on your meds.”

“Okay, a little oatmeal, maybe a piece of toast? And coffee, no tea. What time is this care package coming?”

“I haven’t asked, I’m guessing around noon—if they can find this place. And Mathias, he’s sending some codeine cough syrup.” She saw the look on his face, “I know, I know, you don’t like it, but I need to have you take it. You need something strong to control your cough. I’ll monitor it, and only give it to you when you need it. Here,” she grabbed her stethoscope, “I want you to listen. She ran the stethoscope over his chest until she found what she was looking for. “Put the ear pieces on, and listen.”

He wasn’t a doctor, but his breathing sounded wrong, even to him. He handed it back to her.

“This is why I’m taking the course I am. You’re conscious now, but far from over the hump. The antibiotics will hopefully kill whatever this is, the cough medicine will control your cough. After you’re well, I’ll hide the cough medicine so well you’ll never find it, and I’m good at hiding things. I used to torment my poor brother by hiding his toys. I’ll look out for you, Mathias, I promise.”

He took her hand, shaking it gently, “Okay, I trust you, you know that. Getting this sick has kind of scared me—I just don’t get sick. Okay lady, you take care of me, I’ll take care of you. Do we have a deal?” He pulled her down onto him, holding her as if he would protect her.
She looked up at him and smiled. “Deal,” she said, “Now I’ve got to go fix breakfast. The baby’s telling me he wants to eat.”

Mingan came out of his room, “How is he?” he asked anxiously.

“Past the most dangerous point, but not out of danger. What did you think of the sing last night?”

Mingan shrugged his shoulders, “Indian crap,” he said as if that explained it all. Of course, that was what he thought—he was just a kid, plenty of time for he to grow up and understand it.

“I’m making oatmeal. Would you go to the freezer and see what fruit you can find? Small stuff like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. She put the water on to boil and then stirred the steel cut oats she bought at the health food store in Durant.

When Mingan came in, she heard the doorbell ringing, the front door they didn’t use. “I’ll get it,” said Mingan and opened the door. Two women from the tribe stood there, no one either recognized. “Come in,” said Mingan, on his best manners, “Alia is cooking breakfast.”

“Oh, we don’t want to disturb you,” said one, her smile uncertain but her eyes sparkled behind her glasses.

“It’s only oatmeal, it just sits and cooks,” Mingan said, and showed them into the living room.

Alia dried her hands on a towel and came to greet them. “I’m Alia Kassam, Mathias is in bed, we haven’t gotten him up yet.”

“I’m Sukie Aday, and this is my sister, Judy Max. We brought a couple of casseroles in case you aren’t up to cooking. Mary Rainwater told us that Mathias was sick and we wanted to help.”

The two women looked around the room, taking in the size of the roomy cabin, and the expensive rugs and furnishings. Alia invited them to the kitchen, which was equally well made and equipped.

“We never thought anyone would do anything with this old cabin, it was half finished and left to rot,” said Judy, trying her best not to be impressed.

“Well, it was there was in better shape than people thought. We had to re-build some, and then finish it. We’ve enlarged it and might add another room if we have a second kid. We’re finishing the barn and it will probably be ready by the time I can ride again.”

The women looked at each other. They’d gotten what they’d come to see, a look at the police chief’s fiancée and the house they were living in. Judy shoved a piece of paper into Alia’s hand, “Here’s my number, let me know if you need anything.” They hurried out the door, not looking back.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” Alia stood, grinning.

“What was that about?” asked Mingan, “They just brought some food.”

“No, they brought some food so they could get a look at me and our cabin. Old biddies. Gossips are the same everywhere. Reservation grapevine. They heard that Mathias was so sick that we held a sing for him. Now, a lot of the curious people who haven’t made friends with me are going to show up carrying goodies as an excuse.

The food and the curiosity seekers started arriving. Some were no better than their first guests, staring at her, Mingan, and the cabin, but some genuinely cared, for her as well as Mathias. Alia grew less defensive, and graciously accepted gifts of fruit, soup, casseroles, and flat bread. Alia was grateful for the food, she did not feel like cooking, between her pregnancy and caring for Mathias, she was tired. She was thinking about making a bed on the sofa for Mathias so she could have him closer to her, but neither she nor Mingan could pick him up.
Around eleven, the flow of guests had slowed down. Alia had made breakfast for Mathias, filling the bowl heavily with fruit and milk. He’d fallen asleep, but she woke him, setting his breakfast on a tray in front of him and ordering him to eat. Out in the living room, Mingan had filled a big bowl with oatmeal and fruit, and was now watching cartoons on the big flat screen.

“Aren’t you going to eat?” he asked her. It was rather sweet, really, the way he tried to look after her. He must have lost his mother when he was very young, but she didn’t quite know how. Had she died? Or had she left his father because of the heroin? If so, why had she not taken Mingan with her? Alia preferred to not probe other’s skeletons, he would tell her when he was ready, if he ever would be ready.

“Later,” she told him, “I want to check on Mathias. She went to their bedroom, stood in the door and asked, “Have you eaten, or have you fed it to the kittens?” The kittens looked up at her as if they had no plans to help Mathias finish his breakfast.

He shoved the tray away, but kept the cup of coffee. “It’s all I can eat right now, but can I have more of this?” He held out the coffee cup. “And have you eaten yet, young lady? You’re eating for two, and if you don’t eat…”

“Yeah, I know. Now that the traffic has settled, I might have a chance to. I’m going to try to get you out in the living room so you won’t spend all day in bed. Maybe Mingan and I can…”

She was interrupted by a knocking at the back door. “That’s friend,” said Mathias, otherwise the doorbell would have rung.

She took his cup. “I’ll go see. It would be nice to see a friendly face."

She opened the door to find Benton Red Cloud standing at the door. “Wow,” she said, “Welcome to chaos. Come on in.”

Benton removed his boots and kissed her on the cheek. “How’s Mathias doing?” he said, “I heard he was sick through the rez grapevine. Did the sing help?”

“A little,” she admitted. She looked at the laptop carrying case and the small suitcase he was carrying. “Is this stuff about the body you found the night he got sick?"

“Yeah,” he sighed, “Sorry, but we could use your help, and Mathias’ if he’s up to it. Is that oatmeal I smell, and can I have some coffee?”
“Tell you what, you help me get Mathias situated out here and you can help yourself. He should be all right as long as he agrees to take it easy, being shut up in the bedroom would be lonely.”

“Deal.” They piled pillows on the couch, along with a couple of sleeping bags. Though it embarrassed Mathias to accept help. He leaned on Benton and let him guide him into the living room. Alia added wood to the fire to keep the room warm, and though he did not look well, Mathias at least looked comfortable.

Only then did Alia allow herself the luxury of fixing herself a bowl of oatmeal, and pouring a very large cup of coffee. She joined Mathias and Benton, who was setting up the laptop on the coffee table. He withdrew two three ring binders from the small suitcase. He was about to open these when the doorbell rang.

“Who is it babe, you don’t have to open it,” Mathias said, but she shook her head.

“It may be the Fed Ex man and my package from New York.” She pushed herself up and went to the door. “Never have I ever been so glad to see someone,” she told the started driver. She signed for the package—a rather large box—and brought it to the living room.

“Do you have a pocket knife, Benton?” he nodded and handed it to her. She carefully sliced through several layers of tape. “My brother has this packaging fetish,” she explained. She cut through the last piece of tape and opened the box—filled to the brim with newspaper for insulating.

“Here, Mingan, put this with the stack of papers,” she handed it to him and examined the contents inside. “For Mathias, Keflex, and codeine cough syrup, along with a bottle of super strong vitamins. And for Alia, there’s a bottle of pre-natal vitamins that I never would have bought, they’re prescription anyway. And, oh my god.” She was silent for a moment, looking at something.

“What’s wrong, what is it, babe?” Mathias asked but she shook her head.

She pulled a rather large jewelry case from the bottom of the box and set it on the coffee table. “I think I know what this is, I thought my brother gave it to Laila.” She did not move to open it, but stared at the box, as if demanding an answer.

“Open it,” Mathias urged. She looked at him, then slowly lifted the lid of the case.

All three of them stared in shock and wonder. Inside was an old, a very old gold necklace and earrings set. There was a ring box, which Alia was first hesitant to touch, but opened it gingerly. It held a ring with a large stone, a diamond set in gold filigree, a type of gold no longer made anywhere on earth. She pulled it out of the box and put it on her right finger, reluctant to remove her turquoise ring that Mathias had given her.

“This looks old,” said Benton, “Do you know how old it is?”

“It’s a thousand years old, at least. It’s either Greek or Roman style, but I think Greek. Our great grandfather used to be a tomb robber. He made a good living at it, too. He’d sell to the black marketers but sometimes a European would buy something that he liked. We’d heard about it, but most everything he had that hadn’t been purchased when he died got sold. I guess dad must have taken this, I know he gave mom a ring that had come out of a tomb outside Beirut, but that was all I knew about.” She put the ring away, “I don’t want to wear it right now, it’s bringing back too many memories.” She wiped away the tears that were forming.

“You should use it for a wedding ring, I bet that’s why your brother sent it to you, that and to celebrate the baby. You deserve to wear it, Alia, I’d buy something like that for you if I had the money.”

“This you couldn’t afford,” she attempted a smile, “This is priceless. It looks like Great-Grandfather Ali had it repaired so Great-Grandma Ameera could wear it. He was taking quite a risk having it fixed, he may not have seen it again. It belongs in a museum, but it’s from my family, so how could I give it up?”

She put it in the bedroom, then came back and sat with Benton and Mathias to look at the pictures and read the notes. “I thought this asshole had quit killing, that maybe he had left the area, that’s the usual MO. But now we’re finding bones and an almost fresh corpse. Is Weston going to look at it?”

“Well, we were hoping that you could,” said Benton sheepishly. She was close to six months pregnant, and standing for the length of an autopsy might be too hard on her back and ankles, “I forgot you were pregnant, I know someone told me but I guess I forgot.”

“If Weston is busy, god, I don’t know. The fibbies are notoriously tight with their money, but I could try to find a grant or something and get someone here.” She flipped through the pictures, landing on one that displayed the bones on a table. “You don’t want to lose those bodies just yet, we’ve been cheating for months and kept them here, but this is a new development. We need to get a forensic anthropologist in here to look at the bones. I bet there’s at least one full skeleton in here I can afford to pay to get someone here, but we need another source for food and lodging. We could maybe get work study, but it’s their teacher that will be expensive.”

Mathias watched as she flipped through the notebooks, asking questions, giving observations. Her mouth made an “o” when Benton told her the girl might be no older than thirteen. This was what she was born for. That look of eagerness on her face let him know that if he wanted to keep her happy, she would have to go back to work as soon as the baby was old enough. She got up and connected Benton’s laptop to the tv so she could see the pictures enlarged. She was lecturing Benton as she might a class, pointing out things he had not noticed before.
The time flew by and before they knew it, they were hungry. She had defrosted a chicken soap that had a lemony Greek-like flavor. She distributed it and heated up some of the fry bread, and they sat and talked while they ate.

She brought Mathias a fresh bottle of water, and a glass of orange juice. She shook one of the antibiotics out the bottle, and a vitamin out of another and handed it to him. “Take these now, and drink a lot of water. The sooner you get going taking these, the faster you’ll get better. You can take the cough medicine later.”

“Jeez, Alia, you’re sounding like a wife, there. Give him a break.”

“After that scare he gave me? No way! And besides, I don’t sound like a wife, I sound like a doctor, lord knows I’ve been one long enough,” she grinned widely as she said this.

“Best doctor in the world and I don’t have to pay her a penny, and we just were given a wedding ring for her that I couldn’t pay for in my lifetime.” Mathias drew her close to him, holding her, “But you are worth it, baby, and I hope you realize that.”

Chapter Text

Alia stood in the doorway of the bedroom watching Mathias sleep. He seemed more peaceful, except for his wretched coughing. His forehead felt less warm beneath her fingers, but the fever was still there. Maybe the penicillin was starting to work, a little, but why didn’t he wake up?

She’d run into traditional healers in the various camps where she’d volunteered. She remembered a ten-year-old Kurdish boy who had a terrible fever and cough, but the healer who’d followed the group of Kurds from his village was not worried yet.

“See, you give him western medicine to fight the disease, but his body knows what to do. So, we keep an eye on him while he sleeps, and let him start to heal himself.” He’d patted her on the back, “Don’t worry, I will call you if he gets worse, but he probably won’t. He’s just resting and getting stronger, you’ll see.” Full of apprehension, sure the child was going to get pneumonia, she went back to her tent. In the morning, though, she saw that the old man was right. The fever had broken, and the little boy was able to eat a little gruel. In a week, he was out playing with his friends.

Mingan came up to her, and she put her arm around him. “I want you to come to the sing tonight,” she told him, “But you must be on your best behavior. I don’t want you back in your room, okay? He nodded solemnly, for the first time he had let her hug him.

Mathias’ mother arrived at seven, carrying a long dress that smelled faintly musty. “I brought you a camp dress,” she told her, “It belonged to my grandmother. Put it on and I’ll braid your hair.”

Alia went into the bathroom and removed the baggy dress she’d been wearing all day. Carefully, gently, she pulled on the dress. It was a dark blue calico printed with tiny white flowers and had been decorated with the tinfoil-like decorations, called “bells”, that the native women used to decorate their dresses. It jingled softly as she moved, and suddenly, staring at her in the mirror was a Cheyenne woman from a hundred years ago. The illusion was gone in a moment, but she suddenly felt like Mathias’s great grandmother approved of the woman wearing the dress.

She came out of the bathroom, feeling somehow less awkward than she did these days. Even Mathias’s mother seemed to approve. “That dress flatters you,” she said, “The color shows off your eyes. Sit, and I’ll do your braids.”

It felt good to be ministered to, she thought as Mathias’ mother brushed her hair. It had gotten so long that she no longer bothered to braid it, but simply tied it back in a ponytail. Had her mother ever braided her hair like this? She’d always worn it long, but her mother would brush the shining brown locks and pulled it back with a hair tie or comb.

Janet finished by tying fabric scraps to fasten her braids. “There,” she said, “You almost look like you’re part Cheyenne.”

Just like in the mirror, she thought. “No, half Lebanese. We’re so different, my brother looks very much like an Arab. People never believed we were brother and sister.”

“Well, if there have ever been any Arabs around here, it’s been so long that people don’t remember it. I’m going to look in on my son. You sit and rest, the sing may make you more tired than you expect.”

People began to arrive, more than she wished, but not so many as it seemed. Most she didn’t know, but there were a few she recognized from the clinic. She was surprised to be grateful for them, she had felt alone (except for Eddie Big River) in dealing with Mathias’ illness. She was a doctor who didn’t like to be fussed over, but she found herself grateful for these smiling people who were so reassuring and gracious.

At eight o’clock, Reggie Smoke arrive, dressed simply in a denim shirt and black jeans. He went to her and put a strong arm around her shoulders—she felt a jolt of energy go through her that left her a little shaken. If that was an indication of his power, then she suddenly had faith that he was the one who would help her—and Mathias.

Reggie was very professional. He directed one of the men to bank up the fire and wrap Mathias in his blankets and lay him on the sofa. Without a word, the women went around the house turning out the lights, replacing them with a few pillar-like candles.

Mathias lay very still, almost like one dead, his color deathly pale in the light of the stove fire. Reggie ignored him for the moment and went through the cabin fumigating it with sage and sweet grass. Only then did he stand next to Mathias, raising his eagle feather fan, and lifting his arms began to chant.

He had brought two drummers with him, and the rhythm almost seemed like a heartbeat. Their beating formed a backdrop for Reggie’s chanting, and they closed their eyes as the beat their drums, as if in their own world.

“He’s inviting the spirits,” Janet whispered to Alia, “The fumigating was to ban the evil spirits while the good spirits can answer his call.” Alia squeezed her hand.

Mathias lay in a dream. There were flames all around him, that somehow did not burn him, but made him hot, unbearably hot. He wanted to find his way out but each step he tried to take burned him. The flames were making his chest hurt, and he felt his body growing weaker.
Alia looked around, furtively. The people in the room seemed to understand what was going on. Reggie was using rattles and eagle claw whistles, along with his chanting. At one point, Mathias began to cough, but Reggie put his hand on his chest and leaning close, whispered something to him. It seemed to calm him, though he did not open his eyes.

She needed Mathias conscious, awake. He could not take the antibiotics or the cough syrup if he was unconscious. She did not know what anyone else expected, but she wanted Mathias to wake up from this trance he seemed to be in.

Reggie’s chanting grew stronger and his song changed. He seemed to be confronting an enemy that was fighting him for control of Mathias. The drumming grew louder. She had seen native rituals in many countries, but never a battle for a man’s life that was going on now.

Some of the people were chanting now. She found herself praying, “Please, please let him wake up, help me make him well.”

The chanting and drumming reached a crescendo. Mingan was watching, spellbound, she wondered if he’d ever seen something like this before.

Suddenly, drumming and chanting stopped, and Reggie dropped his arms, sweat pouring down his forehead.

And Mathias opened his eyes. He looked around, confused, as if wondering why the people were there. Then, he held out his hand the Alia, but she could barely move and had to be helped to his side. Then she was in his arms, crying, and weak though he was, he stroked his hair, soothing her.

They put him back in his bed, and someone took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and gave it to him. He drank, savoring the cool, clear liquid as he poured it down his throat.

“How long have I been out?” he asked softly as Alia put her hand on his damp forehead.

“A couple of days, you’ve had a very high fever.” She kissed his him on his cheek, “You rest now, I’ll come to bed after everyone leaves.”
She went back into the living room.

Reggie came and took her hand, “How is he?”

“His fever is broken. He’s weak from lying in bed and not eating or drinking, but he’s almost emptied out that water bottle, that’s a good sign. He’s passed the crisis point, now all I have to do is convince him to take his medicines and take it easy until he’s better. I don’t know how to thank you.”

“Just put in a good word for me,” he laughed gently, “I’m just starting out—you’re my first official customer. Just let me know if I can do anything for you."

She went out into the living room to thank the people who had come. There was an air of acceptance now that hadn’t been there before. Calling the medicine man had finally been sufficient proof that she respected their ways, along with the work she was doing. She had wanted acceptance, but hadn’t expected it, now it had come to her.

Janet gave her a hug. “Keep the dress, it suits you. Make Mathias take care of himself, I’ve never seen him so sick. And you, you take care of yourself, too. You need to be strong for when the baby comes.” She kissed her forehead, and left—at last everyone was gone, and she and Mathias were alone at lost.

She went into the bedroom where Mathias awaited her. He’d propped himself up with a couple pillows, and pulled the covers up to his chest. He held out his arms and she came to him, feeling just how tired she was now that it was all over.

She wanted to cry, but the tears would not come. Mathias held her tightly and she would have been happy to fall asleep where she was.

“That’s great grandma’s dress,” he said, fingering the little bells.

“Your mother brought it for me to wear tonight, she’s given it to me.”

“It suits you. Want to get married in it?”

“No.” She looked at him and grinned.

“So, doctor, what’s next? How are you going to cure me?

“My brother in law sent some stuff. You’ve already had a shot of penicillin, but you’ll take antibiotics for about five days. I ordered a bottle of cough syrup for you, and you’re going to use it. You’ll be better in a week. I don’t really know what you had, I didn’t do samples and all that…”

“You just knew how to treat it. You’re good at what you do, Alia. I don’t want to be sick again, but I know if it happens again, I’ll be in good hands. This is just a lousy time for me to not be able to work.”

“Do as you’re told, and you’ll be back soon enough. They can always call you. I’m just glad the worst is over.”

“Me too,” he answered, and kissed her hair. He loosened her braids and helped her remove her clothes. They couldn’t make love, but it felt good to be together in their bed, holding each other.

Chapter Text

Benton left when Mathias began to look fatigued. Mathias waited until the door closed behind him, then pulled the sleeping bag over his head. “No more visitors,” he muttered before falling asleep.

“I’ll second that,” answered Alia, and taking a throw from the back of the sofa, curled up and went to sleep in the recliner. She woke up an hour later, surprised that it was still light. It was getting close to summer, after all, and even in Wyoming the seasons must change.

She looked at the clock on the side table: five o’clock. In an hour Mathias would be awake and she could fix dinner for him, so he could take his antibiotics. “Come on, Mingan, get away from the television, let’s find a casserole.”

They went through the assortment, and settled on a Tex-Mex style with tortillas, ground beef, cheese, and tomatoes. They selected one more, then put the rest in the freezer. “I’m glad that I got this big freezer. Mathias kidded me about it, but he never thought how it would come in handy.” And neither did I, she thought
.
Mathias woke shortly before six. She spooned portions of the casseroles onto plates, then put the rest in the refrigerator. The large size microwave heated their food, the aroma coming through as the portions cooked. Mingan took his and slopped a large dollop of sour cream on the top, but she refrained and kept it off Mathias’ portion.

“Here you go,” she told him, “Eat what you can, just try and eat. If you want to go back to the bedroom, Mingan and I will help you after dinner. I’m surprised you’ve stayed up this long.” She handed him a large glass of water and a Keflex. “Here, take it and no arguments please.”

He held up the pill, looking at its size. “You never told me I’d have to take horse tranks,” he complained.

“That’s because I asked for something you’d only have to take twice a day, instead of three or four. I knew you’d complain about taking it. Count yourself lucky.”

After dinner, Alia and Mingan walked him into the bedroom, Mathias unsteady on his feet.

“You’re going to have to get up tomorrow and do some walking around. Maybe you’ll feel like walking more, and not ask for help every time you want to go to the bathroom.”

After dinner she loaded the dishwasher and ran the dishes through. Funny how with Mingan living with them they needed to wash dishes more often. She wondered how much water they were using from their well. Better to have their own water than hook up with the city. She’d taken water for granted while living in New York.

She decided to check on Mathias and brush her hair. She walked into their room, expecting to find the light out and him asleep, but he was sitting up, reading, by the light of a bedside lamp.

He looked up from his book and smiled. “Shut the door,” he told her, “I’d like a bit or privacy.” She shut it, smiling. “Are you going to brush your hair?” he asked.

“Um-hmm.” She went to the dresser and picked up her heavy wooden brush and began the work of untangling her hair. How it managed to tangle so easily always mystified her.

“Take off your clothes while you do that,” he told her, “And yes, it’s an order.”

“An order.” She paused, shrugged her shoulders. They had their intimacy games, this must be a new one. She pulled off her sweatshirt and sweat pants, then picked up the brush and went back to work on her hair. She ran the brush through her dark brown locks. Was it the curl in her hair that made it so unruly?

“Stop that for a moment,” he said, “I want to see you in the jewelry your brother sent you. Put it on.”

She opened the jewelry case, so old that no one remembered when it was originally bought. She put on the wide gold necklace, its multiple pendants tinkling. She reached into the case and took out the oversized golden earrings and put them on.

The sight of herself in the mirror took her breath away. She looked like something strange and exotic, something that didn’t quite belong in the world she found herself living in.

“Turn around,” ordered Mathias, “I want to see,” and she turned and looked at him, her lips parted.

Now she didn’t even mind her belly. “You look like a goddess, like something ancient. Like, a picture I saw in National Geographic. Come here.” She shook her head. “Come here,” he insisted, and she reluctantly came to his side.

“Get up on the bed.” What was he thinking, he was too sick and weak to do anything, yet, but he tugged on her wrist, so she complied. He pulled her on top of him, and she wondered what he was up to until she felt one of his hands cup her breast, and the other creep in between her thighs. He worked two fingers into her and began to play with her, arousing her so that she tilted her head and arched her back.

“Oh yeah,” he murmured, and brought her to an orgasm. Sometimes she forgot that he had learned her body so well. Ordinarily this would have ended with him pulling her on top of him, and then maybe turning her over and having her from the back, their favorite position, one that seemed to heighten the experience for both.

When he finished with her, she lay next to him. “You shouldn’t have done that,” she said.

“Says who?” he retorted, “I haven’t been able to think about anything else all day.”

“Well, we’re going to wait until you’re well. I’m going to sleep on the sofa again tonight, and when you’ve recovered, then I’ll sleep with you again. I don’t think you’re contagious, but I’m taking no chances.”

He objected, but it did little good. There was no arguing with his doctor, after all.

 

She came in at first light and lay her hand on his forehead. He opened his eyes. “Am I alive?” he said.

“Let me take your temp and I’ll tell you.” She put the thermometer in his ear. “Well, you must be, you’re 98.9. I bet you’ll be back to normal by this evening if you behave yourself. Oh, and you might want to take a shower and brush your teeth.”

He took hold of her arm, “What if I fall in the shower?” He lifted his eyebrows and she knew what he meant.

“Take a bath, then. If you fall, Mingan and I can come and pick you up.”

He took the hint. The hot water and the soak made him feel better, even brushing his teeth seemed to help. Alia helped him dry his long hair, and when she finished he asked, “Is it safe to kiss you?”

“Hmm, maybe,” she teased, and he took her in his arms.

He smiled, “You aren’t sleeping in the living room tonight.”

“Sure you’re up to it?”

“Want to see?”

She backed away. “I’ve got to cook breakfast, why don’t you eat with us? Stay out of bed and you won’t feel so tired.”

Mathias ate more, or maybe he found bacon and eggs were more appetizing than oatmeal. She would have liked to see him eat more, but he was better, he was even cooperative about taking his antibiotics, making the only occasional remark about “horse pills.”

Mingan came out in pajama bottoms and bath robe, and she noticed, for the first time, that he’d put on weight, and had lost that gaunt look he’d had when he first came to live with them. He was less reticent, more relaxed, and was looking, well, older. He must not have been getting enough to eat, or sleep, she decided. She was going to have to take him to Denver and buy him a new wardrobe. He’d be back to school, somewhere, soon. He didn’t need to hide anymore.

After breakfast, she and Mathias cleared their coffee table and set up their laptops to examine the material Benton Redcloud had sent them. Most of all, she wanted to look at the bones. She knew from experience what they would find if they brought in a forensic anthropologist, “partial skeleton A”, “partial skeleton B”, and then various bones that belonged to neither. Two skulls had been included in the finds, and if they were lucky, would match one, if not both, partial skeletons.

“Mathias,” she asked, “When you call the feds, do you deal with the same people, or does it change from case to case?”

“I guess it depends on who’s in charge of my jurisdiction. I’m not allowed to investigate felonies, so I just tell them. Then I move on to the next case. Now you, of course, have me violating the rules, but I’m not investigating this case, technically, you are. And you’re a civilian, but that’s not my fault.” He smiled and kissed her. Now that he was well, and he promised himself he would never take kissing her for granted.

“We need a dentist, preferably a forensic dentist. Some of these girls must have had dental care, so there would be dental records available. Weston and I took x-rays of the skulls, so if we could match missing girls with their dental x-rays, we’d be able to identify a few. I really picked a lousy time to get pregnant, I’d like to be up in the hills searching for bones."

“I think you picked a good time,” he answered, and put his hand on her stomach. Soon he could feel the flutterings beneath his hand. “He’s kicking,” he said, “Can you feel it?”

“Oh, yeah,” she answered, “Sometimes he wakes me up. The closer I get to seven months, which will be soon, the harder it’s getting to sleep. I have an appointment with my OB-GYN next week, at least you’re well enough to come with me.

“Do you have an idea about what his name should be? I know you must.”

“Well, okay, I want to name him ‘Joseph Mingan’. Mingan’s been an important part of our lives, no matter what the outcome will be.” Both knew that was uncertain. They needed to consult DFS, and see if a suitable placement had been found. “And I really want to name him after my father, only ‘Yusef’ might be hard to live with in this anti-Muslim atmosphere. ‘Joseph’ is a good name, and he was after all, a man who tried to do the best for his people. And we could call him ‘Joe’ or ‘Joey’, if you like. Mathias, I really want to do this.”

“Okay, you’ve got it. If you’ve got your heart set on it, I’m with you. We don’t know if there will be any more kids, but if there are, I name the next one. I think Mom will like ‘Joseph’, and she knows about Mingan. She likes you, you know. She wasn’t sure if she would, but she does.”

“Yeah, I like her too. She’s a right on lady. I like people who shoot straight with you, and with your mom, you always know where you stand, don’t you?”

“That’s true. My sister will take longer to come around, but she will. Now, what do you want me to do about getting a dentist, with or without the approval of the feds?”

 

Mingan came into the room. “Can I go visit a friend on the rez? I’ve been cooped up in the cabin since I came here, I’d really like to get out of here.”

She looked at Mathias, he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, whatever you think. “Who is it?”

“His name is Colton Grey Owl, we’ve been friends a long time.”

She could see his impatience. “Are his parents home?”

He hadn’t anticipated this question, “Yeah, I think so, why?”

“Let me talk to his mom or dad. Two boys or more unsupervised might not be a good thing. If there’s at least one parent who’s going to be around, I’m totally okay with it. Got a phone number?”

He got the number off his phone, and handed it to Alia. She went out of the room as she talked to Colton’s mother. Then she came back into the room. “Okay, his mom is home. If you want to gain my trust, be home before dark, or after dinner—she said she’s going to feed you and give you a ride home. Show me I can trust you, and you can start getting out more. I think it maybe, I said maybe, be okay for you to go back to your old school, but let’s see how you do. Have a good time, you do need to start getting out.”

He did a small fist pump as he went back to his room to get dressed.

“Do you think you can trust him?” asked Mathias.

“Well, depending on what he does, we’ll see. He knows we’ve been keeping a close eye on him. He’s only gone somewhere if it was with one of us. He’s acting like he wants to get back to his life, only with a version that doesn’t include a junkie father.” She held up her hand, “I know he loved his father, but his father betrayed him. Now he has a life where he has enough to eat, he doesn’t have to worry about his things being sold for drugs, and he doesn’t have to see what no kid should. I don’t think he thinks about suicide anymore, I think he sees himself as part of the family.”

“And what if DCF wants to move him?”

“If it’s a good placement and he has time to adjust to it, it may not be a problem. I’m going to fight to make sure he has a say in it. What if he has family and they are wonderful people? I’d like to see him get away from Wyoming, as far away from the bad memories as he can get.”
“And if he turned up on our doorstep, one day, you’d take him right in, wouldn’t you? He teased.

“Of course I would, what do you expect?”

He smiled, and shook his head. Mingan’s outcome was certain, there would always be people who loved him. It was those girls he saw over and over again in the pictures. Who had loved them, anyone? Did anyone care that they were gone, or were they just throwaways? And when would he see the killer arrested, this was beginning to get personal.

Chapter Text

When Alia felt herself getting dizzy, and tripped over her own feet, and hit her head on the sofa, she decided it was time to take her blood pressure. It didn’t surprise her that it was low, she was well past her seven months mark, and her pregnancy was making it harder to do anything.

Mathias came home and saw her unwrapping the cuff from her arm. “Again?” he asked, how often are you taking it anyway. It’s time you got your ass to the doctor, even if I have to drag you.”

“I am a doctor, or have you forgotten? I can take care of myself, I’ve taken care of lots of women in the camps.”

“But you’re not an OB-GYN,” he said, thinking how simply he had picked up her lingo, “You know, you really need to get some help around here, Mom’s offered. She’s not working now, and she doesn’t know what to do with all this time on her hands.”

“NO,” he was receiving the usual response, “I know how to take care of myself. I know what symptoms to watch for. It’s not unusual for pregnant women to have low blood pressure, I just have to be more careful and keep hydrated. I’m taking shorter walks, so I can stay closer to home, I’m being very careful about what I eat and how much rest I get. You’re worrying because I’m an older mother, and might have more problems. I’m okay, really.”

“Would you quit insisting that you don’t need any help? God, Alia, everyone on the rez knows how hard you work, at the clinic, at the hospital, the women’s shelter you’ve started. For once in your life would you please be selfish and accept help? Come on, my mom gets lonely during the day. You’ve been moody as hell since Mingan left, admit, you’re lonely.”

He let his words sink in, for he had something else to tell her. “And, I’ve got some bad news, something you’re not going to want to hear.”
“What?” she asked, “Is the FBI taking over our case?”

He put his arms around her shoulders. “Yep, I’m afraid that’s it. They came to the station today and told us they knew we’d been working on those murder cases. We had to turn everything we had over. If you think about it, this could be a good thing. Out here their resources are limited, but they still have more than we do. One of the agents told me we’d never gotten as far as we did if it hadn’t been for you. As a matter of fact, that’s how they caught the case, one of your connections thought the FBI was working on it, and got in touch with them.”
“Did you tell them about my secret file?” Her secret file was copies of everything she’d compiled, and notes of her own. This has not part of the investigation, she’d told him, this is just for me.

“Do I want to live to see my son born? Of course, I didn’t tell. You can keep your secrets from the feds and no one will be wiser. You need to promise me that you will stop your investigation for now, and wait until you’re strong enough again. In fact, you might want to show it to my mom, she’d get a kick out of it. She didn’t believe me at first when I told her you were ex-FBI. Do you wish you hadn’t quit?”

“Sometimes,” she sighed, “Sometimes I really miss it, but the bureau is so political and to survive you have to be willing to play. I gave them fifteen years of my life, that’s enough. I never expect to step into a criminal investigation, let alone one like this one, so it caught me off guard. And being pregnant, and limited by my body as to what I can do, that’s hard.”

“Well, don’t make it worse. I’m making a doctor appointment for you tomorrow, and I’m going with you. You’re looking frail, that isn’t like you. And no matter what she tells you to do, you’ll do, right? Right?” he said as she wasn’t giving him an answer. And mom’s coming to stay with us to help out and keep an eye on you.”

“Shouldn’t that be a mutual decision?” she asked, “You can’t order my life for me.”

“But the baby is ours, not just yours. You like to run things on your own, but you can’t, not this time. You have to take care of yourself, so you can take care of our kid. Do you know how many pregnancies go badly on the rez?”

“Okay, I give up. But outside of having someone to clean, your mom is all the help we get, okay?”

“Deal. Someone came in and gave us buffalo steaks, so I’m going to fix dinner for us. Buffalo will be good for you, high in protein, low in fat, grass fed. Please, don’t be mad at me, I only want to make sure you’re okay.” She smiled wanly, but for some reason she didn’t seem to mind giving in.

Mathias picked up his mom on his way home. Usually he tended to be talkative within his family.

“She didn’t want me to come,” Janet said astutely, “I imagine she’s really protective about her home right now. The last two months of pregnancy are the worst.”

“We need you there, Mom, she’s been getting dizzy and I worry about her being alone. What if something bad happened and she were by herself? What if she went into labor and couldn’t get to the phone. When she first got pregnant, she was really good about taking care of herself, now it seems she can’t be bothered. She hardly ever cooks, which is okay because I’m starting to enjoy it. We have someone who comes in twice a week and helps with the housework. If it weren’t bad for her and the baby, I’d have her go to a sweat, but that’s a bad idea. I wish she would tell me what’s wrong.”

“How much do the two of you talk, I mean really talk. What does she know of your childhood. What about hers? Didn’t you tell me she did a lot of aid work overseas?” She held up her hand as he started to speak, “I know the two of you get along well, you fight very little, but I bet you’ve left a lot of things out of the conversation. Why don’t you go to bed early tonight and talk, you don’t have to keep me company, there’s a lot of time for that. Get her to talk about the camps, that seems to be a big part of her life.”

“Thanks mom,” he said, and Janet did not know if he meant that sarcastically, or if it was an honest thank you. She tried to stay out of his life, not nag, not offer advice or help unless it was asked. She was sure that frustration do to cultural differences came into play at times. Alia was that strange mix of white, and something that was foreign, something some members of the tribe were still wrestling with. When the baby came, that would ease the way a little. Little Joseph would be raised as a Cheyenne baby, but he would be part of Alia, too.

Personally, she saw the two of them as the best match for each other. Alia had an even temperament, and had proved she could manage Mathias in one of his tempers. There was a sort of dance that they did, one that was in tune with the universe. She liked her half-Lebanese future daughter in law, but there were times when she would have to exercise her patience. She smiled, sometimes managing the two of them was like dealing with two children.

Mathias surprised both mother and wife-to-be by cooking a dinner that was far above his usual standards. The salad may have been a bit awkward, but the buffalo steaks were cooked perfectly, topped with an herb sauce he was not sure he could pull off. He’d splurged and picked out a chocolate mouse cake from the bakery, felt like he deserved the praise he received for his efforts.

Janet cleaned up, and when Alia announced she was going to be, she gave her son a meaningful look.

“I’ll come too, babe, I’ll rub your back for you, I know it’s probably hurting. ‘Night, mom.” He nodded at his mother just before he shut the door.

He didn’t mean to sleep in, it just happened. He and Alia had talked until late, and then he insisted that they turn out the light, so she could get the sleep she needed.

Some of what she told him he’d heard before, but now he had a better understanding of what made her tick. He understood now her passion for her aid work, and the way she had exchanged the tribes for “her” Africans and Palestinians. It was something he could never have taken on for himself, but she’d been doing it since she was twelve, and he admired her for it. The tribe was coming around—he had a box of baby presents he had been meaning to bring home.

Cheyenne, she may not be, acceptance was something she was waiting patiently for, but she loved the tribe. “I am marrying the right woman,” he thought, “It was no accident that I met her that day. God or Fate must have put her in my path.”

Janet set her up on the couch, and brought her eggs and toast. “I made you decaf coffee, Mathias insists, I’ll bring you your juice and vitamins. Let me know if you need anything.”

Alia turned on her laptop, then hacked into Mathias’ computer at the station to see where the evidence they gathered was going. “Not nice of you to take my all my work,” she muttered, “And I see you did it when I was away, so I couldn’t put up a fight. Ah, here we are, they’re taking my stuff to Cheyenne. Who do I know there?”

The knock at the front door came as a surprise to both women. “Are you expecting anyone, dear?” Janet asked, and Alia shook her head.
“I have my Glock, let whoever it is in. I feel like shooting something.”

Janet opened the door to find the tall frame of Walt Longmire standing on the porch. “Is Alia available?” he asked in his deep voice, “I really need to talk to her.”

“Let him in, Jan, just make sure he takes off his boots first. Hi, Walt, what do you need?” A question that she didn’t need to ask, for she could see the three-ring binder in his hand. “All we have is decaf coffee, but it’s good, keep you from getting the jitters.”

She skootched up her feet so he could sit on the couch. He handed her the notebook and she began flipping through the pages, “Any disarticulated skeletons turn up? We’ve had bones show up on the hillside, the fibbies are going to have to make use of a forensic anthropologist. I almost went into that field, but it can be hard to find work.”

“The FBI took over the case?” Walt was somewhat surprised, but knew it had been coming. Mathias was limited as to what he was allowed to investigate. He was sure he would have turned it over earlier, had it not been for Alia.

“Yeah, I knew it was coming, but I held them off for as long as I could. Mathias wanted me to stop and take it easy. It’s harder for me to get around like I was, the baby is due in two months, and I’m getting a little awkward. I think he worries about me, but I told him the slave women had to keep working, deliver, then go back to the fields.”

“Alia, as I swear, I don’t envy Mathias, but congratulations to the both of you. Now, I would appreciate any advice you can give me.”

“Okay, okay,” Alia took a sip of her coffee, “First, see if you can find any dental records. If you have trouble, call Indian Health and ask if they’ll help: ask very nicely. If you have any problems, call me and I’ll smooth things over. What have you done with your DNA samples?”
He stretched his long legs, “Dave Weston offered to take care of it.”

“Dave’s a good guy, but he doesn’t have the connections that I do. She took a piece of paper and wrote a name and number on it. “This guy’s name is Wesley Brian, he’s a good guy and a very good DNA analyst. We’re only gonna catch the killer by his DNA—I found some workable samples in the victims, but it will take time to find out who he is. You know, I’m sorry we didn’t work together on this. Not that it would have speeded things up, but we could have helped each other out.”

“Well, as long as you’re up to it, I’ll accept any help you can give me. I’ll even make sure Mathias doesn’t find out.”

“I didn’t hear that,” called Janet from the kitchen, “As long as she helps you from here, I won’t tell my son a thing.

Chapter Text

Mingan woke suddenly out of the dream that had been disturbing him all night. The dream was about something he had meant to tell Alia, something important, but he could not remember it then.

Now he did.

It was the man, the man he had seen one day while he had been out riding his mountain bike. He had seen him walking around “the tree”, as Alia called it, the tree where she and Mathias had found the girl’s body.

He’d made a mental note to tell her when he got back from his ride, but when he returned , his uncle was waiting there to see him. He’d never seen this uncle, his father’s family had cut him off when his heroin addiction was at its worst, and Mingan had been cut off with him.

Funny, all this time no one had tried to take him away from his father, but now that his father had died, family suddenly seemed concerned.

Mingan’s uncle, James, was a big, bluff man with friendly eyes and a ready smile. Mingan had been wary of him at first, but then James began to tell him about Alaska, and his adventures working on the rigs. He made most of them seem so funny that soon Mingan was laughing along with his uncle.

He’d gotten married, his uncle told him, his wild bachelor days were over. His wife was expecting a baby around the same time Alia’s was due, so Mingan would have a new baby cousin. Alaska was a good place for a boy, a lot of hunting, fishing, and hiking. The Indian community was coastal, but they sponsored a lot of activities, some of which were for youth. And he was thinking about getting a dog team together and start racing during the winter. A friend of his had a husky bitch that was about to have puppies—maybe Mingan would like one? And, of course, a kitten or two for its playmates.

That night Mathias and Alia talked until late in the night. Alia wanted him to stay, they could adopt him, keep him with the tribe. But Mingan belonged with his family, Mathias pointed out, his uncle James had seemed like a good guy. And he was eager to adopt him, which Mathias supported one hundred percent.

The next morning, Alia’s eyes were red rimmed, a sure sign she’d been crying. That evening Mathias told him that James wanted him to come live with him in Alaska. They’d try out a visit first, to see how he liked it.

“You have to try this out,” Mathias told him, “Be willing to give it a chance. This is your family. We’re not cutting you off from us, you know Alia wouldn’t allow that! But your uncle really wants you, and maybe it will be good to get away from the bad memories. This is a chance at a new life, Alaska may be a new adventure for you.”

Mingan got on the plane reluctantly, but he came back excited, and full of enthusiasm. Mathias was relieved, Alia was unhappy, but she said nothing, and supported Mingan’s decision to go live with his uncle.

Mingan got out of bed and pulled back the curtain. He missed living in the cabin in the woods with the sound of the birds in the early morning. He’d never lived in a city, and Anchorage was his first experience. So far, he liked living with his uncle and his new wife, he just didn’t like living in Anchorage.

He looked at the clock, the numbers read six o’clock. Anchorage was two, no three hours behind Durant. Alia was sleeping more now that her due date was getting closer. He’d wait a couple of hours and call her. There might not be a hurry, maybe the man might not show up again.

But he forgot and never called, a thing he would regret later.

 

The baby was almost due, and Alia was feeling thick and clumsy. She had been walking through most of her pregnancy, but now walking was awkward. The problem was that she often had leg and back pain and as hard as walking was, that seemed to be the only cure for it.

Janet had piled up pillows on the sofa, including a special round one that went under her legs. I’m not doing this again, ever, she told herself. Mathias has kids from his first marriage, we don’t need anymore. I wasn’t prepared for how hard this would be, though as a doctor I should have known better. I’m not a kid, I’m almost forty.

Janet brought her breakfast. “I can see the baby moving under your t-shirt, he’s really active this morning.”

“Yeah, he is, he’s killing me. I wish he’d hurry up and get here, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. I’m looking forward to going into labor.

“Just wait, you’ll eat those words, though some women do have an easy labor. What are you planning to do today?” Janet moved Alia’s feet and sat on the sofa with her.

“Well, more paperwork to read. Walt snuck me in some information on the bodies they’ve found in the county. Mathias can’t officially investigate anymore, but if Walt and I put our heads together it will make things a little easier.

“Just as I predicted, they’re starting to find bones that washed down from the hillside with the thaw. This guy is as good as a Ted Bundy or a Gary Ridgeway, it looks like he’s been at it for a longer time than I thought. Even a light weight human body gets heavy when you drag it up a hill, or a mountain. It’s a good idea, though, even if the bones might get washed away by the thaw, the bodies are eaten by animals and the bones dragged away. I might hate what serial killers do, but I kind of admire the really smart ones, in an offhand way.”

“Well, happy reading,” Janet replied, “You aren’t going to try to walk again, are you?”

Alia knew what she meant, Mathias had found her collapsed by the road the last time. But, she needed to get out of the house, and just walking around the yard was not sufficient. It was hot, but she was used to much hotter than this. It was warm up in the hills, but not nearly so much as down in say, Cheyenne. Africa and Lebanon were much hotter than this, and she had inherited something of a tolerance of heat from her Lebanese father.

“A short one, no more than that. If I don’t get out and walk I go crazy. I’m not a house person, never was. Even in New York, my brother and I were outside every chance we got. The baby’s dropped, but I can still walk if I take it easy. I’m just going to walk the road, and I won’t go far.” And though you mean well, Janet, I’m tired of you hovering. I’m pregnant, I’m not crippled.

“I’m going out for a while,” she told Janet, "I'm tired of reading. She set the three-ring notebook down on the floor. The morning was still cool compared to the temperatures it would reach in the afternoon. Getting up off the couch was awkward, but she managed it, she forbid anyone to help her unless she asked. Equally awkward was walking since the baby had dropped, but she could manage it.

She opened the door and stepped outside, breathing the clean air. If she were in New York right now the air would already be hot and humid and would only grow muggier as the day went on. It was more pleasant to step on needles and grass than it was on hot concrete. She had never known such a pleasant summer as this one, why had she not moved to the mountains before?

She walked slowly to the shoulder of the road, then began to follow it, in the direction of the “tree”. She was going to ask Mathias to cut that tree down, they could use it for firewood. Every time she saw it, she thought of the girl lying underneath in the snow. The girl was now long gone, but every so often she would dream of her, dreams where she came to life and started to speak in Cheyenne, a language she still could not understand.

She stopped and rubbed the small of her back. Maybe the walk had been a bad idea, her back was starting to hurt from the strain of the pregnancy. Still, walking loosened up the muscles of her calves which tended to cramp painfully sometimes. Walking, however painful, seemed preferable to the confines of the cabin, so she continued down the road, promising herself to not go too far—she would, after all, have to walk back.

She walked a little further, then stopped again, considering the tree. And then she caught a glimpse of something she did not expect.

A man was emerging from behind the tree. Had he stopped to take a leak, thinking that since the road was isolated, no one would see him? And then she saw the car and knew that the nightmare had come back haunt her.

The car, now it was all about the car. It was an old model station wagon, one you were surprised even ran, but perfect for concealing a body. It was painted a flat dark green and contained a few primer spots. There were many such cars on the rez, but not that stopped here.

The man was headed for the car, and now she knew she needed to get back to the cabin. It was a shame she was too far away to read the license plate, but she wanted to get back now. She didn’t care how strange or funny she looked, or how her gait these days resembled a waddle. She crossed her fingers, saying please, and put her hand to the back of her waistband, hoping that she had remembered to stick the little twenty-two that was the only thing that fit these days. But she had forgotten it in her eagerness to escape.

She drew a deep breath as she heard the station wagon pull up next to her, hoping that he would continue his way and leave her along. Instead she heard the squeaking of bad brakes as he pulled up next to her and rolled down the passenger window.

“Hey lady, that’s quite a load you’re carrying, can I give you a lift?” The speaker was Cheyenne, her anthropologist’s training came into play as she observed him.

“No, I want to walk, really, it’s good for me. I’m not all that far from home, so thank you for the offer, but no thank you.” Go away, go away, go away, she thought.

“Lady, you’re gonna make that kid come earlier than it’s supposed to. Come on, you probably shouldn’t be walking anyway.” He was persisting, leaning over to open the passenger door, and she stepped back, out of his reach.

“If it does come early, that’s fine with me, I’m far enough along that it will be all right, maybe not even have to spend time in an incubator.” Why oh why had she forgotten her gun? “Just leave me alone and go on about your business. I don’t need your help and I don’t want a ride.” If you make a move towards me, she thought, I can defend myself a little, but I’m not up to a fight. Just leave, please.

“All right.” He slid back to the driver’s side and took off, enabling Alia to observe the license plate and she committed it to memory. She hurried home as best she could and grabbed a tablet as soon as she came in the door. She wrote the license number down, wondering if it would do any good because as bad as the vehicle was, he could have stolen it.

By three o’clock her contractions started, and Janet called Mathias and told him to come home. There would be no time to drive to Sheridan and she would have to deliver in Durant. Fortunately, her doctor was available and was making the drive. She’d be there in an hour, she soothed Alia, she wouldn’t have to have Weston deliver the baby, don’t fret, I’ll be there soon.

Her water broke in the lobby, and an orderly hurriedly put her in a wheelchair and took her up to her room. Once there, a nurse helped her out of her wet clothes and put her in a night gown, then strapped the fetal monitor to her stomach. “Not so long now,” the nurse assured her, “unless you have a long labor. Small babies are easier to deliver, so I’m sure it will go smoothly.”

She was having the small, initial contractions, just an introduction to what was ahead of her. She watched the screen of the monitor, observing the patterns of the lines on the screen. So far, so good. The baby wasn’t in distress, and that was a good sign. How many women had she seen through labor and delivery in adverse conditions, not like the luxury of a hospital, even a small one.

Mathias came in, pulled up a chair and sat next to her bed. “What the hell were you thinking? Were you trying to make this happen?”

“I saw him, Mathias, I think. Saw his car, got his license number. He’s Cheyenne, just as I suspected. I was walking in the direction of the tree, and I saw him by the tree, then I saw his car. I turned around and headed back and he tried to get me to let him give me a ride. It’s him, Mathias, it’s got to be him. He’s visiting the scene of the crime, just like some serial killers do, only now he knows the body’s gone.”

“Alia, how can someone as smart as you lack total sense sometimes? Right now, I don’t care about the killer, I care about you and the baby. You knew you put the baby at risk, right?”

“Mathias, I’m eight months along, he’ll be fine. If he weighs five pounds they might not even put him in an incubator. The license number is at home on the table, I wrote it on a legal pad. You need to check it out.”

“The only thing I’m concerned with is you and our baby; but do you still have the number memorized?”

She did, and he wrote it down, along with the description of the man and the station wagon. He stepped out of the room and went down the hall to make the phone call, returning shortly, a grin on his face.

“It seems your friend had a flat tire along the highway, and his tabs are out of date. If we can’t hold him, we’ll try to find a way of delaying him until we can figure something out. What’s wrong?”

“My labor's started, we’re in for the long haul now. No more kids, Mathias, this is the last time I’m doing this.”

“Fine with me,” he grinned, and took her hand. It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Joseph Mingan came into the world at the stroke of midnight, crying lustily to the amazement of the doctor who delivered him. His apgars were excellent, his heart and his lungs were strong. Not only that, he weighed five pounds, one ounce, big enough for his proud parents to be able to take him home.

Mathias smiled through his tears as he cut the cord. He watched the nurse hand his tiny, but perfect son to Alia, his heart full of pride.

"New grandson for you, mom, probably the last,” he said a little wistfully. Alia saw the look on his face and handed him his, no their, son.

“Gonna be a little guy like you, babe," Alia told him, "Doesn’t matter though, he’s strong, and I think he’s going to have my eyes.”

Joseph’s eyes were the rheumy blue of infants, but she was probably right, he decided. After all, the Shoshone and Mandan sometimes had grey eyes, though no one understood why. It didn’t matter though, he and Alia had produced the perfect child, as far as he was concerned.

 

Alia was tired, and dozing in her bed. She’d stay in the hospital for forty-eight hours, and if things were all right, she and the baby would go home. It helped that she was a doctor, if she noticed any symptoms in her or the baby, she would go directly to the hospital.

Now that she’d delivered, she could go back to making her clinic house calls. She liked checking on her patients, making sure they were taking their meds, and that they were showing signs of improvement. Why had she wasted all those years in the FBI? She could have devoted her life strictly to medicine.

Joseph was getting a little fussy, she’d wait a little while longer before feeding him. “Feed him every two hours,” she’d heard from more than one source, “believe me, you’ll be glad you did.”

She picked the baby up out of his bassinet. She’d ring for a nurse for fresh diapers and a gown after she finished nursing. New to motherhood, she was establishing routines for that would fit both her and the baby.

She was starting to drift off to sleep when she was awakened by the noise of the janitor coming in to mop the floors. She opened her eyes and saw a native American man staring at her. Probably a Cheyenne, she thought, but what was he doing in here? They don’t usually clean until afternoon, and my linen has already been changed.

“That’s a fine boy you’ve got there,” he said, the Cheyenne accent heavy in his voice, “He’s a little on the small side, though.”

“I’m sort of small, and so is his father. She carefully avoided the use of Mathias’ name. “We do quite well, in spite of our height, and so will the baby; he’ll learn that there’s more to a person than his size.” And who are you and what are you doing in my room, anyway? She thought.

She drew the baby closer to her. I should recognize you, she thought, I know I’ve seen you before, but my mind is still kind of hazy from the drugs. Where did I see you, she wracked her memory, trying to determine if he was a threat.

She pressed the nurse call button, not wanting to be alone in the room with him. She clasped the baby more tightly, not taking a chance that he could lay hands on her child. The phone receiver was within reach of her hand, and if he took another step towards her, she would grab it and hit him on the side of his greasy black head.

“I know you,” she suddenly remembered where he had come from, “I saw you on our…”

She didn’t get to finish her sentence because the nurse chose to appear just as she was going to tell him just where she had seen him. He ducked swiftly out of the room, his head down, splashing water from the bucket in his hurry to leave.

“Is something wrong, Alia?” asked Meg, the attractive redhead with a zoftig figure who was dating “Ferg” Ferguson.

“Yes, the janitor, I don’t think he belongs here, and he was a little too interested in me and the baby. I don’t know who he was or what he wanted, the real janitor doesn’t come in to mop until afternoon. I’d feel a lot better if someone could see about having a guard posted outside the room. I know how paranoid that sounds, but I think I recognize him.”

Meg put the baby in the bassinet, then straightened bed linens, and fluffed a pillow and placed it behind Alia’s back. “No, not as paranoid as you think. Before I met Archie, I swear I never even noticed things like this. Being around all you law enforcement types has opened my eyes. I think you should call Mathias," she added.

“Already doing it,” Alia replied, “I thought I’d be safe in a hospital, for crying out loud. If he’s who I think he is, how in the world did he find out where I was? Who is he? I should be at the station, going through mug shots instead of sitting here.”

Meg shook her head and went to call security. Through the door, she could hear Alia saying, "This is Alia, I need to speak to Mathias…"

 

Mathias all but ran out of his Yukon and up to Alia’s room. A security guard was now posted outside her bedroom, he noticed with grim satisfaction. He’d rather it was a cop, but he couldn’t spare anyone, at the moment, so the security guard would have to do.

She was nursing the baby, how could she at a time like this, but it seemed to be calming her. He stroked her hair, and she turned her cheek towards him, her eyes closed as if to shut out the memory of what had happened.

She moved over so he could join her on the bed. Not very professional Mathias, he thought, but damn it, she was his woman and that was his baby. “How are you doing?” he asked her softly and put his arm around her.

“Better than I expected, but I don’t feel safe here, even with a guard outside. How in the world did he find me, anyway? This is all very strange, I’m scared and frustrated because I can’t do anything about it.”

“How would you feel about being at home?”

He’d hit the nail on the head. If Mathias was there, she’d be fine, but when she was alone with the baby, or with Janet, that was another matter. She’d never even considered the thought of being afraid, but now that she was she did not like it.

"I'd feel safer on the rez. With Annie, Mary, somebody, anybody. I feel like my home's been invaded. Up until now, I've loved the isolation, but now it feels threatening. When I'm back on my feet again, when I regain my strength, that will be another matter." I hope, anyway, she admitted to herself.

 

“We don’t even know who he is,” Mathias pointed out, “Until we at least have a chance to talk to him, we can’t conclude anything.”

“Even when he disguised himself as a janitor and talked to the mother of your baby?” Her look was skeptical, and he didn’t blame her.

“Okay, let’s do it this way. There’s a vacant house next to Mom where we can stay for a while, I’ll move some stuff in, along with the cats. In the meantime, I'll have someone come in and do a sketch, this afternoon if I can find someone. The day you get home, if you're up to it, you can go through our mug books, maybe I can borrow some of Walt's. And I'll make sure there's a guard in your room twenty-four/seven. It's probably only for another day, so they shouldn't object too much. Wouldn't do for something to happen to one of their patients."

The baby had finished nursing, so he took him out of Alia’s arms. “Your mother is causing trouble, but she’s good at that. Don’t you pick that up from her, I don’t have that much spare time on my hands.”

He stood, absently holding his son, “I’m going to call Henry, and order some food from the Red Pony—it will be better than anything the hospital has to offer. I’ll pick it up and come back, ask that cute redhead to see about getting me a cot so I can sleep in the room tonight.” He put the baby back in her arms. “Don’t worry, Alia,” he said, “Nothing is going to happen to you, not while I’m around. I’m going to go talk to people and see if they saw this janitor. Get some sleep, you look like you need it.” He kissed her and left the room.

Meg came in, “Are you okay?” she asked.

Alia shook her head, “Not really, I’m kind of shaken. I’ll feel better when Mathias gets back here. He tells me I have a talent for attracting trouble.”
Meg laughed. “Well, I had a thought. There’s a nurses’ aide here who moonlights as an artist. If you want to get a drawing done of this guy while it’s fresh in your head, I’ll call him. He can be here in five minutes.”

"Yes, wow, thank you, Meg. If you wouldn't mind staying until Mathias gets back…"

“No problem,” she answered and picked up the phone and made a quick call. She put down the receiver and said, “Five minutes, just like I said. He’s studying art and wants to be a portrait painter. He’s really good. He can have the sketch ready for Mathias by the time he gets back.”

Meg fussed around the room, changing the baby, putting a clean gown on him, and checking to make sure his bedding was clean and dry.

“He looks more Cheyenne, you know, but he’s going to have your beautiful eyes, I bet. He’s a good baby, not fussy, and he nurses well, doesn’t he? I’m hoping that Archie and I have a couple, if we get married someday, that is.” She smiled and put the baby back in his bassinet.

“Meg?” A serious looking Cheyenne boy in hospital scrubs stood in the doorway, holding a sketch pad. “Is this the lady you told me about?” he asked.

“Yes, Bobby, this is Alia. She’s going to describe someone to you, do you think you can draw him for her?”

"I can draw anything," he said confidently and pulled up a chair. "Go ahead," he said, "I'm ready."

"Well, he looks like he's in his early thirties, I can't say for certain what his age is. His head was kind of oval shaped, but his chin shape was softer. He had kind of a medium-sized nose, but the base of his nose was kind of wide. His eyes were narrow, kind of Asian looking, like some Native Americans have—you can see the Siberian ancestry. Oops, sorry. His lashes were short and stubby but were kind of thick. His eyebrows were straight and thick.

"His forehead was medium, not high, not low. His hair was cropped short all over his head, maybe about three-quarters of an inch thick. His face, his skin, he must have had acne really bad when he was young. His face wasn't pock marked, but kind of lumpy, maybe more uneven. And his coloring was dark, not really dark, but he was darker than me. I think it was his natural coloring, not a tan. Is that enough?"

“Um-hmm,” he answered, concentrating on his drawing, “Now can you look at it and tell me what isn’t quite right and I can change it.”

He handed his sketch book to her. The likeness was good, but there were little details not quite and she had forgotten to tell him the subject had high cheekbones. When they were both satisfied that the likeness was good enough for now, he gave her the drawing.

"I can pay you for this if you want. Police sketch artists do get paid, you know."

“Nah,” he answered, “This is good practice for me. I draw just about everybody around here, it was nice having a new subject, so to speak.”

“Okay, well thank you. I’m glad that Meg thought of you, that way I was able to give a description while it was fresh in my mind. If portraits don’t work out for you, you might want to consider a career in law enforcement!”

He smiled, making a gesture of dismissal. Tucking his pad under his arm, he waved to both women and left the room.

“Nice kid,” said Alia, “He’s good, I hope he gets to use his talents.”

“Let me see,” said Meg and Alia handed her the drawing. “You know,” she said as she scrutinized it, “I may have seen this guy before, but not disguised as a janitor. In fact, I think I saw him escorted out one day, he was trying to get into the morgue, maybe. Anyway, he somehow managed to get downstairs, and Dr. Weston caught him and had security escort him out. I mean, maybe it wasn’t him, but he looks kind of familiar.”

“Meg, that makes sense. The serial killer’s victims were brought here so Dr. Weston and I could autopsy them. And I swear he’s the one I saw by the tree where Mathias and I found one of the victims, right down the road from our cabin.

“Why don’t you get some sleep?” suggested Meg, “I’ll be right here. Just try to relax and put it out of your mind for now.” She held up her hand as Alia objected, “I know, I know, that may not be possible, but you just had a baby, give your body a break. You’re safe now, and Mathias will be back soon. You can’t solve this right now anyway, so you might as well take it easy.”

Meg was right, Alia was tired, and the unexpected stress of the unwelcome visitor had strained her. Maybe she was too used to pushing herself, expecting things of herself that were not quite realistic. She’d never be able to solve this if she didn’t give her body a chance to heal. Childbirth took a lot out of women, and why did she think she was no exception.

She lay back, drifting slowly off to sleep. A jumble of images started forming in her mind, images that had been in her mind since she and Mathias had discovered the first body.

Ghosts of the girls seemed to swirl past her, followed by images of the disarticulated bones that had washed down from the hillside. They lined up in a sort of macabre dance, girls in costumes dancing with skeletons to the sound of whistles, singing, and drums.

One of the girls came up to, as if to confront her. “Why aren’t you listening?” she demanded, “We’ve been trying to tell you all along. We can’t rest if you don’t find him, our families will never know. The clues are there, why can’t you solve the question?”

Alia, crying, tried to tell her, “But we don’t have enough information yet. We can’t tell your families if we don’t know who you are. Give me a chance, help me out, I need to know more before I can help.”

The girls and the skeletons crowded around her, demanding her to do more, not leaving her alone, growing closer and closer until she wanted to scream out “leave me alone.”

And Mathias shook her awake, saying, “You were having a nightmare, wake up Alia, I’m here.”