April Smith. Judas Horse
Ana Smith, book 3
In order to be a good warrior, one has to feel this sad and tender heart. If a person does not feel alone and sad, he cannot be a warrior at all.
I am standing in the middle of nowhere, eating an oatmeal cookie, when the word comes down the hallway like an ill wind that SAC Robert Galloway wants to see everyone in his office. I glance at the TV monitors — no airplane crashes — and figure this would be Galloway announcing with his usual gloomy hysteria that some honcho is coming from FBI headquarters, or maybe, because of budget cuts, we all have to bring our own copy paper.
The boss is waiting behind his desk, eyes downcast, fingertips tapping the blotter, and he does not speak or look up until the office is jammed with agents in shirtsleeves and wide-eyed administrative assistants. Cautious silence settles in.
“Another blow,” he says, because there are all kinds of blows, all day long.
The silence twists tighter.
“Special Agent Steve Crawford is dead.”
A collective gasp of shock. Some of us clutch, as if kicked in the gut.
“We have a positive ID on his remains.”
“How?” someone finally asks.
Galloway clears his throat. Everybody knows Steve Crawford was his golden boy and heir apparent.
“A hiker found a piece of jaw with a couple of teeth in a stream close to where Steve disappeared.” He takes a breath. “The forensic dentist matched the root furcation on the X-rays.”
“Cause of death?”
Galloway rubs his forehead. “He was an experienced hiker. A fall? Hypothermia? We don’t know. He was hiking alone. It’s a remote location. You have big animals, little animals; they’re dragging pieces hither and yon. The coroner says the manner of death is a very difficult call, based on the evidence and the length of time Steve was out there.”
It is like losing Steve all over again. Like those stomach-churning hours thrashing through the soaking undergrowth up in Oregon just days after I’d come back from administrative leave. I get sick just thinking about the empty yelping of those dogs.
When Steve had failed to call his wife, Tina, from a solo hiking vacation in the Cascades, his abandoned SUV was discovered at a trailhead. Four hundred volunteers scoured the national park, casting a net of inquiry from Eugene to Bend. Everyone from the Los Angeles field office went up on their own time to knock on doors. Worse, indescribably worse, were the visits to Steve and Tina’s house down here in Gardena — a dining table of foil- covered casseroles, two dazed grandmas from out of town, a couple of sisters, the scent of baby powder from the children’s room.
Standing now in Galloway’s superheated office, I do not want to hear the aren’t-I-smart questions. What does it matter if the molars have fillings or not? After weeks of uncertainty, there is no doubt. Steve is dead; at least his family has something to bury.
Seven months before, a crazed detective on a suicide mission tried to drag me into his car, and I shot him.
When you are involved in a shooting incident, they take away your weapon and credentials. You are no longer identified as a federal agent, no different from any bozo who cannot get past the metal detectors. There is an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility and what we call “critical incident training,” psychoanalyzing with other agents who have been through a life-changing trauma. When they decide you are ready to come back, the tradition is that another agent waits downstairs to “walk you in.”
Steve Crawford was waiting in the lobby of the federal building when I returned after seven insomnia-racked months on administrative leave. In the FBI family, Steve and I were closer than most, having graduated in the same class at the Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Those who go through new agent training together are eternally bonded in young blood. We had shared many defining moments, but that image of Steve in the lobby is especially vivid, not only because of his kindness to me on that first awful day back but also because later, when he disappeared, I struggled to enhance every memory of him in the days before, in search of a detail that might explain why.
A tall drink of water with ash-blond hair, thirty-eight at the time, he was leaning on a counter with a distracted look, wearing a nylon strap around his neck with a clip on the end for ID tags and keys. We each have one, personalized with goofy stuff. His was red, white, and blue, studded with pins from police departments around the country and two teddy bears — representing many cases, years of work, and becoming a new dad. The lobby was crowded with civil servants and foreign nationals, but in the light streaming down through the atrium, all I saw was that strap, glinting with honor, and I was hungry for it.
“Everything all right?” he asked, touching my shoulder.
We were in the elevator. I stared at the floors ticking by.
“Why am I nervous? It feels like the first day of school.”
“You have plenty of friends on the playground,” Steve assured me.
After he got a law degree, and before he joined the Bureau, Steve played outfield during two seasons of minor-league baseball. He was the real thing. He knew all about disappointment and bone-wearying hard work. Sometimes I’d ask, “How many times in your life do you think you’ve swung a bat?” and he’d deadpan, “Not nearly enough.” No question he had the talent. If he’d wanted to make the majors and cash out, he would have. It was just that Steve Crawford cared more about helping people than he did about himself.
The elevator doors had opened and we stepped into a hall. Steve swiped his card. I followed through the secure door, fighting an embarrassing impulse to hold on to his hand. He got me through those first brutal hours; got my old handcuffs back, the weapon in its clip, the case in black dress leather that holds credential and badge. There was a drawer full of clean new key straps. I chose red, white, and blue.
“Take a breath,” he said. “You’ll be great.”
Just as I was getting my feet back on the ground, Steve Crawford was on his way to infinity.
The U.S. Federal Office Building on Wilshire Boulevard, isolated in a flat grass tract behind a queue of concrete bunkers, is a soulless tower meant to keep excitement out. If you had business here this morning, you might wonder at the numbers of dark-suited judges, cops, and politicians gathered beneath the breezy portico, and the white chairs set in rows. You might notice the Marine honor guard, and the guy in the kilt