He removed his hat when he stepped inside and let his eyes adjust to the poorly lit interior of her home. The furniture looked secondhand, the couch and chairs covered with cheap fabric, the rugs threadbare, an ancient glass wall case stuffed with books probably bought at yard sales. “We’re looking for a man who may have been an intended victim in a homicide, Ms. Ling,” he said.

“Why do you think he’s here?” she asked.

Through the back window he could see a stucco cottage by a slat-wall barn, alongside a flat-roofed, oblong building that once could have been a bunkhouse. “Because you live in the middle of an unofficial international highway?” he said.

“What’s this man’s name?” she asked.

“We don’t know. The FBI does, but we don’t,” he answered.

“I see. Well, I don’t think he’s here.”

“He might have a manacle on one wrist, but we can’t be sure of that. I suspect he’s terrified and desperate,” Hackberry said. “The man he may have been manacled to was tortured to death by six men carrying rifles. They probably came out of Mexico.”

“If this man is desperate, why wouldn’t he come to you?” the Asian woman said.

“My guess is he doesn’t trust the authorities.”

“But he would trust me?”

“We’re not with ICE or the Border Patrol, ma’am,” Pam said.

“I gathered that from your uniform and your badge.”

“The point is, we’re not worried about somebody feeding or sheltering wets,” Pam said. “They’ve been with us a long time.”

“Yes, they have, haven’t they?”

Pam seemed to think about the implication of the statement, plainly wondering if the barb was intentional or imaginary. “I was admiring your side room there. Is that a statue of the Virgin Mary in front of all those burning candles?”

“Yes, it is.”

“It doesn’t weep blood, does it?” Pam asked.

“Ms. Ling, if you don’t feel you can confide in us, talk with the FBI. The man we’re looking for barely escaped a terrible fate,” Hackberry said.

If his suggestion had any viability at all, it did not show in the Asian woman’s face. “I’ll keep in mind what you’ve said,” she replied.

Pam Tibbs’s arms were folded on her chest. She gave Hackberry a look, waiting for him to speak, the fingers of her right hand opening and closing, her breath audible.

Hackberry took the manila folder from his side pocket and removed the sheaf of eight-by-ten photos. “These were taken today at a crime scene no more than a half hour from your house. What you see here was done by men who have no parameters, Miss Anton. We have a witness who indicates the victim gave up the name La Magdalena before he died. We think the torture death of the victim was conducted by a man called Krill. That’s why we’re here now. We don’t want these men to hurt you or anyone to whom you may have given shelter. Have you heard of a man named Krill?”

Her eyes held on his. They were dark, unblinking, perhaps containing memories or knowledge she seldom shared with others.

“Yes,” she replied. “Three or four years ago, there was a coyote by that name. He robbed the people who paid him to take them across. Some say he raped the women.”

“Where is he now?”

“He disappeared.”

“Do you know how he came by his name?”

“He was a machine-gunner somewhere in Central America. His nickname came from the food of the whale. He ate the ‘krill’ in large numbers.”

It was silent in the room. Hackberry glanced through the door of the side room, which must have served as a chapel of some kind. Perhaps thirty or forty candles were burning in red and blue and purple vessels, the light of the flames flickering on the base of the statue. “You Catholic, Miss Anton?” he said.

“That depends on whom you talk to.”

“Expecting some visitors tonight?” When she didn’t reply, he said, “Can we look out back?”

“Why do you ask me? You’ll do it whether I like it or not.”

“No, that’s not correct,” Pam replied. “We don’t have a search warrant. We’ll do it with your permission, or we can get a warrant and come back.”

“Do whatever you wish.”

“Excuse me, ma’am, but what if we just leave you alone here?” Pam said. “Would you prefer that? Then you can deal with Mr. Krill and his friends on your own.”

“We’ll wander out back, if you don’t mind,” Hackberry said, placing a business card on the coffee table. Then he smiled. “Is it true you worked for Civil Air Transport, Claire Chennault’s old airline?”

“I did.”

“It’s an honor to meet you.”

Minutes later, outside in the wind, Pam Tibbs’s throat was still bladed with color, her back stiff with anger.” ‘An honor to meet you’?” she said. “What the hell is that? She’s a horse’s ass.”

“Look at it from her point of view.”

“She doesn’t have one.”

“She stands up for people who have no power. Why not give the devil her due?”

Pam went inside the stucco cottage, then came back out, letting the screen slam behind her. “Check it out. There’s a mattress in there soaked in blood, and bandages are scattered all over the floor. The blood is still sticky. I bet that guy was here while we were talking in the house. What was that stuff about Claire Chennault’s airline?”

“It was a CIA front that became Air America. They supplied the Laotian resistance and flew in and out of the Golden Triangle.”

“They transported opium?”

Hackberry removed his hat and knocked a dent out of the crown and put it back on. He felt old in the way people feel old when they have more knowledge of the world than they need. In the south the sky was blackening in the sunset, and dust was rising off the hills. “I think it’s fixing to blow,” he said.

Krill squatted on the edge of the butte and looked out at the desert and at the red sun cooling on the horizon. The sky had turned green when the wind drove the rain from the west, and dust devils were spinning across the landscape below, the air blooming with a smell that was like wet flowers and chalk. He had washed his body with a rag and canteen water, and now his skin felt cool in the breeze and the layer of warm air that had risen from the desert and broken apart in the evening sky. His eyes were a milky blue, his expression composed, his skin dusky and dry and smooth and clean inside his wind-puffed shirt. As often happened in these solitary moments, Krill thought about a village in a country far to the south, its perimeter sealed by jungle, a dead volcano in the distance. Across the road from the house where he had lived, three children played in a dirt yard in front of the clinic that had been constructed by East Germans and burned by the army. In Krill’s reverie, the children turned to look at him, their faces lighting with recognition. Then their faces disappeared, as though airbrushed from his life.

“What we gonna do now, jefe?” Negrito said, squatting down next to him. He wore a greasy leather flop hat pushed back on his head, his hair curling like flames from under it.

Because Negrito was of mixed blood and his first language was bastardized English, he believed he and Krill were brothers in arms. But Krill neither liked nor trusted Negrito, whose facial features resembled those of an orange baboon that had fallen into a tub of bleach.

Krill continued to gaze at the desert and the way the light pooled in the clouds even though the sun had already set.

“Don’t believe that stuff about La Magdalena. She ain’t got no power, man,” Negrito said. “You know what they say about puta from over there. It’s sideways. That’s the only difference.”

Krill’s expression never changed, as though Negrito’s words were confetti falling on a flat stone. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Negrito leaning forward, dangerously close to the edge of the bluff, trying to earn his

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