Lethal Expedition (Short Story) (6 page)

BOOK: Lethal Expedition (Short Story)
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“My name is Mary Smith,” Hallie said.

“Where do you work?”


“How tall are you?”

“Six feet, six inches.”

“What is your occupation?”

“Truck driver.”

The plump, pink little polygraph examiner said, “Thank you for lying, Dr. Leland. We have a deception baseline now. Are you comfortable?” His name was Albert Landry, and his voice was high and squeaky.

“Not bad, given all this.” “All this” referred to pneumatic tubes wrapped around her chest and belly, gold-lined metal sleeves on two right-hand fingers, and a rough fabric ring Velcroed around her left thumb.

Landry frowned. “It looks like I need to recalibrate something. Just take a second.”

Hallie’s mind wandered back to her conversation with Agent Luciano, earlier that morning, in his office at FBI headquarters.

“I apologize for the short notice on this, but it couldn’t wait,” he had told her.

“Why not?”

“There’s been some interest in your case.”

“My case?” Hallie wasn’t from Baltimore, but she had never minced words, either. “Does that mean you people suspect me of doing something wrong on the expedition?”

“Look at it this way: Three people go down into a cave. They discover something that could ultimately be worth millions. Maybe billions. Only one comes out.” He shrugged.

“You believe I had something to do with Kurt and Devan’s deaths?”

“I believe in things like facts and the weight of evidence. Do you know the legal definition of ‘probable cause,’ Dr. Leland?”


“Probable cause is the standard used to make arrests—or not. ‘A set of facts or circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a crime had been committed, was being committed, or was about to be committed.’ ”

She started to protest. But she was a scientist; for her, objectivity was reflexive. She could see how the expedition looked through that lens.

“Agent Luciano, I had
to do with the deaths. Devan’s was an accident and Kurt’s, suicide.”

Luciano nodded. “I hope not. You seem like a nice lady doing science that could help people.” The words were kind, but his eyes were not. He looked at his watch. “Time to see the wizard.”

And here they were. Landry finished fiddling, noted the date and time, and began again. He asked some basic factual questions, then got to the heart of it.

“Do you know what happened to Kurt Ely?”


“Do you believe that he died in the cave?”


“Did you do anything to contribute to the death of Devan Halsted?”

“No.” But she should have checked Halsted’s gear and sent him down first.

“Did you do anything to contribute to the death of Kurt Ely?”

“No.” But she should have searched.

“Did you kill Devan Halsted?”


“Did you kill Kurt Ely?”


“Did you want Devan Halsted to die?”


“Did you want Kurt Ely to die?”


“Did you feel threatened by Devan Halsted?”


“Did you feel threatened by Kurt Ely?”

been something—faint, ineffable, but there. Or it could have been Talisto. Caves worked on you. “No.”

“Did you stand to gain anything from the death of Devan Halsted?”


“Did you stand to gain anything from the death of Kurt Ely?”


“Is your name Hallie Leland?”


“Have you answered all of the questions in this interview truthfully?”


Landry typed something on the machine’s keyboard and looked up. “Done.” Whistling cheerily, he separated her from the machine. “That wasn’t so painful now, was it?”

“Not really. What did the wizard say?”

“He said your heart beats, you’re breathing, and you have healthy skin.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“I can’t discuss results.”

“For the record, I was truthful.”

“I’m sure you were, Dr. Leland. Everyone always is.”


Hallie had cleaned up the living room floor as soon as the officers left. She got home after the polygraph test and finished putting her house back together. It was almost six when she remembered that Stephen Redhorse was coming.


They had agreed on seven, and he arrived closer to eight. When they kissed on her front porch, she smelled liquor.

“Come on in,” she said. He usually asked for coffee or a soft drink, and she offered those.

“Have any Scotch?” he asked.

“Sure. Walker Black. Water and ice?”


She got their drinks. Redhorse had taken the old red leather chair she’d appropriated from the farm, so she sat in the heavy oak chair her grandfather had made.

He said, “It stinks in here.”

“Somebody broke in yesterday while I was gone. They crapped on the floor over there.”

“Jesus Christ, Hallie. What did they take?”

She told him, and told what they had left, as well.

“Still have your gun?”

“Of course.”

“Good. Living out here all by yourself.” He looked away. “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the hospital.”

“I wasn’t on my deathbed.”

Neither spoke for a while. “Hey, did you rearrange the furniture?” he asked.

“No, it’s the same.”

“Huh. Seems different.” He finished his Scotch, asked for another.

She brought it, sat. “Stephen, we need to talk. Something has changed.”

“Not the furniture, though?” He grinned, and his eyelids floated down and back up. She saw that he had had more to drink than she’d thought at first.

“No. Something important.”

He sat up straighter. “What?”


“Us is fine. All good.” He glanced toward the bedroom.

She took his meaning, but said, “I don’t think so. Something is different.”

He swallowed Scotch, shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“It started when we visited your mother. Something happened out there.”

“What does that mean, ‘something happened’?” A mocking tone.

“It’s hard to describe. But you seem angry a lot of the time. And mostly at me.”

“Why would I be angry at you?” he snapped.

“That’s what I’d like to know.”

She saw his left hand close into a fist, open, close again. “What’s going on here, Hallie?”

She was sure that he was stonewalling. “I can’t believe you don’t get this. I need to understand what’s happening.”

need is less bullshit. You think I don’t have enough downtown?
I had two kids die on me last night

“I’m very sorry to hear that. But this isn’t bullshit. You haven’t been the same since that trip.”

His face hardened. “I’m not the one who changed. I saw it in your eyes on the rez, and it’s still there.
Poor Stephen. What a horrible place. I feel so sorry for him
. You know what?
I don’t need anybody’s pity
.” He finished the Scotch.

“How much did you drink before you came here?”

“What the fuck does that matter?”

It wasn’t working. “I don’t know what else to say. I was hoping it wouldn’t come down to this.”

“Wait a minute. Are you breaking up with me?”

“I need some time to think. I’m sorry. It hasn’t felt good being with you. I hoped we could talk it out.”

Veins stood out on his forehead. Both hands clenched and opened. She had never seen him this angry. He stood up, breathing fast. “What the hell is going on, Hallie?”

“You’re a good man, Stephen. But—”

“But I’m an
. From a disgusting reservation with a drunk mother and a crack-whore sister. That’s it, right?”


are dumping
. I can’t believe it.”

Something in his tone caught her. “What do you mean by that?”

“My people were right.”

“About what?”

“They said, Don’t get in with a white woman. She will cut your heart out and eat it.”

His look made her step back.

“Know wha’?” he said, really slurring now. “You’re gonna regret this.” He slammed the door so hard the old walls shook.


Henry Backer loved the Good Shepherd Chapel more than any other place in the vast cathedral. There were other chapels, of course—bigger, well lit, accessible from inside. The Good Shepherd Chapel was small, and cathedral gardens hid its one door. The only illumination was natural light filtering through slit windows in the cathedral’s two-foot-thick limestone-block walls. When the sky went dark, so did the chapel.

Backer opened it for public worship at six-thirty
and closed it at ten
He might see two or three daytime visitors a week. Many Washingtonians thought the city little safer than a medieval enclave after dark, and visiting outlanders were even more nychtophobic, so no one ever ventured into the lightless chamber after sunset. That was Backer’s favorite time. At night, the chapel was his alone, and he spent hours there talking to the Lord and listening to His answers. Safe in his dank space in the bowels of the vast cathedral, Backer imagined himself a sparrow cradled in the hand of God.

At eleven
Backer entered the chapel and knelt before the simple granite altar to pray and meditate. An hour later, refreshed in mind and spirit, he sat on the wooden pew. After a while someone entered, pushed the door closed, latched it, and sat beside him in the dark.

“Welcome,” Backer said softly. “We are in the presence of the Lord. Do you feel Him?”

“Through and through,” Ely answered, completing their arranged greeting. Backer felt something being placed on the pew beside his thigh. Ely said, “Now it’s all in your hands.”

“Yes,” Backer said. “I am thankful that the time has finally arrived. We went to so many meetings, and there was so much talk.
of talk. But no one ever did a thing.”

“When interests join, God smiles. Like the junction of roads. A thing of great power. God wills that, and leaves us to find the way.”

“Well …” Backer said. “Will you be here tomorrow?”

“Yes. I shaved off the hair and beard and lost twenty-one pounds in the cave. I doubt you would recognize me now. No one else will, certainly.” For a few moments he was silent. “Are you ready, Henry?”

It was Backer’s turn to be quiet. Then he said, “To do what is necessary, yes.”

“ ‘Come now therefore, and let us slay her, and cast her into some pit, and we shall see what will become of her dreams.’ ” Ely patted Backer’s shoulder and left. Backer put the parcel, about the size of a paperback book, into his suit jacket pocket. He prayed in the chapel until dawn.

Day Two: Friday


BOOK: Lethal Expedition (Short Story)
11.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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