Yes, these were the people in her fragmentary memories. This was the woman she pictured waiting for her in the hall outside her classroom with other mothers. There were no photos of her brother, who’d been kept out of the public eye, but he was mentioned. Felix was three years younger than she was, a seventh grader that year.
She printed articles, photos, until there was a stack a quarter of an inch thick on her desk. When she was done and closed the browser, she put Captain McAllister’s photo on top, so that it was the one she was looking at.
Exhaustion swept over her. She ached, as if she’d been hauling heavy boxes all day, climbing endless flights of stairs. She barely summoned the energy to stumble to the bathroom and brush her teeth before she tumbled into bed. She fell into sleep as if it were the darkest depths of her forgotten past.
* * *
“WHAT KIND OF fiasco is this?” Bystrom snapped, stabbing the front page article in the Reporter with his finger. The Bend Bulletin lay beside it with a similar headline. “How the hell am I supposed to make us sound like anything but idiots when the mayor asks me about it?”
Colin and his counterpart, Brian Cooper, who headed Patrol Services, exchanged a fleeting, expressionless glance. Colin wished—man, he wished—he could dismiss Angel Butte Police Chief Gary Bystrom as the dumb shit he often sounded, but the SOB was more complex than that. Unfortunately.
He looked like the Hollywood version of a sheriff or police chief, the kind who’d risen through the ranks and now used hard-won wisdom and sometimes bitter experience to lead and inspire his officers. Blond hair had gracefully turned white; he wore a tan as if he’d spent a lifetime out in the field squinting against the sun. What creases and wrinkles his lean face bore made him more handsome. His tall, athletic body was still spare and showed the uniform to advantage. He liked to wear his uniform.
The tan, they all knew, came from the sun reflecting off snow and water. Bystrom was an ardent skier and fly fisherman both. Everyone in the department was grateful that he pursued his hobbies so passionately, because it kept him out of their hair more often than not.
What Bystrom was really good at was politicking. He and the former mayor, Pete Linarelli, had been best friends. Members of the city council strongly supported their police chief. He socialized with most of them, and with most of the important business people in Butte County, too. When Maddie Dubeau disappeared, he had frequently been pictured with her parents, his face reflecting his deep concern, a comforting hand on Helen’s arm.
Colin had checked out his background and knew he’d skated through ten years as a patrol officer, back when Angel Butte was a third the size it was now, a backwater not yet transformed into a tourist town with the resulting increase in crime. He’d served briefly as a community liaison, become an administrative sergeant and then, with stunning speed, lieutenant. He made captain by forty, chief by forty-five. He hadn’t served a day in Criminal Investigations, on the Drug Enforcement Team or the SWAT team.
Temper tantrums were his answer to screwups caused by inadequate manpower, training or weaponry. And yeah, Colin couldn’t argue; this was a big one. Also the kind Colin and Brian both had been expecting, had considered inevitable, given the budget cutbacks.
What happened, so far as Colin understood it, was that a detective on his way home from work had stopped at a Quik-Stop store for some diapers for his eighteen-month-old kid. He’d interrupted a holdup in progress and, though undoubtedly irritated because he’d now have to do paperwork rather than go home, had the perp facedown on the counter within seconds. Unfortunately, a rookie officer answering the original alarm then burst through the door and managed to shoot the detective despite the store clerk’s attempt to explain and the fact that the detective had yelled repeatedly, “I’m police! I’m police!” The wounded detective had to bring down the rookie and take his gun away, a wrestling bout that the robber had taken advantage of to escape.
The good part was that Andy Palmer, the detective, had taken the round in the fleshy part of his left arm and he was right-handed. The excusable part was a kid only five weeks out of the academy getting overexcited. Inexcusable? The fact that officers were spread so damn thin he’d been out on his own way too soon, with backup more than ten minutes away.
The chief didn’t want to hear any of that. He wanted to know what a detective had been doing pulling his gun without having his badge in his other hand. The diapers he’d been clutching were no excuse.
Colin ground his teeth.
And the kid. Where the hell was his field training officer?
Brian Cooper explained that he had ridden around for a month with an FTO, but they’d needed him on patrol.