FOLLOWING THE BRIEFING, R YAN AND I BOUGHT LUNCH AT H OT Dog Heaven and watched tourists at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Depot as we ate. The weather had warmed, and at one-thirty in the afternoon the temperature was in the low eighties. The sun was bright, the wind barely a whisper. Indian summer in Cherokee country.
Ryan promised to ask about progress in victim identification, and I promised to dine with him that night. As he drove off I felt like a housewife whose children had just started full-day school: a long afternoon of yawning until the troops reappeared.
Returning to High Ridge House, I took Boyd for another walk. Though the dog was delighted, the outing was really for me. I was restless and edgy and needed physical exertion. Crowe hadn't called, and I couldn't get into the courthouse until Monday. As I was barred from the morgue and persona non grata with my colleagues, further research into the foot was at a standstill.
I then tried reading but by three-thirty could take it no longer. Grabbing purse and keys, I set out, going somewhere.
I'd hardly left Bryson City when I passed a mile marker for Cherokee.
Daniel Wahnetah was Cherokee. Was he living on the reservation at the time of his disappearance? I couldn't remember.
In fifteen minutes I was there.
The Cherokee Nation once ruled 135,000 square miles of North America, including parts of what are now eight states. Unlike the Plains Indians, so popular with producers of Western movies, the Cherokee lived in log cabins, wore turbans, and adopted the European style of dress. With Sequoyah's alphabet, their language became transcribable in the 1820s.
In 1838, in one of the more infamous betrayals in modern history, the Cherokee were forced from their homes and driven 1,200 miles west to Oklahoma on a death march christened the Trail of Tears. The survivors came to be known as the Western Band Cherokee. The Eastern Band is composed of the descendants of those who hid out and remained in the Smoky Mountains.
As I drove past signs for the Oconaluftee Indian Village, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the outdoor drama Unto These Hills, I experienced my usual anger at the arrogance and cruelty of manifest destiny. Though geared toward the dollar, these contemporary enterprises were also attempts at heritage preservation, and demonstrated the tenacity of another people screwed over by my noble pioneer ancestors.
Billboards plugged Harrah's Casino and the Cherokee Hilton, living proof that Sequoyah's descendants shared his aptitude for cultural borrowing.
So did downtown Cherokee, where T-shirt, leather, knife, and moccasin stores elbowed for space with gift and souvenir emporiums, fudge shops, ice cream parlors, and fast-food joints. The Indian Store. The Spotted Pony. The Tomahawk Mini-Mall. The Buck and Squaw. Teepees sprouted from roofs and painted totem poles flanked entrances. Aboriginal kitsch extraordinaire.
After several unsuccessful passes up and down Highway 19, I parked in a small lot several blocks off the main drag. For the next hour I joined the tourist mass swarming walkways and businesses. I appraised genuine Cherokee ashtrays, key chains, back scratchers, and tom-toms. I inspected authentic wooden tomahawks, ceramic buffalo, acrylic blankets, and plastic arrows, and marveled at the ringing of the cash registers. Had there ever been buffalo in North Carolina?
Now who's screwing whom? I thought, watching a young boy hand over seven dollars for a neon-feathered headdress.
Despite the culture of commercialism, I enjoyed stepping back from my normal world: Women with bite marks on their breasts. Toddlers with vaginal abrasions. Drifters with bellies full of antifreeze. A severed foot. Goosefeather headdresses are preferable to violence and death.
It was also a relief to step out of the emotional quagmire of puzzling relationships. I bought postcards. Peanut butter fudge. A caramel apple. My problems with Larke Tyrell and my confusion about Pete and Ryan receded to another galaxy.
Walking past the Boot Hill Leather Shop, I had a sudden impulse. Beside Pete's bed I'd noticed the slippers that Katy had given him when she was six years old. I'd buy him moccasins as a thank-you for boosting my spirits.
Or whatever it was that he had boosted.
As I was poking through bins, another thought struck me: Perhaps genuine imitation Native-American footwear would cheer Ryan's spirits over the loss of his partner. O.K. Two for one.
Pete was easy. Eleven D translates to “large” in moccasin. What the hell did Ryan wear?
I was comparing sizes, debating whether an extra large would fit a six-foot-three Irish-Canadian from Nova Scotia, when a series of synapses fired in my brain.
Foot bones. Soldiers in Southeast Asia. Formulae for distinguishing Asian remains from those of American blacks and whites.
Could it work?
Had I taken the necessary measurements?
Grabbing one large and one extra large, I paid and raced for the parking lot, anxious to return to Magnolia to check my spiral notebook.
I was approaching my car when I heard an engine, glanced up, and saw a black Volvo moving in my direction. At first my mind didn't register danger, but the car kept coming. Fast. Too fast for a parking lot.
My mental computer. Velocity. Trajectory.
The car was speeding directly toward me!
I didn't know which way to throw myself. I guessed left and hit the ground. In seconds the Volvo flashed by, showering me with dirt and gravel. I felt a blast of wind, gears shifted close to my head, and the smell of exhaust filled my lungs.
The engine sounds receded.
I lay flat on the ground, listening to my pounding heart.
My mind connected. Look up!
When I turned my head the Volvo was rounding a corner. The sun was low and straight in my eyes, so I caught only a glimpse of the driver. He was hunched forward, and a cap hid most of his face.
I rolled and pushed myself to a sitting position, brushed dirt from my clothes, and glanced around. I was alone in the lot.
Rising on shaky legs, I threw my purse and package into the backseat, slid behind the wheel, and hit the locks. Then I sat a moment massaging my throbbing shoulder.
What the hell had just happened?
All the way to High Ridge House I replayed the scene. Was I becoming paranoid, or had someone tried to run me down? Was the driver drunk? Blind? Stupid?
Should I report the incident? To Crowe? To McMahon?
Had the silhouette seemed familiar? I'd automatically thought “he,” but was it a man?
I decided to ask Ryan's opinion at dinner.
Back in Ruby's kitchen, I made tea and drank it slowly. By the time I'd climbed to Magnolia, my nerves had calmed and my hands were steady. I made a call to the university in Charlotte, not really expecting an answer. My assistant picked up on the first ring.
“What are you doing at the lab on Saturday?”
“Right. I appreciate your dedication, Alex.”
“Grading exercises is part of my job. Where are you?”
“I thought you were finished there. I mean, your job was finished. I mean...” She trailed off, unsure what to say.
Her embarrassment told me that news of my dismissal had reached the university.
“I'll explain when I get back.”
“You go, girl.” Lamely.
“Listen, can you grab the lab copy of my book?”
“Eighty-six or ninety-eight?”
I'd been the editor of a book on forensic techniques that had become a leading text in its field, largely due to the excellent work of the contributing authors I had managed to assemble, but including a couple of my own chapters as well. After twelve years it had been updated with a second, entirely new edition.
“The first one.”
In seconds she was back.
“What do you need?”
“There's a chapter on population differences in the calcaneus. Flip to that.”
“What's the percentage of correct classification when comparing Mongoloid, black, and white foot bones?”
There was a long pause. I could picture her scanning the text, forehead creasing, glasses creeping down her nose.
“Just below eighty percent.”
“But wait.” Another pause. “That's because the whites and blacks don't separate well. The Mongoloids could be distinguished with eighty-three to ninety-nine percent accuracy. That's not too bad.”
“O.K. Give me the list of measurements.”
I had a sinking feeling as I wrote them down.
“Now see if there's a table that gives the unstandardized canonical discriminant function coefficients for American Indians, blacks, and whites.” I would need these figures for comparison to coefficients I would derive from the unknown foot.
“Will you fax that chapter to me?”
I gave her Primrose Hobbs's name and the fax number at the incident morgue in Bryson City. Hanging up, I dug out the notes I'd taken on case number 397.
When I punched another number and asked for Primrose Hobbs a voice told me she was not there, but asked if I would like her number at the Riverbank Inn.
Primrose also answered on the first ring. This was my lucky day.
“Hey, sweetie pie, how you doin'?”
“I'm good, Primrose.”
“Don't you let these slanders get you down. God will do what God will do, and he knows it's all bunk.”
“One day we're going to sit down, play us some more bid whit, and laugh at all this.”
“Though I must say, for a smart woman, Tempe Brennan, you are the sorriest bid whit player I've ever sat a table with.” She laughed her deep, throaty laugh.
“I'm not very good at card games.”
“You sure got that right.”
Again the laugh.
“Primrose, I need a favor.”
“Just ask, sugar.”
I gave a condensed version of the history of the foot, and Primrose agreed to go to the morgue early Sunday morning. She would read the fax, call me, and I would walk her through the missing measurements. She commented again on the charges against me, and suggested anatomical locations in which Larke Tyrell could store them.
I thanked her for her loyalty and disconnected.
Ryan chose Injun Joe's Chili Joint for dinner. I chose The Misty Mountain Café, featuring nouvelle cuisine and spectacular views of Balsam Mountain and Maggie Valley. When reasonable discussion failed to resolve the impasse, we flipped a coin.
The Misty Mountain looked more like a ski lodge than a café, built of logs, with high ceilings, fireplaces, and lots of glass. Upon our arrival we were informed that a table would be available in ninety minutes, but wine could be served on the patio immediately.
Joe seated us without delay. Even when I win, I lose.
One look told me le joint catered to a different market than le café. A half dozen TVs broadcast a college football game, and men in dozer caps lined the bar. Couples and groups occupied tables and booths, denimed and booted, most looking like a haircut or shave had not played a part in their recent past. Mixed into the crowd were tourists in brightly colored windbreakers, and a few faces I recognized from the investigation.
Two men worked the bar, pulling taps, scooping ice, and pouring liquor from bottles in front of a dingy mirror. Each had pasty skin and lank brown hair tied in a ponytail and secured with a bandanna.
Neither looked Injun, and neither shopped at Armani. One wore a T-shirt plugging Johnson's Brown Ale, the other a group called Bitchin' Tits.
On a platform in back, across from a pool table and pinball machines, members of a band adjusted equipment, directed by a woman in black leather pants and Cruella makeup. Every few seconds we'd hear the amplified tap of her finger, then a count from one to four. Her sound tests barely overrode the TV play-by-play and the clicks and dings of the pinball machines.
Nevertheless, the band looked like it had enough acoustic power to reach Buenos Aires. I suggested we order.
Ryan scanned the room and made a hand gesture. A woman, maybe forty or so, with overmoussed hair and an out-of-season tan, appeared at our table. A plastic badge gave her name as Tammi. With an i.
“Whatillitbe?” Tammi poised pencil over pad.
“May I have a menu?” I asked.
Tammi sighed, retrieved two menus from the bar, and slapped them on the table. Then she looked at me with forbidding patience.
Click. Click. Click. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
My decision did not take long. Injun Joe offered nine types of chili, four burgers, a hot dog, and mountain meat loaf.
I requested the Climbingbear Burger and a Diet Coke.
“I've heard you make killer chili here.” Ryan showed Tammi a lot of teeth.
“Best in the west.” Tammi showed Ryan even more.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. One. Two. Three. Four.
“It must be hard to wait on so many people at the same time. I don't know how you do it.”
“Personal charm.” Tammi tilted her chin and threw out one hip.
“How's the Walkingstick Chili?”
“Hot. Like me.”
I fought a gag impulse.
“I'll go for it. And a bottle of Carolina Pale.”
“Coming atcha, cowboy.”
Click. Click. Click. Click. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
Tap. Tap. One. Two. Three. Four.
I waited until Tammi was out of earshot, which, given the din, was about two steps.
“One should mingle with the locals.”
“You were pretty critical of the locals this morning.”
“One must keep a finger on the pulse of the common man.”
“And woman.” Tap. Tap. “Cowboy.”
Tammi returned with a beer, a Diet Coke, and a million miles of teeth. I smiled her back to the kitchen.
“Anything new since this morning?” I asked when she'd gone.
“Seems Haskell Simington may not be such a hot pick. Turns out he's worth zillions, so a two mill policy on his wife isn't that unusual. Besides being worth megabucks, the guy named their kids as beneficiaries.”
Ryan waited out another sound check.
“The structures group reported that three quarters of the plane has been trucked down the mountain. They're reassembling in a hangar near Asheville.”
Tap. Tap. Tap. One. Screeeeeeech. Two. Three. Four.
Ryan's eyes drifted to a TV behind my head.
“That's it. Why the orange paw prints?”
“It's a Clemson home game.”
He looked a question at me.
Tammi was back after three downs.
“I gave you extra cheese,” she purred, bending low to give Ryan a spectacular view of cleavage.
“I love cheese.” Ryan gave her another blinding smile, and Tammi held position.
Tap. Tap. One. Two. Three. Four.
I glared at Tammi's breasts, and she removed them from my line of vision.
“Will that be all?”
“Ketchup.” I picked up a French fry.
“Any talk about my visit to headquarters this morning?”
When I lifted my burger a cheese umbilicus clung to the plate.
“Special Agent McMahon said you looked good in jeans.”
“I didn't see McMahon there.” The bun was raining soggy clumps onto the cheese connector.
“He saw you. At least from the back.”
“What's the FBI position on my dismissal?”
“I can't speak for the entire Bureau, but I know McMahon isn't fond of your state's second in command.”
“I don't know for certain that Davenport is behind the complaint.”
“Whether he is or not, McMahon has no time for him. He called Davenport a brainless buttwipe.” Ryan spooned chili into his mouth, followed it with beer. “We Irish are poets at heart.”
“That brainless buttwipe can probably have you invited back to Canada.”
“How was your afternoon?”
“I went to the reservation.”
“Did you see Tonto?”
“How did I know you would ask that?”
I reached into my bag and produced the moccasins.
“I wanted you to have something from my native land.”
“To atone for the way you've been treating me lately?”
“I've been treating you as a colleague.”
“A colleague who'd like to suck your toes.”
My stomach did that little flippy thing.
“Open the package.”
“These are kickin'.”
Resting an ankle on one knee, Ryan replaced a deck shoe with a moccasin. A big-haired deb at the bar stopped peeling the label from her Coors to watch him.
“Made by Sitting Bull himself?”
“Sitting Bull was Sioux. These were probably made by Wang Chou Lee.”
He reversed, and did the other foot. The deb jabbed an elbow at her companion.
“You may not want to wear them here.”
“Certainly I do. They were a gift from a colleague.”
He wrapped the deck shoes in the moccasin bag and went back to his chili.
“Meet any interesting aboriginals?”
I wanted to say no. “Actually, I did.”
He looked up with eyes blue enough to blend in with a village full of Finns.
“Or, I might have.”
I told him about the Volvo incident.
“Jesus, Brennan. How do—”
“I know. How do I get myself into these situations. Do you think I should worry about it?” I was hoping he would say no.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.
Tap. Tap. One. Two. Three. Four.
Fragments of conversations.
“The deconstructionists tell us that nothing is real, but I've discovered one or two truisms in life. The first is, when attacked by a Volvo, take it seriously.”
“I'm not sure the guy meant to run me down. Maybe he didn't see me.”
“Did you think so at the time?”
“That's how it felt.”
“Second truism: Volvo first impressions are generally correct.”
We'd finished eating and Ryan was in the men's room when I noticed Lucy Crowe enter and make her way toward the bar. She was in uniform and looked armed and deadly.
I waved but Crowe didn't notice. I stood and waved again, and a voice bellowed, “You're blocking the game. Park it or haul it.”
Ignoring the suggestion, I flapped both arms. Crowe saw me, nodded, and held up an index finger. As I sat, the bartender handed her a glass, then leaned forward to whisper something.
“Hey, sweet cheeks!” A redneck scorned is never pretty. I continued to ignore, he continued to taunt.
“Hey, you with the windmill act.” The redneck was ratcheting up when he spotted the sheriff moving in my direction. Realizing his error, he swigged his beer and reengaged with the game.
Ryan and Crowe reached the booth simultaneously. Noticing Ryan's feet, the sheriff looked at me.
Ryan let it pass and resumed his seat.
Crowe set her 7UP on the table and joined us.
“Dr. Brennan has a story she wants to share,” said Ryan, pulling out his cigarettes.
I looked icicles at him. I would have preferred a lifetime of tax audits to telling Crowe of the Volvo incident.
She listened without interrupting.
“Did you get the license number?”
“Can you describe the driver?”
“Wearing a cap.”
“What kind of cap?”
“I couldn't tell.” I could feel my cheeks flush with humiliation.
“Was anyone else present?”
“No. I checked. Look, the whole thing may have been an accident. Maybe it was a kid peeling out in Daddy's Volvo.”
“Is that what you think?” The celery eyes were locked on mine.
“No. I don't know.”
I placed my hands on the tabletop, pulled them back, and wiped spilled beer onto my jeans.
“While I was on the reservation I thought of something that might be helpful,” I said, changing the subject.
I described the foot bone research and explained how the measurements could be used to determine racial background.
“So I may be able to sort out your rainbow coalition.”
“I'll talk with Daniel Wahnetah's kin tomorrow.”
She swirled the ice in her 7UP.
“But I unearthed some interesting facts about George Adair.”
“The missing angler?”
A Crowe nod.
“Adair saw his doctor twelve times during the past year. Seven of those visits were for throat problems. The other five were for pain in his feet.”
“It gets better. Adair's only gone one week, his grieving widow takes a trip to Las Vegas with the next-door neighbor.”
I waited while she drained her 7UP.
“The neighbor is George Adair's best friend.”
“And fishing buddy?”
“You've got it.”