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Authors: Clinton McKinzie

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forty-seven

T
he dark booth at Cesar’s had become McGee’s office. It fit him well, as did the red candlelight that made him appear a little satanic. He’d even somehow managed to melt the cold, cold heart of the waitress. She now brought him fresh drinks just as the ice cubes began to rattle and called him “sweetie.”

“I just came from an interesting press conference,” I told him while sliding in.

“Oh?”

“Luke gave a little song and dance about the principles of justice, then announced a deal. Jonah’s agreed to plead to involuntary manslaughter, and Luke won’t object to a sentence of probation and community service.”

McGee didn’t appear terribly interested. He was busy snapping chips in two, plunging the halves into hot salsa, and gnashing them with his teeth. His beard was littered with crumbs.

“You’re complaining?” he asked.

I considered it. Yeah, I was disappointed. After all Jonah had been through, I would rather have seen him totally exonerated. But he really didn’t deserve total exoneration. He had been responsible for Cody’s death. The crime, arguably, had been involuntary manslaughter. If things were to work as they were supposed to in the statute books I had once venerated, then that was exactly the outcome that should have resulted. That’s what I’d bitched and moaned about for years—plea bargains by prosecutors to avoid the effort and uncertainties of a trial, sweet deals for those with political connections, reduced sentences to relieve overcrowded prisons, the surrender of the system. How could I complain when it was what I’d been dreaming of for years? But not this case. Not this defendant.

“No. It’s cool,” I said. “Did you make that happen?”

McGee shrugged. He was watching me as he crunched. Waiting.

I stared off into the darkness. Yeah, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Ironic that it should happen just now. Was bad luck following me, or did some kind of karmic power just require that I pay full price for every little bit of good luck that passed my way?

“You want a drink, QuickDraw?”

I shook my head and stared back at my boss. He had lost faith in me, but I’d compounded it by losing faith in him, in the whole system. All the complex mechanizations we’d tried to drive in the right direction for eight long years despite a hundred opposing forces. He’d been doing the right thing all along—he wasn’t here as a political flunky but to force Luke to do the right thing. Me, too. And to give me one last chance, which I’d squandered. There was too much distance between us now to ever be closed. He still believed, and I didn’t. My nature wouldn’t allow it any longer. There was too much Roberto in my blood, and I’d spent too much time alone with a half-wolf.

“What about the kids? The Manns?” he asked. “Luke say anything about them?”

“No. But they’ve probably suffered enough for their complicity and stupidity. Unless the office wants to be embarrassed by having allowed a rogue agent to run around torturing children, I suggest you tell him not to pursue it. They’ll probably come to the same bad end all by themselves.”

And what I’d done to them would probably help them along.

McGee was still watching me with his penetrating eyes. Only now he looked impatient. He was waiting.

I took out my wallet, opened it, and pried the seven-pointed gold star out of its holder. I spun it across the table to McGee. The old man plucked it up with stubby fingers and it disappeared into a pocket. As quick as that, and it was over.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?”

“Actually, yeah. I think I do.”

McGee had barely glared toward the bar before the waitress stepped up.

“Anything I can get you, sweetie?”

“A shot of tequila for my friend. The best you’ve got.”

“Chinaco Reposado okay?” she asked.

I said, “Yeah, that’ll be great.”

She came right back with it. It wasn’t just a shot, but a wide snifter filled almost halfway. McGee thanked her with a satyr’s wink. I took a couple of quick sips and tried to feel the burn. No luck.

“Where’s Bogey?” McGee asked.

I felt an unpleasant smile twist my lips that didn’t come from the tequila.

“Where do you think?”

“As the Bard says, ‘that fell arrest without all bail.’ ”

“That’s good. I really like that.”

McGee wasn’t smiling back.

“How did he get there?”

I began telling him about the morning at the river. There was no point in refusing, as someone would be checking phone records eventually, after getting the requisite warrants, and they would find that the call to the motel came from my cell phone. Questions would be asked from there, of both Brandy and me, and answers would have to be given. I was careful now to detail our intended purpose: to get Bogey to incriminate himself on tape.

“You thought that would work?” McGee asked. “When did you become such an amateur?”

I felt the smile again on my face. I shrugged, then continued with the story.

“Anyway, Brandy provoked him too far. She said he was a shitty lawyer, and that he’d only made a name for himself by cheating. His ego couldn’t handle it. He tried to throw her in the river. I intervened, to save her life. He fell in during the struggle.”

McGee pulled on his drink until the ice clattered into his lips. He wiped his mouth with his coat sleeve and started to say something, but the waitress arrived with another double rum and Diet Pepsi. He waited until she had walked away and then some.

“And you didn’t report it?”

“Nope.”

“And she didn’t report it?”

“She
did
report it. To me. I was a cop at the time, you might remember. I was a cop until just a few minutes ago.”

“Unfortunately, I do. Having you investigated again and maybe even eventually arrested is going to be a real black eye for the office.”

“I don’t think you want to do that, boss.”

“Why the hell not?”

“Well, if you conclude that Bogey’s dead, that he couldn’t have swum to safety, then you certainly should do an investigation. And you’ll have to charge me, too, because of the way Bogey was always spewing to the press about what a bad guy I am. That’s going to be a pretty big black eye. But imagine how much bigger it’s going to be when the press starts churning up all the same stuff about how I should have been fired years ago. And it will grow into a colossal black eye when you can’t touch me. You wouldn’t have a chance in hell of convicting me of anything. Remember, I was only trying to stop him from killing a young lawyer. For the second time. A simpler, less painful way for you to look at it is that we don’t know
for sure
that Bogey drowned. He might just have swum away, then fled. He would have had to run. We had what basically amounts to a confession at that point, plus the fact that he was trying to kill her. And it was too dark to see anything. And there’s no body, of course. No corpus delicti, as you lawyers say.”

McGee was still staring, boring into my head.

“You set him up. And then you killed him.”

No. He was wrong. But in a way, he may have also been right. I didn’t want to look that deep into myself to find the answer. So I just said, “I know you’re good, boss. You taught me everything I know. You’re still the best in the state. But can you prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?”

forty-eight

I
drove to the Outrider Motel, but Brandy was long gone. She’d probably moved to another tourist place to avoid the media. What there was of it, anyway. They’d never have all their questions answered about why Brandy had been kidnapped, what had happened to Bogey, and why the county attorney had done a sudden about-face and given Jonah such a generous deal. There was a presidential election going on, with a vice-presidential candidate from Wyoming, and other issues were taking precedence, like increased logging in the national forests, federally encouraged drilling for oil and gas on every bit of land that wasn’t capable of growing profitable trees, the status of the state’s few wild wolves, and snowmobiles in Yellowstone. As usual, politics trumped all. But in this case I really didn’t mind. The whole thing would die a relatively quick death.

I could have checked the other motels in town, but I was spared the effort by a message that must have landed on my phone while I was talking with McGee.

The message sounded rehearsed. It said:

“I don’t know who you are, Anton. When this all started, I thought you were a bad guy, a rogue cop. A felon and a killer like that brother of yours I’d read about. Then I began to see that maybe you weren’t so bad. You seemed to be trying to do the right thing about Jonah. Especially that day when we went climbing. In that canyon, on that rock, I decided you really were a nice guy. Someone who was willing to risk his career and everything for a good cause. That’s why I slept with you up there. It wasn’t to get you to tell me more about the prosecution’s case, and it wasn’t just the storm and hormones, you know. I liked you up there. A lot. And then you came and saved my life when I was tied up in the cabin. I need to thank you for that.”

There was a long pause. I would have hung up, thinking that was all, but before I could hit the button, she said in a quieter voice, “And so I’m saying thank you. But after last night, I just don’t know about you. And I’m sorry, Anton, but I don’t think I want to know. Good-bye.”

My impulse was to find her and explain. But, despite what she’d said, she did know. She knew it all. There was nothing to explain.

Feeling hollow, I drove to the hospital instead. Roberto was being kept in a small room there.

The last time I’d seen him in the hospital—a year ago—he’d looked like a dog’s breakfast. His entire body had been bruised and battered, his eyes had been swollen shut, and there’d been tubes running out of him from every orifice. I remembered the metal cage that had been bolted to his skull, the black stitches like a necklace of spiders across his throat. All of it and more done to him because of me. I remembered wanting to throw up, to kill someone, and, mainly, wanting to run. But this time I didn’t do any of those things. I swallowed the bile that rose up from my stomach and kept my balance.

He was sitting up on the bed, and there were no tubes or machines connected to him. The bruises looked no worse than the ones he’d gotten in school when he’d taken on a pack of boys three years older who were determined to kick my ass.

“Where’s Jo?” I asked. “The paramedic?”

He shook his head sorrowfully.

“I had to tell her about Mary. That girl was
pissed
, Ant. I think it would be a good idea if we blew this town. What do you think,
che
?”

So it was just me, my wolf-dog, and my brother who drove up to the canyon in the Absarokas to retrieve my tent and gear. While stowing it, I couldn’t resist taking one last shot on Moriah. This time, with my brother bellowing encouragement so loud it set Mungo to howling, I held on to the sunlit edge at the far end of the hideous roof crack and didn’t fall off. I crawled on up and stood, for the first time, on top of the overhang beneath nothing but a clear blue Wyoming sky.

There was no real joy in having climbed the hardest fat crack in the world. I felt satisfied, that was all. And free. Unleashed, just like Roberto and Mungo. I’d finally slipped the collar and it was all behind me now.

We finished loading the Pig and headed for Denver. It was time for me to spend some time with my daughter, the real Moriah. And figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life.

Also by Clinton McKinzie

THE EDGE OF JUSTICE

POINT OF LAW

TRIAL BY ICE AND FIRE

CROSSING THE LINE

BADWATER

A Delacorte Press Book / May 2005

Published by

Bantam Dell

A Division of Random House, Inc.

New York, New York

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005 by Clinton McKinzie

Delacorte Press is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

McKinzie, Clinton

Badwater/Clinton McKinzie

p. cm.

1. Burns, Antonio (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Government investigators—Fiction. 3. Drowning victims—Fiction. 4. Trials (Murder)—Fiction. 5. Wyoming—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3613.C568 B33 2005        2004065514

813/.6 22

www.bantamdell.com

eISBN: 978-0-440-33535-1

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