Hood now speculated that it might make sense that a man under heavy pressure would confide in his wife instead of in his team-mates. Or it might not.
Seliah pulled a chair up to the window and sat facing Hood and Bly. “Of course, I wondered about his new cartel friends. And the women. And what he needed to do to keep from being blown. That’s always the question. How will they test him? What will they expect of him? So at the very least, temptation lifts its lovely face. Have you ever been in a tense situation with an attractive person of the opposite sex? A situation with pressure, maybe danger? With something at stake? Competition maybe? Sure you have. I have. It makes you feel brave and romantic and . . . downright urgent, doesn’t it? It builds. And when the race is over you want to celebrate. Oh, yes. You want release, don’t you?”
“That does happen,” said Bly. “We try to factor it in when we plan the operation.”
it in, too. But the next six months were bad. Less contact. I’d see him every three or four weeks for a day, maybe two at the most. He was such a mess he couldn’t eat or talk or make love. He couldn’t even sleep. I could feel this story inside him, this life, these things, all needing to get out. But he couldn’t even
to let them out
He needed to decompress before coming up, but undercover isn’t scuba diving. You don’t get to stop and breathe at a certain depth on your way up. You don’t have a buddy. You just shoot to the surface and bob there and hope somebody picks you up. Then,
You go back under. Down to the depths.”
She stood suddenly, then seemed embarrassed. She sat again. Hood wondered at the calm Seliah he had come to know, and now this anxious new one. It looked like the undercover work had gotten to her, too. According to the ATF agent runners he had talked to, it usually did.
“Do you think he has another woman?” asked Bly.
“He has another life. So why not another woman to go along with it?”
“You should have told us he was in trouble, Seliah,” said Hood. “That was always the agreement. You had the training, too. That was your part of this operation.”
“Sean begged me not to tell you. He wanted to do something big and something good. He didn’t want to be brought in. He wanted to set it right with Jimmy. So . . .”
She rose again to adjust a wall thermostat. Hood heard the air conditioner click on. Seliah went to the shaded window, then stepped away from the muted light and looked at them again.
“I looked into my heart, Charlie. It wasn’t hard to see in. My heart has always been big and simple and obvious. My loyalty was to Sean. Not to ATF. Not to Blowdown. Not even to you, and you’re the best friend we’ve had through this.”
Hood’s spirit withered when he heard the words
. What kind of a friend let this happen? What kind of friend failed to register such pain? True, Sean was a fine actor. And he’d acted well during their few hours together, here and there, over the last fifteen months. Seliah, too. They’d fooled Bly and Morris and Velasquez and Soriana and Mars. But doesn’t a friend know? Doesn’t a friend
“Three months ago, almost exactly one year in, he was close to breaking,” said Seliah. “So we took off together. July, Costa Rica. It was somewhere we’d always wanted to go. Two weeks, just us, traveling around a beautiful country. We stayed in a cloud forest and on the beach and even up on the Arenal Volcano. We leased a little plane and tooled around it. No phones, no cartels, no ATF. Sean presented that trip to you as a much-needed break for me. You have no idea how exhausted and bitter he was. Everything came out.”
“Bitter,” said Hood.
“He thought the war on drugs was a sham and a scam. He thought the United States was arrogant and ignorant to throw away millions of dollars and quality guys like Jimmy Holdstock and sell it as a ‘war.’ He thought ATF was a pawn in that war, a bureau that wasn’t given the right tools to do its job. He felt betrayed. He thought the Mexican government was even worse. The billions still come into Mexico year after year after year. What government would try to stop that? What government would shut down sixty percent of its own economy and turn legions of cartel gunmen, growers and traffickers into the unemployed? There would be another Mexican revolution. Guaranteed.”
Seliah looked out the shaded window, then closed the drapes. A slat of evening light came through the center line. Hood watched her snug the drapes together and the light disappeared.
“We talked about a career change for him. Maybe teaching, which is something he’d always wanted to do. He’s got a degree in economics. Of course he loves to fly, so we thought maybe he could do some charter work. Maybe firearms training, or consulting. It’s complicated because he’d lose some retirement unless he stayed a fed, and he might have to take a pay cut in this economy. Still, we talked about it. That was a first for us, just the idea that there was life after ATF.”
She sat down on the chair again.
“Then, one week into the trip to Costa Rica, something happened to Sean. Something good. We were on the volcano at Arenal, staying in a little hotel. You could see the volcano from our room, this big, smoking, gurgling mountain, rocks flying into the sky all the time. The whole thing’s going to blow, just a matter of when. We woke up one morning, late, after partying in the hotel bar. My head was killing me but Sean said he felt better than he had in a long time. More like he used to feel. He’d had a real change of heart—he thought he was on the right track with ATF. He thought ATF was doing good things, even if he didn’t agree on how it was being used. He seemed much more at peace. Much more grounded. He seemed almost . . . well, happy. I thought he might just be putting a good face on a bad hangover, but I was wrong. When he went back undercover a week later he was feeling clear and strong. I could see it. It wasn’t an act.”
“That brings us through July,” said Bly. “So Sean has been better since the Costa Rica trip?”
Seliah sighed and stood again. She looked down at Hood with a resigned expression, then came over and sat down between them again. “Not exactly. He started sending e-mails about a month after we got back. He’d still call but it was mostly e-mails. I heard it in his messages before I heard it in his voice.”
“Heard what, Seliah?” asked Hood.
“You tell me what.”
She tapped the laptop screen to life and called up the e-mail she had highlighted. “This is one is . . . representative.”
Sent: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 5:33 a.m.
To: Gravas, Seliah
Subject: good morning
My Dear Seliah,
Miss every bit of you, Sel. Want to kiss your LIPS again and again and . . . Weirdass dreams last night, now I can’t sleep. So I’m writing you. Sometimes I think you’re back in the bedroom here. Once I started making you a cup of coffee like I used to, trying to be your COFFEE BOY then I realized you were there and I was here.
But I’m doing all this for MONEY, right? Business is good and I’m making solid bucks but I’ll come home to you someday and I won’t LET you away from me. You will be my captive pleasure slave and I will be YOURS. I feel completely different now than before Costa Rica. Those two weeks in the jungle and on the volcano changed me. I believe that SOMETHING or SOMEONE is walking by my side, helping me accomplish what I want to do. I feel protected. I pray that GOD or JESUS will answer and direct me but I haven’t heard back. I can’t discuss details but a very large deal is about to go down and I’m a part of it. I’m the CENTER of it.
I wish I could tell you more about what I’m doing but that wouldn’t be smart. There are cops and feds and bugs and wires and stoolies and creeps all over the place and loose lips sink ships so no details, sorry. Just starting to get light out. I ache for you. I mean that LITERALLY, my hamstrings ache and my lats ache and those glands under my jaws ache and talk about blue balls. I think it’s all the LOVE I have for you trying to get OUT. Until I can hold you, these words are my butterflies and I hereby release them to bring my love to YOU.
“Do you know what the big deal was?” asked Bly.
Seliah cut Bly a sharp look and shook her head. She glanced at the screen and turned to Hood and blushed deeply.
Hood remembered that late August and early September was busy for Ozburn. He was often in San Ysidro, “purchasing” and setting up another safe house for Carlos Herredia’s North Baja Cartel. He was in and out of Buenavista, too, getting the Agate Street house ready for activation. He was checking out properties in Yuma. Eager to establish U.S. strongholds, Herredia was renting stateside homes as fast as Ozburn could buy them.
Hood excused himself and let himself onto the deck. The sunset was an orange and indigo spectacle over Catalina Island. Soriana picked up before the ring.
“Frank,” said Hood. “Oz sent Seliah some e-mails over the last few weeks. He’s talking about something or someone being beside him, and a really big deal that he’s at the center of, and some God and Jesus stuff.”
“Any word out of San Ysidro or Yuma?”
“Sean sounds apocalyptic. Like a crusader, an angel of vengeance. Like he’ll just keep on going.”
“You think he’ll hit San Ysidro or Yuma?”
“I think it would make some sense.”
“We can’t patrol San Ysidro and Yuma without giving away the game
We can’t roll them up without busting Sean’s cover and loosing the wrath of the North Baja Cartel on him. So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that Ozburn sounds like he’s out of his mind.”
“I’d say this morning proves it.”
“We’re with Seliah now.”
“Is she cooperating?”
Back inside Hood caught inquisitive looks from both women. He apologized for the interruption and stood behind the couch again and looked over Seliah’s shoulder.
“Then,” she said. “Just a few days later, he writes this.”
She highlighted another in-box letter and called it up.
Sent: Saturday, September 17, 2011 6:22 p.m.
To: Gravas, Seliah
I pressed three hundred sixty pounds in the workout room about an hour ago—that’s the FIRST TIME I’ve ever done it! Weirdest thing. I haven’t been doing anything different, just trying to eat right and hitting the iron pile three times a week when I can and like MAGIC, up go those three hundred pounds. My pecs feel heavy and dead right now, but wow, it was really cool. And I’m not taking anything extra. It’s not that. I think it’s all my pent up passion for you. Every part of me still aches. Next time I get to hold you tight, LOOK OUT. But on the serious side, I think that SOMETHING or SOMEONE, whoever is watching over me these days, has put the bug in my head that I need massive STRENGTH to accomplish my mission. I agree, even though I still don’t know WHAT that mission is! But I’ll be ready! I pray all the time for guidance. I wish GOD would communicate back. Maybe HIS minutes don’t roll over. Hardly any sleep again last night. I hear everything at night and it’s SO LOUD. I watched a mouse walk across the floor and his nails sounded like my dog CLYDE when I was a boy, running down the tile hallway. The kitchen sink drips and it sounds like someone whacking a cardboard box with a wiffle ball bat. All the sounds blend together into a kind of music. I can actually HEAR melodies in it, like a far off RADIO. Some of them are really cool tunes. They blend and change and turn into other melodies. And I hear little tiny voices, singing. Finally I slept a few hours and the dreams were beyond weird. When I wake up I should be exhausted but I’m not. Maybe that’s tied in with the EXTRA strength, I don’t know. Bought a new pair of sunglasses today as the old ones just weren’t cutting the border glare down here. Seemed like every bit of car chrome and every window and mirror were flashing so bright at me, burning right into my eyes. Last night the MOON was too bright! So I hope these polarized ones help. Two hundred bucks but you get a FREE cleaning kit. Well, guess I’ll go see if I can pick up the front end of my Rover!
Hugs from the circus strong man,
“He’d been taking performance drugs?” asked Hood.
“Years ago,” she said quietly. “He experimented briefly but didn’t like them.”
“How often does he write?” asked Hood.
“Every day now. Sometimes two or three times.”
“Does he have themes that repeat?” asked Bly.
“His mission—whatever it might be. That someone or something is protecting him, beside him, guiding him. Lack of sleep, terrible dreams when he does sleep. Hyperactivity. Sexual desire. Melancholy. Sensitive vision, sensitive hearing, sensitive skin. Sore muscles, sore joints. Thirst. Here, scroll through them. It’s kind of personal but you can see for yourself.”
Bly squared the laptop to her and chose from the in-box. Hood rose and stood behind the couch looking over her shoulder. Seliah turned and looked up at him and he saw the sheen of perspiration on her face and the fear in her blue eyes. The room was cool now from the air conditioner and still it hummed away.
Sent: Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:45 a.m.
To: Gravas, Seliah
Subject: Desire for YOU
I miss you so much I can taste your BREATH and feel your skin and your hair as my fingers stroke through it, yes, the EXACT way your hair feels on the bottoms and sides of my fingers. I can lie in bed for hours and remember things we’ve done, slow motion, every moment replayed like I’m a machine or something and I feel like I’m on FIRE for you . . .
Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2011 5:15 p.m.
To: Gravas, Seliah
Broke 310 on the bench today. Business is good; very good. Miss you so much sometimes I want to cut my heart OUT just to make it stop aching . . .
Sent: Sunday, September 25, 2011 12:14 a.m.
To: Gravas, Seliah
Subject: REASON FOR BEING HERE
My Dearest Seliah,
It’s beginning to dawn on me what I’m here for, not here in this desert but on the PLANET, and I can’t tell you everything but I must do two things and they are 1) perform GOOD ACTS and 2) DEFEAT the forces of EVIL. This is not a Biblical thing but a practical one. I’m beginning to see that there are actual ways to improve the world we live in. I talk to Joe about this and he agrees. Joe says it’s better to take a journey than make a plan. I’m becoming more clear on the NATURE of my mission.
I feel a lot of great energy building in me. I think that some of it must be used to help the weak and some of it used to destroy the BAD. More later . . .