Due to the extra-wide tire on the back left, the rear end fluttered and lifted up off the pavement on the right side as the unit reacted to her abrupt maneuvers. She compensated quickly, but a chunk of wood struck a front tire
and the vehicle shuddered. With all four tires making contact again, and no oncoming vehicles, Ella pumped the brakes, easing off onto the shoulder, needing only a last-minute adjustment to avoid a rolling log.
Her heart beating a hundred times a minute, Ella glanced up, and through a big cloud of slowly clearing dust, saw that the pickup with the firewood had run off the road. It had also taken
out a section of wire fence along the way, finally coming to a stop fifty yards into the brush. From her angle, she couldn’t see the front end, but the vehicle was upright and looked intact.
Ella called it in with her radio, then ran to check on the driver. As she approached the oversized white four-door truck, her blood turned to ice. The pickup belonged to Herman Cloud, her mother’s friend,
and hers too.
“Herman!” she yelled, then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw him step out of the truck slowly and turn back to look at all the scattered firewood. He wasn’t injured as far as she could see, but he looked angry as hell.
“The people in that big Ford are crazy!” he called out to her. “Did you see what happened? That stupid game of theirs caused all this! They should be arrested!”
“Game … you don’t mean glare?”
“There was someone in the back of the SUV wearing a red cap playing with a big mirror. He was actually aiming it. I only saw him for an instant before he got me right in the eyes, but he was trying to make me wreck!” He rubbed a reddish welt on his forehead.
“Are you all right?” she asked gently.
“Yeah. I just got bounced around a bit. But
looking back at. “I better check the oil pan. I scraped something real hard.”
“Did you get a look at the plates on that Ford?”
Herman shook his head. “Wish I had,” he muttered, crouching down gingerly to look beneath the truck.
Ella insisted on calling the EMTs for him despite his assurances that he was okay, then jogged back to her unit to put out an APB on the vehicle. Not that she was hopeful
it’d get results—all she had was color and a probable make and model. She’d never seen the plates. But it was the recklessness of the incident that bothered her most. The dark side of human nature seldom made sense to her. Malicious behavior all too often existed in defiance of logic.
Unfortunately, this was just another thing slowing her down at a time when she could least afford it. First
the shooting near her brother’s home, the vandalized tires, and now this. She strongly suspected that someone was deliberately trying to divert her away from the search for Agent Thomas.
Still weighing the implications, Ella glanced up and saw Herman come out from beneath the truck, try to stand up and stagger. Ella rushed over to steady him.
“I’m all right,” he grumbled.
Despite his protests
Ella held on to him and felt him sway. She wouldn’t leave Herman until help arrived and she was sure he was safe and in good hands. Whoever had been determined to slow her search had won this round.
hile clearing firewood from the highway Ella had called Rose, knowing her mother would have never forgiven her if she hadn’t told her about Herman’s accident immediately. Rose now stood a few feet away from her, watching Herman checking his truck one more time as paramedics collected their gear, ready to leave.
“Mom, I wish I could stay with you,” Ella said as the medical team climbed
into the ambulance, “but I’ve got to get going again.”
“The missing agent,” Rose said in a soft voice and nodded. “The temperature is supposed to really drop in the foothills tonight, too,” she added.
Ella nodded. “It’s already getting chilly,” she said, zipping up her jacket. What worried her even more was the possibility that it had rained wherever he was. If he was cold, wet, and injured,
he wouldn’t stand much of a chance when hypothermia set in.
Ella checked with Herman and confirmed that his vehicle was operational, then nodded her approval as Rose volunteered to follow Herman home in case his pickup had a delayed-reaction malfunction.
Ella said good-bye, then called Justine as she drove toward Shiprock and the station. “I need everything you can get me on Melvin Rainwater,
and I want it yesterday.”
Ella heard Justine type in the name after verifying the spelling. “Nothing—no arrests, not even a parking ticket. But DMV has a Melvin Rainwater with a NM chauffeur’s license and a listed Farmington address. There’s also a telephone number.”
“Give me that information, then keep digging with all the databases you can, credit reports … everything you can find. We need
to know where he works, where he banks, what he drives, whatever.”
Ella wrote down the address and telephone number, then hung up. Thinking about it only for a second, she decided to call Rainwater’s home. She’d pretend to be a telemarketer. That would give her confirmation of his location without revealing who she was. All calls from her cell phone were blocked. After that, she’d head for Farmington.
She dialed, then got a recording stating that the number had been disconnected. Either Melvin hadn’t paid his bills or he’d switched to a cell phone or maybe moved out.
Ella called Justine back and asked her to find any other possible phone numbers or addresses listed for Melvin Rainwater. “Do your best, and remember—in this case, faster is better,” she added, then hung up again.
Ella put the
phone away and considered her options. To find Agent Thomas quickly she’d need to pull in every resource available. Ella called the county sheriff, Paul Taylor, and, within a minute, arranged for a deputy to go check Rainwater’s listed address. Melvin, if home, would be detained until she could get there.
Ella was just passing through Shiprock, heading east, when she got a return call from Taylor.
The sheriff had a laid-back good ole boy manner and a slight southeastern New Mexico accent, but he was sharp and very capable. “Ella, the deputy stopped by the Rainwater address and the apartment was occupied by a retired black man. According to a neighbor, Rainwater moved out three months ago. I’ve got his vehicle’s plate number—providing that’s more accurate than his address of course—and
he owns a blue-green Chevy Blazer. You want me to put out a bulletin to stop and detain the man?”
“That would be great, Paul. Could you give me a call right away if he turns up? You have my cell number, right?”
“Of course. Glad to be able to help the tribe again. Why are you looking for Rainwater?” Taylor asked.
“Just for questioning at the moment. He may have information about a missing-persons
case I’m working on.”
missing person. Okay, I’ll put out a bulletin now. I have Rainwater’s physical description from his DMV record. Anything to add to that?”
“I don’t remember having seen Rainwater before, but he
have some black markings on his face from a recent healing ceremony, though I can’t guarantee that. I’ll have one of my officers send more details if they become available.
“Right, Ella. Happy hunting, and take care.”
Ella couldn’t afford to wait until somebody stumbled across the man, she needed help finding him
. But she didn’t have the authority to enlist anyone off the Rez full-time, not without going through channels, and that would take hours, maybe even days.
Pulling off the road into the Totah Café parking lot, she took a moment to search
her mind for available resources she could tap into. Then she remembered Teeny. He did contract work for the department from time to time, was a trained former Navajo cop,
lived in the Farmington area. Maybe she could talk Big Ed into agreeing to put him on the job. She’d been given the authority to use all tribal resources, and the tribe did employ Teeny on occasion … even if it was usually
for technical work, not tracking down witnesses.
Adhering to the old adage that it was better to ask forgiveness than permission, Ella decided to put Teeny to work right away then call Big Ed afterward and convince him to sign off on her decision. She was certain the chief would go for it, and, after all, timing was critical.
Ella got Bruce Little’s number from information, then dialed. After
exchanging a few pleasantries, she got right to the point. “I want to put you back on the tribal payroll, Teeny, at least long
enough for you to help my SI team on a case. I’d need you right now. Can you help?”
“Hey, did you really have to ask?” he said, then added, “But since this calls for me to drop everything else, I insist on a bonus. You owe me dinner—and I eat a lot.”
Ella laughed. “You’ve
got it. But don’t you want to know what the job is first?”
“If it’s for you, it doesn’t matter. But okay, what’s the job? Finding Andy Thomas?”
“It’s related to that. What I need you to do is track down a Navajo man named Melvin Rainwater.” She gave Teeny Rainwater’s former address, a physical description, and the vehicle information he had listed with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Rainwater from somewhere, and I’ll probably remember why once I hang up. Either way, I’m on him right now, Ella. You want me to collar him for you?”
“Not unless he makes a run for it. Just give me a call and stay on him.” She gave him her cell number, then added, “I need to interview him ASAP. Deal?”
“Deal. I’ll get back to you.”
It didn’t take long for Big Ed to officially approve her decision
to hire Bruce Little. After all, the tribe sometimes paid private investigators to assist their attorneys, so this wasn’t totally unprecedented. But Big Ed had asked that Ella keep him updated on Teeny’s progress every step of the way. A fair deal, all in all.
Already parked in front of the Totah Café and smelling the aroma of freshly roasted chile, Ella decided to go inside. Her stomach was
so empty it hurt. She’d get something to eat, talk to the staff, and hopefully pick up some useful information.
Ella passed through the glass foyer, stepped into the air-conditioned interior, then walked up to the counter and placed an order. It was busy, dinnertime for most, but she was still able to make conversation with the waitress and the cashier between customers. She asked them about
Melvin Rainwater—there were few traditionalists here judging from what they were wearing, so using his name was appropriate—but although the waitress had
heard of Melvin, she had no idea where he might be living now. The woman thought it was Farmington from the way he’d talked at the cash register about the Scorpions, a local high school team.
Ella had just paid for her order when her cell phone
“It’s me,” Teeny said, knowing his voice was distinctive. Someone had once compared it to a person who’d swallowed a large chunk of pumice stone. “I’m at my Shiprock office now. Where are you?”
“I’m at the Totah,” Ella answered, wondering if he’d already found Melvin. It was entirely possible that Teeny had known exactly where to find him all along and had just wanted to justify his employment
by making it look like he’d worked for it. Even ex-police officers rarely placed all their cards on the table.
“I’ve got news you need to hear. Be there in ten,” Teeny said.
He hung up before she could say anything else, but Ella knew Teeny well enough to know that whatever he had to offer would be worth the wait.
Teeny actually arrived a minute early. Spotting Ella, Teeny nodded, then walked
over to join her, pulling up a chair from an empty table near her booth. “Sorry for the need to make this face-to-face, Ella, but I just didn’t want to discuss this over the telephone. I know you needed fast answers, so I went to plan B instead of wasting time with legwork.”
Ella didn’t know if she really wanted to hear about plan B, but Teeny was right about the need for quick results. “Go on.”
“I remembered that Melvin was dating a cousin of mine a few years ago. He was working for Yazzie Construction and living with one of his brothers. I couldn’t reach my cousin, so I hacked—”
She held up a hand. “Whoa, too much information. Just give me what you’ve got.”
the address Melvin gave Yazzie Construction. But there wasn’t much else in his personnel file. He only worked there
a few months, then quit to work for the
” Teeny said, slipping a piece of paper across the table.
Teeny’s gesture was so guarded Ella was reminded of a similar action many years ago while she was still in the FBI, working
undercover. The circumstances at that time made today’s gesture seem innocent by comparison.
“The location’s on the reservation, so it’s completely within your
jurisdiction,” Teeny said. “Just keep in mind that I don’t know if either brother is still living there.” He studied her expression, then added, “If you’re planning to check it out, take me as a ride along. I know backup is a pain because it can take forever, but you shouldn’t solo this one.”
Ella thought it over. With Justine and Ralph Tache already busy and Neskahi tied up in court, it wouldn’t
hurt, and it was possible Teeny’s presence would give her the leverage she needed to get some fast answers from Rainwater if the lead panned out.
“Let’s go,” she said, looking around for the waitress. Three minutes later, her chile cheeseburger and fries in a foam container, Ella walked with Teeny to her unit.
“Hey, Ella, I’ll drive while you eat, okay?”
“Thanks.” She handed him the keys, and
they were soon under way.
“I always wanted to work with your SI team. Just my luck I became the department’s tech head. But it all worked out in the long run. I like running my own business,” he said, picking at the fries she’d offered. “What about you? You’ve been a tribal cop long enough. Why don’t you consider becoming a PI? There’s more money in it.”
“Nah, we all have to do what we do best.
You’re good with software and communications gear, so you ended up in the right place. Me, I’m a field officer, first, last, and foremost.”
“I hear you,” he said.
“But doing PI work might be right up
alley if you really want to get out of the office more often.”
He smiled, but the gesture didn’t make him look much friendlier than a bear showing its teeth. On Teeny, smiles never looked
“I’m glad to help you and the tribe this time—not as a tech head, but on an in-your-face investigation. It’ll give you a taste of
what I can do, you know? Then, in the future, maybe you’ll call on me again.”
“You’ve got it.”
“Now fill me in a little more. Why do you need Rainwater? Something to do with Agent Thomas, obviously. But what’s Melvin into?” Teeny asked.
It was a fair
question under the circumstances. Ella knew that he was simply trying to determine what kind of reception to expect once they caught up to Melvin and possibly his brother.
“I honestly don’t know. Thomas didn’t leave any details concerning the case he was working on, and with Blalock gone …” She shrugged. “That’s why I’ll be pressing Rainwater hard for information on Thomas. He’s the best—no,
the only—lead I’ve got so far.”
Soon they arrived at a small wood-frame house east of Shiprock in an older tribal housing development. The driveway and carport were empty, and no one seemed to be around. In addition, there was no sign of trash cans or garbage bags to indicate anyone currently lived there.
“Cover the back for me, Teeny, just in case one of the Rainwater brothers is home and decides
to make a quick exit.”
As Teeny walked around back, Ella went up to the front door, knocked, and identified herself. The rapping reverberated with a hollow echo, but other than that, no sound at all came from the interior. Waiting only a few seconds, Ella stepped around the corner of the house and, seeing a curtainless window, peered inside. The interior was vacant. There was no furniture
or any other sign that anyone was living there.
“This was a bust,” Teeny said, coming around the corner of the house. “From what I could tell, no one’s been here for weeks, possibly months. There are cobwebs around the back door, and no fresh tracks anywhere unless you’re tracking dogs and crows.”