Borderline (Anna Pigeon Series #15)by Nevada Barr
“Action-packed…a narrative that plunges readers into mystery [and] mayhem.”—The Denver Post
Hoping a raft trip in Big Bend National Park will lift her spirits, Anna Pigeon and her husband Paul go to southwest Texas, where/b>/i>
The New York Times bestseller starring Anna Pigeon from the author of Winter Study.
“Action-packed…a narrative that plunges readers into mystery [and] mayhem.”—The Denver Post
Hoping a raft trip in Big Bend National Park will lift her spirits, Anna Pigeon and her husband Paul go to southwest Texas, where the Rio Grande is running high. The beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert and the power of the river work their magic—until the raft is lost in the rapids and a young college student makes a grisly discovery. Caught in a strainer between two boulders—and more dead than alive—is a pregnant woman. Anna will soon discover that nature isn’t the only one who wants to see the woman and her baby dead…
The Washington Post
Bestseller Barr skillfully blends sticky border issues, marital strife and politics in her exciting 15th novel to feature National Park Service ranger Anna Pigeon. Anna, on leave because she's still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder suffered in 2008's Winter Study, takes a delayed honeymoon with her sheriff husband, a rafting trip in Texas's Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande reveals a number of surprises, including a stranded cow and, more disturbingly, a dying pregnant woman caught in a strainer. Fortunately, the resourceful Anna is able to perform a C-section and save the baby's life if not the mother's. Things get really serious after a sniper kills first the couple's guide and then a fellow rafter. Meanwhile, at Big Bend's Chisos Mountain Lodge, Houston mayor Judith Pierson announces she's running for governor, and her security chief must worry about keeping Pierson's errant husband in line. The vivid Texas backdrop lends color. Author tour. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Will a river-running trip down the Rio Grande help park ranger Anna Pigeon recover from her devastating winter in Isle Royale (Winter Study)? Wrung out and struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, Anna has been put on administrative leave. She and husband Paul opt to vacation in Texas's Big Bend National Park. The group trip quickly hits the rapids, leaving them raftless and helping a half-drowned woman give birth at the river's edge. Who is she, and is she a Mexican national? When this stranger dies and a sharpshooter starts aiming at the tourists, Anna moves into full gear-with a newborn baby in her arms. The parallel story involves Darden White, a longtime security guard smoothing the way for his charge, who is launching a campaign for governor at Big Bend. Mayor Judith Pierson is as scrappy as Anna, and when the two story lines intersect, fierce action ensues. Straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, the Rio Grande makes a fitting metaphor for the undercurrents in our two countries' relationships. Leave it to Anna to tackle both racism and sexism in her usual, indefatigable way. An essential series for all public library mystery collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ12/08.]
Teresa L. Jacobsen
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Table of Contents
ALSO BY NEVADA BARR
A Superior Death
Track of the Cat
Seeking Enlightenment . . . Hat by Hat
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Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2009 by Nevada Barr
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Borderline / Nevada Barr.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02923-7
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Kendall, who gave us a magical dog
For purposes of mine own I have done many terrible things. I have moved thousands of tons of rocks from Mexico to America at the rock slide in Santa Elena Canyon. I have rerouted roads and allowed horses to be ridden where they are banned by park regulation. I have changed park protocols and, in some dire cases, rewritten a rule or two. In my defense, I have given the park a shiny new helicopter and updated a few other sundry pieces of machinery. Now that the book is finished, I promise to return Big Bend to the pristine and well-run park that I found it.
Wailing cut through the perfect darkness. Like a machete, it slashed away the tangle of sleeping dreams holding Gabriela hostage, neither unconscious nor conscious. The baby did that to her. Before the baby she’d slept deep and warm and silent, curled next to Marcos. But now there was the baby and Marcos had become a Diablo, a devil, a man who didn’t burn up in the fires of hell.
Thin shrieking cut through the walls of her belly and the baby woke kicking, its little heels thumping into the soft flesh beneath her rib cage. “You are a devil like your papa,” she murmured, and reached out and turned on the bedside lamp.
“Marcos.” Gabriela tugged gently on her husband’s earlobe. Asleep he was beautiful, with his round face and straight black eyebrows, his hair falling long on his shoulders like an Apache’s. “Wake up,” she said. “It’s the sirens.” She tugged again, harder this time. Marcos caught her hand without waking and kissed her palm. Then his eyes flew open, wide and scared, and he sat bolt upright.
“It’s time?” he demanded. “Gabby, I’ll—”
Gabriela never found out what he’d do. He was wrapped in the sheet and when he tried to leap out of bed he fell to the floor in a muffle of bedding and curses. She started to laugh but decided against it. The baby liked to sit on her bladder and she had to pee most of the time.
Again the sirens sounded.
Looking sheepish, Marcos got up from the floor. “Oh,” he said. “My ride is here.”
The sun was going to be up soon and gray light behind the Chisos Mountains made them black like the cutouts children made from construction paper. The street bisecting the village was scuffling with people and horses and dogs and little kids who didn’t want to miss the show. Men rode bareback. They had saddles, vaqueros took pride in the tooled leather of their tack, but nobody bothered with saddles now. Diablos also prided themselves on being fast. Men pulled their wives up behind them. Some had sons old enough to be useful and they ran ahead or rode behind.
Gabriela was so fat she could no longer sit behind Marcos. “I got to get a horse with a bigger rump,” he joked as he pulled her awkwardly up in front of him. “Why don’t you stay in bed and let one of these worthless boys bring Tildy back?”
“No, I like to see cowboys turn into Devils,” Gabriela said. “It’s like magic.”
Marcos wrapped his arms around her and the baby she carried and drummed his heels on Tildy’s sides. Before she got so big they’d race down to the Rio Bravo del Norte, Gabriela holding him tightly around the waist, him bending over the horse’s neck. Today they’d be one of the last to arrive at the river and she knew Marcos didn’t like that, but he was such a good husband he never said anything or told her she was too big to come.
The Estada de Coahuila in Mexico had let go of their water earlier in the spring. Now, at the bend where the river turned north again, it was shallow enough to walk a horse through without the rider getting his feet wet. Light was leaking around the few clouds on the eastern horizon and the giant reeds on the banks were turning from black to green. The greedy desert gave up little ground to the intrusion of water-hungry plants. Gray stony soil crabbed with the claws of sotol and ocotillo and horse-crippler cactus pushed nearly to the water’s edge.
The first of the mounted Diablos rode into the water and a shout went up as the others followed, horses’ hooves churning the water, women clutching their men and their skirts to keep them from trailing in the water, children running out to shout across to rangers waiting by a truck with the lights and siren on. Rangers waving and shouting back. On American soil in Big Bend National Park where the Rio del Norte was called the Rio Grande, the vaqueros slid from their horses and caught yellow shirts and helmets from a ranger tossing them from the rear of a truck.
This was Gabriela’s favorite part and, though she’d watched it a dozen or more times, she steadied Tildy and stared transfixed as Mexican vaqueros turned into American firefighters, the Diablos, one of the most respected fire crews in the southwest.
“Adiós,” Marcos called, and waved his yellow helmet in an arc as the truck backed up the slope from the river, the crew in the back.
Tildy twitched her ears and neighed softly but she was as steady as a rock. She acted as if she knew Gabriela was carrying a child and didn’t sport around the way she did when it was just Marcos on her back. “Adiós, mi querido,” Gabriela whispered, and waved until the truck was over the low hill between the road and the river.
The women and boys were riding the horses back across the river to Boquillas to open up their shops. Business was good. Not as good as two weeks before when American colleges were on spring break and kids came to Big Bend to raft the river. Big Bend was proud of the villages that shared the river. Together they showed how countries should live as friends. The rangers came across to visit and to eat in Mexico, visitors were sent to share a Mexican beer. Boys made money ferrying them across in little skiffs for a dollar or two, and the littler kids laughed and joked as they helped them to get astride the tough little burros, and then, for a quarter, they led the burros into the village where the women had crafts and food for sale. Older boys and men lucky enough to own pickup trucks would take the more adventurous tourists into the wild Coahuila Mountains to camp or hike or just breathe the cleanest air in the world.
THREE DAYS LATER, at two-fifteen in the morning, Gabriela’s contractions came. Her little sister, Lucia, had been assigned to look after her while Marcos was working fire crew. Lucia, just turned seven and so serious and responsible Gabriela wondered where she had come from, ran to tell their mother.
Alicia and Gabriela’s mother-in-law, Guadalupe, packed her into a borrowed donkey cart for the short trip to the river. Boquillas had no doctor, no hospital and no medicines. That was reason enough to have her baby in America but Guadalupe had delivered more babies than a lot of doctors and bragged that she never lost one. Guadalupe had refused to deliver her first grandchild. She scolded Gabriela for asking and told her the best gift a mother could give her child was to be born in the United States, over the river. The baby would then be a citizen of both the U.S. and Mexico and would have work and an education if he wanted it. Guadalupe had no doubt that her first grandchild would be a he.
“I can walk,” Gabriela protested until it was clear they were set on giving her the ride in the cart they had gone to so much trouble to get for her. Guadalupe led the donkey and Gabriela’s mother walked beside the cart to hold Gabriela’s hand. The jolting down the dirt track made Gabriela groan.
“Shhh,” Alicia hissed, then leaned in toward her daughter, the silver in her hair catching the faint light of the moon and running like lightning through the long black hair. “Not much longer,” she whispered. “Let the mother-in-law be right. One day you might want money for a house.”
Gabriela and her mother laughed and Gabby did her best to stifle any more ungrateful sounds.
The river was up half a foot from rains in the mountains. It wasn’t more than thigh-deep, but too deep for the donkey and cart. “You’re going to have an early baptism for that baby,” Guadalupe joked as she and Alicia helped Gabby to climb out.
“This is my best dress,” Gabby complained. “My best fat dress. I guess tomorrow I won’t have to wear it anymore.”
“No new dresses for you,” Alicia said. “Once you have children you get no more treats. They all go to the kid. You’ll have to take that dress in and wear it till the baby is in high school.” Guadalupe laughed. Gabriela wished Marcos was there. He could drink beer and wait and make up lies with his buddies and, when the baby was born, he could come to the river and carry her and the baby home on Tildy’s back.
“God I hate this mud,” Gabriela said as her shoe sunk into the cool slime then came free with a sucking sound and a slurp that nearly pulled her sneaker off her foot.
“Don’t blaspheme,” her mother said automatically. “We’ve got you. We’ll go slow.”
“Pick up my skirt,” Gabby begged. “I don’t want to go knocking on doors looking like my water just broke. Lift it out of the water.”
“It’s too deep,” her mother said flatly. “Your underpants will show.”
“I’m not wearing any underpants,” Gabby said, and felt a small stab of satisfaction as Alicia began muttering her rosary under her breath.
“You better not let Marcos hear you saying things like that,” Guadalupe warned her. “He has a temper like his dad.”
Gabriela was glad it was dark so her mother-in-law wouldn’t see the smile that came to her lips when she thought of what Marcos would do if she told him she didn’t have any panties on.
With her mother holding her right arm and her mother-in-law her left, the three of them waded into the river. The night was kind, seventy degrees with a whisper of a breeze coming down from the Chisos, smelling of pine and heat and dust laid by the rain. The water was cool and felt good on Gabby’s legs and groin. The baby in her belly seemed to float on the water, taking the weight off the small of her back for a change.
“Women should give birth in the river,” Gabby said. “Women should be pregnant in the river. You can pee anytime you want.”
“Don’t you dare pee,” Alicia said. “I’m downstream.”
“You are going to have that baby in the water if you two don’t stop making jokes and move faster.”
“Remember your house,” Alicia murmured in Gabriela’s ear and Gabby laughed loudly.
“Now you did make me pee, Mama.”
Before Alicia could make a retort a braying came out of the darkness on the American side of the Rio Grande. A man with a machine amplifying his voice was shouting at them in Spanish:
“Se ha carredo la frontera. The border is closed. Go back. This border is closed by order of the United States government.”
“No it isn’t,” Alicia yelled back.. “Not between the park and Boquillas.” There was no answering bray, and Gabby’s mother urged her forward. “Some fool ranger not old enough to go to the bathroom by himself gets those talking horns and thinks he’s John Wayne at the Alamo,” Alicia grumbled.
The Alamo was Alicia’s favorite movie. Gabby had had to watch it at least three times. The only thing that kept it from boring her completely out of her mind was that her mother always rooted for John Wayne and saw nothing funny in that at all. “It’s only a movie,” she’d tell Gabby and her brother. “Nobody’s real. I can like who I like.”
They’d reached midstream when the voice came again and, with it, painfully bright lights. “The border is closed,” the man announced again. “Go back.”
“My daughter is having a baby. She’s having a baby right now!” Alicia shouted.
The disembodied voice came back over the water. “Crossings are permitted only at authorized border stations. Go back. You cannot enter the United States except at authorized border stations.”
The women stopped, dark water curling around their hips, skirts dragging at their legs. “This man is crazy,” Guadalupe said, and shaded her eyes against the lights trying to see what sort of man waited on the riverbank to accost pregnant women and their mothers.
“Maybe we should go back,” Gabby said. The water, so cool and life-affirming at first, was beginning to chill her. The blackness of it, and the scraps of litter the rising levels had washed from the shores upriver flashing through the beam of the man’s light seemed sinister, dirty somehow. She didn’t like it between her legs. She didn’t want it to touch her baby.
Guadalupe surged forward, Gabby’s arm held tightly in her fist. Gabriela tried to turn back and her belly pushed into Alicia. Alicia lost her footing and fell, dragging Gabby down with her.
Gabriela’s arm tore free of her mother-in-law’s grip and her sneakered feet slipped from the rocky bottom. Her belly was taken up by the current, rolling her onto her back, helpless as a beetle tortured by wicked boys. River water washed over her face and she fought to right herself. She wasn’t scared. She grew up on the river. Like most of the village children, she had been in and out of it all of her life. Right up to the mouth of Boquillas Canyon the water was smooth.
From the dark she could hear shouting: her mother and Guadalupe, a man’s voice, without the megaphone now, shouting in English and unintelligible Spanish, the phrases “the border is closed” and “go back” probably the only Spanish he had fully mastered.
Gabby floundered until her stomach was under her and her feet were scrabbling to find purchase on the slippery rock of the riverbed when a partially submerged log struck her in the side. She cried out, not because of the pain, but in fear for the life of the child she carried. The log knocked her off her tenuous footing and its branches snatched up her skirts and swung her around, smashing the weight of the sodden wood into her skull.
There was no sense of doom. Only doom itself.
It was May 2002. Eight months after the terrorist attacks. By order of Homeland Security, the border between Big Bend and the villages that had shared the life of the park had been closed.
So, how do you feel?”
Anna stared at the doctor. He wasn’t a real doctor; he was a psychologist with a Ph.D. out of Boulder, Colorado, who liked very much to be called Doctor James. Vincent James was not-so-affectionately called Vinny-the-shrink by the rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park. Whenever the brass decided rangers needed to be counseled they were sent down the hill to his shiny little office on the mall. Vinny had decorated his lair in Early Intimidation. The walls were slate gray, the furniture black leather and chrome. An arrangement of dried and very dead grasses in russet and umber was his nod to the real world, the non-Vinny world.
“I feel good,” Anna said, attempting to look comfortable in a sling of shiny patent leather. She drummed her fingertips on the silvery armrests, hoping they’d leave prints. She didn’t doubt that he leapt up to polish them clean before the door closed on departing clients’ butts. Or maybe he carefully lifted the prints with tape and kept them on file.
Vinny smiled slightly and waited. Anna smiled back and waited. Anna liked to wait. If one waited long enough and quietly enough, all manner of woodland creatures might creep out of the underbrush. In Dr. James’s case, perhaps they crept out from under rocks.
The psychologist sighed audibly and smiled a bigger smile this time, the one mothers reserve for tiresome children who insist on playing games with their betters.
“How do you feel about the incident at Isle Royale?” he asked.
Feeling like the tiresome child, Anna purposely misunderstood him. “Not bad. The ankle twinges when I step on it wrong and is stiff in the mornings. My shoulder is as good as new, though. Got to find the silver lining.”
He sighed again, less ostentatiously this time but still audibly. A shrink should know better than to exhibit obvious manipulation.
“That’s a bad habit,” Anna said. “That sighing thing.”
Anger was pressing up under her sternum, a boil of heat she’d carried since returning from Windigo Harbor on Isle Royale in Lake Michigan that February. The balance had gone out of her life, the yin and yang of good and evil, light and dark, peace and pain. What she needed was clean air and warmth and Paul, quiet so deep birdsong could only enhance it, miles free of the millings and mewlings of humanity. She didn’t need a shrink with a sighing problem and ergonomically hostile furniture.
“You seem to be carrying a lot of anger,” Vinny said in a rare moment of insight.
“Bingo,” she said.
Again he waited.
She didn’t elaborate.
Vinny might have been an idiot, but he wasn’t stupid. He didn’t play the waiting game long this time. “You killed a man,” he said. “Up close and personal; killed him with your bare hands.”
“No,” Anna said. “I wore gloves.”
The psychologist’s chest swelled with another sigh but he caught himself and let it out soundlessly through his nose. Leaning back in his chair, a comfortable chair, Anna noted, he took off his wire-rimmed glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He must have seen the gesture in old movies back when psychiatry was new and the public believed in hypnotism and Freud and the dangers of early potty training.
The boil of heat beneath her breastbone was growing. If it burst—if she let it burst—she would spill her guts to this man and she didn’t want to go down that road with anyone but Paul. Since Isle Royale she found herself unable to trust anyone but Paul, and that included herself. Most of all herself. Anna wasn’t sure if she was a good person. Worse, she wasn’t sure if she cared.
“I’ll talk about it with my priest,” she said.
Dr. James rocked forward in his lovely padded office chair and shifted the papers on his desk. He used the tip of his forefinger, as if merely touching the written dirt of others’ lives could soil his soul. “Your husband,” he said. “Paul Davidson, the sheriff of Jefferson County, Mississippi.” The way he said Mississippi annoyed her. He said it like it didn’t count, like being a sheriff there was tantamount to being a racist or a campus kiddy cop. “He’s also an Episcopal priest?”
“The gun and The Word,” Anna said.
The psychologist didn’t smile.
“I see you didn’t change your name when you got married. You kept Pigeon. Why is that?”
Anna took a deep breath, trying to ease the pressure in her chest. She felt like Mount St. Helens the day before. Steam pouring from her vents, molten lava pressing against a dome of rock, fires so deep and burning so hot nothing could contain them. She had a sudden mental image of her small middle-aged self on a city street, women and children fleeing in every direction, men yelling, “Look out, she’s going to blow!” The picture startled her and she laughed.
“You find the question funny?” Vincent James asked.
“I find the question irrelevant and intrusive,” she said. It was happening. The crown of rock that was her sternum was bowing under the push of the fire and she couldn’t stop it. “I find the question none of your damn business. Yes, I killed a man. With my gloves on because it was so cold your fingers would freeze off without them but, yes, up close and personal. You want to know what that was like? What kind of person could kill like that? Me. That’s what kind. The son of a bitch deserved to die. The world is better off without guys like that. There are a whole hell of a lot of people in this world who should be ushered into the next, if there is a next, which I sincerely doubt. If I had it to do over again I would have killed him in his sleep the first night on the island.”
Blowing off steam wasn’t helping. If she didn’t shut up she was going to cry. The inherent knowledge that Vinny would take her tears as a personal victory was the only thing that kept them at bay. They dried in the heat of her anger but there were plenty more where those had come from and Anna had to clamp her mind shut to keep them from pouring out, to keep her face from melting in a flood of saltwater and snot.
Vinny put his elbows on the papers he’d fingered and steepled his hands. He’d never bothered to replace his glasses and Anna wondered if they were merely a prop, the lenses plain glass, or if he decided she was too hard to look at when her edges were clear.
“Would you?” he asked.
She had no idea what he was talking about. The repression of the volcano was making it hard to concentrate on anything else.
“Would you have killed him in his sleep? Killed him in cold blood?”
Anna didn’t want to think about that. She didn’t want to think about anything but she couldn’t stop her mind from pawing through the images of her weeks on Isle Royale. Nights she’d wake up so cold she couldn’t clamp her teeth against their chattering, her heart pounding. Days she walked in a fog, blind to the beauty of the Rockies and the needs of the visitors and fellow rangers. April didn’t bring an end to winter at that elevation. Snow capped the mountains and the glaciers. Wind blew ragged and vicious down the canyons. She could not get warm and she couldn’t think clearly and the man she’d killed stalked her.
“I’m not sorry it happened, if that’s what you’re getting at,” she snapped. The use of it and happened shuddered with weakness. Anna was tired of the hard words so she made herself say them: “I’m not sorry I killed him. I’m sorry I had to kill him.”
“Earlier you said”—Vincent poked at his papers again as if every word she’d spoken had been magically and instantaneously written into the report on his desk—“that there were a lot of people who needed to be ‘ushered into the next world.’ Do you feel you have to kill the bad guys, that you have a calling to do this so-called ushering?”
Anna could tell Vinny-the-shrink thought he was on to something big, that he’d found the key to what ailed her. Anna didn’t feel she had a calling to kill or to do anything else. Once she’d thought she had a calling to protect the wild places, but she wasn’t even feeling that anymore. What she felt mostly was an inner darkness lit by strange fires from below and haunted by scraps of thoughts and fragments of conversations. The only time she felt good or safe or halfway normal was when she curled under the blankets and buried her face in a purring cat. The purring and the silky warmth of the fur tethered her to the land of the living.
She didn’t know what ailed her, and she doubted Vinny knew. “No,” she said firmly. “No calling to kill.” To have said anything else would have brought the men in the white coats bearing straitjackets. If they still used straitjackets on crazy people. “Sufficient stopping force if the assailant is a danger to law enforcement or others.” She paraphrased one of the rules from the levels of force continuum drummed into the heads of the students at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, where she and countless others had received their education.
“Stopping force, is that how you think of what you did? That you ‘stopped’ him?”
Vincent’s voice didn’t sound combative. If anything, it might have gentled somewhat since she’d first arrived. Anna wished she could read his face but to do that she’d have to see it, and her vision was growing odd. Unshed tears made it hard to focus her eyes; unshed thoughts made it hard to focus her mind.
“Yes.” She found the word somewhere in her vocabulary and offered it up on her tongue. It tasted alien and sounded far away. “Killing will do that to some people. For guys like him, killing is all that would do it. I stopped him: stopped him from preying on women, stopped him from killing me, stopped him from taking up space and breathing good air.” The anger eating her from the inside out seared the words and she knew she sounded even more heartless than she was.
“This wasn’t the first person you’ve . . . stopped . . . in your career as a law enforcement ranger, is it?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” In that moment Anna couldn’t remember if she had ever killed anyone else or not. She remembered parks and jobs and broken bones and wounds slashed into her body with fish gaffs and pine branches. She remembered animals slain and people bloody and covered in flies. She remembered hurting and hurting others. But, as she stared into the face of Vinny-the-shrink, she couldn’t remember whether or not she had taken the life of another human being.
Shaking her head, she struggled up from the hammock of leather, pushing against the cold chrome of the chair’s arms. “You’d think a girl would remember something like that, wouldn’t you?” she said, and laughed. “It’s not like I have to count the notches on my gun to know how many. You can’t notch a Sig-Sauer—they’re all metal.” She turned as if to leave, and fixated on the desiccated grasses in their square silver vase. “I suppose you could mark the kills with scratches,” she said absently. The grasses were supposed to be beautiful, the pale rust-colored stalks and the tawny feathered tops. “Dead,” Anna said. “The grass is dead. Can’t anything live in this room? The chairs made of the hides of dead cows, the walls of dead trees.” She turned back to the psychologist. He was standing now, as well, his glasses back on his nose. “What’s the desk made of? Plastic? Dead dinosaurs? I can’t remember if I killed anyone else.”
Her eyes gushed with tears, her nostrils poured mucus; Anna could feel the sides of her mouth pulling down in the wild howl of a child. She was imploding, exploding, her body and mind were turning their blackened insides out and she felt dams breaking and bones melting, steel bands tightening, bowing her spine, puppet strings of piano wire forcing her hands to flap feebly.
“I want to go home,” she screamed at the shrink.
Dr. James was around the desk, a hand outstretched toward her. On his face was a look of deep and genuine concern. In his eyes she could read pain for her suffering. She had misjudged him, been unfair, unfeeling and cruel. The knowledge should have made her kinder, but rage would not let it. More than anything she wanted a fight, a hard fight with knuckle bones and edged weapons, an excuse to strike out, to let the pressure smash into a deserving target. James was closing in on her, both hands out now as if he was going to fold her into an embrace.
Time chose this moment to do its petty pace thing and all but stopped. In the grip of this psychic stasis the tears in her eyes acted as lenses that didn’t distort but magnified. She could see the wear under Dr. James’s eyes, the fine lines growing into folds from too much worry and too little sleep. Patches of stubble smudged beneath his right ear and along the jawline because he had shaved in a hurry or been distracted by thoughts of other than his own vanity. The fingernails on the outstretched hands were clean but short and the hands themselves calloused from hard labor.
Dr. Vincent James was a human being. Barricaded behind her brittle carapace of anger, Anna had neglected to note that.
The need to strike out, the fury of the volcano, the wild lash of rage stopped flowing outward and, with a suddenness that brought her to her knees, turned on her. The burning place beneath her sternum was extinguished by the blast and, where the fire had been, only a great empty hole remained.
Anna felt herself tumbling into it.
Darden White caught himself doing it again. His hands were folded loosely in front of his crotch. Years in the Secret Service had ingrained the classic pose into his bones. Left to its own devices his skeleton settled into watchful cop stance. The Secret Service was misnamed, he thought. They wanted to be seen and identified to let those with sinister intent know the subject was being protected by the best. A visual presence didn’t deter serious criminals, but it helped keep amateurs with big dreams at bay.
Darden no longer needed to be that obvious. Not to mention the addition of his gut didn’t lend itself to the pose with any grace or dignity. Since he’d retired he’d put on a pound a year, give or take. Wanting a hobby—and trying to get his mom to eat something other than Pepperidge Farm white chocolate chunk cookies and peanuts—he’d taken up cooking and gotten too good at it.
Darden sniffed. At sixty-three, a man should be able to have a gut if he wanted. Along with graying hair worn just long enough to make it look like he needed to see a barber, the extra pounds lent him an avuncular look that he found useful.
As a bonus, his doctor told him the added weight, carried out front under his heart, could take years off his life. Darden’s mother had changed the way he looked at death and longevity. At eighty-five, as fit and strong as ever, she only had enough mind left to know she hated being locked up.
Poor old bird, he thought, as he did whenever his mother came to mind.
Darden had lived most of his life ready to take a bullet for somebody else—often somebody he didn’t much like—and death didn’t frighten him overmuch. Alzheimer’s did. Idly he considered taking up smoking again to help the gut along, but decided that would be overkill.
Letting his hands fall to his sides, he continued watching the waiters setting up the Chisos Mountain Lodge’s dining room for the event. The view couldn’t be beat. The lodge was nestled in a ring of ragged peaks. On the southwest side of the tiny valley where the lodge’s rooms and cabins were built a mountain was missing, like a tooth pulled from a line of molars. Through the gap one could see the desert below roll out into a misty distance stopped by the mountains of northern Mexico.
When it came to security, the lodge wasn’t what Darden would have chosen. Judith had her own reasons, and they were politically savvy, but she left herself open too often. Politicians he’d guarded fell into two categories. Either they were so paranoid there was an assassin slavering after their worthless little lives that he had to check every space big enough to hide a cat before they’d enter a building, or they were like Judith, believing themselves immortal and beloved. Most were like Judith. The good ones anyway.
An elderly couple came and stood at the entrance looking confused as the dining room they’d been using was being rearranged. A young whip of a man, working summers in the parks while going to college, Darden knew—he’d interviewed all the employees working the cocktail party—stopped them from entering. Darden watched the kid’s face move plastically through the permutations of a young man who had grown good at telling people they can’t have what they want without endangering his tip.
The couple, in their seventies or maybe early eighties, was holding hands. They leaned in toward each other as if they’d grown together until their limbs became indistinguishable, one from the other, like two ancient trees. Darden smiled at them and nodded at the waiter. Judith could afford to feed a few strangers. Fundraising came naturally to her. Looking relieved, the young man led the couple to a table by the window.
Darden had never married. His job didn’t lend itself to family life. Sometimes he wished he was gay. Another man would be a better fit for the home life of an agent: sex and companionship, somebody to grow old with and no worries about who’d call the plumber or shovel the walks or scare away the burglars when you were away on assignment.
In the service gay would not have been a plus. A lot of the guys he worked with were flat-out homophobic. It was a moot point. Darden was not gay. Whoever said it was a choice had never considered making it. Men were born wired for a socket or a plug. At least that was how it was for Darden.
Judith Pierson walked in. She was small, five-foot-five, with a boyish figure. In baggy khakis and Converse high-tops she should have looked about as imposing as any mall rat, but the straightness of her spine and the military bearing of her shoulders made her seem bigger, a person to be reckoned with.
Another woman would have been sequestered in her room worrying about her makeup or her dress. Maybe Judith worried and maybe she didn’t, but she wasn’t one to trust the details to other people. It was why she was going to make it. She was going to be Texas’s next Ann Richards, but without the liberal trappings.
“Hey, Darden. Everything okay for the meet-and-greet?”
“I don’t think we’re going to have any trouble. Big Bend is too far from anywhere for the uglies to bother making the trip. I’m just making sure the tees are dotted and the eyes are crossed.” He winked at her.
Meet the Author
Award-winning Nevada Barr is the author of the New York Times bestselling Anna Pigeon mysteries.
- Clinton, Mississippi
- Date of Birth:
- March 1, 1952
- Place of Birth:
- Yerington, Nevada
- B.A., Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 1974; M.A., University of California at Irvine, 1977
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Although I love all of Anna Pigeon's adventures in the various national parks, this one was close to my heart because of the Texas setting. The story is exciting, with as many twists and turns as the Rio Grande itself. The only bone I have to pick with Nevada Barr is her lack of research into how Child Protective Services in Texas is set up. The glaring errors in terminology and how the agency works was VERY distracting to me since I actually work for CPS in Texas! But overall, this book on CD definitely kept me entertained as I traveled (across Texas, no less!)and made my trip much more enjoyable.
This was one of the best Anna Pigeon stories. It wasn't as gory as some and it showed a softer side of Anna. This one I had trouble putting down. Great setting, brought in some current political issues without forcing an opinion and interesting charachters
"Our heroine", Anna Pigeon has developed over the years as she moves from one national park to another. The plot device of her annual moves strikes a slightly unbelievable note, but it sure allows the writer to incorporate the scenery into the action. I would like to visit most of these parks someday instead of just experiencing them vicariously. I will NEVER go white-water rafting (too chicken) and this is the next-best thing. Throwing in murder and general mayhem and the rescue of an emaciated cow makes for an exciting read. Nevada Barr was once a park ranger herself, and uses this first-hand knowledge of the system to provide an authentic framework for her novels.
I have read all of the Anna Pigeon series and this one is not one of her best. I would have liked the background of the the characters other than Anna developed a bit more. I always like the settings of the books and learning about National Parks and I couldn't get the feel for this Park because the main characters weren't as connected to the Park or at least they didn't seem to be. It was worth the read however and I always enjoy a good story.
I always look forward to a new Navada Barr and another encounter with Ranger Anna Pigeon. In her latest offering, "Borderline," I was disappointed. The book is set on the border between the United States and Mexico and brings together Pigeon, her too-good-to-be-true husband, a too-psychotic-to-be-true politician, her too-old-to-be-so-besotted bodyguard and several other characters in a plot that is so outre as to be "offbeat" but not in a good way. Oh yeah, there is also a baby whose birth leads Pigeon to discover a maternal instinct just when she needs her killer instinct most. And I almost forgot the college students who should have gone to Cancun for spring break rather than on a white water rafting trip with Pigeon and her husband. The book raised interesting points about life along the border with Mexico, and the descriptions of the scenery and of the physical suffering of Pigeon and the other characters were, as usual, stunning and excruciating, repectively. This book, however, was not up to Barr's usual standards.
Nevada Barr returns with another exciting Anna Pigeon mystery. This book was compelling from beginning to end and was less graphic than the previous four books in the series. The premise was interesting, if not original. The writing was tight and kept me turning pages late into the night. I hope she keeps writing more like this one because it was a great escape. Definitely worth your time to read it if you like a well-written story that hooks you from the first page.
Very enjoyable read.
I've become disenchanted with Anna. She has always been incredibly selfish; in this book, she also adds stupid and crazy.
I keep hoping there are still more to come.
While this is the darkest story about Anna Pigeon I have read, it was still a really good read. It is about time Anna showed the kind of emotional and psychological weaknesses that normal people would experience after close brushes with death. In the previous books, she was robotic in her ho-hum attitude after taking a life or having come so close to death. I like it. Anna is human after all. Stephanie Clanahan
After reading her books since she started, I continue to be impressed.
Anna was presented as always - strong willed, resourceful and cunning, when needed. The addition of infant care shows a side of Anna not seen in her previous adventures. Not a great book but a fun entertaining read.