The interagency e-bulletin about the slaughter in Valley Center hit LASD late that morning. Hood made it to Suzanne Jones’s property in an hour forty minutes just like she said he could.
There were two Sheriff’s cruisers on the property, a coroner’s van, Escondido Police and a Tribal Police unit. Reporters and news crews had stationed themselves in the meadow under the huge oak tree for shade. Hood parked his Camaro where he’d parked the day before and drew the unhappy attention of the sergeant manning the sign-in log outside the barn.
Hood identified himself and signed in, then defaulted to the neutral stare and brevity that they all had adopted in the otherworldy heat of Anbar.
“You’re completely out of jurisdiction, Hood.”
“We’ve got a case open and she’s our best witness,” he said.
“Jones,” said Hood. “She lives here.”
“I know who lives here.”
“I appreciate this, sir.”
And then he walked past the sergeant. There were no bodies by now but Hood saw the blood pooled on the concrete and splashed against the rough-hewn stalls and thrown across the floor almost to the door. He had learned from a Shia executioner that a decapitated adult will send twin jets of blood about ten feet, sometimes more, depending on how afraid he is at the time of his death. A trail of bloody boot prints faded toward the barn door. They seemed hardly larger than a child’s.
He convinced a San Diego Sheriff’s photographer to scroll back through his digitals, and he saw how the big men had fallen, and the terrible work of the blade or blades that had butchered them. He saw practice and efficiency and something that was harder to put into words. Hood asked if they’d found a weapon, and the photog said just a Buck knife still gripped in the fist that was chopped off-actually chopped completely off-one of the Indians. He had several close-ups of this. He said the other one’s head was still on but barely; it must have been one helluva sharp sword or ax or whatever.
Hood looked up into the eaves and saw the pigeons unmoving in the heat. Dust climbed a column of sunlight. He thought of riding horses with his father once when he was a boy, on a clear October morning in the desert when the world was clean and beautiful.
He found a Sheriff’s homicide detective, Felton, who told him that one of the boys who lived here had found the bodies about eight o’clock last night. The dead men were brothers-Harold and Gerald Little Chief-and they lived right across the stream. Almost kids themselves, he said, just eighteen and nineteen years old. Rincon Indians.
“One perp?” asked Hood.
“One set of prints leading out. That’s all we’ve got so far.”
“The Jones family still here?” asked Hood.
“They left last night.”
“I’d appreciate a number.”
“Who the hell are you again?”
“Los Angeles Sheriff’s homicide,” said Hood. He showed his badge. “Suzanne Jones is a witness. The ten gangsters.”
“I heard about that one.”
“We don’t have much either.”
Felton looked at him doubtfully then flipped open his notepad, wrote something and tore off a sheet for Hood.
“So what?” he said. “This Jones babe happens to see ten bangers get shot dead in L.A., then she comes home and this happens in her barn? She the angel of death or something?”
“She’s a schoolteacher.” Hood didn’t try to explain Suzanne Jones and Miracle Auto Body, wasn’t sure he could.
“Give me a call when you got it all figured out, son.”
“I’d be glad to.”
Hood walked across the barnyard, felt the sun heating his neck and shirt. He stayed away from the reporters under the enormous oak tree. As he passed them he looked up at a knocking noise and saw two acorn woodpeckers working an upper branch near a tree house. The house was way up there, not quite hidden by the twisted black branches of the tree. Hood saw no ladder or rope, no way to get up to it.
The front door of the house stood ajar, and there was a crime scene notice in a clear plastic sheath thumbtacked to the wall. Hood saw that the dog bowls were gone. He opened the door and called loudly then walked in. It was hot. Things looked the same as they had the day before, but the house felt abandoned. There was no burglar alarm console in the entryway.
He walked into the dining room with the picnic table where they had talked, then he went into a large living room with a big-screen TV and two unmatched couches pushed side by side, with plenty of pillows misshapen from use. There was a tiki bar at one end of the room, complete with a thatched roof and woven bamboo barstools. There was a set of island drums in the corner near the bar, and decorative wooden clubs and spears and ukuleles hung on the woven-grass-covered wall.
In the kitchen there were dishes in the sink, but the refrigerator was empty of perishables. No alarm console here either. In the corner of the pantry floor was an open space with nothing but two dog kibbles on it. He walked through the teenager’s room and a boy’s bedroom and a nursery.
Another room had books on shelves, a couch with reading lamps at each end and a small desk with a computer, a printer/copier and a telephone on it. He looked for a personal address book but found none. In a file cabinet in the corner he found the household bills for electricity, propane, water and phone. He took the most recent phone bill, ran a copy and put back the original. He folded the copy and studied the shelves, mostly books on history and some best sellers. There were stacks of magazines on cars and skateboarding, fishing and cooking.
In another bedroom that appeared unused Hood glanced at the pictures on the shelves and walls: mostly Suzanne Jones with three boys who looked several years apart and not a lot alike, and a few shots involving Ernest, the islander, and other men Hood didn’t recognize. There were commendations from the Los Angeles Unified School District, including a framed Primary Teacher of the Year Award. Hood saw Suzanne’s diplomas from Dominguez Hills State University and Vista West High School. She’d graduated from high school four years before him. He wondered if he might have seen her at a football game or a rodeo or a store.
The master bedroom was spacious and shaded by a big coral tree outside the French doors that framed a view of the wooded valley and the stream. Bright orange orioles hopped in the thorny branches. Against one wall was a dresser with the drawers hanging open. There were mounds of clothing on the floor in front of it. A wooden jewelry box had been rifled and tossed on top of the clothes. The closet shelves were bare because everything had been pulled down to the carpet.
A plainclothes investigator glanced over his shoulder at Hood, a video recorder in his hand.
“Someone went through here pretty good,” said the man. “Watch the stuff on the floor.”
“Did you talk to her? Jones?”
“No. I’m crime scene, part of the second wave. She’d gotten her kids out before I arrived.”
The bedroom smelled lightly of human beings and laundry soap and perfume. The bed was unmade. Hood looked at Suzanne Jones’s pillow.
He wondered how much four hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds weighed, and how much volume it would occupy in space. Not much.
In the hallway he checked the thermostat, which was turned to off. Back in the family room he played the recorded message-Ernest saying to leave a number and they’d call back. There were three incoming messages. Hood took down the names and numbers and locked the door behind him on the way out.
He stood for a moment in the big three-car garage, half expecting to see the yellow Corvette, but the only vehicles were a nice little minibike caked with red dust and a small tractor fitted with a mower.
Hood crossed the stream rock-to-rock and climbed the embankment toward the home at the top of the rise. It was beige stucco, peeling and rain-stained, and the shingles on the roof were warped. There were three huge satellite dishes and some old appliances in the dirt patch beside it. A window-mounted air conditioner was held up by two-by-fours placed at splaying angles.
Betty Little Chief was a large, big-faced woman with black hair and a soft, singsong voice. Her cheekbones were high and pronounced and the whites of her eyes were bloodshot. She wore reading glasses on a lanyard around her neck. Hood could see that Betty’s blouse and her glasses had been recently cried on, and the lenses were not yet wiped.
After he identified himself and gave her his commisera tions and told her his purpose, she looked straight through him and nodded. For a moment Hood felt that he had vanished.
“I saw a car parked down by the stream on my way to the store,” she said. “And I saw it on my way back home, too. There was a man fishing the stream. The fish in that stream are about four inches long. That’s the only thing unusual about that day, except my sons being murdered.”
“What did the man look like?”
“A hat. A pole. A fisherman.”
“Afternoon. Three-thirty and four-thirty, about. No one fishes down there.”
“What kind of car?”
“Lincoln Continental. Black. My old man bought one like that once. Used and he was proud of it.”
“When? When did he buy that car?”
“Late seventies. He died in ’eighty.” Now Betty Little Chief focused her gaze on his face instead of through it. Her eyes shone like black suns beyond the peaks of her cheekbones. “Evil was here. I’ve had that feeling twice before in my life and both times I was right. It’s still strong.”
“I have it, too.”
“You don’t look like you could.”
“You can’t know what other people have seen.”
“No. That’s why secrets are good to keep.”
“Did Suzanne Jones ask you about a car parked down by the stream?”
She hesitated as her eyes scanned his face. “She did. And all of you police, too. I told everyone.”
“Thank you. I’m sorry what happened to your boys. I truly am.”
She closed the door on him not impolitely. Hood touched the wood with his fingers before he walked away.
In the streambed he found the small boot prints and followed them down the stream on one side then back up the stream on the other. Where there was a view of the Joneses’ meadow and pond, the toes faced another set of prints in the soft earth and these were certainly a child’s athletic shoe of some kind. The child had walked from the direction of the Joneses’ property. Hood wondered what they had talked about. Fishing, maybe. A child and a man. He retraced the child’s steps toward the pond, then lost them in the dead summer stubble of the meadow.
On the way to his car he dialed the number he’d gotten from Felton and listened to the computerized voice telling him to leave a message.
He asked Suzanne Jones to call him and left his numbers. He said it was important.
Five minutes later Ernest called back to say that Suzanne was out of town and not available.
“I want to talk to your child,” said Hood. “The middle one.”
“I’ll bet you do.”