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Mark Felt had been with the Bureau just one year but the quality of his reports filtering back to Washington had brought him to the notice of the Director, J. Edgar Hoover. On the eve of Special Agent Felt's transfer to DC Hoover telephoned him personally.

Felt tried to maintain a respectful tone with the Director but he knew he was in for disappointment. The San Antonio field office was deemed a punishment detail where agents were sent to be toughened up, and it was particularly hard on agents who were married.

When it came it was every bit as bad as he thought it would be. Felt's transfer to Washington to work on counter-espionage was put on hold until he solved a simple homicide smack in the middle of the country. Hoover took this one personally; and so, natch, the FBI did as well.

"You'll be coordinating with Special Agent in Charge Clyde Tolson on this one," Hoover said. "Do you know him?"

Felt could only answer that he knew Tolson was the SAC at a division of the Bureau known only as DECON, but none of his associates knew what the initials meant.

"In Clyde's pretty little head," Hoover said with a nervous chuckle, "DECON stands for Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neu- tralization. But to me, you, the other agents and most important of all, Congress, Tolson heads up the Special Projects section."

"I understand sir," said Felt. "But what if, by some misfortune, my work runs at cross-purposes to those of SAiC Tolson? Which case takes precedence?"

Hoover said Felt had the upper hand. He was to mesh with Tolson where practical but Felt's reports were to go directly to DC. "Also you will have the complete cooperation of the local law enforcement community, such as it is. Not even Tolson has that. But bear in mind that Head- water is a small town at the ragged edge of nowhere. You will be shocked to find it lacking in most basic amenities."

Hoover wrapped up with a few more details, saying Agent Felt this and Agent Felt that. In twenty years Mark Felt would draw close enough to J. Edgar that he would just be called 'Felt' but he'd never be on a first-name basis like 'Clyde' but he thought that was just fine.

Felt did win one important concession. He received permission to draw a Bureau sedan so his wife Audrey could proceed to DC as originally planned while he took his own car north through most of Texas and three other states to fix this burr under the Director's saddle.

One summer head up the Big Muddy to St. Louis and hang a left. Now you're on the Missouri, the longest river in North America. Go upriver past Sioux City, Iowa and hang a left again on the Niobrara River. Head west until you're walking in a dry river bed. You missed it. Back up. The Squaw River is a shorter tributary of the Niobrara, yet it has a year-round flow despite winding across the most arid grasslands of the high plains. Bison used to reliably congregate at the edge of the Squaw River to drink, and the hunters of The People knew it.

On a ridge above Headwater is a pillar of rock carved by wind to look like an Indian woman carrying a papoose in her papoose, hence the name Squaw River. Just west of town the river bends around the south and west flanks of Green Dome and pours from an underground cistern. Head- water is where the river begins, but it's also where the railroad and pavement ends. Other than a few dirt roads and old wagon tracks, the land north, west and south of town is literally the biggest void in the lower forty-eight states. Mark Felt learned firsthand that when he found no motel in the town.

Headwater has nothing for tourists, even when it wasn't wartime and there were tourists to be had. The view from the top of Green Dome was out over thirty-five miles of nothing. If you were from out of town it must have meant you were there to get hitched and your extended family put you up.

Special Agent Felt drove to the strip of land where Hoover told him the FBI had dropped a trailer. It was unoccupied. Felt let himself in using a spare key he had obtained from the Wichita field office. The kitchen was still a kitchen, but the living room was a workspace. He checked the trailer's two bedrooms and saw they contained two cots apiece. So the trailer could sleep four agents. Before anyone else arrived he shat, showered, and shaved to make himself presentable once again after two days and two nights on the road.

When he was finished Felt was still alone in the trailer, so he helped himself to files stacked on the desks. One of them, with brittle yel- lowed paper that Felt instinctively handled with great care, was a report on the final days of Fort Price. The report contained pages from the commanding officer's journal and testimony of the six surviv- ing soldiers, including one who had been captured and maimed.

Mark Felt stopped reading the Fort Price file when he heard the sound of a vehicle's tires crunching up to the FBI trailer. Felt had al- ready met Clyde Tolson at the hand- shaking ceremony the previous year when Hoover inspected his graduating class but this fellow wasn't he. When the agent came in Felt thought the man looked more movie gangster than g-man, investigatee more than investigator, and somewhat later he learned he was one of the very few liberal Democrats to be accepted into the Bureau. "Are you William Mark Felt?" the newcomer asked.

Felt, who had been sitting ram- rod straight in his chair, now stood ramrod straight on his feet and ex- tended his hand. 'Just Mark Felt, please.' And the newcomer remarked on their mutual good fortune, as he was Bill Sullivan, and two Williams would have been confusing.

Sullivan approached the desk to see what Felt had been reading, amused by Mark's body language which seemed to dare him to say something de- rogatory about the presumption. "Ah yes, Cowboys and Indians," he said when he saw the material a bit closer. "How far did you get?"

"The Indians dropped a couple cows," Felt replied, "and the Cowboys dropped a couple Indians. If you hadn't shown up, Bill, I'm sure I would have plowed my way through to the part where the US Army lost their fort. A lifetime ago. Is this one of Tolson's special projects?"

"DECON," Sullivan said. "Domestic Enemies Containment, Observation, and Neutralization. I'm sure the Director told you this was Special Projects but my advice to you is to play along with Special Agent in Charge Tolson on this. At least until you break the murder case."

Felt silently absorbed this and nodded once, clearly accepting the advice. He donned his overcoat and said, "Where is Tolson, by the way? I've only just arrived from the San Antonio office and the Director gave me almost nothing in the way of a briefing before I departed."

"Tolson is waiting for you at what qualifies for a hospital in this tiny hamlet," Sullivan said. "It's practically a one-room log cabin. He's with Dr. Ian Trochmann. I'll take you there, but I won't be stay- ing. I'm still looking for a fugitive, one Sofie Krause."

As Bill Sullivan drove Mark Felt to the hospital to take over the mur- der investigation he pointed at the mountain to the right. "Green Dome is not even one of the five highest points in the state but summit to base it's twice any other. That's where the Indians retreated when the cowboys started shooting."

"And over there," Special Agent Felt said, pointing left over the dashboard, "must be the north bank of the river where the cowboys man- aged to get their herd. What happened next? You got me wondering how the Army lost a fort and why Tolson gives a damn about all this."

Sullivan shrugged, because the report was incomplete and he truly did- n't know. "I guess it's like the little brother to Custer's Last Stand. One thing that really strikes me about the Indian wars was how the Indians gave as well as they got. We only beat them with numbers."

"Numbers, time, and the fact that they weren't really as blood-thirsty as people make them out to be. Did you ever hear of something they did called 'counting coup'? No? It was the wartime equivalent of touch football. They went to war like we go to ball games."

They arrived at Headwater's only hospital where they saw a plump nurse in her fifties wheeling out a shivering boy with bandaged stumps where his feet should have been. She was followed by Deputies Bill and Bob wheeling out one boy apiece, each with identical injuries.

Sullivan led Felt up the walk- way and made the first introductions. "Felt, this is nurse Ella Fader, and in the wheelchair is young Scott Hilling. Ella, this is FBI Special Agent Mark Felt."

Felt couldn't help grinning at her name. She shook her head to warn him off.

After that Sullivan introduced Deputy Bob Lurz pushing Johnny Sun- kel, and Deputy Bill Holsinger pushing Larry Porter. Felt wondered aloud why they were being rolled out to see the snow.

Deputy Bob said, "Agent Clyde Tolson was of the mind they needed fresh air for about an hour."

Felt remarked on the similarity of their injuries.

Agent Sullivan said, 'The Indians here used to believe if they could make a captive scream his shade would be their servant in the after- life. Some still remember. Not quite the touch football you mentioned earlier. There was a young Indian fellow in this little clinic a few days ago who was flogged. Goes by the name of Gabriel Shybear. I think these three boys did it, and I think Gabriel's friends worked them over with knives as payback. But nobody is talking. Nobody wants to name names."

"Oh, there you are Felt," SAIC Clyde Tolson said when they went in- side. Felt remembered his oblong face and searing gaze from last year at Quantico when he inspected the graduating class 15 with Director Hoover.

The sheriff was also there and Sullivan made the introduction, "Spe- cial Agent Mark Felt, this is Sheriff Roddy Walker."

Mark decided to hit the ground running. As he shook Roddy's hand he looked at his watch and said, "Sheriff, it's quarter of four and I am now assuming responsibility for this investigation. The Bureau expects your full cooperation and coercion is never my preference."

"Special Agent Felt, this de- partment will pull out every stop to cooperate with your investigation. But I just wonder, why start with this case? A few years ago there was another murder over the state line. My father reported it up to the Bureau but he was told to handle it locally."

Felt said, "I don't know the particulars of your father's case. In this one the deceased is already involved in a DECON investigation by Special Agent in Charge Tolson, and whoever perpetrated the crime left her body across three states. And that action deliberately goaded the Director."

Tolson appeared pleased by Felt's can-do attitude and that he didn't need to be reminded of his preferred term for the Special Projects section. He suspected Sullivan was instrumental there. Sher- iff Roddy introduced another man, still wearing scrubs, as Dr. Wahkan.

And still another man was donning scrubs. He was introduced as Dr. Ian Trochmann, part of Tolson's DECON project, preparing to perform the autopsy all over again for the federal side of the house. Roddy didn't think there'd be much of the girl left after that.

Dr. Wahkan raised a bloody gloved hand and said, "You'll understand if I don't shake your hand, Agent Felt."

Tolson said, "Dr. Wahkan has completed what is no doubt a thorough autopsy but that makes both him and the Sheriff, privy to informa- tion that I consider sensitive."

Felt was puzzled. "What do you mean, sir? What did he find?"

Dr. Wahkan removed his gloves in a careful, clever way that avoided any contact with his skin and started to remove his overgarment, know- ing that he was finished. He began, 'The deceased was a Caucasian fe- male. The deceased is known from her appearance to be one Kimberly Anne Zinter of Headwater, eighteen years of age, high school student and a vocalist in the church choir. Fingerprints were taken." Looking at the sheriff he also said, "The next-of-kin have been notified. The deceased has been dead for approximately eighteen hours with little evident decay as she was discovered outdoors in sub-freezing weather. I counted thirteen deep knife wounds to the chest. Six of these wounds pierced the heart and were the proximate cause of death. The actual cause of death was exsanguination, or in layman's terms, the deceased bled out. The size of each wound suggests some- thing larger than a pocket knife but smaller than a hunting knife."

"Please get to the good part, Doctor," said Tolson, visibly agitated.

Dr. Wahkan sighed and got to it. 'Protruding through the scalp at the back of the head of the deceased is a small structure of bone resem- bling a cup in the shape of the letter 'D' with the flat side toward the neck. Inside the cup are more than fifty small black bristles."

"That is the sensitive information,' Tolson said. "Nurse Fader is not to know, the deputies are not to know."

Roddy Walker paced over to Kim's body and took a look at the bone cup himself, once again, and feigned surprise. And once again he said, 'I'll be damned.'

Tolson regretted that the murder investigation meant Sheriff Walker couldn't be sliced out of the loop like the deputies and the nurse had been. "Have you ever seen the like before, Doctor Wahkan?"

Wahkan said, 'Last May this girl's mother brought her to me. Her friend Sofie came in too, accompanied by both parents. The skin was not broken, the girls only had bumps on their heads. Their folks did- n't like what I said so they went to another doctor in a neighboring state for a second opinion."

"What did you tell them, Doc?" Tolson asked. 'That it was just a tick bite? Did you even take X-rays? We both know you did not. That leads me to believe you have seen this strange bone cup before, perhaps many times before. Doctor Wahkan, is that, in fact, the case?"

After considering his reply, Doctor Wahkan said, "If I answer one way, I'm lying to a federal agent, which is a crime. And if I answer anoth- er way, I'm breaking doctor-patient confidentiality. So you will un- derstand my position when I don't speak of this to you at all."

"You should be more worried about losing your license to practice med- icine after failing to help me shut down what could very well be an infectious outbreak."

"Special Agent Tolson," growled Wahkan, "if you truly believed the girl was contagious you wouldn't even be in the same building with her body."

To this Clyde had nothing more to say. Dr. Trochmann flashed a raised eyebrow and wry smile at Tolson, as if to say, He's got you.

"Excuse me, sir," said Felt, "but do you think this girl's bone cyst or whatever it is will have any bearing on the murder investigation?"

"This bone cyst and how the girl got it is part of a DECON investiga- tion in Headwater. Her murder complicates things somewhat. It becomes a Bureau case, but we're not currently set up to carry it out. I put in a call to the Director, and here you are."

"There is another young lady with the same bone cup, a Miss Krause, and I presume she's still alive and hiding somewhere in this very, very small town. So, Special Agent Sullivan, I thank you for fetching Special Agent Felt, but you know what, and you know when."

"I do indeed, sir," said Sullivan. He put on his gray fedora, tipping it to the sheriff, the two doctors, and Felt as he made his farewell. Before he left he turned to Tolson and asked, "And the people freezing outside, sir, shall I send them back in?"

"Not now," Tolson replied, and he made a small gesture to Trochmann. The DECON doctor took up an electric reciprocating saw and began to separate Kim's head from her body, heedless of the storm of blood and gristle that he unleashed or the loud objections of Wahkan.

Sheriff Walker found a sudden need to be outside and Sullivan fol- lowed him. On the way out they heard Dr. Wahkan said, "Agent Tolson, my prayer is that you find whatever you are looking for quickly, and never again return to Headwater. Not even uncivilized men treat their dead in this manner."

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