Human Phoenix
Chapter 17

Copyright© 2012 by Refusenik

July 12, 2007, the Staging Area

A group of deputies helped lift Scott's motorcycle into the back of the sheriff's truck. The boys were bundled into the back seat and the convoy of vehicles started to roll. A deputy stayed behind to control access to the property. Emergency lights hidden behind the grills of the privately owned vehicles flickered in the glass of the sheriff's truck as the convoy sped down the road.

Scott sat quietly while Bo stared out the window. Sheriff King used the rearview mirror to check on the boys. Scott shrugged at his unasked question when their eyes met.

"Bo, where is your dad working today?" the sheriff asked over his shoulder.

Bo shook himself, "They're doing a renovation downtown. The old jewelry store."

The sheriff grunted and grabbed the radio mic. He checked in with the dispatcher, and issued additional orders. Scott tuned the words out. His chest seemed tight and he could feel the thrum of blood pulsing through his head. Nothing stayed buried, not the past and not little girls.

In town people were going about their business. It was a normal day for them. Scott envied their ignorance. He had a sudden revelation. The sheriff must feel like this all the time. People were happily living their lives and had no idea about the criminals who walked amongst them, or the indiscretions committed by supposedly upstanding members of the community. The sheriff knew Scott had a secret. Does he think I'm broken like the others do, Scott wondered?

The sheriff put the truck's transmission in park and told the boys to stay put. He got out and walked into the old jewelry store. Moments later Mr. Mason came through the door and looked toward the truck. He seemed satisfied that Bo was safe, and continued his animated conversation with the sheriff.

Bo said something, but Scott missed it.

"What?"

"We knew her," Bo said quietly.

"You knew her?"

"Andrea Jones. She lived right down the street from us. You didn't know?"

"Bo, we were in third grade. We didn't really talk."

Bo managed a smile, "You didn't talk to anyone back then. She was just another neighborhood kid. Younger than us, but I remember her being around. Then she disappeared."

"What happened to the family?" Scott asked.

"The Joneses? They stayed in that house for a while. Divorced a year later I remember. He left, and she stayed in town for a few more years."

"Must have been rough," Scott observed.

"Yeah," Bo said. "I've never known anybody who died, so I'm not sure what to think. It's weird. She's been gone for seven years, but it feels like it just happened."

The truck's rear door opened and Mr. Mason stuck his head inside.

"Hey, Buddy, you okay?"

"Yeah, Dad, I'm alright."

"Come on, I'll get you home," Mr. Mason said. "Scott, you okay?"

"I'm fine, Mr. Mason."

The sheriff spoke up, "Bo, you did good today. I'll see you and your dad tomorrow at my office."

The Masons left and the sheriff told Scott to move up front. "Bo was pretty shook up," the sheriff said as he buckled his seatbelt.

"It's his first death," Scott replied.

He sat and waited for the truck to start. He looked over at the Sheriff who was staring back at him.

"What?" Scott asked.

"But not your first?"

"I'm pretty sure it's a prerequisite for becoming an orphan," Scott said. It wasn't as funny as it sounded in his head.

The sheriff shook his head at the bad joke. "The FBI is coming. They're very thorough," the sheriff tried to explain. "They'll interview you. Until they know differently everybody is a suspect."

"But—" Scott protested.

"Doesn't matter if Bo's the one who found her, you were there too," the sheriff's fingers drummed nervously against the steering wheel. "I shouldn't ask you this, but your fingerprints and DNA ... do you know if they're in a database somewhere?"

After a long pause, Scott nodded.

"Under your real name?"

Scott flinched.

"Have you spoken to anybody from the marshal's service since that day in Elijah's office?"

He shook his head.

"Damn," the sheriff said softly. "I'll fix this somehow. What do I do with you in the meantime? I've got to get back to the office."

Scott's voice cracked, "It's the first day of the new summer semester. I need to be there for class."

"You really want to go?"

"Yes," Scott replied. His voice was raspy.

The sheriff reluctantly drove him over to campus and told him that either a deputy or somebody he knew would pick him up later.

"What about my bike?"

"I think it's safe in my truck," the sheriff replied.

Scott barely made it to the distance lab in time. Sitting in front of a computer watching a class being taught an hour away in Midland was a unique experience. The distance learning students were expected to stay in touch with the professor via email. During class a chat application would run that allowed the students to submit questions, and a video conference session could be scheduled for office hours.

It was a welcome distraction for Scott. The buzz in the back of his brain never completely faded, but the tightness in his chest eventually eased. The class, presented through a computer screen, was cold and impersonal. He had been that way once, he thought. Why had he changed? These feelings weren't something he wanted.

The class finished a few minutes early. Scott stood outside, lost in thought until someone called his name.

It was Mr. Mendoza.

"Come on, son. You're staying with us tonight."

"I should call Mr. Piotrowski and let him know I won't be there this evening."

"Already taken care of. All you need to do is have a nice warm meal and get a good night's sleep. You and Bo have had a heck of a day."

"What did the sheriff tell you?" Scott asked.

"Only that you boys found human remains, and you're to stay in town so they can take a formal statement tomorrow morning. We haven't told the kids, and I don't think you should either."

"Okay."

"Do you want to talk about it?" Mr. Mendoza asked.

"Not until the sheriff says it's okay. I'm pretty tired, and I should probably eat," Scott replied.

"Food we can handle."

The drive over to the Mendoza house was short. That was Fort Stockton in a nutshell; you were always close to your destination.

"My motorcycle," Scott said when he spotted it in the driveway.

"We unloaded it this afternoon."

"Thanks."

Inside, Mrs. Mendoza hugged him tightly and proceeded to shove some of his favorite foods at him. He ate. The food was warm and probably delicious, but he tasted none of it. The girls had been banished upstairs. Ed made a brief appearance and gave him the 'what's going on?' look. Scott shrugged; he'd explain when he could.

Scott had some reading he needed to do and a little homework, but it was difficult to concentrate. They had made a bed for him on the couch. He finally started to get tired after the rest of the family had gone to bed. He was grateful to be able to close his eyes and fall asleep.

Somebody was shaking him. Firm hands grasped his arms and shook again.

"Scotty, wake up!"

His eyes snapped open. He had trouble swallowing and his throat felt raw. Mr. Mendoza released his arms.

"Are you okay?" Mr. Mendoza asked, his face a picture of concern.

A lamp had been turned on and soft light spilled across the darkened living room. Scott noticed Mrs. Mendoza standing nearby. She was wearing a robe, and she held a clenched fist to her mouth. Her eyes were wide and shiny.

The borrowed t-shirt that he had been sleeping in was soaked with sweat.

"Just a nightmare," he croaked.

"You were shouting something. When I came downstairs you were trying to claw your way through the couch," Mr. Mendoza explained.

Scott looked at his fingers. You could only see the scars when he clenched his fists tightly. Shouting? That was new.

"What was I saying?"

Mr. Mendoza looked away, and Mrs. Mendoza rushed over and pulled his head to her stomach. She squeezed so hard he feared something might break. She bent down and whispered to the top of his head, "You were crying 'mommy'."

He pushed gently away from her embrace, and untangled himself from the twisted bedding.

"I need to get up. I'll ... go for a run and grab a shower afterwards. I've got a change of clothes over at the law office," his voice sounded terrible.

"It's 4:30 in the morning," Mr. Mendoza complained.

"This is when I get up out at the ranch. I'd like to stick to my routine. Helps clear my mind."

"I'll make breakfast," Mrs. Mendoza offered.

"No," he pleaded. "Go back to sleep. I'll be fine. It was only a nightmare."

"Then I'll set out some of the boys' clothing for you."

"Thank you," he answered. He had to let her do something.

"Where are you going to run?" asked Mr. Mendoza.

"Not far. I'll try to get my normal distance in. It will be a nice change of scenery for me. I'll be back in twenty, thirty minutes at the latest."

"Be careful."

"You should go back to sleep too."

"I'll wait up."

Scott sighed. Mrs. Mendoza had produced some shorts and socks, as well as a few t-shirts for him to choose from. He dressed and went to the mud room. He grabbed a pair of Ed's running shoes and let himself out on the front porch. He stretched and warmed up with a few pushups.

He set a brisk pace and slipped away into the darkness. The small town in the pre-dawn hours was very different than the Fort Stockton he knew. He was alone as he ran. A few lights were on here and there. The only traffic was a large truck he could hear in the distance working its way through the low gears.

He kept his promise and returned to the house almost exactly twenty-five minutes after he had left. Mr. Mendoza was sitting in the kitchen. He had some paperwork in front of him, but Scott doubted he had gotten much work done.

After a hot shower he felt better. He went to the kitchen and poured himself a glass of orange juice. Mr. Mendoza was watching him closely.

"Scott, have you ever talked to somebody about your nightmares?"

"I get my head shrunk on a yearly basis, like clockwork, courtesy of the fine people of the State of Texas."

"But have you talked to them about your dreams?"

"I don't remember my dreams, and rarely ever have nightmares," Scott replied. "The way to have a good mental health screening is to tell them what they want to hear, not what you need to say."

"Everybody has nightmares," Mr. Mendoza said. "The difference is that I think yours are real."

Scott smiled at Mr. Mendoza's attempt at pop psychology, accurate though it might be.

"What kind of breakfast do you like?" Scott asked.

Mr. Mendoza reluctantly accepted the change in subjects, "You cook?"

"All the time," Scott replied.

He dug through the cabinets surveying his options. Pancakes and eggs he decided. He checked the refrigerator and took out a slab of bacon and a carton of eggs. He turned the oven on and lined a sheet pan with his favorite invention of the twenty-first century, non-stick aluminum foil.

Mr. Mendoza watched as Scott laid strips of bacon on the pan, and popped it into the oven. He grabbed the pancake mix and started blending ingredients together. He borrowed a trick from Mrs. Delgado and added a squeeze of lemon juice and a shot of vanilla extract to the mix. Mr. Mendoza looked on suspiciously.

Scott counted Mendozas on his fingers, remembering that Robert was at Arizona State now, and then started cracking eggs in a large bowl. He whisked them vigorously until the frothy contents were fully blended. Mrs. Mendoza had one of those electric griddles and he was eager to try it out. He organized things around the griddle while he let it heat up. He gave the pancake mix another brief stir and then used a measuring scoop to pour out his first pancake.

With that started he grabbed a large skillet and put it on a burner and turned it to high. The smell of bacon was starting to spread throughout the kitchen. He checked the oven and quickly turned the bacon pieces over with a fork. The bubbles on the edge of the first pancake were breaking open so he flipped it over. The pancake was a nice chocolate brown color.

The skillet was hot so he slapped a chunk of butter in the pan and spread it around as it melted. When the water in the butter had cooked off he poured the scrambled egg mixture into the pan.

Perfect timing, his first test pancake was done. He moved it to a plate and ladled out two more. The eggs had started to firm up so he pulled the mixture in from the edges of the pan with his spatula. He gently worked the pan until he had nice fluffy eggs. He slid the finished product onto its own plate and kept flipping pancakes. A quick check of the oven and it was time to take the bacon out. He covered a plate with paper towels and placed the crisp bacon on it.

He was almost done. He had a stack of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. A little cleanup and breakfast could be served. He turned around to grab some plates only to be confronted by the blinking, but hungry eyes of the Mendoza family. The girls were wearing cute pajamas that he would enjoy teasing them about later. The boys were in a mix of t-shirts and shorts.

Mrs. Mendoza gazed at him in wonder, "You made breakfast."

"If he starts talking like Julia Child, I say we make him the permanent house chef," Mr. Mendoza joked. "Let's eat."

There was a scramble as the girls went for plates and silverware while Ed grabbed condiments. Tommy, the oldest Mendoza child in the house now that Robert was away, grabbed a chair. Mrs. Mendoza carried the food over to the table as Mr. Mendoza put his paperwork away.

Scott sat his mixing bowls in the sink and ran hot water into them. He tossed a couple of used paper towels onto the foil lining the bacon pan. When they had soaked up the grease he carefully folded the foil into a disposable ball. The pan underneath was clean and could be returned to the cabinet when cool.

"Neat trick," Mrs. Mendoza said from behind him. "Now go sit down and eat."

"I've only got to wash a few things and I'll be done."

"You cooked, we'll clean. You better get some food before the herd cleans you out."

Scott grabbed a plate and sat down. If the clink of silverware and satisfied groans were any indication, breakfast appeared to be a roaring success. He even managed to snag a piece of bacon without losing a finger.

With breakfast out the way, the Mendozas drifted off to do their own things, or go back to sleep. Scott sat in the living room at a loss for something to do. He looked through Mrs. Mendoza's magazines. He found himself reading a shockingly forthright article in Cosmo.

Ed snuck into the living room, checked that the coast was clear and blurted out, "What the heck is going on?"

"Have you ever read one of these?" Scott asked pointing to the Cosmo cover.

"No way," Ed replied. "Come on, spill."

"Keep a close eye on the news or the rumor mill later today. I don't think it will stay secret for long. We're not supposed to talk. Sheriff's orders," Scott explained.

"Are you guys in trouble?"

"Nothing like that."

"When you can talk, I want all the details," Ed insisted.

"You got it."

Ed left for the city pool. It wasn't all pretty girls in bikinis. Life guards had to be on hand for early morning swimming lessons.

Scott had at least another hour to kill so he started looking for something to do. He went outside and walked around the yard. He found a hoe in the garage and went to work eliminating weeds. Janie came outside and decided to pitch in.

"I liked your pancakes," she said.

"Thanks."

They went to work in the flowerbeds. Scott let Janie wield the hoe while he cleared away the weeds she dug up. When they finished weeding Scott stood and looked at a brown bush that anchored one end of the flowerbed.

"I think it's dead."

Janie poked at it with the hoe, "What should we do with it?"

Scott reached down and grabbed the base of the bush. He gave it a small tug for Janie's benefit. He extended his senses and tried to feel if there was any life in the plant. The plant was definitely dead, and he had a new skill for his bag of tricks.

Mr. Mendoza came outside and looked around at the fresh holes in his yard and the pile of dead weeds.

"What's all this?" he asked.

"We're doing yard maintenance, Daddy," Janie announced.

"How come when I ask you to help with the yard you're always too busy?"

"It's different when Scott's here," Jane replied. She gave her father one of her brightest smiles.

"Uh huh," Mr. Mendoza commented. "Well what do you have there?"

"Dead bush, sir. I think it will have to come out."

Mr. Mendoza had a trick of his own. He retrieved a length of chain from the garage and had Scott secure it around the base of the bush. He backed his truck into the yard and told the kids to stand on the porch. With a jerk he pulled the dead bush from the flowerbed and dragged it halfway across the yard before the truck came to a stop.

Scott knocked dirt from the root ball and used it to help fill in the hole. He had to admit that using the truck to remove the bush saved him a lot of digging.

Mr. Mendoza was pleased with the results. He gave Scott a big thumbs up and said, "Redneck gardening."

"I liked it," Scott replied.

"Me too," Janie chimed in. "Can you do that to get the boys out of bed sometime?"

Mr. Mendoza pretended to consider the idea. Looking at his watch he said, "Scott, you better go wash up. Sheriff King will be here before long."


Scott waited on the porch until he saw the sheriff's vehicle down the street. He yelled into the house that he was leaving, and would be back later to pick up his motorcycle. He walked to the truck as it pulled up to the curb, and climbed in.

"Ready?" asked the sheriff.

"Can we stop by Honour's office? I've got a change of clothes stashed there. I should probably wear something better than borrowed shorts don't you think?"

"You're in luck since that's where we're headed anyway. We'll be a bit early. Do you need to stop for anything, late breakfast?"

"Did you square things with the Rewcastles? The last thing I need is trouble from them or family services."

"All taken care of," the sheriff replied. "I get the impression that you don't cross their minds very often."

Scott shrugged.

The sheriff grunted at the confirmation of his suspicions, "Now, was there anything you needed before we head to the office?"

Scott chewed on his lip, "Can we stop by Lewis Heating and Air?"

"I don't know if that's such a good idea," Sheriff King said. "I'm sure they'll change their minds after they think about it. It was a heat of the moment decision, had to be."

"If Tony was the only boss I'd stay, but I think I better find a new job. They were already mad about some family stuff. I don't think it was going to improve any."

"Lewis Heating and Air it is," the sheriff said turning left instead of right. "What family problems?"

"Something to do with Junior, he's Bern's son. It wasn't what I did as much as what he didn't do, which was work. Tony says I made him look bad."

"It can be hard to work for a family business. Got to know where you stand."

"I didn't do it on purpose," Scott protested.

"Tell me about the Lewises."

"Tony's a stand up guy, but he's only a second cousin or something. They've got good employees. The Popes out at the Sportsman Ranch for example," Scott said. "As for the rest, I'm not sure what to think anymore. They were very friendly at first. They really sold me on the ranch and the job. They kept saying it was a lifestyle and I kind of liked it."

"What changed?"

"I don't know. The family stuff obviously played a big part. You ever see a horse that looks really good, and then you exercise him or go for a ride and it's a completely different animal?" Scott looked over to see if the sheriff was following him.

"As strange as it sounds, I know exactly what you're trying to say," the sheriff answered. The truck bounced as the sheriff drove over a curb and into the parking lot. "Here we are. Want me to go in with you?"

"I think it's something I have to do on my own."

Scott went in through the main door. There was no sign of Buck Lewis, or anyone else, manning the front desk. He headed toward the business office. There didn't seem to be anybody working in the building. He knocked on the open door and startled Mrs. Lewis.

"Came to get my final check, and turn in my phone. I can drop off my ranch clothes later in the week if that's okay."

Mrs. Lewis turned slightly red. "Keep your clothes," she said. "You can pick out the embroidered stitching if you like."

She looked at his file on the computer and printed out a check for him. She handed it over and told him that he might as well keep the phone. It wasn't worth anything to the company. All he had to do was buy new minutes for it.

"Thank you," he said.

"You're welcome. I wish, well, I wish things had gone differently."

"Me too."

The sheriff was pleased at Scott's unhindered exit from Lewis Outfitting, but regretted that he didn't have a chance to confront the Lewis brothers. The two of them walked into the Black & Black law office fifteen minutes later.

Honour and Joseph were both dressed for battle. Scott doubted anybody else in the county was dressed as professionally. Judge Upcott was there and had a grim look on his face. It didn't take any special abilities to pick up on the level of tension in the air.

"How are you?" the judge asked.

"Fine, sir. Sorry for the trouble."

"No trouble. I'm just sorry about this mess with Smokey Lewis. We've been friends for a lot of years, but now he won't even answer my calls," the judge shook his head in resignation. "Don't think we're ganging up on you, but there are few things we need to take care of this morning. You're keeping us on our toes, that's for sure."

"I try," Scott smiled trying to help everybody relax. "I've got a spare set of clothes in the back, do you mind if I change?"

"I think it's a good idea," Honor said, speaking for the first time. "Come to the conference room when you're done."

Scott pulled a pair pants from a hanger. He'd used his Lewis employee discount to order some clothes that fell somewhere between casual and dressy. They had an outdoors feel, but still managed to look better than what he normally wore. He took a last glance in the mirror on the back of the closet door. Look out FBI here I come, he joked to himself.

He took a seat in the conference room. Honour looked over at the judge and nodded.

"Walt, why don't you tell us where we stand," the judge asked.

The sheriff cleared his throat, "I'd like to ask each of you as officers of the court to treat this information as privileged. It involves a sensitive criminal investigation."

The lawyers nodded.

"Does the name Andrea Jones mean anything to either of you?"

Judge Upcott took a sharp breath. Scott was surprised that the sheriff hadn't told the judge about the identity of the remains.

Joseph looked at Honour, and they both shook their heads.

"Spring 2001, five year old Andrea Jones went missing, biggest search in Pecos County history. She disappeared without a trace, and we never even had so much as a suspect, let alone any leads."

"We didn't set up practice here until 2003," Joseph replied, "but it rings a bell now that you mention it. I think I might have read an article in the paper on anniversary of her disappearance perhaps?"

Honour shook her head.

"The five year anniversary," Judge Upcott said quietly.

"How old were you Scott? When she went missing?" Honour asked.

"I was in third grade. It was spring so I would have been eight years old. I remember it clearly. We had school assemblies, and officers came to every classroom. It was a big deal."

"Nobody ever came forward. We didn't have a lick of evidence. It was like she had vanished from the face of the earth, until yesterday," the sheriff said. "It won't be official until the pathologist signs off on it, but I don't think there's any doubt."

"My god," exclaimed the judge.

"I think you better explain how this involves Scott," Honour stated.

"Right. Two different issues are at play here. You know he was working at the Lewis ranch doing a land survey. Apparently they had a vacancy on their crew so Scott arranged for it to be filled by his friend, Bo Mason."

Scott nodded.

"The short version is that Bo found a set of human remains yesterday. Scott recognized a key piece of physical evidence that Bo hadn't spotted. Andrea Jones was known to be wearing a plastic backpack featuring a cartoon character called—"

"Hello Kitty," the Judge said.

"Yes. Scott did the right thing and called me immediately."

"I'm at a loss to understand why there's a problem? This is a good thing isn't it?" Joseph asked.

"I've called in the FBI."

"I think I'm following you," Honour said, but Joseph was still puzzled.

Judge Upcott took the floor, "We need to set some ground rules. Sheriff King and I have signed legal documents that relate to Scott's history, and there is a court seal at play."

"Documents that—" the sheriff interrupted.

"Later, Walt. We can get into that another time. Honour, I believe you are still Scott's lawyer?"

"Correct."

"Then I guess the question is about Joseph, and the rest of us. Scott, you understand the attorney client privilege?" the judge asked.

"Honour has explained it to me." Scott replied.

"It's sacrosanct. Without it our legal system would not function. You need to tell Honour everything, and I mean everything, so she can help you before you meet with the FBI. Walt and I will back you one hundred percent. I talked to Alex this morning. It was all I could do to keep him from coming to town, but you have his support for anything you need."

"I'm completely in the dark, so if you want to continue without me this would be a good time to break," Joseph offered.

Scott thought about the things he needed to say. "Honour, would it be better if Joseph knew?"

"Yes."

He dug a dollar out of his wallet and handed it over to Joseph.

"Under our partnership agreement, I don't think this is required," Joseph said as he examined the bill.

"Walt, you've just seen a lawyer turn down money. The apocalypse may be upon us," the judge laughed at his own joke as the others chuckled.

It was a welcome light moment.

"I'd like you two to stay," Scott said to the sheriff and the judge. "If I can't trust you with my life, then there's nobody that I could. I only wish Mr. Piotrowski was here. You won't be protected by the same privilege though will you?"

"You have our word, we'll never speak of what we hear here to anybody who's not in this room," the sheriff said and Judge Upcott nodded his agreement.

"I can't ask for more than that, can I?"

"We can get Mr. Piotrowski here, but I have to ask if you really want him burdened with the knowledge?" the judge asked.

"What do you think, Honour?" Scott asked.

She pursed her lips and then replied, "I think he already knows what he needs to."

The judge sat back down, "Scott, anytime you're ready."

Scott closed his eyes for a moment. "I guess if I'm going to tell this, we need to have everybody on the same page. Honour, would you explain what you know from our previous discussion?"

Honour straightened her notebook and pen on the desk before speaking. "I had a background check run on Scott in the course of another matter. I should tell you that my investigator is very good. All we were able to learn was that his name was legally changed in 1997. His parents—unnamed—are listed as deceased as the result of an accident, and there are no living relatives able to take him in. He was injured in the accident that took his parents, and he suffers from some memory loss as a result. He was placed in foster care here in Pecos County the same year. The sparse information available raises more questions than it answers."

The adults exchanged glances.

"Judge, would you please tell them what you know?" Scott asked.

"Why don't you take that, Walt?" the judge replied.

Sheriff King cleared his throat, "Shortly before Christmas, 1997, a female Deputy U.S. Marshal delivered a young boy to the office of Judge Elijah Upcott. The story the paperwork told was that the child was recovering from wounds received in an accident which killed his parents. He would require follow up medical care. His name and date of birth were legally changed and he was placed into care at the Broken Creek Boys Ranch by the direction of the marshal's service. All records were sealed. That how you remember it, Elijah?"

"Was this witness protection or protective custody?" Joseph asked.

"A little of both, or something else entirely. We're no longer sure," replied the sheriff.

"How is that possible?"

"It's a very good question," the judge replied. "We did a very quiet check of available records and found nothing to explain the situation."

"My investigator did the same going back several years. No results," Honour added.

"No one from the marshal's service has ever been back to Pecos County on any business related to this case. Not to my office, and not to visit Scott," the sheriff said.

"Did you know this marshal, Scott?" Joseph asked.

Scott felt their eyes turn back to him.

"I met her the day before, at a birthday party."

Nobody seemed to know what to say to that.

"I think, now, you'll have to tell us the rest."

Honour was right. Scott took a breath and looked at each of them. After all this time, what should he say? He stood up and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"What are you doing?" Joseph asked.

Scott carefully laid out his shirt on the conference table and put his right hand behind his head. He turned his torso toward the others and ran a finger over the faded scar on his ribs, "Can you see this?"

They all acknowledged that they could see it.

"Maybe you could give Joseph some workout tips?" Honour joked.

"Thanks, dear," Joseph replied.

Sheriff King's eyes were flicking back and forth. He couldn't stop looking at the scar.

Scott put his hands flat on the table top and pressed his fingers down hard. With some of the blood pushed out of the skin you could see faint scars. "They've faded a lot," he explained as he invited them to look closely.

"That's right, I remember that you didn't have any fingernails," the judge said. "Walt and I didn't know what it meant, but we both remarked on it later."

Joseph and Honour looked at each other, questions clear on their faces. Scott put his shirt back on and walked to the door and back. He started to speak, but stopped himself. It was harder than he had imagined it would be.

"When I was five years old, a man, my father's business partner, butchered my mother and father in our home. I'm not sure I really understood that until years later. There was no accident. It's true that I suffer from amnesia, permanent memory loss the doctors say. I have no memories of anything before that day, September 1, 1997. The man buried me, along with my parents in a hole in the desert."

He couldn't bring himself to look at their reactions.

"After..." Scott paused for a moment, "after I was found, I spent about a month in the hospital. Asleep, you know?"

"A coma," the sheriff said softly.

"At first. Eventually I woke up and they moved me in with a special foster care family. They took care of sick kids, or kids with difficult needs. They were really great, but the bad man was not happy to learn that I had survived. He tortured and killed some people who worked for family services, to try and find me."

He paused. He hadn't thought about these things in years.

"The foster family and the investigators tried to keep things from me, but I was a good listener. We were moved to a safe house. We were there for several weeks while they searched for the man. On my sixth birthday they murdered a judge. That's when I met the marshal. We flew somewhere, a military base. I remember there was snow and lots of really cool airplanes, people in uniform, that sort of thing. The next morning I arrived in Fort Stockton."

"They?" asked the judge. "You said 'they' murdered a judge."

"A drug cartel. There was a contract. Nobody ever said much about it to me. They said the murderer was crazy from the drugs, I guess that's where the cartel came in."

Joseph looked a little green, "How were you found, I mean ... god."

Scott looked at Sheriff King, "A deputy sheriff found me wandering in the desert. I guess you could say that I've been partial to law enforcement ever since."

"And the scar?" the sheriff asked.

"Kitchen knife," Scott explained. He held his hands apart indicating the size. "It, umm," he made a little tugging motion with his hand, "got stuck?"

Honour gagged and rushed to the doorway.

"And the other scars?"

Scott made a digging motion with his hands against the table.

Honour fled down the hallway. The sheriff reached over and stopped Scott's hands.

"Scott, that's enough. You can stop now," the sheriff said.

"I've never told anyone except for the detectives. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. Did I leave anything out?"

"You did fine," the judge said.

Joseph got up and poured water for everyone. The judge grabbed at his glass and drank deeply.

The sheriff stole some paper towels from next to the water pitcher and handed them to Scott, "Here."

Scott dried his face, "Was I crying?"

"It's okay."

Joseph was angry. "They dumped him here."

"It would appear so," the judge said.

"No family. No therapy, no treatment. They told you none of it."

"Not a word," the sheriff confirmed.

"Hey, I think I turned out okay. Don't you?"

Honour returned to the conference room. Her eyes were red, and her face had been scrubbed clean. She held a laptop in her arms. She sat down and tapped a few keys.

"Scott, what was your name?"

He looked around, the judge nodded at him, "Van Pelt, Scott Van Pelt."

Honour entered the name.

"Like the sportscaster?" asked Joseph.

"I don't know, what sportscaster?"

"Where?" Honour asked.

"Is this safe?" Scott asked.

"It's a criminal case database, access is restricted. It should be fine. Where did this happen?"

"The murders, the first ones, were in Altadena, Los Angeles County, California. The rest happened in San Bernardino County."

That bit of information surprised everybody.

Honour entered more data.

"The killer was—"

"Craig Carson," Honour filled the detail in. "Spree killer, labeled the 'Valley Monster' by the press."

"That's him."

"He's dead, Scott," Honour told him. "Do you want to know?"

"Please."

"Murdered in prison, by the cartel, or so the prosecutor's office believed."

"When?"

Honour read through the material. The judge had moved in behind her and was reading over her shoulder.

"Summer of 2000. He got consecutive life sentences for four murders, and for your attempted murder, along with a slew of other charges."

"When did they catch him?"

"New Year's Day, 1998," Honour read off the screen. The judge pointed out something. Honour chewed on her lip. "They didn't charge him with the state judge's murder. It's listed as open, unsolved. Possibly a drug cartel hit related to the Van Pelt murders."

Joseph made notes on his legal pad. He tapped the pad a few times with his pen and then cleared his throat.

"Why don't we take a short break? I think we could all use a chance to stretch our legs," Joseph suggested.

"Yes, a break would be good," the judge agreed.

Scott walked down the hallway to his office. He turned on the laptop and checked his email. His trigonometry professor had requested a brief note of introduction from each of his students. Scott wrote a short paragraph and sent it off.

He could hear muted voice talking softly in the conference room. He concentrated and brought the words into focus.

"And you had no idea?" Honour was asking.

"We thought it might have been abuse," he heard the judge say. "If you could have met him then you wouldn't believe it's the same person. Somehow, despite all of that, despite our ignorance, he's turned out alright."

"You hope. There's a lot of darkness buried under that smile."

Scott stopped listening and turned back to his text book. Mathematical concepts were a good thing to lose himself in for a few minutes. The section on the history of Greek mathematicians was pretty dry. He flipped through the next few chapters committing them to memory.

He had a thought and opened his note file on what courses he'd planned to take. He'd already satisfied the core math requirements. Maybe he should put his plans to take calculus to one side, and look at something from the humanities? It was worth thinking about.

"Scott."

"They need me back?" Scott asked the sheriff.

"Yes," he said. "Are you okay?"

"You know, I think I am. I haven't talked about any of it since after I got out of the hospital," Scott closed his laptop and grabbed his backpack. "About what Joseph said? I've never blamed anybody here for a thing."

The sheriff walked Scott down the hallway. He stopped inside the door and announced that he had to get back to his office. "Honour, try to be there by eleven. The agents from the main FBI office in El Paso should be arriving any minute now. You know what to do."

"Walt, I'll walk you out. I need to get to my office as well," the judge announced. He got up and walked over to Scott, and grabbed him by the shoulders. "We'll get this straightened out. Listen to Honour."

The two men left.

Scott sat down and looked at Honour. She tapped Joseph on the arm, and he took over the meeting.

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