"I knew you'd find me."
"We've been looking for you for three days, but we don't give up easily."
"I know you don't, but I really meant, I knew you would find me, Jarod Joseph. I left enough clues that only you would notice."
The tall smokejumper, a volunteer to the search-and-rescue team in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, stared uncomprehendingly at the slightly heavyset man with the long, lined face and piercing eyes. "Excuse me?"
"You'd better come in. There's quite a storm coming."
The smokejumper stepped into the shallow cave and ran his eyes quickly over the neat fire pit near the entrance, the packages of food, the bedroll, the jugs of water, the extra flashlight batteries. "You seem to be far better prepared than your previous purchases indicated."
"I did that on purpose. I purposefully bought a day's worth of food and water and informed my motel that I would be back that night so that it would be come a priority to find me. All the rest of these supplies I bought in Missoula on my way up and placed here before I even took my motel room in Seeley Lake. "
The tall man began to examine him the way he had his cave. "You have prepared carefully. Why would you do all this?"
"So that you would find me, Jarod Joseph. I knew it would be you."
Jarod Joseph crossed his arms and stared at him, not comfortable with being the recipient of such clever manipulation. For the first time he asked the question people were always asking him. "Who are you?"
"Call me Jason. Make yourself comfortable. We'll be here a while, it seems."
Jarod set down his backpack and sat down, staring hard at the older man. Thinning dark hair, a long, clean-shaven chin, a soft but authoritative way of talking, a decisive way of moving, eyes that saw as much as Jarod's. Not an immediate threat, not a physical one. This man didn't lure him here to kill him. He lured him here to talk to him, something Jarod himself might do.
"You know about me."
"Quite a bit, Jarod. Joseph is a good name for you. Biblical, like my last name. A man cast out of his family, denied his selfhood, but still working for the good of others. You, Jarod, have helped restore my faith in humanity. I left my life behind because I had lost that faith, and trying to help people while despising them or fearing them was unsupportable. Now you're in the same position. I thought I could help you as you have helped me."
He was building a fire as he spoke. Jarod put his arms across his knees and watched.
"How do you know about me?"
"It was just an accident at first. I was in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and ended up assisting in a court case that was almost lost because of the way you elicited a confession. What they told me about you annoyed me at first. I have never met a truly good vigilante. But it seemed like you did more good in the lives of the victims than you did harm to the court case. Then I encountered your wake again, in San Francisco, only three months later. You'd cleared an innocent man of a very damaging accusation and made absolutely sure that no suspicion remained on him. You'd done it under a different name, but I knew it was you. No one else had the same signature you do. I started tracking you after that, tracking you into the past. I found you in New York, in New Mexico, in Oregon, in South Dakota. Everywhere I found you, I found people who would never, ever forget you, either because they were terrified of you or because they were devoted to you. You were one of my most difficult cases, because while you left a trail a mile wide in people's hearts, you left no physical trail at all, not for the last seven years. I had to go back to 2001 before I found much physical evidence at all. Prior to 2001, you had a reason for leaving evidence behind, but after that, you felt comfortable falling off the grid.
"Even while I was tracking you in the past, I was projecting you into the future. I never could find you while you were at work, but I found the kind of places where you might be and found you out afterward in one or another of them. And I found that in the last few years you have become what I was fighting against becoming. You still helped the innocent, but you seemed less inclined to fully believe in their innocence. Ten years ago, people called you child-like, innocent, joyous, deeply empathic. Ten years later you have walled yourself off from touching people's hearts, out of fear. In tracking your past, you taught me to see goodness in people again. I want to do the same for you."
Jarod was quiet. "You're a profiler. FBI?"
"Was. I retired a little over a year ago. I meant to travel a little and then settle down into some kind of quiet life for a while. That didn't happen. It was for the best. How do you like smokejumping?"
"It's thrilling and among the hardest work I have ever done. How did you find me?"
"You're tired. You left a trail, and you've stayed in Montana too long. You like it here. So do I. These mountains and lakes are refreshing—when you're not trying to save them from forest fires. I caught a report of the smokejumper you caught setting the fire. Your name wasn't associated with it, but I knew it was you. It was your signature. You should have left, but you felt you could stay, since no one could connect you to his arrest. Imagine my surprise to see you still listed at the Missoula Smokejumper Base. Your exploits didn't surprise me at all. I knew I could use them to get you alone. So here I am." He smiled a gentle smile.
"And just how to you intend to teach me to see goodness in people?"
Jason hung a small pot over his fire and emptied a can into it. Outside the rain had begun. "By reminding you of the past." He pulled a packet of photographs out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Jarod.
Jarod leafed through the pictures. He recognized them all. People he had met and helped, people who had helped him and helped him help others. People he had delighted to meet and know, so many years ago.
"Tell me about them," Jason said. "Not the crimes. Just the people."
So Jarod told him, all during the long, violent night, remembering again why he had once loved to meet people, looking at the faces of the people who had given him joy. Jason was right. Not everyone was evil. Maybe everyone had a capacity for evil. He knew he did. But not everyone chose to follow it. Some chose to go in the direction of what was good. He had to hold on to that, for their sakes and for his own.