Read Land of Wolves Online

Authors: Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves (17 page)


“Motherfucker.”

“Nice to see you too.” I raised a hand but found an IV there and so let my hand drop back onto the small, tidy bed. She started to speak again, but I interrupted. “No, wait. I have to say this . . .” Putting on my best most confused and melodramatic voice, I spoke with a dreamy quality. “Where . . . Where am I?”

“Motherfucker.” I turned and looked at her, running a hand through the raven hair. “You’re at the Ass-Kicking World Finals and you’re first in line.”

“Abe?”

“Alive, but still unconscious in a drip sedation coma in an attempt to stabilize his body temperature. He’s in the ICU of Wyoming Medical Center in Casper, because it was their helicopter.” She glared at me. “And you are in Durant Memorial, because I wanted to stab you with a pencil the whole drive back.”

“I feel a little sore, now that you mention it.”

“Mother. Fucker.”

I glanced around the room, noting with relief that she was the only one there. “Where’s the doc?”

“He’s not talking to you, and he says he’s never taking care of you again.”

“Uh-oh.”

“He’s pissed, Walt, just like the rest of us.” She leaned back in the chair and shook her head at me like a hanging judge. “Stupid.”

“I know.”

“Rookie stupid.”

“Yep.”

“Arrogant stupid.”

“Yep.”

“Just plain stupid.”

I nodded silently.

“Motherfucker.”

“Okay, all right, I get it.”

“You had an abscess, a dangerous one that set up a wall that wouldn’t let the antibiotics get to the infection, and it finally burst.”

I felt around on my side and immediately found the source of discomfort. “That’s what was hurting?”

She threw her hands in the air. “Who knew it was hurting at all, you asshole?”

“This has pretty much shot you to the top of the office pool, huh.”

With hands on hips she bent from the waist, really rearing back for this one. “Motherfucker!”

“So, is this a result of the stab wound in Mexico?”

“Maybe, or possibly some new and cataclysmically stupid shit you may have done since then.” She started to turn away but then whipped back. “What if you had died? Lying out there somewhere with Abe-sicle on top of you?”

Sighing, I self-consciously looked around for my hat—it usually made things better. “I knew we had to get him out of the
cave and also knew it was going to take a long time hiking down there with a gurney and then hauling him back out—I figured by that time he really would be dead.”

“So, once again, two bodies would be better than one?”

“I didn’t know I had a problem . . .”

“You’ve been in pain for weeks, most people take that as a sign that something’s wrong, you idiot.”

“They’ll have to fix it.”

“They already have, you moron. Half of it, at least.”

“Hmm . . . Is it a nice scar?” I peeked down the neck of my gown, attempting to see the repaired area, but it was heavily bandaged. “Is everybody as angry at me as you?”

“Angrier, but I’m the one who gives a shit about you enough to sit in here for hours to see if you’d wake up. It’s obvious to everyone that you don’t care whether you live or die, so why should they?”

“Is Liam all right?”

“Yes.”

“Dog?”

“Yes, except for Abe maybe, everybody is all right except for you.”

“How long have I been out?”

She went over to the window. “All night and most of the morning.”

“Any sign of Donnie Lott?”

“No.”

“I saw Larry.”

Annoyed, she turned back to me. “Who?”

“The wolf. 777M. Larry.”

“Get the fuck out of here.”

“He was sitting on top of Abarrane’s International when I got to the rim.”

“You imagined it.”

“Dog saw him too.”

“Get the fuck out of here.”

“Honest.”

She reached into the breast pocket of her duty jacket and pulled out the Mallo Cup Play Money card, holding it out to me from the foot of the bed. “And that explains this?”

There was a knock at the door and Henry Standing Bear appeared, his dark hair hanging down at the sides of his face. “I brought you a Whitman’s Sampler, but the head nurse took it.”

“Very thoughtful.”

Vic interrupted. “This is no ordinary wolf.”

“No, I don’t think most eat Mallo Cups.”

“Interesting.” The Bear entered the rest of the way, reached over and took the card from Vic before slumping down into the guest chair.

I nodded at him. “Long night?”

“For the owner of the Red Pony Bar and Grill, it is always a long night.”

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” I glanced at Vic. “Do you know Sancho quoted Shakespeare to me last night?”

“Taking your job a little seriously, isn’t he?”

Henry looked up. “Am I missing something?”

“Saizarbitoria has been approached by some citizens to stand for sheriff.”

“Really?”

Vic folded her arms. “Motherfuckers.”

The Bear examined the card. “Unlike the other one, this one
appears to be relatively worn.” His eyes came up to mine. “Where did you find it?”

“It found me as I was hugging the tire of Abarrane Extepare’s International trying to keep from blowing into the canyon. And by the way, the wolf was there too.”

“The same wolf?”

“Yep, on top of Extepare’s car.”

Vic leaned her thighs against the foot of my hospital bed as Henry handed the card back to her. “Strange behavior for a wolf, if you ask me.”

Henry suppressed a smile. “The more I hear of this wolf, the more I believe that he may be extraordinary.”

She tossed the card onto the bed. “You mean other than him popping up all over the Bighorn Mountains?”

“That is not particularly notable in that wolves are known to travel a hundred miles a day or more.”

“He’s not a ghost, Henry. Dog saw him.”

He perked up at that information. “How did Dog react?”

I thought about it. “Strange, he acted strange. He took off after him while we were on the trail and when I got to the top, he was sitting there looking at the wolf as it sat on the car.”

“On the car?”

“Right up on the top between the luggage rails.”

“Dog was not barking?”

“Not much, no.”

“Then he knew this wolf,
if
it was a wolf.”

“Well, the wolf didn’t seem too concerned about us, it just sat there until Vic and the troops arrived.”

“Then what happened?”

“He disappeared.”

“How do you mean . . .”

“I looked away for an instant, and when I looked back he was gone.” Shaking my head, I added, “Also . . . Dog tracked around the truck twice and never picked up his scent.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. Now, he’s no bloodhound, and it’s possible that he was more worried about me . . .”

The Cheyenne Nation reached down and picked up the card again. “Is there a child endangered in this case?” He stood and walked toward the window, but I was sure he wasn’t seeing the landscaped scenery there. “Virgil White Buffalo seems to appear when there are ramifications for children, and didn’t Libby Troon mention something along those lines?”

“She did.”

“I am not saying the wolf is Virgil, but it is possible that this wolf is a totem or messenger animal being used as a mediator between the spiritual forces and temporal beings here in the physical world.”

“Well, I don’t think we have anything covering that in the Absaroka County Sheriff’s handbook.”

“What I am saying is that he may be here to help.”

Vic laughed. “He wasn’t much help to Miguel Hernandez.”

“He is still a wolf.”

I sighed. “The better part of a week on this case, and I don’t think we’re any closer to finding out who killed Hernandez or even if he was murdered.”

Vic came around, sat on the bed, and reached through the blanket to pull the toe she sometimes used as target practice. “Maybe Larry tied the mule back up.”

I sighed, feeling the only thing I always felt when I was in a hospital, the need to get out. “There’s still something odd going on in the Extepare family, and if we can find out what that is,
then maybe we can get some traction.” I glanced around the room. “Now the important question: where’s my hat?”

“No, the important question is . . .” The Bear looked between the two of us. “Who, pray tell, is Larry?”


“How come there’s nobody at the office?”

“If by ‘nobody’ you mean Ruby, it’s Saturday night.”

“Oh.” I sat at the top of the stairs as Henry followed in with the pizza, trying to pretend it was my idea. “Where’s Dog?”

“With her.” I watched Vic pull a depleted four-pack from the commissary refrigerator. “I guess she decided that if you were going to take him out cavorting with wolves that you weren’t a responsible guardian.”

“She’s probably right.”

The Cheyenne Nation handed out paper plates and plasticware and opened the box. “You know, this place takes on completely different environs at night.”

“Really?”

He dropped the first slice on my plate. “Yes, much worse.”

Sitting my plate on the stoop beside me, I took the can Vic proffered and opened it, taking a deep draught. “I needed that.”

Vic examined her slice. “You didn’t get anchovies on this, did you?”

“I procured exactly what you ordered.” I took another sip before attending the lesser need. “Anyway, how come you get to decide?”

Making use of the oversize canine tooth, she took her first bite. “Because I’m Italian, and you two are heathens who would put pineapple on pizza.”

Henry shook his head in mock outrage. “I would never do that.”

“So, no sign of Donnie Lott?”

“No.” She shrugged. “It’s been twenty-four hours, not that that makes any difference. Who talked to his wife yesterday?”

“I did.”

“And?”

“She seemed concerned, but in a strange way. She said that he sometimes goes for long runs.”

“Twenty-four hours?” She pointed at the slice on my paper plate. “You gonna eat that pizza?”

Knowing her penchant for poaching, I picked up the piece and took a bite. “Where the hell could he be?”

The Bear folded his slice, taking half of it with one bite. “With friends . . . nowhere . . .”

Vic made a face and took another. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Very few people can completely disappear without help.”

“So, you think he has an accomplice?”

“Difficult to say, not knowing his motivation in this situation—is he attempting to retrieve his son, trying to get at Abarrane, something to do with the wife? These affairs of the heart are always the most difficult—or there is the more simplified answer.”

“Which is?”

“Dead people are much easier to make disappear, especially in parts.” He reached down and picked up another piece. “Slice?”

“Very funny.”

“Going back to this wolf, if it is a wolf. Everything has a voice, but you will not hear it unless you listen.” He leaned back
with one of his wide hands covering his knee. “Human social interaction is more closely akin to that of wolves than to the primates your Darwin saw as our ancestors. We could do worse than to see ourselves affiliated with the master hunter par excellence.” He looked up at me. “Virgil White Buffalo was a shaman, but there are older terms such as the
sheven
, or spirit helper, but that description is misleading in that it is sometimes the animal spirit that picks the shaman to embody . . .”

Vic looked doubtful. “Doesn’t the person have anything to say about that?”

The Bear shook his head. “Not really. To deny the spirit helper is to invite madness or death.” Dropping the piece of pizza on his plate, he looked up at me again, his voice echoing off the high ceiling of the miniature rotunda. “I have another question.”

“Go ahead.”

“Do you still have the ring that Virgil White Buffalo gave you in the mountains a year or so ago?”

I sat there looking at him. “I do.” Reaching under my collar, I pulled out the dog-tag chain that held the massive ring, which looked more like a pipe fitting in the reflected light of the old library’s entryway fixtures—the turquoise and coral wolves flashing as they chased each other in the silver in a never-ending pursuit.

12

“Liam is in good hands?”

“Child services has him until his mother gets here from Colorado, then I think she’s planning on taking him back there. I thought I would see if I could get them to use Dave and Sally Anders; they’re good people.” Ruby leaned on my doorway, sipped her coffee, and studied me. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“I don’t know. What am I thinking?”

“She doesn’t seem overly concerned about her missing husband.”

“She seems more concerned with getting her son back, which I suppose is normal.” I stared at the black dormant screen on my computer, matching my mood in every aspect. “Any word on Abe?”

“Still unconscious in Casper.” She gestured with a Post-it. “You did get a phone message from Clay Miller that a Jacques Arriett was at Paradise Guest Ranch picking up some wine, and Clay can point you to where his camp is on the mountain.”

“Well, that’s something.”

“Who is Jacques Arriett?”

“Another of Abe’s shepherds who was probably on the mountain when Hernandez was killed.”

“A person of interest.”

“For lack of anybody else.”

She studied me. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.”

She studied me with her searchlight blues. “Really fine or Walt fine?”

I reached out, tapped the space bar, and watched Cady’s and Lola’s faces appear. “Somewhere between.”

“You’re not thinking of going up the mountain, are you?”

“Maybe.”

“Walter, the doctors said for you to rest.”

“I am resting, besides it’s just a ride in my truck. It’s not like I’m climbing up there with a pair of crampons and an ice ax.”

“One never knows, does one?” She shook her head and disappeared, only to be replaced by the Basquo.

“We have a problem.”

“When do we not?”

“ICE.”

“What, the refrigerator is broken?”

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement—part of Homeland Security.”

Evidently, my funny bone was in need of a little fine-tuning. “What about them?”

“They want Miguel Hernandez.”

I leaned back in my chair. “Well, tell them they’re going to have to get in line behind the Chilean authorities and the man’s family back home.”

“You don’t understand. They want him alive.”

“I’m sure that’s what we’d all prefer, but it’s a little late for that.”

“I’m sure it’s pushback from the U.S. embassy in Chile.”

“Did you tell them he’s dead?”

“The guy I was talking to didn’t seem to get it.”

I stared at him. “What part of ‘dead’ did he not seem to get?”

“That they couldn’t take Hernandez back to DC and interview him there.”

“Well, they’re welcome to take him back to DC, but the interview is going to be a disappointment.”

“He wanted to talk to my supervisor.”

“Your what?”

“Supervisor.” He nodded toward my phone. “Line two.”

I stared at the red light. “You’re kidding.”

“I wish I was.”

I picked up the receiver and punched the button. “Walt Longmire, Absaroka County Sheriff and Supervisor.”

There was fumbling and then someone spoke on what sounded like a speakerphone. “Sheriff, this is Agent Steve Phelps of the Enforcement and Removal Operations.”

“I thought you were Immigration and Customs Enforcement?”

“I’m both.”

“ERO and ICE?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sounds confusing.”

There was a pause. “Sheriff, do you have Miguel Hernandez in custody?”

“In a way.”

“Well, we want him.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s a war criminal.”

Of all the things I was expecting to hear, this was not one of them, and I took a moment to reassess. “Excuse me?”

“Alfredo Rafael Anaya is a former agent of the now disbanded Columbian DAS, or Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad. He’s wanted back in his home country for countless murders, including three journalists, a sociologist, and his own bodyguard.”

“Wait a minute, we are talking about a shepherd by the name of Miguel Hernandez, right?”

“An alias that Alfredo’s been using for about four years now. We got intel from the attaché in Bogotá and the Human Rights and War Crimes Center—the HRVWCC identified Anaya as being involved with war crimes, persecution, extrajudicial killings, and recruitment of child soldiers.”

Vic, ever with her antenna alert, appeared at the other side of the doorway from Saizarbitoria and watched me questioningly.

“How did you connect this Anaya fellow to Hernandez?”

“The Colorado Department of Labor has all their international employees fingerprinted and one of their people pointed out some anomalies in Hernandez’s papers, and when they supplied the prints to us, Anaya popped up. With all these human-rights violations the Columbians want him bad.”

“When was this?”

“The violations?”

“No, the notification from Colorado.”

“About two weeks ago.”

“And it took you this long to find him?”

Long pause. “You’re not exactly on the beaten path, Sheriff. As I’m to understand it, he was posing as a Chilean national and was a sheepherder in the Montana wilderness?”

“Wyoming.” I glanced at Vic, who sat in the chair across from my desk. “Can you send us the information you have on this case?”

“Certainly. Can you hold him till we can get there? We’ll start the deportation process here in DC and then take custody of the prisoner within twenty-four hours.”

“I can hold him for as long as you want, but you better get in touch with the Chilean consul in that they’re pressuring us to return him to them.”

“We can take care of that.”

“There’s just one more detail you should probably be aware of.”

“I’m listening.”

“He’s dead.”

“Excuse me?”

“Miguel Hernandez or Alfredo Rafael Anaya or whoever the heck he is. He’s dead.”

“Dead?”

“As Kelsey’s nuts.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Pretty sure, yep.” I glanced at Vic, who cocked an eyebrow. “We’ve seen dead out here before.”

The longest pause yet. “That’s inconvenient.”

“Imagine how Hernandez/Anaya felt about it.”

“How did he die?”

“Suicide, possible murder.”

“Murder?”

“Possibly.”

“That’s going to complicate things.”

“Not for Hernandez/Anaya it’s not.”

“It is with the Columbian government.”

I leaned back in my chair and looked out the window and
resigned myself to the thought that the case was about to get a lot more complicated. “So, what do you want to do about this, Agent?”

“I guess we have to come and identify the body and then have the remains shipped to Columbia. Do you have photos, and is the body intact?”

“Besides a general autopsy and a little wolf nibbling, yes.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sure our medical examiner has photos.”

“Can you have those sent to me?”

“My dispatcher or the hospital can. Hold on just a moment.” I cupped a hand over the receiver and called out. “Ruby!”

“What’s the nearest airport there in Montana?”

I uncovered the receiver. “Wyoming. Gillette, Casper, Sheridan.”


“So, our Chilean shepherd was some kind of covert Columbian badass?”

Vic was sitting outside on the bench in the back of the courthouse; she had decided to accompany me in neither the peace nor the quiet as we sat there in the warmth of the early afternoon. “According to the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

“Homeland Security.”

I leaned my head back and nudged my hat up, enjoying the sunshine on my face. “Yep.”

“Aren’t they supposed to know where the airports are?”

“Evidently they don’t know where Wyoming is.”

“What are the chances he’s one of the assassins that Bidarte hired?”

“It crossed my mind, but why the heck would he be shepherding up in the Bighorn Mountains—pretty deep cover if you ask me.”

“Just a thought.”

“No, I think it’s pretty straight up—he was a war criminal hiding in the farthest region he could find.” I shrugged. “If he hadn’t been killed, we wouldn’t have been made aware of him.”

“So, who killed him?”

“That is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, now isn’t it?”

“Somebody he had a run-in with in his previous life?”

“Possibly, but I don’t see a wide range of suspects, besides . . .”

Even with my eyes closed, I could sense hers on me. “Besides what?”

“His literary tastes, what Keasik said about him . . . It just doesn’t match with the kind of brutal thug that the agent was describing.” Shrugging again, I swiveled my head and looked at my undersheriff. “But I could be wrong.”

“Why don’t you go home.”

“With a murder investigation and a missing-persons case looming?”

“Speaking of, the Lott/Extepare woman is supposed to be here this afternoon to pick up Liam.”

“I know, Ruby mentioned it—any idea what her plans are?”

“Nada.”

“Ruby also pointed out that she seems somewhat unconcerned about her missing husband.”

“She hasn’t exactly burned the roads getting up here.”

I nodded. “Well, I want to stick around long enough to speak with her, but I was thinking about heading up the mountain to talk with Jacques Arriett, the Basque shepherd who may or may not have had contact with Hernandez.”

“Or Anaya?”

“Whichever.” I shook my head. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

“Name me something about this case that does.”

I stood and stretched my back, pulling at my abdomen where I now had a spanking new surgical drain and padding, which felt like a sidecar taped to my ribcage. “My side hurts.”

She stood facing me, hands on hips. “Good, I hope it keeps you up at night.”

“That’s not very nice.”

“I’m at the top of the office pool.”

I nodded and reached out, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Okay, how about you stay here and get an interview out of Jeanie Lott and I take Saizarbitoria and head up the mountain and meet up with the Basquo herder?” She started to interrupt, but I continued. “That way if anything happens, Sancho shoots to the top of the charts and you get off the list.”

She thought about it, trying to find a flaw in my logic but failing, in a sense. “On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

She hugged me gently, avoiding the apparatus taped to my side. “You make it a small altercation.”

Turning to walk back into the office, I noticed a familiar Toyota pickup pulling into our parking lot. “Uh-oh . . .”

“Is that the Choo-choo woman?”

“I believe so.”

“Good, I wanna talk to her.”

“How ’bout I talk to her first?” Catching Vic’s arm, I urged her toward the office. “I want to see her response to the latest information on Hernandez/Anaya.”

“What, and I’ll get in the way?”

“You might punch her, besides I think she’ll be more open if I talk to her myself.” Horrifically, she couldn’t find a fault in that logic either.

“Fine.” I got the full hand flap with that one as she made her way up the steps without looking back.

Keasik Cheechoo crossed the parking lot with Gansu and studied me as I leaned against the steel railing and raised my hands. “No wrestling, I’ve got a new drain in my side.”

She stopped, looking concerned. “Was that my fault?”

“No.”

She approached but then leaned on the opposite railing. Folding her arms, she looked at me disapprovingly. “What’d you do?”

“You know, I’m really getting tired of being asked that question by all the women in my life, even the ones I barely know.”

“Sorry.” She smiled. “You looked pretty good last night at the wolf meeting when you threatened to throw that hunter out the window.”

“That’s what I hear.”

“I guess you don’t respond like that very often?”

“No.”

She continued smiling. “Well, that explains why the whole crowd looked like they didn’t know what to do.”

I smiled back, happy to change the subject. “Keasik, how much do you know about Miguel Hernandez’s history?”

Her smile faded. “What I’ve told you, why?”

“Santiago, Chile, with a wife and kids?”

“Yes.”

Ruby poked her head out from the heavy glass door and glanced around, spotting me. “Walt, sorry to interrupt, but
child services took Liam over to the Anders place on Parmalee Street.”

“I thought they lived on Fetterman?”

“They moved; people do.”

She disappeared as I turned back to Keasik. “And you got that information about his family life from Hernandez himself?”

Watching Ruby go, she turned back to me. “Why are you asking me these questions?”

“It’s a possibility that he’s not who he says he was.”

“I don’t understand.”

I pulled the report from my pocket, unfolded the single sheet, and handed it to her. “I got a call from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement folks in DC, and they gave me a report on Mr. Hernandez that doesn’t match up with the information you gave.”

She studied the piece of paper and then looked at me. “Who is Raphael Anaya?”

“They say it’s Hernandez.”

She studied the page anew. “This doesn’t make any sense—I’ve seen pictures of his family and even spoken with his wife in Chile.”

Stooping down, I smoothed her dog’s ears. “Is it possible that he went there after Columbia?”

“He has children.”

I straightened and ignored the pain in my side. “How old?”

“Two and three.”

“So, he could’ve had them after escaping.”

She looked at the paper again and then back up at me. “This really doesn’t make any sense . . . This is not the person I knew.”

“The ICE agent seemed to think the fingerprints made the case pretty irrefutable.”

She continued reading but then looked at me again, her eyes beginning to well. “This can’t be Miguel.”

“Well, they’re going to be here tomorrow to collect the remains—that is if they can find Wyoming—and I’m sure they’re going to want to speak with you.”

She straightened. “Why?”

“You knew him, and you were one of the last people to see him before he . . .”

“Was killed.”

“Yep.”

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