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Authors: Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves (18 page)

BOOK: Land of Wolves

She handed me back the paper. “How did they become aware of Miguel’s existence and whereabouts?”

“Your own Colorado Department of Labor.”

She looked stymied. “How?”

“Anomalies in the fingerprints threw a red flag.”

“We don’t fingerprint people at the Department of Labor.”

“Somebody did. Would you mind getting in touch with them and finding out what’s going on from their end? And in the meantime, I’d appreciate you talking to Agent Phelps when he arrives tomorrow.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

She turned and looked at her truck, and for a moment I thought she might make a break for it. “I need to get back to Missoula.”


“Work, I need to get back for work.”

Folding up the paper, I stuffed it into my pocket again and gave her my most suspicious look, which I’m sure was amplified by my nifty new scar. “That’s sudden, what about the wolf conservancy and 777M?”

“I need to make a living while saving the world, you know?”

“Well, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to not leave town until you speak with this guy from DC.”

“I’m telling you I can’t.”

“Ms. Cheechoo, we’re talking about a homicide investigation here. I’m sure I don’t need to impress upon you the importance of acquiring as much evidence as we can about Miguel Hernandez in our attempts to try and bring his killer to justice.”

“Look, I understand, but . . .”


“I need a shower.”

“Excuse me?”

She glanced at the Toyota. “I’ve been living out of my truck for about a week now, and I need a shower.”

“That’s what this is all about?”

“I stink.”

“I hadn’t noticed.” As I studied her, she avoided my eyes. “We’ve got a shower in the jail downstairs.”

“I’d rather not.”

Reaching for my wallet, I started to pull out some bills. “Seeing as how you’re a primary witness, I think the county can—”


I sighed. “You’re not leaving me many options.”

“Where do you live?”

“About fifteen miles out of town.”

“Is there room to park my truck?”

“Well, there’s plenty of room, but . . .”

“When you get through today, I’ll follow you out and take a shower at your place, then I can just sleep in my camper.”

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“It’ll be a great way to keep track of me till the Immigration people get here, right?” She pushed off toward her vehicle,
gesturing for the dog, who gave me one last look and then followed. “I’ll be back at five o’clock.”

“Um, Ms. Cheechoo . . .”

I watched as she jumped in and pulled out, wheeling into traffic and disappearing as Saizarbitoria came down the steps to peer after her along with me. “So, we’re going up the mountain?”

“Sure.” I brushed past him. “I could use some air.”

Turning the piece of paper in his hands, Sancho attempted to get oriented. “You know, this would be a lot easier if Clay Miller had put a compass reading on here—like something indicating north or south?”

Glancing over as I drove on the Forest Service road, I thought I spotted a geographic marker and pointed. “Is that South Rock Creek, that line there?”

He steadied himself with a hand on the dash. “I thought that was the road we were on.” He turned his face back to Dog, who was panting in the back seat. “Can you make it out?”

Not waiting for Dog’s response, I ventured an opinion. “I don’t think Clay has a future in cartography.” Rounding the top of a ridge we both spotted what looked like the opening to one of the larger areas on the left. “There’s the park.”

“How can you tell?”

“The X beside the squiggly line.” He studied what passed for a map as I eased off the road, switched into four-wheel-drive, and continued along in the thick grass toward the gigantic meadow. As we drove, he glanced around, pulling my Bell & Howell binoculars up to his eyes. “So, what happened with Les Harris the other night?”

I sighed. “He got mouthy, so I guess I got mouthy back.”

“You guess?”

“I don’t particularly remember

“There are a lot of people talking about it.”


“Yeah.” He lowered the binoculars and pointed. “Top of the ridge along the tree line.”

I turned the wheel, diverting my course, and began the long climb across the high pasture before making the ridge and seeing the sheep wagon for myself, along with a hundred head of sheep and a man on a mule, fording the sea of baaing wool to reach us.

Pulling up by the wagon, we waited as he made his way. I held my hand on the door to block Dog. “Let’s wait and see how friendly his dog is, okay?”

Glancing around, I took in the breakfast dishes drying in the grass, a clothesline with fluttering garments, and the general detritus that usually accompanies camps in the high country. This wagon was a little worse for wear compared with the one Hernandez had been occupying and even had a wheel jacked up where repairs had been started but had evidently fallen short.

Wandering to my left, I spotted a copse of aspens near the wagon and fresh carvings that bordered on the pornographic.

Sancho joined me, looking at the impromptu artwork. “Must get lonely up here, huh?”

I pulled out the drawing I’d made from the tree near Hernandez’s camp. “Know much about this stuff?”

“Just what I mentioned before, they’re arboglyphs. Kind of a private language among Basque sheepherders and not really meant for public consumption.”

I looked at one of the more graphic depictions on one of the nearest trees. “I can see why.”

“They’re usually around the
kanpo handia,
or main sheep camp.” Turning, he raised a hand toward the sheepherder who now approached us trailing behind an Australian shepherd.

The other Basquo tipped his beret, returned the salute, and continued to approach. “
Euskaraz badakizu

Sancho nodded. “
Bai, bai

Bai ote
?” The herder stopped his mule a little ways away and smiled shyly as the dog circled us but kept her distance. “
Nongoa zara

Sancho glanced about. “

Suddenly laughing, Arriett glanced at me. “I don’t think this young feller is from around these parts, but I know you are, big man. How are you?”

“Good, how are you Mr. Arriett?”

“I’m good, but you don’t remember me, huh?”

I studied him and then shook my head. “I’m afraid not.”

“You hauled me out of the Century Club for dancing on the bar.”

“Oh.” I tried to remember. “When was that?”

“Seventeen years ago.”

I nodded. “Must’ve slipped my mind.” I gestured toward my truck. “You mind if I let my dog out?”

He leaned forward on the horn of his saddle and peered at Dog. “We got a wolf here, but he looks about as big—sure, go on.”

I opened the door, and Dog leapt out, at first standing still but then noticing the Aussie and walking over to it. Arriett’s
dog dropped down but then bolted away only to turn and look at the brute again.

“She wants to play.”

“I’m not sure how good he is at playing.”

“She’ll teach him.” He lowered himself to the ground, and I noticed a single-action .45 on his hip. Seeing me spot it, he shrugged. “Alone up here, I like to have a gun.”


I gauged his height at just over five feet as he placed his hands on his hips and reared back on his heels. “Yep, you’re every bit as big as I remember. I hit you one in the chin when you arrested me.”

“Did you?”

He laughed. “Yeah, you didn’t notice much then either.”

“Well, I was younger then.”

He glanced at Saizarbitoria.

Sancho smiled. “I could eat—what’ve you got?”

Jacques grinned a dazzling smile, turning it toward me. “Best damn mutton on the mountain, my friends!”

With the adroitness of a trained chef, the Basquo moved around in the wagon’s limited space and produced heavy bowls of rich stew with chunks of mutton, green peppers, and potatoes along with homemade bread and thick slabs of Amish butter.

He handed us small, ornate glasses and, pulling a wine bag from beside the door, squeezed us each a serving before tipping his head back and shooting a strong stream into his mouth. Lowering his face, he smiled again and wiped his lips with the back of a tanned hand. “That’s the only thing I miss up here, movies. When I get off the mountain I go down to Abarrane’s
lambing shed, and I stay there. He’s got a big-screen TV with a satellite dish that gets every movie in the world. You ever see that
Thunder in the Sun

I swallowed the first spoonful of stew and discovered I was famished, then devoured the bread, all the time thinking about how different this camp was from the last I’d visited. “Nope, can’t say I have.”

“Worst movie you ever saw; had Jeff Chandler and Susan Hayward in it . . . Story about this Basque wagon train.” He began laughing. “Had these Basques jumping out of trees onto the Indians.” He glanced at Saizarbitoria. “I recorded it if you want to see it sometime.”

“Mr. Arriett, how well did you know Miguel Hernandez?”

He turned his head to look at me, a little annoyed that I’d interrupted. “The Mexican?”

“Chilean, or possibly Columbian.”

“Moody man.” He studied me. “I heard he killed himself?”

“Possibly, or somebody killed him.”

The shepherd nodded. “That’s what I heard all right.” He glanced toward the sheep. “Lonely life this high.”

“So, you think it was suicide?”

He turned to look at me, his eyes extraordinarily dark, like oil stains in his head. “No.”

I stopped chewing and took a small sip of the wine, smoky and biting. “Got any theories?”

“Not really, but he was difficult, and it doesn’t surprise me.”

“The camp tender said the same thing and that he had a habit of sticking his nose in other people’s business. Do you have any idea what he might’ve meant by that?”

“No, he didn’t say it to me.” Arriett sat on the steps of his wagon and watched as his Aussie continued to try and get Dog
to play. “Most don’t take this job to get into other people’s business, but sometimes it just happens.”


He motioned toward the bowl in my hand. “You gonna eat that stew?”

“Are you going to answer my questions?”

He took another shot of the wine and ignored me.

Setting the bowl down on the stump he used for a serving table, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the drawing, unfolding it and holding it so he could see it. “Recognize this?”

He ignored me again but then turned and looked at the paper and the few designs. “Mostly it is names and dates, but the pictures are a way of getting past the barrier of language.”

Saizarbitoria lowered his spoon. “For communication purposes?”

The shepherd nodded.

“All the way out here in this godforsaken place?”

Arriett shook his head. “And have you seen God, back there in that place where you live?”

I pointed at one of the designs—the one of the two figures. “What does this mean?”

“Man, child . . . Ancestors, possibly.”

I pointed to the one below. “And this, the floral one?”

He glanced at Sancho and then turned back to me. “Wards off evil—it is for protection.”

“From what?”

He shrugged. “Who can say?”

I lowered the paper and glanced at it. “I’m not much of an art critic, but the carvings are very good, almost Picassoesque, wouldn’t you say?”

He stared at me, unblinking.

I shot a look over my shoulder and held the paper to compare the drawings to the carvings. “Very much like the ones over here on these trees. As a matter of fact . . .” Looking back at him, I picked up my wine and downed it in one gulp. “I’d say they were carved by the same artist, wouldn’t you?”


“Leaned on him a little heavy, didn’t you?”

Driving out of the Hunter Creek cutoff, I watched the ice at the edges of the creek and the frozen shelves that were thawing in the afternoon sun and thought about the substance of things and how the surface changed but the layers were still there. “He wasn’t answering my questions, and I seem to have a lot of them lately—more than I do answers.” I turned in the seat to look at Sancho. “What was your read on the whole thing?”

“He wasn’t nervous, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“No, I could see that, but anything else?”

“No, I mean he spoke English the whole time . . .”

“But his body language, tone?”

The Basquo thought about it. “He actually seemed a little pissed off, not angry that we were asking questions . . . Something else.”

“How would you categorize it?”

“Like we weren’t doing our jobs. You know, the I-pay-your-salary kind of thing.”

“Odd, I thought so too.”

“What do you want to do next?”

I buckled my seat belt as he accelerated, now that we had
reached the paved road. “Get some answers.” Looking out the side window at the scenery, I could tell we were in a temperate zone, where the aspens proliferated in the small valley. “Nobody is answering my questions, and it’s not so much that as it is
they’re not answering my questions.”

“I don’t get it.”

“En masse, almost as if they’re all in it together.”

“Everybody?” He laughed. “Chances of that are kind of slim, aren’t they, Boss?”

Hitting the big loopy-loops as we crested the ridge and left the national forest, leaning back in the passenger seat of my truck, I felt antsy and not just because I wasn’t driving. “Wanna go through it?”

His eyes twinkled, and he smiled. “Happy to.”

I studied him, thinking about his taking over as sheriff but then wondered what that really meant for me on a day-to-day basis. I liked the kid, and maybe it was time to hand over the reins. “We’ve got a dead shepherd.”

“We do.”

“Who may or may not be who we think he was.” We passed the truck runaway ramp, and my attention was drawn through the main canyon to our small town in the valley below. “We have a missing person, the son-in-law of the man who employs the shepherd and the father of the boy on whom the grandfather is fixated.”


“There are rumors of abuse.”


“Though warned, the grandfather absconded with the boy after the father went missing, endangering them both.”

“And our sheriff.”

I shrugged. “There is a woman involved who was in a relationship with the shepherd.”


“There is a strange wolf in the mountains.”

There was a pause in his response as he continued driving. “Care to explain that particular piece of information’s bearing on the case?”

“Not sure yet, but I thought it should be included since he ate part of the victim and he keeps showing up.”

Sancho thought about it. “Any idea why he keeps showing up?”

“Nope.” I sighed, lowering my window just a touch to let some air in for Dog. “Henry says I’m waiting for a vision, but that I’m not ready.”

“A vision?”


“Well, you’re the only one who’s actually seen him most of the time.”


“Maybe it is some kind of mystical sign.” He glanced at me. “That what you’re going to tell the ICE guy when he gets here?”

“Probably not.”

Carefully negotiating the switchbacks, he shifted down, allowing the motor to do some of the braking. “I’m not a big believer in that stuff, Boss, but I’ve got to tell you that, since I started working here, I’ve come to the conclusion that there might be more to it than I originally thought.”

“Well, it’s good to keep an open mind.”

“It’s more than that.”

I eyed him. “What?”

“I’ve been having these dreams. Wolf dreams.” He paused
but then continued. “It’s strange, but it’s like a merry-go-round where these red and blue wolves are chasing each other in a circle.”

“A carousel?”


“Red and blue wolves?”

“Yeah, not real wolves but old wooden ones, and they’re just running in circles and going up and down, chasing each other. Not like they’re hunting or anything, more like playing.”

Pulling at the chain around my neck I unthreaded the massive ring from under my shirt, bringing it over my head and holding it out. “Look like this?”

Slowing my truck, he pulled to the side and reached over, holding the silver ring with the coral and turquoise wolves chasing each other around the band. “Holy shit . . .” His eyes came up to mine. “Where did this come from?”

“When I went after those escaped convicts on the mountain a couple of years ago I found this, and I know it belonged to Virgil White Buffalo because I saw it on him when we had him in custody.”

“‘Belonged,’ as in past tense?”

“I was hoping to give it back to him.” I hedged my response. “Nobody has seen or heard from him since then.”

“Just like my dreams.” Sancho continued to study the ring. “Wonder what it means?”

He handed it back to me, and I hung it around my neck, stuffing it back under my shirt. “Maybe the Old Cheyenne or Virgil are starting to tune in to you.”

He grew silent as he pulled onto the road and started off again, finally going back to the case at hand. “Well, knowing your pattern in these types of investigations, I’m assuming
you’re going to want to go back and look at the evidence, which includes the card from Mickey Southern, the Pervert Hunter?”

“It had crossed my mind. If this Web guy has evidence of wrongdoing on somebody’s part then I’d like to know who and what.”

“Vic was on that?”

“She was, and we can also find out what Jeannie Lott had to say.”

“Are we calling in search and rescue on the Lott guy?”

“I suppose so—we’ve seen neither hide nor hair.” I thought about it. “I’m also going to want an update on Abarrane. As soon as he’s out of that medically induced coma, I’m going to want to talk to him.” Reaching back and petting Dog as much for my sake as his, I glanced at the Basquo. “Did I miss anything?”

“That ring is totally weirding me out, Boss.”

“She’s a piece of work.”

I leaned against the dispatcher’s counter. “That’s your professional opinion?”

Vic turned to Ruby. “Was she a piece of work?”

Ruby looked up at me. “She was a piece of work.”

“So, we have a general consensus that she was a piece of work.”

My undersheriff sighed. “I don’t know where in Fort Collins she lives, but she was dressed to the outdoor nines and had on enough jewelry and makeup to sink the
Andrea Doria

“Sounds like the People’s Republic of Boulder or Bozangeles up there in Montana.”

She groaned at my boorishness. “You’re a funny guy, you
know that?” Moving to my side, she took a breath before continuing. “There’s something more.”

“I’m listening.”

“She was beat up. I’m not sure when, and she did a good job hiding it with the makeup, but she was beaten at one point, I’m sure of it.”

“Did you ask her about it?”


“Then I will.” I sat on the lower part of the counter to give my side a rest. “So, where are we?”

“She’s got a motel room out on the strip, and the foster folks, the Anders, say she can come by and get Liam at their house this evening. She’s going to spend the night and then head back with him in the morning.”

“Did she mention her husband?”

“No, but I volunteered the standard information about how people usually turn up and that there’s no sign of foul play, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah . . .”

“Did she ask about her father? I mean she’ll be driving by the hospital in Casper twice.”



Ruby nodded, continuing to type away on her keyboard. “A piece of work.”

“She does want her son back though, right?”


“Well, that’s a relief. Any word from Casper on ol’ Abe?”

Vic shrugged. “They’re unsure of his neurological status, but they’ve decreased the sedation and are waiting to see if he shows any signs of recovery. He’s still on an endotracheal tube and a cardiac monitor along with a Foley catheter.”

“So, he’s not going anywhere soon.” I glanced around the main office in the old Carnegie building as if the high ceilings and marble tread at the top of the steps might hold clues. “Why would he risk his life taking his grandson fishing?”

“Maybe it was a pattern, something they just did.”

“Possibly, but that doesn’t help me solve the case.”

“Which is, remind me?”

“The murder of Miguel Hernandez.”

“Maybe the two aren’t connected.”

“That doesn’t help me either.”

“Sometimes this shit doesn’t tie up like a nice bow on a wrapped package, you know?”

“I’m getting that.” I leaned back to my dispatcher. “Any word on search and rescue?”

She stopped typing. “Three rustic young men with struggling beards came by and looked at the vehicle and the evidence and then said they would stop back and check in with you later this afternoon.”

I looked at the clock on the wall, which actually did hold clues, at least to what time it was. “It is the afternoon.”

“Later this afternoon.”

“Anything more from the ICE guy?”

“He found the airport in Sheridan.”

“Maybe they’re more capable than we thought.”

“He will be here tomorrow morning.”

“Early or later?”

“He didn’t say.”

The front door opened, and the three rustic young men with the struggling beards and a lot of Gore-Tex climbed the steps like mountain goats. “Later in the afternoon it appears.” They
all stopped at the top of the stairs, a little unsure of themselves. “Hi, guys.”

“Hey, Sheriff.” The lead one extended a hand. “Mike Burgess, I’m the new head of S and R.”

“What happened to Colin Ferriman?”

“He got married, and his wife told him he had to quit.”


“Can we show you what we’ve got?”



I stood. “How about right here on the counter?”

“Sounds good.” He pulled out a quad-sheet from under his arm and unrolled it. “Other than being abducted or just strolling down the road, he could’ve followed Clear Creek either in or out of town. Now, following west he could’ve hooked up with the trail and then he’s gone into the mountains, but we checked that pretty well. He could, of course, have gone the other way toward Bull Creek and Stockyard Trail, which goes both south and north toward the rodeo grounds and the airport.”

“Any signs?”

“Nope, but that was more of a hit-and-run anyway.” Burgess looked at the others. “We thought that with the snow skiff there might be prints and we got a pretty good one from the interior of the Jeep, but so far—nothing.”


“One more thing?”


“If you decide to auction off the Wrangler, we’d like first dibs.”

I stared at him. “Anything else?”

“Nope. We thought we might check Stockyard Trail again just to be sure.”

I nodded. “Let me know if you find anything.”

He saluted, and they trooped back down the stairs as I turned back to Vic and Ruby. “Think the piece of work would like to sell the Jeep?”

“I want to talk to this Mickey Southern fellow.”

Vic leaned on my doorjamb and crossed her arms. “Well, he’s not responding.”

“What about the Denver PD, have they got anything?”

“They say the only contact they’ve had with him is on the internet, but it’s pretty straightforward what he does with this show of his.”

“We’ve written him emails?”

“There’s a contact tab on his website that I’ve sent him messages on four times.”

“No address, no phone number?”


“Any way we can get in touch with the people that run his website and get them to give us some kind of contact information?”

She shook her head. “Given the nature of his outing perverts, I think he’s well insulated—you might as well be talking to the trees.”

Punching the space bar, I watched as the photo of Cady and Lola reappeared. “I’m about ready to.”

She came in and sat in her usual chair and peered around the computer at me. “You know, if all you’re going to do is look at
that one photo, they have these electronic frames that rotate pictures so you can have more than one.”

“Saizarbitoria is having dreams.”

She stared at me, cocking her head. “That’s nice.”

“Wolf dreams.”

“And what does this have to do with the case?”

“Nothing, I guess, but the dreams are about red and blue wolves chasing each other on a carousel.”

She stared at me some more. “What the fuck, is he on drugs or something?”

“I don’t think so, but it sounds remarkably like Virgil’s ring, doesn’t it?”

She thought about it, puckering her mouth. “I guess—has he seen the ring?”

“Not that I’m aware of, at least not till I showed it to him today.”

“That’s weird.” She scooted the chair over, giving herself a clearer view. “So, what’s up with the other shepherd, Jacques Arriett?”

“He was a little antagonistic.”

“He’s Basque, right?”

“I think it might be more than that.” I pulled out the drawings I’d made and handed them to her. “These are remarkably similar to the carvings in the trees that were near Hernandez’s camp.”

She pulled out her phone and held it up. “You do know that we have these things called cell phones that have these nifty cameras in them?” She put her phone away and studied the drawing. “So?”

“The ones on the other side are from Jacques Arriett’s camp.”

“Your artwork is improving marvelously, and I think you’re ready to draw Winky the Deer from the back of a pack of matches.” She flipped the piece of paper on my desk. “I repeat: so?”

“I think Arriett carved both.”

“Did you ask him if he’d been to Hernandez’s camp?”

“He says he’s been all over the mountains.”

“That’s helpful.”

“I intimated that. He also said he’s not the only one who does the carvings and that some of them are forty, fifty years old, which is about the lifespan of the aspens.”

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