Read Land of Wolves Online

Authors: Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves (23 page)

I gazed at them as if they might bite.

“I guess she figured they would spook you or something.”

“Maybe.”

“Well, at least one mystery solved.” He turned to go.

Still staring at the cards, I called out. “Hey, Sancho . . .”

He reappeared. “Yeah, Boss?”

“Are you still having those dreams?”

The smallest traces of a smile played out on his lips. “What
dreams?” I smiled back at him, and he saluted before disappearing. “See you tomorrow, Boss.”

After a moment, I heard the heavy front door shut. My eyes returned to the manila envelope and the cursive “
WALTER
.”

Picking up the oversized stiletto switchblade I’d carried back from my most recent adventures in Mexico, I slid it across the flap and opened the envelope.

There was a photograph, a large, color 8 × 10 with, of all things, a Post-it attached.

Carefully sliding it out, I was confronted with the photo of Cady and Lola that I’d used as the screen saver for my now departed computer. Smiling, I read the Post-it:

Walter,

Sometimes it’s best for us old dogs to not learn any more new tricks.

Love,

Ruby

PS: Get your own frame.

Standing, I patted my leg and Dog followed as I walked through the office turning out the lights, finally stopping at Ruby’s desk.

I wasn’t aware of it until I felt the tug at my coat and watched as my hand turned and opened—the Absaroka County sheriff’s badge lying there in my palm after I’d evidently unpinned it
from my jacket. I read the words and then recommitted the image to my mind—the open book for justice, the mountains for steadfastness, and the star for truth, but all significant of something so much more.

And this is how things end, not so much with a bang but with a whimper.

I gently placed the gleaming hardware on the smooth, oak-grained surface of Ruby’s desk.

Turning, I started to take a step but then stopped and stood there looking at the floor, my hand still resting on the surface of the desk.

You pin that star on and you think it’s something you can just take off, but it isn’t that way—it attaches itself to you. Unlike the glimmering pinpricks in the freezing winter sky, this star warms you and becomes a welcome weight that doesn’t let go even if you want it to. If its closest kin, over ninety-three million miles away, were to simply switch off, the average temperature on earth would plummet to zero degrees.

In a year it would be a hundred below zero.

In a million years four hundred degrees below.

Better to not risk it.

I picked up the star and pinned it back on, immediately feeling warmer.

Dog followed me down the steps, where I flipped the last switch off, stepped outside, and locked the door behind me.

On the drive out of town under the blinking yellow lights, I mused on the Mallo Cup cards and all the different places that I’d found them, but I couldn’t work out how she could’ve placed the one under the Travelall where the wolf, 777M, had been perched. Maybe she hadn’t planted all of them after all.

Noticing that the gas gauge was nearing empty, I drove under the interstate highway and took a left through the empty opposing lane, to pull into the vacant lot of the closed Maverik station.

It was getting cold again, so I zipped up my horsehide jacket and flipped up the collar, tugged down my hat, and pulled on my gloves. Standing there filling the tank, I realized this was the exact spot where I’d confronted Donnie Lott, and I gazed at the motel across the street, and then to the I-25 northbound off-ramp.

Maybe I’d head south for a few days to entertain my granddaughter and annoy my daughter, the Greatest Legal Mind of Our Time. Maybe I’d grab Vic and head down to Hatch, New Mexico, where it was bound to be warmer—or maybe I’d just break into the store and steal a six-pack of Rainier beer and go home.

Instead I held a notion in my head for a moment: the image of a bright-red Jeep Wrangler coming off the highway, rolling to a California stop at the sign, and then driving toward me, pulling up at the other side of the pump. A window rolling down, and me stooping to peer into the backseat, where a bundled toddler—my granddaughter—sleeps.

A toothsome redhead with startling gray eyes is at the wheel and glances up at me. “Hi, Daddy.”

But that’s not what was there.

My eyes refocused on the empty, stained surface of a concrete pad on the other side of the pump island, a skiff of snow cast across the hard surface, looking for something, anything, to attach itself to. I could see Dog watching me from inside the truck, and then on the center console, the envelope with the photograph of Cady and Lola.

Maybe Henry was right, maybe I was awaiting a vision that I wasn’t ready for just yet. I wondered what you had to do to be worthy of such things and thought about a world where I would no longer have a place, a world where people always did the right thing.

Studying the envelope, I figured maybe a photograph of a vision was enough for now.

I looked back at the mountains and listened for the sound of the ever-present wind and the swaying of the trees as they mourned its passing—but more important, I listened for the cry of 777M if you will, or Larry if you won’t.

All I could hear was the whir of technology as the gas filled the tank.

And I sighed, wanting to hear that howl so badly.

A
BOUT
THE
A
UTHOR

Craig Johnson
is the
New York Times
bestselling author of thirteen full-length novels in the Longmire mystery series, as well as three works of short fiction featuring the beloved sheriff. His acclaimed books have won the Western Writers of America's Spur Award, the Will Rogers Medallion Award for fiction, the Watson Award for a mystery novel with the best sidekick, and the Wyoming Historical Association's Book of the Year award. They have been named best books of the year by
Publishers Weekly
and
Library Journal
.
Spirit of Steamboat
was chosen as the first One Book Wyoming selection. The series has been adapted for television by Warner Bros. as the hit show
Longmire
, now an original program on Netflix. Johnson lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.

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