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Authors: Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves (7 page)

BOOK: Land of Wolves

The Cheyenne Nation had let go of the tie and placed his hand to his face feigning concern. He glanced at the man’s fellow drunks, who sat there transfixed. “Your friend appears to have passed out, perhaps you should come and assist him?’

Slowly they stood and approached, possibly even more put
off by Dog, who had risen from his nap to go over and sniff the man on the floor. When they got close enough, they stooped down and picked JJ up, holding him vertical with his arms draped over their shoulders.

They stood there for a moment before the young one, obviously the mouthpiece of the group, decided to speak. “Um, we’ll be going now . . .”

I turned and opened my jacket revealing my star. “No.” They seemed indecisive, or maybe they were in a state of mild shock, so I tipped my hat back and draped my jacket to reveal the Colt M1911A1 .45 semiautomatic at my side. “You’re going to go back over to your table and sit on your hands until JJ’s wife gets here.” Dog curled around my stool again, and I picked up my Rainier, taking a sip as they struggled to get the man back to their table. “I don’t know, maybe it’s a coincidence. I mean, it’s just a candy wrapper.” When I raised my face to look at him, the Cheyenne Nation was covering his mouth with a broad hand and looked as if he were trying to hold back a laugh. Finally removing the hand, he lip-pointed over my shoulder at the two men and the unconscious body.

I turned around to look at them.

“I was just kidding about the sitting-on-the-hands thing.”

“So, you were in a bar fight.”

“No.” I sipped my coffee and glanced around at the thin crowd at the Busy Bee Café. “Who told you that?”

“Marco.” She dumped five sugars in hers, stirring it in with a spoon. “Polo.”

“The pool . . . Henry’s in on it?”

“Everybody on the North American continent is in on it.”
Looking out at the fast-moving water of Clear Creek that was wearing away the ice, she sipped her coffee and leaned back in her chair, “How are you feeling?”


“You sleep?”

“Not so much. I stared at the ceiling and pretended.”

“It’ll fade.”

“I hope.”

Dorothy, the owner and proprietor, sidled over to our table and studied me. “Nice scar.”

Self-consciously, I raised a hand, feeling the different texture of the healed wound that began above and then ended below my left eye. “I don’t look like a cocaine dealer in the eighties?”

“No.” She reached out and turned my face for a better view. “More of a Basil Rathbone—dueling scar kind of look.” She released my chin. “Personally, I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more roguishly handsome than you were.”

Feeling the heat of embarrassment rising from my collar, I made eye contact with her. “Thank you.”

“But you’re too skinny—what do you want to eat?”

Handing her the menu, I smiled. “The usual.”

She smiled back at me. “Nice to hear you say that.” She turned to Vic. “I’ve got a Philly omelet with shredded beef and provolone.”

“Is that the


“Is it also the


My undersheriff handed in her menu. “Sold.”

As Dorothy disappeared into the kitchen, I noticed that Vic was studying the side of my face now. “What?”

“She’s right. Like I always say, scars make better stories than tattoos.”

“I don’t think I’ll be telling this story to anybody soon.”

“She’s also right about you putting on some weight.”

I studied the ice tracing the edges of Clear Creek, mentally willing them to melt in an attempt to hurry the spring along. “For years, you’ve all been on to me about taking weight off, and now you’re all trying to fatten me like a hog.”

She leaned in, sipping the sugar drink she called coffee. “Just more of you to love.” Sitting back, she pulled an unfamiliar phone from her pocket. “I charged the departed’s cell and came up with a log of callers both sent and received, all of them either the Extepare ranch, a number in Greeley, and a few long distance calls to Chile—nothing out of the ordinary.”

I continued to cast my eyes into the frigid water.

“Walt, did you hear me?”

“Does it seem like this winter has been long?”

She snorted. “It’s the high plains, Walt, every winter is an ice age.”

“Maybe my blood thinned down there in Mexico.”

“Well, you lost enough of it.” She sat the mug down and looked at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Stifling a sigh, I looked down Main Street at the town where I was born, where I’d married and raised a child, where I’d lost my wife, and where now everything felt strange. “I’m . . . I’m having trouble getting back.”

She reached a finger out and brushed it against the back of my hand. “What did Henry have to say?”

“He says that I may be preparing for a vision.”

“You know, that’s just the kind of shit he says that I have no idea what he’s talking about.” She shook her head. “What else?”

“He wants to go to Alaska.”

“Interesting. I wouldn’t have come up with that either.” She nodded. “Well, it takes time. I mean that wasn’t a police action down there, it was a war.”

I turned the mug on the table by the handle. “Yep.”

“So, you have to treat it like a war and stop judging yourself as if it was part of your job because it wasn’t—it isn’t like you had any choice.”


There was a noise from her phone, the Philadelphia Eagles fight song to be exact, and she paused as she read a text. “You’re not hearing a word I’m saying, are you?”


“DNA is in.”

“On the sheep?”

“None other.” She pocketed the phone, the incredulity writ large on her face. “We have a murder in this state, and it takes us six months to get results, but if it’s a sheep we get it overnight?”

“Wildlife lab in Laramie, not the overworked Division of Criminal Investigation.”


“Well, don’t hold me in suspense . . .”

“Inconclusive. They said the carcass was too old and that they couldn’t get a proper DNA analysis”

“Well, at least you didn’t hold me in suspense.” I took a sip of my coffee. “If there’s enough of a stir, they’re going to want to kill the wolf, never mind the inconclusive.”


“The evidence doesn’t matter—people are going to hear
and it’s going to explode into a full-blown monster hunt
with torches and pitchforks. Like Chuck said, we’re not a trophy zone but rather a predator one, so wolves can be shot on sight. People are going to want that wolf dead, and I doubt Chuck Coon is going to want the job, so that means they’ll be bringing somebody in from Predator Control. Usually counties here in Wyoming depend on Game and Fish to provide a professional hunter, but in Absaroka it’s under the auspices of the county predator board, and they have a group of hunters they keep on a list.”

“So, who will it be?”

“The next person on the list. I think there are about three or four, some with dogs and some with helicopters.”


“Oh, I think he’s too big of a deal to bother with this. Besides, he’s probably in Borneo or someplace.”

The tarnished gold eyes looked over my shoulder toward the mountains. “So, we’re going to have a wolf hunt.”


“You don’t look excited about the prospect.”

Turning, I looked at the Bighorns with her. “Maybe I’m feeling empathetic toward the old wolf.”

“Maybe they won’t get him.”

I turned, aware that I was looking at her with the pupil that was bisected by a gash, ghostly and shining like a strike of lightning. “They always get them.”

Walking up the steps, I made the landing and glanced past the dispatcher’s area at my office door, where numerous Post-its were stuck on the molding like tiny, cautionary flags. “Looks like business is picking up.”

Ruby leaned back in her chair and handed me more. “Since news of the great wolf hunt has hit the airwaves, we’ve had numerous applicants apply for the job of Predator Control.”

“The position is open?”


“They don’t apply here, they apply to the Department of Agriculture’s Technical Services Division or with the county predator board.”

“Chuck Coon gave them your number.”

“I am going to shoot Chuck Coon.” She handed me the Post-its along with the current edition of the
Durant Courant
with a photo of me on the front page. “What’s this?”

“The news that evidently packs of wolves are now clamoring out of the Bighorns and lying in wait behind every mailbox in hopes of seizing our children and devouring them whole.”

“Oh, hell.”

“Can I quote you on that?”

I took the bundle and trundled off to my office as Vic trailed after me, waiting at the door as I sat.

“Welcome home.”


She hung on the jamb. “You’ll give me warning if you decide to run off to Hatch, New Mexico?”

Sitting in my chair, I threw the papers on my desk. “I promise.”

“You want me to inform Miguel Hernandez’s family members in Chile that he’s wolf chow?” I looked up at her, and she shrugged. “I’ll phrase it differently.”

“Sancho didn’t do it?”

“Me or him, we’re all here to serve, oh Great One.”

Ruby appeared. “Call, line one.”

“I’m out.”

“It’s Chuck Coon.”

“I’m in.” Stabbing the red button with a forefinger, I flipped the receiver up and clutched it like a cudgel. “I am going to have an open season on forest rangers.”

“Walt, before you start, I don’t know these people and you do.”

Ruby disappeared, but never one to miss an ass-chewing, my undersheriff sat in my guest chair. I shook my head. “Call Ferris Kaplan over at Game and Fish—this is not my job, Chuck.”

“Well, as of Thursday, it’s not going to be my job either.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m retiring.”


He laughed. “Retiring, it’s a thing some people do when they feel like they’ve put up with enough crap for one lifetime.”

“Like a rat from a sinking ship.” I sighed and hung the phone up without further comment as Vic leaned in. “So, what’d the turkey trooper have to say?”

“He’s retiring, so it’s our problem, unless I want to hand it over to Ferris Kaplan.”

“So, hand it over to Game and Fish.”

“He’s overworked.”

“And we’re not?”

I glanced down at the Post-its attached to the
Durant Courant
and covered my face with my hand. “Well, we are now.”

Vic leaned across and spun the newspaper, then peeled back a Post-it in order to look at my picture. “It’s an old one, before the scar.” She glanced at me, the gold flashing. “Maybe you should go for a soft focus like those romance authors do.”

The red button on my phone began blinking as Ruby called out from the main room. “Walt, line one!”

Slumping in my chair, I punched the button again and picked up the receiver. “Longmire.”

“It wasn’t me.”

I pulled the receiver from my face and looked at it for comic effect, lost on the world as a whole but infinitely humorous to my undersheriff. Placing the thing in the crook of my neck, I pulled the paper back so I could read the article. “Excuse me, but who is this?”


“Jerry who?”

“Jerry, down here at the Euskadi.”

Recognizing the name of the bartender at the only Basque bar in Durant, I nodded. “Aranzadi. Right, what did you not do?”

“Beat that kid up.”

“What kid, Jerry?”

“The one in the paper; that shepherd that hung himself.”

I glanced at Vic, whose eyebrows crouched together in question. “Abarrane Extepare mentioned something about fetching him out of your bar.”

“Um, yeah, well, I don’t want any trouble with that ol’ Basquo either.”

“How about I come down there, and you can tell me the story?”

There was a pause. “Um, sure. That’d be okay, I guess.”

“Bad time?”

“Um, no, no . . . It’s just never good to have the Law in the place when people are drinking.”

I thought about how Lucian frequented the place on an irregular basis but figured retired Law wasn’t as much of a deterrent to the drinking public. “How ’bout we meet you in the
alley behind the bar. Have you got somebody who can cover for you for a bit?”

“Um, yeah.”

“See you in five minutes.” I hung up the phone and glanced at Vic. “How ’bout a drink?”

“Now you’re talking.” Following me out of my office, Vic ran into my back as Ruby intercepted us and tried to hand me more Post-its. “I don’t want those.”

Fist on hip, she looked at me, her cat’s eyeglasses pushed back on her nose. “What do you want me to do with them?”

I patted the doorjamb. “Put them here on the Wailing Wall.”

Vic read the paper she’d purloined from my desk, her boots wedged on the dash of my truck again. “Wow, we’ve got a real wolf emergency on our hands, huh.”

“I told that kid the straight story, but evidently he had something in mind before he called me.”

“They do that sometimes.” She lowered the paper. “I’m assuming that since it’s only ten o’clock in the morning, we’re not really going for a drink, so what’s the skinny?”

“Miguel Hernandez had multiple bruises, contusions, and lacerations about the head and shoulders, and Isaac said they’d been made a few days before his death. I was going to poke around and try to see who the fight might’ve been with, but the bartender down at the Euskadi called and said it wasn’t him that did it, which leads me to believe that he knows who did.”

“Sound detective work.” She folded the paper and tossed it on the seat between us. “So, why are we driving down one of our two alleys?”

“We’re meeting him behind the bar—besides, I thought it might remind you of your home turf.”

She glanced up at the two-story buildings. “Philly? Not hardly. Manayunk, maybe.”

Jerry Aranzadi was easy to spot, wearing a white apron and wiping his hands on a dishtowel behind a dumpster at the back door of the bar. “Jeez, Jerry. This looks like a drug deal.”

The balding man nodded and leaned in my window and rested his arms on the sill. “Thanks for meeting me like this, Walt. I wanted to tell you, but it’s not good for business for me to be talking about customers.” He threw a thumb toward the door. “People come in with their problems, and I just don’t want to get a reputation as a guy who talks.”

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