Read Land of Wolves Online

Authors: Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves (8 page)

“I understand.” I waited for him to begin, but evidently he was having trouble, so I primed the pump. “You want to tell me about Miguel Hernandez?”

He looked confused. “Who?”

“The shepherd.”

“Oh, right. He was in here, less than a week ago.”

“Uh huh.”

“He sat where he usually did, at the booth by the window—was reading a book. I mean the kid wasn’t any trouble, you know? Anyway, he’s sittin’ there minding his own business when this other guy comes in, a kind of cowboy.”

“You know him?”

“Nope. I mean he looked kind of familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Well, he sits in the booth, opposite the Hernandez guy, and they start talking, but low and pretty intense—not like they were friends or anything.”

“Right.”

“Well, after a while the cowboy leans over and smacks the
living shit out of this kid. I mean really lets him have it. So, I walk over and ask them if there’s a problem, and they say no and they’ll keep it down. So, I go behind the bar, and I’m keeping an eye on them, when I have to go to the back. But I hear a crashing noise and come running out, and now the kid is on the floor with this cowboy standing over him. Well, I grab that ball bat I keep behind the bar and go to push the cowboy off the kid, and he turns around and has some words for me, so I tell him the next argument he’s going to have is with you, Walt, ’cause I’m calling 911.”

I nodded. “Then what?”

“Oh, he talks some more shit before I go toward the phone, and that’s when he says a few more things to the kid and walks out.”

“That was the end of it?”

“No. I help patch the kid up and buy him a drink to help make up for it, and when I bring the
izarra
and gin over the kid looks up at me and says that cowboy is gonna kill him.”

I glanced at Vic, whose eyes sharpened. “Do tell.”

“So, the kid drinks his drink and it’s getting close to closing, and I tell him I need to lock up, and he asks me to let him sleep in the bar and I tell him no, that I can’t do that, but that I’ll be happy to give him a ride home. He tells me that he works on the mountain, and I tell him I can’t run him all the way up there, but doesn’t he know anybody in town that he can stay with? He says yeah, and so I load him up and run him over to this place on the north end of town out near the airport.”

“Okay.”

“But here’s the thing: when I was driving him out there, there was this car that I swear was following us.”

“And you think it was this cowboy?”

“I do.”

“What kind of car?”

“New, maybe a truck but I think it was a car.”

“Make, model, color, plates?”

Jerry made a face, covering it with his long fingers. “It was dark, Walt, and I was tired. I’m not sure which county or number, and I guess it was a car—an SUV maybe?”

“What happened when you dropped Hernandez off?”

“He got out and went to the front porch, and there was a woman who opened the door, and they talked for a bit and then he went in.”

“Did you know the woman?”

“No, not much. She looked kind of familiar, but she was backlit in the doorway, so it isn’t like I got a good look at her either.” He fumbled in the apron and pulled out a napkin with a number and street written on it. “I remembered the address and wrote it down for you, because I figured you’d want to go talk to her.”

“Thanks, Jerry.” I took the napkin and handed it to Vic. “I’m sure we will.”

5

“So, do we pretend we’re Mormons or are we selling Tupperware?”

I walked around the car and met Vic in front of the small house. “I think the uniforms are going to give us away.”

Pausing at the mailbox, Vic opened it and then followed after me. “No name, no mail.”

Stepping onto the porch, I knocked and waited. After a moment, I knocked again and leaned to one side to look in a window, but all I could see was a room with a couple of cardboard boxes piled into each other along the wall. After knocking one last time, I stepped off and walked around the railing to the window. “The place is empty.”

Vic looked up and down the street at the houses on either side. “You take the left. I’ll take the right?”

“Sounds good.” Retreating to the curb, I approached the next house, when the front door opened.

A middle-aged woman, who was tying her bathrobe closed, was holding the door. “Can I help you?”

“Maybe. Walt Longmire, Sheriff.” I took off my hat and stopped at the edge of the porch. “I was wondering if you knew who lived in that house next door?”

“Nobody. It’s been vacant for the better part of a year now.”

“Have you seen anybody around the house in the last few weeks?”

“No.” She clutched the robe a little tighter and pulled a lighter and some Camels from her pocket. “Something going on over there I should know about?”

“Not particularly. We’re just looking for the last known whereabouts of an individual.”

She lit up one of the cigarettes. “Who?”

“A young man by the name of Miguel Hernandez.”

“The one that hung himself?”

“Mind if I ask how you know about him?”

“I read the newspapers, Sheriff.” She flipped some ash in one of the scraggly bushes that lined the porch and took a step toward me. “And what’re you guys going to do about the wolf problem anyway?”

I sighed. “It’s only one wolf, so I don’t think there’s much to be worried about, Ms. . . . ?”

“Schlesier. They say that that wolf ate part of that Hernandez kid.”

I handed her one of my cards and slipped my hat back on my head. “If you remember anything or you see anything regarding the house next door, I’d appreciate a call.”

I turned to go, but she threw out one last tidbit. “You know, once they get a taste for human flesh, it’s hard to break them of the habit.”

I stood there for a moment wondering what actual research she’d done in the world of lupine studies. “We’ll keep that in mind.”

Vic met me at my truck. “I got an old guy who says he hasn’t seen anything in months, but wants to know what we’re going
to do about the—” she raised her fingers, imitating quotation marks—“wolf problem.”

I climbed in and fired up the truck. “I got the same thing on the other side—the inhabitant says that the place has been empty for the better part of a year.”

Vic closed her door and looked at me. “Anything else?”

“She also volunteered that once wolves get a taste for human flesh, it’s hard to break them of the habit.”

“What habit?”

“Eating people, I guess.”

“What, she’s some kind of fucking expert?”

Turning a U, I drove back toward the center of town. “Everybody is these days.”


There are lots of ways of approaching the ladies at the courthouse, but the one I always rely on is carefully. I pulled into our parking lot behind the venerable building that replaced the North Star Dance Hall and Stables as the newly formed county offices in 1884. It was clear that a former dance hall, stable, and house of ill repute wasn’t a particularly safe place to store all of the official Absaroka County records, so a bid of $81,650 was accepted and construction began on the Italianate building with stilted-arch window openings, pronounced keystones, and what they called consoles on cornices.

Bricks for the building were made of clay soil from just south of Durant, and the town’s own kilns provided lime for the mortar. Not much has changed except for the sad removal of a bell tower, which used to house a multitude of bats that my old boss and mentor, Lucian Connally, used to say was a perfectly
suitable habitat since all the people who worked in the place were batshit crazy.

There is an emblem of the rising sun over the main entrance at the east, but my intention was to enter subtly from the west to avoid the maximum number of county coemployees as possible.

As I started to open the door, I became aware that Vic had followed me. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“With you.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because you and the courthouse ladies don’t get along.”

“We get along fine.”

I stood there, holding the handle but keeping the door closed. “Fine, like when you threw the trashcan over the counter at the county treasurer’s office?”

“I was provoked.”

“You were not provoked, you were just in a bad mood.”

She leaned against the homegrown bricks, folding her arms and studying the sidewalk. “They provoked my bad mood.”

“By asking you to pay your taxes.”

She shrugged. “Taxes in Wyoming are a joke; it was the
way
they asked me to pay my taxes.”

“You were six months delinquent and received three warnings in the mail.”

“Who reads that shit?”

“I do, and it would be really embarrassing if I was the one who had to throw you out of your house.” I stood there, unmoving, as lawyers Dennis and Ben Kervin came down one of the long, curving stairways; the one with the ornamental stringers. The father and son team recognized a Vic Moretti
standoff when they saw one and wisely retreated toward the front of the building. “I’m not going in here with you.”

She studied me for a moment more and then flapped her hands in dismissal. “Fine.”

Watching her go, I once again marveled at the hypnotic effect of the Glock 19 Gen 4 in Midnight Bronze bouncing off her rounded flank as she headed back toward our offices in full huff.

I opened the glass door and entered unencumbered. The assessor’s office was past the hallway and to my immediate right. Jennifer McCormick was the current occupant and was seated at the desk when I came in. “Are you in here hiding from the wolves?”

I sat in the guest chair she gestured toward. “Pretty much.”

She ran a hand through her close-cropped tresses and studied me. “I have a cheese sandwich and some Doritos we can share.”

“Then we might make it through till spring. Got anything to drink?”

“It’s a courthouse, people drink in here all day. What do you want?”

“Water would be nice.”

She reached behind her and pulled out two bottles from a minifridge and handed one to me. “You’ve lost weight.”

“I have.”

She unscrewed the top of her water and took a swig. “That’s a nifty scar.”

“Thanks.” I did the same and then asked, “One hundred fourteen Airport Road?”

“What about it?”

“Who owns it?”

She tapped away on her computer and then turned to look at me. “Abarrane Extepare.”

“Hell.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Wrong answer?”

“Just sends me in a circle.”

“Welcome to my world.”

I took another sip of my water. “You’re a lot of help.”

“You continue talking to me that way, and I’m keeping my cheese sandwich for myself and throwing you to the wolves.”

“Wolf, singular.”

“Cheese sandwich.” She tipped her water bottle to mine in a toast. “Singular.”


“Abarrane Extepare.”

Ruby stared at me over her glasses. “Do you have a phone number?”

“It’s on the Post-it, the one I gave you.” I was luxuriating in the fact that for once, I’d given
her
a Post-it.

She glanced back at my door, covered entirely with small squares of yellow paper, giving the impression that a sacrificial paper chicken had been massacred there. “I’ve had a few for you.”

“Would-be wolf hunters?”

“Yes.”

I reached down and petted the snoozing Dog at her feet. “Would you be so kind as to get me Ferris Kaplan on the line?”

“After I get Abarrane Extepare?” She stared at me. “You could do it yourself.”

I stood and studied her, pretty sure that was the first time she’d ever said that to me. “You’re too busy?”

She glanced at the papers surrounding her. “I’m always too busy, Walter. Anyway, there’s a gift for you in your office.”

I glanced at the door with a feeling of dread. “What kind of gift?”

“Why don’t you go and see?”

With one last look, I moved toward my office, still keeping a little distance just in case somebody had gotten the wolf and left him in there. Leaning a little to one side, I could see a large box sitting on my desk. “What the heck is it?”

“A computer.”

I turned to look at her. “I don’t want a computer.”

“You signed the requisition yourself. It’s been ten years, and we all got new computers, including you.”

“I never had one.” Glancing into my office, I ceded ground and went back to her counter. “I sign everything you put in front of me, but that doesn’t mean I want a computer.”

“Well, you’ve got one—the county IT guy is coming by later to hook it up.”

“What does IT mean?”

“Information technology.”

“You’re my information technology.”

“Not anymore.” She sat her pen down and looked at me. “You know how I print out all your emails and leave them on your desk so you can answer them in longhand, just so I can come back in here and type out your responses?”

I dropped my eyes, a little ashamed. “I don’t get that many emails.”

“You didn’t used to.” She turned in her chair. “But there are enough now that I don’t have the time to do it anymore.”

“How about we just stop doing emails?”

“We can’t do that in a modern department, Walter.”

I glanced at the terminal in front of her. “I don’t know how those things work.”

“We’ll teach you.”

“I don’t want to know.”

“Walt, I don’t have time for this.”

“Where’s Vic?”

“In her office. She’s hooking up her new computer.”

Walking away without further comment, I went down the hall where my undersheriff sat reading an instruction manual; Saizarbitoria’s legs stuck out from under her desk at an odd angle. She looked at me. “Back from the courthouse?”

“This is a conspiracy. You are all working against me.” I glanced down at the legs. “What is he doing under there?”

Santiago’s voice sounded from below the desk. “Hooking up the modem.”

“What’s a modem do?”

“Nobody knows what a modem does—they’re just magic and then the computer works.” She stopped reading and stared up at me.

I started to turn to go. “I don’t want a computer.”

“You can send emails back and forth with your daughter, and she can send you photos of your granddaughter.”

I stopped. “What?”

“Photos, you can send them over the internet.”

The voice from below the desk rose up again. “You can look stuff up too.”

“Like what?”

Vic raised the proverbial eyebrow. “How to operate a computer, for one.”

“This is just the slippery slope toward a cell phone.”

“We can only hope.”

“I’m not opening the box.”

“Fine, see if we care.”

I stood there for a few moments more, but when it became obvious that they weren’t going to entertain my anxieties, I turned and went back toward my own office. Once there, I stared at the large box for a moment and then picked it up and sat it on the floor by the wall. Sitting in my chair, I propped my feet on it, crossing my boots and thinking maybe the thing wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I could get it a small tablecloth and maybe a lamp.

“I see you’ve found a use for your computer?”

I looked up to find Ruby in my doorway. “I’m not opening that Pandora’s box.”

“Okay.” She walked over and handed me another Post-it. “Unsurprisingly, Abarrane is not answering his phone, but his wife tells me they’ve owned that house for years and that they usually rent it out, but it’s been empty at least the last six months.”

I took the Post-it. “Okay.”

“You can call her or go visit her yourself. You know she gets things mixed up.”

She started to go, but I caught her with my words. “Are you mad at me?”

“Yes, I am.” She leaned on the jamb and refused to make eye contact. “I’m too old for this foolishness. Name me another sheriff in this state that doesn’t have a computer?”

I sat there, silent.

“Human life is a story of evolution and change, and you are not adapting to the tune of technology. We’re not asking you to split the atom here, Walter.” With this, she turned and walked out, her voice trailing after her. “It’s selfish, and I’m tired of it.”


“Dog’s not mad at me.” I kneaded his ear as he rested his head on my knee and listened to the whine of telecommunication
between here and Cheyenne. “He doesn’t seem to care if I have a computer or not.”

“He’s not the one who has to print out your emails and type up all your answers.”

I nodded at the air as the monster stretched and then curled up beside my desk, probably wondering why we weren’t going home. “You think I’m being selfish?”

“The results are selfish, and since Ruby’s the one who is dealing with it, I’d watch my step if I were you.”

“Meaning?”

“How old is Ruby, Dad?”

I adjusted the receiver against my ear. “I honestly don’t know. I find it best to not ask women those kinds of questions.”

“Past retirement age, and the only thing that keeps her there is you.”

“You really think she’d quit on me?”

Cady sighed, and I could feel the waves of annoyance drifting north. “It’s a possibility, and I don’t think what she’s asking is all that outrageous.”

“I don’t want to lose her.”

“I can see why—you’ve never been without her, and I can’t even imagine what a cluster that place would be if she left.”

“So, take the computer?”

“Take the computer for God’s sake; answer a few emails and keep her happy . . . try and keep all the women in your life happy . . . life’s easier that way in case you haven’t noticed.”

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