Read Land of Wolves Online

Authors: Craig Johnson

Land of Wolves (9 page)

I sat there for a moment before continuing the line of thought. “Do I keep you happy?”

“Most of the time.”

“Most of the time?” I waited a moment, but she didn’t add anything more. “You haven’t been up for a visit in a while.”

“. . . I’ve been kind of busy, Dad, trying to catch up.” There was a long pause. “I’m just attempting to get my life back to normal.”

“Normal.”

“Yeah, normal.” Another pause. “That wasn’t easy in Mexico, Dad.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“I mean, maybe you’re used to that kind of stuff—”

“You never get used to that kind of stuff, ever.”

She sighed, and I listened as she repositioned the phone. “Well, it’s just taking me a while, okay?”

I took a breath and continued out on the thin ice of unhappy women in my life. “I guess I just want to be certain that you don’t consider me to be a part of that stuff.”

“I don’t, honest.”

“Okay.” I sat up in my chair and placed my elbows on my desk. “How’s Lola?”

“Sleeping.”

“I figured, but how’s she doing?”

“She’s growing at a phenomenal rate—the clothes that Vic sent don’t even fit anymore.”

“Well, Vic hasn’t seen her in months.”

Pause. “Are we going to keep coming back to this?”

“I didn’t mean . . .”

“The last time I looked, I-25 went both ways.”

“I’m not . . .”

The twinge of aggravation in her voice was growing. “Look, I’m tired, and I’m going to go.”

“Hey, Punk. I . . .”

“Good night, Dad.”

The phone went silent in my hand, and I sat there listening
I’m not sure for what. I finally lowered the receiver onto the cradle and watched the tiny red light go out, extinguished like a heartbeat. “Well, hell.”

Dog looked up at me in hopes that I’d pull out my keys, but I didn’t have the energy and just sat there thinking about the conversation in its entirety and trying to figure out what I’d said wrong and promising myself that I’d do better the next call.

There was a noise in the outer office that sounded like someone coming in, and I looked up to check the time with Seth Thomas—nine o’clock at night.

Standing, I walked out into the main room, with Dog trailing behind, and waited for someone to top the stairs just as Saizarbitoria’s head appeared.

“You here to protect your position in that damned office pool?”

He shook the head and then continued along with a six-pack of Rainier beer. “I talked it over with Maria, and we decided you might still be here and in need of a little spiritual uplifting.” He stopped at the top step and smiled an awkward grin. “Besides, I know what a modem is, and I can put your computer together for you.”


“Is it doing anything?”

“Describe
anything
.”

“Is it lighting up or making noise?”

“No.”

The Basquo’s voice echoed from under my desk. “Hmm . . . Maybe I don’t know as much as I think I do.” He happily tinkered some more as I sat there on the corner of my desk, sipped
a beer, and stared at the blank screen of the computer, as if the staring might prompt it. “So, how’s Cady?”

“Mad at me.”

“Boy, seems like everybody’s mad at you these days.”

“Are you mad at me too?”

“Nope.”

“Well then, that’s you and Dog, so almost everybody.” I listened as he struggled with something. “Problem?”

“Yeah, the only phone line you’ve got is a plug-in, and it’s so old I’m having trouble hooking it into the modem, but I’ll win.” He wrestled some more and then asked, “Have you read any of those Post-its that Ruby put on your door yet?”

“All the wolf hunters? No.”

“There’s more than that.”

“Like what?”

“Have you ever heard of the
Rupert Report
?”

“No.”

“It’s this guy, Jon Rupert, who does this conspiracy show on cable TV about UFOs, cryptozoology, and occult stuff.”

I laughed. “So?”

“He’s coming to Absaroka County.”

“For what?”

“Are you ready for this?”

“Probably not.”

“A werewolf.”

I assembled my thoughts as every ounce of humor left the room. “Did I just hear you right?”

“Did you hear the term
werewolf
?”

“I did.”

“Then you heard right.” He crawled out from under my desk
and sat in my chair, pulling the screen-thing toward him. “You have to turn it on, Boss.”

“Where?”

He showed me. “This little button on the back of the monitor.”

“Why do they put it there?”

“Well, you don’t turn it off every day.”

“You mean you just leave it on all the time?”

He blinked. “Well, yeah.”

“Seems wasteful.”

“They fall asleep.”

“Like people?”

“Um, more like, go dormant.” He tapped a few keys and then waited. “It’s booting up.” He turned toward me. “Starting . . . So, this Jon Rupert guy is going to be here tomorrow with an entire video crew to attempt to get footage of the werewolf that they think is responsible for Miguel Hernandez’s death.”

I sipped my beer. “You’re not kidding, are you?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” He tapped a few more keys. “First, we need to get you a screen saver.”

“What’s that?”

“A picture on the screen your computer reverts to when dormant. You can change it to some photos of your daughter and granddaughter when you get some.” He turned to look at me. “So, what’ll it be for now? A lot of people choose fish or tropical scenes.”

“Why would I choose that?”

“Then what’ll it be? How about the mountains in winter?”

“Not that.”

He tapped some more. “Fuzzy animals?”

“Can this wait?”

“Sure. We’ll email Cady and get some shots of Lola and her and have them rotate.”

“That’s the first good thing I’ve heard in this entire enterprise. Can we send her an email?”

“Sure, what do you want it to say?” I gave him the three words and watched as he continued tapping with a smile. “Okay, so do you want to see an episode of the
Rupert Report
?”

“Not really.”

“C’mon, you gotta keep up, Boss.” He tapped some more and then turned the screen toward me where a goofy-looking individual in a poorly fitting suit jumped up and down, screaming into a large microphone in front of him, even going so far as to mimic strangling the thing as screens flickered images behind him along with a large sign that read
ON AIR
glowing red—kind of like his face.

I listened to the screaming and yelling for the better part of a minute and then turned to my deputy. “Can you understand what he’s talking about?”

“Not really.

I watched a bit more. “And this is what I have to look forward to on the World Wide Web?”

He shrugged. “That and cat videos.”

“Well, it’s going to be a barren source of information.”

“So, do you want me to take him on?”

I looked at him as if he were the captain of the
Titanic
and had just asked if I minded him going around the iceberg. “Um, yep. That might be best.”

“Better than Vic.”

“You can say that again.”

He tapped, and the ridiculous man went away. “There’s more.”

“Oh, now why do I not like the sound of that?”

“There’s this internet show,
Mickey Southern—Pervert Hunter
, mostly on Facebook and YouTube. I’ll tell you about those later.”

“He’s hunting werewolves too?”

“No, this guy is a Net crusader that goes around baiting pedophiles and then confronts them on video.”

“Sounds irresponsible and dangerous.”

“He wants to meet with you and is driving up from Denver tomorrow.”

“Good grief. What does he want?”

“He says we’ve got a major predator here in Durant, and he wants to help us take him down.”

“‘Take him down?’”

“His words, not mine.”

“What is this individual’s official standing within the law enforcement community?”

“None, but he’s very popular on social media.”

I placed my face in a palm and tried to not seem absolutely desperate, even though the fatigue of a full day had now found me like a missile. “Would you like to take this one on too?”

He sipped his beer and looked up at me. “I think I’m going to have my hands full with Alex Rupert and the werewolves, Boss.”

“Then tomorrow is going to be a long day.” I stood gesturing toward the crouching technology that now occupied the majority of my desk. “Thanks for all of this, and the beer—but most important, the beer.”

He smiled at me, the Basque eyes twinkling. “Get out of here and get some sleep. I’ll clean up and get things straightened away.”

I patted my leg and Dog stretched and joined me at the door. “How old is your son now?”

He sipped the last of his beer and then sat it on top of the file cabinet. “Two and a half years old.”

“They’re fun at that age.”

He laughed. “You haven’t been around kids for a while, have you?”

I nodded in agreement. “You’ll lock up?”

“Got it.”

I left him standing in my office as Dog and I made our way across the darkened main room and down the stairs. I pulled on my jacket and saluted Andy.

It was cool and overcast, and I couldn’t help but stop about halfway across the parking lot to just stare at the sky, the three-quarter moon slipping in and out of the clouds like a pale chrome pinball.

You could see the valleys and mountain ranges on the luminescent little rock that orbited the earth, the word
moon
being traced back to the Old English, derived from the Proto-Germanic
menon
, which in turn derived from the Proto-Indian-European
menses
that meant month, forever associating the moon with the passage of time.

Current hypothesis is that the planetary body was formed when debris collided with the earth 4.5 billion years ago, late in our planet’s growth process. It has been surmised that a fraction of that debris went into orbit around the earth and aggregated into our current moon.

One of the main indications that the moon did not derive from the earth is the fact that our planet has an iron core and the moon does not; and our planet, in fact, is one of the very few that has a moon an appreciable fraction of its own size.

So here we are, like two entwined lovers in a constantly twirling dance in the vast ballroom of endless space.

I looked down and saw that Dog, who was sitting on my foot, was also regarding the moon. “Always good to have a pal, huh?”

He wagged, and I patted his head, pulled out my keys, and unlocked my truck door as we made the rest of the trek across the parking lot. I opened said door and allowed him to jump into the front passenger seat. He turned and looked at me as I climbed in from the driver’s side. I placed the key in the ignition and fired the three-quarter up before spying something sitting on the dash just beyond the steering wheel.

And there on the edge sat a perfectly pristine, white-and-blue Mallo Cup Play Money card.

6

After about thirty seconds with the Chilean consul, I started figuring that even after spending the better part of a month in Mexico, I wasn’t going to be able to understand a word he was saying.

I covered the receiver and called out my open office door. “Sancho!”

Ruby’s voice carried back. “He’s out front, doing that interview.”

“What interview?”

“I don’t know, Walter.” She appeared in the doorway. “Some TV thing.”

“I don’t understand a word the Chilean consul guy is saying, and unless we want an international incident, I think we should get the only Spanish-speaking staff member on this.”

“Well then, go get him yourself.” She disappeared without another word.

I pulled the phone back to my ear where the guy from the Chile Department of State was still talking. “
Por favor, señor. Un momento, por favor
 . . .” After hitting Hold, I stood, moved into the main office, and crossed to the stairs as Ruby eyed me. “I thought you would like me again if I had a computer.”

She paused typing. “Having one and using it are two different things.”

“I’m working on it.”

Easing down the steps, I reached the landing and pushed the door open into Jon Rupert, the television host, whom I was fighting the urge to consider the biggest horse’s ass I’d ever met, but I couldn’t really come up with anyone who would give him a run for the money, so he got best-in-show.

Saizarbitoria was standing in front of the other door, and I reached out to take him by the shoulder and pull him away. “I’ve got the Chilean consul on the line, and evidently, he doesn’t speak English.”

“Oh.”

“So I need you. Now.”

“Sheriff, we are in the middle of an interview.” The short, bald man stamped his polished loafer as the boom microphone operator and the lighting person stepped down.

“Not right now. I need my deputy.”

He stepped in closer. “Well then, we can finally speak with you.”

I’d turned down the opportunity earlier, but I really didn’t see any way around it now. Pulling Sancho through the door, I stepped out and took his place. “You’ve got three minutes.”

The man in the used-car-salesman suit pointed a finger at the cameraman and then turned to me as the lights came back on and the mic hovered over our heads. “Jon Rupert here on the steps of the Absaroka County Wyoming sheriff’s office with Sheriff Walt Longmire.” He turned to look at me. “So, Sheriff, tell us about lycanthropopoly.”

I blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Surely you’ve heard the term
lycanthropopoly
—the transformation of humans into wolves?”

I looked around at the four members of the crew, but none of them seemed to be in on the joke. “You mean lycanthropy?”

“Exactly.”

I held up a hand. “Excuse me, but could you stop filming for a moment?” I turned back to Rupert, but the cameraman continued to film. “What kind of show is this?”

He feigned a state of unbelievability. “We are the highest-rated cryptozoology show on cable television, Sheriff. You’ve never heard of the
Rupert Report
?”

“No.” I shook my head. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t cryptozoology an attempt to prove the existence of entities of folkloric record?”

“Um, yes, I believe so.”

“Pseudoscience.”

He paused, glancing at the camera and then me. “Science.”

“It doesn’t follow scientific methodology, so you can’t refer to it as a science.”

“We are pushing the envelope of—”

He was struggling for the word, so I provided one. “Bullshit?”

The cameraman lowered the camera, and the light and sound people followed suit. “You shouldn’t say ‘bullshit’ on basic cable.”

“You’re lucky my undersheriff isn’t here.”

“Sheriff, we’re attempting to bring into question the world in which we live.”

“No, you’re attempting to use a man’s suicide as some kind of salacious exploitation, and I’m afraid I can’t have that, especially when it concerns an ongoing investigation.” I started to open the door and escape but couldn’t help but pile on. “Lycanthropy is the word, not lycanthropopoly, which as far as I know, isn’t a real word. Clinical lycanthropy is a rare psychiatric
syndrome of delusion, where the subject thinks they can physically transform into some sort of animal, usually a wolf . . .” I thought about it. “Although there was a prince of Persia who thought he was a cow. There are reports of this mental abnormality going all the way back to the seventh century when an Alexandrian physician, Paulus Aegineta, attributed it to a deep melancholy. In 1563 a Lutheran physician by the name of Johann Weyer wrote that some of the symptoms were caused by an imbalance of the humors, and then in 1597, King James VI dismissed the delusions of transformation as a depression causing men to imitate the behavior of animals.” I leaned back over the man. “So, in essence, your show is about 420 years behind the times.”

Closing the door, I climbed the steps.

Ruby looked up as I approached. “How did it go?”

“I don’t think I’m destined for cable stardom.”

I crossed to my office and found Sancho on my phone conversing at a high rate of Spanish with the Republic of Chile.

I started to go, but he held up a finger and then made a few more statements before lowering the receiver back on the cradle and looking up at me. “There’s a problem.”

I sat in my guest chair. “When is there not?”

“Miguel Hernandez was politically active in Santiago, and now the government is afraid that his death, especially if it ends up being a possible murder, is going to lead to an uprising and martyrdom.”

I squeezed the bridge of my nose in an attempt to intercept the headache that was building. “He was a shepherd.”

“Evidently he was also a writer of political pamphlets.”

“So, this is not a formal protest concerning working conditions?”

“Yes, it is. Well, at least that’s what they’d prefer rather than a murder, which will be seen in some circles as an action by their government.”

“A Chilean assassin in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.”

“The ambassador seems to think there is a contingent that will attempt to use the death for political gain.”

“So, what do they want from us?”

“To discern whether the death was a suicide or a murder and, if it was a murder, to capture a suspect not of Chilean nationality and especially not a member of their government.”

We sat there in the silence of global stupidity. “Well, I think we’re all on the same page there.”

He nodded. “How did the interview go?”

“The man is a moron.”

“We’re on the same page there too.” He glanced around. “You want me to get out of your chair?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“Isaac call about the final on the autopsy report?”

“No, he sometimes forgets, so I think I’ll go over there this afternoon.”

“Want company?”

“I would, but somebody has to hold down the fort.” I pointed toward the computer. “You want to check my email for me?”

He tapped a few keys and then gestured with a palm. “You’ve got mail from the server.”

“What server?”

“Your internet provider, probably welcoming you to their email platform.” He moved, tapped the thingamajig, and nodded. “Just a routine response.”

“Nothing from my daughter?”

“No.”

“Well, that’s disappointing. How do we know she got it?”

“Got what?”

“The email.”

He stared at me. “Because I sent it.”

“Yep, but how do we know she got it?”

“It didn’t come back.”

I glanced at the computer like we were being rude, talking about it in third person. “They do that?”

“What?”

“Come back.”

“Yeah.” He glanced around. “One bit of good news,
Mickey Southern: Pervert Hunter
is not coming up today.”

I took a deep breath and tried to think, for the life of me, what in the world he was talking about. “Who?”

“The internet guy who baits pedophiles—I guess he decided that our case wasn’t as bad as he thought.”

“Well, that is good news, right?”

“Right.” He stood and glanced around. “This is a nice office, Boss.” He looked at the bay window behind my desk. “With a view of the mountains. The only thing I can see out of my window is the bank across the street.”

I waited a moment, but the need for him to say more was palpable. “What’s on your mind?”

He leaned against the wall and looked down at me. “You’ve got two more years in your term—are you planning on standing in the next election?”

I studied him. “Haven’t thought about it.”

He laced his hands. “I’ve been approached by a few people in the community.” His eyes came up to mine, and he started to speak but then closed his mouth for a moment. “Look, I don’t want you thinking I’m trying something here, but I’m just
curious as to your intentions. I mean, you talk about retiring all the time, and I know that Vic is your heir apparent, but she’s told me herself that if you walk through that front door for the last time, she’s going to be right behind you.” He stopped and eyed the Bighorns. “Look, I just want to be open about this. I don’t want to be skulking around and have you thinking ill of me, all right?”

“All right.”

“So, do I still have a job?”

“Yep.”

“You’re not pissed off at me?”

“Nope.” I stood. “I’ll start giving it some thought but don’t expect an answer real soon.” Placing a hand on his shoulder, I dipped my head and looked under the brims of both our hats. “I appreciate you coming to me with this, and I’m not upset or anything. I honestly don’t know what I want to do, but you’ll be the first to know. Deal?”

He smiled. “Deal.”

“Now you have to go say something to Vic.”

“Oh, crap.”

“Don’t worry, I think it’s already crossed her mind.” I patted his shoulder and steered him toward the door. “I’m not so sure she even wants to be sheriff.”

“I’ll let you know.” He stopped and looked back at me. “If you don’t hear from me the rest of the day, you’ll look for my body, right?”

“We’ll do our best, but it’s a big county.”


Leaning on my dispatcher’s counter, I waited as she scribbled down the number and handed it to me. “Donnie Lott.”

I took the Post-it and glanced back at her. “Where did you get it?”

“Libby Troon. I figured if he contacted her about hiring a kidnapper that she probably had his phone number and address.”

“Fort Collins.”

“It’s in Colorado.”

“You don’t say?” I started back toward my office but added, “I turned my computer on.” She said nothing. “I just wanted you to know.”

Sitting in my chair, I leaned back and looked out at the view Saizarbitoria coveted. Soaking in about all the high plains beauty I could handle, I reached over and took the receiver from my phone just as my undersheriff came in, closed the door behind her, and sat in my guest chair, lodging her boots on my desk once again. “Careful of the computer.”

“Fuck you.”

I hung up the phone. “Been talking to Sancho?”

“What. The. Fuck.”

“He’s just testing the waters.”

“How ’bout I test his gonads with the point of my tactical boots?”

“This doesn’t come as a surprise to either of us.”

She sighed deeply. “I suppose not, but would it have killed him to wait another two years?”

I shrugged. “He got approached, and you know how rumors spread in a small town. He just didn’t want any of us to get caught flat-footed.”

“It still pisses me off.”

“Amazingly, I can tell.”

She raised the tarnished gold eyes up to study me the way cats watch birds. “What are you going to do?”

“I honestly don’t know.” Leaning forward, I rested my elbows on my desk and rubbed the smooth skin of my left eyelid with a forefinger. “I think I changed down there in Mexico.”

“Well, you have. You have that great scar.”

Dropping my hand from my face, I slumped back in my chair. “I just feel . . . disconnected, like I’m not sure if I should really be here doing this job anymore.”

“Where would you go?”

“I don’t know. Hatch, New Mexico, or Hyder, Alaska, maybe.”

She let that one settle. “So, you talked to Henry.”

“I did.”

“That usually helps.”

“Well, this time it didn’t.”

I reached into my pocket for the Mallo Cup candy card and held it out to her. “Did you leave this on my dash last night?”

“No.” She took it and studied it, fully knowledgeable of the significance. “Was your truck locked?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Well, there’s an extra set of keys on the rack in the main office, so anybody could’ve put it there if it was, but why?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s in perfect condition, just like the other one.” She handed it back to me. “Somebody’s fucking with you.”

“It would appear.”

“Speaking of, how ’bout we fuck.” She lowered her boots to the floor. “In case you’re not keeping score, I am. We haven’t had sex since you got back.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I wasn’t asking for an apology, I’m just wondering what’s up.”

“I don’t know.”

“You wanna try it and see if it makes things better? It usually does.”

“Vic . . .”

“I’m willing to take one for the team—a quick one here in the office since the door’s shut?” She patted the desk and stood. “Let me know, but don’t wait too long—a girl gets frustrated, you know?” She placed a hand on the doorknob and looked back at me. “For the record, I will have my way with you.”

“Is that a threat?”

She turned the knob and opened the door, signaling that the personal portion of the conversation was over. “More of a guarantee.”

And like that, she was gone.

Flipping the handset up, I took the scrap of paper from my desk and punched in the number, dialing Fort Collins.

It rang three times and then a woman answered in an uncertain voice. “Hello?”

“Hello, this is Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire. I’m trying to get in touch with Donnie Lott?”

“Is this about my dad?”

“Excuse me?”

“This is his wife, Jeannie. Is this something about my dad up there?”

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