Authors: Craig Johnson
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #United States, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Suspense, #Contemporary Fiction
Also by Craig Johnson
The Cold Dish
Death Without Company
Kindness Goes Unpunished
Another Man’s Moccasins
The Dark Horse
Hell Is Empty
As the Crow Flies
A Serpent’s Tooth
Spirit of Steamboat
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First published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Craig Johnson
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Johnson, Craig, 1961- author.
Any other name : a Longmire mystery / Craig Johnson.
1. Longmire, Walt (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Sheriffs—Wyoming—Fiction. 3. Mystery fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Lola, Act I
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet
, Act 2, Scene 2
We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those that would harm us.
First off I owe an apology to Campbell County, Wyoming, for getting all noir whenever Walt heads over there; it seems as though it’s always the dead of winter when I cross the Powder River country, but I promise that someday I’ll do a bright and cheery book that takes place in the spring or summer. Honest. Speaking of summer, thanks to the fine folks at the State Game Lodge in Custer National Park for the ghostly tour.
Finally, this novel sprang up with the fertile assistance of Dr. David “Nasturtium” Nickerson as well as the numerous train experts who helped me in spreading the fertilizer and Auda “Snap Dragon” DeLeon and Marlen “Larkspur” Larson for the Spanish language lessons.
Not much grows in the high plains winter, but I had more than a few hothouse beauties helping me up on this one like Gail “Hydrangea” Hochman and Marianne “Magnolia” Merola. The pruning and cutting was ably handled by Kathryn “Columbine” Court, Lindsay “Star of Bethlehem” Schwoeri, copyeditor Barbara “Chrysanthemum” Campo, and Scott “Cactus” Cohen. The bouquet that makes the road smell sweet is Carolyn “Calendula” Coleburn, Ben “Plumeria” Petrone, Maureen “Dahlia” Donnelly, and Angie “Indian Paintbrush” Messina.
And, most of all, my rose by any name, Judy “Sweet-Pea” Johnson.
Joseph Conrad said that if you wanted to know the age of the earth, look upon the sea in a storm; if you want to know the age of the Powder River country, just be on the wrong side of a coal train. A guy who worked for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe once told me that the trains in northern Wyoming are about a hundred and forty cars and a mile and a half long, but it sure seems longer than that when you’re waiting on one.
Lucian Connally, my old boss and the retired sheriff of Absaroka County, reached into his pocket and pulled out his beaded tobacco pouch the Cheyenne elders had given him along with the name
Nedon Nes Stigo
—He Who Sheds His Leg. “Damn, this is a long one.” He also pulled his briarwood pipe from the inside pocket of his light jacket, much too light for the weather, and fingered a small packet of wooden matches along with it. “We used to get calls from the railroad detectives, what a useless bunch, wanting us to come down and identify the hobos that climbed in the hoppers back in Chicago and Milwaukee, and with the slick sides on the railcar walls, they couldn’t get out . . .” He stuffed a small amount of the tobacco into the bowl of his
pipe. “They’d pull those cars into the mines and dump tons of coal onto ’em—imagine their surprise.”
He turned to look at me. “What?”
“Homeless; they don’t call them hobos anymore.”
He nodded his head and looked back at the train. “Flat as a damn pancake is what I called ’em.”
I watched the cars roll and felt the ground shake. The single most plentiful source of coal in the United States, the Powder River Basin contains one of the largest deposits in the world and has made Wyoming the top coal-producing state since the late eighties.
He pulled a match from the pack and made ready to strike. “Pulverized pepper steak; wasn’t a lot to identify, I can tell ya that much.”
The major cities of the Wyoming portion of the basin are Gillette and Sheridan; in Montana, Miles City. The rest of the twenty-four thousand square miles is what they call sparsely populated and I call Durant and home.
It was a Saturday.
“Flat as a flitter.”
I was tired.
“Identify my ass.”
And I was about to lose my patience.
“Looked like hamburger.”
I scrubbed a hand across my face. “Old man, you’re not going to light that pipe in my truck.”
He looked over at me for a moment, the silence between us carrying the electric charge of decades, grunted, and then pulled the door handle and climbed out of the Bullet. The clanging of the warning bells amplified through the open door before he
slammed it behind him and hobbled on his one real and one fake leg to the corner of my grille guard, at which point he recommenced lighting his pipe with a great deal of dramatic flourish.
It was December on the high plains, but you’d never know it to look at him, cupping his knotted hands together without a shiver or gloves for that matter and ducking his Stetson Open Road model hat down against the wind. Amplified by the flashing red lights of the railroad-crossing barrier, the brief flicker of orange glowed, reinforcing the impression that he was the devil and that the deal I had struck with him was venal and binding.
He raised his head, the consistent wind that battled the onward rushing of the train pulling at the brim of his hat like a miniature tornado, his eyes almost squeezed shut with nothing showing but the stained, walnut-colored irises glinting black in the half-light.
I looked down at the letter lying on the center console; the postmark was from a week ago, and the return address was Gillette, in the Iron Horse Subdivision, which was located on the other side of the rumbling coal cars. Gillette was in Campbell County, technically out of my jurisdiction as the Absaroka County sheriff.
My daughter was having a baby in a matter of days, and I was supposed to be visiting her in Philadelphia; instead, I was here, helping Lucian resolve his debt to a dead man.
A barely audible whine keened from the backseat, and I reached around and ruffled the fur behind Dog’s ears. The combination St. Bernard/German shepherd/dire wolf glanced at Lucian. The brim of my mentor’s hat was pressed against the crown of his forehead, making it seem as if he was galloping at high speed like some soul-damned ghost rider in the sky.
I thought about how easy it would be to just throw the big
three-quarter-ton into reverse and back out, turn around, and take Route 14/16 back up to the Gillette airport to jump on a plane, but they likely wouldn’t allow Dog, so that was out.
Wondering what it was I was doing here, other than playing the role of chauffeur, I leaned back into my leather seat and felt the pressure of my Colt 1911. “Maybe they’ll have this talk, and then we’ll turn around and go home.”
I looked at Dog again, but he didn’t seem convinced.
Turning back and watching the old sheriff stare at the train, I sighed. “Yep, me neither.”
Pulling the collar of my sheepskin coat a little tighter and cranking my hat down so that it didn’t follow the train to Oregon, I pulled the handle on my door and slid my boots to the gravel surface. I crunched around to the front of the Bullet to lean on the grille guard with him. I spoke loudly, in the field voice my father had never let me use in the house, just to be heard above the endless procession of open cars and the bells that hammered their warning. “They still do.”
He studied me with a clinched eyeball and said nothing, puffing on his pipe like he was pulling the mile of coal himself.
“Find bodies in the hopper cars.”
The ass end of the train went by, another disappointment in that it was not a caboose but rather a set of locomotives helping to push from the rear, and I got that familiar feeling I always did whenever a train passed; that I should be on it, but it was going the wrong way.
Suddenly the bony arms of the crossing gates rose, and the incessant clanging stopped. We listened to the wind for a while, and then the old man beat his pipe empty on the hard surface of the grille guard, unintentionally repeating the coda of the claxons. “Hard times.”
With this singular pronouncement he turned and climbed back in, leaving me watching the skies peeled back in folds of gray, darker and darker to the horizon.
He honked the horn behind me.
Flakes were streaking in the wind like bad reception as we pulled up to the house, an unassuming one, one that you’d drive right by, thinking that there must be happy people inside—at least that’s the way I liked to think.
We both sat there, dreading what was coming.
He cleared his throat and started to say something.
Gazing out the side window at a deflated Santa Claus that looked as if it might’ve overimbibed in holiday festivities, he grumbled, “Boom or bust.”
“Oil, natural gas, and coal; they used to have bumper stickers over here that read
CAMPBELL COUNTY—GIVE US ONE MORE BOOM AND WE WON’T SCREW IT UP
.” He continued to study the Santa, looking even more like it might’ve arrived in the bottom of a train car. “Used to see a woman here back in the day; used to drive over here on Sundays. She lived alone in this big old house and had money—used to like spending it on me. Never saw her out on the town, never mentioned other men, never bothered me calling or anything like that and was always glad to see me. Whenever we got together we’d end up in motels over in Rapid or up in Billings—we’d mix drinks in this big champagne-gold ’62 Cadillac she had . . .”
“What ever happened to her?”
He stayed like that for a moment, not moving, and then nodded once. “Hell if I know.”
Lucian got out of the truck, and I trudged along after him through the snow that had just started blowing to South Dakota, made a detour into the yard, and reattached the small air compressor to the hose that led to Santa’s boot heel. The jolly old elf rippled on the ground as if trying to crawl away but then slowly grew and stood with an arm raised, a fine patina of coal dust covering his jaunty red suit.
I walked onto the porch where Lucian had rung the bell.
“That your civic duty for the day?”
“Evidently not. Here I am with you when I should be in Philadelphia with Cady.”
Nothing happened so he turned the knob and walked in.
“What are you doing?”
He looked at me still standing on the front porch in the wind and scattered snow. He didn’t say anything but limped off into the house; I had the choice of following him or standing out there freezing my butt off.
I entered, careful to wipe my feet before stepping onto the unusually wide plastic runners that lay on the white carpeting, and, leaning to the side, saw Lucian round a corner past a room divider to go into the kitchen.
I unbuttoned my coat and stuffed my gloves in my pockets and followed, hoping that if somebody got shot it would be him and not me—he was gristly and could take it.
When I got to the kitchen no one was there, only an electric wheelchair parked beside a door open at the far end of the room that led to a basement with one of those fancy stairway elevators that you see in the octogenarian catalogs I’ve been receiving far too often lately.
I reached over and touched the joystick on the spacey-looking wheelchair and it jumped forward, crashing into my leg. “Ouch.”
I gently pushed the stick back so that the contraption parked itself in the exact same spot.
Glancing around the kitchen, I was struck by how clean and orderly and white it was—like a museum or somebody’s heaven.
There was a humming sound from the basement and what sounded like typing and, peering down the steps, I could see that lights were on down there, flickering blue ones as if from a couple of televisions.
Easing myself around the track for the chair elevator, I started down the steps—Lucian was sitting on an overstuffed leather sofa and was leafing through a magazine. At the bottom of the stairs, I got a better view of the dimly lit room, which was dominated by three huge flat-screen televisions surrounding a counter with two computer monitors; an older, platinum-haired woman, seated in another wheelchair, raised her hand and waved at me. I took off my hat and waved back.
She smiled and shrugged, her head encased in a massive set of headphones, her eyes redirected to one of the screens and what I could now see was an end-of-the-season football game—Oakland and San Diego.
Stepping around the counter in front of Lucian, I watched as she casually tapped the elongated keys of the stenotype-like machines at her fingertips, belying the speed at which the words were magically appearing up on the closed-captioned portions of the screen.
After a while, with no other recourse, I sat on the sofa with Lucian and waited. There was another door, which must’ve led to another room, but little else. “She does closed captioning for the NFL?”
He flipped another page in the
magazine and glanced up at Phyllis Holman, still tapping away like Morse
code. “Football, baseball, hockey . . . you name it, she does it.” His head dropped back to the tips on wild turkey hunting. “Knows more about sports than any man I know.”
“Hi.” She had pulled one of the ear cups back and was looking at me. “Commercial break.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Holman.” I glanced around at all the technology. “Quite a setup you’ve got here.”
She shrugged. “It keeps me occupied.”
I looked at one of the TVs, my mind playing pinball in an attempt to find something to say as the talking heads came back on the screen. “Who’s your favorite announcer?”
She quickly pulled the headphone back over her ear, her attention returning to the keyboards. “Anyone who talks slowly and distinctly.”
I watched her work for a while and then, with my interest not being piqued by either of the teams or by any of the
turkey tips, I sidled into the corner of the sofa and pulled my hat over my face.
It was not a new dream, the one that overtook me; rather a continuation of an experience that I’d had back in the spring. There was snow, there was always snow in my dreams or visions, as my good buddy Henry Standing Bear called them.
In this one I was postholing my way in thigh-deep snow, old and laden—both me and the snow. The collar was up on my coat, and my hat was hard on my head, defending against the wind. The visibility was horrible, and I could see only about ten feet in front of me. I was following something, something that didn’t want to be followed. There were other shapes, darker ones that hurtled around me, but the creature continued on.
The shapes continued to dodge their way around me, and I could hear their breathing, heavy and dangerous. The tracks were difficult to see in the whiteout, and I reached down to clutch the side of my hip where my sidearm should have been resting under my coat, but there was nothing there—and that was when I saw that the thing had turned and what I was following had horns.
“. . . You know Gerald, Lucian. He never would’ve done something like this; it just wasn’t like him.”
I didn’t move, just stayed as I was—a stakeout under a hat.
Lucian’s voice sounded tired, and I started to weaken, thinking of all the conversations like this that he’d had to endure. “He was a good man, Phyllis, but I’m not so sure there’s anything anybody can do about this. I spoke with Sandy Sandburg and he said—”
“Don’t mention that man’s name in this house.”
There was a silence. “Nonetheless, he said that—”
“They wrapped it up too quickly, Lucian.”
He made a guttural noise in his throat. “Goddamn it, Phyllis, it was the investigators down in Cheyenne that did the autopsy at DCI. You know as well as I do that when a man like Gerald Holman dies they have to do a complete—”
“They didn’t like him; they didn’t like him, and they’re trying to cover something up, I can tell by the way they look at me. I was a court reporter, remember, and I developed an ability to read people; I can tell when people are lying, believe me, I’ve heard enough of it.” Another long pause. “You know as well as I do that these things happen for two reasons: either it’s trouble at home or trouble on the job. Now I know there wasn’t any trouble at home, so—”