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Authors: Joseph Heywood

Blue Wolf In Green Fire

BOOK: Blue Wolf In Green Fire
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BLUE WOLF IN GREEN FIRE

ALSO BY JOSEPH
HEYWOOD

Fiction

Taxi Dancer (1985)

The Berkut (1987)

The Domino Conspiracy (1992)

The Snowfly (2000)

Woods Cop Mysteries

Ice Hunter (2001)

Chasing a Blond Moon (2003)

Running Dark (2005)

Strike Dog (2007)

Death Roe (2009)

Non-Fiction

Covered Waters: Tempests of a Nomadic Trouter (2003)

BLUE WOLF IN GREEN FIRE

JOSEPH
HEYWOOD

THE LYONS PRESS

GUILFORD, CONNECTICUT

AN IMPRINT OF THE GLOBE PEQUOT PRESS

Copyright © 2002 by Joseph Heywood

First Lyons Press paperback edition, 2005

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, except as may be expressly permitted in writing from the publisher. Requests for permission should be addressed to The Globe Pequot Press, Attn: Rights and Permissions Department, P.O. Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437.

The Lyons Press is an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press.

Text designed by Georgiana Goodwin

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

A previous edition of this work was issued with LCCN 2002151716

ISBN 978-0-7627-9554-3

This novel is dedicated to Michigan's conservation officers, who learn to see what we can't and do the things we won't while exercising courage, intelligence, empathy, common sense, and tenacity.

And to their families, who sacrifice so much.

1

Grady Service got out of bed, tugged on his ratty gray sweatpants, and went down to the kitchen where he made coffee, set the table for one, poured orange juice, boiled water for instant oatmeal, and heated a cinnamon roll in the microwave.

Maridly Nantz padded to the table with hair wet from her shower and warily eyed the breakfast he had laid out for her. Newf came down behind Nantz and sat beside her chair. The dog was a female Canary Island mastiff, a breed developed in Spain to protect cattle and known there as
Presa Canario.
Newf was 130 pounds and all muscle. Her color was brindle, an ugly mix of brown, gray, and ochre all slopped together like cake mix in a bowl. She had alert light brown eyes and a wide black snout.

Nantz nodded at his empty chair. “You're not eating?”

“Breakfast with the captain,” he said, placing her vitamins by her juice, and went back to the counter to pour boiling water in the instant oatmeal. He brought the hot cereal and cinnamon roll back to the table.

She nodded. “It slipped my mind.”

“You okay?” he asked. Nothing ever slipped her mind.

“Sure,” she said without conviction.

“Anything I can do?”

She stared across the room and shook her head. “Go see your captain.”

Newf sat beside Nantz, watching her closely. Outside the house, Newf stuck to Service; inside the house, Nantz got most of her attention.

After showering and dressing, Service came downstairs and kissed Nantz on the top of her head as he passed through the kitchen. She didn't bother to look up at him. This was not at all like Maridly Nantz, the ultimate morning person and eternal optimist. Whatever it was, he reassured himself, she'd tell him when she was ready.

Newf followed him to the door. Cat was already there, waiting to be let out. Until Newf came into his life, courtesy of his former girlfriend Kira Lehto, he had been afraid of dogs—all sizes, all breeds, all temperaments. Newf had begun to change this, but he still respected and admired Cat's independent and ferocious ways. He had found the animal in a cloth bag of eight kittens that somebody had drowned in Slippery Creek. Why this one survived was beyond him, but she had lived and turned into a feline misanthrope that he had never gotten around to naming, which made her an animal he could relate to.

For most of his time in the Department of Natural Resources, Grady Service had lived in a 1953 Airstream trailer that he moved from campground to campground. Fifteen years into his career he had finally bought twenty acres on Slippery Creek, not far from the Mosquito Wilderness Tract. Others called his place a shack and worse, but the opinions of others rarely concerned him. It was two stories with one large, open space on each level. The upper level was for expansion and remained empty, a place where Cat dismembered lesser creatures and held sway in nature's violent chain. On the ground floor he had a kitchen area, a bathroom behind unpainted doors he had propped up to provide privacy, his communications equipment, and a dozen O.D.-green military-surplus footlockers. He slept on a thin mattress on three of the footlockers stretched end to end to accommodate his six-foot-four height.

Kira Lehto, a woman he had dated for a couple of years, had begun to change his lifestyle, and for a time he had actually slept in a real bed with her. But Lehto, like all the women in his life before Nantz, couldn't deal with the risk and demands of his work. The fact was that he'd never had a relationship with a woman that endured, much less felt right, including his ex-wife—until Nantz. Since last summer it had been a new world for him. He still had his place at Slippery Creek, but most of the time he lived with Nantz in her sprawling house on the Bluff in Gladstone. The screened porch of the house overlooked Little Bay de Noc, and at night they often sat on the porch sipping martinis and watching the sun sink in the west toward Green Bay.

He cracked the door and Cat shot outside with an acknowledging whirp while he rubbed Newf's chin. “If you learn anything, call me.” The huge dog wagged her tail. He watched Cat sprint across the yard, either happy to be outside or intent on killing something. With Cat you never knew.

It had been quite a summer, he thought as he slid into his truck and radioed the district office and county dispatcher to report that he was on duty. Actually, he'd only just returned to duty the week earlier after a sixty-day suspension. He and Nantz had spent countless hours over the summer wandering the Mosquito, harvesting wild strawberries and blueberries. Come spring there would be morel mushrooms, and he couldn't wait to show Nantz his secret spots, some that his father had revealed to him, more that he had discovered on his own and never shared with anyone. This fall chinook salmon would come up the Mosquito River to spawn and die, and he would show Nantz a gathering of eagles and bears she could not imagine. His wilderness had, to his way of thinking, only one deficiency. Wolves, which had started coming back into the state in 1989, had yet to move into the tract, and he wondered why. He had been with his friends Gus Turnage and Shark Wetelainen last summer and seen wolves in the Misery Bay area and had been moved to tears by the sight. Someday they would come to the Mosquito, he told himself. Someday.

His suspension had turned out better than he expected. Last summer he had arrested a man who had murdered two people and in doing so spoiled a scam among diamond explorers that threatened the Mosquito. His actions had pissed off the ardently pro-development Governor Samuel Adams Bozian, who had retaliated by ordering the suspension. The Michigan Conservation Officers Association and state employees union had wanted to fight it, but he had accepted it, and when he came back to duty on Labor Day he had been promoted to detective, the DNR's way of telling the governor that while he had the clout to order the suspension, the department had its own ways of countering. His position was new, an extension of a concept already established in the Lower Peninsula. He was the first detective in the newly created Wildlife Resource Protection Unit for the Upper Peninsula. He wasn't sure he was cut out to be a detective, but he had few regrets about how it had all turned out. Most of all, he was pleased that he had been able to keep the Mosquito from being ravaged by diamond miners.

This had been his second scrape with the governor, whose critics called him “Clearcut.” Bozian was not a man who liked to be opposed. Service knew the next time might be his third strike, though with Michigan's term-limits law, Bozian was in his final term. Whoever got the job next could hardly be worse than Bozian when it came to caring about, much less protecting the state's natural resources.

Michigan was a huge state comprised of two peninsulas. The lower half of the state held most of the population. The Upper Peninsula was the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined, with less of a population than greater Grand Rapids. But the U.P. contained most of the state's remaining wild places. Some of the areas were well known and popular with tourists, but others, like the Mosquito, were virtually unknown and little used, which was exactly as Service thought it should be. In his more than twenty years as a conservation officer he had done all in his power to protect the tract. Poachers and violators were not treated gently and he pressed every charge he could, making sure the word went out loud and clear to violators: Screw with the Mosquito Wilderness and you are fucked.

Grady Service constantly reminded himself that if he had loved the women in his life with half the ardor he had lavished on his wilderness, his life might have turned out differently. He had never had a great deal of luck in relationships with women, but he was certain that this reflected his deficiencies, not theirs.

The Mosquito had a river cutting more or less through its center and a population of native brook trout with a beauty that often left him speechless. Most of the tract had never been logged and was filled with old-growth white pines and cedars hundreds of years old, bears and coyotes, deer and moose, bobcats, martens, fishers, skunks, coons, and uncountable varieties of birds.

Failures of his love life aside, he knew with certainty that he loved the Mosquito Wilderness. His father had guarded it before him, and it had fallen to him to be its steward for future generations. Like most conservation officers, Grady Service took his responsibilities seriously and passionately. It was not so much about doing a good job as it was upholding a sacred trust.

Nantz's mood had gotten his day off to a shaky start, and breakfast with Captain Ware Grant had only added to his uneasiness. Grant was the DNR law boss of the Upper Peninsula, an often unruly region filled with individualists and fringe livers. A taciturn man with white hair and a carefully groomed beard, always polite and proper, the captain had grilled him about progress on his first case as a detective in the DNR's Wildlife Resources Protection Unit.

Service still couldn't believe he was a detective. What bothered him most about the promotion was that after more than twenty years of playing doting mother to the Mosquito, it was no longer his responsibility. Because of his unexpected promotion, defense of the Mosquito had passed to Candace McCants, his fellow CO and friend. Relinquishing the Mosquito to someone he respected didn't make the change any easier to stomach. If there was a downside to what had happened over the summer it was that he felt less connected to the area he loved so deeply, a place whose moods and currents he felt as keenly as his own.

Sixty days without pay was unprecedented, and had it not been for Nantz he would have resented the punishment more. In fact it had turned out to be a badly needed break, which Nantz referred to as his sabbatical. He could not recall ever having taken a legitimate vacation. After graduation from Northern Michigan University he had enlisted in the marines, and after serving in Vietnam and satisfying his military obligations he had attended the Michigan State Police Academy in Lansing. Then there was a two-year stint as a road cop. He had hated patrolling the interstates. When openings developed for conservation officers in the Department of Natural Resources he had applied for a transfer and been quickly accepted. After a year on probationary status when he worked all around the state, he had been assigned to the same territory that his father had covered and he was so intent on doing his job that he rarely thought about vacations. If anything, he resented rules that prevented officers from working seven days a week. Poachers and violators didn't watch clocks; why should woods cops?

He had expected to find himself unhinged by the lack of work, but with Nantz's gentle urging he had taken advantage of his newfound freedom to get to know her and help her with her duties as a fire officer.

It had been a wet and rainy summer with the fire threat remaining low, and he and Nantz had spent a great deal of time fly fishing in the Mosquito and Slippery Creek. But summer was behind them now, his enforced break over, and he was back at work.

Captain Grant had been raised in south Louisiana; though most of his accent had faded, a hint of it persisted. “Where are we in the investigation?” he asked when they were seated in the rear of Elliott's Lake Trout Café in Marquette, where the captain, a widower, ate breakfast every morning at the same table.

“I'm still getting organized,” Service said. He'd been at his new job only nine days. There was no investigation yet in the case, which had been transferred to him from the Wildlife Resource Protection Unit in downstate Mio. They had heard rumors and gossip about a gang of poachers killing trophy bucks for big dollars, but had no substantial evidence. There was a potential source in the Kent County Jail, but he wasn't talking. The man had been arrested last fall near Grand Rapids with three trophy buck heads in his vehicle. The man, Kaylin Joquist, refused to answer questions, a sure indicator that he had had previous encounters with law enforcement. But Joquist's past had nothing to do with fish and game violations. His lawyer had gotten the trial delayed several times over the year, and the client had shown no great interest in getting back on the street, which suggested he had reasons for wanting to stay inside.

Sometime soon Service planned to drive down to Grand Rapids, talk to Joquist, and see what he could nudge loose. In all probability the man had nothing to do with his case, but Service's gut told him it was possible. There was no doubt about a commercial poaching operation; rumors and gossip in the Upper Peninsula were invariably based on shreds of truth.

“What's your plan?” the captain asked.

Service started to roll out the usual evasive bullshit COs reserved for their superiors, but stopped himself. “Captain, we don't have diddly-squat. We need something concrete. I'm talking to informants and trying to work them. Eventually I'll get something and then we'll see where it points.”

The captain nodded. “Thank you for being straight with me.”

“I've got a meeting this morning with a fella named Griff Stinson.”

“The bear guide in McMillan,” Grant said.

BOOK: Blue Wolf In Green Fire
2.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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