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Authors: William Kent Krueger

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“Was anybody hurt?” Lindstrom asked.

“Fortunately, no,” Schanno replied. “Only person here was your night watchman, Harold Loomis. He was way over to the other side of the mill when it happened. He called in right away.”

“Did he see anything?”

“Harold?” Schanno asked it seriously. “He’s seventy-two, Mr. Lindstrom. Even when he stays awake, he probably doesn’t see much.”

Lindstrom stepped away from the others and went to a fragment of blackened metal a few feet away. He stooped and reached for it. “Any idea what happened?”

“Don’t touch anything,” Schanno warned him.

Lindstrom shot a look his way. “Still hot?”

“Evidence,” Schanno said.

“Evidence?” Lindstrom stood up quickly. “You never answered me, Sheriff. What happened here?”

“We’re not sure yet.” Schanno looked to Cork. “You ever work a bomb scene? In Chicago maybe?”

“Only crowd control, Wally. You think this was a bomb?”

“Alf sure does. And I’m figuring it probably wasn’t too far from your own way of thinking, else why would you and Jo be here? With all this ballyhoo over logging those old white pines, I’ve been worrying it was only a matter of time before something like this happened.”

Lindstrom turned to the fire chief. “Was it a bomb?”

Alf Murray looked toward the flame and smoke. “Well, like I said before you came, I thought at first
the fire must’ve started with the explosion of the LP tank. That was the big bang we all heard. Blew down the equipment shed like the big bad wolf blowing down a straw house. Seemed possible anyway, the tank going first and everything else following from that. Except those tanks are plenty safe. Never heard of one going up by itself. So I did some more looking around. There’s a small crater in the ground under the cab of the logging rig. Now, when the gas tank on the cab caught fire, it made for some pretty good fireworks, but it wouldn’t account for that little crater. Only thing I can think of would’ve left that kind of scar in the earth’d be an explosive device of some kind, probably attached to the undercarriage of the cab. So if it was a bomb, and I ain’t for a moment saying it necessarily was, then I’d say the cab went up first, and everything else happened because of that.”

It was only a moment before all eyes had turned to Jo. She didn’t say anything, but Cork could feel her harden, prepared to defend.

“‘Course, I ain’t an expert,” the fire chief hastened to add. “Mostly I deal with house fires, grass fires. We won’t know for sure until Wally gets someone up here who knows what the hell they’re doing.”

Schanno rubbed his jaw with his long fingers. “I’ve already got a call in to the BCA,” he said, speaking of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota’s version of the FBI.

Cork saw Hell Hanover on the other side of the demolished shed. Helmuth Hanover was publisher and editor of the weekly
Aurora Sentinel
. He had lost the lower part of his right leg to a claymore mine in Vietnam, and he dragged that history with him in a gait
that was becoming, with time, a dire limp. He’d balded young and had chosen to shave clean what little hair remained to him, so that in the morning sunlight, his bare white skull reminded Cork of something on the desert even the buzzards would ignore. Although his byline read Helm Hanover, to those who liked him not at all—Cork among them—he was known as Hell.

Hanover had been taking photos of the men hosing down the smoking debris, but now he got into his car, a maroon Taurus wagon parked near the far fence, and came around to where the other vehicles sat.

Lindstrom didn’t seem to notice Hanover’s approach. He was intent on Jo.

“We’ve been on opposite sides of this issue, Ms. O’Connor.” Hard eyes looked at her from under those feathery eyebrows. “And I always believed we could reach a peaceful resolution—”

“Karl,” Jo said, interrupting, “before you say anything more, I just want to point out a couple of things. As the fire chief has said, the cause of all this hasn’t been confirmed. He’s only guessing. And if he’s right, there’s currently no evidence that would implicate my clients, or anyone, for that matter, who might be opposed to you on the logging issue.”

Lindstrom held off speaking for a moment. Hell Hanover stood quietly off to the side, a small notebook in his hand, taking notes. Nobody except Cork seemed to be aware of his presence.

“It’s easy for you, isn’t it,” Lindstrom finally said. “Your business hasn’t been threatened. Your livelihood isn’t at stake. In fact, you’re probably the only one who is benefiting from all this.”

“Easy, Karl,” Cork said.

Lindstrom turned on him. “I’m at a loss to understand why, exactly, you’re here. You’re not the sheriff anymore. You’ve got no business here.”

Before Cork or anyone else could reply, the insistent chirp of a cell phone cut among them. Hanover pulled a cellular from his pocket and stepped away. He listened, tried to speak, then terminated the call. He spent a moment scribbling furiously in his little notebook.

Lindstrom went on, addressing himself to Jo again. “If this is the kind of fight your people want, then this is the kind of fight we’ll give them.”

“Mr. Lindstrom,” Schanno said, “I don’t think you want to make that kind of statement.”

“Just whose side are you on, Sheriff?”

Hell Hanover came back, a look of mild satisfaction on his face. “Wally, that was a phone call from someone claiming responsibility for all this mess.”

“Who?” Schanno snapped.

“Calls himself—or herself—the voice was disguised so it was impossible to tell—calls himself Eco-Warrior. Claims to be part of a movement called the Army of the Earth. The statement read”—he glanced down at the notes he’d written—” ‘The desecration of Grandmother Earth must end. Violence toward anything sacred will not be tolerated. I am the arrow of justice.’ “

“That’s it? All of it? You’re sure?” Schanno asked.

“Grandmother Earth.” Lindstrom cast a cold eye on Jo. “That’s how your clients refer to it, Ms. O’Connor.”

“Words are free, Mr. Lindstrom,” Jo replied. “Anyone may use them in any way they wish. Or misuse them.”

“Chief!” One of the men near the burned shed waved furiously. “Bring the sheriff, too!”

They all followed Murray to the shed.

“What is it, Bob?”

“Smell that? Made me think I’d better check the debris here carefully.”

With the head of his ax, he reached into the charred wreckage of the equipment shed, hooked a burned panel, and lifted.

“Jesus,” Schanno said.

Jo turned away.

An upper body had been exposed, most of the skin burned to char, the muscle tissue underneath visible in visceral red and purple. The heat had caused the eyes to bubble away and the brain to explode out the back of the skull. The lips were burned off completely, leaving a skeletal grin that made the corpse look grimly delighted.

“Welp,” Hanover said as he lifted his camera for a shot. “It ain’t just arson anymore.”

3

H
ISTORY, IN
C
ORK’S OPINION
, was a useless discipline, an assemblage of accounts and memories, often flawed, that in the end did the world no service. Math and science could be applied in concrete ways. Literature, if it didn’t enlighten, at least entertained. But history? History was simply a study in futility. Because people never learned. Century after century, they committed the same atrocities against one another or against the
earth, and the only thing that changed was the magnitude of the slaughter.

Except for the particulars dictated by its geography, the history of Tamarack County was little different. The streams, clear and clean since the days of the great glaciers, ran red with the blood of the Dakota as the Anishinaabeg invaded from the east and forced out of the forests along Kitchigami all the people not their own. Although less bloody, the confinement of the Ojibwe Anishinaabeg to a very few reservations was accomplished through threat and deceit and with the complicity of educated people who considered themselves enlightened. The devastation of the land—the clearing of the magnificent white pine forests, the deep gouging of the mine pits on the Iron Range, the dumping of toxins into the crystal water of Lake Superior—was justified as the fulfillment of God’s plan, the “manifest destiny” of America.

Conscience was a devil that plagued the individual. Collectively, a people squashed it as easily as stepping on a daisy.

Or so it appeared to Corcoran O’Connor on that summer morning when smoke hazed the sky and Tamarack County seemed poised for war over the destruction of one of the last good stands of old-growth white pine left in the North Woods.

The Anishinaabe people called them Ninishoomisag, Our Grandfathers. There were more than two hundred acres of them, all over a hundred feet tall, their trunks better than four feet in diameter, some said to be at least three hundred years old. To the Anishinaabeg, they were sacred. For generations, the young men of the Iron Lake Ojibwe had sought out the shelter of Our Grandfathers,
and under their watchful eyes had undergone
giigwishimowin
, the fasting ritual that brought to an adolescent the dream vision that would guide him into manhood. How the great trees had been spared from the rapacious saws of the crews who’d leveled the forests—most of them on a Lindstrom wage—was a bit of a mystery. Henry Meloux, an old Ojibwe medicine man, claimed the trees had been protected by
manidoonsag
, little spirits of the woods. Although Cork was ever respectful of Meloux’s vast wisdom, he’d heard another, less fantastic, explanation for the trees’ survival. In the days of the early logging boom, timber companies hired estimators to survey the forests and report probable lumber footage before a company bid on the right to log a particular section. For years, the man who’d worked in that capacity for the Lindstrom mill in Minnesota was Edward Olaf. He was mixed blood, half Swede, half Ojibwe. He knew how important Our Grandfathers were to the Anishinaabeg, and he simply lied in his reports about the area, ensuring the great white pines would be bypassed.

By the time extensive forest service surveys made the Lindstrom executives aware of Our Grandfathers, the trees had been included in an area of national forest no longer open to logging. The ban was in place for many decades until 1995 when President Clinton signed into law a bill creating the Energy Salvage Timber Sales Program. The law opened the door to public forest lands full of old-growth timber, among them Our Grandfathers. Karl Lindstrom’s company bid immediately for the right to cut the great white pines, and that bid had been accepted.

The plight of Our Grandfathers brought together an
alliance of disparate groups bent on saving the trees. The Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, Earth First, the Iron Lake Ojibwe, and a handful of other organizations and unaffiliated individuals had descended on Aurora to protest the proposed logging. Court battles had thus far prevented any cutting from taking place. In the legal maneuvering, Jo O’Connor had been the major voice for the Anishinaabeg. Now, arguments had ended. A federal judge in St. Paul had promised a ruling soon. In the tense quiet, some of the environmentalists had issued statements indicating that a ruling in favor of the logging interests would not deter them from doing what had to be done to preserve Our Grandfathers. Aurora, Minnesota, had seemed on the eve of war. Now it looked like the body count had already begun.

“You didn’t do much talking back there,” Cork noted as he drove the road toward Aurora.

Jo stared out the window, lost in the familiar landscape of red pines and underbrush. “There wasn’t much to say. Because the Ojibwe are my clients, I thought restraint was best at this point.”

“You don’t think your clients did it?”

“Of course not. Do you?”

“No.”

Jo gave a disgusted little grunt and said, “Helm Hanover.”

“What about him?”

“Did you see the look on his face when he saw the body? Like a vulture.”

“Yeah, well, you know how I feel about old Hell.”

Although they’d never been friends, never come near to anything like friendship, Cork had known Helmuth Hanover his whole life. Hanover’s father had been publisher
and editor of the
Aurora Sentinel
, and Helm took over after his father’s death. The elder Hanover had been a cantankerous freethinker, a man of independent politics and social philosophy. He’d hated FDR, had revered Truman, made sport of Eisenhower, and was fond of saying—though never in print—that
JFK
stood for
Just a Fucking Kid
. Locally, his political endorsements meant little. He often threw his support to a candidate for reasons wholly unrelated to issues, such as a man’s ability as a deer hunter, and he withheld his approval for reasons equally ridiculous—a candidate’s noisy dog. Helm, his only child, had been a quiet, bright, thoughtful kid. In ‘68, he’d been drafted and sent to Vietnam. Like many veterans, he returned altered, darkly and forever. Physically, he came back with a right leg that was mostly a plastic prosthesis. Emotionally, he carried a bitterness that showed on his face and, ultimately, in his editorials. He deeply distrusted government in any form and harbored a particular animosity toward the federal government for the sacrifice of his own flesh and bone in a war he believed was utterly useless and the fault entirely of cowardly, stupid, and self-serving politicians. On the Iron Range, he wasn’t alone in his assessment of that conflict or of politicians in general. A wise publisher, he used the
Sentinel
well in reporting on the people and activities of Tamarack County, never misspelling a name and making every attempt to include even the smallest of events, from church socials to league softball games. The editorial page, however, he used like a howitzer. Hanover had blasted Cork many times during his tenure as sheriff, and Cork had long ago joined the legion of those who referred to the bitter newspaperman as Hell.

Nearly a year and a half earlier, Cork had uncovered a direct connection between Hanover and a militia group called the Minnesota Civilian Brigade. Although Cork was absolutely certain the group had been involved in the illegal procurement of arms, none of the brigade was ever charged. Partly this was because evidence had been lacking. The weapons were never found. But it was also partly because the political sentiment on the Iron Range was not entirely unsympathetic to the antigovernment ideology of the brigade. Nothing had been heard from the group for a long time. The official position of those law enforcement agencies concerned—mostly Tamarack County authorities at this point—was that such close legal scrutiny had forced the brigade to disband. Cork believed differently. He’d read about strains of plague that became active when archeologists dug too unwarily. That’s how he thought of the brigade. It was simply underground, waiting to surface, as deadly in its purpose as ever.

BOOK: Purgatory Ridge
5.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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