Read Savage Run Online

Authors: C. J. Box

Tags: #Conspiracies, #Mystery & Detective, #Environmentalists, #Wyoming, #Fiction, #Literary, #Pickett; Joe (Fictitious character), #Mystery Fiction, #Game wardens, #General, #Explosions

Savage Run (7 page)

BOOK: Savage Run
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Joe zoomed out and moved the scope through the rest of the campground. Empty

Upstream, though, a reed-thin man with a straggly beard and baggy trousers cast a spinning lure into the boiling creek. The man stood bolt upright, with one shoe on shore and the other on a rock in the stream. Joe smiled to himself. No fishing vest, no tackle box, no creel, no waders, no stoop to his back as he sneaked up on a promising pool. This man did not look like a fisherman any more than Joe looked like a cricketeer. The stream was wild and would calm down, clear, and become fish able in about six weeks, in mid-July Now, it was swelled past the banks with spring runoff, and lures cast into it would rocket down the stream with the fast flow and hang up in streamside willows.

Nevertheless, fishers were required to have both licenses and state habitat stamps, even if it was unlikely that a fish could be caught, as was the case here. Joe's job was to make sure fishermen had licenses. He zipped the spotting scope in its case, rolled up the window, and started the truck, which woke Maxine from her worrisome adventure.

one OF THE STOUT WOMEN at the picnic table turned out to be a man wearing thick dreadlocks that cascaded across his shoulders and down his back, but the woman looked vaguely familiar. Both turned to him as he stepped out of his pickup in the campground. They had been reassembling a well-worn white gas camping stove on the table, and the man seemed frustrated by it.

Joe left Maxine in the truck in case the campers had dogs of their own and approached them on a moist, pine-needled path. Their vehicle was a twenty-year-old conversion van with California plates. He introduced himself, and the couple exchanged a furtive glance.

The two were purposely ragged looking. He wore khaki zip-off trousers that were fashionably blousey and stained, and an extra-large open shirt over a T-shirt.

"Raga," the man said, wiping his hands on his pants and standing. "This is Britney We can't get our stove to work."

"You could use the fire ring instead," Joe offered, pointing to the circle of fire-blackened rocks. "It's real early in the year and there are no fire restrictions as yet."

"We don't do fires." The man called Raga snorted. "We don't do charred flesh. We're low-impact." It was said as a kind of challenge, and Joe had no desire to follow it up.

"Raga?" Joe asked.

"It's short for Ragamuffin," the woman said abruptly Her voice was grating and whmey Joe turned to her, and the sense of familiarity was stronger.

Raga shook his hair and tilted his head back, and looked down his long nose at Joe. "This is Britney Earthshare. It's not her real name, of course, but it's the name she goes by You might have seen her in the press a couple of years ago. She lived in a tree in Northern California to protest the logging of an old-growth forest."

Yes, Joe thought. She was familiar. He had seen her on television, being interviewed by reporters who raised their microphones into the air alongside the trunk of the tree she had named Duomo. She would answer their questions by shouting down from her platform, which was equipped with thousands of dollars of high-tech equipment and state-of-the-art outdoor gear.

Britney Earthshare glanced at Joe from her place at the table and then looked quickly away She was already bored with him, he surmised.

"You may not do charred flesh," Joe said, "but do you know the guy who's fishing upstream?" "Tonk?" Raga asked. "Is he with you?"

Raga nodded yes. "Is he doing something wrong?"

"Probably not. I need to check his license, though."

Raga crossed his arms and Britney at the table, rolled her eyes.

"A driver's license?" Raga asked.

"Fishing license."

Raga said "Hmmm."

As he did, Tonk walked into the camp from the stream, pushing his way through the brush. He was talking as he entered, and had obviously not yet seen Joe.

".. . Fucking fast water threw my lures all over the place," he was saying. "Lost two good Mepps and a Rooster Tail and now I got--" Tonk saw Joe and froze in mid-sentence. Joe finished for him: "Now you've got a treble hook in your arm."

Tonk held his arm out and winced painfully and almost comically like a child will do when an adult points out an injury the child has forgotten. The No. 12 Mepps spinner had bitten deeply into Tonk's sinewy flesh. All four sets of eyes moved to it.

"It got hung up in a bush and when I pulled it back--look what happened. It came flying straight back at me," Tonk said, looking a little sheepish. "It hurts."

Joe advised Tonk to drive into Saddlestring and get the lure removed at the clinic. "If Doc Johnson isn't in you can get it taken out at the veterinary clinic." Joe explained. "The vet removes fish hooks from fishermen and their dogs all the time, and it'll cost you about half of what Doc Johnson charges."

Tonk nodded dully He was fascinated by the lure embedded in his flesh. Britney and Raga seemed to be fascinated with it as well.

Sharply Britney turned. "You said you were the game warden, right?"

Joe nodded. "I read somewhere that there was a game warden present when the exploding cow was discovered a week ago," she said. "And that the place where the explosion happened is close to here."

Raga was suddenly more interested in Joe than in Tonk's mishap.

"That was me," Joe said. "I was one of the first on the scene."

The campsite seemed to have quieted, and Joe was being examined by all three campers with a different level of intensity than just a moment before.

"That's why we're here." Raga declared. "To find the place where they claim Stewie was murdered."

It took Joe a moment to respond. "Who says he was murdered?"

Raga displayed a self-satisfied smirk. He shook his head as if to say I'll never tell you.

"Did you find his body?" Tonk asked, forgetting his own injury for a moment.

"All we found were his shoes," Joe said. "There wasn't a body to find."

"I fucking knew it," Tonk said, stepping forward to stand abreast of Raga. He spoke with the loopy intensity patented by generations of the drugged and dispossessed: "I fucking knew it, Raga!"

Joe stared back at Britney, who was performing surgery on him with her eyes.

"You found her body but you didn't find his, right?" she asked.

"The state investigator's report concluded that he had an accident with explosives," Joe said. "The sheriff agreed with that. Accident, not suicide. And definitely not murder."

Raga laughed derisively "Yeah, like President Kennedy's little 'accident."" Tonk agreed by nodding his head vigorously

"Stewie Woods is not dead," Britney Earthshare stated. Joe felt a chill crawl up his spine. Then: "Stewie will never be dead. They can't kill a man like Stew

Oh, Joe thought. That's what she meant.

"Just like they couldn't kill Kurt Cobain, or Martin Luther King, man," Tonk chimed in.

"I understand," Joe mumbled, not understanding. These three campers were not much younger than he was, but were so entirely different.

They asked for directions to the crater. Joe saw no reason not to give them. He pointed back toward the Hazelton Road, told them it was about six miles up, and where there was a turnout where they could park.

"I knew we were close," Britney said to Raga, "I could just feel it, how close we were."

"That's why you're here?" Joe asked.

"Partly" Raga said. "We're on our way to Toronto to an anti globalism rally Britney's speaking."

She nodded.

Joe turned to go.

"The people who did this will be back," Britney said quite clearly as he walked away He stopped, and looked over his shoulder.

"They can't kill Stewie Woods that easily" she sang.

JOE WAS BACK UP on his perch before he realized he had forgotten to ask Tonk to show him his fishing license. But he stayed in his truck.

Things were certainly more interesting since Stewie Woods had died in his mountains. Although the official investigation was already all but closed, and obituaries and tributes to Stewie had faded from the news, unofficial speculation continued unabated. That there was a strange, disconnected underground made up of people like Raga, Tonk, and Britney who now came to see the crater was disconcerting. They seemed to know something--or thought they knew something--that the public did not.

He hoped this had been an isolated incident. But he doubted it.


bremerton, washington

June 14

OUTSIDE A HUGE tree-shrouded home in a driving ram, the Old Man waited. Next to him, in the cab of the black Ford pickup, in the dark, was Charlie Tibbs.

The Old Man stole glances at Charlie, careful not to turn his head and stare directly at him. Charlie's face was barely discernible in the dark of the cab, lit only by the light from a distant fluorescent streetlight that threw a weak shaft through the waving branches of an evergreen tree. The rivulets of rainwater that ran down the windshield cast woringke shadows on Charlie, making his face look splotched and mottled.

They were here to kill someone named Hayden Powell, the owner of the house. But Powell had not yet come home.

The Old Man and Charlie Tibbs had driven up the fern-shrouded driveway two hours before, just as the storm clouds had closed the lid on the sky above Puget Sound. They had backed their black pickup into a tangled thicket so that it couldn't be seen from the road unless someone was really looking for it. Then the ram had started. It was relentless. The ram came down so hard and the vegetation was so thick that the wide leaves, outstretched toward the sky like cartoon hands, jerked and undulated all around them as if the forest floor was dancing. The liquid drumbeat of the storm intimidated the Old Man into complete silence and made the atmosphere otherworldly Not that Charlie was the kind of guy to have a long--or short--discussion with anyway

The Old Man was in awe of Charlie Tibbs. Charlie's stillness and quiet resolve was something from another era. Charlie had never raised his voice since they had been together, and the Old Man often had to strain to even hear him. Despite his age (the Old Man guessed sixty-five, like him) and bone-white hair, Charlie was a powerful presence. Men who didn't know Charlie Tibbs, and who had never heard of his reputation, still seemed to tense up in Charlie's presence. The Old Man had seen that happen just this morning, as they neared Bremerton, Washington, from the east. When they entered a small cafe and Charlie walked down the aisle toward an empty booth, The Old Man had noticed how the rough crowd of construction workers and salmon fishermen paused over their chicken-fried steak and eggs and sat up straight as Charlie passed by them. There was just something about the man. And none of those workers or fishermen had any idea that this was Charlie Tibbs, the legendary stock detective, a man known for his skill at man hunting for over forty years throughout the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest, South America, and Western Canada. Since the days of the open range in the 1870s, stock detectives had played a unique role in cattle country Hired by individual ranchers or landowner consortiums, stock detectives hunted down rustlers, nesters, and vandals in an effort to bring those offenders to justice. Or, in some

cases, to remove them from the earth. Few stock detectives still existed. Of those who did, Charlie Tibbs was considered the best. All these locals knew was that this tall man with white hair and a Stetson was someone out of the ordinary, somebody special. Someone who made them sit up straight as he passed by

"I don't like this ram," the Old Man said, raising his voice over the drumming on the top of the cab. "And I don't think I like this part of the country I'm not used to this. If you died out there tonight you'd be covered by weeds before morning."

The Old Man waited for a response or a reaction but all there was from Charlie was the twitch of a smile.

"I just don't think you can trust a place where they have leaves bigger than a man's head," the Old Man offered.

The Old Man watched as Charlie raised his hands--he had huge, powerful hands--and rested them on top of the steering wheel. Charlie's index finger flicked out, pointing through the windshield. The Old Man's eyes followed the gesture.

"There he is," Charlie said flatly. "He's home and it looks like he's by himself."

"Did he see us?" the Old Man asked.

"He didn't even look. He drove up without his headlights. He must be drunk."

The Old Man raised a heavy pair of night vision binoculars. Through the ram-streaked windshield, he could clearly see Hayden Powell's car cruise up the drive slowly, as if anticipating that the garage door would open, which it didn't. Powell applied the brake inches from the door and his taillights flashed a burst of light that temporarily blinded the Old Man through the binoculars--and he cursed.

All the Old Man could see was a green and white orb similar to the aftereffect of a flashbulb. While the Old Man waited for his eyes to readjust, Charlie gently took the binoculars from him to look.

"He's drunk," Charlie declared. "Just as we thought he would be. He couldn't figure out how to open his garage and now he's trying to

figure out which key to use to open the door. He dropped his keys in the grass. Now he's on his hands and knees looking for them. We could get him now"

The Old Man looked to Charlie for guidance. What weapons would they use? What was the plan here? The Old Man fought back panic.

The Old Man didn't know a lot about Hayden Powell but he knew enough. He knew that Powell was a well-known environmental writer who had originally come to fame by writing many articles about and later the biography of his boyhood friend, Stewie Woods. Powell had struck it rich, not in publishing but through an early investment in a Seattle-based software company As the company took off, professional management was brought in to run it and Powell was eased out. With his huge home, bulging stock portfolio, and free time, he had returned to the two things he loved most: drinking tequila and writing provocative pieces on the environment.

BOOK: Savage Run
3.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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