Authors: Joseph Heywood
SHADOW OF THE WOLF TREE
ALSO BY JOSEPH HEYWOOD
The Domino Conspiracy
Woods Cop Mysteries
Blue Wolf in Green Fire
Chasing a Blond Moon
Covered Waters: Tempests of a Nomadic Trouter
SHADOW OF THE WOLF TREE
An imprint of Globe Pequot Press
Copyright Â© 2010 by Joseph Heywood
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.
Lyons Press is an imprint of Globe Pequot Press
Designed by Sheryl P. Kober
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Shadow of the wolf tree : a woods cop mystery / Joseph Heywood.
1. Service, Grady (Fictitious character)âFiction. 2. Game wardensâFiction. 3. Upper Peninsula (Mich.)âFiction. 4. EcoterrorismâFiction. 5. Drug trafficâFiction. 6. Cold cases (Criminal investigation)âFiction. I. Title.
For Mom: Wilma Catherine (Hegwood) Heywood,
Oct. 31, 1918âMay 16, 2008.
Passeth a good woman bravely.
South Branch, Paint River, West Iron County
SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 2006
The last Saturday in April was Michigan's traditional trout-opener, and Grady Service began his day mesmerized by the reflection of a battered face, looking down into a mirror of black frogwater. For the first time in a quarter-century he had the time off to actually fish for fish, rather than chase cheating trout fishermen.
What he saw was a man nearing double nickel, loser of the woman he desperately loved and should have married, a widower in concept (albeit, not legally), loser of his only son (by the ex-wife he'd married and shouldn't have), a son he knew only for a short time but loved, an individual with three decades in government service in various branches of law enforcementâincluding almost twenty-five years as a game warden, a man who had lost count of his broken bones and stitches, had had his face rebuilt, lost all his teeth to trauma on the Garden Peninsula, had been shot and stabbed, had inherited an unconscionable fortune from the woman who had not been his wife. He saw a man who once again lived alone in an unfurnished cabin near the Mosquito Wilderness, slept on thin mattresses placed on army footlockers set end to end, had a giant dog, a foul-tempered cat, and a granddaughter by blood, sixteen months old. In his mind he was a total failure, a sad excuse for a human being. Worse, how could such a fuckup be responsible for enforcing laws that determined right and wrong?
Piece of shit.
When he thought about it, he had spent his life fightingâas an athlete, as a marine in Vietnam, and as a woods copâand what had all the strife brought? More violence. He was by some accounts an alpha shit magnet, the sort of rare individual in law enforcement who seemed to naturally attract trouble, and in one way or another always seemed to overcome it. Others in law enforcement called it a gift. He thought of it as a curse.
Best of all, his best friend was with him. Luticious Treebone and Grady Service had finished college the same year, Service at Northern Michigan University in Marquette and Tree at Wayne State in Detroit. Treebone had played football and baseball in college and graduated cum laude. Service had played college hockey and had been only a fair student. Both had volunteered for the marines, met at Parris Island, and served together in the same unit in Vietnam. They had been through hell and had rarely spoken of the war since. After their discharge from the marines they had joined the Michigan State Police and graduated from the academy with honors. When the opportunity came to transfer to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) law enforcement division as conservation officers, they had both made the move, but within a year, at the urging of his wife, Kalina, Treebone had left the DNR for the Detroit Metropolitan Police, where last year he had retired as a much-decorated lieutenant in charge of vice. The two men had been best friends since the crucible of boot camp; each considered the other his brother.
The two men lost count of fish caught and released, but each kept four eleven-inch brook trout for dinner, gutting them as soon as they were unhooked and stuffing them into creels lined with damp bank grass, all in all the near-perfect day Grady Service had dreamed of for years. When he began to choke up thinking about what it would be like to have Maridly Nantz and his son with him, he quickly banished the thought and focused on fishing.
They set up a pair of two-man tents on the north bank of the river; made a small fire; pan-fried their trout with brown sugar, shallots, and capers; and sipped Jack Daniel's and Diet Pepsi from tin cups while smoke curled lazily into the sky, blending with their exhalations as the night temperature dropped. Service noticed that the dew was coming early; there could be a hard freeze tonight. The area was without frost only two months a year.
When Newf brought something to the fire, Treebone grimaced and rolled his huge eyes. “That's
Service stared at the object, a human skull. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, dropped his cigar into the fire, and tried to will himself to act when all he wanted to do was crawl into his sleeping bag and sleep without dreams.
A second skull fetched by the dog made the two men glance at each other and roll their eyes in unison. “I'm retired,” Treebone said. “Not no cop no mo.”
“Lucky you,” Service said.
“Your mistake,” his friend concluded. “You goin' bone-huntin' in the dark, you be on your own,” Tree mumbled, picking up one of the skulls. “No skin, no hair, no stinkâit's old. This'll wait till morning, Grady.”
Service got a flashlight out of his pack and stuck it in his jacket pocket. He didn't really need a light in the darkness, but carried one as a precaution. He patted the drooling dog's head. “Show me, girl.”
Treebone grumbled and swore, but followed behind them, muttering.
Newf led them to a low rocky outcrop, two hundred yards north of their camp. There were bones protruding from the rocks, the bones and rocks both white. A few bones lay on the ground. “Cave-in,” Treebone announced.
“You retire to a second career as a medical examiner?”
“Handled more stiffs than a lot of them smock-boys. You see the broke finger bones?”
“I'm thinkin' cave-inâfingers got broke tryin' ta claw their way out. Found a ho one time, Sweet Quim Polinka, she run girls Flint to Toledo, but King Luther Martin, aka Batshit, the downriver pussy boss, he offer to buy her out, set her up in West Palm, retire her with honor, bank account, and pussy intact. She send word, âFuck off, nigger!' Batshit, he tell his boys, âBury that ho-bitch.' Sweet Quim's hands look just like that when we found her.”
“Very instructive,” Service said. “Vice handled homicides in Detroit?”
Treebone audibly winced. “Man, don't you know Vice is the
of homicide. You gonna babysit bones all night?”
“It's a crime scene until forensics determines otherwise.”
Treebone grunted, shook his head, and squatted while Service used his cell phone to call conservation officer Simon del Olmo.
“Thought you and Tree were fishing?” the Cuban-born officer asked.
“My dog found two skeletons. You want to call Iron County, get the Troop specialist and deps rolling?”
Service gave his colleague GPS coordinates.
“North bank of the South Branch?” del Olmo queried.
“That's affirm, just off the Rec Trail.”
“See you there.”
“No need for you to come out tonight.”
“Elza's on her four-wheeler up that way. Skeletons in the woods? We both gotta see
Elza Grinda covered west Iron County, del Olmo the east. The two officers lived together in a house near the village of Alpha. The highly competent Grinda was known throughout the DNR as Sheena. She was beautiful, with long, thick hair and intense blue eyes. She had wanted to become a detective and Service had gotten the job she had wanted, which had for a brief time caused hard feelings on her part. Now they were friends.
“We're just at the Rec Trail where it makes a ninety to the east.”
“Cool. You got your 800 with you?”
“Bump you later,” del Olmo said, hanging up.
Treebone looked at Newf. “See what you gone and done?”
A gray wolf howled from a ridge to the north. “One a yo boyfriends?” Tree asked the dog, which ignored him. Last year she had mated with a wolf and produced a dozen pups, all later shipped to a licensed sanctuary in Wisconsin.
Service looked at his friend.
“Sweet Quim Polinka?”
The names of Treebone's criminals and his stories had been a source of amusement for years.
“Swear to Jesus. 'Fore she run her own show as mama-san, johns fly from other continents root-hog that ho, I'm talkin' Saudi princes, Barranquilla blow-kings, Jap business dudes . . . She world-class, had more twisty-ass moves than a dyin' snake, street say. And clean. Busted her once in company of Tripod Kennedy.”
Tripod Kennedy had been a longtime, very popular Detroit Pistons bench player in the glory years of Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars, his nickname reflecting the enormity of a certain appendage.
“Tripod, he made the bail for her. Nice boy, polite, smart, a lawyer in Austin now. I say, âTripod, what you thinkin', bailin' that ho?' ”
Treebone's stories had long been one of Service's great pleasures, and he let his friend finish with the punch line. With Tree, there was always a punch line.
“He say, âReal talkâweren't my brain made that decision, say?' ”
Treebone sighed. “This surely will ruin our fishin' tomorrow.”
“Like you said, they're just bones, probably old.”
“You be the shit magnet of shit magnets,” Treebone said. “You and that stinky old dog. You gone sit there in the dark all night or head back to the nice warm campfire?”
“Better hang here. Newf carried away bones. Other critters could do the same.”
“Ever the po-fessional,” his friend said mockingly as he trundled back toward the river. “Be coffee waitin'.”
“Send Grinda and the deps to me when they get here.”
“I look like your tour director?”
Grady Service sat beside the bones in the dark, remembering boneyards of the past: a cedar swamp in spring littered with desiccated deer carcasses, and in the crotch of a broken tree, the leg bones of a deer that got stuck as wolves or coyotes stripped its meat, the bones left in place, wedged too tight to be moved, a grisly monument to the sort of violent death that marked life in the wild. Out here Walt Disney was a sick joke.
In Vietnam a Korean unit set up base camp in a Vietnamese graveyard and the monsoon washed out the graves, scattering bones; the Koreans then used the bones to construct their fence perimeter and added fresh heads of enemy soldiers on stakes. Combat shorthand: Stay the fuck away!
The temperature was dropping. Service put on his gloves and slapped his hands together. Why bones here? Lost hunters or fishermen? Not likely. They got reported. Something else then: Trapper, logger, prospector, something old, not new. He reviewed the area map in his mind. They were about two miles east of an old rail junction called Elmwood in West Iron County. The U.P. was filled with names and no histories. Elmwood: a name, a blank, not a town. The bones didn't even have names.
Sheena Grinda came in through the dark, moving quietly, but not quietly enough to elude his hearing. She was a pro, self-contained, thorough, fearless, and showed up with blood caked in her hair and a bloody ear.
“Your four-wheeler buck you?”
“LF Two,” she said, rubbing her jaw.
“Our Mother Earth offshootâLet Fish Live Free, technicallyâbut Omears to the core.”
Service had heard of OmearâOur Mother Earthâan all-female eco-group labeled eco-terrorists by the FBI. LF Two drew a blank.
“There was information that the greenie weenies were planning something for the second day of trout season, and I got a tip that strangers were seen hanging around a camp near the Tamarack River. So, I went to look. They had battery-powered motion sensors, which I completely missed. I walked into an ambush, a big dry stick, not fresh-cut. The stick broke, they ran, and I started tracking.”
She shook her head. “He'll just worry.”
“He's en route.”
“I know. My patrol's done. The trail petered out. Amateurs with sticks, but they know how to hide their tracks and sign.”
“Hard to read. I'm thinking four, maybe five.”
“Chromosomally,” Grinda said. “Little feet.”
“I've got ice packs in my fishing pack at the camp,” Service told her. “Disposables.”
“What have you got here?” she asked.
“Bones.” He shone his flashlight against the boulders. “Two skulls at our camp.”
She said, “Simon called the county. The deps and a Troop forensics specialist are rolling. He'll lead them down the Rec Trail.”
“The medical examiner in this county doesn't like being called out until the Troop specialist deems it necessary,” Grinda added.
“Tough to get a doctor to take the ME job up here. You'll hear more about it, I'm sure.”
The recreational trail was the old Chicago and Northwestern railroad bed, long ago stripped of tracks and ties, and converted to a narrow high-berm roadway for pickups, snowmobiles, and four-wheelersâthe so-called Iron County Recreational Trail, or the Rec.
“Make anything out of the bones?” she asked.
“I just find. Others interpret.”
“You guys catch any fish today?”