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Authors: Mark Stevens

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BOOK: Trapline
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2014 by Mark Stevens

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either 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.

First e-book edition © 2014

E-book ISBN: 978-0-7387-4381-3

Book design by Donna Burch-Brown

Cover design by Lisa Novak

Cover images:129460/Dale Robins/;
57478434/Taylor S. Kennedy/National Geographic Collection/Getty Images

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Midnight Ink

Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

2143 Wooddale Drive

Woodbury, MN 55125

Manufactured in the United States of America


This one is for my three favorite women—
Jody, Ally, and Justine


Many thanks to private detective David Keil, who offered hours of insight. “America's Secret ICE Castles,” an article published in
The Nation
by Jacqueline Stevens and the documentary “Lost in Detention,” written and directed by Rick Young and aired on
PBS Frontline
, offered inside looks at national issues with immigration and incarceration. Rachel Maddow's coverage of issues with private prisons generated fresh leads and insight.
Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone
, by Terry Greene Sterling, provided excellent details as did
The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from The Arizona Borderlands
, by Margaret Regan. Frank McGee of Colorado State Parks & Wildlife answered many, many questions about wildlife and criminal investigations in the woods. And Renee Rumrill, well, I wouldn't be here without you and thanks also for your sharp eye on the manuscript.

To my late pal Gary Reilly, thank you for planting the seed for this story. This was your idea. Thanks to my friend Ralph Beall for pointing me to Richard Connell. Editor Shana Kelly's big-picture insights and thoughtful analysis of the story were golden. Suzanne Gluck and Eve Atterman, thank you both for your enthusiasm for Allison Coil as a character and for several critical ideas for this final version of the story. Thanks to Stephen Singular, Barry Wightman, Mike Keefe, Allyn Harvey, and Mark Eddy for detailed readings. Mark Graham, thank you for your support and advice over the decades and for a thoughtful take on this story. Thanks also to the entire Short Story Book Club—Ted Pinkowitz, Susan Fox, Dan Slattery, Parry Burnap, Laura Snapp, and my wife, Jody Chapel—for tackling the tough job as beta readers. Many thanks to my three girls—Jody, Ally, and Justine—for their unwavering support and enthusiasm. Deep thanks to the ever-strategic Linda Hull (for obvious reasons) and many thanks to Terri Bischoff, who has done so much as an editor to champion good mysteries everywhere and who helped shape this story in particular.

sunday noon

The aspen trees stood
like students at a new school. Nobody wanted to get too close. The sun washed Lumberjack Camp in a gold-green bath. Allison Coil wished she had a camera. Even better, Allison wished she had the time and inclination to store and savor the thousands of killer shots she could have snapped over the years that she had basked in the seasons, particularly late summer and fall, in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado.

“You don't shoot pictures either, do you?” asked Allison.

“What do you mean ‘either'?” said Colin.

“Well, I don't,” said Allison. “So you'd be either.”

“You never did?”

The grove that marked Lumberjack Camp stood a quarter-mile across an open meadow. They rode single file on the narrow trail, Allison on Sunny Boy and Colin on the ever-dependable Merlin.

“Not really,” said Allison. A pocket-size digital was back in her A-frame but she couldn't remember the last time she'd used it. “Plenty of mental photographs, some real prize-winners. I need to figure out a way to download them from my brain, frame them, and enter the big-money contests.”

“If you figure that out, you might be a rich woman before you sell your first picture,” said Colin.

They were meeting up with William Sulchuk, a businessman from Glenwood Springs. Allison reminded herself
, not Will or Bill. He went out of his way to urge use of the full name. He had become a regular late-season client and he had a knack for bagging trophy bulls.

William Sulchuk had called two days earlier and asked a favor. He wanted to come up to the wilderness with his daughter Gail, who had turned thirteen and was now ready, he believed, to learn how to hunt. He thought an hour or two of exposure with a real-life outfitter and hunting guide might rub off. When Allison had told him she planned to be up on the Flat Tops, they agreed on Lumberjack Camp around noon. William would have three other friends in tow, all with teenage offspring.

If all went well, they would utter their
, talk a bit about scouting for elk, and be on their way.

“Not in another place, but this place,” said Allison.


“Not in another hour, but this hour,” she said, turning around with the sure knowledge that he would be giving her a whacky look. She was not disappointed. He screwed up his face like she was speaking Greek.

“Happiness,” she said. “It's a Walt Whitman line. The ‘Leaves of Grass' guy. Today. It's a gift.”

“Gifts are good,” said Colin, playing along.

“Happy as those aspens in the sun,” she said. A neat line of eight horses stood at the camp's hitching rail on the outer edge of the aspen grove.

“The trees. Are happy?” Colin liked playing the backwoods hick.

“How could anything so beautiful not be happy?” she said. “It's impossible.”

The horses suggested humanity, but the grove looked otherwise empty.

The fire ring consisted of uniform rocks the size of soccer balls. A twenty-foot section of a well-worn fir tree formed the official camp sitting log. Allison dismounted at the same time as a childish squeal pierced the quiet and alerted her to a cluster of pint-sized human forms on the far side of the trees.

“Apparently the children have all eaten their parental units,” said Colin, climbing down from Merlin. “We're next.”

He looked around, faux suspicion on his face.

They were eight weeks shy of their second full year together. Allison still relished Colin's casual strength and boundless outdoor talents. His latest phase involved primitive hunting skills—stick throwing, snaring, and experiments with the atlatl, the prehistoric arrow-slinging weapon. Colin's Colorado roots ran deep. His mountain roots ran deeper. His middle name could be “Indigenous.”

“I see no boiling pot of water. Unless they are all carrying machetes in their teeth, I think we have a chance,” said Colin. “I'm already questioning the parenting skills of this man you call William, however.”

She had rehearsed him on the
and he emphasized it.

There were two boys and two girls, all in unsoiled hunting garb. Their serious expressions were laced with a hint of dread. Three went back to look at whatever they were watching, but the fourth, a girl with dirty blond hair tied up in pigtails and easily the tallest among the four, greeted them with worried eyes. She had a long face, perfect patches of delicate freckles on her cheeks and studded diamond earrings that looked real. Allison knew she lacked any expertise. Something about the girl reeked of plush bedrooms done up in girlish pink. A whiff of sweet perfume like strawberries hung in the air. Out here, wearing the scent would have the same effect as running around in the woods carrying a boom box on your shoulder blasting hip-hop. She wouldn't be sneaking up on any animals anytime soon. She reminded Allison of herself at that age.

“I'm Gail,” she said.

“And I'm Allison and this is Colin,” said Allison, shaking hands.

Gail's eyes were the kind of blue that would no doubt make men weep for decades to come. She might be thirteen but her father apparently didn't object if she added three years, or six, with makeup.

“What's going on?” said Allison, noting Colin's fixation. No doubt
it had been many moons since he had spotted such a rare species as well-kept, upper-middle-class American Female Teenager, especially up close.

Gail took a breath. She'd been holding something in. Being asked to use words required tears to accompany the narrative.

“They're up in the woods,” said Gail. Her chin vibrated.

Allison put an arm around Gail, who willingly took the comfort.

“They are up in the woods,” said Gail, taking another run at maintaining composure. “I was up there with my dad. We were … My dad … mushrooms …”

The sobbing hit full force.

“A body,” said one of the two boys bluntly. “Nasty. And we all saw it first.”

Gail's sobs deepened, perhaps at the further indignation.

Allison asked the other three for their names—Sophie, Joey, and Henry. “But Hank is better.”

“He's on his back,” said Hank, who had stepped up with an air of casual indifference. “I mean, his face is pretty gross and stuff, but from his chest down, I mean. It's gone.”

sunday noon

As the sidewalk tightened
and the crush of followers grew, Duncan Bloom elbowed his way to the front, not wanting to lose sight of the candidate.
would be a cardinal no-no. The throng had grown tight with fans and bystanders and tourists caught up in a rock star wave of excitement. The crowd bulged out onto the road and police worked to keep one lane of traffic open.

Autographs, handshakes, hi-how-are-you's.

Repeat. Smile.

Bloom took notes and a picture with his cell phone. Visual notes.

Tom Lamott, the center of attention, wore a white golf shirt with the campaign logo over faded jeans. The golf shirt hinted at country club. The pants said weekend dad. He stood six-three. His head bobbed in the stew of humanity. The overall frame was lanky—maybe two hundred pounds. His healthy color and relaxed smile belied the fact that he had survived a grueling primary fight to represent Colorado in the U.S. Senate as a Democrat.

Across the street, a band of silent protesters stood vigil. There were six in this group, the third such band Bloom had spotted on Lamott's walk down Grand Avenue.

“Duncan?” The voice came from behind him, along with a gentle tap on the bicep.

His profile of Trudy Heath had earned Bloom a statewide award
for feature writing. For multiple reasons, Trudy was hardly an unknown before Bloom wrote about her. The Denver papers and a few national outlets had followed the story of how her ex-husband had murdered two guides and rigged hunts for high-end clients. Trudy, who had been confined to her house due to an untreated case of epilepsy and who had been kept in the dark about the ugly side of her husband's operation, emerged like a butterfly from the dark cocoon.

She was now watching her regional celebrity rise through the explosion of her regional brand of herbs, pestos, and other natural food products. Bloom had written a piece marking the three-year anniversary of the arrest of her husband, George Grumley, and a few shorter pieces about her role leading the green movement in and around Glenwood Springs. Bloom had written a catch-up profile on Trudy and had met and interviewed her boyfriend and business manager, Jerry Paige, and thought he had made friends.

“How are you?” said Bloom.

“Good,” said Trudy. “I had to hear Tom Lamott myself. Something more than the news clips, you know?”

Trudy Heath glowed with a woodsy charm. She exuded quiet confidence. You looked into her eyes, insanely white where they weren't creamy brown, and you found yourself thinking about green vegetables, plump tomatoes, and life as a vitamin vacuum.

“Mind if I quote you?”

Trudy smiled. “Not this time, okay?”

“Sure,” said Bloom. “How's Allison?”

In Bloom's brief time in Glenwood Springs, no feature assignment had lingered longer than the Trudy Heath profile. First, for meeting Trudy and absorbing her grounded, serene view of the world. Second, for meeting the mysterious and slightly more inscrutable Allison Coil, who had dropped in during the lunch Trudy had prepared in her part-greenhouse cabin-cum-house on the edge of the Flat Tops. For Bloom, the sight of Allison made him want to know every scrap of her mind, heart, and flesh, and how those elements came together to form this intriguing woman from the wilderness, who might have been bred from some magical concoction of tree bark and horse sweat. The day lingered in his memory like a gift from another world, where concerns of the big city didn't interfere. Certainly Allison Coil had sprung whole from the Flat Tops and he tried to hide his surprise when he learned later that she had emigrated from the big city.

“She's fine,” said Trudy. “She's up there somewhere today, doing some scouting,” said Trudy.

“I'd love to go riding with her sometime,” said Bloom. The thought
of having a shot at Allison Coil had stayed with him for weeks. He hadn't sensed a half-encouraging smile from her, but the fantasy stuck. He was in good shape and a series of Denver girlfriends had enjoyed his company. Now that he had moved to the high country, mountain hikes kept him fit and trim. He let his brown hair grow shaggy between haircuts and let his wardrobe reduce itself to blue jeans, a series of pullovers, simple shirts, and running shoes. His last girlfriend, a lefty lawyer who worked on water issues, told him he could have passed for Tom Hanks' younger brother. Basically, that told Bloom that his everyday-okay appearance only meant he might get his foot in the front door.

“I'm sure she'd take you,” said Trudy. “It's a matter of setting something up.
But not for another story, right?”

“Just for fun,” said Bloom.

The throng crammed in around the Doc Holliday Tavern, where Grand Avenue climbed the bridge over the Colorado River. Lamott stayed on street level, heading to the footbridge that paralleled the vehicle traffic bridge. Lamott's itinerary, the one e-mailed to all reporters, noted that Lamott would make a statement here, at the base of the footbridge, before heading over, alone.

“Does he do it for you?”

“He's impressive,” said Trudy.

“What is it about him—can you put your finger on it?”

Trudy mulled the question, raised her neat dark-brown eyebrows, a shade darker than her hair. Her features were delicate but she looked like she could handle anything, including long days digging and turning soil. “His ideas seem so grounded in the way this country works—helping to fix problems, not getting sucked into the shrill yelling matches.”

Bloom said good-bye to Trudy and wedged his way closer to Lamott, who had made his way up on a step of the footbridge.

Lamott held up his hand and the crowd grew quiet. Somebody handed him a microphone connected to a portable amp.

Every detail covered and right on time.

“My name is Tom Lamott and I'm a politician. You know there are two kinds of politicians, don't you?” He paused, smiled. “Yep, two kinds. The first kind can talk nonsense on any subject under the sun. The second kind don't need a subject.”

Lamott launched into his canned speech. Bloom had heard every talking point through YouTube videos and coverage in the Denver papers. Lamott laid out his vision for embracing Mexico as a neighbor, treating them like a neighbor.

Crowd about half Hispanic.

Lamott's campaign challenge involved turning out the vote in November, but his team had already shown enough organizational skill that Republicans were petrified.

Lamott reached the end of his five-minute stump spiel. He paused, looked around, smiled.

Crowd quiet, attentive. Usual themes. Boyishly confident.

Bloom had read the next section of Lamott's speech online.
Ad nauseum.
It was the sensation, all the rage. It had landed Tom Lamott a mention in
Time Magazine
and the
New York Times
and, of course, Univision.

Lamott started speaking in Spanish.

It wasn't broken, token foreign language. His Spanish had depth, nuance. Bloom had spent a summer in Cozumel and had soaked up as much conversational Spanish as anyone, but when Lamott spoke in Spanish, the accents and inflections seemed natural.

This isn't Kennedy's
Ich Bin Ein Berliner
. This is a politician who wants to communicate.

“Nobody is saying the United States of America should abandon the English language,” said Lamott. “Hardly.”

Lamott smiled. He watched the statement sink in.

This was all said in Spanish, but Bloom could follow along with the script e-mailed (“please keep the Earth in mind should you choose to print this document”) in advance.

“But to work with each other—and I would suggest that the United States and Mexico not only must work together, but that we rely on each other—we must understand each other. And what better way than to speak each other's languages, I ask you?” Famously, Lamott had learned every lick of Spanish in his middle and high school years at a public school, the Denver Center for International Studies, and then the University of Colorado, where he had double majored in Spanish and Political Science.

Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall. Tom Lamott wants to bring down the tortilla curtain.

A photographer draped with a bundle of cameras around his neck stood two stairs up and behind Lamott, snapping away.

“Thank you, Glenwood Springs,” said Lamott. “Thank you for your hospitality. We all know there are challenges today—primarily economic—and we must work together to repair what's broken. We can do that if we work together, if we find common ground and agree on a plan. I know words are easy. The work is hard. But if we're committed to do it, we can find a way.”

No script. Metal water bottle in one hand. Audience rapt.

Briefly, Bloom thought Lamott caught his eye. And Bloom wondered if Lamott knew that the reporter who had hounded him in Denver now worked in Glenwood Springs.

“If you want to see conditions deteriorate with your neighbors, you build higher fences, point fingers, and make up scary scenarios that play on fears. I believe we can do better. Come November, I hope you will give me a chance.”

The immigration “problem” had faded as a front-burner campaign issue with fewer immigrants making their way illegally across the border—lower birth rates in Mexico, for one, and scarce jobs in the United States, for two. But hatred simmered.

Wild applause. Whoops like a sporting event.

Again Lamott seemed to look over and nod in Bloom's direction.

No matter what had happened in Denver, Bloom would treat this day like any reporter covering any campaign stop. He considered himself pretty good at burying the hatchet.

“Now the campaign manager wants a few pictures of me on the bridge. I need a few minutes alone up there. Again, thank you to each and every one of you.”

He respects his audience. Or fakes it extremely well.

Standing in the throng of Lamott's supporters now, Bloom thought he could feel the city turn, ever so slightly, on its collective heels.

Lamott's official media spokesperson, the young and stunning Stacey Trujillo, who had first greeted Bloom when Lamott stepped off his bus back in Sayre Park, gave Bloom a head nod as if to say “follow me.” Bloom wedged his way through the crowd and up the pedestrian bridge.

“Just wanted to make sure you've got all you need,” she said.

“Is it like this everywhere?” asked Bloom. “This kind of a turnout?”

“It's insane,” she said. “In a good way.”

Over the first part of the bridge going north, steel mesh siding rose about twelve feet on both sides. You could walk over the Colorado River and then the four lanes of Interstate 70, but you couldn't jump and kill yourself and you couldn't throw any crap over, either. The northern half of the footbridge had a railing of more or less regular waist-high height and more mesh from the grade level up to the railing. You could jump, Bloom supposed, but you'd land in the parking lot of the hot springs pool and at least they wouldn't have to put boats in the water to fish you out.

Ahead, Tom Lamott posed, smiling and then not smiling, leaning on the rail and then standing more erect, arms folded over his chest.

The photographer took pictures at a rapid-fire pace, from fifteen feet away.

The first bullet smacked metal near Lamott. A sharp

Bloom ducked, put his arm up in a gesture of useless reflex. The sound alone was mean and violent.

Stacey let out a yelp like she'd been goosed. The photographer froze.

The second
struck closer to Bloom than the first. Bloom's skin prickled. Stacey yelped again.

The third shot had the
but no
and Bloom heard Lamott cry out like he'd been punched. His white golf shirt blossomed bright red at his shoulder.

The fourth shot caught Lamott as he buckled and he spun. He crumpled and rolled, ended up on his back.

Bloom grabbed his phone. Password in, phone button pushed.

Don't blow this.

He dialed, flattened down. He tried to crawl under the asphalt.

Bloom looked out through the mesh and up the river, scanning. There was nobody on top of the train station. The river looked normal. He crab-walked over to Lamott, stayed low.

“911 Emergency. May I help you?”

A woman's voice. Calm.

Stacey sobbed. Bloom stared out through the steel mesh, searching for anything out of place in the riverside bushes or woods that covered the slope in the far distance, upriver.

The rip in his shirt offered an ugly window into Lamott's upper chest—blood gushed from the cavity and raced down his neck. The blood pooled black behind his head. Between pulses of red fluid, a shattered bone, most likely clavicle, revealed jagged edges. The sound coming from Lamott's throat was a dry rasp. Agony. Shock. His mouth was frozen open in horror and disbelief. Desperation filled Lamott's eyes. Lamott's look might have been the same if he was falling backward off El Capitan.

“Are you there?” asked the voice in Bloom's ear. “Are you there?”

BOOK: Trapline
2.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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