Long Range – C.J. Box

THE SLEEK GOLDEN PROJECTILE EXPLODED INTO THE THIN mountain air at three thousand feet per second. It was long and heavy with a precise pointed tip and a boat-tail design tapering from the back shank, and it twisted at over three hundred and fifty thousand rotations per minute. Designed by ballistic engineers and weighing one hundred and eighty grains, or slightly less than half an ounce, the bullet was entirely jacketed by a smooth gilding of ninety-five percent copper and five percent zinc, with a wall-thickness variation of near zero. The pointed red ballistic tip of the nose also served as a heat shield. The projectile was engineered to withstand the extreme aerodynamic heating effects produced by the speed of its trajectory. Inside the jacketed round was a soft lead core. Upon impact and deep penetration, the ballistic tip would drive backward into the lead core and expand the projectile into a mushroom shape in order to create a large wound cavity. It sliced through the windless evening in absolute silence. But far behind it, two distinct sounds rang out: the report of the shot itself and the sharp crack in the air as the bullet broke the sound barrier. The rocky rise and the sagebrush-encrusted foothills of the Bighorn Mountains receded from view until they blended into the layered landscape. One second. The crowns of river cottonwood trees passed far below, as did the lazy S-curves of the Twelve Sleep River. Two distant drift boats hugged the eastern bank as fishers cast to deep pools and holes darker in color than the rest of the river. As if in bas-relief, fishing guides manned the oars and pointed out rising trout for their clients. Below, a V of geese held in a frozen pattern over the river as they glided toward a field to the south.

Above, a red-tailed hawk hovered motionless in a thermal current as it scoured the landscape for rabbits and gophers. One point five seconds. A cow moose and her two calves pushed through the willows without stealth or grace to splash into the river ahead, out of view of the angling boats. A river otter slipped into the current without a ripple. Bald eagles on dead branches studied the current below them and didn’t look up as the bullet zipped by hundreds of feet above. The cow moose flinched and raised her head at the sound of the crack. Two seconds. An ocher spoor of dust trailed a tractor equipped to gather up large round hay bales in an irrigated field on the other side of the river. The dust was infused with the last blast of sunlight from the summit of the western mountains and the combine produced an outsized impression on the bronze terrain. The backs of Black Angus cattle covered the pasture like cartoon balloons, each animal tethered to its own long shadow.

The red roof of a barn shot by below, and ravens circled the fresh kill of a jackrabbit hit by a motorist on a black ribbon of highway. Two point five seconds. Almost imperceptibly, the bullet began to drop and slow and drift slightly to the left, a motion called the aerodynamic jump. Because it was flying east to west through the air, its course was altered slightly by the gravitational force of the rotation of the earth known as the Eötvös effect. The fourteenth and fifteenth fairways of a golf course scrolled by below, the turf freckled with the gold leaves of fall. A small herd of mule deer grazed on the grass near the clubhouse, unaware that interlopers—white-tailed deer from outside the area—were flanking the mulies in a raid that would play out in minutes. A large band of pronghorn antelope, their backs lit up by the shaft of light, flowed like liquid across a sagebrush flat on the other side of a service road beyond the golf course. Three seconds. A series of expensive homes constructed of gray rocks and heavy dark wood backed up to the fifteenth fairway. Covered lawn furniture and dormant barbecue grills sat on flat-rock patios.

Two of the homes were occupied, but only one had lights on. The home with the lights was dead ahead, and a large plate-glass window illuminated from within formed a yellow rectangle. Beyond the glass, inside, a small dark man sat behind a dining room table. He was staring intently in the direction of the mule deer. The table was set with a bottle of wine and two glasses, and place settings that glinted in the reflection of an overhead elk-antler chandelier. The window and the face of the man inside got larger. Three point five seconds. The man at the table announced something and gestured with his hand as he did so, accidentally scattering the silverware beside his plate. He leaned to his side to retrieve an errant spoon at the exact second the bullet punched through the glass. The void left by the man was suddenly filled by the figure of a woman just behind him.

She was entering the dining room from the kitchen, carrying a platter of pork chops aloft in both hands. The top button of her blouse enlarged exponentially and then there was a high impact and an explosion of red and black. TWO WYOMING GAME WARDEN JOE PICKETT WAS IN AN UNFAMILIAR saddle on the wide back of an unfamiliar horse when the call came for him to return to his Saddlestring District immediately, “if not sooner.” He was eight miles from the trailhead in the Teton Wilderness with three other riders, all on stout mountain quarter horses. Snow had dusted the treeless tops of the Gros Ventre and Teton Ranges during the night and it was cold enough that clouds of condensation haloed their heads. They’d saddled up in the parking lot of the Forest Service campground before dawn using headlamps to see. The leather of the saddles, reins, and latigos had been stiff with the fall morning cold, and it had taken a full two hours of riding in the light of the sun before the frost in the grass melted away and Joe’s tack thawed out enough to be supple. They’d assembled and left so early for a grim reason: to locate the mauled and likely dead body of a local elk-hunting guide who’d been attacked the evening before by a grizzly bear. Or at least that’s what his client, a hunter from Boca Grande, Florida, had claimed. Joe rode with his twelve-gauge shotgun out of its scabbard and crosswise over the pommel of his saddle.

He’d loaded it with alternating rounds of slugs and double-aught buckshot. His bear spray was on his belt and he’d made a point to unhook the safety strap that held the canister tight in its holster. Over his shoulder was a semiautomatic Smith & Wesson M&P rifle chambered in .308 Winchester with a bipod and red dot scope and a twenty-round magazine. Two of the other riders carried the same weapon because it had recently replaced M14 carbines in the arsenal of the department’s newly formed Predator Attack Team—a heavily armed, specially trained SWAT team created for bear incidents—to which Joe had recently been named. His senses were on high alert for the sight, sound, or smell of a rogue six-hundred-pound bear. To Joe, every noise—whether it was the click of a hoof on a rock or the chatter of a squirrel in the branches of the trees—seemed magnified. He was jumpy and his mouth was dry. The coffee and jerky they’d eaten for breakfast that morning on the drive out to the campground roiled in his stomach. Although he’d been on many similar horseback expeditions, this one felt oddly different.

With all three of his daughters out of the house and Marybeth alone at home, Joe couldn’t help but feel he was getting too old for this kind of thing. He did his best to repress the thought and concentrate on the task at hand, although he couldn’t deny that he missed his wife and he wished she were closer. * JOE RODE THIRD in the string of horses, and his mount seemed to be most comfortable in that configuration. There was always a learning curve when it came to riding someone else’s horse, and he didn’t know the pecking order of the herd or the characteristics of the mount beforehand. Joe wished he were riding Toby, his wife’s well-trained horse, or Rojo, his gelding. Even a sure-footed and bomb-proof mule would do. A Jackson biologist named Eddie Smith, also a member of the Predator Attack Team, rode last on a bay gelding. Like Joe, Smith had a Smith & Wesson M&P semiautomatic rifle chambered in .308 across the pommel of his saddle. The weapon had a twenty-round magazine and a red dot scope.

His job was to cover the riders in front of him and to be the first to bail off his horse and confront trouble if it happened. Joe had had no idea when he’d driven over the mountains to Jackson Hole the previous afternoon that he’d be pressed into helping find the mangled body of a local guide. Or that he’d be given a gelding named Peaches to do it. * JACKSON HOLE game warden Mike Martin led the search and recovery operation. Martin had been hired by the agency the year before Joe, and Martin was badge number eighteen of fifty in terms of seniority. Joe had badge number nineteen, meaning there were eighteen game wardens with more seniority on the job and thirty-one with less. Like Joe, Martin had bounced around all over the state of Wyoming in his career. He’d lived in half a dozen state-owned homes—called “stations”—and he’d been responsible for enforcing the Game and Fish regulations in high mountains, arid deserts, and vast sagebrush-covered steppes. Since the districts in Wyoming ranged from two thousand to more than five thousand square miles, Martin had spent a lot of his life in pickup trucks, on ATVs and boats, or on the backs of horses. Martin had a battered cowboy hat, a thick gunfighter mustache, jowls, and round wire-framed glasses that made him look like a modern-day Teddy Roosevelt.

His middle had thickened substantially over the years and strained the buttons of his red uniform shirt, but he was still surprisingly strong and agile and a better horseman than Joe. Joe and Martin had worked together a few times over the years on cases that spanned both of their districts, and they got along well. Martin was brusque and flinty and proud of how out of step he looked when he was in a room with wealthy, sophisticated Jackson Hole resort elites. He’d become more curmudgeonly and cantankerous by the year, Joe thought. Martin was a fish out of water, a throwback, and it didn’t seem to bother him at all. Joe could tell that Martin was also subtly suspicious of the man riding second and at times side by side with him: the Florida hunter. “You’re sure this is the trail you took going in and coming out?” Martin asked the man, whose name was Julius Talbot. Talbot was dressed in high-tech camo hunting clothing that must have cost more than two thousand dollars from boots to cap. He had prematurely silver hair, a nice tan, pale blue eyes, and a jawline that made him look arrogant, whether he was or not. The only thing that marred his outfit were the floral-like splashes of dark blood on his pants and sleeves from the day before.

The blood, he claimed, had come from the guide, not the elk he’d shot. “I’m pretty sure it is,” Talbot said. “Sure or pretty sure?” “Sure enough,” Talbot said. “And it’s not much farther, I don’t think.” “Our horses will let us know,” Martin said, extending his hand to pat his mount on the neck. “They didn’t yesterday,” Talbot said. Martin grunted in response. When Talbot turned his head away from the game warden, Martin looked over his shoulder at Joe and rolled his eyes. Joe nodded back. He didn’t know what to think of Talbot and he had his own doubts that the attack had taken place exactly as he had described it.

Talbot said, “I hope we can get in and out of here fast. I have a meeting in Boca tomorrow I can’t miss.” “You might just have to,” Martin said without looking at Talbot. Joe could sense the tightness in Martin’s tone, as if the man were speaking through clenched teeth. “If what you say is true, there’s a dead man up ahead who was working for you. He has a wife and three kids at home. You might just have to postpone that meeting of yours.” Julius Talbot sighed. He seemed to Joe to be quite put out by Martin’s insistence that he come into the timber with them to point out the site of the attack. It was odd behavior, Joe thought, although not shocking.

In too many instances, out-of-state hunters used to being catered to by underlings in all the other phases of their executive lives expected the same kind of subservient behavior from guides and outfitters in the field. That wasn’t the right way to do things in the Mountain West, where wealth and class didn’t mean as much to the locals as it might in other places. The best thing someone could say about a newcomer was that he was a “good guy.” Not a rich guy, a good one. Joe found Talbot’s attitude as annoying as Martin seemed to. * ALTHOUGH IT WAS in the midst of fall big-game hunting season throughout the state, Joe had agreed to drive over the mountains from his own district to Jackson Hole. He’d slipped away without telling anyone other than Marybeth about it, because he didn’t want word to get out to local miscreants in the Saddlestring District that he wouldn’t be on patrol. The call had come to Joe from Rick Ewig, the director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Cheyenne. Ewig worked in the Katelyn Hamm Building, newly named after the game warden who had recently lost her life while on duty. Ewig was a former game warden himself, and he’d asked Joe to meet up with Martin so the two of them could assess the effectiveness of a new piece of technology for finding lost people in the mountains.

If the technology worked as well as or better than the FLIR (forward-looking infrared) camera equipment currently used by the Wyoming Civil Air Patrol, Ewig said he might add a couple of the devices to his annual budget request. Skiers in Jackson Hole were buried every year by avalanches, and hunters frequently became disoriented and lost in the dense alpine terrain. Finding them diverted manpower and resources, so any technology that could speed up searches would save not only money and time—but their very lives. The experimental system known as a Lifeseeker supposedly worked because it could home in on individual cell phones even in remote areas with no cell service—provided the lost person’s phone was turned on. A local philanthropist in Jackson had donated one of the $100,000 Lifeseeker boxes to the Teton County Search and Rescue team for which Martin was a liaison. The plan was for Joe and Martin to fly in a helicopter over the Gros Ventre mountains to see if they could identify people below by the strength of their cell signals. It was densely wooded terrain, and nearly impossible to see through the canopy of pine trees to the ground below. They’d note the GPS coordinates and follow up on the ground later to see if the sightings could be confirmed. If the Lifeseeker turned out to be a reliable tool in search and rescue efforts, it would likely be incorporated by the Predator Attack Team to pinpoint the location of some human–bear encounters. When Martin and Joe heard about the bear attack, they were circling the Lifeseeker box on a table in the conference room of the Jackson Game and Fish station, trying to figure out how the dials and display worked.

The Teton County sheriff had called to say they were transporting a hunter into town. His guys had picked him up after he’d signaled a passing unit near Turpin Meadow. The hunter, the sheriff said, had a wild story. * MARTIN HAD INTERVIEWED Talbot in the same conference room, and asked Joe to be present during the initial statement. Talbot claimed that he’d booked a trophy elk hunt months before with a local outfitting company, and that a guide named Jim Trenary had been assigned to him. Trenary seemed like a knowledgeable guide, Talbot thought, and he was pleased to have drawn him. The man seemed pleasant enough and fun-loving, but serious about his job. He made sure Talbot knew that grizzlies were present in significant numbers in the area where they’d be hunting, and that the bears sometimes moved in on elk kills or gut piles to feed. As long as the hunter was cautious and carried bear spray and a firearm at all times, there was little to worry about, Trenary had said. He’d cautioned Talbot never to put himself in danger by walking between a sow grizzly and her cubs.

As Talbot talked, Joe noted that the hunter always referred to Jim Trenary as “my guide” instead of using his given name. It was a revealing tell. It was as if Trenary were simply a tool to get Talbot what he wanted, not an individual. And the story Talbot told wasn’t only wild, Joe thought, it was bizarre. According to Talbot, they had ridden two horses and trailed a packhorse into the hunting area the day before. Around noon, Trenary pointed out a small herd of elk standing in the shadows of a wall of trees on the side of a mountain meadow. Talbot picked out the largest bull with a set of five-by-six antlers. Trenary used his range finder to determine that the target was one hundred and fifty yards away. Although it should have been an easy shot, Talbot had missed and the herd had spooked and run away. The guide and his hunter walked their mounts across the meadow where the elk had been, Talbot said.

They were going to follow the churned-up trail of the animals with the hope of finding them again. But before they got close enough to find the tracks, they heard something that sounded like a freight train on the mountain ahead of them. They could hear branches breaking as it crashed through the timber toward them. “Stand your ground and get out your bear spray,” Trenary ordered Julius Talbot. “It might do a false charge, so be ready.” Talbot said he did as he was told. The grizzly bear flattened a row of willows and came straight at them, Talbot said. It was unbelievably fast and huge, cinnamon in color, with a large hump on its back. It grunted as it ran, and Talbot said he could hear its plate-sized paws thump the ground. The horses they were holding panicked and bolted, running back in the direction from which they had come.

Talbot showed the two game wardens the abrasions in his palm where the reins had been pulled through. Both the hunter and the guide extended their canisters of bear spray toward the coming grizzly. “He’ll turn,” Trenary said. But he didn’t. Both men pulled the triggers of their canisters of bear spray, which should have created large red plumes of noxious pepper spray in front of them. But Talbot had forgotten to pull the pin that would arm his spray, and it didn’t fire. Trenary’s blast had been shot too soon, before the grizzly was in range, and the bear ducked nimbly to the side of it as the spray hung in the air. In his peripheral vision, Talbot said he saw the guide throw aside the canister and reach for his holstered .44 Magnum revolver. According to Talbot, the grizzly hit Trenary before the guide could aim his weapon.

The bear struck the guide so hard it knocked him backward off his feet into the grass. The revolver went flying. The bear went straight for the guide’s throat and face, furiously slashing with three-inch claws and teeth. Talbot said he couldn’t shoot the grizzly himself because the fury of the attack was so fast and intense that there was no way to get a clean shot without hitting Trenary. Since he’d fouled up his chance to use the bear spray, Talbot said he’d retreated to the other side of the meadow, hoping he could draw the bear away from the guide and get a shot. While he did so, the guide had screamed and fought back the best he could by hitting the bear in the face and kicking up at him. Then, Talbot said, the bear wheeled and ran back up the hill. He’d moved so fast Talbot couldn’t steady the crosshairs of his rifle enough to fire. Talbot found Trenary mauled, disemboweled, and bleeding profusely. The horses were long gone.

But Trenary was still breathing. Talbot tried to call for help on his phone, but there was no service. So he placed the .44 on the guide’s bloody chest so he’d have it handy if the bear came back. Then Talbot started the long hike out to get help. He never caught a glimpse of the horses along the way. It took four hours to reach the two-lane highway to the south, where he was able to flag down a deputy sheriff and hitch a ride to Jackson. * AFTER JULIUS TALBOT had left the room to get his hand attended to at the medical clinic, Martin had turned to Joe with a doubtful look on his face. “Did that sound as hinky to you as it did to me?” he’d asked. Joe nodded.

Martin asked, “Did you notice that he never used Jim’s name? Only ‘my guide’?” “I noticed.” “I’ll get him to agree to lead us to the location tomorrow,” Martin said. “I’d really like you to come along.” Joe didn’t respond at first. The Jackson office had more personnel than any other office in the state. “I know what you’re thinking,” Martin said, as if reading Joe’s mind. “You’re wondering why I don’t put together a team from here.” “That’s what I was wondering.” “Because I trust you and you’ve been around the block, just like me,” Martin said. “In fact, as you know, you’re kind of a legend.

” Joe felt his face flush hot. “I’d appreciate your expertise,” Martin said. “Besides, I know the folks here. Half of ’em would spend the whole time trying somehow to blame the bear attack on climate change. I want a straightforward assessment from someone I trust. Another set of experienced eyes. I’ll ask Eddie Smith to come along with us. He’s a good hand.” “What about the Lifeseeker test?” Joe asked. “We can do both things at once,” Martin said.

“We’ll send up the bird with the equipment while you and me and the wildlife supervisor go into the timber on horseback with Julius Talbot. Maybe the bird will locate Jim Trenary before we do. Maybe not. Either way, it’ll be good to have air support if we need to fly him out.” Joe nodded. It made sense. He appreciated the fact that Martin hadn’t referred to “the body”—even though the possibility of Trenary lasting through the night in his condition was improbable at best. They made plans to meet at the office the next morning at four-thirty. Martin had a string of horses assigned to his district. Jackson Hole was considered a “six-horse district” and it had good equine facilities.

“I suppose you want the youngest mustang,” Martin asked. “I do not.” Martin grinned to indicate he’d been kidding. * JOE LISTENED IN as Martin asked Talbot additional questions. In the distance, he heard the sound of the helicopter getting closer. “Walk me through this again,” Martin said to Talbot. “I’ve done this three times already.” “Let’s do it a fourth time.” Talbot sighed. “So you take a shot at a bull elk at one hundred fifty yards and you miss.

” “Yes,” Talbot said with irritation. No hunter liked to talk about when they missed. “Did you see where your bullet hit?” “No.” “Did Jim Trenary say anything about where it hit? Like, ‘You were way high to the right’ or anything like that?” “No.” Martin said, “I’m just trying to figure things out. I’m wondering if you were way off when you shot and the round went high into the timber where the bear was. Maybe you even hit him and made him mad. Is that possible?” Talbot scoffed. “That’s ridiculous. I might have missed that bull by a few inches, but I didn’t shoot that high at a hundred and fifty yards.

” “Is it possible there was a ricochet up into the trees? Like maybe you hit a rock?” “I didn’t hear anything like that,” Talbot said. His voice was rising with irritation. “I told you what happened. Why do you keep asking me about it?” “Because,” Martin said, “I’ve worked a dozen or so bear encounters, and I’ve talked with biologists who’ve been on the scene of lots more. I’ve never heard of a grizzly attacking two men without any provocation at all. It just doesn’t happen.” “It did this time,” Talbot sniffed. “Is it possible that bear was feeding on a carcass out of your view?” Martin asked. “Maybe he heard the shot and thought you were trying to steal his bounty?” “I don’t know,” Talbot said. “We didn’t see any carcass.

” Martin asked, “Is it possible that you got so excited when you saw those elk that you walked right past a bear cub or two? That maybe you two walked by accident between a mama and her babies? So the mama charged you to protect her little ones?” Talbot shook his head. “I guess anything is possible. It’s pretty dark in that timber. But my guide left me up on the hill while he scouted down below—before he found those elk. I doubt he would have walked past bear cubs twice without noticing them.” Joe noted the “my guide” reference again. Martin nodded and thought about it. He said, “You might be right. Cubs wouldn’t be that far away from mama bear normally.” “Thank you,” Talbot said in exasperation, as if the issue were settled.

But it wasn’t. Martin asked Talbot, “You say you forgot to thumb off the safety on your bear spray, so it didn’t work.” “That’s correct. I’d never used one before and I panicked and forgot.” “I understand,” Martin said. “At the moment, you were rattled. But when you realized that you hadn’t armed the spray, why didn’t you flip off the safety and hit the bear with it when it was attacking Jim Trenary? Jim wouldn’t have liked it, but I’m sure he’d much rather have bear spray in his eyes than get torn up.” Talbot paused a long time. Then he said, “I’d already dropped the canister by then. I guess I wasn’t thinking straight.

” “Interesting,” Martin said. To Joe, that “interesting” sounded a lot like You’re a fool, then . In that moment, Joe felt a little embarrassed for Talbot, despite himself. Joe leaned forward in his saddle. “Mike?” Martin turned around. Joe said, “I’ve talked to a couple of wildlife biologists who are doing a study on grizzly bear behavior. Although they don’t have any conclusions yet, one of the things they’re studying is if the reason there are more and more bear encounters every year is possibly because the grizzlies are getting more comfortable with humans around in their habitat. And when they hear a shot during elkhunting season, the bear associates that with easy food. Maybe something like that happened here.” Not said was that the enactment of the endangered species laws in the previous decade had produced a lot more grizzlies in the ecosystem than before.

Conservative estimates Joe had read indicated there were more than six hundred in the area. Local outfitters reported that they saw grizzly bears nearly every day out in the field—sometimes as many as five or six. More grizzlies meant more likelihood that there would be human–bear encounters. “Maybe,” Martin said. “But I hope not.” “Why do you hope not?” Talbot asked. “Because if that’s true,” Martin said, “it means a total adaptation or change in animal behavior. It means six-hundred-pound predators have lost their fear of man. It means there could be a whole lot of dead people in the future.” “Oh,” Talbot said.

“Now,” Martin said, “put all those theories aside for the moment. I want you to tell me again the sequence of actions you took yesterday after the bear attacked.” Talbot physically recoiled. “I’ve already told you,” he said to Martin. “Tell me again,” Martin said. “I’m kind of slow.” * BEFORE TALBOT COULD respond, Martin’s satellite phone burred. They’d brought it along because there was no cell phone coverage in the area and they thought they might need to communicate with the pilot of the helicopter. Martin pulled on the reins of his horse and stopped it. The other mounts in the string stopped automatically.

Martin dug the sat phone out of his saddlebag and punched it up and listened for a moment. Then he handed it toward Joe. “It’s for you,” Martin said. “For me? Who is it?” Joe asked. He tried to tamp down an immediate rush of worst-case scenarios involving Marybeth or their three adult daughters. That seemed to be the only reason why someone would track him down on Mike Martin’s satellite phone. “It’s the boss,” Martin said. Joe took the heavy receiver. “Joe Pickett.” “Joe, I’m glad I caught you.

” It was indeed Rick Ewig, the director. “I’m in the middle of something,” Joe said. “You’ll need to drop it,” Ewig said. “What’s up?” “Your judge up in Twelve Sleep County is on the warpath.” “Judge Hewitt?” Joe asked. Hewitt was short, dark, and twitchy. The judge had a volcanic temper: he carried a handgun under his robes and he’d brandished it several times in his courtroom to maintain order. Every prosecutor and defense lawyer Joe had ever encountered was scared of Judge Hewitt. “That’s him,” Ewig said. “He’s been on the phone with Governor Allen, and the governor’s been on the phone with me.

You’re being called back immediately. As in right now.” Joe said, “I’m on a horse just a couple of miles from the Teton Wilderness. I’m giving Mike Martin a hand with—” “Forget that,” Ewig said. “Apparently, someone took a shot at the judge last night. He was at home at his dinner table and the bullet missed him by inches and hit his wife.” “Oh no,” Joe said. “Sue?” Joe felt his body go cold. It had been less than a year since Twelve Sleep County had been rocked by a massacre on the courthouse steps that had killed the sheriff and seriously wounded the county prosecutor. Now the judge was a target? “Sue sounds right,” Ewig said.

“Anyway, she’s in critical condition and Judge Hewitt has demanded that all local law enforcement meet with him immediately. He suspects a drive-by shooting and he wants the guy caught. That includes you.” Joe grimaced. “It’ll take me four hours just to get back to my truck.” “No it won’t,” Ewig said. The volume of the spinning rotors of the helicopter increased in volume as they spoke. Joe understood. Ewig had diverted the helicopter to pick him up. Joe handed the sat phone back to Martin.

“Gotta go,” he said. Martin shook his head in disgust. His feelings about aggressive top-down management were well known. Martin was old-school: he thought local game wardens should manage their districts as they saw fit with minimal interference from the “suits” in Cheyenne, even though Ewig had once been a game warden himself. “Can I go with him?” Talbot asked Martin. “Not a chance,” Martin growled. “I’ll be back,” Joe said to Martin with a side glance toward Talbot. “I’m really interested to see how this ends.” Julius Talbot looked away

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