Oct 27 2012 12:00pm
An excerpt of Trapped, a thriller by April Christofferson set in Montana (available October 30, 2012).
Yellowstone backcountry ranger Will McCarroll is every poacher and trapper’s worst nightmare. His tireless defense of endangered wildlife has made him a national hero, but when Will’s anger over legislation allowing loaded guns in national parks causes him to break the rules one time too many, he finds himself transferred from his beloved Yellowstone to Montana’s Glacier National Park. In this edgy eco- and political thriller, Will soon finds in Glacier a wilderness worth defending—and under siege from illegal trappers, a right-wing radio talk show hosting a predator derby, and members of a radical offshoot of the American Rifle Foundation.
When Yellowstone Magistrate Judge Annie Peacock realizes Will has been lured into Glacier’s backcountry as part of an ARF plot to silence him, she enlists the help of Johnny Yellow Kidney, Glacier National Park’s wolverine biologist. Aided by locals from the Blackfeet reservation, Annie and Johnny’s quest to warn Will ends up a race for time—one whose outcome will impact not only Will, but also the lives of the two- and the four-leggeds he has sworn to protect.
Whisper Little Wolf’s heart pounded in her brown chest as she peeled her eyes off the photo propped against the wall on the counter and lowered herself into the padded swivel chair. The harsh fluorescent lights overhead cast a glare on the framed image, but she could still make out the body of a mountain lion, massive head propped up by a beaming, near bald, camouflage-clad man. His eyes were hidden by sunglasses.
Whisper had seen plenty of similar photos, enough to wonder why the rifle that took the animal’s life wasn’t also prominently displayed. But never before in a dentist’s office.
The technician—a surly, squat woman whose age Whisper couldn’t begin to pinpoint—barely waited for her to get settled before she spread the blue paper apron over Whisper and snapped its fastener at the side of her neck, catching a long black lock of hair.
“Ouch,” Whisper cried.
The technician either didn’t hear or didn’t care. Whisper figured she was a typical Flathead-area white woman and didn’t much like having to touch a full-blooded Indian—especially if that Indian was Blackfeet.
Maybe Spencer and Cole were telling the truth. A powerful instinct to bolt came over Whisper—but merely turning her head caused knifelike pain to sear through Whisper’s jaw and up into her temple, and she knew she had no choice. Her tooth had to be tended to. And the Indian Health Services’ dentist’s day in Browning was four days away. And even if she could wait that long, it was first-come first-served for dental care on the reservation. Whisper remembered all too well the time she had accompanied her grandmother, Sky Walker—who had held a position of great honor as the eldest person in the Blackfeet tribe, until she died the previous year—to the IHS dentist as a little girl. One woman told them she’d slept at the clinic’s door for two nights, just to ensure she got her aching tooth pulled. Whisper couldn’t afford to spend a night away from the job, so there were no guarantees she’d even be seen on Friday.
Bridger Brogan, the only dentist between Kalispell and East Glacier, had an opening that day.
Besides, she was sure the guys at work were just kidding her. Cole and Spencer, her coworkers at the Snow Slip Inn, loved to tease all the girls, especially Whisper.
Whisper may have been less endowed than the other waitresses at the Snow Slip, but she attracted plenty of attention from men, especially once they got to know her. She had a sweet way about her, a blend of naïveté and openness men found appealing. Of course she also had a fiancé, a local, which in East Glacier was akin to being part of a brotherhood, so the guys at work pretty much stuck to kidding her a lot. Which is what she hoped they were doing when they heard she had an appointment with Dr. Bridger Brogan.
That’s what they were doing, she’d decided the night before. Kidding her. Still, something about their comments prompted her to make a few more phone calls that morning, just to see if there were any openings somewhere else. While Brogan’s location in Columbia Falls would save at least an hour of driving, at the last minute Whisper tried dentists as far away as Kalispell and Whitefish, but she would have to wait a week to see anyone else.
“Could be a while,” the technician said after she’d laid out an alarming number of instruments on the tray beside the chair in which Whisper sat. “He’s just fitting you in. Want me to turn the radio on?”
Whisper nodded numbly, then watched as the woman crossed the room and turned a switch on a portable radio that looked like something out of an old Sears catalog. Then, without another word or glance Whisper’s way, she waddled out of the room, leaving Whisper with her thoughts and fears. And a local radio talk show, which Whisper had obviously joined in the middle of a heated exchange—at least Whisper at first assumed it to be an exchange. She soon caught on that the host and caller were in agreement, and the heat, it seemed, came from sharing the same right-wing views.
“This country is going to hell in a handbasket,” a man’s anger-riddled voice proclaimed. “Next thing you know, they’re gonna try to take my guns from me. And I tell ya, you know what will happen when that day comes?”
A female—obviously a white female—with an annoyingly airy and twangy voice responded, “I hear you. Our constitutional rights, that’s what’re at stake. And we have to fight for those, don’t you think?”
“You know the other thing I’m tired of?” the female continued. “I’m tired of the tree huggers and wolf lovers and all those elitist environmental types who spend their time whining about protecting animals—animals!—when our kids can’t even count on finding a job when they graduate from college. And the health care we were promised that didn’t change a damn thing. How many people out there are still without insurance?”
The caller jumped on this one.
“I don’t have insurance!”
Whisper found herself wondering what these people would do if their only health care was what the IHS provided.
“There you go. What did I tell you?” The host paused for effect. “It’s depressing, that’s what it is. But we have to stand together, and we have to fight. And you know what else you can do?”
“What?” the caller eagerly replied.
“You can take those guns of yours, the guns you’re not gonna let them take from you, and you can put them to good use in our predator derby.” She laughed then. A contrived laugh. “I hate to change subjects on you, but I’m damn proud to have come up with the idea of a predator derby sponsored by my KTEA talk show, and I did promise the other proud sponsor of the derby that I’d give them just a teensy weensy bit of mention every now and then.”
Whisper cringed as the annoying voice practically shouted, “Thank you, Cabela’s!”
In contrast, the voice Whisper heard next was actually quite nice.
“So what do we have here?”
Despite the pain, Whisper twisted her neck to get a glimpse of Dr. Bridger Brogan as he stepped into the room and walked over to the radio, switching it off.
The pleasant voice seemed totally incongruous with the man.
While his voice was smooth, rich, and pleasant, none of those adjectives could be used to describe Bridger Brogan. He stood about six feet tall. Block-headed with small, dead eyes, a wide, flat nose, and thinning brown hair slicked back and sprayed into a helmet, he looked Neanderthal. But it was his eyes that disturbed Whisper. Something about how he looked at her, as if he were appraising her. She’d had plenty of white men look at her that way.
Self-confidence practically oozed from him.
Turning to shut the door behind him, he approached Whisper, his eyes taking on more life. He pushed the back of her chair and she fell back into a half-reclined position.
He pulled the examination light overhead toward the chair.
“How long’s that molar been hurting?”
“I’ve had some dull pain for a while, but yesterday it got really bad.”
“X-rays show an abscess,” he said casually, almost as if to himself. “It has to go.”
“You mean, be pulled?”
Brogan straightened, looked at her blandly.
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
Brogan was already reaching for a mask that dangled from a white tank that had a Danger: No Smoking tag prominently displayed on its surface.
“What’s that?” Whisper asked.
“Something to keep you comfortable.”
Whisper’s hands went up.
“I’ve never used gas at the dentist before. I don’t think I want to.”
Brogan straightened, mask still in his hand.
“Novocain isn’t going to do what you need.”
“Can’t we try, and then if it doesn’t...”
He dropped the mask. It dangled in the air between them. Reaching for the clasp at Whisper’s neck, he unsnapped it.
“I’ve got too full a day to be experimenting. I worked you in because I heard you were in pain. I’ll prescribe something to help get you through until you can see someone else.”
Just as he turned to walk out of the room, a zap of pain shot through Whisper’s jaw.
“Wait,” she cried.
Brogan stopped, but at first, he didn’t turn. Didn’t look at her.
“Please,” she said. “I can’t deal with this. And I had to take time off work today to come down here. I’ll try the gas. Please.” Slowly, Brogan turned. He still looked annoyed at her.
She wished she hadn’t been such a baby about the whole thing. Damn that Spencer and Cole. “Okay,” he said dully. “Let’s get started.”
Trapper Chatter Web site:
COYOTEMAN: Anybody here? Looks like two of you online right now. It’s a fuckin awesome day in the State of Montana and C’man’s in a good mood. You guys hear about the predator derby KTEA’s sponsoring? Ten grand for first prize.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Mtnmama here. You bet. I’ve already got three coyotes, but you know what’s gonna take the prize, doncha?
COYOTEMAN: Mornin pretty Mama. Hell yes, I know. It’s gotta be a wolf. Especially with the former governor of Idaho running the show. LOL. She aint got no love for wolves.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: You said it. I hear there’s a new pack just over the state line, near Thompson Falls. I’m headed over there this week-end.
DOCTOR D: I’m setting my sights higher than wolves these days. And not for that contest.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Morning Doctor D!
COYOTEMAN: Hey, Doctor D. Wondered if that 3rd person might be you. So you’re not going for wolves?
DOCTOR D: Hell no. Right now I’m focused on the Holy Grail.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Holy Grail...only one critter trappers think of that way!!!
COYOTEMAN: You gotta be shittin us. You mean the one Tanner saw, up near Iceberg Lake?
DOCTOR D: It could be her, but there’s more than one wolverine up that way.
COYOTEMAN: Tanner said she was collared. Part of that study they’re doing.
COYOTEMAN: Doctor D...You still there? She collared???
DOCTOR D: Not anymore.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Holy shit
COYOTEMAN: Holy shit’s right. We better change the subject. Well how’s this: all I got myself yesterday was another fuckin dog.
DOCTOR D: Same thing happened to me this week.
COYOTEMAN: How many that make for you this year?
DOCTOR D: I stopped keeping count.
COYOTEMAN: LOL. They don’t call you dr of death for no reason. Hey, you got a real job, besides trappin I mean?
DOCTOR D: We agreed, nothin’ personal on here. I come here for information and to support trappers. Not to get to know anybody better.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: So you gotta buyer yet?
DOCTOR D: Hell, I can pick from a dozen. I’ve been getting requests for years. I’ve got a list a mile long.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Better be careful who’s on that list. Those anti’s are getting pretty tricky.
COYOTEMAN: I tell ya, some anti comes to me, into my shop, trying to trick me into selling something illegal, I’ll know it. I’ll smell it, see it by the way he looks the minute he walks in. Some anti tries to buy anything from me, he’ll end up underground. And that’s a promise.
DOCTOR D: Exactly. SSS
COYOTEMAN: LOL. You see that story where that Idaho sheriff’s gettin’ in trouble for holding a wolf-hunting contest? Offerin a rifle and shovel as a prize. LOL. He’s saying SSS stands for safety, security and survival, not shoot, shovel and shut up? Don’t you just love it?
DOCTOR D: As if anybody in these parts buys that. Even the stupid fucking reporter. I give the sheriff credit for originality.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Hey, I see somebody new just joined us. Who’s there?
COYOTEMAN: Hello? Please ID yourself.
COYOTEMAN: Listen you motherfucker, either let us know who you are or get the fuck outta here.
MOUNTAIN MAMA: Maybe we better take this conversation offline.
COYOTEMAN: Doctor D?
MOUNTAIN MAMA: He’s already gone. I’m signin’ off now too...
Will McCarroll’s foul mood escalated with each of Kola’s steps down the rocky trail that led from his backcountry cabin to the Pebble Creek campground. Goddamn fools. He’d been waiting for this to happen, for the middle of the night call he’d just received on his two-way radio.
“Hurry down here, Will,” Betty Stanmeyer had shouted over the two-way radio she wasn’t supposed to have. Betty and her husband, Hal, served as campground hosts at Pebble Creek. “Someone’s been shot.”
Will had to count on his mare’s familiarity with the narrow, rocky trail, as well as her surefootedness, to move at the slow gallop he’d pushed her into. A hint of a full moon filtered through branches of Douglas fir, but not enough to give light to the ground beneath. As they finally broke through the tree line, Will gave Kola a knee in the ribs. She’d developed a habit of pausing at this point, in response to knowing that’s what Will wanted—to pause at his first chance of the day to look at the Lamar Valley unfolding beneath them; to look out at the land he loved, the land he’d devoted his life to.
A life that had become a lot more complicated since the arrival of Magistrate Judge Annie Peacock.
Tonight Will couldn’t afford the pause.
“Keep moving, girl,” he urged.
Will knew what to expect when he first caught sight of the campground. He’d been doing this—serving as law enforcement inside the park—for twenty-eight years now, so very little surprised him.
At the park’s big camping grounds, kerosene lamps and flashlights usually danced like fireflies around smoldering campfires until the early morning hours, but the only thing Will could see moving were the untended flames of at least a dozen campfires. Tent flaps had been zipped tight for a false sense of security. The lights in Betty and Hal’s RV signaled they’d obeyed Will’s order to return to it and lock up.
No sign of the law enforcement backup that Will had radioed for. Will glanced at his watch. He and Kola had made it down the hill in twenty-three minutes. The drive from Mammoth was forty-five minutes at best, without incident, and that was taking it at a pace that invited accidents.
A shout drew Will’s attention to the back of the campground, the row of campsites that bordered the creek. Betty had identified campsite number twenty as where the shooting took place.
Will dismounted and looped Kola’s reins around the trailhead sign. Then, drawing his 9-mm, he crouched low, heading toward the campground, which had now fallen silent. At this hour, he would have expected to see adults getting to know each other around campfires, after the kids had gone to bed. Usually he was called because someone had had too much to drink and was getting a little rowdy.
The silence as he approached was absolute.
Something had gone horribly wrong this August evening in this nation’s first national park.
As Will passed the outhouse that served the campground, he noticed the door facing the Northeast Entrance Road slightly ajar. A sixth sense, tuned by decades on the job, told him it wasn’t empty.
Gun aimed squarely at the door, he approached and kicked the door open.
A slender East Indian woman holding a baby hovered against the back wall, pressed into it, crouching low, between the side wall and the toilet. She was dressed in a traditional sari.
She pulled the baby into the cave she’d created of her chest and torso, whimpering. Will lowered the gun, and in the moonlight filtering through the plastic skylight above, her eyes registered relief, especially when Will stepped into the light and she saw his uniform. Reflexively she straightened a bit.
“He killed a man,” she said, as if trying to convince Will that something terrible had happened.
“Stay in here,” Will said softly. Nodding toward the door, he added, “And lock that.”
“My husband tried to help but he called him a rag head. He shot him, too. Hashmuk, he told me to run, to come here and hide. I’m afraid he’s dying, too…”
“I’ll find him,” Will replied. “Now lock the door behind me.”
Will waited outside the door, eyes trained on the campground now, to hear the click of its lock.
Skirting the north side of the campground, the side rimmed by Pebble Creek running down from Sunset Peak, Will heard another shout as he moved between RVs and tents of every color, size, and shape. With the moonlight blocked by lodgepole pines that sheltered the campsites, Will sometimes felt rather than saw the tent flaps open as he passed. Each time, he put finger to his lips to shush the relieved camper about to blurt out. When he got to the RV of the campground hosts, Hal Stanmeyer had been waiting, eyes glued to the path he knew Will would take. He stuck his head out of an open window.
“Two of them with guns,” he whispered, “at twenty. Two guys down. I think one’s dead.”
Will nodded, kept moving.
“Wait for me,” Hal whispered.
“No. You stay in there. Call for backups.”
“Betty already did. They’re on the way. Closest LE was at Roosevelt Lodge. Should be here within ten minutes.”
A lot could happen in ten minutes.
Still, aside from the shouts, it was the silence that bothered Will most. He moved forward.
Campsite twenty was one of the most coveted sites at Pebble Creek. Adjacent to the creek, campers loved to fall asleep to the sound of rushing water and wake up to the sight of sunshine reflecting off the current, and the expansive view, to the south, of Round Prairie. Getting a site anywhere near twenty was considered lucky.
But not tonight.
Will saw the twisted legs first. Hiking boots still crusted with mud from the rain earlier in the evening jutted out from between two tents packed closely together at campsite twenty. Both tents stood dark and silent, but as Will crept forward, he could hear a voice. He thought it was the same one he’d heard earlier, only now, instead of shouting, it was more of a rant. Will couldn’t make out the words.
He paused at the boots, felt for a pulse. None. A handgun lay still partially clasped in the man’s right hand, and blood trailed off into the dark.
Will inched forward alongside the tent, toward the campfire, toward the voice.
A solo man sat hunched over on a ring of short logs that surrounded the fire pit, head in his hands, alternately sobbing and talking to himself.
“What did I do? What did I do?”
A Colt .45 lay at his feet.
Will’s eyes surveyed the rest of the campsite before he straightened, walked toward the man, his own gun drawn and aimed at him, finger off the trigger.
“Police officer, don’t move.”
Kicking the gun out of the young man’s reach, he added, “You’re under arrest.”
The young man—he couldn’t have been over twenty-five—looked up, anguish in his face.
“What have I done?”
“Stand up. Hands in the air.”
Complying, the young man looked over, and, as if seeing the body for the first time, began to crumple. Halfway to the ground, Will shoved him face down on the dirt.
“Hands behind your back,” Will ordered, kneeling over him as he lay prostrate on his stomach. Double locking the handcuffs, Will began reciting his Miranda rights as he patted the skinny torso and legs down.
“He’s my best friend,” the young man sobbed.
Rage engulfing him, Will rolled the young man over, forcing him to look into Will’s eyes.
“He was your best friend.”
The young man, clearly still drunk, lunged for Will, as if Will had been the one to pull the trigger.
Will took him down with a knee between his legs.
Gasping for air, he moaned, writhing on the ground.
Hal had materialized, and behind him, other campers.
“How many shooters were there?” Will said to no one in particular in the group.
Several shook their heads. While at first they seemed relieved to approach Will, when he kneed the kid, several fell back. But a heavyset man in long underwear stepped forward, saying, “Just two. Him”—pointing toward the kid, still writhing on the ground—“and him”—he pointed at the body.
Handing his gun to Hal, Will said, “Watch him.”
Walking back to the body, he trained his flashlight on the trail of blood and followed. It led to a tidy campsite, number eighteen, that hosted a new, family-sized tent.
Will stepped inside and found what he was looking for.
An Indian man lay on his side, holding his stomach. He appeared unconscious, but when Will touched him, his eyes opened.
“My wife,” he gasped. Blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth, where it held on briefly before falling to the nylon floor. “My baby.”
“They’re fine. They’re safe,” Will said quietly. “I give you my word. Now don’t talk. We’ll get you out of here, to a hospital.”
A face appeared at the mesh window above where he lay. Will heard a gasp and looked up. Betty Stanmeyer.
“Get his wife,” he ordered. “She’s locked in the bathroom. And see if we have a doctor in the campground.”
Wide-eyed, Betty nodded then disappeared.
Will could hear her shouting, as she ran toward the outhouse, “Is there a doctor in the campground? We need a doctor!”
The sirens drowned her out.
Chaos ensued. Sleepy-eyed children emerging from tents were pushed back inside by terrified parents. Campers of all ages stood or squat, ready to flee if necessary, their faces lit only by the screens of their cell phones as they texted frantically to friends and family back home. Those lucky enough to have RVs locked windows and doors, cowering inside once they’d slid the last dead bolt in place.
As Will applied pressure to the bullet’s entry point—the man’s lower abdomen—two figures appeared simultaneously at the tent’s door. One wore a ranger’s law enforcement uniform. Josh Kennedy. And the other carried a duffle bag, which he began opening as he hurried into the tent, falling to his knees next to Will.
“I’m a surgeon,” he said. “Move aside.”
Within seconds, the woman from the bathroom rushed in, sobbing.
Her husband opened his eyes, reached for her hand, and muttered something in Hindi.
“Ma’am, you’ll have to back away,” the surgeon said. He looked from Will to Josh. “Who’s going to assist?”
Will looked to Josh. “You alone?”
“Yes, but there’s an ambulance on the way.”
“We can’t wait for the ambulance,” the doctor declared. “This man needs surgery. Now.”
“You stay here, help him,” Will said. “I’ll make sure there are no more perps.”
As he stepped out of the tent, Will’s head swirled. He could not blot out another doctor’s voice, earlier, many years earlier. Just miles down the road....
“I’m sorry, she was already gone when I got to her. I tried to save the baby...”
Demons taking him over now, even the heavyset man in long underwear stepped back when Will reappeared at the campfire at site twenty.
The kid still lay on the ground.
“Get up,” Will yelled, pulling him to his feet by his shirt collar. “What was worth killing your best friend for? What?”
The kid looked dazed, totally out of it.
“I dunno. I didn’t mean to. We got in a fight. He kept saying I cheated.”
For the first time, Will saw the cards scattered on the other side of the campfire.
“He drew his gun first.” The young man looked around at the crowd of six or eight campers, mostly men. Zeroing in on one, he added, “Didn’t he?”
“What about the guy who tried to stop you?” one of the campers yelled angrily. “The guy from India. He wasn’t even playing cards with you punks.”
The look of terror and shock on the kid’s face made it clear. He’d been so drunk that he’d forgotten about shooting the second man, who tried to intervene. He was sobering up quickly.
The camper in long underwear looked at Will. “They’d been drinking and playing cards and arguing all night. I’d asked them to quiet down a couple times. The last time, all I saw was that both of them were waving guns around. That’s when the Indian fella came over, to try to calm them down.” He looked pained. “I didn’t see who got shot first. When I saw the Indian guy dealing with it, I figured it wasn’t my problem. I shoulda backed him up. I’m ashamed of myself.”
There was some mumbling and more than a few sheepish looks.
Will turned back to the kid and grabbed him by the elbow, shoving him.
He shepherded him in the direction of the highway, toward the Law Enforcement car that Josh had arrived in. But they had an entire campground, filled with campers, to pass through first.
Now that Law Enforcement had arrived, Pebble Creek campground came back alive. Almost in unison, people began venturing out of their tents.
Some swore at the kid, some prayed out loud. Most stood in dead silence, watching.
More lights and sirens announced the arrival of the ambulance.
Will and his prisoner marched on, ignoring the shouts and stares. Relieved of his duty in the tent, Josh appeared, silently walking on the other side of the kid. But then something caught Will’s eye.
A middle-aged, balding man, wearing plaid shorts and a T-shirt, had just turned to reach for a camera that his wife held, arm extended out the window of their RV. A handgun stuck out of the back pocket of his shorts.
Will’s arm shot out in front of the kid, stopping him. Turning to Josh, he barked an order.
“Take him on to the car.”
Then, without waiting to see if Josh obeyed, Will stormed over to the visitor, who had now aimed the camera his way. Grabbing it out of the man’s hand, Will tossed it on the ground, then reached behind his bloated belly and one second later, held the revolver he’d seen in the man’s back pocket in front of his face.
Will’s eyes burned with barely controlled rage.
The tourist ignored the camera but reached for the gun.
“Give that back,” he said. “You can’t take it from me. I have a permit.”
He called over his shoulder, toward the RV. “Grace, get the permit.”
Gun in hand, Will turned back toward Josh, who hadn’t moved an inch.
“What did I tell you?” he said. “Take him to the car.”
“Will...” Josh muttered.
By now Grace had appeared with a piece of paper in hand. She stepped in front of Will and waved it angrily in his face, her husband behind her, looking just as angry, but happy to let her take charge.
“You can’t take that from him. Look. Here’s his permit. The new rule’s in effect now. We can bring guns into the park, as long as we have a permit.”
Will stepped toward her. She was a big woman. He wanted to deck her.
“Not in this park,” he said, shoving the gun into the waistband of his uniform. “Now get out of my way.”
A crowd had gathered around them.
“Who else has a gun?” Will shouted, his eyes scanning the group, which kept growing as more campers felt safe emerging from their tents and RVs.
“You heard me,” Will yelled. “Who in this campground has a gun?”
“On us?” one man’s voice replied.
“Here. In the campground. In your tent, or your car, or a backpack.”
Timidly, a woman stepped forward.
“We have one in our car...”
“Go get it,” Will ordered. “Who else?”
A burly man wearing a Sarah Palin 2012 T-shirt stepped forward. “I have a gun, but I’m not giving it to you. It’s legal. I’m legal.”
Will crossed the ten feet separating them. Came eye to eye with the man.
“Get the gun or spend the night in jail.”
“You can’t do this,” the man said flatly, angrily, sizing Will up.
“Yes, he can,” a woman’s voice cried out. “Thank you!”
More voices joined hers.
“Take it. Take it from him.”
Will ignored them.
Reaching for a second set of handcuffs, he pulled them off his belt. When the man caught sight of them, he stepped back.
Will’s hand shot out and grabbed him by the neck of his T-shirt.
“Get the fucking gun,” Will said in a low voice, but one so filled with rage that even a sixty-pound advantage, and arms muscled by hours in front of a mirror at the gym, seemed no match for it.
The man stood there for at least thirty seconds, his chest heaving with his own anger.
“I’ll file a complaint against you, you son of a bitch.”
It looked like he might come unglued when his threat brought a snort of laughter from Will.
“Be my guest. Now get the gun.”
With one last withering look, the man turned and headed toward his campsite.
“Anyone with a gun had better produce it,” Will said to the crowd. “Now.”
With some campers cheering him, while two or three who’d turned toward their campsites to retrieve their weapons shot profanities his way, Will followed the belligerent camper to his tent.
Claudette Nillson waited thirty seconds for a response. When one did not come, she stuck two fingers between her lips and let out an ear piercing whistle. That usually brought her German shepherd running.
“Tennyson!” If anyone were around, Claudette Nillson’s whistle, as well as her shout, would have been heard up and down the Paola Creek drainage, which channels its waters to a section of the Middle Fork of the Flathead River especially favored by adventure-seeking kayakers and rafters.
Now her voice shrunk to a worried whisper. “Where the heck are you?”
At first she’d just been frustrated, even uncharacteristically irritated at her errant German shepherd. After all, she only had a month to finish her thesis. She’d already taken Tennyson out for a hike, earlier that morning, and his running off on her now meant she’d have to take another break from writing, just as she was on a roll. That was the problem—she was so intent on her work that she hadn’t kept track of the time. It had been over an hour since Tennyson had whined to be let out, and now Claudette Nillson’s instincts had her hurriedly slipping on her Chaco sandals and stepping off the porch of the tiny cabin she’d talked her University of Montana professor into letting her use; she was to spend the months of August and September finishing the paper he, as chair of the wildlife biology department, had rather reluctantly approved: The Case for Ecoterrorism.
She jumped off the porch and cut across the dry, prickly growth, this time paying no heed to the noxious knapweed—a tall multi-branched plant with purplish pink flowers—that she usually stopped to pull out by its roots. That had been one of the deals she’d struck with her professor. Left unchecked, knapweed could—and would—take over native species. Claudette had bargained with Professor Vrable: if he let her stay in his remote cabin on the border of Glacier National Park for the two months she predicted it would take to finish her thesis, she would remove not only the knapweed, but the equally noxious leafy spurge as well. But now she was oblivious to her bare legs brushing against the invasive plants as she hurried toward Paola Creek, Tennyson’s favorite haunt. She was pretty sure that’s where she’d find him as, that morning, he’d been almost impossible to draw away from the small creek, which had dwindled in size by half in the five weeks Claudette had been there. She’d had to call and call to get Tennyson to return to her side, and even then, he’d turned back twice before Claudette finally clipped the leash she always carried on their outings—but almost never used—onto his collar.
“You’re trouble today, aren’t you big boy?” she’d said.
He’d looked up at her with big, loving eyes, tail wagging. Stopping to hug him, she added, “Don’t try to charm me.”
Now as she headed back to the same spot, she pictured those sweet eyes again.
“Tennyson!” she called.
Minutes later, her heart leaped when she saw his white shoulders, hit by a streak of sunlight filtering through the dense Western hemlocks lining the creek bed.
It took just seconds for it to hit her: he had not moved, not even shifted, at the sound of her voice.
She was running now, crying.
Copyright © 2012 by April Christofferson
April Christofferson is the highly acclaimed author of numerous novels set in the West, where her family roots go back four generations. She is a former attorney in the biotech industry and a passionate wildlife activist with a background in biology and veterinary medicine. She divides her time between Lolo, Montana; Glacier National Park; and Yellowstone.