Table of Contents
PRAISE FOR . . . In Plain Sight
“Startling . . . well-plotted . . . an explosive conclusion . . . full of tense suspense and believable, emotional, well-crafted characters.” —Lansing State Journal
“Edge-of-the-chair suspense . . . Heart-stopping action . . . [An] unforgettable mystery.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“More violence than C. J. Box’s other novels and shows the ethical changes in his detective from a bumbling but happy professional to a man with a lot on his conscience.”
—The Dallas Morning News
“The sixth in the series, and the best.”
—The Toronto Globe and Mail
“Thrilling and frightening . . . Will satisfy C. J. Box fans well into the night.” —The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger
“Any mystery fan . . . can get drawn in just by reading the opening page of In Plain Sight. Just be warned, you’ll want to keep the lights burning.” —Billings (MT) Gazette
“Box continues to write the sharpest suspenses west of the Pecos.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“C. J. Box is that rarest of writers—a skillful, talented, and careful wordsmith who also tells a rollicking good story. These books are for everyone who loves a great fast-moving story, beautifully rendered.”—Alexandra Fuller
Out of Range
“Intelligent [and] compassionate.” —The New York Times
“Grade A . . . Deserves to be on any list of top American mysteries . . . If you haven’t yet discovered C. J. Box, don’t wait.”
—Rocky Mountain News
“C. J. Box has quickly established himself as an original voice . . . He is fresh, captivating, and has something to say.”
“If anything, Box is getting better . . . Recommended for practically everybody.” —Booklist (starred review)
“An absolute must.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Taut, suspenseful . . . [A] skillfully orchestrated climax.”
“The surprises [Box] springs keep you guessing right to the end—and a little beyond.” —People
“Action-packed.” —The Denver Post
“Ripping good . . . Trophy Hunt is a choice mystery; spooky, poignant, thrilling, and rugged . . . Joe Pickett, his wife, and daughters are the best frontier detectives going. See what the buzz is all about and spend some quality reading time in Big Sky Country with C. J. Box.”
—The Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger
“Box, who has quickly become one of the writers whose books I look forward to every year, continues his run of excellence in Trophy Hunt.” —Rocky Mountain News
“C. J. Box vividly evokes life in the West.” —People
“Well-crafted.” —USA Today
“Exquisite descriptions . . . Moves smoothly and suspense-fully to the showdown.” —The Washington Post
“Winterkill proves that Box . . . is one of the best new voices in the mystery game. [It’s] a full-fledged thriller, Wyoming-style.” —Rocky Mountain News
“Fast moving, intelligent.” —Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Box proves he knows how to make every storm into a story.”
“The suspense tears forward like a brush fire.” —People
“Hunker down and hang on tight for an intense, twisting ride that lasts to the final page.” —The Denver Post
“Impressive . . . tense.” —The Washington Post
“Riveting . . . Box weaves in a history that gives the action a rich context . . . Harrowing.” —USA Today
“Brilliantly crafted . . . bears comparison to the best work of mystery giants such as Tony Hillerman and James Lee Burke.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
A New York Times Notable Book
Los Angeles Times Book Prize Award Nominee,
Best Mystery/ Thriller
“Buy two copies of Open Season, and save one in mint condition to sell to first-edition collectors. C. J. Box is a great storyteller.” —Tony Hillerman
“Intriguing, with a forest setting so treacherous it makes Nevada Barr’s locales look positively comfy, with a motive for murder that is as unique as any in modern fiction. Pickett is a refreshingly human and befuddled hero . . . But it’s Box’s offbeat way of telling the story that puts it on the best of the year track.” —Los Angeles Times
“A muscular first novel . . . Box writes as straight as his characters shoot, and he has a stand-up hero to shoulder his passionate concerns about endangered lives and liberties.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A fascinating, well-scripted debut novel. It’s a classic tale of Wild West justice.” —USA Today
Also by C. J . Box
THE JOE PICKETT NOVELS
OPEN SEASON SAVAGE RUN WINTERKILL TROPHY HUNT
OUT OF RANGE
IN PLAIN SIGHT
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
IN PLAIN SIGHT
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2006 by C. J. Box.
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BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of
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The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are
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For Molly Jo
. . . and Laurie, always
Family quarrels are bitter things. They don’t go by any rules. They’re not like aches or wounds; they’re more like splits in the skin that won’t heal because there’s not enough material.
—F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
The great plain drinks the blood of Christian men and is satisfied.
—O. E. RÖLVAAG, GIANTS IN THE EARTH
Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming
WHEN RANCH OWNER OPAL SCARLETT VANISHED, NO one mourned except her three grown sons, Arlen, Hank, and Wyatt, who expressed their loss by getting into a fight with shovels.
Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett almost didn’t hear the call over his radio when it came over the mutual-aid channel. He was driving west on Bighorn Road, having picked up his fourteen-year-old daughter, Sheridan, and her best friend, Julie, after track practice to take them home. Sheridan and Julie were talking a mile a minute, gesticulating, making his dog, Maxine, flinch with their flying arms as they talked. Julie lived on the Thunderhead Ranch, which was much farther out of town than the Picketts’ home.
Joe caught snippets of their conversation while he drove, his attention on his radio and the wounded hum of the engine and the dancing gauges on the dash. Joe didn’t yet trust the truck, a vehicle recently assigned to him. The check-engine light would flash on and off, and occasionally there was a knocking sound under the hood that sounded like popcorn popping. The truck had been issued to him as revenge by his cost-conscious superiors, after his last vehicle had burned up in a fire in Jackson Hole. Even though the suspension was shot, the truck did have a CD player, a rarity in state vehicles, and the sound track for the ride home had been a CD Sheridan had made for him. It was titled “Get with it, Dad” in a black felt marker. She’d given it to him two days before after breakfast, saying, “You need to listen to this new music so you don’t seem so clueless. It may help.” Things were changing in his family. His girls were getting older. Joe was not only under the thumb of his superiors but was apparently becoming clueless too. His red uniform shirt with the pronghorn antelope Game and Fish patch on the shoulder and his green Filson vest were caked with mud from changing a tire on the mountain earlier in the day.
“I think Jarrod Haynes likes you,” Julie said to Sheridan.
“Get out! Why do you say that? You’re crazy.”
“Didn’t you see him watching us practice?” Julie asked. “He stayed after the boys were done and watched us run.”
“I saw him,” Sheridan said. “But why do you think he likes me?”
“ ’Cause he didn’t take his eyes off of you the whole time, that’s why. Even when he got a call on his cell, he stood there and watched you while he talked. He’s hot for you, Sherry.”
“I wish I had a cell phone,” Sheridan said.
Joe tuned out. He didn’t want to hear about a boy targeting his daughter. It made him uncomfortable. And the cell-phone conversation made him tired. He and Marybeth had said Sheridan wouldn’t get one until she was sixteen, but that didn’t stop his daughter from coming up with reasons why she needed one now.
In the particularly intense way of teenage girls, Sheridan and Julie were inseparable. Julie was tall, lithe, tanned, blond, blue-eyed, and budding. Sheridan was a shorter version of Julie, but with her mother’s startling green eyes. The two had ridden the school bus together for years and Sheridan had hated Julie, said she was bossy and arrogant and acted like royalty. Then something happened, and the two girls could barely be apart from each other. Three-hour phone calls between them weren’t unusual at night.
“I just don’t know what to think about that,” Sheridan said.
“You’ll be the envy of everyone if you go with him,” Julie said.
“He doesn’t seem very smart.”
Julie laughed and rolled her eyes. “Who cares?” she said. “He’s fricking awesome.”
Joe cringed, wishing he had missed that.
He had spent the morning patrolling the brushy foothills where the spring wild turkey season was still open, although there appeared to be no turkey hunters about. It was his first foray into the timbered southwestern saddle slopes since winter. The snow was receding up the mountain, leaving hard-packed grainy drifts in arroyos and cuts. The retreating snow also revealed the aftermath of small battles and tragedies no one had witnessed that had taken place over the winter—six mule deer that had died of starvation in a wooded hollow; a cow and calf elk that had broken through the ice on a pond and frozen in place; pronghorn antelope caught in the barbed wire of a fence, their emaciated bodies draping over the wire like rugs hanging to dry. But there were signs of renewal as well, as thick light-green shoots bristled through dead matted grass near stream sides, and fat, pregnant does stared at his passing pickup from shadowed groves.
April was the slowest month of the year in the field for a game warden, especially in a place with a fleeting spring. It was the fifth year of a drought. The hottest issue he had to contend with was what to do with the four elk that had shown up in the town of Saddlestring and seemed to have no plans to leave. While mule deer were common in the parks and gardens, elk were not. Joe had chased the four animals—two bulls, a cow, and a calf—from the city park several times by firing .22 blanks into the air several times. But they kept coming back. The animals had become such a fixture in the park they were now referred to as the “Town Elk,” and locals were feeding them, which kept them hanging around while providing empty nourishment that would eventually make them sick and kill them. Joe was loath to destroy the elk, but thought he may not have a choice if they stuck around.
The changes in his agency had begun with the election of a new governor. On the day after the election, Joe had received a four-word message from his supervisor, Trey Crump, that read: “Hell has frozen over,” meaning a Democrat had been elected. His name was Spencer Rulon. Within a week, the agency director resigned before being fired, and a bitter campaign was waged for a replacement. Joe, and most of the game wardens, actively supported an “Anybody but Randy Pope” ticket, since Pope had risen to prominence within the agency from the administrative side (rather than the law-enforcement or biology side) and made no bones about wanting to rid the state of personnel he felt were too independent, who had “gone native,” or were considered uncontrollable cowboys—men like Joe Pickett. Joe’s clash with Pope the year before in Jackson had resulted in a simmering feud that was heating up, as Joe’s report of Pope’s betrayal made the rounds within the agency, despite Pope’s efforts to stop it.
Governor Rulon was a big man with a big face and a big gut, an unruly shock of silver-flecked brown hair, a quick sloppy smile, and endlessly darting eyes. In the previous year’s election, Rulon had beaten the Republican challenger by twenty points, despite the fact that his opponent had been handpicked by term-limited Governor Budd. This in a state that was 70 percent Republican. Rulon grew up on a ranch near Casper, the grandson of a U.S. senator. He played linebacker for the Wyoming Cowboys, got a law degree, made a fortune in private practice suing federal agencies, then was elected county prosecutor. Loud and profane, Rulon campaigned for governor by crisscrossing the state endlessly in his own pickup and buying rounds for the house in every bar from Yoder to Wright, and challenging anyone who didn’t plan to vote for him to an arm-wrestling, sports-trivia, or shooting contest. The word most used to describe the new governor seemed to be “energetic.” He could turn from a good old boy pounding beers and slapping backs into an orator capable of delivering the twelve-minute closing argument by Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind from memory. His favorite breakfast was reportedly biscuits and sausage gravy and a glass of Pinot Noir. Like Wyoming itself, Joe thought, Rulon didn’t mind leading with his rough exterior and later surprising—and mildly troubling—the onlooker with a kind of eccentric depth.
He was also, according to more and more state employees who had to deal with their new boss, crazy as a tick.
But he was profoundly popular with the voters. Unlike his predecessor, Rulon reassigned his bodyguards to the Highway Patrol, fired his driver, and insisted that his name and phone number be listed in the telephone book. He eliminated the gatekeepers who had been employed to restrict access to his office and put up a sign that said GOV RULON’S OFfiCE—BARGE RIGHT IN, which was heeded by an endless stream of visitors.
One of Rulon’s first decisions was to choose a new Game and Fish director. The Board of Commissioners lined up a slate of three candidates—Pope included. The governor’s first choice was a longtime game warden from Medicine Bow, who died of a heart attack within a week of the announcement. The second candidate withdrew his name from consideration when news of an old sexual harassment suit hit the press. Which left Randy Pope, who gladly assumed the role, even declaring to a reporter that “fate and destiny both stepped forward” to enable his promotion. That had been two months ago.
Trey Crump, Joe’s district supervisor, said he saw the writing on the wall and took early retirement rather than submit to Pope’s new directives for supervisors. Without Trey, who had also been Joe’s champion within the state bureaucracy, Joe now had been ordered to report directly to Pope. Instead of weekly reports, Pope wanted daily dispatches. It was Pope who had nixed Joe’s request for a new pickup and instead had sent one with 150,000 miles on it, bald tires, and a motor that was unreliable.
Joe had been around long enough to know exactly what was happening. Pope could not appear to have a public vendetta against Joe, especially because Joe’s star had risen over the past few years in certain quarters.
But Pope was a master of the bureaucratic Death of a Thousand Cuts, the slow, steady, petty, and maddening procedure—misplaced requests, unreturned phone calls, lost insurance and reimbursement claims, blizzards of busywork—designed to drive an employee out of a state or federal agency. And with Pope, Joe knew it was personal.
Joe realized Sheridan was talking to him. “What?”
“How can he tune out like that?” Julie asked Sheridan, as if Joe weren’t in the cab.
“I don’t know. It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Then: “Dad, are we going to stop and feed Nate’s birds? I want to show Julie the falcons.”
“I already fed them today,” he said.
Joe slowed and turned onto a dirt road from the highway beneath a massive elk-antler arch with a sign hanging from chains that read:
THUNDERHEAD RANCHES, EST. 1883.
Julie said, “My grandma says someday my name is going to be on that sign.”
“Cool,” Sheridan replied.
Joe had heard Julie say that before.