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Agressive and independent, agent Rachel Porter has long been a thorn in the side of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- and for her sins, she's been assigned to remote Montana. In this cold, windswept country of private militias and survivalists, grizzlies are being killed at an alarming rate. And while following up on a rumor that someone from the local Blackfeet tribe is responsible, Rachel uncovers an even more terrible truth: Native Americans are mysteriously disappearing as well. In this land that the ...
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Agressive and independent, agent Rachel Porter has long been a thorn in the side of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- and for her sins, she's been assigned to remote Montana. In this cold, windswept country of private militias and survivalists, grizzlies are being killed at an alarming rate. And while following up on a rumor that someone from the local Blackfeet tribe is responsible, Rachel uncovers an even more terrible truth: Native Americans are mysteriously disappearing as well. In this land that the Unabomber called home, it appears that endangered animals and humans are equally fair game. And the next casualty may well be one gutsy wildlife agent who refuses to let sleeping bears lie.
The Ford 4X4 roared in protest as my foot flogged the gas pedal, and its rear end swung side-to-side in a manic Mae West shimmy. It had been raining hard for three days straight, turning Montana's red clay earth into gumbo mud that clung to my tires in a smothering embrace.
At times like this I cursed the very existence of HBO, with its taunting reminder of what my life in New York might have been. Damn Sex and the City -- all eighteen new episodes -- for flaunting chic Manolo Blahnik shoes, Versace dresses, and Fendi baguettes! Okay -- so in reality, I had been an out-of-work actress without any money, meeting my friends at a local bar for beers, unable to get into Nobu to sip ever-so-trendy Cosmopolitans. Still, a girl can dream of living the high life and being swept off her feet by her very own Mr. Big, can't she?
My vehicle slid along the slippery dirt road as if boasting, I'm not tractionally challenged; I'm independently motivated!
As the pickup fishtailed, I snapped out of my daydream and concentrated on the hazardous path before me. It was scarred with ancient tire tracks created by a long history of vehicles that had unwillingly performed figure eights. There was little consolation in knowing that previous cars had clawed and fought to stay on the road; it was somewhere along here that Al Carolton had slid off the path and into a ditch, on a day much like this three months ago.
No one ventured up here without a good reason -- a dirt road in the mountains of northern Montana, so ruggedly remote it nearly screamed for people to stay away. Even fewer had the chutzpahto flagrantly trespass through the sovereign nation known as the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
I eased to a stop when I saw a tree wrapped with yellow crime tape. Rummaging through my pocket, I pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, rechecked the directions, and then wadded it back into a tight, compact ball.
Pulling up my rain slicker's hood, I reached for the door handle, then jumped out. My feet were immediately swallowed by a deep puddle of viscous mud.
The marked tree's bark was scarred by the angry bite of a steel chain, doubtless where Carolton had attached the winch to extricate his pickup from its muddy trench. Instead, the wheels had continued to spin, rockand-rolling ever deeper into the muck. As if things weren't bad enough, the cable then became entangled on its spool. A total "Charlie Forest" -- more commonly referred to among locals as a "cluster fuck."
What happened next had been gradually pieced together by federal and tribal agents a week later, when the body was found. Their best guess was that Carolton had given up on his pickup and tried to hike out -- with disastrous results. The evidence? A backpack lying on the ground -- at least, what was left of it. Other clues consisted of a bootlace with traces of dried blood, tatters of fabric that had once been a shirt, a bloodied sock, and small pieces of human flesh. A rifle lay slumbering peacefully nearby.
A few yards farther on, a series of thrash marks marred the earth. Panic must have held Carolton tight in its grip as he'd fallen, his glasses shattering into a crude kaleidoscope that sadistically refracted the image of his tormentor.
Frantically scrambling to his feet, Carolton had made a final, frenzied run for his life. Blood splatters recorded his desperate path of flight. He managed to reach his vehicle, where he'd crawled inside and hastily locked the door. What took place next required little interpretation. Copious prints encircled the pickup -- but only two rear paws had gripped the dirt.
Unleashing its fury in a heart-stopping spectacle, the grizzly had risen up on hind legs, and then crashed back down onto the vehicle like a battering ram. The damaged pickup proved no more a challenge than a metal can, as the grizzly peeled off its door in a frenzy.
Claws as sharp as switchblades then furiously slashed through the seat, turning the vinyl fabric into thin slivers of confetti. The terrified man inside must have made one last effort to escape, but it was too late. The grizzly locked onto Carolton's ankles and dragged him outside, where the bristling pine trees stood silent witness to the last gruesome moments of horror. Carolton's wallet had been found under their branches, decorated with an intricate array of bite marks; the punctured credit cards had identified the remains.
The official report had methodically described a classic carcass scene. A bear had fed on the body -- along with coyotes, ravens, and scavenging magpies. Those black-and-white birds had tipped the agents off; they'd bolted from the brush as the men approached, scaring the living daylights out of the search party.
Little was found of Carolton's dismembered body. What made it gruesomely eerie was that one leg remained not only untouched, but still fully clothed. A critter had partially buried the limb, probably to savor it later on.
Hair, saliva, and blood samples had been taken from the scene in hope of catching the perpetrator, but it was as if the bear had vanished off the face of the earth. Most likely, it remained on the loose and was still roaming the area.
As the rain let up, fog began to roll in, draping itself over the mountains like a shroud. I headed for the spot where Carolton's body had been found, and squatted down. A veil of apprehension seductively enveloped my limbs like a fine wool shawl, slowly gliding across my arms, chest, and throat. Death was peering over my shoulder, leaning in close, letting me know that he was still around.A Killing Season. Copyright © by Jessica Speart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted April 5, 2009
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Posted June 18, 2009
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