Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country

Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country

4.2 41
by C. J. Box

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From C. J. Box, the New York Times-bestselling author of the Joe Pickett novels, comes a thrilling book of suspense stories about the Wyoming he knows so well—and the dark deeds and impulses that can be found there.
Over the course of eighteen books, C. J. Box has been consistently hailed for his brilliant storytelling andSee more details below


From C. J. Box, the New York Times-bestselling author of the Joe Pickett novels, comes a thrilling book of suspense stories about the Wyoming he knows so well—and the dark deeds and impulses that can be found there.
Over the course of eighteen books, C. J. Box has been consistently hailed for his brilliant storytelling and extraordinary skills at creating character, suspense, and a deep sense of place. All of those strengths are in the ten riveting stories—three of them never before published—that make up Shots Fired.

In “One-Car Bridge,” one of four Joe Pickett stories, Pickett goes up against a “just plain mean” landowner, with disastrous results, and in “Shots Fired,” his investigation into the radio call referred to in the title nearly ends up being the last thing he ever does. In “Pirates of Yellowstone,” two Eastern European tough guys find out what it means to be strangers in a strange land, and in “Le Sauvage Noble,” the stranger is a Lakota in Paris who enjoys playing the “noble savage” for the French women—until he meets Sophie. Then he discovers what “savage” really means.

Shots Fired is proof once again why “Box is a force to be reckoned with” (The Providence Journal-Bulletin).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Box, author of Stone Cold and 13 other Joe Pickett novels, proves in his first story collection that he’s also adept at the short form. The 10 selections, which include four Joe Pickett tales, are filled with Box trademarks: drama, darkness, surprise twists, and a palpable sense of a wild, magnificent, and sometimes cruel Wyoming. Add to those attributes a profound poignancy, as in “Blood Knot,” which captures in five pages the unbreakable bond between a grandfather and granddaughter. “Pirates of Yellowstone,” “Shots Fired,” and “The End of Jim and Ezra” introduce less familiar aspects of the Western landscape: Eastern Europeans looking for work in our national parks, solitary Basque sheepherders, and the trapper mountain men of the mid-1800s. One entry, “Le Sauvage Noble,” may be a bit too savage for some. But Box fans will be happy to see that Nate Romanowski has a story all his own, “The Master Falconer,” with just a cameo from Pickett. Author tour. Agent: Ann Rittenberg, Ann Rittenberg Literary Agency. (July)
Library Journal
★ 05/15/2014
At last those hard-to-find Box short stories that appeared as limited editions or in anthologies, and three new ones, have been brought together in one volume that will be treasured by his fans. This collection of ten stories includes four featuring Joe Pickett and/or Nate Romanowski. The other tales are set in the Wind River mountains, Yellowstone, Wyoming Territory in 1835, the North Platte River in Wyoming, and modern-day Paris. An especially enthralling tale about a blizzard, pronghorns, and the Third Reich is based on a 1936 photo taken by Charles Belden that Box found at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. There is even a 1,000-word story that articulates the relationship among generations in one family. In the introduction, the author relates information about each piece—why it was written and where the ideas came from. VERDICT Artistry, creativity, and craftsmanship are hallmarks of Box's writing. Each story is packed with adventure and intriguing characters that his fans have come to expect in his superlative storytelling. Nonstop adventure and mystery are omnipresent with unexpected twists and turns that will leave readers begging for more. [See Prepub Alert, 2/10/14.]—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel
Kirkus Reviews
Ten stories—three never before published—from the best-selling creator of Wyoming Game and Fish Warden Joe Pickett (Stone Cold, 2014, etc.).Joe appears in three of these tales and has a cameo in a fourth. In “One-Car Bridge,” he delivers bad news to a mean millionaire rancher whose day is about to get worse. “Dull Knife” shows him investigating the death of a former women’s basketball star whose car plunged into an icy lake. “Shots Fired: A Requiem for Ander Esti” takes him into an innocuous sheep wagon from which shots have been fired at a visiting hunter’s car. And in “The Master Falconer,” he’s on hand to lend support and comfort to his friend Nate Romanowski, whose falcons have been seized by an Arab patron whose money Nate refused. The other stories are more wide-ranging. A pair of Czech visitors to Big Sky country try to get tough with a biopirate in “Pirates of Yellowstone.” A fishing expedition ends in predictable violence in “Every Day Is a Good Day on the River.” A kidnapped lawyer turns the tables on a disgruntled legal opponent in “Pronghorns of the Third Reich.” The short, heartfelt “Blood Knot” shows the last morning a teenage girl joins her grandfather to fish. The title character in “La Sauvage Noble ('The Noble Savage')” ships off to Paris with a Wild West show looking to get screwed, and does so in more ways than one. And the fate of the incautious trappers in “The End of Jim and Ezra,” set in 1835, shows how little has changed in the years since.Box generally avoids whodunits and surprises; the title story’s subtitle gives away its principal revelation. But if you’re looking for rising tension played out against spectacular natural scenery, nobody does it better.
From the Publisher
“An excellent anthology…One of America’s best crime novelists.” —Lansing State Journal

“Nonstop adventure and mystery are omnipresent with unexpected twists and turns that will leave readers begging for more.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Box [proves] that he’s also adept at the short form.”—Publishers Weekly

“If you’re looking for rising tension played out against spectacular natural scenery, nobody does it better.”—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 by C.J. Box—-

When it’s twenty-two degrees below zero on a high mountain lake, the cracking of the ice makes an unearthly howling bellow that chills the blood and makes hearts skip a beat. The crack itself, looking like a jagged bolt of crystal-white lightning, zips across the ice with the f lick of a lizard’s tongue. But it is the sound of the crack, the plaintive, anguished moan, that penetrates a man and makes his skin crawl, reminding him that if the earth wanted to swallow him up, well, it could. And no one could stop it.

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett froze with the sound and looked down at his feet as the crack shot between them. The sound washed over and through him. The crack itself was no danger to him. Ice shifted and buckled all the time. Nevertheless, he sidestepped over the crack before continuing.

The ice fishermen were still a quarter of a mile away across the surface of Dull Knife Reservoir in the Bighorn Mountains. Four fishermen, two sitting on upturned plastic buckets, two standing near their holes in the ice. All bundled up like black snowmen, their shapes rounded and without angles because of the thick winter parkas and insulated coveralls they wore. Snippets of their conversation carried crisply over the distance: a growl, a laugh, a bark. They were obviously watching him approach, and were amused when he froze and altered course.

In January, Joe had little to do besides paperwork, reports, and repairs. All of the hunting seasons were closed, and the streams and lakes were frozen. Except for a few goose hunters who had pits on the southeastern corner of his district, checking the licenses of ice fishermen was the only game in town. Even though it was nearing dusk and he could literally feel the temperature dropping as the sun gave up, defeated, and slipped behind the western mountains, he had decided to park his truck and walk across the ice to check the fishermen out. Well, not really a walk. More like a shuffle.

Joe admired ice fishermen, although he thought they were crazy. To stand around on the surface of a lake, fishing through a hole that had been augured through fourteen inches of ice, took a special breed. To fish when it was twenty-two below took a particular kind of dedication, or madness. Joe often thought that if he caught an ice fisherman without a license, the violator should be sentenced to more ice-fishing for punishment.

“Hey, Joe,” one of the fishermen called out. “Fine weather we’re having.” The other three laughed. Joe smiled. He recognized the fisherman to be Hans, a retired Saddlestring cop who now worked part-time as a janitor for Barrett’s Pharmacy. Jack, his partner for hunting and fishing, was a retired schoolteacher. The other two fishermen were their sons.

“How’s fishing?” Joe asked.

Jack opened a cooler and displayed a dozen fat rainbow trout and two dozen silvery cans of beer. “Fishing’s been good,” Jack said. “You can make up for every fish you lost in the summer by fishing in the winter.”

Joe admired the big fish, oohing and aahing. “Since I walked out all this way . . .” he started to say.

“You want to check our licenses,” Hans finished for him. All four men started unzipping and unsnapping their coats, digging through layers to find their wallets.

“Do you know anything about that light under the ice over there?” Hans’s son asked as he handed his license to Joe.

“What light?”

Hans pointed across the lake. “We noticed it this morning when we came out,” he said. “It was still dark, and it looked like it was lit up under the ice. It was kind of creepy.”

Joe looked where Hans was pointing, and he could see it. On the far shore, beneath the black wooded bluff of the shoreline, was a faint yellow glow.

“Are you sure it’s not a ref lection from somewhere?” Joe asked.

“Where?” Hans asked back.

Joe squinted. “How could there be a light under the ice?”

“That’s what we were wondering,” Jack said. “We were going to walk over there and check it out, but the fish started hitting and, well, you know.”

Joe nodded, handing back all of the licenses, but he continued to look across the lake. As it got darker, the glow became more pronounced.

Hans’s son said, “Jesus, it’s getting cold all of a sudden.”

“We’d best head back,” Jack said, reaching down to clear a skin of ice from the top of his fishing hole so he could reel in.

“Let me know what you find over there,” Hans said to Joe. “I’d go with you, but my feet are starting to freeze.”

“That’s because you have old feet,” Hans’s son said, cracking open a beer.

Not so old I can’t kick your ass with one of ’em,” Hans said.

Jack hooted.

Joe smiled and left.

He shuffled across the lake as the sun set. Hard white stars flickered in the sky, followed by a thin slice of moon that seemed too cold to bloom full. Joe felt icy fingers of cold probing into his collar, and up his sleeves. He knew his feet would freeze, even in his thick Sorel Pac boots, the moment he stopped walking.

There was no doubt that there was light under the surface of the lake. It now illuminated the very ice he was walking on, so his feet looked like black silhouettes. It reminded him of being on a hip dance floor once when he was in college. He remembered dancing very badly on it. Another crack on the lake brought a moan that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. The moan echoed softly back and forth across the lake.

He stopped and stared. Something was sticking up through the surface of ice in the middle of the glow; something thin, spindly, and black. His first thought was that it was a tree branch.

The surface of the ice changed as he walked. There was a rim of broken ice plates, then a slick surface. Ice told stories, Joe knew. Whatever happened could be seen and felt by examining the ice. Something had crashed through here, and the water had recently frozen back over it.

It was a frozen human hand, reaching up through the ice, not a branch. As he stood above it, he could see the body below, and the source of the glow beneath the surface: headlights. He felt his heart race as he stared, and a line of sweat broke out across his forehead, beneath his wool cap. He could see her face beneath the ice, despite the bolts of thick black hair that slowly whorled around it in the current. Her eyes were open, looking upward, her mouth set in a pout. She wore dark clothing. There was a light band of flesh between the top of her black jeans and the bottom of her coat. Her name was Jessica Lynn Antelope, and she had been a basketball star.

The story the ice told him was this:

The night before, the pickup truck that was now on the bottom of the lake had gone off the old two-track road that rimmed the bluff. It must have been going fast, he thought, to have launched this far into the lake. The truck had crashed through the ice and settled on the deep floor of the lake, with its rear end down first so the headlights pointed up. The engine was obviously killed in the water, but the battery held enough of a charge to power the lights a day later.

Jessica Lynn Antelope had been in the pickup, either as the driver or a passenger. She had attempted to swim to the surface toward the hole the truck had made. Whether she’d drowned before she froze to death would be a toss-up. Joe wondered if she realized, before she died, that her grasping hand had broken through the rapidly forming new skin of ice into the twenty-below air. As the water froze, it had trapped her arm and held it fast in its grip. Now, her body swayed slowly in the current, her hair sweeping across her face in a fan dance.

He said, “Jesus,” and dug in his parka for his cell phone to call the sheriff.

Joe waited in his pickup on the shore of the lake—engine running, heater blowing full blast—for Sheriff McLanahan and the tow truck to arrive. His toes in his boots burned as they thawed out. He was still annoyed at the tone of the conversation he had had with McLanahan.

“You found her, huh?” McLanahan had said with a heavy sigh.

“I think it’s her,” Joe had said, remembering her from seeing her on the basketball court. She had gained weight since those days, her face was round, like a hubcap.

“Her mother called this morning, said she hadn’t shown up this morning. We always give missing person calls a few days if they come from the res, since those people vanish for days on end most of the time.”

“ ‘Those people’?” Joe repeated.

“You know what I’m talking about,” McLanahan said. “They operate on Indian time. If they say they’ll be someplace at nine, there’s no reason to worry until one or two. Same thing with the missing person calls. They always show up somewhere eventually, usually hungover.”

“This is Jessica Antelope we’re talking about,” Joe said.

“I know, I know. But she hasn’t played in five years. You know about her.”

Joe did. He had heard. And he had seen her a few times since. But he chose to remember her from the basketball court, when he and his daughter Sheridan would drive to the reservation simply to watch her play. Sheridan had idolized Jessica Antelope, studied her, tried to emulate her on the court. But despite Sheridan’s grit and determination, she could not run as fast, pass as cleanly, or score forty points a game. Jessica had a blinding crossover dribble that compared legitimately to those of the great NBA point guards as she brought the ball down the court, and she left opponents flailing at air in her wake, and fans gasping. Joe had never seen a girl play basketball with so much natural grace and style, and neither had anyone else. Sheridan still had photos of Jessica Antelope, clipped from the Saddlestring Roundup, taped to her wall. Jessica had led the Wyoming Indian Lady Warriors, made up of only seven Northern Arapaho girls, to the state championship game, where they lost 77–75 to Cheyenne, a much larger school. Jessica scored fifty-two points in the loss.

But the scouts didn’t care about the loss. Jessica Antelope had been offered full-ride scholarships to over twenty universities, including Duke and Tennessee, the national powers. Instead, Jessica stayed on the reservation to take care of an ailing grandmother, she claimed. Then she gained weight, a lot of it. She drank beer and liquor with her friends. She took crystal meth, the scourge of the reservation, and was arrested for dealing it. Joe had seen her several times in the elk camps of out-of-state hunters, where she’d been hired as a camp cook. Joe suspected she was chosen for other services as well, and it pained him. Those hunters had no idea that the chubby twenty-two-year-old Northern Arapaho scrambling their eggs was once the greatest basketball player in the state of Wyoming.

Joe had heard Jessica had fallen in with Darrell Heywood and his friends on the res as well, and he hoped it wasn’t true.

Joe stood on the shore of the lake with Sheriff McLanahan, two deputies, and the tow truck driver. The temperature was now thirty degrees below zero, and the exhaust from the tow truck engulfed them in a foul-smelling cloud.

“There’s no way we’ll get that truck out of there tonight,” the driver said. “We’d have to hire divers to hook up the cable, and nobody in their right mind would come out tonight to do it.”

“What about Jessica’s body?” Joe asked McLanahan.

The sheriff shrugged. “She’ll still be there tomorrow.”

“What if there’s someone else in the truck?” Joe asked, exasperated.

McLanahan shook his head. “They’ll keep,” he said. “They aren’t going nowhere.”

Joe shot him a look.

“Besides, we know who was in the truck with her,” McLanahan said. “There’s a guy in the clinic with hypothermia. It’s her brother, Alan Antelope. He’s called ‘Smudge’ on the res, I guess. He showed up last night—somebody dumped him at the emergency entrance and took off. He’s in a coma, and hasn’t said anything.”

“So it was Jessica and her brother,” Joe said. “Damn, what were they doing out here?”

McLanahan shrugged. “Why do Indians do anything they do?”

“Did you ever see her play basketball?” Joe asked.

The sheriff shook his head. “I heard she was pretty good,” he said.

“She was the best I ever saw,” Joe said.

“We used to play Wyoming Indian in high school,” McLanahan said, addressing the tow truck driver more than Joe, launching into one of his stories that were always about him. “Those fucking Indians could run the court like there was no tomorrow. Run and gun, no set plays. They’d just try to run you right out of the building. They’d score ninety or a hundred points a game, but they didn’t play defense so we’d score ninety against them. During time-outs they’d sit on the bench and light up cigarettes. I kid you not. Fucking cigarettes on the bench.”

Joe turned away, started walking back to his truck. He could hear McLanahan going on, the driver laughing.

“When we’d run against ’em in cross-country, they’d do the same damn thing. One of ’em ran until his heart exploded in his chest. Too much smoking and drinking. Shit, they’d have other Indians stationed at the finish line just to stop their runners so they wouldn’t keep running and end up in the next county. . . .”

“Darrell Hey wood,” Marybeth said to Joe at home in the bathroom. “You hate that guy, don’t you?”

Joe was soaking in the tub, trying to thaw himself out. Feeling in his legs and arms was returning under the steaming water, but it hurt. After his teeth stopped chattering, he’d told her about finding Jessica Lynn Antelope in the ice.

Marybeth leaned against the doorway, arms crossed, wearing a thick robe. She looked well scrubbed and attractive, he thought. Her blond hair was mussed from a pillow, and her legs, what he could see of them beneath the robe, were firm and white. Sheridan and Lucy had been in bed for hours, since it was after midnight when Joe had gotten home. Marybeth had stayed up for him, reading a novel in bed.

“I don’t know if ‘hate’ is the right word,” Joe said. “I don’t appreciate him. I don’t like what he stands for.”

“Hasn’t he given hundreds of thousands to the reservation?” Marybeth asked. “Out of some trust fund he’s got?”

“Yeah,” Joe said. “But I don’t like his attitude. He pretends he’s an Indian. No, not that. He pretends he’s an Indian, but he thinks he’s better than them. Am I making sense?”

“Hardly,” Marybeth said, with a slight smile.

“He gives them money, but he doesn’t help them,” Joe said. “He likes the idea of being close to the Indians because it feeds his ego. But he preys on them, is what I think. They’re not stupid. He treats them like children, is what I’m trying to say. It’s that he doesn’t give them any credit that they’re real human beings. To him, they’re cartoon characters. People of the earth, or something.”

Joe remembered being in a small audience a couple of years ago, when Darrell Heywood gave the dedication for a new monument on the lawn of the Tribal Center. Heywood had designed the monument and, of course, paid for it. The granite obelisk was dedicated to the struggles of the Northern Arapaho and the Shoshone, who shared the reservation. The ceremony took place shortly after Heywood actually moved there, after he began growing his hair long and single-braiding it Indian-style, when he began to insist everyone call him by his Indian name, White Buffalo. Heywood’s talk was rambling and self-indulgent, Joe thought, more about how profoundly he had been moved as a child when he first read about Pocahontas than about the struggles of the Northern Arapaho or Shoshone. How angry he was when he read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, how inspired after reading Black Elk Speaks. He confessed how he felt more connected to the Natives and their love of nature and mysticism than he ever was with his own parents. Heywood described, in fits and starts, his brief history of dropping out of college, traveling the country, participating in powwows and sun dances, the peyote-inspired vision he’d obtained that showed him he was related to his Native brothers and sisters by a psychic bloodline, how he’d found himself here, in Wyoming, home at last. He urged his brothers and sisters to resist the materialistic evils of the white man’s culture, to not get caught in their trap of predation based on money, power, and industry. To go back to what they were, what made them special: being children of nature. Pure. Superior. Uncorrupted. He never mentioned his trust fund and inheritance, Joe recalled.

“So you think Jessica deteriorated because she hung out with
Darrell Heywood?” she asked.

Joe thought for a moment. “Yup,” he said.

“But that didn’t put her in the lake, did it?”

“It might have been a factor,” Joe said. “He’s fairly well known for taking good care of his friends.”

“Meaning he supplied them with alcohol and drugs,” Marybeth said. “It’s so sad.”

“It is,” Joe said. “Giving alcohol to an alcoholic makes him happy, but it doesn’t help him. Buying stuff for people who won’t work makes you popular, but it doesn’t get them a job or any self-respect.”

“Are you thawed out yet?” she asked.

He looked up. “Why? Do you have something in mind?”

Later, Joe slipped out of the bed and pulled on his own robe against the cold that sliced into the house through the walls. He stood at the window, looking out at the night. He could feel the furnace working, fighting a holding action against the outside and not winning. A light snow fell, but the night was so cold that the flakes hung in the air and didn’t land. He thought of the moan of the ice and Jessica’s hand reaching through it toward the sky.

“That was nice,” Marybeth said from bed, from somewhere beneath the quilts.

“She was the best point guard Sheridan and I have ever seen,” Joe said.

At breakfast, Joe told Sheridan about Jessica Antelope.

“Who is she?” Lucy asked.

“She used to play basketball,” Sheridan said, her eyes moistening but her face holding steady. “Dad and I used to watch her.”

“Was she as good as you?”

Sheridan exchanged looks with Joe. “She was a lot better,” Sheridan said. “You know those pictures on my wall?”

“Oh,” Lucy said, and went back to her cereal.

“Sorry, Sheridan,” Joe said. He couldn’t tell what Sheridan was thinking.

“If I could do what she did,” Sheridan said, “I wouldn’t waste my talent like that. Why didn’t she keep playing, Dad?”

“I don’t know. She’s the only one who could answer that.”

“What was wrong with her?” Sheridan asked. “Didn’t she know how good she was?”

Joe couldn’t answer that one, either.

He drove to Dull Knife Reservoir in the morning after breakfast and watched as divers in thick winter dry suits chopped Jessica Lynn Antelope’s body out of the ice. When they pulled her free, her body was dark and limp and lay on the surface of the lake like a wet rag until the EMTs loaded her onto a gurney. Her frozen arm stuck out of the blanket like an antenna. The ambulance stayed until they could determine whether there were any more bodies.

It took half the day to hook up the pickup and winch it through the ice onto shore. The ice broke with the sound of explosives as they pulled it through.

Joe hung back, watching closely as the sheriff looked in the cab of the pickup.

“Dead men everywhere,” McLanahan declared loudly, and a hush fell over the workers, EMTs, and sheriff ’s office personnel.

Then McLanahan reached through the broken-out side window and showed everyone an empty sixteen-ounce Budweiser can. “At least two six-packs of dead men in there,” he said, nodding at the can. “The official beverage of the Wind River Indian Reservation.” Everyone laughed.

Joe sighed and left the scene. He hated McLanahan’s casual racism. Worse, he hated the fact that in too many instances, McLanahan was right.

On his way to the hospital, Joe called Nate Romanowski on his cell phone. Nate lived alone in a stone house on the bank of the Twelve Sleep River, where he flew and hunted falcons and lived well with no visible means of support. Joe trusted Nate even though most feared him, and Joe knew Nate was intimate with the tribal council of the reservation as well as many of both the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho who lived there.

Nate had already heard about the discovery of Jessica Antelope’s body.

“Did they find anyone else?” Nate asked.

“Not yet.”

“That surprises me,” Nate said. “I can’t see Jessica and her brother out together by themselves. They were always surrounded by other people.”

Joe told him what the sheriff had said about Alan.

“Smudge,” Nate said, and Joe could picture him nodding.

“Why do they call him that?”

“When he was a little boy, his face was always dirty,” Nate said. “His grandmother called him Smudge. It stuck, because his face is still always dirty.”


“I’d see if Smudge will talk to you,” Nate said. “He’s Jessica’s only brother, although he’s a real meth junkie. She’s got a sister, too, named Linnie. I’d check to make sure she’s all right. Linnie and Smudge hang out with Darrell Heywood. There might have been more than the two of them in that pickup.”

“I hope not,” Joe said, imagining other bodies drifting in Dull Knife Reservoir, their lifeless bodies bumping up against the thick shield of ice.

Joe strode down the hallway of the hospital, found the door with a placard on it that read Alan Antelope, and went in to find Smudge awake and alert and trembling violently.

Smudge was slight and dark and reminded Joe of a ferret. He had a huge blade-shaped nose and furtive eyes that didn’t hold on Joe for more than a second. His head was abnormally small, perched on the end of a long neck like a balled fist.

“I thought you were supposed to be in a coma,” Joe said, closing the door behind him.

“I wish I was,” Smudge said, his voice a buzz-saw timbre. “I’m a fucking hurting unit, man.”

Joe looked Smudge over, saw no wounds.

“I need something,” Smudge said.

“You’re withdrawing from meth,” Joe said, as much to himself as to Smudge. “That’s what hurts.”

Smudge’s face screwed up into a petulant fist. “Yeah, man, that’s what hurts. Go tell the nurses I need something. They don’t even know I’m here.”

“They know,” Joe said. “They just don’t know you’re awake. How long have you been conscious?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Not long.”

“What do you remember about getting here?” Joe asked. Smudge thrust his fist of a face toward Joe to show his impatience. “I don’t remember anything,” he said.

“You don’t remember being in a pickup with Jessica? Out at Dull Knife?”

Smudge sat back as if he’d been slapped. Joe watched his eyes. Smudge was recalling something.

“We were in my truck,” Smudge said slowly. “Out by the lake . . .”

“That we know,” Joe said. “What else?”

Smudge shook his head. “It was dark, I know that.”

Joe rolled his eyes.

“Next thing I remember, I was getting pushed out of a car in front of the hospital.”

“Who pushed you?” Joe asked. “Who else was in the truck when it went into the lake?”

Smudge started to speak, then stopped himself. “Nobody. Just me and Jessica.”

“So someone asked you to keep your mouth shut. You do remember that, then?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, man,” Smudge said, shaking his head from side to side in an exaggerated way.

“Sure you do,” Joe said. “Who told you to keep quiet? Who else was in the truck?”

“No one, I said. Man, could you get me a nurse?”

Joe tried not to glance at the call button hanging on a cord near Smudge’s shoulder.

“I’ll get you the nurse when you tell me who else was in the truck when it went into the lake.”

“That’s extortion,” Smudge said.

“Yup,” Joe said.

“I need something,” Smudge said, rubbing his arms with his hands as if killing ants that were crawling on his skin. “I need something bad.”

“Your sister didn’t make it,” Joe said. “Remember her?”

Smudge looked up, stopped rubbing. His eyes glistened. “Jessie?”

“Yes. She tried to swim to the top, but she didn’t make it.”

Smudge nodded. He knew.

“She was the best basketball player I ever saw,” Joe said. “My daughter worshipped her.”

“Yes,” Smudge said. “She was good, man.”

“She was more than good,” Joe said, remembering what Sheridan had said that morning. “Why didn’t she keep playing?”

Smudge shrugged. It was as if Joe had asked him why Jessica liked chocolate over vanilla.

“Didn’t she ever say?” Joe asked.

“Why are you asking me about her basketball?” Smudge asked angrily. “She didn’t care about that so much. Why are you asking me? Get a nurse.”

“Did she ever know how good she really was?”

“You white people. All you care about is how good she was at a stupid sport.”

“Better than keeping her down with the rest of you, like you did,” Joe said in a flash of rage.

Smudge said, “Fuck you! Get me a nurse. I’m dying here.”

Joe was across the room before he even realized it, his fingers squeezing Smudge’s windpipe, Smudge turning red, his eyes bulging.

“Who was in that truck with you?”

Smudge told him.

“That’s who I thought,” Joe said, releasing Smudge.

The door to the room flew open, an angry nurse filling it. “What are you doing to him?” she demanded of Joe.

“I thought he was choking,” Joe said, backing away, not quite believing what he had done, how angry he had been. “I think he’s all right now.”

It was dark, already fifteen below. Joe cruised his pickup on the gravel roads of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Less than half of the streetlights worked. Wood smoke from the chimneys of tiny box houses refused to rise in the cold and hung like London fog, close to the ground.

He had always been taken by the number of basketball backboards and hoops on the reservation. Nearly every house had one, and they were mounted on power poles and on the trunks of trees. In the fall, during hunting season, antelope and deer carcasses hung from them to cool and age. In the summer, they were used by the children. This is where Jessica had learned how to play.

Beyond the homes, the brush grew thick and high along the river. The road coursed through it, and Joe slowed, inching his way along the road, looking for a sweat lodge he had been told was there.

When his headlights lit up the squat dome covered in hides, Joe keyed the mike on his radio and called Sheriff McLanahan.

“Knoc, knock,” Joe said, shoving aside the heavy elk hide that covered the doorway. A thick roll of steam greeted him, the steam smelling like burning green softwood and human sweat.

“Hey, close the frigging door!” a man shouted inside, and a female giggled.

Joe ducked through the doorway, squatting under the low ceiling. The air was thick with steam and light smoke, so thick he could barely breathe. The only light was the f licker of the fire beneath the cast-iron pot of boiling water filled with herbs, roots, and leaves.

It took a moment for Joe’s eyes to adjust, but as they did he could see the two people inside across from him. Linnie Antelope, Jessica’s younger sister, naked and gleaming with the reflection of the fire, her wide young face staring at Joe, her eyes glazed over and vacant. A meth pipe sat on an upturned coffee can lid near her thigh.

Darrell Heywood was next to her, fat, white, and sweating. His long blond hair was stuck to his neck and chest with perspiration. He had no body hair.

“Joe Pickett,” Joe said. “I’m the game warden.”

“What the fuck is a game warden doing here?” Heywood asked. “You’ve got no jurisdiction on the reservation. We’re a sovereign nation.”

“We?” Joe asked rhetorically. “I thought you were from Connecticut.”

Linnie giggled, then stifled the sound with her hand. Joe thought she looked a lot like Jessica, when Jessica was younger. But Linnie was just skinny; her arms were sticks. She didn’t play basketball.

“You’re breaching etiquette,” Heywood said. “You don’t just come into another man’s sweat lodge. You must be invited in. And you aren’t invited.”

God, it was hot in there, Joe thought. He was already sweating beneath his heavy winter clothes.

“It’s important,” Joe said. “I couldn’t wait for an invitation. I wanted to talk with you before the sheriff got here and took you off to jail.”

He let that sink in.

Heywood had heavy cheekbones and a thick brow and bright blue eyes made brighter from the pipe. “What are you talking about?”

“You know,” Joe said.

Heywood looked around the structure as if someone there could interpret for him.

“Darrell knows everything,” Linnie said, her laugh a tinkle.

“Shut up, Linnie,” Heywood scolded, then turned back to Joe. “The sheriff has no more jurisdiction here than you do.”

“You’ve got a thing about jurisdiction, don’t you?” Joe said. “But the sheriff is calling the tribal police. They’ll be here together.”

Heywood’s face was red from the heat, but got even redder. “Get the hell out of here. Now.”

“You just left her out there,” Joe said. “She was trying to swim to the surface. In fact, her hand was sticking up out of the ice when I found her. If you’d stuck around just a few minutes longer, you might have helped her out.”

Heywood just glared.

Joe said, “You made it to shore after the truck went into the lake and called one of your friends to pick you up from the pay phone in the campground. As far as you were concerned, both Smudge and Jessica went down to the bottom together.”

“You’re crazy, man. You can’t prove that.”

Linnie, though, had withdrawn from him, and was now looking back and forth from Heywood to Joe.

“Smudge must have gotten out on his own,” Joe said. “I can’t imagine you and your friends taking him to the hospital out of the kindness of your heart, but you couldn’t just leave him there. Unlike you, he had no body fat to keep him warm. But you just left Jessica back there, didn’t you? You didn’t figure she was tough enough to try and swim out, did you?”

“Look,” Heywood said, “I told you to leave—”

“Is he talking about my sister?” Linnie asked, her voice high, unmodulated, unhinged.

“But you never saw her play,” Joe said. “You didn’t have a clue how tough she was, how talented she was. You never saw her potential. You didn’t think of her that way.”

“Jessica!” Linnie shrieked, flailing at Heywood, her bare palms slapping his naked skin, leaving white handprints.

“I thought she was in the truck!” Heywood yelled in self- defense, trying to ward off her blows. “There wasn’t anything I could do!”

“You could have grabbed her hand and pulled her out,” Joe said calmly. “You could have taken her to the hospital.”

Linnie was whaling away at him now, her hands balled into fists, swinging like an eggbeater.

“Linnie . . .” Joe said.

“Damn you!” Heywood cried, backhanding her across the face. “Stop it! I was freezing and wet. Smudge drove us into the goddamn lake! There was nothing I could do!”

Linnie was thrown back, but kicked at him hard. The heel of one of her feet caught him under the heart and brought a groan.

Joe had his weapon out, finding it in the folds of his clothes.

“Darrell, you’re under arrest. I think the charge is officially ‘reckless endangerment.’ Kind of describes your whole life here, I’d say. You could have helped Jessica Antelope, but that wouldn’t have fit your little movie here, would it?”

Heywood howled in response and stood up, tearing the top of the sweat lodge off, diving naked through the hole, his big body thumping the ground outside.

It wasn’t hard for Joe to follow the footprints in the snow, weaving in and out of the brush toward the river. And when Darrell Heywood began to moan, he was easy to locate.

Joe pushed through the brush.

Heywood had slipped on the ice of the river and fallen and was now stuck fast to it, his entire belly glued to the surface.

“I’m freezing here,” he said between sobs. “I can’t get free. I’m going to freeze to death.”

Joe shuffled across the ice and squatted down in front of Heywood.

“Hey, White Buffalo,” Joe said. “A real Indian would know not to run across a frozen river naked, I think.”

Heywood spat, and cursed. Said, “I’m freezing to death.”

“You’ve got a while yet,” Joe said. “But it’s not going to feel good when they peel you off.”

Heywood sobbed, his tears freezing instantly on the ice.

Joe saw the flash of wigwag lights bouncing off the low-hanging wood smoke, heard the sirens coming.

“You never saw her play,” he said. “You didn’t know what she could do.”

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Praise for Breaking Point
“An exceptionally well-told story that will entertain, thrill, and maybe even outrage its readers.” —USA Today
“An explosive thriller that careens from one unpredictable twist to another.” —South Florida Sun-Sentinel
“Superlative. The best installment yet in an already rich series.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer

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