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In this gripping debut novel, Clinton McKinzie introduces us to Special Agent Antonio Burns, whose routine investigation into the accidental climbing death of a young woman turns into a murder chase that takes him to the heights of Wyoming's wild beauty and the depths of its criminal underworld. Burns is an original and complex hero: an experienced climber, a cop implicated in the shooting deaths of three gang-bangers, brother to a recovering drug-addict and convicted murderer. The case points toward some ...
In this gripping debut novel, Clinton McKinzie introduces us to Special Agent Antonio Burns, whose routine investigation into the accidental climbing death of a young woman turns into a murder chase that takes him to the heights of Wyoming's wild beauty and the depths of its criminal underworld. Burns is an original and complex hero: an experienced climber, a cop implicated in the shooting deaths of three gang-bangers, brother to a recovering drug-addict and convicted murderer. The case points toward some prominent community members, a fact the local law would rather cover up. But Burns can't let it drop. His toughness and integrity take him from the courtroom to a jaw-dropping chase scene, on an armed ascent up the highest alpine wall in the continental United States.
A dry wind blows hard out of the Medicine Bow Mountains onto the high plateau of the Laramie River, just as it does every fall in the southeast part of the state. It's a steady pressure, as unrelenting as gravity, but also a force that seems to have a mischievous intent. The wind is regularly fed by the curses of the fifty thousand enduring souls who inhabit the high plains and mountains here. On this day its fuel is further charged by the oaths of people who have never before had the opportunity to feel its power. The multitudes of television reporters gathered outside on the courthouse lawn offer up foul maledictions. The wind is blowing their carefully brushed and stiffened hair out of place. Propelled by it, the occasional tumbleweed playfully interrupts their broadcasts as it bounces between the commentators and cameras. The few forlorn Klansmen isolated even amid the crowd across the street curse the wind too. It threatens to blow their pointed hoods right off their heads and reveal their true identities. Worse than that, it raises their robes like women's skirts, causing them to drop their placards and hold their arms straight down at their sides.
On the drive in this morning I'd been struck by just how much the prairie fauna surrounding Laramie is like my maternal grandfather's ranch in Argentina. There's the same sagebrush and chaparral bent by the wind toward the east, as if yearning for the sun to rise each dawn and exposing their backsides' naked roots to the fading night. There are the same surrounding high peaks capped with ice. But the town itself is nothing like my grandfather's nearest village, where idle gauchos squat on crooked, unpaved streets, and children play half-dressed in rags. This Wyoming town is even more exotic. Today Laramie probably appears strange to its longest-surviving residents. Over the past week strangers from across the nation have descended on the town with their cameras and microphones like a buzzing hoard of bright-colored locusts.
Upon entering Laramie, I drive along past the courthouse with the other rubbernecking traffic and feel something on my face that has become unfamiliar--a smile lifting the corners of my lips. It isn't really a happy smile. It's more of a head-shaking what the hell? smirk. The thick torso of my mastiff-mix leans far out the backseat passenger-side window of the ancient Land Cruiser, and he seems to be grinning too. The crowd that's gathered on the sidewalk leans away from the approaching dog's head with his great yellow teeth and ropes of saliva that hang from black lips.
I'm lucky to find a parking spot five blocks from the courthouse despite the extraordinary traffic. There I roll up the windows just enough so the beast can't reach out and cause heart attacks by licking passersby. I dust the animal's dark hair from the white shirt and khaki pants that I wear for this occasion instead of my usual tired jeans, sandals, and untucked flannel shirts. Before walking away from the truck, I pull on a navy sport coat to hide the gun that's clipped to the belt at the back of my pants. I speak softly to the dog as I cinch the tie close around my throat.
"Stay, Oso. Watch the car."
I have never seen anything like the crowd that's swarming on the well-watered lawn outside Albany County's four-story sandstone courthouse. As I wind my way through the masses toward the low steps, I can't stop looking about and feeling that same sardonic turn of my lips. It seems that all the world is here in this small, usually quiet Wyoming city of only twenty-six thousand full-time residents. I have spent time in Laramie twice before: first as a child, more than two decades ago,...