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Montana is no hotbed of crime, but in Wolf, No Wolf, Gabriel Du Pre, a Metis Indian who works as a cattle inspector and sometime Sheriff's deputy, finds himself at the center of a national controversy, when a group of environmentalists, protesting cattle-grazing practices, turns up dead, shot and burned in their cars.
Plotting as scattershot as the wholesale violence won't win any new puzzle-minded fans for Du Pré's third adventure (Specimen Song, 1995, etc.). But his unapologetically up-the-establishment point of view and Bowen's offspeed prose make him one of the most striking new regional detectives.
Du Pré fiddled in the Toussaint Bar. The place was packed. Some of Madelaine's relatives had come down from Canada to visit. It was fall and the bird hunters had come, to shoot partridges and grouse on the High Plains.
The bird hunters were pretty OK. The big game hunters were pigs, mostly. The bird hunters were outdoors people; they loved it and knew it, or wanted to. The big game hunters wanted to shoot something big, often someone's cows.
Bart had bought a couple thousand dollars' worth of liquor and several kegs of beer and there was a lot of food people had brought. Everything was free.
Kids ran in and out. The older ones could have beers. Bart was tending bar. Old Booger Tom sat on one of the high stools, cane leaned up against the front of the bar.
"You do that pretty good for someone the booze damn near killed," said Booger Tom. "I know folks won't be in the same room with the stuff."
"Find Jesus," said Bart. "It's not too late to change your life."
He went down to the far end of the bar and took orders. Susan Klein, who owned the saloon, was washing glasses at a great pace.
One of Madelaine's relatives was playing the accordion, another an electric guitar. They were very good.
Du Pré finished. He was wet with sweat. The place was hot and damp and smoky, so smoky it was hard to see across the room. The room wasn't all that big, either.
Madelaine got up from her seat, her pretty face flushed from drinking the sweet pink wine she loved. She threw her arms around Du Pré and she kissed him for a long time.
"Du Pré," she said, "you make me ver' happy, you play those good songs."
Du Pré took a glass of whiskey passed hand over hand from the bar.
"Pretty good," said Du Pré, looking at the whiskey.
"What is pretty good?" said Madelaine.
"Only two people they drink a little from it, on the long journey from the bar to me."
"They love you, Du Pré," said Madelaine. She laughed. She was wearing a red, gold, green, and blue vest she had beaded herself. It had taken four years to do; the beads were tiny and she had four children.
Someday this fine woman marry me, thought Du Pré, soon as that damn Catholic church, it tell her OK, your missing husband is dead now so you can quit sinning, fornicating with Du Pré.
"Du Pré!" It was the big clumsy priest, Father Van Den Heuvel. Du Pré liked him. When Madelaine badgered Du Pré into going to confession Du Pré would confess to living in sin with Madelaine Placquemines. The priest would say, Good, I am happy for you, five Hail Marys, say them, the words are pretty.
"Such fine music!"
Father Van Den Heuvel could hear and he had a beautiful singing voice, but he was so uncoordinated he often knocked himself out slamming his head in car doors.
"Play 'The Big Rapids,'" said Father Van Den Heuvel.
"OK," said Du Pré. "I will get you some food, here."
"I can ..."
"No," said Du Pré. "You spill a plate, fine, you knock the whole damn table over, people go hungry. I go get it."
Du Pré snaked his way through the crowd, got to the food table, piled a big plate full of meat and potato salad and fry bread and cole slaw. He carried it back.
"You sit down," said Du Pré, "then I give it to you."
The priest sat at Madelaine's table. She stood by the chair so he wouldn't go over getting into it.
Du Pré stood, sipping his whiskey.
The out-of-state bird hunters were easy to spot—very expensive hunting clothes, usually British; they smelled of dogs and gunpowder and sage. Some of the ranchers leased their land for hunting. The bird hunters who lived in Montana weren't bitter yet, but they would be when the hunting lands were all closed to them and given over to flatlanders, who could afford large fees.
"Some good party, eh?" said Du Pré to Madelaine.
She nodded. More people were coming in. Two couples from the west side of the Wolf Mountains. Stemples and Rosses. Du Pré had inspected their cattle many times, checking the brands, never any problem. Du Pré waved to them. The two couples snaked their way through the crowd and up to him.
"Du Pré!" said Bill Stemple. He held out his hand. Du Pré shook it and nodded and smiled at the others.
"We got a problem," said Stemple.
"Ah?" said Du Pré.
"Couple days ago a couple came to the house and asked if they could hunt. They seemed OK. Californians, but what the hell. We said sure. Didn't get the license numbers, of course. And then I was out driving to check my water tanks and I found some cut fences. Cattle out all over the place."
"Jesus," said Du Pré.
"Well, you don't like to think bad of folks less you know it," said Bill Stemple, "and it got worse. A lot of cows had been shot, with a twenty-two. I got a vet out there and it looks like I'll lose about twenty. Some were already down and dead. I have stock up in the mountains still, too, sent a couple hands, bring them down early, I'll hay 'em out."
"Got us, too," said Sally Ross. "Same story, we lost seventeen for sure and might lose that many more."
Twenty thousand dollars maybe, thought Du Pré, each. Depends. When they count it up, all, I bet twenty thousand.
"OK," said Du Pré, "I will get my coat and we will go."
"Oh, tomorrow," said Sally Ross. "They're gone, whoever they were—they didn't come to our place."
"What they look like?" said Du Pré.
"Twenties, city people, new hunting clothes. Had a springer in the back, so I thought they were all right. Those are good dogs."
"You talk to Benny?"
"Why we came," said Sally Ross. "His office said he was here." Benny Klein, the Sheriff, and his wife Susan owned the bar. Not much happened in the county that they didn't know about, and damn soon at that.
"I have not seen him," said Du Pré. "You maybe ask Susan."
The guitar player was tuning. Du Pré went back up to the little stage in the corner and he twisted the pegs on his fiddle till the tones held right.
Some shit, he thought, we got people steal cattle. Had a crazy person once poisoning people's dogs. Cattle are very valuable. Cut the fences, run them into a truck. Plenty of small places butcher them out and make real good profit. Ninety-nine percent.
Well, Du Pré thought, plenty big fight over the West, now. These new people, they sure don't care for anything that was here, or anyone. Place like this too good to last. Well, it is worse out in the west part of the state. Not so many people here, good.
Something is changing.
Du Pré fiddled for another hour, long songs, backup, no breaks. His fingers began to hurt and then they went numb and then his hand began to cramp. He hadn't been looking out at the crowd.
The people were all silent and staring at him. Then they began to clap and hoot and whistle. It went on for several minutes.
Me, Du Pré thought, I always play fiddle better, I am angry or want to fuck or I am happy drunk, lose myself in this music. This time I am mad.
Why these people come here? Do I go to their house, mess it up? Why?
Benny Klein came in, stood, spotted Du Pré. He waved to him, come over. Du Pré put his fiddle in the case and he took it to Madelaine and then he wound through the crowd to Benny. Benny put a hand on Du Pré's shoulder and pulled him outside.
"They told you?" said Benny.
"Yah," said Du Pré. "Pretty strange, lot of money. You know what it is about?"
"Oh," said Benny, "it gets worse. There was more over north and east. But they did find, the next county over, some of that get-the-cattle-off-the-public-lands crap."
"Yah," said Du Pré, "I thought so."
Du Pré had read an article which said all the ranchers and their cattle and their families and towns should be removed from eastern Montana and the western Dakotas. Then those tens of thousands of square miles could be a big park for buffalo and wolves, so that tourists could play in it. So some of those people who wanted that could not wait; they killed the ranchers' cattle, to try to drive the ranchers away. Hah.
"Du Pré," said Benny, "I got a real bad feeling. These idiots are here, and they know they're right. They don't care about the people here. They just want what they want. They don't seem to much care how they get it."
Du Pré nodded.
"They don't know where they are," said Benny. "They drive through this country, and they think there ain't anyone in it. If their car breaks down, though, someone's there in what, fifteen minutes?"
Du Pré nodded.
"What bothers me is that no one saw them," said Benny.
Du Pré looked at Benny for a long moment.
Benny rolled a smoke. He looked very troubled.
"I make you this bet," said Du Pré. "I say there are maybe two of them."
"I say that you get some missing-persons reports, pretty soon."
"They are dead," said Du Pré. "We just have not found them."
Benny looked up.
"I won't bet you," he said. "'Cause I know you're right."CHAPTER 2
Du Pré waited for Taylor Martin to come in his helicopter at ten A.M.
"The air's better then," Martin had said. "It kinda jumps around first few hours of light."
Du Pré rolled a cigarette and lit it and he unbuttoned his leather jacket.
Them Martins, they got a ranch so damn big takes three helicopters to round up the cattle, Du Pré thought. That is a lot more ranch and cattle than I could stand.
He heard the thwock of the rotor blades. Taylor Martin and his machine rose up out of a canyon five miles away and shot along ten feet above the ground. The man flew like a cowboy rides, fast, loose, and perfectly. He set the little machine down and Du Pré ran for it through a stinging storm of dust and chaff. Du Pré ducked in and fumbled with the seat belt. Martin was pulling up before Du Pré had swung his legs completely in.
Martin set the helicopter northwest in a climb. The two men stared out at the land below, riven with coulees, the rock outcrops dark with junipers. Looking for something that shouldn't be where it was.
"The scablands?" yelled Martin.
"Start there," Du Pré yelled back.
Martin quartered back and forth. Du Pré looked off toward the ridges that led to the foothills of the Wolf Mountains, glancing at the clusters of ranch buildings, looking for a truck or car, the flash of sun on glass. Where a truck or car shouldn't have a reason to be.
The helicopter vibrated. Du Pré hated it.
This damn thing fly apart all at once, three bolts and some tinfoil. There I'll be. Hail Mary. Splat.
A coyote scooted across a meadow, ducked into the shadows of a rocky slit in the earth. Du Pré glanced down at the two automatic shotguns mounted on the struts. Martin strafed coyotes with them.
"Down there!" yelled Taylor Martin. The helicopter's noise nearly drowned his voice. Du Pré leaned out and looked. A tan four-wheel-drive Land Rover was crumpled down in the bottom of a narrow slit in the earth lined with rock. Magpies and ravens covered the bushes around the wreck, were hopping in and out of the broken windows.
Out on the scablands, Du Pré thought, shoot them, toss them in the back, drive the car over the slide there. Didn't even bother to burn it. Attract attention, anyway.
The helicopter sheared away and headed back. Martin was talking into the microphone. Du Pré could see Benny Klein's car roaring up the dirt road several miles away. He leaned over to the pilot's ear and shouted for him to land Du Pré in front of Benny.
He is a nice man, don't like dead bodies, eyes pecked out already by them damn magpies. Can't even shoot them anymore, they are protected.
Taylor Martin set the helicopter down on the road and Du Pré hopped out and the chopper took off. Du Pré rolled a smoke and he lit it and waited. Benny's car roared up, no lights flashing. Not much traffic here, for sure.
Du Pré moved to the side of the road. Benny slowed and stopped and Du Pré got in.
"I don't need this," said Benny. "You were right."
"We get there," said Du Pré, "I go look, tell you when to call the coroner."
"Governor's already asked for the FBI," said Benny. "I hope none of them get killed. This is real bad, Gabriel, real bad. I knew it would happen, too. I'm going to resign."
Du Pré nodded.
Benny, he never was made for that job, he thought, this will end with arresting our friends and neighbors.
But I will probably do it. Death, it is a pretty harsh sentence for being young fools.
"Up there," said Du Pré. He pointed to a rutted track.
Benny's cruiser bumped along the pounded earth. He had to move slowly and steer around rocks sticking up high enough to catch the transmission or the oil pan. The track ended abruptly. They got out and looked into the slit in the earth. The tan four-wheeler was down seventy-five feet or so.
Du Pré pitched a rock down. Some of the birds flapped for a moment and then they settled again.
A trail wound back and forth down to the wreck. Du Pré started toward it. His moccasins slid some. He skated on the yellow earth. Benny came after him.
"You stay the hell up there, Benny," said Du Pré. "You puke on me twice, you know, you don't do that again."
Du Pré went on. He slid the last ten feet straight down, fetching up on the side of the Land Rover. All the glass bashed out of it. He looked in the back window. No blood. A dead hand hanging over the back seat.
Du Pré moved so he could see from the side. Man. Woman. Birds and animals had been at their faces. Skunk smell around. Blood on their clothes. Hair matted with blood.
He looked at the front seat.
Du Pré stood up.
"Two. You can call now."
Benny's face disappeared from view.
Du Pré went round to the other side. A couple shotguns in their cases spilled out of the open driver's door, a cooler leaking stinking water.
OK, Du Pré thought, where is this springer spaniel? We got a dog around here, maybe the coyotes haven't eaten him yet. Maybe the dog is dead where these people they were killed.
Du Pré scrambled back up. He pulled himself over the lip of the slit, grabbing on to a sagebrush. Benny was sitting in his cruiser. Du Pré went to the driver's side and he leaned against the hood and smoked.
"Couple medical examiners flying in," said Benny. "We're gonna have a lot of help on this one. Jesus." He got out of the cruiser.
Du Pré offered him his tobacco and papers. Benny took them, though he'd quit smoking a long time ago.
"Benny, my friend," said Du Pré, "you quit now. You resign today."
Benny looked up.
"What will happen, you stay, they will think you are part of some group did this, they accuse you. They will try to scare you anyway, but don't stay, this one will maybe kill you. Please."
Benny nodded. "Susan said the same thing. But who will be Sheriff? They'll do the same thing to them, you know. I can't just leave my people to hang. I swore an oath."
"You didn't swear no oath to fight with them FBI," said Du Pré. "They don't care they get the right person, you know, just some person. I hear that they are better now. I hope they are, you know, but this will kill you. Then I got no place to take Madelaine, drink pink wine, play my fiddle."
"I feel like a coward," he said.
"Hah," said Du Pré, "you no coward. Arresting kids, burgling, some fool swiping a car, drunk kill his wife, that is one thing. This is not that."
"I know," said Benny, "but who will do it? My deputies? I won't just dump this on one of them. I wanted this job, really."
"Not them," said Du Pré. "You are right."
"No," said Du Pré. "We are going to have them FBIs here. Got to be someone they can't shove around, you know?"
Benny drew on his cigarette.
"We're little people here, Du Pré," he said. "No one has any money, or power. We're small ranchers, tradesmen, couple lawyers, don't have a doctor closer than Miles City. We're going to have a fucking army of FBI agents and newspeople and gapers and gawkers and folks wanting to write the whole story for the true-crime publishers. A zoo. And the meat's going to be some of our friends and neighbors. We know these people, Du Pré, we know them."
Du Pré nodded.
"You come up with a name," said Benny, "and a good one, and I'll quit. If they agree to take it."
Du Pré nodded.
A siren, far off in the distance.
The helicopter was coming back, low.
"They are here already," said Du Pré.
"Them FBIs," said Du Pré. "That is not a crop duster." The chopper Du Pré had come in was owned by Taylor Martin, and pretty small.
Excerpted from Wolf, No Wolf by Peter Bowen. Copyright © 1996 Peter Bowen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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