In the midst of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, a young biker is run off the road and ends up in critical condition. When Sheriff Walt Longmire and his good friend Henry Standing Bear are called to Hulett, Wyoming—the nearest town to America's first national monument, Devils Tower—to investigate, things start getting complicated. As competing biker gangs; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; a military-grade vehicle donated to the tiny local police force by a wealthy entrepreneur; and Lola, the real-life femme fatale and namesake for Henry's '59 Thunderbird (and, by extension, Walt's granddaughter) come into play, it rapidly becomes clear that there is more to get to the bottom of at this year's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally than a bike accident. After all, in the words of Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the Bear won't stop quoting, "There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."
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I tried to think how many times I’d kneeled down onasphalt to read the signs, but I knew this was the first time I’d done it in Hulett. Located in the northeast corner of the Wyoming Black Hills, the town is best known for being the home of Devils Tower.
I looked at the macadam blend, the stones shining in the mix that was still wet from the early morning rain, and sighed. With the advent of antilock brakes, it was hard enough to properly estimate the speed of a vehicle involved in a traffic accident, never mind in the rain.
“Do you see anything?”
I nudged my hat farther back on my head and turned to look at the large Indian leaning against the door of Lola, his Baltic blue ’59 Thunderbird and my granddaughter’s namesake. “How about you come over here and take a look for yourself.”
Henry Standing Bear didn’t move and continued to study the large book in his hands. “I am on vacation.”
I was kneeling at the apex of a sweeping curve on stateroute 24 where the road veered off toward Matho Tipila, the Cheyenne name for the first United States National Monument, so declared by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.
“There is traffic coming.”
I didn’t hear anything, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t right, so I walked to the edge of the road and watched as a phalanx of motorcyclists came around the corner and descended toward us like a flock of disgruntled magpies.
They slowed—not for me, I wasn’t in uniform—but because of the corpuscle-red Indian motorcycle with the modified KTM extended rear-axle dirt bike that roosted on the flatbed trailer behind the Thunderbird.
The leather-clad cyclists thumbed their horns and gave a collected thumbs-up to the Cheyenne Nation as he leaned there, looking as if he were negotiating a treaty, with his muscled arms folded over his chest, the first volume of Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated Sherlock Holmes in one hand.
“You could have waved back.”
He shook his head. “That would not fit with the tourist’s stereotypical vision of the stoic, yet noble, savage.”
I glanced at the book. “Is that mine?”
“Yes, I took it from your shelves. I did not think you would mind if I borrowed it.”
I glanced back at Devils Tower crowding the horizon. The geologic area around the megalith is not of the same composition as the tower itself, and the belief is that about fifty to sixty million years ago, during the Paleogene period, an igneous intrusion forced its way up through the localsedimentary stone, some saying it was an ancient volcano, some saying it was a laccolith, an uncovered bulge that never made it to the surface. “You know how it got its name, right?”
“Yours or ours?”
I ignored him and started back toward the T-bird. “When Colonel Richard Irving Dodge led an expedition back in 1875, his interpreter got it wrong and referred to it as Bad God’s Tower, which then became Devils Tower, without the apostrophe as per the geographic standard.” I opened Lola’s passenger door and eased in.
The Bear climbed into the driver’s seat and studied me.
I reached back and stroked Dog’s head. “You don’t care.”
He hit the ignition on the big bird. “I care that a delegation of my people attempted to have the name restored to Bear Lodge National Historic Landmark, but your U.S. representative killed it. ‘The namechange will harm the tourist trade and bring economic hardship to area communities.’ ”
I knew the man he was talking about, and I had to admit that his nasal imitation was spot on. “But as an expert, what’s your feeling onthe apostrophe?”
He grunted and placed the book between us. “ ‘There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.’ ” Pulling the vintage convertible into gear, he patted the book. “Sherlock Holmes.”
“Did you borrow all three volumes?”
He pulled onto the vacant road. “Yes.”
It took a while to drive the nine miles into Hulett—eighteen minutes to be exact—because thirty miles an hour was as fast as Henry Standing Bear was willing to drive Lola (the car), especially while towing Lucie (the motorcycle), and Rosalie (the dirt bike).
The Bear liked giving vehicles women’s names.
We skipped Hulett’s main street to avoid the fifty thousand or so motorcycles parked on both sides of the road. The town’s population of just around four hundred multiplies under the August sun as bikers from around the world arrive for the nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which pulls in close to a million bikers each year.
Held in the town of the same name just across the border in neighboring South Dakota, the rally lasts a week. On the Wednesday of that week, Hulett throws what they call the Ham ’N Jam, offering free music and a thousand pounds of pork, three hundred pounds of beans, and two hundred pounds of chips; they also celebrate something they call No Panties Wednesday, though nothing in the official literature mentions the missing undergarments.
Our destination was the Ponderosa Café and Bar and the Rally in the Alley, which was handy because the gravel back street was the only place where there was a parking spot large enough for the car and the trailer. Henry eased the Thunderbird through the crowd and parked behind a tent set up to sell T-shirts, patches, do-rags, and other souvenirs.
“Today’s Monday, right?”
I glanced around at the hundreds of people milling about. “And the actual Ham ’N Jam doesn’t start until Wednesday?”
“My thought exactly.”
“Do you think you should put the top up?”
He shut his door and looked at the very blue sky. “Why? I do not think it is going to rain again this morning.”
I shrugged and glanced at Dog, the hundred-and-fifty-pound security system. “Stay. And don’t bite anybody.”
A woman in a provocative leather outfit, a lot of hair, and a multitude of rose tattoos paused as she passed us. “Is he mean?”
“Absolutely.” As I said this, he reached his bucket headover the side door and licked her shoulder with his wide tongue. “Well, almost absolutely.” She smiled a lopsided smile, which revealed a missing tooth, and continued on down the road. I looked at Dog. “Just so you know, you could get a disease.”
He didn’t seem to care and just sat there wagging at me.
Moving to the trailer, I watched as the Bear used a chamois cloth to remove what dust had collected on the Indian motorcycle.
“Why do people ride these contraptions, anyway?”
He checked the tie-down straps and stood. “Freedom.”
“Freedom to be an organ donor.” I glanced up and down the crowded alley. “T. E. Lawrence died on a motorcycle. You know what I make of that?”
“He should not have left Arabia?” Henry climbed over the railing and stood next to me. “Where are we supposed to meet him?”
“Here.” I looked around. “But I don’t see him.”
The Cheyenne Nation took a step and glanced down the alley, choked with bikers of every stripe, and plucked the Annotated Sherlock from the fender rail where he had left it. “Maybe he was called away.”
“The only police officer assigned to a fifty-thousand-biker rally?” I smiled. “Maybe.”
He carefully placed the book under his arm. “There is always the Hulett Police Department.” He glanced around. “If I were a police department, where would I be?”
“At 123 Hill Street, right off Main as 24 makes the turn going north.”
“Almost a block.”
He started off, intuitively in the correct direction.“The game is afoot.”
I shook my head and followed as we made our way, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells that are Ham ’N Jam. “Doesn’t smell too bad, but maybe it’s because I’m hungry.”
He nodded and smiled at two lithesome beauties in halter tops as they grinned at him.
“What happened to your Native stoicism?”
“Well, anything can be taken to excess.”
The crowd in front of Capt’n Ron’s Rodeo Bar on the corner was spilling onto the street in joyous celebration of the open container law, which allowed alcoholic beverages to be consumed in the open air during rally week. The party was in full swing, the sounds of the Allman Brothers’ “Statesboro Blues” drifting through the swinging saloon doors.
I looked back at the Bear. “Two of the Allman Brothers died on motorcycles—what do you make of that?”
“That if you are an Allman Brother you should not ride a motorcycle.”
I sidestepped a short, round individual who was wearing a Viking helmet and drinking from a red plastic cup, but Henry got cut off.
“How you doin’, Chief?”
The Cheyenne Nation half smiled the paper-cut grin he reserved for just these situations. “I am not a chief. I am Henry Standing Bear, Heads Man of the Dog Soldier Society, Bear Clan.” He leaned in over the man, the bulk of him filling the sidewalk. “And who are you?”
The Viking didn’t move, probably because he couldn’t. “Umm . . . Eddy.”
The Bear extended his hand. “Good to meet you, Eddy. The next time we see each other, I hope you remember to address me in a proper fashion.” They shook, and Henry left Eddy the Viking there, utterly dumbstruck—not that I think it took much.
“Oh, this is going to be an interesting two days.”
We rounded the corner, the crowd thinned out, and westood in front of the Hulett Police Department office, located next to what looked to be a fifteen-ton military vehicle.
The Cheyenne Nation rested a fist on his hip and stared at the white monstrosity. “What is that?”
I shook my head and pushed open the Hulett Police Department door. It was a small office as police offices go, with a counter and two desks on the other side. An older, smallish man sat at one of them with his hat over his face. He started when I closed the door, but the hat didn’t move. “By God, before you say anything, whoever you are, there better be a bleedin’ body lying in the street before you wake me all the way up.”
“You haven’t been all the way woke up since I met you.”
He slipped the hat off and looked at me. “How the hell are you, Walt Long-Arm-of-the-Law?”
I spread my palms. “Vacationing.”
He stood and placed the straw hat on his head. “In lovely Hulett, Wyoming?” He walked over and, making a face, shook my hand. “During Ham’N Jam?” He glanced at the Cheyenne Nation and then extended the same hand to him. “Henry Standing Bear—you come over here to show all these lawyers, dentists, and accountants what a real outlaw looks like?”
Henry shook. “How are you, Nutter Butter?”
William Nutter had been the chief of police in Hulett foras far back as anyone could remember. A tough individual with a mind of his own, he kept the town running smoothly; if the man had an enemy in the world, I didn’t have an idea who that might be.
“Ready to retire and even more so after this last weekend.”
I nodded and threw a thumb over my shoulder. “What, in the name of all that’s holy, is that behemoth sitting out there?”
He smiled. “An MRAP, stands for Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected. We got a bunch of that Patriot Act money that’s still around and some funding from a local citizen, name of Bob Nance. He wrote up all the paperwork for us. Hell, the federal government’s got twelve thousand of the things—we grabbed one before the ban.”
“Your town has less than four hundred people in it.”
He gestured toward the overcrowded street. “Not today, it doesn’t.”
Henry parted the venetian blinds and peered at the thing.“What are you going to do with it?”
Nutter shrugged. “I don’t know—we’ve got to figure out how to start it first.” His eyes played around the littered room. “I got the manual around here somewhere, if you guys want to give it a try.”
“It’s very white.”
“It was used by the United Nations.”
“What does it weigh?”
“About fifteen tons.”
“And how many miles to the gallon does it get?”
“I don’t know, maybe three.” He leaned on the counter and tugged at his hat like he was saddling up. “We’re not allowed to use any town or county money to maintenance the thing, so either Bob needs to come up with some more funding or what it’s going to end up being is a big, white lawn ornament.” He smiled as Henry continued to stare at the massive vehicle. “She’s a beauty, though, isn’t she?”
I scrubbed a hand over my face and changed the subject to the one at hand. “So, you want to tell us about the incident this last weekend?”
He shook his head. “No, I’d rather you talk to the investigating officer, who I assume is the one who called you?”
“He did.” I studied Nutter, taking in the accumulation of lines on his face, more than I’d remembered from last time.
He moved toward a radio console and, holding up a finger toward us, picked up one of the old-style desk mics. “Woof, woof—hey, Deputy Dog, where are you?”
There was a pause, and then a voice I recognized came over the speaker. “Please don’t call me that.”
Nutter immediately barked into the mic again. “Woof, woof, woof! Where are you? The Lone Ranger and Tonto are here for a powwow.”
There was another pause. “I’m down here in front of the Pondo doing a sobriety test on a guy who thinks riding drunk is the same as stumbling down the sidewalk.” There was a voice in the background and more conversation before he came back on. “I’m right here on Main Street—how did I miss them?”
“We came in and parked in the alley.”
Nutter relayed the message and then sent us on our way back to the Ponderosa Café and Bar. As we closed the door, he called out, “Don’t forget to ask Deputy Dog how he got his name.”