Travis Roan and his dog, Bear, are hunters: They travel the world pursuing evildoers in order to bring them to justice. They have now come to Kansas on the trail of Rudolph Bormann, a Nazi doctor and concentration camp administrator who snuck into the U.S. under the name Rudy Goodman in the 1950s and has at last been identified. Travis quickly learns that Goodman has powerful friends who will go to any length to protect the Nazi; what he doesn't know is that Goodman has furtively continued his diabolical work, amassing a congregation of followers who believe he possesses Godlike powers. Caught between these men is Kansas State Trooper Skottie Foster, an African American woman and a good cop who must find a way to keep peace in her districtuntil she realizes the struggle between Roan and Bormann will put her and her family in grave peril.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.80(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
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Trooper Skottie Foster refilled her coffee and gave the counterman a nod, headed back out to her vehicle. She snugged her cup down into the well next to her and pulled her Explorer around to the west side of the 24/7 Travel Store, where a bright green Toyota pickup sat low on its back tires in the lot. She filled out a tow report form on the computer mounted between the Explorer’s seats and pulled up OpenFox, the software used by the department to run tag checks. She stepped out and approached the vehicle on the driver’s side.
Thanksgiving was three days away, and the sky was flat and gray. Dizzy snowflakes eddied about, but there was no breeze, and she was sweating under her heavy uniform jacket.
Skottie had been with the Kansas Highway Patrol for nearly six months, transferred in from Illinois. She’d grown up in Kansas, had left at the first opportunity, started her career and a family in Chicago. Now she was back, living in her mother’s house and hoping for a fresh start, for a stable environment for her daughter, for some distance from everything that had recently gone wrong in her life.
She had been required to go through twenty-two weeks of retraining after returning to Kansas, and she had used the time to adjust to her new circumstances. Back on active duty, she had been surprised to discover she was one of only a handful of female troopers in western Kansas, and one of three African Americans, but despite the usual stumbling blocks that came with any new position, she had encountered very little hostility or disrespect. She was tall, five feet nine inches, and slim, with skin the exact shade and color of her eyes. She kept her carefully braided hair pulled back low against her neck so that she could position her hat properly when regulations demanded that she appear in full uniform.
She had been watching the Toyota for two days as she made her rounds and had seen no one approach it. The wheel wells were crusted with rust and the paint had peeled off along one side, leaving a dappled surface like a bruise. There was a toolbox tucked up under the back window in the bed of the truck, big and heavy, long enough to hide a body inside.
She peered through the window to make sure the cab was empty. The driver’s-side door was unlocked, and she pulled it open, releasing a heavy odor of must and disuse. The radio had been pulled from the dash, the mats had been taken from the floor, the glove box was open and empty. She wrote down the VIN from the inside of the door and closed it, then walked around to the back and flipped open the toolbox. An ancient ball-peen hammer, a length of bicycle chain, a cheap pair of rusty pliers, blue rubber crumbling away from the handles. She closed the box and went back to her vehicle.
She plugged the tag number into OpenFox and it spit out the VIN, which she checked against her notes, and the name of the truck’s registered owner: Wes Weber. She unhooked her radio and called the information in to Sarah, the dispatcher in Norton.
A small stack of postcards was clipped to the back of the Explorer’s sun visor. She pulled one off the top and filled it out with Wes Weber’s address and a short note, letting him know his truck was being towed from the rest stop and where he could claim it. A moment later, Sarah called back.
“Norton to One-Eleven?”
“Here,” Skottie said.
“Wrong case number on that.”
Skottie frowned and checked her notes. “I see it.”
“Go ahead with the last three.”
She read off the corrected case number and hung the handset back up, set the postcard on the seat beside her, and put the Explorer in gear. Sarah would call the tow company and Skottie would drop the postcard in a mailbox at the end of her shift. She guessed Wes Weber would not show up to claim his property. The Toyota wouldn’t bring much at auction and was undoubtedly destined for a scrap yard somewhere.
She headed toward the westbound ramp to the highway, but slowed when she saw a vehicle parked on the shoulder, its hazards blinking. She pulled in behind it and lit up the blue and red array atop her Explorer. A little boy waved at her from the back window as she put her hat on. She walked up to the driver’s side, where a Hispanic woman was already rolling down the window, a sheepish grin on her face. A baby crawled across the back seat, clutching a french fry in one chubby fist, a stringer of drool dangling from its chin. The little boy was yelling at the baby in Spanish.
“Sorry, Officer,” the woman said.
“What’s the trouble?”
“Just need a second.” The woman turned her head and yelled at the boy. “Hurry up and get her in her seat.” She turned back to Skottie. “She got out. Wanted a fry.”
Skottie nodded, watching the boy wrestle the baby girl up into the car seat behind the driver. The baby was oblivious, eyes only for the mangled french fry that circled her open mouth, waiting patiently for contact. Fast food as incitement for developing motor skills.
She leaned forward and caught the boy’s eye. “What’s your name?”
He looked up, his eyes wide, as if he’d been caught in a criminal act, and the french fry went up his nose. The baby started to laugh, and the boy looked at her and smiled. He looked back at Skottie, the fry still dangling. “My name is Miguel.”
“You take care of your sister, Miguel.” The fry dropped into his lap and the baby laughed again.
“She’s not my sister. She’s my niece.”
Skottie looked at him.
“But I’ll take good care of her, ma’am,” Miguel said.
Skottie saluted him and turned back to his mother, or maybe she was his sister. “Don’t proceed until the children are secured, okay?”
“I won’t, Officer. Don’t worry,” the woman said. “It’s why I’m pulled over in the first place.”
Behind her, a black Jeep Wrangler zoomed down the ramp. She caught a brief glimpse of a man behind the wheel and someone in the passenger seat that she first thought was another big man wearing a fur coat. Staring at the license plate—it was a rental—she belatedly realized the passenger wasn’t human.
Skottie focused her gaze on the woman in front of her and the two struggling children. Miguel had stuck the french fry back in his nose, but his niece was no longer amused.
“All right, ma’am,” Skottie said. “Travel safe now.”
She walked quickly back to her vehicle and turned off the array, pulled around the woman’s idling car, and accelerated out onto I–70. She saw the Jeep again five minutes later, parked at a rest stop west of Russell. A man in a gray peacoat was standing near the passenger side with the door open. Skottie pulled into the lot and coasted along the low wooden fence that bordered a tree-lined oasis with restrooms, a few vending machines, and a big grassy field for drivers to stroll and stretch their legs. There were no other vehicles in sight, but a dog was running back and forth at the far end of the field. It was hard to gauge the dog’s size from a distance, but it had a bushy black mane and looked for all the world like a lion.
When he saw her, the man stepped back from the Jeep and smiled. He put his hands out at waist level and stood very still. He might have been a statue, something carved out of marble. He was very tall and very thin. His face was angular and unlined, and she would have guessed he was roughly thirty-five years old, except for his carefully tousled gray hair. He wore a light gray cardigan under his coat, charcoal slacks that matched his hair, and black shoes polished to a sheen.
Skottie flicked on the array and stopped behind the Jeep, blocking it from pulling out. She put on her wide-brimmed hat again and adjusted the strap under her chin, then opened her door and stepped down onto the pavement. “Move away from the vehicle please, sir.”
The man took one more step backward. “There is a weapon in my vehicle, Officer, but I have a license for it.” His voice was deep and guttural, barely more than a whisper.
She glanced through the open passenger door and saw a handgun lying on the seat, a semiautomatic pistol. She put her hand on the butt of her Taser.
The dog was approaching fast, and the man lowered his left hand, extending his index finger. The dog saw the signal and came to an abrupt halt. Up close, Skottie could see it was huge, easily a hundred and forty pounds of muscle and fur and long yellow teeth.
“Do you have a leash for that animal, sir?”
“I do, Officer. Inside the Jeep.” The man kept his hands where Skottie could see them, but inclined his head in the direction of his rental car.
“Is your ID in the Jeep, too?”
“No,” the man said. “That is in my wallet.” He raised his eyebrows and held his hands farther out from his body, silently asking permission.
“Go ahead,” Skottie said.
The man slowly took his wallet from the breast pocket of his coat and found three laminated cards, held them out for Skottie to take. “License for the firearm is there, too.”
“Is that gun loaded?”
“It is, but it has a grip safety. I have two spare magazines for it in the back of the Jeep.”
“Thank you, sir. State law requires you to have your dog on a leash at all times.” She stood at the back of the Jeep where she could easily see the pistol on the seat. She kept one hand on the butt of the Taser on her belt.
“Bear is very well trained. The dog’s name is Bear. He needed to run. Between the flight here and the car ride, he has been rather cooped up all day.”
“I understand that, sir,” Skottie said. She shifted from one foot to the other. “Good-looking animal. Pretty.”
“He prefers to be thought of as handsome,” the man said. He stole a glance over his shoulder at the dog, who had crept forward while they were talking. Skottie judged that Bear was now just outside the range of her Taser. There was no way she was fast enough to draw her weapon before the massive dog could reach her. The man made another small motion with his left hand and Bear stopped moving.
“Can you make him lie down?”
“Certainly,” the man said. “Bear, suben.”
Bear immediately dropped to his belly. He was panting hard, showing his fangs, but when he looked up at Skottie, she was impressed by the intelligence in his clear brown eyes.
“Trust me, you have nothing to fear from Bear. He respects the law.”
“Then he ought to wear a leash,” Skottie said. She glanced at the driver’s license. “I’ll be right back, Mr. Roan.”
“It’s Doctor.” He smiled at her. “Technically I am Dr. Roan. But please call me Travis.”
“Dr. Roan, go ahead and get your leash. But leave the weapon where it is on the seat.” Skottie walked back to her vehicle with the cards.
Travis Roan walked around the front of the Jeep to the driver’s side, where Skottie could still see him and where the gun was out of easy reach. Keeping things civilized, keeping her happy. She guessed he’d had plenty of experience with the police, and she wondered which side of the law he’d been on. While she watched, Roan reached behind the seat and came out with a tether, which he held up for her to see. He motioned to Bear, who trotted over and accepted the leash with grace. Roan leaned against the side of the Jeep and Bear settled down on the blacktop at his feet, and they waited while Skottie called in the rental’s license plate and ran Travis Roan’s ID on the dash-mounted computer.
After several long minutes she opened her door. Bear jumped up, but Travis put a hand out, palm down, and the dog sat again, his tongue lolling. Skottie watched Bear from the corner of her eye as she approached them.
“Everything looks in order, Dr. Roan,” she said. “Can I ask what you’re doing in Kansas?”
“What’re you after?”
Roan hesitated. “Deer,” he said. “Maybe some pheasant, if it is in season.”
“Sir, I don’t know what it’s like where you’re from, but a handgun isn’t the best weapon for hunting deer. Or birds, either.”
“I do not like traveling with a rifle or a bow. It requires extra preparation and creates difficulty. I am hoping to purchase a proper weapon when I reach my destination.”
“And where’s that?”
“I have yet to decide. I thought I might see the sights while I am here.”
“What sights are those, sir?”
Roan looked down at his dog as if Bear might remember something about the state they were visiting. “Dodge City?”
“Are you asking me, sir?”
“No,” Roan said. “Dodge City, Kansas. Historic cowboy town, right? I am a fan of American Westerns. Dodge City is where Gunsmoke was set, is it not?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Skottie said. “Never saw it. But if you wanted to see Dodge City, you probably should’ve turned south on 156 a few miles back.”
“I missed my turn?”
“If you were going to Dodge City.” She fixed him with a hard stare.
Roan hesitated again, and his smile disappeared. “Very well then. May I get something from my bag? It might help matters here.”
She was both amused and mildly alarmed by his formal way of speaking. “Your bag?”
“From the back of the Jeep.” He inclined his head toward the rental. “Not a weapon. Nothing to alarm you. But it may be easier to explain what I am doing here if I show you some documentation.”
“Sir, I’m not interested in anything except making sure you travel safe and don’t present a danger to anyone else.”
“Exactly,” Travis said. “I can see that I have misjudged you, and now you think it possible that Bear and I present a danger. So long as I remain in your jurisdiction—”
“Yes, your zone. I am afraid that, even if you allow me to continue through your zone, you will alert the next man down the line and I will eventually have to explain myself to someone. More police will stop me. Am I wrong?”
“I can’t speak for anybody else, sir.” She rested her palm on the butt of her Taser again.
Excerpted from "The Saint of Wolves and Butchers"
Copyright © 2018 Alex Grecian.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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