Cover image for Shots fired : stories from Joe Pickett Country
Shots fired : stories from Joe Pickett Country
Box, C. J.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Short stories. Selections
[Large print ed.]
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Maine : Center Point Large Print, 2014.
Physical Description:
303 pages (large print) ; 23 cm.
"Suspense stories about the Wyoming that Box knows so well--and the dark deeds and impulses that can be found there"--
One-car bridge -- Pirates of Yellowstone -- End of Jim and Ezra -- Master falconer -- Every day is a good day on the river -- Pronghorns of the Third Reich -- Dull knife -- Le sauvage noble (The noble savage) -- Blood knot -- Shots fired: a requiem for Ander Esti.
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LARGE PRINT FICTION Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print
LARGE PRINT FICTION Adult Large Print Large Print
LARGE PRINT FICTION Adult Large Print Large Print
LARGE PRINT FICTION Adult Large Print Large Print

On Order



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 .

Author Notes

C. J. Box writes short stories and novels including the short story collection Shots Fired and the Joe Pickett series. His first stand-alone novel, Blue Heaven, won an Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2008. He has also received the Anthony Award, French Prix Calibre 38, Macavity Award, Gumshoe Award, and Barry Award. He co-owns an international tourism marketing firm with his wife. In 2008, he was awarded the "BIG WYO" Award from the Wyoming tourism industry. His titles often make the best seller list including Paradise Valley in 2017.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Box isn't known for short stories he's so busy writing full-length novels that it's hard to imagine he has time to do anything else but he has, over the years, published some, not all of them easy to find. This collection includes 10 in all, 3 of them new. The surprise for some readers may be that only 4 of these tie in to the Joe Pickett series. And, while those are a pleasure, it's the others that are most interesting, demonstrating the author's versatility with a diverse array of ideas. The End of Jim and Ezra, a story about two snowed-in trappers in 1835, displays both a keen eye for mundane historical detail and a wicked sense of humor. Pirates of Yellowstone is a quirky, surprising crime story about some unusual fish in the national park's waters. And, if your curiosity is piqued by the title Pronghorns of the Third Reich, read it; you'll be rewarded by a rare and surprising tale. Here's hoping we won't have to wait long for more short stuff from Box.--Graff, Keir Copyright 2010 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



ONE-CAR BRIDGE • The tires of Joe Pickett's green Ford Wyoming Game and Fish Department pickup thumped rhythmically across the one-car bridge that spanned the Twelve Sleep River. Ahead was the Crazy Z Bar Ranch. Joe was there to deliver bad news to the ranch manager. It was Saturday in early September during the two-week period between the end of summer in the high country and preceding hunting season openers. The morning had started off with the bite of fall but had warmed by the hour. The groves of aspens in the mountains were already turning gold, although the cottonwoods flanking both sides of the river still held green and full. The river was down but still floatable, and upriver in the distance he caught a glimpse of a low-profile McKenzie-style drift boat rounding a bend. The guide manned the oars, and fly-fishermen clients cast from the front and back of the boat, long sweeps of fly-line catching the sun, toward a deep seam near the far bank. He held his breath as he did every time he drove across. There were gaps between the two-by-eights that made up the surface of the bridge and he could see glimpses of the river flash by through his open driver's-side window. The bridge itself was over forty-five years old and constructed of steel girders held together by bolts. Auburn tears of rust flowed down the surface of the steel and pooled in the channels of the I-beams, which had long ago inspired a local fishing guide to deem it "the Bridge of Cries." It stuck. Out of view beneath the bridge hung a large metal hand- painted sign: THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY FISHERMEN, STAY IN YOUR BOAT VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED BY THE CRAZY Z BAR RANCH Joe knew from experience they weren't kidding. Even that time in high water when a raft filled with Boy Scouts capsized on the swells and rocks. Eight sodden but uninjured Scouts and their two Scoutmasters--one with a broken arm--had found the ranch headquarters at dusk. The former manager, following standing orders from the owner, loaded them all into the bed of his three-quarter-ton pickup and drove them to the Saddlestring jail to press charges. The absentee owner of the ranch, Lamar Dietrich of St. Louis, had the signs put up when he bought the ranch. He meant what he said and played for keeps. And he wouldn't be happy at all, Joe knew, to hear why Joe had come. Daisy, Joe's two-year-old Labrador, raised her head from where she slept on the passenger seat to stare at the Angus cattle that grazed on the side of the dirt road. She was fascinated with cows, and Joe wondered if in Daisy's mind cows appeared to her as very large black dogs. A tremulous whine came from deep in her throat. "Settle down," Joe said, navigating a turn and plunging his truck through a thin spring creek that crossed the road. "Don't even think about chasing them." Daisy looked over at him with a puzzled expression. "Chasing Dietrich's cattle is a death sentence. He's had dogs shot for it. I want to keep you around for a while." Daisy lowered her head. "He's got a big binder he calls The Book of Rules that sits on a table in the foreman's house," Joe said to Daisy. "I've seen it, and it's thick. He expects every one of his ranch managers to memorize it, and he has tabs for every conceivable circumstance and how they're supposed to deal with it. He's got tabs on trespassing and road improvement and cattle management and fifty or so other tabs on everything he can think of. If the ranch manager makes a decision that isn't covered in The Book of Rules, that manager doesn't stay around very long. There's a tab on stray dogs. They're to be shot on sight so they don't run his cattle. "So keep your head down, especially if Dietrich is around," Joe said. "He's just plain mean." Joe had met Dietrich two times over the years, and both encounters were unpleasant. The old man was in his late seventies and appeared shorter than he actually was because his back was stooped and his shoulders slumped forward. Because of the deformity, his head was always down and when he looked up his eyes appeared menacing. His voice was a low soft growl and he didn't waste words. He had no time or respect for local officials, state game wardens, or incompetent ranch foremen. Joe had heard that Dietrich had amassed his fortune by negotiating cutthroat deals with urban governments for waste management services. There were thousands of distinctive red- and-yellow Dietrich Waste Management trucks throughout the inner cities of the Rust Belt and the northeastern states. He'd taken on local political machines and organized crime families to secure long-term contracts. Then, like so many extremely wealthy men in America, he had looked around for a safe haven for his cash and opted to sink some of it in real estate and had chosen to buy massive ranches in the West, including this one in Wyoming. The Crazy Z Bar, with tens of thousands of acres of mountainous terrain, pastureland, sagebrush flats, and fifteen premium miles of the Twelve Sleep River snaking through it. The purchase price, Joe had heard, was $22.5 million. The first time Joe met Dietrich was when the then-foreman of the ranch, under orders from the owner, had strung bar bed wire across the river to stop the passage of local fishing guides and recreational floaters. Joe had explained that state law allowed access to all navigable waters, that the land itself was private--even the river bottom itself--but the water was public. As long as the boaters didn't anchor or step out of their boat, they could legally cross the ranch. Dietrich exploded and ordered his then-foreman to beat up Joe right there and then. The foreman refused, and was fired. Joe filed charges against Dietrich for threatening him, but dropped them when Dietrich agreed to remove his barbed-wire fence. The second time, just two months ago, Joe was at a hearing before the Game and Fish Commission on a plan Dietrich proposed to convert two thousand acres of his ranch into a wild game hunting operation. Dietrich's idea was to import water buffalo, gazelles, kudu, blackbuck, and scimitar-horned oryx from Africa to be hunted by his friends. Since Joe was the local game warden, he was asked to testify, and he testified against the plan. Exotic, non-native species were a threat to the antelope, deer, and elk populations, he had said, and there was no way for Dietrich to guarantee the animals would never escape or pass along diseases that could decimate local wildlife. Dietrich appeared briefly at the hearing and extended a crooked finger at Joe and called him "a no-account tinhorn jackbooted thug." Joe said: "I've never been called that before." Because the atmosphere in the hearing room was so poisonous, the commission chose to take the decision under advisement and issue a ruling at a future date. That date had arrived. They had voted no. And Joe was tasked with delivering the verdict to the new ranch manager of the Crazy Z Bar, the Dietrich employee who had drafted and presented the proposal, Kyle Sandford. Poor Kyle, Joe thought. Although Lamar Dietrich's magnificent empty home-- built of native stone and sheets of glass so heavy and large that they'd been delivered by a cargo helicopter--was set into the side of the mountain that overlooked the river bottom, the manager's house was humble and in need of paint and new shingles. It was located on a sagebrush shelf with a cluster of outbuildings including a metal barn, corrals, and a Quonset hut for housing vehicles and machinery. There was never any need to knock on the doors of ranch homes, and no way to sneak onto a ranch. Daisy perked up again when a gaggle of motley ranch dogs boiled out from pools of shade and streaked toward Joe's pickup. They formed yipping, tumbling knots on both sides and accompanied him as he drove into the ranch yard, nipping at the tires and fenders, the cacophony signaling the arrival of a stranger. "You stay," Joe said to Daisy over the racket. The three members of the Sandford family appeared from three different places in the ranch yard as if joining each other on a stage: Joleen came from the ranch house itself, drying her hands on a dish towel; Kyle Sr. looked out from the Quonset, gripping a Crescent wrench with an oily hand; and Kyle Jr. strolled from a pocket of willows that marked the bank of the river, his fly rod poking nine feet into the air. Joe was most familiar with Kyle Jr., who was seventeen and ran in the same circle as his ward, April. He was a quiet ranch kid who had boarded the same bus as other ranch kids until he could drive himself, but hadn't been in the valley long enough--and wasn't an outstanding athlete, scholar, or leader-- to belong firmly to a pack. He seemed like a floater, the kind of boy who hung back and to the side, keeping his mouth shut, occasionally surprising others with a good quip or an observation, but was never missed when he didn't show up and never mentioned when groups were forming to attend games, go out on Friday nights, or plan a party. Joe recalled April reviewing digital photos of her friends at a football game, pointing out characters and laughing about things they'd done or said. When she came across a photo of Kyle Sandford Jr., she shook her head and said, "I don't remember him being there, but I guess he was." Kyle Jr. was wiry and dark with a prominent Adam's apple and wispy sideburns. Joe had never seen the boy smile, but he had eyes that seemed to carefully take everything in. Kyle Sr. nodded a reserved hello to Joe and Joe nodded back. Joleen withdrew into the house but stood behind the screen, watching carefully. Kyle Sr. tossed his wrench into a bucket of tools behind him, clamped on a dirty short-brimmed Stetson Rancher, and greeted Joe by saying, "Joe." "Hello, Kyle." "Did you bring me some good news?" Joe paused. "Nope." Kyle Sr. took a deep breath and stood still. His face betrayed nothing, but Joe saw Joleen shake her head behind the screen and turn away. "It was unanimous," Joe said. "The commission voted to not allow a game farm. They said it would be a bad precedent, even if your owner did all the security fencing and inoculations he said he would." Kyle Sr. said nothing. He just stared at Joe and his mouth got tight. Finally, in a thin voice, he said, "Is there anything we can do about this?" Joe was puzzled. Was Kyle Sr. offering a bribe? "Like what?" "Make another run at 'em, maybe. Adjust the proposal so they're happy about it this time, you know?" Joe shook his head. "They'll meet again in a month, but I can't see them changing their minds." Kyle Sr. dropped his head and stared at the top of his boots. "You know what's going to happen then, right?" he asked. "I'm guessing Lamar Dietrich won't be too happy," Joe said. Kyle Sr. snorted and said, "You got that right. But you know what else will happen?" Joe said he didn't. "Come with me," Kyle Sr. said, gesturing with his chin toward the house. "I'll show you something." Joe started forward and remembered Kyle Jr. He looked over at the boy as he passed by. "Any luck?" he asked. "They're hitting on prince nymphs and scuds." "Any size to 'em?" "Eighteen, nineteen inches," Kyle Jr. said. "I broke off one that was bigger than that." "Nice fish," Joe said, impressed. "Yeah," Kyle Jr. said, his eyes worried, "they were." Inside, Kyle Sr. pointed toward The Book of Rules and Joe knew then what was coming. The man slid the binder across the counter and used a greasy thumb to find the right tab. Joe read it: local political influence. Kyle Sr. folded back the tab to the first page of the section, and read: " 'As Ranch Manager of the Crazy Z Bar, an important part of your responsibilities is to develop influential working relationships with officials on the county and state level. The purpose of these relationships is to further the goals of the property and implement projects deemed important by the owner. Failure to secure beneficial results and decisions may result in termination.' " Joe contemplated that. Kyle Sr. said, "Mr. Dietrich thinks anything is possible if you've got the right relationships with the powers that be. That's how he got to be such a rich man. He thinks all his managers need to have that same ability. I guess I don't." "It's not that," Joe said. "I was at the hearing, remember?" "And you testified against us." "Yes, I did. But it wasn't because the proposal was sloppy or you weren't a good man making a strong bid. The game farm was rejected on its merits. It would have been the only game farm in the whole state, and policy was against you from the start. I think we have a lot of stupid policies, but that isn't one of them. No one wants to be out elk hunting and run into a water buffalo. Simple as that." "I know," Kyle Sr. said softly. "But that won't matter to Mr. Dietrich. He'll see it as me being a piss-poor influencer of mucky-mucks. He won't look at the big picture and see how I've made our cattle operation go into the black or how I've sold more hay than any other manager here over the years. He'll look at this tab and cut me loose." Joe said, "He can't be that unreasonable." "You don't know him like I do," Kyle Sr. said, shaking his head. "If someone doesn't do the job he wants, he cuts 'em loose. Haven't you ever wondered why this place has gone through six managers in fifteen years? I've stuck the longest--going on four years. But he'll find out about this decision and--" Joe looked up when Kyle Sr. suddenly stopped talking to see what had stopped him. He followed the man's eyes to the outside screen door, where Kyle Jr. stood on the porch. Joe understood. No father wanted his son to think of him as a failure, whether the circumstances were fair or not. "We're talking," Kyle Sr. said to Kyle Jr. "Are we gonna have to move again?" the boy asked. Kyle Sr. raised his voice and said, "I said we're talking in here, son. I don't need you standing there listening in. You go get the company truck and gas it up. You can take it into town." Kyle Jr. looked back, uncomprehending. "Why?" he asked. "Because Mr. Dietrich is coming for his quarterly visit. You can pick him up and bring him out here." "Why me?" Kyle Jr. asked, pain in his eyes. "Because your mother and me need to start packing up," Kyle Sr. said. From the living room, out of sight, Joe heard Joleen gasp. To her, Kyle Sr. said, "You'll be getting what you always wanted, Joleen." She responded with a choked mewl. To Joe, he said as an aside, "She never liked this place, anyhow. She's scared of Dietrich and she'd like to be closer to her people in Idaho. Maybe we'll end up there now." "What about Kyle Junior?" Joe asked, after the boy had left the porch. "He loves this place," he said with a heavy sigh. "He thought we'd finally found a place for him where we could stay awhile. He's made some friends and he's finally getting settled in. Now we're going to jerk him out of high school and hit the road again."   Joe shook his head. "He ain't never stayed in a place for more than a year or two," Kyle Sr. said. "He's like an army brat, I guess. But for some reason he thought this one would take. He finally let his guard down and started making connections. He told us he really likes it--the town, the school, even his teachers. Now . . ." He didn't finish the sentence. As Joe opened the door to go back out to his pickup, Kyle Sr. said, "Old man Dietrich couldn't have better timing. He's showing up on the day we find out about the game farm decision. He won't even have a chance to cool off before he fires me. He likes doing it face-to-face. He says that's the only way to fire a man: face-to-face. It's in The Book of Rules." "How's he getting here?" Joe asked. "Kyle Junior is picking him up." "No, I meant to Saddlestring?" "Private plane," Kyle Sr. said. "He must have brought the jet or he'd land on our own strip." "How many planes does he have?" "Three that I know of." Joe said, "Maybe I'll meet him at the airport along with Kyle Junior. I'll tell him the news and make sure he knows it had nothing to do with you. Maybe that will help." Kyle Sr. smiled bitterly. "Worth a try, I guess." But Joe could tell he wasn't optimistic. As Joe descended the stairs on the porch, he heard Kyle Sr. say to Joleen: "I'll hitch up the horse trailer and back it up to the front door. You start gathering our personal stuff. Mr. Dietrich has been known to give folks an hour to clean out. We might need more than that . . ." Joe swung into the truck and said to Daisy, "Man oh man." Daisy lowered her head between her big paws on the seat. Joe reached for his keys as Kyle Jr. drove through the ranch yard in the Crazy Z Bar's Ford F-350. Joe got a glimpse of the boy's face. He looked stricken. As Joe crossed the one-car bridge and drove toward Saddlestring in the lingering dust spoor of the F-350, he thought of the ranches in the Twelve Sleep River valley. There were twenty or more big holdings, most owned by out-of-state executives. But beyond that fact, each was mightily different from the other. In his experience, each ranch was a world of its own: teeming with intrigue, agendas, and characters. Each was a fiefdom with its own peculiarities and practices, its own set of rules and expectations. Ranch managers were itinerants in cowboy hats who did the bidding of their owners but, unlike the owners, had to interact with the locals. They hired cooks, wranglers, cowboys, and hands who specialized in construction, fixing fences, and wildlife management. Their employees gossiped about them, and sometimes switched ranches for better deals or benefits. There was lots of interbreeding, and relationships formed between employees of one ranch and employees of others. Even for Joe, who was out among them day after day, it was hard to keep it all straight. Despite telephones, email, and the Internet, most of the information and rumors from ranch to ranch were communicated daily through snippets of information relayed to the ranch communities by those who kept an old-fashioned circuit of visits, like brand inspectors, cattle buyers, large-animal veterinarians, and the almost legendary mail lady named Sandra "Asperger" Hamburger, who had delivered the mail in the rural areas on an ironclad timetable that had not wavered more than five minutes each day for fifteen years. Hamburger was unmarried and in her mid-sixties, and favored brightly colored cowboy shirts, jeans, short gray hair, and steel-framed cat-eye glasses she'd worn for so many years they were in fashion again. She was a tightly wrapped eccentric with mild autism--hence her nickname--who drove an ancient mud-spattered Dodge Power Wagon. She could be counted on to arrive at each rural mailbox on schedule, every day, despite the conditions. To her, the U.S. Postal Service was an all-powerful god and she didn't want to let it down. When she was running late by even a few minutes, she was a terror. When Joe saw Hamburger's truck barreling down a two-track road, raising dust behind her, he simply pulled over and let her pass. Otherwise, he was taking his life in his hands. But if Joe needed information or intel on any of the ranch managers or their employees, Sandra Asperger Hamburger was who he sought out. She knew all the names, most of their backgrounds, and most of their likes and dislikes based on what they sent or received in the mail. Often and intuitively, she knew of management shake-ups before anyone else in the valley. She wasn't a gossip, but she made it her business to know what was going on. Otherwise, she apparently reasoned, it might make her less efficient. Some ranch managers fit right in, some contributed to the general welfare, and some were out-and-out bastards who used their positions as perches of power. A few of the ranch managers in the area were incompetent in every aspect of ranching other than being obsequious to the owner and his family when they arrived annually or semiannually, and that seemed to be enough to keep their jobs. Others were hardheaded cowmen who challenged their owners over budgets and priorities as if their roles were reversed. They didn't last long. Kyle Sandford Sr., it seemed to Joe, was one of the good ones. He kept to himself--too much, apparently, for his own good-- and honored local traditions and idiosyncrasies, or at least as much as The Book of Rules would let him. He was a member of the local Lions Club and he attended school activities with Joleen. Sandford managed the ranch as if it were his own, and he drove hard but fair bargains with cattle buyers, shippers, and local businesses. He didn't make dubious wildlife damage claims like some of the managers did, and he looked the other way when old-timers hunted or fished on private land they'd used for years. Poor Kyle Sr., Joe thought. And poor Kyle Jr. The Saddlestring Municipal Airport was located on a high plateau south of town. There were two commercial flights daily--both to Denver--and most of the activity at the airfield was as a fixed-base operator for private aircraft. The ranch Ford was parked in front of the small FBO building, and Joe swung into the lot and parked beside it. As he did, he heard the whine of a small plane accelerate in volume in the sky as it descended. Joe swung out and patted Daisy on the head and pulled on his hat. Between two massive cumulus clouds to the east there was a glint of reflected light and it didn't take long for the speck to grow wings and wheels. Inside the airport, Kyle Jr. sat on a molded plastic chair and stared out the windows at the tarmac. He wore a gray Saddlestring High School hoodie, worn jeans, cowboy boots, and a Wyoming Cowboys baseball cap. It was the official uniform of every teenage boy in town, Joe thought, except for the Goths and the druggies. Kyle Jr.'s hands rested on the tops of his thighs and his head was tilted slightly to the side, as if holding it erect took too much energy. "Are you okay?" Joe asked. Kyle Jr. started to respond, then apparently thought better of it. "I know this must be tough. You kind of like it here, don't you?" Kyle Jr. nodded his head. "It's a good place," Joe said. "I know my girls would hate to leave it now that they're in high school. But maybe it won't come to that." The boy looked up with hope in his eyes. "My dad didn't seem to think so." Joe nodded. "I'm going to talk to Mr. Dietrich. Your dad is a hell of a hand. He would have a hard time replacing him. I can't believe he'd let him go because of something that was completely out of his control. I'll let him blame me." "Thanks, I guess," Kyle Jr. said, letting his eyes linger on Joe for a second before looking away. The sleek Piaggio Avanti II twin-engine turboprop sliced out of the wide blue sky and touched down on the single runway with the grace of a raptor snagging a fish. It turned and roared and wheeled straight toward the FBO, then performed a quick half-turn so the door faced the building. Joe could see the outlines of two pilots wearing peaked caps in the cockpit, and once the aircraft was stopped one of the heads disappeared and ducked toward the back. A sliding door whooshed to the side and steel stairs telescoped to the surface. The copilot filled the open hatch for a moment, looking out as if to assess any threats, then retreated back inside. "Here he comes," Kyle Jr. said solemnly. Lamar Dietrich, wearing a battered wide-brimmed hat and an oversized jacket, made his way slowly down the stairs. At the bottom he paused and reached back without turning his head, and the copilot scrambled down behind him and handed him a metal cane with three stubby feet on the bottom. Dietrich nodded toward the FBO but didn't move. The pilot danced around the old man and jogged toward a golf cart, then drove it out so Dietrich wouldn't have to walk. The old man seemed even smaller than Joe remembered him, as if he'd folded over even more on himself. His shoulders seemed narrower although the large jacket disguised how frail he'd become. He wore lizard-skin boots that poked out from baggy khakis and he braced the walker over his thighs as the copilot delivered him to the building. Joe caught a glimpse of an overlarge gargoyle-like head, swinging jowls, and a large, sharp nose when Dietrich glanced up to see where they were going. The electric cart made no sound as it approached the metal door of the FBO, but it obviously took a long moment for Dietrich to climb out. The copilot stepped inside sharply and held the door open for him. Joe stood and jammed his hands in the front pockets of his jeans and braced himself. Dietrich entered slowly and bent forward, using the walker with each step. He had bowed legs, which made him even shorter, Joe thought. He wondered how tall Dietrich was if he could be stretched out. The old man paused and looked up, literally tilting his head until the back brim of his hat brushed his hunched shoulders. His eyes were hooded, and they took in Kyle Jr. still sitting in his chair and then Joe. When he recognized the game warden as the man who had testified at the hearing, his face hardened. "You," Dietrich said. "I remember you. What the hell are you doing here?" "Came to say howdy and welcome back," Joe said. "I was hoping I could have a minute of your time before you head out to your place." "I don't have time for you," Dietrich said. He spoke in a hard and flat Midwestern tone that seemed like steel balls being dropped on concrete, Joe thought. Then, looking around the room, Dietrich said, "Where's Sandford?" "I'm Kyle Junior," the boy said, leaping up. "My dad asked me to give you a ride to the ranch." Dietrich's eyes got larger as he assessed Kyle Jr. He obviously didn't like what he saw. "How old are you?" "Seventeen." "Sandford sent a seventeen-year-old boy to pick me up?" "I'm a good driver," Kyle Jr. said. "I've been driving since I was fourteen." "This is unacceptable," Dietrich said. "I said I wanted Sand- ford here. Not his boy." Kyle Jr. obviously didn't know what to say, and his face flushed red. Joe stepped in and touched Dietrich on the shoulder. "Please, I'd like a minute if I could." Then to Kyle Jr.: "Why don't you step outside, Kyle?" The boy was out the front door immediately, and Dietrich looked angrily to Joe for an explanation. "Look," Joe said, "I know about you. You can't be as mean as you come off. You run a tight ship and you're a success in business, and I admire that. I disagree with your idea of building a game farm, but I admire your success and you've got a good ranch manager in Kyle Sandford. The decision on the game farm went against you. It wouldn't have mattered--" Dietrich interrupted to say, "What a man does with his private property is his business. This isn't Communist China--yet. No bunch of bureaucrats have the right to tell me I can't do with my own property what I want to do." "Actually, they do," Joe said. "And it isn't about what you do on your property, it's what happens if those exotic species get off your property. But that's only partially why I'm here--to tell you their decision face-to-face. I also need to let you know that the decision of the commission had nothing to do with Kyle. They liked him, and they thought the proposal he presented was as well done as any man could do. It was all based on the merits, not on the proposal." Dietrich stared into Joe's eyes so long, Joe thought he'd have to blink first. And he did. Dietrich said, "Merits. Merits. Do you realize how many times I've heard bullshit reasons like merits in my life? Nothing has to do with merits. Every decision has to do with respect and a little bit of fear." Dietrich held up a thin bony hand and slowly clenched it. "Merits melt away when there's a fist behind the proposal. Anything is possible if you know how to play the game. That's the way of the world. Always has been, always will be. I need men who know how to play the game. I'd trade a thousand Kyle Sandfords for one Lamar Dietrich." Joe said, "Maybe there is only one Lamar Dietrich. Did you ever think of that?" Dietrich beheld Joe and for a moment Joe thought the old man might smile. Instead, he quickly shook his head, as if purging an unpleasant thought. "I need men I can trust and who can get the job done. I surround myself with winners. That's my secret. I don't have time or sympathy for losers. "And I don't have time for you," Dietrich said, dismissing Joe with a wave of his hand. "Just give him some time to make it right," Joe said to Dietrich's shuffling back. "He's putting roots down here and his son is in high school. It's not Kyle's fault you want something impossible to happen. Give him a reasonable project and he'll get it done. He's a good man." "Losers stay losers," Dietrich said over his shoulder. "They don't ever make it right. Now where's that stupid boy?" Joe stood in silence. He was played out. He watched Dietrich exit the building, wave his walker at Kyle Jr., and climb in the ranch pickup. He heard about the accident over the mutual aid channel of his truck's radio. A pickup had plunged into the Twelve Sleep River off the one-car bridge at the Crazy Z Bar Ranch. There was one, and possibly two, fatalities. Joe tossed the sandwich he was eating out the driver's-side window and put his pickup into gear. He roared up the hill and past the airport and hit his emergency flashers when he cleared town. The scene at the bridge told him most of what he wanted to know: The Ford F-350 was on its side in the river and the current flowed around and through it, cables on the right side of the bridge had been snapped by the impact and dangled from the I-beams, a sheriff's department SUV was parked haphazardly on Joe's side of the bridge, Kyle Sr.'s personal pickup was parked on the other, and in the middle of the bridge itself was Sandra Hamburger's Dodge Power Wagon. "Jesus, help us," Joe whispered to Daisy. Deputy Justin Woods climbed out of his SUV as Joe pulled up behind it. His uniform was wet from the shoulders down and his eyes looked haunted. "You gotta help me, Joe," he said. "I was able to pull the boy out of the truck but I can't find the passenger down there." "Is the boy okay?" Joe asked, swinging out of the pickup, followed by Daisy. "He says he is," Woods said, nodding toward a bundled figure in the backseat. "He says Lamar Dietrich was in the truck with him. Fuckin' Lamar Dietrich." As they descended through the brush toward the river, Joe looked across. Joleen and Kyle Sr. stood near their pickup. Joleen was consoling a wailing Sandra Hamburger, trying to hug her to calm her down. Kyle Sr. stood with his hands on his hips and a terrified look on his face. "Kyle Junior's okay!" Joe shouted. "Thank God," Kyle Sr. replied, his shoulders suddenly relaxing with relief. "So what did he say happened here?" Joe asked Woods. "He said he picked up old man Dietrich at the airport and he was bringing him out here. He said he was crossing the bridge when he looked up and saw Sandra Hamburger coming straight at him, going fast. It was either hit her head-on or take it off the bridge, and he took it off the bridge." Joe winced. Sandra's wails cut through the rushing sounds of the river. "I cut him out of his seat belt," Woods said, "but I guess the old man wasn't wearing his." Joe nodded and they plunged into the river together. The current was strong and pushed at his legs, and the river rocks were round and slick. He slipped and fell to his knees and recovered. The water was surprisingly cold. "Maybe Dietrich is pinned under the truck," Woods said. "I don't know." The windshield glass was broken out of the cab when they got there, and Joe confirmed that Dietrich wasn't inside. The current flowed through the smashed-out rear window and through the open windshield. Anything inside would have been washed downstream. Joe balanced himself against the crumpled metal hood of the pickup and gazed down the river. "There he is," Joe said. Twenty yards downstream, beneath the surface, Dietrich's overlarge jacket rippled underwater in the current. His body had been sucked under and was wedged in the river rocks. At a distance downstream where the river made a rightward bend, his large straw hat was caught at the base of some willows. By the time they dragged the surprisingly light body to the bank, three more sheriff's department vehicles had arrived along with an ambulance. Sheriff Reed dispatched his men to take measurements and photographs of the bridge and the vehicles, and statements from Kyle Jr. and Sandra Hamburger. Joe leaned against his pickup with a fleece blanket over his shoulders, next to Kyle Sr. "Sheriff Reed hasn't said anything about any charges," Kyle Sr. said. "I don't know if he's gonna file on Sandra, or Kyle Junior, or neither. It was a damn accident, plain as day. Anybody can see that." Joe nodded. "That poor Sandra, you know how she is. If she's running late there isn't anything she'll let slow her down. I don't even know if she saw Kyle Junior coming across the bridge. I asked her but she just keeps blubbering about her schedule being screwed up." Kyle Sr. sighed heavily. "That son of mine--I hope he's okay after this. It's a hell of a thing that happened." "Yup," Joe said, looking over at Kyle Jr. in the back of the SUV. When he did, the boy quickly looked away. "I don't know what's going to happen now," Kyle Sr. said, nodding toward the ranch. "I don't know if he had heirs or what." "Whatever happens will take awhile," Joe said. "You might as well hunker down and see where it goes." "I guess." "It might take years to straighten out," Joe said. "These things take time to sort out." Kyle Sr. looked over and closed one eye. "What are you getting at, Joe?" "Kyle Junior will be able to stick around. He might even graduate here." "He'd like that." "Yup," Joe said. Later that night, after dinner, Joe told his wife, Marybeth, about the accident and the death. April listened in as well, and wondered aloud if Kyle would be in school on Monday.   After April left the table, Marybeth looked hard at Joe and said, "What's wrong? Something is bugging you." He was astonished, as always, how she could read his mind. He said, "I don't know for sure, I keep thinking about Kyle Junior. He's an observer, you know? He kind of hangs back and just tracks everything around him." Marybeth nodded her head, then gestured for him to go on. "He saw Sandra on her rounds on his way to the airport, just like I did," Joe said. "He knows her schedule. He knows the rhythm of that ranch and when Sandra Hamburger is going to show up every day. And he knows how she is. He also knew old man Dietrich didn't buckle his seat belt when he got in the truck." Marybeth sat back and covered her mouth with her hand. "Joe, are you saying . . ." "I'm not saying anything. But it sure was unique timing for him to just happen to be on that bridge going one way when Sandra was on it coming the other, driving like her hair was on fire." "My God," Marybeth whispered. "No way to prove a thing," Joe said. "Not unless Kyle Junior decides to break down and confess, and no one is accusing him of anything. Heck, they might not even believe him if he did." After a long pause, Marybeth asked, "Are you going to mention this to the sheriff?" Joe shook his head. "Nope." Excerpted from Shots Fired: Stories from Joe Pickett Country by C. J. Box All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.