Cover image for Endangered
Title:
Endangered
Author:
Box, C. J.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, [2015]
Physical Description:
369 pages : illustration ; 24 cm.
Summary:
"Joe Pickett has lived through plenty of danger, but this time it's his daughter's life at stake-and Joe and his family will be tested as never before"--
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780399160776
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

New York Times bestselling writer C. J. Box returns with a thrilling new novel, featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett. She was gone. Joe Pickett had good reason to dislike Dallas Cates, even if he was a rodeo champion, and now he has even more--Joes eighteen-year-old ward, April, has run off with him. And then come's even worse news: The body of a girl has been found in a ditch along the highway alive, but just barely, the victim of blunt force trauma. It is April, and the doctors aren't sure if she'll recover. Cates denies having anything to do with it says she ran away from him, too and there's evidence that points to another man. But Joe knows in his gut who's responsible. What he doesn't know is the kind of danger he's about to encounter. Cates is bad enough, but Cates's family is like none Joe has ever met before. Joe's going to find out the truth, even if it kills him. But this time, it just might.


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

Is there a crime-fiction family as fully fleshed out as Joe Pickett's? In singing the praises of Box's series featuring the Wyoming game warden, we often praise the plotting, pacing, and the down-to-earth hero's friendship with force-of-nature Nate Romanowski. But Pickett's supporting cast wife Marybeth and daughters Sheridan, Lucy, and April lends a continuity and grounding to this series that sets it apart from all the lone-wolf stuff out there. And it's the adopted, troubled April who gets the fifteenth Pickett novel off to a troubling start when she's found beaten and unconscious in a ditch. Joe is sure he knows who did it but must reconcile his desire for immediate revenge with the sheriff's insistence on a by-the-book investigation. Meanwhile, the FBI is using Nate as bait to catch his fugitive former employer, and, despite it all, Joe must investigate a politically charged sage-grouse slaughter. As they often do, things get western, with the carefully constructed plot building to a breathless, thrilling end. And Joe's family, battered and bruised, carries on. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Box will be touring in person and over satellite radio, backed by the usual promotional blitz in print, electronic, and social media but his hungry fans will already have this book on hold at the library.--Graff, Keir Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

The 15th novel to feature Joe Pickett (after Stone Cold) opens with the Wyoming game warden facing the apparently senseless slaughter of dozens of young sage grouse, a problem he quickly moves to the back burner when he's told his 18-year-old adopted daughter, April, has been found beaten and left to die on a road near his hometown of Saddlestring. Narrator Chandler's rendition of the book's expository sections is precise and professionally delivered but unemotional to a fault, undercutting the vivid and propulsive quality of the author's prose. However, when it comes to bringing the book's characters to life, Chandler's Broadway (Death of Salesman) and TV experience (Law and Order) kick in. The wheelchair-bound Sheriff Reed sounds thoughtful and just, a hard man to rile, while prosecutor Schawk is as tightly coiled as Box describes her. Providing Joe with a deep, leading man's voice, Chandler takes it through a series of emotional changes, from love for his daughter and fear for her safety to full-out fury when he eventually confronts the book's collection of truly monstrous villains. A Putnam hardcover. (May) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

His 15th outing finds Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett home in Twelve Sleep County collecting dead sage grouse when he receives notice that his adopted daughter, April, has been dumped on a rural road and is near death. Her boyfriend Dallas Cates is a suspect, but there are other possibilities, and the Cates family is obstructing the investigation for reasons Pickett can't figure out. In this chilling mystery, filled with federal agency and law enforcement complications and threats to everyone Joe holds dear, Box is at the top of his form with tight plotting, realistic characters, and plenty of detection. David Chandler turns in a brilliant performance as the voice of Pickett. Verdict Both mystery fans and those who enjoy adventure stories will love this series. ["The nonstop action, intermingling plotlines, and the return of familiar characters mesh into a breathless, roller-coaster ride of sheer suspense and entertainment": LJ 2/15/15 review of the Putnam hc.]-Janet Martin, Southern Pines P.L., NC © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

1 When Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett received the call every parent dreads, he was standing knee-high in thick sagebrush, counting the carcasses of sage grouse. He was up to twenty-one. Feathers carpeted the dry soil and clung to the waxy blue-green leaves of the sagebrush within a fifty-foot radius. The air smelled of dust, sage, and blood. It was late morning in mid-March on a vast brush-covered flat managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. There wasn't a single tree for eighteen miles to the west on the BLM land until the rolling hills rocked back on their heels and began their sharp ascent into the snow-covered Bighorn Mountains, which were managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The summits of the mountains were obscured by a sudden late-season snowstorm, and the sky was leaden and close. Joe's green Game and Fish Ford pickup straddled the ancient two-track road that had brought him up there, the engine idling and the front driver's door still open from when he'd leapt out. His yellow Labrador, Daisy, was trembling in the bed of the truck, her front paws poised on the top of the bed wall as she stared out at the expanse of land. Twin strings of drool hung from her mouth. She smelled the carnage out on the flat, and she wanted to be a part of it. "Stay," Joe commanded. Daisy moaned, reset her paws, and trembled some more. Joe wore his red uniform shirt with the pronghorn patch on the sleeve, Wrangler jeans, cowboy boots, and a Filson vest against the chill. His worn gray Stetson was clamped on tight. A rarely drawn .40 Glock semiauto was on his hip. Twenty-one dead sage grouse. In his youth, everyone called them "prairie chickens," and he knew the young ones were good to eat when roasted because they'd been a staple in his poverty-filled college days. They were odd birds: chicken-sized, pear-shaped, ungainly when flying. They were the largest of the grouse species, and their habitat once included most of the western United States and Canada. Wyoming contained one hundred thousand of them, forty percent of the North American population. Of this flock, he'd noted only three survivors: all three with injuries. He'd seen their teardrop-shaped forms ghosting from brush to brush on the periphery of the location. They didn't fly away, he knew, because they couldn't yet. It was obvious what had happened. Fat tire tracks churned through the sagebrush, crushing some plants and snapping others at their woody stalks. Spent 12-gauge shotgun shells littered the ground: Federal four-shot. He speared one through its open end with his pen and sniffed. It still smelled of gunpowder. He retrieved eighteen spent shells and bagged them. Later, after he'd sealed the evidence bag, he found two more shells. Since eighteen shells were more than a representative sample, he tossed the two errant casings into the back of his pickup. There was a single empty Coors Light can on the northeast corner of the site. He bagged it and tagged it, and hoped the forensics lab in Laramie could pull prints from the outside or DNA from the lip. Problem was, the can looked much older than the spent shotgun shells and he couldn't determine if it hadn't simply been discarded along the road a few weeks prior to the slaughter. Joe guessed that the incident had occurred either the night or day before, because the exploded carcasses hadn't yet been picked over by predators. Small spoors of blood in the dirt had not yet dried black. Whoever had done it had shot them "on the lek," a lek being an annual gathering of the birds where the males strutted and clucked to attract females for breeding. The lek was a concentric circle of birds with the strutting male grouse in the center of it. Some leks were so large and predictable that locals would drive out to the location to watch the avian meat market in action. The birds bred in mid-March, nested, and produced chicks in June. If someone was to choose the most opportune time to slaughter an entire flock, this was it, Joe knew. So "Lek 64," as it had been designated by a multiagency team of biologists charged with counting the number of healthy groupings within the state, was no more. Joe took a deep breath and put his hands on his hips. He was angry, and he worked his jaw. It would take hours to photograph the carcasses and measure and photograph the tire tracks. He knew he'd have to do it himself because the county forensics tech was an hour away--provided the tech was on call and would even respond to a game violation. Joe knew he was responsible for the gathering of all evidence to send to the state lab in Laramie, and it would have to get done before the snow that was falling on top of the mountains worked its way east and obscured the evidence. Since it was Friday and the lab technicians didn't work over the weekend, at best he'd hear something by the end of next week. He'd find whoever did this, he thought. It might take time, but he'd find the shooter or shooters. Fingerprints on the brass of the shells, tire analysis, the beer can, gossipy neighbors, or a drunken boast would lead him to the bad guys. Sometimes it was ridiculously easy to solve these kinds of crimes because the kind of person who would leave such a naked scene often wasn't very smart. Joe had apprehended poachers in the past by finding photos of them posing with dead game on Facebook posts or by looking at the taxidermy mounts in their homes. Or by simply going to their front door, knocking, and saying, "I guess you know why I'm here." It had been amazing what kinds of answers that inquiry sometimes brought. But he wasn't angry because of the work ahead of him. There was also that special directive recently put out by Governor Rulon and his agency director about sage grouse. Preserving them, that is. Game and Fish biologists and wardens had been ordered to pay special attention to where the grouse were located and how many there were. The status of the sage grouse population, according to Rulon, was "pivotal" to the future economic well-being of the state. Sage grouse in Wyoming had shifted from the status of a game bird regulated by the state into politics and economics on a national level. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was threatening to list the bird as an endangered species because the overall population had declined, and if they did, it would remove hundreds of thousands of acres from any kind of use, including energy development--whether gas and oil, wind, hydrothermal, or solar. The federal government proposed mandating an off-limits zone consisting of one to four miles for every lek found. That would impact ranchers, developers, and everyone else. That was the reason Joe had been on the old two-track in the first place and stumbled onto the killing ground. During the winter, he'd seen the flock more than once from the window of his pickup, and sage grouse didn't range far. Sage grouse did not exhibit the brightest of bird behavior. He recalled an incident from the year before, when a big male--called a "bomber" by hunters--flew into the passenger door of his pickup and bounced off, killing itself in the process. Joe's truck hadn't been moving at the time. Years before, prior to the national decline in the sage grouse population, Joe had accompanied outlaw falconer Nate Romanowski to this very sagebrush bench. At the time, Nate flew a prairie falcon and a red-tailed hawk. Joe and Nate served as bird dogs, walking through the brush to dislodge the grouse while the raptors hunted from the air. Grouse defended themselves against the falcons by flopping over onto their backs and windmilling their sharp claws, but the raptors got them anyway, in an explosion of feathers. Joe wondered if he'd ever hunt with Nate again, and not just because of the sage grouse problem. With a half-dozen serious allegations hanging over his head by the feds, Nate had agreed to turn state's witness against his former employer, a high-society killer for hire. Nate had not touched base with Joe, or Marybeth, or their daughter Sheridan in months. Joe had no idea if Nate's long-ago pledge to protect the Pickett family still held. And Joe was still angry with him for getting mixed up in a murder-for-hire operation, even if the targets richly deserved killing. Joe shook his head to clear it, and looked at the carnage. Half a year after being named "Special Liaison to the Executive Branch" by Rulon himself, in the middle of Joe's own five-thousand-squaremile district, he'd discovered the site of the wanton destruction of twenty-one rare game birds whose deaths could bring down the state of Wyoming. That's when the call came. And suddenly he was no longer thinking about birds. The display said mike reed. Reed was sheriff of Twelve Sleep County, and had been for two years. He was a personal friend of Joe's and had cleaned up the department, ridding it of the old cronies and flunkies who had been collected by the previous chief, Kyle McLanahan. Reed was a paraplegic due to gunshot wounds he'd received in the line of duty and he traveled in a specially outfitted van. His injuries had never prevented him from getting around or performing his job. Reed's voice was tense. Joe could hear the sound of a motor in the background. He was speeding somewhere in his van. Reed said, "Joe, we've got a situation. Are you in a place where you can sit down?" "No, but go ahead." "I'm running out to meet my deputy on Dunbar Road. He responded to a call from a couple of hunters this morning. They claimed they found a victim in a ditch." Joe knew Dunbar Road. It was south of Saddlestring, an obscure county road that ended up at a couple of old reservoirs in the break- lands. It was a road to nowhere, really, used only by hunters, anglers, and people who were lost. "The victim is a young woman, Joe," Reed said. "She was found by Deputy Boner." Joe felt himself squeezing his cell phone as if to kill it. "My deputy thinks she looks a lot like April. He says he knew April from when she worked at Welton's Western Wear, and it might be her." Joe's knees weakened, and he took a step back. April was their eighteen-year-old adopted daughter. She'd disappeared the previous November with a professional rodeo cowboy and they'd only heard from her two or three times. Each time she called, she said not to worry about her. She was, she said, "having the time of her life." Because she'd turned eighteen, there was little Joe or Marybeth could do, except encourage her to come home. "She's alive?" Joe asked, his mouth dry. "Maybe. Barely. We're not sure. It might not be her, Joe. There's no ID on her." "Where is she now?" "In the backseat of my deputy's cruiser," Reed said. "He didn't want to wait for the EMTs to get out there. He said it looks touch and go whether she'll even make it as far as the hospital." Joe took a quivering breath. The storm cloud was moving down the face of the mountains, the snow blotting out the blue-black forest of pine trees. "Whether it's April or not," Reed said, "it's a terrible thing." "Mike, was she in an accident?" "Doesn't sound like it," Reed said. "There was no vehicle around. It looks like she was dumped there." "Dumped?" Joe asked. "Why didn't she walk toward town?" "She's been beaten," Reed said. "Man, I hate to be the one telling you this. But my guy says it looks like she was beaten to a pulp and dumped. Whoever did it might have thought she was already dead. Obviously, I don't know the extent of her injuries, how long she's been there, or if there was, you know, a sexual assault." Joe leaned against the front fender of his pickup. He couldn't recall walking back to his truck, but there he was. The phone was pressed so tightly against his face, it hurt. March and April were usually the snowiest months in high-country Wyoming, when huge dumps of spring snow arrived between short bursts of false spring. The last week had been unseasonably warm, so he was grateful she hadn't died of exposure. Joe said, "So you're going to meet your deputy and escort him to the hospital?" "Roger that," Reed said. "How quick can you get there? I'm about to scramble Life Flight and get them down here so they can transport her to the trauma center in Billings. These injuries are beyond what our clinic can handle. Can you get there and . . . identify her?" "I'm twenty miles out on bad roads, but yes, I'll be there," Joe said, motioning for Daisy to leap down from the bed of the truck and take her usual spot on the passenger seat. He followed her in and slammed the door. "Does Marybeth know?" Marybeth was now the director of the Twelve Sleep County Library. She'd be at the building until five-thirty p.m., but she was known to monitor the police band. "I haven't told her," Reed said, "and I asked my guys to keep a lid on this until I reached you. I thought maybe you'd want to tell her." Joe engaged the transmission and roared down the old two-track. "I'll call her," Joe said, raising his voice because the road was rough and the cab was rattling with vibration. Citation books, maps, and assorted paperwork fluttered down through the cab from where they had been parked beneath the sun visors. "We'll meet you there." "I'm sorry, Joe," Reed said with pain in his voice. "But keep in mind we don't know for sure it's her." Joe said, "It's her," and punched off. He called Marybeth's cell phone. When she answered, he slowed down enough so that he could hear her. "Mike Reed just told me they're transporting a female victim to the hospital," he said. "She was found dumped south of town. Mike says there's a possibility the girl could be--" "April," Marybeth said, finishing the sentence for him. "How bad is she?" "Bad," Joe said, and he told her about the Life Flight helicopter en route to the hospital from Billings. "I'll meet you there," she said. Before he could agree, she said, "I've had nightmares about this for months. Ever since she left with that cowboy." Joe thought, She can't even say his name. Joe disconnected the call, dropped his phone into his breast pocket, and jammed down on the accelerator. Twin plumes of dust from his back tires filled the rearview mirror. "Hang on," he said to Daisy. Then: "I'm going to kill Dallas Cates." Daisy looked back as if to say We'll kill him together. 2 After what seemed like the longest forty-five minutes of his life, Joe arrived at the Twelve Sleep County Hospital and found Marybeth in the emergency entrance lobby. Sheriff Mike Reed was with her, as was Deputy Edgar Jess Boner, who had found the victim and transported her into town. Marybeth was calm and in control, but her face was drained of color. She had the ability to shift into a cool and pragmatic demeanor when a situation was at its worst. She was blond with green eyes, and was wearing a skirt, blazer, and pumps: her library director's outfit. She turned to him as he walked in and said, "Sorry that took so long." He was unsettled from being nearly shaken to death on the ride down from the sagebrush foothills. His hands shook from gripping the steering wheel. He saw the subtle but scared look in her eyes and went to her and pulled her close. "I saw her when they brought her in," Marybeth said into his ear. "It's April. She looks terrible, Joe. The emergency doctor called it blunt force trauma. Someone hit her in the head, and her face was bloody." "I was hoping it wasn't her," Joe said, realizing how callous that sounded. It shouldn't be anyone. "She's alive," Marybeth said. "That's all they can say. She isn't conscious, and as far as I know she hasn't opened her eyes or tried to speak. I keep seeing doctors and nurses rushing back there, but I don't know what they're doing other than trying to stabilize her for the Life Flight." "This is so terrible," he said. "I kept telling her . . ." Marybeth started to say, but let her voice trail off. After a beat, she gently pushed away from Joe and said, "I'm going with her in the helicopter to Billings. We just have to hope that, with all she's been through, she can hold on another hour. "I called the high school and left a message with the principal that you would pick Lucy up," Marybeth continued. "Maybe you can take her out to dinner tonight, but you'll need to feed the horses when you get home." Joe started to argue, started to tell her not to worry about his dinner or anything else, but he knew this was how she processed a crisis--by making sure her family was taken care of. Only after it passed would she allow herself to break down. So he nodded instead. "I'll call Sheridan as soon as I know something," she said. "I've already made arrangements to be gone a few days from work. They were very good about it." Sheridan was a junior at the University of Wyoming and had chosen not to be a resident assistant in the dormitory another semester. She was living with three other girls in a rental house and making noises about staying in Laramie for the summer to work. Joe and Marybeth didn't like the idea, but Sheridan was stubborn. She was also not close to April, and the two of them had often clashed when they'd lived in the same house together. Lucy was Joe and Marybeth's sixteen-year-old daughter, a tenth grader at Saddlestring High School. She was blond like her mother and maturing into self-sufficiency. Lucy had been a careful observer of her two older sisters and had avoided their mistakes and errors in judgment. April had stayed in contact with Lucy more than anyone else, although Lucy had relayed what she'd been told to Marybeth. Joe said to Marybeth, "You know who did this." "We can't jump to that conclusion." "Already did," Joe said. In his peripheral vision, he saw Sheriff Mike Reed roll his chair toward them. If Reed hadn't overheard Joe, he'd at least gotten the gist of what had been said, Joe thought. "When you have a minute . . ." Reed said. Joe turned to Reed and Boner, then shook Boner's hand. "Thanks for bringing her here. We appreciate it. You made the right call not waiting for the ambulance to show up." Boner was new to the department and Joe didn't know the man well. "Just doing my job," Boner said softly. "I've got a three-year-old girl at home. I can't imagine . . ." He didn't finish the thought, but looked away, his face flushed red. Joe said to Reed, "It was Dallas Cates. That's who she left with. We need to find him." "Whoa," Reed said, showing Joe the palm of his hand. "I know you've got your suspicions, and I do, too, but right now we've got nothing to go on." "It was him." "Marybeth is right," Reed said. "You're emotional right now and you're jumping to conclusions. I know it's against your nature, but you need to let this thing work. I've got my guys working on the investigation and my evidence tech out there on Dunbar Road to see what we can find. It's only been a couple of hours, Joe." Joe said, "If you don't find him, I will." "Joe, damn you," Reed said, shaking his head. "Slow down. Just slow down. You know as well as I do that we could screw the whole thing up if we put blinders on and make accusations that turn out to be false." Joe smoldered. After a moment, he felt Marybeth's hand on his shoulder and he looked back at her. She was grave. She said, "Promise me you won't do anything crazy while I'm gone. I need you here with Lucy, and this is too close to home. Promise me, Joe." "It's obvious," Joe said to both Marybeth and Reed. "A twentyfour- year-old local-hero cowboy takes a liking to my middle daughter and convinces her to take off with him on the rodeo circuit. She doesn't know about his past, or what he's capable of, so she goes. A few months later, she gets left in a ditch outside of town. Who else would we suspect?" Marybeth didn't respond, but Reed said, "Joe, we're already on it. I sent two guys out to the Cates house fifteen minutes ago. Supposedly Dallas is at home recuperating from a rodeo injury right now." "He's home?" Joe said. "When did he come home?" "Don't know," Reed said. "We'll find out." "April was probably dumped yesterday," Joe said. "Do you feel the dots connecting, Mike?" "We're asking him to come in for questioning," Reed said. "I want to sit in." "Not a chance in hell, Joe. I was thinking about letting you watch the monitor down the hall, but if you keep up your attitude, I'll ban you from the building." Joe looked to Marybeth for support, but she shook her head with sympathy instead. Reed said, "All we need is for you to draw down on our suspect during the initial inquiry and for him to press charges against us and you. No, Joe, if we want to do this right, we do it by the book." "Promise me," Marybeth said. Joe looked down at his boots. He said, "I promise." She squeezed his hand. Then he looked hard at Mike Reed from under the brim of his hat. He said, "Mike, I know you'll do your best and I'll behave. But if something goes pear-shaped, things are going to get western around here." "I expected you to say that," Reed said with a sigh. BLUNT FORCE TRAUMA. The very words were brutal in and of themselves, Joe thought as he and Marybeth trailed April's gurney down the hallway. He could hear the helicopter approaching outside, hovering over the helipad on the roof of the hospital. April was bundled up and he couldn't see her face. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Joe was grateful Marybeth had positively identified her earlier. He was unnerved by the number of suspended plastic packets that dripped fluids into tubes that snaked beneath the sheets. An orderly rolled a monitor on wheels alongside the gurney. Her body looked small and frail beneath the covers, and she didn't respond when the orderlies secured her to the gurney with straps. Joe reached down and squeezed her hand through the blankets. It was supple, but there was no pressure back. "Let me know how it goes," Joe said to Marybeth, raising his voice so as to be heard over the wash of the rotors. "Of course," she said, pulling him close one last time before she left. Her eyes glistened with tears. Joe watched as the gurney was hoisted into the helicopter. A crew member reached down from the hatch and helped Marybeth step up inside. Seconds later, the door was secured and the helicopter lifted. Joe clamped his hat tight on his head with his right hand and silently asked God to save April, because she'd suffered enough in her short life, and to give Marybeth the strength to carry on. "How well do you know the Cates family?" Reed asked Joe as he drove them to the Twelve Sleep County Building. Joe was in the passenger seat of the specially equipped van. Deputy Boner had volunteered to follow them in Joe's pickup and to keep an eye on Daisy until Joe could retrieve his vehicle and his dog. "I've tangled with them before," Joe said. "Mainly with Bull, the oldest son. I've met the old man, Eldon, and I've been to his elk camp a few times." He knew the Cateses lived on twelve acres in the breaklands. The property contained a smattering of old structures in the scrub pine, including the shambled main house, a barn, and several falling down outbuildings. Their place was about twenty minutes from town. "What do you know about them?" Reed asked. Joe told Reed that the Cates family ran a hunting-guide business called Dull Knife Outfitters. Dull Knife was one of the oldest big- game outfitters in the Bighorns, and one of the most notorious. There were rumors that Eldon was involved in taking elk out of season as well as in the wrong hunt areas, on behalf of clients, and that he made deals with hunters to obtain prime licenses on their behalf without going through the lottery, if they paid his special fee. Joe had even heard that Eldon had a secret elk camp deep in the mountains that he operated completely above the law, where he guaranteed certain wealthy hunters a kill that would make the record books. But they were rumors only. Joe had never caught Eldon committing a crime, and no accuser had ever come forward. He'd interviewed several Dull Knife clients over the years and none of them would implicate Eldon. Despite spending years on horseback in the most remote areas of the mountains, he'd not yet found Eldon's secret camp--if it existed at all. Eldon had a unique reputation among the other, more respectable outfitters in the district. Although sniping among competing hunting guides was normal, the one thing Eldon's competitors could agree on was that they didn't like Eldon. They thought he used his reputation as the oldest outfitter in the mountains as a slam against them, and they didn't like how he challenged the ethics of the profession--which reflected poorly on them. Guides said that Eldon sometimes claimed kills made by their clients by tagging them on behalf of his clients, and that he refused to respect the boundaries of the Wyoming Outfitters Board's designated hunting areas. He would also bad-mouth other outfitters to his clients, calling them "amateurs," "greenhorns," and worse. For a number of years, Eldon drove his four-wheel-drive pickup around town with a magnetic sign on the door that read dull knife outfitters: satisfying our customers when the other guides were still in diapers. Joe had been asked by several outfitters to talk to Eldon about it, but Joe told them there was nothing he could legally do. When the magnetic sign was stolen from the truck while Eldon was in a bar, Eldon had vowed to press charges for theft against the other outfitters in the county, but he never did. Joe had always considered Eldon Cates to be an aggravating throwback who would someday foul up. When he did, Joe wanted to be there. Bull was another story. Bull was bigger and dumber than his dad, and two years earlier, Joe had caught the son and his unpleasant wife, Cora Lee, red-handed with a trophy bull elk in the back of their pickup three days before the season opener. Bull's hunting rig could be identified instantly because it had been retrofitted as a kind of rolling meat wagon. He'd welded a steel pole and crossbeam into the bed and strung a steel cable and hook from a turnbuckle. With the device, Bull could back up to a big- game carcass, hook the cable through its back legs, and hoist it up in order to field dress and skin it on the spot. Bull's scheme had been to kill the bull prior to the arrival of two hunters from Pennsylvania. If either of the two hunters didn't get their own trophy bull elk, Bull was going to tag the carcass with their license and let them take it home, thus guaranteeing a one hundred percent successful hunt. The Pennsylvania clients hadn't been in on the scheme, from what Joe could determine. Judge Hewitt was a hunter himself, and he came down hard on Bull Cates. The violations had cost the outfitter several thousand dollars in fines, the forfeiture of his rifles and pickup, and the loss of his outfitter's license from the state association. Bull was bitter and claimed Joe had "deprived him of his livelihood" and that he would someday even the score. Cora Lee acted out during the sentencing and hurled epithets at Joe and Judge Hewitt and was forcibly removed from the courtroom by deputies. It wasn't uncommon for a game violator to talk big in bars about getting even with the local game warden, and Bull wasn't the first to ever make threats. For Joe, it was part of the job. He knew that in the past the threats had always dissipated with the onslaught of the next morning's hangover. Nevertheless, for months after, Joe had taken measures to avoid running into Bull and Cora Lee. There was no reason to pour fuel on the embers. Joe wasn't as young as he used to be, and Bull had six inches and fifty pounds on him. So when Joe would see Bull's pickup--a 2007 Ford F-250 with a dull knife outfitters decal crudely scraped off the driver's-side door--in the parking lot of the grocery store, he would drive around the block until it was gone. When the vehicle was parked in front of the Stockman's Bar, Joe would keep driving. When there were no hunting seasons open, the Cateses operated C&C Sewer and Septic Tank Service. C&C stood for "Cates & Cates." It was a dirty job, pumping out rural septic tanks. The Cateses owned several circa-1980 pump trucks, and Joe often saw them on remote roads in the spring and fall. When he spotted one in front of him on the highway, he gave it a wide berth. "So you know Bull, all right," Reed said with a chuckle. "Did you ever run across Timber, the second son?" "Timber?" Joe said. "What's with these names?" "If you think Bull is a problem, he's a piece of cake compared to son number two. Timber was a hell of a high school athlete. He was quarterback in the late eighties, the last time the Saddlestring Wranglers won state, back before you came into this country. Timber walked on at UW, and he might have played eventually, but he got into some kind of bar fight at the Buckhorn in Laramie and they threw him off the team. Unfortunately, he moved back home. And he was crazy. He'd get so violent when he drank, it would take four of us deputies to get him down. When he discovered meth, he got even worse. Finally, he was arrested up in Park County for carjacking some old lady on her way to Yellowstone Park because he'd run out of gas and he wanted her Mustang. Lucky for all of us, Timber is doing three years in Rawlins. I hear he isn't exactly a model prisoner, or he would have been out and back here by now." Reed took a deep breath. "However . . . I got word from a buddy of mine, a prison guard, that Timber could be released any day now. I've sent a memo to my guys to keep an eye out for him. My guess is he'll go straight home to Mama. Then it'll be a matter of time before he gets in trouble again." "Then there's Dallas," Joe said. "Then there's Dallas," Reed echoed. Joe had met him four months ago at his house. Dallas had been invited there by April, who at the time had worked at Welton's Western Wear. Dallas was a local hero, winner of the National High School Finals Rodeo, then the College National Finals Rodeo, and at that time he was in second place in the standings in bull riding and bound for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. His lean, hard face was so well-known among rodeo fans that his likeness was used to sell jeans in western stores, and he'd visit local retailers to promote the brand when he wasn't riding bulls. That's how Dallas and April met. Dallas Cates was shorter than Joe, but had wider shoulders, and biceps that strained at the fabric of his snap-button western shirt. He had a compact frame that suggested he was spring-loaded and ready to explode at a moment's notice. His neck was as wide as his jaw, and he projected raw physical power. There was a two-inch scar on his left cheek that tugged at the edge of his mouth in an inadvertent sneer. Supposedly, Dallas got the scar when he jumped from a moving snowmobile onto the back of a bull elk, in an attempt to wrestle the animal to the ground like a rodeo cowboy did with a running steer. The sharp tip of one of the antlers had ripped Dallas's cheek. Joe didn't know if the story was true, but he'd heard it several times. Dallas was also somewhere on the periphery of a terrible crime that had occurred when he was an all-state wrestler for Saddlestring High School, when a girl was abducted, raped, and dumped outside of town by at least four high school-aged suspects. Unfortunately, the victim, named Serda Tibbs, couldn't identify her assailants because she'd been slipped a date-rape drug that rendered her unconscious. Were there four of them, or five? Four seniors were arrested, tried, and convicted. None of the four would finger Dallas Cates, even though several other students anonymously claimed Cates was the ringleader. That was the power Dallas held over the other student criminals. "So have you met the matriarch, Brenda Cates?" Reed asked Joe, cocking his head as he pulled into his designated parking spot on the side of the county building. The way he'd asked, Joe surmised, held significance. "No. Marybeth's met her at the library. Brenda wanted her support on creating signs to post at the entrances to town bragging about Dallas." Reed nodded. "She wants signage put up declaring Saddlestring the 'hometown of PRCA bull-riding champion Dallas Cates.'" Joe snorted. "Let's just say she's very proud and protective of her family," Reed said as he swung his seat around and lifted himself into his wheelchair in a single fluid motion. Before Joe could ask what that meant, Reed's cell phone burred and the sheriff held it up to his ear. He listened for a minute, then asked, "What about Dallas?" before listening more and punching off. "What about Dallas?" Joe asked. "That was my deputy. Dallas's parents say he's laid up and can't make the trip into town right now. But Eldon and Brenda Cates themselves should be here any minute. They're being very cooperative, I'm told." Joe said, "I'll bet." Sheriff Reed said, "If Dallas Cates is that banged-up and has actually been home for a while, he might not have been the one, Joe." "I want to see him. I want a doctor to evaluate his condition." "We can do that," Reed said, "and we will. But first I think we should hear out Eldon and Brenda, don't you?" Joe agreed. "Brenda is the one you should be interested in," Reed said, arching his eyebrows and sliding the van door open. Excerpted from Endangered 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.

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