The Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning author returns with BLM agent Jamaica Wild.
In the midst of tracking a wounded mountain lion, Jamaica is forced to seek refuge in an old abandoned Indian School when a snowstorm hits. Exploring, Jamaica discovers the desecrated body of an elderly Anglo woman, frozen on the floor. After the storm, the FBI takes over the murder investigation, but Jamaica remains haunted by the frozen woman. As the dead of winter settles, arctic temperatures threaten the survival of the mountain lions-but time reveals that there is something far more dangerous tracking Jamaica...
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Sandi Ault is the bestselling, award-winning author of the WILD Mystery series. Winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award, the WILLA Award for Literary Excellence, two SPUR Finalist Awards, and more, she is a sought-after speaker, lecturer, writing teacher, and workshop facilitator. She lives and writes in the Wild West along with her loving companions: a husband, a wolf, and a Missouri wildcat.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Predator
Chapter 2 - The Howl
Chapter 3 - Morning
Chapter 4 - The Silver Bullet
Chapter 5 - Facts of the Matter
Chapter 6 - Aunties
Chapter 7 - Bad Wolf
Chapter 8 - What It Means to Be Hungry
Chapter 9 - The Coldfire Episode
Chapter 10 - Latchkey ATV
Chapter 11 - Deserters
Chapter 12 - Disempowered
Chapter 13 - The Lures
Chapter 14 - Chill
Chapter 15 - The Milagro, the Saint, and the Bruja’s Gift
Chapter 16 - Suffer the Little Children
Chapter 17 - Luminarias and Landlords
Chapter 18 - The Church
Chapter 19 - Over the Edge
Chapter 20 - Wild Life
Chapter 21 - Four-Legged Trouble
Chapter 22 - Kerry’s Places
Chapter 23 - This Land Is Your Land
Chapter 24 - The Shower
Chapter 25 - Solstice
Chapter 26 - Top of the List
Chapter 27 - Counting Sheep
Chapter 28 - Trapped
Chapter 29 - The Slam
Chapter 30 - Monito
Chapter 31 - The Smell of Vanilla
Chapter 32 - Remote Chance
Chapter 33 - What Trees Dream
Chapter 34 - All That Mattered
Chapter 35 - Injustice
Chapter 36 - Package Proposal
Chapter 37 - Under the Cottonwoods
Chapter 38 - Fog Singer
Chapter 39 - Double Entendre
Chapter 40 - Answering the Call
Chapter 41 - The Procession
Chapter 42 - Left Out
Chapter 43 - Christmas Present
Chapter 44 - Everything Changes
Chapter 45 - The Heart of the Matter
About the Author
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Sandi Ault
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
eISBN : 978-1-101-01473-8
1. Wild, Jamaica (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. United States. Bureau of Land Management—Fiction.
3. Pueblo Indians—Colorado—Fiction. 4. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.
For Sherry, Bev, and Rick—
such wild-hearted children, then and now.
This is a work of fiction, and the characters, many of the places, and some of the events herein are figments of my imagination. That being said, I have taken some license in highlighting in this story a very real and very sad chapter in our nation’s history when—until quite recently—generations of children from Indian tribes were forced to attend Indian boarding schools. In these institutions they were mistreated, robbed of their culture, and deprived of the comfort and support of their traditions, their language, and their families. The effects of this heartless and brutal policy still reverberate through Native America and through the conscience of our nation, where this war made on innocent children awaits our awakening, our accountability, and amends so that all of our hearts can heal.
I write of rituals from several Native American cultures, especially those of the Native Puebloans, of whom I am most fond and with whom I am most familiar—however, out of respect for their wishes and their right to keep and to define their own culture, I have mixed and changed these myths and rituals and created some fictitious ones, leaving a hole in the top of everything so the spirits still move freely.
It’s cheaper to educate Indians than to kill them.
—THOMAS JEFFERSON MORGAN,
United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs, speaking at the establishment of the Phoenix Indian School in 1891
The wind howled like a broken-hearted woman who had given up on life. I had not meant to come this far, but it was too late now. I had followed the blood, expecting to find a wounded animal. But not this.
It was ten days before Christmas. Before dawn, a shepherd had fired a shot at a shadow that lurked in the scrub, while his sheep huddled into a knot in the arroyo where he’d brush-penned them for the night. He’d wounded the predator without getting a clear view of it, and could not identify what it was. The tribe had reported three sheep kills since they brought their flocks down from the mountains for winter grazing on the high mesas above Tanoah Pueblo. Rumors rose up that wolves, newly reintroduced in the region, were the cause of the attacks. But I suspected a mountain lion, and I rode horseback on the rangelands west of the pueblo with my wolf, Mountain, loping alongside, determined to find out. It was my job—I’m a resource protection agent for the Bureau of Land Management assigned as a liaison to the pueblo. My name is Jamaica Wild.
I followed the tracks of a big cat through the afternoon—losing the trail, doubling back and finding it again as it led out onto a wind-swept, desolate canyon rim. A storm was building to the west, the billowing sky the color of steel and filled with heavy foreboding. I felt the moisture in the air, the temperature diving. Rooster, the young sorrel I rode, turned skittish, feeling the oncoming tempest. But the wolf didn’t seem to notice. He led—darting along with his nose to the ground as we tracked the trail from blood spot to blood spot—stopping when he found sign and scanning the area with his senses. I scanned, too, but I was also calculating time and distance and the torment in the skies, the clouds growing more menacing with every moment.
The ruin stood high on a knoll, visible from a mile away. As we approached, the sound of the gale rushing across the high mesa split into a chorus of voices as it swept along the jagged, stacked-rock walls, over the lips of long-abandoned kivas, and through the crumbling stone shells of the once-tall towers that marked an ancient village.
I looped Rooster’s reins around a stone on the ground outside of the ruin wall. Mountain watched me for cues—wolves hunt in packs. “You stay with me, buddy,” I whispered. “You stay with me.”
I drew my rifle from the saddle scabbard and clicked off the safety. I made my way around the wall until I was downwind, Mountain moving low and close beside me. We climbed over a breach of collapsed flat rocks and I studied the interior of the pueblo ruin. Several subterranean stone circles clustered together in a corner. I walked cautiously toward them, across a hundred-yard carpet of pot shards peppered with nuggets of red chert. I felt the crunch of brittle pottery beneath my boots as the freezing wind blasted my face, tore at my hat brim and coat, and wailed over the walls, creating three distinct pitches, all of them piercing and plaintive.
As we approached the rim of the first sunken circle, I signaled the wolf to stop. I crouched low and edged forward, peering over the round rock lip. Six feet below, a scrub juniper and a pile of toppled rock created a barrier near the interior wall. A mound of earth nearby indicated the ground had been dug out beneath. Mountain pushed forward to the kiva rim, sending a loose stone along the edge shooting down into the center. Before I could raise up and ready my rifle, two faces peered out from behind a limb covering the doorway to the den. Cubs! Two little mountain lions, no more than a few months old. As the wind blasted us, it carried their cries—these babies were hungry.
I grabbed Mountain’s collar, pulled a handful of jerky strips from my pocket, and pitched them into the kiva. The wolf was curious, but did not resist my hold as I led him away. I kept Mountain close as I explored the rest of the ruin. But there was no sign of the she-lion. I searched the perimeter for blood spots, then moved outward in concentric circles. No trace.
From the high ground near the ruin, I surveyed my surroundings. The winds suddenly subsided, creating an eerie stillness. The air pulsed with gray-green light and electric anticipation. To the west, a wide, winding crack in the earth created a long, snaking canyon fed by an insufficient river. Arroyos leading out from the canyon fractured the high plain to the north. To the east, the way I had come, I could no longer see the blue silhouette of Sacred Mountain and the range that sheltered Tanoah Pueblo. To the south, set in a swale below, a massive old adobe compound seemed to be melting back into the earth.
I mounted up and rode down the slope, the wolf following—the sky sinking around us like a heavy black blanket, the sound of the horse’s hooves pounding like a drum on the dry desert dirt.
A high adobe wall, cracked and eroding, surrounded a U-shaped compound of buildings. Plywood over the windows had withered, splintered, and separated into gray ribs reminiscent of prison bars. There were no roads nearby—only a stretch of dirt track grown over from disuse that led downslope and dead-panned into a low area long ago washed out by spring floods boiling out of the canyon. As I approached the arched mission gates in the wall, I heard a faint howling sound like the crying of children coming from inside. Or was it the cat?
A brass plaque on the wall read:
SAN PEDRO DE ARBUÉS INDIAN SCHOOL
As I read this, the cloud deck quaked with bellowing thunder. Tiny white pellets of ice began to strike my hat, my coat, making small, dull ticks, the rhythm growing faster and more intense until there was a barrage of unbroken clattering and a white carpet covering the ground. Rooster bridled, his withers quivering, and he threw his head to the side and looked at me with one wild, obsidian eye, his nostrils inflating and collapsing in a frantic rhythm, his ears back. All at once, he reared and stood on hind legs, pounding the dried wood of the gates. I started to slide, clinging to the reins—which yanked Rooster’s head back—and he responded by bucking violently. As he threw himself forward, I felt his hindquarters rise like a surging storm wave, and then my own backside left the saddle as I flew up and forward, hard into the gate and the path of Rooster’s heaving hooves.
My shoulder slammed into the iron hinge that spanned the width of the wood. I slid to the ground, splinters shredding the sleeve of my coat and scraping my skin, and I landed on one knee and hand in a bed of cactus. But I forced myself to roll to the side just as Rooster’s powerful front hooves boomed beside my ear, exploding a weathered slat, trapping his foreleg in the hole he had just made. The rhythm of his tirade interrupted, his front foot snared, Rooster’s weight surged forward, off balance, and he crashed through the right half of the gate, his big body like a long-legged locomotive speeding toward me, his massive red rear yawing to the left and threatening to pin me against the side of the gate still standing.
I was down already; there was no time to rise and run. I dove under his belly as the horse came at me. The metal stirrup struck my forehead with a thwack, and I hit the ground just behind him as Rooster rammed into the gate, an explosion of dirt, shards of wood, and snow pummeling my body.
Mountain had stayed well away from the action. He came to me now and sniffed at my face. “I’m okay, buddy,” I said as I got to my feet, feeling my forehead where the stirrup had hit. Rooster was down on one side, lying in the center of the entrance, both gates flung open by the force of his slide. He looked at me over one shoulder and then struggled twice to right himself, finally springing to his feet. A shard of wood extended from his right foreleg, and I cooed to him as I approached, patting his rump, running my hand along his side, catching hold of the reins and petting his nose. I pulled out the big splinter and the horse flinched, but he let me examine the area afterward. The leg seemed good, and as I walked him to test it, a granular snow drove down around us as if the clouds had opened a too-full chute and dumped a winter’s worth of payback all at once. A boreal cold accompanied this downfall, and Rooster’s breath froze in a cloud around his face.
“We gotta get inside,” I said, leading Rooster into the yard of the school, where I tied his reins to a hitching post inside the wall. The wolf raced ahead of me, into a blinding white blur. I followed, and he led us right to the doors of a chapel across from the entrance. A slat had been nailed across the double doors, but it was loose, and I easily pried it away. “This looks good, buddy,” I told Mountain.
I pushed on one side, and the heavy door groaned and screeched, its bottom scraping and then jamming against the hard floor, permitting barely enough opening for me to slide through. I took a moment for my eyes to adjust, brushing the snow from my shoulders and sleeves, and then Mountain wriggled through the gap and rammed into the backs of my knees, sending me sprawling toward the floor. I thrust out my hands to break my fall. That was when I felt cold flesh.
The body beneath me was frozen, blue-white, and stiff. Two sightless eyes stared through me; a round mouth opened onto a deep, black cave. I screamed and sprang to my feet, backing to the door, where Mountain gave a nervous whimper.
From here, I could...
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