Prologue: Two Weeks Earlier
Julian James tracked the black female wolf to the edge of a dense growth of trees. He shook his head, dumbfounded. For ten years she had evaded every hunter on the reservation, becoming somewhat of a legend. They called her the moon-bitch, or the Moon. She had a thick, silver ruff that reflected the moonlight on a clear night, the only time anyone could catch a glimpse of her. The elders on White Earth Reservation respected her. The younger ones blamed her for missing family pets and livestock. Now here she was standing in plain sighteven looking back at him.
Something was off. Julian looked back toward the rocky ledge where he had spotted her tracks the previous week. He couldnt believe the lucky break, yet it was strange. Her tracks were rarely seen by anyone. They said she knew how to cover them.
Now here she was, taunting himgiving him the shot he had dreamt about for years. He raised his .270 Winchester rifle to his shoulder and pulled the trigger. The crackle echoed across the open field.
Julian ran toward the black pile of fur at the tree line. He couldnt believe it. She had just stood there and let him take the shot. He inhaled sharply. She was hugecoal black with that infamous, silver shawl of fur at the shoulder. She reached out with her front paw, moving it painfully in the dirt. Julian stepped back. Piercing, copper-yellow eyes shifted toward him. She tried to lift her head but couldnt. Her jaw moved slowly with her labored breathing.
Julian grabbed at his chest. His throat tightened; he coughed to get air. He couldnt turn his eyes from hers. She didnt growl or snarl. There was only that softly undulating paw, and those wild, glowing eyes that searched his face. Julian looked away, hoping she would hurry up and die. It was taking too long.
He couldnt stand it. He knelt down next to her and placed his hand on her moving paw, marveling at its sleek power. He didnt know wh
y he did it, why the urge to caress her came over him. He squeezed her paw, rubbing the webbing in-between her toes. He had never done anything like it before. He never gave a second thought to the animals he hunted, or their death throes, some of which were downright awful.
Julian struggled to regain control. The flame in her eyes, now an emerald-yellow color, mesmerized him. Julian winced. He felt her pain himself, but still couldnt turn his head. Then the flame softened; the glow dissolved. The jewel-toned irises grayed into the lifeless color of death. She was gone.
The black she-wolf that had been hunted for over ten years lay in a heap of pine needles, her empty eyes staring into nothingness. Julian shut his own eyes. He squeezed her paw, feeling the roughness of the pads and strength of the claws, now limp in his hand. He dropped the paw and jumped up. He was dizzy. What just happened? His heart pounded and his neck stiffened with repressed anger.
He walked a few feet from her body, pulled his pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, and lit one. Gotta get my shit together. He paced back in forth in front of her body while he smoked one cigarette and then another.
Julian squashed the fourth butt in the dirt, and then yanked his Rambo-style knife out of its sheath on his belt. He clenched his teeth, knelt down, and began the ugly business of retrieving his trophy head and hide. It took longer than usual. His watering eyes kept blurring his vision. There was something about her he couldnt shake it. He hadnt cried in years.
Julian slammed his blade into the dirt to clean it off. He had now recovered from his bout of emotionor insanity, as he saw it. After all, there was a $5000 reward for the wolf that was raising havoc on the rez. He threw the heavily stuffed duffle bag over his shoulder, flinching under the weight. He fumed. The guilt kept creeping up, whirling in his stomach, leaving him nauseous.
aded over to the rocky ledge area where he had first spotted her tracks. Damn weird her leading me off to the woods, then just standing there. The hair on his arms stood up and his neck tingled. Her tracks were all over the place, heading in different directions and back again, trying to confuse him. She was smart all right. Julian sat the heavy duffle down. He felt for his rifle and maneuvered into position and waited. All was quiet around him.
After a good five minutes, Julian squatted down to get a better view of the indentation of the rock ledge behind him. The large outcrop was called the hook by the locals. It was a marker for the dead center of reservation land. A flat surface of limestone stood out like an overhang, and then bent back around on itself, giving the impression of a hook. Outsiders were spooked by it. It was eerie looking, like it wasnt nature-made.
The locals took full advantage of this. They told the bothersome tourists it was an ancient, Indian holy site and that people who snooped around it never came back. It worked. The Ojibwe locals kept their reservation to themselves at least most of it.
Surrounding the hook were little nooks in the rock walls which usually housed some small animal. It took Julian only a minute longer to note the pile of fresh, broken rocks and dirt lying just left of the ledge. Had there been a landslide? He shouldered his gun and crept closer. God, she has her tracks covered here. He looked around as he took a step back. Then he knelt down and stirred through the rubble, just a pile of rocks and some partial wolf prints. There was something behind it. By god, its been dug out!
Julian twisted his rifle into his armpit. He glanced over his shoulder as the thought occurred to him of a mate or pack nearby. Yet, he doubted it. A pack or mate would have made itself known by now. Either would have sensed the recent kill. Besides, shed been traveling alone as far
as anyone knew. Still wary of his vulnerable position, Julian turned his head to peer in, then crawled slowly through the rubble pile and froze. Damn, its a den. That she-wolf dug this out with paws. Unbelievable! Julian let out a soft whistle, forgetting he had his head in a wolf den. Then he heard it. A whimper then another, then full harmony. She had pups.
Julian backed out, jumped up, and dug through his duffle to get the flashlight he always carried. He shivered as his hand grazed the still-warm head of the pups mother. His heart pounding, he looked around again, then dropped to his knees and scrambled back in. I can probably get another $1000 off these pups, if I play my cards right. He smiled and shined the flashlight into the small cave. Huddled in the back corner were three wolf pups. Couldnt be more than a week old.
Julian worked his way out of his flannel outer jacket in the cramped quarters, trying not to further frighten the wolf babies. He wasnt sure how deep the den went or how far he would be able to reach. His hand felt for the fur balls. He grabbed the first one and pulled it into the light. Nice and healthy a girl. He laid out his jacket and placed her in the center. He grabbed another. It was also a female with the same color and markingssilver with some black. Theyre definitely twins. The last one was feisty, growling and snapping all the way. Julian looked it over and whistled. What a beauty a little boy, too. He was coal black with a little spot of silver on his miniature ruffa spitting image of his mother.
Julian stared at the little guys face. Cute for a wolf, he couldnt help but think. Just then the pup opened his eyes, made his mouth into a little O, and howled as hard as he could. God, those yellow eyes! He dropped the little male into the pile of his sisters, rolled up the edges of the shirt, and tied it like a bandana. Then he dragged the bundle and himself bac
k out into the light. The pups were strangely quiet. A little unnerving, they should be freaking out by now. Julian looped the bundle over his arm, picked up his pack and hiked the mile to his parked jeep, all the while staring at his boots. They moved forward on their own.
It was about 6:30 pm when Julian arrived back in White Earths little downtown area. He grabbed his parcel, which had remained remarkably quiet after the drive, and threw his backpack over his shoulder. He flinched under the weight. He walked down the sidewalk to Redwing Tavern which doubled as the local bounty office for nuisance animal rewards. His uncle, Jesse James, owned it.
Wait till you see what I got. Julian had a northern Minnesota accent with a touch of the slow, quiet Indian drawl. He laid his jacket bundle on the top of the bar and untied it.
Ill be goddamned, Dr. Don Minnetonka said. He was sitting at the bar enjoying his evening beer. He was the only customer. Jesse came out from the back kitchen and stopped dead in his tracks.
What you got there, Jules? Jesse always called him Jules. It was a nickname that had stuck from better times. The pups woke from the commotion and started whimpering. Jesse hurried over to them, wiping his hands on a towel he was carrying.
Damn, Jules. You arent supposed to bring in litters, or touch them or anything like that. What is this? You want to get a fine? Jesse kept wiping his hands although they were long dry.
I didnt have a choice, Jess. Look at this. Julian grimaced as he lifted the heavy pack off his shoulder. It hit the floor with a dull thud. He fumbled with the straps and reached in, trying to get ahold of his prize. Then in one smooth movement, he swung...