Sergeant Detective Robert Maxwell of the Pennsylvania State Police arrived at the crime scene, on a Tuesday morning about 9:30 a.m., to find two patrol cars from the Wharton Sheriff’s Office and a tan Jeep Wagoneer. Part of the parking area around the house was taped off with bright yellow “CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS” tape.
Maxwell knew the Jeep well, as well as he knew the two Sherriff’s Deputies: Sgt. Beauregard Robinson - a large black man of middle years, former Military Police until he took a gunshot in the shoulder, and Deputy Dave Arnholt, a young man who was romantically involved with the Sherriff’s daughter. Robinson was standing at the open door next to Arnholt. The house -- a single story affair with solar panels and a windmill, set jutting up from the roof, in a clearing amid the evergreen forest -- was located on a graveled road called Elk Lick Run Road, south east of Wharton. Next to the deputy was a wolf, taking a nap in the early morning sun of what was shaping up to be a nice late-March spring day. The wolf lifted her head, looked at Maxwell, and put her head back down on the porch.
“Not that I believe in his voodoo,” Maxwell said to the two men from the sheriff’s office, “but what’s he found?”
“Seth hasn’t been here long, just went in,” said Beauregard Robinson.
“Of course,” Maxwell said. “Why preserve the crime scene for forensics, when we can turn an Indian voodoo-tracker loose.”
“Your forensics guys here already, are they?” Robinson said without turning from watching Seth Lightfoot, knowing that the State Police forensics team was still miles away.
“Two men,” said Lightfoot speaking loudly from inside the house. “Tall one knifed the guy in the front room, the short one took the girl in the bedroom. Coulda been a man and a woman, I guess, but that’s unlikely from what they did to the woman.” He touched the neck of the man on the couch, his throat cut from ear to ear. “I’d say the male victim was dead about ten hours back ... so make it about 11 last night.” Lightfoot walked into the bedroom, careful where he was putting his booted feet. After about five minutes he came back out to the living room. “Unfortunately, the girl got the worst of it ... they finished with her about 3, mebbe 4, in the morning. Had a real party with her. She’s slit open from crotch to breastbone. They’re nasty fuckers. So ... they have a four or five hour head start ... The only other person in here was Deputy Arnholt and now me.”
Lightfoot got up and walked to the door without walking on the direct path from the couch where the body was.
“Mind telling me how you deduced all that?” Maxwell asked.
Seth cast an eye back toward a corner where there was a small crack in the wall where a mouse had scurried out of sight. “Have your forensics men look at the scuffs on the floor without trampling on them too much. Knee indentation on the couch too. Musta been a heavy guy, ‘cause the couch spring is broke,” he answered with a quick smile.
“Wanna have a look at the tire prints?” Robinson asked, pointing.
“Well it’s a dually pickup as you can see, and you guys came in from the north, so ... I’d look south. But who knows? I can’t do your whole job,” he laughed. Seth called the wolf and the two of them piled into the Jeep.
Ellie sniffed the air and began sneezing. There was something unnatural in the air. Seth looked at her, and she looked at him.
“Oh,” he said to the policemen. “It’s a diesel.”
Maxwell muttered under his breath to the other cops, “Fuckin’ voodoo.”
Seth Lightfoot was a 4th level Waabanow of the Anishinaabeg. The Anishinaabeg were a tribe of the Nipissing group of the Algonquin Nation. Or maybe the Algonquin are of the First Nation of the Nipissing, having descended from that group along with the Odawa and Ojibwe people. The Nipissing lived in the Lake Nipissing area of Central Ontario – generally. In ancient times, the Nipissing influence extended far to the east, west, and south; nothing extended far to the north because that was too much cold and snow. Over the 10,000 years between then and now, the First Nation of the Nipissing slowly became the Odawa, the Ojibwe, and the Algonquin Nations.
This particular Waabanow now lived in a cabin off Old Cross Fork Road, north of Cross Fork, where it branched off from Route 144, just inside the Hammersley Wild Area of the Sussquehannok State Forest, which was located in the north central part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Also living in the cabin were Meredith Lightfoot – formerly Meredith Cooper -- Seth’s wife of five years and Steven Lightfoot, a child of four, who Seth insisted on calling Strongbow. The ‘cabin’ was a three bedroom log structure that was perennially under construction. Seth was 32 years old, Meredith was 26; he was 6 foot tall, she was 5’ 9”; he was dark with a typical AmerInd complexion with a long pony tail, she was blonde and blue eyed; he had an outdoorsman’s musculature, she was big breasted, narrow waisted, and long legged.
She was a writer of mystery novels, under the name of Mary Alice Kingsley, and sometime lecturer at Syracuse University. She wrote about murders, usually in the wilderness and usually set in the old west. That’s how she met Seth Lightfoot – every writer does some form of research. He was ... politely you could say he was underemployed. He tended to his responsibilities within the tribe. He acted as an unconventional vet for the people and animals in the area. He rebuilt and re-rebuilt his cabin. But he didn’t really get paid for anything. And yet he lived comfortably – well, Meredith’s salary paid for the Internet service, and the electricity – but he provided for nearly everything else. The various police departments did pay him for the little chores he performed for them.
Also living in the nearby portion of the Hammersley Wild Area were a pack of twelve wolves, including four pups, nineteen great horned owls, a couple of hundred deer of various types, lots of chipmunks, squirrels, beavers, possums, and so on – and several types of hawks: three red-tailed hawks, a mated pair of Cooper’s hawks just setting up housekeeping, four falcons, and currently a single northern goshawk, who said he was just passing through to his normal winter hunting grounds near the Chesapeake Bay – although he didn’t describe it by name – it could have been Delaware Bay from his description.
You read that correctly. The goshawk ‘said’ that he was just passing through. He ‘told’ Seth, when the Waabanow saw him in the forest. Waabanow means Shaman, as it is now known in the white man’s language. The word ‘shaman’ doesn’t really describe what a Waabanow is to the people of his tribe. And a 4th level Waabanow could, among other things, converse with all sorts of animals. ‘Conversation’ does not correctly describe it: he can hear what they meant, and could send his thoughts to the animals. Usually he could see images that they had seen. He was one of three Waabanow in the Anishinaabeg: two second level Waabanow, who lived in the Canadian portion of the area, and Seth Lightfoot.
Seth clicked on the radio in his Jeep; his wife answered shortly.
Meredith: “Hi, baby. Wassup?”
Seth: “This one looks nasty. Couple of guys raped a woman, killed her and the man she was with. Probably a husband. No robbery that I could see, but I didn’t look real hard.”
M: “You gonna get involved? Gonna be a long time?”
S: “Don’t know yet. I wasn’t asked and it’s not really my business.”
Sometimes Seth appointed himself to a case if it was ‘his business, ‘ which meant it was either tribal or personal – and sometimes it was a paying gig.
M: “Okay. Let me know, whatever you decide.”
S: “I’ve got a bad feeling ‘bout this. Keep safe.”
She looked at the shotgun on a rack over the couch in the living room, and then at the pair of wolves curled up in front of the fireplace. Strongbow, her son, was playing with the tail of the female wolf: Kola. Her mate, Tars, was resting his chin on her midsection while she dozed, and gave an occasional glance at Meredith’s son.
M: “We’ll be fine. I’ve got company, since you hi-tailed it out of here this morning ... I’m making beef stew if you can find your way back home.”
S: “Ug! Big Chief maybe come home to wigwam for stew made by pretty squaw.” He liked to use a movie-Indian voice for playing with his wife.
M: “Okay, Big Chief. Keep it in your pants. See ya soon.” She laughed.
S: “Big Chief’s big chief always in pants. Later, blondie!”
They both clicked off the radio connection at about the same time. Seth’s scanner came alive soon thereafter, as he was headed down the highway toward home. Home wasn’t far, as the crow flies: only about seven miles. But it would take him nearly 40 minutes to get there using ‘the white man’s roads.’ Seth laughed to himself.
He clicked the radio over to the new station. He recognized the State Police’s public frequency.
“Seth Lightfoot here. Somebody lookin’ for me?”
“Maxwell here. This is ugly and brutal ... not even a robbery. From the looks of it, the only thing they took from the Pelthorn family was the rifles. They were in a cabinet in the bedroom. Can you track ‘em even on the roads?”
Seth: “Not the only thing they took. They took the Pelthorn lives, too. She was pregnant wasn’t she?”
Maxwell: “Well, yeah. That’s the main thing. So, can you track ‘em?”
Seth: “Prob’ly. I’ll meet you where E.L.R. meets the highway. You’re costing me some stew made by my beautiful wife, and some time with my beautiful wife, too. We’re tryin’ to make another little one, you know. So you owe me.”
Maxwell: “I’ll put you on the payroll as a consultant.”
Seth: “And... ?”
Maxwell: “ ... and I’ll get you an elk when the season opens.”
Seth: “Money and meat ... or wife and baby ... hmmm. Not a close call. But I’ll do it. These are animals. They shouldn’t have killed the Pelthorn woman like they did. I think she was still alive with they tried to fillet her. That room still had the smell of her fear.”
He swerved his Jeep around in a 180 and headed back up the road, and turned on his radio back to his ‘home’ frequency.
Seth: “Meri ... come in.”
Meredith: “You’re not coming home for dinner, right?” Dinner was the big meal of their day, usually eaten about 2 p.m.
Seth: “No. Staties want help. This could be a bad one, baby. I got a feelin’.”
Meredith: “I’ll see ya when I see ya. Be safe.”
Seth: “Me? No worries. I got Ellie with me.”
Ellie, the wolf sitting on the passenger seat of the Jeep, heard her name and tore her eyes away from the scene outside the window. She looked at Seth. He reached over and grabbed a handful of thick, lush fur on her neck and shook it gently. She leaned into his touch, and then resumed checking out her window. Her head swiveled to the back window and she leapt to her feet as a small family of deer wizzed past the jeep -- or the jeep wizzed past the deer.
“Yeah, I know,” Seth said to her. “We’ll get you somethin’ to eat pretty soon.”
When Seth got to the bridge on State Route 872 over the Elk Lick Run -- a small stream running out of the Wild Area and into Freeman’s Run, a larger stream that feeds the Stevenson Reservoir -- Sgt. Det. Maxwell was waiting for him.
“We need to find these guys right quick,” said Maxwell. “So, can you do your thing?”
Lightfoot was getting out of his Jeep, and Ellie was on his heels. Maxwell was standing by his SUV on the southbound shoulder; Lightfoot had parked on the northbound side, just short of the bridge. He waved acknowledgement at Maxwell’s request as he headed into the woods. Once there he just sat on the ground, his feet crossed in -- what else? -- Indian style. Ellie was sniffing around the lower reaches of nearby trees, stopping often to leave pee-mail for other wolves or dogs or other animals who might be sniffing here later.
Seth closed his eyes, evened out his breathing until he was in the 45 in-and-out cycles per minute range. He called out and soon, Marty and Artie -- two brother Peregrine Falcons who regularly patrolled this area -- were sitting on the branches of an oak that hadn’t begun to sprout leaves yet. They didn’t often come together -- falcons were solitary hunters -- but this time they were hunting not for food, but for whatever Seth would ask of them.
Of course, they didn’t really think of themselves as ‘Marty’ and ‘Artie.’ Seth named all the animals he dealt with – it gave him an anchor for his mental links. The animals thought of things as ‘me’ and ‘not-me’ – the images of other beings.
The brothers looked at Seth for a long time -- a long time in bird-time being about 45 seconds. Seth gave them a mental picture, rather than try to describe what a dually type pickup truck was. They had tracked vehicles for him before and he explained that this was just another type of that noise-generating, air-fouling, non-living thing. He pointed out that the vehicle would probably emit diesel fumes. The kind of fumes that would linger in the air for a long time. Hours of time if you had the ultraviolet sight of a raptor -- who could see the urine trail of a field mouse from a mile or more. The birds looked at each other -- communicating in some way -- and flew off: one to the north and one to the northeast. They were soon out of sight, mere dots against the cumulus cloud cover.
Then Skree lighted on the nearly same branch of the oak tree.
“Skreeeeeeeee,” she cried.
‘Greetings to you, sister Skree, ‘ Seth beamed the thought to her. ‘Your beautiful tail feathers are looking very fine today.’
Skree almost preened under the praise.
‘Now that I have sent the other birds on their way, perhaps you could do a small favor for me. It is very important.’ She was jealous of the falcons -- for their speed -- and Seth wanted to make it seem that they were somehow lesser creatures in his opinion. He sent a mental picture of the pickup he was looking for, and the information about the diesel fume trail it might leave. ‘In the direction of the noonday sun.’
Skree’s head swiveled to the south. She sent that she understood, and she would do as Seth asked, even if it meant that a fat little squirrel would NOT be her dinner today. With great thanks, Seth said he would repay her in bacon wrapped in peanut butter.
Skree flapped her wings, flying to the south along SR 872, leaving only an echo of her “Skreeeeeeee” in the woods. Chipmunks and squirrels scuttled for cover for hundreds of yards in every direction.
Seth came to his feet and walked back toward the road. Bob Maxwell was still there.
“Mind telling me how you do that?” Maxwell asked when Seth was in range again.
Maxwell: “Look. First I see two birds -- falcons maybe. They never hunt together. They fly in from different directions, stop here for maybe 10 minutes, and then fly off in new directions. One straight up 872 and the other overland -- probably toward East Fork Road. Then you get another bird showing up. She screams when she lands and takes off for 872 south a few minutes later.”
Seth: “I can’t tell you. Not that I won’t. I simply can not. I don’t know how to describe it. Besides ... if I told ya, I’d have to kill ya.” [He lowered his voice and put on an imitation Indian accent he got from the movies.] “Heap big Injin medicine.”
Maxwell grunted, and turned to get into his SUV. He mumbled sotto voce: “Fuckin’ voodoo if you ask me.” And then in a louder voice: “I’m going up to the Sheriff’s office in Wharton. You know how to reach me, if you get anything.”
Seth retired to the driver’s seat in his Jeep. Within ten minutes he decided that the traffic on Route 872 wouldn’t allow him to get any rest. He moved up to the junction with Elk Lick Run Road, and pulled off to the shoulder. Ellie soon contacted him, wondering where he had gone. He replied that she could hunt for a while – even overnight. When she was done, she could find him again, or go back to the cabin where his mate lived. Ellie dropped the connection and there was a short yowl from the wolf; the normal noises of the surrounding forest suddenly disappeared. A brace of short answering yowls could just be heard from the distance to the east.
About half an hour later, his radio squawked; it was Meredith.
“Did you know that Kola dropped a litter of pups in our woodshed?” she asked. “Three of ‘em.”
Seth: “Uh ... yeah. Is that a problem?”
M: “I would have liked to know about it. When I went to the shed to get some more wood, I got a very concerned Kola padding after me and getting in my way ... How long have you known about this?”
S: “Only about two weeks.”
M: “Only? ONLY? You knew that wolves set up a den in our woodshed and didn’t want to mention it to your wife? The person who takes care of your son?”
S: “Well, it’s only Kola and Tars. I didn’t think that...”
M: “I agree ... You didn’t think.” And the radio connection went dead.
Seth looked into the nearby trees and focused on a squirrel fussing over an acorn. “I think I may have stepped in it, isn’t that right, Grel?” He picked up an English name that was close to the animal’s name for herself.
Grel, the squirrel, chittered, swished her tail a few times, and then went back to her acorn. Seth sighed.