“Hello Rabbit,” he said, “is that you?”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and see what happens.”

                                      —A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh



                                     Chapter One

Sam Chitto flexed his shoulders to stretch stiff neck and back muscles. He had spent the last week covering for the District 1 field officer who was out on sick leave and had reached home a little after midnight. The first thing on the agenda his first day back at his job? An hours-long meeting in the training room.

   The forty-or-so chairs were mostly filled and the window shades closed to allow better viewing of a slide presentation. The room was too warm, not from outside temperatures but from the pack of bodies that filled it, most of whom were wearing the uniform of the Choctaw Tribal Police: black pants and gray shirts with black pocket covers and lapels.  Somber colors that suited the overcast day and Sam’s equally somber mood.

   Without warning, the door burst open and in came Eli Billy. The freight-train-of-a-man braked to a stop as the startled audience turned en masse to gawk at him. Realizing he had blindsided a room full of cops—who did not take well to surprises—Eli pointed to the tribal police insignia on his jacket. Realizing he had also interrupted the speaker at the podium, he mumbled an apology and looked for empty chairs, which were in short supply.

   Bull in the china shop, Sam thought, smiling at Eli’s less-than-subtle entrance. Half rising, he waved the man toward a couple of open chairs near him. Eli’s reaction was 180 degrees from what he expected. Like a deer-caught in the headlights, he froze in place, staring at Sam without blinking. Abruptly, he turned away, wedging his bulk into a chair on the opposite side of the room.

   What the hell...?

   Sam’s smile morphed to a frown as he tried to interpret the look on Eli’s face. Surprise? Hesitation? Avoidance? All of the above, he decided.  But why? he wondered. We were like brothers growing up.

   Ever alert to unusual behavior, he began to question Eli’s reaction. Was it connected to his reason for being at the meeting? The man was out of his jurisdiction—a long way out. A patrol officer in the northern region, Eli worked the day shift, 8 AM to 4:30 PM. To attend this meeting, he would have to take the day off or swap shifts with another officer. Moreover, it was a waste of time. The same presentation would be made in the northern region in a matter of days, which Eli had to know about.

   No two ways about it, he thought. Eli Billy was acting on his own.

   With difficulty, Sam retrained his attention on the presentation. The meeting was being held at new department headquarters in Durant but those attending represented various law enforcement groups in the Nation: lieutenants in charge of districts, hospitals and casinos; a few off-duty field officers; his boss, Dan Blackfox, the Director of Law Enforcement; and Blackfox’s boss, Ben Wilson, the Executive Director. Sam represented District 9, based in Durant. The investigator for the southern region, he dealt with the more serious crimes committed on Indian land that could be time-consuming, such as rape, murder, and large thefts.

   The meeting dragged on, providing updates on new procedures and latest concerns across the twelve districts spread across ten-and-a half counties in the southeastern corner of the hatchet- shaped state known as Oklahoma. Included in those concerns were upticks in domestic violence and methamphetamine abuse, neither of which were new problems. They were new issues to the presenter, however, a recent hire who wanted to make sure he was doing a bang-up job for his bosses, who sat in the front row. Both issues had been under scrutiny for years. Domestic abuse since the passage of the Violence Against Women Act in 1994; the meth problem since the early part of the century, at which time meth abuse was identified as the primary health concern in Indian Country, especially with teens and young adults. The recent crackdown on opioid use was being credited for the meth upswing. A pharmaceutical company that made OxyContin had recently agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the state over the opioid epidemic. A second pharmaceutical company was currently under scrutiny, as were doctors and pharmacists, vendors and suppliers.

   A giant octopus, Sam thought. Sprawling its slimy tentacles over cities and states—the entire country.

   The upshot of all the hubbub for the Choctaw Tribal Police? As drug abuse and domestic violence often went hand in hand, field officers would be expected to closely monitor drug trafficking as well as construct and maintain a database to track domestic violence toward Indian women.

   None of this was big news to Sam. What had been big news dealt with a fourteen-year-old boy that attended the high school in Hartshorne who died of a drug overdose just two days before. Hartshorne was in Pittsburg County and therein laid the root cause for his dark mood. The Choctaw Police districts were divided into a northern and southern region. Pittsburg County was part of the northern region, which meant it was off limits for him. But it had been part of his father’s jurisdiction. Will Chitto had run himself ragged trying to put crime boss Vincent Messina behind bars. The Messina family was known to have a finger in everything from drugs and prostitution to land swindles in LeFlore County. Over time, the family extended its drug dealings to other counties, including Pittsburg. The convoluted legal system had stymied things for Will Chitto, but he became a thorn in Messina’s side. As a result, he had been murdered, professional style. A bullet behind the ear.

   Suddenly, Sam was hit with a sobering thought. Eli Billy worked in the northern district, had even filled his dad’s empty position. Was that why he was there today? He glanced toward Eli but could see nothing more than the man’s heavy-jawed profile.

   Sam’s thoughts reeled back to his father’s murder. No charges were ever filed against Vincent Messina for Will Chitto’s death. The case had been turned over to the FBI and remained a cold case for over a decade before being officially closed—without Messina being indicted. Sam was told to move on, put it behind him, by not only his boss, Dan Blackfox, but also the FBI. Two years had passed since that ultimatum had come down, but Sam had remained vigilant. Though no hard evidence could be linked to Messina, he knew the crime boss was the one who ordered the hit. Sam’s failed efforts to prove it had become stuck in his craw, which explained his doggedness when it came to illegal drug trafficking.

   Off limits, his conformist voice whispered. The Messina’s are ancient history.

   The Messina family had weakened over the years, with Vincent becoming so old and feeble he had to be placed in a health-care facility, his only son being killed in a shootout with the FBI, and his only grandchild, Leon, becoming a non-threat as he had apparently gotten hooked on drugs himself. At least that was the scuttlebutt going around as to why Leon had gone off the radar. Sam was tuned to a different wavelength, however; one that said the FBI had come too close for Victor’s comfort, especially regarding anything dealing with drugs brought in from outside the country. But the drug market had changed in recent years, from the far-reaching kind handled by cartels to the kind that could be created from items found in home medicine cabinets or purchased locally and cooked in the kitchen. Plus, opioids were plentiful thanks to aggressive marketing campaigns funded by drug companies. Right then, Sam wondered if Victor wasn’t as infirm as depicted, if he had drifted into meth production and opioid trafficking as they were easy to get and easier to conceal from the feds, and, as he had done before, if he had decided to expand into other counties, including Pittsburg. Habits were hard to break.

   Off limits came the grating reminder again.

   As the presenter reached the last of his slides, Sam shot to his feet. “That overdose death been linked to any known drug rings? You know, like one that’s been operating a while?”

   The presenter paused, looking confused. “What drug ring is that?”

   Sam hesitated. “Victor Messina’s.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ben Wilson tilt his head slightly to the side, eyeing Blackfox. Like the next domino in a row, Blackfox tilted his head, eying Sam.

   Shit rolls downhill, Sam thought, recalling how Wilson had told Blackfox not to interfere with cases belonging to other jurisdictions, especially the FBI, and how Blackfox had passed the ultimatum down to him.

   The speaker rummaged through his paperwork. “I don’t see—”

   “No need to look, wouldn’t be anything there.” Blackfox swiveled so he faced Sam. “As the lieutenant knows, drug rings would be the FBI’s jurisdiction, not ours. Besides which, this latest incident didn’t happen on Choctaw land. No matter which way you slice it, it’s not our case.” Turning to the presenter, he said, “Gettin’ late, time to close this shebang down.”

   Sam sat down, knowing he had just been told not to stick his nose in where it didn’t belong—again.

   “Okay, people,” the presenter said. “Copies of the slides are in your handouts. Pick up a database packet on the table next to the door. You run into any problems, give me a call. Phone number’s there, too.” He picked up the stack of slides and looked around the room. “Anyone have a burning question that can’t wait?”

   “Yeah, I got one.” As Eli stood, all heads ratcheted his way again. “I’ve been hearing ‘bout people soliciting money to build some kind of theme park for Indians up my way. That’d be Pittsburg County. Got anything on it?”

   “Where’d you hear that?” the presenter asked, looking confused again.

   Eli shrugged. “Rumors mostly. Couple of folks called in saying they’d been approached to donate money, wanted to know if it was legit. Then I got a call when that kid’s body was found. You know, the one that overdosed. He went to Hartshorne High School but he boarded at Jones Academy. Guess the bus driver saw a vehicle several times parked on the road there outside Jones, said it had out-of-state plates. Even followed her into Hartshorne once.”

   Jones Academy? Sam’s eyebrows shot up. A Native American boarding school, the children at Jones lived in dorms and attended classes there, at least through grade school. The Nation had built a new elementary school recently on the campus but older students attended high school in Hartshorne. And, he thought, the Choctaw Police were charged with providing security for the Academy. He leaned forward, wondering if there was a valid reason for the tribal police to get involved in the drug-related death.

   “I looked into that theme park deal a little,” Eli went on. “Thought at first it might be part of the Natural Highs Program in Talihina, that adventure camp that teaches kids to hike, climb ropes, canoe, and ride horses. Healthy stuff instead of doing drugs and alcohol. But no one I talked to had heard of it. Know anything ‘bout it?”

   Again, the speaker rummaged through his notes.

   And again, Sam’s thoughts went to drug rings. Sam was well acquainted with Eli as they had grown up in the same town and gone to the same school. Eli was a quiet guy by nature, rarely opened his mouth. To come out with a specific concern like this was unusual. Did a teen’s death from a drug overdose and this Native theme park have Eli’s thinking running alongside his—that the Messina drug business was not only alive and kicking but had expanded to include meth and opioids? How better to find new customers to hook on drugs than where teens were isolated from their friends and families. And an amusement park would be the perfect incentive.

   Or could it be personal, Sam wondered, trying to remember how old Eli’s son was now, if the boy was in high school.

   “You talk to Pete about it?” Blackfox asked, referring to Pete Brody, Eli’s immediate supervisor and Sam’s counterpart.

   Eli hesitated. “Thought I’d get a little more intel first. You know, see if it was just in Pittsburg County or more widespread.”

   Intel? Nice try, Sam thought, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. The smile faded as he realized Eli had ignored protocol. And suddenly, his warning bell started to ping.

   Blackfox trained a wary eye on Eli. “Those programs are a joint work between Health and Human Services and the BIA. Office of Drug Control’s also involved. In short, not our jurisdiction.”

   “Yes sir, I kind of doubted it. But then I started thinking ‘bout that IBH meth ring that was in the news.” Eli turned to the presenter again. “You heard about that? It was spearheaded out of Pittsburg County.”

   IBH referred to the Indian Brotherhood, a gang whose members were primarily of Native American descent. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma had recently announced the arrest and conviction of almost twenty members of a meth ring, most of which lived in various towns in Pittsburg and surrounding counties. At the time, the gang leader, aka War chief, was incarcerated in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. Using cell phones illegally smuggled into the prison, he coordinated the acquisition and distribution of several kilograms of meth within the state. The Bureau of Narcotics and several police departments and task forces united to bring the gang to justice.

   “I’m sure everyone here’s heard about it,” Blackfox replied, ignoring the muffled laughter in the room. “They’ve rounded up all the members. Indictments are still being handed down, but that gang’s done for.”

   In a flash, Sam was out of his seat. “That gang’s not the problem, Dan. It’s the customers. They’ll be out there looking for product.” He turned his attention to Eli. “What raised your suspicions that this theme park might be connected to the IBH, Eli?” In his peripheral vision, he saw Blackfox give him the look again.

Eli was slow to answer and when he did, it was with hesitation. “Gut feeling mostly. I, uh, I asked some of the kids there at Jones if they’d seen any strangers hanging around. A few remembered seeing a vehicle with out-of-state license plates and bumper stickers ‘bout Indians. A pickup with a cover.”

   “Bumper stickers?” Sam repeated. “What’d they say?”

   “Oh, things like I heart the Chief Crazy Horse Monument. You know, where a picture of a heart replaces the word love. Another one said Chief Crazy Horse – Indians Have Heroes too. Whoever it was, they’re big into Indian parks.” He shrugged. “So I started wondering if maybe this theme park ‘bout Indians might be a cover.”

   “Which is why you made the connection to the IBH . . .” Sam paused, nodding slowly. He relied on gut feelings himself. “The kids recall what state the plates were for?” he asked, recalling that Crazy Horse was a Sioux who had lived in South Dakota.

   Eli shook his head. “You know kids. Bumper stickers are what get their attention.”

   “This department doesn’t operate on hearsay and rumors.” Blackfox bounced his attention between Sam and Eli. “It’s not part of either of your jurisdictions.”

“Wait up, Dan,” Sam insisted. “Eli’s making a good point. That drug bust was covered in newscasts and papers across the state—hell, probably across the country. Now that medical marijuana’s legal in Oklahoma, all kinds of people will be looking for other ways to make money.” In June of 2018, Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788, legalizing medical marijuana.

   “We could have a copycat crime going on,” he said. “Newspapers reported how much Pseudoephedrine the gang members bought, where they bought it, and how much each one had collected. They also had evidence showing the gang members bought items used in meth production, lithium batteries, camp fuel, denatured alcohol, and acetone. The only thing they didn’t print was the recipe for making meth and that can be found on the internet—hell, there’s probably a YouTube video on how to make it. This boy’s death could be a symptom of something much bigger.”

   Blackfox paused, then faced Ben Wilson. “Boys could be onto something. Doesn’t pay to get too complacent.”

   Wilson nodded, then addressed Eli. “Tying the boy’s death to a theme park’s a stretch, so I don’t want you interfering in the county’s jurisdiction. You get something concrete on that park, something with teeth in it, call it in and we’ll get the proper jurisdiction involved.”

   Proper jurisdiction, Sam echoed silently. A polite way to say off limits.

   Since when did that stop you, whispered the renegade side of his psyche.

                                  . . .

The meeting ended in a flurry of activity. From across the room, Sam watched Eli pick up a database packet and hurry out the door. Pushing through the crowd, he sped up, wanting to pick the man’s brain about a possible connection between the teen’s drug-related death and the Messina drug ring. Plus, it would be a chance to catch up with an old friend.

   Growing up, Eli and Sam had been a pitcher/catcher duo without equal, leading their teams to major wins. Eli had married his high-school sweetheart, Hanna, right after they graduated. She had continued with her education and became a teacher, and he had opted for a local job with the tribal police. They had two children now, a boy and a girl.

   The bulldog logo for Mack Trucks came to mind as Sam drew close to the burly, slope-shouldered man. Eli carried his uniform with an air more akin to indifference than decorum. Perhaps it was the low lay of the shirt’s seams on his sloped shoulders, the careless roll of the cuffs above the wrists. Or maybe it was the belt buckle, a replica of an Indianhead nickel looking from a distance like he’d taken a three-inch-diameter slug in the gut, that telegraphed the message that here was a man that made the uniform, not the other way round. Irrespective of the perception his dress code cast, Eli was known to be a tough cop. And this day, he moved with purpose.

   “What’s your hurry, Eli?” Sam fell into step with Eli. “Need to put out a fire?”

   “Hey, Sam.” Eli paused long enough to shake the hand Sam extended. “Got a long drive ahead of me . . . but you’d know that.” He gave Sam a quick up-and-down look. “You’re lookin’ good, man. What, you workin’ out?”

   “Inherited a dog,” Sam said. “Redbone coon hound, plus miscellaneous other breeds. In other words, a purebred mutt. Lots of energy so I run him in the evenings when I get the chance.”

   “Beats those spandex clubs. Cheaper, too.”

   Sam waved a hand toward downtown Durant. “Got time to pick up a burger at Mickey D’s, catch up on things?” A McDonald’s was nearby.

   Eli hesitated, then shook his head. “Like to, man. The guys ask ‘bout you all the time. We get together now and then to play a little workup.” The “guys” were a group of friends they had played ball with from sandlot to little league and beyond. “But see, Hanna will have supper on the table when I get home. We made it a rule to eat together at night. You know, family time.”

   “A good rule.” Sam paused briefly, changing directions. “That boy of yours, bet he’s all grown up.”

   A grin creased Eli’s broad face. “Nick thinks he is. He’s going out for baseball, gets real good grades.” He chuckled. “Hell, he might even go to college and get a handful of degrees—like someone else did from the bustling metropolis of Krebs.”

   “He needs a reference to OU,” Sam said, “give me a call.”

   Sam had earned masters’ degrees in Geology and Criminal Justice at OU, planning to do field geology. Then his father had been murdered and his life changed. Not long after that, his young wife died of pancreatic cancer and his life changed again. Now, he worked an on-the-clock job in an official capacity and an off-the-clock job in an unofficial one. Right then, he was acting in the unofficial role and had just ascertained that Eli’s son wasn’t the reason for his interest in drugs and the proposed theme park. As he thought about it, it made sense. The boy would attend high school in McAlester, not Hartshorne. He frowned slightly, puzzling through the situation. If not his son, then what? The man was definitely on the trail of something.

   “But, hey,” Eli said, talking as he and Sam walked to the parking lot. “Been meaning to run by your Mom’s place, check on her and your grandma.” He hesitated, giving Sam a sideways glance. “My grandma’s living with us now, did you know that?”

   “I heard that, think it was my grandmother who mentioned it.” Sam noticed Eli’s eyes had gotten a shade darker. “How’s that going?”

   “Eh, you know,” Eli said, shrugging. “Change is hard for old people.”

   “Change is hard for anybody,” Sam responded, not knowing where to go next.

   “I’ve been wondering how it’s working out with your grandma living with your mom. You know, how they . . . handle things.”

   Handle things . . .

   Sam thought back to when Eli’s parents had been killed in a collision on the Indian Nation Turnpike, leaving two sons behind: Eli and George Henry. It sounded as if Eli was now the caregiver for his grandmother.

   “They’ve been living together since Dad died,” Sam said. “Mom stays busy with her council job and Grandma makes quilts, has a quilting frame set up in front of the TV. They both stay busy.”

   Eli paused, considering this. “Maybe I’ll take my grandma out to see yours. Maybe she could, you know, talk to her about quilting.”

   “Sure thing, they’re good friends. Mama drops her off at your place now and then so they can visit, but I’m sure she’d like to show off her story quilt. Just give Mom a call, let her know you’re coming.” He grinned. “She’ll probably fix a spread for you since she hasn’t seen you in a while.”

   Reaching Eli’s cruiser, he broached his real concern head-on. “What do you know about this boy, Eli? The one who overdosed?”

   “Diddly squat,” Eli said, exhaling slowly. “Boy was found in the piney woods off of old Savage Road, south of Hartshorne. A seismograph team stumbled onto the body and from the sounds of it, not long after the boy died.  From all appearances, drugs were involved.”

   Sam paused, digesting the information. In recent years, claims had been made that connected earthquakes to wastewater disposal, meaning the State was ever alert to infractions and relying on seismographic testing to identify problems in the area. The big takeaway, however, was finding the body so quickly could help preserve forensic evidence.

   “I take it you were at the scene?”

   “Not officially,” Eli said. “Just a drive by, but the death investigator’s a friend.  Don’t know if they plan to do an autopsy, waiting for the family to get here.”

Chitto nodded. Death investigators collected as much information as possible about what happened around the time before and after the death occurred, learned what they could about the victim’s medical and personal history, and documented the condition of the body. They also talked to witnesses when available. The death investigator’s role was not to solve any crime that might have occurred but to capture information that might be important in figuring out how or why a person died. This information served as the link between the scene and an autopsy, often determining if one was necessary

   “He ID what kind of drugs?”

   Eli shook his head. “Took pictures of needle tracks, most of which looked old, and a white substance. Sounds pretty cut and dry. Also said the body smelled like a tavern.” Eli paused. “I’m thinking the kid might’ve been off the stuff a while, got back on it in a big way. Maybe too big, if you get my drift.” Abruptly, he frowned. “Thing is, those kids at Jones get regular checkups, even got a nurse on duty—and they ride the bus to and from school.”

   “And he was found off Savage Road . . .” Sam rubbed the back of his neck.       “That would be in the Kiamichi, which is mostly wilderness.”

   The Kiamichi Mountains were a subrange within the larger Ouachita Mountains that extended from Oklahoma to western Arkansas. A trained geologist, Sam knew the Kiamichis once stood as tall as the modern-day Rockies, which were much younger. A wildlife refuge and the Ouachita National Forest protected portions of the mountains. As a result, wildlife thrived: black bear, bobcat, deer, wild pigs, and cougar, plus all manner of birds. Logging was the region’s chief industry. Timber companies owned substantial portions of the mountains, operating huge tree plantations consisting of fast-growing pine trees. Hunting camps and a few homesteads were scattered throughout.

   “If he boarded at Jones and went to school in Hartshorne, how the hell did he end up on Savage Road?”

   Sam had driven in the area many times. Simply traversing that part of the    Kiamichi meant maneuvering switchback curves and numerous county roads, many of which dead-ended in timber. The area wasn’t suited to farming or grazing of any scale, but because wildlife was plentiful, it was prime territory for hunting. And the perfect dumpsite for a body.

   Eli said, “I’d like to know that myself.”

   “Where do you think he was getting the stuff?” Sam asked, hot on the scent now.

   Eli took a turn rubbing the back of his neck. “I know what you’re thinking, Sam. But since I took over your dad’s job, I’ve had my ear to the ground and my nose in the wind about this Messina business. Whoever it was killed that boy took the low road, not sticking their head up so anyone can see them.”

   “I know, Eli,” Sam said. He knew from experience that Eli spoke true. He’d been chasing shadows more than a dozen years himself. “Just keep your ears open. The old man and his boy might be out of the picture, but my gut tells me his grandson’s still around. He and his grandfather were real close.” He paused, recalling his experiences with Leon Messina. “Leon’s an arrogant little bastard, likes to brag. He’s bound to leak something one of these days.”

   Tiring of sore subjects, Sam moved the conversation to another one that interested him. “So how’s that little brother of yours? Don’t run into George Henry much anymore. He still working at the casino there in McAlester?” He noticed Eli’s shoulders seemed to slump more than was normal.

   “Well, see, George Henry’s between jobs right now.” Eli looked away, then back. “He’s, uh, he’s trying to sort some things out.”

   Sam’s interest spiked again. George Henry was the polar opposite of his brother. He’d gotten in with the wrong crowd in high school, did some experimenting with drugs, and got in trouble with the law. He’d worked hard to stay clean and landed a job with the Choctaw Casino in McAlester, working as a cashier. Only now, it seemed he was between jobs. Sam wondered if the change    in jobs was voluntary or if it could be linked to old friends, old habits.

   “He’ll come around,” Eli added. “Some things just take time. Like you said, change is hard.”

   Sam nodded, recalling the hard times after his wife Mary died. It had taken a long time for him to sort things out. But losing a job was a temporary setback and rarely life changing, as was losing the love of your life. Was there more going on than he was letting on?

   Noting the parking lot was clearing out, Sam took his leave. From a distance, he watched Eli’s white Tahoe pull away. He wanted to trust the man and once would have, but his father had made that mistake and paid for it with his life. A fellow officer and old friend had proved false and it had been for money—money made from dealing drugs. As Eli disappeared, an old Russian proverb that Sam had adopted recently came to mind: Trust, but verify.

                              . . .

Finding that Jasmine had already left, Sam closed up his desk and walked to his Tahoe where he Glancing at his watch, Sam hurried back to the building to see if the department administrative assistant, Jasmine Birdsong, was still there. She was an ace when it came to research and had an uncanny knack for tying together what seemed coincidental. And right now, there were just too many coincidences.

called her home phone and left a message about the information he needed. Whatever she could dig up about the boy’s death in Pittsburg County. Rumors about a Native Theme Park. Any recent sightings of Leon Messina and anything explaining why George Henry Billy left his casino job. Lastly, and after much deliberation, anything on Eli Billy that might explain a need for extra money.

   “Plus whatever else you think might be relevant, Scout,” he added before hanging up.

   Jasmine Birdsong was a relatively new hire, at least a permanent one. She had worked as a temp across the nation for years, however. Working in the various offices and with the various departments had acquainted her with not only the intricate details of the jurisdictional system but also personal details about the humans that worked within it. A private person, she didn’t gab and had a reputation for being a loner. She ate at her desk, didn’t socialize, and stuck to business. For some unfathomable reason, however, she had taken to Sam, especially his penchant for straying off the reservation from time to time. And so, she had become his accomplice. Doing computer research on her own time, mostly from home. Digging around in old records to see what she could unearth. Giving him her two-cents worth when she thought he was on the wrong trail. In short, acting as his scout. And thus, her code name was born.

   Pulling his SUV into the garage, Sam quickly changed into running clothes and shoes and hurried next door to his elderly neighbor’s house to retrieve the purebred mutt he’d inherited. Hattie George was another eccentric woman in his life. Spinster, probably because she was prone to speaking her mind. Vegetarian, even though she was the daughter of a pioneer ranching family. Critical of the human race in general, yet tolerant of a young pup that had caused her no end of grief. Digging up her yard. Jumping the fence and chasing the neighbor’s chickens. Eating roadkill when he could find it. Sam had a theory about why she volunteered to watch the dog for him during the day. It lightened the loneliness that often shadowed the elderly.

   Hattie met him at the door, leash in hand, and Sam began his evening run. Hattie had adopted the stray, scrawny pup initially and named it after the one owned by Cesar Chavez, the Latino civil rights activist known for organizing labor strikes and boycotts. Also a vegetarian, Chavez had named his dog Boycott. It seemed a fitting name for a rebel’s dog.

   As he thought about it, Sam couldn’t help but grin. The way his thoughts were running right then, the name seemed fitting for his dog as well. He was already feeling the itch to go off the reservation. The evening jog provided the perfect time to come up with a plan. His job in Durant was from Monday to Friday, which left the weekends free. Because his mother and grandmother lived in Pittsburg County, he could pay visits to see his family without raising the suspicions of Dan Blackfox. The real dilemma dealt with how to infiltrate the area without alerting Eli Billy.