Hell Is Empty: A Longmire Mystery

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9780143120988: Hell Is Empty: A Longmire Mystery

Walt faces an icy hell in this New York Times bestseller from the author of The Cold Dish and Dry Bones, the seventh novel in the Longmire series, the basis for the hit Netflix original series LONGMIRE

Craig Johnson's The Highwayman and An Obvious Fact are now available from Viking.

Well-read and world-weary, Sheriff Walt Longmire has been maintaining order in Wyoming's Absaroka County for more than thirty years, but in this riveting seventh outing, he is pushed to his limits.

Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian rumored to be one of the country's most dangerous sociopaths, has just confessed to murdering a boy ten years ago and burying him deep within the Bighorn Mountains. Walt is asked to transport Shade through a blizzard to the site, but what begins as a typical criminal transport turns personal when the veteran lawman learns that he knows the dead boy's family. Guided only by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante's Inferno, Walt braves the icy hell of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, cheating death to ensure that justice--both civil and spiritual--is served.  

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About the Author:

Craig Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Longmire mysteries, the basis for the hit Netflix original series Longmire. He is the recipient of the Western Writers of America Spur Award for fiction, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award for fiction, the Nouvel Observateur Prix du Roman Noir, and the Prix SNCF du Polar. His novella Spirit of Steamboat was the first One Book Wyoming selection. He lives in Ucross, Wyoming, population twenty-five.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Praise for Hell Is Empty

About the Author

Also by Craig Johnson

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Epilogue

Appendix

 

Excerpt from As The Crow Flies

For Joe Drabyak (1950–2010), who has died so many literary deaths and continues to live on in so many well-read hearts.

 

 

 

Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.

 

—William Shakespeare, The Tempest, act I, scene 2

 

 

Ch’i’ non averei creduto
che morte tanta n’avesse disfatta.
I should not have thought
that death could ever have unmade so many.

 

—Dante Alighieri, Inferno, canto 3, lines 56–57

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Hell Is Empty could be the most challenging novel I’ve attempted so far and, like Dante, I would’ve found it difficult to make such an effort without my own guides into the nether regions. In my part of the country, the one thing you don’t do is argue with your Indian scouts.

When I first signed with my agent, Gail Hochman, I didn’t know what trustworthy hands I was placing myself in, but over the years it has become quite evident. The first person she delivered me to in the wilderness of the publishing world was Kathryn Court, my editor extraordinaire and president of Penguin USA. Second in command of my books, and the person to whom I must bid a fond farewell, is Alexis Washam, who has since moved on, but was a guiding hand in the writing of this book as well.

In the many rings of publishing, you hope for a head of publicity like Maureen Donnelly, a senior publicist such as Ben Petrone, a publicist like Gabrielle Gantz, and, of course, we all hope for an all-purpose angel who turned out to be Tara Singh.

My good friend and counsel, Susan Fain, continues to be an inspiration and assistant in the realms of higher literature, and without her help some of the more apocryphal and obscure aspects of Inferno might’ve escaped me.

Marcus Red Thunder has long been the influence for Henry Standing Bear and the guardian of all things Cheyenne and Crow in my books. Without him I would be the one lost.

Thanks to Bill Matteson for accompanying me on numerous trips into the Bighorn Mountains, including visits to the top of Cloud Peak, the only spot on the mountains with crystal clear cell phone reception.

A great big thanks to wilderness ranger Robert “Bob” Thuesen out of the Bighorn National Forest Powder River Ranger District for the times above tree line and my endless conversations that always started with, “What if... ?”

These are my guardian angels, the people who enable me to do what it is that I do, but there’s one who supersedes them all. Thank you, Judy, the one who shares my life and all my love.

1

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?”

I tried to focus on one of my favorite skies—the silverdollar one with the peach-colored banding that seriates into a paler frosty blue the old-timers said was an omen of bad times ahead—as I stuffed a third of a bacon cheeseburger into Marcel Popp’s mouth in an attempt to silence the most recent of his promises that he was, indeed, going to kill me.

At last count he’d made this statement twenty-seven times to me, eight to other members of the Absaroka County Sheriff’s Department, and seventeen to Santiago “Sancho” Saizarbitoria, who was dragging a few french fries through his ketchup as his eyes stayed trained on a paperback in his left hand.

I looked at Sancho. “That was twenty-eight.”

The sun reflected through the western window and struck my face like a ray gun. I was tempted to close my eyes and soak in the warmth of the early afternoon, but I couldn’t afford the luxury. I hadn’t allowed any silverware at the table and Marcel Popp was manacled, but I still warned him that if he bit either Sancho or me he’d go without food.

The Basquo tilted his head from the book. “Do dirty looks count?”

Popp glanced at Santiago, who was watching the other two convicts quietly eating their lunches, and we could only guess what his words would’ve been as he chewed.

“No.” I placed the rest of the convict’s burger on his plate and looked back out the window as the sunshine took another dying shot at my face.

Sancho and I had been amusing ourselves by keeping score, and even though the Basquo was down by eleven, he had made a fourth-quarter comeback with a tirade he’d received as we’d unloaded the transported prisoners at South Fork Lodge in the heart of the Bighorn Mountains. The Basquo’d apologized for handling Marcel’s head into the top of the door while getting him out of the vehicle; I still wasn’t sure if it had been entirely innocent.

I glanced at Santiago and then risked closing my eyes for just a second. Even with present company, I had enjoyed my own Absaroka burger and fries. South Fork was my favorite of the lodges, with the best menu and a river-stone fireplace in the dining room that owners Holli and Wayne Jones kept roaring when the temperature was under fifty degrees. It was a year-round, full-service lodge nestled away in one of the southside canyons, with snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, trout fishing, and hunting in season.

It was early May, and the summer crowds hadn’t arrived yet. With the outside temperature in the high thirties not including windchill, I was afraid we still had a few shots of winter left.

Despite the weather, there was a comfortable, close quality to the lodge, and I fantasized about reserving one of the rustic cabins by the partially ice-covered creek and calling Victoria Moretti, another of my deputies, to see what she was up to this weekend. Vic had just bought a new house, and she’d invited me and my best friend, Henry Standing Bear, over for dinner tonight. I was still thinking about the cabin when Popp spoke again.

“I’m going to kill every single one of you motherfuckers.”

It was a general statement, but he’d been looking at me. “Twenty-nine.”

Currently, Marcel wasn’t a happy camper. I hadn’t released either him or the other two murderers from their traveling chains in order to eat. Marcel had already killed two Winnemucca, Nevada, city policemen and a South Dakota highway patrolman in an attempt to escape a year back. That and his limited vocabulary had endeared him to the entire Absaroka County staff. We would be just as happy to be rid of him when we met up with the Big Horn and Washakie counties’ sheriff’s departments, the FBI, and the Ameri-Trans van near Meadowlark Lodge in less than an hour.

Ameri-Trans was a private firm that contracted with law enforcement to transport prisoners, but they had no contract with us; I didn’t like the fact that they had a record high percentage of escapees and wouldn’t allow them in my jurisdiction, so we’d made a little jaunt into the mountains this afternoon with the prisoners.

I’d asked the FBI agent in charge over the phone what all this was about but had been told that the details would be made clear when we delivered the convicts to the multiagency task force that awaited us a little farther up the road. I didn’t like his answer, but for now that was my problem.

I glanced at Raynaud Shade, the prisoner who worried me most, the one who continued to look at his plate as he chewed. I didn’t know why the Crow-adopted Canadian Indian was being transported but would be just as glad when he was no longer my responsibility. He hardly ever spoke, but in my estimation it was the quiet ones you really had to worry about. I’d been distracted by my thoughts for only a second, but when I paid attention again his pale eyes were studying me from under the dark hair. He had this unnerving ability that whenever you refocused your eyes on him, he was there with you—like a cat in a cage.

“I’m going to kill you, you little Basque prick. I’m gonna kill your big boss here—I’m gonna fuckin’ kill all of you.”

I picked up the rest of the burger and pushed another third into Marcel’s mouth.

Sancho stuffed the paperback under his arm, looked at the stack of books at his elbow, and smiled a wayward, electric smile that made the women in the county give him that second look, or even a third. “That was a triple.”

“Almost an in-the-park home run.” I frowned at him. “That was one for you, one for me, and a general score we can share.”

“C’mon.”

I tallied it up. “Thirty to nineteen.”

He sighed and resumed reading Dante’s Inferno as I reached over and slid Les Misérables off the top of the pile to reveal Les Trois Mousquetaires—both in the original French. The Basquo, regretting a stint in higher education devoted almost exclusively to criminal justice, was attempting to fill in some of the literary gaps. We had all made lists for him, including Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee from Henry and, of all things, Concrete Charlie: The Story of Philatelphia Football Legend Chuck Bednarik from Vic, but my dispatcher Ruby’s list, which included Crime and Punishment and The Pilgrim’s Progress as well as the Inferno, had been the most daunting, so the Basquo had started with it. I, taking pity on the poor kid, had included To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, and the aforesaid Musketeers.

“How’s it going, troop?”

He peeled a thumb against the sides of the prodigious paperbacks, especially Inferno. “Slow.”

“Hey, I am God-damned starving here.”

Popp was a monster, just the kind of obstacle you didn’t want to meet in a dark or otherwise illuminated alley. Roughly my size, he was already in shape when he’d gone into the South Dakota Maximum Security Facility in Sioux Falls, and four hours of weight lifting a day over the last year hadn’t allowed him to exactly winnow away.

“And fucking dying of thirst, you assholes.”

Or improved his vocabulary.

Hector Otero, the third of our terrible trio, smiled at the latest of Popp’s outbursts, and I wondered what wrong turns had resulted in the scam artist killing two people on Houston’s south side. The ever-smiling Latino had been shocked when Santiago had spoken to him in fluent Spanish. I’d understood only a percentage of the conversation, but the Basquo had rolled his eyes afterward, putting the street hood’s intelligence in question. “Who wrote that anyway?”

Sancho regarded the Latino with one eye. “What?”

The gangbanger seemed actually interested, his eyes like drips of crude oil flicking between Sancho and me. “That book, that Dante’s Inferno; who wrote that?”

The Basquo and I traded a look, and I waited to see how my deputy was going to play it.

“Hector, do you know who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”

“Nope.”

Saizarbitoria went back to his Penguin Classic. “Didn’t think so. Just be glad we’re letting you eat at the big-person table.”

Otero, aware that he was being made the butt of a joke, clicked his eyes to me so I’d know that he wasn’t up to anything and then raised in his chair just enough to see the other titles in Saizarbitoria’s pile. “Yeah, well, at least I’m not reading a book by Alexander Dumb-ass.”

Hector was grinning when Raynaud Shade sucked the air out of the room.

“Shut up, Hector.”

If anybody had ever said that to Hector Otero in the outside world, they might’ve gotten more than a couple of ounces of lead in response, but not Shade. The smaller man looked at the Indian but said nothing.

When I looked at Shade, he was staring at me again.

His features were flat, his nose spread across his face like a battering ram had been used one time too many, the bones of his brow and cheeks prominent. He was an average height, but his chest, shoulders, and bull neck let you know that if something were to start, Raynaud Shade would get his share. You wouldn’t have thought him capable at twenty-seven of the rap sheet he carried—but when you looked into his outlandish eyes, it was all there. His irises were the same washed-out blue as the winter Wyoming sky and just as cold.

At least one was. Raynaud’s left eye was a replacement, and whoever had done the work had failed to capture the exact color. The shade, no pun intended, was an elusive one reflecting an altitude where humanity could not survive.

I’d read about him—he must have been the one the Feds were really interested in. He was on the express back to Draper, Utah, to either a lethal injection or a firing squad, which meant that he was a dead man walking and, as long as he walked in my county, he would walk in chains.

He looked at me through the hood his dark hair formed and spoke in an empty, halting voice. “Thank you.”

It was the sixth time he’d communicated since we’d been responsible for him, coming up on seventy-two hours. “For?”

His eye stayed with mine for a second—it was as if he was half paying attention—then panned around the café like a searchlight. “For allowing us to eat in a restaurant.” He smiled as though he didn’t know how, and I figured it was the only one he had—the one with a lot of teeth and no warmth. “I imagine this will be my last time to do something normal.”

He spoke in the cadence of the Yukon Territory where he’d been born, and his voice carried—one of those you could hear from a hundred feet away even when he was whispering. His eye went back to his plate, and his hair fell forward, again covering his face. “I gotta go to the john.”

I studied him. “In a minute.”

He nodded and raised his cuffed hands, putting the fingertips on the table at its edge, his thumbs underneath. I watched as the fingers bent backward with the pressure of his grip.

“Me too, I gotta take a fucking piss.”

Popp made a clicking noise as he spoke, and I could tell he was thinking of spitting again. He’d spit on Sancho as we were unloading him, at which point I’d grabbed him by the back of the neck and pulled his face in close to mine, making it clear that if he spat again he’d go without lunch. My fingerprints were still on his neck; I was feeling bad about that.

“I’ve been here before.”

I turned back to Shade. “Excuse me?”

“First kill outside of my family.”

He said it like they didn’t count.

“I gave one of his bones to two other men who sent it back to me in the mail in an attempt to get some money I have put away—that’s why they’re meeting us.”

He had finished his meal and carefully pushed his plate back a couple of inches, his thumbs still under the table, his hair still covering his face. “There is an FBI psychologist that I’ve been seeing; her name is Pfaff. I told her about where the body is buried.” He was suddenly silent, aware that everyone had been listening to him, but then stared directly at me. “I just thought you might be curious.”

The waitress interrupted the little breakthrough and squelched my hopes of extending Shade’s confession. “Would you like some more coffee, Sheriff?”

It took me a second to come back; Shade’s dead eye was like that—it drew you into the cold.

“Yes, ma’am.”

I caught her looking at the ...

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Book Description Softcover. Book Condition: New. Walt faces an icy hell in this New York Times bestseller from the author ofThe Cold Dish and As the Crow Flies, the seventh novel in the Longmire Mystery Series, the basis forLONGMIRE, the hit A&E original drama seriesFans of Ace Atkins, Nevada Barr and Robert B. Parker will love this seventh novel from Craig Johnson, theNew York Times bestselling author of The Cold Dish and As the Crow Flies. Well-read and world-weary, Sheriff Walt Longmire has been maintaining order in Wyoming's Absaroka County for more than thirty years, but in this riveting seventh outing, he is pushed to his limits.Raynaud Shade, an adopted Crow Indian rumored to be one of the country's most dangerous sociopaths, has just confessed to murdering a boy ten years ago and burying him deep within the Bighorn Mountains. Walt is asked to transport Shade through a blizzard to the site, but what begins as a typical criminal transport turns personal when the veteran lawman learns that he knows the dead boy's family. Guided only by Indian mysticism and a battered paperback of Dante'sInferno, Walt braves the icy hell of the Cloud Peak Wilderness Area, cheating death to ensure that justice—both civil and spiritual—is served.The Longmire Mystery Series is the basis for Longmire, the hit original drama series from A&E. Bookseller Inventory # BAA-B-3664459

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