The walls of the interrogation room of the Tamarack County Sheriff’s Department were dull gray and completely bare. There were no windows. It was furnished with two chairs and a plain wooden table nudged into a corner. The subject of an interview sat in a straight-back chair with four legs that rested firmly on the floor. The interviewer’s chair had rollers, which allowed movement toward or away from the subject. On the ceiling was what appeared to be a smoke detector but, in reality, concealed a video camera and microphone that fed to a monitor and recording system in the room next door. The interview room was lit from above by diffuse fluorescent lighting that illuminated without glare. Everything had been designed to be free from any distraction that might draw the subject’s focus away from the interviewer and the questions. Cork knew this because he’d had the room constructed during his own tenure as sheriff of Tamarack County.
Although he wore no watch and there was nothing in the room that would have clued him about time, Cork knew it was late afternoon. Around five o’clock, more or less. Captain Ed Larson had removed his own watch, a standard procedure when questioning a suspect in the interview room. Timelessness was part of the protocol for keeping the subject focused only on what was happening inside the small box created by those four bare walls. This was Cork’s third round of questioning about the death of Jubal Little that day and was the most formal so far.
The first interview had taken place at Trickster’s Point while the techs were processing the crime scene. It had been Sheriff Marsha Dross herself who’d asked the questions. Cork was pretty sure nobody really thought then that he’d killed Jubal Little. Marsha was just trying to get a good sense of what had gone down. It wasn’t until he told her that he’d sat for three hours while Jubal died that she gave him a look of incomprehension, then of suspicion.
The second interview had been conducted an hour and a half later in her office back at the department. Ed Larson had been present for that one. He was in charge of major crimes investigation for Tamarack County. He’d let Marsha ask the questions—more of them this time and more probing—and had mostly observed. At the end of that round, he’d asked if Cork was hungry and would like something to eat or drink. Cork wanted nothing, but he said yes anyway.
While the food was coming, they moved to the interview room, just Larson and Cork this time, but Cork knew that Dross would be watching on the monitor next door.
Deputy Azevedo brought in the meal. He looked at Cork as if he didn’t know him at all, though they’d been acquainted for years.
“On the table,” Larson told him, and the deputy set the tray down and left. “Go ahead and eat, Cork,” Larson said. “I just want to look over a few of my notes.”
He pulled a small notepad from the inside pocket of his sport coat. Larson always looked and dressed more like a college professor than a cop. He had gold wire-rim glasses and wore honest to God tweed jackets with patches on the elbows. He was nearing sixty, more than a half dozen years older than Cork, and still had an enviable head of hair that was a distinguished silver-black. He was already on the force when Cork first joined as a deputy more than twenty years before. They’d become friends, and Cork had a great deal of respect for him and his abilities. As soon as Cork was elected sheriff, he’d put Larson in charge of investigating major crimes.
While Cork sat at the table and ate, Larson pretended to go over his notes. Cork knew that, in reality, Larson was more interested in his appetite, knew that people who’d committed a violent crime were often so troubled by what they’d done that they couldn’t eat. So Cork made as if he hadn’t had a bite of food in a month and rammed down every crumb of his cheeseburger and gulped every drop of coffee.
“Thanks,” he said when he’d finished.
Larson looked up from his notepad and, with his index finger, eased his glasses a quarter of an inch higher on the bridge of his nose. It was a gesture he sometimes made unconsciously when he was about to do something that was uncomfortable for him. “Cork, I know you know the drill. I’ve got to make sure that you understand your rights.”
“Miranda,” Cork said.
“Miranda,” Larson acknowledged and went through the litany.
“It’s official then?” Cork said.
“I’m officially a suspect.”
Larson squinted, a look of pain. “In my shoes, how would you see it?”
“I’ve been in your shoes. And I know how I’d see it, Ed. If our situations were reversed, I wouldn’t believe for a moment that you’d killed Jubal Little.”
“Tell me why, if I were in your shoes, I would have waited three hours before trying to get him some help.”
“I wasn’t trying to get him help. He was already dead when I left him.”
“Okay, so why didn’t you go for help as soon as you understood the seriousness of the situation?”
“I’ve told you. Jubal asked me to stay.”
“Because he was afraid?”
“Jubal?” Cork shook his head. “No, not Jubal. Never Jubal.”
“You were his only hope of surviving, and yet he insisted that you stay. I don’t understand.”
“He knew he was going to die, and he didn’t want to die alone.”
“You couldn’t have carried him out?”
“He hurt whenever I tried to move him, hurt a lot. It was that broadhead arrow tip tearing him up inside. I didn’t want to give him any more pain. If I’d tried to carry him out, he would simply have died sooner.”
“So you just sat there and watched him go?”
“No. I listened to him. I think that was the main reason he didn’t want me to leave. He wouldn’t have had anyone to talk to. You know how politicians are.”
Larson gave a startled look that quickly turned critical. “There’s nothing humorous in this situation, Cork.”
“I’m not sure Jubal saw it that way. The last thing he did on this earth was smile, Ed.”
He could see that Larson didn’t believe him. Probably he didn’t believe a lot of what Cork had said so far.
“Did you have your cell phone with you?”
Cork shook his head. “We were out there to get away from a world of phone calls. But even if I’d taken my cell phone, it wouldn’t have mattered.”
“Coverage is hit and miss up there. But around Trickster’s Point, especially, nothing gets through.”
“And why’s that?”
Cork shrugged. “Ask the Ojibwe, and they’d tell you it’s just Nanaboozhoo messing with you.”
“The Trickster. That’s his territory.”
Larson stared at him. His face reminded Cork of a ceramic doll with all the features painted on and none of them capable of moving. Larson looked down at his notes. “You had breakfast at Johnny’s Pinewood Broiler before you headed out. You had a cheese omelet, and Jubal Little had cakes and eggs over easy. When you left, you both spent a few minutes standing out on the sidewalk, arguing.”
Cork said, “Did you find Heidi or did she come looking for you?”
He was talking about Heidi Steger, their waitress at the Broiler that morning.
Larson didn’t answer but said instead, “What did you argue about?”
“We didn’t argue. It was more like a heated discussion.”
“What did you discuss, then, so heatedly?”
“Politics, Ed. Just politics.”
Larson maintained his ceramic doll face for a long moment, and Cork, in that same long moment, returned his steady gaze.
“Okay,” Larson finally went on. “You said he talked a lot as he was dying. What did he talk about?”
“First he talked about that arrow, whether to try to remove it. Jubal wanted to, I didn’t. Then I tried to leave to get help. Jubal wanted me to stay. After that, he talked about life. Or I should say his life. It was so Jubal of him, but understandable under the circumstances. He had a lot of regrets. Toward the end, he was in and out of consciousness. When he was awake, he mostly rambled. It was hard to make much sense of anything.”
“Did he say who’d shot him?”
“He didn’t have to. We both knew who he believed it was.”
“Who was that?”
“He thought it was me.”
“He thought you were trying to kill him?”
“He thought I’d shot him by accident.” Which was the only lie Cork had told in any of the interviews that day.
“You meant to shoot him with that arrow?”
Cork refrained from smiling at the obvious and shallow trap and told him once again, “It wasn’t me who shot Jubal.”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you see anyone else?”
“Hear anyone else?”
“So, as far as you know, you were both alone out there?”
“Clearly not. Whoever shot that arrow was out there with us.”
In the beginning, Larson had positioned his chair near to Cork, making the interrogation a more intimate affair, just between the two of them. Between friends, maybe. Now he backed off a couple of feet and asked, rather indifferently, “Do you consider yourself a good bow hunter, Cork?”
“Fair to middling.”
“When you hunt, you’re a purist, right? You do still-stalking. No deer blind. You actually track the animal on foot.”
“I’m guessing you’d have to be tuned in to all the sounds around you, wouldn’t you? Reading all the signs?”
Cork understood the thrust of Larson’s questions. If there was someone else at Trickster’s Point with them, why didn’t Cork know it?
“Must take incredible stealth,” Larson said.
“That all depends on what you’re after,” Cork replied.
“You were after white-tail deer, weren’t you?”
Cork said, “Ed, what I was really after is something you can’t understand, and if I say it, you’ll misconstrue my meaning.”
“I’ll do my best to understand.” He promised with such earnest appeal that Cork knew he was telling the truth.
So Cork offered his own truth in return. He said, “I was hunting Jubal Little.”
The dying don’t easily become the dead.
Cork O’Connor is sitting in the shadow of a towering monolith known as Trickster’s Point, deep in the Minnesota wilderness. With him is Jubal Little, who is favored to become the first Native American elected governor of Minnesota and who is slowly dying with an arrow through his heart. Although the men have been bow-hunting, a long-standing tradition among these two friends, this is no hunting accident. The arrow turns out to be one of Cork’s, and he becomes the primary suspect in the murder. He understands full well that he’s been set up. As he works to clear his name and track the real killer, he remembers his long, complex relationship with the tough kid who would grow up to become a professional football player, a populist politician, and the lover of the first woman to whom Cork ever gave his heart. Jubal was known by many for his passion, his loyalty, and his ambition. Only Cork knows that he was capable of murder.