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Pete's Pets

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Mystery novels by Canadian Authorsl
No Place for Wolverines

No Place for Wolverines

A Jenny Willson Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

Chapter 2
NOVEMBER 24, ONE WEEK EARLIER

The Parks Canada administration building oversaw the town of Banff from an elevated perch south of the Bow River. It was a dominating presence, facing north along the congested length of Banff Avenue toward Cascade Mountain. It spoke of permanence, authority, tradition. Constructed as a Depression-era make-work project, the three-storey structure was completed in 1936 and symbolized Canada’s emerging need to manage the wilderness for people. Built of limestone, with sandstone trim and cedar shakes and surrounded by sweeping gardens, it projected an air of calm control, efficiency, and strong management.

For Park Warden Jenny Willson, the castle-like building sat in stark contrast to the wilderness of Banff National Park. And it represented all she hated about a bureaucracy that often served itself instead of the citizens who paid the bills. She knew there were many good people here dedicated to the park, their efforts valiant despite the system rather than because of it — those weren’t the people she despised. Her disgust was reserved for the men and women whose sole objective was to climb the career ladder, rung by slippery rung, tossing aside their morals and ethics as they did so, who changed directions with each passing political breeze, and who clawed their way up while shovelling steaming piles of blame onto the hapless rung-climbers below them.

Willson paused below the stone archway at the building’s east entrance, her face reflected in the original stained glass panels, one hand gripping a brass door handle worn and discoloured from eighty years of contact with palms and fingers. She’d gone for a bike ride that morning and, because it was her day off, hadn’t bothered with the tan shirt, dark-green pants, and bulletproof vest that she normally wore on duty. Instead, she had quickly pulled on jeans, hiking shoes, and a blue fleece jacket over a flannel shirt. Her long brown hair was pulled back tight in a ponytail.

The last time she’d been in this building, she remembered, two senior officials from Parks Canada’s Calgary office had tried to derail her investigation into wildlife poaching in the park. Despite their attempts to impede her, to prevent her from doing what she knew to be right, Willson had relentlessly chased an American hunter and his accomplices back and forth across the international border. She’d eventually won the race. Then, in classic government style, campaigning politicians took credit for her actions, while one of the two obstructionist bureaucrats resigned quietly and without fanfare. The other crawled up another rung on the government ladder, proof that the Peter principle was alive and well.

Willson took a deep breath. Every time she passed through this door, her life changed in some way, and never for the better. She could walk away from the agency, but to do what? Reluctantly, she pulled open the heavy door and walked down the empty hallway to the office of Banff Chief Park Warden Frank Speer, her footsteps echoing on the tile floor.

A thirty-year veteran of the agency, Speer was one of the few people above Willson in the parks hierarchy whom she truly respected. He’d supported her through the tortuous poaching investigation, putting his career and his pending retirement at risk. In fact, he’d been the only one to stand by her.

Willson pushed open the windowed door to Speer’s office and greeted Pat Scott, a plump, no-nonsense woman in her sixties who’d worked with the chief in one capacity or another since he first became a warden. Her job title was now executive assistant, but she still referred to herself as his secretary. Old habits. Pat was short enough to be the same height standing up or sitting down — or so it seemed to Willson, who towered over her by nearly a foot.

“Hi, Jenny, it’s been a while. The chief ’s waiting for you.” She winked. “Keep up the good work.”

“Thanks, Pat. I appreciate that more than you know.”

Willson entered the inner office and sat down in a creaky old chair facing an older man with a grey crewcut.

“You wanted to see me, Chief?” she asked, stretching her legs out.

Behind the desk, Frank Speer pulled the wire-framed reading glasses off his face and looked up from a stack of documents. Willson noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the creases at the corners of his mouth — exhaustion from the bureaucracy, perhaps?

“Thanks for coming up, Jenny,” he said with a weary smile. “I know how much you love this place.”

“To be honest, Chief, I’d rather be at a kid’s birthday party with balloons and a friggin’ clown than in this place. But I came because you asked me. What’s up?”

“I’m on the horns of a dilemma … and I’m interested in getting your perspective.”

“Okay …” said Willson, intrigued. She took a sip from her travel mug filled with Kicking Horse’s Kick Ass coffee, strong and black. Until the poaching investiga¬tion, she’d consumed anything that looked or smelled like coffee, be it from a fast-food place, a plastic pod, or even a jar of powdered instant; she hadn’t cared. But hanging out with a coffee snob had forced her to see the error of her ways. Kick Ass was the only coffee for her. It reflected her approach to life and to her job. Now, she would kick ass whenever possible.

“Before I start,” Speer said, “you should know that what I’m about to tell you is not only highly unusual, but also extremely confidential.”

“I love a mystery, Chief. Lay it on me.”

“Well, do you remember when we talked earlier in the fall about the rumour of a ski area being proposed near the boundary of Yoho Park?”

“I do. But that was just a rumour, wasn’t it?”

“Not anymore.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m afraid so. We now have an application. I’m sur¬prised you haven’t heard, actually.”

“I’m not much for water-cooler gossip. But why the hell would a proposal even be accepted? Wasn’t the Parks Act changed back in 2000 so no new ski areas would be allowed?”

Speer leaned back in his chair, his hands linked behind his neck. “Ah, yes. It so happens that our federal government made another change to that same act about three months ago. The change was buried in a mammoth omnibus bill with everything in it from soup to nuts, and it now allows for no more than two ski areas per mountain park. So, any park with one or none is now open to proposals.”

“Are you kidding me?” said Willson. “Why the hell didn’t anybody notice?”

“People noticed. By the time they did, though, it had been jammed through Parliament with no discussion or debate. That’s what happens with a majority gov¬ernment. A few senators raised a stink when it reached them, but they were outvoted by their colleagues. It’s a done deal.”

Willson shook her head. “Un-friggin’-believable. Do you think they knew there was a proponent out there in the weeds, waiting to drop this idea on them?”

“I don’t know,” said Speer. “But you do have to won¬der. Regardless, an American developer from Idaho — a guy named Stafford Austin — made a joint proposal to Parks Canada and the government of B.C. shortly after the legislation was amended. He wants to develop a new ski area in Collie Creek, on the northwest boundary of Yoho. He’s calling it Top of the World Resort. Part of it’s inside the park, part outside. That’s why he had to approach both governments.”

“I know Collie Creek,” said Willson. “There are back¬country huts in the two adjacent valleys, and Collie Creek sits between the two. We used to ski and hike there when I lived in Golden. And didn’t we recently approve a new CMC hut in that area?”

“Yes, we did. When Austin dropped the idea on the two governments, they tried to keep it quiet. That didn’t last long. The Mountain Club members were seriously pissed when they got wind of it. But Austin’s already telling the media there’ll be millions of dollars invested, more people will visit the park, Golden will get a whack of new jobs, and its reputation as a world-class winter playground will grow. He’s selling it as the best thing since the internet.”

“But it’s in the middle of nowhere. What the hell is he thinking?”

“You know the drill. It’ll be gondolas and lift towers and ski runs and a resort base — potentially even a townsite. People will come from all over the world to ski there, he says. On paper, the project looks damn impressive.”

“Sounds to me like a dumbass idea for all sorts of reasons,” Willson said. “No one’s taking it seriously, are they?”

“You know how these things can take on a life of their own. Once the review processes start and politicians get involved, it’s like an avalanche, gathering speed and power, burying everything in its path. This one is already moving, and I’m getting strong indications from my sources in Ottawa that federal ministers are interested. And with the parks legislation out of the way, it’s suddenly become a possibility.”

“Forgive a stupid question, Chief,” said Willson, “but why are we talking about this? It’s a problem for Yoho Park, not us, right?”

Speer smiled, but there was no warmth in it. “You know that Jack Church is the park superintendent for Yoho. You may not know that his father was my first boss when I joined the Warden Service thirty-four years ago. I have all the respect in the world for Church Senior, but I don’t quite feel the same about Church Junior.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s one of those ladder-climbing pissants that you and I hate so much, and he’ll do whatever our bosses tell him to do, no matter how asinine.… I trust you won’t repeat that.”

“Of course not,” said Willson. She wondered where this rant was leading.

“Well, my sources have already raised questions about the ski area proponent,” Speer said, “about his background and his ability to make the project happen — the kinds of questions whispered behind cupped hands rather than asked aloud. And there’s also a pile of questions about the impact a resort would have on the park, on its environmental and recreation values. But Church seems willing to ignore them all. From what I hear, he’s rapidly become the project’s biggest cheerleader inside Parks.”

“What does it matter what he thinks?” asked Willson. “Won’t all those questions be answered by the federal and provincial review processes? The ultimate decisions will be made above him, won’t they?”

“Some, but not all of them. From what I can see, Jack’s too much of a keener to understand what he’s getting into … or what he could unwittingly do to the park.”

“I get that a ski area would have huge negative impacts on the park, but why are you concerned about Church?”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about him, really. It’s all about the park. But he’s a symptom of a much deeper problem in the system. The more people there are like him, the less likely it is a project like this will get a thorough, unbiased assessment.”

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Why it's on the list ...
"No Place for Wolverines", the second book in Dave Butler's Jenny Willson mystery series, confirms that Jenny is a thoroughly believable heroine, even if she is, by her own admission, somewhat difficult to love! Her toughness reflects the beautiful - if harsh - reality of her beloved Rocky Mountains, which Mr. Butler paints so eloquently.
Her frustration with government bureaucracies and her disgust with corporate and individual greed almost get the better of her, but Warden Jenny Willson's investigative skills triumph in the end and she strikes a blow for the good guys (and the wolverines!)
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Full Curl

Full Curl

A Jenny Willson Mystery
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Excerpt

Chapter 1

October 31
The high beams of two vehicles pushed a lonely tunnel of light through the black night of Banff National Park. With snow blowing from the top of the propane tanker in front of him, obliterating his view of the nearly deserted Trans-Canada Highway, Bernie Eastman felt as if he were driving his battered pickup truck in the vapour trail of a comet.
Leaving Calgary earlier in the day, he’d already passed through an early storm, a black wall of cloud that had, after devouring the Rockies, boiled from the mountains onto the prairies. It filled the valleys ahead of his truck, rolling and rumbling, erasing forests, peaks, and sky. Facing the dark void ahead, he’ d imagined driving off the edge of the world.
Just as quickly, the violent storm had skidded eastward, leaving clear skies behind. That meant cold, and cold it was. Since noon, the temperature had tumbled from 4 degrees Celsius to -6 and was still dropping.
The two vehicles now continued west, ferocious winds threatening to toss them off the highway. Eastman felt their frightening power deep in his forearms as he wrestled with the steering wheel. He sympathized with the other driver when he saw the tanker shift left and
then right. He could see his own headlights reflected in the tanker’s driver-side mirror.
In the dark of the cab, Eastman heard the voice of one of his two passengers. “Why are we following this guy?” the man asked. “Go around him and quit wasting time.”
“Hold yer fuckin’ horses,” said Eastman. “I don’t wanna miss our turnoff.”
As he spoke, the exit sign appeared out of the blowing snow. “Jesus Christ!” he yelled, cranking the steering wheel to the right, hard, hoping for the best. His blue crew cab fishtailed down the exit ramp and finally came to a jolting halt against a concrete guardrail, facing up the ramp, headlights still on, engine still running. Eastman let out his breath in a rush. He could see the Bow River, a menacing black ribbon, flowing only metres below the truck.
Eastman, a bearded bear of a man, still gripped the wheel in both hands, his meaty knuckles white. His two passengers sat in stunned silence. He heard their breathing, hard and fast. The passenger who’d snarled at him to pass muttered something in Spanish. Eastman couldn’t tell if he was praying or cursing.
After a moment, Eastman pulled his hands from the wheel, flexed them once to get the blood moving again, then pushed his well-worn cowboy hat back on his head. “Whew,” he said, breaking the silence. “That was a hell of a ride, eh, boys?”
Hearing no answer, Eastman reversed the pickup, steering it clear of the concrete barrier, and then simultaneously punched the gas pedal and turned the steering wheel, spinning the truck around until it faced the right direction. “Enough of this screwin’ around,” he said decisively. “We got work to do.”
Eastman looked in the rear-view mirror to see Charlie Clark staring back, eyes wide in his thin, angular face. The lights of the truck’s dash were reflected from the strips of duct tape that held Clark’s old down jacket together. “Charlie, grab the goddamn light,” he said, “and let’s see what we got out here tonight.” As he turned to watch the road ahead, he heard Clark rummaging through the litter at his feet for the hand-held spotlight, a million candles of light powered by the truck’s cigarette lighter. He felt the blast of cold air on his neck when Clark wound down the back window. He saw the forest to their left dance in sudden illumination, so he dimmed the headlights and slowed the truck to a crawl. The search had begun.
Eastman watched the front passenger out of the corner of his eye. The black-haired Hispanic was still and silent. He saw his gaze following the spotlight that probed the darkness. The man had spoken little since they’d picked him up at the Calgary airport that afternoon.
In their first phone conversation a month earlier, the man’s answers to Eastman’s questions had been curt, almost rude. But Eastman didn’t give a shit about manners. From that one call, he’d understood that the passenger was impatient, a man who thought highly of himself and little of others. In fact, no client had, in all the time he’d worked in the business, ever boasted about his IQ. So this was a man with a big ego and big money. For Eastman, who ran a business guiding and outfitting hunters, it was the money that mattered. If that kept flowing, he’d ignore the rest.
The passenger turned to stare at Eastman as though reading his thoughts. “Are you certain they’re out here?” he said, obviously edgy. “I am not paying to be disappointed.”
“Yeah,” Eastman replied, perhaps too quickly. “They’re here. I know what you want and I’ll get it for you.”
The passenger still stared at him, unblinking. His thick, black moustache paralleled the thin line of his mouth. Eastman felt the urge to drive his fist into the man’s arrogant nose. He imagined the crunch of bone, the rush of blood, the warm satisfaction he’d feel when tears came to those dark eyes, if only for a moment. But he also sensed that crossing the man would be good for a bullet in the back of the head, sometime when he least expected it. Eastman fixed his gaze on the road.
They drove for an hour, crawling along the road, peering into blackness illuminated only by the spotlight. A light wind blew snow from the trees. Eastman saw the flakes flashing toward the windshield like tracers, streaks of brilliant white, hypnotizing. To the side, the spotlight reached far out into an open meadow. Then, abrupt and fragmented, it shone against the islands of pine and trembling aspen lining the road.
Eastman held the wheel with his right hand, the fingers of his left impatiently tapping the window as if he were transmitting Morse code into the forest around them. Behind him, he could hear Clark’s nervous fidgeting. The beam bounced up and down, left and right, as if the road were filled with potholes or lined with speed bumps.
An hour later, Eastman, exhausted, glanced at the clock on the dash — 12:20 a.m. His tired eyes played tricks on him — shapes appearing and disappearing at the edge of the darkness. Despite the increasingly strident voice in his head urging him to call it a night, to abandon the search, he willed himself to keep going. He knew that his passenger expected to fly home late the next day with his objective met. And Eastman knew that by accepting the man’s money, he’d committed himself to succeeding. He felt the keen edge of pressure. He desperately needed the money, though, and knew that if he succeeded on this trip, the man would be hooked. He would come back for more. In that first phone call, Eastman had offered a unique guarantee, and there was no question the man would hold him to it, one way or another. And so he must do everything he could to make this work. Giving up was not an option.
“Well, son of a bitch,” he said with a sigh, his voice revealing his growing exhaustion. “We’ll keep goin’ a bit further and then we’ll double back.”
No sooner had he spoken than the spotlight picked up the glow of a pair of eyes at the far edge of a meadow. Eastman heard his passenger speak in a voice that was surprisingly calm.
“There,” the man said. “Stop the truck … now!”
From the height of the eyes above the snow-covered ground, Eastman knew the creature in the meadow was large, very large. In the darkness, he had no idea what it was. At this point, it no longer mattered.
“Keep the light on it,” the passenger said softly and menacingly to Clark. “Do not let me down.”
Eastman twisted left to see Clark grip the light as tightly as his two scrawny hands could muster. By the look in Clark’s eyes, Eastman could tell that his assistant understood the consequences of failure. They’d be unpleasant, if not painful.
Eastman brought the truck to a slow stop on the shoulder of the road. The passenger beside him jumped out of the truck quickly and quietly, then slid a long, canvas-wrapped package from behind the seat and pushed the door shut with a soft click.
In the darkness, Eastman watched the passenger lean across the hood of the truck. His left arm supported a high-calibre rifle, elbow down. His right eye peered through the crosshairs of a 10X scope pointing into the meadow. Eastman focused on the man’s right finger. It moved against the trigger, slowly yet firmly. The windshield exploded with sound and light.
At the far side of the meadow from the idling truck, the bullet found its target. Eastman turned his head to see, in the circle of the spotlight, a massive bull elk first drop to its knees and then topple onto its side, a dark hole in its right shoulder. A cloud of white flew up from the snow-covered grass when the antlers — seven thick points on each side — hit the ground. The fleeting shadows of a quartet of startled cow elk galloped into the darkness, eyes wide and glinting, heads held high. They did not look back. Eastman saw the bull’s final exhalation drift upward in gauze-like steam that, for a moment, obscured his view of the thick band of the Milky Way. He smiled a tired smile. Mission accomplished.

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Why it's on the list ...
Really good read! At first I felt a bit swamped by the characterizations of both the protagonist and the antagonist, but once underway it all made sense and was a fascinating look at wildlife and endangered species management through the lens of a police procedural. Butler captures the iconic landscapes of the Canadian Rockies beautifully, and obviously shares his protagonist Jenny Willson's passion for bringing an end to the criminal practice of illegal trophy hunting. The book is fast-paced and the dialogue really works
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