Authors: Elizabeth Gunn
Table of Contents
The Jake Hines Series
FIVE CARD STUD
SIX POUND WALLEYE
SEVENTH INNING STRETCH
McCAFFERTY'S NINE *
THE TEN MILE TRIALS *
ELEVEN LITTLE PIGGIES *
The Sarah Burke Series
COOL IN TUCSON *
NEW RIVER BLUES *
KISSING ARIZONA *
THE MAGIC LINE *
* available from Severn House
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First published in Great Britain 2012 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of
9-15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.
First published in the USA 2013 by
SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of
110 East 59th Street, New York, N.Y. 10022
eBook edition first published in 2013 by Severn House Digital
an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited
Copyright Â© 2012 by Elizabeth Gunn.
The right of Elizabeth Gunn to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & patents Act 1988
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Gunn, Elizabeth, 1927-
Eleven little piggies.
1. Hines, Jake (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. PoliceâMinnesotaâFiction. 3. Murderâ
InvestigationâFiction. 4. FamiliesâFiction. 5. Farmsâ
MinnesotaâFiction. 6. Detective and mystery stories.
ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-364-8 (epub)
ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8236-3 (cased)
ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-463-9 (trade paper)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This eBook produced by
Palimpsest Book Production Limited,
Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
haddya say, Oz? My butt is frozen and the geese are gone.' The sun was as high in the sky as it was going to get this close to Thanksgiving, but inside our shooting blind it was so cold my shorts were stiff. I was thinking longingly about a hot cider laced with rum.
âWe can't quit yet.' Ozzie Sullivan scanned the bright November sky above us, so cloudless and empty. âI haven't got my limit.' He had two fat Canadian honkers in his bag as well as a snow goose and a pair of teal. But the state had raised the limit on Canadian geese a couple of years back to three and, haggling or hunting, Ozzie always tries to get all he can.
âYou can have mine,' I said. I had bagged a Canada goose and a mallard, and had been thinking ruefully about the Thanksgiving turkeys we were committed to sharing with my mother-in-law and a roomful of Trudy's Swedish relatives in five days. Who wants leftovers from so many birds in one week? A guy could get cramps from that much stuffing.
âCome on,' I said. âThere goes the signal; the guides are closing the field to get ready for the afternoon customers.'
âI can't understand it,' Ozzie said, tossing empties into the cooler. âWe had great shooting early this morning but they sure thinned out later on.'
âDon't they always?'
âWell, usually. But all week long, guys have been coming into the bar so excited, telling me this part of the river was swarming with birds from morning to night. Everybody claimed they were bagging their limit.' We both have small farms near the dinky town of Mirium, forty miles north of Rutherford. Ozzie works as a bartender there in the winter to beef up his cash flow, and he and the other local sportsmen do a lot of competitive bragging.
âSo they shot all the slow ones and now the fittest are frolicking on the Gulf Coast, just as Darwin predicted.' I disarmed my old Remington 870 and put the shells back in the box, not really dissatisfied.
In fact, I didn't give a fiddler's fart where those birds had gone. I'd had six or seven good shots that morning and brought down two birds, about average for me. Now I could put my fleece mittens on over my shooting gloves and soon I would be indoors, letting my feet thaw while I nursed a hot toddy. My wife would be glad to hear she did not have to put up with the mess I can make getting a feathered creature ready to be roasted, and later on I would grill some brats to eat with the good beans she'd been baking all day.
I only came on this hunt because I like the occasional challenge of shooting at live game out of doors. I spend more than the required hours every year at the shooting range, staying qualified on the Glock 17 and the twelve-gauge Remington the Rutherford PD specifies for its officers. But going after live targets sharpens hand/eye coordination as no amount of blazing away at inert objects will do.
Dealing with the bloody remains of a day's hunt, though, always feels like a dubious reward to me. I mean, if my life depended on it, sure â if I had hungry little savages waiting in the tepee, I can clean a gizzard with the best of them. But as long as twenty-first-century grocers keep selling steaks and chops, I start asking myself as I pick out birdshot and pinfeathers: isn't this a pretty dim-witted way to get a meal? My idea of great
-hunt cuisine is burgers and beer, and I usually give my trophies away, if my hunting buddies will take them.
Ozzie Sullivan, on the other hand, is a passionate hunter and fisherman, and feels personally insulted when he doesn't get to feast on the flesh of his victims. He claims eating fresh game is what keeps Minnesota men so manly. His wife rolls her eyes up when she hears this and usually mutters something like, âYeah, man, and scaling fish can make their women look pretty butch, too'.
Angie thinks growing up in the country is good for her children, so she doesn't complain â much, usually â about Ozzie's barely profitable farming operation. But she works in town, bleaches her hair and wears fake fingernails with painted flags and sequins. Her deal with Ozzie is that he can have all the home-cooked wild-game dinners he wants as long as he's the home cook.
In a few minutes we had all our gear and the cooler ready to hoist out of the blind, and our game harvest laid out in front. We were in a bird-hunting area on the extreme north edge of Rutherford, just inside the city limits. It's run by a commercial guide service owned by two ex-marines, real hunting animals who can recite the breeding and feeding habits of North American waterfowl in their sleep. In mine, too, if they go on too long.
Their operation is a lazy hunter's dream â they rent the cornfield after the farmer's harvest is finished, dig two-seater pits amid the stubble and lay out nifty camouflage-speckled blinds that you just crawl into and zip up. They have hundreds of decoys and realistic bird calls to draw in the game, and strict rules of the field that keep the hunters from shooting each other. All their customers have to do is pay a guide fee, climb in and flip open the windows. Bunkered down in this coign of vantage, they're ready to stare out at decoys scattered in a stubble field for the next five hours.
âYou call this recreation?' Trudy asked me the one time I took her along. She spent the first few minutes admiring the way the golden corn stubble shone against the fresh snow in the field, and then used her spotting scope to watch a noisy flight of crows fly in and out of a dead oak. She was a rock climber in those days, doing a lot of body wedging, belaying and other stuff I didn't want to hear about, bagging major peaks on her vacations. The entertainment component of hunting from a blind faded quickly for her. Not being one to tolerate boredom, she wrapped herself in an afghan and was soon engrossed in a paperback thriller she'd brought along. We were living together then but not yet married, and for the sake of the still-tentative relationship I never took her bird hunting again.
I don't do much hunting myself any more â with a house and a spouse, a demanding job and now a lively boy named Ben, there's never enough time. But Ozzie Sullivan won two tickets to this late-season half-day hunt in a raffle at his son's school. He intended to partner with his brother Dan, but then Dan got flu. So when Ozzie came looking for a substitute partner, I traded some favors with Trudy to free up a Saturday morning.
And when the first graceful shapes appeared, black against a dawn-streaked sky, and their wild cries sounded, I revived my inner savage and the emotional jolt he gets from the bird hunt. Besides the thrill of the chase, it's a unique intellectual exercise, deciding where in the sky to aim a shot so some part of it will intercept the body of a bird flying at unknown speed on an unpredictable trajectory. And for the satisfaction of occasionally guessing right â I knew at once when my first bird tumbled out of the sky â the risk of frostbite is a small price to pay.
We were in hog heaven for the first two hours, taking turns shooting at the flocks of birds that came to our decoys, high-fiving when one of us scored a hit. Then the birds, for reasons only they would ever know, went elsewhere, and for the last two hours I'd been ready to quit. Now I was beginning to like the other great feature of hunting here: we could be back out in Mirium with our guns oiled and put away in a little over an hour.
âY'all ready to go?' Our guide was named Arlo, a self-styled âbig ol' brockle-faced Okie' who was part owner of the hunt. He zipped our shelter open and helped us muscle the cooler out. âThe van's there by the road, see? They'll take you back to the lot where your car's parked.' These people advertise a full-service hunt and even though we were free-loading that's what we were getting â everything organized, thought through, no effort spared to make our hunting day a pleasure.
It was colder, out of the blind, and there was a breeze. I zipped my coat up at the neck, put the hood up over my watch cap and pulled the drawstring tight.
âLooks like your partner needs some help, Arlo.' Ozzie pointed across the frozen field. One of the other guides stood by the farthest blind waving his arms. He yelled something my double-wrapped ears couldn't quite make out. âWhat's he saying?' Ozzie wondered. âHe sounds kinda freaked.'
âPoor kid musta torn a hangnail, huh?' Arlo didn't even shift his gum, just went on chewing as he turned his pale gaze toward the signaling figure in the orange vest. This is the Hiawatha Valley Hunt Club, his stoical expression declared as he strode toward his noisy assistant; there will be no freaking on a Hiawatha Valley hunt.
I looked back a couple of times as we walked to our waiting transport, and saw that Arlo had intercepted his younger aide, who had joined two other men, probably clients from the looks of the gear they were carrying. On the far side of the farthest blind, the four stood talking, Arlo in a stiffly disapproving stance, looking down his long nose at his helper. The men with him waved their arms and pointed toward the fence. Barbed wire was stapled to hand-cut posts; it snaked through the trees and bushes that grew along the edge of the shooting field.