Moonlight and Shadows
A Hunter in the Twilight
DEA agent Shane Shadowstalker cursed and slammed the heel of his hand against the steering wheel of his Ford F-150 in frustration. It would just figure that traffic would be backed up all the way through town on the night he had an appointment with his informant. Running his fingers through his straight black hair, his stormy gray eyes looked for a break in traffic while he tried to come up with a workable plan.
There were only three ways on or off the interstate at Rock Springs, WY. And currently, two of them were blocked with traffic accidents. One with a tractor-trailer rig and the other with a Coors truck, which had thrown cans and bottles all across the road and exit. He was glad he wasn’t the one to clean it up, though it must smell wonderful.
So that left only the exit on the east end of town, the opposite side of town from where he lived. It being a Friday night didn’t help the traffic situation in the least. Shane had hoped to have some time to go home, shower, and change before driving out to his cabin for a meeting with an informant, an hour and a half from now.
A friend of his in the sheriff’s department said it would probably be more than an hour before the exits were open again. And he still had to get home before he did anything else.
Weighing his options as he turned off the main drag through town, he saw only one real possibility. As a runner, he could go home, get out of his dress clothes, and take the game trail out toward his cabin. It would be about a seven mile run, but he could do it in an hour if he had to. Time enough to get to the cabin, take a quick shower, and dress for his meeting. He kept a few clothes there for when he stayed over the weekend, which would work out well tonight.
He was acting as a liaison between Salt Lake City, Utah DEA and Denver, Colorado on drug trafficking going through Rock Springs, WY. Drugs moving from both the west and the south were using the town as a hub to take drugs up to the resort areas around Jackson Hole and points north.
His contact had information about a shipment headed his way from Denver, but wouldn’t talk on the phone. Shane had agreed to meet in person at a place he chose. Hence the meeting outside of town at his cabin.
Pulling into his driveway, Shane dashed into the home on the corner lot of the mobile home park and threw his dress clothes onto the bed. Since he was running, he needed a way to take his ID with him. Snatching a small pouch off the dresser, he slid his driver’s license, badge, and the cabin and house keys inside it, along with his mobile phone, and slipped the lanyard over his head.
Checking to make sure his door was locked, he turned toward the open land of the high desert between his home and the mountains and prepared for his run.
Moving through the brush, a large gray wolf came to the game trail. Pausing for a moment, looking around, he lifted his nose into the breeze before stepping onto the trail. After a quick sniff of the ground, he chuffed the dust out of his nose and headed east at a nice trot. After a few minutes, he sped up into the distance-eating lope his species was known for. He could run for hours at this pace with no trouble.
As the wolf continued down the trail, something didn’t feel right. Picking up his pace into an all out run, he was a symphony of beauty and grace, if anyone had been around to see him. Nearing the end of the town, which lay off to his right, he slowed his pace to a trot.
Ahead of him were a few scattered dwellings. Two vehicles were parked near the one closest to him, which was unusual. He came this way often, and he had never seen either of them before. Moving off the trail, he padded closer to the cabin through the brush, his gray fur blending into the shadows of the background.
A sound from the cabin alerted him to the possibility of danger, so he dropped lower to the ground, crawling nearer and peering through the brush to see what was happening. An unfamiliar male came through the door, passed by the first vehicle, and climbed into the second one. The engine roared to life and he backed out onto the gravel road, straightened his wheels, and headed away from the wolf and the cabin toward the darkening evening sky.
Death’s scent and the smell of fresh blood swirled around him as the wind shifted, giving him pause about approaching. After waiting to make sure the way was clear, the wolf approached the driveway, sniffed the ground, and moved to where the man had stood when he opened his vehicle. The scent of death mingled with his scent and became stronger as the wolf got closer to the cabin. Having satisfied his curiosity, he ducked around the side of the cabin, back toward the game trail.
Why were there two vehicles in his driveway? Shane had expected only his informant, who’s car still sat in the drive. But the black Ford F-250 4 X 4 was not familiar. Neither was the man driving it. At least, as the vehicle pulled away, he’d managed to make out a partial number on the Colorado plates. Later he could run a check and see what came up.
The informant was early for their meeting, which was still twenty minutes away. Had she brought someone with her? And if she had, why did they leave? Letting himself in through the back door, he grabbed a bottle of water from the case on the counter, chugged down the contents, and tossed the empty into the trash. A seven mile run will give a man a thirst.
“With you in a minute,” he called to his informant, but got no answer.
The bathroom connected the kitchen and bedroom, so he went through to change into a pair of jeans and casual shirt before presenting himself. A pair of deck shoes would work, so dressed for the meeting, he walked into the main room of the cabin.
Yes, his informant was there, but she wouldn’t be meeting with him or anyone else ever again. Lying in a pool of her own blood, she’d been shot twice in the chest. His sheepskin rug, which was soaking up some of the blood, would have to be pitched. He loved that rug, but would never get the blood stains out of it. Back in the bedroom, he snatched up his mobile and called 911.
“Yes, this is DEA agent Shane Shadowstalker. I need the sheriff and an ambulance as soon as you can get them here. Send the coroner as well. I have a body in the front room of my cabin.”
Giving the woman his address and DEA ID, he took another bottle of water from the case and went outside to wait. He was a mile or two out of town here, and traffic was probably still a mess, so he settled himself into a chair out front and sipped the cool water..
“Shadowstalker, what have you got yourself into this time?” Sheriff Douglas Taylor asked as he strode up the driveway from the road. “Can’t you stay out of trouble?”
“Hey, man, you know I never shoot and tell. I just found her. I didn't shoot her.”
“Yeah, I figured. Tell me about it.”
Shane and Doug had been friends since Shane moved into the area, so he expected to catch a bit of grief about calling the man out on a Friday night. Beginning his story at the point before he got home, he caught the sheriff up to speed on this crazy affair.
“So she is your informant? Did you touch the body?”
“Didn’t see much need. She was lying there with a hole the size of my fist in her chest, eyes wide open and beginning to cloud, and she sure the hell wasn’t breathing.”
“And you couldn’t do better than a partial on the plates? You’re slipping up, Shane. Must be getting senile.”
“That’s right. Kick a guy when he’s down. I was twenty-five yards or so away. Be glad I got you something to work with.”
“What was your meeting about?”
“A case we’re working on in the DEA dealing with drugs coming this way from Denver.”
“Is that right? So this involves the DEA?”
“Afraid so, buddy.”
Scratching his head, the sheriff stared into the distance for a moment.
“I guess you won’t be working this one. Do you have a partner? I’ll need to contact the DEA and sort out jurisdiction. If this is your baby, I’ll be happy to let you guys handle it.”
“I don’t see why we couldn’t work together. The murder is on your turf. Well, not me, precisely, but the agency,” Shane told him.
“Well, we’ll see. Give me the details to contact the folks in Denver. What are you doing tonight?”
“I had intended to stay here at the cabin for the weekend,” Shane complained. “But that’s kind of a wash now. Guess I’ll go home, fix a couple steaks, drink a few beers, and call it a night.”
“Where’s your car?”
“I didn’t bring it. With traffic the way it was when I set out, I didn’t think I’d make it in time. So I changed clothes and ran. It’s only seven miles through the brush.”
“That’s right. You do those crazy marathons. Want a lift home?” the man asked.
“Naw, but thanks for the offer. It seems like a good night to take an easy run back and let my mind settle after all this.”
“You gonna hang around until we’re done?”
“Why not? I can use a little rest before I run home. I pushed my pace on the way here.”
Shane sat on the sidelines, watching all the action in and out of his cabin as he pondered what exactly had gone down before he got here. His informant was at least half an hour early for the appointment. Why? How long had she been waiting before he arrived? And how long had she lain dead on his floor? At least forensics could get them an approximate time of death.
And who was the guy in the truck? Shane had never seen the man before, but he must have followed the woman up from Denver. But how could she miss him? His truck would be fairly obvious over that distance. Wouldn’t she have noticed him back there? Nobody could be that blind.
Had she somehow slipped his address to someone? Told them where they were meeting? That was an unsettling thought. Of course, he probably wouldn’t keep the cabin now, anyway.
Or had her phone been bugged? If so, someone could have heard their plans from a previous conversation, which was even more disturbing.
With crime tape over the door, the cozy little place looked weary. Doug came over and offered him a ride one more time, but he declined.
“The air is crisp, the moon is up and just past full. It’s a good night for running and thinking.”
“Well, if you think of something useful, don’t forget to tell me,” the man said with a laugh. “I’m going to grab something to eat, now that you’ve ruined my weekend.”
“Like mine isn’t ruined?” Shane complained. “Mind if I go into the bedroom and change clothes before I take off?”
“Just don’t go in the living room and be sure to use the back door. I'll leave a guy here to seal the back once you're done."
“Later, hotshot,” the sheriff said, waving goodbye.
Getting into his patrol car, he pulled out and headed back toward town. Before long, the whole place was dark and quiet, the wind whispering through the sage the only sound.
Stretching up out of his chair in front of the cabin, Shane looked to see if there was anyone around besides the deputy. Strolling around to the back of the cabin, he went into the bedroom, slipped out of his dressier clothes, and got ready for the trip back. Making sure he had the pouch with all his ID and keys, he left his little getaway cabin, made sure the door was locked behind him, and moved into the sagebrush out back. There would be no one else around this time of night, especially on a Friday.
"All finished?" the deputy called after him?
"Yeah, man. Thanks."
As Shane watched, the man taped over the back door of the cabin, waved to him, slipped into his car, and drove away toward town.
The game trail was about twenty-five yards in back of the cabin, so Shane meandered toward it picking a path through the sage. He loved the scent and, in the moonlight and breeze, the desert was a shifting landscape of silver and gray.
Thinking back to his days growing up in the wilderness areas around here, he thought about something a shaman had told him once. He had asked where the name Shadowstalker was from. It wasn’t a surname, as such, but the name given him at birth by the wise man in attendance. Shane was a name his mother chose for him to use in the rest of society.
“Not for you the light of the sun, nor the darkness of the new moon. You walk in the shadow realm between. On Mother Earth, you stand in the light against evil, hunting in the shadows. In the spirit realm, you hunt in the shadow land, keeping the darkness at bay and bringing those who seek it to the light. You are He-Who-Hunts-In-Shadow. Or the Shadowstalker to those not of our kind.”
He supposed this was true, at least as far as this world went. As to the other realm? He hadn’t a clue.
Finally reaching the trail, Shane Shadowstalker slipped out of his clothes, stretched his arms overhead, and breathed in the scent of the sage, reveling in the coolness of the night air. Bringing his arms down in front of him, he reached toward the ground, as if to pick something up off the track.
Nighttime can play tricks on a man up in the high desert, with the moon turning the land into a mosaic of darkness and light. Gray-green sage turned silvery under the moon, the leaves and branches seeming to glow subtly in the feeble light. Dark gray shadows played along the ground, shifting and dancing as the ever-present wind stirred the brush. The magical effect always took Shane’s breath away.
Anyone watching would have seen Shane’s hand touch the soil and his figure shimmer out of focus briefly. It could have been a trick of the light. But when the vision steadied, a large gray wolf stood in Shane’s place, his coloring and markings blending perfectly with his surroundings. Giving a great shake, like a dog just out of the water, he was a magnificent sight. Gently sniffing the breeze, the wolf known as He-Who-Hunts-In-Shadows to those others like him, turned back to the west. There would be nothing else to discover tonight at the cabin. And he had the strange man’s scent. He would know him if he met him again, in either of his forms. Settling into a steady trot, the wolf disappeared into the magical moonlit landscape, just another shadow at play, with thoughts of steak and beer calling him home.
About the Creator
Wife, mother, animal lover, musician, martial artist, writer of fantasy romance with a touch of magic, with seven books up on Amazon. I do a little bit of everything these days. The cat approves.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Saw your post on Alignable. Nicely done!