Yellowstone National Park / Wednesday, June 9; 7:36 PM
These poachers were sloppy… a broken twig here, a boot print there. I could’ve followed their trail in the dark. This pair had clearly eluded the Wyoming game wardens for so long due to luck because they’d yet to leave any hints of skill or intelligence.
I kept my pace slow, careful not to betray my presence. I’d been through this particular part of Yellowstone only a handful of times, but I’d been in woods like these for the better part of my life.
I heard the men before I saw them. Two voices were conversing in hushed tones as though their clamoring hadn’t already scared off everything in a five-hundred-meter radius. They finally came into view after I ducked under some low-hung branches. One tall and thin, the other short and stocky, bringing to mind the image of a young Laurel and Hardy if Laurel and Hardy wore camouflage and carried AR-15 rifles.
My phone vibrated, and I checked the message. Then I unsnapped my hip holster but didn’t draw. With the way they held their rifles, the odds weren’t in my favor for me taking out both before one of them shooting me. Drunk poachers were the main reason why more game wardens were killed in the line of duty than any other federal officer.
So I decided to try a different approach. Instead of announcing myself, I took a deep breath before walking out from cover, intentionally rustling leaves. Both men jumped and swung their rifles around at the exact same moment.
I yelped and jumped behind the tree. “Watch it!”
The shorter man caught on first and yanked his rifle back. “Jesus, lady!” Hardy said in a breathless rush. “We could’ve killed you!”
Laurel had lowered his rifle, but I didn’t miss the fact that the man kept his finger on the trigger. That made him both a novice and dangerous.
“You okay?” Hardy asked.
“Other than you giving me a heart attack? Yeah, I’m okay, I think,” I replied as I stepped only halfway out from the cover of the tree. “Take it easy, guys. I didn’t mean to startle you like that. I didn’t think anyone was out this way.”
“Well, you gotta be more careful than that. There’s plenty of dangerous critters out here that would love to gnaw on a gal like yourself,” Hardy said.
“I know.” I held up the small camera I had looped around my neck. “I’m a photographer for Wyoming Wilds magazine. I’ve been out here all week trying to get a decent shot of a bear, but I haven’t even seen a hint of one. You see anything?”
“We ain’t seen nothing, and we’ve covered this area,” Hardy said.
“Well, shoot.” I wasn’t a good actor, but I was hoping I was good enough. “Well, I guess tonight’s a zilcher for good shots. I guess I’d better be on my way then.” I gave them the side eye. “Hey, I thought it’d be safe to be out here since hunting season doesn’t start for another three weeks. I didn’t expect to see guys out here with guns already.”
“Hunting season?” Laurel chuckled. “Aw, that’s just a way for the government to get some more money from the common folk.”
“Well, I disagree,” I said as I inconspicuously moved my right hand to my Glock. “Know something else I disagree with? You thinking it was smart to post that video of you shooting a 400-pound boar off-season.” I unzipped my jacket with my left hand to reveal my badge. “Now that wasn’t very smart at all. Federal law enforcement agent. You’re under arrest for poaching.”
“Aw, shit,” Hardy said.
The pair tossed a look at each other.
“Don’t even think—” I began, but the dumbshits rabbited, each heading in a different direction. I took off after Hardy, the stocky one. As the smarter of the pair, he had the best odds of evading me. He bolted through the woods, tearing through shrubs, shoving through branches, and pretty much making a hell of a racket. I dodged a branch that had come snapping back, only to get nailed across the forehead by the next one.
A few long strides later, I tackled Hardy using my full momentum to barrel into the man. The poacher’s air flew from his lungs with a grunt, and he hit the ground with a pleasantly brutal thud. I kneeled on Hardy’s back. “You know what else wasn’t very smart, asshole? Making me chase you down.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Hardy whimpered—an impressive feat given my full weight was kneeling on him.
I disarmed him and zip-tied his wrists. “If you haven’t figured it out by now, you’re under arrest for hunting without a license and for the unlawful killing of big game. And now you can add evading an officer to your list of charges.”
“I just thought you were gonna fine us.” Hardy’s breaths echoed through the woods as we walked.
“Fine?” I chuckled. “I’m a federal game warden, you idiot. We don’t even like to leave our office unless we get to use our handcuffs or guns. You’re lucky tonight I felt like going with the cuffs.”
After a minute or so, Hardy stopped. “Listen,” he pleaded. “We didn’t mean no harm. We were just having fun. We didn’t hurt no one. Just let us pay the fine, and I swear we won’t hunt off-season again.”
“Keep walking,” I ordered. “And you did worse than hunt off-season. You hunted in a national park off-season.”
Hardy’s pleading ran out sometime within the next ten minutes as I led him through the woods. He probably went quiet because he was struggling to walk, with his wrists ziptied, on the uneven terrain.
“Why’d you let Dave go?” Hardy asked eventually.
We walked for nearly an hour before the trees grew sparse, and Hardy became noticeably fidgety.
“Oh, so you thought you hid your shiny SUV really well, huh?” I asked. “You didn’t do half bad, but I’ve seen a hell of a lot better. With how fast your buddy Dave was running, I bet by the time he circled the gully, he got here about fifteen minutes ago.” I paused. “Yeah, don’t act so surprised. I know who you two are, just like the Yellowstone Park Service knows. They called it in before you even turned off the engine.”
He looked downward, slumped shoulders.
When Hardy and I stepped out into the clearing a couple of minutes later, a green truck came into view. Rob Richardson, wearing the red shirt of the Wyoming game wardens versus my dark green shirt of the federal game wardens, was sitting on the hood. He waved broadly, and I waved back. Laurel, a.k.a. Dave, sat on the ground in front of the SUV, his hands behind his back.
“Thanks for the help, Frank.”
“No problem.” I motioned to the poacher on the ground. “That one give you any trouble?”
Rob shook his head. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”
I nudged Hardy toward Laurel. “Sit.” Then I turned toward Rob. “Took you long enough. I’d found them even before I got your text that you were here. I was beginning to think you’d rather stay home and watch TikTok or whatever you do in your free time.”
“I told you my daughter put that on my phone, not me.” Rob chortled. “I had to drive here all the way from Cody where I was wrapping up another poaching call.”
“It’s been an awfully active off-season so far,” I said.
“If this is any sign of how hunting season’s going to be this year, I’m not looking forward to it.” He shivered. “Scariest day of the year.”
“Busiest. That’s for sure. Speaking of poachers,” I gestured to the two men sitting on the ground. “This pair is all yours. Consider it a gift to help you hit your quota for the month.”
“We don’t have quotas, and don’t make me think you’d give me credit out of the goodness of your heart. I know damn well you’re just trying to pass off the paperwork.”
“So you don’t want this arrest?” I asked.
He frowned. “Of course I want it.”
I grinned. “And you state wardens are just so good at pushing paper. And I especially like the way you sign your name by adding that little happy face in the ‘o’ in your last name.”
He guffawed. “I don’t do—”
My phone vibrated. I checked the caller ID—it displayed OLIVER CHAMBERLIN—and I turned away from Rob and answered. “What’s up, boss?”
“Hey Frank. You track those two mentally deficient poachers yet?”
I grinned at the pair on the ground. “Hey, have you guys met before? My boss seems to know you. He called you mentally deficient.”
Both men pouted.
“Yeah, I found ’em. Richardson and I have them at his truck now.”
“Good. Something’s come up that I need you to check out. I received a call about a large cat sighting in the vicinity of Skunk’s Gully that I need you to check out.”
I glanced in Richardson’s direction. “That sounds like a state warden job.”
There were plenty of mountain lions around Yellowstone. They were a natural part of the wildlife, which meant… “I take it there’s more to it than just a cat scaring folks.”
“The guy who called it in is a South Dakota game warden who happens to be on vacation here in Yellowstone. When he told me about it, I insisted that I send backup.”
I frowned. “Why would a mountain lion sighting require backup?”
“He said the cat was well over five hundred pounds. That’s why I’d rather take point on this call than have the state wardens run with it.”
What the hell kind of wild cat could weigh five hundred pounds? I wanted to ask. Instead, I said, “That sounds interesting. “I’ll go check it out. Did he happen to give you coordinates or do I just have to call, ‘here, kitty, kitty’ until it comes to me?”
“I’m texting his last reported coordinates to you now. Your tag says you’re within two miles of his location, so you should be able to reach him in no time.”
I checked the coordinates. “Received. I’m on it.”
I turned to Rob.
“Another call in the area?”
“Big cat sighting,” I said.
“Let me process these two jokers, and I can head back your way,” Rob said.
I nodded. “Text me when you’re done, and I’ll send you the latest coordinates. It might be nothing. Even if it is, the cat’s probably going to have moved on by the time I get there.”
I glanced at the poachers before winking at Rob. “Have fun.” I went to hand over Hardy’s AR-15 and then decided to hold onto it. If there was a five-hundred-pound cat out there, I’d rather be safe than sorry. I noticed Laurel’s rifle propped against the side of Rob’s truck and I grabbed that one, too.
Rob’s brows rose. “You need two rifles?”
“There a state warden out there already, and I’m guessing he’s unarmed since he’s from South Dakota.”
Rob frowned. “What’s a South Dakota warden doing here in Wyoming?”
“I’ll ask him when I see him.” I held up the guns. “I’ll check these weapons in at your office tomorrow.”
Hardy stared dumbly at me. “Wait. You’re taking our rifles?”
I chortled as I slung both rifles over my shoulder. “Yes, I’m confiscating the weapons used to illegally hunt in this park. If you want to file a complaint, I’m Special Agent Frank Brodie with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. No? Okay then, be thankful you don’t end up in prison.”
“You can’t put us in prison. You ain’t no cops,” Laurel whined.
“Shut up, Dave,” Hardy said. “These guys can be assholes if they want to be.”
I grinned. “Listen to your buddy, Dave, because he’s right. We’re not cops. We’re worse. We’re game wardens. And I’m guessing you already knew that because you ran.”
I ignored their scowls as I pulled up the coordinates, placed them on my map, and headed in the other direction. The sun had set nearly thirty minutes ago and twilight was fading to full-out night. The darkness was going to slow down my hike.
Being a federal game warden currently working Wyoming, nearly all the cases I worked were in or near Yellowstone, and most of those calls involved poaching. The rest were dangerous wild animal encounters where I happened to be closer than Rob at the time. Two weeks ago, it was a bear. Last week, it was a monkey attack. Yeah, someone’s pet monkey got loose in the middle of the night, snuck into a camper, and raised a ruckus. That one really should’ve been a park service call, but the wardens got called in far too often.
After all, we’re the ones with the guns.
Yellowstone National Park / Wednesday, June 9; 9:32 PM
I checked the time on my watch and jogged faster, wishing I’d rode a horse. I’d burned nearly an hour hiking all the way out to Skunk’s Gulley. My usual shift ended three hours earlier, but that was the life of a U.S. wildlife officer. If there’s trouble, you go, regardless of time of day. And if a game warden was in trouble, you go even faster.
I ducked to miss a low branch while hurdling a part of the tree’s root system that had grown above ground. Reaching the state warden’s last reported coordinates, I found nothing. I continued searching the area, finally finding him tucked in behind a bush a hundred meters to the southwest. I gave a low whistle. Wardens tended to do that rather than calling out to each other since it seemed to disrupt nature less.
“Glad you could make it,” the other warden said quietly without lowering his night-vision binoculars. Another thing we don’t do is whisper. We talk quietly, so we don’t startle wildlife (or poachers), but we never whisper. People tend to over-express sibilants, especially the letter S, when they whisper. And the last thing a skittish animal wants to hear is something that sounds like a giant snake.
I sidled up next to him, took a knee, and set down the two confiscated rifles. I couldn’t make out what he was looking at in the darkness, but the call was to provide support on a potentially dangerous wildcat issue. “So, where’s this big cat?” I asked quietly.
He jerked even though he would’ve heard me settle in alongside him. “You’re a woman.”
“And you’re black. Whew, I’m sure glad we got all that out of the way. Saves us from awkward conversation later, am I right?”
“It’s just when they said they were sending someone named Frank—”
“I know. I get that a lot.”
He held out his hand. “By the way, Murphy Barnes, at your service.”
I shook it. “Frank Brodie, but you knew that already.”
“So… Frank? Not Frankie or something like that?”
“Frankie? My god, who’d name their kid Frankie?”
“Who’d name their daughter Frank?”
“My parents were expecting a son.” I nodded in the direction of where he’d been looking when I arrived. “Now, how about you tell me where this cat is so I can get to the more interesting topic of why I got called in to back up a state warden who’s way out of his jurisdiction but still carrying all kinds of fancy equipment while out of said jurisdiction. Makes it look an awful lot like you’re working a job.”
“It’s easier to show you.” He handed me his NVBs. “At your one o’clock, forty meters out. Just under the limestone ledge.”
No wonder I hadn’t noticed the animal in the deep twilight. Forty meters in dense foliage during the day was a long way to see. Even with his NVBs, it took me a good seven seconds to bring the cat into clear view. I refocused the glasses. At first I thought it could be a tiger—the shape was right, but this thing was too big to be a tiger. It also had an unnatural look—its head was too big while its legs seemed too long and thin for its body. Its skull was dimpled and deformed rather than smooth and rounded. But what really threw me was its two long saber-like teeth… exactly how I envisioned saber-tooth tigers in my head. I continued to stare. “What the hell is that?”
“You see it?”
“Yeah. I see it.” I was still working on believing it. I couldn’t wrap my head around what I was seeing except that I was one hundred percent certain that cat didn’t belong in Wyoming.
Murphy reached for the gun lying next to him on the ground. “I need to get within range to dart it, but it’s skittish enough that I didn’t want to risk going in without someone to cover my back.”
In the dark, I’d mistaken the tranquilizer gun for a shotgun. “What are you doing with a dart gun in Yellowstone?”
“I always carry one in my truck. Guess I brought it with me on this hike out of habit. You always carry two rifles?”
“One for each hand, and don’t change the subject. This isn’t South Dakota, which means you don’t have the authority to carry darts in Yellowstone, let alone in Wyoming.”
“I promise I’ll give you a really nice apology later. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m a little curious about the giant cat over there because I can tell you one thing: we sure as bunny tails don’t have anything like that in South Dakota.”
“I might be a little bit curious about it myself,” I admitted, then frowned. “You just happened to come across this beast on a random evening hike through Yellowstone?”
“I got a tip from another hiker this afternoon, so I thought I’d follow up on it,” he said.
“They should’ve called the Wyoming wardens.”
“Evidently they didn’t know the scary-big cat protocol around here.”
There was a lot not adding up about this call. “Nice of you to call it in.”
“You’re welcome. Now, ordinarily, I’d say we sneak up closer, but it seems more than a might skittish, so I parked myself here to give it time to settle in, but it’s getting fidgety again. I think it’s going to move soon now that the sun’s down. It’s a predator, so we might be able to encourage it to come at us instead of spooking it away. What d’ya think? Draw its attention?”
“You think, ‘here, kitty, kitty’ will work?”
“Has that worked for you in the past?”
“Not yet. But if you’re dead set on enticing that cat in our direction, my vote is you drawing its attention, and I dart it.”
He grimaced. “I thought you might say that. We have to get a lot closer first. There’s way too much brush out here.”
I handed the NVBs back to him and pulled out my own binoculars to see the strange cat in a more natural way. Cats were nocturnal but they were also lazy. This feline was typical in that it was currently taking a catnap under a ledge before it would soon launch into its nighttime activities. It didn’t seem skittish to me—the opposite, in fact—but then again, I’d just arrived and maybe it’d been even more sluggish before I got there.
Two long and very large teeth glinted in the moonlight. Those still confused me. No current breeds came to mind that had such distinct teeth. The cat was obviously some type of tiger. The stripes, coloring, and size gave it away, but I’d never realized tigers were so big, not that I’d ever seen one outside a zoo or the internet. Its long tail flicked away bugs while it rested.
“Good plan. What weight are those darts good for?”
“They’ll take down a bear.”
“I hope you’re talking a big mean grizzly and not one of those cute lil black bears you have in the Black Hills.”
I checked each AR-15 rifle as quietly as possible, making sure the mags were full and each gun had a round in the chamber before holding one out to him. “Here, just in case the dart just pisses it off.”
“Good plan,” he echoed my earlier words as he slung the rifle over his shoulder.
We made our way forward at a creeping pace, moving as silently as possible. With every step, I put weight on my toes before my heels. It was an old Indian trick I’d picked up back in Montana, but I still needed to keep a close eye out for twigs and dried brush.
We paused every five yards or so to look through our binoculars. The cat was still lying down but it had changed positions. At twenty-five yards out, our luck held, but we still had a stream to cross. It would be quieter than dry land, but there was always a risk of slipping on a loose rock and causing a splash. Since Murphy held the dart gun, he maintained lead going into the water while I trailed behind him, a few feet to his left so I could have a clear shot in case shit hit the proverbial fan.
When we were about halfway through the stream, a shot rang out from our right. Something big. Sounded like a .300 Winchester Magnum. Easy to tell because it’s a favorite caliber of big game hunters. We ducked and dove for cover at the water’s edge, making a splash and getting soaked. The cat had sprung to its feet at the first shot. Two more shots echoed in quick succession, followed by the cat’s screech.
We were both on our bellies in the mud, and I scrambled to bring up my rifle, though I didn’t know whether to aim in the direction of the cat or the poachers, not knowing which posed the greater threat. The cat helped me decide when it ran directly at us. My compatriot swapped the tranquilizer gun for his rifle. Darts were always preferred, but they took much longer than bullets to bring down an animal. With how fast the cat was coming, darts would never take it down in time.
I thumbed the safety off my rifle just as the cat tore through the brush in front of us. It opened its mouth wider than I would’ve thought possible and leapt with a feral growl that would’ve made anyone piss their pants.
The other game warden and I fired simultaneously, hitting the tiger multiple times in its head, neck, and chest. The AR-15s barely made the cut to take down a bear. They were nowhere near what we needed for a cat that size but put enough holes in anything, especially at short range, and you’ll bring it down. The cat continued forward, stumbled, and crashed a mere three feet from our position.
I stared at the wheezing tiger as its dying breaths whistled through bloody, gurgling holes in its chest. The majestic beast seemed impossibly large up close—its saber-like teeth even larger. I clenched my jaw as a vise squeezed my heart because I’d been forced to kill something so incredible.
The dirt kicked up next to me just as more gunshots rent the air. These shots oddly sounded to be from rifles like the ones I confiscated from the poachers.
“Hold your fire! Law enforcement agents! Hold your fire!” I yelled.
Wednesday, June 9; 9:56 PM
These weren’t your typical poachers. Whoever was out there opened up with a torrent of automatic gunfire. Those were definitely not AR-15s and there were at least three weapons firing, though my gut said more, in addition to whoever had fired the .300 Winchester. Bits of ground and rocks popped as bullets impacted the ground around us. I rolled behind the tiger’s back, away from the sounds of gunfire, and set my rifle barrel on the animal’s warm, lifeless body.
Murphy set up his rifle next to mine. “I don’t think they’re impressed that we’re wardens.”
I speed-dialed the FWS emergency line and practically pressed my lips against the microphone for them to hear me. “Two officers under fire at my tag coordinates. At least four poachers armed with automatic rifles. Require immediate support. Over.”
I couldn’t hear what the operator on the other end was saying due to the gunfire, so I hung up and tucked the phone back into my pocket.
“Cavalry’s on its way?” he asked, and I noticed he pressed a button on his smartwatch. Not sure who he’d contact in Wyoming, but I had bigger things on my mind so I didn’t ask.
“I wouldn’t count on them getting here until an hour after this is over,” I said.
“My thoughts, too. I should’ve called it in earlier.”
That he didn’t seem surprised that poachers engaged us caused me to wonder just how much he wasn’t telling me about why he was out here tonight. “You knew about these guys?”
“Had a suspicion.”
I gritted my teeth. “You and me, we’re gonna have a chat when this is all done.” Then I shifted my focus back to the immediate threat. The poachers were moving fast through the brush, shouting commands at one another, and yelling at someone to stay down. They fired like they were military, firing short bursts. Their rounds were hitting at random heights and locations around us, which made me think they hadn’t locked in on us yet.
We were on the ground and tucked behind the cat for cover, which made us smaller targets and allowed us to line up our shots better. On the downside, unlike those who were coming at us, we had to conserve our ammo since we had no extra magazines. Our enemies either had plenty of extra mags or just plain enjoyed throwing lead everywhere.
I was careful to keep still as I focused on the darkness in front of us. There was a reason AR-15s were the most popular hunting rifle as well as the most popular home defense rifle. They were accurate, quick, and could hold a lot of rounds. They might’ve been underpowered for big game like the tiger, but they were plenty good enough for whoever was shooting at us.
I ignored the gunfire zipping all around us and focused entirely on sighting in my target. When I caught the first glint of movement followed by a muzzle flash, I aimed and fired. The agent with me fired a second later, and then there were two fewer bursts of gunfire. That meant there were two, maybe three remaining. I hadn’t heard the .300 Winchester Magnum again, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t out there lining up a shot.
On a typical poaching interception, this would’ve been the point we’d order them to cease fire before moving out to flank them, but being both outnumbered and outgunned, I wasn’t about to help them home in on our position. They got close with their first shots, likely out of luck, because they’d been aiming at the tiger. Since then, the shots had continued to be varied, high and low, left and right, as if they were still trying to get a lucky shot.
As they moved closer, they were definitely homing in on our shots, and a dead animal wasn’t exactly a bulletproof shield. The next burst of automatic gunfire was so close, I swear I felt the heat of a round as it zipped past my ear. Murphy grunted before he fired again.
Then there was only the sound of a single rifle out there. It stopped seconds later, and I could hear a magazine snapping into place.
The silence followed for nearly a minute. The poacher was likely trying to decide if we were still alive. I couldn’t hear any rustling, and I hoped he wasn’t skulking away because I really wanted to sit down and have a little chat with him. I saw the moonlight glint off the rifle scope as the poacher raised it. He was behind a tree a scant fifteen yards away. My breath froze. We’d been lucky not to have been shot already.
“Got him,” I said so quietly that I’m not sure my compatriot even heard me. At that distance, even an amateur shooter could line up a shot. I aimed for the scope since I couldn’t make out any distinct features of the shape behind it.
The rifle—and shape behind it—collapsed.
I called out, “Anyone alive out there?”
When no one answered, I added, “If you’re alive and playing shy, you better toss your gun away. If you don’t, you’re going to get a bullet right between your butt cheeks when we arrest you.”
Still, no one answered.
“Does that threat ever work?” the guy next to me asked after a pause.
“First time I’ve tried it.” I then paused as I sought out any sound of movement but heard nothing. “Why? How do you keep the stragglers from shooting you when the smoke clears?”
“I try to shoot them dead the first time. Then I count on the luck Mama Barnes gave me.”
“Who’s Mama Barnes?”
“That’s my mama. And I think if any poachers are still standing, they’re busy running away from here. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking we’re best to wait until backup arrives before running off into the dark after those guys.”
“I don’t have a death wish. I’m good with waiting,” I said. “If we’re lucky, at least one of the tangos we tagged will still be able to talk.”
“Luck sure would be a nice thing to have for once,” he said.
I glanced around, listening and looking for signs of trouble still in the area. It took a full two minutes before my muscles relaxed, and I was relatively confident no one was going to shoot at us again. I groaned, “The paperwork on this one is going to be a nightmare. Too bad this tiger didn’t decide to keep running until it hit your state.”
He chuckled, then grimaced and grabbed his side.
“You okay?” I asked.
“I took a hit to my side. Just shrapnel, I think. Nothing serious, just stings a bit. I’ve had worse.”
“I didn’t realize the Black Hills were so dangerous.”
He gave me a crooked smile. “You have no idea.” He moved to stand and grunted, curling in on himself to cradle his stomach.
Still staying low in case there was still a poacher in play, I pulled off my rucksack and rummaged for the first aid kit and then unholstered my flashlight. “It’s your lucky day. Before I became a warden, I was a medic in the Army. Let me see.”
“The Army? So you’ve been trained to treat paper cuts?”
I gave him a droll stare. “Let me guess. Navy?”
He grinned. “Marines. Oorah.”
I had to tug his hand away to examine the wound. It was long—nearly three inches—and deep enough for stitches but not deep enough to reach the muscle tissue. I opened a quick-clot bandage and pressed it against the wound.
“Relax. I’ve seen worse paper cuts,” I said as I tore strips of medical tape.
“Feels a tad bit more than a paper cut,” he said.
“All right. Then call it a bug bite.”
“How big of bugs do you have in Wyoming?”
“Mosquitoes can get so big out here they’ve been known to carry off horses with their riders still hanging on.” Finished, I patted his chest. “You’ll be fine, but you need to get it properly cleaned. You’ll need some stitches, too. I’ve got some superglue in my bag that will also do the trick, but I warn you, it tends to burn a little. But on the bright side, it guarantees a cool scar that’ll be sure to drive the ladies wild.”
“You really were a medic?”
I nodded. “Combat medic. Afghanistan.”
“I thought most combat medics become EMTs or nurses after they get out.”
“In my experience, I’ve found wildlife tend to be better patients than people. Nicer, too.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Are you making a comment about my bedside manner? If so, I just might use that superglue after all.”
He held up the hand not covering his bandage. “No, that’s all right. Your bedside manner’s just fine.”
I tucked away my first aid kit, pulled out my cell phone, and speed-dialed the station. Ollie answered on the first ring. “Report.”
“Four poachers are suspected down but not confirmed. Possibly more in the area. Officer Barnes has been hit but he’ll be okay.” The agent in question was texting as I was talking. “If there were more poachers, I think they ran but can’t confirm.”
“Are you injured?”
“No, I’m good.”
“Good. I’ve activated the call list. Expect wardens and medical at your location as soon as possible. Sheriff is closest and should arrive first.”
“We’re going to hang low until then. I want a half-dozen more guys with me before we search these woods for survivors.”
“I was going to order you to do the same.” There was a pause. “Was the cat as big as the agent said?”
I ran my hand across the cat’s fur. Even with its deformities, the tiger was incredible… and a bloody mess. I looked forward to examining it in the daylight to see why it had such massive incisors. “Bigger.”