By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton
Joe Pickett is a game warden in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. His territory covers nearly 6,000 acres, and he lives in warden’s housing near the community of Saddlestring. He has a wife and three daughters. The third daughter, Alice, joined the family a few years prior when her mother was under stress and abandoned her. The Picketts have attempted to legally adopt her, but that has been held up by several technicalities.
While Joe is attempting to bring in an errant hunter, the prisoner escapes only to meet a sudden ugly death when two arrows pin him to a tree. Not daring to leave the body to the wild animals, Joe must find a way to get the body down, with a severe winter storm just underway. And then there’s the matter of making it safely down the mountain in the storm and reporting the homicide. What is Joe’s culpability since the prisoner was supposedly in his custody?
When the snow subsided enough, Sno-Cats were used to verify Joe’s account. Shortly thereafter, he discovered that one of the Forest Service campgrounds had been taken over by the Rocky Mountain Nation of Sovereign Citizens, a group of 30 or so survivors of various federal confrontations. That was doubly troublesome to Joe in that Melinda Strickland had just been assigned to the local Forest Service area and had vowed to crack down on all those who supposedly had it out for the government. A tragic confrontation appeared likely.
As if the situation needed to get any worse, local law enforcement officials arrested the wrong man for the archery killing, and one of the Sovereigns, Jeanie Keeley, is the mother of the girl not yet adopted by the Picketts. She wants the daughter back even though Alice has now become one of the Pickett children for all intents and purposes. Joe needs to find the correct killer before Strickland and her cohorts pin the blame on the Sovereigns and use that for an excuse to execute the group.
Using a ruse, Jeanie manages to pick Alice up at school. Now Alice is not only absent from the Pickett family, she is in the compound that is being targeted by Strickland and company. With yet another mountain blizzard coming, Joe has numerous problems to solve. He does pick up an ally in the man falsely accused of the murder, but it’s unclear what help he can be. What will become of Alice? Do two men stand a chance against law enforcement officials set on ridding the country of those opposed to government actions? Should they even be trying?