Running Game by Trevor Scott by Trevor Scott - Read Online



When Tony Caruso is hired to go undercover for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he has no idea that his life will change forever in the remote mountains of Oregon. He is tasked to track down an Asian ring of smugglers who are killing black bears for gallbladders and shooting elk and deer in velvet for their antlers. He narrowly escapes with his life, but follows the smugglers to Portland. Eventually, he ends up in the southern Cascades in the mushroom fields, where he must fight not only the Asian game smugglers, but Asian gangs from San Francisco and Seattle. As Tony tightens the noose around the smugglers, the case becomes personal. Now he must encounter these brutal killers in the remote forest, where his survival depends on his own military training and his favorite sidekick, Panzer, his giant schnauzer and former German military working dog.
Published: Salvo Press on
ISBN: 9781633559226
List price: $2.99
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Running Game - Trevor Scott

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Eugene, Oregon

Fall in western Oregon can be one of two things—a sunny last gasp of summer, with the smell of dying leaves falling to the ground, or a miserable, cold downpour of rain that only the hardiest of Oregonians could enjoy. This day was the latter.

This Saturday evening, with the University of Oregon Ducks football team destroying the visitors from Cal, every seat was filled at Autzen Stadium with frenetic fans, despite the torrential rains. Everyone raised their hands in an O, chanting for their team to continue the onslaught.

Tony Caruso was a huge Ducks fan. His sister, Maria, was a professor at the University of Oregon and lived in a house just off campus. By the fourth quarter Tony, Maria, and her daughter Amber were soaked to the bone. An umbrella in Oregon indicated only one thing—you were not a local. Tony’s sister, a slight woman with body fat only in the right places, protected herself with an Oregon Ducks green Nike jacket. Her daughter wore a similar jacket. Tony’s only protection from the rain was his olive green Helly Hansen jacket that had done its best to keep him dry but was losing the battle now, after a couple of hours.

Uncle Tony, Amber said, her skinny teenaged body shaking under the green plastic that didn’t do enough to hold out the rain. The plastic was nothing more than a cheap dollar store garbage bag they handed out as fans entered the stadium.

Yeah? Let me guess. You’re ready to go home. Tony was a die-hard fan, but he knew his sister wasn’t. Amber was somewhere in between. As long as she could still text her friends and check her social media status, the three of them could have been at a public execution. Considering this game, Tony guessed the comparison wasn’t far off.

Get real, Amber said. I still have twenty percent power. No, I just wanted to know if you needed another beer.

Tony smiled, knowing she wanted him to get her hot chocolate again. We’re walking back, Amber. What’s your point?

Maria elbowed her brother in the ribs. She looked every bit the college psychology professor, with her curly dark hair a bit unkempt, and her complete lack of makeup. But Tony didn’t think she needed much anyway. Her natural olive Italian skin had always been without blemish, and her dark brown eyes were highlighted by long dark lashes. Tony thought she could still pass as a grad student.

All right, Tony said. I’ll get another beer. He got up and pointed at Amber. Hot chocolate?

Amber smiled and nodded.

Sis? Tony asked.

Since none of us are driving, Maria said, I could go for another IPA.

Tony was about to leave, but he hesitated. You need to teach Amber to drive. You’ll have a built-in designated driver.

She has her learner’s permit, Maria said, but I think the adult passenger must still be slightly coherent.

Details, Tony said, and left the two of them to huddle with the masses in the cold rain.

As he wandered up the stairs toward the concession area, Tony thought about his decision to return to Oregon after more than twenty years in the Navy. He remembered playing football in Minnesota in his youth, where the ground was often frozen solid during the football season. When a player hit the ground there, it was not forgiving. It was no wonder that the state produced more professional hockey players than any other sport.

Before getting the drinks, Tony went to relieve himself of a previous beer. Washing his hands, he glanced at himself in the mirror. His normal Navy haircut, a staple for more than two decades of service, had been replaced now with hair nearly to his shoulders, with his normal black hair speckled heavily with gray. But he had not lost his strong, stocky physique, he determined, despite his advancement to fifty. Now he glanced through the mirror behind him and saw a man approach.

Jesus, Tony said. They’ll let anyone into this game. I thought you were a Beaver fan.

He turned and considered an old colleague of his during his temporary stint with the FBI, where Tony worked with their bomb investigation unit throughout the Pacific Northwest. Duro Remus was FBI special agent in charge of the Portland regional office. He was a tall, stout man with salt and pepper hair stacked up in a perfect flat top.

Remus reached his hand out to Tony, and he shook with the man briefly, neither of them trying to impress with their strength.

The FBI man glanced about and said, You know what I am. But this is business.

So, this is not a chance meeting? Tony asked. How did you find me?

Smiling, Remus simply shrugged.

You flagged my credit accounts and saw that I paid for three tickets today with my debit card at the front gate. Tony checked his watch. And it took you that long to get to Eugene from Portland?

Actually, I stopped by your sister’s house a couple of hours ago, Remus said. You bought pizza last night with your card. When nobody was at Maria’s place, I had my people check on recent activity.

Wonderful. So much for privacy in America. Let me guess, you talked with the folks at the ticket office to get my section and seats?

People came and went as they spoke—wet but happy Ducks converting beer to urine. But then, miraculously, the two of them had the bathroom to themselves.

Remus smiled again. It’s not like we video-taped you in a compromising sex act.

Slippery slope, Tony said. He knew that Duro Remus didn’t do anything just for the hell of it. The man wanted something from Tony. Remus was a professional on a mission. But he would never brown-nose to get to the top. How may I help you?

Not me specifically, Remus said. He went to the door and said something to unseen people. Then another man came in. This guy was short and pudgy, with thick jowls and neck, who waddled like an actual duck. He was wearing dark green pants and a khaki top coat that could sail a small boat in a light breeze. This is Joseph Needham. He’s director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Portland office.

Tony shook the man’s stubby little fingers and felt the sweat on the guy’s skin. Looking closer, the guy had sweat across his brow, despite the cool temperature. It must have been a tough walk from the parking lot, Tony guessed.

Okay, Tony said. What do Fish and Wildlife and the FBI have in common? Is this one of those two guys walk into a bar joke?

Needham glanced at Remus, who nodded for him to take the lead. Fish and Wildlife said, We have a mutual target. The guy stopped as if he was out of breath just expelling a few words. Then he continued, A guy named Travis Winter. He runs a criminal. . .gang up and down the I-5 corridor from Seattle to San Francisco.

Tony put his finger up. I-5 doesn’t run through San Fran.

Give it a break, Tony, Remus said.

Needham continued. Anyway, this Winter is involved in a bunch of nefarious activities that have been on the FBI radar for some time. But nothing seems to stick.

Can you get to the point? Tony said. I need another beer.

Needham shook his head and his chins continued shaking as he said, Right. We believe Winter and his men are killing black bears and other wild game across the west, cutting out certain organs, and selling them on the black market in Asia.

Gall bladders, Tony surmised.

Yes, Needham agreed. Also, deer and elk antlers in velvet.

They should be out of velvet by now, Tony said.

Still, you get the idea.

Tony turned to the FBI man and said, And what’s this Winter fellow done to piss off you and your boys?

Remus shrugged. Everything from drug trafficking to possible human smuggling. Mostly from Asia. Again, nothing seems to stick with this guy.

Now Tony was completely confused. His work with the FBI and ATF dealt mostly with investigation of explosives-related crimes. However, his work as a private investigator had taken Tony in many new directions in the past few years. He had uncovered what was thought to be a murder suicide in Bend, which turned out to be a multiple murder for money. Then he had uncovered a potential terrorist group in the Puget Sound area. Not to mention the normal teenage runaway, deadbeat dads, and insurance fraud cases. He had stayed busier than he really wanted, considering he was picking up a pension from Uncle Sam.

Why do you need me? Tony asked.

Needham and Remus shared eye contact.

The FBI man took the question. Every time we close in on Winter, he gets tipped off. That’s why I contacted Joe to see if we could come from his angle.

Wonderful, Tony said. So you guys are cornering me at a Ducks game because you can’t stop a leak in your own offices? Truthfully, it sounded like they were trying to get this Winter fellow like they had with Capone. Grab him on a lesser crime and hope like hell it stuck.

The fat man from Fish and Wildlife stepped from foot to foot like an elephant not wanting to stand still holding the total weight for too long. Then Needham said, It’s not that simple, Mister Caruso.

Remus intervened. His people know how to set up poaching stings, but their investigative skills against a sophisticated criminal organization are not perfect.

Tony shrugged, knowing his own investigative skills came from logic and not formal training.

He’s not wrong, Needham said. My guys have collected samples from animal corpses found in various locations in the past six months in eastern Oregon. We’ve sent those to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory.

In Ashland, Oregon? Tony asked.

You’ve heard of it? Needham enquired.

Of course. The CSI for animal crimes. It was the only lab of its kind in the world, Tony knew. They were damn good at solving crimes against animals. In Oregon, animals seemed to have more rights than humans, so that crime lab was located perfectly.

That’s a good way to put it, Remus chimed in. Joe’s people had Winter’s group dead to rights a couple months ago at the Baker City airport. By the time Fish and Wildlife nabbed the men, all they had on them was fishing gear. Somehow they got tipped off.

We’re still looking into it, Needham said, his head lowering to his barrel chest somewhat.

Okay, but I still don’t know what you want me to do, Tony said, his confusion still overwhelming.

Needham glanced at the FBI agent and then back to Tony. Duro’s problems are worse than ours. He’s not sure if they have a leak in their office or with their liaison with the local police.

I’m one screw-up away from an assignment to Fairbanks, Remus said, and then let out a heavy sigh.

After twenty-two years in the U.S. Navy, Tony understood how the government worked. You do good things and you get the plush assignments. Mess up and they give you the crappiest assignment imaginable. And bureaucrats had a lot of time to come up with creative ways to ream their people. You could only get fired if you killed someone without authority. All right. What’s the plan?

Remus smiled and put out his hand, which Tony reluctantly shook. Then he switched to the dead fish from Needham.

Where will I be going? Tony asked.

The Blue Mountains, Needham said. The FBI intercepted a phone call between Winter and his girlfriend a couple days ago. She’s heading up some sort of effort out east. I’ll forward the details to your email. We have a proximate location.

You’ll need to get going almost immediately, Remus said.

Almost everything I own is in the back of my truck, Tony explained. I’ll need a contract from you guys.

I told you, Remus said to Needham.

We’ll attach it to the email, the Fish and Wildlife officer said.

And the pay? Tony wanted to know.

We’ll deposit that into your business account, Remus said. At double your normal rate.

Great. Who do I have to kill?

Needham ignored that and pulled out an envelope from inside his jacket. We’ve made credentials for you, with a badge. You are now a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Provisionally, of course.

Tony accepted the envelope and glanced inside to see a badge and I.D. card. Deep down, though, he knew the government never worked this fast. It took months to hire a registration clerk at a VA hospital. How in the hell had this guy credentialed him so fast?

It’s not official, Remus explained. You have no arrest authority.

Great. What if these people shoot at me?

You have a concealed carry permit in Oregon, Remus said. And a right to defend yourself.

I suppose I can’t tell anyone, either, Tony said. In case I do get into a bind. He checked his watch, realizing a lot of time had gone by since he left his sister and niece out in the cold rain. Checking his phone, he saw that his sister had sent him a text: ‘Where the hell are you?’

Remus said, If the local police jack you up for any reason, have them give me a call. The FBI man handed Tony a number of cards.

Tony laughed. You think I’ll need this many?

Considering your past, Remus said and shrugged, it’s possible.

All right, Tony said. I’ll get on the road ASAP. But he was really looking forward to another IPA with his sister.

Tony followed the two men out of the bathroom, and two other FBI types stood staunchly stopping men from entering—sending a bunch of pissed off Ducks fans in other directions. Then Tony noticed his sister and niece a few feet away.

What’s going on? Maria asked Tony, but her eyes concentrated on Duro Remus.

The FBI man stopped and said, Maria, right. We met a couple of years ago in Portland.

Maria smiled and shook the man’s hand. Right. When Tony did some consulting work for you.

Remus introduced Joe Needham, but he didn’t mention any affiliations the man held. Maria shook the chubby man’s hand and seemed to pull back slightly. Amber seemed annoyed by the entire awkward introduction. If she could find a way to hit dislike on her phone, she would have done so, transporting herself from reality.

After the four federal agents wandered away toward the exit, Maria smacked Tony in the arm. What the hell was that all about? And who was the strange bowling pin of a man with sweaty palms?

I was thinking Weeble, Tony said. He runs the Portland office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. So much for not mentioning anything to anyone. But, hey, his sister wasn’t just anyone.

And they’re hiring you for something, Maria said, her mind obviously in a state of confusion that had nothing to do with beer intake.

Tony glanced at Amber and then back to his sister. Yeah. Something like that. Consultant.

Shaking her head, Maria said, You have more secrets than the White House.

That’s not saying much, Maria.

People were starting to stream out of the stadium and Tony figured they had seen enough of the ass-whipping.

When do you have to go, Uncle Tony? Amber asked.

Right now.

What about Panzer?

Panzer was Tony’s black giant schnauzer, who was currently out to stud in Denver. He had gotten the military bomb dog from his last assignment working in Germany. The Germans were very particular about a dog getting too close to humans, and Panzer had done just