"Savage Minnesota": Chapter 1

  • Article by: CARY J. GRIFFITH
  • Updated: May 25, 2014 - 1:13 AM

A Star Tribune serialized novel in 99 parts by Cary J. Griffith

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Once again, the Star Tribune is helping you with your summer reading by publishing a new novel by a local author, serialized for our readers. “Savage Minnesota” by Cary J. Griffith is a mystery set in the Twin Cities metro area. U.S. Fish & Wildlife agent Sam Rivers has been brought in to help solve what appears to be a rare fatal cougar attack on a human. He soon finds the evidence just doesn’t add up.

You can read the first chapter here. Daily installments of the serialized book will run until Labor Day weekend in the Variety section of the Star Tribune newspaper. Or, buy the complete novel as an e-book at StarTribune.com/ebooks.

We hope you enjoy “Savage Minnesota.” Feedback can be sent to books@startribune.com.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

savage Minnesota illustration

Chapter 1

Monday, September 23, Predawn, Savage.

Jack McGregor pumped hard through the bike’s lowest gear, his thighs burning. He neared the top of his quarter-mile climb, maintaining steady progress up this last steep grade. The black coffee he’d finished before 6 a.m. was finally kicking in. He glanced at his heart monitor and watched the numbers tick up from 156 to 157. Sweat dampened his yellow bike shirt.

Twenty yards, he thought, which was about all he could manage, trying to steady his ragged breathing. He rabbit-pedaled through the last short rise and crested the hill.

He appreciated the quiet half hour before dawn when the world slept and the autumn air hung still and pungent. His heart rate peaked at 164 and he managed a stiff grin.

He took in a long breath and smelled witch hazel, he guessed; the odor of weeds heavy with seedpods and a faint wisp of river more than a mile below. It was a wet, metallic smell. And maybe there was the trace of something fetid beneath it: a car-struck deer decaying in a ditch, or a snake flattened across the blacktop? Something …

For a few days he had felt uneasy. He assumed it was his pending business deal. But there was something else, the vague feeling he needed to be vigilant or wary or just plain cautious. It was annoying, because Jack McGregor, the 51-year-old owner, president and chief executive officer of McGregor Industries, was a stranger to unease.

Chester Drive formed a T at the top of Wannamake Circle. The hill dropped down into Savage and the Minnesota River Valley, where it connected with Highway 13 more than a mile below. In another hour the blacktop would be busy with morning commuters, emptying the exclusive neighborhoods up on the hill. But at this time of morning, Jack had the road almost entirely to himself.

He turned onto Chester and crouched low, reducing his wind resistance so the air coming out of the valley wouldn’t pick him up like a sail. Jack McGregor liked to feel aerodynamic. He liked to travel fast. As his bike picked up speed, he put his nagging doubts behind him and peered ahead, grinning down the dark thoroughfare.

•••

Jack’s Cannondale RZ 140 mountain bike had been a birthday present this year. His wife, Carla, accused him of a midlife crisis, before finally accepting and then indulging his effort to stay fit. She bought him the most expensive bike she could find, making a big deal about its carbon alloy frame and phenomenal suspension. No doubt about it, the bike could fly.

Carla was 37, and a mix of fortuitous genes, hard exercise and no children kept her in the kind of shape Jack liked to see and feel in a woman. And the seasoning she’d experienced through her 20s, when she’d married one creep and then another, helped cultivate in her a particular appreciation for Jack.

The speedometer hit 22. He looked up and saw the road was empty all the way to Highway 13, not a car in sight. When he glanced down again, the speedometer read 25.

It was still too early for predawn light, and Jack squinted down the path in front of him. At this speed, traveling near the tree edge, it was foolhardy to look anywhere but directly ahead. Deer frequented the wilder parts of Chester Hill. Plenty of nocturnal animals chose this final hour of darkness to seek out a safe place to bed down for the day.

The wild country was one of the features that drew the McGregors to Savage. Jack and Carla could have chosen a big house in Edina, Excelsior, Shorewood or just about any other place they wanted. But Carla liked the unpretentiousness of Savage. She appreciated the secluded, country feel of their remote cul-de-sac on Wannamake Circle, where she wouldn’t run into anyone from The Club and where she could buy milk at the local Cub grocery without having to dress up.

Speedometer: 27.

Up ahead, something stirred. Under a sumac patch. Not a deer; the movement was too furtive and close to the ground. Whatever it was would soon be right in Jack’s path.

He yelled and the dark creature froze as Jack hurtled by in a blast. He glimpsed a skunk, hunkered down in the grass.

Focus on the tree edge, he reminded himself. It was a brief section of the road and he watched as its shadows flew by and opened onto empty pasture. His near brush with calamity rocketed his pulse. His bike speed climbed to 33. He glanced in front of him. The pools of light from the gentrified street lamps shone clear to the road, and Jack McGregor flew.

•••

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