Craig Johnson's The Highwayman and An Obvious Fact are now available from Viking.
Ten years ago, Craig Johnson wrote his first short story, the Hillerman Award–winning “Old Indian Trick.” This was one of the earliest appearances of the sheriff who would go on to star in Johnson’s bestselling, award-winning novels and the hit television series Longmire, now streaming on Netflix. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, fans rejoiced when Johnson sent out a new short story featuring an episode in Walt’s life that doesn’t appear in the novels; over the years, many have asked why they can’t buy the stories in book form.
Wait for Signs gives Longmire fans a chance to own these beloved stories—and one that was published for the first time in the Viking edition—in a single volume. With glimpses of Walt’s past from the incident in “Ministerial Aide,” when the sheriff is mistaken for a deity, to the hilarious “Messenger,” where the majority of the action takes place in a Porta-Potty, Wait for Signs is a necessary addition to any Longmire fan’s shelf and a wonderful way to introduce new readers to the fictional world of Absaroka County, Wyoming.
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 Craig Johnson
OLD INDIAN TRICK
It’s hard to argue with an old Indian or his tricks.
I was driving Lonnie Little Bird up to Billings for an evening diabetes checkup at Deaconess Hospital when we pulled into the Blue Cow Café, on the Crow Reservation just off I-90, for some supper. The Blue Cow had been a restaurant longer than it’d been a casino; its MONTANA BREAKFAST! SERVED ALL DAY! AS FEATURED IN READER’S DIGEST! consisted of a half pound of bacon, four jumbo eggs, twelve pancakes, three-quarters of a pound of hash browns, a pint of orange juice, and endless coffee—a western epic, well known across the high plains.
We had gotten a late start—the sun was already sinking over the rolling hills of the Little Big Horn country and was casting surrealistic shadows against the one-ton hay bales of the Indian ranchers. It was September and, with the sporadic rain of a cool August, it looked like everybody was going to get a third cutting.
We rolled the windows half down and made Dog stay in the truck. I lifted Lonnie, placed the legless man in his wheelchair, and rolled him in. He smiled at the remains of the day and picked up a free Shoshone Shopper newspaper as we passed through the double glass doors into the restaurant. I wheeled the old Cheyenne Indian to a booth by the window where I could keep an eye on the truck and on Dog and where we could hear Montana Slim singing “Roundup in the Fall” through his nose on a radio in the kitchen.
“Nineteen-forty-eight 8N tractor, only twelve hundred dollars.” He held his gray and black hair back with a suntanned, wrinkled hand. “Comes with a Dearborn front-end loader.”
I tipped my hat back, pulled a menu from the napkin holder, and looked at the tiny rainbows at the corners of his thick glasses. “I don’t need a tractor, Lonnie.”
“It is a good price. Um hmm, yes, it is so.”
I nodded, tossed the menu on the table, and glanced around. “You think there’s anybody here?”
He blinked and looked over my shoulder toward the cash register. My gaze followed his—two sets of eyes stared at us, just above the surface of the worn-out, wood-grained Formica counter.
“So, you weren’t here when it happened?”
The Big Horn County deputy continued to take my statement; he was young, and I didn’t know him. “Nope, we just stopped in for a little dinner and noticed that everybody was hiding.”
“And you’re headed to Billings?”
I wondered what that had to do with anything. “Yep.”
“And the old Indian is with you?”
I had listened as he’d questioned Lonnie Little Bird and hadn’t liked his tone. “Lonnie.”
He stopped scribbling. “Excuse me?”
I looked at my friend, now parked at the corner booth and still studying the Shopper. “His name is Lonnie. Lonnie Little Bird. He’s an elder and a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council.”
The deputy gave me a long, tough-guy stare, or as much of one as he’d been able to cultivate in the six weeks he had spent at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy in Helena. He stabbed the still shiny black notepad with his pen for emphasis. “I’ve got that in my notes.”
“Good.” He gave me more of the look, so I smiled at him. “Then it won’t be hard for you to remember his name.”
“You didn’t see anybody when you pulled in?”
“No Indian male, approximately twenty-five years of age with a . . .”
“She didn’t say Indian. She said ‘dark hair with dark eyes.’ ”
He didn’t like being interrupted, and he liked being corrected even less. “Look, Mister . . .”
I made him look at the notebook for my name.
A tall, heavyset man entered the café; he wore a large silver-belly hat, a .357 revolver, and a star. He waved at the two behind the counter as I turned back to the deputy. “Wanda’s Crow. If she thought he was Indian, she’d have said so.”
I caught the eye of the woman with the hairnet. “Wanda, was the kid Indian?” After a brief conversation with the man- ager, they both shook their heads no. “You need to quit jerking us around, get a more detailed description of the suspect, and put a unit out to circle the vicinity.”
“Is that what you’d do?” He studied the notebook again for my name—evidently he wasn’t a quick learner.
I watched as the large man with the star stood behind his deputy. Wesley Burrell Best Bayles, the sheriff of Big Horn County, was a legend; hell, I’d seen him eat the MONTANA BREAKFAST! SERVED ALL DAY! AS FEATURED IN READER’S DIGEST!
“Son, don’t you recognize the highly decorated peace officer of Absaroka County, Wyoming?”
After telling the deputy to get in his unit and ride surveillance, Wes excused him and drank a cup of coffee while I talked to the manager. Ray Bartlett said a guy had come in and asked for a job, so he had given him an application. The kid had sat in the corner booth till a couple of rodeo cowboys finished up at the buffet and departed. He had worked up his nerve, come up to the register, pulled a .22 pistol from his waistband, stuck it in Wanda Pretty On Top’s face, and demanded the cash. Wanda, figuring the $214 wasn’t worth her life and unsure if the .22 would kill her or just hurt real bad, handed it over. He asked for the change, and she had sighed and then dutifully dumped the coins into a deposit bag. The kid made them get down on the floor, which Wanda said was fine with her ’cause she was dying to get off her feet. Then he told them that if they moved in the next ten minutes, he’d shoot ’em. Ray said that it had been about five when we came in.
Wes filled himself another and motioned toward me, but I declined. “Ray, what’d the kid look like?”
“Tall, thin . . . stringy long hair and a straw cowboy hat.” Ray thought. “Jeans, a T-shirt, and one of them snap-front western shirts.”
I nodded. “Had the tail of the shirt out to cover the gun?”
Ray thought some more. “He smelled, and he had bad teeth.”
I looked to Wes and watched as he plucked the mic from his shoulder and called in the description to the deputies and assorted HPs he had out prowling. We shook hands.
I walked to the booth and knocked on the table to get Lonnie’s attention. “You ready to go?”
He nodded enthusiastically but kept reading. “They switched the electrical system over to twelve volts.” He looked up. “I don’t know why people do that; the six-volt system is a good one. Um hmm, yes, it is so.”
I loaded Lonnie, folded up his wheelchair, and let Dog out. I watched as the beast relieved himself and memorized every smell between the lamppost and the truck, then let him in the back and fastened my seat belt. Lonnie was still reading the Shopper, and it was beginning to worry me. “You all right?”
He didn’t look up but continued reading. “Yes.”
I waited a minute. “I apologize for that.”
He still didn’t look at me. “For what?”
“The deputy in there.”
He finally turned his head. “Why should you apologize for him?” I stared through the windshield and started backing out. “Where are we going, Walter?”
I thought Lonnie must have been getting forgetful. “Well, we were going to your doctor’s appointment, but it’s so late, we’ll have to go home and reschedule.”
He looked back at the paper. “Oh, I thought you might want to go get the young man who robbed the café.”
It was a rundown trailer park on the outskirts of Hardin, the kind that attracted tornados and discarded tires. We cruised the loop and stopped just short of a sun-weathered single-wide with a rusted-out Datsun pickup parked in the grassless yard. A television cast its flickering blue light across the curtained windows, and Wesley Bayles, Ray Bartlett, and I turned to look at Lonnie, who folded his paper and glanced at the number on the dented mailbox alongside the dirt driveway. “This is it, 644 Roundup Lane, Travis Mowry. Um hmm, yes, it is so.”
I shrugged, placed my hat on the dash, and reached my arm behind the seat. “Can I borrow your gun?” Wes handed me his sidearm, and, quietly closing the door behind me, I got out of the truck. I stuffed the big Colt in the back of my jeans as Wes got out on the passenger side with an 870 Remington he’d brought from his vehicle.
I glanced over to make sure the interior lights of the truck had gone out. It was fully dark now, and the trailer park gave me an advantage by not having any streetlights.
I pulled out my wallet, rolled all the cash I had into a substantial wad, and then mounted the rickety aluminum stairs to knock on the screen door. I could make out the kitchenette and the carpet strip that led to what I assumed was the living room. Some reality show was playing on the television, and I had to knock again. After a moment, a weedy looking young woman came to the door and looked at me. She did not open the screen and had the look of someone who had taken life on early, made some bad choices, and had gotten her ass kicked.
I grinned and, making sure she could see the twenty on top, gestured with the bills. “Is Travis around?” She looked uncertain. “I’ve got this money that John gave me to give to him? I know it’s late, but I thought he might need it?” It was a calculated risk, but everybody knew a John.
She still didn’t come close to the screen, and her voice was thin and halting. “You can give it to me.”
Always let them see the money.
I shook my head but continued to smile. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I don’t know you. Is Travis here?”
She didn’t say anything but turned and disappeared.
I took a deep breath, glanced back to the truck, and wondered, if there was trouble, what Wes thought he could do from out there.
I heard footsteps and watched as a tall, lanky young man stopped in the hallway. He wore dirty jeans, boots, and a grimy, wifebeater T-shirt. He was holding a can of Coors Light and smoking a cigarette. “Who’re you?”
“I’m a friend of John’s. I was supposed to bring this money over to you?”
It appeared not everyone knew a John after all. I took another calculated risk—they were working so well. “John from the bar? I mean you are Travis Mowry, right?” I held up the cash. “Something about some money for you?”
Always let them see the money.
He stepped forward, pushed open the screen door, and reached for the roll of bills. I let him have it but then grabbed his wrist and, slipping the .357 from the back of my jeans and lodging it under his jaw, yanked him from the trailer in one heave. I turned the two of us back toward the truck. The doors were open, Wes was running across the yard with the shotgun, and the manager was nodding his head yes.
Ten minutes later, we were booking Travis Mowry at the Big Horn County jail under the watchful eyes of two Montana highway patrolmen and three deputies, including the one who had questioned us at the Blue Cow. It appeared that the majority of eastern Montana law enforcement wanted to know how, after we’d stumbled onto a relatively cold 10-52, we had apprehended the suspect in less than twenty minutes.
Travis had a four-page rap sheet, starting with his stealing a car at the age of fourteen. He got caught and was remanded to juvenile detention. He got out, stole another car, got caught, was sent to a foster home, ran away, and stole yet another until he graduated to producing methamphetamine in a bathtub. He had done a two-spot in Deer Lodge, where the prison psychologist intimated that it was all a question of comparison, but that if you sat a bag of groceries next to Travis, the groceries would get into Stanford before he would.
The police officers stood a little away from Lonnie but snuck glances at him as he continued to read the Shoshone Shopper in Big Horn County’s basement jail as I finished up my written statement.
Wes tugged at my sleeve. “All right, how did you know?”
I looked at the old Indian, who folded his paper in his lap and waited along with the legendary Wesley Burrell Best Bayles and the collected force for my reply. “Why, Wes, that was just top-flight investigative work.” I looked back at the group and tipped my hat, especially at the narrow-minded deputy. “You fellas have a nice night.”
I waited. We were racing a 150-car Burlington Northern Santa Fe down the Little Big Horn Valley, another famed site of monumental hubris and stupidity. There was a slight breeze rustling the sage and the buffalo grass, the obelisk and markers of the Seventh Cavalry almost discernible in the light of the just-risen moon. Lonnie remained quiet, his veined arm resting on the doorsill, his thick-lensed glasses reflecting the stripe of the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon, what the Indians called the Hanging Road.
“Did I ever tell you about that rattlesnake I ran over with my father’s 8N tractor?” I sighed and wondered what sort of pithy homespun philosophy this story would turn out to illustrate. “When I got back from Korea, he had two hay fields, and one was about three miles down the county road. It was a Friday afternoon, and I had just finished cutting. I was a young man, and in a hurry, but I saw this big rattler sunning himself on the road. Not the smartest thing to do.” He chuckled. “He was a big one; had twelve buttons on him—”
“All right, Lonnie, how did you know it was Travis Mowry?” He turned to look at me, hurt at my interrupting his story. “And how the hell did you know that he lived at 644 Roundup Lane?”
He half smiled, and his eyes returned to the stars as he nodded with his words. “OIT.”
I thought about the well-known phrase. “Old Indian trick?”
He continued nodding and carefully pulled Travis Mowry’s Blue Cow Café employment application from the folds of his newspaper. He handed it to me—the form was completely filled out.
“Um hmm, yes, it is so.”
What People are Saying About This
“Sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and always entertaining, Wait for Signs is a complete delight.”
“Filled with classic Longmire wit and wisdom. Readers will once again find themselves transported to Walt’s world in Absaroka County, Wyoming, a world filled with lovable characters…[and] snappy, sharp dialogue….The modern era has given us a term called ‘binge watching’ where fans of a show will watch multiple episodes back to back. For fans of Johnson's Longmire books, Wait for Signs is the opportunity to binge. However, with stories this well-written some may find themselves wanting to hold back on the binging and save some for later... Whether or not you are a longtime fan of the Walt Longmire series, or this is your first taste of the fictional world Johnson has created, these stories will not disappoint.”
“Johnson pens a series that should become a must-read, so curl up, get comfortable, and enjoy the ride.”
—The Denver Post
"Each story reveals... the tenderness and compassion, as well as the melancholy, that is Walt Longmire. . . . the finely developed characters and top-notch writing... left me wishing for more."
“This story collection featuring the ironic Wyoming sheriff is a must. . . . [Walt Longmire is] one of the most memorable characters is crime fiction today.”
“Heartwarming . . . Sample, savor, and save these [short stories] for special occasions.”
“For fans of Johnson’s Absaroka County sheriff, all the familiar characters fill these stories—Walt, Vic, Henry, Cady, and of course the wild, open spaces of Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
Praise for Craig Johnson and the Walt Longmire Mystery Series
“Like the greatest crime novelists, Johnson is a student of human nature. Walt Longmire is strong but fallible, a man whose devil-may-care stoicism masks a heightened sensitivity to the horrors he’s witnessed. Unlike traditional genre novelists who obsess mainly over every hairpin plot turn, Johnson’s books are also preoccupied with the mystery of his characters’ psyches.”—Los Angeles Times
“Johnson knows the territory, both fictive and geographical, and tells us about it in prose that crackles.”—Robert B. Parker
“The characters talk straight from the hip and the Wyoming landscape is its own kind of eloquence.”—The New York Times
“[Walt Longmire] is an easy man to like…Johnson evokes the rugged landscape with reverential prose, lending a heady atmosphere to his story.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Stepping into Walt’s world is like slipping on a favorite pair of slippers, and it’s where those slippers lead that provides a thrill. Johnson pens a series that should become a ‘must’ read, so curl up, get comfortable, and enjoy the ride.”—The Denver Post
“A winning piece of work…There’s a convincing feel to the whole package: a sense that you’re viewing this territory through the eyes of someone who knows it as adoring lover and skeptical onlooker at the same time.”—The Washington Post
“Johnson’s pacing is tight and his dialogue snaps.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Truly great. Reading Craig Johnson is a treat…[He] tells great stories, casts wonderful characters and writes in a style that compels the reader forward.”—Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I loved this book! (I should add a disclaimer that I am a huge fan of Craig Johnson and his characters). The book of short stories whet the appetite for more of Sheriff Walt Longmire and his family, friends and acquaintances. The stories are touching, often laugh out loud funny, and all show more of the back stories of the characters that are Walt's world. What could have felt like excerpts from longer novels that didn't make it through the editing process, these stories are anything but - and do not disappoint. The only downside is that I'm longing even more for the next full length novel - haha!
A collection worthy of any reader, especially with the wonderful introduction written by Lou Diamond Phillips. Craig Johnson can pack more into a short story than many can in an entire book. These are quick glimpses into Walt Longmire's life and his sometimes witty and sometimes sad encounters with people who will make you laugh and cry. As always, it left me craving more stories of Absaroka County and once again marveling about the creative genius of the man who started it all.
Walt Longmire becomes more and more endeared to my heart with ever story of his I read. Mr. Johnson has compiled a wonderful collection of shorts that illustrate all of the traits about Walt I have come to love: his stubborn streak, his courage to the point of near stupidity, his self-reflection, his kindness, and his dedication to his principles. I would recommend this to Longmire fans and to those who have yet to read any of the novels that tell this character's life story. But beware: if you haven't read the novels, you will desperately want to after reading this short stories. The character and Johnson's story-telling abilities are addicting.
As the book's description says, this book is a collection of short stories. Little snapshots of Sheriff Longmire and his surrounding. For a Walt Longmire fan this book is a must read.
I love series books because they allow the reader to really get to know the characters. For this reason, I'm not typically a fan of short stories because they don't provide the same amount of time with the characters. Wait for Signs is a great exception to this. The twelve stories are entertaining and reflect the same humor that I love in the Longmire novels. They don't take too long to read but still portray the sense of compassion and fairness that we love about Walt. I think the more familiar you are with the books, the more enjoyable this read will be. And I very much hope that we get to encounter Petunia again in a future story
Some new, some I read elsewhere. Craig Johnson and Walt Longmire are great. Great character development. Any writing is a great addition to Longmire the TV version. Writing explains Walt in ways TV cannot. TV gets the heroic sheriff. Books gets the background and the humor of Walt Longmire. Can't wait for "Dry Bones".
I preordered this book from Amazon and waited impatiently for the release date. Yeah! As always, Craig Johnson is a captivating author. This collection of short stories was a really special read. I love short stories, but there is an art to writing them. These 12 Longmire stories touch the heart of the modern west and do it with pizzazz. Thank you, Craig Johnson, you have made my week. #LongLiveLongmire.
A wonderful collection. A great way to be introduced to Walt Longmire. Will make you want more!
Bought the book and all I got was a sample. Was charged though.
You should’ve hung around. While I watched the first season of the show, and loved it, this is my first experience with the original literary side of Walt Longmire. It will not be my last. There are twelve short stories compiled here in what I would call a weirdly small hardcover book. All the stories are very good, one of them I didn’t quite get (Divorce Horse, was I reading too fast?) and one of them is hilarious and amazingly great (Messenger). I can see why people have such an affection for these books and the pitch-perfect television adaptation. It’s the characters. They are real, honest and interesting. This is a great appetizer for any full length adventures yet to come or a rare gift for seasoned Longmire fans as this book contains the first short story Johnson ever wrote as well as previously unpublished shorts he wrote for his newsletter. A charming and varied collection, not to be missed
Craig Johnson has been incredibly generous at Christmastime to his long-time readers; he has provided them with a short story about the residents of Absaroka County, typically holiday-themed, every December since I first discovered the man’s writing around 7 years ago. Craig and his editors / publishers / whoever else has gathered these stories up, along with a brand-new tale (and an introduction from actor Lou Diamond Phillips) and published them under the anthology title “Wait For Signs: 12 Longmire Stories”. Each of these short stories features Walt Longmire, along with other beloved characters from his universe – BUT without the murder(s) that are a staple of his full-length series. (Hey, they HAVE to do that if they want to call them a “murder mystery”, after all!) I’d seen a few of these tales already courtesy of the aforementioned emails – it was nice to reread “Old Indian Trick” once again. Most, however, were new to me (although I’m sure I have a few waiting in my “to be read” email folder). ALL were thought provoking, often humorous (picture Walt, Henry, and Vic attempting to perform an animal rescue from a porta-potty after just succeeding in luring a momma bear and her cubs away from the facility) – and all were excellent. This is a Must-Read. RATING: 5 stars
Loved these shorts. Good to read them after reading all the novels . Gives some insight to Walt's storyline
This is a collection of short stories relating to sheriff Walt Longmire released one at a time during the Christmas season plus a new one that has yet to be released. Each one gives a little more light into the history of Walt Longmire. I admit that I’m not really a fan of short story collections. That is because usually there are many different authors and you always seem to get one or two stories that are good and the rest are not. Now, having said that, a collection of short stories from a great author like Craig Johnson and all about Walt Longmire, yes, this is a collection that I could get into. All of these stories show the different adventures Walt has been on between and before the main books of this series. If you think it is amazing what he gets himself into while in the books you are in for a treat with this collection, can we say Ministerial Aid? Plus outhouse humor has to be an inclusion also. If you like the Longmire series on television, thank goodness Netflix is picking this one up, or the books, this is one book that you need to read. These stories will make you laugh and give you more background to Walt Longmire. I received Wait for Signs for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.