Grim Witness

Featured in Warden Force Season 2

The cold mist continued to fall. Warden Collins shivered and drew his turned up jacket collar closer to his ears.

A hundred yards above the deserted camp, he spotted fresh footprints on a sand bar, not from smooth soled boots like Dudzik's, but from boots with Vibram soles. He peered around, but saw no one. Cautiously continuing, he came upon two freshly speared salmon and more Vibram tracks, but still he saw no one.

The daylight was failing now, and because the forest here grew nearly to the water's edge he felt vulnerable to ambush by some spear-wielding maniac. Unconsciously his right hand went to his hip and felt the reassuring heft of his sidearm. But as he continued on, he sensed he was in greater danger than ever before in his life, and he had the uneasy feeling he was being watched. Suddenly he froze as the harsh croaking of a raven broke the silence, and he felt the short hairs rise on the back of his neck. Once upon a midnight dreary . . . .

Collins now had to strain to read his watch in the growing darkness. It was time to go back. He would already be late returning, and Froland would be worried. He turned and started downstream, glancing often over his shoulder. He had been gone a full half hour when he again saw Froland, and Froland had indeed been worried.

"There's definitely someone else out there," he told Froland. "We need a new plan."

And then, in view of the growing darkness, the presence of a second suspect and a weakening radio battery, they decided to cut Dudzik loose. He was well-identified, and they knew they could find him again. They removed the handcuffs, gave him a flashlight they had found on the ATV, and sent him on his way up the trail on which they had come.

With Dudzik gone, in the last dim light of day, both wardens now crept back to the camp and waited. But the second suspect never appeared. When full darkness was upon them they gave it up and returned to the ATV. Collins climbed aboard, turned the key, and the engine fired instantly. They took it slow, up the rutted trail, searching with flashlights for the side trail that Dudzik had claimed would be easier. But they didn't find it. They finally reached an impassable spot and concluded they had missed it.

They were on their way back when they met Earnest W. Parish, one of Mother Nature's mistakes.

Parish was apparently blinded by the ATV's approaching headlight and mistook the two wardens for Dudzik. He was hiking up the trail as they were coming down. Collins was a good distance in the lead, and upon spotting the man he said nothing, hoping to get closer. At the last second, Parish grew suspicious and stopped.

Collins sensed he was about to bolt and shouted, "HALT! STATE GAME WARDENS!" Parish's reaction was straight out of the old West. He went for his gun.