LET'S GO FOR A RIDE
THE WILD LIFE OF MAINE'S LONGEST-TENURED UNDERCOVER GAME WARDEN
You can probably already tell that my personal life isn’t a page-turner, which is why I’d like to introduce you to my alter ego, Bill Freed. For twenty years, I lived a double life working undercover as the other Bill. This moniker wasn’t my only alias, but for simplicity, we’ll stick with Bill Freed here. I’m the longest-tenured covert operative in the history of the Maine Warden Service, and I suspect there aren’t many—if any—conservation officers nationwide who have worked undercover as long as I have. As you’ll soon find out, there are good reasons why others haven’t matched my longevity.
In some respects, the two Bills are polar opposites. I don’t drink or smoke, but Bill Freed will pound beers with the worst of the bad guys. Sort of. We’ll get into that more soon as well. However, in more ways than not, Bill Livezey and Bill Freed are two peas in a pod. We’re both from Pennsylvania. We both married our high school sweetheart. And we’re both avid fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers, which OSHA should categorize as a job hazard when working undercover in the Maine woods. As you can probably imagine, I’ve taken my fair share of verbal abuse for my fandom, but it worked. You see, the closer my secret life resembled my actual life, the more real and believable it was.
Even so, the transformation from Bill Livezey to Bill Freed was like walking into a dark room where the furniture had been rearranged. I knew the general layout, but there was no telling what trouble I’d bump into. After twenty years of buddying up to the most egregious wildlife criminals in Maine, Bill Freed has stories to tell. Tales of high-speed car chases, horrific acts of excessive poaching, drug dealing, murder plots, and far too many compromising situations where the curtain between Bill Freed and Bill Livezey was at serious risk of being yanked away. Let me tell you, when a blitzed sociopath comes at you with a razor-sharp boning knife, you question your career choices.
Becoming a game warden was my dream ever since I was a kid, inspired by the television shows Gentle Ben and Flipper, where the main characters befriend wild animals and work to protect them. Back then, my worldview was that of good guys versus bad guys—an impression also likely formed by television and movies—where each side worked together like two football teams. However, being a game warden opened my eyes to the fact that there’s a lot of gray area in between, and the truly bad guys aren’t exactly a band of brothers—even when they are, in fact, brothers.
As wardens, we see three types of sportsmen and women. At one end of the spectrum, there’s a small percentage of folks who follow the letter of the law and never step out of line. This reality surprises people, but there are fewer of these sports than you might think. Most people fall into the second category—whether they want to admit it or not—of those who generally follow the rules but every now and then, when the conditions are just right, the temptation is too great. Maybe they’ve hiked into a remote pond that’s rarely fished and they don’t see the harm in taking a trout or two over the bag limit. Or perhaps they’re hunting near their home on the last day of the season when a doe wanders into their line of fire. A uniformed warden will issue a summons if they catch these individuals in the act; however, as an undercover agent, I’d document the infraction, but if it wasn’t serious or habitual, then it wasn’t worth blowing my cover.
My focus was at the far end of the spectrum on the small percentage of people who do the most damage to Maine’s wildlife. The habitual offenders who live by the saying, If it’s brown, it’s down. Some of these individuals are otherwise good people who are addicted to the thrill of the hunt or the cat-and-mouse game with wardens. Many just want something to brag about to their buddies. Then there’s those who are rotten to the core. They love killing, and poaching is the tip of the iceberg for their bad-guy rap sheet. They’re convicted felons, alcoholics, and drug dealers. Domestic abuse is commonplace. They’re all-around dysfunctional, willing to lie, cheat, and steal from those closest to them without a second thought. They’re my bread and butter.
It was my job to put the truly bad guys out of business, and for that, I considered myself one of the good guys. That said, thirty years in law enforcement debunked my childhood belief that good and bad banded together. Faith and experience also taught me that painting people in black and white labels is dangerous. That’s why I have altered the names of those who ran afoul of the law in this book. They have gone through the judicial system and paid the penalty for their crimes—it’s not my intent to drag their names through the mud again. While I’m not naive to the fact that apprehending poachers for a slew of violations may not alter their behavior toward wildlife, people can change. My path growing up was far from straight and narrow.
From personal experience, I believe in second chances.
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