Frostbite-Chapter 19

Chey announced, on returning to the little house in the woods, that the thing she wanted most in the world was a bath.

“I think we can make that happen,” Powell told her. He shot her a look with one corner of his mouth turned up in what sort of resembled a smile. “Of course, if you want hot water, you’re going to have to work for it.” He led her around the side of the house and showed her a big galvanized tin washtub hanging from a hook. “It’s big enough to sit down in.” It was mottled white with age, but there were no holes in it. “I try to take a bath myself at least once a week. Though typically I just jump in a pond and scrub myself until my fingers go numb.”

“All the comforts of home,” Chey said, and reached up to grab the tub. “You going to help me with this?”

“No need,” he told her.

She frowned, but then she lifted the tub off its hook with one hand. It felt far lighter than it had any right to be. She hefted it a couple of times and realized that it weighed quite a bit, actually, but that the muscles in her arm worked better than they ever had before. Somehow she’d gotten stronger since she’d changed.

“One of the few bright spots in your new existence,” Powell told her.

Chey slung the tub over her shoulder and started heading toward the woods behind the house.

“Where are you going?” he asked her.

“Far enough away that I can have some privacy, if you don’t mind. Don’t worry. I won’t go so far that I can’t scream for help if I see a bear.”

He shook his head, but he made no move to stop her. “You’re still figuring this out. If a bear attacks you out there, scream so I know to come help the bear,” he told her. She thought maybe he was going to leave her alone, but then he called for Dzo to come help her. The little man came jogging over and grabbed one handle of the tub, even though she didn’t need the help. The message Powell was sending her was clear. Still, she was glad it was Dzo who was going to watch over her and not her fellow wolf. She had been worried Powell might insist on keeping an eye on her while she disrobed.

The two of them, Chey and Dzo, carried the tub out to just beyond the edge of the clearing and set it down on a spot relatively free of undergrowth. Then Dzo pushed the mask up onto the top of his head and grinned at her. “You’re starting to like him, aren’t you?” he asked. “Monty, I mean.” He scraped out a fire ring and started to lay down a pile of thick logs with air space between them. “At least tell me you’re not still mad at him.”

Chey grabbed an armful of twigs and started piling them in a cone shape, just like she’d been taught in the Girl Guides. “He’s not what I expected,” she admitted. She caught herself almost immediately, but she forced herself not to look up, not to look at his eyes and see if he’d caught her.

He had, though. He stood up straight and squinted at her. “What do you mean by that?” he asked. “How could you have expectations about a guy you didn’t know existed until two days ago?”

“I just meant when I first saw him,” she said, trying to keep her voice slow and steady, “when you brought me here. I had no idea he was a wolf.”

That seemed to do the trick. Dzo nodded happily and lit a crumpled page from a crossword puzzle book on fire. Blowing on it carefully, he tucked it inside her twig cone, then pushed in some dried leaves. The fire jumped up at once, then flickered back down as the kindling was exhausted. Fingerling flames touched at the logs and blackened them. Eventually they would catch. Dzo brought over an old fire- stained kettle and braced it on some rocks over the fire. “There’s a stream about twenty meters that way where you can get water,” he said, pointing into the woods. “Or you can just gather up snow off the ground, though it tends to be pretty muddy underneath.”

“Beauty,” she said, and gave him the warmest smile she had. After a minute she blinked at him. “That’s—great. Maybe you can go now,” she said. “So I can take my clothes off without you watching me.”

He shrugged and flipped his mask down. “You need anything else, just holler.” He started away, then stopped and looked back at her. She didn’t mind, somehow, talking to him with his mask on. Maybe because she had no trouble imagining the expression on his face beneath it. It would be the same half- bemused, half- amused expression he always wore. She could see now that the mask, which before had just looked creepy, was actually carved to resemble that same expression.

“I will,” she said, thinking he was just waiting for a reply. But he just stood there a while longer before he said anything more.

“He likes you, you know. I mean Monty.”

“He does?” she asked. She hadn’t even considered that.

“Sure. ’Course, he ain’t seen a naked lady in more’n fifty years,” he added, “so maybe he’s just ruttin’.” With that he traipsed away, back toward the cabin.

Chey watched him go. As soon as he was out of sight she poured out the kettle over the struggling fire, extinguishing it with a hiss. She would, indeed, have loved a bath just then, but there was no time. She unzipped her pocket and took out her cell phone. She pushed the “five” key three times and a GPS display came up. She looked at the trees, then back at the cabin. Then she dashed into the forest as fast as she could on human feet.

The two of them would leave her alone for at least an hour. They wouldn’t dare come check on her in the tub for that long. Eventually they would wonder what was taking her so long and investigate. When they couldn’t find her they would start searching. They couldn’t just let her run away—Dzo had been quite clear on that, that they would track her down and drag her back if they had to. Once they came after her she would have very little time left. She had little faith in her own ability to evade them. Powell had been a wolf long enough to know how to track a woman through the woods, she was sure of that. With an hour’s head start, though, maybe she could make it to the rendezvous and be back before that happened.

She’d forgotten how hard it was to move at any speed through the drunken forest on two feet, and she tripped three times before she was even out of visual range of the cabin. She slid down a slope of loose soil and weakly anchored reindeer moss and got a face full of snow at the bottom, but she got right back up and kept moving. Her course, as out¬lined on her cell phone’s screen, took her along the high bank of an all-year stream, a thundering rivulet that made it impossible for her to hear if anyone was pursuing her. Eventually she came around a thick stand of trees and found the source of the stream, a miniature lake as white and blue as the sky above, a brilliant mirror. On the far side of the water a red light burned angrily—a flare, giving off great clouds of pale smoke as it fizzed away. From the air that light would have been visible for kilometers, but the heavy tree cover made it impossible to see from the ground unless you were right at the shore of the lake.

She had to pick her way around the lake’s edge, which took more time she didn’t have. It would have taken her ten minutes to swim across, but it was far too cold for that—whether or not her changed body could handle the chill, she knew she wasn’t prepared for it emotionally. Taking the long way around cost her another twenty minutes. She estimated she had eight minutes left before Dzo came to check on her and found her missing.

In the clearing on the far side of the lake a two- man helicopter sat like a giant dragonfly sunning itself on a clump of sparse grass. The pilot, an Indian in a padded vest, lay with his back against the big machine and his hands folded behind his head. He didn’t even look up as she staggered into the clearing.

Bobby Fenech, on the other hand, jumped up as if he’d been bitten by a snake. He was wearing a leather bomber jacket over an orange polo shirt with the collar turned up. He had on a pair of wraparound aviator sunglasses, but he was just as soft- and harmless- looking as ever. His spiky hair stayed perfectly motionless even in the stiff breeze off the lake.

“Jesus, Chey, you don’t just sneak up on a guy in my profession,” he said. “Don’t you know we’re famous for our killer reflexes?”

“Hi, Bobby,” she said, and leaned into his embrace. She let him lift her chin and kiss her. She had let him do a lot more than that before— and now was hardly the time to be squeamish. “Please tell me you got my message. About losing my pack.”

He grinned evilly. “I can’t believe you lost your weapon. Do you know how expensive these are?” he asked. He put a hand inside his jacket and pulled out a square black handgun. He ejected the magazine and handed it to her so she could check the ammunition.

The seven bullets lined up in the clip were black with tarnish, but she knew they were 995- grade silver underneath.

Check out the previous chapters of Frostbite right here.

Excerpted from Frostbite: A Werewolf Tale by David Wellington. Copyright © 2009 by David Wellington. Published in the Unites States by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Published in the UK as Cursed by Piatkus Books, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group.

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