Frostbite- Chapter 27

Life changed again on July 25, 2003. Chey was twenty-one years old. Though she’d done nothing in remembrance, nor did she even want to think about it, she was conscious of the fact that it was the ninth anniversary of her father’s death.

One reason people go to the same bar every night is because every night is exactly the same. That night started like any other. She was pulling Labatt Blues for the workingmen and Alley Kat microbrews for the more discriminating customers. She was laughing and generally having a good time, making jokes with the regulars, eating some fried fish one of them had brought her from the chip shop next door. She had just taken an order for a table full of mixed drinks when Bobby Fenech pushed through the door and the smoke in the air rolled under the lights. Well, it did that when anyone walked in, when the warm air in the bar surged out into the cool night. For whatever reason, she happened to be looking up at that exact moment and she saw him. The swirling smoke seemed to wrap around him like a cape.

He looked like the kind of person who would work on that effect. The kind of man who liked to make a dramatic entrance, whether or not he could back it up.

He wasn’t a big guy, really, but he sort of puffed himself out, the way a cat’s fur will stand on end to make it look bigger. He had on a heavy-duty leather jacket and boots with steel- reinforced laces, as if he’d just hiked down out of the hills. If he was all business on his feet, though, he was ready to party upstairs. His hair glowed with mousse and ended in sharp triangular points that stuck straight up. He was maybe thirty- five years old, though there was a weird boyish air around him. Maybe it was the shit- eating grin on his face. He came up to the bar and leaned up against it, his hands grasping the brass rail around the edge.

Chey smiled at him—he looked like he might be a big spender— and finished the order she’d been working on. Then she turned and gave him the nod.

He raised his voice over the general din of conversation and the Aerosmith song on the jukebox. “What do you have that’s Mexican and bottled?” he asked. “I can’t stand domestic beer. I prefer my piss- water imported.”

Her eyebrows drew together in consternation but his grin didn’t falter. The bouncer by the door, three hundred pounds of Eastern European muscle named Arkady, gave her a glance. But it was a questioning glance, not a warning glance. She shook her head and Arkady relaxed a fractional amount. She was pretty sure this newcomer was just trying to be funny.

“Corona good enough?” she asked, reaching for the bottle. He nodded and she tapped it down on the bar, flipped off the cap and shoved a lime wedge down the neck in one quick motion. “Three dollars,” she said, holding up three fingers in case he couldn’t hear her over the crowd noise.

He took out a hundred and draped it across the top of his bottle. “You see me running low, just give’r and don’t ask questions,” he smiled. “Whatever’s left when I leave you keep for yourself.”

Chey had been tending bar long enough at that point to know how to react. “That’s very generous, thank you,” she said. “I’ll be sure to take care of you tonight.” She grabbed the bill off the top of his bottle. “At least until you leave.”

He said something low and probably insulting, but she decided not to hear it. It was a busy night and she had orders to fill, so she moved on. He kept an eye on her and she knew he wanted to talk further. She was trying to decide whether she wanted to listen when he finished his first beer and she went to replace it with another.

He grabbed the nearly empty bottle away from her and tilted it to his mouth. As if he was offended she would take away the bottle when there was still one last swig of backwash in it. When she bent to get the next beer she could feel his eyes on her chest. On her breasts. Nothing new or surprising there, except she got the sense he was more interested in her tattoo than her skin.

That moved him into the category of people she’d rather not talk to. She was about to grab his hundred back out of the till and return it, to tell him his first beer was on the house as long as it was also his last. Before she could, though, he set down his bottle and spoke.

“They never found it,” he said. His grin was still in place.

Chey thought about asking him what the hell he was talking about. No point, though. He could only be talking about one thing. She popped open his second beer. She didn’t say a word.

“They did a pretty thorough search, surprisingly. Most local cop-shops would have written that one off as an act of God. The good people of Chesterton, though, they really tried. They called in the big guns. The Mounties sent helicopters out into the bush and brought in real live bloodhounds when the aerial search turned up nothing. They found a caribou carcass a ways north of there that looked like maybe it was his handiwork. Only two kinds of animals could rip up a buck like that. Either a grizzly or a...werewolf.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Okay. That’s enough.” Arkady the bouncer sat up in his chair. “We have a policy here for people who want to talk about things they don’t understand. I get a free smoke break, and you get a free beer. There’s only one catch. You finish the beer and you leave before I come back.”

“Alright,” he said. “If that’s what you want. Listen, though, I brought you something. Something I think you might like to have.” He started reaching into his pocket. Arkady grabbed his wrist and pulled it back out, twisted it around behind his back. A slip of paper or maybe an index card fell across the bar and Chey picked it up.

She flipped it over and saw it was a photograph. It looked like it had been taken from out of the window of an airplane. It showed a patch of waving grass from above. In the middle of the picture was a wolf rearing up on its hind legs, its massive paws batting at the camera. Its eyes were an icy green that made her whole body tense up.

“Wait,” she said, and looked up.

Arkady had the weirdo in a neck lock. He wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t struggling, either, which was strange, but then he’d only had one beer. Maybe he was smart enough to understand what the bouncer could do with just a little pressure. “Wait,” she said again. “This picture looks recent.”

“It was taken two weeks ago by a bush pilot flying up near the Arctic Circle. A guy who sees real wolves all the time. He knew the difference and so he took that shot and brought it to me, because it’s my job to look at pictures like that. It took me all this time to connect that thing with your daddy. And then to you.”

Chey flicked the photo back and forth between her hands. Trying to make a decision.

The weirdo raised his eyebrows, making his face look open and honest. She didn’t trust that face, not one bit. But she trusted the picture. Those eyes. She couldn’t remember her father’s face, but she remembered those eyes.

Chey nodded at Arkady and the bouncer let go.

“My name’s Robert Fenech,” the weirdo said, sitting back down on his bar stool. His grin was back. “I’m an intelligence operative with the government. And I’d like my free drink now.”

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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