Frostbite- Chapter 40

The stranger’s hand on her arm felt like a pair of pliers were being closed on her wrist. She had no choice but to pull her hand back. Chey was astounded—she’d had no idea the man was near her, hadn’t heard him coming up behind her.

She shook the pain out of her hand. Then held it out again, to shake. She glanced down at the PVC pipe at her feet. Its smell still tantalized her. “What is that, wolf musk?” she asked. She had it now. It smelled exactly like Powell’s hair. Like a lycanthrope.

The sneaky guy stared at her for a long time before taking her hand. Then he bent down slowly from the waist and kissed it. “Bruce,” he said, “Bruce Pickersgill. I think you’ve already been introduced to my brother.”

He was smaller than the near- giant Frank Pickersgill, considerably smaller, and his shoulders were thin and narrow, but there was a smoky kind of intelligence in his eyes she hadn’t seen in his brother’s. He had a pencil-thin mustache and he wore a parka with a beaver fur collar that smelled like old smoke. He had a pair of pistols low on his hips, like a gunfighter, though the guns themselves were matte black and square in shape, just like the one Bobby had given her. She didn’t doubt they were full of silver bullets.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said.

“We came in this morning,” he told her, “while you were up there howling away. We didn’t have a chance to be properly introduced then.” He held her with his eyes while he reached into his pocket. She half expected him to pull a knife on her. Instead his fingers flicked out with a business card between them.

western prairie canid management llc, she read. 67 years com¬bined expertise!

“Canids are what—dogs?” she asked.

“Doglike mammals,” he told her. “Predatory beasts. Mostly we get called in by shepherds who don’t like coyotes worrying their flocks. Lots of outfits do that. My brothers and I, though, we specialize in larger pest animals. Coydogs, bears, and the occasional wolf pack.”

She nodded. She understood how these men “managed” such animals, she guessed. They killed them in the fastest, cheapest way possible. “I take it Bobby explained to you what I have become, Mr. Pickersgill.”

“Bruce, please.” He nodded. “That’s why I didn’t want you touching the mechanism.”

She bent down to look at the PVC pipe. The smell of Powell on it had to be artificial, she decided. There was no way he would have gotten close enough to these guys to let them take a sample of his personal body odor. “What is this thing?” she asked, gesturing at the pipe but being careful not to touch it.

“That,” Bruce Pickersgill said, his eyes very sharp, “is what we in the trade call a getter. It’s a modified kind of coyote getter, big enough for your average exotic canid.”

Chey figured she knew what kind of exotic canids he was talking about. “How does it work?”

A smile inched across his face like a worm crawling through the decayed insides of an apple. “At the bottom of that pipe is a rifle cartridge, a .38 to be exact. That’s wired to a spring-up top. When your target animal pokes its nose into the lip of the pipe, it triggers the cartridge, which goes boom, and fires a pellet up into their face. If you’re lucky it goes right down the target’s throat. If not it’ll get embedded in their jaw or face.”

“Nice.” Chey grimaced. “What kind of pellet?” She was almost afraid to ask.

Bruce scratched at his mustache. “Well, for your timber wolves, for your coyotes, for your coydogs, feral dogs, what have you, we usually use sodium fluoroacetate, what’s called 1080 in the trade. With that you get some convulsions, you get uncontrolled running, and then vomiting and death follow pretty quick.”

Chey winced. “Jesus. But even that wouldn’t kill this kind of wolf,” she said.

Bruce’s face smoothed out in happiness. “We love a good challenge at Western Prairie. My brother spends long, lonely nights in his workshop dreaming up new mechanicals and testing new baits and lures. For this job he really shone. We tested a getter with a silver bullet in it, but on the five experimental animals we used only one of them was sufficiently wounded to guarantee a clean kill. So Bruce thought up something new. The pellets we’re using today are full of colloidal silver, that’s silver particles in a water solution. For people like me and—well, for Homo sapiens, anyway, the stuff’s all but harmless. It might turn our skin blue if we got too big a snort. But for your exotic canid it’s deadly poison.”

Chey’s hand twitched. She had come very close to setting off one of the getters. The silver pellet inside would kill her in human or in wolf form. And the smell, the smell of the lure—“You’ve got some kind of bait on these,” she said. “A musk.”

“Genuine wolf matrix,” he said happily. “That’s a patented formula right there. We call it Canine Curiosity and it works great on most canid sets. We make it with a rue oil base with lovage oil on top. That’s a traditional canid passion simulator.”

“Uh- huh,” she said, getting about half of that.

“Then we grind up some authentic precaudal gland and add that in. That might be what you smell the most, because it’s pretty fresh.”

“That’s disgusting,” she said, unable to keep her reaction inside.

He shrugged. “It’s what works, normally.”

“You’ve put a lot of thought into this,” Chey said.

“We’ve been preparing for this job for the last six months,” he told her. “A population-control assignment like this, you don’t just fly in with what you have on hand; you need to make everything custom.”

She frowned. Because that meant—“I thought Mr. Fenech just called you in yesterday.” She was confused. “Six months ago, he and I were still figuring out our original plan.”

Pickersgill shrugged. “Maybe he just wanted to be prepared, like a good Boy Scout. I gotta say, though, the way he was talking, made it sound like we were the main plan, and you were a side bet.” He shrugged. “No offense meant, but you’re just a slip of a girl. You really think he ex¬pected you to take down this canid alone?”

“Yes, I did,” she said.

Something connected in Chey’s mind. Something she very much didn’t like. Bobby had told her she would finally have her chance at revenge. That she would be allowed to go in alone and kill Powell. He’d never so much as hinted before that he had another angle working at the same time. And Pickersgill had a point—if he had all this technology at his disposal, why would he even need Chey in the first place?

Unless—unless he had never really expected her to succeed. Never really thought she could kill Powell. Maybe he’d thought of her just as a way to find the werewolf in the first place. To bring him out into the open.

Maybe he’d thought of her as bait. From the beginning.

No, she told herself. She was being paranoid, that was all. Bobby really cared for her. He would never put her in danger just to flush Powell out of hiding.

“This is how Bobby’s going to protect me from him,” she said. It sounded even to her own ears as if she was trying to convince herself. Pickersgill didn’t respond. She thought, suddenly, of Powell, moving silently through the darkness. She thought of him looking for her, searching for her so he could kill her. She visualized him sticking his nose into one of the getters, his head tilted to one side, his tongue out to taste the lure, one paw up on the pipe. And then bang. Her life’s long nightmare would be over.

She could hardly believe it.

Would he really be so curious? It had almost worked on her, even in her human form. But he was a lot older than she was. He was a lot more canny. “What if he doesn’t go for it?”

“Well, then, Tony over there shoots him in the back of the head,” Bruce explained.

A man sat in a tamarisk tree not ten meters away. A man with a very big shotgun. He was tied to the tree trunk with bungee cords. He had camouflaged himself with twigs and leaves so well that she saw him only because he waved down at her with one sweeping arm motion. Chey nearly jumped. “Is he your brother, too?” she asked, trying to mask her alarm.

“Half- brother,” Bruce said. “Same ma, different dad. Meet Tony Balfour, my shootist.”

Chey looked back up at the sniper. “Hi,” she said.

Balfour gave her about three-tenths of a smile.

“He doesn’t talk much,” Bruce explained.

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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