Letting Vic break ground, I followed, dodging between the trees and wishing the pain in my side would let up. After getting back from Mexico, Docs Bloomfield and Nickerson had given me the once-over and explained that the doctors in Juárez had actually done a pretty good job of patching up my stomach, spleen, liver, and part of a lung, but I still felt like hell.
They'd warned me that I needed more bed rest, but I'd finished rereading all four volumes of A Dance to the Music of Time
and I was going stir-crazy. They'd informed me that with deep-tissue, solid- organ damage, the repair was really up to the organ itself, and that if I wasn't careful, I was courting disaster—or at least asking it out on a first date.
"You all right?"
I looked at Vic, who was standing on the trail still ahead of me. I placed a hand on a nearby lodgepole pine. "Yep, just a little winded."
She approached. "Go back to the truck."
"Let me rephrase: go back to the truck or I'll shoot you."
I shook my head. "No, you won't."
Slipping the semiauto from her holster, she aimed the 9mm at my foot. "If you don't do what I say, I'm going to blow the big toe off your left foot—now go back to the truck."
"Is that a new sidearm?"
She held it up for inspection, displaying it like a hand model would. "Glock 19 Gen 4 in Midnight Bronze." She re-aimed it at my foot. "There is a pool at the office on who is going to be responsible for letting you do something stupid that causes you to hurt yourself, and that is not going to be on my watch—got it?"
I smiled at her in an attempt to save my toe. "Who's leading the pool?"
"Lucian, but Sancho coming up fast on the inside."
"That's why he follows me to the bathroom?"
"Uh huh. Now quit stalling and go to the truck."
"Yes, ma'am." I pushed off the tree and started back at a slow pace, wondering if I'd ever pick up the step I'd lost in Mexico. Maybe that was the way of things; sometimes you paid a price and never get to make another deposit into your account and eventually you are overdrawn. Lately, I'd been feeling like I was standing at the counter, the cashier always closing the window in my face.
I wasn't paying much attention as I walked back toward the truck, but after a while I became aware of some movement to my right and turned my head in time to catch a glimpse of what I thought was the same border collie—but then thought again.
When you see a wolf, you can't help feeling impressed. Maybe it's because we're so used to being around their more domesticated cousins, but this animal is something else. Aside from all the crap that you see on TV and in the movies or even in badly written books, they're not the slathering beasts just outside the glow of the campfire; there's only one word that comes to mind when I've ever seen one in the wild: empathic.
It's like they're reading your mind, because they have to know what you're thinking to simply survive.
Back in the day, after that first nomadic hunter tossed a greasy leg of caribou to a curious pair of eyes, it set off a chain reaction of genetic mutation of over eight hundred thousand years that bred a partner for mankind, and an entirely different branch of the canine tree was born. For the sacrifice of their freedom came security and their role as guard and companion.
That was not the animal I was looking at now.
He studied me, not moving, and if not for a slight difference in color gradation against the darkness of the trees and the faded snow, I would've never seen him.
What would he have done then?
Eons ago there was a period when we would have been competing with each other as apex predators, but intellect and opposable thumbs gave us an evolutionary advantage and now he lived in our world.
Unconsciously, my hand landed on the holster of my stag-handled .45—maybe I wasn't feeling so apex after all.
His mouth was closed and his ears were down, but his eyes were wide and studied me. He was massive even if he hadn't eaten a quarter of a sheep. There was no blood on his mouth or ruff, so if he hadkilled the sheep, who knew when he had?
This excerpt ends on page 11 of the hardcover edition.