Kitty Goes to War Page 40

Ben said, “Even if they follow us here, we might fool them into thinking this is where we’re stopping.

“They don’t really think we’d shape-shift in downtown Denver, do they?” I said.

“I’m guessing they don’t know much of anything or they wouldn’t have called you,” Ben said, giving me a look.

“Gee, thanks,” I said.

We’d made half a circuit of the park when Ben turned onto a different street than the one we left. He made a couple more turns, then we were heading north toward I-70.

“You see anything, Walt?” Tyler said.

“No, I do not. Think we’re clear.”

Maybe Shumacher and Stafford hadn’t sent anyone after us. Maybe they had and we really had lost them. I’d never know for sure, but the soldiers were calm, and that counted for something.

Behind heavy clouds, the sun set, and as the light faded, we drove in silence.

Chapter 17

WE HEADED east, into the Great Plains. Usually we spent full moons in the mountains, with sheltered forests and valleys. Close enough to town to be convenient, but far enough away to be isolated. And plenty of hunting: deer, rabbits, and so on.

In the nineteenth century the Great Plains were called the GreatAmericanDesert because the region was so desolate. You could travel for hundreds of miles without seeing a tree, or a single living creature apart from the sea of grass rippling in a constant wind. Of course, the impression wasn’t the true picture. The place was rich with life. Even in the cold of winter, I could sense a tapestry of smells: dried grass, foraging rodents, the owls and hawks that hunted them, coyotes on the prowl. The rustling of brush and grasses made a constant rhythm. I soaked it all in—my world, my territory. Inside me, Wolf kicked, ready to run. Soon

On the prairie, we’d be isolated, and we’d find plenty to eat—pronghorn, rabbits, prairie dogs—but we wouldn’t have much shelter. At the same time, Tyler and Walters wouldn’t have anywhere to hide. On the flat, wide plains, I could keep an eye on them. We could keep watch over each other. And we’d avoid the snow scheduled to hit the mountains overnight.

A hundred years ago, wild wolves lived out here. We could, too.

We didn’t all park in the same place, as we usually did when we went to the mountains, where we had a sheltered turnout on private land to use. Here, the sudden midnight parking lot would have attracted too much attention. Instead, we used state park trailheads, remote dirt roads, and fence lines, a car or two in each place. Then we gathered, down a sloping hill where a creek lined with cottonwoods cut a gully through the land. We’d be safe out here. I made doubly sure we were well away from cattle ranches and any herds of grazing cattle. Fresh steaks might sound great, but I couldn’t think of a worse way to draw attention to ourselves.

Ben and I reached the rendezvous spot first with the two soldiers and waited for the others.

Tyler stood on a rise, face turned to the sky, to a silver-lined bank of clouds that hid the rising moon. He pulled off his T-shirt, dropped it. Flexing the powerful muscles of his shoulders, he was like a living shadow. Nearby, the smaller, wirier Walters was pacing.

“We haven’t been free on a full moon since Afghanistan,” Tyler said.

“How does it feel?”

“I’m excited. I want to run.” A faint smile turned on his lips. He was more excited than nervous. His wolf was rising.

“What was it like?” I said, cautious, because I was maybe opening wounds. “In Afghanistan, when Gordon was leading you. What did you do during full moons?”

“We hunted,” he said. Walters barked a laugh.

Quiet and thoughtful, Ben watched us. We exchanged a glance. I could almost tell what he was thinking: we’re going to have to be careful. Stick together and watch out for them. I nodded.

Ben glanced toward the horizon. “They’re here.”

“Okay,” I said. “I want you guys to stay together—stay with the group. That’s all I want you to worry about—”

Tyler said, “But we hunt—”

“We hunt as a pack. But don’t worry about that, it’ll happen. I need you two to stay close. That’s more important this time around. Walters?” I called to the other soldier, who was looking over the plains at the spot where Shaun approached with Becky.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said.

“Any questions before the party starts?” I said to them.

Shaun wore only sweatpants and went barefoot. Becky had on sweats and a tank top. We looked like we were out here for a picnic, despite the cold nighttime breeze.

Tyler was breathing hard, sweat dripping down his neck. He was trying to keep it together. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said. “I don’t know if I can get along with the rest of them.”

“You’ll be fine. Walters, can you please stand still?” I said. And wonder of wonders, he stopped pacing.

Maybe there was a better way to introduce new wolves to a pack. Maybe there was a ceremony or ritual that would have made this easier. These were werewolves, not friends at a cocktail party. I couldn’t just ask them to shake hands and tell each other about their jobs.

I moved to stand between the new arrivals and the soldiers. They’d have to cross me to get to each other. I was hoping to keep it that way all night.

“Shaun,” I said. “You’ve met Tyler and Walters. And Becky.”

The four of them looked each other up and down. None of them were happy. But they weren’t exactly unhappy, either. Hackles were up, but no one was baring teeth.

“Are we going to have trouble?” Shaun asked.

“No, man,” Tyler said. “No trouble.”

Shaun nodded, satisfied. He went to the first tree in the grove and stripped off his sweatpants. He stood waiting, naked and powerful in the dim, cloud-shrouded moonlight. Becky followed him to the tree, keeping her gaze on Walters—who glanced away.

The other wolves of the pack arrived, stalking cautiously, looking to me for reassurance after glancing at the strangers. Most of them hadn’t met Tyler and Walters yet. I made sure to introduce them all, give them names, make them look at each other. I’d touch my pack member on the shoulder or arm, then touch Tyler and Walters. Nostrils flared, heads cocked as they studied each other, smelling each other. The soldiers were starting to smell like pack. Some of the antiseptic, institutional tinge that clung to them because of their time in the hospital was wearing off. They were picking up the scent of other wolves, of the wild wind that blew from the mountains and over the plains.

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