Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 34

“I've got to figure out what did that.”

“Clear your name?”

It wasn't that. Marks couldn't prove I'd done it, however much he wanted to. Rather, I'd gotten this feeling that things would only get worse until 1 stood up and did something. I was tired of waiting, cornered and shivering in the dark. That might have been okay for a lone wolf, but I had a pack to protect now.

Running away wasn't an option because what if this thing up and followed me?

Ben said, “You think this is the thing you saw the other night?”

“I'm still not sure I saw anything.”

“And you think it's the same thing Cormac was hunting.”

“What if it followed him here?” Whatever had been here, the signs were two days old now. Harder to find— and I hadn't found anything in the first place. But if it was the same thing, I had a second point of contact now. I headed overland, as the crow flies or wolf runs, in the direction of the Baker ranch. “I'll look around. 1 can cover this whole area between here and the ranch. You should stay here.”

“No. You're not leaving me out of this. I'll come with you. I'll help.”

“Ben—”

“I don't want to hear any more of that alpha wolf bullshit. Just let me help, please.”

I could have gotten angry and stood my ground on principle. That would have been the alpha thing to do. Alphas didn't let new wolves argue with them. But it was just the two of us. I didn't have anything to prove. Maybe we'd be better off together.

“Look for anything out of place. Any sign, any feeling.”

“Anything that smells like those cattle,” he said, his voice low.

“Yeah.”

Together, we hunted. I let a bit of that Wolf-sense bleed into my human self. Smell, sound, senses—the least movement of a squirrel became profound, I looked sharply at every rustling branch. Daylight wasn't the time to be doing this. Too many distractions. Whatever had made that carnage had done so at night. This was a nighttime kind of evil.

I watched Ben, worried that he might let too much of his wolf out, wondering if he might lose control and shift. Mostly, he

seemed introspective, looking around tike the world was new, or like he was waking up after a dream. He was right to want to come along, I realized. Being out here, learning to look at the world again, was better than him staying holed up at home.

We rounded the hill at the edge of the Baker ranch, overlooking his land. A backhoe was dumping the last of the carcasses onto a truck, to be hauled away.

We'd found no sign of the creature, and somehow I wasn't surprised. We turned around and went home.

That afternoon, I went online again, checking the usual weird Web sites and forums that might have the sort of data—or at worst, rumors and anecdotes—I wanted. I searched for livestock mutilations, particularly in the Southwest U.S. Sure enough, the hits I found included an inordinate number of UFOlogist sites. Kind of annoying. I tried to avoid knee-jerk skepticism, since lately I'd been forced to reassess a lot of my assumptions. About, like, the existence of werewolves for example. But I wasn't quite willing to believe that a vastly superior extraterrestrial intelligence would travel all the way to Earth just to turn a few cows inside out.

But I found something. It wasn't aliens, it wasn't werewolves. On a few sites people talked about a sort of haunting. Not by the dead, but by a kind of evil. It left death and destruction in its wake. It originated in the Native American tribes of the Southwest, particularly the Navajo and Zuni. They talked about witches laying curses that killed entire families, destroyed livelihoods, haunted entire communities. And about skinwalkers: witches who had the power to change themselves into animals. Like lycanthropes. They had red eyes.

Nobody seemed to want to talk about them in detail. Knowing too much about them drew suspicion onto oneself. In some places, a person could be excused for killing someone who was suspected of being a skinwalker. Like lycanthropes, again.

Again 1 avoided knee-jerk skepticism. In my experience, accusations of evilness often stemmed from the fears of the accuser rather than the real nature of the accused.

What attacked Ben in New Mexico was a werewolf, plain and simple. We had the proof of that in Ben himself. But there'd been two of them.

I grilled Ben about what he knew.

“Not much,” he said. “Cormac picked up

this contract for the werewolf, but he got down there and found signs that there were two of them. So he called me. 1 saw some of the sheep they'd killed. Completely ripped open, like the cattle today.” He paused, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. The memory had triggered a reaction, caused his wolf to prick his ears. Ben collected himself and continued. “I only caught a glimpse of it, right before 1 was attacked. It was a wolf, it looked like a wolf. Something was wrong, Cormac was letting it walk right up to him. He could have shot the thing from ten paces off. I started to shout, then…” He shook his head. Then he was attacked, and that was that. He'd been watching Cormac, and not what came after him.

“Cormac said you saved him. You got a shot off and that broke some kind of spell.”

“I don't know. I don't remember it too clearly. Anything could have happened, I suppose. I do know there was something messed up going on.”

“And now it's moved here. I really hate my life right now.”

“Join the club,” he said. Then, more thoughtfully, “I grew up on a cattle ranch. Dead cattle—it's serious. Every one of them is a piece of the rancher's income. It's a big business. Marks will go after it until he figures it out.”

“Well, as long as he's after me, he isn't going to figure it out.” Marks didn't know about Ben; I figured we'd keep it that way. Nobody had to know about Ben.

“You suppose there's a connection with what's been going on here, with your dead rabbits and dogs?”

I shook my head. “Those were organized. Ritual killings. That today—was just slaughter.” Like we needed another curse around here.

I almost wished they were connected, so we'd only have one problem to solve.

That night, we lay sprawled in bed, like a couple of dogs in front of the fireplace. He pillowed his head on my stomach, nestling in the space formed by my bent legs. I held one of his hands, while resting the other on his increasingly shaggy head of hair. We didn't look at each other, but stared into space, not ready for sleep.