Blue Moon (Chapter 9)

I deposited Mandenauer at the Eagle's Nest. "Let us know if you need anything."

He leaned in through the passenger window and studied me more closely than I liked. "What if I need an assistant?"

My pulse quickened at the thought of hunting the wolf or wolves, but I knew better than to appear eager.

That was the quickest way to lose what I wanted.

"Take it up with Clyde." I shifted into reverse and Mandenauer withdrew his head from the window before he lost it.

The sun was setting as I ambled back toward town. We'd been in the woods longer than I'd thought, which was usually the case. Hours ceased to have meaning when you were walking through the forest.

Perhaps that was why I spent so much time there.

I glanced at my watch, half-expecting the thing to have stopped when I entered the trees near Cadotte's cottage. Of course it hadn't. Time had marched on even as I had.

My stomach rumbled. I thought about what I might have in my refrigerator at home, and knew it was the usual. Squat.

When I reached the Sportsman's Bar and Grill, I turned off the highway and went inside. A cheeseburger and soda later I went home. Darkness had descended completely while I was eating. I had three hours before my shift started at eleven. I could have savored another cola in the Sportsman, which was what I usually did when I ate there.

But tonight the patrons, as well as the owner, the bartender, and the waitresses, had been full of questions about what was rotten in Miniwa. I'd answered them as best I could without really telling them anything they didn't already know.

They were nervous, though, and they made me nervous. So I left after one long, tall glass.

Now what?

Nights like these brought home to me the pathetic nature of my life. I had no friends but Zee, and I'd see her soon enough. No boyfriend –  no kidding. No family but my mother, -who was in Arizona. Thank God.

Most days I was fine with how things had turned out. I had the job I'd always wanted in a town I'd always loved. I had a decent apartment and the promise of a better future.

I'd bought 250 acres just outside of Miniwa where I planned to build a home someday. Right now I kept it free of a trophy buck every fall.

If life wasn't perfect, it certainly didn't suck. But there were times I just felt… lonely.

I could drive out to my land and do laps in my private pond. Instead of jogging, as many of my counterparts – excluding Clyde –  did to keep in shape, I chose to swim. A lot less stress on the knees and a great way to increase upper body strength.

I'm all for equality in the workplace, but you can't argue with nature. Men had more upper body strength.

I didn't like it, but moaning wouldn't change anything. More reps in the pond would.

I pulled the Crown Victoria into my parking space. Since one of the officer benefits was personal use of the company vehicle –  to a point –  I didn't even own a car. I rarely went anywhere but here.

I stared up at my apartment. Though it was summer, the night wind in northern Wisconsin had a nip to it.

Stripping to my Speedo and diving into a lake held little appeal.

That the lake was nestled at the edge of a very dense, dark section of the woods lessened the appeal even more. I wasn't chicken, but I wasn't foolish, either. I could swim at the rec center as I'd been doing all winter –  at least until the wolf problem was resolved.

Maybe I'd have that second cola on my rarely visited balcony, sitting on my seldom-used porch furniture. I had a decent view on my side of the building, if I'd ever take a minute to look. The trees shaded the patio and someone had put a flower garden on a small knoll to the east. Perhaps I'd take a minute now.

Once inside I removed my gun, set the weapon on top of my refrigerator, and stashed the bullets in my pocket. A lot of precautions for a woman who lived alone, but who knows when company might come.

This way, if someone found the gun they wouldn't have any bullets. If I needed the gun, the bullets were already on me.

I looped the heavy utility belt over the coatrack. My gaze caught on the cell phone still tucked in the holder.

I frowned. Why hadn't Cadotte called? I needed to get that totem back before Clyde blew another brain cell.

I glanced at my message machine, but the light wasn't blinking. I checked the phone on my belt.

Sometimes cell service cuts out in the deep woods, and sometimes it doesn't. Why or why not is a mystery. But my battery was fine and there were no messages there, either.

I caught a whiff of myself and headed for the bedroom. Missing bodies and rabid wolves made for a lot of nervous sweat. I stripped to the waist, then took a quick sponge bath and yanked a fresh khaki short-sleeved shirt from my closet.

Buttoning the front, I returned to the kitchen and snagged one of the two colas I had left. I needed to go grocery shopping –  my least favorite thing. When you lived alone and cooked rarely, the amount of choices in a grocery store was confusing. I usually came out with stuff I didn't need and more that I didn't know what to do with.

Something clinked against the floor-length sliding doors leading to my patio. I glanced in that direction.

Nothing but black night filled the glass. All I could see was myself.

"Probably a really big bug," I murmured. "Or a low-flying dumb bird."

I headed across the small living area, flicked the lock, picked up the metal rod that braced the door, and slid it open. Crickets chirped; the trees rustled; a chilly wind swirled into the room. I'd never noticed how dark this side of the building was.

I cast a quick, longing glance toward my gun, then shook my head. I was not going to sit on my balcony armed. I was supposed to be relaxing. Besides, what was going to get me up here? Even a rabid wolf couldn't jump fifty feet in the air. Could it?

Since I hated being afraid, I made myself step onto the porch. I leaned my forearms along the railing, cradling my soda in my palms.

The only reason I had a chill down my back was the icy remnants of winter on the breeze. As I stared at the forest, something slunk along the edge of the woods. Something low to the ground, something furry with a tail.

"Coyote," I said, and my voice sounded loud in the stillness of the night.

I thought about what I'd said and frowned. Wolves wouldn't tolerate coyotes in their territory. So had I really seen what I thought I had?

I straightened and scanned the tree line again. But the night was too dark. Where was the moon?

Lifting my gaze to the sky, I caught a muted silver glow hanging halfway between the earth and the apex.

When had the clouds moved in?

The scuffle of a foot against rocks and dirt pulled my attention from the sky to the ground. A man stood below my balcony.

The soda slipped from my hand. I gasped. He glanced up and snatched the can from the air seconds before it would have smashed into his head.

Soda sloshed across his shirt. His gaze met mine.

"You throw things at everyone, or am I just lucky?" Cadotte asked.