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Authors: Martha Grimes

Biting the Moon

BOOK: Biting the Moon
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This book is dedicated to all those organizations and individuals who work so unceasingly and unselfishly to protect, defend, and enhance the lives of animals.

A dog starved at his master's gate

Predicts the ruin of the state.

—W
ILLIAM
B
LAKE

P
ROLOGUE

The girl's hair was white below the scarf, now a scarf of snow, and there was a fine rime of ice on her eyebrows. Her mouth was so numb she couldn't have spoken even if there had been someone to speak to. She wore the snowshoes she had found back in the cabin and had brought the supplies, painkiller and bandages, whatever she might need to dress a wound.

She wondered if trappers wore snowshoes. Probably not. Anyway, a trapper wouldn't put himself through the unpleasantness of coming out in a heavy snow like this to check his traps. In New Mexico, the law was you had to check the traps every thirty-six hours, but who paid any attention? An animal trapped stayed trapped.

The snow was falling slowly in big flakes. The air was thick with snow, and gray, which made it hard to see the distant peaks of the Jemez Mountains. She never went too far from the cabin, no more than a quarter mile, because in these mountains tracks and trails could
be obliterated in an instant by a blizzard. And it was difficult to see the traps set out for coyotes.

This time, she sensed it before she saw it. She stopped to listen, but all she heard was the soughing sound of snow and then, when she moved, the slight hiss of her snowshoes sliding across a crust of snow at the edge of the trees, big-branched ponderosa pines that locked out the sun.

If the last trap she'd come across was any indication, there should be one nearby and in this approximate position, a dozen or so feet from it. She found it. From the churned-up earth around the trap, she could tell how hard the coyote had worked to free himself, and in what anguish. The lower part of the leg was nearly gnawed off. As she wrenched off her backpack, she found a pressure point in the leg, which she pressed to stop the bleeding. With her other hand and with her teeth, she managed to tear off a length of white bandage. She wrapped this around the leg. She carried nylon cord with her, which she sometimes used as a kind of muzzle, tying the animal's mouth shut with it. But looking at this coyote, she decided it hardly needed more restraint. She tried to be quick; given another hour of exposure, the coyote would be dead.

He looked at her. The green eyes were like a banked fire, smoldering. She brushed away some of the snow from his coat, but the snow still falling made another layer almost at once. She quickly brushed that off and then unrolled the blanket and put that over him. From the pack she drew out the hypodermic syringe and the weak codeine mixture. She put this liquid in the syringe, pushed the plunger up to release trapped air, and stuck the needle into the coyote's flank.

Andi watched its eyes. She could see a slow-blinking relief there, the drowsiness coming on. The painkiller would make it easier to get the coyote on the sled.

The first time she'd come across one of these leghold traps, she'd got down on her knees next to the coyote, tried hard to winch the trap off its leg, and couldn't do it. That coyote had been, like this one, quiet and submissive; it had tried to shove the trapped paw toward her, as if asking her to do something about it. She tried again to pull the trap apart, weeping with frustration as the tears nearly froze on her face.
Then she commanded herself to stop. If she couldn't get the coyote out of the trap, she knew she would have to shoot him. She had pulled the semiautomatic from the canvas roll and gone to stand behind the coyote, who tried to turn its head enough to see her. She didn't want him to see the gun that she shakily lifted. Her arms and hands felt like wax, as if they were melting, then stiffening, then melting again. She tried to pull the trigger but shook as if she were in the throes of a fever. One more try at the trap. She set the gun down. It could be done; the trapper opened them. If he could do it, so could she. For her, it would have to be the kind of strength one could summon up only by putting the entire self into the task. She closed her eyes to concentrate all of her strength into one spot. This time when she tried to force it, the trap yielded.

As she had done with that one, she washed off the leg of this coyote with snow, which would also help to numb it. She wondered about infection. On one of her infrequent journeys into town, she had looked up a veterinarian and asked him if wild animals didn't get infections from these steel-jaw traps. And what you could put on an animal wound.

“Ice cubes, that's the best thing.”

Ice cubes. “That's good to know next time a coyote turns up in my kitchen.” Then she'd walked out.

The coyote was compliant, drugged and frozen as it was. It felt hard as a slab of ice when she pulled it from the bloody ground onto the sled. She checked her compass first, saw she should correct the direction in which she was headed, and started pulling. It wasn't that hard, though the sled was smaller than the coyote. As she pulled the sled, she tried to put herself in the animal's place, being caught in one of those infernal traps. Fingers caught in a car door, that would be like it. Your fingers in a car door and not being able to get them out. And with all that pain, then seeing someone come toward you with a gun raised. She started to shiver again with that cold fever.

She was not all that good at determining age, but this coyote looked young. Pups got big fast, so this one might have been only a year old, possibly two. Only two years on this earth and you already know life is a living hell.

It had stopped snowing; the sun came out again, turning the snow pink and casting long shadows between trees. A shadow forest. She liked to think there was a shadow world running parallel to this one, ruled by some holy coyote or wolf, its gates guarded by dire wolves. She'd read about them, the huge wolves. If such a parallel world existed, maybe it was coyote heaven. It was pretty obvious where coyote hell was.

At the mouth of the cave she was using, she left the coyote in order to fan up the small fire that she'd left smoldering before going out. It was amazing how well a cave could store heat. It must have something to do with the shape. And there was always a cave.

After she got a low fire going, she took the blanket off and spread it on the ground near enough to the coals so that the coyote would warm up but not so close as to get him burned in case he shoved out a leg. She pulled the coyote from the sled. Then she lay down on her bedroll. She would have to go into town in the next few weeks for more supplies. Food. Medicine. The food was easy, the painkiller wasn't. One of these days, they'd catch her; it had to happen. She hated going into the city, small city as it was. It was difficult to breathe, oppressive. She might as well have been asthmatic, the way her chest seemed to buckle, to strain inward. There were too many people; still, it wasn't as bad as other places she'd been.

She could not fall asleep because it might be dangerous; she didn't imagine she'd be all that popular with coyotes, being human, and this one could wake up at any time. She told herself not to go to sleep. She went to sleep.

When she woke, it was in her usual state of confusion. Where was she? And then what had woken her came back, a howling that came from what sounded like a pack of ten or twenty but was probably only three; coyotes and wolves were amazing in their ability to make a few voices sound like a chorus. Their voices were like ladders of sound—up several notches, down a few, up and up again, and in that queer syncopated rhythm that might have sounded cacophonous to somebody else but sounded to her like harmony.

Quickly, she looked at the blanket on the ground. The fire was almost gone, and so was the coyote. Perhaps the damage hadn't been
too bad, then. She rolled over on her stomach and saw the trail of blood droplets on the floor of the cave. Bending, because the roof of the cave was too low for her to stand erect, she scuffled over to the mouth. It was still light, but blue light getting on for dark. She knelt at the mouth of the cave and saw, some hundred feet or so, not far off and with the faintly risen moon at their backs, a line of coyotes, strung out across the ridge, standing, sitting, even lying, and all howling. She would like to think they were serenading her, but she wasn't a sentimental girl. The sound made her happy, and she wished she could pick out her coyote (see how easily humans came to think they owned things?) but of course she couldn't. Hers looked like the others. Their coats were beautiful in this dusky light, fine and gray as ashes.

She had to bend over to get through the cave's opening, and saw at her feet the disturbance of the dusty earth. Coyote prints. And more than one, certainly; more than her single coyote would have made in leaving the cave. How many had been here and had left her sleep undisturbed?

What people there were seldom came up here in winter except to ski, and they used the tram that could take them to Sandia Crest. In spring and summer it would be different; they'd be hiking on the trail—La Luz and the Embudo. She had found the cabin that way, off an unmaintained trail that few saw and outside the boundary of the wildlife refuge. The cabin, clearly lived in but temporarily unoccupied, had been a godsend. Where she would go when the owners returned she didn't know. Tucked into these mountains, but farther down and outside of the wilderness preserve, were a few bungalows and cabins: set in little copses, hidden from view, easily avoided. She had not met another person up here in the mountains in the four months she'd been here. And that was fine with her; she had no interest in other people.

The pull of the mountains in a twilight snow. She liked to breathe in the rarefied air and think of going even farther up, higher. The air was so cold and pure it seemed to explode into her lungs. There was even, at this altitude, a greater clarity of thought. At night she lay in bed, wondering about herself and how she was able to feel such a kinship with this cabin, living alone and never seeing another soul. Much of the time she was lonely. But even the loneliness was different; it was as
clean and shear as a cliff side, and she knew just where to put her feet for purchase.

She was only into her teens, sixteen or maybe seventeen. At least that was the age she'd assumed for herself when she'd looked in the cabin's single mirror, the one over the washbasin. Age was one of the things about herself that she couldn't pin down. Vanity didn't lure her to the mirror; memory did.

Every day she checked the traps—which was certainly oftener than the trapper did. She had never seen him, or them; it might have been one man or many. It was illegal, of course, as most of this mountainous area was a wildlife preserve. No hunting, no shooting, no trapping. “Illegal” was never enough to stop some people.

Eighteen at most. That's what she'd decided. More likely, younger. There'd been no driver's license among her things . . . well, of course there hadn't, or she'd know something about herself: her name, her age, where she came from. All she had were a questionable reference to Idaho and the initials on her backpack:
A.O.

She lay in bed at night with her hands behind her head, watching intricately winding branch shadows cast by the leafless Russian olive tree beyond the window.

She felt free to think all thoughts; it made no difference whether they were sensible or not. As she had done so often before, she ran through the
A
names she could remember.
Agnes.
That was one she'd forgotten.
Arabella.
That was another but was unlikely. More likely was
Ann
or
Alice.
And then, resting by the side of the road that fatal and late afternoon, she'd been reading her guidebook. In a slope of sunlight that cut the rock in two, she had seen it. Not “seen” exactly, for it was hidden in the text of the travel guide; it had leapt at her like none of the Anns and Alices had done:

BOOK: Biting the Moon
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ads

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