Mary darted her tongue in and out of Mike's ear; he ignored her, focusing his attention on Bear and Jo-jo's heated argument. Watching them, he felt curious at first, then nervous, and finally terrified. Although he couldn't hear much of their conversation, he heard Jo-jo say, "he's a cop, Bear." And he saw Bear's face redden in fury.
When they'd told Mike his first undercover assignment would be infiltrating a biker gang, he said, "Great!" Well, it looked like a pretty shitty job right then.
A few minutes later, Bear stormed over, thick veins painting an ugly portrait on his shaved head.
He stood nose to nose with Mike, hatred cascading from him in waves.
"That true, Mike? You a fucking cop?"
Mary backed away, her lip curled in a disgusted sneer.
Every eye in the club bored into him, searching for answers in his expression. He tried to act cool even though he was terrified, even with sweat pouring down the back of his neck.
"What're you? Crazy? Where'd you get that shit?"
"C'mere, Jo-jo," Bear ordered.
Jo-jo ran over, looking like a scared rabbit.
"You lyin' to me, Jo-Jo?"
"No, I swear it!"
"There you go. Jo-Jo's too scared to lie to me. I believe him."
Bear nodded toward Mike. Gunfire exploded, throwing Mike forward, his back burning like he'd been hit by lightening.
The world turned grey and Mike fell in a heap, slamming his cheek against a rock. He heard voices from far away, distorted and garbled. He couldn't tell who was talking or what they were saying. Just pieces"cop," "buzzard." Mike stopped fighting and let the darkness swallow him.
Mike awoke with pain knifing through his skull. Snow everywhere; he was freezing. He tried to remember what had happened, but thinking just made his head throb harder. He lifted his head, but when he tried to sit up he couldn't. Couldn't feel his legs, either. A vise of panic squeezed his heart.
Mike's teeth chattered; he couldn't tell if it was from cold or fear. Trying to clear his head seemed impossible. Using his arms proved easier, and he managed to lift his upper body enough to look around. Bathed in shadows, the woods looked a lot more hostile than they had earlier.
He had to get out of there.
Dragging himself forward, hand over hand, he collapsed after about 25 feet, rolling on his back like a beached turtle. He felt something warm running down his cheekMike didn't know if it was blood or tears. Frightened, he squeezed his eyes shut.
"I'm gonna die," he thought. Images of Cathy and little Mike flooded his tortured brain and he cried out in pain and frustration. "I won't die. I won't."
A wet sloppy tongue slurped Mike's sore cheek, making him jump. Turning his head, he came face to face with a large brown dog, some kind of shepherd with its head cocked to one side, eyeing him appraisingly. Mike had never felt so happy to see another living creature.
"Good boy. Go for help, boy."
The dog eyed him suspiciously. Then it leapt into the air, wagging its tail excitedly, stopped, cocked its head to the side questioningly, then leapt into the air again.
"You wanna play, don'tcha, boy?" Tears of frustration blurred Mike's vision. "I can't play, boy. I can't."
The shepherd stopped, his sad brown eyes seeming to understand Mike's pain. He paced back and forth, stopping occasionally to cock his head again, as if trying to figure out what to do with his new friend.
The shepherd trotted off, reappearing a couple of minutes later dragging a tarp with a rope running through eyeholes on each end. Mike remembered seeing Bear use this tarp to cover his bike when it snowed. The dog grabbed the rope between his jaws and paused, looking at Mike expectantly. He wanted to use the tarp like a sled! When he pulled the tarp over to Mike, the man pushed himself up and rolled onto his back on top of the tarp.
The shepherd grabbed the rope again and pulled. He moved Mike a few inches and stopped, then a few inches more. Although Mike only carried 170 pounds on his 5'11" frame, he believed that was too much weight for a 70 or 80 pound dog to pull.
But he felt himself picking up speed, helped by the icy ground and the fact that they were going downhill. The wind whistled in his ears. They were really moving now. Once in a while a sharp rock or twig would jab Mike, but he hardly noticed. Even when a clump of snow fell on his face, startling him, he laughed and brushed it off. He was moving; that was all that mattered.
"I'm gonna call you Nick, fella, because you got here in the nick of time. No more winter nights for you. No more hunting for food, either. You like steaks? You'll get steak every night if you want it. Nothing's too good for you, Nick."
Suddenly Nick let go of the tarp and growled menacingly. Spinning his head around to get a better look, Mike's heart stopped. Standing fifteen feet away, a dark brown wolf eyed them warily. Nearly the same size and colour as Nick, for a moment Mike thought it was another shepherd.
But it wasn't.
The wolf grew bolder as it walked toward them.
Nick barked loudly but the wolf kept coming.
It bounded across the clearing and Nick leaped to meet him, each of them snarling and snapping at the other's throat with powerful jaws.
Mike couldn't tell who was winning. Tumbling around in the snow they looked so much alike that he didn't even know who to cheer for.
Then one lay one the ground twitching and the other trotted towards him. Six feet away, the animal cocked his head in that familiar pose and Mike's heart started beating again. Never had he loved an animal so much.
Nick began dragging him again and soon it felt like they were flying over the ice, racing toward some unseen finish line. Trees flew by in a hypnotic blur.
Mike grew drowsy and dozed off.
When he awoke they had stopped again. Fearfully, Mike jerked his head around in a circle, looking for the wild animal that had stopped them this time.
They were alone.
As Mike's eyes adjusted to the dusk, he saw that they had stopped next to the bank of a wide stream. Across the stream and down about a half-mile, lights cut through the woods. Houses, civilisation, help. Mike's hopes soared.
Nick kept looking back and forth between Mike and the stream as if debating whether to cross it.
Mike stared at the water. It didn't look deep, but it had to be cold as hell. He still couldn't move his legs, and that scared him. And they'd have to leave the tarp behind. But he'd be damned if he'd give up after coming this far.
"Let's go Nick. Let's try it."
Apparently agreeing, Nick ran over and dragged Mike toward the stream. When they got to the bank Mike used his arms to fling himself backwards into the icy water. Nick leaped after him, grabbed Mike's jacket under the arm, and swam furiously, propelling them across the surface.
Mike backstroked with his free arm and soon they reached the opposite bank.
Nick clamped down on the collar of Mike's denim jacket and tried to pull him up on top the bank, but his paws slid on the ice until he fell down and slid back into the water. After Nick had slipped three times, Mike tried to pull himself up with his arms but with the same results. After all this, they were stuck. Tears of frustration welled up in Mike's eyes.
Nick bounded off into the woods. Mike felt scared and alone, helpless. The freezing water drained his strength, and he wasn't sure how long he could hang on.
Ten minutes later, just as he was ready to give up, he heard Nick's familiar panting and craned his neck to see Nick leading four other dogs. Like a practised rescue team, each grabbed a piece of Mike's clothing and together they hauled him onto the bank.
They dragged him into a clearing where Mike felt several sharp twigs poke him in the arms and shoulders. Looking down, he saw that they weren't twigs at all. They were bones. And skulls.
"They look almost human," Mike thought.
The dogs stopped pulling and Nick slurped Mike's face happily. Suddenly, a searing pain burned Mike's cheek. Nick had bitten him!
Snapping his head up, Mike saw that his pants were in tatters. Chunks of meat hung from the dog's jaws — his meat. Gristly bone showed through where his unfeeling legs had been ripped apart. Nick started tearing at his neck.
Mike tried to scream, but heard a weak gurgling sound instead. This time he welcomed the darkness.