Read Under a Bear Moon Online

Authors: Carrie S. Masek

Tags: #Science Fiction/Fantasy

Under a Bear Moon (6 page)

BOOK: Under a Bear Moon
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“Still cold?”

Lynda shook her head. “A little chilled, maybe, not cold.” Ignoring the way her heart hammered against her ribs, she looked up at him and smiled.

* * * *

THE TEMPERATURE dropped throughout the evening. By the time the cast left the restaurant, the wind off the lake had turned icy. It ripped through Lynda's windbreaker and gusted up her skirt, chilling her arms and freezing her stockinged legs.

Ellen pulled on thick, winter gloves. “Matt drove his dad's car, tonight. He's giving me a ride back to school. Want to come?”

Lynda tried to look warm. “No thanks.” Shrugging, Ellen trotted after Matt.

A moment later, Greg stepped outside. He paused by the door. The sky was the pink-gray of a cloudless night, and the streetlights left large sections of the sidewalk in shadow. “Lynda?” he called.

She waved. “Over here.”

He walked up to her. Even without a jacket he looked comfortable. Lynda shivered.

Greg put his arm around her shoulders and pull her toward him. “Cold?”

It was like standing next to a wood burning stove. Lynda sighed and relaxed into the heat. “Not anymore.”

“It's almost seven.” An apology colored Greg's words. “I've got to get home.”

Lynda had hoped Greg would walk back to the auditorium with her. She stifled a sigh. She should've known better, Greg never went anywhere after dark. “I'll walk you,” she said. “It's only half a block.”

Turning, they headed for the corner. They didn't say anything, didn't need to. A strange contentment fell over Lynda, and the feeling surprised her. Except for biology class, she had nothing in common with Greg. He didn't like science and he was afraid of dogs. He didn't even watch Bulls games.

When they reached Greg's building, she felt his arm slip to her waist, felt his other arm wrap around her. “Thanks for the pizza,” he murmured.

Nestled in the cocoon of his warmth, Lynda looked into Greg's eyes. They shimmered in the light from the doorway. She stopped thinking, stopped breathing. His lips parted, revealing broad, white teeth. His head dipped, and she tilted hers to the side. Before she felt his breath against her lips, Greg jerked back. “Gotta go.” He dropped his arms and tore past her into the building.

“What?”

Lynda spun and watched Greg's back disappear up the stairs. She looked up and froze. A huge shadow loomed in the window overhead. An enormous man had been watching them.

Unable to make out his face against the bright back-ground, Lynda saw him raise his arm and jerk down a heavy, black shade. The light from the window vanished as if he'd thrown a switch. He pulled two more shades, cutting off her sight of the apartment. Lynda stared at the shades until she realized she was trembling. Rubbing her hands quickly over her arms, Lynda turned and ran all the way back to school.

Interlude

THE NIGHT was crisp and clear. Walking through the park west of the University, he pretended he was home, wandering his familiar woods. Stepping through drifts of fallen leaves felt different from padding on a carpet of pine needles, but the musty crunch each step raised helped hide the noise and stench of the city.

The lake-driven wind picked up. It blew the drifts into whirlwinds around his feet and revealed a mouse huddled at the base of a nearby oak. He made a game of chasing the mouse through the leaves until an enticing fragrance caught his attention.

He raised his head, sniffed, and smiled. Then he glanced up at the crescent moon and realized it was late, too late for her to be out alone. Forgetting the mouse, he trotted toward the park's boundary. He didn't know where she was headed, but he could follow her scent and see her safely home.

Chapter 6

THURSDAY AFTER school, Lynda was at her locker collecting her books, when she heard Greg call her name. Because of a series of dissection labs, Lynda hadn't seen him since the pizza party. Surprised by how much she'd missed him, Lynda looked up and waved. “Hi, Greg. Done for the day?”

He strode down the hallway toward her with his backpack slung over his shoulder. In his jeans and denim jacket, he looked like a Levi's commercial. Dropping the pack at his feet, Greg leaned against the bank of lockers on the opposite wall and stifled a yawn. “Guess so. Don't have much to do now that rehearsals are over.”

Lynda smiled. “You could always go home and take a nap. You look sleepy.”

“I need to get to bed earlier.” Greg yawned again. “Have any plans for this afternoon? We could go to the library and study.”

Lynda shoved her books into her backpack. “I'd like that, but not today. Dr. Lopez is expecting me at the animal shelter.”

Greg's smile wilted.

Lynda zipped up her parka. “We can get together tomorrow, if you want. It's just that I have something I can't wait to show her.”

“What?” Greg asked while he walked Lynda out of the building.

Pausing at the top of the steps, Lynda reached into her coat pocket and withdrew a small, white envelope.

“A letter?”

“No.” The word became a puff of mist the wind tore from her lips. Grinning, she opened the envelope and took out a tangled mass of hair. “I found this in the bushes outside the auditorium Friday night. I think it belongs to that animal Dr. Lopez is looking for.”

Greg shifted his weight uneasily. “I thought you'd forgotten about that.”

Lynda returned the hair to the envelope, slipped it back into her pocket, and started down the stairs. “No way. Just because the hairs in the dog's mouth turned out to be human, doesn't mean that there isn't a dangerous animal out there. This is our first real clue.”

She heard the scuff of his shoes on the stairs behind her. “What makes you think that?”

Lynda jumped off the bottom step. “I saw the animal. Its eyes anyway.”

“You did?”

The sharpness of Greg's question made Lynda stop and look at him. The color had drained from his face. “What's wrong?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Nothing. I just don't like the thought of a dangerous animal lurking around the auditorium.”

Lynda remembered the look on Greg's face when the terrier had barked at him. “You don't need to worry. Dr. Lopez thinks it's a nocturnal animal. You're safe at home long before it ventures out.”

“It's not me I'm worried about.” Greg sounded of-fended.

Lynda sighed. “See you tomorrow.” She turned west on 59th Street.

Greg trotted up behind her. “I thought you drove to the animal shelter.”

Lynda shrugged. “I do, usually, but Mom needs the car today.”

He slowed to her pace and walked beside her. “The shelter's not in a very good neighborhood.”

Lynda glanced at her watch and lengthened her stride. “It's not that bad. Besides, it's light out. When it's time to leave, I'll take the University bus home. It stops right in front.”

They paused at the corner to let a school bus pass. Before starting across, Greg licked his lips and said, “Would you like some company?”

Amazed, Lynda turned to him. “You want to come to the animal shelter?”

Greg's smile was shaky, but he nodded. “Sure. I might learn something.”

* * * *

THE WALK went faster with Greg along, and Lynda was almost sorry when they strolled up to the Animal Protection Society's glass and steel facility. She led him up the steps to the automatic doors. “This is it. I usually stop and see the animals first—”

She stopped when Greg paused in the entryway. His face wore the pinched look Lynda had seen the first day in biology, and she suddenly remembered his “sensitive sinuses.” Lynda wondered if it was the smell, or the muffled barking from the lobby that made him hesitate. There was nothing she could do about the smell, but, “—Today, I'm going straight to Dr. Lopez.”

Greg nodded and followed her down the hallway to the veterinarian's office. Lynda knocked. “It's not locked,” she heard.

Pushing the door open, Lynda showed Greg into the small office. Dr. Lopez sat behind her desk, head bowed over a mess of forms. Lynda waited patiently, knowing that the veterinarian hated to be interrupted in mid-thought. Greg stood beside her, one shoulder wedged against the wall, the other nearly touching her jacket.

Dr. Lopez signed a form, brushed a dark lock from her eyes, and looked up. A line appeared between her brows when she looked from Lynda to Greg. “Hello, Lynda. Who's your friend?”

“Greg Ursek, my lab partner in biology. Greg, this is Dr. Lopez.”

Greg smiled, and Lynda watched the lines in Dr. Lopez's face ease. “Nice to meet you,” she said. “Are you interested in helping out today, or are you just visiting?”

“I'd like to help, if I can. But—” He paused as if uncertain how to continue.

Lynda watched the muscles in his shoulders bunch under the denim jacket. “He'd rather not work with dogs.” Greg's shoulders relaxed, and she knew her guess had been right.

“Don't like dogs, huh?” Dr. Lopez stared at Greg until his eyes dropped.

“They make me nervous.”

“I thought maybe we could clean out the cats’ cages,” Lynda offered.

Dr. Lopez raised her eyebrows. “You want to clean cages?”

Lynda shrugged. “It has to be done. And I can only stay an hour, so I need to do something I can finish quickly.”

The veterinarian shrugged. “All right. You know where they are.” She turned back to her paperwork.

Lynda cleared her throat. “Dr. Lopez?” The vet looked up, a question in her eyes. “I found something I thought you might be interested in.” Reaching into her pocket, Lynda took out the envelope.

“What's that?” Dr. Lopez held out her hand. Lynda opened it and took out the hair.

“I found this snagged on a branch near school. I think it might belong to the animal that killed Rex.”

The line between the doctor's eyebrows deepened. “What makes you think that?”

“An active imagination,” Greg said before she could answer.

Lynda glared at him. “It has nothing to do with imagination. I saw its eyes shining in the dark.”

Dr. Lopez sat back in her chair and folded her arms across the front of her light-blue lab jacket. “How big was it?”

Lynda shifted from one foot to the other. “I'm not sure, exactly. The animal was hiding in the bushes.”

Nodding, Dr. Lopez held out her hand. “Let me see your specimen.”

Lynda handed over the hair, and Dr. Lopez rubbed the strands between her thumb and forefinger. “Did you see anything beside the eyes?” she finally asked. “A silhouette, maybe?”

“Afraid not.”

Dr. Lopez handed her back the clump of hair. “I think someone played a trick on you. I'm no expert, but that feels like human hair to me. I'd send it to my friend at the Lincoln Park zoo to make sure, but Mike's still mad at me for the last slide I sent him. He thinks it was a joke. I'm sorry, Lynda. But I need a little more to go on.”

* * * *

GREG STEPPED up to Lynda and clumsily patted her shoulder. “Everyone knows about your obsession with the dead dog and what killed it. Maybe somebody thought it'd be funny to leave you a clue.”

“Like you, you mean?” Lynda's voice scraped her throat, and she suddenly felt like breaking something.

Greg stared at her, as if unable to speak, then shook his head. “I wouldn't do that to you.”

Dr. Lopez cleared her throat. “Lynda, would you please keep the hair sample for me? I might be able to use it once I get more evidence.”

Knowing Dr. Lopez was just trying to cushion her feelings, Lynda nodded. With a curt good-bye, she stormed out of the office and down the hallway. She barely noticed Greg behind her.

It had been a joke. A stupid joke. She wondered who had set her up, who was laughing at her. Matt, maybe, or Ellen? No, Lynda immediately rejected the thought. Ellen had been too eager to get into the dressing room Saturday afternoon. If she'd been in on the joke, Ellen would've encouraged Lynda's hunt through the bushes.

Greg's voice broke into her thoughts. “Is there a telephone around here I can use? I need to call my folks.”

“In the lobby,” Lynda said, trying to sound civil. After all, it wasn't Greg's fault someone had a warped sense of humor.

She pointed to an unmarked door. “We can cut through here.” Without thinking, she led him into the canine holding area.

It was a warehouse-sized room filled with steel mesh kennels. The smallest—reserved for toy breeds and abandoned puppies—were stacked like canine tenements along one wall. The larger kennels held big dogs—shepherds, Rottweilers, or female dogs with litters. Lynda had cleaned the kennels, walked, fed, and played with the dogs more times than she could count. She'd been barked at, whined at, sniffed and snapped at, but she'd never felt frightened until the day she walked in with Greg.

A low rumbling filled the room and vibrated through the soles of her feet. At first, Lynda wondered if the Chicago Transit Authority had finally extended the subway into Hyde Park. Then she realized the noise wasn't coming from the ground. It came from dozens of canine throats. Dozens of heads lowered. Dozens of hackles rose. Tiny puppies and scarred guard dogs all braced themselves against stiff front legs and bared their teeth. Shocked, Lynda jumped back into something big and hard.

A gasp slipped past her lips, and the dogs went crazy.

Howling, barking, snarling, they threw themselves against the doors and walls of their kennels. Steel cages rang with the impact of 60 pound furies. Torn-eared mongrels and lost house pets bit their cages until blood stained the foaming saliva pink. To Lynda's horrified eyes, they looked like a collection of monsters from a Stephen King movie.

She might have stayed there, frozen to the floor, if Greg hadn't grabbed her arm and pulled her into the hallway. He slammed the door, cutting off the noise.

For a moment, Lynda couldn't move, couldn't speak. Finally, she turned to Greg. “I don't understand. Dogs don't act like that.”

Face paper white, Greg stretched his gray lips into a parody of a smile. “They do around me.”

Lynda had heard about dogs attacking people who feared them, but she'd never imagined they'd go berserk. “No wonder you're afraid of dogs.”

Greg glanced down and, as if just noticing he still held her arm, let go. “I'm not afraid of dogs. They make me nervous.”

BOOK: Under a Bear Moon
6.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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