"I got a signal!" Harper's cry echoed through our masterfully planned withdrawal, right as we crested a rise. Braxton and I stopped and covered our path while Coyote licked his leg and prepared for battle. We could hear their chanting as they moved closer, and occasionally see a flicker of their glowing eyes, but we held our fire until we had clear shots. We were too low on ammunition to even consider doing otherwise.
"Please Sheriff, by now you can call me Mongo."
"Call me Dan then. Mongo, you don't seem too surprised by what we stirred up. Did you know this was out here?"
"No," I sighed, "I just was hoping that something in my life was even close to run of the mill. Odd and dangerous situations tend to cluster around me. I really am sorry about getting you involved, and very very sorry about Cully."
"Just Harper is fine!"
"Harper, did you get anybody on the line?" the Sheriff...Dan, was continuing to scan for targets as he spoke.
"I only got one call through before the interference closed up."
"Robby's brother Garth. I told him it was a Faith's Valhalla..."
The first hour tracking went fairly smoothly. Coyote didn't mind holding back on his speed while tracking, and I took him off his lead the moment we were clear of the crime scene. He seemed overjoyed be loose in the wilderness of Minnesota, and he rushed back and forth mapping out scent trails before locking in on one in particular.
"We got a bite," I called out as we followed him into the underbrush. Walking through a pine forest on a quiet summer night with a clear sky and a full moon is beautiful, and if it wasn't for the importance of our mission, I thought that I would really be enjoying this.
Coyote loped along at a steady 2-3 miles per hour pace sometimes moving ahead to sniff out possible routes, then returning to guide us poor blind humans onto the obvious path.
"That's one smart dog you got there Doc."
"Thanks Deputy, but don't say it too loudly, he'll get a swelled head and will be hell to live with."
Harper, Braxton, and Cully laughed at that, and Coyote merely looked affronted at the comment before going back to work.
The forest was starting to grow thicker, and it had obviously not been logged or burned back for many years. Coyote came up to me and gave a weird sort of whimper before tugging on my sleeve. Following his lead, Braxton and I moved to a sort of game trail between some of the older trees. There laying on edge of the path was a human arm.
I drew my pistol and the sheriff clicked off the safety on his shotgun. Deputy Cully saw our actions and drew as well, while he moved up followed closely by Harper.
"Well shit," Braxton was muttering as he scanned the shadows under the trees for targets, "What happened and where's the rest?"
"Looks like it was torn off," Harper replied as she rolled the arm slightly with a stick, "I saw a gorilla do something like this to someone that was teasing him."
"Well at least it happened after they were dead."
"How can you tell Doc?"
"Easy, Cully. Not enough blood. You tear a limb off a live body the heart's going to keep pumping all that blood out the hole."
"Doc, take a look at this!"
I moved over to where the Sheriff was pointing and saw a massive bare footprint on the ground. It was at least twenty inches long and nine wide and seriously needed arch supports, "Oh dear..."
"There's more over here. Older ones. It looks like they've been worn down by the rain. Going in and out of this trail."
"So Sheriff, forward or back?" my question's response was interrupted by a scream of pain then the faint sounds of a baby crying. Coyote's mane raised and he was quietly growling.
Braxton and I looked at each other then started moving slowly forward. Coyote was behind me, then Deputy Cully, and finally Harper. We had gone in about a quarter of mile when Coyote grasped my free hand gently in his jaws.
"Sheriff, Coyote thinks we should stop," I whispered. Braxton looked back and nodded before freezing in place. We stood there, just listening for a full fifteen minutes, according to my watch. The crying had faded away, only to return coming from a different direction. Then another scream from right behind us.
I could feel Coyote quivering with anger and fear as he let loose my hand, and slowly began turning in place keeping something in the woods in his line of perception. The moonlight was scattered this deep in the old growth forest.
"Harper dear, call for help..."
"I've been trying, but I can't get a signal."
"Sheriff, my radio's staticky. Can't get through to dispatch."
"Oh Christ..." the Sheriff pulled a map out of his pocket and signaled me over, "We're here in the state forest," he pointed out a location, "The closest road is here. There's a gas station about a half-mile up here at these crossroads."
"So we have to go cross country that away and then north?"
"Looks like it, or we can turn around and go back the way we came."
"Some how I don't think that whoever did this is going to let us go that easily."
"We're armed and we have your dog..."
"Lobox...who looks like he wouldn't be too bad in a fight..."
"You have noooo idea...How about we fake turning back and then make a break east, towards the road?"
"Better than nothing. Get your lobox in front. I'll be right behind him, then you and your lady, and Cully'll bring up the rear."
After a short huddled discussion we slowly started moving back up the trail.