John had left the cabin when she woke up. She found a note on the table, written in a neat, delicate hand that he was out hunting and would be back soon. He had left coffee, and the last of the bread from last night. She had not seen a rifle and then gooseflesh arose on her forearms and thighs.
It’s because he doesn’t need one, she thought.
Kelly had seen her share of weak men. They were more dangerous than anyone demonstrating strength. Her curiosity about him itched, and she found herself opening cupboards and drawers to see what sense she could get of the man.
She had seen the wolf.
She was not surprised at how ordered his cupboards were. It came, she supposed with living away from people, and the imposition of order from chaos, which she had read about but seldom seen in a man. There was nothing to disturb her imagination and her hunger soon compelled her to sit down and eat whilst her bruising made her tired as the toll for the smallest of efforts. She sat back down with a cup of coffee and a couple of slices of bread, laden with butter.
She heard a thick, ripping sound outside then silence before he came in, having changed into a pair of jeans, a long sleeved thermal t shirt and boots.
‘I’ve got to dress the deer. It might be a while.’ he said.
Kelly had not seen a gun, and she was torn between nausea and curiosity to see what it involved.
‘Have you thought about when we’re going to deal with the plane?’ she said.
He leaned against the counter and folded his arms.
‘It’s thawing out there, so tomorrow. If you’re up to coming along, I’d welcome it.’ he said.
She started to nod, but stopped herself. John frowned and looked at her.
‘Will you be, you know, you?’ she said.
‘Some things are better done with hands than paws, Kelly.’ he said.
She sat back in the chair and looked at him, struggling to find the right words to say.
‘Look, to you its normal, but has it ever occurred to you how strange this all is?’ she said.
He nodded as he turned and made himself a cup of coffee.
‘Yes, but I’ve lived with this for a while so it’s just how I am. My life is different now.’ he said.
His voice softened at the end. Kelly decided to leave the conversation alone.
‘Yes, I’ll come with you. Not sure how much good I’ll be, but I want to help. At least with Tony.’ she said.
He nodded and went through to the bedroom to change, finding a knitted cap and a thick coat before he went outside.
I’ll clean up and fix us something in a little while, Kelly, you just rest.’ he said.
She felt a little ashamed to have gone through his kitchen drawers but his smile was genuine as he went outside.
‘After all, I guess you know where everything is.’ he said.
He left the cabin before seeing how the blood had crept to her cheeks with embarrassment.
She finished her coffee and the slice of bread before she stood up and went to the doorway. She watched him go inside a small wooden shed. Kelly found a pair of his boots, and borrowed two pairs of his thick woollen socks to put them on. She threw on a parka and walked to the shed. The smell of blood was thick and metallic, growing more intense with each breath.
The association made her heart race and she felt dizzy. The roar of the flames and the sight of Tony, bisected in the wreckage of the plane, rushed into her vision before they disappeared. She bent forwards at the knees, taking deep breaths as she regained control of herself. The shed door opened and John looked at her.
‘Let me help you back inside.’ he said.
She took a deep breath and shook her head.
‘The smell of blood doesn’t have good associations for me.’ she said.
He nodded and came out, standing before her as she looked up at him. His brown eyes were gentle, searching her face with concern.
‘It’s the difference between eating and starving for me out here. It’s too much of a trip to a supermarket.’ he said.
Kelly met his gaze.
‘Do you use a gun?’ she said.
He shook his head.
‘No need to. It’s cleaner how I do it.’ he said.
Questions burst on her lips but she swallowed them down and stood up, rewarded for her stoicism with a sharp burst of pain in her chest.
‘Hey, I asked, right?’ she said.
He put his arm around her and helped her back into the house. She smelled the blood on him, not an unpleasant smell when it combined with his natural musk.
‘Let me get these dressed and stored then we can talk.’ he said.
She looked at him.
‘Am I sure I want to know?’ she said.
He glanced and smiled at her.
‘Kelly, you’re safe here. It took me a while to get to the point where i can say it, but it’s part of my baggage.’ he said.
Kelly chuckled. It made her chest ache but it was the only thing which made sense to her anymore.
‘Baggage. It’s a hell of a way to put it.’ she said.
John opened the door and helped her back to the table and she sat down with a sigh of relief.
He poured her another coffee and told her to stay there. He went back outside, with his shoulders back and chest out. She watched him go to the shed and close the door behind him.
Kelly stared into the cup of coffee, saw her own reflection and could not bear it for too long. Part of her itched to get back to L.A., the seedy impulse to play the game and bet everything on the ill intentions of other people. It was the impulse which put her on the jet in the first place, and here she was, bruised and far from home, as the houseguest of a werewolf.
She chuckled at the incongruity of it, and it hurt but she found the idea hilarious and awful at the same time, which made her giggle even harder. When the giggling grew too painful, she put her hands over her face and wept.
When she finished, a wave of exhaustion overwhelmed her and she staggered to his bed and laid down on the covers. Sleep claimed her like a welcome lover, and she turned onto her side, breathed in the faint trace of his skin on the sheets as she drifted downwards into oblivion.
It was dark when she awoke. She caught the smell of frying meat, a tangy, spicy smell which made her mouth water and get out of bed. Her chest ached but her hunger made her stand up and go through to the kitchen.
John was turning steaks in a pan and he greeted her with a nod before he returned his attention to the food.
‘If you ask for this to be anything other than rare, we’re going to have a problem.’ he said.
She chortled as she sat down.
‘Is that what you caught today?’ she said.
He nodded without looking up.
‘I’ve made some coleslaw and i’ve got some corn on the cob.’ he said.
Kelly blushed and looked down at the table.
‘How did you know I looked around?’ she said.
He looked up from the pan and beamed at her.
‘Everyone has a unique scent. I just pick up on it.’ he said.
Kelly glanced up at him and grinned.
‘So, I stink, huh?’ she said.
He turned the other steak over and shook his head.
‘No, people’s scents are in layers to me. It’s not your smell is loud but it’s like a painting. You can see it from a distance, but the closer you get to it, that’s where you see the individual brush strokes.’ he said.
She sat back in the chair and tilted her head to one side.
‘And you have this, all the time? It must drive you nuts.’ she said.
He concurred with a smile and a shake of his head.
‘It used to be overwhelming. I could always smell a flower, but now, I can tell each petal apart and whether a particular species of insect has visited it and how long ago.’
Kelly sat up, intrigued by the care he took with his description.
‘What do I smell like?’ she said.
He made a gagging noise and she laughed at him, before he turned and stared into her eyes.
‘Coconut oil and wild honey. It’s faint, but that’s because you’ve not been able to apply them but it’s there.’ he said.
She looked away, flustered and flattered by his assessment as he put each steak onto a plate, picked out the corn cobs from the boiling water and brought each plate over to her before he returned with a massive bowl of coleslaw.
‘It was in that film, Antony Hopkins and Jodie Foster, oh shit what was it?’ she said.
John raised his chin and smirked.
‘You wear a Lancome skin lotion and l’air du temps, but not today.’ he said.
His impression was passable enough to make her laugh.
‘You’ve seen it a few times, huh?’ she said.
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘I prefer to read but it’s one of my favourites, film and book. It dropped off after that though.’ he said.
Kelly’s mouth watered at the rich, complex smell of the meat. She wondered how it would smell to him and he caught her looking.
‘It smells amazing. I’ve done a few studies on myself but I’m limited in terms of what I can do.’ he said.
He passed her the coleslaw and she took a heavy spoonful from the centre of the bowl and plopped it onto her plate.
‘Studies?’ she said.
John lowered his eyes.
‘Fifteen years to qualify and I can’t even practice anymore. Unless being my own subject counts.’ he said.
She sat back and narrowed her eyes.
‘You’re a doctor?’ she said.
His face reddened as he cut into the venison steak with his knife and fork.
‘ A neurosurgeon. Well, I used to be.’ he said.
Kelly set her knife and fork down.
‘So, the wolf thing’s a recent development for you? You don’t look like a surgeon, John.’ she said.
He looked up at her.
‘Don’t let it go cold, Kelly, it’s good meat.’ he said.
Kelly was attuned to a forced end to a conversation and focused her attention on her food. The steak was delicious, with faint hints of sage and vegetation combining with the firm texture of the meat.
She polished off the steak, along with two helpings of the coleslaw which was delightful and a second cob of corn. Her appetite surprised her, and John smiled at her as she ate with gusto. Kelly wondered if his pleasure was a relief at not answering any more questions.
Kelly forgot about everything but the food and John’s quiet, easy companionship. She held firm to her intuition of safety in his presence. Tomorrow was going to be hard, she thought, but she felt better knowing he was there with her.
Jasper walked into the back room of the bar where his team was arranged.
It was a regular United Nations of operators, good men who followed orders and didn’t fuck up when shit went south. He had reassured them if any of them were caught, their families would be looked after and they’d be well paid for their silence. The elimination of the crew doing the job was unpleasant but Jasper had insisted on the operators working for him, coming out of this alive and paid for their trouble.
He sat down at the head of the table and grinned at each of them in turn.
‘You’ve all been briefed on what happened and what we’re going to do about it.’
He looked at the topographic map on the table, with red crosses marking the flight path.
‘Now the last time we had contact was here -‘ Jasper pointed to a red cross. ‘So, we’ll focus our efforts on there.’
Kulick raised his hand.
‘Are we thinking they’re alive?’ he said.
Jasper glance up and beamed.
‘I’m only thinking about getting back what my boss is paying a massive amount of fuck you money to obtain, mate. Life and death on an atomic level are indistinguishable from one another.’
‘True, but finding dead bodies is an easier gig than dealing with live ones.’ he said.
‘So long as you find and get the case back to me, I don’t fucking care.’ he said.
What Jasper and his employer knew was a fact kept from everyone in the operation.
They were not missile guidance chips in the case.