Oh, God, she said. Wheres his face? And look at his hands. The flesh is just . . . gone. What would do that?
I dont know, he said. Ive never seen anything likewait, didnt Cowboy say something about pike in the lake back there?
She nodded, and Active moved closer to the head of the corpse, now lying on its side in the shallow water. Pike supposedly eat everything. Even their own young.
Grace looked nervously at the water rippling over her Sorels, then at Active, and edged toward the bank. Are they in here now?
I dont think this happened to him here, Active said, feeling himself shift back into work mode. He must have been in the lake for a while. Thats when the pike would have gotten at him. Then he drifted into the outlet and got stuck here in these shallows. He studied what was left of the mans face. Nothing but grinning bones with a few shreds of flesh attached, but he still had his ears and most of his straight black hair, probably because the hood of his anorak had protected them from the pike. Anything about him seem familiar?
Grace stepped a little closer and studied everything but the missing face. Not really. But hes obviously from around here.
Active nodded. The anorak had a duct-tape patch below one shoulder, and the man wore a faded Nike sweatshirt underneath, plus insulated Carhartt jeans and Sorels like their own. Not a stitch of Eddie Bauer or Patagonia on him. But nobodys been reported missing.
Maybe hes not overdue yet. I wonder how long hes been here.
Active shook his head. Not long, probably. Hes dressed for cool weather.
But how did he die?
As one, they turned to stare out over One-Way Lake toward the cliff looming at its upper end.
Beats me. Active scanned the lakeshore for any sign of a camp or boat, then shook his head. Well, Ill go through his pockets and pack and see who he was. Lets get him over to the bank. At Graces look of reluctance, he added, You can take the feet.
Ten minutes later, Active shook his head in mystification and began stuffing the hunters belongings back into his pack.
No I.D., huh? Grace said.
Nothing. No wallet, no name on his clothes or tent or sleeping bag, nothing. Weird, huh?
Not that weird. A lot of guys from the villages dont carry I.D. when theyre out in the country. Just one more thing to lose.
Good point, he said. What do you make of this?
He pulled the soggy remains of a box of two-seventy ammunition out of the pack and held it up for inspection. I guess he was hunting, she said. Why else would he be up here?
Exactly. Caribou, probably, or maybe sheep. So wheres his rifle?
They looked across the lake again, then at each other. All right, you take the right bank, Ill take the left, and well meet at the upper end, he said. Give a shout if you find his gun, or anything else man-made, or anything that looks like a recent campsite.
Forty-five minutes later, they were standing together on the rubble at the foot of the cliff, as puzzled as ever. Active looked down the lake toward the outlet, then at the mountain behind them, and swore softly to himself as he pulled the binoculars hanging around his neck from the folds of his coat and raised them to his eyes.
You think? Grace said.
He nodded, sweeping the mountainside with the glasses. There was a relatively gentle slope at the top, where caribou trails cut through the tundra carpet, then bare gray and brown rock, steepening to a near-vertical cliff that ended at the talus fan. There we go, he said finally, pointing at a spot uphill and to their right, a few yards above the talus.
Excerpted from Village of the Ghost Bears by Stan Jones. Copyright © 2009 by Stan Jones. Excerpted by permission of Soho Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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