Anna was too well versed in the critter sciences to believe the animals harmless. She fell into a second and equally dangerous subspecies of idiot: those who felt a spiritual connection with the wild beasts, be they winged, furred or toothed. A sense that they would recognize in her a kindred spirit and do her no harm nullified a necessary and healthful terror of being torn apart and devoured. This delusion didn't extend to the lions of Africa. One couldn't expect them not to eat an overseas tourist; everybody enjoys an exotic dish now and again. But American lions, American bears...
She laughed aloud at herself. Fortunately she wasn't fool enough to put interspecies camaraderie to the test and never would she admit any of this to anyone. Least of all Joan Rand, her keeper, trainer and companion for the nineteen days that she was cross-training on the Greater Glacier Bear DNA Project, gleaning knowledge that could be put to use to better manage wildlife in her home park, the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
"Ah, my stinky little friend, your vacation package is ready," Joan said as she emerged from an inner sanctum. Rand was American by birth, French-Canadian by proximity, and she sounded precisely like Pepe Le Pew, the cartoon Parisian skunk, when she chose to. Anna laughed. Joan would remember Pepe. She was near Anna in years, somewhere in that fertile valley of middle age between forty-five and fifty-five.
Anna had liked Joan right off. Rand was on the short side-five-foot-two-and stocky, with the narrow shoulders of a person who couldn't carry much weight and the solid butt and thighs of somebody who could hike a Marine drill sergeant into the ground.
Anna liked the quickness of her mind and the gravelly quality of her voice. She liked her humor. But in the two days they'd lived and worked together, she'd not felt an ease of companionship. It seemed she was always looking for something to say. Mostly silences were filled with work. Those that weren't had yet to become comfortable, but Anna had hopes.
The bear researcher dropped the skunk accent, adjusted her oversized glasses and said, "Take a seat. This is Rory Van Slyke. He's our Earthwatch sherpa, general dogsbody and has promised, should a bear attack, to offer up his firm young flesh so that you and I might live to continue our important work."
Rory, the individual to whom Joan referred, smiled shyly. In her years with the National Park Service Anna had only had occasion to cross paths with the Earthwatch organization once before. Some years back, when she was a boat patrol ranger on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior, Earthwatch - an independent environmental organization funded by donations and staffed by volunteers - had been working on a moose study with the National Park Service. They had the unenviable task of hiking cross-country through the ruggedest terrain of a rugged park seeking out dead and rotting moose, counting the ticks on the carcasses, then packing out the really choice parts for further study. They did this not merely voluntarily, they paid for the privilege, suggesting that the altruism gene was not a myth. All of the Earthwatchers she'd met, including Rory Van Slyke, were young. Probably because the work they did would kill a grown-up.
"How you do?" Anna said mechanically.
"Well, thank you. And yourself?"
A long time had passed since anybody had bothered to finish the old-fashioned greeting formula. Evidently Rory had been raised right - or strictly.
"Fine," she managed. The boy-young man had a light, high voice that sounded as if it had yet to change, though he was clearly years past puberty. He didn't look substantial enough to be much of a sherpa, but as bear bait, he'd do just fine: slight build, tender-looking skin, coarse sandy hair and dark blue eyes fringed with lashes so pale as to be virtually invisible.
Reprinted from Blood Lure by Nevada Barr by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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