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be dark before long,” he said.

      Out of habit she checked the seals between her suit and gloves. “Couple of hours.”

      “We should head back.”

      “In a while.”

      His forehead furrowed over his face mask. “You do know which way is back, don’t you?”

      “Approximately six-tenths of a mile on a heading of ninety-four degrees.”

      His scowl deepened. “What’re you, a Girl Scout leader wannabe?”

      He looked so perplexed that when she smiled this time, it almost felt genuine. She opened her fanny pack, pulled out her Garmin, checked the heading to the waypoint she’d made at base, and pointed. “That way.”

      He leaned over her. “GPS?”

      “Part of the standard CDC field pack.” She patted the zippered pouch sewn into the waist of her suit. “GPS, satellite phone, two-way text pager. Just because I’m not from the big city doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate modern technology.”

      “All right, Techno-Girl. You know where we came from. But do you have any idea where you’re going?”

      She stood, walked about fifteen feet to her left where there was a break in the trees and pointed up and to the right. “There?”

      He followed her outstretched hand with his gaze. Some distance away, six large, black birds glided above the trees. Her stomach plummeted with each heavy swoop of their wings. “Buzzards? You’re chasing buzzards?”

      “They’re feeding,” she said, trying not to picture what lay below them.

      “It could be anything. A possum, the remains of a deer some hunter left behind.”

      “Or one of the men from the plane.”

      He took her arm in his hand. “Look, we have to get back. We’ll call the state. They’ve got dogs that can search these woods in a fraction of the time it will take us, and do a hell of a better job at it.”

      “We’re almost there.”

      When she pulled away from him, he made a sound somewhere between a growl and groan and stepped in front of her, this time holding her in place more firmly. “You don’t have to do this yourself. Do you hear me? You do not need to be the one to find your friends.”

      But his words faded in her mind. Her ears were tuned to another sound. A chirping, trilling chatter. A sound that didn’t belong in the quiet woods.

      “Shh,” she said.


      “Listen,” she whispered, and let her eyes fall partway closed to hone in on the direction of the sound. When she opened them again, she pointed over the Ranger’s shoulder. “There.”

      He turned, and the color blanched from his skin. His hand gripped her arm with bruising force.

      In a tree twenty feet away, a black-and-white ball of fur scampered out a limb and plucked a nut from a twig, gnawed on it, chattered some more and threw its prize to the ground.

      “I’m no doc, doc,” the Ranger said in the most un-emotional tone she’d heard from him yet. “But that monkey doesn’t look dead to me.”

      No. Not dead.

      Not even close.

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