Table of Contents
GRIN AND BEAR IT
“Brain Eater?” Rooster grew grim. “He's the worst man-killer I've ever come across, and I've got pretty near seventy winters under my belt.”
“You're sure it's a male?”
“So everyone says.”
“You've been out after him?”
“Twice so far,” Rooster said. “Each time I came back empty-handed. He's like a ghost, Skye. And he's so smart, it's spooky. To tell you the truth, I was thinking about calling it quits. But if you're willing to partner up, I'll stay and we can go after him together.”
“Brain Eater is as good as dead,” Fargo said, and grinned.
“You're not listening,” Rooster said. “This bear ain't like any other. We go after him, hoss, there's a good chance neither of us will come back alive.”
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
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First Printing, June 2011
The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
, the three hundred fifty-fifth volume in this series.
eISBN : 978-1-101-51591-4
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Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.
The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.
The Northern Rockies, 1861âwhere fang and claw make a feast of human flesh.
The first to die was a prospector. Old Harry, folks called him. Elk hunters were near his diggings and decided to pay him a visit. Everyone liked the old man. He could spin yarns by the hour.
His yarn-spinning days were over. They found Old Harry's legs near his cabin. A blood trail led to an arm and more blood led to the rest of him. His head had been split open and his brains apparently eaten.
The tracks of the culprit were plain enough. Old Harry's attacker was a bear. Judging by the size of the prints it was a grizzly. An exceptionally large grizzly, but then, large bears were nothing new in the mountains that far north.
The hunters buried the remains and went on with their hunt.
The bear was long gone and they figured they had nothing to worry about. They found elk and shot a bull and skinned it and dried and salted the meat. There were five of them with families to feed so one elk wasn't enough. Four hunters went off the next day while the fifth man stayed at camp. The four returned toward sunset, worn and tired and hungry and empty-handed, to find their camp in a shambles and their companion missing. Their effects had been torn apart. The racks of elk meat had been shattered. They looked for their friend and finally came on parts of his body in a ravine. It was Old Harry all over again, only worse. Their friend's head, too, had been split like a melon, and the brains devoured.
The hunters got out of there. They rode like madmen the twentyfive miles down to Gold Creek and told everyone what had happened. It was the talk of the town for weeks and then they had new things to talk about.
Bear attacks were common enough that the deaths didn't alarm them.
Then one evening a horse came limping into town. It was lathered with sweat and bleeding from claw marks. Some of them knew the man who owned it. A large party hurried to his cabin four miles up the creek.
The front door had been busted in. Inside was horror. Blood was everywhere, along with bits and pieces of the victim.
That a bear was to blame was obvious. That it was the same bear occurred to them when they found that the man's brains had been scooped out.
They realized the grizzly must have followed the elk hunters down. That was unusual but not remarkable. They thought they were dealing with an ordinary bear and organized a hunt to put an end to the man-killer before anyone else died.
Fifty men bristling with weapons rode out to wage battle with the beast. They used dogs to follow the trail, big, fearless dogs that had gone after other bears and mountain lions many a time. The dogs found the scent and their owner let them loose and for over a mile their baying showed they were hard after their quarry.
The men hurried to catch up. They were excited and confident and told one another that the grizzly was fit to be stuffed and mounted.
When the howls changed to yowls of terror, it stopped them in their tracks. They sat breathless and still as the screams and shrieks seemed to go on forever. When silence fell they cautiously advanced.
It was as bad as they imagined it would be. The dogs had been slaughtered. For half an acre the ground was a jigsaw of legs and tails and ribs and bodies. They tried to take up the trail without the dogs but they soon lost it.
For a few days Gold Creek was as quiet as a church. But these were hardy men and women, used to life in the wild, and gradually their lives returned to normal.
A couple of weeks passed. One day smoke was seen rising above a cabin along the creek. So much smoke, it drew others to investigate. The cabin was in flames. They yelled for the prospector who lived there but he didn't answer. They reckoned he must have knocked a lamp over and they worried that he was still inside and had been burned to death. Then someone noticed blood and they followed it into the trees. The remains were like a trail of bread crumbs. Here an arm, there a leg, at another spot a foot. The torso was whole, which surprised them. The brains were missing, which didn't.
A town meeting was called. Everyone agreed this was a serious situation. Four people and seven good dogs were dead.
They decided to send for the best bear hunter in the territory.
His fee was a hundred dollars but that was money well spent if they could be rid of the grizzly.
The bear hunter came. He brought his own dogs, four of the largest and meanest-looking hounds anyone had ever seen. He spent an evening drinking and boasting of his prowess and the next morning he and his mean-looking hounds rode off after the bear.
No one ever set eyes on the hunter or his dogs again. About a month after the bear hunter disappeared, two men going up the creek to their claim happened on a dead mule. Its throat had been ripped out. Its owner, or rather, parts of him, lay nearby. He had a hole in the top of his head as big around as a pie pan. And no brain.
Another hunt was organized. Every last man who lived in or around Gold Creek was required to report with a rifle and be mustered into what the town council called the Bear Militia. They took to the field with high hopes. Every square foot for miles was scoured. They didn't find so much as a fresh track.
The hunt was deemed a success. They told themselves that their show of force had scared the bear offâthat they were shed of it once and for all.
The next morning the parson rode out to visit an elderly woman and her husband. The woman was sickly and the parson paid daily visits to bolster her spirits. Their cabin was less than a quarter of a mile from Gold Creek. He knew something was wrong when he saw that the door hung by a hinge. Clutching his Bible, the parson made bold to poke his head in. He promptly drew it out again, and retched.