Chapter 59: Exfil
I shifted my eyes and ears as I stood up and raced for the top of the hill. I was naked except for the belt over one shoulder with my pistol and GPS, but I didn’t care. I needed to stay in human form while I could still potentially be seen from the house; I didn’t want them to know about my cat yet.
I could hear the alarms and there were shots being fired wildly in my direction, but at this range their AK-47’s couldn’t hit the side of a barn. It only took a minute or two before I crested the hill; as soon as the villa was out of sight, I shifted to my panther and took off the way I came.
The first half hour of running went perfectly; I could hear their dogs and their vehicles, but nothing was close. I grinned to myself when I heard the first grenade go off, followed by a bright flash. Someone managed to trip both grenades, I thought, which meant they had found my old hide. I was already miles away by then.
I wasn’t worried about the men, they had no hope of catching up to me. I wasn’t worried about the dogs, I had taken a pill that made my scent less obvious, plus I used a few tricks along the way to throw them off. I was worried about what I just heard fly across the hill behind me. A helicopter.
One thing I was taught about the Cartels was that they had so much money, they could have the best of everything. Intelligence, surveillance, weaponry- all was at their fingertips. This would not be some budget helicopter, this was bound to have all kinds of weapons and sensors. The cartels were better equipped than the military.
I pushed on, my muscles straining as I bounded through the jungle heading roughly north. I intersected a river, and used this to hide my scent as I ran along in the shallows for a mile or so before leaping straight up ten feet to top of the cliff the river tore through. No way dogs follow that, I thought. The helicopter sound was getting closer; I moved through the large rocks, staying out of sight until it was moved on. As I reached the top of the mountain, I stopped to rest and check my bearings. Shifting quickly to human form, I checked the GPS and looked into the distance, picking out the general direction and landmarks ahead.
It was then I heard the howls. Two of them, and they weren’t Mexican wolves, those were nearly extinct. These were werewolves, and they weren’t far behind me. I shifted back, and my cat picked her way down the back side of the rocky outcrop. My head was spinning, I couldn’t believe at first that werewolves were working for an animal like Jose.
Then again, a few years ago I didn’t believe that friends would drug you and forcibly mate you, either.
They could have promised them refuge from the war, or the wolves could just have been greedy and brutal. Their skills would let them advance quickly in the ranks, and I could see how a druglord would find them to be of use. Too bad that right now it was to kill me.
The plateau ended at a sheer cliff face. I ran along it for a while, but there wasn’t a way down. If I backtracked, I’d lose my lead. Wolves were faster than cats, they’d run me down.
The moon illuminated the trees in the valley below. An idea came to mind, a crazy one, but I needed something to stop these guys. I trotted back from the edge about twenty yards. Focusing my eyes on the top of the tree that was about even with the top of the cliff, I raced towards the edge and leaped for it.
It felt like I was flying forever as my clawed feet stretched for the branches. I couldn’t jump high enough to reach the top, and I was falling faster before I hit the canopy. My left front claw caught a branch, swinging me inward until it broke. I crashed down through the branches for another twenty feet or so before I could get claws into the trunk and stop my fall.
I sat there for a moment, shaking as I looked around. It was reckless, but it worked. I picked my way down the tree, and instead of going to the ground I ran along branches and leaped to the next tree. I covered a few hundred yards this way before I went to ground again; it would be near impossible for the wolves to track me now.
I shifted back and checked the GPS again. I was only seven miles from the house. Shifting again, I set off at a comfortable pace. It was four in the morning, the sun would be up in two more hours. I pushed on through the jungle, looking forward to getting out of there with my team.
I had just passed where I buried my getaway bag when the smell of death assaulted my senses. Sticky yet sweet, it was blood. Lots of blood. I moved sideways, circling the small building at a distance as my nose and eyes searched for what happened. There were bodies, maybe a dozen of them, surrounding and inside the house. From the smell and the bloating, they had been dead for several days already. Once I was satisfied that I didn’t smell anyone alive, I shifted and moved in, my pistol at the ready.
The dead were all males, all heavily armed with no identifying uniforms or insignia. They had been torn apart; I could make out claw marks and bites, most were missing their throats or their whole heads. The lucky ones had only been shot.
I moved slowly and quietly into the kitchen of the house. There was blood on the walls, and a dead bad guy in the corner. All of Al’s equipment was still there, as was the clothing and bags they had brought with. Everything except for them.
I went back out and ran back to the place I had buried my getaway bag, as clearly I was on my own now. The sun had come up, I had to get away. I ran past the house and away from the smell of death, only to find another trail of blood leading back along the dirt road. The difference was, this one was fresh. I shifted into my cat and put my nose to the ground.
It was Al.
I followed the blood trail into a thicket, where I found his bloody body. Somehow, he had crawled almost a mile with a bullet in one leg that shattered his femur, and another in his other knee. I shifted back and put an ear to his chest. I smiled a little, there was a heartbeat, faint… but there. I took a shirt out of my bag and ripped it into strips, wrapping it around his bleeding wounds.
As I worked, I thought about how well and truly fucked we both were right now. Ker was gone, whether she ran or was taken didn’t matter, she wasn’t here to help us. I didn’t blame her if she ran, Al was as good as dead and she had her baby to protect. I had werewolves and Cartel heavies headed our way, and Al was a few minutes away from death.
I could leave him to die, or I could do something to help him live. Something irreversible. I shifted and bit him just above his injured knee.
He screamed as he woke up, looking around scared then he took in my cat and relaxed. I laid beside him, moving my head to motion him on. He rolled over, grimacing in pain, and pulled himself onto my back.
I slowly pushed myself up on my legs and started to move out, my getaway bag in my teeth. I put miles behind me as the infection coursed through Al, causing his temperature to rise and were healing rates to kick in. I could feel his legs jerking as the bone knit together and the nerves repaired themselves. By nightfall, we had traveled quite a distance and I found a patch of soft grass by a stream to rest for the night.
I eased down and Al rolled off me, immediately falling asleep. I went to the stream, filling my belly with the cool water, then came back and curled myself protectively around him before going to sleep myself.
The moon was high when his scream woke me up. I shifted into human form and clamped my hand over his mouth, we couldn’t afford to attract attention. I watched as his bones broke and reformed, as fur sprouted and a tail pushed through what remained of his pants as they shredded themselves. It seemed like forever, but it was only a couple minutes before a panther was panting by my side.
He was a good-looking male, a little grey around the muzzle but still heavily muscled and larger than me. His coloring was lighter than mine, the black spots outlined in tan. I pushed at his neck with my head, urging him to stand up. He got up slowly and took a few tentative steps before stopping and raising his head, sniffing the air. I coughed and walked him to the water, where he drank his fill.
We moved off into the jungle together.
I still had my GPS, and we used this to avoid the towns and move west. The Pacific coast was my destination, and we soon fell into a routine of moving by night and sleeping in the daytime. We would hunt as we went, finding what we could- wild boar, turkey, even cattle and goats. It took two weeks for us to reach the coastal fishing village of Salina Cruz. I left Al in the woods as I shifted and dressed, heading in to town. I brought back food and clothing for him, so he shifted and we caught a ride down to the docks.
I thanked Luna I had the foresight to hide my getaway bag, because without it we would have been screwed. Al and I had talked during the long trip; he was convinced that someone burned him and Ker, setting them up to be taken out. It was a short list of people who knew where they were; a couple CIA contacts, Ker’s baby daddy Trevor, and the driver. The attack was direct and brutal, and only Ker shifting and making it into the jungle kept if from succeeding.
Right now, the only protection Al and I had was that everyone thought we were dead. We saw no reason to change that.
Al was fluent in Spanish, much better than my recall from high school, and he did the negotiations. We found a fisherman who was willing to take us south, quietly, for a price. We gladly paid it. We left just as the sun set, hiding below as he pushed off into open water.
A week later the trawler pulled up to a dock, where a curious group of deeply tanned Americans was gathered around. Al and I stepped onto the dock as the trawler back away, and I ran into the arms of my mate and children.