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Killer Instinct Sample



Chapter One



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   I wanted to strangle the old man—if he didn’t kill me first.

   “The only good wolf is a dead wolf,” he said, his nose pointed at me like a bayonet. “Shoot ‘em all, every last one of ‘em.”

   The sun was barely peeking over the tips of Superior National Forest and already I had riled up one of the locals. The only thing on my mind had been keeping my sleep deprived eyes open long enough to pay Signe Amunson for a coffee and bran muffin, when the old geezer bulldozed into our conversation.

   He hobbled closer, displaying an overcrowded mouth of yellow teeth. “Nothin’ but varmints. Worthless murdering scavengers. We got rid of them in the old country. We should do it here, too!”

   “Excuse me?”

   “You heard me.”

   The old man’s flannel shirt hung like limp laundry on a wire hanger, as if he had once been a more robust man. Stooped and worn, life in the North Country had obviously been hard on him. I should have felt some pity, or at least a little respect for my elders. Instead, I wanted to mount his grizzly old head on the wall with the rest of the hunting trophies hanging in the Last Chance Outfitters.

   Thankfully, the store had few shoppers this early and no one else to witness the steam geysering out my ears. I had been listening to this man’s diatribe for the last



ten minutes and was about to blow. For the moment, I struggled to hold on to my temper and politely ignored the old codger’s spittle sprinkling my jacket. With the Minnesota Valley Zoo logo stitched into the pocket, anything I said in anger might tarnish the reputation of the zoo.

   He jabbed at me with a chicken bone of a finger. “You’re cryin’ boo-hoo because a few damned wolves got shot. Hell, whoever killed ‘em ought to get a medal.”

   “Ivar Bjorklund.” Signe rebuked him in a voice that could freeze molten lava. It drew a raised eyebrow from the other.          “This young lady is a guest in our town—and a customer in my store—so I’ll thank you not to harass her.”

   “Harass her? What about me? Them devils been harassing me for months!” His rheumy eyes bristled at me from beneath wiry, stark white eyebrows, as if I were personally responsible for his troubles.

   “I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t understand. Are you saying you’re having trouble with wolves?”

   Okay . . .

   I’m not at my best before my first cup of coffee, and two nights of tossing and turning on Gina’s lumpy couch hadn’t made me any friendlier. Last night had been particularly hard, knowing this morning I’d be part of the team investigating the suspicious deaths of four wolves found in the woods just outside Ely. Still, I managed to count to ten. And took several deep breaths. It was past time to disarm the old fart. I deal with the



uninformed, opinionated public all the time, so I knew how to be diplomatic.

I flashed him my sweetest, suck-up-to-the-donating-zoo patrons smile and, with the same tone of voice I used when addressing children that don’t know any better, introduced myself.

   “I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Lavender Jones.” I wasn’t about to give this grumpy old coot any more ammunition by telling him everyone called me Snake. Snake? What the hell kind of name is that for a girl?

   Bjorklund eyed my extended hand as if it were covered in hippopotamus poo. “I bet you’re one of them damned SOS tree huggers, aren’t you? We don’t need any more of you goodie-two-boots up here. I heard what you said to Signe. You’re here for them dead wolves those students found. You care more about them mangy four-legged varmints than honest, hard-working taxpayers. Whoever killed them wolves should’ve saved some ammo for the likes of you!”

   “Ivar Bjorklund, that’s enough!” Signe’s hand slammed down on the wooden counter behind me, rattling the coins in her ancient cash register. The menace in her eye was as sharp as the hunting knives in the display rack next to her.

   I squared my shoulders. A good cause was every bit as eye opening as a jolt of a double latte. I’d had a little too much of this old man’s ignorant rhetoric this morning and was more than willing to let him have it with both barrels—




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