Brenny pulled the pickup in close to the swing gate before getting out. His back had stiffened in the damp weather but his legs took the rise. A gentle rain covered his face. He didn't like the monsoon season. It made the dogs lazy.
He jumped out to close the swing gate behind him. Then stopped to check the dogs in the back of the truck. They were lying in a corner against the blankets. Stoner, the new dog, got up and wagged his tail. Brenny patted him on the rump, then leaned in to check on Busher and Chloe. Boog and Skeeter didn't budge.
"Pretty soon now, guys," he said. He lifted the loop on the end post, slipped the twisted wires back, and secured it. In a few minutes they'd be at the ranch. He could get a hot breakfast before starting out.
Ed Ruttner walked straight into the headlights. Brenny drove past him so he could park in back of the lodge. He'd hardly gotten out of the truck when Ruttner came at him.
"It's bad business," Ruttner muttered.
"It only gets to be bad business when you start using the place for a playground," Brenny said.
"They're here. Execs, kids, wives...one a them even brought his goddamn maid."
"They still in bed?"
"We're getting Ostrow up right now."
"I sure could use some eggs an pancakes."
"Jeeesus, Brenny. You gotta get on this right away," Ruttner said. "Ostrow's pissed. We're trying to keep it under wraps."
Brenny reached in between the dogs to pull out his blankets. Ruttner took the saddle while Brenny grabbed his thermos. "I'll get that filled with fresh coffee," Ruttner said. "Sweet rolls to go with it. Sorry you're not gonna have time for breakfast. Didn't mean to spoil your birthday."
Brenny didn't know that Margaret had mentioned his birthday. She'd taken the call but made it clear she didn't want him to go out again. The job had become a strain between them. He'd just about given up resolving it. She kept mentioning how he'd been spending a lot more time out on the trail. He denied it. Then she surprised him with a packet of torn off calendars she'd been saving for months. Everytime he'd been out she colored in the days with a red crayon. All those red marks. He felt like he'd been missing-in-action.
"Yeah," he finally said to Ruttner. "We were going to celebrate my big fives. It'll just have to wait."
"I tried not to drag you out," Ruttner said. "Even tried taking care of it myself. We waited for the cat to come back, but she never showed."
"How do you know it's a female?"
"Well, hell, one of those calves is ripped to shreds. You know how messy a gang a lion cubs gets. Trees around there are clawed up pretty bad too."
Brenny knew the female. He had left her alone because she'd never gone after the stock. He hadn't seen her for awhile. That could've meant she'd gone into heat or roamed into the high country further north. She might've even had a litter. Could've run into a problem feeding the cubs.
One of the cowboys opened the stable door. They'd already taken out Brenny's horse. Old Dusty stood quiet in the dim light. Brenny set the blanket before swinging the saddle up on her. He'd almost finished tightening the cinches when David Ostrow showed up in his creased jeans, bright plaid shirt, and a new ranch hat covered with a fitted piece of shiny plastic to keep off the rain. He moved slow and stiff. Brenny figured he must've just put on the new pair of cowboy boots for the occasion.
"We don't like this business anymore than you do," Ostrow said in a tone that made Dusty take a nervous step backwards. "I've been trying to keep a cap on things here until you could take care of things for us," he said in a voice too loud for the morning.
"I'm just heading out to look at the damage," Brenny said.
Another smiling, young cowboy handed Brenny his thermos of fresh coffee and the package of sweet rolls. Brenny led Dusty out into the soft rain and headed for the truck to get the rest of his gear. Ostrow walked through the muddy driveway after him. Brenny realized that he'd misjudged the young hotshot. Ostrow's new boots were certainly getting a good breaking in.
"I guess this's all just a whole lotta bullshit to you, Mr. Hartrey," Ostrow said in that same annoyed tone.
"Things like this happen out here," Brenny said.
"My execs work their asses off all year. They look forward to coming out to the ranch, having a good time, an getting some work done. I don't want anything to get in the way of that."
"Mountain lions come and go. They eat, sleep, drink, and have their cubs. Last thing they want is to meet some corporate executive out on the trail."
"I want that damn lion out of the way today. If you can't do it I'll get someone in here who can. I expect results, Mr. Hartrey," Ostrow said in that booming voice.
Brenny reached into the truck for his Winchester. Then dragged out his old saddlebag with the few supplies he'd brought. Ostrow had started back to the barn by the time he'd turned to pack the horse.
Ever since Tritech bought Webb Ranch it meant ten days of intensive corporate meetings in August. City dudes flew in with their families from all over the country. Seminars, fishing, and horseback riding through the Arizona mountains. They didn't want their executive vacations ruined because some mountain lion came in too close to the lodge.
Brenny felt like quitting but he knew it would only take Ostrow a few hours to replace him. At this point, he'd even hire a private army to salvage his ten-day-corporate-picnic. Nothing got in the way of a Tritech executive on his way up.
Brenny had been the sole protector of the Webb Ranch for nearly twenty years. In his own way he'd kept the balance. The cattle grazed, the mountain lion lived, raised its young, grew old, or moved on. If he had to kill a lion then he did.
The original owner had hired him to protect the cattle but times changed. Now the corporation was in charge. They were sending him out to kill a lion so the executive families could feel safe. He knew it wouldn't do any good to tell them that these solitary cats would never bother them. The simple fact that the lions were out there frightened a man like Ostrow. He'd seen three of the corporation's calves ripped apart. He wanted the lion's ass. Six feet of fur to hang on some office wall in Chicago or New York.
The pink light of sunrise barely broke across the sky. Brenny slipped the rifle through the worn leather scabbard and let the dogs out of the truck. They ran across the driveway, sniffing and pissing on the corners of the ranch house. The soft drizzle began to let up as they made their way to the fence. He could hear Boog's low growl warning the new dog to stay in close. The sounds of the morning melted into the soft clopping steps of the horse, and the easy squeak of the saddle. Brenny began to feel good again. There were a whole lot of "noes" waiting for him out there. No phone calls, no wife, no home, no Ostrow, nada. Once he passed through the fence, went down along the edge of the pond, then out through the grove of trees, he'd be alone again. The only true peace he knew anymore.
They came up along the south end before crossing the open clearing. The early morning glow broke over the mountains, dulling the deep pink sky into a thin pale light that filtered through puffs of rolling cloud formations. Brenny headed for the west side of the pasture where the feasting ravens had gathered.
He'd gotten in close enough to the dead calf to be able to see the birds on it. He turned the horse, clucked to the dogs, then headed straight for the shade at the edge of the pasture. He got down off Dusty, tied Skeeter, Busher, Chloe, and the new dog, Stoner, to separate trees so they wouldn't get in the way. He and Boog had work to do. They didn't have much time.
The cat had probably hung around the kill for the past few nights. Going off in different directions each time. There'd usually be a lot of tracks around a carcass. Boog's job was to find the freshest one.
When Brenny finished tieing the dogs he set off with Boog towards the pasture to look for the damage. When they approached the kill the ravens squawked and flew into the trees. Boog sniffed at the carcass. Then he started looking for a track. The ground around the dead calf had been all torn up. When Brenny glanced over at the heavy black birds on the branches he saw where the trees had been clawed. The marks were too high for lion cubs, and female pumas rarely clawed like that.
Boog moved easily through the grass toward the north side of the clearing. Brenny followed him through a crop of high weeds to a second dead calf. This kill was even older. The insects had taken over. Boog high-stepped around it taking in deep breaths. Brenny watched him sniff the ground near the carcass but the tracks were too old. The dog just whined in frustration.
They started back to the other side of the clearing. It'd be difficult to pick up an old scent in this weather even for a good strike dog like Boog. For a moment, he lost Boog in the tall August weeds but then heard him bark at a raven that took flight. The bird cawed a complaining jeer before it flew up into the trees at the other end of the clearing. Brenny stopped to look for the carcass. He saw the calf's head barely sticking out of the grass. Then he moved carefully to what had now become a ripped-open piece of meat. The lion's latest kill.
The Webb Ranch brand, a W with a wavy line under it, had been clearly marked on the calf's hind quarters. Boog circled the stretched out carcass. Brenny stopped moving so he wouldn't destroy any tracks before the dog had a chance to find them. When he looked down he saw fresh paw tracks all around him. The lion must have come back to the kill several times.
Brenny bent down in the wet soil to get a closer look. The dampness seeped through his jeans as he took out his reading glasses. The kill had been made about fifteen or twenty yards away then dragged into the dense brush. He guessed, from the size of the tracks, that a male lion had done the damage. The cat made the kill with a blow to the neck. Then a spine severing bite. He had to be big. It took great strength to drag that large a calf into the tall brush so he could hide it.
Whatever happened to the calves would probably never be known. Brenny figured a transient male was traveling through the territory. He probably made the first kill, then the female and her cubs stumbled onto it. The male returned, saw it'd been eaten, then probably went looking for another kill.
Boog's sharp cry bit the morning air. The other dogs barked back. Brenny got up stiffly. By the time he'd taken off his reading glasses Boog had started barking again. Brenny made his way around the dead calf to the other side of the high brush. When Boog saw him he started back again. Brenny caught up with him where the high weeds ended in a low flat area. Boog's dark tail waved madly as he stood protecting a small patch of matted grass.
Once again, Brenny took out his reading glasses. "What've you got, Boog?" he said. The dog just whined.
Brenny knelt, put his arm around the dog, and stared at the fresh lion track between Boog's front paws. A clear print. Only a few hours old. So fresh that Brenny thought about waiting for the cat, then realized if the lion had been in that close he would've heard the dogs barking. Still, with a fresh wet track like that, the dogs could probably catch up with him before he bedded down in the high heat of the day.
"Good dog, Boog," he said. "You're the best."
He took off his yellow slicker, spread it across the low brush to mark the fresh track, then started back to get the other dogs.
Brenny had been up on Dusty for over an hour. Boog trotted next to him as Skeeter led them up the high ridge. The clouds began to lift. Sunlight broke over Simmons Peak and rushed down over the miles of ranches below. The Santa Maria Mountains were still in mist, but he could see that the sun would eventually win the battle. He hoped it wouldn't dry out the lion's scent.
Up ahead, Skeeter worked hard and fast. The lion's tracks had moved out of the brush. Brenny hung down off the saddle to follow them. The spacing was long. Bigger than he'd ever seen before.
They moved higher on the ridge until the deep green Bradshaw Mountains rolled like ocean waves across the horizon. When he turned to look for the dogs they'd disappeared around a bend headed for Granite Mountain. He wanted to catch up with the lion before they got too much higher. He stared up at the long rocky washes running straight to the mountain's peak nearly eight thousand feet high.
Brenny heard a yapping up ahead but couldn't distinguish the sounds. The dogs all seemed to be barking at once. He turned his horse in toward the hill and rode her on a sharp angle through the scrub oak. The barking from the other side grew louder. Brenny leaned forward in the saddle to coax Dusty higher.
When they'd almost reached the top Brenny jumped out of the saddle so he could pull Dusty to a small crest just beyond the junipers. He wrapped the reins in the brush, took the rifle from the scabbard, and ran to the rim. The barking became a riot of noise coming from different directions. On the other side, he could see where Chloe had staked out a dead doe.
The lion must have jumped her higher up. The struggle went all the way down to where the carcass had finally been dragged under the shade trees. It'd been a dangerous kill. The lion couldn't reach the top of the deer's neck, without leaving the ground, so resorted to suffocating it by going underneath. The flank had been ripped open. Still bleeding. The dogs must have come up on the lion eating it.
Brenny heard barking on the other side of a large boulder. He found Boog and Skeeter guarding a sycamore. When they saw him coming their barking turned into a high whine. Brenny stopped about thirty feet from the tree. He searched its branches until he saw the mountain lion hissing down at them from a narrow crotch about half way up. It was the female. He looked around for her cubs, hoped the dogs hadn't killed them, then realized that Busher and Stoner were under another tree further down the hill. Two lion cubs hung precariously from a juniper just out of reach of the new dog's playful leaps.
"It's all right, Busher," he said. The dog came running to him, but Stoner kept leaping at the cubs.
He reached inside his jacket for the package the smiling cowboy had given him in the barn that morning. The package had been squashed but that wouldn't make any difference. Busher and Chloe stood watching him undo the rubber bands while Skeeter and Boog came up the hill after them.
When the outer package came undone Brenny pulled the last few sticky pieces of wrapping off the sweet rolls. He opened his jackknife. Then cut a large piece off one of the soft fresh rolls. The smell of cinammon sliced through the cool air.
"You first, Skeeter," he said. The dog gently took the piece of sweet roll out of his hand. "Good boy," Brenny whispered, rubbing the dog's head and ears.
Skeeter had worked hard all morning but made a mistake. Somewhere on the other side of the hill the lion tracks had crossed. The dog had picked up the female instead of following the large male.
"You're still the best, Skeeter," Brenny said.
He gave the rest of the roll to Boog, then cut the next one into thirds for Busher, Chloe, and young Stoner who had finally come over for his piece of the roll.
The female lion wouldn't leave without her cubs so Brenny had time to think about their situation. She'd killed the doe but had not gone after the cattle. She'd been raised on the taste of game. That's why he had left her alone. She looked hungry. The cubs had been a strain on her. Probably her first litter. They looked healthy. She'd done a good job.
If he killed the lioness, toted her back to the ranch, the cubs would do fine. The whole matter of satisfying Ostrow would be over. He'd be an instant hero. They'd probably give him a raise. The only real loss would be a lioness wearing a government collar.
Brenny looked up at the cat hanging in the crotch of the sycamore. She'd stopped fretting and just stared over at her cubs hanging like Christmas ornaments in the juniper.
"All right, gang," he said. "We're leaving this lady and her pups alone." The dogs wagged their tails. "We're going back to get it right." Boog started up the hill to where Brenny had tied the horse. The old dog had already gone back to work.
It took Boog over an hour to find the spot where the lion tracks had crossed. The sun started to dry the scent making it more difficult for Skeeter to track. Busher and Chloe joined in to help. They worked in tandem to find the male's smell on the brush, or along the rocks.
Brenny got down off Dusty so he could follow more closely. Skeeter might be the best tracking dog in the territory but he had to keep them moving in the right direction. Deer are a lot easier to follow because they leave a sharp-hoofed track. The lion has a soft pad. It's harder to find.
Brenny saw fresh scratch marks on a large cedar tree, clucked at the dogs, then headed up along the boulders. He figured the lion to be about eight feet or more. He'd worked these mountains over twenty years but had never seen a cougar that big.
He stared up at the stark cliffs as the dogs raced past him in a rush. Granite Mountain's the perfect place for a mountain lion. It's made up of enormous rocks tossed together like a petrified salad. The highest peaks are stark. The rest of it spreads out over several miles and is just as treacherous.
The mountain would tire the dogs in a few hours. He hoped they wouldn't have to climb to the top. When the sun reached its peak the cougar would bed down in the shade. If they kept moving they might be able to catch him before that.
The dogs had run out of sight again. Brenny rode Dusty up over the loose rocks of a switchback to catch up with them. He finally saw Boog waiting for him up ahead, but he didn't see the other dogs. They were probably bent over looking for a scent. Boog's black and tan head stretched up out of the brush in a frozen stare as Brenny rode towards him.
"What's up, Boog?" Brenny said.
Boog stood in front of a barbed-wire fence partially hidden in the sagebrush. If Brenny crossed the wire he'd be into government wildlife area. Dusty cantered in easily to where Boog waited. The other dogs had already crossed the wire so Brenny quickly slid down out of the saddle.
Boog moved in close to rub up against Brenny's leg. "Looks like we got a tough day ahead of us, old fella," he said to the dog. "An you know what happens if we get caught in here. Lots of screaming an threatening," he said, as he opened the worn saddlebag to take out the clippers. "Big-buck-ass-fine for cutting government wire," he whispered. Boog yawned.
Brenny narrowed his eyes against the glare of the sun. He scanned the trails below to make sure there weren't any stray hikers. Then he snipped the barbed wire so he could bend it away from the post. He pulled the fence out, just enough to let Dusty through, before he forced the cut wire back into place so it couldn't be spotted in the thick brush.
Storm clouds rolled in over the mountains to the east. He watched as the lightning tore through their dim curving shapes. The intense heat made the air heavy. Slowed the climbing. He came up on a rim of low juniper and reached in to sweep away the loose rocks. From there he could watch the crooked stalks of light in the dark swirling clouds.
A strong wind rushed in across the valley. He could smell the rain in it. It'd be awhile before the dark clouds arrived. He took a deep breath of the cooler air and the gathering storm.
He caught a quick flash of movement. It shimmered in the heat as it darted in and out of the brush below. Coyote. He watched them move through the brush. Then he slumped down into the damp shade under the juniper. He'd wait until the storm hit before he started to climb again.
Brenny led the horse into the thin shade of a scrub oak. He lifted the canteen off the saddle. Boog and Skeeter turned back when they saw him reach for the water. The new dog, Stoner, trotted easily behind them but kept his distance.
"That rain could cut into our day," Brenny said.
He poured some water into a pan. Boog moved to drink first. Skeeter squeezed in next to him. They drank together in long, loud gulps. The younger dog, Stoner, edged in closer but never made a move for the water.
"You've been pretty good today, boy. Lot smarter than I thought," Brenny said.
The young dog trotted in the last few steps. Brenny patted his head. Then he poured some water into the cup of his hand. The dog drank easily.
Brenny looked up the mountain for Busher and Chloe. When he didn't see them it usually meant they were closing in on the lion. Busher could sense when they were in close, figure out the terrain, and where the lion would hide. She'd disappear into the brush, with Chloe right behind her, then they'd come up on the hidden cat. It took great courage to go blindly into the brush after a lion. Busher never hesitated.
Brenny poured another handful of water and Stoner lapped it up. He listened for Busher's bark but only heard the flat growl from the jets that left their white streaks in the sky above them. Granite Mountain stood directly under the New York to Los Angeles flight pattern. Businessmen, tourists, and plastic food trays hurtled above the struggle of a man and a beast far below. Neither world understood the other. Only one would survive.
The heavy air carried the dull buzz of the cicadas. They'd wait a little longer before starting up the mountain. He didn't want to exhaust the dogs. He poured more water into the empty pan. Skeeter took a few gulps before going back into the deep shade. Stoner hesitantly approached the pan, drank the rest of the water, then sat at Brenny's feet.
Brenny hardly remembered his other life anymore. He'd shed his past like a snake crawling out of its skin. He felt uncomfortable anywhere else. He'd been afraid to tell anyone that, even his wife. They wouldn't have understood. He didn't understand it himself.
Lightning ripped through the dark clouds. Dusty danced a nervous step as a cool wind rushed down the mountain. Brenny steadied her. "Easy, girl," he said. "Just the rain coming in."
Another crooked stick of light hit. Brenny counted the seconds before he heard its low rumble. They had about an hour to find the lion. After that it'd be just a long walk home in the rain.
Stoner got up and whined softly. The brush began to wave in a sudden breeze. Brenny glanced over at Boog and Skeeter, but they remained in the shade.
"Did you hear something, boy?" Brenny said to the young dog.
Stoner wagged his tail, then turned to stare up at the peak. Brenny moved out from under the tree so he could watch the dog more closely. He barked sharply, waited, then barked again. Boog jumped up to move in next to him. The older dog's ears stiffened. Then he started up the trail again with the new dog right behind him. Brenny reached back for Dusty's reins. They moved out so fast the horse nearly stepped on Skeeter who had run under her to catch up with the other dogs.
He glanced at the mist beginning to cover the mountain. There'd be places up there where they could take cover. Brenny mounted Dusty, headed out, listening carefully for any barking. But only the cool wind rushed by heading for the stark peaks above them.
They were suddenly there on top of him.
The cat rolled out from under the juniper, swung at the same time, and caught one of them underneath the chest. He heard it howl. The he felt a sharp pain run up along his hind leg. One of them had gotten behind him.
He sprung quickly to higher ground and looked back through the flying dust. They weren't coyote. They were Man's animals. The smaller one kept barking at him. The other one crawled through the dust along the narrow wash. He rose up, growled a piercing shriek, and the barking stopped. Then he sprung up over the rolling granite into the maze of stone and brush. When he got clear he felt the sharp pain again. His back leg had been torn open along the flank.
He moved between the boulders trying not to use his throbbing leg. He'd have to find a hiding place. Be ready to defend it. They were after him.
Dusty's neck sweat as she worked her way up the mountain. Brenny could hear Boog's bark but he'd completely lost sight of the dogs again. When he reached the ridge, just below the steep climb to the top, he led the horse toward the barking dogs. As they rounded the huge boulders he could see where Boog had taken his stand. When he pulled the horse up he could see Busher's body lying in the narrow wash under Boog's watchful eye.
"Good dog, Boog," he said as he bent down to get a closer look. The cougar had caught Busher from underneath, ripping her wide open with one swipe. He looked around for Chloe but didn't see any sign of her. Boog began to whine.
"Is he still near us, boy?" Brenny said, but Boog had headed up onto the rocks.
Brenny lifted Busher's limp body and hid it under a juniper bush. Then he wiped Dusty down, covered her with his blanket, before tieing her in close to the rocks. He drew the Winchester from its holster, started to climb, and then noticed the fresh tracks ofblood.
He had to run to catch up with the dogs but he could see where the trail of blood picked up again on the other side. He reached down to touch it. The dark liquid stained his finger. Then he slowly brought the splotch of deep red to his mouth so he could lick it. It had the strong taste of salt and bitters. The blood lingered on his tongue until it dried his throat like some twisted knot that tied them together. He could sense the closeness of the cat.
Lightning ripped down through the clouds, followed by its rumbling roars of thunder. The blood took them to the north side of the mountain. He saw Stoner up ahead but didn't bother to check the trail again. He had to keep up with the dogs. If he stopped they'd lose everything to the storm. A heavy downpour would wipe away the trail of blood in an instant.
Brenny looked up at the stark cliffs on the north face of the mountain. The three dogs ran just ahead of him. Skeeter, his head low, sniffed along the large rock formation that led to the peak. Boog stayed in close, but the new dog dropped back when the cat's high scream rushed down at them.
Brenny took off his slicker, threw it aside, and made a wide circle to come up behind them. The cat had placed himself behind a granite wall that split straight up to the top of the mountain.
If he fired a shot he might've forced the cat out but didn't know what the animal might do. He'd already lost two dogs. The only other choice would be to climb the peak while the dogs had the lion trapped. He yelled, "Hold! Hold!" at the dogs over the rising wind. Then started his climb.
The growling dog moved along the ledge in front of him. He could hear the other dogs but wasn't sure how many there were. His hind leg pained. He jumped as high as he could, in the deep cleft, to peek through a thin crack. The brown muzzle came snarling in close to him again. He screamed at it. The dog retreated so fast it nearly stumbled off the narrow ledge.
He pulled back as far as he could, waited for the snarling teeth to get closer, then sprung at the granite wall. His long body arced off it and he caught the dog full on the shoulder. It rolled in the dust. He swiped again. The dog howled in surprise as it tumbled over the edge.
He turned swiftly to face the large black and tan that stood his ground. Another dog stood behind him whining into the wind that whipped across the mountain. He jumped back along the high rock to leap up the rocky slope. A sharp pain ran through his back leg, but he gripped the stone beneath him until he got over the cleft.
He could hear the large dog's bark behind him as he looked across the granite slope for the man. He still had a long jump to the far ledge but couldn't be sure his leg would hold. The rain suddenly hit in large drops turning everything into a drenching blur. He crouched, glanced up into the pouring rain, then jumped.
The storm caught Brenny below the cleft. He had to take off his boots so he wouldn't slip on the slick, wet algae. He could barely see through the pouring rain. His clothes became so heavy he could hardly move in them. He ripped off his clinging shirt. The cool rain bit his chest and shoulders. Then he slipped out of his soaked pants so he could move more easily.
The water gushed across the rocks in a rushing stream. He could hear it falling off the edge on the other side. When he finally reached the top he took in a deep breath, dropped to his bare knees, and peeked down over the edge. The cougar was gone.
He felt a cold, damp stiffness run through his body. When he turned to get up he saw the figure on a ledge just above him. Huge. Powerful. The lion stood high on the rocks as if he were part of the mountain itself. The rain poured down over them. Brenny slowly cradled the Winchester in his arms so he could raise it. There'd be no second chance. He tilted his head. Put his eye to the sight.
Like some pagan god, the lion looked down into him. Its enormous chest stood directly in his sight. Nothing between them but the incessant rain. The lion didn't move. Brenny slowly lowered the Winchester. The moment hung there between them as they stared at each other in the driving rain.
Brenny saw the lightning hit just below the ledge where the cat stood. It bounced towards him in a thin blue flash heading for the rifle barrel. He felt its sudden rush of heat. Then a roar of sound threw him backwards into the sizzling water. He tried to get up but couldn't feel anything except an incredible thirst. Then he realized there was no sound to the hail bouncing off his face. He lay across the rocks, in a running stream of water, as the pieces of ice melted slowly on his eyes.
He slipped through the early morning light to see if the man was still there. The black and tan had come up the mountain to lie next him. He could smell its fear.
A thin trail of men on horses curved slowly up the mountain towards them. He limped across the boulders on his stiff leg to see which side of the mountain they'd come up on.
He looked back at the lifeless form spread across the rocks. The dog had crawled up on the man's chest. He watched them for a long time. Then he turned away, headed down the other side of the mountain, and left them alone in the morning sun.