Chapter 3 of Recovery Efforts

Talisman

It’s amazing how eight minutes under lukewarm water can make you feel like a new fucking person, Adler thought to himself as he toweled off in the makeshift shower tent. He’d had more fulfilling showers in the old AirStream trailer that had been his first national park post. He may have had to turn the water off in between soaping and rinsing, to avoid running out; but, at least the trailer had hot water. He sniffed his paws to confirm that the scents they had absorbed during the day had been relegated to memory. That was enough.

He dried himself off in front of the trough that passed for a sink in the communal facility. The nice thing about being covered in fur was not really needing much in the way of privacy. Though, there was never much traffic at that hour anyway. Small steel mirrors were hung over the trough every meter or so, giving people a chance to groom themselves in accordance with whatever cultural vanity possessed them. Alder didn’t go in for any that. He’d long since grown out of pissing away precious time trying to impress people. 

Towel draped over one shoulder, the puma stared at his reflection. The bloodshot eyes were barely noticeable; hell, hardly any whites showed around his irises anyway. He could almost pass for someone who managed to sleep. He tried smiling at his reflection, but it came out closer to a weak snarl.

“Bud, you look like shit,” he whispered to himself. “At least you know this is an innocent visit. She didn’t ask you over, looking like this, to get in your pants. Probably just lonely and can’t find anyone to run her mouth to.” He ran his finger pads under his eyes and across his aching temples. “Not a bad price to pay for a drink.” Somehow, he actually managed a passable grin, this time.

The puma stopped by his tent to store his toiletries and file down the tips of his claws; he’d neglected them since he arrived and they were starting to hurt. He thanked whatever there was to thank—assuming there was something to thank, he was never sure—that his tentmate was out at the moment; he didn’t need someone nagging about the clipping sounds so late at night. Plus, Philips was an annoying prick.

Sitting on his cot, he extended each claw in turn to clean up the loose sheathing, nip off the sharp ends and file them smooth. Work in the debris field was rough on them, splitting and cracking the outer layers and leaving a splintery mess. Some big cats liked to cut just shy of the quick and round the claw off until it was more club than dagger. Alder preferred to just remove the point and smooth the burrs. There were too many things that moderately sharp claws were good for: opening soda cans, climbing, raking through the soft fur of a woman’s back when you pull her close and… Don’t start, bud. It may have been a while, but don’t go getting your hopes up. Drink, chat, sleep, start another day of searching the broken, hapless neighborhoods out there for broken, hapless bastards. 

Recovery. 

That one word change in the title of their task still loomed. They weren’t looking for broken, hapless bastards any more. They were looking for corpses. They’d given up the hope of finding anyone left breathing. He shook his head to clear the depressing thoughts; they weren’t any more productive than the lascivious ones.

Dressed in reasonably intact and somewhat clean clothes, shod (one couldn’t be too careful with screws, nails, and broken glass being tracked into the camp), and as ready for social niceties as he ever could be, Alder strode toward the entrance of his tent. He stopped at the door and patted his pockets. Something was missing. Frowning, he looked back at the cot. There was the stuffed animal, whatever it was supposed to be. Keeping it nearby wasn’t conducive to forgetting the woes of his week, but it had become something of a talisman for him. It didn’t feel right for the thing not to be in his pocket. 

Rolling his eyes at his own behavior, he stepped through the cloth door and into the night.


 

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