Fantasy Novel: Whistlestop Chapter 13
That evening Jakes found his mother sitting with Sandy, Clare, and the other pack members, on the far side of the campfire, exchanging stories of the day’s experiences. The bonfire in the pit blazed brightly, the red hot flames danced over the logs, heat simmered around the people keeping the dark forest at arms length.
“I heard somebody got hurt, should have known it would be you,’ said Jakes as he sank down next to his mother.
“It is just a scratch, for goodness sake.”
“I saw Xavier and Christopher talking in Matt’s office, looks like they did not find what they were looking for. They were pointing towards the Birchwood area of the Forest,” said Jakes, excited to talk about somebody he admires.
“I heard about illegal loggers in the woods. Some of the high value, long-lived trees in that area have been marked,” warned Sandy.
“Stealing trees, how would they do that? It is not something you can pick up and tuck under your arm?” asked Clare, her blond hair falling over her eyes, she raked her hand through the blond strands to push it aside, trying to hide her agitation.
“I heard that they stole almost one million dollars worth of trees in the Redwood area last year. Xavier was part of the team that tracked them. He said it would take many years to repair the destruction, and they should not get away with it,” said Jakes.
“You’re right and this time, I will find them,” snarled Xavier, cold fingers traveled down the Pack member’s backs. The threat in his voice was enough to warn their wolves that an alpha male has declared his intent. Xavier sat down at the edge of the group allowing him to watched their expressions.
Joanne studied Xavier under the cover of the night, this was the first opportunity she could look at him, undetected. The times she had contact with him, she either ran away or was so preoccupied with other things she hardly noticed him. If she was honest with herself, she really liked what she saw. A lean, strong man with dark brown hair and intense brown eyes, his face showed a strong character and confidence, a man who knew what he wanted in life.
She sighed, she was such an idiot, how many times must she burn her fingers. “Stay away from men and especially one that is linked to the Wolfville Pack,” she berated herself as she averted her eyes. Xavier saw with interest that she studied him.
“I would not try and steal the trees from the Birchwood area, there are too many people and activity in this area. If I were a thief, I would go to a part of the woods that was near a stream that branches into the river that feeds into the lake. That way you can move the logs to a more accessible loading area, without needing heavy machinery. It would also be easy to blend in with legitimate loggers, working downstream loading the timber.”
“Sounds as if you know these woods?”
“As a child yes, but I have not been here in recent years. My grandfather’s land bordered the State Forest. We used the area I am talking about as a shortcut to this camp when he met the Wardens at the Forestry Offices. The area became isolated since his death.”
“Will you come and show Matt the area you are talking about, ” asked Xavier standing up, that eyebrow of his raised in question.
Joanne pulled Jakes up by his elbow as she stood, he would be a good shield for her to hide behind. Xavier noticed what she did and how she gripped the boy’s arm as if it was a lifeline. “Why is she so scared of the male pack members,” wondered Xavier as he walked with them to the office?
Matt was sitting behind his desk, typing on the keyboard on his desk.
“Evening,” said Matt, looking up from the screen in front of him.
“Joey is that you, what are you doing here?” asked Matt in surprise.
“Hi Uncle Matt, I wanted my son to experience the woods and what you guys are doing.”
Matt saw that there was more to the story than she would let on. Maybe he should have kept in contact with his old friend’s granddaughter. She and her family stopped coming to the forest when her boy was very young. Xavier looked on with interest at the exchange between the old man and the woman, it seemed that they knew each other well at one time.
“The Wardens do not have access to your grandfather’s property for at least ten years. I thought it was your decision to limit access to certain areas,” said Matt unable to keep the commendation from his gruff voice.
“I don’t understand,” said Joanne in confusion. “The property was left to Pack, wasn’t it?”
“No, you were his sole heir,” repeated Matt.
“I will have to find out what is going on,” sighed Joanne with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She looked at Jakes, the boys eyes alight with interest. How was she going to protect her children if there were something dishonest going on? She sighed, straightened her shoulders and said, “I told Xavier that I think the illegal loggers would use the bottom part of the forest, near this stream,” and she pointed out the area on the map that hung on the wall.
“Let's see what the satellite has picked up,” said Xavier as he walked to a blank flat screen mounted on the wall.
Joanne showed them some of the paths she and her grandfather used to get to this camp. The satellite revealed that there was some human activity in that part of the woods. Joanne left the office shortly afterward, Jakes begged to stay, the satellite pictures fascinated him, and it would give him the opportunity to spend time with his hero. Xavier looked at her and said, “Don’t worry, I will keep him safe.”
A couple of hours later, an excited Jakes ran to his mother, “I am going with the Wardens. I will be part of the rear guard.” Jakes eager, to be part of the adventure.
The weekend turned out so much better than he anticipated.
“Okay, just be careful and heed your pack's rules, also listen to the woods, you will be surprised what you can hear if you remain quiet and let the woods talk to you.”
Joanne waved him along, hoping that the experiences he had this weekend would direct his energy and anger into something positive.
The next morning at breakfast Joanne was sitting with the City volunteers, listening to their stories and jokes when Jakes and Sandy came driving into the camp. Dust cloud surrounded the vehicle as it came to a sudden stop. Jakes jumped out and rushed into barracks. A few minutes later he came out dressed a logging overall, his helmet under the arm. His brown eyes sparkled brightly with excitement.
“What have you been doing, young man?” asked the middle-aged man that shared Joanne’s table.
“Looking for foxes,” laughed Jakes, “and we saw nothing, but it was great fun,” he said for his mother’s benefit.
“Some of the Wardens are still out there, checking their readings, but Sandy and I have to help the Wardens in the Birchwood area, it still needed to be cleared out.”
Joanne used the scratch on her face as a pretext not to go out with the teams and to wait for Julia.
Susan’s beat up car drove sedately into the camp, Pete, Julia and a boy and a girl she did not recognize got out. Susan turned the car around and waved at them as she drove back to the town.
“Mom has been called into work today, some emergency at the hospital. She just had enough time to drop us off,” said Pete to George, the scientist in charge of the nursery.
Julia looked at her mother in disgust. “You have been in the wars again.”
“It is only a scratch.”
George called them to the nursery tunnels, told them to load the trollies with the paraphernalia needed to replant the seedlings into the bigger bags. This was an everyday activity for Joanne and Julia, having done this several times in the past in their own hothouse.
“So tell me about yesterday,” asked Joanne eagerly as the worked with the seedlings.
“Was it interesting? I cannot wait to hear what happened?’
“It was strange Mom, the teacher looked at us as if we were from Mars. We sat in a circle while she made as all walk around the room, and she hemmed and hawed and wrote in a big book. The coach told us that by the end of the course, we would be proper ladies. We were given a folder with notes and pictures with places to write stuff in.
We will be ending the course with a fashion show, and we are expected to supply our own clothes and have our own style. They will help us design one evening dress, one day dress and casual wear for the fashion show. Dad is going to hit the roof about the extra expenses,” warned Julia.
“Don’t worry your Dad about this, I will find a way,” soothed Joanne.
Joanne and Julia talked as they worked, about school, Julia’s friends and the finishing school, as well as the style Julia would like to wear at the fashion show and what was the current fashion trends.
This was the first time in months that mother and daughter talked without aggression or blame. The conversation was stilted at first, but Joanne pretended not to notice, and normality returned to their relationship.
They took a break later in the morning and sat under the shade trees near the canteen. Late autumn sun creating pockets of heat among the cooler shady spots. Both had a large glass of fresh water in front of them, condensation glistened against the clear glass. Joanne leaned back and inhaled, “It feels as if the forest recharged my soul,” she said after taking another lungful of air.
“Mom, …” asked Julia, hesitating as if she were unsure how to continue.
“Yes, my darling?”
“Why would Uncle Silas and Dad fight?”
Surprised, Joanne looked at her daughter with a frown, “They hardly knew each other, why would they fight, you’re sure they were fighting?”
“Yes, Uncle Silas grabbed Dad by his shirt and shouted that he put everything at risk. Uncle Paul screamed, and there were a lot of shouting.”
“When did this happen?”
“Last Monday, you know when we were supposed to see you for the first time. Uncle Silas said they agreed that Dad could go ahead with the mating, providing you stay oblivious? What does oblivious mean? I was so scared Mom,” said Julia, her voice unsteady as she relived the scary experienced.
“Oblivious means unaware,” said Joanne as she rubbed Julias hand to sooth the frightened girl. “Sometimes grown-ups do and say the strangest things if you feel uncomfortable or scared, go to my room at Susan’s, you know where the key is kept. Do not get involved in grown up fights, you could get hurt. Susan knows how to contact me for me to come and get you. The only thing I ask is not to talk about me to your Dad or any of his friends. It is far better to stay out of their way,” urged Joanne, confused about what she just heard. “ I wish we could just live together, and I could keep you safe,” sighed Joanne. “But without a decent income, all I can afford is that room in the foreseeable future. The moment things change I will come and get you.”
“Uncle Arthur said they were going to give you one of the units near the station, you needn’t have left.”
“I am not their second rate charity case,” snapped Joanne, “In time, I will be independent and stand on my feet again. Then I will protect my family. Enough about the serious stuff, my advice is to keep away from the adults not to talk about me, you saw how aggressive some of the men can get. You have a safe place to go to, as long as you keep it secret. Jakes will help, it is important that you two support each other,” begged Joanne
“Aw, Mom he is such a dork.”
“Maybe, but he is your dork and your brother,” said Joanne, smiling at her daughter, with love in her eyes.
After lunch, all the volunteers packed up and cleaned their gear, handed it in and stood around waiting for the school bus to take them to the City station, as the C50 train would have left the Whistlestop Station by the time they reached Wolfville.
They were leaving the barracks, after packing up Joanne and Jake’s stuff, for Julia and Jakes to take home when Michael’s black SUV drove through the gate and stopped near the Warden offices. He looked as if he was ready to go to war, he wore camouflage uniform clothes and pulled a heavy black bag from the vehicle. Scanning the area as if he was looking for somebody. Joanne grabbed Julia’s hand and hid among the people waiting for the bus.
“What is Uncle Michael doing here? We should go and say hello.”
“When people wear clothes like that, it means they are busy with serious stuff, best if we stay out of their way,” Joanne gave Julia a hug and insisted she stayed with Pete as she boarded the bus leaving for the city. “I will find a way that we can contact each other, then we can talk anytime you need to and remember, keep safe.”
Just as the volunteers boarded the bus, two SUV’s with Wardens, Matt and Xavier stopped at the offices. Michael waited for them standing in the door and motioned at something inside the room. Everybody looked solemn as they entered the room. The radios crackled as the Wardens working in the woods were recalling all teams, saying that work has stopped for the day.
Michael may be a bad-mannered, arrogant man, but he has such a skillful way about him. Joanne stared at him, hoping he would keep the pack safe.