The Promise Of A Lifetime

Copyrighted 2004 All Rights Reserved
by B. S. Raven



Disclaimers:

Love/Sex: This story features strongly consensual relationship between adult women, and some inferred f/m relations. Love is love, no matter where or with whom it is found. So, if this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live, or if you are under the age of 18, please find something else to read. There are many general stories out there more acceptable for you.

Language: Some strong language is used, but sparingly.

Violence: There isn’t any brutal violence in this story, but there are brief depictions of several crimes, an accident and a recovered body. A brief court scene with forensics is used,, however that aspect is not violent.

Hurt/Comfort: There are a few brief scenes of revenge, which shows some hurt/emotional discomfort, but nothing extremely heavy.

Dedication: This story is for Cherry. You Rock Lady.

Acknowledgments: To Helen, Anna and Tena for their beta reading, suggestions, critiques, reviews and locating my many errors. It would have been impossible to complete this story without your valuable assistance. Words can’t properly express my gratitude Ladies, but thanks. Also wish to acknowledge Boots for her evaluation and many comments.

Special Acknowledgments: Dr. Brenda H. for the Forensic profiles, review of that information and suggestions made, and the use of her wording in the trial testimony. To Dr. Olmala F. for her assistance with the Mingo language and Native American ideas, the sweat lodge information and use of her web-pages for the Seneca lore used throughout. Dr. Paul K. (Paleontologist), and The Paleontological Association for the proper wording, info and techniques expressed. Harold McM (FWS) for the park, Back to the Wild and animal release programs. The Adirondack State Park information page, and lastly Thomas McE. for the Mingo story and story translation. I couldn’t have made it as real without all of you. Thank you for your support.

Copyright: This material has been copyrighted under Federal and International Laws with all rights reserved. For your reading pleasure only, and please, do not reproduce in any form except for your reading enjoyment without permission.

Further, this is a story of fiction, and any resemblance's to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the areas and situations mentioned in this story are real, but may not be exactly as depicted in the story.

FEEDBACK: Comments are appreciated. All feedback will be answered, whether it is nice or not; just make it constructive and I will be happy to respond to any criticisms: bsraven2000@yahoo.com

The Promise Of A Lifetime
Copyrighted 2004 All Rights Reserved
by B. S. Raven

Because there are some Arabic words used in this chapter only, to give it an authentic feel, a brief glossary is provided for the actual translation and meaning of some words. However, it is believed you will probably be able to understand without it.

Aqra Halqa - Is just an exclamatory expression, not meant always. It expresses disapproval.
Khazîr - A special type of dish prepared from barley-flour and meat-soup.
Khazira - A kind of vegetation
Burda - A black square narrow dress.
Helwa - Sweet, beauty
Mujâhid - A Muslim warrior
Nûn - Fish.
Hujra - Courtyard of a dwelling place.
Tilâ' - A kind of alcoholic drink prepared from grapes.



Chapter One:

“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR EVER-LOVING MIND?” Jacqueline Boudreaux stared in disbelief at the woman in the green drab park ranger uniform. “YOU CAN”T BE SERIOUS,” she screeched. “A perch tree? No chicks--just damn empty nests?” The redhead’s voice dropped an octave as she slammed the clipboard down on the plans table of the logging camp job trailer, and settled on the stool in front of the cluttered table.

“They are also alternate nest trees,” long fingers tightened on the uniform hat held in front of the statue-like figure.

“But, you told me perch trees were nests that have been abandoned for years now, Fletcher. Besides, we never planned to cut those particular trees, only the pole timber has been marked for harvest.” Jacqueline attempted to reason.

“I can’t permit that, Jacqueline. It still could disturb the birds.”

“How can you do this to me? You damn breed, you’re still pissed off that I dumped you! Get over it, Fletcher. It’s been six years now. Move on with your life, I have.” She pushed her hair behind her ear and away from her face in agitation.

“I’m proud of my heritage Jacqueline. I’m living a very good life and you have my deepest appreciation for dumping me. However, that has nothing to do with this.”

“So you say. Damn you, Fletcher, you have over six million acres to keep track of, and these nests are on my property, not park lands.” The beautiful eyed woman looked over at the dark-haired park director. If looks could kill, the ranger would be gasping for breath now.

Why does she have to be so darn stubborn? Fletcher ran long fingers through her dark brown collar-length hair. “It doesn’t matter where the perches are and you know it. I have jurisdiction here and you know that as well. You have to stop logging near the ridge,” she stated.

“Must you act so damn grave and official?”

“I'm afraid this is very serious," Fletcher responded, wishing she could put off this confrontation, but knowing she couldn't, "You're working in, and endangering, the primary zone of two perch trees. You have to stop immediately.”

Jacqueline noted a muscle in Fletcher’s jaw tense. She realized the subject was serious. She saw it in Fletcher’s eyes, the furrows in her forehead and the lines about her mouth. She wanted to reach out to smooth away her tension as she had once been allowed to do. Feeling a moment of panic at the thought of yielding to this woman, or anything happening between them, immediately quench her desire to touch the ranger. No one was going to ever get under her skin. No one, not even Fletcher Bucannan, the most attractive, desirable woman she’d ever met. “Fletcher, we employ over two thousand people in our timber operations. Do you have any idea what this will do to our operation, or how it will affect the community? ”

“I’m very sorry about that,” she answered sadly, aware of Jacqueline’s ris­ing anger, “but you can’t cut that timber.”

“Fine!” Jacqueline jumped to her feet and paced the floor, her steps short and rapid. “But you’d better under­stand one thing, Ms. Almighty Park Director,” she said, her fingers drumming against her folded arms. “If Mitchell wants me to keep cut­ting, we’ll keep cutting, and the only way you’ll stop us is to have me arrested…unless, of course, you want to arrest my father?” She looked directly at the ranger.

Fletcher’s dark eyes narrowed. “Don’t put me in this posi­tion Jacqueline,” she warned. “No one needs to be arrested. But I can’t let you, or your father dictate how to do my job.”

“Then don’t shut down Boudreaux Timber,” Jacqueline pleaded seductively. Her hand started to reach out to touch the ranger, but caught herself, and instantly dropped it to her side instead.

Fletcher drew in an exasperated breath. “I’m not shutting down Boudreaux Timber Ltd. I’m only asking you to stop logging within six hundred feet of the perch trees.”

“THAT’S MORE THAN TWENTY ACRES!” She exclaimed, flail­ing a hand in the air in an infuriated manner.

Fletcher saw the heightened color in the bewitching face and the awakening rage in her eyes. She remembered the same expressions many times during their brief involvement. Although they had never been any violence between them, she had always known the redhead would strike at anyone that ruffles her feathers given the opportunity. Fletcher didn’t want this to turn into a physical encounter, as the profanity and shouting from Jacqueline was quite enough for the mild-mannered ranger. “You have other timber, Jacqueline, and other areas where you can log that aren’t any place close to those trees,” her face once again expressionless.

“The pole timber happens to be what’s on the agenda right now, and the operation is all set up there,” Jacqueline said in a strained voice. “We’ve just completed the Canadian side of the operation, and in ten-twelve days we will have the mill ready to receive the ridge timber. Fletcher, you know trucks, skidders, tires, purchasing equipment and paying wages comes from the harvest of pole timber,” she paused to settle her erratic breathing.

“I know you’re not struggling financially, Jacqueline. Boudreaux Enterprises has several other plots that you could ease the cutting operation into with little effort. No one need suffer any wage loss or shutting down mill production,” Fletcher responded, “but you’ll still have to stop logging near those particular trees.”

“I’ll do whatever Mitchell decides.” The stubborn vixen kicked the stool out of her way.

Fletcher glared at her. “I’m well aware that your father turned over complete operations to you three years ago. You make all the decision now Jacqueline. If you don’t stop immediately, then you might end up in jail,” she said. “You’re as unreasonable as ever. You know what’s right here. So don’t give me that, I’ll check with daddy excuse.”

“Didn’t realize you kept up with me anymore, Fletcher. Well, my decision is made. I’m cutting the timber on the ridge.”

Fletcher held her unwavering gaze for a long silent mo­ment. When she offered nothing more, she waved a dismissive hand and said, “All right, Jacqueline, have it your way. I tried. It’s out of my hands now…the report’s already gone in.” The ranger replaced her hat, nodded to the shorter woman fuming at the plans table, turned and left the logging office.

She’s as contrary and as bad-tempered as ever. I don’t think this day could get any worse. The Adirondacks Park Director leaned against the dark green SUV 4x4 and tapped her head against the top of the vehicle several times. “One of the worse days I’ve ever had,” she thought as she opened the door to the park’s service vehicle. Turning, she glanced towards the door of the logging trailer office to see the redhead shooting daggers at her. I know that look, ugh…she shook her head, removed her hat and tossed it on the seat before she slid behind the steering wheel. “If looks could kill,” she murmured, reaching over and grabbing the radio mike from its base and bringing it to her mouth. “Bucannan to base. Come in base.”

“Good morning Chief. How did your chat with Ms. Boudreaux go?” The smooth voice asked.

“You don’t want to know, Jamison. This day would have to start over to get better,” the park director responded into the radio. “She isn’t going to stop the cutting. So call Legal, at the State Department of the Interior--Fish and Wildlife and talk to Agent Besmear. I’ve already filed the proper paperwork. He needs to get the injunction we’ve discussed, and it needs to be served immediately.”

“Consider it done, Chief. By the way, are you still over on Finch Ridge?” A quizzical tone resonated from the other end of the radio.

Fletcher leaned her head back against the headrest and closed her eyes. She could tell by the sound of the young brunette’s voice that there was another dilemma in the making. “Now what, Hewana? You can’t make my day any worse,” she responded to the seasoned ranger.

“Two hikers stopped by the park office and reported an incident on the trail about two miles north of old Weahan’s cabin. They say a red-tailed hawk with what they believe to be a broken wing was flopping on the side of the trail. Several attempts failed to cover the hawk with a blanket so they could bring it in.” Jamison stated. “They were afraid further attempts would harm the hawk more. You’re several hours closer than the nearest patrol. Do you want to take a look, or do you want to send Rains and Duke to check it out?”

Fletcher opened her eyes, took a quick look at her watch, and then raised the mike again. “No, I’ll check it out. Is it the north trail that leads to the overlook, or the fork that goes to the falls?”

“Overlook trail, Fletcher. The hikers were specific with the location. They just passed two boulders on the right side of the trail that had flattops where they ate their breakfast. The hawk was about twenty yards down the trail.”

“Roger that, Jamison. I know the location. I’m on my way, but it will take me close to an hour. I’ll radio you when I park at the old medicine man’s cabin.”

“Do you have a cage?”

“Cage, gloves, all the gear I need, Hewana. Standard equipment. Make the call to the State for me and I’ll radio when I get there.”

“Roger that, and out Chief.”

Bucannan cranked the vehicle and nodded to a passing logger as she pulled onto the man made gravel logging road. “This day just keeps getting better and better.” She exhaled as she turned on the secondary highway and hopefully, to the injured hawk.

Jacqueline Boudreaux threw the door full open, send­ing it crashing against the wall, and stormed down the steps. Catching the door as it bounced back off the wall, she slammed the door shut and stared at it. Ramming her hands into the jacket pockets, her heart raced and the blood rushed to her very seductive face.

“Fletcher you are carrying this nest thing too far. I’m not going to stop logging because of a couple of damn empty nests.” Even though their relationship was over almost before it began, she was certain that Fletcher still had feelings for her, if only minor ones. The redhead doubted her former lover would have her arrested and sent to jail. That simply wasn’t in the park director’s make-up, or was it? “She takes that friggin job so serious,” she voiced, walking toward the clearing and the heavy machinery busy there.

Jacqueline stood on a rise at the edge of the forest, looking across the clearing to where logs were being stacked on the landing. In the distance she heard the buzz of chain saws cutting trees and the whine of the skidder hauling logs. Beneath her feet the ground vibrated with the rumble of several bulldozers. She was so weary that the noise from the machines grated on her nerves. “Damn, I need a good lay to take my mind off this. Oh well, business first, then a warm, hot sexy body or two, too relax me.”

Fletcher’s parting words hung heavy on her mind. If they were forced to abandon logging the pole timber, she could only speculate about moving the equipment and changing the schedule. Meanwhile, the more timber she could get down the better. She'd deal with Fletcher when and if that time came. And the sooner she would be back in Rochester and her string of women and other conquests awaiting her charm and seductive powers.

At times she wondered why she ever accepted running the timber company. Deep down she knew how much she enjoyed the challenge and conquering everything she attempted. It all turned to money. Money? She had so much now that it was ridiculous to think she could ever spend it all, but her work was something that broke up the monotony of her blue-blood life…and her hobbies…fast cars and easy women.

She watched Mark Brody, her logging foreman, and long-time employee, lower the blade of the Cat, shov­ing limbs onto a burning pile. While she waited for Brody to finish moving brush, she gazed towards the ridge once more, and then unconcernedly motioned for Mark to cut the engine on the Cat. Not knowing exactly how Brody felt about breaking the law, she wasn’t anxious to broach the subject of the perch trees with the foreman, but she did want to get the cutting on the ridge started immediately.

The older man stuck an unlit cigar into his mouth as he approached her.

“I just got word that the price of pole timber went up again, and this stand is top grade. We might as well start the cutting. How long do you think it will take Brody?” Boudreaux’s mouth curved in a smile, but inside she felt the sting of Fletcher’s ultimatum a few minutes before about logging the pole-timber area.

“We should be done here in less than three weeks,” he said, removing his hardhat and work gloves.

“Any problems in getting started tomorrow?” Jacqueline asked.

“We need more fuel, but the tanker truck is coming late tomorrow anyway. The skidders and cutters will take most of the day to cut a strip up to the ridge, but we can get that accomplished by tomorrow night.”

“There’s another thing I want to talk to you about Brody,” Jacqueline said in a tight voice, approaching the next subject with trepidation. “There are some old-growth firs among the pole timber, and two of them have eagle’s nests in them.”

Brody eyed her suspiciously. “So?”

Jacqueline gave him a quick nervous smile. “We’re not supposed to log within six hundred feet of the trees.”

“That may be, Ms. Boudreaux but I’ve seen those nests and they ain’t been used for years now. Is that what that breed was doing out here, issuing some more of her ultimatums?”

Green eyes stared at the unshaven foreman. “Yes, but the eagles are still using them for perches…roosting at night, or so our Park Director says. Don’t like Fletcher huh?”

“Nope! Last year she got me banned from hunting the park for five years. Don’t have an ounce of use for her, or any fuc-ugh…darn birds either. You say cut and they’ll have to find another place to perch. There’s no way in hell I’ll stop the logging just be­cause of a couple of empty nests, or anything Bucannan dictates.”

“What if we’re…ordered to stop?” Jacqueline asked.

“Then send whoever does the ordering to me up on top of the ridge. When I’m finished with them, they’ll forget all about empty, inactive nests. No one’s going to order me to stop cutting your timber Ms. Boudreaux, ‘cept you.”

“We do have other areas where we could log.”

“We have pole timber right here that needs cutting while the price is high. Now, you be on your way home, and leave those nests to me,” he said, dismissing the subject and turning to go back to the Cat.

“You sure you want to tangle with Fletcher Bucannan again Brody?”

Brody removed the cigar from the corner of his mouth and walked back to where she stood. “About two and a half weeks and we should have that area cleared,” he said, resting one hand on his wide belt. “The forest bed is good cover for a lot of things, Ms. Boudreaux.” He turned and spit on the ground. “Some folks don’t know just what they might come up with in… say… seventy or eight years when the next timber is cut up that way.” His dark eyes met hers and held for a full minute in understanding before he tipped his head and returned to the Caterpillar.

***

Finley couldn’t speak, she couldn’t breathe. For one wild moment, she wondered if she had heard correctly. But, she knew Elizabeth McCollum was telling the truth. Yet, she had to ask, “What do you mean you’re pregnant?” She gulped as the words feebly passed over trembling lips.

“Exactly what I said Finley, I’m going to have a baby. You would have known soon enough, as I would have started showing before long.” The dark haired woman moved to the window of her office and turned her back on the young paleontologist. “I saw no need to tell you before now, and it really doesn’t change anything between us. We can continue seeing each other outside the office, but it will be limited as I will need to spend more time with my husband, now that I’m pregnant.”

“Husband? My God, Elizabeth, I didn’t even know you were married. Don’t you think you should have been truthful with me before you and I became involved?” Finley jumped out of the chair in front of her supervisor’s desk. “How could you be so callus about this? You not only don’t tell me you are married, but you never indicated you were seeing anyone either.” Finley’s blue eyes pierced the green ones before her. “You have always made such a big deal out of never having children. Now you’re expecting a baby! What kind of person are you?” Finley felt trapped, and the hopelessness of her situation struck her with renewed force.

“Don’t be so melodramatic Finley,” the taller woman turned from the window to face her upset subordinate.

“As far as seeing you on the side, don’t hold your breath….you… you…You don’t even wear a ring!” How she wished she could come up with something more original, but she was too overwrought to be her normal cleaver self. Elizabeth had always bested her at every turn.

“Relax, Finley, everything is going to work out fine. Do you really think I would stop seeing you if I thought there was a chance that you would accept my marriage and this baby?” She patted her stomach and smiled. “Oh, for heaven sakes, Finley, didn’t it occur to you why I never allowed you to come to my home? That we always went to your place to be together. I don’t wear a ring because it is easier being a single woman, and I will always keep my maiden name, even after the baby comes.” She advanced towards the smaller woman, who still stood in front of the desk, but had placed her hands on the top of the desk to help hold her weakened, but shapely form up.

“Stop right there, Elizabeth. Don’t you ever touch me again!” Finley held up her hand to the research director. Shaking her head in disbelief, with tears forming, she snapped at the woman. “I think you are insane! Who else but a crazy woman would behave as you have…a married woman involved with her Lesbian subordinate? A woman whose life you have turned upside down beyond anyone’s wildest imagination!”

“Is that what you think I’ve done, Finley? Turned your life upside down, made it miserable? Or perhaps, given you the sexual diversity you wanted and needed?” She sounded amused.

“Oh, yes, you’ve done that alright, but don’t think I needed your limited sexual practices, ” she vowed with heartfelt vehemence. “I guarantee you will one day reap your deception.”

“Are you threatening me, Finley?” She replied with equal intensity. “Loyalty is an intrinsic part of your character, Lover. You will never do anything to discredit me, or this institution by bringing out any scandal because of our relationship. You will continue to see me whenever we can, and you will continue to be my best little paleontologist, and accept my marriage and this pregnancy favorably.” She reached up to touch the crying woman’s face, but her hand was slapped away.

Elizabeth McCollum smiled a little whimsical grin, turned and went behind her desk once again and sat down in the leather executive’s chair. “Anyway, if you were to be honest with yourself, you’d admit that it’s time for a change in your life. The ho-hum mundane daily activities here at the Smithsonian was beginning to pall for you,” she added with a certainty that took Finley’s breath away.

“You’ve said a lot of outrageously arrogant things today, but you- -you’ve outdone yourself with that one,” she sputtered furiously. “I was thoroughly enjoying my life exactly the way I was living it. For you to say otherwise is to…”

“State the facts,” Elizabeth finished calmly. “I happen to know them, Sugar. Your father has been hounding you unmercifully to accept that position in New York at the Museum of Natural History. It is more in the lifestyle of your parents. Further, Dr. Eckersley has begged you to come work with him for three years since you finished you doctorate. You impressed him so much on that China dig during your internship that he, and your parents will not be satisfied until you are safely back in the Long Island Sounds high society and under their watchful eyes once again.”

“Who are you, a member of some spy network? How do you know so much about my personal life, when I obviously know so little about yours?”

“Meticulous research. I used the same approach in choosing an assistant as I do my many relationships, Finley. There is little- -if anything- -about you that I don’t know.”

“Is that so?” She glared at the seated woman. No woman could listen to another woman make such a smug, doggedly confident statement about her without feeling homicidal. Unfortunately, she would have to limit herself to verbally annihilating her.

“Yes. And I noticed an interesting pattern in your behavior. You seem to have an uncanny knack of finding ways to keep the women you are supposedly considering as relationship prospects from considering you as one, that is, all but me.”

Finley had been mulling over the most insulting, vicious thing she could possibly say to her lover, but Elizabeth had thrown her completely off balance with the observation. It was disturbingly close to the mark, and of course, she denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t matter because nothing you can say interests me anymore,” her white teeth clinched tightly as she spewed out the words. “You will have my two weeks notice this afternoon, Ms. McCollum. I’ll be taking two weeks of my vacation time for the notice, and I’ll have all my things out of my office by close of business today.” With that, she turned and ran from the room.

Finley glanced down at the bone she had just tested, and then stared off into space once again. Odd I should reflect on that today. Maybe it is because it was six years ago this week that I left Washington and moved back here. How could I ever have been in a relationship with anyone like her? Sure made me be a little more cautious with affairs. Perhaps, I needed that experience to knock some sense into my thick head! Deep in thought, she hadn’t heard the museum’s Director enter the room.

“Finley, you finish your testing?” Dr. Hedrick Eckersley asked after have observed his chief research assistant staring off into space for several minutes.

Startled at the voice, her face immediately broke into a smile at her supervisor’s question. “Yes, but it proved to be only a three hundred year old caribou jaw, nothing more.” She made a face of disappointment at her long- time mentor. “A very large caribou.”

“I see.” The elderly man sighed. “The Anchorage dig will be very disappointed.”

“Better they find out now, then continue to dig in an old wildlife trail and find only more caribou bones.” She replaced the bone into the bin, covered it securely and placed the labeled container on the shelf next to several dozen other sealed containers from the same dig.

“Yes, I suppose so.” He smiled at the paleontologist. “One day, though, we will make a discovery that will be of great importance.”

“That would be nice. I would enjoy testing something so unusual that it would take me weeks to determine the nature of the bones.” She pushed her chair under the desk, and went to the coat rack standing behind the door, retrieved her jacket. “You are coming to my parent’s anniversary dinner tonight, aren’t you Professor?”

“Of course, Finley. Have I missed one in the last twenty years when your parents have been here, instead off at some dig somewhere having the time of their lives?”

“No, but you might get caught up in that class of yours again, like you did for my birthday last month.” She laughed.

“You aren’t going to let me live that down are you, Finley?”

“Not a chance in torment, my good doctor. Tell you what, I’ll take your class this afternoon, and you can go home and get dressed. I won’t let the class drag on for an hour longer than scheduled.”

Laughing at his assistant, he marveled not only at her professionalism, but her thoughtfulness. She had filled in for him many times in several of his classes when his duties at the Museum prevented him from teaching the honors classes three times a week. The arrangement had been most helpful to both of them. He knew someone qualified was available at a moments notice, and because Finley enjoyed the occasional classroom session to break up her duties at the museum.

“Okay, young lady. You go fill in for me and I’ll see you at your parents tonight promptly at eight sharp.”

They left the research area, and headed to the north employee entrance. Opening the door for his the young woman, he glanced up at the sky. “It’s going to be a quick fall, Finley. I can feel the cold in my bones already and it is only the end of October.”

“Feels that way, Professor, better wear a trench coat tonight, it looks like rain also.”

***

Fletcher parked her SUV beside Weahan’s cabin. Exiting the 4x4, she looked around the area before she went to the back of the vehicle. After zipping up her jacket, she raised the back tailgate and unhooked the medium size cage secured between two other cages, pulled it out and sat it on the ground. Her backpack harness was quickly attached to the cage. Fletcher pulled out a half blanket size cloth and stuffed it into the cage along with a bottle of water. Her full canteen was secured on the left side of her belt next to a cased knife, while her service revolver was holstered on the right. The tall park director slammed the door shut, went back to the front seat and promptly radioed the park office that she was about to begin the trek up the trail and would take her cell phone in case of an emergency. Before she close the door of the vehicle, she propped her foot up on the sill and retied her walking boots. Checking the area once more as she slipped on her gloves, she then lifted the backpack and cage into place, and promptly stepped into the un-cleared area adjacent to the cabin and proceeded through the undergrowth towards the ridge trail.

Once on the trail, the lanky ranger turned park director made good time. The walk up to the overlook or falls was quite strenuous and more than a few give up halfway, missing the best of the falls and the overlook. Few bathed in the pool below the falls or enjoyed the sight of the water cascading thirty feet or so down the rock face in the sunshine. Even fewer made it to the overlook, which was so panoramic, you gasped at the beauty of the terrace of ridges. Many thought you could see Canada, but Fletcher knew it was only more of the mountain range in the far distance, with the Canadian border fifty miles past the outstretch of the visible ridges. Views of the valley as you continued beyond the normal hiking path, made the walk worthwhile.

Reaching the spot about twenty yards from the flat top rocks some forty minutes later, Fletcher unfastened her backpack and slid the cage to the ground. She scanned the area as she drank heavily from the water bottle before placing the half full bottle back in the cage. The remainder of the water would be used for the small water bowl attached to the cage for the hawk. She unfastened the cage from her backpack and stuffed the fabric into the backpack. She swung the pack over her shoulder, but didn’t slip it on yet. She wanted to locate the hawk before she replaced the straps on her shoulders.

Standing quietly at the edge of the path, she listened intensively for any sounds of the injured hawk. Momentarily, her keen hearing picked up the faint sounds coming from about a hundred feet down the embankment. Fletcher made her way to the edge and with one hand secure on a small tree, she looked over the jagged, thickly covered undergrowth.

“Well…you certainly have yourself in a really difficult place my little friend.” She spoke to the hawk that had lodged the injured wing between two small saplings. The hawk had struggled bravely to get free, but only succeeded in embed the injured wing more securely between the two trees. Fletcher could tell the hawks effort had drained its strength, and if not rescued soon, the hawk’s chances at survival were slim. Not only that, but Fletcher caught a glimpse of a gray wolf waiting patiently a hundred feet away for the hawk to stop struggling.

“Not today old girl,” the ranger squatted down and gathered a handful of small rocks and made her way down the embankment about ten feet. Waving her arms vigorously and continuing her yelling, she also let loose with one rock after the other in the direction of the wolf. “GET OUT OF HERE GIRL. No hawk for lunch today. GET!” Another rock hit a tree some distance from the wolf making a drumming sound as it bounced down the embankment. Fletcher recognized the gray wolf, and knew she wouldn’t stay in the area once Fletcher made her presence known. She was downwind of the wolf so the animal had not picked up her scent before she yelled.

Fletcher watched as the wolf gave the hawk a quick look, then took a long look at her before it trotted down the embankment and disappeared into the thick undercover.

The park director scanned the embankment for the easiest path to the hawk. “Doggone it. I’m going to have to go down fifty yards before I can make my way to that area.” Fletcher sighed, and climbed back up the bank to get her backpack. “This day just keeps getting better and better.” She shook her head as she buckled the pack in place and went a dozen yards up the trail to an area where the descent would be easier, or so she thought.

As she made her way slowly down the ridge, she started singing softly to herself. Twenty yards down the embankment, the soft singing turned into a loud yell as the ground beneath her gave way. Fletcher immediately threw up her arms to protect her head and attempted to roll up in a tuck position, but the backpack caught every branch, bush and rock on the way down. She tried to relax instead of bracing herself for the impact to prevent more injury, but the velocity made it a pointless and costly gesture. Fletcher slammed into the bottom. Her head found solid rock, and the impact made her ears ring.

Fletcher lay there for several minutes without moving. Finally she opened her eyes. “Holy Sky Woman!” She muttered as she struggled to sit up. “Talk about taking a flying leap,” the dark-haired ranger strained to remove the battered but intact backpack and unbuckled the strap across her canteen.

“Ouch, unöökte'! That really hurts.” She moaned as she pulled her right leg from the tangled undergrowth. Drawing the leg towards her, she could see the long slash in the drab olive trousers.

“Darn. I’m glad I had on these gabardines instead of dress pants, those suckers cost a hundred bucks.” She pealed the pants legs back to examine the gash in her leg. She removed her hunting knife and cut the pants legs further down so she could examine and clean the wound. She poured water over the area and was thankful the gash wasn’t deep enough to cause any serious damage. Fletcher pulled her shirt the rest of the way from her pants, unbuttoned and removed it. Slowly she pulled her white tee shirt over her head and took the knife to it. When she finished, she had one long continuous four-inch strip of shirt, which she used as a bandage and wrapped it around the jagged laceration on her leg. The end of the tee shirt was ripped back in the opposite direction and snuggled tied, making a secure wrap.

“Good thing I went through that emergency first aid class.” Fletcher drank deeply of the canteen as she looked around the area. “This day just keeps getting better and better.” She slowly stood and put a little weight on the injured leg. “Okay, not bleeding, and I can walk. Good. Now what in blue blazes happened?” The park director questioned the ravine, which didn’t respond. Her eyes slowly scan the area immediately above her.

They had many strange phenomena’s happen here in the park. Bogs, quicksand, sinkholes, caverns and caves, earth slides, floods, even a tornado ever now and then didn’t phase the dedicated ranger, but she wanted to know the reason for the slide. About thirty feet up the embankment, she saw an overhang that stuck out predominately, almost as if deliberately placed there for her to see. “I’ll check that out on my way back up. Now, where is my hat?” The tall woman scanned the area and smiled at seeing the wide brimmed waving lazily from a tree branch ten feet to the side of the overhang.

After a few minutes of careful climbing, she reached the hat. She rearranged the backpack, placed the hat securely on her head and looked in the direction of the overhang, which she now realized, was the entrance to a large cavern. Carefully, and methodically, she inched her way to the overhang.

“What the…” Fletcher stood in the middle of a large opening that was perfectly sheltered by the now protruding overhang that acted as the cavern’s ceiling. Trained eyes immediately saw a few pieces of broken pottery, several ancient looking spears leaning against a large boulder and some charcoal drawings on the stone above the boulder. She limped to the drawings and stopped at a circle of rocks with the remains of what once was a fire. Fletcher could hardly believe her eyes. These were artifacts of some of her ancestors. But why here, and what were the strange drawings on the walls? She had never seen an animal or bird like the ones drawn. It was the weirdest species she had ever seen. It had two sets of feathered wings, with one set on its forelimbs and the other on its hind legs. There were half a dozen different drawings of the creature. Although she was pretty sure it was some sort of bird, it also looked like a four-winged dragon or dinosaur of some kind.

“What the hell have I stumbled upon?” Fletcher moved about the floor of the opening carefully making sure she didn’t disturb any of the artifacts, She noticed several conspicuously placed slates of stone to the rear of the opening. “Okay, Old Fathers, I realized this is a sacred place, a place of honor and not a human burial place, but what have you stashed under these carefully placed pieces of slate.”

The park director removed her backpack and hat. She opened her backpack and removed her gloves. She quickly worked her fingers to the ends of the gloves as she examined the dirt-covered slates of stone. Within minutes she had wiped the dirt from the slates and made her first attempt to move one of the stones. Several attempts failed to move the slate from its place. Fletcher scanned the immediate area and quickly moved down the ravine to the remains of a broken sapling. She went to work with her knife to remove as many of the smaller branches that she could. Then she placed it over her shoulder and inched her way back up the incline to the opening. Within minutes, the sapling had been used as a wedge under several rocks Fletcher had placed close to the dome like area. Slowly the slate covering moved. Finally, she had the first stone almost off and set to work on doing the same to the next. Fletcher abruptly sank to the floor next to the dome. Her eyes fixed. “Holy Sky Mother!” She whispered. There, beneath the slate coverings, imbedded in stone were the partially covered skeleton remains of the bird creature drawn so methodically on the walls of the cavern.

After sitting there for close to an hour, Fletcher went to work with the sapling to recover the dome. Although she knew nothing could disturb the imbedded remains, she also realized she had uncovered a Seneca special burial site. Now she knew why the legend of the keeper’s heritage tugged at her heart. She had always wondered by there had been a medicine man or woman in this area, and with no seemingly other Seneca functions or roles.

Old Weahans’ cabin, or some lodge structure had been there for generations, or so the heritage robes had said. The property had been homesteaded over a hundred years ago, as were many homesteads in the park, including Fletchers’ own one hundred acres. Although Weahan had roamed the area, and knew every healing root, leaf, bark, moss, and berry within twenty miles, he had always been known as Old Weahan, the Keeper of the Roost. Now, that was no longer a mystery to Fletcher. The medicine man’s ancestors had the role of keeping the knowledge of the buried “bird” a secret, or at least to keep vigil over the area that was known as “Sacred Roost”. The old medicine man’s granddaughter had agreed to return to his home to continue his work upon completion of her training at the University. But that wouldn’t be for another year, and he had been hospitalized forty miles away, not expecting to ever return to his beloved home.

She had stumbled upon the discovery of the century, or several centuries, and she wasn’t comforted by her find. Anyone else would have been ecstatic by this mysterious discovery, but her unearthing troubled Fletcher. She wasn’t sure what she would do about it.

Her heart was heavy as she made her way to the wounded hawk, carefully placing the cloth over its head and wings and binding the cloth around the hawk. As soon as the hawk was secured in the backpack opening, the trek up the ravine to the cage went quickly. The bird was placed in the cage and given water, the cage was again strapped to the backpack and Fletcher hiked down the trail to the park’s vehicle.

This had been a disturbing day for the young park director. Troubled thoughts had not left her since she stepped foot beneath the overhang. “What should I do? Do I keep this to myself, and forget what I’ve seen, or do I have a responsibility to report my findings?” Fletcher was not able to come to any conclusions on her ride back to park headquarters. She was torn between her official obligations and her sense of duty to her Seneca heritage and not disturbing something they had obviously considered sacred. Perhaps she should make a trip to see old Weahan would help in her decision; or should she go back up the mountain and seal the overhand cavern with a stick of dynamite and forget what she had seen?

The last time there had been a historical finding, a dinosaur skeleton in the park, it had caused such a stir and commotion of the smooth flow of the park operations that she was hesitant to go through the disruption again. Fletcher wrenched at the thought of thousands of treasurer and dinosaur hunters of every kind, sweeping over the park tearing up trees, growth, damaging rock structures and picking up everything they could lay their hands on. That dig had lasted two years and the headaches and paperwork from the excavations still gave her nightmares. There was even a large warehouse of dig equipment, including tents, trays, drums, and tools were still stored in a remote area of the park as a reminder of the find and the excavation. Did she want to go through that again? “Not again in this lifetime, I don’t!” came the words as Fletcher drove up to the parks information building and motioned the young female ranger standing on the steps to the back of her vehicle. Jamison took the cage containing the hawk to the medical building after Fletcher advised her she had things to take care of in town and left the compound without getting out of the park’s SUV.

She didn’t want her mother, who served as the park’s chief veterinarian to see her leg. It wasn’t deep and didn’t bother her, but her mother would make a fuss about it or insist she go see the doctor. She didn’t mind seeing the doctor because it was her older sister, but her mother would go on and on about it, and she’d heard too many lectures about her taking chances in the park. Instead she decided she would go by the drugstore in town and get some supplies to wash it out and dress it properly without all the fuss.

She had saved two eagle’s perch trees, had a run-in with a former lover, rescued an endangered hawk, ruined a perfectly good pair of uniform pants, received a slash in her leg, banged her head causing a pounding headache, and discovered ancient artifacts and bones of something she wished she hadn’t, and she still had several hours of official red tape to process after she returned to the park. “Naah, I’ll just go home and work on the paperwork there. Man, what a day!”

“Yeah, this day just keeps getting better and better,” the park director exclaimed, as she looked for a place to park in front of the drug store. Finding none, she turned the corner and reluctantly parked in the grocery store parking lot and walked back to the drug store.

“Hi, Bella, how’s the kids?” she asked the sales clerk as she walked past the check out counter.

“They are good, all excited about the Jr. Park Ranger’s overnight camping trip weekend after next.” The robust clerk waved to her.

“Glad they’re excited. Great kids and I love the experience,” Fletcher beamed as she waved back and headed towards the pharmacy.

“You are a glutton for punishment, Fletcher. But God love you for taking care of the all the kids around here. That Jr. Park Ranger program is a god-send to all of us.” She blew the dazzling woman a kiss.

Fletcher caught it, and lipped one back to the blushing woman as she continued past the counter and headed directly to the pharmacy located at the back of the drugstore.

The pharmacy technician couldn’t take her eyes off Fletcher as she came down the aisle. Her heart started pounding in her chest and she knew her face was already turning a crimson color. They had gone out a few times, and Claudia had often dreamed of their friendship becoming deeper and intimate. However, Fletcher had skirted away from any close involvement with anyone for years, stating her work related circumstances didn’t leave much time for a deep personal commitment. Claudia smiled, she knew when the right woman came into the tall beauty’s life, the ranger would put that relationship first. Even though Fletcher was dedicated to her profession, any personal obligation would come ahead of everything else. The pharmacy technician snickered out loud. I can hardly wait for Fletcher to fall. Dang, that will be some woman to turn her head. Yeah, but it will take some strong willed, yet highly sensitive woman to clip those wings.

“What are you snickering about Claudia? I know it wasn’t Preston’s joke telling, because his are as dry as the back of a charred chimney.” She grinned as the technician laughed out loud at the description of her boss’s sense of humor.

“No, just thinking. What can I do for you Fletcher?” She asked.

The lanky park director thought for a moment. She might have leaned over on the counter and whispered exactly what the petite woman could do for her, but her sense of right won out. Instead she only smiled, and asked, “Is Preston hiding out back there, or have all you ladies got him unloading trucks again?”

“I heard that Bucannan,” a strong voice sounded from behind an enclosure, followed by the appearance of a tall, rather good looking dark headed man.

“Thanks Claudia, I’ve logged in the pharmaceutical order. You can fill Mrs. Winslow’s prescription now.”

Claudia smiled at Fletcher, who wiggled her eyebrows at the petite technician. “Later Fletcher.”

“Nice to see you again, Claudia.” Fletcher watched the young woman until she disappeared behind the enclosure.

Preston Hooper, the small town’s only drugstore owner, pharmacist, and head of the town council grinned as Fletcher moved to the side to watch Claudia’s swaying hips move around the drug enclosure. “Hum…Hah…Ah, Fletcher you wanted to talk to me?”

The tall woman jumped. “Right. Right. Preston, could you take a look at my leg and slap some wrap on it?”

The pharmacists leaned over the counter and saw the cut pants. “What have you done now, Fletcher?” Shaking his head, he exited the security door of the pharmacy area and motioned for the ranger to have a seat in the waiting area to the right of the door.

Once seated, she untied the made shift bandage and carefully unwrapped the torn tea shirt from her throbbing leg.

“Darn, that’s a deep gash.” The pharmacists eased the torn pants to the sides of the ten-inch wound. “It needs some stitches, not just a bandage, Fletcher.” He looked up at his friend.

“Can’t you just put those stitch band-aids things over the area and tape some gauze over it?”

“No. That won’t take care of the problem, it needs proper attention by a doctor.”

“Well, how about you get me a roll of gauze, a bottle of peroxide, a tube of antibiotic ointment and I’ll clean it out and bandage it up myself?”

Preston sat down beside Fletcher and took her hand. “My friend, that won’t work either. Sure you heal rapidly. Faster than anyone I’ve ever seen, but that cut is too deep. It has particles of rock and other materials that could get very infected. You have got to see a doctor.”

“I can take care of it, Preston. Just get me the supplies I requested.”

“Fletcher, if you don’t go see Margaret, I’m going to call your mother.” He shook his head at the last resort. “I don’t mean to threaten you, but you don’t realize how dangerous this kind of wound can be.”

She sighed. “I didn’t want mom to know. Maggie will call her before I can even get to my car. But, I guess that’s best, especially if you think it’s too bad.”

“I do, Fletcher.” He stood up. “I’ll get some pads to place over the area until Margaret can take a look at it.” Preston went to the first-aid area and grabbed two boxes and a roll of tape before he returned to the waiting area.

“Here, let me tape these over the wound. When you get to Margaret’s, tell her I asked about her and the boys.”

Fletcher looked down at the man busy dressing her leg. She had known for years that he still loved her sister. They had been close all through high school and college. When Maggie had gone on to medical school, she met and fell in love with Lawrence Nichols, married him, had two boys, and only returned to Windswept two years ago, after a tragic accident took Lawrence’s life.

Although Preston had remained single for years, he finally settled down, married a park veterinarian, and Sara had given him two beautiful girls. Both were the splitting image of their father. Cancer had taken Sara when their youngest was only three. Preston had been a pillar for the two young girls and doted over them like an old mother hen clucking over her brood. It was only after constant pleading with him did he allow both girls to join the Jr. Ranger program.

“Why don’t you call her yourself, fellow. You know, if you asked her out weekend after next, when I have the boys and your girls off on the Jr. Ranger campout, I bet she’d go.”

Preston’s head jerked up at her suggestion. Somewhat stunned, he lowered his head and ripped a piece of tape for the gauze. “She doesn’t even know I exist anymore, Fletcher. She’d probably think I wanted to seduce her or something,” he murmured.

“Well, don’t you?”

“Fletcher, do you have to be so blunt. You know I have nothing but respect for Margaret.”

“Then why don’t you ask her out, Dufus? She might surprise you and say yes. You aren’t ever going to find out if you don’t make the first move. How long will it take for you to see she is ripe for the plucking?”

“Fletcher, how can you talk about your sister like that? Shame on you.”

“Shame on me? Ever heard of the early bird gets the worm. Shame on you for not asking her way before now.”

“Seriously, Fletcher, do you think she might go out with me. You know, something simple like dinner, or to a movie?” He asked hopefully.

“Tell you what, I’ll kinda feel her out for you one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Once I give you the nod, you have to make the call to Maggie, and you will keep your mouth shut about this cut as far as my mother is concerned.”

“That’s two conditions, Fletcher.”

“Yeah, but it’s in one sentence,” she laughed.

“Okay, but I’m not responsible for your sister calling your mom.” He pressed the last piece of tape in place and stood up.

“I’ll handle Maggie. How much do I owe you?” She reached into her pocket for her wallet.

“Nothing. Consider it partial payment for all the Jr. Ranger outings you do with the girls.”

“Thanks, Preston. See you later.” She clapped him on the arm and walked over to the pharmacy window. “Nice to see you again, Claudia. You take care,” she said. Claudia waved over the enclosure. “You too, Fletcher.” As Fletcher walked back to her vehicle, her heavy heart began to lighten. She felt really good about Maggie and Preston. They both deserved to be happy. They both deserved to have someone in their lives again. They deserved each other. “Yeah, they are perfect for each other,” Fletcher said and pushed her keys into the ignition.

***

The tall park director opened the door to her sister’s medical practice. The sisters were very close, with Fletcher often dropping in to take the boys someplace or to play ball with them. Margaret, or Maggie as Fletcher had called her since she was old enough to talk, was supportive of her youngest sister’s relationship preferences. Well, she hadn’t liked Jacqueline, and would have performed life-threatening surgery on the “hussy” if her sister had asked; but the harlot hadn’t stayed around long enough for her to make the offer to Fletcher.

“Hello, Mrs. Elliott. Is Maggie in, and do you think I could see her for a moment?” She asked the gray haired nurse at the reception desk.

“Good afternoon Ms. Bucannan. Yes, the doctor is with a patient. Have a seat, I’ll tell her you’re here.”

“Thank you ma’am.” The ranger removed her hat and looked around the reception area. She nodded to the two men, seated next to each other and smiled to the mother of a young girl she recognized from the Jr. Rangers.

“Hi Ms. Ruth, is Jodi getting ready for the campout?” She asked as she sat down next to the woman.

“Honey, that child has had that sleeping bag out airing for two weeks. She’s packed, repacked and the removed all her clothing and had me wash everything twice. I had to make her lay everything out on her spare bed and not put it that back-pack so far in advance.”

“That’s good. Nothing like being prepared.”

“She certainly is prepared. She marks the days off on the calendar in the kitchen every morning. Then tells her father and mother how many more days until…”

“Excuse me, Mrs. Swanson, the doctor will see you now. Examining room three please.” Mary Ellen Elliott spoke from the corridor door.

“Have a good day, Fletcher. Could you ask your mother to call me about the town bazaar?”

“Sure, I’ll tell her. Tell your granddaughter her Senior Ranger said chill out and don’t give you a hard time.”

They both laughed.

Fletcher had sunk down into the chair, leaned her head back against the back of the chair and closed her eyes. She had been running the scene from under the overhang over and over again. ‘What am I going to do?’

Half an hour later, Margaret stuck her head around the door, “Sis, you wanted to see me?”

Fletcher stood up and her pants leg flopped open, showing the white gauze.

“Jesus! Fletcher get in here,” she held the door open for her sister to pass. “My last patient for today just left, so go into exam room one and take off those pants,” she called to her. “I’ll handle this myself, Mrs. Elliott, you can close up now, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Mrs. Elliott nodded as she placed a handful of tongue depressors in the jar in the processing room. Shortly thereafter, the door clanged shut.

Fletcher sat on the examine table, in her white cotton Lady Hanes, which was her standard under garment when in uniform. Her sister threw her a sheet and told her to lie down. She gently pulled the tape off and removed the gauze.

“Holy Sky Mother! How did you do this, Fletcher?” She went around the room gathering up different bottles, sponges, a syringe, several different instruments and sat them on the tray next to the exam table. She carefully raised her sister’s leg and placed a clean white towel under the leg.

Fletcher told her about the earth slide while capturing the injured hawk. She never mentioned the overhand or the relics there.

“What are you doing with that needle, Maggie?” Fletcher started to sit up, but was pushed back on the table.

“This will deaden the pain as I stitch your leg up. Now lie still.”

“Can you just put on those clamp stitch thingies and I don’t want you jabbing that neddddd…” Fletcher didn’t bother to finish the statement; her sister had given her the shot without warning.

“You’re such as sissy in some things, Fletcher. Why is that?”

“I’m not afraid of needles. I just don’t like having holes punched in me.”

“You will face a mountain lion or even a bear without fear, but show you a little needle and you turn green, and run like a scared cat with its tail caught in a vice.”

“I do nottt…..dag-nab-it Maggie, what was that one for?”

“Antibiotics. Now be still.” Margaret started cleaning out the wound. After she washed the area several times she started the sutures.

“Preston asked about you and the boys, Sis.”

Maggie looked up from Fletchers leg. “Oh, and how is he doing?”

“Well, he is ok for a guy I guess.” “Fletcher, Preston is a gentlemen. Always has been, always will be, so stop trying to cast dispersions on him.” She didn’t realize she was defending her old boyfriend until the words slipped from her lips.

Hmm…she’s interested.

“Have you seen the girls lately?”

“Saw them day before yesterday. Growing almost as fast as the boys. Maggie, why don’t you go out, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt you once in a while?”

“You mean date, don’t you?”

“Yes, well…going out with some old friends would be good for you.”

“I’ve been really busy, Fletcher.” Her eyes glanced down at her grinning sister. “I’m a single mother, have two boys to raise, run a household and a very busy medical practice.” Margaret continued with her stitching.

“Heck, Sis, you’re a very attractive woman. This time could really be a blast for you, if you allowed it to be. Go out with friends and have some fun; introduce yourself to people you find interesting. Have some fun.”

“You said that twice Fletcher. Why are you so concerned about me all of a sudden? I don’t see you with two babes wrapped around you and you hitting the nearby night spots.”

“I go out, but don’t change the subject. We’re talking about you.”

“Fletcher, being single offers you the opportunity to pursue some of the people you are attracted to that you meet everyday. With me, it’s a little different. I’m a thirty-eight year old widow with eight-year-old twin boys at home. That’s considered a liability with some men, and I’m not into women as you are. I’d love to go have dinner and attend a movie with someone from time to time, but there is another problem.”

“What’s that Maggie?” Fletcher looked quizzically at her sister.

“No one has asked me.” The scissors came up and the doctor snipped the thread. Carefully, she bandaged the injury.

Fletcher couldn’t believe her hearing. “What, did you say no one has asked you?”

“That’s right. No one! Nadda! Not one man has even given me the ‘old once over’ in two years. You can sit up now. I’m finished with you.”

Fletcher busted out in a hilarious laugh.

“You think that’s funny, Fletcher?”

“Heck, yes! Did you know Preston has wanted to ask you out a hundred times the last year or so, but was afraid you’d turn him down or feel insulted.”

“He never, he…I’ve seen him all over town weekly and he never said a word about going out. We always chatted about the kids.”

“Well, I’ll have the girls and the twins weekend after next camping. So, if Preston gets up enough nerve to ask you out, you wouldn’t slam the phone down in his ear?”

“Of course I wouldn’t, but don’t you dare embarrass that man. He has been through too much in his life, and he is one of the really good ones.”

Hmm, this is better than I expected. “I agree with you there, Sis. Now one more thing…”

Margaret crossed her arms and looked at her sister with the all-knowing stare. “You don’t want me to tell mom about this twlve stitch injury.”

“Right!”

“It’ll cost you, Fletcher.”

“You’re blackmailing me, Maggie?”

“Correct. You have to come in every day for the next week for me to check the wound and change the bandages. If you don’t, I’ll call mom.”

“You are a wicked woman, Margaret Raletta Nichols, but I’ll be here.” She stood up and hugged her sister. “Now get out of here so I can put my pants back on.”

“Like I haven’t seen everything you’ve got a million times.”

“Well, not so many times since I got taller than you. Now get, and Sis, thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Fletcher. Put a tie garbage bag over that area before you shower, and don’t get it wet.”

“Will do, now get out of here.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let yourself out Sis, I have a desk full of case files to update before I go home.”

“Don’t mention paperwork. I have a ton of it myself. Goodnight and hug the guys for me.”

“That I will do.” With that Margaret left her sister to get dressed.

A few minutes later Fletcher slowed down in front of the drug store. Preston was locking the front door. She blew her horn at the man, who turned and came to the side of her vehicle. Letting the window down, she leaned over and bellowed out, “Call Maggie, she won’t turn you down.” She was still chuckling loudly as she drove off not waiting for the stunned pharmacist to respond. All she could see as she checked out her rear view mirror was a fist go up into the air in a “victory” motion and a big smile on his gentle face.

“Well, that took some of the edge off this day,” she sighed and headed toward home.

***

Chapter Two

“Ms. Jacqueline Boudreaux,” the man said, holding up a small holder with his identification card and a badge, “I’m Special Agent Webb Besmear. I’m with the State Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Division. It’s been brought to our attention that you’re clear-cutting within the primary zone of two bald-eagle nests and I must ask you to cease and abstain from all operations in that area immedi­ately.”

“Those nests haven’t been used in some time. Actually, the nests have been abandoned for years.” she said, “and we don’t plan to cut any timber close to the trees, only the pole timber. Furthermore, how can you be certain we’re actually cutting in some controlled zone? I’m only cutting my trees on my property.”

“The trees in that area are restricted and have been plotted on an airborne photograph.”

“Could we continue just for a few more days, until we get this pole timber…” Jacqueline’s voice turned seductive.

“I’m sorry Ms. Boudreaux, but no. You must stop at once. Today. Right now.” Agent Besmear reached into his inside breast pocket and withdrew a paper. “This is for you ma’am.”

Jacqueline looked at the paper. “What is this supposed to mean?”

“It’s a restraining order, Ms. Boudreaux. It orders you to cease all operations in that area immediately.”

Jacqueline felt the blood drain from her face as she stud­ied the document. She looked at the State Agent as if he was a cockroach. “Will you be coming back?” She said through clinched teeth.

“No ma’am,” he replied. “Not unless we have reason to believe you’re still logging in the restricted area.” He nodded to the angry woman, replaced his identification inside his coat pocket and climbed into the state car.

Jacqueline peered down at the paper and before he closed the door said, “Well, I suppose we have no other option but to move our operation to another location.”

“We appreciate your cooperation, Ms. Boudreaux,” Agent Besmear replied. With one final glance towards the ridge, he drove away.

Jacqueline stared after the marked car until it was out of sight, then she turned to the group of men, including Brody, who had gathered a few feet from the job trailer. “ALL OF YOU GET BUSY,” she said. “We still have timber to cut.”

She’d leave a good stand of trees near the nests and only harvest the pole timber on the surrounding area. Maybe there would still be enough board feet to meet the quota she had set for Boudreaux Timber to keep the mill running without having to move the complete operation. “To hell with nesting trees, and to hell with Fletcher Bucannan.”

Every day for five days everyone worked from first light till dark. Gradually the stack of logs rose high on the clearing opposite the job trailer. Jacqueline had just returned to the ridge site after calling and notifying her truckers to start load­ing when the decaled blue sedan returned, accom­panied by a New York State Police car. Two uniforms stepped out of the police car and flanked Agent Besmear. As they approached Jacqueline, one of the offi­cers stepped forward. “Jacqueline Boudreaux?”

“Yes. What can I do for you officer?”

“You are under arrest. Turn around Ms. Boudreaux and put your hands behind you. You have the right to remain si­lent. Anything you say may be used against you. You have the right to an attorney….”

The cell door clanged shut. Jacqueline looked around. It was an eight-bunk cell shared by five women. One in­mate, a very young blonde, lay curled up on the top of one of the gray-blanketed bunks. An Amazon of a woman with a hawk-like snout, and short, jet-black hair stepped forward. Her face was as hard as the concrete floor. Jacqueline Boudreaux frowned, then sat on the empty lower bunk, wondering how long it would take her attorney to get her out of the jail. She had a little over a hundred acres of pole timber left to be cut.

The big woman towered above her like a menacing Amazon without the leathers, or feathers. “That bunk you’re on there’s mine, baby,” she said in a gruff voice.

Without speaking, Jacqueline jumped up and climbed onto the upper bunk. She knew with five years of martial arts, she could take the husky woman; but she had no intention of getting all hot and sweaty with the formidable Amazon. The woman settled herself beneath where Jacqueline lay, and Boudreaux felt the entire frame of the metal structure give under her weight. The woman grunted and spoke again. “Whatcha in for, foxy lady?”

In a sharp voice, Jacqueline screech, “What friggin’ business is that of yours?”

The woman hissed, “You’re pretty frail-looking to be a smart ass, sweetie. Now, I asked you. Whatcha in for?”

Jacqueline thought, Maybe I can use this Amazon; she isn’t my type, but I bet she could be bought for a little job I have in mind. Brody might not complete our plans, and I think this hulk would, with a little of my sweet persuasion. “They threw me in here for cutting some damn trees.”

“Are you trying to get me to jerk a knot in your spine, honey? I can think of several things I’d rather do with you, but if you continue to be a smart ass, I’ll forget how hot and sexy you look.”

God, where do they grow these morons? “I’m not joking. I was logging in an area where there’s two damn abandoned eagle’s nests.“

“You were what?” The woman sat up, whacking her head on the bottom of Jacqueline’s cot and letting out a string of colorful expletives, with facking and blasted, not being any of them.

Somehow, in this bare gloomy cell of space that caged them, Jacqueline saw the possibilities of the situation and she turned on her seductive tone. “That does sound a bit ridiculous, doesn’t it, but that’s it. An overzealous and former lover’s jealousy set this whole thing up. Then they booked me for cutting too close to the damned eagle’s nests. They said I might upsetting the friggin’ birds.”

The woman sent a bellow of laughter ringing through the cube and bouncing off the walls. “Now, don’t that beat all? There’re murders, rapists, thieves, terrorists, and child molesters out roamin’ the streets, and what do those morons do? They arrest a beauty of a woman for disturbing abandoned bird’s nests. Well, doesn’t that beat all.” The woman rose to her feet, grinning broadly.

As Jacqueline looked at her, she found something chilling about her swollen eyes. She sat up on her bunk and smiled back. “I’m Jacqueline Boudreaux” she said extending her hand.

The woman crunched Jacqueline’s hand. “I’m Chris Connor. You can call me Chris or Connor. You wanna know what I’m in for?”

Boudreaux wasn’t sure she did, but if the gruff woman wanted to tell her, she’d definitely listen. An alternate plan was already forming in her devious mind. This foul-mouthed woman would be at her beck and call with only a little incentive.

“I’m in here for busting up the Red Owl Bar and kicking the hell out of two jokers that were trying to move in on the little barkeep I had my eyes on.”

Jacqueline tilted her head as she tried to figure out what woman in her right mind would want to be keeping time with a burley woman like Connor.

A twinkle shone in Chris’s eyes. “You know, sweet thing, I wouldn’t mind going a round or two between the sheets with you.”

Jacqueline swallowed. “Oh. No offense, but that isn’t going to happen, but I might have something that you might find just as satisfying. If you’re interested in say…Five thousand dollars.”

Connor gazed into the redhead’s squinted eyes, attempting to size her up, or determine if she was being played for a fool. Five grand was a lot of money. She’d be willing to do almost anything for that kind of cash.

“Those twits around here won’t be letting me out for another ten days. They won’t let a lady make a living- -locked me up for what I do best.” She raise her two formed fists. “Now they’re gonna reeducate me they say. Hell, sweet thing, I could do thirty days standing on my head. What do you think of that?” Before Jacqueline could respond, Chris continued. “You ever been with someone like me?”

“Well, no, I, uh…”

“Well, before I’m finished with you, I’d worked my way up to your top,” she purred. “Pleasuring you all the way. I even know some fancy, Oriental tricks that would rock your boat, if you know what I mean… with the little toys, some ties and all.” Chris moved closer to the dangling legs of the redhead. “We could have a lot of fun.”

Jacqueline lowered her lips to the ear of the dark head and whispered, “I’ll make that twenty thousand dollars, Connor.”

Connor swallowed. “Twenty grand?”

“Yes, and I’ll pay your fine. You interested?” She blew into the panting woman’s ear before she straightened up, a flicker of ire crossing her fine features.

Chris cleared her throat. “Hell, yes. Who do you want me to beat to a pulp, or did you want them to never leave the hospital?”

“We’ll talk about it as soon as we get out. Do we have a deal?” Jacqueline asked.”

Connor’s eyes grew wide. “You damn right, we do. This will be strictly business won’t it; we won’t be fooling around?” she asked, trying to imagine what the refined woman wanted her to do. Chris didn’t really care if she bedded the woman, not if she could make twenty grand quick. Hell, even a grand would get her into a dozen beds in Buffalo.

“Strictly business, Chris. I never mix business with pleasure, you understand me don’t you?” Although Jacqueline did mix the two frequently, she had no inclinations to go to bed with Chris Connor.

“Put her there, Ms. Boudreaux,” she extended her large hand to Jacqueline.

“Boudreaux?” A female jailer opened the cell door. “You’re free. Your lawyer just posted your bail.”

Jacqueline slide off the bunk and clapped Chris on her arm as she went pass. “I’ll have you out in five minutes. My lawyer will wait for you outside. Come with him, and we’ll talk in private.”

“Anything you say, Ms. Boudreaux.”

We’ll see if you like what I’ve got planned for you Fletcher Bucannan.’ Her anger escalating. ‘No bitch puts me in jail. If Brody doesn’t break your neck, I’m sure Connor will break every bone in your beautiful body God, I love reprisals, her thoughts manipulating and stern as she motioned for her attorney to follow her to the side of the outer office.

“It’s your money,” he shrugged uncomfortably and went to do her bidding.

***

Finley Jorgensen inserted her key into her parent’s front door. The young woman removed her trench coat and hung it in the foyer closet before she started down the hallway to locate her mother and father.

Her eyes were immediately drawn to the hissing sound that came from under the hall table. She stopped. “Come on out from under there you ball of fluff,” she exclaimed, as she placed her hands on her hips. Another hiss and the oversized feline appeared and raised a paw.

“Don’t even think about swiping these pants, Fur Ball. You’ve ruined your last Armani suit.” The cat stood up, arching its back and hissed another warning. “You want me to take you to the museum and turn you into a plastered sphinx?” Finley grinned at her mother’s longhaired cat.

“Finley, stop aggravating that cat. You should be ashamed of yourself.” Adelaide Malkind, the Jorgensen’s long-time housekeeper admonished the grinning paleontologist.

“She started it, Adelaide. I can’t even walk down the hallway without her paws ripping my pants to shreds.”

“No, Finley Tayrena Jorgensen, you started it fifteen years ago when you gave her fur a mud finish to make her look like those pyramid cats you had seen with your parents in Egypt.” Her scolding tone also reflected a deep love for the young woman.

“Adelaide, I was only eleven, and I did give her a good bubble bath afterwards and rinsed her really well.” The paleontologist tone mirrored that of the older woman.

“That’s exactly what I mean and you know it. You have always known that Cleopatra has never forgiven you for getting her wet. You almost drowned the poor thing,” her raised eyebrow indicated she would not accept any further taunting of the cat.

“Well, Ms. Fur Ball lays in wait for me, and I get several swipes every visit. Honestly Adelaide, she had ruined ten or twelve good suits in the last couple of months.” Her blue eyes glared down at the hissing cat. Finley dearly loved the cat, and had tried for years to make amends to the longhaired animal; but the feline had never forgiven her. That, or the creature enjoyed the taunting-affection the young woman showered upon her and savored their weekly bouts to see which one of them would win. So far, Cleopatra was way ahead. Either way, the cat wasn’t talking, only hissing.

“Never mind your sass young lady. Your father is in the game room with your brother, and your mother is in the kitchen with Mila.”

“Ugh, she is helping with the cooking? Lord, she only does that when she is about to break something to us that none of us will like.” She hopped over the still hissing cat, only to have one determined paw claw her Italian boots. “Haw, you missed the pants, Cleo, and I can polish out those claw marks in my heel. You lost. Mark one up for me,” Finley made an imaginary mark in the air, kissed Adelaide’s cheek and scurried down the hall to join her father and brother.

“I take on the winner,” Finley said. Both of the men grinned at the young woman’s entrance.

“Poppa is three balls behind, Sis. You want to lay a wager on which of us cleans the table first?” Her tall handsome older brother bent down and hugged his sister.

“You have yourself a bet. I never count Poppa out, until I see him raise his hands in defeat, and that, my dear brother is only in chess.” She gave a quick peck to his tanned cheek and swirled around the billiards table to enter her fathers open arms.

“You always pay the compliments, Finley. Especially since you are the only one that can beat me in chess.” He smiled. “I think I should warn you, your mother is assisting Mila tonight with the cooking.”

“Yes, Adelaide told me in the foyer. What fiendish fixation is she about to thrust upon her family?” She asked.

“I’ve already asked him the same question. He just gets that look of his and rolls his eyes as he always does. Finley, this time I think she has something really diabolical up her sleeve. I bet we both wish we were on some odd ball assignment in some remote place where they don’t even have drums to summons us.”

“Come on Poppa, should I make a dash for it before she knows I’m here?” Finley asked her father.

“Darling, you know your Mother gets a little antsy every year at this time. After all, turning fifty-five only happens once.” The archeologist sidestepped his children’s questions. His wife had talked his ear off at their last dig, and had made her wishes known to him for the last six months. She meant to have her way and tonight she was “putting her foot” down on the subject. Poor children’ he mused. “Don’t you think you should go say hello to your mother, Finley.” He said.

“I need to concentrate on this game, or your brother won’t let me hear the last of it,” the tall man bent over and focused on the six ball in front of him. He dare not look his daughter in the eyes. She was just as perceptive as her beautiful Tunisian lineage mother, and both could read him like a book.

“Okay, I’ll be right back to play you, Poppa.” She exclaimed and left the room.

“You wish,” her brother called after her.

“Don’t even think about it Fur Ball,” Finley spotted Cleopatra outside the game room door. Cleo hissed, but the young woman again sidestepped the outstretched paw and chuckled as she proceeded down the corridor and turned right.

I’ll get you the next time, playmate, Cleo seem to be saying, as she settled down on the carpet, and began licking her paw.

Finley opened the heavy door to the kitchen, stepped inside and leaned against the frame watching her lovely mother and the third generation cook preparing their evening meal.

Mila sensed her watching them and looked up in acknowledgement, then dropped her eyes and continued stirring the mixture in the pot.

Finley smiled. “Hello Mother. What’s the occasion, and why are you driving Mila crazy with your infernal dabbling with the food?”

“Hello my lovely, and Mila knows I prepared much better Arabic food than she does, and she appreciates my help, don’t you Mila?”

Mila never looked up. “Mesa’s presence is always a blessing.”

“It wouldn’t hurt you to learn to cook Finley. Regardless of how much money is in your trust, you should have learned how to prepare some simple meals for yourself.” Her mother said. “You wouldn’t even allow Mila to give you some basic instructions.”

“Mila, you’re a Benedict Arnold. How can you just stand there and not defend me. You know I learned several good things from you in the kitchen.” Finley sat down on the window seat and stared blindly at the neat row of pots hanging from the island where Mila continued chopping.

Through the silence of the room she heard the old cook clear her throat and murmur, “Aqra Halqa.”

“See, even Mila expresses disapproval. You were to maladroit to even learn to make Khazîr properly.”

“I never liked barley-flour and meat-soup, but I did learn to make Khazira.” She exclaimed.

“Hah!” The burda worn by Mila rose up on her body as she raised her arms in disapproval. “You melted my treasured pots. You charred my favorite pans. All our utensils were so out of shape they were unrecognizable; and you never even learned to even boil water properly, My Helwa.”

Finley stood up and placed her hands on her hips. “Well what do you expect. My talents lay elsewhere. I speak ten languages fluently, and another dozen different dialects. I’m the youngest PhD to ever graduate from the University, and how many paleontologists can boast of being on twelve digs world wide, including the dig in China. You are fâhish Mila.”

“She speaks only the truth, Finley. You are hopeless in the kitchen. True, you are a wonder with bones, but you can’t even make good tea.”

“Mother!” The smiling young woman turned, hoping to seek relief from their cook, who was considered a trusted friend. “Mila?”

“You are a mujâhid of sorts, My Helwam, but your skills don’t include cooking. Now, get out of my kitchen or I will insist you put on an apron and try your hand at nûn.”

“UCK! Fish. UCK!” Finley’s mouth twisted into a scowl and she started towards the door.

“It is too chilly on the hujra for the Tilâ', Finley. Please take it into the sitting room for after dinner, and inform your father and brother that dinner will be served promptly at eight o’clock.” Mesa Jorgenson nodded towards the serving tray with silver goblets and a decanter of her parent’s vintage drink.

“Yes, Mother.”

True to her word, the dinner was served promptly at eight o’clock.

“Mother this is delicious,” Hans Jorgensen raised his glass in approval. A sudden tidal wave of tension and anxiety brought him to an abrupt halt. “What’s going on, Mother?” His stomach began to churn and his mouth went dry as the nervous tension escalated to panic when his archeologist mother didn’t respond immediately.

Finley continued to eat, even though Arabic food wasn’t her favorite cuisine, she was famished, and very willing to allow her brother to put his head on the verbal chopping block. She knew better than to question her mother on one of these events, but Hans never could stand for his mother to be uneasy or irritated with him.

The matriarch of the house nodded to the kitchen maid to refill the glasses, but continued to eat without looking at her son or daughter.

Mesa picked up her water glass and drank a few sips. “As you both know, I will be having my fifty-fifth birthday next month.”

“Yes, we know Mother. Finley and I are giving you the best gift we could think of, and that is a shopping spree in Paris. We know Father has already made arrangements to take you to the Chalet in Sweden for a month; not just for your birthday, but for your anniversary next month also…”

“That is not the best birthday gift you and your sister could give me,” she interrupted her son. “The best gift and the only gift I WANT FOR MY next birthday, is for one of you to tell me that I’m going to be a grandmother. Hans you are twenty-nine and Finley you were twenty-seven two weeks ago. It’s time you both gave me grandbabies.”

Finley grabbed her napkin out of her lap and placed it over her mouth before she could expel her food. She coughed into the napkin a few times and slowly lowered the linen to her lap. Picking up her wine glass, she emptied it without stopping. She set it back down then pointed to the glass for the kitchen maid to refill.

Finley felt a hot blush sweep over her from head to toe and silently cursed her obvious coloring and her penchant for flushing when in the throes of strong emotion that only her mother seemed to bring out. Not only were the two women of the same temperament, strong-willed, intelligent and beautiful, but also they understood each other perfectly.

“Mother, you know I’m not even seeing anyone right now, much less at a place in any relationship that I’d be thinking of making you a grandmother. You need to address that priority with your son here. After all, he is to be married in December.”

Mrs. Jorgensen stared serenely at the sound of the low, slow enunciation of her mirrored image. “You’ve assiduously avoided dealing with me in the past on this subject, Finley,” she remarked in a velvety, unyielding voice. “A mother isn’t complete until she has a few grandbabies around her to cherish, and spoil. I want my grandbabies, Finley.”

Finley froze. She felt unable to breath, unable to move. Her mother’s pleading tone seemed to immobilize every part of her body. Helplessly, she raised her eyes to those of her mother’s. Their gaze held.

“Mother, I told you I wanted children someday. In time, I’m sure I will meet the woman of my dreams and I know beyond a shadow of doubt that she will want children too. Please don’t limit my time to next year. I haven’t even been dating anyone regularly in months now,” she offered.

Mrs. Jorgenson had the unmitigated gall to laugh. Her refusal to argue with Finley was wildly frustrating. She wanted grandchildren and once she set her mind on something, she seldom revised her decision. “I said, I want my grandbabies. Finley, you and Hans are both expected to give me heirs. I want to still have my health and be able to take them places, do things with them and be able to see them grow into adulthood.”

“Lord, Mother, you are in excellent health, and the prime of your life. Maragrete and I do plan on children, but not until she has completed her doctorate. That is another year from now, and then we are going to be in South American for a year after that. I can’t promise you anything until she and I agree that it is time for us to have children.”

Hans, Finley, I want my grandbabies.” She placed her napkin beside her plate. “Shall we have our Tilâ' in the drawing room?” Her husband rose and quickly assisted with her chair. He extended his arm to his spouse and winked at his daughter and son as he escorted his wife from the room.

“You do have a choice, Hans,” she said calmly.

“Yes, WE do, Finley. So, my dear sister, I suggest you get busy finding that dream woman and bring on the babies.” He stood and offered his arm to his sister.

***

“Surely all those cars can’t belong to visitors?” Fletcher squinted as the seemingly endless lines of cars overflowing the parking facility at the park home office and onto the circular drive. She scowled ferociously.

“Unbelievable,” she growled. “I hate this last big drive to get a camping trip before the cold weather comes.” Fletcher flung open the SUV door, rushed immediately to the front door of the Parks Headquarters. But by the time she’d reached it, Andrea Bucannan, DMV, was already at her side; her long strides having easily closed the distance between them. She smiled at the older woman and took her hand, interlacing her finger with her mothers.

“Good morning, Mom. Would you believe this crowd?” She bent and kissed her mother on her forehead.

“Happens every year, Fletcher. Creatures of habit. Hope they don’t camp at Lake Bonaire, as those newborn otters don’t need to be disturbed.”

“I’ll set that area as restricted and won’t allow any camping or hiking permits for that vicinity.” Fletcher smiled.

“Good. After you check in, I need to see you in the medical compound.”

“Sure. Anything need my immediate attention?” Fletcher asked her mother.

Andrea Bucannan had been the chief veterinarian at the Adirondack State Park for almost thirty years. For her to request Fletcher’s presence in the Park’s medical compound meant there was something significant which required the Parks Director’s attention. “Just work me in sometime this morning. If your schedule won’t allow that, then call me on the radio.” The salt and pepper haired woman turned and quickly disappeared from sight around the corner of the two-story building.

“Another of those great days,” Fletcher shrugged and entered the building.

She slowed down then turned to check out the park briefing being completed in the film-lecture room to the left. Glen Cadge, the newest ranger, was spouting off a long list of fundamental facts and requirements about the park; yet, the crowd seemed to be attentive.

“Adirondack Forest Preserve has 2.3 Million Acres of virgin timber that will never see an axe. It is dotted with over 2,000 miles of foot trails and 240 lean-to’s for your pleasure and comfort, so don’t get lost, and rest often while hiking.” He shook his ranger hat at a young girl, who giggled. “We have 35 campsites and over 200 lakes which have at least a quarter a mile bank area to cool your feet in after you watch and admire some of our 50 different species of animals. However guys, I must warn you, we’ll be out giving citations to those of you stalking or chasing the wildlife. After all, it’s their home and you are a visitor.” Snickers went up from the room full of visitors and the ranger continued.

“Then you birdwatchers will have your spotter’s book filled with over 220 birds’ so please make sure your binoculars are cleaned and not left in your vehicles. For others, we have 30 plus species of reptiles and amphibians, and our 2,300 plus lakes and ponds are filled with 66 species of fish. But now, you can only fish in certain ones, and permits are needed, so check out the brochures before you go winding in some of the prohibited fish.” He said, then stopped and scratched his head. “You know I love fish that’s been cooked over a campfire about as much as I do a good steak, even if they might be a tad under the size required; but we wouldn’t have many fish if we all violated the size and limit, now would we?” He smiled at the group and they acknowledged his question with nodding heads. “Now the fishing permits may or may not, hold true to the 30,000 miles of brooks and streams, so that means checking the site to make sure it’s marked in the blue color code for fishing…”

The tall woman sighed and leaned back on her heels. At least he is polite and a little witty with his commentary. If he is that good in the field he might make an excellent ranger, she thought, and proceeded into the main lobby area.

“Good morning, Chief,” several of the rangers spoke simultaneously.

“Morning,” the tall woman removed her hat and walked around the information counter where four rangers were busy answering questions, issuing various permits, and giving instructions to the visitors.

From the public address system, a warm voice announced, “The wildlife lecture starts in the main theater in five minutes.” Jamison replaced the microphone on the system and turned to face her supervisor.

“Jamison, post the Lake Bonaire area as red-letter restricted. Mom says those baby otters need a few days of seclusion and privacy. Radio all the park entrances, and get the notice out on the computer immediately. ”

“Gotcha, Chief. You have a visitor, that State Wildlife Agent.”

“Thanks, Hewana.” The Park Director headed for her office, but stopped and turned. “Oh, Jamison, locate Kent Dryden for me, please. I need to see him in the office today. I’m gonna be away for a few days and he’ll need to fill in for me.”

“Okay, Fletcher. I saw him earlier this morning over at the firefighter’s quarters.”

“Fine.” She turned again and disappeared into her office.

At eleven o’clock, Fletcher leaned back in her chair, massaged her temples, and then closed her eyes for a brief rest. Fletcher lowered her eyes to the blue ones glittering up at her, and slowly covered the eager mouth with her own. The smaller woman didn’t struggle; she simply held Fletcher tightly, and then lay limply against her chest. She curled her hand into the smaller woman’s hair and held her head still as her mouth opened over hers and took possession of the younger woman’s lips again. This time, the kiss lingered, until they were both breathless. The woman was more than familiar to her, but she could not remember from where or if it was the awareness of the features of the lovely face or the well-known nibbling of the eager lips. Her mouth became hard, hungry, and insistent. She thrust her tongue into the young woman’s mouth in an excruciating sexual simulation of what she intended to do with her warm, wet core. The smaller woman began to shake. Her mouth was open under Fletcher’s and she sampled the hot heady taste of the ranger as she helplessly accepted the slow penetrating thrust of her tongue. She felt her breasts swell and their sensitive peaks tighten as arrows of fire burned from her belly to the moist, secret place between her legs. Fletcher quivered.

The piercing ring of the telephone brought her back to the present. “Darn, what a hallucination, and that woman was the most appealing, sensual apparition!” Fletcher froze. Calm down, she told herself. It was only a delusion. However, deep within her awënyahsa' (heart), she knew the whole thing was more than wishful thinking. Given the intensity of the feelings, and the visualization, it was if she had had a spiritual vision from an ancestral Seneca ritual.

“Okniköhë; ökniköhë.” Fletcher massaged her temples. “How could I forget such a woman?”

“Fletcher, didn’t you hear your phone ring?” Jamison asked, her head sticking through the cracked door. “It’s your mother.”

“Thanks Jamison,” she said and picked up the phone. “Mom, I’ll be there in ten minutes. After our meeting, how about some lunch?”

“Can’t today, Honey. I’m having lunch with Ruth Swanson. We’re going over some of the town bazaar pastries we’ve teamed up to bake.”

“Okay, I’ll see you in ten.”

Walking over to the medical facility, Fletcher could almost picture the face of the woman in the vision; but the outlines of her features remained hovered behind a soft veil of some kind. Try as she could, the face would not come into focus. “Dag-nab-it, how could I have forgotten such a face?”

Andrea looked back down at the bird in her grasp. “It's emaciated, but the broken wing is healing very well. At first I could find no other apparent injuries, but then, I looked closely into its eyes, and the problem was instantly evident.”

Fletcher moved closer for a better view of the hawk she had rescued the week before.

"This hawk is blind, or at least its partially blind," Andrea announced sadly to her daughter.

The park director’s eyes saddened with the report from the park’s Chief Veterinarian.

"Look at her eyes." Andrea held the bird's beak and turned its head so Fletcher could examine the bird’s right eye. "See how the iris is dilated and doesn't change when I move it from the shadows into bright light. Now look into the pupil and notice what appears to be a gray film behind it."

The Park Director leaned in and peered intently into the birds’ eye. Fletcher nodded and stepped back. Finally came the inevitable question: "Mom, is this a problem that will heal or can it be cleared up with medical care?"

"I'm not sure, Honey," her mother replied, "but at first, I suspected this to be a very old bird and she’d developed cataracts. However, after several test, I establish it was a deterioration of the retina caused by overexposure of the sun's ultraviolet rays, or possibly the results of aging. I’ve estimated the hawk has lost approximately 80 percent of its vision. Dr. Winspear from Buffalo confirmed my test results.”

“Scientific studies indicate a hawk's visual acuity, or keenness of sight, may be eight times better than a human with 20/20 vision. The eyes are a hawks’ principal hunting tools, Fletcher. They must be able to dive on prey at such a velocity and speed that it can seize its prey with outstretched grappling talons, with no loss of momentum, no room for error.”

“Gosh, this is so heart wrenching. She has been through so much and fought so hard with her wing caught between those saplings.” Fletcher shook her head. She had to make a decision.

“If we return it to the wild, will it survive?” Her mother asked, already knowing the answer, but hoping for another option.

“Not from my experience it can’t. Mother, how this hawk managed to survive what must have been the slow deterioration of her eyesight, to compete in the unforgiving wild environment we’ll never know.” Fletcher said. “I imagine the vision was the prime reason for misjudged prey or even being able to see some obstacle clearly, and that possibly resulted in the broken wing.”

“We will never know how her brain managed those finite calculations essential to capturing prey with information received through ever dimming eyes, either, Fletcher. It’s your decision, Honey.”

These thoughts and others more troubling ran through the park directors’ mind. Was it now fair to keep her alive knowing she could never return to the wild, or should she be put peacefully to sleep with the dignity the hawk deserved? “

Get her as physically fit as you can. I’ll instruct the wildlife preservation staff to began the preparations necessary for maintaining the hawk as a permanent charge.” The former ranger, now the park director decided, that although now denied her freedom, the hawk’s bearing and regal presence as an educational tool for the rangers show-and-tell for visitors would more than justify the preservation of the hawk.

“She should be able to fly in about three weeks, and may not need the extra help with feeding, but I believe she will.”

“No problem. The hawk aviary can hold ten or twelve more birds without any overcrowding.”

“I’m glad she is to be saved.”

“She’ll be under the Stern Preservation Fund.” The tall woman replaced her uniform hat. “Mom, I’m going to be up at the Oil Springs Reservation for a few days.

“You feel the need of cleansing and renewing your bond with mother- earth?” Andrea asked her daughter.

“It’s essential for me to reacquaint and realigning myself with my Source and positive energy, Mom. I need clarification and guidance for an important decision.”

“Expanding one's horizons and raising one's awareness is essential to all of us, Fletcher. Finding one’s own truths and being true to oneself is important. It’s about being sovereign, and accessing, utilizing and relying one’s own guidance from Spirit. Your guidance will come, if you open yourself completely to the life force. Do you wish for me to drive you to the sweat lodge?”

“No, ma’am. I’ve asked Susan Running Wolf to accompany me. She is going through the ceremony with me also. We’ll be back in a couple of days.”

“Very well. Please come by the house when you return.”

“I will Mother. I see Ruth waving. You take a long lunch and I’ll see you when I return.” The tall woman leaned down and kissed her mother on the forehead. “I’ll put the hawk back in her cage for you.” She smiled.

“Thank you, Darling. Drive carefully.”

Every day comes with it’s own surprises, the park director mused as she looked at the hawk. Her thoughts were for the vision of the woman, and her up and coming decision about the archeological find. The situation with the hawk had been easily remedied, but the other two solutions were still unknown.

***

Fletcher knew taking part in a sweat lodge could give her the answers she was seeking, not only to life situations, but also as to what to do about the bones she had found. She and Susan Running Wolf had participated in many Sweat Lodges together in the past. Susan was member of the Seneca Wolf Clan, a teacher at the main reservation, a tribal leader, and Fletcher’s friend. Susan was also known as a healer and she and Fletcher valued the ritual as a way of purification of the spirit, mind and body of toxins, including cleaning them of any negativity, jealousy, resentment or hatred that maybe harbored, to enable a new sense of self to emerge.

Both Fletcher and Susan Running Wolf had assisted in preparing the circular structure from willow branches. The circular form represents the circle of humanity and the willow was considered the "Tree of Love," because of its resiliency and grace, in the Seneca tradition. Originally, animal hides were used to block out all sources of light, but now, tarpaulins were used to create a womb-like environment inside the Lodge. The door to the Sweat Lodge was built low to the ground, requiring the tall park director and clan leader to enter humbly on all fours. This reminded them they are no greater or lesser than all other living things.

Once inside, the two women sat cross-legged opposite each other, a small pit between them. The eastern facing entrance was then closed blocking all outside light to those inside. After the stones were heated in a fire pit outside the Sweat Lodge, another clan member, Tomas Gray Wolf then brought the stones into the lodge in a series of four rounds. Each round signifies the four directions: north, south, east and west, allowing Fletcher and Susan Running Wolf to view their purification process from different perspectives. This ritual began only after both women were smudged with the smoke of sage or cedar. For this to occur, Herbs were sprinkled on the hot rocks followed by water creating an aromatic steam atmosphere, and symbolizing the release of ancient knowledge. Songs, drumming or prayers then took place. Fletcher and Susan perspired and nourished themselves and the earth with their lessons. In between rounds, the door was opened to let the steam rise to meet "Father Sky", along with the prayers of the two women and new rocks were brought in for the next round.

Fletcher became trance-like, emerged within the ritual. The strong-willed woman felt the creative experience of inner exploration of her energy force becoming reacquainted and realigning herself with nature, with Spirit. She felt it communing and blending with the eternal and higher part of her being, which was, and always would be, Spirit. The ritual was about acquiring wisdom through experience. It was about flowing and utilizing Source energy to create the world one desires. It was about taking responsibility for one's choices and their consequences and about liberating oneself from limiting beliefs. It was about expanding one's horizons and raising one's awareness. It was about being sovereign; and accessing, utilizing and relying one's own guidance. It was about and finding one's own truths and being true to oneself. It was about moving beyond the personality and becoming conscious of whom one truly is.

Somewhere during the sixteen ‘rounds’ of the ceremony Fletcher became embodied and felt the inherently joyful, loving, prosperous and abundant energy of her spiritual being. Slowly, but surely as the ritual continued, the tall woman’s unbroken cleansing turning her adversities into blessings. It was about loving self enough to be of value to all. She would have the courage to confront that which she was not. The perspiring woman abandoned judgment and her spirit encouraged unity at all levels. She recognized and valued herself, her energy and connection with Spirit. Fletcher felt the pure, positive, invigorating, effervescent and joyful force that flows in abundance as she became open to it.

As she exited the Sweat Lodge, the call to the museum and the archeological find was clear and she no longer had reservations about the disclosure. What would be, would be. “Everything happens for a reason and purpose,” Fletcher spoke to the nearby trees. “For whatever reason I stumbled upon this sacred discovery, the purpose will be made known soon.”

Stepping towards the nearby creek, the veiled vision of the blue-eyed woman appeared again. Slowly the veil started to rend, but just as quickly, the image faded, leaving the park director somewhat baffled, but fully aware that this veiled figure was very important and would somehow affect her. “The purpose will be made known.”

Little did Fletcher Lela Bucannan realize the significance of her statement. Little did the tall woman realize her future was about to take on a new challenge…A challenge that would change her life forever.

***

The Park Director has been specific with the stipulations for someone to come to the park to evaluate her findings. There was to be only one experienced individual, who would bring their own hand tools, as the park would furnish the equipment, tents, and heavier tools from the previous dinosaur dig; there would be absolutely no publicity without Fletcher’s prior approval, and the paleontologist would be under her direction and authority at all times. Also, the findings, if significant would remain the property of the Park, and lent to the museum under a proper agreement. It only took the Director of the State Museum of Natural History in New York City, two hours to call Fletcher back, accepting her terms. Dr. Hedrick Eckersley had assured Fletcher their top paleontologist and assistant director of research would be the only representative of the museum to come assess her discovery, and follow her instructions and conditions explicitly and without question. Fletcher was informed, one highly qualified Finley Jorgensen would arrive the following Monday to evaluate the find.

The dark headed woman hung up the phone and pushed her chair back from the desk. Now, preparations must be made for packing enough of the equipment, tents, cooking and sleeping gear, as well as tools by horseback to the area to make the paleontologist as comfortable as possible. It was getting a little chilly at night, so a heater of some sort would have to be supplied for the sleeping area and a generator with fuel for lights.

“This is going to be a big headache.” Fletcher grumbled, taking her hat from the rack beside her office door.

Seeing Jamison discussing the walking trail adjacent to the HQ building with a family of five, she waited for the young woman to finish.

“Remember on the walking trail, take only photographs, and leave only your footprints,” the young ranger smiled.

The family waved acknowledgement and hurried out the side door.

“Jamison, you need to come with me, please. Rains and Duke will probably need you to run the forklift for them while they try to get some things moved around over at the archeological storage facility.

The young ranger nodded and grabbled her jacket and hat before she joined Fletcher on the porch of the main office building.


***



Chapters 1 & 2
Chapters 3 & 4
Chapters 5 & 6
Chapters 7 & 8
Chapters 9 & 10
Chapters 11 & 12




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