The Promise Of A Lifetime

© 2004 All Rights Reserved
by B. S. Raven
Disclaimer see Chapter 1


Chapter 9


“I’m a very good judge of human nature, Lira, and I know you’ve been keeping something from me.” Finley spoke softly, trying as hard as she could to keep her voice steady. She had sensed Lira had wanted to open up to her after their first few conversations, and she felt like it was necessary to be there for the older woman.

Lira stood and began to pace. She wasn’t certain that she wished to discuss her past with her well-meaning guest. She had been enjoying Finley’s company and the young woman was so easy to talk to. What if she reacted with loathing or disgust, Lira thought?

Finley smiled at her, slipped off her shoes and crossed her ankles as she waited for Lira to speak. “We’ve become pretty good friends, and I’m a good listener. Whatever you want to say can’t be all that bad.”

Lira hesitated momentarily before she walked to and faced the window. Once she opened up, she talked in detail about her formative years with her indifferent parents. Following a lengthy discourse of suffering and misery, her voice cracked. Lira stood silently facing the window for the longest time. Finally she turned to face her friend. Finley wasn’t prepared for the account of pain and anguish told to her, and her countenance showed a somewhat bizarre expression. “Excuse me,” Lira squeaked out and made a mad dash for the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

Finley stood and walked to the bathroom door. Lira was undoubtedly upset. She wasn’t handling this well at all. When the younger woman had reacted with astonishment, Lira thought it was disgust, and when Finley tried to comfort her through the closed door, she realized she only made things worse.

Her own growing-up years had been so different. Her family was comfortable financially; her mother and father had always been there when the children needed them. Finley and her brothers had been leaders in the exciting extracurricular activities at school. She’d never know the kind of misery that Lira had been subjected to. Then there was the mention of her previous partner, her lover’s hateful parents and a son.

She was standing at the window with her forehead pressed against the glass, looking at the falling show, and her thoughts turned inward when she heard Lira come back into the room. She turned, and Lira put her hands on her arms and looked at her. Hers eyes were red-rimmed, but she was in control once more.

Her face and hair were still damp from being splashed with water. “Thank you.” Lira’s voice was rough with emotion. “Your unquestioning faith in me is the most precious gift anyone has ever given me. I---” Her voice broke.

Finley put her arms around her neck to comfort her. “It’s easy to have faith in you,” she murmured against Lira’s neck as she hugged her

“I wish I’d had you on my jury,” Lira said.

She leaned back to look at the taller woman. “Jury?”

Lira nodded. “The jury that found me guilty of two counts of vehicular manslaughter.”

Finley could see how difficult it was for Lira. She was on the verge of tears -and tense, and sometimes her voice broke and she had to clear her throat. Also Lira had given her facts, but not shared her feelings with her.

How had Lira felt about Kimberly? Had she loved her? Finley would assume so, but her tall friends hadn’t said she had. Had Kimberly loved her? Or had they both just been rebelling against Kimberly’s parents’ unjust prejudice and then couldn’t back down gracefully? What was Kimberly’s son doing in the car that late at night?

Finley wasn’t going to make it more difficult for Lira by asking these questions, but she was aware that the biologist had only skimming the surface of her torment. For one thing, she’d thrown out the shocker about her father being a drunk as though she were talking about someone else’s dad. Lira hadn’t even softened the description by using the term ‘alcoholic’. It had just been a blunt statement of fact before she’d gone on to something else.

It must have been awful for her growing up as an object of pity, or contempt, and rejected by the so-called betters of the town. The thought made Finley sick to her stomach, and she was battling an overwhelming desire to go and hug her again, when Lira opened her eyes and straightened up again, gently pushing Finley back from her.

Lira smiled that disarming little smile and shook her head slowly. “Don’t do it, Finley,” she said, and the younger woman knew she’d been able to read her thoughts. “If you hug me right now and try to convince yourself or me that it’s anything more than friendship, and compassion, it would only complicate matters and that isn’t right for either of us. It just wouldn’t be fair. So, please now that I’ve started, I need to finish the story, and you need to know the ending.”

Finley knew she was right, but she ached to help her newfound friend get through the ordeal. “I do want to know all of it,” she said, and let the admiration and warmth she felt for Lira come through in her tone.

“But, Lira, I don’t believe for one moment that you killed your partner and her son. I’d bet my life on it.”

Lira’s face contorted with emotion, and she gripped the shorter woman’s arms and pushed her back gently. “Dammit, Finley---’ she blurted, then hurried into the bathroom again.

Finley could hear the woman gagging, and then water running again. Shortly she returned and stood before her guest.

“Finley, I was drunk. I survived the crash, but they didn’t.”

She blinked. “But that’s-”

“Yes, Finley it’s vehicular homicide. They said I was drunk and lost control of the car.”

“But you don’t drink!” Her tone was loud, incredulous in the silent room.

“I did then,” Lira said tonelessly, and gently pushed Finley away from her. “Let’s sit back down and I’ll tell you about it.”

Once again they took seats across the room from each other, and Lira continued her story. “After we were started living together, we moved back to upstate New York and both enrolled at University of Rochester. Kimberly’s parents continued to pay for her schooling, and I had a partial grant and worked part-time to pay for mine.”

Lira took a deep breath, and although she tried not to let on, she knew Finley was watching her closely. “A year later, Kimberly graduated, and shortly after that, our son, Kyle, was born.”

Finley felt as if she’d been punched in the stomach, and it took her a few seconds to catch her breath. “You had a son, but how? Artificial insemination, or?”

Lira continued to watch her carefully. “Yes, Finley, a natural impregnated event. Kimberly had been sneaking behind my back and screwing around with a classmate of ours named Carl Powers. He was long gone immediately after graduation and Kimberly tried to tell me she did it for us. I was so in love with her that, I halfway believed her, and tried to forget how Kyle came into our lives. I did everything to make sure he had all the love and care he deserved. Kimberly wasn’t such a good mother. She hadn’t really wanted him---he was from a careless affair. But, I never felt that way. I loved that boy. I cared for him from the time he was placed in my arms at the hospital, until I kissed his cheek that last time.” She closed her eyes and forced back the tears.

She could only gape at Lira in disbelief. “But you never mentioned---you’ve never said anything about your family or a son.”

Lira’s gaze hardened. “Fletcher and Dr. Bucannan are the only ones that here that knew about them,” she said impatiently. “No one else here does. Kate McGuinness, the sheriff down in the Catskills and her partner were good friends of ours and knew. After prison, I moved here and no one else knows much about my past life.”

Finley wilted. Apparently there was no end to the shocks Lira had in store for her. No wonder she hadn’t mentioned her past, and it did explain the loneliness she saw in her friend’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Lira. Go ahead. I’ll try not to interrupt again.”

“No, I’m the one who’s sorry.” She spoke gently this time. “I know this is difficult for you, but it’s the only way I can do it. Just try to bear with me.” She seemed to relax a little as she leaned back and continued her story. “After Kyle was born, Kimberly’s parents grudgingly accepted me as a daughter-in-law. They adored their only grandchild, and since I was the only one caring for Kyle, they couldn’t ignore me any longer, but hoped I’d just go away and leave Kyle with them. Kimberly decided it was best we move to get away from them, so we packed up and moved to the outskirts of the Catskills where I’m originally from. By that time my father had died of cirrhosis of the liver, and my mother died the following year.”

The bitterness in her voice was like a knife in Finley’s heart. She longed to comfort her, but Lira didn’t want that, and she’d promised not to interrupt.

“I went to work for a National Laboratory, doing research near the Catskills,” she continued. “Kimberly was teaching at the high school with Lois Strong. Lois was Sheriff McGuinness’s first partner. Kimberly and I were happy enough, but we did quarrel about my drinking.”

The younger woman couldn’t stifle a gasp, and Lira looked at her. “No, Finley, I’m not an alcoholic like my father. I had a beer now and then and mixed drinks on social occasions, but liquor of any kind was forbidden in Kimberly’s family. They were all teetotalers, which is fine, but they were thoroughly obnoxious about it. They were absolutely certain that I was going to end up like Dad, and they never missed a chance to tell me so.”

She shifted position and once more sat straight and tense. “I should have given in to them. It wouldn’t have been any hardship, but I saw it as just another way they could remind me that I wasn’t good enough to be a member of the Wagner family, even by my relationship with their only daughter, and I was damned if I was going to give them the satisfaction of knuckling under.”

Lira paused, and looked past Finley in a sightless gaze. “That sin of pride cost me everything I held dear,” she said quietly in a voice that was flat and empty.

Finley couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. It was tearing her apart. She leaned forward and concentrated on keeping her voice from trembling. “Lira, I have to know. Were you drunk when the accident happened?”

She shifted her gaze to the paleontologist, and it was no longer sightless. It was tormented. “Yes, Finley, I was legally intoxicated. My blood alcohol level was two points above the legal limit. But I wasn’t driving. Kimberly was.”

Finley was battered by the twin blows of consternation and relief without time to catch her breath in between. It was all coming at her too fast. She didn’t have time to recover from one shock before Lira delivered another. Her head whirled, and her thoughts were a jumble of discordant impressions. Lira has no immediate family, but her partner bore a son with her male lover. She doesn’t drink, but she was intoxicated when her partner and son were killed. She was convicted of vehicular man-slaughter, but her lover had been driving the car when the accident occurred.

My God, Lira expected her to understand riddles that even a Sphinx couldn’t untangle!

With a cry of sheer vexation she brought up her legs to curl under her on the couch, and dropped her face in her hands. She didn’t want to hear any more. Her mind wouldn’t absorb it. She needed time to sort out what she’d already told her.

A moment later, Lira hunkered down in front of her. “Here, Finley, drink some more of this.”

She raised her face and saw that she was offering her a juice glass, partially filled with brandy. She shook her head. “No, I need to clear my brain, not befuddle it more.”

Lira took her hand and put the glass in it. “A few sips won’t hurt you, and it’ll make you feel better.”

Lira’s face was white and pinched with concern, and Finley knew she was only trying to help.

Raising the glass to her mouth she drank a swallow. It didn’t burn quite so much as it usually did when she drank brandy, and she took another sip before handing it back to the woman still kneeling before her.

“Drink the rest-you look like you could use a little bracing up, too?’

Lira took it but set it on the coffee table. “I’m all right. I lived through all this, and most of it is behind me now. I’ve managed to come to terms with it and find a measure of peace, but I hate what the telling of it is doing to you. We don’t have to go on, you know. Why don’t you just write me off and forget about being friends? I won’t blame you.”

Lira spoke so earnestly, and Finley knew she meant what she said. If Finley asked her to take her back to the park and not contact her again she’d comply with her wishes. But how could she? Finley wasn’t a fair weathered friend. She never had been and she didn’t intend to start now.

She put her hands on either side of her head and stroked her temples with her thumbs. “Lira, I’ve told you before that I don’t care what sins you’ve committed or what laws you’ve broken in the past. I haven’t changed my mind, so let’s have no more about ‘writing you off.’ Don’t you know how much I have come to care for you? Our friendship is important to me. Your friendship and you as a person are important to me?” She leaned forward and kissed Lira on the forehead.

A shudder convulsed Lira as her arms went around Finley’s waist and clasped her in a hard, almost desperate, embrace. Lira’s trembling continued as she fought for control, and Finley held her and stroked her back until she was calmer.

Why did it shake her up so to be told that she believed in her innocence? And again when she said she valued her friendship and her as a person. It was almost as if no one had ever trusted or cared for her before, even if only for friendship sake. It felt so good to have someone to have faith in her again.

When she finally spoke, her words were muffled against Finley’s hair. “For such a little thing you pack a real wallop, my friend.”

“That makes twice this afternoon that you’ve nearly shocked me senseless.”

She smiled and rubbed her cheek in Finley’s hair. “There’s nothing un-human about showing your emotions,” she admired her tenderly.

“Maybe not, but I’ve never let mine get so out of hand before.” Finley rubbed her nose against Lira’s neck. “You certainly hold yours’ in, and I’d have never suspected anything like what you’ve told me, Lira.”

Lira stood up so unexpectedly and spoken so softly, that it took Finley a minute to comprehend. “Guess not. I’ve had years of practice.” Lira walked to the window again, her back remained to her guest.

“You’re probably right,” Finley agreed. “If I’d gone through your experiences, I don’t know how I’d behave---you must have doubts about everything and everyone. Now, please tell me why you were charged when Kimberly was the one who was driving.”

For a fleeting moment she thought she saw a look of painful regret cross Lira’s face, but then she walked into the kitchen without speaking.

You can’t have it both ways, my friend, she thought. It’ll be a cold day in Hades before I let you crawl back into that darkness. Finley started to stand when Lira returned with two glasses of juice and sat one on the coffee table in front of her.

Lira didn’t sit down. Instead she walked to the fireplace and stared into it. She devoutly wished that she’d never met Finley Jorgenson. She’d been making headway in her battle with the demons of her past, and for the first time she’d managed to put them behind her, or so she thought. If she had put them behind her, why did it still hurt so much?

The tall woman had come to terms with the loneliness, the occasional nightmares and the bleakness of her future. She’d learned to live in the present and not think of what had gone before, or what lay ahead. Then Finley had come into her life with her sweet, caring nature and her enthusiastic zest for living, and shot her tenuous complacency all to hell.

She’d walked into her office on that fateful day such a short time ago and brought sunshine, joy and laughter with her. Finley’s countenance shown like a light, her warmth and friendship offered so graciously. She had awakened the buffer against despair that had been in place for so long, and she wasn’t all that sure that acknowledging the past was what she wanted. Yet, a part of her was grateful to have someone to believe in her again, and someone to talk to about those sorrow filled days, and deep down, it felt good to confide in some again, to be able to trust someone with her dark past. It was good to have a friend like Finley.

“Lira, would you rather not talk about the accident?” Finley asked, and jolted the standing woman out of her self-pitying fog.

Lira turned and focused her gaze on the seated woman, and saw the concern in her lovely face. For a moment she was tempted to avoid any further answers, and forget about how cleaning and healing her openness was becoming. Yet, she knew deep in her heart, that Finley had been sent by everything she considered holy to be her friend, to be her confident, and to allow her to be completely at peace about those miserable years.

She forced her thoughts back to the story of that horror-filled night of the accident. “I’m coming to that,” she told Finley. “Kimberly and I had been together five years, and Kyle was three on that night we attended a party to celebrate Lois’s and Kate’s anniversary.”

Lira could still see the young, well-known crowd mingling in the cheerfully decorated home, colorful balloons with long ribbon streamers hovered near the ceiling and were fastened to the backs of chairs as toast after toast was proposed and drunk.

“There were lots of food and champagne, as well as a full-service bar, and I was enjoying drinks with the rest of them. Kimberly started fussing at me from the first one, and kept it up all evening.”

Lira tried to shut out the nagging sound of her former lover’s voice, and the look of disgust on her pretty face that telling about it brought to mind so vividly.

“Actually, I didn’t drink all that much,” she continued. “I knew I had to drive home, and mostly I nursed each one along for quite a while before taking another, but Kimberly was irritating me so that I had more than I would have otherwise just to let her know that I could damn well hold my liquor.”

She plowed hers hand through her short hair and began to pace. “A pretty stupid way for a family woman to act, I admit, and I’ve regretted it every minute for the past ten years.”

“Is that why you don’t drink anymore?” Finley asked.

Lira stood still and looked at her. “Yes. The first time we went out together and you were surprised when I didn’t order a drink. I told you that alcohol makes me sick. It’s the truth. Ever since the accident, I get violently ill if I take more than a swallow or two.”

Her nerves were too jangled to stand still, and she started pacing again. “To get back to the story, by the time the party started breaking up, Kimberly and I were quarreling angrily. She said I was too drunk to drive. I knew my head was clear and my hands were steady. Back then I had a high tolerance for alcohol, and it took a lot more than I’d consumed that night to slow down my reflexes.”

She made a bitter sound in hers throat. “Since then, I’ve learned that’s what every drunk thinks when she gets behind the wheel of a car.”

“Was Kimberly’s digging at you the reason you felt the need to drink?”

“You’re the first person to ever ask me that---well, not really. Kate Bucannan asked me several times at the party if there was something wrong with Kimberly and me. She even suggested we go outside and talk.” Lira finished off the orange juice and returned to the kitchen to refill her glass. When she reentered the room, she again went to the window, her back to Finley. “I have wished a million times that I’d gone in their study and talked to Kate, but my pride was bigger than my common sense. I had just found out that Kimberly had been seeing Kyle’s father off an on for several months. Every time the man was near the Catskills, she’d sneak off and spend the day or part of the evening with him in a motel someplace.” She drank half the glass of juice and turned to face Finley.

“How did you know that Lira? I mean, did someone tell you, or was that just an unfounded suspicion of yours?”

The tall woman let out a cynical laugh. “I’d forgiven her for her unfaithfulness with that one son-of-a-bitch once. I’d never allow doubt or mistrust about anything that involved Kimberly after I forgave her. I was so in love with her that---that I’d have fought anyone that cast any dispersion on her character.” She finished the juice and returned to refill the glass.

Upon reentering the room, she again took up a stance in front of the fireplace. “The chief of the division I worked in, sent me in the company station-wagon to Hastings, a town about sixty miles from the Laboratory to pick up some emergency supplies I needed to complete some analysis I was doing. I had just left the industrial unit, and turned onto an alternate highway, when I spotted her car pulling into a motel. To my sorrow, I slowed down and saw Kimberly get out and not only hug and kiss the bastard, but pull him into the motel room. I stopped the wagon in the middle of the road, and Kimberly already had her dress off before he pulled the curtains together.” She swallowed the juice and sat the glass on the mantel.

“Oh Lira, I’m so sorry.”

“When I arrived back at work. While they were taking the boxes to my lab, I called the high-school where Kimberly taught. A close friend of mine worked in the office. After several insistent and pleading minutes, in confidence, she told me that Kimberly wasn’t there that afternoon. Not only had she left the school and taken half a vacation day, but that she’d almost used up all her vacation time for the year. I ask why she didn’t take sick leave, and Shirley was hesitant in telling me that she didn’t have any left. That in the last three months, she had used up all her accrued sick time, and only had a day and a half remaining on of her vacation time for the entire year.”

“Goodness Lira, she’d been seeing him for months?”

“Looked that way. When I picked Kyle up at the daycare and got home, we played together for a while, before I fixed our dinner and bathed him. I usually read him a story before he went to sleep, but that night, I hugged him and not only read a story, but lay there with him until the little fellow went to sleep. My suspicions were confirmed, when I searched Kimberly’s dresser drawers, I found a supply of birth control pills. I knew then, that it had been going on for months.” Lira walked back to the window and placed one hand on the frame and moved back the sheer curtains with the other. “It’s really starting to come down. Good thing I don’t live that far from the park.”

She dropped the curtain and turned around. “I never let on that I knew, but I saw and felt a change in Kimberly, and the way she pulled away from me on the times she slept with him.”

“Is that what was going through our mind that night at the party?”

“Yes. She wouldn’t let me touch her the night before, so I knew she’d been with him again. We had to take Kyle with us as the babysitter cancelled at the last minute, and Lois let me put him to bed in their spare bedroom. When it was time to go he was still asleep when I went in and bundled him up and placed him in his car carrier in the back seat. I went back in for Kimberly. I was drunk, and Kimberly set in to browbeat me about driving home.” Lira pointed towards Finley’s glass, indicating a refill, but Finley shook her head no.

“Everyone there heard Kimberly say she wanted to drive and ask for the keys,” she continued. “They also heard me refuse to give them to her. We exchanged heated words for a few minutes until I finally convinced her to get in the car on the passenger side. I called goodbye to the group who had collected on the lawn on their way to their own cars, slid in behind the steering wheel, started the engine and drove off.”

Again Finley interrupted. “But you said you weren’t driving-”

Subconsciously Lira clenched and unclenched her fists as the tension in her built. “I wasn’t. We’d only gone a couple of blocks when Kimberly started to cry. I could see that she really was frightened, and I felt like a heel. I grudgingly pulled over to the curb and we changed places.”

She plowed her hand through her hair again and leaned against the mantel.”

Lira was sweating, and she found it hard to breathe. “She was driving when she lost control of the car and veered across the line, running head-on into the semi coming toward us.”

Her knees felt shaky and she slumped back down in the chair as a replay of that grinding crash exploded in her mind.

Finley had finally reached the limit of her endurance. She couldn’t bear to sit across the room and watch Lira struggle to control herself while she relived the tragedy that had killed her partner and son and shattered her life.

She crossed the room and sank to the floor beside her. Once more Lira was staring into space, lost in painful reminiscence, until Finley rested her head on her thigh. Her muscles beneath the sheer wool of her slacks contracted, and she caressed her knee with her palm. “If you don’t want me close to you, you’ll have to take me back to the billet,” she said softly.

She caught hers breath and tangled hers hand in the thickness of her hair. “Fat chance,” she muttered in a voice heavy with anguish. “How about we sit on the sofa?”

“That would be better.”

Lira helped her stand, and they settled on the couch.

Instead, she spoke with her head resting on her hand on the back of the sofa. “There are only two more things I need to know. Were you injured in the crash? And how did you escape being killed?”

“No, I wasn’t injured except for some nasty-looking cuts and bruises and this one permanent scar,” she pointed to the edge of her hairline. “Neither of us had remembered to fasten our seat belts, and we were both thrown out of the car. I was thrown clear, but---? She paused and started again. “But it rolled over on Kimberly, crushing her, and flattened our vehicle with Kyle inside.”

For once, Finley was speechless. The honor of such an accident was almost too much to comprehend. How terrible it must have been for Lira to live through!

They sat huddled together on the sofa, each occupied with her own thoughts, until at last Lira spoke. “The driver and his wife in the semi were seriously injured but nothing life threatening. There was no way to tell who was driving my car, but since everyone at the party had seen me at the wheel when we left and the alcohol level in my blood was above the legal limit, I was charged and convicted of drunk driving and manslaughter.”

Finley was incensed by the injustice. “And you went to jail?”

She could feel the muscles knot in Lira’s stomach and arms. “I was sentenced to four years in prison, and served three years and three months. I was released early on good behavior and because of my good friend Kate, the sheriff, who made a special appearance at the board on my behalf.”

Stunned, Finley sat up and looked at Lira. “But why?” It was a cry of disbelief and confusion. “How could that injustice occur? How could you serve years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit?”

“It was my wakeup call, I guess. Certainly, I have a different approach to life now, and as you know, I don’t drink anymore. I should have been the one to die that night, not innocent Kyle. Don’t you see Finley; I had to serve the time to come to terms with the little fellow’s death. He was given to me for a short time, and I guess I didn’t do enough---hell, I’m not sure what the Divine had in mind when I was charged. No one doubted that I was guilty as charged. Even the Wagner’s appeared at the trial on the prosecutions behalf, and stated they’d known all along that I’d end up being a drunken bum like my father. Well, Lois and Kate appeared on my behalf, and even Kate, who was the county sheriff, said she didn’t know how, and couldn’t prove it, but that she didn’t believe for a moment I was driving at the actual time of the accident.”

“The Wagners were bitter and vindictive. They never came to see me, and they asked me not to write or phone them. I haven’t heard from , talked to, or seen either of them in over ten years.”

Finley wanted to scream with frustration. “You mean they still think you were driving that car?”

Lira shook her head sadly. “My friend, everyone but Kate, Lois, Fletcher and Ms. Bucannan, still thinks that I was driving the car. After all, I was tried and found guilty. Being freed only meant that I’d paid my debt to society. For the rest of my life I’ll carry the stigma of being an ex-convict who killed her lover and her child, and did time in prison.”

“But that’s so unfair!”

She shrugged. “Not if you accept the prosecutor’s version of what happened. We’d attended a party where there was drinking, my lover had been telling me all evening that I was imbibing too much, she accused me of being too drunk to drive, but I wouldn’t give her the keys and a couple of dozen people saw me get behind the wheel and drive away just minutes before the accident. The jury, made up of men and women I’d lived among most of my life, was out less than two hours before convicting me.”

“But didn’t you tell them that you’d stopped and changed places with Kimberly? That she was driving?” It seemed so simple to Finley. Surely those people knew that Lira wouldn’t lie.

“Of course I did,” she admitted. “I also told them that something happened to her just before she lost control of the car. She sort of stiffened and then fell forward across the steering wheel. It happened so fast that there was no time for me to react before the two vehicles collided. I suspect that she suffered either a stroke or a heart attack.”

Finley was doubtful. “But she was young.”

Again Lira shook his head. “Strokes and heart attacks aren’t limited to the elderly, and Kimberly had always been high-strung.”

“Well, then, surely-”

“Finley, think about it,” she said patiently. “That’s exactly what anyone in my position who was desperate for extenuating circumstances would say. Actually, I think it hurt my case because it sounded as though I was trying to get myself off the hook by putting the blame on a dead woman who couldn’t defend herself. The prosecutor even accused me of lying both in his cross-examination and in his summation. Obviously, the jury agreed with him.”

Reluctantly, she had to admit that Lira was right. Still... “Couldn’t the doctor tell? I mean wouldn’t a stroke or heart attack show up in the autopsy?”

Lira winced, and hers face went even whiter. “The autopsy was inconclusive.” Her tone was ragged. “The injuries were too--” A sob seemed to be torn from deep within her, and she bit her lip and looked away.

“Oh, dear Lord,” Finley whispered, and once more placed her arms around Lira and rubbed her back, comforting her. Lira’s arms tightened around her, and for a long time they just held each other, both too shaken to talk.

Finley’s mind was in chaos as a picture of that gory scene played across it. What a monstrous experience to have to live through. How had Lira ever survived it? No wonder that in ten years she’d never been able to talk about it.

A wave of guilt and remorse slammed through her. Now, because of Finley’s insistence, Lira was living it over again, and it was nearly killing the taller woman. She wanted so badly to make Lira smile and enjoy their friendship, and so far all she’d done was cause her pain.

Well, there was one thing she could do for Lira, and that was put an end to the torture she’d been enduring all evening on her account. She was still curious as to why Lira hadn’t fought to clear her name, but she wasn’t going to ask her.

She didn’t have to. Lira told her without any prompting. “Kate came to the prison the day I was released, and drove me here. She rented a house for me, this one actually, and set me up with all the furnishing and groceries and so forth. She had brought me the driver’s handbook two months before I was released and took me to the station to take my drivers exam. She bought me a second hand car and placed two thousand dollars in my hand-to tide me over she said, until I could get on my feet,” Lira spoke, as though they’d never changed the subject. “Kate and I talked many times over those three years and even still do today. She had gone over every detail of the accident. The sheriff went on to say that she had spent hours and hours interviewing anyone that might have seen them switch places that night, but no one did. As the chief law enforcement officer of the county, she had insisted that I be giving a polygraph before the trial, and even though I passed it about not being the one driving, it wasn’t permissible in court. Kate pointed out that she had left no lead unchecked, and that she believed me even before I took the polygraph. Her and Lois’s visits were the only thing that kept me sane. Kate came even after Lois died from cancer, and went to bat to get me out on an early release. The board still put off my release until I had served over three years.” She released her embrace with Finley, and the smaller woman moved her feet back underneath herself and leaned against the back of the couch again.

“When I went to prison I had nothing-no job, no money. I’d spent everything I had to defend myself. I had no home or family, and a record that would make it difficult to find employment and regain any of these things. My good buddy Kate was my knight to see that I at least had a place to start when I was released and a suitable position.” A forced sigh left Lira’s throat. Finally, Finley thought she saw an awakening in the back of Lira’s eyes. It was the start of a stirring that seem to be releasing the older woman from her mental prison.

“Something good did come out of my imprisonment. I learned that things occur to make us grow and accept responsibility for our lives. If we don’t, we go back through the same sort of experience until we get it right. Believe me, I won’t have to go through that experience again. I have some wonderful friends in Kate, Fletcher and Ms. Bucannan. Kate even convinced Fletcher that I’d make a great biologist at the park. That’s how I came to have the position here, and that has been the best thing that has happened to me in all my life, except for the three wonderful years I had Kyle with me.”

Finley believed Lira him implicitly and didn’t for a minute doubt but that her version of the accident was the truth. She’d meant it when she told her she’d bet her life on her innocence.

“And if things had gone another way, I’d never have met you, my friend, and I’d probably have gone on for ten more years without bringing my past into the open and dealing with it finally in a progressive light.

Thank you for being so caring, Finley. I find it easy to talk to you, and I know that you are a true and caring friend.”

“That’s what true friends are Lira. That’s what they do, they care.” She smiled at Lira, and for the first time in two hours, Lira smiled back.

“I could use some coffee, how about you?” Lira asked, as she got up and headed for the kitchen.

Finley hopped up and followed closely behind, “That sound like a good idea, and we should think about getting me back to the park. Looks like the snow is starting to really come down. I have a nine a.m. conference call with my supervisor tomorrow.” Finley stopped at the kitchen window to look out.

“We’ll make a fresh pot and take it with us in a thermos. Does that sound okay?” Lira turned on the faucet and filled the pot.

“Make it strong, I feel a chill coming on.” Lira gazed at her, “Why don’t I go toss another log on the fire, and you stay there in front of it. I’ll finish up in here and put the coffee in the thermos and we’ll be on our way.”

“I can throw on the log, you make the coffee.”

“No you don’t, Finley,” she reached out and grasped the young woman’s arm gently. “I don’t want Maggie on my case about those ribs of yours. You just stand in front of the fire, I’ll be out in a few minutes.” Smiling, she released the arm and quickly went to the fireplace and placed a small log on the fire. It would catch quicker than the larger logs that were predominate in the pile next to the fireplace. “It’ll only take a minute for it to be blazing, and I’ll be right back,” she replaced the screen and grinned at her guest before heading back to the kitchen.

Finley didn’t answer, but smiled at her retreating friend and backed up to the fireplace. She is such a wonderful person. I can’t imagine anyone going through that and staying sane. I don’t believe for a minute she was driving that night. She turned back to the fire and rubbed her hands as the fire began to leap.

***

The next few days, Lira and Finley were almost inseparable. Lira would pick her up after work and they would disappear to have dinner and talk. However, Finley never spent the night away from her park quarters, but often the paleontologist wouldn’t be returned to the billet until after midnight. During the day, Finley would frequently accompany her to the laboratory and chat as the biologist went about her work. If Finley had to work on her notes of the site, or talk to Dr. Eckersley, Lira would join her for lunch in the dinning facility and they would eat together. The friendship was becoming strong, and they both were enjoying each other’s company. They especially enjoyed the undercurrent of sincere trust, and, unexpectedly, the sense of easy companionship without judgment of the other’s actions or past. Everything seemed to be falling into place with the friendship, until one brisk morning when a beautiful Seneca maiden arrived at the park to visit Fletcher.

Fletcher stood up and came around from the back of her desk. “Hathia, you don’t know how much this mean to me for your family to grant permission to continue examining the bones at the overhang. Offering to allow Dr. Jorgensen and myself to stay in your grandfather’s cabin is more than generous. I assure you we will take good care of his home. Please rest assured all of the artifacts will remain in tact and exactly where they are. Dr. Jorgensen is one of the most reputable paleontologists in the country. She can make her examination where the bones are, and they won’t be desecrated or damaged in any way.” The park director shook the hand of the young Seneca woman. “Of course the museum will be disappointed, but Dr. Eckersley will be happy to have photographic enlargements of the find, if he can’t have the actual artifacts. He and Finley will probably make a marvelous display of the photographs, and might even do a slide show, or video of the inside of the cavern.”

“That will be fine, Chief Bucannan, but you must remember the agreement and the conditions of keeping the actual place and vicinity secret. Also, you nor anyone associated with the Museum must never disclose the true location of the sacred mounds.” Hathia said, as she released the larger hand.

“Absolutely. No problem.” The tall woman’s smile was contagious. “Why don’t we go over to the quarters where Dr. Jorgensen is staying temporarily, and I’ll introduce you to her?” Fletcher motioned towards the door of her office.

“I’m looking forward to meeting Dr. Jorgensen. I’ve read all her articles in the Museum Newsletters. She writes with sincere enthusiasm about the many bones she has studied and her intense effort to verify their authenticity.” The stunning woman passed beside Fletcher and out into the main lobby of the park large information center.

“Jamison, we’re going over to see Finley, be back shortly,” Fletcher said, reaching for the front door of the park headquarters, her hat in her hand.

“Wait up Chief. Maintenance needs you over at their shop as quickly as you can get there. I didn’t want to interrupt you while you were in with Hathia, but they said it was really important.” Jamison explained, and then shrugged her shoulder slightly at having to sidetrack the park director.

“Can’t it wait?”

“Don’t think so Fletcher, Mason was really insistent,” the ranger said quickly. “He said it was important enough to break in on you, but I wouldn’t.”

“Okay. Hathia, I must apologize. Seems I’m needed elsewhere, but Jamison here will take you over to meet Dr. Jorgensen and I’ll join you as soon as I can,” she explained.

“Take your time, Fletcher. Jamison and I are old friends, and we haven’t chatted in weeks,” came the soft reply.

“It’d be a pleasure. Come on brat, the billet is just over there.”

“Who you calling brat, you little weasel. Hasn’t Tammy tamed you yet?” Her hand reached over and grabbed her friend’s neck and ruffled her bangs.

“Stop that, you brat, or I’ll show you just how tamed I’m not!” They both burst into a loud chuckle and started running towards the living quarters of the park, with snow being splattered in all directions. Before they gone too far, Hathia reached down and scooped up a handful of snow and fashioned it into a ball.

“Don’t you dare throw that brat, or I’ll chase you down and rub you face in the nearest snow bank,” the young ranger threatened.

“You’ll have to catch me first,” she laughed as the snowball flew and hit the ranger in the chest.

“Okay, you asked for it.” Hathia raced passed her towards the billet with Jamison close behind.

Fletcher watched as they rounded the corner of the building and shook her head. “Where do they get all that energy? Must be the sprigs of youth,” she mused, placed her hat on, and slowly stepped off into the fresh snow and strode briskly across the covered lot toward the maintenance building.

Finley wasn’t in her quarters or in the dinning facility. Ruth suggested they try the medical facility. The two chatted back and forth on the short distance to the medical compound, where Jamison opened the door for their visitor.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Bucannan. Look who’s here? You remember Dr. Keystone, don’t you?”

“It’s not Dr. yet, Jamison. I won’t have that title until I graduate in June.” She corrected her friend and went into the open arms of Andrea Bucannan. “How do you keep looking so young and never put on any weight?” The young woman hugged the older woman tightly and kissed her on the cheek.

“The blarney will get you everywhere, Haitha. So good to see you again,” Andrea only partially released her. “Stand back and let me look at you. How long has it been, almost a year since I last saw you?”

“Yes, ma’am, it was on grandfather’s last birthday gathering. He still talks about those walnut brownies you baked him.” She grinned and stepped back, still holding Andrea’s hands.

“And how is your grandfather?”

“He’s holding on, but failing daily. Don’t expect he’ll be around for his birthday next month.”

“Oh, Hathia, I’m so sorry. He is such a sweet, dear man.”

“Yes, he is. He told me to remind you that brownies don’t have to wait until his birthday.”

“I’ll make him a batch and take them up to him tomorrow.”

“He’d like that. He misses his place and all his friends down here.”

“I’m sure he does. There isn’t a natural herb or health remedy that he doesn’t know about. I hope you have kept track of his years of experience?”

“I’ve really tried to take everything in. Sometimes when we were out in the woods, he would remind me that certain roots, assorted leaves, or berries have multiple remedies.”

“Is that why you’ve studied botany?”

“Seemed like the natural way to go. Have a knowledge of most of the plants and trees in the area, and that gives me a head start on becoming a botanist.”

“Excuse me for butting in, but Fletcher wanted me to introduce her to Finley, and we can’t seem to locate her. You know where she might be, Dr. Bucannan?” Jamison was apologetic for the interruption.

“You might try the Research Laboratory, I passed her a couple of hours ago headed in that direction with Lira.” Her tone was casual, but Jamison sensed the veterinarian didn’t approve of the paleontologist spending so much time with Lira. Not that she had any thing against Lira, quite the contrary; Andrea thought the world of Lira. But she knew that the last few days Finley had monopolized the Research Director’s time, and Fletcher would eventually step in and put her foot down about the fraternization during duty hours. Fletcher was always fair with the employees at the park, but she expected everyone to abide by the rules and regulations, and most of all to do their job in a professional manner and as scheduled.

“Thanks, Dr. B. Come on Haithe, Lira will be just as surprised to see you as our favorite vet here.” Jamison smiled at Andrea and headed towards the door.

“I’ll go see your grandfather tomorrow, Haithe, and you come back to see us real soon. We have missed your cheery face around here.”

“You’ll see enough of me in June, when I graduate and come to work my internship. The Stern family not only supplied my scholarship, but the grant to the University was so that I could come back here for two years doing research.” The young woman hugged Andrea. “Fletcher was kind enough to allow the research program here, and offered me a full time position when my grant is up.”

“I’d say my daughter was being smart, Haithe, not kind. You keep up the good work. I’ll see you at the care facility when I go visit your grandfather.” The young woman turned and blew Andrea a kiss as she reached the door. There goes one brilliant young lady. If all the youngsters were as settled and determined as she, this would be a better world. Andrea thought as she went back to her paperwork on the pregnant fox she had just examined.

“Have you seen Lira lately?” Jamison asked her friend as they made their way though the fresh snow.

“Last time I saw her was at the Lodge, about six months ago. Even though we didn’t have time to talk, she looked good, but still had that hollowness in her eyes. She always seems so lonely to me.”

“She’s doing well, even dating a little, but you know Lira. Anyone gets the least bit serious about her and she cuts them off so fast you’d think her ceremonial shirt tail was on fire.”

“Hmm. Well, she just needs to meet the right one, and then, it’ll be different.”

“Maybe so-maybe not, but I’d like that to happen, she deserves it,” she opened the door to the Research Facility and stomped the loose snow from her boots.

“Yes, she does,” she replied, as she followed suit and stamped her boots several times, then followed Jamison into the building.

“Afternoon Bert, you seen Dr. Jorgensen?” Jamison removed her hat and leaned across the counter.

“Afternoon Ladies,” he looked up. “She’s in the lab with Dr. Hayes.” “Fletcher wants me to introduce Haithe to her. Is it okay if we go on back?”

“Sure,” he replied and turned back to his computer.

Jamison could hear the two women laughing as she opened the door to the laboratory. She held the door open for her friend and pushed her gently when the woman stopped just inside the door. Lira and Finley were sitting on two stools side by side and didn’t hear them come in.

“Hey Doc, look who the cat drug up.” Both women jumped at the unexpected voice and turned to see who had arrived.

“Why Haithe Keystone, what on earth are you doing here? You didn’t graduate early and have come to go to work?” Lira jumped off the stool and extended her hand to the young woman.

Taking her hand for a brief handshake, the visitor replied, “No, not until June.” She placed her hands in her jacket pocket and looked at the woman still seated on the stool.

“Fletcher sent us over, she wants Finley to meet Haithe. She’ll be here in a few minutes.” Jamison pulled gently on the sleeve of the visitor until she took a few steps. “Dr. Finley Jorgensen, this is Haithe Keystone. Her grandfather is the old medicine man Weahan, and that’s his cabin you were at the other day.”

Finley looked questionably at the young woman as she slid off the stool and extended her hand. “Pleased to met you, Ms. Keystone.”

“The pleasure is all mine, Dr. Jorgensen. I’ve followed your work for years. Those were some very informative articles in the Archeologists Digest earlier this year. I’ve followed your research in the Museum’s Newsletter also.” She said as she shook Finley’s hand.

“Thank you.” For some reason the hair on the back of Finley’s neck stood on ends as she sat back down on the stool.

“My grandfather has granted permission for the use of his cabin, during your-your stay here,” she looked over at Lira and Jamison, knowing that the site hadn’t been discussed and not wanting to give away any unnecessary information. “The Park Director and I have just gone over the stipulations my family has set for the work you will be doing in the-the area.” Haithe explained quietly. “We appreciate your willingness to comply with the provisions that have been arranged, and we want to thank you in advance for being careful with the objects and leaving them intact--”

“Wait a minute! Leaving them intact? You are kidding me, right?” Finley demanded, her voice strained, her hands clinched tightly.

“No, Dr. Jorgensen, all objects are to remain and be undisturbed. Those were part of the conditions agreed to for the examination to continue, or even be viewed.” The young woman became instantly aware that Finley was unfamiliar with the terms that Fletcher had accepted.

And maybe hell will freeze by tonight, too, Finley thought. She stood directly in front of the visitor as she spoke and her voice was cold and biting. “I’ve had about all of Fletcher Bucannan’s authoritarian, overbearing attitude, and her dictatorial controlling manner that I can tolerate. I’m very capable of making decisions as to how any site that I’m involved with is to be examined. I will not have her, or anyone else tell me how to do my job. You should have been discussing the arrangements with me, as I will decide how to perform the study and what events happen with the site and findings.” Finley couldn’t believe she was saying this and actually taking her frustrations out on a total stranger. Even Lira and Jamison’s mouth dropped open at her remarks before she finished her statements.

“I see,” was all the taller woman said. She smiled weakly and turned to Jamison. “I’ll wait for the Chief in her office.” Hathia looked back at Finley and nodded, “It was nice to meet you, Dr. Jorgensen.” She stepped by Jamison who still stood with her mouth open. “It was good to see you again, Dr. Hayes.” She nodded to the older woman, and walked quickly out of the lab. Jamison shook her head to come out of the trance, and raced after her friend.

Finley hung her head and swallowed the knot in her throat that had formed too late to keep her from speaking out and making a fool of herself. There was no sound from Lira. She was probably as embarrassed as she was.

The paleontologist couldn’t believe she had allowed the harsh words out of her mouth. She had actually insulted the woman, who obviously was only following some agreement Fletcher had made. This just wasn’t like Finley.

What was going on with her? Why did she resent Fletcher’s seemingly interference or attempt to run a paleontology site that she knew absolutely nothing about. Was it that Fletcher had been calling the shots and that put dampers on her independent spirit? Didn’t Bucannan realize she had pride and dignity?

“Holy Hell, what have I done?” She questioned hollowly and sank to the stool.

Moments passed before Lira spoke, “I’d say you just blew your stack. I imagine there will be consequences Finley, and I don’t think you’re going to like going against Fletcher Bucannan. She is fair to a fault, but she can’t stand ill manners and young lady, you were rude.”

Finley ran her fingers through her hair, “Lira, she just makes so me damn-hell, she gets on my nerves. I’ve never had anyone be so in control all the time and it makes me crazy.” She stood up and went to the window. The snow had started again.

“You might want to think on the reason for your annoyance with Fletcher, my little friend. It is very apparent to me, and I think you have a pretty good idea as to the reason also,” Lira sat back down at the counter.

Finley turned around and almost shouted the words, “What the hell you talking about, Lira. Fletcher Bucannan is the most infuriating, hard-head, stubborn--”

“Finley!” Lira turned and gazed affectionately at her friend. “You are blinded by the obvious.” “Blinded by what, pray tell?” She stepped towards the seated biologist.

“You’ve fallen in love with her, my friend.”

Finley’s mouth dropped open and she stopped dead in her tracks. Fallen in love with Fletcher. No that isn’t possible, she thought. “Lira, you are so wrong,” she sat down on the stool next to Lira. “You’re so wrong.”

“Am I?” was all Lira said, as she smiled at her friend and turned back to the growth chart she had been examining.

When she spoke, her throat was dry and her voice rough with unexpected realization. “Oh Lira, it can’t be!”

“It looks good on you,” Lira said calmly. “Ach du lieber Gott!” (oh, dear God!) Finley’s’ voice trembled infinitesimally.

They were going to have another storm, but this time, it wouldn’t just be the one on the outside, it would be joined with one about to unfold from the inside.

***

“Mason, what was so important that it couldn’t wait?” Fletcher stomped her boots on the inside mat of the maintenance shop.

“Come over here and see for yourself, Chief,” he stuck the unlit pipe back into his mouth and moved to the table next to her SUV.

He picked up the tube and turned it to the two holes he had found and wiped the pipe off again with his grease rag. “Take a look at this,” he pointed to the cleanly punched holes. “We’ve examined this for several days. These didn’t get there by accident, Chief. Not unless a screwdriver jumped off the asphalt stabbed one hole, fell back to the road and popped back up, and forcibly jabbed the second hole.” The maintenance crew chief handed her the tube he had removed from her vehicle.

The park director turned the tubing over and over in her hands. Someone had deliberately punctured her brake line, but who, and why? Fletcher was at a loss to think of anyone that hated her enough to attempt to kill her, especially with someone else in the vehicle with her. “Deliberate.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’d say more than deliberate, Fletcher. One hole would have done the job sufficiently to cause the fluid to drain in time, but two indicates whoever did it wanted to make sure you didn’t have brakes on the mountain roads.”

Fletcher handed him back the tube. “Have you checked out the flat I brought in?” He motioned for her to move to another table, where he scooped up a flattened slug and tossed it to her. Upon catching it, she held it up and turned it over and over.

“We pried that slug out of the rim. I’m no expert, but I’d say that came from a hunting rifle, maybe a 30.06 or a 30.30,” he removed the pipe and placed it in his overall pocket. “You rowel somebody lately, Chief?”

Fletcher gripped the slug tightly in her hand. “Not that I can think off-well not anyone I’ve rattled enough to want me dead.” Her free hand went to her forehead and rubbed it several times while she tightened the metal in her hand. The only one I’ve had any issues with besides Finley, is Jacqueline about those eagle’s perches. Surely, that wouldn’t have set her on a path to get even with me. Well, maybe get even, but to kill me? Jacqueline is mean, but I can’t imagine her being that cold blooded.

Mason interrupted her thoughts. “Well, I’d say someone means to do you a bit of hurt, if you know what I mean,” the maintenance man picked up his clip board and handed it to her. “You need to sign for the repairs on both work orders.”

Fletcher signed the first, and then the second as the maintenance chief lifted the first form off the clipboard. “I’ll have Blake bring your vehicle to the office and pick up the loaner.”

“Fine. Good job, Mason. Thanks. I’ll leave the keys under the floor mat,” she said. “Mason, store that wheel and the tubing. I’ll keep this slug for now. The sheriff may want to see it later on. The new State Forensic Laboratory they set up down in the Catskills may want to do some testing on the rim and tubing, so keep it someplace secure.”

“No problem, Chief.” He called to one of the men to come take the wheel into his office, where he’d put it and the tubing in his closet under lock and key.

The snow has started again as she left the shed. It had turned really cold, and she knew this time they would have a good freeze on the roads. She should issue shutdown warnings for the two top mountain roads. It would be too hazardous for traveling when it got dark. “I wonder if Jamison found Finley?” The sight of Hathia and Jamison answered her as they hurried back towards the park main office. “Hey, wait up you two,” she called, and hurried to join the younger women.

“The arrangements are off, Chief Bucannan. There will be no study or examining the site. We won’t agree to any trespassing on our land. I’ll have our attorney file a restraining order as soon as I can get home.” Haithe responded in a steady voice. Although she wasn’t angry, Fletcher knew she upset, and only one person could have been responsible-Finley Jorgensen.

“What happened? Please, come into the office and let’s talk about this.”

“We can talk, but the agreement is off.” They walked side by side towards the office.

Fletcher looked over at Jamison, who shook her head back and forth and mouthed, “Finley.”

***

Fletcher stormed into the research lab not bothering to shake the snow from her boots. She didn’t stop at the desk, or speak to Bert, who stood. The researcher’s assistant whistled softly as he heard the park director stomp down the hall towards the laboratory. “Wouldn’t want to be in someone’s shoes in about two seconds,” he whispered and returned to his computer and the report he was finalizing for Lira.

The park director threw open the lab door and stomped in. “Have you lost your mind, Jorgensen? What the hell were you thinking? Or didn’t you bother to use that superior brain of yours at all?”

Finley turned from the window, where she had been standing for several minutes thinking about Lira’s very articulated insight of her repressed feelings for the park director. Before she could respond, Fletcher crossed the room and stood directly in front of the smaller woman. “I haven’t had the opportunity to tell you that while I was visiting the old medicine man, his granddaughter came in and presented me with a copy of a ninety-year old deed. They own the entire area where the overhang is, and have been paying taxes on it for years. The park’s attorneys have made it clear that without their permission, we can’t do anything about the site or the findings there.” The fuming ranger removed her hat and slammed it against her leg in anger.

“Now just a--” was all the smaller woman could get out.

“No excuses, Finley. I told you at the table last week, that if I gave you an inch, you’d take a mile. No, you said, but I had you pegged from day one. You’re a snob-nosed, know it all, that wants her way, regardless. Well, you didn’t succeed in getting your way, and now, I’m not even sure I can keep the family from obtaining a restraining order to prevent further trespassing. Not only that, we have been using their property for a thoroughfare for years and that could cause further legal issues for the park.”

Lira had never seen Fletcher so angry. She sat on her stool and noticed the park director clinched her hat so hard that it would never return to the proper shape.

“Fletcher, I--,”

“I don’t want to hear it, Dr. Jorgensen. Until I can get this straightened out-that is--if I can get it resolved, I don’t want you to assume your position here entitles you to anything except as an invited guest. Consider yourself a visitor without any privileges. You aren’t entitled to speak your mind, administer feedback or any say-so as to how this park operates, any functions involving this reserve, or any decisions that I have made.” She turned and paced back and forth several times before she spoke again. “If you choose to remain here until your ribs heal, while I attempt to clear this up, you are free to use the facilities provided for you. However,” she turned to face Finley again and continued, “The research laboratory is off limits to you.” Finley was about to object, but Fletcher help up her hand and turned to the still seated Research Director.

“Lira, I don’t care what you do in your off duty time. Your personal life is your business, but while you are at work, you are expected to follow the rules and regulations of the park, and that includes maintaining the set schedules for assigned duties and responsibilities. I shouldn’t even have to address this issue and you know it.”

“You’re right, Fletcher. I have fallen a little behind, but don’t blame Finley. I was enjoying her company and she is the first person I’ve really been able to talk to-well, that’s no excuse either.” Lira muttered hoarsely, trying as hard as she could to keep her voice steady. “I’m--”

“It’s okay Lira, but she can’t interfere with your work. Those analysis and results are past due for the annual report. They should have been out days ago. Just keep your eyes on your obligations, and do your socializing after hours.”

Lira shook her head in acknowledgement. Even though Finley and she were only friends and not courting, there had not been sufficient justification for the reports being delayed. Though the final graphs were at this moment being printed at the front desk by her research assistant, she knew Finley’s constant presence had diverted her otherwise known dedication and focus on her work, and she couldn’t and wouldn’t offer any valid excuses to her normally tolerant and non-judgmental supervisor. .

“Just a minute, Bucannan! You can’t tell me who I can or cannot see.” Finley’s voice was thick as she stomped forward and attempted to come to Lira’s defense as well as her own.

“I don’t give a damn who you see, you just can’t do it in this lab during working hours.” The tall woman slapped her hat against her leg again as she turned to face the approaching paleontologist. “I’m sure you have reports of your own to do.”

“My notes are transcribed and thoroughly documented, Ms. Bucannan. My first priority is my meticulousness attention to details, my profession and my reputation.”

“Great! Keep it that way. Lira can help you back to your quarters, Dr. Jorgensen. Do try to stay out of trouble for the rest of the week.” Fletcher turned and left the room before the smaller woman could think of a satisfactory comeback.

“And you think I’m falling in love with her?” Finley looked hopelessly at Lira.

“Absolutely, and indubitably,” Lira said, feeling inexplicably accurate in her assessment of Finley’s affection for Fletcher. “Definitely, my friend,” and she didn’t have to force a grin. “Now, let me help you on with your coat, and back to your quarters, before Fletcher comes back and reads us both the riot act again.”

You’re wrong, Lira Hayes. You have to be! I simply can’t be falling in love with that woman. It’s---it’s just to---it’s impossible!

***


Chapter 10


In spite of her resolution not to, Finley couldn’t help but hope Fletcher would contact her at the park that day. All of her senses were tuned to the tall woman. Even her short walks with Icarus, who had become very attached to the young paleontologist only temporary, sidetracked her from the blunder of days before and her bout with the park director. After spending half the morning in her quarters going over her research notes, and staying close to the nightstand phone, she finally wandered into the kitchen to chat with Ruth, who was busy preparing lunch. She offered to peal the potatoes and was immediately given the visiting cooks seat and handed a knife. Ruth then went to the pantry and brought out ten more pounds of spuds and sat them on the floor next to Finley’s chair.

“When you’re finished with those, Young Lady, there is a bushel of apples to peel and slice. Andrea tells me you’re a right good helper.”

Finley stopped peeling and looked up at the smiling older woman. “Uh-I don’t know about that, but I’ve nothing else to do right now, so I’ll be happy to peel or do whatever you need done.” Finley attempted a half smile. “Andrea usually rewards me with a couple of slices of cake,” the young woman looked over at Ruth.

“We don’t have any cake, Finley. Would you be interested in a slice of lemon meringue pie?” Ruth placed her hands on her hips, questionably.

Finley’s eyes lit up, and almost sparkled. “Didn’t I hear Andrea say you’d won the State Fair with your lemon meringue pie?”

“Six years in a row, not counting that one year I tied with Burley Morgan from over at Rock Creek.” She wiped her hands on the white apron, and went to the commercial refrigerator. “I’m assuming that was a yes?”

“Most definitely,” Finley cooed at the older woman, and went back to her task. Even the activity in the kitchen couldn’t keep her mind from wondering back to the events of yesterday.

Icarus stirred from the warm bed that had been fixed in the corner of the kitchen for the dog. After watching Finley, the animal crawled under the table and lay his head over the young woman’s boots. Finley reached down and scratched a long ear and patted it’s head. “Can Icarus have one of those croissants on the counter?”

“Nope, but I’ve got a warm biscuit with his name on it I’ve been saving.” Ruth opened the oven and removed the aluminum foil from the large, bacon stuffed bread and handed it to Finley.

“Thanks, that’s better than a croissant, and bacon too,” she smiled and broke the biscuit into before holding it out to the scrappy animal. “Here you go Icarus. Ruth makes the best biscuits. Look fellow, it’s full of bacon.” She bent down to allow the dog to gulp the morsel in one bit. However, the dog was careful not to snap or touch the outstretched hand. Finley patted the dog on the head and scratched its ears before she handed it the other half of the savory treat.

“Both Andrea and Fletcher have told me I’ll spoil that mutt, but I can’t help it. He’s the scruffiest thing I’ve ever seen.” Ruth wadded up the aluminum and tossed in the trashcan next to the stove.

“I know what you mean Ruth. He just seems to worm his way into your heart. He’s the best walking companion I’ve ever had. Doesn’t expect to carry on a conversation and will gladly chase any stick I might happen to toss for him.” The young woman continued to scratch the head of the animal that stood patiently next to her chair. “You go back to that nice warm bed fellow. I need to get on with my chores and now I have to go potty and wash my hands before I get back to it.” Finley patted Icarus’s head once more as she stood up. The dog waited until she had left the large kitchen then trotted over to its' bed and lay down.

Finley returned and poured a cup of tea from the pot Ruth had brewed for her earlier and took a few sips before she sat back down at the table to continue her volunteer chores. She heard everyone who came into the billet and always looked up eagerly to see if it might be Fletcher. Each time the phone rang on the cook’s desk, she strained to hear and waited to be summoned to take a call.

She had long finished the potatoes and apples, and had made lemonade as Andrea had taught her. Ruth showed her how to fill the large coffee urn with water and pop in a new canister of pre-measured coffee in the top, and flip the perk switch and even allowed her to remove the dishes and utensils from the parks large dishwasher. Finley only broke one cup as she stacked them on the shelf, and received a tish-tish from Ruth, followed by a smile and a “I broke two my first day here. Don’t worry about it.” She chatted with Ruth off an on, but keep hoping to hear from the tall park director. Even Lira’s quick pop in for a cup of coffee didn’t lift her spirits, although she felt better from the short visit with the biologist.

By the end of the day her nerves were raw, but there’d been no sign of Fletcher. The young paleontologist chastised herself all afternoon for caring, but the first thing she did when she got in her quarters was to check the answering machine for messages. There were none.

Neither did she call during the evening. By the time Finley climbed into bed, she was so exhausted that she fell into a deep sleep, but it was punctuated by tormenting dreams that kept her in a state of turmoil. Frightening dreams whose content she couldn’t remember the next morning, and frankly, she wasn’t sure she wanted to recall the dreams.

Fletcher didn’t contact her at work the next day, either, and to ease another evening of turmoil, she went out to dinner and a movie with Lira. When she got home around ten o’clock, the little light was blinking on her answering machine, but whoever had called hadn’t left a message. She turned off the machine and took a shower, then curled up in bed and cried herself to sleep.

That night there were no dreams, and she woke up feeling better.

There was no sign of Fletcher the third day, either, but Finley had given up hoping, so she wasn’t as disappointed. It was long past time to get herself together and stop moping.

The park director had made it clear, she wasn’t pleased with Finley’s behavior and Andrea had mentioned earlier in the day, that she had gone upstate again, in hopes to rectify some problem with the old medicine man and his family. Finley hung her head and cut the carrots up as she had been shown.

In the afternoon, Jamison had taken her to see Maggie, who had been made it clear that she wasn’t to do any hiking for at least two more weeks-another delay. But Maggie didn’t know about the incident at the park, and Finley wasn’t going to tell her there might not be any hiking-especially if Fletcher’s persuasive powers couldn’t convince the old man and his family to allow them access to the site. She was sorry for her outburst, but still angry with Fletcher for not informing her of the restrictions.

Jamison had stopped at a Mexican restaurant on their way back to the park so Finley could pick up some carry out for dinner. Lira had a meeting she had to attend, and the kitchen would be closed by the time she returned. She had just finished eating when the phone rang. It startled her so that she dropped her teacup in the saucer and broke them both. So much for her ability to remain detached about Fletcher Bucannan.

She reached for the telephone on the nightstand, and her hand shook as she said, “Hello.”

“Finley, it’s Fletcher,” her tone was tense.

Her hand tightened on the phone, but she took time to breathe before she answered. “Yes, Fletcher?”

She was pleased to note that, in spite of her trembling hands, she sounded cool and collected.

Fletcher was anything but calm. She’d put off calling her until the strain began affecting her work, and now she was a mass of jangled nerves.

“I need to talk to you. Would it be inconvenient for me to come over now?”

Finley hesitated so long that she had to bite her lip to keep from shouting at her.

“Just what do you want to talk to me about?”

The muscles in her stomach knotted. Could she really be as unaffected as she sounded? “I think you know,” Fletcher said gently. “I owe you an apology.”

Again she hesitated. “You don’t owe me anything, Fletcher. I shouldn’t have behaved in that manner or spoken that way either.”

It was all Fletcher could do to keep her voice from shaking. “Look Finley, I’m not going to argue with you on the phone. I’m coming over there. Please wait up for me.”

She hung up before Finley could answer and hurried out to the SUV. It was snowing again, and Fletcher slid back and forth on the parking lot as she gave the vehicle to much gas. This irritation and frustration she felt towards Finley was tearing her apart. She had to apologize before it drove her stark, raving mad.

Finley went through the motions of straightening up the small quarters, picking up the broken tea cup and saucer, and combed her hair, in a daze made up of part excitement and part dread.

What did Fletcher want of her? She’d said she owed her an apology, but she didn’t want her to feel she owed her anything. An apology meant nothing if the tall woman was just going through the motions.

For the first time since Sunday she made the effort to really look at herself in the minor. The anguish she’d been suffering had taken its toll on her. Even with makeup, she couldn’t hide the dark circles under her eyes or the lines of strain around her mouth. Even her hair had lost some of its spring and hung limply on her ears.

She picked up her brush and ran it vigorously through the thick, dark locks. She wasn’t going to appear at the door looking like a deserted waif. That would bring out Fletcher’s protective instincts and she’d feel sorry for her.

Pity was the last thing she wanted from the older woman, and she’d be darned if she was going to let her think she couldn’t get along without her, or that she cared one tidily bit about being chastised by the park director.

She sighed as she brushed the shine back into her hair. It would be a lot easier to convince Fletcher of that than it would be to convince herself.

Finley had been practicing breathing exercises and reviewed her assertiveness training for fifteen minutes by the time Fletcher tapped gently on the door. This time she wasn’t going to let her reduce her to a quivering mass of runaway emotions. She’d be sociable, friendly up to a point, but if Fletcher Bucannan wanted more than that she’d have to make the moves.

She unhooked the chain, opened the door, and said, “Come in, Fletcher,” in a clear, crisp voice that gave no hint of her inner turmoil.

The tall woman removed her hat as she walked in, but this time she’d been careful to step back far enough that there was no chance of them accidentally touching. For a moment, the ranger just stood there looking at her with such an anxious expression, it nearly broke Finley’s heart. “I’m sorry if I’ve come at a bad time,” she said in that sometimes-gentle tone of hers. “Were you going out?”

Finley had worn an Armani outfit to see Maggie, as she hadn’t gotten around to washing any of her casual clothes, and she hadn’t bothered to change when she got back to the guest quarters.

“No, I’m not going out,” she said as she moved on into the small sitting area “Would you like some hot tea, or maybe a soda?”

Fletcher shook her head. “No, thank you. Could we sit down?”

The park director motioned toward the sofa, but Finley headed for the occasional chair. “Yes, of course,” she said as she seated herself, leaving the small couch to the tall woman.

Fletcher lowered herself onto it and sighed. “Finley, I don’t blame you for being mad at me. I was way out of line with some of the things I said to you the other day. I’m sorry-”

“I’m not mad at you,” she interrupted, “and you were right to be angry. I shouldn’t have been so officious with Miss Keystone. It’s really none of my business what arrangements you’ve made about their cabin, and I should have remembered the outlined stipulations with Dr. Eckersley for the original site visit.”

The ranger leaned forward and raked her fingers through her hair in that endearing gesture she knew so well. “Finley, under different circumstances, there would have been nothing wrong with your wanting some say in the site exploration.”

Finley clasped her bands in her lap to stop herself from reaching out to Fletcher. “Obviously there was or you wouldn’t have gotten so upset. I--I guess I never learned how to be tactful. I’ve lived on sites all my life and never considered anybody a stranger, or my ability to handle any site or persons as questionable. I’ve always been open as--as pea-pie and nobody’s ever objected before, but I must have seemed meddlesome and grasping to you, and I’m sure Miss Keystone must consider me the rudest, most stubborn person alive.”

“No.” It sounded like a cross between a moan and an oath. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re one of the most intelligent, mindful, and methodical individual I’ve ever known. Don’t blame yourself for my shortcomings. I’m the one who’s so heavy-handed and dictatorial.”

She shook her head. “You’re not at fault, Fletcher. You’re cautious about things and good-natured, and all you’ve ever asked of me is that I respect your authority here. You manage millions of acres, and hundreds of people, and you know what’s best for the park and the site. I didn’t mean to push my wanting my way on you, but that’s what I was doing and I’m sorry-”

Before she could finish, Fletcher jumped up and turned away from her. “Finley! Don’t!” Each word was a cry of torment as she bent forward and crossed hers arms over her waist.

“Do you want children, Fletcher?”

“WHAT?” The tall woman gasped as she spun around and stared at Finley.

“I ask you if you wanted children?” Finley asked again, trying as hard as she could to keep her voice steady.

She hung her head and swallowed the knot in her throat that had formed too late to keep her from speaking out and making a fool of herself with her question to Fletcher. There was no sound from the tall woman. She was probably as embarrassed as she was.

Then she felt her fingers under her chin lifting her face up to her. She tried to resist, but Fletcher put her hands on either side of her head and tilted it so she was looking at her. Her expression was grim, but hers eyes were filled with tenderness. “Finley, are you deliberately trying to drive me straight out of my mind?”

Finley realized that she’d made a whopping blunder. She never should have brought up the subject of children. At least not until she’d had time to plan how she’d present it to the tall woman-at a more suitable time. Perhaps, when her previous rudeness and insolence with Haithe, and the site issues had been resolved-Oh, hell, when will I ever learn to keep my mouth shut?

Finley shrugged and moved forward a little.

Fletcher’s eyes were hard as flint. “I’m not in the mood for games, Finley.”

Her heart fluttered, and for a moment she felt a rush of fear. Then she stiffened her spine. “Nor am I. This isn’t a game, Fletcher Bucannan. It’s something far more serious.”

“Yes. I’m glad you realize that.” She made the mistake of relaxing her hand, intent upon stepping back a pace so the shorter woman could breathe. Fletcher realized too late that the Finley had no intention of allowing her any space.

Finley leaned into her, her breasts brushing the tall woman’s chest. Did she know what she was doing to her? Even with her jacket on she could feel Finley’s breasts through her clothes. All the air seemed to leave Fletcher’s lungs.

“What do you think you’re doing now, Finley?”

“I want you to make love with me, Fletcher.”

Her bold words had Fletcher’s jaw dropping. “You want me to just toss you down on the bed and take you?”

She placed a finger to hers lips to silence her words. “You won’t be taking. I’ll be giving. There is a difference.”

When Fletcher opened her mouth to issue a protest, Finley dipped her finger inside. Fletcher muttered an oath. And felt her world begin to tilt dangerously. She closed a hand over her shoulder to steady herself. “You don’t know what you’re doing, Finley.”

“I know exactly what I’m doing.”

Fletcher stared down into her eyes and thought she could read all the love, all the longing that matched her own, but instead of surrendering to her natural impulse, she straightened to her full height. Her tone hardened. “I only came to apologize for my harsh words, and tell you arrangements have been reached with the old medicine man and his family. His cabin can be used, and the site can be explored, but not dishonored. I’ve agreed to their terms, and if you don’t think you can comply with them, the site will be sealed, and you’ll be free to return to New York.” The tall woman spun around on her heels, snatched her hat from the sofa and left the room without saying another word.

Immediately after closing the door, Fletcher pressed her body into the wall next to the door, her head spinning. Oh Sky Mother! Give me strength-I need you to give me strength.

Finley dropped to her knees on the other side of door, gave a long shuddering sigh as tears filled her eyes. “You’ll undoubtedly have beautiful children, but I’m not sure it will be with me.”

It was to be another long night-for both women.

***

The next morning, Finley explained the situation involving the site and her part in the calamity. Dr. Eckersley was somewhat stunned to hear of her rudeness and determination in being the controlling factor in the sites evaluation. He knew she was strong-willed, but never suspected she’d allow her personal traits to interfere with the best interest of the find.

After discussing many aspect of the situation, his first inclination in sending Finley to the Adirondacks was confirmed. All his instincts told him, she was meant to be there, yet he had to allow her to come to her own decision about staying. “You are certainly the right person for this job, Finley,” he deliberately slowed his speech. “But you need to ask yourself if you can act in accordance with the stipulations that have been agreed upon and comply with them to the letter, or--” this time he deliberately stopped his summation.

“Or what, Dr. Eckersley?”

“Or pack up your things and come home.” He sat back in his office- cushioned chair and slowly swiveled the padded seat, only to stop and placed his feet on top of the desk--and waited.

After a long pause, “I am home.” Finley whispered, trying desperately to understand her words.

“I thought as much.” He sat upright and removed his feet from the desk corner. Ah-an unresolved personal conflict can have ramifications that far exceed the immediate conflict. Hmm, Finley my sweet child, I believe your immediate conflict is probably the reason for the unresolved personal conflict. “My dear, unfamiliarity to certain cultures and people gives rise to many misunderstandings.” Hendrick’s voice was kind and gentle as he smiled warmly at the thought of Finley’s personal dilemma.

“You may be right there, Dr. Eckersley. Their customs are even stranger than some of my own. I can understand about something being sacred, but placing so much emphasis on secrecy-well, I’m somewhat clueless.”

“How about your own maternal family’s secrecy in burials, and chants, Finley?” He asked, hoping to stimulate her mutual understanding of her grandmother’s beliefs and how sacred she held them, even to the privacy of practicing some of the customs still.

“Professor Eckersley, our Arabic customs can be mysterious and secretive, I agree, but…”

“Then consider the Seneca folklore and customs, Finley. This is the opportunity for you to learn specific skills in communication, cooperative resolution of issues and problems with Fletcher and the Seneca way of life. It can also strengthen relationships--how to become more intimate based on mutual understanding and trust. That’s what it’ll take here, Finley. And I know you can make yourself clear about recognizing the issues involved, and be trusted by the Weahan’s family and by Fletcher Bucannan.”

“I want that,” she said, “I want that very much.”

“May I suggest, you process your thoughts, come to a clean understanding of how you are going to conduct yourself and then go talk to Fletcher.”

“She did leave an opening,” she responded.

“Then go meditate and allow your inner consciousness to be your guide. Whatever you decide about the site, coming back or staying remains with you.” He said gently, as he stood up.

“Thank you for having confidence in me, Professor. I’ll call you back once I’ve come to a decision.” She said slowly and hung up the telephone.

***

Finley has spent all the previous evening, and most of the morning relaxing after long periods of meditation. She stood at the window watching the falling snow, still reflecting upon her thoughts, which also echoed her fears. “Yes, I have reservations concerning those fears,” she muttered to the frosted windowpane. “But the alternative isn’t acceptable.” Finley turned, grabbed her coat and headed for door.

As she passed through the kitchen area, Icarus jumped out of his bed and trotted beside his newfound friend. “You want to walk over to the headquarters building with me, boy?” She reached down and patted the scruffy head. “I’m taking Icarus with me Ruth. We’ll be back to help with dinner.” Finley flipped her hood onto her head as she walked out the door and waited for the park’s adopted pet to trot through.

“Take your time, child. We’re having a casserole, stuffed potatoes, and broccoli cornbread, but you can help with the iced tea and coffee.” Ruth waved a dishcloth at the departing paleontologist.

“Come on fellow,” she said, slipping on her gloves, then took hold of the handrail and carefully made her way down the steps. “Don’t jump on me Icarus, I’m not all that sturdy on me feet and I don’t need the ribs re-injured.” Her hand went down to rub the mutt’s head again.

As she came around the corner of the building, she spotted the tall Park Director getting out of her vehicle and head into the building. Finley’s stopped, but her eyes followed Fletcher until she disappeared behind the front door of the park’s main facility.

“My stomach is starting to do the dive bomber thing, Icarus.” She wiped the snow from her face. “Bet you’ve never had dive bombers, huh, boy?” Finley patted the scruffy head and walked towards the office. “Come on fellow, might as well get this over with.”

A few minutes later, Jamison tapped softly on Fletcher’s open door. “You have a few minutes, Chief? Finley is here to see you.” She asked, sticking her head around the doorframe.

Fletcher replaced the telephone to the stand and sat back in her executives’ chair. “Yeah. Ask her to come in, and close the door after her Jamison. I’ll only be a few minutes, but hold my calls, please.”

The smaller woman entered the room, her hooded parka across her arm. “Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to see me, Fletcher. I’ll try to be brief.”

“S’kay. Please, have a seat.” Fletcher motioned to the armchairs across from her.

Finley placed the damp coat on the extra chair and crossed her ankles after she sat down.

“I’ve discussed it with Dr. Eckersley, and with your permission, I’d very much like to stay and complete my evaluation of the site.” Finley said, trying desperately to read what she saw in Fletcher’s eyes. Their dark depths were obscure, and the even darker shadows under the orbs made it impossible to read anything in them, except for a sadden expression she thought she glimpsed.

Fletcher was excellent at reading people; she considered it one of her finer tuned personal traits. Even when disagreements are grounded in substantive issues, there is a layer of emotion that can obscure the basic conflict, she thought, and Finley was undoubtedly covering her basic conflict in order to evaluate the site. The Park Director’s was on shaky ground herself, especially when it came to acknowledging her personal feeling for the young woman. Must be strictly professional. Can’t be anything personal with her-not right now. Why Fletcher? Are you afraid? You damn right, I’m afraid-this woman goes way beyond reaching my heart; she tugs at my very soul. “Do you have a reason for wanting to stay on here, Finley? The specifications governing the site are very rigid. They leave no room for any negotiations of any kind, and that doesn’t seem to follow your previous agenda.” Fletcher subtly, but firmly conveyed the message.

“I know I’ve behaved badly and allowed my personal emotions to overrule my professionalism. It won’t happen again. Your message was clear, combined with the fact that there will be negative consequences to the park, I will comply with any and all requirements the family have set for the site.”

“I’m not sure that I believe you, Finley. You said before that you--”

“When I give my word, Fletcher, I’d sooner die than break it. I give you my word of honor; I’ll not cause problems. I have two reasons for wanting to complete the evaluation of this site, two very important reasons.”

“Well--” The tall woman waited, trying not to seem anxious, but inside she was tied in knots.

Finley swallowed her pride and continued to explain. “First, this find is truly the scientific discovery of the century. Its existence explains much about the missing evolution data of the species, and development into flying birds. Furthermore, they existed in this area also, not just in China answers another different scientific avenue that wasn’t considered previously-migration or global habitation. This data is much more important to the field of paleontology than anything in the last two hundred years, and needs to be presented, in whatever manner allowed, for further study and research. Needless to say, I want to be the paleontologist doing the work here, and I don’t want to be excluded because of my personal ‘agenda’,” Finley stated her facts calmly, but her insides were anything but calm.

Fletcher’s gazed steadily, silently acknowledging the sincerity she felt from the young woman.

The room was silent, a very uncomfortable silence.

The only sounds were the forced breathing of the women.

Fletcher continued to wait for Finley to give her second reason.

There was only silence.

When Fletcher finally spoke, her throat was dry and her voice rough with an unexpected ache, that seem to be rising from her lower extremities. “You stated two reasons--”

Finley’s eyes dropped. So did her eyes. “The second is personal.”

“Personal?”

The paleontologist’s eyes lifted and settled on the Fletcher’s. “I don’t want anyone to think that I can’t personally handle a difficult situation, or perform my duties under strenuous circumstances. It’s a matter of pride.”

“I see--Pride.” Fletcher’s eyes never left Finley’s.

“No, not just pride, Fletcher, it’s a matter of honor with me, and--” she lowered her voice. “It’s private-some personal feelings I need to deal with.”

“We’re on sensitive ground here Finley. We need to keep it--”

“You don’t need to have further concerns. I won’t place you in that situation again.” Finley shook her head from side to side as she spoke.

Fletcher raised her eyes to Finley’s, whose expression was oddly penitent, but the park director did not speak. Fletcher began to swivel in her executives’ chair, apparently trying to reach a decision.

Only the squeaking swivel of the chair broke the silence.

Finley uncrossed her ankles and drew her feet back to touch the bottom of the chair. Her hands gripped the end of the armrests tightly.

Fletcher stopped swiveling, leaned forward and folder her arms on top of her desk. “Very well. I do expect you to cooperate by following instructions, and only those instructions, Finley. Nothing more"

“To the letter.” Finley let out a breath she didn’t realize she was holding.

“You’ll be staying at Weahan’s at night and visiting the site during the day via snowmobile. Jamison will probably be with you most days, but she has responsibilities at night, so I’ll probably spend most nights with you. I’ll get one of the other female rangers to stay with you on nights that I can’t.” Fletcher said.

“What ever you believe is best.”

“Okay then. We’ll work out the rest of the arrangements long before Maggie releases you to do any serious walking. We’ll rig some sort of tether rope to get up and down at the site. In the mean time, you might want to visit the warehouse and see if there is anything there you will need at the overhang.” She stood up and halfway smiled at the smaller woman, who slowly stood. “Finley, I’m glad we could come to an understanding. I do know how much this find means, even if it can’t be removed and housed in your fancy museum.”

“It will prove invaluable anyway we can use it.” Her smile was genuine. At least I have some time to work out us, Fletcher.

“I see you have a walking buddy now. He sure seems to have taken to you, and that is quite the compliment. Usually, Icarus is really choosey about who ruffles his head.” Her words eased the tension as she opened the door for Finley.

“He’s a beautiful animal, even if he isn’t a purebred.” The dog rose up from the corner near the coat-rack and trotted over to stand beside Finley. “Guess he heard us talking about him.” She patted his head and started to put on her coat.

Fletcher reached over and helped her with the parka. “You need someone to walk back with you? The snow is really coming down.”

“No thanks, Icarus and I will be fine.” Finley turned and looked at the Park Director. “I’m glad we were able to come to an agreement. Thank you Fletcher.”

“So am I, and you’re welcome.” Fletcher opened the door for the young woman and closed it gently behind her. She watched the paleontologist and scruffy animal maneuver the steps and head off in the direction of the kitchen. When she turned around, the Park Director noticed all eyes were watching her intensely. “What?” She barked at the rangers. “People, if you don’t have anything to do, I’m sure I can find something for you up on Bald Mountain’s snowed-in ranger look-out tower.” Eight rangers became suddenly busy with previous activities. When she entered her office and shut the door, she heard the occupants of the outer office burst into laughter.

“Nothing to laugh about people. Absolutely nothing.” She leaned back against the door and closed her eyes slowly. That took courage, Finley. Real courage.

***

When Finley had left the Headquarters office, she was quite excited. She was grateful further excavation of the site could occur, even in its limited capacity. Dr. Eckersley would be delighted, if not ecstatic, that, she had curved her attitude and agreed to the conditions Fletcher had proposed. How much better to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner, even if it meant she wouldn’t have full control as she previously had with other excavations.

“Oh Icarus, that wasn’t so bad, was it? And Fletcher was thoughtful and considerate even if she did cop an attitude a couple of times. I can live with that, and it’ll give us time together.” She reached down and fluffed some of the snow off the dogs back.

I’ll also get to be alone at night in that cabin with her. Who knows, anything could happen, she thought to herself and blushed at the same time. Anything. Wow! That caused my lower parts to fire up. Glad no one can see my face right now, she chuckled. It was a good feeling and she was looking forward to the next step in her life.

Finley and Icarus had played in the snow for a while, before she called out to the dog. “Okay, Boy, that’s it for me. My side is killing me and I need to go in. Come on fellow, I’ll see if I can get Ms. Ruth to give you a bowl of something hot.” She tromped toward the billet as the dog jumped back and forth in front of her.

Climbing the steps, she taped each one to loosen some of the snow on her boots. But she still went to the mat to the right of the door and stomped several times to get the residue of loose snow off before she entered the kitchen. Ruth had just turned the big coffee urn switch on, and turned to see Finley came in.

“You look very happy, young lady.” She smiled at Finley, who stood aside so Icarus could come in.

“Ruth, if I just won the Nobel prize I wouldn’t be any happier than I am right now.” She responded.

“I’m taking it that your meeting with Fletcher went well then?”

She removed her coat and draped it over a chair. “It went very well, and we’re back on track. I promised Icarus I’d beg for a bowl of something hot for him. We’ve been romping in the snow and even I’m a bit chilled.” Her pleading expression was priceless, and the older woman couldn’t help but laugh.

“You and that dog could charm anything you want, but you know that already.” She walked over to the stove and opened the oven. “All I have is another bacon-biscuit, unless you want to open up a can of something for him.” She reached in with a dishtowel and removed the biscuit and laid it on the stovetop and carefully unwrapped it.

“A biscuit, boy…she’s got a nice hot treat,” Findley said and patted the dogs head. As if on command, the dog walked over and sat down in front of the woman, who broke the biscuit in half and handed it to the animal. Two seconds later, Icarus’s long pink tongue was out and licking its mouth. Ruth tossed the remaining part to the dog, which caught it in mid air. “Okay fellow that’s all there is until dinner, now either go to your box.”

“Thanks Ms. Ruth, but if it’s alright, I wouldn’t mind his company in my quarters for awhile. I have to make some conference calls and he can lay on the rug in front of the fire until I come back to help you.”

“That’s fine with me Finley, that mutt follows you as if you had adopted it.” She went to the sink and washed her hands. “You needn’t to hurry back. I won’t be starting the main course for another hour at least.”

“Okay, I’ll be back soon as I can. Come on Icraus, I hear a nice hot fire calling us.” She headed towards the hallway with the dog close behind.

***

Fletcher signed the last document, placed it back in the folder and stood up. As she entered the main office, she motioned for her assistant to take the paperwork. “You need to get those schedules posted before three, Corporal Banks. Then telephone the warehouse that Dr. Jorgensen will be coming over there to look around in the next day or so.” She reached back in her office and took her coat from the rack beside her door and started putting it on.

“Jamison, the roads on the north side of the mountain have been closed for three days, but call the security teams to check the gates any ways.” She reached for her hat and started for the door.

“On it Chief,” Jamison waved a hand as she headed to the master control panel to make the radio calls.

“Maintenance has the chopper warming up, I’m going to check out that television crew at The Meadows. I told them I didn’t want them filming after three because there might be problems with getting back to town, so I’ll be gone for about an hour. I’ll keep in touch by radio in case there is a problem over there.” She closed the main office door behind her and shivered a little at the zesty wind as she stepped onto the porch.

The tall ranger tugged her hat into place and zipped up her jacket as she headed to her vehicle. The snow had almost stopped, and only a few flakes were swirling around from the wind. As she reached her SUV, a woman almost as tall as she was approached her.

“Excuse me, aren’t you Chief Bucannan?” The robust woman asked, as she extended her gloved hand to the Park Director.

“Some call me that, but the title is actually Park Director.” She shook the woman’s extended hand.

“I thought so, think we met a couple years ago over at Tabor’s. My name’s Burley Morgan and I’m looking for a job.” She put her gloved hands back into the short jacket.

“Yes, if I’m not mistaken, you were the short order cook over there.” She nodded her head in remembrance of their meeting. “I sure miss that place since the old man died, and Mrs. Tabor moved off to Mississippi after she sold it. To nice a place to become a shoe store. The food was always great.”

“Yeah, so do I. The Tabors are really good people. I worked there for almost seven years before it closed.” Her grin became bigger. “I understood from a couple of your firefighters that were in the Blue Bell Diner last month that you might have a cook’s job open out here.” Her lopsided grin was friendly, and Fletcher instantly liked the rather robust woman.

“Thought we had one, but he didn’t work out. Yes, we do have an opening. The help wanted ad has been posted for a week now.” Fletcher grabbed her hat to keep it from blowing off.

“Well, Chief Bucannan, I ain’t no certified cook or nothing like that.” Her hand came out of her pocket to wipe the snowflakes from her face. “But I’ve been short order cooking since I was sixteen and making my own way.” She placed her hand back into the pocket. “I’ve been round about this area for close to ten years. Like I said, I was with the Tabors until they closed, and I’ve worked pretty regularly at the Blue Bell since then, well--up until two weeks ago.” She stopped grinning and a frown appeared. “Harry Cobley’s brother-in-law got canned from the Boudreaux Sawmill and his wife pitched a fit for him to put him on, so he had to let me go. Said he sure didn’t want too, but his wife just went on and on about it, so I’ve been out looking.” Burley looked slightly embarrassed by her predicament.

“Can you prepare a variety of meals for particular folks, three times a day, year round?” Fletcher asked and pulled her hat down again.

“I ain’t no chef and I can’t do no fancy cooking, Chief, but I can cook most anything on a simple menu and make it pretty tasty,” her lopsided grin returned.

“Hmm,” Fletcher shifted her weight, and leaned against her vehicle. “We have had an ad for a cook for awhile now, since our cook went off to firefighter’s school. The position of cook’s assistant is vacant also, and hasn’t been filled in almost two months. When he heard the cook was leaving, he quit and moved to Buffalo, or someplace to go to truck drivers school.”

“Well, I’d be willing to try the assistant’s job. Chief, I’ll give you a full days work and always be on time. I get along well with everyone. I don’t drink, curse, smoke or chew.” Burley’s grin turned into a smile. “But,” she patted her stomach, “As you can see I do have one bad habit.”

Fletcher couldn’t keep from chuckling with the woman. “Burley, we are all entitled to a few habits.”

“Been putting mine on for a few years now-been trying to keep it below two hundred, but I ain’t always able to do that, especially since I like to make pies.” She grinned.

“You have your State Health Certificate with you?”

“Sure do, Chief. It’s in my truck there,” her thumb pointed to the old truck across the parking lot. She noticed the Park Director looking at the exhaust from the back of the truck. “Sorry about the fumes, but I wasn’t sure I could get her started again if I turned her off in this cold weather.”

“Temperamental, huh?” Fletcher inspected her features, noticing a three-inch scar on the left side of her face close to the hairline. “Well, Burley-Excuse me, but is Burley your legal name?”

The stout woman began to fidget, and hung her head. “My Christian name is Beatrice,” she mumbled, barely audible.

Fletcher leaned forward, “Excuse me, I didn’t catch that.”

“It’s Beatrice, Chief Bucannan. My mother named me Beatrice. Everyone in school teased me about my name, and when my folks died in that car crash,” her hand went to the scar, “And when I got out of the hospital, I took off on my own and decided I’d use my grandfather’s name, Burley.”

Fletcher didn’t have to ask about the scar, or if she received it in a fight. She pretty much felt that Burley would make a good addition to the park, but she’d let her mother and Ruth decide on her qualifications after her last choice turned out poorly. “Well, Burley, if you’re willing to go up to the kitchen, for a one meal tryout, then you can drive your truck up to the main quarters, and give it a shot.” She directed the stocky woman towards the kitchen. “You can park your truck in front of the kitchen, or in the parking lot behind the billet. Mother and Ruth can check you out, and if they say you can handle the job, you can move into the cook’s quarters tonight.”

“Why, that’d be great, Chief. I don’t know how to thank you.” She extended her hand again and shook Fletcher’s vigorously. “I’ll get right on up there,” she stopped and turned back to face Fletcher. “Chief,” she lowered her voice.

Fletcher removed her hand from the door handle, and waited.

“There is one other thing I need to tell you,” she looked directly at Fletcher. “I have a record.”

Fletcher waited for her explanation.

“It was back when I was eighteen. I did almost a year in county lock-up.”

The taller woman raised her hat back on her head a little and rubbed her forehead. “You aren’t wanted for anything now are you?”

“No ma’am. I ain’t never been in trouble since then.”

“You did your time,” Fletcher shrugged her shoulders, “Doesn’t matter now.”

“I wanted you to know,” she kicked the snow with her boot. “I try to be honest, chief, and I didn’t want it to come up someplace down the road and me not have told you.”

“Okay, you told me. You still have a shot at the job if you want it.” Fletcher said.

“You bet I do. Thanks again, Chief,” she stuck her hand out again and Fletcher shook it.

“Burley, you didn’t have to tell me anything, and I appreciate that. But if you don’t mind me asking,” she let Burley’s hand go, “what did you do the year for?”

“Assault and battery,” she said, and began kicking at the snow again.

Fletcher raised one eyebrow and looked at the woman questionably.

“Not what you might be thinking, Chief Bucannan. I’d been working at this greasy spoon for about six months. The night shift manager kept asking me out. The man was married, had three or four kids and another one on the way. I didn’t want nothing to do with him and told him that dozen’s of times. Chief, I didn’t look like this when I was eighteen. I had curves and was a pretty fair to look at. After we closed up one night and was cleaning up, he had been drinking and the next thing I know he had his pants down and was trying to get my skirt up.” Her eyes again went to the ground where she had kicked the snow into a pile and had tapped it flat. “I laid him out with a cast iron frying pan,” she shrugged.

“He deserved it, so why did you get time for that, even if it was your word against his?” Fletcher leaned against her vehicle.

“I didn’t stop with one smack. I clobbered him three times and split his head open.” Burley looked up at Fletcher, who only shook her head.

“Remind me to never back you into a corner Burley,” she said kidding.

“Learned my lesson. In county several women taught me how to put my knee in just the right place, so I don’t use iron skillets no more,” she grinned.

“Good for you,” she nodded and opened the door to her SUV. “That it?”

“Yeah, just laying out everything. I’ll get on up to the kitchen,” she grinned again.

Burley turned towards her truck, then stopped just as quickly. Slowly she turned back to Fletcher, who was about to slid into her vehicle when the stout woman coughed. “Chief, did I hear you right, the cook’s assistant get some kind of-of quarters?”

“Yep, both the cook and cook assistant get free living facilities if they want them. If this trial meal works out, Mom can show you where you can move your things into.” Fletcher again started to get into her vehicle, but straightened up. “Burley, you need to understand, there is a ninety day probation period. If you make it though the meal, I’ll discuss the benefits and requirements tomorrow.”

“Thanks Chief Bucannan, I’ll be talking to you tomorrow,” she chuckled and quickly walked to her running truck.

“Lord, I hope she works out, Mom and Ruth have been on my back for a week.” She cranked the SUV and headed to the helipad. This was one day that did get better and better, she smiled to herself and turned on the radio to her favorite station.

***

Burley parked her old truck in the back parking lot. No need to take up a place in front of the billet, she didn’t mind the walk around the two story building, and she was going to go to work. She stopped at the kitchen door, and stepped over to the side and stomped several times to get the snow off of them. A big grin covered her face as she entered the large kitchen, because sitting at the table cutting up carrots was Ruth Swanson.

“Hello Ms. Ruth,” the robust woman grinned and approached the large table.

“Why land-a-goshen, it Burley Morgan.” She lay the knife down in the bowl, wiped her hands off, stood up and opened her arms to the woman. After a tight hug and several pats Ruth shook her head in disbelief. “Let me look at you child, I haven’t seen you since last year at the state fair.” She inspected her features, satisfied the woman was fairing well.

“Same old me, only maybe a few pounds heavier,” her smile was like a beam of light, warm and friendly. “You’re looking really good yourself, Ms. Ruth.

“Oh, you,” she patted Burley’s forearm. “Take off your coat, young lady, and come have a cup of coffee and let us catch up on everything.”

“I’ll take off my coat, but we’ll need to have that coffee while we work.”

“What? You’re coming to work here? Burley, that’s wonderful.” She hugged the woman again. “Fletcher finally found a decent cook. Now I can get back to my quilting and making my fall preserve,” she exclaimed, her face shown with delight as the prospects of getting back to her own life and activities

“I’m here for one trial meal, Ms. Ruth, as the assistant cook. Chief Bucannan said if you and Dr. Bucannan approved of me, then I could stay.” Burley removed her coat and looked around for a coat rack.

“Put it on the rack inside the office door,” she took Burley by the arm and walked her to the door next to the storeroom. “This will be your office, and -Did you say assistant cook?” She stopped as she opened the door.

“The Chief said you had two openings, and I told her I’d be happy to try out for the assistant cook position. I don’t know if I qualify for the cook’s job.” She hung the coat on the rack and turned back to her old friend.

“Well, it’s settled then, I’ll call Andrea to get right over here. We’ll make that decision about this right now,” she picked up the phone and dialed the medical facility. “She’ll be right here. Now you go through those doors right there wash your hands, I’ll find you an apron for you.” She pushed Burley towards the hallway.

“Thank you Ms. Ruth, I really appreciate this. I’ll be right back.” She pushed the hallway door open and spotted the women’s restroom.

When Burley came out a few minutes later, Andrea and Ruth were sitting at the table drinking coffee. True to her word, a large white apron and chef’s hat was neatly folded on the end of the table, and a cup of coffee was sitting next to the apparel.

“Hello Burley, so good to see you again.” Andrea stood up and received the same big hug that Ruth had minutes before.

“Same here Dr. Bucannan. I told Ms. Ruth that Chief Bucannan was giving me a trial meal. It has to meet both of your approval if I’m to stay on as the assistant cook.”

“Sit down Burley and let us have a cup of coffee and chat a few minutes.” Andrea sat back down at the table and picked up her cup. “Ruth and I have already talked, we know your qualifications, and have eaten your food, and you have yourself a job-but not as the assistant cook,” Andrea said, taking a long sip of the hot beverage.

Burley’s face dropped in disbelief. “Thanks,” she said, “Thanks to the both of you.” She picked up her cup, but sat it back down again. “Uh-excuse me,” she said to the two women that were grinning from ear to ear. “You said I had the job, but not as the assistant cook?” Burley looked confused.

“That’s right Burley, you aren’t the assistant cook. You are now officially the head cook.” Ruth lifted her cup as if it was an everyday occurrence.

Burley looked from one woman to the other, and hung her head to keep the women from seeing the water that was accumulating in her eyes.

“I’ll call Fletcher and tell her what we’ve decided. She will have to give the final say, Burley, but she did leave it up to us when we agreed to do this on a temporary basis. She’ll want you to fill out paperwork, which I have right here in this folder,” she slid the manila folder over to cup of the surprised woman. “And Ruth here can show you your quarters, that is, if you want to live here at the park.”

“This is a godsend, and yes ma’am, I’d love to live here. Thank you so much. Thank you both for doing this for me.” She wiped her eyes with the napkin next to the mug and lifted the cup carefully to her lips as her hand shook a little.

“You’re welcome, Burley. Both Andrea and I have eaten your food many times at Tabor’s and you’re more than qualified to do the job.”

“That’s right, and don’t worry about Fletcher. I’ll hang around until you fill out the paperwork and walk it up to the office before I go back to facility.” She got up and went to the coffeepot. “Either of you want more coffee?”

“None for me Andrea, I’ve about ready to float as it is.” Ruth smiled and pushed her cup forward on the table.

“No thank Dr. Bucannan. I drink mine slowly and this will last me awhile,” she raised the mug towards the veterinarian, “But thanks anyways. Thank you both for the confidence in my ability, and thanks for helping me.”

“You’re welcome,” the older women said together.

“Let me see what I need to fill out,” she pulled the folder to her and opened it. “This won’t take long, but I’ll need a pen or pencil,” Burley smiled.

“Help yourself,” Ruth’s thumb went in the direction of the pantry office. “You’ll find a handful of both in the ugly container on your desk,” she grinned.

“Thanks again,” she got up and went into the office.

“Sky Mother had been looking out for us today, Ruth,” Andrea said.

“Feel the same way, Andrea,” Both women clicked their cups together in a mutual salute I feel the same way.”

Within half an hour, Andrea had left the kitchen with the folder. Ruth asked Burley when she wanted to move into her quarters. The robust woman had hung her head again, and asked if right then would be okay. The older woman laughed when Burley went to her old truck and brought in an oversize beat-up piece of luggage and a large black garbage bag full of her belongs. Within half an hour, Burley Morgan had settled into the spacious cook’s quarters consisting of a nice sitting area, a separate bedroom with a walk in closet and an oversized private bath.

A large grin never left Burley’s face the rest of the afternoon. She also insisted Ruth just talk to her as she finalized the meal the older woman had begun earlier.

***

Finley rushed down the hall towards the kitchen. “Goodness, I didn’t realize Dr. Eckersley and I had been talking so long. Ruth will already be started the evening preparations and I haven’t helped her do anything, Icarus,” she said to the animal as it trotted beside her.

She burst through the door saying, “Ms. Ruth, I’m so sorry, but I got tied up with the conference calls and…” She stopped in mid-sentence when a rather robust woman in a white apron and cap came out of the pantry with a sack of flour in her arms. Her eyes went from the mystery woman to Ruth and back again. Burley placed the sack on the counter and turned back to face the latest arrival into the room.

“That’s no problem, child,” she grinned as she lifted her cup toward Burley. “This is our new cook, Ms. Burley Morgan. Andrea and I hired her an hour ago. Burley, this is one of our favorite people, Dr. Finley Jorgensen, the young paleontologist that has an assignment here that Andrea was telling you about earlier.

“Pleased to meet you, Dr. Jorgensen,” she held out her hand after wiping it several times on the apron.

“Hello Ms. Morgan, but please call me Finley.” Finley returned the gesture.

“I’ll do that Finley, if you’ll just call me Burley,” she grinned. “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Thanks, I would, but I’m use to getting things for myself around here, so I’ll get it.” She went to the cupboard and removed a mug. “You want more Ms. Ruth?” Finley held up the large pot that always sat on the stove brewing throughout the day.

“Well…Yes, I do believe I will, Finley.” She handed the cup to the young woman, who still had a smile on her face.

“Burley Morgan…Burley Morgan,” she kept saying out loud. Now where have I heard that…?” She stopped and clicked her fingers and turned to the robust woman. “I remember now! Aren’t you the pie maker that tied Ms. Ruth for first place at the State Fair?”

“That’s me,” she beamed, “but I’ve never beaten her. I was second for three years in a row…always behind Ms. Ruth until two years ago.” Her grin was the friendliest Finley had ever seen.

“Oh boy, am I ever going to get fat,” Finley cringed, but quickly shook it off and sat down. “If you cook anything half as good as Ms. Ruth and Andrea, this place will have to widen the doors for the personnel to come and go.”

“She’s an excellent cook, Finley. You could have knocked Andrea and I over with a feather when she walked through that door and announced she was here about work.”

“I can imagine. Did they do a jig for you Burley?” She asked as she raised her mug.

“Well, not a jig, but they did seem kinda happy to see me,” the robust woman blushed, and then pointed to Icarus. “Your dog seems to want to go out?” All eyes turned to the kitchen door where the dog stood patiently.

“Oh heck, Icarus, I forgot you’ve been cooped up in my room all afternoon.” She pushed back her chair to let the animal out, but was stopped by Burley.

“I’ll let him out, you finished your coffee,” she walked over to the where the animal stood and squatted down. “Hey fellow, you have a very distinctive name there.” She slowly reached over to rub the dog’s head, but stopped when it turned quickly and started to snarl. “Easy does it fellow. I’m not going to hurt you, I just want to pet you,” she extend her open hand, palm up slowly toward Icarus. The animal sensed no danger and allowed the hand to continue on its way and received a gentle pat, which progressed to an even gentler scratching of one ear then the other. “That’s a good fellow, now out you go and I’ll have you a nice bowl of something good when you come back in,” she said, standing up and opening the door for the animal.

Both women sat watching the exchange, and were amazed, as Icarus had been very particular about whom it allowed to pet him, much less scratch its ears.

For the next three hours, the three women talked continually, as if they had known each other for years. Finley was given a few things to do while Burley prepared the meal, but she wouldn’t allow Ruth to lift a finger while she hurried about the kitchen.

By the time the meal was over, Finley already felt a kindred sprit in Burley, and there was no question they would become good friends.

Needless to say, there were a lot of contented ranger and firefighters at the park that night, and many left moaning that they had eaten too much. Burley Morgan had found a home.

Ruth remained at the park for a week, just to help Burley become familiar with park procedure, and continued to visit the park for part of a day for another week.

Andrea came over during that time as well, and afterwards. The vet showed her how to how to operate the computer, which stored numerous information needed by the kitchen, fill out the various reports, maintaining the ordering log, and approval procedure for invoices to go the Finance Office for payment.

During this time, Burley opened up to the older woman, and confided in her she had been studying at night for the last four years to get her high school diploma. Andrea was so taken with the cook’s determination, she eagerly volunteered to tutor her in their off duty time, three evenings a week. The stout woman thought she had gone to heaven. Not only did she have a great job, and excellent living quarters, but also now she would be able to complete the one thing she had regretted not doing years before-a high school diploma.

Andrea was so ticked by Burley’s eagerness as they plowed into the lessons, that one day she sat the cook down at the computer and pulled up a screen she reduced a few minutes before. The robust woman’s eyes almost popped out, for there on the screen was the University program to get a degree on line.

“Dr. Bucannan, I…I….my goodness, I can’t do this, I’m not smart enough.”

“Don’t ever let me hear you say that again, Burley Morgan. You have zipped through those lessons in no time. You’re going to take your GED in three weeks. After we spend this time studying for that exam, then you’re going to decide what program you want from these listed, or you can call the Jr. College in Fairview and get their catalogue. If you don’t like this University, then there are many more to choose from.” She moved the mouse to the bottom of the screen and enlarged three other universities for Burley to browse.

“Here, we’ll save them as favorites and let you examine them later, after we finish with the Algebra worksheet.” She started to save the screens, then looked at the anxious woman who was almost in tears. “Better still, you save them to your favorites. You remember how, don’t you?” Andrea was already headed for the office door.

“Yes ma’am, I remember,” she reached for the mouse and clicked on the favorites icon. Within seconds, all four screens were in her favorite file. “Goodness, me taking college classes,” she whispered throatily to herself.

***

The next couple of weeks Finley helped out in the kitchen, when she wasn’t visiting the warehouse to select the few pieces of equipment and supplies she thought she might need at the site. She had daily conference calls with Dr. Eckersley, planning details as to clay models, and data required. Icarus and Finley could be seen daily taking short walks around the snow-covered grounds and frolicking a little in the snow-banks.

Sometimes, she would feel Fletcher’s presence and look up to find the tall woman watching her from the steps, or on her way to one building or the other. Often she would stop and chat briefly with the paleontologist, and checking about her next appointment with Maggie. Some days, the park director would stop by the kitchen and have a cup of coffee or hot tea with her, Burley and Andrea. However, she never showed anything interest of any kind except professional courtesies. We have time, Fletcher. We have time.


***



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




If you have comments about the site, or the materials you find here and want to send me an email, you’ll find the mailbox below. If you find technical problems with the site, a page or section, please let my Web Mistress know the difficulty. She can be reached at:

Bluemoon Projects

send B.S. Raven mail

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.