Orphan Ch. 03byVjax©
Alexander sat on the back porch of the small house Carl had rented him. It had only been a week ago but, it seemed much longer.
Dusk was just settling in. The glass-like surface of the lake behind the house reflected the many hues of umber, orange, violet and purple that were just beginning to color the sky, now that the sun had passed beyond the mountains to the west.
Only one week and he felt more at home in Red Lodge than he had anywhere else. There was something about the place that simply seemed to fit. This elicited dual responses in Alexander.
On one hand feeling at peace with a place was so different that it was almost uncomfortable. Always in the back of his mind he found himself wondering when things would change. On the other side it was so calming to feel himself finally fit into a place and with those that lived there, that he couldn't help but to simply accept it.
The small sign everyone passed as they entered the town which read "Speed Limit 15 mph. Enforced by Curses and Dirty Looks" summed up the general down to earth nature of all those he had come in contact with. None were a better example of that than Carl Benton.
That first afternoon, after Carl had gotten him settled at the house, he had taken Alexander over to Benton Mining & Milling.
"I don't want to work underground." Alexander looked dubiously at the gaping maw of the mine entrance. While not claustrophobic the idea of spending his days under the earth was unsettling at best.
Carl Benton laughed as he planted a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Not to worry Alexander, I'm not looking to put you in the ground just yet."
They walked across the yard toward what appeared to be the mine office. The temperature on the site was cool, the shadow of the mountain looming over them ensured it. Gaining his bearings Alexander realized that this close to the jagged peaks there would only be sun 'til midday.
"Brad!" Mr. Benton's voice boomed across the yard as he waved at the driver of a loader.
The machine shut down. Out of the cab dropped a younger version of the man standing at Alexander's side. About 6'2", dark brown hair and brown eyes the man was strongly built with a wide chest and a lean hungry look. His easy smile and wave at the older man eased some of Alexander's tension.
"Dad." Brad said with a smile as he eyed Alexander.
"Brad, I'd like you to meet Alexander Dane. The young man who helped Jenabel and I out of that little spill we took the other day. I've set him up at the Smithson place and he's looking for gainful employment. I was sure we could find something to pique his interest."
Brad's smile faded, replaced with a serious look that traveled from his face through his entire body as he extended his hand to Alexander.
"It's a pleasure Alexander. Thank you for saving Dad and my sister. We are all in your debt for your selflessness."
Alexander noted the pressure of the handshake, it was firm and dry, filled with confidence and just the hint of a challenge in the pressure used. Not so much as to cause pain, but enough to measure the beginnings of a man's tolerance. Alexander returned the pressure in kind which garnered a small smile from Brad as they broke contact.
"I only did what anyone would have. Besides, your father has been kind enough to help me find a place and perhaps a job."
Brad was not surprised by his father's generosity.
"We'd be lucky to have you as a neighbor, be sure to let me know if I can do anything to help you settle in." Brad said to Alexander before turning to his father.
"Looks like we may have some trespassers on the east face. I found a few trees spiked this morning. We'll need to do a survey of parcel fifteen before the cutters move in week after next."
Carl Benton's expression turned hard.
"Spikers again, you would think that these "activists" who are so computer savvy would take the time to review our quarterly reports. Hell we have gotten five star environmental ratings from all of the major environmental groups."
Carl Benton and Benton Industries, which included the mining and milling divisions, had always been a leader on the environmental front. Their love of the land they lived and worked on was almost as deep as that which they felt for their family. Just the idea that they would do anything to permanently harm it always sent him into a rage that was never easy to control.
Brad knew this news would not be well received and tried to deflect his fathers growing anger.
"We have two weeks 'til the crews will get to the parcel. It's more than enough time to get someone out there and get the trees cleared. We'll also increase the security sweeps through the area. It's a problem, but not a major one."
Carl Benton eyed his oldest son warily for a moment before letting the rage slip away.
"You're right Brad, it just...gets under my skin when people don't look at the all facts and go off half cocked."
Brad took a breath, glad that his father had tamed his rage.
Turning to Alexander, Carl had a thoughtful look on his face.
"That might be just the thing to start you off with Alexander." Carl noted the somewhat confused look on his face and laughed. "Sorry, I guess we should explain."
Brad took up the explanation, knowing that his father's anger would undoubtedly become stoked again if he was the one to enlighten Alexander.
"Environmental activists feel that chopping down trees is a sin. Every few years a new group pops up and they target smaller operations such as ours."
"The large, corporate run sites hire full time security, which have little tolerance for their activities, so they pick on smaller operations. What you get are a few of these folks who come out to plots that are about to be cut and hammer large iron spikes into the tree bases. The cutters come through, cut into the wood and the chain saws hit the spikes. It pretty much destroys the saw and nine times out of ten severely injures the cutter."
Carl interjected. "A few years ago we had a man killed because of their foolishness. We cut the smallest amount of trees possible, we plant three for every one we cut, hell we take better care of our mountain than God himself would."
Alexander could see that Carl was amazingly passionate about the land and took great pride in being its steward. Seeing the pleading look on Brad's face, he tried to move the conversation away from the danger that came with these spikers and onto more neutral ground.
"So you need someone to walk around the woods, check the trees, remove any spikes and persuade anyone found placing new ones that it is not the best use of their time or energy if they wish to maintain their health?"
Alexander said this last with a wicked look in his eye, one that Carl noted and truly appreciated.
Taking a deep breath, running his fingers through his hair Carl once again got his anger under control.
"Yes Alexander, that's the gist of it. This would be an excellent place to start you off. It gives you an opportunity to get to know the area, find your way around and see all the different things that we do with the goal of finding you a permanent spot."
Carl placed his hand on Alexander's shoulder and was surprised that he didn't pull away. Such casual physical contact usually produced at least a flinch. It only took him a moment to decide.
"I think that sounds like a good idea."
Smiles bloomed on both Carl's and Brad's faces.
"Excellent! Being Friday most of the operations are closed or run light shifts over the weekend, why don't you meet me here tomorrow morning, I'll take you up to parcel 15, show you around some and you can get started on Monday morning."
Before he realized it, Carl's easy, familiar tone had Alexander walking in step with the older man and his son as they made their way back to his motorcycle.
"Go get settled in. You know your way back to town, pick up whatever you may need and I'll see you in the morning."
Alexander turned to Carl Benton before getting on his bike.
"Thank you for this, for everything, I..."
Alexander's words tapered off, he was not used to feeling genuine gratitude. It had been so long since anyone had elicited it.
Carl saw the confusion in the younger mans heart.
"Don't even think about it. Get your bearings, set up house. We'll talk more tomorrow and get you started."
With that Carl turned toward the office building, leaving Brad with Alexander.
"Here is my card. All of my numbers are on there. If you need anything or have any questions, just give me a call. Our place is only a few miles from the old Smithson property."
Alexander took the card. Brad noticed the rather lost look on his face. It took him only a moment to figure out what was troubling him. He went to grab his forearm, a gesture of easy friendship then noticed the way Alexander stiffened a bit when he figured out what he was about to do and didn't.
"Hold on a second." Brad said as he sprinted toward the office.
Alexander looked around the yard, everything was neat and tidy, everything in its place. The operation looked more military than civilian. He was used to the worst of such places. Over the last six months he had seen enough job sites to know that most people just didn't care, it was obvious the Benton's did.
He watched Brad approach with a box in his hand.
"Take this. It's one of the company satellite phones." Alexander was about to protest when Brad cut him off. "None of that. Dad would have given you one anyway because you'll be out fairly far checking the parcel. Plus it's company policy in case someone runs into trouble."
Alexander looked at the box for a moment longer before grudgingly taking it from Brad's outstretched hand.
Alexander's words were just above a whisper. Brad would have to talk with his father and see what was the story with Alexander.
"No worries, the number and instructions are in the box along with the charger and such. Give a call if you need anything and welcome aboard."
Again, Alexander was struck by the easy acceptance and friendly attitude everyone seemed to have in this strange place.
With a nod he started the Harley and made his way back toward town.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly, a few trips into town for linens, the basic pots and pans. There was no television and Alexander was fine with that, preferring his books and the vistas provided by the forest and mountains over the monotonous drivel he usually found on television.
Saturday was spent with Mr. Benton.
They met at the yard just before dawn.
"You'll need proper transportation to get up to the parcel."
Carl said with a smile as he handed Alexander the keys to one of the company jeeps. Seeing the scowl on Alexander's face he laughed.
"Don't worry you don't have to drive it all the time, just pick it up here in the morning and leave it in the afternoons when your done."
Alexander accepted the keys with a nod.
They traveled for almost an hour up small winding logging roads to the plot of forest Alexander would be surveying. They crested a rise and the morning sun blazed ahead of them. As his eyes adjusted, he looked down the gentle slope as Carl stepped from the Jeep.
"Parcel fifteen." Carl said with an expansive wave of his arm.
It was beautiful, about a hundred acres of forest lay below them on the gently sloping edge of the highland.
"From here down to the creek at the bottom of the ravine and across to where the north peak starts to rise to the left."
Alexander followed Carl's directions as he looked over the parcel, seeing nothing he found beyond his ability to handle.
"I've worked in all types of terrain, this shouldn't be a problem." Alexander was pleased it wasn't too rocky, the forest was relatively clear here, not a lot of ground clutter.
Carl noted the detached way that Alexander looked over the land, assessing hiding places, finding the high ground. He viewed it from a warrior's perspective.
"Let's see if we can find a spiked tree so you'll know what to look for."
They made their way slowly down the slope at an easy pace. About half way down Carl stopped.
"God dammit!" His voice echoed through the trees.
Alexander stopped. As he turned his attention to the tree Mr. Benton was looking at he saw the reason for the man's ire.
About two feet up from the base of the tree large spikes had been driven into it at odd angels, it looked violent, more of an assault than simply chopping the tree down.
"This is what you're looking for." The disdain in Carl's voice could not be missed.
They worked for about ten minutes with small crowbars, dislodging the spikes and making the tree safe. They spent the next hour or so making their way down to the small creek that was the boundary of the parcel then headed back up to the Jeep. Once he knew what to look for Alexander had found three more spiked trees during their hike.
Carl's mood was subdued as Alexander drove cautiously back down the logging trail toward the main yard.
"Any concerns about the next week?"
Carl's question was short, as if he had other things on his mind. Alexander surmised that with the depth of feeling Carl Benton had for the land, this morning had not been easy on him. Alexander considered the question for a few minutes before answering.
"What should I do if I happen to run into one of them?"
Alexander noted the feral glimmer in Carl's eyes before is vanished, replaced by a more stoic look.
"Detain them and call the sheriff. His number is programmed into all our phones. We'll let the law take care of it."
Alexander looked at Carl out of the corner of his eye, a small smile coming to his lips.
"You don't sound like that would be your preferred option Carl."
The statement brought a broad smile to Carl's face.
"You're right, my preference would be to handle it much more personally but those days are gone. It's best to do the right thing and let the sheriff earn his pay."
Alexander nodded and the rest of the trip passed in companionable silence.
On the short ride back to his house Alexander was amazed at how quickly the town was growing on him.
Almost from the start Alexander had fallen in love with the area.
The town itself was small but everyone seemed to be genuinely nice. They were always quick with a polite answer, open to questions and seemed to hold no suspicion at all toward him. This surprised him the most. Over the last six months he had always seemed to engender suspicion in the people he met. He didn't know why, it just seemed that once in his presence folks became...wary.
That was not the case here. To a person, he was met with friendly easy acceptance. It was something he could get use to.
He spent Sunday alone. Setting up his house, unpacking his things, not that this took a long time, but Alexander was methodical in these small actions. He found himself putting things away where they went instead of simply unpacking 'til it was time to pack them again. A subtle, but powerful shift for someone who had never felt tied to one place. He felt comfortable for the first time and it was sometimes a struggle to simply allow that feeling to take hold.
The week passed quickly.
Alexander was up before dawn every morning. Neighbors, those he had met and those he hadn't became accustomed to the sound of his motorcycle roaring up the road toward the yard in the early dawn hours.
Alexander was at the parcel just as the sun broke the horizon every day. He enjoyed that moment, seeing the world reborn by the suns light. As the week had passed he noted more and more that something seemed to be missing in that moment, though what it was eluded him.
By Thursday morning he was almost done. Finding the spikes had quickly become second nature. Alexander's natural hyper awareness seemed to be getting keener, more focused, the more time he spent out in the forest. Also, his knee seemed to be bothering him less and less as well, a fact which Alexander was grateful for, but did pique his curiosity.
His thoughts stilled as he stopped abruptly. Something was not right, for an instant he had a "there is a disturbance in the force" moment.
Crouching low he moved slowly from tree to tree, voices came to him as he moved closer to the people in the forest below him.
"Most of them are gone! God damn it, they're scheduled to start cutting next week! We don't have the time to redo them all."
The man's voice was not low. A deaf man could hear him. Alexander shook his head in disgust.
'People just don't think, if the spikes are gone do they think fairies did it?'
Alexander's thoughts were calm as he moved closer hearing another male voice.
"Well we will do what we can today. If they have swept the area then the cutters won't be paying attention. We should definitely hurt at least one this way. It may be a good thing."
Alexander went cold. He had seen pain and suffering, had faced people with the intention to do harm, to kill. A feral wrath bubbled up inside him. It shocked Alexander and he paused, taking deep breaths. It surprised him that his emotions were so wild, it was out of character. His training kicked in and he found his calm center almost immediately. But the sudden burst of power that had flowed through him at the thought of showing these two just what hurt could be caused him to shudder before moving closer.
They came into view as he peered around the base of one of the larger trees.
Younger than he, the two men stood next to each other. Their clothes showed little use, probably recently bought for the excursion into the wilds to combat the foul loggers. Alexander shook his head in derision.
"Let's do some random trees, a few here, a few in the middle and then a few more up at the top of the ridge."
They were both on the small side, their pasty white skin showed more of a pull to the indoors than out.
"Give me that spike, let's get this done."
Alexander had seen and heard enough. Dropping his backpack silently to the ground, he crouched, waiting for the moment to put an end to these boys time in his woods.
As the hammer swung back the young man had an instant to realize he couldn't bring it back down before unconsciousness took him.
His companion gaped as Alexander stood to his full height, the man's friend slumped at his feet.
"Hey, what the fuck are you..."
The words died on his lips as a knife found its way to his throat faster than he thought possible.
"I suggest," Alexander whispered, "that you stay quiet and be very still."
Hanging out in coffee houses and going to environmental rallies the young man had never experienced true menace.
Being faced with it now, up close and in person he found his desire to save these trees greatly diminished.
It was two hours later that the sheriff and Carl Benton showed up. They found Alexander reading a book down wind of the two men who were, in a comic irony that was not lost on anyone, zip tied together at the wrists, hugging a tree.
The sheriff turned up his nose at the smell coming off the two men.
He cocked a questioning eye at Alexander.
Alexander, putting his book down and standing looked at the sheriff and Mr. Benton a moment before answering the unasked question with a shrug.
"There are scary things in the forest, these two ran into one." Alexander said in a cold tone as he gestured to the two bound men. "The experience seems to have caused them to lose control of themselves."
The sheriff nodded, Carl Benton laughed long and hard.
His good humor slipped a little as his attention was drawn toward the forest, a motion, the sense of a presence shielding itself. He reached out with consciousness and found a familiar energy. He looked in the direction it came from, noted the motion of the leaves going against the wind and sighed before turning his attention back to Alexander.