Cover

Moon Shadow

Reggie Ridgway/Moon Shadow

 

 

 

 

 

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2012 by Reggie Ridgway

Cover illustration © George Arnold

 

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

I would like to dedicate this novel to my family for their positive support and love. Especially to my wife Connie who has endured throughout the writing of this book.

 

 

Chapter 1

 

Mariah perspired lightly in spite of a cool morning breeze sweeping across the quiet fog shrouded lake.

Her long dark hair was pulled tightly away from her face, held severely by a rubber band and something that resembled a small railroad spike. One lock of unruly hair hung down, not unappealingly, and she occasionally blew it out of her field of vision from time to time with an absentminded puff from pursed lips.

The dark soil was unyielding at first to her efforts, but with a diligent persistence she began to have a modicum of success. Glancing back on her handiwork, she wiped her brow with the back of her forearm, leaving a streak of mud across a face which was devoid of makeup.

The vegetable garden was being shaped by her meticulous attention for detail, as if it were a work of art. Side-by-side furrows lined up equally deep and were spaced with an architect’s precision. The garden was located close to the lake’s shoreline, allowing for some irrigation and more than adequate sunlight.

Mariah found that gardening was both satisfying and that concentrating on the minutia of it was somewhat cathartic. She enjoyed the hard work; the fruits of her healing labor were especially sweet and nourishing not only for her body, but it also fed her soul. The days were becoming longer here at this latitude as the Earth began its slow tilt towards the sun. The sun arose in the east around 3 a.m. and sank in the west around 10 p.m., thus providing ample sunlight to work outdoors.

When the summer solstice arrives in June, however, midnight would appear to be more like noon. There would be daylight for twenty-two hours. They call it the Midnight Sun. People’s circadian rhythms would ultimately be upset. To compensate for the lack of the night’s darkness, like vampires, most of the villagers would shroud their homes with heavy blackout curtains to help them sleep during what passed for their night. Some didn’t sleep well for most of the six months, and they walked around in a dazed fugue like the walking dead.

Mariah’s garden was lush and colorful. The dark, moist soil here in Moon Shadow was especially fertile. The rich mineral content and volcanic sediment provided a nutritious bed for vegetation. There is no need for pesticides. The common variety of vegetable eating insects were nonexistent this far north of the equator. The pesky gnats and mosquitoes were a different matter altogether, and everywhere she went, a cloud orbited her, obscuring her vision while dive-bombing her ears like Twin Tower terrorists. There would be an occasional annoying buzzing and a tickle inside her ear canal, and she would absently know what was happening as she slapped at her ears in frustration. To a casual observer, she must have looked like a crazy person, cussing under her breath and hitting herself like that.

The forest critters were unsuccessfully kept at bay from foraging in the garden by a wobbly-wooden-picket fence. She didn’t have the heart to set animal traps or even leave poison out. The growing season at this latitude was comparatively short and lasted only about a hundred days. The first frost was quickly approaching with the coming fall. If she didn’t harvest soon, everything she had worked so hard for would become dormant, and soon her immediate environs would be covered over by a thick blanket of snow. When snow first appeared on the ground, the landscape would become transformed, and a new world would be born. She enjoyed the snow at first, but the monotony, isolation, and six months of darkness would eventually begin to wear on her. It would bear down on her like a heavy fur coat, and it would seem to her as if everyone and everything around her had slipped into a reluctant state of winter hibernation.

The dense forest crept close to the lake’s shoreline for miles, except where man had pushed back its relentless encroachment into a few small clearings. Log homes had been built using the trees cut down from around the lake. Some of the log homes had been here for centuries. They were sturdy and well built with superior craftsmanship; and she imagined they would probably last another hundred years or so.

Mariah closed her eyes and took in a few deep, cleansing breaths. The air was pristine, uncontaminated, and free from pollutants. The village had no cars, only snowmobiles and a couple of electric golf carts as well as a few electric all-terrain-vehicles. Gasoline was at a premium here, and it had to be brought in by barge “up-river.” Which seemed ironic to Mariah as a great deal of the oil and gas for America flowed through the nearby Alaskan pipelines. There were no paved roads, only well worn foot paths which connected the scattered homes to a centrally located rustic lodge.

She surveyed her bountiful garden. It wasn’t your typical flower garden with roses and bulbs, although she did plant those as well, she just located them a little closer to her cabin. This here was a working garden; vegetables were planted instead of flowers. The tomatoes, corn, lettuce, and melons were all thriving quite well it seemed to her this season. The average yearly bounty was much more than her family needed. She would preserve and freeze all that she could from the excess tomatoes, corn and carrots for the winter months. And she delighted in gleaning—the sharing of some of the surplus bounty with other people, her neighbors in the village, and they were always grateful for it. Fresh vegetables were something of a rare commodity up here in Moon Shadow. They were cut off from the nearest town by a hundred miles. Most sundries and supplies had to be airlifted in from Anchorage or Fairbanks due to the remoteness of the village.

She knew her neighbors well and called them each by their first names. Most of the residents of Moon Shadow either worked for the lodge, as support staff, or were hunting and fishing guides. Like her husband Brad, a few worked in the nearby cannery or were commercial fishermen. Some residents preferred to simply live off the land like hermits in the encroaching forest. Some were itinerant fur trappers who sought after the mink, beaver and fox which abounded in this region. There was a steep price for the privilege of living in Moon Shadow, as it was isolated from most of civilization and approachable only by foot, seaplane, or boat.

Mariah glanced toward her rustic log cabin, and a sour taste of bile arose unbidden into the back of her throat causing her to swallow hard to keep from retching. A tide of fear and loathing also welled up inside which spurred her to chop anew at the next furrow. Galvanized with a fresh resolve, she hacked away with a preoccupied fervor. Rusty, her dog, raised his noble head from crossed paws and regarded her with a tilted curiosity. He arose gingerly to his feet and began barking with the rare sharpened pitch Mariah knew to be associated with danger or alarm.

Tears began streaking down tracks onto her dusty cheeks as she mindlessly continued to hack away, but now on a slightly crooked tack. Her thoughts were clouded by the memory of what occurred only last evening. Or rather a collage of the memories of the last two years of evenings since her new husband, Brad, had brought her to Moon Shadow after an alcohol infused whirlwind courtship. She had only been visiting Anchorage Alaska while on her annual vacation. Childless and recently divorced, the hastily planned trip had been a way to break free for a moment from her lonely and dreary life in Detroit. She just needed to get away from her surroundings and let her mind settle a bit. It was a way for her to start life over before going back to her old life in the city

This was a way to fulfill a lifelong dream of taking an Alaskan cruise and finally be able to visit this wondrous and still primitive country she had only read about in magazines like National Geographic and Jack London novels. There wasn’t much to do in Anchorage at that time of year, as everything was basically snowed in.

Brad was a local, and he met up with her at a popular tavern near the port of embarkation and where the cruise ship was docked. Some of her recently met onboard friends had dragged her to the tavern just to get her off the ship, and she had eventually relented to their persistent urging, but with only half-hearted resistance. She enjoyed their company, and although fearful of the unknown in the stale-beer-soaked bar, she reasoned there was safety in numbers.

She was basically a shy person who normally had a bad case of low self esteem, and bar hopping was definitely not in her nature, but it didn’t take too much alcohol to get her loosened up. Before long she was smiling, laughing, dancing, and even attempting Karaoke singing with her friends in a hastily formed quartet up on a wooden stage. Of course she was tone deaf and couldn’t carry a tune in a wash bucket, and her solo attempt to cover a Reba McEntire song was painful to the ears. But everyone was good natured and clapped along and danced as she sang, which made her feel like a diva.

Brad singled her out of the crowd of the not-so-sober women, many of whom were far prettier and more fun to be with than how Mariah perceived herself. This kind of male attention was very new to her, and although she was suspicious at first, she was also quite flattered.

Later, she realized she had been carefully chosen, or rather culled out of the crowd for her apparent weaknesses; much like on those nature television shows she liked to watch where a predator cut out the weak, old, or slow prey from the herd. On rare occasions, in her single-girl-past, she had usually been the last one to be picked up near closing time, and the remaining available-yet-not-so-desirable men were wearing what people like to refer to as their “beer goggles.”

This time it was suspiciously different, and although she was incredulous at how she was singled out, she just somehow allowed it to happen, even against her usual cautiousness and better judgment. Besides, she was here in Alaska on vacation and desperately wanted to unwind. She felt she needed this kind of male attention right now. She just wanted to let loose and needed something to get her out of her post-divorce depression.

Brad was not all that good looking and was not even a smooth talker, but after plying her with a few White Russian cocktails, she began to find him irresistible, and reluctantly allowed him to sweep her off her feet. He proposed to her after a one night stand in a cheap motel he was staying in. Slightly besotted, she had said “yes”; although hard pressed, she could never actually recall any of the exact details. She later suspected he might have spiked her drink with something like Rohypnol, or as it is more commonly called “the date rape drug.” Her memories of the rest of the affair were less clouded, however.

They wed the next day on board the docked cruise liner—their ceremony officiated by the ship’s captain. And although the arrangements were hastily arraigned, she had actually been quite pleased. She had no attending relatives to witness the event, and Brad didn’t have any friends or relatives living nearby either. It was as if they had simply decided to elope. He promised she would meet his friends later, after they returned to her new home. He showed her his photographs of Moon Shadow and his one room log cabin. The pictures all seemed so beautiful to look at, like something out of a nature magazine, and her head became full of the promise of a new life yet to be fulfilled. Her friends, the ones she had previously met on board, were the witnesses at the impromptu wedding, and they even helped to organize a small, no-frills reception afterwards.

More alcohol flowed in the form of cheap champagne which made her giggle when it tickled her nose. Later on that day, her friends, and even a few strangers who were caught up in the moment, enthusiastically cheered the happy newlyweds from the ship’s bow. They threw confetti and long colorful streamers made from rolled up crepe paper. The cruise ship blared a fog horn and cast off leaving the newlyweds on the dock as it departed from port, and it sailed away without her. It was making way on its scheduled journey up along the rugged coast of Alaska.

She had wanted to continue on board the ship with her new husband, as if they were on their honeymoon. Her ticket was of course prepaid and it would have been easy to add him on now that they were married. Her spacious cabin could have easily accommodated both of them. The captain assured her that this was totally normal and perfectly acceptable, and she got the vibe that this sort of thing was not all that uncommon

There apparently were an unequal number of males to females in this part of the world. Many single young women ended up staying here in Alaska—not shanghaied, but rather staying by choice. All this, while enjoying a state of male attraction that most women never get a chance to experience in the lower forty-eight contiguous states. Some rather plain looking women would settle down up here, more often than not, with who most people would consider great catches. This far north, lonely men living in remote areas would frequently lower their standards in order to have permanent female companionship. Mail order brides were also not all that uncommon, she had heard.

She yearned to finish the cruise and see the glaciers, and she especially wanted to see Kodiak Island, but Brad had persuaded her to delay their honeymoon for just a while. He explained that he was in Anchorage for only a few days in order to pick up some supplies, and he needed to return to his job as soon as possible.

They packed up their belongings and made their way back home to Moon Shadow with her riding in one of the dogsleds. She huddled under a bear skin blanket while sitting on top of some lumpy provisions. Brad and two of his fellow residents from Moon Shadow mushed their teams of sled dogs along well-worn-paths. They followed a well-traveled trail along the Russian River for many miles until they finally reached Moon Shadow Lake. It took the better part of three days, and the trip might have been worse for her if they were not able to stay in abandoned cabins along the way. She should have had a premonition of what was to come by then, but she was caught up in the sheer adventure of it all. She was not considered an outdoorsy person per se and had never even camped out before. So this journey with her new husband, although arduous, was both exciting and somehow romantic.

Had it only been two years since then? Tempus fugit, she thought and grimaced. Time had a way of slowing down up here, and if not for the change in the seasons, time would appear to stand still like in a spatial vortex.

Mariah’s unflinching resolve to make her marriage work, against all odds, was beginning to wither a bit. This was round two of ‘Marriage Wars’ for her, and she was determined to delete the word divorce from her life’s vocabulary. But now she was starting to have some reservations.

She could never have prepared herself for the feeling of being kidnapped to this island at the top of the world. Her romantic ideal of being taken to this far-off place and cared for by a loving and sensitive man had soon been shattered. Brad, her new husband, quickly revealed his true nature hiding under the thinly veiled veneer of a loving husband. His personality turned out to be more like Captain Bluebeard, and he would, occasionally, make her walk a virtual plank after each one of his alcohol-infused benders. How could she have known he would change from a person who resembled Dr. Jekyll and turn into a monster like Mr. Hyde after he binged and punched yet another hole in his liver with the help from a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Suddenly, the tranquility of the cool morning was shattered by the sound of metal striking rock. Her pick handle almost cracked and leaped from her hands. She felt a bolt of pain which reverberated up her arms. Abruptly she shook off her gloves and knelt down in the dirt, sobbing uncontrollably, while she hid her face in her still stinging hands.

Rusty approached her and softly nuzzled her shoulder with his big noble head. She began to stroke his furry neck, obtaining more comfort from their touch than he was receiving. She reached into her shirt pocket and retrieved a piece of bear jerky which she knew Rusty loved. Rusty wagged his tail and licked his lips as if communicating a polite “thank you.” Rusty sniffed her leg timidly and offered to lick the tears from her cheeks. Inconsolable at first, Mariah stroked his head and buried her face in the silky, soft neck fur of her magnificent Irish setter. Rusty had become her constant companion from the beginning and truly was her best friend. When her sobbing began to abate, she held on to Rusty a little too long and more tightly than he was accustomed. With an inherent good nature, he held his nurturing position, and his tail began to sweep the earth slowly from side to side.

Rusty had been a gift to her from a former neighbor who had moved back to the lower forty-eight and couldn’t afford to bring a dog along. The puppy quickly became her constant shadow and a fiercely loyal companion. She was lonely, childless, and approaching that age when the likelihood of becoming pregnant and experiencing motherhood was moot. Of course, having a child with the madman who often was passed out in their cabin would be highly improbable. Beating her senseless night after night was the nearest thing that he offered in a way of marital affection. Procreation was not only quite implausible, but hard pressed, she wasn’t sure they had even consummated their marriage. She didn’t think Brad’s sporadic and feeble attempts at pawing her and smothering her with his huge body counted. His beer belly and small penis usually kept him from actual penetration, as well as his propensity for falling asleep in the middle of a mauling, which thankfully were infrequent.

Each morning before sunrise, Brad would awaken, drink a fresh cup of coffee and eat some breakfast she’d dutifully prepared for him. He habitually brooded in the mornings and hardly spoke a word to her. He would only grunt when she asked him if he wanted more coffee or something. And then he would just leave her without so much as a goodbye and set off on the trawlers with the other fishermen who were intent on netting the spawning King Salmon with purse string nets. Later, they would return before sunset bringing their iced down catch into the fish processing cannery. Afterwards, as was their custom, they rewarded themselves for their hard work by convening at the lodge saloon for some well deserved libations.

Much later, Brad would stumble into their cabin smelling of whiskey and raw fish. Sometimes he would eat the diner she’d prepared for him. He would sit across from her at their table with his face close to the plate, wolfing the food down like a beast without so much as a word of conversation. She longed to be able to just ask how his day had gone. Maybe she could tell him about her day. Instead, he would usually push away from the table, give her a look of disdain, and begin his verbal abuse—which frequently escalated into physical violence.

At first, Mariah played the part of a dutiful, loyal, and obedient wife. However, from the start, Brad began to accuse her of being unfaithful to him while he was away at work. Of course, she could only vehemently deny all of his accusations. Later, she realized this was merely his excuse to pick a fight with her, and then he would bully her into submission.

She soon became a virtual hostage, mostly by the remoteness of her location. Gradually, she became imprisoned by his threats of physical harm. She imagined that if she should attempt an escape, he would somehow track her down. He often threatened her with this, promising to make her pay for any attempt at running away by beating her within an inch of her life. She had nowhere to go, and nowhere to hide, and no one to turn to. She believed this with all of her heart.

Her situation had become hopeless, inescapable, and all her prospects for happiness were stymied. It evoked a sense of despair which was so deep that just now she hugged her legs and began to shiver uncontrollably. Finally, after regaining some composure and a little strength from Rusty’s big brown eyes, she sighed and wiped her tears with the back of her sleeve and began to come around to the task at hand.

The plan this morning was to make room for zucchini. With disgust, she surveyed the asymmetrical furrow she had just dug. It ran slightly crooked, and then took a mean hook toward the right. She flexed her fists and recalled the throbbing pain in her hands she’d experienced after hitting the buried rock with her pick. She bent down, peering into the depression the pick had made, and then began to dig away some of the loose dirt with her ungloved hands. A few inches deep, she could just make out something hard, black and smooth; like obsidian.

Rusty cheerfully offered his digging assistance. She allowed him to dig furiously for a moment, before she laughed and playfully shoved him aside and then resumed her excavation of the offending black rock. She had hope that she could expose the rock and possibly remove it from her garden, rather than having to excavate around it.

With a renewed determination, she grunted and labored to reveal what arcane object was buried there. Soon she realized the futility of her plan as the hole grew larger revealing still more of the smooth black rock now seeming to reach deep under the lake. She imagined the rock was approximately the size of a Volkswagen bus.

She removed one of her gloves and scratched her scalp in bewilderment. Suddenly something caught her eye. It was a slight imperfection in the otherwise unblemished surface. It was a bowl shaped depression, about the size of an upside-down derby hat. Immediately, she recognized what it was. Indians had lived here for centuries before Moon Shadow was first settled by gold prospectors. Many of the large boulders surrounding the lake had similar depressions. The depressions were made by Athabascan Indian women who, with a stone pestle in hand, would ground corn into the meal used to make bread.

Gingerly, she touched the depression with calloused fingertips, trying to picture a native woman kneeling here, laboring to provide for her family. She brushed some of the dirt away which had rolled into the bowl. She discovered something was stuck to the bottom. It felt rubbery like tar or sludge. Upon removal of the somewhat sticky substance using her fingernails, something emerald green glinted in the sun and caught her eye. It sparkled brilliantly, reflecting in the bright sunlight. On closer inspection, she guessed it might be some kind of precious stone embedded in the rock. It caught the sun’s light, and glittered like a dazzling green diamond. She began desperately to pry at it with her nail bitten fingertips.

If this was what she thought it was, it might just be her ticket out of Moon Shadow. A gem stone of this size and clarity might just fetch a hefty price in Anchorage. Unfortunately, the jewel proved to be firmly embedded in the rock. She was beginning to realize the futility of recovering the stuck gem without the use of some kind of tool, when suddenly she felt something prick the tip of her finger. There was no pain, but instantly she was aware of a tingly feeling, which quickly climbed her hand to her upper arm. Immediately, she felt a strange sensation enveloping her, and a warm glow washed over her from head to toe.

She giggled uncontrollably at first, until her throat began to tighten, then she felt panic as though she couldn’t catch her breath. She began to gag and tried to cough, but a wheezing sound was all she could muster. Horrified, she realized she had abruptly lost control of her bladder. She began to notice a rainbow of colors invading her field of vision, like a kaleidoscope, and then suddenly she began to feel dizzy. An involuntary gurgle escaped from her throat, and then she began to breathe better.

Dismayed, she arose and put her index finger to her lips to suck on her own warm red blood. It had a coppery taste and she spat it out as if it were venom. She managed to cover up the rock with some loose dirt. She considered coming back for the gem later with a tool. Mortified that she had wet her pants, she gathered some of her composure, and began to stumble-step backwards from the garden. Sobbing and murmuring to herself, she hurried along the path with a worried Rusty in tow. She needed to change out of her wet clothes and then clean and bandage the small cut.

She berated herself for overreacting the way she had to such a tiny cut. She thought of herself as a pretty tough cookie when it came to handling pain, and even prided herself on this attribute. She began thinking perhaps she might be hysterical or on the verge of a nervous breakdown or something.

However, Mariah had more pressing matters to think about. Like, what if Brad was awake, and what would he do to her if he saw her like this? This vision caused her to begin whimpering like a small child.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

The dark skinned female patient slept beneath an ethereal blanket of Versed and Demerol. Earlier she had been brought to the medical clinic at Moon Shadow by members of her tribe and she was exhibiting acute abdominal pain in the lower right quadrant. For more than a week, she’d been unsuccessfully treated by a traditional Indian shaman with herbs and ritual chanting. This was not an uncommon practice among the local Native population who were still—after a hundred years since the arrival of white settlers in Alaska—refusing to fully assimilate. Due to the harsh environment and rampant alcoholism, their tribal life expectancy was becoming severely shortened. Their numbers were also dwindling, due to a high infant mortality rate. It was just a fact of their existence. The lack of pre-natal screening and non-medically equipped midwife deliveries were thought to be part of the reason.

Upon examination, her blood work revealed leukocytosis, and she presented with right lower quadrant pain in the location known as McBurney’s triangle. These were all classic signs for appendicitis. Arrangements were quickly made to airlift the patient to the nearest local hospital in Anchorage. However, due to high winds, there would be a delay of several hours before evacuation. Fearing an impending appendix rupture and the ensuing peritonitis, a decision was made for an emergency operation. Her high fever had left the girl delirious. These sequelae were the inevitable and grim prognosis for septic shock leading to massive organ failure and death.

The medical clinic in Moon Shadow was nothing more than a ramshackle Quonset hut. It had a wooden floor and a crude electric generator. The clinic was equipped with everything needed to perform emergency surgeries like an appendectomy, however. Even so, this could prove to be a tricky and dangerous operation.

Dr. Trevor Bentley hesitated while holding his scalpel poised like a conductor who was about to lead an orchestra. It had been a few months since Trevor had operated, while finishing up his residency program at UCLA. He was feeling somewhat rusty and a little apprehensive due to the remoteness of this clinic and the fact that there were no other physicians to assist him. He was forced to trust in his medical training and his inherent skills. If she was to die, or something went horribly wrong during the operation, there would be dire consequences with the highly untrusting local tribal leaders.

After arriving in Moon Shadow six months ago, he had been called upon to repair small cuts and abrasions and the occasional ingrown toenail. The most frequent situation usually involved the removal of a fish hook from a clumsy fisherman.

The only real excitement had been when an unlucky tourist wandered off alone on a nature hike. He met a grizzly bear coming up the opposite direction on a narrow trail. The grizzly, whose belly was full of spawning salmon he had scooped from the river, was plodding on his way to his favorite blueberry patch for a little dessert and a nap. Annoyed that his path was blocked, he reared up on his back legs and roared menacingly. Then with his huge paw he swiped the unlucky tourist off the trail, who then found himself tumbling down a cliff into a ravine. Satisfied that his path was clear, the bear didn’t bother to pursue the tourist and went on his way. When the hapless tourist was at last rescued and brought to the clinic, Trevor had to first stabilize his injuries. He performed a debridement and cleaned the wounds and sewed up the deep claw marks before air-evacuating him to Anchorage.

Trevor shook off the unpleasant memory and with determined prowess he made his first incision, swabbing at the trickle of blood with a white cloth. There wasn’t an anesthesiologist in Moon Shadow, nor the equipment needed for gas anesthesia; so conscious sedation was the only way to keep the young woman under. After a thorough surgical exploration of the patient’s right side pelvic gutter, Trevor was relieved to find her appendix had not yet ruptured. Noting the redness and swelling, however, he knew a rupture was inevitable if emergency surgery had not been performed. A few snips and some ligating sutures and the surgery was done. There was only a drainage tube and small red scar lined with surgical staples to mark the site. He instructed his nurse, Trisha, to finish up by cleaning the wound and to dress it with a large pressure bandage. He asked her to prepare the patient for an immediate air-evacuation. He quickly dictated an op-report, scribbled some orders in her chart, and left instructions for the administration of two antibiotics, Gentamicin and Metronidazole.

Just then, hunger hit him like a two-by-four in the solar plexus, and so he made his way to the diner at the lodge. He sat down at the handmade picnic table, and picked up a menu.

“What’ll it be, Doc?” Mac said. This was a redundant question as Trevor was very predictable and always ordered the same thing for breakfast.

“Can I hear about the daily specials?”

Mac furred his brow and pointed up to the posted menu above the counter which never changed. He gave Trevor a shrug, as if to say, “Knock your self out.”

Dr. Trevor Bentley pretended to study the menu for a long protracted moment. “I think I’ll have an order of steak and eggs, garçon.” he said, as he put the menu down without looking at it. “This time let’s try something different and cook the steak rare on the outside and well done on the inside,” he added with a grin.

Mac ignored the special instructions, and was already way ahead of the request placing a thin strip of elk meat on the sizzling grill, slathering it first with a glurt of his own secret marinade of Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. He knew what Dr. Bentley would order, just like he knew what everyone ordered up here in Moon Shadow. After all, the diner was the only place to eat out, and he was the only cook.

Mac always gave Trevor preferential service, especially since he had helped him to control a nagging case of gout which was slowly threatening to cripple him. Trevor had cajoled and persuaded him into coming down to the clinic for an x-ray of his feet. Some blood was drawn for a sed-rate and a uric acid level, and he was checked for diabetes. After reviewing the results with Mac, he placed him on anti-inflammatory medication, and fitted him in a good pair of loose shoes. He was put on a special diet and cautioned to avoid certain foods, and then he started him on a course of corticosteroids. This soon resulted in controlling his gout symptoms, and ultimately kept him from being confined to a wheelchair. For this he would cook steaks for Dr. Bentley with more than a little TLC, and never complain.

“Here ya go, Doc,” Mac growled. “Just like ya like it.”

Trevor studied the platter of eggs, hash browns and a steak so large it spilled over the side. He slowly turned the plate this way, and then around facing the other way. “You mixed the steak grease with the hash browns,” he admonished Mac, scowling. “There goes your tip.”

“Oh no. How will I be able to send my kids to college now?” Mac asked dramatically with his mouth ajar and mock horror reflected in his eyes.

“That’s all right Mac.” Trevor said smiling and waved his hand airily. “I’ll let it slide this time, just don’t let it happen again,” he whispered surreptitiously.

Mac shrugged and grinned and left Trevor alone while he busied himself with another customer.

Trevor began to cut up his meal with an enthusiastic surgical skill, purposely allowing the egg yolk to spill out. He dipped a forkful of steak in this sticky soup before folding it into his mouth. If he had a beard, like most of the men living in Moon Shadow wore, it might have caught some of the yellow droplets. He preferred to remain clean-shaven, as he felt it to be more professional looking, and due to the fact that it was difficult to get a tight fit in a surgeon’s mask if you have a beard.

“Here comes the mail plane,” Mac said absently, while gazing out of the large picture window.

A distant drone heralded the arrival of a twin engine Cessna disturbing the quiet solitude. They watched as a startled flock of white geese arose into the air above the immense lake. The plane circled once before tipping its wings, and began slipping sideways towards the southern end of the lake. It leveled off before landing on the smooth mirror like surface. It had two large pontoons for landing gear, which looked like side-by-side aluminum canoes strapped beneath the plane. As it taxied towards the boat dock, it created twin rooster-tail wakes behind it. The pilot revved the engines a few times before cutting them off. They whined in protest before stillness was again restored to the peaceful surroundings.

As if on cue, two burly men approached the plane and began unloading the precious mail and cargo. This air taxi was the main link to civilization for the citizens of Moon Shadow. It made deliveries twice a week beginning in spring continuing through fall until the first snow. After the lake froze over, supplies had to be airdropped by parachute to them on a weekly basis. In case of emergency, it was possible to land on the frozen lake using specially equipped planes with large snow skis substituted for the landing gear.

Newspapers were always a week old. It was as if Moon Shadow was like a space station or trapped within a time warp. Modern conveniences were almost nonexistent. They were isolated, virtually marooned, and cut off from civilization. No one seemed to mind it being that way, as the day-to-day tedium of survival kept everyone too busy to think about the modern day world and its problems. Junk mail was not allowed to be delivered, but it was not missed by anyone. For a long time, their only real-time link to the outside world was by a two-way radio. Recently, however, they had installed a satellite dish for TV and even high speed internet at the lodge to keep up with the other more modern fishing and hunting lodges. This was in response to their more sophisticated, and affluent clientele, who demanded it. Worldwide communication was also now possible for those who could afford it via a satellite phone. The satellite dish appeared incongruous and looked like an alien spacecraft perched on top of the lodge, which was an ancient hand hewn pile of logs held together by mud, blood, and sweat.

The lodge was over a hundred years old, and was all which remained of a bustling mining town built during the Gold Rush days. It had been the hub for much activity long ago for the miners, gamblers and there entourage of loose women. Trail hardened gold miners would come to town flush with freshly panned gold nuggets, thirsty for whiskey, yearning for a bath, and the touch from a soft women. After the gold began to peter out, the miners, gamblers, and soon even the whores abandoned Moon Shadow for greener pastures.

The lodge gradually evolved into a trading post for fur trappers, and local Natives, who came to stock up with supplies and trade their bounty of fresh skins of mink, rabbits, and fox they had trapped.

Presently it had transformed once again, and was now a sportsman’s lodge, which was owned by a coterie of investors. It soon became a popular destination for avid outdoorsmen who wished to hunt and fish. They were lured here by full page advertisements found in recreational magazines, and they even had their own web site. This area was plentiful for the eagerly sought after game, such as trophy sized Elk, Caribou, Bear and the ever present Moose. Expert hunting and fishing guides were provided by the lodge. Regularly scheduled round trip airfare via float planes from Anchorage was available as well.

Moon Shadow was surrounded by cathedral-like saw-tooth mountains. It looked like the skeletal spine of a prehistoric dinosaur. Streams and creeks continually emptied the runoff from melting snow into the vast, turquoise colored lake which in turn drained into a rock hewn river. The Russian river meandered across the plains of Alaska for a hundred miles or so before at last emptying into the ocean near Anchorage. This provided for excellent fishing for the Dolly Varden, and the arctic grayling, and char. King Salmon vaulted the many waterfalls as they spawned up the river towards the lake during certain times of the year. It was an exceptional thrill to hook into one of these forty pound giants, and for a fee a local taxidermist could even stuff and mount their trophies. They could also trade in their catch at the fish processing cannery for canned salmon, as well as smoked salmon, freshly shrink-wrap-packaged, preserved, and suitable for the return trip.

The lodge was the focal point for much leisure activity in Moon Shadow. It was the only saloon, general store, post office, laundromat and meeting spot for all who lived here. The large screen TV was also the only TV and collectively shared by all. At first there were many fist fights over what was watched, until a lottery was developed. They were not unlike a large, boisterous family, arguing over whether to watch old reruns of Miami Vice or Hollywood Squares.

Trevor sawed off another hunk of steak and folded it into his mouth with some grease threatening to dribble onto his shirt. He casually observed as a walkway was extended to the plane’s passenger cabin. He absently watched as a man disembarked wearing a tailored business suit, and carrying a briefcase. He could faintly hear the man hurling muted epithets and gesticulating towards the plane’s cabin before he abruptly leaned over the peer. He seemed to be clutching his abdomen with one hand while grabbing onto a piling with his other hand for support, as if he were ill.

Trevor stopped chewing abruptly when he caught sight of the next person who emerged from the plane. It was a young woman wearing tight denim pants and a lumberjack shirt tied Daisy Mae style in front. She jauntily trotted down the walkway causing it to bounce. She effortlessly hoisted a heavy-looking backpack onto her shoulder, and while seeming to ignore the still retching man, she made her way towards the lodge.

As she approached, he watched her toss her feathery, auburn pony tail side-to-side. Other men sitting in the restaurant were coming to their feet, as they reverently observed her. It was as if she were royalty, like Princes Di, or perhaps a famous movie star. There were only a handful of women living in Moon Shadow. Most were the wives of the fishermen and hunting guides living here year round. Their beauty was hardened by the daily struggle for survival. The only single women living here were Trevor’s nurse Trisha, and the lesbian couple who worked at the lodge as bartenders and housekeepers.

It was a rare occurrence for a woman to visit Moon Shadow. Married or single. Trevor sipped his coffee, and out of curiosity was contemplating a trip to the lobby in order to catch another fleeting glimpse of the young woman as she checked in. He watched as the floatplane, now a bit lighter after offloading its cargo, prepared for its departure. The blades of the twin engines caused a stiff wind to kick up. Leaves gathered into a small tornado and skipped helter-skelter across the lake. The plane taxied out into the lake again, the bush pilot getting all set for a power takeoff into the South-West over the dense forest edge. Trevor absently watched as it came back in low and heard the twin engines murmur as the pilot buzzed the lodge, and then dipped its wing’s in a farewell wave before disappeared into an advancing cloud bank. He hazarded a glance back at the dock, and noticed the man with the suit had evidently pulled himself together, and most likely was also headed towards the check-in at the lodge. He somehow gathered that the woman wasn’t the suit’s wife or even his traveling companion. At least from the way she appeared to ignore him, as she had disembarked the plane earlier.

Trevor was about to pay his check and leave the diner when the woman from the floatplane entered through the doorway smiling radiantly. She sat down at the long wooden counter on one of the hand-made stools, and pulled a menu from its holder.

“This mountain air sure can make a person hungry,” she addressed the comment to Mac as he automatically approached with a place setting, and a glass of water.

“I recommend the house specialty, steak and eggs,” Trevor interrupted with a foolish grin.

Mac glowered at him as the woman glanced up from her menu, turned around, and regarded Trevor with a shocked expression on her face.

“You might as well be offering me a plate of sugar and grease. Don’t you know how many grams of cholesterol, and trans-fats there are in a meal like that?” she asked.

Trevor’s heart sank. Things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse beginning.

Mac spoke up, “He ought to know, he’s Moon Shadow’s only physician.”

Trevor looked down at his plate, and flushed red with embarrassment. He thought she might be thinking he was more than likely the village idiot. He didn’t know whether to throw fuel on the fire by claiming the meat to be from elk, very lean, low in Trans-fats and cholesterol, and was actually considered to be very heart healthy.

“Dr. Trevor Bentley? You’re just the person I’m searching for. How fortunate for me,” she gushed, her attitude suddenly taking a hundred-and-eighty degree turn. “I’d like a tuna fish on wheat, lightly toasted with no mayonnaise, and more of this amazing water please. Thank you,” she said to Mac.

He nodded grudgingly, and swung away wiping his hands on his apron, hoping he could find tuna fish, as canned salmon was all he thought to be stocked in the pantry.

Trevor brightened a little, but he couldn’t help appearing bewildered. “Yes, my name is Trevor Bentley. Nice to meet you, Miss…?” he said, covertly noticing she wore no wedding ring.

“Jodie Gibson. You received my letter didn’t you?” she asked nonplussed.

“Oh yes, of course, Miss Gibson. I received a letter, but please…could you refresh me. I have been so busy lately, I seem to have forgotten its content,” he said, silently vowing to check that huge stack of mail on his desk, as well as his growing pile of medical journals, as soon as was possible.

“Of course,” she said, while inviting herself to join him by coming over to sit across the table from him.

He caught the refreshing scent of her perfume, blended with a hint of soap or shampoo. He watched her adjust her seat, thinking how wonderful she looked and smelled. It was almost intoxicating. He silently began to appreciate her beauty—not needing to be enhanced with a lot of makeup or fine apparel. She had a kind of wholesome sex appeal, rarely encountered in his experience. Hearty and healthy, and yet feminine in an attractive, but not overtly seductive way. Her natural pheromones had a powerful effect on him immediately, and he found it difficult not to stare at her.

“I’m here on behalf of the environmental group, Project Earth. As you may be aware, General Oil intends to build another oil and gas pipeline across the Alaskan tundra due to the new oil discoveries found in Prudhoe Bay. The old pipeline stretches eight hundred miles from Prudhoe Bay to the Gulf of Valdez, but it is now not nearly enough to provide for our oil-thirsty nation, especially in light of the increasing hair-trigger tensions in the Middle East. This fresh oil discovery and the jobs it will create has put the proposed new gas and oil pipeline on a fast track,” she said with a sarcastic tone in her voice.

“Yes, I’ve heard the rumors, but I was under the impression that all of their efforts were being held up in the courts,” he replied.

Mac delivered Jodie’s tuna sandwich with little fanfare and without being asked, moved her place setting over on Trevor’s table.

“Can I get you anything else?” Mac asked, winking sideways to Trevor.

“No, this is great,” she said, while peeling the bread up to inspect the tuna.

“Can I get anything else for you Doc?” Mac asked.

“Can I have some more coffee please, Mac? Thanks,” Trevor said, holding up his permanently stained white mug.

“Caffeine? Where did you go to medical school…Grenada?” she said with obvious distain.

“It’s actually decaffeinated, and I am happy to say I graduated medical school from UCLA, in answer to your question,” he added defensively.

“Ah ha…that explains everything. Next you’ll be lighting up a cigarette,” she said with mock disgust.

“Nope. I don’t smoke, and I don’t go out with girls who do,” he said in a singing voice.

She laughed. “I guess there might be hope for you yet, assuming your arteries are salvageable,” she added while eying his plate which still had half of the steak and congealed eggs on it and the remains of his abandoned breakfast appeared to be getting cold.

“I’ve heard they’ve been making great strides in Balloon Angioplasty,” he said with a gleam in his eye. “But getting back to your mission to save the planet, what does the new pipeline have to do with me?” he asked.

“Exactly my point. Someone has to make the effort or we are all going to go the way of the dinosaurs. Homo-Sapiens-Extinct-us. If you get my meaning,” she said, before hungrily attacking her tuna sandwich.

“I thought the rain forest defoliation was the cause du jour?” he asked with a playful hint of sarcasm in his voice. He wasn’t too sympathetic with the extremist-tree-hugger mentality he had been exposed to while attending UCLA. He wasn’t sure why he was baiting her so much, but he enjoyed the lively bantering conversation, while also pleased for the opportunity to be near her—and in doing so, getting to know her better.

She regarded him with a piercing look and stopped chewing before rising to the bait. She swallowed before leveling her gaze and saying. “The reason I’m here in Moon Shadow is to make sure the environment’s rights are protected. Obviously at Project Earth we don’t believe General Oil has our planet’s best interest in mind. In spite of the injunction, the courts have opened a few doors, allowing people to sell to General Oil their land which is located along the projected path of the proposed pipeline. Sterling Tucker, a corporate liaison and an employee of General Oil, is here to set up meetings with the people of Moon Shadow. Ostensibly in order to rally local support,” Jodie said.

“You mean the guy in the thousand-dollar-shark suit who arrived here with you this morning?”

“Yes. I think the float plane pilot was attempting to test Sterling’s intestinal fortitude on the flight here from Anchorage. Surely by now he has probably checked in and is up in his room trying to pull himself together.”

“He did look a little green in the gills when he stepped off the plane.” They shared a polite laugh.

“As I requested in my letter, I need a place in your clinic to set up a temporary lab. I need to perform tests on the water specimens I plan to collect from the streams located nearby, especially those located along the path of the proposed pipeline,” Jodie said.

“I’m sorry, did I miss the part where you identified your credentials?” he asked, feigning authority.

“No. I apologize for that. I’m a professor on a summer sabbatical from UC Berkeley, where I teach biology. I volunteered my entire summer and my services to Project Earth. They are the group responsible for the injunctions placed against General Oil. We hope in the interim to set up a local base for future operations. We hope to perform initial environmental impact studies, while also continuing to monitor this location once work on the pipeline begins, and continue to monitor the situation after it is completed.”

“I see.” Trevor paused for effect and stroked his chin absently. “Of course you can set up a lab in the clinic. I’ll inform my nurse Trisha to clear a space for you, and we will also provide you with any assistance you require.”

“Terrific! Well, I’d better get settled in,” she said and beamed an appreciative smile. She stood and picked up her tab to pay.

“Allow me?” he asked.

“No, but thank you…really. You have been more than kind and so helpful, in spite of my rudeness earlier. And I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I just

Imprint

Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG Sonnenstraße 23 80331 Munich Germany

Text Copyright Holder: Reggie Ridgway
Release Date: 07-09-2013
ISBN: 978-3-7309-3614-6

All Rights Reserved

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