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Since the publication of his first novel at age twenty-three, Paul Watkins has been hailed as the heir to Ernest Hemingway and Jack London. With Archangel, Watkins has written his most satisfying and provocative book yet.
Lumber baron Noah Mackenzie has a bitter history with the Algonquin forest, and now he's trying to clear-cut the part he considers his own. In the remote Maine town of Abenaki Junction, only Madeleine Cody stands up to Mackenzie. Using her small newspaper, the Forest Sentinel, she has long tried to peacefully stop the excessive logging. But when radical Adam Gabriel arrives at Abenaki Junction, he proposes a new a dangerous form of protest. Gabriel pushes both Madeleine and Mackenzie to defend what they love - no matter the cost.
Written in a voice as rich and powerful as the landscape it describes, Archangel is a story of greed, devotion, and the struggle over land that belongs to all and to none of us.
Twice in his life he prayed to God, and both times he left it too late. It was a December evening in the north Maine woods. The trees dissolved to coal-black silhouettes. Jonah Mackenzie stood alone and knee-deep in the snow, half-deaf from the rattling hum of his chain saw as he cut down a tree for his woodpile. Fat, damp flakes of snow fell around him. They settled on his short-cropped grizzled hair and melted on the warm skin of his neck. They filled in his footprints on the wandering path that led out to his truck.
Mackenzie raised his head, feeling sweat run fresh tracks down his face. He saw the Dog Star in the periwinkle sky. At the same time, a huge bird sliced the air above him, gliding without sound across the treetops. Its tip feathers spread like the fingers of a human hand. A bald eagle. He knew they hunted at dusk.
It was dangerous for one man to be out in the forest alone. Dangerous to be cutting down a tree in which the sap might have frozen. But Mackenzie was embarrassed not to have laid in a woodpile until now, which was why he had waited until the loggers went home. After all, he thought, it would look bad if the owner of the logging company hadn't completed a job that everyone else had taken care of weeks before. It would look even worse because he had only just inherited the Mackenzie Company. People were already saying that he couldn't keep up. Couldn't fill his father's shoes. The population of Abenaki Junction seemed to have a personal stake in watching the son of the wealthiest man in the region run his father's company into the ground. It had become Mackenzie's goal to disappoint them.
He sawed a wedge from the trunk so that the tree would fall away from him. The vibrations numbed his arms and scuttled ticklish across his ribs. A spray of sawdust, like chips of bone in the gathering night, fell at the base of the tree. He walked to the other side of the pine, raising his knees to clear the level of snow. His hands were slick with sweat inside his leather gloves. He pulled the trigger of the chain saw and its growling putter rose to a snarl as the blade ate into the tree.
Mackenzie heard the familiar groaning crack of the tree as it began to fall. Instinctively, he breathed in to shout "Coming down!" but remembered his solitude before the words formed in his mouth. At the same time, another realization came to him: the tree was not falling as it should. A shadow passed across the navy-blue sky. As Mackenzie jumped back, the deep snow caught his heels and sent him down. He saw the tree toppling. Saw the needly branches swishing through the air and the trunk pale and ragged at its chain-sawed base. He waved his arms as he fell and his gloves flew away like sloughed-off layers of skin. It seemed to him he had all the time in the world to know what was about to happen.
The tree fell across his left leg. Mackenzie clearly heard the bone snap just below the knee and felt the earth shudder as the trunk smashed into the ground. Pine needles rained down on him. At first the twisting crunch of bone shocked him into silence, but at last the scream came, climbing the the bands of his windpipe. It was shrill and hideous and raced through the forest until Mackenzie felt the burn of empty lungs. The sound trailed away. Slowly he brought his hands to his face and clawed his fingers down his cheeks, trying to wake himself in case this might have been a dream. He smelled the sap of the fallen tree, which stuck like glue to his palms. His stomach clenched, waiting for the pain to reach him. For now there were only strange bolts of shivering that rode up his leg into his buttocks and clambered up the joints of his spine.
It was dark. Beyond the trees, Mackenzie could just make out the road where his truck was parked. He knew that no cars would pass this way tonight. This was a logging road and it was Friday. No one would drive into these woods until Monday. There was no sense crying for help. It was a quarter of a mile to the main road and then three miles to town from there. In what seemed to Mackenzie to be the first clear thought to run through his head since the tree fell, he realized that he would freeze to death before his wife, Alicia, even considered him overdue. She would assume that he'd stopped at the Loon's Watch bar for a drink on his way home. She wouldn't miss him until midnight, and even then she wouldn't call the bar. Alicia wouldn't embarrass him that way. Instead, she would lie in bed and grow impatient. When he tiptoed in late and lay down beside her, she would turn away from him so that he was left to stare at her pale and freckled back. By now she would have let down her hair, the way she did every night. By day she kept it in a ponytail, clipped with a silver barrette. It was very fine hair, dark the way Asian hair is dark, and when the light caught it, the strands shone steely blue. He had known since before they were married that he could not live without her. With equal certainty, he knew that Alicia would manage in his absence. She would mourn, but she would not be the husk that her departure would make of him. Thinking this now made him determined to survive.
He sat up, using his hands as much as he could so as not to put pressure on his pinned leg. His hands sank into the snow until they reached the ground, where he could feel the frozen pine needles from previous years carpeting the soil. His other leg was tucked up toward his chest, clear of the trunk and cramped from the awkward position. Now the babble of his nerves was dying down. Soon the pain would focus.
His hand crept past branches and along the wool of his trousers. He reached past his knee to the frayed threads of torn cloth. Then his fingers snagged on something. It felt like broken glass. He realized it was bone, and jerked his hand back. New sweat broke out all over his body and nausea like a bubble of foul air swelled in his belly. His fingers brushed against the chain saw, which had fallen to the ground blade-first and now jutted from the snow like a stubbed Excalibur.
In panic, Mackenzie dug around the area where his leg was stuck, scooping out snow and throwing it over his shoulder. His fingernails became packed with bark where he'd scraped them against the trunk. But after a few minutes of this, he realized that he couldn't dig his way out. The trunk had slammed his leg down to the ground, and the ground was frozen. He tried to ease himself backward. Electric jolts jumped from his leg, sparked across his ribs and showered down the side of his head.
At last the pain was coming. It moved in twisting, knifelike cuts along his flesh. The cold had reached him, too. He could no longer feel the toes of his good leg. Slowly he began to understand what he would have to do. The knowledge took its time, pushing through the veils of disbelief. He knew he couldn't wait. If he did, he might not be able to go through with it. The indecision would kill him.
Mackenzie didn't pause to brace himself or cry or think about the future. He snapped a finger-thick branch off the tree, set it between his teeth and bit down. Then he grabbed the chain saw, heaved it out of the snow and pulled the starting cord. It coughed once and he pulled again and it started. When he set the blade in motion, ice and dirt thrashed at his face.
He cut off his left leg two inches below the knee. The blade slipped quickly through his bone and skin, vibrating along the length of his body. He bit down on the stick and howled. His back teeth cracked from the pressure. Then the saw struck the ground and he let go of the trigger. The motor stalled out and it was quiet again.
Mackenzie was beyond the point of crying. Any sound at all seemed useless to him now. He eased himself back from the trunk and used his heavy bridle-leather belt to make a tourniquet. Then he began to crawl as fast as he could toward his truck, elbow over elbow, hands knotted into fists, sinking into the snow. The pain was growing, taking shape. Heat and cold flashed at the place where his leg had been severed. Mackenzie looked back to see the bloody skid of his wound and the shreds of cloth from his trousers. The space where his leg should have been seemed to shudder with emptiness.
He reached the truck. It looked huge from where he lay. He clambered up the side until he reached the door handle, and when the door opened he swung back with it, dragging the stump of bone along the ground. He climbed into the cab, smelling the plastic of the seats and the coffee he had bought at the Four Seasons diner on his way out of town. The Styrofoam cup rested on the dashboard. The coffee was cold and muddy-looking in the sharp yellow glare of the overhead light.
He couldn't find his keys. He slapped at the left chest pocket of his Filson hunting coat, where he normally kept them. He slapped harder, as if to jolt the keys into existence, but the pocket was empty.
His hands clawed across his trouser pockets. Change rattled onto the floor. A handkerchief wafted into the dark. The keys had fallen from his pocket and lay somewhere out there in the snow. He'd never find them now.
Mackenzie heard the tiny patter of his blood dripping on the plastic floor mat. The muscles had spasmed. The blood flow was light. In every moment of stillness, shock draped itself around him, layer by paper-thin layer. He knew he had to keep moving. He drank the cold coffee, tasting its bitterness in the corners of his mouth, then crushed the Styrofoam cup into squeaky chips and threw it outside. He took a flashlight out of the glove compartment and eased himself down from the truck. He started crawling along the road, over the snow-padded gravel. The moon came out from behind the shredded clouds and he caught sight of his own warped reflection in the funhouse mirrors of the frozen puddles.
He begged himself to rest. Fatigue purred in his head and slowed him down. When he felt it taking over, he grabbed snow and rubbed the gritty crystals hard against his face. Sometimes the stub of bone scraped on the ground. It sent the same rude shiver through him as nails scraped across a blackboard. Mackenzie followed the strange valleys of his own tire tracks until he reached the main road. He had no sense of time passing.
He propped himself against a speed-limit sign in the slush at the side of the road. Then he waited for someone to come, listening above the waterfall noise of the wind through the pines for the grumble of an engine. The cold walked up to him and sat down beside him and laid its hands on his goose-bumped flesh. Soon he was shivering out of control. He began to think he might have preferred to stay in the woods instead of lying there like some possum, road-killed on the verge.
Twenty minutes later, when he heard a truck coming, his hands were so numb that he couldn't switch on the flashlight. The highbeams of the truck burned through the forest and splashed across the road. Suddenly Mackenzie was trapped in their fire. It was too small for a logging truck. Too big for a jeep. He raised the light and waved his ice-cut hands and shouted.
The machine slowed. Its gears downshifted. Mackenzie could see the red-and-white sign of the Sparks and Loftus Dairy.
It was Barnaby Sparks in the truck, returning from Skowhegan after dropping off milk at the dairy. He was drinking from an old army canteen into which he had poured cream and vodka and coffee liqueur to make himself a White Russian cocktail. When he saw the man, he stamped on the brakes, which squealed as they brought the heavy Mercedes truck to a stop. He could make no sense of it-a man out here in the middle of the night. In a panic, he wondered if it might be a police trap, to catch him driving-while-intoxicated again. He opened the window and threw out the canteen. Then he reached into his pocket and ate a roll of mints, gouging them from the packet into his mouth one after another with his thumb, hoping to hide the smell of alcohol. He crunched them and swallowed the gritty fragments. They went down his throat like pieces of broken china.
Mackenzie heard a door open. Boots thumped the road as the driver jumped down. "By Jesus, what's going on?" asked Sparks. He moved with the same heavy plod as his caws.
"It's me," Mackenzie said. "I'm all fucked up," he whispered.
"What are you doing?" Sparks's thin face crumpled as he recognized Mackenzie. In the headlights' glare, Sparks's tight blond and receding curls made a fuzzy halo around his ears.
Mackenzie lowered his gaze to where his leg had been. "Look what I had to do," he said. The bone glimmered green-white and the torn skin was so pale it looked like carved alabaster.
Sparks fainted. His eyes rolled back into his head until they looked like two peeled hard-boiled eggs. He pitched facedown into the snow.
"No!" Mackenzie bashed Sparks on his springy-haired head with the flashlight. "I didn't come all this way to die at a road sign. Not with you lying there right in front of me. No!"
After a minute, Sparks raised his head. His eyebrows were crusted with snow. When it looked as if he might pass out again, Mackenzie hooked his finger under Sparks's jaw and kept it there, sunk deep into the man's throat, until his fluttering consciousness returned. "I swear to God," growled Mackenzie, "that I will take you with me you goddamned milkman if you don't get us both back to town."
"By Jesus," Sparks said, as he dragged Mackenzie to the truck, hands tucked under the man's armpits, "I never seen anything like it. There I was and here you are and the leg and, by Jesus, I can't even say."
Mackenzie smelled the sour milk on Sparks's hands and the syrupy sweetness of the White Russian on his breath. The whole truck carried a yogurtlike sourness to it, which caused people in town to hold their breath in the gust of wind whenever the truck rumbled past.
"OK," Sparks announced when he had them both in the truck. "OK," he said again, and slapped the large black ring of the steering wheel, a confused look on his face, as if he had suddenly forgotten how to drive.
"Look, Barnaby." Mackenzie's jaw trembled with the cold. "After you get me to a doctor, can you go up the logging road until you find my truck?"
"Yes." Sparks nodded, bracing himself, hands clasped on the wheel, but still unsure how to set the truck in motion.
"And can you get my leg and bring it back?"
"By Jesus," said Sparks, and fainted again. His head cracked down on the steering wheel.
As soon as Mackenzie realized what had happened, he reached across and grabbed the white cloth of Sparks's overalls at the back of the neck and heaved the man across his lap. Then Mackenzie shoved Sparks headfirst into the passenger-side seat well and slid himself across to the driver's seat. With his good leg, he revved the engine high in neutral, then slipped it into drive. As Mackenzie rode into town, he gripped the wheel to fend off the pain that mauled him each time the truck bounced over a pothole. Nausea churned his stomach, hoisting the cold coffee into the back of his throat.
Then, for the first time in his life, Mackenzie began to pray. He prayed to stay alive, clouding the windshield with his breath.
Sparks groaned in the seat well. The first lights of houses slid past.
At last Mackenzie felt shock overtake him. His nerves retreated deep inside. The outside world was vanishing like smoke. He stopped at the Four Seasons diner, its windows blurred with condensation and the shapes of people at their tables more ghostlike than real.
Mackenzie could go no farther. He lowered his head onto the silver half-moon bar of the horn. As his muscles relaxed, the weight of his skull set the horn's long wail sounding across the town and out into the hills around Abenaki Junction. It was the last thing he remembered from that night.
He would not pray again for many years. Not until the moment of his death.
A decade passed before Mackenzie's chain-saw dreams finally left him alone. It was as if his debt to them had at last been paid and they evaporated into the same red cloud of thought in which they had been barn.
Sometimes he would wake in the night and feel the leg in its casing of dull pain. He would place his hands down hard, fingers spread, on the place where the leg should have been, and touch nothing but the wool of the blanket and the hard mattress underneath. But he could feel it, as if the leg existed on another plane of being and would always be there, even though he could not see or touch it, or walk without the heavy plastic limb which he placed at his bedside each night, sock and boot attached, its colored plastic chosen to match the opalescent chalkiness of his other leg. He strapped on this prosthesis every morning with the same unthinking precision with which he strapped on his belt and shaved and brushed his hair.
He didn't worry anymore about what people thought of him, the way he had in the first struggling years of running the company. Now people stood in awe of Jonah Mackenzie, believing that a man who had done this much damage to himself and survived would be left alone by bad luck and disaster from then on. So far, it seemed to be true. Since he had turned to clear-cutting the forest, his profits were far greater than his father's had been. Mackenzie's whole life had been shoved into the same charmed and half-real world that his old leg seemed to inhabit.
This all changed one morning in early June, when Victor Coltrane arrived at the Mackenzie mill, bringing news of a death in the forest. Coltrane was Mackenzie's company foreman. He had been around since the days of Mackenzie's father. Mackenzie watched him coming down the corridor. He saw the hard sinews of muscle wrapped around Coltrane's arms and the way he wore his shoulder blades like medieval armor on his back. His neck and legs seemed built to take the shock of a danger that hadn't yet arrived.
Mackenzie sensed disaster coming, the way he recognized miniature tornadoes of dust in the millyard as signs of an approaching storm. Coltrane stopped in the doorway to Mackenzie's office. The knit of Coltrane's sleeveless sweater expanded and contracted across his chest as he caught his breath. For a moment, the two men just looked at each other, one standing and the other sitting behind his custom-made black-cherry desk, its wood dark amber and glowing.
Then Coltrane spoke. "Get down to the car," he said. "Something terrible has happened."
Without a word, Mackenzie stood, picked his black-and-red plaid jacket off a wooden peg and put it on. Then he took up his walking stick, its top a plum-sized ball of walrus ivory, and, stiff-legged, followed Coltrane out of the office. People turned to watch them go, secretaries and mill workers and a man who'd come to restock the Coca-Cola machine. Mackenzie did not return their stares.
On his way to see the accident, Jonah Mackenzie caught a glimpse of his own reflection in the Range Rover's window. He raised one hand and touched the mirror image of his eye. It bothered him, but he didn't know why. Then he focused past his face to the ranks of young pine trees that grew beside the road. The pines had been planted in such straight lines that the empty avenues between them seemed to race away like frightened animals. Mackenzie vaguely recalled what this place had looked like before he clear-cut the land, not unlike when the French and English settlers used the gently sloping ground on the banks of Pogansett Lake as a place to trade with the Abenaki Indians. Guns, knives, beads, pots and pans for beaver and muskrat pelts. Mackenzie's family had been here since 1790, almost as long as the town. His ancestors had helped to drive out the Indians once and for all. Mackenzie used to tell Alicia, who quietly endured his repetition, that if it weren't for him Abenaki Junction would be swallowed by the forest. The scouting vines and sapling trees would spread their stubborn tangles through abandoned buildings, across the rusty railroad tracks and down the potholed main street until nothing remained of the town.
On any other day, to see the landscape ordered in this way would have filled Mackenzie with a calm that moved like sleep through his nerves. Tabula Rasa, he thought. Clean Slate. Sweep the forest aside and start again with himself as supreme architect. Tabula Rasa. He loved the way those Latin words rolled off his tongue. The finality of it. The absoluteness. Its purity was almost sexual. The trees in their planted rows appeared to rise in obedience to him. He thought how much he had changed since leaving Yale thirty years before and returning to the north Maine woods to work for his father. He had found himself in the middle of a war against the other logging operations-Deschamps, Mottet, Ruger. The Mackenzies had outlasted them all. It was also a war against faulty machinery, against dishonest employees and wasted time. Once a month Mackenzie went through a day with a stopwatch, marking down whatever he did at fifteen-minute intervals, to see if he was working as efficiently as he could. It was also a war against the forest for taking his leg and leaving him to pace through his life with a cripple's awkward gait. It would not end until each thing that grew in the wilderness and could be useful to man was spread out in vast, worshipful columns around the town of Abenaki Junction.
As Coltrane drove, he told as much as he knew. Some loggers had been cutting into trees just south of the Canadian Atlantic Railroad. The chain saw being used by a young man named James Pfeiffer had snapped its blade, which whipped back in Pfeiffer's face and killed him outright. Pfeiffer had come to Abenaki Junction a year ago. Before that, he had worked on a fishing boat out of Newport, Rhode Island. As soon as he made enough money, Pfeiffer had planned to go back to the coast and buy a boat of his own. Mackenzie had liked the boy. He spoke softly and straightforwardly. He wished it could have been someone else, if it had to be anyone at all. There had been accidents before at the company, but never an on-the-job death. A placard on the gates of the Mackenzie Company listed the number of days without an accident. Mackenzie went out each morning to slide the black numbers into place. Today it had been 137. As soon as we get to the mill, Mackenzie thought, I'll take down the placard and wait a while before putting it back up. Of all the bad-publicity ways to go, Mackenzie thought. Killed by a goddamned chain saw.
Chain saw. The words interrupted his thoughts. Chain saw. Chain saw. They repeated in his head as if he had never heard them before. Once more he felt the buzz of the blade through his leg. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.
Coltrane turned off the road and the Range Rover began moving along a gravel track that led up to the Algonquin Wilderness. Mackenzie had just purchased logging rights for 50,000 acres from the government. By the time the news was made public, the clear-cutting had already begun. He had nine months to finish the job, after which the area would be declared a permanent wilderness preserve. Mackenzie thought the idea was ludicrous. By the time I've finished with the Algonquin, he told himself, there won't be any wilderness left to preserve. But the price is good. Timber's good. I'd be a fool to turn down the offer. Someone else would take it instead. Some of the forest had never been cut. It had that rare name "old growth" attached to it, which struck Mackenzie as a challenge he could not turn down. He thought the idea of old growth was stupid. The Forestry Service would replant the area and in twenty years the land would be ready for cutting again. "If anybody needs a better reason than that," Mackenzie had told his wife, "they can go to hell and I'll join them there at my convenience."
Mackenzie set his hand on Coltrane's shoulder. "Why are we going so slow?"
"Man's already dead." The car bounced over potholes filled with the cream-colored water of dissolved clay. The puddles exploded across the Range Rover's hunter-green cowlings. Coltrane kept his eyes on the road, but the muscles stayed tensed along his shoulders, where Mackenzie's hand had settled like a crow.
In the distance, almost lost among the pines, Mackenzie could see a dozen of his loggers in their yellow hard hats and blaze-orange of vests, a letter M stamped in red on the backs. They clustered around a clearing, where sawdust powdered the ground. Parked on a dirt road across from the accident was a paramedic truck. Its flashing lights were off, the cargo doors shut. The driver, a man named Twitch Duvall, stood beside the body. He was called Twitch because he never sat still. He wore the blue-and-white jacket of the paramedic unit, and under it the white apron of his other job as manager of the Fresh Time Supermarket. Duvall was wringing his hands, as if squeezing water from a sponge.
Seeing this useless gesture gave Mackenzie his first clear message of the death. Before that, he had refused to believe it completely. To watch Twitch just standing there made Mackenzie furious. The Range Rover had barely come to a stop when Mackenzie swung open the door and climbed down, tottering on his good leg until he'd regained his balance. He felt the urgency of standing in front of someone badly hurt. He wanted to rush in, stop the pain and yell at his loggers to do something. But before he could speak, Mackenzie had a sudden and horrible vision-that it was not himself coming to see the dead man but the dead man rushing down to meet him, cackling and bloody through the trees. He reached out to take hold of Coltrane's arm for support, but the vision went away and Mackenzie's arm slipped back to his side.
As Coltrane began to wade through the crowd, the loggers stepped away from him as if in a well-orchestrated dance. No one had ever thought Coltrane would become a foreman. He had never been one to give orders. But this was precisely why Mackenzie had hired him: so he could give all the orders himself. Coltrane's rank had set him apart from the people who were once his closest friends.
As soon as Mackenzie saw Pfeiffer's body, his anger at Twitch Duvall disappeared. At least, the excuse for it did. The anger itself left a residue, which would oblige Mackenzie to become enraged at something else in order for him to leave it behind. There was nothing to be done for James Pfeiffer, no thread of life remaining by which to pull the young man back from death. Death had arrived completely and taken everything. The yellow-painted, black-oil-smudged chain saw lay almost on top of the corpse. The broken chain-link blade was lodged in Pfeiffer's face under a ragged flap of skin, and tangled in the flaked bone of his burst skull. The blade had woven like an iron snake through his hair and across the ground. One of his eyes remained open, peering suspiciously, as if Pfeiffer still needed some visible sign before his soul could abandon his body.
Mackenzie knew at once that even though jokes had been made about what happened to him, the peg-leg gibes that he allowed because he had invented them, there would never be jokes about this. The spilled-blood curiosity left him so quickly that he suddenly forgot what this curiosity felt like, even though he had been filled with it only a few seconds before. Instead, he felt suddenly cold, as if his flesh were no more than cheesecloth and the wind was blowing clean through him. It was a chill so deep that for a moment Mackenzie felt the terror of his own life slipping through the soft gauze of his flesh. He could not bring himself to believe that only a shell remained of James Pfeiffer, something to be hustled underground and remembered from now on in fading photographs.
The stares of the loggers had turned toward Mackenzie. They waited for some words to release them from their spell, for his voice to rise above the muttering.
Mackenzie breathed in deeply, summoning courage, not daring to show fear. "Twitch!" he shouted.
Twitch Duvall stepped forward. "Yes, Mr. Mackenzie?"
"Bring this poor man down the hill," was all Mackenzie said. He did not know where the body should be taken after that, but it did not matter. All he had to do was give the one command and everyone was suddenly in motion, the body in its stillness strangely distant from them now. Twitch carefully removed the saw blade from Pfeiffer's face. Then the men took off their belts and slid them gently under the corpse. They all lifted at once and carried Pfeiffer to a flatbed truck on which there was a crane for raising logs.
It was evening now. The air had filled with the tiny silver parachutes of dandelion seeds, blown in from the valley beyond. From a nearby tree, a bald eagle beat its massive wings and soared up toward the granite skull of Seneca Mountain.
The distant but fast-approaching sound of a police siren came from the main road. A minute later, the police car arrived, bouncing and sliding up the hill, its red and blue lights flashing. The car skidded to, a stop in the chalky mud and Marcus Dodge climbed out. Dodge, stood six feet three inches tall. He had short blond hair, a straight', nose and eyes the brown-green color of old bronze. He was the only policeman in Abenaki junction, and driving the only police car. They' had never needed more than Marcus Dodge to keep the peace. His family had been in these woods even longer than Mackenzie's, and the way Dodge moved and spoke and thought were so much a part of the town that he never had to raise his voice to anyone, or ask twice for a thing to be done. He turned off the siren, but left the red lights!, flashing. They made a quiet, whirring noise.
The loggers stopped their talking. They waited to see what Dodge' would do. Before he could speak, another car appeared at the end of the dirt road. It was a red Volkswagen Bug, chrome fender pimpled with rust. Mackenzie felt his heart clench like a fist. The outlet for his anger had arrived. It was Madeleine Cody in that car. Editor of the Forest Sentinel. Environmental activist, she called herself. Mackenzie considered Madeleine and her watchdog newspaper his own personal' plague of locusts. He could not deny that she was very intelligent and pretty and full of potential. But Madeleine was the kind of person who needed to be told these things, and by someone she trusted to know. And the only person in this town who could say them to her and be believed, thought Mackenzie, is me. This was one of his greatest weapons in their private battle. Another was that she reminded him of his wife. Both Madeleine and Alicia had a sense of fair play that made them helpless against anything that was not fair. Mackenzie had been biding his time with Madeleine. He waited for her to tire out and move on. But his patience was wearing thin. If she didn't pack up soon, he would make her go, the same way he had finished the owners of those other logging companies.
For a while after Forest Sentinel started up, Mackenzie had thought the paper would fold by itself. Nobody seemed to be reading it. Then he realized that people were reading Forest Sentinel, they just never read it around him. He marveled at the way Madeleine wrote the paper and distributed it and solicited advertising all by herself. Although he would never have said it to her face, Mackenzie thought she was the hardest-working woman he had ever met. He had watched her grow up in Abenaki junction, and the day she left for the University of Maine at Orono on a full scholarship to study journalism, Mackenzie doubted he would ever see her again. He was surprised when she returned four years later, having given up offers from newspapers all over the country. Madeleine had chosen to start her own paper. When Mackenzie found out what kind of paper it was to be, he felt an irritation that had never quite left him alone since.
As the Volkswagen approached, Dodge sensed the tension in the air. Some of it came from himself. He was in love with Madeleine and had been for years, as much as anyone could be from a distance and with no way to tell her how he felt. He knew what she thought of him and what he stood for. To Madeleine, he was the two-dimensional image of everything she fought against. The law that protected Mackenzie. Dodge wished he could tell her how much he despised the old man. He saw Jonah Mackenzie as a ravenous, grabbing giant, whose sense of law and fairness was loud and blustering until things went against him. Then he would turn around and cheat until he won. Getting what he wanted had become like a drug for Mackenzie, and he couldn't do without it. Dodge never said any of this. He kept his opinions to himself. His job demanded it. The way he felt about Madeleine had gotten in the way of every relationship he'd tried to have, and sometimes he resented her for it, out of frustration more than logic.
The Volkswagen skidded on the gravel. Then came the bone-crack sound of the emergency brake being applied. The puttering engine coughed and quit. Madeleine jumped out. She carried a camera slung around her neck, and an old leather mailbag, in which, he knew, she kept a tape recorder and notebook. Madeleine was thirty-two years old. She wore her cedar-colored hair pulled back with a rubber band. Not even one of those glittery bands made for the purpose, Mackenzie noted. An actual rubber band. Each detail of her existence seemed designed to piss him off. Her beauty taunted him, especially her eyes, which were a shiny mahogany brown. He knew that she had been an athlete in college, and even though it had been several years since then, her body still carried the same compact muscularity. Her skin stayed pale, even in the summer, but her cheeks were brushed rosy in the cool air. "How is he?" she shouted, and ran toward the flatbed where Pfeiffer lay, his head covered by an orange vest. She had not taken the time to put on her boots, and her feet, in sandals, looked naked next to the heavy, boot-clad feet of the loggers.
"James Pfeiffer is dead, Madeleine." It was Mackenzie who spoke. He sounded paternal and impatient.
Madeleine stopped in front of the body. Pfeiffer's blood-spattered hands hung down off the flatbed, the cuffs of his work jacket dark with old sweat. For a moment, it looked as if she might raise the orange vest to see the corpse's face, as if she didn't trust Mackenzie's word. The chill wind raised goose bumps on her naked forearms and batted at the baggy sleeves of her T-shirt. She hesitated in front of the body.
In that moment of hesitation, Mackenzie felt sure she would not look, and in not looking would show herself to be weak in front of the loggers.
Madeleine raised the cloth and stared stone-faced at the wreckage of Pfeiffer's head. Then she set it down, the bloody fabric molding against the wounds like a cast. She turned to face the crowd, but her eyes were aimed at Mackenzie. "Mr. Mackenzie." They had always been cordial to each other, but it was a brittle, flinty politeness that held more hostility than any insults that could pass between them. "You've got your men working double shifts, haven't you?"
"They get paid double. I don't hear any complaints. It's not against the law to be in a rush. Most people spend their lives rushing around. You, for example."
"The reason you're in such a hurry is because you're afraid someone will come along and find a way to stop what you're doing here."
"Not legally, dear. And not at all if I can help it."
Madeleine unshouldered the bag and the camera. She let them dangle on their straps until they touched the ground and then she let them go. "Why can't you admit the importance of this being the last area . . ."
"Area of old growth in the northeast." Mackenzie droned out the words. "Yes, I've heard all that. I've read it in your paper and seen it on your posters. I bought the right to cut here from the government. If you don't agree with it, take the matter up with Uncle Sam." Mackenzie began walking toward her, his cane digging deep into the pine-needled ground.
"Are you trying to make some connection between this accident and my purchasing the land? Because if you are, well, say it right here in front of all these people. I'm interested to hear it. Is there some cosmic force at work here that I'm not aware of?"
"I'm suggesting that you are cutting this timber so quickly to get as much as you can in the nine-month time limit, that you might be overworking your crews."
Dodge watched all of this closely. He saw Mackenzie and Madeleine as two different species, a cobra and a mongoose, ingrained with such instinctive mutual dislike that they seemed destined to clash whenever they crossed paths. To him, there was something deadly in the way they sidestepped around each other, as if waiting for one badly timed blink before rushing in to attack.
"Who says I'm overworking my crews?" asked Mackenzie. "Just you?"
"I've heard it in town." She glanced at the crowd. "From your own loggers."
"Who? Give me their names!" Mackenzie glared for a second at the logging crew, hunting for a guilty face. He didn't doubt there had been complaints. He had ordered Coltrane to push the crews hard while they cleared out the wilderness.
"You know damn well I won't tell you who they are." Madeleine gathered up her camera and bag, as if Mackenzie meant to smash them with his jabbing cane and heavy-treading artificial leg.
You're pretty when you're indignant, Mackenzie wanted to say. But he could not afford to admire her just now. "Of course you won't tell me. Journalistic integrity and all that stuff. Still, it does hurt your credibility a little." He looked around at the loggers, a half-smile on his face, mocking her.
Some of the loggers half-smiled back. Others glanced down at the chafed toes of their boots. Many loggers did agree that the land should not be clear-cut. When Mackenzie was not around, they would talk among themselves about the days when Jonah Mackenzie's father, Abraham, had run his business without leveling the forests. Sustainable yield. No one could even say those words in Mackenzie's presence and think that his job was still safe. Not even Coltrane. After what had happened to the last foreman, especially not Coltrane. The only person who dared was Madeleine. For this, the loggers respected her.
"Will somebody tell me what happened?" Madeleine looked around, asking them with her eyes to break Mackenzie's grip on their silence.
"Accident," Mackenzie told her. "Appears to be. You'll just have to let Dodge here do his investigation. Then you can find out along with the rest of us."
Dodge looked up at the mention of his name. He had been sitting in the car and smoking a cigarette, preparing himself to look at what had happened to Pfeiffer. He had met Pfeiffer's family when the boy first came to town. The father was wiry and weatherbeaten, his jaw permanently set from years of hard physical work. The mother seemed nervous to have her son live so far from home. And James Pfeiffer himself had seemed a little ill at ease. He kept looking around as if to see the huge waves of the Atlantic pounding on a beach nearby. But he had settled in all right. The boy could have made a career of it, if he had lived a little longer.
Mackenzie shuffled a little closer to Madeleine. He ran his fingers through his dry gray hair in gesture of losing his patience. "Please don't make me remind you that this is private property."
Madeleine turned to Dodge. "Do you mind if I take a picture?"
Dodge met her gaze. He thought of all the things he would say to her if he could, and if he thought it would do any good. But he just lifted one hand and let it drop on the open car door to show it was all right.
While Madeleine took pictures, Mackenzie drilled a stare so hard into Coltrane that the man looked up from his boots. "Drive me home," Mackenzie said, and threw him the Range Rover keys. Then he turned to the crowd. "As soon as Dodge is finished with you," he called to the loggers, "go home and take the day off." He turned to leave and then turned back. "With pay." He didn't pause to see if any signs of gratitude flashed across their faces. He didn't want their gratitude now. He would claim it at some later date. It was like paying insurance, and given for the same reason he handed out free turkeys at Thanksgiving and Christmas trees at Christmas, and paid for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display. Everyone in town owed Jonah Mackenzie something, even if it was just gratitude. And in return he owed them nothing, which was as he wanted it. Everyone except Madeleine, anyway.
A storm was coming. Rain from the north in a gray stampede. Its dampness sifted through the air.
Coltrane drove Mackenzie down the hill. "Now then," said Mackenzie, "what the hell happened up there?"
"We could talk about this later, if you want."
So it's as bad as that, thought Mackenzie. He slapped his thigh pocket and felt the squared-off edges of his notebook. He pulled it out and removed a tiny pencil from its spine. On one of the delicate blue pages he wrote "James Pfeiffer." He always carried his notebook with him, and always in the same pocket. Several times a day, he would slap his thigh pocket to see that the notebook was there, then the left chest pocket of his coat to check his wallet and finally a gentler tap across his right shirt pocket, where he kept his glasses until the moment when, every night, he set them on his bedside table. It gave him peace of mind to know what belonged where, the same for people as for things. "Just go ahead and tell me," he said.
"Well, it was an accident. . ."
Mackenzie didn't let Coltrane finish the sentence. "So that's all there is to it?" Mackenzie kept his pencil poised above the notepaper.
"No, sir. The chain bust because the saw was no good. It was one of those old saws that should have been replaced at the end of last year's cutting season."
"So why wasn't it?" Mackenzie noticed the clot of mud that had fallen from Coltrane's boots onto the seat-well carpeting.
"You told me not to, sir. I still have the memorandum. You told me to string out the machinery until it fell apart. Which it just did. Sir."
Mackenzie sat back. His lips puckered as he sucked at his teeth, deep in thought. "Fuck," he said, after a minute, as if it had taken him this long just to choose the right word.
"If Dodge has the chain saw analyzed by an expert, he'll be told that it was unsafe equipment. And if Pfeiffer's family finds out about that . . ."
"They'll sue me."
"They'll want some kind of restitution, anyway." Coltrane wiped his hand across his stubbled chin, trying to find a gentle way of agreeing. He could think of other families in town, who, if they heard that one of their own had been killed by unsafe equipment, would load up their guns and come hunting for Jonah Mackenzie. He didn't know about Pfeiffer's family. They were from the coast and he had no idea about those people.
At that moment, Madeleine's red Volkswagen overtook them on their way into town. Mackenzie looked down at her pale hands gripping the steering wheel. She had undone her ponytail and her hair streamed behind her in the breeze.
Mackenzie would regret closing down Madeleine's newspaper. He admired her stubbornness, even when it worked against him. He wanted to protect her, even when he had to protect himself against the things that she had done. Mackenzie wished she could have come to work at the mill instead of making things difficult for him every chance she got. When she was a teenager, she had stood in single protest outside his logging company gates, with a sign condemning his first clear-cut operation. The sign was made of plywood, with STOP CLEAR-CUTTING in fuzzy-edged, black spray-painted capital letters. The sign was too heavy for her to hold up for more than a few minutes at a time. She leaned against the fence, coughing in the dust that logging trucks kicked up as they rumbled into the mill. Mackenzie once sent out same lunch to her on a tray, but she refused it, just as he would have done if he had been in her shoes.
Despite her hostility toward him, Mackenzie could not help his affection for her. Mackenzie had no children, and Madeleine was the age his own child would have been if things had gone differently.
The Volkswagen passed by, its engine puttering with the same persistent energy that Madeleine herself seemed to possess.
Mackenzie thought about the other newspapers that would be calling soon-The Skowhegan Times and The Down East Gazette, based over in Greenville. He thought of them smacking their lips at the scandal. The Forestry Safety Commission would demand a report, too. They would send investigators to check every machine in his mill, every chain saw, every truck. The Pfeiffer family would have to be taken care of. There would be a burial. A memorial service organized. He would shake hands and make a speech and politely refuse the Spam-and-mayonnaise sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Even if the news of the unsafe chain saw never leaked out, Mackenzie knew he would still be blamed by the family. He would be blamed because there always had to be someone to blame. Mackenzie thought of time moving ahead without mercy for James Pfeiffer, already chipping away at the memory that people's minds.
"If we can just make it through these months ahead," Mackenzie said, as much to himself as to the silent man who rode with him, "we'll be all right. Better than all right." At that moment, he caught sight again of his reflection in the car's window. He shuddered. Suddenly he remembered why it bothered him so much. The warped image reminded him of the night he cut off his leg. He had stared at his pain-twisted face in the moonlit frozen puddles on the road as he waited to die or be saved.