Just to see if any of her surmises were in the ballpark, Anna said, "How so your folks?" and prepared to listen with an expression that would pass for innocent with the unwary.
"Mom and Dad are camping at Fifty Mountain Camp for a week. Mom got this sudden urge to get back to nature."
"Quite a coincidence," Anna needled, to see what kind of response she could scare up. No sense smelling stinky if one couldn't be a stinker.
"Mom's kind of...," Rory's voice trailed off. Anna didn't detect any malice, just annoyance. "Kind of into the family thing. Sort of 'happy campers all together.' She knows I won't see a lot of her, if at all. She can always amuse herself. And of course Les had to come if she came."
Now there was malice. A pretty hefty dose of it for a lad so green in years.
"Les?" Anna prodded because it was in her nature to do so.
"My dad. Carolyn's my stepmother."
Had Anna for some unfathomable reason chosen to go forth and populate the earth with offspring of her own, it would have cut her to the heart to hear herself mentioned in the tones Rory used when speaking of his dad. The kinder notes, poured out upon the stepparent, would have been just so much salt in the wound.
"I doubt we'll even see them from a distance," Joan said. "This itsy-bitsy chunk of map I've been pointing at represents a whole lot of territory when you're covering it on foot." There was a slamming-the-iron-door quality to her dismissal of the domestic issue that made Anna suspect her of being a mother in her other life. If she had another life. In the forty-eight hours Anna had known her, Rand had worked like a woman buying off a blackmailer. It wasn't that she lacked humor or zest, but that she pushed herself as if her sense of security was held hostage and only hard work could buy it back.
A classic workaholic.
Anna's sister, Molly, had been one until she'd nearly died; then, at the ripe age of fifty-five, fallen in love for maybe the first time. Molly was a psychiatrist. She could tell Joan that no amount of work would suffice. But if Joan was a true workaholic, she wouldn't have time to listen.
Personally, Anna loved workaholics. Especially when they worked for her. In a sense those laboring to save one square inch of wilderness, rescue one caddis fly larva from pollutants, were in the deepest sense public servants. And maybe, if the gods took pity and the public woke up, these rescuers would save the world, one species, one coral reef, one watershed at a time.
Anna'd organized a backpack so often it took her no more time than a veteran airline pilot packing for a four-day trip. The five liters of blood and guts were secured in a hard plastic Pelican case. Rory would carry that. Anna and Joan split the rest of the equipment between them: fencing staples and hammers, vials of ethanol for scat samples, envelopes for hair, a trap log to record the salient facts of the sites, like where, precisely, in the two million acres of Glacier each four-hundred-square-foot trap was located so the next round of researchers could find it. The skunk lures, five in all, weighed next to nothing. Wool, permeated with the scent purchased from a hunting catalogue, was stuffed in film canisters and stowed in a glass jar. That went in Anna's pack. In under two hours everything was arranged to Joan's satisfaction.
The women spent the remainder of the evening at a scarred oak table in Joan's dining area going over BIMS-bear incident management systems reports. Joan lived in park housing and Anna felt peculiarly at home. There was a sameness to the quarters that engendered a bizarre dreamlike déjà vu.
It wasn't merely the prevalence of the Mission '66 ranch-style floor plans: three bedrooms, L-shaped living area and long narrow kitchen circa 1966, the last time the NPS had gotten major funding for employee housing. It was the décor. Rangers, researchers and naturalists, from seasonal to superintendent, could be counted on to have park posters on the walls, a kachina or two on the shelves, Navajo rugs over the industrial-strength carpeting and an assortment of mismatched unbreakable plastic dishes in the kitchen.
Reprinted from Blood Lure by Nevada Barr by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2001 Nevada Barr. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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