Her voice was high and strained, a mouse squeaking authority, a kindergartner putting her foot down. Stress showed in the hunch of her shoulders and the way her hands cupped her elbows as if the crossing of arms was not only to keep the world out but also to hold herself together. Regardless of the trauma she'd sustained, Shelly was determined to hold the fort till the cavalry came. Anna admired that.
"It's me, District Ranger Anna Pigeon," Anna said. She waved a hand at the red dress and red-and-black high heels. "I'm disguised as a normal person. It was a wedding."
Shelly Rabine blinked rapidly. Large exothalmic eyes, so light brown as to be nearly yellow, were framed in chin-length parenthesis of stick-straight dark hair. Her face was wide and slightly squashed, the brow and chin narrow bands. Clear pale skin and perfect brows rescued her from plainness.
The fluttering lids stopped. Information was processed. "What took you so long? I called hours ago. I'm not going back."
"Good job calling me right away like you did," Anna said. "That was quick thinking." The shoulders lowered fractionally. "I'm going to go on up now and take a look." Anna put the humdrum of normalcy in her voice. "Why don't you keep on with your work down here. Keep any visitors from heading up to the house. That would really be a big help to me."
Miss Rabine was wound tight. The sight she'd been greeted with coupled with what, to her, seemed an unconscionably long wait, put her in fight mode. Had Anna asked Shelly to come with her up to the old stand, she had little doubt there would have been an altercation centering around "that's not in my job description" or "that's what you get the big bucks for."
Left comfortably where she was with only boring peripheral responsibilities a sudden, and--to Anna who'd seen it countless times before--unsurprising transformation took place. The fight didn't disappear, too much adrenaline in the system for that, but instead did an abrupt about-face. "Don't you want me to show you how I found--it. All that. I mean, it could be important. What I touched and what all." The implication that Anna didn't live up to police procedure as seen on TV was clear.
"Would you like to come up with me?" Anna asked mildly. "Maybe tell me on the way?"
"Visitors might come," Shelly said stubbornly, but she was winding down, anger leaking out of her shoulders and neck. Anna waited patiently, no glances up the hill to the inn, no tightening of the mouth.
"Somebody might come," Shelly said. "They shouldn't...I mean nobody should...like kids," she finished lamely. The last vestiges of warfare dribbled away. The yellow-brown eyes were clear, if bruised by what they had seen. From harridan in the inimitable style of Anna's grandma Sanderman, Shelly had settled back into a tractable, well-intentioned employee of the National Park Service.
"It'll be all right," Anna said. "You can come back down if we see anybody."
Shelly adjusted her summer straw Stetson more squarely on her head and, with tiny fingers, plucked the pleats on her breast pockets straight. The man about to grant them an audience was way beyond caring about a woman's personal appearance, but Anna didn't say anything. Everyone has her own way of girding for battle.
They walked in silence through the short breezeway. To either side were glassed-in bulletin boards with the usual park paraphernalia: maps, camping instructions, rules, warnings. This season on the Natchez Trace, visitors were told to be on the lookout for rabid raccoons and to wear bright colors while hiking. On either side of this federally controlled ribbon of land it was deer hunting season. Who could blame a good old boy for taking aim across park boundaries if he thought he spotted a deer?
Anna's pumps clicked officiously on the concrete, and she felt suddenly, overwhelmingly absurd teetering along in pointy-toed, high-heeled girl's shoes. As they stepped out of the shade and into the crystal sunlight, the noise shifted to a less offensive crunch on the gravel path.
From Hunting Season by Nevada Barr, Copyright © February 2002, The Putnam Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Blood at the Root
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