Riverbend Road

Riverbend Road excerpt
by RaeAnne Thayne
All Rights Reserved

“This was your dire emergency? Seriously?”

Officer Wynona Bailey leaned against her Haven Point Police Department squad car, not sure whether to laugh or pull out her hair. “That frantic phone call made it sound like you were at death’s door!” she exclaimed to her great-aunt Jenny. “You mean to tell me I drove here with full lights and sirens, afraid I would stumble over you bleeding on the ground, only to find you in a standoff with a baby moose?”

The gangly-looking creature had planted himself in the middle of the driveway while he browsed from the shrubbery that bordered it. He paused in his chewing to watch the two of them out of long-lashed dark eyes.

He was actually really cute, with big ears and a curious face. She thought about pulling out her phone to take a picture that her sister could hang on the local wildlife bulletin board in her classroom but decided Jenny probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

“It’s not the calf I’m worried about,” her great-aunt said. “It’s his mama over there.”

She followed her aunt’s gaze and saw a female moose on the other side of the willow shrubs, watching them with much more caution than her baby was showing.

While the creature might look docile on the outside, Wyn knew from experience a thousand-pound cow could move at thirty-five miles an hour and wouldn’t hesitate to take on anything she perceived as a threat to her offspring.

“I need to get into my garage, that’s all,” Jenny practically wailed. “If Baby Bullwinkle there would just move two feet onto the lawn, I could squeeze around him, but he won’t budge for anything.”

She had to ask the logical question. “Did you try honking your horn?”

Aunt Jenny glared at her, looking as fierce and stern as she used to when Wynona was late turning in an assignment in her aunt’s high school history class.

“Of course I tried honking my horn! And hollering at the stupid thing and even driving right up to him, as close as I could get, which only made the mama come over to investigate. I had to back up again.”

Wyn’s blood ran cold, imagining the scene. That big cow could easily charge the sporty little convertible her diminutive great-aunt had bought herself on her seventy-fifth birthday.

What would make them move along? Wynona sighed, not quite sure what trick might disperse a couple of stubborn moose. Sure, she was trained in Krav Maga martial arts, but somehow none of those lessons seemed to apply in this situation.

The pair hadn’t budged even when she pulled up with her lights and sirens blaring in answer to her aunt’s desperate phone call. Even if she could get them to move, scaring them out of Aunt Jenny’s driveway would probably only migrate the problem to the neighbor’s yard.

She was going to have to call in backup from the state Fish and Game division.

“Oh, no!” her aunt suddenly wailed. “He’s starting on the honeysuckle! He’s going to ruin it. Stop! Move it. Go on, now.” Jenny started to climb out of her car again, raising and lowering her arms like a football referee calling a touchdown.

“Aunt Jenny, get back inside your vehicle!” Wyn exclaimed.

“But the honeysuckle! Your dad planted that for me the summer before he…well, you know.”

Wyn’s heart gave a sharp little spasm. Yes. She did know. She pictured the sturdy, robust man who had once watched over his aunt, along with everybody else in town. He wouldn’t have hesitated for a second here, would have known exactly how to handle the situation.

Wynnie, any time you’re up against something bigger than you, just stare `em down. More often than not, that will do the trick.

Some days, she almost felt like he was riding shotgun next to her.

“Stay in your car, Jenny,” she said again. “Just wait there while I call Idaho Fish and Game to handle things. They probably need to move them to higher ground.”

“I don’t have time to wait for some yahoo to load up his tranq gun and hitch up his horse trailer then drive over from Shelter Springs! Besides that honeysuckle, which is priceless to me, I have seventy-eight dollars worth of groceries in the trunk of my car that will be ruined if I can’t get into the house. That includes four pints of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia that’s going to be melted red goo if I don’t get it in the freezer fast—and that stuff is not exactly cheap, you know.”

Her great-aunt looked at her with every expectation that she would fix the problem and Wyn sighed again. Small town police work was mostly about problem-solving—and when she happened to have been born and raised in that small town, too many people treated her like their own private security force.

“I get it. But I’m calling Fish and Game.”

“You’ve got a piece. Can’t you just fire it into the air or something?”

Yeah, unfortunately, her great-aunt—like everybody else in town—watched far too many cop dramas on TV and thought that was how things were done.

“Give me two minutes to call Fish and Game, then I’ll see if I can get him to move aside enough that you can pull into your driveway. Wait in your car,” she ordered for the fourth time as she kept an eye on Mama Moose. “Do not, I repeat, do not get out again. Promise?”

Aunt Jenny slumped back into her seat, clearly disappointed that she wasn’t going to have front row seats to some kind of moose-cop shoot-out. “I suppose.”

To Wyn’s relief, the local game warden Moose Porter—who, as far as she knew, was no relation to the current troublemakers—picked up on the first ring. She explained the situation to him and gave him the address.

“You’re in luck. We just got back from relocating a female brown bear and her cub away from that campground on Dry Creek Road. I’ve still got the trailer hitched up.”

“Thanks. I owe you.”

“How about that dinner we’ve been talking about?” he asked.

She had not been talking about dinner. Moose had been pretty relentless in asking her out for months and she always managed to deflect. It wasn’t that she didn’t like the guy. He was nice and funny and good-looking in a burly, outdoorsy, flannel-shirt-and-gun-rack sort of way, but she didn’t feel so much as an ember around him. Not like, well, someone else she preferred not to think about.

Maybe she would stop thinking about that someone else if she ever bothered to go on a date. “Sure,” she said on impulse. “I’m pretty busy until after Lake Haven Days but let’s plan something in a couple of weeks. Meantime, how soon can you be here?”

“Great! I’ll definitely call you. And I’ve got an ETA of about seven minutes now.”

The obvious delight left her squirming and wishing she had deflected his invitation again.

Fish or cut line, her father would have said.

“Make it five, if you can. My great-aunt’s favorite honeysuckle bush is in peril here.”

“On it.”

She ended the phone call just as Jenny groaned. “Oh. Not the butterfly bush, too! Shoo. Go on, move!”

While she was on the phone, the cow had moved around the shrubs nearer her calf and was nibbling on the large showy blossoms on the other side of the driveway.

Wyn thought about waiting for the game warden to handle the situation but Jenny was counting on her. She couldn’t let a couple of moose get the better of her. Wondering idly if a Kevlar vest would protect her in the event she was charged, she climbed out of her patrol vehicle and edged around to the front bumper. “Come on. Move along. That’s it.”

She opted to move toward the calf, figuring the cow would follow her baby. Mindful to keep the vehicle between her and the bigger animal, she waved her arms like she was directing traffic in a big-city intersection. “Go. Get out of here.”

Something in her firm tone or maybe her rapid-fire movements finally must have convinced the calf she wasn’t messing around this time. He paused for just a second then lurched through a break in the shrubs to the other side, leaving just enough room for Great-Aunt Jenny to squeeze past and head for her garage to unload her groceries.

“Thank you, Wynnie. You’re the best,” her aunt called. “Come by one of these Sundays for dinner. I’ll make my fried chicken and biscuits and my Better-Than-Sex cake.”

Her mouth watered and her stomach rumbled, reminding her quite forcefully that she hadn’t eaten anything since her shift started that morning.

Her great-aunt’s Sunday dinners were pure decadence. Wyn could almost feel her arteries clog in anticipation.

“I’ll check my schedule.”

“Thanks again.”

Jenny drove her flashy little convertible into the garage and quickly closed the door behind her.

Of all things, the sudden action of the door seemed to startle the big cow moose where all other efforts—including a honking horn and Wyn’s yelling and arm-peddling—had failed. The moose shied away from the activity, heading in Wyn’s direction.

Crap.

Heart pounding, she managed to jump into her vehicle and yank the door closed behind her seconds before the moose charged past her toward the calf.

The two big animals picked their way across the lawn and settled in to nibble Jenny’s pretty red-twig dogwoods.

Crisis managed—or at least her part in it—she turned around and drove back to the street just as a pickup pulling a trailer with the Idaho Fish and Game logo came into view over the hill.

She pushed the button to roll down her window and Moose did the same. Beside him sat a game warden she didn’t know. Moose beamed at her and she squirmed, wishing she had shut him down again instead of giving him unrealistic expectations.

“It’s a cow and her calf,” she said, forcing her tone into a brisk, businesslike one and addressing both men in the vehicle. “They’re now on the south side of the house.”

“Thanks for running recon for us,” Moose said.

“Yeah. Pretty sure we managed to save the Ben & Jerry’s, so I guess my work here is done.”

The warden grinned at her and she waved and pulled onto the road, leaving her window down for the sweet-smelling June breezes to float in.

She couldn’t really blame a couple of moose for wandering into town for a bit of lunch. This was a beautiful time around Lake Haven, when the wildflowers were starting to bloom and the grasses were long and lush.

She loved Haven Point with all her heart but she found it pretty sad that the near-moose encounter was the most exciting thing that had happened to her on the job in days.

Her cell phone rang just as she turned from Clover Hill Road to Lakeside Drive. She knew by the ringtone just who was on the other end and her breathing hitched a little, like always. Those stone-cold embers she had been wondering about when it came to Moose Porter suddenly flared to thick, crackling life.

Yeah. She knew at least one reason why she didn’t go out much.

She pushed the phone button on her vehicle’s hands-free unit. “Hey, Chief.”

“Hear you had a little excitement this afternoon and almost tangled with a couple of moose.”

She heard the amusement in the voice of her boss—and friend—and tried not to picture Cade Emmett stretched out behind his desk, big and rangy and gorgeous, with that surprisingly sweet smile that broke hearts all over Lake Haven County.

“News travels.”

“Your great-aunt Jenny just called to inform me you risked your life to save her Cherry Garcia and to tell me all about how you deserve a special commendation.”

“If she really thought that, why didn’t she at least give me a pint for my trouble?” she grumbled.

The police chief laughed, that rich, full laugh that made her fingers and toes tingle like she’d just run full tilt down Clover Hill Road with her arms outspread.

Curse the man.

“You’ll have to take that up with her next time you see her. Meantime, we just got a call about possible trespassers at that old wreck of a barn on Darwin Twitchell’s horse property on Conifer Drive, just before the turnoff for Riverbend. Would you mind checking it out before you head back for the shift change?”

“Who called it in?”

“Darwin. Apparently somebody tripped an alarm he set up after he got hit by our friendly local graffiti artist a few weeks back.”

Leave it to the ornery old buzzard to set a trap for unsuspecting trespassers. Knowing Darwin and his contrariness, he probably installed infrared sweepers and body heat sensors, even though the ramshackle barn held absolutely nothing of value.

“The way my luck is going today, it’s probably a relative to the two moose I just made friends with.”

“It could be a skunk, for all I know. But Darwin made me swear I’d send an officer to check it out. Since the graffiti case is yours, I figured you’d want first dibs, just in case you have the chance to catch them red-handed. Literally.”

“Gosh, thanks.”

He chuckled again and the warmth of it seemed to ease through the car even through the hollow, tinny Bluetooth speakers.

“Keep me posted.”

“Ten-four.”

She turned her vehicle around and headed in the general direction of her own little stone house on Riverbend Road that used to belong to her grandparents.

The Redemption mountain range towered across the lake, huge and imposing. The snow that would linger in the moraines and ridges above the timberline for at least another month gleamed in the afternoon sunlight and the lake was that pure, vivid turquoise usually seen only in shallow Caribbean waters.

Her job as one of six full-time officers in the Haven Point Police Department might not always be overflowing with excitement, but she couldn’t deny that her workplace surroundings were pretty gorgeous.

She spotted the first tendrils of black smoke above the treetops as she turned onto the rutted lane that wound its way through pale aspen trunks and thick pines and spruce.

Probably just a nearby farmer burning some weeds along a ditch line, she told herself, or trying to get rid of the bushy-topped invasive phragmites reeds that could encroach into any marshy areas and choke out all the native species. But something about the black curl of smoke hinted at a situation beyond a controlled burn.

Her stomach fluttered with nerves. She hated fire calls even more than the dreaded DD—domestic disturbance. At least in a domestic situation, there was some chance she could diffuse the conflict. Fire was avaricious and relentless, smoke and flame and terror, as she had learned on one of her first calls as a green-as-grass rookie police officer in Boise, when she was the first one on-scene to a deadly house fire on a cold January morning that had killed three children in their sleep.

Wyn rounded the last bend in the road and saw, just as feared, the smoke wasn’t coming from a ditch line or a controlled burn of a patch of invading plants. Instead, it twisted sinuously into the sky from the ramshackle barn on Darwin Twitchell’s property

She scanned the area for kids and couldn’t see any. What she did see made her blood run cold—two small boys’ bikes resting on their sides outside the barn.

Where there were bikes, there were usually boys to ride them.