Arctic Fox Book 3: Pursuit of the Dream - Chapter 26

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Cover photo by Jonatan Pie. Downloaded from Unsplash

Marcia is seventeen, and along with Darryl, has moved south in Alaska to attend the Anchorage campus of the Alaska State University. She wants to pursue her dream, but will it pursue her instead?
I want to thank Malady, once again, for his help checking through this story for the many errors I frequently insert, as well as listening to my sometimes completely crazy ideas about the direction of the story and telling me how crazy they are!

Chapter 26

July 29th, 2023

Palmer, Ak

10:37 AM

It was payday on the farm, and Mage was making her way around to the different workers, handing them their statements. It was the day and age of electronic payments, but she had decided to hand people their statements, at least, as it allowed her to chat with each of them and find out how they were all doing.

As she took the statements around, she spoke to each of the people.

When she met up with Kirk, he didn’t seem to be his super polite and friendly self.

Is something wrong, Kirk?” she asked.

It’s personal,” he told her.

She looked around and didn’t see anyone near the gardens where the young man was working, so she asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

It’s just some things Adam has been saying.”

Adam? Oh… your uncle?”

I don’t consider him an uncle anymore. I mean, he’s my dad’s brother, but I’m a lot closer to Wanda.”

She seems to be a nice person. I know she and Bruce have been getting friendly,” Mage smiled.

Kirk sighed. “That may be the problem, Mrs Chatham.”

Mage and Chet had long ago told Kirk to call them by their first names, and the fact that he didn’t at the moment, gave her a picture of how serious the situation may have been. “What do you mean?” she asked.

He sighed again and motioned to a bench nearby. “Can we sit down for a couple of minutes?”

Sure,” she told him.

They made their way to the bench and when they had sat down, she asked, “What’s on your mind?”

When I got my job here, Wanda brought me over in her car with my things. I was moving into the worker’s house till I found a place in Palmer. Bruce ended up helping us move things in, and you know how gallant he can be. It kinda turned into mutual flirting.”

Was it honestly flirting, or just Bruce being gallant?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I was interviewed by Bruce and Lisa for the job, and they seemed quite… affectionate.”

Mage cocked her head a bit and asked, “How so?” She was very curious about what he meant. Hearing how the two acted together might be a great character witness.

Well, every time they looked at each other, they’d smile. I don’t mean just a friendly smile, either. I mean really smile.”

So if there was some seriousness in the flirting, you feel it was all on the part of your aunt?”

If there was, yeah.”

Where was Lisa at the time?”

She was giving Bo an English lesson at the farmhouse.”

Okay.” She suddenly asked, “They were alone at the house?”

As far as I know, yeah. I guess it made for a quieter environment for him to learn English. I know he doesn’t even have an accent anymore.” He paused, then said, “Well. There’s sometimes a word that he doesn’t seem to get the proper usage of, but most of the time it’s great.”

She nodded. “I’d never know he wasn’t American except I’ve heard him slip occasionally.”

Right.”

11:45 AM

Mage thought about what she’d heard from Kirk for a few minutes as she walked away. She didn’t want to appear too interested in it, but what he’d said about both Bo and Wanda made her wonder about what they’d seen of some people.

She met with several other workers, but most of them wanted to know how Darryl and Marcia were doing.

They’re incommunicado for the most part,” she told them. “We heard that they made it to Lincoln City okay, then all messages stopped.”

Her statement got several laughs from the workers, then she met up with Bo. She wondered if she’d get any information about the ‘English lessons’ from him.

12:25 PM

The new crops of corn in this area of the farm would make huge mazes for after harvest, but it wasn’t time for that, and there were still ears on the plants. Bo was busy inspecting them for any signs of western bean cutworms. Normally the bugs wouldn’t reach Alaska, but there had been rumors of some in Palmer. Chatham Farm was entirely organic, and the possibility of a non-local pest wasn’t a small matter.

How’s it looking?” Mage asked. “Do you see any?”

Bo shook his head and let out a stream of Ukranian that sounded to Mage as if it probably called into question the lineage of all western bean cutworms in the entire universe, and possibly beyond.

You didn’t find any, did you?” Mage asked, hoping the answer would be, no.

No, but I started there,” Bo said, pointing to a corner of the field, not far from them. “I’ve got all the rest to check.”

Mage couldn’t see the remainder, but this particular field was fifteen acres, and they were about a hundred feet from the corner Bo had indicated. It was a lot of corn, and there were a lot of ears to check.

If you haven’t found any,” Mage told him, “I doubt there are any.”

Perhaps, but do you want a nasty surprise come time to harvest it all? I don’t.”

She had to admit that she didn’t either. It was typical for the workers around the farm to take great pride and care in everything they did, and she was grateful. It was tempting to not worry about it. After all, it was simply a rumor as far as they were certain. But what if it was true? They didn’t use the powerful and deadly pesticides that might help. They had to know now so they could treat the corn organically. Most of the time, their organic remedies involved combining two or three ingredients, and just getting enough organic pesticide for this one field would be a nightmare. There were two others as well.

You’re right,” she said to him. Gazing toward the rest of the field that she wasn’t tall enough to see, she asked him, “Should I hire some more people to help you? This will take until harvest.”

There came another stream of Ukranian profanities, then he answered her: “They won’t look carefully enough.”

She pulled out her phone and pulled up their GPS superimposed on a satellite picture taken recently. Showing the screen to her, she asked, “Honestly. How long do you think it will take to do this to your specifications?”

Bo sighed and answered, “I should be done by the harvest of 2025.”

Mage couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “You think so? I was thinking 2026!”

I resent that!” the conscientious worker said with pride. “I’m not that slow.”

You’re careful, and that’s one of the things that make you a valuable worker. I’m gonna hire some people to inspect this. You show them what to do, and most importantly how to do it. Then do QC behind them. If someone isn’t doing what you told them to do, fire them.” She paused to let her trust in him sink in. “Nobody makes it into the fields unless you okay them. They’re your crew.”

She debated talking about the English lessons, but with the huge job he was working on, she figured it was best to let him do that.

3:00 PM

Mage walked into the garage where Stephen was rebuilding the engine of a ‘49 Ford 9N tractor. He was standing in a pit below the engine, with the oil pan removed. Mage knelt behind the left front tire and asked, “How’s it looking?”

It’s okay,” Stephen said as he removed a bolt from the bearing cap it had been holding on. He pulled the bearing off the crankshaft and Mage winced as she saw the surfaces.

Well,” Stephen quipped. “That’s not so good.”

You have a gift for understatement,” she told him. Beside her was the oil pan and she tipped it so the overhead light shone in it. There was dark sludge with a copious amount of metal shavings in the bottom. “What did the rest of the oil look like?” she asked.

Rest of the oil?” he asked. “What rest are you talking about? That’s it.”

She gestured toward the other stall in the garage where a nearly identical 9N sat. That one, however, had a front-end loader bucket on the front. “Which is the winner?”

It’s a toss-up, Mage. This one’s got a bad engine but good hydraulics. The other has a good engine, but some idiot didn’t know when to give up when the hydraulics couldn’t handle something.”

Think you can make one good tractor?”

He sighed. “Yeah, I can. I’m just trying to decide what’s the easier transplant. The engine or rear-end.”

You’ve got quite a bit of work here,” she agreed. “Still, I’d opt for the engine being moved over here.”

But then I’d have to move over the bucket as well,” he argued. He glanced at the rear end of the tractor he was under, where the driver’s seat was bolted on top. “Still, you’ve got a point. I’d hate to have to swap out the hydraulics. There’s a lot of seals in there to go bad, and if the case is messed up…” He didn’t finish. They both knew the repercussions of a bad case. The tractors were getting quite old, and trying to find parts was getting harder and harder. Some machinists could manufacture pieces, but that was expensive.

Stephen turned to head to the stairs out of the pit, but as he did, he caught his right temple on a loose clamp for the tailpipe, creating a gash that let loose a torrent of blood. Stephen yelled as he clamped his oily right hand over the cut. He stood for a moment, shaking. Mage dropped her envelopes and hurried to the stairs.

She grabbed some clean rags on the way down and gently pulled his hand away from the wound. She dabbed at it a moment, but couldn’t see much detail under the tractor. She held the rags to his head and led him out of the pit.

Her EcoSport wasn’t far from the garage, and she bundled the injured man into it and took off toward town. On the way, Stephen didn’t say much, but she didn’t expect much as he was pretty gray. Shock, she knew. She called Chet and told him what had happened, and asked that he collect her papers from the garage.

They arrived at the hospital ER and the triage nurse moved them right into a room where his temple was quickly inspected. There didn’t seem to be any damage to the bone below, but they really couldn’t tell much until they could stem the bleeding and get a better look.

Mage went out to the waiting room to give the nurse information and then sat down to wait. A little while later, she started when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

Had a bit of adrenaline going, huh?” Bruce chuckled as she opened her eyes. “It’s always amazing how much energy we go through when we’re not even the one hurt.”

I fell asleep,” she said unnecessarily.

I noticed,” he said. “You okay to drive home? I’ll take over here.”

She nodded, grateful. “I’ll get a cup of coffee and wake up.”

Before she left, they checked for any news on Stephen. The triage nurse went into the ER and came back quickly. “The doctor is in there stitching things up right now. He should be fine.”

Thanks,” Mage said. She hugged Bruce, then headed out to her car.



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