After inviting Albert into her cabin, they sat down at a table and drank tea while he unveiled his plan. He talked quietly and deliberately and Linda took a few notes. The more he talked the more Linda’s confidence grew. At one point she was actually smiling. It was a great plan.
Albert finished his tea and stood up from the table.
“It is time for me to go,” he said. “You need to get to work.”
“I’m ready. Will I ever see you again?”
It was a terse answer but didn’t sound terse.
Albert shook Linda’s hand, opened the door, and walked out into the snow.
The next morning Linda paid a visit to the county historical museum. She asked the director to see the original surveys of the area. She signed in and spent an hour searching and found exactly what she wanted. She asked the director who was the last person to inspect the surveys. He told her. It was about six months ago and he remembered because no one had asked to see these particular surveys in decades.
Linda smiled. She had her man.
An hour after concluding her research, Linda sat across from Wilson Wormonger. He wasn’t pleased to admit her and before she started talking, told her she had five minutes.
Thirty minutes later, an ashen-faced Wilson Wormonger was slumped in his chair as Linda stood up to leave. “Merry Christmas,” she said. She left the office and skipped down the hall whistling “Deck the Halls.”
It all gone down like this:
Mr. Wilson Wormonger, sir, the Euchre Creek Road improvement project is dead, dead, dead. How you’ll explain that to the county commissioners and public is up to you. After you’ve made that announcement, you will connive to have the property containing the grove auctioned to the public. It’s a small parcel, abutting a salmon-bearing stream without any significant timber holdings. It also hosts an endangered salamander. The property is impossible to develop into homes or as agriculture. I will buy it for a song then deed it and my property to the land trust once I pass away. As soon as the property is listed, you will resign your position and move far away from Oregon, never to return. Why are you going to do as I say? It’s quite simple. You lied on the grant application and construction permit about conducting detailed surveys for Native American burial sites, as required by law. The grove is the cemetery for the Euchre Creek band of the Tututni. It was listed on the official county map a hundred and fifty years ago about the time Oregon became a state. It’s an original map you are looking at right now, just like the original one you stole from the museum. You never suspected that my husband owned an original. He bought it a flea market years ago and I never looked at until yesterday when it came to my attention that you were going to desecrate the burial ground for a wider road. How the appearance of the burial site disappeared from later editions of the map, I have no idea. I suspect someone was trying to keep it a secret. By my reckoning, you’ve violated about half dozen state and federal laws, and that’s before the actual on-the-ground desecration commences. You’re looking at five to seven years in prison and exposing the county to a massive civil suit by the various tribes in the area. It could bankrupt the county. Once you have done as instructed, you will never hear from me again and no one but me and you will ever know the burial site is under the grove. Naturally, you will accept my conditions or I turn over everything I have to every tribe and media outlet in Southern Oregon. That would be the worst possible outcome for everyone—you go to prison and the burial site becomes known to the public. I want to read the press release on the termination of the project on the county’s web site in three days. When I do, I will bake you a homemade apple pie, have it delivered, and then you can go about your life. If you conspire against me in any capacity, I will blow up your life like you have never imagined. And if you ever look back, I suggest you read the Old Testament story of Lot’s wife.
Three days before Christmas Linda wandered through the grove at dusk. Snow was still on the ground and dusting the boughs of the trees. Any second she would see a trail of headlights on the road coming toward her. It was cold but clear and Linda had gone above and beyond the call of decorative duty this season. She had attached a thousand candles to the various trees and spent several hours lighting them. That was it—just the candles and their flickering lights, beacons to a path to become a better person. Strategically placed fire can do that sometimes.
When they burned out, the show was over until she rigged it up again the next night.
Linda saw vehicles parking along the road and she heard a door slam. It was time for her to disappear. She said, “Thank you Albert” aloud and watched her breath wisp away into the trees.