Read the First Chapter of Jack Pine

Jack Pine | Chapter 1


DEPUTY SHERIFF REUGER London squinted at the smoke over the trees. He twisted the motorcycle throttle with wind tugging a Colt and sun flashing the badge pinned to his vest. The sand road zigzagged among smaller red and white pines then disappeared into a scraggy wall of trees. He rode through the speckled pines into a valley of spruce and balsam firs, stumps, and cut logs. The fresh sawdust smelled like turpentine on a warm day.

He downshifted on the sharpest S-turns and flew through grass past white and gray boulders of granite and greenstone then up a hill to wide blue sky and saw the smoke roiling over the far pines like a swollen thunderhead. Reuger passed back into the trees and smelled charcoal then rubber melting then burned wood. He winged another curve and locked the back wheel. He pulled the rifle from the scabbard and the radio from his cowboy belt.

“10-6 here.”

“Ya, Reuger, copy that.”

“I have a burned-out slasher in the Boundary Waters.”

“10-4 on that.”

He levered the .30-30 Winchester, pulling out brass cartridges from his vest pocket like cigarettes and walked slowly into the clearing of logged trees, keeping the short-barreled rifle toward the sky. Charred wood crackled under his boots as fire smoldered from logs like an abandoned village of Indian fires. A hulk of blackened metal smoldered indiscriminately. Smoke steamed from the hood of the Ford truck with the blackened hydraulic claw crushed down on the cab. It was a cherry picker used for grappling logs and stacking or feeding them into a six-foot hydraulic saw on wheels. It was the standard setup for the independent logger, and the saw and the cherry picker were known as a “slasher.”

He brushed back his blond hair and glanced into the truck cab and saw vinyl icicles hanging from the dashboard. The side mirror showed a man just over thirty-five with sunburnt skin, a bleached mustache, and red-rimmed blue eyes. He saw the stick shift had become a melted candle. Scorched springs poked through the bench seat. He walked past steel bands on tandem hubs past blackened melted cables leading to the control cab and the birds flying off the roof.

Reuger hunched down and peered under the truck, but it had sunk to the ground. He crossed to the hydraulic saw on a trailer resting in sawdust turned to red oatmeal from an earlier rain. The saw and the hydraulic cables were untouched by the fire.

He turned and stared into the limp trees. Jack pine. Foster Jones had been logging jack pine before the fire. The scraggly trees had taken over the land of the Northwoods after the big Norwegian red and white pines were logged out in 1890. Foster would sell his logs to the paper mills and the processing plants that churned out particleboard. It was like the sharecroppers who farmed the worn out soil in the South and tried to produce cotton. The modern logger was left with jack pine as the only legacy of the big trees.

“Foster!”

His voice was small in the breathless forest. Reuger didn’t like the feel of the scene. The fire was too neat and too intense, and Foster Jones had been logging too long to let an accident like this occur. Usually the new loggers had the mishaps that put them out of business in the first year. The old loggers, the shaders, knew the fine margin between disaster and limping through to another year. Foster most of all.

Foster!

He shouldered the Winchester then stumbled over a red extinguisher and checked the gauge. The needle was in the red area of the gauge. That meant he had used it to try to extinguish the fire before it hit the gas tank. Foster would have fought the fire with everything he had because his equipment was his livelihood. Reuger set the extinguisher down and walked through weeds to a metal gas can with the sliding cap open. He smelled the jerrican then set it on the ground. He turned slowly as a crow arched the sky and landed. The crow cawed loudly, and two others landed on an old cedar spared by loggers.

knees and brushed the weeds, watching spiders and ants and jack pine beetles escape. Reuger dogged around with his Colt, grabbing briars for twenty minutes. He dropped his hat then wore it far back on his head like a rodeo cowboy. He watched the ground closely then got up on his knees. He saw something glinting sun. Reuger stood and walked to the brass cartridge lying on some weeds. He wrung out a plastic baggy then scooped the shell.

“Reuger, have that registration.”
“Go ahead.”

“Registration belongs to a Foster Jones, repeat, Foster Jones.”

“10-4. Thanks Hector.”

Reuger clipped the radio and dropped in the warm weeds and dogged around again for twenty minutes. He covered the ground going thirty feet out from Foster on all sides, but found nothing. Reuger stood and swiped his hands together. He smoothed his mustache and stared at the old man he had been out to see the day before.

“How she go, Foster?” He called, swinging off his motorcycle. Foster lowered the saw and shook his head. He was a wiry man with the build of a wrestler and just as strong. Reuger guessed he was well into his sixties, and his fierce blue eyes burned out from beneath bushy white brows. He slept in the cab of his truck sometimes, and other times he slept out in the open. Foster was the last of the old lumberjacks.

“If the bank don’t take my slasher here, then she’ll go all right,” he said spatting a glob of tobacco juice into the cut of the tree.

“Tough times,” Reuger nodded.
Foster spat into the sawdust again with one eye shut.

“Them tree huggers are winning the war, and I say it’s every man for himself now.” They stood in the quiet forest, then Foster shook his head slowly. “Man has to do what he has to do, and I’m too fucking old to do anything else.”

Reuger hunched down to the body again and saw a flick in the left side of his eye. He raised his head and saw the branches waving up and down. He stood slowly then pulled the Winchester to his cheek.

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