Friday, February 17, 2012

Excerpt Broken Wings

      Chapter 1

     Drab gray clouds covered the expansive horizon, obliterating the warmth of the sun. Like the delicate flora of nature covered by endless miles of sidewalks in some sprawling super city, the heavens above were suppressed behind a wall of lifeless color.
     Pamela Wells stood in her back door and surveyed the sulking skies above. “It’s an early spring sky,” she mumbled.
     Spring; thoughts of the season brought to mind frolicking bunnies and brightly colored birds preparing nests for much anticipated hatchlings. Everywhere animals would be shaking off their thick winter coats and embracing the start of a new reproductive cycle. But for Pamela, the warming breezes of the change in seasons were not always a welcomed event. She sighed as she turned her eyes to the expanse of land around her and contemplated the work that lay ahead. With the coming spring, Pamela knew all of her aches would return from their winter respite. But her pains were not limited to the constant throbbing in the various joints of her body; dark days brought an ache to her heart, as well. It was on such a day that she had met Robert, Bob to his friends. The memory of Robert Patrick dressed in his expensive tailored suit and designer Italian custom made shoes made Pamela laugh.
     She had been lying in her hospital bed, days after a bad car accident, when Bob walked into her room. He was fresh out of law school and in desperate need of clients. After reading about her accident in the newspaper, Bob hunted Pamela down and signed her on as his first client. One year later, they married in a lavish ceremony inside St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.
    Pamela shook her head. “Eight years after that, Bob turned into an asshole,” she said as she gazed out at the barn behind her blue and white Acadian cottage. “Well, at least I got this place in the divorce,” she whispered.
     Meant as a get away from the urban overload of New Orleans, Bob bought the two-bedroom cottage on fifteen acres for Pamela as a wedding present. The wilds of St. Tammany Parish became her refuge when life as the wife of a prominent personal injury attorney had been too much for her. She moved into the cottage permanently almost six years ago when Bob unexpectedly announced that their marriage was over.    
     Out of nowhere, a wide raccoon with a slow, sauntering gait and a glint of childlike mischief in his masked eyes wandered up to Pamela. The raccoon stopped just below the three steps to Pamela’s back porch and stood on his hind haunches. He looked at her and warbled in the way a raccoon baby calls to his mother.
     “Good morning, Rodney,” Pamela said to the raccoon as she walked down the steps to greet the animal. “How are you today?” She bent over and rubbed behind the raccoon’s silver-tipped ears. Rodney fell on his back like a lump of whale blubber and proceeded to grab at the woman’s hands and direct them to the spots on his belly that needed immediate scratching.
     Pamela laughed and rubbed the animal’s wide stomach as Rodney wiggled with delight. The sudden screech of an owl from a nearby tree frightened the raccoon. He jumped to a standing position and eyed a tree close to the house, snorting loudly.
     Pamela patted the raccoon on his round bottom. “Relax, Rodney. You know Lester won’t hurt you.” She spied the owl up in the tree next to her bedroom window. “Lester, did you have a good night?”
     The owl screeched again, opened his large brown and white checked wings and flapped vigorously upon his tree branch.
     “Yes, I know you’re hungry, Lester,” Pamela said, nodding at the raptor. “But I have got baby squirrels to feed, and then there are cages to clean before you can have your ham and eggs.” 
      The sound of a car driving down the gravel road toward the cottage made Pamela divert her attention away from the impatient owl. She turned and faced the road, just as Rodney came up beside her and wrapped his child-like arms around her lower leg.
      A blue open-top Jeep Wrangler with wide off-road tires appeared from out of the brush at the end of her drive. Pamela observed the car with a feeling of trepidation sweeping through her. Strangers coming down the gravel road to her sanctuary were either delivering orphaned or injured wildlife to her care, or coming to deliver food and supplies to her wildlife sanctuary. But no one was ever unexpected at her facility, and uninvited strangers were never welcome. A cacophony of barking broke out from the direction of the front porch steps. The assorted stray dogs Pamela had collected through the years ran to greet the car as it came to a quick stop in front of the cottage. She walked toward the front of her home and watched tentatively as the dogs surrounded the Jeep. 
     A tall man with thick, dark brown hair and sunglasses stood up in the cab of the Jeep and peered down at her.
     “Hey there,” he said then glanced at a slip of paper in his hand. ”Is this Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Center?” he asked in a deep voice.
     “Yes. Is there something I can do for you?” Pamela gave the man a curt nod of her head as the dogs around the car growled almost in unison. 
     “You want to call off the posse?” he said as he waved to the five dogs surrounding his Jeep.
     Pamela folded her arms over her chest. “First, tell me who you are, and what you’re doing out here?” she demanded as she tried to walk to the car, pulling Rodney along with her as he continued to cling to her leg.
     The stranger removed his sunglasses. “Your facility requested a service worker to come out and help clean cages, right?” He shrugged his wide shoulders at her. “I’m your service worker,” he declared.
     “The probation office sent you?” Pamela frowned. “But they called and told me you were supposed to come next Wednesday. Today’s Saturday.”
     “It’s my day off and my probation officer said it would be all right.” He made a move to step down from the Jeep, but the snarl of a tall, black Catahoula mix stopped him.
     “Quincy,” Pamela called out to the dog. “Go back to the porch.” She pointed to the porch at the front of the house. Quincy, along with the rest of his canine pack, obediently obliged and made their way slowly to the porch steps.
     Pamela waited for the dogs to settle down on the shady front porch before she looked back at her new service worker. “I’m Pamela Wells, the owner. Your probation officer told you what is expected around here? I don’t tolerate drinking, cursing or–”
     “Lewd or rude behavior,” the man said, interrupting her as he stepped down from the Jeep. “Yeah, I got the memo. Don’t worry, Ms. Wells, I will be like a choir boy in church while I am here.”
      “What’s your name?”
      “Daniel, Daniel Phillips.” He hung his sunglasses on the neck of his white T-shirt as he looked her up and down. “You don’t have a stable hand or someone to clean up around here?”
     Pamela noticed that his round, dark brown eyes appeared almost black and had a seductive quality to them. She nervously cast her eyes to the ground. “I’d have to pay for help. This facility runs on a shoestring budget already. To hire someone would break me. Besides, there’s not much to it.” She noticed his expensive-looking leather boots. “You ever worked with wild animals before?”
     Daniel laughed as he took a step closer to her. “Only the human kind. I deal with a lot of wild people at work.”
     Pamela glanced up at the man before her. He was dressed in old faded blue jeans and stood a good bit taller than she. He had a slender build, muscular arms, a broad chest, and long legs. His face was rectangular with a wide forehead and chiseled jaw. He did not look any older than his early thirties. A scar under his left eye made him appear more sinister than innocent, making Pamela suspect that this was not the first time Daniel Phillips had found himself under the direction of the courts and a probation officer.
     She quickly checked her disconcerting thoughts. “Where do you work?” she asked, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
      “Pat O’Brien’s in the Quarter. I’m a bartender there.”
      “You’re a bartender in the French Quarter?” Pamela asked, raising her brows at him.
     “Yeah, I’ve worked at a couple of places in the Quarter. The Voodoo Lounge on Decatur, Muriel’s on Jackson Square, and even did a few months at The Dungeon.” Daniel carefully examined the slender woman before him.
     Pamela found his dark eyes disturbing. She knew from experience that her slim figure and shoulder length dirty blond hair made her an easy target for a man’s overactive imagination. But it was the way Daniel looked at her that rattled her so. It was almost as if he were sizing up her potential as a meal rather than a quick roll in the sheets.
     He turned his eyes away from her and browsed the facility surrounding them. About a hundred yards from the rear of the house was an old battered blue barn with a few other smaller out buildings to the right of it. Located close to the barn, at the edge of the cleared property, were several tall wood-trimmed cages. Each cage was covered with wire, had a tin roof, and a water faucet attached right outside of the entrance. Majestic oaks were scattered about the property as well as next to the blue and white house. An open shed to the left of the property had a tractor, a white Ford pick-up truck, and two ATVs inside of it. 
     “You told my probation officer you needed someone to help out around here,” he said as his eyes continued to scan the property. 
     “Yes, with spring finally here we will be swamped with babies soon. I’ve already gotten quite a few baby squirrels. The cages you will be cleaning are where I wintered several different animals. They have all just recently been released.”
     “What kind of animals do you usually get here?” Daniel kept his eyes on the trees along the edge of the clearing beside the house.
     “Fox, rabbit, skunk, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, raccoon, opossum, bats, nutria, and an occasional river otter. But I have rehabbed chipmunks, beaver, a few owls, and once, a baby coyote.”
     “What about deer?”
     “As a permitted wildlife rehabber, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries does not want us working with deer. There has been an increase in a certain kind of wasting disease in the Louisiana deer population and most injured deer are put down, along with any fawns. Deer are also very hard to return to the wild once they have bonded with humans.”
     Daniel turned back at her. “So is this all there is to the place?”
     “Why? What did you expect?”
     He shrugged. “I don’t know, something like the Audubon Zoo maybe.”
     Pamela focused her gray eyes on his. “This is not a zoo,” she responded, indignantly. “It’s a wildlife rehabilitation facility. We care for orphaned and injured wildlife and do not keep animals for display to an indifferent public. If more people knew about what we do here, they would, hopefully, be less willing to support zoos and more apt to make donations to a cause that puts animals back into their natural habitat.” She gave the man another going over with her eyes as he stepped closer to her side. “What were you convicted of? I often have volunteers on the site and I want to make sure–”
     “I’m not a serial rapist, Ms. Wells,” Daniel proclaimed in a perturbed tone of voice. “I hit a guy in the bar where I work for roughing up his date. He filed charges and I was busted for assault and battery. My sentence was one hundred hours of community service. Satisfied?”
     “Did they throw in any anger management classes with that community service?” she quipped.
     Daniel smiled, cockily, revealing a row of perfectly white teeth. “No, the judge didn’t seem to think I needed any.” He stared into her face for a moment as if trying to figure her out. “So am I to call you Ms. Wells the entire time I’m here, or will Pamela be all right with you?” he questioned.
     “Pamela is fine. We don’t stand on formality around here.” A loud sniff came from around Pamela’s feet. She looked down at the ground to see Rodney standing behind her legs, staring at the stranger.
     “One of the rehabilitated returned to the wild?” Daniel asked as he nodded to Rodney.
     Pamela leaned over and picked up the overweight ring-tailed creature from the ground. The animal cuddled against her chest and warily watched the man standing next to her.
     Pamela shifted the heavy animal in her arms. “This is Rodney. He was rescued from a hawk when he was about two weeks old. He’s over a year now and I can’t get him to leave. He thinks he is one of the dogs.”
     Daniel reached out to pet the raccoon, but the animal growled at him.
     “He doesn’t like strangers,” Pamela quickly added. “All of the animals in this facility are wild. Do not pet them or try to treat them like a cute and cuddly lap dog.”
     “And are there any more like him?” he asked as he motioned to the raccoon nuzzling up against Pamela’s neck.
     “A few. You’ll meet them later. For now, I’ll show you to the cages that need cleaning.” She turned away and started toward the row of cages and sheds located a short distance from the back of the house.
     Daniel directed his attention to the blue and white wooden cottage on his right. The home appeared clean and well taken care of. But on closer inspection some shingles on the roof had cracked and were falling away, and the paint covering the wooden boards along the side of the house had begun to bubble up and peel off. The house looked older, like many scattered around the countryside of Louisiana. It was an Acadian cottage that had been built when horse farms and cattle ranches had filled most of St. Tammany Parish. But such communities had long since given way to manicured subdivisions and posh country clubs as hurricane weary New Orleanians had left the city and taken over the lands north of Lake Pontchartrain.
     “How many acres have you got here?” he asked, following her.
     “Fifteen. There are another fifty acres behind this property that belongs to one of my patrons. So the animals have a large refuge to roam far away from any humans.”
     Daniel watched as the raccoon rested his head against the woman’s shoulder as she carried him. “Is there any money in this sort of thing?”
     Pamela stopped walking and turned to him. “There is no money here if that is what you’re asking. Everything is for the animals,” she said, scowling at him. “So if you are thinking you can steal from me, borrow equipment, or make a tidy profit from your time here, think again,” she curtly added.
     Daniel raised his hands up in submission. “Hey, don’t get all bent out of shape, Pamela. I was just wondering why anyone would go to this much trouble for a bunch of stray squirrels.”
     Pamela shook her head in disgust, leaned over, and rubbed her cheek against the raccoon’s fluffy face. “The cages are this way.”
     She quickly turned and started for the cages at the end of the clearing, leaving a wide-eyed Daniel to follow behind her.

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