Chapter 2 — Rachel DuValle
"It ain't right."
"Might be, might not, but did you really need to come after the kid?" asked the sheriff's deputy. He was still seated, despite the two angry men with narrowed eye locked to narrowed eye across the thick wood table.
"This idiot is stealin' my living. Don't I got a right to defend myself?" growled Robert, the elder of the two. He was a grizzled old logger-turned-hunter with a beard as thick as the muscles bulging on his forearms.
"I didn't take a single step on your land," Nate retorted, his voice rising to match Robert's in volume—though rather less intimidating, coming from a lanky college student. "I caught the buck myself. Public property, fair and square."
"Bullshit. I had cameras, kid."
Rachel began to take an interest in the conversation. If Robert truly had captured something of note—something that could potentially expose them—she might need to act quickly. She sat up and set aside the book she'd been reading under the table. Her new study of ancient Egyptian culture would have to wait, despite its potential to illuminate a few mysteries surrounding her and the number eight.
She had to make sure the town of Rallsburg didn't slide into chaos first, as usual.
"Cameras showing what, exactly?" Deputy Bowman chimed in, trying to maintain some semblance of control.
They were in a small room at the town hall set aside for meetings and disputes such as these. A few hand-carved chairs and an elegant table filled the space, with hand-carved and detailed frames adorning donated paintings of the vast forests surrounding the town hanging on each wall.
The lumber for which was probably felled by the rough and tumble Robert, determined to undermine the heir to the Price Logging Company fortune, Rachel mused. This isn't neutral ground in the slightest, when Robert Harrison is surrounded by the labors of the men he represents.
"Showin' this spoiled brat decided he'd come on my land, steal my game and rub it in my face," Robert replied with satisfaction.
He took his seat and opened the laptop he'd brought with him and opened a video file. Rachel leaned in close to watch, while her hand snaked its way into the bag at her side. Just in case, she reminded herself, though the trepidation churning in her stomach was quite at odds with the calm expression she held affixed to her face.
The video was choppy and brief—taken with whatever camera Robert could get his hands on in short notice, no doubt—but Nate's distinct mop of floppy blonde hair was clearly visible. He stood near the edge of Robert's land. As he'd claimed, he never took a step even close to the fence marking the boundary. Instead, he looked directly at the camera and gave a small wave.
Rachel barely suppressed a laugh at the dumb look plastered on his face. Concerned as she might be, Rachel usually enjoyed Nate's genial attitude and his way of getting any particular class (professor included) to burst out in laughter at the drop of a hat. Her brief moment of levity was tempered by the potential danger they still faced in this room. Nate Price wasn't an idiot by any stretch, but he wasn't the quickest to grasp the far-reaching consequences of his actions.
She clenched her fist tight under the table, fearing the worst. On the screen, Nate turned to face the fence and raised a hand, palm upward. With one small gesture he beckoned to something off camera.
A few moments later, two huge bucks burst out of the trees and cleared the fence with easy leaps, passing by Nate on either side. Nate gave another lopsided grin to the camera and a solemn bow before vanishing off-camera with the two deer.
As the video seemed to be over, Rachel felt the weight lift from her chest. Blood flow returned to her fist. This I can deal with. She surreptitiously withdrew her phone and dashed off a quick text message. As they met eyes, Robert seemed flush with victory.
She raised an eyebrow. "Was that it?"
"He stole my deer!"
"It looks to me like he just made a few friends."
"Cut the crap, Preston. Why is she here anyway? Did you need a cheerleader or somethin'?" Robert shot at the deputy.
Preston shrugged. "It's public property and the door's open. No reason she can't be here." In truth Deputy Bowman had invited her personally, but they didn't see any need to let Robert know that.
"On that note," added Rachel, "Nate was clearly also on public property in your video, and never approached your fence. I'm not sure I'm seeing a problem."
"Kid did somethin' to steal my deer out."
"How?" she asked simply.
"I don't know, a lure or somethin'. Bait. Pheromones. Take your pick."
"Have you ever heard of a lure that can get deer to run directly at you?" Rachel asked the deputy.
He shook his head. "Lure 'em to a spot, sure, but no way are they getting that close to you without getting spooked."
"They're still mine," Robert growled. The irascible old hunter wasn't to be cut out of the conversation just yet. "On my property and he went for 'em."
"Actually, it's illegal to own deer under WAC 232-12-007, as you should know. Regardless of whose property they're on, the animals are considered wild and not owned by anyone if they're still alive," Rachel rattled off, dredging up the particular statute from her memory as easily as her own birthday.
Both Nate and Robert's mouths fell open. Rachel smiled. Even months after she'd started taking full advantage of her new abilities, there were still many who only remembered the air-headed blonde of her former life. To hear her citing Washington state code perfectly by memory was shocking to say the least.
Deputy Bowman nodded, suppressing a grin. This was the reason he'd invited her. Having memorized the entire state lawbook and every relevant case, Rachel was invaluable in settling disputes with the rule of law unquestionably. Despite being a third party, her new disquieting nature was effective in quelling potential brawls before they could spiral out of hand—commonplace where the remaining displaced loggers of the town were concerned.
"As for how Nate managed the trick, I think you'll find that if you examine your computer, you'll see the footage was modified at some point," she added, trying not to sound too smug. "It looked to me like Nate combined two shots and composited himself into the picture at the time those deer leapt the fence. The mirage was entirely technical."
"Bullshit!" Robert shouted, rising to his feet. Rachel had begun a mental count the moment she'd sent the text message. She only needed a couple minutes for Will to work his magic. "I'm not going to sit here and be lectured by a girl who can't find her own apartment every other day."
Rachel seethed, but projected calm and authority as best she could manage. "The deer left on their own. I'm sure a hunter of your skill and experience is familiar enough with how they tend to move through their habitat. The last one shouldn't be too difficult to track down again."
Robert was taken aback at the compliment, and seemed undecided on whether or not it had been sarcastic. Rachel, of course, meant every word—though she wasn't particularly inclined to be nice to the man. She wanted more than anything to be done with the whole affair so she could get back to more important matters.
"Not until he explains how he got them to leave in the first place," Robert growled.
"He doesn't have to do that—" the deputy began, but Rachel interrupted as her phone buzzed silently against her leg, her signal to speak up again.
"I think we can settle this more easily. May I see your laptop, Mr. Harrison?"
Once again he seemed taken aback, this time by her polite address. Perhaps intrigued by how different she seemed compared to his memory of her, Robert handed over the laptop without complaint. In full view of everyone to prevent any accusations of foul play, Rachel scrolled through and found the video they'd just watched.
"If I may?" Rachel asked, the cursor hovering over the 'Restore Previous Versions' button. She prayed Will had been able to spoof it fast enough.
"Get on with it," Robert said impatiently. Nate looked worried, which Rachel noted with satisfaction. She was glad he still had enough wits about him to fear what might happen, even if he wasn't going to find out today.
The video came up again, and sure enough, there was Nate once more. He went through the same motions, mugging for the camera as only a spoiled rich kid could. There was the gesture into the woods—and for the briefest moment Rachel saw that the lighting on the ground wasn't quite right, but it corrected itself a frame later. She doubted that anyone else could have noticed the change, but she resolved to bring it up with Will nonetheless. As she'd expected, there suddenly were no deer to be found. The Nate in the video left as he did before, this time without any companionship, and the video came to an end.
Robert was staring at it with a stupefied expression. "Can't be right. The deer are gone. That was faked."
It was, but not in the way you're thinking, Rachel mused. She once again marveled at Will's breadth of abilities with a computer. He was the type to dabble in everything, and as such was remarkably resourceful in a pinch—which she found she needed more and more every passing week.
Nate was starting to look a bit too pleased that he was about to get off without so much as a warning. Rachel decided that Robert needed a bit of placation to help balance the scales. He was still an important figure as the head of the loggers union as well as one of the more influential men of the town, and she could use more voices amenable to her.
"That said, I think the Deputy would agree that Nate here is still in violation of WAC 232-12-055.2," Rachel continued, swivelling to lock a withering glare on Nate. He shrank from her gaze, which was gratifying in its own right.
"Which is?" Robert asked after a pause.
"Failure to wear orange in a hunting zone," Rachel said simply, getting to her feet and hoisting her bag over her shoulder. "Deputy, I think a citation would be appropriate."
After a moment's stunned silence, Deputy Bowman nodded, the barest hint of a smile creasing his lips. Rachel strode from the room, ducking through the doorway, reasonably pleased with how the day had begun.
Of course, she had scarcely a few minutes to enjoy the sunlight before Nate's voice was following her down the front steps of the town hall.
"Why'd you do that?" Nate whined.
Rachel sighed, not turning to meet him. No matter what, his voice always seemed to be whining a little to Rachel. It made him exhausting to talk to, as if everything was a bother to him in life. Sometimes it made for great comedy, but lately it simply meant an endless parade of headaches. Today, her frustration reached a limit.
As they rounded the corner, Rachel spun suddenly, catching him off guard. She pushed him up against the wall, which wasn't too difficult given the several inches she had over him and his skinny frame. Rachel sometimes enjoyed being so tall, not least because it helped her be intimidating when she needed to be.
"Because you need to take this seriously, Nate," she stated firmly. Nate shrank against the wall. "It's a new world. We're all in this together, but I'm not always going to be there to bail you out."
Luckily, Rachel was spared the questions of how she'd managed to modify the video in the scant few minutes of conversation. Instead, Nate seemed to actually be grateful, which was a welcome to surprise to Rachel. "Thanks, Rachel," he said quietly. "Won't happen again."
Rachel released him. She cocked her head to the side, deciding to toss him a bone as well and let him save some face. Nate would welcome the chance to brag, especially since he couldn't cast spells himself. "How'd you do it anyway, without magic? Did someone mask your scent somehow?"
Nate shook his head. "Wasn't my idea. Natalie spoke to them. She wanted them to be free."
Rachel sighed. "That girl is going to be the death of me." Her watch beeped, prompting her for breakfast moments before her stomach growled. "See you around, Nate."
With a parting wave, she hurried home, where Will would be anxiously awaiting her.