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       Gage, p.1

           Tess Oliver
 
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Gage


  GAGE

  The Barringer Brothers Series

  Tess Oliver

  Gage

  Copyright© 2014 by Tess Oliver

  Cover Design by: Nikki Hensley

  This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.

  All Rights are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chatper 27

  Chapter 28

  Chatper 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Rain Shadow

  Tess Oliver

  chapter 1

  Gage

  I yanked on the new gloves and curled my fingers into fists a few times to loosen the fabric. New gloves, like new calk boots, were a pain in the ass. But my last pair was filled with enough jaggers, the tiny shards of metal from the choker, to make them useless.

  A layer of clouds hung heavy over the peaks of the surrounding mountains with what looked like just enough weight to drop the first real snow of the season. They also provided enough insulation to keep the temperature above thirty, which made up for the lack of daylight.

  The gray skies seemed to fit everyone’s moods perfectly. The narrow strip of landing and thirty percent slope below had made clearing a corridor a long, arduous ordeal, flaming tempers and squashing patience. Fifteen minutes into the task of stabilizing the machinery, we lost the timber bucker, who’d been swamping out the brush in the faller’s quarter when he stepped wrong and took out his knee.

  Two of us were there to set chokers around the logs for transport to the landing, but since no trees had been felled yet, I was needed to assist the faller, an ancient, salty man who’d taken down more trees than Paul Bunyan and who was just about as old as the tall tale too. Mattson was long past retirement age, but the supposedly exciting lure of a lumberjack’s life kept him from replacing his chainsaw with a television remote. His face had as many creases as the bark on the trees, and he wore a red flannel shirt that looked as if it had seen the turn of the century. And while it was hard not to respect the man for having survived decades of cutting trees with all of his limbs and his life intact, it was hard not to think that he’d be better off at home in a Lazy-Boy sipping flat beer and writing a memoir or something. He, no doubt, had enough stories to fill a fucking book.

  I’d stuck my earplugs in early, more to block out his constant stream of nonsense than the buzz of his saw. Three times he’d waved his gloved hand over the escape route, and three times I’d responded with a nod of recognition. I’d been working in the woods long enough to recognize the lean of a tree and the planned direction of the fall, but Mattson was treating me like a newbie.

  Mattson had barely glanced up the length of the tree when he’d started his undercut, and to me, it seemed his tree would head slightly to the right of where he’d planned. He used the same slipshod technique for the back cut. It was more than obvious that the direction was off. I pulled a wedge from my tool belt to help the lean, but he ignored it and continued. The tree trunk cracked, and as the top of the Douglas fir started its long journey to the forest floor, it got hung up in several other trees, which was exactly as this ‘newbie’ had predicted.

  Mattson shut down his saw, pulled out one earplug and stared at the suspended tree. He looked back at me, and I held up the wedge to let him know that I’d been right. He pretended not to see it.

  “Sometimes it’s as if the damn planet is just a little off its axel,” he said with a chuckle.

  “I think you mean axis, and I don’t think that was the problem.”

  “Axel,” he repeated, “whatever happened to that guy?”

  “What?”

  “He used to sing some good songs,” he went on, apparently forgetting about the problem he’d created. “Axel Rose, I think. Always liked his music.”

  “Yeah, he’s fucking terrific. Now do you want me to get the peavey, or are we just going to wait until a good wind comes through to loosen that tree?”

  Mattson swiped the red beanie off his head and scratched at the tufts of remaining gray hair on his scalp. “Let’s see if we can shake it loose. Why don’t you grab a peavey?”

  I nodded. “Good idea.”

  Dugar, the other choker setter, grinned at me as I lumbered past. “Good times, eh, Barringer?”

  “Shit, I’m beginning to think that bucker twisted his knee on purpose.” I climbed up to the landing and Pinkett, the rigging slinger and my boss, put up his hand before I could say a word.

  “Can’t force a man into retirement, Barringer, so don’t even bring it up. Besides, I’m not the Bullbucker out here. Rasmussen is in charge of the fallers. Talk to him if you have a complaint.”

  “I wasn’t going to say a fucking word, but if I die under a misdirected tree then you’ll be down there setting chokers instead of up here nursing your damn coffee cup and kissing your talkie tooter.”

  I grabbed the peavey from the back of the truck. The peavey was a sharp hook on the end of a pole that, with any luck, would be strong enough to shake the hung up tree from its tangle of branches.

  “Just get some of those damn logs cut up so we can fill the truck,” Pinkett called to my back.

  Mattson pointed to a section of the tree. “Hook it right here. I think it just needs a little coaxing.” His hazy blue eyes seemed to be assessing me. “You look as if you’ve got the strength of three men. I’m sure it won’t take more than a few good tugs.”

  Strength of three men or not, it took at least a dozen good pulls before the fallen tree dropped to the ground. It was still going to take a lot of careful limbing to get it clear for the choker.

  I spent several more hours with Mattson, and he avoided anymore mishaps and had even gained my respect some. He moved swiftly and accurately through his assigned quarter with the strength and stamina of a man half his age. I was feeling sufficiently like an asshole for my earlier opinion when the last tree nearly became the man’s last tree.

  chapter 2

  Summer

  The waitress placed the roasted beet salad in front of me and the shrimp tacos in front of Mom. It was one of those expensive, pretentious little ‘boutique restaurants’ that served up more ambience than food. Only the ambience was so forced it felt more like a stage setting than atmosphere.

  “Still can’t believe you brought me to such an expensive restaurant.” I stabbed a dark red beet with my fork.

  “Nothing but the best for my future diva.” Mom smiled brightly. Her eyes were the same color as mine, dark brown, but I’d always been jealous that hers had a slightly exotic tilt to them. She’d been overusing the whitening strips on her teeth, and it seemed her choppers were starting to take on a blu
ish cast. She took a sip of iced tea and pressed her fingers against her lips to staunch the pain. Aside from making them an abnormal color, they were making her teeth oversensitive to hot and cold.

  “Mom stop with the whitening stuff already before you end up with dentures. And, if I ever become a diva, promise me you’ll warn me long before the obnoxiousness starts.” I chewed a bite of beet. It was reasonably flavorful but a bit overcooked. “Besides, we haven’t signed the contract yet. Clark is still going over the details with Ken Tately.”

  She swallowed a bite of shrimp taco. “Needs hot sauce.” Her pink bauble bracelet got caught up in the lining of her fake Coach purse as she fished for something inside. She grinned triumphantly as her fingers emerged with a packet of Taco King hot sauce.

  I glanced around. “Seriously? You’re going to put that on a plate of twelve dollar tacos?”

  She ripped open the package and proceeded with her plan. “I still think you should have hired me as your agent and manager. I don’t trust Clark for a second.”

  “That’s because you made the stupid decision to date the man right after I signed with his agency. And, I might add, you don’t know a damn thing about the business.”

  She took another bite of taco, and I motioned to my own mouth to let her know she had a drip of her gourmet hot sauce on the edge of her lip. She wiped at it with the linen napkin, leaving a nice rust-colored stain on the pristine white cloth. “I’m the one who was smart enough to see your talent. Who drove you to singing lessons all those years? Not Clark.”

  “That’s because stuff like that usually falls to the mom and not the future agent, who didn’t know I existed until six months ago when he saw me singing at the Handle Bars Club.”

  The waitress came and refilled our teas. She looked slightly askance at the hot sauce package and then walked away.

  Mom waved her hand to dismiss the last topic. “Anyhow, I just couldn’t be any prouder of my beautiful, mega-talented baby girl signing her first big recording contract.”

  “Thanks, Mom. And thanks for driving me to those voice lessons.”

  “But remember, Summer, don’t take anything for granted, and always be ready for disappointment.”

  “And there it is— the yin to your yang.”

  Her perfectly drawn brow lifted. “What do you mean?”

  “Just what I said. You’ve always been a pro at tossing out a golden nugget of hope and then snatching it back with the black, greedy hand of doom. But it’s all right. I’ve come to expect it, and you can hardly accuse me of being overzealous about this whole thing. No one is more pessimistic or suspicious of this music industry than me.”

  “I can’t understand where you get it from. Must have come from your dad.” Anything I did wrong, or any character flaw, was always blamed on my father, a man who I’d only spent the first three months of my life with, a man who I wouldn’t recognize if he came up to me on the street and introduced himself as Dad.

  I shook my head at her ignorance and continued stabbing the fork through my overpriced salad that was, aside from two roasted beets and a handful of walnuts, mostly green. And some of those greens looked and tasted like tiny weeds one might find in an overgrown lawn.

  My phone buzzed and I pulled it out. “What are you up to?” Chrissy, my best friend since junior high, texted.

  “I’m having lunch with my mom. Why? What are you up to?”

  “Nothing. Just wondering where you were.” That was the end of the digital conversation, typical for Chrissy. I was placing the phone back in my purse when it rang. I looked at the screen. “It’s Ken Tately.”

  The owner of Tately Records had only called me once before to let me know that he wanted to sign the band for a recording contract.

  “Oh dear,” Mom said gloomily, obviously sure it was bad news.

  I took a deep breath and answered. “Hello.”

  “Is this Summer?”

  “Yes, Mr. Tately, it is.”

  “Please, call me Ken. Did I catch you at a bad time?”

  “No, I’m just having lunch with my mom.” Mom shot me a deserved ‘gee thanks’ look.

  “So, Logan and the guys aren’t there?”

  I furrowed my brows at my mom to show I had no idea what this call was leading to, but I was starting to feel the same gloom as my mom had when I’d announced it was Tately calling.

  “No, they aren’t with me. But I’m sure I can get them together with a few quick texts.”

  There was a pause, but it wasn’t the type of natural pause caused by the annoying delay on the other end of a cell phone. It was one of those significant pauses. “Actually, Summer, I’d like to talk to you without the band. Can you come by my office in an hour?”

  “Sure, I’ll call Clark and let him know we have a meeting.”

  “No, I won’t need to talk to him. Just you, if that’s all right.” I had no idea what was going on, but I definitely wasn’t getting sparkling vibes through the phone.

  “Sure, Mr. Tately, uh, Ken. I’ll be there in an hour.”

  Mom had slumped back against the chair and dropped her cloth napkin onto the half eaten tacos. I hung up and stared at the phone a second as if it would explain to me what the conversation had been about.

  “Mr. Tately wants to speak to me alone,” I said.

  Mom blew a worried puff of air from her lips. “Shit, that doesn’t sound good.”

  “Thanks for the words of encouragement.”

  “Well, what could he possibly want?”

  “Don’t know, Mom,” I snapped. “I can’t eat another bite.”

  “Me neither.” She waved her red fake nails for the waitress. “Do you want me to come with you?”

  “God no,” I said possibly too abruptly. Her expression fell. “Sorry, Mom, I didn’t mean it like that.”

  “Yes, yes you did, and that’s all right. You’re an adult now. By the way, your grandfather’s lawyer called. He needs you to make a decision so he can put your grandfather’s restaurant up for sale.” I hated when she referred to him as your grandfather. He had been her father, and while I’d never known all the reasons behind their estrangement, I was sure most of them had come from her side. Grandpa Russell had always been kind and generous. Now he’d left me his beloved restaurant, the Raven’s Nest, which he’d built himself after a logging accident had taken half his foot. While I’d figured all along that he wouldn’t leave the place to my mom, I hadn’t expected him to leave it to me. I had to sell it, and that made me feel a little sad and a little traitorous.

  “Remember, you promised that once you sold the place, you’d give me half.” The other mom was showing herself across the table now.

  “Oh, I see. So you just assume that the phone call meant no recording contract and no lavish lifestyle for the mother of the lead singer, and now you’re back to dwelling on Grandpa’s money. You were the one who refused to speak to him.”

  “When we spoke, all he could do was point out my flaws and mistakes. That restaurant should have been left to me.”

  I took out my wallet.

  “I told you I was taking you to lunch,” she said angrily.

  “No way. I’m paying for my own salad. I’ve got to hurry so I can beat the late afternoon traffic through Los Angeles. I slipped my share of the lunch tab into the leather folder and reluctantly bent over and kissed her cheek.

  “Let me know what he says,” Mom called as I made my way through the maze of tables.

  chapter 3

  Gage

  Mattson looked around at his quarter. “One more tree, but I need a little fortification first.” He fished in his belt for something, and I hoped it wasn’t a tiny bottle of whiskey. He brought out a cellophane package of crackers. He opened it and offered me one. “They’re good. They’ve got peanut butter between them. Good for a burst of energy. I find that I just don’t have the stamina I used to have hiking around these hills.”

  I took the cracker. “I don’t know about that. I’m havin
g a hard time just keeping up with you.”

  He beamed at my comment. “You still breaking colts out at your granddaddy’s ranch?”

  “When I have time. But it’s my ranch now. My grandpa died a few years back.”

  He shook his head. “That’s a damn shame. Still, I don’t know about working with horses. Those are some damn big animals. Seems dangerous to be working with the untamed ones.”

  I glanced around. A massive log swung precariously from a cable as the yarder hoisted it through the air to the landing. More than one man had died after being struck by one of those dangling logs, and that was just one of the many hazards at the operation site. “Breaking horses is like baking cookies compared to this gig. Besides, the colts are tame. They just aren’t ready for a saddle yet.”

  He offered me a second cracker, but I turned it down. “Peanut butter,” he said with a laugh. “My grandson’s best friend can’t go near the stuff he’s so damn allergic to it. Can you imagine? There wasn’t any such thing as peanut allergies when I was a kid.”

  “I don’t think it’s new to the world, just don’t think people realized it was a problem back then.”

  “Peanut butter,” he said again with a chuckle. “Who’d have thought goddamned peanut butter could be more deadly than my chainsaw.” He shoved the remaining crackers in his pouch. “So, do you like being out here working in the woods, or would you rather be on the ranch?”

  “Not going to lie— If I could find something else that pays well, I’d be shedding these calk boots and gloves faster than these trees fall. What I really want to do is buy the Raven’s Nest.”

 
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