Sentinel Mountain

Chapter Eighteen
Wet Deputy, Sentinel Rock and PhD Maintenance Man

Bruce had aroused himself enough to empty his stomach on the patio to the disgust of the others. Louise immediately found a hose and washed the vomit away, but not before she had soaked him well. He raised up and in very slurred and slow speech started cussing and calling her names. Not a good idea when she still had the hose in her hand, a hose which carried icy water the men of Elijah's troop had known well.

It was thirty minutes later that the sheriff arrived. As he appeared over the ridge, still some distance away, he had his blue lights flashing. "Bet he had the siren on until he was on the property else he was out in this end of the county anyway," James said and several of the others nodded.

Josh, consciously or unconsciously, expected a stereotypical Hollywood hillbilly sheriff and was hardly prepared for the forty-something-year-old tall, slender man who climbed out of the car after he had turned off the blue lights. Louise walked toward him and when she reached him, he said, "Louise, I understand you have a problem."

"I've solved mine," she said. "Bruce'll find a ring in his pocket and he's been hosed down."

"I can see that," he said with a laugh. All the time the two were talking they were headed toward Josh. When they reached him, Louise said, "Sheriff Brice, Mr. Joshua Taylor, Elijah's nephew and now owner of Sentinel Mountain."

The sheriff extended his hand and said, "Mr. Taylor, I had hoped we'd meet under better circumstances and I do apologize for one of my deputies. Actually, one of my ex-deputies shortly I suspect. Please tell me what has transpired here."

The whole Sentinel Mountain bunch gathered around the two as Josh told the sheriff the whole story. When he had finished, the sheriff said, "I certainly don't condone one of my men getting dead drunk. I seldom take a drink myself, but that's everyone's own business until it becomes a problem to others, which has happened here, but I would simply have taken the young man back and let him sober up in the drunk tank," he grinned. "I am positive that would have taught him a lesson.

"His homophobia is another question altogether. Now I'll be honest with you, most folks in these parts look upon homosexuality as a sin and some are pretty outspoken about it, especially when a person is open and honest about being gay and having a partner. So long as all they do is talk, they are free to express their opinion, that is, so long as they don't present their opinion as the law and most especially when they represent and are sworn to uphold the law. I'm not sure even that would be enough to fire someone. Diversity training definitely, but Bruce has, in front of all of you, condoned a beating which, in my book, was attempted murder and, further, indicated that he would not do the job assigned to him—that is, to investigate the beating. That is more than enough to can him and he will be fired."

"That settles that," Josh said, "because I wanted you to know he would not be allowed on Sentinel Mountain property even on official business. I know that might seem hard to enforce on my part, but I was prepared to make it happen. Well, since you came all the way out here and Bruce is out for the night, I suspect, won't you have some of Sherry and Janie's delicious food?"

"Seems to be a sin not to," he laughed. After Sherry fixed him a heaping plate and brought it and a tall glass of sweet tea, he and Josh sat down and talked. Josh learned he had been assistant police chief in a fairly large Georgia town, but decided it was not the place to raise his children—he had four boys before he finally had a daughter—and found a job with the sheriff in Sylvan County. The sheriff was at retirement age when he and his wife Pam moved. Within a year, Deputy Brice was essentially running the sheriff's department. Most of the deputies were also approaching retirement age and he worked with the local community college to get courses leading to an AA in criminology. The sheriff agreed that all new hires had to have an AA or be well on their way to earning one. He also put a great deal of pressure on the younger deputies to at least take some courses if not work toward a degree.

"People in the county noticed the increased professionalism of the sheriff's department and liked it. But all my staff were getting the same courses with the same instructors and that didn't seem good to me, so I went to talk to some of my fellow sheriffs and we encouraged people to find jobs in areas away from where they grew up. I expected few would be interested, but I was surprised at the people in the Piedmont who wanted to be in the mountains and the mountain boys who were antsy to get to the beach. Bruce was from near Raleigh. In looking back, his school record was good, but now that I think about it, I guess I didn't listen too carefully. Anyway, I think you'll find the deputies of Sylvan County have a high degree of professionalism and while they may not personally approve of a lifestyle, that will have little or no influence on their work. Change of subject here, Mr. Taylor."

"Josh, please, Sheriff."

"Josh it is. I guess for the rest of my life, Sheriff is my given name," he laughed. "Anyway, I understand you will be coming to Sentinel Mountain to live."

"Soon, I hope," Josh replied. "Right now I am trying, together with some really good people, to rescue a good company driven into the ground by a coke-head and his friends. It looks like we may have made the turn and I'll be coming here in a few months. Unfortunately, I'm based in San Francisco and can hardly pop in for the weekend. I will, however, make it a point to try to arrange my travel schedule so I can be in this end of the country on some weekends. Now that I have seen the place in operation, I know I don't have to give a long notice and, in fact, can just show up."

They talked a while longer and the sheriff finally said, "Well, I best be heading back to my place. I'll send someone out for Bruce's car in the morning." They shook hands and the sheriff tossed Bruce in the back of his patrol car and left. Josh started to find Louise and see if he could be some comfort, but he saw Shane sitting beside her, an arm around her shoulders, not looking the least bit unhappy. Louise didn't look as unhappy as he thought she would be. Maybe Bruce being an asshole was going to make two people very happy.

The next morning, early, Rob showed up in the Jeep he had trouble starting earlier with Bob Morris in the back seat. "Why are you driving this Jeep with its problems when there's a nearly new one in the garage?" Josh asked.

"See if you have the same question when we get back. Better be sure your seat belt is fastened."

They drove up the valley for three or four miles before Josh saw anything different from the glade the house overlooked. They crossed a cattle guard—a 'bridge' made of two inch pipes with a fence on each side. "Why's there a bridge over nothing?" Josh asked. "Well, nothing that I can see."

Bob explained that it saved a lot of getting out to open and close gates. "We can drive across it, but the cattle can't walk across it.

After driving another mile of so, they reached the cattle station with its equipment sheds, shelters for huge rolls of hay, and a pen for cattle that were sick or injured which adjoined a building housing the cattle clinic where Sandra Morris held forth as a trained vet tech able to handle routine and some not-so-routine vet work. There were also holding pens with loading ramps for loading and unloading cattle either being taken to the slaughterhouse or brought in to join the herd. Bob explained that while most of the cattle came from cows bred on the station—Elijah for reasons unknown, but likely because he had grown up on a ranch, refused to allow the cattle operation to be called a ranch and chose instead an Australian term—other heifers were brought in to add new blood to the line. "Of course, we wouldn't inbreed anyway since most our heifers and cows are bred by artificial insemination. It's as though we have fifty or sixty of the best bulls here on the station."

Josh laughed and said, "I'm surprised the cows don't organize a protest. You have no bulls at all?"

"Actually, we have two, both champions, who do make some of the ladies happy or, like all males, think they do." He laughed.

"I haven't had a chance to get a close look at the cattle, but they seem awfully small to me and I'm not sure I have ever seen the breed before."

"Not surprising. They are Irish Dexter, not a common breed, but ideal for us. They were developed from Irish stock and are excellent mountain cattle, very hardy. They grow out in eighteen months with a high meat to feed ratio. We have been very successful with them. They are gentle and are also good milkers although we do no milking."

"I guess that might change if we have sixty teenagers in Boys' Camp. I shudder at the amount of milk it will take to keep them going. Your place near here?"

"If you look carefully through those trees about halfway up that hill, you can see a bit of the roof of our place. We built it when we married and have added to it since. Suits us fine."

After more driving, Josh had seen four separate herds and discovered why the cattle guard was a real convenience as, time and again, Bob hopped out to open and close a gates, gates which allowed the cattle to be rotated among several pastures so none were over-grazed. Having lived on a ranch in Utah, he was amazed at the lush grass in the meadows and pastures of Sentinel Mountain.

They rode back to the house where Janie had lunch—which Josh learned right away was really dinner. Lunch was something you packed for school or to take to work or a picnic. The evening meal was supper, not dinner. After they had eaten, Jake Allen drove up in a Jeep even more battered than the one they had been in during the morning. The ride he took Josh and Rob on was as rough as the appearance of the Jeep. Josh learned that sections of Sentinel Mountain had been set aside as a reserve for plants and animals. Other sections were used for selected cutting with the logs being processed into rough lumber at a large sawmill which did custom work. The lumber was stacked in sheds to dry for several years. The sheds and outbuildings were mostly built from lumber run through a utility plane on the place. Lumber for houses was taken back to the custom mill for planing, Jake explained. "We also harvest special trees for fine work—black walnut, wild cherry, trees with exceptional grain—and it is allowed to cure for five years before it is touched. Most of it is also used at Sentinel Mountain, but some is sold to woodcraft artisans for furniture or decorative pieces. All the furniture in the house was made from Sentinel Mountain timber," Jake said. "Elijah had met a designer in… where was it, Rob? Norway, I think."

"Think so," Rob said.

"Most of the furniture in all our houses started as trees here in the Sentinel Mountain forests." They drove down a long, smooth—for a change—drive to a classic-looking Craftsman design house. "This is my place. Beth, my wife, said she'd have something cold for us to drink when we arrived. Come on inside."

After they had stopped for refreshments, they drove further up the mountain and across the ridge. They passed Louise's cottage which was almost like a play house it was so small. Across the front was a porch overlooking the valley below. The front wall was mostly glass. Rob explained that the living room ran the width of the house with a kitchen and eating area and a bedroom behind it. Above them was a loft. "At the back is a door to the stair of the lookout tower which is manned when the fire danger gets high."

They drove around the house and along a trail for a couple miles. Josh noted they had fallen below the ridge line when Jake made a turn up a steep trail. As they crested the ridge he said, "And this is Sentinel Rock atop Sentinel Mountain." The view was breathtaking.

The other two stayed in the Jeep as Josh walked out to the edge of Sentinel Rock and sat down there, several hundred feet above the valley below. The granite outcrop was well named since it commanded a panoramic view of the Sentinel Mountain valley and the mountains beyond. He sat silent in the late afternoon sun on a bright, warm day. He gazed across the valley, obviously deep in thought. He smiled to himself thinking that had he been here not long ago he'd have considered jumping from the rock ledge. Now, he was happy he was alive, still marveling at how he had ended up not only on Sentinel Rock, twenty-five hundred miles from where he had been a few months ago, but also even further from the life he had known. His recollection of how it all started was quite vivid and he smiled again about the confusion which began his adventure. Finally he realized he had been sitting for longer than he should have since Rob and Jake were waiting for him. He got up and walked toward the Jeep, promising himself he would be back—often.

When he reached the Jeep, he said, "I can't imagine this being mine. I keep expecting to wake up any minute."

The two men laughed and Jake said, "I hope not or we are really shit out of luck."

Jake said, "We'll drop Rob off at his place and I'll show you the last part of Sentinel Mountain's operations." It was after four when they reached another small cottage and Jake blew the horn and Shane came out. "Welcome to Boys' Camp," he said as he climbed into the Jeep. Jake drove up the road running in front of Shane's cottage and as he rounded a curve, Josh saw a number of buildings. "We may as well walk from here, Josh," Shane said. "Jake, if you like, I can take Josh back to the house after we finish the grand tour here."

"Thanks," Jake said.

"Thanks for the morning and afternoon," Josh said and Jake waved, turned the Jeep around and headed back.

"Josh, when it was in operation, Boys' Camp had sixty boys here ranging from twelve to eighteen. They were housed in the five cottages you see through the trees. Each wing of a cottage has six rooms as each boy had his own room, very much like a college dorm room with a bed, chest, desk with chair and a comfortable chair. Two rooms share a bath. Where the two wings come together there is a large common room, a dining room and kitchen. Each wing had a senior boy in charge who was chosen by the boys and approved by the staff. Each cottage was responsible for breakfast and supper since the boys went to public school and had lunch there. If it was in operation today and I had anything to do with it, we'd have a charter school open to boys of the area who wanted to attend as well as the boys of the camp."

"Only boys?" Josh asked.

"Only boys. Research shows single-gender schools work. Girls are a distraction."

"They may have been for you, but it was the boys who gave me boners," Josh laughed and Shane blushed, then grinned.

"See your point," he said, "and since a lot of kids are like Hank, tossed out because they are gay, I guess we'll have to give some thought to that. Boys' Camp will reopen, won't it?" he asked with a real catch in his voice.

"No decision yet," I said. "You think it's needed?"

"I know it's needed," he said.

"And you'd like to run it?"

"I'd sure like to be a major part of it," he said, very frankly.

"You think the state would license a program and charter a school with a maintenance man in charge?" I asked, "Not that I don't think maintenance men are important and needed. By the way, I saw you comforting Louise last night."

Shane laughed. "I'm two years older than Louise. We met in college and I thought we'd end up together, but when I finished college, I spent a semester bumming around Asia, then did a two-year peace corp stint only to return and find her with another guy. The peace corp taught me a lot, so I went back to school and got my Masters in adolescent development. She was in her last year in her Masters program in forest management and we dated a few times, but when she left, we split again. While I worked on a doctorate in psychology, I took some Masters level courses in school administration and got an administrator's certificate. Six months as an intern in a public school was enough for me. I heard there was an opening at Sentinel Mountain Boys' Camp and came to see about the job. I learned the camp had been closed for years and the job was maintenance. I loved the place, liked the people and had no responsibility to anyone other than myself, so I took it. So, I guess I might be as overqualified to oversee Boys' Camp as I am to maintain it."

Josh grinned and said, "Touché. None of my business, and you can tell me to fuck off, but I sensed last night that you had a thing for Louise."

"For almost seven years. You'd think I'd get over it, but…"

"I know that feeling," Josh said. Both men had tears in the corners of their eyes. "I don't think the terms of Elijah's will have been made known and I hope you won't reveal what I am about to tell you. The part which, I think, is applicable here states that I am to have possession for one year. During that time, I am to find a constructive use for Sentinel Mountain. Elijah's attorney said when I flew in that he and Elijah had talked a lot about that and Elijah meant something like Boys' Camp, but didn't want the person inheriting Sentinel mountain to be tied to something he didn't like when there were other worthy causes. Frankly, at this point I see nothing more exciting or inspiring that having the ability to give boys and young men who have no hope a purpose in life. To be honest, that is just about what Sentinel Mountain has already done for me, but I'm not sure and I make no promises."

"Understood, but I have years of practice in waiting and hoping."

"Maybe it's time you did less waiting and hoping and more acting."

"Maybe" he grinned.

When the two got back to the house, Josh invited Shane to supper. When the two got inside, Louise was sitting in the kitchen while Janie finished supper. "Louise, I was up at your place today. One of these days when I get back, I'd like to climb the watch tower."

"It's a great place to spend time," Louise said. "I do my best thinking up there. Guess I should have spent some of the time I spent with Bruce up there instead. I am still very sorry about last night, Josh. Well, sorry that it made a mess of your evening with us Sentinel Mountain folks. Kinda glad it happened and I saw Bruce for what he is."

"Still hurts, though," Josh said.

"Yeah, but I'll get over it. Bet Shane has been bending your ear about Boys' Camp. I'd sure like to see it going again too. A Girls' Camp as well."

"Well, you can talk all you want to about camps later, right now supper's on the table," Janie interrupted.

After the meal, Janie headed home, leaving the three to have coffee on the front porch, watching the sunset, which was beautiful.

"How long do you think you can take country life, Josh? After all, you are used to the rush of the city," Shane said.

"I'll admit I had some real misgivings about coming here. I did live in the country, on a ranch, from the time I was in middle school until I was seventeen and it was mostly a very unpleasant and unhappy time. Had it not been for Prince, my horse, and Alex, my friend and lover, I don't think I could have made it, but there have been very rough times in the city as well, but this would be different. There are kind and caring people here that I like and know I will come to love. There is a purpose here because unless something happens, Boys' Camp will come alive again. Prince and Princess and my other horses will think they have arrived in horse heaven when they see all this grass," Josh fell silent and enough word had passed around the station that both Louise and Shane knew he was thinking of Alex and sat in silence with their own thoughts.

The next morning, Josh called Blankenship Ltd and talked to Luc. All was running well. There was a bit of a problem with a customer in Charleston and, since Josh was on the east coast anyway, Luc asked if he could take care of it. Josh agreed, but said he'd need an extra day before getting back and Luc assured him that was fine.

Josh asked Shane what he had on the docket and Shane said nothing that couldn't wait if Josh needed him. "I've got to fly to Charleston and can rent a plane for the company," Josh replied, "and if we can get appointments, maybe we can swing by Raleigh and you can talk to someone about charter schools and I can talk to social services about reopening the camp."

"Great!" Shane replied, a huge smile on his face.

"I'll call Jordan VanWinkle and see if he can arrange meetings with someone higher than the janitors at education and social services." Josh got up and went inside to use the phone and once again reminded himself he needed to have engineering come up with a solution to communication on the station.

Josh reached Jordan VanWinkle at home, apologized for calling after office hours, then explained his request. Mr. VanWinkle said he'd contact some friends in Raleigh in the morning and see what he could do although he was sure Josh would be seeing people "high up the Raleigh political food chain." Josh then called the aviation service in Asheville about a turbo since he would need more speed than the light plane he flew into Sentinel Mountain. He was told he'd have to give them time to check. He went out and gave Shane the news and suggested they be ready to leave at seven in case he had to fly a smaller plane.

Josh was expecting a call from the airport and was not surprised when the phone rang. He went inside, picked up the phone and said, "Sentinel Mountain, Josh here."

"Josh, it's June VanWinkle."


Editors: Jesse and Scott.

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All persons and places are fictional and any similarity to persons or places living or dead is coincidental. Again, it's fiction, folks.

~ Sequoyah