On the Level Excerpt

“Thanks for the ride!” Georgette LaCombe jerked her leg to free a three-inch heel from between the boards of the dock. She waved again at the teenager who’d ferried her over from King’s Harbor on the southeast corner of Mount Desert Island. Tom? Tim? Whatever his name, he kept the outboard engine of his small lobster boat idling, seemingly reluctant to leave her on the uninhabited island so soon after dawn.

“I’d hang around, Miz LaCombe, but I gotta pick up my dad so we can get to pulling traps.” He glanced across the channel toward King’s Harbor, where his father was probably pretty steamed up that the kid took off before he got there.

“Don’t worry about it. I was told the construction crew arrives in about an hour. You go on. My boss will pick me up later.” She took a few more careful steps—couldn’t an operation this size afford to build a new dock?—and glanced back. Still there.

“You have a nice day, now!” She waved her free hand, the other weighed down with her combination laptop case/purse, and made it to the end of the small pier without further footwear mishaps.

The engine revved, and the noise faded away as the boy headed east across the channel.

Georgette—Jett to her closest friends and family, but never professionally, because, really, who’d hire an attorney with a name like a rock star?—set her case on a makeshift picnic table just beyond the narrow beach. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Salt air, pine needles, a touch of sawdust. Waves lapping at the shore, maple leaves rustling in the wind, faraway harbor buoy warning boaters of shallow shoals.

The smells and sounds of coastal Maine. Nothing like the car exhaust, irate horns, and summer jackhammers of New Haven, Connecticut. Three years at Yale Law School were enough to convince her a big metropolitan area wasn’t where she wanted to put down roots.

People in Maine needed attorneys, too. Her academic credentials ought to net her interviews with the larger firms in Portland, especially once she’d passed the bar exam. Her father’s law office there wasn’t the only game in town. She intended to be hired on her own merits, not sneak in on Daddy’s coattails.

A seagull’s cry broke her musings, reminding her what had brought her to this little, soon-to-be developed island in Blue Hill Bay. Her first assignment as a summer intern with Ferris and Welty’s one-attorney satellite office in Bar Harbor probably wouldn’t give her a lot of unique and challenging case experience, but so what? She intended to excel at every assignment Trevor Barnes gave her for the next ten weeks. At the very least, she’d get a great recommendation to strengthen her resume.

She opened the case and withdrew a photocopy of the Cease and Desist Order her boss was bringing from Bangor. From an outside pocket, she took the six feet of heavy chain and the industrial-grade padlock she’d located in a filing cabinet in her new office. Guess this wasn’t the firm’s first experience with this sort of thing.

Her bag far more manageable now, she slung it over her shoulder, grabbed the chain and lock in one hand, legal filing with the other, and surveyed the field of battle. To the left, hundred-foot pines towered over a long trailer, with makeshift stairs rising to a door at one end. Beyond, an area half the size of a football field had been cleared of trees and brush, a dozen thick stumps standing sentinel to a logger’s chainsaw.

Pine needles, sawdust and old leaves were churned into the hardened earth, with deep trenches dug by the massive tires of several huge machines, the architects of the devastation.

A work-roughed dump truck—blue where it wasn’t covered in mud—was backed to the top of a long dirt ramp leading to a wide, deep pit for what must be the foundation for the main lodge of the resort that was under development. A resort that—if the papers in her hand had anything to say about it—wouldn’t go any further than the felled trees and a great big hole in the ground.

Two machines sat in the bottom of the pit, giving her a perfect staging area. “How convenient. Thank you, Three Rivers Construction.”

The rising sun cast deep shadows into the ruts that lined the packed earthen ramp. She looked to her feet, the blue suede Louboutins already soiled with dew-dampened dirt. Probably not the smartest choice to wear to a job site. When Trevor emailed her a copy of the Order yesterday afternoon, he didn’t mention she was headed to a construction zone in the middle of the woods. Sheesh. A pair of jeans and L.L. Bean duck boots would’ve made more sense than her beige linen pencil-skirted suit and stilettos. But today’s outfit—along with no makeup and her long hair tamed in a chignon—said take me seriously, dammit. She might be five-foot-nothing in her bare feet, but her spankin’ new law degree said she was a force to be reckoned with.

Jett made her way through the deep tracks, one wobbly foot after the other. As she snapped the lock that chained her to a two-ton piece of machinery, one thought overrode all others.

Would her boss remember to bring the key?

š

Nolan Rivers was in a mood. Half his crew hadn’t shown up the past three days thanks to a better-paying job on the mainland, and the remainder hadn’t made nearly the progress he’d hoped for. He was four days behind schedule and eight grand over budget, a one-two punch to his Rolaids-addicted gut.

He counted heads again on his Starcraft and on the Boston Whaler thirty feet off his starboard bow, piloted by his brother Conrad. In all, six strong men plus their gear. They’d better be up to a long day of work, since the forecast predicted that storm off the Newfoundland coast was headed their way by nightfall.

Just his rotten luck. It’d flood the job site, turning the eighty-plus tons of earth still to be moved into five hundred. Extending the work two or three days, at least. At fifteen hundred bucks a day for the equipment, plus labor, it’d cut another five thousand dollars into Three Rivers’ already slim profit.

“Looking pretty sour for first thing in the morning, boss.” Tank Leonard was Nolan’s go-to guy on the CAT 325C excavator he’d leased for the project. The fact they’d been Scouts together in grade school was the only reason he got away with talking smack on the job. That, and he was married to Nolan’s cousin.

Nolan’s glare only raised a chuckle from Tank, who shook his head and turned his back to the wind, thermal mug at his lips.

He just needed some caffeine, that’s all. Why did none of these yahoos ever think to pick up a coffee for him at that fancy shop near the King’s Harbor pier? Wasn’t like he’d ever spend four bucks for a cardboard cup of the stuff when he had a perfectly fine Mr. Coffee and a can of Folgers waiting in the trailer.

Nolan pulled to the port side of the ramshackle dock that’d been built fifty some years ago by a group that ran a wilderness camp here. His partner—okay, majority partner—in this project had bought the hundred-twenty-acre island for a song ten months ago.

Architect’s plans were drawn up for a luxury timeshare resort, and Three Rivers won the bid after Nolan convinced his dad and brother to second mortgage their homestead and take a one-quarter stake in the development. This was exactly the kind of project that would move them from nickel-and-dime remodels into the big leagues.

He finished tying off on a piling, grabbed his lunchbox and the rolled-up plans, and jumped down the last couple of feet from the dock to the sand.

“Uh, boss?” Tank looked like his last swallow was nothing but grounds.

“What?”

“Want to tell me why there’s a cute little babe in high heels chained to my CAT?”

š

 Jett heard the engines before the two small crafts rounded the bend into the small inlet. Here we go. She’d rehearsed her short speech until she could recite it fluently. A bunch of burly construction workers weren’t going to intimidate her! She had the power of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency behind her, not to mention the C&D Order signed by Judge Prentiss.

She wrapped the remaining chain around her arm, tightening its hold on a machine with tires so big she felt like a toddler. Before she’d closed the lock, she’d threaded the thick links through the handles of her laptop case, then secured the chain around her waist. All she had to do was keep them from starting up work until Trevor arrived with the official, certified document. And the key to the padlock, of course. Any minute now.

One by one, seriously muscled men tromped down the rutted ramp, clods of dirt flying from their thick boots. Some looked amused, others ticked off, but to a man, their eyes did a head-to-toe sweep and then did it at least once more. Neanderthal jerks.

In all, five men in hooded sweatshirts or flannels, jeans, and work boots gathered in a loose semi-circle, most with hands on their hips. She opened her mouth to begin her recitation, when another man—half a head taller than the others with shoulders to match—nudged a couple of them aside and stomped to within ten feet of her.

If that glare was a laser ray, she’d be a pile of ash.

“Mind telling me what this is about, sweetheart?”

Oh no, he didn’t.

(On the Level will be available for purchase in Spring 2019.)

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© 2019 by Madeline Olson. Background photo by Lee Lageschulte. Proudly created with Wix.com