Return to Heartland: A Heartland Cove County Romance, страница 30
I turn my head slowly and look square in his eyes. “I stopped taking orders from you a long time ago, Jebson. You should have figured that out by now.”
“Becca!” Aunt Penny’s frantic voice cuts through the air. She trundles dangerously close the side of the river below. “Becca?”
“No, don’t!” I shout down to her, stopping her half way.
Her bottom lip trembles. Worry consumes her face.
“Go! Call the police, the local news, and the television station. Tell everyone you can think of that I’m up here! We need as many eyes on this as possible. And quick!” She nods. “Tell them one of the locals has chained herself to the bridge to stop the mayor from destroying a heritage monument! Oh, and Aunt Penny!” I shout after her as she starts back up the bank. “Tell Trudy to carry on with the events without me! We’re gonna need all the money we can raise to fix this old bridge!”
I wake to the roar of engines and a steady stream of white lights. Shocked, I blink and squint, raising a hand to protect my eyes, as reporter’s voices shout at me from all directions, and cameramen’s lights blind my eyes. I must have momentarily dozed off. Film crews crawl the banks of the river on both sides. The news has arrived.
Aunt Penny has prevailed.
And not just the local news, reporters from far and wide. This is big news, national news, just like I knew it would be. Adrenaline courses through my body.
“Do you have anything to say, Miss Lane?” The sound of a reporter’s heels approaching, clapping hard against the steel below me, snaps my chin down. She makes her way very dangerously out to the end of the barge and stuff a microphone on a boom up in the air. Another pokes her head down through the hole in the bridge, stuffing her microphone out in front of me, too. Lights crisscross my face as their respective cameramen attempt to capture the shot, each narrowing in for the tightest frame. I’m tucked so far up in the bridge, they can barely see me from the shore, but the cameramen do a good job of bathing me in light to compensate for that problem. My head swivels, taking in the growing scene. The bridge is coated in townspeople and gawking festival goers. Reporters crawl over every available inch of the rest of it, closing in on me like a pack of coyotes.
Glancing down, I catch a glimpse of the rushing waters in one of the cameramen’s beams of light and my stomach hollows out. I’d almost forgotten how high up I am, and now, in the diminishing light of the evening, the darkened river looks even more treacherously ominous than it did before in daylight.
I was never brave enough to be out here in high school. I gulp. What am I doing here now?
“Why have you done this, Miss Lane?” a reporter asks. “Why have you chained yourself to this relic of an old covered bridge?”
“It’s not a relic. It’s a landmark.” I holler out in no particular direction, because I can’t see where to speak because of the lights. I don’t care as long as they carry the story, all of them, and spread it as far and wide as they can. “A staple of the community," I add. "It's the income source for all the people who live around here. It has been for the last hundred years. This bridge is what draws people to the area, so people here can earn a living. And the Mayor is determined to bring it down for his own personal gain.”
The crowd mutters in response as reporters break to take notes.
“So, the community doesn’t want the bridge to come down? It’s only the Mayor?” one reporter asks.
“That’s correct,” I shout in his direction. “Interview anyone of these good people standing around you, and I’m sure they’ll support my story,” I speak loudly and confidently. I raise a hand, struggling to see through the glare of the lights coming at me from all directions now. “My family owns this bridge These people are trespassing.” I shiver, nerves taking over, my stomach twisting inside out.
A cameraman turns his light to the side just long enough for me to make out several important-looking figures standing along the top of the river’s bank. I have no idea who they are. I hope these men are from Parliament, watching.
I hope they’re taking this all in. How one of their own helped crush a small town.
I turn my head, blinking as I adjust to the light streamed darkness, and see still more people packed in watching from the opposite side of the river back. Among the illuminated faces, Aunt Penny and my mother—who look frazzled and horrified. They stand at the top of the shore, holding hands. Mom breaks a slight smile when she meets my eyes. Jebson Jefferies stands not far from them, puff-chested, and mean-mugged, a pair thugs flanking both his side. Together, they block the South entrance to the bridge, trying their best to deter any more reporters from covering the story.
A scorching beam of light shoots up from the water, taking my sight away again momentarily, and I jolt, nearly losing my delicate balance on the ten-inch beam I straddle. When it comes back into view, I look down to see a news crew has perched themselves in a boat, and hover now, below me on the calm side of the river. Hal Weston waves up from behind the boat's wheel. The reporters have commandeered his help, rented one of his fishing boats and come out on the calm side of the river to get a closer look at the action, avoiding Jebson and his mob.
Hal throws down his anchor to hold them in place, looks up and gives me the thumbs up. The reporter on board climbs over the windshield onto the bow and sticks a microphone way up into the air on a long boom, to help blot out the sound of the rushing rapids below. I’m just that far up on the opposite side of the bridge that they can barely see me. The end of the mic wavers close to my mouth. “Miss Lane! Miss Lane!” he shouts. I turn my head around. “Can you tell us what you stand to gain from all this?”
“I think that’s clear. I’m out here for the people, trying to save the bridge for my community’s future.”
“Yes, but what do you stand to gain, personally?”
I’m perplexed by the questions. What is he talking about? What does he think I’m gaining out here?
“Isn’t it true your community stands to make a lot more money if the highway project is allowed to go through?”
“No. Not at all. I believe the government will though. And Jebson Jefferies, but that’s all.”
“So, you don't personally stand to make any money from your efforts here today?"
“Not more than the usual income from the bridge when it’s in operation, no. Like any of the folks here.” I look around.
“No fame along with that fortune? No recognition?”
What is he getting at? I scowl.
“So, in effect, this is a stand against the government, is that it?” Another reporter asks.
Wow, where did that come from? I think that question over hard before answering. Do I really want to state something like that, publically? “No. My beef is with whoever ordered this illegal demolition. If that person represents the government, well then…” I don’t finish the sentence on purpose.
“So you claim the removal of this bridge is happening illegally?” Another reporter pipes up.
“Why is that?”
“Because my mother never gave her permission to take this bridge down. And she is the rightful owner of this bridge. This is trespassing and destruction of property. Plain and simple. My mother has in no way sanctioned this.”
I hope. I have a crushing thought that maybe, just maybe, in one of her less lucid moments, she did. That day Aunt Penny mentioned they caught a Ministry man milling around on the property. I never did find out what she said to him. The sinking thought rushes over me.
“Do you have proof of that? Can you substantiate your claims? That you own the bridge, I mean. It’s very unusual that a citizen own a structure hooked up to a municipal roadway.”
“If you look closely you’ll notice it’s not hooked up. There’s a two-foot span of gravel on either side, between the government’s pavement and our bridge.”
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been doing my homework over the past few days. I found a bit of
Reporters rush to photograph the gaps.
“Isn’t it true you’re just a local troublemaker—”
“—that you just enjoy the limelight; that you’ve done this kind of thing before.” Another reporter’s mic appears in my face from down below. I struggle to make out who’s holding it. “According to local new sources, you’ve pulled this kind of stunt before,” the woman shouts. “In high school. And you were arrested for it.”
My eyes zero in on Mrs. Williams standing beside her, her plump silhouette backlit by lights.
I grit my teeth and swear at her in my head. “That has nothing to do with this issue whatsoever—”
“So you admit you make a habit of causing trouble—”
“That’s not what I said—”
“Okay, strapping yourself to objects to get attention.”
I refuse to answer.
“Isn’t it true, you once strapped yourself to the helm of a fishing boat out here to argue women’s rights.”
“To bring awareness, yes.”
“And isn’t true you were arrested for that?"
“I don’t regret that! And wouldn’t you? I strapped myself to the helm of a fishing vessel to ensure women fishermen were paid the same wage for hauling lobster around here as their male counterparts.”
“Back when you were in high school. Is that right, Miss Lane?”
“I fail to see how that is relevant to what’s going on here!” I shout.
“You’re an activist, aren’t you? An organized troublemaker. You’re just trying to get attention—”
“No, I’m not.”
“Are you with Green Peace?”
“Are you aware you’re breaking the law?”
“Are you aware they’re breaking the law by destroying this bridge?” I point in the direction of Jebson.
“Truth is, you just enjoy being arrested, don’t you, Miss Lane?”
“What? No,” I stammer. “I mean…” Camera shutters click. Lights blind and confuse me again. I lock gazes with Mrs. Williams through the chaos as I struggle to answer the next question. “It is true you were once engaged to the Mayor?”
“That has nothing to do with this—”
“So, this is not just a scorned lovers’ quarrel?”
“Who told you that?”
Mrs. Williams’ head drops. She turns and walks away.
“You get back here!” I shout at her. “Get back here!”
“This is the reaction of a jilted lover, isn’t it? He turned you down, so now you’re blocking his initiative—”
“You’d better get your facts straight.”
“This is not actually about the bridge at all, is it? It’s about you and the mayor—”
“Our mayor should be evicted from office, that’s what you need to report.”
“And why is that?” Another reporter intervenes.
“Because he’s a thief and a liar. Stealing from his people. He may even be responsible for one death.”
That shuts them up. Momentarily. And then the barrage of questions unfurls again.
“I’m here tonight, to draw attention to his corruption.” I swing my head around talking to all the clicking cameras. “To shed light on what’s happened in our district, under his leadership. To tell how the townspeople of Heartland Cove are being manipulated and extorted out of their land, money, and property, under his leadership!"
“Those are some pretty hefty statements. Do have facts to back them up?”
“Of, course I do!”
“So, you’re going on record calling your Mayor a murderer—”
Why am I on trial here? “Suspected, yes,” I blurt out, though I shouldn’t have said it.
Cameramen scan the premises looking for Jebson. They catch him in their lights. He straightens his suit coat sleeves and adjusts his tie. He knows it. He knows I tell the truth.
“Mr. Mayor!” One reporter goes after him. “Mr. Mayor!”
Jebson turns his back and quickly steps away. He heads toward his car, as one by one reporters spot him. “Do you have anything to say, Mr. Jefferies?” They pursue him to his car. “Anything on record? Do you dispute these accusations?” One reporter rounds his car, stuffing a mic in his face.
“Wholeheartedly,” Jebson says, pushing past her, then hesitating to glare back at me. “This situation has nothing to do with the mayor’s office. It’s a domestic dispute between the Ministry of Transportation and one of the locals, who by the way, is not of right mind and body.”
“Liar! He’s a liar,” I shout from my post on the bridge. “Check the legal papers in his pocket. See whose name is on them. I’m betting it's not his! Ask him about the taxes and how he harassed a local resident over them! Bogus, trumped up taxes that miraculously now, no longer exist!”
Jebson whirls around, his fists clenched at his sides.
“Ask him why a crew of workers is demolishing a historical landmark on the very day the community he presides over is holding a festival to raise funds to preserve it.”
“She’s lying. This festival has nothing to do with the bridge. It’s the International Potato Festival, which Heartland is grateful to have been awarded."
"Don't believe me? Check out the website: www.SaveHeartbeatBridge.com.The community is to use the proceeds from this to fix the bridge. A bridge the Mayor purposely had destroyed!”
It sounds insane. I sound like a lunatic. I wouldn’t believe it either if I was a reporter.
News crews drop what they’re doing to Google the information. Heads snap up in my direction. The website saves me. It states it all. And the information there is not just from me, there are excerpts on the topic written by the whole community.
Camera lens zoom in on Jebson’s glowing red face. “Enough!” he erupts, batting their attention away. Turning, he picks up his step, racing for the safety of his vehicle, storming from the bridge, reporters after him like a swarm of flies. White beams of light trail him.
One reporter breaks from the pack, barrels down the side of the riverbank in her too-flimsy heels, and orders her cameraman to focus back on me. “Miss Lane, you claim your family owns the bridge, is that correct?”
“And you have proof of that?”
She slugs her cameraman on the shoulder and he swings his light in my face. "Can you say that again for the camera, please?"
Why? What's going on here?
“Is it true your mother is under psychiatric investigation.”
“No, that isn’t true!”
“Is your incompetent mother here this evening?” The reporter looks around.
“My mother is not incompetent,” I shout.
“But it says so right here. Or at least, that’s what she claimed in court recently.” She holds up the document she’s called up on her phone.
“Where did you get that?”
“It doesn’t matter. Is she here, Miss Lane? The so-called incompetent owner of the bridge?”
My eyes flick to my mother and back. They implore her to stay silent.
“Isn’t it true, Miss Lane, you stood to inherit this bridge and could have profited hugely from the sale of it as its sole named beneficiary? Is that perhaps why you’re so desperate to save it?”
“If you’re referring to Jebson’s dirty deal, my mother turned that down.”
“Which infuriated you, didn’t it Miss Lane? Because you might have accepted it.”
My mouth falls open. “Get out of here!” I shout. “Get away from me!”
“Hey!” Something stirs underneath me, startling me. I lean over to see what it is, half ter
“How’s it going up here? I heard you could use some support.” Trent hoists himself up onto the beam next to me.
“What are you doing out here?” I blink twice making sure it’s him. He smiles at me, warm eyes behind glinting lenses, dimples digging deep.
“Aren’t you supposed to be…?” I glance back toward the horse barn where the Magical Michael show should be in full swing.
“Already done my thing.” He flops down on beam next to me, still dressed in his costume—an apron and a pair of heavy work boots, that’s it. And his baseball cap backward on his head, of course. “I asked to go first so I could get out here.”
“But you were supposed to be last.”
“Trudy re-arranged the schedule to accommodate. The guys are gonna do a grand finale appearance now, lead by Bernie.”
“Yeah, he’s got his moves down pat.” He winks. “I re-routed a lot of reporters over there, so they’ll leave us alone for a while.”
He gets situated, then drags up the chains. A heavy length of chain, with oversized links.
“Where did you get that from?”
“Tractor pull,” he says. He winds the chains around his waist and then around the bridge, his bottom gracing the skinny beam next to me, though we are still quite a distance apart. “I came as soon as Trudy told me the news. Hope I didn’t miss anything, important.” He grins.
“Only every reporter from here to the West coast in my face.”
“That many, huh? Good job, Mate.”
“Good job, only, I lost control of the conversation.”
“You managed to drive Jefferies outta here, that’s a feat.”
“Yes, but he got away with his lies. Blamed it all on my mother. They didn’t question her, did they?”
“I think Aunt Penny got her out of there before they did. They’re still holed up in her apartment.”
He shifts, gracing me with another little flash of his rock-hard bum as he tries to get comfortable. Not that I noticed. Okay, I did.