“Damn worthless piece of shit.” Will Cooper thumped the screen of his GPS device as it announced he was out of service range for the fifth time. He pounded his hand on the steering wheel and watched the unfamiliar scenery pass by him, looking for anything that might indicate just which way he’d gone wrong when he turned off of Ocean Beach Road onto Highway 109. So far he’d seen nothing but trees. He hadn’t even spotted a house in miles. He picked up his phone to see that he still had no service. His mother had warned him that he’d chosen to move to the one part of Washington State where cell phone service was nonexistent, but being a city mouse through and through, he’d dismissed that as foolishness. Boy, had she not been lying.
He threw his cell phone onto the seat next to him and growled at his luck. He’d already had a long morning, and he’d known when dispatch told him to trek upward toward the Lake Quinault area to look into a car parked at the lodge that had been reported stolen he’d get lost because country roads were still not his forte, but he’d given it a shot--and failed miserably.
After a few more miles, a few more slaps to his steering wheel, and several more attempts with the worthless GPS, a sign welcoming him to the Wichinow reservation followed an even larger one welcoming him to the home of the Chitwhins loomed in the distance. He mouthed Chitwhins
to himself, making a mental note to Google the word when he had the opportunity. The steady line of evergreens gave way to a few small buildings, and then a very small town appeared from the forests. As he pondered stopping in for directions, the low-gas light on the dash of the squad car lit up. He drove a bit farther, thinking he might try to find a more inviting-looking town, but he found he’d come to where the highway ended--literally. The highway stopped and became a gravelly dirt road that led into the forest.
After making a three-point turn on a boating road beside the bridge that was the final bit of civilized highway, he pulled his car onto the first street in the small town. The first thing noticeable was the impoverished state of the area. He was surprised to find that it was so far off from anything that there wasn’t even a chain grocery, only a small mercantile. He drove around for a minute, looking, praying for a gas station. Small groups of children were running around, chasing small packs of unleashed dogs, and adults were standing in small groups talking among themselves. They’d all stop and stare as he drove by, some openly pointing at his car and scowling. He’d heard there was some bad blood between his coworkers at the Gray’s Harbor County sheriff’s department and the local Wichinow tribe, but he’d yet to make the acquaintance of anyone other than those coworkers to prove or disprove a feud that seemed antiquated to a city kid from California.
But he seemed to have traveled into a different dimension out in Taholah, the name of the town as he’d found out from a very small green sign on the side of the road. Calling it a town was certainly generous. There was a small fitness center housed in what looked like a garage, and a mobile home sat across the street with the words DIABETES PREVENTION CENTER painted on one wall. The houses were all unkempt, and the paint was chipping on all of them, making the city seem ramshackle save for its beautiful oceanic backdrop. The very small town was dirty and sat on about four small “blocks,” but it was on prime fucking real estate, and the Pacific shone bright in the background, waves gently rolling, juxtaposing natural beauty with economic depression.
Will was nervous that he might not find a gas station in this strangely remote town, but he couldn’t imagine that there wouldn’t be one there since it was, in fact, the only town for fifty miles. When he reached the small town’s edge, he turned the squad car around in the parking lot of a small building that looked like one of the telephone buildings that his grandfather had worked in before he’d retired from Siemen’s. A white banner hung from the front of the tin-sided shack, flapping in the Pacific breeze, with large red letters saying DSL.
Wonder if Bill Gates knows they hid the Internet in a tiny shack in Taholah, Washington
. Will snorted. What better place than where both the highway and the world end, eh?
He shook his head at his lame humor. He couldn’t even make himself laugh with jokes like that. Then he got a look at the faces of the residents who were maliciously watching his car drive by and imagined he wouldn’t make any of the locals giggle with his comedic prowess either.
He finally found a gas and grocery on the farthest side of the town, just down from the small fitness center, and pulled in. He scowled at his phone, which still had no service, then got out of the car, straightening his gun belt and warily eyeing the six dogs that lazed in the shade beside the gas pumps. He’d never seen dogs running around so freely, but there were several trotting around the streets. The children had abandoned their dog chasing in favor of watching Will put his credit card into the gas pump and begin fueling. He had never felt so out of place. Even wearing a uniform in some of the most gang-infested streets of his hometown of Sacramento hadn’t made him feel so alien. He was uneasy at the prospect of going into the store for directions, but he’d have to if he didn’t plan on staying all night where he was obviously unwelcome.
The gas pump clicked, and he pumped up to the nearest dollar, then replaced the hose. As he turned the key to lock the cap on the tank of the car, a bell chimed, signaling that someone was exiting the gas station. Will looked up, expecting another distrusting face, instead finding a curious yet smiling man who was clean-cut compared to the other residents Will had seen walking the streets. Damn, but the man was attractive. Deep black eyes were set in a masculine face that didn’t appear much older than Will’s twenty-seven years. The man’s cinnamon skin was too light to discern whether he was of European Spanish descent or a member of the Wichinow, but he was definitely ethnic. Will loved the slight tilt to the man’s eyes, and the man’s smile was easy, every bit of his six feet screaming confident and sexy. He was a complete anomaly in this country.
“You must have gotten lost.” It wasn’t a question, and God, were that sexy voice and deep laugh knee-buckling.
Will snapped himself out of his daze, realizing he must be staring. “Uh, yeah. Think I turned wrong off Ocean Beach, and the damn GPS--”
“Oh, no service out here, man.” The sexy guy laughed that easy laugh again, then held out his hand. “Name’s Colin Sharp. You must be the new guy, ’cause I don’t know you, and I’ve annoyed about every deputy at Gray’s Harbor at this point.”
Will took the man’s outstretched hand and shook firmly. The man had such smooth hands that Will could only imagine how they’d feel on his body. Snap out of it, man.
“Yeah,” Will said, trying to get his bearings. Unprofessional much?
“Uh, nice to meet you, Colin Sharp. I’m Will Cooper. Been here about two months now. Still getting accustomed to the roads.”
“I understand.” Colin seemed to be looking behind Will, more than at him. Will followed the line of vision to where an obese woman and a short man were standing beside the small post office, gawping openly at Will. Colin cleared his throat, and when Will turned his attention back to the man, he looked a bit embarrassed. “Sorry, man. If no one has told you, the tribe doesn’t always have the best relationship with the sheriff’s department. The rez police tend to handle everything for these guys. Well, for us. I live here too.”
Will took that to mean the man was probably just as unimpressed with his presence, just being polite, so he put on his all-business-deputy face. “Cool. Well, can you just tell me how I need to go to get back to cell phone service or Quinault Lodge?”
Colin looked taken aback by Will’s suddenly businesslike demeanor, but Will couldn’t tell why. He cleared his throat again and pulled out his wallet and a pen. “Sure, sorry.” Colin hastily removed a business card, leaned against the side of the squad car, and started drawing a small map on the back. “You’ll get back on 109 and then take the left back onto Ocean Beach, and then after a few miles you’ll hit Kirkpatrick and go straight up to 101.” Colin would stop drawing the map with each direction to gesture with his hands. “The 101 will take you all the way up to Quinault Lodge. You can’t miss it.” Colin finished, handing Will the card with another easy smile. He sure didn’t seem unwelcoming, but Will could still sense some sort of unease in the man.
“Appreciate it.” Will tipped his head in thanks.
“Don’t mention it. I’m sure we’ll be seeing each other around. I work for the school, and you guys have a habit of running into the kids I do outreach with. If they don’t run into you guys first.” Colin seemed exasperated at those words.
“I can only imagine. Seems I’ve seen most coming from Aberdeen, though. Can’t recall any run-ins with Taholah until I passed the Chitwhins sign on the highway.”
“Ah, yes. The mighty black bear.” Colin smirked fondly.
“Thanks for clearing that up.” Will laughed. “I wondered.” Oh my God, are you really flirting?
“Anyway. I’d best get a move on.”
Colin, again, looked a bit surprised by Will’s sudden change in tone, though Will realized he was definitely being a spaz. He knew he would kick himself later, but now he had to get away from this sexy guy who he would apparently be having a professional relationship with in the future. That put him in the Very Bad Idea
category. He’d gotten in enough trouble mixing business with pleasure in the past.
Colin backed away from Will and pressed a button on his keyless entry, which made the lights on a late-model black Honda Accord blink. “Sure, well, call if you still need help, though if you have service on your phone, I’d imagine the GPS is back online.” Colin opened the car door and tossed a final smile and wave Will’s way. “If you make it all the way to Forks, you’ve driven about an hour too far.”
Will must really have had Directionally Challenged
written all over his face. “Yeah, uh, thanks, Mr. Sharp.”
“Anytime.” Colin’s lopsided grin was devastating as he crawled into the Accord, slammed the door, and took off. Will watched the car for a moment, then noticed a few more locals had gathered to get a good look at the white cop who had rolled into town. He hurriedly hopped into the squad car and gunned it back down 109.