The Cabin III: The Unlawful Assembly at Winding Ridge,
CHAPTER 1 preview

Radiantly, the early morning sun rose, climbing over the uppermost peak of the mountaintop and filtering down over the huge mounds of rocks and trees until it brightened the rustic cabin where Annabelle and Daisy rocked on the front porch—thumpity thump, thumpity thump—enjoying their morning coffee.
“Look! Joe’s acomin’ up th’ road with Aunt Aggie sittin’ ‘long side him,” Annabelle said. “I thought she was dead until, when we was in th’ city, that detective told us she was stayin’ at the Ruble place at Centerpoint. But Joe didn’t tell us he’d planned on bringin’ her here. What do ya think he’s doin’ with her?”
“I’ve no idea,” Daisy answered. “If you’d admit it, though, ya have been missin’ her.”
“Hogwash,” Annabelle said. “I’d never admit no such thing, ‘cause I never did.”
“Ya did too. Ya even worried about her when Big Bessie was tormentin’ us ‘bout Frank killin’ her.”
“I can’t tell ya how glad I was to get shed of that one,” Annabelle sighed, speaking of Big Bessie. She lifted her matronly form from the chair, preparing to greet Joe and Aunt Aggie.
“What ya doin’ here?” Annabelle stepped from the porch toward the older woman, while Joe crossed the yard to sit on the porch.
“Joe came to get me, an’ I’m goin’ to be livin’ here, so I am.” Aggie spat. “I can tell ya I’m not one bit happy about leavin’ my cats an’ dogs, so I’m not.”
Annabelle watched the spittle land in the dust with a silent splatter, remembering the practice of rubbing snuff was only one of the many habits of Aggie’s that she hated. “Then why’re ya here? Stayin’ in your own cabin was all ya could think of when we was stuck in Frank Dillon’s cabin.”
“Joe says I need to stay here ‘til he fixes th’ loft. Jeb went an’ tore most of it down for firewood, so he did. But, I’m goin’ back. Ya needn’t think I’m fixin’ to stay here. No siree, so I ain’t. I’ll not leave my cats an’ dogs, so I’ll not.”
“What ya talkin’ ‘bout, Aggie?” Annabelle asked. “Jeb wouldn’t take down th’ cabin for wood. He could go outdoors to chop some.”
“He didn’t tear down th’ cabin, he took down th’ loft, so he did. Remember when we was livin’ at Frank Dillon’s cabin an’ we saw Jeb out back talkin’ to Frank, when all th’ time we was thinkin’ he was somewhere off th’ mountain hidin’ from th’ law?”
“I do,” Annabelle answered.
“Remember th’ snowstorm? It was so bad, a person couldn’t get to th’ forest to chop th’ kindling, so they couldn’t—that wood’d be too green to burn anyway. Usin’ th’ lumber that made up th’ loft was th’ only way left, so it was. That’s why he took it down. That was good, ‘cause th’ wood burned hot an’ kept th’ cabin warm an’ was powerful good for cookin’, so it was.”
“So what’s that got to do with you?”
“He was stayin’ in my cabin hidin’ Patty an’ Tuesday, so he was. That’s why he wanted me, so it was. He needed a cook.”
“Yeah, I knowed a little about what happened to ya after Frank took ya away on th’ snowmobile. When we was in th’ city th’ detectives told us what happened,” Annabelle said.
“Tuesday had a baby girl, so she did. Named it Winter Ann. I took a likin’ to that baby, so I did. She reminded me of Jeb when he was just a baby. I’m goin’ to see her someday before I die, so I am.”
“Ya old woman, ya never got attached to any of his other children. What makes ya think ya want to spend time with any of ‘em now?”
“Ya don’t knowed what ya talkin’ about, so ya don’t. Except for Joe, Sara, and Patty, I never got to be near the babies, so I didn’t. An’ for your information, I’m close to ‘em children. Was always tellin’ ‘em stories an’ all, so I was.”
“I never knowed ‘bout it,” Annabelle insisted. “Anyway, I still don’t knowed why you’re goin’ to stay here. You’ve been livin’ in your cabin these past two years with th’ loft torn down. What makes it a problem now?”
“You’re right. I could of stayed in my cabin, so I could of. It wasn’t that bad, but Joe said it wasn’t safe with th’ loft th’ way it was, so it wasn’t. He ’most drug me outta there like it was on fire, so he did.”
Daisy rolled her eyes at the bickering. “I don’t knowed how I’m goin’ to stand th’ two of ya fightin’. I wish I could move to th’ city an’ live like Tuesday,” Daisy complained and slammed the screen door as she disappeared inside the cabin.
“You’re fine here, Aunt Aggie,” Joe said from the rocking chair on the porch. “It’s easier for me to look after ya. I don’t have time to chase up th’ mountain every time ya need somethin’.”
“I don’t have to like it, so I don’t.” Aggie stomped up the step onto the porch.
“Ya women’re plaguin’ me. Could ya just go on ‘bout your business? I don’t want to hear it no more.”
“Ya have no call to talk to me that a way. I’m still your mother no matter how much of a man ya think ya are,” Annabelle said. Why does he want Aggie here all of a sudden? It just ain’t like him. He’s never paid much attention to his great aunt, regardless of what she’d said to th’ contrary, Annabelle thought.
A truck came barreling up the mountain, drowning out their bickering, forcing them to stop talking as it slowed and turned in at the lane that led to their cabin. The man driving wore a floppy hat, and a rifle was propped against the back of the seat, leaning on the man’s shoulder. The truck came to an abrupt stop at the end of the rutted-out lane.
“What’s he wantin’ here? Looks like Alfred what lives over at Broad Run, so it does,” Aunt Aggie said, turning to Annabelle.
“How should I knowed what he’s wantin’? I was, standin’ here mindin’ my own business all this time jus’ like you.”
“Joe!” Alfred called as he stepped from the truck. “Elrod Knotts wants to see you at the tunnel right away.”
“That’s what I was plannin’ on. Tell ‘im I’ll eat my supper an’ be right there.”
“Big things are going to be happening around here,” Alfred said. “Looks like you’re going to be a big part of it. Don’t know if I’d trust one so young and uneducated for some of the assignments that Elrod’s given you. You’d better not let him down. It’d go hard on you if you did.”
Raised on Broad Run, Alfred Barker had left the mountain to live in the city while acquiring a higher education. Unlike most who managed to flee the underprivileged mountain existence, he had been one of the pitiful few who chose to return to the mountain.
“Suppose ya leave my business to me. I know what I’m doin’. Th’ one thing I’ve learned from my pa is to take charge. Now, go on back an’ tell Elrod I’ll be there soon as I can.”
Alfred Barker spun his wheels as he sped down the mountain, leaving a cloud of dust to languish in the air and settle over the cabin. It filtered through the cracks and collected on the floor for the women to sweep away as they had done time and again.
“Ma, get my supper on th’ table. I got assignments tonight,” Joe demanded.
“I don’t like ya spendin’ so much time with ‘em men what’s workin’ at th’ tunnel. I wish ya would stay away from their kind,” Annabelle said, frowning at the dust that had swirled and settled. “I knowed they’re up to no good. Your pa wouldn’t put up with ya hangin’ around ‘em neither.”
“How’d ya thinkin’ I’m gettin’ th’ money to pay for th’ food we eat an’ th’ clothes we need?”
“Well, your pa don’t hold with th’ militia.”
“My pa ain’t here,” Joe spat. “I’m in charge now. An’ don’t ya forget it.”
“Jeb’ll be back, so he will,” Aunt Aggie said as Annabelle went inside the cabin to prepare Joe’s dinner. “Ya mark my word, he’ll be back.”
“Ya don’t knowed what you’re talkin’ ‘bout,” Joe said, following his mother inside.
“Oh, ya just wait an see.” Aggie came along behind them, reaching the back door just as Joe entered the kitchen—slamming the newly hung screen door that he had purchased at The General Store in Centerpoint. “He ain’t goin’ to let ‘em law folks keep him locked up, so he ain’t.” Aggie pulled the door open, ignoring the insult of having it shut in her face.
“Aggie, we’re gettin’ tired of hearin’ that Jeb’s goin’ to be comin’ back,” Annabelle said. “You knowed he was put in that jail for twenty years to life. This is only th’ second summer since he’s been locked up.”
Annabelle put together a meal of leftovers: fried potatoes, corn on the cob, a slice of roasted deer, homemade applesauce, and biscuits.
Joe, looking very much like his father, Jacob McCallister, finished his meal and grabbed his rifle. “I’m goin’ to th’ tunnel now. Don’t knowed when I’ll be back.”
Annabelle held her tongue; she hated for Joe to mix with the men she knew his father disapproved of—men who had made many attempts to get Jacob McCallister to join their unlawful ranks—but she was all too aware that she could not stop him.
“I’ll be needin’ snuff,” Aggie said, following Joe to the back door. “I’m ‘most out, so I am.”
“I’ll be bringin’ supplies when I come back. It may be a day or two. I’ve no idea what Elrod has for me to do.”
With fear gripping her heart, Annabelle stepped out on the back porch behind Aggie and watched as Joe sped down the mountain in a funnel cloud of dust. Why’s Joe an’ those men spendin’ so much time adiggin’ a tunnel? None of this makes sense to me. Especially, I don’t understand why Joe’d brung Aggie here. She’s been livin’ in her cabin with th’ loft half torn down for all this time. I knowed he wasn’t missin’ her either, Annabelle shrugged. I feel like trouble’s brewin’. I can feel it in my bones.
Daisy came up behind Annabelle as she stood holding the screen door wide open, oblivious to the flies freely buzzing into the kitchen.
“There’s goin’ to be trouble if we can’t stop Joe from hangin’ ‘round them men,” Daisy said.
“Don’t ya think I knowed that we hafta do somethin’?” Annabelle asked. “Wha’dya think I spend my time worryin’ ‘bout?”
“I knowed. I pray that Aunt Aggie’s right ‘bout Jeb getting’ out of jail sometime soon,” Daisy said. “He’d put a stop to Joe mixin’ with those militiamen.”
“An’ you’d get to take ‘im in your bed, so ya would.” Aggie put in her two cents, as she was apt to do when her nephew was mentioned.
“Aggie, is that all ya can think ‘bout? Just ‘cause ya don’t want a man don’t mean everybody else wants to live without one,” Daisy said. “Anyway, Joe’s mixin’ with th’ militia is serious.”
“I’ve been prayin’ an’ prayin’ that he’d give up th’ militia. It’s been keepin’ him away from home too much of th’ time,” Annabelle said.
“You’re crazy if you think the parole board’s going to let you out because of overcrowded jails. They’d rather watch us live like animals,” Ike Harris said. “You got twenty years to life and that don’t mean you can get out after only serving three years.” Ike Harris was convicted of grand larceny auto theft. He was due to be released in two months.
“You’ll see. Carla Davis is all for me getting an early release. She’s been working with the parole board for weeks now. You know, she’s interviewed a hundred inmates, looking for five men to put in her program, and I’m her first choice. She believes that my crime was influenced by my environment and the way I was raised.”
“You’re dreaming, man,” Ike laughed. “You ain’t going anywhere. I’ve been here long enough to have heard it all before. You’re singing the convict’s dream song.”
“That’s your theory,” Jacob McCallister said.
“If the system wasn’t so overwhelmed with too many prisoners and too few cell spaces, I wouldn’t be in the same cell with a man doing twenty years to life. It’s different for me. I didn’t hurt anyone physically.” Ike Harris grinned in the dark cell.
“You’re wrong,” Jacob said. “I don’t belong in here any more than a Sunday school teacher does. I didn’t endanger anyone’s life. People wanted children and I fulfilled their requests.”
“I don’t have any way of knowing, but I’d bet my life you didn’t even know what kind of life you were selling the kids into. It was all about money.”
“Man, I think you’re going a little too far.” McCallister stood to his full height. Now eye to eye with Harris, who lay on the top bunk, Jacob grabbed the other man by his shirt, twisting until it almost cut off his air.
“Sure, you’re the good guy,” Ike choked, twisting away from Jacob. “You’re in here to do time for crimes against women and children. You think that’s small potatoes? I’ll tell you what, if she gets you out on a early leave, I’ll kiss your stinking feet,” Ike Harris laughed.
“You’ll have to, then, because I’m getting out one way or the other. I’ve got a woman waiting for me outside,” McCallister said, ignoring Ike’s logic.
“What’s she like?” Ike stretched out on his cot, once again ready to forget Jacob’s attack on him. A man had to let off steam once in a while, was his motto.
“She’s a beauty.” Jacob lay back on the bottom bunk, his hands clasped behind his head. “She has more class than all the women I’ve known put together. She has a Barbie doll figure, blue eyes, and blond hair that brushes her shoulders when she turns her head. The important thing is that we have a child together.”
“You’re a lucky man, Jacob McCallister,” Ike Harris said with envy. “I think even the chick trying to get you an early release has it bad for you.”
Jacob closed his eyes and mumbled, “If Tuesday wants to keep our kid she’s going to have to take me, too.”
“What’re you talking about?” Ike said, leaning his head out from the bunk, trying to see Jacob’s expression in the semi-darkness. “You said she was waiting for you. From the sounds of it now you’re going to have to muscle your way in!”
“The hell I do,” Jacob said and kicked at Ike’s face. “When you don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s best to keep your mouth shut.”
“Maybe I don’t, and maybe I do,” Ike said as he moved out of range of Jacob’s well-aimed kick.
“I got myself an education in law while I’ve been here. I don’t believe in wasting time.”
“So that’s what you’ve been up to, reading all those musty books. Learning law?”
“Of course, I’m learning family law. I don’t leave anything to chance,” McCallister said. “You’ll learn that about me. The law’s for personal reasons, and I’m taking an accounting course so I can open my own accounting office when I get out. To keep the law off my back, I’ll be expected to get a job.”
“Yeah, I’m gone in two more months. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I didn’t take any lessons while I’ve been here.”
“You don’t need lessons. We’re going to team up, you and I,” McCallister said.
“If there’s something in it for me,” Ike said, “you’ve got a deal.”
“You bet there is.”
Ike Harris reclined on his bunk, listening to Jacob McCallister brag about his strategy to obtain an early release and get back into Tuesday’s life.
Joe reached the excavation site where workers were expanding the new tunnel. After parking his truck, he leapt out and walked over to Elrod. Men were busy everywhere, going to and from the tunnel entrance. In the midst of this, three dump trucks rumbled back and forth from the tunnel entrance to the dumping area.
“Where do ya want me tonight?” Joe shouted above the din.
“Ya need to go to McLean, Virginia,” Elrod answered.
“Okay. What’s th’ mission?” Joe asked.
“I want ya to get a message to Benjamin Booker. We’re ready to set the date of the assembly. Offer to escort ‘im to th’ mountain at his convenience.”
“Ya wantin’ me to wait for him if he’s not ready yet?”
“Yeah, go to Alfred. He’s got th’ money for your expenses.”
“Okay. See ya when I get back.”
“I hope you’ve gotten Aggie outta her cabin.”
“I did. It’s ready for Booker an’ his family to move in as soon as they want,” Joe said.
“Good. Booker’s countin’ on it,” Elrod said, jumping back as two playful dogs ran between the men, snapping and leaping at each other.
“Is them your aunt’s dogs hangin’ ‘round here beggin’ food at lunch break?” Elrod asked.
“They ain’t a problem, are they?” Joe asked.
“No, I guess not,” Elrod laughed. “Appears that th’ men like havin’ ‘em around. Wouldn’t feed them if they didn’t want ‘em around. They’ve been playin’ with them like they’re young boys.”
“That’s a relief,” Joe said. “One thing we don’t need is any more animals ‘round my place.”
“I guess they’re fine,” Elrod said. “Be on your way now.”
“I’ll drive through th’ night, an’ get to Booker’s place by mornin’.”

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 The Cabin: Misery on the Mountain     Cabin II: Return to Winding Ridge     Cabin III: The Unlawful Assembly at Winding Ridge     cabin4: In Jacob's Shadow     Cabin V: I am Jacob

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