by SW MO Hermit

Copyright© 2015 by SW MO Hermit

Fiction Story: Young man and young woman come together in the mountains while trying to recover from personal disappointments. They go their separate ways then come back together later to operate a business they had dreamed about for years.

Tags: Ma/Fa   Romantic   Heterosexual   Fiction  


Janice Stover drove her old Jeep Wrangler into the parking lot of her software company. She felt a surge of pride when she saw all the other cars there. It had been a struggle from her first day of operation, but the hard work and long hours were now beginning to pay off. They now had 23 employees and were recruiting more. She slowly drove to her assigned spot beside the employee entrance and parked her old Jeep. She was dressed in her usual clothes, faded jeans, T-shirt, and broken down athletic shoes. Her honey blond hair was swinging in a ponytail as usual. She almost ran toward the door, excited to once again get to her private office and fire up her computer. From looking at her you would never know she had been working in this same office until nearly three thirty a.m. the night before. She finished her current project last night and couldn't wait to turn it over to the beta testers so she could clean up any bugs they found and move on to her next idea. She was already roughing out an idea she had for a completely new program she thought would sell well.

Like many programmers, Jan worked long hours but the last two weeks had been worse than usual. She put in sixteen to eighteen hour days because all her senior people were hounding her to finish the program as quickly as she could. She snorted and grinned as she thought about the reason for the rush to completion. Todd hired a pushy new Sales Manager several months before and he pushed his sales force to pre-sell the new application. Apparently promises were made, against her recommendation, of an early release date to a new large customer. She grinned to herself as she thought about the uproar and headaches coming down on the Sales Manager as the promised delivery date drew ever closer and the software was just now ready for Beta Testing. Maybe now he would listen more to her rather than to Todd and not aggressively pre-sell software that was still in the pipeline. They were making plenty of money on current versions of their software so there was no real reason to push the new version so fast.

She saw her partner Todd's latest new car parked in his space on the other side of the door as she slid her ID/Key through the card reader. She was once again disgusted by his profligate ways. There were many times she found herself sorry she ever let him buy into her business. Of course, she had no other choice at the time. Not only did she need someone with business management knowledge and experience but she desperately needed a cash infusion to market, package, and ship her first simple program. Now, more and more, she resented his arrogant attitude. He showed up in expensive suits and shoes, driving ever more expensive luxury cars, and sat around giving orders to her and her two other programmers as if he owned the company.

Her business, aptly named S-T Business Solutions, wrote and sold computer applications for small businesses and customized other programs on occasion. Todd had absolutely no knowledge of computers--either building them or programming them. He was barely able to turn one on and use the pre-installed software. On numerous occasions Janice had to help him with his machine when he totally screwed it up. As she walked toward her office, she once again began thinking about a way to get him out of her business and then removing the new management team he hired while she was engrossed in her latest project.

Janice smiled at Hailey, the receptionist as she skipped into, then through the break room. She made a very brief stop to pick up a high calorie, fresh baked cinnamon roll and her usual English Toffee Cappuccino. When she caroled "Good Morning, Hailey" instead of the equally happy greeting she usually obtained she only received a "Morning, Jan". Hailey then quickly turned her back on Janice and began straightening the already neat snack display area.

Jan frowned at the abnormal greeting then shrugged her shoulders and took off for her office. She had a meeting with Todd and two of the senior managers in fifteen minutes and she wanted to do a quick check of her e-mail before she went into the conference room. She didn't know why Todd was so insistent about the meeting last night when she called him to report the project was finished but he was so she agreed to come.

Janice hit her office almost at a run and slammed her ass into her soft executive chair. She reached out to power on her computer, then sat almost bouncing waiting on it to boot. Nothing happened, not even a beep when she hit the switch. Crap, she thought. The cleaning crew must have unplugged it again. She crawled under her desk, nope, it was plugged in. She looked at the back of the machine. All wires and plugs seemed to be in order. Fuck, she thought, it was working fine this morning when I powered it down. Now I'll have to spend all morning working on the damn machine before I can do anything constructive.

Jan left her office carrying her roll and cappuccino heading to the conference room. She was seething at the setback. At least she always made two backups before she quit work so her completed program was safe.

When Jan stormed into the conference room she stopped in surprise. Todd was there as was the Sales Manager and Business Manager. There were also two strangers sitting at the table with piles of paper in front of them. A large man in a security uniform stood just inside the door. She didn't recognize him either. As far as she knew they didn't have a security staff and had no need for one.

Todd looked up from where she normally sat at the head of the table and smiled. He said, "Ah, Jan. You finally got here. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to be late once again and miss another important meeting."

Todd didn't rise to offer her the chair he was in. She stood looking at him waiting for him to vacate her chair. Finally, Todd gave her a dark look and said in a demanding tone, "This won't take long, Jan. Sit down and let's get on with it."

Jan felt her anger surge once again at Todd's attitude. As far as she was concerned this was the last straw. She decided she was going to call her attorney and find out what she had to do to get rid of him. He was more trouble than he was worth and his attitude was horrible. None of the old hands cared for him and as far as she could see he held them all in contempt. This was not the first time she found him in her chair but it was the first time he didn't give it up. She decided not to make an issue of the matter right then and took a chair beside Todd and across from the two strangers.

Todd leaned his arms on the table and almost glared at Janice. He said, "Ms. Stover, there's no easy way to say this so I'll just come out with it. You're fired. This business can no longer put up with your cavalier attitude. Your dress is totally inappropriate for business, you are completely unable to get to work on time, and totally ignore policies and procedures promulgated by upper management. You have been warned numerous times and still have not corrected your attitude. Consequently, I am exercising the option given me when I became your partner and buying your share of this company."

Todd smiled and leaned back in his chair. He glanced over at the older of the two strange men and said, "Would you continue, please, Mr. Rodman?"

The older man said, "I am Terrance Rodman, Mr. Tarkington's attorney, and now the business attorney." He handed Jan a stack of papers and continued talking, "I have here documented transgressions and witnessed statements of the times you were counseled for poor performance. You will notice you were actually given two more chances to improve your behavior than the company policy handbook provides. As it was explained to you when that occurred, you were given the consideration because you were one of the founders of this company. Even with this forbearance, you did not improve your behavior so Mr. Tarkington regretfully decided he had no choice but to terminate you and exercise the buyout rights for the company."

Mr. Rodman handed Jan a check for $15,000 and continued speaking. "Here is the check for the fifty percent of the company you currently own. You will find a copy of the contract you and Mr. Tarkington signed three years ago in the papers I just gave you. We have highlighted the pertinent parts dealing with your termination and the purchase of the remainder of your ownership interests."

Jan sat in shock for only a moment then she pushed the papers away and turned to Todd. She knew her face was red. She was almost shaking with anger as she forcefully said, "You arrogant asshole. This is bullshit, and you know it. Get your things and get out. You're fired. And take these-- GENTLEMEN -- with you."

Todd smiled and gestured to the security guard as he said, "No, Jan. Like we just said, YOU'RE fired. Don't make this worse than it is." He pushed the papers and check toward her then continued, "Take your paperwork and check and go with Tony. He'll escort you to your office so you can pick up your personal items then he'll go with you to your car."

Todd looked at the guard who she now knew was Tony and said, "Be sure she only takes her personal property and make damn sure you get her key card when she leaves. No memory sticks, drives or computers are to leave the premises with her. Don't leave her alone for a moment."

Jan glared at Todd and said through clenched teeth, "This isn't over asshole. If you think for one minute I'm going to let you kick me out of my own business you're crazy."

Jan quickly packed her personal items and grudgingly allowed Tony to look in her purse and bags to verify she had no memory devices hidden away. He followed her to her Wrangler and watched as she loaded her box of belongings and drove from the lot. Jan couldn't help herself; she pulled to the side of the street and sat crying in anger for several minutes. Next she went straight to her small apartment. She started to pick up her bag and get her notebook computer so she could look up an attorney. She'd show that asshole.

FUCK. The bastard kept her computer. Unlike many techies she didn't have a working computer in her dingy apartment. Everything she did was either at work on the larger desktop or on the powerful laptop she used to travel with. All her hardware she supposed was owned by the company, but damn it she owned the company. This was totally bullshit.

Even angrier now Jan grabbed her IPhone and hit the net to find an attorney. After she found a couple of names she made the calls to get an appointment. Over the next week Jan moped around and seethed in anger over what Todd did. During that time she met with one attorney who looked the papers over and sighed. He told her unless she had other documents to support her position he couldn't help her. The paperwork completely supported Todd's actions.

Jan made an appointment with a second attorney and was told the same thing. This time she said, "But this is all wrong. That was, no, THAT IS my company. I didn't agree to sell it to Todd and I was not an employee of the company. I OWN the company."

The attorney very gently, but sadly, explained once again to Jan. He said, "Ms. Stover, I can see where you started the business and I know you were the head programmer, but these documents don't support your contention that you owned the company. I have copies with original signatures that fully support Mr. Tarkington's actions.

"You incorporated the company according to the paperwork when he was hired to help you. You will notice here you and he agreed that you would each provide $15,000 to start the company. His contribution was cash, yours was the company value as agreed between the two of you. Your half contribution included all the machines, software, supplies and good will was valued at $15,000. You were each given badges as employees, his number one, yours number two. All other employees were given badges with their employee number on them.

"You jointly wrote the employee handbook which was later revised when Mr. Tarkington hired the business manager. In each instance you signed off on the policy as the joint owner of the company. You even signed the agreement on dispute resolution. You agreed that, in a dispute, you had resolution authority over anything in the technical side dealing with product development and programming. Mr. Tarkington had resolution authority for all other matters up to and including firing for any reason. You signed the contract authorizing either you or Mr. Tarkington to buy the other major stockholder out for the sum of $15,000 should they violate company rules and policy and have that violation properly documented. There is even a signed employment agreement in this file setting your salary at $30,000 per year. Since you were a salaried employee you never received overtime and are not subject to many of the labor laws. Your termination, and the purchase of your share of the company, was absolutely legal, Ms. Stover. I am sorry."

"But that's bullshit. I owned the company. I never punched the clock. Some days I would work eighteen or twenty hours straight, then I would go home for a break and some rest before I returned to work. Hell, the last three weeks I spent almost all night in the office to meet that assholes deadline for our new program."

"Do you deny coming in late and leaving early some days? I have signed statements from Mr. Tarkington, the business manager, and the sales manager on several occasions when they saw you leave during business hours and not return or when you arrived well after normal business hours commenced. I even have two counseling statements you signed when you arrived late."

"WHAT? That's a bunch of crap. I was never COUNSELED for being late. Let me see those."

Jan looked at the papers in question and sighed. She threw them on the pile of documents and looked down. She said, "Oh, I remember those now. I guess I was a fool. Both times Todd came into my office with the papers and asked me to sign them. He had the Sales Manager in the hallway while he was there. I see he signed them as a witness, the asshole. Todd said I needed to sign the papers because of the labor laws. He said everyone had to be treated the same and if I didn't get counseled for being late he couldn't do it to a regular employee who was late and then he wouldn't be able to fire them if they continued to break the rules. Shit, I guess I'm pretty stupid, aren't I? So there's nothing we can do?"

"Probably not. Oh, I could file a motion or two, we could even contest the value of the buy out if you can provide documentation that would support higher value for the company, but, really, I believe you would probably spend as much as you got in higher value or even more if we did contest these documents. I'm sorry, Ms. Stover."

Jan wiped the tears from her cheeks and stood. She turned and started for the door. The attorney quickly gathered her papers and rushed after her. When he caught her he handed her the papers and said, "Here, Ms. Stover. I really don't know what good this will do you, but I highly advise you to keep these documents safe in case of further need. If this Todd character is as slimy as you say he is you just might need these documents later."

Jan drove slowly and none too safely back to her dingy apartment. After paying the attorneys and her last month's rent she only had about $10,000 left from Todd's check. She still owed almost $6000 on her Wrangler, but that was the only loan she had outstanding. Oh, she had whatever she charged on her credit card for the month. Thank God she always paid the balance off monthly.

Jan sat home alternately crying and thinking about her affairs the rest of the day. After a poor night's sleep she got up the next morning and went to town. Her first stop was the bank where she paid off her auto loan. This left her with $4327.15 of Todd's check and a balance of $829.24 in her checking account. She owed $1344.23 on her credit card. After she purchased a new laptop she would only have about $1750 to her name. There was no way she could live here in town long on that money. She had to either move or find another job quickly. Her next stop was her favorite computer supply warehouse where she purchased a new laptop.

After she got the laptop and her needed software she went straight home and polished her resume. It immediately was posted to many websites and printed and mailed to several businesses.

Janice sat in despair for some time, then grinned. She went to the small fireproof safe she kept in her home and took out the personal backup of her latest software development. She loaded it onto her new computer and went to work. In less than eleven hours she had added so many bugs to it even a whole can of raid couldn't kill them all. Next she drove to the parking lot of S-T and accessed their WIFI. She quickly accessed S-T's server. She was surprised, but pleased, to find her access had not been cancelled. She quickly downloaded and overlaid the completed program with her newly fucked up version. This changed version would do everything it was supposed to do but it would not do it correctly. It would take an accountant to find the math errors she inserted in the program. She also inserted parts of the program that would yield erroneous results if certain criteria were met thus making them infrequent.

After the program was safely uploaded she accessed the offsite backup server to work her magic. She corrupted all but one of the backups from the time before she completed the program so they were unusable. She also substituted her changed version of the program for those on the existing backups. As she vacated the systems she removed any trace of her access until she was completely out of the backup system. She next hid her access to the main server after she changed the date and time on the program she just uploaded.

Her last hack was to read through the system to see what was going on with her ex company. She found that her newly hired programmer now owned five percent of the company stock and was head programmer. One of the two oldest programmers was fired as she had been. The other still worked at his job but he was the worst of the two.

Using her old computer, now belonging to the new head programmer, she terminated her permissions in the system making it look as if he did it. Tired, Jan smiled and leaned back in her seat. She powered down her new machine and drove home. When she entered her dingy apartment she dropped her computer and purse on the couch and stumbled to bed.

Jan woke up shortly after eleven a.m. the next day. She made a pot of coffee then wandered into her living room to drink it. She had no idea what she wanted to do next. Her rent was due in five days and she either had to pay it or give notice then she would have one more month here before she had to move.

As the day progressed Jan decided she was done with this damn town. She had not met one damn person here that was not out to fuck someone, either figuratively or actually. Truthfully, she missed her hometown and the people she grew up with. She now fully understood why many people tried to keep her from moving to California in the first place. The people out here were total assholes. She was going home. She could still program her computers there and she would be with people that understood her, people who were still honest and ethical—or at least more so than most of those she met out here. She called her apartment manager and gave notice. She asked if there was any chance of getting back her last month's rent if she left before the end of the current month. The asshole laughed and said, "Nice try honey. You can leave any time you want but the contract says you have to give a month's notice so there's no refund."

"What if I leave early and you rent the apartment before my month is over? Would I get the money back then?"

"Ha, Ha, Ha. Ohhhhh, Boy. You just don't give up do ya, honey? I told ya, ya gotta give a month's notice." Jan heard a click and the phone went dead.

"Crap. Well, I guess I'm stuck here another month anyway."

Jan began sorting and packing her belongings and cleaning the apartment. At least she hoped to get her damage and cleaning deposit back at the end of the month. The third week of her last month in California she got a frantic phone call from Todd. He said, "Jan, that last project you did for us is fucked up. I need you to get your ass in here today and find the problems. We've installed it on five business servers already and they're all having problems with it. If I had known how incompetent you were I would have fired you earlier but you're all I have. Jerry and Dan can't find the bugs."

Jan laughed and said, "No fucking way, asshole. Besides, how could you possibly have five sites installed by now? The damn beta testing was scheduled for six weeks and it's only been four weeks since I finished the program and you stole my company from me."

"Listen, I don't have time for this crap. We tested the program and it worked fine after you left so we installed the sites we had pre-sold. Now you have to get in here and fix it before we have more problems."

Jan laughed and said, "Not my problem, asshole. I don't work there anymore. My responsibility ended the day you kicked my butt out the door. Fix your own problems." For almost the first time since she was fired Jan sat with a smile on her face.

Over the remaining week she touched base with her few acquaintances in the programming field ostensibly to say good bye, but actually to spread the word on how she was treated by Todd and to find out what the rumors had to say about the failing program. Those who heard about the problems were chortling. This could break the company and send it under. Three of the buyers uninstalled the program and were pursuing legal action to get back their money and damages. Todd hired a high priced programmer to clean up the program. Rumor had it that he found bugs in it galore, but the programming was different enough from the main part of the program he advised Todd a different programmer accessed their copies of the program and trashed it. Todd immediately blamed the one programmer that remained from when Jan was there and fired him. Jan just smiled. She felt a little sorry for the man who was fired but not much. She was considering firing him before she left the company.

Jan did leave her apartment a few days early. She had nothing to do and was anxious to get on the road so just gave up her six remaining days. She felt the worries slip away as she drove toward home.

Jan was in no hurry to arrive home. It was mid July and she had no job so took her time on the trip. When she was in Albuquerque on Interstate 40 she remembered how beautiful the Colorado Rocky Mountains were. Her family owned a small acreage in the mountains west of Colorado Springs that had been in the family for five generations. Rumor had it that the first owner found gold "somewhar in them thar hills" but that was never proven. He and his partner filed on two adjacent sections of land as homesteaders and proved up on it so it was privately owned. As far as Janice knew he never mined on the land. However, until he died he would disappear for several days at a time and show up with freshly mined gold. Sometimes he would have ore, other times he had flakes as if panned from a stream according to the tales. There was a mine site on the section his partner filed on.

Almost without thinking, Jan turned left at Albuquerque and headed for Colorado and the family "spread". When she got to Colorado Springs she had to call her father for directions to the land. After he gave her the directions he also gave her a lecture about how dangerous it was in the mountains for anyone, much less a young beautiful woman, alone. She laughed and said, "Daddy, I still have my rifle and pistol. I'll be ok. Besides, I need some fresh air and relaxation before I get home. I'm an old bear right now, and no one would want to be around me, anyway."

"Well, you be careful girl. You come out of the hills every two or three days and call us so we don't worry."

While Jan was talking to her father a tall slender young man in dirty torn clothing was stumbling up a valley alongside a small mountain stream. His pack weighed more than he did. His hair was long and straggly, dirty looking. His beard hadn't been cut in a week or more, making him look like one of the actors in the old movie Deliverance except for his light weight.

As the man stumbled upstream he gritted his teeth once again and kicked a rock muttering, "Fucking DAMN Cunt. I knew when she went to college in California instead of to college with me like we planned that she'd fuck around on me. I can't believe it took me over a year to find out. If Jason hadn't been laughing about it to his cousin I still might not know. Hell, I didn't even know he was going to San Jose State but I'm glad he was. Fuck, what does she see in that damn arrogant prick? After what she did there's no way I could keep working for her Uncle. Fuck. Brand new degree in Business Management and no fucking job. At least I don't have any debts thanks to the GI Bill and living at home while I went to college.

Frank Ames continued plodding along up the stream. Even in his anger he stopped occasionally to admire the scenery. He hadn't been here in almost ten years and was having trouble remembering landmarks although occasionally he saw something he remembered well. His family had owned this little part of heaven for years but they mostly just used the cabin near the edge of their holdings. His parents both worked in town but were now two states away and didn't have time or the inclination to wander around the mountain on their days off. Twice, when younger he came to Colorado Springs to visit his grandparents he and his grandfather came out and walked up this stream to camp at the old mining camp. He was told that was the same spot his grandfather said his great grandfather and great grandfather's best friend camped and lived for years back in the 1800's. He still remembered the stories told about prospecting for gold and hunting in these mountains. Well, he wasn't going to hunt much, but then again, he might. If he shot a deer even though it was out of season, he could stay longer and try to forget the pain. Seems like everyone he knew found out about Della before he did and now they were asking what went wrong.

Well, he was going to spend at least two weeks at the old campsite while he tried to forget that cheating bitch and unwind. He hoped it was as peaceful as he remembered it. Finally, as dusk was falling on the mountain Frank reached his destination. It was like many other secluded prospecting or old home sites in the mountains. You could see the remains of two or three short log cabins perched on the hillside and a stream running somewhere close by.

The only difference in this site and hundreds of others was its condition. While not in pristine shape there were two buildings still standing and somewhat weatherproof. Most of the chinking was still in the logs and most of the roof was still on the buildings. Of course, that was a result of many hours work by the family while they visited here over the years. When they came here every year or two they didn't have to do much work each time they came to keep the two buildings somewhat decent. Now, if he wanted something to do he could spend his entire two weeks working on the buildings. All he intended to do, however, was make sure one of them was in good enough condition to keep him dry during the inevitable mountain showers. Other than that he planned to hike, fish and, maybe, do a little prospecting.

Frank looked across the small stream at another small building. It was in much better shape than were the ones owned by his family. It belonged to his grandfather's friend's family. From the looks of it they must still come up here fairly often. It appeared to be weather tight and the roof looked good. He was tempted to just camp out in it but didn't seriously consider it. He hadn't been invited and it would be no different than if he went into someone's house in the city without invitation. It just wasn't done except in dire emergencies.

Frank spent the remainder of the afternoon and all of the next day improving his living area and bringing in firewood. Early on the third day he packed a lunch and his water then took off up the stream looking for adventure and relaxation. He took a pan and shovel intending to pan for a little gold. From time to time when he was younger he and his grandfather found a few flakes in the stream. He hoped he remembered how to do everything and was lucky enough to find a little color.

That evening as dusk was falling, Frank stumbled back down the stream and headed for his little cabin. He was halfway from the head of the small clearing to it when he stopped in surprise. There was a small fire in front of the Stover's cabin and someone was working around it. He hesitated, unsure of what to do. Finally, he decided he would go over and find out if they were supposed to be there and try to run them off if they weren't. He checked his pistol before he went any farther. It was almost like the old days, he thought to himself, but what with all the drug pushers trying to grow marijuana in out of the way areas he was better off safe than sorry.

Frank was just stepping into the stream to cross it when the person working around the fire saw him. They stood and looked at him for a minute then moved toward a pack leaning on the old porch. They bent over and picked something up then turned to meet him.

A feminine voice called to Frank, "What do you want?"

"I'm Frank Ames, and my family owns the land on the other side of the stream. This land belongs to friends of my family and I wondered what you were doing here. Do you have permission to camp here? If you don't have permission to stay I'll have to ask you to move on."

The woman glanced at the pistol on Frank's hip and watched him closely. She said, "I'm Janice Stover, so I guess you could say I have permission to be here. What are you doing here and how do I know you're telling me the truth?"

"Maybe the same way I know you are telling me the truth? If you're who you say you are you probably know some of the stories I know. I remember grandpa talking about his friend, Mr. Stover, several times, and I'll bet he talked about Gramps. If that won't help, I'll show you my license if I can see yours."

Frank reached for his pack straps and shrugged it off. He rummaged inside until he found his billfold and took out his driver's license. He held it out toward the young woman and she tentatively moved until she could see it. "Well, you seem to be who you say you are. Now, I think you need to go back on your side of the stream and leave me alone. I came up here to get away from people and I sure don't need someone fooling around making a lot of noise. Are you going to be here long?"

Frank looked at the woman—Janice, he thought she said—and felt a trifle angry. He said, "No problem. You don't bother me and I won't bother you. I was just trying to protect your family's property like our families have done for each other for years. I'm sorry I bothered you."

Frank returned to his side of the stream and began preparing his evening meal. His main course was a nice trout he caught earlier that day. He cleaned it and fried it up nicely. He also fried some potatoes and onions and opened a can of pork and beans. While he cooked and ate his meal he watched Janice across the stream. As soon as she finished her meal she put the fire out and went inside the cabin with her pack. He didn't see her again that evening. When he finished his meal he cleaned up then sat outside enjoying the beautiful mountain evening and occasionally taking a swig of his Balviene single malt straight from the bottle. He chuckled to himself when he thought about the outrage some of his friends would feel seeing him drink such fine single malt straight from the bottle like a heathen. After it was full dark he went inside his little cabin for the night also.

The next morning both young people were out preparing breakfast at the same time. From time to time each watched the other. After she finished her breakfast Janice prepared a day pack and took off downstream shortly before Frank did the same and took off upstream once again. They followed almost the same schedule for the next two days, except Frank did begin exploring downstream. On the night of the third day Frank watched for Janice to return but she didn't.

The next morning he saw no sign of her either so he went over to her cabin and looked through the one window on the porch. Her large pack was still inside. He became worried. Instead of going back into one of the canyons as he planned, he went downstream trying to see if he could track Janice. He didn't believe she left because her pack was still there. The fire pit was cold that morning so he knew she didn't get out before him. After he went about a half mile downstream he saw a trail leading away from the stream that looked as if it had been used several times recently. Having nothing better to do he turned and followed it. He wished he had better tracking skills.

The trail was difficult to follow but led up a side canyon with a smaller stream trickling down it. After he went about a quarter mile he heard cursing and rattling coming from someplace ahead of him. He rounded a large rock blocking his view and saw a bedraggled Janice hobbling toward him using a tree branch as a crutch. Her face was dirty and scratched as were her hands. One leg was scratched and very bruised.

Frank rushed toward Janice and said, "Janice, are you OK? Strike that. I can see you're hurt. How badly are you hurt? I saw you didn't come back last night and I got worried about you so I decided to see if I could find you this morning."

Jan jerked her head up almost in fear when she heard Frank. Her jaw tightened and her eyes became pinpoints. She flinched aside when he reached her and wrapped his arm around her to help her walk.

Frank saw her flinch and said, "Now, look, you're hurt and I'm here to help you. I don't know what your problem is but you need help. It looks to me like I'm the only one around who can do that for you so relax and let me help you. Our families have been helping each other for years. Why would you think I'm different? Now sit down here and let me see your leg. Is there anything else wrong with you?"

Frank looked up at Janice's face and she shook her head no. She let him guide her to a large rock and sat on it while he looked over her leg. Her knee and ankle were swollen and she had some fairly deep scratches but it didn't seem like it was broken. She flinched and pulled back several times when he touched her leg a little too hard. He said, "It looks like you twisted your knee and ankle but I don't think anything is broken. You appear to only have some soft tissue damage. What the hell happened to you?"

Jan clenched her jaw and glared at Frank then grudgingly said, "I climbed up on a rock to look around and it rolled out from under me. I fell from the top of it and twisted my leg when I landed. Then another smaller rock rolled over my leg and dragged me a little ways down a hillside with the sliding rocks. OK?"

"Damn, don't you know better than to climb on rocks before you make sure they're stable?" He saw Jan's angry glare and raised his hands with a small smile. He continued speaking, "Ok, sorry. We all make mistakes from time to time. Now, come on. Let me help you back to camp and we'll clean you up. Do you have a first aid kit or will we have to use mine?"

Janice looked guilty and said, "No I don't have a first aid kit. This trip was sorta spur of the moment and I just came with what I had. If you don't mind, could we use yours?"

"No problem. Now, come on, let's get you back to camp before we bandage you up. I don't want to clean you up here. Next time you need to be more careful. You know you could have died here either at that rock, or on the trail, or even back in camp if I wasn't here to find and help you. What were you thinking?"

Janice glared at Frank for a moment and snorted then said, "You're a fine one to talk. I see you take off hiking alone every day, too. You could have just as easily gotten injured and died as me."

Frank started to make an angry reply because of the tone of her voice but controlled himself. Finally, he said, "Yeah, you're right and then again you're not. I make damn sure I don't put myself into a dangerous position if I can help it. Of course, that's what accidents are normally. We think we're being safe and careful then find out we really weren't when we have an accident. All we can do is the best we can. At least when I hike I take a first aid kit with me and try to be very careful."

"Well, I thought I was being careful, too, when I had the accident. Now, would you please just stop your damn lecture and get me back to camp?"

"Ok. I'm sorry but I was worried about you and when I saw you I became scared. OK?"

Jan snorted but didn't reply to Frank's last statement.

Finally, after an agonizing hike for Jan and one that was much longer time wise than either of the hikers wished, they made it back to the small group of buildings. About a quarter mile from the buildings they climbed onto a rise running the length of the valley alongside the stream and turned to follow it. Frank thought it was an old roadbed but it was so narrow he couldn't understand how wagons could meet on it.

During this last leg of the hike at one of their frequent stops Frank turned and looked down hill following the roadbed with his eyes. He frowned and bent down to pick up a rock. He used the rock to dig a small trench across the roadbed. At two places he came across steel rails embedded in the dirt and rocks.

Jan watched him with a frown on her face then said, "What's the matter with you? You act as if you never saw an abandoned railroad before."

"I've seen rail lines where they were abandoned and the track was taken up, but this is the first one I have seen where the track is still present. I didn't even know there was a rail line up here until today."

"You're kidding, right? I thought you said you were the grandson of Steven Ames and heard all about this land from him. Didn't you tell me you used to come up here with him? I'm starting to think you've been lying to me."

Frank became angry at the accusation, and replied hotly, "Think whatever you want. I told you who I was and showed you my license. I remember seeing the raised roadbed but I don't remember the tracks and I sure don't remember any stories about there being a line up here. OK?"

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