Sharp thorns pierced my leg. Warm blood oozed down my calf and into my stout hiking boot. I stopped and bit back a curse or six.
“Hector,” I called to the head groundskeeper for the Whistling River Lodge and Golf Resort. “Hector! Your goats missed something!” I yanked my leg up and down trying to dislodge the blackberry vine now twining upward toward my thigh and reaching higher with every movement.
“Damn non-native invasive species.” In my world this was a serious curse. I wanted a stronger one; a lot of more emphatic curses caught in my throat.
Craig Knutson, my tall, square jawed, blond Viking of a security chief approached with a gas-powered brush whacker slung over his shoulder. “Oh mighty resort manager, Glenna McClain defeated by a plant. You chase serial arsonists, ghosts, bigamist ex-husbands, and lead a pack of killer poodles, but you are defeated by a blackberry.”
“But I saved the lodge,” I muttered as I yanked my leg backward, trying to dislodge the offensive vine, and wished I hadn’t. The thorns dug deeper. A new trickle of blood dampened my wool sock and told me it had drawn first blood. It wouldn’t be satisfied until it tasted more.
I knew these plants. And I hated them with a vengeance.
“I’ll find some garden clippers. Or maybe another goat,” Craig said, escaping further. He turned and nearly ran for the cart track at the top of the berm, his long whacker held out to his side so he wouldn’t trip over it. He disappeared to the other side of the berm.
I didn’t usually lose sight of him, no matter how hard he tried to blend in to his environment. There was a kind of radar between us. But I was his boss and workplace romances go nowhere fast.
I’d given my garden clippers to one of Hector’s nephews half an hour ago, so now I had no means of escaping the blackberry short of ripping my jeans to shreds to escape the thorns.
The Scottish god of golf courses was due to pay us a visit before the end of summer. I had called in favors, persuaded and coerced investors and bank managers, and the previous owner of the clear-cut to sell the land to the resort. My job, my own investments, and my reputation stood on the line for whipping this scrubland into a tournament level golf course.
Today’s demolition of overgrowth was only stage one.
I’d donated a rusting hulk of an antique steam tractor on the Lodge property in return for an organization of agricultural steam enthusiasts throwing a festival and contest to uproot and roughly plow the field. That would be stage two and it would happen tomorrow.
At the moment, standing perfectly still seemed my only defense against lethal entrapment. So I leaned against the giant Douglas fir stump and waited.
A sudden chill breeze sent a single bracken fern down by the river dancing. I’m not superstitious, really, I’m not, I refuse to be, but that kind of oddity presaged chaos.
The goats gave that bit of bracken a wide berth too.
Hector ignored me, and the dancing fern. The squarely built man wearing a billed cap turned backward lunged and tackled a pony-sized goat. It bucked. He clung. Gary-the-goat-guy zoomed in with a noose for the beast. He led it back to a temporary corral for his herd. He’d gathered fifteen of his thirty animals. The rest wouldn’t come easy. Too many tasty treats remained for them in the neglected clear-cut.
These goats had gone a long way toward getting the overgrowth under control. Except for the effing vine ensnaring me. This was one of the sturdy Himalaya plants with big succulent fruit in high summer, and thorns as big as my thumb, and not a native.
As far as I could see, across the sixty acres, hundreds of wide stumps jutted up from interwoven brush. The goats had munched sword ferns, blackberries, hackbush, and other opportunistic plants until their bellies bulged and they belched rancid green stuff. Beyond the meadow-to-be, down a steep five-foot embankment, the wild, and swollen Whistling River chuckled to itself as it made its merry way from glacier to junction with the Sandy River four miles downstream. A stray breeze traveling the river must be what set that one fern bouncing while all its neighbors remained still.
Hector righted himself and brushed off his jeans. His smile showed white teeth gleaming through his dirty face. But his eyes never strayed toward the river.
“Blackberries.” I spat the word. “You said that goats consider blackberry canes a delicacy and won’t leave a single one.”
“But they missed this one, Glenna!” Craig, minus his brush whacker, had returned without clippers. He bent to inspect the best way to remove the offensive vine from my jeans with his bare hands. He hadn’t grown up on the mountain and didn’t pay attention to repeated warnings to wear gloves.
“They are goats. They’re not perfect. But they sure cut down on my work,” Hector said, joining us.
I felt more and more trapped by the proximity of the stump and the vine that had a mission in life to ensnare me and stab without mercy. One more movement by me and it would sink its teeth into me with those dagger-sized thorns.
“These acres are ready for your tractor pull,” Hector nearly crowed in triumph. “My crew will finish whacking the bigger scrub after dinner. Can I keep one of the goats afterward? They’ll cut down on maintenance around the edges of the golf links.”
“They are eating machines. When they run out of weeds, they’ll move on to decorative shrubs and… and heaven forbid, eat through the hedge to get to your roses.”
He cursed in Spanish and turned his attention to the critter nibbling the drawstring on his hoody sweatshirt. He grabbed it by the neck and held tight until Gary could return with the noose.
Craig picked at the vine trying to find a safe place to grab it and pull it free of both me and the ground. The more he tried to disentangle me, the more it twined and twisted back on itself.
“You are enjoying seeing me trapped way too much,” I snarled at him.