The Sugarhouse


    “9-1-1. what’s your emergency?”
I took a breath and looked around the room, at Oona who was standing, staring frightened at me, then at the body laid along the concrete floor.
“My friend, my boss, there’s been an accident,” I said.  “A logging accident.”  
 “What is your location, sir?”  
“We’re over at the Madsen farm, on Brown Mountain,” I said.
“What condition is your boss in, sir?”  
“I don’t know, I think he’s dead.  My wife is giving him CPR.”
“Does he appear to be breathing?”
    “What is your name?”
    “Mark Owens.”
    “Where did you find the injured, sir?”
    “In the woods.”
    “And you’re there now?”
    “No, the sugarhouse.  At the bottom of the hill.”
    “Officers and paramedics are on their way, sir.  If you or your wife is able, continue to administer CPR until they arrive.”
    “Thank you.”
  I hung the phone on the wall and looked at Oona, whose eyes were stilled frozen on me.  Garrett was dead, he must have been. 
“Why don’t you head home and check on the kids,” I told her, “you don’t have to be here for this.”
We both looked at Garrett lying there in front of us waiting for him to suddenly sit up and shake the scraps of dirt and forest floor from his bloodied face and hair, to grab me and ask what he was doing down in the sugarhouse, ask how it all happened, who he was and if his children were alright.  But not a shiver vibrated from his damp clothes on the frozen floor.
We’d known Garrett for thirty years.  His father was some Wall Street banker from Connecticut who bought the old mountaintop farm up the road from us back in the 80’s as a hobby farm.  They cleared the overgrown fields, put up barns and a couple houses, bought some Scotch Highlands and a few plantations worth of Christmas trees and they had a heyday for a while.  To the untrained eye a lot of Vermont still looks like farmland but by the by, those properties are little more than hobbies for out-of-staters.  This was one of them.
Garrett was a young kid at UVM studying agriculture and on his old man’s retirement, he found a career for himself in the trees.  Garrett was a good guy, the closest thing to a real farmer that family had.  His parents only spent the summers here and being their only neighbor, I was tasked to feeding their cattle, fixing fences and keeping my eyes peeled for a paltry sum.  I’d see Garrett out here all the time working in the woods drilling taps, cutting firewood or boiling.  We’d talk and he’d hire me from time to time, dropping trees or building shit.  He was OK.  
Headlights shone from down the dirt road and glared into the sugarhouse windows as a car rounded the corner, parking outside.  As the door swung open, we saw Kelly, Garret’s wife or girlfriend, whichever they were, they had one of his kids together and she usually signed checks Madsen.  
    “Kellly,” Oona sobbed as she rushed towards her.  
    Kelly looked at Garrett on the floor and clutched Oona’s arm as she slid past her hug.  She knelt down beside Garrett and with a thumb, smudged his eyelid open, showing an icy blue iris fixed on the ceiling.
    “He always had such beautiful eyes,” Kelly murmured.  “Have you called the police?”
    “They’re on their way,” I said, “I just spoke to them ten minutes ago.”
    Kelly stood up and placed her purse on the work bench beside me, reaching for her cell phone.  Our eyes met as she dialed.
    “Hello, Hyacinth,” she spoke, “It’s Kelly.  Your brother’s been in an accident and I think you better come here, to the farm.”  
    There was a moment of pause as she listened.
    “I just think you better come here.”  
    I touched her shoulder and whispered, 
“It’s ok.”  
    Red and blue flashed on the black trees outside as a cop and ambulance arrived.  I went outside to meet them.
    “Good evening,” I said to the cop as a paramedic ran past me inside.
    “How you doing tonight?  Are you the gentleman who discovered the injured?” he asked.
    “He’s dead, but yes, I am.”
    “And your name?”
    “Mark Owen.”  
    “Alright, Mr. Owen, could you tell me how you found the deceased,” he asked routinely, pulling out a small notepad.  
    “Well Garrett and I were supposed to top some trees up in his sugarbush today.  He was over in Websterville at his office first thing this morning, then came here after that.”
    “At what time did you meet up with Mr. Madsen.”
    “Well I didn’t.  Around noon, I went up the road looking for him.”
    “Where did you find Madsen and what condition was he in when you found him?”
    “I couldn’t find him.  His car was down here at the sugarhouse but there was no sign of Garrett or his machine.  So I went back down to my house, figured he didn’t want to work that day.  Didn’t find him anywhere.  They’ve got some 300 acres up there.”  
    “Ok, so at what point did you discover Madsen?” 
    “Well I’d say it was probably 5:30, 6:00, dinner time, I hadn’t seen Garrett drive out yet so I started getting nervous.  I went back up the road looking for him.  Now about a mile and a half from here, I popped down into the woods and found an old logging road.  His four wheeler was on it.  That’s where I found Garrett, slumped over the embankment down from where his four wheeler was, on that logging road.”
    “And how would you describe Madsen when you found him there.”
    “He was gurgling.  He couldn’t say anything to me but he was alive and I could tell he wasn’t right.”
    My train of thought ran back uphill to the dark stand of birch and poplars, standing over Garrett as he fought to force white puffs of warm air from his broken body.
    “He was alive,” the cop confirmed.
    “Oh yeah, barely.  I tried calling 9-1-1 but my phone was broken, on the fritz or something.”
    “Is there cellular service in the area?”
    “You know, some have luck with it but for some reason, my phone was just busted.  That’s when I decided to get him downhill. “
    I looked up at the cop and he kept on scribbling.
    “He couldn’t stand and I couldn’t lift him so,” I looked up again, “I used the winch on his four wheeler and got him out and over that embankment.”
    “A winch,” he kept writing.
    “Yeah, he had a utility cable on his machine.  So I wrapped it around his waist and gently dragged him out of the embankment to where I could get him onto the machine myself.”  
    “He’s dead,” the paramedic told us as he walked outside to meet another squad car that was pulling up the drive, “He has been for a while.”  The second officer got out and joined us by the door.  
    “Mr. Owen, this is Detective Trooper Blatt.  This is Mr. Owen, the discoverer of the deceased.”
    “I’m sorry I never got your name,” I said.
    “My apologies, I’m Trooper Lowell.  Mr. Owen was just walking me through his events finding the deceased.  AME Curtis, you want to expand for us?”
    “One deceased male, trauma to the head, contusions on both sides of the pelvis, signs of trauma to the body, probable internal bleeding.  We’re going to request an autopsy with the state attorney and then we should be able to wrap things up.”
    “Okay,” said the new detective, dismissing the paramedic back to the sugarhouse.  
    “So again, Mr. Owen, you were telling me how you got Mr. Madsen onto your ATV.”
    “His ATV.  I got him on there and rode him down here so I could get Oona over to perform CPR.  She’s got that red cross card for the kids.”
    “Where was the body found originally?” the new cop asked, miffed to be out of the loop.  
    “About a mile and a half from here,” said Trooper Lowell before I could.
    “Yeah, up this road.” I said pointing to the darkness uphill.  
    Trooper Lowell finished writing something in his notebook and looked to the new guy for approval.  
“Trooper Blatt?”
    “Let’s go in,” Blatt said and I followed the two inside.  
    The paramedic was at the workbench, filling out a toe tag.  Oona was still in the corner, stuffing a tissue into her jacket pocket and brushing the hair from her eyes.  Cops always make her nervous.  Kelly was facing the maple evaporator on her cell phone talking a mile a minute to someone about her and her daughter.  As the person on the other line spoke I could see her steal glances of Garrett there on the ground through the distorted reflection of the steel evaporator.
    “Mrs. Madsen, I’m Detective Trooper Blatt,” he said while Kelly listened on her phone.
    “I’ve got to call you back,” she said.
    “Mrs. Madsen, I’m going to leave Trooper Lowell here with you.  Mrs. Owen, if you don’t mind I’m going to take your husband with me.”
“I’m going to try and locate the scene of the accident, hopefully your husband can retrace his steps.

His Crown Victoria grinded up the hill as its studded tires pulled and slipped along the steep gravel road.  The sound of the river churned too as we crossed over a crumbling stone bridge, but it was a quiet, numb night.
    “I don’t believe this is a real road,” Blatt said, breaking the silence.
    “Goes all the way to Starksboro, this is just the beginning.”
    We drove up further, bottoming out over frost heaves and rock gardens.
    “How much farther?” he asked and I assured him it wasn’t far.
    “Stop here,” I said, looking around, jogging my memory.
    Blatt turned on his spotlight and shined it on the thick forest climbing from the ravine on the edge of the road.  There weren’t any tracks or marks but I was sure this is where I stopped earlier.
    “This is it,” I said and got out of the cruiser.
    Blatt got out and looked around the darkness.  
    “Over here?” he asked pointing to the fence line of a meadow.    
“No, down here,” shining my flashlight down the hill.  He had no idea where he was. 
We began to shuffle down the hill through the trees.  Trooper Blatt slipped on underbrush and I grabbed the back of his coat to stop his fall before taking the lead myself.  
    “His equipment should still be wherever he was working,” I shouted to him and we continued winding our way down the steep hill.  In the woods you could barely tell the difference between the trees and stripes of night in between.
    “Recognize this?” I heard, “looks like this tree over here’s been trimmed.”  
I walked across the slope to find Blatt standing around a twenty year poplar with fresh cut limbs all around.
    “We call it topping but this isn’t the spot.  I don’t see the trail and there’s no sign of his gear,” I said.  Maybe I ought to come out here when it’s daylight.  We’re lost in the woods with our thumbs up our asses right now.”
    “I’ll agree with that,” I could see Blatt looking at me over the glare of my flashlight, “you know these woods better than me.”
    “Yeah, I’ll get out here first thing and find Garrett’s gear.”
    “We’ll have to come out and document the scene, take pictures and whatnot.”
    “Listen, Oona’s got one of those digital cameras.  I’ll know where I’m going in the morning.  I can head up there and take the pictures for you.”
    Blatt looked around the dark forest and up at the limbs in the moonless sky.  I looked at Blatt.  
    “That’ll work.”
    I nodded and we navigated our way up the ravine back to the light of Blatt’s idling Crown Vic.
    “Dumb luck,” Blatt said riding the brakes downhill, “happens too often out here, farmer going into the woods alone and never coming back, it’s foolish.  Can’t tell you how many bodies I’ve seen pulled from under tractors or trees.  Amazing you stumbled upon him when you did.”
    “Least he died doing what he loved,” I said.
At the bottom of the hill there were two more cars in the driveway.  One was a van with Carse Funeral Service written across it.  The other belonged to Garrett’s sister, Hyacinth.  We walked in as the funeral director talked with the cop and paramedic.  Kelly was still on her phone and there was Oona, in the corner unable to look away.  Hyacinth was knelt over Garrett crying.  She had just found out.