Read Montana Standoff Online

Authors: Nadia Nichols

Montana Standoff

“Steven Young Bear
is strictly off-limits…”

Molly pressed the portable phone to her ear as she spoke. “I don't know what to do, Dani,” she said.

Her friend's sigh was loud. “Oh, for heaven's sake,” Dani said. “Call Steven up and tell him what's going on. He'll understand. He sounds like a really nice guy. Besides, Manning's project may not take that much time.”

“Oh, Dani, the way I feel now, if it only took a week, that would be seven days too long.”

“Call him.”

“I can't. If Steven wants to see me again, he'll call me. I gave him every opening to do so. And if by some miracle he does I'll tell him what Manning said and see how he reacts.”

But he won't call,
she thought to herself.
Why would he? We're standing on opposite sides of a tall fence that divides two very different worlds.

 

Dear Reader,

Montana is the kind of place that inspires a passionate following of people who seek to protect and preserve what remains of the wild beauty of the legendary American West. The Yellowstone ecosystem is very much a part of that passion, and
Montana Standoff
is based on real-life tales of people who have fought, and are fighting still, against the threatening power of Big Money and the government giveaway of our public lands. This story is about ordinary people who are making huge sacrifices and big differences to save the very best of our wild heritage for future generations to enjoy.

Steven Young Bear, the grassroots environmental lawyer who first appeared in
Montana Dreaming
and then in
Buffalo Summer,
believes that a strong enough conviction of the heart can not only move mountains, but save them, as well. His fight seems doomed from the outset, going up against a Goliath of an adversary—a huge, powerful multinational mining conglomerate with a lawyer named Molly Ferguson steering the way toward bottom-line corporate profits at the expense of everything Steven is struggling to protect.

If you think that one person can't change the world, think again. Each and every one of us can make a difference.

Nadia Nichols

Montana Standoff
Nadia Nichols

www.millsandboon.co.uk

This book is dedicated to all those ordinary people
who are out there fighting to make life better for our
grandchildren's grandchildren. Thank you all.

CHAPTER ONE

M
OLLY
F
ERGUSON
'
S AFTERNOON
at the law firm of Taintor, Skelton and Goldstein had been relatively uneventful until Tom Miller tapped on the door to her office, leaned his upper body against the frame and gave her a long and meaningful stare. The absence of his usual arrogant smirk put her immediately on guard.

“May I come in?” he asked.

Tom was an egotistical jerk, and Molly's refusal to date him had made things awkward around the office. She'd been relieved to hear that Tom had just accepted a position in a California law firm and would be gone by the end of the month. Molly laid aside the brief she'd secretly been studying in the off chance she might one day be called upon to do something remotely important. “Certainly. What's up?”

He approached her desk with a mysterious expression and a thick file folder in one hand. “We were hoping Brad would be in today, but he just phoned again to tell us he's sicker than ever, and he only just remembered that there's a public meeting he was supposed to attend tonight on behalf of one of the mining companies we represent. Brad said it was no big deal, just a courtesy to inform the local citizens about the proposed
mine and all the benefits it will bring to their community.” Tom paused for effect and smiled. “Skelton was wondering if you could cover for him.”

Molly's heart skipped a beat. Was she hearing him right? Was she actually being asked to do something other than file briefs? After eleven tedious months of being nothing more than Brad's glorified secretary, was she finally going to do some real work? “Of course I'll go,” she said, hoping she didn't appear too eager. “What time, and where?”

“Seven in a place called Moose Horn, which, according to the latest census, has a year-round population of twenty-seven adults of voting age.” Tom held up the thick file. “You probably won't have to say a word, but better study up, just in case. The meeting's being held at the town office, which is about a two-hour drive south of here. You could hop a commuter flight, but that means you'd probably be stuck in Bozeman for the night.”

“I don't mind driving, but that won't give me much time to look over the file,” Molly said with a twinge of anxiety, her eyes measuring the thickness of the folder.

“You'll do just fine.” Tom smiled his most charming smile. “Brad says you're up to speed on all the legal issues that might be raised at a gathering like this. You shouldn't have any problems. Moose Horn's town office is also the fire and police station, and the town library is housed upstairs. I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding it. It's probably the only building for miles around. Look for a man named Ken Manning. He's the company geologist and mine rep, and he'll be giving the presentation and fielding most of the ques
tions. We weren't able to get hold of him to tell him you were replacing Brad, but like I said, it shouldn't be any big deal.”

“Fine.” Molly reached for the file. “I'd better get started, then.”

Tom held it beyond her hand. “Sorry about ruining your Friday night. I'm sure you had some plans?”

“John was taking me to hear the Mountain Symphony Quartet at the Pavilion, but I'm sure he'll understand.”

“You're still seeing that guy? Is it true that he's been married three times already?”

Molly felt the heat rise into her face. “John's a very nice man. The file, please?”

“Of course he is,” Tom said. “He's a very nice man with three divorces under his belt. If you want my opinion, you should be thanking Brad for coming down with the flu and getting you out of that date. And there's still time for you to discover how good a real man can be. I'll be around for another week.”

“The file,” Molly repeated, and Tom tossed it on her desk with a smirk.

“You lose,” he said.

Molly frowned at Tom's departing back. “I don't think so,” she muttered under her breath, and then began scanning the first page. John wouldn't be happy. He'd been looking forward to hearing the quartet play. It was almost four o'clock, and he'd no doubt be teaching a music class. She glanced at the phone. No point in putting it off. She wouldn't be able to concentrate until she made the call. She picked up the receiver and dialed. His secretary answered on the first ring.

“John's in the middle of a private lesson with a rather
important client,” the snooty woman informed her. “Are you quite certain that you wish for me to disturb him?”

“Yes, please,” Molly said with as much haughty loftiness as she could inspire. “It's actually really important.” She drummed her fingers on her desktop as she waited. And waited…

“Hello?” John's voice was brusque.

“John, it's Molly. Listen, something's come up and I have to attend a town meeting in Moose Horn at seven tonight. I'm afraid we'll have to postpone our dinner, and as for the recital—”

“Moose Horn?”

“Yes. It's a small town about a hundred miles south of here.”

There was a brief, chilly silence. “You know I've been planning this evening for quite some time. The violinist was a student of mine.”

“Yes, I do know, and I'm so sorry, but Brad's sick and I've been asked to cover for him.”

“Tell them you can't.”

Molly hesitated. “It's my job, and besides, this is the first real assignment I've had. I need to—”

“I see,” he interrupted. “Well, my student is waiting for me.”

She flinched at the sound of the phone slamming down and gingerly replaced her own receiver. This wasn't her first glimpse of John's temper, but she decided then and there that it would be her last. She sighed, focused on the first page again and began to read. At five p.m. she replaced the papers neatly into the file folder and tucked it into her briefcase. Time to go. But the brief study she'd given the file hadn't scratched the surface
of the vast scope of this mining project. She only hoped the townsfolk wouldn't notice her ignorance. The project ought to be a fairly easy sell. After all, how could anyone protest the creation of hundreds of good-paying jobs and a greatly increased tax base?

She took the elevator down to the lobby and exited the building. Her vehicle was parked in a reserved space, one of the few benefits that came with being the newest member of the firm. As always, she admired her sleek red sports car as she walked briskly toward it, leather briefcase in one hand, keys in the other. She deactivated the alarm and the door locks, and moments later was leaving Helena and heading to Moose Horn.

Molly had moved to Montana after she'd graduated Yale law school and passed the bar exams. Her family was from Boston, a mix of Scottish/Irish immigrants that included a few cops, a few priests and an assortment of outlandish and sometimes feuding clan members who kept life interesting even from so far away. She loved them dearly and missed them all very much, but enjoyed living in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. She felt like a pioneer of sorts, being both the first bona fide lawyer as well as the first Ferguson to head West. It gave her a legendary status within her family, one that she tried only halfheartedly to dispel on her trips home at Christmas and in June, for her mother's birthday.

Helena was an okay town to live in. Tiny, compared to Boston, but it had all the necessary cultural endowments to keep from being considered…well, to keep from being a town like Moose Horn. Where on earth had they ever come up with that name? She sighed and
slipped a CD into the player, cranked the volume and let the little red sports car hit cruising speed on Interstate 15.

S
TEVEN
Y
OUNG
B
EAR SLIPPED
away from the wedding reception at the Bozeman Grand Hotel with a feeling of relief. The party was still cranking along in high gear and no one noticed his early departure, certainly not the bride and groom, who were swaying in each other's arms on the dance floor. He didn't like weddings. He didn't particularly enjoy dressing up, but his sister Pony had asked him to attend. “It would mean a lot to Ernie and Nana if you came.”

And so, he'd attended the wedding of Nana's sister's granddaughter Leona to that fancy-talking owner of Jolly John's car dealership in Livingston. Jolly John Johnson was the grandson of Lane Johnson, the senator who had been instrumental in destroying half of the Crow tribe's buffalo herd under the pretense of protecting the white man's cattle from brucellosis. Unlike cattle, the buffalo had never been proven to carry brucellosis, but Johnson had ordered the slaughter just to hurt the tribe, and hurt them he had. Of course, that had been twenty years ago and Jolly John had had nothing to do with it. He'd been seven years old. But Steven remembered it vividly. Remembered the sounds of the rifles, the stink of the carcasses, the dark vultures clouding the skies.

And now Jolly John, grandson of Indian-hater Lane Johnson, had married a full-blooded Crow. Life was full of such ironies.

Steven exited the building, surprised and gratified to see that the sun hadn't yet set, and slung his tuxedo
jacket over his shoulder as he walked to the parking lot and his dark green Wagoneer.

Moments later he was heading for home. His mood was melancholy. He was tired of weddings. There had been too many of late. An old friend earlier that spring. And the fall before that, Jessie and Guthrie's. He doubted he would ever find the kind of happiness they had found, and the older he got, the less likely it seemed.

Fortunately, Pony had. Strange, how things had worked out for her. Steven would never have imagined his traditionalist sister marrying a white man, yet seeing her with Caleb McCutcheon for the past few months had made him realize how right they were for each other, and in less than a month, they, too, would be married. He was glad for Pony, even if it did mean he'd have to get dressed up in a tuxedo again. She deserved to have the kind of life that Caleb could offer her—the love and the happiness and the freedom from want.

All was truly as it should be. He repeated this mantra silently as he drove, but by the time he reached Gallatin Gateway and turned down the long drive that ended at the little cedar post-and-beam house, he was ready for some time alone to nurse his lonely heart. The last thing he wanted was company, but the first thing he saw as he approached the house was a strange vehicle parked in his drive, and two people, a man and a woman, sitting on his step.

They stood and watched quietly as he got out and shut the Wagoneer's door. The woman was a girl, really, dressed in blue jeans and a baggy sweatshirt, her boyishly short dark hair framing a thin face. The man was
older, in his late forties, a lean back-woods type with thick glasses and serviceable work clothes.

“Wow,” the girl said as he approached. “I guess you were at a fancy party.”

“A wedding.” Steven stopped in front of them. “I assume there's a reason you were sitting on my step. I'm StevenYoung Bear.” He reached out to shake their hands.

“Rob Brown,” the man said. “This is Amy Littlefield. We're both from Moose Horn. I'm the first selectman there. We've been waiting here for three hours, hoping you'd get back in time.”

“In time for what?”

Brown glanced at his watch. “There's a town meeting being held at seven tonight to discuss the proposed New Millennium mine on Madison Mountain. Are you familiar with that project?”

“Somewhat,” he hedged, guessing what was to come.

“We…that is, the citizens of Moose Horn…had hired Sam Blackmore to represent us at this meeting.”

“He's a good attorney,” Steven nodded, thinking that they'd come to get his opinion on their choice of representation. “Experienced. He'll steer you in the right direction.”

“Then, you haven't heard?”

Steven recognized the undertones of darkness in those four words and felt the weariness within him deepen. The day had been long, and it wasn't over yet. “I've been gone all afternoon.”

Brown shifted uneasily. “I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but Sam was killed this morning in a single-car crash. He was coming down the access road on Madison Mountain when he lost control of his vehicle.”

“Sam's
dead?

Brown nodded. “Was he a good friend of yours?”

“I knew him.” Steven rubbed the back of his neck, stunned. He pictured Sam the way he'd last seen him, not three weeks ago, on the courthouse steps in Bozeman. Balding, overweight, kind brown eyes and a slow-spoken honesty that made people rethink their negative attitudes toward lawyers. They'd shaken hands and spoken briefly, then gone their separate ways. Sam had a wife and three grown children. “What caused the crash? Do the police know?”

“I don't know. They were still investigating the scene when Amy and I went up on the mountain. We couldn't get anywhere near the site.”

Steven dropped his hand, stared out across the valley. Wondered if Sam had felt any different when he got out of bed on the morning of his death. “Hard to believe.”

“He was so nice,” the girl said. “He really cared about what was happening. And now…”

“Condor International, the mining company that owns the New Millennium project, is sending their geologist to talk to us about the proposed mine,” Rob Brown explained. “It isn't really an official meeting. It's more of a courtesy on the part of the mining company, but we wanted to show them we meant business when we came out opposed to this mine. We thought the best way to do that was to hire a good lawyer. So we collected money, held bake sales and bottle drives, sold raffle tickets for a donated Hereford calf. We raised five hundred dollars and then we contacted Sam, who agreed to represent us.

“We gave him all our information. He went up on the mountain several times himself in the past four weeks
to see what was happening. I paid him the retainer just this morning and I also gave him all the water samples we'd taken from the area streams. I believe all of it was with him when he crashed his car.”

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