The raccoon in enclosure eight would take some time to heal, Emmett knew, but more so, knowing this one would get well was fortune enough. Enclosure eight had become synonymous for the caretaker with worsening symptoms. It hadn’t started that way. Initially, it was just one of the last cages in the row for small to medium size wildlife. Yet, he had put down and cremated the last three critters housed there. If this raccoon were to pull a one-eighty and pass just as he was starting to get well, Emmett was going to discontinue using the enclosure.
Limiting the enclosures would cripple his reach a bit more. His effectiveness was already taking a blow with so many potential patients for a one-man operation. One less habitat further handicapped the sanctuary, but worse obstacles were falling in his path. As he stepped out of the second barn, Emmett regarded Sheriff Kerry parked across the lane. In the winter, even after the plows had passed, there was only enough width for one car to pass down the old country road the Mausberg Animal Sanctuary sat on. It seemed all the more reason for the man Kerry accompanied to park in the drive just feet away from the porch.
Emmett didn’t need to see who sat in the pearly white sedan, tinted windows or not. That man’s identity was already evident. Casual as though anticipating friends, Emmett led the way into the aging converted duplex. The screen door was left in the wind only a minute before Kerry walked in with the slickly dressed, swarthy businessman at his heels. Pouring a cup of cider, giving the room a warm puff of cinnamon to counter-balance the odor that time baked into everything under the sun, Emmett prepared himself. Facing his guests, he afforded the gentlest raising at the edges of his lips before toasting them.
“Emmett, how are things today?” Kerry began, level and casual.
Sipping from his chipped mug, Emmett allowed his kindly expression to dither, “Business as usual, Todd, same as yourself.”
“Yes, well, straight to the point. Have you looked over the proposal?”
“I have, not for the first time, and like every other time, I decline. I’d hoped it had been clear to you, Mister Singh, that if I were interested, I would reach out.”
“But did Sheriff Kerry give you the most up-to-date version of the proposed contract?” Singh was quickly handed a packet by one of his associates.
Try as he might to take the bluntest approach possible, Emmett found himself once again stuck in these negotiations. For the world, he wished he could be his father for just a moment, able to snap on a stern demeanor and put his foot down. Yet, if he were more like his father, he might have sold the land and never worried once about the animals he helped. Regardless of his feelings, Emmett set down his mug and took the offered proposal.
Quietly he flipped through it, looking for any augmentations to the offer, and though the price had gone up and time allocated for him to handle any animals still in recovery, it wasn’t a sale he could make. Singh interrupted his browsing, business-like in attitude, “If you need a bit of time, we could come later this afternoon. It is a lot to take in, prioritize, and figure out on your own end. But you’ll see we are willing to have the contract paid in full before you need move. We’ll be taking care of the tear-down costs and could even help relocate you. We so often have to help move around the families of our workers. It’s not trouble, and consider it free of charge.”
“That’s quite alright, Mister Singh. You can take this copy with you. I won’t be needing it,” Emmett could feel Kerry’s glare but continued, “I stand by my earlier statement. It’s a very generous offer, and I can see that you’re doing everything you can to sell me on this deal, but anything you could offer isn’t worth what I’ve got.”
“Mister Mausberg, we’ve talked to the bank. Your land isn’t worth quite so much as we’re offering, even with the newer developments out here. And though we know inherited lands can be something we’re sentimental about, we’ve accounted the best we can. This is an honest deal that you stand, more so than anyone in town, to make a mint off of. Our company just wants the land.”
The sheriff picked up where Singh led off, “Emmett, don’t be stubborn about this. Do you know what this is going to mean for the town? Heck, you stay in the area, your electricity costs are going to be pennies. And if you decline this deal, you’re not the only one affected.”
The document hung in the air between Emmett and Singh. Neither wanted it but for their own reasons. Letting calmer heads prevail, Emmett set the papers beside his mug where a spill had been just before contact. At the observation of the three other men, Emmett slid off his hood and took in a stiff breath, “I’m not the only person affected, you mean. As I said, people aren’t the only ones affected by this. This isn’t as simple as taking a fat payday and running off. What about all the animals in the area? The wildlife already has a hard enough time foraging and surviving without cutting off another avenue of habitat to them.”
“Leave that to the people heading this green initiative; it’s not your concern. They wouldn’t have approved the development if it were dangerous. But, if you want to stake your claim again like you did with the tower,” Kerry came with his typical sickly smile.
Singh cut in before Emmett, “Mister Mausberg, I’m sorry if this is difficult for you, but you need to understand green energy is the future. The animals will still be here, safe and comfortable, likely more so as poachers would have difficulty hunting down deer under the panels. Isn’t that a comfort to you?”
“Solar energy is all well and good, but this biome can only support so many animals at its current size. Taking away this neck of the woods is going to cut capacity in half, and I don’t even care to discuss the wildlife that I typically handle. The lot is not for sale. There’s no spinning this in a way I’d sell it. I’m needed here. Another solar farm, not so much.”
Within a few minutes, Singh and his associate had vacated the Mausberg property, the sheriff lingered on a bit longer. From what he could see of the house, one that seemed to lose a coat of luster on every visit, he couldn’t understand Emmett’s decision. He had seen the wall patched up the summer prior, repairs to the roof from storm damage as well as shingling, and even the basement pumped out after flooding. By the state of things, furniture that hadn’t been moved since Emmett inherited the house, photos so heavily dust-caked you’d think that even the women were bearded, and a kitchen a rat wouldn’t even crawl into, it was apparent Emmett was hardly there. His money had to be running out; Kerry could bet on that, but how long he was willing to live in squaller for his animals was another question.
With a tip of his hat, Sheriff Kerry departed, leaving Emmett to fume in private at this most recent attempt to buy his property. Taking another swill from the mug, he let the memories of the apple harvest weave into his present mind. The orchard just beyond the first barn was a haven now, less so than an attraction for the area’s wildlife. With every farm turning from soy or corn to solar, they were running out of space. The terrarium taking center stage in the living room was proof that time was limited and clean resources doubly so. Frogs and toads and salamanders, as well as a mix of algae and aquatic plants, were just barely preserved in that tank. He could not do the same for the deer and the squirrel, the possums, or coyotes. Keeping the forest alive, preventing it from being another tumbled down field, leveled and planted with solar panels, was all he could do for them.