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Authors: Will Hobbs

Jackie's Wild Seattle

BOOK: Jackie's Wild Seattle
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
Jackie's Wild Seattle
Will Hobbs

to Kaye Baxter, Bob Jones,
and Jeff Eagle Walker Guidry



Sorry About the Dog Hair


Change is Inevitable


The View from the Needle


The End of the Beginning


The Distinguished Guests


Don't Worry, You Can Trust Me


Late-Breaking News


Underground with a Tough Customer


Flying Gravel


Baby Squirrels and Bad History


The Day of the Hawk


Life Can Be Like That


Does It Hurt?


Turtles for Peace


To the Edge


Back on the Rock


A Whole Different Frog


Tyler and Liberty


Cry Tidnab


Sleepless in Seattle


He Got Me Good


The Circle of Healing


Coyote in a Pickle


Thanks for the Mice


Coming Up for Air


So Far, So Good



I didn't even recognize him when he headed toward us at the crowded baggage carousel. Just some confused guy with a shaved head, that's what I thought at first, but then he called my name.

I did a double take. Could this be our Uncle Neal?

“Shannie, over here,” he called as he came closer.

I recognized his voice, but otherwise I was drawing a blank. I was expecting him to look like his snapshot on our refrigerator back home, with curly black hair, a full face, and a neatly trimmed beard. This Neal had a thin face and was clean-shaven from skull to chin.

The uncle I was expecting had the strong, chiseled arms and legs of a climber. This version was almost skinny and had no muscle definition. Plus he had a tattoo—the word
on his left arm. My mother had never said anything about her brother having a tattoo.

All the same, it had to be him. I could see my mother in
the lines around his steel gray eyes, the shape of his lips, and the dimple on his chin.

“I go by Shannon now,” I muttered as he gave me a hug. Only Cody could get away with calling me Shannie these days.

Neal tried to shake with Cody, but my little brother shrank back. “He isn't shy,” I said, “he just hates shaking hands.”

“No I don't,” Cody protested. “It's just weird, that's all.”

I looked from Cody to this stranger-uncle and back, feeling so not okay about the next nine weeks. Out of nervousness I checked my watch. During the flight I'd turned it back three hours. Here in Seattle, it was only nine-thirty in the morning. We'd started our trip at La Guardia airport in New York, checking in at 5
I couldn't help yawning.

“Longest day of the year,” Neal said. “June twenty-first. Say, I got a call from your folks. They said to tell you their plane took off on time, ninety minutes after yours. They've sure got a long way to go, halfway around the world.”

Cody bit his lip. Me, I didn't say anything. We didn't really know our uncle very well. Basically we talked to him on the phone every Christmas. This whole summer was going to be quite a stretch.

Uncle Neal changed the subject. “Cody, you'll never guess what I'm doing these days. You'll be surprised. I'm driving an ambulance.”

Cody looked skeptical.

“Really. Wait till you see it.”

We pulled luggage from the carousel as Uncle Neal established our ages, fourteen and seven. I was still stunned by his makeover, especially the shaved head. It was a popular look, but definitely not my favorite.

Up close, Neal had a gamey smell, which wasn't exactly
appealing. His T-shirt and jeans were covered with dog hair. His eyes were bloodshot, and there were dirt smudges on his clothes. He looked tired. Underneath his cheerfulness, he looked worried, maybe even grim. My mother said he was thirty-nine, but he came off older. “What's with the new look?” I asked, deciding to go for it.

My uncle ran his hand over his skull. “You mean this? No muss, no fuss. What do you think, Cody? Should I get an earring like the NBA players?”

“Maybe not,” Cody said. “Who's Sage?”

“My partner. You'll meet her shortly.”

“Girlfriend?” I asked.

“Sort of.”

“Have you gone back to work at Boeing?”

“Nope, still haven't.”

My biggest hope for the summer was that we could do some rock climbing together. Here was a guy who'd climbed Mount Rainier in a whiteout and helped rescue the survivors of a group that had its tents blown off the mountain near the summit. “Are you still climbing? Still doing search and rescue?” I asked casually, keeping my enthusiasm in check.

“Naw,” Neal said. “I don't really do that stuff anymore.”

Cody and I waited at the curb with our mound of luggage, which was mostly mine. Nine weeks away called for two-thirds of everything I owned. We waited for what felt like a long time. Everything was confusing, edgy, and noisy. The lanes closest to the curb were clogged with cars stopping to pick up arriving passengers. Just like back at La Guardia, security guards and soldiers on the lookout for terrorists were adding to the tension.

My eyes were drawn to a large maroon van in the outer
was written in large letters across the side, with
underneath, plus an 800 number. At either end of the lettering was a seal's face, all eyes and whiskers, and the white head of a bald eagle. “Hey, that's Uncle Neal driving,” Cody yelled. “That must be the ambulance! Look, Shan, check out his passenger!”

A very alert black-and-white dog was riding shotgun. Neal managed to thread his way to the curb in front of us, where he lurched to a stop and jumped out. “Is that your partner, by any chance?” Cody asked as all three of us grabbed luggage. “Is that Sage?”

“You're quick, Cody. Yes indeed, that person up front wearing the furry suit is my partner. And this van is an extension of my body. I've already put forty-five thousand miles on it this year.”

Neal lifted up the back, and I found out where the gamey smell on his clothes was coming from. The van reeked of it. There were feathers all over, a few old duffel bags, metal boxes, fiberglass kennel carriers of various sizes, a giant fishing net. “Is there going to be enough room for our stuff?” I wondered aloud.

“Has to be,” Neal said, pulling some of the kennel carriers out onto the pavement. “It'll just take some rearranging.” He was huffing and puffing, and his forehead was beaded with sweat.

“Let me do that,” I said. I was surprised how out of shape he was.

“You're dressed too nice,” Neal protested.

“Just jeans and a top.”

“I mean, you're too clean.”

Obviously, teenage girls weren't the sort of wildlife Neal was familiar with. He was going to treat me like I was frag
ile when I was anything but. “No problem,” I said, grabbing a kennel carrier in each hand. “I'm adaptable. So is Cody. Aren't you, Cody?”

“Not too small and not too big,” Cody said. Neal and I looked at each other. Then it dawned on both of us that my little brother was talking about the dog.

“Border collie,” Neal told him.

I said to Neal, “You organize things inside, I'll hand this stuff to you.”

He took my suggestion. His eyes met mine, and he said, “Thanks for being adaptable, Shannon. That's really going to help.”

“Mom said you live at the beach these days?”

“I did the last couple years, until today.”

“Hey, Shannie,” Cody called, “this one has something in it.” He was on his knees looking into one of the carriers on the pavement.

Suddenly two security guards followed by a soldier came running right at us. “What's in there?” shouted the one in the lead. He was very young, with an unconvincing mustache. His nameplate said
One hand was at his hip, on his gun.

Cody took in the three stressed-out men in uniform towering over him. In a very small voice, my brother answered, “Four baby raccoons.”

Neal bent to lift the carrier so they could see inside its door.

“Don't!” ordered Duffy. With a swift motion, he signaled his partner, Wattle, to get down and take a look. The soldier, meanwhile, unslung his rifle and stepped back to cover them. With a glance I saw a crowd of people stopped in their tracks, mostly alarmed but with a few smiles sprinkled
in. Did we look like terrorists?

On his hands and knees, Wattle peeked cautiously through the carrier door. “Raccoons,” he reported.

“You're good to go,” Duffy growled. “Next time, don't linger.”

“Thank you,” Neal said. “We appreciate your vigilance.”

The three backed off. As if somebody had thrown a switch, all the onlookers were back in motion.

Uncle Neal slammed the back hatch shut and grabbed the carrier with the raccoons, then went to the side door and threw it open. “Let's get out of here. Backseat, Sage.” His dog obeyed immediately. “Jump in, Cody. I'll put these baby raccoons between you and Sage so you can keep your eye on these rascals.”

Cody hesitated. “Actually, I'd rather sit right next to Sage.”

“Nice idea, but she doesn't like kids. Nothing personal.”

I took the passenger seat up front. “Sorry about all the dog hair,” Neal said as he slid behind the wheel. He grabbed the Mariners cap from the dash, slapped it on his shiny head, and jammed the key into the ignition. The van started with a roar, and we took off.


In between me and Neal, spilling down to the floor of the van, was enough junk to fill a chest of drawers, including a clipboard, various scraps of notes and ballpoint pens, a pager, a cell phone, and a Starbucks cup. I checked over my shoulder to make sure Cody had buckled up. He had.

“Who's Jackie?” Cody asked while looking wistfully at the dog on the other side of the carrier. Sage avoided his gaze. Cody had always wanted a dog, but we lived in a house with too small a yard on too busy a street.

“Jackie's the head of a three-ring circus,” Neal replied.

Cody rummaged in his backpack and pulled out his Game Boy. The border collie looked nervous as the electronic beeps and music from the little machine began. I wondered if Neal was going to ask Cody to turn it off. He didn't. If Neal had, Cody might have had to pull out his chewed-up security blankie. He'd already had one setback, the dog not being friendly, and I could tell he was feeling more than a
little sorry for himself.

We drove north on the freeway. It was a dazzling blue-sky day in Seattle. You could see clear past the skyscrapers—not many compared to Manhattan—to the Space Needle. I pointed in its direction.

Cody spotted it and snapped out of his funk. “The Space Needle is the
whole reason
I wanted to come to Seattle,” he told his uncle dramatically. “Hey, Shan, you should see these baby raccoons. They woke up and they're all over each other.”

Neal swung by his old place in West Seattle, the apartment he'd just left. It was right across the street from the beach. “I just have to pick up my mail,” he said. “And say good-bye to Charlie.”

“Who's Charlie?” Cody asked as we got out. He was looking all around, and so was I.

“Retired columnist for the
Seattle Times.
Lives downstairs.”

Just across the street, people were jogging, flying kites, throwing Frisbees, tanning, playing volleyball. I said, “Are you sure this isn't southern California?”

Neal checked his mailbox and visited with the old man who lived in the lower unit while we ran up the outside stairway and into Neal's old apartment. Cody sailed right through it onto the deck overlooking the beach, and I followed. “Let's stay here,” Cody said. “We can play on the beach all summer.”

“Uncle Neal already moved out,” I reminded him.

Cody's face went tragic. I said, “Whatever look you were going for just now, you missed.” Actually, I was pretty disappointed myself. Here was the chance for me to wear my new two-piece. This summer I could finally do justice to a bathing suit.

I turned back into the apartment and quickly discovered it was strictly a studio—no bedrooms, no privacy.

I walked back out onto the deck and joined Cody at the railing. He was still enraptured with the beach. “This place would be so perfect, Shannie!”

“We're talking shoe box,” I said. “Take a better look inside.”

His eyes started to get misty. “We could sleep out on the deck, don't you see? This is the whole reason I came!”

I cracked up. “No it isn't, Cody. You had no idea about this place. You came because Mom and Dad are going to Pakistan, don't you remember?”

Neal, I realized, was standing right behind us, getting another look at his overdramatic nephew. “It was brave of you guys to come,” he said, “even if there wasn't really much choice. We'll make the most of it, believe me. And hey, change is inevitable, except from vending machines.”

“I think I saw that once on a bumper sticker,” I said.

To which Neal replied, “Without bumper stickers, wisdom itself would be impossible.”

“Is that from a bumper sticker, too?”

“Not as far as I know. I just made it up.”

I was impressed. “For the record, Uncle Neal, it wasn't really fair for Mom and Dad to spring this on you—and us—with only three weeks' notice.”

Cody piled on. “I have a lot of friends back home. Shannon does too. I'm on a soccer team. Shan was going to go to her camp in the Adirondacks to go rock climbing and stuff.”

Neal stroked the short beard that was missing from his chin. I thought he might show some interest in how much climbing I'd done—two straight weeks, two summers in a row—but he
didn't. Instead he said, “It was a surprise for all of us.”

“Yeah,” Cody said with a frown. “That man from Doctors Without Borders called and said they needed Mom

“At first Dad was going to go alone,” I explained, “and then when he got back, Mom would go. That was the original plan.”

Before we left home I'd hardly let myself picture what this would be like, having both of them so far away for so long and in such a risky part of the world. I'd be holding my breath the whole summer. I think I was half expecting them to change their minds and not go through with it.

My brother looked up to me and said, “We're proud of them, aren't we, Shannie?”

“We sure are,” I said, which of course I was. “Mom did say we could veto it,” I added to Neal. “Cody and I talked it over a lot. It was obvious how bad they wanted to go, both of them together. We gave them the green light.”

Cody said to Neal, “It's not as dangerous over there as people think, isn't that right?”

Uncle Neal didn't look so sure about that. But he nodded and said reassuringly, “They'll be okay in western Pakistan, Cody, especially in a big refugee camp.”

“Except there's lots of people with only one leg, because of all the land mines.”

Before this got out of hand—Cody was very big on disasters—I said, “The land mines aren't in the refugee camps, Cody. They're over in Afghanistan. That's where the refugees came from.”

“I know, Mom told me all about it.”

Neal jumped in with, “Say, are you guys hungry?”

“Are you kidding?” Cody shouted. “Do you have a Taco Bell? I could get a seven-layer burrito!”

“No, but there's a great deli just down the street.”

All of a sudden, Cody went miserable. “What if they don't have anything I like? I'm a very picky eater. It's not my fault. I can't help it.”

“It's just something he has to live with,” I couldn't resist adding.

“I was just teasing you,” Neal said to Cody. “Your mother told me about your ‘dietary restrictions.' She said you eat only hot dogs or corn dogs, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches on white bread, mac and cheese, pepperoni pizza, soft flour tortillas with refried beans and grated cheddar cheese slightly melted, certain kinds of cold cereal with whole milk, certain fruits, certain kinds of ice cream….”

“Pinch me,” I said. “She told you all that? Has she lost her mind?”

Cody piped up with, “She forgot cookies and candy bars. There aren't many of those I don't like, Uncle Neal. Oreos are my favorite.”

I couldn't believe it. My mother had finally caved in, declared surrender, and run up the white flag on nutrition and a balanced diet. All I could figure was, she was afraid he'd have a meltdown on her brother.

“So let's run for the border,” Neal said.

“Taco Bell!” Cody shouted with three quick fist pumps. “Things are looking up in Codyland!”

Neal said good-bye to the old man, the retired columnist downstairs, and we were on our way to find Cody a burrito. Staring at the border collie who didn't like kids, Cody said sadly, “I guess it's okay about not living at the beach. I wouldn't want to live upstairs from a retired communist anyway.”

BOOK: Jackie's Wild Seattle
5.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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