The next several days were uneventful. John came to work, fulfilled his duties and left at the end of his shift without encountering River or any of the Douglas family, and he didn't do any more sneaking around. This was mainly because he didn't want to find more grisly sights like butchered dinosaur bodies.
He decided to take Sunday off and spent the day resting and poking around the tiny town. Most of the locals were friendly and willing to chat with him until they found out he was working at Douglas Farm. When that information entered the conversation, they would look at him sideways and find an excuse to end the discussion and continue on with their day without John. He didn't mind particularly, but he did find it an odd reaction.
Stopping at the little market, he took a chance and asked Scott, the friendly cashier, about it.
As he rang up John's purchases, Scott explained, “Folks around here are wary of discussing private matters with outsiders, just like any other small town. But the Douglas farm is different.”
“What do you mean by different?”
“Well, the original farm was a handful of acres bought by Douglas's father years ago. Since then, it has grown disproportionately large compared to the products exported for local sales. Mrs. Douglas attends the farmers' market with chicken eggs and an assortment of fruits and vegetables, but it's mainly for appearance. No one visits the farm and they don't hold hayrides or anything social like that.”
“Maybe they like their privacy?”
“Maybe,” Scott leaned closer to John. “But their children are all privately educated which costs a fortune and whenever adjoining land goes up for sale, a Douglas is always at the auction ready to bid with cash in hand.”
John nodded. “They are always looking to expand.”
“Exactly. If you ask me, the Douglas family is hiding something and when the secret comes out, it will ruin them.”
John paid for his groceries and thanked Scott for the information. Then he ate an entire sleeve of Oreos while contemplating everything he knew about his secretive employers.
On a drizzly Monday after his conversation with Scott, John banged his head on the hood of the truck he was working on and decided he needed a break. He had already smashed two fingers and dropped a large wrench on his foot. He wiped the grease and blood off on a rag and stomped over to a cluster of trees to sit in the shade.
He hadn't been sitting there for long, drinking his water and gazing ruefully at his tender fingers when River dropped down next to him. She had a blanket in her arms.
“What happened to your hand?” She demanded.
“Smashed it trying to fix your truck,” he snapped.
“Ah, you should clean it tonight and wrap it up.”
“What is in the blanket?” He asked.
In response, River shoved the rough blanket into his arms. It was heavier than he had expected. He unfolded a corner and found a small protoceratops nestled in the blanket. It was tiny, no bigger than a small puppy or a kitten.
“What's wrong with it?” John asked, gently shifting the little creature so he could hold it better.
“It's the smallest of the clutch. Probably won't make it on its own,” River replied. She leaned against his shoulder to peer down at the baby dinosaur.
John looked at her in silence for several minutes. The tough no-nonsense River that he was familiar with was softer now, quietly watching the helpless once-extinct creature sleeping in a blanket. “What are you going to do with it?”
River shrugged, her shoulder bumping his with the action. “We should kill it, it would put it out of its misery and save us on time and resources.” She reached one finger toward the dinosaur and gently stroked the soft pale orange skin.
“Or,” John suggested thoughtfully, “You could keep it as a pet?”
“Hmm,” River mumbled noncommittally but continued to stare at the sleeping baby.
After lunch, John flexed his bandaged fingers as he trudged across a wet field toward the farmhouse, He was looking for River to get the keys to the truck so he could move it. As he came around the side of the farmhouse, he realized that River might be a bit preoccupied.
Scores of vehicles lined the driveway to the farmhouse and more were crowded in the clear space in front of the old building. Many of the vehicles were marked with various law enforcement symbols; the local sheriff was here along with the FBI, the CIA and animal control. News vans were lined up in the driveway with their cameras out; the reporters preened and fussed with their hair while waiting for the go-ahead to film. Beyond them were protestors with signs that John couldn't read.
“Uh-oh,” he muttered.
One of River's younger skinny brothers was hiding behind a tree near him. John edged closer and without making eye contact asked, “What happened?”
“Someone ratted us out to the world,” the boy replied with his eyes wide open in shock.
John nodded and made his way further into the yard. Groups of official-looking people stood around talking, exchanging information and waiting for their turn at talking to Douglas who was turning red and began waving his eyes at one law enforcement officer. He shouted, “Of course I don't have any permits! Who in their right mind goes out to get a permit to raise dinosaurs on their own private property, you moron?!”
As John watched, a cluster of people broke up and he spotted River. She looked frazzled and glanced around the yard distracted. When she spotted him, her gaze narrowed and she shouted, “You!”
John looked confused, “Me?”
River suddenly charged him and hit him in the face with her closed fist. “You rotten pigeon! You ratted us out didn't you?! You destroyed my world!”
She raised her fist again and John quickly grabbed her, evaded her wild swing and dragged her back behind the farmhouse. She dug her feet into the ground and whipped around, striking him with a quick jab before he could grab her arm again. This time he held both her wrists tightly so she couldn't escape. “Listen to me, River!” John said sternly.
“No,” she said and kicked him in the leg.
As he hopped on one foot and ducked her next blow, John said loudly, “I didn't turn you in! I'm not a snitch!”
“What makes you think I believe you?!” River swung at him again and he danced out of reach. This made her angrier.
“You have to trust me,” John insisted. He ducked again and grabbed River by her waist before slamming her against the side of the house.
The force of the impact seemed to get her attention. She hit him in the face again but sagged against the building and didn't try to push him away. When John was certain she wasn't going to fall or hit him again, he let go and backed up a step.
“I have only worked here for a month, almost two. That is not nearly enough time to gather the information these guys would need to send them all down here in such a display of force,” John explained. “Whoever turned you in has obviously presented enough undisputed evidence that these guys couldn't ignore or disprove which forced them into a raid. I didn't betray you.” He stared at her.
River met his gaze and held it for several moments before nodding sadly and looking away.
John relaxed, he hadn't realized how tense he was. He wiped at the blood on his face and leaned against the farmhouse beside River. “Everything is about to change and you will be scrutinized as you have never been before. You have to stay calm, River.”
“But who would do this? Who would betray us like this?”
John shook his head. “I don't know but when you find out, and you will find out sooner or later, you can't go off and hit whoever it is.”
River nodded again and then abruptly walked away.
A deputy approached John. “Sir, can I ask you to step over here and provide a statement for us? We need your name and the address of where you are staying.”
“Certainly,” John replied and spent the next couple of hours talking to various authority figures. They all wanted to know the same things, which were how long he had been working at Douglas farm, did he know about the dinosaurs, what exactly did he do on the farm, how well did he know his employers, and how long had he known about the dinosaurs. Without outright denying anything, John gave the barest amount of information he could to the investigators and provided his contact information in case they had any follow-up questions. Based on the disgruntled expressions they shot him over his short and bland answers, John was certain they would be around eventually with more questions for him.
He wondered briefly if he should get a lawyer.
He didn't see River again or anyone else in the Douglas family. So he took advantage of the lull in attention directed his way and slipped away to his little hotel room. Then he made the mistake of turning the local news on and watching it for several hours while he ate potato chips and chocolate ice cream.
It didn't take John very long to piece together who exactly had turned whistleblower in the Douglas family.
John got up early the next day and headed to the farm via a circular back way. Then he jogged across a couple of soggy fields before he reached the white buildings where the dinosaur incubators were housed. He spotted River's truck parked outside one of the buildings just as he had suspected. Tip-toeing inside, he found her standing near a warm incubator. The orange glow made her look softer and hid the redness of her eyes. She was staring intently at the contents of the incubator.
Approaching her cautiously (his face was still tender and sore from the beating she had given him the day before), John peered inside and saw that an egg was hatching. As they watched, the tiny dinosaur finished peaking a hole in the shell and carefully poked his nose out. He took a breath of air and then wiggled back inside the shell to keep working at it. Several other eggs were in various stages of hatching.
“What kind are they?” John asked softly.
“Igaunodons, the grown ones we have wandering around haven't figured out how to hatch their own eggs yet,” River whispered.
They watched the tiny hatchings for several more minutes before River turned away. “Animal control, PETA and a bunch of other groups have called foul on our operations and want to confiscate everything.”
“My father has stalled them by sheer stubbornness and by pointing out that no one is trained to deal with dinosaurs while we have been handling these creatures for almost two decades now. Of course, they produced more of an uproar. Everyone finally agreed to leave things alone for the night and regroup in the morning.”
“That isn't surprising,” John said.
River walked to the other side of the building and peered down into a large crate. “I don't know what to do,” she muttered.
John peeked inside the crate and saw the baby protoceratops snuggled in a bed of straw. He smiled.
“Just keep doing what you do every day,” he advised. “Take care of the dinosaurs and let your dad sort out the legal mess. Maybe the scientist uncle of yours will come down and help explain everything.”
River nodded, watching her protoceratops sleep.
John gently touched her shoulder. “River, I think I know who told the world about your dinosaurs.”
Her eyes flashed, “Who?”
“You need to stay calm because it will make you angry.”
“Who was it?” She demanded.
“It was your brother.”