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Rediscovering Lone Pine

~ Winner, Maryland Writers Association Novel Contest, Mainstream fiction

The story begins as follows:

Behind my house were twenty thousand acres of woods. This was my ocean of great trees and saplings, fast streams and small lakes, ancient stone walls and tiring hills. My friends and I knew worn paths and abandoned logging roads -- and every now and then, on blistering summer afternoons, we jumped from mound to clump, crossing marshy fields, picking cattail called punk.

We spent more time in the woods than anywhere else, yet there were places we never saw. Jason Talbot knew the woods better than we did. We relied on his advice regarding unseen hazards and undue risks. He was twelve, two years older than Hannah, Mickey, and me, and never lied to us. "You won’t see them at first, but they’re there," he once said. "Snakes -- so many snakes you can hardly stand without having one crawl up your dungarees. . . ."

We went to the woods to be hunters and soldiers, explorers and outlaws -- and when the snow was right, we flew on sleds past elm and oak, rock piles and brush, bouncing over field lumps that sprout tall grasses.


Early one winter morning, Jason Talbot invited me -- and just me -- to go on a hike into those woods. Before that day, before the expedition that changed everything, there was a race. . . .


When Jason does not emerge from the woods, a police investigation commences -- as does tension between Grant’s mother and the local police lieutenant, Wallace Huntington. In this scene, Lieutenant Huntington has come to the Harper’s home, determined to take Grant back into the woods and, hopefully, find Jason.

"Ma’am, this is a police investigation at this point as well as a search. A twelve-year old boy has been in the woods almost twenty-four hours. It’s nine degrees outside this morning. We’re going to do everything we can to find him and your son is the one who saw him last -- that makes him a material witness -- or a suspect.”"

I do not remember Lieutenant Huntington calling my mother "Ma’am" last night, but that does not seem to bother her. Calling me a suspect, however, is another matter. "What possible reason do you have to say such a thing? It’s time to leave, Lieutenant."

"Sorry," he says, "it’s not that simple. This is Hack’s boy." The Lieutenant stops. "I told you -- he’s a friend of mine."

"I would think you’d look for any child who was lost, Lieutenant," my mother says.

"Damn right, he says. "And I doubt this boy got lost. You may not like it but children can -- and do -- hurt other children . . . . I have a job to do. If Grant is not involved in any wrongdoing, he has nothing to worry about. All he has to do is cooperate -- and frankly, Ma’am, you are interfering."

My mother walks forward and is standing very close to Lieutenant Huntington. She speaks very slowly, using her quiet, angry voice. "He does not know where Jason is. Do you understand that? He is a ten-year-old boy, not a suspect."

"That’s for me to decide, Ma’am," he says. He looks up at the ceiling. "We’re getting nowhere. I need to speak with your husband, Ma’am," he says.

"I speak for my husband, Lieutenant. Grant stays here today."

"I’m going to use your phone." Lieutenant Huntington says. My mother is silent and Lieutenant Huntington goes to the corner of the kitchen. A moment later we all hear him say, clear as a bell: "Call the hospital and get hold of the kid’s father." My mother is next to Lieutenant Huntington in a split second.

"I told you, I speak for my husband."

"And I told you this is a criminal investigation." My mother turns her back to Lieutenant Huntington and walks across the kitchen. It seems unlikely she will be making coffee for Lieutenant Huntington any time soon.

A few minutes later the phone rings and Denise grabs it. "It’s Dad." She hands the receiver to my mother who listens briefly and then says, "Have you lost your mind? He’ll freeze out there. They don’t need him." She hangs up without saying goodbye. "I want him back before dark. I want him warm and well-cared for. I want someone with him every second -- someone with a radio." Lieutenant Huntington nods.

"Can Mickey and Hannah go with us?" I ask. "They know the woods and I called them earlier. . . .”"

"You can see them when you get back -- which I assume will be early this afternoon, well before sunset," my mother says. She turns to the Lieutenant. "He’s going to have breakfast before he leaves."

"He can eat down at the firehouse with the men," Lieutenant Huntington says.

"Donuts and coffee are not a decent breakfast for a ten-year-old boy." My mother pulls a skillet out from the drawer underneath the stove and takes a carton of eggs out of the refrigerator.

"I’m sorry, Ma’am, but we just don’t have time for this. A child’s life is at stake. I’m sure you understand that."

There is a crash as my mother drops the frying pan on the top of the stove. She spins around and faces Lieutenant Huntington and whispers, "God help you if anything happens to my son."

Comments on Rediscovering Lone Pine

"Andy Popper is the rare gem of the brilliant law professor who can also craft a compelling narrative. . . . Rediscovering Lone Pine [is] brilliant . . . stirring. . . ."

--Thomas C. Goldstein, Partner, Akin Gump, Special Lecturer, Stanford and Harvard Law Schools.

"Popper proves he belongs among that small group of . . . academics who can write a novel that has appeal to a broad audience. His prose is accessible and evocative; this is a book you will want to read from start to finish in one sitting. I can't wait to read his next work."
--Dean Carl Monk, Distinguished Professor of Law and Former Executive Director, Association of American Law Schools.