“Alex said he knew where we were going. He provided the turn-by-turn directions. There were very few signs. I became lost several turns before we ended up here.”
An unintelligible bellow came from the clearing. It startled me so much, that I took a step away from the vehicle. I was promptly met with a firm hand pushing me back against the SUV. “Easy. Your friend is okay. He needs to quit fighting,” said Johansen.
Lowry had taken a few of steps away from us and was speaking in low tones into the mic clipped to his uniform. Then he jogged back and took a questioning tone with me. “Contraband was found on your friend. You need to be honest with us. What are you really doing in the forest?”
“Contraband? As in drugs?” I asked.
“No, seeds presumably from the new trees. We’re going to search your vehicle for any that you may have already collected,” said Lowry.
“But we just got here. I don’t know the first thing about collecting seeds.” I must have startled Johansen. He put a firm hand against my chest and with the other clutched something on his belt. Reflexively, my hands went up to show I wasn’t a threat.
They demanded access to the interior of the SUV so I let them. Legal or not, I had no idea. I just didn’t want more trouble and I was worried about Alex. Where had he picked up some seeds?
Lowry rummaged through the glove compartment, under the seats, and the storage in the back. while Johansen watched over me. The result was reminiscent of my childhood bedroom with piles of toys the middle of the floor. Lowry was not pleased that Johansen hadn’t searched my pockets in the meantime. So, he proceeded to do so. When he found nothing, his face reddened and his mouth pulled into a firm line.
Against my better judgment, I let my words flow. “I’m worried about my friend’s mental state. He’s said weird things about the trees in this area of the forest. I thought if I could prove to him that he was wrong, he’d snap out of it. I didn’t know he was collecting seeds.”
“So, you had no idea your friend was a poacher?” asked Lowry. My confusion must have final registered with the man. “You do realize removing seeds from the restricted area is illegal, correct?”
“Uh, no. So, how are these greenhouses selling what they’ve dubbed as the ‘Miracle Trees?” I asked.
“They aren’t the same trees.” Johansen paused and then added, “They likely have no connection. Poachers have been trying profit off those so-called trees for the past five years. In the process, they are damaging the forest.”
Alex and the two other officers emerged from the woods and out onto the road. The three were covered in dirt, leaves, and sticks. All three looked fatigued from the struggle Alex must have put up. Lowry kept watch over me while Johansen jogged over to the group. I felt uncomfortable under the accusatory glare and grew more worried to be left alone with this man. At least I could still see the others.
Johansen started walking back while Alex was put into the back of a vehicle. I started to move, but Lowry put his hand out like he was going to restrain me. The vehicle containing Alex, Officer Olsen, and the other unnamed officer pulled away. Where were they taking him?
When Johansen returned, he said, “Okay, I told them about the mental health concern. Your friend is going to be admitted to the hospital for an evaluation. Then when he is cleared, he’s going to be taken to jail under the charge of poaching.
“You need to leave now, but we may be talking to you later about charges as an accessory.”
I started to protest, but instead asked, “Will you at least show me the way out of here?”
Lowry grunted, shook his head, and walked away.
“Do you know your way back from the main paved road?” asked Johansen. I nodded. “Follow us.” He started to turn away, but then added, “In the future, it might be wise for you to stay far away from the BWCA.” I nodded again.
Once we reached the main road, they parked their vehicle on the shoulder while I continued on. My hands were still shaking by the time I reached the highway. I could only think, what kind of trouble have I gotten myself into?