Chapter 4: The Arrangement
“You have an arrangement?” Kerri blurted as she slammed the door closed behind her.
“Let it go, Ker.”
“No, you don’t get to ‘Ker’ me this time. Tell me what’s going on.”
“I told you, we had a small budget. You wanted choppers—I had to find a way to pay the pilots. You wanted 24/7 on call emergency physicians—I had to pay for that, too. Do you have any idea what production costs are in the US? I was able to slash our overhead by filming on a reservation. This tribe is primitive, tucked away, pretty much invisible even to the US government. They don’t have access to modern healthcare, food supplies, technology—anything.”
“And so you exploited them for a cheap filming location? Jim, honestly! If they’re still primitive in this day and age it’s because they’ve worked really hard to stay that way!”
“—Regardless, the tribe’s leaders agreed to let me film there, all for the price of some medicine and supplies. We send contestants in, leaving as little footprint as possible, and the tribe allows for their presence with no interference. At the end of the competition, we chopper in a year’s worth of non-perishable food and first-aid.”
Kerri made a sharp gesture to the filming station in the other room. “Clearly that’s not the case. What was that man saying? Not all of them had been told? Wasn’t he just out there trying to run off one of our contestants?”
“Like I said, it’s been handled.”
Kerri could tell Jim was getting defensive because the rims of his ears were turning red, but she didn’t care. She was livid. “Handled? You mean you’re holding food and aid over these people’s heads and asking them to comply with something they’re clearly not comfortable with.”
“Yeah, well, what’s done is done. If we pull the plug now, that’s 1.5 million dollars down the drain. Are you willing to waste that? Willing to throw your dream of having your own nature documentary in the crapper?”
Kerri jammed one fist against her hip as she threw him a level look. “I have a double PhD in biology and anthropology. Film was a side interest, a hobby, an elective to get me to graduation. You think I can’t survive without this series?”
“Regardless, the show is happening with or without you at this point.” Then at Kerri’s bunching jaw, he relented with a sigh. “…But, I would much rather have you with us.”
Kerri took a deep, long breath. “Tell me everything.”
Jim just shrugged. “That was about it. I got the idea early on to ask on the reservations, and that’s how I heard about these guys.” He made an illustrative motion out toward the other room. “They’re some unknown blend of the Salish groups that inhabited the northernmost Rockies. The other tribes always gave them a wide berth, apparently, because of their purported history of guarding sacred grounds. They seemed amenable enough when I made them the offer, though. As long as I didn’t disclose their location publicly.”
Kerri folded her arms across her chest. “Sacred grounds? Is that what you were talking about with ‘ghost stories’ and ‘native legends’?”
Jim nodded, leaning back against the edge of his desk. “There’s supposedly a sacred cave or something somewhere in the middle of their reservation. They take it as their ‘tribal duty’, or whatever, to guard it.”
“And they were willing to forsake this ‘tribal duty’ for the price of some Band-Aids and bagged chips?”
Jim bit at the inside of his mouth. “They’re not doing that well,” he admitted. “The flu or something made it up to them the past two years, and the fish and game aren’t what they used to be. They needed the help, so don’t think I just bribed them with it.”
Kerri furrowed her brows at this news. After a moment of silent battling inside her head, she said, “Fine. I’ll stay. But only if you pay them what they’re owed, now.”
Jim dropped his head and let out a breath. Then, he nodded. “Deal.”
“And good stuff, too. No Debbie Cakes or Slim Jims. Montana has a whole slew of meat processors. You give them dried meats, home-preserved foods, dried grains and rice—nothing that’s going to send them into a diabetic coma. And send someone to give them flu vaccines if they want it. I don’t think you realize how much these people opened up to you if they let you do this—” she swept her arm around to the warehouse at large, “—on their sacred land. You owe them.”
Jim grimaced and rolled his head back, as if calculating the extra cost.
“Those are my terms, Jim.”
Finally, he let his head drop down. “Fine. I’ll figure it out and have it delivered as soon as I can.”
“Good,” she answered. “And you’re sure the contestants are safe?”
He nodded. “I have it in writing. No one from the tribe will set foot into a contestant’s camp and no contestant will set foot in the tribe’s village. I had to remind our friend out there of our arrangement, but he agreed to abide by it.”
“Was it the intrusion that bothered him?” Kerri asked, a sympathetic wrinkle coming to her brow.
Jim shook his head. “No, actually. He was worried about Darren.”
Kerri looked up. “What?”
Jim nodded. “He said the ‘spirits’, or something, wouldn’t allow for his presence for long, and that Darren was in danger from the mountain if he stayed.”
“From the mountain?” Kerri echoed, frown deepening, but Jim waved away her concern.
“I heard it all from the people on the res. Bunch of ghost stories and legends about monsters. Not even they took it too seriously.”
Slowly, Kerri nodded. “Right… Well, at least now we know now what scared off the other two. Or, who, rather.”
Lifting his brows in agreement, Jim twisted to face his screen. “Still want to wait on the trail cam upload?”
“No need,” she answered. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry right now. Trail cam footage can wait till the cutting room.” Then she took a deep breath, rubbing both hands over her face. “Ugh, why do things have to be so complicated?”
“Because it’s a full moon tonight?” Jim replied with a short laugh.
Kerri gave him a humorless grunt in return. “Nice try. Full moon was last night.”