Read Devil's Pass Online

Authors: Sigmund Brouwer

Tags: #General, #Performing Arts, #Family, #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #JUV031040, #Music, #JUV013000, #JUV028000

Devil's Pass (10 page)

BOOK: Devil's Pass
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Webb wasn't going to walk through it and disrespect it in any way whatsoever. He wasn't going to tell this land that his puny downloads were worth more of his attention. Out here, he understood why George had insisted that not a single thing be left behind on the trail.

That's why it was a shock to Webb when one of the Germans in front of him tossed an object into the bushes.

And kept walking.

Webb didn't.

He stepped into the shrubs at the side of the trail and found what the guy had tossed out.

It was a large flashlight full of D batteries that weighed about two pounds and was probably as bright as a car's headlight. He could understand why the guy didn't want to carry it, because two pounds was a lot of extra weight in a backpack that already weighed a lot. Plus, it never got dark this time of year, so they didn't need it anyway.

Webb grimaced at the thoughtlessness of the littering. There was plenty of room in his backpack, so he put the flashlight in his backpack and followed the others again.

TWENTY

THEN

On that hot day in Phoenix, the woman who had answered the door at 2911 Roy Rogers Road appeared to be about the same age as Webb's mother. Her brown hair was shoulder length. She had faint laugh lines around her eyes. And a puzzled look on her face. Chances were, Webb guessed, teenaged guys with long hair didn't knock on this door very often.

She glanced at the taxi that was driving away, then back at Webb. She remained standing in the doorway, an obvious clue that she wasn't prepared to invite him inside.

“I'd like to talk to Mr. Jake Rundell,” Webb said. “I have a note from him asking me to stop by. I was given the security code to get in here and told I didn't need to call ahead.”

It felt good to be in the shade of the house. In the short walk from the street up to the door, he'd begun panting in the heat.

The woman sagged a little, holding on to the frame of the doorway. She took a breath to steady herself, then spoke slowly. “His funeral was a couple of days ago.”

Webb felt himself sag too. Jake Rundell was dead?

If Jake Rundell was dead, now what? Nothing in his grandfather's letter could help him. “You're obviously not selling anything,” she said. “Otherwise I'd tell you that this community has strict rules against going door to door. But you came in a taxi.”

“Flew in from Toronto,” Webb said. “This morning. My grandfather sent me.”

“He's too old to travel himself?”

“His funeral was a little over a week ago,” Webb said. “At the reading of his will, he left me a note saying he owed Jake Rundell a favor and I was supposed to help.”

Webb pulled the small key out of his pocket. “I was given this too.”

The woman straightened, as if someone had given her a small electric shock.

“You're Jim Webb?” She stepped back. “Please, come inside. Shut the door behind you.”

Webb followed her to the living room. Tiled floors. Leather furniture. A huge sliding glass door at the back that showed the brown mountains in the background.

“I'm Jana Rundell,” she said, pointing to a chair for Webb to sit in. “The rest of the family has already flown back to their own homes. I've stayed behind to begin getting the house ready for sale.”

She moved to the kitchen, which was on the other side of the counter that divided it from the living room. She returned holding a handwritten note and an envelope.

“Here's what it says,” Jana told him, reading from the note. “‘When Jim Webb shows up with a key, hand him the envelope.'”

Webb took the envelope and opened it. All that was written on it was another address. He read it out loud and gave Jana a questioning look.

She shook her head. “Doesn't mean anything to me.”

“Your father didn't say anything else?” Webb asked.

“My father?”

“Jake.”

She laughed. “Jake had his eighty-eighth birthday a month ago. He was my grandfather.”

“David McLean was ninety-two,” Webb said. “He was my grandfather. My mom is about your age. I keep forgetting not everybody had children as late in life as my grandfather.”

“David McLean?” Jana said. “Hang on.”

She walked out of the open area into what was probably a bedroom. When she came back she handed Webb a black-and-white picture in a frame.

It showed four young men in air-force uniforms. Webb instantly recognized his own grandfather.

Jana leaned over Webb, pointing. “There's my grandfather, Jake. He talked a lot about David McLean. Said there was nobody like him, ever.”

“The other two?” Webb asked.

“Harlowe Gavin and Ray Daley. They look like brothers, don't they? Twins, almost. Grandpa Jake said that, in training camp, Harlowe would take a duty shift for Ray so that Ray could go into town and chase girls, and the commanding officers couldn't tell the difference.”

“Long time ago,” Webb said, seeing the life and vitality in the young men's faces. It made him sad all over again, knowing his grandpa was gone.

“World War Two,” Jana answered. “But I don't have to tell you that, do I?”

Neither spoke. The air-conditioning unit kicked in and a wave of cool air washed over Webb.

“So—”

“So—”

“You first,” Jana said.

“My grandfather sent me here to help Jake,” Webb said. “He didn't know that Jake was dying.” Webb paused. “Or maybe he did. I know he wanted me here as fast as possible.”

“Why?” Jana asked.

“I expected Jake Rundell to tell me,” Webb answered. He tossed the key into the air and caught it again, leaving his palm open. “But I guess since he knew the end was coming for him, he left me an address instead.”

Both of them stared at the key.

“If it helps,” Jana said, “I can drive you there.”

TWENTY-ONE

NOW

The Godlin Lakes were near the top of the mountains, right alongside the road. A floatplane was tied near a dock on the lake. As the group walked toward the water, Webb saw the wires that were strung from fenceposts surrounding some small cabins. After hiking through vistas straight from a wilderness slide show, finding this collection of shacks felt like stumbling upon civilization.

The two Germans were leading the group, and Fritz, the one who had thrown the flashlight into the bushes, reached the fence first.

“You might not want to do that,” George said as Fritz put his hand on the wire to push it down and step over it. Fritz fell backward with a scream, shouting something in German that Webb couldn't understand. It didn't sound good.

When Fritz got up, there was a dark stain at his crotch.

He screamed again, this time at George.

“What is this? What is this?” He pointed at the fence. “You tell me ahead of time, yes? Not wait until it bites me!”

“Bites you?” George asked.

“Shock! Shock! Yes, bites my hand.”

George said calmly, “It's why I said you might not want to do that. It's electric. Up there, attached to some batteries from a tractor. That would give anybody a big shock.”

“Electric?” Fritz was furious. He pointed at his crotch. “You make me wet my pants.”

“Not me,” George said. “It's important to listen to your guide out here. Got it?”

The German gave him a dark look but said nothing more.

“Why electric?” Webb asked.

“Bear fence,” George said. “Electricity keeps them on the outside. That's a good thing. Tonight we can set up our tents inside.”

The commotion had drawn a man from the cabins. He waved and grinned. Since barely two dozen hikers went down the Canol Trail in any summer, Webb guessed that not many visitors came up to the lakes.

“Let me disconnect the electricity,” the man called out. “Then you can join me in the big cabin.”

While he knew he'd have to join the group for dinner, Webb didn't want to socialize. He just wanted to have time alone to play guitar. At least, for now, he wouldn't have to worry about bears.

“Left here by the army,” said Chuck, the man who had waved them into the enclosure. He pointed at a big woodstove inside the main cabin. “Still works good, don't it? I'm a small outfitter. Would have cost me a fortune to get something like this up here.”

The fire was crackling, and heavy iron pans on top of the stove were filled with fresh-caught fish and the ptarmigan that Fritz had killed earlier. Some kind of bread was baking on the stove top.

Webb realized he had never been this hungry in his life, not even in the first two weeks after he left home and he'd been eating out of Dumpsters.

Even though his mouth was watering, he waited until George offered him a plateful of fish. Their eyes met.

“You could probably make a little money,” George said. “Right here, right now. Lighten your load. Sell some stuff to Chuck. You heard him say how expensive it is to bring things in. I'd bet a lot of your stuff is valuable.”

George winked.

Webb remembered how George had made such a big deal about carrying everything out. “You have eyes in the back of your head?” Webb asked.

“Yup,” George said.

George turned to Chuck. “See this skinny kid right here, stupid enough to carry a guitar on his pack?”

“Wasn't going to say anything about it,” Chuck answered. “But stupid is as stupid does.”

The two Germans were busy eating. And watching.

“Well,” George said, “this kid's backpack is getting heavy. He has a bunch of stuff he'd be willing to sell you dirt cheap, if you can use it.”

“That true?” Chuck asked.

“It is weighing me down,” Webb said. He went to the corner of the cabin where he'd set down his backpack. He brought it back and opened the top flap. He pulled out the heavy flashlight that the Germans had thrown out, and set it on the table.

“Could use that,” Chuck said. “And if you were idiot enough to bring it out here, I'll be idiot enough to give you a dollar for it.”

“It's a twenty-dollar item,” Webb said. “The price tag is still on it.”

Which was true. It came from The Northern, in Norman Wells.

“Either take my offer or carry it,” Chuck said. “Nobody worth anything just throws stuff on a trail out here.”

“Sold then,” Webb told him. “I don't want to carry it.”

Webb pulled out some cans of bear spray.

Chuck laughed. “Pepper spray? Didn't you see the sign on the wall?”

He pointed. The sign explained the difference between black bear droppings and grizzly bear droppings: grizzly bear droppings smelled like pepper. There was an official insignia on the poster, but Webb guessed—and hoped—the poster was meant as a joke.

Chuck continued. “Pepper spray is just going to irritate a grizzly. You don't want be around one when it's not irritated, and you really don't want to be responsible for irritating it. You'll notice George has a rifle. That's what it takes to stop a bear. Three times in the last month, I've had to shoot over a bear's head to get it away from the horses.”

Webb pulled out a mini-stove with a butane tank. He'd seen it at The Northern for over a hundred dollars. A solar shower bag was next—fill it with water, and the sun would heat it and you'd have a great outdoor shower. For about thirty bucks.

All of these, of course, Webb had picked up as the Germans dropped each item along the trail. Folding shovel, a set of walkie-talkies, a pair of bright yellow binoculars, and even a stainless-steel mirror.

“Twenty dollars for all of it,” Chuck said.

“Except the mirror,” Webb said. “I heard somewhere a mirror is better than flares for signaling an airplane if you get lost.”

“You're smart enough to know that yet dumb enough to carry all that extra gear? Twenty dollars, then, for all of it except the mirror.”

The Germans watched, their mouths gaping in surprise. Either because Webb had picked everything up behind them, or because Chuck was offering only twenty dollars.

“Any idea what you have to pay for this in a store?” Webb asked, hiding a smile.

“Any idea how much work it's going to be to take it back to the store, even if you still have your receipts?”

“Lots,” Webb said.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” Chuck said again. “I've changed my mind. I'll give you fifteen for all of it.”

“That is over three hundred dollars of stuff, yes?” Wilhelm squawked.

Webb noticed they didn't want to claim any of it. Maybe they were embarrassed by what they'd done, but Webb doubted it.

“Ten dollars,” Chuck said to Webb. “My final offer. Keep in mind, my garbage cans are full already and I have to fly everything out that won't burn.”

“Ten dollars then,” Webb said. “Good enough for me.”

He felt the Germans' eyes on him. He didn't care what they thought. It had been a pain to pick up after them all day. And this was way better than going to George and tattling about it.

BOOK: Devil's Pass
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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