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 (12 page)

BOOK: Devil's Pass
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Putting up tents in the rain with cold, soaked fingers was a pain. Webb didn't complain though. He saw no point in it. Besides, he'd faced worse when he was actually living on the streets, before he'd figured out how to make enough money to pay rent at a cheap boardinghouse.

Lighting a fire was easier than he expected.

George carried chemical fire-starter paste, and even though the twigs they collected for kindling were wet on the outside, they snapped with a satisfying noise that indicated they were dry on the inside.

Webb helped George build the fire, starting with the twigs and adding thicker and thicker pieces of wood until it was roaring.

That night, Webb didn't wander away to play his guitar. Once his hands were warm from the fire, and after eating some noodles, he slipped into his tent and strummed there.

He played without thinking, losing himself in the music as he always did. It was necessary to play. Because it kept away the thoughts of the pain that he'd inflicted on his mother.

It had been raining for twenty-four hours nonstop when the group came to a stream at the bottom of a narrow valley. Black silty water rushed through the gorge.

Webb heard a sound he couldn't recognize. An occasional deep cracking sound.

He asked George what it was.

“Rocks,” George answered, his face grim. “Tumbling through the water. A man falls in there, he doesn't stop rolling until he washes into a river a couple of hours downstream. And that river will be so full, it will have standing waves.”

George asked all of them to wait while he walked upstream along the stream, looking for higher ground. He returned about ten minutes later, wordlessly shook his head, and then walked downstream.

When he came back, he said, “There is a spot. But we'll have to rope our way across. I'll need the extra I asked you to carry in your guitar case.”

Webb grinned. “Yup. One thing that never hurts out here. Rope.”

George led them to a place where they could walk down an angled gravel bar to a spot that was only about six feet across the water from some trees on the other side.

George took out a bundle of rope from his backpack and knotted one end to the rope from Webb to double the length.

Mercifully, the rain had died down to a drizzle, and the air seemed to be getting warmer.

“First guy has it toughest,” George said. “Would be better if two went across together.”

Webb nodded. Neither of the Germans moved.

George pointed at Fritz. “You wanted adventure. Here it is.”

George put a hand on Webb's shoulder. “This will be a piece of cake.”

Webb nodded.

George tied the rope first around Webb's chest and then around Fritz's chest, leaving lots of slack between them. With the rest of the length of the rope in his hands, he went to a tree and wrapped the other end around the trunk.

“If you fall, Wilhelm and I will haul you back. When you get to the other side, wrap the rope around a tree trunk and we'll use it as a bridge to go across.”

The water was only knee deep but moving so fast that as Webb and Fritz stepped into it, it boiled up above their waists. They linked arms and braced themselves, facing upward against the water.

A rolling rock banged into Webb's shin. He grunted with pain.

“We can do this,” Webb shouted above the roaring of the water. “No turning back.”

Inch by inch, they fought the current, with Webb first, closest to the other side.

It became too deep to continue. The tree trunks were agonizingly close but still out of reach.

“Can't go farther,” Fritz shouted back. “Will fall.”

Webb had a vision of the two of them being swept downstream, and of the other two on the gravel bar, straining to hold on to the rope.

“Let go of me then,” Webb shouted. “I'm going to jump for it.”

“Guitar boy, you crazy?”

“No other choice.”

Webb eyed the tree that was his target. It was a little downstream. He figured that once he jumped, the water would sweep him toward it.

Without giving himself time to think about how scared he was, he pushed off and fell forward in an awkward dive, reaching out with his arms.

There!

He caught the tree trunk—barely, even as the water tried to sweep his lower body farther down the stream.

But the water wasn't going to win. It took only a second or two to pull himself out of the water and find the shore with his feet.

The rope was straining hard.

Fritz had lost his footing and was flopping around in the middle of the stream, his head barely above water.

“Give us some slack!” Webb shouted across to George.

George understood Webb's intentions. He reeled out some rope, and the momentum of the water swung Fritz toward Webb. He managed to get a hand on Fritz's jacket and clawed until he had a good grip, then pulled Fritz to safety.

Fritz grinned, his face spattered with the dark silt that the water carried. “Thanks. I owe you.”

“Yup,” Webb said. “I'd say ten dollars is about the right amount.”

TWENTY-FIVE

THEN

Jana Rundell backed the Lexus convertible out of the garage at 2911 Roy Rogers Road in Phoenix, with the top down and Webb in the passenger seat.

Jana was so close to his own mother in age, that it struck Webb that in a different life, one where he didn't have a stepfather who knew how to hurt people without leaving a mark, this could have been an ordinary day driving with his mother. But ordinary days had been taken away from Webb the day his mother married again, and there was nothing he could do about it, except block it out of his thoughts and feelings.

He forced himself not to think about what he'd left behind in Toronto, and concentrated on the desert scenery as they drove. The dull brown mountains shimmered in the heat. Palm fronds flashed above them as they moved down the boulevard and out of the oasis of the gated community.

They drove through the desert for a while on a long stretch of black asphalt, the occasional cactus looking like a lonely soldier, until they reached another community, where Jana used the
GPS
to navigate through an industrial area to a storage place that advertised air-conditioned units.

“I thought the number was an apartment,” Jana said, “but I guess it's not.”

Webb read from the piece of paper left for him by Jake Rundell. “Five-oh-three.”

Jana drove the Lexus up and down the narrow alleys between the storage units until she found it.

Webb stepped out of the car, conscious of the heat. Jana stayed behind the steering wheel.

Finally, the key in Webb's hand made sense. It fit the lock of storage unit 503. The lock opened, allowing him to slide a lever open. He lifted the storage unit door, and it rattled upward loudly.

Cool air wafted toward Webb from the dark interior. There was enough sunlight, however, to show something large and white at the end of the storage unit.

He blinked, and then it made sense. It was a portable movie screen.

“There's a light switch,” Jana said.

Because of the intensity of his curiosity, he hadn't realized she'd come into the unit.

“If this isn't my business,” she said, flipping on the light, “tell me, and I'll go back and sit in the car.”

Centered in front of them was a small table with a projector that faced the movie screen. There was a chair on each side.

“Two chairs,” Webb said. “If your grandfather set this up, he wasn't expecting just me.”

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

They moved inside.

On the table beside the projector was a large sealed envelope with a note paper-clipped to it:
Watch the movie first. Then open the envelope
.

Webb handed Jana the note.

“My grandfather's handwriting,” she said.

“They must have planned this together,” Webb told her. “Your grandfather and mine.”

“Why not just tell you?” she asked.

“I guess we're about to find out,” Webb said, pointing at the projector.

She laughed softly. “I wondered where it had gone. We made so much fun of it when Grandpa was alive.”

Webb didn't interrupt, because she was crying as she laughed.

“Grandpa Jake took tons and tons of home movies when my mom was little,” Jana said. “Home movies, not home video. That was in the sixties. Grandpa Jake showed me his movie camera once. He was so proud of it. A Kodak Brownie that shot eight-millimeter film. You had to use a key to wind it.”

She wiped her face. “Every Christmas, he'd set up the movie screen and this projector. Look at it.”

It had two huge film reels. A full one at the front and an empty take-up reel at the back.

“Half the time, the film would snap or it would get caught up in the teeth, and it would take him an hour to get it going again. He'd taken movies of the kids diving in the pool. He'd run it in reverse so that it looked like they were jumping backward out of the water and landing on the diving board. We never got tired of watching it and laughing about it.”

Webb thought of the video of his grandpa that he'd seen in Devine's law office. He doubted Jake Rundell had done the same, using instead technology that was more than half a century old.

“I'll pull the door back down most of the way,” Webb said. “That will make it dark enough to see what he wanted us to see.”

The door rattled again, and Webb left a small gap at the bottom, just enough so he'd be able to reach under and pull it open again when the movie was finished.

Jana hit the switch on the projector and the reels clattered into motion. As the opening image hit the screen, Webb turned off the light.

He made his way to the chair on the right side of the projector and sat to watch.

TWENTY-SIX

NOW

“Crap,” Webb said. And meant it. He pointed at the pile near his feet.

They were walking up the incline toward the summit of Devil's Pass, just beyond Mile 116. Walking was easy because the trail had plenty of gravel. It felt soft and springy because of all the rain that had fallen on the previous day. Here, unlike many parts of the Canol Trail, it was obvious there had once been a road.

The trail also had plenty of something else.

“Impressive,” George said, stopping to examine what Webb had pointed out. “I don't see any little bells in it, and it doesn't smell like pepper. Must mean the grizzly hasn't eaten any hikers lately.”

“Ha, ha,” Webb said.

George unstrapped his rifle. The
click
as he took it off safety sounded like the bang of a drum.

“What is this?” Fritz said, his voice more high-pitched than normal.

For the first time, Webb felt sympathy for the man. Webb was plenty scared himself. The only reason he hadn't said anything was because his throat was too tight.

It was obvious why George had unstrapped the rifle. The pile of grizzly dung was so wet that it gleamed in the sunlight, and flies were all over it. The rocks beside it had already dried from the rainfall, so that could only mean the dung was very, very fresh.

And very, very large. Webb doubted he could manage an output like that in an entire week.

“What is this?” Fritz repeated. He stepped backward, with Wilhelm clutching his arm.

George waved him into silence and pointed at the ground just a little farther ahead.

Webb's throat, if possible, became even tighter. There was a set of paw prints, where the weight of a heavy animal had pressed down into the soft gravel. The prints were deep enough to hold water. And the prints still held water.

Which meant that the heavy animal responsible for those prints—and the big pile of droppings—had been here very recently.

“Don't move,” George said.

Webb looked up the trail and saw it.

The grizzly.

George spoke in a low voice to Webb. “You ready to take the rifle?”

“What?” Webb whispered.

“You had plenty of practice the other day,” George said in a low voice. “Take this rifle, and if I tell you, shoot over the bear. If you need to, you can always give me back the rifle.”

That which does not kill us makes us stronger
.

Webb took the rifle. He could feel his heartbeat throbbing in the side of his neck. He sighted down the rifle at the grizzly.

It stared back.

It stood, waving its massive paws like it was swatting flies. It looked like it filled the road.

Webb kept his finger on the trigger but didn't pull. He had the sights of the rifle on a patch of white fur just below the bear's shoulders.

“Now,” George said. “Shoot over its head.”

Webb lifted the sights and pulled the trigger. The rifle thundered, and the bear almost fell backward, then bolted down the path, scattering gravel behind it.

Webb put the safety back on and handed the rifle to George.

BOOK: Devil's Pass
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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