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 (13 page)

BOOK: Devil's Pass
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“Good job,” George said. “Feel stronger now?”

“That was more than difficult. What if I had frozen?”

“There would have been enough time for me to take the rifle from you. But I knew you could do it. Your grandfather told me you were strong. He asked me to look for a chance to let you prove it to yourself.”

In his tent, Webb couldn't sleep. He'd earned George's trust and didn't take it lightly.

George reminded Webb of his grandfather. A solid man. Unafraid of adventure. Or danger.

Webb missed his grandfather so badly that he wanted to wake George up and talk again, simply because it would feel like talking to his grandfather. Webb didn't hate that grampa had died. He remembered what his he had said in his final video message:
I don't want you to be too sad. I had a
good life.

Webb did hate that he'd had to keep secrets from his grandfather. Not minor secrets like all kids kept from their parents, but something as big as the fact that his stepfather beat him without leaving a mark and had threatened to hurt Webb's mom if he said anything about it.

Webb wondered if telling George about it would ease the burden. But what if George decided to tell Sylvain, and Sylvain reported it to the authorities in Toronto? Then the secret would truly be exposed, and Webb's mom would pay the price.

Besides, then George would learn why Webb had been kicked out of high school.

Thinking about that day, Webb remembered most clearly the ticking of the clock in the hallway at school.

It was 9:26. Fifteen minutes before the next bell would ring and kids would pour out of their classes.

Mid-September, and Webb was two days past his seventeenth birthday. He was taller than Elliott now. He didn't need a mirror to confirm it; he was looking over Elliott's crew-cut hair as Mrs. Gaukel, the principal, fumbled to unlock Webb's locker. Elliot had signed a permission form allowing the search.

It was just the three of them, and it was so quiet he could hear the principal's asthmatic breathing. The locker clicked open.

“Mr. Skinner,” she said. “I really don't believe what the anonymous letter said, so I apologize for this. Jim is one of our best students. All you need to do is look at him. You can tell he's going to follow in your footsteps.”

Webb understood what she was talking about. Webb's crew cut matched Elliott's for precision. His blue jeans were ironed, for crying out loud. All the friends he used to argue with about the Rolling Stones were no longer friends. Webb didn't have friends. Didn't want friends.

Two years as a junior cadet and Webb was iron-tough. He had height but no bulk. Muscle, and no fat. He ran four miles at an average pace of five minutes, thirty-two seconds. But no matter how tough cadets' training made him, he still wept silently whenever Elliott hurt him. Webb didn't dare let his mom hear him cry.

“I'm glad you called me here for this,” Elliott said.

“False accusations are a horrible thing.”

Webb saw the irony in that and had no doubt that Elliott intended it for him. Nobody knew the real Elliott. Except Webb. If Webb accused Elliott of abuse, if would just look like a false accusation. And then his mother would pay the price.

Principal Gaukel took Webb's backpack down from a hook inside the locker. She gave an apologetic shrug and unzipped the front pocket. Principal Gaukel tugged at the edge of a baggie that protruded from the open pocket. It could have been a sandwich bag, except it didn't hold a sandwich.

She gasped. “No.”

Elliott took the bag and opened it. The unmistakable smell of marijuana bloomed from the baggie.

“Apparently,” Elliott said in his silky voice, “the accusation wasn't false after all.”

He handed the baggie back to Principal Gaukel and said, “I think you and I should have a discussion in the office. But in the meantime, I'd like a few minutes alone with Jim here.”

“Certainly,” she said. She looked at Webb. “Jim, I'm disappointed.”

Principal Gaukel walked away.

The clock showed 9:28. In less than two minutes, Webb's life had shifted as drastically as if an earthquake had hit the school.

“Drugs,” Elliott said.

“Apparently,” Webb said, “the accusation wasn't false after all.”

Elliott shook his head. “You don't think I've heard about the martial-arts training you've taken at cadets? About all the hours and hours you've worked at it? The instructor tells me that you're one of the best he's seen.”

Webb kept his gaze on Elliott's eyes. Training was easy. All he had to do was think about the day that he would beat the crap out of Elliott. A day that got closer with every new move that Webb learned and practiced and conquered.

“You're wondering whether you can take me,” Elliott said. “Don't try. There are things you really don't want to learn. Things that make what you've already learned seem like a day at the spa. So maybe you shouldn't come home tonight. I'll tell Charlotte about this myself.”

“Maybe I'll tell her.”

“Maybe not. All along, I've told you I want her to be happy. You've just proven she is better off without you in her life. So you walk. And I win. The war is over. Don't talk to her. Unless you don't want her to be happy.”

For far too long, Webb had lived with the belief that someday Elliott might hurt his mother. Was it because Elliott's veiled threats were perfectly worded? Or was it because after losing his dad, Webb's guilt of not saving his dad and his hidden fear of another loss had never slipped away? Did his mother need protection? Or was the horrible blackness of confusion simply an enemy Webb could never conquer? Webb was too afraid to push for the answer.

He didn't go home. Or speak to his mother again. Not even at the funeral or the reading of the will. He'd lived on the streets for the next two weeks after getting caught with the bag in his locker—diving in Dumpsters for food, pushing past boarded-up windows to sleep in abandoned buildings, washing up in the bathroom at Tim Hortons. Things got a bit better when he got the guitar and the dishwashing job. He was always lonely, but he believed that by enduring this loneliness, he could keep his mother safe.

TWENTY-SEVEN

Sitting in his sleeping bag that night, Webb snapped a nylon string on his guitar as he was quietly strumming inside the tent. He hadn't been focused on any particular riff. Instead, he'd just been humming to the notes, thinking through what he had to do early in the morning to fulfill the quest that he'd been sent to accomplish.

The snapped guitar string didn't irritate him. He'd brought extra nylon and steel strings. He removed the broken string. But force of habit wouldn't let him discard it. Instead, he reached for his pants, which were folded neatly beside the bed. Sleeping in clothes inside a sleeping bag wasn't a good idea. Clothes were never completely dry and the dampness would chill him. Webb wound the length of nylon string into a circle and slipped it into the front pocket of his pants, then folded them again and set them nearby for when he woke up in the morning. Later, he'd burn the nylon in a campfire. He'd done that once already on this trip, feeding the nylon slowly into it like a snake, watching the flame burn the nylon like it was the wick of a candle.

He took another drink of water from the bottle beside him, knowing what it would do to him. Then he rested on his side, waiting to fall asleep.

Sure enough, he woke up a couple of hours earlier than usual. The water had worked as well as any alarm clock.

He slid out of his sleeping bag, wishing he could enjoy the warmth and go back to sleep. But he didn't know if there would be a better chance to do what he had to do, before everyone else woke up.

Inside the small tent, he fumbled as he pulled on his pants, then his boots. He slipped into his shirt and jacket, and he pushed outside and looked up at a pale blue sky, still amazed at the fact that it was not dark. No clouds either. The edge of the sun's brightness hung over the horizon, like it always did up here this early in the morning at this time of year.

He checked his watch: 4:00
AM
. Light enough to see where he was going. And early enough that everyone else was still snoring in their tents. He'd be back long before anyone woke up, so it was safe to leave his guitar and pack behind.

He tiptoed through the campsite and then sprinted around a corner in the trail, where he stopped to empty his bladder.

Then he headed toward Mile 112.

About fifty meters past Mile 112, there was a natural ravine, with rivulets in the mud from the rain that had fallen in the previous days.

Webb saw it and realized it was exactly what he needed.

He stepped into the mud and walked into the ravine. He looked back and saw with satisfaction that his boot prints were very obvious. He continued to the bottom of the ravine, and as the sides came closer together and the bushes grew denser, he deliberately snapped branches as he pushed his way forward.

He was leaving a clear path.

And for a simple reason.

At the fire the other morning, when George discussed the phone conversation he'd had with Webb's grandfather, George had mentioned that he knew Webb had been sent to find something. The phone conversation had taken place long before Webb had gone to the storage unit in Phoenix, long before Webb had read the letter from Jake Rundell.

Webb wasn't sure if his grandfather knew what Jake had requested, or if his grandfather had sent Webb to Jake simply because Jake needed help. Either way, Webb suspected that what he'd been sent to find was something that needed to stay secret. Since George knew that Webb had been sent to find something, and since there was so little time left before they were to be picked up by helicopter, George could guess that Webb was very close to completing his grandfather's task.

If what he'd been sent to find was something that should remain secret, Webb didn't want to take any chances. His real destination was Mile 112, and he'd be careful not to leave any tracks there when he left the Canol Trail there.

Here, however, it was going to look like he'd gone a long way into the bush, and it would be easy to follow his tracks.

Webb kept snapping branches and leaving heavy footprints where possible, until he reached a stream with a rocky bed. He crossed it and walked another twenty paces, then walked backward in his footprints to the stream.

He washed his boots thoroughly of mud, watching the silt leave trails in the clear water. When he was satisfied there was nothing left on the soles of his boots, he began hopping from rock to rock, going upstream for about fifty meters. Occasionally, he would look back and satisfy himself that he'd left no traces. Finally, he slipped away from the stream, and as carefully as possible, climbed back up to the trail about a hundred meters short of Mile 112. He followed his footprints to the mile marker and saw his earlier tracks continue toward the ravine.

From there, he cut south to follow the instructions in the letter from Jake Rundell.

TWENTY-EIGHT

It was eerie to Webb how well the instructions in Jake's letter matched the terrain.

Go directly south from Mile 112. It will take you
down a path toward a split rock, the height of a man. Stay left until you get to the stream. Walk upstream to
the first fork. Climb the cliff and look for a pile of rocks
at the edge overlooking the river below. The necklace is
beneath the rocks. Take the necklace to the address on
the piece of paper inside this envelope.

It took Webb five minutes to reach the base of the cliff. A few times along the way, he paused, fighting the sensation that he was being followed. He told himself he was paranoid because of how hard he'd worked to leave a false trail.

It took another ten minutes to navigate his way upward, following a twisting, turning path that looked like a game trail.

BOOK: Devil's Pass
5.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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