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 (4 page)

BOOK: Devil's Pass
5.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The room erupted in noise again.

“Could everybody please just stop!” Devine stood. “Please, I am reading a will. Decorum is needed. Out of respect for the deceased, you all need to follow his directions. Is that understood?”

“Sorry,” DJ said.

“Me too,” Steve said.

Devine began again. “Before I go on, I need to ask everybody to agree to respect the terms of his will—
the terms of his will.”

“Of course we agree,” DJ's mother said.

Everyone else nodded in agreement.

“Excellent,” the lawyer said. “Now I need to have everybody except for the six grandsons leave the room.”

“What?” one of the adults said.

“Did you say that the adults have to leave?” someone else asked.

“Yes. Everyone except the grandsons,” said Mr. Devine.



The jail cell smelled of vomit.

While Webb didn't want to get used to the smell, he was getting used to the changes in scenery. Three days earlier, he'd been in a lawyer's office in a high-rise in Toronto, trying not to look at his mother. The day after that, he'd been in Phoenix, Arizona, facing a dry heat that sucked all traces of sweat off his skin. Yesterday, in Yellowknife, he'd been grounded because of fog.

Naturally, it made him think of his grandpa and why Webb was here in Norman Wells. His grandpa had lived an entire lifetime of adventures.

He'd loved to tell Webb about his exploits. When they'd gotten together to arrange the guitar loan, Webb had been with his grandpa for an entire glorious afternoon, lost in those stories, no different than when he'd been a little boy, loving the sound of his grandpa's voice.

Then, without warning, his grandpa had held Webb's shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, “Life is difficult more often that it is not. To live means to face difficulties. It's what you learn from those difficulties that matters. And Webby, I want you to remember what a German philosopher named Friedrich Nietzsche once said: ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.'”

It had been a quiet, serious moment. Then, like he did so often, his grandpa had given Webb a big grin, to relieve the seriousness of the moment.

Still, Webb had wondered then and wondered since. Had his grandpa known what had turned him from an eleven-year-old boy who snuggled with his beagle every night into a seventeen-year-old who could turn away from his mother at a funeral?

That which does not kill us makes us stronger

Had his grandpa known about all the years Webb had been forced to choose between getting stronger or just giving up?

For Webb, it began at age eleven, with simple grains of rice. White rice. Dry. Scattered on the floor at the foot of Webb's bed.

He'd completed his homework at the kitchen table—figuring out square roots of fractions or some other stupid thing that would be no use to him later in life—and gone upstairs to get ready for bed, knowing that his beagle, Niblet, would be there to comfort him through the nightmares that had been constant since his dad had died. At home, Niblet was always beside him. Not one single day had Niblet not been waiting at the gate when Webb came home from school.

Webb had stopped, Niblet by his side, puzzled at the sight of the grains of rice on the gleaming hardwood.

As Webb tried to make sense of why rice would be on his floor, a strong hand pushed him into his room and he heard a
as the door was locked.

His stepfather—his new stepfather—had followed Webb inside and shut the door. It had been one year, three weeks and two days since Webb's dad had died from cancer. It had been only two days since the wedding ceremony that had put a new father in Webb's home.

“Sir?” Webb said.

Looking back, Webb knew that he should have realized something was wrong within an hour after the wedding ceremony, when Elliott Skinner, who had started a successful security business after his discharge from the army, had pulled Webb aside and warned him not to call him anything but “sir.”

Not Father. Not Dad. Not Mr. Skinner. But sir.

“You think you won, don't you?” Elliott said. He reached down and pulled Niblet into his arms.

Elliot Skinner was a medium-sized man, but his posture was perfect and his shoulders always square. It made him seem bigger. He was a handsome man, too, with teeth as perfect as his posture, and expensive suits that matched his smile. Perfection. It was an image everyone trusted.

There was a reason to trust it. Elliott Skinner had been on four tours of duty overseas.


“Tonight at dinner. When you convinced Charlotte to let you quit soccer and keep taking guitar lessons, you made her choose you over me.”

The last gift Webb's dad had given him was the Gibson guitar, a month before the cancer took him. Webb loved the guitar almost as much as he loved his beagle. He loved music too, and he loved the guitar because it had belonged to his dad.

Guitars and rock music, Elliott had explained to Charlotte, did not build character, but instead led to drug use and worse. Soccer taught discipline and teamwork and built a growing boy's body.

“Sir, I—” It bothered Webb that Elliott referred to his mother as Charlotte, not as “your mother.” It was as if Elliott wanted to break their bond.

“You will speak when I allow you to speak.” Elliott rubbed the top of Niblet's head as he spoke. It was a scary contrast—Elliott's open affection for the dog and his ice-cold voice. “Let me explain to you the difference between a battle and a war. A war consists of many smaller battles between two or more opposing forces. You can win a battle, but in the end, lose a war. By defying me in front of Charlotte, you declared war on me. She chose your side, which means you won the opening battle.”

“Sir, I—”

“I want you to change into your soccer uniform,” Elliott said. “You will kneel on the rice on bare knees for five minutes. Then you will have an understanding of what happens when you engage in war with me.”

While putting on his soccer uniform, Webb had not worried much about what it would mean to kneel on rice. But within ten seconds of placing his full body weight on the rice, the agony had brought tears to his eyes. And he stood up, rubbing his bare knees with his hands to ease the sting.

“You can't make me do this,” he told Elliott.

Elliott was still standing inside the locked bedroom, still holding Niblet.

“You can't make me do this,
,” Elliott corrected.

“I'm not listening to you,” Webb said, anger breaking through his usually peaceful exterior. “You're not my father.”

Elliott gave him a silky smile. “I wondered how long it would take you to get there. No, I'm not your father. And yes, I can make you do that.”

Elliott continued to stroke the top of Niblet's head. “I believe your father gave you this dog on the first day you went to school. Kindergarten, right? I've seen the photos in your family album.”

“Put him down,” Webb said, stepping toward Elliott. “You wouldn't hurt him, would you?”

“I didn't say that, did I?” Elliott responded. “Think carefully. This is a significant moment. You need to ask yourself how far I will go to win this war. And remember, I'm a soldier.”

Elliott set Niblet on the floor, and the dog raced to Webb, who scooped him up in his arms. Niblet licked his face.

“You'll listen to me?” Elliott asked.

Webb was only eleven, holding the dog he loved. His confusion was a horrible blackness that felt like sinking in mud. Elliott hadn't threatened Niblet directly. No one was crazy enough to hurt a dog, right? Even though he knew that Elliott's threat to hurt Niblet might only be in his imagination, Webb couldn't escape his fears. Webb felt like he hadn't done enough for his dad when he got sick. He still believed that somehow, someway, he could have made a difference, and somehow, someway, he could have helped his dad live longer. So if he hadn't done enough to save his dad, he'd do whatever it took to save Niblet, even against something that might only be an imaginary threat.

Elliott must have seen the confusion in Webb's face, because he gave a perfect smile with those perfect teeth.

“Five minutes on the rice,” Elliott said. “You will not say a word of this to Charlotte. And at breakfast tomorrow, you will tell Charlotte you changed your mind and you'd prefer soccer after all. After school, you're going to get a haircut. You look like a girl. Agreed?”

Webb was only eleven but old enough to understand how much his life had just changed.

Elliott must have seen that on Webb's face too, because he gave another perfect smile with those perfect teeth.

“I'm glad you understand me,” Elliott said. “Now kneel.”


Webb ran his tongue over the hole in his bottom lip where his tooth had been. It hurt. So did the gap in his gums. Even so, it was better than losing an upper tooth. That would be pretty obvious. This way, at least, people wouldn't see a gap, since his lower teeth were always hidden when he smiled.

It was difficult to guess the time without a watch or a cell phone or a window, especially since he was hearing a new guitar riff in his head. He'd been sitting on the bench, imagining his guitar was in his hands and feeling where he'd put his fingers to play the chords.

He even had the hook of a song to go with the riff. He'd been thinking about the playground just outside the walls of his prison cell. The brightly colored bars of the swing set and the teeter-totter were probably less than twenty steps away. So close, so far.

And that's where he was headed with the song's hook.

Take me close
Take me far
But the cages we choose for ourselves
Keep us from what really matters
And you matter most to me
So why are you so close and yet so far…

He was feeling it—the rise of a G chord—when the door opened. It was the cop, his face expressionless.

He pointed out the cell door, and the meaning was clear to Webb. Time to get out.

“I get to make a phone call?” Webb said.

“My advice? Call George to pick you up.”

“Right,” Webb said. “The guy who had my back at the airport.”

“He did,” the cop said. “Call him and let him explain.”

Webb walked out of the cell and saw Brent in the open area beyond the desk.

Brent was a head taller than the cop, and the extra height allowed Webb a clear view of his face. Or, more accurately, of the white gauze and the purple bruises.

Broken nose, for sure. But Webb didn't need a view of Brent's wrecked face to tell him that. He'd felt Brent's nose crack against his skull.

“I don't want to press charges,” Brent said to Webb. “I'm sorry for everything I did to you at the airport. This misunderstanding is entirely my fault.”

Brent spoke as if he'd memorized his little speech.

“See?” Webb said to the cop. “Someone should have believed me a lot earlier.”

“Yeah,” the cop said in a flat voice. He turned to Brent. “You're full of crap, and we both know it.”

“I fell and hit my nose on the baggage carousel,” Brent said. “All a misunderstanding.”

“Nothing like a good believable story to keep everyone happy,” the cop said.

“Yup,” Brent said. “Need me to sign a paper or am I good to go?”

“Stay away from this kid,” the cop said. “Understand?”

“Don't know what you're talking about,” Brent said. “All a misunderstanding.”

The station phone rang. When no one answered, the cell phone on the cop's belt rang. Like the call to the station had been forwarded.

The cop waved his hand, and Brent walked out of the station as the cop answered his phone.

The cop listened, then said, “Thanks for calling me back, George. You should get here right away. I can't hold the kid any longer.”

When he hung up, he walked to the other side of the office, where Webb's guitar case was leaning against the wall.

He picked it up and handed it to Webb.

“We're almost done here,” the cop said. “I'll get the rest of your stuff.”

“I'm not waiting for George,” Webb said. “Fact is, I'm going to look for another guide.”

“Nobody better than George. He tells me you want to hike the Canol. He's the guy for you.”

“The guy who pretended he didn't see a thing at the airport? What's he going to do if a grizzly shows up?”

The cop shook his head. “Brent—the guy whose nose you busted—has already spent four years in prison for aggravated assault. That's not the worst of it. At a work camp last summer, two guys disappeared. Got lost, nobody could find them. That's the official story. Unofficially? Brent had a grudge against both of them.”

“You're telling me Brent killed two people?”

“Nope. That would be slander. I am telling you if there was the slightest bit of proof that he was involved in how they disappeared, he'd be behind bars. He's psycho in the worst way possible—a way impossible to prove. George knows that just as much as anybody else in this town. We all breathe easier when Brent is gone.”

“How about what happened at the airport? That's not enough reason to put him in here?”

The cop let out a long breath. “Let's say, in theory, that Brent took the first swing at you. And let's say, in theory, that I put him in a cell instead of you. I'd have to let him make a phone call, because if I didn't, his lawyer would be all over me. And his lawyer's a real pain.”

“How do you know mine isn't?”

“Let me finish. I throw Brent in here and he'd be out in five hours. And there would only be one thing on his mind. Finding you. In a small town like this, that would take him less than an hour. Which means that six hours after throwing Brent in a cell, you'd be at the clinic. Or worse, flown out to the emergency unit at the hospital in Yellowknife. Or even worse, you wouldn't even be found. There's a lot of wilderness out there, and Brent knows it well enough to find a place to hide your body.” He paused for a second and looked Webb in the eye. “Much easier to keep you safe by not letting you out. You're a kid. Your parents aren't going to be upset once they hear that I was trying to protect you, which is why I was prepared to keep you from calling a lawyer. Brent's not stupid. He came in and did what he did so I'd have to let you out. Told me if I didn't, his lawyer would be calling. I didn't have much choice. Could you do me a favor and stay here the night anyway? I'll make sure you get a great meal.”

BOOK: Devil's Pass
5.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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