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 (5 page)

BOOK: Devil's Pass
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“No,” Webb said. He was done with letting people scare him.

“Then the next best thing is for you to let George take you for the night. He wanted you in here to make sure there was no hassle, because he doesn't need to spend the next five years wondering if Brent will stab him in the back some night. Too late for that now, so George is willing to take that risk to keep you safe.”

“Nice,” Webb said. “So if something happens to George someday, it's because of me. No thanks. Call George and tell him I'll see him tomorrow at the helicopter. I'll fight my own battles.”

“Not smart, kid.”

“I've dealt with worse,” Webb said.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger
.

The cop shrugged.

Webb pulled his guitar out of the case while the cop got some paperwork ready.

Webb could still hear the riff in his head and he wanted to try it on real strings. But the cop still had Webb's guitar picks.

Webb thought of something and rooted around in the back pocket of his jeans.

He hit the first few chords hard, and they sounded great.

The cop lifted his head and gave Webb a half smile. He didn't have to say it. Webb could tell he liked it.

Then the cop frowned. “That's not a guitar pick.”

“Nope,” Webb said. “You've got all of them.”

Webb hit the chords again. Riffed a little more.

Not bad, Webb thought, even though I had to use my tooth for a guitar pick.

EIGHT

The entire downtown of Norman Wells was within a block of the police station. Not much here, Webb thought. A couple of restaurants. Couple of hotels. He checked into one of them and left his guitar in the room when he went out to explore the town.

Webb knew that in a town of seven hundred, there was no point in expecting steel and glass skyscrapers and traffic lights and crowds thick enough to hide pickpockets. There was no shame in being small.

In comparison to what was around it though, Norman Wells was just as impressive as Toronto. Given the thousands and thousands and thousands of square kilometers of uninhabited wilderness, a collection of seven hundred people was a welcome metropolis.

Webb had watched the bush and trees and water pass beneath the Canadian North jet all the way from Yellowknife, and what struck him most was the complete lack of roads outside of Norman Wells.

When he pictured wilderness, there were usually roads in and out and around the bush and trees and water.

Not here.

You want out?

You fly.

Or travel up or down the Mackenzie River on a barge.

Or walk.

Winter, you want out?

You fly.

Or travel down winter roads cut through the bush or on the Mackenzie River on the ice highway north of Yellowknife.

Or walk.

Webb knew all of this from the websites he'd googled on his iPod, but it had a lot more impact up close. All that bush and water, filled with bears and moose and wolves.

Which made what was ahead of him seem even scarier.

One hundred and ten kilometers of walking.

The store—appropriately called The Northern—smelled weird.

Webb stepped inside and saw shelves packed with groceries and a bewildering variety of items, from
DVD
s to canned peaches to red long johns.

One section had all the stuff he needed to walk a hundred and ten kilometers through a bear-filled, wolf-infested, roadless wilderness.

Webb took a nylon backpack from the wall. Not the kind kids use for hauling stuff to and from school, but one with an aluminum frame that could carry a hundred pounds if needed.

A hundred pounds of rocks.

He took it to the front counter and pulled one of the bank cards out of his wallet.

The guy behind the counter had a leathery, wrinkled face; it looked as if he'd walked to the Yukon and back dozens of times.

Webb put the card on the counter. He had the bank cards to cover any and all expenses that he might face on the journey. Mr. Devine had said that he was allowed to keep whatever was left over after his trip, so the less he spent now, the better. Maybe he'd be able to pay off his guitar. Buy some decent clothes.

“Happy to hold the pack here while you get the rest of what you need,” the old man said, his voice sounding like the rumble of a train coming from the far side of a long tunnel. “You don't need to leave your card on the counter to reserve it or anything.”

Webb knew the guy could tell he wasn't a regular here. Of course, in a town of seven hundred, you'd know who lived here and who didn't.

“How much time you spend in the bush?” Webb asked.

“You mean over the last forty years?”

It was all Webb needed for an answer.

“All I want right now is the backpack,” Webb said. “I'll come back for the rest later.”

The man grunted and swiped the bank card. His machine spat out a slip of paper. Webb took it from him before the man could check the balance on the card. Webb didn't want anyone else knowing how much money he was carrying around, even if it wasn't cash.

“You have any idea what the rest is going to be?” the man behind the counter asked.

“Just what I've read about online,” Webb said. “My guess is you know much better than any website what it would take to last a week or two out there. Could you help me?”

The man looked hard at Webb, before extending his hand across the counter.

“Name's Joey Nicol. Glad to help.”

Webb shook his hand but didn't offer his own name. “I need supplies for two weeks of hiking,” he said. “Nothing more. I hate carrying more than I have to.”

When he'd lived on the street, the older men and women stole shopping carts to keep their stuff in. Not Webb. If you couldn't run carrying it, no sense owning it.

“Smart,” Joey said. “Not many people figure that out until they are on the trail. My advice? Don't get it unless you are going to use it every day. I had a couple of German tourists in here buying a bunch of stuff they might only use once or twice on the whole trip. Like a solar camp shower. Sounds good when you're in the store, but not after you've carried it for ten miles. I couldn't even talk them out of a heavy-duty flashlight, even though we've got twenty-four hours of daylight this time of year.”

Webb nodded, picked up the backpack and headed toward the door.

“Hey,” Joey said. “Watch out for Brent Melrose. I heard you broke his nose.”

Webb stopped, half turned and shrugged like he didn't know what Joey meant.

“Bulldozer mechanic. We all know what he's like. Spent five years in jail after busting up a guy in a bar fight.”

So this was life in a small town. Everyone knowing your business.

“Sure,” Webb said. “I'll watch out for him.”

“You don't sound worried. You should be. Someone said his girlfriend got back on the southbound jet and left town.”

Webb smiled. It felt good to hear that.

“Nothing funny about it,” Joey said, obviously not understanding Webb's smile. “You cost him his girlfriend and you busted his nose. He'll run you down like a dog if he can.”

“Okay, I'm worried now,” Webb said. But not too worried. He'd been beaten up before and had learned he could handle it.

Webb put his hand on the door, but Joey wasn't finished.

“Not one person in town's sorry to hear about what happened at the airport,” he said. “So thanks.”

NINE

The truck that began following Webb down Raven Street half an hour later did not belong to a bulldozer mechanic who had spent five years in jail for busting a guy up in a bar fight.

It belonged to the cop. Twenty meters behind Webb. Keeping his cop truck at a pace that matched Webb's.

Webb turned right on Mackenzie Drive.

So did the cop, twenty meters behind.

Webb passed the museum. This was his third time past it. It was on his to-do list, and after he was finished walking around with stones in his backpack, he would spend as much time there as he could before it closed. He'd seen online that it would have lots of information for what was ahead.

The cop stayed behind Webb. Driving at a walking pace. Pretty boring, but being a small-town cop must be like that.

The cop was messing with the next verse of Webb's jail song. He couldn't concentrate.

Webb stopped walking.

The cop stopped driving.

Webb walked back toward him.

The cop stayed put.

Webb reached the truck.

The cop had the window open on his side.

“How do you pronounce your name?” Webb asked, looking at the cop's nametag. “It seems like we're getting to know each other, and I want to stop thinking of you as ‘the cop.'”

“Sil-veh.”

“Not Sil-vann?” Webb asked. “Or Sil-vain. It's spelled S-Y-L-V-A-I-N.”

“The
n
is silent.”

“Sil-vah,” Webb said.

“Not vaah. Veh. Like ven, except like you are hinting that the
n
is there. Didn't you ever take French in school?”

Webb tried it again.

“Much better.” Sylvain grinned.

“Well,” Webb said, “I have a taxpayer's complaint. It's about the gas and time that the police force in this town is wasting. Where should I file that complaint?”

“Police station,” Sylvain said. “I think you know where it is.”

“Excellent,” Webb said. “How about you drive up there, and I'll meet you as soon as I can?”

“No. How about I just keep following you till you get there?”

“How about not?”

“Because as soon as I'm gone, you'll head the other way and disappear,” Sylvain said. “I need to stay close because when Brent Melrose finds you, it will get ugly. And he will find you. Only took ten minutes for someone to call the police station about a suspicious guy walking up and down carrying a big backpack.”

“Maybe I'll file a harassment charge against you then.”

“I don't think so. That would mean another trip to the station, and you don't like dealing with cops. Which is why you would disappear as soon as I drove away. If I did. Which I won't.”

“You don't know me that well,” Webb said. “We just met. I couldn't even pronounce your name right.”

“You can now. And I know you aren't a taxpayer. Buskers don't pay taxes.”

Webb glared at him.

Sylvain just smiled. “Living on the streets,” he said. “No home. Just a guitar and the money you make when people throw cash in your guitar case.” Another smile. “Your stepfather likes to talk. He said he had you followed for a while, just so he knew what you were doing. He runs a security firm, right?”

“Please,” Webb said, “call him Elliott. Hard not to puke when I'm reminded that he married my mother.” It wasn't the cop's business that he didn't live on the street anymore.

“Elliott likes to talk. Says you have a first name too. Jim. Where's your guitar, Jim?”

“Hotel.”

“Stay with George tonight. It will be better for you.”

“Not for George.”

“Then I guess I'll keep following you,” Sylvain continued. “Just so you know.”

“That changes things,” Webb said. “A lot. Can I jump in the back of your truck and catch a ride back to the Northern?”

Sylvain nodded and Webb jumped in.

When Sylvain slowed for the next corner—like Webb knew he would because Webb had walked this stretch three times already, Sylvain right behind him—Webb threw his backpack out, then jumped out after it. It took a lot of effort to hoist the backpack and run, but he made it into the trees and disappeared from sight before Sylvain could stop the truck and get back to the spot where Webb had bailed.

If Brent was looking for a fight, Webb thought, it would be better to deal with it now when he could see it coming.

TEN

THEN

In Toronto, in the lawyer's high-rise office, three days before Webb's arrival in Norman Wells, Mr. Devine addressed all six grandsons in the vacuum after all the adults had left the room.

“Well, gentlemen,” he said, “I'm assuming that nobody saw this coming.”

“Grandpa was always full of surprises,” Bunny said.

“So I guess because of that we're
not
that surprised,” Steve added.

“Interesting perspective,” the lawyer said. “The only way you would have been surprised is if he didn't do something to surprise you.”

“Pretty much,” Steve said.

“So if he'd done nothing, then you would have actually been surprised, which wouldn't have been a surprise. Sort of a Catch-22, don't you think?”

“Do you think, sir, that we could go on?” DJ said. “I believe we're all anxious to hear what you're going to tell us.”

Webb was happy to simply watch. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen, regardless of what he did or said.

BOOK: Devil's Pass
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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