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 (8 page)

BOOK: Devil's Pass
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“Hold your right leg straight out in front of you and keep it there.”

Webb waited like that as Elliott walked to the kitchen and then returned with a broom. Elliott snapped the broom handle in half and gently slapped the rounded side of the broken piece against the sole of Webb's foot. It was a gentle slap, but Webb still felt it like a sharp and unexpected electrical current.

Elliott spoke in his silky voice, the voice that Webb only heard him use when the two of them were alone. “Amazing, isn't it, how sensitive nerve endings are in the skin of your sole. Won't leave a mark. I expect not to have to do it again. Am I understood? I'm trying to teach you to be a man, and I hope we are past physical punishment.”

Webb nodded.

“I want to hear you say it.”

“You are understood.”

“Not enough.”

“You are understood, sir.”

“Good,” Elliott said. “I've learned that you've been taking guitar lessons even though I expressly forbade it. Tomorrow, I will watch as you smash your guitar in the garage with a hammer. I want you to think about this all night and all through school tomorrow. As you think about it, remember you will never defy me again.”

“My dad gave me the guitar.” Webb hated that he began crying. “It's all that he left me. Leave the guitar. I'll do anything.”

“Tomorrow, I will watch you smash the guitar at my command. And then you sign up for cadets and begin military training. Agreed?”

Webb realized he wasn't afraid of Elliott hurting the soles of his feet. Webb had learned he could deal with pain, and Elliott had just said they were past anything physical. He was terrified, though, of losing what he loved. His dad had been taken unexpectedly and unfairly. Niblet was gone. That left only his mom.

Webb had to protect her at all costs. “Yes, sir,” Webb said through his tears. “Agreed.”

But in the end, hadn't he hurt his mother far more by leaving home a few years later without a word of explanation?

In the hotel room, guitar across his lap, Webb realized he wasn't feeling nervous. Dealing with Brent earlier in the day had brought back way too many memories about dealing with his stepfather.

He'd abandoned his mother because he believed he needed to protect her.

He knew of only one way to deal with that kind of pain.

Softly, so it wouldn't disturb anyone in the rooms on either side, he strummed the guitar and lost himself in a song he'd written a few months earlier called “Monsters.” He sang the first verse under his breath.

Under the bed
What's in my head
That I can't see
You walk the halls
I hear your steps
You haunt my dreams

FIFTEEN

THEN

Two days before his arrival in Norman Wells, Webb had leaned forward in the backseat of a Phoenix taxicab to catch the view through the windshield as a large double-sided gate swung open to reveal palm trees growing in a divider down the center of a wide boulevard. The security code he'd been given worked; so far, at least, the plan was on track, even though he didn't know what the plan was.

It was five in the afternoon. Webb should have been tired. He'd begun the day at 3:00
AM
, catching a subway from downtown Toronto to the end of the line, then a bus to Toronto's Pearson Airport for a Toronto-Chicago flight that left at 8:32
AM
. It took an hour to get through customs at the airport—an hour of worrying whether he would get through customs. Grandpa's lawyer had suggested he clean himself up a bit before he crossed the border. Webb had done the best he could.

He'd probably checked his passport a hundred times as he shuffled forward in the line. It was a new passport—at least new to Webb. The date of issue was three years earlier. Someone had applied for the passport on his behalf, before Webb had been old enough to do it for himself. And it meant that after the passport had arrived, that same someone had held on to it.

Had his mother applied for it? Or his grandpa?

He couldn't ask his mother; they hadn't spoken in months.

And, of course, he couldn't ask his grandpa. The passport had been in the envelope given to him at the reading of his grandpa's will. Along with the small key, some prepaid bank cards and a letter to Webb from his grandpa, which didn't have much information and nothing at all about the passport. Not much to go on for a trip to the desert.

When he'd reached the front of the line, a middle-aged US Customs and Immigration guy had given Webb's passport a bored look and asked about the purpose of Webb's visit to the States.

“To deliver something for my grandfather,” Webb had answered honestly.

“What?”

Webb showed him the key. The customs guy had cocked his head, puzzled.

“I don't know why,” Webb answered before the question could be asked. “Before he died, he arranged for his lawyer to pay for my ticket and give me an address in Phoenix so I could deliver the key.”

“Return airfare?”

Webb had nodded.

The guy looked hard at Webb, who was wearing a ball cap, trying to look like an upstanding young man.

“You ever had a drug conviction?”

“No, sir,” Webb said. It didn't seem like the time and place to explain that he'd been kicked out of high school for drug possession. But, truthfully, there had been no charges, no conviction.

“I could hassle you,” the guy said, tapping Webb's passport, “but what matters most is that you have a return ticket. And I think if you were making up a story, it would be a better one than that. If it was important to a dying man, then I'm not going to stop you.”

The guy had given Webb's face a final look, then stamped the passport.

After that, there had been an hour's wait for the flight to Chicago, then a delay of another hour, then the flight, then two hours in Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and finally the flight from Chicago to Phoenix. Anyone who thought travel was exciting would have been cured of the illusion by the end of that trip.

Webb had spent most of his time on the plane listening to old rock music on his iPod, imagining where he'd place his fingers for each new chord.

He hadn't reread the letter from his grandpa. Not even once. He didn't need to have it in front of him at all; he'd memorized every word when he first opened it in a café near the lawyer's office.

Webby, I owe an old friend a favor. You'll find his name and address on the back of this letter. Ticket and passport and bank cards will get you there. Whatever you do for him is no different than helping me. I appreciate it. Here's what you need to learn: buried secrets cause pain.

At the lawyer's office, Webb had wondered what Grandpa had written to his cousins.

That was their business though. This was his. When he read the letter, he'd noted the date and time on the ticket, and realized the flight left the next morning; Devine must have arranged the flight sometime between the funeral and the reading of the will. Webb didn't consider for a moment not getting on the airplane.
Whatever you do for him is
no different than helping me.

It was simple; Webb would have done anything to help his grandpa. If he needed to leave on short notice with unclear instructions, would he do it? Yes. The old man had been special.

That meant he'd do the same for Jake Rundell, who lived in a gated community in the northwest part of greater Phoenix, nearly an hour's drive from the airport.

The taxi had taken Webb through the gates and down the boulevard lined with palm trees.

On one side of the boulevard was a sidewalk. On the other side, a fast-flowing creek with ducks.

In the desert?

Outside his air-conditioned cab, it had been 110 degrees.

Ducks, in the desert?

It hadn't taken Webb long to figure it out. Gated community. Expensive houses. It was like an oasis. An artificial oasis made by piles of money. He glimpsed a golf course beyond the houses.

Whoever he was, Mr. Jake Rundell of 2911 Roy Rogers Road, this friend of his grandpa's, was definitely rich.

And, as it turned out, definitely dead.

PART

TWO

In light of the rising frequency of human/grizzly bear conflicts, the Northwest Territories Department of Fish and Game is advising tourists, hikers and fish-ermen to take extra precautions and keep alert for bears while traveling this summer.

We advise that people wear noisy little bells on their clothing so as not to startle bears. We also advise everyone to carry pepper spray with them in case of an encounter with a grizzly.

It is also a good idea to watch out for fresh signs of bear activity. Outdoorsmen should recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear dung.

Black bear dung is smaller and contains lots of berries and squirrel fur.

Grizzly bear dung has little bells in it and smells like pepper.

(Joke circulating on the Internet)

SIXTEEN

NOW

The helicopter was parked a couple of hundred meters away from the Norman Wells airport building and was far larger than the pretty bubble-topped traffic 'copters Webb was used to seeing in Toronto. Webb always thought traffic 'copters were like smug CEOs in expensive suits, telling their employees what to do but never getting their hands dirty themselves.

This chopper was battered and big and ugly and old. Dull green paint showed through in places where the blue paint had worn off. Maybe it had once been an army chopper, taking soldiers in and out of war zones. Much more honorable than hovering far above the fray and daintily sending in radio reports. Webb didn't know much about choppers but guessed this one could have held at least twenty soldiers.

Today it would be carrying a far lighter load. Five by Webb's count.

The pilot was a little man with a big mustache, wearing a jacket with the name of the aviation company across the back. He'd just stepped into the chopper and started the engine.

Besides the pilot and George, there were two middle-aged men, both with strawberry-blond hair and mustaches. Twins. They also had huge matching backpacks with large flags sewn onto them. They were wearing their backpacks instead of resting them on the ground. Stupid, Webb thought. Those backpacks must weigh a ton. Why not rest while you could?

With the rotor of the chopper beginning to turn and pick up speed, Webb pretended he was holding up his iPod to read something as he snapped a photo of the backpacks.

He was close enough to the airport to be connected to the terminal's Wi-Fi, so he googled the flag, and in less than thirty seconds he learned the flag was German.

It would be great, he thought, if they couldn't speak English. That would be two fewer people he'd have to talk to during the hike.

The sixth person on the tarmac was standing a couple of meters away from the Germans. It was Sylvain, the Norman Wells cop.

He caught Webb glancing at him and walked over.

“Just wanted to be sure you made it,” Sylvain said. “Things move quickly in a small-town police unit, and I had to let Brent out a half hour ago. Turns out you can't lock someone up for assaulting his own truck, and I didn't get there early enough to see him attack you. The boys there all swear nothing else happened, so it's your word against theirs.”

Sylvain pointed at the helicopter. “But I can relax now, knowing you're going to be out of his reach. By the time you get back to Norman Wells, Brent should be out at a work camp, so unless he decides to track you down in Toronto someday, it looks like you're out of harm's way.”

Webb nodded a thank-you and followed the Germans onto the chopper to begin the next stage of his trip.

SEVENTEEN

The sun was behind them as the chopper lifted. The roar was muted, because Webb, like the others in the chopper, was wearing a headset that let him communicate with George.

Within seconds the small town was below them, just a collection of buildings that looked like driftwood that the mighty Mackenzie had spewed onto its banks.

And then they were above the river, passing the man-made islands in the center that held the oil wells that defined Norman Wells.

The chopper headed south and west, crossing the brown muddy waters of the wide Mackenzie. By this point, the river had already gathered the forces of a dozen other rivers, each of them roiling with sediment carried down from distant mountains.

Webb didn't expect the chopper to land for a while, so he was surprised when it dipped just after crossing the river and hovered above a clearing in the woods.

George's voice came over Webb's headset. “None of you have walked the beginning stages of the Canol Trail, but I understand some of you will be returning to make sure you hike every step.”

The two German tourists gave each other high fives, which told Webb that they understood English. That meant he'd have to be rude to ignore them. Which was fine with Webb.

BOOK: Devil's Pass
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