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Authors: Philip Roy

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BOOK: Eco Warrior
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They were coming so quickly I didn’t see how we could run for it. Running through the woods at night was difficult, especially when it was hilly. How was it
they
were able to move so quickly? I couldn’t figure it out. And yet, they didn’t come directly to where we were. They circled us a few times. Were they just guessing? I was surprised at how much noise they were making. Suddenly it occurred to me that they weren’t police officers at all, because I heard Hollie make his little growl, and he only growled at animals.

I opened the zipper of the tent and poked my head outside. There, under the light of the moon, I watched a herd of shadows race through the trees, pounding the spongy earth as they went. I couldn’t see them clearly, but I knew now what they were. Kangaroos. Amazing. They were as fast as deer.

The next day, we started walking as soon as there was light. We continued east, judging by the sun, and walked where the trees were thickest. But it was unnerving. Several times we had to duck down when we were close to a trail or road, and a jeep came by. What I was really afraid of was that they would come looking for us with dogs. We’d never have a chance of escaping them then. But I wasn’t even certain they were looking for us.

We saw more kangaroos in the early morning, and again in the twilight. Once again, they reminded me of deer, because they seemed very gentle. They were nocturnal, too, as were wombats, which we also saw, shuffling along the ground like miniature tanks, and pushing everything out of their way. Hollie growled at them ever so quietly, but they completely ignored him. The wildlife of Australia was so different from the wildlife of Canada it was hard to believe. This was especially true with the birds. As twilight settled in a valley we were passing through, we heard what sounded like a chorus of insane circus clowns laughing their heads off. The sound echoed all around us as if it were coming from speakers on every tree. I was completely bewildered at first, but then remembered having heard the sound before on TV, and knew what it was: the kookaburra—a small bird with an unbelievably big call. It was hauntingly funny. In Canada, we had the mournful song of the loon, the cry of the coyote, and the howl of the wolf, but I doubted there was any sound in Canada that could match the crazy hysterical wailing of the kookaburra.

By the end of the second day, we had walked out of Walyunga National Park and into Avon National Park, and the Swan River had become the Avon River. Following the river like a shadow were train tracks, and I would have liked to walk on them, but they were too exposed to the air. So we stayed in the trees, but usually within sight of both the tracks and the river. The river was just a stream now, easy to step over, but also too exposed to travel on. It was a lot of work climbing up and down the hills, and by the time we crawled into the tent, we were exhausted. I slept without waking, and if kangaroos, or anything else, had come by, I never heard them. By the morning, just when I was starting to think that we were not being chased at all, we were discovered.

We had slept in. Walking for a few days in the heat of Australia took more out of us than I would have guessed. I didn’t wake when I normally would have, nor did Hollie, and Seaweed didn’t care if we were up or not. I had pitched the tent on top of a hill in a group of trees. You couldn’t see it from the road, or the river, or train tracks, but you could see it from the air. The sun must have been up for two or three hours when I heard the buzz of a small airplane in the distance.

“Hollie! Quick!” I jumped up, unzipped the front of the tent, and scooted Hollie out. Then I pulled down the poles, gathered the tent together as quickly as I could, and shoved it into the knapsack. But I think we were too late. To us, the plane looked far away, but I knew from experience that when you’re searching for something with binoculars, you’ll see it long before it will see you. Even so, I stood still against the trunk of the tree and held Hollie in my arms as the plane passed overhead. It made a few close passes before it went away. If there were jeeps in the area in communication with the plane, we were in trouble.

I just didn’t want to get caught. In a way, things weren’t as bad as they might have been because I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. And I could sort of prove it. The fact that we had been walking for a few days, and could find witnesses in stores to verify that; and the fact that the sub was still on the harbour floor, ought to convince the police that we had nothing to do with the sabotage. But I didn’t want them to hold me against my will and separate me from my crew. And I didn’t want to get Jewels into trouble. What if they made me take a lie-detector test, and I failed it?

But those weren’t the only reasons I didn’t want to get caught. Knowing that somebody was chasing me made me feverishly determined to get away. Maybe I was crazy, but I wanted to know that I could escape if I really had to. At sea, I always could. Maybe if I put my mind to it, I could here, too.

And so, I changed tactics. Instead of keeping to the woods, I went down to the river and started jogging downstream. We were heading back towards the city now, at least for a while. There were lots of large rocks in the river, especially where it was dry, and if the plane came back, I planned to hide in the shadow of one. I could also curl up in a ball in the stream itself, stay absolutely still and pretend to be a rock. Travelling through the river would also allow us to escape if they brought dogs out, because the dogs would lose our scent in the water.

For a while it seemed to work. I heard the plane two more times, but it was distant. Then, I heard a train coming. For a moment I got excited, because I thought maybe we could hop onto it, and catch a ride all the way back into the city. But the instant I saw it, I knew that was impossible. It was moving way too fast. It would have been suicide.

But the noise of the train was a disaster, because it lasted a long time, and prevented me from hearing the sound of two jeeps that were coming closer all the time. By the time I heard them they could see me.

They were on a hill a couple of hundred feet from the river. It was too late to hide in the river now. Instead, I jumped out, ran up the bank, through the trees, and down the hill. As I went over the crest of the hill, I heard their engines rev higher. The chase was on.

The road didn’t follow the river closely at that point, because of the hills, which was a big help to me. In my mind, I was preparing what I would say if they caught me. I’d pretend I didn’t know what they were talking about, and say that I was only running because they were chasing me, and that I didn’t know why they were.

At the bottom of the hill I stopped and listened for the jeeps. At first, I heard nothing. But then there was a distant whirring sound that could only have been their engines whining as they raced around the winding dirt road. Instead of running further down the hill, to where they would eventually catch up with me, I did the opposite; I ran back up to where we had been. It was kind of steep, and a lot of work for Hollie. When we reached the top, I lifted him up and put him in the tool bag. He was ready for a rest now but I was bursting with energy.

Back up the hill, I crossed the river and ran to the next rise. I wanted to cross the road and reach the highest point on the hill, and from there, decide which way to go. The road snaked around the hill in sharp turns that made it difficult to identify where sounds were coming from, and that led me to make a second mistake. I heard what I took to be the distant sound of jeeps’ engines way down the hill. Instead, it turned out to be the engine of a third jeep just around the corner. I scrambled across the road and tried to get into the bushes before it saw me, but was too late. As I jumped across the bank, the jeep skidded to a stop on the road, spraying dust and small rocks everywhere. I lay still where I landed, holding the tool bag in my arms, and trying to breathe quietly. I heard a door open and someone jump out. Shoot! I dropped my head. How I hated to get caught. Maybe I could still make a run for it by going up the hill. They’d have to chase me on foot, and maybe they wouldn’t catch me. Surely they wouldn’t shoot at me, or, if they did, they’d warn me first and I would stop. I got ready to bolt when I heard someone call my name. “Alfred!” He didn’t yell it though; he whispered it. I raised my head out of the bush. I saw a young man in shorts and t-shirt. He waved his arm frantically at me. “Hurry up, mate! Come with me. I’m Brian Bennett.”

I stared at him, trying to figure out what was going on. I had no idea who he was.

“I’m Jewels’ husband. Jump in! I’m going to get you out of here. Hurry up, mate, they’re coming for you!”

I jumped out of the bush and scrambled onto the road. He reached around and opened the back door. “Quick, jump in and hide under the seat! Pull that blanket over you!”

I did as I was told. I climbed in with Hollie, lay down on the floor of the jeep, squeezed under the seat as well as I could, and pulled the blanket over us. There wasn’t much room. He shut the door, spun around on the road, and went back the way he had come. It was a bumpy ride, but I was happy we were escaping. My only concern now was for Seaweed. What would he do when he couldn’t find us?

Chapter Eleven

“IT WASN’T JEWELS. I don’t know who it was, mate, but it wasn’t Jewels. She’d never do such a thing.”

Brian was speaking loudly over the noise of the engine, road, and wind through the open windows, and I had to yell back. It was an old jeep, and there was no air-conditioning. The engine whined and hissed up and down the hills in the dry heat. The road wasn’t so bumpy now, but every time he made a sharp turn, I had to grab the underbelly of the seat, and hold onto Hollie. I couldn’t see anything either, which made me very uncomfortable.

“You don’t sound Australian,” I said.

“Aye, that’d be ’cause I’m not.”

“Where are you from?”

“Ireland, my son. Didn’t she tell you that?”

“No. We didn’t talk that long, really.”

“Lots of Irish folk down here. You’re from Canada, are you?”

“Yes. Newfoundland.”

“Any good fishin’ there?”

“Yah, pretty good.”

“I’ll have to go an’ see it for myself then.” Brian turned the steering wheel sharply, and we left the road and went over a steep hill. He drove fast, as if we were in a cross-country race. I wondered if anyone could hear us shouting. “Have you found yourself in situations like this before, Alfred?”

“Not exactly like this. Usually it’s at sea.”

“That’s right, you’re travelling the world in a submarine. But where is it then? Where do you leave a submarine when you’re not using it?”

I realized I had to make a decision about whether I could really trust Brian or not. Probably I could, but I wasn’t certain.

“What is Jewels’ nickname?”

“My wife?” He laughed. “Aye, that’d be Brass-knuckles Bennett. You don’t trust me then. Can’t say I blame you. You’ve got good reasons to be suspicious.”

He could have known those things. “What was the name of the man I thought was her?” He could only know that if she told him, and I figured she would have told her husband that.

“Ahh…that’d be that Lovelace fellah. Richard…is that his name? Big fella with a soft voice. Doesn’t look anything like my wife.” He laughed again.

“Yah, that’s him. My sub’s sitting on the harbour floor.”

“On the bottom?”

“Yah.”

“Right there in the harbour?”

“Yup.”

“Right next to the navy?”

“Yup.”

He burst out laughing. “And they’re out looking for you all over kingdom come, and your submarine’s sitting right there under their noses.” He paused. “Why didn’t you just tell them it wasn’t you then?”

“Because I was afraid they’d find out about Jewels, and think she was the one who did it.”

“God love ya, you’re a loyal mate. Is that the way people are in Newfoundland then?”

“Pretty much.”

“Then I’ll have to go there for sure.”

We crested another hill, and Brian warned me to hold on tight because it might get rough on the way down. I didn’t see how it could get any rougher than it already was, but it did. Every time we hit a bump or a rock, it was like getting kicked by a horse. We went downhill for what seemed like forever, faster and faster, sometimes sliding sideways, and I struggled not to think that we were going to crash. It would have helped if I had been able to see.

Finally, we reached the bottom, and Brian skidded to a stop. I could smell dust in the air, and the burning of the engine. It was working a lot harder than was good for it. Brian shut it off and suddenly there was silence. He told me I could sit up now. When I crawled out from under the seat, my head was spinning. We were hidden in a cloud of dust and dark shade. I had to wave the dust away from my face with my hat because there was no wind. “Where are we?”

“Beneath a bridge. On the river.”

“Is there any water in the river?”

“No, none. Dry as a skeleton.”

“Why are we stopping?”

“We’d be listening for that airplane. I want to make sure it doesn’t see us drive up river. A few miles upstream from here and we’re clear, mate. We’ll just wait twenty minutes or so. That ought to do it.”

BOOK: Eco Warrior
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