Authors: Sandy Frances Duncan,George Szanto
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Mystery & Detective
Never Hug a Mugger
In memory of Marilyn Wood.
Derek Cooper drove his eighteen-year-old Mazda pickup onto the 10:00
ferry. This late in the day, only four cars were leaving Quadra Island. The ten-minute crossing to Campbell River was a first-rate moment to think about nothingâan in-between time. Well, ten minutes if there weren't any storm, fog, log booms or cruise ships passingâhowever long, still in-between time. Twenty hours since he'd thought about anything other than Cynthia. She'd been gorgeous in her yellow grad gown, auburn hair sparkling in the ballroom's throbbing lights. Even more stunning with the gown on the floor beside the bed in her parents' guest cabin. Hadn't been their first time, just their best time. Soon as they got to the room, first thing she'd said, they had toâ
No. Think about nothing. Clear the mind. Soon as the ferry docked he'd pull off the road and then he could think. Shape things to make sure there was no chance for anything to go wrong. This'd be his biggest deal ever and if it worked there'd be way more to come. His buddies had set up the connectionâ Damn! Thinking again.
Hard not to. He closed his eyes. Not thinking, just seeing pictures. Dancing slow, Cynthia's long hair along his neck, her cheek against his, holding her tight with both arms, around her shoulders and around her waist, could feel her ribs under the dress and skin, her leg between hisÂ .Â .Â .Â He floated on the image.
He'd be with her again tonight after the deal was done. She'd told him to park the truck at the end of Trask by the turnaround, usually a couple of cars left there by people going for a walk up the trail into the Beaver Lodge Lands, and his truck wouldn't stand out. Then head back to her place. If the cabin was dark, let himself in through the sliding door. If there's a problem, she'd said, she would leave the deck light on. But her parents weren't expected home for at least three days. At first she'd been pissed off at them for being gone for her grad, but with Gran so sick they'd had no choice. So it turned into the best kind of luck. They should use the cabin though, she'd decidedâmore like pretending it was their own house.
She liked it when he called her Cynthia. It was after all her name. But most people called her Cindy.
He felt the ferry slow. He opened his eyes. Nearly dark by the time he'd get there. Yeah.
The ferry slipped into its berth with a clang and a thud. Two workers tied the ferry fast. Ramp down, and Derek drove off. Low tide so the ramp met cars at a sharp angle, a problem for a low-slung sedan, but Derek's pickup rode high. He turned left at the traffic light, pulled over to the curb behind a parked car, and stopped the engine. He glanced at the box on the floor beside him: his passenger. Hide it? Too big.
Was he scared? Course not. You're not scared, Derek? Okay, a little. He said to himself, I'm doing it for Shane. Without support Shane couldn't compete. And Shane was damn good. Derek had admitted this for the first time, grudgingly, a couple of years ago. Years before, Derek had figured the three of them, him and Shane and Timmy, they'd become hockey stars, maybe all three brothers playing for the Canucks. But Shane went in a different direction, figure skating, who'd have thought? And, Derek realized, his own hockey skills weren't overly impressive. Timmy? Too early to tell. But Shane was world class. Or would be soon. As long as he kept getting the right coaching. So the deal was for Shane. The weed in the box was thick and rich. Worth $8,000. Half that to the supplier, $500 each to his buddies, the rest Derek's. Shane's. Eight weed deals a year, enough to supply Shane's skates, costumes, coaching expenses, travel. If Austin had to drop him, that'd cover it.
What if the buyers said it wasn't worth the eight? Then they don't get it. But Gast said these guys were in for the long haul, if the stuff was good they'd want more, and they'd pay right for it. His buddies had never had any complaints, and Derek had been supplying for nearly a year. Small-scale, sure, but they knew the value of what they got. It'd be okay.
Derek knew he was playing the iffy role here, the mule always did. The growers don't show themselves, specially not on an island that's nearly all forest like Quadra. But the guy who transports is out in the open, cops stop the truck for any reason it's all over. So his Mazda had everything working fine, lights, exhaust, even the windshield wipers, and he hadn't hotted it up like some of the dudes at the college. He was cool on all that.
He checked his watch. Twenty after ten. Couple more minutes, didn't want to get there with the stash before Gast and Joe arrived, his good buddiesâlet alone the buyers. In half an hour he'd be gone, cash in his pocket, on his way to Cynthia. His parents knew he'd be overnighting in Campbell River. He hadn't told them where. If they worried about him, they didn't say.
Derek started the pickup and pulled out into the traffic lane. At 5th Avenue he turned north. Then a left onto Dogwood, past the other high school, the one he hadn't gone to, and then just before the rink right on Evergreen Road. Straight on down, past the little kids' school,
Mer et Montagne
, French immersion place, Sea and Mountain.
Evergreen ended in a T. Ahead, a semi-open area. Immense cement blocks stopped any four-wheel vehicle entryâtake an excavator to lift them. To the right a narrow dirt roadânot even his Mazda could have got in there easily. A big white house on the corner. Part of the reason why Derek had suggested this placeâfriends of Cynthia's parents lived there, and they were away for three weeks. To the left an unused dirt road, overgrown. Across the road, blocking it, a locked yellow gate held a notice saying this used to give access to Twinned Holdings Pit. They'd do the deal around the curve a few meters beyond the gate.
No other cars yet. Damn, first here. He shut off the engine and looked over to the box, as if expecting it to have disappeared. He got out, locked, and walked around the gate up to the curve in the overgrown road. No one. Well, there shouldn't be. Not till Gast and Joe got there. Late twilight, nerves on high alert. A chill in the air. He slipped on his windbreaker.
Cynthia kept coming into his mind. He blocked her body's image as best he could. He checked his watch. He heard a car. 10:34. It drove toward him and pulled up beside his Mazda. Joe's Merc. Good. Gast got out the passenger side, Joe from behind the wheel, both wearing T-shirts and jeans. For a second Gast's shaven head looked unfamiliar, something threatening about it. And Joe's groomed shoulder-length hair seemed too thick, as if hiding something. But they grinned as they walked toward him and immediately everything was cool. “Hey, guys.”
Sound of a motor. Headlights. A dark Saturn Ion stopped half behind the Merc, half behind the Mazda. Accident, or statement? A tall light-haired man got out of the driver's side, a woman nearly as tall from the other. She waited for him and they approached the gated road together. She had short curled hair, wore a sweatshirt and light pants over a slight frame, and carried a large purse. The man wore a black T-shirt, jeans and construction boots. Joe introduced them: “Derek Cooper. David Soy and Christine Gagnon.” Nods, no hand shaking.
Soy said, “Nice night.”
“For making a deal,” said Derek.
“Right to it, eh?” This from Gagnon. “You got the stuff?”
“Yep. You got the money?”
She pointed to her purse. “Right here.”
Derek said, “Let's see it.”
“When we see the weed.”
“Get it, Derek,” Joe directed. “It's okay.”
Derek walked back to his Mazda, unlocked the passenger door and pulled out the box, closed the door without locking. Still that sense of some kind of presence. Stupidâof course a presence, four other presences. He returned to the group. Gast took the box from him and opened it. A large clear plastic bag, held closed by a twist-tie.
Gagnon said, “Open it.”
Gast untied it and pulled the plastic down. A flashlight shone from Gagnon's hand. She beamed it at the bag in the box. Two beautiful kilos of thick green marijuana, Quadra's finest. Gagnon nodded at Soy. He reached for a leaf, sniffed it, put it on his tongue, waited, closed his mouth, chewed. Nodded again.
Gagnon opened her purse and pulled out a thick manila envelope. She handed it to Joe. He opened it, took out four wads of bills. Gagnon said, “Fifties. Forty to a pack.”
Gast said, “Count 'em.”
Joe fanned each pack. “I trust Christine and David.”
Derek said, “Christine. Want to shine your light on the bills?” She did. He thumbed it through, one pack at a time. It took a couple of minutes. He nodded. “Okay.”
Gast handed Soy the box. He took it and glanced at Gagnon. She said, “Nice doing business with you gentlemen. See you around.” Back to their car and Gagnon opened the trunk. Soy placed the box inside, she closed the trunk. They got into the Saturn, backed up, turned, drove off.
Derek let out a long breath. Joe nodded. Gast grinned, “First of many, Derek.”
Derek took one hank of bills and counted out ten fifties for Gast, ten for Joe.
Gast said, “Want to go for a coupla brewskies?”
Derek returned the money to the envelope. “Thanks, guys, but I got a date.”
“Okay, man,” said Joe. “Two or three weeks, they'll be wanting more.”
“Got to give me time to get to my man.”
“Much as you need.” And to Gast, “Come on, I need a beer. See ya, Derek.”
“See you, guys.”
They got into the Merc and drove away. Derek realized he was shaking. Not fear now, but relief. He reached for his keys. His hand trembled. He was sweating. Shaking. Get rid of this tremor before driving. He shoved the keys into his pocket, the envelope in his armpit under the windbreaker, and walked back down the path. He spread his legs wide, and stretched. His mind burbled with the relief of a done deal. So he didn't hear anyone come up behind him, didn't sense anything till something hit him hard on the back of the head, saw only a man with a pink bear head swing at him again. Derek went to one knee, two, holding his head as the bat struck his hands, his back, his head, till he lost consciousness.
The phone rang. Noel Franklin looked around for it. Lost as usual. He followed the ring, found it on his bed. “Hello?”
“Hi, Noel. It's Jason.”
“Jase. Hello.” Noel's best friend in high school, but until their school reunion last spring, nearly twenty-five years since they'd seen each other. “Hey, how are you?”
“Actually, not great.”
“It's awful. I can barely handle it. And LindaâNoel, we need your help.”
“What's going on?”
“Our son. Derek.” Jason's voice was ragged. “He's in a coma. Beaten up. Badly.”
What would it feel like to have a son beaten and in a coma? What did it feel like to have a son? He couldn't remember which son Derek was. “The figure skater?”
“His older brother.”
“Jaseâthat's awful. When did it happen?”
“Three weeks ago. Hospital can't do anything, they say we have to wait.” Jason sounded close to tears.
“How'd it happen?”
“Nobody knows. A lady and her dog found him, police say they're still investigatingâ”
Noel heard a sob catch in Jason's throat. “They getting anywhere?”
“If so, they're not telling us. And I don't know anybody who could look into what happened. Exceptâmaybe you. Andâyour partner?”
Not a good time for a job. “You mean now?”
“Soon as you can. Linda and I'd sure appreciate it.”
Noel's next few days involved nailing down some documents for a case in Nanoose before his brother and sister-in-law arrived to visit their parents in Qualicum just up the coast. “It's complicated, Jase. My brother's coming in on the weekendâremember Seth?”