Authors: Sigmund Brouwer
Copyright Â© Sigmund Brouwer 2006
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Brouwer, Sigmund, 1959- Tiger threat / Sigmund Brouwer.
Issued also in print format.
I. Title. II. Series.
PS8553.R68467T53 2006Â Â Â jC813'.54Â Â Â C2006-903494-X
: The Russian mafia is after Ray's roommate.
First published in the United States, 2006
Library of Congress Control Number:
Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.
Cover design: Doug McCaffry
Cover photography: Fotosearch
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To Jordy Quinn
Ever seen a little kid stick his finger in his nose and dig around for a bit? Just thinking about it makes you squirm. But have you ever noticed that you can't look away, even when the kid pulls something out and stares at it like he's going to eat it. Worse, when he decides he's actually going to eat it and starts putting his finger toward his open mouth, everything inside you silently screams to look away. You can't though. You have to watch until it's over,
just like you can't look away from two cars about to hit at an intersection.
And ever had one of those dreams where you have to run to get away from something? A grizzly bear, maybe. A train coming down the tracks. Worse, a math teacher chasing you to give extra homework. It's the dream where you try to lift your feet, but powerful mud is sucking at them. No matter how hard you try to run, it feels like you are in a bubble where time has stopped. The danger outside your dream bubble heads toward you in terrible slow motion that lets you see every terrifying detail.
That's what it was like for me on a warm day in Medicine Hat, a couple of days after Christmas. I was standing beside my Jeep TJ, unable to turn my eyes from something about to happen in the backyard that was like two cars about to collide. Like being in a terrible dream, it seemed like I was in a bubble, too far away to stop what was about to happen to the Russian hockey player, but so close it seemed to unfold in slow motion.
I knew as I was watching who would get in trouble for it.
Me. Ray Hockaday. Center for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League, trying to make the NHL.
The Russian also played for the Tigers. It was my job to protect him. But all I did was stand there with one of his teeth in my jacket pocket.
Worse, what unfolded in front of me was only the beginning of the trouble that followed.
The tooth was in a Ziploc bag in my jean-jacket pocket because three hours earlier I'd taken La-Dee-Dah to the dentist.
La-Dee-Dah was tall, skinny. Dark-haired. His face was all angles. Black eyes. Didn't speak any English. Not only one of the best sixteen-year-old left wingers in the WHL, but
one of the best, period. Which is saying a lot, because he was competing against players as old as twenty. That, of course, was the reason he was in Canada, not Siberia or whatever part of Russia he grew up in.
His name, of course, wasn't really La-Dee-Dah, but Vladislav. Vladislav Malininich.
I had first met him two weeks earlier at my billet's house in Medicine Hat, a really big place on the South Saskatchewan River. Our coach had brought him over and told me that I was supposed to help Vladislav with just about everything, because this was the first time Vladislav had been out of Russia.
I had shaken his hand and had tried saying his first name.
, the kid had said in a voice that was surprisingly deep and slow for someone so skinny.
Me name vlah-dee-SLAHV.
Later I would learn that
is “no” in Russian. I would also learn that he hated it when people mispronounced his name. He was constantly correcting them by saying it the way he wanted it said, emphasizing the end of his name: vlah-dee-SLAHV. That's when the guys started calling him La-Dee-DAH.
He got mad for a while, but after a couple of games, he realized we called him that
because we liked him. That he was fitting in because we'd given him a special nickname that only guys on the team would use. And once he started laughing when we called him La-Dee-DAH, we also started calling him by his Russian nickname. Vlad.
See how it works with guys? Insults. They don't see another guy in the dressing room and tell him that it looks like he's losing weight or that he's got great hair or that the brown sweater is a good color for him because it brings out the brown in his eyes. That's how girls talk. No, when guys insult each other, it means we care. Girls need to figure that out.
I had taken Vlad to the dentist because he can't drive, has a terrible sense of direction, always gets bus routes mixed up and, when he's lost, can't speak English to ask for help.
And also because he has horrible teeth. Where Vlad grew up, dentists were the guys with pliers. Teeth didn't get fixed. Teeth got yanked.
The dentist was our team dentist. Dr. Dempster. Nice guy. Middle-aged. Marathon runner.
I had been sitting in the waiting room reading a
when I heard loud screaming.
Nyet! Nyet! Nyet!
Since that was about the only Russian word I knew, and I could guess who was saying it, it seemed like a good idea to find out what was happening. Especially when Dr. Dempster's assistant came running out for help.
I followed her back to the chair, where Vlad was pointing at the needle in Dr. Dempster's hand and still shouting
“Do you want me to translate?” I asked Dr. Dempster.
“I think I'm able to figure it out,” Dr. Dempster said. “I'll give him ivy instead. He's lucky we're one of the few places in town set up to do that.”
“Ivy?” I asked. “Like those creeping vines?”
“I. V.” He smiled. “Intravenous drip. It will knock him out and he won't feel a thing.
Think Vlad can understand that?”
“You'll still have to put a needle in his arm, right?” I said.
“Right,” Dr. Dempster said. “Any way you can convince him to let me do that? He needs a lot of work on those teeth.”
I turned to Vlad. I pretended my forefinger was a needle and pushed it into my arm. Then I put my hands together, lifted them to my head, leaned my ear against my hands and closed my eyes as if I was sleeping. He understood but shook his head.
“Hey, La-Dee-Dah,” I said. I then used two words that I had been teaching Vlad in English in the short time that I'd known him. “Trust me.”
Finally, Vlad nodded slowly.
“Glad that's settled,” Dr. Dempster said.
“There's just one thing, Ray. Vlad might be a little loopy when he gets out of it.”
“Loopy. It takes longer for some people to recover than others. So really watch him closely for a few hours after he gets out of the chair.”
Watch him closely.
That's the part I didn't remember until it was too late.
I had been billeting with the Moore family for two years. It was great. He was a banker and she was a kindergarten teacher. Their kids had grown up and left the house. So now they helped the Medicine Hat Tigers by giving players a place to stay during the season.
Not only were they nice, but they lived in a nice location. At night, with the window open, I heard the water of the South Saskatchewan River. Because they had large trees and there
was a nature preserve close by, I could also hear owls at night and sometimes coyotes.
Often I'd wake up in the morning and look out my window to see deer or rabbits on the lawn in the shadows of the trees. Once in a while I'd even see a fox. It was like living in the country, except in the city. The only thing that ever disturbed the peace and quiet was the dog that belonged to the Moores.
This was Pookie, a nasty Chihuahua. You know what Chihuahuas are like. Tiny but always trying to make up for it by yapping. Pookie liked to bite too, with sharp little teeth that drew blood on my ankles. But somewhere in his peanut-sized brain he knew that someone big like me would be ashamed to actually fight back, so all I ever did after he nipped me was sigh and look for a bandage.
On that warm winter day, I pulled up to my parking spot behind the fence at the Moores' backyard. It was nearly twilight, and the breeze was gentle.
I was glad to finally reach the Moores' house. Since leaving the dentist, Vlad had
been yodeling some crazy Russian tune. Seriously. He had even yodeled in the store where we stopped to buy milk and bread. He was yodeling as I shut the Jeep's motor off.
“Come on, La-dee-dah,” I said. “Enough with the singing.”
He gave me a loopy grin and yodeled more.
“Nyet,” I said. “Don't you know what that means? Nyet.”
“Yeah,” I said. I patted my jean-jacket pocket. It held a plastic Ziploc bag with one of Vlad's teeth, given to me by Dr. Dempster. “See if I give you your tooth. No money under your pillow for you tomorrow morning from the tooth fairy.”
It didn't seem like the time to try to explain the concept of the tooth fairy to him.
Vlad staggered through the gate into the backyard while I went to the back of the Jeep for the grocery bags. It was obvious the guy was still feeling good.
“Kitty! Kitty!” I heard him say in a happy voice. During the Christmas break, he'd been watching cartoons to learn English. “Kitty! Kitty!”
I looked up with a degree of hopefulness. A cat? In the Moores' yard? Pookie would be bolting out through the doggie door at any second to yap at me and Vlad. If I were lucky, the cat would be big enough to teach Pookie the lesson in manners that I wished I could.
I didn't see Pookie though.
Nor did I see a cat.
Instead I saw a skunk on the sidewalk at the Moores' back steps. It must have wandered in from the trees along the river.
“Kitty! Kitty!” Vlad said in the kind of voice that women use when they see babies. Vlad held his arms out to the skunk, weaving a little from side to side. “Kitty! Kitty!”
Only then did I remember Dr. Dempster's advice.
Vlad might be a little loopy...It takes longer for some people to recover than others. So really watch him closely for a few hours...
“Nyet!” I shouted at Vlad. “Nyet!”
He must have thought I was still talking about his yodeling, because he took a few more steps toward the skunk.
The skunk stamped its feet. This, I remembered from the Nature channel, was a warning.
“Nyet!” I shouted again. “Nyet!”
I should have dropped the milk and the bread and jumped over the fence and tackled Vlad before he could reach the skunk. But I was frozen there, like in a bad dream. Unable to look away. Unable to move.
“Nyet!” I tried, even louder.