The Adventure Begins

I’m not a big fan of cars, any cars. Car and motorcycle fandom can become a lifestyle, a kind of addiction. I’m already addicted to coffee, and maybe alcohol. That prognosis, however, would depend on the eggheads who penned the latest guidelines echoing how the people that paid them feel I should live my life. Nine hours in a car is nine hours I could have been doing anything else except sleeping. I don’t sleep. Honest clarification would include me admitting that I can’t sleep, unless I drink. Red wine, therefore, is medicinal.

Logic tells us that if you are afraid to cross the world’s tallest and most rickety bridge, you would want to get it done quickly. White-knuckle panic on the other hand, dictates that safely advancing with extremely limited tunnel vision at a break-neck eighteen miles per hour is in fact the proper crossing procedure. A chorus of car horns played harmonic surrogate to the radio that I couldn’t twist any more ‘off’ without breaking the knob. The concrete rainbow peering over the edge of this vast, great lake was my gateway to the north, a landmark that screamed from the heavens that I was finally getting somewhere, but the toll would cost me a piece of my sanity.

Buildings of any kind were becoming fewer and farther between as I trickled north. The road thinned-out and wound without mercy through a rocky forest. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without dropping it into a lake. That would have been my office cat. After nine hours on the road I needed two things, a bathroom and a drink. Luckily both were available at a bar called The Cabin, the place where I was scheduled to meet up with my wilderness guide extraordinaire, Ross Parent. I was told I couldn’t miss it, and if I did, just ask anybody because everybody knows where it is. Apparently, I wasn’t anybody, but soon, I’d be everybody.

I was late, and that was okay. I needed time to acclimate. I left the city the first of June and stepped out of the car sometime in mid-February. Walking through the front door I suddenly felt like I was on the menu. This crowd wasn’t used to me, a creole girl who hadn’t bothered to change into her new flannel shirt for the occasion. I walked hard, coaxing the heels of my tall leather boots to tell a different story than the harsh grip of pink timberlands.

“Beer please,” I said to the bartender.

Leaning towards me on the backside of the bar he looked towards the taps and then back at me.

“Any particular kind?” he asked.

I wasn’t much of a beer drinker but at that point in time it felt like the right thing to do.

“How about a Schmidt?” I said. When in Rome.

He cracked open a can and set it on the bar in front of me. He just sort of stood there, repeatedly wiping his hands with a rag. I could tell he wanted to ask me something and based solely on the silence, I’m guessing every other retired lumberjack in the place did as well. I’m nothing if not intuitively helpful.

“Hey, let me ask you something,” I said. He perked-up.

“You guys look like you’ve been around, you know, like you have your fingers on the collective pulses of the comings and goings around here. You ever hear anything strange about people coming up missing? I mean, I know people get lost and accidents happen, right? Maybe they weren’t prepared, or didn’t know what they were doing? I get that. I’m more interested in people maybe like yourselves, guys that are, you know, seasoned and know what they’re doing. People you would never expect to have a problem.”

I looked down the bar trying to keep everyone in view. The look on most of their faces was stoic. One guy smiled and shook his head and there was a lot of hemming and hawing among them.

“People die in the bush around here all the time. Every year,” one of the men said.

“Yeah, but do they always find the body?” I asked.

“What, are you some kind of cop?” one of the others asked. He was a human mountain with frying pan hands big enough to cook two pancakes and a side of scrambled eggs. He had obviously been over-served.

“No, I’m no kind of cop, just making conversation, that’s all,” I said.

Just about then my guide came barreling in the front door. “Gentlemen,” he paused when he saw me, “and lady. You must be Ms. Maximine. Ross Parent at your service.” He reached out to shake my hand while keeping his eyes focused on my high heeled boots.

“Philippine Maximine, pleased to meet you,” I responded cordially.

“You know this, this, lady?” frying pan hands asked Ross, except he tried his drunken best to make ‘lady’ sound as disparaging as possible.

“She some kind of cop or something?” Pan Hands asked.

Ross’ response and ensuing explanation was buried under my annoyed retort stating quite clearly that I had just told him that I was not a cop. Asking him if the extra chromosome that made him freak sized also caused him to be deaf, very ironically made the room go silent. Even the TV in the corner seemed to hush in anticipation.

“You don’t know what a chromosome is, do you?” I asked. Far be it from me to let a room be silent for too long.

With a mighty roar, Pan Hands jumped up off his bar stool. He placed his right mitt on Ross’ chest and swept him out of the way like yesterday’s news. With his left, he telegraphed a massive backhand that I’m quite sure would have finished me along with the scalloped potatoes and fried sausage.

“Just f’n try it big man!” I said confidently, holding the barrel of my pistol against his left temple.

Who knew if it was alcohol or loneliness? Usually, the two go hand in hand. Whatever fueled his rage distracted him long enough for me to draw my weapon. His eyes were sober enough to understand. They looked all around, individually making suggestive arguments to every other part of his body that moving in the opposite direction of that barrel was imperative. Pan hands huffed out the door and peeled out of the parking lot in a rusty, hollow sounding truck. Ross, along with everyone else in the bar was stunned. Once the shock wore off a couple of the older guys started to laugh.

“Did you see his face? He about shit!” one of them said as they laughed together.

“Lil’ lady, you’re alright in our book,” said another. “You’re gonna have your hands full with this one, boy.”

“Nine mil?” Ross asked, referring to my gun.

“Damn straight. It’s not the first time it got me out of a jam either,” I said.

“Seems to me you got yourself into the jam,” Ross said.

“Yeah, well, it’s what I do,” I said.

“What are you going to do if that guy comes back with a rifle or something?” Ross asked.

I spun slowly on the bar stool and looked him calmly in both eyes, “I’m going to shoot him in his God damned forehead. Now how about we get down to business?”

I wanted to make sure this kid knew I was no pushover. He had to know I was no sort of lady in distress, and he was under no obligation to return my missing slipper. He needed to know if I didn’t have it, it’s because I left it in someone’s ass. My mind wandered through the lanes of dozens of forgotten miles thinking about how I was going to get that point across. Thanks Pan Hands, the look on Ross’ face, was, satisfactory.

In my world, when an alarm goes off in the dark, you either grab a bucket of water or a gun. A gun was a bad thing for me to have this early in the morning, especially when there’s a gung-ho type, youth mountain man banging on my bunkhouse door. The large cup of gas station coffee he surprised me with may have saved his life.

“Mornin’! How’d you sleep?” He asked with oh so much cheeriness.

“First of all, I didn’t. Second, I hate you more than what’s healthy right now,” I told him as I went into the bathroom to get ready.

“Will there be a third?” he asked sarcastically.

I heard him. I thought about throwing something at him, something heavy, but I needed everything I had in front of me. I smiled to myself picturing the look that would be on his face if I came out pointing my gun at his head. Even answering him however was more effort than I was willing to put forth.

The drive to the landing point was shrouded in ominous darkness with the occasional patch of spooky fog. Wet cedars smelled like urban gardens after a flood.

“Your pack,” Ross said placing the large, blue backpack on the ground behind his truck.

“Okay, now what?” I asked.

“You carry it, that way,” Ross said pointing at a trail that disappeared into the forest.

“Carry it? I thought that’s why you were here,” I told him.

“Lady, I’m here to keep you alive. Stop when you hit water.”

The prospect of spending the rest of my life in jail was keeping him alive, barely. The pack, which had almost nothing I owned inside of it weighed more than a Volkswagen. Almost everything I brought along was hastily discarded in a pile of ‘don’t needs’ the day before by Mr. Outdoors himself.

“Oh. And grab a paddle. No sense in having empty hands,” he said, nearly singing it like it was a catchy little commercial jingle.

My disdain for him was growing.

“When are we going to get something to eat?” I asked.

“Eat? You should have eaten when you got up,” he said.

I was the proud recipient of that sort of stomach drop you get when you just find out a person died. As lost as I was in anger and personal life mismanagement at that moment, it could have been me, my death. Maybe Pan Hands really did hit me, and I was still laying on the floor in the bar.

“Here, I usually bring these for later, but here’s a granola bar to tide you over,” he said.

There was so much more to say, but none of it was kind. I stopped at the water as instructed. My foot slipped off of a shoreline rock. I remember it probably more slowly than it actually happened. From the minute I put the dark brown leather hiking boots on my feet, I concerned myself with stepping into water that was deep enough to go over the top. Expecting to immediately touch down, is much like expecting there to be one more stair at the bottom. The balance that you deem necessary to staying vertical in the next few crucial seconds suddenly becomes a failed war with no exit strategy. I would have never guessed that little creek, no wider than a two-car garage to be instantly two hundred feet deep. Now, I was awake.

Ross was a few feet behind me just standing there with a stupid grin on his face and an upside-down canoe on his shoulders.

“How’s the water?” he asked.

I pulled half my body up onto the rocks and blew the wet hair up away from my face. I wanted to say something witty, maybe mean, something that accentuated the cold that I felt and the defeat that was welling-up in my heart.

I had to decide if I was done, if I was going to quit. I had to decide if I was a fake, if I was just another chick in a unicorn show who’s favorite dolly just got smudged with the blood of her slave ancestors. I had to decide if I was going to give this strapping, young annoyance the satisfaction of substantiating the doubt hidden in his eyes the second he first saw my high heeled leather boots in the bar.

Only seconds had passed, but that was plenty of time for me to make the decision. I was never about satisfaction for anyone else and I wasn’t about to start now.

“Just a bit colder than I would have liked,” I said.

“You gotta watch your step,” Ross said.

“No shit.”

From my seat in the bow I felt exposed to the world behind me, without control. My job was to make sure we didn’t hit anything. It seems canoes aren’t all that tough, not like PI’s with wooden paddles. This whole trip was going to be a job. I knew that going in, but I didn’t really expect it. I needed more out of it than clues or money now.

My unintentional baptism was ordained by my new pseudo office cat. He was one of those sad people that did this sort of thing for fun. They enjoy the suffering, convincing themselves that they are part of something bigger, wrapped in their mother nature, suckling off her tit. Really, they are just pets. Goldfish, that are fed twice a day just swimming in circles until they get more flakes. Now that I’ve considered it, maybe I was the flake.

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