Trip of a Lifetime
A Note to the Reader The gang have survived
a surf landing on James Bay, and Ed has Henry Hudson's bronze seal in
his pocket. Now he and Brenna just want to get home.
A REMINDER This is a work of fiction. All the characters are
figments of the authors' imaginations. If you've missed a chapter of our Trip,
or if you're coming aboard for the first time and you want to catch up,
just use the hot-linked title to go to the In the Same Boat
Archives. It's all there.
The story continues
April 1, 2003
They waited uneasily, the broad St. Lawrence
River stretching before them. Low on the western horizon, dark factory
chimneys towered against the backdrop of a deep-velvet sky, fitfully
illuminated by yellow-orange flares of gas. Further off, beyond the
smelter's stacks, a hazy smear of light marked the location of Aluminum
City. By contrast, the riverbank behind Jack Van Dorn was a pool of shadow.
On the other shore, scattered points of light were all that could be seen
of the Mohawk Nation of Handsome Lake.
Jack's eyes never left the river. He stood on the very end of Ann
Laughing Deer's wooden dock. "Almost home," he whispered to the moonless
night. "At last. Jes' two miles to go."
The rhythmic thud of an unseen helicopter echoed over the river. Jack
craned his neck, willing his vision to pierce the blackness, but he saw
nothing. Drops of sweat ran down the gullies of his spine. The late August
night was hot and humid. Impatience and anxiety added their measure to his
growing discomfort. He rocked on the balls of his feet, hands shoved deep
into the pockets of his grimy chinos. Between his right thumb and
forefinger he clutched the black, egg-shaped pebble he'd carried all the
way from Ship Sands Island. His thumb moved over the smooth surface again
and again. "By God!" Jack whispered, still addressing the night. "When this
fool's errand's over, I'm stayin' home for good!"
Gone were all thoughts of the Albany country, far to the north. "One
more river," Jack hummed tonelessly. "One more river to cross." The thud of
the helicopter faded away. Jack wondered when the next one would come
along. Ann Laughing Deer had dismissed the erratic border patrols with a
shrug, and cracked jokes about America's "phony war" against the elusive
Lesserson Null. Jack didn't think it was all that funny, though. He
reckoned innocent bystanders could be killed just as dead in a phony war as
a real one. It wasn't a comforting thought.
Behind him, invisible in the deep shadow of the riverbank, Sergei and
Pavel gripped their Kalashnikovs. They were also watching and listening.
Pavel was tired. For a few seconds his attention wandered and he thought
fleetingly of Montana. In his mind's eye he saw a lone horse, standing
proudly on a high ridge, silhouetted against the golden disk of the rising
sun. Then he shook his head, dismissing the vision from his conscious mind
and resuming his watchful waiting. He could day-dream later, once they
reached the other side of the river. Now he must stay alert. They
had to avoid capture at any cost. He and Sergei had come too far to end
their trip in a Canadian internment camp or an American prison. Failure was
unthinkable. To be locked up now, with freedom only a couple of miles
It would be far better to die. Pavel did not need to ask Sergei
if he agreed. He knew.
Ed leaned back against a log piling at the river's edge. He eased his
rucksack to one side, wincing as a corner of the sextant case gouged him in
the small of his back. A sextant wasn't the easiest load to carry. Not that
he'd have left it behind, of course. If Jack could take it safely across
the north Atlantic, defying U-boat patrols and every other hazard of that
all but forgotten war, Ed figured he ought to be able to bring it back in
one piece from a summer holiday. "Holiday," he muttered, snorting
involuntarily at the incongruity of the notion. He waited for someone to
say something, but no one seemed to have heard or if they had,
they'd taken no notice. "Some holiday!" Still, he had to admit it'd had its
moments. He patted his shirt, tracing the outline of the Dutch East India
Company seal in his buttoned chest pocket. "Souvenir of James Bay," he
thought, and a soft chuckle escaped his throat. "Trip of a lifetime,
His reverie was interrupted by an almost inaudible footfall behind him.
Sergei or Pavel must be stretching his legs, Ed guessed, and he returned to
his thoughts, a half-smile on his lips. Yes, it had certainly been a
trip to remember: he'd gone from being a small-town shopkeeper to an
international criminal in one summer. Ed ticked off his crimes. Murder, to
begin with well, manslaughter, anyway, though he could always plead
justification, he supposed. "Necessity of war." He chuckled again, but the
quiet croak that made its way between his teeth this time had a mirthless
quality it hadn't had before. Smuggling, too. Accessory after the fact, at
any rate. Plus some sort of immigration violation for evading the Canadian
authorities' internment order. And theft, of course. He had a priceless
piece of Canada's cultural heritage in his pocket, after all. "Mustn't
forget that," he mused. "I'm a thief of time, now."
It was an impressive list, however you looked at it, and any good
prosecutor would be able to make each crime give birth to several more. But
Ed didn't think he was going to lose any sleep over it. "The sin be on my
head," he thought, then silently added: "Where it'll rest lightly." And
that was true. No doubt about it. He'd do it all again if he had to.
Getting home was the only thing that mattered now. Getting out of this war
or whatever the American government was calling it today. Out of the
war and back to the World. It was déjà vu all over again. Another
barely audible, mirthless chuckle fretted the silent night.
There were other disturbances. No breeze ruffled the leaves on the
nearby trees, but the dark water of the river murmured against the
shoreline. Something splashed downstream a fish rising to gulp a
struggling insect, or maybe a diving duck hunting for crayfish in the
shallows. The dock creaked softly as Jack rocked back and forth on the
balls of his feet.
Brenna squatted on the beach behind Ed. She chewed on her lower lip and
stared out over the water. And like all the others, she waited. At long
last she allowed herself to believe that they were going to make it. Only
one final obstacle remained. Surely, she thought, that couldn't compare to
what they'd already survived. In a matter of hours they'd be home. Home to
a soft bed. Hot showers. Roast beef. Chilled white wine. Milk and cheese.
Fresh fruit. Salads. Not to mention Shirley's World-Famous Buns.
Home. The word had a wonderful sound.
At just that moment, Sergei left the shelter of the river bank. He
walked quietly toward Brenna, then leaned over and whispered in her ear:
"It will not be long now. Soon the waiting will be over." Hearing her
private hopes confirmed, Brenna's mood soared.
Suddenly, Jack heard something a muted thrum. The sound of a
motor. He stopped rocking. The thrum grew louder. Now Jack stood as rigidly
as a heron waiting for a fish. The thrum grew louder still. Jack turned on
his heels and scuttled toward the shadows.
A dark shape materialized in the night. Black on black, the shape slowly
took on the appearance of a sleek speedboat. It headed straight for the
dock. A voice carried across the water: "Fishin's been lousy tonight, and
that's the truth. Thought I'd hafta go home empty-handed. Look's like my
luck might be changin' at last, though."
Jack knew that voice. He stepped out of the shadows again. " I think I
can guarantee you'll catch your limit, Joe," he said, his hoarse whisper
just audible over the burble of the boat's engine. "Nice night for a boat
ride, ain't it?"
"Pretty fair," Joe answered, even as he made fast to the dock. "Good to
see ya, you old fart. Took long enough getting back, didn't ya? Molly's
been drivin' me up the wall, and so has Mary. So let's not waste any more
time. How 'bout ya helpin' me load my catch?"
"Sure thing," Jack said, and he motioned the others forward.
If Joe was surprised to see that two of his passengers were armed, he
didn't give any sign. With only perfunctory nods and grunts of greeting,
Jack's companions stepped down into the speedboat. Jack took the seat up
front, next to Joe. The others crammed in as best they could behind him,
placing rucksacks and packs of sturgeon roe in the bottom of the boat at
their feet. When everything had been stowed, Joe turned around. He spoke
rapidly. "I'm bringin' you ashore in Indian Country. Shouldn't be any
problem, but we just might run into a National Guard patrol. Seems like the
Great White Father" here Joe's voice dripped sarcasm "sorta
fergot about treaty rights and Native sovereignty and that sorta thing. Of
course, with you comin' from Canada, I don't need to tell ya nothin' about
that, do I? Anyway, we might run into some Weekend Warriors. If that
happens, all of you are jes' a bunch of Indians, right? And we been out
fishin' all night, OK? I'll do the talkin'. Got that?"
"We will keep our mouths shut and our ears open. And thank you." Sergei
spoke to Joe for the first time.
"Think nothin' of it," Joe replied. "Glad to see we're all singin' from
the same sheet." He paused, then tapped the receiver of Sergei's rifle with
a stubby forefinger. "Jes' be sure ya keep your
there out of sight. We don't want Uncle Sam's finest gettin' the wrong
idea, do we?"
"Certainly not," said Sergei. "We would not wish to give the Great White
Father any cause for complaint."
"That's the whole idea," Joe said. And he laughed. Slowly, the black
boat began to pull away from the dock.
* * *
Sergeant Burke was in his element. This was what he'd trained for, what
he'd lived for, for almost twenty years. Twenty years of weekend exercises
and summer camps. Twenty years of spit-shine and Brasso. Now the big day
He faced his squad and barked: "Lissen up, men. We're patrollin' Indian
Country tonight. Intelligence says Lesserson Null may be usin' the Rez to
move his people in and out of the States. It's our job to stop 'em. But we
gotta be careful. Real careful. This here's a mighty sensitive area. So we
can't afford any screw-ups, unnerstan'? You go an shoot some dam' Indian
kid who's out night-fishin' and you're gonna be in a world of hurt. Doin'
hard time in Leavenworth for the rest of your natural life. And that ain't
gonna be the worst thing, neither. Worst thing is, I'm goin' to see to it
personally that your ass is dragged in the dirt till there ain't nothin'
but bone showin'. You hear me? We got us a job to do. We're goin' to do it.
An' we're goin' to do it right. Clean. Perfessional. No screw-ups. Now,
anybody got any questions?"
He paused. No one spoke. "OK. Clear your weapons." Twelve bolts were
drawn back. "Clear?" He waited for the last "Yes, Sarge" to die away before
giving the next command: "Close your bolts." Twelve bolts slapped home.
Then Sergeant Burke gave the final order. "Load up!" Twelve loaded
magazines were pulled from their carriers and snapped into place.
In the glare from the headlights of the six-by, Sergeant Burke
remembered to look each man in the squad right in the eye before speaking.
Maintain command presence, he reminded himself. That was the important
thing. Just like they said in NCO School. "Lissen up!" he repeated. "You
fire on my command only. If any of you guys even chambers a round without
my say-so, he's goin' to wish he'd never let go of his mama's titty. You
hear what I'm sayin'?" There was a grumble of acknowledgment. "Now switch
on and move out. Single-file. And you be dam' sure you keep your interval."
Private Collamer switched his night-vision goggles on, waited his turn,
and moved out of the circle of light onto the trail. The dark landscape
beyond the six-by was now an eerie, monochrome green. That was a little
spooky, but Private Collamer still couldn't believe his luck. His first
night patrol. The real thing at last! To his surprise, though, he found
that he couldn't stop yawning. And he noticed that his hands were shaking,
too. He hadn't expected that. He hoped no-one else noticed. The
night-vision goggles made it worse. The green wash gave the familiar
meadows and woodlands the look of a landscape enchanted by some evil witch.
It was all too easy to imagine that Lesserson Null's terrorists were
somewhere Out There. Waiting.
Waiting for them. Now that was one scary thought! Private Collamer
realized he should have gone to the bathroom before they'd moved out. "Gone
to the bathroom"? Had he actually thought that? No infantryman said "go to
the bathroom"! He was sure Sergeant Burke hadn't used those words since he
left home for his first day of kindergarten. But Private Collamer really
did have to go. Bad. Real bad. He'd have to do something about it soon. Or
The patrol was approaching the river now. Alder and buckthorn grew along
the high bank. Private Collamer looked at a particularly dense tangle of
alders and wondered if Lesserson Null might be hiding in it. Just then,
someone put a hand on his shoulder. He jumped involuntarily. His bowels
contracted, too, and though he tried his best to stop anything from
happening, he had the horrible feeling that he'd had what his mother used
to call an "accident." Then he realized that the hand wasn't the hand of
Lesserson Null. It belonged to Sergeant Burke, and the Sergeant was
ordering him forward. He was going to walk point! He, Private Collamer, was
going to lead a patrol through Indian Country. He double-timed it up the
trail, hoping that he was wrong about the accident, or if he wasn't, that
Sergeant Burke hadn't smelled anything. Sweat ran in steady streams down
his forehead and back as he jogged along.
Soon, however, there was no doubt at all in Private Collamer's mind. His
pucker had let him down. Worse yet, it felt like there was a lot more to
come. Painful cramps assailed him at every step. The walking was getting
harder, too. Long grass tugged at his feet and legs, and his neck ached
with the effort of keeping the heavy night-vision goggles focused on the
trail ahead. His M16, which had once seemed so light, was now starting to
drag his arms down. It was going to be a very long night.
"What'll I do if Lesserson Null is somewhere Out There?" Private
Collamer asked himself. Off in the distance, a loon laughed. It wasn't the
answer that Private Collamer was looking for.
* * *
Joe Hunter snaked his long, black boat through an island maze, well to
the south of the St. Lawrence shipping channel. Moving slowly and
patiently, alert for the first whisper of contact between his hull and the
bottom, he eased his way across weedy shallows and over gravel bars, coming
closer and closer to the American shore and the mouth of the Raquette. It
was painstaking work. The floodwaters that roared downriver when Lesserson
Null blew the big dam had left countless changes in their wake. In the
weeks following the Independence Day attack, Joe found he needed to relearn
every twist and turn. He'd done his best, but the river still took him by
surprise more often than he liked to admit.
Behind Joe, perched precariously on one sack of sturgeon roe and holding
another in her lap, Brenna watched the high banks of the St. Lawrence grow
steadily higher. Soon they obscured a good portion of the southern horizon.
She looked at the dark line looming against the starry sky and she
Finally, the Raquette opened up ahead. Joe kept the boat moving just
fast enough to make headway. He was creeping upriver now, hugging the
shoreline, navigating more by ear than by eye. Only the muted rumble of the
big engine broke the stillness of the night. There were no fishermen along
the banks. No friendly voice called out to them in the dark. It was as if
they were alone on the river. Joe found that his hands were slipping on the
steering wheel. "I'm sweatin' like a pig!" he thought. "Mary's right. I'm
gettin' too old for this game. It's time I retired." First, though, he had
to deliver his night's catch safely. It wasn't just good business. It was a
matter of honor.
A toppled poplar loomed dead ahead, the tips of its submerged branches
vibrating in the current. Joe eased the boat out toward mid-channel, moving
away from the shelter of the shore.
* * *
The National Guard patrol approached the place where the Raquette
emptied into the St. Lawrence. They were deep into Indian Country now, and
Private Collamer was nervous. Anything could happen here. He was sure of
that. Then he heard the sound of a throttled-down motor. Or did he? He
thought it was a motor, but the blood was pounding in his ears, and
every step he took through the tall grass made a surprisingly loud swishing
sound. He knew one thing, though. He wasn't about to hold up the patrol.
Sarge wouldn't like that, and he was more afraid of Sarge than he was of
Lesserson Null. The trail he was following went through a break in the
trees just ahead. He'd have a better idea what was going on when he could
see the river.
What he saw when he reached the gap in the trees stopped him in his
tracks. A big boat was moving slowly upriver, and there were five
make that six
guys in it. No lights. It looked like smugglers, or
maybe it could be, couldn't it? Lesserson Null's terrorists.
"Oh, Jeez!" Private Collamer thought. "Terrorists!" And a wave of cramps
knotted his gut. For the second time that night, his pucker had let him
"Shit!" he wailed, and it was just loud enough for Sergeant Burke to
hear. At the same time, Private Collamer pulled back the bolt of his rifle,
released it, and chambered a round. There were 29 more rounds waiting in
the magazine. His selector was set to fire three-round bursts, and his
finger was on the trigger.
Behind him, much too far back to see what was happening, Sergeant Burke
heard the bolt go home, too. He started to run forward, shoving each man in
turn off to the side of the trail as he passed him. Only when he heard the
first rattle of fire did he start shouting commands, but it was already too
late. Then he put his foot into a rabbit hole and went down. His leg made a
noise like a breaking stick as he fell.
* * *
Private Collamer's first three rounds went wide. He had forgotten to
light up his night sight. But that didn't matter to Sergei and Pavel. They
were overboard in an instant, and each had his rifle in his hand. Together,
they side-stroked silently toward the shore. Only the tops of their heads
showed above the water's surface.
At the sound of gunfire, Joe opened the throttle. The black boat leaped
forward. Jack's head snapped back hard. Ed tried to push Brenna down, but
he, too, was thrown backward by the sudden acceleration. Then the boat hit
a gravel bar. The motor screamed. The stern skidded round, and the boat
shuddered and careened to one side. In a matter of seconds the downstream
gunwale was under water. Joe's forehead struck the frame of the windshield,
hard. Blood poured down his face, blinding him. The motor screamed even
more loudly for several long seconds. Then it stopped.
There was a second burst of fire from the shore. As he struggled to pull
Brenna out, Ed heard the sound of splintering fiberglass.
* * *
From his vantage point on the bank, Private Collamer watched the big
boat surge forward. Then it stopped just as suddenly as it had accelerated.
He saw figures spill out into the water. Terrorists. He was sure of it now.
"They're comin' this way!" he shouted, just before he lit up the PAC-4C
sight. He put the laser dot on one of the figures who was still in the boat
and fired a second burst. He didn't feel the recoil. He didn't hear the
reports of the rounds or Sergeant Burke's screams, either. In fact, he
didn't hear anything at all. Private Collamer was in a world of his own
it was just him and Lesserson Null, and only one of them was going
to get out of this fight alive. Private Collamer didn't have any doubt who
the survivor was going to be. He moved the dot over a second figure and
fired another burst.
* * *
Joe wiped blood away from his eyes. He thought he was seeing stars, then
realized they were muzzle flashes. He heard Jack groaning beside him. "We
gotta get outta here!" Joe yelled to his old friend, but before he'd even
started to move, a hand jerked him out of the boat. Someone was pulling him
toward the riverbank. He swallowed some water, choked, and blacked out.
* * *
Ed and Brenna were in the water, too. Ed was tugging at Brenna, making
her swim toward the shore. Then the tugging stopped, and Brenna felt
something strike her arm. A curious numbness seemed to grip her right side.
Struggling to stay afloat, she flailed out with her left hand and hit
something something large, inert. It was a body, face down in the
water. Ed. She rolled him upright, but he didn't move. Gripping the collar
of his shirt and paddling frantically with her one good arm, Brenna struck
out for the riverbank. She was certain of only one thing now: they were
going home together.
* * *
Private Collamer moved the laser dot around, hunting for more targets.
Each time he found one, he fired a burst, then moved on to the next. He was
getting the hang of it now. Time seemed to stand still. It was just like
the Combat Course. And the riverbank gave him a great angle of fire. "Like
shooting fish in a barrel!" he thought. Then the bolt locked back. Outta
ammo! He threw the empty magazine away and reached for another. "Yessir,"
he reminded himself, "It's jes' like the Combat Course!"
At that moment, he heard Sergeant Burke screaming at him, from somewhere
not very far away. Something was moving in the trees, too. It was even
closer than Sergeant Burke. Very close. And then
"What's that?" he
wondered. A loud snap. Sort of metallic. Like an old-fashioned switch, only
He turned toward the sound. The trees swayed. Just a little. Green on
green. Shadows on shadows. Something was moving in the trees.
Whatever it was, it was very, very close. Private Collamer's hands were
greasy with sweat. The loaded magazine he was holding slipped through his
fingers before he could lock it in place, and he bent down to pick it up.
He couldn't find it, though, and the stink from his pants made him gag.
Then he heard another noise. It sounded like somebody had whispered
"Montana." Somebody with a funny accent. That was crazy, of course. He knew
it was. But then he heard it again. It seemed to be coming from a different
That didn't make any sense at all, so Private Collamer stood up to see
if he could see anything, and just as he did, a white fountain blossomed
out of the green treescape. It seemed to grow as he watched it, and it was
joined by another, and then the two fountains converged until the green
disappeared and all he could see was pure white light. It was the most
beautiful thing Private Collamer had ever seen, too, but then the image
faded to black, and he was conscious of a popping noise. It was very loud,
however, not really a popping at all, and almost in the same instant he
realized that someone was hitting him. Hitting him in the chest. Hitting
him in the stomach. Hitting him hard. Hitting him so hard that he spun
round under the force of the blows. But he still couldn't see who was
hitting him. In fact he couldn't see anything at all. Then his legs buckled
and he went down onto his knees.
"Jeez!" Private Collamer whispered. He wanted to yell at whoever was
hitting him and make him stop. It just wasn't fair, was it? He couldn't
see, could he? And he tried to yell, he really tried, but he no longer
seemed to have the strength. "Jeez!" he whispered again. "Cut it out, will
ya? It jes' ain't fair!" And then it didn't seem to matter anymore.
Copyright © 2003 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights