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Trip of a Lifetime

Friends and Lovers

By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest

A Note to the Reader

It's the last week in March, 2001. Ed and Brenna are getting together with some old friends. The object? Call it seduction. There's safety in numbers, they say, and our heroes are looking for folks interested in coming along on their trip North. Before the evening's over, though, at least one guest will have reason to wish she'd been around last time, when Jack showed Brenna how to tie a knot that wouldn't let go. The story continues.

January 9, 2001

Chapter Seven

"Sure you won't have dinner with us?" Brenna asked Jack as she locked the door of the shop at the end of the day. "There's plenty of lasagna to go round. It's meatless, though. Linda's a vegetarian."

"No, thanks," said Jack, smiling, as he and Brenna walked back to the work room. "Got nothin' against veg-e-tar-i-an"—he pronounced the word with the same care he once gave to navigating shoal water in a rising wind—"but I'm eatin' over to the diner. Meetin' a friend there."

Ed was in the back room, clearing piles of books and papers from the large work table. Jack paused beside an empty crate, putting first one foot on it and then the other, tightening the laces on his new leather boots. Then he stood quietly, looking down at his feet and admiring their fashionable adornment. A half-grin played over his face. Rousing himself with effort, he plucked his greatcoat off the rack and pulled it on.

Brenna watched his preparations with interest. "He's preoccupied," she thought. "Happy—but a little bit nervous, too." Outside, rain splashed into the shallow trench under the eaves. Through the window, Brenna saw a green Ford Explorer pull in the driveway.

"OK. Gotta be goin'," Jack said, rubbing his fresh-shaved chin. "Enjoy your meal," he called out over his shoulder as strode toward the back door. He opened it just as a woman with a mop of unruly black hair raised her fist to knock. She was carrying a picnic basket, and she smiled wanly at Jack as they passed one another.

"Ma'am," Jack greeted her, nodding. Right behind her stood a big, tall man with his hands crammed deep into the pockets of a leather bomber jacket. Jack nodded wordlessly to him, too, and set off down the drive.

"Hi, guys!" the woman shouted, walking up to Brenna, embracing her and kissing the air next to her cheeks.

"Howdy, Karin," said Brenna, disengaging herself and peering down into the picnic basket. "So that's tiramisu, is it? Some kind of cake, right? Looks delicious!"

Meanwhile, Ed and Pete Neary punched each other's shoulders in silent greeting. Ed was still hanging up jackets when a cherry-red Toyota pickup pulled up the drive and parked next the Neary's Explorer.

A second couple splashed through the deepening puddles toward the house. Moments later, Linda Carney and her new boyfriend, Brian "Brick" Johnson, were at the door. A shortish, stocky man, Brick's biceps stretched the fabric of his chamois shirt. He and Linda had met when he joined her dojo. It hadn't taken Linda long to discover that Brick was a hot-shot kayaker, with a growing interest in canoeing. Linda made the introductions.

"'Brick'? That's an interesting name!" Karin remarked, clearly hoping to hear the story behind it.

"Well…" Brick replied, hesitating, "I am a bricklayer. But I picked up the handle sometime back, when I was still in the Corps"—seeing a bewildered look on Karin's face—"the Marine Corps. You could say it had something to do with my build." He paused. It was obvious that Karin didn't get it. He tried again. "I work out a lot, right? My buddies used to say I looked like a brick…ah…out-house." Now he could see that Karin got it. He changed the subject, raising his voice in order to be heard above the swelling murmur of conversation. "Hey, guys! Thought we might like to watch a tape after supper, so I brought something appropriate." He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a rental video. "Deliverance!" he shouted. Everyone laughed.

"What a hoot!" Karin exclaimed. But her expression suggested that she thought Deliverance might not go with tiramisu. Then she looked at her watch. "Hey! Where's Ken?" she asked the company at large.

"He's always late," her husband complained, and everyone agreed.

At least no one could ever say that of Pete, Karin thought. He was punctual to a fault—always ready minutes ahead of time, standing around and jangling his pocket change at the door while Karin searched for her lost keys. Always late or always early? She wasn't sure which was worse.

Brenna and Ed broke away from the conversation. Brenna went upstairs to get the appetizers while Ed wrestled with a box containing a five-liter bladder of chianti. After a couple of false starts, he finally succeeded in fitting the nozzle into the cut-out and locking it in place. Then he filled the glasses and passed them round. Brenna passed the platter of antipasto.

Fortified by food and drink, Linda, Brick, and Ed turned their attention to a stack of outfitters' catalogs. Karin leaned over toward Brenna and asked conspiratorially, "That old guy you said you've got living in the downstairs apartment now. Can you trust him? I mean, you hardly know him, do you? He could be a drunk or something."

Pete picked up the theme. "Seems risky to me, too," he agreed. "I've seen him on the street. Just look at him. He doesn't look, you know, respectable."

"You mean he doesn't look like a tenured professor or an insurance agent?" Brenna asked. "Or do you mean he looks too much like one?"

Pete reddened and hastened to pour oil on troubled waters. "No, no. Nothing like that. It's, well, you know…he didn't have any references or anything, did he? That's all I meant. You don't know anything about him."

"Can't agree with you there," Brenna said, working to keep the edge out of her voice. "We know all we need to know. Jack's a great guy." Just then a loud, sustained howl cut through the conversation. "What the hell!" Ed exclaimed, almost dropping his glass. He looked around, half expecting to see a wolf materialize from the shadows in the corner of the room.

Linda ran to the door, threw it open and sprinted to Brick's pickup, yanking open the car door on the driver's side. "Fenris!" she scolded. "You bad, bad girl! You stop that right now!" The howling ceased. Then Linda emerged from the truck's cab, followed by a large animal on a lead. Brick walked quietly over to the box of chianti and refilled his glass, downing it in a single gulp. The rest of the party watched through the still-open door, fascinated.

"My God!" Ed muttered, involuntarily. "It is a wolf!" Whatever it was, he thought, it was certainly big—seventy pounds or more, he guessed. The animal had yellow-green eyes, upright ears, and an elongated muzzle. It was gray, with a darker ridge along its back and a bushy tail. All Linda's attention was on her pet. Giving no sign that she knew her every movement was being watched by four pairs of eyes, she walked back to the house and tied the animal to the porch rail with the lead. Then she bent over, kissing and hugging it.

At that moment, Ken Grimes' Caravan pulled in. The animal broke free from Linda's embrace, ran to the end of the lead and resumed howling. Linda tugged ineffectually on the nylon tether and ordered Fenris to be quiet, but with no success. The animal continued to howl. Ken eyed it warily, one hand moving unconsciously to cover his crotch. With the other, he flourished a loaf of Italian bread, waving it about like sword. "Nice doggy," he said, without conviction. Then he sprinted up the stairs onto the porch and edged through the crowd around the door.

"Sorry I'm late," he panted. "Teacher's meeting." He handed Brenna the loaf of bread. It was bent, but not broken. Brenna took it with her when she went upstairs to check on the lasagna.

Linda gave Fenris a final embrace and came back in, closing the door behind her. "My dog," she explained unnecessarily. "Wolf-hybrid. She's still a little skittish." Seeing the skeptical look on Ken's face, she added, "But she wouldn't hurt a fly." Then she introduced Brick and Ken. Conversation resumed, interrupted now and again by spasms of howling from the porch.

"So, Ed, what's this river you're thinking of paddling?" Pete asked, pausing to pop a marinated mushroom into his mouth.

"Tell you in a minute," Ed replied.

"Tell him what, Ed?" Brenna asked briskly, just back from the kitchen. "Supper's almost ready. Only ten minutes more."

Ed set down his wine glass and walked over to the work table. Swing-arm lamps were clamped at either end, and a map of Canada was tacked up on the wall behind. Ed stood between the lamps, twisting them round to shine up at the map. Ontario and Quebec were bathed in a yellow circle of light.

All voices but one stopped. Only Linda, engrossed in telling Karin about Fenris' latest adventures, continued to talk. Not until Karin turned away to look at the map did Linda, too, lapse into silence.

In the quiet interval that followed, Ed reached up and traced a wavering line across the wall map with an orange Hi-Liner. The line ended on the western shore of James Bay. Pausing for a second, Ed swept the marker down to the bottom of the Bay. Then he spoke. "It's not a great map, but it'll do. We leave our cars at Cochrane and take the train to Sioux Lookout. We put in on Lac Seul, cross the height of land to Lake St. Joseph and then head down the Albany to James Bay. Figure 600-700 miles in all. Then another 100 miles down the Bay to Moosonee. A day or two to rest up and get our gear sorted out, and then we take the train back to Cochrane. Piece of cake, right?" Ed paused for dramatic effect and then answered his own question. "No! Big lakes at the start. Rapids and carries all along the headwaters of the Albany. Sand bars and shallows further down. And then there's the tides of James Bay. Mile after mile of mud flats. Go when the tide says go. Stop when it says stop. One eye always on the water, the other eye on the weather."

No one spoke. Everyone studied the wavering orange line across the map on the wall. Ed waited a couple of seconds more and then nodded at a big book on the table. "You want more detail, you check the atlas here…."

"After we eat," Brenna broke in. "Supper's ready."

The party trooped upstairs, where they were greeted by the sweet, pungent aroma of garlic and tomato sauce. Brenna cut up the enormous lasagna. Pete sliced the bread and stacked the slices in a basket. Ed tossed mixed salad greens with vinaigrette. Karin poured Merlot. People filled their plates, took their glasses, and settled down in the big open space that served as both kitchen and living room. For the next hour, conversation ebbed and flowed, but it always returned to the trip.

Finishing off a second helping of lasagna, Brick sat back, loosened his belt a notch, and turned to Ed. "The Albany was a fur trade route, right?" he asked. "Sounds a little tame. I mean, if you can get down it in a thirty-foot canoe loaded with furs, it can't be all that tough can't it? Any real whitewater?"

"In the headwaters, sure. Real enough, anyway. But it's not a whitewater trip, really. It's a trip through time, sort of. The Albany's got a history that goes back a lot further than the fur trade. And don't forget the Bay. The Bay's a whole 'nother trip. A different kind of thrill, if you get my meaning."

Brick nodded, but he didn't look convinced. "Seven hundred miles. Two-three months. That's a long time. Don't want to get bored."

"No danger," replied Ed. "There's a lot to explore. And, in any case, there'll always be bugs to swat. You've never seen so many flies and mosquitoes as you'll see in the lowlands. Nope. You won't have time to be bored. The bugs'll keep you plenty busy!" He grinned.

Karin wrinkled her nose. "Don't much like the sound of that," she said. "And what about working out? I like a good workout. It's pretty flat up there, right? No mountains or anything?"

"There'll be more than enough exercise," Ed replied. "Lining and portaging in the headwaters. Maybe some upstream work on the tributaries farther down. Nothing too long. Just going upriver to see what lies around the bend. Get to know the neighborhood. You know."

Pete poured himself some more wine and came over. "Upstream work?" he asked, catching the end of Ed's remarks. "Kinda slow, isn't it? Boring. Go with the flow, I say. Fly in. Fly out. Skip the boring bits." He laughed at his own joke.

Ed smiled politely. A man who can get bored on a river—any river— is bored with life, he thought, but he said nothing. His attention wandered. He looked out the window. The rain had stopped. Colored lights shimmered on wet pavement. He caught sight of Jack walking slowly along Main Street. Jack wasn't alone. A short, buxom woman with silver hair tucked neatly under a plastic rain scarf was walking alongside him, waving her hands to emphasize something she was saying. Ed grinned. He'd noticed that Molly Saunders had been in the store three times in the last two weeks. It looked like Jack had a lady friend.

"Ed?" Ken poked Ed's arm.

"Huh?" Ed turned back toward the room. "Sorry, Ken. Woolgathering. What's that you were saying?"

"When are you planning to leave?" Ken repeated. "School doesn't get out till the third week in June, you know. I might be able to get free a week earlier, but it wouldn't be easy."

"That could be a problem," Ed replied. "We'd like to be on the river by the second week in June, at the latest. We want to get to Fort Albany by mid-July."

Ken shook his head. "Dunno," he said. "Dunno how I could manage that."

Ed chuckled. "If you really want to go, you'll think of something. Didn't you take two weeks off in October one year to go elk hunting? I don't remember you letting the school calendar stand in your way. 'You just gotta use your initiative.' Isn't that what you told me then?"

Before Ken could reply, Ed joined Karin and Brick collecting dirty plates and cutlery. Brenna put the tiramisu on the table, along with dessert plates. Ken wandered over to the television and slid Deliverance into the VCR. Soon he and Brick had settled down to watch the movie in earnest.

Everyone else attacked the dessert with renewed appetite. For a few minutes the only sound came from the TV. Then Linda spoke up. "I think I like the idea! No reason why I can't cancel my summer classes. I don't usually get many students then anyway. Mostly college kids. And, anyway, I got a little money put aside." She leaned back and crossed her arms. "'Course I'd have to take Fenris with me. I couldn't leave her in a kennel for the whole summer. For one thing, she'd eat the other dogs!" She laughed.

Pete and Karin exchanged glances. They were cat people.

"So why'd you guys pick that particular route, anyway?" Karin asked, turning to Brenna.

"Lots of reasons," Brenna replied. "We wanted to go North again. Take a really big trip. Sort of immerse ourselves in the landscape for a while—you know what I mean? Plus, there's lots of wildlife, and it's remote without being too hard to get to. We just didn't like the idea of flying in. Seems too much like cheating. And then there's the Bay. A big inland sea. Ever since Ed saw a magazine article a few weeks back, he's been talking about finding out what happened to Henry Hudson. You know—after the mutiny…."

"You don't really think you'll find anything, do you?" Ken cut in, not trying very hard to keep the skepticism out of his voice.

"No," said Brenna, refusing to take the bait. "There's not much chance that we will. Not much chance at all. But it gives the trip a purpose. And Ed did have an archaeology major. So who knows?"

Then she left to make a pot of coffee, while Karin filled the sink with hot water to start the dishes. The others collapsed onto the couch and armchairs. Forsaking Deliverance, Brick turned to Ed. "I guess you'll be taking that old Tripper I saw on the back porch?"

"Nope," said Ed. She's too old. Too brittle. And, anyway, we're shopping for something bigger. Got any suggestions?"

"I've used my Mad River Explorer on month-long trips OK," Pete chimed in. "But it might be a little small for three months."

Back at the sink, Karin turned to Brenna and handed her another clean plate. "What's your backup route?" she asked.

"I'd pick the South Nahanni," Ken's voice boomed out from behind them. It was clear that Deliverance wasn't holding his attention. "In fact," Ken continued, "It just happens that I brought along my slides from last summer's trip. They're out in the van. I'll get them." And he headed downstairs.

"We haven't decided on a backup yet," Ed said, walking over, coffee cup in hand. "Probably a route in Quebec. The Rupert, maybe. The Nahanni would be great, all right, but it's too far away. Too costly."

Suddenly, they heard Fenris howl. The noise rose in intensity, wavered, and then ended in a series of snarls. Linda rushed for the door, only to meet Ken at the head of the stairs. He was empty handed, ashen-faced and breathless. He was also hopping mad. "That damn' wolf-whatsis of yours is berserk!" he screamed when he caught sight of Linda. "He damn' near had my balls for breakfast!"

"She's only doing what comes naturally," Linda retorted. "She senses your fear. You'll just have to take time to get to know her." And with that, Linda shoved past Ken and headed downstairs, leaving him muttering to himself. Soon Fenris had quieted down, and the talk had turned to canoes and canoeing again.

Linda came back a few minutes later, looking decidedly put out. She picked up her coffee cup and took a chair at the kitchen table. Brenna and Karin dried their hands and joined their husbands. Ed shifted forward to sit on the edge of the stuffed chair, while Brenna perched on the arm. Brick ejected the video from the VCR.

Without further preamble, Ed said, "OK. It's fish or cut bait time. Hands up, anyone interested in paddling to the Bay this summer."

Pete grinned and raised his hand. "I'd like to," he said. Karin nodded. Then she added, "But I'm not sure I can get three months off. Pete's his own boss. He owns the agency, after all. But I have to answer to the dean. Still…I don't have to teach in the summer school. The college doesn't pay all that much, anyway. And it gets boring to teach Economics 101 four times a year."

Brick raised his hand, too. "Money might be a little short. But I'll think about it. I could get work next winter, easy. I won't starve if I don't work this summer." He looked over at Linda, but she was still glaring at Ken.

"I might go," Ken said, not bothering to lift his hand. "But time would be tight. Maybe I could fly out at Fort Albany. Cut the trip short. You guys could do that, too, you know," he added, looking over at Pete and Karin. "We could charter a plane. Split the cost."

Pete nodded. "I'm not sure I like the idea of canoeing on the Bay," he agreed. "Yeah. Fort Albany would be a good place to break the trip."

"Linda?" Brenna asked, looking over at her.

"Dunno. I could do it. I think maybe I'd like a more exciting river, though. Let me think about it." She caught Brick's eye. He nodded reassuringly.

"OK," said Brenna. "That's the preliminaries over. Now we need a couple of shake-down trips." She paused, then added, "How about this weekend? Ed and I can get away, no problem. We could do the Battenkill. Start north of Arlington. Paddle down to…what? Rexleigh bridge? Or Shushan. Easy water, but not too easy. What with the rain we've been having and the run-off from the hills it oughta be bankfull. And it's a pretty river."

"Let's take out at Shushan," Ken said. "Makes for a fast shuttle."

Everyone agreed, and the party started to break up. At Brenna's suggestion—she was thinking of Ken's recent run-in with Fenris—Linda left first.

She was back in a second. "Fenris slipped her lead," she sputtered. "If Ken hadn't gotten her so upset…."

Ken rolled his eyes, but he said nothing.

"Doggone!" quipped Ed. Then, when Linda fixed him with an angry stare, he added, "Maybe Brenna oughta show you how to tie a bowline."

As if in reply, a chilling howl came from somewhere down the block.

To be continued…

Last Voyage

Copyright 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.







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