Trip of a Lifetime
A Wink is as Good as a Nod
By Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest
A Note to the Reader
It's a hot Memorial Day Weekend and Adirondack waterways are crowded
with holiday-makers. On the first leg
of their shake-down cruise, Ed, Brenna and the gang crossed wakes
with Deputy Sheriff "Bubba" Buck, radio host "Jerkin' Jake" Slaughter,
and the Hollywood Lady. Now some of the gang are continuing on down the
A REMINDER A new chapter in Trip of a
Lifetime, our paddlesport novel-in-progress, will appear on the
first Tuesday of each month. If you've missed a chapter, or if you're
joining us 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
This is a work of fiction. All characters and incidents are the
product of the authors' imaginations. While real maps of New York State
show both a Long Lake and Long Lake Village in the Adirondack Mountains,
the places depicted in our story exist only in the authors'
mindsand in yours.
Our story continues
September 4, 2001
Zoe Grimes' cough rattled over the water
as Ed and Brenna paddled their big canoe along the northern shore of
Long Lake. Two pontoon boats idled opposite them, the occupants leaning
against their rails, waiting for signs the fish were rising. They sipped
coffee from insulated mugs and talked in quiet tones as they watched the
remaining wisps of early-morning fog dissipate. A distant peal of bells
welcomed worshippers to eight-o'clock services in the village church.
The thunderstorm of the evening before had done nothing to break the
steamy heat. The air already shimmered with humidity, and water droplets
sparkled on every twig and needle. If anything, it was even more
tropical than yesterday, and no breeze dried the paddlers' sticky
bodies. A lemon-yellow sun shone through a gauze-curtain haze. Ed and
Brenna paddled hard, hoping to outpace the swarm of blackflies that had
followed them since they'd left camp.
The fishermen on the pontoon boats noticed the canoe and raised their
hands in silent greeting. "At least you can see them coming,"
Brenna said, remembering yesterday's close call near the island. "I
wonder if Ken will ever wash his hand again? You'd think he'd never met
a movie star before!" She giggled. "Come to think of it, I don't suppose
he has. Who'd have thought we'd run into Chadd Wellington here, of all
"Not me," Ed replied. "Then again, I don't read Variety."
Brenna tried to remember when she'd first seen Chaddwicke Wellington.
Damn unlikely name, she thought. Was it in Bug-eyed Monsters or
Jakarta? "Or was it Old Glory?" Without meaning too, she
spoke out loud.
"What?" Ed asked, twisting round to look at his wife
"Huh?" Brenna said, startled out of her reverie. "Sorry about that. I
was trying to remember when I first saw one of Chadd Wellington's
pictures. Bet Ken has all her videos. I've never seen someone so gaga.
I'd never have guessed he was the type."
"Mmm," Ed grunted. "Isn't every day you get to meet a real-life
"That a fact?" Brenna made a wry face. "You're not smitten, too, by
any chance, are you?"
"Naw. Got me a woman already." He looked back at Brenna again and
winked. "Still, you gotta admire Ken. There's life in the old dog yet."
Just ahead of the canoe, a beaver slapped its tail against the
water's surface and dove. "He's out late," Ed said. "Or she
really tell, of course. Wonder where the lodge is?"
"You're just trying to change the subject," Brenna protested,
squinting from under the brim of her faded jungle hat. But she put down
her paddle and pulled her sketchbook out of her life-jacket pocket
anyway. When the beaver surfaced, he was almost a hundred yards away.
She scratched furiously with her pencil, letting the canoe drift down
lake until the beaver vanished behind a snag.
They began to paddle again. The shorelines were closing in. The
Raquette River lay ahead, and Ed and Brenna started looking for Pete and
Karin Neary. Then a shout rang across the water from near the outlet of
"Hey! Pete and Karin! You made it!" Brenna yelled back, and then
headed toward the Nearys. They looked like they'd had a bad night. Sweat
dripped from their noses, and the skin around their eyes was puffy with
blackfly bites. When the Tripper came alongside, Pete grabbed the
"We wondered if you'd be here, what with the
with your daughter," Brenna said.
Karin rolled her eyes skyward. "She had a fender-bender. Had to be
picked up in Albany. No big deal. Anyway, here we are. Spent the night
not far from one of the lean-tos. Glad we weren't planning to stay there
ourselves. Six guys in a powerboat landed after we began setting up camp
and moved in. Not exactly a quiet crowd. We barely got a wink of sleep!
Got outta there at first light." Karin thrust a large naval orange out
toward Brenna."Want one?" she asked. Brenna seized it greedily and began
to strip off bits of peel, tossing them into the bottom of the canoe.
"Those guys were talking about some kind of accident," Pete said.
"You know anything about it? Some speedboat hitting a rower, or
something like that?"
"Did we see it?" Ed exploded. "Hell, we were there! Some local
schlock-jock called 'Jerkin' Jake' was out for a cruise in a Hacker
inboard. He wiped out a heirloom guideboat that belonged to Chadd
." Seeing the unspoken question in Pete's eyes, Ed
added, "Yeah, that Chadd Wellington. Damn near wiped her
out, too. Talk about pissed-off! By the time her lawyers finish with
Jerkin' Jake, I'm betting he won't even have a pair of swim-trunks to
his name. Serve him right, too. That Hacker smelled like a grass fire."
They paddled along side-by-side for a while, talking companionably,
as the lake became a river, one or the other boat dropping back to pass
in single file whenever the current wandered languidly among marshy
islands and sandbars. Occasionally they passed lean-tos. Most of the
campers were still sleeping in, but one lean-to hosted a lively party of
card-players, sheltering from the blackflies behind an improvised
curtain of mosquito-netting.
As they continued along the river, the two boats entered another
world. The powerboats and jet-skis were left behind. A white-throated
sparrow called from the depths of the forest. A muskrat slipped off its
tussock into the river, making a soft plopping noise, while a great blue
heron lifted heavily into the air, a still-struggling frog clamped in
its long beak. Ed fitted the sections of his fly-rod together and cast a
#10 muddler minnow into promising eddies from from time to, though with
no real expectation of success. Soon Raquette Falls lay just ahead, and
he put his rod away. Everyone wanted to get the mile-long carry done
As the paddlers slowed down, clouds of blackflies gathered around
them. Karin burrowed through her pack, looking for the plastic bottle of
Buzz Off! Then she and Pete slathered themselves with the all-natural
herbal repellent. She offered some to Ed and Brenna, but they simply
donned head nets. Neither had much faith in herbal repellents, but
neither much liked DEET, either. They kept their Jungle Juice in
"There it is!" Karin said suddenly, pointing to the signboard that
marked the start of the portage trail. The rumble of rapids could just
be heard downstream.
"I wonder if we could run that drop?" Pete mused, while the Neary's
Explorer drifted toward the shore. As the canoe grounded, he half-rose,
straining to see around the bend in the river just ahead. "Hell, I've
been told there're only two real falls. The rest's just rapids."
Ed shook his head. He caught Brenna's eye, seeking agreement and
finding it. "No thanks. Not today. Not for us, at any rate. We're
looking forward to a relaxing trip." Brenna nodded vigorously. "Still, I
wouldn't mind scouting the rapids. Might be worth coming back to run 'em
some other time."
An unfamiliar voice boomed out from the trailhead. It sounded like
the croak of a disappointed raven. "I wouldn't even think of runnin'
those rapids if I was you, ya know!"
Startled, the two couples looked up, squinting to make out a solitary
figure in the deep shade of a thicket of stunted spruce. It was a man,
dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, standing with his hands on his hips.
Next to him, a chalky, dark-red Coleman canoe rested bottom-up, it's
keel hogged and its bottom bearing evidence of many rough landings. Both
boat and owner looked to Ed like they'd been ridden hard and put away
lo!" Karin was the first to speak. "We didn't see you."
The man remained standing beside his canoe. "Ya know, I'm not
surprised ya didn't see me. Ya weren't supposed ta. Ya know what I'm
sayin'? Like, I'm trained to blend into the background." He paused, then
suddenly screamed "Hiii-yaah!" and assumed a fighting crouch. He waited
for a moment for a reaction, but getting nothing but puzzled stares from
the four canoeists, he straightened up. "Don't worry. Just jokin'! I'm
Stu Clayfoot, by the way. Please ta meetcha." And he walked toward the
two boats, his right hand extended.
Once the introductions had been completedstill seated in their
canoes, the four friends were too stunned to do more than shake hands,
nod, and mumble their namesStu continued without a pause. "Ya can
trust me. About those rapids, I mean. I've run 'em dozens of times. OK
for an expert, sure, but beginners like you guys
no way." He waved
his hands lazily in the air, as if simultaneously dismissing his
accomplishments and warning off any attempt to emulate him. "Anyway, ya
gotta be prepared to die for the thrill. Ya don't look like the type.
Trust me. And think about it."
Ed stepped out of the XL Tripper, followed by Brenna. Together, they
hauled their boat ashore. Ed walked over to the Coleman and studied its
bottom. Stu's eyes followed his. "I know what you're thinkin'. Why ain't
I runnin' those falls today? Well, I'd be doin' jes' that, except I got
this little leak in my boat. Ya know what I'm sayin'? Still, I've got
the perfect thing for it." And he bent down and pulled a plastic bag
from the side pocket of a camouflage frame pack, "Here it is. Ya ain't
never seen nothin' like this glue. Trust me. It's from a secret lab in
Rooshee-a. I know what I'm talkin' about. I'm a Fed." He stopped for a
minute, bent down, and studied Ed's face carefully. "I shouldn't a said
that. But ya look OK. I can usually tell. You don't look like a bad guy
to me. I work for the D-O-Ethat's the Department of Energy,
understand? in D-C."
Ed finished examining the Coleman, straightened up, and turned his
gaze on its owner. His first impression strengthened on closer
acquaintance. Stu was middle-aged. Middle height. Slim to skinny, with a
budding pot. His face was divided by a single eyebrow like an overgrown
median-strip on a deserted highway. One ear-lobe was goneit looked
as if it had been torn off. A receding chin bristled with rusty stubble,
and tired ringlets of rusty hair poked out from under a baseball-cap
worn backwards. Even when he was talkingand that was just about
non-stopStu's lips seemed to be set in a permanent smirk. Without
quite knowing why, Ed found himself thinking of the president.
Stu didn't have the president's tailor, though. His threadbare jeans
were caked with mud at the knees, cuffs and rump. His white Converse
sneakers, too, were clotted with black muck. Mud stains smeared his
hairy forearms and neck. He wore an olive-drab pistol belt around his
waist. A huge sheath knife hung from the belt, the tip smacking against
Stu's knees as he shuffled back and forth, looking for the hole in his
The final fashion touch was a once-black t-shirt now faded to gray
and stretched tight over Stu's curiously prominent belly. Bleached
yellow letters across the sunken chest proclaimed "Gabba Gabba
Hey Forever," and, just below that, "I Wanna be Sedated." When Stu
turned round, Ed could read "Addicted to Noise" on the back. He wasn't
inclined to argue, and he headed off to help Brenna with their gear.
"What asylum do you think he escaped from? " Karin whispered to
Brenna as the two of them hauled packs from their boats. Brenna just
shrugged and shook her head.
Pete couldn't contain his curiosity any longer. He left Karin to
finish unloading their boat, and walked over to where Stu was working on
the Coleman, winking at Ed in passing. "Uh, Stu
" he began. "Did I
hear you say you've got a leak?"
"Yep," Stu replied. "That's right. A leak. I'm gonna find the sucker
an' plug it." He stooped over the hull of his canoe, while a swarm of
shade-loving mosquitos took the opportunity to exploit an avenue of
attack left by a growing gap between his t-shirt and jeans. "Like I was
Ed there, I've got jes what the doctor ordered." As
he spoke, he dipped his middle-finger into the plastic bag and scooped
out a bead of viscous, yellow-brown goo. It clung tenaciously to his
gesticulating finger. "Got it!" he exclaimed suddenly, smearing the goo
over a hair-thin crack on the hull. Then he wiped what remained on his
stomach and stood up.
"Bet you're wondering why I covered my arms with mud aren't you?" he
asked Pete, and Pete, who'd hadn't been wondering any such thing, could
only nod in bemused wonderment. "It's an old Special Forces trick. Keeps
the bugs off you and acts as camouflage. Think about it."
Stu's voice enveloped Pete like steam in a sauna. He fought an urge
to run back to the water's edge. Instead, he just said, "I will, Stu.
Thanks." And rejoined Karin.
Brenna was helping Ed lash two paddles onto the thwarts to supplement
the XL Tripper's center yoke. When she'd tied off her last lashing, she
shrugged her way into the straps of one Duluth pack, settled the tump
over her forehead, and then waited for Ed to set the second pack down on
top of the first. Pete adjusted the shoulder straps of his Gregory, and
Karin cinched the waistbelt of her smaller counterpart. In the shadows
of the hemlocks, Stu was satisfied that his "Rooshee-an" super-goop had
done the job. He flipped the Coleman upright and then struggled into his
frame pack. Gear hung from every tab and grommet. Walking past him,
Brenna noticed a Sierra Club cup, a large metal canteen, a machete in a
hard plastic sheath, and a three-quart pot. She was quite sure she'd
missed a few things.
Pete now rolled the Explorer onto his shoulders, settled the Gregory
behind the thwart, and headed out after Brenna. Ed hefted
Leviathan up with an ostentatious groan and followed, walking
with the characteristic plodding pace of a man carrying a
hundred-and-twenty pound load. Karin grabbed the remaining paddles and
brought up the rear. When she passed Stu, she heard him muttering
something, but he didn't seem to be talking to her. She picked up her
pace, nearly running headlong into the stern peak of the XL Tripper.
"Hurry up!" she called out to Ed in a stage whisper. "You don't want to
have to listen to that crazy guy all along the carry, do you?"
Ed simply grunted and plodded on, though at a slightly faster pace.
He was already winded. Worse yet, three blackflies were flying around
inside his head-net. "Wonderful!" he said to himself. It was
going to be a very long mile, he thought. At the first place where the
trail widened, Karin passed him.
Pete was now in the lead. Brenna had stopped by the side of the path,
trying without success to identify a small cluster of white blossoms
that had caught her eye. Karin caught up with her, and they started to
walk down the trail together. They could hear Stu Clayfoot somewhere
behind Ed. He was still talking to no one in particular. Now and again
his boat would slam into a tree, to be followed immediately by a torrent
"That guy's a fruitcake!" Karin said. She gestured back with her
thumb, forgetting that Brenna, burdened with a double load, couldn't see
more than the ground in front of her feet. "Did you see the size of that
blade he was carrying?"
"Yeah. A real commando, all right," Brenna laughed. "And an ace
paddler, too, at least the way he tells it. Aren't we lucky, though!"
Karin giggled in reply. In companionable silence, the two women walked
Some minutes later and several hundred yards ahead, Pete glimpsed the
clearing at the end of the carry under the bow of his canoe. Sighing
with relief, he set his boat down in the shade of a huge white pine and
dropped his pack inside. Humming to himself, he checked his pulse. Good,
he thought. Right in his training range. He looked back down the trail.
Brenna and Karin were just visible. There was no sign of Ed, though. So
Pete started back up the trail.
He found Ed a hundred yards behind the women, puffing like a steam
train but feeling fine. When Ed had rolled the big boat down off his
shoulders, Pete hefted it. "Jeeze!" he exclaimed. "That thing weighs
more than my boat and pack put together.
Ed didn't reply. He'd yanked off his headnet and was probing its
recesses with his fingers. "Got the little bastards!" he cried suddenly
holding up a thumb smeared with the remains of three blackflies. It was
clear from the blood on Ed's thumb and the swelling over his eyes that
all three had fed very well. Seeing the quizzical look on Pete's face,
he added, "No, I'm not going crazy. They've been dining off me every
step of the carry, and I was damned if was going to let them get away.
Serves me right, though. Wearing a headnet on a day like this! Damn near
"You need a Kevlar boat," Pete commented dryly.
"I'd need a bigger bank balance, first," Ed countered. "Come on,
let's get something to eat." Before heading down to the river, however,
he looked back along the way he'd come. "Hear anything?" he asked, and
when Pete shook his head, he added "Me neither. You think the Clayfoot
character's got himself lost?"
"Who cares?" Pete grunted, "So long's he's not here. Let's get some
lunch, and then maybe walk up the river and take a look at the rapids.
There's a sort of fishermen's trail right along the river bank."
Rejoining Brenna and Karin, they dug out their food bags and put
together a meal to eat on the go. As they scrambled up the fishermen's
trail, Pete and Karin nibbled energy bars, while Ed and Brenna gnawed on
a couple of sticks of jerky, stopping from time to time to eyeball a
particularly tricky drop. Returning, they discussed what they'd seen,
shouting to make themselves heard over the roar of the water. It
wouldn't exactly have been a piece of cake, they decided, particularly
at this water level. Better safe than sorry.
There was no sign of Stu Clayfoot at the put-in. The place seemed
unnaturally quiet after the roar of the water upstream and Stu's
rapid-fire chatter."Maybe he's already headed off down-river," Brenna
"Or maybe he's stuck to the trail with his super goop," Pete
Ed had pulled their old aneroid barometer from it's waterproof bag
and was tapping the face. He looked up at the sky, but saw only a white
sun in a milky haze. "Might be a good idea if we got started, too," he
said at last. "Pressures dropping pretty fast. Might be a lively
"Well, then, let's get going," Brenna said, and helped Ed haul the
boat down to the water. They were under way in minutes. The river wound
lazily between wooded hills. Ed assembled his rod once again, and tried
a cast or two, but he had no more luck than he'd had earlier. They saw
no other boats on the water. It was almost as if they were alone on the
river, yet every lean-to and campsite they passed was full to
overflowing. Then, in mid-afternoon, just as they were starting to get
worried, they found what seemed to be an ideal camp, nestled in a wooded
cove beyond the outlet of a marshy creek mouth. Astonishingly, it was
"Looks like home to me," Brenna said cheerfully, surveying a mixed
stand of white birches and aspen from the middle of the river. The
leaves quivered in a ghost of a breeze, their light green flashing
against the dark background.
"About time, too," said Pete, pointing to the west, where
anvil-shaped clouds were now pushing up above the forest fringe. Without
more delay, they landed one at a time at a sand beach only large enough
for single boat. Pete and Karin beached the Explorer first and carried
their packs along a faint trail leading up the gentle slope, returning
minutes later for their Explorer. Ed and Brenna followed, but they left
Leviathan on the beach. Ed was determined to wet a fly under a
cut-bank across the river, in a pool sheltered behind a pine that had
long ago toppled into the water.
"This is great!" Brenna exclaimed when she reached the top of the
rise, sweeping her arms wide and then allowing them to flop to her
sides. A well-drained parkland opened before her. There'd be no problem
finding places to pitch tents and tarps, she realized, and they lost no
time setting up camp, collecting downed wood, and stacking it next to a
ring of cracked and blackened stones marking the site of earlier fires.
Karin then kindled a blaze and balanced a large pot of water on three
rocks near its edge. She stayed behind to watch the fire while Brenna
and Pete walked down to the water to rinse off some of the day's
accumulated salt and sweat.
For his part, Ed took the big canoe out alone, intent on giving the
cut-bank pool a try. Brenna, feeling much better once she'd cleaned up a
bit, relieved Karin. She wasn't sure that she should count on trout for
dinner, though, and she began assembling ingredients for a one-pot meal
of chicken and dumplings, just in case. Her premonitions proved to be
right on the mark. Ed lumbered into camp empty-handed a few minutes
later, hauling their canoe behind him. Smugly, Brenna fired up her
newly-acquired Optimus 111B and blended chicken soup mix into a pot of
water, stirred in a can of chicken, and then poured in dehydrated
onions, green peas, and carrots. Soon the soup was bubbling cheerfully.
Mosquitos collected under the cooking tarps as the paddlers prepared
supper. Brenna dropped biscuit dough into the simmering soup. Pete and
Karin concocted a rice dish over the fire, adding freeze-dried shrimp,
bonito flakes, miso, and coconut shreds. Pete uncorked a bottle of
Merlot that he'd kept wrapped in an insulated sleeve and filled four
metal cups. Then they all tucked in, standing or squatting while looking
out over the river.
"Hell of a view," Ed said, watching feeding trout dimple the surface
of the water. He shook his head ruefully. "We made good time. Should be
no problem reaching the take-out tomorrow afternoon."
"Ken's sisters are going to meet us there with his van, right?" asked
Karin. "You sure they'll remember?"
"Yeah," Brenna reassured her. "They'll remember all right. And
they'll drive us back to Long Lake to pick up our trucks."
Pete burped loudly. "Wine's gone right through me," he said, grinning
apologetically. "And that isn't all. Going to see a man about a dog." He
walked back into the woods, picking up a trowel and a roll of toilet
paper as he left the campsite, searching for privacy. When he found a
suitable place, he hurriedly dug a cat-hole in the black loam, dropped
his trousers, and squatted. He closed his eyes. Then he heard ita
loud thrashing, grunting noise coming from somewhere near.
"Get a move on!" he mumbled to himself, almost in a panic. The
thrashing was coming closer, he was sure of it. The grunting was
definitely louder now. Finished at last, Pete snatched at his pants and
struggled to rise, but to no avail. His legs were pinioned in folds of
cloth. He tugged fruitlessly at his pants, heard a seam rip, and then
toppled sideways, his eye narrowly missing the handle of the trowel.
Lying on his back, half-stunned, he looked up.
Standing over him, silhouetted against the early evening sky, a
sword-like knife gripped tightly in his fist, was none other Stu
"Sorry 'bout that
Pete, ain't it?
but you really
oughta be more careful, ya know." Stu struck out half-heartedly at a
sapling with his knife. "I mean, I coulda been a bear. Ya shoulda been
more alert. A man's always at his mos' vulnerable when he's on the can,
ya know wha' I mean?"
"Jesus!" Pete yelled, rolling onto his knees, his trousers still
bunched around his ankles. "What in hell're you doing, bulling through
the bushes, you crazy bastard?!" He scrambled to his feet, pulling his
pants up as best he could.
"I said I was sorry." Stu stared thoughtfully down into the cat-hole.
"You think you're gettin' enough roughage, buddy?"
Pete squinted at Stu in complete disbelief. For perhaps the first
time in his life, no words came to him. "Maybe," he thought, "it's the
wine. Or maybe I'm dreaming. Maybe this is a nightmare." Then he looked
down at his torn pants and at the open cat-hole, and he realized that
the nightmare was all too real. "Put that goddamn' knife away!" he
snapped, and then he bent over, grabbed the trowel and began tossing
dirt into the cat-hole.
When he looked up again, Stu was reached down into his jeans and
scratching lustily, his knife still held firmly in his other hand.
"Jungle rot," he explained when he saw Pete staring at him with horror
on his face. "Got it years ago. Damn stuff never goes away."
Pete gave up, spun round on his heels and started half walking, half
running back toward camp.
Stu followed along behind him, in no hurry, still scratching, his
knife still in his other hand. "I'm real sorry, buddy. Honest. I'm
camped right over there on the other side of those maples, so deep in
'em you can't see my camp 'till you're right on top of it. I'm testing
Pete didn't reply. Instead, he picked up the pace till he was
jogging, glancing over his shoulder to see if Stu was closing he gap. He
wasn't. Still, Pete didn't stop till he was stooping under the cook
tarp. "What's the matter with you?" Ed asked, seeing Pete's torn pants
and ashen face. "You see a ghost?"
"That freakin' Stu What's-his-name
" Pete gestured over his
shoulder just as a shambling figure with a large knife in his hand
emerging from the woods.
"Evenin', all," the apparition burbled. "I was just telling Pete here
that he ought to eat more roughage, ya know? Ya gotta look after
yourself in the back-country."
Very slowly, Ed rocked forward from his relaxed slouch till his
weight was on the balls of his feet. His eyes searched out the tip of
the knife in Stu's hand. Having found it, they never left it. "Why don't
you put that knife up and visit a while?" he asked. His voice was quiet,
low, and toneless. Just the sort of voice you used in questioning a lost
child, Brenna thought.
"We're finishing our supper," Karin said, her voice edged with
Stu sheathed his knife and squatted down. He looked at Ed and said,
"No problem, buddy. I know where you're comin' from. And while I'd like
to stay an' shoot the breeze, I got my own dinner to get." And then he
rose and walked away, heading upriver. "See ya!" he called back over his
shoulder. "Ya need me, Pete'll tell you where I'm camped."
"Christ!" Pete sat down and drank what remained of the wine in one
long, gurgling gulp. "I thought that guy was going to try to stick me
with that damn' Bowie knife!" And then he told the others the whole
story, looking a little hurt when the tale elicited more laughter than
sympathy. "What's so funny, anyway?" he asked petulantly, but no one
"Tea water's boiling," Karin interrupted.
"Want some Earl Grey?" Brenna asked, as she spooned tea leaves into a
"No thanks," said Karin. "We picked up some new stuff at the co-op
before we left. It's called
let's see, now
" she squinted in
an attempt to read the label, "Mus
PoMus Po. That's it." And
she poured small black pellets into a mesh tea-ball.
"Mus Po?" Brenna repeated. "Never heard of that one." She examined
the contents of the tea-ball. "Looks like mouse droppings to me," she
"Our Feng Shui consultant recommended it," Pete replied with some
asperity, remembering the reception he'd gotten the last time the
subject had come up. "It's very relaxing. And that's just what I need."
"I'll stick to Earl Grey," Ed said.
"These mosquitos are awful!" Karin erupted suddenly, waving her arms
"First time you've noticed?" Brenna smiled grimly. "That herbal
repellent of yours must work pretty well, after all. I think I know why
this campsite, of all the sites we passed, was deserted on the Memorial
Day weekendlocal knowledge. Can't be beat. It's like the Mosquito
"They're bad because there's a storm brewing," Ed broke in. "At least
we've got a snug camp."
"Just think of it," Brenna said, "in a few weeks we'll be doing this
Their tea drunk, the four paddlers made sure all was in order and
retreated to their tents. Ed and Brenna had lots of space in their
4-person Eureka Timberline. Pete and Karinwho'd decided to go
light with a Kelty Zen that didn't have much elbow roomweren't
quite so lucky. They didn't have any trouble falling asleep, though.
By midnight they were awake again, as thunder echoed over the hills
and wind gusts ballooned their tents. Ed and Brenna awoke with a jolt,
startled by the fury of the storm. Driving rain searched out every gap
in their defenses, and Ed had to move the foot of his sleeping bag to
avoid a rapidly growing puddle. The tent's aluminum frame rattled and
cracked, but it held together, and none of the young birches and aspens
in the grove came down. In an hour the worst was over. The occupants of
the two tents shouted to one another, asking if all was well. They
peeked out of their tents as the rain drummed on the forest duff and
retreating lightning illuminated the sky, while their yellow flashlight
beams revealed a camp still in good order. The canoes were where they'd
been tied down. The tarps stretched taut over the gear. Gradually the
storm eased and sleep returned.
Morning came too soon. Brenna wrinkled her nose. She smelled wood
smoke, opened her eyes and realized that the sun hadn't risen yet.
Probably Pete, she thought. He was always impatient to get started. She
snuggled up against Ed. No sooner did she fall back to sleep than she
heard Pete's shrill shout, "What the hell are you doing here!?"
Ed sat up, instantly awake, reaching for his glasses. He pulled on
his pants, unzipped the tent door and thrust himself out through it,
looking around him as he shot through. There, huddled under a
newly-raised tarp, was Stu Clayfoot. He sat on a rock, whittling a birch
limb with his knife, and flicking off curls of birchwood into a spitting
fire. His torso was covered with a clear plastic trash bag,. His head
emerged through a slit cut in the bottom seam, and his arms exited
through holes in the sides.
"Morning," he said, nodding cheerfully at Ed.
Ed was having none of it. "Just what in hell do you think
you're doing?" he demanded.
"I just thought I'd stop in and see how your camp held up," Stu
replied in a tone that suggested it was the most natural thing in the
world to be tending someone else's campfire. "I thought you'd be
grateful for the fire. Hell of a night, wasn't it? My tent blew out, ya
know. Wasn't much of a tent, of course, Not like that one over
." He pointed at the Neary's Kelty. "Don't know if I don't
like yours better, though," he concluded.
"How dare you make yourself at home in our camp?" Pete yelled. He was
standing in front of his tent, clad only in gym shorts. His fists were
clenched. "Get outta here! Go on, get out, you and that damn' knife of
yours. Get outta here, now, you lunatic!"
Stu stared at Pete with hooded, dispassionate eyes. Then he shrugged
dismissively, dropped his gaze and sliced another long curl of the birch
limb. Ed noticed that it was very clean slice. He looked over at Pete
and shook his head ever so slightly.
"Free country, ya know," Stu continued, speaking for Ed's benefit
alone. "Leastwise it oughta be." And then he changed tacks. "They say
this here river is the best dammed little river in the whole world.
That's D-A-M-M-E-D, if ya get my meanin'on account of all those
dams downstream, ya know. Some of us at the D-O-E are gettin' a little
worried, in fact, what with all them suitcase bombs goin' missin' in
Rooshe-a. Not that you'd really need an A-bomb on any of those dams,
though'cause of the crackin', an all. But I'm not supposed to talk
about it." And then, suddenly and uncharacteristically, he was silent.
He continued to whittle, but he said nothing more.
Pete muttered something under his breath and ducked back into his
tent, where a whispered conversation soon ensued. Ed smiled down
slightly at Stu, nodded, and then yelled over to Brenna: "Let's pack up
and get on the river. It'd be good to get an early start for a change."
A muffled acknowledgement from Pete and Karin's tent told him that they,
too, had gotten the message.
Once their sleeping bags were stuffed, Brenna dressed and stepped
outside. It was pleasantly cool after the damp warmth of the tent. The
cold front and the rain had dropped the temperature thirty degrees
overnight. Moving quickly, she next struck the tent and packed it. While
she worked, Ed pulled down the tarp, flicking it neatly so that it
sailed over the now all-but-immobile Stu and sent a torrent of water
spilling off into his lap. He made no sign he'd noticed. Only his hands
still moved, sending curl after curl of birch wood into the fire. By
unspoken agreement, Pete, Karin, and Brenna ferried gear down to the
beach, leaving Ed to watch their uninvited guest. Once on the river
bank, they found Stu's Coleman pulled up. Shoving it to one side, they
launched first one boat and then the other.
At last, when all was ready, Brenna yelled up to Ed, who bowed
slightly in farewell and then left Stu where they'd found
himseated on a rock before the fire, whittling a birch limb that
was now little more than a twig. The four friends paddled off into the
dawn, moving quickly, as if to put distance between themselves and the
incidents of the last twenty-four hours. Brenna passed round a bag of
jerky. They ate in silence.
Ed was the first to speak. "You know," he said, "I don't think our
friend is quite as mad as he'd like us to think, but I'm damned if I can
figure out what he's up to. I wonder if there really is a Stu Clayfoot
working for the D.O.E.?"
No one had any answer to that question, but conversation slowly
Gray clouds scudded overhead and patches of blue appeared in the sky.
Soon the sun peeked out and made the wet landscape glitter in the drying
breeze. The temperature remained pleasantly cool. By late morning they'd
put a good many miles between themselves and what they'd started to call
"Deliverance Camp." They decided to stop for a brew-up and a proper
meal, and a rocky outcrop, sloping down into the dark river, was the
perfect place. They got their stoves going and made tea and soup. Brenna
even whipped up a bannock for each of them. Then, with full stomachs and
a warm sun beaming benevolently down on them, all but Ed laid back and
dozed. Finally, even Ed's eyes closed.
They slept far longer than they'd intended. With Zoe and Abby
planning to meet them at the Tupper Lake take-out by late afternoon,
they'd have to paddle hard. But the river didn't cooperate. It twisted
back on itself, sometimes breaking into false channels that ended in
cul-de-sacs. Even the current slackened.
Pete fumed. He was the most impatient of them all. He wanted to get
home so he could prepare a presentation for a business meeting on
At long last, though, they glimpsed Mt. Morris and knew they were
close to the take-out. A group of six people in three tandem kayaks
paddled slowly upstream and stopped to ask if they'd heard the big news.
"It's in all the papers, and a TV crew are there
at Long Lake," a
man in a Remington baseball cap said.
"Yeah," his companion added. "They found some guy with no legs
floating in the water next to that island where the lady movie star
lives. What's her name? Chadd Wellington? That's it. And they arrested
Jerkin' Jakeyou know, the crazy disk jockey at WFLUfor
manslaughter. Can you believe it? Course I'm sure there's some mistake.
He's such a funny guy and all."
Ed and Brenna only shook their heads. They remembered the Hacker
inboard roaring around the end of the island. "Poor bastard," Ed
muttered. And Brenna knew he wasn't talking about Jake.
That was the end of the conversation. More impatient than ever to get
back home, Pete hurried them along. Soon they were paddling into Simon
Pond and headed for the highway bridge marking the take-out. An
amplified voice boomed out of a loudspeaker at the Angler's Nook bar
just up the road: "And now here's what you all've been waitin'
our very own Bubba Buck and his Buck-ettes! Let's give 'em a
big hand, folks!" Seconds later A Boy Named Sue was echoing over
"Hey! There they are!" Brenna shouted, pointing toward shore, where
Zoe and Abby waited next to Ken's blue Caravan. The twins waved and
"It's really funny," Brenna said to Ed as they paddled toward the
take-out. "We only left Long Lake yesterday morning, but it feels like
"I was thinking the same thing," Ed replied. Then he caught sight of
a chalky red Coleman pulled up on shore, a little way off from the
Caravan. A familiar figure stood beside it. "Can you believe that that?"
Ed asked, and the others echoed his astonishment.
"Just look at him!" Pete fumed. "How the hell did that he get here
"Maybe," said Ed, "he just paddled by us while we were sleeping."
They hauled their canoes ashore. Ignoring the others, Stu nodded to
Ed, and Ed returned the greeting. Just as he was looking away, he could
have sworn that Stu winked at him.
Abby and Zoe came down to help with the gear. Abby hugged Brenna.
"Who's that?" she asked, gesturing toward Stu. "Somebody you know?"
"It's a long story," Brenna replied. "We'll tell you all about on the
Ed put his arm around Brenna's shoulders. He turned toward the
others. "Well, guys, that's it. Next stop, James Bay!"
Stu caught Ed's eye again. This time there was no mistaking it. He
End of Book I. To be continued
Copyright © 2001 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights