Sunday, April 6, 2014

An Excerpt from “Jake’s Justice”

Here is a few pages from a novel I wrote last year and which I’m hoping to see published in 2014. I have three edited but this is the one I would like to do first. The story opens in the spring as Jake comes out of the mountains to sell his furs to the Hudson’ Bay Company. Except for four trips out to sell furs and buy supplies Jake has been hiding in those mountains, mostly from himself, for three years. He expects this trip out to be no more than two weeks long but his plans and his life are about to be changed once again.

 In the west of the 1890s Jake’s wife is raped and murdered, an image from which he attempts to escape and hide. When two thugs attempt to take what little else he has he realizes he must face the past and solve the crime to truly escape the image. To find the killer he will find more surprises.
        The first part of the trip went as Jake had planned; and since it was his fourth trip down to Ft. St. John this was not a particular surprise. It had been a short, mild winter and he was late enough in the season that he saw very little ice, except for a few small pieces melting away from their perches on driftwood where they had been forced by the earlier heavy run off. The water was still high enough that he could avoid portaging, but low enough that he managed to keep the canoe upright with his cargo inside the craft.
       Some stretches of river did create heart pounding moments. Jake was not one to admit it, even to himself, but adrenaline flowed and he worked hard to avoid rocks and whirlpools. Chester, in his assigned space at the front of the canoe, put his chin on the ribbing and his paws over his nose.
      There was just enough light for Jake to shoot the last rapids on the Finlay, and enough dark that he could steer wide around the settlement of Finlay Forks without attracting attention. Everyone stopped at the landing. After a winter in the bush most men wanted company and conversation. Jake wanted neither. He also didn’t want to put up with fur traders trying to deal him out of his pelts for less than top price.
       Two men did see him from the dock as he turned into the Peace River. One was known as Sam Twice. He had been born into the Beaver Nation but was accepted at no lodge, including that of his own family. The other was Martin Prentice, a man who definitely was wanted. He was wanted by the law in both the State of New York and the Province of Ontario. The town police in Winnipeg and Calgary would have also liked to talk to him, but they were not aware he was the one who had committed the crimes.
      In the twilight Sam Twice made a flicking motion with one finger toward the silhouette out on the water. “Him maybe got fur,” he said.
      “I expect he does,” Martin agreed. He took a swig from the jug he held and passed it to Sam. “Perhaps he also has a small poke of gold he’s panned out of streams.”
      “Why him not come in?” Sam asked. He flicked a finger toward the large cabin that served as store, saloon, and hotel as long as one wasn’t too particular about prices, liquor quality, or sleeping on the floor. He took a swig from the jug which the two had purchased at the store. Sam didn’t care about the quality of the refreshment since he had never had anything better.
      “I expect he wants more than half price for his pelts,” Martin replied. “He’ll take them down to Ft. St. John where he’ll get as much as he can get in this country.”
      “Don’ like that man boss that Fort John place,” Sam said. “He marry Beaver girl. She nice girl, one time.”
      Martin looked at Sam a moment. He knew there was much about Sam’s past that he didn’t know, but he didn’t really care. Sam was useful from time to time, and that was all the mattered. “I heard his wife was Cree, but what do I know? I’ve never even seen the woman.”
      Sam grunted, giving Martin no idea what he meant.
      Martin waved toward the silhouette of man and canoe fading into the gathering darkness. “Now, that pilgrim will undoubtedly stop for the night. Tomorrow he’ll go on to Portage Mountain. If we were to float down the river right now we could be at Portage to meet him.”
      “I like maybe stay here an’ drink,” Sam objected. He wasn’t one to hasten toward any effort that wasn’t absolutely necessary.
      “How would you like to have a nice canoe?” Martin asked.
      Sam looked at Martin with hard, cold eyes. “I get canoe an’ you get fur?”
      “No, no,” Martin objected. “We split the furs and you get the canoe. After all, I already have a canoe.”
      Sam nodded several times, then placed the cork in the jug and hit it with the heel of his hand. “We go.”


Peace River, Portage Mountain, British Columbia, 1898
      There was no question about pulling out of the water upriver from Portage Mountain. Even in late August, when the water flow may have dropped several feet, no one in their right mind would try to shoot the Peace Canyon.
      It was mid afternoon of their second day of travel when Jake pulled in to the river bank. Chester jumped out onto dry ground and ran to the nearest aspen where he lifted his leg.
      Pulling the canoe up so the current couldn’t take it, Jake said, “Mighty fine idea, Chester. You’re a smart dog.”
      Jake unloaded his canoe and dragged the craft up onto dry ground. Chester sat on his haunches, looked at the bales of furs and supplies, swung his gaze up the trail, and then looked back at the cargo.
      “We ain’t in a hurry, Chester. We’ll spend the night here. Go see if yuh can find a rabbit.”
      Chester headed off into the bush and Jake collected firewood.
      At the start and end of any portage there are well-used camp areas; and if the trail to more water is long enough, more stopping places along the way. The Portage Mountain trail - a long walk without carrying a pack - was no exception. There were several sites that had been used on the upriver end. Jake chose one of the spots as far back as possible from the trail end and riverbank and started his fire. If there were other travellers, he wanted to avoid company if possible. He didn’t mind carrying a little water.
      While the fire burned down to coals he moved his freight and canoe up to the camp site. Gathering firewood, he noticed a small aspen sapling and cut it with his knife. Back at the fire he skewered a piece of moose meat with the green stick and drove the butt end of the stick into the ground so the meat was suspended over the coals.
      As the meat was heating up to a sizzle he mixed up some bannock batter, wound it around another piece of green stick and propped that over the fire.
      Chester sauntered into camp and dropped to the ground at the edge of firelight.
      “You’re getting lazy, old man,” Jake said. “First smell o’ cookin’ meat an’ you come back.”
      He turned his gaze to the hound and saw the relaxed, satisfied look and the long tongue licking lips.
      “I apologise, old man. I don’t know what you mighta found t’ eat on this pile o’ rocks, but you’ve found somethin’.”
      When he finished eating and washing up, Jake threw a couple of sticks on the fire and propped the canoe up so it would collect and hold the heat for his bed. He propped himself up against a dry log, loaded his pipe and leaned back puffing contentedly.
       "Nothin’ wrong with this, Ches. Nice warm night.”
        Surprised at his master’s good mood, Chester grunted.
        During breakfast the next morning Jake decided to continue taking it easy. Even though the two bundles of furs were not very large he would pack them around the mountain one at a time. The four fresh plews had not been properly treated, but they were dry so he decided to tie them on to one of the bundles. He pulled a bag full of string and sinew from his possibles pack and wrapped the hides in places, cutting the ends of sinew off and putting them back in the bag.
       He was already on the trail when he realized he hadn’t put his knife back in the sheath. He hesitated, decided he would pick it up on the next trip, and started off again.
       He had only taken a few steps when he heard Chester off the trail to his right. There was the beginning of a bark followed by a howl that was abruptly cut off. Jake swung the pack of furs from his shoulders, dropped it to the trail, and stepped into the brush.
      There was blinding pain from the back of his skull. He saw a light as bright as the sun. Then he fell into blackness.


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