Voyage of Arrogant Chapter One – 1919

Voyage of the Arrogant

Chapter One

1919


replenish the curative for man’s ills…please

ON A SUNDAY morning, when others paid lip service to their Lord Almighty, the bushwhacker lolled on a cot in his flop hotel room overlooking the banks of the Fraser River. He heard a persistent church bell clang and boom, begging for worshipers. That’s a wretched noise, he thought.

Through his mouse hole window, he watched the river glide at a molasses pace, and for a tedious time he gazed at a derelict craft drift on the sluggish water, revolve slowly, going nowhere, motionless but for the slow twirling, captured in the clutch of an enormous eddy. He wished he was aboard.

A few months earlier the old man had strayed over an imaginary line drawn across the continent into Canada. So far, he could find no excitement in the alien land, or the city of New Westminster, and on that account had entered a vile state of boredom.

Simply stated, life had lost its luster.

Drinking did not help his condition. Nor did the soiled doves, who frequented the back alleys and doorways of his favoured dives. Neither did gambling. If truth be told, he was a poor loser, always had been, and recently played an all night poker game with dull-witted men who insisted on Canadian rules – dreamt up from game to game, card to card and bet to bet. Due to the perceived injustice, as well as a menacing atmosphere around the table, he inclined himself to fabricate an altercation: loud accusations of marked cards followed by overturned tables and chairs. For encore, he revealed a weapon and threatened a certain flimflam fellow with his uncertain life.

In retrospect, best not draw attention to oneself, he thought.

Since family and friends were dead, probably, or at least dying bit by bit and painfully too, though he had no idea which or what was the case, to distract the chatter in his skull, he often took to practical occupations such as sharpening his scalping blade on a worn whetstone carried the many years and long distances from his Missouri home. Sitting on the edge of his bed, each time the stone dried from his skillful honing, he spit more lubricant and then continued the monotonous grinding. Calming like a meditation, he thought. His smart brother made the knife – for the handle, a deer antler fitted glove-wise into a dark tough hide, and for the blade, a tempered steel buckboard spring. To achieve the aesthetic appeal of a great work of art, the bushwhacker added tassels of human hair, which, remarkably, had thinned and greyed over the years. Whose they were, he couldn’t say or care. The patch of hairy scalp sprouted from the handle, a decorative addition many noticed, though few dared comment. Due to overzealous honing through the decades, the weapon now looked more like a fish fillet knife than the original design engineered by his brother.

Soon his mind wandered from the task even as his clever hands persisted with their chore. A voice, speaking from the depths inside his head, that had been vocalizing for the last number of years with a persistence which had finally gained his attention – not just persistent, but with frightening authority too – announced that the moment had come for his final fling, a last utterance to magnify an unbroken string of triumphs catalogued under “life’s greatest achievements.” The gist of the message went something like: In this wasteland, your last chance for a big splash in this rotten world has arrived, which, if you are crafty, and I know you are, will grab the attention of generations into the long arc of time.

Tacked lopsided to a wall in his room hung a mariner’s chart of the southern coastline of British Columbia, which he had studied intently during recent months. One night he and his voice had decided, whilst alcohol inspired many wild notions, that somewhere on that map lay their ultimate destiny. Where exactly, they were unsure. Since the day was Sunday, and a day to think, his voice said, I got a idea, let the knife decide where we go. The old man threw the blade and bullseyed an island. Not a bad throw. He lifted off his cot and approached his target. Upon study he liked the shape. Not regular, but not raggedy either. More than anything, he liked where it sat secretive, nestled in a cluster of likeminded others, protected by Vancouver Island from the wild and raging Pacific Ocean, close to the snow capped mountains and reaching out to beautiful blank spaces of nothingness. He liked the name too – after an historical figure like himself. And he liked that the island brushed up against a watery world called Desolation Sound, perhaps, he imagined, the gateway to a wonderful wilderness where he could finish his days, stop the wandering, stop the evading – just stop. For the rest of the afternoon, he watched a spider weave a web across his one broken windowpane, but his eye kept tacking back to his knife, which had pierced the heart of Cortes Island at the top of the Strait of Georgia.

Beside his flop hotel stood a ship’s chandlery. Over the course of a few more months he provisioned up in preparation for the great journey. More charts, a big rowboat and anchor and chain – clinker, deep-drafted. Like a miniature freighter, he thought. Two sets of oars. To get the hang of sea life, to locate the whereabouts of his sea legs, he watched others, saw how they tied their boats, stowed their gear and he practiced rowing on the river, but, unlike the others, stood and pushed.

Sitting back to front is an invitation to ambush, his voice correctly observed.

And then added, From now on your boat is your horse.

I ain’t had no horse in lots of years, he said.

Think of them oars as stallion legs, said his voice.

On one of those practice runs, still refining his technique, getting his muscles and fibres accustomed to the instability of a watery life, a fellow on the riverbank yelled out, “I ain’t never seen nobody row like that before.” The idiot clutched his gut like he had never enjoyed a decent laugh in a sordid lifetime. If the bushwhacker could have rowed to shore fast enough, he would have smashed the fellow over the head with both oars and then set to work creating a permanent sense of cataclysm and ruination.

He bought a miner’s tent. And tools – shovel, pick, axe, saw, hammer, screw drivers and chisels, nails and screws and nuts and bolts, fish line, hooks and lures and sisal ropes of various gauge and length. He didn’t know or care if he’d ever use any of his equipment. And he bought food – cases of canned peaches and beans, spuds, two pails of lard, salt, two full slabs of bacon, sugar, flour, and four big buckets of strawberry jam. Then he bought necessaries – matches, tobacco, papers, candles, lots of candles, coffee and whiskey, lots of coffee and lots of whiskey. With each purchase the energy of youth surged into every one of his musty corners. Maybe I got a second wind, he thought. His voice agreed, You sure do. He bought a new fry pan, new pot, and a real good American rifle, Winchester 44. Rounds for it too. He still had one patch ball for the old .36 revolver – a concession to nostalgia was all it was. Or maybe he would use it one last time. You never know, said his voice. He packed his moth-eaten Confederate flag because he could not imagine not having it, could not imagine the stars and stripes flying over Missouri, and could not forgive the murderous North and never would. He bought a lantern and coal oil. He bought those new rubberized boots. He rejected the need for a compass as his internal bearings had always behaved adequately, but acquired bushels of empty medicine bottles from an apothecary at a penny apiece – the bubbly lilac coloured kind – for he had an entrepreneurial idea learned from a medicine man at a carnival show down in Oregon though the method should be amended slightly now that he lived on foreign soil. He paid the proprietor the grand sum of fifteen dollars in advance for future deliveries and said he would send shipping instructions later.

The man asked, “Don’t you need no stoppers?”

“No I don’t,” said the bushwhacker.

Then he asked, “What you going to do with all them bottles?”

“Tain’t your business.”

To tell the truth, his profitorial idea was vague – not conceptual either – but for certain genuinely creative. Nor could one say this venture was motivated by need as his stash of loot – hoarded and fondled over the decades – looked just as tall and just as pretty after the spending spree.

On April 19, 1919, he said good-bye to civilization, though no one heard his farewell, and oared out the mouth of the Fraser River passing sawmills, fish canneries and never ending trains of log booms lined with tranquil grey gulls and their splatterings of slippery white shit. Troller boats and gill-netter boats chugged to he-didn’t-know-where, as did coal tugs puking black billows at an innocent blue sky. The muddy water turned light green. Soon an actual line divided the sea from the river – the blue from the green. When he reached over and tasted salt, he knew he had entered the Strait of Georgia. The idea was to get over there, where the mountains stood tall and toothy, and keep following the shoreline, but keep refusing to go up the mouths of inlets until you got to the top of the chart; then you could sort out the jumble of islands until you got the right one. To celebrate his life change he rechristened himself with a new alias, Frank Waterman: Frank to honor his older brother, and Waterman – well that was obvious. So went the business of his mind. An American legend fitted with a new spring for an old life. Three score and ten – plus or minus. Impervious to the ravages of time.

TWO MONTHS of rowing: calluses on calluses, sore legs and sore ass, minor mishaps, bailing, loafing, fishing – they leapt into the boat like on the Sea of Galilee when Jesus came along for the ride – and wrong turns, and once he becalmed in the deafening quiet of fog for three full days and three long nights, when he heard the ghostly jabbers and bleeps of sea birds who could care less about where they were or if land were near or far. His voice said, Little peculiar out here. He agreed, Peculiar yes, but one hell better than what we come from.

Avoidance of citizenry was another practicality, especially difficult since those he encountered were too damned friendly, and offered him shelter, hot cooked meals, work, directions, none of which he needed or wanted. He engaged in seabird hunting, but learned quickly that the charlatan gourmands of the citified upper crust of New Westminster had overrated the tender delicacy of sea ducks. Those .44 slugs don’t leave a whole lot for munching, said his voice. All in all, his journey turned into a kind of holiday.

The windy day he entered Lewis Channel with Cortes Island on his portside and Desolation Sound to starboard was miserable, dark and gloomy. As Frank neared the shoreline at the southern tip of the island, he saw a protected and abandoned bay. An old shed with moss-covered shakes crookedly stood at the highest tidemark and a lanky-legged, black wolf snuffled along the gravelly beach occasionally looking to sea at him or so Frank thought. He called out, “Hey, Lobo,” but the wolf did not hear him.

Frank could do his arithmetic better than most men and knew immediately that an abandoned shed, plus a lone wolf, plus a protected bay added up to the invitation he had secretly yearned to receive for a lifetime. Looks a whole lot like we arrived at Destiny, said his voice. Maybe so, he answered, and then repeated, Maybe so, with every push on the oars. Unfortunately the southeast picked up and swept him by his chosen resting place, a mile further along. He landed at Seaford – that’s what the chart said.

Seaford: a poor excuse for a harbour – shallow, boulder-strewn, wave tossed, not more than an indent in a crummy shoreline. Three wire strapped logs thrashed at wretched pilings and Frank presumed this an excuse for the wharf. At anchor, three fishboats bounced and two small rowboats rested ashore upside down. He dragged his clinker up the cobbly rocks where there was some calm. The lively swell gave an assist and he was savvy enough to anticipate each wave as it levered the boat further onto drier land. He then commenced to bail the ocean from the stern with a rusted three-pound jam tin. After considerable labour, he pulled on his boat again; lighter, it moved a few feet up the beach.

A fellow had watched him work. He smoked a long stemmed pipe discharging astonishing volumes of blue smoke. The man had extremely large ears and stained buckteeth. Made for cropping coarse sedges, thought Frank. More like saplings, said his voice.

The man ambled up and said, “Tide’s falling.” He could get more smoke out of that pipe than a street full of chimneys in the great city of San Francisco.

Frank said, “Maybe when the wind sighs down you might offer a shove.”

“Sou’east be up fer days.”

“That means you ain’t offering no help, right?” Not wanting an answer to his question, Frank turned his back and stared out at Lewis Channel and the gateway to Desolation Sound.

The fellow wandered back up the hill. The southeast blew harder, but it did not rain. The tide dropped and came back up and dropped another time, never once touching the stern of his boat. He wondered, How does the sea do that? He slept ashore under a maple, the clinker tied to the tree on a long line. The evening redness in the west dwindled until the frogs from a nearby pond chanted a twilight song giving his mind a deserved rest. During the night the wind shifted to northwest, clouds cleared before daylight and pale stars speckled the dew-grey morning sky. When the sun breached the mountains on the mainland, it blasted the shore so swiftly Frank thought he had woken into a bold and brilliant dream. This is nice, said his voice.

He had beans and peaches for breakfast and thought about his discovery. The shed, the bay, and the wolf had become his just by thinking. He planned to chisel Wolf Bay into a giant granite rock by the deserted shed as soon as he got there. That act of permanence would grant him inextinguishable title. Frank considered walking the shoreline for a scout, but feared leaving his possessions to the inquiries of the fool or any of the other citizens in the hamlet of Seaford. He decided to wait for the tidewaters to reach his boat and then shove off.

The path the fool had taken led to a red miniature post office. Beyond, a gaggle of homes nestled on the cleared land – outbuildings, coops for chickens and ducks, three barns, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and limited pasture where sheep grazed. The postmistress busied herself in the cramped quarters of the building loading sacks with parcels and bundles of letters. She came out onto the little porch and they introduced themselves.

“Hello, I’m Mrs. Archer. You can call me Mary.”

“Frank Waterman, ma’am.” He tipped his hat and positioned his profile in such a manner that only his unblemished side could be seen by the postmistress. The healing process had not gone entirely well.

She pointed. “That’s my husband, Joseph; see him logging up the hill. And that fellow over there is Georgie Jenzen who looks after the sheep. He is a little simple, but the rest of his clan are the best fishermen in these parts. And the Ballentyne people live in that house, they’re fishermen too, and the Wilkes live over to the right and keep to themselves, but they are very nice.”

He asked, “Is that all the folks on this island?”

“Oh, no,” she replied. “People are scattered here and there, but there’s lots of us.”

He asked, “How often do you get mail?”

“The freighter comes once a month.” Mary looked a wiry woman, but he thought that did not detract from her appearance. “We expect it today or tomorrow; that’s why I’m so busy.”

He said, “I’m thinking of settling permanent-like in the bay south a piece…the one with the beat up shed beside that big rock.”

She said, “Be my guest. No one lives at that end of the island. You should just go and set up shop.”

She then speculated that whoever built the shed had not really been interested in settling down. It was government land probably, or it might be Indian land, but he could check. Getting title would be easy, especially if he homesteaded to gain, as she put it, “the rights of occupation.” Mary said it was always good to have new people come to the island. He learned that a barn served as a hall for neighbourhood functions and her little post office was the only one on this side of the island though a larger community was a mile further north, the Klahoose Indian village at Squirrel Cove.

She asked, “What happened to your face?”

He lied, “Logging accident.”

He pulled his cowboy hat further over his brow.

Perhaps not wanting to dwell on his imperfections, she asked, “What do you plan on doing on our island?”

“Into business speculations.”

While they talked, he watched the fool tending the sheep in the fenced pasture of struggling grasses. Uphill, behind the field, stood a tall forest. He heard a sledge ring against a metal wedge and a Swede saw biting its way through a tree. As the postmistress seemed friendly, but more importantly, as she would talk to everyone on the island, he told her about his business plan.

Frank pointed to the logging show where her husband worked. He said, “You see them tall trees yonder?”

She said, “You mean the firs?”

“Yeah, the firs.”

And then added, “They is your salvation.”

She said, “I don’t get your meaning.” Perchance she thought he was a preacher.

At that moment, the metallic ringing amplified and multiplied, as if many sledges hammered on many wedges, and the sound caused them both to look toward the forest. They heard a slow aching moan and then the hinge of a fir barked out a series of loud cracks and the tall tree fractured itself from its base describing a long pensive arc through the silent sky. The earth shuddered where they stood and alarmed crows flew from the peak of a barn.

Soon the silence invited them to continue their conversation.

Frank said, “That tree that just come down is worth more on its feet than on its belly.” He kept positioning his profile to best advantage.

Mary said, “Pardon?”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a lilac-frosted, medicine bottle. “This here’s the future for the whole dammed island.” He gave her the empty container and proceeded with the explanation of his long rehearsed scheme.

“Certain highly intelligent persons have experimented with a bunch of different samplings and narrowed it down to the juice from fir trees.”

“You mean sap,” she said.

And he said, “Yeah, sap.”

“It appears,” he continued, “that due to coldness and lines of longitude, maybe its got something to do with the magnetics and the up-pushing and the surface leaking of powerful energies from the earth’s core-centre, and other more complicated causes, like the light passing through these specialty coloured bottles to give the sap a kind of boost, which makes Cortes Island about the best place to collect the best sap in the whole world. They get it other places from other trees, but figure it’ll be ten times more potent from yours. This island is a whole bit more rare than the other ones if you didn’t know it.”

He reckoned that was the longest speech he had made this century.

“It looks like a regular medicine bottle to me,” Mary said, now holding the glass to the sun. A splintery light electrified the bottle and magically washed her fingers in a cascade of pretty rainbows.

“That’s where you’re wrong ma’am, if you don’t mind me doing some contradicting, the bottles may be regular but the lilac colour is extra unusual and they got non-duplicating patents on all of it.”

“Well, what’s the sap for?”

“It’s a remedy to just about anything. There’s nothing better for headaches, skin diseases, bruises, knife slashes, stomach ailments, bullet wounds, brain pustules, carbuncles, tumorous cancers and it can be taken by rubbing it on or pouring it down the hatch.”

She said, “It would be too sticky and taste terrible.”

“The scientific types got that figured too, and make it quite presentable in their production factories in Chicago and New York City. Soon they’ll be opening a branch in my home town of San Francisco.”

“My goodness,” she said.

“I already sent samples back on my last trip up this way, just a scouting mission mind you, where I didn’t introduce myself to nobody, and they proved up more potent than the scientest people had figured. Now I been commissioned by headquarters to source out the island and get the people’s cooperation.”

Frank noticed that the wind had lulled and the tide washed the stern of his boat. He had given her enough information to distill anyway. When they parted, she commented, “It must be difficult for someone your age taking on a new adventure.”

He waved her off as if to say, “I may be shot up some ma’am, but I still got a lively brain.”

A FEW NUDGES and his boat floated. He started his row the mile south to Wolf Bay, at one point passing an eagle’s nest in a fir snag near the shore. He watched the birds, by turn, forage out into the channel, dive to the water and retrieve glistening silver fish for their screeching young. He recalled how he and his brother had used the birds for target practice back in Clay County, Missouri. He fretted during his row though. What if someone staked my claim?

During the remainder of the short trip, he invented various evils in the event of a hasty requirement to regain his imagined loss. When he arrived, the bay looked calm and deserted. But no wolf. Damnation, said his voice, Where’s that wolf? During the next weeks he amassed a respectable woodpile and thought little of Seaford and his crazy scheme. Frank made minor repairs to the shed. The door required new hinges, strap leather. He left it open most of the time to let in light. He planned, maybe, a window at some point in the future. The dirt floor was dry and easily excavated. In a corner, he encountered a large boulder and tunneled underneath it to bury his loot in three big buckets, but kept a wad of pocket change for show. He had no furniture, made none, and slept on a pile of soft cedar bows with his guns nearby. He liked the smell of cedar. He hung his food and gear on ropes from rafters. He built small cook fires on the floor and smoke poured through the many channels to the outside world. The lilac medicine bottles lay in their sacks in another corner. Some nights he wondered why he had started the sap caper as he had enough money to last ten lifetimes times ten times ten. He drank his whiskey, but not extravagant amounts, and rolled cigarettes whenever time moved like the slimy green slugs crawling in the forest – slow. He hung the tattered and mildewed Confederate flag on one wall and plastered another wall with nautical charts. On the crossbeams he displayed his tools on nail hooks like he was a regular fella with regular ambitions. The shed had a homey feel, more so than all the hideouts from his past, especially at night when his coal oil lantern ate the cavelike gloom.

Get up you sleepy creature, said his voice. A habit of a lifetime, he rose before the eastern light, splendid in its ecstasy of ascension. The clear mornings he enjoyed a grey granite ledge near the shore and there sat and smoked quietly, a contemplative emulating the stillness in the rock, the quiet smoke drifting into a world coming to life one more time. He would shiver slightly until the big bright eye breached the walls of the coastal mountains and catapulted him into startled wakefulness. Then he absorbed the glittering pink light tinting the calm waters of Desolation Sound, and softening too, the wild jagged peaks on the mainland – enough combustion to get him going for the remains of the day.

At dusk the wolf started. Plaintive, melancholic and lamenting. Filling the cool still nights with notes of remorse. Sadly, none returned its call. Frank thought he heard desperation in those howls, perhaps the anticipation of an end lurking around a corner or behind a tree. On rock bluffs Frank found its droppings mingled with shards of bone and tuffs of fur. Colonies of crawly insects had made temporary homes there. I bet it inspects my sign too, he thought. In the forest, wandering along deer trails, he saw its tracks on mud puddle shores. Big prints on long legs, said his voice. He inspected under logs and stumps where it had dug in the rank humusy earth retrieving stashes of previous kills. It has a fondness for venison and so do I, he thought. He imagined they both entertained a curiosity for the other and that they recognized in the other a secret kinship due to their commonalities. Delight in solitude. Confidence in inner strength. A piquant taste for alienation.

When the peaches, beans and spuds gave out, he survived quite nicely on a new diet. He had learned the rudiments of fishing during his voyage from New Westminster to Cortes Island, and of course, knew how to hunt. Soon he feasted on red snapper, lingcod, rock cod and salmon. He browsed huckleberries and salmonberries in the early summer and the sweeter blackberries later on. He found the salal berries bitter, as were Oregon Grapes, and certainly didn’t know the names of any of these fruits. With the Winchester, he shot a three point buck near Mary Point, the southeast tip of the island. He smoked and dried the meat into long thin tasty strips. He discovered a beach loaded with littleneck clams and butter clams and horse clams and tiny familiar oysters enjoying the warmth of the shallow intertidal pools. In the late gold rush days, he had eaten “Ollie’s,” as they were then called – a dollar a piece, twelve to a plate – in the fancy bars of San Francisco, always a gear up to a succinct, but strenuous, encounter with a soiled dove. Though he tried to conjure these stimulating memories, the youthful juices were rarely unlocked by the Canadian oysters resulting in disappointment and a waste of warm lard.

ONE MORNING the simian fool arrived on a rising tide. He let his rowboat crunch on the pea gravel shore and then tied a long tether to a large boulder. He carried a bucket.

With his scalping blade, Frank gutted a salmon on a smooth rock, the silvery scales gyrating in the early morning light. He made not to notice the haze of smoke drifting over the beach.

The shepherd came up and took the pipe out of his mouth. “I got a bucket of sap.” He flopped it down beside the salmon.

Frank, well knowing the habits of mountebanks, loafed his time before viewing the contents.

Georgie let out a smoke cloud and said, “How much fer it?”

Frank said, “It’s spoiled.”

“Pitch don’t spoil,” said the fool.

“Yes, it do.”

Georgie nudged the bucket of sap closer to Frank’s base of operation and Frank moved the salmon so it maintained the original distance from the bucket. “Didn’t Mary tell you about them bottles?” asked Frank.

Georgie said, “What of ‘em?”

Frank launched a long explanation. “They’s specialized bottles made for the specialized purpose. If the sap don’t sit in the bottle straight from when it drips in, then the healing properties ain’t released.”

The fool looked at his bucket and said, “It don’t look spoiled.”

“Well it is.” Frank threw the guts and gills of his salmon all in one go at the feet of the fool.

“Well, give me some bottles then.”

“Ain’t no giving. A dollar fer each,” said Frank.

The shepherd learned it was necessary to charge a dollar deposit for each empty because of the extreme expense in manufacturing the lilac bottles. He was relieved to learn, however, that he would get the dollar back plus a fiver for each full one, but he must first fasten the bottle to the tree and let the sap drip until it was full. Being careful and patient was essential during the collection process.

“Corks ain’t necessary. The sap dries and corks itself,” said Frank.

It seems Frank could only accept bulk shipments, a full bag of full bottles, which would probably net in the neighbourhood of one hundred dollars plus all the deposit money returned. He had a huge order for the new factory in San Francisco and had to stockpile the stuff and ship it all in one go.

Georgie wanted a bag of deposit bottles, but didn’t have any money. Frank thought for a long moment. He threw his scalping blade into a nearby log. The knife twanged while he manufactured his thoughts.

Frank said, “Wait here. And don’t touch nothing.”

He went into his shed and came out with five bottles. “Here’s five empties, but come tomorrow with the deposit money…or else.”

Georgie took the empties home and returned the next day with five dollars. Frank took the bill and reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of American hundreds secured with a shiny gold money clip. He said to the fool, “I’ll put this little fella longside his big American cousins.”

WHEN HIS NECK hairs shuddered, he knew the wolf watched him. Kind of a thrill feeling. He felt the eyes before he saw them. Sometimes Frank scanned the trees and brush for hours before he finally picked out the unblinking stillness staring through those yellow incandescent globes, seeing all before others could, seeing what others would never see. Soon the wolf took to using the intertidal beach as a short cut and often lingered pushing at pebbles and even bigger rocks, pushing and pushing, digging in the gravelly substrate, quickly springing off all fours like a startled puppy if a clam squirted, and then giving a single yip.

That wolf’s a pusher and a digger, thought Frank.

As they felt more comfortable with the other, Frank found that he could walk out onto the beach flats, get within a hundred feet of the wild canine, and tease with scraps of last night’s dinner. The wolf would not touch the offerings for two full weeks, but one sunny afternoon snatched a generously meated thighbone of a buck deer and from then on it turned into a chore feeding the animal plus himself. He noticed the wolf had a slight limp, favoured his front left leg, and his jaw bore a long scar much like his own. He amended the bay’s name and for three days chiseled, Long Legs Bay, into the large rock behind the shed – the letters a foot high and nicely spaced. For all time, the bay would be theirs, two of them sharing it, but the wolf getting the credits, which, oddly, was okay with Frank, the concept of sharing a new and enjoyable experience.

Frank always sat on the same log by the sea and Long Legs always flopped close on piles of dried seaweed stranded high on the shore. Each day the animal sat a little closer, but remained wary testing the wind with his quivering nostrils, jumping at unfamiliar noises, perking his directional ears, fretting with the quivers and trembles of the wild, but never spooked enough to leave the beach and disappear into the darkness of the forest.

Frank’s voice said, Why don’t you talk to him?

The conversations were one-sided at the beginning. Frank commenting on the weather, the boat traffic in the channel, the young eagles learning to fly, whatever caught his attention. On occasion, he shared details of his past, stories he had never admitted to anyone, which could have sounded like boasting to the untrained ear.

He said, “Once in awhile I wonder if what I done is shameful and try to feel the feeling of shame, but it will not come no matter how hard I try.”

And then he asked the wolf, “Do you ever feel that way, for all the killing you’ve done?”

Long Legs did not respond, but his ears perked up extra high as though he was formulating a thought and preparing an answer. Because Frank was impatient and because he did not yet have faith like his voice had faith, he replied to his own question. To the shame query he said, “I know it don’t bother you. I think we are quite alike, a little shot up, but cunning and quiet and content.”

Dreams started. Bright moon-night dreams, repeater dreams, the worlds of sleep and wakefulness latticed into a lavish tapestry, the doors of perception opening fully to the marriage of heaven and hell and Frank lost and stumbling into a bone-white clearing where the wolf guarded his latest kill. A rank familiar smell of death. Snow bloodstained. Foggy icy crystals panted from both their tongues giving a tinkling chime as bits of their fossilized breath careened each off the other, initiating the eternal trip through the cold and quiet universe. Near the end of these nightly visions, his faithful companion, Long Legs, would always ask the same question, “Old man, why we are here in the white forest with the pale moon shining?”

Frank had been thinking much on the query himself and came up with a plausible answer. “Maybe we come on a paradise for the ones what don’t deserve it.” Their dialogue had begun.

THE SHEPHERD arrived with his bottles of sap, crusted nicely on top, full to the brim, and had turned from a pale translucent liquid to a dull white crystalline paste. Frank gave him thirty dollars.

He said, “Here’s a fiver for each full one and here’s a single for each deposit return.”

Greedy Georgie gave him the thirty dollars back and coughed up another twenty.

He said, “Give me fifty empties.”

Frank warned him. “Listen up. I can’t pay every time the sap is delivered. This here payment is made as a one-time-only consideration.”

The shepherd learned that from now on he could deliver the bottles full, take more empties, but only if the deposits were paid. Frank explained that he must have the whole order filled before releasing all the funds. That meant hundreds, hell, thousands of bottles full of the magic paste.

“That goes for anybody else who wants to get in on the basement floor of this new industry,” said Frank. He reached into the depths of his jacket pocket and flashed his wad again and said, “The Company makes the rules.”

The fool left for Seaford with fifty empties. As they parted on the beach, he invited his new employer to a dance in the barn the next night. Frank said he’d come, as it had been a long while, decades actually, since he’d done a proper socialization.

FRANK WATERMAN arrived at dusk for the dance, a warm summer evening. A golden glow loitered on the mainland peaks. Desolation Sound looked steel grey, benign, moody, quiet and still, but ready to speak. Bats flew about, erratic flight, pecking at flying insects, taking on the chores of daytime birds. Workboats and fishboats anchored in the bay. Rowboats and dugout canoes lined cheek to jowl on the rocky shore. Frank carried a case of whiskey and headed for the barn. When he passed the post office, Mary stood by the door talking with friends. She grabbed him immediately to do the introductions. They all knew about the old man and the fir sap. Unlike a noble southern gentleman, he did not remove his hat, wishing the weakness in the evening light might pass over the blemishes of past transgressions.

They made their way to the improvised community building. The Klahoose men from Squirrel Cove village had assembled outside the open barn doors, hoping for an opportunity to partake in forbidden firewater. They shuffled shyly when Frank and the women approached, heads bent, eyes catching nothing but crickets, spiders and dust mites, silently shuffling as the white folks pattered by. The loft was filled with hay and that’s where the children played, swinging on ropes, digging tunnels and jumping from bales. The women had provisioned the tables on a potluck arrangement with casseroles of every concoction: roasts of chicken, duck, pork, venison, lamb and beef, bowls of gravy, and plates of steaming vegetables, peas, carrots, potatoes; then baked salmon, steamed clams, butter, bread, buns, pickles, baked apples, cakes, pies, milk and a punch bucket. The men stood at the punch bucket, smoking, drinking, and discussing what they always discussed – a whole lot more people than Frank had anticipated. Just for show Frank opened a bottle of whiskey and poured it in the punch. He displayed the other bottles on the table.

“Compliments of the sap people,” announced Frank.

He hadn’t eaten a proper meal in a lifetime and ate like a ravenous hog until he could only sit and stare. Georgie made a point of introducing him to the men. Each in turn approached cautiously and then they talked small about the weather, logging, fishing, you settling in okay, ever need a hand just walk over, and so on. They would talk-the-talk of sap later.

Musicians struck up, an accordion player and two fiddlers. Still too early in the dawn of time for a piano. The crowd danced and drank and laughed. Frank sat on a chair in a corner and refused all invitations. “Never learned,” he insisted. He kept his hat on and fluffed up his collar. The children cautiously grouped up near him and only one was brave enough to ask the questions that might be on their minds. Wesley Jenzen’s son, Perry, ventured, “Can I see that there knife of yours?”

Frank smiled crookedly at the boy. He stroked the tassel of hairs crowning the sheath. “Boy, no one sees this knife, especially those that wished they hadn’t.” That was that. Young Perry ran back to his friends to report on the conversation.

In this friendly sea of confusion and delight, Frank followed the trail of memory – a thing he tried not to do even though he was good at it – one hot day in an Arizona town, he had discovered that he was still a famous man. Not that he doubted. The five cent yellow novels, now costing a dime, told the most awful truths – wild hunches that he might still be alive. They speculated the one bullet grazed through his jaw and the other ripped off an ear. They got the ear wrong, it was the left one – they got the whole damned story wrong. Nearly. And they forgot how the patchball lodged above his heart tasted leadlike when the weather dampened. One savvy writer mentioned he would never be taken except on his own terms. Where, when and how I please, he thought. Exactly, said his voice. Frank wished he had written the stories himself, so he might punctuate more fully the dazzling flare-ups of his youth. There was a certain joy wrung from incarnating himself as a mystery. Watching the story grow. A hoax here and wool over the eyes there.

Near midnight, the men approached with a nonchalance that fooled no one but themselves. They would all be down to “get them deposit bottles,” said Crawford Ballentyne, Georgie’s brother-in-law.

“It would be a good thing for the island,” said Wesley Jenzen, Georgie’s brother. “And the children and women might get in on it too. Young Perry keeps pestering me to get them funny bottles you got.”

“Be a nice pastime when the fishing’s off,” said Colin Jenzen, Georgie and Wesley’s father.

One of the shy Wilkes joked, “Gosh, we might have to forego logging.”

By now, Frank was a little drunk and his mind moved to his lower desires. He said quietly to Georgie, “I ain’t interested in yer wife, it’s them sheep I want.” Georgie laughed and laughed. “I ain’t got no wife.” They both laughed. Frank excused himself. “Nature calls.” On the way out of the barn, he passed off a whiskey bottle to a young Klahoose buck hoping it might encourage a knife fight and slashed bellies. He soon found the flock of sheep. The drought for his passion had been too long, but he could not stiffen himself no matter which ewe he mounted. Too much dinner, too much punch. Or Georgie had done something awful to the sheep. He slunk from the party and rowed home listening half the way as the natural and happy sounds sadly tumbled over the still waters, his oars protesting, squeaking and clunking in their leather collars. Once he stopped for a minor sabbatical and shipped his oars. In the white moonlight he watched drops of seawater slowly roll along his paddle blade, fall like beads of steamy liquid mercury into the sea’s quiet embrace creating a series of ever-expanding, pewter rings. After the last drop had fallen and after the last ring had melted into the immensity of time, he resumed the journey to his home in Long Legs Bay.

DAYS AND NIGHTS PASSED like they always do. Eventually the men showed one by one with their dollars and departed with their empties. Some were skeptical but they still came. Frank reinforced the notion that full payment could only be made once the entire shipment was filled and loaded on the freighter. He flashed a wad of hundreds to each of his new employees to reaffirm the concreteness in their arrangement. The swindle money piled high and he now hid it separate from his American loot – another hole in another corner of the shed under another rock. He had to strain mightily to move that rock and make room for the bucket of colourful Canadian dollars. He thought, Me and the wolf is pushers and diggers now.

Increasingly he wished the people would leave him alone. The interruptions were too frequent. He couldn’t get his work done and Long Legs would skitter and be gone for days until he knew the coast was clear. Business and responsibilities and bookkeeping were not the lark he thought they would be. He realized that soon more bottles would have to be ordered up on the freighter.

Some nights he melted little chunks of sap and applied it to his ear, neck and jaw. Sticky like Mary said and lacking the potency of a lasting cure.

The greatest annoyance of all was the fool and his pipe who kept arriving with full bottles and when Georgie had run out of his own money and exhausted all the sucker loans he could wheedle, then he begged and begged for deposit advances from Frank.

“When you going to send the shipment?” he said.

“Don’t forget I got first dibs.”

“Can’t you loosen up the cash…sheepin’ ain’t that full of profit you know.”

Whatever friendship had sparked on that one party night went out for good. The thought thickened as a frightening possibility that he would have to leave Long Legs Bay before they all caught onto the swindle.

IT WAS LATE SEPTEMBER when the leaves come falling down. Desolation Sound looked like it was called. Sunrises refused to energize. He slept longer as days grew shorter. The mornings were fog filled – giant cotton balls careening each off the other, lost and meandering over the highways of Lewis Channel, bouncing from bluff to bluff, shrouding miniature islands, battalions of sea smoke awaiting ascension skyward. Afternoons lived without purpose. The maples turned colour – red, yellow, orange. Clutters of alder leaves washed in zigzag windrows along the shoreline. The firs, cedars and hemlocks looked greener. Arbutus peeled their ochre skins; splitting, curling and falling in slivers and scrolls. Another forsaken opportunity for Nature to record her shrewdness – the papyrus unwritten. The snow line crept down the coastal mountains. He noticed the clams had fattened and turned creamy, tasted sweeter. Same with the oysters, but the change made no difference to the dehydration in his passion. Eagles went to the rivers for the salmon feast. And ducks flocked up in great gibbering colonies over the waters of Lewis Channel. Geese honked overhead. For America, he thought. Berries were finished, picked by the birds, stripped by the bears, over ripe and insect filled, desiccated, moldy, fertilizing the soil from which they came. Buck deer did not spook so easily, as their minds had migrated to their nethers. He saw fragments of their velvet rubbings at the base of scrub trees and scuffed up places on moss bluffs where they had jousted as practice for the fecund odor of the upcoming rut. Crisp nights. All in all, truth hidden in the sad unbearable beauty.

Long Legs howled longer, louder, and lonelier through the nights. Howls to the ends of the universe, shot straight passed the moon, beyond the planets and stars, to the gathering place for all life’s howls, shattering the infinite, crushing the infinite, demeaning the infinite. Frank stayed up with the wolf, smoking, drinking and answering as best he could with his newly learned language of wails and yelps and yowls. Shrieks and screams whenever the whiskey overwhelmed. Only the desolation in the sea could hear their nightly songs and translate their hymns of sorrow as man and beast bonded in the notes of each other’s declarations of remorse. Now and forever – nothing more or less than howling.

During the daylight times, Frank studied his charts on the wall. The vast godforsaken spaces on the mainland need discovery, he thought. Why in hell are them names so damned Mexican? his voice wondered. Marina, Malaspina, Redonda, Raza, Quadra, Senora, Hernando, Texada, Cortes and then that Frenchie one, Rendezvous. The old marksman threw his scalp blade and now he opened a big slice in Desolation Sound.

LATE ONE MORNING a rowboat rounded the point into Long Legs Bay. That pipe is worse than a coal tug, thought Frank. It sure is, said his voice.

The shepherd was desperate. A wolf had killed four of his sheep. He shot the wolf right off, but now he had to have his pay.

Frank, understanding completely the stealth required when an idyllic act of retribution presented itself, said, “Was it black and old?”

The fool said, “Yeah.”

“Did it have a white sock and a white patch on the side of his neck?”
“Yeah.”

“I seen it around here,” Frank said.

Georgie dragged on his pipe and soon a dark cloud formed over them. He said, “What about my pay?”

“You got full ones done up?”

“Yeah.”

“Go get ‘em and you’ll get your money.”

“Full up?” said the fool.

“Yeah, full up. We’ll tote the whole shebang.”

“Be back real quick.” The happy man rowed home.

He rows back to front, said his voice.

I noticed that.

TWO DAYS LATER a native boy clamming on the beach found the rowboat wedged between two boulders on the shore beyond Squirrel Cove village toward Turning Point. Georgie Jenzen lay in the bottom face down in an expansive pool of dried blood. Clutched in one hand was the stem of his pipe and the shattered bowl lay piecemeal in the sanguine mess. A bullet had lumbered through his jaw so there wasn’t much left of the lower face. He had not died quickly however, and therefore had time to write his concluding remarks on the only parchment available. The native boy could not read, but when Wesley Jenzen arrived, he deciphered the letters scrawled into the darkened layer of blood, which by now the shore crabs had distorted with their persistent nibblings. Wesley had brought along his five year old son, Perry, who immediately commented, “Uncle Georgie needs sap.” Realizing the mistake – bringing the young child – he got the native boy to preoccupy his son with excavations for the giant horse clams in a nearby intertidal pool. It took some while for Wesley to realize a “p” was missing in the first word scrawled so carefully, and a “w” in the second word. The crabs had trotted their sidewise crawl marks over the other letters too, but they proved easily decodable. Wesley had anticipated the obvious, a statement somewhat similar, though considerably more brief than a last will and testament. Quite possibly this was his brother’s confession to a shameful deed kept secret from all the family, or, even more likely, in those final moments he realized who his killer was. However, the tiny three-word sentence didn’t permit any of those possibilities. Maybe Georgie reasoned poorly while he scribed? When other Jenzens and other islanders arrived, they agreed with Wesley’s resolution to the puzzle.

Their fool kin had written, “Pipe blew up.”

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