08:35 JULY 30
Anderson didn’t like burying people, but he was fond of Suzy. That, he reflected as the Airbus A319 banked into its final approach to the airport at Nanaimo, is why he was here, in the middle of the summer when he could be back home finishing off a small dock-construction project that would net the revenue this flight was costing him. Two days earlier, he had received a call from a tearful Susan Kirkpatrick in Campbell River, telling him that Keith had been killed in a machinery accident in the bush. The funeral was tomorrow, and she had asked him if he would give the eulogy for his long-time friend and former Coast Guard colleague.
The Coast Guard days had been many years – decades – earlier, but this was a request he couldn’t refuse. Frank Anderson, and Keith and Suzy Kirkpatrick, had been very close, both at the Coast Guard station (where Suzy worked in the dispatch office) and off-work when they used to fish from Keith’s decrepit little outboard cruiser, then enjoy barbecuing the catch along with steaks, beer and music on the deck of their mobile home. Keith played banjo, Suzy played mandolin and Anderson the guitar. They loved old country and folk songs, and Suzy sang them in a soft velvety voice that warmed everyone who heard her. Despite many requests, they only took the music off the porch to play for the annual Coast Guard staff party. Mostly it was just for fun.
The double thump of the wheels hitting the tarmac shook Anderson out of his memories and relieved the tightness that was creeping in behind his eyes. “Well, that was smooth,” he joked to his seatmate.
“They always land here like they’re in a hurry,” his neighbour responded. “Don’t know why – it’s like they’re landing at Toronto with a wind off the lake. You taking the shuttle to Campbell River?”
“Nope. I’ve booked a rental. I need a car to get around up there anyway.”
The men shook hands at the departure gate and wished each other luck – Anderson with the funeral and his seat companion with a technology assessment contract for an ore refinery near Port Alberni.
A small aluminum fishing boat droned slowly through the gray calm waters of Awan Lake in Ontario, about two miles off the east shore. Its old-model 20 horsepower outboard engine seemed barely up to the task, and the two young people onboard were probably not fishers or they would have known that this far offshore on Awan Lake in an early-morning fog was a poor place to be in such a small craft.
They were, however, wearing lifejackets. The young woman yelled back to her male colleague who was operating the motor: “There’s no frickin’ cell service out here. I can’t even text anymore!”
“Well, let’s hope we don’t need help from the prof and that our protocols work out. Is your GPS working okay?”
She rummaged around amongst the equipment boxes on the bottom of the boat and pulled out a black plastic case, which she set on a seat and opened. She put the mushroom-shaped antenna on the seat beside her, attached two wires to a battery, turned on the instrument, and waited.
“Yup, seems okay,” she yelled back less than a minute later. “I think I have about 16 satellites, and it shows I’m on Awan Lake.”
“Cool! Can you back out the screen and find our targets? As I remember I think we input three.”
There was a pause while she fiddled with the screen adjustments. “Yup. Maybe head a little away from the shore. I’m guessing we’re about two miles from the first one. Maybe we’ll get this part done today after all... then, just the other side of the lake and into the river tomorrow, and we’re done. I sure as hell hope so: I have a wedding to get to next weekend.”
“You the bride?”
“Hell no... it’s my girlfriend and that’s even worse. Perfectly nice chick has turned into bridezilla.”
“Where’s the wedding?”
“You’ve got some travelling to do.”
The Chevy Equinox rolled contentedly along Highway 19 north of Nanoose Bay. Anderson had chosen to rent the SUV because it seemed to fit his heavy-set six-foot frame better than a car, especially after several hours trying to conform to economy class airline travel. The SUV also had Bluetooth, so Anderson used it to call Marjorie.
“Hi there, it’s me.”
“Hi Frank! Good flights?”
“Yes, but have I ever told you how much I hated airports?”
“Endlessly. Wendy and I were laughing about you after we dropped you off. But you got there safely, apparently!”
“Safely landed in Nanaimo and now I’m chasing a whole lot of traffic. Thank heaven it’s Sunday and not on a long weekend – traffic’s bad enough! Are you guys settled back in your Toronto house?”
“Yes, although settled isn’t exactly the word. Are you missing your old haunts out there on Vancouver Island?”
“No, I’m kind of a ‘today and tomorrow’ guy, not a ‘yesterday’ guy. I’m just driving someone else’s car along a road I used to travel, feeling like there’s somewhere else I’m supposed to be.”
“Sort of the same here, and it’s weird. Wendy is in a state... confused over John who she really likes but can’t relax with him, and feeling all worked up over mining companies, lakes and swamps. Not the usual city girl I’ve known all my life! And as for me, somehow the home I grew up in seems, well, sort of empty. It’s like the shades of our parents have vanished from the house... not very comforting somehow. And you’re not here to talk to, something that would have not even occurred to me two weeks ago. Unfair for me to burden you with this, though... how about you? You may be the “today” guy but you had to kill someone less than five days ago. How are you doing, really?”
“I’m fine... really. Several people died that day, and I figure it was all that dummy’s fault, so taking him down was a blow for the good guys. Stuff happens. You’re okay?”
“Uh huh. There’s an ugly three-second video that pops into my head every now and then, but I’m fine. And it distracted me from my boob-squash this morning.”
There was a pause... “Boob squash... I take it that’s not a gently-rounded garden vegetable?”
Wendy laughed: “Mammogram, you nitwit!”
Anderson paused again, longer this time. “Nothing wrong, I hope?”
“Nah, it’s just that when you get to be an old lady – like over 35 – you’re supposed to have the girls checked regularly. Kinda like you guys should get your prostate checked every year.”
“Huh? You’re kidding, right?”
“Not at all kidding! Do I have to make you an appointment too?”
“We can discuss that when I get home. Under the circumstances, that’s just too much morbid stuff to think about.”
“Yeah, I do understand, so I won’t call you ‘sissy’ – yet. But we will talk about it soon!”
“Without meaning to change the subject at all, my seatmate on the flight into Nanaimo was a computer tech guy on a contract for Robertson Mines, here on the island. This guy was no junior techie playing video games during the flight; he’s so high up in computer technology he doesn’t even carry a laptop. Far as I can tell all he carried was a shaving kit and a cellphone. He had some interesting opinions about his client.”
“Small world... never even thought they might have an operation out there. Did he know anything about the Robertson facility at home here at Awan Lake?”
“I don’t think so, not specifically, but he was well aware it was a huge company. He was grumbling that their security protocols were more like you’d expect at the CIA in the States than at a mining company. When he goes in to work, he has to leave his phone at the desk and gets searched with a wand like they do at the airport. Coming out, same thing but he’s strip-searched too.”
“I’ll tell Wendy. She’ll be thrilled to add that to the conspiracy theory she’s building!”
Anderson’s phone began crackling as the connection cut in and out. “Hey Marj, I’m going to lose you here – cell service is crappy. I miss you, pretty lady. I’ll call you in the morning if not before.”
“Mmm, okay. Miss you too! We’ll catch....” and her voice disappeared.
“Damn.” He pushed the button to cancel the call. Three weeks ago I’d never have thought I would miss talking with someone. It’s always just been me, my boat, my lake and some good neighbours. Things change, I guess.