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From Inside the Flap
A FAT BOY IS MISSING
"There was a woman looking for you!" the man who was talking was in his sixties and had a face that was marked by a life of outdoor work with all the effects of sun, wind and cold.
"Did she say what she wanted?" Jake Dorchet asked.
"No, she didn’t. She’s not from around here. Had a bit of a west coast American accent. Nice looking lady too. Nice bones!"
"The last time you said a woman had nice bones it turned out she was selling funeral packages. I’m not ready to sign a contract for a coffin for anyone. It’s bad luck and an omen, so you can keep this lady with the nice bones. I’m not expecting anyone and strangers always mean trouble."
"Well, mark my words, I’m your father and even though you are now running this operation it doesn’t mean that my eye sight has failed me. That lady, whoever she is, is a class act. Give me back 25 years and I wouldn’t mind exploring her bones myself!" Arthur laughed and Jake went to work.
Jake turned over the engine and the large barge with the special crane eased its way out into the middle of the river. Today they were headed for a spot five miles up river where the river widened into a quiet bay. He had looked at what lay beneath the water. His scuba tanks were already refilled in case he had to go down once again. The summer was fading fast, but for all that, their business was turning a healthy profit. No one thought at the time that a salvage business, especially in retrieving submerged logs that had been lying on the bottom for 50 or more years, would be valuable. But the critics were wrong. Others might go into the same business but this river was his. He had received the government rights and no one unless the firm ’Under Water Rafters’ authorized them, could remove a stick or twig without his permission.
The day was bright but the trees were changing their colours faster than he expected. This morning at 5 a.m. he felt the first chill of winter. Beginning work when the temperature was just above freezing made the old bones ache and made him wonder if the many hours of hoisting logs from the muck at the bottom of the river was the sort of job to build a future on.
"Bill, did you check the crane last night? The pulleys on the left gear were looser than normal and we nearly splashed the last load!"
The crewman looked up and waved. "Yeah, I checked it. I had to tighten the cable. It should work better today. I’d have hated to have wasted three or four hours of work gathering up all our logs again."
As the barge slowly fought its way upstream, Jake played with the steering. Life on the river was far better than the rat race back where he had once spent four years trying to make a living. He had thrown it all away. His chance of financial security, a relationship with a girl that had dollar signs in her eyes and a life that didn’t include backbreaking effort, long hours and being soaked from head to foot. It was nearly forgotten now.
But he didn’t regret it. Oh, there were times when he cursed the cold and hated it when a morning’s efforts were lost when a cable snapped. But here at least he knew he was doing something worthwhile. How could he have believed that being a financial advisor on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange with all its stress would be a life that would give him inner satisfaction? A blip of one or two points might make or break a client. The anxiety of making a wrong prediction or missing an indicator quickly affected his health. Many of his friends had burned out ending up with stomach ulcers or nervous breakdowns. He had seen all the signs in his own life. Well, he had left with his health and enough money to buy this rig and still have a few dollars in his pocket. The sale of his first logs was a nice surprise. Some of the larger logs brought higher prices. One thing for sure - there was an insatiable demand for wood. Forests weren’t growing fast enough and the cost of logging was continually on the rise. Living out here in the open without the smog and rush of traffic was far more satisfying and better for his health. He didn’t regret it. He suddenly realized that he didn’t regret leaving any of it behind. Jenny Wainwright was a good-looking lady, but she was a creature of the city and enjoyed the fast pace. He realized that except for animal lust they had nothing much in common.
Throughout the day, with the help of the two other crewmen and with his father keeping the barge in place, they fished for logs. Once he had to go down and remove a snarl in the big teeth. It had been a good day. They had 200 dripping mud-soaked log on deck. Only half of today’s income would be needed to cover the wages of his staff and his other costs. He would turn a nice profit for a 12-hour day.
River Cleanser Inc. was his primary company and had been set up to take advantage of the tax laws. The River Cleanser contracted the Underwater Rafters Company to retrieve the logs. The River Cleanser was responsible for sorting and selling the logs.
The barge returned to the jetty. Tomorrow, he’d unload and stack the logs after having washed off the residues of mud and grim.
It was a hard seasonal life restricted to the warm weather between April and November. The months at the beginning or at the end of the season could be difficult. If the spring flood had not subsided by April it would be impossible to work the river. In November if Mother Nature decided to get bitchy, a quick-freeze would stop all river work. But for the rest of the summer it was a six-day week rain or shine.
He waved to his crew as they beat a hasty retreat. They didn’t complain because the money was good, but they too were worn down from nearly seven months without much of a break. Once or twice he had given them a day off with pay just so they could recuperate. They often ended up at someone’s home for a barbecue and had too much to drink, but it was still a break and everyone appreciated it.
He walked down the gangplank. He was headed home to hit the sheets for a well-earned sleep, but he turned as he heard his name being called.
"Excuse me, are you Jack Dorchet?" The question surprised him and he suddenly knew that the woman his father had warned him about had waited for him. His tolerance level for surprises wasn’t high and he felt resentment well up within him.
He turned and to see who had spoken to him. His father was right she did have nice bones. Hell, it was not just limited to her bones. All of her had a nice floor plan.
"Yes, I’m Jack Dorchet. But I prefer Jake! Have you been wanting to see me?"
"Yes, I’ve waited all day. It looks like you have quite a load on your barge. When I came down earlier this morning I saw the barge heading upstream. It was empty then."
"We had a good day. Now I don’t want to sound abrupt, but it’s been a long day and I’m bushed. What I had hoped for was a fast meal and then snooze time."
"It’s important that I talk to you. Could I tag along while you eat? I’ve not had my supper either."
She had a nice voice and her face was deadly serious. He couldn’t help noticing that she was well tanned. It was not a British Columbia tan but one that had resulted in many hours in a much warmer and sunnier climate. A small silver pendant also gave a clue to the identity of the owner.
"As long as you are not trying to sell me anything. I don’t mind. It’s a nice change to talk to a lady. Up here we don’t see many."
Whether she took it as a compliment or criticism he didn’t know. She gave him an odd smile and then turned and followed him to the small restaurant.
She had to hurry to keep up with his long strides. She had heard that Jake Dorchet was a hard man. He cared little for the niceties of the modern world. She had also heard that he had once been a stockbroker on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, so, she knew he was no fool. She wondered why he had thrown it all away to work on a river barge.
"It’s a bit late Jake. You’re going to kill yourself if you don’t slow down!" a matronly woman said from behind the counter. "We have a good special just up your alley. Red-eye steak, baked potato, and two vegetables."
"Now Molly that sounds fine. Just make sure you broil my steak to the post- bloody stage."
The waitress and part owner of the small restaurant smiled. "Charley, another one of our specials, but take care of it, it’s for Jake."
They sat down and Molly came over and handed the woman a menu. "I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were with our river rat, here. We have just three things on the dinner menu. But they are all good. No one has died as far as we know." There was laughter in her voice. "I’ll be back in a second. "Would you like something to drink?" She had already marked down tea for Jake.
"Yes please, a pot of tea would be fine," replied the girl with the tanned features and bronze coloured hair.
"Don’t mind Molly, there’s not a kinder person around. She likes to joke," Jake said.
When they had received their teas and after Molly had taken her order of pickerel fillets on rice, he watched as she carefully added one teaspoon of sugar and stirred in the milk.
"Well, before the main course comes, I guess you had better tell me what you want. I’m not in the business of buying anything, just so you’ll know."
She coloured and that too was attractive.
"No, Mr. Dorchet I’m not selling anything. In fact until the day before yesterday I didn’t even know you existed. But I do need your help." The way she said it there was no doubt in his mind that she wasn’t lying or trying to fool him.
"It might help if you told me who you are. It’s easier that way."
She looked at him and acknowledged his point. She might have even noted the humour in his voice.
"Yes, I guess that would be better. My name is Sarah Redbourne and I’m.."
He didn’t let her continued. "That’s not a common name and may explain your rich tan and Mexican native silver pendant. It’s a long way from the Yucatan peninsula. I was impressed with the piece about you in the National Geographic."
She found herself tongue-tied. Damn this man Jake, he could get her flustered and she didn’t even know him. For him to know about her archaeological dig in Mexico was more than just a surprise. The article in the National Geographic had only been issued two weeks ago in their autumn issue.
"You know about that?" her voice took on a questioning tone, as she tried to recover. Why would a man in the middle of British Columbia know about her? She had no idea that this man could so easily strip away her protection. But he had. She wasn’t sure whether to take it as a compliment or something more.
"You’re interested in archaeology?"
Again she felt like a fool. She shouldn’t encourage him. She wasn’t here for someone to praise her research discoveries. She needed something entirely different. It was just her luck to find some river pirate who was so well read.
"As a matter of fact I am," again she knew he was laughing at her. The arrival of Molly with their orders saved her for the moment.
Looking back over the last three days she could hardly believe she had left everything because of the letter she had received.
Life has a tendency to throw curve balls and that letter had been just that. She was glowing in the discovery of a Roman carving in a burial site of the Aztec or pre- Aztec society. Its discovery, when fully researched, would possibly provide a link between the Roman Empire and America. Her small stone carving of a Roman head was without a doubt a figure of a Roman consul. How it got to a gravesite in the region of the Yucatan peninsula with all its ancient sites of man was now a mystery. It was a mystery that she knew she’d unravel. That’s why she liked being an archaeologist. It was so full of excitement and possibilities. But that was two days ago. She was after more recent facts. Facts that had affected her life from the moment her mother had received the telegram saying that her father, a man she had no memory of, had died in a plane crash. Twenty-three years ago she had only been 18 months old. But that telegram and the mystery about it had left a hole in Sarah’s life that had never healed over. She never had a father. Her mother had never remarried.
"This fish is wonderful!" The tender morsels of the fillet melted in her mouth. She suddenly realized that she was famished. Rushing to get from the farthest end of Mexico to this isolated spot in the centre of British Columbia was not on any direct flight path. She had changed planes four times to get close and then she had to rent a four-wheel drive. The distance she travelled had amazed her. From the dried land of her archaeological dig to the mountainous terrain of central B.C. was quite a change. She noticed that Jake still had that smile on his face. She wondered what he really thought?
"Molly has the best food in the area, but don’t tell her. She might get grandiose ideas and increase her prices. I’m glad you like it. I had that last night. So I knew you couldn’t go wrong. Now that I have discovered who you are and see how easily you blush, what is the real reason you came 5,000 kilometres to see me?"
There it was - out in the open. So Jake wasn’t the sort to hide or make polite talk. No, he wasn’t that sort at all. "You may have discovered the final resting place of my father. I want you to take me there!"
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