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MURDER?

    I thought I was pretty lucky to catch a ride out of Edmonton so early in the morning and congratulated myself on my good fortune. The driver asked through the open window where I was headed. When I replied I was going as far east as I could get, he seemed agreeable and asked if I could drive. When I said yes, he looked pleased and told me to hop in because we were going to Toronto. I couldn’t believe my luck. I tossed my pack into the back seat and told him my first name and stuck out my hand. He said his name was Tom, we shook hands, and off we went.

I had been up all night at the street party; by the looks of the driver so had he, so we were both a little spaced-out. He told me that the plan was to drive straight through to T.O. and take turns driving and sleeping. I was pretty chipper thinking this would turn out to be a quick trip across the prairies to Ontario, but with the murder and all it turned out to be a lot shorter ride than I figured on.

We chatted about the trip as we headed towards Red Deer but because we were both tired we each drifted into our own thoughts and we were both quiet for a while. Tom said nothing as we drove into Red Deer. I thought he was looking for a gas station while we drove around a bit. I was puzzled when we pulled into the police station. Tom was a little vague when he told me he had to check on something. So I sat in the car and rolled a smoke, lit it, and started to calculate the drive to Toronto. I pulled out my map and guessed somewhere around two or three days if we went straight through. I had finished my smoke and I was still looking down studying my highway map when a loud, serious, male voice came through the open window and asked me, “Please get out of the car, Sir.”

I looked up and saw two of Her Majesty’s finest and I got out of the car. They really were serious about something and they asked if I had any belongings in the car. I told them my pack was in the back seat and was just going to reach in and get it when I realized that suddenly my arms were held quite tightly and I was advised to stand still, please, which I did. I asked what the matter was and was told that the officers wanted to ask me a few questions. So one policeman collected my pack and the other held my arm as they escorted me into the police station.

I asked after Tom and was told he was  unavailable.      

They took me into a room with only a table and a couple of chairs and offered me a cup of coffee. I sat down and one put my pack on the end of the table and began to go through it. The other one asked me how I knew Tom. I explained that I was headed to the east coast and had just hitched a ride, which, when you think about it, wasn’t a very good alibi. Evidently, the guy rummaging through my pack didn’t find much of interest and even grimaced a bit when he came to my socks and underwear.

They were quite thorough and asked several questions over again as they went along. They wanted to know what Tom had spoken about. Had he mentioned anything about the previous evening? Had Tom talked about a fight or disagreement? Was I aware that there was a rifle in the trunk?

               ***

 

 

 Manitoba

 

 

We fired up the Marmot van and headed to Lower Fort Gary, which was well worth it because we arrived in time for the Victoria Day Celebrations.

The Fort itself was an interesting stop because, not only were the structures and artifacts set up as they had been in the past, but the place was peopled with guides and workers in period costume who carried on life as it had been in the days of the fur trade. We got to listen to the speech given by the acting governor and, best of all, we got free cake!

After the cake, we wandered around and visited with a young man chiselling out a timber to repair the hinge on a door in a log building and were invited into a teepee to talk to a metis woman about life at the fort. Even though it was a cool, damp day, the inside of the teepee was cozy thanks to a little fire and an ingenious windscreen. We saw one of the wooden boats used by the fur traders, which caught my interest because I have a wooden boat at home. However, the cool weather eventually got the better of us and we set off for the van.

Rather than drive back to Winnipeg, we decided to take a secondary highway and headed east with a plan of rejoining the Trans-Canada near the Ontario border. Then, about an hour out of Selkirk, we were surprised to run out of prairie. Just like that! Rocks, rocks, and more rocks - and lakes and trees and more rocks.  The Canadian Shield. 

To add to the feeling of rugged terrain, the Manitoba Department of Highways has cleverly allowed potholes to breed and proliferate. This is likely a project undertaken in concert with the Department of Tourism to afford the traveler a multisensory experience. The sides of the highway furnish rugged sights of blasted, jagged stone, and the potholes generate the feel of the bone-jarring, pounding of the vehicle and the sounds of the crash, bang, and rattle of anything not bolted down.                                                        ***

 

 Quebec

Besides starting an immersion course in French near Montreal, we were also able to observe a new kind of driver. We had seen lots of different kinds of drivers so far on our trip, but near Montreal we met a new species that was totally unlooked-for. Both Donna and I were taken by surprise several times by this unusual hybrid. It seems Montreal has a species of driver that is equally at home behind the wheel of a school bus or a NASCAR race car. I believe there must be a driving school with a name like “Mario Andretti’s School of Bus Driving” somewhere in Montreal. In any case, I certainly wasn’t prepared for huge yellow vehicles darting around like sports cars. Other bus drivers are mere go-cart racers compared to these school bus types. I always thought of a school bus’s yellow colour as defensive: other drivers should easily see the buses and take extra care to obey the rules of the road. With Montreal’s school buses, the yellow colour means “These drivers play offense”

An hour and a half later on the Trans-Canada, we pulled into a big campground near Drummondville. It was a source of lots of new experiences for us. For starters, it was devoted to seasonal sites, which suggests that they are there for the whole summer season, but in actuality, they are there year-round. People acquire a site and set up their trailer for years and years. We saw little gardens and rockeries and lawn furniture and ornaments and barbecues just like a cottage someplace. The guys in the site next to us had a lawn swing fashioned like an old carriage. The whole campground was like a cute little village.

The toilets were a bit different from what we were used to. They were set up here and there like outhouses, with the doors facing the roads. They didn’t have full doors and there was at least a foot or more gap at the bottom. I suppose that was so you could easily see if the toilet was occupied, or if you were inside you could get plenty of fresh air and bugs. It was a bit weird, though, to have your trousers around your ankles for the world to see.

The highlight of our stay was supper at the cabaña canteen. It was warm and cozy and friendly and almost like having supper camping with friends. Our table was in a screened porch. We could see over a counter into the kitchen and the whole place was kind of summer-camp-rustic. I had my first taste of poutine, sort of like chips and gravy and cottage cheese, which I found quite tasty and filling. I always have room for dessert, so I tried tarte au sucre. That maple sugar pie seemed harmless enough, but it was like trying soft drugs. It was delightful and, apparently, harmless. That’s how you get hooked, of course. It just seems like safe fun at first. The maple syrup memory stayed with me all night. The next day I got a half-litre can of maple syrup at the local grocery and poured a little over some of those small cake donuts at lunch. I tried some more at supper, some for a snack in the evening, and finished off the can on my pancakes for breakfast. I got a whole litre can later that day and tried dipping donuts in a saucer of syrup, or pouring some in my tea and all over ice cream or on pie… It’s that old sad story, a slippery slope downhill to addiction. Before I knew it, I was a can-a-day user. I had that maple syrup monkey on my back.                                  ***

 

The drug smuggling started innocently enough somewhere along this part of the Trans-Canada Highway. In 1970, I had hiked until I found a straight stretch so I could be seen some time in advance to allow a decent place for a car to pull over. There wasn’t much point in standing along the edge of a bend or on a causeway through a lake.

By the time I reached this point, I was suffering from a lack of sleep, too much sun, and was getting a nasty cough. I’d had a couple of short rides since parting company with the homosexuals and, generally feeling like a piece of crap, I had wandered along the highway for a couple of hours after having been dropped off. It was hot. I was tired and hungry and thirsty. I put down my pack, set out my cardboard sign, ate one of the buns and a bit of cheese I’d bought in town, and drank a bottle of pop to round out my lunch.

There were very few cars going by. I half-heartedly stuck out my thumb as they approached from time to time. I was beginning to wonder where I might camp for the night and dreaded the thought of the bugs out here. I knew as soon as the sun went down I was going to become the main guest at a feast, sort of like those characters in a great big soup pot in a cannibal village. I rolled a smoke, thankful that I had a fresh pack of tobacco and plenty of papers and matches.

When I worked in a logging camp on northern Vancouver Island the previous summer, I came to realize that one of the few benefits of  cigarette  smoking  was  that  bugs,  by  and  large,  don’t like cigarette smoke. I was on a crew of three chokermen and a riggingslinger, and I was the only smoker. Between turns, we stood amid the slash and, like dumb animals, waved our hemlock branches around to try to keep the bugs off. The worst days were when the sky was heavy and the air was close with a light drizzle either starting or stopping. There was that horrible whining sound from mosquitoes, and the nasty silent pinpricks on your neck and face from the no-see-ums. It became second nature to have a little green hemlock branch in our dirty wet cotton gloves constantly waving around by our heads.

Sometimes when a really big log was hooked up and we knew it was going to be a long, slow pull up to the landing, I would quickly roll a smoke, light up, and sit on a log or stump happy to rest but even more pleased to have a little respite from the bugs. The other guys would crowd in to stand in the smoke and there were certainly no complaints about second-hand smoke. Sometimes when we were all frantic with bugs, they would even offer to set my choker if I would roll a smoke and they could stand in the drift. All I had to do was have a smoke break!

That’s what I was doing in the hot sun on the side of the road in western Ontario: enjoying a smoke break and thinking of those cool drizzly west coast mountains. I had my pack in front of me and my cardboard sign leaning against the front of the pack. My sign said, “Please?” (I was nothing if not polite.) There wasn’t much traffic and most of it was big trucks.

A big truck should have been the perfect ride for a hitchhiker. They had lots of room for a pack, there was seldom a passenger; they went a long way at a stretch, and they even went at night. Unfortunately, most truck drivers had very little use for hitchhikers. In fact, many of them treated kids by the side of the road as a source of amusement or a target for their abuse. On more than one occasion I had been startled by a roaring air horn, or dusted off by a tractor-trailer that swerved very close to the shoulder where I was standing, or simply given the “Trudeau salute” by an obnoxious driver. I wasn’t getting my hopes up for any of the big trucks that paraded by. However, hitchhiking is a lot like fishing. You never know when you might get a bite. I was hoping my luck might take a turn for the better when a little blue Volkswagen Beetle came around the bend. But when that Beetle got close enough to see the people inside, I figured there were two chances of it stopping: slim and none. The driver was a young blonde woman and the passenger was a little blonde girl. Not much chance of a ride there.

But, you never know. When I heard the change in that whirring buzz that a Volkswagen exhaust makes as it gears down, I didn’t know what to make of it. When I saw the turn signal start to blink, I began to think I might actually get a ride. I still figured it was quite a longshot, but I ran up to the side of the car as the little girl rolled down the window. When the driver leaned forward and looked over to ask if I wanted a lift to the next town, I gave my most polite, “Yes, please.”