Friday, January 5, 2007

Baptism - Chapter 1


“You believe in God?”
“Sure, don’t think he likes me though, had a falling out a while back, I still won’t talk to him.”
“I just need someone with a relationship to god, even a bad one.
“You’ll do.”

I looked around the cell, steel bunk, steel toilet, thick flat beige paint marred with scuffs and scrawls tainted with rust on the bars. Not a jail, a holding cell, closest thing to a jail in this one horse town, a room to house the fuck-ups until some cop could be located and convinced of the need for free overtime to drive the holdee the fifty miles to Virginia or in the tougher cases the one hundred miles to Duluth. The young man was cleaned up now, his wet and ragged clothes replaced by an orange St. Louis County jump suit, his eyes still wild and haunted but his body loose and tired, defeated.
He stood when I entered the cell, stepped too close and stared into my face with untamed eyes and asked about God.
“Get a chair. This could take a while.”
He let himself drop to the bunk, propped his feet on the edge and stared at his knees. I turned and left the cell, the cage door open. I walked into the office or dispatch room and told Gage, that I needed to borrow a chair.
“He wants to talk.”
“I read him his rights when I put him in the car at the landing.” Gage was the new man on the force, young and tough, three years in the Marines and two at junior college. Shaved head and dark sunglasses, big shoulders and a just the facts way with words. He rolled the other office chair in my direction and I pushed it ahead of me out of the office, around the corner and into the concrete pen.
I roll the chair opposite the man, sat down and he raised his head.
“Before you start I remind you that you have the right to have a lawyer present, in fact I suggest that you get a lawyer before you tell me anything. You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want, I’m scarcely an official of the law, just official enough to be sent into the woods to pull out the bodies and find the missing, both in your case. I’m here cause Gage called and said that you wanted to talk to me, would only talk to me.”
I had found him a scant six hours before, on the other side of the border, if I had any official jurisdiction he was well out of it, but the Canadians were both short-handed and practical in these matters. The group that reported them missing after the storm said that they had gone off on a day-trip, sneaking across the border to visit a waterfall and never made it back to camp. The report came in three days after they took off, the debris from the storm making even easy travel difficult. A church group, sixteen college kids spread between two sites, my man the second in command. The group made it back to town they had reported the missing pair to the Forest Service and the police.
The storm was a bad one, blew in fast on a still hot early autumn day and changed the face of the park in fifteen minutes. I had been out since it hit, clearing debris from the portages and checking on any campers that I could find. I was in town for a shower and some sleep. Despite the ferocity of the storm we found few wounded, just a lot of tired city folk trying to drag their gear over newly downed trees and brush-choked portages.
The Forest Service called me and I called the Canadians. The park super said that they had their hands full on their side, that I was free to cross into crown lands and search for the missing pair that had no permit to be on their land in the first place.
The Forest Service set me up with a motor boat ride to the border and a kid from the trail crew to paddle in the bow. I brought a chainsaw, a half gallon of gas and a forty pound Kevlar canoe and the two of us headed towards the falls.
There are three long portages into Agnes Lake and it took most of the gas to cut a swath through the downed trees to get the canoe across. We paddled slow up the eastern shore of Agnes, poking into the bays, looking for a sign of our missing pair. My bow man spotted the aluminum canoe, bent into some cedar trees in a little cove off the main lake and I knew we were getting close.

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