Authors: Janine McCaw
Tags: #romance, #history, #mining, #british columbia, #disasters, #britannia beach
“I’ll go with you if you think it’s
necessary,” McMichael offered.
“It is true. I probably am the smartest
scientist you have now,” Harry agreed. “But I am not a coward. I
will go. Alone.”
“Thank you,” McMichael said. And he meant
Harry headed up the mountain. McMichael began
to walk towards his office.
“Now where the hell is Sarah?” McMichael said
He had not seen his secretary in the office
when he had strolled by the front window earlier. He knew she had
gone over to the hall after calling the Vancouver police for him
last night, but he had been so busy, that he never had a chance to
find out what had been the outcome of that conversation. It was
probably a conversation that he should have had with the police
himself, but there just hadn’t been the time. They were most likely
going to send a man up to investigate. McMichael wasn’t all
together certain he wanted another constable at Britannia. There
had been a small force in town once, until budget cuts sent them
back to Vancouver, and he hadn’t been all that bothered to see them
go. There had been a drop in ore prices, McMichael had laid off a
third of his men, and had been able to justify a smaller community
able to police itself. It was easier running the town his own way.
He had elected Les Ferguson his town enforcer. Les was one tough
character, who had a passion for cheap women and beer. McMichael
saw to it he got everything he needed to feed his vices, and in
turn, Ferguson did everything McMichael asked, legal or not. It was
a good working relationship, but he had a feeling it was about to
be curtailed. McMichael thought whoever they sent up was going to
be staying for a while. Stuart Collin had been keeping tabs and
knew the town was prospering again. The town was getting too big to
police itself, Collin had warned. Until last night McMichael had
proved him wrong. No one stepped out of line in town for long. The
small jail they had built on the outskirts by the cemetery was
rarely used more than a night. The men would sleep it off with a
reminder of life’s frailty near by. But this time, this was
different, McMichael admitted. He needed some help, at least
initially, sorting all this out. But how would he get rid of the
officer when things started to get back to normal? That would be a
problem he would have to ponder later, he thought to himself.
For now he had to concentrate on what the
owners of the mine were going to be asking questions about over the
next seventy-two hours, let alone what the authorities would want
to know. The authorities would be immediately pre-occupied about
the care of the townspeople, who actually, were being very well
cared for under the circumstances. But the owners, well, they would
be worried about liability. Thankfully McMichael had commissioned
an engineer’s report on the structural safety of the mountain only
the month before. Having learned from an earlier unpredicted
landslide at Tunnel Mountain in Alberta, McMichael had wanted to
ensure that this mountain was stable and talked the mine’s owners
into paying for the analysis. They had been reluctant to do it at
first, but had eventually agreed. They would be very pleased with
that decision now. The mountain had passed with flying colours.
McMichael had done all he could to provide for the safety of the
people. This would, in the end, prove to be his saving grace,
putting an end to the police investigation. It would eventually be
deemed a force of nature, the freezing and thawing of the rock
taking its toll from centuries of wear and tear. But where the hell
was the copy of the report now? Sarah was the last one with it, and
that, was a potential problem.
He was distracted for a moment by the sight
of Jimmy Yada pulling his wagon through town yet again, this time
loaded with tea pots and cups.
“Jimmy,” he yelled. “Come here a moment.”
Jimmy at first did not hear him, so McMichael
yelled again, somewhat louder this time.
“Jimmy Yada! Come here my friend, the little
ambulance driver. Do you know there are jobs for grown men doing
exactly what you did here last night? You’ve got a bright future
ahead of you Jimmy; you just keep at it and stay out of trouble.
You’ll be able to drive those gas-powered automobiles. Now wouldn’t
that be something? Now tell me, what are you up to today?”
Jimmy froze for a moment, looked warily
around and started over towards the man. McMichael crouched down to
the boy’s level and examined the contents of the wagon. “What have
you got there?” he asked.
“Tea.” Jimmy nodded.
“I didn’t know you were a man of such few
words,” McMichael said to the young boy.
“I’m just curious. You’re not in trouble.
What exactly are you doing, Jimmy?”
“The people here are all upset. Because of
what happened last night. I am bringing them calming tea. No
“No caffeine?” McMichael said, amazed by the
young boy’s knowledge. “What is it then?”
“Herbal tea. Chamomile. My grandmother sent
it to us. It was a present. She told my mother in a letter that it
is very healthy. She told her it would be soothing. My mother
sometimes feels lonely and upset and my grandmother thought this
would help. I think it works because my mother has stopped crying
so much lately. Would you like some?”
McMichael smiled to himself. Jimmy probably
revealed more about his mother during that conversation than Akiko
would have liked, as children often do. He hadn’t noticed a change
in Akiko himself, but then he didn’t pay that much attention to
“Well, that would be fine, Jimmy. Yes. Thank
Jimmy took a small demitasse cup from his
wagon and poured a little tea into it. McMichael took a sip. It was
quite good. He might have to think about stocking some at the
“The water has been boiled,” Jimmy stated.
“It is safe to drink.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from Harry
Yada’s boy,” McMichael said. “Would you like some money for this
When he finished he gave the cup back to
Jimmy, who also had the foresight to bring a bucket full of soap
and water to wash it with, and a towel to wipe it dry.
“No, Mr. McMichael. I must do this for the
people. For kindness. My father says it will come back to me
three-fold. It will help us become centred once again.” Jimmy put
his hands together in a prayer-like fashion and gave a slight
McMichael clasped Jimmy’s hands and gently
pulled them apart, stuffing a nickel into his palm regardless.
“You are quite an extraordinary boy. Your
father should be proud,” McMichael said to Jimmy, who bowed his
head but could not hide his grin. “It is quite considerate and kind
of you to share the gift your grandmother sent your family. But
always take the money. You’ve got to cover your expenses, charity
or not. Carry on son.”
“Mr. McMichael,” the boy hesitated. “I am
going to be a doctor some day.”
“Well then, we’ll have to find someone else
to drive the ambulance, won’t we?” McMichael laughed. “You keep
your eyes open for a few good men for me.”
“Yes sir,” the boy agreed.
Jimmy left up the street with his wagon, the
nickel tucked safely in his pocket. McMichael opened the door to
his office and went inside.
Sarah, who had obviously not been home, had
now arrived. Her hair was tossed on top of her head, and her
normally primly pressed dress was wrinkled as though she had slept
in it. But other than that, she actually seemed quite in control
under the circumstances. She was sitting at her desk, going over
“Mr. McMichael,” Sarah said. “I spoke with
the Vancouver police last night. I told them there had been a
landslide. They said they were sending up an officer, and that he
should arrive sometime today.”
“Good,” McMichael said. “I suspect he will be
here a while. Send Akiko up to John Howser’s house to clear things
out and clean it up for the constable. He can stay there while he’s
“They said he would be moving up here…” Sarah
said nervously, not sure how her boss would respond.
“Well, then you’d better tell her to clean it
good. And charge him two dollars more a month than Howser was
paying. No employee rates for the police. We want to make that
“I believe he’s bringing some doctors and
nurses up with him.”
“Then call the hotel, make arrangements for
the medical staff to stay there. Tell them it’s no charge. At least
for the time being. If there’s too many of them we’ll have to
billet them with families in town. Anything else?”
“Should we have the pastor bless the house,
you know, since John’s dead and all? Get rid of any evil spirits
“We could if we knew if the pastor lived
through the night. I haven’t seen him myself. And if you do find
him, I think he’s going to be a bit busy with pastoral care,
funerals and things. Maybe you can just whip up a séance Sarah, and
be done with it. On your own time of course. Which reminds me,
people are going to need more candles after last night. All those
vigils in the street. Get down to the store and tell Joe to put the
price up five percent.”
“But sir,” Sarah began to plead. It shouldn’t
have surprised her that her boss would try to profit from the
tragedy, yet it did.
“Anything else?” he asked, the tone of his
voice telling Sarah he was losing patience.
“Um, no sir, I don’t think so anyway,” she
“Good. Can you find me the engineering
stability report?” he asked.
Sarah looked confused.
“The papers that the engineers left. Remember
the men who were here last week? I’m sure you remember the men
Sarah. They had you type a report, one that said they thought the
mountain was safe and sound. They signed it, and they put a seal on
it, and they left us a copy. I need that copy Sarah.”
This rang a bell with her.
“Oh yes, I remember the men. Quite
distinguished, weren’t they?” Sarah appeared to go off into
McMichael coughed loudly bringing her back to
“Oh, the report! Ah, no sir, I’ve been
looking all over for it. I thought you might want it. I know it is
“Sarah, do you realize how important that
piece of paper is?” His voice was full of exasperation.
He leaned over her desk, and a drop of
perspiration fell from his forehead onto the ledger she was working
“Yes sir,” she said, trembling. She felt
herself turning red despite her wishes to the contrary. A wave of
nausea passed over her. “I wish I could remember…”
She could feel the icy stare through to her
bones. His eyes moved from her face to the wall behind her, and she
was glad he was focusing on something else.
“Sarah,” McMichael said sharply. “What is
that bundle of paper you have hanging on a string with a
clothespin? Over there, behind the filing cabinet. The one with the
seal imprinted on the last page that I can see from here?”
“Oh,” Sarah sighed, relieved. “There it is.
Now I remember. I had spilled tea on it yesterday and hung it there
to dry. You remember when I did that, you were going on about
“Lose it again Sarah, and I will
Sarah’s eyes began to well up. The pressure
of the last twenty-four hours was taking its toll on McMichael, and
his rage, which often lay just below the surface, was well above it
“Give it to me,” he yelled, no longer able to
hold his own composure.
He wished that Ruby were his only problem
this morning. How much simpler things were yesterday. McMichael
took the report, slammed the door leading into his private office
and poured himself a stiff drink of Canadian rye whiskey. He had
There was a knock at the door.
“Oh, for the love of God, Sarah!” McMichael
said and stormed over, opening the door with some force. “What
But it wasn’t Sarah. There standing before
him was a man, dressed in a crisp navy blue uniform. The man, all
six-foot four of him, was of impressive stature. McMichael sized
him up quickly. The stranger appeared slightly younger than he was,
but McMichael sensed maturity in the man that went well beyond his
apparent chronological years.
“J.W. McMichael, I presume? Sergeant Rudy
Wolanski,” the man said. “Vancouver Police. I’ve been stationed
here indefinitely by Chief Stuart Collin. I believe the two of you
are acquainted. He sends his regards. Now, why don’t you tell me
what the hell happened here last night?”
“Excuse me, Mr. McMichael,” Sarah stammered,
“I didn’t get to announce him properly. I didn’t catch his name. He
just went scooting by me. And he has a badge and a gun and
“There’s no problem Sarah,” McMichael said,
his voice suddenly finding insincere friendliness. “This is the
constable you said they were going to send up, Officer
“Um, well actually there is sir,” she
She gazed at the stranger, thinking how
attractive he was and how single she was. This man, she sized up in
her own way, was quite something. He had a handsome, rugged look
about him, with a scar above his left eye. The scar dissected his
eyebrow, giving him a slightly roguish look. His moustache, the
same sandy blond as his closed-cropped hair, was neatly trimmed
below a nose that revealed it had been broken once or twice, which
in her estimation, only added character to his features. He was
tall, taller than most of the men in town, and just how tall she
was hoping to get close enough to, to tell.
“There is what, Sarah?" he queried with some
exasperation in his voice.
“Oh yes. A problem,” she giggled, blushing
like a teenager. “Mrs. Schwindt just called. She says you need to
go to the house immediately. There is some kind of an