Authors: Sean Costello
* * *
Ronnie got right back into the coke, turning the radio up loud, laughing when Dale came out of the alley too hard, fishtailed in the wet snow and sideswiped a parked van.
Dale said and Ronnie whooped. He couldn’t look at her, not now, afraid that if he did he’d grab Trang’s gun off the console and shoot her with it.
Now she was stuffing the other two guns under her seat, going through the wallets, griping about cheap chinks who didn’t carry cash, tossing things out the window as she got through with them.
Slowing as he turned north onto Yonge Street, Dale said, “You know what you just did?”
“Made us five hundred K in under a minute? Twice that if we cut the shit and deal it ourselves.”
us, that’s what you did.” Picturing Ed when he found out about this, Dale wanted to scream. “Copeland’s gonna waste us for this and there’s not a thing Ed’s gonna be able to do about it.”
“Like we’re going to sit around and let that happen. The airport’s a thirty minute drive from here. If you can’t handle it, pull over and I’ll take the wheel.”
“The airport. In this weather.”
Ronnie considered this a moment, staring out at the worsening storm. Then she dialed 411 on Ed’s satellite phone, asked for the number for flight information and waited while it connected, shushing Dale when a recorded voice came on and told her all flights had either been canceled or delayed until further notice.
She hung up and said, “Fuck it then, we’ll wait it out. How’s the Harbor Hilton sound? Room service. Jacuzzi. It’s not like we can’t afford it.”
“Copeland knows everybody in this town, Ronnie. There’s no place we can hide. Fucking shitstorm. Look, maybe we should call Ed, tell him Trang went crazy or something, tried to rip us off. Gave us no choice.”
“Forget it, Dale. You lie about as well as you fuck.”
“You know what I mean. He’d see right through you.”
“Look,” Dale said, struggling to catch his breath. His heart was triphammering, the image of Trang clutching his bloody crotch making his stomach sick. “I know a place. It’s about five hours north of here. My uncle’s cottage on Kukagami Lake. It’s the last place Ed’d think to look.”
Ronnie said, “A cottage,” like it was a toilet. “If we’re gonna drive, drive
, fuck sake. We take turns at the wheel, we’re in Miami in two days.”
Dale sped the wipers up a notch, the wet flakes heavier now, angling straight in at the windshield. He said, “They got dogs at Customs, Ronnie, can smell dope on your breath. Forget about it. There’s no way we’re gonna try that. No, if we’re gonna run—and I don’t see as we got any other choice now—we’re gonna have to ditch the dope or sell the fucker before we leave the country. We lay low at the cottage—it’s a real nice place on the lake, Ronnie. Heat, electricity, everything. We stay there a day, maybe two, then drive to Montreal. I know a guy there’ll take the shit off our hands. Then we head for Europe or maybe New Zealand. Someplace Ed never heard of.”
“What if your Uncle’s at this cottage?”
“He’s in Daytona till the end of March, same drill every year. Trust me, the place is abandoned.”
Ronnie was quiet after that, the fading adrenaline rush making her sullen. Dale had seen her like this before, brooding silences that went on sometimes for hours and made him nervous, afraid he’d done something to piss her off and he’d wake up in the morning to find her gone.
But right now he liked her this way just fine. He needed time to think.
He got on the 401 and followed it west to the 400, pointing them north now, into the throat of the storm.
At 6:00 o’clock on the morning of his thirty-first birthday, Tom Stokes dressed quietly in his winter work clothes then leaned over the bed to kiss his wife Mandy on the forehead.
Mandy opened her eyes to squint up at him in the thin dawn light. She looked annoyed.
Tom said, “Did I wake you? I was trying to keep it down.”
“You’re a bull,” Mandy said and flipped back the covers, showing a very pregnant abdomen. “Come back to bed.”
“I’d love to, but I gotta get airborne. Billy Trudeau said he saw a busted window in Outpost Cabin Three.” Billy was a Native trapper and guide Tom sometimes hired to look after the hunters and fishermen he rented his outpost cabins to in season. “That means either looters, animals or both. Either way, I want to get it secured so I can be back in time for Steve’s party.”
Mandy smiled. “My birthday boys. Okay, I’m up.”
As she grunted her way into a sitting position, shivering in the morning chill, Tom crept along the hallway to his son’s room.
Steve, five years old today, was still sound asleep, tangled in his blankets as he always was, a restless sleeper since birth. Seeing him there, winter pale and so utterly still, Tom felt the same unnerving mix of love and dread he’d felt every morning since they brought the little guy home from the maternity ward: love of a depth he’d never imagined possible...and dread that his son’s stillness meant death had crept in to claim him in the night. An irrational fear, maybe—Steve was a healthy, active kid who, apart from those few routine illnesses of early childhood, rarely even caught a cold—but it was a dread that abated only when Tom rested his hand on that tiny chest, as he did now, feeling the rhythmic passage of air that signaled precious life.
He kissed his son on the cheek then did his best to disentangle him from his blankets without waking him. By the time he got downstairs, Mandy had a pot of coffee brewing and two slices of rye bread in the toaster for him.
As he always did, Tom took his breakfast into the business office on the main floor. He set his toast on the desk but held onto the coffee, sipping it as he checked the weather forecast on the computer then visually through the big picture window that gave onto the lake where his two planes—a blue and white Cessna 180 and a bright red DHC-2 de Havilland Beaver—stood waiting on their skis, looking stiff and frosty in the gathering light.
The morning was cold but clear, the windsock hanging limp on its pole, no sign of the storm the computer said was raging a few hours south of them now, plowing its way north. He should be able to get his repairs done and be back in plenty of time to see Steve getting off the school bus.
The family trophy case caught Tom’s eye and he idly surveyed its many awards with pride, even though most of them belonged to his wife. Mandy was a crack shot with any kind of firearm. She’d been competing at some of the highest levels since high school, and for a while, before deciding to become a pilot, had been grooming herself for the Olympics. The most exciting events she competed at were the IPSC matches, wicked, action-movie scenarios with gangster popup targets and cardboard mothers clutching babies. It was wild watching her do her thing at these events—and because of them Steve thought he had the coolest mom on the planet. Some of the trophies were pretty impressive, too: poised, gold and silver figures aiming handguns and rifles, the plaques beautifully engraved. He had a couple of things in here somewhere himself...ah, there they were: a three-inch tall gold cup with
World’s Best Dad
inscribed on its base, and a grinning porcelain skull he won at a coin toss at the Azilda Fair. There was a vacant shelf at the top of the unit, reserved for Steve’s future accomplishments; and soon enough, those of his still gestating baby brother as well.
Completing his morning ritual, Tom sat on the love seat in front of the window and finished his breakfast, gazing with pride at the logo on the Cessna 180, the plane he’d be flying this morning: Stokes Aviation.
He wondered what Mandy got him for his birthday.
The weather broke all of a sudden, six in the morning, just south of Parry Sound. An hour earlier they’d been sitting at a dead stop behind a tractor-trailer jackknifed across the highway, flares everywhere, an O.P.P. officer coming right up to Dale’s window and asking him where they were headed. Dale only stared at the man and Ronnie said, “Kukagami eventually, but we’d be happy to make Parry Sound tonight, find a hotel and get out of this weather.” The cop said that was a good idea, flashed Ronnie a smile and went on to the next vehicle. Dale saw Ronnie tuck her handgun—a nickel-plated Colt .380 she carried with her everywhere—back into her bag and thought,
This is a nightmare, somebody wake me up
The drive in the snow, slow and hypnotic, had settled Dale’s nerves somewhat; but seeing that cop stroll up to the window like that, and then Ronnie, ready to shoot the man in the face, brought it all back hard. He was a fugitive now, running not only from the most ruthless crime boss in the country but from his own brother. The law, too, if the cops got involved. Christ, three dead Asians.
He kept thinking maybe it wasn’t too late. He could call Ed, tell him the truth. This wasn’t his mess, it was Ronnie’s. Maybe—
Ronnie said, “I know what you’re thinking.”
Trying to get some edge in his tone, Dale said, “You’re a mind reader now?”
“You’re thinking of calling your brother, am I right? Telling him it was me? You had nothing to do with it?”
“Would I be lying?”
Ronnie said, “
those guys, man. This is petty cash to them. Your brother’ll get his wrist slapped and life’ll go on. Meanwhile we’re sipping gin fizzes in the Florida sunshine.”
Dale glanced at the phone and Ronnie said, “Okay, you want to call him?” She picked up the receiver and held it out to him. “Be my guest. See what he has to say. Better yet, call Copeland. It’s his dope, anyway. And you know how forgiving
can be.” When Dale didn’t move, Ronnie set the phone back in its cradle. “You’re in this, Dale. Don’t kid yourself. You
it. Fucking slant, thinks I’m gonna suck his yellow dick.
dick? I hate those slippery creeps, think they can have whatever they want.” She said, “Did you see the look on his face?” and brayed laughter.
Dale tuned her out. Let her rant.
Traffic got moving again after that, the drive to Parry Sound slow but smooth.
Then, almost without noticing, Dale was driving on center-bare blacktop under a white sky, the moon burning through like a dull beacon, guiding them north.
* * *
They stopped for breakfast at an all-night joint along the highway, Ronnie bringing the cash and the drugs inside, bitching about the country music on the radio as she led Dale to a booth by the window. She ordered black coffee, bacon and eggs over hard with white toast and Parisienne home fries and dug in without saying a word.
All Dale could stomach was dry toast and a few sips of apple juice. He’d lost his appetite for food. What he needed right now was inside that gym bag. He kept thinking about that first sweet rush when the tourniquet comes off, the warm calm that washes over you like tropical surf, the only true antidote to fear he’d ever found. And he was shit-scared now, more afraid than he’d ever been. Every minute that passed without dealing with this thing was a minute closer to the grave. Until now he’d always been able to turn to his brother when he got in a jam, Ed always coming through for him. But this...this fucking mess didn’t
a solution. At least not one Dale believed he could survive.
He looked at Ronnie looking at him, then down at her plate as she pushed her fork into a small round potato, spun it in a glob of ketchup then tugged it off with her perfect white teeth, eyes full of dark humor.
Dale thought of Trang screaming and felt his stomach clench, the dry toast congealing into a missile shape inside him, and he stood up fast saying, “Goin’ out for a smoke,” making it through the door just in time to gulp the cold morning air and keep his meager breakfast where it belonged.
He lit a cigarette and leaned against the wall under the overhang, smoking and watching the dark clouds in the south race to catch up with them.
Ronnie came out a few minutes later with her cargo.
“Pay the bitch,” she said, “and let’s go.”
Wrapped in a housecoat that refused to close over her enormous belly, Mandy Stokes sat at the radio console with a headset on, her gaze shifting between the Cessna 180—out near the center of the lake now, Tom taxiing it into position for takeoff—and the radio controls.
As she ran through some last minute checks with Tom, Steve appeared beside her like a tiny Ninja, giving her a start. Still logy with sleep, he watched through the window as the aircraft accelerated for takeoff, his blue eyes unblinking now, his warm hand tightening around Mandy’s wrist.
The plane vanished beyond a long peninsula for a moment, it’s engine a rising whine in the distance, then reappeared airborne banking north, Tom giving the wings a little side to side tilt, his version of a wave. When Steve saw that he released his mother’s wrist and yawned.
A moment later Tom’s voice came over the radio: “The wild man up yet?”
Mandy said, “You mean up or awake?”
Tom laughed. “Can I talk to him?”
“Mandy said, “You can try,” and held the handset out to her son.
Still half asleep, Steve gave her a grumpy look. But he took the handset and said, “Hi, Dad.”
“Morning, big guy. Happy Birthday.”
“Thanks, Dad. You, too.”
“Excited about tonight?”
Tom chuckled. “Can’t hardly contain yourself, huh, pardner? How old are you now?”
“You know. Five.”
About time you got a job then, don’t you think? Started earning a living?”
Steve just breathed into the handset.
Tom said, “You gonna be this much fun all day?”
Yawning again, Steve said, “Bye, Dad, I gotta get ready for school.”
“Okay, sport. I love you. See you tonight.”
Mandy took the handset from her son and signed off with Tom.
Giving her belly a gentle pat, Steve said, “Can I have Frosted Flakes? It’s my birthday.”
Ronnie and Dale reached the cottage at 7:30, the new day coming on blue and cold as Dale parked the Ram in the yard and got out to find the key. The road in from the highway had been plowed and sanded, only the winding cottage road, a distance of about three miles, requiring 4-wheel drive and a little care.