35: Unscheduled arrivals
Muffled sound gradually settled over the northwest seacoasta quietness brought about when the cold face of northern Front, met the warm smile of southern Wind and their differing attitudes collided. The resulting storm eventually worked its way to the Shalisa Creek peninsula, and changed the appearance of the landscape until it was unrecognisable for the green, brown land it was.
Snowmyriads upon uncountable myriads of six-pointed, crystallised pieces of Natures art formed of frozen water vapour, settling one on the other as they touched down, each tiny elegant flake adding its minuscule bulk to the depth of those already grounded.
Their increasing numbers formed into big, fluffy, composite entities as they collided with each other on the way down. Rustling, jostling, whispering, laughing, they swirled earthward, or were thrown into dancing disorderly crowds and groups by the increasing velocity of Wind, who scattered them everywhere and heaped them onto promontories, ledges and trees in an effort to disperse this invasion which was now beginning to put the former clear outlines of the surrounding scenery out of focus.
Having decided on Rain before Front had come along to interfere with plans, Wind now angrily strewed the oncoming, nonstop, rioting little crystals over Meadow and Beach, and sent them hurtling into Tide, who happily accepted the deluge of tiny visitors, mixing their laughings and whisperings into his own boisterous contribution of comments to the elemental argument as he charged through Gap toward Shore.
A thick, sound-insulating cover of peaceful quietude was hosted by everything the flake hordes met with. Cliff wore a tall white toque of them. Waterfalls voice was absorbed and almost silenced by them, and her rainbows hid themselves beneath ferns and reeds at Pools edge as the weight of Snow bent those arms of refuge down into the water.
Believing they would continue to enjoy their usual snowless environment, precocious flower buds which had been taking advantage of the previously warmer weather to show a hint of opening colour, were reminded now that expectations are not always fulfilled as expected, and they huddled back into their close, protective sheaths.
Not so the Snowdrops. They hung their delicate porcelain flowers out and celebrated the coming of their namesakes, sheltering under the deepening cover to wait until Sun would bring them out again to please the eyes of those seeking that first signal of Spring. They enjoyed their role of harbinger.
At Grandfathers Place, Snow joined hands, to become a soft, massive gathering, forming quickly into a deep, cohesive sweep of glittering white, a repetition of previous impromptu presentations from other years, which made Old Ones and Spirits smile their appreciation of this creative display from Nature. They knew this visit from the north wouldnt last long, and it served as a reminder that Winter could and did visit the southern coast, bringing all the splendour and force normally saved for more favourite areas, in spite of the optimistic hopes of bay residents that it wouldnt. True, this was a bit late in the season, but Nature had her own ideas about things and occasionally tore up her usual schedule in favour of spontaneity.
A totally new and different environment was created which caught the latest children of the wild population around the bay completely by surprise. Cold had changed things drastically for them. Gone was their friendly familiar world, replaced by a strange, unwelcoming, yielding substance, which turned into water when they put their warm, curious faces into it. Gone were their well trodden pathways to Natures grocery store and the watering place. They gazedwary and bewildered by this alien world which had suddenly appeared.
Direction from Mothers was in order. These hardy survivors of other winters stepped out and forged ahead through it, seemingly unconcerned. Their trusting young followed the snow-breaking footsteps, plunging and hopping to see over the piles of cold stuff, excavating holes in it to find food as their mothers were now doing with paws or hooves.
The shallow open space by the swamp, which they usually waded into as they had a drink or chased frogs, presented an unexpected shock to the newest members of the raccoon family.
It had become solid.
They slid down onto it, thrust their shiny black noses on it, and drew them hastily back as it nipped them mischievously. They banged on it, jumped on it, skidded around, falling flat on their stomachs, legs outspread and suddenly unmanageable, and scrambled about going nowhere. The faster they tried to run the less headway they made getting back to the safety of snow-covered land as their feet found no traction. They stopped and held their tender front paws up, complaining to each other that it was cold. They wanted to go back and snuggle up in their warm home beneath the roots of big, ancient Fir.
Mother, determinedly persevering, insisted they get their lunch first. Reluctantly they did, reaching under snow-covered logs and turning over rocks as they searched for grubs, still thinking of the cosy burrow. They were glad when she decided at last that the weather was becoming too inclement. She started on the return route before the going got too tough for the small ones to handle. That path was taken with more enthusiasm than the outward one had been.
Deer family, able to see above the deepening drifts, made better headway, still managing to find branches and bushes offering food, but they too were not that pleased with this impediment to their usual leisurely pursuit of tasty greens. They had no cosy burrow to return to. Overhanging, interlocking branches of cedar and fir offered shelter beneath, in space not yet invaded by the ubiquitous snow. They bedded down there to wait out the weather, doe and fawn curled closely together for warmth and companionship.
Raven, viewing the world from the top of a high tree, knew that it would not be a productive day. It was going to be hard work with beak and claws to search up a satisfying meal. Smaller birds too sought shelter where they could to weather the storm. Their usual sources of seeds, bugs and berries temporarily under cover, they fluffed up their feathers and tucked their heads under their wings, backs turned to Wind and driving Snow.
Mouse family, down under now hidden brown grass tunnel runs, continued their usual routine. Grass and weed seeds were plentiful there. They wanted only to be left in the peace and quiet now prevailing around their well-padded homes, and they hoped no big-footed neighbour would break through the cover and cause a detour in plans.
For most of the forest population Snows chilly intrusion into their ongoing lives was not welcomed.
The human children of the bay found it absolutely wonderful. They threw themselves into the depths of it with shouts of delight as they fell down, waving arms and legs to make snow angels. Then, beginning with the usual small, well-packed handfuls, they rolled them around to gain the bulk necessary for the raising of snowmen which no child can resist turning snow into. As well, it could be built into many other things such as igloos, sculptures, snowballswhich everybody and anybody who happened to be around became targets for.
Charm thought that sort of play was a bit rough. She had jumped excitedly out into the snow, paws batting it about, leaping and sliding, until she slipped down the three broad steps leading to the barge deck and landed on her face in a pile of it. That cushioned her landing somewhat, but being surrounded up to her ears in cold drifts made her feel she had better get out of it fast. As she turned to run back up the steps again a snowball, intentionally off-target, landed beside her, exploding as it hit and splattering her with more of what she was trying to escape.
Her retreat turned into a panic-stricken scramble. She tore into the barge and rushed for the fireplace where she turned, set her back to the warm hearth and got ready to defend herself. Nothing pursued her except laughter. Her dignity ruffled, she began to polish off the wetness, pretending that she hadnt really been scared at all, but deciding as she did so that shed had quite enough of that stuff. In her opinion it wasnt fit for civilised people to have any truck with.
The adults werent far behind in the rambunctious playfulness. They turned into instant kids again, holding their own against the assault of the younger generation until everyone was too wet and breathless to continue. Laughing and panting, they headed in a body for LEGER DE MAIN and the comfort offered there for drying out and warming up as the snowfall intensified.
That was when the call from David Godwin came.
- - -
The appearance of an advancing frontal slope of grey closing down on the coastal sky had been hidden by the fall of darkness the previous evening, and a drastic drop in temperature overnight gave tardy warning of the storm which arrived. Winters southern excursion caught everyone in its scope. Heavy cloud, loaded with freight and riding on wind, swept in dispensing its cargo with a lavish hand. Fat, moist, weighty snow, and more snow and blinding snow, was heaped and wedged against everything in its path, covering roads and landscape.
It hit with an exuberance and force which certainly did serve to remind those affected by it that Mother Nature followed her own path and in her own way. The quietness accompanying this arrival was not only afforded by the sound-insulating qualities of snow, but also from the effect this smother of frozen moisture had on human activity. Shalisa Creek Village fell almost silent as traffic was brought to a halt with roads closed and power disrupted, the cessation of which threw homes and businesses into sudden startled quiet.
Nature treated two-footed creatures in the same fashion as those possessing fourwithout favouritism.
David Godwin was among the former receiving her even-handed treatment.
That morning he had gambled that he could beat the storm home, and this became one hand he now wished he hadnt played.
Returning from a morning flight north, he had made the decision to head home, deciding that if he didnt hed be caught in the company of a determined environmental expedition which had been looking for just such weather to set up camp for its own particular field of research. Snow was their reason for being there and heaps of snow would be an added dimension to their project. They were overjoyed with the prospect of such an unexpected bonus.
The pilot was not. Earlier word had been that snow was staying well south of the border. He had planned to leave it there when he left, having plenty of time to do that as he took his return flight. Now there was waffling from forecasters, and the report wasflurries and possibly heavy snowfall for the south coast that afternoon, with wind warnings. He fiddled numbers and weather reports in his head, figured thered be enough time to get him in under the weather, decided to leave promptly after arrival, and did.
A change in the speed of the approaching front brought the snow onto the southern coast earlier than he had anticipated.
When the oncoming cloud cover lowered and the storm began to threaten him, he dropped altitude, attempting to get under the weather, but as ceiling headed toward floor he knew that trying to make the city would lead to disaster.
It was then that he began considering his options, going over possible emergency landing sites in his mind.
Flying low over the water, his imagination had him running blind through a snowstorm, sitting staring out at nothing except snow hitting his windshield, with all traces of Earth gone, and an artificial horizon and instruments to keep him on course. He had a built in aversion to being unable to see water. His world was visual flight.
It occurred to him then that his pledge to Grandfather regarding giving up gambling didnt mean just quitting cards for money.
Grandfather, so help me, he vowed as he fingered Tranquil Spirit, I really am going to reconsider my commitment to you when I get out of this oneor has it reached the if stage now? Id hate to have to take it down on open water. From what Im looking at its rough down there. Glad the guys arent with me on this trip.
It was too late to head back to the town on whose lake shore he had set down his passengers. He was well past the point of no return. He thought of heading back overland to a small lakeside village he knew of and had flown over on his way up, but the prospect of having to make a duck-footed landing on hard earth if anything should go wrong had him rejecting that idea. His was a seabird.
There were other small, unnamed holes in the wall along the coast he had always considered to be there for emergencies, but those he could think of would put the wind to his disadvantage, and were exposed to the weather. It would also be difficult to secure the plane on a rocky open beach once he made it down. He had never given thought to landing at any of them in a blinding snowstorm and, now that he did, they were coming out as last resort.
Shalisa Creek Bay came to mind. It was farther away than he cared to continue, but it was one place he knew well, and reaching it before the storm did seemed a good possibility. Any water was going to be rough, but wind would be favouring him there, the water within the shelter of the bay arms might make for a less difficult landing and it offered a safe haven until wind and weather let up enough for him to get home again.
He decided it was that or nothing. Tide would be coming in, but he calculated that it would be past its undoubtedly rowdy advance into the bay by the time he got there. He figured that if worse came to worst and the snow caught him before he got down, making his view of the water difficult, those at the bay might at least be able to salvage him from what was left if his judgement was off, or a sogger got him.
He changed course for Shalisa Creek Bay.
Knowing that the seamen living there would have signalling devices handy, he called ahead and asked, if snow arrived before he did, that they stand by with lights, green for the wharf, red for the barge which, if he could see them, would help to guide him in and after thinking about ithe called his grandmother.
Hi Gram. I wont be making it to the city this flight. Im heading for Shalisa Creek BayNo, no problem, but I dont want to take the chance of getting caught by this storm coming in. Its safe there and ahead of the weather so I can sit this blow out in comfortWell, it looks like I wont be home until the weather lets up, but Ill have good company and good spirits to help me get through it, so tell the guys you three will have to have fun in the snow without me for awhile. Ill call you as soon as Im at the bayOkay. Talk to you then.
Edith Godwin put down the phone and looked out the window to the garden. Knowing that David was on his way back, she had been feeling a little uneasy ever since snow and wind warnings had been posted for the area. Wind was already arriving. Then, looking at Ulf and Gurth who were lounging by the fireplace she remarked,.
I do hope this calms down a bit, soon.
Davids call both reassured her and left her still concerned. The fact that hed had to change his flight plan left her feeling that he wasnt out of it yet. She reminded herself that at least salt water didnt get covered with snow, and when David reached the bay he would very likely make it safely down.
Comforting herself with that thought she told Ulf and Gurth,
Tell you what, you two, after we get his call well go out and have fun. We dont get snow very often, so wed better enjoy it when it comes. I think Ill just phone Li and let him know.
- - -
Ana and Yu Ching Li sat in the little glassed-in solarium which housed Chins winter quarters and watched the snow come down. Chin had no concerns at all for weather, head, feet and tail tucked safely into his shell home as he snoozed happily by the little pool with its rocks, water plants and goldfish, while the small recirculating fountain babbled contentedly.
Li and Ana usually enjoyed a snowfall, because most of it didnt hang around too long, melting away within a day or two, or being cleared off by subsequent rain as the weather warmed up again, leaving only a few shabby melting heaps along roadsides, under trees or in shady places, as a reminder of its visit.
The sudden cessation of the fountain made them aware that this fall of snow was not going to leave before it got up to its own fun and games.
We will need the lanterns tonight, remarked Ana.
Dinner by the fireplace, smiled Li.
Perhaps, suggested Ana, We should invite a snow dragon to run around the gardenfor good luck.
There is plenty of material for that from the look of things, he agreed.
Edith has not phoned yet, she remarked after a moments silence.
It is much too soon for David to have reached the bay, Li returned, with more hope than conviction. Let us go and create our dragon.
- - -
An unusual silence began to settle on the coastal communities. The familiar sounds of traffic and machinery were absent, and a lack of noise brought about by the cessation of daily business began to spread. Familiar landmarks were obliterated and everything was smothered in silence as the white and windy onslaught continued.
From personnel of emergency, power, fire and police headquarters in Shalisa Creek Village there was the reaction ofOkay guys, this is going to be a tough one. Snow engendered obstructive, destructive, refrigerated problems for those who had to deal with it on a more practical level.
The village fleet, having thought itself snug in harbour for the winter, realised with alarm as the snow continued, that the weight of such stuff, replete with moisture once it began to melt or get saturated with rain, could easily lower a boats waterline and possibly take any ignored leaks above that mark under unforgiving salt water, and bilges which hadnt been pumped dry would aid the process. Mooring lines which had been considered good for another while, might snap from the force of wind and heavy snow as a boat plunged up and down and rolled with the wave action.
There were hasty recalculations of how long a while was. Men turned out with shovels and brooms, went home for dinner, came back and cleared their decks some more, most deciding that this was to be an all night watch and maybe even longer than that if it continued into the next day the way it was going.
The Sea Urchin, half of whose owners were fishermen themselves, kept the café open and served the weary.
Those who lived in and close to the village werent about to be put off by a bit of snow, however. Theyd seen it before. As the early darkness came down with the weather they gathered for a comforting mug or two at Throw the Rascals Out before heading home, and found themselves in the vicinity of some noisy young people.
A few of these had been stranded at the hotel while passing through to go skiing farther up the coast and had decided on a few glasses of cheer to fill in the time, choosing the same destination as the locals.
Others were from the other side of the village and knew the place well. They were well versed in the how and why of the town, especially the pub, and since the day seemed to be uncooperative for other activities they decided on down time at The Rascals. They brought out of town friends with them.
Fun gets picked up anywhere the young gather, and Fun was about to join the gathering.
Bud Westman had moved WESTMAN WILL from the bay back to the village when hed heard the weather forecast, hoping for a working night ahead, with its accruing monetary rewards. Henry Kapinski had just felt like having his usual, and theyd met along that familiar route as they tramped through the snow heading for their favourite sociable establishment.
When they went into the pub they were welcomed by a group which consisted of postal workers just off from closing up, harbour authority staff who were hanging around just in case, and the crews from two local fishing boats, the latter remaining in town to make sure their boats were safe from the storm.
A short while later the three Louisas came in, straight from pumping their latest diving platform, a small old delaminating plywood fishing boat which had been donated to them by a retiree who had been under the impression that it might actually still be useful for something, and in his will he had generously left it to those he hoped could use it.
He had chosen well. They were overjoyed with his kindness. Some cynics around muttered that the problem of disposal could now be taken over by the three women. The trio had other ideas. They planned to patch her up and give her a new life. Since shed had no name, only a registration number, and the three grateful recipients quickly realised her lack of assets, they had promptly and laughingly called her BAG LADY as they took over the perpetual job of keeping her afloat.
Two mugs-worth into the sociable evening, as darkness began to settle on the village along with the snow, the conversation got around to politics as it inevitably did and, this not being Saturday, The Box was open for commentators. Henry, giving forth at the table with what he thought were reasonable notions, was so intent on his own vision of national paradise that he totally forgot about swiping beer.
This is too good to keep to ourselves, laughed Bud at last. Up on the soap box Henry.
Soap box, soap box! came the chorus of encouragement from his friends.
Okaybut youre asking for it, Henry warned them, and vaulting up behind the soap box lectern, he began,
Friends, visitors and others... .
There was a screech of chair legs as people started turning around to face him, pulling their chairs toward the speaker.
Oh, its okayyou dont have to get closedont let me interfere with your brewskies time, he grinned. Weve all been talking here about what this country needs, and I at least have come to the conclusion that it needs more statesmen and fewer politicians. We need some people with a future-directed vision of what this country should and can beone which looks after its own, its sick and its poor and its old, before it preaches at others what to do... .
Sounds great, came an interrupting voice from the young crowd. Youre so smart, how about you?
Who needs another socialist? was a prompt objection from the same side of the room.
Yeah, weve had enough of that. Get off!
A pretzel shot through the air and struck Henry on the chest. He laughed at that until another one got him right in the face.
Hey guys, he objected. Were restricted to throwing words only here. You have to come up and give your side.
Hoots and whistles followed that entreaty.
Quit greening the grass! came a shout, followed by another taunt of,
Yeahgo lay an egg you cuckoo bird.
Listen you turkey, go lay one of your own! Bud shot back.
- - -
When the call came in to the station the brawl was well under way and out of the control of barkeep and staff.
Sergeant Winfield put down the phone, picked up his cap, slammed it onto the back of his head, which indicated to the other two that serious business was in the offing, and said,
Theres another one going at The Rascals. Sounded more like a riot. Thatll take the three of us. Lets go.
What if somebody robs the bank while were at it? enquired Lawson, just for the hell of it.
Hope they trip over their shoelaces, returned Winfield, as he started for the door.
Every crook worth his reputation uses velcro now, Penniworth informed him.
Every cop worth his hopes they dont, responded the sergeant. You two take the wagon, and dont use the siren.
Shouldnt we scare everybody off so the place is empty when we get there? asked Penniworth with a laugh.
Everybody who came here lately for the peace and quiet of pristine wilderness bitches about the noise, was the reply. They bitch about everythingcrows and roosters waking them up in the morning, dogs barking, kids playing soccer, planes overhead, fire and ambulance sirens, fog horns. Dont want us to make any noise about it but they sure want us to be around when they want us. What the hell! Get going you two.
The corporal made a face behind his sergeants back.
Move it, underlings, he ordered grandiosely under his breath, giving an imperious wave of his hand as he did so.
I dont need the comments either, Winfield told him, heading for the cruiser as the three went out of the station.
Damned mans got ears like a deer, complained Lawson, Here we go again, refereeing a bunch of rowdy boozers. Why doesnt he just let them punch each other out?
Cant do that, grinned Penniworth. Its against the lawdisturbing the peace, assault and battery, drunk and disor... .
Shut up and get in! snapped Lawson, this time with a definitely down to earth tone, interrupting the listing of offences and, getting into the drivers side of the wagon, he started off leaving Penniworth to throw himself in the other side on the run.
Winfield was already parked in front of the pub when the two arrived. He walked over and told them, as the noise from the bar assaulted them,
Its that lot again. Bad enough we have to tackle that moose Westman, but the Furious Females are in there too.
What now, master? How do we handle the meese? asked Penniworth with his usual light-hearted approach to pending action. Go back to the station and pretend all our tires are flat?
Ill remember that one the next time you dont show up when youre called, grinned Winfield. This doesnt look too serious. Tell you what we do now. Penniwortharound the back. If anybodys heading that way, block it. Lawsonfront, same op. Ill go disconnect the power for a bit to calm things down until you two get set.
That old beggar is gonna let em all climb out the washroom window as usual, Lawson muttered to Penniworth, as the sergeant headed for a small building beside the pub which housed propane and electric connections.
Yeah, agreed Penniworth, Saves a lot of trouble for us if they all disperse before we get there.
When the lights went out the shouts and crashes took on a different tone as opponents and proponents lost sight of each other, and over the top of the noise came a loud voice advising,
Siddown quick! Hes pulled the switch out back again.
The sound of running footsteps in retreat and bodies crashing into chairs and tables subsided just as the lights came on again and everyone blinked at the sight of Corporal Lawson standing at the front door while Constable Penniworth held down the rear escape route. Those who hadnt quite managed to get seated, did so now, as Sergeant Winfield walked into the pub from the back entrance.
Evening Tink, he smiled at the bartender owner. Politics heating up again?
Oh theyre always good for a laugh mate, smiled the tiny woman behind the bar, wiping away at it.
Politics, okay. Hooliganism no, returned Winfield, looking around the room.
Not seeing anyone who looked as though they required immediate medical attention he decided that this call was just a disagreement among feisty patrons who had nothing better to do on a stormy night except drink beer, bait each other and make a lot of noise.
What made you drop by so unexpectedly? asked the proprietor of the pub. Sundowneror just checking my electric system again?
Your neighbours are complainingagain.
What! Again? They should learn a little tolerance. We were just having a spirited political discussion abou... .
Dont say it! I dont want to hear itagain.
So youve come to throw some rascals out then?
Thats the general idea.
He turned to the roomful of people, most of whom were listening with interested neutral faces.
Okay, anybody got a beef?
I have, announced a young man promptly, standing up.
This patron was busy with a handkerchief at his mouth.
<Dont really need to ask. The place is full of regulars except for that poor bewildered bellicose boy. Guess he got left behind by his buddies when he didnt know the way out.>
You old enough to be in here? asked Winfield, regarding the obvious youth of the man before him, and hoping to simply run the protester out and have done with the whole affair quickly.
Certainly! was the very positive response.
Lets have the ID then, came the request, which was promptly complied with, accompanied by a superior smile of boyish triumph.
<Jay J. Halcourt-Withers Jr. Name seems familiar. Think he was one of those kids who raised hell on the old barge some time back. Oh yeah. Just of age last week. Here to try out his manhood legally.>
Okay, whats your complaint?
They assaulted me! I want them thrown in jail.
<Of courseand you assaulted them. Question. Whos the guilty one here?>
You intend to lay charges? enquired the sergeant handing back the requested material.
Would you like to identify somebody?
All of those guys over there, came the sweeping condemnation as the accuser pointed his forefinger toward the tables which that lot had pulled together for a friendly gathering.
The now well-behaved, seated pubbers were all busy examining the tops of tables, or their faces and knuckles, or picking up unbroken ashtrays from the floor.
Winfield knew them all as he took them in with his eyes, well known villagers first, then those seated on the other side of the room who were dubbed Hillers by long-time residents.
<Some of the elite are slumming again. Mostly the young ones with their four-by-fours, willing to force their way into town on the risky roads just to defy the weather and everything else. Theyre getting as bad as the locals. Usually come here on Saturday night just to aggravate the Soggers. Pretty soon well be calling it gang wars.>
Whigs on the left and Tories to the right as usual, he commented, knowing now how the pub sorted itself out down the middle of the area.
Where are socialists supposed to go then? came a laughing enquiry.
Go tuh hell! came the reply off to Winfields right.
All right parliamentarianslets have order here, Winfield warned.
Actually were all apolitical, began Henry with a grin. You neednt have come. It was just a misunderstanding. Somebody tripped and said something naughty thinking somebody else had tripped him deliberately, so we all rushed to help the first person up and in the rush we hit our heads together while trying to restore him to his seat and... .
Kapinski, Winfield broke in, If you ever want to publish your fiction let me know. Id be glad to become your agentbut maybe youd better get political right now or you might wind up in a cell hosting the opposing party.
The sergeant looked at the man who had made the complaint.
You want to stand up in court and charge all of them? They all assaulted you?
They were all in it together, insisted the young man.
Did any of you people witness what went on? he addressed the roomful.
There was a silence as immense as that caused by the snowstorm outside.
<So what did I expect?>
Winfield appealed to the woman behind the bar and tried again.
You wouldnt care to help us out here would you Tinker?
Well sweetie, I had my back turned and when I heard the first crash I ducked behind the bar and then the lights went out.
She met Winfields tolerant and forbearing eyes, so she added,
But I did see a couple of things first though, like the group of fellows who went into the loo and havent come out yet.
<Good. The big window will be wide open and all well find will be used paper towels. One up for our side. Cuts down the problem.>
Lets deal with whats here, Winfield tried again, regarding what he considered the Whig side of the bar. Didnt think youd all set on one guy.
Well, offered Tink, jumping into the silent breach, I dont want the young man to think he didnt see right, but I dont believe everybody here tripped over him while helping him up. Most everybody was just sitting down minding their own business,
Oh yeah. So who was that?
As I said, she reiterated, I really didnt see anything after the lights went out.
Youre very helpful, returned Winfield, smothering a sigh of resignation. You dont know who did what?
Not at the momentlike I saidbut maybe Ill think of something later.
No doubt, muttered Winfield, turning from the bar. What about the other side of the room?
Well, how much do you expect me to see when Im busy ducking behind the bar and then the lights go out? I dont know if they did or they didnt, but I guess these people over here werent arguing with themselves.
Very astute observation, replied Winfield, giving up. Amazing that you saw a few things before the lights went out.
Got good eyesight, returned the barkeep, then quickly qualified her remark with, Sometimes.
Im well aware of your intermittent deficiency.
Officer and pub owner locked eyes but, as Winfield well knew, neither of them was going to flinch. He turned away.
All right sir, he addressed the young man with the injured lip. Now, can you identify one of them?
That one, he pointed to Henry. He started it with his inflammatory remarks.
Oh, I dont think so, came the voice from the bar. He was over here ordering a beer right thenalong with a few others.
The patron looked at her with startled disbelief and tried again.
Him, he said, pointing to Bud. He went after my friend.
No no! He was over here ordering.
Which one of these people over there is your friend? Winfield prompted the young man, ignoring the remark from the bar.
Wellhe was here.
Oh, I see. Anyway, were asking specifically for the one who took you, Winfield pointed out.
She did, said the young man emphatically at last, fingering Lucy. She was the one who slapped me in the mouth.
There was a silence all around as the sergeant held the mans eyes with his own before he said,
The young lady hit you?
<Okay, so I use the term lady loosely.>
Oh, Im sure he must be mistaken, Tinker put in. The ladies were over here together. I couldnt miss them, could I? Shame on you, young gentleman, accusing a lady of such a thingand not very macho either.
Accompanied by snickers all around Winfield turn back to the bar.
How would you like to be quiet for awhile? he suggested. If I need your help Ill ask.
Just for awhile, came the answer.
Youre sure it was that young lady and not one of the other two? Youre quite sure of the identification?
As three blonde heads of hair and six wide blue eyes turned in his direction the complainant regarded the women, who certainly did look like each other, then he remained silent.
And what, may I ask, queried Winfield, Might you have been doing which might possibly have provoked such an alleged attack?
There was another silence until the officer said,
Youll have to come along with us and swear out a warrant. Then, using a hunch he had from the look of the man, and not having seen him around before but quite sure of the name, he asked, Are you from out of town?
Well, youll have to come back here when the case comes up, to identify and such and... .
The man was young but the young are no fools when their own hunches kick in as his did at this moment.
<Im being done. That barkeep will swear to anything, and probably all the others along with her. Im not wasting my time coming back and forth to this dump and then getting dismissed.>
Forget it, he told the sergeant. I guess my twenty-twenty eyesight went out with the lights.
You dont want to lay charges?
Would it do any good?
Thats for the courts to decide.
Huh! Whos buying you?
I beg your pardon?
That had been going too far. The sergeants dark eyes got darker and the officer standing there in the middle of the room seemed to grow larger, visibly, as he straightened up.
I said can I buy you a beer?
Oh, the sergeant smiled an iron smile. No thank you. Im on duty. Maybe some other timewhen youre back this way.
Not if I can help it, muttered the young man, and Winfield let him get away with it as he turned to the barkeep.
Do you want me to clear the place out?
Oh my goodiness no! How ever will I make a living if you throw out all my patrons?
I dont know, came the reply, But I sure wish sometimes youd think about it. All right. I dont want to hear any more from here for awhile. You sir. Do you have a car?
No. I came with friends.
<They ran and you didnt make the window. Guess you really are a stranger here. Everyone knows enough to take off out Tinks washroom window. The locals just sit here and laugh because they know shell back them up in their inventive little fables. Oh well, no harm done. She tells the truth when its really needed. It was just a little difference of opinion, and the young heal fast. The little so-and-so likely deserved it. Should get the ladies on our side. They can probably handle this bunch better than we can.>
May I drive you to where youre staying? he asked courteously, thinking of giving the young man a fatherly lecture on the way home.
The shocked look he got gave him his answer before it came.
Ohno thanks. Ill walk.
Fine. Sorry about this. The hospitality of the town isnt usually this rough. You might try the hotel lounge next time. They dont talk politics so much there. Youre free to leave if youd like to.
Good idea, agreed Jay. J. Halcourt-Withers Jr., and left with a slow, scornful strut which he hoped told the officer what he thought of it all.
There goes trouble, thought Winfield, and turned back to the assemblage.
One of these days, people, somebody is going to get really angry around here, he warned, And it might just be me.
Straight faces and laughing eyes took his speech gravely in.
The Sergeant sighed.
<Talk to the wind.>
I dont suppose I could persuade you to dismantle your soap box, Tink?
We the people have the right to express our opinions openly and freely.
Oh yeah. Well heres mine. Anymore of this in the near future and I might just ask to have your licence lifted and get you closed down.
Shame! Shame! arose the old parliamentary cry from the assemblage as the tables were pounded in traditionally vigorous protest.
Winfield tried not to laugh.
As he started to walk out somebody began singing, For hes a jolly good fellow, off key, followed by a chorus of voices calling,
Throw those rascals out!
Winfield turned, swept his eyes around the room, then, with a deliberate and ominous stride he came back and entered the soap box. Slamming his hands down on the top of the shielding structure he announced,
If I were to do that this room would be very empty except for myself and crew. I know who the rascals are here, every one of you, and of whatever political persuasion, and one day if I should ever decide to give up this uniform, Id be more than delighted to demonstrate to anyone here where I stand on the issue, without being constrained by protocol. Meanwhile we who wear this cloth are here to keep the peace and the laws of this country, which you lot seem bound and determined not to do. When you get around to behaving the way civilised people ought to then therell be no need for me and others like me to go running around in the middle of a snowstorm trying to convince you to do that. Goodnight to you all. Have a good eveningsince it seems youre already having that, and as he stepped down from the box he added, And leave your car keys at the bar when you go, because the weathers causing enough trouble without a lot of drunken drivers adding to it. I dont want to catch any one of you behind the wheel tonight because youll be for it. Understood?
There was a sudden restrained silence as he turned and left.
See if you can keep the speeches down a bit after were gone, cautioned Penniworth, as he came from the back and walked through the room to follow Winfield and Lawson out. We may be just government employees to you, but were citizens too, and as youve just heard, we also have opinions.
He went through the door and out into the storm without any following comments from those left behind. The guilty pub patrons relapsed into what might have been considered well-modulated and civilised behaviour and polite conversation as those who still had beer mugs sat fingering them while the pub staff mopped and broomed the floor. Everyone regarded the blinding snowstorm outside, booting about the idea that theyd either have to walk home or take an upstairs room here at Tinkers Inn, weather being a wonderfully neutral and all encompassing subject for discussion.
There was a strained atmosphere of wariness between the two factions seated there until Henry Kapinski, feeling a bit more guilty than the others because his remarks had started it all, played the peacemaker, and called out to the little woman behind the bar,
Hey, Tink, were all stuck here together in this lousy weather, and we seem to have worked out a détente, so that calls for a celebration. Lets have a round all around.
Surprised remarks from the Hillers, laughter from the Soggers and, since there was only a small number of patrons left in the room, Henrys wallet shrugged it off with complete agreement.
- - -
A little earlier, somewhere up the coast, the pilot of a single-engined plane had also been regarding the weather, but his ideas on the subject at that moment were not so polite, as he gave himself and the weather a dressing down, the sound of his own voice in the cockpit making the isolation he felt seem a little less total and himself a little less stressed as he headed for his chosen refuge, hoping the storm ahead would hold off until he got there.
Damned weather never can be relied on to do what its supposed to. Dirty old sneak. Wonder if Ive bought a ticket for the wrong flight. Thought the pilot on this plane had a few brains, but now Im beginning to wonder. Geeze! May I never get into anything like this again! Im too fond of living, and I hope I live to remember that. Oh oh! Here it comes.
Snow and plane met before David reached the bay. The first few flakes were tentative and small but as he came closer to his destination, large wind driven masses hit his windshield and it was with relief that he sighted the peninsula. It was a vague, far distant glimpse through the heavy snow, but enough to give him direction.
Visibility was now reaching for zero.
Remembering the tongue-in-cheek pilots philosophy that a good landing is any landing which everybody walks away from, he assured himself that his choice of alternate touchdown had been the right one in spite of the time element and he set his mind to making the best of what he had to deal with.
Okay, lets walk away from this one everybody, he murmured as he banked to come in.
On his final approach he began thinking that maybe a few Friends around the place just might be willing to lend a hand. Like Fitz before him, who had felt that there was no harm in hedging his bets when things got tough, he began to address polite and hopeful words to some Spirits which he felt sure were around.
Hey Wind, thanks for being in my face and, Cliff, if youll just stay where youre supposed to Id sure like that. Tide, this is no time for jokes soI hope youve dumped all your soggers on the beach by now and, Grandfather, if youre listening, Ill be forever grateful if you and the Old Ones all help get me down in one pieceand if there happen to be any good dragons around, maybe you could throw whatever youre good for into the pot, just for luck. Wish to hell I could see better. Okay, were in this together Tranquil Spiritexcept this isnt exactly tranquil. Bet that water down there isnt either. Everybody justrelax.
Grandfather, hearing the running petition of the pilot, overlooked that slip of the promise. He knew that, had the bet been placed, it would certainly have won.
The plane came in full stall, its pilot knowing that Sea would be rough from the force of Wind and Tide and David felt more than saw the touchdown, as the plane rocked forward and then levelled off.
The tenseness which had begun to gather between his shoulder blades and along his jaw started to relax as he knew hed made it down safely. Groping the plane slowly over the turbulent water, he taxied through the now enveloping snow like a poor-sighted mole, creeping along until he saw flashing green and white lights off to port, knew he had missed the wharf, and figured the tide had put him off target.
You just couldnt resist a funny could you Tide? he remarked as he adjusted for direction. I guess I should be glad that it it wasnt a sogger.
Looking like north pole snow gnomes, Armand, Shiro, Fitz and Harry put their flashlights into their pockets, and reached out to help him tie up as he came edging over to the wharf.
Thanks guys, he told them as he stepped out, Sure great to see you! Bit sooner than Id planned on butwho needs plans? They dont work for me anyway.
You should do this more often, grinned Shiro, Gives us old fossils some excitement.
Yeah, laughed Harry, Armand was getting all ready to set up an emergency ward for broken bones.
Damned near needed it, breathed the pilot.
It was not that I doubted your skill, Armand told him apologetically, But this revolting weather gave me exciting ideas.
Well I hope the next excitement doesnt include me laughed David, At least not this wayand you werent the only one who got ideas. I was beginning to wonder if maybe youd have to go fishing for me. Winds not so bad in the bay here though, so it didnt quite blow all the feathers off my bird.
This is no weather for any bird to be out in, live or mechanical, said Fitz.
Not much good for anything, agreed David with feeling. I cant thank you enough for being here for me. Sure glad to be safely down.
Think well be working the shovels soon, observed Shiro, slapping snow off his jacket.
In that case maybe Ill be distributing the horse liniment soon, returned Armand.
If I must do something soon I think itll be lifting a couple of stiff ones after this, grinned David.
Got just the thing for rattled nerves, offered Harry. Were holing up on the barge and having a real down-home, huddle-up-together going. Bettinas best is coming in mighty handy.
Slippery here so watch your step, cautioned Shiro, Or we just might have to go fishing after all.
Its sure good to have a safe place to picket the plane in this soup and dumplings weather, commented the pilot as he set about safeguarding his aircraft. If Id had to go down somewhere else Im not sure I would have found it so welcoming.
Your plane may be safe but I think you are in trouble with head office, warned Armand with a laugh as they helped him to make things secure. I heard Rose saying shed have to downgrade you from careless to reckless again.
Davids eyebrows went up as he pulled a face, replying sheepishly,
I guess I can handle one more head office rumble, since this ones such a nice head, but this time I have no excuse. Should have stayed where I was, even if it meant getting stuck there for a few days. It was pretty stupid of me, butthats my middle name.
Smart enough to get out of it in one piece, comforted Fitz. Well go get coffee and chaser when youre finished bedding her down.
They helped him put the covers on motor and cockpit, then giving his plane a final pat as though it were a live thing he turned his back to the wind, saying,
Okay Dragon Wings, thisll do it. Lets go rumble guys.
Yeah, lets, agreed Harry, quickly worked a handful of snow together and hit David in the back of the head with it, tumbling his cap off.
Whatever remnants of tension remained in the pilot disappeared with that surprise assault.
Geeze! You rat! he laughed, bent over, retrieved his cap and with a swift arc of his arm he scooped up a capful of loose snow and sent it flying into Harrys face.
Every man for himself! yelled Shiro, joining in the spirit of things, and stuffed an icy handful down the back of Armands jacket collar.
Dirty pool! shouted Armand, and as Shiro tried to run away he tripped him into the snow.
Shouting, laughing and running, the skirmishers slipped, slid, fell and fired all the way to the barge where hostilities came to a halt with yells of Truce! Truce!, when it was found that nobody was going to be able to get aboard until there was one.
- - -
After the phone call came in, Edith Godwin, Ulf and Gurth, went out into the garden to have fun. The two samoyeds leapt into the drifts, dug their noses in, jerked their heads to toss the snow into the air and jumped up to catch it on its way down. They chased snowballs. They rolled around getting covered with pellets which stuck to their coats as the snow melted against them. They ran madly around the garden leaping and bouncing and wanting more of the same. Of northern ancestry, whose forebears were used to making snow burrows in which to keep themselves snug and cosy against cold and storm, they liked it. They didnt want to go in.
Later, after drying off the dripping dogs, herself and the kitchen floor, Edith gave Ulf and Gurth their dinner, then sat watching the cherry tree with its bench-circled trunk, as branches and bench turned into plump facsimiles of themselves along with the rest of the garden.
As she poured herself tea and a small glass of Madeira, she told her two companions,
David is so fortunate to have such friends, and I know his remark about good spirits meant more than just a full glass in his hand. So, heres to you Good Spirits and may you always be there for those at the bay who need you. Our thanks, and let him come home safely.
Ulf and Gurth listened to her words, waved their tails and settled down on either side of her chair for a quiet evening, made more so by the falling snow.
Curling contentedly around one end of the frozen outside pool in Ana and Lis garden, a little snow dragon considered that it was lucky he was lucky, and that he had the ability to pass that gift on to someone else at a distance. He had no doubt at all that he had helped bring a plane down safely. Of course there had been other spirits involved butsomehow it seemed fit to him that a gambler had received the help he had asked for, just for luck. After all, the pilot of the plane was considered to be of a kindred spirit, and all that stuff about quitting gambling hadnt deterred the good luck one bit, since the recipient of it had definitely involved himself in the gamble, not by accident but by choice.
Settling down under the snowfall, fire tucked away inside himself, he closed his eyes, a smile reaching around his capacious mouth. Once a gambler, always a gambler, the little dragon told himself, as northern Front and southern Wind carried their altercation over into the dark precinct of Night.