NeWest Press

Books by this Publisher
Sort by:
View Mode:
Icefields
Excerpt

1

At a quarter past three in the afternoon, on August 17, 1898, Doctor Edward Byrne slipped on the ice of Arcturus glacier in the Canadian Rockies and slid into a crevasse.

Frank Trask, the expedition guide, was the first to notice his disappearance. He paused in his slow trudge to make a head count and saw, against the glare of the ice, one less dark, toiling figure than there had been moments before. Trask called out to the others walking farther ahead on the glacier. They turned at his shout and descended quickly to where he stood.

On this bare, windswept slope of ice there was only one place Byrne could be. The climbing party crouched at the edge of the chasm where the young doctor's snow goggles lay, the strap caught on a projecting spine of ice. They shouted his name down into the darkness, but heard nothing. Trask unwound the coil of rope from over his shoulder and knotted a stirrup in one end.

--I'm not married, Professor Collie said. I'll go.

Trask shook his head.

--I am, he said. I will.

There was no time to argue. One end of the rope was secured around a rough bollard hacked out of the ice, and Trask tied the other around his chest. Slipping his foot into the stirrup, he took hold of the rope and stepped backwards into the abyss.

In blue-black darkness almost sixty feet below the surface, his gloved hand touched the doctor's boot. He realized Byrne was wedged upside down between the narrowing crevasse walls. Trask spoke his name and nudged him cautiously with his knee, but Byrne did not respond. The only sound was the muffled splash of meltwater. Trask shouted up to the others and after a few moments a second rope snaked down towards him from above. He caught the end of the rope and hung in space, waiting for his eyes to grow accustomed to the deep blue gloom. After a few moments he could see that the rucksack on Byrne's back was jammed against an outcrop of the ice wall. This lucky chance had saved him from falling even further, but now the rucksack would only be a hindrance to the rescue.

Trask squirmed himself down into the narrow space beside Byrne. With his hunting knife he sliced through one shoulder strap, then worked the free end of the rope behind the doctor's back, grasped it with the fingers of his other hand and slowly tugged it around. The doctor did not move. Trask let out a long breath. He felt sweat cooling on his neck.

When the rope was snug and knotted under Byrne's arms, Trask cut the other strap and gave the rucksack a shove with his boot. It tumbled down into the dark with a muffled clang of metal.

What the hell was he carrying in there?

Byrne began to slide downward, but the rope went taut and held him.

--I've got him, Trask shouted. Pull him up, slowly.

Byrne, and then Trask, were hauled to the surface. The doctor's skin was pale blue, his beard and clothing covered in a lacquer of refrozen meltwater.

Professor Collie knelt and examined him, unwound the ice-encrusted scarf from around Byrne's neck and felt for a pulse.

--He's alive. Unconscious.

With his teeth Trask pulled off his soaked gloves and spat them onto the ice.

--Then he missed all the fancy words I used trying to get that damn rope around him.

--Hypothermia, said Professor Collie. We have to get him warmed up.

The four men carried Byrne down the long, sloping tongue of the glacier to the terminus, where the wranglers were camped, waiting with the horses. Nigel the cook saw them coming and had a fire started and tea brewing when they arrived. Stripped of his soaked, stiffened clothing and bundled in a wool blanket, Byrne was propped upright in front of the fire. Drooping forward, he made a barely audible sound, a gasping hiccup. The professor rubbed his limbs and chest.

--The pulse is weak, but he's still with us.

Byrne shuddered and moved his arms. His breathing became audible. A pink glow spread slowly from the centre of his chest, outward to the limbs, suffusing the blue pallor. He yawned, opened his eyes, and shut them again.

The professor forced hot tea down Byrne's throat.

--We must get him away from the ice, Collie said. I'm afraid that if we bivouac here he might relapse.

As he spoke, he pried the pocketwatch from Byrne's closed fist.

close this panel
Cine Star Salon, The
Excerpt

I. Sharp Instruments
1
The clanging of woks and harried calls from the cooks seemed louder that Sunday, the bustle carrying a more frenzied air. Sophia felt like a caged animal. She looked up at the ceiling, wishing to float above the flood of noise. Across the table, her parents sat straight-backed and elegant--they dressed up during Sundays for the mass. At this dim sum place along Fraser Street, they were familiar faces to servers who were used to serving them efficiently. Her father always brought them to the same place after the service; he enjoyed the anxious, deferential treatment. Sophia wished everybody would just slow down, that the plates of deep-fried rolls would land on the table without that haphazard clink, the tiny steaming bowls set down with some care. The world lacked in grace. There was no need for all this hurry.

There was also no need to talk so loudly. Sophia marvelled at how her mother's excited voice surfed above the noise level in the restaurant, while Samuel and their father hungrily served themselves with the newly arrived delicacies. What was it with men that could make them so indifferent when everything around them was chaos?

"There might have been a fight, some confrontation." Her mother looked to Sophia for confirmation. During last night's Skype call to Manila, every single detail had been dissected, with Sophia's mother embellishing with things remembered from the past, and Auntie Mila correcting her faulty memory, happy to fan the same topic as it kept at bay the other usual subject, which was her perpetual singlehood. They had harmoniously called it an accident. Sophia, who had been eavesdropping, missed the kindness of the word, its blamelessness, now that her mother was adding fresh angles to her younger sister's juicy gossip. "Maybe it wasn't an accident. Who knows?"

The feast on the Lazy Susan gave off the aroma of sesame and pork fat, all of which ordinarily made her day. Sophia had a voracious appetite. Adrian had once said that she wasn't like other beautiful women who ate like birds.

That morning she didn't feel like a single bite.

"Your Auntie Rosy," her mother waved her chopsticks at Sophia on your, stressing that the woman was just someone Sophia called Auntie, not a family relation, "has not seen a customer since the accident. The ale left with an unfinished haircut and a bleeding cut on her cheek. Fight or no fight, Rosy must have been drunk!"

Her father shrugged. "What's going to happen now?"

"For sure, she's going to lose the business. It's so sad." But her mother didn't sound sad. She sounded cold, satisfied even.

"Where did Auntie Mila hear this?" Sophia made her voice sound skeptical, poised to dismiss the story.

"Everyone in the neighbourhood is talking about it. I'm surprised you haven't heard."

"I haven't been in touch with them." She avoided her mother's gaze by looking up at the server who put down a fresh teapot on their table before hurrying off with the empty one. He brushed against another server pushing a cart that carried towering piles of bamboo steamers. Sophia herself felt like a tottering container in danger of falling to the floor, her secrets tumbling out like meat filling from a breached dumpling.

How generous she had been back then, sending money and packages filled with salon supplies and gifts to Manila. It had been three years, but Sophia was remembering all of it too clearly. How, at the beginning, it hadn't felt like a burden. Every amount she signed off, every package she sealed and shipped left her with a nostalgic glow from paying homage. It hadn't been hard to keep these charitable efforts from her stingy parents--as a child, Sophia had harboured bigger secrets. That Auntie Rosy was grateful to the point of tears every single time only spurred her generosity. Being left to run Cine Star after Aling Helen's death had made her fragile and resilient at the same time. Such contradictions were the stuff Auntie Rosy was made of. Perhaps the end had been inevitable. Their friendship couldn't have emerged from their dreadful misunderstanding unscathed. When everything finally blew up, Auntie Rosy no longer wanted to speak to Sophia, who had been irked but ultimately relieved by this outcome. Through all of it, her family had been unaware and uninvolved. As always.

Outside the skies were bright, the leaves vibrant in the late-September showdown between summer and fall, but all Sophia could see were the smudges on the glass window, swirling traces of mist where the cleaning cloth had been. A cut on the cheek. Auntie Rosy had been a stylist for decades. What had taken so long, Sophia thought, for something like this to happen?

The scene played out in her head: the woman storming out of Cine Star, hand cradling one side of her face. Murmurs rising among onlookers lined up at the next-door pawnshop and the bakery at the other side. Auntie Mila would have pieced the story together from plenty of sources. Her account was so detailed that her mother, who knew nothing about the people living next door to their Collingwood area townhouse, would talk about it for a long time.

But it was Erwin's version that Sophia wanted to hear. It had been months since they had last spoken, but from what she could tell from his Facebook and Instagram posts, her childhood friend still lived in the same neighbourhood, worked at the same call centre outfit. Heard the same rumours. Erwin was Sophia's remaining link to Auntie Rosy.

By the time they left the Chinese restaurant, the morning's sunny skies had turned into a defeated shade. "It might rain," Sophia remarked, looking through the window of her father's Honda. Next to her, Samuel had earphones plugged in his ears, his slouch disguising his springing height. He looked thirteen instead of nineteen. As her mother went on questioning Auntie Rosy's life choices, Sophia found herself agreeing with the prevailing belief within the family that her brother was the clever one.

"Mila says Rosy and Soledad are still tight. They are still seen together at nights."

Aling Soledad! Sophia had not thought of her for years. When she was growing up, the rumours about the woman swirled around their neighbourhood like a swarm of bees. Back when she believed that being beautiful brought a woman a lot of trouble. The string of boyfriends. Affairs ending stormily. The next man a step down from the last. Sometimes a baby in their wake. Sophia wondered if Auntie Rosy still styled Aling Soledad at Cine Star like the old days. For free.

"She should be locked up," her father huffed. They were stopped at a red light. An old lady with a walker ambled across the pedestrian line. "Both of them."

"Vincent, naman. That's too harsh." Sophia's mother rubbed his shoulder. For the first time that morning she had reverted to her mellow and tremulous voice, which Sophia guessed was used at her job as a receptionist at the community centre. It sounded like she was shivering and was concealing it by being friendly. Polite. Auntie Rosy's accident had resurrected the loud, commanding voice she had once wielded against noisemakers as a college librarian.

The light turned green and the car eased forward, leaving the topic of Auntie Rosy's accident at the intersection. Sophia waited for something within her to settle, her heartbeat or the food in her stomach, but her pulse had been fine and she had eaten very little at the restaurant. Her sigh created a cloudy patch on the car window, which looked out to hardware stores, parking lots, obscure office buildings rushing past. It was all familiar landscape, but what went on behind those vandalized stucco walls, those glass doors advertising hours of operation? Something always lurked behind the surface, every wall knew of some drama. Her father drove faster and the shops flew past with their untold stories, leaving Sophia with her faint reflection floating along the pavement. A lady's face with shapely eyebrows and lips, not belonging to the little girl she had felt like a few blocks ago.

close this panel
Tenure
Excerpt

Chapter 1

As Mark Morata pressed his foot down, the new Tesla silently accelerated up the hill, easing him back into the seat. This was his favourite stretch of road: the coastal mountains towering up on the left, the cedar-clad islands speckling the sea to the right. Mid-morning, mid-week, a sunny spring day, just a few cars heading the other way, north to Whistler, where fresh snow on the higher runs was drawing to the ski-slopes those who could be free from work. He had wined and dined and flattered and subtly threatened the beautiful Thai twins who were miraculously effective conduits for his cocaine into the party animals needing a further high after skiing. A satisfactory couple of days. Nothing on the road ahead and in his mirror only the Honda he had swept by moments before.

A thump under the car, subdued by the massive batteries. Had he run over something? An animal, a stone he hadn't seen? A spurt of yellow and black smoke briefly filled the rear window. The car veered left then right, then straightened. He wrenched the wheel to follow the curve of the road ahead, with no effect.

"Mierda!"

No brakes either. He crossed the yellow lines, into any traffic that might come round the bend ahead, drifting unstoppably towards the rock-face at the side of the road, splattering loose stones on the hard shoulder.

He pulled himself away from the door as the mountainside began to scratch then tear at the car, gripping the steering wheel tight, turning it uselessly. The scraping noise of metal against rock was made worse by the snapping and cracking of the shrubs that had found niches in the mountain side. Holding his breath, the muscles of his hands, arms, and shoulders began to lock. The car juddered as it was bounced from one outcropping of rock to the next. He might at any point be thrown across the road and over the cliff down to the sea. The cliffs were not high, but enough for a fall to be fatal.

A rounded chunk of the mountain came towards him, slamming the door by his elbow with a tearing boom and the Tesla lurched back over the shoulder of loose stones onto the road. It gathered speed going downhill, wheels now astride the central yellow lines. There was a straight run for maybe a hundred meters and then the road curved sharply to the left. Still no cars coming towards him, but if he continued straight, the Tesla would be over the cliff before it was half way round the curve.

He caught a flashing glimpse of the Honda he had overtaken accelerating to get between the Tesla and the fall over the cliff. Close to the bend, the Honda turned against the right front side of the Tesla trying to force it to follow the curve away from the fall to the water. The panels of the two cars crashed against each other. The tires of the Honda shrieked as it turned harder into the Tesla. Mark was horrified that his much heavier car would carry the Honda and its driver over the cliff as well. But the screaming wheels of the Honda were getting some traction, and the two cars began to move slowly, strainingly left, till the Tesla's wheels were again over the centrelines.

The road curved more sharply left ahead, and the weight of the Tesla could not be turned that much while moving so fast. Mark waved at the driver to pull away and let the Tesla go! As the bend approached, the Honda leaned harder into the Tesla. But its screaming wheels began to lose their grip and the two cars juddered towards the edge, their panels screaming like metal banshees.

Ahead, there was a picnic area with a gravel entrance--some hope, if they could only stay on the road till they reached it. The wide slipway leading up to trees and picnic-tables was in sight. But the two cars were being pushed with a terrible squealing and tearing sound onto the hard-shoulder, and now losing more traction on the loose stones.

A ridge of shrubs and bushes crowned a low rise between the squealing cars and the cliff. The Honda's right wheels bounced against the root-packed earth of the rise as the heavier car forced it closer and closer to the edge, tearing into the bushes. The sturdier bushes kicked the Honda back, battering it harder into the Tesla. Mark could do nothing as the Honda jumped and crashed between the bushes on one side and the Tesla on the other. The Honda driver, shaken to and fro, was clearly trying to brake, but he was entangled with the Tesla, being dragged at clattering, tearing speed. The front of the Honda rose up. It was going was over the edge!

Bushes flashed by Mark, and his front wheels hit something hard and bounced. He was free of the Honda, and on four wheels. Then slowing as he climbed the deep gravel of the picnic slipway.

Behind him, he was relieved to see, the Honda also hit the slipway, bouncing and veering to and fro as it skidded through the gravel. The Honda's brakes began to slow the car as it slalomed towards the trees to Mark's right. The Tesla, heavier and brakeless, kept rolling towards the low bracken and smaller trees at the southern end of the picnic area. Mark gripped the wheel even tighter as the car rolled majestically into the bracken, bounced a little as it tumbled into the rough drainage ditch, then slammed into the small trees, and came to a stop with breaking glass, a crunch of metal, and the airbags exploding out to cushion him.

Mark took a deep breath, then quickly disentangled himself from the collapsing air bags and climbed out of the car. He shrugged off the danger and fear and smiled grimly; it was like his earlier days in the drug business before his recent power and eminence had insulated him from everyday violence. He walked past the bushes at the edge of the picnic area, and looked down into the shocked face of his saviour, who had managed to drive across to check if Mark was all right. They stood in uncertain silence for a moment. Odd, after the noise and eruption of terror into their lives, that no one was in the picnic area to witness their deadly drama.

"You saved my life!" Mark said.

"Oh . . . glad to be there. What happened? Brakes go?"

"But you risked your life. I am in your debt."

"What happened? There was a spurt of smoke. Your brakes and steering both go?"

"Yes. Your name? If I may?"

"Geoffrey Pybus. Geoff."

Mark held out his hand, "I am Marcos Gomez Morata. Please call me Mark. I Canadianize myself," he smiled. "Yes, both brakes and steering. Something, a kind of quiet explosion, and then I could do nothing."

They inspected the crumpled panels from front to rear of the Honda. The wheels seemed surprisingly undamaged.

"Are you going down to Vancouver?" Mark asked.

"Yes."

"Can you give me a lift, please. I have to get to the city."

"Of course. Yes, of course. If the car is OK."

Geoff Pybus stood holding onto his open door, expecting or perhaps hoping to talk for a few minutes. Mark delayed a moment, assuming that his new friend's heart was still pumping fast. Geoff seemed a little faint, perhaps dazed that his peaceful morning drive had brought him in minutes so close to death -- had he known the risk, would he have done it? Mark stood by the passenger door, looking down the road towards Vancouver, letting Geoff's heart calm down and strength return to perhaps still unreliable limbs.

But Mark had business to deal with, and after some minutes smiled as he opened the passenger door and climbed in. He had particular business with whoever had put the malfunctioning bomb under his car. Geoff followed and slowly eased back behind the wheel.

How to repay the debt of a man who had nearly killed himself saving one's life? Geoff slowly drove the Honda back onto the highway towards the city, attentively listening for unfamiliar noises and any unevenness in the car's ride. His door was rattling badly, but seemed to be holding.

"How are you feeling?" Mark asked.

"A bit shaken, I guess. But fine."

"Good. I owe you my life. I won't forget what you did." Mark tried to lighten the conversation by saying, "But you have taken on a burden of responsibility for my life, of course. And for all that I do and all the further effects of my actions, lo, even unto the end of time."

Mark smiled at Geoff, who smiled uncertainly back. Perhaps still too much in shock for quirky humour.

"Now, the matter of my debt. You will of course permit me to pay for the repair of your car. Or, better, you will permit me to buy you a new car."

"Oh, the repair of this will be adequate, thank you. But I do have insurance."

"I will not hear of it. Really, this is anyway quite old."

Mark recognized this as a mistake from Geoff's brief frown.

"I'm sorry, that was hardly gracious. Perhaps about six years old, and well looked after, it seems."

"No, really. Perhaps it's my Protestant upbringing. I can't accept a material reward for . . . what happened. It would be like saying that's how much I value your life. You've offered to pay for the car to be fixed, which will be expensive enough. And I have the reward of the satisfaction that I saved your life. Except that you would likely have been fine without my . . . intervention."

"But then my debt to you is forever. That is ungenerous of you. My Catholic upbringing, no doubt. There is generosity in receiving as well as in giving. Perhaps you would like a new house? Please, don't smile. I am a wealthy man, I would hardly notice the cost."

"But, I like our house. It's a shabby stucco box built in the 1920s, but it is the house our children were born into. Its walls and doors are not simply another house to them; they are their home; a part of the fabric of their lives. I think it is important to have such stabilities, don't you?"

"Indeed, yes."

"I think you have had the misfortune to have been saved--if that's what happened--by a happy man. Well, a generally contented one. Or, well, by one whose condition would not be improved by being richer. I like my home, my car. I even like my wife and children. I have enough money. A manageable mortgage. My job pays me well enough and gives me time for leisure, and my wife's job . . ." Geoff paused and smiled. "Now there's something we need."

"What is?"

"You could get my wife tenure," said Geoff with a quick laugh.

"Of course. But what is a tenure?"

"No, no. Sorry, I'm only joking. Tenure isn't the kind of thing you can get for someone. She teaches at the university . . . It's a contract. . . . Just a joke. You are from South America?"

"Colombia. I lived some time in Chile."

"May I say that your English is excellent?"

"Ah, thank you. A little old fashioned, I discover. I learned it mostly in Chile, studying English literature at university in Santiago. Perhaps too many Victorian writers."

Mark would have Frank, his general fixer, find out about tenure, about Pybus's wife, about what he would have to do to ensure she got this tenure, without Geoffrey or the wife knowing.

There had been a small bomb under the car, which had failed to detonate properly. He had been known for infinite caution, so it was worrying that someone had been able to locate his car in Whistler. Could it have been a chance sighting by one of his competitors' people or did he have an unreliable employee, and, if so, who? If Kanehara had wanted him dead he would be dead. Likelier was Jimmy Chan and his enthusiastic but unreliable Vietnamese gang. Mark's chest tightened as he reflected on the affront to his dignity. If his people determined that Jimmy Chan was indeed the culprit, Mark would put in place a simple strategy for closing him down, which he probably should have done months ago when Chan and the Vietnamese began trying to squeeze into Mark's territories.

Mark and Geoffrey Pybus chatted amiably on the drive into Vancouver, the one thinking how to tell his wife about the damage to the car and the other plotting bloody mayhem and to deliver whatever tenure was to his saviour's wife. He had easily made the decision. Mark anticipated some brief intervention in the university, some threats and bribes, while his new shipment of Peruvian cocaine, which was at this hour scheduled to be leaving Pacasmayo harbor en route to San Francisco, began the process of being turned into billions. He loved the magic of changing the leaves of the cacao trees into money; he was a master of this new alchemy.

Before he turned his mind back to Jimmy Chan he felt a brief but quickly dismissed notion that maybe this tenure business might involve him in more than he casually expected.

close this panel
Show editions
close this panel

User Activity

more >
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...