IT WAS THE MORNING after and Jamie MacPherson was in love. Her green eyes gazed across at Rick Gardner's stubbled cleft chin. She reached across the table and ruffled his curly dark brown hair with her long slim fingers. He smiled, revealing a chip in his lower front tooth. He took her hand and kissed her fingers. Rick got up and sauntered back toward the rear of the café where the bathrooms and pay phones were located.
They had met at a bar off Abbot Street across from the beach. Down in the city park, the summer festival was in full swing. A Scottish band had the people clapping and dancing to highland folk tunes.
Jamie had noticed Rick watching her. She'd gone to the bar with Beth and Tania with whom she shared a summer apartment. Jamie and Beth were college roommates; Jamie was a fine arts major and Beth was a drama major. Beth had met Tania, also a drama student, through a Vancouver cousin back during Christmas break, and when she found out that all three of them would be working in Kelowna, she had asked if Tania wanted to share an apartment with them. Tania worked as a tour guide for one of the local wineries where her uncle was part owner. Jamie could still hardly believe she had finally gotten a Friday night off, not to mention the odds of her and Beth having the same evening off. And then, here she was alone while Beth and Tania had attached themselves to a couple of guys at the pool table.
Rick Gardner had noticed Jamie drinking her cocktail alone while talking with his brother and another guy who they had met at the bar. He tried to mentally will her to look up and notice him across the crowded noisy room. Her willowy body and shaggy blonde hairstyle spoke to him of kindred free-spirit.
Rick and his brother Joe were just stopping over in the resort town, on their way back from a hiking and climbing expedition in Banff. Joe worked for an IT firm in Vancouver, while Rick, twenty, was in his second year of a general arts degree at the University of British Columbia, and working at a grocery warehouse near the docks. It taken some serious pestering from Joe to persuade him to go.
"Look bro, I'm not making the big bucks like you. I gotta make some money this summer to help pay for school."
"I know, but Sean crapped out on me, as he sometimes does, and it's no good going climbing alone. If you can get 5 days off I'll cover the holiday expenses plus what you'd lose for time off, okay? It'll be fun. It's been two years since we did a road trip,"said Joe, referring to their travels through the southwest United States.
Rick sighed. It would be nice to get away for a few days and have some time to relax from the backbreaking work. He looked at Joe, who was making with the puppy dog eyes. "Okay, I'll see if I can get the time off."
And now Rick found himself at the bar watching the sexiest woman he'd ever seen. Not one to be shy, he took a deep breath and walked across the room toward her.
"Hi, so what brings you to the land of wine and sun?"he asked.
She looked up at him. Not the most original pick up line, but he was cute and had a fit body. He'd probably make a great model she thought, and silently undressed him with her eyes. "Do I know you?"
"No, but I hope you will. Rick Gardner, passing through on my way back to Vancouver."
"Well Rick Gardner, I'm here with my friends."
Rick looked around. "Really? Where'd they go?"
Jamie nodded toward the pool table. "Over there, hustling those poor innocent boys." She giggled.
"Hmmm looks like they're distracted all right, so how about me being your distraction for the evening?"
Rick turned his head. He caught Joe's glance and waved. Joe waved and continued talking to Daniel, the fellow computer nerd.
"My brother and his new found friend are heavy into geeknospeak."
Jamie glanced at the bar. "I see. Well then Rick Gardner, what sort of distractions did you have in mind?"
Rick paid for her drink. Jamie went over to Beth and tapped her on the shoulder, telling her that she and Rick were going down to the park.
Outside the sun had just slid behind the mountains. The air was warm and a gentle breeze blew off the lake. Hand in hand the couple weaved through the crowded sidewalks and zigzagged crawling traffic crossing the street. The crowds were clapping and dancing as the band wailed and pounded strong rhythms as they sang their tunes. A tightly packed crowd danced before the stage. Music rippled out into the night like widening waves in the sea. * * * * *
"WE'RE STAYING HERE?"ASKED Gabe Ross. He glanced over at his wife Margaret who was studying a travel brochure.
Margaret looked up. Gabe was pulling into the circular driveway of the Royal Okanagan Hotel Resort located three blocks east of downtown Kelowna. The huge sandstone coloured building with red tile roofing sat on the lakefront. "Yes, Aunt Diane thought we needed some time to be a couple and to be pampered. We're staying in her two bedroom condo suite."
"I don't think I've ever stayed in anything this luxurious, "said Gabe.
Margaret grinned and batted her hazel eyes at him, "Well professor, contrary to popular belief not everyone enjoys staying in a smelly old tent."
Gabe pulled his old battered red and beige '89 GMC Jimmy up to the front entrance and put the car into park. Margaret hopped out. "I'll get a bellman and arrange for the keys. You can help unload B'wana."
Gabe shook his head ruefully and climbed out of the car. The dry heat of the Okanagan hit him like an open oven. True it wasn't as hot or humid as Africa or Brazil, but it was still a shock to the system after being in air conditioning. He took off his blue Vancouver Canuks' ball cap and ran his fingers through his sandy brown hair. He watched his wife's lithe figure enter the hotel.
Maybe this was a good idea. He'd been so wrapped up in his research, studies, and classes that he practically lived at the university, much to Margaret's dismay. He'd even missed a showing she'd had at a small local gallery. That had been the last straw. It wasn't that Gabriel Ross was such a workaholic, it was just that his career seemed to be treading water. He always seemed to be two paces behind the brass ring, behind the big grants. Now, at forty, he finally had an assistant professorship teaching classes in Classics and Literature at the University of British Columbia after spending years in ill paying research jobs, and teaching at junior colleges; but he'd also become interested in a new developing field: Cryptozoology--the study of hidden or long lost animals. It was Gabe's belief that many of the monsters and mythical beasts found in classic literature, myths and legends were based on factual creatures. It was this Margaret dreaded, that finally being accepted as a legitimate scholar and researcher, he was hell bent to shoot himself in the foot. And despite the evidence he showed her, of the alleged Sasquatch, hair and footprint samples he'd collected while on a camping trip with two of his buddies--she was sure that it was still a big hoax and that he'd end up a laughingstock. And yet, she couldn't ignore the passion of searching for these mythical creatures and how it renewed his spirit and energy. Margaret knew that coming to Kelowna gave him the opportunity to do a little research and exploring into the legendary Ogopogo. Hopefully she could distract him, and if she couldn't perhaps he'd once and for all get all this nonsense out of his system. * * * * *
"WELL?" ASKED JAMIE AS Rick returned to their table. She put down her fork and pushed the three quarters emptied plate of oatmeal blueberry pancakes away.
"I convinced Joe to stay another day," he grinned at her.
"Cool, so at least we can spend the day. I have to work tonight."
"Yeah, I know." He sat down next to her and reached for his coffee. He took a sip and made a face. It was luke warm. She took his hand in hers.
"So what do you want to do today?"
"I was thinking of renting a boat, and we could find a nice quite beach somewhere."
"That'd be nice. I know a place where we can get some nice sandwiches."
"Are you finished? If so, we'd better go, the boats get rented pretty fast."
Jamie slid out of her chair and stood up. Rick smiled at her, reminiscing about the feel of her body next to his last night. "Are you coming?" she asked.
At the Marina, Rick used his almost maxed out credit card to secure a small motorboat. He helped Jamie into the craft. A dockhand for the rental company untied the boat as Rick started the engine. He back away from the dock carefully and headed out into the lake. * * * * *
MARGARET SALLIED OUT OF the entrance and slid into the passenger seat. "I got our room keys, turn around and go to that gate. We need the key to open it and then we can get into the hotel parking lot."
Gabe nodded and followed her directions. A few minutes later he was playing pack mule for the luggage. Margaret walked slightly ahead of him, carrying his black canvas sports bag. "I can't believe you managed to pack everything for five days in this thing." She shook her head in amazement. Gabe lugged two suitcases and a hanging bag. "I thought that fancy hotels had valet service."
"Well I didn't see anyone around, and I figured we could handle it ourselves."
After twelve years of marriage, Gabe had learned pretty much, when to keep his mouth shut.
The condo was a small two bedroom affair, tastefully furnished and sported a balcony that looked out onto the courtyard and lakefront. Margaret opened the sliding door and looked out. The paved walkway along the lake was crowded with people. Mothers on rollerblades pushing a stroller in front of them whizzed along,. Young girls in tight denim shorts and tank tops strolled along drinking slurpees. Older couples wearing bright white sneakers power walked, slithering around families and couples. A long haired middle aged hippy was singing and strumming a guitar to passers-by. The glint of a few coins could be seen glittering in his open carrying case. A couple of rather seedy looking men sat on a bench smoking. Below in the courtyard, Margaret looked into the pool area that was cordoned off by a wrought iron fence. People with various stages of sun cooked flesh lay about on chaise lounges, armed with an assortment of iced drinks and reading material. Kids splashed and swam like playful dolphins in the swimming pool. She sighed dreamily. It would be good to relax.
A thump sounded behind her. She turned and saw Gabe distributing the luggage. He was a good man and she hoped this time together would heal the rift that seemed to be developing between them. She did love him dearly, but sometimes, she'd wish he'd grow up.
"You look happy," he observed.
"I am." She walked over to him.
"I guess you'll unpack first, and then…"
"We can unpack later," she interrupted. She put her hands on either side of his head and pulled him close. Her lips crushed his, and she drank deeply of him.
She pulled away. Gabe took a deep breath. "Oh." Margaret grinned and began unbuttoning his shirt. When in doubt, sex was the great stress reliever. * * * * *
LAKE OKANAGAN SNAKED THROUGH the mountainous valley for one hundred and eight miles. It was nine hundred feet deep, and glacier cold. Rick steered the motorboat south under the raised portion of the floating bridge. The bridge, built in 1958, was the first of its kind. During certain times of the year the raised portion opened to allow larger craft, such as the large touring paddleboat, to cross in order to give passengers a full tour of the lake. Plans were in the works thought to build a new bridge. Architects and engineers were already doing preliminary studies.
Jamie lounged across the seat behind Rick. She wore a blue bikini top and cut off jeans. Her blonde hair blew around like strands of fine gold caught in the lake breeze.
They passed the crowded public beach where children splashed and swam, and adults lay frying in the sun like golden fillets. The pebbly sandy shore gave way to rocky wooded laden cliffs. The boat moved closer to shore as Rick followed the southern shoreline. About twenty minutes later he slowed the motor. Tiny waves slapped the sides of the boat. The water was calm.
"So Mr. Rick Gardner, see any sea monsters lurking about?" giggled Jamie. She ran a bare foot up and down his back.
"I think its all native superstition. I mean, look at the Lock Ness monster for example. All sorts of scientists scurrying about with all the sonar and undersea cameras and what have they found? Nothing. And to top it all off, the photo that started the craze back in the 30's was recently exposed as a fake." Rick shook his head and scanned the shoreline.
"So, you're a born sceptic? No sense of wonder left?": asked Jamie, sitting up.
"Oh, I'm sure we'll find life of some sort out in space, that's the new frontier."
"You believe in little green men?
Rick chuckled. "Hardly, but lets face it, the universe is gigantic. We haven't scratched the surface of exploring our own solar system. We've found evidence of water on Mars. Who knows what else they'll discover? But," he turned and looked at her," When I see all the freaks roaming this world, I just have to believe that somewhere out there, there's something more intelligent than us."
Jamie half-frowned. "You know the fundamentalist Christians would take offence at that."
"Are you a new Christian?" asked Rick, feeling that sinking pit of his stomach, as if he'd stepped into a pile dog shit and accidentally dragged it across the clean carpet.
"No I'm a waylaid one. Only time I go to Church is on Christmas."
Rick breathed a sigh of relief.
"However my Aunt and Uncle are."
Balls thought Rick. Note to self--don't socialize with them if you get the chance. You're irreverence would cause deep crap.
"According to them, I'm going to hell," said Jamie.
"So what do you believe in?" asked Rick.
"I believe God will forgive me, and he's got bigger sinners to worry about." And with that, she pulled off her bikini top revealing two small round creamy breasts with nipples dark like two chocolate Hershey kisses. She picked up a tube of sun tan lotion and lathered her breasts. "I think you better keep your mind on steering the boat."
Rick turned and saw he was heading towards shore, also spotting a huge dead branch floating in their path. He turned the wheel sharply, throwing Jamie in her seat. He missed the branch and headed out into the lake. "Too many damned distractions." * * * * *
THE FINTRY QUEEN, A tour paddle wheeler, shoved off from shore with minimum fanfare. It was a flat bottomed two level boat with broad covered areas loaded with cheap plastic white lawn chairs downstairs, while upstairs some long folding tables and plastic round patio tables were set up so customers could sit and have a drink or a burger from the small on board burger stand. A Cuban trio played rhythmic melodies with their harmonizing voices lulling the people. Gabe and Margaret sat at a table by the railing sipping strawberry aargueritas. Gabe's foot tapped to the beat of the music.
"See isn't this great Gabe?" said Margaret. "And I hear the bridge will be raised, so we'll get to tour the other side of the lake where you're big monster resides." Her eyes sparkled merrily. * * * * *
RATTLESNAKE ISLAND WAS A bony dry hump of land, like the beginning of a child's sand castle. The bare dry brown island sprouted a few pine trees. On the lake side was a strip of stony beach leading up to forest. Across the narrow channel the cliffs of Squally Point, part of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, rose above. Rick slowed the motor and drifted towards the island's beach.
"Not much cover," said Jamie as she gazed at the breast shaped island.
"But a great place to tan so I've been told," replied Rick.
"What about rattlesnakes?" Jamie's eyes darted about.
"That was a century ago." Rick heard the boat scrape bottom and he jumped out and pulled it ashore. Finding several rocks, he tied the mooring line to one, then covered it with a few others. Jamie clambered out, a bulging bag slung over her right shoulder.
Rick led her up the slope and behind some scraggly bushes. "Here's some privacy."
"Until someone else with the same bright idea comes along," said Jamie.
"My mother warned me about guys like you," she said.
"Yes, you're just here to take advantage of innocent girls like me."
"Your point?" Rick arched an eyebrow.
Jamie laughed. "Say sailor, is that a yardarm in your jeans or are you just happy to see me?"
They both burst out laughing.
Out in the water, a small ripple appeared. Whatever caused it, had taken note of the intruders. * * * * *
THE MUSIC SAILED OUT over the water along with the sounds of people laughing and talking. It was a warm, beautiful afternoon. The low mountains still showed black scars from the massive forest fire a few years before. Gabe leaned against the rail watching Margaret dance to the Latin beat of the musicians. She swayed to the rhythm, a drink in one hand. Their sex had been passionate and desperate. It had felt good. He sipped his beer. Maybe coming here was a good idea after all. * * * * *
JOE GARDNER PACED AROUND the hotel room. Where the hell was Rick? He hadn't come back last night. Joe remembered seeing Rick walk out with this willowy blond. Obviously younger brother had scored, but it'd been nice if he had phoned and let him know when he'd be back. * * * * *
JAMIE STRETCHED AND ran her fingers through Rick's hair. They lay next to each other on a thin blanket. "This was nice."
"I agree." Rick looked at his watch. It was 4:30. Where had the day gone? "Crap, we'd better head back. The boat's gonna be overdue." He reached over and pulled his t-shirt on.
"And I need to be at work soon." Jamie put her top back on and stood up. She gathered up the suntan lotion and her purse.
Rick hastily scooped up their empty water bottles, food wrappers and his towel and gathered everything into the blanket, grabbing its ends and tying it like a giant satchel. He slipped his runners back on and with Jamie in tow, made their way back to the boat.
The afternoon sun had drifted behind a group of darkening clouds and breeze rustled the grass as they made their way downhill. The air was cold and fresh, though tinged with a slight fishy smell. Rick helped Jamie board, then pushed the boat off from shore before climbing in. He started the engine up.
The lake was quiet. A few boats were still anchored at the park on the mainland. A couple of sailboats were moored on the opposite shore in front of the lakefront cabins. Behind them, across the lake on the far shore the bell tower of the Mission Hills winery stood like a lofty sentinel surrounded by its sand coloured fortress like structure. Rick turned the boat around and opened the engine up. He hadn't gone more than a few yards when something smacked the side of the boat. Water splashed up.
"What was that?" asked Jamie, looking around.
"I don't know. Maybe a log or branch. There is debris floating around." Rick cut the engine and looked around cautiously.
The boat's bow tipped upward, throwing Rick back. He smacked onto the floor of the boat. Jamie's face paled. Her eyes nervously darted around. "Rick, I'm worried."
"It's got to be a log or something. I'll take a look." He picked himself up. The seat of his jeans was soaked. The water was ice cold. Major discomfort zone. He bend over the starboard side and looked into the water. It was dark and murky. "Doesn't look like there's anything."
A bloodcurdling scream resounded in his ears. Rick turned and felt his blood turn to ice. This couldn't be true. It couldn't be happening!