I FOLLOWED THE swing-bridge over Pelly River. No one followed me. Good. The swing-bridge was the only way to get over the river unless you traveled downstream and crossed at the shallow fording point. I had no time for that. The men in their white uniforms were way too interested in me to afford me the luxury of an extra thirty minutes. Once across, I was on the Titus Open Path. No one would be on the path this time of night unless some homeless wino had decided to come out here and camp out with his newspaper as a blanket. The path led obviously to Titus, a small town about a hundred and fifty miles northwest of White Horse.
After an exceptionally cool summer, fall blew its blustery reminder through the treetops. I lived near Titus and had an affinity to keep living near Titus. Who the strange men in white suits and orange helmets were, I hadn’t a clue. I do know, however, that they were slow and not very bright. I lost them at the point where Game Creek ran into the Pelly. They headed straight, and I followed Game Creek to its mouth.
* * * * *
I ARRIVED AT my home around three in the morning. The temperature had dropped to thirty-three degrees Fahrenheit. We used Fahrenheit around Titus and Whip Knob mostly because American oil hunters and their dirty laborers populated most of the town. Wilma was in bed, snuggled next to our Malamute, Jonas, who grumbled when I crawled into bed beside them. The dog’s warmth was comforting. I reached over and found Wilma’s hand, giving it a squeeze. I tumbled into a dark and dreamless sleep.
I woke up at about seven. I rolled out of bed, and Jonas nipped at my socks. Wilma had made pancakes with sorghum and some hot black coffee. “You were just a bit late last night, Larson.” Wilma was not a woman of many words.
“Yep, traps were empty except one, and I had to reset three others. I was chased by some men.” I said it off-highhandedly, hoping Wilma wouldn’t pick up on the statement, but she did.
I tried my best to give the facts as straight as I could remember them. “Wilma, these guys wearing white suits like space suits and orange plastic helmets called after me and wanted to know what I was doing on their property.” I scratched my beard as I always do when I’m nervous. “I told them that it wasn’t anybody’s property, and that’s when they started coming after me. I had to circle all the way around Game Creek to lose them. It was getting really dark, but I kept moving. By the time I got to the swing-bridge I had lost them…and I knew it was late, but I kept moving.”
Wilma’s eyes widened. “Who would…?” Her question trailed off, then she came to life. “By God, those fucking oil hunting bastards have bought more of our hunting land.” She threw her wooden spatula into the sink. “Larson, how are we to manage? If they keep drilling our hunting grounds, we will have no place to find food.”
How was I to answer her question? I could only think of one solution. “We must seek understanding from God.”
She gave me her best cynical smile. “Did you say ‘God’? You have never knelt a day in your life, Larson Bash, and now you seek God’s intervention?” She laughed cynically. “God isn’t even on the same mountain top as you.” She removed her apron and threw it on the floor in disgust. I had never seen her this way. I followed her into the big room of our tiny home. She stood at our small bay window with arms crossed.
I put my arms around her trying to comfort her, but she broke my embrace.
Desperate, I pleaded with her. “Wilma, this will do no good. Tell you what. Tomorrow we’ll go to Mayor Small Turtle and ask him what to do.”
“He’s a drunk!”
“He’s our mayor.”
“We go today.”
Today?” I was defeated and trying to argue the point would be futile. “Okay, I’ll try to get the truck started.”