CHAPTER 2 - ST. THOMAS
Jim awoke to the obnoxious buzzing of the alarm in his clockradio. The time was six-thirty. He made his way to the bathroom and relieved himself. Stepping into the shower stall, he adjusted the water temperature to suit his requirements and began to lather himself. His mind was on the spray of water that struck his torso and cleared the last of the cobwebs from his mind.
"Singing in the rain. Just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I'm hap-hap-happy again." These words spilled out in the eagerness that Jim felt inside. $%^&, he knew what to do for his holidays now.All would be good.
This would be the last happy moment for this morning.
You do not go. Do not go I will hurt you. I will hurt us.
Jim shut off the shower, and staggered to keep his balance as he made his way from the stall to the mirror. His body shook as he clutched the sides of of the sink. This had never happened before, not when he was happy. He raised his head and looked into the mirror. The face he saw stareing back was unfamiliar. The eyes were glowing red, then softened to a gentle silver.
You must go. The image passed as quickly as it came. A pair of blue jeans and a matching workshirt. His rubbies, Jim called them. Should he have breakfast? Could he eat it after a vision like this. Nah, to hell with it, he'd survive. Jim picked up his suitcase and walked to the front door. Running over the list of items that required attention, Jim felt satisfied that each had been taken care of and locked the door.
He opened the door to the jeep, threw the suitcase into the back then jumped in. Slamming the door, he jiggled the key into the slot and the engine whirled over. It sputtered at first then purred contentedly. Not bad for one hundred and twenty thousand miles. Jim prided himself on the condition he kept his vehicle. Rolling back out of the driveway, he selected first gear and released the clutch. The jeep made its way down the street, then turned onto the main avenue that ran the length of Kenton. This, in turn divided into two highways at the west end of the city.
Choosing the southern fork, Jim eased the jeep into high gear. In five hours, he would be in St. Thomas. Near Rich Fenton. Near Caroline Johnson.
One hour later, Jim pulled into the Phil's gas station in a small town called Little Prairie. A rather odd name for a town that was completely surrounded by tree covered hills. However, it was these hills that gave this town its very reason for being. The smoke from the beehive burners curled up and blanketed the town. The squeal of the saws eating into the timbers broke the monotone of the traffic on the highway. Jim removed the filler cap on his vehicle and inserted the nozzle. The pump ran up to seventeen dollars before it shut off. He walked into the store, moving to the cooler on the far side. Selecting a pint of chocolate milk, Jim went to the till. The girl tallied up the total.
Jim counted out the required amount. He then looked at the girl, sizing her up. Maybe seventeen, and the heaviest pair of breasts he had ever seen.
"Man, it's a wonder she can get up in the morning," Jim entertained. He pocketed the change and left the store.
Once on the main road again, Jim looked back on the buildings of Little Prairie fading into the distance. The road ahead was rough, not untypical of the roads around this area of the country. Winding the speedometer up to sixty miles an hour, he relaxed, then selected a tape from his collection. The music filled the vehicle's interior. Music always relaxed Jim on long trips and today was no exception.
Onward, the little Jeep went, eating up the miles. The time passed quickly, as it always did on the road. Jim enjoyed driving. It gave him a chance to slip the noose on city-snarled thoughts and let them soar, like the little hawk that seemed to follow him.
Before long, Jim was on a straight length of highway, perhaps three miles in length. This was the last stretch of straight asphalt he would encounter before the turn-off to a village by the name of Williams. This community, like Little Prairie, owed its life to mills, although it was a little smaller and a little sleepier. The barriers that blocked the road in winter during heavy snowfalls, but now in a raised position, shot past. The first of a series of rugged mountains indicated that Jim was now entering McKinley pass.The road was its usually broken condition and this made driving, especially in a vehicle as rough as the jeep, particularly fatiguing .
Multiple turns in the road also slowed progress. There was one
spot in the road that had been improved, which allowed some time to be made. Speeding along this portion of the highway, Jim let his mind wander back in time, to when he lived at home. When he was nine, he, his parents and brother went on a holiday that took them through this same pass. Jim had never seen mountains before and his excitement, which bordered on hysteria forced his father to stop the car every fifteen minutes so Jim could relieve himself. Many times, he wished he was back in that time, when life seemed a little less threatening. He often thought of
leaving everything behind and moving into the middle of the wilderness,
but never seemed to get around to it.
The paved portion of the road ended with a violent pitch of the vehicle. Jim ejected the tape from the tape deck in order to avoid any internal damage to the mechanisms. The highway had turned to bedrock, potted by heavy machinery driving over it.
Jim noted the speedometer, which now read twenty-five miles per hour. This gravel spanned five miles, so time would definitely be lost here.
When he arrived at the start of the pavement again, the vehicle was reduced to fifteen miles per hour due to some major potholes encountered, but now things smoothed out. The highway was relatively straight here and Jim could squeeze seventy miles per hour out of the motor. As he climbed to the summit of McKinley pass, he looked at the lake nestled in the valley below. Memories again flooded his mind.
When he was ten, Jim and his brother had 'borrowed' a boat from one of the campers and wound up at the other end of the lake where they ran across a conveniently submerged island which tore a hole in the bottom of the boat. They bailed water like mad as they fought to get the boat back to the launch. They succeeded, however the rightful owner got one hell of a surprise, as well as a swimming lesson when he went to use the boat again.
Damn,it has been years since he talked to his brother.
McKinley pass summit. There was a large ski resort here. snow fell thick here in winter so it was a major item on winter activities. Jim never really cared for skiing, therefore he never came here in the winter. From here, it was all downhill to St.Thomas. One place that was beautiful here was a small pull-off by a waterfall, a few miles further on. Jim stopped here to
answer the call of nature at one of the restrooms located here. When he finished, he pulled out a cigarette, applied flame, and inhaled deeply. The sound of the waterfall cascading down two hundred feet of sheer rock was soothing to the senses. It was so peaceful. There was no one else at the turn-off and the only sound other than the fall was the occasional cry of some bird in the distance.This drilled into ones' mind.
Jim threw the butt of his cigarette to an abandoned firepit and turned to his vehicle. Accelerating out of the pull-off and down the highway, every second brought the city of St.Thomas closer.
The sound of the music again reverberated in Jim's mind as he drove on through the mountains, making his way out of McKinley pass.
The Jeep was rushing onwards to the meeting with Rich Fenton and the reunion with Caroline Johnson. Jim felt a renewed vigor as every mile seemed to fly past faster. The highway straightened after he passed through the avalanche gates at the south side of McKinley pass.
Immediately beyond these was the turn-off to the sawmill town of Williams. Jim quickly decided then selected the route that led to Williams.
There was a person that Jim had acquaintance to, living here.A road sign
loomed ahead. 'Williams-twenty miles.' On this side road, he could wind
his vehicle out. Seventy-five miles per hour read the speedometer.
The town lay in a valley beside a lake that was backed up by a hydro-electric dam and it was here that Jim was about to renew an old acquaintance. Walking into Williams Electronics, he pounded on the counter.
"How about some service?" he enquired.
A rather rough looking, middle aged man appeared from the back
of the store.
"May I help you?"
"Harold, you old sonofabitch."
This comment brought the store keeper to the defensive.
"What do you wan-. Jim, you little bastard. Hardly recognized you. Jesus Christ, you look like you're fifty years old. How you been?"
Harold Simpson had been Jim's father's best friend, and Jim's godfather. He had owned Williams Electronics for several years. Jim hadn't seen Harold since he was seventeen.
"I been well."
Both men laughed at Jim's slur on Harold's English.
"What the hell you doin' in a shithole like Williams?",enquired Harold.
"Oh, just passing through and thought I'd stop in and say hello",returned Jim.
"Well I'll be a pepper-assed sonofabitch. Now just you set yoursef down and I'll get us some coffee. Black or spoiled?"
Harold Simpson was a foul mouthed old bugger, but there wasn't a thing in the world that he wouldn't do for Jim. When he was young, Harold treated Jim like a son, as he had no family of his own.
"Cream and sugar,please, Harold."
"Spoil the taste of good black coffee. To hell with ya then."
Harold returned with a cup of steaming coffee with cream and sugar for Jim, as well as one black for himself.
"So how have you been keeping?" questioned Jim.
"Not too awful bad, Jimmy."
"That's really good to hear."
"What in the hell are you doin' here?",asked Harold, "just travelling?"
Jim felt himself thinking about an answer.
"Yeh. I'm going to St. Thomas to meet a friend."
A devious look came to Harold's face.
"Female I hope. I worry about you, son. I mean, here you are. Young, virile and no woman on your arm. You're not a faggot are you?"
Before Jim could answer, Harold continued, " You gotta get a woman so you don't end up an old bastard like me. I mean I'm always alone and it's no fun. Trust me, Jimmy, you can't go through life without a woman. You have to screw someone once in a while."
"I'll get a wife when I find the right woman," snickered Jim.
Old Harold could be an obnoxious old coot when he wanted to be. But he meant well.
Jim finished his coffee, offered a hasty good-bye to Harold.
"Leaving so soon?", queried Harold.
Jim explained that he must get on his way to St. Thomas, then added that this was so he could snag a woman. That seemed to please Harold. He made a quick retreat to his vehicle.
On the road between Williams and the main highway, Jim thought about the conversation with Harold. He had to get a wife. Only when he finds the right woman. That's why he was going to St. Thomas. That was where there was a right woman for him.
Accelerating to cruising speed, Jim lit another cigarette and pushed a cassette into the tape deck's waiting transport. Adjusting the volume to suit his taste, he leaned back in the comfort of the captains chairs in his Jeep. The lyrics were sweet to his ears.
The little Jeep sped through the roadstop of Thompson Lake. This area was located on a reservation. The houses on the far side of the lake were in a state of disrepair, as was the little Chevron station he was now passing. The highway curved along the lakeshore for about three miles. How nice it would have been be the first settler here. The way the lake shimmered below the road and the spruce covered hillside rising above. Jim felt that how much happy he would have been if he was born about
a hundred and fifty years ago. Again the thought of leaving everything behind and moving out into the wilderness weaved its way into his mind. What the hell? Go for it man.
The road now narrowed. "Thompson River Forest" read the sign beside the road. The government must be allowing this section of the highway to revert back to forest too. In this area, the road made a series of snakelike turns and was only wide enough to allow two vehicles to just pass without touching. Up ahead, there seemed to be a number of vehicles stopped on the shoulder of the road. About twenty feet down an embankment lay a truck on its roof. Apparently, the driver, having a load of oil drums, tried to negotiate a turn too fast and lost control.
"By the look of that truck, the driver's teeth are probably impressed into the dash as well", Jim thought.
Because of the large number of vehicles already present, Jim did not stop so not to add to the confusion. He had an appointment to keep.
This crooked stretch of road didn't last and before long, the Jeep was back on a nice, wide road. "St. Thomas -fourty miles". The time was one-twenty. It seemed only a few minutes ago that Jim had started on this trip. Time flies when you're having fun.
How true this was. Jim had a teacher that had once told him "When you're three, a year is one third of your total time experience. When you're twenty, a year is one twentieth of your total time experience. This was why, the older you get, the less significant time became."
The highway went through a series of dips. "Entering greater St. Thomas".
This sign was ten miles from where Jim wanted to be.
The highway turned to a freeway and Jim began the long, winding descent into St. Thomas valley. Small stores and fancier dwellings began to crowd along the roadway. The jeep dropped further into the valley, entering a great turn in the highway, then coming upon a bridge that spanned the river that flowed past the city. On the right of the highway was a brewery, which may come in handy later. The road rose slightly. Jim eased up on the throttle and pressed the brake. The jeep rolled gently to the traffic lights, stopping abruptly. He was in the city of St.Thomas.
The lights were on Fifth avenue in St.Thomas. Jim waited for the appropriate signal, shifted the jeep into first gear and depressed the accelerator. Moving ahead, he chose the right hand lane, then taking a right turn down a short road that lead to the parking lot at Ken's Inn. This was the best place to stay in town. Jim guided the jeep into the parking lot and pulled between two cars, shutting off the motor in the process. He took his travel bag from the rear seat and stepped onto the asphalt.
Entering the establishment, Jim walked to the front counter, to be served by an elderly lady. "May I help you?" she enquired.
"Yes. Do you have a room available for a week?"
"Do you have a reservation?"
"No, I don't." replied Jim.
"Oh well. That's no problem. We aren't too busy this time of year. Will that be cash or charge card?"
The woman tallied up the amount. Jim counted out the money and received the keycard to his room. The Inn was done up with Polynesian flavor. The main part contained great planters holding giant rubber plants and miniature palm trees. Entwining through this was a small stream
that lead to a fountain in the absolute center of this area. Also winding through the planters was a concrete walk that went from the entrance, past the fountain and over to the jacuzzi and swimming pool at the far end. Two floors of rooms encircled this whole area. It was on the second floor that Jim's room was located.
The room was very large. Perhaps thirty feet by twenty feet. The bed sat on one side, immediately to the left of were Jim now stood. On the opposite wall a table with three chairs sat beneath a window that overlooked the parking lot. The next wall contained a large oil painting of a mountain scene, below which sat a small table holding a twenty-nine inch colour television. Immediately to Jim's right was the entrance to the washroom. The final wall had the window that looked down on the pool and three drawer bureau,on which sat the phone. Throwing his coat down on the bed, Jim now reached for the phone, which had begun to ring.
"Jim! What's up?" The voice belonged to Rich Fenton.
"Rich. Where are you?"
"Beats the hell out of me, but will you look towards the front desk."
Jim looked in the general area through the window in his room.
There, standing at a phone booth next to the front counter, was Rich Fenton! Slamming the receiver back on the cradle, Jim exited the room, the door banging as he went. He went to the staircase, taking the risers three at a time, headed for the point that Fenton had been standing. Rich was no longer there. He had hidden behind a planter and made a full body tackle on Jim as he ran past. This move caught Jim off balance and he tumbled over, coming to rest between two women who had been swimming. Jim excused himself, rather red-faced, as the girls giggled and
murmured something between themselves. Straightening himself up, he called Rich over. Fenton came over with a wide smile.
"Still straight forward when it comes to women,eh?" he chuckled.
Jim put his arm around Rich's shoulder and pushed. Rich fought for balance, lost and plunged head first into the pool.
"Still wet behind the ears,eh,Rich?" Jim snickered. Fenton splashed to the edge of the pool and hoisted himself out.
"I need bracing. How's about a drink?" he offered.
The other patrons stared in amusement as the two men, one completely drenched, made their way to the bar.
"So you see, Jim, I took police training and became exactly what I wanted." stated Rich. Fenton turned his attention to his glass and downed the contents. He had been nursing whiskey sours since he and Jim entered the lounge opposite the check in desk several hours ago. It was now ten-fifteen.
"I should be going now, Jim".
"Well don't work too hard and drive carefully."
"Always do," answered Rich.
Fenton walked out of the establishment, leaving Jim to think about his past, his future. Finishing the gin and tonic, he started to walk toward his room, pausing only to look down on the people around the swimming pool. A few paused to look back at him then continued about their business. Jim slid the passcard through the lock, entered the room and closed the door behind himself.
Jim entertained himself in his room by watching the television. British comedies were always his favorite, this was the reason he was watching one at the moment. When the program was over, Jim turned off the set, crawled under the covers and pulled the chain on the bedside lamp.
Immersed in darkness, he let his mind float with clear thoughts.
Just beginning to doze off, the vision came to him, strong and clear.
The Jeep was being broken into. The yellow Porsche was still parked beside it.
Getting his full awareness back, Jim rolled out of bed and dressed. The time was one-twenty. He exited the room, making his way down the corridor to the lobby. when he left the building, the night clerk didn't even give him a glance.
"All the better."
The parking lot was relatively full of patrons vehicles. Standing beside the Jeep, Jim noted the time. One-twelve . $%^& wasn't it one-twenty in the room? No matter. He crawled into the back seat of the vehicle and waited. Gradually, sleep overtook him.
Jim's eyes fluttered open at the sound. Someone put a jimmy in the lock and was working on the tumblers in an attempt to turn the cylinder. Jim noted the time. One-twenty. Whoever was trying to break into the Jeep was successful. The suspect maneuvered into the drivers seat and set his attention on the tape deck.Quietly, Jim sat up in the back seat to watch the person's progress. The crook sat back and sighed a little. Evidently the deck was a little harder to remove than he had anticipated. Then he looked into the rearview mirror. Jim stared back at the this face, shook his head and murmured "No." He blinked and when he opened his eyes, the would-be thief was running across the parking lot faster than what was probably humanly possible. He laughed to himself and locked the door.
Back in the lobby, the night clerk spoke, "Strange time to be up, Sir."
"Just trying to capture a little unpolluted air."
"Tough proposition at the best of times." Both men laughed at this little joke as Jim continued on his way to the room. The night was filled with the vision of a hospital.
The woman was lying beneath the sheet. The EKG on the far side of the bed was flat line.