Thursday, October 27, 2011
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Grace and Norris hugged Deb one last time. Each wiped unabashed tears.
“Promise you’ll email us,” Grace insisted, her voice quavering.
“I promise.” Deb felt her voice wavering, too.
Norris knelt and looked Moira in the eye. He held her face, then kissed her forehead gently. “Goodbye, baby girl. We’ll be seeing you soon.” It was the most Deb had heard the man speak.
Tonka lay on the floor of the large hanger and rolled his eyes, first to Deb, then to Grace and Norris. He seemed subdued, unsure what was going on. His tail thumped mournfully and out of rhythm. A partly disassembled C-47 lay behind him, the ancient aircraft being readied for yet another expedition into the bush.
The couple turned and walked from the building, leaving Deb feeling lost and alone. In a short time, they had become like family.
“Come on, baby,” Deb said to Moira, reaching out a hand. Moira grabbed the hand and hung on, but she tried to pull toward the door after Grace and Norris. Tonka laid where he was. Both were quiet in protest – each expressing the conflict Deb felt in her gut.
What the hell am I going to do now?
She sighed, shouldered her bag and led the small child and large dog quietly from the hanger and toward the general aviation building. Fresh snow squeaked beneath their feet. A plane’s distant drone was the only other sound.
Grace had insisted that she and Norris not know what Deb was planning or where she was going. "We can’t tell what we don’t know, baby sister!" Norris had nodded and clinched his pipe in agreement.
Though the journey was long, the friendship and laughter had made it short. Too short. Deb wasn't ready for whatever the next step would be; she hadn't even wanted to think about it as she enjoyed the respite, the care and the loving concern in the cab that was Grace and Norris’ home.
Now she was here and had to think about it. Moira’s hand slipped for a second then re-gripped hers, seeking assurance.
I wish I had something comforting to tell her.
Tonka’s head bobbed as they walked, his eyes scanning their path. The general aviation building glowed softly in the nascent light.
Inside, warm air embraced them, and the aroma of coffee. A few old chairs lined the wall and an empty donut box and a gaggle of hoary magazines graced a creaky table in the middle of the room.
Off to her left as she approached the counter, an older man peered at a computer screen, preoccupied. For an instant, the hackles on the back of Deb's neck rose. Her instincts, sharpened by the desperate cross-country run with its threats and close calls, warned that every stranger might be a threat.
No, she told herself, sometimes a stranger is just a stranger. Even a prospective friend. She felt another pang for the lost comfort of those recent friendly strangers.
Still, she noted the man's appearance and kept him in her consciousness as she scanned the otherwise-unoccupied room. A radio hummed an unknown tune. No one attended the counter, save a bell.
Deb waited a minute while Moira dawdled by her side. Tonka had collapsed to the floor and stretched out on the rug. She looked into the back and still did not see anyone other than the computer man, who didn't feel like an airport employee. So she rang the bell.
“Nobody home, Miss.” The voice came from behind. Deb pivoted and saw that the man had turned in his chair and was speaking to her.
He set his computer aside, rose and walked toward them. Deb realized there was no one else here. Hackles rose again as the man reached inside his jacket. Deb groped into her purse, laying a hand on her gun while her mind raced, trying to judge the situation. React too quickly and she might look like a dangerous fool. React too slowly and ...
“What do we have here?” the man asked as he looked at Moira, then back at Deb.
Then he knelt down, withdrew his hand -- and held out a lollipop to Moira.
He must have detected Deb's shudder. “I’m sorry, I should have asked," he smiled. "You don't want her to have sugar?”
Deb couldn't speak.
The man stood, tucked his glasses into his flannel shirt and offered Deborah his hand. “Bob. Bob Maloney, Miss.”
His hand was warm and his handshake firm but polite.
“Margaret -- the boss of this place -- had to run home to care for her daughter. Flu, I think. Anyway, she isn’t here and Frank is gone to town.” He had a nice voice. Mellow, sort of a baritone. He also had an infectious smile and easy way.
Deb started to replay. “My name is …” she hesitated, which he picked up on. Truth or lie? Trust or dodge? “My name is Deborah," she concluded in a rush. "And this is Moira.” She realized Moira would not be able to respond to a faux identity. “And Moira would love the lollipop, wouldn’t you Sweetie?”
Moira grinned in anticipation and nodded a big yes! Tonka jumped to attention, hoping there was a treat for him. He rushed to Bob’s side and nuzzled his hand. Deb was trying to stop him when Bob laughed
“Easy there, big fella. I may have something for you, too.” Bob rustled in his pockets and found a half-eaten package of orange peanut butter crackers. He looked to Deborah who smiled and nodded. Tonka ate all three in one gulp.
“That's Tonka, by the way. And thank you.”
Bob wiped his hands then spread them to show Tonka the treats were all gone. “Sure thing. I used to …” His eyes misted and his voice caught. “Excuse me.” He took out a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. He then took a breath and re-started.
“I used to have a little boy with Down Syndrome. His name was Ian. That little boy …” his voice caught again. “He owned me. Best thing ever happened to me.” He gazed out the window for a moment to regain his composure. He continued, still looking out at the airport.
“He had a heart defect, and when he was 11 he …” Bob didn't finish. They stood there for a while. Yet somehow the silence felt more companionable than awkward.
He continued. “I have a daughter in Denver. She doesn't call. Hell, I doubt if she knows I'm still alive!” He turned back to face them. “Enough about me. What brings your family here to the wilds of the Yukon?”
Deb looked at him. Bob was in his early sixties, with a distinguished face graced by a well-kept goatee. His eyes were a deep hazel, his hair brushed back from a widow’s peak.
His face is honest.
So Deb told him. “We’re running from the law.”
Posted by Jake at 6:58 PM