She was sitting on the steps when he ran out, with her head against her knees, sobbing. Danny reached for her and pulled her up by the arm. She came to him and he held her close. He turned then and the two of them lurched up the sidewalk, not knowing where they were heading.
Suddenly she leaped out in front of him and whirled around to face him. Her mouth was pulled up to one side in a terrible grimace.
"Aletha! What's the matter with you?" he cried.
Then, under the glare from the mercury-vapour street lamp, he saw the glint of a knife. His knife.
She rushed at him with the knife held out in front of her. "You bastard! I waited for you! Two years I waited for you! And there you were with another woman!"
He stepped to one side, grabbing her left arm as she hurtled past him. She spun around but her weight and speed of motion pulled him sideways. The two of them fell heavily to the sidewalk. She screamed again, not in anger this time but in terrible pain. "Aletha! Aletha!"
Danny scrambled to his feet and looked down at her. She lay very still, face down on the cement. A pool of dark blood spread swiftly out from her right side. Danny knelt beside her and rolled her over. Her eyes, hate-filled eyes, glared at him for a moment then rolled backwards into the sockets, leaving only the whites showing. Her hands held tightly to the knife handle protruding from her rib cage.
Danny grabbed for the knife and tried to pull it out. It was stuck fast in her body. The door to the bar opened and the bouncer, followed by almost everyone in the bar, came running out. They saw Danny crouched by Aletha, still trying to wrench the knife from her side.
"Hey, you!" shouted the bouncer.
Danny looked up at him. "Get a doctor! Call an ambulance!"
The bouncer turned and shouted into the bar, "Call the cops. There's been a murder out here!"
"No!" shouted Danny.
Another voice shrieked from the crowd, which was growing bigger by the minute, "You'll hang for this!"
And another voice, "You'll get life in jail, you sicko! Killing a helpless woman!"
"Grab him!" shouted another man. "Grab him, quick!"
A group of men ran down the steps and reached for Danny. He jumped up and lashed out at them with his fists. His first blow knocked a man over backward into the others. More men rushed around the fallen one and came at Danny. He kicked and punched at them. All the patrons of the tavern on the other side of the hotel came running around the corner to see the show. Danny was surrounded by a merciless, screaming crowd of men and women.
"Murderer! Knife-man!" someone from the new crowd shouted.
"And I saw him do it!" said another drunken voice.
"No! No! I didn't do it!" Danny cried.
Suddenly the wailing of a police siren drowned out all the voices. All heads turned to look up the street. A police cruiser careened up the street from the direction of Hougen's Department Store, with its blue and red lights flashing. It spun itself around, tires screeching and smoking, in a U-turn to pull up beside the waiting crowd.
Two Mounties jumped out, leaving the door open. They walked smartly through the crowd, now about one hundred strong, brushing off the different people who tried to give their version of the murder. At the other end of the throng strung out along the sidewalk and street, Danny was smashing his way through the tail end of the crowd, toward the old White Pass train station. He finally broke clear and ran toward the river, which was less than a city block away.
"Stop or I'll shoot!" cried one of the Mounties. He couldn't shoot; too many people stood in his way.
And Danny ran. Ran like all the devils from his childhood were biting at his rear end. He flashed by the old White Pass station and on to the riverbank. He leaped out into the blackness of the river, his feet and legs still pumping as he hit the ice-cold water. He tried to swim straight across but the current carried him downstream. He heard all the shouts from the riverbank and then shots, "Pop.... pop... pop..."
He swam though the main channel and into peaceful waters on the far side of the river. The Yukon River begins its flow only thirty miles upstream from Whitehorse and does not gain any great width or power till it is many miles further downstream. Danny reached a steep, heavily treed bank and collapsed against it, his feet still trailing in the water. He stayed till he could breath normally and the pains left his side then clawed his way through dense brush till he came to a gravel road. The road looked well-travelled.
"Goddamm!" he thought. "They can drive over the Riverdale bridge and around to this side of the river!"
He cocked his head to listen. Soon he heard the muffled roar of a speeding car, the sound of it fading in and out as it rounded sharp curves at breakneck speed, coming closer with each passing second.
Danny ran back down to the river and dove in. Again the current swept him along and he slowly worked his way to the other side. He pulled himself out and stretched out to rest. Cold water dripped from his clothes to form an icy pool around his body. He rose and walked through some brush to discover a foot-trail running alongside the river. He followed the trail till he came to a group of shacks.
"Jesus! I'm back in the Indian village!"
He ran down the graveled street till he came to the first house. He swung in to the path leading up to the door and pounded steadily on it till someone answered.
"What do you want? Who's there?"
"It's me. I have the money."
The door opened and a short, middle-aged Indian stood there.
Danny yanked the roll of bills from his pocket and held it out. Water dripped off the money onto the ground.
"See. Lots of money."
"Who are you?" said the Indian. "Are you a crazy person?"
"Yes. I'll give you all this for a boat and a gun."
"Lemme think for just a minute. This is too fast for me. You want to trade this money for a boat and a gun?"
Danny could hear the sirens of police cars. One of them seemed to be heading this way. "There's no time to think," he said to the Indian. "Have you got what I need or not? Do you want all this money or not?"
"Hold up that money again. Spread it out a bit."
Danny fanned the hundred dollar bills and flipped the sheaf up and down in front of the Indian's face.
"Yeah. I think I can fix you up."
The Indian went to the back of the little house and returned with a 30/30 lever action rifle. He handed it to Danny. Danny threw the money onto the tiny table beside the window.
The man rummaged through the pocket of a coat hanging on the wall. He handed Danny three bullets.
"Now," he said, "I have a boat down by the river. It leaks just a little bit. It's gonna be hard to find in this dark. Are you sure it can't wait till morning?"
They walked down to the river with a dim flashlight and found a boat lying keel-up in the grass. A few other boats lay scattered around. Danny grabbed the flashlight and shone it onto the boat. He could see a gaping hole in its bottom. The Indian saw the hole too and walked over to another boat. Dory-shaped, very small, it didn't seem to have any holes in it. They flipped it over and found two paddles beneath it. The Indian handed one of the paddles to Danny.
"Give me a hand," said Danny, and the two of them shoved it out into the river. Danny threw the rifle aboard, clambered in and paddled away swiftly into the darkness of the river channel. He took a quick glance backward, but the Indian had vanished.
Swiftly, ever so swiftly, Danny paddled the boat down the dark canyon of the Yukon River. His tremendous efforts should have had him dripping with sweat but his blood felt like ice water in his veins. The wooden paddle banged against one side of the boat and the other as it struck the gunwales, and water splashed in on him. The pains of exertion in his arms and chest were as nothing compared to the despair in his soul. Life as he knew it had come to an end and the tears blinding his vision were for himself.
He had made too many stupid mistakes, mostly about women. Now he would run for his life. If they didn't catch him, he would spend his future alone somewhere in the Yukon wilderness. Waves of remorse and self-disgust coursed through his mind and body, chilling him, and his stomach felt like it would cave in. He moaned aloud and cried, "Aletha! Aletha!" His voice blended with the whispering, slithering sound of the canoe as it raced along over the water. All of it, the rage and despair and physical sickness, transmitted to his hands and arms. The paddle drove deeply into the black waters and the canoe fairly flew between the high dark cliffs on both sides of the river.
He knew he shouldn't have run.
'Instead of life in jail, now I'll get two 'lifes' in jail,' he thought. 'Well, to hell with them. They'll never put me in a cage again. Goddamm, I must remember to save one of those bullets.'
He rounded various bends in the narrow river; he could see well enough to keep him out in the centre. He had been paddling for two hours. He noticed shafts of sunlight brightening the sandy cliffs on his right. He had to get through this canyon before full daylight. Fear gripped him again and he paddled faster. He rounded another bend and the river suddenly widened and the current slowed. There was just enough light now for him to see the endless expanse of Lake Laberge ahead of him.
The cliffs had disappeared behind him and he could make out a small grassy plain on the left with scrub brush along the shore. He steered the boat toward one of these brush thickets and struck the shore hard. He jumped out and walked along the shore looking for an opening in the brush. He found one and pulled the boat up into it. He skidded it in amongst the brush and lay down beside it. He thought how lucky he was to have a dark green boat. Not far from Danny's resting place, maybe a quarter mile away, a dog kept up an incessant barking. Danny lay motionless on the cold ground. He fell asleep about the same time the dog quit yelping.
He awoke trembling from hunger and from sleeping on the cold ground. He hadn't eaten for twenty-four hours. He caught a sound wafting over the short trees and realized it was a radio, playing some kind of classical music. On his hands and knees he crept through the scrub brush toward the sound.
The scrub brush petered out and Danny looked over a meadow toward a small cabin. Smoke rose from the chimney; in front, an old, brown Chevy pickup sat looking like it had just one more ride left in it.
'They won't know about me out here,' thought Danny. He rose and walked right up to the cabin. A black and tan dog came around the corner to bark at Danny. As Danny approached, the dog ran round to the back of the cabin where, out of sight, it kept barking
and whining. When Danny knocked on the door, no one answered but he saw the curtain move in the window beside the door.
"Who in the hell's there?" came a dozy-sounding male voice.
"I'm lost," said Danny. "I need something to eat and directions to the highway."
The curtain moved aside and a bearded face with round spectacles peered out. The face had a remarkable resemblance to a buffalo.
"You're the guy they're looking for!" cried the voice in the cabin. "I heard about you on the radio! The Mounties have twenty-five men in a posse after you!"
Danny turned and ran toward the lake and his boat. The dog came out from its hiding place and chased him, nipping at Danny's heels. Danny kicked back at the dog and it circled to run in front of him. Danny tripped over the dog and the two of them tumbled over and over on the ground. Danny reached for the dog with his hands to throttle it but it took off again for home. When Danny looked in the direction of the dog's retreat, he saw the hippie climbing into his truck. The starter moaned as if to say, "No, I won't; no, I won't; no, I won't," but at last the motor started and blue smoke poured from the tailpipe. The truck backed up a ways then roared up the trail leading over a low hill to the west. When it disappeared over the top, Danny ran back to the cabin. He pushed the door open and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the gloom inside.
A packsack hung on a hook by the door. Danny grabbed it and walked over to the cupboard. He stuffed the pack full of canned goods, mostly beans and Campbell's soup. He found some stale bread and threw that in. In a drawer he found a very sharp butcher's knife. He wrapped the knife in a dishtowel and threw it into the pack. On the table he spotted a small transistor radio which he swept onto the floor with his hand then stomped on it until he could hear its parts crunching under his foot.
'There are no phones out here,' he thought. 'It'll take that guy half an hour to get to town and another half an hour before the cops arrive.'
He knew he had to cross the lake before they came. If he stayed over here, between the highway and the lake, they'd have him cornered. He left the cabin and started for his boat but stopped by the woodpile to grab a small ax stuck in a stump.
He arrived at the boat and shoved it out into the water. When he looked at the great expanse of the lake, he knew he would be making a mistake trying to cross it. He couldn't make any more mistakes and live. He headed upcurrent toward where the river entered the lake. It wasn't far, no more than a quarter of a mile. At last he entered between the high walls again, where no planes could fly and where they wouldn't expect him to be. On the other side of the narrow river he saw a dead tree jammed against
the clay walls of the cliff. It still had a full foliage on it and Danny paddled the boat over there to check it out. A good hiding place till dark, he figured. Again he thanked the Indian for selling him a green boat instead of a red one. He saw what held the tree in place: a boulder just below the surface of the water. He maneuvered the boat as close as he could among the branches and tied the front of it to a branch. Then he settled down to wait for darkness.
He realized how hungry and weak he felt. He punctured a can of beans with a corner of the ax blade. He tipped it up and swallowed the beans then stuck his head over the side to slurp some water. The water stank and didn't taste very good. Then he realized: the whole town of Whitehorse crapped in this river. There had been so much action in the past hour that he hadn't had time to dwell on his fate. But now he felt despair pressing down on him till it was a great weight on every part of his body and mind. He tried to nap but couldn't. He looked over the side and saw Aletha's face there in the water_a small wave obliterated it. He thought about the long hours till darkness, with this despair growing heavier and heavier the longer he sat in the boat_no, he had to move.
He untangled the boat and headed downstream. Before long he entered Lake Laberge and he stayed close to the shoreline on his right, on the north side of the lake. He paddled fast but watched the bank, hoping he would soon arrive at the Livingstone Trail, the same trail he and Aletha had travelled over so long ago.
A shadow passed over the boat and sped along the lake in front of him. Then he heard the roar of the engines as a plane buzzed over his head. It was a DeHavilland Twin Otter, painted white with a blue stripe along the side. Mounties.
He saw the plane make a sharp turn in the blue sky ahead. He looked toward the shore and there was the trail he had been searching for. He heard another engine sound to his left. It was a boat speeding across the lake toward Danny, its bow high in the air
as it bounced over the waves. In no time it had come close enough for Danny to see three Mounties perched in it and a black dog sitting up in the bow. It looked like Rin Tin Tin, that dog.
All this happened in a few moments. Danny steered the boat toward shore. From the corner of his eye he saw the plane coming toward him, low, looking like it could land right on top of him. Adrenaline coursed through him. The paddle bent as though it would
break as he propelled the green boat to shore.
Wham, he hit the bank and bounded out of the boat with his pack and rifle. The trail went up, up over a long, steep hill. Danny ran till he reached the top and dared to look back. The Mounties had just landed their boat. They must have stopped by the plane because now there were five Mounties instead of three. Danny turned to run again, figuring he could outrun any cop in the country who wanted to take him to prison. But then he spotted the black Shepherd racing up the hill, well ahead of the police. "What'll I do?" he thought. "I can't outrun that dog."
He crouched and took aim at the dog. It was an easy target, coming unwaveringly straight for Danny. He heard a loud shout from one of the Mounties and the dog turned around and trotted down the hill.
"Hey you!" came a voice through a megaphone. The words echoed all around Danny. "Come down off that hill. You can't get away. That is a winter road only. You can't travel that road in summer. Come down from there and we'll take you to town!"
"Take me to town?" thought Danny. "What in hell does he mean by that?" He hesitated. Perhaps they might be convinced that Aletha fell on the knife, that he didn't stab her. The voice came again, "Now! Move it!" A jail guard's voice! Danny lifted the rifle
and fired, being sure the bullet went just over their heads. Then he turned and ran down the other side of the hill. He expected bullets coming at his back. He zigzagged from side to side on the trail and then realized there were no sounds at all behind him. He couldn't understand it. Why in hell didn't they come after him?
Soon he came to a small creek and splashed his way across it. The bastards were right: this trail was meant for winter travel, when everything would be frozen hard. He dreaded what he knew lay ahead: swamps and small lakes and muskeg full of bogholes and water. He came to a small clearing and wondered how far behind him were the Mounties. Or were they going to let him get away? Then his heart thudded as the white Twin Otter skimmed the treetops just above him, its engines blatting noisily.
He was sure they saw him in the small clearing. The plane disappeared from sight then roared over his head again. He should have run for cover right away instead of just standing there. Now they knew for sure where he was. He ran for cover anyway and listened closely to hear if the plane had found a place to land, a small lake somewhere, but he heard nothing. He was still only a mile or so from Lake Laberge, with about fifty miles to go to the Teslin River.
Mysteriously, the plane didn't come back. Danny hid in some brush close by the trail, watching for pursuers, but none showed up. He had made up his mind to shoot if they tried to take him. With only two bullets, the end of the fight would come very fast. It would be better than prison. He arose at last and shouldered the pack.
"Goddamm," he thought. "They've given up. They probably think I can't survive out here."
He started walking along the trail, ready to duck into cover at the sound of aircraft. He came upon the charred remains of a campfire. He saw right away that it was the very place he and Aletha had camped on the beautiful trip they made so long ago. He sat there for a time allowing the ever-present despair to weigh down on his mind and body and soul. Even so, his ears listened for the slightest sound of pursuit but he heard nothing. All right, he thought, they had given up and he was free.
His despair lifted slightly. He pulled his wallet from the front pocket of his jeans and took out the map that old George had left him. Carefully he unfolded it and spread it on the ground so it would dry a bit. 'Good thing it's drawn with a pencil instead of ink,' he thought.
Danny saw right away that this treasure site was an old mine shaft, only about twenty miles from where he and Bill had dug for gold. George had written long instructions on the bottom of the map on where to stand to locate the entrance to the mine, and how to uncover the entrance. All Danny had to do was get there. At least it would be a place to hide for a while. Then, he thought, he'd try and sneak down the Yukon River into Alaska.
He came to a swamp and tried to go around it. He lost the trail and wandered around in a long circle. He stopped and took stock of the sun and the mountains and walked in one direction till he found the road again. He realized that he was probably the first person to go over this trail during summer. It was obvious now why the Mounties hadn't tried to follow him. He walked around countless swamps and spent hours that stretched into days trying to find the trail again. On the small lakes he was able to construct small rafts and float across but this was impossible in swampy muskeg. By the time he reached the Teslin River his food was gone. He felt like he had been on this trail forever. He wasn't far wrong: it had taken him ten days to go fifty miles.