Home > Locked Doors (Andrew Z. Thomas/Luther Kite Series #2)(6)

Locked Doors (Andrew Z. Thomas/Luther Kite Series #2)(6)
Author: Blake Crouch


I woke Saturday in the Yukon dawn, donned a fleece pullover, and stepped into a pair of cold Vasque Sundowners to save my sockfeet from the frozen floorboards. The Nalgene water bottle on my bedside table was capped with ice. I looked over at the hearth, saw that the fire had reduced itself to a pile of warm fine ash.

I walked out to the woodpile I’d chopped in September. It was stacked seven feet high and stretched for twenty feet between two rampike poplars that had been cooked by lightning last spring. The cold stung. My fingers tingled even through the leather gloves.

I gathered an armload of wood as the sun angled through the spruce branches and thawed the forest floor. The thermometer on the front porch read eight above.

As I reached for the door, something snapped behind me. I froze, turned slowly around, scanned the trees. Twenty yards away an enormous bull moose emerged from the spruce thicket, the branches catching in his giant rack. He walked leisurely behind the woodpile, probably headed for the pond.

Inside I placed a handful of kindling on the metal grate and stacked the logs on end around the twigs in a teepee arrangement. Then I balled up several sheets of the St. Elias Echo and stuffed these beneath the grate. There was a hot coal or two left. These ignited the newspaper which in turn lit the kindling and soon the young flames were tonguing the logs, steaming off the latent moisture, boiling the fragrant resin within.

As the quiet pandemonium of the fire filled the cabin, I walked into the kitchen and rinsed the old coffee grounds from the French press. Then I started a pot of water on the gas stove and ground a handful of French roasted coffee beans in the burr mill. While my coffee steeped, filling the cabin with the smokyrich perfume of the beans, I sat down on the hearth and read over the ten pages I’d revised last night. The new book was coming along nicely. It was the first autobiographical piece I’d ever attempted, a work of confession and catharsis, the true story of my fall from successful writer to suspected murderer. Just last night I’d found the perfect title. If I continued working at this pace I’d have this second draft completed by Thanksgiving. And though it’d be a gangly mess, I had all winter—those days of frozen darkness—to shine it up.

It felt good and strange to be writing again, like many many lives ago.

After breakfast I drove my CJ-5 into Haines Junction, a fifteen minute trip down the primitive Borealis Road. On the outskirts of the village I passed through a stand of aspens. They’d shed their leaves a month ago and I wondered if this stretch of forest had then resembled a flake of gold from the air when the saffron leaves were peaked and still hanging from the boughs.

I didn’t need anything from Madley’s Store this week so I parked at the Raven Hotel and started down the empty sidewalk of Kluane Boulevard.

In the summer months the village bustled with tourists. They came for the mountains that swept up out of the forest just five miles west. Ecotourism was the end result of the three inns, five restaurants, two outfitters, art gallery, and numerous First Nations craft stores. But by October, when the days had begun to shorten and fresh snow overspread the high country, the tourists were gone, the inns and most of the restaurants correspondingly closed, and a hundred people, including me, had lost their day jobs for the long winter.

I stopped under the awning of The Lantern. A thin cloudbank had moved in during the last hour, now a vaporous film diluting the flare of the sun. The air smelled like snow and though I hadn’t even seen a forecast I’d have wagered the paycheck I was about to collect that a storm was blowing in from the Pacific.

I entered The Lantern. Julie, the diminutive Aishihik woman who’d opened the restaurant six years ago, was vacuuming the small dining room. This place had the look and feel of the best restaurant in a remote Yukon outpost: the dim lighting, white paper tablecloths, plastic flowers, and opulent wine list—red and white. To work here with a good heart I’d been forced to smother the snob in me.

When Julie saw me standing by the hostess podium she turned off the vacuum cleaner and said, “Your paycheck’s in the back. I’ll get it for you.”

She walked through the swinging doors into the kitchen and returned a moment later with my last paycheck of the season.

“What’s going on here tonight?” I asked.

“Lions Club is having a banquet. Could’ve used you, Vince, but since you don’t have a phone it’s a lot easier to call Doug than drive six miles out to your place.” She handed me the envelope. “Come see me next spring if you want the job again. You know it’s yours.”

“I appreciate that, Julie. I’ll probably see you around this winter.”

I went outside and crossed the street. Since it was only 10:30, Bill’s was empty. But the hair and tanning salons (Curl Up & Dye and Tan Your Hide) that sandwiched the diner had customers aplenty.

I stepped into Bill’s and ordered one of his homemade bearclaws and a tall cup of black coffee. Bill was a Floridian who’d moved up to Haines Junction more than twenty-five years ago. I’d heard somewhere that he was a Vietnam vet but he never mentioned the war so I never mentioned it to him. And even though he was an American, he didn’t do the predictable patriotic things most expats did such as flying Old Glory and exploding fireworks on the Fourth of July. In fact the only time I even heard him reference his native country occurred last winter. Something scandalous had happened in Washington and even the locals up here were intrigued. The Champagne man who owned the ATV and snowmobile dealership just down the street had asked Bill what he thought of the state of affairs in his country.

Bill had been wiping down the counter but he stopped and stared at the man sitting on the stool before him. With his wooly white beard and scarred face, Bill bore the likeness of a jaded Santa Claus.

“I didn’t move into heaven to keep tabs on hell,” he said. Then Bill slammed his fists on the counter and grabbed everyone’s attention. I’d been sitting alone in a booth, working on a bowl of black bear chili. “Listen up!” Bill hollered. “If you want to discuss current events in the United States, do it elsewhere. I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to listen to it in my diner.”

But on this quiet morning Bill was friendly and sedate. Bach filled his diner and I noticed that he’d been writing in a journal.

He handed over my change and asked me whether I reckoned it was going to snow. I told him I hoped so and he smiled, said he did too.

I sometimes wondered if Bill suspected me. There was this kindred energy whenever we locked eyes. But I didn’t worry about Bill. Different circumstances might have guided us to Haines Junction but we both desired the same thing. And we were getting it too. I think we sensed the repose in one another.

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