Jeffry Rawlins saw the black van as it went slowly past his door. He had been in the witness protection program for more than a year now but vehicles that look like that one still made him nervous. He soon forgot about it and decided to go out for some breakfast. On his way to the diner on the next corner he saw it again. This time the driver of the van looked directly at him. This time he was sure that he recognized the driver as a soldier who worked for the Don.
As he ran back to his apartment he could still see the New York City court room where he testified against one of the Don’s two sons, landing him in prison for life. The Don had let him know that he would be hunted down and executed gangland stile. He thought that he had seen the Don’s other son, Raymond, in the back seat of the van as it passed for a third time.
He lived on the third floor and was out of breath when reaching the top of the stair. The elevator was very slow. He quickly grabbed a small hand gun he had recently picked up then went to a closet taking out a large overcoat in which he had stashed twenty thousand US dollars, after which he threw open a window and climbed down the back fire escape.
With no particular reason in mind he had picked Toronto as a place to hide out. He had not thoroughly explored the city since he wanted to keep a low profile but he had checked out all of the avenues of escape. He ran through several back yards before coming out onto a dark side street. The rail station was now only a few blocks away so he headed for that.
A quick check of the train schedules revealed that a train was leaving in 10 minutes. Without checking where it was going he rushed to the ticket counter and asked where it was headed. The agent reeled off some names of places and he heard Winnipeg among them and bought a ticket to go there and having just time to board he rushed to the loading ramp. He didn’t think he had been followed but had trouble relaxing in a seat and optioned for the club car where he ordered a beer. It was late morning and he was not accustomed to drinking at this time of day but didn’t give it any thought on this occasion.
Jeff was very nervous but with a few beers in him he finally sought a seat in a coach. He realized that he could have just as well bought a ticket for a sleeper but didn’t think of it in time. As soon as the train made a stop with enough time he went into the station and exchanged his ticket for one to Edmonton in a sleeping car giving him privacy behind a locked door. He left the compartment only at meal time and to calm his nerves with a few drinks. Eventually he slept.
After sleeping most of the night he went to the dining car and ordered a good breakfast which was no sooner placed on the table when he saw four men come in and sit nearby. They wore dark suits and he could see bulges where guns were normally carried. Jeff panicked at the sight of them and got up and left before eating his meal. When he entered his private compartment he turned to be sure he wasn’t followed and there he stayed until late afternoon when he began to feel sick from hunger. He finally decided that he would not be killed in plain view here on the train so he went to dinner. This time he saw no sinister looking men and in fact he saw no more of them for the remainder of the trip.
Once detrained in Edmonton he felt a little less paranoid but he walked around in circles until he was sure no one followed then he asked directions to the bus station. He planned to change his mode of travel just as a precaution. At the bus station he took the time to purchase and consult a map. There was a lunch counter in the station where he sat and studied some geography. It occurred to him that he may look out of place wearing big city clothes in this place and vowed to buy something more appropriate at his next stop. He had brought a heavy overcoat mainly to carry his gun and his money well concealed. He had put the coat on after getting off the train as it was quite cold here. Although April had arrived there was still snow on the ground.
It was early afternoon and he had eaten a substantial lunch so he just ordered coffee while trying to decide where, if anyplace, to go next. He was about to get up and check the bus schedules when another customer entered and sat next to him. The man looked to be middle aged, about the same as Jeff and looked to be Native American. Jeff said hello and the man answered with a smile and a hello right back. Jeff asked “where are you headed for?”
“Do you live there?”
“No, but I come from near there.”
After several introductory remarks Jeff decided that he trusted the man, who was called Tom so he suggested that they move to a booth where they could chat and that’s what they did. During the ensuing conversation he learned that Tom had just been released from jail and was given a bus ticket to Yellowknife but no money so Jeff bought the man some food. Tom was a member of a group of five tribes and thought himself a mixture but preferred to think of himself as a member of the Yellowknife Tribe. “Is Yellowknife a city?” Jeff asked.
“Is it very remote, kind of isolated?”
“It’s quite far from anyplace but there’s a lot of mining in the area so a lot of workers and businessmen travel there abouts. But I’m heading right out for a remote spot on the west side of the Mackenzie River.”
Jeff very quickly took a liking to this man, Tom, and decided to put his complete trust in him. Something he seldom did with anyone. He had few friends. His wife had left him about 20 years ago when she found out that he was involved with criminals. So he asked “what if someone wanted a place where he could never be found would you recommend this place?”
“I would Jeff. I’d say it’s the least likely spot on earth that anyone would look for you.” Tom answered, and Jeff noticed that he spoke perfect English. He had been raised in Yellowknife where he attended school and worked in the mines. He had just spent two years behind bars for seriously injuring a couple men in a bar room fight. When he told of this he revealed a dry sense of humor.
“Would someone like me be accepted in this place?”
“If you mind your own business and don’t cause trouble you’d find my people to be very friendly and very loyal especially if that someone is traveling with me. The place I’m going to isn’t on the tribal lands but the inhabitants are a small group of about 50 people who’re mostly relatives of mine. My wife and children are among them. If you decide to come along you’ll be able to establish a home as close or as far away as you choose. You’d be left alone as much as you choose. My people would offer to help you as much or as little as you may wish.”
“I’d like to accompany you, Tom, at least to the city of Yellowknife. How long will it take to get there?”
“We’ll be leaving before dark and will be on the road all night, maybe longer depending on the road condition. It can be very slippery this time of year.”
“OK Tom you’ve got a travelling companion. Before we leave I’d like to treat you to a good dinner. Do you know of a good steak place?”
“Do you like caribou?”
“I’ve never had it but I’m sure if it’s good to eat I’ll like it.”
So Jeff bought a bus ticket before walking with Tom to a nearby steak house. On the way Tom asked Jeff if he didn’t have a bag or something. Jeff explained that he had abandoned his home in a bit of a rush and at dinner he unloaded a large portion of the story leading up to his rapid departure. He only left out the names of people and places involved.
The steaks were enormous and served with all of the trimmings including home made bread and followed up with apple pie.
The bus ride was kind of bumpy and slow and the road was icy. During the ride Jeff found out that Tom planned on walking a few days from Yellowknife and he intended to leave immediately since, as he said, the Mackenzie River would still be frozen and much easier to cross than after it thaws. He said it would be impossible to cross for at least two weeks during the transition. He also learned that the place that Tom called home could be quite warm for the summer averaging between 60 and 70 degrees F and very cold in winter with lows up to -50 degrees. The summer days were long with three months of only 3 hours of darkness which was actually more like twilight and the winter was the exact opposite but the skies were generally brightened by the northern lights. They had a summer growing season of around 100 days.
Before entering the city Jeff asked if walking was the only way to travel and Tom replied “it’s the only way if you’ve got no money.”
“What if you had money?”
“My people would use dog sleds but the more modern mode would be by snowmobile.”
“I have some money, Tom, if I go with you can we buy a snowmobile and tow along some supplies. I’d like to purchase everything I’d need to stay a while. Would that be possible?”
“Sure Jeff, but for a second hand ski doo, a trailer, camping gear and food would take maybe three or four thousand bucks at least.”
“If I put up the money would you help me make the purchases without forgetting anything? I’m not much of a hunter.”
“You’d still want a good rifle and plenty of ammunition.”
“OK, lets spend a day or two in Yellowknife getting prepared and I’ll go with you. How’s that sound Tom?”
“Great Jeff, I’d love to have you with me. But are you sure you’ve got the bucks?”
“I’m sure Tom. Let’s do it.”
In Yellowknife Jeff rented a double room in a cheap motel while the two men spent two days gathering together all that they had discussed and more. A good second hand ski doo and a good sized trailer were loaded up with supplies enough for several months and they even thought to get seeds for planting corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and other fast growing vegetables. They loaded up on dried fruits and many dehydrated foods. Tom assured Jeff that meat and fish would be plentiful year round although his people would spend a good deal of there time in doors for the winter months.
In the early morning of day three in the city they set out sitting in tandem on the snowmobile seat keeping a close eye on things strapped to the trailer. Tom was very adept at camping although Jeff knew very little of the art. He learned fast however and helped out. After seeing it done once he could set up the small tent they had bought and light the camp stove and lantern. Jeff did not smoke but he had purchased lighters. Tom smoked a pipe occasionally.
They had beaten the thaw and crossed the rivers with ease including the great Mackenzie, after which they climbed some foothills and one fairly good sized mountain range before entering a broad valley where they could see smoke curling up from several fires and Jeff was surprised to see cabins with chimneys. They had finally reached the settlement where Tom was greeted by many happy faces of men, women and children. These were Tom’s people.
Once Jeffry was introduced to the tribal family the travelers got a long night of sleep and in the morning after eating a substantial meal Tom led Jeff to a cabin about 2 miles from the village. As they stood looking at the log house Tom explained that a white man had lived there and had died inside in his bed and his bones were still there. The Natives would not enter because they were afraid that the man’s spirit still dwelled inside. Tom went on to explain that Jeff could have the cabin as long as he disposed of the skeleton and once those remains were buried he would help make the place livable.
So Jeff hauled his supplies, which included a shovel, to the cabin. It took the rest of that day to complete the grave digging since the ground was frozen solid. The only way he accomplished the task was to start fires on the ground allowing him to move a few inches of dirt with each blaze. It was in the dark of night that he finally was able to cover the bones with dirt.
It was the next morning that he and his new friend got started with the cleaning up of the cabin which was a two room affair with an open doorway between to allow heat from the fireplace to enter the bedroom. By nightfall Jeff at least had the bedroom clean enough to sleep in. Tom brought him some furs to make for comfortable sleeping. A few days later he constructed a makeshift bed after which he decided to slow down a little. Everything didn’t have to be done at once and he needed rest. He was now able to rest since he felt quite safe here.
Soon the snow melted and the forest began to blossom as summer approached. From Tom Jeff was learning to hunt for his meat and the creeks were laden with several varieties of fish. He began to feel comfortable alone in the forest and in fact he kind of liked the quiet solitude. He always carried a rifle and soon acquired skill in shooting while rapidly becoming able to fend for him self. He was able to get by until the snow fell again before returning to Yellowknife for supplies and he waited until the rivers froze to venture out. He had just enough fuel saved for the snowmobile to make the trip and he was accompanied by Tom when he did so. The trip went off without a hitch and they returned with enough to get through another winter. The natives didn’t require anything from the city but Jeff still wanted some of the luxuries that only civilization could provide.
The winter was very cold and Jeff remained indoors when the temperature got down near -50 degrees F. But there were times that it warmed up close to zero and at those times he wrapped up in his warmest clothes and went for a hunt.
It was late winter and it got daylight for just a few hours each day. But Jeff found an occasion when the temperature had warmed to about -10 and went for a walk with his rifle thinking that he might see a rabbit. He had been collecting rabbit skins as they made the softest bed for sleeping. Suddenly he heard what sounded like a growl. The first thing that crossed his mind was that it must be a bear but when he looked up he saw on top of a large rock the biggest cat he had ever seen. Then he realized that he was looking at a mountain lion. He wanted the hide with which he could make a very warm blanket so he raised his gun and fired. The cat fell to the ground quite dead. The animal was too big to carry and he was about to go find Tom or one of the natives to help when he heard what sounded like a little squeal.
On the other side of the rock he found a cave underneath and two small cats. He quickly discovered that they were not old enough to fear him so he picked them up and carried them back to his cabin taking them inside. He had obviously shot their mother which he never would have done had he known about the youngsters.
When he went for Tom it was dark but the Aurora Borealis was quite bright. Tom employed the help of two young men in dragging, what he said was a Cougar, to the village where some women set to work skinning the animal. Tom said that he would take care of the scraping and tanning. Tom said “it’s extremely rare to see a Cougar this far north. A hundred miles to the south they’re quite plentiful especially in the mountains.”
Back at the cabin Jeff fed the cats. First he gave them bread and water with a little powdered milk but he soon learned that they preferred meat and were quite capable of chewing it. He enjoyed watching them play and wrestle each other. He wasn’t sure what to do with them so for the time being he kept them. It wasn’t long before the newcomers started messing up the cabin but he kept close watch of them and slowly trained them to be better house guests and to go outside for bathroom duties.
Tom came for a visit more often now that he had the kittens and he loved to play with them even though their claws and teeth were getting sharp. The next time Tom came he brought his two young sons along to play with the cats and after several more visits they managed to train the animals to not scratch or bite hard when they played. Instead they chewed on left over meat and bones.
“What’re their names?” Tom asked.
“I thought I’d call them Gerry Garcia and Mick Jagger.” Jeff quickly replied.
After the snow melted Jeff put together a small shed and moved his pets outside. It was quite a necessary move. Every time he had left the cabin for a while they had gotten into something usually food. One time they chewed up his collection of rabbit skins completely destroying them. Jeff thought that eventually the animals would leave and find a nice cave to live in but they didn’t. They did however begin to venture into the forest for several hours at a time since their instinct demanded that they hunt for food so Jeff did not have to feed them so much. He did always give them scraps of meat and bones. He never had to throw any food away.
As the cats got larger they would follow Jeff when he went for walks in the forest and when he was at home they would lay on the roof of the cabin which became an easy jump for them. By the time the snow fell again the pets were about full grown.
It was about that time that Jeff became interested in a Native American woman. He had met her during the summer while on walks with his cats. She had become infatuated with his pets before she got interested in him and she would come to the cabin to play with them. It took several weeks before she came into the cabin. She was shy and Jeff couldn’t help noticing her natural beauty. She had long black hair and wore deer skin clothes. She was named White Rabbit and Jeff began calling her Bunny.
After the rivers froze over Jeff decided to make another trip to the city. Bunny wanted to go with him and he asked Tom if it would anger any of the natives if he took her. Tom’s answer was “Rabbit loves you Jeff didn’t you know that.”
“Well I guess I didn’t know.”
“You haven’t paid enough attention my friend. The whole village is wondering when you’ll marry her.”
“How does one marry around here, Tom?”
“You just ask the holy man to give his blessing, so to speak.”
“Can that be done tonight?”
“Certainly it can.”
“Tomorrow I plan to make a trip to the city and Bunny wants to go along. I’m sure I know the way.”
“Well Rabbit knows the way if you don’t.”
The marriage took place that night and Bunny moved her meager possessions to the cabin and the next morning Jeff gassed up the ski doo, attached the trailer and departed.
In Yellowknife the couple settled into a comfortable hotel and had a meal in their room. The next morning Jeff bought her some city clothes. He had plenty of money left. For the most part he had no way to spend it. So once Bunny was properly dressed for the street they toured the city and enjoyed the sights. Jeff bought what supplies he would need for the winter including plenty of gas for the snowmobile and parked the thing in storage temporarily. He had an idea for a honeymoon. They went to the airport and bought tickets to Edmonton where there would be more things to do like more movies and restaurants in a place where Bunny had never been and she surely had never flown in a plane. Jeff had thought of taking her to New York or at least Toronto or Niagara Falls but he didn’t dare.
Edmonton was quite different from Yellowknife and after a few days of fun and relaxation they decided to head back home. They were seated on a jet and even though Bunny sat by the window Jeff could see past her. He could see people inside the terminal looking out of the very large windows as the plane was being pushed from the gate. Suddenly he drew a deep breath as he filled with fear. In the terminal he saw three men. One was the Don himself and with him were two hit men who Jeff had seen before. He wondered how they could have known he was there. He was relieved when he realized that the plane they were on had the door closed and was moving toward the runway and the next flight to Yellowknife would not take off for several hours. They would have time to get their things together and head for home. If he was found there he was not going to run this time. He would fight.
About four hours later they were riding the ski doo to the westward. There were not many hours of daylight but the Aurora Borealis was very bright so they kept riding into the night. It got very cold so Jeff put Bunny in the trailer and covered her up until she was snug then he put on more clothes and kept going. It hadn’t snowed during the entire week they were gone and Jeff could see the tracks they had made. It was that bright. Jeff had never experienced such a display in the sky. After about 20 hours of continuous riding Jeff stopped and built a fire to warm some food. He was famished and could go no further. Once he had cooked bacon and eggs along with some powdered potatoes he awoke Bunny. She was delighted to smell the food. After they ate they put more logs on the fire and bundled up as close to it as they could and went right to sleep. Jeff awoke a couple of hours later and decided that he must push on.
Before unwrapping themselves they hugged each other for a few minutes. Jeff felt really good in spite of being chased. He loved her so much. He again made a resolve to fight.
When they were finally back at the cabin they were greeted warmly by the great cats. Tom was sleeping in the cabin keeping an eye on things especially the cougars. Jeff related their experience to Tom. He explained that the fight was his and his alone. He wanted Bunny to go to the village for a while until it was over. Tom left with Bunny heading toward the village but within the hour he returned with 5 other men all with guns and plenty of ammunition. Jeff remarked that it hadn’t snowed and the tracks left by the ski doo would be easy to follow. “Yes,” Tom replied “we’re on the eastern side of the mountains and the clouds are drained of their water by the time they reach us. We don’t get much snow and not enough rain in summer.”
Jeff made coffee and the men made small talk to settle their nerves. Of a sudden a runner came in the door reporting that a small plane had landed on skis on the frozen Mackenzie about 10 miles away. “Three men got out and the pilot stayed behind,” he said.
All was quiet for what seemed like days to the men but it was actually about an hour. Then Jeff broke the silence by saying “there they come and they’ve got automatics, machine guns, I don’t think we can out gun them.” He wasn’t sure who fired the shot but one of the three men fell to the ground and didn’t move again. That was followed by a spray of machine gun bullets.
Fortunately no one in the cabin was hurt by the initial blasts but they all moved away from the windows. Jeff spoke “the door doesn’t lock. Let’s wait until they open it then let them have it.” The gangsters kept coming and firing a few rounds to keep those inside away from the windows. They had no doubt that they out gunned them although they had no idea how many were inside.
Within several seconds the Don and his remaining body guard stood just outside of the door as he shouted “Come out Jeffery with your hands over your head if you want to save some lives.” All was quiet again for several more seconds when suddenly the silence was broken by a primal scream that split the air. It sounded like a woman’s scream but no human being had a voice that loud. The startled gangsters looked up just in time to see two huge cats leaping from the roof. They were immediately knocked to the ground dropping their guns in the snow.
Knowing what had just occurred, Jeff threw open the door and grabbed the guns. Then he called for Mick and Gerry to release their captives which they did. Jeff patted their heads assuring them that they were not in trouble for what they had done. The two gangsters did not get up. They were badly hurt and the third was severely injured by the gun fire but not dead. As soon as the men gathered their wits together they loaded the Don and his men into the trailer and hauled them back to the airplane.
Jeff instructed the pilot to take them back to the city since there was no medical help in this village. “If they survive, tell them it would be very dangerous for them to return to this place without an army. It’ll be well fortified and guarded.” He noticed that the Don was conscious and had his eyes open so he spoke directly to him. “I guess you heard what I said. I’m sorry for giving testimony against your son. He’s a murderer but I’m not and I wasn’t about to do time for something I didn’t do. I intend to live out my life here and will never be captured by you so give it up. Next time we’ll be ready for you.”
The Don just groaned as the pilot slammed the door shut and Jeff stood with his new family watching the plane skid over the ice and leave the ground in a whirl of snow. Jeff felt secure that the gangsters would never come back and they didn’t. Then Tom and two of his friends got into the trailer as Jeff mounted the ski doo and they returned to the village where the men jumped out as Jeff and Bunny went home.
After saying goodnight to the cats on the roof Jeff picked up his new bride and carried her inside. When he put her down she threw some wood on the fire and went to work making supper while Jeff tossed a couple large caribou steaks to Gerry and Mick as a reward for a job well done.
Supper was fixed superbly and after eating they were both very tired so Jeff tossed one more large log into the fire place and led Bunny to their newly made double bed where they snuggled into the furs. He looked into Bunny’s round face and big dark brown eyes and once again marveled at her natural beauty. He wanted to stay this way forever. He loved her so much.