“You would have killed me, Cheri. And we both know it.” I was talking to the dead, and shivering uncontrollably. Genuinely worried for my sanity, I fumbled with the Fiero’s heater. I followed the Monte Carlo’s misty taillights with a resolve born of resignation. We drove through the sleeping town. Terry was headed for a section of highway notorious for fatal accidents roughly ten clicks outside of Kenora. The road curved around a rock cut, only a wire guardrail separated the traffic from a twenty-meter drop to the lake below. We pulled over on that lonely stretch.
Under the cover of fog, we practiced our grim work. The highway was still wet from the earlier downpour. This would play in our favour, obscuring evidence. We could only hope for more rain once the deed was done. We hurriedly lined the Fiero up with the guardrail, both of us terrified there’d be a car or a rig or something on the highway; I squelched dark thoughts of Mark Bondar pulling up in a squad car with his big fake smile, “You boys okay…? Say, what are you up to?”
None of that happened. Instead, we moved Cheri Coke into the driver’s seat, and placed the dead weight of her foot on the gas pedal, dropping it halfway to the floor. After wiping it down, Terry tossed her .22 automatic into the passenger seat, “That will give them something to think about.”
The tricky part would come when we started the car. Terry leaned in, over Cheri Coke, and fired the engine. In a quick-footed move, he stepped back and closed the door just as the car blasted away, across the wet pavement and through the guardrail. It was a full second before we heard the awful crash. We peaked over the edge, but the murky night made it impossible to see anything, and only the sound of waves against the rocky shoreline could be heard. I was left to imagine the Fiero laying twisted, perhaps with the front half of the mangled car resting in Lake of the Woods. Rest in peace, Cheri Coke.
Terry slapped me on the shoulder, “C’mon. Let’s go.”
We said very little in the Monte Carlo on the way back to my place, the silence filled by the radio at low volume tuned to some rock station. And in a blessing that only could have come from one place, a fierce rain started as we entered the house.
Menu greeted us with a sleepy noise. I picked up the cat, holding him tight and petting his ears. Terry and I finished the bottle of scotch, and we had started in on the beer as another gray morning arrived. The lake was calm though, only light waves. It was Terry who said we could never tell another living soul about the night, using the example of Patty, “I’m not gonna tell her shit. Like, why bring her into this? Even in the best case, she’d have to deal with it, you know, spiritually.”
The line of conversation was redundant. Neither of us had any desire to be in prison, and each was as culpable as the other. It was the kind of secret you take to the grave, and I declared as much. We made a pact with silence, and neither of us have discussed the matter since…not even with each other.
I told him about my notion to go west, out to Tofino. His eyes lit up. He said, “I’ve never seen the mountains.”
Terry left my house that night with two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, exactly half of the money in the stash closet. I was happy to give it to him.
We waited two weeks. In the interim, Cheri Coke’s car was discovered. A small article sporting the headline “Accident Leaves Single Fatality” appeared in the local newspaper, along with a black and white photograph of the wreck. The picture showed the Fiero exactly as I’d imagined it that morbid night. No questions surrounded the incident, and given Cheri Coke’s history, the authorities accepted it all at face value.
I went to her funeral. It was a sad little affair with ten or so people in attendance. Her parents were no shows, but that wasn’t surprising. They’d been no shows for her entire life. But given Cheri Coke’s extended circle, it was depressing to see so few at her service.
In regard to the shootings on McQuillan, here again the police had everything wrapped up in a tight little bow, while continuing to downplay the involvement of that pillar-of-the-community Glenn Allan. It was a drug deal gone wrong, and the perpetrators had killed each other. End of story and good riddance. Twenty kilos of cocaine were off the streets. Your children are safe once more.
The money went unmentioned, and I received no further visits from Constable “Call me Mark” Bondar. Nevertheless, I would be happy to get out of town for a while. Maybe longer. I was haunted by that weird light in Bondar’s eye…like he knew something I didn’t.
Cheri Coke continued to star in my dreams, but lately they’d all been nightmares.
And so, with my affairs in relative order, and one of Patty’s more responsible friends acting as a live-in caretaker for Menu and my house on the lake, I drove the Mazda over to Terry’s and left it in his garage. There was frost on the grass and the first hints of snow on the air. I knocked on Terry’s door holding my suitcase.
I was in a good mood. Terry, Patty and I would hit the highway for the west coast. We were in no hurry, so if the weather became inclement along the way we’d simply hunker down in the most pleasant surroundings possible. Sooner or later, we’d end up at our destination. The decision to take Terry’s Monte Carlo SS had been an easy one. There were three of us, and it was spacious. And there were other considerations as well—the beast had a 454 under the hood, which Terry babied as if it were a spoiled child. As he’d said, “She’s winterized and ready to fly. Sure, it’ll be a bitch on gas. But I’m not real concerned about money at the moment,” a sly wink, “and I like having that power at the pedal if I need it.”
He answered the door bare-chested, wearing a red-black robe opened to reveal jeans and a silver skull belt buckle, “You want breakfast?”
“C’mon in,” Patty’s voice floated from inside, “it’s almost ready.”
Terry was smoking a joint. Apparently I’d interrupted his morning session.
“Hey,” I smiled at Patty busy in the kitchen, and saw the table was set for four, “you expecting another guest?”
Terry said, “Oh yeah,” he toked, gave a knowing smile, and passed me the joint, “there’s someone else who wants to come with us.”
Sara Coleman entered the kitchen fastening an earring. She stopped when she saw me. An inviting smile played on her face, “Hey, Ryan.”
My heart skipped, “Sara.”
Over breakfast she explained she’d been looking for a change in scenery for a while, so when Patty had told her our plans to go west, Sara was all over it. She said, “Traveling always inspires the writer in me, and I can wait on tables anywhere.”
Breakfast finished, we loaded our luggage into the trunk. We left Kenora with the music up loud. Terry was behind the wheel, with Patty in shades beside him. Sara and I nestled in the back seat. And as we crossed the Ontario border into Manitoba, the trees giving way to the wide-open space of the Canadian prairie, the sun came out for the first time in weeks.
James C. Stewart began his career as a journalist working at newspapers in Northern Ontario. He currently resides in North Bay, Ontario.