Showing posts with label canoe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canoe. Show all posts

24 May 2020

The Murder of Me, part 2


Narrows Gorge Underwater
Narrows Gorge Underwater

Last week, a boating companion left Leigh trapped upside down in an overturned canoe in surging waters, fighting to free his ankles. If Leigh didn’t smash face-first into boulders rising from the depths, a whirlpool lay ahead.

He had been targeted for murder.

We return to the story…
— Editor

gorge map
Upside down in churning, freezing glacier melt, I fought to free my ankles. Threaded under the seat, my long legs proved difficult to extricate from a crevice not made for anyone over six feet. One foot pulled free… tug, twist… then the other. Still submerged, I yanked off my boots so I could swim.

My life preserver popped me to the surface. To my right, a ledge extended. I climbed like a wet rat, reaching that shelf, momentarily safe.

At a distance below, Jeff clung to the capsized canoe, orbiting the whirlpool. He screamed up at me, violently swearing.

Only one way off the ledge presented itself. I needed to plunge back into the freezing waters. It seemed a twelve-foot drop, but was probably half that.

I jumped. I swam for the circling canoe.

One of my boots bobbed there. I never knew hiking shoes could float. The other came within reach. Jeff cursed me the entire time.

“Shut it,” I said. “We need to empty the canoe.”

“How?”

“Give me the paddle,” I said.

“No.”

“The paddle, else stay stuck in this spin cycle.”

“No, you’ll leave.”

“I’ll leave if you don’t.”

He didn’t know how to get out of the predicament. He swore and tossed me the paddle.

“Rock the boat like this,” I said. “Slosh the water out.”

He followed instructions until we emptied much of the water. I stretched across and pulled myself into the stern. Jeff followed suit, clinging to a thwart. I ruddered the canoe until it separated from the grip of the whirlpool. It bounded down the rapids battering the hell out of the hull.

We spotted the portage. Bill, Sandy, and Lauren huddled there, stamping their feet against the cold.

“Where were you?” they said. “What happened to you?”

“Leigh fucked up,” said Jeff before I could speak. “He tipped us over. Leigh lost one of the oars and he’s fucking paying for it.”

The women hovered over Jeff, cooing and cawing. “You poor thing."

“Let’s hike,” I said. “Hypothermia. We need to get warm and dry.”

Moments later, Scott appeared. As the others climbed the trail, he and I hefted the canoe over our shoulders to portage it. In relative privacy under the shell, he spoke quietly.

“Weirdest thing, Leigh. I inched along the cliff face and kept you in sight.”

“You picked your way across that bluff?” I was impressed.

“Yeah. As the canoe aimed at those rocks, I remembered the stern guy steers. When Jeff started rocking the boat. I’m convinced he deliberately capsized it.”

I said, “Pretty much what happened.”

“Why do that? You could have been killed.”

“I don’t know, Scott. I can’t explain it.”

Jeff Summerfield's Malfoy sneer
The Malfoy sneer
The Cool

Back at camp, the only warmth arose from the fire. Jeff held court, regarding me with his down-the-nose Malfoy gaze.

He might have been practicing the campfire tale of my misfortune for hours, days, even weeks. His dramatic recounting horrified a sympathetic audience. He held my incompetence forced the canoe into the rocks. I panicked, lost my paddle, and needed rescuing.

“The great canoeing expert man,” he said. “Good thing no one else trusted lives to him. Guy can’t hold onto a paddle.”

Bill glared at me accusingly. “You almost got Jeff killed.”

A childhood defect often renders me speechless against untrue accusations.

Scott remained silent. I imagined he’d filled Sandy in as they glided back to camp, but her eyes showed doubt as Jeff told and retold his story. Who would deliberately capsize a canoe in dangerous waters?

The Cold

Lauren took my protests as churlish and unfair to Jeff. On the drive back to Minneapolis, she hovered under a blanket with him, not me, signaling the beginning of the end of a lengthy relationship.

Thereafter, she brooked no criticism of him. The more I sullenly avoided Jeff, the more Lauren cozied up to him. Except for curt, one-word replies, she stopped speaking with me.

The day came when Lauren called it quits over the phone.

Next morning, Sandy rang me. She couldn’t contain the breakup headline news update.

“We barely got her stuff moved into a condo and in waltzed Jeff with his backpack and ski poles. He sat in the easy chair and ordered the rest of us around, where to put this, where to arrange that. We can’t believe her. Can’t you stop this?”

“Not any more, Sandy. Not any more.”

The Ice

During those moments of the river ‘accident,’ I didn't have time for fear. The real impact came later, shock and internal pain… Once upon a time Lauren caused my world to revolve. Then the planet tilted, stopping dead in its tracks.

No way. I’m a tough guy, big, resilient, not gutted, not hurt, no bruised soft tissue, no seared scars, no brutalization of betrayal, nothing to see folks. No jagged spear tore out a wretched pulsing, pumping organ that couldn’t be mine. No salty water blinded my eyes, no unending oceans of agony, no treacherous waves hammered soft shoals, no dark tunnels flooded with torture and torment, no anguish, no fiery cauldron of pain, no. No problem, nothing, nothing at all, just a… just a fourteen-digit number on the Richter scale of heartbreak.

General Armstrong Custer, Jeff Summerfield look-alike
Custer, Jeff look-alike
Casting Stones

In the time I’d known him, Jeff had become an expensive acquaintance. The never-ending lending for lunch or dinner was the least of it. Around him, things broke, things disappeared, things died.

The year before, he’d mysteriously blown up the new engine in our little Triumph Spitfire. I never let him drive another car, but he persuaded Lauren to let him try out our newly purchased Dodge– an hour after midnight– while I was at work, when good little children should have been sound asleep. Claiming he hit a patch of ice, he’d slammed it into a guardrail on Interstate 494… at one in the morning.

Jeff manifested a couple of peculiarities, especially compulsive lying. Our expanded circle of friends merely wrote that off as Jeff being Jeff. But the cash bag from Lauren’s shop vanished in Jeff’s presence. And animals… critters left in his care curiously died.

The women in our larger circle noticed something else. They remarked how Jeff exhibited a penchant for dating young widows.

Lauren had nearly become one– a young widow.

Constant nightmares haunted me. With difficulty, I caught my breath and began to recover. I threw myself into my work.

That should have marked the end of the saga. It didn’t.

Sherburne County Sheriff
Castle Breached

A freezing January day found me consulting out of state. An emergency phone call rang in from Lauren, she was visiting the house. My peaceful home in the woods– a state forest– had been burglarized and badly vandalized.

Sherburne County’s Sheriff might have presided over a frozen rural fiefdom, but he was no slouch. While his fingerprint maven dusted enough powder to mount a community theatre production of Chim-Chim Cher-ee, the sheriff explained the situation over the phone.

Wood chips from the supposed point of entry were scattered inside, not outside the back door. The sheriff found no footprints in the snow, none, nor footprints anywhere around the house. The only trail was tire tracks straight into the garage. A large screwdriver left at the scene suggested a burglary tool used to break into the house, except… it had come from my toolchest… already inside the house.

“Kinda strange, doncha think?” the sheriff said.

“Very.”

“Anyone besides Lauren have access to your garage opener?”

I unloaded suspicions that had built from the moment she phoned. She’d mentioned Jeff acted particularly odd when she announced her intention of checking the house. Normally Lauren defended him tooth and nail. Now she hesitated.

The sheriff promised to call me back. He did, sooner than I expected. Deputies had picked up Jeff skulking along country roads… in January… in subzero Minnesota.

The sheriff said, “Thirty minutes after question one, our boy painted himself in a corner so tight, he confessed to crimes we never asked about. FYI, this guy hates your guts.”

I said, “Why? I gave him work, I lent him money for lunch and dinner.”

“That’s the problem. You need to pick better pals. He pretended to be a friend while he hung around your companions and targeted you. He invited himself into your group, into your shop, and into your home. He gave the women little gifts stolen from others, robbing from Petra to pay Paula.”

The sheriff continued. “This boy profiled you. He asked innocent questions, gathering personal ammunition. On your previous canoe trips, he said it was goddamn hard to get you talking about yourself, getting you to reveal the private you, but he managed.”

“Why so much effort to come after me? I never did anything against him.”

“He admits that. You gave him lifts when he didn’t have a ride. You often paid for his meals. What you considered generosity and sharing, he took as deliberately showing off and humiliating him. Jeff envied you, he hated you. You had material things he wanted: lovely woman, house, and a couple of cars. Your occupation allowed you to travel. What did you do with your advantages? Nothing, by his reckoning. You didn’t buy fancy stuff, you just kept working. It wasn’t fair, he thought. You didn’t deserve it, he did. So he set out to destroy you and take what he could.”

“Sheriff, did you ask about the canoeing accident?”

“Clearly no accident. He didn’t give us a thing to charge him, but he enjoyed mocking us. It was like he challenged us to prove anything. He fed us cocky TV dialogue and cute tidbits like, ‘An accident couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.’”

“Sheriff, I never intended him ill.”

“Son, you do not understand evil. No one believes you wronged him. He’s a total narcissist. His world has a population of one. He gets what he wants manipulating innocents. For him, screwing others is more rewarding than working. In the future, try not to be so damn trusting.”

Farmers Insurance
Castle Defence

Jeff’s game wasn’t over.

The sheriff’s office filed burglary, theft, and property damage charges. However, the state attorney wouldn’t prosecute until my insurance company weighed in, and Farmers Insurance hadn’t obliged. For months, they refused to pay for the damage and destruction.

My insurance agent resembled a red-bearded Hagrid. Two metres tall, 6½+ feet of Midwestern muscle, my rep sumo wrestled professionally in the US and Japan. He could have shaded Jesse Ventura, but he proved no match for Jeff. When he sat down with me, he looked morose.

He said, “Farmers won’t pay, they won’t subrogate, they won’t prosecute. This guy’s going to walk.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Jeff persuaded the company investigator you masterminded the burglary of your own house and snared innocent him in your scheme.”

“I’m the guy who wants to see this case go to trial. The sheriff wants to try him and so do I.”

The agent shook his massive Hagrid head.

“The adjuster’s convinced the sheriff got it wrong and you’re the bad guy.”

“How? On what evidence?”

He drummed fingers the size of hammers on his desk.

“The company investigator turned in dinner expenses for two. She said she needed to get Jeff to open up.”

“Why does she…? Oh, no, no. She wined and dined Jeff? He played her?”

“In-depth investigation, according to my secretary.”

“That’s a pun? They’re dating?”

“Who’s to say? Who investigates investigators?”

Farmers’ confidence in their private detective cost them. After I hired counsel, the underwriter realized their statutory window of time to sue Jeff had run out and they could no longer collect. The company begrudgingly paid my attorney and sent a check for replacement and repairs.

The investigator’s position caused further fallout. Because Farmers Insurance contradicted the findings of the sheriff, the prosecutor didn’t indict. His office explained the defense would simply call Jeff’s tame insurance investigator and undermine their slam-dunk case.

After mere days in jail, Jeff skated. A homicidal grifter now walked free.

Case Closed

For a year, nightmares haunted me. They didn’t stem from fear of Jeff, but fear of my inner rage. In my violent dreams, he died a hundred imaginative deaths. That wasn’t me, not the person I wanted to be. During waking hours, I clamped down my anger, but when freed to roam dreamscapes, my nightmares would have terrified him; they certainly horrified me.

For my own well-being, I needed to escape. I stravaiged around Europe, working, consulting, trouble-shooting. A couple of times, word drifted over from the States.

Lauren entered the hospital for a couple of weeks. Her parents confided that absent a meal ticket, Jeff promptly moved in with a younger girl, and then another, always another.

Last I heard, he married a wealthy widow. No word if Jeff was involved in her premature widowhood.

Leigh Lundin
Final Word

It’s taken years to write this, mostly because of my difficulty talking about myself. My words sound all wrong, I can’t properly document my emotions. Please, my apologies.

Ultimately to a writer, everything is fuel or fodder. I experimented, crafting nightmares into a story, which I might yet finish. In my version, the bad guy finally gets his comeuppance. Perhaps that dark chapter inside me could yet open to the light of day.



Years later, another man– this one a pillar of his church and the Orlando community– would tell me those same words, “You don’t understand evil.” Thirty days later, he and his wife would die violently.

17 May 2020

The Murder of Me, part 1


Leigh Lundin
Once upon a time, I became a murder target. This is the story.

Intent

Scott volunteered his garage for staging the trip: three canoes, three tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, backpacks, and supplies. Sandy had purchased a chuckwagon of victuals to feed six for a three-day weekend.

Five of us had met a couple of years earlier as part of a larger wildlife and zoological collection of friends. We often lunched or dined together.

Scott, a serial obsessor, was currently learning film-making and canoeing. His self-professed ‘political lesbian’ girlfriend Sandy invited Bill, her grip, gaffer, and gofer to join us. They asked my inamorata Lauren and me to participate in their fledgling film-making. Their high-energy projects were social and entertaining once we learned to tune out Scott and Sandy’s bickering. Sandy and Scott argued about nothing– all the time.

General Armstrong Custer, Jeff Summerfield look-alike
Armstrong Custer
Jeff slipped into the group late, at 23, the youngest among us. Women admired his flowing blond hair and beard, a General Custer look-alike in three-quarter scale. He always wore white, even after Labor Day. Due to an East Coast work commitment, I didn’t meet him right away. When he discovered I enjoyed canoeing, he suggested the two of us canoe the upper Mississippi.  We made it a sixty mile run from Monticello to south of the Twin Cities.

When news of the jaunt reached Scott, he suggested Jeff and I guide our group on a camping-canoe trek in the northern part of the state. Major consultations ensued, debating whether to venture onto the Cloquet River, the St. Louis, or the St. Croix.

“They’re too bourgeois,” said Jeff. At times, his lip curled like Draco Malfoy.

Sandy perked up. Marxist memes got her blood pumping. Her capitalist man Scott rolled his eyes.

I was curious. “Too bourgeois?”

“Especially the St. Croix, touristy, everyone does it, even Cub Scouts. Let’s run the Vermilion, I know those rivers super well.”

Super well won out over ordinary well. Lauren checked the weather. I gathered maps and charts. Sandy and Scott bought enough food to feed a village through a long winter. Jeff borrowed three canoes. Bill provided an oversized SUV with a roof rack.

According to a hidden agenda, one of us wouldn’t return– ever.

Me.

Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station, Cloquet, Minnesota
Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station
The First Strike

Scott recommended a historical stop, the Frank Lloyd Wright Service Station, Cloquet, Minnesota. Up close, it resembled a diminutive airport control tower, well worth visiting. Jeff said he’d keep an eye on the car while the rest of us took advantage of the restrooms.

As we walked back, a gold glint flashed in the sunlight. My brass lensatic compass lay crushed on the pavement. It was quite old and I was fond of its craftsmanship. Now it lay broken on the tarmac next to our tire.

“It must have fallen out of your pocket,” said Bill, “and someone drove over it.”

Confused, I said, “It was in my pack, not my pocket. How could a vehicle maneuver this close?”

“Sorry, Leigh,” said Scott. “Let’s have the maps.”

“They’re on top of…”

The canvas map case had been stacked on top of our gear within easy reach. Where the hell was it? We dragged out packs and bedrolls without finding it.

Jeff said, “Christ. You were responsible for one thing, and you left it at home.”

“No. No, I didn’t.” I frowned, thinking back. “I bundled it with my radio…”

“Your what? The great outdoorsman brings a radio on a camping trip?”

“Shouldn’t you? Weather band, AM direction finder?”

“Jesus. Leigh can’t get enough dance music, but he forgets maps and charts.”

The others tittered. I gritted my teeth.

“I’ll get us there.”

“Sure you will.”

Matters had only begun to go awry.

Strike Two, Three, Four…

After an hour of old-growth, deciduous forest, we entered Kabetogama where we found an ideal campsite on the lake shore. Sandy, Lauren, and Bill built a fire for dinner. Scott and I trenched a latrine and erected tents.

I unrolled our down bags and… What the hell? Mine was soaking wet. Unzipping it revealed my canteen missing its cap.

Sandy laughed. “Leigh, you shouldn’t roll your canteen in your sleeping bag.”

“I never do.”

“Clearly you did. Guess who’s sleeping in the wet spot?”

I spread it near the fire and returned to inflate the air mattresses. Mine had been slashed open.

“With a knife,” I said. I stared at Jeff. “Why are you screwing with me?”

“Me!” He chuckled. “You’re paranoid, man. Some people can’t take the wilderness.”

Bill’s forehead wrinkled. “Why are you picking on Jeff?”

Scott said, “Stay cool, Leigh. There’s probably a simple explanation.”

“Like being gas-lighted? Lost maps, broken compass, uncapped canteen, sopping sleeping bag, and a slashed air mattress?”

“You’re acting really weird,” said Lauren. She moved away from the fire and merged into the shadows, soon giggling with Jeff.

Scott sat beside me. “What’s the deal with Jeff?”

“At the gas station, he chose to stay with the car. That compass was no accident. He had plenty of time. I just don’t understand why.”

When Lauren finally parted the tent flaps, she unzipped her bag from mine and turned away. Scott and Sandy fared better. Their daytime sniping softened into a shut-up-and-fuck-me aphrodisiac in the still of the forest night.

canoe parts
Daybreak

The lonely wail of mournful loons awoke us. Practical joker Jeff kicked loose the pegs, collapsing my dew-soaked tent over me. Lots of yucks. Jeff acted oddly testy as I cheerfully washed up. Although I started the morning cold and wet, we’d soon be on the water, which I loved.

After breakfast, I gave a twenty minute summary of my superb canoe training:
The strokes: forward cross, the back stroke, and the J-stroke. A bowman powers, the stern steers. Life vests, always. In rough churn, down on your knees. Don’t get stupid. Don’t get killed.
“Fuck man, they get it,” said Jeff. “Let’s hit the trail. They’ll learn on the way.”
canoe Scott and Sandy

Sandy and Scott’s trademarked squabbles affected their steering. They spiraled downstream, paddling in circles, entertaining the wildlife. Otherwise, the first couple of hours went smoothly.

Midmorning, the current quickened. We approached a canyon walled by sheer cliffs. The gorge plunged downward and narrowed until it forced the river into an abrupt 90ยบ L. We glided to the left bank so Jeff and I could study it.

gorge map
Midstream, boulders spaced over a hundred yards peeked above the thrashing water line, canoe-killers centered in the rushing turbulence.

A few feet past the rocks, channeled by vertical palisades, the river thundered headlong until it swept into a whirlpool at the heel of the ell. From there, the swirling maelstrom emptied down stair-step rapids. Beautiful and challenging, it demanded respect.

Although Jeff and I gauged it navigable with competent handling, we couldn’t be certain until we’d run it once. If we succeeded, he and I would thread each canoe one-by-one through the gorge.

If we found it too perilous, the gang had located a downstream portage trail through the woods. Steep, rough, and given the limited strength of half our party, portaging appeared much less attractive than canoeing the whirlpool and rapids.

Cast Off

I handed my wallet and keys to Lauren. Until that point, I’d worn my life vest loosely. Now I cinched it tight.

Jeff laughed. “What, Leigh? You scared? Are you a pussy?”

“Prudent. It’s called prudent.”

Since he’d collapsed the wet tent over me, Jeff had grown more and more belligerent. As the only other member with experience, he should have known better.

I selected the sleeker of the three canoes. I started to step into the stern when Jeff stopped me.

He said, “I’m going to steer. I want the back.”

“Not a good idea, Jeff. No offence, but you’re what, one-forty? I outweigh you forty, fifty pounds. We need the bow light and the weight aft. Going in prow-low adds needless risk. There’s no 911. People can die out here.”

Jeff’s lip curled. “Back up, man. We got only your word you’re experienced. I’m responsible for the boats, not you. I drive or it’s your fucking fault this trip’s over.” 

The women rolled their eyes. Sandy said, “Christ. It’s just a stupid canoe. Who cares who sits in first class?”

Lauren glared at me. “You’re ruining our trip.”

Damn. Jeff had expertly manipulated the situation and I was losing. He said, “You, the great white canoe instructor, just a control-freak.”

“Yeah.” Sandy just couldn’t keep quiet. “Canoeing is a lot easier than you let on.”

Bill said, “Give Jeff a chance to show what he can do.”

I protested but…

Five people glared at me, thinking me unreasonable. Reluctantly, I acceded. I’d lost their confidence, but with care, I could still guide the canoes through the turbulent gorge.

canoe bow bulkhead and seat
bow bulkhead and seat
Cast the First Stone

An unexpected problem arose, kneeling in the bow to lower the center of gravity. The pointed ends of our canoes housed a secret compartment, a little wedge of flotation foam hidden behind a bulkhead, right where my knees needed to be. The bow was not made for people well over six feet tall. Jamming in my long legs locked my ankles under the seat.

We’d planned to return a hundred yards upstream and line up the canoe for the run. Now in charge, Jeff bounded directly into the ravine. The low-lying boulders dominating the center of the river loomed ahead.

“Rocks,” I yelled. I plunged the paddle deep, using it like a rudder to edge the prow aside.

Inexplicably, the canoe swung back, aimed toward submerged stone giants that’d resisted the river long before early man walked its shores. I seized advantage of the momentum to force the canoe toward the other side.

“Sheer off!” I shouted over my shoulder. “Veer off, man! Veer!”

The response defied comprehension. The nose swung back toward the rocks. Disaster raced toward us.

“Jeff…!”

We hit the first boulder. To my astonishment, the force of the rushing current swept us up and over it. Eons of gushing water had polished the granite smooth. It thumped our ass, but the little canoe survived.

For the moment.

I couldn’t fathom the actions behind me. As the second set of buried boulders sped toward us, I thrust to offset the trajectory– to no avail. Speeding toward us…

Instead of the boulder tearing out the canoe’s bottom, the river yet again launched us to safety over the hazard. We didn’t deserve it, but the rushing turbulence repeated its magic trick a third time.

The little craft and I breathed a moment’s respite until hitting the whirlpool. Before I could process events…

Rummmph! The canoe rolled violently to the left.

Instinctively, I rocked the other way. The battered hull righted.

Rummmph! It rolled to the right. No rocks. We hadn’t struck anything.

I twisted around. “Jeff! What the hell’s going on?”

The words barely left my lips before I felt it rock left again.

We’re going over, I realized. Oh, no. The bulkhead held my knees trapped, locking my ankles and hiking boots under the seat.

Tossing away my paddle, I tucked and carried through the roll, not fighting the canoe as it capsized. Upside down in foaming, freezing Canadian runoff, at risk of slamming face-first into a boulder rising from the depths, my life hung on a thread.

Minnesota Narrows Gorge
Minnesota Narrows Gorge

Next time…



Don’t know, never asked.[1][2][3]