Monday, December 10, 2012
Bushman froze into immobility, staring at himself in the mirror to determine the effectiveness of his disguise. His ghillie suit was sewn with a thousand little Velcro loops. Bushman had taken the time to study his theatre of operations. Today, a few fresh-cut wild grape vines were woven into his hat, festooning down over all the costume, a few loops of berry creepers, a handful of long, willowy saplings from a young sycamore. A goodly number of fresh maple branches, to give himself volume, and presence. He would blend in. The key thing was to break up the distinctive silhouette of a man.
You wanted to avoid disguising yourself as a nut tree, like chestnuts or acorns, otherwise the squirrels would drive you batty. The leaves were changing, and his suit was printed in a high percentage of a reddish khaki, as well as dark greens, dark browns, and black.
All those years of dance training were paying off. No one had ever even suspected that he practiced being a bonsai when he was alone, always alone. (Always alone, at home in that tiny little apartment, all one-hundred-thirty square feet of it, the rear unit of a sampan floating beside the docks in the wharf section of Toshyo-Kugoyo, which wasn’t even on a map of Japan. Down two then left, hard to remember or navigate, when coming home drunk, in the middle of a pitch-black night, a drizzling cold rain hitting you straight in the eyes, and with a bit of a swell on the bay. And maybe some gusty winds, too.)
That was all so long ago, another story, really. But he had studied with the best, he reminded himself, as he often did when he was alone, which was most of the time.
Studying his reflection with attention, he appeared to have done it yet again. With a little wind on the hillside, to account for small changes of position, necessary to avoid a cramp, he would be undetectable. With his carefully-chosen Carolinian flora woven into the camouflage suit, he would be indistinguishable from a thousand other little bushes. The hills of Ancaster, the so-called ‘mountain’ of Hamilton, the upper reaches of Sixteen Mile Creek, the Bruce Trail, these were the stomping grounds of his home range. Just like a tiger, he had a range, and he loved to roam it. To stand on the cliffs at Rattlesnake Point, while nearby, climbers tested their skills. Trying not to appear too sturdy, in order to avoid being taken for a belaying point—to look out over the land, dropping ever southward towards Burlington Bay, was an additional bonus.
It gave a real visceral fillip to the work.
Bushman loved the taste of the wind, whipping around the corner of a soaking-wet limestone cliff, with fresh-broken shards of frost-cut rock lying all over the hillside. The truth was, he was enjoying the challenge hugely.
He simply couldn’t be too careful. Bushman was going after not the biggest, but possibly the most dangerous game of all—the human being. And considering that the young unattached males, when they entered the breeding age, could be quite aggressive, and would tend to travel in packs, made his caution, the caution of a seasoned hunter, all the more relevant. They were young, aggressive, and testing their own strength, as well as testing their status in the adult world around them.
Bushman would be alone and unarmed, and had forsworn violence, except as a last resort, and only for the good of society. He would exercise discretion, in any case, and try not to hurt anyone more than he might have to, bearing in mind the exigencies of a given tactical situation.
He was obviously considering the fact that they might just be kids or something.
The quarry was being tracked, on weekends, and after hours from when he worked in Dundas as a librarian’s assistant, a glorified title for what was essentially a minimum-wage ‘gopher’ job.
It was a, “Go-for this and go-for that,” sort of a job.
It was all he had.
Early on, Bushman had disguised himself as a tall, slightly balding, unemployed fifty-year old bachelor, not fat but with a bit of a paunch, and then ridden his six-year old large-frame black mountain bike over half the roads in the greater tri-county regional area. Feeling safe behind his distinctive dark green shades, he became familiar with Flamborough, aware of Walker’s Line, infinitely conversant with Milton, he roamed them all, and everywhere seeking the signs. The signs were there at Hilton Falls, and Crawford Lake, and Mount Nemo, up along the cliff-face, where the little pock-mark caves, the rounded kettle caves were to be found. Beer cans, empty cigarette packets and butts, condom wrappers and the used condoms too. Along with wine bottles, whiskey bottles, roach clips, sometimes a shoe or a sodden-wet pair of underwear. So far, they belonged to either sex on a ratio of about fifty-fifty. Jackets and sweaters discarded with plain trash, candy wrappers and the like. If people wanted to party, why couldn’t they just keep a little waste-paper basket in the car? It only made sense, for crying out loud.
The signs were there too, up by the caves at Mount Nemo, and along in Twiss Canyon as well, if you knew where to look. And as the Bushman, he knew where to look.
His quarry drank Bud Light, in tall cans that mostly came from one particular liquor store, a busy street in Bronte, which was a little lake-port village incorporated into the boundaries of Oakville. The product ID codes microscopically printed on every can gave them away every time. Another clue, the village itself, sequestered but with good transportation corridors; with its easy access to the Bruce Trail. The location was brilliant. Far better than Bushman’s little pad in East Hamilton. These beer cans, often dirty and old, but sometimes quite warm and wet, still smelling of beer inside, had been discovered on a number of occasions. They would be found, almost predictably, about three to five kilometres apart, and always on the right side of the road.
Always on the right side—that said something about the person that did it.
And it wasn’t always the same road, not by any means. Studying his little note-book, Bushman saw that it was the same kind of roads. His quarry always went to the same kind of places. He apparently liked creeks, and cliffs, and especially fords in rivers, like down under the Highway 403 Bridge north of Bronte. None of this was really new to him, but it helped to confirm today’s plan in his own mind.
Because what he, she or they really seemed to like was waterfalls. His quarry had visited, or was in the process of striking off of a list…yes, a list. He was striking off a list of every waterfall within a thirty-kilometre radius of somewhere in west Oakville…or maybe Burlington. The two cities butted up against each other with hardly a ripple in the urban sameness. Whoever this was, they really seemed to like waterfalls, and tall cans of Bud Light, as regular as clockwork. Those habits, those modes of thought would be their undoing. And the weekend was upon him.
Bushman considered west Hamilton or even Ancaster, but quickly ruled them out. At least for now. He might get more information, and that might change things. Gingerly, accompanied by the sound of twigs crackling, he crept and pulled himself onto the seat of the Suburban, big and black and ticking still, in the dimness of the rented storage facility. This place was costing him fifteen hundred a month. He had better get some kind of results pretty soon. It would be nice to have something to show for it all, someday.
After carefully pulling the large vehicle out of the storage bay, he hit the radio control button on the little device clipped to his sun-visor, and sat a moment to be sure the big rolling steel door was going down properly. He waited until he heard it thud at the bottom before driving off.
The windows of the truck were tinted an inky charcoal, and he felt confident enough as he motored east up Highway 403, multiple lanes of speeding commuters, heading for Appleby Line.
This is where he would turn northwest, and begin the initial stalk, the approach to today’s target area, by surface road.
Bushman negotiated the vehicle carefully, heart beating strongly as he got north of the new Highway 407. Finally he was heading northwest by the compass, on Appleby Line, as traffic began to thin out and it was clear sailing ahead. Appleby was more of a county road, and tailgaters could sometimes be a problem. But today he was lucky. He was alone on the road for the moment. He had only been going along for about ten or twelve minutes, proceeding nicely in the direction of Rattlesnake Point, when he saw a brilliant pin-prick of intense blue-white light from the gravel verge of the road ahead, on the right side.
With his heart pounding up around his collarbones, and with his constricted throat making breathing difficult, he pulled to a stop as far onto the narrow shoulder as he could get. He practically didn’t even have to get out. It was with a sense of futurity, simple unchangeable fate, that he picked it up and confirmed that it was indeed a recently-emptied tall can of Bud Light.
And it was still cold! Well, chilly was a better word. But still, and sitting in the sunlight like that! He held it upside down, and watched in morbid fascination as a long, slow, hesitant drop of white foam came out and fell to the ground by the toes of his commando boots. One little sniff was enough to convince Bushman. Fresh as a daisy! This was his quarry.
Exultantly, he got back into the truck, stiffly and labouriously to be sure, but with a sense of accomplishment. He had successfully predicted his quarry’s behaviour thus far, at least for today. While it was difficult to tell for sure, whether the person was going northwest or southeast, if it was indeed his quarry, then the can being on the right side of the road was of telling significance. It had to be northwest.
How much do you want to bet? He asked himself that question.
How much do you want to bet that that person is up there, about three to five kilometres down the road, throwing out another empty tall can of Bud Light? Bushman put it into drive, and firmly pushed the pedal to the floor, after carefully checking his rear-view mirror. Once he made a visual identification of the subject, there would be no escaping from his inexorable justice.
Based on past observations, and known behavior patterns, there were really only two ways for the quarry to go: either up Rattlesnake Point, on the twisting switchback Appleby Line, or it would be left on Derry down to Twiss Canyon. All he had to do is catch up to a suspicious vehicle, and follow his instincts from there. They wouldn’t go right on Derry. That way just led to Milton, and that was no place to cruise, drinking Bud Light ( and probably smoking pot too.)
If they went to Twiss Canyon, he knew exactly where they were going after that. Whatever they were driving had to be a small, economical car, given the likely educational levels of the persons who would fit the profile of this kind of perps…their obvious mental poverty.
There. It had to be it. Bushman’s big black Suburban was coming up from behind at an easy fifty kilometres an hour faster than the little red Honda in front of him. As he blasted past at a hundred and thirty klicks, Bushman glanced over. Sure enough, inside were two males and two females, all about eighteen years of age. He couldn’t see if they were drinking, but why were they going so slow? If they weren’t up to no good?
Now all he had to do is pick a spot, left or straight, which would it be? On an impulse, he chose to go left at the crossroads, knowing that if they went straight up Rattlesnake, there was still a chance to come around and catch them again. Playing his own role to the hilt, he tromped the pedal down and went serenely sailing to the west on the paved, two-lane blacktopped Derry Road. He was gratified to see the Honda, the red colour perking up a little as it was hit by a burst of sunrays, had turned as well, and it was now following along behind at a more leisurely pace.
Bushman found himself grinning like a maniac, discovering a strange kind of love for his quarry.
But after all, they were his reason for being.
Bushman figured for sure they were smoking joints and cigarettes and drinking tall cans of Bud Light in there. But he had his job to do, and he knew just exactly where he had to be. If they kept on at this speed, he would just have time to hide the truck, and get into position. With his quarry following true to form, there was about a ninety percent chance. Sooner or later they would have to stop for a piss. The girls would be slower drinkers. The guys would get out for sure.
And besides, he was writing down their license number, just for good measure. But the odds were he would nail them today for sure. All he needed was one can. One tall can of Bud Light, in plain view, or in someone’s hand…maybe setting it on the roof as they relieved themselves.
“Just let me see one can,” he muttered as he concentrated on picking up a few seconds on the slow hairpin turns at the bottom of the canyon, the big black vehicle’s tires howling in protest.
Then he would nail ‘em.
He just couldn’t believe his luck in the end. It all came off without a hitch. Lurching to a halt by the side of the road in the forest, he leapt out and pulled back a pair of small dead trees. Then he drove the truck into the narrow laneway thus exposed, and quickly threw the camouflage net over it. Scuttling along sideways when necessary to squeeze between the tall, serene trees, with which he felt an important sense of brotherhood, he made his way to his prospective point of ambush.
Within certain limits, forty metres or so, he had a range of tactical maneuver. If they were too far away, the best thing was just to freeze in place, and let them wait for another day. He had it all worked out. He had other work to do, alternate targets to check out if nothing else. Sweat trickled into his eyes, as listening intently, he worked his way into position. He had his little notebook.
The best way to cross an open field or hillside was to move so infinitely slowly that no one would see you. It was surprisingly easy to do. He had watched all kinds of human activities on his stake-outs, all over the tri-county area. Generally speaking no one, not even dogs most of the time, ever gave him a second look or another thought.
If he did it right, there was nothing that could go wrong. Yes, if those poor, crazy mixed-up kids should stop here for a pee, Bushman was certainly going to give them a good piece of his mind. And he had a fairly largish leather pouch on his belt, and it was stuffed with a handful of pamphlets and brochures regarding drug and alcohol abuse, and family planning, contraception, stuff like that, that they might be able to benefit from. Bushman had one pamphlet in particular that was especially important. He was hoping that he could get them to take a look at that one for sure.
That one was about the dangers of smoking, and how it caused cancer, emphysema, strokes and heart disease. He had a half a dozen little yellow plastic trash bags for their car, courtesy of the local Chamber of Commerce, and some screw-cap plastic tubes for the used needles.
"You could at least put a used condom in them, right? Let’s try and keep them away from the kiddies, right?” Yes, he would certainly give them a piece of his mind.
He had it all rehearsed, the whole caper all planned out in his head. Bushman could hear the little red Honda coming around the bend. Sure enough, it was slowing! It was slowing! As they came round the bend, he counted the four little heads in the car. Bushman got ready to leap, all his twigs and branches quivering in sheer suspense, every sense agape at this, the thrill of the chase.
Bushman was just aching to pounce.
Author's Note: This story originally appeared in 'Aurora Wolf.'