In Hansen’s pub, Stigg is about to set down his pint when he hears his wife’s name.
“Abby’s a nice lady,” Flynn is saying to the barman’s perpetually turned back.” Even if her teeth are so buck she could eat apples through a fence.”
Flynn laughs at his own joke while Stigg’s beer goes flat in his mouth. Stigg knows the remark is for his benefit, even if Flynn’s delivery is roundabout. Words, Stigg thinks, fall out of Flynn’s mouth like shit out of a seagull.
Like everyone else in Sointula, Flynn has more than one occupation. Sometimes he’s a fisherman, but more often than not he can be found plying his main trade right here in the pub where he can be sure of an audience. Town drunk. Village idiot. Stigg has other chioce names for it.
Lars Hansen, long suffering landlord, doesn’t care what you say as long as you pay your tab. He waters Flynn’s drinks, but Flynn’s whiskey bloomed face still glows in the pub gloom, and he imagines he has the license of a drunken man even when he hasn’t reached the bottom of his cups. Stigg rises, drops a few bills on the old driftwood table and steps out, leaving a nearly full pint behind.
Outside he huddles in his heavy buckskin as he ambles over to his little Jeep. He passes Flynn’s new Ford F150 on the way, and reflects that the truck is like its owner: an outsized corpulent beast that is larger in looks than it is in substance. The silver body rests on a boosted suspension, and is togged out with chrome on every available surface. It even has a roll bar with flood lights. Stigg breathes out a puff of contempt and gets in his Jeep. He uses the time until the engine warms up to roll a cigarette. Abby won’t be home, he remembers. She has a school board meeting and she is always the first to arrive and last to leave. He glances in the rearview mirror and sees the hulking truck glaring at him.
The cabin is dark when he gets in, but he knows his way around so he doesn’t trouble to switch on the lights. He does turn up the heat. Abigail likes to come home to a warm house. He gets that far, and then hesitates in the doorway, his shoulders frozen in the act of shrugging off his coat. He is thinking of Abby as he always does when he comes home before her, but now he is thinking about her face, her smile. The constellation of freckles on her pale skin. The tender mockery in her dark eyes. And the mouth that always smiles closed, except when he makes her laugh.
Stigg does not take off his buckskin coat. He pockets his keys and goes out the back, locking the door behind him.
Behind the cabin stands a fenced yard where Stigg keeps his equipment. He is a staple in these parts. Handyman, surveyor, plumber. If it needs doing, Stigg has the tools. In the past few years he has been receiving contracts from rich Californians who are taking advantage of the falling cost of land to build summer houses. To that end, he bought a used Caterpillar back hoe from a construction firm outside Campbell River, and it was to this that he now goes, a fresh rolled smoke clenched in his teeth, a determination straightening his nordic spine.
The big yellow beast takes a few moments to heat up. It rumbles as Stigg takes it in hand, steering it out on to the pitted road. He does not ruminate as he makes his slow charge. He does not countenance thoughts of vengeance, nor is he warmed by feelings of rage. He simply knows himself to be an agent of karma, and accepts this role with his customary stoicism. He is serene as he watches the ranks of ancient pines roll past. A deer is grazing on the shoulder, but she hardly takes notice of him. The deer in these parts are wise to traffic. They use the crosswalks. Abby laughs.
Flynn’s truck is still there when he arrives, as he had known it would be. Stigg sizes it up, and plans his strategy. Carefully, he turns the tractor, describing a tight u-turn. He nudges a lever, and the backhoe hoists its heavy toothed bucket into the air with a mechanical groan. He pilots it into position and pulls back on the lever. The bucket drops into the windshield with a fantastic crunch. The glass crumples around it like a discarded newspaper. Stigg raises the hoe, and safety glass sluices through the teeth of the great steel maw. It is a contemplative sound. It reminds him of the rainstick Abby and brought back from their last vacation in Mexico.
Stigg sucks down the last of the cigarette and spits it on the ground. He keys the levers and again raises the dragon’s head. Then he drops it again, crashing the bucket into the hood. The silver surface folds into a butterfly, flaring out to reveal the inner workings underneath. Stigg grabs the gear stick and turns the tractor around until he is face on with the beleaguered vehicle. He sights over the loader and raises it as high as it will go. The hopper ascends on well oiled hydraulics, flukes, and Stigg lets out a small sigh of pleasure as it crashes down on the roof of the cab. The metal screams as it buckles in the middle. The truck kneels forward and bounces on its suspension, springs wailing in protest.
Stigg carries on like this for a little while, until the truck’s cab is wonderfully concave. He takes a moment to admire the topography of the destroyed vehicle. He turns the tractor for a third time and aims the loader at the driver’s side door. He drops the hopper and noses it under the chassis. It is slow to lift the two ton truck, and the hydraulics scream, but lift it does, tilting it on the oversized tires. The truck seems to hang in the air for a split second. Then it careens over, bucking like a dying animal, the windows shattering with a sound like a crashing wave. Stigg has always found the crashing of waves to be a soothing sound, and he holds that in his mind as he gets out of the tractor and heads towards the pub, one hand rooting around inside his buckskin for his chequebook.
Flynn is not much worse for wear, and is still pontificating. He has evidently failed to notice that he has no audience, but he is still surprised when Stigg clears his throat.
Flynn has not noticed that Stigg has been absent for the past hour. His grin his yellow, and his eyes are bleary. “I didn’t mean no disrespect. I mean, Abby, she’s no looker, but she’s a nice lady. ”
Stigg nods solemnly, as though in accord. Yes, Abby is a nice lady. He, Stigg, wonders how a broody old log like him got so lucky. He lays the cheque down in front of Flynn, who touches it with one sweaty finger, perplexed. His face illuminates when he sees the amount.
“Jesus Christ, Stigg, what’s this for?”
Stigg doesn’t say, I have totalled your truck. He leaves, and as he leaves, he observes the spreading puddle of diesel fuel under the fallen behemoth. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thinks as he finishes lighting his cigarette and flicks the match away, the little flame streaking through the darkness. He turns away from the wave of heat as the puddle ignites, and follows the shadow that blooms from his feet and stretches out before him.
On the road home, Stigg has to pull aside for the emergency vehicles. He wonders if Abby is done with her meeting. He hopes not. He would like to get home before her. He hopes he can mine a smile or two before the officers arrive.