Substitute Dad

© 2006 - 2010 By Scribe1971 (scribe1971@hotmail.com)

Chapter 21

One of Those Days!

The next day started out well, but before long it turned into "one of those days!" I woke up, as I often did, with Josh curled tightly around me. He was still dead to the world and he looked so peaceful that I hated to wake him up. I reached down and gently shook his shoulder.

"Josh, it's time to get up," I said.

"Mmmph," was his unintelligible reply.

"Come kiddo, we've got to get a move on. We have a lot of miles to cover today."

He finally began to stir. He untangled himself from me and stretched out his arms before even opening his eyes. "Morning Dad," he mumbled and then hugged me tightly.

"Morning son," I replied and hugged him back and then ruffled his hair. We were both lying there being lazy, enjoying the close physical contact when an enormous crash of thunder made us both just about jump out of our skins.

"Holy shit that was loud!" Josh exclaimed.

"No kidding," I replied and scrambled out of bed. I went to the window and pulled back the curtains. Josh moved in beside me and we both stood there gape mouthed. The sky was an angry dark gray colour and the rain started coming down in sheets. Brilliant lightning flashed across the sky every few seconds and the rumble of thunder was nearly constant. "Oh boy, that's going to fun to drive through."

"Maybe we should stay here until it stops," Josh said hesitantly.

"Tell you what, we don't have to check out of the motel until 11:00, so let's watch a little TV and then go get some breakfast. Hopefully it'll clear up a bit by the time we're done." Even with a sturdy vehicle like the Jeep, I really didn't want to chance driving in such severe weather.

"Sounds like a plan, but I've got to drain the snake first," Josh replied with a grin before scurrying off to the bathroom.

I just laughed and shook my head before following along behind him. After taking care of our business, we climbed back onto my bed and switched on the TV.

"Tell you what," Josh said as he curled up against my side and rested his head on my shoulder. "You can watch all the TV you want, but I'm going back to sleep."

"Go for it kiddo. I need to have you well rested to keep me alert. We have a very long day ahead of us," I replied.

"You should get some more sleep too," Josh said with a touch of concern in his voice.

"I'll be ok bud. If I sleep too much, I'll just get a headache."

"You're not getting headaches again are you?"

"No, not like before anyway. Just the occasional migraine. Don't worry Joshy, I'm fine."

"You better be fine," Josh said in mock seriousness. "Promise me that you'll tell me if you start getting headaches like before."

"I promise. Now, get some rest bud."

"I will. I love you Dad," Josh said warmly.

"I love you too," I replied, wrapping my arm around him, pulling him in close. Amazingly, despite the repeated boom of thunder rolling overhead, Josh fell asleep within minutes. I turned on the TV and got to watch it for about ten minutes before another massive flash of lightning knocked out the power. With nothing else to do, I set the alarm clock in my cell phone to wake us up at 9:00 AM and I joined Josh in slumber.

A little over 90 minutes later, my cell phone began chirping away. It was, once again, time to get up. I carefully untangled myself from Josh and went over to the window. The power was still out in the motel and it was still pouring rain outside but it wasn't quite as bad. It was actually possible to see through the rain so I decided it was time to get moving.

I went back over to the bed and looked down at Josh. He was still sleeping peacefully and I could hear the familiar sound of his soft snoring. I reached down and gently brushed my hand over his brow and ruffled his hair. I decided to let him sleep while I had a quick shower.

Unfortunately, there were no windows in the bathroom so all the light I had was whatever would come in through the open bathroom door. Other than having a hard time telling the difference between the bottle of shampoo and the bottle of conditioner, it was surprisingly easy to shower in the dark. I had just climbed out and was about to turn off the taps when Josh made his way into the bathroom.

"My turn," he said in a surprisingly awake voice as he peeled off his briefs and climbed into the shower.

"Shampoo's on the left and conditioner's on the right," I told him.
"Thanks," Josh replied with a chuckle. "How long's the power been out?"

"It went out just after you fell asleep. I wound up sleeping too," I replied as I dried myself off and decided to skip trying to shave in the dark. By the time I finished brushing my teeth and flossing, Josh was climbing out of the shower.

"Where are we going to get breakfast with no electricity? Will restaurants be open?" Josh asked as he toweled off.

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure how wide an area is blacked out. That's one hell of a storm out there so you never know."

"It doesn't look as bad now," Josh replied.

"I hope it gets better still. This weather could really slow us down. Tomorrow is pretty much a rest and relaxation day in Winnipeg, but I'd still like to get there tonight." I stood behind Josh and took his towel from him and dried his short, spiky hair as he brushed his teeth. "We had better dig out our rain gear and keep it handy in case we have to stop and get out anywhere."

"Good idea. I know exactly where they are too. They're in the duffel bag on the floor of the back seat," Josh said after spitting out a mouthful of toothpaste. "I should call my mom today and see how she is."

"Good plan bud," I replied.

We both threw on our clothes and packed up our gear. It was still raining cats and dogs so I used the remote entry device on the Jeep to unlock the doors and then made a mad dash to retrieve our rain gear. Thankfully the Jeep was parked right outside the door and, despite the driving rain, I didn't get all that wet in the process.

Clad in our rain gear, we exited the motel room, tossed our overnight bags in the back and boarded the Jeep. The rain and the howling wind made for a miserable day. It was far colder than it should have been for June 27th and the visibility was poor. I was thankful that most others had decided to stay off the road.

The power appeared to be out in most of the city of Thunder Bay so it looked like our best bet was to tap into our rations as opposed to trying to find a restaurant which was open. "Well bud, how about we crack open a couple of those IMPs?" I asked.

"Cool," Josh replied enthusiastically. "I've really wanted to try one of those."

When most people think about military combat rations, they usually picture something which can only be called a pitiful excuse for food. The reality, at least as far as Canadian Forces IMPs are concerned, is quite the opposite. IMPs are actually quite tasty and provide quite a bit of filling, high energy food. "Check with Bitchin Betty to see if there's a rest stop coming up on the highway and we'll pull over and warm up a couple of breakfast IMPs."

"Sure Dad," Josh replied and went to work on querying the GPS to locate the nearest highway rest stop.

The truth be known, IMPs can be eaten cold and really aren't that bad that way. Each IMP main course item in a foil "boil in bag" pouch, a second foil pouch containing a desert item such as fruit along with a chocolate bar, crackers or cookies, a side dish such as rice, noodles or mashed potatoes (cereal in the case of a breakfast menu), powdered drink mix, coffee, tea, various condiments, a book of matches, some napkins, a spoon and some gum. My favorite breakfast meal packs were the franks and beans and the sausage and hashbrowns. Before leaving for the trip, I had picked up two cases of IMPs, one containing dinner/lunch menus and the other containing breakfast menus.

"Ok, it looks like there's a picnic area just off the highway about 5 kilometers from here," Josh said. "I hope they have a picnic shelter!"

"I hope so too, otherwise we'll end up firing up the camp stove and heating these things at the back door of the Jeep. Thank God we have good rain gear!"

The rain was not letting up in the least. I had the wipers running at full tilt and they were just barely keeping up. The wind was rocking the Jeep back and forth and buffeting us around on the road. I had the four-wheel-drive engaged and we were still occasionally hydroplaning. Sure enough, a couple of moments later, the GPS instructed me to take the exit off the highway. As we pulled into the rest area, we both breathed a sigh of relief when we saw the large picnic shelter.

"Looks like we get to stay dry," Josh said with a laugh.

"Looks that way kiddo."

I parked the Jeep right next to the shelter and we jumped out. The rain was coming down so hard that we had to grab a table near the center of the shelter to stay dry. I opened the back door of the Jeep and hauled out the Coleman stove and a bottle of propane while Josh dug out two breakfast IMPs.

"What's in those two, Josh?" I asked.

"They both say they contain 'Sausage and Hashbrowns'."

"Oh good - that's the best breakfast meal," I replied.

I fired up the stove and filled a pot with water "We probably could have held this out in the rain for a moment and saved a couple of bottles of water," I remarked dryly.

"Rainwater might not be good to drink," Josh replied.

"It's ok; these IMPs are sealed in foil packs. You can cook them in muddy water if you have to." I took one of the IMPs from Josh and tore open the bag. "Here's how you eat these," I said as I emptied the contents onto the picnic table. The foil packs containing the main course and the desert were packed in cardboard boxes. I tore open the larger cardboard box and removed the thick foil pouch containing the sausage and hashbrowns. "Take out your main course but don't rip up the box - you'll need it to hold the food when it comes out of the hot water," I instructed.

Josh followed suit and removed his foil pack and we stuck both of them into the boiling water. "These'll be done in about 10 minutes," I said. "If you want to eat something now, eat your crackers or your fruit pack. You've got some peanut butter and jam in little tubes."

"It looks like toothpaste!" Josh chuckled as he held up a small yellow tube labeled 'smooth peanut butter'. "How old is all this stuff anyway?" He asked.

"These are 1998 rations. They have a shelf-life of about five years."

"This is two year old food?" Josh asked skeptically.

We chowed down on our crackers and tore into our foil packs of sliced peaches. Just getting that small amount of food into our bellies was enough to brighten the day a little bit. I could see that Josh was really enjoying his meal. He even tore the fruit pack wide open and licked out the inside to get all the juice!

I went back to the Jeep and returned with four more bottles of water. I handed two to Josh. "Drink about half of that and then you can mix the powdered orange juice crystals up with the rest."

"Not quite as good as fresh juice, but it'll do," Josh lamented.

By the time we had our orange juice mixed up, the main course was ready. I used tongs to lift the foil packs out of the boiling water and slid them back into their cardboard boxes. I handed one to Josh and kept the other for myself.

"All you do is tear the top off the foil pack and then dig it," I told him as I showed him exactly how it's done. As soon as the packs were opened, the delicious smell of sausage and potatoes wafted out. Josh, forgetting that this was indeed two-year-old food, dug in like a starving man.

"Hey, this is pretty good," he said as he licked his lips and dug back in for another bite.

It wasn't exactly home cooked food but it was hot and it was filling and it gave us the boost that we needed. As Josh continued to eat, I dumped the pot of water and refilled the pot from two more bottles of water. "This is to make some tea and coffee."
The sausage and hashbrowns were gone in no time and we dug into our cookies as we waited for the water to boil. As we waited we sat on the picnic bench and watched as the storm continued to rage outside.

I was just pouring the boiling water into a couple of camp mugs when my cell phone began to ring. "Josh, mix up this coffee for us while I get that."

"Hello?" I said as I answered my phone.

"Tom, its Susan. How are you boys doing? "

"Really well, we're having a blast. There's a hell of a rainstorm going on right now so we stopped at a highway rest stop for some breakfast. How are things back in the big smoke?"

"Ok, but I have some bad news," Susan said hesitantly.

"Uh oh, what's up?" I asked in a weary tone.

"You just got served with a lawsuit," Susan replied.

"A WHAT?" I shouted into the phone starting Josh who immediate came over to me with a concerned look on his face.

"Josh's aunt and grandparents are suing you for wrongful death in the death of Joe Chambers," Susan said regretfully. "They are seeking $1 million in damages."

"You've got to be kidding me. That's madness! Wrongful death? The police ruled that it was a perfectly justifiable killing," I replied getting very angry, not with Susan but with Josh's father's family.

"I know. It's the stupidest thing I ever heard, but I thought I had better let you know. What are you going to do about it?" Susan asked. "Are you going to come home?"

"Not on your life. Those low-life's are not going to screw this trip up and I'm not going to be intimidated by them. We're continuing on and I'm going to get Andy on the case." I might have looked calm and serene on the outside but on the inside I was fuming. If Josh's evil relatives had been there at that moment, I would have cheerfully strangled all three of them.

"Dad, what's wrong?" Josh asked urgently. Of course, if anyone on the planet could see what was truly on my mind at that moment, it was Josh.

"It's ok Josh, I'll fill you in on the details in a moment," I said as calmly as I could.

"Thanks for calling Susan, let me know if anything else happens. Andy will probably send someone over to pick up the papers and get to work on the case. I'll let you know as soon as I know what's going on. Anyway, thanks again for calling. Here's Josh," I said as I handed the phone to Josh.

"Hi Mom. I miss you too. What's wrong? What's going on?" He asked urgently.

I saw the colour drain from Josh's face as Susan told him about the lawsuit.

"THEY CAN'T DO THAT. UNCLE JOE WAS GOING TO KILL ALL OF US AND THAT WOMAN TOO!" Josh yelled.

"I'm sorry. I'm not yelling at you. I just hate those people," Josh continued in a resigned tone. I could only hear his half of the conversation but I could guess what was being said.

After telling Susan about the trip so far, he said goodbye and hung up. I was sitting at the picnic table and I was seething.

"Dad?" Josh said hesitantly as he came over and sat down beside me. "Dad, are you ok?" He picked up a cup of coffee and handed it to me and then wrapped his arm around my shoulders.

"I'm ok Joshy, I'm just furious."

"I know, I can tell. I hate them. They're just greedy and they want to make some money out of this. I'm sorry." Josh said softly.

"You're sorry? Josh, you don't have anything to be sorry for," I said incredulously.

"Yes I do. It's all my fault. You wouldn't know those people if it wasn't for me."

"Josh don't say that. Don't you dare say that. This has nothing to do with you and it isn't your fault. I'd put up with 100 people like that if it meant being with you. You aren't like them."

"I know, but this all started because you were so nice to me. Something bad is happening to you because of that," Josh said with a sniffle. "You don't deserve to have anything else bad happen to you."

I put my cup of coffee down and pulled Josh into a hug. "Josh, that's nonsense. First of all this is happening because those people who USED to be your family are a bunch of low-life sleaze balls. Second, had I not been in your life and had I not been so nice to you, we wouldn't be right here right now and you'd still be stuck with dealing with those people yourself. Third, this is a load of nonsense and it will be thrown out by the judge without a second's hesitation."
Josh seemed to brighten up a bit. "Andy will fix it, eh?" He asked with a mischievous grin.

"Either Andy or a lawyer that he recommends," I replied.

I tried my best to hide it from Josh, but this whole thing had gone and re-opened some of the wounds left by the shooting. I found myself once again having to confront the fact that I had killed a man and now, to make matters worse, someone was claiming that I was wrong for doing it. I knew it was nonsense, but I felt a weight return to my shoulders. As much as I wanted to hide it from Josh, it took all of two minutes for him to figure it out.

I was in the process of stowing the camp stove when Josh grasped my arm and turned me to face him. "This is making you think about the shooting again, isn't it?" He asked gently.

"Yeah, just when I was beginning to think I was over it, those bastards go and dredge it all up again," I replied in a distant tone.

"Try not to let it get to you. We're having far too good a time on this trip and we're going to see Mark and Bryan in a couple of weeks. What can I do to cheer you up?" Josh asked earnestly.

I looked into those striking eyes of his and gently touched his cheek. "Do what you normally do, Joshy. That's all. That's all the help I ever really need," I replied.

As Josh finished cleaning up after our breakfast, I called camp Tonawonka and got Andy on the phone. He was, as I expected, wide awake after his morning run and was sitting in the office getting ready to start the day. I told him what I knew and he was flabbergasted.

"You've got to be fucking kidding me," he exclaimed. "What a rotten bunch of no-good bastards. I'll make some calls and get someone on this. I'm telling you right now that this is a joke and that we'll have no trouble getting it thrown out. Not only that, we can probably file a counter claim against them for abuse of process and harassment. We might even be able to get their lawyer in hot water for filing a frivolous lawsuit."

I could tell that Andy was as angry as I was. It was almost as personal for him as it was for me. Andy saw it as a threat against his 'little brother' and he wasn't going to stand for it. "Thanks bro, I figured that much but hearing it from someone who knows what he's doing makes it real," I replied.

"Don't let it worry you. Get on with your trip and have a great time. We have plenty of time to respond to this. I'll call Susan and arrange to have someone pickup the papers and I know just the lawyer to handle the case. He's a professor of mine and he's one of your biggest fans. His sister was a convenience store clerk who was killed by an armed robber. I wouldn't be surprised if he'd take the case pro-bono. I suspect it'll be so clear cut that I could handle it myself, but I don't want to take any chances," Andy said matter of factly.

"Maybe you can take it and have this lawyer guide you."

"I doubt that he'd take second chair to a law student, but he'll probably let me take second chair to him," Andy replied with a laugh.

We spoke for a few more minutes before saying our goodbyes and hanging up.

"What did Andy say?" Josh asked after he finished re-loading the Jeep.

"Pretty much what you said, bud. He said not to let it get to me and not to worry. He's on the case." I smiled wanly and ruffled Josh's hair.

"Andy's a good guy and he really loves you," Josh said firmly. "He'll take care of it. Let's get on with out trip and forget all about Aunt Janet and my grandparents," Josh said in a determined tone.

"He said that too," I replied with a grin.

"Smart guy," Josh said and flashed his heart-melting smile.

We got back into the Jeep and resumed our trip. The driving was tough and the visibility was worse than it was during a blizzard, but we pushed on. I was a little quieter than usual, but Josh did his best to keep my spirits up and to lighten the mood. We drove on through the lunch hour and ate some of the beef jerky, fruit and granola bars which we had brought along for the trip. By the time we reached Dryden at around 2:30 in the afternoon, I had almost allowed myself to forget about the lawsuit and the demons leftover from the shooting had once again retreated into the dark corners of my mind.

As we neared the town of Kenora, the weather began to break. We could see the sun beginning to break through the thick clouds high above the western horizon. When we reached Kenora at around 5:00 that afternoon, we gassed up the Jeep and stopped for dinner. We ended up eating at a little diner just off the Trans-Canada highway. While we had enjoyed a good breakfast, we had basically skipped lunch and we were both ravenous. Amazingly, we found an all-you-can-eat Chinese food buffet. It wasn't quite the Mandarin, but it fit the bill.

 After filling our bellies, we got back into the Jeep and made the final push out of Ontario. Approximately 40 minutes after leaving Kenora, we finally reached Manitoba. We crossed the provincial boundary and, at the same time, crossed our first time zone. We pulled into the visitor centre located just inside the province of Manitoba and we set our watches ahead by an hour. We paid a quick visit to the visitor centre to use the facilities, grab some brochures and take some photos before we pressed on to our final destination for that day, the city of Winnipeg.

"It's amazing, you know?" Josh asked.

"What's amazing?" I replied.

"Just how big this country really is. I was looking at the trip counter on the GPS and it took 23 hours of driving just to get from home to the Manitoba border. You can drive right across most countries in less time than that and we've barely made a dent in our trip."

The wonder was evident in Josh's voice. I also noticed a slight crack in his voice as he spoke and it made me smile.

"What?" he asked.

"You didn't hear it?" I asked.

"Hear what?"

"Your voice, it's cracking a bit," I replied. "It's another sign that you're growing up."

Josh beamed at me. "Cool! I wonder what I'll sound like when my voice finishes changing."

"Probably a lot like you do now, only deeper. For a while, as your voice changes, you never know how it'll come out. It'll come out in all sorts of weird ways."

"That'll be embarrassing," Josh said.

"Not at all bud. All boys go through it. It's just part of growing up."

Approximately two hours after leaving the visitor centre, we arrived in the city of Winnipeg. Winnipeg is a beautiful city with plenty of sights to see. We planned on spending the next day exploring the city and relaxing. It was to be one of our regularly scheduled rest and relaxation days where we wouldn't drive very far and we'd do fun 'tourist' stuff. That evening, we had only one goal, get to the hotel, get a hot shower and relax. Because it was to be an R & R day, I had booked us into a nicer hotel located right downtown. We were staying in the Holiday Inn and we had a nice room win an en suite hot tub. We both planned on having a really good soak.

The GPS guided us perfectly to the hotel and by the time we were checked into our room, we were both practically zombies. Thankfully, Josh was a little livelier than I was and he was able to carry our bags and guide me to our room on the 12th floor.

Josh used the keycard to unlock the door and let us into the room. "Lets get in the hot tub and I'll give you a massage," Josh said.

"Sounds like a plan kiddo," I replied.

I turned on the Jacuzzi as Josh deposited our overnight bags. We both stripped right down and climbed into the warm, soothing water. We both sat there and relished the feeling of the bubbling hot water working magic on our tired bodies. I leaned back and closed my eyes.

"Don't fall asleep Dad, I don't think I can lift you out," Josh said with a chuckle. "Scoot forward," Josh instructed.

I did as he directed and he maneuvered himself in behind me and began to work his magic on my neck and shoulders. "Oh man, I haven't felt this relaxed before in my life," I said in a sleepy tone.

"I'm glad. Today was a tough day and it just get's easier from here on."

"It sure does. Just think, we'll be in Alberta in a few days and not long after that, we'll meet up with Mark and Bryan." As far as Josh knew, our plan was to do a tour of Alberta which would include a three day stay at Dinosaur Provincial Park near Drumheller, a few days in Edmonton, then a week exploring Jasper and Banff National Parks before heading to Calgary for a few days and meeting up with Mark and Bryan.

We were going to do such a tour, but what Josh didn't know was that I had plotted with Bryan to meet up with him and Mark much sooner than originally planned. I was looking forward to seeing Mark again and I really wanted to meet Bryan.

Bryan had been able to take all three weeks of his holidays and he and Mark were going to join us for the Alberta part of the trip as well as the Ottawa excursion to receive our medals. We were also going to spend several days together in the capitol exploring the many historic sites.

Josh finished his massage by giving me a firm hug. "Feel better," he asked.

"Much better," I replied. "Now it's your turn. Switch places," I told him.

Josh and I reversed our positions and I did my best to give him as soothing and loving a neck and shoulder rub as he had given me. He felt like clay in my hands. When I was done, he was as relaxed as I was and he leaned back into me. I wrapped my arms around him leaned my head on his shoulder. We sat that way for another ten minutes.

"I guess we had better get out before we shrivel up like prunes," I said.

Josh giggled sweetly. "Well look like those California raisin characters!"

We climbed out of the hot tub, dried ourselves off and we both put on a clean pair of briefs before stretching out on one of the spacious beds and turned on the TV. We spent the next couple of hours watching "True Lies" starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis. It was an entertaining action movie which we both enjoyed. Suddenly Josh's belly let out a mighty rumble.

"I'm hungry again," Josh announced. "How about you?"

Surprisingly, I actually was hungry once again. "Come to think of it, I could eat again."

Josh reached over to the small night table and retrieved a room service menu. "Let's order room-service, it'll be my treat," Josh said.

"Ooh, in that case, I'll have the lobster and fillet mignon," I said with a wink.

"You can if you want," Josh replied seriously.

"I was kidding. Let's have some nice finger food. Wings or pizza would be nice."

"They have both. Let's get a medium pizza, 30 wings and some Cokes to drink."

"Works for me bud."

The time in the hot tub had both relaxed and rejuvenated us and we needed to refuel our bodies. When our order was delivered about 30 minutes later, it didn't take us long to devour the pizza and the mess of wings. Eating that spread of food had the same effect as a sleeping pill and before long we were both yawning and ready to hit the hay.

We knew that we could sleep in the next day and we wanted to take every advantage of that opportunity. The motel beds were large and very comfortable and after we turned out the lights and shut off the TV, Josh and I climbed into bed and cuddled up together. It didn't take long for us both to drift off into a deep peaceful sleep. Our trip had reached its first major milestone. We had made it out of Ontario and the vast prairies lay before us. Beyond the prairies lay the Rocky Mountains and then the Pacific Ocean. From that point onward, the driving would be easier and there would be plenty to see and do.

It was Josh's first trip outside of Ontario and it was just the start. We had driven almost 2,000 kilometers so far and there were thousands more still ahead. We had a vast country to explore and we had two months to do it.


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