I awoke bright and early the next morning and lay there thinking about the dream that I’d had. It was a little odd and more than a bit scary. Josh was visibly older than he had been in my other dreams of the future and the scenery was not recognizable. It seemed hot and dusty and I recall seeing palm trees in the distance. Ever the realist, I rejected the idea of clairvoyance and paid it little mind.
Josh was still fast asleep, but Brutus was wide awake. Before I even opened my eyes, I could feel his cold, wet nose poking me in the face in between the puppy kisses.
“Want to go for a walk Brutus?” I whispered.
He promptly sat down, cocked his head from side to side and frantically wagged his tail. I took that as a yes. I quickly threw on some clothes and then took Brutus outside to do his business.
It was still early and the sun was just peaking over the eastern horizon, but it was already warm and comfortable. It was going to be a very pleasant day for driving. After breakfast, our first order of the day was to head to Burnaby to visit Shelly and her family. We planned on spending the night there and then heading back to West Vancouver and then taking the ferry over to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. We’d spend the day in and around Victoria and then we’d cross back to the mainland and begin the journey north.
While visiting Vancouver, I wanted to make a point of taking Josh to the lower East Side. It’s one of the grimmest areas of Canada. It’s plagued with drugs and prostitutes, many of them underage. I wanted Josh to see what lay under the surface in some of the large affluent cities. The goal of the trip wasn’t just to show Josh the bright side of the country, but also the darker things.
Josh was still snoring when I returned with Brutus. After feeding the rapidly growing puppy, I took a quick shower and then dressed for the day. It was getting close to 8:00 AM by the time I was done, so I decided to wake Josh. Actually, I decided to let Brutus wake Josh.
“Brutus, go see Josh,” I whispered to the puppy.
Brutus bounded off with a happy bark and then jumped up on the bed with Josh. Josh was lying flat on his back and Brutus hopped on his chest and began to madly lick his face. Within seconds, Brutus’ efforts had the desired effect and I could hear Josh weakly protesting as he began to wake up.
“Blech, yuck….. Brutus!” Josh protested
I just stood there laughing at the innocence of a big happy puppy and his master. Josh kept turning his head from side to side trying to escape from Brutus’s tongue, but Brutus kept right with him. Brutus’ tail was wagging so fast that I half expected him to take off like a helicopter.
“Want a treat Brutus?” Josh finally managed to say.
Brutus jumped down in an instant and ran over to where the suitcases were; knowing that his doggie treats were inside.
“You put him up to that didn’t you?” Josh asked yawning, as he rummaged through his suitcase for the doggie cookies.
“Who me?” I asked pretending to be innocent. “I would never do something like that,” I pleaded.
“Oh yeah?” Josh said and then launched himself at me. Pretty soon we were wrestling like maniacs on the bed. Even Brutus got into the act and started prancing around and barking at both of us.
It took me longer than usual to get Josh pinned. He was definitely getting bigger and stronger all the time.
“You’ll be as tall as me by this time next year bud,” I said and ruffled his hair. “I’ll bet you’ll be over six feet tall by the time you’re my age.”
“Really? That’ll be cool.”
“Keep exercising and working out and you’ll be built like a tank too,” I replied.
“You mean like Ah-nold?” Josh asked in a barely passable Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation.
“You never know bud,” I said and hugged him. “You better go grab a shower and get ready. I’m going to start loading the Jeep. We need to grab some breakfast and then swing by a laundromat and wash our clothes before we head off to Shelly’s place.”
“Mmmm food,” Josh said and licked his lips.
Half an hour later, we were back in the Jeep heading over to the local White Spot restaurant for breakfast. White Spot is another of those wonderful restaurant chains that only exists in the western portion of the country. Their menu was comparable to Humpty’s and their burgers simply cannot be beat, but this morning we gorged ourselves with the breakfast menu.
“So bud, after we visit with the Masons and then Vancouver Island, we’re heading into the north,” I remarked.
“I can’t wait. It’ll bet it’ll amazing,” Josh said enthusiastically.
“It will be great, but we need to keep our wits about us. Up there, we’ll be as good as all alone at certain points. We need to pay close attention to every detail and not make any mistakes.”
“Keep an eye on how the Jeep’s running, make sure we don’t run out of gas, water or food; right?”
“Yeah, we need to do all those things, but we also need to keep an eye on road conditions, weather, and wildlife.”
“Wildlife?” Josh asked.
“Yeah, when we camp out, we need to be very aware of our surroundings AND we need to take precautions against bears and things. We need to keep all food out of the tent and we need to keep an eye on Brutus. Most wild animals will go the other way if they sense us, but if a bear or something gets curious, Brutus will probably be our best early warning. He’ll probably sense wild animals long before we will.”
“Kind of a four legged burglar alarm, eh?”
“Pretty much. Do you remember all the safety stuff that I taught you about firearms?”
“Yeah, I memorized that stuff,” Josh replied.
“Good; because up in the territories, we’re going to sleep with the rifles in our tent and whenever we go into the bush, we’ll be taking the rifles with us. I’ll take the .308 and you’ll carry the .22.”
“Cool!” Josh exclaimed.
After breakfast, we located a local laundromat and got our clothes washed and dried. Before taking the short drive to Burnaby, we visited the local mall and again restocked our supplies for the drive north. We also hit the local Canadian Tire store and purchased a couple of additional boxes of .308 Winchester ammunition and a brick of 500 rounds of .22 ammo.
Before long, we were driving up the Mason’s driveway. I’d barely parked the Jeep when the front door flew open and Shelly, followed closely by her brother Eddie ran towards us. I could see that Shelly had a lot more colour in her face than she had before and obviously had more energy. She was dressed in a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and a baseball cap. Debbie and Trevor weren’t far behind their excited kids.
Josh opened his door and stepped out with Brutus right at his heels. “Happy Birthday Shelly!” he said with a big heart warming smile.
Shelly threw her arms around him and gave him a big hug just before she noticed Brutus.
“Who’s that?” Shelly asked.
“His name’s Brutus. We found him back in Alberta. He has a sister named Daisy. She stayed with Mark and Bryan.”
“Oh he’s so cute!” Shelly said and then knelt down beside the puppy.
Brutus, who was on his best behavior, sat down promptly, and offered up his paw for Shelly to shake.
“He’s smart too!” Shelly said enthusiastically.
“What kind of dog is he?” Eddie asked.
“The vet said he’s part German Shepherd and part Black Lab,” Josh replied.
“He’s adorable,” Debbie said as she arrived at the side of the Jeep.
“You don’t mind having him around do you?” I asked.
“Hell no,” Trevor replied. “He looks like a friendly little critter and the kids seen to love him.”
“Why don’t you boys grab your bags and we’ll get you settled into the guest room, and then we’ll have some lunch before the party guests arrive,” Debbie suggested.
“Sounds good. I know Josh will never turn down food,” I chuckled.
“Eddie’s the same way. I can’t believe how much boys eat,” Debbie replied.
Josh and I grabbed our overnight bags along with Brutus’ stuff and we followed the Masons into the house. Their house was an immaculate two-story home with a double car garage located at the end of a cul-de-sac and featured an expansive lawn with plenty of tree cover.
“The guest room is at the top of the stairs, at the end of the hall on the right,” Trevor said.
“Eddie, why don’t you go show them,” Debbie suggested.
Eddie happily obliged and scampered up the stairs in front of Josh and me. He led us to a small green painted room with a single king sized bed, a dresser and a desk.
“Will you guys be OK here?” Debbie asked from the doorway as Josh and I put away clean clothes from the laundromat.
“We’ll be just fine. Thanks,” I replied.
“I’m glad. When you’re done, come on out to the back yard. Trevor has some burgers cooking on the barbecue.”
“I could go for some burgers right about now,” Josh announced.
In the last hour of peace before Shelly’s friends arrived for her birthday party, the six of us dined on hamburgers and homemade potato salad. When we finished eating, Josh Shelly, Eddie, and Brutus went and played in the back yard giving me a chance to talk to Debbie and Trevor.
“Shelly’s looking better,” I observed.
“We can’t believe the change in her. Since the trip to Alberta and meeting Josh, we’ve been seeing signs of her old self,” Debbie said softly.
“She isn’t out of the woods yet,” Trevor remarked. “But the doctors are giving us hope.”
“You know what the pediatric oncologist said?” Debbie asked.
“He said that the science of this disease is pretty straight forward and, unfortunately, doesn’t offer much hope. He also said that in his experience, the human spirit, when properly motivated, regularly beats the science.”
“I hope this is one of those cases,” I said with a wan smile.
“I can’t help but think that it’s Josh who is somehow giving Shelly that motivation,” Debbie said.
“He does tend to have a strong affect on people; myself included,” I said thoughtfully. “There’s something about him that I just can’t place.”
“Shelly is madly in love with him,” Trevor chuckled.
“Well, I know that Josh has a real soft spot in his heart for her too.” I commented. “I know he’s encouraged by her devotion to life and in the fullness of time, I think they’ll be a good support for one another.”
I watched as Debbie’s brow furrowed and she spoke hesitantly. “Tom . . . that’s very nice of you to say, but you live in Toronto . . . and the geography will make a big difference in how often they can see each other.”
“Well,” I grinned at the warmth of my thoughts, “Things have kinda changed since we saw you in Alberta. Bryan, Mark, Josh, and myself; all want Josh and I to move to Calgary.... we’re hoping in about thirty months when Josh turns sixteen. We’d make it sooner if we could, but right now, Josh needs the influence of his mother as well.”
Debbie’s smile grew into a half laugh, half giggle. “Tom that’s wonderful! Shelly will be thrilled that he’ll be closer; we all will.”
Trevor’s eyes and face revealed the same emotion. “Tom, that is good news. My God, that’s only a day’s drive away.” He paused for a moment, raised his chin, and stared at me. “The four of you are... quite close ....?”
“Yes Trevor, we are,” I said seriously, thinking about the motive of his question. Then with a slight smile, I added, “as you realize from the medal ceremony, we have quite a history together. Bryan and Mark had to leave their home in Toronto because of an abusive father. Although they’re brothers, Bryan has become a dad to Mark as I have to Josh. Both boys are at that stage in their lives where they need gentle guidance and support as they’re reaching adulthood, and as you’ve seen, both boys have made it easy for us.” I paused for a moment, wondering if I should drop the subject there, but decided to let the cards fall where they may, hoping that I wouldn’t jeopardize any relationship between Josh and Shelly. As my chest tightened, all I could do was blurt it out, “Bryan is gay, I’m basically bisexual and we’re very much in love. I do hope that doesn’t shock your sensibilities, but it’s who we are and we realize we didn’t have a choice in the matter. It would’ve been nice if Bryan’s father had felt the same way.”
“You didn’t shock our sensibilities at all,” Trevor smiled warmly. “We rather suspected as much and I’m glad that you’re being honest with yourself and that you trusted us enough to tell us. It does beg the question though; are Josh and Mark comfortable with your relationship with Bryan?”
Before I answered, a long heavy sigh released the tension from my chest because of their acceptance. “On that trip through Alberta,” I couldn’t keep from laughing from relief and at the memory, “they did all they could to push us together. Mark and Josh honestly wanted our relationship to happen and I’m happy to say that everyone in my family is in agreement with them.”
“Tom, I’m very happy for you and Bryan too, of course.” Debbie said smiling. “I should explain that Trevor and I have researched a lot about what’s it like for a gay teenager growing up and although it’ll be a few years before Eddie will know for himself, we thought as all responsible parents should, we’d have to be ready with the right answers. In part, we gained this insight from a few gay people that Trevor works with. Tolerance is not the word to use in a confrontation between gay and straight; acceptance and consideration for another person’s right to be themselves without bringing harm to anyone, is the better solution. Pardon me for prying, but was there any sexual abuse in Bryan’s home with his father?”
“No,” I replied, “Thank God, but there was physical beatings and verbal abuse. Now though, their father’s suffering for it with loneliness, and Bryan and Mark are making a happy life for themselves...” but then I added as a point of clarification, “...each with their own relationships.”
“From watching the medal presentation in Ottawa,” Trevor said, “Brian has every right to be proud of Mark, just as you must be proud of Josh.”
“PROUD!” I exclaimed. “You have no idea!” I went on to tell them about the surprise the three of us had in Gatineau, Quebec, when Josh came to our rescue with his bilingual abilities.
Trevor sort of closed the subject as he looked out in the yard watching the kids playing. “Tom, I think you’re right, they will be good support for each other.”
While the kids and Brutus continued having fun in the back yard, we cleared away the lunch dishes and prepared for Shelly’s birthday party. Before we knew it, her friends began to arrive and I began to feel a little sorry for Josh. By the time all of Shelly’s guests arrived, with the exception of Eddie, Josh was the only boy in a crowd of about ten girls between the age of ten and twelve. More than a few of Shelly’s guests were quite obviously gaga over Josh, but he was a good sport about it and he took it all in stride.
The highlight of the party came after dinner when Shelly was presented with her birthday cake and gifts. Debbie, who was a very talented cake decorator had created a cake in the shape of a horse and had used coloured icing to create a surprising amount of detail. The cake was a hit with all the guests but the best was yet to come.
Shelly began opening her gifts and she received quite an array of clothing, CDs and books. Her parents and brother gave her a new bicycle. She opened Josh’s gift last. When she opened the box, she just stared at it for a moment without saying a word. She then reached into the box and opened the locket to look at the photo inside. After a couple of seconds, she placed the locket on the table, turned to Josh, catching him totally off guard; she placed a kiss right on his lips.
Josh turned about 15 shades of red and then smiled sheepishly. Evidently he had enjoyed his first kiss.
“Thank you Josh, I’ll never take this off,” Shelly said enthusiastically as she put the locket around her neck.
“You’re welcome,” he managed to croak out.
“Oh Josh, that’s beautiful,” Debbie said and reached across the table to gently squeeze his hand.
Shelly’s friends gathered around her and admired her beautiful new locket. I swore that at that moment, Shelly looked healthier and happier than I had ever seen her. He cheeks had a wonderful rosy colour to them and her eyes were virtually sparkling. I reached my arm over and placed it around Josh’s shoulders. When he looked at me, I winked at him and smiled warmly. It was all the communications that we needed between us.
Brutus seemed to be really enjoying the party too. Shelly and all her guests had been fawning all over him and he was in puppy heaven. From the looks of his belly, I was pretty certain that he had received more than his fill of table scraps compliments of Shelly’s guests.
By the time the party wore down and the guests began to leave, it was obvious that the day had taken its toll on Shelly. She still looked radiantly happy, but she was obviously tired out. After kissing her parents and hugging Josh, she headed off to bed. I was actually amazed, just a couple of weeks earlier, she never would have had the energy to enjoy such a birthday bash.
Eddie was pretty tired too and he headed off to bed as well after helping his parents, Josh and me clean up the mess. Josh, Shelly’s parents and I sat down in the living room
“Josh, that was a wonderful gift that you gave Shelly,” Debbie said. “I haven’t seen her so happy in a very long time.”
“I knew it was perfect for her as soon as I saw it,” he replied. Josh went on to tell Debbie and Trevor all about the locket and where he got it.
“You’re a remarkable young man Josh. You have no idea how much you’re helping Shelly. Since she met you, she’s turned around 100%,” Trevor said.
“I told you earlier that the doctors are giving us some hope. They had previously said that it wasn’t possible or even worthwhile to give her anymore chemotherapy. Since she’s doing so much better, they’re willing to try a new, experimental chemo drug that they think might help her.”
“That’s great,” Josh said.
“That’s wonderful news,” I added.
“It is, but if it shows promise, she’ll probably need a couple of rounds of treatment and the doctors said we’ll need to convince the province to fully fund it. Normally, they don’t fully fund experimental treatments.”
I could tell what Josh was thinking before he said a word.
“I’ll bet I can help with that. It’s sometimes embarrassing, but people recognize me all over the place these days and maybe I can use that somehow. I’m going to be on the Air Farce show sometime after we get home. Maybe I can do something there too.”
“I bet you probably could too. Josh, I think you could sell ice to Eskimos,” Debbie laughed. “Every little bit will help.”
Josh was the next to turn in for the night about an hour later. We had a big day ahead of us and we were both looking forward to the upcoming ferry ride to Vancouver Island. Before Josh headed up to bed, he got his customary hug from me and a very heartfelt hug from both Debbie and Trevor.
“That boy is going far,” Trevor remarked after Josh headed upstairs.
“I agree. I can’t place it but I somehow feel ‘touched’ when I’m around him. I don’t know what the world has in store for Josh, but he’s going to take the tiger by the tail and hold the world in the palm of his hand,” Debbie added.
“I get the same feeling. Since he adopted me, I’ve felt like my life has a new purpose and a new direction.”
After watching the 11:00 news, the Masons and I bid each other goodnight and headed off to bed. Before retiring to the guest room, I went outside to the back yard with Brutus to give him a chance to do his business for the night. When he was done, I entered the guest room and undressed as quietly as I could so as not to disturb Josh. Josh was lying on his side, snoring away. I climbed in next to him and it didn’t take him long to roll over and snuggle up to me.
My last thoughts of the day came as relief and happiness. I’d taken a big risk in coming out to the Mason’s that afternoon. If it turned out that they were homophobic, how would it have affected Josh and Shelly, or Josh and I? The ramifications of that happening would have been endless. However the outcome had made me happy, we could add another family to our set of close friends, thanks to Josh. Within minutes, I was sound asleep.
The next morning, Josh and I joined the Masons for a large, sit down breakfast before loading up the Jeep and preparing to depart for Vancouver. We both wished that we could have spent more time with the Masons, but we had a pretty tight schedule to keep with our trip being nearly half complete.
When we were finally ready to leave, it was an emotional scene. Debbie, Trevor, and Eddie all said their goodbyes to Josh and me and there were hugs all around. I lifted Shelly up and kissed her lightly on the cheek. “Take care Shelly and keep getting better,” I said.
“I will,” she said and smiled broadly then hugged me tightly.
Josh and Shelly then hugged each other tightly and exchanged a brief kiss.
“I love you Josh,” I heard Shelly say.
“I love you too Shelly,” Josh replied.
After Brutus received a last round of pats and belly scratches, the three of us boarded the Jeep and headed back towards the coast.
“You really made Shelly happy Joshy,” I said as we entered the highway.
“I know. She really loved the locket. Dad, I think I really do love her,” Josh replied. “How do I know for sure?”
“That’s a tough one bud. You just know. Listen to your heart kiddo,” I said. “At the end of each day, reflect on where your thoughts of Shelly have been. In time, your thoughts and concerns will tell you. Josh, yesterday I really stepped out on a limb. I told Debbie and Trevor that Bryan and I are a gay couple. Before I told them, I was really scared of what might have happened between you and Shelly if they were a little homophobic. In the end it was OK, they completely understood; in fact, they had already suspected.”
Josh laughed. “Dad, you had nothing to worry about. I’d already told Shelly and she thought it was nice. I’d asked her about what her mom and dad might think and she told me they probably wouldn’t care. I’m sure if they weren’t cool with it though, Shelly and I could have straightened them out.”
“Oh really Mr. Chambers,” I chided as he continued grinning at me, “and just how would you have done that?”
Josh started laughing again, “Charm dad, just a touch of charm.” His laughter was contagious, as was his infectious charm. Once we settled down, Josh asked, “Where are we off to now?”
“Well son, we’ll see the sights in Vancouver and then tomorrow we’ll head over to Vancouver Island.”
As I Josh and I continued to talk about our day’s destination, I glanced into my rearview mirror and noticed a large truck coming up behind us at a pretty good clip. He was pretty far back, but gaining quickly.
“Look at this jerk,” I said to Josh and pointed to the rear of the Jeep.
“Holy crap he’s going fast,” Josh observed.
I glanced at my speedometer and saw that we were doing about 120 km/h and the truck was still gaining rapidly on us.
“Hold on Josh!” I shouted as the truck raced for our rear bumper and then swerved into the next lane with only seconds and inches to spare. The blast of displaced air slammed the Jeep and I felt it begin to slide onto the gravel shoulder. I hammered the brakes and felt the ABS pulse back against my foot and I fought for steering control. After a couple of fish tails, I managed to get back onto the centre of my lane.
“Jesus H. Christ!” I shouted. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. That was pretty scary,” Josh remarked.
“I swear I’ll kill that bastard if I ever encounter him again.” Over my years of driving, I’d seen young drivers perform foolish acts in their vehicles, but I’d never been a victim of their aggressive manners.
“It was a red cab with blue markings,” Josh informed me.
“Did you notice a name on the trailer?”
“No, it was going too fast. I’d recognize that cab anywhere though.”
At that moment, I would have cheerfully strangled the driver who had nearly run us off the road. The guy was obviously a maniac who, in all likelihood was going to get someone killed.
“I wish we’d managed to get the plate number. The Mounties would have had a thing or two to say to that asshole,” I muttered in disgust.
Before long, we arrived in Vancouver and began our whirlwind tour. We parked the Jeep and began our exploration at BC Place stadium, the home of the BC Lions CFL team. After that, we took a tour of GM Place, the home of the Vancouver Canucks NHL team. From there, we visited Vancouver Library Square that bares a striking resemblance to the Roman Coliseum and then took a walking tour along Burrard Street through the downtown core.
“This is a beautiful city,” Josh remarked.
“Yeah, it’s a whole different pace from what we experience in Toronto. It seems a whole lot more relaxed.”
“The view of the mountains is amazing too. Good thing they didn’t block it out with a whole lot of big buildings.”
“I think they planned it that way. I’m pretty sure that I read somewhere that they limited the height of downtown buildings so as not to obstruct the view of the mountains.”
“Good thinking,” Josh smiled.
“How about we catch a ride on the Sky Train to get back to the Jeep,” I suggested.
“What’s the sky train?” Josh asked.
“It’s kind of like a subway but it’s above ground. Part of it crosses the Fraser River on a huge suspension bridge.”
“That sounds like fun.”
We boarded the Sky Train and rode back to the Stadium-Chinatown station and retrieved the Jeep. From there, we drove to the west side of the downtown core and soon found ourselves on Sunset beach.
“Wow, look at this place!” Josh exclaimed.
Sunset beach is a breathtakingly beautiful expanse of sandy beach located close to the famed Burrard Street Bridge in downtown Vancouver. It’s staffed with lifeguards throughout the summer months and offers a wide variety of concession stands and other facilities. It’s crisscrossed with bike, walking, and inline skating paths, some of which lead up to Stanley Park, our next destination.
Before heading to Stanley Park, we parked the Jeep and got out to walk around and to give Brutus some exercise.
“I’m hungry,” Josh announced. “Let’s grab some hotdogs over at that stand.”
“That sounds good,” I replied and we walked over to a hotdog cart just beyond the parking area. I ordered a sausage on a bun for myself, while Josh ordered two jumbo hotdogs with all the toppings. We both had iced tea to drink.
With Brutus in tow, we began to walk down the beach while eating our lunch. By the time we finished eating, we had arrived at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre that features an Olympic sized pool. Just beyond it, there was a leash free zone where dogs were allowed to run free and play with other dogs.
“We have to take Brutus over there,” Josh said.
“I’ll bet he’ll get a kick out of that.”
We headed to the leash free zone and as we approached, Brutus began to get excited. He could see and hear all the other dogs and he was anxious to get to play with them. We made our way through the gate and then we unsnapped Brutus’s leash. The little dog took off like a shot and went tearing after a large golden retriever who was after a Frisbee thrown by his master. It was pretty funny listening to his high pitched bark as he playfully chased bigger dogs all over the place.
It was a good thing that adult dogs generally have good tolerance for puppies because I’m sure that some of them would have been pretty annoyed with Brutus’ juvenile antics. Brutus was quite a real hit with the other dog owners who were there. When he wasn’t racing around at something near the speed of light, he was busy showing off for the other dog owners. He was quite the little ham too. He would sit and offer to shake a paw and roll over on his back so people could scratch his belly. People just loved him.
When Brutus began to run out of steam, we reattached his leash and made our way back to the Jeep. The little dog had definitely enjoyed being able to play with other dogs for a change and he’d tired himself out. As soon as he climbed into the Jeep, he curled up on the back seat and went right to sleep.
We drove the short distance to Stanley Park and began what would be an abbreviated exploration. It was one of those places that we wished we had more time to check out. Unfortunately, our tight schedule only allowed us a few hours to explore it.
We entered the park and followed North Lagoon Drive past the Vancouver Aquarium towards Brockton Point and the world famous totem poles. The totem poles are the most often visited tourist attraction in British Columbia. The towering structures were ornately carved and beautifully painted. The poles are actually exact replicas of originals that had been carved more than one hundred years earlier. The originals had been displayed until the elements began to take their toll on them. Eventually, they were moved to museums and replaced with the replicas.
We parked the Jeep and got out to shoot photos and video footage of the poles before heading to the famous Sea Wall. The Sea Wall is almost 9 km long and completely surrounds the park. There is a trail, known as the Sea Wall Walk that follows the sea wall all the way around the park but we were pretty worn out from our earlier walking tour and we only managed to walk about a kilometre of it before turning back. Even Brutus was exhausted and Josh ended up carrying him most of the way.
After dropping Brutus off at the Jeep, we went in search of dinner. We ended up stopping at a quaint little fish and chips restaurant. We both had the surf-and-turf platter that included a nice steak and a great assortment of seafood.
We got back to the Jeep and headed back towards the Stanley Park Causeway. The Causeway cuts a swath right through the middle of the park and leads the way to the well known Lions Gate Bridge. We crossed the Lions Gate Bridge and then headed down to the lower east side of the city.
“Joshy, we’re going to drive through an area that isn’t quite as nice as what we’ve seen so far, but I think it’s important to see it.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s known as the lower east side. It’s a pretty depressing place from what I understand. It’s a poor area with a lot of drug and prostitution problems. There are even boys and girls your age out there working as prostitutes.”
“Dad that’s awful,” Josh replied.
“It is awful. We’re not going to stay there for very long. We aren’t even going to stop if we can avoid it,” I replied.
It was just beginning to get dark when we arrived in the area of the lower east side. The buildings were in stark contrast to the gleaming towers of the downtown core and the beauty of Stanley Park. Prostitutes and questionable looking characters occupied most street corners and run down looking cars cruised the streets stopping occasionally. I looked over at Josh and he looked a little pale. He had a look of deep concentration etched on his face as he stared out the windows of the Jeep.
I heard a small gasp from Josh as we passed the next street corner. There was a young girl standing there in a min-skirt and fishnet stockings. She looked to be barely older than Josh. Josh, who had been using the video camera to shoot some pictures looked visibly shaken and set the camera down.
“I think I’ve seen enough of this Dad,” he said softly.
“I know bud. I think I have too.”
I turned the Jeep down the next street with the hope of being able to loop back and return the way we’d come. After making the turn onto the side street, I noticed a red and blue cab from a transport truck.
“Dad, isn’t that the guy who nearly ran us off the road this morning?” Josh asked.
“I think it might be,” I replied. “Get the camera and get some pictures as we drive by.”
I drove slowly past the truck as Josh filmed as much of it as he could. As we passed it, I noticed what looked like a struggle going on inside. Just beyond the truck, I did a U-turn and parked behind a van. I wanted to get out and get a closer look at the truck and what was going on inside.
“Why are we stopping?” Josh asked.
“There’s something going on over there. Someone might be in trouble,” I replied. No sooner had I said that, when the passenger door of the truck flew open and a disheveled looking young girl that appeared to have a bloody nose, jumped out and fled down the street away from us, as a man jumped out of the driver’s side of the truck. I was about to jump out of the Jeep when Josh shouted.
“Dad wait! THAT’S BOB!”
That froze me in my tracks. Sure enough, I looked through the windshield of the Jeep and there was Bob with a crazed look on his face shouting obscenities at the fleeing young girl. Josh was filming the whole thing with the video camera and I grabbed the digital camera and rifled off a bunch of photos. Bob either couldn’t see us or he didn’t realize that it was my Jeep. The tinted windows made most of the interior or the Jeep largely invisible.
“Fuck!” I exclaimed. “This isn’t good at all bud. I’m sorry that I ever questioned your judgment about Bob.”
“That’s alright Dad. I just had a feeling about him. We have to tell Mom about this,” Josh said urgently.
“I know, lets just see what else he does. I have a bad feeling that underage hookers aren’t the only reason he’s down here.”
We watched as Bob climbed back into his cab, started the engine, and pulled away from the curb. After he passed us, I started the Jeep, turned around, and followed him from about 100 meters back. It wasn’t hard to keep sight of him. His truck was the only one in sight.
“Where do you think he’s going?” Josh asked.
“I’m not sure, but I have a suspicion as to what he’s up to. If I’m right, it would explain his unexplained wealth.”
“Illegal drugs?” Josh asked carefully.
“Yeah, I think so. My first thought when I heard about his money was ‘what else is he hauling in that truck of his?’”
“What are we going to do?”
“First, we’re going to call Darren and get his advice. We’ll probably also get in touch with the Vancouver Police and give them our photos.”
A few blocks along, the truck pulled to the side of the street. I parked the Jeep and we watched intently as Bob climbed out. He walked to a compartment on the outside of the cab, pulled open a door, and extracted a bag. I got photos of the whole thing using the zoom capabilities of my camera and Josh did the same with the video camera.
A moment later, a man walked out of the building next to the truck and began speaking to Bob. We watched as he handed over a stack of bills and accepted the white bag from Bob. He also handed Bob what looked like a Zip-Lock freezer bag filled with a green leafy substance. To me, it was obviously marijuana.
“He just sold that man a bunch of drugs,” Josh said thoughtfully.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s what we saw. I’ll bet that bag he got back is full of weed too.”
Deciding that it was best not to press our luck, I started the Jeep and we headed off in the opposite direction from where Bob was facing. I drove back to our hotel in West Vancouver and while Josh unloaded the Jeep and walked Brutus, I called Darren.
“Tommy, nice to hear from you,” Darren said as he answered the phone.
“Hi Darren. We have a little problem that we need some advice on,” I replied.
“Uh oh,” Darren chuckled.
I proceeded to explain everything that had happened right from Bob almost running us off the road to the incident with the prostitute and the apparent drug deal.
“Shit, that sounds pretty bad. First, I wouldn’t be too concerned that he was trying to get you guys. Chances are that he always drives like that and he didn’t even pay attention to who you were.”
“I’m amazed that he can be such a psycho and hide it so well. Josh was the only one who had any doubts about him. Susan did say that she’s not really seeing him anymore, but I don’t think she has any idea as to what’s going on.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t. Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to get in touch with a contact of mine at the Vancouver PD. His name is detective Dan Logan. We worked together on a drug case a few years back and he’ll know how to handle this case. In the meantime, make copies of everything that you’ve got. Detective Logan will probably want copies of it.”
“Ok, but what about Susan?”
“Tell her as soon as possible. In the meantime, just in case anything happens, I’m going to see that the guys keep an eye on her house. Tell her to call me if she has any trouble.”
When Josh returned, we called Susan. After Josh spoke to her and brought her up to speed on the trip, he handed me the phone and I told her what we had discovered about Bob. She was silent on the other end of the line for a moment.
“You know,” she finally said. “It makes me sad, but although I didn’t want to, I think I suspected as much about him from the start. It just didn’t add up. Something about him just wasn’t right.”
“I spoke to Darren and he said he’s going to have his guys keep an eye on the house and he’s making contact with a friend in the Vancouver Police department. If you see or hear from Bob, you need to call the police and call Darren. Do you have his number?”
“Yes, but listen, you boys be careful, you hear me?”
“We will Susan, you please be careful too,” I replied.
Later that evening, Detective Dan Logan paid us a visit and collected copies of our digital photos and video footage.
“This was good work boys,” he said. “You guys took a hell of a risk in getting this stuff for us and I can promise you we’re going to put it to good use. I’ll be seeing a judge in the morning and swearing out a warrant for his arrest.”
“That’s a relief,” I said.
“The address that he stopped at has been on our list of suspected crack houses for a while. In all likelihood, he was selling them crack cocaine in exchange for cash and BC grown hydroponic marijuana. He’s probably selling the weed back in Ontario.”
“Can you get him for the underage prostitute too?” Josh asked.
“Quite possibly. The drug charges alone could see him spend ten years in jail. I’ll be swearing out a search warrant for the building where he made the deal tonight. If all goes well, we’ll raid them first thing in the morning.”
“He’s going to be pretty pissed off when he realized what happened,” I observed.
“I’ll bet. I’ll do everything I can to ensure that he doesn’t get bail. I understand that you guys are heading north anyway.”
“Yeah, that’s the plan. We’re heading over to Nanaimo and Victoria for the day tomorrow and then we’re back on the road.”
“I wouldn’t worry about him catching up with you,” Dan replied.
After Dan left, Josh and I settled in for the night. We took a few minutes to call Bryan and Mark to bring them up to speed on what was going on. After a few salutations and thoughts on how Josh missed them, and then a long conversation about our visit with the Masons, he handed me the phone.
I explained everything that had happened with Bob and then with Darren. To say that Bryan was shocked would have been the understatement of the century.
His first comment was, “Tom! What are the odds of the two of you crossing paths this far from Toronto?! First on the highway AND THEN in a seedy area of Vancouver’s east side?”
“Yeah, I guess it is pretty phenomenal,” I replied.
“Talk about the luck of the draw; I think you should go out and buy a lottery ticket.” Bryan had a laugh in his voice.
“Sorry man, you’re the lucky gambler in this family!” I chuckled thinking of the luck he’d had at West Edmonton Mall.
“Seriously Tom, how in the hell does someone that evil manage to hide it so well?” Bryan asked.
“I don’t know. I asked myself the exact same question. Somehow, Josh knew from the start. He never liked Bob at all.”
“I’ve said it before; Josh is an excellent judge of character. We’d all do very well to listen to him when it comes to stuff like this.”
“No kidding. How are things in Calgary? You know we miss you both and we’ll be back in another ten days or so.”
“I can’t wait, or should I say, WE can’t wait. Everything’s fine here. Daisy is growing like a weed and Mark’s doing great. He’s out at the movies with his baseball team at the moment. They had a really good win today and the coach is treating them to a movie.”
“Good for him. Give him our love when you see him.”
“I will. See you in a few weeks. Love you.”
“I love you too. Take care,” I said and hung up the phone.
“Drugs really mess up people’s lives don’t they?” Josh said as we sat and watched television later that evening.
“Unfortunately they do. People get hooked and drugs take over their lives. Nothing matters more to them than the next fix.”
“Like my father with alcohol, right?”
“Yes, just like that only worse because street drugs take a harder toll on the mind and the body’s systems and it happens quicker. I’ve read about heroin addicts whose arms are literally rotting away from all the needle wounds, but their mind won’t let them stop injecting the stuff.”
“Why do they let all that stuff go on, down on the lower east side?”
“The police do the best they can but they’re stretched pretty thin. Drug dealers and pimps don’t get the sentences that they really deserve when they do get caught, and there really isn’t much by way of programs to help prostitutes get off the street.”
“Drugs are kind of the main problem there right?”
“I think so. I think a lot of those prostitutes end up working the street because of drug addictions.”
“How do those kids end up out there?”
“There’s a lot of reasons kiddo. Some are runaways; some were thrown out by their parents for one reason or another. Some of them probably think their better off out there than living at home.”
“Why would they think that?” Josh asked in a shocked tone.
“Some of them have suffered pretty bad abuse at home. Some were molested; some were beaten. Some might have been mistreated or disowned by their parents because they’re gay.”
“How could anyone disown their child for being gay?” Josh asked.
“Some parents do Joshy. It happened to Bryan. It’s sickening and hard to believe, but it happens. I’m lucky; I have, we have, the most loving and understanding family a man could ever need.”
After settling down by watching a re-run of the old comedy, “Johnny Dangerously” on TV, we took turns in the shower and then turned in for the night. We were both looking forward to the big day ahead of us and the beginning of the northern portion of the trip.
I awoke the next morning to the rich smell of coffee. I opened my eyes and found myself face to face with a grinning Josh. It was one of those rare mornings where Josh got up before I did. He was already dressed for the day and he had evidently tidied the room, loaded the Jeep, and had even procured breakfast.
“Here Dad, I got you some coffee,” Josh said as he held the cup under my nose. “There’s a Tim Hortons right across the street with a Wendy’s next door. I got you one of their breakfast platters and some OJ too.”
“Thanks bud. Did you get some for yourself?”
“Yeah, I had a couple of their breakfast sandwiches and a breakfast platter to go with it,” Josh grinned.
“Glad to hear that you’ve still got your appetite,” I replied and gave him a big hug.
“What time do we have to be at the ferry terminal?” Josh asked.
“We’ve got a reservation on the 9:30 crossing to Nanaimo. We should be there by just after 9:00. I’d like to be one of the first on the boat so we’ll be one of the first off. We have a lot to see in only one day.”
“You had better get moving then,” Josh snickered and handed me my breakfast.
“Sir, yes sir!” I said and saluted him.
I should have expected it since he, Mark, and Bill had watched “Full Metal Jacket” back in Calgary, but it still caught be a bit by surprise when Josh retorted with a passable R. Lee Ermey ‘Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’ impression.
“Hurry up soldier, you eat breakfast like old people fu . . .“
“That’ll do bud,” I chuckled cutting him off.
“I already loaded the Jeep, but I left some clothes out for you,” Josh said as he got up and pointed to the small pile of clothing left on the dresser.
“Thanks son,” I replied.
Thanks to Josh, we made excellent time in getting on the road and we arrived at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare. We were actually the first in line and when they opened the ramp, I drove all the way to the front of the ferry which meant that we’d be the first off when we reached the other side. We’d arrive into Nanaimo at around 11:30 and the plan was to drive down to Victoria and have lunch there before doing our sightseeing.
There was an awful lot to see and do on Vancouver Island, but our schedule limited us to only one day. By that evening, we’d be back on the ferry returning to the mainland and beginning the trek north.
The ferry crossing was actually a lot of fun. We put Brutus’ leash on him and took him up on deck. He busied himself by making friends with everyone he encountered and was rewarded with a whole lot of pats and belly scratches. The view of the mainland and of the Island was quite spectacular. At around the mid point on the trip, we passed a small rocky island with a lighthouse that was literally covered with sea lions that were sunning themselves on the rocky shore. At one point, we even saw dolphins swimming along side the ship.
When we arrived in Nanaimo, we drove off the ship and headed down to Victoria on the southern tip of the island. It was a very scenic drive that lasted about 90 minutes and we managed to snap a lot of photos along the way.
When we arrived in Victoria, we headed straight for the Chinatown area to grab some lunch and then begin our driving tour of the city. The provincial parliament buildings, which we planned to tour, were located within the Chinatown district. Sites that we planned to see such as the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Royal London Wax Museum were located in the same general area. We also planned to visit Beacon Hill Park on the south shore overlooking the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
We stopped at the first Chinese food buffet that we could find and the pair of us loaded up on food making sure to include plenty of fruits and veggies on our plates. We wanted to spend as much of our time as possible touring the island rather than sitting in a restaurant.
After lunch, we did our tour of the majestic provincial legislature building. The front of the building actually bares a strong resemblance to Queen’s Park, the Ontario provincial legislature in Toronto, except that it features a circular dome as opposed to the more triangular tower above the Ontario legislature.
From the legislature, we headed to the Royal London Wax Museum. The wax museum features a wide array of famous and infamous people reproduced in wax. To Josh’s delight, the collection included a wax statue of the Prime Minister and Josh wasted no time in hamming it up and posing with the statue in various humorous ways. In one shot, the naughty Josh shot, Josh was shown wagging his finger at the prime minister while sticking out his tongue out and making a face.
After leaving the wax museum, we headed over to the Royal British Columbia Museum. The Royal BC Museum is a wonderful, modern looking building that houses a large collection of cultural artifacts. Among other things, it includes a lot of aboriginal exhibits. Josh and I took our time touring that museum and took a lot of photos along the way.
Our final stop in Victoria was Beacon Hill Park. The park is much smaller than Stanley Park but it is no less magnificent. It’s attractions include a massive sundial flower garden and the world’s tallest totem pole. The totem pole is 160 feet tall and was carved in 1956.
There’s also a plaque commemorating Steve Fonyo’s “Journey for Lives”. In 1984, one legged runner, Steve Fonyo stepped into the footsteps of Terry Fox and realized Terry’s dream of running from coast to coast to raise money for cancer research. Although he completed the run that Terry Fox couldn’t because of the resurgence of his cancer, Steve did raise a good sum for cancer research. However, every year in the fall, world-wide, since his death, there are still fund raising runs to honor Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope for cancer research.
Before leaving the park, we used the timer feature of the digital camera to take a photo of Josh, Brutus and me standing in front of the “Mile 0” Trans Canada Highway sign, signifying that we were at the very edge of the country.
With our time on Vancouver Island running short, we hopped in the Jeep and made our way up and along the west coast towards Port Renfrew and the open Pacific. We arrived there close to sunset. We parked the Jeep and the three of us walked down to the waters edge. The sight of the bright orange disc of the sun slowly descending below the mighty Pacific was breathtaking.
We took off our shoes and waded into the cool, clear water. Brutus charged into the water with us and had a blast paddling around. He even managed to spot and pursue a couple of small fish that had come to investigate the human and canine intruders into their world.
As the sun began to disappear below the distant horizon, we sat on the shore and watched the sunset together. Josh leaned into my right side and I wrapped my arm around him. Brutus wedged himself between us and lay down in the cool grass. We sat there silently, lost in thought, and contemplated the journey so far and what lay ahead.
When we finally managed to pull ourselves away from the sight of the setting sun, we got back into the Jeep and retraced our steps all the way back to Nanaimo. Along the way, we stopped for a quick meal at a roadside diner and arrived back at the ferry terminal in time to catch the last ferry back to the mainland that night. We left Vancouver Island feeling enriched for having experienced it and vowing to return in the future.
We drove off the ferry back into West Vancouver and checked into a motel for the night. We went to sleep that night full of anticipation and ready for the next phase of our adventure.
The next morning, the three of us woke up in a huddle. Both Josh and Brutus had evidently climbed in with me during the night. We dressed quickly and ate a hearty breakfast at the motel restaurant before hitting the road.
The drive north to the Yukon border took three days. The route took us right through the heart of the Rocky Mountains and featured some of the most scenic wilderness that I’d ever dreamed of. Outside of the various towns along the way, we saw few other cars, but we did encounter quite a few heavily loaded logging trucks. The farther north we went, the fewer towns we encountered. By the second day, we had driven out of cell phone range and we knew we would have to rely on the Sat phone for communications.
We made a point of filling up at virtually every gas station that we encountered and we avoided letting the tank drop below half. Overall, it was a very uneventful trip. Until later in the afternoon on the second day.
“Dad, what’s that on the road?” Josh asked.
Up ahead there was something white lying in the middle of the road. As we approached, it became apparent that it was an animal that had been hit by a truck. We pulled the Jeep off to the side of the road and we got out to investigate.
“Josh don’t get too close until I tell you that it’s clear and keep Brutus on the leash.”
“Is it dead?”
“I don’t know.”
We approached the animal and saw that it was a large male mountain goat. We also discovered that it was still alive. It had evidently been hit, but not actually run over. Its rear end was twisted away at an odd angle from the rest of the body.
“Who do we call to come and help it?” Josh asked.
“We don’t bud, we have to help it ourselves and there really is only one way we can help it,” I replied. “Put Brutus in the Jeep Joshy and grab the .308 from the back.”
“You’re not going to shoot it are you?” Josh asked in a horrified tone.
“We have no choice Josh. The animal is suffering and there’s nobody who can help him. The kindest thing we can do is to put him out of his misery.”
“Can’t we call a game warden or something to come and get him?”
“Even if we could, he would die before anyone could get here. That animal is going to die. We can leave it to die in agony or we can put it down right now and end its suffering. I know it sounds cruel, but nature is often cruel Josh. The person who hit it should have finished it off, but they didn’t so it’s up to us.”
Josh didn’t look too happy with the turn of events, but he did as he was told. He put Brutus back into the Jeep and retrieved the Benelli rifle from the back of the Jeep.
“Bud, do you understand why we have to do this?”
“Yeah, I understand. I wish there was some other way,” he sighed heavily, “but this is for the best.”
I accepted the rifle case from Josh and carefully removed the rifle, loaded it, and removed the scope caps. I cocked and shouldered the rifle.
“Josh, you don’t have to watch if you don’t want to. If you do stay, plug your ears and stay well behind me.”
“I’ll stay,” Josh replied.
I carefully aimed the rifle at the stricken animal’s head and squeezed the trigger. I heard the report and felt it kick back against my shoulder and it was all over. It was a clean kill. I immediately unloaded and de-cocked the rifle, set the safety, replaced the scope caps and placed it back in the case.
“Josh, we should drag the carcass off the road. Predators will come and take care of the remains and we don’t want them to get hit too,” I said gently.
Together Josh and I dragged the mountain goat’s remains off the road and tossed the body down into the ditch where scavengers and predators could dine on it without facing danger from the road. I put my arm around Josh’s shoulders as we walked back to the Jeep.
“You ok bud?” I asked softly.
“Yeah, I’m fine. We did the right thing, but it was a tough thing to do.”
We got back into the Jeep and resumed the drive north. At around noon on the third day of driving, we encountered a sign welcoming us to the Yukon Territory. We’d arrived in the far north at last. Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Alert lay ahead of us. We got out of the Jeep and stood on the provincial territorial border and contemplated the vast, empty expanse of the Canadian arctic before us.