Somewhere a mourning dove was singing its early morning wake-up. Paul stirred and looked at the clock. Five in the morning. The sun was just slanting in his bedroom window and in a minute or two it would bounce from the mirror straight into his eyes. His feet hit the floor with a thud as he remembered that this was the day he was going fishing with his grandfather. Today was his tenth birthday.
Grandpa was spooning loose green tea from the box – he called it a caddy – that he kept on the sideboard. The old pot on the stove was steaming, ready for the leaves. Paul sat down in front of the bread and jam, and waited for him to pour the tea into the china mugs, his with a golden retriever printed on it and Grandpa’s with a boxer.
“Are we going to take the carriage today, Grandpa?” Paul asked. The ancient vehicle lived in the barn along with the old horse called Penny. Penny knew the way to the fishing hole as he did. Grandpa only took them out on fine days.
“I think it might rain this morning,” Grandpa said. “Too wet for the old girl.”
Paul didn’t know whether he meant the carriage or the horse, but if they didn’t take them, they would drive off in Grandpa’s model A Ford.
“Do you want me to dig some worms?” Paul asked, his words muffled by his last bite of bread.
“No, I put a minnow trap in the beaver pond last night. We’ll go pick them up before we drive to the fishing hole.”
Grandpa took his dishes and Paul’s to the sink and stacked them. Grandma would wash them when she got up.
Grandpa’ s dad had used the Model A pickup truck to deliver his vegetables and honey to market during the thirties. He had bought it new, Grandpa said, just before everyone lost all their money in the thirties. Paul wondered how all that money was lost and where it went to. He wondered if someone had stolen and hidden it, but Grandpa said that wasn’t what happened.
He put the fishing gear behind the seat and climbed in behind Grandpa and waited. It always took a little time for the truck to decide to go. After Grandpa pulled on the little knob and pumped a pedal on the floor, the engine caught and he backed out of the barn.
They drove down the lane towards the back of the farm and turned into the track that led to the pond. Grandpa stopped the truck at the edge of the bush. The ground was too wet to take it any further. They walked across the beaver meadow, with all the little ends of trees the beavers had felled sticking up through the grass.
“Where is the trap?” Paul asked.
“At the other end of the pond.”
Frogs jumped out of the way and a sleepy turtle walked slowly across their path as they made their way along the pond. The sunshine disappeared behind heavy gray clouds pushed across the sky by a wind that was making little waves on the pond. Paul hoped it wouldn’t rain too hard, because he knew the fishing was only good in a light rain.
Grandpa pulled on a line that snaked through the grass and into the pond, but Paul could see by how fast it came out of the water that the trap was gone. Grandpa looked at the end of the line and Paul could see the straight edge that meant it had been cut with a knife.
“Why would someone take our minnows, Grandpa?” Paul asked.
“To go fishing,” he answered. He wasn’t paying much attention to Paul’s question. He was squatting on the ground, looking at footprints in the mud at the edge of the water.
“Smooth soles,” Grandpa said. Paul knew he wasn’t talking to him anymore. He always told Paul he was ‘just thinking out loud’.
Paul looked at the prints Grandpa’s boots left in the mud. They had a rough pattern, and so did his own rubber boots. Why would anyone go fishing in Sunday shoes? But he didn’t ask Grandpa, because he was following the footprints up the hill.
Paul struggled to keep up with him as they crossed through the sugar bush at the top of the hill and started down the other side. The river flowed across the farm at the bottom of the hill. A wide spot in the river, under an overhanging willow tree formed Paul’s fishing hole.
Grandpa stopped just where they could see the river bank. Two men sat by a tiny fire while a third man tossed a line into the water. Paul could see that he didn’t have a real pole, just a stick with a line on it. The missing minnow trap sat on the back beside him. When his line was in the water, he eased the trap back into the river.
Grandpa moved back into the bush a little and stared at the men by the river. Paul heard a strange little sound, a click, but Grandpa didn’t seem to notice until a man came out of the trees behind him.
“Whatcha lookin’ at, old man?” he growled. Paul could see a gun in the man’s hand. His finger was on the trigger. Paul knew the sound he had heard was the trigger being pulled back.
“You better come down to the river.” He waved the gun at Grandpa who pulled Paul to him but didn’t say a word. They walked down the hill single file with Paul first, then Grandpa then the man with the gun.
The other three men stood up as they walked into the makeshift camp.
“What the hell?” said one.
“Who’s this?” said another.
The third man just stared. Paul stood behind Grandpa and held tight to his arm. He could feel Grandpa’s muscles going hard inside the sleeve of his green work shirt.
“It’s been a long time, Mike.” Grandpa said. Paul thought he sounded sad and mad, the way he did when the calf died because the vet took too long in coming.
“Why did you bring them down here?” Mike asked the man with the gun.
“They was watching.” The man sounded scared of Mike, Paul thought, like he was the one with the gun.
“We gotta get out of here,” one of the other men said.
“What we goin’ to do with these two?” the man with the gun asked Mike.
“Nothing. Let’s go.”
“But they seen us.”
“So what? They won’t say anything.”
“How do you know? This guy knows you. He’ll tell the cops.” Paul could feel Grandpa’s arm shaking a little.
“Mike, this is Paul,” was all Grandpa said. He was staring at Mike as though he wanted to memorize him.
“He looks good,” was all Mike said.
Mike turned to the others. “We have to get out of here. Go. I’ll be right behind you. I’ll take care of this.”
He pulled a gun from his pocket as the others started out the trail. He stared after them until they disappeared around a curve. Grandpa put his arm around Paul’s shoulders and pulled him behind him.
Mike fired two shots into the water. “You’d better go,” he said. One of those guys might decide to help me bury the bodies.”
Grandpa didn’t say a word, but turned to walk back up the hill. Half way up Paul looked back. Mike was watching them as they climbed.
Grandpa didn’t say anything all the way back to the farmhouse, and even after he sat down at the kitchen table. Grandma gave them both cups of green tea, and held Grandpa’s hand when he started to cry. Paul didn’t want to watch Grandpa cry, and went into the front room, to sit on the good chairs and wait for Grandma to come.
He looked at the pictures on the piano. Most of them were pictures of him when he was a baby and his school pictures. One of them was a wedding picture. Grandpa and Grandma stood beside the bride. She was looking up and smiling at the man beside her, holding his hand. Paul knew they were his parents, but he had never seen them. Grandpa said his mother had died and his father gone away.
Paul imagined his father a hero, working on top-secret government jobs, or as a spy, trying to understand why he never came back. He looked closer at the man in the picture. He was young, just like the teenagers who worked on the farm in the summer, and he looked like Mike.
Paul walked back into the kitchen, and looked at Grandpa.
“Was that my dad, back there in the bush?”
It was his birthday, and he had met his father. Paul sat in front of the old piano and cried.