Authors: Fran Hurcomb
We had lots of forwards. Sam, Ger and I had played together last year on a line, and so had the Smithers girls. Sarah and Alyssa were getting pretty good
on defense. Little Lucy was as slippery as a weasel. She seemed to be able to sneak through or around most of us. When she got bigger, she was going to be great. The newer players like Morgan and Denise were still trying out different positions.
Alice was doing okay in goal, as well. She could skate a bit, so standing in net on skates was not going to be a big problem. All those years of playing goal in soccer had given her quick reflexes and an instinct for where a shot was likely to go. For her, it was the equipment that was the problem.
“There's just so much of it,” she complained. “It must weigh thirty pounds. And that mask. It's always in the way. I can't see anything.” She was totally exasperated. Curtis laughed.
“Well, I know what you mean,” he said, “but believe it or not, you'll get used to it. You're strong and fast. You're going to be a great goalie.” Alice glowed.
The only thing I was worried about was her boyfriend. I heard at school that Cory was giving her a hard time about playing hockey. Maybe he thought it was taking up too much of her time. I guess it would all boil down to how much she was enjoying it. So far, so good.
After Friday's practice, Curtis called us all together. “Well, tomorrow's the day I head out to camp. I'll be gone for two weeks.”
There was a long groan. “What are we going to do?”
“Well, that's pretty much up to you. Do you want to keep playing or do you want some time off?”
“Play,” we all said.
Curtis smiled his big smile. “That's what I hoped. I've arranged for someone to be here for your practices, but you older girls are going to have to give her a hand.” Her? Who was he talking about?
“Tara can be here every day after school to keep things going,” said Curtis. Tara, who had been skating at most of our practices, smiled at us.
“I know I can't coach you like Curtis does,” she said quietly, “but with your help, I'm sure we can keep things going until he gets back.” There was a moment of silence while we took in this piece of news. Then I said, “Sounds good to me. Thanks, Tara. We need all the help we can get.”
“Maybe when I get back, we'll have a game against the Peewee boys,” said Curtis. “They've been practicing a bit, but I think if you keep working, you'll give them a good game.”
A game! Everyone's eyes lit up. Yes!
The only one who looked a bit worried was Alice. “I'm not sure I'm ready for a game yet,” she said quietly.
“Sure you are, Alice,” said Sam. We all nodded in agreement.
“You'll be surprised at how well you'll do,” said Curtis. “Those boys won't know what hit them.”
We should have known that things were going too well. My mom calls it Murphy's Law. On Saturday night, someone trashed the skate-sharpening machine. For as long as I can remember, the sharpening machine had stood in the entranceway to Dave's Gas Bar. It was the only place within three hundred kilometers to get skates sharpened. Sometimes it broke down for a day or two, but Dave was always able to get it up and running again. For a dollar apiece, your skates usually came out sharper than they went in.
According to Dave, a snow machine had pulled up in front of the station around 10:00 pm. He thought it was coming in for gas or something. But instead
the driver quickly passed a rope around the skate-sharpening machine and dragged it off the porch and about a kilometer down the road, where it was run over several times. It was toast. Dave told the rcmp it happened so fast that he didn't even realize what was going on until the machine was gone. The driver was dressed in a Darth Vader helmet, so Dave couldn't tell who it was. It could have been anybody. But who?
Fort Desperation gets its share of vandalism, but this was the first time that I had been directly affected. Last summer someone broke most of windows at the school, but this was different. No skate-sharpening machine, no skating. It was simple. Why would someone do something like that?
One bad thing about skating on the pond is that your skates get dull really fastâway faster than in the arena. Without the sharpening machine, our practices were going to end really soon.
Luckily, at school on Monday, the Smithers girls let everyone know that their dad was driving to Hay River the next day and would take all of the skates that we could deliver to the detachment by 9:00 am. We had a quick practice after school, and then everyone walked by the detachment to drop off their skates.
This solution would work once, but what about next week, and the week after that? Corporal Smithers was really nice about everything. He piled all the skates into two boxes and said he'd let us know how much it cost when he got back in two days. We helped him load the boxes into the back of the huge rcmp suv, and then asked him if he had any leads.
“Not yet,” he said, “but Fort Desperation is a small place and nothing stays a secret forever.”
When Corporal Smithers returned to town, he brought not only our skates, but a beat-up old skate-sharpening machine as well.
“A donation from the Hay River Hardware Store,” he said, grinning. “They sharpen with a grindstone now, so they had this old-timer stored in the back, waiting for a new home. I'll take it over to the gas station and see if Dave wants it.”
ACP. We all grabbed our skates and headed to the pond for a quick skate before dark. It had been three days, the longest any of us had gone without skating since the pond froze.
Six of us arrived together and immediately noticed that there was something on the ice: fluorescent red
paint. At first it made no sense, but then Sam put it all together.
GIRLS GO HOME
. It says
GIRLS GO HOME
,” yelled Sam. “Why would it say that?”
We stood there in stunned silence. This was meant for us. Why would anyone do this?
“Maybe it's a joke,” said Sarah.
“I don't think so,” replied Alice quietly. “Look at this.” She gestured to several holes in the ice. They weren't too deepâmaybe three inches or so. Just enough to make skating into them dangerous.
“Looks like they were chopped with an axe.”
“Somebody hates us,” said Sarah, all of a sudden sounding near tears.
“Well, I don't know about hating us, but they sure don't want us to play hockey,” I replied quickly, before she started to cry.
We ran back to the cafÃ© as fast as we could and almost fell through the door in a heap. All six of us tried explaining to my mom what had happened. Eventually, she got the story straight. Her jaw clenched, and her eyes got very narrow.
“We'll get to the bottom of this,” she said in a low, angry voice, as she picked up the phone.
She talked with Corporal Smithers for a few minutes and agreed to meet him at the pond. Back we went with flashlights. Word must have gotten out quickly, because there were already several people at the pond when we got there. Everyone was furious. Corporal Smithers carefully looked over the area and shook his head.
“There are at least a dozen holes as well as the paint,” he said quietly to my mom. “Holes like that are really dangerous if a skater doesn't see them.”
People kept asking the same two questions. Who would do such a thing? And why?
“If we get the answer to one question, we'll probably get the answer to the other,” said Corporal Smithers. “You girls have any idea who wants you to quit playing hockey?”
We all looked at each other and shook our heads.
“We haven't even beaten anybody yet,” said Sarah.
“Well,” he said, “we'll figure it out. In the meantime, we'll repair the rink. I'll call the fire hall and see if they have a pump we can use tomorrow. If any of you get any bright ideas about this, come and tell me. Don't try to do anything on your own.” When he said this, he looked hard at us girls, to make sure we were really listening. We all nodded.
Sam's eyes suddenly went wide. “Do you think this has anything to do with the skate sharpener?” she asked him.
“Good question. Hard to say right now, but I'll keep it in mind. Okay everyone, time to go home. We'll get to work on this tomorrow. You girls won't miss any more practices.”
We walked home in silence. In a small place like Fort Desperation, everybody pretty well knew everybody else. I wondered who could have done this, and why? We're nice girls. What had we done to make somebody so mad at us?
It was the main topic of conversation at school the next day. At lunch we narrowed down the field of suspects. It had to have been a male, probably young, maybe with a Ski-Doo. That only left about two hundred suspects. No problem!
“Maybe we should set a trap,” suggested Opal. In addition to figure skating, Opal read mysteriesâ lots of them.
“You heard what the corporal said, Opal. We're not supposed to try anything on our own,” replied Geraldine.
“But it's not like we're dealing with a vicious criminal or anything. It's probably some goofy hockey player who's scared of the competition,” said Opal.
“A hockey player wouldn't have trashed the skate sharpener,” added Sam quietly.
“That's true,” I said. “But do we really know that the two incidents are related?”
“So, do we just wait and hope that it doesn't happen again?” asked Opal in an irritated voice.
“I guess so,” said Sam. “Maybe whoever did it will get bored with the idea and go away.”
We all nodded in agreement. We would keep our fingers crossed.
After school, we all met at the pond to find the ice surface freshly flooded. The head of the volunteer fire department, Len, was just putting away his hoses when we arrived.
“Wow, that's great,” we exclaimed. “It's even better than it was before!”
“Thanks. It was a good excuse to get out of the office,” Len admitted. “I even painted some lines on before I flooded it. Scraped off most of the message too.”
We now actually had three lines across the rink: a red center line with a wobbly face-off circle in the middle and a blue line halfway to each net. What a concept. Now the new girls would get to learn about offsides! The nasty message was very faint and
impossible to read, and the holes were all gone. Our rink was better than ever.
“Maybe we should thank the idiot who made all of this possible,” laughed Ger.
“We will. When we catch him,” responded Opal.
Len laughed and finished putting away his equipment. “There were Ski-Doo tracks beside most of the holes,” he said, “so I'd guess whoever did it doesn't like to get too far from his machine.”
“A clue!” shouted Opal. She wasn't going to give up on the whole sleuthing angle any time soon.
We had good practices for the next couple of days, except that Alice wasn't there. I wasn't exactly worried, but it was kind of strange. She never missed practice. I hadn't even seen her at school. Finally I asked Michael where she was.
“She's stayed home the past few days. She broke up with her jerky boyfriend on the weekend, and he keeps hassling her.”
“Oh, that's not good,” I replied, as if I really knew about these things.
“She figures he'll calm down when he realizes she really means it, but in the meantime, she's staying out of his way.”
“She should come to hockey. We'd protect her.”
“Sure you would,” he laughed. “I don't think he's dangerous, but he is an idiot. All he thinks about is his snow machine.”
“Kind of like us and hockey?”
“No way. Hockey is important. I mean it's realâ¦”
“Yeah, you're right. Hockey is important. Have you heard anything about the arena?”
“They're saying early December. Hope they're right. It's getting too cold to play outside.”
Michael was right. It was dipping down to minus thirty at night and not warming up too much during the daytime. At least the skies were blue and clear, making the days seem a little longer. Someone had dumped off some firewood at the pond, so we sometimes had a bonfire going at practices. It gave us a way to warm up our fingers and toes a bit. Tara was doing a good job of keeping the practices going, but we were all anxious to get into the arena.
Friday morning was warmer and cloudy, with soft snow falling. According to the weather report on the
radio, it was going to warm up for a few days. I got an urgent note from Opal in math. It said
Get everyone together for an important meeting in the lunchroom
. I had no idea what it was about, but I passed the note around. At noon, most of the team met at a table in the back corner.
“What's so important?” asked Sam.
“I have an idea,” said Opal. Her sister nodded in agreement. “Since today is Friday and it's warming up, I thought maybe the Hockey Vandal might be getting ready to strike again. I think we should set a trap.”
There was a long silence. A trap? Us? Everyone began to talk at once.
“Corporal Smithers told us to bring our ideas to him, and not to do anything on our own,” said Ger.
“Yeah. Dad would be furious if we tried anything,” added Daisy. Her sisters nodded.
“Well,” said Opal, “maybe you three shouldn't be involved, but the rest of us could just sort of hang out at the pond tonight after dark and see if he shows up.”
“We'll just freeze for nothing,” said Sam.
“Maybe, maybe not,” replied Opal. “It's worth a try. Say for an hour or so after everyone goes home.”
“What are we going to do if he does show up?” asked Sam. “Beat him with our hockey sticks?”
There was a long silence while we thought about that one. I, for one, was definitely not into violence.
I had a brainwave. Without thinking, I blurted it out. “I know. We could take his picture.”