Authors: Fran Hurcomb
“Yeah,” said Opal with enthusiasm. “We've got a new digital camera.”
“So do we,” added several other excited voices. “We could all bring cameras, with flashes on them, and take a whole bunch of pictures at once. Then we'd run away.” Oh boy. Was this a bright idea, or a really stupid one? I wasn't sure.
“Let's vote,” said Opal, obviously totally keen on the idea. “Who's in favor?” Seven hands shot up.
“Who's against?” Four handsâ¦the Smithers girls and Ger.
“Jess, you didn't vote,” said Sam.
“This is all happening too fast for me. I'm still thinking about it.” It's not that I'm a chicken or anything, but I really don't like jumping into things without thinking a bit first. I'm like my dad that way.
“Well, whatever,” said Opal, with a flip of her chin. “Seven of us are ready to go. But we have to
keep this secret. No telling anyone.” We all nodded in agreement.
Daisy, who had been looking very unhappy, said, “After you take the pictures, you can bring them to our house, and we'll download them onto the computer. We really can't go to the pond with you, but I don't think Dad would be too mad if we just printed the pictures.”
Sam looked at me for a moment, and then said, “I think it's a good idea. You should come.”
I sighed. “Yeah, okay. I'll come.”
It was agreed. We'd go to the pond after supper for a skate and then, after everyone else left, we'd hide behind the snowbank and wait one hour, no longer. Everyone would bring some kind of camera.
“Don't forget to wear warm clothes,” said Sam as we headed off to classes. Oh boy, I thought, what are we getting ourselves into?
“Mom, can I borrow the digital camera tonight?” I asked innocently when I got home from school. She was going to ground me forever when this was all overâ¦if I was still alive to ground.
“Sure, honey. It's on my desk,” she replied from the kitchen. The cafÃ© was quiet, as it usually is at that time of the afternoon. It gave her an hour or two to get the supper menu ready. We had about a dozen or so regulars for supper every night and sometimes a few travelers. Being Friday night, there might even be a family or two.
I unloaded the dishwasher and tidied up the tables in front. Mom likes to do the cooking and prep work herself, so there really wasn't much more I could do.
I couldn't stop worrying about tonight. If only I could talk to Mom about it. But there was no way. She'd put a stop to the whole thing right away, and that would not do a lot for my popularity on the team. Besides, it wasn't very likely that the Hockey Vandal would show up at the pond again. Most likely, we'd just get very cold for nothing.
After supper we met at the pond and skated around, waiting. I brought Spider along for moral support. Spider isn't much of a guard dog, but he is big. One of the strangest things about Spider is that he's afraid of ice. That's actually a good thing, because it means I can bring him to the pond when we play hockey, and he stays off the rink. He runs round and round the edge, whining, but at least he doesn't steal the puck.
Soft snowflakes were still drifting down, but enough people had shoveled when they arrived to keep the ice fairly clean. Someone had lit a big bonfire, and groups of little kids were zooming around, screaming and chasing each other. The generator was going, so our floodlight was on. Normally this was one of my
favorite things to do, but tonight I couldn't enjoy it. My stomach was in a knot, and my whole body was tense.
In all there were eight of us on the ice. Sam, Opal and Ruby were definitely the ringleaders tonight. They were excited. They decided that the best place for us to wait was behind the snowbanks on the far side of the rink. The snowbanks were pretty high now, so we'd be invisible from the ice itself. Behind them, the bush was thick. It wouldn't be too hard to disappear into it if we had to. At about 9:00 pm the owner of the generator shut it down and loaded it into his truck. A few kids continued to skate in the dark, but fairly soon they too took off their skates and went home. The eight of us skated over to the bench and removed our skates. All of a sudden, it seemed very quiet and isolated.
“I wore extra socks,” said Opal, “and my neck warmer.”
“It's a good thing it's not too cold tonight,” added Sam.
“A perfect night for vandalism,” said Ruby, with a wicked grin.
We trooped across the deserted rink and stationed ourselves behind the snowbanks. Spider settled down
beside me with an eager expression on his face that said, “Now what?” The moon was covered by clouds, but the outlines of the rink and the bush were very easy to see. At either end of the rink, homemade wooden goal nets stood on guard, while three benches lined the side closest to the road. The coals from the bonfire still glowed. In the winter, we're pretty slack about putting out fires. They're pretty much left to take care of themselves.
We pulled out our cameras and got them ready. Sam and Opal had brought flashlights, which were very helpful. There were five digital cameras and three film cameras.
“This camera hasn't been used since last Christmas,” said Ruby, holding up a little point-and-shoot. “It will be fun to see what's on the film.”
“So what are we going to do if this guy actually shows up?” I finally asked.
“Well, I guess we should wait to see if he's really going to do something bad, and then, on a signal, we should all stand up and take a picture at the same time,” said Opal.
“Yeah. And then we run.”
“In eight different directions.”
“We'll meet at the Smithers' house.”
Everyone was throwing out ideas. To pass the time, we all tried to guess who the vandal could be. The suggestions got pretty bizarre. Someone even suggested Joe, the hockey coach for the boys, because he didn't want us to humiliate his teams. It was past nine thirty, and we were starting to feel the cold. Ski-Doos could be heard in the distance, but nothing seemed to be coming this way.
“I wish we had a thermos of hot chocolate,” said Ruby. “Yeah,” agreed Opal. “On our next stakeout, we'll have to remember hot chocolate.”
“Listen,” said Sam in a loud whisper.
Slowly, the sound of a Ski-Doo got closer and louder. It was coming from the trails behind the school. Suddenly, a headlight came into view through the trees. We held our breath and watched intently. The machine was traveling slowly, approaching the rink from one end. It stopped for a moment while the driver seemed to look around, and then crept ahead until it came to a stop beside the glowing firepit. The driver shut the motor off and just sat there, very still. We froze in our places. He pulled off his helmet and looked around without leaving his machine.
It was too dark to see his face, but he looked big. My heart was hammering like a drum. Surely he could hear it. I looked sideways at Sam and the others. Their breath was coming out in tiny streams. Nobody moved a muscle, not even Spider.
Finally the guy on the Ski-Doo seemed to relax. He placed his helmet on the ground and pulled something from the carrier behind his seat. An axe! He walked slowly over to the closest goal net, not far from the firepit. He looked around once more and then swung the axe. The left side of the goal crumpled to the ice. He swung at the other side, smashing it to the ice as well. Then he started to drag the mangled carcass toward the firepit. He poked at the glowing fire with his boot, stirring it up and getting a small flame going. Then he lifted the goal and tossed it onto the fire. With new fuel, the fire flared up again quickly. Behind the snowbank, we all tensed. How long should we wait? Should we really do this, or just stay hidden until he left?
“On three,” came a whisper from Sam. “Pass it on.” I turned to Alyssa on my right and passed the message.
“One, two, three,” came a loud whisper from down the line. We all stood up, cameras raised.
“Hey, you!” shouted Opal.
The Vandal turned toward us and froze. Camera flashes started going off, one after the other.
“What theâ” He stood up and stared, stunned for a moment, it seemed. We stood and stared too. For a moment everything was still. Deep in the bush, an owl hooted. Then the Vandal was all motion. He turned and jumped onto the Ski-Doo, cranked its motor into action and was gone in a roar and a cloud of snow, across the rink and down the trail.
We all jumped up and down and hollered. High fives all around.
“Let's get out of here fast, before he comes back,” said Sam.
We ran across the rink to the firepit, where our goal was engulfed in flames. I took a few photos of it, just for good measure.
“Hey, he left his helmet and the axe. I'll bring them,” said Ruby.
Then we hit the road, running as fast as we possibly could, our skates slung over our shoulders. Spider was so excited that he kept jumping up on everyone and nipping at our heels. It only took about five minutes to get to the Smithers' house, but it seemed like hours. We kept watching over our shoulders, ears tuned for the sound of a solitary Ski-Doo. We charged onto the Smithers' front porch and knocked hard.
“Everyone here?” asked Sam. A quick head count revealed all eight of us. Daisy opened the door, and we piled in. Everyone was talking at once. I sank to the floor in relief. My legs felt like rubber.
“That was really scary,” I said to Sam when I was able to speak.
“Yeah. That axe made me think twice about the plan.”
“Not me,” replied Opal. “I knew we could do it.” There was silence while we thought about what could have happened. But we had survived, and our plan had worked. We had evidence!
We piled into the living room, where a computer sat on a desk in the corner. The five digital cameras came out of our pockets and onto the desk beside the computer. We'd keep the film for backup if the digital photos didn't turn out.
“This could take a while,” said Daisy. “Let's start with this one,” she said, taking Sam's camera. She plugged a cord into the camera and then the computer, and clicked on a few icons. “It's downloading. How many shots did you take?”
“Two or three, I think,” replied Sam.
“Okay. Here they are.” Three small photos appeared on the screen. The fire was bright in the background,
and in front was a dark figure. How would we ever be able to tell who it was?
“I'll blow them up a bit,” said Daisy, who obviously knew what she was doing. “All those media studies classes are finally paying off,” she said, grinning. “This looks like the best one. I'll work on it first.”
She zeroed in on the mysterious head, clicked the mouse a few times, and we watched the head grow. A few more clicks, and it became lighter.
“Anyone you know?” We all jostled closer for a better look.
“He looks sort of familiar. A bit likeâ¦Cory. Alice's boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend, I mean,” said Sam. We looked closer.
“Yeahâ¦maybe. It's hard to really see. Can we look at another one?”
So we looked at several more. It wasn't until the third camera that we got the shot that left no doubt. It was Cory, all right! Alyssa, who had taken the photo, was very proud. “I used the zoom,” she explained, “and set the speed at eight hundred, for night shots.”
The photo showed Cory clearly, mouth open, eyes wide, caught in the act with the axe in his hand and the burning goal beside him. Wow!
“Why would Cory be a vandal?” asked Alyssa. “I mean, what did we ever do to him?”
I explained what Michael had told me about Cory not wanting Alice to play hockey. It seemed like a pretty lame reason for what he had done. “I just don't get this whole boyfriend thing,” I said. “It seems like most of the girls with boyfriends spend their time fighting and breaking up. I mean, what's the point?”
Everyone else nodded in agreement. What did we know about the world of boyfriends?
“I'll make some prints of this one and a few others for backup,” said Daisy, springing into action again. It was getting late, so we all took turns calling home to let our parents know where we were. By midnight, we had four good prints, and we were exhausted.
“Well, this should do it,” said Daisy. “I guess we'll have to show these to Dad. How about if we wait till the morning?” We all agreed. There was a honk outside. My mom was here to pick us up. All eight of us managed to pile into the truck, both front and back. Spider got to run behind. Weary good nights hung in the darkness as we staggered into our houses.
I managed not to tell Mom what we had done, although it was hard, but I figured she'd find out soon enough. Then I'd be in trouble. Maybe Corporal Smithers would arrest us for not listening to him. Was there a law against ignoring rcmp advice?
At 9:00 am, Daisy phoned. “We should do this pretty soon. Dad's gone to the detachment for the morning, so we'd better catch him there before something else comes up.” We decided to phone everyone and have them meet at her house so we could walk to the detachment together. By 10:00 am, we were ready to go. Opal was carrying the helmet and axe, while Daisy had an important-looking brown envelope of photos. We were all quiet.
“I'm more nervous about this than about our stakeout,” said Ruby. “What do you think he's going to do to us?”
“Hard to say,” replied Daisy. “He might be proud of you, or he might be furious. Depends on how much danger he thinks you put yourselves in, I guess.”
We all crowded into the detachment entryway, where we were greeted by a young constable.
“Hi, girls. What are you doing out so early on a Saturday morning?”
“We're here to see my dad,” said Daisy. Her sisters nodded behind her.
“Okay. Just wait a sec while I see if he's busy.”
We could hear a muffled conversation down the hall, followed by Corporal Smithers' appearance.
“To what do I owe this honor, ladies?” he asked, eyeing us carefully.