Authors: Fran Hurcomb
Daisy handed him the envelope silently.
“We took these photos last night at the rink, sir,” said Sam, in quick explanation. “Your girls weren't there. Daisy just printed them for us.”
Before he opened the envelope, he stared at each of us in turn. We all smiled bravely, trying to look like confident sleuths. He pulled out the photos and examined each one before saying anything.
“Is this what I think it is?” he asked quietly. We nodded.
“Here's his helmet too, and his axe. He left them behind when he ran away.” Opal proudly handed
the black helmet and well-used axe to him. She was the only one who didn't seem worried about what his reaction was going to be. Maybe she really was a sleuth.
“You girls had better come into my office and explain this from the beginning,” he said. We crowded into his office, and I led things off. The story came out kind of confused, but he got the idea. He kept looking at us very seriously. Finally he spoke. “Do you girls remember what I told you after that last incident?”
“Yes, sir,” I finally said. Everyone nodded in agreement.
“But we didn't really think anyone would show up,” said Opal quickly. “It was really just a theory we were testing.” Wow. Testing a theory? Where did that come from? Opal really read too much.
“Did any of you think about what might have happened if he had decided to go after you instead of running away?”
“We were going to run into the bush in eight different directions,” said Opal, confident that her plan would impress him.
“So maybe he would only have caught one or two of you? And then what?” Dead silence. He heaved a long sigh and shook his head.
“Well, you girls are going to have some explaining to do to your parents before this is through.” He paused. “But first,” he said as he held up the photos, “this young man has some explaining to do to me. I'm going to have a look at the crime scene. Please go home and stay there until you hear otherwise. You're all grounded.”
We trooped out the door.
“Grounded by the RCMP. Wow! That's a new one,” said Opal proudly. Nothing seemed to faze Opal.
Since it was Saturday morning, the cafÃ© was really busy. All of the tables and most of the counter seats were full. The next few hours flew by while I served, made coffee and cleaned up. I tried my best to smile, like a good waitress should, but it was hard. Let's just say my mind wasn't on my job. Finally, after the lunch rush, Mom and I had time to sit down and have a sandwich.
“Going to the rink this afternoon?” she asked, between bites of her blt.
There was a long pause.
“Yeah. Kind of. Actually, it's not all bad. We caught the Hockey Vandal last night, or at least we took photos of him.”
“What?” Mom locked her eagle eyes on me. I squirmed. Then I told her the whole story. When I was done, I waited for the explosion. Finally she just shook her head and said, “You girls.”
That was it? Of course not. But at least there hadn't been an explosion.
“Reg is right, you know.” Reg was Daisy's dad. “You could have gotten hurt. And you should have taken the plan to him instead of going ahead with it on your own.”
“I know, Mom, but it seemed like such a goofy idea. I don't think anybody but Opal thought that he'd actually show up. Actually, it's kind of cool how it worked out.”
“Well, I'll be interested to hear how Reg's talk with Cory goes. I expect we'll hear about it soon.”
No sooner had she spoken than the phone rang. Mom answered it and had a conversation that consisted mainly of “Yup,” “Uh-huh” and “Okay.”
“That was Reg. He wants us all to come to the detachment at three this afternoon.”
I finished cleaning up while Mom prepared some moose stew for supper. At five to three, we hung the
sign in the window of the cafÃ© and headed to the detachment. Inside, it was already crowded. The room really wasn't built to hold twenty people, but we all squeezed in. Corporal Smithers came out of his office, looking serious.
“Thanks for coming. Sorry there's nowhere to sit, but this won't take long. I hope your girls have told you why we're here.” He paused, and everyone nodded. “Well, the short story is that I followed up on their detective work and interviewed the young man in the photos. I also returned his helmet and axe. He admitted to the whole thing, including the paint incident and trashing the skate sharpener.”
“All right,” said Opal, high-fiving her sister. All eight of us were grinning now. We had actually caught the right person. The parents were all talking at once. The hubbub was pretty loud. Finally the corporal spoke up again.
“I'd like to thank the girls for their help, but I'd also like to warn them that in the future, they should
leave the policing of Fort Desperation to the rcmp. Luckily, this young man is not a violent sort. In fact, he's pretty embarrassed right now. But if it had been another type of person, the whole story might have turned out very differently. So that's about it. Cory will probably be charged with mischief and made to pay for the skate sharpener. That's up to the courts, I guess. I think it's safe to say that the case of the Hockey Vandal is closed. If you want to see the photos, they're right here. Thanks for coming.”
With that, he held out the photos to the closest parents. Everyone wanted to see them while we explained in gory detail, to everyone, all at once, just what had happened. It was all okay. We weren't arrested. In fact, we were sort of heroes. Wow!
Sam was grinning from ear to ear. “I was kind of worried that we were going to be in big trouble.”
“Me too,” I said. “Hey, want to go skate for a while? I think Curtis comes back tomorrow. I've got a few moves I'd like to work on.”
We all headed home to get our skates. Within half an hour, most of us had made it to the pond. It was already getting dark, but that didn't matter. The pond
was ours again. The only reminder of the case of the Hockey Vandal was the remains of the goal, which still lay in the firepit beside the ice.
“My dad said he'd make another one,” said Opal as she stood looking at the ruined net. “Might even be ready by the time Curtis gets back. Boy, are we going to have a story to tell him.”
Curtis came back on schedule, and he was pretty impressed with our detective work, but he didn't let it get in the way of our practices. With lines on our rink, we actually got to teach the new players the strategies of the game. We got better with every practice, and by the time the arena finally opened two weeks before Christmas, we were beginning to feel like a team. Sam, Geraldine and I were so busy with the team that we didn't even have much time to play with the boys, whose hearts weren't exactly broken.
As he promised, Curtis got us some games with the Peewees. The first game was a disaster. We must have set some sort of record for the most offsides in one game. After the first period, the scorekeeper stopped
posting the score. Alice must have stopped a hundred shots, but quite a few got past her. Curtis wouldn't let us get depressed about it. In fact, we had a lot of fun. We laughed a lot and after the game, the Peewee coach, Joe, said he had never seen such a polite team. He told us that we really didn't have to apologize if we bumped into someone. We're still working on that.
During the Christmas holidays, we really started to come together. New hockey equipment had turned up under most of our Christmas trees, so we were even beginning to look like hockey players. I got a great pair of new skates, size eights, and some bright pink stick tape. Everyone was figuring out how to play their positions, and more and more often, the newer girls were carrying the puck and making plays. Opal and Ruby on defense were awesome. They worked together perfectly and nobody could get by them with a puck anymore. But the real star was Alice. She was unbelievable. Now that she was used to the heavy equipment, she was like Superwoman. All those years of stopping soccer balls had paid off. She never
said a single word about Cory. Maybe she was too embarrassed. Although she was older than us and a major soccer hero, Alice was pretty shy and not at all stuck up. If she didn't want to talk about Cory, that was fine with us. In the dressing room, we showed off our new bruises, and Sam brought a cd player so that we could play really loud music to get us pumped up.
Fort Desperation's community arena is really old. According to local legend, it was built in the 1950s beside the old residential school, which housed three hundred students from up and down the river. The school is long gone, but the arena is still standing. It's a long Quonset hut that looks a bit like an oil drum cut in half lengthwise. An old trailer attached to one side houses the two dressing rooms. They're incredibly cold, even with the extra electric heaters going, but for us girls, just getting a whole dressing room to ourselves was a major step forward.
After Christmas, a special hockey night was announced, with games starting at four o'clock and going till midnight. The snack bar would be up and
running, with hot dogs, pop and other assorted health foods. The whole lobby was decorated for the event with people's rejected Christmas decorations: old strings of lights with big bulbs, those long twisty ropes of tinsel and unmatched faded ornaments. Christmas carols crackled over the pa system, even at our practices.
The games were arranged according to age, and our team was going to play the Peewee boys team at 5:30 pm. We were nervous. It was our first game in public, and we were desperate not to get blown out of the arena.
We all got to the arena good and early so we'd have time to do our stretches and other professional stuff like retaping our sticks. After we were dressed, Curtis came into the dressing room to give us a little pep talk. Tara, who was now our official assistant coach, came too.
“Well, are you ready for this?” he asked. We stayed quiet. This was going to be embarrassing. We could just feel it in our bones. We knew that the arena was starting to fill up out there. What if they laughed at us?
“This is your chance to show your families just how far you've come,” he continued. “Just think back two months, to when you started this team, and how much
better you are today. If you skate hard and play your best game, you'll do fine. Those boys are a bit cocky. I think you're going to surprise them.”
Finally, Opal broke the silence. “I'd really like to beat them. They are so arrogant. They deserve to lose,” she said emphatically.
“Yeah, I'm tired of losing to those little squirts,” added Daisy. “You know, I think we really could beat them if we had just a small miracle. Just a small one.”
“Well, ladies, let's go find our miracle,” said Curtis with a pump of his fist.
“Yeah,” we all yelled, as loud as we could.
We filed slowly onto the ice and eyed the stands. There were a lot of people up thereâ¦probably a hundred or so. My mom was waving and smiling, and Mrs. Smithers had started chanting, “Go girls go.” Oh, this was so embarrassing.
We ran through some shooting drills to get Alice warmed up. When the ref came on the ice, Curtis whistled us over to the bench. He was smiling from ear to ear.
“Well, girls, maybe we'll get our miracle.” We looked at each other and then back at him.
“How?” I asked.
“How many of you are here today?” Curtis asked.
We started counting.
“Fourteen,” Alice said
“Take a look at their bench.” We all turned and looked. There weren't very many of them. In fact, a quick count came up with eight, including the goalie. Smiles started to spread across our faces. Only seven skaters. If we played our cards right, we might wear them out.
“You can do this, girls,” said Curtis. “Just skate their legs off.”
We hit the ice. We were so nervous the first few shifts that we couldn't do anything right. Opal gave the puck away right in front of our net, and despite Alice's desperate leap, the score was 1â0 within the first minute. Then I lost the face-off, Sam tripped, Ruby and Opal collided and it was 2â0. This was going to be even worse than we thought. The stands were already quiet, except for Mrs. Smithers, who kept yelling, “Go, girls,” at every opportunity.
But after a few shifts we started to settle down. Sam, Geraldine and I started passing the puck around, just like in practice, waiting for a good opportunity to take a shot. The Peewees were zooming everywhere, just trying to get their sticks on the puck. Opal and Ruby were solid on defense, and the boys couldn't seem to
get around them. Finally, at the end of the first period, Daisy intercepted the puck at center ice, and quickly passed it to Michelle, who flipped it over the sprawling goalie. It was in. We mobbed Michelle. In the stands, our parents went wild, just like we'd won the Stanley Cup or something. Curtis was grinning ear to ear.
During the break between periods, while the pa system pumped out loud rock music, Curtis gave us a real pep talk. It really was possible that we could take this game. We listened to everything he said with new enthusiasm. The trick was to keep our shifts short, so that we were always fresh and skating our hardest. We had enough players that we could actually get a bit rested between shifts. We hit the ice with a loud cheer.
The second period was tough. Those little guys were in good shape, and they weren't going to give up any time soon. Since they were playing girls, there was no bodychecking allowed, but they were getting a bit desperate. Their biggest player, Josh Simpson, nailed Sam as she reached for the puck. Josh got a three-minute penalty for bodychecking. Sam was really slow getting up and skating to the bench.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. I've had worse. It's just that I wasn't expecting it. I'm kind of getting used to not having to worry about body checks, you know?”