BUSH CAMP


BUSH CAMP
A Novel by Guy Allen

A wounded grizzly, an out-of-control forest fire and mysterious events attributed by the natives to a mythical Ďwild maní plague a group of mine hunters in the Northern British Columbia wilderness. Dusty Sherant, a contract geologist in rough financial shape takes on the project to explore a group of claims for some unscrupulous stock promoters, much against his better judgment. He assembles a motley crew of experienced bush workers and neophytes from diverse backgrounds. Dusty expects the worst and is not disappointed. Conflicts among crew members and romantic liaisons with native girls from a nearby village disrupt the work plan. Unexplained happenings intensify as the crew begins working near the mountains culminating in the death of one of its members. In spite of the setbacks the job is completed, but Dustyís problems continue as he tries to collect payment for the work.

Chapter 1

Dusty
Dusty settled into one of the soft plushy chairs in the waiting room and closed his eyes. He could hardly stay awake and just wanted to end his mental turmoil by getting up and walking away. Financially, he needed a job. He just didnít particularly want this job, but it had been a tough winter. After recovering from the gunshot wounds in the spring, he was physically exhausted from all the turmoil of his prospecting and drilling contract in the Foster Lakes country and the nearby gold-salting scam at Jenny Lake in the fall. Then there was nothing all winter until two short-hole drill jobs near Carlyle in southeast Saskatchewan. After that was spring breakup, and everything ground to a halt. Instead of beating the bush for more work, he had spent a couple of months unofficially helping RCMP Corporal Lucie Hansen with a murder investigation in the old tunnels under the city of Moose Jaw.
He knew he had to be alert for this morningís meeting, but too many cigarettes, too much coffee and twenty-five hours on the road had taken its toll. Hopefully, this was the only time he would need to meet with Archie Campbell, and he had vowed that the deal would either fly or die based on what happened today. The man was notorious on Howe Street, and all the stories Dusty had heard about the older man warned him to stay in control or stay away. But, it looked like Campbell had scored the first point. Yesterday, Dusty had gotten the call on his mobile phone just as he was leaving Moose Jaw on his way home to Calgary. Without any preamble, Campbell had launched into his spiel, quickly describing the job, setting up the meeting and was insistent that it start on time.
Dusty had made every effort to be there at the appointed hour, driving straight through to reach Vancouver on time, and now Campbell was late, leaving him to cool his heels in the outer office. As he settled in and relaxed, he became more aware of his surroundings. The reception area was a modern blend of glass and stainless steel, all straight lines and crisp angles. Dusty mused about its intended effect. Either it was an attempt to intimidate, or it was an effort to suggest a level of integrity that was far from real. Steel doors, desks, bookcases and fixtures were scattered about the room. The steel wall panels had a sickly green wood-grained pattern that did nothing to ease the queasiness in his stomach. Everything else was covered with glass. Only the rug, which buried his shoe tops, and the blond receptionist seemed out of place. "Certainly not designed to create warmth," he thought. He liked the rug. It was a soft gentle contrast to the rest of the dťcor. He wasnít so sure about the receptionist. His third attempt to learn her name finally met with success, when she announced with a chill in her voice that she was Suzanne, Mr. Campbell's personal secretary and that Mr. Campbell was expected at any moment. Dusty also received the unspoken message that she didn't wish him to bother her any further and that she probably wished he would just go away. Dusty gave up pursuing a conversation. She had obviously not been hired for her intellectual capacity or charming personality, but the reason for her presence in this workplace was visually obvious. Her beauty was difficult to ignore. Most noticeable was the deep golden tan that covered all the exposed areas of her body, of which there were many, leading Dusty's imagination into a side trip of speculation about the extent of the tan on some of the unexposed parts. Suddenly, an explosion of activity in the outside corridor broke his reverie. The door burst open and a large man in a rumpled suit charged into the room. He stopped suddenly and looked around, almost as if he was a stranger in his own world. His gaze fell on Dusty, and he thrust out a meaty hand in greeting.
"You must be Sherant," he boomed. "Sorry to keep you waiting. Still having trouble getting used to the traffic in this damn town. Got into another snarl on the bridge this morning. Some damn fool's car broke down. Makes me mad. If they can't afford to keep their cars tuned up, they ought to be kicked off the road and forced to take the bus. But enough, come on into my office and we'll have our talk," he continued, as he put his arm around Dusty's shoulder and led him through the steel-paneled door.
"Suzanne! Bring us a pot of coffee and hold my calls."
Dusty followed Archie Campbell from one room of steel and glass into another. The only differences were: the chairs were softer, the rug deeper, the desk wooden and Campbell was considerably less attractive than his secretary. The two men settled in facing each other as Suzanne minced in and poured two steaming cups of coffee. The diversion gave Dusty a few moments to size up his man. Campbell was large, six one or six two and at least 270 pounds. On the turning edge of sixty, what had obviously once been a trim powerful body now showed the ravages of too many liquid lunches and sedentary habits. His baldness was trimmed with white and his bulbous red nose was skewed to the right, probably a remnant of a bar fight in his younger days.Although his reputation indicated all the wiles of a Vancouver promoter, Campbell still looked out of place in the business setting. It was like he had his D7 parked at the curb and had just dropped in for a cup of coffee and a chat.
Dusty was feeling less at ease, and fatigue was setting in as the morning progressed. He had rehearsed his role for this first encounter on the drive last night, anticipating some of the problems that seemed inevitable. But now, he sensed his confidence dropping. Campbell's size and hearty outgoing manner was intimidating, and Dusty felt any control of the meeting that he might have had slipping away. He knew he had to slow things down and try to deal with this man on an equal basis. Settling into the deep easy chair, he forced himself to relax. Dusty knew his initial fears were justified when he saw Campbell's face darken at the mention of the deposit money. He had hit the nerve."Well," the older man replied slowly, "there may be a bit of a problem there. It looks like the funds are going to be delayed a few days, but I'm sure all the money will be in hand by the end of the week. The Securities Commission seems to be dragging their feet on a final approval. Unfortunately, I just can't reach into my pocket now and put it all on the table. I suggest you go ahead with the startup plans and get the program under way. I'll forward the cheque as soon as things are straightened out around here.Ē
"I'm afraid I can't do that," Dusty replied. "That's not the way I work, or what we agreed on. I thought it was understood that the initial money was to be paid before I commenced the program. Perhaps Merv Chipman neglected to make that clear." "Of course! Of course!" Campbell blustered. "But, we're just looking at a few days. I don't see how that can affect your plans to any extent."
"No, Iím afraid it does," Dusty replied. "I'm sorry, but that deposit payment has to come first. I've had some unfortunate experiences in the past with promoters in this town, and I'm a bit gun shy when it comes to the money end of the deal. I can wait. I'll just suspend things until I receive payment."
"Look, Sherant. You can't back out on this job. You've signed a contract." Archie Campbell punctuated the last remark with a thick finger jabbing across the big oak desk. "And besides, from what I've heard, youíre all geared up to go with a bunch of men hired and supplies bought."
Dusty was getting more and more fed up as the discussion continued. He decided to call Campbellís bluff. "That's right, and I can get ungeared just as fast if I don't see some money,Ē he replied. ďAs for the contract, I suggest you read it more closely." Dusty pulled the agreement from his briefcase and continued, "It says, here in Paragraph Four, 'that a payment of fifty percent of the accepted bid shall be made to the Contractor at least ten days prior to said Contractor commencing field operations.' My bid for this job, which incidentally you accepted in writing, was $190,000; so accordingly, I need to see a certified cheque for $85,000 before I turn another wheel. In fact, the way this thing has been going so far, I'd just as soon you didn't pay me, and I could pack the whole thing in right now."
Dusty leaned back in the chair. He felt better. He hadn't won, but now he had nothing to lose. He looked relaxed, and this puzzled Campbell. He had checked Dusty out thoroughly and had learned, to his pleasure, that due to an extended period of recuperation from gunshot wounds the previous year, some bad investments and a recent period of unemployment the past few months, this man was broke, owed money and had no other work presently lined up. He had been sure that he could whittle Sherant's price down and delay payments long enough to make a few extra bucks on the interest. "Alright," Campbell replied. "Let's cool down and forget all that fancy lawyer talk. I'm sure we can work out something. I told you we're a little strapped for money right now, but I can probably dig up a few bucks to tide you over, and I guarantee we'll have the rest in a week or ten days at the most. As I told you, the problem is that the money raised from selling this new stock issue is still tied up. These kinds of delays don't do our market any good. The shareholders are getting uneasy. They've been calling all week asking when we're going to start exploring those claims. What the hell am I supposed to tell them? We need some news to get the people interested in our stock and start trading it again. It would help to tell them that the field program has begun."
"Okay," Dusty replied. "I can appreciate that, but like I said, I've been through a couple of these deals that went sour before. The company keeps promising payment and then when the job's over, and I'm in hock up to my neck, I find out the principals have taken off with the money, and the company has gone bankrupt and been delisted. Iím not saying thatís going to happen here, but Iím not taking any chances of going through that scenario again."
"Well, we're far from bankrupt," Campbell replied with annoyance." You can check that out."
"I already have," Dusty replied. "I also found out that your last issue was completely subscribed and that the Securities Commission has instructed the trust company to release the funds. So, donít bullshit me that you canít get your money.Ē
"Yes, that's true," Campbell replied uneasily. "But, we haven't got the cheque yet, and quite a bit of that money is required to pay off Company debts. You know," he added. "I haven't received any salary for six months."
Dusty could see the whole pattern playing out again. That last remark dispelled any remaining concern that he might be taking too tough a position. It was obvious they would look after themselves first and then if there was anything left, he might get paid. It was beginning to look like he was going to be out the money he had already spent to set things up, but there was a certain amount of relief in the prospect that he might not have to deal with Campbell, his partners and Mervin Chipman over the next few months. "You should know by now that if you start shuffling those approved funds into places other than that for which they were designated, you're going to have trouble with the Commission," Dusty went on. "I read your prospectus. Chipman recommended a $212,000 program to evaluate those claims. I contracted to do the complete job for $190,000, saving you a total of thirty-two grand right off the bat, and you are still going to try and chisel me. Well, to hell with you. Have the money by five o'clock tonight, or find yourself someone else. I'll be here in town if you want me, but if I donít see the money, Iím out of here tomorrow."
Dusty scribbled the motel address and phone number on the back of his business card and threw it on Campbell's desk.
"I think you're taking a damn poor attitude about this, Sherant. You talk like we're a bunch of crooks. Maybe we should find someone else for the project, someone who has a little more understanding for our problems.Ē "Suit yourself," Dusty replied as he walked out of the office.
The morning sun had surrendered to the heavy gray bank of clouds that were spitting rain when Dusty emerged from the building. The early lunch crowds were starting to scurry along Pender Street as he walked to his truck. "It is going to be a rough year if things continue at this pace," he thought as he slipped a parking ticket from under the windshield wiper.
The phone in Dusty's motel room rang at three-thirty. It was Archie Campbell.
"We've decided to go with you, Sherant. You are fortunate that it is too late to dig up someone else. Your cheque is here. You can pick it up in the morning."
"That's more like it," Dusty replied. ďbut better still, you have it certified, and I'll be there in a few minutes to get it.Ē

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