An excerpt from The Runners by Michigan author Christopher Chagnon. Christopher Chagnon was born in Bad Axe, Michigan. He is the author a trilogy of novels, The Dregs of Presque Isle, The Ghosts of Presque Isle and The Soldiers of Presque Isle known collectively as The Chandlerville Chronicles trilogy. He is an award-winning short story writer and photographer living with Nannette, his wife of forty-five years, in Presque Isle County, near Onaway, Michigan. He manages time to hunt, fish, and play guitar or drums in a rock and roll band when he is not working on a new writing project. The Runners is his latest work. For more information see his author website.
Excerpt from Chapter 8
The Madame’s bow plowed and pushed her way through the choppy Lake Huron water, plotting toward the calm channels of the Les Cheneaux Islands with Skipper at the helm. A small white flag hoisted atop the bow spar hung motionless until an occasional whisper of wind jiggered it to life. The white flag was a signal “all is well” when he arrived at his destination. The diesel engine chugged at quarter speed, running quietly, the midmorning sun showing the submerged boulders lying below the aluminum hull in the shallow water. He was familiar with the tricky passage between Little LaSalle and Marquette Islands, having coursed through them so many times, and knowing about the countless vessels that had gashed their hulls against the rocks, but he had local knowledge taught to him by his Indian partner, Chief Louie.
Schools of perch dashed away from the hull of the Madame as she weaved her passage through the thirty-six-island chain. Today’s mission was not to catch fish but to meet with Chief Louie Boivin.
Skipper steered the Madame slowly into a hidden cove between two small islands. Louie Boivin squatted cautiously near the ground but rose calmly from his campfire after seeing the white flag. Standing at a close distance behind him was a tall, serious Anishinaabe Indian, appearing to be of an age beyond a youth. At his side was a rusted single- barrel shotgun. He cupped his hand over its business end, suspiciously watching Skipper and the Madame. Two snowshoe rabbits hung strung together, dangling at his side. He knelt and began skinning and gutting them, so he could skewer their carcasses on a steel spike to roast above the fire. Louie Boivin spoke to the younger man, who was his son, Aandeg, meaning “crow” in Anishinaabemowin. “It’s okay, stay here.” Boivin walked out on the wooden dock made of cedar planks nailed on oak stringers that were lag-bolted to sunken cedar posts. The dock was rigid and strong, built to hold the weight of men carrying heavy loads. Skipper shut the engine down, then reached for the coiled bowline lying on the deck. The Madame limped toward the dock. Skipper tossed the line toward Boivin where he tied it to a dock piling.
“Boozhoo,” Skipper said, greeting Louie the Thief in Anishinaabemowin, his native language. “Are the bees in the hive?”
“Yes, the bees are home,” Louie replied, looping the bowline around a dock post. Behind Louis sat fifty cases of whiskey obscured by a thick fishnet covering them.
“Good to hear,” Skipper said, stepping onto the dock. In one hand he held an envelope filled with cash; in his other hand, a pry bar. The cash would pay Louie for the fifty cases of whiskey his men would load on the Madame. The pry bar was used to raise the lid on a case or two to inspect the sealed bottles. Louie’s reputation called for verification on his shipment. The first delivery had gone well, and Skipper and Louie had made a healthy profit.
Unlike the first shipment, this load would be delivered to Duncan Bay, outside of Cheboygan. Duncan Bay was twenty nautical miles closer than Seagull Point, near Rogers City, thus limiting Skipper’s exposure of being caught by the Coast Guard, or rough seas that could damage the Madame or the fragile cargo. Feinstein’s men would be waiting with a cargo truck at Duncan Bay. It would be a swift handoff.
Louie raised his hand, motioning to the half dozen ragtag men who were waiting within the cover of thick cedar trees to begin bringing the cases to the boat. The men were dark- skinned like Louie–young Anishinaabe “Indian bucks,” as Skipper called them. Aandeg remained at the fire to attend the roasting rabbits.
After Skipper inspected several cases of whiskey, the remaining cases were loaded on board the Madame. Louie was handed the money envelope. He pawed through the bills in a brief but accurate counting. All the money was there. Louie smiled and said, “Megwich.”
“Same thing next week, Skipper?” Louie asked.
“As far as I know. I haven’t been told otherwise. Keep it coming, Louie.”
Louie looked at the dark clouds gathering in the west, studying them for a moment. “Better not dally around, Skipper. There’s gonna be a blow coming in soon.”
Skipper shoved the Madame away from the dock and stepped aboard, her engine idling quietly until she pulsed ahead once he shifted to “forward.” Skipper smiled, repeating the Anishinaabe word, megwich, meaning “thank you.”
By the time Skipper left the calm island chain, Lake Huron was beginning to swell and roll under the building western wind. The Madame’s hull slammed against the heightening waves, a hammer against a spike. But this was nothing new to her; she was designed to be in its company.