Thursday, January 11, 2018


Phillippe Henri awakened with a sense of excitement he could hardly contain. He had been anticipating this day for quite some time and now that it had finally come, he wasted no time. He crept out of bed, being careful not to wake his sleeping bear of a wife, and tiptoed to the door. He took one last look to see if she had stirred then softly closed the door. He went to the bathroom to urinate and then to the kitchen to turn on the kettle. He had gathered all his gear and laid out his clothes the night before, and while he was waiting for the water to boil, he got dressed and double checked his gear. When the kettle started to steam, he made a Thermos full of tea, gathered his gear, and went out the door. He jiggled the knob twice to make sure that it was locked.

It was bitterly cold, and his nostrils stuck together when he breathed. He placed his gear in the back of the truck then got in and started the engine. He waited impatiently for the truck’s engine to warm up, tapping his boots on the floor. It had been too cold to snow, so he didn’t have to sweep the snow off the truck. After about ten minutes, he shifted the old girl in gear and was on his way.

His first stop was at the nearby coffee shop. He got himself the usual: large double, double, and a chocolate chip muffin. He hadn’t packed a lunch, so he got himself a breakfast sandwich for later, in case he stayed longer than planned. His second stop was at the local gas station. He had planned on filling it up the night before, but he been delayed on some other errand for his wife, and by the time he got to the gas station it had already closed.

Now he was cruising up the highway, enjoying the fresh coffee and munching on the muffin. Nothing could have taken the grin off his face. He had been looking forward to this trip for some time and now that he was laid off work—the logging business had finished for the year—he had plenty of time to relax and enjoy his time off. Christmas time was done, the new year was in, and things had settled down. He felt a sense of pride that he had managed to put enough money away for the Christmas holiday. It was usually a bit rough in December since he was always laid off work just before Christmas, but things had a way of working themselves out.

When he pulled into the driveway, he noticed that no other vehicles were parked. “Great.” he said to the old girl. “Now I can pitch where ever I want.”

He finished off his coffee and got out. The sky had been brilliant with twinkling stars, but were fading as the dawn approached. He got the sled out of the back of the old girl and fastened the gear on top. He pressed his key fob and listened for the lock of the door. He eyed the pathway and headed toward the trail. His new boots felt good on his feet.

As he walked through the trail, he noticed that the limbs on the spruce and pine trees were overcome with snow and were bending downwards as if worshipping mother nature. Everything was sparkling white. It had been snowing for weeks, with temperatures way below the norm, causing ponds and lakes to freeze over. As he approached the lake, he noticed that an area had already been cleared, and by the looks of things, a great game of shinny had been played.  He stopped to fit cleats on his boots.

It was a big lake and it had already been tagged for safety a few weeks prior, so he walked out in the middle of the cleared rink and looked around. He tried to remember where he fished during the fall and spotted an area where he had caught a few yellow perch. He went over, beyond the rink, and started setting up his ice shack, humming all the while.

He had no trouble with the ice auger and in no time at all he was quite content and cozy sitting on his stool, sipping his sweet tea, and waiting for the next bite. Occasionally, he would peep out of his little shack to see if anyone had come. He was all alone, for now.

After an hour had passed without a bite, he decided to venture out and try another spot. He put his fish in the small cooler, piled his gear back on the sled, and hauled the shack closer to the bank of the lake. The shack was tough plastic, so it was easy to slide it across the snow and ice. He parked it and set himself up again. He was sipping his tea when he got his first bite, or what he thought was a bite. He had been bobbing the rod, and he felt a tug, then another, then another. Something wanted to bite, but was hesitating.

Philippe stood up and started playing the line. The rod was rather short, as needed when ice-fishing, with an eight-pound line. Something was biting the bait, and as he would try to lift the rod it would let go. He played around with it until finally, whatever had been biting, was hooked. It was heavy, and Philippe was unsure if the line would hold or even if he could get it out of the hole he had made. He reeled it in as far as it would go, but it could not fit through the hole. Whatever it was wasn’t struggling on the line, it remained still. Phillippe reached for the spud bar and hoped that he could shimmy it out of the hole somehow. He was holding the rod in one hand and with the other hand he began digging at the thing with the spud bar. The ice thickness at the other hole was only eight inches, but it was thicker here. He put down the spud bar and reached for the lantern. It was too dark to see anything. He was determined to get it out, so without letting go of the rod, he took off his coat and layers of clothes until he was buff. It was cold, but he didn’t feel a thing, he was too curious as to what was on the end of the line. He laid his coat on the ice and got on his belly. He reached in and felt around. He felt cloth. A look of disgust and fear crossed his face. That could be a body, he thought. Water splashed as he suddenly withdrew his hand.

Philippe was up on his knees as if he were praying, and maybe he was. Maybe he was praying for strength, maybe he was praying for gumption, or maybe he was playing the scenarios in his head and wondering what to do. Finally, he dipped his hand in and forced the object out of the hole, like a new mother forcing an infant out of the womb. He threw it at the wall of the ice shack along with the rod, jumped up on his feet, and quickly got dressed. He felt the cold now and was shivering from it. He rubbed his hands together over the lantern to warm them and to get the blood circulating, all the while not taking his eyes off the object.

When he was warmed up again, he peered out of the shack. It was bright, it hurt to look. He walked around the shack and saw no one. All was quiet. The wind was still. It had started to snow. He went back inside and unhooked the object from the rod. He reeled in the line and put the rod aside. It was an old black leather Addidas gym bag.  He found the zipper and opened it up. He had to turn the bag upside down and shake it to get its contents out. It took a few shakes before it plopped out onto the ice. It looked like a big ball of duct tape. Philippe took out his knife and picked at it until a chunk of ice fell off. Under that, he was able to tear a piece of duct tape away. Underneath was black plastic. It was a black plastic bag wrapped up with duct tape surrounded by ice. He broke away the ice and tore the tape and plastic away and something dropped on the ice. He grabbed the lantern. Upon seeing what it was he stood up and once again did a circle around the shack. A worried look marked his face. He went back inside.

He counted exactly one hundred rolls of 50,000 dollars. That was five million dollars. He got up and once again checked the perimeter. He was anxious. He was shaking. He was excited. He was worried. He went back inside and found a few plastic shopping bags in his backpack. He put the money in the bag and then put it inside his pack. He placed the wet plastic and Addidas bag in another shopping bag and put in the backpack. He then gathered up all his gear, and went outside. He surveyed the area then began to take down the shack. He fastened everything onto the sled and then headed for the rink. His mind was racing. His breathing was rapid. He was trying to run. When he reached the rink, he had picked up speed. He slipped a few times, but held his balance. The cleats under his boots made it easy. He crossed the rink and was on the shoreline. He stopped to take of his cleats, but in his haste, slipped and fell backwards, hitting his head on the ice.

Just then a fellow fisherman was coming through the trail and noticed Philippe. He saw him fall and ran toward him. He had his phone ready to dial the local ambulance. Once he got to Philippe he tried to revive him, but was unable. He dialed the ambulance and threw his own gear in the woods. He then got Philippe on the sled and dragged him through the trail and waited for the ambulance.

Philippe opened his eyes. He did not know where he was. He looked up and saw plastic hoses and heard machines beeping. He looked out the window and saw that it was dark. His head hurt, and his eyes burned. He needed to urinate. He tried to yell, but his throat was so dry, all that came out was a crackle.

“Dad! Dad, can you hear me?”

It was his daughter, Leah. She was looking down at him with tears in her eyes. Then she was gone.
She came back later, and more faces appeared. Nelly, his wife, and other faces he did not know.

“Philippe, can you hear me?” It was a face of an unknown.

Nelly looked down at him and he recognized her at once. She smiled. He tried to speak, but was parched. She got him some water and then he slowly asked her where he was.

While the doctors and nurses were looking at their monitors and machines, Nelly, told him what had happened. “It was a good thing Jean Marc had been there.” Her eyes welled up with tears. “You don’t remember anything?”

“I remember that I got up early to go fishing.” he replied, not sure of himself.

The doctor had finished his examination and told Philippe that other than a mild concussion, he was okay. He recommended that Philippe remain in the hospital overnight for observation. Nelly was concerned about his memory, and took him outside to ask a few questions. The doctor assured her that it was normal and that he should regain his memory in a few days. The next day, Nelly and Leah took Philippe home, where he rested for the rest of the week.

One evening, nearly two weeks later, Jean Marc came to visit. He brought along a six pack of beer, and they went in the garage to have a chat. As they drank the cold brew and chatted, Philippe told Jean Marc that he still could not remember the events of that day, only that he got up that morning to go ice fishing. It was still too soon to joke about the matter. It could have been a very different situation if Jean Marc hadn’t been there at that time. Jean Marc told Philippe that after he had dialed the ambulance, he had called Nelly, who went straight to the hospital to meet the ambulance. After the ambulance had come and gone, he arranged for a friend to help him get the old girl home. Philippe gave his friend a firm handshake and gave thanks for getting his truck and all his gear home safe. When the beer was gone, Jean Marc went home.

Philippe sat there for a moment, sipping on the last beer. He tried to remember, but nothing. He finished his beer then got up to leave. As he was getting up he spotted his sled. All the gear was still fastened to it, including the ice shack. He was feeling a little buzzed from the beer, so he started to unpack the load. The fishing shack had dried, along with the auger. His back pack was damp, so he turned up the heater, he meant to hang the backpack above the heater to dry. He unzipped the backpack and emptied the contents. At first, he didn’t recognize the plastic shopping bags. He reached into one and took out its contents. When he spotted the black leather Addidas bag, the memory of that day flooded his brain in such a way that it knocked him down to one knee. The other shopping bag still contained the money, five million dollars.

“Philippe!” Nelly called out from the porch.

Startled, he broke out of his trance, and got to his feet.

“Philippe!” Nelly called again.

This time he went to the door and called out. “Yes, Nelly, what is it?”

“What are you doing in there, come on in, the nightly news is on.”

“Okay, I’m just finishing up.”  He went back inside, stuffed the money back into the pack, and hid it between the beams of the ceiling. He shut off the heater and locked up the garage. He then took a quick look around. All was quiet, nothing but the thumping of his own heartbeat.

He went inside and sat down on the sofa. Nelly came with the tea and banana bread. Philippe was trying hard to calm himself, but he was shaking. He brought the cup of tea up and burned his bottom lip. Nelly did not notice.

The first half hour was local news which was usually about a car crash, upcoming events, or some drunken idiot driving a ski-doo out in the middle of the night again, waking up neighbors. The second half was usually from nearby Bangor. Now this newscast was interesting as it told the story of how the bodies of two men were discovered in the woods near the Maine and New Brunswick border.

“Wasn’t that near the lake where you went ice fishing?” Nelly asked.

Philippe was speechless. He hung on every word. His eyes did not blink. He was mesmerized.

The reporter told the story of a bank heist in Portland that occurred in October and that the robbers had gotten away with five million dollars. The money was not recovered and there were no leads. Any information would be met with a small reward.

Nothing could have wiped the smile off Philippe’s face.

“What are you grinning at?” Nelly asked.

“Oh, that last part where the reporter said small reward for information. Like anyone would give up five million dollars, if they found it. Would you?”

He turned around to face her. Nelly smiled. “Not in this economy.” she said.

“Oh, by the way, Nelly, I remember what happened now.”

“Oh, really? That’s great.”

“Come on out to the shed, I want to show you something.”

It was one full year before they started using the money, a little at first, going over the border to Houlton to shop for groceries. As time went on, they continued to spend the American money, always being careful and never getting greedy. They went ice fishing a lot and lived happily ever after.