Former Death Machine biker Billy Bones grabs Liz Austen's arm and whispers: "The password . . . is . . . NOEL. Remember it!"
Remember it? How could she forget?? That one word launches an unforgettable road trip across Saskatchewan aboard the Manana Banana and plunges Liz and her Metis friend, Marie, into a deadly world of kidnapping, international smuggling, and biker gangs with murder on their minds. The question is: will the girls elude the bikers' clutches and escape the dangers of Big Muddy?
"Eric Wilson's latest is a breathless page turner..." Quill & Quire
"This book rocks!"
Chelsea D., Black Creek, British Columbia
It was a warm summer night in June. I was in a small Manitoba town; my aunt and I were travelling west by Greyhound, and the bus had stopped for a coffee break. It was three in the morning. The driver sat with a coffee in an all-night cafe, while I stood outside, looking in darkened store windows. It was exciting to be in a new place, and I was interested in everything.
Then I saw a man running.
He was reflected in the window of a store. The first thing I noticed was his long, braided pigtail. He wore jeans and a T-shirt. In his hand was a book.
I’m telling you, the man looked terrified.
Then I heard a distant rumble in the darkness surrounding the town. The sound grew louder - the man ran faster, more desperately. Crossing the wide street, he reached the bus.
His black eyes stared into mine. Then he quickly climbed inside the Greyhound and disappeared from sight. Heart thumping, I looked into the distance - the noise had become the sound of motorcycles. They were moving fast, headlights cutting the darkness. The bikers swept around a corner and roared in my direction. I stepped closer to the bus, ready to climb in if necessary. Store windows reflected the jagged pattern of the bikers’ headlights. They rode in a pack, men and women in leathers and boots, their motorcycles glittering with chrome. As they swept past, I saw tattooed shoulders and faces. There were a couple of Confederate flags on the bikes; the licence plates were from California.
I stared until the bikers were swallowed by the darkness. All that remained of their passage was the smell of dust in the air.
Quickly, I climbed into the bus. I couldn’t see the man - he was hiding somewhere. I took the aisle seat beside my Aunt Melody, who was asleep. Looking into the coffee shop, I mentally urged the driver to hurry up! I kept checking the night for the bikers, fearful that they’d return.
At last, the driver finished his coffee and we left the town to its dreams. Pulling onto the Trans-Canada Highway, we continued our journey west towards Saskatchewan. But not for long, because suddenly the bus pulled over to the side of the empty highway. Looking in the mirror, the driver said, “Where did you come from?”
I saw the man with the pigtail emerge from the tiny washroom at the back of the bus. His intense eyes stared from hollow sockets; he looked tired and unhealthy. Pulling out some American money, the man peeled off a bill.
“Your heading for Regina?”
The driver nodded. “We arrive there tomorrow morning.”
“Gimme a one-way ticket to Regina.”
“I’m not so sure...”
“Hey,” the man said, “I’m not dangerous. Let me ride with you.”
“Well . . . okay.”
As the bus resumed its journey, the man came down the aisle to sit in the empty seat across from me. On his T-shirt were a skull and the faded words Born to Die. Through a tear in the shoulder, I saw a tattoo. It showed a body hanging from a gallows noose.
I noticed a couple of bus passengers staring at the man, and others whispering together. I guess he looked scary with his ripped jeans and dusty motorcycle boots, but all I felt was curiosity. Who was this guy?
The only thing he carried was that book. I glanced at the title: The Secret of Happiness. “Sir!” I kept my voice low, not wanting to disturb Aunt Melody’s sleep. “What’s your name?”
The man glanced at me. “Billy Bones.”
“I really love reading. Could I borrow your book?”
Glancing at The Secret of Happiness, Billy Bones shook his head. “Nobody touches this book. It’s all I’ve got.” He sighed unhappily.
“Are you okay? Do you need help?”
A brief smile flickered across his face. “I’m okay, kid. But thanks for asking.” He sighed again, then looked at me. “What’s your name?”
“You remind me of my sister, when we were kids. How old are you, Liz?”
“I’m twelve. My aunt is treating me to a vacation in Saskatchewan.” I showed him a brochure for Benbow Farm, the first destination on our holiday. “They’ve got horseback riding and everything!”
“It looks nice,” Billy Bones said, studying the brochure. “Maybe a guy could take shelter there, and get his energy back.”
“Are you in trouble, Mr. Bones?”
“You bet I am. But I’ll survive - I always do.”
“Why were those bikers chasing you?”
My aunt opened her sleepy eyes. “Liz you should get some sleep.”
I whispered good night to Billy Bones. “We’ll talk again in the morning,” I promised him.
Closing my eyes, I thought about the bikers and Billy Bones. Truth to tell, I’d expected a fairly predictable vacation with my fairly predictable aunt. But already there had been excitement and a mysterious stranger - things looked promising!
Eventually I drifted off to sleep. When I awoke, my body was stiff, and sunshine was on my face. Aunt Melody was studying one of her textbooks; there was no sign of Billy Bones.
Yawning, I put on my glasses. As I did, the bus braked to a stop. We were in the middle of the open prairie. At the side of the road, a man was signalling the Greyhound to pull over; he wore faded jeans and a leather jacket. Close by, I saw a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
As the biker stepped into the bus, I looked out the window at a nearby hillside. Watching from the top was a gang of bikers - they looked like the ones I’d seen chasing Billy Bones!
I glanced swiftly at the washroom. The door was closed; a sign read OCCUPIED.
“I’m looking for someone,” the biker said. Ignoring the driver’s protest, he walked down the aisle searching faces. People looked scared; my skin was damp with sudden sweat. Taking my hand, Aunt Melody said, “Don’t worry, Liz. I’m sure we’re perfectly safe.”
The man looked at me with cold eyes. There was a white scar across his face, as if he’d been in a knife fight. A tattoo of a spider’s web covered his shaved head and his neck. The tattoo included a tarantula; the hairy black spider seemed to lurk behind the biker’s ear. On the back of his leather jacket was a cruel face and the words Death Machine.
As I tightly squeezed my aunt’s hand, the biker approached the washroom. Then the sign changed to VACANT and the door slowly opened.
What Kind of Trouble Is Billy Bones In? Why Is He Running Away?
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ESCAPE FROM BIG MUDDY. Copyright 2012 by Eric Hamilton Wilson
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