Collins didn't say anything.
Marla held eye contact for a moment, and then stepped aside when she saw the determination in Jack's eyes. She lowered her head and then saw Mendenhall taking several canned goods from the shelf.
"Put those down, you'll have to travel light because we only have two boats in the shed. The freeze-dried stuff is back here, enough to feed an army."
Mendenhall, arms brimming with canned soup, salmon, and chili, looked deflated. He glanced over at Sarah and they both rolled their eyes.
"I could have gone all year without hearing that you carried freeze-dried rations." Mendenhall slowly started placing the delectable canned goods back on the shelf.
"Someday, we have to buy stock in the companies that make that crap," Sarah said as she, too, started placing cans back where she had gotten them.
"I kind of like the freeze-dried food," Charlie Ellenshaw said looking around and pushing his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose as he saw Mendenhall shaking his head.
"Why doesn't that surprise me, Doc?"
* * *
"Now, we are here," the old woman said pointing to the fishing camp. "You won't have to cross the river; stay on this side, and you'll end up on the northern Stikine all the way up to where those people may be."
Jack watched as her finger pointed to the rounded bend in the Stikine more than a hundred and twenty miles north of their current location.
"And how do you know that is where they'll be?" Collins asked.
The grandmother turned to face the Frenchman, the American, and the Canadian. "Because that's where that damn L. T. Lattimer said he found his gold - that is what they are after, right?"
"I didn't think Lattimer was that well known," Punchy said as he popped four aspirin into his mouth.
The old woman smiled as she turned fully to face the others. They all could see that at one time in her life, the heavyset jovial lady had been as beautiful as her young granddaughter, but age and time had caught up with her, but to her credit, she looked as if she really didn't care that her looks were gone. She looked around until she saw the thin man she had seen enter the store. Charlie Ellenshaw was looking at a large can of bug repellant, reading the ingredients closely.
"L. T. Lattimer was an arrogant, untrustworthy man who was a cancer to this part of the Stikine, a most unreliable sort. We learned of his possible fate from that tall and soaked drink of water right there," she said pointing from the back room to where Charlie stood.
Ellenshaw scratched his butt and then felt the eyes on him. He turned and saw everyone in the small office looking his way. He turned his head, thinking that someone was behind him, and then he realized it was indeed himself that was the center of attention. He was about to ask what it was he had done, when he saw the old woman. He squint his eyes and then recognition lit his features.
"That's right, you - I remember everything. The way you came back here with the rest of those hippie boys and girls, talking about Lattimer."
Charlie placed the bug repellent down and nervously smiled. "I remember you. You warned us to watch ourselves with Lattimer. I also told you about the animals that lived in that area. You didn't ever deny that anything that remarkable could live there."
Charlie swallowed as the memory of those days returned. He shook his head and felt weak in the knees.
"As I was saying, he knows more about that area than I do."
"Tell me, madam, did anyone ever go back and look for Mr. Lattimer?" Ellenshaw asked, getting himself back under control.
"My boy spent a month looking for L. T. and never found a thing. Never found your monsters, either," she said turning back to Charlie.
Ellenshaw looked down at the floor, still feeling the others looking at him. He knew they weren't believers in his story of what the world called Bigfoot that inhabit this part of the world, but he didn't care, either; he knew what he had experienced that summer in 1968.
"It's okay, boy, you did real good back then just getting the rest of those students out of there, and back down the river, that's more than most would have done. You have nothing to prove to me," she said and when Charlie looked up at her, she winked. That made him feel better and he looked away, embarrassed.
"Come here, Mr. Science, and join us at the map," Jack said, nodding that he agreed with Helena.
The old woman gave Charlie Ellenshaw a crooked smile as he timidly stepped into the small office.
"As I said, the northern Stikine is unkind to fools." She then turned back to the map. "And like I said a minute ago, we have a stash of weapons, mostly hunting stuff that we have found in the woods from time to time. We don't hunt ourselves here as we have always left the wildlife be. But you're welcome to them; it's a small arsenal if the truth be told. A lot of smart-ass doctors and lawyers who wouldn't listen to reason; let's just say they may have come across something that wasn't as sporting as a deer or elk. That's right, my friend, I listen to the tales that the Indians talk about at night same as everyone else."
"So you believe in that hokey crap about Bigfoot?" Alexander asked, looking almost insulted at the stories that Charlie had been spewing all the way up north.
"Thank you," Jack said, cutting off any further comments about what wasn't really important.
"As I said, you are welcome to all those guns and equipment," she said eyeing Punchy Alexander with what amounted to total disdain, "but you listen to me now." She pulled at Jack's sleeve and nodded toward Charlie. "Do not venture into the woods ten to twelve miles north of the Stikine River. Do you hear me? Even if your quarry goes to ground there! Stay out of that area."
She turned and pointed at a spot on the large map of about a thousand square miles.
"What's in there?" Farbeaux asked, more than a little curious, especially since historically speaking, the mother lode of the Alaskan and Canadian gold rushes had never been discovered - the source of all that gold was still out there somewhere.
"It's wild, young man, more wild than you could ever believe. Just stay out of there. If your Russians go in there, rest assured that they are not coming back."
Jack, knowing that if his sister was in there, there was no way he wasn't going in after her. He looked at the black, hand-printed words embossed over the field of unbroken green that marked the area the old woman had shown them. Jack wrote the words down on his notes: THE CHULIMANTAN PLATEAU.
Not one of the men ever thought to ask the meaning of the Indian name that graced the valley and the rise of the large plateau. Collins heard the admonishment of the old woman, but paid her no mind.
"Don't go north of the Stikine."
After the supplies were organized and stacked, they placed them all in front of the porch. Collins then called everyone except Charlie Ellenshaw to the steps. He was inside looking over the map of the Stikine Valley and Plateau with the old woman. The girl, Marla, was watching the group from a distance, making sure their boxes of.306 ammunition was placed in a plastic pouch to keep river water from damaging them. Altogether, the girl and her grandmother had gathered nearly two hundred rounds for the hunting weapons, and another hundred fifty for the 5.62 millimeter automatics.
Everett took up position beside Collins, looking from face to face. The two officers had come to a decision an hour before, and Carl knew their news was not going to be well received. Farbeaux suspected what was coming because he had watched as the naval captain had cut the rations for their journey upriver almost by a quarter, and he had also tossed aside one of the tents.
"Ryan, you and McIntire are staying here."