Alex Donnelly was alone. That’s how he wanted it. He told himself
that’s how he liked it. That was a lie.
He twisted the throttle on the boat motor to the off position,
leaned back, pulled his floppy-brimmed river hat off his head and
turned his face toward the sun. The silted water hissed against the
bottom and sides of the boat. A breeze tussled his thick black hair.
He heard a hawk whistle from a high cliff and squinted to watch it
plummet from its perch.
Closing his eyes, he slumped low. He would let the current take him
home. He had all day and there wasn’t anyone waiting for him, except
his dogs. At least they’d welcome him, if only in anticipation of food.
The hawk whistled again and Alex opened his eyes, letting them fill
with the sweeping green hills and wide brown Yukon River. As the boat
caught and circled in a whirlpool he dipped his hand into the cold flow.
Two minutes, he’d been told. If he fell in – or jumped – it would take
two minutes for this river to kill him. He knew it was true because it
had almost happened. He’d been looking for the cabin where he now
lived, had beached at the mouth of the wrong creek and decided to wade to
the other side to search for a trail. Half way across he realized he was
in trouble. It was deeper than he’d thought and his legs were giving
out. Then the bottom dropped off completely and he’d had to swim. He
barely made it to the shore in time; he couldn’t stand when he got there.
His legs were useless for several minutes, even though the sun was high
and hot that day. He remembered he’d shivered for two days.
His eyes caught the gray shifting of mist in the rift of a small
valley far ahead as thick clouds spilled their burden of moisture down
toward the river. He could smell it as the wind brought the fragrance of
poplar toward him. The trees on the banks seemed to turn their leaves
toward it. He pulled his hat back on and shrugged into an old slicker. As
the rain came toward him he started the motor and steered the boat
closer to shore. He knew a wind could come up strong enough to keep him at
a stand-still. He snorted as he thought about that. It was the story
of his life right now. Standing still. But at least he wasn’t running
anymore. He wondered how long it would last.
Just before the rain hit him a sudden shifting of light curved over
the hills in a faint rainbow. God’s promise. Funny how he always
thought that when he saw a rainbow. Someone somewhere must have said it to
him. He pulled his hat down and cut the motor again, to listen, as the
first softness of rain touched him. Everything around him seemed to
whisper. He breathed deeply and almost smiled. Out here a person could
almost want to believe in God and promises. Almost.
August 19, 2003, Vancouver, British Columbia
Inspector Stan Sorensen slumped into the driver’s seat of his
unmarked car. Another case closed. It was a good feeling, but as his eyes
absently scanned the neighborhood he knew it would not last. There was
always another case, always more people who’d been hurt, more creeps to
chase down. He sighed. There was a time when he’d thrived on it, but
retirement was going to feel so good. He flipped open his notebook and
wrote one more detail down, then reached for the ignition. His hand froze
as his eyes rested on a small house across the street. Much like all the
others, it had seen better days. What was it that made him …
Sorensen’s eyes narrowed as the memory surfaced. A young girl’s face - dark eyes
that held such longing it hurt him to even remember. He sat up
straight. That case had never been closed. He reached for his notebook again
and made another note. He hated loose ends.
August 20th, 2003, twenty miles downstream from Dawson City, on the
Alex heard the boat but couldn’t see it. He took his binoculars down
from a nail on the wall and walked to the bank. Making sure he was
screened by the low slung branches of a spruce tree, he scanned upriver.
He caught the long outboard, skimming with the current about a mile
down. Adjusting the focus, he peered at the two people crouched in the
back. He knew the one with his hand on the motor - the son of the mechanic
in town. Alex couldn’t remember his name. Probably hired himself out to
the man in the suit.
The suit was hunched into himself, a large leather briefcase
clutched in his arms, his knees drawn up, head down. His tie escaped now and
then, flapping into the wind with sudden urgency until he caught it and
tucked it in again. The sight of a man in a suit on the river was so
out of context, Alex kept watching until the boat veered and headed
directly toward him. He lowered the binoculars and squinted as it beached
just below his cabin. Within seconds the men were out of sight but he
knew they were scrambling up the embankment. They’d missed the trail. He
considered slipping into the bush and pretending not to be there, but
his curiosity got the better of him. He went back into the cabin and
As the two men breached the top of the slope, Alex's dogs erupted
into high-pitched howls. The suit hesitated, peered around and seeing the
animals were chained, approached the cabin. Alex stepped back from the
window and waited for the knock. When he opened the door, he took in
several things at once: the man looked young, no older than Alex
himself, but smaller in stature. He was wiping his face with a handkerchief,
but wasn't breathing hard from the climb. His hair was the color of sand
and short, spiked at the front, reminding Alex of a small porcupine
he'd seen that week. The man's eyes weren't visible behind dark
sunglasses but Alex had the feeling he was being sized up in return.
"Mr. Donnelly? Alexander Donnelly?"
Alex kept one hand on the door latch, shoved one hand into his jeans
pocket and willed his heart to stop racing. "Who's asking?"
The man yelled over the barking. "I'm George Bronsky, of Adams,
Ferrington, Lithgow and Bolt, attorneys at law, Seattle."
When Alex did not respond, the lawyer slipped his sunglasses off.
"You're a hard man to track down, Mr. Donnelly."
The dogs continued their cacophony. Alex just stared. George Bronsky
stared back. Alex blinked first. He stepped out, turned his head and
hollered, "Lay down!" When the barking subsided, he turned back to the
lawyer. "State your business, Mr. Bronsky."
"I have some good news for you." He glanced past Alex to the
interior of the cabin and took a step. "If you'll allow me..."
Alex didn't move. "I said state your business."
Bronsky shifted the brief case and slipped the glasses into his
pocket. His head turned slightly to the boy standing behind him. "I suggest
we speak in private."
Alex tilted his head toward the mechanic’s son. "Mind waiting in the
boat? This won't take long."
The boy shrugged and turned away.
The lawyer cleared his throat again and lifted his chin. "I’m
pleased to inform you that you are the recipient of an inheritance, Mr.
Donnelly. Quite a substantial inheritance, in fact, and my law firm would
very much like to..."
"You've got the wrong guy." Alex turned his back on the man and
stepped into the cabin.
The lawyer stepped forward. "You just turned twenty-one, isn't that
Alex glanced back. “So?”
"So, this sum has been held in trust until your twenty-first
birthday, which ...”
“My parents died when I was a baby.”
The lawyer nodded. “I know.” Digging a sheet out of the briefcase,
he kept his eyes on Alex. “You were born in Seattle. Your birthday was
three weeks ago." He glanced at the paper. “July thirtieth, wasn't it?”
Alex hesitated for another moment, then turned and pushed the door
wide. "That much I know," he said. "Watch your head."
Bronsky ducked under the doorframe and entered the dim room. Alex
watched him take it in: the rough wood table, one chair and the small bed
in the back corner; the large worn chair by the barrel stove in the
other corner; the wall lined with shelves holding his few items of
clothing and a number of books. Alex was suddenly aware of the smell – wood
smoke with a strong overlay of tobacco, sweat and animal musk.
The lawyer placed the briefcase on the table, flipped it open and
began removing papers. "I'll need to see a birth certificate, then we'll
need your signature to certify that you've been notified. You'll have
to come into our offices to sign the rest of the papers and be sure to
bring a bank account number where the funds can be deposited." Alex felt
his neck stiffen when Bronsky lifted his head and looked at him.
"Uh... you do have a bank account?"
"Yeah, I have a bank account." He took a step toward the table.
"This inheritance –where’d it come from?"
Bronsky blinked. “Your parents …”
Alex shook his head. “If my parents left me money, why didn’t I know
about it before now? You sure you’ve got the right guy?”
"Well," Bronsky read from the paper in his hand, "are you Alexander
Gabriel Donnelly, born Alexander Gabriel Perrin, six forty-five a.m.,
July thirtieth, 1982 at Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle, Washington? Is
Alex cocked his head. "I know I was born in Seattle, but..."
"Mother's name, Janis Marie Perrin, father's name Thomas Allan
"I never knew their names." Alex's voice was so low, the lawyer
leaned toward him, holding out the sheet of paper.
Alex took it, stared at it, scratched his dark beard. "This can't be
me." He laid the page on the table.
Bronsky sighed. "Do you have a birth certificate here?"
Alex stared at him for a moment, then shook his head. “No.”
The lawyer raised his eyebrows. "You were adopted in 1985?”
"Yeah, when I was three.
Their names were Christopher and Anna Donnelly?
Alex nodded. “They died when I was five.”
"That fits. Do you have any documents from the adoption?"
Bronsky pursed his lips. "Child welfare in Vancouver must still have
them. We'll have to verify everything, of course, but..." George
smiled. "Congratulations, Mr. Donnelly. I think it's safe to say you're
about to inherit one million U.S. dollars."
Alex's head jerked up. "What?"
Bronsky chuckled. "I thought that might get your attention. It
appears your biological parents were rather wealthy. I believe the original
amount was considerably less, but some good investments were made and
interest does accumulate over twenty-one years."
Alex shook his head. A hank of black hair fell into his eyes. He
pushed it away. "But that's... that doesn't make any sense."
"No, it doesn't." Bronsky chuckled again, and reached into his
briefcase. "It makes dollars. Lots of them." He handed Alex another sheet of
paper, then pointed to a line on the bottom. "Now, if you'll sign
here, please, I'd like to get back to Dawson as soon as possible."
Alex stared at the paper. He took the pen the lawyer held out, but
did not move to sign it.
Bronsky straightened. “Go ahead and read it for yourself. All it
says is that you’ve been informed.”
Alex picked it up and moved toward the window. He read it twice,
Bronsky handed him a business card. "Here's our office address, our
phone number and my extension. Call if you need anything. We'll be glad
to help." The lawyer shifted the flap of his briefcase until it closed
with the soft click of the magnetic clasp. "Uh, it would be expedient
if you could arrange to come to Seattle as soon as possible, Mr.
Donnelly. We've been looking for you for over six months and we'd really like
to close this file."
Alex stared at the card.
He lifted his head, and frowned. "I've never been to Seattle. Been
back, I mean."
"We'd be happy to make all the arrangements. How soon can you be
ready to leave?"
“I don't know.” Alex looked down at the paper again. “Maybe
Alex shrugged off the surprise in the lawyer’s voice. "Maybe."
"Oh. Well, fine, that would be fine. I'll see if I can make the
arrangements this afternoon, then. I guess that means we could travel
together, at least to Whitehorse, if there's a seat on the plane. It leaves
at 1:15, so we should meet somewhere, say at eleven o'clock? I'm
staying at the Downtown Hotel."
"I'll have to arrange something for my dogs. If I can go, I'll be at
the Downtown at eleven."
"Good. I'll see you then."
Alex heard the boat motor roar as it pulled away from the shore, and
fought the current upstream. He looked around him. For a moment
nothing seemed familiar, nothing seemed real. He picked up the papers the
lawyer had left, scanned them, then tried to read more carefully. The
legalese got in the way. Tossing them down, he ran a hand through his
tangle of black hair and sighed. The last thing he wanted was to go
anywhere near a city, but... He pulled the papers toward him again and slid a
callused finger over the smooth words. Janis Marie Perrin. Thomas Allan
Slumped in the chair, Alex let his mind search into corners he had
closed off long ago. He was a small boy sitting on a bench, his thin
fingers outlining initials carved into the wooden arm. Swinging his legs
over the edge, he made sure they didn't bump and make noise as he
listened to the voices of strangers coming through the half open door.
"This one must have a black cloud. Twice in five years! Who'd wanna
be number three?" The man's voice sounded tired.
"He's a cute little guy, though.” The woman's softer voice was
hopeful. “Maybe they'll find somebody willing to take him."
"A five year old? Not very likely." The man sighed. "Well, he's off
to Clareshome for now. They can hold him and deal with the paperwork
while he goes into the system. I'm swamped. There's some legal stuff
here, from his biological parents. Perkins. That's the name, right?"
"Something like that. His legal name is Donnelly now. Wonder how
many more times it'll change before he grows up?"
Alex saw himself, a small boy being led down a long hallway by the
clutching hand of a stranger.
He stood, hunched his shoulders against the memories that slipped
like slivers of ice through his veins, and turned away from the table.
That was then, he thought. Stay in today, Donnelly. Stay in today. He
took a long-handled axe down from beside the door and went outside. The
cold bite of late August air hit him like a slap but he breathed it in
and deliberately turned his thoughts toward preparations for winter. His
wood supply was getting low. There wasn't much left to split, but he
fell into it with an easy, familiar rhythm. It was the kind of work he
loved - physical and mindless.
But now his mind would not stop. Questions swirled one upon another
like small whirlwinds stirring up everything in their path. And in the
midst of them, two names glowed like red-hot brands. Two names he had
always wondered about.
He stopped, pulled his T-shirt off and used it to wipe the sweat
from his face and the back of his neck. His hand brushed the scar that ran
down his neck from the base of his right ear. He tilted his head as
though to hide it and dropped the hand quickly.
Resting the axe against the chopping block, Alex left the wood where
it lay and went back into the cabin. He stared again at the legal
papers. He was tempted to toss them into the stove. He didn't need this. He
didn't want it. It was too dangerous to go back. But what if ...
He picked up the documents. It was then he realized his hands had
started to shake.