A Hard Ticket Home (Mac McKenzie #1)

David Housewright

For Renée,

as always


The author would like to thank Lynne Lillie, M.D., Mark Hamel, Tim Myslajek, Alison Picard, Ben Sevier, and Renée Valois for their invaluable help. I also would like to thank Yvonne Mullin and Renée Valois for the use of their song “Bananas.”

Just So You Know …

It took a few moments before I could force myself to leave the car. It was small, ugly, and old and I hated it—a tan 1987 Dodge Colt with strips of rust running along the rocker panels and back wheel wells. But it was gloriously warm.

I had parked on the shoulder of the deserted county road, edging as close to the ditch as I dared. On the opposite side of the ditch loomed oak, pine, spruce, ash, and birch trees, bending and swaying in the hard wind. About 150 feet behind me was the turnoff that led to the lake property. I had studied the road carefully before driving past. In the summer, it would be dirt. Now it was ice and hard-packed snow, just wide enough for a single vehicle driven slowly. I found the impression of one set of tire tracks going in. None came out.

I was reluctant to use the road. What if Thomas Teachwell was watching it, what if he saw me coming? I wasn’t overly concerned that he might shoot me. According to my information it was unlikely that Teachwell even had a gun, much less knew how to use it—although a man on the run is capable of anything. Nor was I anxious that he might escape. What did I care? But if Teachwell escaped with the money … That, after all, was why I had chased him 278 miles north from the Twin Cities on the coldest day in the past two decades. For the money.

I searched my memory for a few motivational phrases. “The job gets easier once you start,” was something my mother often told me. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” was a favorite of my high school hockey coach. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” That was something my skills instructor at the police academy liked to say. None of the clichés inspired me enough to lift the door handle. Finally, I recited out loud the words my father used whenever I complained about picking up other people’s trash along the highway when I was slaving away my summers for the county: “Hey, kid. You got a problem with workin’ for a living?”

I opened the door and stepped out. The frigid air hit me so hard I nearly fell back against the car. A violent gust gathered grains of ice from the road and swirled them around my face. The knit ski mask I wore afforded some protection, yet instinctively I closed my eyes and angled my head away from the wind.

“Do you believe this!” I exclaimed to the empty highway. Often in the past I’ve heard people speak of icy winds cutting like a knife. They’re wrong. It isn’t a knife, it’s a club. It doesn’t cut, it bludgeons.

I slammed shut the car door and immediately patted the pockets of my bright red snowmobile suit, feeling the weight in both of them. My gun and badge were in the right. My cell phone was in the left. Satisfied, I spun into the wind and trudged, head down, toward the turnoff. I thought about locking the door, but any notion of car thieves lurking nearby was blown away with the next polar blast. Given the current temperature, I doubted the car would start again, anyway.

After a few steps I became keenly aware of my isolation. In front of me the county road stretched like a ribbon of gray and white until it bent behind a stand of trees and was gone. Behind me the gray-white road didn’t turn, but merely receded into a distant horizon of blowing snow. My ancient Colt was the only evidence that I was living in the twenty-first century. I longed to see another vehicle—snowplow, truck, car, SUV, even one of those damn minivans. None appeared. I began to question the wisdom of the entire enterprise.

“I’m going to die out here,” I told myself. “They’re going to find me frozen to a tree like that guy in that Redford movie, Jeremiah Johnson.”