Cover image for Red rock : a mystery
Title:
Red rock : a mystery
Author:
Tefs, Wayne, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Regina : Coteau Books, [1998]

©1998
Physical Description:
279 pages ; 21 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781550501353
Format :
Book

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Status
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

Hank Peterson was found, shotgun in hand, in the bedroom where the shattered body of his wife and her latest paramour lie. Violence was no stranger in the northern mining town called Red Rock. But Hank was such an easy-going guy, was he really capable of such brutality?There's more to the picture than meets the eye, and award-winning novelist Wayne Tefs uses the recollections of half-a-dozen characters involved in the drama to skillfully weave a composite image of the people caught up in this tragedy and a psychological profile of a community under stress.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Andy Buechler:                        Hank Peterson went into the bedroom of his house one Friday morning about 6:30, carrying a shotgun, and when he came out the lives of everyone in Red Rock had changed forever. It was Hank who was affected most: and Becky, his wife; and their son, Scott. And Tommy Piper, who was the man inside the bedroom when Hank walked in with the shotgun.     It was all about sex, said Gordy McCabe.     It was fall and Hank had driven home early from work, taking his car out of gear at the top of Spruce Road and letting it drift in the shadows of dawn past the houses where fathers and mothers were shuffling about in robes, making coffee and watering plants. I heard the car motor through the window. I was up having a pee and drew aside the curtain in the bathroom to see what was going on. Hank and Becky Peterson lived next door to us. His car was a nearly-new Meteor, the tires caked red with clay from the iron mines where he worked. The Meteor came to rest against the curb, a puff of exhaust billowing out of the tail pipe. I saw Hank through the windshield. I rubbed the sandman from my eyes. Hank sat there a moment, hands on the steering wheel, as if unsure whether or not he was going to get out, and I imagined he might suspect I was spying on him, so I closed the curtain and flushed the toilet.     If I'd watched I would have seen him take the shotgun out of the back seat, would have seen him go up the front steps, to kill his wife and her lover.     It was all about sex, Gordy said, all about the beast with two backs. That was Gordy McCabe, my pal.     My old man said it had more to do with the stuff going on at the mine, the fights and picket lines and scabs. Tempers were running high. I'd heard Hank say as much himself.     Hank Peterson was in his late twenties, a stocky man who had a spring in his step and a ready smile on his face. He pushed his dark hair up on top and into a duck's ass in back, the hard-rock look that went with the open-neck shirt and stand-up collar. Like most of the kids in Red Rock I knew Hank because he coached our teams -- in winter hockey, in summer baseball. During the hockey season Hank played for the Red Rock MineKings, our senior team. On summer evenings I'd see him in his backyard shirtless, hauling dirt from one corner of his property to another. The muscles of Hank's torso rippled as he worked. He had a tattoo of a green snake curled around a red rose stem on the bicep of one arm and it made him look tough, which he could be. That was the fall there was a wildcat strike at the mines. For a year or more the companies had been bringing in earth haulers to replace the Euclid trucks that carted the raw iron from the pits to the rail cars, which then took it on to the smelting cities of the Great Lakes for processing. The trucks carried thirty-five tons of ore but the earth haulers carted over a hundred, so the union was dead against them. The Red Rock Record reported the men were ready to go out on strike, no matter how negotiations went between the company and the union, because the earth haulers threatened to take away the livelihoods of so many union members.     The machines themselves were awe-inspiring. They were painted the colour of mustard and belched huge clouds of black diesel smoke into the air. You felt dwarfed beside them. The wheels were so big a kid could stand inside them, feet on the bottom lip of the rim, head not touching the upper one.     Hank did not drive one of the impressive earth haulers. In Red Rock they did two types of mining, underground and open pit. The men working underground were carried down to the ore in steel cage elevators that clanked and lurched and often did not run at all. Underground it was hot, filthy and brutal work, labouring in claustrophobic spaces to wrest the ore from the earth, often a dozen men labouring in a space hardly bigger than a washroom. Water stood knee deep in the rectangular tunnels where the men dug and picked in the ore during eight-hour shifts. Breathing was difficult, and vision too. There was a lot of dust. Tools fell on the miners' feet. From time to time one of the mine shafts collapsed.     Hank worked in the open pit above ground, a labourer, a grunt. He was on one of the blasting crews, operating a drill that he held on his shoulder to bore into the rock face so that the blasting foreman could set charges and break up the rock face. It was dangerous work. Sometimes charges went off before they should have. By the end of a shift Hank's clothes were covered in black muck and red dust. During the summer they were dry, but when it rained and all through the winter when the crew shovelled away the new-fallen snow, his boots, pants, and shirts were caked with mud and slag. It was impossible to remove the red dirt from under the nails, no matter how long a man spent scrubbing at the sink. It thickened the men's hair and got into their ears and nostrils. It became a stain that would be just nicely fading away when they returned from their two week vacations in the summer.     Hank was one of the men whose jobs was in jeopardy, since jobs in the union went by seniority and he was a relative newcomer to the mines. He was not happy about that.     One night he and Father exchanged words about the whole business standing in their backyards. When we were in the house afterward Father said to Mother, "You see what I mean." I was in the darkened hallway on my way to bed. Father added, "First the men belly ache about their pay and threaten to go out on strike, and then when the companies bring in conveyor belts so they won't have to deal with strikes, the men threaten to vandalise the machines."     Mother was at the kitchen counter and Father was standing beside her near the sink. She said, "I hate it when the men are at each other's throats this way. It makes me sick to the stomach."     "If they go out on strike our business will be cut in half."     Mother sighed and clattered flatware in the sink. "No one ever thinks of that," she said. "It's always union this and company that, but no one ever says anything about the small businesses that keep this town afloat."     Father said, "This afternoon, Hank tells me, a couple of the men took pipe wrenches to Sam Johnson's car. Smashed out the headlights and the windshield on the Edsel before the security guys knew anything was going on."     "Roy," Mother said, "that's against the law, attacking private property."     "So now the company has armed guards posted at the gates checking the miners as they come out, lunch pails and everything."     "They'll lose their jobs, they could go to jail."     "There were punch-ups. Some of the men refused to be searched."     "I hate this, Roy, every one in town taking up sides."     "I know. Hank took a swing at somebody. Cecil Werner."     "He's a foreman, right?"     "Yes, big man. That's not the worst. Hank is pissed off at me now."     "Roy, you be careful. Hank's a lot younger than you. He has a temper. They say he was on the mine road the day that young cop got stabbed. Lee."     "I can take care of myself."     "And he's a miner, Hank is, so he sees things in black and white when it comes to the union. He could attack you. Don't all the miners carry knives?"     "What am I supposed to do? Say nothing? I'm entitled to my views."     "You can show a little discretion. For the sake of your family."     Father grunted. His views on miners included the phrases layabouts and goldbricks . But he bit his tongue and said, "So now Becky takes the kid over to the Johnsons for Sunday supper and Hank heats himself up a pork chop."     "You see what I mean," Mother said, "families divided. It's ugly."     "Sam Johnson would like to see Hank run out of town." Father paused and then added, "And Becky doesn't help, tramping around the way she does."     "Roy," Mother said, "not that again."     "According to Dixon...."     "Hush," Mother said. "No more, Roy."     "The way she dresses, those skirts, she's asking for it, she's...."     "No more." After a pause Mother added, "I think you're sore because Hank and you had a fight about unions."     "It was not a fight. We were discussing."     "I heard what he said about you. That was uncalled for."     "He's angry and he's young, young men talk that way in the heat of the --"     "They do not call their neighbours assholes."     "Anyway, I'm only saying about Becky...."     "I know what you're saying. And it's ugly."     Father cleared his throat. "She spreads her legs," he said, "is the talk."     "Men. Men talk like that." There was a pause and then Mother added, "It's ugly talk. Becky doesn't deserve it. Hank neither. It's beneath them -- us."     Father stroked his jaw. Because he had to get up so early in the morning he shaved at night. At the dinner table he smelled of Fitchy's Rose Water. "At least he's not a weasel," Father said, "like some I could name around here."     Mother clucked her tongue. "Roy," she said.     "You know who I mean. A weasel with a woody pecker."     "Leave it be," she said.     Father snorted. "You watch. One of these nights Hank's pals are going to grab that Tommy coming out of the Rockland and teach him a lesson."     "Wonderful. Then the town really will be in two camps. Like a war."     "It's what he deserves," Father said, "the slimy little weasel." There was no more talk between Hank and Father about unions and strikes after that one night. Hank still whistled as he worked in his backyard that fall or played with Scott, his two-year-old son, but maybe underneath he was boiling. Something has to explain that shotgun and what he did to Tommy Piper and Becky -- doesn't it?     She was a terrier, high strung and constantly darting about the way small dogs do -- in and out of the house, banging the screen door shut behind her the way Mother scolded us for doing. She spoke herky-jerky, too, jumping from one topic of conversation to another. "Beats me," she'd say with a shrug when she and Mother were gossiping. Or ask, "You serious, kiddo?" She smoked cigarettes, puffing absent-mindedly. I don't reckon she liked smoking as much as the idea of smoking, the way it fitted with an image she had of herself from the movies she and Hank went to see at the Red Rock Theatre when they left Scott with Kelly Spelchak -- who was in the same grade at Red Rock High as me. Becky stubbed out each cigarette half-smoked. She messed with her hair as she talked, tugging a curl over one ear, or flicking the bang on her forehead.     Becky had been Rebecca Johnson before she married Hank. Her father was a big shot at the mine and her parents lived in a three-storey house on Birch Crescent, where the Hancock twins lived and Gordy McCabe. Those houses sat on the hill and looked down on the rest of Red Rock. Gordy was my best pal, despite the fact that as high school students we were supposed to be beyond that sort of thing -- and the fact his father was the town doctor while mine ran a laundry business.     Hank wasn't a local boy. He'd been a teacher in Toronto before coming to Red Rock. That hadn't worked out, he told me, because he liked kids but was forced to yell and scold and threaten. "Playing policeman," he confided to me, "brought out the worst in my character." The way he said it, I had the impression maybe he'd lost control of himself and hit a kid or something.     As a coach he was okay. On the hockey rink he taught us the tricks of winning face-offs and how to throw a hip check. "It's all timing," he explained, waiting until the precise second when the puck carrier thinks he's got you beat before dropping your shoulder and catching him in mid-stride. "That's when you nail him," Hank said. He did not shy away from violence. If somebody bothers a team mate, he said, you leap to his defense. You want to get your shots in early, aim for the nose, when you hit a man in the nose his eyes tear over and then you can really smash in his face. "Hit hard and hit often. You bust his nose up, he won't bother you any more, by the Christ."     It thrilled me to hear Hank talk that way -- swearing almost. Sometimes he'd yell at us, "Get out there you bums and give 'er dogwater." Nobody knew what that meant, dogwater , but it was fun to repeat, and we found ourselves saying it in the changing room as we dressed or on the bench in mid-game. Talking like that, like men, loosened us up and made playing the games fun.     Of course there was that time with Randy Waltin. He was a jerk, Randy, he picked on younger kids and made it obvious he had no time for grown-ups. One day at practice Hank was explaining something to us and Randy was, as usual, mouthing off in the background. Hank had told him to shut up before. You could see it bothered Hank. He glared over once or twice and the next time Randy laughed out loud again Hank took two quick steps across to him, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and shoved him up against the boards. Randy's helmet fell off. "Enough!" Hank said between gritted teeth. No one laughed then. The next day Hank apologized to the whole team. "I lost it," he said, "I lost my temper." We all looked at the ground until Hank said, "Okay, let's give 'er dogwater, guys," and that was the end of that. His wife Becky didn't have a lot to do with us kids. When she wasn't looking after Scott, she worked as a nurse at the Red Rock General, so she was coming and going at odd hours. At home, she spent most of her time indoors. I'd catch a glimpse of her through the windows sometimes, walking around in a dressing gown, a cig in one hand, a magazine in the other, smoke forming a kind of scarf around her head. It was thrilling to see a woman like that -- naked almost, and flaunting it. She played records, too, at high volume, Perry Como and Frank Sinatra, moony stuff, nothing like Elvis, but sexy all the same. Sometimes she would dance by herself, and once, maybe sensing that someone was watching her, she did a strip-tease sort of thing, flinging off items of clothing as she sashayed around the living-room. My throat went dry. I was watching from my bedroom window, and I stayed there, fascinated, for what seemed like an hour, until I had to relieve myself, so to speak. What Gordy called "choking the Bishop."     I don't reckon Becky liked kids, but then she didn't like many things. She called Red Rock a dump and a hole when she and Mother gossiped, and when she really got going godforsaken hole . I couldn't understand why anyone wouldn't like Red Rock. The Theatre showed "Rebel Without A Cause" and "East of Eden" and I saw them both three times. The high school had recently been completed -- and there was talk of a highway being built west through the shield to Fort Frances and then on to Winnipeg. The Red Rock MineKings had travelled to Trail, BC, the winter before to contest the Allan Cup.     Maybe it wasn't these things Becky had in mind when she called Red Rock a dump. She'd come out into the yard to talk to Hank at night when he was planting spruces along the back of their property. She'd have her hands on her hips and a cig smouldering between her fingers, and Hank would be nodding as she spoke and he dug in the unyielding earth of the shield. Becky wore tight and short skirts and was partial to angora sweaters -- which flattered her breasts. Gordy McCabe called her a dish. "I wouldn't throw her out of bed for eating crackers," he said, repeating something the older guys in the locker room sometimes said. When Becky came out on those nights, she would talk to Hank while he was planting, their voices hushed and strained. You could tell from the way she scuffed her feet after a few minutes that she was trying to get him to do something, but whatever she said things always ended up the same way -- Becky would stamp one foot and then wheel away from Hank suddenly, and he'd stand for a moment pushing at his hair before going back to his work. A few minutes later we'd hear the clicking of heels on the sidewalk and the car door slamming before Becky sped off.     "She's hot as a pistol," Gordy McCabe said. I looked at him funny and he said, "She's begging for it, but Hank is happy planting trees and digging in the dirt and looking after the kid. He's a yo-yo. He's going to lose that girl if he's not careful."     Another time she actually hit him. He was bending over, grunting, not really listening to what she was saying, so she punched him in the shoulder, a girl punch, more to get his attention than anything else. Hank hardly flinched. "Don't try that again," he said without looking up. "I don't want to hurt you." He raised one hand and waved her away. His hands were broken and gnarled, as if they'd been caught in machinery and had not healed properly, the hands of a tough. Gordy and I were just within hearing range.     "My God," I said, "you think he would do that, smack his wife?"     "Hot pants," said Gordy, "just a-going to waste." (Continues...) Copyright © 1998 Wayne Tefs. All rights reserved.

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