-a WICUS FOSTER novel –
Porte de l’Enfer.
That’s what some unknown French Canadian trapper called the
area along the Clark Fork River where the steep, glacier carved hills descend hurriedly to the valley floor where the river split
the hills, roaring in the spring while in late summer the slow moving water served as a beacon for soft, warm August light. Presumably the Porte de l’Enfer was coined by the trapper as the area was ‘hell’ for unsuspecting explorers pushing the boundaries of westward expansion. The steep hills provided cover and a perfect perch for members of the Blackfeet tribe to take aim with their bow and arrow to any foe braving the currents through the steep valley.
The French Canadian trapper proved to be exploring too far south for the name too stick. Porte de l’Enfer, literally translates to Door of Hell. As the valley west of the canyon became settled and incorporated as Missoula, Montana, the name changed, to Hell Gate Canyon
May 8, 2018
East Missoula, Montana
Hell Gate Canyon
Gerald sipped his warm Busch Lite, occasionally taking a bite from his Arby’s Smoke House Brisket sandwich left over from last night when the woman working the counter provided the homeless man two sandwiches for the price of one. She did the same thing for Dan.
The two men made their way up the Kim Williams Trail towards East Missoula in the spring darkness. ‘The Kim’ is a popular, signature recreational trail paralleling the Clark Fork River for walkers, runners, bikers, and dogs on leashes. Gerald and Dan had a small ‘camp’ about two miles up the trail from the University. Gerald thought he was about forty-three and Dan knew he was thirty-eight and that his birthday was July 1. Dan had known Gerald for two years and noticed that each time someone said it was their birthday, Gerald would confide to them that it was his birthday too.
The camp was strategic. It was located on United States Forest Service land. Dan had read in the library that people are permitted to camp on Forest Service land for fourteen consecutive days so long as it was 200 feet from a designated trail and body of water. Dan and Gerald had paced their camp off, making sure it was at least 250 feet off the Kim, and it was about six hundred feet from the Clark Fork. No cop could tell them to move and they liked that. The only hitch was they had been there for seventeen days but no one knew it, so they figured whenever they were discovered they’d just say they’d been there four days, so then they’d have another ten days to find a new spot.
Dan once worked at a Radio Shack in Spokane—when there were Radio Shacks. He was good with numbers and would read math textbooks and computer science textbooks and electrical engineering textbooks at the Missoula County Library. Twice he had applied for a job at Best Buy and twice the fat lady in a blue shirt told him she would get back to him but she never did call him on his flip phone.
Gerald didn’t read. He could but nothing interested him. Instead he would draw or just think about Elizabeth, his girlfriend from L.A. Gerald wished other people like Dan could see Elizabeth but every time he pointed her out to people, they pretended not to see her. Probably because they were jealous. Gerald liked drugs but hadn’t done any in years other than weed the few times it would show up in his life. He really liked Jim Beam but usually drank Busch Lite because it was cheaper.
Both Dan and Gerald had drunk a few beers during their walk back to camp. When they arrived, everything was in order. They climbed under their respective blankets and slept under the stars because they were sick of the motherfucking homeless shelter where all the fucked-up people stayed.
Dan slept until about 10:50 AM.
Gerald nudged Dan in the shoulder with his foot. “I’m going to town ‘cause I’m fuck’n bored just sitting here.”
Dan opened his eyes, staring up at Gerald’s black beard. It took Dan a minute to figure out where he was. He always thought he was in his grandpa’s garage but he never was.
“Wait up. Lemme take a piss first.”
A few minutes later, Gerald was having his fourth beer of the morning, Dan his first. Dan had convinced Gerald to wait, until he had a beer and his left-over Arby sandwich.
Dan ate his sandwich.
Gerald talked, looking up at the mountain rising in front of him.
“We gotta bring back some water today. You good for a gallon?”
“I can do that.”
“Me, too and I want another blanket or sleeping bag. Goodwill?” He loved how the top of the trees brushed against the sky.
“They probably got a blanket or a bag. Also try the Army.”
“Yup, but I’ll try Goodwill first.” He squinted at the sky, watching something.
“That’s what I’d do.”
“Yesterday I was heading to—SHIT! SHIT!” He pointed at the sky.
Dan snapped his head up, looking where Gerald pointed. “What the hell?!”
A large dark object plummeted from the sky, tossed about the wind currents.
“What is it!?” shouted Dan.
It got bigger and bigger.
Gerald watched, speechless.
“It’s going to hit us!” screamed Dan covering his head.
Gerald stood dumbfounded.
Dan remained motionless.
Gerald sipped his beer. “Shit.”
Dan looked up. “What the hell?”
“That was a goddamn man.” Gerald started up the hill, carrying his beer.
“You’re going up there?”
“Yup. It ain’t far. I saw it and it was a goddamn man.”
“That wasn’t a man.”
“It was.” Gerald kept walking. “A man dropped from God.”
Dan stood up. “Shit, Gerald.” He headed up the hill.
Two minutes later Gerald and Dan stood in a large opening on the side of a hill. Gerald pointed. “Told ya.”
To the right of the one-acre opening was a person, dressed in black. The body was contorted. The left leg was turned backwards, the sweat pant leg shredded. The black t-shirt was half pulled up the person’s back. The man’s head was twisted back to the left, facing away from Dan and Gerald. He had black, short hair. His right arms was out straight, his left twisted at the elbow.
Gerald started towards him.
“Should I get help?” asked Dan.
Gerald stopped and sipped his beer. “That body is dead as shit.” He continued towards it.
“Where’d it come from?”
“I told ‘ya. God dropped him for us.”
“We’re the only ones smart enough to be here, ain’t we?” Gerald stopped at the body. He kicked it lightly for good measure in the flank. “Dead,” he proclaimed again.
Dan stood next to him. “What ‘ya going to do?”
“I’m gonna see if the falling man from God has presents for us. That’s what I’m going to do.” Gerald pulled out an old pair of wool gloves from his pocket. “No finger prints from me though. I paid attention at the movies.”
“Good think’n but I don’t have any.”
“Then hands off and let me do the touching.”
“Good. I don’t wanna touch it.”
Gerald handed Dan his beer. He then reached in the man’s back pockets—fishing around with his fingers. Nothing. “I was hoping God sent a fat wallet.”
May 11, 2018
Hell Gate Canyon
Dane Roberts was working at home, on the northside of I-90 in the Lower Rattlesnake, finishing an article for the Missoulian concerning a proposed bank merger between Montana’s two largest banks – Montana Community Bank and First Northern Rocky Bank. The attic of his 1920s bungalow served as his office, over looking Jackson Street.
It was his third article for the paper since being released from prison three months earlier. The paper was playing it smart since his release, feeling the water to see if Dane Robert’s name would prove an asset or liability to the paper’s precarious bottom line. Accordingly, he was working as a free-lancer.
Dane Roberts was a familiar name in the state and even nationally to some degree. Four years earlier he wrote a serious of articles outlining an alleged web where the democratic US Senator from Montana, Senator Rahls, a ranking member of the committee for Homeland Security, defense contractors receiving contratcs were donating to the Senator’s daughter non-profit organization, ……………. Although the stories ruffled some feathers, the story byline soon changed to that of the reporter. Dane Roberts had a relationship with a ‘source’ and the source was pissing off the President and Congress. The long and short of it was Dane was eventually charged by the Federal government for obstructing justice. The proposed plea bargin was simple. Tell Uncle Sam your source and you walk free. But Dane grew up in Butte, one of the last remaining places where a handshake and a promise was worth something. Dane didn’t just refuse the plea bargain. He told the federal prosecutor to ‘fuck off.’ Not a prudent thing to do with a prosecutor with a big ego and political ambitions.
If the Missoulian had been the New York Times, Dane’s fate may have been different. But the staff attorney for the Missoulian was long on advise but short on results. Dane was sentenced to four years in prison for not divulging his source. He ended up serving fourteen months, about thirteen months longer than his lawyer had anticipated.
To some in the Treasure State and the country – Dane was a First Amendment hero. Taking one for the team and the profession of journalism, what was left of it. But to most others he was either stupid and stubborn, hungry for attention for not talking or worse—he was a pariah shielding unpatriotic whistle blowers from the law. Dane was amazed at the hate mail he received in prison. Not so many people were pissed at Senator Rahls, who received a Senate censure, but