Wendell raised the back of his jacket collar to shield his neck from the icy wind and snow. Two more blocks and he would reach the secret path that would lead to his hideout. Would Bert and Sammy be there? Would they have their share for the mid-afternoon meal? He had his share, thanks to Mrs. Campbell. Shoveling her drive and around her garage and small two bedroom house on Nigel Street didn’t take an hour. He shoveled the three inches of snow in the lane and the paths in forty-five minutes.
Afterwards, he went inside where she fed him tea and tuna sandwiches. She said they need more fish in their diets and this was good for Wendell. After all, shoveling snow was hard work for a worn out man in his late fifties. She knew Wendell wasn’t the type of man who took care of himself proper so she thought the best thing for her to do was to feed him a lunch of sandwiches and tea. She added a banana and a small bag of her home made oatmeal and raisin cookies for the road. She knew what her five dollars payment was going to buy. She knew the men at the shelter have a weakness for alcohol. She knew he had his demons and he lived with those demons for a long time. It showed in his appearance. It showed in his health. It showed in his conversation with her, even though he attempted to hide his depression. However, she didn’t want to change him, just help as gently as she could. Any more than this and he may not like it. He may not return if she pushed a little. She also knew how cold it can get, but Wendell would come, no matter how cold or how much snow fell. Yes, he came without fail. For this she compensated him as well as an old widow who got by on a small pension could. The poor helping the poor, she conceded.
Little did she know Wendell would’ve shoveled the snow for nothing, for he didn’t like to see a woman, especially an old woman in need of a man’s muscle around the house. His partners felt the same way. They took care of the old folks around the city’s centre: raking leaves, putting up storm windows, clearing trash and mowing lawns. When the snow fell, they came and shoveled it. In return, they received a little spending money. Wendell also made it a point to never go to her home under the influence of the wine. He always kept a proper disposition in front of her. After all, she was a lady.
Wendell came to the end of the sidewalk and street. He knew he didn’t have to bother trying to hide his trail; the blowing snow would do that for him. His feet slid along the whitened ground, heading to the sleeping trees that lined the bank. He could hear the gentle flow of the water. He followed the trail along the river bank until the cover got a bit thicker and the banks rose and hid the river in spots. His footing slipped along as he went and he wished he had more than these old leather shoes to wear. His socks were wet and cold now too. He couldn’t wait to get in front of the fire. He grinned when he thought about meeting up with Bert and Sammy. I hope they got the coffee started, he thought. “What am I thinking, I got the coffee,” he whispered. He squeezed the bag of Maxwell House coffee inside his shirt to make sure it was still there. His eyes got real squinty and he looked like an ageing Jack O Lantern as he grinned again. “Bahh, can’t wait,” he said. Another twenty yards and he stepped into the clearing.
Sammy and Bert sat on a log before a small fire. A metal frying pan placed near.
“’Bout time ya got ‘ere,” Bert said while staring at the fire. His whiskered face appeared annoyed. His black toque was pulled down tight.
“Ya, we was wonderin’ when you was gonna show,” Sammy said. He had a shoelace tied around his head to hold down his Jasper.
“You got the coffee?”
“Of course I got the coffee,” Wendell said, pushing a hand inside his coat and shirt to retrieve the bag of coffee.
He also smelt his ripeness and whispered, “Oh, yeah.”
“Hurry, get that coffee on, I’m dyin’,” Bert said gruffly. “It’s fuckin’ cold out here.”
“I don’t know why they kick us out in the winter. Where we supposed to go?” Sammy said.
“We’re lucky we got this place. Not the best but it’s ours. No one bothers us here. “ Wendell added.
“Who the hell would look for three hobos out here on the river bank?” Bert coughed.
“A stupid Copper,” Wendell laughed out, his face wrinkling like a raisin.
The three broke out laughing. Suddenly Sammy stopped. He eyed the fire and said, “But if a Copper looked for us here, he wouldn’t be stupid, now would he?”
Wendell and Bert stopped laughing, rolled their eyes at each other and sat closer to the fire. “You know Sammy, you read too much,” Bert said.
Wendell began to take off his shoes and socks. Bert pulled out a brown wrapped package and ripped it open. Wendell saw the hamburger. “We’re havin’ hamburgers today?”
“You got buns too?”
“Yup, got buns,” Bert said while pulling a bag of buns from a grocery bag.
“Bet ya ain’t got onions and tomatoes in that bag?” Sammy said.
“Yup, got onions and tomatoes too,” Bert said and pulled the items out.
“But, ya don’t have mustard and relish and ketchup, do ya, smart ass,” Wendell said.
Bert looked at Wendell and smiled. Wendell knew he had them too. Bert pulled a small bag from his winter jacket and pulled out another bag that contained packets of mustard and relish and ketchup. “Been savin’ these for a wintery day,” Bert said.
“Alright, we’re gonna have a feast,” Sammy said. “And hot coffee too. Man, we’re livin’ mighty high gentlemen, mighty high indeed.”
“Ahem. I said, Ahem. And what did you bring? What is your put in?” Wendell asked with a hint of superiority.
Sammy looked at Wendell and grinned, a wide grin and said, “I brought the most important item of them all. Desert: two bottles of the best wine this side of the ocean. Good ol Canadiana Red, a dollar fifty a bottle. Oh look, it was made last year, 1973. A very good year for Canadiana.”
“Sammy, you watch too much television,” Bert said. He threw more wood on the fire.
“Whoo-hoo, we’re all set. Get a cooking there Bert. I’m on the coffee. You chill that wine in our fridge and we’ll get on with this afternoon, “ Wendell said.
The fire was stoked, the pan and coffee can placed on the fire. The wine was jammed into a mound of snow.MThe Three Mouseketeers readied themselves for a peaceful day and night.