Deep in Superior
“That’s one big lake,” remarked Doug as they drove along the northern shoreline of Superior. Doug Fitzgerald and his wife, Rita, were heading east along Highway 17 to their cottage to open up for the summer season.
“It’s a deep lake,” added Rita.
“Mmhm, that it is,” agreed Doug. “So what do you think?”
“It’s possible it could work. Plenty of remote areas, that’s for sure,” Rita said.
“Not without risks, though, is it?” Doug warned.
“You’ve already put us at risk of losing everything. This may be our only chance to get out of the mess we’re in,” Rita replied.
Rita was referring to his gambling debts. What had started as a fun way to pass the time with his buddies became an all-consuming need to play to win. His few wins had just fuelled his need enough that he couldn’t make himself stop. As he was the one who paid the bills, he was able to hide the growing debt load from Rita for a long time. When he could no longer cover even the minimum payments, he had no choice but to confess to both his wife and 28 year old son. Not only was everything mortgaged to the hilt, credit cards were maxed out, and Doug owed a substantial amount to a fellow gambler who made his real money as a loan shark.
“You’re right, I’m worth so much more dead than alive,” he conceded.
“I wouldn’t put it that way. But the fact is, we’re facing the shame of bankruptcy and worse,” Rita reminded him. “Maybe it’s time to take the risk and gamble for our freedom.”
They came to a silent agreement to go ahead with their plan.
A couple of months after the decision had been made, Doug and Rita’s 26 foot cruiser exploded and sank deep in Lake Superior. No bodies were found. Superior, they say, doesn’t give up her dead.
The idea came to him one day as they were driving in to work at their law office of Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald, and Son. The local radio station played an old folk song about a freighter lost to Superior. As he listened to the lyrics lamenting the deaths of the men on board the wreck, Doug thought of the wreck he had made of his own life and that of his wife and son. He thought about how he was drowning in debt. He wondered if his family would be better off if he lay at the bottom of the lake.
At first, their son, Rick, offered to help bail out his parents by paying off the debts. When Doug explained the extent of the debt he had accumulated, and the amount of the interest payments alone, Rick understood the situation more clearly. Even if they took on more clients, even if they lowered their standard of living, they would be forced to sell their expensive home, the cottage, the boat, the cars, all of it. The real kicker was they would still owe a fortune on the credit cards and to Doug’s “buddy”, John. And so the three of them came to a unanimous decision - Doug would have to die.
The million dollar life insurance policy would take care of the credit cards and the debt owed to John. But, Rita reasoned, two million dollars would be even better.
For the next two months, Rick stockpiled non-perishable food and basic necessities, along with survival gear in the basement of his own house. He scoured the classifieds and kijiji looking for a used inflatable dinghy, then made the purchase in cash, meeting the seller on a back street. Doug, Rita, and Rick spent their weekends at their waterfront retreat in the Terrace Bay area, the same as they did every summer. Only this time, they went for long drives and hikes scouting out locations. They searched for old abandoned cabins and rock caves. When they took the Sea Ray out for a tour on the lake, they searched for the perfect spot.
The weekend Doug and Rita died in the explosion, they set out from the cottage on Saturday afternoon and headed out on the lake, cruising along the coastline till nightfall. They headed out further into the lake somewhere past Marathon. Around 10 pm, they abandoned the Sea Ray and boarded the dinghy Rick had purchased for this purpose. Doug used his flashlight to send a signal toward the shore.
“Over there...I see it,” Rita shouted when she saw a couple of responding flashes of light on the shore in the distance. Doug and Rita rowed across Superior toward the beacon. They had spent hours in the preceding weeks practising manoeuvering the dinghy through the rough waters. It was tougher in the dark, but Rick was on the shore, in a secluded area, guiding them to safety with a couple of flashes of light every few minutes.
Once they reached shore, Rick rushed up to hug them as they stumbled out of the dinghy. “You had me worried. That took longer than I thought it would,” he said, his voice emotional.
“It’s okay, we’re fine,” reassured his mom. “I’ll admit it was a bit scary out there...”
That was when the boat exploded. They watched the flames and smoke billowing up in the night sky for a few minutes, then Doug said, “Let’s move.” They put on the hooded jackets and glasses Rick had brought along for them. Then Doug punched a hole in the dingy with his knife and let it deflate as they quickly made their way to Rick’s car. As they drove eastward on Highway 17, Rita expressed what they were all thinking.
“Do you think it was enough to sink it? What if they find something?” she worried.
“All we can do now is hope for the best,” Doug told her. “It’s too late to go back.”
Rick drove carefully for the next hour, mindful of the speed limit, till he found the turnoff. Once they entered the gravel backroad, he said, “I’m going to miss you. Be careful out there. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you.”
Then he stopped the car and they all got out. Rita and Doug gave their son one last hug and told him they loved him before they made their way into the woods on foot. Rick headed back onto Highway 17 toward the cottage where he waited to see how it would play out.
Doug and Rita walked through the darkness, with their flashlight and compass to guide them to the location they had found over a month ago. In the wilderness northeast of White River, close to a stream, was an old rundown shack that had obviously not been used for some time. This was where Rick had brought the supplies he had stockpiled over the last couple of months. This was where Doug and Rita would make their home for the next few weeks.
Roughing it was a lot rougher than they had anticipated. Being used to the amenities and perks of the upper middle class, Doug and Rita were not accustomed to outdoor camping in the least. But you do what you have to do to survive. They made do with packaged and canned food without cooking. The shack provided a bit of shelter. During the cold nights, they huddled together in their sleeping bag, under the blankets. To pass the time, they read the books and played the card games Rick had left them. They didn’t dare start a fire or go for a walk, fearing they’d be seen. It was risky enough hiding out in the shack in the woods. They had no idea whether anyone was looking for them or if they were presumed drowned.
For his part, Rick played the worried son. This wasn’t too difficult a role as he really was worried about them. By the time the explosion had been reported and the coast guard was able to get near enough to the flames, there was little left of the boat. The wreckage made it apparent there were no survivors. Due to the cold water, bodies usually didn’t surface. That afternoon, Rick called the police to report his parents hadn’t returned from their trip out on the lake. They were presumed killed in the explosion, although a search of the area found no signs of their bodies. Rick planned the memorial service and mourned the deaths of his parents. Then he waited for a few weeks.
Luck was on their side. No one came near their hideout. After a few weeks, Rick returned to the spot where he had left his parents the night the explosion took their lives. He was relieved to find them well, although thinner and looking a little rough around the edges.
Rick handed over a wad of cash and new ID’s to his parents. He drove them to The Sault, where he dropped them off close to the bus station and handed over the bus and plane tickets he had purchased online. From there, they took the bus to Toronto. Two days later, they were on a flight to Costa Rica.
“We’re going to make it, aren’t we?” asked Rita, still somewhat anxious.
“Lady Luck’s on our side this time,” Doug assured her.
As the plane made its bumpy landing, Rita thought, “Wouldn't it be just our luck to die in a plane crash now that we’ve gotten this far.” She closed her eyes and held on tight to her armrests.
A week after they had landed in Costa Rica, Doug used the new email Rick had set up for him to send a message to his son. Smooth landing. Wish you were here.
A year later, Doug and Rita were enjoying life on their beachfront property, bought with the life insurance payout. Rick had been making regular deposits into an account set up for his parents under their new identities.
“We’re living the dream,” Doug said lazily from his poolside lounger.
“Except I miss him so much,” Rita said as she took another sip of wine.
“So do I, so do I,” Doug told her. “It’s all my fault we’re apart.”
“What’s done is done. There’s no point in placing blame. Besides, we’ll be seeing him soon,” Rita reminded him.
Business was thriving at Fitzgerald Law Firm. The credit card debts had been covered by the insurance on the cards. The boat had also been insured. Rick sold his parents’ house, the cottage, and the cars, leaving him debt-free. Doug’s debt to his buddy, John, was no longer an issue. The accidental death double indemnity clause in the life insurance policy left the Fitzgerald’s four million dollars richer. Dead was better than alive. Rick was looking forward to his vacation in Costa Rica next month.
As he took his new girlfriend, Kate, out on his new boat, she remarked, “It’s a large lake.”
“It’s a deep lake,” added Rick.
Then she realized how insensitive she was and said, “I’m sorry...I wasn't thinking.”
“It’s okay. I like being on the lake. It makes me feel closer to them,” he told her.
“Still, it must be hard…” she said. “Knowing they’re down there. Not having a proper burial, a cemetery to visit.”
“At least, they’re not alone down there. So many lives have been lost to Superior. It’s a graveyard in its own right,” Rick mused aloud. “You’d be surprised what lies beneath the surface.
“Including the body of one John Spencer, Dad’s old ‘buddy’,” thought Rick.
Doug had invited John up to the cottage the night of the explosion for a test drive on board the Sea Ray. He was offering it up as partial payment for the debt he owed John. A good dose of sleeping pills in his wine glass ensured John would go down with his newly acquired boat.
What goes down in Superior, stays in Superior.