Danny Bluestone sighted down the barrel of his rifle. He breathed in, long and deep, anticipating …
Fire! His distant target jumped.
“OK, so you can shoot,” Lara Foxnard grumbled beside him.
Danny glanced down the line of wannabe Rangers, all ten belly-down like himself, all intent on their practice targets, their identification armbands like the strokes of a red pen against their white parkas.
“My turn.” Foxnard picked up her 303 Lee-Enfield rifle. She worked the bolt action and fired.
White crystals spurted from the snow ridge holding the targets as her bullet hurtled across the frozen expanse of Rainy Lake.
Wonderful, Danny thought. What if her stray shot streaked across the border into Canada’s sister to the south? That’d kill the Fort Frances Northern Rangers pilot project right there—if it didn’t rekindle The War of 1812. Luckily only the empty forest of Voyageur National Park stretched along the opposite shore, though a stray American deer might get a nasty surprise.
“I’m turning into a brass monkey here,” Foxnard said. Frost silvered the red curls escaping her hood. “How’d I do anyway?”
“Sorry, can’t see too well in this light.”
Sergeant Corazon Sinclair raised her arm, signaling a cease fire. Danny pulled off his ear protectors in the welcome silence. All the Rangers tilted their rifles skyward in accordance with the Northern Rangers Safety Directive, all except Foxnard. She dumped her gun on the ice, pulled off her thick gloves and fumbled in her side pocket.
“Keep an eye out, willya?”
“Better leave that smoke. The Sarge is heading this way,” Danny said.
“Well, she can suck my butt.” Foxnard found her cigarettes and lit up.
Danny shifted his lean weight on the blue foam groundsheet beneath him. Corazon was working her way down the line, checking the targets through her army issue binoculars. In her bulky white parka and snow pants, she bore an unfortunate resemblance to a foreshortened polar bear.
“I heard Sinclair gets paid three times what a Ranger gets,” Foxnard said.
“Well, she’s our Commander back home in Red Dog Lake,” Danny said. For the hundredth time that afternoon, he regretted volunteering to help Corazon get the pilot project off the ground. He’d traded the boredom and icy cold of Northern Ontario for the frustration and icy cold of Southwestern Ontario.
“Since when do women get to be commanders in the Canadian army?” Foxnard asked.
“Since forever. Half the Northern Rangers are women. I mean, you’re here, right?”
“Yeah, I need the money.” She took a deep drag. “Didn’t think you’d take me. Like I’m old enough to be your mom. And I heard, too, that you’re supposed to be First Nations or whatever the woke word is.”
First Nations like me, you mean, Danny wanted to say. “No, you can be anything as long as you’re willing to turn into a meat popsicle.”
The ice crunched behind them. “Put that out, Foxnard.” Corazon Sinclair’s dark eyes narrowed as Foxnard ground out her cigarette on the ice.
She lifted her binoculars. “Looking good, Ranger Bluestone, but you, Foxnard, you can’t hit the side of a barn.” She lowered her sights. “What you gonna do for protection out on patrol? Some hungry bear’s gonna eat you for dinner.”
“The only bears that worry me are the two-legged kind,” Foxnard said.
“You think?” Danny had run across a hungry bear in the woods.
“And since we’re talking here, girl-to-girl, Corazon,” Foxnard began.
“That’s Sergeant to you,” Corazon said.
“Whatever. I can’t hit a thing with these crap rifles the Canadian army gave you. They’re, like, antiques. How come I can’t use a decent gun like my Colt AR15?”
“ ’Cause the Lee Enfields don’t freeze up in winter. Any more stupid questions?”
Every ranger was listening.
A shriek of brakes resounded over the icebound lake. A salt-stained Lincoln Town Car was barreling down the road to the shoreline.
“Isn’t that Councillor Weston’s car?” Danny asked.