The sun was several hours from setting but according to Captain Reynolds watch it was the last sailing of the evening and the rest of the crew were tired and thinking of a warm cot in the Soda Creek Hotel on the edge of the Fraser River.
There wasn’t any role call of passengers taken. It didn’t occur to the captain nor his crew to check that all passengers were still aboard.
The Soda Creek Hotel was short staffed too and while Elsie was just finishing preparing the rooms while Yun “Chip” Sang mostly struggled alone in the kitchen, his face reddened by the constant steam from the pots. Elsie Rankin chatted to the passengers while they ate in between checking the cook’s progress and eventually they retired to their rooms, one by one except the captain.
After the final pot was wiped down, Sang walked bleary eyed into the night and to his own living quarters; a narrow cabin that had been converted from a woodshed. He had been there a couple of years already but his days were kept so busy he didn’t have time to think about his future plans. He paused for a minute to look up at the sky. It was sprinkled with bright stars and with his finger he traced the constellations. He followed the ancient astrologers’ thinking that you could predict a type of event would occur by looking at the stars and where they had moved.
Probably because he was so tired that Sang didn’t perceive anything unusual in the stars patterns, but he had a sense of foreboding that kept him awake despite his fatigue. Frustrated, Sang rolled out of bed, put his boots on and went for a walk. The light from the stars was enough for him, but evidently not enough for someone else because he saw a yellow glow of light spilling out from under the stable door.
Walking closer, Sang heard the horses snort and the sound of hooves hitting the side boards. Sang had never been particularly fond of horses but feeding them was one of his jobs and they knew him well enough that they didn’t kick him. Someone inside the barn wasn’t as lucky it seemed. There was a loud crash and a stifled cry.
Sang walked around the barn to another door, undid the latch and quietly pulled it open so he could see what was going on. He could hear the swoosh of the horses tail and the clink of metal.
He couldn’t see who it was, he was tempted to call out but instead he grabbed one of the blacksmith tools. As he held it tightly in both hands, he could hear a man’s voice, barely above a whisper, cursing. Sang crept closer until he could see the ears of the horse, held straight back.
Suddenly, the gate opened and the rider mounted, his face in the shadows of the light. The horse, unaccustomed to this new rider, stumbled back a few steps and the rider who was holding onto the lamp, dropped it.
Sang could see it falling. It was precisely at the moment when the glass shattered on the dirt floor that Sang threw the tool and it landed square in the rider’s back. It wasn’t enough to knock him off the horse, but it made him turn around suddenly in the saddle.
He looked at Sang for an instant and the shadows fell across his face, disappearing into in dark recesses. Then, just as swiftly he turned back in his saddle and gave the horse a determined kick and out they went at a full gallop.
Sang stood transfixed for a moment before he realized the situation. A small line of flames were heading towards the barn wall like a row of fiery ants. Sang ran over to where the tools were kept, grabbed a shovel and threw dirt on the fire. Then he hit the soil with the back of his shovel. As he was banging his shovel down he heard the unmistakable sound of wood splintering.
There was enough moonlight that he could just make out the dark shape of a box. Fearing the worst, Sang gathered it up and hid it behind one of the bins.
About six hours later, Sang was back working in the hotel kitchen preparing breakfast. He had contemplated telling Elsie about the missing horse, but she appeared flustered and out of sorts when she came into the kitchen.
“Mr. Abbott is missing and Mr. Smythe is missing his belongings!”
Just at that moment, the Captain entered the kitchen as if it were his own home. “What about Mr. Sayers? We should find him before he disappears!”
They both trotted out before Sang had a chance to say anything. He wondered about the box he had found.