Still, I moved on. Snow and ice crunched loudly beneath my heavy Sorrels. Mostly it sounded like I was trodding on potato chips, but every few steps I heard a loud, alarming crack that shrieked like the rending of lake ice and made me flinch. About halfway to the turnoff, I left the county highway and moved toward the woods. With my second step into the ditch I descended unexpectedly into waist-deep snow. There was a moment of panic—somehow I had the idea I was sinking into a kind of Nordic quicksand—but it promptly subsided. With hard effort, I plowed my way across the ditch to the steep embankment on the far side. Grabbing hold of the low-hanging branch of a spruce tree, I pulled myself up.
The snow wasn’t as deep in the woods, only about a foot. It was hard going, but not as hard as it had been. Still, after fifty yards I was breathing rapidly and I began to feel warm inside my snowsuit. After a few more yards I was perspiring freely. I paused for a moment to rest.
“Can sweating in subzero temperatures bring on hypothermia?” I asked myself. Not having a clear answer troubled me. “Damn, Mac. You should have been better prepared.”
I continued walking. My plan was simple if not contradictory: Follow the road to the lake cabin, but stay off it. Keep your distance, but don’t let it out of your sight. Make sure Teachwell doesn’t see you coming, but don’t get lost, either.
The “woods were dark and deep,” as the Robert Frost poem suggested. There was no sun, or even the hint of sun, and a subtle gloom fell around me. Yet it wasn’t the lack of light that made the woods seem so terribly strange and weird. It was the lack of sound. The wind that had blown so ferociously across the county road was less noticeable here. The trees still swayed and twisted above me, but on the forest floor all was still. And silent. Even my feet trudging through the snow made little noise. The only sound I could hear through the blue ski mask was the muffled timbre of my own breath. I found it very disconcerting. For the first time I understood why some people believe that going deaf is worse than going blind.
After a while, I began to lose sense of both time and distance. I was sure I had hiked a long way, but was unable to determine with any accuracy how far—the trail behind me seemed to disappear into the trees after only a few dozen yards. And while I was positive that the lake cabin was just up ahead, I had nothing on which to base that assertion except my own natural confidence.
I stopped, pulled off one of the large, fur-lined brown leather mittens they used to call “choppers” when I was a kid, and read my watch. How long had I been walking? One hour? Two? Twenty minutes? I should have checked the time before I left the county highway.
There was little else to do—I had limited my options, which, of course, is never a wise thing to do—so I continued hiking forward, although I had to admit my enthusiasm was waning. Ice formed around the mouth hole in the ski mask, and my eyebrows, left exposed by the eye holes, were frosted. I knew cold. I had grown up in Minnesota, after all. Only I couldn’t remember ever being colder. Certainly it was too cold to travel by foot.
That’s when I realized I had lost sight of the road.
Okay, this is a mistake, I admitted to myself. They really are going to find me frozen to a tree.
I held on through a level stretch of woods. The pump jockey at the service station in Ponemah said the cabin was less than a mile from the county road, yet that estimate had proved to be woefully inaccurate. I didn’t know how far I had walked, but it was a helluva lot farther than a mile.
Then I was out of the woods. The clearing had appeared so abruptly that I was several yards deep into it before I turned and quickly retreated back along my trail until I was safely concealed by the trees.
I squatted behind a stand of spruce and examined the clearing. An SUV was parked about thirty yards from the mouth of the road. The license plate was obscured by snow but I knew a 2001 Toyota 4Runner when I saw one. Teachwell’s. Beyond it was a small, redwood-stained cabin, one of those prefabricated jobs built atop gray cinder blocks. A curl of white smoke drifted up from a metal pipe on the roof and was caught by the wind.
“I don’t believe it,” I said in a low whisper. Half the cops in Minnesota were searching for Thomas Teachwell—Minneapolis Police Department, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department, State Highway Patrol, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, even the FBI. Yet I was the one who found him. ’Course, it was plain dumb luck that I knew where to look. I had been in a bar on West 7th Street in St. Paul drinking beers with Bobby Dunston—make that Detective Sergeant Bobby Dunston, thank you very much—when this guy on the other side of the bar—a DWI just waiting to happen—pointed at the TV suspended in the corner and said, “I know where he is.” One of the local stations was reporting that the search continued for Thomas Teachwell, CFO for a national restaurant chain based in Minneapolis. I had seen the teletype the feds had issued on him. He was being sought for embezzling an undisclosed amount of the company’s assets. They used the term “undisclosed” for the same reason they use it when miscreants take down a bank. They didn’t want to encourage copycats. Yet you know they had the amount down to the penny. I figured it was at least half a million—why else would the FBI be involved?
“I’m tellin’ yah,” the DWI repeated. “I know where he is.”