Authors: Scott Young
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Native American & Aboriginal, #General
All very interesting, but the light was beginning to dwindle. Sunset was an hour or so away. Probably so was Fort Norman.
“So let's get out of here,” I said. “You lead. I'll try not to ram you from behind.”
I could see Pengelly's teeth as he grinned under his face-mask. “I'd appreciate that.”
Back aboard waiting for him to turn around, I was contrasting his easy manner with the uptightness I'd known as a constable his age. If I'd been faced with an inspector, even a former inspector, in these circumstances I would have been yes-sirring like crazy.
He was no hot-rodder. I could see him glance back once in a while to make sure I was still with him. I drove almost automatically, thinking about William, an unreadable guy whom I'd met drunk and abrupt, even rude. Anyway, fairly objectionable. Could there have been something bugging him about lusting after Gloria even while maybe knowing that his father had beaten him to her? Did he really know that? If so, what would that do to his relationship with his father?
I simply couldn't think of him as a man who would help others plot to kill his father, no matter what the provocation. That was instinct and I thought it was accurate. But against that I had to put the way he had acted. He had not visited the hospital at all after the night he'd taken his father there, had not been at the airport when Morton was being flown out, was not to be found anywhere the police in Inuvik had looked for him after his father had been murdered.
And his subsequent actions didn't clarify anything. He'd have known at the very least there'd be questions. Such as, did he and his father come to blows that night? What was his explanation of the head bruise the doctor had noticed? When Morton collapsed, how long before the ambulance was called? Had William let anyone else know?
After that line of questioning, sooner or later it would have come down to his connection with the drug ring. Did he know that Christian and Batten had taken practically no luggage, but half a million dollars? Did he know where they went? Did he have any idea, even a suspicion, of who had killed his father?
As the questions went in circles in my mind, we putt-putted across the ice at the mouth of the Great Bear River and into Fort Norman on the Mackenzie. The buildings didn't show their age all that much. It had been two centuries since fur traders of the old Northwest Company decided that where two rivers joined, there should be lots of business. Maybe I'd buy some postcards.
A big guy who I later discovered was a cousin of William Cavendish came to call on me late that night at Bear Lodge. He didn't bother to knock, just pushed the door open and stood there. I was sitting on the edge of the bed with the last of my Glenfiddich in one hand and a glass in the other, about to pour what, after the day I'd had, I badly needed. He was close to six feet tall and was built a little like William, except William's stomach hung over his belt and this guy's didn't. But they had the same look around the eyes and the same kind of black moustache, the kind that turns down at the corners, providing a modified Charlie Chan effect. His hair was black and pulled back into a short ponytail.
“Come in,” I said.
“I am in.”
“That's what I mean.”
He got it, all right. People of the North are almost invariably polite. Some of it even rubs off on the whites.
“I'm Paul Pennycook, William's cousin. What do you want him for?”
“To talk about the fight he had last Sunday night with his father in Inuvik.”
Startled, “What'n hell you talkin' about?”
He looked angry, then thoughtful, his eyes holding mine. I think he was doing the arithmetic: last Sunday night was when Morton had his attack, and William had been with him at the time. I hadn't risen and didn't plan to, as that would have put my nose just about at the level of his shirt's top button, not good for my confidence.
However, I had shaken him a little, put him off balance.
So much so that he sounded somewhat less forceful than his actual words when he said, “We don't like slant-eyed Eskimo bastards around here.” Funny thing, him saying that. Until I was about twenty I always thought our eyes were the proper shape and it was just too bad about all those white people. Once in a while now they even seemed a potential asset, as in a coolly appraising Toronto woman in a low-cut dress a couple of years ago opining that I was real cute, “with your slanty eyes and all.”
However, with this guy I wasn't taking.
“That's odd you don't like slant-eyed Eskimo bastards,” I said. “I don't object to tall, skinny half-breed bastards.”
“Metis!” he said automatically.
“Inuit,” I replied.
Of course, this puerile debate was based, however distantly, on the historic fact that in our aboriginal state Eskimos and Indians had bumped one another off; or tried to, on sight. Which means that in the old days maybe Maxine and I never would have got together. But then, in some societies even today adultery itself, never mind the ethnic mix, is punishable by stoning unto death. A comforting thought is that if such a thing ever happened in North America, the continent would run out of stones in less than a week.
Anyway, here I was, and at least I was in touch with someone who might possibly admit to knowing where William was.
“We know you're a Mountie,” he said. “You should be out catchin' the guy that killed Morton, for Chissake, right?”
I said mildly, “It just plain might help a lot if William would talk to me. For instance, tell me his ideas on who disliked his father enough to kill him.”
Then I went on, not quite so mildly. And suddenly the way I felt gave me a momentary flashback to a guy named Harry, forget his last name but he was president of an American drug company and would rather hunt and fish in the Northwest Territories than sell aspirin. He and I used to hunt geese sometimes when I was a special in the Holman detachment. Just after dawn he'd go off with his roll of toilet paper, the hunter's best friend, and soon he'd come back looking happy and chortle, “Well, Matteesie, I got the plug out.”
When I got the plug out now with Paul Pennycook it did my mental health a lot of good. As I said, I started out mildly but in a matter of seconds I was on my feet yelling, “Ever since I got here I been running into dead ends! What the hell's the matter with you people? Don't you want the murderer to get caught? You all afraid to help the police for once, even when it's one of your own people got killed? God damn it all anyway! Then you come in here and start telling me what to do, you asshole!”
I started toward him. If he'd so much as put up his hands to defend himself I'd have been on him, and he might have killed me.
But he didn't move. He just looked at me, as if pondering, and then he pronounced judgment.
“William's fuckin' business is his own fuckin' business,” he said, and nodded slightly as if listening to his own words and finding them gratifyingly profound.
Then he left, quietly closing the door behind him.
I poured the last of the Glenfiddich into a glass and sat back trying to think cool thoughts, which wasn't all that easy. I went back over all the dead ends I had run into in the last few hours of knocking on doors all over Fort Norman. The whole damn lot of them, men, women and children, weren't especially impolite, they were just implacable. Even the ones that offered me tea. Something of substance was being hidden from me because nobody would say where William was. It was even possible, I had to admit, that no one I talked to did know where he was. If so, that line from the guy I'd just yelled at, about William's fuckin' business being his own fuckin' business, had something to it besides a pleasant ring. What could I have done differently? Could I have got myself asked someplace for dinner and hope that a drink or two from my trusty Glenfiddich might produce some loose talk?
But in the end I'd decided on Arctic char in the Bear Lodge dining room, and that I needed thinking time.
Bear Lodge had been my choice of hostelries for two reasons. One was bold print. When I checked through the sixty-eight telephone numbers listed in the Fort Norman section of the NorthwesTel directory, looking for the Cavendish name and not finding it, Bear Lodge was listed in large letters. In the Yellow Pages a boxed ad read:
6 DOUBLE ROOMS
CENTRAL BATH AND SHOWERS
Overlooking the Mackenzie River at the Junction of the Great Bear River
The second reason was that the only other listing for a possible place to stay was something called Drum Lake Lodge. Upon enquiring from the trusty Pengelly which was the better of the two he said he couldn't really say from personal experience because Drum Lake Lodge was about 175 miles west on the other side of the Mackenzie.
So Bear Lodge it was, with its central bath and showers and some good no-frills cooking in its dining room.
Even though there were no other Cavendishes in Fort Norman, there were cousins and in-laws and other connections. Pengelly and I had chewed it over at the RCMP office after I'd knocked on enough doors to get myself known as that slanty-eyed bastard who was trying to find cousin William.
“I'm beginning to think he might not be in town,” Pengelly said, at one point. “God knows there are places up and down the Bear or the Mackenzie where he could have got to by now, and we wouldn't know unless somebody told us. But the thing I can't figure out isâwhy? I mean, if he's hiding something, what the hell is it?”
The question exactly. If he had anything to hide, it was what had been happening between him and his father when Morton had the angina attack, and whether that had anything to do with the other guys taking off. It might be significant that they had taken off just about as quickly as anyone could arrange it after Morton was taken to hospital and found to be in critical condition. Almost as if there had to be a connection. Something they knew must have made them vamoose while the police were tapping their fingers and waiting for the time to be right to close in. It was a riddle that I couldn't think of anyone better than William to answer.
A stray thought struck me now, back in my room. William was really the only true northerner among them. Harold Johns was from the East, spoken well of by my old and true friend Thomasee Nuniviak, his employer. Maybe Johns could be ruled out on all grounds. Maybe he just got attached to the thing as an innocent bystander. I had a feeling that would please Buster, if so, but it wasn't necessarily true; just a mildly supportable guess. Albert Christian at least said he was from Winnipeg, apparently one of those guys who used the North for whatever he could get out of it; tax-free dollars being the backbone of the drug trade. Benny Batten, the old football player, seemed on the evidence to be the foot soldier type usually found in the lower echelons of any bunch of hoods. That left Jules Bonner, who'd spent part of his life here but was still a transient and (in the opinion of Ted Huff) poisonous little bastard, and William Cavendish, who seemed intent on keeping from us exactly where he belonged. But if there'd been a battle within the gang, it might have been split along lines that hadn't occurred to me before.
I didn't figure William was any pillar of northern virtue, but he had been brought up here and could have been the odd man out. How could Morton have known any of that? Still, if Morton had some inkling of the drug side of William's life, couldn't that have been why he was angrily hunting for William just before the explosion between them? Leaving the question, what could I do here that I hadn't already done?
What I did was get up and go out, on the grounds that sitting still was rarely productive. I met the glances of a few people lounging around the lobby, pulled my parka zipper tight around my neck, pulled the hood up over my fur hat to keep the snow from driving down my neck and faced into the frigid, blustery night.
Snow was swirling around the few street lights as I clumped along past the Bay store, the Pentecostal church, the Roman Catholic mission, a few government offices. All were dark and uninviting, suggesting no answers. Still, my way of doing things, whether on my home turf of the Arctic shore or down here on the Mackenzie where I felt somewhat out of my element, was to keep turning over the known facts in my head, challenging each in the hope that something would turn up.
Morton Cavendish had been in Inuvik looking for his son, who was drinking part of the time with Gloria but later went to meet his father at the Mackenzie Hotel. During that meeting Morton Cavendish had an angina attack and then a stroke, perhaps helped along by rage at whatever he'd wanted to see William about.
The next afternoon Harold Johns had flown the Cessna out of Inuvik either aware or unaware that he was carrying two men who might have known that their drug operation was on the ropes. No one now available knew the flight plan. The Cessna's engines were heard a couple of hours later during a bad storm near Fort Norman, and the plane had then vanished, at least from public view.
The following day, Tuesday, Morton was being flown out to the strokes facility in Edmonton when he was murdered. Reason, unknown. Almost certain guess: to shut him up about something.
Wednesday: I go back to Inuvik, find William had avoided police Tuesday night after his father's death, but had flown to Fort Norman the next morning.
Thursday, right now: I'm in Fort Norman trying to find William.
Conclusion: be my guest.
William's coming here could have been natural enough. There aren't any funeral directors from Inuvik to Yellowknife, so funerals in smaller communities are generally arranged by the family. William would be it, in his family. However, right now it wasn't even sure when the body would be released for burial, or where it would be buried. Pengelly had checked both local sets of clergy, Roman Catholic and Pentecostal. Neither had heard about funeral plans.
Neither had the government offices, where William might have been expected to call or appear for a particular northern reason, that reason being that in much of the Northwest Territories grave-digging doesn't alter much in form from one season to the next. With the permafrost so close to the surface, the only way a proper grave could be dug winter or summer was with a jackhammer, which the government office routinely supplied without charge. And they don't even bill Medicare.
My mind was traveling up and down those various blind alleys when, through the swirling snow, I saw something that at first looked like just an overturned sled, larger than a kid's sled but no more than half the size of a komatik. As I walked closer I could see a lot of threshing around, and hear some fervent cursing. Someone on the sled was trying to get it back upright again. Then a grimy, frustrated face peered up at me.
“Hey, I'll give you a hand,” I said.
Wondering why he didn't get off and do it himself, I leaned over and caught the edges of the sled and heaved it back upright again. Then I saw why the man now mumbling thanks hadn't done the straightening out himself. He had no legs. He wore a parka and pants, but the legs of the pants had been folded up so that they disappeared beneath the skirt of his parka. The parka hood was up. Under it he wore a leather cap with earflaps. He wore big gauntlets and in each hand was a short length of what appeared to be poplar sapling, sharpened at the end. Still watching me, he dug these into the snow and moved the sled a few feet and then stopped and looked back at me, searchingly.
He had a deep, melodious voice. “I hardly ever seen an Eskimo before,” he said.
“Inuk,” I said.
“What's your name?”
I told him. He didn't seem hostile, which was a nice change.
“Yes. I'm trying to find out something about why Morton Cavendish was killed.”
His reaction was total jaw-dropping, eyes-bulging shock and a wordless cry. Dropping his sticks, he flung back his parka hood and stared. “Morton killed? Where? How? You're crazy! He can't be!”
I felt a surge of excitement. “I'm sorry. It's true.”
We're standing in the middle of the storm in beautiful downtown Fort Norman, an Inuk Mountie and a man who had no legs and pushed himself along with sticks. The snow fell on his upturned face, full of anguish.
“How come you didn't know?” I asked. “I mean, it's been on the radio, everybody talking about it.”