Authors: Scott Young
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Native American & Aboriginal, #General
A young Metis woman who'd been among the boarding passengers, with a ticket to Yellowknife, said she had seen the snowmobile move slowly up as the plane was taxiing in, but had thought nothing of it.
Around seven the inspector in Inuvik called. The corporal filled him in and was told that the body should go on to Yellowknife when we were finished, and the nurse had better go, too, to be handy for questioning.
When the thirty-second and last person had filed in and out, at nearly eight, the pilot stuck his head around the office door and said, “When do you figure we can leave? We've plugged up the one hole in the aircraft as best we can. Any draft we didn't get we can say is air conditioning.”
The corporal shrugged. “I guess go when ready.” He glanced at me. I nodded agreement. “I think we got the only two bullets that stayed inside. Find any more, let us know.”
As the pilot lingered there was a moment of thoughtful silence between the three of us. A man had been killed and we could only get on with our jobs. When the pilot turned away he could be heard saying to the woman who did the security checks, “Okay, they can move out now.”
Paterson and I looked at each other. “Not much?” I said.
Then for the first time I mentioned that my original assignment, the reason he'd been supposed to meet me, was the missing aircraft and the request from Ottawa that I nose around.
He was surprised. “You mean you're still on the force, sort of?”
“Sort of, is right. Really just as a favor, but when the commissioner asks a favor . . .”
“Do you think the business between you and Ottawa could have anything to do with this?” Meaning, the murder.
“All I know is that I'm to nose aroundâfor what, I'm not sure even yet until I check back. I thought you might know.”
“I don't.” He sounded slightly hurt. “But I don't like the idea of them feeling we need help in something before we've even had a chance.”
I really didn't mind Charlie Paterson at all, rather liked him. Still, it always sort of amused me when a white man in the North got his itsy-bitsy dignity injured.
“Well, you did sort of screw up today,” I said.
I was rather glad that, after a sharp glance, he laughed.
“And I always thought you Eskimos were supposed to be nice guys, kind, for Chrissake! But I'll tell you one goddamn thing.”
“I've just resigned from that effing choir.”
So I rode over to the RCMP office with Corporal Paterson. It was about five minutes away. Hoare still hadn't come back from his chase job. The office was just off the main street in a small building standing by itself, nothing else around. Paterson unlocked the door. A sign on the door gave the hours when the office would be open, and a phone number for emergencies.
The other constable was at work, typing his report about what he'd found inside the aircraft. I took one of the chairs while Paterson paced, thinking. He tended to think aloud, and loudly.
“What a goddamn break!” he groaned. “There's been snowmobilers out all day up hill and down bloody dale on the off chance that Cessna came down north of Fort Norman instead of south, like most people think. Not only me and the doc and the Esso guy are out shooting rabbits, but the bush is full of volunteer good guys, you know the mixâthe serious ones out to serve suffering humanity and the guys who'll take any excuse to get away from the wife. There'll be so many snowmobile tracks . . .”
He let it die there and I had a mental image of the maze of snowmobile tracks through the bush looking like the string games we used to playas kids.
Something had been nagging at me. “That snowmobile wasn't carrying anything that I could see. No saddlebags, no extra gas, nothing. As if he either makes one fast run somewhere, and doesn't need any gear for living in the open, or . . .”
“Or he had fuel and other stuff stashed where he was going to hole up,” I said.
“Or stashed a few miles out where he could pick it up on the way to God knows where.”
“Yeah. All of those. Another thing, you probably thought of this”âbehold the ancient Native custom of buttering the white manâ“is that wherever he's going, if it's far at all he needs gas. Maximum on that machine with a five-gallon tank is sixty-five to seventy miles. About forty, if he has a three-gallon tank. We could telex to everybody, notice boards, post offices, schools, whatever, that if anybody loses gas or gas cans they should report it to you forthwith.”
He nodded, sat down, and started to type. “That's one thing we can do right away. Jeez, I like that word, forthwith.” He grinned. “It's
, know what I mean?”
The phone began to ring. The corporal answered it and handed it to me.
“Ottawa,” he said. “Who's Buster?”
I listened for a minute and then said, “Yes, I was on the same aircraft.”
Listened again, then: “Corporal Paterson will be reporting what we know to Inuvik in a few minutes. It isn't a hell of a lot more than you've got. Yeah, we can ask them to copy it to you. Now, can you tell me more about the other thing, what I'm supposed to be here for?”
Buster instructed me to stay clear of the murder, that was regular police work, the other was what needed my touch. My touch! I didn't reply directly to that piece of official advice. I had my own ideas. I listened for two or three minutes, taking notes, then said, “Okay,” and hung up.
“That the commissioner?” the corporal asked, impressed. He was at the counter, lighting a cigar, peering through the smoke.
“Anything you can tell me?”
“Yeah, there was just a flash on the news back east about the murder. About the other thing, the guys on the missing plane, the pilot's father is the finance minister. The other two or maybe three are suspects in a drug deal supposed to be worth about half a million bucks. Our drug people think they have been paid and have the money with them.”
Paterson slammed one hand on the desk. “This pisses me off! How come all this happens on our own turf and we don't know a goddamn thing about it?”
“Ottawa's tip came from Edmonton.”
“Shit! Half a million bucks, out there in the snow someplace. Any names?”
“Harold Johns is the pilot. Apparently he came out here a couple of years ago after some trouble in Ontario, flying Ontario government aircraft. He punched some reporter he'd been drinking with. This happened during some minister's special trip by government aircraft to open a hospital up north, and sort of clouded up the political publicity side of the thing, as far as the media coverage went, so he was fired.”
“We get quite a few like that, trying to lose themselves up here. They're not usually any more trouble than anybody else. How about the others?”
“No names yet.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Make some phone calls and then maybe get the hell out of your hair.”
He grinned. “Just when I was starting to like you a little.” “We got an aircraft around here?”
“Not our own. We can call one in from Inuvik or one of the other bigger detachments when we need it. Or charter. What have you got in mind?”
What did I have in mind? A good question. Coming in here tonight, I'd been thinking of going on the fifty miles to Fort Norman tomorrow to get in on whatever search was going on by land. There'd probably be snowmobiles out to have a look and back up the air hunt by Search and Rescue, which Buster had just told me on the phone hadn't found anything today. Tomorrow's forecast, he'd been told, was very iffy in the way of flying weather.
But now, to me, whether I had official sanction or not, the murder came first. Everybody else might be working on it, sure, but I was the one who'd seen the murder, seen the murderer, and had also seen William Cavendish only a few hours before his father collapsed. I wondered at what point in the evening William had left Gloria and gone to see his father. And if he'd been right there when his father collapsed. I wondered where she'd been for the rest of the night and if she knew anything I should know.
“You know a William Cavendish, originally from Fort Norman?”
“Yeah. We've booked him once or twice, nothing violent, not a bad guy. Mainly drinks too much.”
I told the corporal about meeting him the night Morton Cavendish had collapsed and my curiosity about what happened next.
“So I think I'll go back to Inuvik and see what I can find out, not only about this but the other thing, too. Like, names of the other guys. After all, somebody's got to know something.” I thought a minute. “That Canadian International 737 goes north through here about noon tomorrowâanybody flying sooner that you know about?”
He thought a minute. “Maybe. You might try Northwest Territorial, they have a sked, and there are others in and out. Buffalo Air, Aklak, Nahanniâany of them on charters probably would take you if they're going that way and have room. Best go to the airport first thing in the morning and see what's flying.”
I thought about it. Obviously there was no better way. “Is there a cot here I can use?”
“Yeah, a rollaway in my office. But Nancy and I got room at our place.”
“Thanks, but I'll be on the phone a bit and maybe getting some calls back in. Cot'll be fine.”
He got to work on his report. I picked up the phone, but didn't learn much. The RCMP duty officer in Inuvik said that they'd found the charter on the missing aircraft to be rather irregular. The Cessna was owned by a three-plane outfit called Komatik Air, flying a Beaver, the Cessna that was missing, and a single-engined Otter. Whoever was in the office became the office staff. This Harold Johns had just left a note saying a sudden charter had come in for a flight south, he didn't give a destination. He'd left the prepaid fee in cash but not the name of the booker. Inuvik thought maybe it had been a guy named Albert Christian. They'd had Christian's name in connection with a drug deal they were watching and he didn't seem to be around today. They had a man out trying to learn more.
I phoned Maxine and asked if she knew anything about the people aboard. She said Gloria knew them, they were friends of William Cavendish. Maxine didn't know their names, but could ask Gloria when or if she came in. I thought of Maxine in that big chair she used all the time, beside the phone, in front of the TV.
That was about all I could think of to do at the moment. The corporal finished his report. The constable had gone home. I wasn't ready for the rollaway yet. I had a big forty ouncer of Glenfiddich in my bag. I'd bought it duty-free in Chicago but it had lasted.
Normally I drink Mount Gay rum and Schweppes Ginger Ale, but I didn't have any of either with me.
“You feel like a drink?” I asked the corporal.
“I sure as hell do. What've you got?”
“Jeez, you rich or something? That stuff costs about fifty bucks up here.”
“Twenty-three dollars in the duty-free,” I said, hauling the big triangular bottle out of my bag.
He rinsed out two glasses in the bathroom just off the office. When he came back I handed him the bottle. He poured a fair drink. I did the same while he read the label, “Single malt, what the hell does that mean? âProduced by the fifth generation of an independent family company.' Hey, how about that, eh? Having booze right in the family.”
We both took it straight, although it's okay with a little water, too. After a couple of sips I said, “You glad to get away from Simpson?”
“Hell, no, I loved it there.”
“But a lot of trouble from time to time. In a lotta towns in the North you hear the people saying, âWe don't want to wind up like another Simpson.'”
“Well, yeah, but . . . ah, I lived there, you know, just a kid. My father managed the Bay store. I never quite got over thinking about it that way, even with all the changes.”
It was all very low-key, leading nowhere, but it was companionable.
“Like, when were you just a kid there?”
“We left in the early '60s. Back then, you know, there were Native families living right where the government buildings are now, including the jail and our headquarters.”
I didn't say anything. So he'd been there when the population was about one third of what it is now, and more than half at least seasonally nomadic. I'd been there once when I was a special. In those days most of those Indians and Metis worked traplines in winter not all that far from town. Very handy. Then in spring around breakup of the two riversâthat's where the Liard runs into the Mackenzieâthey'd shoot muskrats for the skins and after the ice went out they'd move to summer quarters on one of the rivers and fish and hunt until freeze-up. They had their houses handy to the rivers then and sure as hell didn't have booze and welfare problems, at least not like now. But like in some other northern communities the easy way of doing things was all shot out from under them by the town planners. The authorities needed buildings to be authoritative from, including a new combined jail and RCMP headquarters, and the best sites, the planners decided, were all taken up by the Native homes. So naturally the Natives were moved to a part of the community that wasn't handy to anything. In Simpson the highway from the south, brought in to serve mainly the purposes of oil exploration and other developments, did the rest. Now it was the place nobody wanted to emulate.
We finished the drinks. He declined another and rose. “Sure you won't bunk in at our place?”
“I might be back before you know it,” I said.
While he was doing a few final things I made up the cot. The sheets were clean and ironed. The corporal was amused at my pajamas. “I thought you guys just stretched out in the igloo with a few branches and stuff covered with caribou skins on an ice shelf, or something.”