Authors: Scott Young
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Native American & Aboriginal, #General
“Or being hit? Slugged?”
“Well, hell,” the doctor said slowly, “yeah, I guess so . . .” He looked at me more sharply. “Yeah, I guess so. I guess that's all pretty academic, now. From what I hear, I guess the bruise wouldn't show any more.”
When I left there I thought I'd better check in at RCMP headquarters. The RCMP “G” division covers the whole North, with about 240 men in four sub-divisions and thirty-nine local detachments, mostly headed by a corporal or a sergeant. The Inuvik sub has something close to sixty officers, being one of the busiest subs anywhere. The inspector was an old friend, Ted Huff. Damn near a foot taller than me. Very straight-ahead officer. But when I walked in to the ground floor of the two-storey headquarters building and three or four officers had finished making heavy jokes about me and the civil service, I found out that the inspector had taken the police Twin Otter over to Banks Island that morning for the christening of the first child of the corporal in charge of the Sachs Harbour detachment.
“It's sort of a mercy flight,” one constable said. “Young Lester over there, his wife had a bad time giving birth and her parents down in Kingston were all worried. They tried for weeks to get her to fly back to civilization with the baby, I guess they figure Kingston is pretty civilized. She's a good type and stood them off. But it is lonely at Sachs, you know, her in the North for the first time, more housebound than ever because of the kid. I think the inspector just figured it was a nice day and he'd go over there and show that the brass cares.”
He'd be back in an hour, they figured. I said I'd be back about the same time. In front of the Mackenzie Hotel a couple of taxis sat with their engines running.
“Know where Komatik Air hangs out?” I asked the first driver.
“Sure do. Hop in.”
I got in the front seat. In the North, a passenger is thought to be from Toronto if he chooses to ride in the back seat when he could be up with the driver.
This one looked at me closely. He was middle-aged, originally German, and had been here since 1962 that I knew of. “Hey, you're that guy used to be the special, eh? Matteesie, got to be famous since you left, eh?”
I try not to let it go to my head.
He made a skidding turn to head west on Distributor Street toward the river, back past police headquarters and Arctic College. He turned right at Franklin and soon was in streets I'd once known well from taking drunk girls home and picking up guys for beating up wives, and so on. Once or twice a murder. Natives like to be by a river. This area by the riverbank had become their part of town, Slavey and Loucheux and Eskimos. Sometimes in those early days there'd be ten to a one-room shack, and like as not some girl who had taken secretarial training and got a government job would get up in the morning and have to step over the sleeping people to dress and then walk a mile or so to work, where she'd compete with white girls who only had to walk through a heated tunnel from their subsidized apartments to get to the office. Sometimes, too, when these same Native girls faced going back to the crowded shack at night they went to the beer parlor at the Mackenzie instead. It had been a great system for transforming eager teenagers into twenty-seven-year-old hags.
Komatik Air's office was in an old prefabricated building called a 512 because that was their square footage. A lot were shipped in when the town was created in the early 1950s. Yellow light shone faintly from a window. A pickup truck stood by the door, with the engine plugged in to an electric cord leading to an outlet on the building's outer wall.
A weather-worn Beaver was out on the ice near the shore, with a tarpaulin draped over its engine like a tent. There'd be a heat-pot in there to keep the engine from freezing up. The pilot like as not would have an old felt hat tucked away inside the cabin for straining gasoline when he had to gas up from some cache of a few dozen barrels on the shores of some frozen lake. I told the driver to wait, and knocked on the door.
A voice called, “It's open.”
The man behind the desk was an Inuk, about my size, five feet six, and with a face that lit up like a beacon.
He came around the desk a little shyly because I'd been gone a long time and he wouldn't be as sure as he once had been. He stopped a few feet from me. “I haven't seen you since the time I picked you up with that old trapper away out on the Barrens south of Paulatuk! Him and his furs and that Loucheux woman he lived with, dead as a white girl's ass.” Abruptly he looked stricken. “Jeez, I'm sorry, Matteesie. I forgot your wife is . . .”
Then we hugged one another. Thomasee Nuniviak. About my age. Born around Letty Harbour on the Arctic shore and raised like I had been, more muktuk than caribou. We'd been at school here together. He'd gone to Yellowknife for the engine course and worked for others around aircraft and then got his pilot's license. He ran water into a kettle and plugged it in. We caught up. It was a little while before I asked, “Heard anything about your aircraft?”
He shook his head. “Not a damn thing. That what you're here about? I heard you're with Northern Affairs now. You hear anything?”
“No. But I'm interested.” I told him why, the Harold Johns connection. “I'm told he didn't say where he was going.”
“Damn right he didn't. I'd like to ask him why.”
He busied himself with mugs and teabags. The water boiled. He poured mine first and politely shoved over a can of condensed milk that had two holes punched in the top. I added some to the tea.
“Did he, uh, goof off like this often?”
“Never before. Good pilot. No problems with Harold at all.” He paused. “Policee been down, too, asking the same. The only thing I can think is he didn't know exactly where he was going to end up. Like maybe this Albert Christian comes in and says he wants to go to Arctic Red and somewhere else from there, he'll let Harold know at Arctic Red, so Harold would figure he could phone when he got there and tell me what was going on.”
“But he never called.”
“No, but hell, you know, where he got to, if it's south of Fort Norman, there ain't many goddamn phone booths! Anyway, all I can do is hope.”
“You know the guys he took, Batten and Christian?”
He pursed his lips and let out a long hiss of air. “That's what bothers me. I don't know Batten except to see. But Christian had done one or two trips with us before, down to Wrigley once, another time to Old Crow. Don't know exactly what for. But we don't generally ask. A guy's got money and wants a flight, we take him, maybe bring him back. You know how it is.” He grinned. “That girl whose car Christian left here, she was some mad. She would've killed him. Didn't plug in her car, didn't leave a note, nothing. They must have been in a hurry, is all I can figure.”
“How far could they get without refueling?”
He didn't have a useful answer. “You know, depends on flying conditions. But he knew where the gas caches are.”
Obviously that was the least of his worries. It seemed he trusted Harold Johns.
“The police think Christian and Batten have been bringing in drugs. Maybe even on one of your flights.”
He looked anxious. “The policee who was here asked questions that seemed to lead in that direction. All new to me. But it worries me. For sure.”
“How about survival gear?”
He answered as I expected. It was in every plane. A guy could lose his license if it wasn't. The standard pack was a two-layer tent, primus stove, axe, snow knife for making an igloo, one Arctic-grade sleeping bag per passenger and pilot, watertight match container, candles, dried food, extra parkas if passengers didn't have their own, a rifle. If you're not hurt when you go down, you can hang out safely as long as you stay put. The cold wasn't as bad as the wind but basically you had to stop loss of body heat. A tent or an aircraft cabin would be shelter enough. Even a candle will heat up an enclosed space.
At least I knew a little more. And the contact might somehow help later. I finished my tea and told him I was going to Fort Norman and I'd phone him if I learned anything important. He regretted that I didn't have time to sit and talk. I was regretful, too. I was getting to be so damn efficient, no longer operating on what some people call northern time. Meaning time doesn't mean anything. Have to watch that.
“Next time,” he said as I was leaving, “stay longer. I'll always drive you back uptown. You don't have to have a taxi waiting like a white man.” I accepted the rebuke.
It was past four, the sun getting low. “Inspector Huff is back,” the receptionist called as I headed upstairs to Ted's big office on the second floor. He crushed a few small bones in my hand to indicate that he was glad to see me. We went back a long way, all the way to basic training in Regina. We were friends but not like the “Matteesie!” and “Thomasee!” of a short time earlier; the same rank, but in my head I deferred to him because while I had always been as close to a lone wolf as an officer in the Mounties can be, he was officer commanding five dozen good, or mostly good, people. I still thought of myself as plain Matteesie and thought of him as The Inspector. He knew none of this. I didn't envy him but I think sometimes he envied me.
Now, while his secretary brought coffee, Ted enthused about his trip to Banks Island. The corporal's wife had been so pleased at his surprise visit that after the christening he'd taken her out in the Twin Otter to see some of the musk-ox herds he'd seen on the way in only a few minutes from Sachs Harbour. “Never saw so many! Every place you lookâmusk-ox! It's old stuff to you and me but when we'd fly over a herd and they'd get scared and get in a circle facing out to protect the young in the middle, it was something new for that young lady. Glad I went.”
Then he waited for me to open the bidding.
I didn't really have to specify what I was there for. He knew that Buster had called me originally about the missing plane. My involvement at the time of the murder, he knew as well. I got right to it.
“I don't want you to think I'm meddling,” I said.
He laughed. “Once a cop . . .”
I filled him in on who I'd talked to, and then: “I'd really like to talk to William Cavendish.” I was hoping he'd know more about William's whereabouts than I did, and I was right. To a point.
“So would I. Last night after we got word about the murder we tried all the bars, eating places, people he knew. Everybody said they hadn't seen him. Of course, some of them must have been lying. He had to be here somewhere. In hindsight, we should have put a man at the airport. He flew out on Nahanni this morning with a ticket for Fort Norman.” Ted looked at me with a grin. “I guess this is all on Northern Affairs business, eh?”
“Oh, sure,” I said.
He didn't ask any more questions, but I did. A suspicion suddenly began rattling around in my head looking for a way out. It had been born as abruptly as Ted saying where William had been heading that morning by Nahanni Airâthe same place where a plane carrying his friends might have gone down without sending out any emergency signals.
“Do you think there's a connection between what happened to Morton Cavendish and those guys that took off in that Cessna that's down?”
“Same old Matteesie,” he said. A compliment, I'm almost sure.
“Maybe not directly,” he said. “But William was thick with the two guys Johns flew out of here. In fact, if they were making a run for it with their bankroll as Edmonton tells us, I was surprised that William wasn't with them. Hours after they flew out we got word that would have had us pick four of them up. But of course they actually left two guys behind, at least so far. So we held off.”
“Left behind William and who else, Jules Bonner?”
He winced. “Jesus. How'd you know about that poisonous little bastard?”
I told him about Bonner being sent by William to look after Gloria the night Morton was stricken, and being in the airport making phone calls the day I left. I knew they might have been nothing, might have been to a girl friend or somebody not connected at all to the rest. But somebody had had to line up a hit man, even if only on spec, and later let him know what flight to do it on. I wondered if the phone company could help. Didn't think so, with a pay phone, but worth a try.
There was something else I wanted to think about further. I'm not usually secretive, even about theories, when I'm dealing with someone who might need only a shred of fact or fancy to fit into other facts or fancies and get nearer to an answer, but for now I'd gone about as far as I wanted to go.
“You got any theories about the murder?” I asked.
Ted shook his head. “Morton had enemies, of course, people who think he sold out on land claims here and there, or others who think he's been too inflexible. But as far as we know they're only people who go to meetings and argue. Not dangerous. As far as I can gather there was nothing he'd done to anybody that would get a professional hit man sent in from somewhere.” He paused. “Well, and there's this. Women liked him. That's one thing we're following up, looking for jealous husbands or whatever. There'd been stories about this conference or that, people with a lot in common being together for several days, doing a little drinking at nights. Things do happen, like people getting so friendly they go to bed together.”
“It's got a lot of ragged edges,” I agreed, rather redundantly.
But women? I knew the reputation. Handsome widower, well known, popular issues, I'd seen him surrounded by some pretty good looking women around the Chateau Laurier at Ottawa conferences I've been at. I suppose some people would think that he was a womanizer. Either that, or a lot of the women he ran into were manizers, if that's a word, and it probably should be.