Authors: Scott Young
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Police Procedural, #Native American & Aboriginal, #General
I didn't mention Gloria yet. If anybody was going to question her seriously, I wanted it to be me.
Ted shrugged and picked up what he'd been saying. “But that's just guessing. Until we come up with a motive, what we seem to have is a murder, period, plus a coincidence that some drug dealers his son had been thick with have gone off without taking the son along, maybe even doing him out of his split. Maybe William was being double-crossed, maybe Jules Bonner was, too, but how is that going to get his father killed?”
At that point, looking thoughtful, he picked up a pencil and made a note. I couldn't read it.
We sat for another minute or two. I was thinking again about Bonner and his phone calls from the airport. The only other key I could think of was William Cavendish.
“I take it you're fairly sure that the guys who flew out had their bankroll with them?” I asked.
“I don't know what else they'd do. We know a deal was made. We knew the money came in and the drugs went out.”
That line surprised me. Drugs going out? Before I could ask, Ted gave the answer.
“Unfortunately we didn't know how it was being done until it was done. The tip actually came from Texas, if you can believe it. We've got some of our people in the US now, as you probably know, working with the US Drug Enforcement Agency. It seems a guy flying an oil company long-range executive jet was loading a shipment of assorted illegal substances, as they call them now, mostly hash, a little cocaine, for a flight he regularly made up here, and he got busted along with one of his suppliers. One of the ground crew apparently got religion and blew the whistle. This had been going on for at least three trips, flying a lot of stuff north, setting down on a remote landing strip to drop the stuff where it would be picked up by the gang working this end.”
Easy to see it all happening. Our border is like a sieve. There's no way every aircraft of executive size or smaller can be kept track of every inch of its flight plan. I thought right away of the old Canol road. When the Americans got worried in 1942 that the Japanese would shut off the coast as a supply route to US forces in Alaska, they'd built this highway and pipeline starting across the river from Norman Wells and leading through the mountains to Whitehorse in the Yukon. The Canol project was abandoned when the war ended and is pretty near impassable now, except for hikers in summer and all-terrain vehicles in winter. But it had lots of small air strips that could be cleaned up enough to land for a few minutes, transfer the contraband to a light plane or ATV and take off again for the legal destination. Maybe even one like Inuvik, with a customs office.
“Once in the North and safe,” Ted went on, “anybody could take it south in planes, trucks, boats, whatever the hell you've got. They'd turn it over for cash in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, then come back here with money for the next shipment.” He grinned. “Nobody sniffs or searches baggage when a guy is going from Norman Wells to Edmonton.”
The idea of the North supplying the south with drugs struck me as pretty ingenious. And also a little funny. “Who ran the show?”
“Seems to have been Albert Christian. He's the really smart one of the four, one of those guys people instinctively like, or can be influenced by. Call it charisma, if he'd been a politician. Makes friends and influences people. Seemed to have money. Talked about looking for a place to set up a flyin hunt and fish camp or some other tourist-oriented business. But if so, was still looking.”
“Where's he from?”
“He said Winnipeg. We're checking that now, because Winnipeg was one of the drug destinations from up here.”
“What about the pilot?”
“We just don't know. A cut above the other guys in education, manners, if that means anything. Early thirties. I know about the trouble he was in back east. But he's been clean as far as we're concerned.”
“And the other guy that flew out with him, Benny Batten?”
“Used to be a football player. A centre, mostly. Had a shot with Green Bay about twenty years ago, just out of college, but mainly played for Canadian clubs, including about two games with Edmonton ten years ago before they cut him and he came here to work in construction. He did take workâusually as a big equipment driver, bulldozers and so on. Same as William. We had Batten once for punching out an American geologist who called him a no-talent palooka. I think he'd be mainly just muscle. Bonner did casual white collar workâclerking at the Bay and elsewhere. We think Bonner did some of the thinking and handled some contacts along the line, maybe he and William together. Actual dealing up here would be nothing. Too risky for their main operation. Not enough drug users in the Territories to support much of a drug operation. The known dribbles in Inuvik, Yellowknife, Norman Wells were mostly connected to whites. Our drug people used to figure any drugs we came across were being brought in mostly by users. Now it's obvious the big money was in getting major stuff flown in here the way I've said, and then shipping south.”
It all sounded reasonable. If true, it explained why the downed aircraft hadn't put out markers and radio signals. It might even explain why Christian and Batten had taken a powder so suddenly: that they'd suspected strongly, or been tipped, that the police were closing in. If that was true and any of them were left alive, they'd know that a rescue would send them right back into the arms of the RCMP.
But unless there'd been a police leak, what could have scared them to the extent of feeling their only hope was to get the hell out of here somewhere and split up and try to lose themselves down south?
“So why do you figure that only half the gang went out with the money?” I asked. “Or three fifths of the gang if Johns is in on it.”
“You got me,” Ted said. “One possible theory is that they fought among themselves over something, maybe even over who could have been responsible for blowing the whistle on them. Another could be that at the last moment there was something left to be done around here.”
“Such as bumping off Morton Cavendish?”
“Could be. But I sure as hell can't figure out where he'd be mixed up in the thing at all.”
“Would NorthwestTel have any way of checking if Bonner phoned long distance from the airport and if so, where to?”
Ted grinned, picked up the piece of paper he'd made the note on, and held it up so I could see. “Check NorthwesTel. Question Bonner Re airport calls.”
There was a silence. Like Kansas City in the song from Oklahoma, we'd gone about as far as we could go.
Then he looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. “So where does your Northern Affairs business take you next, Matteesie?”
“Well, well, the wandering minstrel!” Corporal Charlie Paterson said on the phone, and sang in a reedy tenor, â
A wand'ring minstrel I, a thing of ra-a-a-ags and patches
. . .'”
I wondered if he was always like this in the morning. The time was eight a.m., the day Thursday, about thirty-six hours after Morton Cavendish's murder. I'd called to let him know I was back in Norman Wells and to ask if there'd been anything new overnight.
“Did Ottawa get you?”
“No, were they trying?”
“Trying, Jesus! The commissioner did everything except offer a reward and have dead or alive posters put up in the post office. The guy from Northern Affairs wasn't so bad, but amongst all the umming and ahing I got the idea he wants to talk to you too. Where the hell've you been?”
“Maybe I better call Buster first.”
He pleaded, “Just tell me where you are, in case, ah, the superior officer you refer to gets me before you get him.”
“I'm at this Esso place, Mackenzie House.”
“Mackenzie House! Wait'll the dirty muck-raking newspapers find out about yet another civil servant accepting favors! A guy with beaucoup opportunities to influence major environmental decisions! On the dole from the oil elite!”
“Holy God, Charlie,” I protested.
“Okay,” he said. “Better make your calls and call me back.”
It was a few minutes past ten in Ottawa. Buster came on the line.
“I understand you've been trying to get me, sir.”
He was calmer than Charlie Paterson. “Yeah, a few things happening. I hear you were in Inuvik yesterday but I missed you. What I wanted to say was, I told you originally to nose around about that missing aircraft. But now the
, and every goddamn body else in the media business is making a big deal out of you being on the plane when Morton Cavendish got it. They've raked up every big case you been on. First, do you think there's any connection between those drug guys taking off so fast, and Morton Cavendish being murdered?”
“Were you working on that basis in Inuvik?”
Drily, “Jeez, I'm not used to these long, comprehensive reports . . .” Then, “But if that's the line you're taking, keep right on. Hate to think that Johns guy is part of it, but . . . Anyway, I don't want you to think that I'm pushed by the newspapers, because I'm not, and they know that you've been with Northern Affairs the last couple of years and are supposed to go to Leningrad, but the fact is a lot of people are fighting mad about this murder and we just can't figure on pulling you out until there's an arrest or at least some answers. I've been onto Northern Affairs, not to consult but just to tell them that you're Inspector Kitologitak again as of now and until further notice.”
“Is that an order?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Damn it, Matteesie!” he said. “Thanks! We can talk about Northern Affairs again when this is over.”
“And sir, I should say one other thing.”
“It simplifies matters a great deal.”
Meaning, now I didn't have to be doing one thing while he thought I was doing another. I wasn't just playing good dog, roll over and be scratched. Ever since that shot was fired into Morton Cavendish's head, I'd been a Mountie again. I owed him, and I knew that better than anybody.
I phoned Bert Ballantyne, my superior in Northern Affairs. This was a big switch in my head from Buster with his jutting jaw and straight talk. I could see in my head Bert Ballantyne as he answered his phone: slim, short haircut, black horn-rimmed glasses, necktie in a Windsor knot, suit by Holt Renfrew, every inch a guy ready to move upward in the civil service. I told him respectfully that I'd just been talking to the RCMP commissioner.
“Yes,” he said. “Well, the bad news is I don't think we can hold the Leningrad thing open. I'm sorry about that, but I hope you understand.”
I told him I did and would see him when this was over. Then I made one more phone call. It was a mad impulse, or maybe intuition that right now there was one other phone call I should make.
“Lois,” I said. “It's me.”
I had rather expected an immediate complaint, but what she did was ask where I was, and when I told her, she asked, “Are you all right?” and without waiting for an answer, rushed on, “Oh, Matty, when I heard about you being on that plane when Morton Cavendish was shot, and what you did trying to stop the murderer, maybe taking a chance you'd get shot, too, I felt just terrible . . .”
She paused a few seconds and continued somewhat tremulously, “Ever since, I've been thinking about us, and about all the bitching I do when you're home.” Another pause, a tremulous laugh, “And sometimes when you're not.”
I simply didn't know what to say, but I had to get something out. “Well, we can talk about that when I get home.”
“I'll try to be better. Be careful. Come back to me.”
I hung up and thought of how Lois and I used to be. Couldn't get enough of each other. For years now the opposite had been true. We could get enough of each other, sometimes in a matter of minutes. Yet marriage persisted. It's a conundrum many face, men and women, and I didn't have any more answers than I ever have.
Then Charlie Paterson was hammering on the phone-cubicle door and saying, “For God's sake, time's a-wastin'!”
I pulled myself together and pushed open the door. He didn't use up time asking questions, commiserating about the Northern Affairs thing, making fatuous remarks about life is like that, and so on. What he did was fill me in, which is what I needed to jolt myself back to what had become once again my real world.
As I knew, yesterday there'd been no air search for either the murderer or the lost aircraft. “Weather today'll make it two in a row. Still no radio signals. Also, no murderer.” He'd organized six local volunteers for a snowmobile search that had covered a fair amount of territory and found nothing significant. “But there is
. Maybe plenty. I'll tell you about it while I'm showing you what there is to see. Get your clothes on and I'll pick you up in the parking lot near the front door.”
In Inuvik the day before I'd gone straight from RCMP headquarters to the airport in the same German guy's taxi. Travel in the North depends a lot on either planning well in advance, or getting lucky. I got lucky. An Esso Resources Citation, cruising speed 400 miles an hour, equipped to carry eight or ten passengers, flew north from Calgary three mornings a week and back in the evening. Usually the plane laid over for the day in Norman Wells. But as I walked into the Inuvik terminal an Esso flight was being called.
At the moment I could see only one guy, youngish, heading for the door leading to the tarmac. I called, “Pardon me!” (not an old Inuit saying, but one year the Mounties had sent me on a course to Princeton, you know). He stopped. Yes, he was with Esso. He could have modelled for one of today's keen young oil execs in a Petroleum Council of Canada commercial. Bright-eyed, clean-shaven, short hair. Also courteous, as oil company people long ago conceded is good policy in the North, especially when talking to anyone with dark skin, some with eyes set at a slight angle.
“I'm with Northern Affairs,” I said, producing a card that testified to that side of my identity. “I have a watching brief for the department on the air search for the aircraft that's missing and urgently need to get to Norman Wells. I wonder if . . .”
Watching brief. Maybe I'd been in Ottawa too long.
“Matthew Kitologitak.” he read from my card, and then smiled at me. “Not with the police any more?”
I'd hate to be trying to travel incognito with some carnally intensive blonde in this part of the country.
“Anyway, the answer is yes, we can take you,” he said. “Glad to.” He stuck out his hand. “I'm Milt Lawton.”
Turned out that he'd been the sale reason for Esso's flight extension to Inuvik today, here for a meeting with some administrators and elected officials from a group of northern communities. He was an adviser in the company's public affairs department. Keeping up with the times was his business.
The pilot, grey-haired, tall, fit-looking, was standing a few feet away. We were introduced. He looked at me, appraising, and nodded. Then the three of us tucked our heads into our shoulders and leaned against the bitter wind and ground drift snow walking out to the aircraft.
This Milt Lawton had a very good grasp of how to conduct public affairs. With me, at least. I was tired and thirsty. We were scarcely airborne before he reached behind a seat and opened what looked like a cupboard door, muttering, “Wonder what we got here. . .”
What they had included my favorite rum, Mount Gay. He chose vodka. We poured good ones, which seemed to get the talk going. His university degree was in geography. He wanted to know what I did normally at Northern Affairs. I thought it wise to mention vaguely the Arctic Institute in Leningrad as one of my concerns. A lot of people I run into, immediately on hearing that sometimes I deal with Soviet concerns in the Arctic, tell me what some junior hockey player just back thinks of the food and accommodation. Somebody should tell those kids that not all the world's cultures are based on that of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. But this guy, even though it turned out he had played hockey, said, “I envy you. Never been there.”
He went on to say that he was just back from two years working in Saudi Arabia. I'm always learning things about the world that I had never suspected and this was one: in common with some other oil people assigned to Saudi, where restrictions on normal Western lifestyles can be rather severe, he and his wife had lived in Cairo during his Saudi stint.
“It was just easier for her there,” he said, without elaborating. He'd flown to her there on weekends.
He mentioned the Morton Cavendish murder, saying earnestly the truth, that it represented a great loss to the North. He'd known Cavendish and went on to talk about him with affection. I recognized that this was no patronizing knee-jerk reaction, being pretty fine-tuned to that brand of white talk.
He didn't know I'd been there when it happened. I didn't tell him. There are advantages to being where the media is either no factor at all in daily lives, or has none of the unavoidably pervasive impact it has in big cities. We had our drinks and the hour passed quickly. When we were coming in to land I looked from the window nearest me. Lights along the Mackenzie at Norman Wells came closer and closer, twinkling like a mighty daisy chain against the snow-covered ice that ringed the drilling islands. The river bends west slightly here while keeping its general south-to-north course. The bright burn-off flare from the main Esso site marked the northwestern limits of the community's seemingly careless space-eating sprawl. Dimmer lights from homes and cars and various business installations stretched for what seemed like miles, and probably was. As we touched down and rolled toward the terminal and stopped near where Cavendish had been murdered, Lawton said that his wife would envy him meeting Matthew Kitologitak. Imagine that. The world is a funny place.
He wasn't getting off. “Gotta keep my seat by the bar,” he grinned. “Where're you staying tonight?”
I said probably in a cot at the RCMP detachment.
“I think we can do better than that, if you want,” he said, glancing the question at me. I guess my expression said yes. He wrote briefly on a notebook page, which he tore off and handed to me. “Tell the cab to take you to Mackenzie House and hand this to the guy in the office by the door. They usually have some spare rooms.”
I had done as he instructed and was delivered by taxi, actually a nine-seater van, to a largish two-storey building near the centre of town. From the outside it was unexceptional; looking not unlike a spartan kind of hotel, which in a sense it wasâliving quarters mainly for Esso people coming to Norman Wells temporarily.
But it was spartan with a lot of differences. To the left of the main entrance a grey-haired man in a stylish cardigan sat at a desk with today's
spread out in front of him. He read Lawton's note, signed me in, gave me a meal card and room key, told me that breakfast was served from seven to ten, and pointed toward a nearby room where he said I could find coffee and snacks twenty-four hours a day.
I carried my bag along a corridor past a bank of pay phones, then past a big lounge where some guys were playing pool on full-size tables and others in easy chairs were watching a hockey game on television. Another lounge room that I passed, empty, had an assortment of newspapers and magazines spread out on a table, plus, thoughtfully, an alternative TV set. Not everyone in Canada is addicted to hockey. I continued through a door, up some stairs, along to the end of the corridor and put my key in a door.
The room was narrow, utilitarian, industrial transit-house gothic. It was complete with one bed, three well-thumbed paperbacks, a well-worn pair of Greb boots a previous incumbent had left in a closet, a shower stall, towels, soap and a sign giving the rules of the houseâwhich informed me that drinking alcoholic beverages in Mackenzie House was okay, but to keep the noise down because people on different shifts might be sleeping.
Accordingly, I was quiet. Decided not even to go get some ice in case it would clink too loud. I hadn't realized until I had that drink on the plane that I was very tired. I took the Glenfiddich from my bag, poured a stiff one, added a little water, very little, and stood by the window looking out at a large open space of snow and not much else. The clump-like tracks of rabbits. The straight-line pussyfooting of a fox. I hadn't eaten but as I stood there and sipped the drink I didn't feel like going out again to find anything.