The young pilot who picked him up at dawn hit the tops of the trees with his skis during take-off, grinning from ear to ear all the while. Not that Mike Money really minded. After a night at Webequie he was happy to see anyone. The place bothered him. He was pretty sure it was haunted.
And now that he was back at Big Trout Lake things seemed to be as normal as they ever got. He saw a pack of at least 15 dogs. The band would be having a dog shoot sometime soon. A clutch of old ladies giggled when they saw him at the Hudson’s Bay store (though to be fair, the old women giggled at most everyone). Several young bucks pretended he didn’t exist. It didn’t matter that some of them were his age. He was the law. The guy who checked luggage whenever a plane came in, making sure no liquor was making its way onto the reserve. The cop who went after sniffers, wife beaters and trouble makers. And even though the band paid his wages, he was the “white man’s watchdog.”
Mike was also the one to relieve a nurse who had sat up all night with the body.
Jillian Saunders—new to the rez, just like Mike—was a pleasant change. Someone who was happy to see him. They chatted for a few minutes before getting to the business at hand.
“Jillian, what you know about last night’s incident?”
“Sure thing,” she said. “I got a call from one of the elders. It was James Beardy. He told me that Tom Fisher had killed his brother Jack. They had been playing cards when Tom suddenly stood up, grabbed the frying pan off the potbelly stove they’ve got and whacked Jack so hard his head has a big dent in it.”
“Do you know how the elder came by these details?”
The nurse shook her head and said “Tom’s wife was there. She said that Tom just turned and walked out into the snow. No coat or anything, just his runners.”
“So, Tom’s wife told the elder, who told you. Did you observe anything yourself?”
Jillian gave Mike a bit of a dark look for that question. “Well yeah! I’ve been here all night.”
“Could you tell me about it, please?”
“Well… Jack was cold when I got here, so he’d been dead awhile. I mean, you can feel how hot they keep it in here, right?”
“And his head is most certainly stove in. His skull has been crushed. I swear I can see the makers mark indented along one side of the wound. No frying pan, though.”
Mike actually sighed. That was just the way his days had been going.
“Care to speculate as to where it might be?” he asked.
Surprisingly, Jillian nodded. With a little bit of a grin she said “Tom’s wife walked out of here with it. Have to ask her, ’cause she hasn’t been back since I showed up.”
Mike got the wife’s name, asked a few more basic questions, took the body into custody and let Jillian head back to the Nursing Station. Apparently she had a shift to cover. Most white people who came up here worked a lot. They had to spend a long time to win favour with people on the Rez. So, mostly they worked and partied with each other. There were pilots, nurses, weathermen, Hudson’s Bay store employees, a few Bell technicians, two teachers and a big guy who did all the maintenance. Everyone called him Carl. No last name. He’d been up here long enough it was pretty much a foregone conclusion he was running away from something.
Mike spent the morning wandering about the rez, talking to James Beardy, listening to more old ladies giggling, watching the young and beautiful women smiling at him (Yes, they knew he was happily married.), drinking boat loads of tea and entertaining the old men.
It seemed that the frying pan was making its rounds, catching Mike up in a game of hide and seek that he suspected was entertaining everyone but which would spoil his evidence with the grasping of many hands. And his only eye witness always seemed just a step ahead of him.
Then darkness fell. Mike hadn’t been in this part of the country long enough to get used to these early nights that seemed to just fall out of the sky. On he went by flashlight and by Ski-Doo®.
Some time later, cold and bitter, he found Tom’s wife, Meomie. She was one of many dark shapes who stood in a ring around a burning house. No effort was being made to save it; but then where would you get the water in time? There must be a good 4 feet of ice on the lake. Good luck chopping a bucket hole. Meomie explained to him that the husband had gotten drunk and beat his wife. (She was at the nursing station now. Meomie, who had come into possession of the frying pan once again, had given the woman the pan to make her feel safe.) The fire started after the wife was taken away by friends. Apparently, the husband had continued to drink until he fell down and knocked over the stove. Hot coals and burning chunks of wood spread everywhere. He was lucky to escape with his life.
Nobody knew where the husband was, Meomie answered. But Tom was just across from them, should Mike be interested. She stopped talking then.
And everyone stood in silence and watched the falling snow meet the flames of the burning building. The snow dampened all sound and made each shadow dance in the firelight. For once Mike didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go and arrest Tom. Something sacred or mystical was going on here. Even he could tell.
So Mike Money stood in silence too, communing with old spirits that live in fire. Spirits his grandfather had taught him about. Not that he’d ever admit to believing in such a thing. Anyway, who knew what was going to happen—if anything. And sure enough, after a long while, one of the shadows disappeared and then another and then another. With things coming to an end here, Mike knew he’d better take his chance now. Walking around the circle so as not to disturb anyone, he gently grasped the fugitive by the arm and said “Let’s go old Tom.”
The man never said a word.
Even when they came to the police station and Mike locked him up in the spare office, the man didn’t speak. The office had reinforced walls, no furniture other than an old fold-up bed, and it was meant to double as a jail cell, should one ever be needed. The man didn’t even laugh when Mike asked him if he had seen the frying pan. He didn’t have to. The gleam in his dark eyes said it all.
Back at the nursing station, Mike tried to get details of the assault, but the woman wasn’t talking either. Mike couldn’t blame her. She’d lost her house; why lose her husband as well? Didn’t matter, though. It sounded like there were witnesses. At least he’d be able to pull the man in and give him a good talking to.
“Could I have the frying pan you were given?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Grandma Skead needed a new one, so I gave it to her. She brought me tea.”
Mike was now certain that there was a game afoot and that he was the centre of amusement.
“And where does Grandma Skead live?”
“Over on the mainland. First house.”
She meant at the end of the causeway that connected the island to the rest of the reserve. Mike thanked her and turned to go.
“She ain’t there though,” offered the injured woman.
Mike just stared at her.
“She’s helping out at school. Makin’ bannock for the kids’ breakfast.”
So much for his evidence. Mike headed back to the station.
Tom said nothing when he was read his rights or when he was taken up to the airstrip. But when the twin engine Piper Aztec pulled alongside, the older man looked at Mike with a sharp eye. “Funny name,” he said, and got on the plane.
The sun was coming up. Clouds shone pink in the East. And Mike Money shook his head. What a hell of a posting this was going to be.
Note: Big Trout Lake is a real place. Everyone in the story and all events have been fictionalized.
Copyright © 2014 Clayton Clifford Bye