by Peter Wild
At first, Street thought it was something to do with his pronunciation. He tugged his fur-lined collar free of his mouth and drew a shallow breath, the cold killing.
– Qamutiik, he said more slowly and then gestured, his hand skimming the plain of snow and ice ahead of them. Qimmusiq.
The Inuit didn’t follow the path of his hand, folded his heavy arms about his chest, slowly lowered his swollen eyelids once, as if in assent, but still didn’t move.
– Ah-ka, the Inuit grumbled, duskily.
Radford emerged from behind the sledge, clapping his gloved hands together.
What’s up, old man? he said, chipper.
Street turned, briskly, as Radford continued, saying, We should be getting on if we’re to make Bathurst in good time.
Mm, Street answered.
Ahead the other guides were starting to move off, as if the appearance of Radford was all they were waiting for, which annoyed Street no end.
Mulark, Street said, clapping the Inuit hard upon his shoulder. Una Soona?
Still nothing. Mulark glowered. Street grew red in the face. Radford, knowing Street’s temper as he did, took a step back, felt supremely conscious of the sounds his boots made in the snow. Crunch crunch crunch.
Ki-mook-sick – Street began only to have the Inuit they knew as Mulark push him to the ground.
Well, I say – Radford intervened, Street thrashing in the snow, a fine, bright powder rising in the air like kettle steam, the Inuit guides ahead drawing pause, Abu Lak in particular locking eyes with Radford, their conversation of the previous evening, the stuttered warning, the dangers, revived for each.
Street was raging, clumps of snow patching his hair and eyelashes and arm and trouser leg. He clambered to his feet and snatched at the dog whip Mulark held looped in his hand, the two of them tugging back and forth, Street easily desperate, Mulark implacable, statuesque.
Radford tried to play the peacemaker, raised a hand toward the only other Inuit close to them, Amoqlu-Arm-Ik, but Amoqlu-Arm-Ik was as cold and faceless and blank as Mulark.
George, Radford said forcefully; and then – George! – more vehemently. But George Street took no notice. He’d managed to wrench the dog whip out of Mulark’s paw and he was attempting to thrash the man with it but the two of them were barely a step apart and so the whip had no force, no swing, no power.
Radford entreated the other guides, despite the fact that, with the exception of Abu-Lak who was clearly maintaining his distance, they knew not a word of the mother tongue between them. Ick-a-yung-ga, Radford yelled. Ick-a-yung-ga!
Nobody moved, bar Street who flailed at Mulark again and again, uselessly, with the handle of the dog whip.
Enough was enough, Radford concluded and stepped towards the argumentative couple with his hands raised like a lay preacher, his intention being to bring the matter to a swift close.
Now, now, Radford said, his voice firm, his tone even. This has gone –
And then he stopped, the tip of a spear protruding from the centre of his chest, surprised that anything could pierce the bone at the centre of a man’s chest, surprised at the fact he was surprised, turning, gruff Amoqlu-Arm-Ik loosing his hold on the shaft of the spear to face him.
Behind, Street roared, a high-pitched shriek as of a girl of fourteen.
Radford fell to his knees, the warmth blossoming beneath his buttoned up jacket, the contrast with the snow, the marrow warmth and the bone-chill. Awe-struck, upon his knees, gazing up into the heartless alien eyes of Amoqlu-Arm-Ik.
There was a kerfuffle, of sorts, as Radford drifted backwards and was then persuaded to fall to his side by the length of spear running through him. Street was running, his feet and ankles disappearing into the drift as he made his way around the head of the dog pack, the dogs quiet and silent as the grave. Mulark trailing him slowly, no need to hurry.
Amoqlu-Arm-Ik placed a foot upon Radford’s chest, pushing the spear all the way through from the other side. When enough was through, he gripped the shaft just below the head and jerked it out.
Street was yelling. Radford couldn’t really hear. Something bloody –
And then Amoqlu-Arm-Ik threw the spear a second time and Street was silenced as well.
Both men, Abu-Lak later told the police sergeant, Edgerton, were still alive when their throats were cut. They were left to bleed to death on the ice by the lake.
Wasn’t until two maybe three years later, 1912 or something, that Edgerton and his men caught up with Mulark and Amoqlu-Arm-Ik and by that point the crime was old news.
Stern words were exchanged in a mixture of tongues and then a warning was issued.
That was the thing with crimes that took place so far North. You couldn’t legislate.
Peter Wild is the co-author of Before the Rain and the editor of The Flash, Perverted by Language: Fiction inspired by The Fall and The Empty Page: Fiction inspired by Sonic Youth. You can read more at www.peterwild.com