Northward

2018

Northward

 

2018

 

In Nunavut, northern Canada, a man is missing and an American investigator, Francis McNally is called upon to handle the case. An earlier failure has left McNally with the feeling that he must atone, even though he is in his sixties and semi-retired. Once in Nunavut he speaks with Nikki Phillips, the missing man’s wife. It’s late in the evening and the Phillips children are asleep, for the most part…

From Northward:

 

I asked Nikki if the kids were sleeping: the house was silent other than our somewhat subdued conversation. She said one of them was, but that the other two always needed some convincing and would almost certainly show up in the next ten minutes. She left, presumably to hunt down those kids, but instead returned with a decanter on a tray. She left again—need some glasses, she said—but returned this time trailed by a decidedly unsleepy looking girl in blue flannel geometrically patterned pajamas. She was seven or eight, no more, and as close-cropped as her hair was, it was still a mess until she crawled onto her mother’s lap and Nikki straightened it. She never took her eyes off me; her mother said nothing to either of us.

“I’m Mac,” I said, to break the silence. It didn’t work. I looked at Nikki and silently asked her to say something.

“This is my daughter Regina, my high-maintenance child. Every house should have one.”

The little girl continued to stare at me, occasionally rubbing her eye or poking a finger into a nostril. Both received equal probing.

“High maintenance?”

“First one up, last to bed. Eats whenever she decides to, bullies the other two who, I’m pretty sure, sleep late to get some peace. Regina, say hello to Mac.”

She didn’t, but her mother’s command at least got her to stop staring. She slid to the floor and walked into another room where I heard dishes clattering.

“She’s angry,” Nikki said. “She heard a man’s voice, thought it was her father. She’ll stomp around out there for a while, but she knows enough not to break anything.”

“Until she stabs you again. Do you want to go and, you know, keep an eye on her?”

“She doesn’t respond well to surveillance. Leave her be. Would you like some brandy?”

She lifted a bottle from a small glass tray and turned over two snifters.

“It’s nice to have a dram or two before turning in,” she said.

Yes, a dram, I thought, whatever the hell that was. Some Canadian measurement I didn’t understand. I took the smaller glass and sipped at it—it was awful. To me brandy has always belonged in eggnog or in the bottle, but I tried not to wince. Nikki seemed to enjoy it though, so I just kept my opinion to myself—I’m capable of doing so. No, really, I am.

Regina sauntered back in before I was halfway through that dram and demanded to be put to bed for what I assume was the second time.

“Already did that,” Nikki said. “Now you’ll have to wait.”

“Now,” Regina demanded. She was a young lady of few words—all challenge and indictment. Her mother, more practiced in the art of combat, shook her head but said nothing.

Regina eyed the decanter, which suddenly looked more fragile than ever. I waited. Instead of a shattering attack, the child sidled over to the TV remote and hit a button. Nothing.

“Sorry, sweetie, TV’s off for the night,” Nikki said, her apology blatantly insincere. Then we both watched with perverse pleasure as Regina tried every button on the remote, none of which caused anything other than the little girl’s fingers to move more spasmodically. Even then, she seemed to have a good handle on what constituted an acceptable response to frustration, for when she slammed down the remote—she chose the couch where it landed noiselessly and undamaged. Then she was back to the kitchen.

“High maintenance,” her mother repeated.

“She knows her limits...and yours.”

“Let her stew for a moment,” she said, then finished her brandy in a gulp and poured another.

“Hope I remember to put the batteries back in the remote tomorrow. You know, I found her here one night about 3:00 a.m. watching some home decorating show. So now I disable the remote, at least when I remember. And she hasn’t figured out yet that there’s an on/off button on the TV.”

“Neither did I,” I said. That drew out a cautious smile.

“Now, what can I tell you about Derek,” she said, “or has Manitok told you enough?”

“Nobody ever tells me enough,” I said. I kept watching the kitchen door, expecting Regina’s re-entry with an appropriate selection from the knife block.

move more spasmodically. Even then, she seemed to have a good handle on what constituted an acceptable response to frustration, for when she slammed down the remote—she chose the couch where it landed noiselessly and undamaged. Then she was back to the kitchen.

“High maintenance,” her mother repeated.

“She knows her limits...and yours.”

“Let her stew for a moment,” she said, then finished her brandy in a gulp and poured another.

“Hope I remember to put the batteries back in the remote tomorrow. You know, I found her here one night about 3:00 a.m. watching some home decorating show. So now I disable the remote, at least when I remember. And she hasn’t figured out yet that there’s an on/off button on the TV.”

“Neither did I,” I said. That drew out a cautious smile.

“Now, what can I tell you about Derek,” she said, “or has Manitok told you enough?”

“Nobody ever tells me enough,” I said. I kept watching the kitchen door, expecting Regina’s re-entry with an appropriate selection from the knife block.