Arctic Blue Death
"Meg, you have to go. I can't," my sister Jean said, squinting myopically up at me from the comfort of her Muskoka chair. More concerned about preserving her patrician good looks than being able to see, she wears her glasses only in extremis.
A flock of honking Canada geese were passing high overhead, adding to the calls of the others that had just passed. Several more V formations followed close behind. These geese were flying northward on their annual spring migration to the distant shores of Hudson Bay, easily a couple of thousand kilometres from where we were watching them at my cottage in West Quebec.
We were at the end of the dock, sitting, or rather Jean was sitting, sipping hot tea. I was standing binoculars in hand, afraid to miss even one bird as it flew over Echo Lake and the hills beyond. My sister was futilely wrapping her manicured hands around the thermos mug in an attempt to keep them warm. Although she'd turned down my offer of wool mitts - admittedly they were a tad dirty - she'd deigned to wear my old fleece jacket. But she hadn't been able to resist squinching up her nose when she thrust her cashmere-clad arms into its worn sleeves. And by her feet lay the snakeskin portfolio she'd insisted on bringing down to the dock.
Another flock breasted the ridge of the neighbouring shore. I counted, ten, twenty, thirty... and came up with about sixty. "That makes about nine hundred we've seen so far this morning. Doesn't the sight of them make you feel wonderful to be alive?" "Forget your stupid geese. We're here to talk."
Much to my astonishment, Jean had arrived late last night, unannounced. It had to be easily a dozen years since she'd last visited Three Deer Point, and that was when our great-aunt Agatha was still in residence. She'd certainly never bothered to come since I'd taken over the property. I was amazed she remembered how to navigate the twisting dirt roads, let alone that she would subject her gleaming new Jaguar XKR to the punishing miles of loose gravel.
She must want something badly, very badly.
"I told you we'd talk after the geese had gone by."
I pointed my binoculars at the next flock coming into sight. There looked to be at least a hundred.
Last night I'd stalled her by saying I was too tired. This morning when I'd woken to the cries of the geese, I'd used watching them as another excuse. Although I was itching to know what had forced her to drive seven hours from her home in Toronto, I wanted it told in my time, not hers.
But the fly-by wasn't really an excuse. Every spring, since I'd fled the stress of Toronto for the peace of this northern wilderness, I'd headed down to the dock at the first sounds of their passing with a thermos mug of hot tea and enough clothing to keep out the frigid morning air. Invariably they came through the first week in May, so my ears had been waiting for this morning's dawn sound.
I wasn't going to miss this rite of spring to listen to a long harangue from my sister. Just because she was older - albeit by only eleven months - she thought she could order me around at will. Needless to say, Jean had been a contributing factor in my decision to leave the big city.
"I can't wait any longer. I have to be back in Toronto by three." Jean's voice took on a peremptory tone. She thought because she was older, she was smarter. And perhaps she was. After all she was a hot-shot judge of the Ontario Superior Court, whereas I hadn't even finished university.
"Fine, you'd better leave now."
"I'm not kidding, Meg. We have to talk. It's about Father."
The joy of the morning took a sudden downward spiral. I hadn't heard her mention him for a very long time. In fact, I hadn't either.
"What's there to say?" I answered warily. "He's dead. Has been for almost forty years."
"Maybe he's not dead."
"Of course he is. He died in a plane crash."
"We don't know if his plane crashed. We just know it never arrived. Here, read this."
She extracted a brown, document-size envelope from her portfolio as another honking V formation spread across the sky. The envelope was addressed to "Mrs. Sutton Harris". "This belongs to Mother," I said. "What are you doing with it?"
"She gave it to me."
"Why didn't she call me about it?"
"She did, but you didn't return her calls."
Jean was right. Mother had left several voice messages recently, and I was waiting for the right moment to call her back. She had been another reason why I'd left Toronto.
"Read the letter," Jean ordered as she hastily moved her Gucci loafers clear of a rogue wave. I pulled out a single sheet of plain white paper. Written in an awkward scrawl were the words.
"Dear Mrs. Harris. Your man okay."
"It's unsigned. It has to be a joke."
"Look at where it's from."
I turned the envelope over. No return address, but the stamp cancellation indicated it had been sent a little over three weeks ago from Iqaluit, a town in the Canadian Arctic. In fact, as I recalled, it was the capital of Canada's newest territory, Nunavut.
"In case you didn't know, it used to be called Frobisher Bay. Surely that name means something to you."
"Of course it does. So what?"
It did, however, leave me feeling unsettled. Thirty-six years ago on a clear sunny day in April, my father and a pilot had taken off in a chartered plane from the isolated community of James Lake on Baffin Island. Their destination was Frobisher Bay, only a couple of hours away on another part of the island. But they never made it. Neither they nor their plane were ever seen again.
"There is no way Father can be alive, so it has to be a hoax. Besides, this isn't the first time Mother's received such letters," I added.
"True, but that was years ago."
The perfection of Jean's coiffed hair was being challenged by this morning's brisk breeze. She captured several flying strands and shoved them behind her ear.
"But didn't they turn out to be hoaxes? So why should we pay attention to this one?" I countered.
"Because I think there might be something to this. She received another one ten days later. Here."
She passed me another brown envelope also sent from Iqaluit and without a return address. Moreover, the contents contained the same message written in the same almost child-like hand and similarly unsigned. No, not quite. It had been signed, but the signature had been so heavily scratched out, it was impossible to make out any letters, let alone identify a name.
"I still don't see why you think this isn't from someone trying to get money out of mother."
"Because this one came two days ago."
This envelope contained a torn-out page from the Nunavut News, dated September 10 of last year.
REMAINS OF PLANE FOUND
Iqaluit, NU. On a recent ice monitoring flight, a submerged plane was sighted in Davis Strait near the mouth of Frobisher Bay. Unfortunately the location iced over shortly afterwards, so the R.C.M.P. will not be able to investigate until after spring breakup.
They believe this is most likely the remains of a chartered plane that went missing last year on a flight between Iqaluit and Nuuk, Greenland. Although an extensive search was conducted at the time, the plane was never found.
Readers may recall that there have been other plane disappearances over the years, most notably that of millionaire philanthropist Joseph Sutton Harris, whose plane disappeared in 1973 on a flight between James Lake and Frobisher Bay, both since renamed to Tasilik and Iqaluit.
I glanced at my sister. "So you think this is the reason for the letters. But if this is his plane then surely his remains will be found in the wreckage. Why write that he's okay?"
Jean nodded in agreement. "That's what we need to find out. That's why we want you to go to Iqaluit."
Want to read more? Buy Arctic Blue Death