Murder on Ice

1

A kid in a mackinaw jacket stumbled out of the fire door of the Lakeside Tavern and collapsed against the six-foot snowdrift under the emergency light. I watched from the police car as he rolled onto one elbow and pried himself erect, one hand cupped over his mouth. Blood oozed between his fingers, black in the yellow light.

I opened the car door and stepped out, calling Sam to heel. He jumped out and followed me along the shoveled walkway between the man-high walls of snow, through the thin new snow that was driving almost flat against my face on the bitter northeast wind. The kid was reeling but I judged he was more drunk than hurt.

I grabbed him by the elbow and he took down his hand and gaped at me, trying to focus his eyes. He was short a couple of front teeth but this is hockey country, he could have lost them years earlier. I told him, "Come inside, you'll freeze out here." I let go of his elbow and he followed, docile as Sam, around to the main door and through the lobby to the low-ceilinged cocktail lounge, following the sounds of the fight. It was still going on at the far end of the room, on the other side of a wall of locals who were whooping and cheering, standing on tiptoe or on chairs to get a look. Most of them were nickel miners and bush-workers, tougher than any city crowd. But I had Sam.

I told him "Speak!"

He fell into his snarling, barking crouch, stiff-legged and savage. He's a big black and tan German Shepherd with one ear torn away in an old battle. It gives him a lopsided ugliness that makes people step aside. The crowd parted and we went through. Somebody shouted, "It's the cops!" and I felt the old wry amusement. Sure! The whole Murphy's Harbour contingent—Reid Bennett and Sam.

The standard bar fight has two men in work shirts swinging big sucker punches at one another or sometimes working on one another with steel-toed safety boots. This was different. Neither man was swinging. One was a local, a truck driver for the nickel mine. He runs into the States and figures he's a hard case. But tonight he was scared. He was in a crouch holding a chair in front of him, light in his big hands. His opponent was the wild card in the game. He was tall and elegant, dressed in a velour shirt and expensive corduroy pants. He was circling silently on the balls of his feet, his hands up in the classic karate pose.

The trucker shot me an appealing glance but I didn't respond. Most Friday nights when I come here, he's standing over some drunk, usually smaller or older than he is. Tonight he had picked wrong and I wanted him to sweat a little.

Finally I told Sam "Easy" and he switched off like a radio, standing, watching the two men, ready to leap as soon as I asked.

The trucker's wife was drunker than usual. She hadn't grasped what was happening. In the sudden silence her shout was shrill. "Garrrn! Kick his goddamn teeth in!"

The karate man lowered his hands. He had nothing to fear from the trucker, chair or no chair. Slowly, keeping safely behind his chair, the trucker lowered it and backed off. His wife had noticed me now and she shouted, "Them sonsabitches picked on Harry."

I said nothing, studying the karate man. He was narrow and dried out, with a dancer's build and the studio-tanned, young-old face you see on a lot of gay men.