by Laird Long
Sergeant Carlyle has a cold case on his hands …
Sergeant Carlyle of the Bissett RCMP detachment was driving down the lonely logging road, on the lookout for a rogue wolf reported in the area, when he came to a clearing in the forest and spotted Les Frum out on Lake Eaglet, frantically waving at him. Carlyle pulled off the road, drove down to the edge of the frozen lake.
But with the temperature hovering around −50 degrees Celsius, with the windchill, exposed skin subject to freezing in less than half-a-minute, the police officer didn’t get out of his warm 4x4. Instead, he let Les run over to him.
The man was wearing heavy snowmobile mitts, and he fumbled with the passenger door handle, before finally pulling it open and jumping inside the vehicle. “Buzz Tilden! Murdered!” he gasped.
Les was wearing a bulky snowmobile suit, heavy boots and a thick toque, to go along with his mitts, and the skin that showed on his cheeks burned red as his distinctive beard. Carlyle let him thaw out for a moment. Then calmly said, “Okay, let’s have it.”
“Buzz Tilden is lying dead in his fishing shack! Blood all over his face and around his head! I just got here, and on my way to my own shack further up the lake, I spotted the guy. Then I spotted you driving by.”
Sergeant Carlyle was already donning his fur hat with the hanging ear flaps. He pulled his fleece-lined gloves out of his RCMP-issue parka, said, “Let’s go see.”
There were three other fishing shacks on the remote lake, along with Tilden’s, and two of them had smoke coming out of their metal chimneys. “Get whosever in those other two shacks and bring them over to Tilden’s!” Carlyle yelled at Les, the icy wind whipping his words away, the bitter cold constricting his throat.
He found Buzz Tilden stretched out on his back inside his fishing shack, colder than the northern pike in the waters below the three-foot-thick ice. A blow to the right side of the man’s face seemed to be the deathblow, and the blood looked fresh. There were signs of a struggle inside and outside the shack, and the heavy double padlocks on the thick plywood door of the fishing shelter hung open.
The Sergeant knew that Buzz Tilden was a prospector, trapper and fisher, with a well-earned reputation for eccentricity. He was also aware of the rumors that Tilden had a cache of gold hidden somewhere; the man’s fishing shack serving as his winter home for all practical purposes.
Les Frum crunched up to the open door, followed by Stan Tarnan and Mike Wilson, the other two ice fishermen out on the lake. Tarnan was wearing a parka with the fur-fringed hood up, snow pants, and a pair of gloves. While Wilson was bundled up in a snowmobile suit like Les’, an orange wool balaclava pulled up on his face, a thick pair of deerskin mitts on his hands.
“Normally, I’d cordon off the crime scene,” Sergeant Carlyle said, his teeth chattering. The small wood stove in the shack was unlit. “But given the weather conditions …”
“You don’t want another ‘stiff’ on your hands, eh?” Wilson joked.
Carlyle cleared his throat. “Looks to me like someone picked the two padlocks on Tilden’s shack and was searching for something when Tilden surprised him, was killed in the ensuing struggle. And that ‘someone’ is one of you three men. Because Tilden was killed only a short time ago, and that logging road ends at the tip of this lake – and no one drove by me on my way up here.”
The three men shuffled their boots, blinking at one another with ice-laden lashes, arms and bodies almost as rigid as the dead man’s with the cold.
“You all knew about the rumor that Tilden had a hidden stash of gold?”
They all nodded, reluctantly.
Carlyle shoved his gloved hands into his parka pockets and stamped his feet, looking over each man in turn. And then he stated in a cold, authoritative voice, “Okay, I think I’ve got my man.”
What gave the killer away?
What gave the killer away? Les Frum and Mike Wilson are wearing heavy mitts, and therefore couldn’t have handled the delicate act and instruments of lock-picking. And baring their hands in the brutal cold would’ve been just as impossible. But Stan Tarnan, the only one of the three wearing gloves, could’ve picked the locks without freezing his hands. Thus, he’s the murderer.