"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 45 The Missing Man p507~512

Mason looked over a high ridge. Ahead of them, the
way looked relatively clear. Clear enough for two men to
proceed further to the next depot, set up things and
prepare hot food for the others. The dogs that had been
saved from Michaels sled would speed up their journey.
Goodman had calmed down and though he still blamed
Mason and the others for the death of Michaels, he
realized that if he did not cooperate with the party, any
future retribution against any of them would be out of
the question. As there was no possibility of turning back
at this point, he saw the sense in doing what he was told
and biding his time. As it was, the Captain and second
mate agreed that the best thing to do was to keep him
busy and away from firearms. Mason came down from
his vantage point and met with the others who were
waiting patiently below.
“Its gonna take some work but not impossible. Wacha,
we’ll pull your sled over first. Afterwards you and
Goodman will move on to the next depot and prepare for
the rest of us. The way as far as I can see, looks pretty
clear. I don’t think it will be too bad.”
Goodman snorted and looked away. Mason didn’t think
it would be too bad, that was reassuring!
“Dunn, Hollister, Peter and myself will pull the dogs
and the remaining sleds over and meet you at the depot.
Do you think you will have any problems finding it?”
Wacha and Goodman shook their heads.
“No? Alright, let’s get started.”
The work was back breaking. The sleds were heavy
and awkward, the cold and barking dogs didn’t help to
improve anyone’s mood. The first sled slid back three
times before they got it up and over. It took them two
hours. They took a break and after another thirty
minutes, hooked up the dogs and sent Wacha and
Goodman on their way.
With the first two men gone, the rest went back to
work, pushing and straining against the second sled.
When the heavy load was near the top, Hollister at the
rear of the sled, slipped and fell back. Without the weight
behind it, the packed load slid back and veered to the left,
into a snowbank.
“Son of a bitch!” shouted Hollister.
“Shit!” contributed Dunn.
Breathing heavily, Mason sat down on top of the snow
ledge, “God damn it!”
Peter shrugged his shoulders. He had heard all this
before. Getting angry wasn’t going to help matters any.
“Damn it, Jack!” said Dunn with disgust. It was too
cold for this shit!
Hollister sighed, “I’m sorry Isaac, I slipped.”
“No shit!”
Hollister looked hard at the second mate. “I said I was
sorry, Isaac. Don’t piss me off or else…”
“Or else what Jack? I’m already pissed off!”
“Knock it off you two!” shouted Mason before the two
men squared off. “This ain’t moving the sled and if we
don’t move it, we’re stuck here, you got that?!”
The two men looked down at the snow, their breath
coming out in gasps. Finally Dunn looked up. “I’m sorry
Jack, I’m tired. I didn’t mean anything…just…I’m sorry.”
Hollister nodded. “It’s alright Isaac. It was my fault.
I’m tired too.”
Mason came down from the ridge and the four men
yanked the sled from the bank, positioning it proper and
worked again to get it up and over the ridge, a feat which
they accomplished within the next hour. With the second
sled over, they went to work on getting the third and
fourth sleds over which surprisingly didn’t take as long
as they had anticipated, only three hours. Experience
was proving to be a good teacher. Out of breath, the four
men collapsed on top of the overturned sleds.
“I think we can rest here for a few minutes,” said
Mason. The group nodded and Peter rolled a cigarette
and Dunn started laughing. Hollister looked at his happy
companion and wondered if he had gone insane.
“What’s so funny Isaac?”
Dunn rubbed the tears from his eyes, “I was just
thinking about how you looked when you slipped that
first time, ass down in the snow.”
Hollister smiled. “Quite a sight, huh?”
“Oh, Jack, I wish you could’ve seen your face!”
“Me too, I wouldn’t have been in that position,” said the
newspaperman.
Mason, relieved that the tension was somewhat
lightened in the party stood up. “Alright gentlemen, let’s
get moving. We don’t want to keep Wacha and Goodman
waiting.”
The others grinned, they certainly didn’t want to do
that. Besides they were tired and the thought of warm
food and drink was as good a reason as any to get going.
They turned the sleds over and got the dogs to running.
Keelut and Thah watched from a distant position,
concealed behind hastily erected blinds and saw Wacha
and Goodman depart first. They would, without a doubt,
be heading to the next depot. It was an opportunity the
Inuit had been waiting for, men were already waiting for
them.
On their bellies, they crawled away. They had been
fortunate as not to alert the ship’s party to their presence
and they wanted to keep it that way for a few more hours,
after that it would make little difference. When they
were far enough away not to be noticed, they stood and
walked to those waiting for them and their overturned
sleds.
“We’re leaving,” said Thah. The others nodded, they
knew what needed to be done.
Hollister was looking forward to some hot soup and
coffee, especially after this day. Though the going wasn’t
too bad, the ridge that they had to get the sleds over
before had taken a lot out of him and the others. The
only thing he could think of was that he must be getting
old.
Peter, who was further ahead, was the first to see it.
His eagle eyes familiar with the terrain, seeing
something that wasn’t quite right. He brought his dogs to
a halt and gestured for Mason to hurry closer and to do
the same. After turning his sled over, he walked over to
the master of the SHY LADY.
“What is it, Peter?”
“Up ahead, I see something.”
The captain squinted but could see nothing, though he
did not doubt the Eskimo. “You got good eyes Peter, I
can’t see a damn thing.”
“There is something ahead there, Captain,” said the
Inuit plainly.
Mason sighed, “Well, we won’t find out what it is by
standing here. Let’s go.”
The party moved forward, anxious to discover what
was before them, at least they thought so. Forty minutes
later that curiosity was changed to dread and the party
pulled out their firearms, on guard. What Peter had seen
in the distance was now quite clear to them all. An empty
sled turned on its side, three dead dogs lay before it still
in harness, their dark blood staining the white snow with
no signs of the rest of the team. Various items from the
sled had been tossed about on the snow, and…
“Captain!” said Dunn, “Over here.”
The men walked to where the second mate was
pointing, to a sprawled body, face down. Turning the
figure over, the recognizable face of Goodman came into
view.
“He’s dead,” said Dunn simply.
Mason looked about. “Any sign of Wacha?” The other
men cast their gaze around but saw nothing.
“They were ambushed,” said Hollister stating the
obvious.
Dunn nodded, “Yeah, but by who and why?”
Mason turned to Peter, “What do you think?”
The Innuit shrugged his shoulders. “Renegades maybe
but I don’t know why they would be here.”
“I do,” said Hollister. “They’re chasing after us.” It was
an unpleasant thought but one they needed to consider.
With little ceremony, they covered Goodman’s body with
snow.
“Come on,” said Mason, “let’s get out of here.”

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