Ice Lake Online - John Farrow

1

A BODY, AFLOAT

Sunday, February 13, 1999

Ensconced in an ice-fishing hut on the Lake of Two Mountains, northwest of Montreal, Sergeant-Detective Emile Cinq-Mars was gazing through a frosty pane of glass as a red Ski-Doo, paced by a brisk wind, crossed the snowbound lake from the east and veered toward a broad bend in the shore. A child was clinging to the driver’s waist. The two appeared to be headed for the same community of fishing shacks where he was holed up waiting for a stranger to arrive.

Roaring, the machine doffed a squall of snow in its tracks.

Along the perimeter to the ice-village, the Ski-Doo throttled down and followed streets on the snow marked by discarded Christmas pines. The driver was a woman, her body shape now evident in a snug-fitting snowmobile suit. A woman had called him down here. Cinq-Mars kept an eye on this one, but she did not approach his shack, stopping instead beside an orange shanty where her daughter leapfrogged off the seat. The child sprinted about ten steps before her mother called her back. She skidded to a halt. Grasping her helmet and pulling her head out from under it, the girl shook her brown curls and fidgeted while her mother braved the cold with bare fingers, yanking up the girl’s hood and tying a bow under her bright-red chin. Free at last, the seven-year-old scampered loose to knock on a nearby door.

The woman shut the machine down. She flipped through a key-ring, then snapped open the padlock on her shack, and Émile Cinq-Mars returned to fishing.

Inside her hut, the woman dropped her own and her child’s helmet onto a bunk, then pinned her mittens to a line. Unzipping to the waist, she extracted her arms from the sleeves of the snowmobile suit, the upper portion collapsing behind her like a second skin not wholly sloughed off. She removed her minnow bucket from the stovetop and put it on the floor, then set about striking a fire.

She ignited newspaper, kindling and logs in the cast-iron stove.

Then awaited warmth.

The woman gazed out the window upon winter, at the white, barren lake spotted with Ski-Doos and the colourful spinnakers of ice-sailors, shining under the sun. In her thirties, she was not one to wear makeup on a daytime outing. Her low, abruptly raked forehead, the chiselled cut of her cheekbones, and the thrust of her nose seemed to have been carved as much by life as by birth and genetics. The features suggested a strong constitution and a body accustomed to stressful labour apart from the demands of motherhood. She wore her light-brown hair in a buzzcut with longish tufts at the nape of her neck.

The shack was primitive and small. Plywood over two-by-fours, the windows and doors salvaged from a job site, the hut included the critical necessities—a pot to pee in, another for washing up, a stove for both cooking and warmth, a mattress that, when thawed, cushioned the tumult of bodies and comforted them for a short rest afterwards. Similar to other huts in the neighbourhood, hers had been coloured with leftover paint others had discarded. While many shacks were rented by the day or the weekend, hers was leased for the entire season, which allowed her to keep cutlery and pans, dry goods that could bear being frozen, extra clothes, blankets and children’s toys on the premises, as well as her own fishing tackle.

To occupy the time she broke the surface ice in her minnow bucket and baited a hook in the cold. She opened the floorboards to reveal her fishing hole. She’d been up to the shack the night before, so the hole hadn’t frozen much—with a heavy steel bar she put a crack in it. She tapped all around the circle to loosen new ice, breaking the block into pieces, a familiar routine. The dark patch at the surface was difficult to discern in the shade. Her eyes were not fully accustomed to the dimmer light of the cabin and the greater dark within the cavity. Only when she tried to push the chunks under the thick ice of the lake did she encounter a problem. Something she could barely see—a sort of floating debris. Finally, she got down on her knees and raised the chunks of ice up, placing them on the surface of the lake below the cabin floor.

In the circle of the fishing hole, pearls of ice clung to a knotted tangle of hair.

A head lay afloat, face down in