Ted Wood: Murder on Ice aka The Killing Cold

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Ted Wood Murder on Ice aka The Killing Cold
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    Murder on Ice aka The Killing Cold
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Book DescriptionReid Bennett, the newest addition to Murphy’s Harbor, Ontario, has embarked on his second case. During the Ice Festival, there is a sudden blackout and the Queen of the Ice Festival disappears; in fact she’s been kidnapped! Members of a feminist anti-pageant group are suspected, but Reid suspects something fishy. He must expose the organizer of the kidnapping – and try not to get himself killed.

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Ted Wood

Murder on Ice aka The Killing Cold

The second book in the Reid Bennett series, 1984

For my mother,

who taught me the value of words


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. I judged him to be around my age, thirty-five. I had never seen him before. There were two others like him in the crowd, one his age, one younger. They were behind him, on the edge of the crowd.

The trucker began to bluster. "He kicked my bro'r in the mouth. Waddya gonna do about that?"

He knew the answer. He'd heard me give the instructions to his own victims. I ignored him. Instead I turned to the karate man.

"I know these other people, they live here. Could I have your name, please?"

He took out his billfold and flipped it open at the driver's license. I read his name, George Nighswander, and an address in Toronto. I could tell from the coded number on his chauffeur's license that he was thirty-six.

"I didn't start this," he said, speaking softly.

The trucker, whose name I remembered to be Cassidy, shouted immediately but kept his distance. I let him shout, speaking to Nighswander. "I'm not concerned with causes. All I need is your name and address in case one of them wants to lay an assault charge. Aside from that, you're free to go."

He ducked his head and said, "Thank you, officer."

Cassidy was still fuming but feeling safe now, with Sam and me there to protect him. He ducked his own head, mimicking Nighswander. "Thank you, officer!" he lisped, then spat and said, "Goddamn fruit!"

Nighswander closed his billfold and pushed it back into his hip pocket. I asked him, "What brings you this far north, Mr. Nighswander?" I kept my voice polite. After all, he had the right to be anywhere he wanted, even two hundred miles north of Toronto with its gay bars and steam baths.

"I'm here with friends for the Winter Carnival," he said primly. "We were having a quiet drink and this man began making personal comments. I didn't like it and said so, and his associate tried to punch me."

"And you retaliated?"

He nodded. Good! I thought. It might discourage Cassidy from picking fights, even with strangers in soft clothes who look as out of place in Murphy's Harbour in January as a bird of paradise in a chicken run.

I turned to the kid with the broken mouth. He was standing where I had left him, blood still dripping through his fingers.

"You've heard this man's name. If you want to lay a charge, go to the Justice of the Peace on Monday and swear out a warrant." He blinked a couple of times, painfully, and gave a slow nod. He would lay no charges. He was beaten and he knew it. So did Cassidy, but he was anxious to save face in front of the crowd. They would never again fear him, not now.

"There's other ways to settle this," he said suddenly.

"Maybe Mr. Nighswander will oblige you," I told him. "If you're bound and determined to fight, go outside and finish it now." It's not the speech a policeman is supposed to make, but I'm alone in this town and I sometimes cut corners.

Cassidy swore and turned away from me to his wife. "Screw this place. Let's get the hell home."

She was a big tough bottle blonde who had once worked as a cook in bush camps. She liked fights. "Are you gonna let that pansy get away with it?" she shouted. The crowd laughed and cheered and Cassidy's face grew redder than usual. "Shut your yap," he hissed. "You started this mess." He picked up his parka, said "Let's go," and left, brushing insolently close to Nighswander, who stepped aside gracefully and made a mocking little maitre d' gesture.

That was the end of it. All three Cassidys went, and the visitors gathered at one table while the rest of the crowd settled back to its beer. I waited another minute, then nodded a signal to Sam and went to the bar. The barman flipped up the flap on the counter, winking at me. I winked back and went down the corridor to Irv Whiteside's office. Irv's the manager but he's never in his office on Friday. That's the night he brings in a girl from Toronto. They have the surf 'n' turf dinner while the crowd gets a good look at her, then he takes her upstairs. It's one of his vanities, making the isolated bush-workers drool with envy. That's why he always brings girls in for the weekends in winter. Summertimes he finds companionship from the tourists and cabin renters.

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