This is the last episode in the serial publication of Measuring Life, a crime novel. As ever, it is followed here by a reference to some material on the internet that might interest or amuse you.
The whole novel may be had as a PDF file for the next few weeks. Should you read the book entire, you will see that it bears the marks of a work of fiction written in weekly instalments. No “do-overs” were possible; culs-de-sac entered in week 9, had to be backed out of in week 23; many openings were drawn never entered; and the spirit of the moment found its way into the style of each episode.
“Don’t jiggle it so much.”
“Why is it called jigging, then?”
“Is it? You want the other half of that?”
“You’ve been putting it away, lately. You eating for two, by any chance?”
“Shut up. Mind your own business. Pass it over. And, no.” Rangel took the peanut butter and strawberry jam half-sandwich and munched happily. Wiping her mouth with the back of her gloved hand, she looked down at her parka. “Does this make me look fat?”
“Yes,” said Mitman, jiggling his line.
“Who cares? No one in this house, certainly,” he said. They both looked at the walls of the popup shelter. Puffs of vapour followed all of their words, as if they were smoking.
“Can you imagine if we were sitting on, you know, a bucket or something out in the open?” Rangel hugged herself. “My dad says that’s how he used to do it. I think he’s lying.”
Rangel took off a glove and pushed some stray hair back under her hood. “Not really. It’s just the ice everywhere.”
“Thank god, because we’re suspended over twenty eight feet of heart-stopping water. But let’s not think about that.”
They listened to the slight hiss of the Little Buddy propane heater and to the occasional cracking and moaning of the ice.
“We haven’t caught anything,” Mitman said eventually.
“We could move operations and drill another hole,” said Rangel.
They thought about that for a while and then Mitman said, “Nah.”
It was mid January. The ice on Plain Lake was twenty two centimetres thick beneath them. And from where they were they could see Niassa Lodge, shuttered for the season, but still a welcome sight with its dark brown, red-trimmed wood in the otherwise pure white prospect of snow and birch.
Mitman had augered two holes, had widened them with the chisel to Rangel’s directions, obtained from a book. He was using a jigging rod and an imitation minnow, hoping for walleye. Rangel was eating, drinking tepid hot chocolate from a thermos bottle, and waiting for the flag on her tip-up to pop. She was using a spoon — bought it because of the name: Swedish Pimple — and was hoping she caught nothing in fact, content just to be at a peaceful remove from the wriggle and necessity of everyday life.
“So,” said Mitman some time later, “what’s the story with” —he nodded his head in the direction of the lodge— “Dennis. You and he seeing each other at all? ‘Cause I thought it was all Alan, all the time. But here we are on his doorstep. I have to know these things if I’m to . . . function with an adequately calm mind.”
Rangel said, “Hmm.” And then, after a bit, “He’s in Mozambique. Where it’s hot right now. He’s also there to find his wife, he said. Planning to get a divorce.”
Now it was Mitman’s turn to say, “Hmm.” He jiggled his line a while, then said, “You think he’s the one?”
Rangel started to speak a couple of times, and then eventually said, “You know? I’m kind of liking this embarrassment of riches. Is that a bad thing to say?”
“Girl, welcome to my world.”
“For a while, at least.”
“Speaking of a while, we going to stay in the gravel biz much longer?”
“I’ve told Gladys I’ll give it till spring, then she’ll have to find a proper CLO. I’m not cut out to be an in-house counsel.”
“The pay’s good, though.”
“I think I’ve got a fish.” Delivered conversationally.
“Pull up, pull up!”
And Mitman got to his feet, drawing his rod with him. “Whoa, what do I do now?”
Rangel got to her knees beside Mitman’s line, gripped it with gloved hands, and hauled it up, hand over hand. “Take up the slack,” she called over her shoulder. “Wind it around those prongy things.”
And a fish head appeared in the opening, mouth agape, working. She kept it there suspended for a moment. “Oh hell,” said Rangel, and she reached in behind its gills and pulled it from the ice water.
Mitman said, “Oh my god, look what I did. Just look at that. It’s got to be twenty pounds if it’s an inch.”
Rangel laid the fish on the ice floor and they watched as it slowly stopped flipping its tail. Rangel walked hand spans down the length of the fish. “Sixteen inches, say. Whatever that is in metric. Look at that golden yellow. Sander vitreum. Walleye to you.”
Mitman, still standing, said, “We have to take it home?”
“We do now,” said Rangel. “I’ll clean it and cook it for us.”
“Sander whatsis. Weird, huh?”
“I was thinking that too.”
They began to pack up. The day was suddenly over, complete. As he was pulling out the stakes that held down the shelter, Mitman asked her, “You spoken to Sanders?”
“No,” she said. She was loading stuff on the snowmobile pull-behind sled. “Don’t think I will. Yet. Got a thank-you from him, though, via his lawyer, Peter Main. I’m passing it on to you.”
“But they’re not killing the appeal.” Mitman straightened up, holding the stakes, his foot on the collapsed shelter because a wind had come up. “I saw the latest papers yesterday.”
“Not yet. Keeping all the options open. I would, too. But there’s a big conference scheduled with the case management judge and half the criminal bar, by the sound of it. I’m invited. It’s about how best to proceed, overturning the conviction based on the new evidence, Ziff’s confession. It’ll break right. You’ll see. I’m not worried.”
Mitman took the folded shelter and stacked it on the sled, strapping it down with a bungee cord. “Can I drive?” he said.
“Sure,” she said. “Let’s go home. I’m hungry.”
© Simon Fodden