The Greenland  Party

Opening Extract from Chapter One: The Ice Queen

‘I still can’t think why there should be three blocks of ice in the pool down there. The big one is far larger than anything I’ve seen at any season. And there’s something unusual about its coloration. See there.’

Harry glanced up gingerly to see where Lars was pointing. His gaze had been fixed on the small pool during the earlier part of their descent, although when they’d reached the steepest part of the downward incline he’d been forced to give all his attention to the treacherous path. He could see the blocks were tracing out a circular motion in the pool, the other two revolving around the central one as if all were members of a frozen solar system. The largest was indeed semi-opaque. He didn’t know what to expect in terms of colour, though was surprised to see it was strongly yellow-hued.

They descended more slowly from that point. The ice-block began to take on a strange rosiness as the sun’s rays struck it directly. As they reached ground level they could see this was caused by an object apparently inside the ice. Before they’d half-crossed the “pasture” of pink flowers, not nearly so lush as it had appeared from a distance, they both knew what the object was. Neither wanted to put this knowledge into words.

Not until they reached the edge of the pool did Lars break the unstated pact of silence between them, unnecessarily announcing ‘It’s a body’.

The large block was revolving almost imperceptibly as they watched. At the same time it was drifting slowly nearer to where they stood. The body was in some odd way fixed behind the ice. Neither of them wanted to walk around the pool to see more. 

They watched in fascination as the motion gradually revealed the secret of the ice. First, it became clear the person was naked. It was a woman. Then, even through the thickness and distortion of the ice, they could see the figure was extraordinarily full. Finally, the ponderous rotation brought the woman’s whole form into view. Her forearms seemed actually to be locked into the ice. It was as if she were clasping it to her. The sight was grotesque.

Suddenly, a sliver of ice flaked off and the block tilted in the water, causing her head to flop sideways in a way startling  to them both. Now there could be no mistaking the over-florid complexion, still pink despite the chill, nor the broad head and slightly coarse features, nor the halo of yellow hair framing the lifeless stare. Crystals of ice and unmelted snow flecked her hair in a pattern giving the grim parody of a crown.

‘Essie!’

Harry’s cry was involuntary. He tried to analyse his own reaction. Did it sound like a personal rather than a professional or simply human one?

Reluctant to look toward his companion, he kept his gaze fixed on the still-revolving iceberg, aware Lars had stolen a sideways glance at him. He hoped the young man would say something to break the silence hanging between them in the cold air. Lars held his peace. Harry was forced to speak again, trying to control the tremor in his voice:

‘It’s Mrs Smith, Lars. Essie Smith, from our party. How on Earth...? We’ve got to get the police. How do we do such a thing here?’

Lars still said nothing. Like Harry, he seemed to find it difficult to drag his stare away from the ice and the horror it framed.

When he did turn to Harry, his expression was almost sheepish.

‘I am the police.’

‘You’re what?’

‘Not a full-time policeman. I am like the, what did you call them? – specials – you told me about in your country. I’ll need to call in someone from Ammassilak or Godthåb – Nuuk – to do the full autopsy. To take over the investigation as well, most probably. They’ll be sure to want to do the post-mortem in Greenland rather than Denmark , if our laboratory is ready. It was supposed to be opening this year, but I’m not sure. There’s never been a need for me to think about things like this.

‘Maybe, since Ms Smith was a visitor to this country they’ll need to call on the Institute of Forensic Medicine in København. I don’t know. These things are all mixed up in what you would call “post-imperial politics”. At all events, until they fly someone into Vatsaaq, this has to be my case. I have to do what I can to investigate. If only I knew how to go about it! At the moment I can’t even think why her arms should be embedded in the ice. I have to find out what I can before the evidence gets cold.’

Harry winced at his friend’s careless choice of words. Looking at him, he could see Lars had not realised the darkness of what he’d said. His lips were trembling as he struggled to speak again. Harry guessed what he was going to say:

‘Harry, I want you to help me. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been involved in any kind of major crime. A few drunks and some petty pilfering are all I’ve ever had to deal with. But this…’ The Dane’s face was pale.

‘Lars, I’m not a policeman any longer. I’m retired. I want nothing more to do with any kind of police work. This isn’t even my country. There must be protocols. Essie is – was – a British Citizen. I can’t help. I’m sorry.’

‘But Harry, you’re still a detective at heart. At least you’d know a detective’s ways. You will know what to do.’

Harry groaned inwardly. This was the last thing he wanted. He’d meant what he’d said about wanting nothing more to do with police work. He knew he’d never been much of a policeman, even before the drink problem took hold. And he’d had no experience of murder cases, as this one surely had to be.

‘Harry –?’

Lars’ voice quavered. Harry sighed. He was involved anyway, as a witness, as one of the discoverers of the body. And something about the sight of Essie’s corpse clinging to the ice told him he wouldn’t be able to simply walk away from this scene.

‘When do you say that the police will send someone in from Ammassalik?’

‘They’ll fly someone in by tomorrow. Maybe even this evening’.

‘OK, then, I’ll help’.

‘Harry!’

‘On one condition. You, Lars Erikssen, are the investigating officer. You make all the decisions. I’ll help and advise you, but that’s all I’m going to do. Now, tell me exactly what it is you want from me.’

Immediately, Lars became more relaxed. He almost sounded confident as he spoke. ‘First we must remove the body from the pool,’ he said. ‘The ice will not melt enough to free her arms for hours yet, but we should act before the direct sunlight falls too much on the ice or the warmer water from the underground stream starts to do its work. We will need help to get the corpse and the ice from the water. This is bigger than any ice-block I’ve seen here.’

‘Are you sure it won’t start to melt soon? ’ asked Harry.

‘It won’t properly melt for a long time, even in water like this. This pool is one of the things I wanted to show you in this special part of our country this morning. I’ve found nowhere else in Greenland remotely like it. The water in the pool is not hot but nor is it cold, either. It is – what is the word?’

‘Tepid?’ suggested Harry.

‘Yes, that is the one. The inflow of water from the undergound thermal stream is rapid. This pool would be much bigger if it didn’t drain away at the bottom, somewhere near its middle. After this, the flow of the ice merges with the underground stream and then goes out to sea, though nobody knows exactly where the outflow is. My plan was to get you to put your hand into the pool, so you could feel the temperature of the water. Perhaps – ?’

Harry realised with a shudder Lars was going to suggest he went ahead and felt the water anyway. The thought filled him with revulsion. He interrupted the almost leisurely explanation.

‘We need to get on with things, Lars.’

‘You are right. One of us should go back to Vatsaaq to get help, while the other stays here to keep watch. It’d be best if I go back. I’d be quicker. Gudrun can break the news to the rest of your your group. Do you mind waiting here?’

‘No, that’s fine,’ said Harry, reassured by Lars’ returning confidence and readiness for positive action. ‘Anything else you want me to do?’

‘Well; you could look around for clues while you’re waiting.’

‘I think “evidence” would be the word you want. But yes, I’ll have a scout around while you’re gone to see if I can pick up anything to help with your investigation. “Your investigation”,  I said, Lars. And don’t worry, I’ll take care not to disturb any evidence’.

‘Thank you, Harry. Here; you’d better take this.’

Lars pulled out his whisky flask from a deep side pocket and handed it to Harry. Then, without another word, he turned and ran off lightly toward the path leading to the escarpment, retracing their steps of a short while before. When he reached the incline, Lars started to make the ascent almost at jogging pace. Not for the first time that morning, Harry smiled  with rueful envy at the energy of the young.

Then he looked back towards the corpse. The smile quickly faded from his lips.