The Winner of the 2001 Fifth Annual Imitate Keeler Competition:

Z. Narvik: North Pole Manhunter!

by Ken Keeler

I.
Tick... Tock... Tick...

One forty-three and 30 seconds AM... One forty-three and 31 seconds... 32 seconds...

Through three sets of steel bars, two-and-one-half pairs of eyes followed every barely-perceptible twitch of the Wallinghaus Noiseless Electric Clock's near-motionless hands--five eyes belonging to three men doomed to hang at sunrise--hang even more silently and motionlessly than the Wallinghaus Noiseless Electric Clock hanging on the wall of the insulated quonset hut that formed their prison!

And small comfort indeed that, at this extreme Polar latitude, the sun would not rise for some 4 and 1/2 months!

"Dam' that ol' bastahd Luther Madigan anyhow!"

From Cell Number One, a colossal rustic whose rude burlap overalls left no doubt of his sub-Mason-Dixon-Line origins spat on the floor.

"Oi now, an' don't ye be about blamin' our-r-r tribulations, Gilyard, on the agricultural Professor whose research in the late 1990's produced the cold-resistant crops and livestock that made it econom-m-m-ically feasible to far-r-r-rm the Arctic Ice Cap." The speaker was a wiry erythristic of perhaps 50 years, whose puckish grin and extensively-hyphenated speech confirmed his Irish heritage.

"Why th' hell not, One-eye?" shot back the giant. "'F'tweren't f'r Madigan developin' th' ice cabbage 'n' th' polar boar, 'twouldn'ta been no fa'mwo'k to luah none of us three up heah pas' th' Arctic Circle... 'n' 'twouldn't none of us nevah uv been convicted uv Ol' Man Farnuthin's murder!"

"Arr!" the third prisoner, a pirate--if his black beard and eyepatch were any indication!--interjected from his cell. "Stop callin' the Irishman 'One-eye'. His name is 'O'Neeye'!"

"Sorry, O'Neeye," grumbled the Southerner. "Didn't mean t' imply y'all had one eye, since you clearly got two."

"And the real reason we're here, damn ye," barreled on the buccaneer, "is the Polar Republic's Reduced-Burden-Of-Proof Statute, stating that, due to the small number and crucial role of the Arctic farming population, homicide is so heinous a crime that up to three defendants can be convicted of the same murder, so long as the evidence indicates at least one of them must have committed it!"

Gilyard spat again. "I reck'ns, Coalbeard, that y'r ri't. Incidentally, though, I'm damned if'n I knows why you wears that eyepatch--when y'r eyes are both perfeckly good--unlike mine." And he rubbed his empty left eye socket sadly.

A complete cross-section of mankind they were--the Irishman, the pirate, and the giant one-eyed hillbilly--trapped like convicted rats as a blizzard howled on the polar ice outside!

O'Neeye shivered. "If only, boyos, whichever of us shot Old Farnuthin, not twenty miles from this prison at the exact magnetic North Pole, leaving no clues, would ow-w-w-n up, the other two could skip--but haven't we been all thr-r-r-r-ough that, Coalbeard an' Gilyard, and isn't it that we were the only three strangers north of the 89th parallel that night, and isn't it that that circumstance alone was sufficient to convict the three of us under the Arctic Reduced-Burden-Of-Proof Statute, and isn't it, finally, none of us who'll be confessin' now if we haven't already."

"Avast, yes!" rumbled the one called Coalbeard. "'Twould take a detective the likes of Z. Narvik himself to find the guilty party and stop young Warden Hank Farnuthin, sleeping even now behind yonder private door, from marching two innocent men up those gallows steps like--like plank-walking mutineers!"

Gilyard spat twice. "Don't be denigratin' Warden Hank Farnuthin. F'r don't he take us'ns out twice a week fo' a taste o' freedom on the dogsled--ten mile south, then ten mile east, and then ten mile north--back right here to jail? And ain't that a whimsical touch, seein' as how th' No'th Pole's the onliest place on Earth where's a fellah could do that?

"Faith, but doesn't that same Hank Farnuthin, Gilyard, spend each trip a-cursin' us for murthering his blessed father?" shot back O'Neeye. "The Divvil take him! Why--"

But the Hibernian's oath was cut as short as a dwarf who had been put through some sort of machine that makes you shorter by the slam of the insulated front door as a bulky figure in a parka burst in and forced the door closed against the driving blizzard, then took off his hood as the pirate pointed at the stranger in amazement.

"By Neptune's beard--'tis Z. Narvik himself!"

"Da very zame!" grinned the outsider, whose straight, jet-black hair and ponderous consonants branded him unmistakably as an Eskimo.

O'Neeye gaped. "Zunderkind Narvik? The Polar Republic's top crimebuster?"

"We-all was only jes' sayin' how it'd take a detective of youah brains to get us out of this heah jam we'uns is in. Or, two uv us out, anyhow."

Narvik--for it was indeed he!--arched his heavy brows.

"A dedegdive buzzle? By all meanz, dell me aboud id." And, so saying, he doffed his parka, abstracted a gigantic dead salmon from its pocket, sat down, and took a bite.

II.

"Arr, and it's like this," began Coalbeard. "We three be sentenced to hang for murder in just four-and-one-half months--a murder that only one of us committed--"

"Though none of us knows which, and none of us will confess," continued the Irishman.

Gilyard pointed at the Inuit sleuth. "But su'ely y'all musta heahd, Narvik, 'bout th' murder of Old Man Farnuthin?"

The salmon dropped from the Eskimo's shocked fingers. "You mean you--you dhree are de varmvorgers gonbigded ov de Varnudthin murder under de Argtig Reduzed-Burden-Ov-Broov Sdadude?"

"Sure and who else, me lad, would be rotting away here in this isolated prison at the exact North Pole?"

"Dhe egxagt Nordth--vaid, vaid. Led me dhingk..." The burly Northlander began to pace the room in his heavy mukluks. "Iv you are here, dhen--Aha! Yez!"

So fast that it took the prisoners' breaths away, Narvik turned and thrust his heavy round face up to the bars of Coalbeard's cell.

"I gan zolve diz grime and releaze the innozend men vid dwo guezdions!"

III.

"Two blasted questions? Arr," growled the freebooter, "Ye're a son of a scurvy seadog, you are! But have at us!"

"Vhat is dhis zgurvy zeadog dhat--bud never mind. Guesdion Number One: Have any ov you been zigk ladely?"

Three cellbound jaws dropped like three astonished bowling balls onto a newly-polished alley; clearly the canny Inuit's shot had landed. "Why, yessuh," Gilyard recovered. "We all contracted Polar Fever jes' one week aftuh ouah conviction--that is, on April 21st, 2001."

"And lay senseless nearly six months, Narvik, while Warden Hank Farnuthin nursed us back to health!" the redhead chimed in.

Narvik smiled. "Az I zuzbegded. Guesdion Dwo: Vhad day iz id?"

Gilyard sighed. "Fellers, I's afeard ol' Narvik's battier than one of Luther Madigan's Ice-Bats! F'r don't the tear-off calendar, over on Warden Hank Farnuthin's desk there, clearly say that today's the 10th o' November, 2001--jes' seven weeks into the six-month-long Arctic night?"

"Den diz mysdery iz zolved," grinned Narvik. "For I know dwo vacts dad you do nod--namely A, dad doday iz only May 12th, 2001, and B, dad diz iz nod de Nordth Bole!'"

IV.

Three gasps emanated from three cells like three overinflated Wallinghaus "Wear-Ever" tires springing three simultaneous leaks!

"De Nordth Bole Brizon," continued the moon-faced polar gumshoe, "vaz vound abandoned dwo veegs ago, and every lawman in de Argtig haz been seegking you vellows ever zinze. Und now id's obviouz vhad habbened: Varden Hangk Varnudthin--whom I now invfer iz dhe drue giller ov hiz own vadher--avraid dhad hiz guildt vould be dizgovered, bud zo gommidded to hiz dudy az Varden dhad he velt gombelled to exegude you as diregted by de gourt--drugged your vood, zpirited you avay in hiz Vallinghauz Driple-Engine aeroblane vid ids vreeze-brotegded vuel dangk, buildt a dubligade brison here, dore rouvghly one-hundred-and-eighdy bages ovff ovf hiz dezgk galendar, and gonvinzed you dhad you'd been zigk vor zigx mondths!"

"Begorrah, man, but it has been six months!" expostulated O'Neeye. "'Twas just a month or so into the six-month-long Arctic day when we took ill, and you can plainly see we're well into the six-month-long Arctic night!" The Irishman pointed to the tiny window, through which could be seen the polar dimness outside.

"Dhad, my vriend, iz de zigx-mondth-long Andargtig nighd!" chuckled Narvik. "You see, bagk in the Argtig, id'z zdill daydime!"

"But--but--" Coalbeard sputtered. "D'ye mean to tell us, you salty scowscupper, that we're in the Antarctic right now? For if so, ye're plain barmy!"

"Barmy? Berhabz. Bud gorregt? Devinidely! Varden Hangk Varnuddin buildt dhiz imidadion brizon brezizely here zo dhad you vould never know you veren'd sdill ad de Nordth Bole!"

"Y'all are nuttier than--than a pecan what's convinced it's Napoleon!" exploded Gilyard. "They ain't no doubt, Nahvik, that we's at th' exact No'th Pole, for twice a week we takes a sleigh ride ten mile south, ten mile east--"

"And den milez nordth, and end ub righd bacg here--gorregd?"

"Correct--and as any schoolchild knows, the No'th Pole's th' onliest place on Earth where-- What's that? How do we navigate those trips? Well, by my own compass! An' befoah you gets the bright idea, Narvik, that th' Warden opened my compass and repainted the needle backwards--so's it read South f'r Noath and West f'r East--let me tell you that it's military issue--which means it's hermetically sealed to protect 'gainst enemy soldiers doin' jes' that, to confuse our boys. So's you see, we cain't be nowhere else but the goldurn No'th Pole!"

"Vell, yez and no. Vor regardlezz ov vhat 'any zgooljild knowz', dere's odder blazez on Eardth dhad dhe zame dhing gan habben! A vagd!"

And with that, the squat Northlander went to the desk, scribbled a diagram, and showed it to the three incarcerees.

"You vellows are here--abbrogximadely eleven-boint-zigx milez nordth of dhe Zoudth Bole. On your zleigh dribs, you go 10 milez zoudth, to here--ad vhad ve vill gall 'Boindt A'--aboud one-boindt-zigx miles avay vrom de Bole--ad aboud 89.969 degreez Zoudth Ladidude. Vhidch line of ladidude iz exagtly 10 milez long az id zirglez de Bole. Zo vhen you go 10 milez eazd--you zirgle the Bole and gome bacg do Boindt A--vrom vhidch you go 10 milez nordth--bacg along the bath you game by--and arrive again ad dhis zubzdidude brizon!"

"By Neptune's hoary beard, it all makes perfect sense!" gasped the buccaneer.

"But ain't y'all, Narvik, got no di-rect evidence 'gainst Warden Hank Farnuthin?" inquired the behemoth.

"N-no..." ventured the salmon-toting private eye. "But gan you dthingk ov a more ligely egxplanadtion?"

The three men looked at each other in helpless surrender to the detective's relentless logic. Then a look of triumph crossed the emerald Islander's ruddy face.

"Ah, but explain this, me bucko! If we're really only eleven-odd miles, Narvik, from the South Pole, then what the Divvil are you--a North Polar Republic detective--and an Eskimo to boot!--doing in the Antarctic?"

The Asiatic's obsidian eyes twinkled.

"I'm on vagation!"

The End

 

 


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