The Unlikely Association of Meg and Harry
Jennifer Keogh Armstrong
Alive in Antartica
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'm really looking forward to San Francisco. Cable cars. The Golden Gate Bridge. Cool café scene. But all Harry wants to do is shop.
We just wrapped up a case in Texas that took us to New York City. Now we're heading down to Antarctica and Harry says we don't have nearly enough gear.
Mrs. Bella Shepherd from Toronto, Ontario (our home town) is worried about her son, Dan, a 35-year-old zoologist who is doing research on birds in Antarctica. The last letter she got from him was seriously strange. She didn't elaborate to us, but she wants us down there, posing as research students, to keep an eye on him. Since she's funding this particular expedition, she's managed to get us two spots at the Bellingshausen Station. Canada doesn't have its own station in the Antarctic so that's why her son is renting space in the Russian station. In the summer months, there are usually 25 Russians there, although the station can handle up to fifty.
I want to look around San Francisco but Harry says that no serious research student shows up in Antarctica with just a knapsack. Plus, we'll have to get books and try to read up on birds of Antarctica before we arrive. Yay. Birds. Why birds? Penguins, maybe. Penguins are cute. But at no point in my life have I ever wanted to know anything about a giant Antarctica petrel.
The giant Antarctica petrel is the only bird that Harry knows about so I have my doubts about our ability to pass for research students, but Harry's all pumped up about this. He thinks Antarctica will be the ultimate travel experience. (And believe me, the guy has done some travelling.) He's talking about this being our best adventure yet.
Our partnership-in-adventure is pretty recent. It's the end of January now and we only got together in early December. But since then, Harry Phillips and I have solved a case involving a stolen necklace and a case involving university students being recruited by government agents in Texas.
My name is Meg Carmichael and my dream is to be a cop, the investigative kind. But since my Dad's only career is to gamble his money away in Reno, I doubt I'll be getting any college money from him. Mom's job working as an administrative assistant for Harry's father is enough to pay for our mortgage and the essentials so I'm not going to bug her for money.
Harry could be working for his Dad, but the boredom of a desk job was enough to propel him into a partnership with me. Well, not a partnership, exactly. Harry's this zealot Christian who doesn't believe that Christians and non-Christians (such as myself) should form partnerships. So we just split the profits and call ourselves associates. But I will say this, we're starting to work really well together.
So now we're in some kind of army surplus store looking at stuff that would be great if we were going out into the woods in the middle of winter and needed to survive with no amenities. It's making me nervous.
“I thought we're staying in a fully-equipped station,” I say. “When are we going to need survival gear?”
“We have to be prepared for anything, including being outside,” says Harry, leading me over to some seriously rugged-looking winter coats. He grabs a man's size small for me and a large for himself.
“Try these too,” he says, tossing me a pair of matching pants. I untie my hiking boots and put them on. I'm hot already.
“And boots,” says Harry looking down at mine on the floor. “We'll need winter ones.”
“I thought you said it was summer in Antarctica,” I say.
“Yeah, but summer can feel like winter.”
“What does winter feel like?”
But Harry isn't listening. He's picking out long underwear for us.
I try on a hat that covers my ears and most of my face. But it's hard to know what to do with my long red hair.
“Hey, Harry!” I call out. He's looking at large duffle bags with water-proof lining. “Should I cut my hair?” It's something I've been thinking about for a while.
“No! Of course not!” He sounds genuinely surprised that I would consider such a thing.
So I put the coat on without pulling out my hair and then put on the hat. That works a bit better.
Once we've made all of our purchases (Mrs. Shepherd covers our expenses) I think, OK, maybe now we can check out the cable cars.
But Harry is dragging me and all our supplies to a nearby bookstore and we're going through the Nature section. They have two shelves devoted to birds, but it's mostly bird-watching stuff. It's not looking good if we want to learn about the ones in Antarctica. Then Harry snaps his fingers. We're in the wrong section. He wanders up and down the aisles till we come to books about Antarctica. There we find two thick books about the wildlife in Antarctica, with several chapters on the birds.
“That'll have to do,” says Harry, straightening up. In case we'd missed anything, he had been down on his knees examining everything on the bottom shelf.
“We could probably do a bit of reading while we go up to the top of that big hill,” I say. “You know, the one where all the cable cars go . . .”
“You can if you want,” says Harry absently, carrying all of our supplies in one hand and the two books in his other hand. He's reading the back cover of one of them as he heads for the cash register. “But I'm going to have to concentrate if I'm going to take all of this in.”
I roll my eyes. He pays and I pick up the books.
We'll be stuck in the Red Roof Inn, right by the airport, drinking pots of coffee and studying about skuas and terns and petrels. (Now I’m skimming the back cover of the books.)
So we call a cab from the bookstore and all I see of San Francisco is what I can take in on the short drive back to the inn. This really isn’t the most picturesque part of San Francisco.
Harry dumps the big bag of winter gear into the corner and gets the coffee-maker on the dresser going.
“OK,” says Harry, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. “Are we ready?” He picks up the first book.
“Can I be an expert in something else?” I say. “I know a lot of things.”
“Anything that can be used in Antarctica?”
“Well, mostly I know about law enforcement . . .” I grew up on cop shows.
“I don't think they have law enforcement in Antarctica,” says Harry.
“Wow,” I say. “It's a real wild west then?”
“I would guess that everyone just follows the laws of their individual countries. And if anything happens, their country investigates.”
“So, if anything happens to us, who would investigate, Canada or Russia?”
“I dunno,” says Harry, absently. He has the first book open. “Penguins are birds, of course . . .”
“They are?” I say, surprised.
“But Dan Shepherd isn't studying penguins. So we'll start with the albatross.” He begins to read. “The albatross is the largest of the living birds with wingspan averages ranging from 8 to 12 feet. Sailors in the past reported seeing albatrosses that had wingspans of 17 feet. These long wings enable the birds to stay in the air for extended periods of time, as long as several hours. As seabirds, albatrosses are generally found in the southern oceans and the North Pacific. The types of albatrosses found in the Antarctic region are the Black-browed albatross, the Grey-headed albatross, the Light-mantled albatross, the Sooty albatross, and the Wandering albatross . . .”
Groaning inwardly, I get up off the bed to make myself a coffee.
The coffee keeps me awake for the whole section about albatrosses. But I actually drift off to sleep during the petrels.
I wake up when the book is being slammed shut near my ear. I jump.
“And we'll stop there,” says Harry pleasantly, keeping a straight face.
“Great,” I say recovering fast. “Yes, that's a lot for one day.”
San Francisco is known for its great night-life, but Harry says he wants to have dinner in the restaurant on the premises and do some more studying afterward. So I have no choice. I hardly want to go and hangout in some jazz bar by myself.
We both order hamburgers and fries and Harry quizzes me on what we've been reading while we eat.
“Where are the nostrils of the albatross located?”
“Yes,” I say.
Harry looks at me.
“Sides of the bill,” he says. “Describe a snow petrel.”
“Yes,” I say.
“White all over, black beak. OK, how 'bout this? What do prions typically eat?”
“Yes,” I say.
Harry just stares at me.
I'm going to pretend that 'yes' is the only English word I know,” I explain, “and that I'm a French student from Quebec.”
“How's your French?”
“Lousy, but who's going to know?”
“Dr. Dan Shepherd teaches at Laval University in Quebec.”
“OK, then . . .” I resign myself. “What were those questions again?”
“Zooplankton,” says Harry. “Prions eat zooplankton.”
“Zooplankton,” I say, nodding, as I read the dessert menu. I'm debating on whether I want a sundae or a piece of the chocolate cake.
But Harry doesn't give me a chance. He's paying the bill and we're going back to his room and the books.
“Let's switch on the TV,” I suggest.
“I can't concentrate with the television on,” says Harry.
“But Harry!” I groan. “This is sooooo boring!”
“But I have to do it!” says Harry. “I mean, it's easy for you! You'll just go in there and Dr. Shepherd will be happy to have someone nice to look at. Me! I have to impress him with what I actually know!”
I'm too flattered to argue with him any further.
“OK,” I say. “How 'bout I test you?”
I pick up the book.
“The Imperial Shag is a type of . . . ?”
“Black and white.”
“Where are you likely to find one?”
“Ummm . . .”
“Rocky coasts and some large inland lakes,” I say.
“Rocky coasts. Large inland lakes. OK, go on.”
“Name the two types of diving petrels common to Antarctica?”
“The common diving petrel and the . . .” Harry is thinking. “The South Georgia diving petrel.”
After a couple of hours, I try to convince Harry that he knows way too much about the birds of Antarctica. We have to get up early tomorrow for our flight to Ushuaia, Argentina.
“I just hope that it's enough,” says Harry.
The complimentary shuttle drives us to the San Francisco International Airport, just three miles away.
It's our habit to travel light and avoid luggage carousels, but our large duffel bag is not exactly a carry-on item. We check in and then get a coffee and a bagel at one of the places in the food court.
“So what did you think of The Gospel of John?”
A few days ago, Harry gave me a DVD called The Gospel of John. He thinks by watching such things I will ask him to lead me in some kind of prayer to become a Christian.
“Yeah, I liked it,” I say, biting into my bagel.
Harry looks pleased.
“That guy who played Jesus,” I continue. “He was really hot. He was in Lost. Do you think Jesus was that hot?”
This actually makes Harry laugh. Sometimes I worry that I might annoy him. But so far I haven't crossed any lines.
“I dunno. Women were always following him around. Maybe.” He reaches for a serviette to wipe some cream cheese off his mouth.
“Why did they follow him?”
Really, I should shut up and not give Harry false hope, but I'm curious.
“Well,” says Harry, thinking. “I guess it was because he talked to them.”
“He talked to them?”
“I don’t think women were included in the religious discussions in those days. But he would talk to them. He told one woman that he was the messiah. She just came to get water from the well and he was there and asked her for a drink. So they started talking and she had some questions and he ended up telling her he was the messiah.”
“Yeah, I remember that part in the movie,” I say, taking a gulp of my coffee. “I think I know what you mean. He wasn't telling the men stuff. They sort of had to figure it out. But he told her who he was.”
“Yeah, I guess I liked that part. So . . . is that all they know about Jesus? Just that stuff that was in the movie?”
“There are other Gospels and they have some stories that aren't in John.”
“Do they have movies too?”
“Yep,” says Harry. “There's one movie that does the same thing, but with the Gospel of Matthew. It's good too. I can get it for you, if you want.”
“Yeah, I guess that'd be OK.”
I don't know why I'm going along with this lunacy. I think it's just a case of trying to take an interest in what gets Harry going. After all, he was nice enough to buy a cop novel for me.
Now Harry has this habit of talking to people on planes, but today he just wants to read the books. So, once we're seated on our flight, me by the window, Harry in the middle and some South American-looking guy on the aisle, Harry reads one book while I flip through the other looking at the pictures. Then Harry wants me to quiz him. I have to eat my lunch with a book balanced on the tray.
It's a long flight with a stop in Buenos Aires to refuel and pick up more passengers. The South American-looking man is replaced by a very North American-looking man. He's tall, blond, with glasses and the kind of outfit that goes along with adventure – heavy cotton shirt, one of those outdoor travel vests with loads of pockets, khaki pants, and serious hiking boots.
He glances at the books on Harry's lap and immediately takes an interest in us.
“You're going there?” he asks.
“We're heading for the Bellingshausen Station.”
“No way!” says the man. “The Russian station, eh? I'll just be up the road from you. At the Chilean station. They call it the Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva Base. That's a mouthful, eh?”
Turns out the man, his name is Ken Seaford, is a nature photographer from Regina and he goes to Antarctica every winter (summer in Antarctica, that is) if he can. When he finds out we're Canadian, it's like we're old buddies.
Harry doesn't even have to tell him we're research students. He just assumes that if we're looking at books about wildlife in Antarctica and staying at a station, that we must have some good reason for going there.
“Have you chartered your boat, yet?” he asks.
Harry shakes his head.
“Our sponsor said that we should try to catch a supply ship . . .”
“Forget about that!” says Ken. “Come with me! I've got a great guy I go with every year, Eduardo. He gets me there every time and for the best price in the whole port. Great little boat . . .”
It's funny how these things are always happening to us. When we flew to Alberta, we met Vera who volunteered to drive us to Drumheller. When we were on our way to New York, we met Andy who invited us back to his place. Now we have Ken taking us along on his boat.
Harry would say it's because of this prayer he prayed, that God would help him to meet people with needs. You see, Harry considers himself an emissary of God. Just goes around being Mother Teresa to everyone. Now I guess God has sent him Ken. Though from what I can tell, Ken has no needs whatsoever. He has it all together.
Maybe God has sent Ken to help us. Harry is asking him all sorts of questions about Antarctica. We discover that we'll be staying at the station with the only real church, a permanently-staffed Eastern Orthodox church called Trinity Church, 15 metres high, wooden, in the traditional Russian style, built on a hill so that it can be seen from a distance. Harry thinks this is great. He tells me (like I care) that Catholics can go to an Orthodox Mass and participate in something called the Eucharist if there’s no Catholic Church around.
He and Ken talk about day-to-day life at the stations. Ken asks if our sponsor has arranged for extra food and gear for our arrival.
“I don't know,” says Harry. This is a new thought.
“See, these little places are self-contained,” says Ken. “I don't go unless I have enough food for myself.”
“You're right,” says Harry. “We'll have to do that too.”
Ken asks us about our particular expedition. Harry explains that it's led by Dr. Dan Shepherd and it's an all-Canadian team, studying birds in the Antarctic and doing a comparative study with birds found in the Arctic regions of Canada.
“Dr. Shepherd was in Nunavut, Arctic Bay I think, over the winter,” says Harry. He obviously knows more about it than me.
“Oh that Dr. Shepherd!” says Ken, looking thrilled. “No way! That's great! I was up there photographing his work for Macleans this winter. He didn't tell me he'd be in Antarctica. He's not really very talkative. But then you know that already.”
Harry shakes his head.
“Actually, we don't know him very well. We don't go to Laval.”
“Maybe I can do a follow-up article,” says Ken, more to himself than to us.
“He's not talkative?” I say.
Ken shakes his head.
“No. That man is completely in his own world and his world is the world of birds. I don't think he pays attention to anything that doesn't have wings.”
Well, we won't have to worry then. Maybe Dr. Shepherd won't even notice we're there.
“Does he like to work alone?” asks Harry. We're both probing. Seeing if we'll be able to pull this off.
“It was pulling teeth to talk to him. My article was mostly about the birds he was researching. I had to phone up Laval to get any background on the man. I found out he was born in Toronto . . .”
“We know his mother.”
“Do you?” says Ken, sounding interested. “Maybe I can phone her and get some background info for this article. God knows, I won't get it from the man himself.”
This could definitely work in our favour.
“So,” I say. “Does that mean he doesn't have much to do with the research students?”
“Only one of them. You'll be lucky if he says hello to you,” he says. “'Scuse me.” He gets up and goes down the aisle to the bathroom.
“That's great!” I say to Harry. “Now we don't have to worry about knowing anything about birds!”
“There's an upside to it,” agrees Harry. “But the downside is, we're going to have a hard time figuring out what's wrong with him. His mom is convinced that the last letter he wrote could have come from a completely different person.”
“Maybe the Antarctic Postal Service got two letters mixed up,” I say. “Maybe it did come from a different person.”
“I doubt it. His mom is worried that he's losing his mind in Antarctica.”
“From what Ken says, I think he lost it before he got there.”
Ken returns and Harry asks him more about Antarctica.
“Well, this time of year is good for seeing the seal pups and penguin chicks. Everyone likes the penguin chicks so I always get photos of them. If you hang around until February and March, you'll see more whales and the penguin fledglings.”
“What birds do you photograph there?” ask Harry.
“It's a good area for Blue-eyed Shags, Antarctic Terns and Southern Giant Petrels. You'll see a lot of those.”
“Why do you stay at the Chilean station?” asks Harry.
“Great company,” says Ken. “They're a lot of fun.”
“What about the Russians?”
“They work hard and play hard. Hope you can hold your vodka. But their priest keeps them in line.”
“How cold will it be?” I ask.
“Warmer than anywhere else,” says Ken. “It'll be about 1 degree Celsius. February's the warmest month there. Even in winter, which is August, this part of Antarctica only goes down to -7 degrees Celsius. The Bellingshausen Station is quite a bit more north than the other stations.”
Then the pilot comes on to tell us we'll be landing in Ushuaia in fifteen minutes. The weather is a balmy 17 degrees Celsius, with temperatures of around 6 degrees Celsius at night.
“Great!” says Ken. “I have to tell Eduardo I'm here, we have to buy our supplies, but then we'll probably have a bit of time to look around. It's a great tourist destination. A lot of people from Buenos Aires come here.”
“What's the best place to stay in Ushuaia?” asks Harry.
“That's easy!” says Ken. “La Casa de Alba Bed and Breakfast. $45 a night, great food, great people.”
With Ken, the world is a great place.
When we disembark from the plane and clear customs, we all have to wait for our luggage. Harry and I both have knapsacks, plus the one big duffel bag.
“Is that all you have?” asks Ken, incredulously. “For the two of you?”
“You need more supplies,” he announces. He has two large duffel bags as well as an industrial-looking suitcase for his camera gear. He has to grab a cart for all of his stuff and we head out of the airport.
I know right away we're in a different world. Even the airport terminal is unusual. It's a triangular structure, for the most part made of wood but with sections of glass panelling from floor to ceiling.
Ushuaia is the first real foreign place I've been to. People of all nationalities are milling around, although I hear a lot of Spanish being spoken.
In the distance are mountains but everywhere, you can feel the sea. It's just in the air. One of the airport's runways even goes straight to the water's edge.
Ken hails a cab for us.
All of the gear manages to fit in the trunk. I hate to think what kind of vehicle we're going to need when we buy even more stuff.
Ken gives the cab-driver the address of the bed-and-breakfast. It's not far away. Everything in Ushuaia seems close together.
Ken is obviously a regular at this bed-and-breakfast because he's greeted like an old friend by the lady who runs it. He's given his 'usual room' and thankfully there are two empty rooms for us despite it being the peak of tourist season. Two families just left the night before to start out on some biking tour of the area.
Then Ken is calling Eduardo and telling him he has two more passengers and that we'll get all of our gear out to the pier tomorrow morning if that works for him.
It looks like it's going to be go-go-go while we're in Ushuaia, because we're back in the cab and down to some wholesale supplier by the waterfront.
Again, it's a place that Ken is familiar with. The carts are huge and everything comes in cases of 12 or more. We have our own cart and Ken is tossing in canned foods, bags of rice, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, pop, dried soup, oatmeal, even things like blankets and extra underwear. (Oh yeah. I want to wear what looks like men's briefs.)
He gives us a little talk on having layers of clothing rather than just one bulky coat. That way you can strip down when you're warm and layer up when you're cold. So that means more long underwear going into the cart.
“What about toiletries?” asks Harry. “Will they have soap there?”
“Most stations are pretty good about that,” says Ken. “Although I've never stayed at the Russian station. Wouldn't hurt to have some. Why don't you just get some of this?”
He holds up an all-purpose body gel that takes care of you, your hair, as well as your clothes.
“Is it toothpaste too?” asks Harry looking at it.
I have to think of female things and Harry and Ken pretend not to notice when I toss a 12-pack of maxi pads into the cart.
Harry adds a whole packet of notebooks and a box of pens. I guess we'll have to look like we're actually recording things.
“What about water?” I ask. “Do we need bottled water?”
“Only if you like it. All the stations have freshwater. I'm not sure how the Russians do it. They may melt the snow or they may use desalination. In any case, you don't have to worry about water.”
Ken keeps going down the aisles and finding new things for us to take. It's going to take two cabs to get all our gear down to the waterfront. But for now, they have to be taken back to the bed-and-breakfast.
Thankfully, the smiling owner has a storage room for all of our stuff, so we won't have to be tripping over it in the night on our way to the bathroom.
If it were up to Harry, he'd go straight to his room and study his bird books. But Ken has plans for us. First, we look around. Ushuaia is full of restaurants and souvenir shops.
“This is the southernmost city in the world,” he says, as we're walking to the centre of town. “They call this place the end of the world.”
Tourists are everywhere, out with their cameras or just strolling along.
“Is that actually the ocean over there?” asks Harry, pointing to where several cruise ships are lined up.
“It's Beagle Channel. Once you get out of Beagle Channel you get to where the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans meet.”
“How would you get to Cape Horn from here?”
“Sail through Beagle Channel and through Tiarra del Fuego . . .”
“What's Cape Horn?” I say.
“It's something that was in Master and Commander,” says Harry.
“It's an island actually. Yes, it's pretty famous in nautical history. Tempestuous winds, strong currents, even icebergs. It took a lot of skill, or a lot of luck, to navigate it. Ah, here we are.”
We've come to a small door in one of the rows of boutiques and restaurants.
“This is an English-style pub,” says Harry when we’re inside. “How did it end up here?”
“Well,” says Ken, choosing a small round table for us in the back. “You've got to remember, the Falklands are just across the way from us. There are places around here where you can even get scones and jam. I strongly recommend the fish-and-chips here.”
We all have pints of beer while we wait for our food.
Harry and Ken mostly talk about birds in Antarctica, so hopefully he'll feel like that counts for studying.
When we go back outside, it's just as light as it was when we came in, despite that it is now around 8:00.
Ken laughs at our surprise.
“Dusk doesn't start here till well after 10,” he says. “When we get to Antarctica, we'll have 24-hour days.”
“Ahhh,” says Harry. “I get it. It's summer in the southern hemisphere and we're so far south.”
“Exactly,” says Ken.
“I guess that changes the meaning of the word nightlife here, eh?” I say.
“Oh, you could keep busy,” says Ken. “They cater to the tourists. But we'd better get back and get a decent night's sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
t's funny to be loading our supplies into a small boat along the same waterfront as gigantic cruise ships. It's not exactly a rowboat, but there are definitely bigger boats going in the same direction as us.
But ours looks rough and tough (kind of like my dream man!) and I see even smaller sailboats loading up for the same journey.
In addition to our stuff, Eduardo is loading up everything he needs for us and the crew.
His crew is made up of about five cheerful men who are moving around the deck and carrying supplies down below.
Eduardo personally shows us down to our rooms. We each have a tiny room with just a hammock and a small built-in closet. I toss my knapsack into the closet where I also hang my new thermal winter coat. The weather is balmy in Ushuaia but we're warned that it will get chilly as we head south. Then I go onto the deck where Ken and Harry are standing by the rail. Ken says we don't want to miss the journey down Beagle Channel which will take us out to the ocean. We'll be passing by a lot of islands and there's a whole load of history in this area. The passage is named for the ship that Charles Darwin sailed on as a young naturalist.
When I join Ken and Harry, they're talking about some place called Drake Passage. Harry seems really excited that we'll be crossing through the area where the Pacific and the Atlantic meet. Ken says it's a great place to see whales and dolphins, as well as some of those birds we're interested in, including penguins.
Eduardo, overhearing this, starts talking to me and Harry. It'll take 2 or 3 days to go through the Drake Passage, depending on weather, so we'll have plenty of time to take it all in. By Day 4 we should be moving through the South Shetland Islands. King George Island is the largest of these islands, which is where the Bellingshausen Station is located. He enthusiastically tells us we'll be seeing Chinstrap Penguins, Adelie Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Antarctic Terns, Southern Giant Petrels, Blue-eyed Cormorants . . .
Maybe he can take our place at the station. He sounds like he knows more about it than we do.
We don't cast-off till about lunchtime, so I'm really hungry when the boat starts moving slowly out of the harbour. All hands are on deck when we start out so I'm figuring it will be awhile before a meal gets served. I'm wishing I had some of that chocolate that we put in storage.
But I have to agree, once we start moving, the scenery is magnificent.
If you like trees, there are plenty of those. If you like mountains, the Beagle Channel has them. If you like islands covered in birds, you can have those too. Harry is using his cell-phone to snap photos. I take a few with him and he takes a few with me. Then Ken, who has his camera out, takes photos of us together. Maybe we'll show up in Macleans. Of course, the caption will be Harry Phillips and Meg Carmichael, bird researchers, instead of Harry Phillips and Meg Carmichael, private investigators.
I don't know whether it's a late lunch or an early dinner, but we're called down to eat.
The cook is Argentinian and has made all of us a meal that is heavy on the meat side. There's beef and lamb, both in an herb sauce, plus a salad and some fried eggplant. Ken tells us that all the fresh foods will be used at the beginning of the trip. It'll be rice and beans for the trip back.
There's wine with dinner and lots of hot coffee for dessert, along with a pastry that looks like a wagon wheel on the outside. Ken says they're called Alfajores Triples, on account of they have three shortbread cookies with jam paste between each one, all wrapped in a chocolate coating.
After dinner, it's back on the deck. I think it will be nice to watch the sun go down and then I remember that we have almost no night time here.
But Ken insists that even with it being light we should still get a full night's sleep. Some people, he says, just go on and on as long as there's light and then collapse.
Harry is taking photos up on the deck the next morning.
I greet him with a sleepy smile.
“How'd you sleep?” he asks me.
“Lousy,” I say. “There was so much light I felt like I was trying to sleep in the middle of the afternoon.”
“You had no problem sleeping in the afternoon when I was reading to you,” he points out.
“Good point,” I say. “Next time I can't sleep, I'll get you to read to me.”
The cook calls us down for breakfast.
Ken is already seated around the small table in the galley reading an old magazine and drinking a thick hot chocolate.
We all get hot chocolate for breakfast, plus there's a plate of unusual-looking doughnuts.
Ken says they're called churros. They're called churros because they're shaped like the horns of the Churro sheep. All the Argentinian crew-members dip them into their hot drinks while they eat them.
Harry and I give it a go and find it works very well.
Eduardo tells me after breakfast that he's put out some deck chairs for me if I want. He's really sweet. He's very fatherly and seems to take a special liking to me and Harry since it's our first trip out. He tells me that I should look for seals today and keep my eye out for cormorants. If I want a coffee, just go down to the cook and ask him for one.
I take one of the deck chairs while Ken and Harry talk at the railing.
I don't see any animals, but I'm drifting off so that that's no surprise. The morning passes pleasantly and I almost feel awake by the time the cook calls us down for lunch.
“What are those?” I cry out suddenly, just as we're about to go down below. Behind us are some white birds, huge things, just following along in the wake of the boat.
“Albatrosses,” says Ken. He looks at me strangely. “You didn't recognize them?”
I realize my mistake. We're supposed to be bird experts.
“Uh, it's just the first time I've seen one out in the wild, you know, in its natural habitat . . .”
“But surely you were expecting to see them out here?”
“Yeah, of course.”
But Ken is not convinced. Behind him, Harry is rolling his eyes.
When we're seated in the galley, Ken pursues it.
“OK kids,” says Ken. “What's going on? Why are you going to Antarctica?”
“Can you keep this confidential?” he says to Ken.
Ken hesitates. He's a photo-journalist, after all.
“Just tell me enough without giving away too much and then I'll see.”
“We were sent out by Dr. Shepherd's mother,” says Harry.
“Dr. Shepherd's mother?”
“She's funding a ten-person expedition to study birds.”
“And she wants to make sure her money is being well-spent? No lazing around, that sort of thing?”
“No,” says Harry.
Lunch is a kind of meat-pie with salad on the side. There's bottled water to drink. Wine if we want it.
“OK, you've got me interested,” says Ken. “What's going on at Bellingshausen?”
“Nothing, as far as we know,” says Harry, honestly.
“But Mrs. Shepherd doesn't think so,” says Ken. “Maybe she’s worried about her son . . . ?”
“Something like that,” says Harry.
“Hmmm.” Ken thinks about this. “OK, I think I get the picture. You can't go there openly saying that you're checking on Dr. Shepherd, so you have to pretend you're research students.”
He looks at me.
“My advice? Don't talk too much.”
I want to tell him where to go, but Harry gives me a look that says, don't worry about it.
Harry remains civil to Ken even though I have to resist the urge to wallop him. But Harry's good that way. And he pumps Ken. Now that our secret is out, he asks him all sorts of questions about life in Antarctica, particularly at the stations.
Ken's glad to answer. In fact, his answers are so long that they're still talking after lunch when we're back on the deck.
I sit down in the deck chair again, back to feeling dozy after that lunch. But Ken and Harry just lean on the railing and talk about all the goings-on at research stations. Lots of emotions in close spaces. But everyone's professional about it. They have to be. Most people are only there for the summer so they don't have to put up with any irritation, or irritating person, for too long. And most people are too busy to bicker with one another.
“I mean, let's face it,” says Ken. “It costs a bloody fortune for these expeditions and for a lot people, it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing. They make the most of their time there.”
“What's the relationship between the tourists and the researchers?” asks Harry.
“Next to nil. Some of the stations do permit visitors. Others don't. In any case, visits are brief. At night, the tourists are back on their cruise ships. During the day, they may come ashore to swim in the hot springs or look at the penguins, but the tourists get taken to the same places. The researchers usually work in the areas where the tourists don't go.”
Ken excuses himself to go get his camera. He says there's a chance we'll see whales today and even though most of the shots are unimpressive, there's always the odd one that is amazing.
Harry comes to sit beside me in the other deck chair.
I lower my sunglasses.
“I'm seriously sorry about the way it's turned out,” I say. “Letting it slip that I don't know anything about birds.”
Harry grins. Didn't I tell you? The guy never gets mad.
“I feel better about it this way. I don't like to pretend that I'm something else.”
That's his Christian conscience. He doesn't even lie when people ask him a straight question. As a private investigator, my first instinct would be to lie my way out of a situation, but Harry just comes out with the truth. The funny thing is, it always seems to work out.
Something about the ocean and the islands makes it easy to just sit and stare for long periods of time. Even Harry does it. I guess he's not going to worry about being a bird expert anymore. Ken stands by the railing, occasionally pointing things out to us. Once, he sees some whales in the distance and draws our attention to them. But they're not exactly leaping out of the water or doing anything spectacular. Still, it's the first time I've seen a whale.
“They're huge if you ever see them up close,” says Ken. “It's hard to capture it in a photo.”
Dinner is a pizza loaded down with meat and vegetables.
“I didn't know they eat pizza here,” I say as we take our spots in the galley.
“Italian food is very popular in Argentina,” says Ken, reaching for a piece. This meal is served with a dark beer and dessert is dulce de leche over fruit. Dulce de leche is a sweet caramel sauce. Ken says it's an Argentinian tradition that's made of caramelized milk and sugar.
Despite that it's still bright outside, the combination of good food and fresh air makes me sleepy and I excuse myself after dinner. When I lie down, I don't know whether it's just going to be a nap or whether I'm going to sleep the whole night, but I fall asleep within minutes.
I wake up in terror.
The whole boat is shaking. Up until now, things have been calm, but now we're rocking all over the place. I dash down the hallway, bumping into the walls as I go. When I get onto deck, it's murky, almost dark. Bad sign. There isn't supposed to be night the further south we go.
It's a storm.
Eduardo sees me and hurries over to tell me to go back down to my cabin. He gives me a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
“Everything is fine!” he says.
But everything isn't fine.
I don't even know what time it is, but I pound on Harry's door.
He answers after a minute or two. He looks sleepy.
“How can you sleep?” I demand. “There's a storm out there!”
“Oh that's just the Cape,” says Harry. “It's pretty normal for around here. Didn't you see Master and Commander?”
I shake my head.
“We're going to die!” I say.
“No, we're not. Here . . .” he turns sideways a bit. “Come in here for a bit.”
I squish into the small room.
We end up swinging together on the hammock. Harry reaches for his knapsack and pulls out his Bible.
“Harry, I really don't want you reading me a Bible story,” I say.
“Just one,” he says, already flipping through the pages.
“I'm going.” I try to stand up but the whole boat suddenly tilts and I'm back in the hammock with Harry, this time with a sore hip from where I bumped into the wall.
“Ah, here it is,” says Harry. He begins reading. “It was evening and the disciples went down to the sea. They got into a boat and started across the sea to Capernaum. By now it was dark and Jesus had not come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind started blowing . . .”
“Yeah, yeah,” I say. “I remember this from the movie.”
In The Gospel of John there was this big storm and the disciples were all terrified. Like me.
“They had rowed three or four miles, when they looked and saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat. And they were frightened. But he said to them, 'It is I. Do not be afraid.' Then they were happy to take him into the boat and immediately the boat landed at the place that they were going.”
I brace myself for a sermon.
But none comes. Harry just puts away the Bible and sits with me while the boat rolls one way and then rolls another.
“Well,” I say, finally. “I guess I'll try to get some sleep.”
“The nice thing about the hammocks is that they keep you from moving around too much.”
I know what he means. The hammock just sort of hangs throughout it all. If we had wooden bunks we'd be rocking all over the place.
This time when I'm back in my hammock and drifting off to sleep, the image of Jesus walking across that stormy water keeps coming back to me.
Hey! Like I said, the actor who played Jesus was hot!
The next morning you wouldn't even know that we'd had a storm. Though Eduardo isn't around. He must be sleeping.
The cook gives us our hot chocolate and charros. This is our third day on the ship and already things feel like a routine.
We go up on deck afterward.
Ken tells Harry stories about storms that were worse than the one last night. This part of the ocean is known for its turbulence. When Ken is finished telling stories about his personal experiences, he digs into history to tell about more storms. Apparently, whoever Drake is, he discovered this whole area because of a storm.
Then mercifully, Ken is distracted by a whole bunch of whales. He calls them a herd. They're still pretty far away but he has his zoom lens.
Lunch is schnitzel and mashed potatoes. Another traditional Argentinian meal, according to Ken.
Eduardo joins us on deck after lunch and says that tomorrow, all going well, by the end of the day we should be in sight of the Shetland Islands.
Ken disappears down below after lunch to do photo-journalist stuff. With his laptop and his satellite connection, he's still in contact with the outside world.
“I could look at this scenery forever,” says Harry as we recline on the deck-chairs.
“I'm bored,” I say, honestly.
“Want to keep reading that novel?”
On our last case, we were reading a crime novel but we never had time to finish it.
“Sure,” I say. I've stopped thinking it's goofy to read a book out loud.
So Harry gets the book from down below and reads it out loud, with a coffee-break halfway through, until dinner.
Dinner is pasta loaded up with tomato sauce. Another Italian dish. Very popular in Argentina, says Ken, the expert.
Ken follows Eduardo up on deck after dinner. Eduardo has spotted something called a smew on the water. It turns out to be a white duck with black markings, including circles all around its eyes. I've never seen anything like it. Of course, Harry and I are supposed to be experts on this sort of thing.
We're also now in iceberg territory which adds a new dimension to the landscape. Waves crashing against icebergs provide a lot of activity to watch.
Ken is keeping his eyes open for humpback whales. He says that nothing he's taken so far is brilliant but it's acceptable. He tells us that in the afternoon he uploaded all of his photos to a photo-share site online.
The albatrosses are still following in the wake of our boat. When they swoop close, it's a little terrifying, their wingspan is so wide.
Harry pulls out a pack of cards and he and I play Rummy until we're tired.
Hot chocolate and charros again the next day. No complaints. I've gotten used to this breakfast and I'll miss it.
Ken tells us that we'll probably be at the Bellingshausen Station by tomorrow night.
“Now,” says Ken, pulling up another deck chair to join me and Harry. “Are you kids still going to try to pass yourselves off as research students?”
“Well, that's what Mrs. Shepherd wanted us to do,” says Harry. “The main thing is, she doesn't want her son to think she's spying on him.”
“I can understand that,” says Ken. “But you didn't fool me and you're not going to fool them, so we should think of a better cover story for you guys.”
“But they already think that two research students are coming.”
“Did you actually tell them what your area of expertise is?”
Harry shakes his head.
“Then make it something that is not their area of expertise. How 'bout psychology? Life in closed spaces, that sort of thing?”
“That sounds good,” I say.
“In fact,” continues Ken. “We can make this honest. You can write an article for me about your experiences and if it's good, I'll include it with my work. Nothing special. Just a sidebar in the main article.”
“That sounds great!” I say. This is going to be so much easier than pretending to know about birds.
“But Dr. Shepherd is expecting two more research students,” says Harry. “He'll be counting on us.”
Ken shakes his head.
“The only person he counts on is himself. Believe me, he's a lone wolf. If I understand the situation correctly, he didn't request two more researchers, his mom just finagled your way onto the team.”
“That's true,” says Harry. “OK. It's a lot less deceptive to approach it from the angle of psychology. In fact, that's why we were sent. To see what psychological changes have taken place.”
So that's settled. I just hope the Russians don't think we're spying on them. We'll have to make it clear that we're only interested in the Canadian team.
When lunch comes, it's something that tastes like chicken-fried steak on a bun.
Ken says it's called milanesa. He gives us a little talk on the beef industry in Argentina which is apparently very big. He says grass-fed is the best, of course, and asks us if we've heard of gauchos.
I'm assuming it's some kind of beef dish, but Harry nods and says, “Argentinian cowboys.”
After lunch, Harry finishes up the cop novel.
Ken comes up on deck to tell us it's dinner and when he sees us with the book, asks us if we like to read.
“Sure,” says Harry.
“Do you have any books?” he asks.
“I have my Bible.”
Ken just stares at him. I get the sense that like me, he's not a Christian.
“I've got a whole bunch of Robin Cook novels I'm done with, if you want. Some of the bigger stations have libraries but the Russian station is small and they may not stock English books.”
“Sure,” I say. “We'll take them.”
I don't even know who Robin Cook is, but I'm starting to form an impression that life at a research station can have some long and boring hours if you don't have a whole lot to do.
Ken stops by his room and comes out with about eight paperback books. It's not much of an exchange but Harry says he can have our cop one, which he accepts.
Dinner is a thicker steak with a medley of vegetables and there are apple pastries for dessert. Ken says the pastries are called empanadas and that back in Argentina you can also get them filled with meat or vegetables or cheese.
“How does it work at a research station?” I say. “As far as food goes? Is there a cook?”
“Depends on the station,” shrugs Ken. “In the smaller ones people take turns. In the bigger ones they have a cook. The Americans have cooks at McMurdo. It's a big operation there, a small town really. They have about a thousand people there in the summer, not just scientists, but support staff too. I've only been there once. They had a bowling alley when I was there, but I've heard since that the building it was in collapsed. It's quite a bit more south, on Ross Island. More rugged conditions.”
I'm not too pleased to hear that we take turns cooking. I've never cooked anything in my life, unless peeling a wrapper off a microwave dinner counts. Hopefully the Russians are very possessive about their kitchen.
Harry and I play Crazy 8's on deck after dinner. Ken comes along and asks if we like poker. Harry says he's played poker, but I have to tell Ken that just learning Rummy was a big accomplishment. Ken says I may learn a few more card games than that in Antarctica.
“Do they have TV there?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah,” says Ken. “McMurdo even has its own TV station. They have a lot of old shows. I think the military has something to do with it. But the Russians might have their own things to watch. Every station has a TV and a DVD player. You can even get the internet in Antarctica. Did you bring a laptop?”
“All I've got is my cell-phone. I can get internet with it, but my batteries are dead. I have a charger. I hope it's compatible.”
“I have no idea what the Russians have there,” says Ken.
Something tells me
we'll be playing a lot of cards and reading a lot of Robin Cook novels.
en is the first to spot the Antarctic shore after lunch the next day.
We are now moving among the icebergs. But in the distance we can see a definite shoreline.
“Almost there!” Ken calls out to us. He has his camera out and is snapping pictures of chinstrap penguins. Harry is wishing that his phone didn't die, otherwise, he'd be taking pictures too.
Then Ken is going down below to call one of his friends in the Chilean station, who promises he'll be there to pick him up.
Eduardo tells Harry and I that up ahead is called Collins Harbour and that he'll have us there in two hours. I'm actually feeling a bit nervous. We'll be meeting real scientists and I'm starting to feel like a really dorky amateur.
For the last bit of our journey, we stay by the railings. The closer we get, the better we can see the station we'll be staying at. It's a series of buildings with red siding. They appear to be built on pillars. There are large things that look like fuel tanks. Even from here, I can see the church on the hill. Outside of the buildings are several vehicles. From here, they actually look like tanks. When I mention this to Ken, he says we'll see a lot more strange vehicles in the Antarctic. They have to be pretty rugged all-terrain vehicles to make it in this part of the world.
When we reach the shore, we're greeted not by the Russians, but by Ken's Chilean associate, Juan. He's smiling and waving.
It takes us about half an hour to unload all of our gear.
Ken and Eduardo agree that Eduardo will be back for him in six weeks, and if we want, we can hitch a ride too. So that's settled. We have six weeks to solve a mystery.
Juan is driving a pickup truck that looks like the kind you'd see on any road in North America except that its tires look like they could be on a bulldozer.
“I'll be just down the road if you need me!” calls Ken, waving at us as he climbs into the pickup truck. They've been nice enough to help us get all of our gear right up to the station. But they don't stick around to help us meet our fellow team members. We watch them as they drive off down the rough road.
It seems kind of strange, but we go up some steps and knock on the door.
A few minutes later, a young man with a long beard and wearing an even longer black robe answers the door.
We're so startled that for the moment neither of us says anything.
“I am Father Kuznetsov,” he says pleasantly.
“Hi,” says Harry, recovering. “We're Harry Phillips and Meg Carmichael. We're part of the Canadian expedition.”
“Ahh,” he says. “Come in.” He moves out of the doorway to let us by.
“I hope we're expected,” says Harry.
“Yes, I do believe you are,” says Father Kuznetsov. “I will take you to see Artyom.”
Father Kuznetsov leads us through the station. The hallway opens up into different rooms. Some of the doors are open and we can see people gathered around tables, examining samples, working on computers. One of them is Artyom, a man in his late 30's with light brown hair and glasses. He's dressed in a warm-looking cream sweater and jeans. The room he's in is some sort of a laboratory and he's looking into a microscope when Father Kuznetsov gently knocks on the door.
“Oh, hello!” He looks surprised but his greeting is friendly. “Here already? You made good time.”
He comes over to shake our hands.
We introduce ourselves. Harry tells him that we have all sorts of supplies outside that we should probably bring in, food and stuff.
“Oh, there was no need of that,” says Artyom. “But thank you anyway.”
He walks back down the hallway with us, grabbing a coat off a rack by the door and coming outside with us. It feels like any mild winter day in Canada. The sort of day where you can get away with not wearing a hat.
“Wow!” he says looking at our supplies. “You came prepared.”
“Well, we didn't want to be a burden,” explains Harry. “We knew you weren't really expecting us when you stocked up for the season.”
“Actually, we were expecting ten people from your expedition,” says Artyom, leaning down and picking up some pop. “We were surprised when only Dr. Shepherd showed up.”
“Only Dr. Shepherd showed up?” Harry repeats. I'm equally surprised.
Artyom nods, carrying the pop up the stairs and handing it to Father Kuznetsov who is in the doorway. He returns down the stairs for more.
“And he's never here,” continues Artyom. “Always out camping. He brought all his own supplies for that so we really ended up with an abundance. You see, we were paid to have eleven people here at the station for the summer.”
He has passed some canned goods onto the Father who disappears down the hall with it.
“You are surprised by this?” says Artyom, coming back down the stairs and seeing our faces.
“Very,” nods Harry, picking up a 12-pack of hot chocolate mix.
I grab my maxi pads, deciding that I don't want to embarrass Artyom or Father Kuznetsov.
“Well, you can still do a lot of research even with Dr. Shepherd not here,” says Artyom. “We are small, but we have all the facilities you would need.”
“That's great,” says Harry going up the stairs. “We'll be able to keep ourselves busy.”
I wonder how we're going to keep ourselves busy when the person we came to watch isn't here.
But for now, we're busy bringing in all our supplies and being shown to our rooms. The rooms are small, but friendly. Harry and I both have bunk beds and two small writing desks. There is a definite Russian feel to things. Here and there are photographs of famous Russian leaders. My room has a large framed picture of Red Square in Moscow. Harry has a similar picture, but of the Kremlin. (He knew what it was, I didn't.)
Father Kuznetsov asks us if we attend church.
“We'd like to while we're here,” says Harry. “I'm Catholic.”
The Father looks pleased and proceeds to give us a tour of the station. We've seen some of the research rooms. He shows us a small dining room and the adjoining kitchen. There are two men in the kitchen but they don't look like professional cooks. They give us a smile.
“Now,” says Father Kuznetsov, “you can have tea or coffee in the dining area, whenever you like.”
“I noticed the beautiful samovar,” says Harry.
“Did you like that?” Father Kuznetsov smiles. “It was a gift. These little touches make us feel that we are still connected to home.”
Then we are shown the lounge. There are several comfortable-looking couches and chairs, as well as a whole bunch of wooden-folding chairs up against the wall. Like Ken predicted, in one corner there is a television and a VCR and a DVD player. But except for an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, everything's in Russian. It's the same with a wooden bookshelf. All Russian. Except for a copy of War and Peace in English.
Harry is thrilled.
“I've always wanted to read this!” he says. “Now's my chance!”
Is he crazy? The thing looks like it's two thousand pages long.
“Ah, Tolstoy,” says Father Kuznetsov, looking pleased. “One of my favourites.”
Harry, as usual, is making a good impression while I am making no impression.
Father Kuznetsov takes us back to our rooms and tells us dinner will be in an hour or so. At that time he will introduce us to the other people at the base.
As soon as Father Kuznetsov disappears, I am knocking on Harry's door. I feel uncomfortable at the thought of the priest knowing I'm visiting Harry in his room.
“Come in!” Harry calls out.
Unbelievably, he is lying on his top bunk and has already started War and Peace.
“Well!” I say, walking straight up to him and looking him in the face. “What now?”
“We have an hour till dinner. I thought I'd read,” says Harry.
“Not that!” I say impatiently. “What about Dr. Shepherd? He's not even here!”
“I know,” says Harry, sitting up and dangling his legs over the side of the bed. “That certainly makes our job easier.”
“It makes our job harder!” I say. “What are we supposed to do? Go out and find him?”
“No,” says Harry, seriously. “We can't. We don't have camping gear. Even if we did, we don't know anything about survival in Antarctica. We'd probably die. So we can't.”
“And what about the fact that there's no one else on this Canadian expedition?” I demand. “Isn't that strange?”
“Yes,” agrees Harry. “It's very strange. His mother paid for a ten-person expedition. No wonder they didn't need our supplies.”
“I suppose you think that makes our life easier,” I say sarcastically.
“It does,” he says. “Now no one cares why we're here.”
“Then what are we going to do?” I demand.
“As far as I can see,” says Harry. “There's only one thing to do.”
“Tell Father Kuznetsov everything.”
“He's a priest. His job is to keep an eye on people and look after their well-being. He must have some idea of the state of Dr. Shepherd's mind.”
“But shouldn't we keep this all confidential?”
“That's exactly why I'm going to talk to Father Kuznetsov,” says Harry, lying back down. “Priests are good at keeping things confidential. It's part of their job. They take confessions and all sorts of things. People tell them their problems.”
He's got War and Peace back up in front of his face.
“I'm not going to talk to a priest,” I say, turning to go.
“I didn't expect you to,” says Harry, from behind his book. “I'm going to.”
“And I'm not going to church,” I say, now in the doorway.
“I didn't expect you to,” mumbles Harry. He's obviously reading at this point.
I'm tempted to slam the door.
There are about 25 people at dinner.
Dinner is definitely not Argentinian cuisine anymore. We start with cabbage soup, followed by perogies in sauce and finished off with fruitcake and lots of tea from the samovar. Father Kuznetsov introduces us to everyone.
We meet Vladimer, Dmitry, Viktor, Boris, Alexei, Vasily, Andrei, Anatoly, Gregory, Yegor, Ivan, Igor, David, Daniil, another Viktor, Alexander, Leo, Mikhail, Konstantin, Mark, Oleg and Pavel. Of course, we already have met Artyom. There are only two woman and they both look very serious. Rada and Veronika. Rada is middle-aged, stout, with greying hair pulled up into a braided bun. She looks friendlier than Veronika who is in her 20's, with long dark hair and a pale thin face.
But only Father Kuznetsov and Artyom speak fluent English so we're really not expected to interact with the Russians too much. Although, when I get up to get some tea from the samovar, one of the Viktors smiles and says to me, “Hello! How are you?” It gives me the feeling that there is intent of goodwill.
Father Kuznetsov goes out to the church after dinner. Of course, it's still completely light outside. I tell Harry he should go talk to him. At this point, I don't really care what the plan is, so long as we implement it soon.
“Not now,” says Harry. “I don't want to bother him.”
I guess church is considered sacred.
“Fine,” I say, annoyed. “I'll be in my room if you need me.”
At least I have all the Robin Cook novels.
There is some kind of sweetbread for breakfast, filled with dried fruit and covered in icing. Very delicious. I'm on my second piece when Harry and Father Kuznetsov stroll in. They are talking and laughing and after helping themselves to tea and bread, they come and sit with me.
“So . . .” says Artyom, also coming over to join us. He has finished his breakfast already and remains standing. “What do you plan to do today? Can I help you get started in any way?”
“Did Dr. Shepherd leave any sort of notes for us?” asks Harry. That's smart. Maybe we'll be allowed to poke around his papers so we can get some idea of what’s been on his mind.
“All of his personal effects are in his room,” says Artyom. “He took the key with him. I have a master key, but I would prefer . . .”
“I completely understand,” says Harry. “Meg and I will figure out where to begin. Not a problem.”
“Your expedition fees cover the use of all our facilities,” says Artyom. “Just let me know what you need and we will schedule you in.”
“Thanks so much,” I say.
“Have a good one!” says Artyom, giving us a nod before heading out into the hallway.
Father Kuznetsov has already finished his first tea and goes up to the samovar for a second one.
“What happened to posing as psychology students?” I hiss to him. “We should tell them what we are right up front!”
“That's exactly what I plan to do,” says Harry. “Tell them what we are right up front. Since Dr. Shepherd isn't even here, I'm dropping this whole charade. I think it's God's will. But first I want to talk to Father Kuznetsov.”
“God's will?! What about my will . . . ?” I'm saying when the Father returns.
There are only five other people in the dining hall. Judging from the rooms I passed in the hallway, most of the scientists are already at work.
“Well, my children,” says Father Kuznetsov. “Will you be OK without Dr. Shepherd here to guide you?”
“I'm glad you asked,” says Harry. “Because, to be quite honest, we're actually here to check up on Dr. Shepherd, not to assist him.”
The Father raises his eyebrows. But Harry starts at the beginning, gives a little summary of our arrangement to solve cases, then tells how Mrs. Shepherd is concerned about her son.
Father Kuznetsov is a good listener. It must be part of the job. He nods a lot but he doesn't interrupt.
“Thank you,” he says. “Yes, this is very interesting.”
“Do you think we should tell Artyom why we're really here?” asks Harry.
“Yes, yes,” nods Father Kuznetsov. “He must know, of course. But it is not necessary for anyone else to know. That would not be fair to Dr. Shepherd.”
“I agree,” says Harry.
“I can tell you this,” says Father Kuznetsov. “Dr. Shepherd is a very troubled man. It is natural that a man likes to work alone. Clearly, that is his preference. But there was something on his mind when he came here and he did not confide in us.”
“There were supposed to be ten other people with him,” says Harry. “Students from the university that he teaches at.”
“Yes,” nods Father Kuznetsov. “That is what we expected. When we inquired, he simply said they would not be arriving.”
Father and Harry finish their breakfast and we learn that we are expected to take our dishes right into the kitchen and put them straight into the dishwasher. We didn't know that last night.
Father Kuznetsov suggests we continue our talk in the lounge. There will be no one there at this hour.
I sit down on a soft chair while the Father and Harry take a couch.
“Now,” says Father Kuznetsov. “His mother simply received a letter that didn't sound like her son and that concerned her?”
“It is not much to go on,” says the Father.
“I think she was hoping we could keep an eye on him and report back to her,” says Harry. “But now that's not open to us. Does anyone know where Dr. Shepherd is camping?”
“For the sake of safety, he would have told Artyom the general area he was heading. But I do not think you should consider wandering around in unfamiliar territory to find him.”
“I'm just concerned that we'll be here six weeks and leave with nothing to report.”
“Well,” says the Father. “It is true that his room is locked and that he keeps his papers in there. But it is also true that before he left he made a lot of notes in a book and then tossed the whole thing into the waste basket. By this I mean, he had a notebook and then he put everything that was in the notebook into his laptop computer. I remember it clearly because he was typing in this very room while I was here cleaning.”
“Cleaning?” I say.
“Oh yes,” says the Father smiling. “I do a lot of things around here. We have no official cleaning staff so we all look after the rooms we work in. I like to take care of these communal areas.”
“What happened to the notebook?” asks Harry.
“I emptied the garbage after he left the room,” says Father Kuznetsov. “I put the notebook in the recycling bin. It should still be there. Although I warn you, the bin is large. We do not have a weekly garbage pickup. But that is good in this case, is it not?”
Father Kuznetsov takes us out of the main station to a smaller building. This building seems to hold tanks and other storage items. In the corner is a giant plastic bin.
We drag over a rough wooden bench to get high enough to reach into it.
“It is a notebook with a black and white cover,” says Father Kuznetsov.
We dig around and it is Harry who finally finds it.
We take it back to the lounge.
This is a very rough notebook. It's the sort of thing a man keeps in his pocket to scribble down ideas as they come to him.
The pages are so small they only have room for a sentence or two.
We begin to read.
arry holds it so we can all see the first page.
Birds of Antarctica show remarkable adaptability, rapidly evolving to endure conditions not faced by most birds on earth.
Rapid weather changes at the poles – The stronger dinosaurs survived to evolve into birds? Then spread out over the earth?
“Dinosaurs evolving into birds?” I say incredulously.
“It's a common evolutionary belief. Dr. Shepherd's interested in birds so he probably believes they were once dinosaurs.”
Therefore the birds in the Arctic and the Antarctic are the closest to the original dinosaurs?
“That makes sense that he would tie his work in the Arctic with his work here,” says Harry.
“Did Dr. Shepherd work in the Arctic?” asks Father Kuznetsov.
“I'm told he just came from there.”
On the page across from it is the following:
December 2004 Plant eater, Jurassic period,
Meat-eater, Cretaceous period
“I know the Arctic has dinosaur remains. Does Antarctica have dinosaur remains too?” asks Harry, looking up.
Father Kuznetsov nods.
“I believe so, yes. It seems that I heard that a duck-billed dinosaur tooth was found on James Ross Island. That is probably the meat-eater referred to.”
5% of Antarctica open to exploration.
“How come only 5% of Antarctica is open to exploration?” I ask. “Is it illegal or something?”
Father Kuznetsov smiles.
“No, just difficult. The ice is thick. Only a certain amount of land is exposed in the summer. One must work fast before the winter. It is not easy here.”
Likelihood of dinosaur graveyard.
“Is it possible that's what he's looking for?” asks Harry.
“Quite possible,” says Father Kuznetsov.
On the next page are some coordinates.
“My guess is that is where you will find your doctor,” says Father Kuznetsov. “But I still don't recommend you go out there on your own.”
The next page simply says, Mount Kirkpatrick.
Across from that is written, Cataclysmic event?
The final page says
Mother will hate this.
“What do you know about Mount Kirkpatrick?” Father Kuznetsov asks Artyom at lunch. Artyom has just joined us and the jottings in the notebook are fresh on our mind.
“Very important place,” says Artyom, right away. “Fossils of all sorts of mammals who lived in Antarctica when it was warmer.”
“When it was warmer?” I say. “Antarctica was warm?”
“Yes,” Artyom nods. “There is evidence beneath the ice of plants and animals. It was not always like this. Mount Kirkpatrick even has the remains of a plant-eating dinosaur.”
“That's definitely the place then!” says Harry.
“I am very confused,” says Artyom, looking back and forth at me and Harry, but with his eyes stopping on me. “How is it you do not know that Antarctica was once warm?”
“Ah, that is something they want to tell you,” says Father Kuznetsov.
Over some kind of purple soup (Father Kuznetsov says it's called borscht) and dark rye bread, Harry tells our story.
Artyom is surprised at first, even a little angry. He doesn't seem to like deception in any form. But Father Kuznetsov is skilled at smoothing things over and soon Artyom is interested in the whole case from the psychological angle.
“For some reason, the doctor feels his mother will not approve of his research,” says Artyom, looking at the final page of the notebook. “And no doubt, this accounts for her sense that something is wrong.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I say. “But what's there to disapprove of?”
“I think I know what it might be,” says Harry. “Mrs. Shepherd is an Anglican. As far as I know, she goes to church every week. She thinks she's just funding an expedition to study birds. She has no idea he's researching the connection between birds and dinosaurs and trying to show that one evolved into the other.”
“Ah, I see what you mean,” says Father Kuznetsov. “She wants her son to study God's creation. He wants to demonstrate evolution.”
We look at each other.
Seems like we solved the mystery. But what do we do now?
Artyom has decided that although we're not research students, we're still full members of the station. And that means doing our part to keep it clean and running. Father Kuznetsov is told to give us jobs to do and Artyom says that in the evenings he will instruct us.
“Instruct us in what?” I say, as Father Kuznetsov is handing me a mop and telling me the kitchen floor needs cleaning.
“Antarctica,” says the Father smiling. “He knows much. This is his fourth season here and he is an oceanographer with an interest in biology.”
“Do you know how to cook?” Father Kuznetsov asks me.
“No,” I say.
“Ah, well. Food is very important here. We shall let you clean instead of cook.”
Actually, Harry's the lucky one.
Father Kuznetsov is thrilled to find out that Harry's one of those fanatical Christians that really believe in God and they put on their coats to go out to the church. Supposedly to do some cleaning and polishing. But they'll probably sit around talking about obscure passages in the Bible.
“We are in the Southern Ocean,” says Artyom. He has me and Harry in a small office covered in maps and charts. He is standing behind the desk while Harry and I are sitting on two of the fold-up wooden chairs from the lounge. “Located right . . . here.” He points on a map.
“Here we have two main water masses, surface shelf water and circumpolar deep water.”
I was following him with the Southern Ocean bit, but now he's lost me.
“The break between the two is abrupt.”
He has encouraged us to interrupt with questions and Harry does so now.
“Since it's so expensive to do research in Antarctica, why is the research in oceanography important here?”
“Very good question,” says Artyom nodding.
I think he's enjoying this.
“Here we have early indicators of global change. Not only can we predict change in the rest of the world as a result of what is happening here, but we are also the cause of some of that change!”
Harry nods. I think he actually understands it.
Artyom starts into something called ocean ventilation. Even when he defines it and says things like “to put it simply,” I have absolutely no clue as to what he's talking about. Thankfully Harry is a model student, asking questions and looking interested.
After about an hour, Artyom says, “We'll stop there” and tells us to come back tomorrow at the same time.
Harry says he's going back to his bunk to read more of War and Peace. I say fine, I'm enjoying my Robin Cook novel. At least I understand it.
Harry makes the most ridiculous announcement at breakfast.
“You know we're going to have to go to Mount Kirkpatrick,” he says.
“We were paid a ridiculous amount of money to check on Dr. Shepherd. And we have a pretty good idea of where he is, so we'll have to go.”
“But we know what the problem is!” I say.
This is such a horrifying idea that I've completely forgotten the dark bread and cheese that is on the plate in front of me.
“But we still have to talk to Dr. Shepherd,” insists Harry. “We have to make sure he's OK!”
“What? You mean, just waltz out into the frozen Antarctic, find him, ask him how he's doing and come home?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
“And I presume we would need supplies . . .”
“We have supplies,” says Harry. “Remember? A lot of supplies.”
“What do we do? Just hike?”
“No,” says Harry. “I think I'll see if I can contact Ken. He could probably hook us up with some expedition. It's a shot anyway.”
I'm seriously hoping that there's no way to get a hold of the people in the Chilean station and that we'll be stuck here for six weeks mopping floors and reading Robin Cook novels. It beats an expedition into the freezing cold wasteland.
“It'll be the greatest adventure of our lives . . .” says Harry, looking off into the distance.
Father Kuznetsov doesn't like the idea at all and says he'll only let us go if we find a professional team that is going to Mount Kirkpatrick. Otherwise, he will lock us in our rooms. I love this man.
But Harry is not discouraged and dashes after Artyom to inquire if we can reach the Chilean station.
Of course we can. Why should that surprise me?
So Harry is off down the hallway while I return to my room.
Ten minutes later he's knocking at my door.
“God is good, Meg!” he says as he bursts into my unlocked room. No concern that I might be changing. “I told Ken as much as I felt I could, and he said that if we wanted, he could work something out. He's never been to Mount Kirkpatrick but it's sort of a legend.”
“Yay,” I say. “Won't it be fun to die on this wonderful continent, on a legend no less?”
“We're not going to die,” says Harry. “We're going to live. But that's beside the point. The main thing to understand is that it's really no different from winter camping. Of course, we're ridiculously under-equipped. So that's what Ken has to look into. Getting the gear. We'll pay our share, of course.”
“Of course.” I really couldn't care less who's paying.
“We'll be fine Meg! It's summer here, remember?”
But Artyom isn't so reassuring. He pokes his head in the door to say that there is someone at the Chilean station who wants to talk to Harry again.
I walk out with them and on the way down the hallway Artyom says to me, “Mount Kirkpatrick is very close to the South Pole. So it is one of the coldest places on earth. Very challenging to survive.”
Great. We're going to die here.
Ken arrives in that crazy pickup truck in the afternoon. I've spent a nervous morning in the kitchen cleaning things. Any things. Any place where the two guys who are making lunch aren't working. I just have a lot of nervous energy.
I can barely eat lunch even though Father Kuznetsov insists that I try the blinis. They're like pancakes but instead of syrup, they come with your choice of sour cream or jam. The Russians put on the topping and then roll them up.
When Ken arrives, we talk in the lounge. He says that with money, we can charter a plane that will take us to the McMurdo Station. That's the big American one. From there, we're a lot closer to Mount Kirkpatrick.
“Now, here's where we're lucky,” says Ken. “I talked to McMurdo. There's an expedition already at the mountain digging for dinosaur fossils. About twenty people. Four people are at McMurdo being treated for frostbite, so we can join the expedition. The professor is thrilled to have some extra people coming out. I really can't tell you how lucky we are!”
“Really lucky,” I say sarcastically.
“It's a lot colder there,” says Ken, glancing at me. “It's not like here. There it can go down to -40 degrees Celsius. But at least the sun is out all the time.”
“But aren't we going to need . . . ?” I can't think of anything.
Ken shakes his head.
“We'll bring food and supplies. Everything we bought at Ushuaia, but the expedition will be equipped to handle us as far as tents and other stuff go.”
Ken goes off to socialize with some of the Russians who know some broken English. Apparently the Russians like to trade things and Ken has some things he wants to trade. I'm too numb to care.
“If we had to dig for dinosaur bones,” I say to Harry. “Why couldn't we have done it in Drumheller?”
“I know!” says Harry, grinning broadly. I've never seen him so happy. “Jett is going to be so jealous when he hears that we dug for dinosaur bones in Antarctica!”
It is a foggy chilly morning when we start out.
I don't know where the small plane came from. I don't really care. Harry and Ken are busy loading supplies into some kind of a cargo hold. In anticipation of temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius I am wearing nearly every layer of clothing that I've brought. And I'm feeling pretty warm.
Father Kuznetsov is standing beside me. He gives me a reassuring hug and says he will be praying for us every day. I'm so freaked out that I actually really appreciate that.
Artyom gives us a little wave from the doorway and then disappears back to his duties. But Father Kuznetsov stays outside until we are in the air and out of sight.
As the red-panelled buildings disappear in the morning mist, I feel like I am leaving behind civilization and all that I know and love.
But Harry and Ken are laughing and talking, completely indifferent to the fact that we have abandoned all that is safe and secure.
Ken is saying that it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of this dinosaur fossil thing. And he's saying how much he appreciates that Mrs. Shepherd is picking up the tab for it all because this year, due to global recession, his budget was drastically reduced.
“It's a shame that we won't be actually climbing the mountain though,” says Ken. “I've always gotten a kick out of mountain-climbing. Have you ever been to Everest?”
Harry shakes his head.
“No, I learned how to climb on the Selkirks.”
“Oh, those are easy!” says Ken. “But I hear they're beautiful. I'll have to do them sometime when the budget is tight.”
“Why are you talking about mountain-climbing?” I demand. “Please don't tell me that we will actually be climbing any mountains.”
“No,” says Ken, grinning. “They take all the fun out of it by providing a helicopter to get to the camp.”
“Will we have a chance to stay at this McMurdo place?” I say, hopefully. It sounds very civilized.
“No,” says Ken, shaking his head. “The chopper will take us straight there.”
I am greatly disappointed. I was hoping that maybe a storm would blow in and we'd be forced to spend the next five and a half weeks in a place abounding with American culture.
But all I get is a good view of the place when we fly over. I can't even count the number of buildings down there. It really is like a village.
As we come down lower, I can see what looks like hydro lines and between the buildings are parking lots loaded with those vehicles that almost look normal except for their crazy tires.
In the distance are mountains.
The minute we step out of the plane, I know it's different from Bellingshausen. It's cold! I quickly start bundling up and snapping all the buttons I unsnapped on the way here. Bellingshausen had an almost balmy feeling about it, by comparison. I'm glad for the crazy hat we bought back in San Francisco. I have it on along with some gloves that are supposed to be good for -40 degrees Celsius.
I look around. There are planes of all sizes here. It's an actual airport on ice! There are people out and about wearing snug looking bulky red coats and black snow pants. Their coats have hoods which leave no skin exposed. All you can see are the eyes and a lot of them are covered in sunglasses.
I look longingly at the largest of the buildings. But a bundled-up man comes out of one of the buildings near the runway and waves to us. He points to some helicopters off to the side and we all have to start taking the cargo from the plane and transferring it to one particular red helicopter. There's a lot of red here. I guess it's easy to see in the snow.
Then we're in the air again.
I'm happy to report that thanks to our purchases in San Francisco and Ushuaia, that I'm really not feeling the cold. But I know one thing, I am not taking off any clothes until we get back to civilization. I don't know how people bathe out here and I don't really care.
The flight to Mount Kirkpatrick is scenic. Icy brilliance. I'm in awe and terror to know I'm so close to the South Pole. Haven't men died trying to get to the South Pole?
The helicopter is noisy so there isn't much talking. I want to tell Harry that I see a whole bunch of penguins down there, but then I see he's looking out the window too.
Up ahead and in the distance is the mountain. It's hard to distinguish it from the rest of the landscape. There is so much snow and ice and the cloudy sky seems to touch down to meet it all.
To add to it, there's some kind of a snow squall when we reach the base camp. All I can see is the vague outline of tents and some of those bright coats. I never knew white could be so murky.
Some people hurry over to welcome us and help us unload. Underneath the layers, I can't even tell whether they're male or female. But we must look the same to them. Our supplies are carried off somewhere.
Then the helicopter pilot gives us a little wave and is off.
It occurs to me as he disappears into the white that I have no idea when he'll be back for us.
“Welcome to Beardmore base camp!” says someone all bundled up but with a masculine voice. “You must be the people for Professor Aldridge's team?”
I'll have to remember that in case I get lost. I'm with Professor Aldridge's team. We're not the only group here. A ways off, there are other tents and other teams.
“Glad to have you here!” calls the man over his shoulder as he leads us to a group of tents and into the largest one, which is actually a framed structure covered in what looks like some kind of tarp. I'm thrilled to discover it's warm in here. There is some kind of a heater on a stand in the corner and there are fold-up chairs and card tables to sit at. One wall is covered in wooden shelves and there are sturdy containers piled up in the corners.
We introduce ourselves. His name is Jim.
“Coffee?” he says. He's removing some of the layers on his face and we see that he's a man in his twenties, with a full beard and a round face.
We all gratefully accept.
“Now,” he says, as he pours some coffee from a Coleman stove into three camping mugs. “We have to decide what to do with you guys.”
We get our coffee and sit down. Jim joins us with a mug for himself.
“I'll get straight to the point. We have two spots open for serious dinosaur bone hunting but one of you is going to have to play cook's assistant here with me.”
“I will!” I say quickly. It may only be a tent, but it's warm and it's all I have of civilization right now.
Jim's eyes widen.
“That was easy!” he says. “I was afraid that nobody would want that one.”
Harry is grinning.
“You don't know Meg,” he says. “She's a servant at heart.”
Jim looks at both of us and smiles.
“I think there may be more to the story, but in any case, I'm happy to have you with me Meg. I'll show you guys to your tents and you can settle in. And then I'll pass you guys off to Professor Aldridge.” Jim glances at a complicated watch on his wrist. “He usually comes down off the mountain for his cup of tea around now. Very British. Nothing interferes with tea.”
We haul our gear to the tents assigned to us. I'm sharing with a female researcher who is somewhere up higher in the snowy mist right now. The tent is dry although not exactly warm. But Jim assures me from the door of the tent that when I'm all zipped up in the winter sleeping bag; it'll feel about 20 degrees Celsius.
I return to the dining tent.
Jim hands me a shiny shovel and a huge bucket and asks if I can dig for some snow out back. Apparently, that's how they get the drinking water. They melt snow. Turns out it takes a lot of snow to fill a large kettle.
Professor Aldridge and most of his team arrive for tea.
He's an older man, grey hair and glasses, proper and a bit aloof. There's no chance I'll ever get too close to him because his students cluster around him and listen to everything he says with great awe.
I like the man because he's brought real English biscuits on this expedition. Jim has me arrange plates with gingersnaps and cream-filled sandwich cookies to take to all the tables.
Harry and Ken get the place of honour today, seated right across from the Professor. He asks them all sorts of questions. There's no pretence that they're students studying dinosaur bones. Ken says he's a photo-journalist. I'm sitting at a nearby table with some tired students and hear the professor say, “Fine, just get the article approved by me first.” Harry's story is more interesting. When Professor Aldridge hears that he's come out looking for Dr. Shepherd he asks a lot of questions. Harry is discreet and just tells him that we were supposed to be part of Dr. Shepherd’s expedition. But Professor Aldridge does a lot of probing. What kind of research is Dr. Shepherd doing? How did we get separated from the rest of the expedition? Do we have any idea where Dr. Shepherd might be? Harry brings out the coordinates we found in the notebook to answer the last question.
“Yes,” says Professor Aldridge, putting on his glasses to read them. “That's where we are.”
As far as Dr. Shepherd’s research goes, Ken fills the Professor in on some of the work Dr. Shepherd did in the Arctic.
“Ornithologists are often interested in dinosaurs,” says Professor Aldridge, nodding.
“Because birds may have evolved from dinosaurs?” says Harry.
The Professor nods.
As far as us finding Dr. Shepherd, Harry says we’d just be happy to connect with him. But we’ll stay on with Professor Aldridge for the season.
“Fine,” says the Professor. “Put in a hard day's work for me and I promise you that I'll do what I can to track down Dr. Shepherd for you.”
“That's a fair deal,” says Harry.
Harry and Ken get an opportunity to start doing hard labour for Professor Aldridge right after tea.
“Dress warm,” he says curtly.
Thankfully, I don't have to worry about dressing too warm. Jim has me stacking our supplies on one of the shelves. They'll just join the communal supplies.
“OK,” says Jim. “Tell me a bit about your cooking skills. Have you ever cooked for large groups before?”
“No,” I say.
Jim looks at me.
“Have you ever cooked at all?”
“No,” I say.
Jim throws his head back and laughs.
“You really didn't want to go out there on that mountain, did you?”
Jim shakes his head, still smiling.
“The irony is, Professor Aldridge had about 200 applicants for this expedition. He could only take along 20. But here you are.”
“Here I am,” I agree.
“We'll start with something easy,” says Jim, going to one of the shelves and taking down a huge container. “Soup. Again, we'll need snow. A lot of snow. Then we just add the soup mix. There's nothing to it. Really, that's all I do. Lots of snow mixed with powdered eggs. Lots of snow mixed with hot chocolate. Lots of snow mixed with . . .”
“I get the idea. How 'bout I go get some snow?”
“Sure,” says Jim, handing me the bucket. “For the soup, we need about five of these filled up.”
I groan, but it's not one of deep despair. I'd ten times rather be doing this then being out on that mountain. Did I say ten times? I meant ten hundred times.
Once a big pot of soup is simmering, Jim and I sit down at one of the tables.
“So, Meg,” he says conversationally. “What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?”
I can’t tell him much because I don’t want to give it away that we came out here to investigate Dr. Shepherd. So I basically say that Harry and I have been traveling around – Drumheller, Texas, New York . . . and now Antarctica. It makes us sound like we’re traveling together as a couple.
“And what about you?” I say quickly, before he can ask me any questions. “You don't mind being here in the kitchen rather than out there?”
“Do you know the Bible story about Jacob and Esau?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “Harry's the Christian, not me.”
“Well, I like history and the Bible has a lot of history. There were two brothers, Esau and Jacob. Esau liked to be in the outdoors and to go hunting. Jacob liked to stay among the tents and make soup.”
We both laugh.
“Turned out pretty good for Jacob, though,” says Jim, standing up to go check on the pot. “He was the younger brother and his lentil soup was so good that one day, when Esau returned from a hunt, famished, he was willing to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of that soup.”
“Really?” I say.
“Anyway, to answer your question. I'm Professor Aldridge's assistant. But I hate to go out on any icy mountain and risk life and limb for a dinosaur fossil. But let's keep that our little secret, OK?”
“When I'm not making tea and oatmeal and soup,” he continues. “I do a lot of work in here for him. Type up reports, that sort of thing. And when they do find something, there's a lot of excitement in here, examining and measuring and sketching. Then it has to be preserved to get it home in one piece.”
“Oh, I know all about that,” I say.
“That's right!” he says. “You've been to Drumheller, haven't you? Now there's a place I wouldn't mind going! In any case, it can get quite busy in here, so that's why I really need an assistant.”
“How did your other assistant get frostbite?” I ask, nervously.
“Completely avoidable,” says Jim. “He took his gloves off when he went out to get the snow.”
“OK, so I'll always wear gloves . . .”
“And then a snow squall blew up,” continues Jim. “And he got a little disoriented. And he wandered in the wrong direction and then ended up falling in a crevasse.”
“Dear God,” I say.
“And that's how the others got frostbite,” says Jim. “It took eight hours to rescue him.”
“Is there any way I could avoid that?”
“Well, the last guy had a lot of machismo,” said Jim. “We have a rope. He could have tied himself to the tent. There's no way he would have gotten lost then. But you know, he wasn't going to do something wimpy like that . . .”
“Where's the rope?” I say, looking around.
Jim points to the shelf.
Jim is looking at me, trying to suppress a smile.
“My motto is stay alive,” I explain.
meet my roommate in our tent after the dinner of soup and crackers.
Her name is Ellie. She greets me with a tired smile before climbing into her sleeping bag, zipping herself up like a mummy and falling asleep within minutes.
I'm not quite as tired as her but since Jim says he'll be waking me up an hour before everyone else to help him get started with breakfast, I figure sleep would be a good idea.
I barely talked to Harry and Ken at dinner. They came back all breathless, but excited at the adventure of it all. I was too busy cleaning up after dinner to really care.
Again, it's a little freaky to fall asleep in bright daylight and wake-up in bright daylight. I hear a light whistle at the tent door and whisper, “I'm awake!” I don't want to disturb Ellie.
The temperature inside my sleeping bag is pleasant. Coming out of it is not.
Basic things like washing one's face and changing and peeing are so much more complicated here. But I do manage to freshen up a bit before going to the main tent.
Jim is a morning person. He whistles while he works.
My job, no surprise, is to go get snow.
I have no idea how to tie that rope around me in such a way that it won't fall off and yet be easy to untie when I come back. Jim finds it enormously funny showing me how to tie it around my waist. He points out a metal loop I can fasten it to.
I have to wonder if Jim is just having a practical joke. Although I go out the back entrance, a couple of people trip on my rope. Then at breakfast, everyone is asking why the new girl is tied to a rope.
Harry and Ken are in hysterics.
“What?” I demand, when I sit down to have breakfast with them.
“Meg?” says Harry, almost unable to speak. “Why did you have that rope on you?”
“So I wouldn't get lost,” I explain. “That's what happened to the last cook. He got lost in a snow squall and fell in a crevasse . . .”
“Meg, there's not a snow squall in sight,” says Harry.
He's right, of course. It's bitterly cold out there, but it's clear and sunny.
“I imagine snow squalls can be somewhat sudden,” I say. “I don't really care. I'm keeping the rope and I'm staying alive.”
Harry and Ken seem to find this philosophy amusing. They bundle up after breakfast and follow the rest of the team outside. Jim and I clean up and after that, I go out for more snow, with my rope.
The snow is mostly for drinking. Jim says that for lunch we'll open up the cans of ravioli that Harry and I brought with us from Ushuaia.
“Is there anything I can do from down here to try to locate Dr. Shepherd?” I ask when we're sitting down and having a midmorning coffee.
“Of course,” he says. “The other people here at the base camp may have an idea of where he is. It's just too bad he's alone and not part of an expedition.”
“Yeah, I guess one man could be anywhere.”
“Yes and he won't have support staff. But there's the off chance someone might have seen him pass through.”
I sure would like to casually announce to Harry that I know where Dr. Shepherd is. But unfortunately, it is not meant to be. I bundle up, and go around to the other expeditions, but none of them are aware of a man working alone anywhere on the mountain.
I get back just in time to help Jim serve lunch. The others are coming down from the mountain. Harry sees me stomping the snow off my boots before going into the dining tent.
“What? Did you actually leave the tent without your rope, Meg?”
“Shut up, Harry,” I say.
He and Ken grin at each other.
I'm too busy ladling ravioli into dishes to sit with them. With the soup, there was so much we let them just help themselves. But the ravioli is popular and there's only enough to have one bowl each.
When the dining tent empties out again, Jim and I sit down and have our lunch.
“No luck?” he says.
“None,” I say. “No one's seen the guy.”
There's a loud explosion and I jump. Jim just keeps eating.
“What was that?” I say.
“They use explosives to get through the ice,” says Jim. “Then they can go at it with their chisels. Sometimes they use jackhammers. Whatever it takes.”
“Anyway, we were supposed to meet up with Dr. Shepherd at Bellingshausen,” I say. “Along with ten other people. The Bellingshausen people said he showed up, but he was alone.”
“Minus his ten people?”
I nod, absentmindedly.
“Ten other people!” I say. I have a flash of insight. I almost drop my spoon. “What an idiot!”
“Who?” says Jim.
“Me!” I say. “Ten other people! That's it!”
“What do you mean?”
I've got his interest.
“His ten people didn't go to Bellingshausen! They came straight here! Who knows how it happened? Some kind of muddle in the communication.”
“Ah, I get it!” says Jim.
“I was going around asking everyone today if they knew of a man working by himself. None of them did. I was probably in his camp and I didn't even realize it!”
“Go on!” Jim waves me away. “Go do the rounds again!”
I bundle up and go back out.
The first team has a man working in a tent while the others are up on the hill. I ask him if he's heard of Dr. Dan Shepherd.”
“You, again,” he says. “Nope, sorry. Still can't help you.”
Same story at the next camp. They have too many tents and too many people anyhow.
The final camp is small. Just six sleeping tents and one bigger one, but not as big as ours. I poke my head into their dining tent.
“Hello,” says the young woman I already talked to.
“Sorry to bug you again,” I say. “But I should have mentioned earlier that I'm looking for Dr. Dan Shepherd. Have you heard of him?”
“Danny?” she asks. “Sure. He's the leader of this expedition.”
“Wow!” I say. “This is great!”
“Really?” she says, curious.
“Yeah,” I say. “I'm from Toronto and so is he. His mom told me to stop by and say hi if I saw him. I got the impression he'd be working alone though.”
“Nope,” she says. “Do you want some chai?”
She introduces herself as Karma and she seems very New-Age. Instead of a winter coat, she has layers and layers of sweaters, the kind you can buy from those free-trade websites that specialize in indigenous fashion.
We sit and drink chai, a milky spicy tea, until I say I have to get back to my camp, but to pass on my best wishes to Dr. Shepherd. Hopefully we'll be able to connect later.
I get back to our dining tent in time to be told to go haul in about ten buckets of snow. But Jim is really happy for me, that I solved the mystery of the missing Dr. Shepherd.
“One up for you, eh?” he says grinning. I think he understands the tension between me and Harry.
The snow goes into a re-hydrated chili. It's not as good as the kind you make at home, but the people on the mountain gobble it up. I imagine they get pretty hungry out there.
“Sooo,” I say conversationally, as Jim and I sit down across from Harry and Ken. “Did you find Dr. Shepherd out there on the mountain?”
“No,” says Harry. “We're so busy picking away at the ice, I don't think we'd find him unless he jumped out at us. I guess we're just going to have to rely on Professor Aldridge for that.”
“Or . . .” I say, looking at my nails and trying to sound casual. “You can just rely on . . . me!”
“What!” I love the look of surprise on Harry's face.
“Yep,” I say, still trying to sound casual. “I found his camp after lunch. He's got ten students with him . . .”
“So that's where the missing students were!” says Harry.
“Elementary, my dear Watson,” I say, hoping that I get the quote right. I've never actually read Sherlock Holmes. Harry says that before he met me, when he had to work for his father's company, he spent his days reading old mystery novels online.
“Well,” says Harry, standing up. “What are we waiting for? Let's get over there!”
I turn to Jim.
“Go on, kid,” he says. “I think I can manage cleanup without you.”
I lead Harry and Ken back to the tent with Karma and the chai. Except that this time, there are ten more people. At one of the tables is a man who can only be Dr. Dan Shepherd. He has a full beard and is in his mid-thirties.
He looks up, sees us at the doorway and comes over.
“Karma said a girl with long red hair was looking for me,” he says. “But I'm sorry if I don't recognize you.”
“That's OK,” I say. “We know your mom, Harry and I.”
Introductions are exchanged. Dr. Shepherd says to call him Dan.
“Ah, so you know Mom,” he says, leading us back to a table.
I hope we're not betraying Mrs. Shepherd by saying this. But at this point, we seem to have abandoned all charades.
“What are you guys studying here?” he asks.
“Dinosaur bones,” says Harry.
“I know that!”
Ken leans forward.
“I met you while you were working in the Arctic. You probably don't remember. I was just passing through.”
“Vaguely,” says Dan, thinking back.
I was expecting him to be cold and distant, but everyone seems to have been wrong about him. He's relaxed and willing to talk.
“Is there a connection between your work here and your work there?” asks Ken.
“That's right!” Dan snaps his fingers. “I remember you! You're a journalist, aren't you?”
“Guilty as charged,” says Ken.
“Well,” says Dan, leaning forward and sipping his coffee. “As it happens, I really don't mind. If you want to do an article, be my guest.”
Ken yanks a notebook out of one of his many pockets.
“My interest is in dinosaur extinction,” says Dan. “In the mid 1980's, a palaeontologist discovered a substantial number of dinosaur bones on the North Slope in Alaska. I was only a boy, but I developed the theory that the dinosaurs of the Arctic must have been a sturdier type of dinosaur, more adaptable, and that they were probably the ones who had evolved into birds. I thought at that time that it was possible there might be dinosaur remains found in Antarctica too. And I turned out to be right.” He adds some more sugar from a paper packet to his coffee.
“But as time went on, palaeontologists demonstrated that the polar dinosaurs were no different from the dinosaurs in Alberta and Montana. So I was forced to rethink my childhood theories.”
I remember that Mrs. Shepherd is a friend of Mrs. Shanklin's.
“Did you ever meet Jett Shanklin?” I ask. They're so similar it's scary.
“Of course!” he says, smiling. “He's a great kid. He'll do well. We both have the advantage of a bit of money in the family so that we can follow our dreams. Of course, he has the advantage that the money is his. Mine is actually my mother's so I have to be careful that I don't offend her.”
“So you rethought your childhood theories?” says Ken.
“With the discovery of polar dinosaurs, we now know that dinosaurs lived on every continent. Of course, scientists have an endless number of theories to explain their extinction. As a young boy, I heard an interesting theory. That there was some kind of spill over of icy cold water from the Arctic Ocean, which would have been isolated at the time. The water would have been somewhere between fresh and saltwater and the contamination could have started a series of events that led to the destruction of first the plankton, which in turn effected the higher levels of life, ultimately destroying the dinosaurs. I investigated the theory and found flaws with it, but it got me thinking that maybe the answer to dinosaur extinction could be found in the Polar Regions.”
“Is it?” asks Ken.
“At this point, I tend to think no,” says Dan.
“But you're still here,” says Ken.
“It's a fascinating place. And it still may have answers. There are two basic theories these days to explain dinosaur extinction. One is the meteor theory.”
“We've all heard of that,” says Ken, scribbling.
“Antarctica is one of the places where they can pursue that theory,” says Dan. “The presence of shocked quartz here and in Australia suggests a meteor impact. They're doing work at Bellingshausen regarding that and I wanted to stop there first and see if they had come up with anything new.”
Harry and I look at each other. That explains why just he went there.
“The second theory is that volcanic activity destroyed the dinosaurs. Both theories are put in jeopardy by the presence of polar dinosaurs.”
“Why is that?” asks Ken.
“Both of the theories involve a drop in temperature and an absence of sunlight. The effect of freezing temperatures on cold-blooded dinosaurs was the reason for their extinction.”
“I get it,” says Harry. “Polar dinosaurs prove that a dinosaur can survive extreme cold and 24-hour darkness.”
“Exactly,” says Dan.
“I don't get it,” I say. “What do meteors and volcanoes have to do with cold and darkness?”
“The ash and dust from a large meteor or severe volcanic activity would block out the sunlight and result in a sudden drop of temperature,” explains Dan.
“Oh,” I say.
“What about the fact that Antarctica was probably warmer at one time?” says Ken.
“They really only think it was warmer by about ten degrees,” says Dan. “It would still be some severe weather to endure.”
“So where does that leave you?” asks Ken.
“The more I studied dinosaur extinction the more the whole issue concerned me.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are dinosaur tracks all over the world,” says Dan. “And the ones at extinction level are remarkably similar. They seem to have run in herds in a straight direction. In other words, they were running away from something.”
“OK,” says Ken, writing furiously.
“Under ordinary circumstances, the tendency of an animal is to meander quite a bit. So these particular tracks represent a unique event. There is an absence of young tracks which suggests the young ones were simply left behind in the panic.”
“Could they have been running from a meteor or volcanic lava?” says Ken.
“Perhaps,” Dan shrugs. “But I started to develop a different theory. The tracks at extinction level were well-preserved. In other words, they didn't get trampled over by other animals. They didn't fade over time. They were preserved by the event itself. In other words, rapid sedimentation.”
“Water?” says Ken.
“There was another interesting feature about the tracks. They tended to be on level ground. Ordinarily, you would expect different levels of terrain. But the ground at extinction level seemed to have been levelled by something before these animals ran across it. A meteor or a volcano wouldn't fit with that. But water would.”
Harry's eyes widen.
Dan nods again.
“You get what I'm driving at?” he says. “And finally, these types of tracks were found all over the world which suggests a global event.”
“Noah's flood,” says Harry.
“Exactly,” says Dan. “Except that I don't believe in the Bible. I just looked at the facts and came up with what I thought was the most reasonable explanation.”
Dan takes a sip of coffee.
“The fact that my theory coincides with a famous Bible story is unfortunate. Particularly when it comes to Mother funding all this.” He waves his hand around.
Harry looks puzzled.
“Your mom will be proud of you, won't she?” he says. “She's a good Anglican . . .”
“Mother!” Dan says with feeling. “She paid for my education, my research in the Arctic and now my research in the Antarctic. When she finds out what I've come to believe, she won't be funding anything anymore.”
“Why?!” says Harry.
“She may be a good Anglican,” says Dan. “But this type of theory is going to put me outside of the respectable scientific community. They'll accuse me of being a Creation Scientist. It's basically a death sentence for my career. Laval will let me go. Unless I just drop the whole thing. But I don't want to drop the whole thing. I think I'm onto something here . . .”
“Oh dear,” says Harry, almost to himself. I know what he’s thinking. Mrs. Shepherd is paying for a full report about her son and we’re going to have to give it.
Dan looks at him. It’s a thoughtful look. I think it’s just occurred to him that it’s a bit of a strange coincidence that Harry, who lives on the same street as his mom, has shown up here at the South Pole.
“You weren’t sent by . . . ?” he says to Harry. Dan shakes his head like it’s not possible. “You were sent by Mother to check on me, weren’t you?”
He looks at Harry and then at me. We don’t have to say anything. It’s all over our faces.
Dan's eyes widen.
“And you came all the way out here . . . ?”
“Your last letter concerned her.”
“And she sent you all the way here . . . ?”
Harry nods again.
“Well,” says Dan, sighing. “I'm not surprised my last letter was out-of-sorts. All I could think was, as soon as I publish anything, my career is going to go down the toilet. That is, if I can get anyone to publish my theory. They won't, of course. And then my career is going to go down the toilet, anyhow.”
“Publish or die,” agrees Ken.
“So I'm really at a crossroads here,” says Dan.
We sit there in sympathetic silence.
“Listen, guys,” says Dan. “Tell Mom I'm fine. Tell her we'll have a nice long talk when I get back.”
“OK,” says Harry. “We'll try to get the message out.”
“Can't you guys just pack it up and head home now that you've found me?” asks Dan.
Ken shakes his head.
“I'm afraid we've committed the next five weeks to Professor Aldridge.”
“Professor Aldridge, eh? So you're with his team?”
“Yes and we'll have to let him know we found you,” says Harry.
“Give him my regards,” says Dan standing up. “Tell him I'll be over there sometime to finish up our conversation.”
“Oh, you've met before?” says Harry, as we all get to our feet.
“Yes. He and I met when we first got here. In fact, we sat around at this very table and talked about some of the same things.”
Harry and Ken look at each other.
“We told Professor Aldridge we were looking for you,” says Harry. “He said if we put in a hard day's work for him, he'd do what he could to locate you.”
Dan looks surprised and then he shakes his head.
“Unbelievable,” he says. “It's started already.”
“What do you mean?” asks Ken.
“Well, the only thing Professor Aldridge knows about me is that I have some ideas that don't line up with the conventional theories of evolution. So you guys show up looking for me and rather than have you exposed to my heresy, he pretends he doesn't know I'm here. Unbelievable.”
“Isn't that going a little overboard,” says Ken. His journalist instinct is up. “You guys are on the cutting edge of new ideas. Why should a new idea or two be a problem? And why not question the old ideas?”
“It would be nice if it worked that way,” says Dan, walking us to the flap of the tent. “But institutes of higher learning tend to be fiercely conservative when it comes to protecting long-cherished beliefs. Volcanic extinction theory, fine. Global flood theory, not fine. Problem is, it matches a story in the Bible.”
“It matches a universal legend,” says Harry. “Every culture has a flood story in its mythology.”
“I know, I know,” says Dan. “But no self-respecting scientist is going to give the Christians any ammunition.”
He opens the tent flap for us and we're back out into the cold. At least it's bright so we have no problem finding our way back to camp.
“I don't know whether that was an invitation to come back, or not,” says Harry, once we're halfway to our camp.
“I'm going back,” announces Ken. “There's a story there.”
“If you write it, you could get yourself in the same boat as Dr. Shepherd,” says Harry. “An outcast in your profession.”
“Not a chance,”
says Ken, confidently.
he case is over and we have five weeks of hard labour left.
Harry and Ken don't seem to mind. Although they stopped talking about this being the adventure of a lifetime after the first day.
But Jim lets me read Robin Cook novels when I'm done with my chores.
One day a whole horde of dinosaur bones are brought into camp and everyone's all excited. Everyone except me. That means Jim is hurrying around photographing them and measuring them and packing them all up, so for two days I have to do meals on my own.
I rely on the canned goods that we brought since it's a hassle to have to go out and get loads and loads of the snow to hydrate things. It's bad enough having to keep Professor Aldridge in tea.
But then the dinosaur bones are all safely packed away and we get back to normal again. Of course, my definition of normal has been radically altered by my experiences in Antarctica.
Harry gets a message out to Mrs. Shepherd via Ken's email.
She replies back right away saying how grateful she is to us. The fact that we're staying on in Antarctica seems to raise her estimate of us, rather than diminish it. Harry says that's what happens when you're a child of God and even Ken snickers.
Ken goes back in the evenings to talk to Dan.
They've developed quite the partnership. Ken is determined to get Dan's theories out there without killing either of their careers. It's almost as if he wants to prove Dan wrong about his idea that you aren't truly free to promote your ideas.
In the meantime, Professor Aldridge never mentions to us that the man we're looking for is within shouting distance of our camp.
Harry admits to me one evening when we're playing Rummy at one of the tables in the dining tent that it's not easy out on that mountain, picking away at the ice.”
“It's the wind,” he says. “It really gets you up there. I'm dressed for it, that's not the problem. But I still feel it and it goes on and on and on.”
“But you did find some dinosaur bones,” I say, adding a Queen of Diamonds to one of the rows on the table.
“It wasn't anywhere near me,” says Harry, picking up a card, glancing at it and discarding it. “We're spread out up there. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack so we don't just concentrate on one area. We're in pairs all over the place.”
“It'd be nice if we go somewhere warm after this,” I say, picking up a card and adding it to my collection.
“I'm glad you got this job,” says Harry. “I'd hate to think of you out there all day in the cold.”
That's so sweet of him.
“But there are women out there,” I say, discarding a card.
“I know,” says Harry. “But they're here voluntarily. I really dragged you into this one, didn't I?”
“Kind of like I dragged you into the last one.”
“Yeah, I know. Now we're even. From now on, only places we both agree on.”
Ken reports that Dan's team found some dinosaur bones too. We're glad for him. Some people spend a season here and don't find anything.
“You're a Christian,” says Ken turning to Harry. He has his notebook out. “What do you think about all of this?”
“It doesn't surprise me that there would be evidence of a global flood.”
“Is it essential to your faith?”
“Yes and no,” says Harry. “I believe the Bible is true, so I expect that the evidence will be there.”
“And if it isn't?” Ken persists.
“My belief would tell me that it is there,” says Harry. “Even if no one has discovered it.”
“Fanatic,” says Ken grinning and writing something down in his book. “Too bad I like you.”
“You're writing about Harry?” I say.
“Just a quote from another dinosaur bone hunter who happens to also be a Christian. But the real story, in my opinion, is Dan's mother who is a Christian but would rather not promote the Bible.”
“We don't know that for sure,” I say. “Dan just thought that's the way it would play out.”
Ken shakes his head.
“His worst fears have been confirmed. He decided to be candid with her and told her the direction that his research was taking him. She emailed him and told him how horrified she is that he's promoting unorthodox ideas. She says it's a waste of his education and a waste of his mind. He should just leave this flood theory to the fringe elements and pursue real science.”
“Wow,” I say.
“Furthermore, she's agreed to do an interview with me as soon as we get back to Canada. There'll be a lot of sidebars in this article, believe you me.”
“What about me?” I ask. “Can I do an article? A little sidebar about life here in the kitchen?”
Ken rolls his eyes.
“My readers would be riveted.”
Apparently his readers don’t want to read about how my life at the South Pole revolves around drinking coffee and reading Robin Cook novels.
Unfortunately, the time on my hands results in me finishing all the novels that Ken gave me. And we still have three and a half weeks to go. But Jim says that there are plenty of novels in this camp and if I venture out with mine, I'm sure to find people willing to trade.
It's funny to think that in the most adventurous place on earth, people spend their spare time reading thrillers.
After helping Jim clean up after breakfast, I head out of the dining tent and into the bright snow with all my Robin Cook novels stuck in various pockets. The pockets on this winter coat are pretty impressive. They could substitute for a suitcase if you needed them to.
At the first camp, the man tending the dining tent looks up from his laptop and smiles at my request.
“I brought some magazines I'm finished with,” he says. “Mostly wildlife stuff. A lot of National Geographic.”
I thank him politely but exit the tent with all my books still in their pockets. National Geographic might be fine for Harry and Ken, but I didn't come to Antarctica to learn anything. I want books that will make me forget I'm here.
I decide to head over to Dan's camp. Maybe Karma likes thrillers. In any case, I like the chai there.
Karma greets me like an old friend and we sit down and have some of her latest batch of chai. She says this one is similar to the kind made by the monks in Tibet. As long as it's hot and sweet and milky I'm not fussy.
“Robin Cook?” she says. “What does he write?”
“Medical thrillers,” I say, pulling the books out of my pockets and putting them on the table. “Believe me, they're good.”
“I wouldn't mind learning something about medicine,” says Karma thoughtfully, picking up one and looking at it. “Would you be willing to trade for some Dan Brown and some Steve Berry?”
“Absolutely,” I say.
Karma goes over to a stainless-steel trunk and opens it up. She counts out four Dan Brown novels and four Steve Berry ones. There seems to be a full library in there. I express my envy.
Karma laughs as she brings the eight books back to the table.
“They mostly belong to Danny, you know, Dan,” she says. “I just keep mine in there because it's waterproof. His are really weird stuff. Some of it is even . . .” She lowers her voice. “Christian.”
I roll my eyes as I take a sip of the chai.
“I know all about that,” I say. “Honestly, it's amazing they can function in the real world.”
“That's what I'm worried about,” says Karma, looking down at her mug. “I've been with Danny for a while and he's a really great guy. But this is going to totally mess things up.”
I gather that there's more than just a student-teacher relationship with these two.
“But he's not Christian, or anything,” I say, trying to console her.
“I know,” she says. “But with the stuff he's writing these days, the only people who will publish it are the Christian journals. Then the only people who will let him teach will be the Christian universities. I don't know if I could cope.”
“It's a lot to think about,” I say sympathetically.
“The big thing is my parents,” continues Karma.
“They'd think you were with some kind of freak?” I say.
“Oh no!” says Karma. “It's worse than that. They are Christians. They would think it's all God's will and that He's using it to bring me and Dan to Jesus.”
“Oh I hear you!” I say, shaking my head. “Why do Christians always think God is doing something?”
“I know.” Karma nods. “I have worked so hard to align myself in harmony with the universe and now I'll be surrounded by people who think that, zap! Miracle-time. Hallelujah!”
Karma despondently drinks her chai.
“It's taken me two years to get centred,” she says. “And to learn to go with the flow of the universe's energy. Even here, I can feel it. It blows down off the mountain and into the tent.”
That's the wind, I think.
“And I feel connected with the greater energy. Did you know that some people think Antarctica was a base for extraterrestrials?”
I shake my head.
“Of course, it's the most logical place,” continues Karma. “Once it got buried in ice, it would hide all traces of their existence. They don't want us relying on them. They want us to make it on our own. When Danny said he was coming here to this mountain, I knew it would be a place with a powerful aura. It's the highest point in this area and it's so close to the South Pole that I wouldn't be surprised if it had been a base for the extraterrestrials.”
“Makes sense,” I say. I don't know why I say it. Just to be agreeable.
“And now he has to come up with these crazy Christian ideas and we'll never be allowed to come back here again!”
“I hear you,” I say. But it's gotten a bit more feeble.
I glance at my watch. I've got to get back.
I thank Karma for the chai and the books and she says, “Anytime.”
When I get back to our dining tent, Jim is all stirred up.
“There you are!” he says. “Make lunch! Anything! They've found something on the mountain and it's big!”
“The remains of an extraterrestrial?” I say.
Jim looks at me like I've just confirmed his theory that I'm crazy and then dashes off outside.
By big, he means a big bone.
Normally a bone would be photographed, measured and then packed up to be studied back home. But something about this one is different. A make-shift laboratory has been set up in the corner of the dining tent at one of the tables. Just some microscopes really. According to Ken, bigger expeditions have an entire tent set up to examine things. But the smaller expeditions can't afford to bring all their equipment into the field.
I honestly don't care.
With Jim constantly peering under microscopes and taking notes, everything falls to me. I'm too busy to read The Da Vinci Code. All I do is fill up buckets with snow and make oatmeal in the mornings, soup for lunches and re-hydrated stews for dinners. This continues for several days.
Most of the students are still out on the mountain but sometimes Professor Aldridge stays back in the tent after tea.
Ken comes up to me after dinner one night and asks me what's going on in that corner over there. Everyone's so hush-hush, he hasn't been able to pick up anything.
“I dunno,” I say, a dishtowel in my hand as I dry the huge pot that held our chicken stew. “No one tells me anything.”
“Can't you hear what they're saying?”
“I have no clue what they're saying,” I say, my arm having to stretch to get to the bottom of the pot. “They talk scientific. I really don't follow it.”
Harry comes over to see what's going on.
“Meg could tell us what's going on over there if she would just apply half a brain cell to it,” says Ken.
Harry gives him a warning look.
“OK, OK,” I say, walking over to the corner and putting the pot on a shelf. I come back and lowering my voice, I say, “This afternoon they were doing something to do with red blood cell counts. All sorts of numbers. I'm not Mata Hari. I didn't write it all down.”
“Red blood cell counts?” says Ken, looking at Harry. We have to speak quietly. There's still a team of people in the corner. “Dinosaur bones don't have red blood cell counts. They're too old.”
Harry looks thoughtful.
“Some Christian scientists have said otherwise. I read about an expedition to Alaska to the North Slope that some Christians went on. They wanted to do their own study on the bones rather than rely on the secular research.”
“Yeah, yeah,” says Ken, impatiently. “So?”
“So they brought back a lot of bones and found that they still had red blood cells in them. That would suggest that dinosaurs didn’t go extinct millions of years ago. Maybe more like thousands of years ago.”
Ken's eyes widen.
“Does Dan know about this?”
“I don't know,” says Harry. “It was in a Christian magazine.”
“Just like he said. Only the Christians will publish things like that. Anything that's anti-evolution gets buried.”
“This might get buried,” says Harry nodding his head toward the corner of the room.
“Oh no it won't!” says Ken, buttoning up and charging out into the cold.
Harry looks at me apologetically and starts buttoning up too.
“I'd better see what he's up to.”
I shrug. I still have about thirty mugs to wash and all the tables to scrub down. All I can think of is how I want to finish up and go to bed.
Snow for coffee. Snow for oatmeal.
Breakfast is the hardest meal because it all has to be done so early. At least with lunch, you have most of the morning to take care of it.
I can tell Harry wants to talk to me as he passes through the line, but there's just no time. No time for me, that is. The brown sugar runs out and I have to open another huge bag and distribute it into the smaller containers.
Ken is fidgety, I notice. He doesn't even look at me as he comes up for more coffee.
Then they're all off and I can relax a bit. Jim and two of the students are still in the corner. I have to keep the coffee going for them.
There's a lot of serious talk among them. All for one bone.
I'm pooped and we still have three weeks to go. Two weeks and six days, actually, although, one of the days will probably be to travel back to Bellingshausen. So two weeks and five days of hard labour. I will never, ever again complain about the quality of the food anywhere, so long as I don't have to cook it.
Figuring that everyone must be getting sick of soup, I try to put a little more creative effort into lunch. That is, I hunt around the supplies and find a whole skid of corned beef. Combined with some re-hydrated potatoes, I could make corned beef hash.
Before my dad went to Reno, I remember him making corned beef hash for dinner sometimes. It was the only thing he knew how to make and he did a great job of it. The secret, he said, was ketchup. So I add a whole bottle of ketchup to the pot and I must say, I'm gratified by the compliments I get.
Jim is finally done in the corner. The bone is being packed up for further study back home.
I get some more snow for tea and for dinner, but Jim takes over the rest of the kitchen again. I actually have an hour to myself in the afternoon to start reading The Da Vinci Code. I think, maybe this will be OK for the rest of our stay here. I may actually survive.
But if that's my
hope, it's shattered at dinner time.
inner is re-hydrated macaroni and cheese.
Jim complains that there's a bottle of ketchup missing. He likes to have a bottle of ketchup when he serves macaroni and cheese. I smile to myself. (Hey! I can't tell him! It's a secret family recipe.)
I notice two interesting things at dinner.
Professor Aldridge isn't here.
Ken isn't here.
And then, just when most people have finished their bowls of food, Professor Aldridge appears in the doorway of the tent, looking like a thundercloud.
“Where is it?!” he roars.
We all look up, startled.
“The bone!” he says, as if we're all morons. “Where's the bone?!”
Jim hurries forward. I have a sinking feeling I'll be cleaning up on my own.
“We packed it and put it in the storage trunk,” he says.
“Well, it's not there anymore,” he says, glaring at Jim and then glaring at the rest of us. His eyes end up on me and Harry.
“Where's that other guy with you?” he demands, coming over to our table.
I am genuinely terrified.
The mild-mannered professor has turned into a reincarnation of Thor, the god of thunder.
“I don't know,” says Harry.
I can't even speak.
Professor Aldridge just stares at us. And then he turns and walks out of the tent.
Ken never does show up for dinner, but Harry says he did come off the mountain. After that, he disappeared.
I can barely sleep that night.
What's going on?
Jim is seriously preoccupied at breakfast. I silently get the snow and work on the coffee while he does some re-hydrated scrambled eggs.
Harry and I sit alone. There is no Ken. There is a simmering Professor Aldridge sitting alone with his tea.
Everyone speaks, if they speak at all, in quiet tones.
But the whole atmosphere changes when Dan Shepherd appears in the doorway. He is carrying a long, well-wrapped object. It's the bone!
He strides across the dining hall and carefully puts it on the table in front of Professor Aldridge.
The Professor's eyes widen in rage and he's on his feet.
“A well-meaning man brought this to me,” says Dan mildly. “He thought it was something that I needed to know about. I thanked him and told him that I prefer to examine my own dinosaur bones.”
“You! . . . You! . . .” Professor Aldridge looks like he might burst something.
“I assure you,” says Dan, as he turns and heads back for the door. “I had nothing to do with it. I only found out about it today.”
“I want to talk to this man!” says Professor Aldridge. “He was in my camp, wasn't he? That reporter who showed up out of the blue!” Professor Aldridge pauses only to glare at us.
“You can't,” says Dan, now in the doorway. “He left. Caught a supply flight to McMurdo this morning. Said he had an article to write.”
Professor Aldridge's rage is complete. I've never seen someone so mad. But Dan is gone. He's disappeared out into the bright sun and the brilliant snow. Harry and I are the only ones he has to vent his rage on.
“Get out!” he roars at us. “Get out, you traitors!”
“Now, now,” says Jim, soothingly as he hurries over. “I don't think Meg had anything to do with this. She's with me all the time . . .”
“I don't care!” screams the professor. “They were with the traitor! They must have had an idea of what was going on!” He turns back to us. “Get out!”
And so we do.
We have barely enough time to button up before we're out in the snow. All by ourselves. In Antarctica.
Jim comes hurrying out of the tent. He hasn't even taken time to zip up his coat. His hands are full.
“I'm calling for a helicopter from McMurdo to pick you up,” he says breathlessly. He starts stuffing granola bars and bottles of water into all my pockets. “This should get you through until you're settled somewhere. Make sure you grab all your gear. Just wait for the helicopter. It won't be long.”
He gives me a quick hug. He ignores Harry. I think he thinks Harry was involved in all of this.
“Good luck!” he says, smiling at me before disappearing back into the tent.
“Well,” I sigh. “Maybe we'll live after all.”
We trudge through the snow to our respective tents to get our clothes. Mine was just in my knapsack. Harry has the duffle bag.
After that, we head over to where the helicopter first dropped us off. Harry puts my knapsack into the duffle bag and we both sit down on it.
“We should be OK,” says Harry. “I was OK out on the mountain all day.”
In the distance, we can see Professor Aldridge's team heading out for their day on the mountain.
We're within sight of Dan's camp too, but nobody invites us in to wait in the dining tent.
I figure our reputation is shot there as well.
I do up some more buttons. Harry puts his arm around me. I get a little closer. It's not for body heat. All of our body heat is trapped inside our winter gear. But psychologically I feel warmer when we're closer together.
The feeling that it's me and Harry versus the world continues at McMurdo. We're not treated like honoured guests. We're taken into a small building near the runway and interrogated. I think the military has something to do with this place. It's all very intimidating. They want to know how we got ourselves evicted from the expedition.
Harry doesn't bother telling about Mrs. Shepherd. He just says that we were travelling with a journalist and that the journalist was guilty of stealing a dinosaur bone and that we were considered guilty by association.
“Why did he steal the dinosaur bone?” asks the man, who despite his bulky red coat gives the impression of being a four-star general.
“It had red blood cells in it,” says Harry. “He was concerned that the information would be suppressed.”
The man's eyebrows go up.
“It would suggest that dinosaurs didn't die out as long ago as people think,” explains Harry. “Red blood cells can only survive for so long . . .”
“Yes, I know,” says the man. “What is it? Some kind of a Christian expedition?”
“No,” says Harry. “As far as I know, there are no Christians on that mountain.”
The man shakes his head.
“Well, what are we going to do with you two?” he says. “It'll cost a bloody fortune to get you back home.”
“We don't have to go home,” says Harry. “We have two and a half more weeks booked at the Bellingshausen Station.”
“Well, that's a relief,” says the man. “At least it's on this continent.”
So we're back on a small plane and by dinner we're eating in the familiar dining room with all of the Russians.
Father Kuznetsov is thrilled to have us back, safe and sound. Harry thanks him for his prayers. The Father says we will all go out to the church after dinner and issue up a special prayer of thanks for our safe return.
I'm so happy to be back in civilization that I don't even argue. The weather is better here. The food is real. And best of all, I don't have to cook it! I don't even have to go out and get snow for them to melt.
We put our coats on after dinner and go out to the church on the hill.
On the outside it is a complete replica of a Russian Orthodox Church, just on a smaller scale.
The inside is an ornate wooden interior that could hold about thirty people. There are colourful gold pictures of saints. A small wooden bookshelf. A golden display stand with matching communion cups. Father Kuznetsov has added some fancy extra layers to his long black robe.
He lights some candles and says some things in Russian. Then we all kneel down and Father Kuznetsov leads us in a prayer from one of the books on the bookshelf.
I glance over at Harry and see something on his face that’s hard to describe, there’s sort of a holy bliss, like he’s at home with all of this. I consider it all very medieval but there's nothing about his attitude that suggests that he's anything but completely supportive of Russian orthodoxy.
I'm so happy that night to be back in a real bed.
OK, a wooden bunk.
But to be able to have a shower with real running water and then to come back and not have to zip myself up like a mummy . . . well, I can't tell you, unless you've been there.
Artyom still maintains his stand that if we live at the station we're going to have to work at the station. I don't mind. After breakfast, I mop the whole station and then I even go into the kitchen to see if they need help. Hey! I have kitchen experience now! But they have it all under control.
I return to my room to get The Da Vinci Code.
Harry and Father Kuznetsov are in the lounge. Harry has finished telling him the whole story and now they are discussing the whole dinosaur extinction thing. Dinosaur bones. Red blood cells. Evolution. Something about young earth and old earth. I'm glad they have each other because there is no way I would want to be discussing these things with Harry.
But Harry does tell me that Ken didn't pass through this way on his way home.
“I hope Eduardo is still coming!” I say, alarmed.
“Oh, I'm sure he is,” says Harry. “Ken probably grabbed a flight from McMurdo. But he wouldn't have cancelled our way out of here.”
“Why not?” I say. “He totally betrayed us!” OK, OK. I know. I sound just like Professor Aldridge.
“I don't know,” says Harry. “I think he did the right thing. He's a journalist and he wants to follow the story. Though I don't think it was right to steal the dinosaur bone. But from our perspective, he didn't betray us because he didn't owe us anything.”
I shrug. I don't really care. I never liked the man anyway. I return to my book.
“How does it work here at this station?” Harry asks. “Do faith and science mix?”
Father Kuznetsov shakes his head.
“We are very good at separating the two. Every man has his private faith but it is not likely to affect his work.”
“In North America, we mix the two even if we say we don't,” says Harry. “Some Christians use science to prove the Bible. But it works more the other way around. The non-Christians use science to disprove the Bible. They may not do it consciously. But the fact that they don't want to consider any theory that might support the Bible shows how hostile they are to it.”
“Very interesting,” says Father Kuznetsov. “We have very different histories, the West and the Russians. During the years of Communism, faith lived on only in the hearts of people. There was no outward show of it.”
“I think I understand,” says Harry. “And I think that kind of faith is very strong.”
“And you,” says Father Kuznetsov. “Are you one to argue about whether life evolved or whether life was created?”
Harry shakes his head.
“I like talking about it. But I don't think we should argue.”
Father Kuznetsov nods.
“You feel maybe, God is not present when we argue?”
“Exactly,” says Harry.
It's impossible to read with these two men talking, but lunch is called and we all head to the dining hall.
Artyom is eager to talk to Harry.
There's some kind of strange story going around that two people got kicked out of an expedition on Mount Kirkpatrick. He's suspicious since the people match our description.
So Harry gets to tell the story all over again. Why are we always telling people our story? We must be very interesting people.
At first Artyom is shocked and horrified that he's harbouring the infamous people who had to be helicoptered off of Mount Kirkpatrick. But he softens up when he realizes that most of it can be blamed on Ken.
“Western journalist,” he says, shaking his head. “You should avoid such people from now on.”
He lets us know we'll be having our usual evening lecture in his office after dinner.
“The Antarctic Ocean,” says Artyom, as if there was never a break in our lectures. “It is the youngest of all the oceans. When you came here, you passed through Drake Passage, yes?”
“At one time Antarctica and South America were attached. This is the point at which they were joined. So Drake Passage is a result of their separation. When they separated, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current formed.”
I was following him on the bit about Drake Passage, but he's lost me with the Antarctic Circumpolar Current.
This is unfortunate because that is what his talk is about.
The final thing I hear before drifting off is that this Circumpolar Current moves water around pretty quickly.
But then Artyom is looking at me with a grim expression.
“Uh,” I say sitting up. “When did all this happen?” I hope it fits with what he's saying.
“Thirty million years ago,” says Artyom, still looking at me with suspicion.
He speaks for about fifteen more minutes and then wraps it up, escorting us out.
Harry says he's going to try to finish War and Peace in the next couple of weeks. I say, fine. At least I got eight new novels out of Mount Kirkpatrick.
I can't help but think our situation is a bit bizarre.
The case is wrapped up. We found Dan Shepherd. His mother knows why he's acting strange. She's not happy but it's not our fault and we came out of it OK.
But here we are, stuck in Antarctica.
Harry points out that Mrs. Shepherd has already paid for our stay here so we might as well stick it out and go back with Eduardo.
It's the adventure of a lifetime, he insists. He's back to that now. He even goes out for a full week on a camping trip with some of the scientists who are studying the penguins. They don't speak English and he doesn't really know anything about penguins but they're happy to have him along to help put up tents and lug equipment.
When he returns he tells me it was like summer camping compared to Mount Kirkpatrick. I finished four of the novels while he was gone. He says it was incredible to see the penguins up close.
“I mean, you see them in the zoo and it's pretty cool, but this was so real, Meg!” he says while we're drinking tea in the dining room and catching up. I have summarized my week in one sentence. Harry takes a lot longer. At least I didn't have to endure evening lectures with Artyom all week. One student isn't worthy of his attention, I suppose.
Now we're down to a week left. Artyom is working us like crazy. Guess he wants to make the most of us while he has us. I'm cleaning out test-tubes and all sorts of laboratory things. Harry splits his time between the church and the base. We really only see each other at meals.
And then finally the day comes when Eduardo is supposed to pick us up.
Father Kuznetsov tells us to just carry on with our business. A trip out from Ushuaia can take any number of days depending on the weather. But Artyom eases up on us and I have time to read another novel and Harry finishes War and Peace, leaving it for some other English-speaking traveller passing through Bellingshausen Station.
Eduardo arrives a day late, which really isn't late in this part of the world.
I can't believe we're going home! No more long underwear! No more coats that button up to our eyeballs! Never again will I eat re-hydrated food! When I get back to the real world I’m staying there.
But it's still kind of sad. We both hate saying good-bye to Father Kuznetsov. We would have had a rough time without him. He and Harry promise to pray for each other. Even Artyom gives us each a quick hug and a little punch on the shoulder to express his affection.
It's a lot easier getting on the boat than it was getting off. We have no supplies. All our food ended up at Mount Kirkpatrick and any remaining unopened toiletries are left at Bellingshausen. Hope that scores some points with the females at the station. Eleven packages of maxi-pads are in the storage room.
Then it's time to readjust to life on the boat. And the Argentinian cuisine. Churros and hot chocolate for breakfast! I read the last of my novels on deck while Harry spends long hours talking to Eduardo. Eduardo, of course, wants to know what happened to Ken. Long story. But there's plenty of time to tell it.
I'd love to see Ushuaia now and be real
tourists, but Harry says the case is over and we can't charge Mrs. Shepherd for
anything but the plane ticket home. Never mind that we made a small fortune in
fees. Harry says until it's in the bank he's not going to spend it. So we don't
even book ourselves into a hotel. After our good-byes to Eduardo and the crew,
we head straight for the airport and book a flight back to North America. The
next flight out, a flight to Miami but with lots of stops on the way, including
Buenos Aires, leaves early the next morning. So we book it and make ourselves
cozy in a corner using the duffle bag to lean on. We're vagabonds. But there
are others like us scattered here and there. It's just that kind of place.
'm bored out of my mind back home.
I actually miss the routine of Bellingshausen Station. No blinis. No samovar. No Artyom and his comical lectures. (Yes, my brain has rearranged my memories so that his dry lectures are now comical.)
Harry feels the same way as I do. He even misses Mount Kirkpatrick.
He's restless and stops by at my place a few mornings after we get back.
This is the first time he's been to mine and my mom's apartment. He has entire rooms in his home that are bigger than this place, but he seems comfortable just sitting on one of our shabby couches drinking hot chocolate and eating doughnuts. (It's the closest we can get to charros.)
“We've got Edinburgh in a few weeks,” he says, optimistically.
Our next case is going to be to investigate a three- hundred year-old murder! A ghost supposedly still haunts some castle over there. The lady that hired us wants us to go investigate because she and her husband are considering buying the place. Guess she doesn't want to wake up in the night with something white hovering over her.
“Did you tell your parents all about Antarctica?” I say.
Harry shakes his head.
“Didn't have to. Mrs. Shepherd is all in a stew. Our whole street is talking about it. One of the best minds at Laval and he has to throw it away on some Bible theory.”
“But he doesn't even believe in the Bible,” I say, leaning forward for another doughnut.
“I know,” says Harry. “It's insane. But I'll give him credit. Dan isn't going to back down. He's pursuing the flood theory and if that means he'll have to teach at a Christian university, so be it.”
“My dad thinks I had something to do with it,” says Harry, shaking his head. “It took me about an hour to persuade him that Dan is not becoming a Christian and that I had absolutely nothing to do with his theory about a global flood.”
“I've been keeping my eyes on Macleans,” I say. “Looking for Ken's article.”
“I doubt you'll see it,” says Harry, dipping his doughnut into his chocolate. “You'd be better off checking out some of the Christian magazines.”
“I wouldn't even know where to begin to find a Christian magazine,” I say, putting my empty mug down on the coffee table.
“That's easy,” says Harry. “There are a lot of Christian bookstores in Toronto.”
“No, Harry,” I say, holding up my hand. “I don't want to know.”
“One really close to here, actually,” says Harry.
“I wouldn't be caught dead in one,” I say.
“They have a lot of interesting stuff . . .” continues Harry.
“Only interesting to Christians,” I say. “And I'm not a Christian.”
“Of course you aren't,” says Harry.
“Really . . .” I insist. “I admit, I may have said a prayer or two. And I liked Father Kuznetsov. But I would never become one of you guys.”
“I think our next case will be a real eye-opener for you,” says Harry. “We'll see God's hand in everything we do. I'll be praying . . .”
“Don't pray, Harry.”
“Really, I'll be praying,” he insists.
“Shut up, Harry.”