OLD BILL

"He's down there on the bottom."
Old Bill leaned slightly and pointed ver the side of the canoe.
"What makes you think so?"
"Heard a fellow say back in town, in the bar. He was drunk. He said he killed him and threw him in the lake."
Bill was losing his enthusiasm for talking. I guess he thought I was getting too interested. I don't know, anyway his voice was getting fainter, and the last words were almost drowned out by the putt-putt of the motor.
"What did you do about it?"
"Nothin."
"Didn't anyone report him?"
He didn't answer. Slowly, the stupidity of the question dawned on me. The possibility of one Indian reporting about another to the Mounties out of a sense of justice was pretty remote, especially for the killing of a white man. It was definite that Bill didn't want to talk about it anymore. He turned around and leaned back over the motor like he was trying to adjust something.
By now, we were well down the lake from the point where Leith had started building camp before he disappeared. The sun had long since eased over the horizon and a gray mist was settling down over the water so that I could no longer make out the faint glow of the lamp we'd left to guide us back to camp.
"I guess we' better head back. Looks like they're not going to bite tonight."
He popped the motor out of gear and we started reeling in our lines. By the time the spinners had broke water we had drifted back by Leith's campsite.
"Let's pull into shore. I'd like to have a look around."
Bill swung the throttle arm, flipped the motor in gear and slowly beached the boat on a little crescent of sand just past the point. Up on the rocks, one set of tent poles was still up. They were uneven and poorly trimmed. Over to the right, down near the water, a ring of stones had been formed with two forked sticks jammed into rock cracks on either side supporting a cross piece. However, there were no relics of a fire having burned in the circle.
By the time we were out in the main channel heading for camp, it was dark, black dark. The sodden air hung around us like a mantle of opression to the point that I could no longer see Bill's form in the stern.
"When was it you heard this McKenzie tell his story?"
I was trying to tie this in with what I had heard before. Sam Dentare had told me about the disappearance on my first trip up to LaRonge back in August. We were sitting in a hotel room sipping warm whiskey waiting for the ceiling to lift so we could get a plane out for our respective destinations. Sam had had his crew ona big job up near Reindeer Lake. They'd been in there since the lake opened up, and at the time I saw him, he was getting ready to pour them back on an aircraft after a two week break in town. I remember him sunk down in that big easy chair not giving a damn if the clouds ever lifted. Sam had described how Leith had been hired to prospect a claim block just north of us. He'd been dropped off with his supplies about the middle of July. When the plane came back a week later, his supplies were still in the boxes, the camp half up, and no sign of Leith, and no one had seen him since.
Thinking Bill had not heard my question, I tried it again. He'd heard me. This time, he answered.
"I'm not sure. It must have been when we came into town last July."
Bill had been working for Sam then and was his best man, a good prospector and cook, and a hell of a bushman even though he was over sixty. I hired him after Sam's program was finished.
About thirty yards from the dock, the faint glow of the lamp could be seen. Bill cut the motor and easily secured the boat up against the dock post.
The next week was idyllic. A couple nights of frost had killed off most of the bugs and painted the poplar and birch leaves a golden yellow. The days were warm wit just a hint of the coming season in the air. By Saturday, I had mapped most of the claim block, well ahead of schedule.
There was a small section of the grid in the northeast corner of the block to finish. I planned to do it Saturday morning then spend the restof the day trolling for some of the big trout farther up the lake. I was coming down the last line just after finishing lunch when I ran into a string of fresh blazes coming n from the north. They stopped at our claim line. I followed this course to the top of a small knoll where a clearing had been cut. In the middle was a claim post with a tag and the inscription;

CBS 8532
No. 1 Post
Staked July 17, 1965
John Leith

That was it. No more blaze lines, nothing. I took a couple of pictures of the post with a close-up of the inscription and headed back to camp.
A couple of days later, the plane came in to take us back to LaRonge. I reported the claim post to the Mounties and left the film with them before I took off for Calgary. I'd asked them to let me know if there were any developments, but I never heard a thing. I even checked the Prince Albert paper a few times, but there were no reports.
In December, I guess it was about a week before Christmas, I ran into Sam on Eigth Avenue. We ducked into a cafe to get out of the snow and were well into our second cups of coffee by the time we got around to talking about Leith.
"Did he ever turn up?"
"No," he replied,"at least he hadn't by the time I pulled out in November".
"It sure seems funny to me that there wasn't more effort to find him."
"Well, it wouldn't if you knew old John Leith. You remember last spring when there those stories in the magazines about a fellow and a girl surviving a month in the bush after a plane crash. John figured that was quite a deal and it could be a great way to make some money, to disappear and then crawl out of the bush just about time for the first snowfall. He figured he could sell his story to Life or Reader's Digest or something like that. S, when he disappeared, everyone figured that was what he was up to."
"Except, he didn't show up."
"Yeah, that's the odd part. I thought he'd be back in town by now."
"You heard about the post I found."
"The Corporal told me. He went up there and had a look around but didn't find anything more than what you did. Say, you must have let Old Bill do quite a bit of prospecting when he was in there with you."
"No. He didn't, as far as I know. Why?"
"He registered a claim block just to the north of where you were."
"You mean where I found thos blazes and post."
"Yeah, somewhere in there."
It was indeed strange. I knew for certain that Bill had not been in that area while he was working for me.
I told Sam the story that Bill had revealed that evening on the boat. When I was finished, he was quiet for quite a while.
"It doesn't fit together."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Bill wasn't in town from the time he went out with my crew in June until he hired on with you in September."
"I thought your crew came in for that break in July."
"They did, but Bill didn't come with them. He borowed a canoe and motor and said he was going fishing for a couple of weeks."
"Are you sure he didn't come in by boat?"
"He couldn't have. He was back in camp in just over a week."
Sam paused for a minute.
"And besides, he couldn't have seen McKenzie. He got sent to Prince Albert the first of July for cutting up his wife in a fight."

It's six years since all this took place. Leith never did show up. The claim Old Bill staked turned out pretty good. He sold it for a couple of thousand dollars the following Spring and proceeded to drink up the money over the next six months. It looks like the present owners are going to make it into a producing mine.
, Sam and I still don't know what really happened up there, but somehow neither of us can bring ourselves to taking Old Bill out on another job.