The drifts were high, wind-blown to the North, and almost obliterated the road. The two dog teams navigated more by following wide expanses of trees. It was noon when the sleds reached the crossroads with another few hours of daylight left.
They spotted the dead man off to the side, propped on a high snowdrift. Johnnie had removed the man’s belt and used it to tow him up the banking, the body so stiff it could have stood up like a lamp post.
Johnnie had covered him with a blue tarp held down by rocks so wolves would be discouraged from getting a taste. The two teams stopped one behind the other with the cold biting through the men’s clothes and into their bones.
Nazaire hesitated, took a deep breath, and then climbed out of the sled onto the high snowdrift. Without the tarp, the corpse might not be visible.
The men investigated the body curled over with knees tucked up under the chin, the face half covered by tight fists. They circled the corpse, searching out ways to identify the man. One boot was unlaced, the other missing.
“Lookie here,” Kaine said, “Good quality leather like this ain’t to be had ‘round here.”
“Did someone steal his clothes There’s no coat?” Raoul asked.
“No, They do that sometimes, undress.”
The mustache and clutched fingers were frozen together. How could they even see the man’s face? If only Nazaire could get a glimpse, this would tell all. The man wore a fur hat with long ear flaps that became dislodged. Snow covered one ear, the other a black pancake glued to the side of the head in an unnatural manner.
His arms were folded across his chest with closed fists, both thumbs hidden in the cover of sealed fingers. Nazaire grasped the hands and pulled down, forcing the body to follow the frozen appendages while examining one earlobe that didn’t look familiar.
“Look, he tried to blow on his fingers to stay warm,” Raoul said.
“Let’s get his hands down so we can see the face,” Nazaire said.
Kaine held the corpse by the shoulders while Nazaire and Raoul each grabbed a forearm and pulled away from the man’s chest, each hair on his face white and standing stiff. Next, he placed one foot on the man’s chest and pulled up. The stubborn hands wouldn’t dislodge from the icy corpse. The back of his pants held a tail of the man’s undershirt, and one swollen eye followed them in suspicion.
“How come one eye is open?” Raoul asked.
“That’s unusual. Most times, the eyelashes freeze together, and then you’re as good as blind. No fire’s gonna unstick frozen eyeballs.”
Crack. The three men jumped and stopped pulling at once.
“What’d we do?” Raoul asked.
“Broke a shoulder, I think,” Kaine said.
The face revealed a nose and lips blackened. Both earlobes were charcoal gray.
Nazaire took a step back and said nothing. From the buttocks, they could see the discolored stain of piss covering the man’s upper thighs. An unbuttoned shirt revealed a chest turned blue like an angry sea.
“I can’t make out if it’s our brother,” Nazaire said.
They maneuvered around the body with their feet fighting the snow for balance. Nazaire grabbed the inside of the elbow and pulled down, revealing a crusted line where the lips should have been.
“Raoul, look and see if it’s him,” Nazaire said.
Kaine held the back of the man’s head while Raoul rolled the body to free the opposite arm and pulled down. Crack. The men stopped and looked at each other.
“I think we broke an arm this time,” Kaine said.
The men stopped and searched each other’s face.
“We can’t stay in this cold much longer,” Kaine said.
Nazaire’s feet shuffled without purpose while Raoul remained silent and looked wide-eyed.
“Check his pockets,” Kaine said.
Nazaire pulled off a glove and struggled to turn the body on each side. “Nothing,” he said.
No ring, no chain or religious cross or cloth scapula. A real lost soul.
“How about his teeth?” Kaine asked.
“We can’t get his damned hands away from his mouth. How’re we gonna check his teeth? With a blow torch?” Nazaire said.
“Break his wrist with a wrench,” Raoul said, looking up at Kaine.
“I’m not breaking anything. Don’t want no widow upset with me for desecrating her husband,” Kaine said.
The man was almost angelic with hoarfrost covering his bare chest. Under the legs, a slab of yellowed ice had been chiseled to free the body from the ground. He lay in a round as young children sometimes do, collapsing elbows and knees as if in want to disappear. That one eye open followed the men no matter how they twisted and turned to inspect the corpse.
“Well is it your brother or no?” Kaine asked.
Nazaire’s heart pounded. He bent to get closer to the face and almost fell on top of the ashen man. “I don’t think so.”
Raoul studied the face and evaluated it from a side angle.
“Look, the nose,” Raoul said.
Again, Nazaire approached the face, searched the nose, the forehead, and back to the nose. His breath pushed a puff of white into the air.
“Not him, nope, not Gaudias.”
“You sure?” Kaine asked.
“How can you be so sure?” Kaine asked.
Nazaire looked at Raoul, grinned and turned back to Kaine. “Six generations of Poulin men and not one hook nose in the bunch.”
After weeks of inquiry, the mystery of the frozen man was over. He was Lippo Kalm just out of Seattle from Finland coming to join his brother working down the Indian River.