measured birds: their wings, their weight. Time limited by the scheduled
return of a boat for their removal. They lived in the only structure for
a hundred miles, a ten-by-twenty-foot, solar- and wind-powered corru-
gated steel hut. Besides their scientific instruments and computers, they
had the basics—plus a dozen bottles of Evan Williams—plus a satellite
phone they should use only in case of emergency and a shotgun to chase
polar bears back into the ocean if any arrived on the island. Only one
polar bear showed. Mike and Leonard trailed it around for an afternoon
until it departed, its white head almost invisible in the endless sea. I
know because Mike made a movie of their trek behind the bear. Leonard
carried the shotgun. Mike said, “We could shoot it and make a rug.”
Leonard said, “And wear its claws around our necks.”
It was the next day that Mike phoned for an early exit from the is-
land. “I have,” he told the Coast Guard dispatcher at the other end, “a
“What is the nature of your ‘situation’?” the dispatcher asked. I know.
I heard the recording.
“My colleague here with me,” Mike said, “has been killed.”
The captain of the Coast Guard cutter that responded said Mike met
them on the shore in a misty rain. His first words to the captain were “I
wish I could explain.”
“Explain what?” the captain asked.
A crew member documented in jerky video what followed. Curi-
ously, Mike had cut off all his hair, a crude job, so that a few tufts pro-
truded from his head. His mustache sparkled with droplets. He wore a
red anorak inside out. He chewed gum. In knee-high rubber boots he
pivoted and led the captain and four others from the boat over a hump
of rounded stones to the hut. Birds circled in a racket overhead. Mike
stopped just short of the shallow porch on the hut. “There,” he said.
He pointed at whatever was rolled in a blue tarp against the front wall.
So the captain and a woman, a lieutenant, unrolled the corpse from
the tarp, while behind them two petty officers entered the hut. The trem-
bling video panned up over Leonard’s rubber boots, his rain pants and
jacket, to the gruesome tragedy of his head. When the captain asked
Mike what happened, he said, “An accident, an unfortunate accident,”
head down but with what was perhaps a smile playing over his lips. “His
name is Leonard Foster.”
“Was,” the captain said. “Good and goddamn was.”