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Authors: Mordecai Richler

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BOOK: The Incomparable Atuk
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‘Once upon a time there was a pretty girl who lived in a pretty town in Ontario, and she learnt to jump higher than any other girl in the whole wide world. The girl was not only a champion, she was good and brave and generous and first Toronto, then the entire nation, took her to its heart. We cherished her. Then one fine day the girl came to live in Toronto. She became a TV and film star and soon began to meet smart people at cocktail parties. All the smart women did not like her because she was young and beautiful and all the smart men wanted something from the girl.


‘The girl amazed Toronto. The smart people were confounded. For the girl would not be spoiled. She remained beautiful and brave and good until – she met a depraved man, a so-called noble savage, from our own far north. The man, quick to exploit animalistic techniques, seduced the girl.

‘If my tale ended here it would be like so many others, I suppose.
But it does not end here

‘The beautiful girl, having fallen – so to speak – once, is now falling for others as well. She thinks she is helping those other men!

‘The girl is no longer pretty and her language has become … salty.

‘This is one of the saddest tales even this world-hardened reporter has ever had to write because, like Canadians everywhere, I believed in the girl. I loved her.

‘Now I know there is a name for him … and a name for her.

‘Let’s not pull punches.

‘F——and W——’

Atuk shrugged and turned to Seymour Bone’s column. Today Bone had turned his discerning eye to matters other than theatrical. He was, like citizens everywhere, concerned about Strontium-90. Not only, he wrote, has it been responsible for the birth of malformed babies, but, more recently, children were being born freakishly coloured. Last month, in Alberta, an unquestionably Anglo-Saxon couple had given birth to a coloured child. It could, he warned, happen in Toronto next. Bone blamed American nuclear tests.


BZZZ . . ZZ . . ZZZZZ . . zz . . z … z …

Damn him, Michele Peel thought, ever since the shelter at the bottom of the garden had been finished Rory was forever at the buzzer, calling drills. Damn; but all the same she quickly hitched up her skirt, flushed the toilet, and ran.

BZZZZ … zzzzz … zzzz . . zz … z …

Atuk was subjected to a two-hour interview by network executives, producers, and advisers from the agency.

‘Whatever you do,’ the producer said, ‘don’t get a haircut between now and the show.’ He measured Atuk’s neck with a tape. ‘Oh, would you sign these release forms, please?’

Atuk began to read. He swore he hadn’t been coached, he absolved the company of all responsibilities, and then, just for form’s sake, he inquired indignantly, ‘Why must you have the address of my next of kin?’

‘Aw, don’t bother your head about it,’ Derm said, clapping him on the back. ‘It’s just the usual legal mumbo-jumbo.’

So Atuk signed.

‘That’s my baby,’ Derm Gabbard said.

Twentyman came round the table closer to Snipes.

‘Have you read it from start to finish?’ he asked.

Snipes nodded.

‘You’ve digested all the details? I must be sure of that.’

‘Sure have. It’s crazy, crazy. Poor Atuk. This will be the end of him.’

Twentyman laughed. ‘You’ve still got a lot to learn, my boy. This is only the beginning for Atuk.’

‘But are you sure,’ he asked, indicating the report, ‘that all this is true?’

‘You saw the photographs, didn’t you? Do they look faked?’ He didn’t wait for a reply. ‘Now I can assure you the details won’t be released until the day after tomorrow.’

Snipes smiled.

‘Don’t worry. It cost me a pretty penny, but it was well worth it. Now we have plenty to do, haven’t we, my boy? First there’s the True Sons of Canada. I’ll leave that to you. And—’

‘We’re ready to go with a special edition of
. As for the pickets, sir, well …’

Life sure does play tricks on a man. What are we to the Fates, Jock thought, but bits of sand to be blown about at will. Jock had, in all his dreams of glory won with the force, never seen himself elected Miss Canada. But there he was, waving for the cameras, throwing kisses, as he was held aloft by Niagara Fruit Belt Jr. and the Best Developed
Biceps of Sunnyside Beach. Jock was puzzled to see one of the judges, Jean-Paul McEwen, unaccountably, break down and weep. He blew her a kiss too.

Nurse Tomkins, at the Protestant Temperance Hospital, twisted her handkerchief in her hands and bit back the tears.

‘Just what do you mean “Dr Zale” left instructions?’ Superintendent MacKintosh demanded.

‘Dr Zale. You know, the sweet old man with the assistant. The big strapping fellow.’

‘Assistant! How big?’ Superintendent MacKintosh asked, tapping her foot. ‘Oh, six foot six at least.’


Panofsky pushed Leo inside. He kicked him.

‘What is it now?’ Goldie asked.

Without waiting to take off his surgical coat, Panofsky climbed on to a chair and began to pound his son over the head. ‘All these years of working with me at the hospital,’ he said, ‘and still a butter-fingers.’

Leo tried to protect himself.

‘Are we ever in for it now.’

‘You’re in for it anyway, Dr Kildare,’ Goldie said. ‘The fuzz were around asking for you this morning.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Panofsky said, climbing down from the chair, ‘my work is done now. They can arrest me, if they like.’

Rory Peel threw his arms up in the air, exasperated. ‘Fellas, fellas,’ he said, ‘he’s no ordinary Eskimo. Atuk would be an asset to our club.’

‘For the last time,’ Bernstein said, ‘we’re not prejudiced here. His being an Eskimo has nothing to do with it one way or another. It’s that he’s a goy.’


‘Rory, look at it this way. Personally, I have nothing against the goys. But if you let even a few of them in the next thing you know their kids and our kids are playing together at the pool. They go out on a date. What’s one date, you say? Yeah, sure.
Then one night your daughter comes home and she wants to marry one.’

On that fateful afternoon, when Atuk came to call, the Peel residence was charged with activity.

Michele was in the sitting-room painting a picture – an assignment from her instructor at the Temple. Setting her brush down delicately, she started for the toilet. She had only been there an instant when … BZZZZ … zzzz . .
. . z
. . z . .

Neil and Garth leaped to their feet, so did Valerie, as at precisely 13.08 hours Rory pressed the button concealed under his desk top. Together the family scampered down the stairs, across the garden, and into the shelter. Rory waited grimly by the entrance. Once they were all safely inside he flicked the stop watch. ‘Not bad today,’ he said. ‘47.2 seconds off.’

Michele nodded gratefully, clutching her stomach.

‘However,’ Rory added severely, ‘I think we can knock another thirty seconds off this time. All right! Garth!’

Quickly, the youngster secured the hatch.


Rory’s first-born son leaped up to man the machine gun.


The sound-effects tape was turned on and this time, Rory noted with pleasure, Garth did not weep hysterically when the bombs fell and the burning people and animals outside began to scream.

‘Is it all right,’ Michele asked, ‘if I use the toil—’

‘OK, Brunhilde,’ Rory shouted through the mouthpiece to the maid waiting outside, ‘zero in.’

Brunhilde forced open the hatch and towered over the family, her expression fierce.

‘She forgot the ketchup,’ Garth complained.

But Rory was too absorbed to comment. He paced up and down. ‘O?,’ he said, ‘it’s H-Day plus three. We’re out of ammo. They’ve forced open the hatch. It’s Mrs Springhorn from next door. Jimmy’s mother.’

Neil, Valerie, and Garth waited tensely, not knowing who would get the call. Brunhilde crossed her eyes, she began to gurgle. Rory raised his arm, looked directly at Neil, and then, with a terrible suddenness, pointed the finger of command at Valerie. ‘Go,’ he said.

Valerie kicked the intruder in the stomach.

‘Ooooh,’ Brunhilde moaned.


Garth charged the maid with a make-believe bayonet.

‘Good boy.’

The hatch was secured.

‘Rory, I’m going to burst. I simply must go to the—’

‘Valerie, you can stop kicking her now. Valerie, will you please stop.’

‘Thank you,’ Brunhilde said.

‘Ok. We will assemble in the sitting-room at 14.30 hours for notes. Family dismissed.’

Atuk arrived only a short while later.

‘I don’t mind telling you,’ Rory said, pouring him another drink, ‘that I was deeply upset by our talk at the Roof Garden. That’s why I didn’t come into the office all week.’

‘Old prejudices die hard.’

‘But I’ve talked the whole matter over with Rabbi Seigal, you know, and I’m very proud now. I think Goldie has chosen wisely.’

‘God willing, I’ll do my best to make her happy.’

The doorbell rang and Rory signalled over the intercom for Brunhilde to open the door. ‘That would be young Jimmy Springhorn for Valerie,’ he said.

Four tall men stepped into the room. Two were in uniform. RCMP. The FBI men were in plain clothes.

‘Are you Atuk, the Eskimo?’

Atuk nodded shyly.

‘You’re under arrest.’

An alert FBI man stepped between Atuk and the window. The Eskimo approached Rory. ‘Please note,’ he said quickly, ‘that there are no bruises about my face and body.’

‘It is my duty to inform you that anything you may say might be used against you.’

‘Is much strange,’ Atuk said. ‘Me simple Eskimo.’

‘What’s the charge?’ Rory asked.

‘I wouldn’t know … well, just how to put it into words.’

Part 3  This Was the Noblest
              Canadian of Them All

Legends about Buck Twentyman abounded.

Take Twentyman’s student days, for instance. Even though he had inherited untold millions, young Buck had insisted on working his way through college just like less fortunate fellows. And even this early in his career, he proved himself an astonishingly resourceful man. One summer, the story goes, Buck and some other high-spirited students were hired to escort several hundred Chinese back to the west coast, from where they would embark for their homeland. For now that the Chinese had built the railroad that linked the dominion from coast to coast it was decided that they should all be repatriated. Buck was in charge of one car-load, some two hundred and ninety head, and every night he had to count his Chinese. One night, in Calgary, he and the other fellows tied one on, so to speak, and when they returned to the train Buck, taking the count, discovered he was short one head. He did
not panic. He returned to town with some friends, stopped at the first laundry, found the proprietor, one Chung Lee, at dinner with his family, and kidnapped him.

Twentyman was a fearless gambler. Where other tycoons had been held back by caution Twentyman leaped ahead, always willing to back his hunches. A case in point was the new Twentyman TV Towers. When commercial, that is free enterprise, television came to Canada at last, innumerable groups bid for the Toronto franchise. But Twentyman was not downcast when other combines, considered to be more experienced and responsible by the non-Twentyman press, competed with him for a government charter. ‘I relish rugged, no-holds-barred competition,’ he told reporters.

Twentyman’s was a sticky wicket. He had to offer the royal commission something truly Canadian, but viewers, on their side, would demand an entertaining programme schedule. Hitherto no entrepreneur had been able to combine these two seemingly incompatible elements. But Twentyman, characteristically intrepid, forged ahead. He assured the sceptics on his board that he would come up with a formula neither dull and highbrow, like the CBC, nor moronic, like the American.

The demands of the royal commission were rigorous. All bidders for the major Toronto franchise had to guarantee a schedule that was at least forty per cent Canadian in origin. Twentyman delighted them
by freely promising a schedule with fifty per cent Canadian cultural content. Prominent among his indigenous offerings were Canada Hit Parade With the Three Gassers of Galt & a Girl (all Canadian-born), Trans-Canada Amateur Drama Night, a national ping-pong competition, Wednesday Wrestling, and Championship Bowling.

The board, not to say the fellows from the agency, were disheartened.

‘We do not mean to sound negative, Mr Twentyman, but this package lacks zip.’

‘You don’t understand,’ Twentyman said. ‘All these admirable programmes, as well as selected National Film Board shorts, will comprise our Early, Early Show. They will be shown from five to eight each morning.’

Twentyman went on to tell them how Canadian-born Raymond Burr would appear in
Perry Mason
once a week, and that, furthermore, he had an idea for an original new show:
. Of the latter, the board commented, ‘Fantastic!’

‘It has everything, Buck.’

‘We ought to sweep the board with it.’

Naturally Twentyman won the franchise, and only a few short weeks later he was able to begin operations.

The truth was Buck Twentyman was a fabulously lucky man.

Chung Lee, the Chinese he had kidnapped in Calgary, returned to his homeland and quickly
acquired a reputation as a vehement anti-Westerner. Years later he rose to high office in the board of trade of the People’s Republic. He did not forget that but for Buck Twentyman he might have ended his days in a steamy laundry on the Canadian tundra. So the first person he asked for on his return to Canada on an official visit was his erstwhile benefactor: Buck Twentyman. Professor Norman Gore, president of the Canadian-Chinese Friendship Society, was scandalized. ‘But Twentyman is the worst reactionary.’ Chung Lee waved his objections aside. ‘Take me to Twentyman immediately,’ he said.

BOOK: The Incomparable Atuk
11.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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