Murder Over Kodiak
Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author
Author Masterminds Charter Member
We sprinted up the stairs and through a thin layer of smoke that became thicker when we reached the lobby. Two of my coworkers barreled through the lobby doors in front of us. I pushed outside after the graduate students and sucked gratefully at the fresh air.
I stopped, hands on my knees, head up, gulping air.
“Keep moving!” someone yelled. “Get out of here!”
I wasn’t certain the order was directed at me, but I didn’t question it. I ran toward the parking lot, panic closing over me. The world became a blur around me, as I concentrated only on moving my arms and legs.
I stopped when someone grabbed my arm and held me.
“Thank God! Are you okay?” Morgan asked.
I wanted him to let go so I could keep running. I never had been so scared in my life.
“Calm down,” he said. “Come on, I’ll walk with you.”
“What happened?” I spit out the question between gasps.
“We don’t know yet,” Morgan said. There were two explosions in the building. As soon as it’s safe, we’ll send in a team to investigate.”
I turned and looked at the marine center. I felt my knees buckle, and only Morgan’s firm grip kept me from falling. A large hole gaped in the wing of the building that housed the offices, and the section where my office had been was the most badly damaged. If I’d stayed in my office over the lunch hour, instead of going down to the lab… .
“Did everyone get out?” I asked.
Morgan dropped my arm and shook his head. “We don’t know yet. Luckily, the explosion happened over the noon hour, so most of the staff and students were out to lunch.”
I felt sick to my stomach and lightheaded. I wouldn’t have been here if I could have moved my vehicle.
Someone called Morgan’s name, and we turned around. A police officer approached him. “I’ll be back in a minute,” Morgan said to me, and walked toward the policeman.
My senses were numb. I wandered toward my Explorer, not knowing where else to go. When I reached my vehicle, I leaned against it for support, as if receiving the consolation of an old friend. I opened the driver’s door and glanced at the backseat as I climbed in. I froze and backed out of the vehicle. The note was gone.
I saw Morgan still talking to the policeman. I hurried toward him, but he seemed so far away, and I couldn’t make my legs move fast.
He finished his conversation and looked around for me. When he saw me, he ran toward me. “Are you okay, Jane? You don’t look well.”
I reached him and leaned against him. He put his arms around me. “What happened?” he asked.
“The note,” I said. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. I felt as though I were falling apart, and I couldn’t allow that to happen. I pushed away from Morgan and stood, feet apart. I was determined to be strong.
“What about it?” Morgan glanced toward my Explorer.
“Did you see who took it?”
I nodded my head
Morgan leaned his head back and stared at the blue sky. “Damn!” he said. “I assumed that focusing our attention on your vehicle was an attempt to divert our gaze from the marine center, but now it looks like the explosion was the diversion.” He sighed. “We rushed the building and forgot about your vehicle.”
“So you mean all of this,” I gestured at the ruined structure, “was caused so that Jack Justin, or someone, could look in the back of my car?”
Morgan nodded. “And he didn’t find what he was looking for.”
My head thudded. Was this somehow my fault, too? I’d only done what Morgan told me to do, but I felt responsible. I prayed to God that no one had been hurt in the blast, but as I looked at the damage, I knew anyone who had been in an office near mine could not have come through this unscathed. I tried to recall if I’d seen anyone’s office door open when I’d walked to the lab. I remembered seeing a couple of people in the hall, but they were headed toward the lobby.
Morgan walked me to my Explorer. “Don’t touch the rear door handles,” he said. “I doubt our friend was careless enough to leave fingerprints, but we have to check.”
I opened the front door and sat in the driver’s seat. “I don’t know what to do,” I said.
“I want you to stay here, and I’ll assign a police officer to keep an eye on you.” Morgan’s voice was firm, discouraging dissent.
I nodded, because I did not want to go anywhere else until I knew if any of my coworkers had been harmed or killed in the blast.
“I don’t want to scare you more than you already are,” Morgan continued, “but I’m sure you know your life is in danger. You can’t go home, and you can’t stay alone.”
I felt my head nodding in agreement again. I was exhausted and my brain screamed. I’d lost my capacity for fear, burned it out. I watched Morgan walk away and then leaned back against the fabric seat. I needed an aspirin, but I’d left my purse in the lab. I thought about my office and knew everything would be gone: all my files, my briefcase, and my computer. At least I’d backed up most of my computer files on my home computer, so I still had my research. Only the work I’d done in the last week would be gone. My class would get a reprieve from their exam.
A young policeman, dressed in blue, took up his position a hundred feet from me and stood staring at me. Morgan must have given him strict instructions, because he stood nervously at attention, hands crossed in front of him. His gaze did not waver from my Explorer.
I closed my eyes and tried to think. Who usually stayed in their offices during the lunch hour? I didn’t know. I didn’t have many friends at the marine center, so I rarely socialized when I was there. I had meetings and conferences with my associates, but I paid little attention to their work schedules.
The secretaries. My eyes burned from the smoke. At least one of them would have stayed at the center over the noon hour. They rotated their lunch schedules so that the main office was always open during office hours.
I looked at the damaged section of the building again, smoke still billowing from it. My trachea sizzled and my sinuses closed up, reinforcing my already pounding headache. If the secretary had been sitting at her desk, she might have escaped with only minor injuries. The focus of the blast appeared to be near my office, which was fifty feet from the main office. I wondered which secretary had been on duty, and then shook my head and tried to banish the wish that it had been Betty and not Glenda. Betty and I did not get along, but I did not wish her injured.
I gripped my temples in my left hand and leaned forward on the steering wheel. Distant sirens came closer, and I lifted my head to watch as three lime green fire engines pulled into the parking lot. The fire crews moved with speed and efficiency, grabbing equipment and rushing into the building. I hadn’t seen flames, and the smoke seemed to be thinning. I wondered how much of the building would be damaged by smoke. Peter would have a heart attack when he saw this.
Where was Peter? I stretched my neck to see if I could see his car in the parking lot, but the lot was crowded, and my head ached too much to make sense of it all. News traveled fast in a town the size of Kodiak, and in addition to citizen gawkers, news people and their cameras were beginning to arrive. I’d hoped that most of the national reporters were gone, but apparently the networks and larger newspapers had left crews behind, just in case anything else happened. They hadn’t been disappointed.
More police cars arrived, sirens wailing. They set up a barricade at the entrance to the parking lot and announced that everyone except police or emergency workers would have to stay outside the secured area.
A police officer saw me sitting in my vehicle and began to approach but was intercepted by my guard. After a brief discussion, the older officer nodded to my guard and left.
I heard more sirens that I assumed were either additional police cars or fire engines, but when two white-and-blue ambulances pulled to the front of the lot, I sat forward, heart thudding.
I yanked open the car door and left it gaping as I hurried toward the front of the marine center.
“Ma’am, excuse me. Where are you going?” My guard stepped in front of me.
“Someone must have been in there.” I pointed at the building.
“I’m sorry, you can’t go in there,” he said.
“I have to.” I took two steps and was stopped by his firm grasp on my arm.
“No ma’am. I have direct orders.”
I could see there was no point in arguing with him. I turned slowly and returned to my Explorer, feet dragging with each step. My arms, legs, and head all felt numb, and I had the odd sensation I was floating and that none of this was real. I wanted to sleep.
I climbed into the Explorer and slammed the door. I sat still, eyes fixed on the ambulances. Time crawled. Sirens and yells faded together into the background, replaced by a loud humming in my ears.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the clock. Twenty minutes passed, and then thirty. Why didn’t Morgan come out and tell me what was happening? Firemen and policemen continued to rush in and out of the building, but still the ambulance crews did not return. Perhaps the scene was unstable, and the EMS crews had not been allowed inside yet. Maybe there was no hurry, because no one was seriously injured…Or, maybe there was no hurry, because the victims hadn’t survived.
Finally, I saw a gurney, and I sat forward, squinting to see who was on it. I couldn’t make out the patient, but I thought I saw one of the emergency workers look down, say something, and then nod her head. I rubbed my eyes. If the injured person was conscious, maybe he wasn’t seriously injured.
A few minutes later, a second gurney rolled through the front doors, and I watched as the emergency crew lifted the second patient into the same ambulance where they had lifted the first victim. The door slammed shut and the ambulance sped away, lights and sirens blaring.
The second ambulance stayed, and I wondered how many more victims there were. The third gurney exited the building at a slow pace. The two young men pushing it didn’t look down at their patient. I held my breath, squinting to make out details.
The man at the head of the gurney stopped and opened the rear door of the ambulance and then he and the other man lifted their charge inside. I only got a brief look as they lifted their bundle, but it was enough. A sheet concealed the form beneath it. The sheet had been pulled over the victim’s head.
I pushed out of my Explorer and began running. My sudden action startled the young policeman assigned to watch me, and he had to tackle me from behind to stop me.
My head smacked into the soft, wet earth, and I lay there dazed, the wind knocked out of me.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” The policeman was also on the ground and crawled beside my head.
I looked at him as I gasped for breath.
“I’m sorry, but I’m supposed to keep you away from the building.” He rolled me over onto my back, stood, and then pulled me into a sitting position.
“Are you okay?” he asked again.
I fought for air and thought I was going to pass out. My jeans and sweater were wet and muddy from my fall. I wondered for a moment what had happened to my jacket and then remembered that it too had been in my office.
“Jane!” Morgan’s voice boomed behind me, and the young policeman quickly stepped away.
“Are you okay?” Morgan asked. “What are you doing down there?”
“I’m fine.” I stood, brushing clumps of mud off my jeans.
I nodded toward the ambulance driving slowly through the parking lot. “Who?”
Morgan grasped my right forearm, looked into my eyes, and said, “Barry Gant.”
“Oh no.” The image of Gant with his wife in the restaurant the previous evening floated through my mind. Gant had been one of the few colleagues who had told me he was sorry about Craig’s death. How could he be dead? I hadn’t seen him that morning at the marine center, but he’d been alive and enjoying himself at the restaurant the previous evening.
“We have to tell his wife,” I said.
Morgan shook his head. “Someone has already taken care of that.” He gripped my shoulders. “This isn’t your fault, Jane.”
The words bounced off of me. I felt responsible for everything. “Who else?” I asked.
Morgan knew what I meant. “Steve Carole is unconscious and Glenda Wayne suffered burns and abrasions. There are a few people with minor injuries, but it could have been a lot worse.”
Not Glenda. I gripped my pounding head in my hands and began walking toward my Explorer. Steve Carole was a biochemist who had been at the marine center for only three months. I didn’t even know if he was married, but now he might die because someone had planted a bomb in my office. Glenda was a lifelong resident of Kodiak, a happily-married mother of two and grandmother of four. I thought of the photos of her grandchildren that decorated her desk. She had to pull through this.
I couldn’t speak for several minutes. I climbed into the driver’s seat and gripped the steering wheel. Morgan stood by the open door, and when I looked at his face, I saw it was streaked with dirt and soot, the lines in his skin accented by sweat and grime.
“The blast originated in my office, didn’t it?” I was certain I knew the answer my question.
Morgan nodded his head slowly. “It looks that way, but we won’t know for sure until the bomb squad picks through the debris.”
“Why?” The word came out as a sob.
“I don’t know,” Morgan said. “I won’t lie. I think the bomb was meant to kill you and divert our attention away from your car.”
“Jack Justin,” I said.
“He’s at the top of our list, and we’re looking for him. He hasn’t been in his hotel room since yesterday morning, and he hasn’t left the island on any commercial flights.”
“He didn’t get what he was after,” I said.
“Jane, we don’t know that Jack Justin did this, but you are right. The person who planted this bomb did not get the briefcase, and you are still alive.”
“I know my life is in danger,” I said. “I just wish I understood why.”
A man in a charcoal grey suit walked across the lot toward us. “I’ll be back in a minute,” Morgan said, and walked toward the man. They met, conversed for a minute, and then walked briskly toward the building.
I looked for my police guard, but he wasn’t there. I felt useless, alone, and frightened. Why was all this happening to me? Was I somehow being punished for Craig’s death? I knew the idea was absurd, but I couldn’t shake it. At this rate, I soon would be joining Craig.
Morgan returned a few minutes later and sat in the passenger seat of the Explorer.
“Do you feel like driving?” he asked.
“Where are we going?”
“I’m late for a 2:00 p.m. appointment with Maryann Myers,” he said.
“What does this have to do with her?”
“Nothing that I can see,” Morgan said, “but the evidence crews are here now, so I might as well keep my appointment. Mrs. Myers is not an easy lady to find, and I don’t want to miss my opportunity.”
I reached for the key and then remembered it was in my purse in the lab. I pointed toward the glove compartment. “I have another set of keys in there,” I said.
“This isn’t a good place to keep keys,” Morgan said, his head bent to the small compartment as he searched for the keys.
“Yes, I know,” I said, and took the keys from his hand.
I backed out of the space and drove to the entrance of the lot. The policeman guarding the lot unhooked the rope barricade and allowed us to leave.
“Where does she live?” I asked.
“Twenty-seven hundred Willow Creek Drive. Do you know where that is?”
“I think it’s in Bell’s Flats. It will take us about fifteen minutes to get there.”
Morgan sighed. “I hope she’ll wait.”
“I don’t understand why you’re bothering with her.” I nosed the Explorer onto the Near Island Bridge. I’d never seen so much traffic on the long bridge before, and all of it was coming toward us.
“I learned early in my career not to let one incident divert the entire focus of the investigation.”
I was certain this field trip was a waste of time, but I wasn’t the expert. I waited for a long line of traffic before turning left onto Rezanof. It looked as if everyone in town was driving over to Near Island to check out the explosion.
“You might remember,” Morgan said, “just a few days ago you called me, concerned that we were limiting the scope of our investigation to the Justins and their enemies.”
I depressed the accelerator as we left the city limits. The island dropped away to our left, but I was in no frame of mind to appreciate the stunning beauty of Chiniak Bay. “Yes,” I said, “but that was before Justin threatened me and then blew up my office.”
“We don’t know he did that.” Morgan’s voice lacked conviction.
“The bomb in my office is directly related to George Justin’s briefcase. My scientific mind won’t allow me to believe otherwise.
Morgan didn’t respond but stared straight ahead as we sped past Boy Scout Lake, Lake Louise, and Coast Guard Housing. We rounded Barometer Mountain and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Office, where Dana Baynes worked. We crossed the Buskin River Bridge and were buzzed by a plane landing at the airport.
He turned his head at the next group of large buildings. “What’s that?”
“The largest Coast Guard base in the world.”
Morgan nodded his head slowly as he watched the buildings whiz by.
We followed the road around Women’s Bay and past the fairgrounds on our right. We reached the Sargent Creek Bridge, and I slowed.
“I think we turn right on the next road,” I said. “I’m not very familiar with Bell’s Flats.”
I eased onto Russian River Road and drove half a mile before I saw the green street sign for Willow Creek Drive.
“There it is,” Morgan said, and I turned left onto a gravel road. Twenty-seven hundred was a cedar, ranch-style house on the right. I turned into the long, muddy driveway.
The Myers’ attempt at landscaping had resulted in thin, patchy grass and scraggly daffodils, and I wondered why weeds and wildflowers hadn’t taken over the yard. Perhaps someone had gotten carried away with weed killer, or maybe the horse that watched us from a fenced-off section of the yard occasionally was allowed to roam free.
The backyard was dominated by seven-foot, square, king crab pots. Row after row of the metal cages stacked twenty feet in the air either awaited the slim possibility of another king crab season on Kodiak or would be loaded onto a crab boat headed to the Bering Sea in the fall. I wondered if Darren Myers had been a king crab fisherman before becoming a cannery owner.
Two large black labs rushed at us, greeting us with loud, low barks. I eased my door open.
“Hi guys.” The lead dog jumped up on me, adding his muddy paw prints to my stained jeans. I rubbed his ears, and he whined with pleasure. The second dog clamored for his share of affection
“Bruno, Titus, get down. Come here.” Maryann Myers stood in the front doorway, motioning to the dogs. They looked at me, hesitated, and then obeyed their master.
I’d forgotten how small Maryann Myers was. She stood under five feet and could not have weighed more than ninety-five pounds. Today, her flaming red hair was combed and curled around her face, accenting her delicate features. Her blue eyes burned bright, not glassy like they had been at the memorial service. Her gaze jumped from Morgan to me and then back to Morgan again.
Morgan stepped in front of me and withdrew his I.D. from his inside coat pocket. He held out his hand. “Mrs. Myers, I’m Special Agent Nick Morgan, and this is Dr. Marcus from the marine center. I’m sorry I’m late. There was an explosion at the marine center, and I lost track of time.”
“Oh my God!” I noticed a trace of a Southern accent in her voice.
“Come in,” she said, and she somehow magically ushered us into the house at the same time she shooed the dogs out the door.
The interior of the house surprised me. Everything was decorated in white: white carpet, white curtains, white furniture, and white walls. White – especially white carpet – was not a practical choice for muddy Kodiak. I kicked off my shoes in the entryway, and Morgan followed my example.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Maryann Myers asked.
“No,” Morgan said, and I shook my head. We followed her through the hall and turned right into a bright, airy living room.
Open curtains framed two large picture windows, and the sun’s rays danced on the white surfaces. Maryann motioned for us to sit on a white couch, and I looked down at my jeans. “I think maybe I should stand.”
“Hold on just a minute,” she said, and hurried from the room, returning a moment later with a large bath towel. She spread the towel on the couch and I sat on it, feeling like one of her dogs.
She sat across from us in a rocking chair. She folded her hands on her lap and looked at Morgan. “Now, what can I do for you?” she asked. “I’m not sure I understand why you want to talk to me.”
“Mrs. Myers,” Morgan began.
“Please, call me Maryann.”
“Maryann, we’re speaking with everyone we can who was related to or a friend of any of the passengers on Nine Nine November.”
“Why is she involved in this?” Maryann nodded at me. “She’s not an FBI agent.”
Morgan smiled. “She’s my chauffeur. She knows the island, and I don’t.” His explanation made me feel very unimportant, but it seemed to appease Maryann Myers.
She nodded. “Okay. I said some things at the memorial service that I regret. I was upset and very emotional that day.” She crossed her legs and slowly rocked the chair. She looked down at her hands. “Every word I said was true, but I shouldn’t have made a scene. What I did was disrespectful to the other victims and their families.”
“Tell me about your late husband, Mrs. – Maryann,” Morgan said.
She glanced up at the ceiling and began to rock faster. “Darren was soulless. He had absolutely no conscience, and he did whatever it took to get ahead.” She leveled her gaze at Morgan. “All he cared about was himself and making money. I hated him.” Her voice cracked, and she licked her lips.
Morgan remained silent, nodding his head sympathetically and studying Maryann as her hands tightened around the arms of the rocking chair.
She looked from Morgan to me. “I’m glad he’s dead.” Her tone was hostile, but tears streaked down her face. “Now I don’t have to worry about a messy divorce, and everything he owned is mine. I only wish he could know I got it all.” She laughed and wiped her face. “That would bother him more than knowing he was dead.”
I wondered if Mrs. Myers knew she was not doing a good job of clearing herself as a suspect in this matter. She didn’t seem to care about that.
“You want to know if I hated my husband enough to kill him, don’t you?” She sat forward, jutting her chin toward Morgan.
Morgan remained silent.
“Well, I did.” She fell back in the chair and suddenly looked very weary. “But I could never kill innocent people just to get rid of him.” If he’d died from eating a strychnine-laced cinnamon roll, I’d be your woman, but I could never do this. I’d never plant a bomb and blow up a planeload of people.” She began to sob and pulled a tissue from her sweater pocket.
“Can I get you some water?” I asked.
She waved her hand. “No, I’ll be all right,” she said, and the sobs began to subside.
“Did your husband have any enemies?” Morgan’s voice was softer but still insistent.
“Besides me?” Maryann shrugged. “He had plenty of business competitors among the canneries here in town, but I don’t know that you could call any of them enemies.” She shook her head. “You need to talk to David Sturman. He’s the superintendent of the cannery, and he can tell you more than I can about Darren’s business deals.”
“Yes, I plan to speak with him,” Morgan said. He shifted on the couch. “What about the day of the accident? Did you know your husband was flying to town?”
Maryann dabbed her eyes with the tissue. “Yes, I knew. He called me and asked me to drop off some freezer parts at Kodiak Flight Services. The large flash freezer had broken, and they needed the parts right away. He said they could come out on the same flight that he was going to catch back to town.” She shrugged. “We were divorcing, but he still ordered me around.”
Morgan sat forward in his chair. “And you took the parts to the hangar or the dock?”
She paused. “I don’t remember. To the hangar, I guess. That’s where I usually take things.”
The tears started again, but this time Morgan didn’t wait for them to stop. “Did you know who the pilot was going to be for that flight, and what plane he was planning to use?”
If Maryann Myers understood the implications of this question, she didn’t let on. She sniffed. “I didn’t think about it. I knew all the pilots well, but Bill….” She pulled her sweater around her and began rocking again. “That’s the worst part,” she said. “The thing I can’t get out of my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget.”
“What?” I asked.
Her eyes glistened when she looked at me. “Every time I think about that plane exploding, I see Bill as he was the last time I talked to him. He looked so young and handsome.” She rubbed her forehead and then stared at the ceiling. “He wore a teal sweatshirt that looked brand new and was the same shade as his beautiful eyes and the bill on his Kodiak Flight Services cap.” Her voice caught. “His face was bright. He had his entire future in front of him.”
We were all quiet for several moments. “That’s what I remember when I think about that explosion, Agent Morgan. I don’t grieve my husband’s death, but I mourn the loss of that handsome young man.”
I was on the verge of tears myself, fighting for control over my emotions. This day was beginning to wear on me, and I suddenly wanted to be out of this house.
“Mrs. Myers,” Morgan asked, “had you planned to meet your husband when he arrived in town?”
Maryann dropped her hands to her lap. “Oh no, we tried to avoid being in the same town, let alone the same car.”
“Do you know what his plans were?”
Maryann shrugged. “Not really. For some reason, I thought he was planning to catch the evening jet to Anchorage. I don’t know if he told me that or if I just assumed it. He didn’t spend much time in Kodiak. When he came to town, he was usually on his way somewhere else.”
Morgan stood and held out his hand to Maryann, and I felt the knot in my stomach untwist. We finally were getting out of this place.
“Thank you, Maryann. That’s all I have for now, but I hope I can call you if I think of anything else.”
She grasped Morgan’s hand and stood. “Of course, but like I told you before, I don’t know anything that can help you with this investigation.”
“Sometimes, people know more than they realize.”
Maryann followed us through the house, and when we stopped in the front hall to put on our shoes, she opened the front door and ordered her barking dogs to sit. They didn’t want to, but they obeyed the order, tails wagging while they watched us walk to the Explorer.
I started the motor and backed slowly out of the muddy driveway. I reached for my purse to find my sunglasses and then remembered it was still in my lab at the marine center.
“Where to?” I asked.
“Let’s drive back to the marine center and see how the investigation is going.”
“My purse is in a downstairs lab,” I said. “Can we get it?”
Morgan nodded. “I think so.”
“What was your impression of Maryann Myers?” I asked, as we cruised along Russian River Road.
“Interesting lady,” Morgan said. “She’s cooperative and doesn’t hide her feelings about her husband, but she’s a little unstable.”
“Who isn’t?” I asked.
Morgan looked at me. “How are you doing?”
“I’ll be okay. I just wish this was over.”
Morgan looked out his window and didn’t say anything for several minutes. We were driving past the airport, when he said, “I think you should cancel your collection trip.”
“No,” I said. “Why should I do that?” I was beginning to look forward to the collection trip. I would get away from town, violent threats, exploding offices, and Jack Justin’s cursed briefcase.
“Someone is after you. Until now, threatening you was good enough, but today they tried to kill you.”
“Only because Jack Justin thought he could kill me and get his father’s briefcase. Now that he knows I don’t have the briefcase, maybe he’ll leave me alone.”
Morgan massaged his temples. “I don’t believe that, and neither do you. I don’t know who or what we’re dealing with, but the person is dangerous. You’ve made no secret about your field trip, and once you’re in the wilderness by yourself, Jane, the police and I can’t protect you.”
“I’m not asking for your protection,” I said. “I can’t put off the collection trip. I’ve already waited too long to get those samples.”
Morgan sighed and stared straight ahead. We continued our trip in silence. When I pulled onto the Near Island Bridge, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The bridge was packed with vehicles. Crashing waves and gulls’ cries had been replaced by blaring horns and angry voices, and I felt as if I suddenly had been teleported to Los Angeles during rush hour. I was certain there were more vehicles on this bridge than there ever had been before, and I hoped it could support the weight.
“Wow,” Morgan said. “The police should be out here clearing this. It will take us an hour or more to get to the marine center.”
“Why don’t you get out and walk? It’s not far.”
“What about you?” he asked. A car was beginning to pull onto the bridge behind me, so I jammed the Explorer into reverse and edged backwards. The car retreated and allowed me to back off the bridge.
“I’ll go back to my apartment to get cleaned up.”
“No, I can’t leave you alone,” Morgan said.
I looked at Morgan. “I’ll be fine. Call me later.”
Morgan looked at the bridge and back at me. “Be careful,” he said, and slid out of the Explorer, slamming the door behind him.
I knew I’d frustrated him, but I refused to be treated like a helpless woman. I’d been taking care of myself for a long while, and this wasn’t the first time I’d run into dangerous men. I drove toward my apartment, feeling self-sufficient, but the closer I got to home, that feeling began to dissolve into apprehension.
I parked in my usual space and watched the stairs for a few minutes. Two teenage boys bounced down them, laughing at some private joke, and my mood lightened.
I looked for my purse and again remembered it was at the marine center. I didn’t have my apartment key. I thought about walking to the manager’s office and getting a duplicate key, but then decided to check first to see if I’d forgotten to lock the door or had left a window open. I had been so worried about intruders that I doubted either of these two possibilities was likely.
I eased up the concrete stairs, my chest and stomach bunched into knots. I rounded the corner, took two steps toward my apartment, and nearly bolted. The front door was cracked open two inches.
I didn’t know what to do. Should I run and get help? My mind screamed, flee! However, my body kept inching toward the door. I couldn’t seem to stop myself.
I wiggled my fingers through the crack in the door and gently pushed it open. When I saw my home, rage usurped fear. Every inch of it was totaled. Through tears that were distorting my vision, everything I saw was broken. The furniture was slit, and my stuff was strewn everywhere.
Not my computer! I rushed through the apartment, mindless of danger. I threw open the back bedroom door and waded through papers and shattered drawers that apparently had been flung against the walls. I switched on the computer, and the screen bounced to life. I sank into the desk chair and cried, but this time, the tears were tears of relief. If the vandal had destroyed this computer, my research, a year and a half of my work, would have been gone.
I rummaged through the wreckage of my home office until I found a jump drive, and then I began the lengthy process of backing up everything on the computer hard drive. I’d kept three copies of my research. The original was on the hard drive of my computer at the marine center. I copied that onto jump drives, and once a week brought the drives home to copy onto the hard drive of my home computer. Unfortunately, I then took the jump drives back to the office, where they were stored. When my office blew up, I lost two copies of my research, and if the vandal had destroyed my home computer, I would have lost it all.
All I could think about was generating another copy of my work. I didn’t worry that someone might still be in my apartment or that I had left the door wide open. Nothing mattered until my research was safe.
Forty-five minutes later, everything was copied. I put the drive in my pocket and found my passport, which was stashed in my travel backpack. I hurried into the kitchen, where I kept a spare set of house keys in a small drawer. Luckily, that drawer was still in place, the keys in the far rear corner where I had left them.
I ran from the apartment, slamming and locking the door behind me, jumped into the Explorer, and drove to the bank. The lady in charge of the safety deposit boxes peered curiously at me over her reading glasses, and I remembered I still was wearing my muddy clothes. I explained that I needed to get into my safety deposit box and supplied my passport for identification. She nodded and led the way to the back of the bank.
Once I locked the jump drive in my box, I collapsed in a chair. Overwhelming relief soon was replaced by fear and uncertainty. I wanted to call Morgan, but I knew he would send the police to my apartment and insist I not return there. It was bad enough that an intruder had pawed through my things; I didn’t want a squad of police searching through everything, too. My privacy was valuable, and I hated the person who had invaded it. I would not allow him to keep me out of my home.
I felt stronger and more in control as I strode from the bank and climbed into my vehicle, but my resolve began to dwindle when I parked in the lot at my apartment complex. My hands trembled as I pushed the key into the lock on the doorknob. I held my breath and then pushed the door inward.
The mess was just as I had left it. I shut the door and stood quietly for a moment, listening. I was just about to relax, certain I was alone, when my telephone buzzed and a scream escaped my throat.
I was breathing hard when I answered. I expected to hear Morgan’s voice, and I was trying to decide whether or not to tell him the truth, when my father surprised me by saying, “Jane, are you okay? You sound out of breath.”
“Dad!” I wanted to cry and tell him everything, but I knew better. There was nothing he could do to help me with this problem, and I didn’t want to worry him any more than I already had.
“I’m fine,” I said. “Why are you calling in the middle of the day?” I squeezed my head in my hand and prayed this already bad day wasn’t about to get worse. I had answered too many awful phone calls during my mother’s long, horrible fight against ovarian cancer, and even for a while after she had lost that battle, I cringed each time I heard a ringing phone. Now, my dad was calling me at my apartment during work hours, and his voice sounded strained.
“The bombing at the marine center is all over the news,” he said. “They said one person is dead and at least three have been injured. I’ve been trying to get ahold of you on your cell phone, at your office, and at home.” I looked at the blinking light on my answering machine and felt guilty.
“Sorry, Dad. I should have called you right away. I’m fine, but it has been a terrible day.”
“What’s going on up there?”
“I wish I knew,” I said. “I’m safe, though. You don’t need to worry about me.” I gazed at the wreckage of my apartment while I uttered this lie. I hoped he couldn’t hear the fear in my voice, but I knew he wasn’t convinced all was well.
“It looks as though you won’t be able to work at your office for a while. Why don’t you fly down here and visit for a couple of weeks?”
“I’d love to, Dad, but I can’t. This is my busiest time of the year. I’m planning on a collection trip over the fourth, so I’ll get out of town for a few days.”
That seemed to appease him, and I didn’t say anything to alter his assumption that I would be going on this collection trip with a group of people.
I promised him I would keep in touch and then disconnected and checked my answering machine messages. I had two from him and one from a man with a deep voice and a slight accent that I couldn’t place.
“Dr. Marcus,” the man said. The words were measured and exact. “We are tired of playing games. More people will die until you decide to cooperate. We will give you one more chance. Do not leave your telephone. We will call you later with a time and location.” That was the end of message. I pushed the save button. I would have to let Morgan listen to this. Perhaps FBI experts could identify the accent and possibly even the voice if he was a well-known terrorist.
I was certain of two things: I never had heard that voice before, and the caller had not been Jack Justin. Either Jack had associates, or he had been telling me the truth when he said that someone else wanted his father’s briefcase. But what happened to Jack, and why did everyone think I had the briefcase?
I changed into sweats, and then, beginning in the kitchen, I cleaned my apartment, trying not to think about the evidence I was destroying. I wondered if the intruder had left fingerprints, but I shuddered at the thought of a forensic crew dusting every surface of my home. Since the airplane explosion, my life had been in shambles. It was time I took control again. For the last few days, I had been blindly following the instructions of terrorists and police. Now, I wanted to think for myself and take charge of my own life.
At 6:00 p.m., Morgan called. I told him about the message on my answering machine, but omitted the part about my apartment being ransacked.
“You shouldn’t be there alone, Jane.” His voice sounded weary and strained.
“I’ll be fine,” I said.
“At least record every call,” Morgan said. “If the guy calls back, we’ll want to have it on tape.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I have it arranged so a police car drives past your apartment complex every few minutes, but that’s the best I can do. Between the marine center bombing and trying to locate Jack Justin, we’re spread a little thin.”
“I’m fine.” I glanced at my living room floor. I’d put the cushions back on the couch and swept up the broken glass, but papers and debris still covered the floor.
“I’ll try to stop by later,” Morgan said. He paused a moment. “Your life is in danger, Jane. Don’t take this lightly.”
“What about my purse?” I said.
“I have it. I’ll try to get it over there tonight.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll be careful, I promise.”
I resumed cleaning, moving lethargically from room to room. I felt drained, and my stomach growled from hunger, but the thought of food made me sick.
At 8:15 p.m., the phone rang again. I hurried to it and pushed the record button on my machine. My heart pounded in my head as I picked up the receiver.
It was a life insurance salesman, and I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so irritated that this guy had unwittingly scared me half to death.
“I have life insurance,” I said.
“You can never have too much.” My hand grew clammy, and I began to wonder if this was one of the terrorists. Then, he launched into a description of the specifics of the policy, and I relaxed.
“I don’t want your insurance, and I’m going to hang up now.” I dropped the receiver into the cradle. I was doing him a favor. If he had any idea what a bad risk I was, he wouldn’t be trying to sell me life insurance.
When my apartment was reassembled, I turned on the television and flipped through the channels. I caught a glimpse of the marine center on CNN and changed channels. I stopped at a sitcom, but I kept hearing noises and having to mute the television to listen more closely. Finally, I shut it off and leaned back against the couch.
I closed my eyes and was almost asleep when the phone rang again. I fumbled with the answering machine and the phone, trying to clear my head and sharpen my senses.
“Hello,” I said.
“Jane, are you okay? You sound out of breath.”
“Peter.” I was surprised to hear my boss’ voice. “I’m fine. How about you? Where were you during the blast?”
“I was home eating lunch,” he said. “I didn’t even know about it until I drove back to work at 1:00 p.m.”
“Thank God you weren’t there.”
“Poor Gant wasn’t so lucky.”
“What about the others?” I asked.
“Both Steve and Glenda are in the hospital. I haven’t talked to them, but they’re listed in stable condition.”
“Did Steve regain consciousness?”
“Yes,” Peter said, “but I understand the doctors think he may have some hearing loss.”
I pulled the bar stool over and sat on it. “What a mess,” I said.
“The detectives tell me the blast originated in the area of your office.”
My neck stiffened. I should have known this was not just a friendly call to check on my safety and state of mind. I said nothing but waited for Peter to continue.
“Do you know anything about it?”
“Since the airplane crash, I’ve been receiving threats, Peter. I told the FBI, but neither they nor I expected anything like this.” I wanted to cry. I was too weary to explain this to Peter.
“I don’t understand, Jane. What are you involved in?”
“I don’t understand either, Peter. I swear to you that I’m innocent, but somehow I got caught in the middle of this.”
“The explosion today is related to the plane crash?”
“The FBI thinks so.”
“And when did you get involved in this?”
“After the plane crash. Someone thinks I took something from the crash site, but I didn’t. I keep trying to tell them that I don’t have what they want, but they won’t believe me.”
“So they blew up the marine center?”
I rubbed my head. “I guess so, Peter. I don’t know.”
“I see,” Peter said, and then I heard several seconds of dead air.
“Are the police going to let us back into the marine center tomorrow?” I asked.
“They said we can go to the basement labs and take out anything we need, but then we have to move out until the structural stability of the building can be tested. I’ve been on the phone all afternoon and evening lining up an engineer for that and a contractor to rebuild.” He sighed. “It will cost a fortune, and I don’t know what we’ll do in the meantime. Fish and Game has offered us some office space, but they can’t give us what we need.”
I fought back the urge to apologize. Despite what Peter thought, this was not my fault. I’d been blaming myself for too many things, and I was not going to take the rap for this. I knew my job was in jeopardy, and I had to be careful.
I changed the subject. “I’m still planning my collection trip. I don’t think I can afford to wait on that.”
“By all means, yes. What about your research?” His voice rose in pitch.
“Don’t worry. I have it backed up here.”
“Good. I wonder how much data the other researchers lost. I’d better call everyone.”
“Okay, Peter. I’ll be at the marine center first thing in the morning.”
“We’ll have a meeting then.” He paused a moment. “And please let me know what’s happening with this.”
The phone went dead, and I slammed it down. I knew from Peter’s last comment that he blamed me for the chaos in his life. Was it already time to polish up my resume? Who would hire someone whose previous boss blamed her for demolishing the workplace and killing one of the researchers?
I usually could blame myself for my problems, and I had blamed myself for Craig’s death, but now I was beginning to feel like a victim, and that made me mad. I wasn’t planning to let anyone but me screw up my life.
I walked to the back bedroom and turned on the computer. While I still had a job, I would work. I began thinking up test questions to torture my students with. I didn’t know where we would hold class, but somehow, we would finish this term.
It took awhile for my brain to click into gear, but once it did, I was able to push everything else from my mind. At 11:15 p.m., the telephone rang, and without even thinking, I picked up the extension near my computer.
As soon as I said hello, I remembered I should be recording the call, and I stood, unsure whether I should run to the kitchen extension or stay where I was. When I heard Nick Morgan’s voice, I sagged and sat on the edge of the desk.
The weariness was gone from Morgan’s voice. He sounded tense and alert. “Has anyone tried to contact you since I talked to you earlier?”
“No. I’ve been here all night, but they haven’t called back.”
“I’m at the boat harbor,” Morgan said. “I don’t want to go into detail now, but Jack Justin’s body just washed up at the boat ramp.”