Murder Over Kodiak – Chapter 11

Murder Over Kodiak

Chapter Eleven

 Robin Barefield

Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author

Author Masterminds Charter Member

My throat was too dry to respond.

“Are you there, Jane?”

“How long?” I asked.

“It’s hard to tell, but the coroner is certain he’s been dead at least twenty-four hours.”

Justin hadn’t planted the bomb. He’d been telling the truth about the dangerous men who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted.

“It looks like he was tortured before he died,” Morgan said. “I suspect he told his attackers that you were the person who had the briefcase, and that’s why you’ve suddenly become so popular.”

“Oh, no.”

“Get out of your apartment now, Jane. I’m surprised these people haven’t been there already, but you can’t take any more chances.”

“They have been here.”


I told him about my apartment being trashed. As far as I could tell, nothing had been taken, but whoever had been in my home had been destructive and violent. I tried to explain to Morgan that I hadn’t called him because I didn’t want police trooping through my apartment.

“Jane,” he said. “You should be smarter than that.”

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” I said. “If I stay with a friend, I put her life in danger. I can’t feel responsible for more deaths.”

“Okay, then check into a motel. Stay where I’m staying at the Baranov Inn. The FBI has six rooms reserved, and right now, two are vacant. I’ll call the front desk and tell them to give you the key to one of the rooms.”


“Hurry, Jane. I sent a police officer to watch your apartment complex. I’ll have him follow you to the hotel.”

I hung up the phone. My hands were trembling, and my mind was filled with the desire to run. I forced myself to sit and think about what I needed to take with me. I took a small duffel bag from my bedroom closet and filled it with clothes and toiletry items. I took enough for two days, but I would have to come back here to pack for my field trip.

I grabbed my keys, locked the door, and sprinted for my Explorer, expecting to be attacked from behind at any moment. I started the engine, turned on the lights, jammed the gearshift into reverse, and backed out of the space. I took a deep breath and forced myself to relax, easing into forward and driving from the lot at a normal pace.

As soon as I left the lot, a police car pulled away from the curb and followed me. If Jack Justin’s murderers were watching, I didn’t see them. The streets of Kodiak were nearly deserted. Except for the police car, I saw only two other vehicles, and they were driving toward me, not following me.

I collected the room key from the desk clerk and then hauled my bag up the staircase to the second floor. I locked and bolted the door to my room, changed into an oversized T-shirt, and climbed beneath the covers. I didn’t think sleep would be possible, and I planned only to try to relax until Morgan returned to the hotel. I wanted to hear about the investigation, to know if the FBI had uncovered any leads to the identity of Justin’s murderer. I also didn’t think I would feel safe enough to sleep until Morgan was in the hotel.

I was wrong. I drifted to sleep soon after I closed my eyes, exhaustion forcing my mind to shut down. If Morgan tried to contact me after he returned to the hotel, I didn’t hear him. I didn’t hear anything until the front desk called me at 7:00 with my wake-up call.

I sat on the edge of the strange bed, groggy and disoriented. Bit by bit, I remembered the nightmare of the previous day and the reason I had slept in a hotel room. I stumbled to the shower and stood under the hot spray. My right thigh was bruised, and my shoulder hurt from where I’d hit the ground when the young policeman tackled me. These were small inconveniences when compared with the fate of Barry Gant or Jack Justin.

I searched for the bravado and anger I had tapped into the previous evening, but fear was the emotion of choice this morning. I didn’t want to leave the safety of the locked hotel room. What if Jack’s killers were waiting for me?

I took my time dressing and applying makeup. The hotel room was dark and the building quiet. I considered turning on the television, but I didn’t want to see the news. I pulled back the heavy curtain and was delighted by the view of blue sky. The world seemed slightly friendlier.

Knuckles rapped against my door, and I instinctively pushed into the far corner of the room.

“Jane,” a familiar voice called.

I exhaled and walked to the door, checking through the peephole before I unlatched the bolt. I pulled the door open. Nick Morgan was freshly showered, shaved, and immaculately dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and pinstriped tie. However, his grey face revealed that he had slept little, if at all, the previous night. In his right hand, he clutched my purse.

“Come in.” I pushed the door open.

He handed me my purse and then crossed the room and sat stiffly on the edge of the bed.

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“Oh no. Just tired.” He rubbed his face with his right hand. “I think I’m getting too old for this job.”

“How did you find Jack Justin?”

“We didn’t. He washed up on the boat ramp at high tide. A fisherman called the police.”

“They tortured him?” I leaned against the desk. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the answer to my question.

Morgan braced his hands behind him on the bed and leaned back. “His wrists were tied behind his back, and his ankles bound together. He had multiple abrasions across his face and chest. He’d been badly beaten.”

“Do you know yet who did it?”

Morgan sighed and looked at the ceiling. “I’m sure you know this is confidential, but under the circumstances, I feel you have a right to know.”

“I don’t plan to talk to reporters,” I said.

“Luckily, Kodiak is an island, and as you know, airplanes are the only way to quickly get back and forth to the mainland. Since only two airlines fly between Kodiak and Anchorage, it requires no great detective work to scan the passenger lists.”

“But people can use fake I.D.’s and travel under false identities,” I said.

“Yes, it’s not as easy as it used to be, but it can still be done, and with all the news people traveling to Kodiak, it makes our job more difficult, but we can still trace most of the passengers, and we came across a couple who have no business on the island. We haven’t located them yet, but I think they are the people we’re looking for.”

“So you’re searching for them?”

“Yes,” Morgan said. “And, we should be able to stop them from leaving the island.”

I wondered if I still would be alive when they tried to leave the island.

Morgan read my mind. “You will have your own personal guard until we catch them. I know I can’t keep you locked in a hotel room, but I insist that you accept protection.”

I nodded. He didn’t have to twist my arm.

“What are you planning to do today?” he asked.

“I’m getting ready to go to the marine center. We’re supposed to get our gear out of the labs and then have a meeting about what to do next. We have to find temporary office space somewhere.”

Morgan slowly pushed himself off the bed and stood. “If you’re ready to go, I’ll walk downstairs with you and introduce your guard.”

“Does he have to ride with me?” I wanted protection, but I needed my space.

Morgan smiled. “He’ll follow you in an unmarked car. You won’t even know he’s there.”

We walked down the stairs and across the lobby. The young man who had been assigned to watch me the previous day jumped up from the couch and stood as soon as he saw us. He was not wearing his police uniform today but wore black slacks and a dark green sweater.

We walked up to him, and in a low voice, Morgan made the introduction. “Jane, this is David Wesley.”

I held out my hand, and David shook it. “Dr. Marcus,” he said.

“I believe we met yesterday.” I smiled at the young man, and his face turned beet red.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you.”

“I’m fine.” I glanced up at Morgan. “I’ll talk to you later, then.”

He nodded and then looked at Wesley. “If anything unusual happens, call me right away.”

“Yes sir,” Wesley said.

Morgan nodded and then strode toward the stairs. Wesley and I started out the door, but the cold morning air reminded me that I had forgotten my jacket.

“I have to run upstairs for a minute, I’ll be right back.”

“Yes ma’am,” Wesley said, looking back and forth from the street to the stairs.

“You can wait for me in your car; I’ll be back in a minute. I just need to grab a jacket.”

He thought about this for a moment and then nodded his head. “Okay.”

I hurried up the stairs and started down the long corridor toward my room. I saw a couple at the far end of the hall, locked in a passionate embrace. I could see the side of the man’s face and recognized him as David Sturman, the man who had eulogized Darren Myers at the memorial service. I couldn’t see the woman’s face, but I knew who she was from her bright red hair. I took several steps back and watched the couple from a distance as Sturman smoothly unlocked the door and they slid into his room. Had Darren Myers known that the superintendent of his cannery was having an affair with his estranged wife? If so, the two men must have had a strained working relationship. I would have to report this information to Morgan.

I continued to my room and unlocked the door. The phone was ringing when I pushed the door open, and I assumed that Morgan saw me go one way and my guard the other and was calling me to scold me.

I grabbed my jacket and then snatched up the phone. “Hello.

I sat hard on the bed when I heard the caller’s voice. It was the same deep, accented voice I’d heard on my answering machine. “Dr. Marcus,” the man said. “We know where you are hiding. You can’t escape us. We are not playing a game. We want the briefcase.”

My heart pounded like a bass drum in my ears. The room appeared particulate and grainy, my head light. “I don’t have your briefcase.” I was surprised at how calm my voice sounded. “I’m not a fool, and I don’t have a death wish. I never had your briefcase, but if I did, I would have either given it to you or the FBI by now.”

I stopped talking, waiting for a reply, and thinking about what to say next. Instead, the phone went dead. I pulled the handset from my ear and stared at it, the plastic shaking in my trembling fingers. I dialed the front desk and asked to be connected to Morgan’s room. There was no answer.

I pulled on my jacket, grabbed my overnight bag, and sprinted down the stairs to the lobby, hoping to catch Morgan on his way out of the hotel. When I didn’t see him, I ran out the front door and to the driver’s window of the unmarked Ford parked on the street in front of the hotel.

Wesley rolled down the window. “You look upset, ma’am, is everything okay?” His eyes widened.

“Did you see Agent Morgan leave the hotel?”

“Yes ma’am, he left a couple of minutes ago.”


“He’s probably on his way to the police station.”

I looked at my watch. I was already late. “Can you call him and tell him I just heard from the man he’s looking for?  I don’t have any information, but I’ll be at the marine center, and he can call me on my cell if he wants to talk to me.”

“Yes ma’am,” Wesley said. “Were you threatened?”

“In a vague way,” I said. “I received a phone call in my room, and the caller wanted to let me know that he knew where I was staying.”

“He could be watching us, then.” Wesley scanned the street in both directions.

“I’m on my way to the marine center.”

“I’m right behind you, ma’am.”

I didn’t see anyone who looked out of place as I drove to the marine center, but then I hadn’t seen anyone follow me the previous night. Maybe my home phone was bugged. The person or people who trashed my apartment would have had plenty of opportunities to plant a listening device in my telephone. If they were listening to my phone calls, they would have heard Morgan tell me to go to the hotel. What would they do now? Had I finally convinced them that I didn’t have the briefcase?

The marine center was a depressing site. It had that eerie aura of death that hangs over disasters the morning after the storm. I showed my I.D. to a guard stationed at the entrance to the parking lot, and he waved us into the lot. I parked and walked slowly toward the front doors. Wesley followed several paces behind.

The bomb only had destroyed a small portion of the building. The section that housed the offices was sealed off, but the rest of the building appeared untouched by the blast. I hoped the structural damage was not as bad as Peter feared, and that we could move back in to part of the building while the rest was repaired.

Peter stood in front of the glass doors addressing a group of my colleagues who formed in a semicircle in front of him. I hurried to join the group. Some turned toward me and nodded, dazed expressions on their faces. The rest concentrated on Peter’s depressing news. While I’m sure everyone knew Dr. Gant had been killed and two others injured, most didn’t understand until now that they would have to move their laboratory gear out of the building or suspend their research until the building was declared safe to reenter.

“How will we teach our classes?” Diedre Spreate asked.

“I haven’t worked out everything yet, Dr. Spreate, but perhaps the community college will loan us some space. They don’t have much going on there during the summer session.”

Peter looked grey and was dressed in a sweatshirt and blue jeans, instead of his usual well-cut suit. If this didn’t give him wrinkles, nothing would.

“If possible, though,” Peter said, “I will ask you to call your students if you have their phone numbers, or perhaps meet them here outside the building during your assigned class time. They will not be allowed to enter the building, but if they have something in one of the labs that they need, they can tell you or another staff member, and we can get it for them. We have access to the labs until 3:00 this afternoon.”

“And then what?” Arnold Nelson, a small, grey-haired man with a pinched face asked. I didn’t know him well, but he had a reputation as a whiner.

Peter sighed. “Realistically, I don’t think we’ll be able to go into any part of the building for a week. If the engineers determine that the lobby and labs are structurally sound, then we should be able to move back into that portion of the building. Of course, if they aren’t safe,” Peter shrugged, “I don’t know.”

“What about our offices?” Sam Norman asked. “I have papers in my office that I need.” Sam was a bright-eyed young researcher. I knew he wouldn’t be bothered by a change of office and laboratory space, as long as he could continue with his research. His office was several doors further down the corridor from mine, and I sincerely hoped his work was still there.

“I understand, Sam,” Peter said. “I’m working with the police on it. They absolutely refuse to let us go into that section of the building, but I think they might haul things out for us.”

Sam groaned. “No, Peter. I don’t want someone shoving my files of research into a box. They’ll lose half of it, and I’ll never be able to make sense of what they’ve done.”

Peter held up his hands. “That may be the best I can do. I think we should get everything out of there before a construction crew begins the repairs.”

“At least you have an office to clear out,” Jen Wang, a petite Chinese woman whose office had been next to mine, said. “I have nothing left to worry about: no computer, no files, no correspondence, no classroom materials. I have nothing.”

“Yes,” Peter said. “Next to Dr. Gant’s death and the injuries, that’s the worst of the news. Dr. Wang’s, Dr. Marcus’, Dr. Gant’s, and Dr. Taylor’s offices were destroyed.” Wang’s and Taylor’s offices were on either side of mine, and Gant’s was across the hall.

“Luckily,” Peter continued, “Wang, Marcus, and Taylor all kept copies of their research elsewhere, so it’s not a complete loss.” Peter looked around the crowd. “I hope this will convince the rest of you to back up your research and keep copies of it stored at your home or someplace safe. I know I tend to get sloppy about backing up my material, but I’ll be more diligent from now on.”

“What about the offices next to those, do you know how much damage was done there?” Arnold Nelson asked. His office was on the other side of Wang’s.

“I don’t know, Arnold. The police are supposed to tell me the full extent of the damages this morning. I took a walk around the building yesterday, and your office is severely damaged, but I think you’ll be able to retrieve most of your files. I doubt you have a computer, though.”

“Oh my God!” Nelson wailed, and the group turned in unison to glare at him. None of us believed he was foolish enough to store raw data on the hard drive of his computer. Even if he hadn’t made several copies, he should at least have one copy on a thumb drive at his office, and the thumb drive was probably okay.

Peter held up his hands. “This won’t be pleasant for any of us, Arnold, but we’ll have to do our best to get through it.”

“Why would anyone want to bomb a marine science center?” Diedre Spreate asked.

Betty, who was standing at the front of the group, turned and glared at me. I felt my face grow hot.

“I have no idea, Dr. Spreate. I hope the FBI and police figure it out soon.” Peter paused and looked around the semicircle, but the group was silent, too overwhelmed for more questions. He sighed again. “Get what you need out of the labs today. Fish and Game has offered us space to store our equipment, and I’ve rounded up a few vans to move things. After that, we’ll take off the rest of this week and Monday and Tuesday of next week. By Tuesday, I’ll get in touch with each of you and let you know the plan. Until then, if you want to meet with your students at your home or some other place, that’s up to you. Otherwise, give them a week off, too.”

Peter stopped speaking, but no one moved. “I have a van in the parking lot. We can begin loading gear any time,” Peter urged.

Sam Norman was the first to move, and after he entered through the lobby doors, a procession of researchers straggled after him.

I walked up to Betty. “How’s Glenda?” I asked.

“She has a broken arm and a concussion.” Her tone was sharp, and her assignment of blame crystal-clear.

“Is she still in the hospital?”

She folded her arms across her body and thrust her chin in the air. “You stay away from her!”

“You bitch!” I said. The muscles in my right arm tightened as I fought the desire to slap her.

Peter had been talking to a police officer, but when he heard my raised voice, he pivoted on the balls of his feet.

Betty glared at me and hurried away toward the parking lot. Peter approached, his head tilted, studying me as if he’d never seen me before. “What was all that about?”

“Betty has a problem with me,” I said. “Her attitude is starting to irritate me.”

Peter reached out and rested his hand on my shoulder. He squeezed gently. “This has been a bad week, hasn’t it, Jane?”

“I’d say so.”

“And I haven’t been much help.”

“I know the marine center is your first concern, Peter.”

“I don’t blame you for this. You know that don’t you?”

I didn’t, and his words made me feel better.

“I don’t understand what’s going on, but I don’t think you do either.”

“I wish I knew, Peter. I’d tell you if I did.”

“You have a police guard, don’t you?” He nodded behind me, and I turned and saw Wesley standing twenty feet behind me. I’d almost forgotten he was there.

“Yes, the FBI thinks someone is trying to kill me. They believe yesterday’s bomb was meant for me, but it’s not because of something I did. I would never intentionally put anyone at the marine center in danger.”

Peter nodded. “I know,” he said. “Listen, your research is important, but I don’t expect you to continue under these circumstances. Why don’t you take some time off and go away for a while?  I’ll get someone to take over your class. When the police catch the people responsible for this, you can come back.”

“No,” I said. “I have a collection trip planned for tomorrow, and I’m going on it.” I realized I’d raised my voice, and looked around, alarmed. Several of my coworkers still stood in the courtyard, their eyes fixed on me.

What was I doing, shouting my plans so everyone could hear? While I was at it, I might as well announce the time of my flight and which plane I was chartering.

Peter gripped my elbow and walked me toward the building. “Be careful, Jane,” he whispered. “Too many people have died already.

I went down to the lab and began packing my gear. Except for the cloying smell of smoke, the basement labs appeared untouched by the blast. At first, I’d thought this would be an easy task. Since I’d already gathered most of my camping gear, I planned to haul it upstairs and throw it into my Explorer. It wasn’t until I walked into the lab that I realized I also would have to pack and move my centrifuge and my chromatography and spectography equipment.

I collapsed on the lab stool, propped my elbow on the table, and rubbed my temples. Maybe Peter was right. Perhaps I should just go away for a few weeks.

“Hey, Doc, you okay?” Geoff’s voice brought an instant smile to my face.

I swiveled on the stool and looked at him. He wore a faded denim-colored sweatshirt and dirty blue jeans. “You’re a welcome sight,” I said.

“That must mean you need help moving things.”

“Now that you mention it…”

He grinned. “All the women want me for my back.”

“It must be hell.”

“I have a few more things to move from my lab, and then I’m all yours.”

“My heart’s racing now,” I said.

Geoff’s cheerful mood and offer of help lifted the storm clouds a little. I would get through this somehow. For now, I could move my equipment to the Fish and Game building, but I would need a lab to test the bivalve samples as soon as I returned from my collection trip. It will work out, I told myself. If nothing else, I could work at night in someone else’s lab.

It took us three hours to load and move everything to the Fish and Game building. The biologists in the second-floor crustacean research lab greeted me with more cordiality than I could have hoped for. They not only allowed me to store all my equipment there, but gave me workspace in the corner of the room. I made a mental note to thank them in my acknowledgments when I published the article on my work.

Geoff was given a small work area in the basement of the Fish and Game building, and I helped him carry his gear down there. I then made one more trip to the marine center to grab my camping gear and load it in the back of the Explorer.

I called Kodiak Flight Services and asked the dispatcher if I could speak with Steve. A moment later his deep voice came on the line.

I told him I had most of my gear with me and asked him if I brought it over to the hangar today if he could assure me that it would be kept in a locked room.

“I’ll lock it in my personal storage room,” he said. “No one but me has the key to it.”

“Great,” I said. “There’s one more thing I need to ask you.”

“Yes, Jane. I will be your pilot tomorrow, and I will check every square inch of the plane.”

I laughed. “You don’t get paid enough to put up with customers like me, do you?”

“I never get paid enough,” Steve said. “Bring your gear over here as soon as you can, and I’ll store it for you.”

The tent, radio, antenna, battery, shovel, collection bags, buckets, sieve, shotgun, and shells were already in the back of my Explorer, but I would have to stop by my apartment for my sleeping bag and clothes, and I was not looking forward to going back there. I knew Morgan would not approve of me returning, but under Wesley’s protection, I would be safe.

Wesley followed me to my apartment, and I walked up to his car to let him know what I was doing. He nodded. “I’ll follow you upstairs to your apartment, check it out, and then stand guard outside while you get your things.”

His confidence relaxed me. Anyone would be crazy to attack me in the middle of the day while an armed policeman was escorting me. Of course, the killer could have planted a bomb in my apartment, rigged to explode when someone pushed open the front door. A platoon of policemen couldn’t protect me against a bomb. I shook the thought from my head as Wesley followed me up the stairs of my complex and waited while I inserted the key into the door lock. Wesley was tall and muscular, and his bulk felt reassuring as he stood behind me.

I closed my eyes, turned the key, and pushed on the door. The door opened easily, and after a few seconds of silence, I opened my eyes.

My apartment was just as I had left it. If anyone had been there since I was, he’d left no visible trace. Wesley pushed past me and quickly checked all the rooms. I walked into the kitchen to wait for him and saw the light blinking on my answering machine. I reflexively pushed the replay button and then wondered if I should have waited to listen to the message until Wesley was there.

I had one message, and it was from Dana Baynes. “My God, girl,” her husky voice rasped from my machine. “What’s going on? If half of the rumors I’ve heard are true, you’re up to your eyebrows in this mess. Call me as soon as you get this.”

“Ma’am?” Wesley heard the voice and hurried to my aid.

“Just the answering machine, David. Sorry, I guess I should have waited for you before I played it.”

His expression remained wide-eyed and serious. “I can’t tell if anyone has been in here, but there’s no one here now.”

“Thanks, David, I’ll hurry.”

“I’ll be outside if you need me.”

It took me less than five minutes to collect my gear and lock the apartment. Wesley carried my sleeping bag, while I hauled my backpack down to the Explorer. I climbed into the driver’s seat, told Wesley my next stop would be Kodiak Flight Services, and then waited while he got into his car and started the engine.

I drove on the Chiniak Highway. Even though my flight would leave from Trident Basin, near the marine center, the Kodiak Flight Services office was located at the airport, five miles southwest of town. I would fly on a floatplane, but the bulk of Kodiak Flight Services’ business was conducted on three wheel planes that flew passengers and freight between Kodiak and the six small villages on the island, so the main office, hangar, and warehouse were located at the airport.

I parked in the charter service’s lot and was opening the back door of the Explorer when Steve Duncan hurried out the front door to help me.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m a little jumpy, but fine otherwise.”

“I know what you mean. I keep expecting someone to come after me, looking for the briefcase. I was at the crash site, too.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “For some reason, Jack Justin got it in his head that I took the briefcase, and before he died, he apparently convinced some very nasty people of that.”

“You’re sure you still want to go on that camping trip tomorrow?”

“As long as you still want to fly me.”

Steve smiled. “I’m not worried. I’ve been checking my planes over pretty carefully the last few days, and tomorrow I’ll triple check the plane I plan to use for your flight.”

“I’m actually looking forward to this trip,” I said. “I’ll feel safer when I’m out of town.”

“As long as no one follows you,” Steve said.

Robin Barefield lives in the wilderness on Kodiak Island where she and her husband own a remote lodge. She has a master’s degree in fish and wildlife biology and is a wildlife viewing and fishing guide. Robin has published three novels, Big Game, Murder Over Kodiak, and The Fisherman’s Daughter. She draws on her love and appreciation of the Alaska wilderness as well as her scientific background when writing.