Murder Over Kodiak – Chapter 12 – Readers and Writers Book Club

Murder Over Kodiak – Chapter 12

Murder Over Kodiak

Chapter Twelve

 Robin Barefield

Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author

Author Masterminds Charter Member

Steve and I piled my gear in a small room, and I watched him shut off the light and lock the door.

“Is that all your gear?” he asked.

“Except for some personal things I’ll need tonight.”

“What about a heater or cook stove?”

I shook my head. “I’ve decided to keep it simple. It’s warm enough that I shouldn’t need heat, and I’ll eat sandwiches.”

“Jane,” Steve gripped my shoulders. “Fuels did not cause the Beaver to explode. You can bring propane, kerosene, and Blazo. I’ll be careful where I load them.”

“It’s not that, Steve.” I looked down. “Really, I just don’t want to fool with all that.”

I knew Steve didn’t believe me. Why should he? I didn’t believe it either.

When I got back to my vehicle, I called Dana.

“What’s going on?” she asked as soon as the refuge receptionist put my call through. “Are these rumors true? Was the bomb at the marine center meant for you?”

“I don’t know, Dana.” I’d grown up in a small town and knew all about rumors and gossip, but sometimes the grapevine in Kodiak astounded me.

“You sound tired.” She paused a moment. “Okay, I’m taking over. You are staying with me tonight. I’ll get off work early.”

“No,” I said. “You don’t want me and my problems in your home.”

“Yes, I do.”

“You don’t understand, Dana. The people who planted the bomb at the marine center think I have something they want. I have a police guard following me everywhere.”

“Then get rid of him. Tonight, you’ll stay with me, and no one will find you. Besides, I’ve got two shotguns if we need them.”

“This isn’t a joke, Dana.”

“I’m not joking. Where do you think you’d be safer, tucked away at some friend’s house in the country, or in town with a policeman following you around?  You might as well wear fluorescent pink, so the terrorists can fix their rifle scopes on you.”

“Thanks, I feel so much better now.”

“I’ll meet you at my place in an hour.”

I got out of the Explorer and walked over to Wesley’s car. “A friend who lives in Bell’s Flats has asked me to stay with her. I guess I won’t need your protection anymore.”

Wesley straightened. “No ma’am. I have direct orders to stay with you all day. I can’t quit trailing you until those orders are rescinded.”

I sighed. “I’ll call Morgan.”

“Are you okay?” Morgan’s voice was strained. “Have you heard from the man with the accent again?”

“No, I’m fine. I’d just like you to tell Wesley he can go home.”

There was a brief pause, and then Morgan said, “I won’t do that.”

“Dana Baynes, a friend, has invited me to stay at her house in Bell’s Flats. I’ll go there and stay there until my flight tomorrow. I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Morgan, you can’t force me to have a bodyguard. I can take care of myself.”

Morgan was quiet for several seconds and then said, “It’s your call.” Icicles hung from his words, and I understood why he was angry. He’d gone out of his way to protect me, and now I was refusing his protection.

“There is something I need to tell you, though,” I said. “When I went back into the hotel this morning to get my jacket, I saw Maryann Myers hugging David Sturman, and it was more than a friendly embrace.”

Morgan sighed, and I could imagine him rubbing his forehead. “I’ll check into it,” he said.

I handed the phone to Wesley and watched him as he stood straight, receiver to his ear. I wondered how long he had been out of the military. He still stood at attention while receiving orders.

“Yes sir,” he said after a few moments, and then listened again. “Yes sir,” he repeated, and handed the phone to me.

“Listen, Nick, I appreciate the guard,” I said. “David has been great, and I’ve felt very safe under his protection. I just don’t need him anymore.”

Morgan was silent, and I thought for a moment that he’d hung up. “Are you there?” I asked.

“Yes.” His voice had thawed a couple degrees. “Do you have room on your charter tomorrow?”

“Yes, why?” I wiped a sweaty palm on my jeans.

“I want to spend some time at the crash site. I may even stay a night or two there.”

So, convenience and economy were the only reasons Morgan wanted to share my airplane. I didn’t know why I felt disappointed. The arrangement was logical and splitting the charter with Morgan would save my department money.

“You’re taking a sideband radio?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll take one, too, so we can communicate with each other.”

“Okay,” I said. “That sounds good. Can I ask why you’re going out there?”

“I want to take a better look at the debris; make sure we didn’t miss anything.”

I knew the briefcase was the “debris” he was searching for, but he probably didn’t want to mention the briefcase over the phone.

“Are you still planning to camp alone?” he asked.

“Just me.”

“I wish you would reconsider.”

“I have a shotgun; I’ll be safe.”

“A bomb specialist will look over the plane before we get on it.”

“You’d better talk to Steve Duncan about that,” I said.

“I will, but I’m sure he’ll be happy for the assistance.”

I wondered how happy Steve would be if a television crew filmed a bomb expert crawling around one of his planes before a flight. That sort of publicity would not help reinstate public confidence in the safety of his charter company.

“The flight is at 10:00,” I said. “I’ll meet you at Trident Basin fifteen minutes before the flight.”

“Promise you’ll call me, Jane, if anyone contacts you, or if anything unusual happens, and I mean anything.”

“I will.”

“Call the police if you can’t reach me.”

“Thanks, Nick,” I said. “For everything.”

Wesley still stood beside me, his arms folded across his chest.

I smiled at him as I hung up the phone. “I guess you can go home.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Thanks for taking care of me.” I held out my hand, and he gripped it in a firm shake.

“Just doing my job, ma’am.”

I sat in my Explorer and let the engine idle until I saw Wesley exit onto the highway and turn toward town. I pulled out of the lot and turned in the opposite direction. I followed the Chiniak Highway for five miles and stopped at a small grocery/liquor store. I bought bread, bologna, and mayonnaise to make sandwiches for my camping trip, and I also picked up a twelve pack of Diet Pepsi and three bags of chips, one for tonight and two for the trip. I selected a bottle of Merlot and hesitated in front of the frozen pizzas, but I didn’t want to second-guess Dana’s plans for the evening.

I paid the cashier for my groceries and walked slowly toward the Explorer. I loaded the bags inside and looked at my watch. I was twenty minutes early, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go, and I felt vulnerable sitting in the grocery store parking lot.

I meandered down Russian Creek Road and climbed the steep drive to Dana’s cabin. A large Golden Retriever greeted me, barking and jumping up and down in front of the Explorer. It seemed as if everyone in Bell’s Flats owned at least one dog, and if there was a leash law, no one obeyed it.

I opened my door. “Hey, Sergeant, how you doing? He jumped up on me, smearing muddy paws across my jeans. “Good dog, just what I needed.” I tried without success to push him away. Only the sound of an approaching vehicle distracted his attention, and I turned and smiled as I saw Dana’s blue Ford pickup bounce up the drive toward me.

“You’re early,” she said as she swung out of the door of the pickup, a grocery bag in one hand and two rented videos gripped in the other.

“I hope those aren’t horror movies,” I said.

“Romantic comedies.”

Dana’s tiny home had been built by its previous owner, who was a carpenter and cabinet maker. There was no wasted space in the cabin that consisted of a small bathroom and one larger room with a loft. The downstairs portion was divided between a living room and a kitchen. I knew my bed for the night would be the living room couch that pulled out into a bed. The cedar walls were loaded with cubbyholes, drawers, and hidden closets that opened to reveal an amazing amount of storage space. Dana’s home was perfect for one person, and I liked to tease her and try to convince her to sell it to me.

I looked around as I piled my bag of groceries on the kitchen counter. The house was spotless, as it always was, and it struck me that Dana took better care of her home than she did herself. Her hair never appeared combed, she wore very little makeup, and except on those few occasions when she was forced to wear a refuge uniform, she rarely dressed in anything other than jeans.

“You sure you want me in your home?” I asked.

“Why, do you have some disgusting habit I don’t know about?”

I smiled down at my friend. “You know what I mean, Dana.”

“Don’t be silly. Besides, I want to hear everything about the investigation, and what better way than to trap you in my home?”

I laughed. “I’m sure you know more about it than I do. You must have informants all over this island.”

“Agent Morgan isn’t bad,” Dana said, as she began unloading her bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter. I moved my own bag to the side to give her more room. “I heard you two had dinner the other night.”

I shook my head. “Where do you get this stuff?”

“Oh no,” Dana said. She thrust her head in the air and put her right hand over her heart. “I never reveal my sources.”

I rummaged in my grocery bag and plucked out a sack of chips. I pulled it open, stuffed a chip in my mouth, and pushed the sack toward Dana. “Morgan’s okay, but he’s married, and I don’t need that grief.”

Dana’s right hand, gripping a potato chip, froze just short of her mouth. “Now that I didn’t know. I heard he was single.”

“Well, actually, he’s separated from his wife.”

“Mmmm.” Dana shook her head as she chewed the chip. “That’s even worse. Stay away from marital trauma.”

“Not that a relationship with Morgan is even an option,” I said, “but I would never get involved with someone who lived five thousand miles away.”

“What do you mean?” Dana began washing a head of romaine lettuce. “Long distance is the only kind of relationship I want. I don’t want a man around all the time, messing up my lifestyle. I just want him to pop in occasionally for sex and then leave me alone. If I want to talk to him, I can call him.”

I laughed and shook my head. “What are we doing here?” I nodded toward the lettuce. “Can I help?”

“I thought we’d have an early supper,” Dana said. “Then, we can watch those movies I picked out. If we can’t have romance, we might as well watch it.”

“Put me to work,” I said.

“No, you sit down. There’s only enough room for one in this kitchen. I think I see a bottle of wine peeking out of your shopping bag. Let’s uncork that, and you can relax.”

While Dana cooked, I went out to the Explorer to get my overnight bag. The aroma of wild roses and cow parsnip filled the air. The evening was perfect, no clouds in the sky, and it was dead calm. I looked around and sighed. Tomorrow would be a good day, and I would have a good flight. Unless fog settled in overnight, this weather should hold.

I pulled the key from the right front pocket of my jeans and unlocked the cargo door of the Explorer. I swung the door up and froze, my hand still clutching the handle. I heard a faint rustling of leaves and grass in the woods to my left. I felt helpless, a gazelle on the open savannah surrounded by a pride of lions. Why had I dismissed Wesley?

The rustling grew louder, and I turned to face the danger, backing into the cargo hold of the Explorer. Then, I heard a familiar panting, followed by galloping feet and muddy paws that sent me sprawling across the vehicle’s floor.

“Sergeant! You could get shot doing that.” I allowed myself to breathe, gasping for air. I tried to push Sergeant off of me, but he had me down and was licking my face.

I began to laugh, which rendered me completely helpless and sent Sergeant into a licking and slobbering frenzy.

“Sergeant!” Dana yelled. “Get down.”

Sergeant turned reluctantly, looked at Dana, put his head down, and backed out of the Explorer.

I pushed myself up on my elbows, smelling Sergeant’s pungent breath all over me. “Some watchdog,” I said. “Is he trained to lick your intruders to death?”

“Hey,” Dana propped her hands on her hips. “He had you restrained.”

I grabbed my bag and returned to the safety of Dana’s house. I headed straight for the bathroom and washed the doggy drool off my face. My jeans were stained, but not too badly. They were the only jeans I had with me, so I hoped Steve and Morgan didn’t mind the smell of wet dog. It might be overpowering in the cabin of the small charter plane.

I sipped wine and read the latest copy of Outdoor Photographer magazine while Dana prepared our supper. I tried to relax, but I was uncomfortable sitting there while she worked. She divided the salad into two wooden bowls and carried mine to me.

“This is wonderful,” I said, after swallowing the first bite of lettuce and chicken. “That’s the best Caesar dressing I’ve ever tasted.”

Dana smiled. “I got the recipe from my sister. It’s good, isn’t it?”

After dinner, Dana popped in the DVD French Kiss, and then we watched As Good as it Gets with Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt. I’d seen both movies years ago but enjoyed them again, and Jack Nicholson had us laughing so hard, we were crying.

It was 10:30 when Dana turned off the television. The evening had evaporated, and I felt better than I had in days.

“Thanks Dana,” I said. “That was exactly what I needed.”

She beamed. “I’m a good doctor, and now you’re going to sleep. I seriously doubt you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep since the plane crash, and you need to rest if you’re going camping. I never sleep well on field trips. There are too many animals in the woods here.”

I knew she was right. The mind could conjure an enormous bear from the sound of a deer walking through the woods at night, and on this trip, I would have more than wild animals to haunt my nightmares. I had an active imagination, and I already could see terrorists in night-vision goggles stalking me in my sleep.

Dana gave me sheets and blankets, and I made up the hideaway bed. I pulled on my nightshirt, climbed under the covers, and was asleep before Dana turned out the lights.

My sleep was deep and untroubled until 3:15. Then, I sat straight up in bed, disoriented and panicked. I’d heard something, but I didn’t know what. I looked around. Where was I?

I threw back the covers and jumped out of bed, alarm bells blaring in my head. A low growl sounded in the entryway, and I remembered Sergeant. I was at Dana’s. I tried to calm down. I sat on the edge of the bed, and then I heard the noise again. Something bumped the outside wall of the cabin.

I stood and backed toward the kitchen. Sergeant issued a short, sharp bark.

“Jane?” Dana called, her voice groggy with sleep. “Are you okay?”

“There’s someone outside,” I said in a low voice, my head pointed toward the loft, hands cupped around my mouth.

“What?”

“Shhh,” I warned

Dana came to the loft railing. “What’s wrong?”

“I heard something bump the wall of the cabin.”

“Go back to sleep, Jane. It was probably just a deer. You’ll never survive a camping trip.”

Dana returned to bed, but I stood in the kitchen for several minutes, concentrating on the silence. Finally, when I didn’t hear another sound, I edged back to the couch and climbed under the covers. I remained awake and alert until Dana’s alarm beeped at 7:00 a.m.

I let Dana use the bathroom first, and then I soaked in a hot shower, trying to clear my sluggish brain. The dull headache from not enough sleep was back to visit.

When I opened the bathroom door, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee lured me to the kitchen, where Dana stood with a mug in her outstretched hand. I took the cup from her and sipped.

I leaned against a kitchen cabinet. “You’d make someone a good wife.”

Dana’s right eyebrow arched. “People have been banned from my house for saying that.”

“Just kidding,” I smiled. “Honestly, Dana, thanks for taking me in last night.”

“Don’t sound so pathetic.” Dana dumped the last of her coffee down the sink. “You’re not indigent.”

“I feel like I am.”

Dana wiped her hands on her jeans and slipped past me out of the small kitchen. “I hate to rush off, Jane, but I have a conference at 9:00 a.m., and I have to get there early to prepare.”

“Sure,” I said. “I should be going, too.”

“No. I think you should stay locked in my house until half an hour before your flight and then drive straight to Trident Basin. Don’t make yourself a target.”

I sighed. Dana was right, but I wasn’t anxious to stay in her small cabin alone. I couldn’t shake the unease I’d felt in the wee hours of the morning. If someone was watching Dana’s home, the observer would see Dana drive to work and know I was alone in the secluded cabin.

I stood in the doorway and watched Dana drive away. Sergeant hopped up and down on his front paws and barked at me. Maybe he would keep an intruder away.

The next hour and a half crept past. I made eight sandwiches for my trip and packed them and the chips in the plastic grocery bag. I then tried watching television but couldn’t stomach the morning programs. Everyone was too cheery. I called Kodiak Flight Services and confirmed that my flight still was scheduled for ten, and then I thumbed through Dana’s magazines and paced her tiny living room, glancing at my watch every two minutes. At 9:20 a.m., I’d had enough. I gathered my overnight bag, my purse, and the food bag. I locked Dana’s door, told Sergeant goodbye as I was pushing him off me, and climbed into my vehicle.

I drove slowly to town, enjoying the perfect view of fishing boats cruising over the calm waters of Chiniak Bay. Only a few days earlier, the bay had churned like a boiling pot, but this morning its smooth surface reflected the unblemished blue of the sky. The morning fog had not materialized, and the weather was perfect for flying. The conditions were just like the day I’d stood on the floatplane dock waiting for Craig to return.

I shuddered and tried to close my mind to the memory of the crash. I needed to be brave today, and I could not accomplish that feat if I dwelled on the events of the last few days.

I eased my foot off the accelerator as I entered the city limits. I scanned the faces of people on the sidewalk and watched the drivers of vehicles I passed. Everyone was a stranger; nothing looked the same to me today. I felt like a slow-moving target in a crowd of snipers, but I already was pushing the speed limit and didn’t dare drive any faster.

I exhaled a long, slow breath when I turned onto the Near Island Bridge. Just a few more minutes and I would be there.

I drove past the marine center and was surprised to see a large construction crew already at work. Had Peter gotten the building surveyed already, or were these bomb experts, sifting through the debris? I hope they would find the answer to this mess in the rubble that used to be my office, but I doubted this crisis would be solved so easily.

I turned my attention from the marine center just in time to see a red pickup truck barreling down the center of the road toward me. I veered off the side of the road and jammed on the brakes, my heart thundering.

A cloud of dust surrounded the pickup, but when it was adjacent to me, the driver turned and looked into my eyes, an angry frown on her young face.

I parked my Explorer in the lot above Trident Basin, grabbed my gear, ran down the road, and then down the ramp to the base where the Cessna 206 was tied.

Steve and another man, whom I assumed was the bomb expert, were inside the plane on their hands and knees. Morgan stood on the dock, hands on his hips, watching them.

Despite my distress, I smiled when I saw him. He wore new blue jeans that looked stiff and uncomfortable and a bomber-style jacket that sported the logo of the local sporting goods store on the back. I bet they were happy to see him walk into their store. He had probably purchased all his camping gear there on the spur of the moment.

I stopped a few feet from him and caught my breath. I knew he’d heard me run down the metal ramp, but he must not have picked up on the fear in my pace. His attention was riveted on the men in the airplane.

I walked up and stood beside him, and he looked at me and smiled. “Hello, how was your night?”

“Fine. No problems,” I said. “But I just passed Toni Hunt on the road near the marine center. She was driving very fast and coming from this direction.”

Morgan spun to look at the road. “I didn’t see her drive by here.”

He walked toward the edge of the dock and called to Steve. “Jane passed Toni Hunt on the road near the marine center. You were here before I was. Did you see her?”

Steve backed out of the plane and stood on the float. He wiped the back of his right hand across his sweaty forehead. His voice was low and calm. “No, but I wouldn’t worry. She’s been coming down here several times a day since Bill died. She just sits in her truck and stares at the water.”

I wondered why Steve was so unconcerned by Toni Hunt’s actions. A few days earlier, he’d felt she was the prime suspect in the plane bombing. What had happened to quiet his suspicions? Maybe if he had seen her tearing down the road in her truck, he wouldn’t dismiss her so easily.

Morgan looked at me, shrugged, and clicked his tongue. “I’ll tell Saunders” – he gestured to the man in the plane – “to have someone watch her.” He shook his head. “She might have had something to do with the plane bombing, but I doubt she planted the explosives at the marine center.”

“Why?” I turned toward him, hands on my hips, legs spread apart. “Remember the note on my office door? I think Toni Hunt wrote that note.”

Morgan stepped closer to me, his voice barely above a whisper. “Maybe,” he said. “But the bomb experts combing through the debris at the marine center told me this morning that the device used in that bombing was sophisticated plastic explosive and an expensive timer, maybe even multi-switch detonator. Those aren’t items you’d pick up at the local hardware store. They came from somewhere else and were assembled by someone who has made bombs before. The bomb boys are relatively certain  the device that blew apart the Beaver was nothing more than dynamite and a kitchen timer.”

I wrapped my arms around me, suddenly noticing how chilly the morning air felt. “You said before that a smart terrorist might build a simple bomb to confuse the authorities.”

Morgan nodded. “It’s possible, but the marine center bomber is an experienced bomb maker, and these guys are arrogant. It is unlikely he would build one highly complex bomb and another bomb that was nothing more than an inaccurate homemade job. These guys generally learn their trade and then refine their technique over time.”

“I can’t believe that two bombings on Kodiak Island within a week of each other aren’t related.” I strained to keep my voice low. “I think that’s a bigger coincidence than your experienced bomb maker bundling together some dynamite to throw off the police.”

Morgan rubbed his chin. He was freshly shaved and showered, but he looked tired, as if he hadn’t slept in days. “I’m not saying the bombings aren’t related, I’m saying the bombers were two different people. If I know that, I look at these crimes differently.”

“What do you mean?”

Morgan spread his arms and was about to explain when a brown van sped down the road and stopped at the top of the ramp. The logo on the door said, “Bear View Charters.”

The four doors of the van opened, and people climbed out. The driver walked to the rear of the van, swung open the back doors, and began unloading gear.

One of the passengers from the van walked down the ramp toward us. “Hey, Steve, how’s it going?”

Steve crawled out of his plane. “Hi John, where are you headed?”

“Taking a party to Red River. Everything alright there?”  He squinted and turned his head to one side, studying the activity in Steve’s plane.

“Fine. I’m getting ready for a flight to Uyak.”

John nodded his head, frowning. He watched for a few more seconds and then turned toward the blue-and-white two-oh-six tied directly across the dock from Steve’s plane.

The van driver and the other two passengers weighed their gear on a scale in the parking lot and then began hauling it down the ramp toward the plane.

I watched the activity for a few minutes and saw a grey-haired man shuffle down the ramp, both hands gripping a large, cardboard box. He nodded to us as he passed and then lowered his load on the dock in front of the blue-and-white plane. His partner, a younger man, followed, hauling two large duffle bags. They returned up the ramp together, discussing whether they had remembered to buy coffee. I watched them walk by a load of bags and equipment piled at the top of the ramp and then blinked my eyes. Some of the stuff in that pile was mine.

I turned to Morgan. “Our gear is up there.” I pointed toward the palettes near the scale.

“Yes.”

“While a bomb expert looks over our plane with a microscope, our gear sits exposed where anyone can drop something into it.”

Morgan shifted his weight from one leg to the other. “I’ve been watching it. These are the first people to arrive since we’ve been here.”

I didn’t point out that he hadn’t seen Toni Hunt. Instead, I turned and marched toward the ramp. I smiled again at the older man, who was sitting a large, wooden box on the scale as I passed. I grabbed my duffel bag, swung it over one shoulder, and grasped the handle of the wooden radio box that housed the sideband. I began down the ramp, passing Morgan, who was on his way up.

“Jane, we have to weigh this gear.”

I let out a long sigh and felt certain steam was coming out of my ears. I turned and smacked into the grey-haired man and his wooden box.

“Sorry,” I said.

“We’re done weighing things if you need the scale,” he said.

I plopped my bag and radio on the scale and felt in my coat pocket for a pen and paper. I recorded the weight, grabbed the gear, and took it down to the dock.

We weighed and hauled all our equipment down the ramp, placing it in a neat pile near Steve’s two-oh-six, while Steve and the FBI bomb specialist continued their search. Steve was still in the plane, but the FBI agent was outside, checking the propellers and then the engine.

I sat on my duffel bag. Morgan stood a few feet away, watching the bomb search. The blue-and-white two-oh-six was gone from its stall, taxiing for takeoff. I watched it break the plane of the water and soar lazily into the sky. I inhaled a deep breath of processed fish and rotting kelp and my brain instantly associated the aroma with the day I had waited for Craig. My mouth went dry and my stomach burned. I put my head between my knees.

“Are you okay?” Morgan moved closer and bent over to look at me.

I swallowed deeply a few times and wiped away the tears running down my cheeks. I didn’t look at him when I answered. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to be such a bitch today. I guess I’m just tense.”

Morgan pulled his duffel up beside mine and sat down. He leaned forward, his head near mine. “I understand, Jane, and you haven’t been that terrible.”

I looked into his eyes, only a few inches away. They were iridescent in the sunlight, framed by small wrinkles at the corners. His mouth turned upward into a small grin. I could smell his aftershave.

“Thanks. I’ll be better after we get this trip over with.”

My attention was diverted by the sound of engines. Morgan and I looked toward the parking lot and saw two large pickup trucks pull up to the top of the ramp. Two men got out of one of the trucks and three out of the other. They began unloading the trucks and hauling gear down to a grey Beaver, the only other plane tied to the float we were on.

A grey van pulled into the parking lot and stopped near the ramp of the adjacent float. Five people climbed from that van, and the noise level of Trident Basin rose.

“We’re ready for the gear,” Steve called.

I stood and stretched my cramped legs. Morgan walked up to the other FBI agent, and they began talking in hushed tones. I picked up a box and walked to the plane, handing it to Steve, who was standing on the end of the float.

Morgan shook the bomb expert’s hand, and the man left. I handed Morgan a box, and he carried it to Steve. I returned for another load, regretting the coffee I’d had to drink that morning.

I handed a duffel bag to Morgan. “Mind if I run up there for a minute?” I pointed toward the portable toilets.

Morgan smiled. “By all means. Steve and I can load this stuff.”

I ran up the ramp and stepped into the small, white cubicle. It smelled just as I expected it would, and I held my breath as long as I could. When I exited the toilet, I looked down at the plane; the gear and Morgan were on board.

I began walking quickly toward the ramp. There were five vehicles and several people in the parking lot now, but I paid little attention to any of them as I hurried toward the plane. I had just reached the top of the ramp, when a large hand gripped my arm, jerking me to a stop.

I spun around and tried to yank my arm from his grasp, but he was too strong. My gaze jerked from the oil-encrusted fingernails to the wide, unshaven chin, the greasy, shoulder-length black hair, and the wild, slightly crooked brown eyes. He breathed chewing tobacco into my face. “So, you’re the bitch causing all the trouble.”

I tried to pull my face away from his, but when I moved, he applied more pressure to my arm. I didn’t know who this man was, but I thought I was dead. He could drag me into a truck and drive away with me, and Morgan never would know what had happened.

“You leave me out of this, you hear?” The wild eyes looked capable of anything, and I didn’t doubt he could murder me right then. “I have enough problems, and I ain’t done nothin’ to you.” He put his mouth next to my ear, “But I will if you don’t back off.”

He shoved me and I fell, whacking my head on the gravel parking lot. I closed my eyes, waiting for the next blow, but when I opened them a few seconds later, he was gone.

I sat and rubbed the back of my head. I’d spent too much time lately on the gravel in this parking lot. I stood and shook my head, trying to clear the dancing black dots from my vision. I walked to the top of the ramp and looked down at the plane. Morgan stood on the float, cupping his hands over his eyes, looking for me. I waved, and he waved back.

I gripped the handrail on the ramp and then turned around to see if I could spot my attacker. I felt as if I were moving in slow motion. Why hadn’t I yelled to Morgan for help?

People moved in double-time around me, and I gripped the railing tighter as a man brushed past me and sent me reeling.

There he was. My new acquaintance was unloading gear from a black van. I couldn’t see his face, but there was no mistaking the hair and physique.

The side of the van faced toward me, and I should have been able to read the large, yellow lettering, but everything was blurred. I blinked my eyes and squinted. “Afognak Logging,” I muttered the words as I deciphered them.

I started slowly down the ramp. Morgan was on the dock walking toward me. I had no idea how long I had been standing at the top of the ramp, but apparently it had been long enough to worry Morgan.

“Are you okay? You’re not walking straight.” Morgan gripped my arm. I leaned against him and he put his arm around me.

“I just met George Wall,” I said.

“The guide on probation?” Morgan asked. “He hurt you? Is he still here?”

“Forget it,” I said. “He’s a bully. Let’s just get out of here.

Morgan helped me onto the float and steadied me while I climbed into the right rear passenger seat. He took the front seat next to Steve.

“Your headset is hanging on the back of the seat,” Steve yelled to me above the engine noise.

My brain slowly was beginning to clear. I put on the headset, leaned back, and closed my eyes. This day was not starting out well. How did George Wall know who I was, and how did he know I’d been asking questions about him?

The blow to the back of my head calmed my fear of flying better than any tranquilizer could. I’d have to remember to thank George Wall. We were halfway to Uyak before I began to imagine all the places the bomb could be hidden, and the day was so beautiful that I couldn’t manage to work myself into a state of apprehension.

I listened to Morgan and Steve chatter in my headphones. Morgan had a map unfolded on his lap, and Steve pointed out geographical points to him. He told Morgan the story about Port Lions, the Alutiiq village named in honor of Lions Club International, the service group that helped build the village and relocate the survivors of Afognak village after the 1964 tsunami wiped out their homes. Morgan listened with interest and asked Steve several questions about the tsunami and about the history of the Alutiiq people.

The more I was around Morgan, the more the man impressed me. Nothing about the history of the people of Kodiak Island pertained to his case, but he was interested and seemed to want to learn as much as he could about this island while he was here. I wondered if he showed this amount of interest on every assignment or if Kodiak intrigued him. Perhaps he could be persuaded to relocate here.

I felt my lips curl. I must have a concussion; I was beginning to hallucinate.

“How are you doing, Jane?” Steve asked.

“Better. Nothing a handful of Excedrin won’t cure.”

“Jane, do you mind if Steve drops you off first?” Morgan asked.

“Of course not. The fewer landings and takeoffs, the better.”

“Can we do that, Steve? I want to get a better look at the area and follow the flight path Bill would have taken that day.”

“Sure,” Steve said. “I can only guess he made a straight path from Craig’s camping site to Uganik Pass.”

“Why does it matter?” I asked.

“It probably doesn’t,” Morgan said, “but it might give me a new perspective.”

I didn’t understand how it would help to know the flight path, but Morgan was the pro. I would just be happy to get out of the plane and sit on the beach.

I closed my eyes and leaned back when we flew over the crash site. Morgan and Steve were silent, and I knew they must be peering down at the ground.

“This is Spiridon Bay,” Steve said a few minutes later.

I sat forward and watched out my window as we flew over one more point of land, and then Steve announced we were now over Uyak Bay. In the shade of the mountains, the water was a deep, murky green, but in the sunlight it was a silvery mirror, reflecting the blue sky.

“It must be hard to land when it’s this calm,” Morgan said.

“It’s no picnic,” Steve said. “I’ll circle to get a good look at it”

“What’s wrong?” I asked. The conditions looked perfect to me. I was finally beginning to relax, but now my stomach tightened again.

“It’s okay,” Steve said. “Just hard to tell where the water is when it’s so calm.” Steve turned and smiled at me. “Don’t worry, Jane. I’ve done this a couple of times before.”

I smiled at him but didn’t release my grip on the seat cushion. I bit my lip and stared out the window until we glided smoothly across the water and Steve turned off the engine.

“Got you here in one piece,” he said.

“Sorry, I’m just a little tense.”

We glided to the edge of the beach and stopped. Steve and Morgan climbed from the plane, and I saw that at some point, Morgan had pulled on shiny, new hip boots. I looked down at my hiking boots. My hip boots were somewhere in the jumble of gear in the rear of the plane.

Morgan held onto the plane, while Steve climbed back up onto the float. He opened the door and looked in at me.

“My boots,” I said.

“That’s okay. This is a steep beach,” Steve said. “You can jump from the float, and I’ll hand your gear to you.”

We unloaded my gear in a few minutes.

“You all set?” Steve asked.

“I think so.” I suddenly wasn’t so sure I wanted to be left alone, but I pushed the thought to the back of my mind.

“Let’s have a radio schedule at 6:00 tonight,” Morgan said.

I nodded. “I’ll have the radio antenna up by then.”

Steve leaned his head to one side, studying me. “Call Kodiak Flight Services at any time if you have a problem.”

I felt the threat of tears, which made me angry with myself. Why was I becoming such a marshmallow?

“Hey, I’ve got a present for you. I almost forgot.” He opened the pilot-side door and reached under the seat. He walked back to the front of the float, carrying a green hat. “One of our new hats. This will keep you from getting sunburned.”

I reached for the cap and turned it around in my hands, caressing the corduroy fabric. The white, embroidered logo depicted a floatplane gliding over a mountain, surrounded by the words, “Kodiak Flight Services.”

“This is nice,” I said. “I like the colors.”

Steve’s smile faded. “We got those in the mail the day of the accident. I’d just given Bill his before his last flight. After the crash, I didn’t want to look at them, but that’s stupid. I’ve got a thousand of them to get rid of.”

“Why aren’t you wearing one?”

“Nah. I’ll stick with my trusty grey one a while longer.”

Steve and Morgan turned the plane around, pushed it away from the beach, and then climbed up on the floats and into the cabin. I stood on the beach and watched the plane take off and fly out of sight. Then, I sat on the shale rocks and cried. I’d never felt so alone in my life.

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. 

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