Murder Over Kodiak – Chapter 15

Murder Over Kodiak

Chapter Fifteen

 Robin Barefield

Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author

Author Masterminds Charter Member

I sobbed, and Cycek slowly lifted his head to meet my gaze.

“You poisoned me.”

He nodded. “I’m sorry. You seem like a nice woman, but you shouldn’t have meddled in my affairs.”

“But why? What have I done?” I didn’t know if my racing heart was a symptom of poisoning or terror. I should have bolted for the door, but I couldn’t move. I didn’t understand why this was happening; although, I now knew that for some reason, Mr. Cycek had placed the explosives on the plane. He’d killed Craig, the pilot, and the other passengers.

“I had to get rid of the evidence,” Cycek said. “No one could know.” He buttered another piece of bread and took a bite.

I pressed the first two fingers of my right hand into my forehead above the bridge of my nose, trying to relieve my pounding head and clear my vision. My eyes fell on the raven sculpture sitting on the coffee table. How could I have been so stupid? Cycek was the raven that had bothered Craig. Craig must have known or at least suspected the man had murdered his wife. God, I was dumb.

Cycek was talking again. “I dug clams for Doris’ last meal. I told her I got up early and dug them on the beach where you took your samples. She knew those clams were safe, because she’d had some from there just a week earlier. If she’d been thinking, she’d have known the tide wasn’t low that day until 11:00, but Doris never bothered to think.” He sipped his wine. “Then, I told her I had to go to Larsen Bay, but instead I went to Uganik and dug clams near where the man died from PSP a few weeks ago. I didn’t know if the clams would kill Doris, but there was no harm in trying.”

“That’s why you didn’t have her groceries.” I scratched my right arm and then my right leg. I felt as if I had spiders crawling on me.

“I never went to Larsen Bay, so how could I get her blasted groceries?” He puckered his lips and shrugged. “I knew if everything went as I hoped it would, Doris wouldn’t need those groceries.”

My pulse danced and skipped. If I had eaten a lethal dose of monkshood leaves, I would not survive. I was too far from medical help.

“Did you put monkshood in my salad?” I ran the sleeve of my sweatshirt across my clammy forehead.

Cycek smiled. “If you and your assistant had just left me alone. I can’t let you test the clams from here, because they’re clean, and that would give me away.”

“And if I die? Don’t you think you’ll be the prime suspect?” I ran my fingers across my tingling throat.

“An unfortunate accident on the way back to your tent. The bear you saw in the woods today.” He leaned toward me. “You didn’t even see him coming.”

I cradled my head in my hands, fighting nausea. Pain stabbed my stomach, and I wondered how much time I had left. After I died, Cycek planned to mutilate my body so that I looked as if I’d been mauled by a bear. My mind screamed for me to run, but I wasn’t even sure I could stand. I had to do something, though. I couldn’t just sit there and die.

I stood, but my legs buckled, and I grabbed the edge of the table, knocking over my chair in the process. I held onto the side of the table and bent toward Cycek. “If I’ve eaten monkshood, what can I do? How can I counteract it?”

He leaned back in his chair and smiled. “There’s nothing you can do, my dear. You’re dead.”

My legs dissolved, and I fell to the floor. My sobs sounded foreign to me. The entire evening had been surreal. I looked up, and the room swirled. If only I would wake up from this nightmare. Was there any way to counteract aconite poisoning? I couldn’t remember.

I pulled my knees to my chest and hugged them. I looked up at Cycek, still sitting in his chair at the table. “Tell me about the bomb.”

I licked my lips. My mouth felt swollen and numb, as if a dentist had just deadened my mouth to fill a tooth. I knew that aconite was an alkaloid, and it acted on and eventually paralyzed the central nervous system of its victim. Just as with PSP, the first symptoms of aconite poisoning were tingling and numbness around the mouth and salivation. I didn’t know the etiology of the poison, or how rapidly the symptoms progressed, but if I survived the night, I’d be an expert on it.

“I have a shed full of dynamite that I got from that barge found drifting in Shelikof a couple years ago. I bundled up a few sticks, attached the fuse to a kitchen timer, and set the timer for twenty minutes. I had to set the timer on the beach, mind you, just a few hundred yards from where the plane landed to pick up Craig.” Cycek grinned. “I wrapped it in cotton to muffle the ticking sound. Those timers are loud. I taped the box, scribbled an address on it, and hurried down the beach and handed it to Craig just as he was climbing on the plane. He agreed to mail it for me and even said he’d pay the postage. I wouldn’t have asked him to do that, though. I knew the package would never get to the post office.”

“And the marine center bombing? Did you do that too?”

Cycek’s eyebrows folded into a solid line, and he slowly shook his head. His cheeks were rosy from the wine, his mouth partly open, dentures shining. He was insane. I knew that now. He’d gotten rid of his wife, the torment of his life, and now he wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his solitude. He planned to spend the rest of his life in peace and quiet here in Uyak Bay, and if I didn’t cooperate by dying soon, he would murder me in some other way. He was planning to mutilate my body anyway, so why not take an axe to my skull?

I sized him up. If I hadn’t been poisoned, I easily could outrun him, but I wasn’t sure now. I had to move fast and take him by surprise. I counted to three and rolled onto my knees and pushed myself to my feet. I stumbled sideways and fell.

“Whoa there, dear,” Cycek said, and slowly rose from his chair.

Adrenaline surged through me. It was now or never. I got my feet underneath me, bent over, staying near the floor in case I fell again, and loped toward the door. I grasped the door handle, stood upright, and steadied myself while waves of dizziness coursed through me.

Cycek watched me, an amused look on his face. I could see that he didn’t believe I would make it far. I hoped he was underestimating me.

My shotgun stood by the door. I grabbed it with my left hand, while I opened the door with my right. I held onto the door and stepped into my boots. I used the shotgun as a walking stick and stumbled down the path. I thanked God it was June and the sun was still high in the sky at 7:00 in the evening. The light made me more visible to Cycek, but without it, I never could have navigated the rocky, uneven path.

“Come back, Jane!” Cycek called from his doorway. “I’ll take care of you. You don’t want to die alone in the woods.”

I didn’t look back.

I followed the path to the beach, and when I reached the beach, I bent over, panting hard. I wiped perspiration from my eyes. My body was drenched. I didn’t hear Cycek behind me, and couldn’t afford to think about him. I didn’t believe I had the strength to make it back to my campsite, so I set my sights on something nearer. Hands on thighs, I looked up and focused on the rocky point nearest the Cycek cabin. I could get that far, and once I’d reached that goal, I would reassess my situation. I began moving, and the thing that frustrated me the most was that I couldn’t tell how fast I was traveling. Was I walking or running? I seemed to be exerting a great deal of effort, but the landscape moved past me very slowly. My feet were so numb that I couldn’t feel them make contact with the beach. I swung my arms back and forth, but the act felt unnatural and didn’t seem to make me move faster.

A glob of saliva dripped on my shirt, and I wiped my mouth, alarmed at the amount of drool that had formed there. If only I could think. What should I do?

The tide was low enough so that I could walk around the large boulders at the point. I knew this was one piece of luck for me. If the tide had been any higher, I never would have been able to scale the rocks.

I made it around the point and looked back. As soon as the beach in front of Cycek’s cabin was out of view, I collapsed and bent forward on the beach on my knees and elbows, wheezing and choking into the wet rockweed. Black dots swirled in front of my eyes, and I concentrated on a clamshell until the ridges came into focus. My stomach contracted. Pain jabbed, followed by nausea too powerful to ignore.

I bent my head and heaved. I made the mistake of closing my eyes and nearly rolled over on the beach. I found the clamshell again, locked my eyes on it, and concentrated while sweat and tears rolled down my face. Violent spasms rocked my stomach for several minutes, and I feared they wouldn’t stop. Once my stomach was empty, bile and saliva dripped from my mouth. I rolled onto the beach, away from the vomit, and my heaves slowly subsided into sobs.

Was I going to die like this? Would this be my last night, and would I die without being able to tell my father and my friends goodbye? After watching my mother’s lingering death from cancer, one of my firmest wishes was a speedy death, but not yet, not like this.


I squatted on my feet. I was beginning to hope that Cycek wasn’t following, that he had decided to just let me die and let nature take its course. If I died on the beach, I would be swept out to sea with the tide, my remains consumed in a few days by fish, crabs, and sand fleas. Mr. Cycek could claim that I had never shown up for dinner, and he thought I’d changed my mind. Who could argue with him? Why is he following me? Is he worried I didn’t consume enough of the poison to kill me, or does he simply want to watch the outcome of his handiwork?

His reasons weren’t important. He was following me, and I had to get away from him. I looked above me for a trail leading from the beach into the woods, but the cliff was too steep, and I knew I didn’t have the strength to pull myself up the bank.

“Move!” I said, and even though I couldn’t feel them, my legs obeyed the command. I alternated my gaze between the rocky beach and my legs to make certain they still were moving. Other than a loud buzzing noise, all I heard were the snaps and crunches my feet made as they slapped shale and smashed clam and mussel shells. I don’t think I could have heard Cycek if he was right behind me, and my scope of focus was so narrow that I had little trouble dismissing him. I only thought about one step at a time.

I felt as if I had been walking for hours, and when I turned around to check my progress, I stumbled over a large rock. I fell hard, smashing my face into a shale slab. The world went black for what I thought was just a moment, but I wasn’t certain, and terror coursed through me as my muddled senses returned.

I sat on the beach and ran my right hand over my face. Blood ran from a deep gash above the bridge of my nose, and the pain was so intense when I lightly touched my nose that I feared it was broken.

I remembered Cycek and looked behind me. He was following, his gait steady but slow. He was several hundred yards behind me, but I knew his eyes were locked on me.

I grabbed the shotgun and leaned on it to pull myself to my feet, and then I cradled the gun in my arms and ran. I watched my legs as they moved back and forth, amazed at their speed. I stumbled again and stopped watching my legs and concentrated on the beach, picking my way through the smaller stones.

My body vibrated from the exertion. My heart was slamming against my ribs, and my lungs were pumping to keep pace. I choked, fighting for oxygen. Sweat poured down my face and torso, and I wondered how much fluid I’d lost in the last hour. Does adrenaline speed the effects of aconite poisoning, or am I sweating some of the toxin out of my body?

Suddenly, my energy reserves gave out. I fell onto the rocks on my hands and knees, dropping the shotgun. Barnacles sliced the palm of my left hand, my lungs burned with fire, and my heart fluttered. I expected cardiac arrest at any moment, and I reflexively gasped air, but the more air I swallowed, the more my lungs screamed with pain.

I thought about giving up, collapsing, and letting Cycek find me. Death wouldn’t be so bad. I could just go to sleep and not wake up. Who besides my father would miss me? A few tears might be shed, but my death wouldn’t alter anyone’s life. Another scientist could take over my research and probably do a better job with it. These thoughts were not so much self-pity as excuses to give up. Going on would require every ounce of strength I had, and I doubted even then I would make it.

I looked up. I was in the middle of a small cove, and I couldn’t see Cycek. For all I knew, he could be a hundred feet behind me, or he could have turned around and gone home. I doubted the latter. I held my breath for a moment and lifted my head, listening for the crunching sound of boots on the beach. I heard nothing but the cry of gulls. I turned my head and listened again. Either Cycek was quite a ways back, or he had stopped so I wouldn’t hear him.

How far did I still have to go? I wasn’t certain, because one stretch of beach looked like the next to me. I wouldn’t make much of a tracker or guide.

I stuck the butt of the rifle into the beach and pulled myself to my feet. Large black dots flashed in front of my eyes, and I felt myself wobbling. I thought I was going to faint, but slowly the beach, the ocean, and the woods came back into focus.

I saw that the beach sloped up to the woods. There was no cliff or steep bank here. If I was going to get off the beach and hike over land, this was the place to do it.

I weighed my options. I could move faster on the beach. In the woods, my progress would be slowed by uneven ground and thick brush. I was having enough trouble navigating level beach, and thick brush, uneven ground, hills, and valleys not only would require more energy, but would increase my chances of serious injury. On the other hand, Cycek would have trouble spotting me in the thick brush. On the beach, he could watch and follow me from a distance.

He couldn’t see me climb up into the brush here, and it would slow him down trying to find and follow me. If I became too ill or tired to make it to my tent, my chances of survival were better in the woods, where I could hide and wait for the effects of the poison to subside. If I’d swallowed enough of the poison to kill me, then it didn’t matter which path I took. That very real possibility didn’t merit consideration.

I looked behind me again but still didn’t see Cycek. I walked to the top of the beach, but this time my pace was slow. My knees kept buckling, and I leaned on the gun. I crawled up the small slope and into the thicket of trees. My hands jumped and shook in violent spasms when I leaned on them. The sweat was beginning to dry on my face and back, and the evening breeze chilled me. I crawled into a thick grove of alders and sat. I wiped my hand across my forehead and was shocked to see it covered with blood instead of sweat. I’d forgotten about the cut above my nose. My head throbbed with pain, and I couldn’t separate one ache from another.

I knew I couldn’t sit there long. Every second I wasted, the poison spread through my body, shutting down my central nervous system. Soon, I wouldn’t be able to walk. I had to reach the radio in my tent and call for assistance. Even if no one could help me, I had to let someone know about Cycek. If I couldn’t contact Morgan, perhaps I could reach Kodiak Flight Services.

Cycek was a madman, and he had to be stopped. I had to die knowing he would be charged with the deaths of his wife and the pilot and passengers of the Beaver, including Craig. That evil little man deserved to spend his last years locked in a prison cell. To a man who would kill for a life alone in the wilderness, confinement behind bars would be the ultimate punishment.

A spasm contracted my stomach, and I bent my head, trying to throw up. I gagged, but nothing came out, and the effort exhausted me. I squeezed my head between my knees and hugged my legs. Panic invaded my mind. To survive, I needed to perform at my mental and physical best, but my head ached, my thoughts were muddled, and my body refused to obey me. I was alone and being chased by a maniac. I wouldn’t survive.

I lifted my head and breathed. No. I might not live through the night, but I wouldn’t die huddled in fright. As long as I could still move my arms and legs, I had a chance. I gripped the shotgun. One crazy old man was no match for me.

I crawled out of the alder thicket and fought my way through the dense brush until I found a game trail. I followed the meandering trail, hoping I was going in the right direction and that I would be able to find my tent when I got close to it.

Walking on the game trail was easier than fighting my way through the thick brush, but the trail was uneven, and trampled weeds camouflaged rocks and holes. I used the shotgun as a walking stick, but I fell several times, once jamming my right foot so tightly into a deep, narrow hole, that I was afraid I had sprained it. I used both hands to pull my foot out of the hole and massaged the numb appendage, wondering if I had injured it. Would I feel pain if I had sprained it, or was sensation so lacking that I only would know I’d hurt it when it began to swell? I stood and leaned slowly on the foot, and when it didn’t buckle under my weight, I continued my awkward gait down the trail.

Under the best conditions, I had a bad sense of direction, so how would I find my camp in this maze of trees and brush? Bugs buzzed around my head. I felt a mosquito sucking on my neck, but couldn’t muster the strength to slap it. I watched the trail while I walked and stopped every few minutes to look around. I knew this trail might pass several hundred yards from my tent, and the brush was too thick to see the ocean. I had no way to determine my bearings. I decided that when I thought I’d walked far enough, I would hike through the brush until I could see the beach, and from that vantage, I should be able to tell if I had gone too far or not far enough.

I didn’t think Cycek was following me on the game trail, or if he was, he was a long ways behind me. He knew the woods better than I did, but his body was stiff, his legs unsteady. He would trip and fall as often as I had on this trail, and if he was behind me, I would have heard him. Had he continued on the beach? I didn’t know if he knew where my campsite was, but if he did, he could be waiting for me when I arrived. He had been behind me, but he could move faster down the beach than I could through the woods. I would have to approach my campsite with caution.

I was concentrating on lifting my feet when I nearly bumped into a large cottonwood tree. I looked up at the tree and then took several steps back to get a better perspective. I laughed. No two trees had a large, heart-shaped knot like that. I knew where I was. I’d walked approximately one hundred and fifty yards past my tent, but now I knew which way to go. My strength had ebbed, and my hands and feet felt like clubs, but I would make it to my tent. I would not die lost in the woods.

I approached my tent from the rear and stood outside for a moment, listening. When I didn’t hear anything, I walked around the tent and peeked through the tied flap. No Cycek. I fumbled with the ties, alarmed by how little I could move my fingers. Finally, I gripped the end of the top tie in my teeth and pulled. I repeated this procedure with the other two ties and stepped into the tent.

I sat on my sleeping bag. I wanted to stretch out and sleep, but I knew I couldn’t do that yet. With the heel of my right hand, I turned on the radio and then clumsily gripped the mike in both hands and squeezed the transmit button.

“WXT890 – KVT04.” I let up on the button and sobbed. My tongue was swollen, and the letters and numbers had sounded like gibberish, as if I had a wad of cotton in my mouth.

I took several deep breaths and tried again, slowly enunciating each letter and number as clearly as I could. I waited, but there was no reply.

I checked my watch. It was only 8:30. Morgan wouldn’t be standing by for another thirty minutes. I tried Kodiak Flight Services. I couldn’t remember their call sign, so I just said the name and repeated it three times, hoping someone would understand me. I knew I must sound drunk, and I worried that even if the dispatcher heard me, she would ignore my call.

I waited, and when there was no replay, I began to cry. I would try one last thing before I gave up.

I depressed the button. “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!” I called. “This is Jane Marcus in Uyak Bay. I’m dying. Help me!” I dropped the transmitter. What’s the use? The mumbled mishmash that had rolled over my swollen tongue didn’t make sense even to me. How could I announce that Cycek was the bomber? I couldn’t begin to get my mouth around the name Cycek, and I couldn’t even leave Morgan a note, because my fingers were too paralyzed to hold a pen.

I rolled onto my sleeping bag. There was nothing else to do, and I was so tired. My chest throbbed. What I before thought was a symptom of exertion, I now believed was a symptom of aconite from the monkshood. My heart raced and then slowed, beat wildly as if I’d just run a race, and then relaxed to a normal rhythm for a few beats. I concentrated on taking slow, even breaths, but my heart continued its dance. My hands tingled, and I began massaging my right hand with my left. They weren’t as numb as they had been a few minutes earlier, and when I concentrated, I could move my fingers.

I struggled to stay awake, but I finally lost the battle, and I didn’t know how much time had passed when I heard a man’s voice calling my name.

“Jane, where are you?”

Hope followed confusion. Did someone heard me on the radio?


Cycek, and his voice was loud. He couldn’t be far away.

I moved with a speed and agility I didn’t think possible. I rolled off the sleeping bag, stood, looked around in a panic for the shotgun, and then slid through the tent flaps. The shotgun was outside, lying on the ground where I’d dropped it while I struggled to untie the tent flaps.

I gripped the gun with both hands and looked up. Cycek was watching me. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smile. “You’re a strong woman. I expected to find you passed out somewhere.”

“You put something in my first glass of wine. A sedative.” I knew the wine had hit me too hard, and not all the symptoms I had been feeling could be attributed to aconite.

He nodded. “To relax you.”

Cycek didn’t have a weapon that I could see. What did he plan to do?

“Get out of here,” I said. I have a gun.”

He advanced two steps. “You don’t want to shoot me, my dear. I’m the only one who can help you.”

My hands shook as I fumbled with the gun, trying to chamber a round.

“How can you help me? There is no antidote for aconite.”

“Brandy blended with flies that have supped on monkshood.”

The man is insane. Why didn’t I noticed earlier, the first time I’d visited him? He must have displayed some signs of mental illness then, but I’d dismissed them as quaint or chalked them up to him being a lonely old man who recently had lost his wife.

“Leave,” I said. “I will shoot you.” I pushed down on the shotgun, trying to pump a shell into the chamber, but something was stuck. I held the gun up, shook it, and tried again.

Cycek stepped closer to me and reached his arm out. Does he expect me to hand him the gun, or is he offering to help me pump a shell into the camber?

I stepped back, still fumbling with the gun. He walked closer, and I kept backing away. My heart continued its erratic beating, and my vision faded from clear to blurry, bright to dim. I knew I was close to fainting, and I shook my head. I rested the barrel of the gun on my boot and pushed down with all my strength. It gave. Click, a shell slid into the chamber.

I continued backing up, and I lifted the gun to my shoulder.

Cycek stopped. “You don’t want to do that, Dr. Marcus.”

I stumbled over the root of a tree and would have fallen if my back hadn’t slammed into the trunk of a large cottonwood.

Cycek scampered toward me, hoping to disarm me before I regained my composure.

I braced the gun against my shoulder and aimed in the general direction of his blurred figure. Everything was beginning to fade again. I heard a loud blast, felt a sharp pain in my right shoulder, and then I felt nothing else.

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.