Murder Over Kodiak
Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author
Author Masterminds Charter Member
I settled back in my desk chair and propped my legs on the desk. The new computer had been delivered that morning, and I finally felt as if my life was getting back to normal. The summer and fall had been hectic, borrowing lab space here and office space there, always in debt to someone and feeling like an interloper. I’d moved back into my lab two months ago, but the office wing hadn’t been reopened until last week.
I circled the date, November sixth, on the calendar. “Today, my life starts again,” I said.
“Who are you talking to?”
I spun around and saw Geoff’s lanky frame leaning against my doorframe.
“You’re too quiet. You need to wear taps on your shoes or a bell around your neck,” I said.
“The new digs look good.” He nodded his head as he glanced around the office.
“It’s nice to have my own space again.”
“Just came to check it out and congratulate you on your funding.”
I laced my fingers behind my head. “Five-hundred-thousand dollars out of the blue. I’m not complaining, but I’ll never understand government funding.”
“Don’t ask,” Geoff said. “Think of it as the one good thing to come out of this disaster.”
I shook my head. “No. No amount of money can make up for Craig’s death or for the loss of Barry Gant. I keep expecting to see him walk down the hall.”
Geoff stepped into my office. “I heard on the radio a little while ago that Alfred Eaton won the New York senate race by a landslide.”
I shook my head. “The world goes on. Steve Duncan told me the other day that Toni Hunt is attending the University of Alaska in Fairbanks this fall.”
“Good for her,” Geoff said. “And I suppose you heard that Maryann Myers is engaged to David Sturman.”
I laughed. “How do you hear all this gossip?”
Geoff nodded. He was getting warmed up. “What does your friend, Dana, think of her new boss?”
“She was less than thrilled when Marty Shires was named the new refuge manager.”
“He’ll be as bad as Simms,” Geoff said.
“At least Betty still loves me,” I said. “It’s comforting to know some things remain constant.”
Two weeks later, I just had returned to my office after teaching a class when my cell phone buzzed. I dropped the stack of papers I was carrying on my desk and grabbed the phone. “Marcus.”
“Jane, how are you?”
Heat rushed through me, and I dropped into the chair. “Agent Morgan.” I tried to keep my voice level, as if this were just another in a long line of calls I’d answered that morning. I did not want Nick Morgan to know how often I thought about him, how many times I’d wanted to pick up the phone and call him. I hadn’t heard from him since late August, when he called to see if I’d had any more threatening phone calls and to tell me that the FBI hadn’t made much progress in determining the identity of the marine center bomber.
We’d talked for fifteen minutes before he told me in a quiet voice that he and his wife were back together, going to give it one more try. I’d congratulated him and wished him well, and then I’d said I was late for a meeting.
“I’m fine,” I said, “and you?”
“I have some information. It’s highly confidential, and I probably shouldn’t tell you, but after all you went through, I think you have a right to know.”
I leaned back in my chair and waited for him to continue.
“Six days ago, a deer hunter found a briefcase about a mile from the crash site of the Beaver. The exterior of the case was discolored, but it was still intact and locked. Thank God the guy was honest. He gave the case to the police in Kodiak, and they contacted us.” He paused a moment and then continued, “Our lab got the case a few days ago, and there is no question that it’s George Justin’s briefcase.”
I sat forward and leaned my elbows on the desk. “What was in it?”
“Documents and photos positively linking Alfred Eaton with a Mexican drug cartel.”
“So the briefcase belonged to Margaret, not George Justin. She was the one making the allegations about Alfred Eaton,” I said.
“No. From what we can decipher from two letters that were in the briefcase, George was blackmailing Eaton for money and political favors. If Eaton didn’t come through, George threatened to give the incriminating documents to his wife.”
“In other words,” I said. “If Eaton paid up, George would keep his mouth shut and help Eaton win the election.”
“It looks that way,” Morgan said. “The Justins were a close-knit family, weren’t they?”
“What will happen now?”
“The federal prosecutor is in the process of securing an indictment to charge Alfred Eaton with trafficking illegal drugs and for murder.”
“Do you think he’ll be found guilty of those charges?”
“I don’t think the murder charge will stick. It’s more of a bargaining tool to convince him to plead to the drug charges. In any event, this will end his political career.”
I sighed. “At least now we know why Jack Justin was murdered. I wonder if he was in on the blackmail scheme with his father.”
“If he didn’t know about it before his parents died, Eaton’s friends made him aware of it soon after.”
“No wonder he was terrified and frantic to find that briefcase.”
Several seconds of silence followed while I waited for Morgan to say something. “Thanks for calling,” I said. “I’ll be able to sleep easier now.”
“Jane,” Morgan said. His voice was low and husky.
“Have a nice Thanksgiving, Nick,” I said. “Goodbye.”
Kodiak Island lies 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, Alaska. The island is 3,588 square miles in area, making it the second largest island in the United States. The city of Kodiak is located at the northeastern tip of the island, and most of the roughly 13,500 inhabitants of the island live in or near the city. Much of the rest of the island is part of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, and since there are no roads on the refuge, the only way to access it is by floatplane or boat. Kodiak is breathtakingly beautiful and rugged, but it also can be inhospitable and dangerous.
I have attempted to portray Kodiak as honestly as possible, and some of the locations I have used in this book are real, while others are fictional. The Kodiak Braxton Marine Biology and Fisheries Research Center where Jane works is entirely fictional. It is located near and is somewhat similar in appearance to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, but that is where the similarities end. The staff and students at the marine center where Jane works are figments of my imagination and are in no way based on the staff and students at the UAF Seafood and Marine Science Center. This is also true for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge employees. My characters are not based on actual refuge employees, who are much nicer and more efficient than some of my characters.
Kodiak has several fine air-charter services, but Kodiak Flight Services does not exist. Many air charter services now put tracking devices on their airplanes, so the dispatcher always knows where the planes are at any moment. In my novel, Kodiak Air Services did not have that system. Again, none of the pilots in this book are based on actual Kodiak pilots.
The Baranov Inn does not exist in Kodiak, but Henry’s Great Alaskan Restaurant does, and it serves delicious food. Check it out if you get to Kodiak. The Kodiak Daily Mirror is our newspaper, and the publishers, editors, and writers there do an amazing job publishing five newspapers a week to keep us informed of what is happening on our island.
All characters in this book are imaginary and not based on anyone I know, and any mistakes in this manuscript are mine.
I want to thank Alison at First Editing for her guidance and suggestions on preparing my manuscript and Evan Swensen and the team at Publication Consultants for turning my manuscript into a beautiful book. I especially want to thank my husband, Mike, for the support and encouragement he offered while I was writing this novel. Writing is a lonely endeavor, and it helps a great deal to have someone in your corner cheering for you.