Murder Over Kodiak
Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author
Alaska Masterminds Charter Member
“Why would someone blow up a floatplane?”
“I agree, Dr. Marcus, this is unusual, but there were some special passengers on that plane.”
“You haven’t heard?”
I shook my head.
“Well, it’s not a secret. The news is all over the local radio station. I assume you know who Dick Simms was.”
I nodded. “The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge manager.”
“He was acting as tour guide yesterday for Senator Margaret Justin and her husband, George.”
“George Justin, the corporate raider?” I knew his name because his picture had been in USA Today a few days earlier.
“That’s right. His wife is, or was, a U.S. senator from New York, and she was on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for the Interior and the Environment. Apparently, Simms was trying to convince her to allocate more funds to the Department of the Interior.”
“And she had enemies who disliked her enough to blow up her sightseeing plane?”
Hayman shrugged. “It’s not my job to figure out motive. I’m trying to assign a less sinister cause to the explosion. The fuels and battery are a possibility. If you think of any other explosives Mr. Pederson may have had, please contact me.”
Hayman stood, handed me his business card, and walked out of my office. I sat, staring at the open door. My headache seemed to be letting up, but I still felt responsible for Craig’s death. I should have been on the plane, and he should have been safe at the marine center. I now realized, though, that I had been so convinced that our fuels caused the explosion, I’d believed myself partially responsible for the deaths of everyone on the plane. If something else caused the explosion, my burden of guilt was reduced to one.
Geoff Baker, one of the graduate students at the marine center, always had the radio blaring in his lab. I picked up my phone and dialed his extension.
“Yo,” a deep voice answered.
“Geoff, this is Jane.”
“Hey Doc, sorry to hear about Craig.”
“Thanks, Geoff. Have you been listening to the radio this morning?”
“Always. I never miss the hotline.”
“What have you heard about the crash, about the passengers on the plane?”
Geoff’s voice softened. “Speculation about whether or not someone planted a bomb and talk about the senator and problems with her reelection campaign.”
“Keep in mind, Doc, this is KDKI, not CNN, but apparently the senator was in a tight race for the primary this August. Her campaign ads claim that her opponent has ties with a Mexican drug cartel. Sounds as if she may have made some powerful enemies.”
“Did you know her husband was George Justin?”
“I heard that.”
“Her Senate ties probably didn’t hurt his career.”
“You’re cynical, Geoff.”
“Apparently he had plenty of enemies, too, and KDKI is now exploring the possibility that he may have been the target.”
“While they’re at it, why don’t they consider Simms?”
“Yeah, no loss there.”
“Don’t tell me you don’t feel the same way. Everyone at the refuge office hated Simms. He had more enemies running around Kodiak than some senator from New York.”
“Simms wasn’t my favorite guy, but I didn’t wish him blown to bits, especially not while he was flying on the same plane as Craig.” I paused. “Thanks for the update, Geoff. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Hey Doc, who was the fifth passenger? They haven’t said his or Craig’s name on the radio.”
“Darren Myers. He owned Uyak Cannery.”
“Don’t know him. Talk to you later, Doc.”
The line went dead. I replaced the receiver in its cradle and stood. Time to get to work.
The lab-cleaning job that I had been avoiding all morning took less than ten minutes to complete. I put away the blender, ethanol, centrifuge, petri dishes, and lab tools. I looked at the tidy corner where Craig kept his books and personal gear. Tears raced down my cheeks, and I dropped onto a stool. This is what I had been dreading. Usually when I came into the lab, Craig was huddled at his corner desk, pouring over data sheets or researching something. His beloved laptop stared blankly at me, waiting for Craig to wake it up with the touch of his finger. I would have to pack and send his gear to his parents, but I didn’t have the strength for that today.
“Hey, Doc, you okay?”
I realized I still was crying, and I turned away from the open door to wipe my cheeks with my shirt sleeve.
“Here, take this.” A handkerchief appeared in front of my eyes.
“Thanks, Geoff. Sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about, Doc. We all miss Craig. He was a smart kid with a bright future.” He paused. “What a waste.”
“You’re doing a lousy job of cheering me up.”
Geoff laughed. “Think it’s a good thing I didn’t become a priest like my mom wanted?”
I smiled at Geoff’s unshaven face, taking in his shoulder-length red hair that was bundled in a ponytail. “You would have struggled with that gig for more than one reason.”
“I didn’t mean to barge in on you,” Geoff said, plunging his hands into the front pockets of his jeans, “but I heard something on the radio that will that will make you mad.”
“The Kodiak Flight Services pilot picked up Simms, the senator, and her husband from Bradford Creek.”
“He took them bear viewing in an area closed to the public?”
“Exactly. Apparently special people can get special permits to go into those areas that are closed to the rest of us.”
“Simms makes,” I caught myself, “made the rules as he went along. That’s why it was impossible to respect him. He threw a tantrum until Bradford was closed to public use, and then he turns around and goes in there any time he wants. I heard he went in there a dozen times last year, once with ten people.”
“Unfortunately, no one calling into the radio station seems to think there is anything wrong with the refuge manager taking bear viewers into a closed area.”
I sighed. “Well, he won’t do it again.” I turned my face away from Geoff, aware that my eyes must be bright red. “Do you honestly think Simms could have been the target?”
Geoff’s long, thin frame rested against the wall of the lab. He was one of the oldest students at the center, nearly my age. He nodded his head, blue eyes blazing. “I think it’s possible.”
Geoff and I locked eyes for several moments and then he pushed himself away from the wall, walked to me, patted my shoulder, turned, and left the lab.
I stared at the door for fifteen minutes, lacking the energy or desire to move. When I did stand, it was only to take five steps and sit again, this time in the chair in front of Craig’s computer.
I turned on the laptop and laughed when the image of a shrieking raven filled the screen.
On the first field trip Craig took with me, he had been humbled by one of these shrewd birds. After we pitched our tents, I assigned him the task of storing the gear, while I walked the beach to inspect a mussel bed. He put everything in the tents except the two food boxes, and when I returned, I found him stretched out on his sleeping bag, reading a novel, while a raven systematically carried away our food. He’d been so embarrassed that I couldn’t possibly get mad at him, but the story was too good not to share with my colleagues and graduate students at the marine center, and Craig caught a lot of flak. “Beware the raven,” was a chant that haunted him for his first summer at the center, and only a few days ago, I’d heard a graduate student yell the words down the hall to him.
Craig loved practical jokes, and he was good-natured about the ribbing. After his initial embarrassment wore off, he announced he was adopting the raven as his personal totem. I’d given him a Ravens Brew coffee sweatshirt as a going-away present when he returned to school after his first summer as my assistant, and he still wore it often. I didn’t know he had a raven as his computer wallpaper, but I wasn’t surprised.
As I watched his program icons materialize on top of the sleek black image, I felt tears snake down my cheek. Craig had mentioned a raven only two nights earlier when I’d spoken with him on the sideband radio. I’d been in a hurry and cut the conversation short. I now regretted that.
Craig had been in his usual high spirits, and in the midst of promising me I would be proud of his work, he told me the only problem he’d had was with a strange, old raven. I told him to save the story until he got back to town. Now, I never would hear it.
I shook my head and wiped my eyes. I exited and turned off the computer. I needed to look through the computer files and copy anything that pertained to our project, but I couldn’t bear to do that today.
I returned to my office and thumbed through the file folders stacked in a neat pile on the right side of the desk. I slid the one marked “Cycek” out of the stack and opened it.
The first thing I saw was the photo of Doris Cycek and an unexpected giggle escaped my lips. I’d asked Mr. Cycek to send us a photo of his wife to put in her file. It’s too easy in a project like ours to forget the victims were human beings with hopes, dreams, memories, and families. Our focus is the molecular structure of saxitoxin, our task to develop a chemical test that could reveal the presence of the lurking poison. Our procedure only would be successful if it worked every time and detected even low levels of the toxin. The photos of those who had died from PSP were to remind us why these high standards were necessary, and Craig had posted the photos on the bulletin board in the lab.
The families of the other victims had sent us posed photos of their loved ones, but the picture of Mrs. Cycek was horrible. “Do I have to look at this every day?” Craig had asked when the photo arrived, and after two days, he took it down from the bulletin board and stuffed it in her file. As I looked at it now, I couldn’t blame him.
The photo was slightly out of focus, and the photographer obviously had surprised Mrs. Cycek. Her eyes were open wide; her mouth turned downward into a frown. She stood on the beach with the ocean behind her and was dressed in an outfit so ridiculous I thought it had to be a joke. A red paisley scarf secured her grey hair, which shot straight upward like a geyser. A baggy, red-and-white, polka-dot dress hung over her small frame like a tent, and orange, rubber, knee-high boots and yellow work gloves accessorized the ensemble.
I thought at first that perhaps this was the only snapshot of his wife Mr. Cycek could bear to part with, but then a more logical explanation occurred to me: This was probably the most recent photo Mr. Cycek had of his wife, and he thought that’s what we wanted. I turned the photo over and shook my head. His wife would not have been happy with him. I doubted this was the way Doris Cycek would have wanted to be remembered.
The following ten pages in the folder were a typed transcript of the conversation I’d had with Mr. Cycek at the hospital soon after his wife had been pronounced dead. I’d told Craig to take notes, but I had no idea he’d taken down our conversation verbatim. For a moment, thinking I would tease him about being an overachiever, I forgot he was gone. A weight dropped in my stomach when I remembered.
I thumbed through the pages of dialogue between Mr. Cycek and myself. I vividly remembered the small man, dressed in brown coveralls, a red flannel shirt, and brown rubber boots. He clutched a dirty baseball cap in his right hand while we talked. His grey hair had been smashed flat by his hat, drooping on his forehead and curving around his big, brown ears. His back was hunched, and his eyes were glazed. His answers were concise but wooden, his pitch unvaried. He didn’t look at my face as he spoke but stared into the air over my right shoulder. I worried he was going into shock, and after I’d finished talking to him, I quietly asked the doctor to examine him.
I read Craig’s notes. The symptoms Mr. Cycek reported were textbook:
Jane: Do you know how many clams your wife ate?
Cycek: No more than ten. She said she wasn’t feeling well, so she laid down on the couch.
Jane: Did you save the shells or the clams she cooked but didn’t at?
Cycek: No. I cleaned up. I didn’t know the clams made her sick.
Jane: What about raw clams? Did she cook everything she dug?
Cycek: Yes. There’s nothing left.
Jane: I know this is difficult Mr. Cycek, but can you describe your wife’s symptoms?
Cycek: She said she felt lightheaded and her stomach was upset, so she laid down on the couch. I washed the dishes, and maybe twenty minutes later I walked out of the kitchen to find her coughing and gasping for breath. I called right away for the Coast Guard, and by the time they got here – maybe an hour later – she’d stopped breathing. I didn’t know what to do.
Poor Mrs. Cycek. The doctors believed her heart just gave out. If she’d been younger and stronger, she might have lived until the Coast Guard arrived. After a few hours on respiratory support, she could have recovered fully.
I closed the file and pushed it away from me. It would be up to me to take the notes from now on, and I did not have the time or energy to do as good a job as Craig had. I stood and stretched, and my thoughts returned to Dick Simms. Simms had made enemies, but I couldn’t believe someone hated him enough to kill him.
I dialed the number for the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The bear biologist at the refuge was a friend of mine, and she usually had few qualms about divulging department secrets. She had detested Simms, and more than once we had shared a bottle of wine while she unloaded her frustrations about working with him.
“Dana Baynes, please,” I said to the receptionist.
“Hi Dana. This is Jane Marcus.”
“Jane. I was going to call you this evening. I was sorry to hear about your assistant. I know how much you liked him.”
“Thanks, Dana. I can’t seem to think about anything else; that’s why I’m calling.” I paused, remembering that Dana just had lost her boss. “How are things around there today?”
“Well, we’re not exactly having a wake; none of us liked Dick. It’s pretty quiet here, though. I guess we’re all in shock.”
“An FAA guy stopped by my office earlier, and he said someone may have planted a bomb on the plane.”
“I heard that,” Dana said. “I gather that Senator Justin had a few enemies.”
“What was Simms doing with her and her husband?”
“Acting the big-shot host, his favorite role. I guess that’s how he made it to refuge manager, because God knows it wasn’t his intellect that got him there. He knew whose ass to kiss.”
“Was it legal for him to take the senator to Bradford?”
Dana said nothing for a moment. Then, slowly, she said, “Yes, legally he could break the rules, and it wouldn’t have been so bad if he had only done it occasionally, but he went into restricted areas on a regular basis and left it to the rest of us to justify his actions. I don’t know how many times I talked to him about it, but he just laughed.”
“Do you think anyone hated Simms enough to kill him?”
Dana’s voice was so low I could barely hear it. “Yes.”
“Can you think of anyone in particular?”
I expected a sarcastic reply, but she sounded strained as she said, “Yes, but I can’t talk now. I’ll stop by your place tonight. Is 7:00 okay?”
“I’ll buy the wine.”
I disconnected with Dana and dialed the number for Kodiak Flight Services. Steve Duncan answered the phone.
“Hi, Steve. The FAA inspector stopped by my office, and he told me that the explosion originated in the cabin.”
“Yeah, he told me the same thing.”
“Do you think someone planted a bomb?”
“I don’t know, Dr. Marcus. I’d be happy for any explanation that removes the liability from Kodiak Flight Services, but a bomb sounds far-fetched to me. Think about it. When and how would someone have hidden it on the plane? We made three flights with that plane yesterday before the explosion. I don’t think we left the plane unattended in Trident Basin all day, and you know what that place is like, with pilots and charter service employees buzzing around the docks all the time. We all know each other, and any one of them would have told me if he or she had seen a stranger poking around one of my planes.”
I remembered how quiet the floatplane docks had been when I was waiting for Craig’s plane, but I didn’t mention this.
“I also think Bill would have noticed if a strange object had been put in the plane,” Steve continued.
I didn’t know much about explosives, but I thought a small bomb easily could have been hidden from Bill’s view. “Did you meet the senator, Steve?”
“Did anyone at the office receive a call asking about the senator’s flight?”
“Hayman asked us the same thing, and we’ve all thought about it, but we can’t remember anything. That’s just it. How would a stranger know what plane we would use for the senator’s flight? We could have used either of the two Beavers, or for that matter, we could have flown the three of them in the two-oh-six.”
“Why did Simms charter you guys in the first place? The refuge has its own plane.”
“The refuge plane was unavailable for some reason. It was either being used for something else or was down for maintenance. Simms had his secretary call two days ago to set up a charter, and we really didn’t have anything available. That’s why we ended up combining their charter with the charter to pick up Craig from his campsite and Darren Myers from the cannery. Bradford is just over the mountain from Uyak Cannery and where Craig was camped, so it made sense to combine their flights. We didn’t make that decision, though, until yesterday morning, so no one would know what plane we planned to use to shuttle Simms and his pals to Bradford.”
I didn’t have an argument for this point, and I had to admit the bomb theory was shaky at best. “I guess we’ll have to wait to hear what the bomb experts say.”
“Someone is going down for this,” Steve said. “If there is no evidence of a bomb, then my little charter service will get ground to pieces. The government will see that someone pays for the senator’s death.”
I knew that Steve owned part of Kodiak Flight Services, but now I wondered how much of the company was his. He’d always kept a low profile, but now he kept referring to the airlines as his. Would he be able to hang on to his business through this crisis? “At this point, I hope it was a bomb,” I said.
“Me too, Dr. Marcus.”
“Steve,” I said, “after all we’ve been through together, I think you can call me Jane.”
He laughed. “Jane. Okay, I can do that.”
Dana Baynes rang my doorbell at 7:00, and when I opened the door, I was greeted by the aroma of pepperoni and cheese.
“I know you, Jane. You haven’t eaten a thing since this whole mess began, so I picked up a delicious, well-balanced meal for us.” Dana’s dark curls bounced as she hurried into my apartment. She sported a flannel shirt and blue jeans on her petite frame. As I followed her to the kitchen, I noticed that her shoulder-length hair looked as if it hadn’t been touched by a comb in a week.
I had to admit the pizza smelled good, and I hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. I poured the Merlot while Dana dished up pizza. We sat at the kitchen bar and ate in silence. After devouring two pieces, I pushed my plate away and sipped the wine. The Merlot had a calming effect on me. My shoulders sagged as the tension drained from them.
“You look tired,” Dana said.
“This hasn’t been a good day.”
Dana squeezed my arm and squinted her green eyes. “I know. I didn’t like Simms, but the thought of him being blown to pieces has haunted me all day. I didn’t know Craig well, but what a terrible loss. I can only imagine how you must feel.”
I fought back tears. “It’s more than that, Dana.” I grasped the edge of the bar. “I should have been on that plane. I sent Craig in my place to collect the bivalve samples because I hate to fly.”
“You can’t do that, Jane.” She crossed her arms over her small chest. “You’re being too hard on yourself. You can’t control everything. You are in charge of your lab. You shouldn’t be the one to go on these piddly little collection trips. Those jobs are exactly why you hire assistants. Unless you planted the bomb, you’re not responsible. Got it?”
I laughed. Dana always could make me feel better. I knew I wouldn’t be able to shake off my guilt so easily, but at least my mood lightened. “You’re bossy for such a little thing.”
“Yeah, that’s what Simms used to say.”
“Let’s go in the living room. I’ll get the dishes later.” I picked up the bottle of wine and my glass and walked ten steps to the recessed portion of the condo that I grandly called the living room. I sank into the soft cushions of the couch and set the wine bottle on the glass coffee table. Dana sat in the oversized chair on the other side of the table.
“Do you really believe Simms could have been the target?”
“I not only believe it, but I think it makes a lot more sense than imagining Mexican terrorists skulking through the back alleys of Kodiak.”
“And you know a likely suspect?”
Dana sipped her wine and stared at the coffee table. “I could give you a list of likely suspects, including two people at the office who would dance on Simms’ grave if his death meant they would be promoted to refuge manager. I don’t honestly think either one of them has the balls to plant a bomb, though.”
Dana sighed, set her glass on the coffee table, and sat forward in her chair. She placed her elbows on her knees and looked at my face. “Simms used his position to do many things I didn’t approve of. You know I fought with him constantly over programs he implemented that I felt were harmful to the bears or their habitat.” Dana massaged her nose.
“Our biggest responsibility on this refuge is to protect the brown bear habitat, and I often believed Simms went out of his way to sabotage our mission. He managed to make enemies of most of the primary users of the refuge. No one liked him. He was an ass.” Dana waved her hand in front of her face, as if swatting a mosquito.
“He didn’t have a clue about scientific procedure, and he was a running joke among the fish and game biologists. He antagonized guides, the native corporations, commercial fishermen, and air transport carriers. I’m not exaggerating, Jane. I think you would be surprised to know how many people called our office with complaints. This man was not well-liked.” She picked up her glass and drank. As she lowered it to the table, she said, “But if he was the target, I think he was killed for following through with a good decision, not for all the things he did that were wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you heard of George Wall?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Wall is a renegade sport-fishing and photography guide. I don’t know how he convinces people to book with him, but he takes a steady stream of people every summer.”
“Where does he take them?”
“That’s just it. He isn’t licensed to guide anyone on the refuge. He has applied for a special use permit, but he has a list of fish and game violations, he runs an unsafe operation, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game showed us a thick folder of complaints from his past clients. To top it off, he can’t get insurance, and no one gets a special use permit without insurance.” Dana shrugged. “There are a few shady guides operating on Kodiak, but we try to keep them off the refuge, and the legitimate guides that work on the refuge aren’t shy about letting us know when an unlicensed guide appears where he shouldn’t be. That’s what happened to Wall.”
“Someone reported him?”
“A guide saw Wall running float trips down Uganik River, and he called us. I was impressed with Simms. This is just the sort of thing he usually waffles on. He puts off doing anything about it until it’s too late to catch the guy. This time, though, he called in the troopers and they set up a sting operation in a few days.” Dana took another sip of wine and sat back in the chair. A smile played across her lips as she remembered the event.
“A male and female trooper posed as husband and wife and booked with Wall. He had an opening on his next float trip.” She shook her head. “What an idiot. Not only were the troopers able to charge him with operating on the refuge without a permit, but he baited a brown bear with salmon so his clients could get photos of it. Then, he shot the bear in the butt with birdshot to chase him away. He strung a section of gill net across the river to catch his party’s supper, and then instructed his clients on the proper procedure for snagging salmon.” Dana laughed. “I can’t remember what else he did, but the troopers snapped photos of everything, and Wall was arrested on eight counts as soon as he returned to town.”
“Unbelievable,” I said.
“The guy was furious about being caught, and of course, Simms didn’t sit quietly in the background. He was present at Wall’s arrest, and he couldn’t resist telling Wall what a fool he was and laughing in his face. Wall threatened he would get even with Simms.”
I shrugged. “People make threats like that, but they usually don’t carry through,” I said. “Isn’t Wall in jail?”
“No. He’s out on bail. His case won’t come to trial for a few months.” Dana sat forward again. “I know this sounds crazy, Jane, but Wall is bad news. I can’t remember why, but I was in Simms’ office when he was looking through Wall’s file. This was before the sting operation. I wasn’t involved in any of this, but for some reason I was in Simms’ office, and I remember him saying that Wall had served time in Colorado. He worked with the state highway department there and was part of the excavation crew for digging tunnels. He worked with explosives.” Dana paused, her eyes locked on my face. “A few sticks of dynamite disappeared from the worksite, and two days later, Wall’s girlfriend’s father’s truck blew into a million pieces. It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to piece the facts together.”
“Was the father killed?”
“No, something went wrong. No one was in the truck when it exploded, so Wall only had to serve a few years.”
“Have you told the police this?”
“Not yet,” Dana said. “I’ll wait until someone official states that the crash was not an accident.”
“It could be too late by then.”
Dana shrugged. “I hope not.”
“Does anyone else at the refuge know about Wall’s record?”
“I don’t know. It wasn’t a secret. Simms told me, and it was none of my business. Marty Shires, the assistant refuge manager, must know, but he was so busy trying not to look happy today, that I doubt it occurred to him. We’re not a close-knit group in that office.”
I smiled. “It’s a regular Peyton Place there. I don’t know how any work gets done.”
“Not much does.” Dana handed her glass to me for a refill.
I was awake and staring at the ceiling the next morning at 6:00 when my alarm buzzed. I hadn’t slept well, but I felt restless and bursting with energy. I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and gathered it into a ponytail. I pulled on sweats and jogging shoes and headed out the front door.
Fog and drizzle enveloped the mountains. Visibility was less than half a mile, and the ceiling was no more than a hundred feet. I considered driving to Abercrombie Park for my jog, but I recalled that an overzealous bear had treed two joggers there recently, and I decided to stick to the city sidewalks. The town was slow to awaken on this misty morning, and I doubted I would run into much traffic on the sidewalk.
The morning air felt cool, and even though the air oozed moisture, I didn’t notice the humidity until I had been running for a few minutes. Suddenly, my lungs clogged, and I stopped, head up, gasping for air. I sat on a low wall that bordered the sidewalk and stared at the wet pavement. My head ached, and I regretted the four glasses of wine I’d consumed with Dana.
Could George Wall have planted a bomb to settle the score with Simms? Dana was not taken to flights of fancy. She rarely accepted any notion without scientific proof. I hoped she would tell the police her suspicions before Wall left the island. If he planted the bomb, though, he probably already was gone.
I slid off the wall and began to walk home. The drizzle had saturated my sweats, and cold was beginning to soak through my skin.
I didn’t hear the car pull up beside me until a familiar voice said, “Walking in the rain?”
I stopped and turned toward the red Audi. Peter Wayman’s dark face smiled at me through the open window. He wore a suit and tie, and I glanced at my watch to see if I was late for work.
“It’s not even 7:00 yet, Peter. Are you headed to work already?”
“I have to take off early today, so I thought I’d get a head start. Can I give you a ride home?”
I looked down at my wet clothes. “I don’t want to get your car wet.”
He waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. Come on.”
His words sounded more like an order than an offer, and I meekly complied with the wishes of my boss. As I slid into the immaculate car, I tried to touch as few surfaces as possible. Dr. Wayman watched me, his brown eyes intense, and as soon as I shut the car door, he drove slowly toward the center of town.
“How are you doing, Jane?” He kept his eyes forward, but I glanced at the side of his face. Peter was in his mid-forties, and he was the most beautiful man I ever had seen. His black hair was cropped close to his head, and a tinge of grey at the temples offered the only clue to his age. His milk-chocolate skin was flawless. He didn’t even have wrinkles around his eyes, and I wondered how he managed this. Maybe after I had consumed a few glasses of champagne at the next Christmas party, I’d get him to divulge his beauty secrets. Peter was also a sharp dresser, especially for a scientist. He ran the marine center with an iron fist, but he was a good boss, and I respected him. I also liked his wife, a high school math teacher, and I occasionally babysat their three-year old daughter.
“I’m sorry, Peter. I’m fine.”
“Are you planning to hire a replacement for Craig?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ll get someone next year, but I think I can handle the research this summer.”
“Okay, but don’t get behind. With the high levels of PSP this summer, you’ll want to take as many samples as possible.”
“I know,” I said. “I’m planning to get more samples from Uyak in a few days on the next series of low tides.”
An uneasy silence followed. I sensed Peter trying to form his next question, and as he made a slow U-turn through a grocery store parking lot, I realized that our meeting had not been accidental. Peter had been looking for me. He wanted to talk to me about something outside the office.
“Have you heard any more from Craig’s parents?”
“No reason. I’m just surprised they haven’t asked more questions about the accident.”
“Maybe they’ve been talking to the troopers.”
“Betty told me that an FAA inspector visited you yesterday, and then he called the office later in the afternoon to check on the size of the propane tank Craig took with him.”
Good old Betty. Run to Dr. Wayman and tattle on Jane. “It’s just a formality, Peter. We didn’t do anything wrong.” If only I could believe those words.
Peter braked at a stop sign and turned to look at me, his intelligent eyes searching my face. “Did our fuels cause that explosion?”
“I don’t know, Peter.” I met his gaze. “It is possible, but the FAA inspector told me that the explosion originated in the cabin. The pilot probably put the battery and the propane tank in the float.”
I saw the muscles in Peter’s cheeks relax. He’d better be careful; all that tension would produce lines on that perfect face.
Peter accelerated slowly from the stop sign. “The FBI is sending an explosives expert to see if a bomb caused the crash.”
Peter swung his face toward me. “I heard that rumor, but I didn’t believe it. Are you sure?”
“That’s what the FAA inspector told me.”
“Does he think someone was trying to kill the senator?”
“He didn’t speculate, but I think the only reason the FBI is getting involved in this is because the senator was on the plane.”
Peter snorted. “Yes, if five unknown tourists had been killed, the event would have barely rated a blurb in the Kodiak Mirror.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can’t believe someone would follow the senator all the way to Kodiak to kill her.”
“What about the other passengers?”
“What do you mean?”
“Maybe someone else was the target.”
I expected Peter to tell me about Simms’ many enemies. Peter still thought of me as a recent arrival on the island, and he liked to explain things to me. His next words surprised me.
“This isn’t something I want you to repeat to anyone, Jane, but I’ve played poker a few times with Darren Myers. Darren was the owner of Uyak Cannery.”
Peter played poker? I couldn’t visualize that. “What about Darren Myers?” I asked.
“Like I said, this is just wild speculation, but he was going through an extremely ugly divorce. His wife, Maryann, threatened to kill him.”
“No offense, Peter, but I doubt his wife would plant a bomb to get rid of him. If she really hated him that much, she could stir a little cyanide into his coffee. This doesn’t strike me as a jealous-wife type of crime.”
Peter shrugged. “I hear she has quite a temper.” He pulled into the parking lot of my complex and stopped in front of the walkway.
I doubted that Peter and his poker buddies were a good source of unbiased information, and I was surprised that Peter didn’t sense this.
I opened the car door. “I’m beginning to realize that everyone has enemies, but it takes either a ruthless or a warped individual to kill six people just to rid yourself of one person. I don’t think most people are capable of that kind of random killing. Do you?”
Peter stared at me but said nothing. He seemed to be thinking about what I had said. Maybe he was thinking about Maryann Myers, and I wondered how much he knew about the woman.