Murder Over Kodiak
Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author
Author Masterminds Charter Member
I unlocked my office door at 8:30 a.m., and a woman from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Lab in Palmer called five minutes later. “Doctor Marcus. We never received your bivalve samples. We were ready to perform the bioassay yesterday, but we don’t have your samples.”
I’d forgotten to call Palmer and cancel the mouse bioassay. My plan had been to prepare the bivalve tissues Craig was bringing me. I would use a small amount for the cell-based test we were running for the Canadian lab and then divide the remainder in half. I would keep one half for our chemical assay and send the other half to Palmer for a bioassay. Then, we could compare the results of the two assays and the cell-based kit. I had alerted the Palmer lab that I would be sending them a sample, but in the aftermath of the crash, I’d forgotten to call and cancel.
I explained the situation to the technician. She was less than sympathetic, and I couldn’t blame her. Their lab was busy, and they were under pressure to determine the level of saxitoxin in the bivalves from Uyak. In cases of suspected PSP, the lab usually was sent a bivalve sample from the victim’s last meal. In this case, however, the clams had been eaten and the dishes cleared away before the victim began experiencing her first symptoms of PSP. Only Mrs. Cycek had eaten the clams, and according to her husband, she had consumed ten or twelve butter clams.
I assured the technician that I would fly out in a few days and collect more samples.
“Please let us know when to expect them,” she said, and then disconnected.
I taught my 10:00 a.m. class without much enthusiasm. Craig had assisted me with this class, and the students were glum and withdrawn. I let them leave twenty minutes early and then returned to my office and called Kodiak Flight Services to set up a charter to Uyak Bay for July third.
“Dr. Marcus,” the dispatcher said. “I think Steve wants to talk to you.”
A moment later, Steve said, “Hi Jane. I just want to let you know that we’re having a memorial service for Bill and his passengers today at 3:00.”
“Trident Basin. We’re trying to keep it small and informal. Hopefully the press won’t hear about it.”
I thought Steve was being dramatic. Kodiak’s press corps couldn’t consist of more than two reporters, one from KDKI and one from the Kodiak Mirror. However, when I searched for a parking place at Trident Basin at 2:30, I understood what Steve had meant.
“Wow,” Geoff said. I’d given him a ride to the service. Peter had previous plans and said he wouldn’t be able to attend, but Glenda and Betty and two graduate students who had roomed with Craig were in a car behind us. I motioned to them to back up, and we parked along the side of the narrow dirt road. Several more cars pulled in behind us.
As we walked down the road, I became aware of television crews and video cameras. “What’s going on?”
“We’re famous, Doc. This is our fifteen minutes.”
A guy with CNN embroidered on his coat nearly shoved me off the road as he ran past. “I guess this is the press Steve was worried about. They must have heard about the memorial service.”
They weren’t the only ones who had heard. A trooper’s van rolled slowly past us down the steep road. “Maybe something else has happened,” I said. “I can’t believe all this excitement is for the memorial service. I’ve heard about slow news days, but why would folks in Cleveland care about a memorial service in Kodiak, Alaska?”
Geoff glanced sideways at me. “When a U.S. senator gets blown up in a plane, it’s news, Doc.”
I now regretted promising Steve I would say something at the service. I thought I would be speaking to a few acquaintances, and I wasn’t prepared to address the nation.
The crowd was gathering in a semicircle above the ramps leading down to the floatplanes. Steve saw me approach and motioned to me. He wore a long-sleeved tan shirt and a tie, his straight, blonde hair combed back from his forehead. He chewed on his upper lip.
“Looks like we have more of a crowd than I wanted.”
I looked around. The camera crews were setting up their equipment, and a nervous rumble filled the air. “We’ll get through it,” I said. “I wish I’d planned what I was going to say a little better, though. Who else is speaking?”
“I’ll go first, and then Father Ivanof will say a prayer. Next, I’ll say a few words about Bill and then introduce you. When you get done, you need to introduce David Sturman. He will say something about Darren Myers.”
“Is that it?” I asked.
“No. Father Ivanof will say a final prayer.”
“What about Simms? Isn’t anyone planning to eulogize him?”
“I called the refuge office, but no one wanted to stand up and say anything. I guess we should have planned this earlier.”
“It’s not your fault. I can’t believe Marty Shires or someone at the refuge can’t think of something nice to say about Simms. I bet if Shires knew all these cameras were here, he would volunteer to say something.”
“Speak of the devil.”
I turned around and saw a short, thin, dark-haired man approaching. He ignored me and held out his right hand to Steve.
“Say,” Shires said. “I’ve been thinking, and I’d like to say a few words about Dick.”
“These cameras didn’t scare you away?” I said.
Shires spun around to look at me. I don’t think he recognized me, and my words confused him.
“Okay,” Steve said. “You’ll speak after David Sturman. I’ll tell him to introduce you.”
I wandered back to my group from the marine center and found them huddled together in conversation.
“Hey, Doc,” Geoff said. “Does that guy look familiar to you?” He tilted his head toward an ABC crew standing beside him.
I looked at the crew. The cameraman was pointing the camera at a reporter who was dressed in the latest outdoor gear. He looked out of place in Kodiak, as if he had just stepped out of the pages of an Eddie Bauer catalog.
“He does look familiar, but I’m not much of a news junkie. I don’t know his name.”
“You’ll be on the evening news, Doc.”
“Unless I say something incredibly stupid, I’m sure my bit will be edited out. Ten seconds of Father Ivanof is what they’re after.” I knew what I said was true, but the words failed to ease the burning in my stomach.
The crowd began to hush, and I turned my attention toward Steve, who stood atop four stacked pallets in front of the semicircle of people.
“Thank you all for coming today. This is just a simple ceremony to remember Bill Watson and his passengers.”
I looked around the crowd. The news teams were quiet, the cameras fixed on Steve. Steve seemed calm, his voice strong. I hoped I would do as well. At the mention of Bill’s name, a young woman sobbed loudly. Three other women huddled around her, shielding her from the invasive eyes of the cameras. I wondered if this was the young woman Bill had planned to take to dinner on the day of the crash.
Near the young women, a tired, middle-aged couple leaned against each other for support. I knew they must be Bill’s parents, and as I watched their bent frames, my anxiety disappeared. Craig had been even younger than their son, and his parents grieved alone. I would do my best to tell this crowd about the short life of that very special person. Perhaps some of what I said would be carried on the evening news, and maybe Craig’s parents would see it and know their son had been valued and loved by his coworkers.
Steve introduced Father Ivanof and then helped the elderly priest up onto the makeshift platform. A deep voice boomed from the small man, and as he lifted his arms, his long black robe billowed.
I lowered my head and thought about Craig during the long prayer. I still couldn’t believe he was dead. My mother had died a slow, tortuous death from cancer. Watching her suffer had scarred me and my view of life in ways I still was discovering, but I never had trouble believing she was dead. In the end, her death was a relief, because I no longer had to watch her cry from pain and fear. Craig had been here one minute and gone the next, his body evaporated. I kept expecting a radio call from him asking when the plane would arrive to pick him up.
“Thank you, Father Ivanof,” Steve said.
His words brought me back to reality, and I lifted my head, aware that I was the last person in the crowd to do so.
Steve paused for a minute and seemed to be gathering his thoughts. He looked at the ground and then allowed his gaze to drift around the crowd. “We still don’t know what caused the crash of Nine Nine November, and we may never know what caused the Beaver to explode in midair on a calm, clear day. All we know is that the lives of six people were snuffed out.” As he paused, I heard scattered sniffles among the spectators.
“Bill Watson was a good pilot, and I’m certain the investigation will reveal no error on his part.” Steve seemed to be staring at one of the cameras when he said this, and I thought it was a bold statement to make so early in the investigation.
“Bill grew up in Kodiak, and according to his parents, as soon as he could talk, he told anyone who would listen that he wanted to be a pilot.” I glanced at Bill’s parents and saw them grip each other tighter. “He began working for Kodiak Flight Services as a freight handler when he was sixteen years old, and when he was seventeen, he started working on his pilot’s license. I thought of him as a younger brother.” Steve’s voice cracked, and he stared at the ground.
“Bill was proud to be a pilot, and even though he was young, he took the responsibility of his job seriously. Today, I want to remember his competence and afford him the respect he deserves.”
Steve then told a story about a daring medevac Bill had performed when he landed on stormy seas to transport a young girl from a boat to the hospital. The girl had fallen and badly cut herself, and Bill heard the distress call and diverted from his original flight plan to rescue her. The doctor at the hospital said that if Bill hadn’t gotten her there so quickly, she would have bled to death.
Next, Steve told a humorous story about Bill stopping to pick up deer hunters. They loaded their gear on the plane, and Bill saw that their campsite was still a mess, littered with trash and five-gallon fuel cans. He tossed their duffel bags and boxes of deer meat on the beach and told the hunters that first he would haul their garbage to town and then he would take their gear. The men were irate, but they were forced to comply with Bill’s wishes. When they balked about paying for the extra flying time, Bill threatened to report them to the troopers. Steve said that the hunters were twice as big as Bill, but by the time they arrived in town, they were meek and polite and made reservations with Kodiak Flight Services for the following fall hunting season, even requesting Bill as their pilot.
Steve told two more stories about Bill, but I didn’t listen. I was too busy rehearsing my own talk in my mind. I noticed the television camera crews continued to film throughout Steve’s talk, but I knew they would not show all of this on the news.
“Now I would like to introduce Dr. Jane Marcus from the Kodiak Braxton Marine Biology and Fisheries Research Center to say a few words about Craig Pederson.”
The crowd shuffled, turning to see who I was. I swallowed and walked forward. I was glad I’d worn slacks as Steve pulled me up on the pallets.
“Hello,” I said in what I thought was a loud voice. The greeting seemed to be sucked into the air, though, and I saw the crowd inch forward. I counted five cameras pointed at me, and for a moment, I wasn’t sure I could do it. I inhaled and yelled my next sentence. “Most of you probably don’t know who I am, or who Craig was. I’m on the staff at the Marine Research Center, and I have only lived in Kodiak a little more than a year. In that short time, though, I’ve come to call Kodiak home, and I hope to stay here for a long while.” The crowd seemed to relax and move back. Everyone could hear me now, but I wasn’t sure how long my voice could endure yelling.
“Craig was from Oregon, and this was his second summer as a student assistant at the center. He was bright, personable, funny, and efficient.” I tried not to picture Craig as I said these words, because I knew if I thought about him, I would lose control, and that’s the last thing I wanted to happen.
“He was so capable, that I sent him alone on a sample-collecting trip, and he was on his way back from this trip when the plane exploded. This was the first collection trip he had gone on alone. I went with him on all the others.” My voice didn’t falter, but I felt tears roll down my cheeks, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk much longer.
“Craig had a loving family, many friends, and a bright future. The world will be a little darker without his shining spirit.” I looked at the group from the marine center and saw Betty sobbing into her handkerchief. I felt my lips quiver, and I knew I’d better wrap it up.
“Thank you,” I said, and I was stepping down from the platform when I saw Steve waving frantically to me. “Oh!” I stood straight. “I would like to introduce David Sturman, who will remember Darren Myers.”
I hurried through the crowd and stood beside Geoff. He put his arm around me and patted my shoulder, and I dug in my pocket for a Kleenex.
David Sturman was a heavyset, balding man in his fifties, whose face burned from the exertion of climbing onto the platform. His voice was soft and did not carry well, and I moved forward with the crowd to hear what he said.
“I offer my condolences to the friends and families of the six victims of Nine Nine November. I am here today representing the loved ones and coworkers of Darren Myers, the owner and operator of Uyak Cannery.” He paused and looked at a note card he held in the palm of his right hand. “Darren was the second-to-last passenger to board the Beaver on Wednesday. He was on his way to Japan for cannery business.”
Sturman glanced again at his note card. “How can I sum up Darren’s life in a few short sentences?” Sweat streamed down Sturman’s forehead, and he wiped his brow with his shirt sleeve. “Darren was a man of vision. He convinced a few investors that he could resurrect a defunct salmon cannery and turn it into a thriving business, producing both a canned and frozen product. The investors that had the foresight to believe in Darren have not been disappointed. In six short years, Uyak Cannery has become the fourth most productive cannery on Kodiak.”
I thought his speech sounded more appropriate for a shareholders meeting than a memorial service, but perhaps Mr. Myers had been all business.
“Darren was well respected by his employees, and in his honor, the cannery has stopped operation and is holding its own memorial service today. Darren wouldn’t want us to sit idle too long, though, so we will resume production tomorrow, and we will attempt to meet the high standards Darren set for us.”
After another peek at the card in his hand, Sturman continued. “In addition to a fine businessman and visionary, Darren was an honest friend and a loving father. His two children, Sandra and Peter…
“Liar! These are all lies. Darren Myers was a jerk and a lousy father!”
The woman’s voice screeched from the back of the crowd, and as I turned to see who owned the voice, a large body rammed into me and sent me sprawling. I was so surprised by the blow that I wasn’t even able to put out my hands to break my fall. My right cheek slammed into the gravel parking lot, bounced, and then landed on the small rocks. I felt strong hands grasp me around the waist and pull me to my feet.
“Are you okay, Doc? Oh, no! Your face is a mess.” Geoff pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began wiping gravel and blood from my face.
My face stung, and I felt dazed. “What happened?”
“Those idiots from the TV station trampled you so they could get footage of Mrs. Myers.”
“That was Darren Myer’s wife who yelled?” I reached a hand to my cheek and lightly touched the damage.
“That’s what someone said.”
I looked toward the back of the crowd. “Where’d she go?”
Geoff followed my gaze. “She must be in the upper parking lot. See the TV cameras?”
I didn’t see the woman, but I saw the camera crews grouped around someone in the upper lot.
“I guess she wanted to be on television.”
“My dear, are you okay?” Glenda walked toward me. “Oh my goodness. You should go to the emergency room and get that looked at.”
“It’s nothing, Glenda. Just a little road rash.” Cool air stung the abrasions, and I blinked back tears.
“Can I have your attention, please?” Sturman’s voice wasn’t loud enough to cut through the chatter of the crowd.
“Excuse me!” Steve yelled. “If we could please return to our service.”
The crowd in the lower parking lot hushed, but the television crews did not interrupt their interview.
Sturman’s face had faded to a pale white, and perspiration dripped from his chin. I hoped he wasn’t about to have a heart attack.
“I guess that’s all I have to say. Darren will be missed. And now I would like to introduce -” he checked his note card – “Martin Shires, who will remember Richard Simms.”
I barely heard Marty’s self-serving speech. He must have been very disappointed that Mrs. Myer’s outburst diverted the attention of the television crews. The cameramen didn’t return to the lower parking lot until near the end of his talk, and even then, they stayed at the back of the crowd. I wondered what Mrs. Myers had told the reporters. Maybe Peter had been right. Perhaps she had hated her husband badly enough to blow up a plane full of people.
The service ended with another prayer by Father Ivanof. A light drizzle began to fall as we walked up the road toward our vehicles. I held my left hand over the side of my face to keep the rain out of my cuts. The television crews milled around, uncertain what to do next. The cameramen shot footage of the passing mourners, and I looked away from the cameras, irritated at their invasion of the service.
I didn’t turn when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said my name. A powerful masculine cologne engulfed me, and I knew I had never met the man who was trying to get my attention. I was afraid he was a desperate news correspondent wanting an interview. Geoff, my protector, came to my aid.
“Can I help you, sir?” Geoff said, taking my arm, and stepping between me and the stranger.
“I want to introduce myself to Dr. Marcus,” a deep voice said.
Curiosity prevailed, and I looked at the man. He was not a reporter, and he did not belong in a parking lot on Kodiak Island. He wore an expensive, dark-grey suit and a conservative maroon tie. His shoes were Italian leather and soon would be ruined when the rain turned the road into a mud pit. He sported a deep tan that set off his sapphire eyes. His short, dark hair was combed neatly, and his smooth face looked as if he had shaved only minutes earlier. I suspected that the body beneath the suit was lean and fit, and I had to admit that he rivaled Peter for good looks. I gawked unashamedly at the handsome stranger, and then I realized why he had sucked in his breath and diverted his eyes as soon as he saw my face.
“Hello,” I said. “I was trampled by a news crew, but I’ll be fine.”
“It looks painful.” He held out his manicured hand. “I’m Jack Justin.”
“A relative of the senator?” Geoff asked.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said.
Jack shook his head. “Thank you.”
“Why didn’t you speak today?”
“The reporters haven’t figured out who I am yet, and I want to keep it that way as long as possible.”
“Of course.” I introduced Geoff to Jack, since Geoff was hanging on every word we said.
Jack nodded and then turned his back to Geoff and lowered his voice. “I understand that you found the crash site.”
“I was in the plane with the pilot who found the wreckage.”
“I’d like to talk to you.”
He put his hand on my arm and stopped walking. Geoff stopped for a moment and then awkwardly continued up the road. “Not here,” Jack said. “Can I buy you dinner tonight?”
God, this guy smelled good. “Sure.” Never turn down a free meal with a handsome, aromatic man.
“You say where and when.
“Henry’s at seven?”
“I’ll find it.”
“It’s in the middle of town; you can’t miss it.”
“Okay, then.” He nodded and walked down the hill.
I wondered why Jack Justin wanted to talk to me, and I dreaded him asking about the remains of his parents. The troopers must have told him their condition, but maybe he wanted to question an unofficial source.
Geoff stood in the rain by my Explorer. I hurried to the vehicle and unlocked it, and Geoff slid in and slammed the door.
“What did he want?”
“To meet me tonight and ask me something.” I pulled slowly onto the road and turned on my windshield wipers. The light mist was progressing into rain.
Geoff remained quiet until we turned into the marine center parking lot. Then, he said in a low voice, “Be careful with this guy, Doc. I don’t trust him.”
I nosed into my parking space and turned off the key. “What’s this weather supposed to do?”
“We’re in for a big storm.”