Murder Over Kodiak – Chapter 6

Murder Over Kodiak

Chapter 6

 Robin Barefield

Alaska Wilderness Mystery Author

Author Masterminds Charter Member


I didn’t sleep well. I had nightmares about my mother and about Craig. I awoke at five, drenched in a cold sweat, and climbed out of bed. I considered jogging until I looked out the window. The fog had lifted, but a strong wind and heavy rain tortured the Sitka spruce trees, which seemed to bend their heads to avoid the beating. The high winds were unusual but not exceptional for late June, and I hoped the storm abated before my planned collection trip. I would need all my courage to crawl into a floatplane, and I didn’t think I could do it unless the weather was perfect.

I showered, dressed, and because I couldn’t think of anything else to do, I drove to work. The marine center was quiet, and I spent the two hours before my appointment with Steve catching up on paperwork and making notes for the journal article I hoped to publish after I analyzed the results from this summer’s work.

At 8:45, I grabbed my purse, shut off my office light, and locked the door. The marine center was never noisy, but this morning it was a morgue. The hallway was dark, all the office doors were closed, and my footsteps echoed on the tile floor. I peered at my watch in the gloom to make sure it was still running, and then I realized with a start that it was Saturday. How had I forgotten the day? I usually was well-organized, but I hadn’t been able to concentrate.

I was still replaying the week in my mind, trying to figure out how it already could be Saturday, when I arrived at the double glass doors that led outside. I pushed hard on the lock bar to open the door and heard a muffled cry. Betty dropped her key ring and jumped back.

“I’m sorry, Betty. I didn’t see you there.” I stooped to retrieve Betty’s keys, but she plucked them from beneath my fingers.

She stood straight, pushed her rubber rain cap away from her eyes and said, “Perhaps you should be more careful. Maybe Craig would still be alive if you weren’t so careless.” She turned, bent, and inserted her key into the keyhole of the door, which by now had slammed shut. I watched her unlock the door and march stiffly through it.

What a bitch! She never had been friendly to me, but I had no idea she disliked me so much. What had I done to her? Or maybe everyone at the marine center felt that way. I was not the only one who blamed me for Craig’s death.

Sleet pelted the asphalt, and I pulled the hood of my raincoat over my head and ran for my Explorer.

The Kodiak Air Services van huddled alone in the Bayside Café parking lot, and as I crawled out of my Explorer, I pulled my hood tight and bent my head against the wind and rain. I understood why most of the citizens of Kodiak had chosen to stay in their cozy homes on this Saturday morning.

The aroma of coffee and fried bacon slapped me in the face when I walked through the door. Steve sat in the far corner of the small café, a steaming cup of coffee in his right hand and the Kodiak Mirror in his left.

“Anything interesting in the paper?” I asked as I approached the table.

Steve glanced up at me and smiled; his hazel eyes looked bloodshot from lack of sleep. He tossed the paper aside. “Nothing new on the crash, at least nothing in the paper.”

I pulled out a chair and sat down. “Did you see CNN?”

“Oh yes, and every other news channel. My mother called me in a panic.”

“Thanks for reminding me. I need to call my dad back this morning.”

The waitress arrived, and I ordered black coffee. She returned a few moments later with a large mug of strong brew. I inhaled the thick aroma and tried to relax.

“So, the FBI thinks someone planted a bomb,” I said.

“I don’t think they’ll know for certain for a few days. They have to run some tests on the debris at their lab in Virginia, but they’re leaning that way.”

“What do you think?” I asked.

Steve sat forward and pinched his mouth with the thumb and index finger of his left hand. “That’s why I want to talk to you, Jane. I need to run my thoughts past someone, and I can’t say this to anyone at the office. My wife is a wreck over this, so I don’t dare talk to her, but I trust you, and I know you’ll be discreet.”

Steve had my attention. I gripped my coffee cup and leaned across the table toward him.

“Like I told you before,” he said. “I don’t see how a stranger could know what plane we would use for that flight. No one at the office remembers anyone inquiring about that flight. You called to find out what time it was scheduled to arrive in Kodiak, but that’s the only interest anyone showed in it. We could have used any of our planes for that flight.” He shrugged. “I didn’t know what plane we would use until we made out our daily flight plan that morning. I looked at our books and saw three separate trips to the same part of the island, so I combined them. That’s just smart business for us.”

“I’ve been wondering about that,” I said when Steve paused. “I’m surprised Simms didn’t request a separate charter for his special guests.”

Steve shook his head. “No. The refuge is always looking for ways to cut back on their flying bill. A combined charter is cheaper for them. Simms jumped at it.”

“Why is that better for you, then? Don’t you lose money when you combine trips?”

Steve shrugged. “Depends on the circumstances. If those flights had been all we’d had booked for the day, then yes, we would have lost money. But, we had more business than we could handle that day, and when we charge separately for seat fares and water stops, we make more money than when we charge our standard charter rate.”

I nodded. “That makes sense, but no one except you and Bill knew you had decided to combine the trips?”

“I called Simms to make sure he didn’t mind. The plan was that Bill would stop at Bradford with the Justins and Simms, and then would take them flight-seeing, make the other stops, and return to town. Simms agreed to that arrangement, but I didn’t tell him who their pilot would be or what plane we would use for the trip. None of the other passengers knew the trips would be combined.”

“What about your employees? Did they know what plane you’d use?” I thought Steve might be offended by this question, but he seemed to be expecting it. He played with his coffee cup and looked down as he answered.

“Cheryl, our dispatcher, certainly knew what plane we would use, and any of the other employees might have known. It was no secret.” Steve looked into my eyes. “But I’ve questioned them all, and I trust them. They’re as sick about Bill’s death as I am, and they all swear to me that they didn’t tell anyone anything about the flight. Cheryl says you are the only one she talked to about that trip.”

“You said it was a busy day,” I said quietly. “Could someone have forgotten mentioning it?”

Steve sighed. “Of course. I’ve thought of that, and I’ve also thought that if someone did inadvertently say something about the trip, he or she might feel too guilty to admit it.” He sipped his coffee. “I can’t rule out those possibilities.”

We were quiet for a minute, and then Steve leaned forward again. “Assuming only my office staff and pilots knew about the flight, I don’t understand how a stranger could have plotted and placed a bomb on that plane.” Steve’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“What are you saying? Do you think someone in your office planted a bomb on one of your planes?” I didn’t understand how Steve could trust that his employees would tell him the truth and at the same time suspect that one of them was a murderer.

Steve exhaled and shifted in his chair. The waitress appeared with the coffeepot, and we both accepted refills.

“I hate to even say this, because I have no proof to back it up. I know you’ll think this is crazy, but there was one person who knew what plane Bill was flying that day.”


Steve rubbed his nose, glanced at the table, and then returned his gaze to my face. “Bill’s girlfriend, Toni Hunt, knew. I saw her hanging out with him on the dock that morning.”

“You think she might have told someone?

Steve paused for a long time before saying, “Maybe.”

“What’s up, Steve? What aren’t you telling me?”

“I shouldn’t say this.” Steve gripped the edge of the table, and I thought he was going to stand.

I reached across the table and patted his hand. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I think Toni may have planted the bomb.” The words poured out in a rush.

I sat back in the chair and frowned. “You’re talking about the cute little girl I saw at the memorial service?”

“I think that cute little girl is psychotic. She played some nasty games with Bill, and I think he was afraid of her.”

“Oh, come on, Steve.”

He nodded. “I’ll tell you a story. Several months ago we had a bachelor party for one of the other pilots. Bill and Toni had been dating for a few weeks, and Toni told him he couldn’t go to the party.” Steve smoothed his short hair. “We gave Bill crap. You know, guy stuff, and he told her he was going to the party and that was final.” Steve paused. “When the party was over, and we left the bar to walk to our vehicles, there was Bill’s truck: The windows had all been broken and the hood smashed with a sledgehammer. Bill told me the next day that Toni admitted she did it.”


“Yeah, that cute little thing has a short circuit.”

“Still, what would she know about planting a bomb?”

“That’s the thing I can’t get out of my head. Toni grew up in the bush. Her dad is a guide and a pilot, and one day when she was at the office, she told me how she helped her dad excavate an area for a ramp for the plane.” Steve thumped the table twice with his fist. “They used dynamite for the excavation, and Toni enjoyed the job. I can remember her wide, excited eyes as she explained the properties of dynamite to me. This young lady knows about and probably has access to explosives.”

“But why would she kill Bill? Even if she was angry with him, do you think she’s crazy enough to kill him?”

Steve shrugged. “I don’t know. They were having a screaming match when I saw them on the dock that morning. I didn’t hear what it was about, and frankly, I didn’t care. I was tired of their fighting, and I’d told Bill more than once not to fight in front of passengers; it’s unprofessional. Whatever it was about, though, they must have made up.” Steve lowered his voice. “Or, at least Bill thought they had. I asked him if he could work late, and he said he couldn’t, because he had promised Toni he would take her out to dinner.” Steve raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “Maybe Toni was still mad, and perhaps her mind is so sick that she thought this was the best way to get even. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know.”

Steve paused for a moment and then said, “Think about how easy it would have been for Toni to put explosives on that plane. She could have wrapped up a few sticks of dynamite and a timer, put a bow on the package, handed it to Bill as he was getting in the plane and told him not to open it until he got back to town. Bill would have done as he was told.”

The door creaked as another customer entered the cafe. I watched the elderly man sit in a booth near the door. The waitress approached him with a mug and a pot of coffee.

“I think you should tell the FAA inspector or the FBI what you just told me,” I said.

“How can I? Does it sound rational to you?”

I shrugged. “I hope you’re wrong about Toni, but she has to be considered as a suspect, and the FBI should understand that only a few people knew what plane you were planning to use for this flight.”

“I told the FAA inspector that, but he shrugged it off. Said there were ways for people to find out these things.”

I stared at Steve. What a mess this was. Had this disaster been caused by the jealous young girlfriend of the pilot?

“I tell you what,” I said. “Why don’t we talk to Toni?  We should be able to sense if she is unbalanced enough to blow up an airplane.”

“I don’t know.” Steve sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. “She’s clever.”

“Come on, Steve. She can’t be a day over twenty. I think the two of us can handle her.”

“You didn’t see the pickup truck.” Steve blew out a loud breath between slightly-parted lips. “Okay. Are you free this afternoon around 4:00? I won’t be flying in this weather, but I need to do some engine work on the 206.”

“4:00 is fine,” I said. “Do you know where she lives?”

“I know her parents, and they live in town now. I think Toni still lives with them, but maybe I should call and check that she will be there this afternoon.”

“No,” I said. “Let’s not give her any time to think up answers.”

Steve paid for the coffee, and we left the cafe. The day was still dark, and the fierce wind drove the rain at a forty-five-degree angle. I sprinted for my Explorer, started the engine, turned on the windshield wipers, and cranked up the heater. I stared through the rain-spattered window at the boat harbor and pitied the poor fishermen working on their boats in this weather. A man in a thin blue windbreaker walked down the dock, his shoulders hunched against the unsympathetic elements, hands tucked deep in the pockets of his Carharts. At least he was in the boat harbor. I wouldn’t want to make my living at sea in this weather.

Three cars occupied the marine center parking lot when I arrived, and I was relieved I wouldn’t be alone with Betty in the big building. One of the vehicles was Peter’s Audi, and the other, a small compact, belonged to David Miles, one of the chemists at the lab.

The front door was unlocked, and I hurried down the hallway, hoping to avoid Betty. I took two steps past the door of the central office, when Betty’s shrill voice pierced the silence. “Doctor Marcus!”

I stopped and stepped back to the office door. “Yes, Betty?” I was pleased to hear the sharpness of my tone.

Betty was not contrite. Her own words dropped the temperature in the already-cold building another two degrees. “You had a call from an FBI agent.”

I waited for her to say more, but she simply stared at me as if waiting for me to react to this news. “What did he want?” I finally asked.

She looked down at her desk, picked up the small pink message slip, and held it out for me. “He didn’t say, but he wants you to return his call.”

I walked toward her and plucked the slip from her fingers. I wished I had the power to fire marine center employees, but both Betty and I knew I lacked that authority.

I waited until I was locked securely in my office before I looked at the message slip. In Betty’s neat, cursive handwriting, it read: Agent Nick Morgan. A local telephone number followed the name, so I picked up the phone and dialed it. A young woman informed me that I had reached the Kodiak Police Department, and I asked for Agent Morgan.

A moment later, a deep voice said, “Agent Morgan.”

“Hello, this is Jane Marcus. I have a message to call you.”

“Yes, Dr. Marcus. Thank you for returning my call. I’d like to meet with you and ask you a few questions about Nine Nine November.”

“Okay.” I felt my heart pound.

“Do you have any free time today?”

“Now would be fine.”

“I can be there in twenty minutes.”

“Do you know where the marine center is located?”

“No, but I have a local policeman for a chauffeur.”

Twenty-two minutes later, a sharp knock rattled my office door.

“Come in.” I stood.

The door opened smoothly, and the man that walked through it held out his hand to me.

My previous association with the FBI had left a bad taste in my mouth, and I found it difficult to trust any FBI agent. As Agent Morgan grasped my palm in a firm handshake and stared squarely into my eyes, however, I decided to reserve judgment.

I notice a man’s eyes and teeth; hairline and physical build are secondary considerations. Nick Morgan rated high in all four categories. He had grey-blue eyes that reflected his intelligence. I also thought I saw honesty and sincerity in the sparkling depths, but I know eyes can lie about honesty. A man’s honesty cannot be determined so easily.

“I have a few questions for you, Dr. Marcus.”

“Please, sit down.” I gestured to the chair sitting against the wall, and Morgan pulled it in front of my desk and eased himself into it. He folded his hands in his lap, and I noticed the gold band gleaming on his left ring finger.

“I don’t know what I can tell you that I haven’t already told the FAA inspector,” I said.

“I’m sure you know that our bomb experts have concluded that the explosion was no accident.” He must have worn braces when he was young. His white teeth were perfect. His smile would be dazzling, but I doubted that many people saw it.

“In other words, someone planted a bomb on the Beaver.”

“We think so.”

“Well, sir, I don’t think you can consider Craig a valid terrorist target. From what I’ve heard, some of the other passengers were much more likely than Craig to attract powerful enemies. Craig was just a college kid with his entire future ahead of him. He was an innocent bystander.”

Morgan bit his lip and nodded his head. “I know,” he said in a quiet voice. “My deepest sympathies for your loss. I don’t believe that someone blew up this plane to kill your assistant, but my job requires me to interview the associates and families of all the victims.” A light speckling of grey tinged his short, black hair at the temples, and fine lines creased the corners of his eyes. I wondered how old he was.

“I should have been on that plane.” The words fell unwillingly from my mouth.

“What?” He cocked his head to one side.

I laughed and pushed my chair back from my desk. “Oh, nothing. It’s just that I sent Craig alone at the last minute, and I feel guilty about that. I don’t like to fly, so I found an excuse not to go.”

I saw Morgan struggling to form his next question, and I realized what he must be thinking. “I don’t think the bomb was meant for me, either,” I said. “I don’t know many people in Kodiak, and everyone at the lab knew I didn’t fly out to Uyak with Craig. A fish biologist does not attract many violent enemies.”

An embarrassed grin played across Morgan’s face. “No angry ex-boyfriends?”

“My life should be so exciting.”

“What about Craig? Did he have a girlfriend?”

“Craig attended the University of Washington, and I think he had a casual girlfriend there. I kept him too busy for a social life here in Kodiak. He bunked with some students from the marine center, but we’ve been working seven days a week since this paralytic-shellfish-poisoning crisis began.”

“That’s what he was doing in Uyak Bay?”

“Yes. He was collecting clams from a site where a lady was poisoned. He could only dig for the clams at low tide, and only the early morning tides were low enough to get a proper sample. He camped for two nights, so he could make two collections.”

Morgan paused for a moment. “Will you have to take more samples, now?”

I nodded. “Yes, I’ll have to repeat the collection procedure on the next series of extreme-low tides. The results won’t be as valuable, because so much time has passed since the poisoning, but they’ll be better than nothing.”

Morgan stood. “You’re a busy woman, Dr. Marcus. I won’t take any more of your time. Thank you.” He held out his hand, and I shook it.

The warm flesh of his hand distracted me. I had questions for this man, but I couldn’t remember what they were. I drew my hand away. “Have you already talked to the relatives and associates of the other people on the plane?”

He stretched his neck and frowned at me. “I’ve talked to some, but we’re still in the early stages of our inquiries.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Why?”

I smiled. “You know how it is in a small town. I’ve heard rumors. I’m sure ninety percent of them are false, but I don’t think the senator and her husband were the only people on the plane with enemies.”

“I would be happy if you would tell me everything you know, Dr. Marcus. I would appreciate information about any of the people on that plane.”

I pulled my chair up to my desk and folded my hands in my lap. “That’s the problem,” I said. “I don’t know anything but gossip, and I don’t think I should be repeating gossip to you.”

“Sometimes that’s all we have to go on.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I held his gaze and said nothing.

“Well,” he said. “Thank you for your help, and if you think of anything else you want to tell me, I can be reached through the Kodiak Police Department, or here’s my card with my cell number.”

I nodded, and Agent Morgan left my office, shutting the door behind him.

I stared at the smooth, white door for several minutes. What kind of person could kill six people just because he or she wanted one of them dead? I read about monsters like that each day in the paper, but I associated such psychopathic behavior with cities, not with the wilderness. I wanted to believe that this evil had come from the outside, that the killer was from some other place, and that his reasons for killing had nothing to do with the people of Kodiak or the island itself. The more I learned about the pilot and passengers of Nine Nine November, though, the more I believed that the murderer and the intended victim could be local.

I pushed my chair away from the desk, stretched, and stood. I was wasting my time here and was really in no mood to interact with my colleagues. I grabbed my jacket and purse, shut off the light, and locked my office door. I hurried quietly down the hallway, rushing past the office door holding my breath in fear that Betty would call my name. I felt as if I were back in high school, skipping class.

I drove to the grocery store and bought some fruit, fresh vegetables, and a two-pound can of coffee. The hostile weather was keeping shoppers away from the large Safeway store, and I hurried through the checkout with no wait. I was cruising to my apartment when I remembered I still hadn’t called my father.

As soon as I got home, I dumped my sack of groceries on the counter and called my dad in Kansas. The phone rang three times before he answered with a breathless, “Hello.”

I assured him I was okay and tried to play down the fact that Craig had been my assistant. He wasn’t fooled, and my clumsy attempt at trying to protect him only served to irritate him.

“Tell me the truth, Jane. Are you in any danger?”

I sighed. “No, Dad, I don’t think so. The FBI doesn’t know who planted the bomb or why they did it, but I’m sure the motive had nothing to do with Craig or me.”

“They said on the news that Senator Justin’s political opponent ordered someone to plant the bomb.”

“That’s just one theory.”

“No,” my dad said. “Haven’t you heard the latest? A member of Eaton’s election campaign staff came forward and says he believes Eaton was behind the bombing.”

I pulled the stool away from the counter and sat down. “When did you hear this?”

“A few minutes ago. I turned on CNN as soon as I got home, and it was on the news.”

I tried to change the subject, but all my dad wanted to talk about was the bombing and my safety. The conversation depressed me, so I told him that someone was at the door and that I would call him soon.

I flipped on the TV, and while I listened to the news around the world, I cut up bananas, grapes, apples, and oranges for a salad.

“Startling news from New York today, where a former staff member on Alfred Eaton’s campaign came forward to finger his ex-boss in the bombing in Alaska of the small plane on which Senator Margaret Justin was a passenger.”

I laid the knife on the counter, wiped my hands on my jeans, and hurried to the living room.

The grey-haired male anchor stared grimly through wire-rimmed glasses at the camera. “Eaton and Justin were fighting a brutal campaign battle for the senate seat, and while polls just before her death gave Eaton a slight edge, Justin promised to reveal damning evidence against Eaton, linking him with the importation of drugs into the United States.”

File footage of Eaton giving a speech flashed on the screen. “According to an FBI source, the ex-staff member, whose name is being withheld, says Justin’s allegations against Eaton were true, and he believes Eaton took steps to silence Senator Justin. The FBI is taking the accusation against Eaton seriously and their spokesman says they will follow up every lead.”

A commercial came next, and I turned off the television and returned to the kitchen. I was skeptical. The mysterious source who reported Eaton’s involvement with the bombing was an ex-employee, no doubt disgruntled. Why would the FBI report such obviously biased, unsubstantiated information? I wondered if they released this tidbit to the press to quash criticism that the investigation was not moving forward.

I ate my fruit salad and then stretched out on the couch, planning only to rest for a few minutes.

I sat up straight when the phone rang. I looked at my watch: 3:45. I hurried to the phone.

“Hi,” Steve said. “Do you want me to pick you up at your place?”

I sat on the bar stool and rubbed my forehead with my left hand, slowly recalling that I’d made plans with Steve to visit Toni Hunt. I recited my address to Steve, washed my face, grabbed my jacket and purse, and walked down to the parking lot to wait for him. The weather hadn’t improved, and I huddled under the protection of the roof near the stairs, watching the rain splatter off the pavement in front of me.

A red Ford pickup turned into the parking lot ten minutes later and stopped beside me. I opened the passenger door and climbed in beside Steve.

“You sounded out of it when I called,” Steve said, as he nosed his truck onto Spruce Cape Road. “Did I wake you?”

“I fell asleep on my couch this afternoon and slept better than I have in days.”

Steve nodded. “I know about insomnia. The last few days have been one long nightmare.”

“I wish I didn’t feel so responsible,” I said. “I can’t get over the fact that I sent Craig to his death.”

Steve slowed the truck to make the turn-off and looked at me. “How do you think I feel?” I studied his face. His red-rimmed eyes looked yellow and his skin was drawn and sallow. He looked years older than he had a few days before, and I realized what a strain this had been on him. I had been so caught up in my own grief, guilt, and self-pity, that I hadn’t thought about how terrible Steve must feel. He bore the weight not only of one death, but six. No matter how this turned out, he always would feel that he should have been able to protect his pilot and passengers.

We turned left onto Rezanof, and I watched two kids ride their bikes down the sidewalk, heads bent against the driving rain. Steve pulled up in front of the large, one-story, cedar home, whose beautifully landscaped lawn I had admired since I’d moved to Kodiak. Brightly colored lilies framed an emerald lawn, and rhododendrons skirted the house. White, yellow, sapphire, and fuchsia plants hung from beams above the porch.

“These plants are taking a beating in this rain,” Steve said.

“This is where Toni Hunt lives?”

“This is her parents’ home. She still lives with them, and I guess she will awhile longer now,” Steve said. “She was trying to convince Bill to let her move in with him, but I don’t think he was crazy about that idea.”

Steve sprinted to the front door, and I hurried after him. He pushed the ivory doorbell, and we waited only a few moments until a plump, middle-aged woman wearing a lacy apron over her sweater and jeans opened the door.

“Hello,” she said, scrutinizing our faces. “Well, hello, Steve. What can I do for you?”

“Mrs. Hunt, uh Marge, this is Dr. Jane Marcus from the marine center.” Marge smiled at me, wiped her right hand on her apron, and then held it toward me. I gripped her damp, soft hand and smiled back. “Jane lost a coworker in the crash the other day, and we were talking and thought we would stop by to see how Toni is doing.”

Marge looked a little confused, as if she didn’t understand what the loss of my colleague had to do with her daughter. She stepped back into the hallway. “Forgive my rudeness. Please come in out of the rain.”

We stepped into the tiled entryway, and Steve shut the door behind us. Marge Hunt was silent for several moments. “Toni isn’t doing so well,” she said. “I’m not sure she is up to visitors.”

“I know this has been difficult for her,” I said.

“Yes, it has. She and Bill were very close.”

“We won’t tire her out,” Steve said. “I just want to let her know we’re here if she needs us.”

Marge didn’t know what to say to Steve’s persistence, and I was glad and a little surprised that Steve hadn’t meekly backed out the door. He hadn’t been crazy about approaching Toni, but apparently once he decided to do this, he planned to carry it through.

“Well,” Marge shifted from one foot to the other, burying her hands in her apron pocket. “I guess you could talk to her for a few minutes, if she will see you. She won’t come out of her room, so you’ll have to talk to her there.”

Steve and I pulled off our rain gear and shoes and left them in the entry hall. We followed Mrs. Hunt through a large living room and up a flight of stairs. The upstairs hallway was dark, and Marge didn’t bother to turn on a light. Through the gloom, Steve and I followed her to the end of the hall.

She stopped in front of a closed door and knocked twice. When nothing happened, she knocked again. She cracked open the door and called Toni’s name. Nothing. She shouted louder, and I heard a muffled, “What do you want?”

“You have visitors,” Marge said.


“Steve Duncan and a friend.”

I didn’t hear Toni’s reply, but she must have agreed to see us, because Marge held the door open and motioned for us to enter. The dim light from Toni’s room revealed Marge’s down-turned face as she slowly shook her head.

Toni’s room was black and in the process of becoming blacker. Light filtering through shrouded lampshades was sucked up by a black rug, a black bedspread, and dark grey walls that Toni was in the process of covering with a coat of glossy black paint.

“Wow,” Steve said. “This is a black room.”

“I’m in mourning,” a petite brunette said. She placed the paint roller in its pan and covered it with a cloth. Headphones drooped around her neck over her black T-shirt, and I wondered what dark music she had been listening to.

She sat on the end of her bed and stared up at us. She had painted her pretty face with black makeup: black eyeliner, black mascara, and even black lipstick. The combined effect of the makeup and the dim lighting in her black bedroom made her skin appear sickly white, and I was struck by her resemblance to Morticia from the old television show, The Adams Family. You didn’t need to be a psychologist to know this girl had problems.

“Who are you?” Toni asked as her dark eyes squinted toward my face. Steve had been so distracted by the sight of her bedroom that he hadn’t remembered to introduce me.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “This is Jane Marcus from the marine center. One of the passengers on Bill’s plane was her assistant.”

“The crash wasn’t Bill’s fault.” Toni stood and stalked to the head of her bed, sitting by her black-shrouded nightstand.

“I know that, Toni,” I said. “We’re just here to see how you’re doing, how you’re holding up under all this.”

“Bill loved me.” She stuck her chin in the air and folded her arms across her chest.

“Toni,” Steve said, walking around the end of her bed and sitting beside her. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to you since the crash.” He paused for a moment, and I knew he was choosing his words carefully. “You talked to Bill after I did that day. Did he tell you anything? Was anything wrong?”

“What do you mean?” Toni pushed against the headboard of her bed, and I thought Steve was brave to sit so close to her. I kept my distance.

“I don’t know what I mean. That’s just it. Someone planted a bomb on that plane. Did Bill tell you if he saw anyone suspicious, or did he have an argument with anyone?”

“No,” Toni said as soon as Steve stopped talking. “I’ve been thinking about that, and everything was normal. He asked me out to dinner, and I know he was going to propose to me. I know it.” Her words trailed into sobs, but instead of comforting her, Steve backed away from her. I didn’t blame him. She wasn’t the kind of person you wanted to put your arms around.

“At least no one else will have him now.” The words escaped between sobs.

“What?” I said.

She lifted her face and looked at me, two black lines of mascara defining the trails of her tears down her cheeks. She thrust back her shoulders and puffed her cheeks. “Bill died mine. He will be mine through eternity. No other woman will ever have him.”

Steve muttered something and stood.

“That’s one way to look at it,” I said. “But I’m sure you’d rather have Bill alive.”

“Well of course.” She spat the words at me.

“Listen, Toni,” Steve said. “You can’t think of anyone who would have wanted to hurt Bill?” He enunciated each word of the question as if talking to a child.

“Why are you asking me these questions?” Toni said. I thought the senator was the bomber’s target. No one would want to blow up Bill.”

“The FBI doesn’t know that the senator was the target, they are just guessing. Steve and I are checking out other leads.”

Toni looked from Steve to me and back to Steve again. “No one would want to kill Bill. I would murder anyone who tried to hurt him.”

We left Toni huddled on her bed, hugging her knees against her chest. I had moments when I regretted that I didn’t have children. This was not one of them.

We called our goodbyes to Mrs. Hunt, who was in the kitchen baking cookies. The rain didn’t seem quite as brutal when we stepped off the Hunt’s front porch.

“What do you think?” Steve asked as we cruised down Rezanof.

“Unstable is a good description. I don’t think we can rule her out. If she knows about explosives, and you say she does, then yes, I think she has the personality to blow up her boyfriend and five other people and then feel sorry for herself the next day, because she lost the love of her life. The girl has problems.”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “That’s what I think too.”

Steve asked me if I would like to stop and grab something to eat, but I said no. I had an overwhelming desire to be alone, locked in my apartment, away from the crazy world.

As soon as I got home, I hung up my raincoat and dug my cell phone out of my purse to check the messages.

The temperature in the room dropped when I heard Jack Justin’s voice. “Hi, Jane, this is Jack Justin. I’d like to meet with you again at your convenience.” There was a short pause. “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me; let’s start over. Call me at the Baranov Inn, room two twelve. Bye.”

I pushed the rewind button and wished I’d gone to dinner with Steve. I suddenly did not want to be alone.

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.