Authors: Dana Stabenow
Tags: #Mystery And Suspense Fiction, #General, #Mystery fiction, #Suspense, #Fiction, #Political, #Thriller, #Detective, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Crime & Thriller, #Adventure, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Women Sleuths, #Alaska, #Shugak; Kate (Fictitious character), #Women private investigators - Alaska, #19th century fiction, #Suspense & Thriller, #Indians of North America - Alaska
A Deeper Sleep
Sec. 11.41.100. Murder in the First Degree
(a) A person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if
(1) with intent to cause the death of another person, the person
(A) causes the death of any person ...
She'd had to spell the word
in a spelling bee in grade school. She'd spelled it correctly, but she'd never really understood what it meant, until now. It sounded like what it meant—there was a word for that, too, but she couldn't remember it—and she was weary, weary from the marrow of her bones out. If he would just let her sleep one night all the way through, if he would just let the old bruises heal before he gave her new ones, if she could just have one single moment in the day to think, to rest, to be.
At first his roughness had been exciting, from the very first time when his hands shackled her wrists over her head, his knees forcing hers wide, the foreign invasion so shocking, his eyes narrowed and intent, and then the rush of feeling that spread out and up in a searing flush that seemed to melt down to the base of her brain. He enjoyed making her body rise to his, she could see it in the triumph in his face. In those early days—how many months was it now?—when she had said no, he had always been able to seduce her into a yes, always.
Now he didn't even seem to hear the no.
She wondered when Ekaterina would come out to visit again. In spite of the old woman's obvious disapproval of her marriage, of her husband, which always provoked retaliation after she left, her visits offered a respite. He couldn't hit her when Ekaterina was there.
She'd been coming out more often lately. Maybe she'd come tomorrow.
Next to her the bed heaved and feet hit the floor. She lay un-moving, willing herself to disappear beneath the covers.
Maybe Ekaterina would come today.
He stripped the covers back. "You aren't asleep. Get up and get down to the creek."
When she didn't move as fast as he thought she ought to, he kicked her off the bed.
She thumped onto the floor and scrambled to her feet and scurried to the door. She reached for her parka.
"You don't need that," he said, handing her a bucket. "Get going. I want my coffee."
She slid into boots barefoot and opened the door of the cabin. She gasped when the bitter February air hit her lungs, and shivered in her nightgown.
A hard hand shoved her off the step. "Get a move on, you lazy bitch!"
She stumbled down the path to the creek. It was frozen over. She took the axe leaning against a nearby spruce and chopped a hole. She squatted over it, dipping the bucket into the clear, cold water beneath.
A sound made her look up, but she wasn't quick enough. Something hit the back of her head. In the seconds she had left, she felt a starburst of pain, and knew only an astonished relief that it was finally over.
A quick hand moved the bucket out of the way so that her head dropped through the hole she had chopped in the ice.
The soft splash when her face hit the water was the gentlest kiss she would ever receive.
This is just wrong, on so many levels, Jim thought. For one thing, he was freezing his butt off. Even if the front of him was plenty warm.
For another, his boss might legitimately qualify his current activity as a colossal waste of Jim's time, not to mention the taxpayer's dollar. Crime had yet to be committed anywhere near or about his person.
If you didn't count the one he was about to commit if Kate kept rubbing up against him like that.
Her head was a very nice fit beneath his chin, even if her hair did tickle. She shifted again, and when he spoke, his voice was a little hoarse. "Are you sure you didn't get me out here under false pretenses, Shugak?"
He heard the smile in her voice when she replied, felt the warmth of her breath on his throat. "Well, since it seems crime is the only thing that makes my company tolerable to you, I figured I'd find some."
He disregarded what she said for what she meant. "I'm not afraid of you."
She tilted her head to meet his eyes. "I make you want to run away like a little girl."
"You do not." It sounded weak, even to him.
She leaned back against him, warm and firm from chest to knee, and dropped her voice to a whisper roughened by the scar that bisected her throat. "Say it again. And make me believe it."
He could have told her to step away. He could have pushed her away. He did not do either of those things, and the sound of the truck coming down the trail was the only thing that saved him.
And, sadly, Jim wasn't one bit happy when Kate's focus shifted, too.
It was an elderly blue Ford pickup minus tailgate and rear bumper, its passenger-side window replaced with an interwoven layer of duct tape, the body rusting out from the tires up. The engine, however, maintained a steady, confident rumble that indicated more beneath the peeling hood than met the eye.
The homeowner had dutifully cleared the requisite thirty feet of defensible space around her house in case of forest fires, which in this era of dramatic climatic change were inclined to hit interior Alaska early and often each spring. This and the winter's meager snowfall made it easy for the pickup to crunch through the thin layer of snow on the driveway and pull around to the back of the house, where half a dozen fifty-five-gallon drums rested in an upside-down pyramid on a solidly constructed two-by-four stand, connected to each other so that the fuel from the top drums ran down into the lower drums, with the bottom drum connected to the furnace in the house by an insulated length of copper tubing.
Kate and Jim had positioned themselves in a convenient stand of alders at the edge of the clearing, so they had a clear view of Willard Shugak as he got out of his truck, disconnected the copper tubing, connected a hose to the spigot, and began to siphon off the fuel in the drums on the stand to the black barrel tank in the back of his pickup.
Kate swore beneath her breath. Jim kept his arms around her so she'd shut up and stay put. When he judged that enough fuel had been transferred from the drums to the truck's tank to merit, at the $3.41 per gallon for diesel fuel he had last seen on an Ahtna pump, the definition of theft as provided for in the Alaska statutes, specifically 11.46.100, he said, "Shall we?" and turned her loose.
Willard looked up when they emerged from the alders. When he saw Kate, he went white and then red and then white again. "Oh shit," he said, his voice an insubstantial adolescent squeal that sounded odd coming out of the mouth of a forty-year-old man.
"At least," Kate said, boiling forward.
Willard Shugak was all of six feet tall, but he dodged around Jim, keeping the trooper between him and Kate. His voice went high enough to wake up bats. "No, Kate, wait, I—"
"You moron," Kate said, forgetting for the moment that Willard was almost exactly that, "what if Auntie Balasha came home to a cold house, her pipes all froze up?"
She reached for him and Willard backpedaled, stumbling and almost losing his balance, both hands up, palms out, in a placating gesture totally lost on its intended recipient. Jim watched, delaying official law enforcement action, mostly because he was enjoying the show.
"I wasn't going to take it all, honest I wasn't."
"You're not even out of oil," Kate said, cutting back around Jim and catching the cuff of Willard's jacket. "I went out to your place this morning and checked. You were going to sell it, weren't you, Willard?"
Willard yanked his arm free and darted back around Jim. "I would have paid Auntie back, honest I would!"
"Sure you would, you little weasel. Howie put you up to this because you were behind on the rent?" Kate feinted a move, Willard dodged back out of the way, and the Darth Vader action figure peeping out of his shirt pocket fell out and vanished into the churned-up snow.
Willard let out a cry of dismay. "Anakin!" He lumbered forward, his hands pawing wildly at the snow. Kate took advantage of his distraction and grabbed a handful of Willard's dirty blond hair to haul him upright.
"Ow! Kate! That hurts! Jim! Help!"
Jim had less than a second to revel in the sight of a man the size of Willard terrified by a woman the size of Kate before Mutt burst out of the undergrowth, mistook the attempted homicide for a game and romped around the three of them, barking madly while trying to catch the first available hem in her teeth.
At this point Jim, tired of feeling like base in a game of kick-the-can, grabbed Kate and Willard by the scruffs of their necks and held them apart as far as his arms would stretch. If he'd been an inch shorter, he wouldn't have been able to pull it off with near as much aplomb. "All right, you two, knock it off."
Kate kicked out with her right foot in reply, which would have connected in a meaningful way with Jim's left knee had he not moved it smartly out of range just in time. It threw him off balance, though, and Kate wriggled free and was on Willard before Jim could recover. She had Willard flat on the ground, her hands at Willard's throat and a knee in Willard's balls. Mutt divined that this was not a game after all and added her two cents' worth with snaps and snarls that came entirely too close to Willard's left ear for anyone's comfort. Willard was bawling, eyes squeezed shut, mouth wide open, face wet with a river of tears, shoulders shaking with big sloppy sobs. "I confess, I confess! Jesus, Jim, couldja please just arrest me? Please?"
"Oh, for God's sake." Kate let him go in disgust and rose to her feet, brushing snow from her pants. "Get up, you big baby. I didn't hurt you."
His eyes rolled toward Mutt, whose head was sunk beneath her shoulder blades, her impressive canines bared in a manner that could only be described as distinctly unfriendly. It was a sight made even scarier by the bloodstains and the ptarmigan feathers adhering to her muzzle, remnants of the lunch she had just finished in the next spruce copse over.
Kate made an impatient sound. "Mutt," she said.
"Graar," Mutt said to Willard, conveying a wealth of meaning in one syllable, and trotted more or less obediently to Kate's side, where she received a compensatory scratch behind her ears in lieu of bloodshed, always Mutt's preference.
Jim stretched out a hand to haul Willard to his feet for what they both sincerely hoped was the last time. Willard gulped down a sob, smeared tears and snot across his face with his shirtsleeve, and said in a plaintive voice, "Couldja guys help me find Anakin before we go to jail? Please?"
In a rare decision of foresight and wisdom, the state had built it on a five-acre lot next to the Niniltna Native Association building, whose authority rolled downhill to embrace the post and whose chairman, Billy Mike, was known to Park rats as a law-and-order kind of guy. The post was a solid structure, an unthreateningly bland beige square divided into fourths, a front office, Jim's office, an interview room, and the jail, two cells big enough for a bunk and a toilet each.
Willard, Anakin tucked safely back in his shirt pocket, scooted inside and turned to watch closely as Jim locked the cell door behind him. He wrapped his meaty hands around the bars and gave them a shake. The door trembled but held. He appeared reassured, and looked at Jim, his dark brown eyes still wide. They were set far apart, giving him a fey, elfin look. It was a look seen all too often in Bush Alaska. "Kate's crazy, Jim," he said.
"Tell me about it," Jim said.
"Yeah, I heard you got a thing going with her." Willard's expression approached something like awe. "Man. You must have some kinda death wish."