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
Jim thought she was probably right about that. "Howie should choose his roommates more carefully."
They thought about Howie's other roommate, which naturally led them to think about the murder trial under way in Ahtna, now before the jury. "All of the evidence was circumstantial." She remembered the story about Jim's first trial. "Again."
He turned to look at her but Mutt was in the way, and it was too dark to see her expression anyway. "Louis Deem's a wrong guy, Kate."
"You haven't been around the Park long enough to know how wrong," Kate said. "Louis Deem was broken before he was born."
"Why didn't you do something?" Because as had every practicing police officer who had ever served the cause of justice in the Park, he knew doing something was what Kate did best.
Kate remembered the time she had tried to. "You assume it was up to me."
Jim thought this over. It didn't take him long. "Ekaterina?"
"Emaa was his godmother."
Jim snorted. Half his time on the job was spent disentangling the lies one Park rat told to alibi another because they were second cousins twice removed.
"Yeah, I know," she said, not very apologetically, "but it mostly works for us."
"Not this time."
She shifted in her seat and craned her head to peer through the window, still looking for the northern lights. "No. Not this time."
"So your grandmother ran interference whenever Louis got in trouble?"
Kate had heard all the stories from her aunties about Emaa and Louis Deem's first two wives. Ekaterina Shugak had made a point of, at minimum, weekly post-marriage visits to both Jessie and Ruthie. If Kate knew her grandmother, those visits had included the offer (when Louis was out of the room, of course) of a spare room in Emaa's tumbledown, riverside house in Niniltna the moment either one of them wanted to pack it in.
One day in the Park during an August vacation from her job in Anchorage, Kate had driven out with her grandmother to see Ruthie. Ruthie, not yet out of her teens, moved like she was twenty years older than Ekaterina.
Jim took Kate's silence as assent. "When did that start? When he got caught running for that bootlegger, what was his name?"
"Sandy Halvorsen, and I think it started when Louis was in grade school and he used to beat up the other kids and steal their lunches. The teachers learned that the best they could do was give him detention, and even then I remember one time he talked Robby Kanaback into bringing him a candy bar into the detention room and then he beat him up for the hell of it. He was a miserable little shit then and he's a miserable little shit now."
"I hear his parents sucked."
"They were drunks and dopers, and Louis was an accident Daisy couldn't get rid of, although the story is she tried hard enough. Wesley drowned in the Cordova small-boat harbor the year Louis was fifteen. Louis pretty much raised himself."
"And I bet Mary Waterbury's parents think he did a hell of a job."
There was no answer to that and Kate attempted none.
Little Mary Waterbury, brown as a nut and round as a ball. Homely, cheerful, kind to children and animals, born to be a mother, and so very young. Twenty-one years younger than Louis Deem, her first boyfriend.
And her last.
Why didn't you do something?
had asked. She had tried. She thought again of Mary Waterbury, that young hopeful life brought to a sudden and violent halt at the hands of a man who had pretty much perfected the art of ridding himself of unwanted wives.
Yes, she had tried, Kate thought now, but she hadn't tried hard enough.
The rest of the journey was accomplished in silence. Twenty-five miles from Niniltna, they turned down the narrow rutted track that led to Kate's homestead. Jim stopped the Blazer in the center of the flood of light pouring out of the tall windows that ran across the prow front of Kate's house.
It still seemed so odd to come home to a whole house, all two floors and two bedrooms and two bathrooms and hand-carved pine dining set of it. To have so much room, to have hot running water instead of hand-pumped cold, to take a hot shower instead of a snowmelt bath in a galvanized round steel tub, to be able to keep half and half in the refrigerator instead of it freezing up in a cooler on the porch, and most miraculous of all, to be able to get up in the middle of the night to use a real live flush toilet ten steps from her bed instead of fumbling around in the dark for her boots and parka and traipsing outside to the outhouse—it still seemed too much, and she still felt unworthy of the gift the Park had so generously given her.
She had learned the hard way not to say so, however.
She opened the door of the truck, and Mutt leapt over her in a graceful gray arc. She landed easily and loped into the brush at the edge of the clearing and to all intents and purposes vanished. Kate looked at Jim. "Want to stay for dinner?"
He was tempted, as he'd missed dinner at Auntie Vi's, where he was renting a room until he found a place of his own—which in Niniltna wasn't going to be easy, inexpensive, or any time soon.
On the other hand, he knew there was a better-than-even chance that dinner wasn't the only thing on offer in this invitation. At least the lights on inside the house meant that Johnny was home, so he would be chaperoned. He ought to be safe.
He followed her inside, where they shed their coats and boots at the door and padded forward on stocking feet. Johnny was stretched out on the couch, so engrossed in a book that he didn't hear them come in. Jim walked over and pushed the book up so he could read the title.
he said. "Any good?"
Two years into adolescence, Johnny's towhead had turned a rich mink brown, over a face growing into strong, blunt features, including a formidable chin. He blinked up at Jim with a dazed expression. When Johnny read, he read. It was on such occasions difficult to remember that Kate really wasn't Johnny's mother. "Huh? Oh. Hi, Jim." He sat up. "Kate," he said, surprised. "You're home."
"That I am." She nodded at Jim. "Company for dinner."
Johnny shrugged. "Cool."
Jim tapped the book. "Any good?" he said again.
"Huh? Oh. Yeah, real good. Science fiction. Sequel to
"I read that," Jim said. "Good book."
He sat down and they plunged into an animated debate on the desirability of teleportation as a human skill. Johnny, of that generation of instant gratification which ipso facto believed going anywhere took longer than they thought it ought to, took the pro, and Jim, as a practicing law enforcement professional with a lively sense of self-preservation, took the con.
Kate put John Hiatt on the boom box and got out the stock she'd made from moose marrow bones, onions, and carrots two days before. She sliced more onions into olive oil and butter and let them cook down while she sliced French bread she'd baked that weekend, brushed it with olive oil, and browned it in the oven on both sides. When the onions were ready, she poured in the stock, brought it to a boil, and let it simmer while she brought out three large bowls. She put the soup in the bowls, floated the bread on the soup, and grated Swiss and Parmesan cheese on the bread. She slid it into the oven to bake and brown, and set out spoons and knives and paper towels for napkins and more French bread and butter. "Soup's on."
They came to the table, noses twitching. Johnny dug in with the finicky appetite of any normal fourteen-year-old vacuum cleaner. Jim tasted and considered. "Be better if you added a little cognac," he said.
Johnny paused between one inhalation and the next, spoon suspended in midair.
Kate gave Jim a long, steady, fairly expressionless look.
"Not," said Jim very carefully indeed, "that it isn't absolutely perfect just as it is." He slurped up some more, with sound effects. "Yessiree bob, the best French onion soup I’ve ever had in my life."
Johnny sneezed something that sounded an awful lot like "suck up" into his paper towel.
Kate took firm control of the conversation and asked him how school had gone that day, and Johnny told them about the field trip his class had made to the dump to watch the eagles roosting there, not neglecting to include a vivid description of the projectile pooping incident. Jim retaliated with a description of the apprehension of that dastardly villain, Willard Shugak. Kate contributed a little Park gossip, including the Niniltna postmistress's recent dalliance with the traveling dentist, ending unhappily with the appearance of a representative of the Alaska Division of Occupational Licensing, who informed everyone waiting in line in the makeshift clinic in the gym that not only was the traveling dentist not licensed to practice in the state of Alaska, but he appeared not to have attended medical school at all, anywhere. This came as something of a shock to the five patients he'd already treated that morning (one cleaning, three fillings, and a root canal) and who at last report were still investigating the teeth he'd worked on with cautious tongues. Bonnie Jeppsen, the postmistress, was heard to be mending her broken heart by beading everything that didn't move out of the way first in bright primary colors, including a rock the size of a small suitcase.
It wasn't until he was helping with the dishes that Jim realized how very domestic it all felt. A frisson of fear ran up his spine.
Kate smiled sweetly at her two men, or would have if she'd known how. "Would you like to spend the night, Jim?"
Johnny tossed down the dish towel and wagged a monitory finger. "I don't want to hear any noises, is that clear?" He snatched up his book and shot down the hall, his bedroom door closing with unnecessary firmness behind him.
Kate laughed. It was the sexiest sound Jim had ever heard coming out of a woman's mouth. It was also the most frightening sound he'd ever heard coming out of a woman's mouth. "No, thanks," he said through suddenly dry lips.
She sauntered around the kitchen island and backed him into a corner, there to run a delicate finger down his shirtfront. "Whatever can I do to change your mind?"
He knew this was a bad idea and he tried desperately to remember why, but his brains had relocated somewhere south of his belt buckle.
He thought, ruefully, that this was his own damn fault. He'd been chasing after her for years, even before Jack Morgan died. Now he had a tiger by the tail and he didn't know what to do with her.
Wait a minute. Really, when he thought about it, it was all Kate's fault. She was the one who had lulled him into a false sense of security, fooled him into thinking he could chase her forever with impunity because she had made it manifestly clear that there wasn't a hope in hell he was ever going to catch her.
The pattern was set, he thought indignantly. He chased. She ran. Then, last year, something had changed. It was hard with that finger fiddling with the buttons of his shirt to focus on exactly what had, and how, but there was a fuzzy memory somewhere in the back of his mind of him trying to do the right thing, of telling her that he was calling off his pursuit, that she was a one-man woman and he was neither capable of being nor willing to be a one-woman man and that—oh hell. Now she was tracing the brass bear on his belt buckle.
Somehow him telling her it was over had been the beginning of her chasing him, and while he hated to admit it, she had been far more successful at it than he had. The last time she had managed to seduce him had been two weeks before at the New Year's pot-latch, when she'd lured him out of the school gym and taken him standing up in a corner he fervently hoped had been too dark to see into because there sure as hell had been a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk not twenty feet away. He had held out for a nice long time before that regrettable if thoroughly enjoyable incident, which he assured himself was the only reason he'd been such an easy target.
There was no such excuse this evening. He had a perfectly serviceable vehicle parked right out front, too, providentially positioned for a quick getaway.