Chapter Thirty Seven

It was great to be home. The ratties must have felt the comfort of home as well because they didn’t wake up until I opened the door. We were all tired and deserving a late afternoon nap. I put on some flannel pajama bottoms, a tank top, sandal socks, and a loose cotton cardigan. It wasn’t high fashion but it was comfortable for curling up on the couch with my book, the dogs, and an afghan. I put my blunder at the Wilsons out of my mind and concentrated on Ann Rice. I was determined to turn a few pages before drifting off with my pack.

The phone woke me. Actually, it woke all three of us. I glanced at the time as I answered the phone. Drat! Only a fifteen-minute nap. It was Ginger. Now that Crab Festival was over she would have more time to chat on the phone and socialize.

“I was just going to drop by to see if you were home” she said. “I want to have dinner at the new Cannery. You want to give it a try?”

“Are you crazy? I’m not stepping back in that place for a long time.” I knew Ginger could be insensitive but this was too much.

“Oh, I thought maybe you should get back up on the horse. You know, hair of the dog and all those other clichés” she said believing she was right.

“How about Mexican food? I always find it comforting.” My suggestion was a bit of revenge because I knew it wasn’t Ginger’s favorite cuisine.

“Sure. That will be fine. I’ll pick you up in an hour. There’s no sense parking two cars downtown” and she hung up without a good bye. Ginger was like that when she was focused.

I quickly unpacked and readied myself for dinner out with my friend. I considered dressing super casual but thought better of it since Ginger never dresses casual. She is one of those women that can make jeans look dressy. Her shirts are always starched and she knows how to accessorize and, in my book, has earned a black belt in shoe shopping. I decided to wear my new jeans and top that I bought for my date with Guy. I realized that I hadn’t thought about Guy since returning to Kodiak. I stopped myself from starting now.

Ginger pulled into the drive and called me to tell me to come out because she didn’t want to get dog hair on her clothes. That was reason number one why she looked nicer in jeans than me. Now I just have to figure out the other ninety-nine. I gave my jeans a quick brush to remove the most obvious hairs and left the house promising two sad-looking canines some tasty leftovers.

“So, how was anchor town (Ginger’s nickname for Anchorage)?”

“It was good. I went out to Girdwood one day.”

“Really? That sounds nice. And, how was grandma’s house?”

“Oh! Thank you for the gift certificate. You really shouldn’t of.”

“Of course, I should have. You’ve let me stay there many times and I do find it much more comfortable than a hotel with strangers wandering up and down the halls.” The truth is that Ginger had a bad experience in a hotel once and was fearful of staying alone in a hotel room.

“I think you will be surprised next time you visit grandma” I said with the most mischievous grin I could muster.

“Oh, yeah? It might be worth taking a trip over just to figure out what you are talking about.” Ginger would use any excuse for a shopping trip to Anchorage but I was doubtful that her curiosity was that strong.

“Let’s just say Grandma met a new man and he’s forty years her junior” and with that we arrived at the restaurant.

We walked into the long, narrow portion of the dining room where normally there would be a row of tables against each wall and a walkway in the middle. Tonight, the tables were away from the wall and pushed together forming one very long table. There was the beginning of a party going on and I recognized all the people at the table. They were friends and acquaintances from different organizations around town and they all turned to look and smile at me. I was feeling as though I was the only one in my circle not invited to this get-together when it hit me that they were gathering for me – it was my birthday. With all the events of the last week I forgot my own birthday.

The evening went by quickly. We talked, sang, told stories, and had a wonderful time. There was no mention of Guy or John Sinclair or even of the murder or disappearances. For a two-hour period it was only me, my friends, and homemade salsa and tortillas. Ginger explained how she put together a phone tree to get the word out when she learned I was back and then again when we decided on the place. I sat there looking at my friends, watching them laugh. They were an eclectic mix of ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, experiences, education, vocations, and life paths. I loved every one of them. My greatest gift tonight was watching these women connect.

As our group started to dwindle I noticed a buzz in the restaurant staff. The owner, Maria, came over and relayed the latest gossip. Apparently, some fishing boat had brought up human remains.  She it was verified on the police scanner. I had a sick feeling in my stomach but quickly dismissed my thoughts in favor of a huge dose of denial.

The staff began to reposition our unused tables. Everyone in our group had paid their check but some were standing around in small groups talking. Ginger, who had been visiting another group around the corner, was making a bee line back to me with excitement in her eyes. She maneuvered the moving chairs and tables with the skill of an Olympic hurdler. Something was up to get the Queen of Kodiak sprinting.

“Brinkley, they found a body, in the water.”

“I heard” I said and hoped she wouldn’t say what I was thinking.

“Do you think it could be Libby?” She said what I was trying to deny.

“Is there any more information? Is it male, female, age, race? Anything?” I asked hoping to eliminate Libby as a contender.

“I was just saying hi to Mark Black and he says that a half dozen emergency vehicles and police whizzed by the restaurant with lights and sirens flashing. I didn’t hear or see a thing.”

“Me either” I said. “But then again, we weren’t near the windows and everyone was talking and laughing. I don’t believe we would have heard a C130 land in the Alaska Commercial parking lot.”

“Let’s go. We are taking the long way home.” That was Ginger’s way of saying we were going to drive by the scene of the excitement. If the police drove past the restaurant then they had to be going to one of the two in-town boat docks and not over to Near Island.

“You are morbid” I said to Ginger without revealing my curiosity was peaked too and I was happy she made the decision to drive by.

As we neared the channel we could see flashing lights. The police had the end of Center Street blocked off so we turned left and ended up on the bridge looking down at the activity. The dock with all the action was right in front of The Cannery restaurant. I was both wishing we had gone there after all and wondering if that placed was jinxed.

“Let’s go for a walk” Ginger suggested. “I sure wish we had those two mutts of yours with us. It might look more discreet.”

I knew better. “We are going to look like ambulance chasers with or without the dogs so we may as well do it.” I jumped out of the vehicle and waved Ginger to follow. I knew she was hesitant to walk in her new Yellow Box shoes. She may have lost her girlish figure but my friend could wear shoes. In fact, Ginger was hesitant to use the internet until she discovered you could shop for shoes online. Her lovely square toed, sling back, patent leather pumps were not going to look new for much longer.

We planted ourselves on the lawn of the Baranof Museum where our spot on the hill gave us a decent view of the emergency vehicles that were blocking the real activity.  We watched in somber silence as the first responders came and went. I noticed Herbie Carmichael and hoped he didn’t see me. It was getting late, and we were chilly, so I suggested we go back to the car and get a drive-thru latte. Herbie looked up the hill just as we stood up to leave. He waved and started walking toward us.

“Brinkley, can I talk to you for a minute? Do you mind?” The second question was directed at Ginger.

He took my arm and we turned away from Ginger. “I want to thank you for your help today. We never talked about how comfortable you are or aren’t in revealing your talent.”

“I’m not at all comfortable Herbie. I want to help wherever I can but I am not comfortable having my secret shared, especially with strangers or many people. I’m willing to help you but I would prefer you keep my identity and ability secret.”

“Fair enough. I’m sure the bad guys would like to get their hands on you if they knew your secret. I figure fair is fair so I’m going to tell you what was found today.” He continued with “we found human remains, not a body mind you, just remains of a human that appears to be female. The state medical examiner is flying in now and the remains will likely go to the lab in Anchorage.”

“A woman, eh?” My stomach was in my throat. “Any idea who it is?”

“Not yet but you can bet we are going to try to eliminate or prove Libby right away. There’s a weird part Brinkley” he said with a serious tone. “It looks as though this person may have been dismembered and not with precise tools. More like some sort of chopping machine.”

“That’s ghoulish.” I shivered at the thought. “Someone must have really hated that person to do that.”

“Or, just didn’t want her ever to be found. Well, I’ve got to get back. We’ve got lots of interviews” he said as we walked toward Ginger. She was shivering in her fancy shoes. My feet were toasty in my Uggs.

“I may have an opportunity for a ride-along if you are still interested.” His attempt at code was wasted on Ginger. She could find meaning in the way her Honey Nut Cheerios landed in a cereal bowl.

Surprisingly, Ginger did not begin an immediate interrogation. She let her questions mellow as we ordered coffee then drove to the Near Island float plane harbor to enjoy our drinks and watch the occasional plane land. I thought how difficult it would be to live in the lower forty-eight again and miss the summer’s midnight sun.

“I bet you are wondering what Herbie had to say.” I decided that I may as well address the elephant in the car.

“Yes I am. For a minute there I thought you were going to go all tight lipped on me. You know how I hate suspense.”

I told her what Herbie had relayed to me. She was both horrified and intrigued. This inside information was the Holy Grail to someone like Ginger who was borderline obsessed with local news. I explained that she couldn’t share this information with anyone and she seemed pleased to have an inside secret. As much as Ginger enjoyed hearing gossip, she could be depended on to keep a secret when asked. I know, she kept several of mine.

We spent our remaining time in the car sipping coffee and speculating about the human remains. Whatever happened or whoever it was, one thing was for certain – someone placed little value on their life. It hit me that must have been the case for someone to leave young Hope Wilson in the woods.

On the way back home I worked up my courage and asked my friend “if I find just the right location, are you interested in partnering or backing me in a very small business venture? I swear it will be unique and fun.”

“Hum. Sounds intriguing. Tell me more.” I do believe this bit of news was even more interesting to my friend than the discovery of human remains.

“I have an idea for a very small, very specialized store front bakery. No kitchen or anything like that. I would develop cupcake recipes and contract the local commercial baker to make them and each morning we would pick them up along with tubes of frosting. The final assembly would be in the store so that we could have quality control on the aesthetics of the cupcakes.”

“You wanna sell cupcakes?” Ginger didn’t hide her disappointment with the news. “You can already buy them at Alaska Commercial six for $3.99.”

“These aren’t just any old grocery store bakery cupcakes. These will be made from the best ingredient and the recipes will be gourmet. Our cupcakes will sell more like $4.99 each.”

“You got a business plan darlin?”

We were just pulling into my driveway. “Yes, come in and I will give you a copy of the plan and show you some online photos of other cupcake shops.”

 

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Chapter Thirty Six


            “Ah, home sweet home” I said to Herbie as he helped me with my luggage.

            “Isn’t it the truth, always good to be home even when you are on vacation? Hopefully things will be a little quieter around town. Don’t want too many weeks like last week” he said and my truth-o-meter, as I sometimes liked to call it, dinged true.

            We grabbed the dog crates and headed to the parking lot. I was relieved to see Kathleen’s mini van and not his police cruiser. I took in the familiar sights and smells of home.  One end of the airport runway ends at the water, and the other at the base of Barometer Mountain, so I enjoyed the salt air while my eyes traveled up the mountains noticing that they were now green almost all the way to the top. Only a month ago they were still brown from winter temperatures. 

            As we settled ourselves in the vehicle I began to dread the conversation we were about to have. While Herbie is a nice guy, he didn’t drive six miles to the airport just to pick me up just to be helpful.

            “The suspense has been making me anxious. Do you think we could just jump right into whatever it is that has brought you here to meet me?”  I surprised myself with my bluntness.

            “Fair enough. Plus, it’s only ten minutes to town so we don’t have a lot of time before I get you home and you’ll probably want me to leave so you can settle back in.” He flashed a brilliant smile and winked before his tone turned serious. “I need your help Brinkley.”

            I know I should have spoken, should have offered up “of course” or “what can I do” after his help with freeing Guy but the dread in my stomach was so strong that I couldn’t open my mouth.

            “You know about the girl who was found dead at Ft. Abercrombie. There are folks who have it in their head that she was killed by a family member.”

            “Isn’t that what usually happens? A relative, boyfriend, or someone close like that?”

            “Yes, but a good investigator needs to keep an open mind and continue collecting evidence until you have no doubt the evidence will support a conviction. I believe that we need to expand the investigation and when the department leaders aren’t open to the idea then the overall feeling at the department isn’t conducive to an open investigation.”

            I was confused. How could I help? “Are you saying that people in your department have already tried and convicted the family?”

            “Pretty much sums it up. Her parents aren’t exactly pillars of the community. Both parents have been arrested throughout the years for selling marijuana. They are what I consider left-over hippies. They and probably selling a little weed on the side to pay for their own use. Whatever, it certainly does not make them guilty of murdering their daughter.”

            My role was becoming clearer with each word. “So, you want me to help you determine if they are involved so you can either focus on the family or move on?”

            “Exactly!” Herbie seemed relieved he didn’t have to spell it out for me.

            “How am I going to do that?” I asked. “I can’t just walk up to them and ask them if they had any part of their daughter’s murder.”

            “That’s true. Have you heard of citizen ride alongs?” he asked.

            “I remember when the issue was a controversy but no one I know has done it so I’m really not familiar with exactly what happens.”

            Herbie handed me a form and said, “it starts with you filling this out.” He then proceeded to explain that every citizen has a right to see how their tax dollars are spent and citizens can sign up to ride along with law enforcement officers for four-hour shifts.

            “Do many people do this?”

            “No, mostly just people who are considering law enforcement or military careers. My only ride alongs have been nineteen year olds. Occasionally we get someone upset with the department and it usually helps them understand what we do and why. Even with low participation, the program is considered a success.” I felt relief as Herbie pulled into my driveway. 

            Luckily everything looked normal at home. I was concerned that my unwelcomed visitor may have returned but everything looked exactly as I left it. I let the dogs into the back yard and watched them from the kitchen window as I read and signed the ride-along form. My few minutes of happiness were interrupted by a sign from Herbie that it was time to go. My stomach turned with dread as we headed up Rezanof Drive toward the primary residential area of town with sidewalks, school, parks, and street lights.

            Herbie pulled into a solidly middle-class neighborhood across from a city park and jogging track. In a town like Kodiak you tend to know where a lot of people live, even if you don’t know the person well, but I had no idea where this family resided.  I was a little surprised that these folks, who were described as unlucky pot dealers, lived in a traditional neighborhood and on the upper side of middle class. But then again, I, too, lived in a house that would appear to be way above my means.

            As we passed the park and entered the neighborhood proper, I immediately knew which house was the Wilsons. The black ribbon on the door, a florist delivery van, lights on in every window which illuminated a mass of people in the home, and cars doubled parked in the driveway and lawn.

            “Herbie, it looks to me like they are having her wake” I said but my meaning was that we should keep driving.

            “Yes, the timing is awful but I need to do this now. I can’t waste any more time on a bad lead.” His words made me feel guilty because my trip to Anchorage likely delayed his plan but, then again, it was his idea that I leave town for a few days.

            As we entered the house I was impressed by the amount of people who were there to pay their respects. Hope may have lived for only nineteen years but apparently her short life had impacted many people. Herbie skillfully made his way through the crowd to her parents and, with equal skill, convinced them to leave their guests for a few minutes. They escorted us to Hope’s room. It seemed like an odd, yet appropriate, choice.

            He introduced me to the Wilsons as his ride-along before he began the subtle interrogation process. They seemed eager to help with the investigation even with a house full of mourners. He deftly and proficiently put the couple at ease by asking a benign question unrelated to the death of their daughter. I later learned that starting with a question where there was no likelihood of a lie, would establish a base-line response from which to judge the next answers. After all, it would have been easy to misinterpret nervousness for guiltiness,

            Next Herbie asked the couple to recount the events of the day leading up to the girl’s disappearance. They did so in detail and everything they said was the truth. Next, the police officer asked pointed questions. That is when I detected the first untruth and I gave our predetermined sign to Herbie to let him know this question elicited a degree of concealment of the truth – a small yawn for neutral lie, cracking of knuckles for an outright lie.

            Mr. Wilson’s response was not an outright lie; however, he told Herbie that he had no idea who could have done this to his daughter but his brain told me that was not the complete truth. The lie was weak so it was likely that had suspicions as opposed to actual knowledge of the crime. For some reason, he did not want to share his suspicions.

            Herbie concluded the interview by asking the couple to retell the events but this time by starting at the end and working forward. The account was long and detailed and my eyes and attention wandered in the comfort of truth. Hope’s room was neat, warm, and an eclectic mix of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. An old, dulled small floral wallpaper appeared to be leftover from childhood and with it a single shelf of old but enduring dolls. Two music posters hung neatly and symmetrically on the wall. A corkboard was covered with photos, ticket stubs, invitations, cards, and the remnants of a corsage and reminded me that Hope had once been a vibrant teenager.

            The girl’s transition to adulthood was apparent at her computer work station. It was orderly with computer paraphernalia, a cup of writing utensils, and a stapler. An Ansel Adams calendar hung above the desk next to a small fur-cube storage unit. The bins were filled with colored boxes each labeled with its contents. On the desk, and under a Plexiglas protector was a handwritten timeline of dates and drawings along a line that ended with the simple word “Seattle”.

I was mesmerized by the girl’s objects and her life in the room. The closet door stared at me and I could no longer resist. I walked across the room and opened the door to the most organized closet I had ever seen outside of a magazine or home maker over television show. This neat and orderly girl had been trapped in what appeared to be a chaotic house. I closed the door and turned when my trance was broken by the silence and stares of Herbie and the Wilsons. Herbie asked me to sit down and I did so with a red face after having realized I was snooping in plain sight.

“What the heck were you doing?” Herbie asked as he turned the key of the mini van.

“I’m so sorry and embarrassed. It was like I was pulled to her possessions and the order in that room. Her essence was there, if you know what I mean.”

“Of course, I do. I am a police officer. We are trained to use a person’s possession and residence to learn all we can about them. But you were supposed to be a ride-along Brinkley.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry.  Please just get me home.”

On the drive to my house I told him that the Wilsons didn’t kill Hope nor did they know who did; however, I explained that I believed her father had a suspicion although it was likely a weak one. He committed to further research on that point. I left Herbie with the zinger “I believe she was looking for someone or someway to leave Kodiak. Look for someone who could help her with that plan” and I shut the car door.

Chapter Thirty Five

It was like a scene from a movie; our eyes met, locked on, and then we were drawn toward each other like magnets. He enveloped me with his long arms and a short kiss.

“I was hoping to see you here. I wasn’t sure which flight you were on” he said as he rocked me in his arms. “Am I a lucky guy or what? “

I grinned with delight before asking “what are you doing here?”

“Aunt Cecil business. She left Joel a sizeable inheritance. I’m meeting tomorrow with an advisor and there’s a group meeting tonight of other parents who are managing their children’s funds. It’s a big responsibility and I want to make sure I do what is best for Joel.” There was no doubt in my mind he was telling the truth and here for the benefit of his son.

“That’s great” I said, but I was disappointed that he left Kodiak just as I was returning.

“Brinkley sometimes I feel like we are ships passing in the night.”

I was stunned and groped for a reply but couldn’t think of anything to say. His comment sounded like a prelude to a breakup, and, it came after a warm greeting.

“Oh God, I hope you don’t think I meant….”

“No, no, Guy. I wasn’t thinking anything” I lied.

“It’s just that our timing seems to be off more than on. If only you were staying another night in Anchorage we could have enjoyed the big city together.” I believed that was a hint but I wasn’t budging. I wanted to go home. Plus, if he had been in better communication we could have arranged a rendezvous. Not now, not after a random meeting at the airport.

“We should do that sometime. It would be fun.” I was going to say more but was interrupted when a very attractive blonde woman approached us.

She gave him a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and slid one arm around his waist before turning to me, extending a hand to shake and said “Hi, I’m Lucinda.” Her eyes darted back and forth between us; apparently hoping for a proper introduction.

“I’m Brinkley, from Kodiak. It’s Nice to meet you Lucinda.”  My eyes were glued to this mystery person. I could see was wearing an Alaska Airlines lanyard with an airport identification tag attached.

Lucinda turned to face Guy. “We really should get out of here before we get caught in the after-work traffic” She turned her face toward me, eyeballed me from head to toe, and returned her gaze to Guy.

Guy finally broke his silence with a quick explanation that Lucinda saw Aunt Cecil’s obituary in the Anchorage paper called him to offer her condolences. She also offered him a buddy pass and a place to stay when he said he had business in Anchorage.” I’ll call you later” was all he said to me as they left.

The entire Lucinda interaction was awkward. I could have overanalyzed the situation, speculated on their relationship and ours, but instead I decided not to waste my energy and to accept it as stated, an airline pass and a place to crash for the night. Guy’s interest in me after his return to Kodiak would be much more interesting to analyze and fret over. Plus, until everything related to Aunt Cecil was resolved, he wasn’t going to be his normal self and capable of a relationship.

Feelings of pride rose over me as I realized just how mature and stable my thoughts had become. But, then again, it could be denial.

Chapter Thirty Four

            She knew everyone should be at the viewing so this was the perfect time. She parked a block away and walked down the alley to Hope’s house and looked around for potential witnesses before trying the back door. As usual, it was unlocked.

            Her movements were as quiet as humanly possible and she listened for any evidence that someone remained in the house. Quietly, she crept up the stairs and into Hope’s room. Although she had been in Hope’s room hundreds of times and, as Hope’s best friend, had slept over dozens of times, the room suddenly looked different. Instead of funky and cool, the room looked juvenile. Perhaps it was finding out that your best friend was found dead in the woods, or perhaps it was breaking into her house, but suddenly she felt like her childhood had melted away like the snow in April.

            Obviously, the police have searched Hope’s bedroom but she doubted they had discovered the treasurer she was after. If they had found it, there would likely have been an arrest. She opened the closet door, turned on the light, and then shut the door just in case. To pull the carpet back far enough to access the secret stash, she had to move shoes, boxes, and an organizer rack. She lost her balance and landed on the floor with a thud. Looking up at Hope’s cloths, hanging like skeletons, gave her the creeps. She made quick work of removing a floor board, fishing out a well worn manila envelope, and then reassembling everything back into place.

            The sound of a car pulling into the gravel driveway set her into action. She was on her feet, out the bedroom door, down the hall, and on the back porch in a quarter of the time it took her to get into the house. She saw a car turning into the alley and, panicked, realized there was nowhere to go except back inside. She walked in a bent over position toward the front of the house to avoid being seen through the windows. She was just about to the front when she remembered the package in her hand. A quick shove into the nearest shrub seemed her only option. She straightened and, with no one in the front yard, went to the front door as if she planned on attending the wake.

Chapter Thirty Three

Tuesday

It was a glorious day and I didn’t have to be at the airport until 2pm. Even a restless night and mending ribs couldn’t stop me from working on the next stage of my decorating. I managed to get the living room tables, nightstand, and console table outside where I could work on them without covering the condo in dust. I used a fine grade sandpaper to distress the new paint job paying special attention to the corners and any raised areas that would normally receive wear.

After restaging the newly distressed furniture inside, I stepped back for a look. I was pleased with the results and motivated to continue. There was no way I could have moved the big pieces outside by myself so I did my best to contain my mess as I sanded indoors. As a finishing touch, I put a little of the taupe wall paint on Eddie and Daisey’s paws and lightly pressed them on one corner of the coffee table. The only big project left was window coverings and that would just have to wait for another visit to Anchorage.

I went though my favorite fast food restaurant on the way to the airport.  After checking in the rat terriers, my suitcase, and me, I ran into friends from Kenai and then friends from Nome. Finally, I made my way to the gate where I could catch my breath and eat my lunch. I read several pages of my book before other people started to assemble in the gate area for the flight to Kodiak. At first I didn’t pay much attention to the couple wearing the large lapel buttons but then I noticed there were more people wearing them. I changed seats so that I could sit close enough to read one.

The pins were a photo of Hope Wilson with a plea for information about her return. A part of me, a very bad part, wanted to ask the wearer if she was aware that the girl’s body had been found. I finally asked if she was a friend of the girl. She responded that she worked with her mother several years ago and went on to talk about the devastation the family was feeling. No doubt about it, she knew the girl was gone without actually speaking the words.

I was relieved to see that an effort was made to find out information about the girl. With their being three disappearances last week, I worried the girl’s disappearance and death would be overshadowed by the two older women who stood out in the community. As I looked around at several other button wears, it was obvious I had underestimated the impact that a child’s death would have on a small community. After the woman informed me she was coming to Kodiak to attend the girl’s funeral tomorrow, I went back to reading my book until our plane arrived.

It’s always interesting to see not only who will be in the waiting area for your flight, and how many of them you know, but it’s also fun to see who gets off the plane coming from Kodiak.  I was just thinking that today was a bust due to my friends and acquaintances staying home for the festival and upcoming funerals when I saw Guy come through the tarmac door.

 

Chapter Thirty Two

Monday

I rose early the next morning and filled two pump pots with coffee and placed a dozen donuts on a tray before taking the dogs to camp. My workers arrived at 7am sharp and by 7:30 we were in full swing. Three of the laborers were taping and painting the walls while the other three helped me paint furniture. We were almost finished by their  lunch break so the afternoon left us time for touch ups and a few extra jobs. I paid the coop manager when he picked up his workers at 3:30 and then left to pick up Eddie and Daisey.

The condo looked completely different. No more Granny’s house. The condo was now a fresher, modern version of shabby chic in shades of taupe, brown, and maroon. The old pastels were gone. New slip covers updated the tired looking upholstery and dining room chairs. The only thing left to do was sand the newly painted furniture to give it a distressed look but that would have to wait until another day because the furniture needed more time to dry.

With the redecorating done and my bags packed for tomorrow’s flight back to Kodiak, the evening began to feel long and lonely. I tossed my cell phone from hand to hand and resisted the urge to call Guy. I was still insecure about his interest in me and I didn’t want to make a fool of myself or rush into something quickly that would fade just as fast. I must have jumped a foot when the phone rang in my hand.

“Hello.” I answered without recognizing the number.

“Is this Brinkley?” a deep, mellow voice asked.

“Who is this?” I wasn’t giving out information without knowing who I was speaking to.

“Sorry, it’s Herbie Carmichael. I should have introduced myself.”

“No problem. I didn’t recognize your voice.”

“Brinkley, when are you coming back to Kodiak? I need to talk to you.”

With that question, I realized I had done everything to prepare for my trip back to Kodiak except make a flight reservation. “Tomorrow, I hope. I haven’t made a reservation yet.”

“Great. I can pick you up and we’ll talk on the way back to town.” I noticed his comment less of an invitation and more of a statement of fact.

“Ok, thank you” I said with my manners intact. Homesick for Kodiak news I added “Any news on Libby’s disappearance?”

“I haven’t heard anything lately but, then again, it’s not my case. It’s a City case with help from the state” He was telling me the truth and not just keeping police secrets. Herbie continued “My assignment is the Hope Wilson case. Her body was discovered in Ft. Abercrombie on Thursday.”

“What do you want to talk to me about?” I wasn’t fond of surprises.

“I would rather talk to you about the specifics in person but what I need is your help on my case.”

I was stunned and unsure of how I felt. On one hand, I was relieved to have someone who knew and believed my secret; however, I was worried about being used or exposed. I considered that Herbie had just done a huge favor for me, with the result of freeing Guy, so I put on a happy voice and said “OK, I’ll let you know which flight I’m on.”

After I hung up with Herbie I called Alaska Airlines and made reservations for me and my pups on the afternoon jet. There were two airlines that flew into Kodiak, but the Alaska 737 was the sure thing for transporting pets.  The smaller planes either couldn’t accommodate pets, or were limited to one crate per flight. These are things you learn living in rural Alaska.

I tried to spend the evening reading but I kept losing my place in my book. I couldn’t get my mind off the little business Nano Nosh. Eventually I succumbed to my obsessive thoughts and pulled out a pen and paper. With the sun streaming through the windows, I worked until after midnight without realizing the late hour. I created a business plan.

The business would be a tiny shop selling gourmet cupcakes and bottled drinks. The cupcakes would be made at a small commercial bakery that bakes for local restaurants and stores in Kodiak. The bakery would also mix gourmet frostings but the assembly and garnish would be done at the store for quality aesthetic control. I calculated it would take at least one hundred cupcake sales per day for a viable business. That was assuming I could find a convenient space with inexpensive rent. My favorite part of the planning process was product invention. I gave the cupcakes attention-grabbing names like Sour Puss for yellow cake infused with lemon zest, topped with sweet and sour French buttercream frosting, and garnished with a slice of candied lemon. The frosting would be piled high for a dramatic effect.

Finally, I laid out my travels clothes, texted Herbie that I would be coming in on the jet, and pushed my way into a bed overtaken by two rat terriers. Although I went to sleep right away, it wasn’t long before I woke up wondering exactly what it was Herbie wanted from me.

Chapter Thirty One

Sunday

After breakfast and a long dog walk, I got to work on plans to change the condo from Granny’s house to a not-so-shabby chic. I filled the bathtub with hot water, added tea bags, and let them seep while I made a list of the furniture I wanted to paint. I added my new floral slip covers for the couch, chair, and ottoman in the tea bath before leaving a message for the local day labor coop. Tomorrow I would get some help.

There was a small downtown shop from last night that I couldn’t get out of my mind. My curiosity was peaked so I decided to drive over and see if it was open. I had few complaints about Anchorage traffic when I lived in the city but I did find parking difficult. Today I had my choice of spots even though many of the businesses were open on Sunday afternoon.

I found the store and, as luck would have it, it was open. I entered the glass doors stenciled “Nano Nosh” and was instantly impressed by the clean and modern décor. The display case was filled with small edibles artfully arranged on modern glass trays. There were dozens of cookies, six types of cupcakes, a variety of cheese straws and other savories. I decided to look around before ordering.

The store was long and narrow and both walls were aged dark red brick. The wall behind the display case had long, beautiful, linear alder wood slats arranged vertically and covering about a five foot by twelve-foot section of the brick. The opposite wall held a long, brown leather banquette with simple small white pedestal tables every four feet. There were brown leather slipper chairs at every other table. Modern glass pendant lights hung above each seating area. The only decorations were strategically placed glass vases in red and olive green.

I was surprised at the minimalist inventory and wondered if the business could survive. My concern lessened when I read the price placards. I ordered three cookies, one black forest cupcake and a bundle of cheese straws for a total of $18. The woman behind the counter was as sleek and modern as the store. She had a blunt-cut asymmetrical bob, stark makeup and an orange leather jacket. She was receptive to talking so I picked her brain about the business model.

On the drive back to the condo my phone rang. I was missing my friends and Guy so I was a bit disappointed when the call was from the labor cooperative. I had 6 workers lined up to arrive at 7am tomorrow. I stopped at the grocery store to get breakfast, lunch, and snack items for the crew. I left a message for the doggie camp that I would be dropping off the ratties at 6:30am. When I returned to the condo I got everything organized for tomorrow so the workers could start right away and not a moment would be wasted.

After a nice long walk with the dogs, some soup, and a hot bath, I was ready to spend the evening in bed reading with a cup of wild rose tea and my $7 cupcake. I was comfy and concentrating on my book when the phone rang. This time it was someone from Kodiak, Ginger.

In fifteen minutes she brought me up to date on the happenings in Kodiak over the last two days. Crab Festival was ending tomorrow and she was looking forward to the break. She said Libby’s disappearance remained the talk of the town seconded only by the death of the teenage girl found in Ft. Abercrombie. We discussed my attraction to Guy although I knew that Ginger was turned off by his less-than-manicured appearance. She favored the metro sexual type.  

“So, when are you coming home?” Ginger sounded like a parent of a run-away child.

“Tomorrow I have some repairmen coming so I should be home Tuesday afternoon.” I wanted to keep the new decorating a surprise for the next time Ginger stayed in the condo.

“I’ll be busy at the festival and then taking down the booth but I can ask my darling husband to pick you up at the airport” she offered.

“Don’t worry about it. You know how it is – I’ll know at least half the people on the plane and can beg a ride into town”. We both laughed and then called it a night.

Chapter Thirty

The stack of mail on his desk was calling her. It was as if she was under some sort of supernatural spell. His instructions since the beginning of their marriage were clear; never open mail addressed to him. She dutifully added the new envelopes to the pile and pressed the sides and ends together to ensure an even and neat pile. She would never forget his reaction the time the stack somehow went askew and he assumed she had been snooping through his mail. He threatened to rent a post office box citing his professional need for privacy. More and more, she suspected there was another woman responsible for his secrecy.

She remembered retrieving a T-Mobile, Nordstrom, and a Visa bill from the mailbox Wednesday.  Did these simple pieces of paper hold the answer to her complicated life? She thought of movie scenes where a curious character steams open an envelope and then reseals it after reading. She briefly considered it but decided she didn’t want to endure the fallout if caught. Then, in an epiphany, she realized that she took him to the airport early Thursday so he couldn’t have taken Wednesday’s mail to the  office. Plus, there were no more planes today so there was no way he could surprise her with his return. The search began.

It didn’t take long to find the folder of bills. In fact, she wondered why she hadn’t thought of doing this sooner since it was so easy. Still feeling a little fear, she locked herself in the bathroom with the file folder of old mail. When she emerged forty-five minutes later, she felt like a different person. She knew the truth of her husband’s infidelities.

 

Chapter Twenty Nine

Saturday

            If it weren’t for two anxious Rat Terriers, I might have stayed in bed all morning. God knows I could have used a weekend of napping and reading. On top of unconditional love and non-stop entertainment, Eddie and Daisey also provided my life with structure with their schedules and routines.

            After breakfast, I looked in the phone book for a doggie day camp that I saw advertised on the Anchorage television stations at home. I was pleased with what I heard and made arrangements to drop the dogs and vet records off in an hour. Chugach Canine Camp was a good solution to my problem of leaving the rat terriers alone in an unfamiliar environment and to my inability to exercise them as much as they needed. I was still too sore for playing fetch and my energy level had not returned to post concussion levels. This place promised to provide thirty minutes of exercise and play every two hours.

            The check in at doggie camp went smoothly and soon I was on my way to run errands. The thank you cards and stamps were easily and quickly purchased. The nightstand and bedside lamp took a bit of shopping around to find something that fit into the condo décor. The shopping trip gave me the inspiration to update my decorating without replacing my furnishings. I purchased taupe paint for the walls, white paint for the wood furniture and trim, slip covers, and pillows. No luck with window coverings.

            Because I had plenty of daylight left, I decided to take a drive out the Seward highway to the small ski resort town of Girdwood. One of my favorite restaurants, The Double Musky, is there. An early dinner sounded like an excellent idea and the drive would give me time to figure out how to implement my redecorating ideas.

            The Seward Highway runs along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. I was enjoying the easy drive and beautiful view when I saw a number of cars pulled over at Beluga Point. At first I assumed they were watching shore birds until I looked out over the water and saw what looked like ghosts swimming underwater. Beluga whales! I quickly pulled over for a better view of those amazing animals. With their stark white color and distinctive head bump, there was no mistaking this cetacean. I made my way down the large rocks and was quickly rewarded with am up close view.. During the years I lived in the Anchorage area, I never saw Belugas in the inlet before the fourth of July.

            It looked as though the pod consisted of about 10 whales. Their dives were shallow and their slow swimming made it easy to see their bright white bodies under water. I could hear their songs and chatter even when they were underwater. I clapped with delight as I spied a mama and her calf come so close to the shoreline. I stayed until the little family moved away from my spot on the rocky beach.

            A little further down the road at Windy Corner, I found more cars pulled off the road. This time the observers were looking up into the hillside, most with cameras pointed. I pulled over knowing that these folks had likely spotted Dall sheep. In the past, most of the sheep I saw looked more like moving snow than the large Ovis dalli; however, today was an exceptional view. The magnificent animals were low enough to get excellent photographs of the adults and juveniles. Like the Belugas, the sheep were a brilliant white against their environment. The thick, curled horns on the adult males were impressive. I chose the wrong day to forget my good camera.

            At the turn to Girdwood the Alaska wildlife once again made itself known. There was an abundance of bald eagles but, after living in Kodiak for so many years, I wasn’t tempted to pull over for bird watching. There are eagles galore in Kodiak, especially in the winter months when food is scarce. I proceeded on to the restaurant.

            The Double Musky is a New Orleans inspired restaurant featuring Cajun cuisine. Because some of my formative years were spent in New Orleans, Cajun food became a comfortable cuisine for me. When other kids begged for fish sticks or macaroni and cheese, I wanted red beans and rice. I took a wrong turn and ended up on the road to the Alyeska Resort. I considered a tram ride to the Roundhouse Museum but without a camera, and a dog camp pickup deadline nearing, I decided to forgo sightseeing and headed back toward the Double Musky.

I was not disappointed with my decision. My favorite appetizer, Cajun Mushrooms, was still on the menu. I ordered the mushrooms followed by shrimp etouffee. It was a fabulous meal and my only regret was that Guy or one of my friends wasn’t here to share the experiences of the drive and a wonderful meal.

The ride back to Anchorage was a blur compared to the scenic drive to Girdwood – I was focused on retrieving my dogs instead of the sights. There were a couple of spots where cars slowed down to view moose near the road but I was more interested in getting back to pick up my rat terriers. Let the tourists have the turn offs tonight.

            The dogs slept on the way back to the condo. They were obviously tired from a day at canine camp. I was going to have to bath them tonight because they both smelled like doggie camp. I made a mental note that next time I would have the camp give them a bath before pick up.

            After the dogs were clean and smelling better, I showered to rid myself of wet dog smell. It was still early enough to go out but I wasn’t hungry after my fabulous Double Musky meal. I looked at the gift certificate left by Ginger and decided to get dressed and give it a try. Perhaps a couple drinks would help numb the discomfort of broken ribs and lessen my homesickness. I called a cab because I didn’t want to drive home under the influence.

            At the restaurant I went straight to the bar and ordered a glass of white zinfandel. I heard a loud group in the back corner of the bar really whooping it up. The next time I was asked to dance I purposely directed my partner to that end of the dance floor – being a curious person I had to see what was going on. It was a crowd of about half a dozen young women and one man. As I edged closure I recognized the man. It was Libby’s attorney Alan Johnson. It seemed so strange to see this family man in a bar surrounded by six young women. While dancing with cracked ribs was uncomfortable, it was worth it to see this.

            After the dance, I relocated my drinking spot to a table with a better view of the commotion. With a closer look I could see that Alan was buying drinks for the crowd but only one of the young women was spending all her time with him. The others were dancing with each other but staying near the man funding the libations. I doubted a couple of the girls had reached their twenty first birthdays and Alan’s special friend looked to me to be in her late teens.

            I decided that I had seen enough and stood up to gather my belongings. After leaving an appropriate tip, I turned to leave and came face to face with the attorney and the women dripping from his arms. Our eyes locked but we did not speak. He walked out ahead of me with his harem and I went to the restroom just to avoid running into them again outside. I looked through the glass doors before stepping out to wait for a cab. I browsed the small store fronts until the cab arrived. Downtown Anchorage had changed a lot since I lived in the area. Small specialty stores seemed to be thriving and I got some good ideas to take back to Kodiak for when the entrepreneurial spirit hit me. An hour later with face washed and teeth brushed, I was asleep enveloped by two rat terriers.

           

Chapter Twenty Eight

Being sequestered in a fuselage on the tarmac gives one a lot of time to think. I was wresting with my decision to leave town. I felt as though I was letting other people control my life and that I had succumbed to terrorism. These thoughts created a combination of emotions. I was angry, vulnerable, and regretful. On the other hands, if I was in danger in my own home, so were my dogs. I couldn’t live with myself if they were harmed in an attempt to get to me. Why did I speak to John at The Café? What was I thinking? I was feeling stupid when I flashed on Libby. She was kind and patient and deserved to have her story told, no matter what.

During the short flight to Anchorage I thought about how I normally would be spending Crab Festival days working alongside my friend Ginger. I would see everyone in town plus folks from villages in the Kodiak archipelago. I also met plenty of new people from the lower forty eight who came to Kodiak to compete in some of the festival events and races. I would eat festival food for every meal, take in a couple amusement rides, and spend an hour or so perusing the handcrafted jewelry, pottery, and other artisan wares. This would be the first year I didn’t purchase some sort of silver jewelry directly from the maker.

I also considered my relationship with Guy. I was confused by our connection. At times I felt like we were a couple and at others we were just friends. Guy added to my bewilderment with tender moment or moments of sexual excitement followed by seemingly indifference and awkwardness. I had to remind myself that this was far from a normal week and that I was placing unrealistic expectations on a fledgling relationship even in the best of circumstances.

Baggage and Rat Terrier retrieval went smoothly at the Anchorage airport. The car rental kiosk was organized and efficient. The condo was near the airport so I was punching the key code at the gate entrance in no time. I quickly walked the dogs and then went to the grocery store for provisions. I was in the checkout line when I heard my name. I turned to see a woman, whose name I could not recall, that I worked with on my first project after moving to Anchorage.

We exchanged pleasantries without once needing to recall her name. We recalled our work together and she caught me up on the lives of some of the other folks involved in the work. I’d heard it said hundreds of times but it rang true tonight – Anchorage is the biggest small town in the world. Today had been a rarity when I didn’t run into someone I knew at the airport terminal.

The small condo looked exactly as I remembered it. There was a wide tiled entryway leading into the living room. I had placed a narrow console table and hung a mirror in the dark space. It was perfect for checking hair and makeup on the way out the door. It was also a convenient place for dropping purse, keys, and gloves. The main living area was open to the dining room and an open door to the small galley kitchen. A bar height counter separated the kitchen from the dining area. Apartment sized appliances left plenty of space for storage in the diminutive kitchen. The kitchen and dining room each had a window and the living room exterior wall was completely filled by a triple sliding door that opened unto a small screened in lanai.

There was a small hallway to the bathroom and bedroom with a storage closet. I converted the closet into a laundry area by having washer and dry hookups installed. It wasn’t a big job considering it was next to the bathroom. A stacking washer and dryer left enough room for built in shelves for laundry supplies, towels and linens, and my tool box. The bedroom had a huge closet with mirrored sliding doors. This space made up for the absence of a coat closet after the laundry conversion. The bedroom had a big window and was furnished with a refinished flea market dresser and cast iron bed. Perhaps I could find an appropriate night stand on this trip since I had no plans.

I grabbed a vase from the kitchen cabinet and filled it with water before adding the bouquet I purchased at the grocery store. I thought of the beautiful bouquets I left behind and made a mental note to purchase thank you notes. I went to the antique sideboard in the dining area to retrieve a doily when I noticed an envelope learned up against the stained-glass lamp atop the sideboard. The pink envelope had my name handwritten on it. I placed the doily on the center of the table and the vase on the doily before opening the curious envelope.

It was a thank you card from Ginger and it contained a gift certificate to a popular restaurant and bar. I often loaned my condo to my Kodiak friends when they were staying in Anchorage. It was far superior to most hotels in that it was convenient to the airport, had covered parking, and it was free. There was weekly cleaning service included in my management fees so my guests didn’t have to worry about cleaning up. In her usual acrid style, Ginger’s note thanked me for her stay at “Grandma’s house”. The reference referred to my antiques and furnishings. Although my tastes and budget have changed since I bought the condo, I found comfort surrounded by pieces that I had rescued.

I called several of my Kodiak friends, including Ginger and Guy, but was not successful in reaching anyone. I assumed they were attending a noisy Crab Festival and didn’t hear the phone ring. I left messages letting them know I was safely in the condo in Anchorage and would talk to them tomorrow. I baked frozen chicken parmesan with marinara, toasted a small loaf of garlic bread, and tossed a bagged salad with dressing. After the ratties and I were sated, we went for an evening walk before retiring with the Vampire Lestat. As much as I loved reading stories set in my childhood home of New Orleans, my eyes closed before I finished a single page.