Today, we have an excerpt from Not the Ones Dead by Dana Stabenow. The 23rd novel in the author’s Kate Shugak series, it is published today by Aries/Head of Zeus. Before we get to the excerpt, here’s the synopsis:
What seems a tragic accident soon becomes a murder investigation as Kate is drawn into a case of political intrigue.
A mid-air collision in the Alaskan wilderness between two small aircraft leaves ten people dead. Was it a bird strike, pilot error… or premeditated murder?
Then an eleventh body is found in the wreckage: a man shot gangland style, twice in the chest and once in the head.
In an investigation that reaches to the highest levels of government, justice may not be served, but Kate Shugak is determined that the truth will out, even at the risk of her life and the lives of those she loves most.
Now, on with the excerpt…
NOT THE ONES DEAD
Kate had spent the day four-wheeling the trail, hauling a trailer full of garden tools. She had her phone in her hip pocket and earbuds tuned to a playlist featuring everything from the Rascals to Springsteen to Pink, and somehow Brad Paisley had managed to sneak in there, too. She suspected that when her phone had gone missing the week before, Jim had added to her “Heavy Rotation” playlist. Brad got down, though, and he sure could pick. What she found less forgivable was the boy bands.
One day in the not-too-distant future Jim would forget his phone at the house. When it surfaced again his entire playlist would contain nothing but the soundtracks of Broadway musicals. She channeled her inner Khan to the open air. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
A Steller’s jay took the threat personally and launched himself from the branch of a nearby black spruce to beat wings into the northwest.
The trail was one she had spent years building, first blazing with an axe, trying to find the easiest way across, around, up, and down the one-hundred-sixty acres that comprised the homestead staked out by a forebear, back in the day when that kind of thing still happened. If he’d lived to see ANCSA, her father would have had land for the asking. Instead he had died young, along with her mother, and she had fallen heir to the homestead and the cabin he had built to claim it. It had tried to fall down for the entire time she’d lived in it and repairs had occupied much of her free time. Four years ago, the cabin had been replaced by a house. The house was sturdily built and had so far proved indestructible, and she had had to find something else to do to fill her off hours.
Not that there had been many of those this past year. A gang of thieves had been burglarizing empty cabins on MatSu Valley lakes. Area law enforcement was quoted by the Frontiersman as being baffled. Well, law enforcement such as it was, the denizens of the Valley as allergic to taxes as they were. Half a dozen victims had pooled funds and gone looking for a PI. They’d found Kurt Pletnikof, of Pletnikof Investigations, who tapped his silent partner to do the grunge work. Thanks a lot, buddy.
It hadn’t been that onerous a job. As soon as she figured out that the lakes were all fly-in, she looked for cabins on other flyin lakes in the area, figured out what she hoped was the next target, and with the owner’s permission took up residence in one of them. It took a week, which was boring, especially for Mutt, but Kate read half a dozen books and finally at dawn on the seventh day a blue-and-white Cessna 172 on floats came spluttering into view. It bounced four times as it landed on a calm day with no wind. Pretty much told Kate everything she needed to know about the pilot.
It taxied to the cabin third down from the one Kate and Mutt were occupying. Two men got out. They moored the plane and walked up the trail to their target. She watched with interest as they forced an entry with a crowbar. After that it was a simple matter of sneaking through the tall grass, unmooring the aircraft and pushing it out into the lake, and waiting until they noticed. When they did, Mutt took down one and Kate the other. They weren’t armed, and once they were restrained, Kate sent up the flag using a satellite phone. It took until ten a.m. for the trooper to get there and the rest of the morning for him to stop giggling.
While that was wrapping up, one of her satisfied customers had passed the word and put the family of the victim of an unsolved murder in the Mat-Su on her track. That had been a much shorter but far more difficult and dangerous job and she had been lucky to escape with her life. She had made the mistake of not telling Jim all the story, momentarily forgetting that he had been an Alaska state trooper for more than two decades and that among themselves troopers were gossipier than a potluck dinner at the school gym. It didn’t matter if you were still on the job or not, you were always in the loop. Jim had yelled at her for an hour and then taken her to bed and kept her there all night.
She understood. The need for reassurance was powerful. And they had been apart for three weeks.
And not that she was complaining, either, but she was just a little tired today. Hence the four-wheeler instead of two legs and a wheelbarrow.
Her homestead was a square plot of land that encompassed the aforesaid house, a shop, a garden shed, an old outhouse she hoped never to have to use again, a salmon creek, a defunct gold mine, and four hundred feet of the Niniltna road. Not to mention an airstrip, along with a hangar the size of Dubuque. Technically the airstrip and the hangar —and the plane—belonged to Jim, so she didn’t count them, although it would have taken someone smarter than the two of them put together to imagine how he’d take them with him if he ever got into a snit and decided to decamp the premises. The plane, sure, he’d probably decamp in that, but the rest…
She smiled to herself. There would be no decamping. It might be the one thing she was most sure of in her life.
Dana Stabenow’s Not the Ones Dead is out now, published by Aries/Head of Zeus in the UK.
Also on CR: Excerpt from Spoils of the Dead