Whisper to the Blood

A Kate Shugak Novel

Kate Shugak Novels (Volume 16)

Dana Stabenow

Minotaur Books

CHAPTER 1
September
“Grin bought out Mac Devlin.”
Kate looked up from the dining room table, where she was .tensive surveillance, some of which she had subbed out to Kurt Pletnikoff in Anchorage. Kurt was turning into quite the one-.while Park screwup make good, and while she begrudged none .keeping strained her negligible mathematical skills to the red shift limit. It took her a moment to focus on Jim’s news. “Grin?”
“Global Harvest Resources Inc. GHRIn. That’s what we’re calling them around the Park, hadn’t you heard?”
“No. Appropriate, though. They have to be grinning from ear to ear.”
“To be fair, everyone is—fed, state, local.”
“Not everyone local is,” Kate said.
“Yeah.” Jim slung his jacket around a chair and pulled off the ball cap with the Alaska State Trooper insignia, running a .lant against hat hair. “And not Mac Devlin anymore, either. He’s been operating on a shoestring for years, waiting on the big strike that never came. Last fall he had to sell off all his heavy equipment to pay his outstanding bills. Well, just to gild the lily, whoever his bank is got hit hard in the subprime mortgage mess, so they called in a lot of debt, including what they had on the land his mine sits on.”
“And the Nabesna Mine also just happens to sit right on the route to the valley where Global Harvest has its leases,” Kate said.
Jim nodded. “Owning the Nabesna Mine will give them easy access.”
“Hell,” Kate said, “Mac’s road into the Nabesna Mine gets them partway there. And give the devil his due, it’s a pretty good road.”
“Better than the state road into the Park.”
“No kidding. Although that’s not saying much.” She pointed with her chin. “The coffee’s fresh. And there’s gingerbread.”
“Outstanding.” He busied himself in the kitchen. “Mac’s pretty pissed about the whole deal. You know how he was such .ing Global Harvest and his bank must have been in cahoots, that they conspired to force him to sell for pennies on the dollar.”
“Where’s he saying this?”
“At the Roadhouse.”
“What were you doing out at Bernie’s?”
“Your cousin Martin was making a nuisance of himself again, so I went out to lay down a little law.”
Kate sighed. “What’d he do this time?”
“Got stumblebum drunk, tripped over a chair, and spilled a beer on the current quilt.”
“Holy shit,” Kate said, looking up. “Is he still living?”
Jim regarded the quarter section of gingerbread he had cut with satisfaction, and not a little drool. “The aunties were pissed.”
“Imagine my surprise. And Martin?”
.atory. “I think Bernie called me out more to get Martin into protective custody than because Martin was misbehaving in his bar.”
“Martin being one of his better customers,” Kate said. “Any other news from the front?”
.mented Louis Deem, had been at the Roadhouse, too, hanging around the outskirts of the aunties’ quilting bee, but Howie’s life was hanging by a thread where Kate was concerned. Jim thought, on the whole, better not to mention Howie’s presence.
It wasn’t that Jim, a fair-minded man, didn’t understand and ..ing direct, concrete evidence, that Howie was responsible for the attack that had put Kate’s truck in the ditch with Kate and Johnny in it, an attack which had also put Mutt in the hospital with a very nearly fatal bullet wound. There would be justice .gerly awaiting Park rats least expected it. Kate knew well the value of patience.
“The usual suspects,” he said, in answer to Kate’s question. “Pretty quiet on the northern front.” He frowned down at the gingerbread, which didn’t deserve it. “I have to say, it’s been an odd summer all around, though.”
Between the case and deckhanding for Old Sam on the Freya during the salmon season, Kate was a little out of touch on current Park happenings. “How so?”
He meditated for a moment. “Well, I guess I could sum it up by saying people haven’t been calling me.”
.fering from a deficiency of mayhem?”
He smiled briefly and without much humor. “I guess what I mean is I’m getting called out a lot, but only after the fact.”
She was puzzled. “I’m sorry? You’re always called out after the fact. A crime is committed, victim calls the cops. That’s the way it works.”
“That’s the way things are supposed to work.” He put the .ter. “I’ll give you an example. Just today, Bonnie had to call me down to the post office to break up a fight between Demetri and Father Smith.”
“What happened?”
“Smith dug up a section of Beaver Creek.”
Kate thought for a moment. “Demetri has a trapline on a Beaver Creek.”
“This would be the same creek. Demetri was seriously pissed off, big surprise, but instead of getting me, or maybe Dan O’Brien, chief ranger of this here Park, to call Smith to account, Demetri tracks him down on his own and proceeds to beat the living crap out of him.”
The Smiths were a large family of cheechakos who had bought a homestead from Vinnie Huckabee the year before and had come close to federal indictment for the liberties they had taken ..ally,” Kate said. “What a shame.”
“Yeah, I know, that’s why I didn’t toss the both of them in the clink. Anyway, I only meant the story as kind of an example of what’s been going on.”
“A lot of people been messing around on Park lands?”
“No, a lot of people taking the law into their own hands. .fonsky shoots Mickey the next time he raises a hand to her, when Bonnie Jeppsen tracks down the kid who put the rotting ..town Niniltna when said poacher tries to sell Dan a bear .thing of a trend going on.”
“Sounds like breakup, only the wrong time of year.”
“God, I hope not. One breakup per year is my limit.”
He brought cake and coffee to the table and just as he was sitting down she said, “While you’re up . . . ,” and pushed her mug in his direction. He heaved a martyred sigh and brought her back a full cup well doctored with cream and sugar.
.ing out Mac this quick. When did they buy those Suulutaq leases?”
Jim thought back. “When was the final disposition made on the distribution of lands in Iqaluk?”
Iqaluk was fifty thousand acres of prime Alaskan real estate tucked between the Kanuyaq River and Prince William Sound, in the southeast corner of the Park. It boasted one of the last unexploited old-growth forests left in the state, although the spruce had been pretty well decimated by the spruce bark beetle. There were substantial salmon runs in the dozens of creeks draining into the Kanuyaq, and there wasn’t a village on the river that didn’t run a subsistence fish wheel. With several small ..original hunting grounds for local Alaska Natives for ten thousand years.
It was equally rich in natural resources. Seventy-five years ago oil had been discovered on the coast near Katalla and had been produced until it ran dry. A hundred years ago, the world’s largest copper mine had been discovered in Kanuyaq. All that .ings. Niniltna, the surviving village four miles down the road, had as its origins the Kanuyaq miners’ go-to place for a good time. It was a productive mine for thirty-six years, until World War II came along and gave the owners an excuse to close .hind them as they skedaddled Outside with their profits.
With a history like that, it was no wonder that ownership of Iqaluk had been fiercely contested for nearly a century before title was settled, which settlement had satisfied no one. Dan ..luk deeded over wholly either to Alaska’s Department of Natural Resources or, failing that, to the U.S. Forest Service, famed for .nies. The Niniltna Native Association wanted it as a resource for hunting and fishing, if possible solely for its own shareholders and if not, at least for Alaska residents only, managed by a strict permitting process that gave preference to local residents.
Land ownership in Alaska was, in fact, a mess, and had been since Aleksandr Baranov stepped ashore in Kodiak in 1791. Until then Alaska Natives had been under the impression that land couldn’t be owned, of which notion Baranov speedily disillusioned them. After the Russians came the Americans, with their gold rushes, Outside fish processors, and world wars, which brought a whole bunch more new people into the terri­tory, including Kate’s Aleut relatives, resettled in the Park after the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands.
Statehood came, due mostly to political machinations in­volving Hawaii becoming a state at the same time and Eisen­hower wanting to field three Republicans to Congress to balance out the expected three Democrats from the Aloha State. After statehood came the discovery of oil, first in Cook Inlet and then a super-giant oil field at Prudhoe Bay. The new rush was on, to build the Trans-Alaska Pipeline to bring the crude to market, which project came to a screeching halt when Alaska Natives cleared their collective throats and said, “Ex­cuse me? A forty-eight-inch pipeline across eight hundred miles of aboriginal hunting grounds? That’s going to cost you,” and made it stick. Passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settle­ment Act, and later, the Alaska National Interest Lands Con­servation Act, pulled a bunch more acreage off the table, which left less than ten percent of Alaska in private hands. Wildlife refuges, national parks, state parks, yes. Farms, ranches, corpo­rate preserves, no.
Of course, a lot of people had made their way to Alaska long before the wherefores and whyases of said acts were a twinkle in Congress’s eye, many under the auspices of the Homestead Act, others who came north with the gold rush and stayed, who came north with the army and the air force and returned after muster­ing out, who came north as crew on fishing boats or canneries, married locally, and settled in for the duration. Their holdings were grandfathered in and the parks and refuges created around them. Which was why Dan O’Brien’s map of the Park, on the wall of his office in Park HQ on the Step, had all those minuscule yellow dots on it, each one signifying private ownership.
Land in Alaska, who owned it, and who could do what on it where was in fact a subject that preoccupied an embarrassing amount of everyone’s time and attention—public official, cor­porate officer, and private citizen. Any discussion of the subject was generally preceded by all combatants producing driver’s licenses and comparing numbers. The lower the number, the longer they’d been in the state, and the longer they’d been in the state, the louder and longer they got to talk.
“Land ownership in Alaska is like time travel in science fic­tion,” Kate said out loud.
“How so?”
“Just thinking about it makes me dizzy. Where’s Martin now?”
“Sleeping it off in the lockup. I’ll let him out in the morn­ing.” He thought for a moment, and added, “If the aunties have calmed down by then. The quilt was for Auntie Edna’s grand­daughter.”
“Yeah, I know. Elly. She’s ready to pop any time.”
“Who’s the dad?”
“She won’t say.”
Jim took a long look at Kate’s closed expression. There had been some muttering about a priest at the private school Elly had attended in Ahtna. No doubt he’d hear all about it in time from Ahtna police chief Kenny Hazen, whether he wanted to or not. He just hoped that if the rumor was true, Auntie Edna wouldn’t follow the current trend and settle accounts with the man herself. He shuddered to think of the damage the four aunties could in­flict if they put their minds to it. “Any luck on a vehicle for the kid?”
Johnny Morgan, son of Kate’s dead lover Jack Morgan and Kate’s foster son, had achieved the ripe old age of sixteen, and was now in the market for a vehicle of his very own.
Kate’s face cleared. “Bobby’s putting it out on Park Air this afternoon. I imagine somebody’s got a junker they want to un­load.”
“You care if it runs?”
She made a face. “I’d rather it didn’t.”
He laughed out loud this time, and she was forced into a chuckle herself. “I didn’t mean it that way,” she said. “Or mostly not. I’d just rather he spent some time under the hood before he started driving himself. He should know how to change the oil and a flat and the points and plugs. You know.”
“No,” he said.
She looked at him, amazed and a little scornful. “You don’t know how to change a flat?”
“In theory, I do,” he said. “Never had to, though. And I would rather I never had to.”
“You will,” Kate said with certainty and perhaps with some smugness mixed in. “Probably in winter. Probably January. The middle of the night. You’ll be barreling down the road and one of your tires will pick up an old railroad spike and that’ll be it, you’ll have to stop and get your hands dirty.”
“Or I could call you for help,” he said. “You do know how to change a tire.”
“That I do,” she said.
“I’d expect there to be a price,” he said.
“You’d expect correctly,” she said.
“And I’d expect to pay it,” he said, “in full,” and he grinned at her.
The combination of wide grin, crinkled blue eyes, and rum­pled dark blond hair was enough to make a grown woman sigh, but if Kate did sigh she kept it to herself. No point in giving Chopper Jim any leverage. Six-foot-four to her five feet, he out­weighed her by seventy pounds and was as white as she was Native. Not to mention that he was a serial womanizer and she was strictly a one-man woman. He’d never expressed any inter­est in having children and here she was, a foster mother, and the kid was the son of Jim’s ex-rival for Kate’s affections, no less. Plus Jim was a cop and she was a PI.
By any sane standard of measurement, they shouldn’t be here. Wherever here was. It’s not like either one of them knew.
He ate the last bite of cake and washed it down with the rest of his coffee. “So, where is the kid?”
“At Annie’s, splitting wood for her winter supply.”
He snorted. “Sure he is.”
Annie Mike was the guardian of one Vanessa Cox, Johnny’s best bud ever since he’d arrived in the Park. Vanessa had been a gawky and awkward child who was growing into a very at­tractive young woman. Neither Jim nor Kate held out much hope that Johnny hadn’t noticed. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” Kate said.
“You two have the talk?”
“About seventeen times. I even gave him a box of condoms.” She smiled at the memory. “He nearly died.”
He laughed. “I bet.” He stood up and pulled her to her feet, stepping in close. “Did we have the talk?”
His teeth nibbled at her ear. Her eyes drooped, her nipples hardened, her thighs loosened. ’Twas ever thus with Jim, and it would have annoyed her if she hadn’t seen the pulse beating frantically at the base of his throat. “We did,” she said, her voice the merest thread of sound.
“Thank god for that,” he said, and led her upstairs.
Mutt returned from an extended lope around the homestead, her daily constitutional, nosed the lever handle on the door open, and bounded inside. She had been alerted to the presence of her favorite trooper by his truck in the clearing outside and was impatient to demonstrate her affection upon his person.
Instead, she paused just inside the door to cock a sapient ear at the ceiling. She listened for a moment, and then, displaying a tact it was a shame no one was there to see, quietly let herself out again.

Excerpted from Whisper to the Blood by Dana Stabenow.
Copyright © 2009 by Dana Stabenow.
Published in December 2009 by St. Martin's Press.
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