Any Taint of Vice

A Kate Shugak Story

Kate Shugak Novels

Dana Stabenow

Minotaur Books

Any Taint of Vice (Chapter 1)

The call came in on Kate's cell phone too early on a Monday morning. She was up but not necessarily coherent. "What?"

"It's Kurt Pletnikof, Kate."

"Your name on the display was the only reason I answered," she said. "What?"

"Victor Boatwright's son is missing."

Steam rose from her first mug of the day, stopped halfway to her mouth as she stared out the floor-to-ceiling windows on the south side of her house. The Quilak Mountains were as yet only a ghostly presence against the light of the rising sun.

"Kate?"

"Then find him," she said. "It's what you do."

"I did just mention that to him," he said. "The General says he wants you."

She drove into Niniltna and hitched a ride into Anchorage on one of George's Suulutaq Mine crew-change flights. Kurt was waiting for her when they landed at Merrill. An ex-Park rat, an ex-bear poacher and an ex-drug smuggler, Kurt was these days a private investigator. Set a thief to catch a thief, and Kate was pleased to be his financial backer and silent partner.

Though today, not so much. Tight-lipped, she nodded a greeting and held the rear passenger door open for Mutt before climbing in next to Kurt. The 140-pound sidekick thrust her head between them as they turned left on East Fifth, yellow eyes taking the measure of the big town with the tall buildings and the many cars. Fewer bears than the Park, but the larger per capita percentage of perps and felons filled in the predator gap.

They turned south on the Seward Highway and east up into the Chugach Mountains, to a community of McMansions on broad, curving driveways lined with neatly groomed paper birches of precisely the same age. On a clear day, the view would go all the way to Iliamna. Today the clouds were thick and low and dark.

The General's aide, Oscar Square, answered the door with a cold eye and a cool greeting, but then he and Kate had met before. He twitched not an eyebrow at the half-wolf, half-husky at Kate's side, only stepped back to open the door wide enough to let all three of them inside, and led them to the General's study. It was a poor imitation of Henry Higgins's library--dark oak and brown leather sitting on an expensive imitation Anatolian carpet in deep red and dull gold. Heavy curtains at the tall windows were restrained with gilt ropes, and a silver coffee set sat on a low table between a matching couch and chair.

The General occupied the entire room from a bloodred wingback chair. Tall, spare, he had piercing blue eyes, a blade of a nose, and a thin mouth held in a permanently displeased line supported by a prominent, clean-shaven chin. His thinning gray hair was worn in a brush cut, and there was a distinctly martial note about the knife crease in his jeans. "Thank you, Oscar," he said, thin lips stretching into a smile that everyone present understood was just for show.

Square nodded and vanished. He was still the perfect gofer, Kate thought, and turned her head to see the General looking at her. "Ms. Shugak," he said.

"General," she said.

Kurt and Mutt maintained a prudent silence. This was a fight for the big dogs.

"Mr. Pletnikof will have told you that my son is missing," the General said.

"Yes."

"I found these in his bedroom." The General produced a manila envelope and handed it across the table. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the silver coffeepot. There was only one cup. He sat back and sipped while Kate opened the envelope and extracted the contents.

They were in living color, with digital time stamps in the lower left-hand corners. The camera lens had been mounted high in a corner of a small room containing a massage bed. On the bed was Cal Boatwright, the General's son, and a woman unknown to her engaged in an act that was illegal in most Southern states.

Cal hadn't aged well. Kate noted a receding hairline, an incipient beer belly, love handles, and the beginnings of jowls. The woman was about his and Kate's age but in much better shape, a redhead with a well-developed musculature and an obviously outstanding flexibility.

She handed the photographs to Kurt, ignoring the General's frown. "Who is the woman?"

The General's jaw tightened. "Andrea Gohegan," he said. "She owns and operates a--business." He paused, and added distastefully, "In Spenard."

Spenard was an Anchorage neighborhood close to the airport. Gentrification had made a dent on Spenard Road proper, which was brave in new hotel construction and landscaping. The back streets remained the go-to place for a hit of cocaine or a blow job. Convenient for anyone fresh off a plane--hunter, fisherman, Slope worker, or tourist.

Or useless parasite with more money than sense and a father who could be counted on to bail him out of any trouble he managed to stumble into. "A massage parlor," Kate said.

The General nodded. His delicate sensibilities were outraged at having to yield even that much.

"Did she send you the pictures?"

"She did."

"With a demand?"

"She wants a hundred thousand dollars or I'll never see my son again."

Any reason you would want to? Kate thought but didn't say. "May I see the note?"

"I burned it." As if he heard her silent question, he said, "I kept the photographs so that you would know what you were looking for."

"What do you want done, General?" she said.

"Find the photographic files and destroy them before she posts them to her Facebook page. Find my son and bring him home."

In that order? Kate thought, but again did not say. The General's priorities were obvious.

Oscar Square materialized at the door. The General nodded in his direction. "Oscar has the particulars, and your check."

In the hall, Square handed her a second manila envelope. She opened it and found a printed page with Gohegan's full name, Alaska driver's license, social security number, birthdate, and home and business addresses. There was also a check. She handed it to Kurt, as she watched Square. "You haven't changed much, Oscar."

He inclined his head the merest fraction of an inch. "Nor have you, Ms. Shugak."

Her smile could have cut a throat. "Best if we both remember that."

Another infinitesimal bow of the head. "You know your way out."

A second later a door off the hallway closed behind him. As if on cue, another opened, and a taller, thinner, younger version of the General walked into the hall. "Hello," he said. "And you are?"

"We had an appointment with your father," Kate said. "We were just leaving."

He put his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, inspecting them with a speculative gaze. "Is that a wolf?"

"Only half," Kate said.

His eyes were as blue as his father's but not so piercing, and his clothes were more Gap than G.I. Joe. "Why'd the old man want to see you? Was it about Rose?"

"Who's Rose?" Kate said.

"My wife," he said, and came forward, hand outstretched. "I'm Vic Boatright, the General's son."

"Kate Shugak," Kate said.

He held on to Kate's hand, looking down at her, ignoring Kurt and Mutt. "Did the old man hire you to find Rose?"

"She's missing?" Kate said. Too? she thought.

"For three weeks."

"You're not in much of a hurry to find her," Kate said.

He shrugged. "She isn't much of a wife."

Oscar Square rematerialized. "This way, Ms. Shugak," he said.

Square must be slipping. She'd been talking to the General's older son for a whole two minutes.

She was conscious of Vic Boatright's eyes on her all the way out the door.

ANY TAINT OF VICE. Copyright 2012 by Dana Stabenow.