Murder & Obsession
Flames burn between a hardboiled cop and a gifted artist, but soon extinguish as another man’s obsession ignites into an inferno of desire, driving him to destroy the object of his madness.
Friday The 13th
“Shut up, bitch, there’s no one out here going to help you.” The monster laughed, and the noise kept her from descending fully into the depths. She grappled for lucidity. Seconds later, he threw her like a sack of shit onto something hard. Her head smashed into metal. Darkness threatened to consume her.
A slammed door rattled her brain in an explosion of noise and pain; she fought to clear the haze obscuring reality. Sarah struggled to move, but her arms were tightly bound at her sides. Her eyes were open but all she saw was darkness.
Panic climbed from her toes to her chest and every muscle tightened in fear. Her lungs struggled for air. Her old nemesis, claustrophobia, fought for control of her senses. She coughed, and foul river water exploded from her mouth and flowed down her neck and chest. Fighting her deepest fears, Sarah knew she had to suppress the panic surging through her gut. She prayed for strength and willed the desperation gone.
With control over her breathing, she achieved some semblance of awareness and realized she lay on the backseat of a vehicle, her naked body cocooned securely in an animal hide. She felt the cold of the Koyukuk on her skin. Her hair, a mass of slime, was like melting icicles against her back. Her body flamed with a chill that burned so deep she thought Freon flowed through her veins. Panic built until oblivion consumed her.
Minutes later, she came to and slowly reaffirmed her location, but wondered if they’d drugged her again. Struggling against the beckoning darkness, she used every ounce of courage she could muster to pacify each synapse telling her life depended on fight or flight. She realized her head now rested on the lap of a stranger. His arms held her firmly in place while the vehicle bounced over rough ground. "Welcome To My Nightmare" blared from surround-sound speakers.
Her captors laughed and sang as though Alice Cooper had penned their theme song. Blackness won again, but the next time she came to, she heard the voices of the people responsible for her anguish.
“God damn it. What fun. Went like clockwork. The boss will be pleased.”
She recognized the voice of the man who abducted her, Yurij, an ugly brute, a Russian, who spoke perfect English and had the manners of a flesh-eating troll.
His girlfriend, Gladys, had the same hostility as her fiancé. She responded with irritation, “We’ve done what he asked. Tell me it’s over and we don’t owe him anything else.”
“Once we deliver the girl, it’s over. Our future, our family, is all that matters,” Yurij said.
With those words, Sarah remembered details. Memories―cloudy, violent, and terrifying―rushed forward. The air warmed, and her body shook involuntarily from chills that generated deep inside. The arms around her tightened, and the man who held her leaned close. He uncovered her face. She recognized him as the only kidnapper with any compassion.
“Be still, or they’ll drug you again. You’ll be safe soon. Don’t fight. Do what they say.” He tightened the blanket around her and rubbed her arms to help ease the shivering. He wrapped her hair in a towel. His efforts to make her comfortable failed. “Keep cooperating and everything will be fine,” he repeated, as though she had a choice.
She focused on his deep brown eyes, but the drugs they’d given her stole the last remnants of her resolve. “Please tell Steven to hurry.”
The darkness summoned and she unwillingly surrendered.
The Curse Continues…
With each footstep deeper into the forested wilderness of the Brooks Range, Steven released the stress from his body and mind. The cool air, the resonance of water rushing to cut a path south, the movement of small animals in the brush and birds in the tree tops were a soothing melody to a soul too long absent from his true home. If he’d been a poet, he might have noticed the creaturely serenade, the stately trees standing at attention as though in line for his inspection, or the raven sitting on the tallest tree, observing his quiet incursion. So deep in thought, Steven noticed the moose, but only after the sounds of breaking branches and hooves hammering the ground startled him.
The animal ran deeper into the thicket and Steven knew his opportunity to fill the freezer had just escaped. He smiled when he realized he’d just disappointed his Tlingit and Irish heritage by letting the moose get away. Steven prayed this disappointment wasn’t an indication of future events.
The wind gusted, then floated like a lazy spirit among the treetops. He swore he heard cries for help coming from the south, but shook his head, denying the possibility. When he heard the same plea a few seconds later, he stopped moving and listened. Had he just heard Sarah calling his name? Not possible, not out here, especially since Sarah, his fiancée, had flown to Seattle. The wind settled and the ghostly cries disappeared. He shook off the feeling of being haunted, stretched his stiff muscles, and decided to call the hunt over. The sun, obliterated by clouds filled with snow, caused dusk to settle fast in the forest.
His last night at the log cabin, and Steven still hadn’t made a decision regarding his career. The job offer from the FBI left him in a quandary, and Sarah did not make his decision any easier. She left their future to him―promising her full support no matter his choice. He could stay lead detective in Anchorage, join the FBI and head up their new serial crimes division, or change direction altogether and follow his childhood dream to become a tracker and guide. Their future rested on his shoulders.
Despite the falling darkness, Steven caught sight of the cabin, the old logs hand-hewn by his grandfather. The river rocks gathered and stacked to perfection had lasted over one hundred years. The cabin had served him and his friends well for hunting and fishing, but Steven had turned his grandfather’s masterpiece into the perfect honeymoon retreat. He’d practically rebuilt the place, taxing muscles and sweating each detail while remaining determined not to disturb his grandfather’s footprint. He’d added rooms, insulation, triple-pane windows, a master suite with a fireplace, top-of-the-line appliances, bathrooms, colorful carpets and antiques mixed with new furniture, and he couldn’t wait to show the rustic retreat to Sarah. The cabin would be their sanctuary and his wedding gift to her.
Steven had taken a week off work to finish putting the final touches on their honeymoon cabin and to make that all important decision regarding his job, his future with Sarah. He’d fallen for the talented artist during one of his biggest cases, but stress had separated them for over eight months. His work and a lack of communication between them had caused Sarah to break their engagement. Despite his mistakes, she forgave him and agreed to marry him on December 31. Their recent makeup excursion in Paris was the best two weeks of his life.
They shared a romantic meal atop the Eiffel Tower, giggled their way through the Louvre, made love in the 15th century hotel across the Seine from Notre Dame, and hiked the garden paths hand in hand. Even though Paris was perfect, Sarah had agreed to spend their honeymoon in the wilderness. Steven had done most of the work on his grandfather’s old gold mining cabin over a year ago, right before the first wedding date he and Sarah had set. Delayed because of his job, this time, there would be no delay, not even from the weather. Sled dogs were on call to get them through a snowstorm if needed.
On the back deck, Steven ran his hands over the ancient logs, thinking of Sarah and their shared goals. He turned his back on the cabin and contemplated the Koyukuk River flowing just yards away. In a few weeks, the river would freeze over, and in preparation, Steven had already protected the water lines. He studied the wilderness around him and listened to the night sounds. The howling of a wolf brought him full circle. He shook off his doubts when he realized spending time here, with Sarah, would make this home, and he wondered if she’d consider living in the wilderness full-time.
This contemplation brought him to his decision. Family would come first. He leaned against the timber rail and smiled to himself. Tomorrow he would fly to Anchorage, his trip a success and his future assured. He would stay at the job he enjoyed with the woman he loved by his side. The FBI offered a new challenge, but with children to consider, and his and Sarah’s love of all things Alaskan, staying with his job in Anchorage became the only choice. A breeze blew his hair across his face; he pulled the long raven tresses into a ponytail and whistled “You Are My Sunshine” while he envisioned his reunion with Sarah.
“What do you say, Grandpa, to little ones running around, climbing the trees, and fishing off your dock? You’ll love Sarah; she’s real, Grandpa, grounded.” Steven knew he was the luckiest guy alive. Convinced after his first marriage failed that love and family would never be his, he became taciturn, job oriented… and then he met Sarah.
The drone of engines ended his mystic discussion. Steven strode to the front of the cabin, and two large Police Interceptor SUVs slid to a stop, spraying gravel indiscriminately. Several sharp stones hit him in the shin. “What the hell?”
Four police officers all wearing official winter parkas exited. The fifth, Helen Gabble, a coworker and one of the most competent detectives he knew, stepped out of the lead vehicle. She wore her Anchorage-issued jacket, too light for the deep north, and her shivering was proof. Helen, an attractive woman, never emphasized the fact while at work. She never wore makeup or did anything other than pulling her hair from her face, but usually, she dressed more appropriately for the weather. Having come this far north unprepared for the cold told him she’d made the journey unexpectedly.
“Helen? What’re you doing all the way out here?” Her flushed face and set jaw told him something big had gone down.
“We need to talk.” She waved at the other officers. They stopped their movement forward. The cops in Helen’s SUV, Shawn Terrell and Grady Kelly, Steven knew. They nodded in greeting.
“Hey, Shawn, I thought you’d be in Hawaii surfing?”
“Not this year; I’m married now.” The hunky blond pulled off his glove and held up his ring finger to show a gold band.
Grady Kelly, a lean Black man, laughed heartily at the question and Shawn’s response. “Yeah, his surfing’s been replaced with honey-do lists. You’ll understand soon, Detective.” Kelly gave Terrell a friendly shove. “My Candy’s looking forward to your New Year’s Eve wedding. It’s all she talks about, that and shopping for the perfect dress.”
Steven patted him on the back. “The party of the year, guaranteed.”
Terrell and Kelly joined the other two men, both strangers to Steven. Steven acknowledged the men with a nod, but his focus resettled on Helen. “Talk? You brought an entire team out here to talk. Is something wrong? Is Sarah all right?”
“Sarah’s fine. I just … God. It’s cold.” She put a handful of tissues to her nose, Steven assumed for warmth.
She continued talking from behind the tissues. “We called your satellite phone, even tried to reach you by radio. Where the hell have you been?”
“Hunting. Sorry, I left the phone behind. What’s going on?”
Helen ignored his question. “But you’re empty-handed?”
“Yeah, I wasn’t into it.” He took the gun off his shoulder, tried to relax.
Helen reached out. “May I?”
“Sure.” He handed her the rifle, then rethought his actions and her questions.
“Wait a minute, why?”
“Just curious.” She examined the gun. “A 30.06. What were you hunting?”
“I’d planned on getting a moose, but got so stuck in my head the moose saw me first. You know, Helen, if I didn’t know better, I’d say this was an interrogation.”
“Just making conversation.” She handed the gun to Terrell, who sniffed the barrel, unloaded it, and gave the rifle to another officer.
“Can we go inside?” She pulled up the collar of her jacket. “It’s a bit raw tonight.”
“Of course.” He saw the other officers eying his property, nodding their heads. Something was going on, despite her denial. “We’ll need a fire.” He chose a few prime logs from the towering woodpile, every log stacked in the past couple days. “I don’t understand. This is odd, you guys rolling in like this. What’re you really doing here?”
“When my teeth quit chattering.” She wrapped her arms around herself and stomped her feet. “There’s something wrong with the heater in the SUV. I’m frozen.”
Steven laughed. “You’re the one in charge. Give the dud to the rookies.”
“I don’t work that way.”
“I’m kidding.” He studied her suspiciously, then gave the men the same treatment. A chill no fire would warm shot through him. “Let’s go inside.”
Evening settled fast, the snow fell steadily, and he knew a deeper cold would hit once the clouds cleared. Steven fumbled to find the key, but Helen twisted the doorknob of the massive pine door, and the door opened with a light push.
Helen glanced at him. “It’s not locked.”
“There’s no reason to lock doors this far out in the wilderness.” He tried to usher Helen inside, but she let Terrell and Kelly enter first. They scanned the large room and waited for orders. “You’re all welcome.” He studied the other two burly officers, who lagged behind.
“They can wait outside. Relax,” she told them, but Steven caught her signaling an order to search. An uneasy feeling settled in his gut.
When they stepped into the cabin, Steven went to the fireplace, surprised to see plenty of hot coals awaiting new logs. He soon had a new fire crackling. He studied the flames, buying time to think. What’s happening? Why a posse this far north?
When he stood, he caught Helen whispering with Terrell and Kelly. He didn’t like subterfuge. Their presence sullied the place. This was Sarah’s and his place. Two lamps lit the large, comfortable room with its deep brown cloth couches and bright Indian rugs. Who the hell turned them on? He ignored his unwelcome visitors and went to the small galley kitchen. The aroma of freshly percolated coffee filled the room. Coffee, how, when? The scent of perfume vied for attention. What in the name of God? He wondered if he’d stepped into a different universe.
Helen placed a hand on his shoulder. “I thought you just got back.” She scanned the room, eyebrows raised. “Wow, you’ve made some significant changes. It’s homey. Looks like something you’d find in Girdwood.” She unzipped her jacket.
Steven groaned inwardly. He didn’t need her validation.
“What happened to the hunter’s abode, rough but comfortable? Hell, now it’s somewhat swanky.”
He hated the amusement in her voice. Girdwood was an insult―a tourist trap south of Anchorage. Alyeska catered to those with the idea that roughing it included a deluxe cabin. Yet he had to admit, that’s exactly what he’d turned the place into for Sarah’s comfort.
Steven kept his face impassive, hiding his irritation. “We’re planning a three-month honeymoon in the dead of winter. Sarah deserves a comfortable retreat. I’ve been out all day. I can’t explain our reception. Someone must have stopped by. When I left this morning, the fire was out, the lights were off, and the last of the morning coffee went into my thermos. Whoever stopped by started the generator, something I should’ve noticed sooner.”
“Who’d come calling out here? I thought your nearest neighbor was Coldfoot?”
“There’s the Wiseman mining camp twenty miles south. Several folks winter there. I hired two men from there to help me get this place in shape. Maybe they stopped by.”
He’d spoken the words for their benefit, but his gut wasn’t buying it. The two men he’d hired, he’d paid. They planned to spend their cash in town today. He moved around the room checking for clues to the caller’s identity. Neither of those workers had a key, and he knew he’d locked the door.
“Terrell. Kelly. Look around,” Helen ordered.
“Stop!” Steven shouted.
The officers froze, eyeballed Steven, but looked to Helen for orders.
“No one does anything until you tell me what the hell you’re doing here.” Steven wanted answers.
She waved them on.
Terrell and Kelly went about their jobs.
Helen’s hazel eyes widened with impatience. “Honestly, Steven, can’t I pour myself a cup of coffee? The guys are just going to make sure we don’t have any unexpected visitors.”
Steven blocked Helen’s access to the coffee pot. “Talk. Now!”
Unfazed by his attitude, Helen sidestepped him. “Give me a second to thaw out.” She removed her skullcap and smoothed her hair back, but nothing she did could control the wispy tendrils. Frustrated, she undid her ponytail and ran her fingers through her dirty blonde, unruly hair, refashioning a tighter ponytail.
Although Helen cared more about her reputation than her appearance, Steven recognized the gesture as nerves and wondered what made her so uncomfortable. She grabbed a cup from the sideboard, and although fully aware of Steven’s impatience, she waited for him to step aside and give her access to the coffee pot.
“Shit! You can be one cold bitch when you want to be,” Steven grumbled.
“Comes with the job! Now move.” She bumped him with her elbow.
Steven let Helen win the tug of war. He strode into the back hall, removed his pack, and slung it on the hook by the door. Then froze. His gun wasn’t in the holster where he left it. Had Kelly taken it? Furious, he removed and hung his jacket beside his pack. He felt like a trapped animal, his senses on alert when he rejoined Helen.
Helen had poured her coffee. She’d settled on a bar stool and wrapped her hands around her mug, still seeking warmth. She took a sip. “This is good. You want one?”
He shook his head, grabbed the other stool across from her. “Talk, please.” Maybe using sugar instead of intimidation would get him answers.
She sighed. “Okay.” She gulped a large mouthful of coffee and put the cup down on the counter. “The Captain sent me because he knew you’d cooperate with a friend.”
He noticed her emphasis on the word ‘friend.' “Cooperate? Why?”
She removed a document from her coat pocket. “Read this. I have a few questions, but honestly, all I want is for you to return to Anchorage with me.”
Steven took the document, scanned it. “A search warrant. Regarding what? The Captain has my schedule. I’m due in the office Monday. Why drive all the way out here? Damn it, Helen. What the hell is going on?” He stood.
“Two women are dead. We have witnesses putting you with them just hours before they died.” She placed two pictures on the counter. “Do you recognize them?”
He scanned the photos. “Sure, I had a drink with her in Anchorage. April, I think she called herself.” He pointed to the other picture. “I bought her dinner after her car broke down, at the Bull Moose Diner in Fairbanks. What happened to them?”
“Strangled, dumped on the side of the road. So, yes, we’re here searching for evidence. Preliminary forensics ties you to them. Did you sleep with them?”
“Strangled, what are you accusing me of? Sleep with―you actually believe―” His anger escalated with each word. “I’m your suspect?”
The door burst open, and John and Eddie Thomas came barreling into the room with two officers on their heels. Helen gave the officers a nod, and a wave of her hand and they left, closing the door behind them.
John Thomas, a large man approximately two hundred and seventy-five pounds, six-foot-seven, and his brother, Eddie, of similar height, but svelte, didn’t even wait to catch their breath. They immediately shouted, “Is she here?”
“Who?” Steven and Helen spoke simultaneously.
“Sarah!” the men echoed.
John shouted, “Is she here?”
Steven stepped nose to nose with John. He had come north because Sarah was safely in John’s care. “She’s not here. Explain.” Steven glared at his friend.
Eddie went to his brother’s side. John’s shoulders slumped. He stepped back, settled onto the arm of a chair, and took a deep breath. “I took Sarah to the airport, put her on the plane. An agent met her at Boeing Field, but that evening I got a message she was on her way here.”
“Why? What happened in Seattle?” The air suddenly seemed to disappear from the room.
“I don’t know. The message suggested you were in trouble.” John took his cap off and rubbed his crew cut as if he had a severe itch. “Sarah actually said you were both in trouble. We traced her steps. She left the penthouse shortly after she arrived, took a taxi to Boeing Field, and chartered a new flight. She’d already ordered the Palmer jet to be ready for a flight to Anchorage on Tuesday afternoon but apparently couldn’t wait. She arrived in Coldfoot. Gary drove her here.”
“Monday? Not possible.” Steven shook his head. “Four days ago, no. I went to Deadhorse to straighten out a delivery problem. I drove there and returned early Tuesday morning, but Sarah wasn’t here. No one was here. Someone’s lying.”
“Well, it isn’t my brother.” Eddie stepped forward.
John held up his hand to stop him. “We double checked everything, Steve.” John removed his gloves and stuffed them in his pocket. “Gary dropped her off around midnight. We’ve been trying to reach you for the last twenty-four hours. Since when don’t you answer your phone or radio?”
“My phone hasn’t rung once.” He stomped to the fireplace and took his phone from the mantel.”
Helen snatched it from his hand.
“The radio’s been on since I arrived. I’ve been busy, but―” Steven studied John and realized his friend never expected, never considered Sarah wouldn’t be here. John couldn’t seem to get his bearings. He’d lost his balance.
Eddie simmered with anger. His hands on his hips and his scrutiny penetrating, Steven realized no matter the problem, Eddie blamed him.
Confusion turned to anger, but suddenly something clicked. “The fire, the open door, fresh coffee, damn it, her perfume. Why didn’t I recognize her scent? Sarah’s here?” Steven started for the stairs, but Terrell had just descended them.
“I haven’t located the duffel bags, Detective Gabble, but I did find this.” He held a negligee, white lace, and silk. Bright red stains flashed like a neon light. “The blood is still wet.”
Steven pushed Terrell aside and raced up the stairs yelling Sarah’s name. He scoured the room and saw the overnight bag, her clothes hanging in the closet, and her toiletries sitting on the dresser. Her perfume was overwhelming, but Sarah was nowhere in sight. Then he saw more blood on the rug by the fireplace. He drew closer to investigate. The handle of a Bowie knife glinted in the dull lantern light, stuck amongst the wood stacked on the side of the hearth. Is that mine? He reached for it, but Eddie entered the room. Eddie’s gaze went straight to the bed. Steven’s followed.
Helen pushed Eddie aside and entered the room. “Shawn, where’d you find the gown?” Helen demanded, glaring at Steven.
“In the fireplace.”
“There’s more blood on the rug and castoff on the wall and ceiling above the bed.” He pointed to it. “There’s evidence a woman was here. Her things are in the bathroom and closet.”
Helen examined the claw-foot tub, prominent on a pedestal in front of the picture window overlooking the Koyukuk River. “This is a nice touch. The old loft’s been turned into a comfy honeymoon suite.” She ran her hand along the inside, pulled moist fingers to her face, and sniffed. “Expensive bath oil. Sarah’s?”
Helen asked Steven.
Steven nodded and watched in disbelief, but he could not comprehend the how.
“I don’t understand. Why isn’t she here?” He thought he knew what was coming next, but when Helen pulled down the bedclothes, Steven’s knees buckled. He grabbed the fireplace mantel for support. “Sarah.” Her name came out painfully.
“This isn’t possible. None of this is possible.” When he grabbed the mantel, his fingers landed on an object. Without looking, he knew he held her engagement ring. He clutched it tightly. How? How can this be here?
Blood covered the pillow and sheets so thick, light glistened on the surface. He realized someone had died a brutal death in the honeymoon bed he built.
“Where’s her body, Steven?” Helen demanded. “What happened here?”
“I… I don’t know. I wasn’t here. Sarah’s never been here―”
Steven saw the disbelief, the accusations on all their faces, and then Helen reached for her handcuffs. He reacted without thinking. He shoved John and took off running. John went down hard, blocking the steps.
On the first level, Steven grabbed his jacket, backpack, and fled out the back door while his pursuers were still on the steps. He had the sense to grab his snowshoes hanging on the porch. He had to think, had to get away from what would be immediate incarceration, but running into the wilderness without a survival kit was suicide. They’d judged him, deemed him guilty. He needed to figure out what had just happened. Where’s her body, Steven?
He fell to his knees. What am I doing? I can’t run. I didn’t kill Sarah. I’m a cop. Someone’s framed me for murder. Oh God, Sarah. Voices behind him had him hesitating, but just for a moment. I have to figure this out. Once I have the answers, I’ll surrender.
He started running, but all he could see was the blood-filled bed. No one could survive that kind of blood loss. Four days. Where had she been, where is she now? She’s not dead. She’s not. She can’t be. We have a future.
He recalled the cries for help he’d heard earlier. His heart pounded like a drum. Was that you, angel? The possibility tumbled inside his head. With great effort, he blocked his thoughts of Sarah. He needed to concentrate on his next step.
He could hear them behind him, but he knew the area and they did not. He quickly outdistanced them. He wanted to lead them south to Coldfoot and then Fairbanks. He knew he could buy some time if they had to search all the vehicles moving on the haul road. He wasn’t worried about leaving tracks. He wanted them to follow, and once he’d deceived his pursuers, he would head to Sanctuary: his uncle’s cabin high in the mountains.
Helen inspected the crime scene, then used her satellite phone to call Captain Reed to report Steven’s escape, Sarah’s disappearance, and possible death. John and Eddie were now under scrutiny.
Helen paced in front of the fireplace, observing the two men seated before her. Their resemblance caught in their deep brown eyes and sharp jaws. John, someone familiar with stressful situations, seemed to have reached the end of his rope. He stared at the flames but didn’t see them. His hands rubbed tight knuckles. Eddie seemed filled with an energy he had no control over, like a Jack-in-the-box ready to pop open. His spine was stiff, his gaze followed Helen’s every move.
“Who threatened Sarah this time?” Irritation filled Helen’s voice. She’d never liked the woman.
“We don’t know,” John said.
“What happened to her bodyguard―what did you say his name was?” Helen stopped pacing and glared at John.
“Casey Carpenter. He’s disappeared too. We’re trying to locate him,” John said with no emotion.
“Was there tension between Sarah and Steven?” Helen stayed close to the fire. The heat felt wonderful. Her first real warmth in twenty-four hours. She sighed, then caught herself, and moved to the other side of the fireplace to keep the men off kilter. “Were they fighting?”
“No. They were planning their wedding. Steven’s here to get the cabin ready for the honeymoon. They were happy. For the first time in two years, they were really happy.”
Helen knew John, and she could see his apprehension. “Sarah was a good friend?”
“You say―was―like she’s―” John wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Yes, she’s a good friend. The best.”
Helen tried to unsettle him a bit more. “Sarah’s the only person I’ve ever seen get under Steven’s skin. She’s the reason he’s thinking about leaving the force. Now he’s under suspicion for two, maybe three murders.”
John stood, but under her glare, he sat back down. “You came out here to arrest him for those two murders. I thought you were here seeking his advice, a way to convince him to stay with the force, but you actually think he killed those girls. You can’t. You’re his friend. How can you believe he’d murder a stranger? Or Sarah?”
“I don’t want to believe what I just witnessed. Steven’s my mentor, but I’m handling this by the book.” She threw another log on the fire. “Domestic abuse is not usually something we know about our friends. Steven ran, why? He’s a cop, he knows better.”
John dropped his head. “Seeing all that, I would’ve too.”
She turned to Eddie. “I’m curious. You were fixated on the bed. Did you know what we were going to find?”
Eddie seemed surprised by her observation. “Me? No. How could I know anything?”
She watched as Eddie nervously twisted the ring on his finger, then stuffed his hands in his pockets.
Helen kneeled in front of him.
Eddie leaned back. “I had this eerie feeling. Especially since the room reminded me of a picture I’d seen recently.”
“A picture? What kind of picture?”
“Nothing. Just a déjà vu moment. When I got to the top of the steps, I thought she’d be there. The way Steven yelled her name. He thought so too.”
She lifted herself to full height, stretching her back muscles, and eyed John, but threw the question out to anyone. “Where do you think he’s headed?”
John shrugged. “Fairbanks? Anchorage? To find the killers?”
“Steven grew up here,” Eddie, reminded them.
Helen caught John’s hostile look, a message for Eddie to shut up.
“You’re right. He’s a trained tracker.” Helen began pacing and slammed her right fist down into her left hand. “Damn it! We might never find him.” She refocused to full control mode. “You two get out of here.” She pointed to John. “Go back to Anchorage. Check in with Captain Reed. He’s expecting you. We’ll need a statement and all the information you have regarding Sarah’s disappearance. I’m trusting you to do this on your own, but if you prefer an escort―”
“We have a plane in Coldfoot. We’ll cooperate.” John stood.
“Good, but if I get word you’re helping Steven avoid capture in any way, I’ll arrest you both, and you’ll not see the light for a long, long time.”
“I understand.” John faced her. “Can I ask a question?”
“Sure.” Head tilted, hands on hips, she waited.
“Do you really think Steven’s capable of this? Murder, multiple murders?”
“Anyone is capable, but I have trouble believing Steven could. Still, the evidence against him doesn’t look good. If this is a frame-up―it’s perfection. Someone knows exactly what they’re doing.”
Kelly came from the lower level bedroom carrying Steven’s duffel bags. He dropped them on the table. “Found them, Helen. Stuffed deep in a closet.” He quickly corrected himself. “Sorry, Detective Gabble, and this―” He held out a manila envelope. “The cords for the duffel bags are missing. It’s up to forensics now. Steven’s been sleeping in there.” He leaned his head toward the bedroom. “His belongings are in the closet.”
“Really? They were sleeping in separate bedrooms. Interesting.” She took the packet from his hand. “What’s this?”
“Love letters. Addressed to Sarah. The author is Scott Chase. The dates are recent. All this past year.”
Helen fanned out the contents on the table.
Kelly handed her another envelope. “There are pictures too. Sarah and Chase together. Motive?”
Helen viewed the contents. “Does this answer your question?” She showed John and Eddie a picture of Sarah in bed with Chase. John shrank back. His ruddy face went white.
“Jealousy. The bastard killed her out of jealousy! He had an affair last year, but she seeks solace from a friend. Damn him, damn the bastard to hell,” Eddie shouted.
John tried to appease Eddie. “It’s a set-up. Chase attempted to do the same in France, just weeks ago, remember?”
John moved closer to Eddie. “Not here,” he told Eddie quietly. “Let’s go home.”
Helen watched them warily.
Another officer stepped into the cabin.
“Did you find the body?” Helen asked.
The officer shook his head. “We have bloody clothes, a robe, underwear, and a shower curtain ripped to shreds.” He held up the evidence bags. “There’s a shallow grave, and a trail from the grave to the river, but no body. Possible a bear dragged the body off. I found a barrel smoldering from a recent fire. It held boots, a shirt, and pants, barely burned and covered in blood. We need forensics, and some more light wouldn’t hurt. Maybe destroying evidence is why Quaid was out back when we arrived. We’re at full stop. It’s too dark, and the snow is getting heavier.”
“Oh my God!” Eddie stood near the fireplace, gazing at the ceiling. John sank into a chair, head in hands.
“Forensics is on the way,” Helen assured the officer. She realized John and Eddie were still present. “I thought I told you two to get out. Remember what I said. Now go. Oh, and I’ll be calling ahead. We will search your plane before takeoff. Kelly, make sure no one’s hiding in their vehicle.”