FIND THEM. FIND OUR MISSING.
Paul Kitka, a lieutenant in the Alaska State Patrol, is half-Tlingit, half white. And when an Inuit elder from Bethel gets the brush-off from the Anchorage police, it's Paul she turns to.
Her granddaughter, a student at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, is missing. She thinks there may be more women missing. And the Anchorage police don't seem to care.
But Mary Ayek, elder of her village and a director of the Bethel Native Alaskan Corporation, cares. And she has the power and prestige it takes to make others care. Starting with Lt. Paul Kitka.
Find them, she orders. What is happening to our women?
Third in a series of mysteries featuring Paul Kitka and Dace Marshall in Talkeetna, Alaska.
Release date: September 9, 2021
Print pages: 220
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Nobody Cares Draft Version
Lieutenant Paul Kitka heard his cell phone ring and he sighed. He was knee deep in muck, searching for a lost tourist. He didn’t know where the tourist went, but he wasn’t going to be a part of that search any farther. He’d lost his balance on a boardwalk crossing some muskeg, and now he was stuck.
“Need some help?” The amused drawl of his partner, Joe Bob Dixon, asked. Paul Kitka wanted to smack him. But first he had to get out of the muskeg, back onto the boardwalk, and back to the car where he could get some dry clothes. To do that, he would need his partner. He resisted the urge to smack him.
The two men had become actual partners over the past two years, Paul acknowledged. Joe Bob Dixon had come to Sitka to his rescue last spring. And he’d been summoned back to Sitka repeatedly as part of the investigation into the corruption in the Sitka police force. His computer expertise was becoming increasingly recognized and valued. And Paul was worried that someone was going to snatch him away from the Talkeetna office — just as he’d gotten used to the young man.
Joe Bob Dixon had come to Alaska from Oklahoma to work on the Slope. He’d transitioned from that to police work. Well, Paul had left Sitka for the North Slope oil companies too before a transition to police. But why any man would continue to use two names and keep that drawl was beyond him.
He conceded Joe Bob might not be able to do anything about the red hair, freckles and the overly cheerful grin as he stood on the boardwalk and looked at his partner and his friend. Paul sighed. And yes, he thought, friend.
“Yes, I need a hand,” Paul finally grumbled. “Probably going to need more than that. Getting out of muskeg isn’t easy.”
Joe Bob put his fingers to his mouth and whistled. Paul flinched at the sound. Another officer not far away made his way toward the two men. Unfortunately for Paul it was his boss, Captain Thomas Wyckoff.
Wyckoff sighed. “You’d think a man who grew up in Sitka would know the follies of stepping off into muskeg.”
Wyckoff was one of those ex-military men who had come up here, fallen in love with it and stayed after they got out. He still could pass muster at any rollcall on base. His hair was short, although gray now; he was square-shouldered, clean shaven, and not at all amused by the plight of his lieutenant.
“Give me your hand,” he said.
Paul did. And he did know about muskeg, he thought to himself. There were huge swaths of it around his hometown. Up here around Talkeetna too. A combination of bog, marsh and quicksand. Kids growing up in Sitka learned quickly to beware of any open space in the spruce and pine forests that covered the mountains there. He’d stumbled over a board that was sticking up.
Because his mind was on his housemate and not on the job, he admitted to himself. But he wasn’t sharing that. Nope. His mother, Professor Elizabeth Kitka, hadn’t raised him to be that foolish.
“Use your other hand on the boardwalk to push yourself out,” Captain Wyckoff ordered. “Joe Bob, grab his him under his arm there and pull. And for God’s sake, don’t fall backwards into that mess.”
The problem with muskeg is that it didn’t want to let go, Paul thought morosely, as he finally leveraged himself onto the boardwalk. His right leg finally came loose with a plopping sound. And minus his boot. Because of course it did.
It was August in Alaska. Warm afternoon — which meant mid-70s — no wind. No clouds. He could see Denali clearly in all its glory. He wondered if Dace was in the air today. They were past the climbing season, but plenty of tourists might keep her grounded in Lanky Purdue’s flight service office.
Focus, he told himself. And not on Dace.
He looked back at the way they’d come, and sighed. It was a two-hour hike back to the cars. He bent over and removed his other boot. “See you guys later,” he said, and he started back toward the staging point for the search at a dog trot. The mud that clung to his pants slapped as his legs as he went.
He’d only gone a few stretches of the boardwalk before he realized his partner was at his heels. “What? You think it takes two of us to get me back to some dry clothes.”
“Captain seems to think so,” Joe Bob said. “Besides, I’ve got the keys.”
Paul wanted to find a wall and thump his head against it. For God’s sake, where was his head? He thought.
“I’m not complaining,” Joe Bob said. “Searching for damn tourists who ought to have hired a guide in the first place? Pisses me off.”
Well yes, there was that, Paul thought. Three men in their early 30s had left their wives in Talkeetna to shop — how long that could take Paul couldn’t fathom. He could walk the entire downtown and say hello to every store owner in less than an hour. But the men were supposed to be back by 3 p.m. for their return trip to Anchorage. At 4 p.m. one of the women had called the Alaska State Patrol. She knew generally what direction the men had gone.
The good news was they were reasonably fit men. The bad news was they were stubborn fools who had been told they should get a guide if they were going out very far. They’d brushed it off, saying they were experienced hikers.
Well, they were lost experienced hikers. And now 12 people were out here looking for them.
Ten. Because he and Joe Bob were done.
His phone went off again, and he ignored it again. He wanted to get back to the cars as quickly as possible, not listen to somebody with a problem that he couldn’t do anything about until he got back anyway.
God, he was in a foul mood.
He needed to get laid.
He snorted. Where had that thought come from? He thought sourly. Well yes, it had been awhile. And yes, he’d like to. He liked women. And women liked him. They liked him because he was in his mid-30s, of mixed Tlingit and white heritage: the Tlingit gave him black hair, and brown skin. And his white mother contributed to his height, just under 6 ft. He stayed fit. But mostly he thought women liked him because he liked women. Genuinely liked them. He liked talking to them, flirting with them, even working with them. He liked getting to know them. Even when the fling was over, and he’d moved on, he remained friends with most of them. Not the tourists, of course, but the Alaskans.
But now there was his housemate, Candace Marshall. He shook his head. She’d moved in with him almost a year ago when her life had been threatened. But he couldn’t seem to figure out how to move their relationship from friends to lovers. He thought they’d broken through to a new understanding while they were in Sitka last spring. But once back here? They fell into their old routine as housemates. As friends.
He, Paul Kitka, was at a loss as to how to make a pass. There were dozens of women across the state who would laugh themselves silly at that if they knew. And he was afraid they might. Alaska might be large in terms of square miles, but it was a small town when it came to numbers of people — especially the number of women — and the amount of gossip. The problem was the stakes were so high. He wanted her love, but if she wasn’t interested — and coming from an abused marriage she might not be — he didn’t want to lose her friendship. And he was afraid he might.
“If you don’t pay attention you’re going to end back in the mud again,” Joe Bob observed from behind him. “Where’s your head?”
Paul ignored him, and moved a bit faster. His feet were cold and wet. His legs were too, and on top of that they were scratched. And he was pretty sure that the bugs that found muskeg the perfect environment were hitchhiking out of there on his legs.
Joe Bob didn’t say anything further. When they got to the car, he unlocked the doors, and got in, turned on the heater. He popped the back trunk, and Paul pulled out a towel, and a pair of jeans. He glanced around the parking lot, and seeing no one, he stripped off his uniform trousers, and tossed them into a plastic bag. He wiped off as much of the muck and bugs, and God knew what all else, as he could. Then he pulled on the jeans.
Someone whistled. “Nice legs!” A woman’s voice called from a car driving by.
Paul grinned. A little appreciation was just what the doctor ordered, he thought. He grabbed his running shoes, closed the trunk and got into the passenger seat to put his shoes on.
Joe Bob just shook his head. “We’re miles from anywhere, and the great Kitka charm wins again,” he said laughing.
If only his so-called charm was working on the one woman he wanted it to, he thought. He realized his phone was still in his trousers’ pocket, and he pounded his head against the head rest. “Stop,” he mumbled. “Phone’s in my pants.”
His partner heaved a sigh, but he stopped and opened the trunk again. Paul hopped back out of the car, and fetched his phone. He looked at the missed call list.
“Shit,” he said. He’d missed five calls, all from Candace. “Go,” he ordered. And he hit reply on one of them.
Joe Bob looked at his face, and turned on the light bar on the car, and headed back to Talkeetna.
“What’s up?” he asked when Candace picked up. “We’re on our way back.”
“Did you find them?”
“They’re still looking, but I fell in some muskeg,” Paul said briefly. He didn’t press her. She’d tell him in her own time.
“An elderly woman came to the office, looking for you, she said. Lanky took one look at her and escorted her to the Lodge. Told me to find you ASAP. So, I’ve been trying.”
Paul frowned. “Do you have a name?” he asked.
“She didn’t give me one, and neither did Lanky. She said she flew in from Bethel yesterday. And she would only talk to you.”
“Small, Native woman?” Paul didn’t figure Dace could separate out the various tribes and groups of Native Alaskans. “Probably didn’t come up to your shoulder? Older than dirt?”
Dace snorted. “That’s an accurate if not particularly respectful description. Who is she, Paul? Lanky treated her as if she was royalty. And I’m not joking. We had royalty here during climbing season and he didn’t treat them that respectfully.”
Actually, it could be any number of women, he thought. But they all had one thing in common. “That’s not far off,” Paul said slowly. “You’re describing an elder from one of the Alaskan bush villages. She didn’t say anything else?”
“No,” Candace said. “Just Lanky. Find Paul, get him back here now.”
“We’re on our way,” he said. “I’m going to stop at the house and clean up though. But let Lanky know I’m on my way.”
He ended the call, and looked at his partner. “Can you coax any more speed out of it?” he asked.
“When we hit the highway,” Joe Bob said.
Paul leaned back against the headrest and wondered what would bring an elder out of the bush looking for him? It wasn’t that they didn’t leave the villages. Of course, they did. Anchorage and Fairbanks once a year. Barrow, other towns periodically. But usually goods and services were flown into the villages, which was probably why Lanky was being so deferential. The younger people were the ones who left the villages, heading to bright lights and to jobs.
But he couldn’t think of any reason a village elder would come looking for him that didn’t spell trouble. A lot of trouble.
His phone pinged, and he looked down at it. A text from Dace: Lanky said to tell you it’s Mary Ayek.
OK, that put a different spin on things, he thought.Mary Ayek.
He’d first met her when he was a rookie cop, living in Anchorage, and partying with her grandson. At least, she called him that, and he called her grandmother, so it might have been literally true. But there were any number of people who were privileged to call her grandmother, including him once upon a time, who had no biological relationship at all.
John Kuliktana had been a student at University of Alaska, Anchorage. A brilliant student, although Paul hadn’t known that at the time. He also knew how to party, and in that Paul recognized a kindred spirit. They’d met at some party or another, developed a nodding acquaintanceship, then a real friendship.
One night, John had called him in a panic. “Do you own a tux?” he asked.
“No, I don’t own a tux,” Paul said with disgust. “Who owns a tux?”
“I do,” he replied. “I think mine will fit you. Look, my grandmother is in town for the opening night of the symphony season, and she wants me to escort her. I can’t. I have a huge test in the morning, and I cannot do less than perfect on it. So, I need a replacement and you’ll do. You’re the only one in my circle she’d find acceptable.”
“Well, I don’t own a tux, and John? I’m a good 3 inches taller than you, so no yours isn’t going to fit. You’ll have to find someone else.” Paul didn’t go to the symphony, didn’t want to go the symphony and he most certainly didn’t want to escort someone else’s grandmother to the symphony.
“Rent one,” John ordered. “I’ll pay. You need to be at the Captain Cook at 7:30 p.m. She has a car and driver when she comes to town, which is good, although she might actually enjoy a ride in your Corvette.”
He hung up, and Paul shrugged. He found a tux rental shop, picked it up, got dressed and was in the lobby precisely at 7:30 p.m. Whatever he had expected it wasn’t the Inuit woman in a designer gown who swept out of the elevator and gave him a thorough going over.
“You’ll do,” she announced. “I’m Mary Ayek.”
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