Even Heroes Make Mistakes
Lanky Purdue is an Alaskan icon. He's been there forever — the dashing Air Force pilot, the man who flew medicines into villages in dark winters, the man who has rescued more stranded climbers than anyone can count. If you need help, Lanky Purdue is the man you go to.
So when Belle Robards shows up at Purdue Flight Service in the dead of winter looking for help, it's no great surprise to Dace Marshall, his office manager. So yes, she's wearing a skirt, high heeled boots and a fur jacket — in Talkeetna at 10 below — and she won't tell Dace what the problem is. But Lanky wouldn't fall for a pretty face and a bogus sob story.
Book 4 in the Talkeetna series.
Release date: September 6, 2022
Publisher: L.J. Breedlove
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* DRAFT SAMPLE *
Book 4 in the series, Talkeetna
The ringing phone interrupted Dace Marshall’s sleep, and she was grateful for it. She was having a nightmare about dog kennel cages and a man who had kept women locked up in them. Was it a nightmare if it really happened, she wondered? She fumbled for her phone on her bedside table.
“Hello?” she said softly. She didn’t recognize the number. But she assumed that if someone called at 2 a.m. it wasn’t a telemarketer.
“Dace, it’s Marjorie Andrews. They’re at it again. You need to get over here before they wake up the whole neighborhood.”
Dace winced. “Thanks, Marjorie,” she said. “I’m on my way.”
“This can’t continue,” Marjorie warned. “You have to do something different. Or we’ll go to the Community Council and get your shelter zoned out of town.”
“Understood,” Dace said crisply, but she was angry. She realized no one wanted to be wakened by hysterical shouts from a women’s shelter. But the women didn’t want to be wakened by nightmares that left them screaming into the night either. And truly, she didn’t know what to do. The Alqaq House had seemed like this great idea to meet the needs of the women who had been victims of a sexual predator — the predator that haunted her nightmares too.
He’s dead, she reminded herself.
But three months later, she was realizing the magnitude of the task she’d taken on. She got out of bed quietly, although she was pretty sure Paul was awake.
“Do you want me to go with you?” asked Paul Kitka, her fiancé and a lieutenant in the Alaskan State Patrol.
She hesitated. She wasn’t sure there was anything Paul could do for the women. But, she thought, he can do a lot for me. “Yes,” she said. “Not sure your presence will help them. But it helps me.”
He laughed and got up to pull on sweats. She bundled up. It was 10 degrees outside. Paul was pulling on a parka, gloves and boots as well.
His beloved Corvette was in the garage for the winter. For these cold days, he had a small SUV, a 4-wheel-drive Subaru, also in the garage where he could start it and then return to the house while it warmed up. The Subaru was reliable, with good tires and a fast heater, and it was much more suitable for Alaska winters. Dace grinned as they waited for the vehicle to warm up. Paul’s boss would probably say it was more suitable anytime of the year. Paul’s speeding tickets in the Corvette was a sore point for Captain Thomas Wyckoff.
Alqaq House wasn’t far from the house she shared with Paul — nothing in Talkeetna was. And in daylight she’d probably walk it, even though the temperature wouldn’t get above freezing and daylight was a myth. November got increasingly dark. They were down to about four hours when headlights weren’t necessary to drive. There was snow on the ground, about six inches, and it had been there awhile. It was… grubby, Dace decided, and more was in the forecast. Dace was grateful. It would have to warm up some for there to be snow.
“Let’s go,” Paul said. He got in the driver’s seat and waited for Dace to get in and fasten her seatbelt. It was warm in the car — worth the delay in getting there.
Especially because she was dreading it and wasn’t sure what she could do really. Her presence seemed to help. She wondered if she should stay there, but she didn’t want to give up being with Paul. Their relationship seemed new still, and she felt almost giddy when she looked at him. Like now. He was driving and she could just watch him.
He was probably the best-looking man she’d ever seen. She acknowledged she was biased, but she didn’t think too many women would disagree. His father had been Tlingit, a tribe in Southeast Alaska; his mother had been white, a professor collecting Native Alaskan myths and origin stories. Their love should have been a myth of its own, Dace thought, but the social and political environment had been too much. Paul had paid a price growing up in it. He said he didn’t consider himself Tlingit, and yet he had too much of that heritage to be viewed as white.
He was half, he said. Not Tlingit. Not white. Half.
‘Half’ was gorgeous, Dace thought. He had the warm brown skin tones, brown eyes and black hair of his father’s side, and the extra height from his mother to be 5-foot-10. It helped that he stayed fit and strong. Being a state trooper made it a necessity, although Dace was pretty sure he would anyway. Those looks had seduced half the women in Alaska at one time. Now? He said he loved her.
She believed him. She loved him too. But they faced challenges too. Maybe fairy tale love only happened in fairy tales, she thought now. Fancy that.
They pulled up in front of the log house that housed Alqaq House. It was a large rambling house that had been a bed and breakfast for decades. But the woman who had built it with her own hands had finally called it quits and retired — at 75 — to a small house in Homer where the weather was milder. Comparatively speaking. At least most winter days it got above freezing there.
Dace knocked on the door with Paul a solid and comforting presence behind her. Backing her up, but not taking over. Although she might not mind if he did on a night call like this. No one came to the door, and she used her key to open it up.
Inside was a warm and inviting living/dining room with furniture that circled around a big stone fireplace. It wasn’t the only heat in the house — all the bedrooms had electric heat — but it heated the whole downstairs by itself.
At the far end of the great room was a large dining table and chairs. Dace was pretty sure Vicky had built the table herself and maybe the chairs. They were plain, made of local cedar, and built to last for generations. The rest of the room was filled with two couches, comfortable chairs, and a coffee table made along the same lines of the dining table and chairs. Vicky Young had been an amazing woman. A nurse by training, she worked for Indian Health Services. But here, at the B&B she’d taught herself whatever skill it was that she needed. So far, everything worked smoothly. A self-taught electrician made Dace pause. She was used to the more regulated ways of the Lower 48.
Huddled on the floor in front of the couches and chairs were six women. A seventh stood in front of the fireplace. She glared at Dace when she walked in.
“Busybody call you?” Naomi asked. She didn’t have much patience for the neighbors who complained about screaming nightmares. She thought maybe they should have a few and see how they felt. Dace had sympathy for that viewpoint.
“She called,” Dace agreed. She sat down on the floor with the women there. Paul stood guardian at the door, much like Naomi did at the fireplace.
The women had been held in dog kennels at the hands of a NSA contractor out in the Chugach forest. One woman had been there for two years. Dace swallowed. She’d been there a day and had nightmares. The contractor was dead; he came back after NSA and the military had cleared of a security breach. Instead of turning him over to Anchorage police who had outstanding warrants for him, they just let him go. And he came back to Alaska anyway. Someone was waiting for him at the isolated cabin. Dace was pretty sure it had been Naomi.
The women had different reactions to the abuse and torture they’d experienced. Sarah Itee had been there four days. She was back at college in Anchorage and came here on the weekends to help run the Alqaq House and to provide some of the health care the women needed. They’d been starved for a long time; their torturer had fed them dog kibble. Just reintroducing them to food was a major task. One woman had returned to her family and village. Dace got regular emails from her. It was going well.
Some of the women had been able to be angry when they were released. Dace thought that was healthy. She would forever cherish the mental image of two of them destroying the predator’s big screen television as he roared with rage and lost all common sense. He had raced up the hill and Naomi had shot him, only a leg wound unfortunately. It would have been easier on everyone if she’d killed him and they could have avoided the politics to come. At the time, Dace thought it was important he stand trial. She had been naïve.
But three of them still huddled and shivered. And even the angry ones had nightmares. They’d been there so long that the kennels felt like safe zones. The predator couldn’t rape them when they were inside them. Couldn’t torture them. Couldn’t make them torture someone else for his amusement. Couldn’t make them kill.
Being out of the kennel felt risky. Dangerous.
Dace just sat with them now.
“Tell us the story about Mary Ayek,” whispered one woman now. In English. That was progress. Some had reverted back to their pre-English days. They’d come to associate English as the language of the predator. It was heartening when they spoke to her in English, rather than relying on Sarah or Naomi to translate. “Tell us the story of how she told Paul Kitka to find us.”
Dace nodded. Stories had power.
“The predator had chosen his prey carefully,” she began. “For three years, once a month, he took a woman from the streets of Anchorage. Poor women. Native Alaskan women. Women he knew no one would look for. And then he made a mistake. The quiet young student he had spotted working at Indian Health Services had someone who did care. She was blessed to call Mary Ayek grandmother.”
“Sarah Itee,” a woman whispered.
“Yes. Sarah Itee. Mary Ayek is a power in Alaska. A village elder, a director of the Bethel Native Corporation, someone who walks the halls of power in this state. She flew out to Anchorage to see what the police were doing about Sarah’s disappearance. She found they were doing nothing. And they didn’t intend to do anything more than add Sarah’s name to a file of other Native Alaskan women who had been reported missing.
“And Mary Ayek was angry. There were 18 names already in that file. So, she came out to Talkeetna, and she met with Lieutenant Paul Kitka, who also calls Mary Ayek grandmother.”
She paused because someone always said it at this point. “He once called her something else,” cracked Naomi.
Paul snorted. And the women grinned at him and laughed. Dace took courage from the sound. Women who could laugh could also heal, she thought.
“And Paul said Anchorage wasn’t his jurisdiction, it was the jurisdiction of Anchorage police, not Talkeetna’s.
“‘You are a Native Alaskan,” Mary Ayek told him. “This state is your state. You belong to it and to its people, and its people and this state belong to you in ways that the Anchorage police can’t begin to understand.’
“And Paul Kitka bowed his head to the woman he calls grandmother — now.” And there was more laughter. Dace grinned.
“Find my granddaughter,” Mary Ayek ordered. “And bring her home. Bring them all home.”
Paul spoke and it startled her. “And Dace Marshall who is my fiancé accepted that mission with me, and when the predator and his Air Force liaison kidnapped her, Dace found you. And she stole a plane — not her first either.”
There was more laughter, and Dace grinned and laughed with them. True, she acknowledged.
“And Candace Marshall brought you home. And Mary Ayek calls her friend.”
The women made approving sounds. That was a new way of telling the ending to the story.
“Mary Ayek found a way to bring us home,” said one woman.
“She did,” Dace said. She’d learned that there were people who were respected, almost revered. Their names were something to be reckoned with. Mary Ayek was one of them. So was Paul Kitka, but she didn’t think he knew it. And probably it was best no one told him. He wasn’t ready to take up that burden.
Just the fallout from the predator who had way too many connections in Anchorage law enforcement was too much of a burden. And much of it seemed to landing on Paul’s desk. It kept him up at nights, talking to people, law enforcement people, who had things to confess, who wanted the immunity he could get for them.
It was eating at him. Dace worried about him almost as much as she worried about these frail and broken women.
“And she still cares,” Dace said, reassuring the women. They would not be abandoned. Not by Mary Ayek.
And not by Candace Marshall either. No matter how many calloused neighbors called her in the middle of the night.
“And we have Candace Marshall, the woman who Mary calls friend,” Naomi said quietly, knowing what they needed to hear. “And she provides a place for us. This place that we might call home. Where we are safe. Alqaq House. Sister House.”
Dace felt almost viscerally the sigh of relief that went through the women.
“Can you sleep now?” she asked gently. “Sleep heals.”
“Can we sleep here?” one woman asked timidly. “It is warm in front of the fire, and it feels safer to be with my sisters.”
“Of course, you can,” Dace assured her, and wondered if that was the key to a path forward. “It is your home. If you wish to sleep here, of course, you can.”
“I’ll get some blankets,” Ruth said, and she got up from the floor. It reminded Dace of a pile of puppies huddling together for warmth and comfort. It had been Ruth who protected the weakest of the women during their escape. Protected them with a shovel. She was still a protector, apparently.
“And Dace can take Paul Kitka home, the man who — now — calls Mary Ayek grandmother,” Naomi said solemnly, but humor lurked in her eyes. “Tell us, Dace. Did he ever really propose yet? Or did he just say fiancé, and everyone was so shocked, they didn’t ask for details.”
Dace laughed and blushed as she got up and went to join Paul standing at the door.
“He proposed,” she said and grinned up at him. “Roses, chocolate and a night on the town, no less.”
Paul laughed. “And she made me get down on one knee to propose,” he said. “I told her we don’t do that in the villages.”
Dace grinned. “And I told him the man I would marry someday did.”
The women were laughing now.
“And I can hear a hint when I get one,” Paul said solemnly. “And I knelt and asked the woman I love to marry me. And she said yes.”
There was a collective sigh among the women.
“And then what did you do?” Naomi asked with that wicked grin of hers. Dace wasn’t sure what the woman had been like before she’d been kidnapped. But she was a bold, fierce woman now.
Paul laughed. “Some questions need not be answered, do they?”
“Paul!” Dace said, her cheeks red, and feeling a bit scandalized. And the women laughed at her as he pulled her into his arms and kissed her.
“Good night,” he said to the women, and he wrapped one arm around her as they walked to the car.
“I’m amazed and proud of what you do for those women,” he said as he opened the door for her. “And I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said, still shy about saying it. It required practice, she thought, and she said it again. “I love you.”
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