Paul Kitka hasn't returned to Sitka, Alaska, in 18 years -- not since a cop shot and killed his father. Now he's a cop himself, a lieutenant in the Alaska State Patrol. When his brother is arrested for the murder of the cop who killed their father, Paul heads back to Sitka. It's time to unravel the secrets that have haunted him and his family for decades.
Candace Marshal has just gotten her pilot's license, and she's happy to fly him there on her maiden voyage. Sitka, she hears, is a beautiful city. What could go wrong?
This is the second book in the Talkeetna series, following Everybody Lies.
Release date: September 18, 2020
Publisher: L.J. Breedlove
Print pages: 196
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(Sitka, Alaska, present day)
“We’ve got a problem,” Police Chief Duke Campbell said without even so much as a good morning.
Bar owner Ben Daniels stifled a sigh. In the 30 plus years — could that be right? He did the math and winced — in the nearly 40 years he’d known the man, he didn’t think they had ever had a conversation that didn’t start out, “We’ve got a problem.” All too often, the truth was Campbell had a problem, and now it was going to become his as well.
He forced himself to listen to his phone call.
“So, this girl and that Kitka boy come waltzing into the courthouse and fill out a public records request for all the documents pertaining to death of Kitka’s father, and to the deaths in the jail between the years 1975 and 1982.”
OK, this was a problem thought Campbell.
“Back up. Who’s the girl?”
“I told you.” Campbell was impatient. “Her name’s Karin Wallace. She’s a biology professor, doing some kind of research with Fish and Game for the season. Apparently, her father may have been one of the men who died.”
Not a girl, Daniels thought. She’d have to be in her 30s. And a professor. She wasn’t stupid, then, although he’d found that professors were often narrowly focused. And of course, a Kitka would be involved. You didn’t need ghosts to be haunted by a dead man — his children did the job just fine.
“Jonas Kitka?” he asked. Please let it be Jonas, not Paul. Jonas could be handled. Paul would be another matter. He thanked God that Paul stayed away from Sitka. Away from the past.
“Yeah, yeah, Jonas Kitka. So I ask the city attorney to tell them no, they can’t have the records. Jesus, they’re 30 years old. Even Luke’s death is nearly 20 years ago. But he says if we have the records, we need to turn them over, because we’re talking about possible wrongful deaths.”
Ben frowned. “I thought the coroner ruled Luke’s death justified in the inquest.”
“It was. But we still have files, maybe. Maybe they’ll not be findable.” He sounded sly, or as if he were trying to be sly. Daniels stifled another sigh.
“Chief, I just don’t see this as a big problem.” Maybe he was just tired. Or maybe he’d learned patience. Most problems burned themselves out without any need for intervention, he’d learned. He wished he’d learned it earlier. Back in the day, he thought he had to solve the problems or risk everything. Which is why this problem never seemed to go away.
“Yeah, well I do. And furthermore, I think Hank Petras is becoming a problem too.”
“Hank?” Hank had become the defacto enforcer 20 years ago when he’d shown up on the police force and demonstrated his willingness to do whatever was asked of him.
“Rumor has it, he’s got a safety net squirreled away, and he’s planning to use it for a cushy retirement.” The chief was still belligerent. “After all the money we’ve funneled his way.”
Money he’d earned the hard way, Daniels thought. “Chief he can’t out us without outing himself.”
“He could if he cut a deal with the other Kitka.”
OK, he conceded, Campbell might have a point there. But still. Nothing needed to be done now. He said as much to the Chief.
“I disagree. But I can handle it. If you want to sit at your bar and fantasize about Florida and an old folks home, that’s fine. But I’m not ready to go out of here yet, and I most certainly don’t plan to leave here in cuffs.” He hung up without giving Daniels a chance to reply.
Daniels hung up the phone slowly. This bar, appropriately called The Club, faced the road and was dark and cave-like, but his office in the back of the building had a large plate glass window that looked over the bay. He’d been in Sitka nearly 40 years and he never got tired of the views or the beauty of the water surrounded by tree-covered mountains that sloped steeply down to the shores. Sitka ran along the edge of Baranof Island, stretching from the old pulp mill site to the east of him, into the town proper, and then out to the ferry terminal. It spilled across the bridge to a separate island where Mount Edgecombe’s snow-covered peak dominated the views to the west. Beautiful country.
He’d come in here in 1964 as an 18-year-old who’d enlisted in the Coast Guard to avoid the draft, and he’d never left. Mustered out here in ‘68, used his savings to buy a bar, and started building it. He reinvested his money in real estate, much to the jeers of Chief Campbell, and even of Swede. Swede Johannsen was born and raised in Sitka, and his family had controlled the Sitka Fish Processing Plant — SFPP — since God was a pup. Swede understood the value of owning something, but he didn’t have the drive to own a third of the town. He smiled a bit. Well, he probably didn’t own quite that much, but he owned a lot. He’d married, raised a family. He’d become a power in Sitka and was in large part responsible for Sitka’s growth and success. He was proud, goddamit, and he deserved to be part of what they built.
There had been some hard things, hard choices along the way. He’d always known that the steps they took to protect Sitka during the ‘70s upheavals and to protect the SFPP from the unions were going to come back to bite them. And if one of them hadn’t been the chief of police at the time, they would never have gotten away with it.
Maybe it would have been better if they hadn’t. Especially when it meant they’d had to take further action.... He turned away from that thought.
So, was Duke right? Did this require additional action? Did they really have a problem that would prevent his retirement? He was beginning to feel the creakiness in his knees, and he’d like to try his hand at golf on a real course. He had been one of the backers for the Sitka golf course five years ago, but all they could fit in was nine holes, and while the scenery was beautiful, finding an overshot ball could be a real bitch.
He caught his reflection in the window as he turned back to his desk. Pretty good for 67, he thought. His hair was cut short, which de-emphasized the receding hairline and the gray, and emphasized his strong features. He was six-foot, still strong as an ox — had to be to run bars for fishermen, Coasties and loggers — and had managed to avoid much of a gut. He was healthy, still in his prime, and he was damn going to enjoy his retirement. His sons were poised to take over — they would have a good income coming in — and he could come visit his grandchildren during fishing season every year.
Really, he thought, the problem wasn’t Jonas Kitka or what’s her name, something Wallace. The problem was Duke Campbell. He was hotheaded, impetuous, didn’t like to be challenged, and it had only gotten worse as he’d aged. He’d been the police chief for 30-some years, and he had grown arrogant with it. No one had the right to challenge him, and his reactions got more extreme every year.
He thought about that, and then he picked up the phone and dialed a number.
“Swede,” he said to the owner of the fish packing sheds. “We’ve got a problem.”
(Anchorage, Alaska. Present day. Monday.)
Candace Marshall looked around at the friends who had come to the Anchorage airport to cheer her on as she took the final step to a private pilot’s license. The morning was chilly, but the sun was out. It was April in Anchorage. She tucked her hands under her armpits and jogged a bit, her braid hitting her between her shoulder blades. Nerves mostly. Everyone stood quietly, sipping Starbucks coffee — a treat they couldn’t get in Talkeetna. The three youngest Abbott children played chase around the legs of their parents and the other adults. The oldest one was listening to his father and grandfather talk.
Candace — Dace — smiled, almost in disbelief, at the collection of friends she’d found in the last nine months: a handful of pilots, a family with four kids, and a state patrol lieutenant. More friends than she’d had at any point in her 29 years. She took a deep breath and tried to stand straighter. Moved her shoulders back, stretching out the kinks. She didn’t want to let these people down.
Lanky Purdue, a tall, lean, Sitka spruce of a man in his late 60s — Dace was probably one of the few who knew his real age, only because she did payroll and taxes — was talking with his son-in-law Bill Abbott. Lanky was her boss, and he’d been instrumental in most of her flying lessons. He owned Purdue’s Flight Service in Talkeetna and specialized in flights around Denali. Since last September she’d been the office manager at the Flight Service. Knowing she was appreciated there had gone a long way to giving her back some confidence in herself.
Well, maybe it was confidence for the first time, she thought. Life hadn’t inspired her to have much confidence so far.
Two of Purdue’s pilots had flown out as well — carrying the Abbott family. One, Adam Black, was in his mid-30s. He had patiently flown with her as she clocked her flight hours. He hadn’t ever raised his voice, and she’d seen his knuckles get white only once when she’d had to land in an unexpected snowstorm. Even then, he’d let her land the plane. Rafe Martinez was as outgoing as Adam was quiet. He was in his early 20s, brash, but he made Dace laugh. He’d coached her through all of the book knowledge she’d had to learn. She hadn’t expected there’d be so much, and she got frustrated, especially with maps and laying out her flight plans. He’d tease, and they’d go back at it.
The fourth pilot, Elijah Calhoun, didn’t fly anymore. His haunted eyes made her ache; he’d lost his family in a crash a few years back. He’d been the only one to survive. But last fall he’d guided her through her first solo flight — she rolled her eyes as she thought of it — and he’d been her friend ever since. She’d been kidnapped by a murderer. She had knocked her kidnapper out with the fire extinguisher, and then taken over the plane in midair. Elijah Calhoun had been on the ground, riding shotgun in Paul Kitka’s red Corvette, talking her through flying the plane. It was then she’d decided to learn to fly.
She looked around for Paul, who smiled when she caught his eye. She blushed a bit, ducking her head. She wasn’t sure what to think about Paul Kitka, a lieutenant in the Alaska State Patrol, and her housemate. He’d believed in her when she’d been accused of her husband’s murder. She could never thank him enough for that. As for what else there might be between them.... She shied away from finishing that thought. Stop it, she admonished herself. You were a married woman, you’re not some blushing virgin with her first crush. It didn’t help.
“Ms. Marshall? Are you ready?” The FAA pilot who would administer the test interrupted her thoughts. Candace nodded. She handed her coffee to Mary Abbott. Mary smiled.
“You’ll do fine, honey,” she said. Mary, once Dace’s landlady, was now her best friend. Dace smiled back. Breathe, she reminded herself, and drew in a big breath and let it out. You can do this.
“Why don’t you walk me through your safety check then?” The testing pilot, Robert Brown, gestured toward the single-engine Cessna sitting on the tarmac not far from her and her friends.
She took one last look at her boss, who gave her an encouraging nod. Lanky had been a bush pilot before she was born, she reminded herself. If he said she was ready, she was ready. He had trained her, although all of his pilots had been eager to help. Anything to keep her happy, Rafe Martinez had informed her. If she was happy, then she’d stay as Purdue’s office manager, and that made everyone’s life easier. She was setting a new record as manager, previously held by a drunk who had lasted nine weeks. She had been in Talkeetna for nine months. She shook her head. It seemed longer than that; as if nine months ago, her life had finally gotten started for real.
There was a nip in the air, but it was a sunny day — a nice day for April. Candace shivered a little, more from excitement and anxiety than from the weather. Brown glanced down at her and smiled. “Relax,” he said. “This is just a formality. You’ve been trained by one of the legends in this business. If Lanky Purdue says you’re ready for a license, far be it from me to disagree.”
A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth at his echo of her own thoughts. She nodded in acknowledgement of his comment. Confidence, she told herself. Have confidence.
They walked around the plane, and Brown asked her questions about the plane, its maintenance and its capabilities, as she checked things over. She was meticulous, even though she and Lanky had just flown the plane in from Talkeetna. As much as anything, she wanted to make Lanky proud. The two got into the cockpit, and Dace ran through the tests and preparations there, following the chart carefully. She had the checklist memorized, but she didn’t deviate from the safety of the card. Brown nodded in approval.
“OK, let’s take this baby up,” he said smiling.
The group on the ground was quiet until the plane taxied down the runway and was off. Purdue sighed. “Well the hardest part is over,” he said. He was more nervous than Dace was.
“Well, until she has to land,” said Paul Kitka.
Elijah Calhoun snorted. “Not a problem. She landed a plane her first time up. She’ll do it again.”
Everyone snickered. They’d all been involved last fall when Dace took over the plane midflight. It had made quite the sensational story. Most non-pilots were lucky if they survived a landing like that. Dace had managed a good landing — and she’d subdued her kidnapper as well.
“She’s a natural,” Purdue said gruffly. He loved his daughter and grandchildren — but as he’d taught her about flying over the winter, he’d come to love Dace as a second daughter. His daughter Mary had never been interested in planes. Dace loved being the air and loved the machines as much as he did.
Mary squeezed his hand, and he smiled down at her. It was good to see her enjoying being in Anchorage. He had been afraid that would never happen. Her husband, Bill Abbott, held her other hand. Bill was the size of a small ‘dozer, but he was gentle with Mary and their kids.
“So, you going to let her take customers up?” Bill Abbott asked. “Who’ll keep the office straight then?”
“It’s just a private license,” Purdue said. “Not commercial.” He searched the sky, looking for the return of the plane. He had every confidence in Dace’s abilities, but things could always go wrong. He sighed with relief when he saw it heading back.
Paul Kitka was also watching the plane. Lanky Purdue wondered briefly what the relationship was between the two. Now that Candace was no longer a murder suspect, had Paul finally found a woman he could settle down with? Candace was still sharing his house, although she denied they were anything more than friends. Purdue hadn’t heard any gossip about Paul and the ladies since she’d moved in. And that didn’t even seem possible.
Kitka was just under six-foot, part of the heritage of his white mother, with the warm brown skin and black hair of his Tlingit father. He had a reputation as a ladies’ man, but at 36 it was time for him to settle down, Purdue thought. Maybe with Candace, although she might have some trust issues to resolve after her abusive husband. He sighed.
“What’s that sigh for?” Mary asked, smiling up at him. He shook his head. Should leave the matchmaking to her anyway, he thought. She probably knew exactly what was going on and had figured out how to bring the two together.
The plane landed smoothly, and everyone sighed with relief. “She did it!” Purdue said as the plane taxied to a stop in front of them. The crowd rushed toward Candace as she crawled out of the cockpit. Robert Brown came around from the other side.
“A perfect flight,” he said, shaking Candace’s hand. He handed her the results of his observations. “Keep that until you get your pilot’s certificate in the mail,” he said. “But you’re good to go.”
Purdue’s oldest grandson Andy cheered, and the others clapped. Candace smiled, and then gave Purdue a hug. “Thank you,” she said softly.
“My pleasure,” he said, hugging her back. Then everyone was hugging her, except for Paul. She glanced around, missing him, and seeing he had stepped away to take a call.
Paul Kitka stood a bit away, with a finger in one ear so he could hear. “Mom?” he said. “What’s wrong?” He loved his mother, and they talked regularly on Sunday afternoons. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d called him during the week. His jaw clenched. Something had to be wrong. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” she said reassuringly. He didn’t relax, waiting for the rest of it. “It’s Jonas.”
Figures, Paul thought. “What’s he done now?”
There was a moment of silence, and then his mother whispered, “They’ve arrested him, Paul. They say he murdered a cop.”
Paul’s jaw clenched. “He what?”
“He didn’t do it, Paul, I know he didn’t. I know he’s wild, but he wouldn’t do that.”
She sighed. “Petras. They say he killed Hank Petras.”
Shit, Paul thought. His mom may not have thought Jonas did it, but she’d be the only one. Eighteen years ago, Police Officer Hank Petras killed his father, Luke Kitka, Jr., and was exonerated. No one would have any problems believing that one of Luke’s wild sons would have killed him.
“Paul, please. I know you and Jonas don’t get along, but I need you. Please. Come to Sitka. There’s no way Jonas is going to get a fair trial here, you know that.”
Paul sighed. He looked over at Candace still circled by their friends. “I’ll come as soon as I can get there,” he said.
He closed the phone and joined the group. He put a smile on his face that he didn’t feel and gave Dace a big hug. “Congratulations!” he said smiling down at her. “So, are you ready to take on customers?”
Dace laughed, pretty with more color in her checks than usual. “Can’t do that,” she said, “but I can give you a ride home.” Like she’d be able to compete with that Corvette he and Calhoun drove in.
He laughed and hugged her again. “Actually, I was hoping for a ride to Sitka,” he admitted. “Lanky?”
Purdue frowned slightly, mentally reviewing the demands of the trip. “Should be OK,” he said. “You pay expenses; she flies you for free. Every new pilot needs a maiden voyage.”
“OK then!” Dace said, happily. “When do you want to go?”
“Now?” he asked.
Everyone looked at him. “This police business, Paul?” Lanky Purdue asked.
Paul shook his head. “No. Personal. Mom needs me to come home.”
Conversation swirled up again, as Mary and Purdue haggled over what would need to be done before Dace could leave. “She doesn’t even have a change of clothes with her,” Mary exclaimed.
Dace ignored them. She could buy things in Sitka if they stayed long, that didn’t worry her. She was more interested in Purdue’s thinking out loud about fuel and time. But her focus was on Paul’s face. “What’s wrong?” she asked quietly.
He shook his head. “Not here,” he said. “We’ll have time to talk on the way.”
The next hour passed quickly. Mary packed a lunch bought from the stands inside the Anchorage airport, and put together a small overnight bag of underwear, jeans and T-shirts, all she’d ever seen Candace wear anyway. Dace and Purdue filed a flight plan and worked out the details of her trip. Paul Kitka made phone calls. Candace watched him worriedly.
“This isn’t just a fun trip to Sitka,” Bill Abbott said quietly watching Paul along with her. “Something’s wrong. Too bad. Sitka’s a beautiful place.”
“You’ve been there?”
Bill nodded. “On company business.” Bill Abbott worked on the North Slope for Arco. “It’s green and lush. Lots of trees. The ocean is beautiful. It’s an old town, lots of history.” He snorted. “Lots of Paul’s history.”
“You got ideas about what this is about?”
He shook his head. “I’ve heard a little gossip. Not enough to help I’m afraid. He’ll have to tell you.”
She nodded. Maybe he would. Maybe not. Neither of them were good at talking about their feelings. They both had secrets they didn’t share. Really, they shared a house, and not a lot more than that, although no one believed it. Paul had quite a reputation, she’d found. But he’d never made a move on her. In fact, today was the second time he’d ever touched her — a hug now, and a hug nine months ago when he’d raced his red Corvette across the state to beat her plane when she’d been kidnapped. That had been a promising hug, she’d thought, but then they’d retreated, and she didn’t know how to fix that. She’d developed skills in avoiding touch in her marriage, not seeking it out.
It was almost noon when Dace headed the plane back down the runway with Paul sitting in the copilot’s seat. She relaxed as the plane hit cruising speed. As noisy as the plane was it was soothing after all the hubbub of the morning. She let the sounds of the plane sooth her. It was truly a glorious day to be in the air. There was nothing like it. The sun was brighter above the clouds, which were fluffy white today. The sky was a crystal blue. She sighed with pleasure.
Neither of them said anything for the first hour. Paul seemed lost in his own thoughts, and Dace was content to focus on her plane and the simple demands of flying.
“You going to tell me about it?” she asked as they headed more to the south over the southeast islands. Juneau would be coming up shortly. And Sitka wasn’t far from that.
“Too hard to shout about it,” Paul shouted back. They didn’t have headphones. Truth was, he wasn’t sure what to say. That his father had been the town drunk? That one morning he was out waving a gun and taking potshots as people commuted to the lumber plant for work and a cop had shot and killed him? Not memories he wanted to shout over the roar of the plane.
Dace opened her mouth to say something, but then just nodded. She refocused on flying and left Paul to his thoughts.
Candace gasped at the beauty below her as she sank below the cloud layer over Sitka. Snow-topped mountains, dark green forests, blue water. She could see why this was a popular port with the tour ships.
She made contact with the airport tower and circled over the bay just looking. When she started studying the airport runway, she swallowed hard. “I thought they landed jets on this runway,” she shouted to Kitka.
He nodded. “Alaska Airlines lands here three times a day going each way,” he shouted back.
“On that runway?”
He grinned. “Yup. The flight attendants used to have the cherry tomato race in the aisle when they landed — the descent is steep enough the tomatoes would roll all the way down the aisle to the front of the plane.”
She shook her head in disbelief. Plenty of runway for her small plane, but she couldn’t imagine landing a jet here. Good Alaska pilots are crazy, she reminded herself. Bad ones are dead. What did that make her? She grinned.
“We used to come out here and just watch the planes land and take off,” Kitka said. “I’ve seen the planes crow-hop in the snow. Once, I saw a plane get enough lift by running off the end of the runway. It’s built on a dike out into the bay, so he had about 30 feet of lift when his wheels left the ground.”
Candace shuddered, but she noticed that Kitka didn’t have any problem talking about this over the roar of the plane. Just personal stuff. And who was she to criticize? She couldn’t talk about personal things either — not even to save her life. Literally, last fall, Paul had to figure things out for himself, because she couldn’t say the words “he abused me.” Still couldn’t say them out loud. She knew all about words you just couldn’t get out.
She smiled with delight when she executed a perfect touchdown and taxied to the tie downs. She shut off the engine, and hopped out to make arrangements for the plane, but Kitka was already dealing with it.
“Come on,” he said. “We can catch a taxi into town, get some supper before I call Mom for a ride.”
“Your mom got a name?”
He snorted. “Elizabeth Crowe Kitka, professor of English literature.”
“And Sitka’s got taxis?”
“So to speak.” Kitka opened the door into the small airport, and 20 paces later, led her out the other side. A Sitka taxi — it said so on the door — stood idle at the curb. It was a dirty, battered Toyota probably 20 years old. She thought the original color had been blue.
“Not many car-proud people here,” Kitka said, interpreting her look accurately. “There’s only 30 miles of road. The salt eats cars up something fierce. It costs money to bring a car in here on the ferry, and it costs almost as much to get rid of a junker. No space for junkyards. So, people drive them for as long as they can.” He leaned in the window, said something to the driver, and then opened the back door for Candace. He got in the front.
“So where are we now?” Dace asked, looking around with interest.
“This is Mount Edgecombe,” Paul answered. “Coast Guard base, airport and Indian Boarding School.”
The taxi driver, an Alaskan Native man of 50 or so looked at Paul. “Paul Kitka, aren’t you?”
“Been awhile since you’ve been home,” the man observed as he crossed over the arching bridge that connected the island of Mount Edgecombe to Baranof Island and Sitka proper. “Benny Johnson,” he said. “You went to school with my cousins.”
Paul nodded. “I remember. What are they doing now?”
Johnson shrugged. “Addie, he’s fishing. Peter’s not doing much. Sally got married, has three kids. They’re doing good. I see your brother around. Heard he’s got himself into some trouble. That why you’re home?”
“Hope you can help him out. He’s a good man. “
Dace listened, fascinated by the man’s lack of shame as he pried into what Paul was up to. Although Paul didn’t respond to the last, she thought he was startled by the assessment of his brother.
“You going to eat at the Bayview?”
Paul nodded. “Still good food there?”
“Best in town.” Benny Johnson pulled up in front of a beautiful wood building with large pane glass windows that reached out into the bay. “You say hello to your mother for me,” he said as he took Paul’s money. Paul slammed the door and patted the roof to send him on his way.
“Come on,” he said. “I’m hungry, and you must be starved.”
Dace marveled at the beauty of the restaurant. “I wouldn’t have expected this here,” she said as the waitress escorted them to a table in the bar overlooking the bay.
“Tourism is Sitka’s biggest business.”
Just reading the menu made Dace even hungrier. She chose a seafood platter that started with a shrimp salad and clam chowder. The waitress, also Tlingit, nodded as she took the order. When Paul gave her his order, she looked at him carefully.
“You’re from here aren’t you?” she said. “Angela and Deborah’s brother — you must be Paul. I remember you, but you were older and ignored us little girls. I’m Susan Adams — was Susan Whitcomb back then.”
He smiled at her. “I remember you. Knew your brothers.”
“Welcome home,” she said as she walked away to put in their order.
Candace looked at him curiously. “When was the last time you were home?”
He sighed. “Eighteen years ago.”
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