Thud. Thud. Thud. The door shook.
Something, someone pulled him from the darkness.
"Robert! Robert!" Sue Lake shook her husband hard. "There's someone at the door!"
"Huh?" Sable's eyes popped open and swept the sleep from his eyes. Staring straight ahead, he saw the clock's flashing red numbers. His head throbbed and he felt as if he'd drunk the sands of the Mojave.
"Robert, go see who's there!" Sue said. "It's two-thirty in the morning. If this is your Tlingit family playing a joke on our honeymoon..."
Sable, bathed in a heavy cold sweat, sat up. Reality sank in. He'd had a nightmare he couldn't remember. That scared him. He always remembered his dreams. Had his clairvoyance returned and tried to warn him of something? Or, had the night's drink just fogged his mind?
"Who are you, and what the hell do you want?" Sable yelled toward the door. He swished his tongue around the inside of his mouth to remove the acidic taste from too many cocktails. Out of force of habit, he reached for his service pistol on the nightstand and pulled the slide, cocking the .40.
He got up and headed toward the disturbance.
"Sergeant Robert Sable, this is Corporal Ann Stockwell," a female voice beyond the door said. "Please open the door so we can talk."
He put the gun down on a nearby table. "I'm on leave, on my honeymoon, dammit."
"Captain Owen canceled your leave."
Sable pulled the door partially open; unabashed, he wore only underwear.
"Tell him I quit," he said as he came face to face with the way-too-perky-for-two-in-the-morning Stockwell.
"He said you'd say that," she said, half smiling now. She took two steps back, apparently from his breath. "He said if you didn't cooperate, to bring you in by force."
"By force." Sable stared at Stockwell. She looked to be just out of the academy. This kid was dreaming if she thought she could take him.
He looked over at Sue. She didn't look happy. Neither was he; his head ached and he wanted nothing more than to crawl back in bed by her side. Sable shrugged.
"Give me ten minutes to get dressed."
Sue kept silent while Sable strode to a recliner where he'd thrown his clothes a couple hours ago. The soft lines of her face had hardened momentarily and then she smiled, surrendering to the bizarre situation.
As he slid on his pants and shirt, he looked at her. Her soft, long blond hair fell over her face and she pushed it away. The deep tan of her face rivaled the permanent olive shade of his Tlingit-Scandinavian heritage.
"Look at what you'll be missing while you're away," she said enticingly as she pulled the covers over her shapely tan legs.
"Promises, promises," she said and laughed, shaking her head. "You were just looking for a one night stand."
"One I hope lasts for the rest of my life."
Sable walked over, and gave her a long, hard kiss.
"Brush your teeth. Your breath could kill a full grown moose."
"Maybe I should..." Sable considered what his breath could do in an enclosed space.
"Brush your teeth."
He complied and when he returned, he said, "I don't know when I'll be back. I'll call you."
Sable walked out.
He shielded his eyes from the morning light. The midnight sun was out in all its glory. His sunglasses would come in handy.
"Here he is," Stockwell said into her cell phone, before handing it to Sable. Stockwell was a tall brunette, five foot eleven inches, in top condition, and all business. Everything about her said a trooper on the fast track.
"What is this? I'm on approved leave, dammit," Sable blasted into the phone, almost crushing it in his palm. He felt ready for a fight.
On the other end of the phone, Carl Owen was not in the mood for arguing.
"I'll have none of your insubordination."
"What are you going to do? Suspend me, fire me, go ahead--do it."
"Look, I need your help and you owe me. I've bailed your ass out one too many times."
"Look..." Sable countered, "I appreciate..."
"I have a special request from the governor. He wants you to investigate his brother's murder."
"Nah." Sable paused. He thought for a moment. "Not good enough."
"Well, you can tell the governor..."
"Tell him yourself."
Before Sable could say anything more, the governor was on the line.
"Sergeant Sable, this is Ron Landen," the governor said. "I know this is an imposition and I appreciate you taking the case. I understand you're the best. If you need anything, let me know."
He had Sable by the cojones, but what the hell?
Sable sighed. "I want Sergeant Aaron McCabe as my partner."
Governor Landen repeated this to Owen. In the background, Sable could hear Owen's response as he grabbed the phone.
"McCabe's been suspended," Owen said. "I will not...I can't..."
"I want McCabe or I walk."
"I can't do that. Sergeant McCabe's been suspended for striking another trooper."
In the background, Sable could hear the governor tell Owen: "Have Sergeant McCabe meet Sergeant Sable at the crime scene."
Sable smirked as he closed the phone and handed it back to Trooper Stockwell. "Lead the way."
"Then let's go." She pointed to the white Agusta-A109 Cobra helicopter sitting across the parking lot. Emblazoned across its side was the badge of the Alaska State Troopers. Stockwell began walking toward it, Sable right behind her.
"How in the hell did you find me at Martha's Bed And Breakfast in Circle? This place is in the middle of nowhere. In fact, it's the end of the damn road," Sable shouted over the rotor wash. "And I paid for everything in cash."
She smiled and kept walking. As they approached the copter, the engine whined as it fired up, the whir of the blades increased, and dust rose and fanned out from the unpaved lot.
It dawned on Sable how Stockwell had found him. "Damn, Lo-Jack!" he muttered, referring to the locator transmitter hidden in his vehicle that gave away his location.
"Gotcha," Stockwell said as she climbed into the helicopter. "Get a move on."
Within a half hour, the copter landed near the crime scene. By now, the bright night had turned even brighter.
Stockwell hopped out first, Sable followed, hunched over to avoid the rotor wash, but swirling dust and rock stung his face. Once away from the copter, he surveyed the landscape. The Porcupine River meandered from east to west a few feet from a twenty-four-foot open aluminum river boat that had been driven ten feet up the bank. Birch, alder, and spruce surrounded the gravel parking lot. The trooper crime van stood in the shade of one of the nearby tall birches. Crime scene tape surrounded the boat, powered by twin one hundred seventy-five horsepower outboard engines.
He stretched, yawned, and tried to shake off his lack of sleep. Above him an azure sky painted with white cirrus clouds topped a horizon filled with snow-capped mountains; between deep crags plunged into green forests. Intermittently, the rays of an amber sun peeked through the clouds and reflected bands of gold off the river's dirty-gray water.
A black GMC Suburban pulled up and stopped. His longtime partner Sergeant Aaron McCabe stepped down from the vehicle and headed toward Sable. McCabe was in his forties with sandy, graying hair, and stood six fee five inches--tall by trooper standards. The man's frame made it easy for him to scare the hell out of criminals.
"You look like shit," McCabe said.
"I feel like shit." Sable's head throbbed from too much drink, too much partying, and not enough sleep.
"You should know; you were at the party," Sable said without turning around.
"And what a party it was."
"How did you get here so fast?" Sable turned to the friendly voice of his old partner.
"A man has to keep his secrets," he said.
"Stockwell call you?" Sable nodded to the corporal who was signing them in at the van.
"No, I heard through the grapevine that the governor's brother bought it. I figured you'd get me out of the penalty box."
"Ah, you're kidding."
Sable steeled his face. "Nope. How'd you make such a rookie move and let Connelly get your goat?"
"He said some crappy things about my new wife."
Sable saw McCabe's wedding ring. "Well, I'll be damned. So you finally got married. How come you didn't invite us?"
"Sorry. We tried to keep it on the low down because of my problems," McCabe said.
Stockwell walked over and gave Sable the high sign. She stuck out her hand in greeting. "Glad you made it, Sergeant McCabe."
McCabe reached out and shook her hand. "I was expected?"
"Governor Landen ordered it."
"Bring us up to speed," Sable said, impatient now.
"There's not much. Two hunters found the governor's brother and two other bodies. They didn't even go to the boat but called us."
"If they didn't go near the boat, how was the identification made?"
"The hunters recognized the brother from political ads."
"Has anyone else worked the scene?"
"No. Davenport said not to touch anything until you had a chance to examine it."
"Geez, they brought out the big guns for this," McCabe said, as they approached the boat. They stopped at a table and signed in. "And why do we need any of this dress-right-dress stuff out here in the wilderness?"
"Everything's by the book with Davenport," Sable said. He knew Wallace "Wally" Davenport, who liked to be called "coroner" instead of "ME," had set out the table with the sign-in log. In a pile were white sterile white suits and cotton booties.
"It's a commie plot; they never have one of these that'll fit me," McCabe grumbled as he tried to squeeze into one of the "one size fits all" suits.
Once Sable and McCabe were ready, Stockwell said, "Well, it's time for me to go. You're on your own."
"Think again. Suit up, you're on the investigative team," Sable said.
"Well, the governor said I could have anything I wanted. And you're it." Sable paused. "Chalk it up as payback for dragging me from my honeymoon."
"Don't be sorry, suit up. From now on you're the gopher of our team."
"Be serious? You bet," McCabe interjected. "He's as serious as a coral snake bite."
"Okay," she said in resignation. "I'll call my boss, but he won't be happy."
"Sable was never good at making friends or making people happy." McCabe snapped on the latex gloves.
Sable carefully followed the path made by Davenport to the boat. He tried to place his feet in the footprints left by others. As he reached the gunwale, his eyes slowly swept the boat. The helm was on the port side of the boat. A life jacket lay on a seat, still in the original store plastic. Under the bow lay an anchor, its line and chain coiled in a neat pile. A fire extinguisher and first aid kit were mounted next to the helm along with a flare canister and GPS unit.
"They had all the proper safety equipment. Still, it didn't seem to help them," McCabe quipped.
Stockwell shook her head.
Sable studied the scene. The driver, his dark hair matted with blood, was slumped over the helm. A long arrow protruded from his back. It appeared the driver had run the boat up on the beach in a last-ditch effort before he died. Another arrow protruded through the screen of the GPS.
On the wooden floor lay a second body in a pool of blood, a large hole in his back. Sable saw the edge of something glittering gold in the sunlight, tightly clutched in the dead man's hand. The third victim leaned back against a stern seat, a bullet hole dead center between his eyes, a fine trickle of blood streaming down the side of his face. One hand rested on a heavy leather roll lying in the man's lap.
McCabe surveyed the scene. "Yup, they're dead."
"Such Shakespearean eloquence." Sable circled the boat examining every nuance. "You'd think the killers could've concealed the bodies. They have more than five hundred eighty-six thousand square miles to bury them."
"Bury them--that was Robert Hansen's mistake. If he hadn't buried his victims, the wolves and bears would've taken care of the evidence."
"Still, in a state that's one-fifth the size of the U.S., there are many places to hide bodies." Sable shrugged, recalling Robert Hansen, an Alaska serial killer who now languished for several lifetimes behind bars. After raping women he'd picked up on the streets of Anchorage, he'd fly them to the bush and hunt them down. His killing spree ended when he'd made the fatal mistake of letting one get away. "If this isn't off the beaten path, I don't know what is. Looks like this time we've got more than one killer--we've got three. Each man was killed in a different manner." McCabe gestured to the trooper. "Gopher..."
"All right, Stockwell. Please bring us some clean booties. We need them to trounce around the boat," McCabe said.
With the clean crime scene boots on, both men swung their legs over the side and stepped onto the wood deck floor. Sable pulled the driver's wallet, opened it and scanned the driver's license. "Yup, the hunters called it right. It's William Landen, the governor's brother. At least it wasn't robbery. The billfold compartment's filled with cash."
He handed it off to the corporal and then rifled through the man's other pockets. All he found were a roll of antacids, a set of car or truck keys, and a handful of change. He nodded to Stockwell and raised the keys in the air. "Do you know where the truck is for these?"
"Thought you'd never ask. I searched for the Lo-Jack signal from his truck." She looked up from her note taking. "It's another fifteen miles east of here."
"Well, that's where we go next." Sable leaned over and grasped the clutched hand. "What do we have here?" He fought to break the death grip. He pried the fingers apart.
"Must be something precious."
Sable grunted and finally freed the object. "I'll be."
"What is it?" McCabe asked.
"I'm not sure yet." Sable examined a golden coin, turning it slowly in his hand. He recognized it was Roman--probably a counterfeit knockoff. He recognized the Caesar's portrait without looking at the Latin name AVGVSTVS. The coin was in pristine condition, another indicator it was fake.
The counterfeiter was good. The patina, corroded color build up on the coin, looked real. He hefted it in his hand, felt the texture of it. If the coin was made of solid gold instead of clad in gold leaf, he hazarded a guess that it could be worth a grand. He stopped turning the coin--could the nightmare he couldn't remember portend--nah, he was letting his thoughts run away with him.
McCabe looked over Sable's shoulder at the coin. "It looks too good to be real. Looks like we need to call your professor friend in on this one."
"Want to finish this guy?" He motioned to the man on the deck.
Sable handed Stockwell the coin. "Bag it and tag it."
"One fake Caesar coin bagged and tagged," Stockwell grumbled.
Sable examined the GPS. He ran his finger around the arrow's shaft. "Hopefully, the GPS didn't short out and the lab can save enough of the unit to reconstruct their trip."
McCabe studied the unit. "I think it's toast. Hell, what do I know?"
"Unfortunately, Landen didn't bring backup maps."
"In Alaska, almost every hunter brings a topographical map," Stockwell said.
Sable frowned and looked at Stockwell. "When they take this unit out, see if they can make sure the power's not disconnected or we may lose the information."
"Check." Stockwell made notes in her casebook.
"If the lab boys can't recover this sucker, we'll need to search the river banks west of here for ten to twenty miles."
"Why west of here?"
"The truck's parked east."
Stockwell nodded. "With a lung shot like that I don't think he would've lasted more than fifteen minutes."
"Adrenalin can help--maybe thirty, especially if your partners are dead and you're trying to get help. Figuring this baby can do fifty, then..."
"That'd be twenty-five miles."
"After we check out Landen's truck, we'll fly over the river and see if we can find any camp sites."
"Maybe, but we'd see more if we went by boat."
"You're right," Sable said. "I hazard to guess the bad guys are gone."
"I found more of the Caesar coins." McCabe had one hand in the man's left front pocket and the other in the air, displaying four more gold pieces. He handed those off to Stockwell, then dug out the wallet.
"Wow, this one's the famous TV archeologist, Jonathan Flint," McCabe said. "Well, they weren't out here for a fishing or hunting trip--no gear."
"Never heard of him." Stockwell leaned against the boat to reach for the billfold.
"Then you don't watch PBS."
"I'm more into the Discovery channel."
"Damn, this is stiff." McCabe tried to unroll the leather sheaf.
"Careful. It looks like it's old and brittle," Sable said. "Let the professionals handle it."
"Darn, you spoil all the fun." McCabe stuffed the leather object in a large evidence bag, and then went for the last man's wallet. As he opened it, he whistled. "I'll be damned, an archeology professor, Phillip Reed, from the University of Alaska."
"Anchorage or Fairbanks?"
"The 'U' at Anchorage. These guys must have been out for something serious."
"Or someone sold them a bill of goods. You know--the old con game of salting the site or mine."
"How do we find the con?" Stockwell asked.
"Through their friends and family of course." Sable swung over the gunwale and landed on the gravel with a thud. "We can't do much more here. Let's leave the rest for Davenport to sort out."
Sable looked up and saw Davenport heading his way. He waved at him.
"And I'll do it." Davenport, cane digging into the dirt with each step, hobbled toward them.
"It's time you joined us," Sable said, grinning. "Relaxing in your trailer, drinking coffee while we were doing the real investigating."
"You guys are nothing but hacks compared to me and my staff." Davenport reached out to shake the hand of each team member.
"Heard that many times before. However, we're the ones who have a ninety-five per cent rate of bringing in the bad guys."
"And you couldn't put them away without us," Davenport said and chuckled. "Oh, did you note the bronze three-blade arrowhead, its coloring, the nock, and that the fletching isn't cork-screwed to make the arrow spin? They weren't manufactured."
"Traditional Athabascan? Hardly anyone makes arrows anymore."
"A black and red shaft? I think not," Davenport said. "I'll call the district court and get the release of the body. I'll see you guys in Anchorage this evening."
"Stockwell, get us a boat up here," Sable said.
"WILCO," she said.
Sable nodded to Davenport. "You got any coffee and Tylenol in that contraption?"
"Come on down."
As Sable opened the door to the motel, he found Sue had packed up their luggage. She had a frown on her face, her arms were folded, and she sat perched on the edge of the bed. "I gather the honeymoon's over."
"You married a trooper," Sable said. "And sometimes we get called out or assigned cases we don't want."
"On our honeymoon?"
"Unfortunately, Governor Landen requested me." To Sable this case was challenging. They had run the river looking for campsites but found nothing. So far, they had run into a dead end.
"That's not a good reason."
"Landen outranks the boss."
"So what," Sue said. "Did someone run over his damn cat?"
"No. Someone killed his brother."
"McCabe and DeLuca could've handled the case."
"Landen wanted the best," Sable said. "And I am the best."
"Humph!" Sue grouched. "Is Owen going to pay for our motel?"
"I doubt it." Sable still seethed over the assignment, but knew it would do him no good to tell his boss off.
"He's owes us," Sue said. "Tell him I want a honeymoon after this case and I want it in writing."