Arctic Lions by Wayne K Sapp by Wayne K Sapp - Read Online

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Feisty research biologist Adrienne Matthews is trying to find evidence tying the decline in Steller sea lion numbers to the Exxon oil spill. Now, Stellers are being found dead of gunshot wounds, and when she approaches the commercial fishermen for help, she finds only animosity. Brody Keaton is a retired, physically and emotionally wounded ex-soldier hiding in Seward from the debris of two failed marriages. A pilot and wildlife lover, he becomes Matthews' one reluctant volunteer. An uneasy alliance forms as the yearly sea lion count proceeds. Together they devise a plan to catch the sea lion shooter, but the poacher they are seeking has friends, and other much more deadly interests. An even greater challenge may be the rediscovery of trust; their growing attraction to each other requires it, and so will their very lives.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611606997
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78

Arctic Lions

by

Wayne K. Sapp

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Wayne K. Sapp

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-699-7

Cover Artist: Molly Courtright

Editor: Merrylee Lanehart

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

Dedicated to barrel horse rider Jimmy Dale Still, KIA Republic of Viet Nam, 1-1-70 

This book would not be possible without the support of my wife and best critic Cathy, and the four person writing group The Iron Pen.  Members Joan Mauch, Author of Halifax and The Mangled Spoon, Kristal Schaff, author of soon to be released The Emissary, and Rich Miller all edit with an iron fist.  All have conspired to drag me, kicking and screaming, from my fixation with adjectives.  A simple Thank You will never be enough.

Chapter 1

Near Anchorage, Alaska

30 March 1993

Sheriff Lloyd Sissel drove through the village of Cooper’s Landing, his frustration growing with each passing minute. As if the twenty-five mile-per-hour speed limit, tight curves and washboard blacktop didn’t slow him down enough, there were the fucking tourists who insisted on stopping their battleship-sized RVs in the middle of the road to photograph some mangy moose cow. The lack of a safety lane to pull into had never been enough to discourage this infuriating behavior. Just that morning, several drivers had had the lack of common sense to stop for some picture-taking in front of his marked squad car. He had ticketed one particularly obstinate driver to get everyone to move along, but tonight he was off duty, driving his Caddie. And he hadn’t brought his ticket book along.

Anchorage was still two hours away, even if he pushed the speed limit on the four lane portion of the Seward Highway. By the time he got there the bars would be full and some of the girls gone for the evening. He needed the break. Every weekend he drove the four hours to Anchorage, after a week of puttering around Seward in an area no larger than a small suburb of a real town. A car was becoming part of his anatomy, his ass permanently flattened by the seat.

In the past, Anchorage had been his escape from the stressful day to day life in Seward, but now, if he was lucky, he might manage to unwind for an hour. The hookers in Anchorage were getting wise to him, as well. Apparently, they had developed some kind of grapevine, because the bars where he had picked them up in the past seemed to undergo a miraculous transformation into upstanding business establishments when he walked in the door. He had seen the girls whisper and point. He might have to start paying for it, instead of flashing his badge and getting freebies. Not that he couldn’t afford it, but the girls were much more willing to do his bidding when they were trying to avoid jail time.

He chuckled aloud when he thought about the looks on their faces when he flashed his badge. But his humor didn’t last long. He’d worried all week about Bubba Branson. The man was a loose cannon who knew too much. It was only a matter of time before the boat captain got himself in a piss-up Sissel couldn’t fix. He couldn’t leave town any more without Branson getting into one fix or another. The man lived in the Irish Lord Bar, with all of Seward’s other scumbags, and a week seldom passed without him getting pissed up there and starting a brawl. All three of his deputies had had run-ins with the idiot. Ben Pierson talked about him often. Pierson the super cop. The kid was ambitious and no dummy. Meddling little bastard. Having Bubba on Pierson’s radar screen was not good.

When Sissel finally turned off the Seward Highway on the outskirts of Anchorage, it was after ten. He drove to his rented storage unit, backed up to the door, and unlocked the unit’s heavy, industrial padlock. After a quick glance around to see if he was being observed, he opened the trunk of his Cadillac, removed four new suitcases and took them inside.

One of cases he opened. It was full of neatly wrapped bundles of worn bills; twenties, fifties, and hundreds. He took out a bundle of twenties, removed about half, and stuffed them in his wallet. It wouldn’t fold, so he removed a few and tossed them back into the case. He then locked the suitcases in a heavy metal wardrobe, locked the unit, and returned to his Caddy.

Downtown Anchorage and the bar he had in mind were still nearly a half hour away.

Chapter 2

Seward, Alaska

3 April 1993

The dead sea lion was lying about thirty feet up the beach from the retreating tide, its body still in rigor, preserved by the cold waters of Resurrection Bay. A large caliber bullet had struck the Steller in the neck, nearly severing her head. The wound was hideous, her head askew, her eye sockets emptied by scavenging gulls.  Now the displaced gulls floated in the swirling mist overhead, screaming incessantly at a small group of people who had interrupted their feasting. The braver of them landed on the beach nearby, adding their voices to the din.

Adrienne Matthews knelt on the dark gray, water-worn stones near the sea lion corpse and tucked her hair through the back of a bedraggled, pink baseball cap. She removed a scalpel from a plastic tackle box, made a slit in the animal’s abdomen, and after a deep, ragged breath, methodically began to remove the animal’s organs.

Nearby Ken King, the local Department of Natural Recourses representative stood, his nose wrinkled against the smell and arms tightly crossed. He dropped an arm and pointed. Bullet was most likely a hollow point. That’s too much tissue damage for a conventional round.

Adrienne nodded but wouldn’t look at him. She couldn’t. Amazing, she thought, how the son-of-a-bitch can work that out.  She had seen the wound; it was just like the ones in the last body. Too bad the pompous, know-it-all bastard can’t seem to come up with way to stop the killing.

It was the fourth gunshot Steller corpse that had turned up on the Seward beaches in the last two weeks. King’s contribution to the effort thus far had been to drive to the scene in his shiny new Department of Natural Resources Chevy Suburban, light bars and clearance lenses flashing importantly, and carry around a clip board, which he neither consulted nor wrote on. Adrienne wiped the scalpel angrily on a shop rag, slicing it badly in the process. She took another steadying breath, willing herself to calm down. Her normal, careful dissection practices were regressing into angry slashing, jeopardizing the samples and her fingers.

She looked askance at King. As far as she knew, the silly ass hadn’t even asked the locals who had found the body and if they had seen anything. His self-assured assumption that she wouldn’t know what a hollow point bullet was capable of was so typically male.

When King arrived, he had picked his way down the rock covered beach, dodging dislodged kelp leaves and other tide debris, placing his feet as if he were traversing a pasture peppered with cow manure. Then, carefully standing upwind of the corpse, he had done a very cursory examination without so much as touching the body.

Adrienne knew King was an office rat, and wouldn’t therefore spend much time in the field, but his job was protecting wildlife. It was abundantly clear that he wasn’t happy about leaving his office just to examine the body of one of the animals he was being well paid to protect.

What finally got the best of Adrienne were the man’s shoes. Patent leather, low cut shoes and a pressed, spotless uniform. She was cutting samples out of this beautiful creature, an animal that was in its prime, an animal that had no good reason to be dead. And he was taking out a hanky and carefully wiping the toe of his shoe. She dropped the scalpel near the body and rose to face him.

Ken, she asked finally, voice shaking with suppressed anger, what are your people doing about this? Do you have someone working on it?

Adrienne, I—

She cut him off. I’ve been checking pullouts. The count is going to be down at least fifteen percent this year! She clenched her fists and slammed them against her thighs, fighting the tears that threatened. Damn it!

Her angry tirade apparently shocked King into silence. She stared unseeingly across the bay and took several deep breaths, trying to control her emotions. After a long silence, in a voice toned down as much as she could manage, she asked, "Can’t you do something? You know how vulnerable these animals are when they pull out! They’re fish in a barrel! You…we can’t allow this to continue!"

He fumbled awkwardly for something to say. We don’t assign specific people; we don’t work that way, Adrienne. We don’t have the staff to do what you’re asking. I understand your frustrations…

She stared at him angrily. "Do you? Do you really? In fifteen years the Stellers are going to be extinct. Extinct! You’ve got people running around checking fishing licenses while these animals are being murdered. Can’t you pull your license checkers for a while and work on this?"

King looked at his shoes, re-crossed his arms, and the conciliatory tone left his voice. A small group of onlookers had gathered and they looked at him expectantly. Their expressions said he needed to come up with some more suitable answers.

I don’t have the authority to do anything beyond telling my people to watch for this activity; that’s it. That’s all I can do. He pointed to the corpse. If you want to be upset with me, I guess that’s okay too, but I didn’t kill this animal. I drove over here from Kenai. He emphasized Kenai and turned to the onlookers with palms spread, seeking sympathy. The city of Kenai was at least a three hour drive, on the other side of the peninsula. I can bump your suggestions upstairs and try to get you an answer…

Adrienne threw the shop rag to the ground angrily and said, Well, that isn’t good enough. Our grandkids are never going to see one of these animals in the wild. Maybe you think you’re doing all you can; but if you are, it’s a damn pathetic effort, as far as I can see.

King unfolded his arms and adjusted his collar against the mist. He cleared his throat, glanced at the little audience and stated sarcastically, Good to see you, Adrienne.

Yeah, you too Ken. Better get back to the office; we wouldn’t want to see you get those…ridiculous, shiny-ass shoes of yours dirty.

He glared at her for a long moment. Be pissed off then. That’ll help. He pulled the clipboard from under his arm and walked carefully back to his Suburban.

She watched him go and the anger began to dissipate. Great, she thought, I just alienated the only ally I have. She decided that she didn’t care. Those patent leather shoes rankled her no end.

Kneeling back down near the sea lion’s body, she picked up the scalpel, still furious. They were office shoes, not something a man hired to protect wildlife should wear. Indoor shoes. She looked at her own knee length rubber boots. He probably requires the women in his office to wear that crap, like he does, while they work at some menial job supporting all the manly men in enforcement positions.

A voice in the back of her head questioned the fairness of the thought. King, despite his other faults, had never struck her as being particularly chauvinistic. Screw it. They all were in one way or other, weren’t they?

Adrienne reached a point on the sea lion carcass where the animal’s front flipper impeded her incision.  One of the onlookers, a man who had been jogging the beach with his dog, separated himself from the group and knelt on the other side of the corpse. He pointed at the flipper and asked, Can I hold that out of the way for you?

Still angry, she didn’t look up. No. I’ve got this.

I’ve no doubt of that ma’am, but…

She looked up and locked eyes with the man. I’ve got this!

The man rubbed at a severe scar on the right side of his jaw. Yes ma’am. He stood and stepped back, and the little dog took station by his right leg.

She worked on alone. The small audience of local residents, who had been vocal until the bystander offered help, now watched her quietly. Her conscience nagged at her to apologize for the misdirected anger. She had a lot of anger. Anger at Exxon. At The University of Washington. At her co-workers. At an apathetic public who allowed entire species of animals to die.

She returned to her dissection, examining each major organ and commenting into her battered tape recorder about the condition of each. She would transcribe the tape later, when the gore was washed from her hands and, hopefully, her anger had diminished. She took blood, blubber and tissue samples, bagged the animal’s stomach contents, and removed a nearly full term pup from the animal’s uterus.

While she fought to maintain her composure, she wrestled the dead pup out of the carcass and onto the beach. Had the mother lived, it would have been born in days. Stellers had a handsome, somewhat human face, and expressive eyes. They were social and loving parents, and to Adrienne, the death of this pup was every kind of wrong. One of the men standing nearby muttered, Bastards!

Adrienne looked up from her examination of the pup, tears welling in her eyes. If only she could get the locals to generate a little more of that indignation over the murder of the animal to go along with their morbid curiosity.

When she completed bagging the pup and the mother’s viscera, she rose, faced the onlookers, and forced a smile. Would a couple of you guys help me drag this carcass down to the water?  Hopefully, the tide will take the body back out into the bay, then some of the lesser animals can make use of it.

Three men, including the jogger, immediately walked over and took hold of the corpse. Others took her sample bags and helped carry them to her car. Men were always ready to help Adrienne. With anything. Her figure tugged equally at blouse buttons and men’s eyes. She had an off-the-shelf, no makeup beauty, wide-set pale blue eyes, and a model’s cheekbones. The effect could be quite useful in situations such as this, but more often her appearance was a distraction and complete nuisance.

She tried to dress down, kept her brown, shoulder-length hair tucked through the back of a battered ball cap. Wore shapeless men’s flannel shirts, and loose, cheap jeans. She always wore knee-length rubber boots and tried to keep everything business-like and professional. It didn’t matter. Few men ever thought of her as a damn good biologist.

The men manhandled the body to the edge of the water where the incoming tide could easily reach it. Two of them dropped the body unceremoniously and returned up the beach, waiting for her approval.

The jogger stayed with the body, watching as the other two men returned up the beach. He turned, and rolled the remains over, obscuring the gory incision. He studied the body for a moment, hands on his hips.  Then he laid hand gently on its back, as if in apology for what had been done. When he stood, he called out to his dog and began jogging back toward Seward without looking back.

Adrienne was now even more upset with herself for being short with the man. All of the onlookers, especially the jogger, had been affected by the sea lion’s murder. After working with the Stellers for nearly three years, she had developed a love for the animals that bordered on obsession. Sometimes, she forgot that other people cared for them as well.

She had not seen the man before, and Seward was a small town. He was wearing off-white sweats with an Army logo and a camouflaged cap. The dog, a female she thought, he had addressed as Trooper. Off duty soldier, maybe? Well, she would apologize if she ran into him again.

Adrienne turned to the other two men, thanked them, and moved away quickly before they could begin a conversation. She turned her back and washed off her rubber gloves in the icy water. That accomplished, she put some distance between herself and the dispersing onlookers and rested a few moments on a driftwood log.

The morning mist had burned off, exposing a bright blue sky and shafts of sunlight reflecting from the glaciers on the steep sides of the fiord. The Lowell Point area was the prettiest part of Seward, as far as Adrienne was concerned, and surprisingly undiscovered by the tourists, who spent most of their time in town. The road that led out to the point was somewhat daunting, unpaved, narrow and poorly maintained. A sheer face was the boundary on one side, and a steep rip rap dike holding back the waters of the bay was the other. Poor drainage left the road with ankle deep potholes full of slate gray muck. That alone probably discouraged the tourists, who were forced to sign riders to keep them from using their rental cars off-pavement.

The point had a small group of eclectic cabins arranged close to the water on a little knob. Resurrection Bay was relatively narrow. The steep, gray-black sides of the fiord were dressed in the dark green of Alders where they could find purchase, bright orange and yellow lichens and the rusty iron deposits that sprinkled color on the dark gray rock. The air was full of clean beach smells, salt water, kelp and fish.

The cabins on the point all had picket fences often decorated with drift wood, old fishing net floats and the occasional boat-carcass-cum-flower-bed. Stored kayaks added bright colors. Several driftwood logs had been buried top down in the beach, so that the water-worn roots assumed the role of canopy and resembled a palm tree. The lack of zoning laws guaranteed individuality in the cabin designs, but by fortunate circumstance they all seemed to work together. Each cabin had a deck of some sort, looking out over the bay. The smell of charcoal and chicken on the grill reminded Adrienne that she hadn’t eaten anything all day. The thought propelled her back toward her car.

Adrienne had a dream of buying a place on the point, if the new Sea Life Center directorship could be had. She had applied, but staffing was not planned for the time being. The dream would have to wait, but it was certainly easy for her to look at the row of cabins and picture Maggie playing on the quiet beach. Maybe Adrienne would even be able to find a little more time to spend with her.

She turned, picked up her tackle box, took a last look over her shoulder at the body of the Steller, now half submerged by the rapidly rising tide, and walked back up the beach to her overloaded Toyota. The trunk and back seat were packed with plastic, gore-filled sample bags, and her old kayak was lashed to the roof rack. The brown car was coated with gray mud, and squatted like a female dog having a good pee. Adrienne shook her head. There was no way in hell she could ever get the smells out of that car.

Chapter 3

The water in the marina was worried, stirred constantly by the comings and goings of the fishing fleet. Brody Keaton’s boat bobbed restlessly against its moorings, accompanied by the occasional slap of water against the hull as another boat’s wake hit it. Overhead, gulls argued incessantly.

Brody was sprawled in a reclining lawn chair on the deck of his forty-year-old fishing boat-cum-residence. Beside him, keeping careful watch for any gull that might have the audacity to land on the boat’s deck was Brody’s brown, mixed breed shadow, Trooper. Her usual position would have been comfortably curled on Brody’s lap, but he was sharpening his old Buck sheath knife with a wet stone, hands working; mind elsewhere.

The knife had been a gift from his father, sent to him when he was stationed in Viet Nam. The issue bayonet used on an M-16 was not suited for much beyond its intended purpose, and Brody had mentioned that in a letter home; the sheath knife arrived a week or so later. Now, twenty-odd years later, the Buck’s blade was nearly as thin as a fish filleting knife. Working the blade on a wet stone had become a habit Brody slipped into unknowingly when he had something to worry about, which was often. It kept his hands busy. He put a little saliva on the stone, swirling the end of the blade in it.

Just how the hell did she find out where he was anyway? He hadn’t been back to Paint in…what, six years? Goddamn letter like they were old friends. Shit. Bad enough he had to mentally wrestle every day and night with what wife number two had done to him. Now, enigma Annie wanted to talk. Perfect.

That woman on the beach this morning had stirred up Annie’s memory. Even looked a little bit like her. Pretty, shapely, and of course,