December 4, 2014
THE BOAT BOBBED at the edge of the dock. Water, clear and deep, lapped against the pilings. In the early morning hours before the pale moon faded into the light and the day welcomed a burst of color, he walked along the bank of the mountain lake.
He was small and looked odd dragging the heavy tarp over the pebbles and twigs. When he lugged his burden to the end of the dock, sweat dripped down his brow, his chest, soaking his body through the layers of clothing he’d worn to keep away the cold.
With a great heave, he tugged until she rolled over the dock’s jagged edge and splashed into the water. He paid close attention to his surroundings for any sign of movement or sound. His lungs filled with the frigid air and his breath appeared like smoke as it drifted from his lips and upward.
He watched her sink and made sure no living thing—man or creature—would find her. When enough time had passed for her body to glide through the 120 feet of icy water and find a resting place at the bottom of the lake, he tilted his head back and gazed at the dimming stars before the crunch of earth beneath his boots followed him into the woods.
SHERIFF DONOVAN KYNDALL stood on the dock of Nowhere Lake, hands in his pockets, and watched the divers raise the body from the icy water. His morning patrol had been interrupted by the frantic call from Dale Brock, a local hunter and wilderness guide. The hunter’s son, Dale Jr., on his first solo survival trek, had stopped at the lake to make camp. At first, Dale Jr. hadn’t been certain what he saw bobbing in the water a few yards from the rocky shore until he studied the object with his pocket binoculars.
Regardless of what many in the Lower 48 believed, murder didn’t occur in every small town or forest of Alaska. Two weeks ago, Donovan would have said a murder had never taken place in their village of Stewart’s Crossing. They had their share of accidental and natural deaths, but not a single murder since 1957 when a woman killed her husband after a long winter stuck inside their remote cabin. Now the bodies were piling up.
Donovan kept his eyes on the body but asked the coroner, “How young?”
“Twenty to thirty. Petechia in her eyes.” The coroner stood. They stepped aside so two men with a stretcher carrier could move the body. “I know it’s not much to go on, but with the temperature of the water, I can’t get an accurate time of death from the liver temp. The medical examiner in Anchorage can give you more after the autopsy.”
Donovan watched them carry away the covered body and disappear on the trail through the trees. “The killer picked the perfect place. Few people come here when the weather is good. With the freezing night temps, the body might not have been discovered this soon if the kid hadn’t stopped. Or if our killer was better with knots. I’d wager there was something heavy tied on the other end of the rope.” Donovan pointed to the rope now sitting in an evidence bag.
“I’d agree this is recent, considering the condition of the body. You think it’s related to the other two deaths?” the coroner asked.
Jackson Sprinder was two months into his new appointment as county coroner. He possessed a sharp mind and wasn’t squeamish, for which Donovan gave thanks, but Sprinder lacked experience when it came to murder.
Donovan nodded and waited for the divers to finish pulling anything else out of the water that could be tied to the body. “Too much of a coincidence not to be related.”
He turned and saw Alexa appear at the edge of the trail where it met the slope leading to the dock. She most resembled her twin, Jordan, but there was no mistaking the relation between Donovan and Alexa. His hair might be a shade darker than the medium-brown length she had pulled back. He shared the same green eyes as their brother, Owen, while her and Jordan’s more expressive light brown eyes shifted between shades of green with flecks of gold.
Donovan remembered their high school years and the way his friends used to pretend not to stare at Alexa. At least they’d been smart enough not to ask her out and risk tangling with three brothers. When they saw her at her graduation from the FBI Academy, all of them couldn’t help but be grateful she now carried a gun.
“I got your message.” Alexa walked toward him wearing the clothes she’d left the house in that morning. He’d interrupted her run, but having an FBI agent in the family definitely had its advantages.
“Sprinder, you haven’t met my sister, Alexa. Alexa, this is the county coroner, Jackson Sprinder.”
“Nice to meet you.” She shook his hand and planted her hands on her hips. “What’s going on, Donovan?”
Jackson said, “I better head back with the body. I’m going to deliver it myself to Anchorage, and I’ll call you with an update.” He handed Donovan a plastic evidence bag. “This is everything that was on the body.”
Donovan thanked him and waited for him to be out of earshot before answering Alexa. “Sorry to drag you into this, but I could use some help. My deputy is getting married this week somewhere in Montana, and our brothers are useless right now.”
Alexa smirked. “Jordan is in North Carolina and Owen is somewhere doing what forest rangers do. They’ll be home in a few days.” She turned serious. “What is going on around here? I’m two days into a two-week vacation and you’ve spent the last forty-eight hours preoccupied.”
Donovan studied his sister. He knew how much she needed the downtime, having come off a grueling abduction case the previous month in Atlanta, where she currently worked in the FBI field office.
He knew from what she didn’t write in her emails and said over the phone that her cases were much worse than she would admit. He followed her career and cases—so did Jordan and Owen—because when she was away from home, they couldn’t help but worry about her. He knew she didn’t need to deal with this mess, but he also knew when a solution hovered on the edge of a problem, she didn’t back down. He’d taught her that at a young age.
"This is the third death of a young woman in as many weeks. The first two were found in the woods. One south of town near the bay and the other north, in the park. That’s actually where Owen was last week.”
“He found the body?” Alexa asked.
“Yes. Not what he’d imagined when he decided to spend his life in the wilderness. Animal attacks, exposure, and the like, but not murder. Anyone in his line of work hopes they never have to deal with senseless death.”
Alexa and Donovan watched the last diver swim out of the water and walk up the bank. She asked, “What can I do to help?”
“You’re on vacation.”
She glanced askance at him. “Not while you’re dealing with this. At the risk of sounding like a superior federal agent, why don’t we go back to the station and you can show me what you know.”
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Excerpted from "Blade of Death" by McKenna Grey. Copyright © 2016 by McKenna Grey. Published by Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.
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