Read an Excerpt
I'M WATCHING YOU.
"That's all?" Jim Chopin said.
Darlene Shelikof handed over a manila file folder, and Jim leafed through half a dozen similar missives, all on eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch sheets of plain white paper folded in thirds.
He held one up to the light and read the watermark out loud. "Esleeck Emco Bond, twenty-five percent cotton content." He lowered his arm. "Available by the ream from Costco at six-seventy-nine a pop, the last time I looked."
"Can't you tell something from the writing?"
He shuffled through the sheets again. "Looks like heor sheused a black Marksalot."
I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE.
"The big block printing is an obvious attempt to disguise the handwriting."
ABORTION IS MUDRER.
"I take it Anne's pro-choice?"
"She started the family-planning clinic in Ahtna."
"That does tend to make the nuts fall from the tree." He held the letter closer. "Probably printed with the left hand, or whatever hand is not their hand of choice in writing poison-pen letters. Also, he can't spell."
YOUR HUSBANDS CUTE.
Jim's eyebrows went up. "Is he?"
Darlene smiled. "Not as cute as you are, Jim."
His smile was swift and predatory in return. "Why, Darlene, I didn't know youcared." Even to himself the words sounded formulaic, and tired as well, and he looked back down at the file. Well, hell, he was tired. It had been a long week, what with a rape in Slana, a death by arson in Copper Center, and a suicide by cop in Valdez that he would have missed if he hadn't had to overfly Cordova due to weather and overnight on the Valdez chief of police's couch. He focused on the papers in his hand.
YOUR DAUGHTER WEARS HER SKIRTS TOO
The writer had written in letters so large he or she had run out of room before finishing his or her thought, and had had to add "SHORT" in smaller letters in the lower right-hand corner of the paper.
STAY HOME AND TAKE CARE OF YOUR KIDS.
"Ah, a traditionalist," Jim said.
The seventh letter was more direct. RUN FOR SENATOR AND ILL KILL YOU.
He held it up so she could read it. "This the one that made you bring them all in?"
She nodded. "They've been coming in one at a time ever since she announced. Then last week, we got two."
"All date-stamped except the first one, and you kept the envelope for that one, too. Smart," Jim said. "We appreciate smart in law enforcement."
She smiled again.
He examined the envelopes, all of them stapled to the backs of the letters. "All postmarked Ahtna. Well, I'll give the post office there a call. You never know, somebody might have noticed something."
"You don't sound very optimistic."
"I'm not. The Ahtna post office handles all the mail that goes into and comes out of the Park. That's, what, three thousand people, a little less? And these are pretty anonymous letters, Darlene."
"What about the handwriting? Isn't there an expert you can send them to, figure out who wrote them?"
"Sure, and I will," he said, stuffing them into an evidence bag. "Today. But unless and until the state crime lab already has a sample of the perp's writing to compare them to, we're SOL as far as identifying the writer."
"What about fingerprints?"
He looked at her. What he wanted to say was, "You've been watching too much television," but what he said instead, patiently, was, "Who opened these?"
"The candidate, the first one." She thought. "The rest were opened by volunteers, I think. Oh."
"Right. And then they got passed up or down the food chain to you, and then your assistant had to file them. There are probably ten sets on fingerprints on every letter, and we can't even be sure that every letter has the same set of ten." He sealed the bag. "Have you fingerprinted your staff?"
An expression of revulsion crossed her face. It was a very nice face otherwise, black eyes set in a broad, flat face with a tiny pug nose and a merry mouth, hair in a permed black frizz standing out around it. She was thick through the body and short, although her erect posture made her seem taller. She carried weight, did Darlene Shelikof, and not necessarily just body weight. Her jeans were faded but clean, the blazer over it a conservative navy blue, the shirt beneath a paler blue and open at the throat. Ivory dangled from her ears and adorned her lapel and both wrists.
She had been leaning forward, just a little, and now she leaned back, just a little, not enough to give the impression she was in any way relaxed. "What about protection?"
"What about it?"
For the first time she allowed herself to look angry. He admired her control. "How much can you give us?"
"Darlene, you worked for the AG. You know exactly how much protection we can give you."
Her mouth thinned. "The threats are escalating, in delivery and in degree."
"Chances are heor shewill try to make contact."
"Chances are heor shealready has."
"What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "How long has Anne been on the campaign trail? She announced in June, didn't she?"
"What day in June?"
"The first of those envelopes is dated June twenty-seventh."
She thought about it. "So he's been following her since the beginning?"
"That'd be my guess. She's been doing the usual things politicians do, going to church in Chitina, walking the bars in Cordova, shaking hands and kissing babies and promising to throw the bums out, like they all do." Darlene looked indignant. He waved away whatever comment she had been about to make about her candidate being all new and improved and completely different. He'd been an Alaska state trooper for going on twenty years; he'd seen a lot of political campaigns whistle-stop through; he had seen every single candidate of every political party (and in Alaska there were about seventeen separate and distinct political parties with more springing up every year), and he had seen every successful candidate as a first order of Juneau business cuddle up with the lobbyist with the most money to spend. Call him a cynic, but he didn't see anything changing just because this candidate was a woman and a Native and homegrown.
Juneau seemed to have that inevitable and invariable effect on elected officials, he reflected. Or maybe it was just political office everywhere, because the nation as a whole seemed to be in about the same shape. Substitute Washington, D.C. for Juneau and what did you get? Bill Clinton for president. Jesus. It wasn't that Clinton was a rounder that bothered him so much, it was that he'd been so awful goddamn inept at it. If you're going to philander, he thought now, for crissake do it with some style.
"So we have to wait until he takes a shot at her before you'll do anything?" Darlene said.
"It's a big step from writing a nasty letter to someone popping off with a thirty-ought-six." He held up a hand to forestall further commentary. "What I will do is put the word out to all the local law enforcement agencies that your candidate's getting hate mail, that it's personal, and, yes, that it is increasing in amount and degree."
She gave an impatient snort. "What's that get us?"
He was starting to get a little annoyed. "Nothing, if you don't call ahead to let the local agencies know when you'll be there."
She glared, and he sighed to himself. No point in getting the person who was very probably going to sit at the right hand of the next senator from District 41 mad at him. "I'll e-mail all the troopers in the area, and all the police chiefs. I'll give you a list of names and numbers, and I'll tell them you'll call when you know your candidate will be speaking in their jurisdiction. You need to call every time, Darlene," he said with quiet force. "They can't plan to look out for you if they don't know you're coming. They've got jobs, full-time ones, already." He thought about the suicide by cop in Valdez. "Full-time jobs," he repeated. "You releasing this information to the press?" She hesitated, and he groaned. "Don't tell me you think that this is going to get her the sympathy vote?"
She had the grace to flush.
"All you'll do is get him off," he warned. "That's what he wants, attention, film at eleven."
"Or she," she reminded him.
He looked at her in sudden suspicion. She read his thought before he could speak it out loud. "Fuck you, Chopin," she said, her voice rising.
"Okay," he said, patting the air. "Okay. Sorry. Just a thought, a dumb one, I admit, but"
"As if I wouldas if Anne wouldjust fuck you, Chopin!" She shot to her feet and marched to the door. Hand on the knob, she turned and said, spitting the words like knives, "Thanks for nothing. Ifwhen Anne gets into office, if this asshole doesn't kill her first, we'll remember this when it comes time to look at the budget for the Department of Public Safety. I'd say trooper salaries and step rates for Bush posts are way overdue for review."
His voice, cracking like a whip, stopped her halfway out the door. She looked back, very ready to escalate hostilities.
"If you're that worried, if you really think Anne's in danger ..."
She didn't move. "What?"
"What about hiring security for the campaign?"
"You mean like guards?"
"I mean like one guard." The one he was thinking of wouldn't need any help.
She let go of the handle, and the door hissed closed on its hydraulic hinge. "You suggesting someone in particular?"
He just looked at her and, being a well-trained law enforcement professional of intensive and lengthy experience, was able to pinpoint the exact moment when realization dawned.
Also because she said, "Oh fuck, no."
"She knows the Park," Jim said. "Who she isn't related to she's drinking buddies with." He thought of Amanda and Chick, Bobby and Dinah, Bernie. Old Sam, the quintessential Alaskan old fart, Auntie Vi, the quintessential Alaskan old fartette. Dan O'Brien, the only national-park ranger in Alaska to survive the change of federal administrations and gain the affection if not the actual respect of Park rats. George Perry the air taxi pilot, next to whom Jim had stood on that airstrip south of Denali last September. He banished that memory the next instant, or told himself he had. "If she was a drinking kind of woman, that is."
"She's probably related to Anne, come to that."
Darlene's voice rose. "Not her, Jim."
He was surprised at her vehemence. "Who else?" he said. "She's a teetotaler. She a local. She's a Native. She has a reputation"
"Oh yeah, she's got a reputation, all right, a well-deserved one."
"Took the words right out of my mouth." Curious, the curse of any good cop, he went fishing. "You sound like you know her."
She opened her mouth, met his eyes, and closed it again. "I knew her," she said at last.
He waited hopefully. No weapon in the cop's arsenal worked better than the expectant silence.
"We went to school together."
He raised his eyebrows. "I didn't know you were from Niniltna."
"In Fairbanks. UAF."
He gave a neutral kind of grunt, and waited again. In the ensuing stony silence, he wondered why the feud. If one person hating a second person who, so far as Jim knew, was indifferent to the first person's existence, could be called a feud. Did Kate crib from Darlene's test? Wear Darlene's favorite sweater without permission? Steal Darlene's boyfriend? It irritated him that he would like to know, to add to his fund of Kate Shugak lore. Said irritation moved him to say, "Just a suggestion."
"A bad one," she snapped.
"No," he said, suddenly weary. "Just a suggestion."
THE LIFE OF CHARLES II
By Stephen Coote
St. Martin's Griffin
Copyright © 1999 Stephen Coote. All rights reserved.