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The Present


Prince William Sound, Alaska

            An impenetrable wall of snowcapped mountains, scarred with deep crags by the passage of time, splayed across the horizon before sloping steeply into a fjord.  Overhead, mares-tail clouds meandered across the sapphire sky and seagulls inquisitively viewed the action below, flying figure eights and breaking the calm with their haunting cries.

            “Ready?”  Sergeant Aaron McCabe asked.

Sable studied his new partner for a moment.  McCabe was in his early forties with sandy, graying hair, and stood six five—tall by trooper standards.  The man’s frame made it easy for him to hold the craft out from the ice.

            “Are you sure this is safe?”  Sergeant Robert Sable momentarily looked down at the reflection of his olive skin and unruly white hair in the deep, blue waters of Prince William Sound.

            “Your guess is as good as mine,” McCabe said.  A gentle breeze blew his unruly prematurely gray hair about--hair that made him look as if he was ready for retirement.  “The iceberg didn’t turn over on either the killer or me.”

            "That’s not saying much.”  Sable took a deep breath.  “Hold the boat steady,” he said, then scrambled over the gunwale of the 30-foot aluminum jet boat and onto an iceberg the size of a baseball diamond.  His five-foot, ten-inch, 180-pound frame barely rocked it.  Surrounding the berg were several Trooper vessels of varying sizes.  The boats, each of a different style and brand, had been obtained from drug raids and illegal hunters:  an all-white 44-foot Tollycraft, a 36-foot Chriscraft, a Bayliner, a Trophy, and his boat.  The only thing the boats had in common was the distinctive blue over white slash and badge of the Alaska State Troopers.

            The boat banged into the berg with a metallic thud.  “I said--hold it steady.  Should I drive and you come out here?”

            “I’m not going out there on that thing again.  Once was enough.”

            “This is all you got me out here for on my day off?”  Sable shakily slipped on latex gloves, lifted his sunglasses, and squinted at the two bodies.    As he massaged his temples, the berg rocked and he put his hands on his knees to brace himself while the full force of his hangover hit.

           “You okay?”

            Sable groaned and stood.  “I got to be crazy to be out here.”

      “You still on the sauce?”

            “Look, you’re not my brother.  In fact, you’re far from it and it’s none of your fucking business how I screw up my life.”

            “I’m only asking as a friend.”

            “Quit trying to reform me when you haven’t even got a handle on your own life.”

            “Christ, you don’t have to get pissed off.”

            Each movement felt like a branding iron was being jammed into his joints.  Sable examined the bodies; one was a male about 6-foot tall, 200 pounds, with sandy hair.  Dressed in jeans, flannel shirt, and deck shoes, the man was slumped over another body wearing some type of uniform.  Kneeling over the uppermost body, Sable felt the cold cutting through his clothes and numbing his legs.  He shivered and wondered if this was what it felt like to be dead--to be numb to everything.  He'd lost his wife and now Lisa; maybe life wasn’t worth the pain.  “Just drop it.”

            “Okay, okay.”  McCabe gave what Sable perceived as a false laugh.  “I thought you’d be interested in this case.  You're on the cold squad."

            "It’s nothing but a homicide."  Sable pushed the dead man's hair aside with his gloved hands.  "Not special at all--only a tap behind the ear, close range 6-8 inches, I'd say from the powder burns and tattooing.”  Trying to sense what the killer felt, he frowned as he concentrated, but nothing came through.  Because of his drinking, his clairvoyance had gone back into the darkened mist from whence it came.  Even when he’d had it, it hadn’t save his family or his fiancé.  It was a curse he could live without.  He pursed his lips, then took a deep breath.

            “Not special?  Are you all right in the head?  These fuckers are far from routine.”

            “I didn’t say this was routine,” Sable said.  “You knew I wouldn’t be interested.  So why in the hell did you drag me out here?”

            “I thought it might pique your interest.”

            “I've got more important cases."

            "Yeah, I know--like the X-Files, some as old as twenty years,” McCabe said.  “You need to get back in the saddle."

            "The older ones are challenging."  Sable carefully shifted the victim's sandy hair as he moved the body aside.  It’s like putting a puzzle together with missing pieces.”

            “I know a few people with missing pieces—like you.”

“You know what they say.”  The brown-haired man's legs were shattered.  Bones protruded through the shins and trousers, but there was very little blood.

“Back at you.”

"This one's got a bad case of hypothermia."

            "No kidding.”  McCabe braced himself for a passing boat’s wake.  “But interesting."

            "Good.  As I said before—then you follow it up."  Sable stood, took a deep breath, and pulled off the gloves.  "And you'll probably never find the weapon."  He motioned at the 2,000-foot deep waters.

            "Now, take these guys.  They're more than just a couple of dead bodies on ice."

            "Right."  Sable stepped over the gunwale and into the boat.  It rocked sharply and thudded into the ice, sending a metallic ring through the aluminum hull.

            "How about this for cold?"  McCabe dropped a wallet and a pair of silver tags into Sable's hands.

            "Dog tags from an Army soldier."  Sable flipped the metal over in his hands.  "So?"

            "Well, for his supposed age, he's well preserved." 

            "Why's that?"  Sable looked at the military ID.  "This has got to be . . ."

            "Right.  I checked with the military.  Philip Emerson Martin was born in 1916 and lost in 1944."

            "Can't be the same guy."

            "Army faxed me a photo."  McCabe pulled out a folded sheet of paper, unfolded it, and showed to Sable.  “It's him all right.  He must have been on ice for the entire time."

            "Anything else?"

            "Well, the other is the problem.  No ID, nada,” McCabe said.

            "Checked with missing persons?"

            "Nobody's claimed him."

            "After the coroner gets the prints and dental, it shouldn't take too long."

            "When I get the word, I'll call you."  McCabe grunted as he cast off from the berg.

            "Don't."  Sable pulled a piece of paper from his jacket and unfolded it.  As McCabe started the engines, Sable felt a low vibration rising in intensity through the deck plates.

            “The 10-year-old case on the dead girl?  How's it going to get any warmer?  In fact, she’s not going to be any deader.”

            “I believe she’s alive.”  Sable slipped into the mate’s chair and studied the paper: an aged, computer composite photograph of a young woman in her late twenties, Veronica Cole.  Though he couldn't tell the color of her hair or eyes from the drawing, he envisioned deep-green eyes looking back from under fine brows and fiery, red hair.  Lightly, almost affectionately, he traced the lines and contours of her face.  Yes, maybe it was her face that made him interested in the case.

            "Talk to Quaid, I think he’s the one that handled the case.”

            “Screwed it up, you mean.”  Veronica had walked out of her house ten years ago.  But she hadn't left without a trace.  The original investigators keyed on Veronica's boyfriend as the suspect even though he had been out of town at the time of her disappearance.  She reminded him so much of Lisa that he had to find her, if not for her sake then for his.

            “Look. Sable, I need your help on this case, the one that’s in the here and now.  Where would you start?  You got to give me something.  You’re good at this, maybe you could do some of your Tlingit mumbo jumbo.”

            “Watch the racist crap.”

            “Sorry, meant no disrespect.  Your ESP is common knowledge in the department.”

            “Jesus.  Can’t you do this on your own?”

            McCabe looked at the body.  “No gun, footprints, fingerprints . . .”

            “Okay, okay.”  Sable reached out with his aching brain, trying to picture the killer as he massaged his temples, but he felt nothing--saw nothing.  “Try this--check out all vessel float plans, flight plans, and the train.  Run the dead man’s mug by the harbor master, train conductors, and restaurants.” However, your best bets are the surveillance cameras from the staging areas at the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel at Whittier.

            “Thanks.  Maybe you'll change your mind."

            "You never know."  Sable placed the sketch back in his jacket.  He hoped that when he visited Veronica Cole’s boyfriend, Bradley Dalton, the man would provide a lead.

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