EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT, ACCORDING TO her father anyway, and ninety-nine percent of the time he was right. Things did have a way of working out for the better, and, as he constantly reminded her, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. It was just that crawling through that tunnel to get to the light was always such a pain.
Getting shot was a perfect example. What possible good could come from that? Too soon to know, she supposed, but she chose to believe her father and to embrace his optimistic outlook on life. She also thought she’d start embracing another of his philosophies: get even. Sophie would welcome the opportunity to shoot the man who had shot her. See how much he liked it.
Over the phone her father promised her that Kelly’s employees would get justice, and she trusted him. She hoped they would get their money back, too, which she mentioned several times. Her father’s response was a simple, “We’ll see.”
After they finished discussing the current sorry state of affairs with Kelly’s Root Beer, she told him all about William Harrington, sparing no details of his gruesome death. He suggested that she pack her bag and take a trip to Prudhoe Bay. He reminded her that she was a reporter, and that there was obviously a story to be had there. Sophie recognized her father’s real motive. He wanted her out of Chicago until all the hoopla over Kelly’s closing calmed down. What he suggested made good sense, though. There was a story to be told in Alaska.
The next couple of days went by surprisingly fast, yet Sophie didn’t get much of anything accomplished. She slept a lot, ate a little, and felt dull as oatmeal. Gil spent only that first night in her apartment, but he was never far away. When he wasn’t guarding her apartment, someone else was on duty. No one got past the lobby without identification and permission. The added security was Alec’s doing, and Sophie didn’t know how she was ever going to repay him for keeping her safe.
She had company, lots of company, and there were Get Well cards and fresh flowers. Mrs. Bitterman came by with a pot of homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs. There was enough to feed a family of twelve. Even complete strangers sent good wishes for her speedy recovery. Most insisted they didn’t believe Bobby Rose—Chicago’s very own Robin Hood—had stolen money from Kelly’s retirement fund. The vast majority blamed Kevin Devoe, Kelly’s investment money manager, for being inept and making bad stock purchases.
Sophie couldn’t escape from the scandal. Every night there was something in the local news about the company closing and also about the bitter divorce. Kelly’s daughter, Meredith, and her soon-to-be-ex, Kevin Devoe, were involved in a nasty, hateful fight. Accusations were being flung by each side, and all of them were caught on film and shown like a sick soap opera on the six o’clock and ten o’clock local TV news. Their vile, angry sneers were right there in the middle of the screen for everyone to see.
How could a couple who obviously had loved each other when they married turn into such gargoyles? Love one day, hate the next? No wonder the thought of marriage made Sophie want to gag.
Mr. Bitterman called her every day, but he refused to come and see her until she had recovered from her injury, and he refused to let her say a word about work.
“I know if I do, you’ll hound me to let you get back to the newspaper, and I’ll feel sorry for you because you were shot, and I might give in,” he told her.
When she opened her mouth to talk, he cut her off. At first she was infuriated by his obstinacy because she was dying to tell him about Harrington’s fate, but she soon realized Bitterman’s stubborn insistence could work to her advantage. She needed more time to gather information before approaching him with her plan.
Sophie couldn’t get Harrington out of her mind. She wanted to call Paul Larson in Prudhoe Bay and ask him if he had found out anything more about the deceased. Paul had given her his cell phone number and had told her she could call him anytime night or day, but she didn’t want to bother him. He had a full-time job working as a security officer for the oil companies, and he had promised that he would call her if and when he had further information about Harrington. Still, waiting to hear something was driving her to distraction.
She kept a notebook close, and every time she remembered something Harrington had said during that endless interview, she jotted it down. Guilt plagued her. She should have paid more attention to him.
Her attention now, however, was focussed on her missing purse. What she should do is find out where the crime lab was located, go there, and demand that they give her back her personal possessions. They still had her digital recorder with every word Harrington had said on it.
THE DAY HER STITCHES WERE REMOVED started out as a very good day indeed. Paul Larson, the security guy from Alaska, called with all sorts of interesting information.
“They found Harrington’s wallet. It was thirty yards from the remnants of a tent that had been set up about twenty miles from nowhere. I mean it. It was smack dab in the middle of the most desolate land you could ever imagine. Nothing around for miles and miles. A small plane flew over looking for Barry, and they set down to put some new markers up.”
“The male polar bear that ate…I mean that killed William Harrington. I’ve discovered that Barry is quite the celebrity up here.”
She was horrified. “Because he killed a man?”
“Oh, no, no. He’s a celebrity because he’s been part of a scientific study on polar bears. There’s always one scientific group or another up here collecting data about something. If it’s not the polar bears, it’s global warming.”
“You said they were checking up on Barry?”
“That’s right. The pilot spotted a long strip of red fabric flying in the wind. A big wad of it was part of a tent, but then there was another smaller strip frozen to the wallet. If the tent hadn’t been such a bright color, he never would have seen it. Even so, when you think about how huge this place is, it’s pretty amazing they found anything. They call it a frozen wasteland.”
And William Harrington pitched a tent in the middle of it? What in God’s name was he doing camping twenty miles from…frozen nothing? Sophie couldn’t even begin to imagine what he had been up to. She wondered aloud: “You don’t suppose Harrington was in Alaska because of one of these scientific studies, do you?”
“What kind of study?” Larson asked.
“This might be a stretch, but I keep thinking about the project Harrington mentioned. He called it the Alpha Project. It’s probably nothing,” Sophie said. “Harrington was pretty boastful, so he most likely was exaggerating about some superman club he was a part of, but it might be worth a little investigating.”
“Alpha Project?” Larson laughed. “Sounds a little sci fi to me.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Paul,” Sophie admitted, “yet I can’t help but be intrigued. I still wonder why Harrington was in Alaska. What was inside the wallet?”
“His driver’s license, a couple of hundred-dollar bills, and a twenty, and a Visa bank card. There wasn’t a scratch on that skinny leather wallet. Not a scratch they said. Amazing, huh? Considering…you know…”
Considering that good old Barry had chewed up William Harrington?
“They sent the wallet down to the lab in Anchorage. The remains had already been taken there. I talked to a guy down there, told him I was real interested in the investigation, and that I would appreciate it if he would let me know what was going on.
“I guess they started with the bank that issued the credit card and from there they tracked down the name of a law firm handling Harrington’s affairs. They even got the name of the one and only relative, who, I understand, is going to inherit a hell of a lot of money. Dwayne Wicker. A second cousin. Pretty sad he only had the one relative.”
“I don’t know who his friends were or if he even had friends,” Sophie said. “We only discussed the twenty-four races he’d won. And blisters. We talked a long time about his blisters.”
Paul laughed. “Blisters? You’re making that up.”
“No, I’m not. I’m ashamed to admit I sort of daydreamed while he talked. I feel bad about that. Those races meant so much to him.”
“Then why did he blow off the twenty-fifth race?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say he knew he wouldn’t win, but the fact that he was still wearing his racing socks in Alaska is making me wonder if there isn’t much more to his disappearance.”
“Listen, I’ve got an idea. Since you’re not going to be writing about races, come up here and write about Alaska. We’ve got a five-star hotel just outside of Barrow. How about I make a reservation for you? I really want that candlelight dinner.”
“Do they put chocolates on the pillows every night in this five-star hotel?”
He had a nice laugh. “Okay, I made up the hotel, but you still have to come up here. We have a no-frills hotel here with clean rooms and clean sheets, and you’ve really got to see the northern lights. The view here is spectacular.”
“I thought you said it was a wasteland.”
“A beautiful wasteland.” He laughed again. “I guess that’s a contradiction. You just have to see it to understand. Alaska will fascinate you.”
“Let me think about it,” she said.
“Think about me, too.”
She didn’t respond to his comment. “You’ll call me if you get any more information on Harrington?”
“I’m going to call you anyway. Bye now.”
SOPHIE WAS DESPERATE. “I need Kelly’s Root Beer, and I need it bad.”
“And you’re calling me because…?” Cordie asked.
“Because you know how to get things from the street…the ’hood.”
“The ’hood, like in neighborhood. Can you get me some or not?”
“I’ve got a couple of bottles in my refrigerator. I could bring them over after my last chem lab.”
“That’s not enough. I need cases of the stuff.”
“Okay. I’ll ask the obvious. Why?”
“Because Mr. Bitterman is coming over tonight. There’s a story I want to investigate and it might be necessary for me to take a trip. My hope is that he’ll approve the story and cover my expenses. I’ll tell you everything when we get together. But now I need root beer and lots of it. I lured Mr. Bitterman to my apartment with a promise, and I exaggerated just a bit.”
“How much is a bit?”
“I suggested I had a closet full of the stuff.”
“There’s an easy solution. Call the grocery store and have them deliver a couple of cases of another brand of root beer.”
“Mr. Bitterman would have heart failure. It has to be Kelly’s Root Beer.”
“What about Regan? Maybe she can help.”
“I’ve already given her an assignment. She’s supposed to work on Alec to help me get my things back from the crime lab. There’s absolutely no reason for them to hold on to my personal possessions.”
“Gil told me there was blood all over your purse and that the bullet went through the clasp. Poor you. They had to take it because it was part of the crime scene. Don’t you ever watch any of those CSI shows on television? You’re lucky they didn’t cut your rug up and take that, too.”
“But what about the things inside my purse? Why do they need to keep my wallet and digital recorder and my cell phone? I guess I can kiss that battery good-bye.”
“Talk to Detective Steinbeck.”
“I have talked to him. He keeps telling me he’ll get my things back real soon, but I’ve stopped believing him. He’s just humoring me.”
“I don’t know what you think Alec can do. This isn’t a federal investigation.”
“He has friends in the police department, and I’m hoping he can get one of them to help. I really need my recorder. There’s an important interview I have to listen to,” she explained.
“Ah, the runner interview.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m desperate. I even left a message on Alec’s cell phone telling him that if I don’t get my recorder back by tomorrow, I’m going to break into the crime lab and get it myself. If I have to tear up the place, so be it.”
Cordie laughed. “Oh, I bet he just loved listening to that message.”
After she finished talking with her friend, Sophie tried several other possibilities, but none of them could hook her up with Kelly’s Root Beer. The beverage was as scarce as mascara at an Amish convention.
Nothing was going her way, and Sophie had reached the end of her rope. She wasn’t asking for much, just a little good news.
And then it came. But why is it that most good news is accompanied by bad news? Sophie wondered.
Good news: She got her digital recorder back.
Bad news: Jack MacAlister came with it.
JOURNAL ENTRY 304
Brandon called a meeting and proposed we keep the deaths of the pack “our little secret.” He fears that our funding will be taken away. It had only just been renewed, and none of us wants to leave until we see what happens to Ricky.
We’ve all agreed to Brandon’s proposal.
Ricky has found a new pack for us. He wandered alone for almost two weeks before he found another family. It’s typical for wolves to move around in the fall and winter. Ricky came across a pack in migration, and though it’s highly unusual, he has managed to blend in. It remains to be seen if this alpha male will cause trouble in his new community.
AGENT MACALISTER WAS AS CHARMING AS EVER. AND SO was his greeting. He didn’t waste time on “Hello” or “Hi there.” She opened the door and heard, “It’s a felony to break into a crime lab and steal evidence.”
“But I didn’t break into the lab, did I? I merely threatened to,” she replied. “I suppose it would be impolite to ask you to give me my recorder and then go away, Agent MacAlister.”
“Jack. Call me Jack.” He smiled as he walked past her into the living room. “You’re not getting your recorder back until you say my name.”
He didn’t look like he was going to be leaving anytime soon. He was making himself comfortable on her sofa.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“It’s a long story.”
“Try me.” She folded her arms across her chest and suddenly remembered she wasn’t wearing a bra under her T-shirt. The band rubbed against her incision. She grabbed her oversized cardigan. She had placed it on the back of a chair and planned to put it on before she opened the door to Mr. Bitterman, but she’d forgotten all about it.