Park Ranger Liz Kelley discovers the body of a young woman while making her rounds in Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park on a snowy, November night. This excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is told from Liz’s viewpoint.
Park Ranger Liz Kelley was alone on patrol at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, but since she was the only ranger who worked at the 182-acre park, this was business as usual for her. Fort Abercrombie is a beautiful park, rich in history and nestled in a Sitka spruce forest. The park is bordered on its front edge by steep cliffs that plunge into the heavy surf of the ocean. The park has a small lake containing trout, and in the summer, meadows teem with wildflowers of every hue. There are numerous campsites designed primarily for tent campers, and in the summer, the park is full of tourists.
It was not summer, though. It was a snowy, blustery November evening. Liz sometimes patrolled the main area of the park on foot when the weather was nice, but when it wasn’t, she made her rounds in the beat-up pickup with the state park insignia on the door. In the summer, she spent most of the day out on the park grounds, answering visitor’s questions and making sure they obeyed the park’s rules. This time of the year, she spent most of her time huddled in the ranger’s station with her computer, a small t. v., and most importantly, a coffee maker. Liz had last driven the main roads of the park at 5:00 pm, and she hadn’t seen a living soul. She had seen several deer huddled under the protection of the spruce trees, but she saw no trucks, cars, nor tents. When she got back to the ranger’s station, however, she noticed headlights pulling into the park. It was too dark to determine the make or model of the vehicle, let alone see who the driver was, but it had to be teenagers. Who else would be out in the park on a snowy, November night? She hadn’t seen the vehicle leave the park, but she assumed it had driven past while she was deep in concentration, working on her computer.
At 7:00 pm, Liz locked the ranger’s station and climbed into the truck to make her final rounds for the evening. She was anxious to get home to her husband and dog, so this would be a quick trip down the main road. She wanted to make sure that the vehicle she’d seen entering the park earlier hadn’t slid off the slick roads. She hoped the driver had enough sense not to drive down one of the side roads in this weather, and she wasn’t willing to drive down every small road looking for a phantom vehicle.
Liz drove slowly in the blizzard conditions. Four inches of snow covered the ground, and the large, heavy, wet flakes were quickly adding to the amount. She estimated the wind was blowing 35 knots or more, causing the snow to whiz horizontally past her windshield. For a moment, she considered abandoning her last rounds and heading home, but she continued at a snail’s pace, stopping every few feet to look left and right into the forest. Only an idiot or an overzealous park ranger would be out here on a night like this, she thought.
She reached the end and the concrete barrier where people could stand and look out over Spruce Cape and was happy to see there were no vehicles parked there. She did a U-turn and was starting back toward the park entrance when her headlights illuminated something bright pink a few feet off the road. At first, she thought it was a plastic bag, but it was too big. Should she stop and check it or pretend she didn’t see it and keep driving? She exhaled a deep sigh, shifted into park, grabbed a flashlight from the glove compartment, and crawled out of the truck. She cinched her hood tight and slogged through the snow toward the pink object. After only a few steps, she realized she was looking at a pink, down coat. After several more steps, she saw there was someone in the coat. She hurried toward the fallen form, all thoughts of her husband and dog and their cozy family room vanished from her mind, and she began running through first aid protocols in her head. Would she have to perform CPR? Did she have her rescue-breathing mask in her pocket? Should she put on her rubber gloves before she even touched the victim?
“Ma’am,” she called, “can you hear me?”
Liz slowed her pace as she neared the victim. “Ma’am?” The woman was on her side facing away from Liz. Liz touched her arm and called to her again, and when the woman didn’t reply, Liz rolled her onto her back. She took one look at her and stepped away from the body. She switched the flashlight to her left hand, and her right hand instinctually unsnapped her holster. She put her right hand on the butt of her gun while she swung the flashlight in a wide arc. She had seen a vehicle enter the park around 5:00, but she had not seen it leave. Was the murderer still in the park? Was he watching her? She felt the sweat run down her back, and she fought to control her emotions. It was no time to panic. She had to think clearly and act professionally.
Next week, I will re-introduce you to FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan when he is asked to fly to Kodiak to help investigate the string of murders.
My May Mystery Newsletter is a shocking, true story of murder from Craig, Alaska. If you would like to read it, you can sign up below.