Tag Archives: Robin Barefield

Sockeye (Red) Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)

Sockeye salmon also called red salmon and sometimes blueback salmon, are larger than pink salmon but average smaller in size than other Pacific Salmon species. Sockeyes measure between 18 and 31 inches (45.7-78.7 cm) in length and weigh between 4 to 15 pounds (1.8-6.8 kg). In their marine phase, sockeyes have iridescent silver sides, a white belly, and a metallic green-blue back. Due to this marine coloration, sockeyes are sometimes called blueback salmon. While they can have fine, black speckles on their backs, they lack the large spots found on other species of Pacific Salmon. The flesh of a sockeye in the marine phase is bright orange and firm. This beautiful, firm flesh with its rich flavor makes sockeyes highly prized and a culinary favorite.

When sockeyes return to their natal streams to spawn, their bodies turn bright red, and their heads become green. They are called red salmon because of this spawning coloration. In addition to changing color when they return to spawn, males develop a humped back, and hooked jaws called a kype. Breeding females are paler in color than males.

Unlike pinks, chums, and cohos that can spawn close to the mouths of small streams, sockeye salmon usually spawn in large, complex river/lake systems. Most sockeyes spawn either in streams connected to lakes or along the lakeshore in areas of upwelling. Because a sockeye requires unimpeded access to a lake to complete its life cycle, it is susceptible to habitat manipulation or degradation. Not only man but also beavers can alter a river system by building dams, effectively blocking a river or stream and denying salmon access to the lake.

The natural range for sockeyes is from the Klamath River in California and Oregon north to Point Hope in Alaska. In the western Pacific, sockeyes range from the Anadyr River in Siberia south to Hokkaido, Japan. Sockeyes are most numerous in the Fraser River system in British Columbia and the Bristol Bay system, including the Kvichak, Naknek, Ugashik, Egegik, and Nushagak rivers. Some populations of sockeyes do not migrate to the ocean but spend their entire lives in freshwater. These landlocked salmon are called kokanee salmon. Kokanees are found from Siberia to Japan on the Asian side of the Pacific and In North America from the Kenai Peninsula to the Deschutes River in Oregon. Kokanees have been widely introduced to lakes in the U.S., including the Great Lakes.

In Alaska, sockeye salmon return from the ocean to spawn from July to October. Like other Pacific Salmon species, sockeyes spawn in the streams where they were born. Some sockeyes spawn in streams not connected to lakes and others spawn near the lakeshore, but most spawn in streams attached to a lake. A female digs a nest in the stream bottom by giving several, powerful strokes of her tail. Once she finishes digging the nest, she rests while a dominant male courts her by nudging her side with his snout and then coming to rest beside her and quivering. The female then drops into the nest, and the male follows, stopping beside her. Both fish arch their bodies, open their mouths and quiver, releasing their eggs and sperm. Other males may also enter the nest and release sperm. The female will continue to dig nests until she has deposited all her eggs. She usually digs three to five nests over the course of three to five days, and she may breed with several dominant males. A female deposits between 500 to 1,000 eggs in a nest and lays a total of 2,500 to 4,300 eggs. A male sockeye may breed with several females, and both male and female sockeyes die within a few weeks after spawning.

Sockeye eggs hatch in the winter, and the young alevins remain in the gravel, gaining nutrition from their yolk sacs until spring when they emerge into the stream. At this stage of their lives, the young sockeyes are called fry and have dark, short, oval parr marks on their sides. Fry move out of the stream and into the lake where they spend one to three years in fresh water, feeding on zooplankton and small crustaceans. As they prepare to leave the lake, sockeyes lose their parr marks and turn silvery. They are now called smolts. Smolts weight only a few ounces when they enter the ocean, but they begin to grow quickly, mostly feeding on plankton, insects, and small crustaceans. A sockeye’s beautiful orange flesh comes from eating plankton and krill in the ocean.

Sockeyes spend one to four years in the ocean where they travel nearly continuously, covering as many as 2300 miles (3700 km) in one year. As it begins the return trip to its spawning stream, a mature sockeye swims even faster, covering 28 to 35 miles (45-56 km) per day during its last two months at sea. Sockeyes are prey for nearly every animal they encounter that is bigger than they are, and they are a valuable species for commercial fishermen.

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Next week, I will cover the commercial and sport fishery for sockeyes as well as the status of sockeye populations and threats to their survival, including the controversial proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

I would love to hear your opinions and ideas about the Pebble Mine as well as about anything else related to salmon conservation or any of my other posts.

My novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, is now available for sale at Amazon and other online booksellers, as well as on my page at www.authormasterminds.com

As always, thank you for reading my blog, and if you would like to receive my free, monthly newsletter on murder in Alaska, sign up on the following form.

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Pre-Order The Fisherman’s Daughter

 

I am thrilled to announce the e-book of my new novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other online booksellers. Here is a short synopsis of the novel:

Seventeen-year-old Deanna Kerr fights to start her outboard engine as storm-tossed waves fill her boat with water. Panicked and crying, relief spreads through Deanna when a boat approaches her. She believes she is about to be rescued. Four months later, Deanna’s bones are found in a pile of kelp on the beach. Her ankles are wired together, and her skull crushed.

Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Dan Patterson fears a serial killer is stalking women on Kodiak. Including Deanna Kerr, three women have been murdered on the island in the past six months.  When a park ranger discovers the body of a fourth woman dumped in the park in the middle of a blizzard, Patterson contacts the FBI and requests their assistance.

FBI, Special Agent Nick Morgan has been to Kodiak before on another case, and he volunteers to return to the fascinating island and its unique, independent people. He knows he also accepted this assignment because he hopes to see Dr. Jane Marcus, a woman he met on his previous trip to the island and hasn’t been able to stop thinking about since then.

Morgan flies into Kodiak on an icy, December day to offer his assistance to the investigation. Only 13,500 people live on Kodiak Island, but Morgan soon realizes the list of suspects for these crimes is long. Could the killer be the crab boat captain who knew Deanna Kerr and was the last person seen with one of the other victims, or is the murderer one of the coaches at the high school or the strange assistant coach who seems to have an unhealthy relationship with children? The killer could also be someone related to one of the victims. Morgan believes the killer is a person the victims had no reason to fear and he thinks they willingly met with him. As the investigation proceeds, Patterson begins to worry the murderer could be a police officer or a trooper and may even be one of the members of his task force.

When the murderer strikes again, tensions escalate, and Patterson and Morgan know they must catch this monster before another woman dies or before the killer leaves the island and begins preying on women somewhere else.

The Fisherman’s Daughter will be released as an e-book on October 17th, and the print version will be released on November 1st. If you are planning to buy an e-book of The Fisherman’s Daughter, it will help boost the book’s ratings if you pre-order it. As always thank you for your support!

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Summer Update

This week, I would like to give you a summer update. Last week, I wrote about the difficult spring and summer I have had, but I didn’t want to leave things on a negative note. I began writing my last post a few weeks ago, and since then, I have gotten stronger and am beginning to recover the use of my muscles. Lately, I’ve been going out on the boat nearly every day with our summer guests; although, I will admit I’m not much help.

While I have been challenged by the physical demands of my job this summer, spending my days with our guests and the wildlife of Uyak Bay has done much to repair my psychological health. Mike took the above photo one day when a pod of Orcas fed and frolicked near our lodge. An abundant, sustained pink salmon run this summer has provided food for everything from Orcas to bears to eagles. Our fishermen have also enjoyed catching salmon.

Soon after my return from the hospital (you can read about that drama in my last post), a group of Australian guests involved us all in an interactive murder game, lasting their entire stay. The game was great fun and had us each trusting no one else in camp. It did not surprise me when Mike (my husband) won the game by murdering the most people. As if my summer hadn’t already been bad enough, Mike even murdered me!

The most uplifting news for me this season was to learn that a sow we have watched for the past eight years showed up this summer with three newborn cubs. The sow was badly injured by another bear when she was very young, and her rear end was flayed open. The injury was so bad, we didn’t think she would survive. We were happy and surprised to see her the next summer, and while the scar has faded over the years, it is still obvious. She has always been a favorite bear for us and our guests because she seems to like to perform in front of us, often catching a fish and then turning toward the photographers, fish held high while the cameras whir. The walls in our dining room are covered with photos of bears, and many of the photos are of her. As the years passed, and she appeared by herself summer after summer, we assumed she was a barren sow and wondered if the horrific injury she received when she was little more than a cub had anything to do with her inability to reproduce. We couldn’t have been more surprised when she showed up this summer with three tiny cubs trailing behind her, and I immediately began e-mailing some of our past guests to tell them the exciting news. From all accounts, she is a good mother, and all those years of fishing on her own have made her a proficient provider. She still doesn’t seem afraid of us, but she keeps her distance from humans now because she has more than herself to worry about.

We still have several weeks left of our summer season, and if nature follows its usual trend, fishing will peak in late August, and bear viewing will get better every day right up until our last day of the season in mid-September. Every year, nearly 50% of our guests are returnees, and this year is no exception. We love the mix of returnees and new guests, and I like to think of it as old and new friends.

No matter how bad the first part of my summer was, I knew things would improve once I climbed onto our boat, the Mary Beth, and began enjoying adventures with our guests.

You can read more about our lodge at www.munseysbearcamp.com .

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My Summer – Part One


This year, I struggled through a difficult spring into a terrible summer. It often seems bad things happen in bunches, and this has been my year for one of those bunches. In April, I experienced a painful outbreak of shingles. I live a floatplane ride away from a doctor, and it costs approximately $2000 for me to make a quick visit to my family practitioner, not counting the cost of the doctor’s appointment. I have to charter a plane both ways, rent a car, and usually stay in a hotel for at least one or two nights. When I face such an expense, I must stop to consider whether a trip to the doctor is really necessary. When I broke out with shingles, I decided I could not get to the doctor in time for the anti-viral medication to be effective, so I felt there was nothing a doctor could do for me.

The shingles virus raged inside my body. At times, I felt as if I had broken a rib and at others I swore I had pneumonia or was suffering a heart attack. The stabbing pain in my side was the most intense, and it was relentless. At night, I could find no position in bed where my body did not scream in pain, and I usually curled up in a chair for an hour or two of restless sleep. I am certain those of you who have had shingles understand the pain I am describing.

I foolishly thought once the blisters from the rash healed, I would recover. Unfortunately, though, the pain only seemed to get worse. In late May, we took our boat to town to have work done on it, and I saw my doctor who prescribed a medication to help numb the nerve pain. She also informed me the pain could last for several months or years, and I decided I’d better learn to live with it. Luckily, the medication did help, and the pain lessened.

In late June, I flew back to Kodiak to help my husband bring our boat home, an eight-to-12-hour voyage, depending on the weather. When we got back to our lodge, we were very busy getting things ready for our summer, tourism season. We are building a new cabin, so I spent my days painting walls. I also painted the long board-walk skirting our cabins, and I did yardwork and tended my garden. I could tell something wasn’t right with me, though. After we returned from town, I felt tired and blamed it on the very busy two days I’d spent in Kodiak. Then, I began to notice how difficult it was for me to walk up the hill from our dock. A few days later, I was startled when I could barely climb the stairs to a storage room. My left leg refused to work. Soon, I noticed weakness in my right leg and both arms. When I began to feel intense tingling in my hands and feet, I knew I had a neurological issue.

At first, I denied I had a medical problem; the last thing I wanted to do was fly back to Kodiak. Finally, two days before our summer season was to begin, I had to be helped onto a floatplane for the ride to town. My plan was to see the doctor and fly home the same afternoon.

I at first stumped the doctors in Kodiak, but when they consulted a neurologist in Anchorage, they came up with a possible diagnosis of Guillain Barré Syndrome (GBS). They explained to me that my immune system got confused while fighting shingles and turned on my nervous system, stripping myelin from my nerve sheath. GBS can be dangerous and in an extreme case, an individual has difficulty walking in the morning, and by afternoon, her entire body, including her chest wall, is paralyzed, forcing her to be on a ventilator just to survive.

Doctors in Kodiak wanted to medevac me to Anchorage, but I assured them I could get myself on the jet to Anchorage and to the hospital once I arrived there. Further tests at Providence Hospital in Anchorage confirmed I had GBS, and the neurologist recommended an infusion of immunoglobulins each day for the next five days. Meanwhile, physical therapy could work with me to determine if my symptoms were getting better, staying the same, or worsening. The usual progression for GBS is to worsen rapidly and then stay steady for a period before slowly improving. The neurologist explained it would take a year for me to recover, but nearly everyone who has GBS recovers completely.

I felt thankful to receive treatment and to know I had something from which I would recover. I hated not to be home to finish the hundred little chores I wanted to do before our summer season began, but I knew my husband, Mike, and our brilliant cook, Mary, would have no problem starting our summer season without me. I especially regretted I would not be at our lodge to greet our new, young camp helper, Emily, but Mary assured me she would orientate Emily, and they would do fine.

I sat back in the hospital bed and watched the infusion drip down the tube and through the needle into my veins. All would be okay; I would get through this. I reminded myself repeatedly that it could be worse. And then it did get worse – much worse.

On my last day in the hospital, I decided to call my brother, Russell, his wife, Melanie, and their son, Nick, in Kansas. I am very close to my brother, but we usually communicate by e-mail, mainly since it is nearly impossible for me to make a telephone call from our remote lodge. I decided to call him from the hospital, though, because I knew he was worried about my condition, and I wanted to assure him I was recovering and would be okay. I reached Russell and had a nice conversation with him and his family. Then, according to Melanie, after we disconnected, Russell decided to mow the grass in 100⁰ heat.

Melanie called me back at the hospital just as the nurse was starting my final infusion and gave me the horrible news. Russell had suffered a heart attack and had died while mowing the grass, little more than an hour after I had talked to him.

My world crashed down around me at the news of my brother’s death. I couldn’t believe such a strong force and one of the most important people in my life could be gone, and I stupidly kept thinking he couldn’t possibly be dead because I just had talked to him. I worried about Melanie and Nick and what they would do without Russell. I know Melanie is strong, but they were a unit, and I couldn’t imagine her without him.

The following morning, the doctor released me from the hospital. I took a cab to the airport and made my way from the entrance to my gate, shocked by how slowly I walked and exhausted I felt. It had been too foggy for planes to land in Kodiak for the past two days, but I was lucky, and the fog lifted just before my flight.

In Kodiak, a van whisked me to Andrew Airways, and soon, I was in a floatplane flying home. I felt numb and very tired as we skirted emerald mountains, plunging waterfalls, and deep valleys formed by glaciers and cut by rivers. All I cared about was getting home and curling into a ball with my cat to lick my wounds. I knew I would cherish my last conversation with my brother and would always be grateful that for whatever reason, I had placed the call to him only an hour before he died. I knew I wasn’t well enough to be much help to Mike on our summer trips. My usual job is to work on the boat as a wildlife-viewing and sport-fishing guide, but now I wasn’t even sure I could crawl onto the boat. One day at a time, I told myself. I would improve.

As we circled our lodge and came in low for a landing, I looked at our dock and nearly burst into tears. There stood Mike, Mary, and Emily, and Mary held a beautifully designed “welcome home” sign for me. With their help, I stepped off the plane and hugged each of them. Even Emily, who didn’t yet know me, gave me a big hug. I’ve never been so happy to be home in my life, and yes, my cat allowed me to cuddle beside her while she licked my hand, and I took a nap.

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Next week I will tell you about what my life has been like since I returned home, and I promise that post will be full of stories about healing, wildlife and wonderful guests.

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FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan

FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan first appeared in my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, when he traveled to Kodiak, Alaska to investigate an explosion on a floatplane that killed, among others, a U.S. Senator. Nick, and my protagonist, Jane Marcus, spent time together solving the mystery, and just when it looked as if sparks might ignite, Nick made the decision to try to reunite with his estranged wife. Now, a year and a half later, Agent Morgan returns to Kodiak to aid the local police in their investigation of a string of murders. This next excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, describes Nick’s arrival in Kodiak on a typical, stormy, winter day.

Morgan barely could see the runway as the Dash 8 descended through the thick clouds and heavy snow toward Kodiak. Wind buffeted the plane from side to side, and he wondered how the pilot would manage to control the plane and hit the runway with this poor visibility and turbulence. It seemed like only seconds between the time they popped out under the clouds and the plane touched down on the runway, bounced once, and then screeched to a stop in front of the small terminal.
Morgan grabbed his bag and briefcase and headed down the stairs of the plane. With all the traveling he did, he had learned to pack light. Snow and wind pummeled him as soon as he stepped out of the plane; he pulled the hood of his parka over his head and rushed toward the door of the airport. When he stepped inside the terminal, an Alaska State Trooper walked toward him and held out his hand.
“Agent Morgan, I’m Dan Patterson. It’s nice to meet you.”
Morgan shook Patterson’s hand. “Please, call me Nick.”
Patterson nodded. Do you have luggage?”
“No, this is it,” Morgan said. “I probably should get a rental car, though.”
“Why don’t you wait on that. You won’t want to drive a rental car on these roads. We can chauffeur you around until the weather improves.”
The men left the airport and hurried to the trooper SUV. As they pulled out onto the highway, Morgan said, “I’m sure this weather isn’t making your investigation any easier.”
“Forget forensic evidence,” Patterson said. If you want to murder someone, winter in Kodiak is the time and place to do it. “We’ve got zip for footprints or tire tracks.”
“What about for the Ayers girl. It wasn’t snowing then, was it?”
“For that one, we had heavy rain to wash away any evidence.”
“The M.E. thinks the last victim was sexually assaulted, but he has no semen?” Morgan asked.
“Right. He found residue from a condom in the last victim, but no residue in the Ayers girl. He suspects the first victim was also sexually assaulted, but he couldn’t be certain, and of course, there is no way to know what happened to Deanna Kerr.”
“Her family still doesn’t know she was murdered?” Morgan asked.
“No, we thought you would want to be there when we break the news.”
“Do you think anyone in her family is capable of committing these crimes?” Morgan asked.
“Not really, but you said we should concentrate on individuals who spent the summer in Uyak Bay, or at least were on a boat in Uyak Bay around the Fourth of July and spent the remainder of the year in or around town. No one fits that picture any better than the Kerr family.”
Morgan liked the way Patterson thought. He was already forming an opinion of the trooper as a sharp investigator. He was impressed Patterson had called the FBI so early in the investigation. Too many cops hated to ask for help, especially from the FBI; they wanted the glory of solving the case by themselves. Patterson, though, seemed more interested in catching the perpetrator before more women were killed. He wasn’t thinking about his career or his pride; he wanted only to utilize the best resources he could find to catch the killer.
“I already have you registered at the Baranof Inn. Do you want to drop off anything there or go straight to our headquarters? I have a task force meeting planned to begin in half an hour. I wasn’t sure your plane would be able to land in this weather, so I should call the other task force members and let them know you’re here and the meeting is a go.”
“I don’t need to stop at the hotel,” Morgan said. “Let’s go to your headquarters, and I’ll get organized.”
Agent Morgan joins Patterson and the Alaska State Troopers and the Kodiak Police Department in investigating the murders of four women. Will more women die before they find the killer, or will the murderer leave the island before they apprehend him? I’ll release more excerpts from my novel when my publication date nears; I promise!

For stories about true crime, sign up for my free, monthly newsletter below. On May 15th, I’ll release my newsletter about an unthinkable murder that happened in Craig, Alaska.

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Park Ranger Liz Kelley

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.

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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.

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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.

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Sergeant Patterson

This excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter is told from the viewpoint of Sergeant Dan Patterson with the Alaska State Troopers.

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Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Patterson knew his night was about to take a turn for the worse. He had just finished his shift and walked into his house when his phone chirped. His wife was dishing up a plate of spaghetti for him, but when the phone rang, she stopped, knowing she would be reheating his meal in several hours.

“I’m on my way.” He said into the phone. He looked at his wife. “Sorry hon, this sounds like a bad one. Don’t wait up for me; I have to drive to Chiniak.”

He hurried to his car in the driving rain, fastened his seat belt and began the 42-mile drive down the Chiniak Highway. On a sunny day in July, this drive rivaled any in the world for its scenic beauty, but this was not a sunny day in July; it was a rainy night in October. The road was dark and curvy, and Patterson gripped the steering wheel as he concentrated on the pavement in front of him. Staying on the road was not his only concern. He had to watch for deer and possibly even bears running across the highway. The trooper who had called him said to park at the post office in Chiniak, and they would cover the final mile of their trek on four wheelers. All Patterson had been told was that a body had been discovered in the woods. He didn’t know whether the victim was male or female or whether it had been there a day or a year. If he’d understood Trooper Ben Johnstone correctly, the trooper himself had found the body while deer hunting on his day off. The usually calm and organized Johnstone, however, had sounded rattled, so Patterson may have misunderstood him. He’d get the details soon enough.

Patterson had only been stationed on Kodiak for six months, and he had only been to Chiniak once before, but it was a town with a population of 50 people, so finding the post office was not difficult. By the time he parked the car, sheets of blinding rain pelted the windshield. Patterson pulled on his raincoat, stepped out of his vehicle, and shook hands with Trooper Ben Johnstone.

“I see the weather isn’t going to be our friend tonight,” Patterson said.

“No, sir. If there were tracks near the body, they won’t be there now.”

“So the body is fresh?”

“Yes, sir. No more than a day or two old. She was murdered.”

Patterson felt a headache coming on. This would be a very long night. “You’re sure it wasn’t a hunting accident.”

“This was no hunting accident, sir. I’m certain of that. It’s pretty hard to cut someone’s throat by accident.”

The headache spread into Patterson’s neck. “You are the one who found the body?”

“Yes sir, I was walking through the woods. I’d been hunting about two hours and was heading back to my cabin because it was starting to rain hard. I caught a glimpse of something strange on the ground, and after a few more steps, I realized it was a body. I took some photos and checked around the area for footprints or four-wheeler tracks, but I didn’t see anything. She must have been murdered before the rain started.”

“How are you doing?” Patterson asked. “This must have been quite a shock.”

“Yes sir, it was. I’m fine, though. It’s just that you don’t expect to find a dead girl in the woods when you’re deer hunting.”

“A girl?” Now his stomach was beginning to hurt.

“A teenager, sir.”

“Okay, let’s go take a closer look.”

Patterson followed Johnstone through the woods, each man riding a four wheeler that Johnstone had somehow managed to procure. They had to travel slowly through the Sitka spruce rainforest to avoid smashing into a tree, but at least the large trees shielded them from some of the rain.

Fifteen minutes later, Patterson spotted the red beam of the light Johnstone had left to mark the location of the body. They parked their four wheelers several yards away and approached the body on foot.

The naked body sprawled on the ground, arms out to the side and legs spread wide. It had been posed for maximum effect. Her throat had been slashed so deeply she nearly had been decapitated. Her brown eyes stared sightlessly up at the trees. Patterson noted what looked like bite marks on her breasts, but otherwise, her slim, pale body appeared unmarred.

“We need to get a tarp over the scene right away,” Patterson said.

“Yes, sir. I brought one with me. I’ll get on that. Are the crime scene people on their way?”

“I’ll send them tomorrow when it’s light, but I don’t think they’ll find much. If there ever was any evidence here, it has been washed away by now. I don’t see much blood, so I think this is only where the body was dumped, not where she was killed. Once you get the tarp set up, go back to town and see if you can borrow a trailer or a sled or something we can use to transport the body back to my vehicle. After I take photos, I think we should get her packaged and transported back to Kodiak. The only hope we have of preserving any evidence on her body will be to get her out of this weather.”

It was 3:00 am by the time Patterson finally returned home and ate his spaghetti dinner. He and Johnstone had packaged the body, and it was ready to ship to Anchorage to the state medical examiner’s office on the morning Ravn flight. This was the second female on the island in the past six months who had been found with her throat slashed. Patterson had a bad feeling about these crimes. On an island where few murders occurred, two women killed in the same manner in the span of six months suggested to him they were killed by the same perpetrator or perpetrators. Was a serial killer hunting women on the island?

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I will have another excerpt for you next week. If you haven’t already signed up for my free mystery newsletter, you will want to do it before my May newsletter about a shocking murder in Craig, Alaska.

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Jane

For those of you who read one or both of my previous novels, Big Game and Murder Over Kodiak, you probably remember my protagonist, Dr. Jane Marcus. Jane is only a supporting character in my latest novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, which I hope to publish in a few months. She makes her appearance early in the novel, though. The following excerpt is taken from chapter one, where we find Jane elbow-deep in a rotting whale carcass.

I struggled to maintain my grip on the ten-inch-thick slab of blubber while my colleague stripped it from the fin whale carcass. I cursed myself for the umpteenth time for not thinking quickly enough to get out of this project, but here I was, elbow deep in decaying whale blubber, and yes, the smell was worse than anything you can imagine. I had been offered my position on this necropsy team by marine mammal biologist Leslie Sinclair, and I’m sure she thought I should feel honored to be included on her team, but my scientific enthusiasm tended to wane when I was fighting the urge to vomit. As soon as I got home, I vowed to write a list of excuses for the next time Leslie tried to invite me on a necropsy.

It could have been worse. This whale had been dead for around two weeks, but it was only moderately decomposed. The tongue extended from the mouth of the bloated carcass, but the skin had not started to slough, and it was only slightly sunburned. Unfortunately, the external condition is not a good indicator of the internal condition of a dead whale because whales decompose from the inside out. Due to the large volume of tissue wrapped in insulating blubber, the inside cooks before the outside decays. I learned the necropsy team must be very careful when making the first cut on the fifty-ton carcass because it can explode if all those built-up gasses are expelled at once, and yes, when the gasses do escape, the horrific smell just keeps getting worse. I wore a rubber rain suit, the legs duct taped to my boots and the arms duct taped to my gloves. This covering allowed me to wade into the project without getting biological fluid on my skin. A face shield protected my eyes, nose, and mouth, and I’d pulled back my hair and stuffed it under a rubber cap. A persistent drizzle rounded out the perfect day, but at least I was wearing rain gear.

It made sense for me to be part of this necropsy team since I was one of several biologists trying to discover why more than fifty whales had died near Kodiak Island during the past two years. The affected whales included fin whales, sei whales, humpbacks, and gray whales, all species that had baleen instead of teeth and fed on small fish and zooplankton. These huge animals feed at the bottom of the food chain, making them susceptible to pollutants, toxic algae, and changes in their food concentrations due to a variety of reasons, including warming ocean temperatures. Any one or a combination of these factors could be responsible for the whale deaths, or the cause could be something we hadn’t suspected yet. The team was also considering underwater noise pollution from military sonar and other sources. Since I had been studying toxic algae at the Kodiak Braxton Marine Biology and Fisheries Research Center, Dr. Sinclair asked me to come at the problem from the toxic algae angle. Even though the algae I suspected might be the culprit in the deaths of the whales was a different species from what I had been studying, I was happy to do what I could to shed light on this disturbing problem. It seemed as if dead whales were being sighted nearly every week, but most were floating several miles from shore. This carcass was one of the few that had conveniently washed up on shore where a necropsy could be performed. I wanted to do what I could to help, but I’d try to do my work from my lab in the future.

“Jane, can you hear me?”

“Sorry, Leslie. I was lost in thought.”

“The smell is amazing, isn’t it?”

“Oh yes.”

“Since you’re looking at toxic algae, why don’t you be in charge of taking the stomach and intestinal samples as well as collecting feces, if you can find some.”

Oh boy! My day just kept getting better.

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While Jane’s role in this novel is not big, it is important, and we all want to find out what happens when she and FBI Agent Nick Morgan reconnect. Next week, I’ll introduce you to some more characters from my novel.

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The Daughter

Last week, I wrote about my next novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, and I promised some excerpts from the book over the next few weeks. This excerpt is a portion of the Prologue. A 17-year-old girl is running an aluminum fishing boat from a Fourth of July party at a cannery on Kodiak Island back to her family’s commercial fishing site. It is getting windy; she is plowing through large waves and begins to have engine problems.

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Deanna pushed the throttle forward too fast and plowed into a wave, taking a shower of spray over the bow. The cold salt water smacked her in the face, and she gasped for air. The engine quit again.

“No!” She slammed the clutch into neutral and twisted the key – nothing. She tried again, but no luck. She turned the key several more times in rapid succession. The boat turned sideways in the heavy seas, waves rocking it violently from side to side. Deanna’s heart hammered in her chest.

“Calm down, calm down, calm down! You’ve got this, Deanna Kerr. You are seventeen years old, not a little kid. Think!” She unhinged the hood from the outboard, her hands shaking so badly she could barely hang onto it. She set the hood on the deck and stared at the shiny metal cowling. Panic started to overtake her. She had no idea how to fix this type of engine.

“Think!” She commanded herself. The engine isn’t getting fuel. It must be a fuel filter problem. A wave poured over the side of the boat, filling it with several inches of water. She fumbled for the bailer and started scooping water out of the boat, but then another wave hit and more water poured over the side. She had to get the engine started and get out of the trough of the waves; the boat would fill with water if she sat here very long. She realized for the first time that her father had forgotten to give her a handheld VHF radio to carry in the skiff. She should have remembered to ask for one. If she had a radio, she could call for help.

Another wave crashed over the side of the skiff, and Deanna reached for the bulb on the gas line and pumped furiously. She turned the key. The engine coughed and died. “Please God, make it work!” She tried again but no luck. A wave struck her broadside and nearly knocked her out of the boat. She fell on her knees in the water in the bottom of the skiff. She looked for water in the fuel filter, but she didn’t see any. Maybe the filter was plugged by something. She opened the tool box secured to the inside of the hull. Her hands shook as she grabbed the filter wrench and fought to loosen the filter from the fuel line. Maybe she could bypass the filter. She tried to think. What would her dad do? She wasn’t sure how to bypass the filter. She pulled out the old filter and looked at it, but it looked fine. She had no time to think; she grabbed another filter and secured the housing. As she stood, another wave hit her and knocked her back into the bottom of the skiff. She chanced a glance at the angry ocean. Conditions were worsening at an alarming rate. Around her, whitecaps piled one on top another, but even more ominous was the black ocean toward the north, toward her home.

Deanna pumped the bulb on the fuel line again. She said a quick prayer and turned the key. Nothing. She heard herself sob before she even realized she was crying. She didn’t know what else to do. There were oars in the skiff, but she would never be able to row against these waves. She would just have to hope the storm blew her back to shore before the skiff filled with water or capsized. She took several deep breaths and thought about home. When she got back to the fish site, her mother would make her change out of her wet clothes while she made Deanna a cup of hot chocolate. Then, mom would wrap her in a quilt and stroke her head until she fell asleep. Of course, Dad would never let her take the skiff out alone again, but right now, Deanna didn’t care about that. She would be happy never to get on another boat in her life.

Over the roaring wind and pounding waves, Deanna thought she heard an engine. She stood, but her legs were trembling so badly she sat again, and then she saw it, approaching from the north. She rubbed her eyes, hoping she wasn’t hallucinating, but no, it was real, and it was coming straight for her. She was sure the driver of the other boat could see her, even with the swell and high waves, but just to be certain, she stood, waved her arms, and yelled at the top of her voice. She wiped her eyes and nose. Now that it looked as if she was going to be rescued, she didn’t want anyone to know she had been frightened and crying.

The other boat pulled alongside. “Are you okay?” The captain called.

“Thank God! What are you doing here?”

“I’ll toss you a line. Tie a bridle at the bow.”

“Okay. I can do that.” Deanna stood, but her legs were shaking so much she had to brace herself against the gunnel and pull herself to the bow of the boat. The skipper of the other boat tossed her a line, but with her trembling fingers, she couldn’t hang onto it. His next toss was harder than the first, and the heavy line slapped her in the face. She grabbed the line and pulled it into the boat. She knew how to tie a bridle because her father had taught her. Her hands shook as she threaded the line through a hole on the port side of the skiff, across the bow, and through a hole on the starboard side of the skiff. She nearly dropped the line as she brought it back to the center of the boat, but she paused, took a deep breath, and focused on the line and what she was doing. The rabbit comes out of the hole, around the tree, and back in the hole. She pulled the line tight. She had it, a perfect bowline.

The skipper nodded and pushed the throttle forward. Deanna’s boat swung into line behind the other boat. She slumped onto the forward seat, shut her eyes, and allowed herself to dream about a cup of hot chocolate and her mother’s embrace.

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Deanna only thought she was being rescued, and the situation was about to get much worse for her. Next week, I will reintroduce you to Jane Marcus, the protagonist in my first two novels. Please share any comments good or bad you have on my excerpts.

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The Title

The working title for my next novel is The Fisherman’s Daughter. Like my other two novels, it is a murder mystery. A friend suggested that a more descriptive title would be Who Murdered the Fisherman’s Daughter? What do you think? The cover of the book will picture a teenage girl in an aluminum fishing boat looking terrified as huge wave crests over the bow of her skiff. I think the cover image by itself will suggest the young girl is in peril. Is the title “Who Murdered the Fisherman’s Daughter?” necessary to let potential readers know this book is a murder mystery, or would the cover be enough to signal this is a suspense/mystery novel? Please let me know your opinion. I haven’t had much luck getting folks to leave comments on my blog posts, so if you’d rather e-mail me, you can send an e-mail to robin@robinbarefield.com. I would be grateful to hear what you think!

This novel, like my previous novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is set on Kodiak Island, Alaska. It begins on the Fourth of July weekend, but most of the action happens during November and December when the crazy Kodiak weather bounces from rain and wind to ice to snow and back to rain again. I like to say there is no such thing as good weather in the winter on Kodiak. It is either clear and very cold, or it’s stormy and warm, and I’ve used our wild winter weather as a backdrop for this novel.

The story I tell in this book is about a serial killer preying on women and girls on the island. A serial killer on an island of only 14,000 people should be easy to apprehend, but this killer is smart and resourceful and doesn’t leave evidence at the scenes. One woman’s body is tossed in the ocean, washing away any trace evidence. A girl’s body is found in a heavy rain storm, any forensic evidence destroyed by the downpour. Another woman’s body is found in a park during a heavy snowstorm, the tracks leading to the body dump covered by the falling snow. Another body is tossed into a public garbage dumpster, contaminated with fingerprints and debris. What about the fisherman’s daughter? By the time she is found, she has been reduced to skeletal remains.

My first two novels were told by Jane, the protagonist in those stories. Jane will also be in this novel, but she is not the main character, and in this novel, I have several viewpoint characters. Sergeant Dan Patterson with the Alaska State Troopers and FBI Special Agent Nick Morgan are the two main characters in the book, but Kodiak Police Detective Maureen Horner also plays an important role. A few of the scenes are told from the viewpoint of a victim, and toward the end of the book, we get a look inside the killer’s head. I have read that writing a story from multiple viewpoints is not easy, but I’ve enjoyed many books told from the viewpoints of two or more characters, and it seemed to me as if it would be easier to tell a story through the eyes of multiple characters instead of through the eyes of just one character. I now know writing multiple viewpoints is not easy, or at least it was not easy tackling my first multiple-viewpoint story. I will be curious to hear how my editor thinks I handled the challenge, and I know there will be some rewrites.

Over the next few weeks, I will post some excerpts from my novel. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think or to ask me questions. I would love your input!

A couple of weeks ago, I offered a free coupon for an e-book of Murder Over Kodiak, and not many people took me up on the offer. If you are interested in a coupon, drop me an e-mail. The offer will be ending soon. To take advantage of the offer, you will be asked to register for a website run by my publisher. There is no catch; sign up and get your free novel!

Speaking of free, if you haven’t already signed up for my free Mystery Newsletter, now is the time to do it. This month’s newsletter is about a bizarre missing person’s story and a tragic mix-up by the Alaska State Troopers.

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