It had not been a fun summer.

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And now here Rebecca was, five months later, waking up in a one-room shack deep in a canyon somewhere between the Wood River Mountains, which together formed part of the southwestern curve of the Alaska Range.  The mine sat on a creek in a deep, narrow crevice formed between three mountains four, five and six thousand feet in height.  The sun could have been up till midnight but Rebecca couldn’t swear to it; the only time the mining camp got direct sunlight was between the hours of ten and two.  It might as well be December.  There was even snow packed into various hollows on the north-facing slopes of the peaks.

It had not been a fun summer.  Not only was there no electricity, there was no running water, and the plumbing consisted of a teetery outhouse with bear hair stuck to the outside where the local grizzlies had come to scratch.  With the advent of salmon up Nenevok Creek, the bears had come for more than scratching their backs.  And if there weren’t bears, there were moose, mama moose with babies and attitude.  One day a porcupine had wandered into the outhouse and frightened her outside.  Mark had come running at the sound of her shrieks and roared with laughter at the sight of her hobbling around with her pants down around her ankles.

Mark had bought her a .357, which nearly knocked her flat the first time she’d shot it, and she wore it faithfully whenever she stepped out the door, but guns made her nervous and she preferred to remain inside, beading and knitting by the soft glow of the kerosene lamp.  Mark had gotten a little tight-lipped when she had run out of kerosene for the second time, but that nice woman pilot with Nushagak Air Taxi had dropped off two five-gallon cans on a trip from Newenham to the fishing lodge at Outuchiwenet Mountain.  The three Danish fly fishermen on board had taken one look at Rebecca and tried to convince the pilot to leave them there, too.  They spoke little English, but it wasn’t hard to read the look in their eyes, and Rebecca, starved for conversation in any language, had been reluctant to let them go.

The pilot had brought in a bundle of magazines, Newsweeks and Times and Smithsonians and Cosmopolitans, and Rebecca had been moved nearly to tears.  The pilot, one Wyanet Chouinard, a leggy woman in jeans with dark blonde hair stuffed carelessly through the back of a Chevron baseball cap, could not quite conceal her sympathy.  Rebecca, who had her pride, pulled herself together, expressed her thanks, wished the fishermen luck and helped push the tail of the plane around, yet another skill she had acquired this summer.  The Cessna blew dust into her eyes as the engines revved up for takeoff, but she stood where she was, watching as it barely cleared the birch trees at the end of the rudimentary little airstrip with the uphill grade and the surface made of rocks rubbed smooth from a hundred years’ of tumbling in Nenevok Creek.  The engine roared a protest in the thin mountain air as the pilot hauled on the yoke and the plane slipped through the minuscule space between Mounts Pistok and Atshichlut.  Rebecca had tears in her eye from more than the dust.

Spoils of the Dead, the fifth Liam Campbell novel, publishes on February 6, 2021.

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