Killing Grounds

Killing Grounds cover

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If it’s summer, it must be fishing season and Kate, working as a deckhand on Old Sam Dementieff’s tender Freya, finds a body in the water. It’s a fisherman who has been beaten, stabbed, strangled and drowned, and state trooper Jim Chopin drafts her into helping discover the reasons behind this overkill.

The Freya is modeled on the Celtic, a 75-foot fish tender upon which I spent the better part of five years of my youth pewing fish into the hold. I didn’t eat salmon again until I was thirty-five.

About the Dedication

for Laura Anne Gilman
any writer’s dream editor
and certainly mine

This is the editor who made me resurrect A Cold Day for Murder from my father’s garage, and then made me delete the first chapter, because, and I quote, “Dana, it has nothing to do with the rest of the book.” That book went on to win an Edgar award, and don’t think she’ll ever let me forget it.

Book Excerpt

What Alaskan fishermen do when they’re on strike…

“We heading for the barn? Not much point in sticking around here, if nobody’s fishing.”

Old Sam grinned his demon grin. “Here’s where the action seems to be, girl. We might as well stay and watch the show. Hell, we got front row seats.”

And then Pete Peterson brought the Monica alongside, the two old men retired to the galley and drank beer and reminisced about the good old days, when a man didn’t have to dance nicey-nice with the Fish and Game to bring home a decent catch, and the price per fucken pound stayed where it fucken was for the fucken summer, and he didn’t have to ante up a friggen hundred grand for a friggen permit before his friggen boat was even in the friggen water, and goddam wimmen stayed home instead of running boats around the goddam Sound like they thought they was some kind of goddam boat skippers.

Kate had heard it all before, many times over, and she retreated to the wheel house. Settling herself comfortably in the captain’s chair, feet propped on the console, she opened The Heaven Tree Trilogy and lost herself in medieval Wales, which at that point seemed a lot more civilized than did modern day Prince William Sound on the Fourth of July.

With Meany gone, the scene shifted from confrontation to celebration. The parade in Cordova started at two that afternoon and since the fleet was on strike the fishermen could have upped anchor and sailed for Cordova in time to catch it, but they didn’t trust each other to stay on strike, and so they all stayed out on the fishing grounds until the period was over, just to keep each other honest.

It was immediately obvious that most of them had prepared well in advance to celebrate Independence Day, strike or no. At two o’clock, precisely in conjunction with the parade they were all missing, the fireworks came out in force, a fountain of pyrotechnics generated from every deck. With the injudicious placement of a large Roman Candle, Jimmy Velasco went so far as to set the roof of the cabin of the Marie Josephine on fire. His nearest neighbors downed punk and raised buckets and helped him get it out before it did too much damage.

The booze was out in force as well. Les Nordensen broke his left arm when the hatch cover he was water-skiing on caught the stern of the Terra Jean. Pete Peterson set it with a roll of Playboy magazines and duct tape, and Les went back to the party.

Also under the influence, Kell Van Brocklin fell hopelessly in love with Ellen Steen, and upped anchor to follow his pheromones across Alaganik Bay. They were pretty effective; after nearly running down Lamar Rousch’s Zodiac, which raised a doubt in certain suspicious minds as to just how drunk he actually was, he sniffed the Dawn out from a group of drifters rafted together at the south end of the bay and nosed up alongside. From the Freya’s wheel house it looked like the Joanna C. was trying to mate with the Dawn, but Ellen managed to repel boarders and steam off to a safe distance. Balked of coitus, Ken lost interest, passed out at the wheel and ran the Joanna C. up on a sand bar, which effectively put him out of commission until the next high tide.

Joe Anahonak challenged Craig Pirtle to a joust, and a group of drifters made a lane between two unsteady lines of boats. The Darlene and the Rose charged at each other at full throttle, boat hooks at the ready. Full throttle on a Grayling bowpicker was only about eight knots; still, it was enough to bring the aluminum bows together with one hell of a clang, causing Kate to peer over the top of her book just in time to see Joe take a perfect, airborne tuck-and-roll over his own bow and Craig’s as well, ending up in the water with a magnificent splash, big enough to cause a mini-tidal wave that rocked nearby boats and caused two other fishermen to nose dive for sea bottom. Craig was not so lucky, his boat hook somehow entangling itself in Joe’s anchor chain. Either too dumb or too drunk to let go, or possibly distracted by a low-flying Super Cub, a grinning George Perry on the yoke, Craig pole-vaulted Joe’s deck with a form worthy of an Olympic score of ten, to pancake on the roof of Joe’s cabin, where, fortunately for him, Joe’s spare set of gear was piled.

George waggled his wings in applause and headed upstream. Yuri Andreev, one of the teetotaling Old Believers from Anchor Point fishing his first year on the Sound, shook his head in disgust and fished Joe out of the drink. Joe collapsed into Craig’s arms and swore lifelong devotion to liberty, equality and especially fraternity.

The party went on. It was still going on when Kate finished the first part of the Trilogy, mopped up her tears with a shirtsleeve and turned in.

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