Jim stretched out a hand to haul Willard to his feet for what they both sincerely hoped was the last time. Willard gulped down a sob, smeared tears and snot across his face with his shirtsleeve, and said in a plaintive voice, Couldja guys help me find Anakin before we go to jail? Please?
The state trooper building in Niniltna was so new, it squeaked. In a rare decision of foresight and wisdom, the state had built it on a five-acre lot next to the Niniltna Native Association building, whose authority rolled downhill to embrace the post and whose chairman, Billy Mike, was known to Park rats as a law-and-order kind of guy. The post was a solid structure, an unthreateningly bland beige square divided into fourths, a front office, Jims office, an interview room, and the jail, two cells big enough for a bunk and a toilet each.
Willard, Anakin tucked safely back in his shirt pocket, scooted inside and turned to watch closely as Jim locked the cell door behind him. He wrapped his meaty hands around the bars and gave them a shake. The door trembled but held. He appeared reassured, and looked at Jim, his dark brown eyes still wide. They were set far apart, giving him a fey, elfin look. It was a look seen all too often in Bush Alaska. Kates crazy, Jim, he said.
Tell me about it, Jim said.
Yeah, I heard you got a thing going with her. Willards expression approached something like awe. Man. You must have some kinda death wish.
Aint got no thing, Jim said, and he might have closed the door to the cells a little more firmly than absolutely necessary.
Kate was pacing his office, fuming. Mutt had wedged herself into a corner, her tail tucked safely behind her and her front paws as far back as she could get them.
Kate rounded on Jim as he came in. Youre going to throw the book at him this time, Chopin.
Jim sat behind his desk, shoulders very square and correct. He turned on his computer and clicked on the icon that brought up the right form. Im going to charge him with theft in the third degree
He waited out the expected eruption and continued unhurriedly. Theft in the third degree if the value of property is between fifty and five hundred dollars. Even at third degree Im pushing the envelope here. I know Mac Devlins charging three seventy-five a gallon for fuel oil, but I doubt if Willard was able to pump fifty gallons before you mugged him.
Kate called Willards legitimacy into serious question and then started in on his friends.
Again, Jim waited her out. He was prepared to be patient, for two reasons. One, there was no Alaska statute for Crimes Against Auntie, which was what Kate really wanted Willard charged with. Two, it had never done anyone a bit of good to try to match Kate Shugak in either volume or vituperation. The wisest coursehe winced when she kicked one of the visitors chairs across the roomwas to wait her out.
The arm of the chair thudded into the wall. Kate glared at the resulting chip in the brand-new Sheetrock as if it were to blame. Into the gift of silence Jim said, You know she wont press charges.
She can decide that for herself when she gets back, Kate said with a snap.
Mutt decided that a mediating influence was called for and, albeit with some trepidation, positioned herself between the two combatants. She followed the conversation with her head, her tail wagging vigorously, as if this display of goodwill would put out the fire blazing up between her personal human and Mutts favorite man.
You know she wont, Kate, Jim said. Shell shake her head and look like her heart is broken, and Ill feel like six different kinds of slime for delivering the bad news. Then shell make me a cup of tea, and she wont forget I like honey in it, and then shell sit down across from me and reminisce about how she babysat Willards dad when he was little, and got a great set of pink-and-purple towels at Willards paternal grandmothers potlatch, pink and purple, her favorite colors, and shes still using them, theyre such good-quality towels, and what a lousy boat Willard crewed on last summer and how Alvin Kvasnikof never does pay off his crews at anything like what theyre worth, and then shell remember that bad girl Priscilla Ollestad, who broke Willards heart when she married Cliff Moonin, and then
Copyright © 2007 by Dana Stabenow. All rights reserved.
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