SNOW PATROL - LAURA ROBERTS
Blue ice stretched to the horizon, fading into the blinding rays of another waning winter sun. Sheila shivered violently and instinctively glanced down, looking for cracks under the transparent sheen. Suddenly, she tensed and dropped to her knees. She screamed, but there was no one to hear her except for the body trapped beneath the ice, its face frozen in a horrific pose, bloated and purple from lack of oxygen.
It was Sheila’s job, as Ice Floe Specialist, to keep track of all the bodies until they defrosted in the spring so they could be given a proper burial. Somehow she could never get used to finding them stuck beneath the surface, their faces contorted in pain. She always gave a little scream when she discovered the latest victim, sealed up tight.
Good thing the boys from Juneau PD weren’t here to see her, jumping at every dead body like a total rookie. She still hadn’t gotten used to Alaska’s arctic tundra, much less its effects on the dead, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a damn good detective.
Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Sheila began to speak into her tape recorder with notes on her findings. “3:15 p.m. Saturday, January 21. Female victim found just past the 12 mile marker at Hasselborg Lake. Location is about 40 feet out from shore, so it’s unlikely others will stumble upon the body, but there’s an ice fishing shack 60 yards off that shows signs of abandonment. Will investigate further to determine probable cause of death.”
She clicked off the recorder and slipped it back into her jacket. A light snow had begun to fall, and she quickly constructed a rock formation to mark the body’s resting place with small stones from her pack. After creating the miniature inukshuk, Sheila began to make her way out toward the shack in the falling dusk, carefully watching the ice for signs of weakness.
It was still early in the season, so she knew it was dangerous to be out here alone on the ice. Still, she enjoyed the solitude of the position, and it kept her healthy walking around the massive lake. It was a strange job, perhaps, but someone had to do it. People were always going missing in Alaska; there were so many ways to get lost.
Sheila was glad to take an assignment that was more rural. The police force was always a boys club, but particularly so in Alaska, and she’d needed the escape. The wilderness felt more like home, despite its differences from everything she knew back in the lower 48.
As she carefully picked her way along the ice, Sheila’s eyes jumped ahead to the shack. Though it had first appeared abandoned, as she got closer she thought she saw smoke curling from the top of the shanty. Plenty of fisherman still burned wood in oil drums or barbecues out here, despite the state ban, and it wasn’t unusual to see smoke puffing out the tops of these huts when they were occupied.
Before she had time to wonder how many people might be inside the hut, a man swung the rusty door open on its hinges and stepped outside.
“Juneau Police, Sgt. Weathers,” she called. “Are you aware there’s a body beneath the ice over here?”
“Say again?” the man called, holding a hand up to his left ear. “I’m a little deaf.”
Sheila gripped her pistol in its holster and continued to advance toward the man in the shack. There was no reason to assume the fisherman had anything to do with the body she'd just found, but then again, there was no reason to assume he hadn’t.
“I said, there’s a body over here. How long have you been camped out here, sir?”
“About three days now, I reckon,” he replied. The heavy beard on his face made it difficult for Sheila to decide whether he was telling the truth. “A body, you say?”
“Yes. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about this, would you, Mr...”
“Thompson. Matt Thompson,” he said, ducking back into the shack.
“Mr. Thompson?” Sheila called, peering into the dimly lit building.
Sheila drew her weapon, but Thompson was faster. He struck a blow with a large, blunt object that sent her skidding across the ice.
Sheila’s head ached, and her vision swam with pale blue stars as she fought to get to her feet. Her pistol had disappeared in the quickly fading light, and she felt about for it frantically.
“I’ll ask the questions around here, Sergeant,” she heard Thompson growl.
He grabbed her by the back of her neck and began pulling her toward the shack. She kicked her boots against the ice, struggling against him, desperate to wrench herself free. She could smell the acrid stench of kerosene mixed with blood as he dragged her across the threshold, and then everything went black.
BIO: Laura Roberts is the author of Rebels of the 512, the best satirical novel you’ll ever read about pirates, ninjas and evil politicians in Austin, Texas. Find out more online at http://rebelsofthe512.com.