Warning: this episode contains imagery that may be disturbing for those who have experienced violence at the hands of law enforcement.
Halfway between the Old Village docks and the new airport, the rain turned from heavy to torrential. Water flooded the muddy road, falling faster than it could run away. Cam swore under his breath; his old raincoat was less than waterproof, and now he could add being soaked to the skin to his list of problems.
A collection of weathered metal buildings marked the edge of the airport. The largest was the airport manager’s office, the de facto entry and exit point those arriving and departing the village. Cam could just make out the shadow of a Cessna Grand Caravan on the gravel apron beyond the row of buildings.
He squared his shoulders and pushed open the door that led into the terminal. To his disappointment, the battered wooden benches were empty. A pot of stale coffee simmered on an ancient hot plate at the back of the room, under yellow florescent lights that had probably been manufactured before Cam’s parents were born.
He made a beeline for the coffee. It smelled like death and was just on the liquid side of sludge, but it was free. Cam poured himself a cup and used it to warm away the chill in his hands as he took in the cramped passenger lobby. Someone had left their backpack on a chair; it was bright blue, like the murdered outsider’s jacket. He wandered over to look at it. North Face brand. Expensive.
“Hey, stay away from that!” the airport manager snapped.
“I was just looking,” Cam said, shooting the dour man a glare. “Got someone waiting on a flight out?”
Clint. That was the man’s name. Clint Travers. A bitter, short tempered man.
Clint snorted. “On a night like tonight? Not on your life. The pilot’s already gotten a room in town to wait out the storm. Them Resource Management guys is lucky they made it in at all, considering the weather. Any lesser pilot would have turned back.”
“Who is it?” He peered out the window, recognizing the badging on the aircraft. “Carey? Or Mullins?”
“Carey. Mullins has more sense than to fly in this.” Clint made a face and spit into the trash can beside his desk. “Why all the questions? You can’t afford a ticket out, and they sure as shit ain’t gonna let you hitch a ride out with them big shots.”
“I’m not looking for a flight. I’m looking for a person trying to get one. I figured he might be camped out here.”
“Sure,” Clint said skeptically. “Ain’t nobody asked for a flight out today. The grocery run ain’t for another two days, and nobody’s flying in this.”
Cam nodded, sipped his scalding coffee, and peered out the window into the growing darkness. The scene on Danny’s skiff replayed in his mind’s eye: Ava stepping out of the way, reaching into her pocket. The VPSO turning, raising his weapon, training it on her– ready to shoot.
He grimaced. If the murdering bastard hurt Ava, it was over. He would dig out his old man’s shotgun and go hunting. Ava would be the last innocent person the pig ever pulled a gun on.
Clint coughed and shuffled his paperwork loudly. Sheets of gray rain battered the glass that separated the office from the mostly empty expanse of gravel outside. If the murderer wasn’t here with his stolen goods, where was he? Holed up somewhere, waiting out the storm?
Village Public Safety Officer Scott Kedric’s phone chimed, the sound nearly drowned under the roar of the rain on the roof of the village’s sole patrol SUV. He sighed and routed the call to his earpiece. The Western Region Enforcement dispatcher on the other end sounded as harried as ever.
“Got a one-oh-seven in your neighborhood. The airport manager just sent us a message reporting an Alaska Native male, sixteen to twenty years old, acting suspiciously down at the terminal. Says he’s looking for a flight out even though the storm has everything closed down.”
Kedric’s ears perked up. There were lots of reasons to be desperate to get out of the village… but in this weather? A person would have to be far more desperate than usual. He put the SUV in gear and sloshed out of his place of concealment behind the Grocery Mart, sending a tidal wave of muddy water across the empty parking lot.
He rolled up in front of the dingy structure that passed for an airport terminal ten minutes later. Yellow light glowed through the narrow windows on either side of the door. Inside, a familiar figure huddled on the grungy benches, a disposable cup of coffee clutched in his hands. His tattered green rain coat was draped over the bench beside him.
“Cameron Charlie,” Kedric said, letting a hint of satisfaction creep into his tone. “Bad night to be trying to catch a flight.”
“I just stopped by to get out of the weather,” the male muttered, scowling up at the VPSO from behind an unkempt fringe of black hair. “I’m not bothering anyone.” Despite the ferocity of his stare, there was fear behind the thief’s eyes. Kedric smiled more widely.
“I asked him to leave twice,” the airport manager said, eyes darting nervously between the VPSO and the Native youth. “I’d have kicked him out already, but I’m by myself here.” The fact that the Charlie kid was a known troublemaker was left unsaid.
“That’s not true!” Cameron interjected from his spot on the bench. “You never asked me to leave.”
“He was asking about a flight out?” Kedric prompted, ignoring the male’s outburst.
“Yeah. I told him no one’s flying tonight, but he wouldn’t listen. Insisted on staying.”
“I did not!”
“Why are you in such a rush to get out of town, Cameron?” Kedric asked, turning back to the sodden youth.
“I’m not. I was just looking for– I was just curious, okay? It was just small talk.” There was a faint tremor in the youth’s hands now, betrayed by the ripples in the cup of coffee he held, and his face had taken on the stiffness of carefully controlled fear.
Gotcha, Kedric thought. Even if he didn’t do it, he probably saw it happen.
“What’s got you in a twist, Cameron?” he asked. “What were you looking for, if not a flight out?”
A clench of the jaw. Silence. Then: “I don’t have to talk to you. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Kedric grinned. “I don’t know about that. Why don’t you come with me, and we’ll talk about it in private?”
“No, thank you,” Cameron said, standing up from the bench and draining the last of his coffee. The disposable cup went into a nearby trash can.
“Come on. It’s warm back at the office. Dry. I’ll get you some food. How long has it been since you could afford a hot meal?” Anger flashed in the youth’s eyes, and they flickered between Kedric, the rain jacket, and the exit.
“Come on,” Kedric repeated. “Don’t make this difficult. I just want to ask you a few questions. I don’t think you’ll want to answer them in front of Mr. Travers.”
“Am I under arrest?” Cameron demanded. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“You’re a person of interest in the disappearance of Randall Johnson. You can come down to the station and answer a few questions voluntarily, or you can come down to the station in cuffs. Your choice.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that!” The youth’s eyes were wide, panicked. “I’ve never even met the guy!”
“Cameron Charlie– ”
The youth lunged toward his jacket, thought better of it, zagged the other way, and bolted for the exit. Kedric tackled him just as he hit the door. Glass shattered, but the door held.
Cameron kicked and clawed like a wild animal as Kedric tried to wrestle his arms behind his back. Adrenaline surged as the perp’s fingers snagged the butt of his service weapon, and Kedric retaliated with a barrage of blows to the male’s head and torso.
The door gave way, spilling them out into the gravel parking lot and dousing them in icy rain. Cameron struggled to his feet and tried to make a run for it, hampered by Kedric’s grip on the back of his sweatshirt. Fabric tore. The air filled with curses and proclamations of innocence.
Kedric tackled the youth to the muddy ground, succeeded in wrenching his arms behind his back, and cuffed him with forcible thoroughness. The fight seemed to have gone out of the male until they reached the back of the patrol vehicle, at which point Cameron suddenly exploded into action, kicking and screaming as Kedric tried to put him in the SUV. Soaked, muddy, and thoroughly out of patience, Kedric deployed his Taser.
There was a sharp click, and a painfully bright light blazed to life. Cam grudgingly opened his eyes. He was sprawled on a hard bench; the light came from the other side of a row of steel bars. The air smelled of bleach and gun oil mingled with the faint odors of urine, vomit, and worse. On the far side of the bars, VPSO Kedric sat at a folding table cleaning his weapon.
Cam stifled a groan and struggled to sit up. His hands were cuffed behind his back so tightly that he’d lost all feeling in them. He stretched and gritted his teeth to keep from shouting in pain; his right shoulder was definitely dislocated. One of his eyes wouldn’t open all the way, his lips were bloody, and his body ached as if the pig had used him for a punching bag. Cam coughed and spit on the dirty floor.
“I see you’re awake,” Kedric said without looking up. “Let’s talk about Randall Johnson.”
Between A Rock & A Storm is a serialized murder mystery set in the same dystopian near future as Hel’s Fury, the preview of which you can read here. Hel’s Fury is featured in the charity collection Trumpland: An Alternative History of the Future, along with dystopian, horror, and science fiction stories from other talented authors.
Looking for something a little less Alaskan and a lot more cyberpunk? Check out Necrotic City, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and other fine booksellers in paperback and ebook.