Read Sundown on Top of the World: A Hunter Rayne Highway Mystery Online
Authors: R.E. Donald
What readers are saying about the Hunter Rayne Highway Mysteries:
“A great take to bed read for anyone who loves crime fiction in a traditional fashion.”
“Those were the best mysteries I've read in a long time! As soon as I finished the first one I bought the second and felt empty when I finished it! The characters were awesome and so there that I somehow think they are in my life …”
“The dialogue is well written and smooth and … there are well thought out and believable twists. The pacing is good and the lead characters are likable, flaws and all.”
“… this book caught my attention from the very first pages and it only got better. I recommend this book to anyone who has a love for a good mystery.”
“ … Hunter Rayne would make a great TV detective, driving around the country in his rig visiting different states and helping to solve crimes. He is that interesting of a character.”
Also by R.E. Donald
SUNDOWN ON TOP OF THE WORLD
A Hunter Rayne Highway Mystery
Copyright 2015 by R.E. Donald
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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Cover © 2014 Hunter Johnsen
Proud Horse Publishing, British Columbia, Canada
Kindle edition, March 2015
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. This story is set in the year 1997.
For those hardy individuals who have chosen to live in the Yukon and Alaska, past and present.
You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here, I believe that much unseen is also here.
Song of the Open Road, by Walt Whitman
– – – – – ONE
Near Johnson’s Crossing in the Yukon Territory, October 30, 1972
“I brought food for the dogs. Looks like they haven’t been fed since before the snow fell. ” The man gestured toward a sled behind his snowmobile. It held two tubs with frosted chunks. “Whitefish,” he added.
Hunter could hear barking and howling, and saw the movement of grey and black fur between the tree trunks a hundred yards or so from the cabin. From the noise and movement, he could tell there were about half a dozen dogs in the dog yard, each tied to their own dog house with a chain. Whoever lived in the cabin used a dog team to get around in the winter.
“These your footprints, Mr. Klimmer?” he asked the man.
Fred Klimmer took a step backward, and RCMP Constable Hunter Rayne could see that the prints he had just stepped out of matched those leading to the front porch of the cabin. Klimmer’s pant legs had ties at the ankle to keep the snow out of his boots, and he wore a thigh length grey parka which hung open due to the relative warmth of the mid-day sun. He was taller than Hunter, and big boned but lean like most creatures who subsist in the north, where fats are a rare luxury. His parka hood was off, a knitted black toque pulled down over his ears. A coarse black beard concealed his lips and chin, revealing only his dark eyes above the ruddy skin of his cheeks and nose.
“Did you touch anything inside?”
Klimmer shook his head. He looked as if he hadn’t trimmed his beard in a couple of years, a contrast to Hunter himself, who always felt uncomfortable going more than a day or two without shaving. “I hollered, but there was no answer. I could tell by the snow and the open door that no one had been in or out since the snow fell last Monday and I figured it wasn’t my place to go inside. That’s why I called you guys. With the door open and no heat, not likely there’s anybody in there alive.”
Hunter nodded. It had dropped to several degrees below freezing during the night, and even now in the early afternoon was below freezing unless in direct sun. Klimmer had radioed the Whitehorse RCMP detachment who in turn had dispatched Hunter to investigate a likely death at the scene. Hunter found it odd that way out here, far from any emergency services, Klimmer had hesitated to go inside himself, but then again, he did the right thing in not contaminating the scene with his presence. From Hunter’s perspective, it had been a good decision.
It had been a relatively heavy snowfall for so early in the year, leaving over six inches of powdery snow on the frozen ground, with drifts over a foot deep. The isolated trapper’s cabin was not far from the small community of Johnson’s Crossing, on the bank of a creek leading to the Teslin River. The nearest vehicle access was a narrow, rutted dirt track off a gravel road that started at the Alaska Highway. Hunter had left his Suburban where the gravel road ended, and hitched a ride the last few miles with Klimmer on the back of Klimmer’s snow machine, carrying a pack slung over his back.
He dropped his pack beside the snow-covered steps and opened the flap to pull out a flashlight and his Polaroid camera. If there was death involved, he wanted to document the scene just as it looked when he arrived.
“Go feed the dogs,” he told Klimmer, before pulling his right glove off with his teeth and stuffing it in his jacket pocket. “They sound pretty hungry.”
The man just stood there until Hunter turned around and aimed the Polaroid at him, taking in the man’s Ski-Doo and the sled full of frozen fish. Klimmer shrugged, then straddled the snow machine and revved its engine before slipping away through the trees.
The Polaroid captured the rough wooden porch, the wisps of snow that had drifted through the open door into the cabin. The interior of the cabin was dim, the only light coming from the doorway and a small window above the sink in the kitchen. The remaining windows were shuttered. The shutters were designed to keep in heat, not to conceal the inhabitants from non-existent neighbors. Flashlight in hand, Hunter took a cautious tour of the cabin’s main room. It was an open space with a kitchen to the right of the door and a sitting area with a free-standing woodstove on the left. It was a cut above the usual trapper’s cabin and it might have been cozy and attractive at one time, but not anymore.
There was no question that there had been violence here, violence that could have ended in death. It wasn’t Hunter’s first such encounter since his posting to Whitehorse as a rookie in the spring, but the hair stood up on the back of his neck and his heart began to race. He stuck a four-sided flashcube in the camera and began to take photos, starting with fresh scratches on the wooden door. He opened the shutters, and as each of the first few photos slid out of the Polaroid, Hunter placed it face up on the windowsill. His breath created small vapor clouds in the frozen air, so he took care not to exhale before a shot.
It was a chaotic scene. There were plates and kitchen utensils strewn across the floor. The small kitchen table had been overturned and one leg was broken off. Shelves and a small cabinet had been partially ripped off the wall. There were two metal pails, one upright on top of the woodstove and half full of ice, the other tipped on its side with a thin film of ice on the floor in front of it.
Hunter was pretty sure that the culprit who had ransacked the cabin had left no fingerprints. He did, however, leave his mark. On what was probably a trap door to a cache under the floor and on the planks that served as a kitchen counter, there were the unmistakable parallel scratches of a giant set of claws. In the sitting area, chairs were upended and a sofa’s cushions were scattered with their fabric shredded.
Hunter sensed the presence of Klimmer in the doorway. “Grizz, looks like,” the man said. “Any sign of bodies?”
“Please remain outside,” said Hunter. He didn’t like being distracted from his current task, but talking to Klimmer was also part of his job. “Still have to enter the back room, but I agree with you about the grizzly. How were the dogs?”
Hunter realized the earlier yapping had subsided into the occasional snarl or growl. He nodded. They were occupied with the frozen fish. He walked back to the front door and bent to find a new package of blank Polaroids in his bag. “What prompted you to come by here?”
Klimmer was leaning against the door frame, lighting up a hand-rolled cigarette. He waved the match out and inhaled deeply. Hunter held out his hand for the spent match but Klimmer smirked and tucked it into his own pocket. “I was out hunting. I ran across Blake’s trap line, and I could tell it’d been a long time since he’d cleared it. Remains of a fox in the trap. Scavengers took most of it. Thought I should come check on him.”
“Were you and Martin Blake friends?”
The man snorted. “He was an idiot, but his woman was nice. Pretty, too.” He ran his tongue over chapped lips, then spat over his shoulder into the snow. “Don’t know why she shacked up with him, except maybe it’s not a bad cabin to winter in.”
“Unfriendly. Paranoid. Suspicious and probably jealous. Crazy son of a bitch, far as I could tell. You figure it out.”
“But you came to check on him.”
Klimmer shrugged. “Unwritten law up here, kid. Nobody ever told you that? You gotta watch out for your neighbors.”
Hunter turned away, walked back into the center of the cabin.
There were dark smears on the plank floor leading from the door at the back of the room. Hunter suspected they were a sign of something bloody being dragged to the front door. A grizzly likes to bury its kill and keep the site clearly marked as its own for a later meal. Hunter clenched his jaw, preparing for what he might encounter in the bedroom. Flashlight in one hand, camera in the other, he followed the smears to the back room’s doorway and stepped inside.
There was no door, just a ragged grey blanket hanging from the frame. Shutters on the single small window were closed; the only slivers of light seeped through their cracks. The bedding was in a dirty tangled mess half on the floor, the mattress askew, its blue and white ticking exhibiting several large dark stains that Hunter knew were blood. There was smeared blood on the floor of the small room as well as a trail of it leading to the door, and an area of the log wall beside the bed was visibly spattered and streaked with blood as well.
Hunter’s flashlight played over a photo on one wall, hanging straight, looking untouched by whatever violence had taken place inside the room. He caught his breath. He knew her. She was young and pretty, a self-professed hippie chick from Michigan who got stalled in Whitehorse on her way to Alaska. In the photograph she was grinning and cuddling a Malamute pup against her right shoulder, her long dark hair draped like a curtain on the left. He’d met her in a Whitehorse bar during his first few months in the Yukon. Her name was April and she was waiting tables as a temporary job. They had flirted a little across pints of beer once or twice and he had decided that next time he saw her he would ask her out, but then she was gone. “Cashed her last check here and moved on,” said the bartender. “Free spirit, eh?”
Hunter swung the flashlight away from the photo and back to the bloody bed. “Not her,” he whispered, looking at the blood. “God help me, it can’t be her.” He swallowed hard and pushed the thought out of his mind. Just because her photo was on Blake’s wall, it didn’t mean she’d been in the man’s bed. He played the light over the other walls but there was no sign of other pictures. Only the one.
By the time he was finished, he had used up all of the Polaroid film he had brought with him and his fingers were nearly numb from the cold. He collected up the photos – about ten of them – and those that had developed he wrapped in a clean rag and tucked into a pocket in his pack. He stood on the front porch and looked for Klimmer, saw the man walking through the trees beyond the outhouse, about forty yards away, his eyes scanning the snow around him, in places nudging the snow with his boot. Hunter whistled sharply, and when the man looked up, waved him in.
“What were you looking for?”
“Anything,” said the man.
Hunter assumed he’d been looking for signs of a body, or what was left of one.
“What did you find in the back room?” the man asked.
“Nothing,” said Hunter. “Just a mess, like the rest of the cabin.” He paused. “The woman. What was her name?”
“April,” the man answered, squinting as he searched Hunter’s face. “Like I said, she was pretty. Pretty and nice.” He licked his lips. “It’s too bad.”
“What’s too bad?” asked Hunter, although he already knew.
“What do you think, kid?” The man’s face expressed his scorn. “A grizzly doesn’t take prisoners.”