Life in Rockton is about to get even more dangerous in This Fallen Prey, Kelley Armstrong's third Casey Duncan novel (available February 6, 2018).
When Casey first arrived at the off-the-grid town, an isolated community built as a haven for people running from their pasts, she had no idea what to expect, with no cell phones, no internet, no mail, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. She certainly didn’t expect to be the homicide detective on two separate cases or to begin a romantic relationship with her boss. But the very last thing she expected was for the council to drop a dangerous criminal into their midst without a plan to keep him imprisoned, and to keep others safe.
Of course Oliver Brady claims he's being set up. But the longer Brady stays in town, the more things start to go wrong. When evidence comes to light that someone inside Rockton might be working as his accomplice, helping him to escape, Casey races to figure out who exactly Brady is and what crimes he’s truly responsible for committing.
The season may have officially started two months ago, but it isn’t truly spring in Rockton until we bury our winter dead.
Dalton and Anders are digging the shallow grave. I’m wandering, trying to calm Storm. As a future tracking dog, she needs to know the smell of death. I’ve read books that say cadaver dogs can’t do the job for long because every “success” leads to a dead body. I dismissed that as anthropomorphism until I showed Storm the corpses … and she promptly set about trying to wake the dead.
We’re walking in ever-growing circles around the grave. Dalton’s occasional “Casey?” warns me to stay close, while Storm’s insistent tugs beg me to let her explore and forget what she’s seen. The tugs of an eight-month-old Newfoundland are not insubstantial.
“Switch?” Anders walks over and holds out a hand.
Storm isn’t the only one who needs a break from this task. Every year, Dalton orders his deputy to stay behind. Every year Anders ignores him. As a former soldier, Anders might not need to see more death, but being a former soldier also means he refuses to grant himself that reprieve.
I give his hand a quick squeeze as I pass over the leash. “Remember, you gotta show her who’s boss.”
“Oh, she knows who’s boss.” The dog yanks, nearly toppling Anders. “And it’s not me.” He plants his feet. “Fortunately, I’m still a whole lot bigger. Go help Eric. We’ll be fine.”
I walk along a narrow caribou trail bounded by towering spruce. Green shoots have snuck up in patches of sunlight, and the air smells of a light shower, the rain already evaporating. I see no sign of Dalton. The forest here is too thick. Endless forest, the quiet broken by the scolding of a red squirrel as I pass.
I stay on the trail until I find Dalton standing beside one hole dug down to the permafrost. Three bodies lie beside it. Two are long dead, partly mummified from having been stashed in a cave by their killer. The third looks as if she could be sleeping. Sharon was the oldest resident in Rockton until we found her dead of a heart attack this morning, prompting Dalton to declare the ground soft enough to bury our winter dead.
A shallow grave. Unmarked. As a homicide detective, I should be finding these, not creating them. But this is Rockton.
These three women came here in secrecy, fleeing threats from elsewhere. They came to the Yukon to be safe. And we failed them. One can argue it wasn’t our fault. Yet we accept responsibility. To say “We did our best” is a slippery slope in Rockton.
We lay the corpses in the hole. There’s no graveside service. I wasn’t brought up in any religion, and our sheriff was raised right here, in this forest. I’m sure, if pressed, we could find a few lines of half-remembered poetry for the dead. But that isn’t our way. We stand there, and we remember, and we regret.
Then we fill in the hole.
When we’re done, Dalton rubs his face. He looks at his hands, as if thinking about what they just handled. I reach into my pocket and pass him a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer. He snorts at that and takes it, and when he’s done, I lean against his side for a moment as he puts his arm around my shoulders. Then we both straighten, job done, moment passed, time to get back to work.
“Will?” Dalton calls. There’s exactly one heartbeat of silence, and Dalton’s face tightens as he shouts, “Will?”
“Over here,” Anders calls back. “Pup found herself a rabbit hole and—” A grunt of exertion. “And she really wants bunny for dinner.”
We walk over to find him only lightly tugging on the leash, his big biceps barely twitching. I sigh and yank the lead with a “Hut!” Storm gives me a look, not unlike a sullen teen, and walks over to brush against Dalton.
Anders chuckles. “If Mommy gives you shit, suck up to Dad. Nice try, pup, but—”
He stops as we all hear the whine of a small plane engine.
Dalton shields his gaze to look up.
“Does that sound way too close to Rockton?” Anders says.
“Fuck,” Dalton mutters.
“That’d be yes. Come on, pup. Time for a run.”
We kick it into high gear. Dalton scans the sky as he tracks the sound. It’s not a supply delivery—it’s exceedingly rare for anyone other than Dalton to handle those, and he’s scheduled to head out later today, releasing a few residents. But from the sound, that plane is heading straight to our airstrip.
The pilot shouldn’t be able to see our airstrip. No more than he should be able to see our town. Structural and technological camouflage means that unless the plane skims Rockton, we should remain invisible.
I look up to see a small plane on a perfect trajectory with our landing strip.
Dalton curses again.
“Has anyone ever found the airstrip before?” I ask.
“Ten years ago. Guy was lost. Rookie pilot. I fixed his nav, gave him fuel, and pointed him to Dawson City. He was too shaken up to question. I just told him it was an airstrip for miners.”
Having anyone stumble over Rockton even by land is rare, but we have a pocketful of cover stories. Today, Dalton decides “military training base” will work. We’re all physically fit. Anders keeps his hair stubble-short, and Dalton recently reverted to his summer look—his hair buzzed, his beard down to a few days’ growth. Suitable for a backwoods military camp.
Anders pushes his short sleeves onto his shoulders, US Army tattoo more prominently displayed. Dalton snaps his shades in place. I put on my ball cap, ponytail tugged through. And we have our guns in hand.
We arrive just as the propellers creak to a stop. The pilot’s door opens. A woman gets out. When I see her, I slow, the guys doing the same. We’ve donned our best quickie military costuming; hers looks like the real thing. Beige cargo shorts. Olive tank top. Dark aviator shades. Boots. Dark ponytail. Thigh holster. Arms that make mine look scrawny.
She doesn’t even glance our way, just rolls her shoulders and acts like she has no idea three armed strangers are bearing down on her. She knows, though. She waits until we’re ten feet away. Then she turns and says, “Sheriff Dalton?”
Her gaze crosses all three of us. She rejects the woman. Rejects the black guy. Settles on the white one as she says “Sheriff?” again. I could bristle at that, but she’s right in this case, and the certainty on her face tells me she’s been given a physical description.
Without waiting for confirmation, she steps forward and extends her hand. “I have a delivery for you, sir.”
Dalton takes her hand. While he’s doing a good job of hiding his confusion, I see the tightness in his face. He might rule in Rockton, but he’s only thirty-one, two months younger than me, and new situations throw him off balance.
“We weren’t informed of any deliveries,” I say.
She hands me an envelope from her pocket. “The details are in here, ma’am. I’m just the courier.”
Dalton walks over to the plane. When a hand smacks against the glass, Storm and I both jump. Anders says, “Shit!” Dalton just peers inside. A man’s face appears. A man wearing a gag.
Dalton turns to the pilot. “What the hell is this?”
“Your delivery, sir.”
She opens the cargo door and disappears inside, with Dalton following. Anders and I wait. A moment later, Dalton comes out, pushing the man ahead of him. He’s blond, younger than us, wearing a wrinkled linen shirt, trousers, and expensive loafers. He looks like he’s been pulled off Bay Street midway through his stockbroker shift. He’s gagged with his hands tied in front of him; a cable binds his legs so he can’t do more than shuffle.
“I was told not to remove the cuffs,” the woman says as she follows them out. “I was also told to leave the gag on. I made the mistake of removing it. That lasted about sixty seconds. I have no idea what he’s in for, but he’s a nasty son of a bitch.”
“In for?” I say.
“Yes, ma’am.” She looks around. “There is a detention facility out here, isn’t there? Some kind of ultra-maximum security?”
“Privileged information,” Anders says. “Sorry, ma’am. You know how it is. Same in the air force, I’ll wager.”
The woman smiles. “It was. And it’s no different in private security.” She nods at his tat. “Cross-border job shopping?”
“Something like that. I appreciate you bringing the prisoner. We weren’t expecting anyone new, so we’re a bit surprised.” Anders peeks into the cargo hold. “You wouldn’t happen to have any beer in there, would you?”
“No, sir.” She reaches in and pulls out a duffel. When she opens the zipper, it’s full of coffee bags.
“Just this,” she says.
“Even better,” Anders says. “Thank you.”
I look at the prisoner. He’s just standing there, with Dalton behind him, monitoring his body language as Anders chats with the pilot.
“Thank you for bringing him,” I say. “If you’re flying back to Dawson City, skip the casino and check out the Downtown Hotel bar. Ask for the sour toe cocktail.”
“There’s an actual toe involved, isn’t there?”
“It’s the Yukon.”
She grins. “I’ll have to try that. Thank you, ma’am.” She tips her hat and then motions to ask if she can pat Storm. I nod, and Storm sits as she sees the hand reach for her head.
“Well trained,” she says.
“At her size, she needs to be. She’s still a pup.”
“Nice.” She gives Storm a final pat. “I’ll head on out. You folks have a good day. And remember, keep that gag on for as long as you can.”
Copyright © 2018 Kelley Armstrong.
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Kelley Armstrong graduated with a degree in psychology and then studied computer programming. Now, she is a full-time writer and parent, and she lives with her husband and three children in rural Ontario, Canada. She is the author of City of the Lost, the first book in the Casey Duncan mystery series.