Against the Tide

By: Kat Martin


Chapter One

Valdez, Alaska





The piercing ring of the cell phone lying on his nightstand didn’t bode well. There was no such thing as good news at three o’clock in the morning.

With a sigh, Rafe rolled over and grabbed the phone, scrubbed a hand over his face as he pressed it against his ear. “Brodie.”

“Police Chief Rosen here. We’ve got a problem, Rafe, and it’s a bad one. I need you to meet me down at the harbor. How soon can you get here?”

Rafe swung his long legs to the side of the bed and sat up. “Ten minutes. What’s this about, Chief?”

“It’s Scotty Ferris, Rafe. I’m afraid he’s dead. I’ll fill you in when you get here. I’ll be waiting on the dock next to the Scorpion.” The police chief hung up the phone.

For several long moments, Rafe just sat there. His chest felt tight. Scotty Ferris was twenty-four years old, a handsome, hardworking kid who was engaged to be married. His June wedding to Cassie Webster, one of the local girls, was only three weeks away. Cassie was going to be crushed.

Rafe swore softly. What the hell could have happened?

But in this rugged country where the climate, wild animals, or just bad judgment could get you killed, accidents happened all the time.

Shoving himself up from the bed, Rafe grabbed a pair of worn jeans off the chair and jerked them on, drew a sweatshirt over his head, pulled on his heavy socks, and shoved his size-thirteen feet into a pair of high-topped, rubber-soled boots. Since the temperature at night even in late May was still in the thirties and it had rained during the night, he grabbed his jacket as he headed for the steps down to the garage.

The boat harbor wasn’t far from his house, a brown bilevel with an oversized two-car garage that sat a few blocks north on Mendeltna, a street off Hazelet Avenue there in Valdez. Sea Scorpion was his flagship charter fishing boat, a thirty-eight-foot Mac, his pride and joy. It was the boat he usually captained himself, one of three that made up his fleet. Scotty Ferris was part of Scorpion’s crew.

Rafe thought of the young man as he parked his dark green Ford Expedition in a spot in front of the harbor, climbed out, and closed the door. Puddles from last night’s rain sloshed against his boots as he made his way toward the dock. The occasional streetlight burned into the darkness, but quiet surrounded him, along with the familiar salty tang of the sea.

Ringed by the snowcapped Chugach Mountains, gleaming white glaciers, and the turquoise waters of Prince William Sound, Valdez was considered one of the most beautiful places on earth.

But the climate was a major drawback for most people, being wet, cold, and snowy much of the year. Rafe couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

Which brought his thoughts full circle to Scotty. With year-round residents numbering less than forty-five hundred, everyone knew everyone who lived there. And everyone knew and liked Scotty. The kid had been born in Valdez. He thrived on the rugged lifestyle, planned to marry and raise kids here, probably never would have left.

What the hell had happened? Rafe thought again as he walked toward his boat.

And why did Chief Rosen want to meet him at the Scorpion?

A few spaces down from where he’d parked, Rafe spotted a black-and-silver Ford police SUV. In the distance, the familiar antenna above the wheelhouse of the Scorpion marked where the boat bobbed near the middle of the dock.

Rafe started down the long wooden walkway, his gaze on the group of people gathered next to where the Scorpion was moored. The area was cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape, the boat clearly off-limits until the police were finished collecting evidence.

Police Chief Clifford Rosen, a stout man in his fifties, bald head ringed by thinning gray hair, stood next to a figure lying on the dock, covered by a long, white cloth. Knowing Scotty Ferris lay under the cloth made Rafe’s stomach burn.

Two other officers quietly conversed while a doctor he recognized as Karen Ward, a woman who worked at the local clinic and served as medical examiner, knelt next to the sheet-draped body.

“What happened?” Rafe asked the chief.

“Looks like he was robbed,” Rosen answered. “Wallet’s missing, jewelry’s gone. Car keys. Cell phone’s missing. Single blow to the back of the head. Blunt instrument. Baseball bat seems the most likely, something that size that would be easy to handle.”

“Jesus.”

“I asked you to come down because I need someone to identify the body. With his parents both dead, I figured better you than his fiancée. Soon as you do that, I’ll break the news to the Webster girl.”

Rafe just nodded. Cassie was going to be devastated. She and Scotty were crazy in love, the kind Rafe figured had a good chance of lasting. Sometimes fate could be a real bastard.