Today's Reading

The janitor pulled the overflowing plastic bag out of the garbage, closed it with a zip tie, and tossed it into his bin. Then he spotted the soda spill, mopped it up and cleaned the spot, and wheeled his bin out again.

"All I know is, I checked those tanks myself that morning," Cowboy said. "Like I said, Two-Five-Mike had enough gas to get to Fairbanks and most of the way back. And that plane wouldn't just quit. And that leaves sabotage."


"I'm gonna prove it."

"Prove it? How? If the federal investigators didn't—"

"The evidence is on that ridge. I'm gonna go up there and find it."

The phone in Active's pocket warbled. He pulled it out, tapped the screen, and put it to his ear. "Hey, baby. Yeah, I'm sorry, I can't right now . . . All right, yeah, right. See you tonight. Me too."

"Some drama with mama?"

"Not how I would put it, but yeah. That's the third time today she's called. I haven't had time to talk to her, and now I've stood her up for lunch. I'm sure I'll hear about it when I get home."

"Ya think?" Cowboy slid down in the chair, a little looser and more relaxed now. "So are you gonna help me figure this out or what?"

"It's a plane crash. If it was sabotage, which I seriously doubt, I'm pretty sure that's under federal juris—"

"I already called the FBI. They looked up the crash report and called back to say they're not interested."

Active studied his friend. How to get him off of the idea? "I can't start a murder investigation with no evidence, no motive, and no weapon. The feds had a whole team of experts—"

"Team? Ha!" Cowboy spat it out like an olive pit. He heaved up from the chair, and started pacing again. "The team was two guys, and they got yanked off the crash site when that commuter flight augered in at Dutch Harbor. What I think? A personal flight, no obvious cause, bureaucrats with workload issues, you take the path of least resistance, call it pilot error, and presto! Case closed."

Active cocked his head and eyed Cowboy. A murder investigation on a mountainside 150 miles into the wilderness, with a grief-crazed bush pilot in charge? It was ridiculous. The logistics alone . . .

Cowboy stopped pacing and faced him. "Please?"

Active sighed. He smelled the scorched dregs of the emptied coffee pot on the burner and the piney scent of the cleaner the janitor had used on the soda spill.

"Is the wreckage still up there?"

"I overflew it yesterday," Cowboy said. "As far as I could tell, the feds didn't cart anything off. Probably too expensive, considering the distance and the terrain."

"Doesn't your insurance company own it now?"

"Nah, I bought it from them after they settled the claim. They were only too happy to be off the hook for a salvage operation in the wilderness. And somebody might have mentioned something about grizzlies being known to frequent the area."

"How close can you land up there?" Active asked.

"Not too far. There's a gravel bar down on the river with a slough where I can drop in my new floatplane."

"Not too far? How far is that?"

"Ah, a little hike. A mile maybe."

"But uphill, right?"

"Not coming back," Cowboy said.

"And when you get up there, you're going to do what, exactly?"

"Take that airplane apart, piece by piece."

Active took the report from the pilot and scanned it again. "Okay, Cowboy. I have some vacation coming up, so if we time it right, I can go. If we find evidence of foul play, I'll look into it. But if not, we're done. I'll have to drop it, and so will you. Right?"

Cowboy nodded, sank back into the chair, and exhaled. "Thanks, Nathan. Thanks."

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