On a remote Alaskan island, Rinn van Ness commits a minor felony. His former lover is arrested for the crime—and a murder someone tried to pin on him.
Out on bail, Kit Olinsky fights a scorched-earth battle in the state legislature to save the Alaska she loves. She can only win if she betrays her friend Dan Wakefield, a Tlingit fighting desperately for what was promised to his people a generation ago. In the back rooms of the legislature, Senator Billy Macon manipulates Alaska’s grimy politics with vindictive mastery in his drive to the governor’s mansion.
Like a lone wolf, Rinn slips out of the forest to protect Kit, never suspecting that he has more at stake than a lonely prison cell.
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Two things: First, the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is one of the most extraordinary places in the world–and it was being clear-cup with merciless abandon. I debated taking out some of the logging machinery and then this question popped into my head: What would happen if someone else were charged with my crime? That started the novel.
Second, I was the lobbyist for the conservation community in the Alaska state legislature. What I saw happen there — was too good not to put into a thriller.
These two factors inspired the novel.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My characters are loosely drawn on people I know. I would start there and then add characteristics and qualities to make them more dramatic.
Friday, June 20 Afternoon
Ralph, his numbers guy, opened Macon’s office door and stuck his head in. “Kit Olinsky would like to talk to you,” he said.
There was a round of laughter.
“Later,” Macon said.
“Probably wants a job with the Macon administration,” Mike Stafford, the senate majority leader, said.
The senate president, the majority leader, and his co-chair of finance sat around Macon’s coffee table in their shirtsleeves killing time. They were men he’d worked with for years. They’d climbed up the hierarchy of Alaska politics together. They’d done good work for the state, building roads and schools, and keeping the state financially sound. They’d be good allies when he was governor.
Ralph poked his head in again. “These tree-huggers are damn pushy.” He handed Macon a folded business card. On its printed side, it said, in green ink, Kit Olinsky, Executive Director. Alaska Environmental Lobby. He turned it over. In a neat, precise hand, written in black ink was, Mark Baker.
Macon stared at the name long enough for the other men in the office to notice and fall silent.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “You’ll have to excuse me.”
They filed out as Macon moved to sit behind his desk. Ralph showed Olinsky in, shutting the door behind her. Her eyes were bloodshot and threaded with stress. It must be the murder charge getting to her.
Kit pulled several sheets of paper out of a folder and laid them on his desk. He glanced at them and then looked back up at her.
“What does this have to do with me?” he asked. Sensor Security had assured him there would be no way to connect him to Baker if Baker were caught.
“Do you want to play games, senator?” she said. “Or do you want to make a deal?”
“You have nothing to make a deal with,” he said.
“No deal, and I post Baker’s files on our website.”
“If my name is associated with them, you and the Environmental Lobby will be sued for libel.”
“We’re not guessing, senator.” She stood before his desk in a white blouse. A pendant, a whale’s flukes in silver, hung from a chain around her neck. Her blue skirt flared over her hips before disappearing out of sight behind his desk.
“We have your phone records.” She looked at him with a certainty that told Macon that she had what she needed to connect him to Baker.
“Kill the subsistence amendment tomorrow,” she said. “And Baker’s files are yours.”
Macon held her eyes, his face giving nothing away. It might be doable—cut loose a single vote and the amendment would fail.
But doing so would be the end of Macon. The senate leadership had seen Olinsky walk into his office. They could connect the dots. They’d cut his balls off if he blew up the special session, the story would get into the papers, and he’d have everyone in the state laughing at him. Billy Macon manipulated by sexy environmental lobbyist.
It’d end his race for governor.
Macon knew this instantly, instinctively. He looked into her red-shot eyes and saw a smug gleam of triumph. She knew it too.
He stood and walked around his desk. She didn’t step back. He took her elbow and squeezed. She didn’t flinch, but she wasn’t strong enough to resist him, and he walked her backwards toward the sofa and forced her to sit. He stood in front of her, too close for her to stand, her head level with his groin.
“This is blackmail,” he said.
“Thank you for providing the material.”
Her insolence charged him. He restrained himself, keeping his voice cold.
“If you do this, you will be hurt. Not your issues, not your organization. You, your body, will be hurt.”
Fear flickered into her eyes and then out. “You sound like a cliché, senator.”
He sat on the coffee table, his right knee between her legs, and put his hands on her knees, his thumbs on her thighs.
“You have a boy, don’t you?” He slid his hands an inch up her legs, bunching her skirt. Her thighs flexed as she pushed herself back into the cushions.
“Are you understanding me?” he said.
He didn’t see it coming. She slammed both palms into his chin. His head snapped back, his hands releasing her thighs. She leaped onto the sofa, but he caught her hand as she jumped over the sofa’s arm, and yanked her back. She fell backwards, landing hard in its cushions. Her skirt flipped up and he saw her black thatch under the panty hose, and he flashed with rage at what he couldn’t have.
She flicked her skirt down, struggled to her elbows in the soft cushions, and he leaned his hand against her chest until she collapsed back on the sofa, her breathing harsh. She opened her mouth to scream and he slapped the heel of his hand over it. He sat hard next to her pinning her against the back of the sofa.
“You people,” he breathed.
Her eyes were fixed on his, ragged breaths rasping in and out of her nose.
A knuckle rapped the door. “Senator?”
“Later,” he said, hearing the pant of his breath in it. “You will give me those files,” he said.
She stared at him, and he saw the fear go out of her eyes. What was he going to do—with his staff in the outer office? He leaned into the hand covering her mouth, pushing her head deeper into the cushions.
“I came here broke,” he said. “With no fancy education, no rich parents—and I made it. On my own, no one helped me.” It was his story, and he’d been telling it to himself since he’d arrived in Alaska. It’d conditioned and shaped him and his politics and his love for this state. He knew it sounded trite, but every word was true.
“This is what Alaska used to be, the last place where a man could come and make a life for himself with nothing but his hands and his brains. This state’s rich with timber, gold, oil, gas—God’s gifts that could give hundreds of good jobs to average hardworking people so that they can have decent lives. But you people.” He struggled to contain his anger. “You people have turned this state into a no-touch fantasyland for over-privileged SpongeBobs from California.”
He stopped. It was senseless to try and convince these people.
“Why aren’t they up here trying to make a living?” He took his hand away.
“Let me go,” she said.
“Who did you ever help? Who did you ever put to work—in an honest job?”
“Let me go.”
He stood and watched as she got off the sofa and smoothed her skirt, tucking in her blouse, capturing loose strands of hair and clipping them back into her hair piece. Her hands shook and her face was pale. Her lips thinned with anger.
“I want those files,” he said.
“You said it yourself, senator. You made it on your own. Nobody helped you. I don’t see why I should be the first.”
“Your Abe Lincoln story is a lie. You only made it by breaking the law.” She looked at Baker’s papers lying on his desk.
“You self-righteous cunt.” He stepped toward her. “Who the hell was it who plugged up my office so I couldn’t get any work done? Who jerked-off the legislative process? Who crapped all over the public’s will? My bill would’ve passed fair and square if you hadn’t played dirty.”
“I didn’t break any law,” she said.
“That’s the nihilistic hairsplitting you greenies have used to turn this state into a train wreck. You fucked with the public process because you weren’t getting your way. I wasn’t going to let it happen twice.”
She stared at him as if it’d never occurred to her that she was anything but a virtuous, hand-over-her-heart, American. It sickened him.
“Get out of here,” he said.
Kit stepped into the outer office wondering what Macon’s staff had heard, what they’d guessed. She said to the man who’d taken her card in, “I think your boss could use a drink.”
“He doesn’t drink,” he said.
“Even Kool-Aid would help.”
She walked out into the Senate Finance Committee room, her heels echoing in the deserted chamber, her pace quickening when she entered the hallway, hurrying until she stumbled into the ladies’ room. She locked herself in a stall and collapsed on the toilet, her face in her hands, and felt the trembling that she’d had under control in the office overwhelm her. It was inconceivable to her that he’d been born into this world naked, helpless, and loved by a mother.
She sucked in air, trying to staunch the acid of fear that spread out from her belly. She sobbed once, stifled the next, breathed in ragged gasps, and let her body shake.
“Honey, are you OK?” a voice asked.
Kit started, then looked under the wall of the stall. A pair of fleshy calves rising out of beaten flats stood just outside.
“Yeah, cramps,” Kit said, her voice thin and gaspy.
“Oh, don’t I know it,” the woman said. “Forty years of cramps, five of hot flashes, and every one of those years you’re just getting warmed up when he gets his business done, rolls off you, and goes to sleep.” She laughed. “I hope you have kids; it’s the only thing that makes it worthwhile.”
She reached her hand under the stall and held out a small bottle of Aleve. “Here, honey.” She rattled the bottle.
“Thanks.” Kit took the bottle and the feet stepped away. A second later, the door opened and closed. She took two tablets, swallowing them dry, not because she needed them, but because they’d been given to her.
She left the stall, cleaned herself up in front of the mirror, and, when she’d finished, leaned on the sink to look into her eyes. Would he kill the amendment? Or would he play chicken—daring her to release the files? If she released them after the vote, it’d be obvious to anyone that she’d tried to manipulate the vote by blackmailing him. It’s what he’d accuse her of, and she’d have no defense. Blackmail was a crime. The press would be vicious. Her friends would run from her. It would be unholy.
She dropped her head and looked into the sink. Fuck it. Fuck him.
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