The Last Detective - Robert Crais

Robert Crais - The Last Detective


The Church of Pike

Angoon , Alaska

The cold Alaskan water pulled at the fishing boats that lined the dock, the boats straining against their moorings to run free with the tide. The water here in the small harbor at Angoon, a fishing village on the western shore of Admiralty Island off southeast Alaska, was steel-black beneath the clouds and dimpled by rain, but was clear even with that, a window beneath the weathered pilings to a world of sunburst starfish as wide as garbage cans, jellyfish the size of basketballs, and barnacles as heavy as a longshoreman's fist. Alaska was like that, so vigorous with life that it could fill a man and lift him and maybe even bring him back from the dead.

A Tlingit Indian named Elliot MacArthur watched as Joe Pike stowed his duffel in a fourteen-foot fiberglass skiff. Pike had rented the skiff from MacArthur, who now nervously toed Pike's rifle case.

"You didn't tell me you were goin' after those bears up there. It ain't so smart goin' in those woods by yourself. I don't wanna lose my boat."

Pike secured his duffel between the skiff's bench seats, then took hold of the gun case. Pike's weapon of choice that day was a stainless-steel Remington Model 700 chambered in.375 Holland & Holland Magnum. It was a powerful gun, built heavy to dampen the.375's hard recoil. Pike lifted the case with his bad arm, but the arm failed with a sharp pain that left his shoulder burning. He shifted its weight to his good arm.

MacArthur didn't like this business with the arm.

"Now you listen. Goin' after that bear with a bad arm ain't the brightest idea, either. You're gonna have my boat, and you're gonna be alone, and that's a big bear up there. Has to be big, what he did to those people."

Pike strapped the rifle case across the duffel, then checked the fuel. It was going to be a long trip, getting from Angoon up to Chaik Bay where the killings had taken place.

"You better be thinkin' about this. Don't matter what kinda bounty the families put up, it ain't worth gettin' killed for."

"I won't lose your boat."

MacArthur wasn't sure if Pike had insulted him or not.

Pike finished with his gear, then stepped back onto the dock. He took ten one-hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and held out the money.

"Here. Now you won't have to worry about it."

MacArthur looked embarrassed and put his hands in his pocket.

"Let's just forget it. You rented it, it's yours. You're makin' me feel like a miser and I don't appreciate that."

Pike put the money away and stepped down into the skiff, keeping his weight low. He cast off the lines.

"You bank the boat when you get up Chaik, use that orange tape to flag a tree so I can find ya if I have to come looking."

Pike nodded.

"Anyone you want me to call, you know, if you need me to call someone?"


"You sure?"

Pike nosed away from the dock without answering and set off for deeper water, holding the bad arm close.

The light rain became fat drops, then a low foggy mist. Pike zipped his parka. A family of seals watched him pass from their perch on a promontory of rocks. Humpback whales spouted further out in the channel, one great tail tipping into the sky as a whale sounded, Pike's only thought to wonder at the perfect quiet that waited in the waters below.

Pike rubbed his bad shoulder. He had been shot twice high in the back almost eight months ago. The bullets shattered his shoulder blade, spraying bone fragments like shrapnel through his left lung and the surrounding muscles and nerves. Pike had almost died, but didn't, and had come north to heal. He worked king crab boats out of Dutch Harbor and fishing boats out of Petersburg. He long-lined for black cod and halibut, and if the crews on the boats he worked saw the scars that laced his chest and back, no one asked of their nature. That was Alaska, too.

Pike steered north for four hours at a steady six knots until he reached a circular bay with two small islands at its mouth. Pike checked his chart, then double-checked his position on a handheld GPS. This was the place, all right. Chaik Bay.

The pounding chop of the channel gave way to water as flat as glass, undisturbed except for the head of a single white seal. The bottom rose as Pike eased toward shore,