Big-game hunting in Alaska gets a new twist in Naked Fear.
One moment Annie Roszkowski’s closing the bar at Sitka Lillie’s and sharing a cup of coffee with the last customer; the next moment she’s running naked across a barren Alaskan island pursued by three wealthy hunters and a pack of hounds. Running with her are two kidnapped prostitutes. They are the prey in a “good old-fashioned whore hunt.” Can Annie outrun death? And if so, how long will it be before the hunters track her down and once again begin the hunt?
Naked Fear is the first in a series of Sitka Annie thrillers. Besides Naked Fear, Richard Newell Smith has published two other thrillers, The Hitman’s Lover and Grind His Bones, both built around Jack Scully, a “divorce and dog bite” lawyer who, in trying to help relatives, is drawn into the world of crooked cops, organized crime and the black market in human organs. All three of Smith’s novels have won awards from the Florida Writers Association in their annual Royal Palm Literary Awards.
Here is the first chapter of Naked Fear:
The old boat creaked as it rubbed against the dock. The hunters – there were three of them – were standing near the foot of a narrow wooden gangway, drinking coffee from plastic cups and eating sandwiches that had been wrapped in aluminum foil. A few feet away, Captain Willoughby and the boy were chatting. The Captain, a stout man, wore a naval officer’s cap and a black eye-patch. The boy, actually a young man, had a bullwhip wrapped around his shoulder. Nearby two beagle dogs were lying on the ground in the shadow cast by a wheelbarrow. One was sleeping; the other was watching the hunters and wagging its tail. The wheelbarrow was empty except for what looked like several black plastic garbage bags.
Annie was watching the men through the dusty glass of the cabin’s porthole. A few feet behind her the two prostitutes were sitting on the bottom bunk of an old, wood-framed bunk bed talking about the day ahead. Their hands like hers were handcuffed behind their back.
The older woman’s voice was high-pitched and whiny. “They better pay us good, all this shit they put us through.”
Annie had seen her before. They called her Lucy One-Step, perhaps a reflection on her short pudgy legs. Annie had kicked her out of the saloon a half-dozen times, but she kept coming back. The other prostitute, the black one, was Lakeesha, Lakeesha Robinson. Annie knew her from Blatchley Middle School, where Lakeesha was a couple years ahead of Annie. Lakeesha had quit school after the tenth grade and gone into hooking.
Lucy One-Step whined, “We could call the law on them.” Lakeesha cut her off. “Shut your mouth. Lucy, none of that talk. We’ve got enough trouble without your talking a lot of shit.”
“You can’t call the law,” Annie said. “They are the law. I’ve seen the young guy handing out parking tickets, and the fat one’s a patrolman. He calls himself Captain Willoughby, maybe because he owns the boat. Anyway the eye-patch is a fake.”
“Yeah, the fat one’s a prick. He arrested me once,” Lakeesha said.
Lucy One-Step continued to whine. “They got no right to treat us like this. They better pay and pay good.”
“Pay good for what?” Annie asked.
“For having a good time. Me and Lakeesha are good-time girls.”
“I’m no good-time girl.”
“Well, you are now. You been drafted.”
The two prostitutes had been chitchatting for the past hour, at least that long. They could have been talking all night for all Annie knew. It had been dark when she passed out. Now it was a sunny August morning.
Annie could remember seeing the young man at the saloon. He’d been trying to hit on her. But she’d been too busy to talk with him and finally, out of exasperation, had told him to stop being a jerk and leave her alone. Later as she was closing the saloon and shooing the last customers out the door, he came over and apologized and asked her to join him in a glass of brandy. She waved off his offer and, instead, set two coffee mugs on the bar. She remembered pouring coffee into the mugs and then turning around and putting the coffee pot back on the burner, but that was it. She couldn’t remember drinking the coffee. Whatever the man slipped into it must have worked fast. The next thing she knew, it was morning and Lakeesha was shaking her awake.
“Rise and shine, honey, we got a busy day coming up.”
The two women had helped her to her feet and steered her to the toilet, a tiny room that reeked of urine. Now Annie was staring out the porthole at the hunters. She’d tried desperately to pull her hands out of the handcuffs, but Lakeesha told her to stop. “Don’t waste your time, honey. They’re not coming off. And you’re getting blood all over your wrists. They won’t like that. They’re paying good money. They don’t want blood.”
“What makes you think they’re going to pay?”
The black woman laughed. “They’ll pay. They’re big spenders out for a good time, a real good time.” She looked into Annie’s eyes. “Don’t be so uptight. They just want to play around a little.”
“Not with me, they won’t.”
“You don’t have a choice, honey. So just grin and bear it, and take the money.”
“I don’t want their money. I just want to go home. I’m feeling sick. They so much as touch me, and I’ll throw up on them.”
The bunk creaked as one of the prostitutes got up and walked across the room toward the porthole. Annie could feel the woman standing behind her looking over her shoulder. “They sure got fancy gear,” the woman said. “Plenty of money.” It was Lucy One-Step.
“I don’t like the looks of it,” Annie said. “If it’s just fun and games, how come we’re handcuffed?”
“They just want to show us who’s boss. It’s a sex thing. Gets them off.”
“But why me? I’m no hooker?”
“Maybe they was running late.” Lucy looked into Annie’s face. “And you’re good looking, real good looking.”
“To hell with them!” Annie shook her head. “As soon as I get back to Sitka I’m going right to the police.”
“No, no, no!” Annie heard Lakeesha get up from the bunk. “Don’t you dare say that. You’ll get us all killed. Just be all smiles. Then after we get back to Sitka, you can do whatever you damn well please. But don’t scare them; Jesus, don’t scare them.”
“And where are we?” Annie asked.
“It’s a little island, a few miles off Sitka, Hersee Island.”
Annie shook her head again. “If they wanted to hunt, they could go up in the mountains and shoot all kinds of stuff. There must be a million places in Alaska got better hunting than this one. It makes no sense.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Lakeesha said. “You’re just scaring us. Everything’s going to be fine. It’ll be a nice pay
day for all of us.”
Lucy One-Step cut in. “Once they show you the money, you’ll be happy just to go to the bank. No need to make a stink.”
“Bullshit! They kidnapped me right out of the saloon. They can go to prison.”
“Yeah,” Lucy One-Step said, “I seen you working the bar at Sitka Lillie’s. Lillie was your mom, wasn’t she?”
“Sorry about your loss. I would have gone to the funeral, but I was already booked. I hear it was a real first-class affair.”
“That’s the way she wanted it. She wanted to go out in style.” Annie smiled bitterly to herself. Her mother had left instructions for the funeral covering every detail, right down to the type of casket, mahogany with a satin lining. Annie figured her mom had spent more in one day on that funeral than she’d spent on Annie in her lifetime.
“I was there,” Lakeesha said. “Just about every working girl in Sitka showed up to see Lillie off. We got a lot of trade out of Sitka Lillie’s. And the biggest steaks I’ve ever seen.”
Annie nodded. “Any bigger and you’d be eating the whole heifer.”
“The prayer card called your mom Lillian Roskolinski. Is that really your name, Roskolinski?”
“No, Roszkowski. I think it’s Polish. But we’ve been in Alaska so long nobody really knows. And my mom didn’t give a damn. Sitka Lillie was good enough for her.”
“You can always call yourself Sitka Annie,” Lucy One-Step suggested. “That sounds real nice.”
“Might be too late,” Lakeesha said. “They say the city’s going to tear the saloon down and turn the whole area into condos and fancy shops.”
“They’ve got to get by me first.”
“Good luck on that. Like they say, you can’t beat city hall.” Lakeesha moved closer to the dust-caked porthole and pointed at the hunters. “And you can’t beat them either. They’ve got tons of money. They can buy all three of us a million times over.” She paused for a moment, staring out the porthole, then pointed at one of the hunters, a tall man with wavy black hair. “He’s kind of cute.” The hunter had just removed his rifle from its case and was wiping it down with a cloth. “He looks like a nice guy, you know, just out to have a good time.”
Lucy One-step wedged in between the two women and pointed toward a skinny, baldish man with thick rimless glasses. “He don’t look nice. I’ve seen fish look warmer than him.” As she spoke, the man tossed his coffee cup aside and picked up a can of beer and popped the tab. He took a swig, then set the can down and began fitting a scope to his rifle.
Annie felt fear gripping at her stomach. “They creep me out.”
“Yeah, that one’s real ugly.” Lucy pointed at a stocky, middle-aged man with red hair, freckles and little slits of eyes. He was holding his rifle under his arm awkwardly and pacing back and forth. He glanced at his watch, took a few more steps, then glanced at his watch again. “Look at his eyes!” Lucy said. “They call them piggy eyes. He looks like a piggy. We can charge double for him.”
The two beagles, now both on their feet, were watching the hunters and wagging their tails.
Lakeesha put her hand on Annie’s shoulder. “It’s game time, honey. Better brace yourself.” She pointed towards the young man, the one with the bullwhip coiled around his shoulder. He was walking up the gangway toward the cabin.
“I don’t see no food,” Lucy One-Step said. “Where’s the food? I don’t like this. It’s creepy.”
“There’s a shack over there.” Lakeesha pointed toward a rise where someone had built a ramshackle shed. “Maybe they’re going to stow us there while they go hunting.”
“Be more comfortable on the boat.”
“I’d like to take a shower,” Lakeesha said. “It’s getting pretty warm. By the time they get back, we’ll be all hot and sweaty.”
The boat’s horn suddenly sounded, with a loud blare.
“What the fuck’s that?” Lucy One-Step asked. Before she could speak again, the cabin door opened and the young man stepped in. “Okay, ladies, out you go!” He took the coiled whip from his shoulder and slapped it against Lakeesha’s hip.
“Watch, yourself, shorty,” she said and headed out the door. Lucy One-Step was right behind her.
Annie shook her head and backed away. “I’m not part of this.”
“You are now, bitch. Move your ass.”
He waved the coiled whip at her, and she backed away. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“How about I drag you out by your hair?”
He reached for her, and she ducked under his arm and shot out the door. Then she ran across the boat’s wooden deck and down the narrow gangway to the dock.
Captain Willoughby was waiting at the foot of the gangway. Next to him was the wheelbarrow with its black plastic bags. “Over here ladies, over here. Form a line.” He pointed to a spot near the end of the dock. “That’s it, ladies, shoulder to shoulder,” Annie joined Lakeesha and Lucy One-Step. “Very good, very good!”
“You aren’t going to hurt us, are you?” Lucy One-Step asked in a weak, trembling voice.
“Patience, ladies, patience! It’ll all be revealed in good time. But first things first.” He unsnapped his cell phone from his belt and set it down on the ground. “No cell phones. Turn them off and leave them on the ground. People can eavesdrop on calls, and police can trace them.” The three hunters took out their cell phones and placed them side-by-side next to the Captain’s.
“Good,” the Captain said. “Now, let the games begin.” With that, he pulled an old-fashioned straight-edge razor from his pocket and flipped open the blade. Then he stepped behind Lakeesha, placed one hand on her shoulder, to hold her steady, and with a few strokes of the razor, cut away her dress, bra and panties, leaving her standing naked on the dock, her hands handcuffed behind her back. The captain then unlocked her handcuffs.
“That dress cost good money,” Lakeesha said. “You’ve got no right doing shit like this.”
“Don’t worry ladies,” the Captain said. “We’ll balance our accounts at the end of the day.”
At that the hunters laughed.
“Don’t touch me,” Lucy One-Step said in a loud plaintive voice.
“Shut your mouth. I’m not going to cut you.”
As soon as the blade began slicing through her clothes, Lucy One-Step bent her head and began to wail.
“Knock it off. You’re spoiling everyone’s fun.”
Her wails turned to whimpers. And in a moment her clothes were lying on the dock, slashed to pieces. The handcuffs were gone, and she was rubbing her wrists.
“You can’t do this,” Annie said as Captain Willoughby stepped toward her. “Get away from me.” When he reached for her, she kicked him in the shins.
“You bitch,” he yelled and slapped her hard across her face. Before she could kick him again, he grabbed her by the hair and forced her to her knees. “Any more shit from you, and I’ll cut your ears off.” The Captain’s straight-edge razor quickly slashed through her clothes.
Annie, her eyes shut tight, felt her clothing falling away. A moment later, she was standing naked next to Lucy One-Step and Lakeesha. A rough hand grabbed her wrist. There was a metallic clicking sound and the handcuffs came away. She immediately held her hands in front of herself, covering her breasts and pubic area.
The Captain took three strides to the front, turned smartly on one heel and faced the women. “Ladies, what we have here today is a good old-fashioned whore hunt.” He paused for a moment to smirk at the women and then continued. “You will be given a twenty-minute head start. Anyone still alive at sundown will be set free.” He stepped over to the wheelbarrow and patted the black plastic bags. “You won’t have to walk back, ladies; we’ll give you a ride.”
The young man with the bullwhip laughed. “You’ll be in the bag.”
Annie looked closer at the wheelbarrow and realized the black plastic bags were body bags.
The Captain raised his hand for silence and turned toward the three hunters. “The gentlemen have drawn straws to determine which whore each will hunt. So, starting with you, Mr. Buchanan, which whore do you select?”
The tall black-haired man pointed his rifle at Annie. “I’ll take the blonde.”
“Excellent choice, she’ll give you a good run for your money.”
The Captain then turned to the freckled man with the piggy eyes. “Mr. Baugh, which whore do you choose?”
Baugh, his hands trembling, hesitated. The tall black-haired man put a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Frank, It’s just a bunch of whores. It’s not like they’re an endangered species.”
Baugh nodded his head and pointed at Lucy One-Step. “I’ll take the little white girl.”
Captain Willoughby turned to the third hunter. “Mr. McDowell you get the African-American lady.”
McDowell, a beer can in his hand, said, “Shit, if I wanted to shoot a nigger, I could just go down to Front Street and shoot a bunch of them.”
The black-haired man laughed. “But, Charlie, you’ve got to catch her first. And she sure looks like she can outrun you.”
McDowell surveyed Lakeesha through thick, rimless glasses. “I’ll catch her alright. And when I’m done I’ll fucking skin her and make myself a nice leather jacket.”
“Fuck you, you creepy bastard,” Lakeesha yelled.
“Now, ladies, none of that,” the Captain said. “This here is a high-class whore hunt.” He then reached into his pocket, took out a stopwatch and held it up for everyone to see. “On your mark, ladies, get set.” He pressed a button on the watch. “Now, get going.”
When the women didn’t move, he turned to the young man with the bullwhip. “Get them moving.”
The young man uncoiled the bullwhip, cracked it once in the air, and then brought it down on Lucy One-Step’s back. She screamed and began running towards the woods, wailing as she ran. Annie hesitated a second, then darted away and quickly caught up with One-Step.
Lakeesha held her ground. “You bastards, you’re all going to prison.” Annie heard the whip crack and Lakeesha scream. “You bastards, you’re going to pay for this.” The whip cracked again. Annie looked back and saw Lakeesha still swearing at the hunters. The whip cracked two more times. When Annie looked back again, Lakeesha was loping up the path towards her.
With her long strides, Lakeesha quickly overtook Annie and Lucy One-Step. “Come on, girls, keep moving,” she yelled as she sprinted past them. “Keep moving.”
Annie, her eyes fixed on the ground trying to avoid the sharp rocks, struggled to keep up with Lakeesha. Every few strides she’d feel a stabbing pain as one of her bare feet struck a sharp edge. She ran through the pain. She didn’t dare stop.
A half-dozen strides ahead of her, Lakeesha was cursing between breaths. Annie glanced back over her shoulder. Lucy One-Step had stopped and was down on one knee, sobbing and gasping for breath.
“Lucy, keep moving, keep moving,” Annie yelled. “Stay with us.”
Lucy straightened up and began running again. Her steps were short half-strides. She was moving slowly, dragging her bare feet along the rocky path.
Annie glanced from side to side as she ran, looking for a place to turn off into the trees. But there were no trees, just spiny little bushes growing out of the massive rocks and boulders along the path. The path, Annie realized, was really a gully, a gully that had worn its way through the rocks. The only way to get out was to scramble up over the rocks.
“Lakeesha,” she yelled, “we’re trapped. We’ve got to climb over the rocks.”
“Not yet. We’ll keep running ‘til there’s no place left to run. Then we can start climbing.” Lakeesha’s words came in gasps. “We can’t let the bastards catch us, no matter what. We’ve got to keep running.”
As Annie ran along the gully, the ground rose sharply. Behind her Lucy One-Step’s wails and sobs were growing fainter. A gunshot sounded, and far behind her she heard the baying of the beagles.
“They’re coming,” Lakeesha yelled. Then she stopped, turned around and looked back down the gully. “I don’t hear One-Step.” She cupped her hands over her mouth and yelled, “Lucy, where are you? Move your ass! They’re coming!”
Annie looked back and saw Lucy One-Step stumbling along the path. She was far behind them.
Lakeesha put her hand on Annie’s shoulder. “Move it, honey. We can’t wait for her. We’ve got to run.”
Gasping for breath, they ran upward through the gully, along a rocky path that rose ever more sharply. Lakeesha began scrambling up the rocks that lined the side of the gully. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“Oh, my God,” Annie cried as she followed her.
The rocks were bare and eroded, and between the smooth gray surfaces were deep cracks and crevices. The women climbed up the rocks and leaped over the crevices, angling their way upward until they reached level ground. Ahead of them was a rocky ledge and beyond it the dark blue of the ocean. Annie hurried to where Lakeesha was standing on the ledge and stood beside her. Lakeesha put an arm around Annie’s shoulders. “One hell of a jump.”
Annie glanced downward. Far below, huge waves were smashing over massive boulders and pounding against the base of the cliff.
“Oh, my God, there’s no way down.” Annie felt the tears welling up in her eyes, the words choking in her throat.
“There’s got to be a way down.” Lakeesha said.
Annie shook her head. “The cliff’s all gutted out. There’s no way down.”
“We’ll try the other side.” Lakeesha ran back down the rocky slope toward the gully. “Hurry, we’ve got no time.”
Annie followed her across the smooth surface of the worn-down rocks. Wherever Lakeesha stepped, she left dark streaks of blood. Annie’s feet were bleeding too, with blood splattered over her ankles. Her body was begging her to stop, but she had to keep up with Lakeesha, keep going, no matter what. In the distance the baying of the beagles was drawing closer.
Lakeesha, with Annie close behind, ran back down to the rocky path. They followed the path for another hundred yards, until it came to an abrupt end at a high crag. Lakeesha reached the top of the crag first. Annie struggled up the steep path, gasping for breath, then stopped cold. A rifle shot had echoed up the gorge. There was a scream and plaintive wailing. “Please, please don’t kill me! Don’t kill me.”
A voice, clear and commanding, said, “Finish her!”
“Please, don’t do it! Don’t kill me!”
The commanding voice spoke again, “Do her,” and another shot reverberated.
“Jesus! They’ve killed Lucy One-Step!” Lakeesha shook her head, then gestured to Annie to join her at the edge of the cliff. Far below waves were smashing over rocks and sending spume high up into the air.
“We’ve gotta jump,” Lakeesha said. “It’s our only chance.”
“Are you crazy?” Annie’s jaw trembled as she spoke. “We’ve got to find a way down.”
Lakeesha’s face was calm, resigned; her voice was firm. “We’ve got to do it, Annie. It’s the only way.” She turned away from the edge of the cliff and walked back some thirty feet. “I’m not going to let those bastards make sport of me.” She turned to Annie. “Promise me this, if you get out of here alive and I don’t, you’ll track those bastards down and kill them.”
Annie tried to speak but the words froze in her throat.
Lakeesha spoke louder. “Promise me.”
Annie forced out the words. “I promise. I promise. I’ll get them; I’ll get them all.”
“Okay, Annie, we’ve got to jump.” She looked Annie straight in the face. “Do it, Annie! Just do it. Don’t think about it; just do it.” Then she lowered her head and started to run. When she reached the edge of the cliff, she leapt far out into the air and then plummeted out of sight.
Annie walked to the edge of the cliff and looked down. At first she saw nothing but waves smashing over the rocks. Then there was something in the waves, a black shape thrown forward against the rocks and then dragged backwards, then thrown forward again, a black shape, limp and lifeless.
Annie held her hands over her eyes and staggered backwards. For a moment she stood silent. Then she heard something coming up behind her. It was the two beagles, their tails wagging, their eyes alert. One stopped, held its head back and began to bay. The other quickly followed.
From back down the gully a voice shouted, “We’ve got them, we’ve got them!”
Annie stepped back a few feet, crossed herself awkwardly, then lowered her head and began running toward the edge of the cliff. She kept running until the ground gave way beneath her feet and the wind rushed past her face.
She screamed and kept screaming all the way down.