YUKON TERRITORY, CANADA
Friday, June 21st
THIRTY-TWO HOURS BEFORE Cassie Gale went missing, she was driving her green Toyota Tundra west on Yukon Route 2 through dense forests of spruce and aspen. Though it was late June, the air was cool, and in the light rain that fell from dull gray clouds, it almost smelled like fall.
Every so often there were breaks in the trees that flanked the highway, and Cassie caught glimpses of pristine valleys and faraway peaks, and slowly grew calmer, at ease, not at all the troubled woman who’d left Montana three days before.
But just as quickly, the vista was swallowed by thick, gloomy claustrophobic woods that seemed to gnaw at her mood. On impulse Cassie reached for the center console. When she did, the regal, male German shepherd in the passenger’s seat cocked his head, and his eyes narrowed.
Cassie stopped her hand short of the console and willed it back to the wheel.
“Sorry, Maverick,” she said, reaching over and scratching the dog’s head. “I promised I wouldn’t go there today, didn’t I?”
Maverick nuzzled Cassie’s arm as she drove past a sign that read: Dawson City, Yukon 50 kilometers.
Thank God, Cassie thought, fighting a yawn. Just thirty miles.
It was past seven in the evening by then and she’d been driving nearly twelve hours. She had come all the way from Watson Lake in the southeastern corner of the territory and had sat through dozens of summer highway work delays on the route. She looked forward to a shower, food, a cold beer or two, and a clean bed in Dawson. She desperately wanted one more good night’s sleep before she pushed on into the great unknown.
That thought made her feel better. The great unknown. Adventure. Wild places. A break from the hustle and bustle of the modern world and the pain she was leaving behind. The thought made her smile and take an appraising glance at herself in the rearview mirror.
Cassie was in her early thirties, five foot five, and very fit, with short ash-blond hair, and dark sapphire eyes. She wore little makeup, and her skin was deeply tanned and sun spotted due to many years out in the extreme elements. As a result, she was more handsome than beautiful, and at this stage in her life that suited her just fine.
And so did traveling alone with Maverick. Cassie believed she and the shepherd were more than capable of handling themselves in any situation. She was just trying to enjoy the sheer newness of every turn in the road ahead.
But then, in the deep recesses of her mind, a little pang of familiar misery ran through her. She reached for the center console again, only to stop.
Returning her hand to the wheel, she rolled her shoulders back, and lifted her chin up high. It was something her dad had taught her as a young girl when she was feeling down.
Act like you are queen of the world, Cassie, stand like you’re queen of the damn world, and everything else will fade away, he used to tell her when she was young and moping about some minor tragedy.
Crossing a bridge, she glanced down to the creek below, swollen, silted, and rushing with runoff from the snowfields high above.
The frothing water triggered another memory, a bad one, and before she could stop herself—raw, stinking emotion as swollen and roiling as the creek below filled her chest and throat. Tears blurred her eyesight until she had to pull over beyond the bridge.
Throwing the truck in park, she rested her forehead on the steering wheel and sobbed. Maverick began to whine and snuffle at her cheek and ear.
“I know,” Cassie said, wiping her eyes, then hugging the dog. “I love you, too, big guy.”
Maverick’s tail wagged as he licked the tears off her face. Ordinarily, that would have been enough. Cassie would have bathed in her dog’s unconditional love and driven on. Instead, she lifted the center console lid and got out her Globalstar GPS satellite phone.
“I know you don’t like it, but I have to,” Cassie said, turning the phone on.
Against a voice in her head commanding her to stop, she dialed the moment she had a solid connection. At the other end of the line, a phone rang four times before going to a voice mail.
“This is Derrick,” the voice said. “You know what to do. In the meantime, remember, only dead fish swim with the current.”
The current, Cassie thought before the beep.
She wiped at her eyes and spoke into the phone, “Hi, I know I promised I wouldn’t call. But I was missing you, and… I’m going to Alaska, just like we said we always would. I’ll probably be there tomorrow, and I… I’m doing well, for the most part. Taking it minute by minute.” She paused, “Derrick, I need to tell you a secret. I need to say that—”
The phone chirped—she’d lost the satellite connection.
Cassie cursed and put the phone back in the center console before putting the Tundra back in drive.
Rolling west again, she turned on the radio and got the weather report on an AM station out of Haines Junction, which called for localized showers before clearing up with warmer weather for the next few days.
That’s good. It could easily have been pouring buckets.
She’d no sooner had that thought when the iron gray skies opened and lashed the highway with sheets of water so thick it forced her to slow to a crawl.
As the water pounded on the windshield, Cassie’s memories leaped back years. She saw herself at fourteen, crouched under an overhung cliff, watching a spectacular summer storm roll up an alpine wilderness valley where granite crags soared like cathedrals on all sides. A fire burned beneath the overhang, the smell of coffee wafted, and she remembered feeling safer and surer of herself than ever before.
How old was I that day? Fourteen?
Fourteen, and I already knew.
He was the one.