The trail across frozen Golovin Lagoon ran straight and monotonous. After the slow grind over Little McKinley and maneuvering an icy descent into the wind of the bay between Elim and Golovin, Dillon let his dogs set the pace. He peddled at the back of the sled as an endless stream of trail markers lead the way toward the flashing airport beacon of White Mountain checkpoint, seventy-seven miles from Nome and where they'd take their mandatory eight-hour layover. His face numbed by the wind that blew down the river, he felt caught in a time warp, his dogs running in slow motion, the beacon like a mirage in the desert, never getting any closer.
As the afternoon lengthened, tedium set in and his mind drifted. He didn't want to think about the dead man but did anyway. He'd thought himself purged of the memory, or at least had it buried deep enough to stay unseen. But claustrophobia shadowed him, tried to trap him in a room he swore to never enter again. A room of nightmares and flashbacks and chaos.
Shake it off, damn it.
He realized his dogs had picked up their pace and the airport beacon was no longer a distant mirage. Checkpoints meant food and rest and attention from the locals, three items high on a dog's list of things to get excited about. They swung around a bend and saw White Mountain spread out along the bank of the river. Dillon checked in at 5:21 p.m., loaded his dropped bags onto the sled and followed the volunteer to the parking area. He went through the routine of feeding and bedding his team for the long stay as the sun set and darkness settled in.
Later, he walked to the community hall in search of a hot meal. While he enjoyed a bowl of stew, he overheard a group of mushers talking about a ground blizzard between Koyuk and Elim – minus twenty-eight degrees, fifty-mile-an-hour winds.
"Nothing's getting through there," one commented.
"Anybody caught in it?" Dillon asked.
"Maybe," a woman with loose dark hair and sleep-droopy eyelids replied. "That rookie lawyer should have checked in at Elim by now but nobody's seen her."
Dillon's spoon stopped partway to his mouth, a sudden uncomfortable knot in his throat. "You mean Claire Stanfield?"
"Yeah, that's the one."
"What's her GPS tracker say?"
"It's not moving."
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