At the western end of Fourth Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska’s main street,
a drifter parted the curtains of a third floor flophouse window and
peered down on the lighted, snow-covered parking lot below. He wiped
his nose on the sleeve of his army jacket again and stared at the black
Volvo station wagon parked in the circle of light beneath the lamp post.
The stillness disturbed him. He had had the feeling before -- something
wasn’t right. At this hour in the morning there should be more
traffic, more people, and more noise. There was an ominous hush over
the city. It was Saturday though. That was the answer. It was
Saturday and the city was slow to get started.
The Chugach Mountains rising five thousand feet just east of the city
blocked the morning sun. It was still dark and yet to the west, across
the mud flats of Cook Inlet, Mount Susitna -- The Sleeping Lady as it
was called in Indian legends blanketed in a coat of newly fallen snow
called termination dust because most outdoor construction work stopped
for the winter -- was bathed in the pink of a crisp new day. He looked
at his watch and then at the Volvo. Across the street a drunken Indian
weaved precariously along the sidewalk. Goddam Klootches don’t know
how to hold their booze. The drifter needed a drink. Badly. But he
promised he wouldn’t touch the stuff until after it was over. He’d
get good and drunk then. Maybe stay that way for a few days. He’d
have enough money to stay drunk for a year and to do it someplace where
it wasn’t so cold. He parted the curtains again and then smiled
slightly. A dark-haired woman was brushing the snow off the windshield
of the station wagon. She finished, flicked the snow off of her fur
coat, looked around carefully, and opened the door. The drifter reached
down to the floor and picked up a dark grey metal case about the size of
a small radio. The woman started the engine and let it warm up for a
few minutes. She put the car into reverse and slowly backed out of the
parking space, out of the arc of the light.
The explosion rocked a two-block area and pulverized the Volvo. The
street lamp toppled over and every window in every building facing the
lot shattered including the window he was looking through. The blast
catapulted the drunken Indian through the front window of the hardware
store and shards of glass severed the arteries in his neck, killing him
The drifter was stunned. He looked down on the lot and saw nothing
recognizable but the smoldering remnants of an axle and two wheels.
There was nothing left of the car or the beautiful young woman in the
fur coat. He looked, dumfounded, at the trigger mechanism in his hand
and turned the toggle switch to the off position. He was disoriented
and confused. He knew there would be an explosion but nothing as
powerful as that. He wiped his bloody face with a dirty handkerchief
and tossed it on the floor. A police siren wailed in the distance, then
another and another. He threw the detonator across the room and looked
out the window for the last time. A Catholic priest, who had witnessed
the explosion, was kneeling in the middle of the parking lot, now black
where the intense heat had melted the snow, giving the last rites to
what was once a human being. The drifter scurried out of the room, down
the back stairs and fled from the dilapidated building through a back
alley. He walked rapidly along Third Avenue, parallel to the main
street, and headed east toward Elmendorf, the big, military air base
outside of town. The bars on Post Road, on the way to the base, were
open twenty-four hours a day, ready to squeeze the last dollar from the
airmen before they reached the haven of the government reservation.
Although he moved swiftly past the railroad station, past the Alaska
Native Medical Center and beyond Brother Francis Shelter - he’d never
have to beg Jesus for food again - it took him over thirty minutes to
reach the first bar, inaccurately named the Last Chance Saloon -- there
were six more clip joints like it before the road ended at the main gate
of the base. He slid onto the bar stool in the dimly lit room which
reeked of stale beer and ordered a double whiskey -- four fingers --
with a beer chaser. Above the bar, high out of reach, faded Christmas
decorations, green and red twisted crepe paper and cardboard Santa
Clauses were covered with dust. The decorations were not in
anticipation of the coming holiday season; they were left over from last
year or the year before, or the year before that. Too high for the
cleaning people to reach, too much trouble for the employees to bother
with. The bartender hesitated, wondering whether he was going to be
stiffed by the unkempt, dirty-looking vagrant. The drifter pulled a
sheaf of bills out of his coat pocket, peeled off several and threw them
on the bar.
He got immediate service from the bartender and benign notice from the
three girls still working the place that early in the morning. He
gulped down the drink, winced, and ordered a refill. He thought about
what he had done. About what had just happened. He didn’t know the
woman in the fur coat. He was just told to detonate the explosive after
the driver started the car. No one said the victim was to be a young
woman. What difference did it make, anyway? He got part of the money
already and he would get the rest when he met the man with the money.
The bartender eyed him -- apprehensively -- maybe he should throw the
weirdo out -- but the only others in the place were a bunch of hard hats
playing poker, so who cares?
The drifter smiled, smirked, really. He ordered another double and
thought about what he was going to do.
Three stools away, a black woman, dressed in the uniform of her trade
– tight-fitted jumpsuit unzipped to her navel, spike heels, and an
auburn wig -- turned to him and said, “Hey, old man, ya look kinda
worried an’ beat up. How ‘bout a date? I’ll cheer ya up a whole
The drifter became vaguely aware that someone was talking to him. Old
man, she said -- I’m not so old. A shave ‘n a shower, some new
clothes. Shoes. Maybe a haircut. He swiveled toward her.
“I said, how ‘bout you ‘n me gettin’ it on, honey.”
He turned away in disgust.
“C’mon, honey, bet you ain’t made it in years. Make you feel like
a young stud again.”
He put his drink down, slowly stood up and faced her. The bartender,
sensing trouble, eased toward the black woman.
The drifter spat at her. “Whaddya sellin’, the African clap? Get
The woman threw her drink at him. Hard. The glass missed, but the
vodka and grapefruit juice splattered all over him mixing with the
crusted blood on his face. She was just a few feet away from him,
coming fast and screaming, “you fuckin’ honkey” when the bartender
reached across and shoved a .45 automatic in her face. She stopped
abruptly and stared at the gun.
“Drop the razor, baby. Sit down.”
She hesitated for a moment, put the straight-edge on the bar, slowly
turned on her heel and sashayed away.
The bartender pointed the gun at him. “Get out, bum. I knew you were
trouble the minute you walked in.”
“I didn’t do nothin’, she did.”
“Out, pops, now.”
The drifter stared at the bartender and decided he was on the losing end
of the .45. He got up, slowly collected his money, deliberately
counting it bill by bill, brushed imaginary dust off his jacket and
finished his drink. Then he palmed the razor, shuffled to the door and
The pick-up truck was parked exactly where he had been told it would be,
on the perimeter road around Merrill Field, Anchorage’s general
aviation airport a few miles from Elmendorf. He approached the truck
from the rear, from the blind side just to be sure. There was only one
person in the cab. So far, so good. Just like it was supposed to be.
No surprises. He startled the man behind the wheel as he suddenly
appeared next to the driver’s open window.
“Goddamit. Why ya’ spookin’ me, man? You’re late. Where the
hell you’ve been? Whew…never mind, I knows where ya been. You
stink of booze.” The driver turned his attention back to the car
“Listen. It’s on the news already.”
“...police have not yet identified the woman.. To repeat, a bomb
demolished an automobile in a Fourth Avenue parking lot early this
morning killing the sole occupant, an unidentified woman. Stay tuned
for further developments…”
“Man, you did it! Worked like a charm. A goddam charm.”
The drifter eyed the man warily. He wondered if he was carrying a gun.
“You didn’t tell me the blast would be so big. Lucky I wasn’t
The driver didn’t share that sentiment but said nothing. Instead, he
fiddled with the radio dial, hoping to get more news.
“Who was the woman?”
The driver looked annoyed. “What’s the difference? It’s just
another job. Whaddya care anyway?”
“Were you curious in the army?”
“That was different.”
“No, it wasn’t. Same thing. Did you care who you shot through the
“I was a sniper and I didn’t shoot them through the head. Ya
don’t want to kill’em. Wound’em and it takes three others to help
him - keeps them out of action.”
“Whaddya do, kneecap them?”
“Nah. You kneecap a guy and he’s back shooting at you in a few
months. A side shot is better.”
“You wait until the gook turns his head sideways. And you take out
both eyes and the bridge of his nose. He’s got the rest of his life
to think about why he was fighting on the wrong side.” The drifter
smiled directly at the driver and slowly started to laugh, a wild crazy
The driver squirmed. Little beads of moisture formed above his lip and
on his brow. An intense fear gripped him. He was confronted by a
maniac and the hard part was yet to come. He turned toward the drifter,
trying to stay calm.
“That’s kinda wild, man. You didn’t really do that, did you?”
“Yeah, maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. Anyway, I was just a kid
then.” He paused and watched a small airplane outfitted with
oversized tundra tires take off in the pre-dawn grayness. “So like I
said, I’m curious. Who was she?”
The driver frowned.
“We interrupt this program again for an update on the bombing story.
The victim has been identified as Meredith Patton, long-time Anchorage
resident and member of the prominent Patton family which owns the
Matanuska Flying Service, Alaska’s largest air freight carrier.
Patton was the President of Matanuska. Police say they have no suspects
and no motive so far. Stay tuned for further developments. And now,
back to our regular programming…..”
“Alaska’s largest air freight carrier. Maybe I should get more
“We made a deal.”
“Yeah, but things change, ya know? Where’s my money? You don’t
have the money do you? This is a set-up, isn’t it?”
The radio announcer recapped the bomb story.
The drifter marveled that no one had mentioned the dead drunken Indian.
“Some people just don’t count” he muttered.
“Here’s your money, you fuckin’ creep.”
The blast from the sawed-off shotgun decapitated the drifter.
To the east, the sun finally rose over the towering snow-covered Chugach
Mountains. A new day had begun in Anchorage.
Alaska Airlines flight number 623 was cruising north at 24,000 feet en
route from Seattle to Anchorage with stops at Ketchican and Sitka. The
captain of the flight was Timothy Patton, one of the veteran pilots of
As he approached Anchorage International he throttled back and slowed
the plane, partially lowered the flaps and started his descent to the
final approach. Suddenly he slammed the throttles forward, gained speed
and retracted the landing gear. Patton grabbed the intercom. “Ladies
and gentlemen, the tower just advised us that there are moose on the
runway. We’re going to do a wide, slow 360 to give them time to chase
our four-legged friends away and then land normally. You can relax your
stranglehold on the armrests now. Welcome to the Last Frontier.”
The Ground Control supervisor radioed the plane: Alaska 623 - Captain
Patton, stay in the cockpit after the passengers and crew have deplaned.
There is someone here who urgently needs to talk to you. Alone.”
“Roger.” Patton replied. He wondered who wanted to talk to him and
why it was so urgent.
A tall red-bearded heavy-set man, dressed in a blue sport jacket and
gray slacks carrying a trench coat over his arm entered the cockpit.
“Captain Patton?” I’m Don Ruger with the Anchorage Police
Department. He shook his hand. “I’m a detective, a lieutenant.
I’m sorry to say that I have some bad news for you.”
“Just call me Tim. What’s the bad news?”
Ruger told the captain about the murder of his sister leaving out some
of the gory details.
Patton slumped into his seat not believing what he just heard.
“Murdered? Who would want to do that?”
“We don’t know yet. I’ve been assigned to the case to find
out,” Ruger replied. “I’m going to need to talk to you at length
but not now, not here. Meanwhile, you have my deepest condolences.”
“Why did you want to talk to me in the cockpit?” Patton asked.
“You’re going to find out in a few minutes. There’s an unruly
gang of press people, TV, radio, and newspaper reporters waiting for you
to enter the terminal. I suggest you be careful what you say to them.
I also suggest you get a lawyer.”
Tim walked apprehensively into the terminal and the gang immediately
started shouting questions at him.
“Did she have any enemies?”
“Was she married?”
“How old was she?”
“Who do you think did it?”
“What are you going to do?”
“What’s going to happen to Matanuska?”
Patton thought about that last question for a moment. He didn’t know
what he was going to do, didn’t know what would happen to Matanuska
and he didn’t know why Ruger suggested he get a lawyer.
He didn’t answer any of the questions.
Excerpted from "Three Miles from Tomorrow" by Keith M. Perkins. Copyright © 2013 by Keith M. Perkins. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.