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High on the Northern Divide, in the rusty mill town of Muskie Falls, a man loved by no one is found dead behind a run-down hotel. Frank Yakabuski is a young cop but there’s nothing green about him. He’s got four solid suspects but no one’s talking. Meanwhile a serial killer is bound for Muskie with murder on his mind in this twisty gritty thriller.

Read an excerpt from MUSKIE FALLS by Ron Corbett

FRANK YAKABUSKI THOUGHT about the question. It would have been late autumn, the Upper Divide. The murdered manhad owned a hotel along the Racine River, which was way up there. For nearly a week his body lay in a walk-in cooler that used to be an ice house, kept on a metal shelf, wedged between bags of potatoes and trays of cut fish.


“Do you remember your first case,” the man asked again.


Yakabuski turned away from the lake in front of him and looked at the man. “That would be a hard thing to forget, don’t you think?”


The man’s face reddened. “Yes, of course, I wasn’t thinking.”


The hotel was called the King George and it had a tavern on the main floor that always smelled of vinegar and draft beer and old wood — good tavern smells — Yakabuski couldn’t remember the name of the tavern, had an odd name, but he remembered the smell. A killer came to the hotel while the body was in the ice house. He didn’t kill the man who owned the hotel. He had killed many others, but not that man.


“Was it a homicide case?”


“It was, in a way.”


“In a way? — that’s a strange answer.”


The man with Yakabuski was young, had a mop of curly black hair, not tall, wore shirts that were usually rumpled, buttons on the shirts that were usually stretched. He was a

reporter. He had been coming to Springfield for a little more than a year, a few days at a time, a week once last summer, working on a book about the Shiners, and Tommy Bangles, and what happened at Ragged Lake five years ago. First time he reached Yakabuski on the phone he said the working title for his book was — and he was proud of this — Showdown at Ragged Lake.


Yakabuski wanted nothing to do with him. But the reporter was persistent, kept leaving messages at the police station, phoned his dad a few times — who, of course, talked to him — he even went out to Yakabuski’s fish hut one night, a cold-as-hell January night, walking hut to hut on the lake until he found him.


How do you turn away someone who walks across a frozen lake and knocks on the door of your fish hut? Along the Northern Divide that would be like cutting off someone’s

electricity in the middle of the winter, or stealing their boat, something not done unless under great duress or provocation.


They talked for nearly three hours that night. The reporter had the good sense to arrive with a bottle of Canadian Club rye whisky in his packsack, had the double good sense to be

a poor cribbage player, losing most of the games they played once Yakabuski stopped jigging ling for the night. Before the reporter left, he asked if he could try it — ice fishing — and it was cold by then, Yakabuski had let the fire in the airtight burn down, the reporter looked frozen, his gloves were city gloves, but he wanted to jig for ling before he left.


Yakabuski had come to like the reporter. Enough to help him with his book, anyway, which was just telling stories for the most part, and people had been telling Shiner stories

around Springfield for two hundred years. He knew a few good ones. Earlier that month, he had agreed to take the reporter to Ragged Lake for a weekend, show him where, to

use the reporter’s phrasing — he winced and grinned at the same time, as he recalled the request — “it all went down.”


“I don’t mean to sound vague,” Yakabuski said, “but it was a strange case. It started with a murder, ended with a murder, but neither one of those was the actual murder case, which was never solved. Hard to know what to think of a case like that.”


He turned away from the reporter to stare again at the lake in front of them. It was a small lake, ringed by pine and spruce, midmorning and the sun just beginning to clear the

treeline. “And maybe it wasn’t even my first case, because I was still in patrol, I wasn’t a detective yet, but it was a major crimes case, and I worked it. I was seconded by the chief, so I think of it as my first case.”


“You’ve lost me.”


“You weren’t the only one.”


“You were a patrol officer? Working for Chief O’Toole?”


“He was an inspector back then, head of major crimes.”


“Were you about to be transferred, the paperwork hadn’t cleared yet?”


“No, it was my first year on the force.”


“How does a first-year patrol officer end up working a major-crimes case?”


“I saw a man.”




Yakabuski laughed, kept staring at the lake. They sat on ATVs, on a small knoll of cleared land above the lake. “I saw a man, that’s how the case started. Or maybe it started with

muskies. Could have been muskies.”


“It started with muskies?”


“Yeah, muskies. Do you know much about them?”


“They’re big fish. Like you.” Yakabuski turned with his eyebrow arched and the reporter laughed. “All right, maybe they’re not quite as big as you.”


“You should learn more about them. Muskie are apex predators, that’s top of the food chain, an animal with no enemies other than man. There’s great muskie fishing around

here, lot of the rivers are thick with them. Sometimes, it seems you get a case up here that’s thick with them too.”


“A case up here?”


“My first case wasn’t that far from where we are now . . . as the crow flies, it’d be just the other side of the Divide, up the Racine River a bit.”


“As the crow flies? Do you have a city mileage equivalent for a distance marker like that?”


“About fifty miles over the Divide, that direction.” Yakabuski pointed toward the treeline behind the lake, where you could see an escarpment running north to south through the

trees. The Northern Divide was one of the great continental divides in North America, running from Labrador to Minnesota, splitting the continent’s north-south watersheds from

Hudson Bay to the north, and the St. Lawrence, to the south. Where Yakabuski and the reporter sat on their ATVs it could be seen as a clear geographical feature, a ridge of high land running through the forest.


“There’s no road?”


“Not from here. You’d have to hook up to Highway 7, thengo down to the junction at High River, head up the other side of the Divide from there. But if you had a straight line, it’d be

about fifty miles from here . . . maybe a little more.”


“How many years ago was that case?”


“My first year, so . . . twenty-one.”


“A homicide case, with muskies, that was never solved?”


“You sum things up nicely. Should be a short book.” The reporter was pulling a phone from the pocket of his jacket. “Why don’t you tell me about the case?”


“Thought you already had a story.”


“I do, but a little background never hurts. Your first case, it could be useful for the book. We have the time, don’t we?” Their ATVs were parked on a knoll formed from the bulldozed

remains of a cabin where a squatter family had been murdered five years ago. Ragged Lake was ten miles away. It occurred to Yakabuski his first case had similarities to what

happened at Ragged Lake, what can happen to people living on hard land, the good and the bad of that, and it might help the reporter with his book to hear a story about muskies, the Upper Divide, and a predator named Edmund Getty.


And he was right. They had the time.

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