Read Death in Cold Water Online

Authors: Patricia Skalka

Death in Cold Water

Praise for the Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery series:


“Can a big-city cop solve a series of murders whose only witnesses may be the hemlocks? An atmospheric debut.”

Kirkus Reviews

“A satisfyingly complex plot . . . showcasing one of the main characters, Wisconsin's beautiful Door County. A great match for Nevada Barr fans.”

Library Journal

“Murder seems unseemly in Door County, a peninsula covered in forests, lined by beaches, and filled with summer cabins and tourist resorts. That's the hook for murder-thriller
Death Stalks Door County
, the first in a series involving ranger Dave Cubiak, a former Chicago homicide detective.”

Milwaukee Shepherd Express


“The latest Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery sees Cubiak investigating the mysterious carbon monoxide deaths of three prominent World War II vets who are about to be honored for their service”

Chicago Tribune

“Three World War II heroes about to be honored by the Coast Guard are all found dead, apparent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning while playing cards at a cabin. . . . The second installment of this first-rate series provides plenty of challenges for both the detective and the reader.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Skalka captures the gloomy small-town atmosphere vividly, and her intricate plot and well-developed characters will appeal to fans of William Kent Krueger.”






The University of Wisconsin Press

1930 Monroe Street, 3rd Floor

Madison, Wisconsin 53711-2059

3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden

London WCE8LU, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Skalka

All rights reserved. Except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any format or by any means—digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—or conveyed via the Internet or a website without written permission of the University of Wisconsin Press. Rights inquiries should be directed to
[email protected]

Printed in the United States of America

This book may be available in a digital edition.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Skalka, Patricia, author. | Skalka, Patricia. Dave Cubiak Door County mystery. Title: Death in cold water / Patricia Skalka.

Description: Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, [2016] | Series: A Dave Cubiak Door County mystery

Identifiers: LCCN 2016012946 | ISBN 9780299309206 (cloth: alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Door County (Wis.)—Fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3619.K34 D39 2016 | DDC 813/.6—dc23

LC record available at

Map by Julia Padvoiskis

Door County is real. While I used the peninsula as the framework for the book, I also altered some details and added others to fit the story. The spirit of this majestic place remains unchanged.



A Second Skin

Driving North


The Incident Room

An Invasion of Privacy

On the Beach

Word Gets Out

Two Ladies

Trouble at the Estate

The Nature of Evil

Black Dots

A Visit to the Yellow House

Men from Boys

Lunch at Pechta's

Under the Clock Tower

Cold Water

A Difficult Task

Inside Hangar Three

The Rescue

Praying for Angels

The Special Room

On the Parlando




I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.

Isaiah 13:11



ave Cubiak cast his line into the gray water and waited. Perched on the rock ledge along the Green Bay shore, he'd waited all afternoon: For the sun to break through the clouds. For a fish to take his hook. For the autumn leaves to be done with their annual display of color. For the tourists to pack their bags and depart. For Cate to come home.

Watching the sun fall toward the horizon, Cubiak checked the time. It was late and he'd missed pretty much all of Sunday's big football game: the Bears versus the Packers or, because this was Wisconsin, the Packers versus the Bears. He'd done so deliberately, even though skipping the match was an unforgivable sin in his adopted Door County. He'd have to pick up the highlights later. A few of the important details would provide fodder for a week's worth of small talk around the department and elsewhere on the peninsula.

The day was cooler than predicted, and Cubiak wished he'd worn gloves and an extra layer. He tugged his collar up to his chin and reeled in his line. For the third time in thirty minutes, the bait was gone. Maybe he should try a lure, he thought, and reached for his dented red tackle box. As Cubiak rummaged through the jumble of jigs and plugs, he heard a rustling in the bushes and looked up to see a white bundle sail over his head toward the bay.

The sack hit the water about fifteen feet from shore.

“What the hell?” he said.

He figured it was a plastic bag filled with trash and wondered if he could snag it with his line.

Then something inside the bag wiggled, and there was a sound. A cry like that of a baby.

Cubiak struggled free of this boots and jacket and jumped in.

The momentum pulled him under, and the sheer cold of the water left him unable to move. After a panicky moment, he began to flail about. Pumping his arms and kicking his legs, he fought his way up and surfaced ten feet from the bag. It was sinking fast. Never much of a swimmer, Cubiak stroked desperately toward it. When he was within an arm's length, the bag went under, trailing the rope that knotted it closed. Cubiak lunged for the cord and snared the end between his numbing fingers.

Not trusting his grip to hold, he snaked the rope around his wrist, drew the bag to his shoulder, and clumsily paddled toward shore, veering past the sheer ledge toward a patch of rocky beach. As he struggled to catch his breath, he clutched the water-soaked bag to his chest and stumbled over the wet, slippery pebbles. When he reached solid ground, he dropped to his knees and lowered the sack to the grass. It was an old pillowcase. Cubiak loosened the rope and began unknotting the top. The cries had ceased. Was he too late?

Cubiak peered inside and then fell back on his heels. He'd braved the icy water to save a litter of newborn kittens. The sheriff would have laughed if his teeth hadn't started chattering. Who else would go out for fish and come back with kittens?

He took a second look and realized that something was not right. The kittens were ensnared by a thin cord that bound their paws and twisted around their necks and bodies. The more they tried to squirm free, the more they became entangled. At first Cubiak didn't understand; then he realized that something had gone wrong when the kittens were born and that the rope was part of the afterbirth. There were four, maybe five kittens. He couldn't tell. They meowed pitifully and crawled around each other, blind and terrified and probably colder than he was.

Cubiak got the scissors from the first aid kit in the jeep and started cutting through the dried tissue. The kittens squirmed as he pulled the sinew from their scrawny, hairless bodies, but one by one he freed them. When he finished, he swaddled them in a wool blanket and laid the bundle on the passenger seat. With the heat on high, he headed home.

The shortest route took him past groves of yellow and scarlet maples but he didn't notice the trees or their flaming colors. He was too cold and too mad about the kittens. He knew all too well that he could have drowned trying to save them, and he had the uneasy feeling that maybe he didn't really care all that much if he had. Not that day.

Still, it was a cruel thing to do to such helpless creatures. And Cubiak had no tolerance for wanton cruelty. Which is why when he saw a familiar blue pickup outside the Tipsy Too, he swerved into the parking lot and pulled up alongside the truck. Just as he expected, the dented hood was warm. Cubiak left the jeep running with the heat on for the kittens and went inside. The tavern, a favorite with locals, was dimly lit and loud. Smoking had been banned for years but the faint stink of cigarettes still seeped from the woodwork and all those places that never saw a mop or cleaning rag.

Cubiak didn't care that he appeared ridiculous to the crowd in the bar. Ignoring the sniggers and sideways glances from the clientele, he searched through the cluster of regulars until he found the owner of the truck. Leeland Ross, thirty-four, was a serial loser who smelled as nasty as he looked with his grimy clothes and tangle of dirty hair hanging over the collar of his frayed barn coat. Cradling a beer in thick, pawlike hands, he hunkered at the bar and stared up at one of the half-dozen TVs broadcasting the last few minutes of the game. The sheriff slapped the wet pillowcase in front of the burly, bearded man.

“This yours?” he said.

Leeland drained his beer. “Ain't never seen it in my life,” he said, his eyes riveted to the screen.

The sheriff had had more run-ins with Leeland than he cared to remember. The most recent was some six months earlier when he'd responded to a neighbor's complaint about possible animal abuse on the farm where Leeland lived with his father, Jon, another ornery sort. Then, as now, Cubiak had no proof.

“I found it full of kittens floating in the bay. Looks like your handiwork,” he said.

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