Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended. The characters and events in the Seasons Series and the Murder Mystery Series are the creation of the author.
Thanks to Lisa, Inga and Susan for their help as beta readers. You are super!
Note: The Seasons Series and the stories in the Murder Mystery Series all interrelate. It is best to start at the beginning.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Special Warning: These stories deal with the practice of forensics in a fairly accurate manner; more sensitive readers might find some of the scenes upsetting.
Visit Anne Azel's World at < http://www.jes.com.au/~azel/ > or write Anne at <email@example.com> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
Dawn Freeman stood on her tiptoes to see out the kitchen window above the sink. From this angle, she could see Dr. Aliki Alberta Pateas through yet another window. Aliki was working in the back room of the garage that had once been the carriage house of the historic home in which they were living. The third member of the household passed the window in front of Aliki as Dawn watched. It was Dawn's daughter MacKenzie. Mac stopped, said something to Aliki, and then disappeared from sight to reappear at the back door of the garage. She walked along the path towards the house, and in a few seconds, Dawn could hear her daughter opening the door and closing it again against the fall chill. Bang, went her daughter's sneakers on the floor and then Mac was beside her.
"She has finished the wet sand and she's now applying the eighteenth coat of varnish to the hull," Dawn sighed.
"This is not good." Dawn noted. "How did she seem?"
Dawn considered this for a second, her head tilted to one side. "Not really grumpy or anything, just preoccupied," she concluded.
Dawn frowned and looked out the window again to where her partner worked on restoring an antique row boat. Dawn had learned over the year that she and Aliki had lived together, that her
uptight lover tended to disappear into her garage workshop, and refinish antiques when she was upset. A historic home full of beautiful pieces of antique furniture was testament to Aliki's moody personality. The current bout of industry had been a result of Dawn winning the Governor General's Award for Literature this year for her novel Growing Up Wild.
It wasn't that Aliki wasn't proud of Dawn; she was. She was supportive too. Whenever Aliki's work schedule allowed it, she would be with Dawn at book signings and media interviews. She helped handle the fan mail and took care of Mac if Dawn had to go out of town. No the problem was not jealousy, it was deeper than that. It lay in the roots of Aliki's phenomenal ability to focus and the way she had driven herself to succeed against the odds.
"Do you think she'll ask us to leave?" Mac's worried voice cut into Dawn's thoughts. "We were only to stay until we rebuilt our home after the fire, only we never have rebuilt it. Maybe she thinks we should have instead of living here."
Dawn smiled at her daughter and pulled her in for a hug. "I think Aliki likes us living here. She just has had a lot of adjusting to do. Adjusting to living as a family when she has lived alone for so long, learning she has a famous sister...well, just a lot of things. She finds it hard to talk things out so she tends to brood over issues until she works through them. Everything will be fine, Mac."
Mac nodded as she too looked out towards where Aliki worked. She had sort of got used to the idea that her adopted mother was gay and that her mom's partner was Mac's real aunt. She wasn't sure how she would feel if they broke up. Mac liked Aliki. She was cool. Aliki had been the sister of Mac's Dad who had been killed by a train. So living with Aliki was sort of like living with a bit of the Dad that she had never really known.
Mac had been just a little girl when her Dad had walked out on the train tracks and had waited for the train to strike him. Even now, Mac could see it happen in her mind. Unconsciously, she moved closer to her adopted mom and Dawn, sensing her daughter's stress, held on tightly. Mac's real mother had died too, requesting before she did that her friend, Dawn, raise Mac. Dawn was a good Mom. Mac really didn't know any other. Mac's mom had been a Salish Indian and Mac sometimes wondered about the Mom she had never known.
She hadn't had to worry about losing her culture though, her adopted Mom had gone to the Native School with her and learned Salish and she had talked to the old people and learned the legends and their ways to pass on to Mac. The band would have liked to raise Mac but Dawn had insisted that she would raise Mac as her dying friend had requested.
"You okay?" her Mom asked.
"Yeah, I'm okay. I just love you, Mom."
"Good, because I love you too," laughed Dawn planting a kiss on Mac's cheek. "Now how about you get on with that homework and I'll see what I can do to get old sober-sides to open up."
"Okay," Mac agreed, giving her Mom one last hug before heading off up stairs to her bedroom.
Janet Williams stood at the kitchen window of the lodge and watched her partner chopping wood outside. Ryan, the older of her two children, came in and walked over to stand beside her.
"So how much wood has she cut?" Janet asked.
"At this rate, if we are careful, we've got enough fire wood to last us through the next ice age," Ryan grumbled, opening the fridge door to capture a liter of milk.
"This is not good," Janet sighed.
"Brian told Tracy who told me that T-Rex has been like a bear with a sore paw over at the site yelling at everyone. Has she yelled at you, Mom?"
"Ryan, don't call your mother T-Rex, she doesn't like it," Janet chastised gently.
"You call her Tyrannosaurus Rex AND Olive Oil!" the teen protested, pouring herself a glass of milk.
"A wife's prerogative," smirked Janet, poking Ryan in fun. "But if she heard you saying it, she would be hurt. She's pretty sensitive about her relationship with you."
Ryan nodded. Her famous mother, Robbie Williams, was one of the remarkable Williams children, at least in name if not birth. She was an Oscar winning playwright, actress and director.
She'd had Ryan at a fairly young age and at a very troubled time of her life. Instead of raising her daughter, Robbie had paid for her daughter to be cared for by a series of nannies and boarding schools. It had finally taken a school lab accident, where Ryan had almost been killed, to bring the two of them together. They got on okay now, Ryan figured, but there were still some old issues between them that could open up sometimes.
Ryan drained the last of her milk. "Here she comes. I'm going to hide in my room. I don't want to be close in case there is a melt down."
"Chicken!" laughed Janet and shook her head as her adopted daughter went off flapping her arms like wings.
The screen door slammed shut and Janet closed her eyes in frustration. No matter how many times she asked Robbie to close the door, rather than letting it spring back, her partner never remembered.
"Hi, I need bandages," Robbie muttered, kissing Janet on the head before turning to root in the drawer. "I've got blisters."
Janet took Robbie's hand and looked at the line of broken and bleeding blisters at the base of her partner's fingers. "You need ice, then you need an antiseptic spray and THEN you may have a bandage. Here, sit on the kitchen bar stool and I'll see to it while we talk."
"Talk?" asked Robbie suspiciously.
"Talk." Janet responded firmly.
"I don't want to talk," Robbie muttered, sulkily.
"You NEVER want to talk but it is good for you," Janet responded, placing an ice cube wrapped in a soft tea towel on Robbie's outstretched palm. "Besides if we don't sort out what is bothering you, there won't be a tree left in Canada come spring!"
Robbie pulled a face and then reached over to kiss the woman she loved. Janet just had a way of making her feel better. She was much better than a wood pile to talk to and her kisses were dynamite!
Dawn waited until Aliki had showered and changed, knowing how her partner liked to be neat and organized. Once she saw Aliki disappearing into her study, she followed with two mugs of tea. "We need to talk," Dawn stated, placing the mug in front of Aliki.
Aliki frowned. She didn't want to talk. "I've got a report to write," she said hopefully.
"Am not!" grumbled Aliki.
"Are so," laughed Dawn, picking up one of her partner's hands and kissing it. She saw Aliki's rebellious blue eyes soften. The woman was just a big softy! "Aliki, you have been putting layer after layer of varnish on that boat since I won the governor general's prize for Canadian Literature. You want to talk about it?"
"I'm proud of you," Aliki stated, with that crooked smile that Dawn found so devastating.
"I know you are, Sweetheart," Dawn responded gently, playing with her lover's fingers. "You are very supportive. But I need to be supportive of you too, and I can only do that if I know what is going on in your head."
Aliki looked chagrined. "Same old, same old," she murmured, the colour rising up her neck. She felt very uncomfortable revealing her insecurities, even to Dawn. Still, Dawn was right, she needed to talk this out or it was going to be a wall between them. She took a deep breath and started, liking that Dawn was just waiting patiently for her to find the words.
"I grew up on a poor cattle ranch in Alberta. When my mom died, I helped my father raise my younger brothers and ran the household for him. I think Baba just figured I'd marry a local rancher and be happy, but that life wasn't for me. I felt so trapped! I studied my guts out to make university. I was determined to make something of myself!"
Dawn rubbed Aliki's hand, letting her know that she cared while Aliki talked about some very deep pain.
"Then, well, you know, there was all that bad stuff with my older brother, and I decided to make a career for myself in the RCMP. I did well and got my chance to get a doctorate in forensics too. The day I got that diploma was the happiest in my life because it meant I was never going to have to go home again."
"But you love Baba and your brothers!" protested Dawn.
Aliki looked uncomfortable. She decided to be honest. "Janet made me realize that it was time to go home. That I could do so safely because I had made something of myself and no one was going to expect me to fit into a role that I didn't want to play."
Dawn nodded seriously, trying to ignore the small pang of jealousy she still felt when Janet's name was mentioned. She knew that Aliki loved her, but did her partner still have a love for Janet Williams too? "So what is the problem, then?" Dawn asked gently.
Aliki threw the pen she had been nervously playing with across the room and stood up to pace about in irritation. Dawn started at the sudden power and lightning movement. She waited for her heart to stop pounding in surprise, and for Aliki to calm herself enough to speak.
"Damn it! When I left home the ranch barely broke even. Then my brothers find oil and invest wisely...hell, they are worth a small fortune. They even have their own helicopter! I find out I have a sister, and who does she turn out to be but the famous Robbie Williams, who has enough Oscars to patch hell a mile!
Aliki stopped pacing and looked at Dawn with pain in her face. "I wanted to take care of you. Give you and Dawn a good home. But you inherit a small fortune from your uncle and then write a best selling book. Hell, you've made so much money on that book and now the movie rights, you could buy and sell me." Aliki flopped down on the couch and stared moodily into the empty fireplace. "Some success I was."
Dawn went over and sat beside her partner. For a few minutes, they just sat there in silence, then Dawn spoke softly. "I'm really shocked that you feel that way, Aliki. I know we have talked before about you feeling intimidated by my success with the novel, but I thought we had worked through that. Yes, your family has met with a lot of monetary success and fame. You haven't. But I wouldn't have thought that would be that big an issue with you. Your work is important. What you do gets the dangerous people off the street and helps to give the families of victims closure."
"It doesn't seem a big deal," Aliki sighed, taking Dawn's hand and smiling down at her sadly.
"Well, it is!" protested Dawn. "Before you identified the bodies of my brother and father, I used to wonder what happened to them. It was always there in my life, this big, shadowy area that had never been resolved. Then later, your work helped protect and save Mac's life. She was the only one who could identify the serial killer. If you hadn't realized that and protected the two of us, we would have died in the house fire. We owe you our lives. And so do Robbie and Janet. You proved Robbie innocent of murder. If it hadn't been for you, she would be serving life in prison. And if that wasn't enough, you got shot over it!"
Aliki shrugged. "It's just my job."
"That's right. Just like writing is mine, directing is Robbie's and running an oil field and ranch are your brothers. The difference is that your job does a hell of a lot more good than ours. You are our hero, Aliki. It is not the money or fame that matters. It is who you are, and what you are willing to give. I love you, not because of what you have but for who you are inside. That's the way we all feel.
Aliki's jaw worked. "I want to be able to take care of you,"she responded stubbornly.
"How about we are partners in this together, instead?" Dawn asked pointedly.
A blush spread up Aliki's neck. "I hadn't meant to sound like I want to control you," she protested.
"I know, darling, you just have this big streak of care that is part of who you are. We all love you for that. Mac and I were just talking about this. You opened up your house to us, and made it a home. We were supposed to rebuild our place but we never have. We are happy here with you, and we don't want to move."
"You wouldn't, would you?"Aliki asked in fear.
Dawn wrapped her insecure lover in a big hug. "Only if you threw us out," she admitted.
"I'm never going to do that," Aliki said with feeling, holding the woman she loved as close to her as she could. She kissed Dawn softly and then returned to taste her lover more deeply. Dawn's hand slipped up under her shirt and Aliki felt her need pool in desire. She groaned.
"Later," Dawn promised. "Mac is upstairs working on her school project."
"There is a lot to be said for boarding school," Aliki grumbled good-naturedly.
"True,"Dawn agreed, to Aliki's horror and surprise, "but if we sent you away, Mac and I would miss your baking."
"You!"laughed Aliki, gently wrestling her lover back on the couch. "You are wonderful," she finished softly, before her lips lowered to claim those of her lover.
Robbie groaned and clutched her hand in pain as Janet sprayed on the antiseptic. Janet rolled her eyes. "I had to marry an actress!
Robbie smiled, devilment sparkling in her eyes. "Hey, people pay a lot of money to watch me act," she boasted.
Janet leaned forward and kissed her wife affectionately. "And you are worth every cent. Now tell me why you are chopping down the forests for kindling."
Robbie squirmed. "I was just chopping up the cords of wood we got so I can stack it,"she protested. Janet looked at her. "Has to be done, winter's coming." Janet waited, one eyebrow arched up.
Robbie sighed. "Bethy will be getting married soon,"she said.
"In nine days,"Janet agreed. "We are going to make it very special for them, aren't we?" she finished, with a warning in her voice.
"Yeah, well, what if he doesn't treat her right. I mean, what do we know about this guy? He could be a gold digger," fussed Robbie.
"Just about everything,"Janet laughed. "He grew up in the same small northern town as I did. I could give you his life story."
"Yeah, well, how do you know he doesn't have a secret, sinister life?!"argued Robbie, fiddling with the bandage that Janet was wrapping around her hand.
Janet gently slapped Robbie's fingers away. "Robbie, you have to let go. Elizabeth is ready to stand on her own. She doesn't need you to protect and take care of her anymore. She has David."
Tears came to Robbie's eyes and she blinked them back and swallowed hard, using anger as a way to mask her hurt. "Yeah, well, I'm her big sister and I have a right to check on her well being!
Janet came around the counter and gave her partner a big hug. "Yes, you are her big sister and you always will be. You hold a very special place in Bethy's heart and she will always listen to you. But you need to step back now and let David carry some of that responsibility, okay, Robbie."
Robbie sniffed back the tears and held on tight. "It's hard to let go," she admitted. "I've always been part of her life."
"You still will be, Robbie. Your role has just changed a bit that's all. You feel better now?"Janet asked, rubbing her Lover's back soothingly.
"Yeah, I guess. David would let her come to me if she needed anything, wouldn't he?" Robbie asked, worry making her voice shaky.
"Oh course he would! And I know Bethy would always want your opinion. Everything will be fine, Honey. You'll see. Now that they have the cottage, you'll probably see a lot more of Elizabeth."
"You think so?"
"Yeah, I do. You know what else I think?" Janet laughed.
"I think that if Ryan decides to marry, I'll have to lock you up some place until after the wedding!"
Robbie held on tight. "Don't even go there,"she complained pathetically.
David Potts looked through the open doorway of Elizabeth's study. His future wife sat chewing the end of a pencil in deep thought. In front of her was a page full of equations that appeared to David's inexperienced eyes to be almost like the strange runes of an alien race. "Sweetheart," he whispered, so not to disturb the famous physicist if she was following a very complex train of thought. "It is ten o'clock and I have made tea."
Elizabeth looked up and blinked, taking a few minutes to return from far away in space where she felt she was so close to mathematically understanding the first split second of the creation of the universe. She became aware of the wonderful smell of baked apple and cinnamon in the air. "What is that I smell? Have you been baking, David?"
"Apple dumplings.to the cottage. I don't suppose we will have much time for me to cook up there, and I felt that it would be polite if we had the family over for one visit at least."
Elizabeth smiled. She had a beautiful smile that lit up her face and changed her serious and conservative features into radiant beauty. I have two cooling now to have with our tea. I've been just baking up a few things to take with us It was at times like this that the close family resemblance between Elizabeth and her famous actor sister, Roberta Williams, was the most obvious. She walked over and hugged David closely and David planted a soft kiss to her forehead. "You are wonderful, David. You think of everything! I don't know how I ever managed without you. You have brought such happiness into my life."
"I feel that I am the one that is blessed to have been allowed to meet you and become part of your life. The Lord does work in mysterious ways."
Elizabeth looked up into the clear, kind eyes of her lover. "David, you don't mind getting married at the lodge, do you? I know your faith is very strong and if you wish to be married at your old church I would not object."
"Nonsense. I would not feel comfortable in a church that does not recognize the marriage of your sister and her partner simply because they are gay. I happen to like very much the Minister from the United Church of Canada who has agreed to marry us at the lodge. Reverend Cornnel is a woman who lives by Christian principles, not by hypocritical doctrine. As for not getting married in a church, God's home is where people gather together in faith. It will be a beautiful place to get married," David reassured.
"I think so and it will mean that Robbie can give me away."
David snorted with laughter. "If she can!"
"David!" chided Elizabeth. "Robbie has only my best interests in mind. You don't mind really do you? Because I could talk to her..."
"No, I don't mind. Well, phoning at five in the morning to ask if I'd had a physical lately to make sure I was in prefect health was pushing my patience a bit," he conceded.
"Robbie has always been an early riser," Elizabeth giggled against David's chest. David chuckled too at his future wife's little joke and held her gently, knowing that she needed to feel loved but not trapped after her terrible childhood. He would take very good care of his Elizabeth and show Robbie that she had nothing to worry about.
The bones smelt terrible, even in the car, although they were wrapped in a garbage bag in the trunk. It was okay when the car was in motion but when it stopped the faint smell of rancid fat and stale blood drifted slowly around the driver.
The old car pulled into the now empty parking lot. The one building rose amongst the trees dwarfing the trailers around. It was to be used as a studio, the driver knew. The other building, that was to be the school, was still just a hole in the ground, although the footings were in. The driver looked around before turning off the engine and getting out of the car. The driver knew the watchman went off at midnight, locking the gate behind him. The driver had had to be quite underhanded in getting a copy of the padlock key.
Nothing moved. No one was about. The driver walked to the back of the car, slipped in the key and opened up the truck. The smell of rot expanded out of the confines causing the driver to step back in disgust. Then, the bag was snatched up and carried over to where the foundations of the school had been dug. The garbage bag was dropped down into the hole unceremoniously. Then the driver followed more slowly, using a workman's ladder leaning in the corner.
The lone figure moved about confidently, first assembling a small camp shovel and digging a hole in the packed dirt of one of the sides of the hole. The spade was then set aside as the driver felt in a pocket for a plastic lunch bag. The contents of the bag were scattered in the small cavern that had been dug. Three pieces of a clay pot and an arrow head.
Next, the driver carried the bag over and split it open with a knife. The bones inside were greasy and blackened. Some had cracked with heat to reveal the cooked marrow inside. Carefully, to avoid contact with the mess, the driver toppled the contents into the recess with the other items and then used the shovel to bury them, packing the dirt in firmly with the base of the spade. The bag was carried away by a gust of wind to the other side of the foundations, catching on the edge of a cement block where it fluttered in the wind like a black bird caught in a trap.
The driver looked around, smiled and left.
Robbie knew she should be at home snuggled up next to Janet but with only one day to the wedding, a house-load of guests and a steady cold fall rain outside, she had felt trapped and panicky. That sometimes happened even now, a year after her stay in prison. Janet understood, and never questioned when Robbie would suddenly disappear and return a few hours later. Robbie always left the same note, Need to go out. Will be back soon. Love R. It had become their signal that Robbie needed some space to shake her own personal demons off.
In the early hours of the morning, the heavy rain had finally stopped and Robbie had slipped from the bed she shared with Janet, left her note, and headed out into the cold wet dawn. Usually, she went for a jog, or if the weather was bad, a drive around the back roads, but this morning, she headed out to the construction site to see if the rain had done much damage.
To her surprise, the security gate was open and the key in the padlock. She drove in and pulled to a stop. No one was a round. There did not appear, at first glance, to be any damage. Perhaps the night watchman had simply been careless hurrying home on Friday night to enjoy the weekend. Still it was a major mistake. This was Monday, and that meant the gate had been open for almost sixty hours. Luckily, it had poured on Sunday and that would have kept most at home, but the weather had been nice on Saturday and anybody might have been about causing mischief or stealing supplies.
She got out and looked around. No sign of tire tracks in the mud so it was unlikely a vehicle had been in here on Sunday. That still left Saturday though. The grey dawn light made it easy to see around, but Robbie took her flashlight from the glove compartment anyway, as a weapon and to use inside the partly constructed studio that still had no lights.
She was almost to the entrance, when something, a feeling perhaps, made her detour and look into the huge pit that would be the foundation for Janet's school. It would need to be pumped. A few centimeters of muddy water covered the bottom. Over on the far side, a section of the wall had eroded away and fallen down onto the newly poured footings. Robbie turned on her flashlight and trained the beam down along the cement forms to see if there had been any damage. There, partly covered in mud, staring back at her with hollow black eyes was a human skull.
Robbie took a step back in horror, waited for her heart to start beating again, and took another look. There was no doubt, it was a skull, and there were other bones there too! Robbie got on her cell phone to her construction manager.
"Ello," came a sleepy voice.
"It's Robbie Williams."
"Yes, ma'am," came the more alert response.
"I've decided to close down the construction site this week because of my sister's wedding. Err... I don't want noisy trucks going back and worth down the road while the family is all here. Sorry, I should have thought of this earlier. Give the men a week off with pay at my expense."
"That's very generous, Ms. Williams!"
"I'm locking up the site so make sure you contact everyone and let them know to stay away."
"Don't worry, ma'am. News like this travels fast."
Robbie snapped the cell phone shut, and used the flashlight to look at the ghastly sight once again. She was in big trouble, and this couldn't have happened at a worst time!
Aliki was a very light sleeper and she was already tensing her body for an explosive attack, if it was necessary, before the intruder had even gotten through the doorway of the bedroom. Then she became aware of the subtle and expensive perfume that her famous sister was partial too. Great, she thought, here I am in bed with Dawn and my sister comes barging into the room!
She opened one eye to watch Robbie tiptoeing across the room. "What the hell are you doing in here and this hour?" Aliki whispered, hiding her embarrassment with anger.
Robbie motioned Aliki to be quiet and to come with her. Aliki sighed. She did not want to get up in the cold to spend time with her crazy sister. She wanted to stay in bed with Dawn. Robbie gestured frantically, and Aliki slipped reluctantly out of bed, slipped on her slippers and silently followed her half sister out onto the front balcony of the lodge.
"Are you nuts?" Aliki asked, standing with her hands on her hips and looking at her sister with impatience.
Robbie checked Aliki out from head to foot. She was wearing black silk pyjamas trimmed with white piping and black slippers. "You're sleeping in that getup with a beautiful woman beside you and you are asking me if I am nuts?" countered Robbie.
"My sleep wear is none of your business and neither is my private life!" rumbled Aliki.
"Believe me, if you continue to wear your Mickey Mouse Club outfit to bed, you'll never have a private life,"smirked Robbie.
Aliki's eyebrow went up a further notch in annoyance. "Is there some reason why I am out here freezing my ass off, or is it just to be subjected to my sister's strange sense of humour?"
"Aliki, I need your help. We have to keep this quiet until after the wedding," Robbie pleaded, leaning against the rail of the balcony suddenly feeling spent with emotion.
"What have you done?" Aliki sighed.
"Nothing! I haven't done anything! But you know they will arrest me and the press will condemn me like last time and this is..."
"Whoa!" commanded Aliki, suddenly becoming serious and stepping forward to take her sister by her arms. "What is going on." she asked, surprised to feel the trembling in Robbie's limbs.
Robbie looked both ways, then whispered softly, "I found a dead body this morning."
"Shhh! I found a dead body...a skeleton, in the foundations. You have to help me get rid of it."
"Help you get rid...are you crazy? What am I saying, of course you are! Robbie, I'm an officer of the law, I can't destroy evidence."
"That's why I came to you. We just need to hide it until after the wedding. Then it can show up somewhere else. Like on Appleton's front doorstep."
Aliki rolled her eyes. "No."
"Aliki! I've been arrested once already for murder. I can't go through that again. Aaaand...it's Bethy's wedding for God's sakes!"
Aliki looked at her big sister standing there pale and visibly shaken in the early light. "Please," Robbie choked out.
"I'll get dressed and have a look. But if it is something suspicious, Robbie, I have to turn it over to the authorities."
Robbie nodded. First, she'd get Aliki out to the site, then she'd argue with her about what to do. "Don't wake anyone," she warned, and then as an afterthought, "And leave a note. You gotta do that when you are married."
Aliki nodded, not about to argue the fine point that Dawn and she were not married. That was another issue she was going to have to deal with soon. She loved Dawn and Dawn's daughter Mac and wanted them in her life but it was complex now. Dawn was rich. How could you ask someone who is rich to marry you without feeling you are a gold-digger, or appearing to everyone to be a kept woman?
Aliki dressed quietly and wrote a note of explanation that only a member of her family would find satisfactory: Gone with Robbie. Back later. She kissed her sleeping lover gently, and then headed out to meet Robbie who was pacing around outside the side door of the lodge.
"About time," grumbled Robbie. "Let's go before too many people are up and about."
Aliki stood her ground. "There is no way you are getting into my van with those sneakers on!"
Robbie looked down at her mud caked shoes. "Okay, we'll take my truck. It's already muddy."
"Wrong. I need my equipment and it is all in my van. Go and put some clean boots on," Aliki ordered.
Robbie looked rebellious and then, realizing that her half sister was not going to budge, she pulled a face and stamped into the house to get a pair of rubber boots from the closet. Aliki used the time to get into some of her own gear and was in the van when Robbie came out and ran over to join her. "Can we go now? What the hell are you wearing?" Robbie demanded.
Aliki put the van in gear and backed up to turn the van out of the lodge parking area. "They are hip waders. Fishermen use them. They are great for recoveries where the terrain is muddy," the forensic scientist explained.
"Thank God! I thought you'd been partly swallowed by a boa constrictor."
Aliki gave her sister a look, and they drove the rest of the way to the construction site in silence. Robbie was out of the van almost before it came to a full stop, and was pacing about impatiently while Aliki got her gym bag and slung it over her shoulder. "Where to?" she asked Robbie, economically.
Robbie was off like a shot with Aliki keeping up with long strides that made a hollow, squeaky sound from her loose fitting plastic hip-waders. "Down there," Robbie pointed.
Aliki took a look and sighed. "Why can bodies never be found under spreading oaks in a sunny meadow of flowers?" she asked.
"No dramatic effect," Robbie shot back, and Aliki rolled her eyes as she reached into her bag to pull out her cameras. She handed Robbie her bag to carry while she took photos both in colour and black and white from various sides of the pit.
Robbie followed along impatiently making helpful comments. "We could just knock some more of the bank in and then nobody would see the bones. Or we could push them behind the footings, and in the mud, they'll just be unrecognizable lumps. Maybe they are not human. Maybe they are the bones of a deer or bear or something."
"We sometimes have people find the paw bones of a bear and think they're human. Bear bone structure is remarkably similar to human hands," muttered Aliki, as she concentrated on her photos.
"That's what it is then, a bear. We could just chuck the bones into the woods."
"A bear skull doesn't look anything like a human skull," Aliki pointed out, as she dropped the cameras back in the bag and took it from Robbie's shoulder. "That looks like a human skull."
"Couldn't it be something else?" Robbie asked in desperation.
"Ape," responded Aliki helpfully, as she swung out onto the ladder and headed down into the foundation.
Robbie followed. "That's it then. Someone lost their ape and it fell into my pit."
"I don't think so," Aliki observed with a smile, as she straightened the bag on her shoulder and waited for her half sister to get to the bottom.
"It's possible!" protested Robbie.
"Only in the movies," Aliki countered, raising an eyebrow, and looking at her worried sister. Aliki realized that the director's humour masked a real fear of the consequences of finding human remains on Williams' property.
Robbie sighed. "What do you think it is then?"
Aliki shrugged and started wading through the four centimeters of muddy water that had settled to the center of the foundations. "Hard to say. It could be a lot of things, like an old Indian burial for example."
"That's it! An Indian burial. That would be no problem!"
Aliki sorted and responded dryly. "Amazingly, the people of the First Nations take a pretty dim view of Europeans digging up their sacred burial sites for building foundations."
"It was an accident! They ought to leave signs or headstones or something!" protested Robbie, splashing along beside her sister.
"I imagine they were not far-thinking enough to realize that Europeans were going to arrive within a few thousand years, take over, and start replacing the trees with skyscraper," Aliki observed, as she lowered her bag carefully onto a dry, clean piece of the cement footing and squatted to look at the bones. "Don't move around and don't touch anything," she ordered.
Once again she took out her cameras and took various shots of the bones sticking out of the mud. Then she started to measure and chart the human remains onto a piece of graph paper held onto a clipboard with an elastic band. Robbie watched, using all her will power not to pace or explode with anticipation. She wondered how her half sister could stand to be so close to the charred remains. They stunk.
"Interesting. It's most likely a male, probably early thirties, bones were burnt after decaying took place. See here and here," Aliki pointed, "they are pot shards, broken pieces of pottery, and if I'm not mistaken that is a very crude point, what you would call an arrowhead. They look like burial goods," Aliki explained after awhile.
Robbie gave a big sigh of relief. "Thank God! It is an Indian burial," she laughed, her voice strained with emotion. "What do I do, call the local band council?"
"I said it LOOKS like burial goods," Aliki corrected, looking up at her half sister.
Robbie stomped her foot in annoyance, sending a good deal of muddy water splashing about. "Don't do this to me, Aliki! It has got to be an Indian burial!" she groaned.
Janet was standing in the kitchen with Robbie's cryptic note in her hand and looking down at a very muddy pair of running shoes in puzzlement when Dawn came up beside her. Dawn handed Janet the note she had found on the night-stand from Aliki. Janet read it, and then handed Dawn the one she had got from Robbie.
"They are up to no good," Janet observed with a shake of her head.
"What makes you say that," Dawn asked, as she tightened the belt on her housecoat.
Janet headed over to the counter to switch the coffee maker on. "This is Robbie's note to tell me she was feeling claustrophobic and needed to get out for a bit. She has had that problem since she spent that time in prison." Janet revealed, the lightness of her tone not masking her sorrow at her wife's suffering. "She went over to the construction site. I can tell by the amount and colour of the mud on her running shoes. That's the only place she could have got it around here. Besides, she likes to walk around the site and dream up even greater empires." Janet finished with a soft smile of love. Robbie was such an olive, hard to get used to but addictive.
"And Aliki went with her?" Dawn asked, as she got out mugs and dropped some whole-wheat bread into the toaster.
"No, I don't think so. Robbie came back, I think, and got Aliki and when she did she changed out of her shoes into rubber boots. So it is likely she took Aliki back to the construction site."
Dawn considered this. "It must have rained all night and Robbie and you already gave us a tour over there so that means there has to be something going on."
"That's my thoughts. They are up to no good."
"Suggestions?" asked Dawn as she spread home-made blue berry jam on the toast as Janet poured the coffee and took it over to the oak kitchen table.
"It could be as harmless as a surprise for Bethy and David on their wedding day. The problem is my Olive's surprises have away of becoming nasty big shocks. Subtlety is NOT her strong suit."
"Are we going to let them know we are on to them?" snorted Dawn.
"No way!"laughed Janet. "It would ruin all the fun!"
Mac lay on her back looking around Ryan's bedroom. Ryan had an awesome room. On the walls were all these black and white pictures of really famous actors and each had been signed.
Ryan and Dawn had talked a lot via email about having famous mothers. Of course, Ryan's mother was a lot more famous than hers and she also lived an openly gay life while her mother didn't, at least not yet. They had talked about that too, what it was like to have a gay parent. Of course, technically, Dawn was not Mac's mother She had been adopted by Dawn Freeman when her real mother had died and her father had killed himself. But at far as Mac was concerned, Dawn was her Mom. Before Dawn, life had been hard and scary, after Dawn life had been warm, loving, and secure.
"Morning," Ryan mumbled from the other bed.
"Morning. You slept in," Mac teased her friend.
"No, I didn't. I was up really early but went back to bed again. Mom was out and about and I like to keep an eye on her."
"Is she feeling trapped again?" Mac asked. This had been another topic that had been discussed, how they had all handled Robbie Williams arrest for murder. Ryan felt really bad that she had not supported her mother during that time and she was trying to make it up to her now. Ryan's relationship wasn't as good as the one Mac enjoyed with her mother. But then she had been with Dawn Freeman most of her life while Ryan had only lived with her Mom for a couple of years.
"Yeah, I think. You know, what with the wedding and everything."
"Yeah. I was looking at these pictures. They are pretty awesome!" Mac admitted, turning on her side so she could see Ryan.
"Yeah, Mom got them. She's cool, except when I have a date. Then Aunt Janet has to keep her on a leash so she doesn't mess things up for me!"
Mac's eyes widened. She had only recently taken an interest in dating and was impressed by Ryan's disclosure that she had been on real dates. "You get to date guys?!" she asked excitedly.
Ryan laughed. "Do you think because my moms are queer that I'm only allowed to date girls?"
"No! Silly!" protested Mac. "I meant that you were old enough that your parents would let you date at all."
Ryan blushed. "Well, not really dates," she admitted. "But its okay if a guy picks me up to go to a school or community hall function."
"Wow. You're lucky." For a minute there was silence while the two girls considered just how lucky Ryan was. Then Mac asked, "Have you kissed a guy?"
"What's it like?"
"Okay, I guess. I'm getting experience you know. Playing the field a bit. Mom said that is important so you are sure when that person comes along that you want to commit to. I think, though, my soulmate will be a woman," Ryan admitted carefully.
"Oh," Mac answered, surprised to find her heart beating hard. "You ever done, well you know, more than kiss?" There was a long silence. "Ryan."
"Something happened in England," Ryan admitted. "Not to me really but to a grown-up person that was me, I guess. It was weird."
Mac looked with curious eyes at her friend. She felt strangely excited, wanting to know more, but not sure if she was ready. Ryan sighed, and started to tell her about the strange events in England.
Aliki slipped on two sets of plastic gloves and then assembled a recovery box that she had taken flat from her bag. Carefully, she used her garden and dentist tools to work lose each bit of evidence. She knew that she was going to get in a lot of trouble for this but Robbie was so upset and she did have a point; a second murder in her life would look very suspicious to the police.
She would justify what she was doing by signing that it was in her opinion an emergency recovery because the threat of more rain did not allow time to wait for a police crime team to be called. She looked up at the sky. It was going to rain again but not soon. She could feel her stomach twisting into a knot. This was wrong, and she knew it.
"Robbie," she said calmly, as she worked slowly and methodically. "You didn't see me, but I did tell you I was going to your field office to email a request that a crime scene team be sent out."
Robbie smiled. Her sister was going to cover for her.
It was raining by the time Aliki had everything packed carefully and had searched the area closely. Robbie, at Aliki's request, had found some plastic sheeting and they had covered the crime area, carefully weighting down the plastic with rocks.
Robbie went up the ladder first, carrying Aliki's bag, and the police scientist followed, slowly carrying the box under one arm as she awkwardly worked her way up the ladder with one hand. Back at the van, Aliki got out of her hip waders and carefully packed things away. With a sigh, she gave Robbie a plastic bag to put her boots in because the actor had forgotten to bring another pair of shoes.
They sat in the van for a few minutes once they were organized, and listened to the patter of rain on the roof. At least, Aliki could honestly report now that it had been necessary to go ahead with the recovery before the rain washed down any more dirt and damaged the evidence. There was of course the lie about emailing the provincial police, but up here reception could be bad. They probably didn't receive her message.
"It's an Indian burial, right?" Robbie questioned, feeling relieved that her worst fears now appeared to be unfounded.
"No, I don't think so," Aliki stated, looking at the patterns the rain was making on the windscreen.
Robbie felt her stomach tighten. "What is it then?"
"The bones are still greasy and badly burned. This was a recent death and a poor attempt at cremation, and a poorer attempt still at making it look like an Indian burial."
"But you found those shards and points and things!" protested Robbie, feeling sicker by the moment.
"You're a forensic scientist not an archaeologist! What would you know about grave goods!" Robbie argued, rubbing her nervous tummy with a graceful hand.
"Believe me, Robbie, I've worked enough First Nations pot burials to know the real thing when I see it. Besides, that guy has a bullet hole right between the eyes.
"Oh shit," whispered Robbie.
"Dead aim," muttered Aliki, putting the van in gear.
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