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 <firstname.lastname@example.org> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
Robbie walked into the lodge to find her family and friends involved in various activities. Ryan and Mac were trying to teach three year old Reb how to stand on and push a scooter. "Look Obbie,"called the excited child, "I can ride a scooter just like Ryan!"
"Way to go, Reb," laughed Robbie. "You and Ryan get really good at it, and then I won't have to worry about you wanting the car."
"Great,"muttered Ryan comically. "In another year's time, I'm going to be going off to university on a scooter with a knapsack on my back."
"Aaah, don't worry about it, kid, no decent university would have you. You blow up labs!"
Ryan folded her arms and tapped a foot, playing along with her beautiful mother, "One small mistake and am I ever forgiven? No!"
"Small mistake!"growled the actress, coming over and giving her daughter a big bear hug while she ruffled her hair. "Mac, we had to peel her off the wall across the hall. We thought at first, she was just a particularly ugly pattern of wall paper!" Robbie teased, but even now, over two years after the accident, Robbie found her heart tightening and she had needed to hold her daughter close. She had almost lost Ryan that day, and it had scared the hell out of her.
"Obbie look at me!"called Reb, still focused on the shiny scooter that Mac held her on.
"That looks like fun, Reb. Can I get on with you?" Robbie asked.
The small child beamed up at her hero as Robbie placed a foot on the running-board and took the handles. "Hold on tight now,"she warned her adopted daughter. Reb, who loved motion and speed of any sort, and who knew no fear, stood on the running board and held onto the handle bars with her adopted mom. Off they went around the large living room of the lodge, weaving in and out of the furniture and the two teenage girls who laughed and shrieked and ran for their lives.
It was this considerable commotion that brought Janet and Dawn from the back of the house just in time to see Robbie catch the corner of a side table and send her, Reb and the table over. Reb sat stunned for a moment and then big tears rolled down her face and she howled. Blood poured from her mouth where she had bitten into her tongue.
Robbie lifted the small child into her arms and used her own shirt to staunch the blood, a look of sheer horror on her face at the thought that she had hurt Reb. Mac ran to get ice and Ryan lifted the table up and started to clean up the broken lamp. It was at this point, that the guilty party saw Janet and Dawn in the door way. Everyone froze and a silence fell heavy on the room. Even little Reb did her best not to cry and snuggled into Robbie protectively.
Janet resisted the urge to run to her daughter, realizing that she would be taking Robbie's right to parent away from her if she did so. Nevertheless, some sort of action was called for. "Okay, you lot, what is the rule for riding scooters?
"Only outside?"suggested Ryan, taking the rap for her Mom.
"Right. And this is a good example of why,"Janet said with more sternness than she was actually feeling. "Ryan, would you and Mac please go with Dawn to cut some fresh foliage for decorating," directed Janet, as she took the melting ice from Mac's hand and got out a plastic lunch bag to place it in.
"Come on girls," said Dawn in support, signaling to the two guilty teens to follow her.
"Sorry, Mom," Ryan muttered sadly to Janet on her way out, stealing a worried look at Robbie who still stood in a field of debris trying to soothe Reb.
"Sorry, Aunt Janet,"echoed Mac, as she hurried after her mother and Mac.
"Come here, you two," Janet sighed letting the love and softness now show in her eyes. "What am I going to do with the two of you? Here, Reb, let's get some ice on that mouth of yours. Let Mommy see." Reb opened up her mouth to show off the bloody mess. "Well, you bit your tongue. But you know what?" Here Reb shook her head seriously from side to side. "Tongues bleed really, really easily so it is not as bad as it seems. Here let's see if we can stop the bleeding and then I bet if we put a popsicle in that mouth of yours, the ache will soon go away."
This prescription dried up the last of Reb's tears, and she sat quietly on the kitchen counter holding the sandwich bag of ice to her mouth.
"You come here too,"Janet said softly, pulling Robbie into a gentle hug.
"I'm sorry," Robbie confessed. "Will the kid be alright?
"Reb's fine,"Janet concluded, reaching out to stroke her daughter's hair. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just not my day that's all," Robbie admitted.
"Hmmm, you want to talk about it?" Janet asked.
"Yeah, but after the wedding. I gotta see that everything goes alright for Bethy,"Robbie admitted, holding her partner close and letting some of her tension out.
"Okay," Janet agreed, wisely giving her complex lover space. She knew that Robbie was having real trouble letting Elizabeth out from under her protective wing, and whatever had happened this morning had edged Robbie's always volatile personality up a notch or two. "Where is Aliki?" she asked.
Robbie hesitated for a second, and then opted for as much of the truth as she wanted to burden Janet with. She didn't want to get Janet into any problems with the police. It was bad enough that she and Aliki could be in trouble. "Aliki had some police business that she wanted to see to," Robbie said.
"Oh,"Janet responded lightly, as she stepped from Robbie's arms to get Reb her promised popsicle. "Cherry or orange, Reb?" So that was the problem. Aliki and Robbie had somehow broken the law, and they were trying to keep Janet and Dawn from getting involved. This was not good.
"Orange, please,"Reb smiled.
"There you go, Champ. That's for being so brave but it is not for breaking one of the house rules and our furniture. It's your responsibility to see that Obbie plays properly, okay?
Reb nodded seriously. "I sorry, Mommy," said Reb, before putting the popsicle in her mouth.
Janet accepted her daughter's apology at face value. It wasn't good to look too deeply. She suspected Reb felt very bad about the broken lamp and for Robbie getting into trouble, but probably had no regret what-so-ever for having ridden the scooter around the living room. Reb was just like Robbie! She was a true olive in the making.
Out in the privacy of the shed, Aliki, unpacked the reeking bones, and started the distasteful job of picking off any living or dead bodies of insects that had come to live in the host. She sorted as best she could, dropping each body into an appropriately labeled plastic lunch bag. The cremation had removed most of the biological evidence but some hearty individuals had returned. Aliki found fresh blow fly larvae, ants and sow bugs as well as the charred remains of maggots. There was too, an assortment of other insect remains that the lab in Toronto would have to identify.
Once this grisly task was accomplished, Aliki laid out the bones on the work bench after washing them in a bucket of water carefully to get the worst of the mud off. The bones needed to be cleaned thoroughly before a good examination could be made, but the resources to do so were just not available. She didn't imagine that Janet would be overjoyed if she used the lodge kitchen and pots and pans to render down human bones and sterilize them!
Carefully, she examined each piece through a lens going over every square centimeter in detail and measuring and recording. It was slow, tedious work, one suited to Aliki's exacting and logical mind.
Aliki felt what she was seeing upheld her earlier observations. The prominent supraorbital tori, the ridge over the eyes, and the everted gonial angles of the skull, the flare to the jaw line, gave evidence that the skeleton was male. As did the vertical iliac blades that formed a narrow pelvic basin. The superior aperture of the pelvis was heart-shaped as well, and this was usually indicative of a male.
She returned to the skull. The presence of completely developed third molars indicated that the individual was older than twenty-five. And the lack of significant wear to the cusps, or the grinding surface of the teeth, indicated a fairly young man. Any signs of epiphyseal union were no longer visible, the separate skull bones had now fused into one piece, and yet there was no evidence of the degeneration of old age that would appear around the age of fifty. Aliki's educated guess, from what she could see on the roughly cleaned bones, was that this individual was probably early to mid thirties.
What she found particularly interesting, however, was the exceptional smallness of the mandible caused by a short corpus compared to the maxilla and its placement farther posteriorly due to a elongated zygomatic arch. In short, this man did not just have a weak chin, he had no chin to speak of at all. If he had lived around here prior to his murder, he should be fairly easy to identify.
Measurement of the long bones and the shape of the skull suggested that the murdered man was likely of European decent, around five foot, eleven and small framed. Aliki now gave her attention to the bullet hole that had punctured the sphenoid bone, the bullet having entered right between the man's eyes. The scorching and clean edges indicated it was an entry wound at close range. Aliki looked inside the skull to check the sagittal view. Here the edge around the hole was chipped as the bullet ripped bits of bone with it in its flight. The bullet had not exited. The cracks along the occipital protuberance had been caused not by the bullet itself but by the sudden pressure within the skull cavity from the bullet's intrusion. The bullet had been probably lost as the bones decomposed on the cremation site.
That most certainly had not been where the bones had been found. The washed-out grave at the construction site was new, perhaps only days old. The mixed stratification and loose packing of the grave gave evidence of that. Aliki had photographed a section of the foundation's dirt wall that clearly showed recent spade marks.
Aliki's attention was once again drawn back to the entrance wound. Using her most powerful magnifying glass, she looked closely at the edge of the punctured bone. The angle of entry was slightly up. Whoever shot the man was shorter or perhaps sitting down. By the size of the hole and the fact that the bullet did not exit, Aliki concluded that the weapon was most likely a small hand gun. She could do no more without cleaning the bones properly and having the resources of the city lab. She checked again for defense wounds on the ribs and arm bones but could find none. She suspected that the attack had been sudden and deadly.
Carefully, she packed away the bones in the cardboard specimen box, recorded the date on the outside, signed her name, and closed the lid. With relief, she peeled off her plastic gloves and dropped them in a plastic bag with the ones she had worn at the site. Robbie had promised to burn them later in case of possible contamination. She would be glad to get out of the small shed where the smell of human decay was thick and heavy in the air. Before she left, she carefully placed the box inside a plastic recycle box and covered the top with a scrap piece of plywood. She was not taking any chances of any rodents adding any more of their teeth marks to the evidence.
Dawn and Janet worked on creating arrangements of colourful fall leaves, pine bows, and fresh roses to decorate the lodge for the upcoming wedding. They had spread the materials out on the basement floor and were working side by side while a CD of Melissa Etheridge played in the background.
"Some one is having a shower,"observed Janet, at the sound of the water running through the basement pipes.
Dawn nodded. "I bet it's Aliki. She is very cautious about germs, and if Robbie said she was doing police work that means she has probably been handling the dead."
Janet grimaced. "I don't see what Aliki sees in her work. Doesn't it bother you at times? I mean, she must be exposed to some awful things.
Dawn considered this. "It important work but I don't think that is why she does it. She likes the puzzle. The game of coaxing the truth from the dead and seeing that justice is done. Thomas, Dr. Bates, is always teasing her that she is only ten per cent scientist and ninety per cent Mountie. It really pushes her buttons because she is really proud of being a scientist."
Janet nodded. "Robbie regrets that she did not go into science. She was very interested in biology and would have liked to do genetic research."
Janet met Dawn's eyes and the two of them broke out laughing. The thought of someone with Robbie's creative personality meddling with genetic codes was truly a scary thought. "I think we are all much better off with Robbie in film. Besides, her films are amazing. She is really talented." She hesitated for a minute and then went on. "Aliki worked so hard to make something of herself . She thought she had, but now her brothers have made millions, I wrote a best seller, and she turns out to be related to one of the 'Remarkable Williams.' It has been hard on her ego."
"And your relationship?" Janet asked quietly.
Tears appeared in Dawn's eyes and she blinked them back. She nodded. "Aliki has it in her head that she can't make a commitment to me because she can't support Mac and me financially as well as we could support ourselves on our own."
Janet nodded her understanding. Her Robbie could be just as complex and frustrating in her reactions to things too. "Robbie is very proud of Aliki, and we are all very grateful to her for proving Robbie innocent and getting her out of prison. Robbie would never have survived in there."
Dawn smiled with pride. "Aliki is really something! Mind you, she is an unusual person to live with. I came down one morning and opened the fridge door to find a decomposing human hand in a plastic bag sitting beside the milk carton. She'd been called out late at night and decided to leave the evidence in the fridge and take it in to work in the morning. She was really surprised that I objected!"
Janet snorted. "At least I don't have to worry about that with Robbie. She is a big enough olive as it is! So are we going to leave this for now and go and see what our partners have been getting up to while Robbie and Reb are in town and Aliki is having her shower?
"I'm with you,"Dawn responded immediately, setting aside the wedding decorations.
Aliki came out of the shower to find Mac and Ryan sitting on her bed sorting through a pile of black t-shirts. A smile came to her lips. A few years ago, she couldn't have imagined handling this invasion of her privacy without losing her temper . Now it filled her with joy because Mac felt so comfortable with her that she would often come and borrow Aliki's stuff.
"Hey! What are you to up to?"Aliki growled, coming towards the bed where the two teens sat.
For a second, Ryan looked worried but Mac laughed. "I was showing her some of your forensic t-shirts! Can we wear some today? Please!"
Aliki smiled and pretended to consider this request while the two girls waited impatiently for an answer. "Okay," she agreed, and was rewarded with a hug from Mac.
The girls pulled out the t-shirts they wanted and with much giggling stripped off their own conventional tops and pulled on two of Aliki's t-shirts. They were an example of how Aliki's quiet, quirky sense of humour worked. She had a closet full of these basic black t-shirts each with a printed definition of forensics on the front in neat, white lettering. Dawn now sported one that read, Forensics: A Life Removed. And Ryan's proclaimed, Forensics: Science with Spirit!
"I'm going to be a murder mystery writer," Mac suddenly announced, looking at her t-shirt with pride.
"Yeah?" I'm going to develop the first robot video cameras that can be used as planet probes".
Aliki considered. "When I am grown up," she said, "I think I'm going to be a pastry chef."
"Cool," Ryan laughed. "Open a restaurant, Aunt Aliki, so Mac and I can live near by. Then we'll have some place to eat because neither one of us like to cook. Come on, Mac, we promised Mom we'd rake the leaves before she got home." The two teens bounced off the bed and were on their way leaving Aliki blinking in surprise. Had Ryan just implied that she and Mac were going to be together in the future?
David pulled onto the shoulder of the road and came to a stop. The change in tempo and sound made Elizabeth look up from her notes and blink in surprise. "It is raining so hard the visibility is nearly zero," David explained. "I thought it wise to pull over and stop and wait for the worst to pass."
Elizabeth looked around with interest, suddenly aware of the thunderstorm that swirled around them. "Oh dear. I hope this sort of weather doesn't last into the weekend. Robbie wants to take pictures and she is very particular about the light. You wouldn't think so by the number of storms in her films, but you know, David, they are all artificially created so that the light is just right. The real thing just wouldn't do."
"Aaah, chaos theory," David exclaimed.
Elizabeth's eyes softened and sparkled with amusement. Her David could turn his hand to anything, but he was absolutely hopeless at scientific theories. "No dear," she corrected softly. "More thermal dynamics."
"Oh," laughed David, who was not the least bit intimidated by his future wife's amazing intelligence. He was proud of her, and accepted the fact that they each had their own talents.
"Well, I think this thermal disturbance has cleared enough that we can be on our way. Another two and a half hours and we should be in Bartlett."
"I am looking forward to just the two of us staying at the cabin, David," Elizabeth admitted, with a shy smile.
The plan was that David and Elizabeth would stay at Janet's old cabin, which had been given to them to use as a summer cottage as a wedding gift. David and Elizabeth would fly out the morning after the candlelight wedding by helicopter. Ted had promised to drive their car back to Toronto, and return to Bartlett on the bus.
The helicopter would take the newlyweds to the Toronto International Airport where they would take a flight to Hawaii for their honeymoon. The holiday was another of Robbie and Janet's wedding gifts to them. Robbie being well aware that Elizabeth had always wanted to see the telescope at the observatory on the main island.
"Ugh! It reeks in here!" exclaimed Janet, as she stepped in the side door of the shed. Dawn followed and closed the door, pulling it from the reluctant hands of Janet.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Dawn muttered.
The two women poked around and ended up, within a few minutes' time, standing in front of the blue recycle bin with the piece of plywood sitting on top. "The smell is coming from in there," Dawn observed unnecessarily. "It's your shed. You do the honours."
"No way. It's your partner's hobby!"
"It could be worse."
"Okay, so it couldn't. Go ahead and open it and see what's inside."
Dawn held her breath, leaned over and lifted the lid off. Inside was a stout looking box labeled, "Property of the Toronto Forensic Lab. Caution: human remains".
"Do you think it is?" Janet asked, peering into the box.
"It is something dead," Dawn observed, scrunching her nose up against the smell. "Your turn."
Janet shivered, stepped forward and with the tips of her fingers lifted the lid. The smell got suddenly worse. They looked down on a pile of charred, dirty and greasy bones. Here and there, bits of shriveled skin and sinew still clung stubbornly to bone. "Oh God! It's human!" Janet croaked, staring at the skull.
Dawn took the lid from Janet's hands and quickly closed up the box again. "What have the two of them done?!"
Janet shook her head. "Olive has gone too far this time. I can't believe this! They've brought a burnt corpse home!"
Dawn snorted. "Oh, I believe it alright! Aliki wouldn't be able to resist! She is drawn to bones like a mangy mutt. What I don't believe is that Aliki has not handed the remains over to the police. She always goes by the book!"
"Robbie," Janet proclaimed. "Robbie has convinced her to keep it hidden until after the wedding this weekend in case the press find out. Robbie must have found it at the construction site this morning, and come back to get Aliki for help."
"She's afraid that the press will ruin Elizabeth's wedding?" Dawn asked, as she placed the plywood back in place.
Janet nodded. "Robbie doesn't trust the police or the press after what we endured two years ago."
"Her sister's a Mountie!"
"Yeah, she tries to overlook that," sighed Janet. "Dawn, we can't leave this here. What if the girls stumble across it?"
"I don't know about Ryan, but I have an awful feeling that MacKenzie would be delighted!" laughed Dawn.
"Oh so would Ryan! She'd be in seventh heaven having found a corpse, but that doesn't mean I want her to. We have to put it somewhere else."
"I was afraid you were going to say that," sighed Dawn, looking down at the offending container with annoyance. "Where?"
"The old ice shed," Janet stated confidently. "No one goes there. Come on, give me a hand." Together, the two women carefully carried the plastic recycle box out of the shed, and followed a rarely used path to a small, field stone building that covered a deep pit. Years ago, the lodge had used an ice box. Each winter, ice would be cut in blocks from the lake and stored in the pit covered in sawdust for insulation. The lodge then had a source of ice all though the hot summer months.
Janet opened the thick door while Dawn gingerly held the box in her arms, trying not to inhale.
They carried the box in and used the old chain winch to lower the box down into the pit, the bottom of which was still covered with a thick, grey layer of old wood chips. "There, that should keep it cool and safe until after the wedding. Then, we are going to have a serious talk with those two!" Janet stated.
"You got that right!" Dawn agreed, and the two women closed the door and hedged the straight bolt across. "I don't know about you but I've got to shower and change before I do anything else."
"Immediately!" agreed Janet. "Those two are in BIG trouble!"
"Are we going to tell them we know, and that we have moved the bones? What if they find them missing?" Dawn asked, as they made their way down the path.
"No way! Let them sweat. It will serve them right for not trusting us!" Janet laughed.
Robbie held Reb up so that she could look in the various containers. Reb viewed each with serious consideration. "That one, please, Obby," she finally decided, pointing to a pink ice cream with swirls of blue, green and yellow through it.
Robbie read the tag. "We'll have two double scooped bubble gum, candy swirls in sugar cones..." Robbie interrupted her order to bend down to hear what Reb wanted to whisper in her ear. "And we'd like smarties sprinkled on top, please," she finished, and Reb beamed with delight.
Stacy chuckled behind the counter. "We're having a really special treat today!"
"It's a celebration," Robbie explained. "Two years ago today, Reb and I did our first grocery shop together."
"I was two. I almost four now," Reb clarified.
"Well, no wonder you are celebrating!" Stacy laughed, as she made the two big cones. "There, two double scooped, bubble gum, candy swirls in sugar cones and topped with smarties!" Stacy repeated. "That's five-fifty, Robbie."
"That's Obby!" Reb stubbornly corrected, as she took her cone from her adopted Mom. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome, Reb. Happy anniversary, kid," Robbie smiled.
"Happy anti-university Obbie!" giggled Reb, and the two pals went to sit by the window of the Coffee Shop to eat their ice cream cones before heading back to the lodge.
David and Elizabeth arrived at the lodge to be met with hugs and laughter and a hot lunch. David's brother, Ted, had left the store in charge of his clerk, and Dr. Bill Perkins had taken time out from his practice to join in the pre-wedding celebrations. He was going to do some of the picture taking for Robbie during the service. Into this maelstrom of happy family confusion, Reb and Robbie arrived back from town.
Reb had scrambled up the steps of the lodge ahead of her Obby and pushed open the lodge door to slip inside. She ran over to her Mom and pulled on her hand to get her attention as Janet cut big squares of fresh, hot lasagne "Mommy, Mommy Obby is sick!" she announced in a big voice. "She threw up on the road!"
At this point, Robbie came in looking pale and shaky. Elizabeth was by her side immediately, worry etched on her face. "Roberta, what is the matter?"
"Ughhh,"the actress-director explained.
"She threw up on the road,"Reb explained again, in case anyone present had missed her announcement the first time.
"Oh dear! There have been some terrible flues going around!"fretted Elizabeth.
Janet walked over to Robbie whipping her hands on a dish towel. She felt Robbie's brow. No temperature. " Okay, the truth,"she stated matter of factly.
"We were celebrating," Robbie confessed, the heat rising in her face.
"It's our second anti-university,"Reb explained, to the crowd of family and friends that had now gathered around. "We had double scoop, bubble gum, candy swirl ice-cream with smarties! Obby stopped the truck and threw it up on the road. It was pink!"
Janet looked down at her beaming daughter who was obviously very impressed by her Obby throwing up on the road. The evidence of her own treat had formed colourful stains on the little girl's new t-shirt.
Ryan smiled broadly, slapped her mother on the shoulder and held a plateful of hot lasagne under her mother's nose. "So the kid can handle her ice-cream, huh, but it was too strong for old Mom. Here would you like some lunch! You must be empty."
Robbie turned an even darker shade of green. "No thanks, "she muttered. "I think I'll lie down. Hi Bethy. Hi David. Ryan, we'll discuss your sick humour at a later date."
"Sick, nice word," Ryan beamed, swaying with delight back and forth on her heels. Robbie shot her a look and staggered off to bed. Janet gave Ryan a poke and laughed before she headed off to get something for Robbie's tummy and David went to get a wet cloth to clean the sticky Reb up while Reb told everyone the story again.
Robbie sat up in bed and drank her Alka-Seltzer while Janet smiled down at her. "Robbie whatever were you thinking about?!" she asked, her eyes sparkling with amusement.
"We were celebrating the first time we went grocery shopping together," Robbie moaned, one hand over her stomach. "Is Reb sick yet?"
"Nope. Healthy as a horse,"Janet laughed.
Robbie pulled a disapproving face. "Rotten little kid! How can she eat that stuff?!"
"Because she is a kid. Feeling better?"
"I might die,"Robbie groaned, falling back dramatically and acting tragic.
Janet looked down at her critically. "Nope, I think you are good for a few more years if you take treatment and give up your addiction to bubble gum candy swirl."
"Aahh, don't even mention that stuff! There should be warnings written on the container!"
What with the confusion of such a large crowd at the lodge, and the lunch dishes to do, and the wedding plans to be finalized, it was several hours later before Aliki got the chance to sneak out to the shed. She just wanted to double check her measurements before she settled down to write up her field report.
Quietly, and quickly, she slipped into the shed and walked over to where she had left the recycle box in the corner. To her horror, she found the box was gone! Near panic she looked all over the shed, her heart thumping in her chest. There was no box! Oh God! I've lost the evidence! This will mean my job! Wiping the sweat from her lip, she headed into the house. Please don't let this be the day that the recycling is collected by the township!
"Robbie, wake up!" Aliki ordered, shaking her sister.
"Go away, I'm dying" Robbie moaned, covering her head with a pillow.
"You are going to wish to be dead before this is over! Robbie, the remains have gone!"
"Oh good, now we don't have to worry about them," sighed Robbie, pulling the sheets up over her head.
"Robbie! We have lost a murder victim! This could mean my job!" Aliki whispered dramatically.
Robbie rolled over onto her back and looked up into the worried face of her half sister. "You know, you are a lot more trouble than Elizabeth ever was." With a sigh, she heaved herself up and sat on the edge of the bed waiting for her stomach to settle. "That ice cream tasted good going down, but then I started think about those bones, and it all came up again. It was no good the second time around."
"The stomach acids would have curdled it,"Aliki explained, as she threw her sister her blue jeans from were Robbie had left them on the back of the chair.
"Like I needed to know that! Doesn't any of that stuff bother you?"
"Yes,"Aliki answered shortly. The ghosts that haunted her were a private matter. "Come on, we have to find those bones!"
The two women hurried out to the shed and once again did a complete search. No bones. "Where could they have gone?!" snapped Robbie, kicking a box in frustration.
"Janet and Dawn must have found the bones and moved them somewhere else," Aliki concluded.
"Well, we are not going to ask them until after the wedding," Robbie stated firmly.
"Yes, we are!" refuted Aliki, with feeling.
"No, we're not!" Robbie responded stubbornly.
"Robbie, this is murder! Will you get that through your head," stomped Aliki in frustration.
"It's going to be if you open your mouth and wreck this wedding! Come on, Aliki. David and Elizabeth will be on their way to Hawaii the day after tomorrow. What's another thirty-two hours? Death is very patient!"
Aliki rubbed her eyes with her fingers. "What really scares me is that your hare-brain plans always seem so logical! How did I ever let you talk me into this!"
Robbie smiled, realizing that she had won her sister over yet again. She came over and patted Aliki on the shoulder affectionately. "Because you are one of the best sisters a person could ask for," Robbie said with feeling. Aliki gave her a dirty look, and Robbie smiled broadly. "Hey it could be worse! We have until Monday to find him before he is recycled!"
"They're in the shed," Janet whispered to Dawn, as she passed by, putting away the last of the shopping that Robbie had bought.
Dawn looked up from making a bow from gold and bronze ribbon. "Damn, I was hoping they wouldn't go back until after the wedding. We'll have to tell them now or they will be worried sick."
Janet pulled a face. "Personally, I am for letting them stew in their own juices for not telling us right away, but I guess you are right. We'll need to talk to them in case they go to the police. We'll do it after the rehearsal dinner tonight, when we should be able to find some private time together."
The figure stood in the shadows of the trees and watched with interest. Dull grey eyes considered as the few remaining teeth chewed on a tooth pick. The bones weren't supposed to be found. They were to be buried in the foundations of that new film school. He hadn't counted on the rain. Even then, he hadn't considered it a problem until he had seen that actress's car heading down to the construction site. When she left and came back again, he got to thinking there was a problem. Still, he'd gone out of curiosity more than anything else. He figured he was safe enough. Hadn't even had the sense to take his rifle. If he had, he could have shot them dead and that would have been the end of it. Now he wasn't sure what to do.
Them two dark ones had put the bones in a box and left them in the shed. Then the two blondes had moved the bones to the old ice house. He'd planned to just take the bones when he got the chance and getting rid of them some other way. If them women didn't have any evidence then no one was going to believe them. Hell, they was women and one was an actress to boot!
But before it got dark enough for him to risk getting the bones back, them kids had retrieved them and put them back in the shed! Just like the female sex, no figurin' how their minds worked! The problem was them fool kids had gone and locked the shed door! So he'd moved back farther in the bush again, so that darn ugly dog couldn't get a whiff of him, and sat down to consider.
He figured sooner or later someone was going to come for those bones and when they did, he'd be waitin' for them. It was a darn nuisance though, on account he could be home watchin' the TV.
Reverend Cornnel had arrived at seven. She was a lean, wiry woman with straight grey hair and a big smile. Robbie nervously introduced her around, not feeling particularly comfortable with a minister. Church had never been a reality in her life. Utter relief showed in her face when Janet came to her aid and led Barb Cornnel off to discuss the plans for the service. Robbie flopped down on the couch and sighed heavily. As days went, this one was pretty close to the basement. Of course, if your day starts off with you standing in the rain having just found a human skeleton, you can't really expect things to get a whole lot better anytime soon.
Elizabeth came over and sat down quietly beside her big sister. Robbie continued to stare at the fire absent-mindedly. "Robbie?"
"What?!" Robbie started. "Oh, sorry. Must have been wool-gathering. Hi, Bethy."
"Robbie, you are comfortable with my marrying David, aren't you? He is a fine man," Elizabeth asked anxiously.
Robbie frowned and considered this. "Yeah, I guess. I'm a little worried. You know..." Robbie swallowed, a blush rising in her cheeks.
Elizabeth leaned over and hugged her surprised sister. Physical affection was not something Robbie expected from her Elizabeth. "I know. You will give me away, won't you, Robbie?"
"Yeah, sure, Lizzy," Robbie smiled, using Elizabeth's childhood name. "I'll be good."
Elizabeth looked into her sister's eyes and saw only sincerity there. The trouble was, Robbie was a very good actor and a very unpredictable human. "Promise?"
"Yeah, promise," Robbie smiled.
Ryan watched MacKenzie through the mirror as Mac slipped into fresh jeans and a nice pullover in preparation for the wedding rehearsal. Mac was going to be a beautiful woman, Ryan concluded. She seemed to have got the best genetic features from each of her parent's backgrounds. From her Salish Indian mother, she had inherited the creamy skin and dark hair, from her Greek father, she had inherited a tall willowy build and lean classical features. She was a knock out!
Ryan sighed. MacKenzie was way too young to be thinking about, Ryan reminded herself. Besides, she was into guys at the moment, in order to determine her true sexuality. She looked up again at the reflection of the twelve year old behind her. Mac was bent over doing up her shoelaces. Ryan recognized immediately that what she was feeling indicated strongly her true leanings.
She liked MacKenzie a lot. Around Ryan she talked freely. Maybe not a hell of a lot, but when she had something worthwhile to say, she talked. They fitted well that way because Ryan could talk enough for both of them. She knew that Mac had not spoke a word until she was ten. Ryan couldn't imagine that. Mac seemed really level headed and calm. A thought popped into Ryan's head and was on her lips immediately. "Did you go to shrinks when you couldn't talk?"
MacKenzie didn't answer at first. This used to bother Ryan, who was a little insecure herself. She had come to realize, however, that Mac couldn't always get the words out if she was feeling emotional until she had time to consider them. "I saw a lot of doctors, speech therapists, psychiatrists. Mom really tried to help me. She never made me feel bad that I didn't talk. She just did her best to help me. I didn't know why I couldn't talk. I didn't remember until..." The explanation faded out into silence, then the voice continued, stronger and less emotional. "You ready yet?"
"Yeah, I'm ready," Ryan responded, letting Mac change the subject on her without explanation. She knew her friend had said all she was comfortable in saying at this time.
MacKenzie looked at her cousin. "You look great!" Ryan wore black jeans and a black silk shirt and Mac thought she was the most beautiful and sophisticated teenager she had ever met. Ryan was hot!
Ryan blushed deeply. "Yeah, well you look pretty good yourself. Let's go see what we can do to help."
"Wait, Ryan, what are we going to do about...you know, IT?"
"It's safe enough in the shed. What I don't understand is how your Mom and my Aunt Janet ended up with it, and why they were hiding it away. I mean they're bones, so it must be a case that Aliki is working on."
"It's murder. The skull had a bullet hole in it," Mac stated.
"Yeah?! Why didn't you show me?"
"We were in a hurry," MacKenzie explained.
The children had watched from the bedroom window as Janet and Dawn had spirited the box from the shed and taken it down the path to where the old ice house was. As soon as the coast was clear, Ryan and Mac had gone to investigate.
They had found the recycle bin tied to the end of a chain pulley at the bottom of the well and had cranked it up. The smell had been horrific. It had been Mac who had slid off the plywood and opened the lid. "Holy shit!" Ryan had exclaimed, as they looked down at a pile of burnt and rotting human bones.
"I don't understand," MacKenzie had frowned.
"I do! They are involved in a forensic mystery and they are leaving us out!" complained Ryan. Then she smiled. "I think we need to teach them a lesson!"
Mac had protested, of course, but only half heartedly. She was rather annoyed herself that Aliki had not shared with her the news of the skeleton. She and Aliki often talked about her work when her Mom wasn't around. Dawn didn't think it was fitting conversation for a young teen but if the truth were known, Mac found forensics fascinating. Aliki had shown her lots of bones and Dawn was getting pretty good at looking for clues in the marks of trauma on the bones.
Hurt, she went along with Ryan's practical joke. They had carefully closed up the box again and carried it back to the shed, hiding it behind some planks and then carefully locking the shed door.
Now she was getting cold feet about the whole matter. "We should tell them. They might be worried. It's important evidence! We don't want to get Aliki in trouble."
Ryan smiled down at Mac with a grin that was pure devilment. "We will. They aren't. It is. And we won't," she responded cheekily. Mac frowned and Ryan sighed. "I promise, as soon as the wedding's over, and Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle David are on their way, we'll tell them we know what is going on, and we want to be part of the action."
"Sooner if we have to," argued Mac, standing her ground.
"Yeah, sooner if we have to," agreed Ryan, rolling her eyes dramatically. Mac gave her a poke and the two friends headed out to help anyway they could with the rehearsal.
The rehearsal went well. In the fire light of the beautiful log room, Robbie walked with her sister to the front of the room where David stood proudly with his brother. Reverend Cornnel explained the order of the service and reviewed their lines and then they had all gathered for drinks and hors-d'oeuvre, before a buffet of salads, sandwiches, and deserts. It was way into the night before the guests left, and Ryan and Mac were sent off to bed, Reb having barely stayed awake for the rehearsal buffet.
Then David and Elizabeth had disappeared for a stroll down to the lake before they headed back to the cabin, and that left the four women alone. "Okay, we want the truth," Janet stated, as she settled back against Robbie on the couch.
Robbie looked at Aliki. Aliki looked gloom. Robbie sighed. "How much do you know?"
"We know you went to the construction site early yesterday morning, and found a skeleton there. You came back and got Aliki and the two of you packed up the bones in a box and hid them in the shed. Aliki spent a good part of the morning in there studying them. We know they are human bones, and we want to know what the two of you are up to."
Aliki looked up in surprise, and Robbie blinked in shock. "We'd better confess, Robbie. They have nailed us good," Aliki groaned.
"Aliki, whatever were you thinking! You of all people hiding evidence!"scolded Dawn.
"I wasn't thinking! I was under the influence of my big sister, the plotter!" Aliki protested.
"Rats from a sinking ship!" Robbie growled at Aliki's quick betrayal. "We were just trying to keep this all quiet until after the wedding. Janet, you know how the press and police are going to react to there being a murder victim at the construction site."
"Murder!?" Janet exclaimed.
"Shot between the eyes," Aliki muttered, sadly.
"Oh boy," Dawn sighed, and took Aliki's hand, knowing how upset her lover would be at the chain of events.
"We moved the bones," Janet confessed, feeling a bit worried now that she had learned that the bones represented significant evidence in a murder investigation.
"Where?!" Aliki demanded.
"We thought the girls might stumble on them and as much as we suspect that they would be delighted, we didn't think it would be a good experience for them at their age."
"Where are they?" Aliki repeated, trying to mask the relief in her voice at finding out that the bones were safe.
"We put them in the old ice house. We thought that would keep them cool and safe," Janet explained.
"Hey, that was a good idea," Robbie stated smiling. "I never thought of that."
"I need to see them," Aliki stated, starting to get up.
"They're okay, Aliki," Dawn stated, pulling her lover back down again. "We can wait until David and Elizabeth say their good byes and head back to the cabin. We really don't want to upset them with all this."
After that the conversation was rather forced and mundane. Aliki kept glancing at her watch and Robbie paced about, fiddling with the lamp shade, straightening a picture, and poking at the fire.
When Elizabeth and David came in, the women tried their best to look busy. Fortunately, the physicist and her future husband were so preoccupied with their own thoughts, they didn't notice the stilted actions and conversation of the women. They said their good nights, thank the women for all their help and left . The taillights of David's car had barely disappeared down the lane when Aliki was getting coats and Robbie was fetching a few flashlights.
A silent trail of women made their way past the shed and down the overgrown path to the old ice house. Janet pushed the door open and flashed her torch around to make sure that there were no
unpleasant night creatures inside. Then she stepped in and the others followed.
"It's right over here," Dawn indicated, as she went to haul up the box on the chain. The chain provided no resistance to her grasp and she looked down into the pit in surprise. Her heart skipped a beat; the box was gone.
"Janet, there's a problem,"she stated. Janet moved up by Dawn's side and shone her flashlight into the deep well. The loose ends of the chain jangled together in the old wood chips at the bottom. There was no box.
Aliki stood on the edge looking into the pit. "Please tell me this isn't happening?"she sighed.
"Well, it can't just have disappeared!"exclaimed Robbie, in frustration. "Are you sure this is where you put it?"
Dawn and Janet did not even bother answering. They had put it in the ice house pit and now it was gone. Janet's eyes narrowed. "Robbie, this is not one of your jokes is it?"she asked.
Three rather annoyed looking women turned to stare at the tall director. "No!" Robbie protested. "I wouldn't hide the bones!"
Aliki snorted and rolled her eyes at the innocent way Robbie proclaimed her non-involvement, as if butter would not melt in her mouth. "You should try your hand at acting, Robbie. You've got a real talent," Aliki said sarcastically. "Give me back my bones!"
"Hey, I can do sincere! I didn't take them, really!" Robbie protested, the old panicky feeling coming on her. She needed to get out of this small building or she was going to go crazy. That's why she had wanted to hide the skeleton in the first place, because she knew she would get blamed. Even her own wife and sister wouldn't believe her.
"Are you sure, because..." Aliki started, but stopped mid sentence when Robbie bolted from the room.
"Robbie!"cried Janet, running after her. By the time Janet got outside, Robbie was not in sight. There was only the far off sound of running. Aliki and Dawn pulled up at Janet's side. "She's having a panic attack. That sometimes happens...because of prison...she feels trapped...I've never seen her so bad," Janet explained to the other two, her voice strained with worry. "She didn't take the bones, Aliki. I'm sure of that. If she had, she would have told you and not run. She's running because she can't see a way out, and she is terrified of being locked up again."
"I'll go after her. With my long legs, I have the best chance of catching up to her. Besides, I caused this problem."
Janet grabbed Aliki's arm to halt her for a second. "Aliki, you're a police officer, I don't know how she'll react..." Aliki nodded in understanding and took off.
She covered the first mile at top sped but then slowed when she caught sight of the director sitting on a rock outcrop by the shore of the lake. Aliki approached slowly, making sure to make enough noise to let Robbie know she was there. Once within talking distance, she stopped.
"Robbie, I'm sorry. I'm really feeling tense about this because I'm going to be in big trouble. I didn't mean to jump all over you."
"I didn't take those bones!" Robbie snapped, sounding like a defensive child.
"I know that,"Aliki admitted. There was silence for a minute while the two women tried to find some way to resolve the issue. "Look, I need your help!" Aliki protested. "I have got to find those bones!"
Robbie nodded, her eyes closed. Then she took a deep breath and stood. " It sometimes really gets to me. I...I..couldn't let them lock me up again." she admitted, her voice quaking with emotion.
Aliki looked into her sister's eyes. They were beautiful eyes but in the moonlight the pain and fear showed through. "It's not going to happen,"she said. "Look, why don't we walk a bit down the road and try to figure out what the hell is going on here." Robbie gave a weak smile and nodded again. Together, the two sister headed off down the path.
For a while, Janet and Dawn stood talking quietly about Robbie's sudden flight. Worry etched Janet's features. Her soulmate carried some very deeply rooted scares for all her confidence and success. Gradually, the conversation turned once again to the missing bones.
"I feel responsible because we moved them," Dawn confessed.
"Me too. We have to find them. I just can't believe this has happened! I've got so many small details on my mind about the wedding that I can't even think straight to work this out.," sighed Janet, running her fingers through her hair nervously.
"Let's go back in, and see if we can see footprints or something," Dawn suggested.
"Good idea. We'll just have to be careful not to move about much and ruin any evidence that might be in there." Dawn led the way, and Janet followed. Using their touches, they scanned the room and then the pit for clues but could see none. Standing side by side at the edge of the pit, and deep in thought, they both jumped violently when the door slammed shut behind them. Their hearts pounding, they stared in disbelief as they heard the dead bolt on the outside of the door slid into place.
Ryan woke with a start, a rifle barrel at her head and a figure looming over her. "You call yur little friend, and tell her to be good or else."
Ryan swallowed her heart back down into her chest and called out to Mac, trying to keep the fear from showing in her voice. "Mac? Mac? Wake up. We got trouble." Already, thinking, Ryan made her voice loud, hoping that her parents would hear.
"No use, raisin' yur voice, there aren't no one to hear. Got them all taken care of. I'm goin' to need you two fur a bit though, I reckon," explained the dark figure, conversationally. A very strong smell of body odour and pee prevailed the room, and Ryan scrunched her nose in disgust.
"Ryan?" Mac's nervous voice came from across the other side of the bedside table.
"Stay calm. There is some guy in here with a rifle to my head," Ryan responded, sounding far more confident than she felt. Truthfully, she was scared to death, for herself and for her parents and Mac's family.
"You two are goin' to open the shed so I can get Larry outa there, and then yur goin' to carry him back home for me. Get outa there now 'cause I don't wanna be up all night!"
Ryan was thankful that the cold weather and company had forced her to wear a t-shirt and sleeping shorts to bed. Normally, she slept naked like she knew her Mom did. She knew that Mac wore grey flannel pajamas with a cartoon Tigger peaking out of the pocket. She looked as cute as hell in them! Ryan slipped out of bed slowly and felt Mac at her side.
"Ryan, who is he? What's going on?"
Ryan took Mac's hand in her own, partly to offer support and partly because she needed comfort herself. "I think we are being kidnapped. Don't worry. You'd be surprised to find out how often this happens in my life."
Mac stood on her toes and whispered into Ryan's ear. "He smells."
"Come on you two. Don't start talkin'. You just come along."
Ryan could see now that their abductor was an old man, small, scruffy and dirty. That made her feel less scared. She figured she could overpower him if she got the chance and she and Mac could certainly out run him. The gun was real though, and she worried about that. "We need coats and shoes. It's cold and wet a....and I need to call my brother, Rufus." Ryan bartered.
The old man's features deepened into a smile. "If yur are referin' to that ugly dog as yur brother, he aren't comin'. I give him the leg bone of a deer out there in the bush, and he won't be comin' home, I figure, until he's ate his fill. You two get them coats and get that shed open. You women had no right to go diggin' up Larry like that after I give him a decent enough burial.
The two girls slipped into coats and put on running shoes. Then, they headed over to the shed, the old man following along behind with his rifle. Mac pulled on Ryan's sleeve. "That skull had a bullet right between the eyes. He might be old, but he is a good shot. Please don't try anything, Ryan!" she whispered.
"Who me?" Ryan asked in innocence, and then seeing Mac's worried face in the moonlight she added, "I won't take any chances. I promise."
"Just get that there door opened!" came the impatient voice from behind them.
Ryan took out the key and unlatched the padlock. Then she pushed open the door and stepped aside.
"You're a tricky one, aren't ya? I might be old but there's nothin' wrong with my mind! Told Larry that! You just go fetch that box and this here friend of yours will wait with me. You got just a few minutes, do you understand, girl?" the old man asked, pointing the rifle at Mac's head.
"I understand," Ryan said quickly. "No tricks. I'll be right back with the box." She stepped inside and went over to where they had hid the recycle box. With displeasure she lifted off the make-shift plywood lid and smelt again the stench of rot and burnt flesh. Swallowing her revulsion, she picked up the cardboard box and carried it at arms length out of the shed.
"Here it is," she stated.
"Good. It's not fittin' you keeping Larry in there after I buried him! You lot shouldn't have meddled in my business! Now get movin' that way. We got a long walk to my place."
"Then what?" Mac asked.
"Goin' to have you dig a hole to bury Larry here. I'd have done it myself save my back's no good. And while yur at it you can make it big enough fur yourselves. You lot just shouldn't have meddled, that's what!"
"This happens a lot in your life, huh?" Mac asked, her humour edged with real fear.
"On a regular basis," Ryan sighed.
"Glad, I'm not you," Mac responded.
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