Dead Duck

Part 3

Anne Azel

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.

My praises to Lisa, Inga and Susan, who work very hard as my beta readers. Thanks.

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 < > or write Anne at <> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through or Openbookltd.

The RCMP detachment in Swan Hills consisted of Sergeant Brad Nicholson and two constables. Nicholson was glad to be able to turn the responsibility of the crime scene over to Inspector Pateas. Aliki on the other hand was not glad.

She had waited with the remains until Dawn could drive back into town and bring Nicholson back out. At Aliki's request, Nicholson had called for the crime scene team to be sent out from Edmonton. It was a long wait. In the meantime, Aliki sent Dawn back to the ranch and helped Nicholson seal off the area.

It was well into the afternoon by the time the Edmonton team arrived and well into the night before the decomposed body was finally removed from its shallow grave and bagged for shipping to the forensic labs in Edmonton.

"Well?"Andy Chen asked, as he leaned on a squad car and lit a cigarette. His tired face was deeply highlighted by the police flood lights.

Aliki raised an eyebrow. "That's your job."

Chen snorted. He had known Pateas for a number of years now. In Canada, homicide specialists were a small group and their members clanish. "That body is more skeleton than tissue and I'm standing with the best bone specialist around. So cut me some slack here, Pateas."

Aliki shrugged, not wanting to get involved in this case if she could avoid it. She was here for her brother's wedding and hopefully to get up enough nerve to give Dawn an engagement ring. The last thing she needed was to get involved in a murder case. "I observed what you observed.

The body is most likely female. A guess would put her in her late twenties, early thirties. Cause of death was most likely strangulation, seeing the cord is still around her neck. She was a dyed blond, most likely Caucasian, and on the taller side for a woman."

Chen looked at her sourly. "Well, I did figure out the body was probably female. I need you to come to Edmonton and examine the bones after they are cleaned up. Will you?"

Aliki sighed. She had been afraid of this. "The chief coroner would have to approve. I'd be working out of district," Aliki observed, as a last ditch attempt to stay out of this case.

"I'll get their approval. Give me a number where I can reach you and I'll be in touch. You live around here, huh?" Chen smiled.

"I was raised on a ranch nearby. My home is in the East now," Aliki stated firmly, as she punched the ranch number into the palmtop that Chen had handed her.

"Rotten luck. No one should have to live in the East," Chen observed, finishing his cigarette and dropping the butt to grind under his shoe.

Aliki shook her head at the regional loyalty that was so much a part of the Canadian mentality. She said her goodbyes and Nicholson gave her a ride back to the ranch. To Aliki's annoyance he had no trouble at all finding the Pateas driveway. "It's hard to find this damn driveway in the dark," she complained.

Nicholson shrugged. "I've never had a problem, not that I come up here much. Everyone knows it's there."

It was four in the morning as Aliki crept into the bedroom. "Hi, Sweetheart," Dawn whispered softly. "You okay?"

"Yeah, just tired. Wait 'til I have a good shower and then I'll give you a morning kiss," the scientist responded. The smell of death always seemed to cling to her long after she had left a scene. Aliki knew it was mostly a psychological reaction but she didn't like to touch her family until she'd had a long scrub under a hot shower.

Sometime later, just as the pink of dawn began to tint the sky, she slipped under the covers beside her lover. "Long night, huh?" Dawn observed, holding her partner and kissing Aliki's temple softly.

"Yeah, I'm going to have to go down to Edmonton in a few days and have a look at the remains," Aliki admitted.

"I figured that," Dawn smiled. "Do you have any..."

"Aliki? Dawn? You up?" came Robbie's excited whisper from the other side of the door.

"Not for long. Go away," Aliki responded rolling her eyes.

The door opened and Robbie trotted in, curling up on the end of Dawn and Aliki's bed. "Okay, tell me all about it," Aliki's sister demanded.

Dawn laughed and Aliki blushed. "Robbie, I am in bed...with Dawn...Do you mind!"

"No, I don't mind," came the cheeky response.

"I'm sorry. I was asleep and she escaped," declared Janet, as she did up her housecoat and hurried into the room.

"Hey, you are just in time. Aliki is going to tell us all about it," smiled Robbie.

"Hi mom. Hi Aunt Aliki. Ryan and I heard your voices, so we thought we'd come and find out what happened," Mac explained as she and Ryan came trotting in.

"Are we sleeping in a bus station here?" Aliki asked, thumping back against the pillow in exasperation.

"Okay, everyone is here. Tell us all about it," Robbie demanded impatiently.

"It's a police investigation and confidential information," Aliki protested.

Robbie looked around the group of eager and innocent faces. "We won't tell," she promised and made room for Janet to curl up beside her.

The recounting of the events took some time and in the end they all ended up downstairs, discussing possible theories over an early morning breakfast.

"Does Sergeant Nicholson have any missing persons on file?" Mac asked, being quite familiar now with the process that the police went through when a body was found.

"Three," Aliki stated. "A middle aged man, who probably left his wife and ran off with a waitress half his age. A seventeen year old, who ran away from home and a twenty-eight year old secretary who never met her boyfriend after work like she was supposed to."

"Bingo!" Robbie smiled.

"Maybe, maybe not," Aliki corrected. "Bones are very varied and can be misleading. I would need to really do a close examination and point check to verify my hunches. And then there is no guarantee that it is the missing woman. The body could have been murdered anywhere and simple buried out there."

"Then it is a murder, Aunt Aliki?" Ryan asked, helping herself to another piece of toast.

"Hmmm, I think so. That's a hard call. There is a cord around her neck so she probably died by strangulation. It could be a suicide or foreplay that went terribly wrong. She sure didn't bury herself," Aliki mused sleepily, rubbing her face with a hand.

"Freaky," Ryan smiled.

"I think Aliki needs some sleep, now," Dawn observed. "Come on you," she said, giving her partner's shoulder a gentle shake.

"Good idea," Janet supported immediately and then turned to the others, "And you lot can help me clean up this mess."

Baba sat at the kitchen table scowling as Aliki worked at preparing lunch. Janet and Dawn had taken the girls to town and Robbie and Reb were over at the ranch office using their internet line. "I don't like it, Aliki. You have no right bringing murder to the ranch especially when your brother is getting married. How does that look? We will not seem respectable."

Aliki gave her father a hard look. "I had nothing to do with the killing and there is nothing wrong with police work," she stated firmly.

Baba sulked and waved his hand back and forth to indicate he felt there were two sides to that argument. Then he went off on a new tangent. "When are you going to marry Dawn? It is not right you living with her. What will my Mac think? You set a bad example."

Aliki put the pan down with a little more force than she had intended and turned to look at her father. "We are engaged. We will get married when we are ready," she snapped.

Baba, however, was not a man to be put off if he had something on his mind. "What you wait for?"

Aliki sighed and looked around to make sure no one was near before answering that question. "I needed to give her a nice ring. She deserves the best. I had to save," she confessed awkwardly.

Baba looked surprised. "Dawn, she wants a big ring like Janet has?"

Aliki blushed. "No. I ...I just...I am the only one without a lot of money...I don't want her to have regrets that she made a commitment to me," she admitted.

Baba snorted in disgust and picked up his extra big coffee mug and had a sip before answering. Aliki made the best coffee and he had missed it. "This, I do not think would happen. Dawn is not like that. Besides, you are an important person even if you do work for the police," the older man explained. "You are a good catch." Aliki laughed and went back to preparing lunch.

"While we are in town, I think we should make a visit to Rev. Jarvis," Dawn stated as she watched her excited daughter leaving the restaurant with Ryan in tow. Having done the stores and had lunch out with their moms, the two girls were now heading off on their own to see some of the sites in town. "We won't be meeting up with the girls for another few hours."

"Won't Aliki be annoyed if we interfere?" Janet asked because she felt she had to. In reality, she was quite excited about going to see Jarvis.

"Yeah, but she is getting used to it," laughed Dawn. "Besides, we have a chance of getting away with it. If Aliki or Robbie tried to find out anything they would be in a sad amount of trouble."

Janet nodded and laughed. Neither of their partners was known for their subtlety in speech. "But why just Jarvis?" she asked.

Dawn considered. "The other three congregations in town have older leaders who have been there for years. Jarvis is the new boy on the block. Also he is younger. He is more likely to know what is going on from the teenagers. It is a good starting point."

The two women paid the bill and headed out. They walked up the street and found the small manse where Rev Paul Jarvis lived next to the Reformed Western Church. "I had a little talk to Nick about his church and the minister the other day. It seems that Jarvis has never preached against homosexuality in his services, but of course, there are those more militant members of the congregation that see it as the foremost reason for their break with the United Church of Canada," Dawn said.

"Jarvis chose to make that break too and head the Reformed Western Church. That rather indicates that he holds the same views," Janet pointed out.

Dawn put her head on the side and considered. "Maybe, maybe not. According to Nick, Paul Jarvis is in his late thirties and has never married. It could be that he is waiting for someone special to share the responsibility of his calling or it could be that he is firmly in the closet."

Janet sighed in disgust. "Some of the worst gay bashers are those who can't admit that they have the same orientation."

"How do you think we should handle this?" Dawn whispered as they headed up the walk.

"Honesty. Follow my lead," Janet said as she knocked on the door.

A face appeared from around the side of the house. "Oh hello there! I'm back here in the garden, tying up some fencing with a bit of cord. It's part of my endless battle against Benjamin Bunny and his ravenous friends," said a rather good-looking man as he came around the edge of the house jamming some twine into his pocket and pulling off his work gloves as he came. "I'm Paul Jarvis. How can I help you?"

"Hi Paul, I'm Janet Williams and this is Dawn Freeman," Janet explained with a smile.

"We just wondered if we could have a word with you about preparations for Ari Pateas's wedding?"

"Ari and Joan? I thought they were members of the Anglican Church like Georgeos. They have been out to a few services with Nick though. Come on around back. I put in a nice little patio out there last fall and the plants have taken well. You are in luck, Mrs. Farley has sent over a plate of her famous chocolate chip cookies. I'll get the coffee on," Jarvis informed them as he led them around to white wicker chairs sitting on a flagstone patio in the shade of an enormous old cedar tree.

"We don't want to intrude if you have work to do," Dawn said.

"Nonsense! I was just wishing for an excuse to take a break and have coffee and cookies and the good Lord has provided."Jarvis laughed. "Make yourself at home and I'll be right back."

Dawn looked around. The garden was lovely and the view beyond of the Swan Hills was wonderful. Over to one side, was a splendid vegetable garden that was in the process of having a chicken wire fence placed around it. "He's really put a lot of work into this place. When the McDonalds were here the backyard was just patchy grass and baby toys."

"He seems really nice," Janet stated, leaning back in the comfy chair with a sigh.

"Well, if we get Violet Farley's chocolate cookies out of the deal it won't be a wasted trip. They are the best!" Dawn laughed. A few minutes later, Jarvis returned with a tray of three mugs of coffee, milk and sugar and a large plate of cookies.

"Dig in ladies and then tell me what I can do for you," Jarvis stated, as he took a mug from the table, picked out a cookie, and settled himself in a garden chair.

"Paul, you might have heard about my marriage to Robbie Williams," Janet stated as an opener.

If Jarvis was made uncomfortable by this subject, he gave no indication. Instead, he laughed. "I think the world heard about the marriage. It really made front page news," he said.

Janet smiled wearily. "There are disadvantages in marrying the woman who is the number one box office star," she said with a sigh. "What you might not know is that Dawn here is engaged to Robbie's half sister, Aliki Pateas."

Jarvis nodded. "Yes, Nick has talked to me about his sister and Dawn," he stated with some concern in his voice.

"He has also talked to us," Janet stated putting down her coffee mug, "and we have taken some offense."

Jarvis sighed. "Oh dear, I am well aware of Nick's views. I have to tell you, ladies, that although I am not as militant about it, his views are not much different than mine. I am sorry, however, if he has spoilt this important family reunion by expressing his disapproval. He is....aah...enthusiastic about his faith at the moment, which is good, but he hasn't learned yet that condemnation does not bring people to the knowledge of the faith."

"We wonder then, where he got his intolerance, because he certainly wasn't raised to be a bigot," Dawn stated, perhaps more sharply than she should have.

Jarvis frowned. "There are members of the congregation that take a pretty hard line. You have to remember that we are a break away church and the rift caused some very deep feelings. I know that Nick has been working out at our retreat and that he mixes with members that are very firm in their faith. Would you like me to talk to Nick?"

"That depends on what you are going to tell him," Dawn stated stubbornly, looking Jarvis straight in the eye.

The minister put his mug down carefully on the tray and then looked at each of the women. "I can not and will not approve of your lifestyle but I also do not believe that it is my right to judge you. That is the prerogative of my God. If either of you wish to seek counseling, I would be glad to help you come to a better understanding of God's plan but I am not here to find fault nor to condemn and I am disappointed in the attitude that Nick has taken. I can talk to him about this."

"Thank you, we'd appreciate that," Janet stated, getting up.

"Where is your retreat?" Dawn asked, as she too stood along with Jarvis.

"Up on Pine Ridge, the Myrdal's old hunt camp. Do you know it?" Jarvis asked.

"Yes. I knew the family. They were of Icelandic decent. My uncle used to buy lumber from their mill sometimes. I've been to their hunt camp once or twice. Where are they now?"

"I heard that their daughter married a school teacher in Calgary and so they decided to sell and retire down there," Jarvis responded conversationally, as he walked them around the front of the house again. The two women took their leave and walked back down the street to meet the girls at the library.

"What did you think?" Janet asked.

"I think he is either quite an honest and reasonable Christian or one hell of a good actor," Dawn stated, as she looked thoughtfully off into the distance.

"Yeah, I am not sure that got us anywhere," Janet confessed. "I'd really like to know if Paul Jarvis is what he seems or if we just got stonewalled."

"We'd better go for stamps then," Dawn concluded and picked up the pace. "Rita Sage is better than the Who's Who, far more detailed, and always up to date on the latest gossip." Janet followed along, trusting Dawn's judgement. They crossed the street and went down a block or two before entering the red brick post office.

"Here you go, Ted, a post card from your sister in Florida. It's about time she wrote, she's been down there nearly a month. Says the weather is fine but Jerry still has that cold," Rita announced, handing over the post card. "And I see you got your water bill. Open it up here, Ted and let me see what you were charged. My bill is up nearly seven dollars and as I said to Mabel, I haven't used anymore water than I did last month, so what am I paying for?"

"There's bin a hike in the water prices, I reckon," Ted suggested, tearing open his bill and dutifully handing it over to Rita.

"Nope, they gotta announce that after they get it approved by the government, so I'd know. Well, your bill looks about right. I'm going to have to get after them. I think they made a mistake."

"Could be. I'll see ya around," Ted said, taking his torn bill and previously read post card and heading for the door.

"Hi Rita!" Dawn smiled stepping up to the counter.

"Dawn! Well, you're a sight for sore eyes! I read your books. Oh I wish I had them here for you to sign," Rita rambled. "I hear Robbie Williams and her....aah...partner are up at the ranch. I missed out on getting her autograph too. She was over at the police station the other day but I was working."

"If you bring the books in, the next time I'm in town I'll pop in and sign them. Rita, this is Janet Williams, Robbie's wife," Dawn explained.

"Oh! Bless me!" Rita laughed. "And me speaking of the devil! Nice to meet you, Janet." She leaned over as far as her immense size would allow her and asked in a stage whisper, "Is it true that she really does have that tattoo of a red dragon on her breast like in the movie?"

Janet kept a straight face. "I can honestly say from intense research that Robbie Williams does not have a tatoo anywhere on her body," she stated. "I will see that she comes in and gives you an autograph and you can verify that with her."

Rita roared with laughter. "Well, aren't you the one! Thanks. I'm here each day except weekends. Wait 'til I tell the girls down at the hair dressing parlour! Dawn, how are Ari's wedding plans going?"

"Fine, Rita," Dawn said. "We were just talking to Paul Jarvis. He seems like a nice chap. Good looking too. I'm surprised that he isn't married."

"Well, there are some in town that certainly would agree with you. Now Stella Picaski did her best to catch him last year but he wouldn't have nothing of it. Not that I could blame him. Stella was nice enough to look at but she didn't have an ounce of common sense." Again Rita leaned forward and whispered loud enough for several blocks to hear. "She was a bit of a tramp when she lived down in Calgary with that Billy Picaski."

"Wasn't she the one whose boyfriend reported that she'd disappeared?" Dawn asked, trying to sound disinterested.

"Jed Casse. That's right. He still argues that something happened to her. He don't want to admit she was just usin' him because his mother warned him. Stella always was a bit wild. Mind you, she settled down a bit once she took to the religion but that didn't stop her from putting the moves on Rev. Jarvis. Knew each other, they did down in Calgary. Plain as the nose on your face what she was up to. I'm not surprised that Jed Casse couldn't see it. He's a nice boy is Jed, but a bit of a slow thinker. Good with his hands though. He can fix anything ," Rita explained.

"Well, people are funny. I don't think Stella had any family around here did she?" Dawn asked.

"Sure she did! Vince Dandurand is her brother! That's why she moved back up to Swan Hills after she divorced that no good Billy Picaski. Why she ever got involved with that man I'll never know. Them Picaskis all drank hard and turned mean. Nice enough when they're sober, mind."

"Could I have a pack of stamps, please, Rita?" Dawn asked so that it didn't seem like she was interrogating the postmaster. Not that Rita seemed to mind at all. The collecting and distributing of gossip was as much a part of her job as handing out the mail to Rita.

"Here you go, hon. That's $4.80 for the pack of ten. The price has gone up again. Now if you ask me it should be Vince Dandurand that should be after the police to find her. He being her brother and all holier than thou because he is an elder in that new church. It's his responsibility, eh? Blood's thicker than water, isn't it? Doesn't seem to give a fig that his sister's not been seen. Still I shouldn't be saying that. He's a good friend of your Nick's he is, so there must be some good in him. To be fair, Ivy Marintette said she saw Stella getting into a car with Billy Picaski that night. Drunk she was, according to Ivy. But Ivy's been a few bricks short of a load all her life so there is no tellin' if that's true."

"Well, thanks for the stamps, Rita. Please remember to bring your books in and I'll bring Robbie in to give you a personal autograph," Dawn promised.

"Well, that would be something! Nice meeting you, Janet. You hold onto that one now. And watch that Peter Lanzlow. He sure was all over Robbie like a rash in that movie Firebrand."

"Nice meeting you too, Rita and thanks for the advice," laughed Janet as the two women left hurriedly.

"Whew! That woman can talk!" Janet smiled shaking her head as they hurried up the street to meet their daughters.

"She sure can," Dawn agreed, "but I think now we have some information to share with Aliki."

The two women headed back to the ranch.

It was several days later that Aliki made the trip to Edmonton. The remains had been examined by the resident pathologist and samples had been sent out to various labs. Then the bones had gone through the process of being cleaned for Aliki's examination.

Aliki picked up her ID card with Andy Chen and met Dr. Ben Bernstein in the forensic labs.

"Dr. Pateas, nice to meet you again. We met at the California Conference two years ago. Your paper on the effects of frost on bone was most helpful," Bernstein said, using one hand for handshakes while the other pushed his thick glasses back up his nose.

"Dr. Bernstein, good to meet you again. I see you are chairing the symposium on recovery techniques this year. I hope to be in Chicago for the conference."

Chen moved restlessly at Aliki's side. He didn't want to stand here while two colleagues talked shop. Bernstein took the hint. "Come this way. I had the bones laid out for you this morning. I'll show you where everything is and then leave you to do your work."

After Bernstein had showed them around the lab, Aliki slipped into a lab coat, snapped down a plastic safety shield over her face, and pulled on a pair of plastic gloves. The protective gear, in this case, was more to meet lab safety regulations than in any fear of contamination. The cleaned bones had been carefully laid out in anatomical order on a metal table. Aliki nodded her appreciation at the good lab procedure.

"How long are you going to be?" Chen asked, sticking his hands in his pockets and looking at the bones with disinterest.

"I'll need at least the morning," Aliki stated, and Chen sighed.

"I'll be back later then, after lunch," the detective stated, eager to get out of the labs and have a smoke. He hated coming in here. The place reeked of death with an overlay of disinfectant.

Aliki pulled up a stool, picked up a tape measure and started to calculate height. The lengths of the femur, tibia and fibula bones indicated that the victim was about 5'6" to 5'9" in height. Aliki used Trotter's regression formulae for estimating living stature, which had an accuracy rate of plus or minus 2.99 cm. Totter had developed her charts based on some five thousand cadavers from the American military casualties from the Korean war and World War II. Her charts predicted the maximum living stature so the forensic anthropologist had to use a formula based on an estimate of age at death to work out the victim's estimated height.

The examination of the teeth had shown that the third molars were fully erupted yet still firmly imbedded in the alveoli and this put the victim most likely in her twenties. This was confirmed by the fact that in examining the skull, Aliki observed that the epiphyseal union was complete and yet there were no degenerative signs of old age.

She next turned her attention to the hip bones. The lateral flare of the iliac blades and the wide sacrum confirmed the indicators that Aliki had noted in the skull bones. The victim was female.

However, when the scientist checked for parturition she did not find the telltale dorsal pits near the symphyseal border of the pubi. It was unlikely that the woman had ever given birth.

Now came the very exacting examination of each bone one by one to establish time of death and possible cause. The hyoid bone, a "U" shaped bone that forms the supporting structure of the larynx, was shattered. Aliki had noticed the cracked ends were still attached by the stylohyoid ligaments to the styloid process of the temporal when the body was recovered.. Aliki knew this sort of break was in keeping with a strangulation.

She found no other indications of violence. The damage to the bone made by gnawing animals seemed to have mostly occurred after weathering. This indicated to Aliki that the body had been buried in the late fall, had frozen before there had been much deterioration, and had lain there all winter before the scavenger bugs and animals started their work in the decomposition process.

She had just started typing up her findings when Chen arrived. "What have you got, Aliki?" he asked.

Aliki clicked on Save and then turned and leaned back in her chair to look at the detective. " The victim is a woman, between the ages of twenty and thirty, although my guess would be late twenties. It is unlikely that she has had children. She was 5' 6"-5' 9" in height and suffered from lower back pain due to some worn disks. Probable cause of death was strangulation by hanging. There are no other signs of violence. My guess would be a suicide or possible dangerous foreplay if it wasn't for the fact that she was found in a shallow grave. She should be easy to ID from her dental records. There is a crown and several fillings. One other thing; the weathering would indicate that she was buried in the late fall."

Chen nodded. "Yeah, the bug department agrees," Chen said, referring to the recovery and classification the entomologist unit would have done. "They didn't find first generation larva or something so they figured the frost must have come right after she was buried."

"Do you have Stella Picaski's dental records?" Aliki asked, working her shoulders to get the kinks out. Leaning over examining tables for hours on end had taken its toll on her back.

"Yup, got them right here. They just came." Chen smiled, handing her an manilla envelope.

Aliki carried the dental records to the table, folded back the sheet so that only the skull was exposed and propped the diagrams of Picaski's dental arch up on the sheet covered pelvic girdle.

She slipped on gloves, and picking up a dental pick started to make her entries on a blank forensic record diagram of the dental arches. Half an hour's work proved pretty conclusively that the skeleton remains were Stella Picaski's.

"Looks like you've got a place to start in your investigation," Aliki stated, handing the results to Chen.

"Start nothing, we'll be making an arrest this afternoon. That coat she was lying on? It had the guy's name written on the clothing tag. The Rev Paul Jarvis. Seems Stella had a thing for him. He was probably jealous of her other boyfriend," sighed Chen, with a shrug.

Aliki frowned. "Andy, I wouldn't move too quickly on this one. I'm not convinced she was murdered."

"Why?" Chen asked sharply.

Aliki shrugged. "Nothing I can put my figure's just that you get to know after you have seen a lot of cases. This one lacked the violence that's all."

Chen snorted. "And after she was sure she was dead, she dug a hole for herself, laid out her lover's coat as a bed, lay down, and pulled the dirt over. Don't think so, Aliki. This one's murder one. I'll hold off on laying a murder charge but I am sure as hell going to hold Jarvis for questioning."

Hours later, having driven back to the ranch from Edmonton, Aliki crawled into bed beside Dawn. "You must be tired, Love," Dawn whispered, snuggling up to the woman she loved.

"Mmmm, not now. You feel so good. Have I told you yet today that I love you?" Aliki murmured sexily as she kissed and nuzzled Dawn's ear.

Dawn kissed Aliki, allowing the kiss to lengthen and show her mounting passion. "How did it go in Edmonton?"she asked softly, knowing her lover always need time to unwind after she had worked a case. Sometimes, Dawn would rather not know what her lover had seen and done but she knew that it helped Aliki to work through it.

"We got a positive ID. It's Stella alright. Strangled, most likely with the red cord that was around her neck." Aliki sighed, lying still in her partner's arms. "The coat she was lying on belongs to the Rev. Jarvis. He is being taken in for questioning. Seems Stella was pretty open about her attraction to him," she went on hesitantly.

"You aren't comfortable with that are you?" Dawn asked, sensing her lover's emotional discomfort.

"I think it is premature. It's nothing I can put my finger on, I just am not convinced this was a violent crime But she sure didn't bury herself...that's another factor too. Killers don't waste time with shallow graves. They usually find a hollow, dig it out a bit, drop in the body, and cover it up with the surrounding debris. This wasn't a deep grave, only enough to cover the body, but the body was laying out full length with her arms at her sides and the grave had been lined with Jarvis's coat and her face covered with his scarf. It was ...a burial of compassion not violence. I just don't get it"

Dawn recognized the signs. Dr. Bates, Aliki's supervisor and friend put it best; Aliki, he would say, is ten per cent scientist, and ninety per cent cop. Aliki bristled at the mere mention of her being anything but a forensic anthropologist but the truth was, she couldn't help meddling in police cases. "So what are you going to do?" Dawn smiled.

"Right now, I am going to forget all about it and make love to the beautiful woman beside me," Aliki stated closing the subject. Her teasing kisses moved from the soft, scented warmth of Dawn's throat to the hard tips of her nipples, while one hand slid down to feel the wet excitement of her lover. "Have you any idea how much I love and need you?'Aliki muttered.

The smaller woman shivered with anticipation. "I love and need you too," she murmured. Their love making was tender, a physical work of art created by two souls bonded physically, emotionally and spiritually as one. Later, they slept safely in each other's arms, each trusting the other to guard their soul.

"Freaky, the minister did it!" Robbie exclaimed cheerfully, as the four women walked along the river bank together the next day.

"I don't believe it," Dawn stated for the record. "He's not the type. What do you think, Janet?"

"I think it's possible but unlikely. If he did it, he is one very cool customer," Janet answered. "He was perfectly relaxed with us and politely honest about his views. No, I can't see him killing in passion. Now he might if he felt threatened or something...I don't know.

"What about this weird cult that Nick is involved in? Isn't that Jarvis's baby?" Robbie argued. "It's always the quiet, nice guy down the street who is the axe murderer."

Aliki snorted and shook her head at her sister. "Only in movies. Am I ever glad you are not a judge. You'd be crying, "Kill them all!" Nick is not in a cult. He is just taking a pretty hard line in his religious views. A lot of people do, sadly. As for the retreat, churches often have camps like that. It is not out of the ordinary."

"I think we should go up there and check it out. What about those ducks? Now that is pretty far out stuff," Robbie countered.

"She's got a point there, Aliki," Dawn admitted.

"Yeah, the ducks don't make sense," Aliki admitted, picking up a stone and sending it skipping six times across the water. Robbie picked up a stone immediately and sent it flying, one, two, three, four, plop. Aliki smirked.

Janet rolled her eyes and Dawn giggled. "I think Janet and I should go and talk to Nick again and see if he will introduce us to his friend, Vince Dandurand."

"And it wouldn't hurt if you two did go up to the retreat and look around," Dawn added as she bent, picked out a nice flat stone and sent it skipping eight times across the water. "It's all in the wrist, ladies." Aliki smiled proudly at Dawn and Robbie laughed.

"We are NOT investigating a murder here. I have done my bit and now it is up to the local police," Aliki stated.

There was a moment's silence while the other three woman looked at Aliki in disbelief. Aliki blushed, realizing that the others knew that now she had been called in on the case she would be unable to let it rest until the mystery had been solved.

"So when do we go?" Robbie smirked, crossing her arms and looking at her sister.

"Ari is taking the girls for a helicopter ride out to the oil fields this afternoon, so this would be a good day to go. The wedding is in just a couple of days so we don't want to leave it too late and disrupt any plans," the scientist reasoned.

"Aliki do you know the trail to take to Pine Ridge?" Dawn asked cautiously.

"Hey, I grew up here!" the taller woman protested, not liking Dawn questioning her ability in front of Robbie, who never missed an opportunity to tease.

"You be careful, Olive, and do what Aliki tells you," Janet warned her partner with a affectionate poke.

The actress's face transformed into a look of true despair as she pretended to cry on Janet's shoulder. "Our kid wants to play a fiddle for a living. What does it matter? Life is meaningless!"

The other three applauded. Janet gave her partner a quick hug as she laughed. "Just for that bit of bad acting, I am not going to buy you a ticket to see Ryan play at the Royal Thompson Hall someday."

After lunch, having waved goodbye to the their three girls as they took off in the helicopter with their uncle, the women went their separate ways. Aliki and Robbie packed knapsacks to hike up to the Church Camp on Pine Ridge and Janet and Dawn went to saddle two horses to ride out to the north forty where Nick was working, helping some of the hands fix fencing.

"I've got a bad feeling about this," Dawn admitted to Janet as they trotted their horses down the dirt road.

"What? About talking to Nick?" Janet asked, enjoying the opportunity to be out riding again.

"No, about Aliki's ability to find the camp." Dawn sighed. " I did go over the directions with her but she had that glazed look she gets when she has no idea what I am talking about. She is a wonderful woman with many talents but a sense of direction is not one of them. Aliki thinks in terms of road signs, not the third tree on the left."

Janet laughed. "I thought she got a medal for single-handedly catching a criminal in the Canadian Arctic!"

"Yeah, but I suspect they were both lost and just ran into each other. Aliki can't find her way across the park without asking directions," Dawn snorted.

"Well, if they are not back by dark we'll start to worry." Janet shrugged.

The women soon came to the spot where the men were working to replace some rotting fence posts. "Hi Nick," Dawn called. "We were just out for a ride and thought we'd pass by and say hello."

Nick looked back down the trail and then smiled broadly when he realized that Aliki and Robbie were not along on the ride. "Hi ladies. Good to see you. Bring the horses over here to graze a bit and we'll sit in the shade of the oak and take a break. I'm glad of the excuse to leave these young guys to finish this job." He laughed.

They settled down in the meadow and for a minute just enjoyed the blue sky and the chirping of the field birds. "Nick, I won't lie to you. We came here deliberately without our partners to ask you more about your church. Janet and I talked to Rev. Jarvis the other day and we thought he was a really decent man. We don't think he is a killer."

Nick's face clouded over and he looked close to tears. "This is awful. I have prayed about it. I understand that God is testing our faith but the Reformed Western Church was just starting to grow and Paul is such a great guy. Some of us are going to visit him again tonight," Nick stated.

"You saw him after he was questioned?" Janet asked.

"Yeah, Vince and I went over there as soon as we heard. Paul is pretty shook up. Naturally, he wasn't about to reveal any confidences that he has been told in Christian fellowship but he sort of told us that he'd had to let Stella know that their friendship was based on the love of God and not anything more," Nick stated blushing. "He said he knew nothing about Stella's death and he had no idea how Stella got his jacket and scarf. He said he hadn't worn them since last fall."

"Vince is very active in the Reformed Western Church, isn't he?" Dawn asked cautiously.

"Oh yeah, he really knows his Bible. Some of the congregation don't like him much because he is always going on about saving the environment and that doesn't always sit well with people working in oil and lumber. He's smart though. He really knows his stuff," Nick explained.

"Well, I'm all for anything we can do to save the environment," said Janet with a smile, as she picked a grass stem and nibbled on the end. "What are some of the things he has told you, Nick?"

"Well, like did you know that the Antarctic ice cap is melting far quicker than scientists had originally predicted? Places like Bangladesh, the Netherlands and even New York City are in grave danger of massive flooding in the next few years," Nick stated, getting excited and sitting up straighter.

"What?" Dawn asked in surprise.

Nick nodded. "It's true. I checked his information. It was all available on the net after the big international environmental conference in Europe. A lot of coastal planes will completely disappear by the year 2010. That's going to displace 200 million people. And at the same time, the oceans are impacting negatively on the prevailing winds. The deserts are growing and by 2025 three billion people will have to leave areas where there is a chronic water shortage. It's hard to believe that the end is not near. That's why it is so important to me that my family reaffirm their faith in Jesus," Nick explained earnestly.

"How come people don't know about this," Dawn asked. "Did you know, Janet?"

Janet nodded sadly. "Yes, I was aware of the effects of global warming but I hadn't realized how close we were to the crisis. I, like many, have unfortunately stopped listening to the warnings and are far more interested in the economy than our long term future. I have heard, however, that some scientist feel that the ice caps might not be so much thinning as they are moving farther apart." Janet turned and spoke to Nick. "I think I'd really like to speak to Vince. Where can we find him?"asked Janet, getting up and then offering her hand to Dawn to pull her up to her feet.

Nick jumped up and dusted off his backside. " He's been up on Pine Ridge at the church retreat for a few weeks. He came down last night and he said he'd be back tonight as well. He's taking his holiday time up there in order to help out doing some repairs. He is good with a hammer. And...well, you know...he's got some funny ways."

"Funny ways?" Dawn asked.

"Yeah, you'd understand, Dawn. He's got some Indian blood and he sorta feels he can help the environment by doing rituals and stuff, you know." Nick blushed, moving from one foot to the other nervously.

"No, I don't," Dawn answered stubbornly. "What sort of rituals?

Nick went an even brighter red. "Well you know, we have sunrise prayers, and we plant trees, and pray outside, you know," he answered vaguely, waving his hand to indicate it wasn't important.

"How about sacrifices? Do you ever make sacrifices?" Janet asked point blank.

Nick looked very uncomfortable. "Not me. Rev Jarvis doesn't believe that the practices of the old testament are applicable today. But some have their own way of seeing things. You know, some see God more universally, sort of like mother nature."

The two women looked at Nick in confusion. He either knew a lot more than he was saying or he had no clear idea what was going on up on Pine Ridge, Dawn thought. Knowing Nick like she did, she suspected the later. Nick wasn't dumb by any means but he tended to accept things at face value.

"Well, thanks for your time, Nick. We'd better not keep you from your work any longer." Dawn smiled, giving Nick a sisterly hug.

"But I was hoping to talk to you a little more about your faith and trying to get you back on the Lord's path," Nick said disappointedly.

Dawn looked at him with concern. "Nick, I am gay. Aliki is gay and so are Janet and Robbie. We don't see that as a sin. God made us what we are just as he made you. We do not accept the few references in the old testament that Christian fanatics pull out to justify their bigotry anymore than we accept human sacrifice, selling children into slavery, marrying more than one wife, or seeking revenge for a wrong, all things that are referred to as okay in the Old Testament. You are welcome to your faith. Faith is a positive element in life, but blind bigotry is not. I will not tolerate my family, friends, or myself being judged and found wanting by a nasty, narrow religious view that I can not and will not accept," Dawn stated kindly but firmly. "Let it drop, Nick, before your views tear the family apart."

The two women mounted their horses and rode away leaving Nick with a lot to think over. Dawn sighed. "Nick's facts on the environment were really scary. It really makes you wonder why the President of the United States refused to sign the international fresh air bill."

"For the same reason, they have never been able to bring in gun control laws; the will of the people does not rule, lobby groups do. Just like the new hydrogen engines will never get off the drawing boards until the oil runs out. The oil companies will see to that," Janet responded bitterly. "And by the sound of things it will be too late."

The two women were silent for a minute as they fretted over the future that their children might have to face. Then Dawn gave herself a mental shake. There was no use worrying about decisions that at the moment she had no control over. Once she was back in Toronto, she meant to get more actively involved in trying to push for environmental controls. "What do you think about heading up to Pine Ridge?" Dawn asked, as they headed down the path.

"We wouldn't have time, would we?" Janet asked, her interest caught by the prospect of visiting the church camp and meeting Vince Dandurand.

"We'd have lots of time if we cut through the swamps and head up Pine Ridge itself on one of the deer trails. That cuts a good four miles off the hike," Dawn said with a smile. "I just didn't send Aliki and Robbie that way because they would have been sure to get lost and sink into the muskeg."

"Let's go, then," agreed Janet with a big grin. Dawn led the way across the meadow and they forded the river to the area of swamp beyond. Carefully, she picked a safe way through the tall grasses and bullrushes for the horses to travel. Janet could see how Aliki and Robbie would have had to make a big loop around on higher ground and then cut down again to Pine Ridge. Her hero was going to be pretty tired by the time they returned this afternoon. Maybe they would meet up and then they could ride double back to the ranch.

A little over an hour later, they galloped their horses up the last embankment of birch trees and trotted along the ridges back until they arrived at the church camp. It wasn't much really. A small meeting hall with walls half of board and batten and half of screen. At one end was a large, rough fireplace and at the other a blackboard. "Jesus Saves" was written on it in pink chalk outlined with blue. There were also half a dozen log cabins and what looked like a small cookhouse. Some distance away, was a row of outhouses. It was like being the marshal riding down the main street of a ghost town, Janet thought.

They tied their horses to a pole at the cookhouse's front porch and looked around. No sign of a horse or the three wheel all-terrain vehicles that were sometimes used to bring cargo into the camp. "The doors were all locked and the fireplaces don't look like they have been lit in awhile," Janet reported to Dawn, who had been looking at the ground and had checked out the outhouses. "Someone has been here though, because there is a new patch on the roof over there and someone has put a new latch and padlock on cabin number three. Otherwise everything seems in order. I don't see any evidence of a nature cult or sacrifices."

Dawn nodded. "I don't think anyone has been living here since last fall but someone has been working up here. It seems funny that Vince would make that trek in and out every day when he could just stay up here. Aliki and Robbie haven't been here either. No one has used the outhouses in a while and there are no fresh footprint. In this damp soil, they should be quite clear. The only footprints are a man's and they weren't made today. Maybe yesterday or the day before. The edges are starting to crumble."

Janet looked around with serious green eyes. " Maybe he doesn't like staying up here all by himself, and of course with Jarvis being in so much trouble, he might feel he needs to stay in town. Do you think Aliki and Robbie are lost?"

"Probably. Do you want to take the long path around and see if we can find them? It might get us back late but I am sure that Baba will enjoy cooking for the girls. The big old guy can't miss an opportunity to show off for his grandchildren." Dawn laughed.

Janet considered. She knew that Reb would take it in her stride, and Mac would know that her mother was safe in the bush, but Ryan would fret until they returned. Still, she'd fret more if they returned without Aliki and Robbie. Baba knew they had talked about going up to Pine Ridge so he would not be concerned. Heading back by the longer route seemed like a good plan. "Let's go," she agreed.

Aliki and Robbie had hiked up the river meadow too, earlier that day. But they had traveled due west up the valley and into the deep firs of the Swan Hills. Then they had turned north-west and made their way along a series of trails that crossed and re-crossed over the undulating ridges of this pristine wilderness. By noon, they had climbed to the top of a high ridge and had turned west again, following along its back in search of the church retreat.

"Oh oh,"Aliki said as the two hikers came out onto a rocky point that had a clear view of the surrounding area.

"Oh, oh what?" asked Robbie, shifting her shoulders to settle her knapsack more comfortably on her back.

Aliki pointed to a ridge off in the distance. "We should be over there. I must have taken a wrong turn."

"Oh shit," Robbie observed.

"We've probably come five or so kilometers out of our way," Aliki sighed.

"Double shit," Robbie added, taking out her water bottle for a drink.

"I think we are lost," Aliki concluded.

"And swimming in the cesspool," Robbie concluded. "We should have sent Dawn and Janet out here. They know what they are doing in the back bush."

"Nah, they had to do the sensitive talk stuff. We aren't any good at that," admitted Aliki, frowning as she looked around for a possible trail to the distant ridge.

"So what are we good for?"Robbie snorted.

"Getting ourselves into fucking messes," Aliki muttered in frustration.

"I was afraid of that," Robbie sighed.

Part 4

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