Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The characters and events of the Forensic Series belong to the author.
Travelers: My thanks to the my many readers. I enjoy very much traveling with you through places, events and lives. My praises to my beta readers Lisa and Inga who do all the hard work and never complain and to Susan, who makes sure we all stay on track.
Note: These stories do interrelate and are best read in the order they are posted.
This is a new murder mystery series which is a spin off of Seasons: Spring Rains. It is about the life and work of the forensic anthropologist, Doctor Alberta Pateas. Travelers, welcome to the bare bones of murder!
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.
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.
The inside of the cabin was surprisingly nice. The log walls had been polished so that they glowed golden in the fire light. Pretty curtains framed the windows and colourful rag rugs created various living spaces. The right wall had a large stone fireplace at one end around which home crafted log furniture was clustered. The fabric on each of the down filled cushions matched the curtains. Directly across on the left wall was a small kitchen. Open, pegged shelves were lined with bright coloured tin cans for storing. There was an ice box, a wood stove, and a hand pump for the well water, and a wood table and chairs sat near by. At the back of the cabin a big double bed dominated the left side and a large pine chest the other. A ladder on the right led to a loft that covered the back half of the cabin. From what Alberta could see it too was a sleeping area. Curtains, now tied back against the side walls, could be pulled across to give privacy upstairs and to the bedroom area down stairs too.
"Cozy," Alberta said, as she turned to close the door and noted a line of hooks from which she could hang her coat. She slipped out of her jacket, hung it beside Dawn's and came over to where Dawn stood in the kitchen.
"I just heated some pork and beans and I've got some flat bread cooking in the oven," explained Dawn. "I dusted and put some sheets on the bed. Ahhh, I thought we could share again. The ones upstairs are sure to be damp and cold after sitting so long. I mean, if you want, I could make one up for you..."
"No that's fine," answered Alberta, trying her best to sound and act indifferent. She wasn't. She was damn pleased to get another chance to share a bed with Dawn. The woman fit perfectly against her body. There was no harm in SHARING a bed. And Dawn knew her heart belonged to another, so what could go wrong?
They ate at the table and Dawn chatted away while Alberta added a comment now and again to keep up her end of the conversation. Then they washed up the few dishes in the pan of hot water that Dawn had left heating on the stove. Tired after a long day in the saddle, they retired early, each clad in their long johns. Hardly romantic wear! Alberta thought, but somehow Dawn manages to look cute in anything.
They lay for a minute on opposite sides of the bed. Then Alberta reached out a long arm and scooped a willing Dawn to her side. "That's better," she said, and the two drifted off to sleep.
Alberta stood under a massive pine and looked up into the swaying branches. "Some banking system!" she snorted in disgust.
"Well, we didn't have much! Just what we made on the trap lines or guiding. And we are fifty kilometers from the nearest road. Your spread is the closest to us and you are about forty kilometers out of Swan Hills. For us the town was a five day trip. We just didn't go very often."
"So how did Mike learn to fly?" Alberta asked, as she tried to figure the best way to get into the tree.
"Mike left to work in Swan Hills after a few years up here. He got a job at the local air strip and one thing just led to the other, I guess. One day, about two years later, this small plane landed in the lake about a half mile from here and it was Mike coming home. I'd have been about Mackenzie's age then. I was glad to see him back because I'd had to go with Uncle Joe to check the lines while Mike was away. It was really hard snow-shoeing for kilometers through the bush."
So in only two years Mike was able to pay for flying lessons and buy a plane. All from a job working around an air strip. Something is not right here. "How did Trapper feel about Mike going away and learning to be a bush pilot?" the police officer in Alberta asked.
"Oh, he thought it was a great idea! He kind of gave Mike the idea. He said it would make it easier to get in and out of the area," smiled Dawn.
Alberta frowned. Why would a guy who wanted to live the simple life need a plane? Still, inconsistency in thought was a very human trait. Alberta let that train of thought go and went back to concentrating on the tree. "I think if I swing up into this branch I can climb up from branch to branch along this side. The branches seem very evenly spread. Your Uncle must have been part monkey."
"He was pretty wiry. You want me to try? I'm a good climber."
Albert looked down at Dawn. One eyebrow arched up in disbelief. "You are also half the size of a regular human being. You'll never reach the branches!"
"Hey! I'm not that short! I come up to your shoulder!" Alberta laughed and Dawn poked her playfully. Then with a short run, Alberta jumped, grabbed hold of a lower branch and swung up into the tree. "The hollow is about half way up," called Dawn from below.
"Okay," grunted Alberta, as she carefully climbed from branch to branch. Sure enough a large hole that had once been made by a pileated woodpecker appeared between the branches above her. Reaching up, she fished around inside and pulled out a weathered green plastic box secured with a small brass lock. She dropped it down to Dawn, who caught it easily and then slowly made her way back down the tree.
She had climbed about half way down, when she noticed another, smaller hole in the trunk half way on the other side. Holding onto a branch for support, she reached around and stuck her hand in and pulled out a large, sticky mass that she let fall to the ground below. Almost immediately, Alberta found herself surrounded by bees. Realizing her danger, she yelled a warning to Dawn, let go of the branch and dropped.
Dawn helped her to her feet and the two woman ran for the cabin, Alberta limping noticeably. An angry swarm of bees was right on their tail. They rushed inside and slammed the door, then hit and swatted at the remaining bees that had followed them in.
Dawn had got a number of bites on her hands and she quickly sucked out each of the stingers. Then, looking up, she saw Alberta standing in the kitchen looking rather stunned. Dawn walked over to her. "Are you alright?"
Alberta turned to look at her. One side of her face and her neck was a mass of stings and was swollen and turning purple. "Alberta! Come here, love, let me help." Dawn led her friend over to the bed and got her lying down, then she started sucking the stingers out one at a time.
"This is not good," Alberta moaned, as Dawn's warm, soft lips sucked at a sensitive spot next to her ear.
"Shhh," whispered Dawn, into Alberta's ear, sending shivers through Alberta's body that had nothing to do with the pain from the bee stings.
"I feel...ohhh!" ended Alberta, as Dawn's lips worked next to the corner of her mouth. "Were there that many bites?" she asked, forcing herself not to think about Dawn's body leaning over hers.
"Mmmmm," Dawn murmured, as she now started sucking on the fleshy base of Alberta's thumb.
"I probably need a shot of adrenalin," the scientist observed, fighting to think logically as every nerve end in her body kicked into high gear.
"Adrenalin, huh?" answered Dawn. "I think I can arrange that."
Alberta groaned as the small figure pulled away from her. Then her eyes widened as Dawn stood in front of her and slowly took off her shirt. "What are you doing?" Alberta whispered hoarsely.
"Giving you an adrenalin rush," Dawn smiled, as she removed her bra. "Is it working?"
Alberta stared at the perfect breasts and the lean hard stomach muscles in front of her. "Oh yeah, it's working," she gasped, as she watched Dawn slip out of her blue jeans. "Dawn, we can't...you don't..."
"Yes, I do. Right here, right now, and with you," murmured Dawn, straddling Alberta's hips and leaning down to kiss the scientist gently. "I know we don't have a future. I'm not asking for one, Aliki, just love me, here and now, please! I want it to be you!"
Dawn's body arched as Alberta sat up and pulled a hard nipple into her mouth. Large, strong hands slipped under her panties and cupped her tight backside. "Oh Aliki, oh God," she moaned, as she felt herself rolled onto her back and the powerful body of the woman she knew she loved claimed her.
Alberta held a cool face cloth to her burning cheek and neck as Dawn carefully dabbed ointment on each sting on her hands. "Okay, let me see your face," she said.
Alberta moved the face cloth aside and let Dawn's gentle hands spread the soothing ointment over her lumpy skin. "I like your other treatment better," she observed, and Dawn smiled and leaned forward and kissed her softly. Alberta's hand moved up a shapely leg disappearing under her own shirt that Dawn now wore as a housecoat. "Mmmm, if you keep that up, Doctor Pateas, I'll never get this job completed."
The hand stopped and a worried look crossed Alberta's face. "Dawn...."
"No! No regrets, Aliki!" The smaller woman picked up Alberta's big, capable hand and played with her fingers nervously. "I loved you before you even came home. Baba has told me so many stories about his wonderful daughter. I used to look at that picture that Mackenzie has and fantasize about making love to you. I know you love another. I know your world is at the other end of the nation and so different from mine. I'm not asking for anything, sweetheart, but to share your bed while you are here."
Alberta reached up and pulled Dawn back down on the bed. She couldn't get enough of this woman.
It wasn't until the next morning that they finally got around to opening the box. Dawn prepared a breakfast of pancakes with wild honey dripped over them, having found a large section of comb at the base of the tree that morning. Alberta sat at the table and used a knife to whittle through the plastic eyes that the lock was fastened through.
Inside was about a hundred dollars in cash, a safety deposit key, a Vancouver bank book, a list of investments, a will, and the deeds to the land that Trapper owned. Alberta opened up the pass book. Trapper's account held close to fifty thousand dollars. She read quickly through the will. If this was the only will, Trapper had left everything to Dawn. But why not to Mike too?
She looked quickly though the deeds, satisfying herself that they were the same parcels of land that she had found listed at the Land Registrar's Office. Lastly, she looked at the summary of Trapper's investment portfolio and her eyes widened. Trapper was worth over ten million dollars!
"Did you find out anything interesting?" asked Dawn, bringing the plates of pancakes over to sit on the table..
"Yeah, I've been sleeping with a millionaire," stated Alberta, handing the list of investments over to Dawn.
Dawn read through the papers slowly, while Alberta ate her breakfast and watched Dawn's eyes getting bigger and bigger. "This can't be true! Uncle Joe couldn't have this sort of money! Where would he get it from?"
That was the question, Alberta mused. It was hard to imagine that he could have accumulated that sort of money legally. "Eat your breakfast. It's getting cold," was all she said to Dawn.
Dawn paced back and forth looking distressed while Alberta poked into every nook and cranny of the cabin, trying to find anything else of importance. She wasn't expecting to find anything but it was important to do things right.
"I can't believe this! Why would Uncle Joe not include Mike in the will. It wasn't fair!" she argued.
Alberta smiled from inside the linen chest. That was so like Dawn, to be upset with Mike being cut out of the will and so disinterested in the fact that she was now a millionaire. Dawn really was a wonderful woman. She was going to make someone a special partner. A pain shot through Alberta at that thought and realization hit her like a thunder bolt. I don't want anyone else with Dawn! I think I've fallen in love with her! But how could I when I love Janet? ' It doesn't work that way Alberta,' she could hear Janet saying, 'Everyone has just one soulmate.' Had she been that wrong about her feelings?! If she was, how could she trust her reactions now? And how could she tell Dawn she was interested in her after she had made it quite clear that she wasn't! It would look like she was after her money!"
"Did you find something in there, Aliki?" asked Dawn.
Alberta liked the way Dawn said her name. She liked too that Dawn had started to call her that. She didn't want others doing so, only Dawn and Baba. "Ahhh, no, no,...I was just thinking. Now that you are rich, people are really going to suck up to you and Mackenzie, Dawn. You'll have to be really careful. I'll have Baba get you a good lawyer and accountant. You listen to what Baba tells you about people too. He is a good judge of character. I don't want to see you or Mackenzie hurt!" fretted Alberta, backing out of the linen chest.
Dawn walked over and wrapped her arms around Alberta and Alberta held her close, warding off imaginary gigolos. "Thank you for worrying about me," she whispered, and Alberta bent and kissed the white-blond head.
They ended up in bed again, each painfully aware that their time together was limited. In the morning, they would head south-east, cutting across the corner of the reserve land and ending up down on the Pateas' lower ranges in two days time. Their love making was bitter sweet; a journey of discovery and a good bye.
Alberta led the horses out from the shed and securely locked the doors shut. This place would make a wonderful summer retreat. Maybe Dawn would rent it to me some time. Baba would love it here. Dawn brought the various saddle bags out and Alberta strapped them in place. Dawn came out and locked the door. For a minute, she stood and looked out over the country below. "I don't ever want to give this place up, Alberta. It is my home and the place where you first made love to me."
"You won't have to give it up, Dawn, if those investments and the will are for real. You know, if you wanted, you could run a road west to join up with Logger's Road. Then your place would be only be a few hours drive from the our ranch.
Green eyes looked up into blue. "Would you visit me here sometimes, Alberta?" she asked anxiously.
Blue eyes looked back with a gentle intensity. "Count on it," she said, realizing in so doing she was making a commitment that she wasn't sure she understood.
Dawn smiled and, hopping off the porch, she swung up into her saddle. "I've missed Mackenzie," she said honestly.
Alberta smiled as she trotted up beside Dawn, leaning over to place a kiss on her cheek. "Me too."
They traveled through the boreal forest now, occasionally fording cold mountain streams or halting as Dawn pointed out a white tail deer or an elk grazing on the new green shoots. They were traveling steadily down hill and by noon it was quite warm and the black flies were starting to buzz around them. Dawn came alongside Alberta and carefully rubbed insect repellent on her exposed skin.
Blackflies were barely a speck in the air but they swarmed in their hundreds once the air warmed. Their buzzing and nasty bites made traveling through dense bush absolutely miserable. The blackfly season just disappeared in time for the mosquitoes to appear. Fortunately, the sudden cold front and late snow a few days before had reduced their numbers considerably. By late afternoon, the riders had cleared the underbrush and out in the sun the pesky blackflies disappeared.
"So what do we do next?" asked Dawn, as they trotted along side by side.
"I think we'd better get some paperwork in order and then fly over to Prince Rupert and see what we can learn abut your Uncle's other life. I suspect that those 'hunting trips' with the American were actually business trips to Prince Rupert. Do you know anything about your family?"
"Not much. My parents were teachers. They were killed in a car crash on the way to a show one night. My brother, Mike was twelve years older than I was. I remember that he and dad never got on well together. But Dad and Mike always used to look forward to flying up to visit Uncle Joe. I always wanted to go too, but they said I was too young. I never met Uncle Joe until he came to my parents' funeral and took Mike and me back with him. Uncle John I'd heard mentioned, usually in hushed, angry voices, but I never met him or knew anything about him. I thought he lived in Vancouver too, or at least nearby, but I'm not sure why I have that impression," Dawn explained.
"Did you like your brother?" Alberta asked, as she pulled on the left rein to turn her horse to follow Dawn's across a stream.
"I guess. He never had much to do with me because we were so different in age. He was nice enough but didn't talk much. He and Uncle Joe seemed to understand each other. They didn't argue like Dad and Mike did. I think Mike knew he couldn't push Uncle Joe's buttons like he did Dad's. Uncle Joe was fair but he was strict."
They made good time and by late afternoon they had set up their camp in a grove of aspen trees near the Freeman River. Dawn saw to the horses tonight and Alberta roasted potatoes in the hot ashes and, cutting then open, filled them with melted cheese, bacon and onion. They ate side by side, enjoying the sensation of being free to express with their body language their attraction to each other.
Once the meal was over, they washed the dishes in the river and then walked hand in hand along the river bank. It was their horses, galloping in a panic past them, that gave them their first indication that something was very wrong. A half minute later, the massive Grizzly lumbered out of the forest. Almost a thousand pounds of well co-ordinated muscle, the huge carnivore sniffed the air and reared onto its hind legs, towering nearly eight feet above the bracken.
Alberta pushed Dawn behind her and pulled her hunting knife from its sheaf. If it charged them, she would have one chance to kill it as it wrapped her in its powerful arms and crushed her to death or ripped her throat out. It didn't matter as long as she stopped it and Dawn got away. Slowly, the two women backed away from the vicious predator.
The animal dropped to all fours and sniffed disinterestedly at the ground. Alberta held her breath as they continued to back slowly away. Then the massive bear roared and charged across the ground at an incredible speed. Alberta braced herself. The next instant, Dawn was in front of her, blowing a whistle and waving her coat around over her head as she jumped up and down. The Grizzly started and veered to the right, galloping back into the trees. For awhile, they could hear crashing in the bush, then nothing.
The two women looked at each other, their eyes wide with terror. "You scared the hell out of me," Alberta stated, and wrapped Dawn in her own version of a bear hug.
"You'd have let that bear kill you to save me," protested Dawn, from her favourite place nestled under Alberta's chin.
"How did you know that bear was going to be scared off?" asked Alberta.
"I didn't. It was a long shot but it sometimes works. A whistle is a sound they have never heard before and they are sometimes unwilling to take on something they don't recognize. It must be a young male trying to establish a territory. Had it been a female with cubs or a male in heat, we wouldn't have stood a chance."
"You'd have let that bear kill you to save me," Alberta echoed Dawn's words with a kiss to the top of the shorter woman's head.
"Come on, we'd better get out of here. That bear will be back, you can count on it!" They packed quickly, carrying what they could and hiding their saddles some distance away in the hopes they would be able to recover them at a later date. Then, they sloshed down stream for a half mile so there wouldn't be a scent trail before crossing to the opposite side of the stream and trekking on. Their legs and feet were freezing cold despite their waterproof hiking boots, and the packs they carried were awkward and heavy. By now their horses would be half way back to the barn on the lower ranges. They had a long walk ahead of them.
They had walked all night. Alberta's mind had pretty well disconnected from her body and she was moving ahead be sheer willpower as the sun broke over the trees behind them. "We could probably risk a stop if you want," Dawn gasped out.
"No, if I stop I don't think I can get moving again. Let's push on until one of us cannot go on any longer and then we'll make a camp.
It was about ten that morning, as they staggered along the bank of the river, that they heard a shout and the sound of horses galloping towards them. Alberta helped Dawn off with her pack and then lowered her own to the ground as her family came riding up.
Mackenzie leapt off her horse and wrapped her mother in a big hug. Then she signed, "The horses came back! We were so worried. We started off after you as soon as there was light in the sky."
Nick was looking down at Alberta's splotchy purple and red neck and cheek. "What the hell have you been up to, Sister?" he asked, pushing his hat back on his head to get a better look.
"I got stung by bees," Alberta admitted unwillingly.
"Hell, it looks more like someone gave you a bunch of h..."
"Enough talk," cut in Georgeos Pateas, giving Nick a look that slid meaningfully over to Mackenzie. "Nick, you see to getting the bags tied on your horse. Ari, you go find the girls' saddles and keep your rifle handy. Mackenzie, you ride double with Alberta and Dawn you climb up behind me. Hurry now. My daughters need a hot bath and a decent sleep! We need to get back to the cabins on the lower range."
Georgeos' use of 'daughters' was not lost on Alberta. The old man realizes and is letting me know he is willing to accept Dawn into the family! Alberta thought with a smile.
The family obeyed their father's instructions and by noon the two women had bathed and were curled up in chairs telling Mackenzie and Georgeos about their adventures and what they had learned. "So, my adopted daughter learns she is a millionaire and my blood has learned nothing and sticks her hand in a honey bee nest!" roared Georgeos with laughter.
Alberta blushed and looked at Dawn who sat opposite it her with Mackenzie curled at her feet, her head on her mom's lap. I want to be over there! Alberta thought.
"Well, we did have fresh honey for the pancakes the next morning, thanks to my sacrifice," Alberta laughed.
Baba snorted. "A feeble excuse. Now you two need to rest. You will need to tell the story again when Ari gets back this evening. Come, Mackenzie, you can help Baba prepare a family dinner."
The field cabins were very basic. There were two bunk houses and a cook house with a lounge room. Dawn and Alberta walked self-consciously over to the smaller bunk house that had been temporarily designated for the ladies. Inside, there were two bunk beds down each side and a small potbelly wood stove in the middle. Alberta shoved the iron bolt in place and walked over to Dawn. She took the smaller woman in her arms and kissed her gently. "Sleep with me. No one can get in without knocking and I think we can count on Baba to keep Mackenzie busy," Alberta smiled.
"He knows doesn't he?" Dawn frowned, biting her lip. "Will he be angry?"
"Only with me for taking advantage of you," Alberta sighed, kissing Dawn's forehead.
Dawn laughed. "You didn't take advantage of me! I almost had to rape you to get you to notice me!"
"Want to try again?" asked Alberta, lifting Dawn up into her arms and carrying her over to lower her onto the bed.
"I think I can make the good doctor beg for mercy," whispered Dawn, pulling Alberta into bed with her.
Ari arrived just as Dawn and Alberta were walking back to the cook house. He had found their saddles with little difficult following their directions but had not seen the Grizzly, although their camp site had been ramsacked.
Baba and Mackenzie had made baked potatoes, a large Greek salad and t-bone steaks for dinner followed by a choice of apple or blueberry pie. The family sat down together and Baba thanked the Lord for protecting his girls and providing their meal before they all dug in hungrily.
Mackenzie sat between Dawn and Alberta and beamed with happiness as the family laughed, teased and ate for several hours. Later, they sat around the stove and talked about the mystery of the crash and Trapper's apparent wealth.
"I always wondered how Mike could afford that plane. Trapper must have bought it for him," observed Ari.
In the corner, Nick roared in frustration and Mackenzie laughed. "She's won six games of checkers in a row!
Everyone laughed and Baba got out his hand accordion and started to play. Soon the boys were up dancing, joined by a handkerchief that Baba had given them. Then Ari asked Mackenzie to dance and Nick Dawn. They rotated around until Baba declared that he needed a break. Dawn took Mackenzie to settle for the night in the bunk house and Alberta and her brothers went to check on the horses.
Once each horse had been fed and watered, Ari said good night and gave his sister on last hug. "It is wonderful to have you home, Alberta. Don't stay away so long next time! I hope to be married in September and I want you there."
"Count on it, Ari," Alberta promised, giving him a kiss. It would be an excuse to come back and see Dawn and Mackenzie. I could come home at Christmas this year too, she thought.
Nick had gone ahead to pick up a thermos of coffee in the cook house before heading to bed. He found Dawn sitting on the rail outside the bunk house and headed over that direction. Dawn was a beautiful woman and he had enjoyed the feel of her in his arms this evening when he had danced with her.
"Hi," he said, mounting the steps. "Penny for your thoughts."
Dawn laughed. "I was just waiting for Alberta."
"Ahhh, my brilliant sister and the apple of my father's eye!" he laughed. "Its good to see her again. She hasn't changed, still the old sobersides she always was."
"Alberta can be very funny!" protested Dawn, checking the unreasonable anger that she felt at the slight.
"Not as entertaining as me!" bragged Nick, with a wolfish grin as he stepped closer. "There is a dance at the hall the end of this month. Would you like to go, Daw?. I thought we cut a good rug together tonight," he teased, taking Dawn's hand and dancing across the porch with her.
An arm shot out of the darkness and clamped onto Nick's wrist. "No, she doesn't want to go to the dance with you," Alberta said quietly.
"Hey, lighten up, sis! What are you, her mother?" protested Nick , losing some of his boyish humour.
"No, her lover, Nick," Alberta stated openly.
Nick's eyes got big and he looked from Alberta to Dawn and back again. His mouth opened, it closed, it opened again. "Oh, ahhh, I didn't know you were...that you two...sorry!" he stuttered and made a quick retreat to the other bunk house. There was silence on the porch.
"I could have handled it a bit more diplomatically, Alberta," suggested Dawn.
Alberta kicked at the porch post with her boot. "It's not my business who you date," she muttered. "But shit, not my brother, for God's sakes!"
"No, I think you effectively ended any chance of that," she giggled.
Alberta stood stiffly looking out across the dark paddock. "Did you want to go out with him?" she asked with difficulty.
Warm hands stroked up her back. "No. I only want to be with you," Dawn whispered. "Hey, let's go over and say good night to Baba before we call it a evening, okay?" asked Dawn, not wanting to make Alberta feel trapped by her love for the quiet scientist.
She felt Alberta relax. "I'm sorry. You're right, I should have let you handle it." She smiled sheepishly. "I guess I was jealous."
"Jealous? Really?" laughed Dawn, with sparkling eyes. "I like that trait in you. Come on."
They walked over to the cookhouse hand in hand and, much to Dawn's surprise, Alberta did not let go of her hand when they entered the cookhouse and found Baba, quietly reading while he had his last cup of tea. He looked up with pride and happiness. "So how is my daughter the police-scientist going to solve this mystery?" he asked.
Alberta pulled out a chair for Dawn and then one for herself. She sat down and considered. "I think we need to find out more about Dawn's family and Trapper's finances. That will mean a trip over to Prince Rupert."
Baba nodded. "Dawn, you must trust Alberta to help you. You are a lovely, intelligent woman but you don't know too much about the world. Word will get out and then you will see that people will suddenly want to be your friend or suitor."
"One already did!" snarled Alberta under her breath.
"What?!" questioned Baba in surprise.
Dawn put her hand on Alberta's and rubbed her thumb gently over the warm skin. "Nick asked me to go to the dance with him at the hall. Alberta didn't like that," Dawn explained.
Baba laughed. "That is my Nick. A fine, good boy but not the brains that God gave a billy-goat! Now, Sweety, you run along because I need to talk to my daughter here."
Dawn smiled at Alberta and the taller woman rolled her eyes. With a last pat to her lover's hand she left Alberta to Baba's mercy. "So?" he asked.
"So." Alberta echoed, playing with her mug.
"So I like this girl. You like her too. She likes you. So, I ask what is the problem?!"
"No problem, Baba. Dawn and I are lovers but we both realize that it is a relationship that isn't going anywhere. We live in different worlds."
"You sleep with her but you don't offer her a life! If my sons acted in such a manner, I would horse whip them! Did I raise my children to act like cattle in the field? Do I not already live with the shame of Yirgos wild ways? You think I do not realize that Mackenzie is my grandchild?! I will not have this, Alberta!
Alberta stood up, shaking with emotion. "My life, Baba. My way. Dawn is a grown woman and I made it quite clear where I stood. She chose to have a relationship with me! This is NOT your business!"
Baba stood and glared back at his daughter. "NOT under MY roof, Aliki!"
Silence. "Very well, not under your roof," Alberta conceded. Baba turned on his heel and walked out.
Alberta sank weak-kneed to the chair. She had known that Baba was not going to be pleased but she had not expected this. She'd been away too long. She'd forgotten how honourable her father was. Shit, if he thinks I'm immoral, how would he ever deal with the whole truth about Yirgos?
Dawn slept well into the morning. When she did stagger sleepily out on the porch of the sleeping cabin, she found Alberta and Mackenzie inventing their own version of the musical ride in the paddock with Baba sitting on the rail cheering them on.
Smiling, she walked over and climbed up beside the old man. "Good morning, Dawn. You slept well?"
"Yes, Baba and you?" she smiled.
"No, I worry." The old man sighed in frustration.
"Why, Baba?" asked Dawn, looking at Georgeos with real concern
"I do not like the way my daughter has treated you," he growled.
Dawn looked uneasy and a blush rose in her face. "Because we are gay, Baba?"
"No! Because she is unwilling to make a commitment to you. It is not honourable! I am ashamed of her. She was raised better. Is it not hard enough that you raise Yirgos' child by yourself?!"
Dawn was so startled that she almost fell off the fence. "Baba, you know that Mackenzie's father was Yirgos?!"
Georgeos rolled his eyes. "Am I senile? One look at those eyes and I knew I was looking at my grandchild. Dawn, is it because you were with her brother that Alberta hesitates?"
"No, Baba!" Should she tell him? Yes, he had a right to know if he realizes Mackenzie is his grandchild. "I adopted Mackenzie. Her mother was a Salish woman called Dorothy Seka-Kinyan. She died of cancer when Mackenzie was three, just before Yirgos was killed."
"Did Yirgos know he had a child?" Baba asked, pain written on his face.
"Yes, he would visit them often," Dawn stated. Please don't ask me anything more, Baba!
"You tell me the truth, Dawn. A father needs to know," stated Georgeos quietly, watching Alberta and Mackenzie doing figure eights on horse back.
"I don't know all the truth, Baba. Dorathy was attracted to Yirgos' wild ways but she was also afraid of him. The Shaman had told her that a ghost haunted Yirgos' soul. The European, Baba, they don't notice the Indians but the People they watch, they listen and they know far more about us than we do them."
"This ghost. Is it the same one that haunts my daughter's soul?" Baba asked quietly.
Wow! This man is incredible! "Yes, I think so. How did you know, Baba?"
"Back then, she was very moody. She would go to that girl's grave. I should have talked to Aliki, but I thought my daughter's... ways...had driven the poor girl to suicide. I was very upset with her. Then she left."
"Oh, no, Baba! Alberta would never...no! She hardly knew Betty Narnick! No, she just felt responsible because she had known the girl was upset and she felt she should have done more to help her! Alberta never hurt her, Baba! Never!" protested Dawn.
The old man fell silent watching his daughter ride around and around, laughing and teasing his beautiful, silent granddaughter. What secret does Mackenzie hold with her silence? he wondered. And how many more secrets are there for me yet to know?
Baba walked into the barn, where Mackenzie and Alberta were seeing to the horses. "Mackenzie, Sweety, you go help your mother in the cookhouse," he said, putting an arm around his grandchild. "I need to talk to my daughter." Mackenzie nodded and after touching Alberta and waiting for the smile she knew the tall woman would give her, she ran off to find her mother.
"I don't want to talk about it! I told you. It is none of your business!" growled Alberta, brushing furiously at her mount.
"You tell me the truth about Betty Narnick," he ordered.
The hand, brushing the horse stopped. "W...What?"
"Yirgos told me that you had slept with her and she was ashamed and killed herself. I blamed you. I was shocked to be told my beautiful daughter preferred women and I was horrified that your actions would result in that poor child taking her life. Now I find that there is more to this story. You tell me, Aliki. A father has a right to know."
Alberta stood leaning on the horse for support. Her head against its warm flank. My God! All these years...Yirgos is still hurting us!" She felt her father take her gently by the shoulders and Alberta turned into her father's arms; the whole story coming out in between sniffles.
Ari came in at lunch time from the range angry, tired and frustrated. A small herd had broken through a fence and had been grazing along the railway track. One of the Heifers had decided to lie on the track and give birth. Nick was up there now with her and Ari had ridden in to pick up a few vials of calcium in case the animal needed a shot.
"We'll need to put a rope on her and pull her clear of the track as soon as she's given birth before the 4:15 comes through," Ari sighed.
Alberta could see her father was just about to volunteer to go out and help. "I'll come out and give you a hand," she offered, before her father could. She knew that the boys did their best to keep Baba on the homestead since he'd had a heart bypass a few years before. "I used to be pretty good at helping calves into this world."
"That would be great, Alberta! Just like old times," her brother smiled.
Mackenzie, always at Alberta's side when she wasn't with her mom, pulled on her sleeve and signed, 'No'.
Alberta frowned, as Mackenzie signed 'No' again looking more and more upset.
"Hey, its okay, Honey, I'm just going to help my brothers for the afternoon. I'll be back later. I promise," Alberta smiled down at the child.
The scream of rage seemed to erupt from Mackenzie. She swung with all her might and slammed her fist into Alberta sore ear and cheek. The pain and surprise stunned Alberta and Mackenzie got a few more punches in before Ari wrapped his arms around Mackenzie and pulled her off.
Mackenzie was now kicking up with her feet at Alberta and screaming unrecognizable words at her. Dawn had rushed over and was trying to calm Mackenzie while Georgeos had fetched a towel of ice cubes for Alberta's sore face.
"What did you say to her?!" Dawn snapped at Alberta, as she now held her sobbing daughter in her arms. Alberta stood up slowly, turned and walked out, slamming the door behind her.
'You need to go home' that's what Janet had told me! Bullshit! What did I find out? That my father has held me responsible for a girl's suicide all these years. That he feels I am immoral because I slept with Dawn. And now I'm accused of picking on Mackenzie! Alberta grumbled unreasonably to herself as she saddled a quarter horse in the barn.
She swung up in the saddle just as Ari came in. "You okay, Sis. Look, Dawn didn't mean it, she was just in shock. Mackenzie has never made any noise before."
"I'll meet you out at the track," Alberta responded, through a jaw tight with anger. She spurred her horse and left her brother standing, shaking his head.
"Alberta, just let us pull her clear. I can hear the whistle of the 4:15 coming through Swan Lake. It will be here in a few minutes," called Nick. He and Ari sat on their horses with ropes wrapped around their saddle horns that were looped over the downed Heifer.
"I got it. Look, the front legs and head are clear. One more push and it will be out and I can cut the cord. There!" called Alberta, working as quickly as she could. She could hear the train now and feel the vibration in the rails beneath her. She tied off and cut the cord. "Now!" she called, just as Mackenzie came riding up. The boys pulled the screaming cow away from the track and Alberta turned her back on the train, grabbed the new born by the legs and pulled for all she was worth.
Above the roar of the train going past, she heard Mackenzie scream, "No!"
Then the young teen was in her arms and Alberta instinctively pulled her close, shielding her from the train that rumbled by a few feet away. In the silence after, the frightened heifer struggled to her feet and mooed plaintively. A sad bleating came as an answer and the cow ambled over to lick its new calf clean. There was a collective sigh from the adults.
Alberta led Mackenzie away from the track and they sat together on a fallen log. "I'm sorry, Mackenzie, I didn't realize you were afraid of the train," she whispered, trying to wipe the blood of the birth off the two of them with a rag.
"Daddy, daddy," the girl articulated awkwardly.
My God! She's talking! Alberta realized. "What about your daddy?" Alberta asked.
"He promised he'd be back later because Mommy had died," the child explained in coarse, jerky speech..
A dread ran through Alberta. Weren't those the words she had used just before Mackenzie had hit her? "Didn't your Daddy come back, Mackenzie?" she asked gently.
The head buried in her neck shook. "No, he stood on the track and the train hit him. I watched from the window."
A wave of horror and pain ran through Alberta for the small child who had watched her father commit suicide after the death of her mother. She held Mackenzie very close and rocked the child back and forth. "It's okay now, Mackenzie. Dawn is your adopted Mommy and she loves you very much. And Baba and Nick and Ari are like having three daddies in one. They love you very much too...and I love you, Mackenzie. I love you. And although I live very far away that love will always stay strong."
Alberta looked up from the dark head and saw Dawn galloping up with Baba not very far behind her. Dawn looked pale and terrified. She saw Ari stop her and talk briefly to her. Dawn nodded and then walked over to where Alberta sat with Dawn's daughter in her lap.
"Hey, here's your Mom. She looks like she could do with a hug," whispered Alberta, as Dawn sat close beside her and looked into her eyes. Alberta smiled and put her arm around Dawn, drawing her into the embrace. Dawn wrapped one arm around Alberta's back and the other around her daughter's shoulder. She leaned over and kissed Alberta's sore face. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Alberta smiled, pleased that Dawn had realized her remark earlier in the kitchen had hurt. "Hey, guess who can talk," said Alberta, her voice rough with emotion.
"Hi, Mom," smiled Mackenzie, her voice scratchy and barely above a whisper. Dawn drew her daughter close and cried.
Alberta sat in Sargent Nicholson's office and listened to the Regional Inspector and the pathologist, Davis, tear a strip off her for disappearing for a week after completing her report on the examination of the skeletons. Normally, she would have been angry, but Mackenzie was speaking in halting, scratchy sentences, and Dawn was wonderful. She'd re-established a bond with her family and she had buried a lot of ghosts over the last few weeks. She couldn't help but smile.
She straightened and leaned forward in her chair. "I am on holiday from the Toronto Forensic Department. I am on extended leave from the R.C.M.P. I do NOT have to justify my actions to either of you. I am involved in this case because a) I was asked by Dawn Freeman to handle the forensic examination and b) because you needed my expertise with skeleton remains."
She pulled a folded report out from her coat pocket and dropped it on the desk. "That's the official report of my investigation over the last few days. But if you two would just sit quiet, I'll bring you up to speed."
The R.C.M.P. officer and pathologist looked at each other and then grudgingly waited for Alberta to continue. "As you read in my first report, I speculated that Joseph Freeman had struggled during the flight with John Lyons, who held a gun on the pilot, Mike Freeman. The gun goes off and the bullet travels through Joseph Freeman and into the skull of Mike Freeman. Mike slumps forward over the yolk and puts the plane into a nose dive.
"In conversation with Dawn Freeman, I ascertained that as well as her father, who had died in a car crash, there was another Freeman brother, John. I suspected that the unknown American aboard the plane was probably John Freeman because of the variation in the backbone structure that I found in both Joseph's and the unknown passenger's remains. It was unlikely that such an identical variation would be found together unless the victims were genetically closely related.
"But not impossible," growled Davis, clicking his pen annoyingly.
"No, not impossible, but unlikely," conceded Alberta. "Dawn and I then started a search of nearby motels to see if we could locate where the unknown passenger had stayed before the flight. A motel out on Highway 33 had kept the bag of a man who had not returned for it at around the time of the accident. They had reported the incident to the police at the time but no one followed up on it. The bag was simply forgotten until we requested it.
"By whose authority?" asked the Inspector sharply.
"By the authority of an investigative officer of the R.C.M.P.," responded Alberta. "I left a receipt and brought the bag back here to be opened and examined. You will find the items listed on file and the contents labeled and in storage at the station. What was interesting was that we found the wallets of the three men in the bag. Up until that time, I had assumed that the crash site had been robbed, which unfortunately often happens. I now speculated that the passenger, identified as John Lyons, had planned to kill Joseph and Mike all along. The question became then, where was he taking them and why was he planning on killing them?"
"Wait a second here, I don't follow you," grumbled Davis, throwing the pen on the desk top to both Alberta's and the Regional Inspector's relief. "How did you know he was going to kill them?"
"There are only two reasons, usually, for taking a person's wallet. The first is theft and the second is to hide an identity. The former didn't fit the scenario so I was inclined to believe that the latter was more likely. I felt the next step was to examine the Freeman's cabin to see if I could find some clue that would indicate a motive.
"The Freeman's cabin is seventy kilometres from Swan Hills in a remote area not accessible by roads. From my father's ranch, which is some thirty kilometers from here, it is a two day horse ride through some pretty wild country. I made that trip with Dawn Freeman and in searching the property and surrounding area, we were able to locate Joseph Freeman's personal papers in a locked plastic box in a hole in a pine tree."
"Shit," snorted Davis in disgust.
The Regional Inspector smiled. "Old Trapper was a strange old buzzard. You don't get many colourful characters any more but he certainly was one of them!"
"That report is about our findings." Alberta indicated with an arched eyebrow and a tilt of her head the report that lay folded on the desk. "We found a safety deposit key, bank book, will and investment papers and land deeds. It appears that Joseph Freeman was worth millions."
"What?!" the two men asked almost in unison.
"Millions. According to the will in the box, Dawn Freeman alone will inherit. Our search opened up more questions than it answered. Where did Joseph Freeman get his money? Why was he buying large parcels of land? Why did he leave it all to Dawn when he seemed on reasonable terms with Mike and who is John Lyons and why did he want to kill the Freemans?"
"I think we'd better be bringing this Dawn Freeman in for questioning. She has an excellent motive for murder if you ask me. Maybe she hired Lyons as a hitman," suggested Davis.
Alberta did her best to control her temper. "Dawn was unaware of Trapper's wealth or his relationship to Lyons. As for hitmen, outside of organized crime, they are mostly the figment of the public's wild imaginations. I've requested information on John Lyons, of Seattle, Washington from the F.B.I. We have not had a response yet. I also lifted a few finger prints from the inside of the bag to see if there is a police record on Lyons here in Canada. I suspect that John Lyons and John Freeman are one and the same person.
"I now am in the process of getting the required documentation so that Dawn Freeman and I can view her Uncle Joseph's accounts in Prince Rupert and open his safety deposit box. We plan to fly out there in the next few days as soon as the paper work is ready."
The Regional Officer stood as did the other two. "Well, I'm more than satisfied with the way you have handled this investigation, Inspector Pateas. Please keep me informed. It has been a pleasure to meet you," he finished, offering Alberta his hand.
Alberta smiled and shook his hand and Davis' that was offered grudgingly. "Thank you. I'll keep you posted."
"Do that, Inspector," growled the Regional Officer. "It would make my job easier!"
"Mmmm," responded Alberta contentedly. Dawn had waited for Mackenzie to fall asleep and then had slipped from the room to find Alberta sitting on the porch watching the stars. She sat down beside her and Alberta pulled her close.
"Sargent Nicholson phoned and said we can have the remains. I talked to the funeral home and they'll see to everything. I decided, under the circumstances that cremation would be best. I thought I'd just take the ashes out and scatter them on the land that Uncle Joe and Mike loved so much, but Baba said a lot of people know me now and that it wouldn't be proper not to give them a Mass first."
"You do what you want, Dawn. They are your family," whispered Alberta, knowing that her lover was far more upset than she was willing to show.
"I don't know if Uncle Joe was particularly religious, but I think it would be nice to have a Mass. It sort of brings them peace after such a violent death," murmured Dawn, snuggling deep into the protective arms of her lover.
"Okay, then. Baba is a good friend of the priest. They play chess together. He can arrange things for you while we are in Prince Rupert," Alberta suggested, as she slowly drew patterns on Dawn's back with her finger tip.
"You know what you said about running a road from the cabin out to Loggers' Road? I think I'll do that if I do inherit some of Uncle Joe's money," said Dawn, needing to change the subject.
"That would be nice, responded Alberta. "I'd like to take Baba there some time, if it is all right with you. I think he'd like it."
"Can I come too?"
"Wouldn't have it any other way," laughed Alberta, smiling down at her lover.
"Then it's alright with me," whispered Dawn, as their lips met in a soft, gentle kiss.
Alberta frowned in the moonlight and ran her finger tips through Dawn's hair. "Dawn, about us..."
"Shhh," interrupted Dawn. "It doesn't matter what Baba or anyone else thinks. I knew we'd just have this time together. I'm not asking for anything more, Alberta."
There was silence for a few minutes. "If it was different for me, would you have wanted...more?"
"Yes," came the decisive answer. " I love you, Aliki."
Alberta bent down and dropped a feather-light kiss on Dawn's lips. "I need time to think, to try and organize all the things I'm feeling inside and figure out what I really want. I thought I knew before I came here. But so many things I've believed in for so long have been shattered over the last few weeks. I'm not sure what I'm asking of you, Dawn, I'm not ready to make any sort of commitment but the thought of you seeing someone else..." Alberta struggled, trying to find the words to express what she felt.
Dawn reached up and kissed her softly. "You are coming back in September for Ari's wedding. We'll talk then. Until then, can we have an agreement not to see anyone else until we know how we feel about each other?" Dawn asked nervously.
Alberta nodded, a smile breaking out on her face. "Yes, I'd like that. A commitment until we decide if we want to become more serious." Dawn smiled too, a ray of hope taking hold in her heart where before there had only been the pain of losing the one she loved; a sort of a commitment was a start.
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