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 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 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 <email@example.com> The Anne Azel Murder Mysteries Book 1 can be ordered through Amazon.com or Openbookltd.
Alberta paced back and forth on the pavement outside the hospital. She had sat briefly in the waiting room but just couldn't keep still. Dawn was in with Mackenzie so that the doctor could look at Mackenzie's throat. Mackenzie spoke with difficulty at barely a whisper and she complained of a sore throat.
Both Dawn and Alberta were concerned that Mackenzie might not be able to maintain her speech after so many years. They've been in there a long time. Is that good or bad? Alberta wondered. She had done several more laps of the sidewalk when Dawn and Mackenzie appeared.
Alberta walked over and put a protective arm around Mackenzie. "The doctor feels everything is going to be alright," Dawn beamed.
Alberta looked down at the smiling child under her arm and bent to place a kiss on her dark head, a grin spreading across her own face. "That's great news!"
"She's not supposed to talk much or force her voice. The doctor said it's going to take time. He's made an appointment with a speech pathologist for Mackenzie so that she can learn some exercises to strengthen her vocal cords."
Mackenzie signed to Alberta and laughed. "So I still have to learn to sign, eh," Alberta translated, and got a quick hug from Mackenzie for her effort.
Slowly, she signed back as she talked. "Let's go out for lunch." Dawn and Mackenzie applauded her effort at basic signing and the three walked happily down the street to the local restaurant. The three women all ordered the Julienne Salad and Mackenzie finished off with chocolate cake while Dawn and Alberta shared a piece of cherry cheesecake.
Alberta was acutely aware of the warm, sweet scent of herbs that was uniquely Dawn. She barely controlled herself from leaning over and kissing the lips sweetened by the dessert. When Dawn looked up and their eyes met she had to quickly look away because she knew that everyone in the restaurant would be able to read what she wanted on her face.
They stopped at the library so that Mackenzie could exchange her books. The teen renewed the art book, Dawn noted, and got out another on the history of the R.C.M.P. Alberta tried her best not to show she was puffed up with pride but must have failed miserably because Dawn laughed and poked her teasingly. Alberta could feel the red rising in her face but she didn't care. Being with Dawn and Mackenzie just made her feel happy. Is it because I have had come to realize that I yearn for a family of my own or am I really falling in love again so soon? she wondered.
Alberta carefully straightened her collar and settled the Sam Brown into place. It felt strange to be in uniform after all these years. She had left her regulation uniforms and dress reds in her closet one visit home years ago and had never bothered with them after that. She was pleased that the brown uniform still fit her trim body so well. It felt strange too to be carrying a gun.
She had joined the force to try and right injustice. To somehow make up for the loss of Betty Narnick's life. But she had found that the life of a police officer was mainly breaking up domestic fights and handing out speeding tickets. Sure, she had solved the Mortland case but she could see that investigations like that were going to be few and far between. In the end, she had gone back to school and combined her love of science with her commitment to police work. Although she was still officially a police officer, she had been on extended leave from the force for four years.
She picked up her wide brimmed hat and headed down stairs to meet Dawn in the living room. When she walked in, the room fell silent. "Wow!" Dawn finally gasped.
"I thought it would be easier for us to access the material we need at the bank if I was in uniform, Alberta explained.
Nick whistled. "Hell, Sis, if more cops looked like you, guys like me would be breaking the law all the time!" Alberta gave him a playful frown.
"You ready to go, Dawn?" Alberta asked, starting to feel a bit uncomfortable with the attention.
"Sure. You be good, Mackenzie, and don't talk too much. Make sure that Baba doesn't get into any trouble. We'll be back in just a few days," Dawn said, as she hugged her daughter and then Baba.
Alberta got a hesitant hug from Mackenzie, who wasn't sure if you could hug an officer in uniform and Baba gave her a peck on the cheek. The boys teased and made silly remarks as they waved goodbye to the two from the porch.
Two hours later, the commuter flight they were on touched down in Prince Rupert. Several seats behind them, a tough, coarse looking man reached up to pull his overnight bag from the overhead compartments. His brown eyes watched the tall Mounty and the petite blond with interest. He hadn't known That Doctor Pateas was a police officer. This was an added complication. Murdering Dawn Freeman was one thing but cop killing was another. This was going to have to be handled carefully.
"Of course, Inspector Pateas, if you and Ms. Freeman would just come this way," said the bank manager, anxious to get the police officer out of sight of the customers. It didn't look good having the R.C.M.P. investigating an account. It was not the image the bank wanted to project to the public. "I'll have one of the girls bring this bank book up to date while I get the safety deposit box and Mr. Freeman's investment portfolio."
Alberta nodded as the two women took their seats in the manager's office. The scientist scowled; banks were such a bastion of chauvinism. You could count on all the low payed tellers being female and the management jobs to be held by males and one token female. "What's the matter?" asked Dawn. She had established an account for herself and Mackenzie and Ari had helped her to understand the various accounts and investment options but she still felt very intimidated by banks. She was actually very surprised to find out Uncle Joe had a bank account, never mind investments!
"Nothing, I just don't like the atmosphere in banks," she admitted, smiling at Dawn who looked very tense and uncomfortable.
"Neither do I. Ari has been helping me to understand more about them. There have been many things, Alberta, that I've had to learn about since leaving the cabin. I don't know what I would have done without your family!"
"They are your family too, Dawn," grinned Alberta. "Baba has adopted you. Overlooking the fact that he dotes on you, you are the mother of his grandchild. As far as the family is concerned, you are a Pateas."
Dawn blushed. I want to be a Pateas because I'm your partner, she thought, but said nothing.
"Ahh, here we are." puffed the bank manager, "Dear me, this is heavy! I just need you to sign this form, Inspector Pateas, that we are releasing this information and the content of the safety deposit box to the police, and Ms. Freeman, I need you to sign here that you requested the safety deposit box on this date."
The women signed and the bank manager left, closing the door behind him. Dawn flipped through her Uncle's pass book. "Still the same amount of money in here," she noted.
Alberta nodded and opened up the safety deposit box. It was half filled with gold nuggets. The women stared into the box and then at each other. "Is that gold?" asked Dawn, in surprise.
Alberta nodded. Somewhere, on one of Uncle Joe's parcels of land, there was a very rich deposit of gold. This was worth killing for, Alberta realized with a grimace. Now how the hell am I going to solve this without causing a modern day gold rush!
"This is going to be tricky, Dawn. If the contents of this box become known a lot of people are going to want some of the action. I think it best that we just leave the nuggets here for now and list the contents of the safety deposit box as ore samples on the police report."
"You mean Uncle Joe's money comes from working a mine!?" asked Dawn, incredulously.
"No, these nuggets were panned. He's found a river with a golden bottom it would seem. I think, I'm beginning to see some of the pieces going together here," Alberta mussed. "Let's put this back where it's safe and go and book into a hotel. I don't know about you but I'm about ready for lunch."
"Uncle Joe was right to keep his find a secret," observed Dawn, closing the safety deposit box firmly.
"I don't want to see a gold rush ruin the land he loved so much!"
The women spent another hour at the bank reviewing Uncle Joe's investment portfolio and seeing to the paper work. Then, they walked down the hill to just above where the coastal ferry docked and booked a room at the local tourist hotel. The ferry trip down the inland seaway was a favourite trip for tourists who would drive through the picturesque Yellowhead pass of the Rocky Mountains and load their cars on the ferry for the full day trip down to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
Once they had booked in, Alberta gratefully slipped out of her heavy uniform and into blue jeans and a pullover. That process took much longer than she had planned because Dawn had to watch and then take her Inspector to bed. It was late afternoon before the two reappeared. Alberta flagged a taxi and took Dawn to an expensive restaurant overlooking the harbour.
They dined on Alaska King Crab and a dry Riesling from the Okanagan Valley and after, they sat over desert and liqueurs and talked. "You know, I grew up out west. I know a lot about cattle ranching, but I know very little about the country's history and folklore. In many ways, your life was far richer than mine," observed Alberta, as she sipped her Frangellica.
Dawn blushed with pleasure, glad that Alberta didn't look down on her because she had lived most of her life in the back bush. "It was a very special upbringing I had, but it might have been more practical if Uncle Joe had taught me to drive a car or use a banking machine! I thought Nick was going to have a heart attack trying to teach me how to drive!" Dawn laughed.
"Why Yellowhead?" asked Alberta.
"Why is the pass through the Rockies called the Yellowhead? I bet you know," Alberta asked.
"It's named after an Indian by that name. He had a cache up where the pass is. Yellowhead was of mixed race and although he had Indian features he had blond hair. The story goes that he was murdered while out on his trap line and that his ghost haunts the pass. There's a story about the southern route through the Kicking Horse pass too. The surveying team found the pass one late afternoon and the next morning one of the surveyors was kicked in the head by his horse. They thought he was dead but just before they buried him, he regained consciousness! They named the pass after the incident."
The two women laughed and went on to talk about Dawn's stories and how she got the ideas for her characters by watching the antics of the wild animals around the cabin.
It had been a wonderful evening, their first real date, and Dawn savoured every special moment of it. It was dark as they wandered back towards their hotel under a starry sky.
Mellowed by the wine and thoughts of a continuation of their afternoon love making, Alberta was taken completely off guard when the man stepped out from the shadows and threw lighter fluid in her face. She was doubled up in pain, trying to wipe the chemical from her burning eyes, as she heard the man say, "You lead your cop friend down those stairs to the boat. You call to anyone or try anything funny and I drop a flame into her hair."
"No! It's okay! We'll do as you say! Don't hurt her." Alberta could hear Dawn's stressed voice. Gentle arms wrapped around her. "Come on, Alberta, let me lead you. He's got a lighter and a gun," Dawn informed her. The two women staggered along with the man following behind, occasionally giving a terse direction. They came to a small zodiac boat tied by a rental dock and Dawn helped Alberta off the dock and down into the boat. The man indicated they should sit in the bow.
Quickly, while the man was getting down into the boat, Dawn scooped up some salt water and washed Alberta's eyes. Now they stung of both chemicals and salt but Alberta could see the blur of the street lights on shore and the shadow of a man standing in the stern of the motor boat.
The man moved forward and hit Dawn in the face, sending her sprawling. He pulled Alberta's hands behind her back and tied them to the end of a long rope. Reaching up, he undid the bow rope and then moved to the back to undo the stern line. Next, he sat on the back bench, and got the outboard ready. The engine turned over, caught, and the small rubber boat pulled away from the dock and headed out of the harbour.
Alberta squirmed down beside Dawn. "Are you okay?" she asked, not sure what had happened but knowing that Dawn had been hit.
"Yeah, I'm okay. He punched me in the face. I'm going to have a black eye but otherwise I think I'm okay." It was chilly, and damp this close to the water and Dawn huddled beside Alberta for warmth despite the reek of lighter fluid. "Can you see anything?" she whispered.
"Shadows, things are pretty blurry," responded Alberta. Dawn scooped up more of the salt water and again washed Alberta's eyes.
"I don't know if this is helping or making it worse," she fretted, as her lover blinked in the moonlight.
"It's gotta beat having my eyes fried with chemicals," muttered Alberta. "Can you swim?"
"Yes," came the quiet response. Alberta nodded, various plans forming and reforming in her brain. They were all chancy but at the moment there weren't too many options. She thought about her police revolver that she had locked carefully in the room's safe before leaving the hotel that afternoon. Damn! I should have been more cautious and better prepared for trouble! It had not occurred to her that Dawn would be in any immediate danger. She wasn't even caring a knife which she almost always did.
The engine slowed and then stopped. The only sound now was the slosh of the waves against the zodiac's sides as the little craft bobbed up and down.
"So what do you want?" asked Alberta, going on the offensive.
"The location of the gold. Give me the location and you don't die," the man stated bluntly.
"What makes you think we know anything about the whereabouts of gold?" Alberta stalled, hoping she'd get enough eyesight back to handle an attack if one came.
"See it's like this, Johnny and I were partners, ya might say. He'd always got money, ya know. He tells me he's got shares in a family mining business. But that turns out not to be quite the truth.
"He comes to me one day all pissed because his son Mike found out that his brother was taking a lot more than his share. Johnny had grub staked the little bastard for a share of the profit of any ore he found. Well, this Joey finds himself a gold mine. He tells Johnny that it's small but enough for them both to live well, so Johnny's happy enough until he finds his brother has got millions salted away up here.
"The plan was that Johnny and his son, Mike, would bring his brother down here and I'd talk to him about a better deal for Johnny, if you known what I mean. But the plane never arrives. I figure its all up but then nothin happens. The plane's not found. So I've been watchin' and waitin' and sure enough last week the Feds started snoopin' around askin' questions about Johnny and whether or not he was the same guy as Johnny Freeman. Didn't take me long after that to fit all the pieces together.
"So what's that got to do with us? We don't know anything!" sighed Dawn.
"You're Joey's niece, so you gotta know where that gold mine is. You tell me or I'll drowned your cop friend here."
"I don't know. I didn't even know my Uncle Joey had money," explained Dawn.
The man swore and moved forward. He picked Alberta up by her arms and heaved her overboard. "No!" screamed Dawn.
"Tell me what I want to know!" yelled the man, grabbing Dawn and shaking her as the boat rocked dangerously back and forth.
Alberta hit the cold water on her back and sank into the darkness. She tried to put the numbing cold from her mind as she kicked for the surface. With her hands tied behind her back she couldn't grab the boat and she knew she wasn't going to last more than a few minutes in the water. Her greatest concern, however, was for Dawn, who was left alone with that bastard in the boat.
"Look I'll pull her in. All you gotta do is tell me where the mine is!" bargained the man, holding the other end of the rope that was tied around Alberta's hands.
Dawn could hear Aliki splashing around in the water. What could she do to help her lover? "Okay! Okay! Pull her to the side of the boat and I'll make you a map!" she bargained.
The man threw her a pen. "Draw it on the life-jacket. Be quick 'cause your friend hasn't got much longer."
Alberta could barely feel her arms or legs anymore. By sheer will power she ducked under the water, brought her knees up to her chin and slipped her feet past her cuffed hands so that now she had her hands in front of her. Surfacing, she could see the man leaning over Dawn as she drew something on the life jacket. Her eyes glanced up and met her lover's in the moonlight. Alberta nodded.
Dawn uncoiled with every bit of her strength and slammed into the man as Alberta pulled on the rope. With a splash he toppled over the side, sending the light boat spinning off. Dawn crawled to the edge of the boat and called Alberta's name. There was only the sound of water. "Alberta!" she screamed again.
Some distance away, the angry man broke the surface and started swimming towards the boat. Then a forehead appeared for a second by the side of the boat. Dawn reached down, felt wet, cold hair and pulled. "Alberta, come on you've got to help!" Dawn screamed, grabbing her lover by the arm and belt and pulling at the dead weight. A long leg lifted itself out of the water and slipped over the rubber gunnels just as the man reached the boat. Dawn left Alberta half in and half out of the craft, picked up the paddle and brought it down on the man's head with all her force. He disappeared over the side. Dropping the paddle, Dawn stooped to pull Alberta the rest of the way into the boat.
Then, she turned and searched the water for their attacker. Grabbing him, she slid him over the side of the craft that now sat low in the waves and half full of water. With difficulty, she untied the wet ropes around her lover's cold hands and used the long length of rope to tie the man's arms and legs. Next, she pulled Alberta close and tried to warm her, although her own body was now shaking with cold too.
"Aliki, come on, Honey, I need you. I don't know how to run a motor boat!"
Alberta moaned and Dawn slapped at her cheek, trying to bring her to consciousness. "What is it about your family and my face?" the scientist groaned. "Where is he?"
"It's okay, I tied him up. I need you to start the outboard, Aliki, I don't know how."
"Can't move," muttered Alberta sleepily.
Dawn slapped her cheek again. "Come on, Aliki, we're going to die of exposure out here if you don't help!"
Alberta dug deep into her reserve of strength and reached for the gas tank. She pumped up the pressure on the hose and then stretched to set the choke. "Pull the cord," she ordered. Dawn grabbed the handle and pulled. The outboard kicked over, spluttered and died. Alberta adjusted the choke. "Again," instructed Alberta through chattering teeth. This time the engine caught.
Alberta reached up and put the engine in gear. The boat started to go in circles as Alberta slumped to the bottom of the boat. Dawn grabbed the handle and steered the craft back towards the lights of Prince Rupert. She really hoped that they ran out of gas before they got there because she didn't have the slightest idea how to turn the engine off!
She pulled the water laden body of her lover into her lap and tucked Alberta's frozen hands under her own shirt. Alberta didn't make a sound. Fear clutched at Dawn's heart and the lights of Prince Rupert seemed kilometers away.
Finally, she managed to bring the craft into the harbour. How to get help? she wondered. Then she saw the lights of the restaurant where she had eaten with Alberta earlier. She aimed the craft for their dock. When she thought she was within yelling distance, she pulled the plastic tube from the gas tank. The smell of gas filled the air, the engine coughed and choked out. The boat however, kept moving forward on a collision coarse. Dawn wrapped herself around Alberta and braced herself for the crash.
With a bang the pressurized air escaped as the small craft rammed into the wharf. People ran down the dock and fished the three occupants out as the zodiac listed heavily to one side, partly submerged in the water. Dawn, through chattering teeth, tried to explain that they had been kidnapped at gun point. While she tried, blankets were brought to cover them, an ambulance arrived and the police.
Dawn explained that Alberta was a Inspector in the R.C.M.P. and that the man tied up had tried to kill her. After that, everything became a blur of flashing emergency lights, voices and movement. Through it all Dawn held on to the still, cold body of her lover.
Dawn woke slowly. First, she became aware of machine sounds. Then of the smell of disinfectant and starched sheets. She opened her eyes a bit and realized that she was in a hospital room. "Alberta?" she whispered.
"Mommy?" said a voice beside her. A small hand wrapped around her arm. Dawn turned her head and saw Mackenzie and Baba looking down at her in worry.
"Hi, Sweety. I'm alright. Don't worry," she reassured the tense looking child. Her eyes looked up to Georgeos. "How is Alberta?"
"Still unconscious. She had bad hypothermia but they have got her body temperature up a bit now. She is still in intensive care," explained Baba, the strain showing in his face.
"She'll be all right, won't she, Baba?" Dawn asked in fear.
"The doctors seem to feel that she is out of danger," Georgeos answered, taking Dawn's small hand in his big paw. "How are you?"
"Tired, but okay," smiled Dawn. "I'm glad to see you two. We got ourselves into a lot of trouble last night!"
"The police will want to talk to you. They are holding a man named Ernie Attra. You told them that he had tried to kill Alberta."
Dawn nodded but her eyes were half closed and she was soon asleep again.
Alberta woke, felt very queasy, retched and threw up a good deal of sea water into a kidney dish that was being held for her. "This is good, Aliki, you get this stuff out of your system and you will feel better," she heard her father say. She opened her eyes to find herself being supported by her father who held the kidney dish at the ready.
"I'm okay, now," she muttered. "Where's Dawn? Is she okay?"
"She is fine but worried about you. I will need to go tell her you are at last awake. You have been unconscious for almost two days. You can feel all your fingers and toes, Aliki?
Alberta wiggled her cold feet and hands for her father. "I'm fine, just really, really cold. Could you see about an extra blanket? And tell Dawn I lo...I'm okay and I'm glad she is too," Alberta finished awkwardly. Georgeos snorted his impatience with his stubborn daughter and went to find a nurse before reporting back to Dawn.
Dawn was released that afternoon and met a swarm of press outside the hospital door. It was something that she had never thought she would have to experience and she wished that she had Alberta's strong presence behind her.
"Is it true your Uncle struck oil and was murdered by his partner?"
"No, it is not true that my Uncle Joe struck oil. I can't comment on the on going investigation of the R.C.M.P."
"But you and Inspector Pateas were kidnapped by an armed man and had to fight for your lives, isn't that right?!"
"Sorry, no comment."
"How is Inspector Pateas? Have you seen her?"
"Yes, I have. I am deeply grateful to her for her assistance. She is recovering very nicely, thank you."
"Where did your Uncle get his money, Ms. Freeman? Was he working with organized crime?"
Dawn laughed. She just couldn't help herself. "My Uncle was a very shy man, who loved nature and wanted to protect it. I would be shocked to find out that he had ever done anything illegal. He was a very decent man. The police investigation will undoubtedly answer all your questions in due course."
"But it is true that your Uncle left you a fortune is it not, Ms. Freeman?!"
Oh boy! Now I'm in for it! Play it cool here, Dawn. Remember what Alberta and Baba told you! "The will has only just been turned over to a lawyer. It will be months before I know what, if anything, I will inherit from my Uncle's estate," Dawn responded, as Baba and Mackenzie pulled up in a rented car and she was able to make an escape. Dear God! That was awful!
That night, the newspaper headlines read, "Heiress' Life Saved by Mounty! Inspector Alberta Pateas in serious condition!" Dawn slammed the paper down in discussed. "There is absolutely no truth to this story! Why did they bother interviewing me?!"
Baba laughed. "You did not give them a story that would sell newspapers, Dawn, so they had to dig. Someone at the bank has let it leak that you will inherit a fortune and Alberta was in serious condition when she was admitted. See, if you read here on the second page, it quotes you as saying Alberta is recovering. You must learn to read a newspaper properly, Dawn. The facts are there but you must find them!" Dawn pulled a face at him and he laughed.
Two days later, Alberta was allowed to leave the hospital, striding past the reporters and into the waiting vehicle. They flew back to Swan Hills where Nick and Ari waited with Alberta's van. "Hey, who said you guys could joy ride in my new van!" Alberta teased, after she and Dawn got big hugs.
"We hardly banged it up at all!" protested Nick. "Besides we need this big, show-off eastern jalopy to get all the family home. Otherwise, we'd have had to put you women in the flatbed of the truck."
The trip back to the ranch was a jumble of voices and it was only when they had the two women sitting on the couch with a blanket over them and everyone had been served a cup of tea that Dawn took up the story. Alberta was content to listen and sip her tea with one hand while the other rested on Dawn's thigh under the blanket.
"It's all a mess. It looks like Mike wasn't my brother after all. He was Johnny's boy and my cousin. I guess Dad and Mom must have taken him in at some time, and after they died, the two of us were taken in by Uncle Joe. Uncle Joe had been backed by John and when he found gold he gave a per cent of it each season to John. I guess that was the real reason for him coming up here each fall.
"But Mike found out that the claim was much richer than Uncle Joe had told Johnny and that Uncle Joe had millions in an investment portfolio in Prince Rupert. So they came up with a plan to fly Uncle Joe to Prince Rupert where John's buddy, Ernie Attra, was going to force him to sign everything over to Johnny before they killed him.
"But the plane crashed when Uncle Joe tried to get the gun away from John. Alberta thinks that John might have betrayed Mike too and was planning on killing them both because Mike's wallet was left behind in Johnny's luggage."
"Nice family," sneered Nick.
"It is good that you are now part of the Pateas family," observed Baba, to take some of the sting out of Nick's careless words.
Under the blanket, Alberta squeezed Dawn's leg to let her know that she approved of the arrangement too. Dawn slipped her hand under the blanket and wrapped her fingers with Alberta's. Alberta still was so cold to touch. "Attra watched and waited, hoping some day that he would be able to track down the mysterious brother. When the Feds started asking questions, he figured it all out and when we went to see what was in Uncle Joe's account he was ready for us.
"He threw lighter fluid in Alberta's face! I was so worried and then he tied her hands behind her back and threw her overboard! I tried to keep him busy until Aliki could get close to the boat because I knew she would handle things. When I saw her, I pushed the guy and Aliki pulled on the rope he was holding and he went over board. But the boat drifted away and Aliki got tangled in the rope. I was so scared! Finally, I saw her alongside the boat and pulled her aboard."
"Dawn was just super out there, Baba. She saved my life," Alberta boasted, loving the feeling of Dawn's hand curled in her own.
Dawn smiled up at her with delight, then continued. "By then Attra was back again so I hit him with the paddle. Aliki was able to get the engine going before she collapsed and I just headed back to Prince Rupert." Dawn suddenly, laughed. "I forgot though that a boat doesn't have brakes and I almost killed us all by running into the restaurant dock!"
"I think you two acted very bravely. Now the boys have chores to do, Mackenzie and I will prepare a special meal and Dawn and Aliki must rest. Mackenzie, could you help your mom upstairs? I need to talk to Aliki for a few minutes," organized Baba, and the family immediately carried out his wishes.
Alberta looked up at her father with questioning eyes. Georgeos frowned. "I still do not like that you are not making a commitment to my Dawn. But I see that she is comfortable with whatever, arrangement you two have come to. I give you my blessings, Aliki. But you promise me you will not hurt her!"
Alberta smiled and stood to hug her father. "Thank you, Dad. I promise you the last thing I would ever do is hurt Dawn."
After Mackenzie went back down stairs, Alberta slipped into Dawn's room and locked the door. Then she climbed into her old bed and kissed her lover softly. "Hi. I thought Baba forbid you to come near me," whispered Dawn.
"He's had a change of heart. He thinks I'm needed to warm your feet," murmured Alberta, as she kissed a spot below Dawn's ear.
"Mmmm, so that's your role in life! Nice! Come here."
"You've got a phone call from Doctor Tom Bates, Alberta," Ari called into the kitchen where his sister and Dawn were enjoying a late breakfast.
"That's my boss," explained Alberta to Dawn and Mackenzie as she got up to pick up the kitchen receiver.
"Good morning, Doctor," she said.
"Morning?! I'm eating my lunch. The dead are very patient people, Alberta, but the lab is getting stacked with them. When are you coming back?"
"At the end of the week," Alberta said, and met Dawn's sad, startled eyes as they looked up at her. On the other end of the phone, she could hear Tom Bates sucking on his cold pipe. Smoking was no longer allowed in public buildings but her boss simply could not give up his beloved pipe, lit or not. She wondered why he had really phoned. A waiting line of corpses did not seem likely.
"So I read in yesterday's paper that they fished you out of the Pacific half dead. I don't want to do an autopsy on a friend. What are you up to out there?" grumbled the old man.
"It's a long story, I'll tell you all about it when I get back. I'm all right," explained Alberta, as she leaned against the counter, pleased that Bates cared. She was immensely fond of her boss and mentor.
"You've worked in this department for over a year and never thought to mention you were a Mounty?" asked Bates incredulously.
Oh oh, hurt feelings here! "I haven't been on active service with the R.C.M.P. for over four years, Doctor Bates. I don't consider myself a police officer," she justified.
"But you are?" pushed Bates annoyingly.
"Technically, yes," came the response.
"When you get back I'm going to give you the third degree, young lady! In the meantime, please practice the SCIENCE of forensics and stop trying to solve crimes like you are a detective. The world is full of heroes but a good bone specialist is rare."
Alberta smiled at the lecture. She had heard it a number of times before. "Yes, Doctor Bates," she responded with a smile.
"Good, now I have to go because I am overworked because my assistant has better things to do."
"I'll be back at work on Monday. Good bye, Doctor Bates," Alberta laughed and hung up.
She looked up to see Dawn and Mackenzie looking at her with disappointment written across their faces. "You have to fly back this weekend, huh?" Dawn said.
"Yeah, I've got to go back to work," Alberta justified, feeling guilty that she would be leaving Dawn and Mackenzie so soon.
"I'll miss you, Alberta," whispered Mackenzie.
Alberta walked over and wrapped an arm around the two Freemans. "I'll miss the two of you very much too. But I'll be back for a visit in September, I promise."
"Hey, Alberta," called Nick coming to the kitchen door. "You'd better come in here and look at this. It's the biggest flower arrangement I've ever seen! Poor Ari almost got a hernia carrying it in! It's got flowers, fruit, candy and balloons. So who loves you?!"
Dawn shot Alberta a look as the family got up and went to see the delivery. Baba and Ari stood by the table on which the huge display sat. "The delivery boy could barely fit it through the door! Who sends you this, Alberta?"
The scientist picked the envelope out of the flowers and read the message out loud. "Glad you are okay. Thinking of you, The Williams Family, love Janet.
There was a second of silence quickly filled in by Nick's boisterous voice. "Is that THE Williams family?! Robbie Williams! You know Robbie Williams? God! She's gorgeous!"
Alberta looked both awkward and sad. "Yeah, I know the family. I worked a little on the Williams case," she admitted. Dawn quietly left the room.
Alberta found her some time later sitting in the garden. "Dawn?"
"Is she beautiful?" Dawn asked.
"Who?" stalled Alberta, coming to sit on the wood bench beside her lover.
"Janet Williams. Is she beautiful?" repeated Dawn, her chin quivering as she fought for control.
"Yes," responded Alberta, bending to tear a long blade of grass from the ground.
"She's the one you love, isn't she?"
"What's she like?" asked the strained voice.
Alberta threw away the shredded blade in annoyance. "Dawn, don't do this!"
"I need to know!" protested the smaller woman, turning to look at Alberta with eyes welling with tears.
"She's a good mother, caring, she's really strong but gentle too. She's intelligent. She has a degree in gifted education and she'd written a few books on the subject. I don't know, Dawn, she's just fun to be with!" Alberta ended in frustration.
Dawn nodded stiffly and looked over the flower garden. "Does she love you too?"
Alberta laughed bitterly. "Yeah, as a friend. Her soulmate, she tells me, is Robbie Williams."
"Did you sleep with her?"
"No! Look Dawn, this isn't a good idea..."
"But you love her...differently?"
Alberta stood up with a snort of frustration. "I thought I loved her. When I left Toronto to come out here I thought my world had ended. Now I don't know! I'm really confused! Okay?! She and the girls lived with me for a very short time..."
"She lived with you?!" exclaimed Dawn, leaping up.
"No! I mean, yes. Yes, she and her daughters Ryan and Rebecca stayed with me," stammered Alberta, reaching a hand out to touch Dawn.
Dawn pulled away and ran into the house.
Alberta swore under her breath and turned to storm off in the other direction. Standing in front of her was Mackenzie, tears rolling down her face.
"Mackenzie! Look, Honey...ahhh, what did you hear?"
Mackenzie didn't think she could use her voice to express how she felt. Instead, she signed slowly to Alberta. 'I hear all. My mother loves you?'
"Yes," Alberta answered honestly, walking up to stand in front of the young teen.
'She loves you like you were a man?' Mackenzie clarified.
Alberta sank down so that she was at eye level with Mackenzie. "Yes. Does that upset you?"
Mackenzie hesitated then signed, "It scares me. It's strange."
Alberta was not too sure what Mackenzie had said but the expression on the little girl's face pretty well carried the message. "Honey, it's okay. It's alright to love someone whoever they are or whatever sex. Love can only be a good thing."
Mackenzie frowned, needing Alberta to understand her better. Slowly, she whispered the words. "You do not make her happy. She cried because you love Janet Williams."
Oh shit! Alberta thought. "Yeah, I know and I feel awful. I don't know how to make it better. I love your mother, Mackenzie, but I thought I loved someone else before I came here. I don't want to make a mistake and hurt anybody. I guess you think adults should have all the answer, Mackenzie, but we don't always. I do know that I want to come back in September and be with you both again and I'd like to stay in touch. We could e-mail each other, Mackenzie."
Mackenzie stepped into Alberta's arms and the scientist held her close. "Robbie and Janet Williams have a daughter who is just a few years older than you are. Her name is Ryan. She's funny and she knows what it's like to have gay parents. I could give you her e-mail address and maybe the two of you could talk. Her parents are very much in love," Alberta explained, around the growing lump in her throat.
"Okay," Mackenzie answered hoarsely.
Alberta held her close. "Hey, time to stop talking, Honey, you are getting a sore throat. Listen, how about we get some fishing poles from the tool shed an try and catch some trout for dinner?" suggested Alberta. She wanted to go find Dawn and make things right between them but she knew Mackenzie needed someone to talk to and Dawn was most likely too emotionally raw to handle this issue at the moment. Shit! How do I get myself in these messes?
Mackenzie smiled. "No, I'll teach you how to make a fishing weir and then we are sure to have fish for dinner!"
Alberta pretended to look shocked. "Mackenzie! That's illegal and I'm a police officer!"
Mackenzie smiled and her eyes sparkled with devilment. "Alberta! It's not illegal for the First Nations and I'm an Indian!"
Alberta burst out laughing and Mackenzie led the way to the river to teach Alberta, the police officer, how to fish like an Indian.
Later that night, Alberta finally found Dawn alone. "We need to talk," she said, as she walked into the kitchen where Dawn sat at the table over a cup of tea.
"I think it's all pretty well been said," stated Dawn, running a nervous hand through her hair.
"Maybe, but I don't think you understand. I'm in love with you, Dawn, and I love that kid of yours too. But I'm just not sure of my emotions at the moment. I don't want to lead you on when I don't know where this is all going. There was never a relationship between me and Janet Williams. There never is going to be a relationship. She is very happily married with a wonderful family."
Alberta looked down at her strong, capable hands. "I'd like to be married with a family. I've got to figure out what is going on inside me and what I truly believe before I can offer you a life with me. I'm really confused at the moment. Six months ago, I would have told you that I was not the least bit interested in a long term relationship and that I wouldn't want a kid in my home messing the place up. Now, well, my dreams have changed a lot."
A small hand reached out and covered Alberta's. "I acted like a bitch today. I was really jealous. Can we talk about this again in September?"
Alberta looked up to meet the greenest, most honest eyes she had ever seen. "It's okay. Hell, you've had to put up with my bad temper and moods! We don't have to wait until September, we can talk everyday on the internet! I'll give you my address," smiled Alberta.
"Okay," came the quick response and Alberta leaned over to kiss some more of the hurt away before she went on..
"Ahhh, we need to talk about Mackenzie. I had a really interesting discussion with her this afternoon about us being gay, while she was teaching me how to break the white man's silly laws. I don't know if I handled things the way you would have but the situation was sort of forced on me. Mackenzie overheard us talking in the garden. Let me tell you about it..."
The next day was the funeral. The Pateas men waited outside the church after the mass in their Sunday best. Alberta stood with them in her ceremonial red uniform. After talking a few minutes with the priest, Dawn and Mackenzie stepped forward, each dressed in new black outfits that Baba had insisted on. Stepping forward, Alberta offered Dawn her arm. Baba followed holding Mackenzie's hand and the two Pateas sons brought up the rear.
Once again the press swarmed around them, demanding reactions and information. Baba told them the Pateas family would not be making any comments and, as a family, they walked down to Alberta's van that would lead the funeral possession back to the Pateas' farm.
While Georgeos, Mackenzie and the boys played hosts to the many guest who had joined them at the church, Alberta mounted a horse that was saddled and waiting for her. Dawn slipped her Uncle's and cousin's ashes into the saddle bag and then reached up to grab Alberta's waiting arm. Nestled behind her Mounty, they rode off across the country to where a clear mountain stream tumbled through the pines. There, Alberta helped her down and together they spread the ashes of the last of her old family.
"Goodbye, and thank you," Dawn whispered. Alberta took the vases and smashed them against a river rock, watching the bits of china roll and settle to the bottom.
Dawn stood looking over the wild alpine world that had been her home. Alberta came up beside her and Dawn instinctively put her hand inside the soft leather glove that Alberta wore. "Take me home," she said, and Alberta walked with her back to their mount.
Once again Alberta sat in the presence of the Regional Inspector. He quietly read over Alberta's last report on the case and shook his head. "We got word from the F.B.I. yesterday. It seems John Lyons was living illegally in the States. He had falsified his passport and papers. He has no police record over there, although, he is known by the police as a regular gambler and a pretty high roller. He knew a lot of unsavory sorts, that is for sure!"
"What about here in Canada?" asked Alberta.
"He did time for credit card fraud. The belief is he had gambling debts and he was getting leaned on. He signed over his kid to his brother Dennis and his wife. Mike's mother, a local bar room dancer, didn't want the kid or Johnny once the money dried up.
"Johnny never had much time for Mike until the last few years, when he saw Mike as being an insider that he could use to get more money from his brother Joe. When Mike told him about Joe's money it hit the fan. Johnny and his gambling buddy, Ernie, decided to off Joe once they knew were the mine was. But they were afraid that Mike didn't have the stomach for it and so Mike's old man made the decision to take his kid out too."
Alberta frowned. "This is really going to upset, Dawn.
The Regional Inspector shrugged. "That ten million should take the sting out," he observed. "I still would really like to know where the old buzzard got his money. The banks have followed up on it but they can't find a paper trail. They say that he always paid his taxes on the interest and invested conservatively and wisely but they have no idea where he got the money. He'd always bring in a bank draft made out to himself. For a back hills hermit, he was a craggy old bastard."
Alberta smiled. "Probably won a lottery or something," she suggested. "After all his brother had two countries and two names, maybe Joe did too."
The Regional Inspector nodded. "You know, that makes sense. It explains how he got the money when he knew nothing about business and it explains why he never spent it on anything but land. He was probably trying to hide out in the bush so no one would steal his money! You hear about crazy idiots like that now and again."
"Yeah," agreed Alberta, deciding to have a coffee at the donut shop before heading back to the ranch. This is a good rumour to start, she decided. Joe didn't want that gold found. He wanted the land he loved to stay wild. Dawn felt the same way. Dawn and Mackenzie didn't need the money so why go looking for a mess of trouble with people wanting to stake a claim?
Alberta said good bye to Mackenzie, Baba and her brothers and then walked with Dawn out to the van. "You make sure you e-mail me," reinforced Alberta, for the hundredth time that morning.
Dawn nodded. "I will. Alberta, whatever happens between us, I want you to know I'll never regret the time we had together. You made my daughter whole again, you solved the mystery of my family and made it possible for Mackenzie and I to live independent and comfortable lives. But more than that, you made some very important dreams of mine come true. I could wish for more, Alberta, I love you, but I am very happy with this very special time we have had."
Alberta swallowed. "I love you, Dawn, and Mackenzie. I just have to be sure that this time I've got it right. I'm not very good at this love thing. I'm better with data than I am emotion."
Dawn slipped a small buckskin bag from around her neck and reached up on her tiptoes. Alberta obliged by bending her head to receive the gift.
"What's this?" Alberta asked.
"This is my spirit bag that the Salish gave me when I came of age. It is the essence of my soul. In it are the symbols of my totem. You wear it, Alberta, until you come back to me."
Tears welled in Alberta's eyes. She took from her finger her graduate ring and wrapped it in Dawn's hand. "When I get back to Toronto, I'll send you a gold chain to wear this on. It is a piece of my life until I can come back here in September."
"Thank you, Alberta!" sighed Dawn, wrapping her arms around the tall woman and tucking her head against the shoulder that was her special place. "I love you so much! You take care of yourself for me!"
"Hey! It's you that is always getting into trouble not me!" protested Alberta. They held each other close for a long time. Then, reluctantly, Alberta pulled away, gave Dawn one last kiss and climbed into her van. Dawn stood and watched until Alberta's van slipped through the tree-lined lane and out of her world.
Somewhere in the hills thunder rolled. Dawn lifted her head and listened. A mile or two away, Alberta stopped her van and rolled down the window to listen too. The thunder echoed across the Swan Hills sounding like the beating of giant wings.
The Giant Swan was escaping Manitou's storm. Leaving behind, somewhere in those wild hills a river of gold sparkling beneath a cold, rain-fed stream. Alberta rolled up her window and smiling headed east. I'm going to follow that sound right back here in the autumn, she promised herself.
Dawn smiled too. We need to remember we are small silly creatures in Manitou's world. I won't let this parting bother me. The sound of the thunder of the Great Swan's wings will bring her home again to me this fall. Then I'll tell her that my totem is the swan. She turned and walked back to the Pateas' home. Her home.
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